The Credits Are Rolling

I can’t sleep. I should, but it’s not happening because I can’t shut my brain off just yet.

It’s just after midnight on Thursday, May 15th, and today is the last day of my 30s.

It’s a day I never thought I would actually see. I can’t say I’ve been looking forward to it. It hasn’t seemed real to me, and I don’t feel prepared.

My friends keep telling me it’s no big deal, nothing to be afraid of, but I can’t help but be a bit sad. Because I always get a bit down on my birthday anyway (honestly, it’s the main reason I take the day off work every year; I’m just not that productive), and because this feels like the end of a long movie that I’ve enjoyed watching for all these years. The end credits are rolling and I have absolutely no idea what I’m going to do after I leave the theater.

It’s not necessarily “middle age”. If I take after my grandparents, I won’t hit my midway point until 45 or so. I know I look young to some (I still get carded occasionally). I try to count my blessings – I’m in near perfect health, I have few but exceptional friends, I have a beautiful small family, an engaging and challenging career and I live in the house that I used to daydream about owning someday. I am smarter than I’ve ever been, and I am in better shape today than I was at 25.

It’s just that I can’t stop ruminating about the things I had once thought, once hoped, once believed I’d get a chance to do: be uber successful, sow my wild oats, have a second child. Those things are probably not in the cards and I have to accept that. Years ago, when I imagined what turning 40 would be like, I dreaded not just the physical aspects of aging – the wrinkles, the jowls, the deteriorating joints – but things like my career stalling and feeling irrelevant, invisible to the vibrant world. 

I’ve also lately been keenly feeling the loss of my beloved Grandma, my last living grandparent and my favorite relative. She died just before 5pm on New Year’s Eve, right at the end of last year. As I mentioned in a recent speech I gave at Toastmasters, I resemble her, I have a lot of her quirks and mannerisms and a lot of her loves are also mine. When she died, a very real piece of me left with her. Now that she’s gone, someone who truly cared about me and a major presence in my young life has vanished.

A couple of weeks ago, three days after Easter, my cat Bastet also died. I had gotten her the week after I got married, when I was 26. She had been my near-constant companion and another vestige of my youth. More loss, more sorrow, more reminders. It’s all interconnected.

And I loved being in my 30s. During this last decade I:

  • Bought a house
  • Became a blogger
  • Finished my four-year degree
  • Accepted a job at an amazing company
  • Met a slew of interesting people
  • Became a public speaker
  • Became a runner
  • Became a cyclist
  • Became a leader

I should be feeling joy. I understand that. I also know that it’s my prerogative to be a little sad, even though it’s hard to relate to my reasons why. I’ll get over it, I have to. But before I can “smile because it happened” I have to get through the stage where I “cry because it’s over”. 


Subconscious ESP

I had the strangest dream last night… OK, I have strange dreams every night, but normally, the morning bedlam (alarm clock, cat yowling, husband throwing shoes on the floor or watching TV) causes the fine details to evaporate by the time my eyes are fully open. I really should keep a voice activated recorder by the bed, but I occasionally get lucky, memory-wise, without one.

Anyway. I had a dream last night that I became a doctor, specializing in Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), and I got hired as an in-house consulting physician at a startup in the San Francisco Financial District (the company’s major market share was in Japan, for some reason; I don’t remember what their product was, but they had some acronym for it). I hopped on Golden Gate Transit in downtown Santa Rosa to commute to work and the bus was delayed by over an hour. “No problem, ” said my new bosses, “we’re just happy to have you on board!”

It was a luxury bus, and the GGT staff served all us passengers these gourmet sandwiches (they had portobello mushrooms and goat cheese on a baguette) while we waited to get going.

After work, I went to the home of a new colleague I’d befriended. She and her family had moved from the small city I live in to San Francisco and had a cute little apartment down there. I was in her 6-year-old daughter’s room, playing, and gazing at the photo of the Golden Gate Bridge on the wall.

By the time I woke from the dream and was still in that half-asleep state I felt that, sure, earning an M.D. in NLP was completely plausible and maybe I’d look into it one day…

I checked my email a couple of hours later, and there was an email from the NLP & Coaching institute, informing me that a hypnosis certification program is starting up in 2 weeks.

Cute the Twilight Zone theme…

The Greatest Love of All

I want to tell you all about an experience I had when I was a kid. I was about 11, almost 12 years old, and I was in a store with my mom and my younger brother, watching my mom shop for clothing for us. Now, I was pretty pathetic when I was 11; I was about 30 pounds overweight with poor self esteem and my mom had tried to work to reverse some of the self-hate I was continually perpetuating. We were in the store when I heard a song come in over the intercom. The lyrics went something like:

I believe the children are our future,

Teach them well and let them lead the way…

The singer was Whitney Houston, the daughter of gospel singer Cissy Houston and then an up-and-coming chanteuse. At that time, I thought, sure, the children are our future. Most children, not me. I used to think “I hate that song!” The lyrics really got to me… “show them all the beauty they possess inside”? Easy for her  to say! She had a fabulous career as a singer and wasn’t stuck in fifth grade hell. Who was she to tell me that I possessed beauty inside? At that time, I didn’t recognize my own self-worth.

I think we all know what happened to Whitney Houston. Nearly twenty years after she married and subsequently divorced Bobby Brown, she was found unconscious in a bathtub in her Beverly Hills hotel room and paramedics couldn’t revive her. The beautiful heart that once asked “How Will I Know?” and crooned “I Will Always Love You” had stopped forever. Whitney Houston was her own victim, having succumbed to years of drug and alcohol abuse.

My theory? Whitney Houston never found The Greatest Love of All. Instead, like so many people in this world, she let others define her worth. This is a mistake, as we’ve been told over and over again. Whitney sang about finding your self-love, your power, but she didn’t live it.

What exactly is this greatest love of all that Whitney Houston sang about? In the 1950s, a psychologist, Erich Fromm, theorized that self-love is the act of caring about oneself, taking responsibility for oneself, respecting oneself, and knowing oneself (e.g. being realistic and honest about one’s strengths and weaknesses).

Why is this important? Two reasons:

1. How many of you have heard of the Law of Attraction? Quite simply, this law states a primary principal known in physics: like attracts like. That is to say, if you project love, you receive love in return. If you project something other than love, you receive that instead.

2. What is the opposite of love? Fear! The opposite of love is fear.

Now, given the law of attraction (like attracts like), would you rather attract fear… or love?

Holding yourself in high esteem doesn’t just benefit you. If that were the case, it wouldn’t be important. Loving yourself is the greatest love of all because it allows you to freely and completely love others. To put it another way, by respeciting yourself, you get out of your own way, and open yourself to the potential of all of life’s riches.

As for me, self-love has been something I’ve struggled with for decades now, and I will probably struggle with it for the rest of my natural life. Is having a healthy self-image easy? No. But it is so worth it. 

By working to learn to be my own best friend, and by then projecting that esteem into the world, I’ve been able to do things such as influence my friends to join Toastmasters, perform random acts of kindness in the community, and raise a son who I hope will grow into a great man.

And that truly is the greatest love of all.

Hi, how are ya?

I’ve had occasion to get to know new people within the last year, either through work or Toastmasters (mainly, but occasionally outside those two) and began thinking about how I could quickly and easily help new folks get to know me and… what I came up with is the ubiquitous “25 things about me” meme.  If I could have these printed on a business card to hand out, people would hardly need to ask me anything about myself – it’s all right there. I’ve done this little exercise on my blog before but haven’t updated it.

Without further ado:

25 Things About Me

  1. I am a Taurus
  2. I love cats
  3. I love chocolate (dark; don’t really care for milk)
  4. Favorite color: green
  5. Favorite radio station: XM Alt Nation (FM favorite: Live105)
  6. Favorite movie: Life is Beautiful
  7. Big fear: spiders
  8. My background: Italian, English,Irish, German, Cherokee and Swedish
  9. My middle name is Lynn
  10. I have two art degrees
  11. I am vegetarian (mostly vegan)
  12. I can sing and dance
  13. I am very self-conscious
  14. I am a published author
  15. Most things I know how to do are self-taught
  16. Favorite number: 16
  17. I have synesthesia (letters and numbers have both colors and genders to me)
  18. I have a wacky sense of humor
  19. I cry easily
  20. I grew up in the Bay Area
  21. I am moderately liberal
  22. I can imitate Droopy Dog (a random one, I know!)
  23. I love to read (mostly non-fiction)
  24. I’m a stickler for spelling and grammar
  25. My personality type is INFP/ENFP

I asked my 9-year-old to tell me 25 things about himself, with hilarious results (7 of his 15 are “I love my Mom”, or “I love everybody!” and 25 things that aren’t true about him include “I am a penguin”, “I am a goat”).

What are your 25?

Making it look easy

This past Monday was the first week back at school for my husband (a teacher) and my son, who’s in fourth grade. During summers and holiday breaks, my husband does a ton of housework and yardwork, and he takes our son to a plethora of activities, all of which I appreciate as someone with a demanding job (I work in the IT field, and 40 hour weeks are short weeks for me).

When school is in session, however, all that comes to a complete halt. To husband’s credit, he does the daycare pickup and dinner on the nights when I’m working late or at Toastmasters, but I am responsible for 2/3 of the laundry, the majority of the housework, nearly all the cooking and 100% of the morning routine. On Thursday nights and a least every other weekend, I am, for all intents and purposes, a single mom.

Every time a new semester approaches, I panic inside. This year, though, I am determined to find shortcuts, tricks, and outright cheats to make it somewhat easier on myself – and to make myself appear awesome! Here’s what I’ve come up with so far.

The 20 Minute Challenge. This was borne out of the realization that, with three of us living in the house, I could get an hour’s worth of work in 20 minutes by making it worth everyone’s while. I thought I had invented this as it pertains to housecleaning, but it’s already out on the interwebs. I run mine as a true competition though, with fabulous cash and prizes a prize for the winner of the challenge.

How it works: Each of the three of us chooses a room (living, dining, kitchen, bathroom) and during the Challenge, we compete to see who ends up with the cleanest living area. Winner gets his or her choice of family activity afterward. We play music during the Challenge, and often will take turns choosing the next song to be played (I have an iPad with a speaker dock and will often pick a song out of my iTunes library or a YouTube video). During the final few minutes, we play the finale of the William Tell Overture. The key is for the Challenge to be FUN. Kids will sometimes lose interest in this, but yelling at them for not participating guarantees they won’t want to take part again. If only the adults end up participating, that’s fine.

Enrichment Night. Alas, I thought this was my own unique invention as well, but a quick Google search proved me wrong. My twist on this is that every participant (on Thursday nights, this is my son’s and my special thing) chooses something he or she wants to learn more about and then just does it. This past Thursday, for example, we learned about  Emotional Freedom Techniques (not your usual topic, but we had a need for it this week). Future weeks may include one or both of us practicing stop motion animation – there’s an app for that – learning Italian or practicing bass guitar.

How it Works: There are more resources out there for learning subjects for free than I have room to list, but some that come to mind are Kahn Academy, MIT, eHow and, of course, YouTube. Simply pick your subject and get started!

Meal Planning. For my family, meal planning typically goes something like this: Saturday afternoon or Sunday night, go to the store, spend about $100 to $120 buying whatever looks good, take it home. Run completely out of food three days later and make an emergency trip to the closest store on the way home and spend another $75 to $80. Go out for lunch and dinner several times that week whenever you can’t come up with something to make or you forget to bring a lunch to work. Repeat, repeat, repeat. I asked Mr Google for help in this area, after being aghast at just how much we have been spending on food for the three of us, and one of the first results was Veggie Meal Maker. For me, being able to “shop” for recipes, adjust the serving size, and generate a shopping list automatically was just what I need (they also have a mobile site, which I used when I went to Trader Joe’s in lieu of printing out the list).

Now, if you’re not vegetarian or want to see what else is out there, a search for “meal planner app” returned over 400,000 results.

How it Works: Review the list of suggested recipes (or browse), drag the ones you want onto the calendar, click “Shopping List” and print to bring with you to the store or pull up the mobile app on your phone while shopping. Last weekend I spent about $130 and got more than a weeks’ worth of groceries. There are no “weird” or hard to find ingredients and the recipes are crowd-sourced, similar to various cooking websites. Each one requires about 5-15 minutes of prep time and 10-40 minutes cooking time. I’ve had delicious foods such as pancakes and Indian curry and have not only saved time and money but I’ve been able to more easily hit my daily calorie budget.

What about you? What are your dirty little secrets for making it look easy?

No song unsung, no wine untasted

A couple of years ago, I posted a blog entry about a friend of mine who was moving far away and I was incredibly sad about it. That blog, to date, is my post popular post, and it seemed to resonate with readers who felt, as I did, that… gosh, friendship is so hard as an adult.

Several months later, my friend moved back and I realized what it was that truly bothered me: I hadn’t outright told her how much I was going to miss her, hadn’t made the most of our time together, and I vowed not to make the same mistake again.

This year, 2012, brought to light for me the need to not only tell people what they mean to you but to DO IT NOW, first when my father-in-law passed away, then when a friend died and her husband casually let us know. In my father-in-law’s case, he really never approved of me, and my husband and I went years without speaking to him. We really should have taken the time to clear the air with him while we had the chance. When the time came for him to go (or, rather, he decided it was his time; believe me, he ran that show), he called in each of his kids and their spouses to speak with them privately. Except me: I was at work and had been told to stay home.  He had been somewhat active on Facebook – yes, 75-year-olds use social media – and the very last thing ever posted to his wall was me wishing him happy birthday two weeks before his death. Aside from that, I didn’t get to say goodbye.

My friend Susan and I had been coworkers a long, long time ago. She was a quality assurance engineer at the software company we worked at, and I was a technical recruiter. Her husband owned a music store and worked as a police officer in the small town my husband and I live in. We had talked, off and on, for well over a decade about having dinner at their house and somehow life happened instead until one day she was gone. I never saw her socially after 2001 (just briefly, while she was on a ride-a-long with her husband) and, again, no final goodbye.

Part of my issue with this is that, sometime during my formative years, I convinced myself that people are irritated by my presence. Therefore, I am very good at giving them their space, which is often interpreted as disinterest. My husband has vocalized this when I don’t reply to an email right away. So have previous boyfriends, guys I was dating, potential friends, potential employers and many others over the years. 

My perceived disinterest turned people off, which in turn seemed to confirm my feelings of being somewhat undesirable. On the other hand, on occasions during which I’ve been more authentic and expressed my feelings more openly, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how receptive most are.

My New Year’s Wish for 2013, then, is simple: do it NOW. Call your grandmother. Kiss your children. Tell your husband what you want from him. Take your mother to see Les Miserables and leave the boys at home. You won’t regret it.

Best wishes to you all in the new year.

Bad Company

This is a humorous speech I plan to give on Monday night. I’ll try to think of a better title, I promise. Constructive comments appreciated. Enjoy!

Good evening, fellow Toastmasters and honored guests. It’s September now, almost fall, and before too much longer the holiday season will be upon us. Ahh… candles, trees, tidings of goodwill to all people… and my personal favorite, company holiday parties!

Now, those of you who know me know that I’m not just a Toastmaster – I’m also a businesswoman. I’ve worked in corporate America long enough to know there are certain expectations when you’re attending a company-sponsored soiree, which is why my advice to you, if you’ve been invited to one, is this: proceed with caution. We’ve all heard tales of people (or their spouses) getting just a little tipsy and making complete fools of themselves at parties, but I’d warn you that even something as seemingly innocuous as how you (or your spouse) dance can make a lasting impression – for better or worse –  on the higher-ups. I’ll get to that in a minute.

Shortly after I earned my first degree, I wound up working at a technical recruiting firm in Sausalito – my first real, REAL job. I was young – twenty-two to be exact – as were most of my coworkers. Our boss was a man named – and I’m not making this up – Roger King. He and his wife (again, not making this up), Kathy Lord, were titans of business during the height of the dot-com boom.

My first year at the company, Roger and Kathy decided to throw a holiday shindig fit for, well, a King. Held at a prestigious winery in Sonoma, the evening promised to be a night to remember!

Now, let me reiterate. This was a period of time during which the economy was good. My coworkers and I were young, and we were having our company holiday party at a winery.

The party got underway and, soon, so did the dancing. I got up a danced for a bit, then I sat back down and decided to people watch for a while.

Now, when people are sober, they dance like this: [demonstrate]. Feet nailed to the floor, you might twist your body from side to side. Arms going a bit. You might even talk to your neighbors: “Hey! How are you??”

When they get a little alcohol in their system, people resemble those inflatable windsocks you see at auto sales. They kind of look like this: [demonstrate]. They get louder too: “Wooo-hoooooo!!!!”

When you have a situation like, um, a free, open bar during your holiday party, all bets are off.

Anyway, back to my company party. After a few bottles of wine had been consumed, things were raging. Roger, most of my male coworkers and my coworker Susan’s boyfriend, this guy named Andy, got up and began to dance together… as in arms around each other, leaning on one another for support. Singing along with the music, LOUDLY.

Someone – don’t really remember who started it – decided to lead the group in the can-can, that iconic dance performed in gay Paris during the heyday of the 1800s. Have you ever seen a group of men in suits and ties doing the can-can? Me either… until then.

They looked like a group of windsocks that were about to take flight. When one of them did a high kick, they ALL did a high kick, every one of them nearly stumbling and falling over… although thankfully none of them did, because they all had their bros holding them up.

The entire group decided to go for a really high kick when, before everyone’s eyes, Andy’s prosthetic leg – which I personally had no knowledge of – detached and flipped through the air like an acrobat, end over end [demonstrate]. It was like watching a car accident in slow motion. Finally, the leg came to rest, in the middle of the floor. You know that scene in what seems like just about every movie when the record player scratches and the room is completely silent? Yeah, THAT. Then, after what seemed like a small eternity, the entire place erupted. Recuiters, administrative staff, managers, waiters, bartenders and their dates all, with tears rolling down their cheeks, laughing at the poor guy.

Susan scrambled to her feet to retrieve the leg and re-attach it to her boyfriend. They sat down, the dancing stopped and the party went on. No one was hurt, but that image was etched into my mind forever.

It was on that night that I learned a very valuable lesson about company holiday parties. Don’t overdo it, and don’t get too wild. Heed my advice and keep both feet on the ground and you will have a leg to stand on!