12.27.2009

A Powerful Lunar Punch!

Oh, the power of the Moon. She’s been intense alright, and socking us with a powerful lunar punch this last month of the decade.

Don’t we all know the saying "once in a blue moon?" It's when there are two full moons in one calendar month...very rare! Well, after about 2 ½ years we got hit up yet again in December!

We had a full moon on December 2nd, a new moon on the 16th, and will have another full (blue) moon on New Year's Eve. As the Intuitive Healer I’ve seen occasionally over the past few years reminds us, it's been a very good time to notice, honor and support our own unique phases: activity and rest, introversion and extroversion.

Astrologically speaking, communication issues can be easily triggered—we need to remember to stay consistent, tactful, and flexible. Be easy and gentle with yourself and others. Everyone's moods and energies—our internal tides—are affected by the moon's magnetic energies.

In addition, Mercury went retrograde on December 26th and that lasts till around January 15 '10. All our communications issues will be even more challenging!

The Winter Solstice groaned through with typical deep, dark blackness and just a tiny teasing slice of daylight. And then days later, we had bright blue skies, sun and frost on rooftops and trees for Christmas – very rare for the Pacific Northwest. The sunshine definitely brightens moods.

I know I’ve written in earlier posts about when a bunch of things have gone haywire with communications, my patience has been tested, and a bunch of relatively “small” things have physically broken this past month (iPod, neighborhood power outage when it wasn’t stormy, car keyfob on occasion, water leaks, you name it). But then I remind myself…my address is NOT the Lower Ninth Ward. I’m doing OK.

Full moon New Years Eve? Oh, my friends shudder. Anyone out there in emergency room work or law enforcement? My hat is off to each of you.

I looked at the moon tonight after meeting with a good friend for coffee and catching up. It’s like an overly swollen football right now, proud and glowing bright in the inky blue night sky just after the sun disappears. Just a few more days.

12.20.2009

"...the right thing will happen when it's supposed to happen."


I uttered these words early last week when I met up for coffee with a family friend I hadn’t seen in over 20 years – the wife of one of my Dad’s co-workers, who has known our family since my brothers and I were very young. Turns out she has been working for many years at the same company where I’ve been working on a short term assignment – in the building right next door! So many small world connections at this company it is just unreal: one of my team members is a neighbor and also used to work with the husband of a cousin of mine in Oregon, another is the step brother of my sister in law’s best friend, and another I used to work with indirectly at a prior contract gig about 3 years ago. What is it about this place with so many Six Degrees things going on at once? Delicious.

So when I had coffee with K a few days ago (the family friend) and made that "right thing" comment her response was, “Wow, you are very wise to know this at your relatively young age!” We laughed. You know, I hadn’t really thought of my age, early 40-something, as “young.” But I guess that’s because I tend to spend a lot of time with friends who are slightly younger than I. On the other hand it is also nice that age doesn’t really matter much anymore. I cherish the people I resonate with and adore my friendships as extended family, whether 10 years younger or 10 years older or anywhere in between or beyond. I’ll never forget my folks visiting me at college and commenting on how young the students looked! At the time I had no idea what they were talking about. Now that I have 20 years of life under my belt since college, I get it.

OK, so the right things happen when they're supposed to. Really? Sometimes I say this to convince myself it's true and to fight off the deep DNA urges to be impatient and worry. All that has done is burned up energy I could have spent elsewhere and left me with a slight crinkle between my eyebrows which is a likely target for a shot of Botox. But, for now I'll stick with bangs and a personal vow to not worry so much.

Work wraps up end of December, and after that who knows. I do have a handful of job leads - including a couple possibly where I am right now - which is comforting not only for my sanity but my wallet as well. I'm tired of feeling the burn from the Recession. I think we all are. But perhaps it was a correction that needed to happen and has happened as I've witnessed in a few cycles during my adult life (but not as severe). And OK, I'll say it outloud...I'm tired of my skimpy paycheck. I LOVE the team I've been working with, but I've been living on half or less than half my typical income for 7 months. I guess these things come before us as life lessons to learn about saving and investing. And, to be thankful. I can still get by just fine. My house is still standing, I'm in good health, I have wonderful family and friends and I'm not hungry.

I've also learned to listen more to instinct and other intangibles, the "dark matter" that is out there and defies rational, practical definition but nonetheless packs a punch. I'm trying to understand, breathe and be gentle...understanding this is a Blue Moon month and the universe is giving us a strong dose of wacky. Things have broken, communications have gone haywire and most everyone I know is stressed with the holidays right around the corner.

Yesterday I had the thrill of reconnecting with a friend from high school I hadn't seen in, gulp, nearly 25 years. She and I had traveled as part of a group to eastern Europe and what is now the former Soviet Union in the mid 80s with our Russian language teacher. Turns out she's been living in various places in Europe for years and was back here in the States very briefly to see her Mom. Through the magic of Facebook we got back in touch after all this time and she and her husband and I had coffee and some good laughs. It was as if no time had passed (well, other than some crinkles and a few grey hairs). It is simply magical to reconnect with someone after over half a lifetime and just pick up right where we left off. How do you cover the past 20 some years in just an hour?? These are friends where you can just look eachother in the eye and just "know" and "feel" the life connection. Lots of life has happened. We've all had successes, struggles, tragedies, changes, growth, learning and so much more that goes beyond what we can put in words. And there's a lot of comfort in that type of bonding from peers.

So, I embrace all of this and look in wonder to the time ahead...tomorrow is the Solstice, Christmas is mere days away, the decade is ready to turn, we have a full moon New Years Eve, and beyond that...who knows. My tired calendar is ready for the recycle bin and a crisp new one is ready to take its place. I decided on pictures of the Greek Isles. I love the bright blue ocean, colorful architecture and sunshine, especially this time of year.

Meanwhile, my mind races with what's next: more job hunting, networking, time here in fivenineteen, getting trained for another 5K or two, the scary Diet Coke detox upcoming in January, home projects, pro bono work that might turn into something paying, including launching a Blog for the company's website. And I seem to have become fascinated with Arctic issues, so I may use this downtime next month to read and learn...the issues with melting ice, political disputes in the region, the indigineous peoples and their many ways of life. I can't wait for the New Year and what lies ahead. And yet, I remind myself to be patient too.

"...wow, you don't let grass grow under your feet, do you?" This was K's response after recapping a few things I've dabbled in the past year or so. Oh she's so right!

12.12.2009

Oh, Those Nasty Habits!


Sometimes things on my mind just have to come out. It’s like a huge surge of internal energy that literally pins me here in the home office chair until it gets formed into words and typed out. OK, it’s the weekend and the schedule’s pretty wide open today so I can just go with it. I’ve been keeping posts to just about one a week, usually on a weekend anyway so It’s Time Again. I’d love to write more but I find I have to be in a certain mindset and after a day at work my brain is too tired, but it's a good tired. Just not the best state for writing.

There will be another “gift” of time coming this way as my current work assignment wraps up at the end of December. I really enjoy this team and the work and would LOVE to stay on longer but the reality is that’s not going to happen for a lot of us. But, on the other hand we all knew our time there would be short so it’s no surprise. I’ll have more time in January to focus here on fivenineteen and where I want to take it moving into ‘10. And things job-wise should hopefully improve in the new decade as we pull out of this stupid Recession. Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to resuming the part-time and pro bono work I was doing for a colleague who's started up a consulting business (see "A Seat on the Panel with a Paycheck of Zero" for more on that.)

Oh. One more thing to add to the “When Things Don’t Work” post – my beloved T3 hair dryer. Good grief I spent $150 on that thing and only had it about a year and a half. And yet Friday morning I plugged it in, turned it on and it made THE hugest, loud POP and then a horrific grinding sound. And smelled. Yep, I think it’s done. And nope, this is NOT the way to start off an early morning where I’m trying to get ready for work and make a little extra effort to look nice as I was hoping to reconnect with a recruiter. As I like to say, “we wear our hair every day,” so investing in a good haircut, color and styling tools/products is high on my list. That little dryer really did its job….it was a travel model too so the handle folded up nicely for packing. Dang, I miss business travel – really and truly. Anyway, the faster I can get my hair dry and the waves smoothed down the less wear and tear there is on it and the less time I need to get ready and out the door. Thankfully I have an older dryer to use as a backup. It doesn’t work on one of the lower speeds any more but it works. So that's now the iPod, my home office scanner/printer, the new Christmas tree lights which were DOA, the garage water leak, the hair dryer oh and the on-off timer on a floor lamp switch in the living room which have all crapped out within a couple weeks for no apparent reason. It IS a blue moon month so things are a little wacky for sure!

Now…what was I going to write about again? I love tangents but it’s time to get back on track here. Oh yeah…Nasty Habits.

How about these?
Diet Coke.
Shopping.
Red Wine.

Yep, these are things I've taken comfort in, sometimes more than I should I suppose.

Ohhhh, Diet Coke. Bless you and damn you all at the same time. The girls who wrote the book Skinny Bitch call diet sodas "Satan in a Can," and that's pretty much spot on. I can down it all day to keep the caffeine going through my bloodstream and it's the beverage of choice for me to stay alert when I have a late night hockey game (that and a mega dose of Vitamin B). This is a 20-year addiction that's gripped me so tightly it's downright embarrassing. And unhealthy. For years I worked at companies where sodas were complimentary so my consumption just escalated as a result.

I'm going to cut it out of my life starting in January and frankly, I'm scared. I'm scared of the withdrawal side effects. Scared I won't have any energy. Scared of being tired, moody and bitchy during the process. BUT, I know I'll feel better once it's all flushed out of my system. Stay tuned for more posts on my upcoming journey through Hell with this "DC Detox" next month! And join me in a toast as I raise my stainless steel hydration bottle full of water meanwhile!

Red Wine. Funny how two of the three I called out here are beverages?
Yeah, there's something nice about unwinding with a glass of wine at the end of a long workday while getting dinner ready, watching TV or just reading email or web surfing. I even joined a wine of the month club a few years ago, where a local wine merchant picks a couple bottles each month (mostly reds) and sends out a nice document about the history of each, the regions where they originate, and a discount on more of the same for that particular month. I did this for years and then realized, as much as I enjoy learning about wine and having a choice of bottles to grab when heading off to a party or to just sit looking cool in my wine rack, that I really didn't need to do this. That's hundreds of dollars a year just on wine and for me recently that just doesn't make economic sense. I also found that cutting way back on red wine consumption reduces the frequency and intensity of migraines I tend to get, mostly with hormonal cycles so have said my gynos over the years. I still enjoy a glass every now and then, but I don't miss it.

Shopping. This will never be purged out of my DNA so I embrace it and learn to manage urges to shop/spend unnecessarily. It doesn't cost anything to look!

You know, when I was in my early 20s and just starting out in my career and post-college life I had this feeling deep in my bones that every year would get BETTER. Call it naive, call it crazy, but that's how I felt. I felt with every year that went by I'd be smarter, healthier, more cultured, more worldly, more glamorous, and yes, wealthier.

OK, reality hits hard. Doesn't always work that way.

Maybe it's because that time of my life was in the late 1980s when glitz was still in style and economic times were properous in general. I figured that was how post-college life would be forever and ever with nowhere to go but up as I got more established as an adult with my career and life! I got a job mere weeks after graduating from college and while the pay was low compared to other entry-level jobs it was in a glamorous office location in downtown Seattle and the year-end bonuses were very generous. Far different experience from other college grads who coincidentally happened to graduate when the economy wasn't as booming.

Fast forward to the early 21st century and I now have a townhome I love, but is also nearly 30 years old and it needs work. Gone are the days of $550 a month rent with a roommate, where a broken toilet was a quick phone call to the landlord to get it fixed! Now I gotta pay for the fixes myself. New appliances. New 400 sq ft back deck. A massive water leak. Paint, inside and out. And, likely next year, a new roof for all of us in the HOA. I love my townhouse but also am humbled at the work involved in keeping a home maintained and stylish. I still have lingering 1980 fixtures in a few rooms and carpet to rip out and replace with flooring or tile.

I also realize how a lot of the frivolous shopping I used to do over the years needs to stop and focus on more important things like beefing up retirement accounts and home maintenance. This clangs even more loudly in my face as I wrap up my current work assignment and go into the world of unemployment yet again, but hopefully not for long.

You know, there is such a huge feeling of relief when you stop trying to impress people with material shit. I'm going to write about this more in future posts, and hopefully it won't get too bitchy during the Diet Coke detox but we'll see.

12.06.2009

Edges and Ends

Have you ever had a lifelong interest or passion that you’ve never expressed in words, written or spoken, not even to your closest friends? Just something you ‘know’ about yourself, your personality, something that puts a smile on your face or a little flutter in your heart?

Well, here goes.

I love Edges and Ends of things. Huh? The tip, the extreme, the very very edge. I think this is a subset of my fascination with maps and geography actually!

What do these places have in common?
Neah Bay, WA
Tierra del Fuego, Argentina
Barrow, AK
Hobart, (Tasmania) Australia
Marsala, (Sicily) Italy

…they’re all on the end (or pretty close to) the end of a piece of land or continent! After that it’s nothing but ocean ocean ocean.

I remember traveling in Moscow in the mid 1980s with a group and after finding a map of the Metro, I spotted one line that went FAR, far to the east away from the central hub, much longer than all the others. I convinced my friend B to go ride that route with me all the way to the end to see what it was like! We jokingly called the end of the line “Siberia,” but it was just deep, outer suburbs, really. No idea where the hell it was. And at that time, as long as you didn’t surface above ground, a single Metro fare ticket was the equivalent of a nickel.

So, I guess I’m back to maps again – ha! Seriously though, link me onto Google maps and I can zone out into another world and hours can go by before I realize I’ve been into “globe porn,” scanning maps, zooming in on various cities, wondering, imagining what life is like there, what’s everyone up to. It truly is mind boggling! I find the wonderful beach in Trinidad where I spent an afternoon relaxing in the sun and swimming a few years ago (Maracas Bay Beach, a perfect half circle inlet of the ocean on the north coast of the island…and Trinidad is pretty near the southern end of the Caribbean islands chain so there you go!). I zoom in on Neah Bay, WA and dream about a road trip to check it out. Sunny Key West, Florida…how long does it take to drive all that way from Miami? I’ve been as far as South Beach but haven’t yet visited the Keys.

How about Tristan da Cunha, St. Helena? This is the most remote inhabited island in the world, located in the south Atlantic ocean. Even stumped an amateur geographer like me – never had heard of it! Population under 300! Wow, you better get along with your neighbors, I suppose. Need to get out of town? Don’t charter a plane as there’s no airport – you can only get there by boat.

I thumbed through National Geographic while in the dentist office waiting room and got swept up in a story about a nuclear powered ice breaker that takes tourists from Murmansk (Russia) to the North Pole! Talk about a cruise of a lifetime! See the people in a circle with all the flags in the picture? That’s the North Pole, and the flags of all travelers, standing in each of the Earth’s time zones all at once. I think if I could be standing and holding hands in that circle I would cheer for joy and burst into tears all at the same time. $20,000 and I am so there!

And then a couple of days ago I stumbled across an article on cnn.com about the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Three people from Shishmaref, Alaska will attend as witnesses to the erosion their town is experiencing as the permafrost is melting and no longer protects their island from the violent storms of the Chukchi Sea. The entire town and its hunting/fishing lifestyle, unique dialect and entire way of life is in jeopardy of slowly vanishing into the ocean.

“As far as outsiders are concerned, Shishmaref might as well be at the edge of the Earth.
Only 20 miles south of the Arctic Circle and less than 150 miles from Russian Siberia, the village's geography alone makes it seem uninhabitable.

“Its 600 residents endure temperatures that drop to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter. Polar bear sightings are common. Water is scarce. There's no plumbing in most homes; ice is harvested from lakes in microwave-size blocks and melted in buckets. No roads connect Shishmaref to the outside world.”

Of course I had to go find this town on a map immediately. Holy crap that is REMOTE. I gasp and wonder how in the world anyone could choose to live this way, and yet at the same time feel a deep warmth and respect for the traditions that have gone unchanged there for hundreds of years. And I also chuckle when I read about kids learning about walrus tusk carving while listening to their iPods. Even remote towns like this see a little injection from the modern world I suppose.

As I close my browser window I feel a dizzying rush of returning back "home" so to speak. The same feeling I got as a child after sitting with my grandparents looking at a globe, or thumbing through an atlas in my parent's library.

And there, my friends, is my first, fairly un-edited attempt at explaining this passion.

Now, it's back to "home" and reality. First stop: laundry!

11.27.2009

When Things Don't Work

Anyone else out there get totally frustrated when a bunch of little things stop working all around the same time? I literally throw internal hissy fits (and sometimes external too)! And I wonder why stuff happens all around the same time too.

The engine light's on in my car so it's time to get it to the shop even though it seems to be running just fine. My laptop blue screened yet again last week, even after updating drivers and flashing the BIOS (I might sound very technically savvy but trust me, I just know enough to be dangerous). The laptop is 3 years old and I'd hate to plunk down more money for a new one right now, so maybe it just needs more RAM (?). My beloved iPod which I've had around 2 1/2 years now dies after 20 minutes even after getting a full charge. Oh, the places that iPod has gone with me! Business trips, vacations, countless workouts on the treadmill and outside. I love the schizo mix of music on it and it kills me to think it might be on its last legs. How much of a pain is it to get a new battery?

I decided this year to get two small artificial trees instead of a real tree for Christmas, and found a great deal on a faux mini spruce, just 3' high, in a wonderful ceramic pot, complete with tiny white lights. The delivery arrived a few days ago, I unpacked it all excited and plugged it in - and got nothing. The lights don't work! Is it worth shipping the whole thing back due to this? For me, probably not. Christmas lights are cheap so I will likely just take the ones that came on the tree off and put on my own. Oh well!

And with the rain starting up again full force here (very typical Pacific Northwest weather), I came home one night to find water slowly seeping through a tiny crack in one of the concrete walls in my garage. The garage is partially built into the ground, so who knows what's going on here. Might be some drainage problems from the back deck up above it.

Actually, I was thinking about the car engine light issue and the small garage leak on a long walk today - when the iPod crapped out. It was a rare sunny and somewhat clear day today, especially for late November. I said no thanks to all the Black Friday shopping nonsense today and decided to head up the big hill in my neighborhood for a 5-mile walk.

Other than the iPod dying, it was a good workout. I love veging out to great music when I exercise, but maybe the iPod going silent was meant as a much-needed break for my eardrums or a reminder to just stop and take in the real world sounds around me, rather than drown them out with music.

11.20.2009

Raw food, anyone? Incredible tuna seviche

I'm back again with another recipe, as I just LOVE food. But I'm very much an 'everything in moderation' type, so while I do enjoy vegetarian, vegan and Raw dishes (such as this one), I can't pin myself down to any in particular. I might try to claim myself a vegetarian, but then crave a good steak and burger just a few days later. And as you'll see below, a Raw food diet does NOT equal being a vegetarian!

Vegan? Sure, I can do that for awhile and have a few great recipes too...but when clam chowder is on the menu in the work cafeteria all bets are off.


This recipe is from Carol Alt's book Eating In the Raw, which is a great introductory reference to understanding Raw food and the lifestyle.


Serves 4
3/4 lb sushi-grade bigeye tuna, thinly sliced
1/4 C red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 C celery, thinly sliced
1/4 C red and/or yellow bell peppers, thinly sliced
1/2 fresh jalapeno, thinly sliced
4 tsp scallions, finely chopped
chives, for garnish


Marinade:
1 C freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 C freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 C freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 C raw soy sauce (Nama Shoyu, unpasteurized soy sauce)
3/4 C raw olive oil
1 T minced garlic
1 T peeled, minced fresh gingerroot
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


I like keeping the tuna in the marinade up to 8 hours or overnight, as the citrus juices "cook" the outer portion of the tuna. I whisk the marinade ingredients in a large, 8-cup (2 quart) Pyrex measuring cup and then gently add the tuna pieces, cover with plastic wrap and chill.


To serve, lay out 4 chilled salad plates, combine the tuna, marinade and vegetables, mix well and serve onto each salad plate.


11.15.2009

Edamame, Vitamin D and a chunk of Celestite

I'm a few weeks into the new job now and am learning a lot very quickly about the health insurance industry, a field I have not yet worked in before. While my career has been a bit eclectic - especially working contract jobs the past three years or so - I'm very proud of the experience and confidence I've gained, along with a thicker skin and some street smarts. As a contract worker, you are constantly the new kid and under scrutiny, and expected to add value immediately from Day One. I've probably written about this in other posts, but it's such a fundamental part of what shapes my outlook on life. I am absolutely fascinated with the differences between work cultures - what denotes being productive, what the unwritten rules are, slowly discovering the politics, developing rapport and relationships quickly...and learning who the decision makers are as well as the influencers. Perhaps I should have been a sociologist!

One thing that stands out about my current work culture is a focus on being healthy and openly talking about it. I suppose that shouldn't be a surprise! The internal employee website has a blog and forum to discuss what people are doing to stay fit. The cafeteria is EXCELLENT and also includes nutritional info and Weight Watchers Points for everything on the menu. I hear chitter chatter in our IT department about plans to staff up the call center in case we have a major outbreak of H1N1 this winter. Hand sanitizer dispensers are everywhere, and the building is clean, clean clean. Wow. The restroom is just as clean at the end of the day as it was in the morning (someone cleans it midday), and the cafeteria tables aren't a mess after the peak crowd comes through around noon.


Being a true Taurus...well, I love food. I love cooking, eating out and could talk about food all day! So it was a huge relief to discover the cafeteria has great choices (and is subsidized - bonus!). Many of us park in a satellite lot and take a shuttle onto the main campus, so getting out midday for lunch isn't super convenient. I am looking forward to getting off campus and exploring places to eat around town...however, this is a nice corporate campus smack in the middle of strip malls and casinos. I'm sure there's a great hole in the wall sushi place or two.


As I sprinkled a bunch of edamame over my salad from the salad bar, I thought more about eating and the choices I've made. I'll admit when I wasn't working this summer I probably didn't eat as healthy as I should (and didn't eat out very much to watch my wallet). Making a salad at home for one seemed kind of silly to me, so I'd occasionally cut up some vine-ripened tomatoes and make a Caprese salad with some fresh mozzarella, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a sprinkle of Celtic sea salt. Or, maybe a handful of baby carrots. Or, maybe no veggies at all. Hmmm.


I think our bodies tell us what they need nutritionally if we really pay attention and listen. Last month I constantly craved tomatoes and ate at least one a day for a week, hence those Caprese salads. I guess there was some nutrient in the tomatoes I was unconsciously lacking. I enjoy edamame on my salads now at lunch and after reading about their health benefits that's a habit I can keep. One day I scooped up a little of what I thought was diced chicken covered in spices but turned out - nope - it was Tofu. Not my first choice but it won't kill me to try new things. And on Friday for lunch I had an absolutely amazing shrimp ceviche tostada with fresh salsa!


OK, I'll admit it. I have an extremely nasty Diet Coke habit. Hell, everyone needs a vice or two, right? I don't even want to think about how many thousands of cans I've consumed, especially in years working in environments where sodas and juices were complimentary. I used to joke that if anyone was mapping out soda consumption at a company and wondered why it would suddenly spike up somewhere for a couple years and then drastically drop off, well, I might have been the culprit!


And yes, I'm sitting here typing nursing a can of...Diet Coke. I really, truly am trying to cut back, and it's easier now during the workweek. First of all, it's not free, so I can calculate how much money would go down the drain at the vending machine. Now that I'm getting up earlier for the commute I'm discovering coffee again, but am trying to limit that to Friday mornings as a special TGIF treat. Isn't coffee healthier anyway, given it's natural vs. a can of soda chock full of chemicals? I'm fighting the Diet Coke urges during the week with good old fashioned water. I now have an environmentally correct stainless steel half liter bottle and fill it up throughout the day at work.


A friend suggested taking a Vitamin D supplement, especially through the fall and winter, so I've started doing that as well. I guess I never put two and two together, but we're likely to be severely deficient in it here in the Pacific Northwest given our cloudy skies and short summer season. So, I now add that to my morning routine. I hear it's supposed to help with seasonal mood swings too. Thankfully I am used to our grey, dreary weather so that doesn't get me down.
Weight gain. This is yet again a problem, and I don't recognize myself in recent pictures. Sure, I've played hockey for a few years and trained to run a couple of 5Ks this summer for the first time but I don't feel I have anything to show for it. I lost 35 lbs a few years ago and sadly most of it has returned. In part of my effort to de-clutter the townhouse I finally gave away a lot of the clothes I simply can't wear anymore. And dang they looked tiny when I held them up. Did I really used to fit into those jeans? The early 40s are playing a cruel joke on me, as the weight not only came back but came back in places it never used to...my waist, upper hips and tummy. GAH!! I'm terrified about looking "middle aged." And no one ever told me at this age I'd be "blessed" both with occasional zits - still - AND a few wrinkles too.
So I am hoping healthier eating choices plus stepping up the exercise will get me back to a more comfortable weight. And perhaps the work environment will be some of the influence and support I need.
Last weekend when J and I were out shopping we found a small store with aromatherapy items, candles and other new age-y kind of stuff. Have you ever had something literally jump off a store shelf and just bond with you immediately? Chunks of celestite on display caught my eye. I admired the gorgeous shimmery light blue and white colors anchored in the grey outer stone. I grabbed one and immediately cradled it in my hands. The curve of the stone was an absolute perfect fit and I could literally feel it radiating through my body and could "hear" the sound of the sparkles. Almost as if this stone was "alive."
I tend to pooh pooh a lot of hype about crystals and their healing properties, but I'm not doubting what I felt holding that celestite. I later read that it's supposed to help with communications, clarity of mind and replaces pain with loving light.
It's now on my desk at work...after all, it couldn't hurt.








11.14.2009

Afternoon at The Bravern!


What happens when you get a group of ten women together for lunch and shopping? High energy, lots of laughs, great food, hugs, a few fabulous purchases to boost that whimpering economy, and more ooh-ing and ahhh-ing while shopping than you can imagine! We're high energy, we're boisterous and we're not afraid to plunk down serious cash for seriously awesome shoes, bags, scarves, you name it. Shameless enablers in this group!

And our shining jewel Seattle suburb - Bellevue, WA - has grown up. We now have a Neiman Marcus! I can close my eyes and picture the tired, worn-down shops and the Dairy Queen on this prime chunk of real estate in downtown Bellevue that had stood there a good 40 years or so. I used to take ballet lessons at the dance studio as a kid. Now...well, take a look at the picture!

It's like shopping Disneyland came to the suburbs. Not only do we have Neiman Marcus, but we now have Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo, Hermes, and a whole slew of restaurants and other boutiques I have yet to discover. Until next time!

When you step inside Neiman Marcus it's hard to remember we're still in a Recession. The plans for this store came to life around 2006 or so, when the economy was healthy and thriving. The launch here in September 2009 was in a completely different economic climate. Meanwhile, inside it's almost like an other-worldly bubble. $3000 purses sit proud and glamorous on the shelves. Want a gorgeous $800 cashmere sweater, $700 Christian Louboutin pumps or $1200 boots? Have you booked your trip to St. Barts? Don't forget the Dior sandals from the resort collections. Yep, they're there. With enthusiastic, impeccably dressed sales associates who are more than happy to help you. I tend to calculate high-end purchases like this as how they compare to my monthly mortgage! Hmmm...I could buy that bag or be homeless for two months, ha ha ha.

I'm a huge fan of Neiman Marcus (and a store card holder too) and have been for over 15 years, but I never actually stepped inside an actual store until 2006. It was in Boca Raton, Florida, on a free day during a 10-day business trip to Ft. Lauderdale. I love their catalogue and online sales. I've repeatedly stocked up on basic cashmere when it goes on sale off season, or wonderful towels, sheets, stationery and shoes. And with no sales tax (at the time since we didn't have a store here) and free shipping promotions you could really get good deals.

But the clothes in the store are far more edgy and trendy than what is generally in the catalogues. And this is where I wonder just how well it will blend in with our Pacific Northwest style over time. I stumbled upon a post in Darrah's Dresser (a blog I'm now following) who described it as all very fabulous but somewhat out of place for this part of the country. I liked her write up, as it was very genuine and honest, from a person with enormous passion for fashion. I looked at amazing clothing and shoes today, but I've never seen anyone wearing the trendier stuff around here in real life running errands, out casually walking their dogs or just standing in line at the post office. Or, perhaps it's because I don't run in certain circles, hee hee. And I even had an invitation to the black tie gala (yes BLACK TIE, so rare around here) the night before the grand opening in September. I felt so giddy, but then reality clobbered me on the head hard. Is a $250 ticket a smart thing to buy when unemployed, for a few hours out on the town? It was a charity benefit so I could have written off part on my taxes, but I decided to pass.

I've probably written about this before, but it's hard to describe Pacific Northwest style without keeping "practical" and "natural" in the list of qualities. Meaning, we're stylish here, but understated. [The shoes our group purchased today, for example, were black patent, mid-heeled Louboutin pumps and burgundy leather Prada driving flats, not stilettos with 6" heels.]
In general, we don't worry too much about rain getting our hair a little wet as it's just a reality it's going to happen. And unless it's an absolute downpour, many of us just don't bother with umbrellas. No one's going to get drenched in a little drizzle. We're not overly blinged-out or silicone'd either and don't dress in revealing ways. The Cartier watch might be peeking out from a polar fleece half-zip top from Old Navy, after all, and a Pacific Northwest billionaire is more likely to drive a Prius than a Bentley. If we get Botox, our faces still move. No, we're not all grungy in flannel shirts and Doc Marten boots either, but there is a casual vibe for sure. When talking fashion, we discuss what works in the rain and what doesn't. If we're spending tons on nice clothes and shoes, they certainly can't wilt or spot.

The group today was a blast. Many I knew from previous meetups and we had a couple new faces join too which is always wonderful. After lunch we shopped! One of the NM sales associates was a dead ringer for Kathy Griffin with personality to match and kind of turned into a funny stalker/groupie, striking up conversations and asking us questions. 10 of us in killer handbags shopping and laughing together attracts attention for sure! And we love it! At the jewelry counter a couple of the girls found necklaces that matched the bracelet I was wearing and took a few pictures of me modeling. Hilarious! While this was going on, the sales associate reappeared again and noticed a few of us carrying Hermes Kelly bags and immediately got all giddy and started joking about how if she ever had a Kelly she'd have a neon arrow flashing and pointing, announcing that HEY, I HAVE A KELLY, LOOK AT ME! We cracked up. And we decided we could get a "Kelly Cam," and have online streaming video of the view of the world from a Kelly's perspective. I guess you probably had to be there, but it really was funny how we all just egged eachother on. Afterwards, my friend T told me she wanted to ask her, "How many of us are carrying Hermes bags here?" Meaning, several in the group were carrying lesser-known styles of Hermes. Those who know...know. The Kelly is just one of many.
After Neiman Marcus we ventured out to Hermes, Jimmy Choo and Ferragamo. I smiled as the sales associates greeted many of my friends by name and with a handshake or hug...wow, a few of us are already making strides! I'm still in my Money Diet mode, but I sure enjoyed browsing.
We lucked out with a dry day today - especially in mid November. I saw umbrella stands everywhere, as this is an outdoor shopping complex, not an indoor mall. I wonder how well business will be when the weather is cold and rainy?
As we said our goodbyes, T and I finished up the day at Artisanal Bistro for a martini and incredible fondue. We admired her new Hermes cashmere shawl, which looks like it was just made for her.












11.09.2009

Disconnected in a Connected World

I'm old enough to remember the days when we didn't worry so much about being "off line," "out of pocket" or "off the grid" for awhile. The days when I didn't have six or seven email Inboxes (other than work) to sort through...I perhaps only had one. And when I first started using email I didn't worry about whether I could check it anytime, anywhere on a handheld device. I did my work in my office, not in a line at the grocery store, at 3am in an airport terminal or sitting in a restaurant.

I've always loved technology, but also loved separating it from the rest of my life. Didn't matter that the beach house on the coast had little to no cell phone coverage - that wasn't what the trip was about. Didn't matter it had zero internet connectivity inside - no broadband or DSL. The beach house was a reminder to Slow Down and Disconnect from the rest of the world. When I left the office and drove to my apartment on my daily work commute home I left work behind. And when I took a 10-day vacation in the Caribbean in the height of a rocky technology deployment, nothing felt better than jumping off the stern of a sailboat into the warm waters off St. Kitts. That exact moment was "cleansing" in so many ways!

Over time, it became more annoying when I couldn't be connected whenever or wherever I wanted to be. In the late 1990s my job required me to have remote access to corporate email (and a pager), so I got in the habit of reading work email at home as one of the first things I did in the morning and the last thing I did at night.

Add Facebook and Twitter into the mix a decade later and suddenly I was addicted, somewhat. I loved getting back in touch with high school and college friends and seeing pictures of them, their kids and keeping up with what they were doing...whenever I wanted to. My cousin's daughter took her first steps recently, and I knew this within minutes of it happening thanks to Facebook. A good friend got an adorable new puppy. Another friend in Australia ran her first marathon. These are all things I never would have known about, at least not instantaneously, just a few years ago!

When was the last time you received a snail mail, handwritten letter? And not just a nice thank you card or "bread and butter" note?
My friend J and I met for brunch last weekend and spent a wonderful Sunday lingering over omelettes, pancakes and lots of coffee. Then, we wandered through the little shops nearby, poking around. Down in the basement of an old, restored home which is now an antique store we found a collection of postcards in a wicker basket from the early 1900s, well-preserved in clear plastic sleeves. I literally got swept away reading these postcards, admiring the pen and ink penmanship. One postcard was simply addressed by hand to "Mrs. John Smith, Fargo, North Dakota," and I'm sure easily made its way to her house just like that...for a penny. And I bet the mail carrier knew Mrs. Smith and all his other stops too. There were so many birthday postcards too - even some in French. "...and so I wish you, my dear Sister, Many Happy Returns of the day." Wow. Another postcard talked about a mother's worry a package delivery wouldn't arrive safely due to "all those men working on the house." It's almost eerie and intrusive reading personal thoughts like this nearly 100 years after they were written, the sender and recipient long gone by now.

I have to admit that job hunting is a heck of a lot easier being connected - things move fast! When I finished school in the late 1980s we were still applying for jobs via snail mail, over the phone, or maybe fax if we were lucky. If you wanted to find out more about a company you had to look in the LIBRARY, as the internet did not exist.

Nowadays, there's no excuse for not knowing something about just about anything, thanks to Google, Bing or other online searching. I admit I don't send snail mail thank you letters after interviews any longer - I just do them by email, but in the same tone as a handwritten letter would be. Things just move fast, and my letter wouldn't reach the recruiter's or hiring manager's desk until a good 3 days after I sent it, even if they were in the same town. And who knows how often they'd check their mailslot?

I just started a new job a couple weeks ago and while I really like it, I was shocked how locked down the environment is. I have zero cell phone coverage in the building. And, many external websites are blocked as well. No instant messaging access either, except for our Office Communicator, which is limited to internal work contacts only. All of this means I can't check my personal email or pop onto Facebook and Twitter, even on my lunch hour! And I can't access anything on my cell phone either! I can when I step outside, but when the weather's turning cold and rainy that isn't so practical.

And, I have to admit, it was a little frustrating at first! But, I'm slowly getting used to it now.
After all, I made it through over 40 years of life without Facebook and Twitter.

11.01.2009

Fennel Corn Chowder!

In honor of the end of Daylight Savings Time (or "Fall Back"), a glorious sunny, crispy Fall day, the change of seasons and my love of cooking, I wanted to share this amazing chowder recipe. I have a few notes/tips having made this a few times. When I lived in a secured apartment building (meaning, my front door opened onto a hallway rather than the outside world) I would open my door - and my slider facing the waterfront canal - to get some additional ventilation and often had neighbors wandering down the hall asking what was for dinner!

Serves 6
6 slices pepper bacon, diced (if you don't want to buy pepper bacon, get regular bacon and grind tons of black pepper over it while preparing; see below)

1 T vegetable oil (olive oil is a good sub)

1 yellow onion, diced
1 large fennel bulb, diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped (minced garlic in a jar is an OK sub..1/2 tsp = 1 clove fresh garlic)
1 T flour
4 C Chicken stock (make your own or use canned chicken broth as a sub)
4 large potatoes, peeled and diced
Kernels cut from 5 ears corn (about 2 C). Or...2 C frozen corn is a good sub
1 C heavy cream
1/4 C cayenne pepper sauce
Salt and black papper to taste.


In a large stockpot, cook diced bacon until crisp. (I use a Calphalon 6 1/2 quart stock pot - perfect size for this or an 8 quart is great as well). Add oil and heat. Add onion, fennel and garlic. Saute until tender, about 2 minutes.


Add flour and stir while cooking for about 1 minute. Slowly add the chicken stock, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Add diced potatoes and cook until barely tender.


Add corn and cream and bring to a boil. Season with cayenne sauce, salt and pepper. Serve hot.


NOTES: I prefer to cook the bacon in a separate, small fry pan so I don't have bacon grease in the stockpot with the rest of the chowder. I cook the bacon till it's barely done and then transfer with a slotted spoon to the large stockpot with the onion, garlic and fennel.


If you are using frozen corn add it in very last minute so it doesn't get too tough.


Serve hot! This soup is a MEAL with corn bread or sourdough bread.
From the book: Cooking with Caprial, by Caprial Pence, 1996



10.31.2009

"No internet = no plumbing!"

Seriously and FOR. REAL. I've joked with many friends, co-workers and customer support folks at my internet service provider about this and usually get an agreeable laugh. We're so dependent upon internet connectivity and email these days that when it's down for maintenance or some other sort of broke state it hurts!! Might as well shut off the electricity and running water while we're at it!

I got a strong dose of this very recently as I was getting ready to start my new job. I was expecting additional information via email on when and where to show up on my first day. A couple days later I noticed I had not received my usual volume of emails but didn't think much of it. Then a friend of mine contacted me (via Facebook) that she'd sent me an email only to have it bounce back that my email address was no longer valid. Yikes! And on top of that, I discovered I now couldn't send new emails or reply to existing ones - they were stuck in my Outbox.

After a call with my internet provider I learned my account had been moved to a "temporarily suspended state." THIS is the 'thanks' I get for paying my bill on time each month? Hmmm.

Everything got resolved in less than 24 hours, but it was a jangling wake up call on how much we depend on connectivity. I'd accepted a new job offer and was worried my new employer would wonder why the email address I'd JUST provided to them wouldn't appear valid...would I look like a flake?
And what about other bills or banking statements that are now delivered via email in an effort to be Green and save on paper usage and postage? What happens if those bounceback as undeliverable? Is it standard practice to re-send them or notify the customer via snail mail or a phone call that they can't connect? I wonder, as I'm sure it varies.


10.24.2009

A New Rudder...and Changing Seasons

I am back at work, hence the "new rudder" in the title today. That's the old habit I simply can't shed - tying a good chunk of my happiness and self-worth to my job. So, when I don't have a job it hurts in lots of ways. The mind and the wallet for starters. Well, I can dip into savings and collect unemployment but I feel like a combo loser/moocher when I do. Retirement is in the far, far future here, and I am not independently wealthy - yet. Meanwhile, it costs money to live!


After nearly 3 months of job hunting, I "suddenly" had an opportunity fall into my lap. And I "suddenly" had this urge to get a couple home projects done after procrastinating since July this year...and really, since 2002, the year I moved here.

Ahhhh, the home office. I plopped into my nice, comfy leather chair and fired up the laptop every single day. My goal of keeping a daily 'work' routine of getting up somewhat early, showering, drying/styling hair and putting on makeup quickly disintegrated into waking up at 9:30am, putting on shorts, flip flops and a t-shirt and taking a shower around lunch time (or later, if I did a midday gym workout). I got used to seeing myself in wet hair and no makeup in the early afternoon.

A couple of months ago I sat here sweltering during our record-setting heat wave. It got up to 105 degrees here in the Seattle suburbs for 3 or 4 days in a row, which is shocking and unheard of (and most homes don't have A/C as it's just not necessary). I practically stuck to this chair and could feel the sweat literally rolling down my back as I typed away, hair in a ponytail.
And the picture reflects a lot of this time in the home office...these are random scribblings of ideas/thoughts/topics for this blog. Some have been used, some may get used later and some might just get junked. That's the fun of blogging!

In what now seems like a flash, the seasons turned. "Suddenly" the shorts, t-shirt and flip flops gave way to old leggings, my favorite Ugg slippers and an old, cotton flannel shirt leftover from 1995. I stopped automatically opening the window every morning as chilly winds started to blow. The gorgeous maple tree outside once again transformed her leaves from rich green to buttery yellow, carmel and orange. Yards and street medians once again got scattered with election signs.

And I got sick of staring at white walls. Boring, insane asylum white, flat-finish painted walls. This is the 2002 procrastination:I planned to paint a whole bunch of the rooms in the house before I moved in, as I had a couple weeks of overlap between this place and the old apartment. Makes sense to paint before all the furniture gets in the way, right? Turns out I had a last-minute business trip that week before I moved, and I literally got home after midnight the night before the move itself. Fast forward seven years, and while I did get a few rooms painted, this one fell off the radar.

So, I braved the chilly autumn winds to keep the window open here for fresh air while painting and have just about finished. I have a nice cranberry color on the wall with the large window, and a sandy tan for the rest. I'm really happy with how it looks and it feels a lot cozier and "richer" in here. The paint finish is a lot creamier than the flat, dull white from before. Now I am realizing I need updated floor lamps, new doors, casings and new closet doors. I'll need at least one more floor lamp given the darker colors. The "zen" feeling of minimal clutter after clearing the room to get it prepped feels nice. Guess it's time to chuck a few older books and knickknacks, and maybe get rid of one of the smaller bookcases altogether. Do I really need to hang onto "dress for success" type books from 1991, for example? Don't think so. College textbooks? Maybe they're a little sentimental, but college was twenty years ago, so I am ruthless and out they go.
I feel pretty good about things right now. Looking back, the jobless time wasn't so long after all. I literally blinked my eyes and everything changed. But in the moment it's an unknown feeling...is this going to go on for six more months or a year? I guess through all of this I've learned (again) that I can get through tough situations and come out stronger in the end. And, my identity is NOT based on my job. I'm still the same person I was the day before I received the job offer.
Yesterday while getting ready for work I heard a really great song that touched me..."Hang On," by Plumb. She was interviewed on our local dance music station, explaining how her song was written as part of a soundtrack for a documentary about Hurricane Katrina, specifically about a couple who literally hung onto a tree for three days before they were rescued. They chose not to evacuate, as they were in denial on how bad it was really going to get. But, they survived. Plumb's song literally took off after that. Whether it was 3 days or thirty years, looking back it doesn't seem so long. I know my jobless situation was far less severe than losing everything I own in a hurricane but I identify with it still.
Lyrics:
I’m so stubborn
That’s how I got here
So alone
Feels like forever
I wanna swim away
And breathe the open air
But I feel so afraid
And then I hear you say

Hang on when the water’s rising
Hang on when the waves are crashing
Hang on
Just don’t ever let go

I’m so hungry
How can I stay here?
Starving
For what I hold so dear
Like a hurricane
It takes everything from me
Wake me from this dream

Hang on when the water’s rising
Hang on when the waves are crashing
Hang on
Just don’t ever let go

Hang on when you’re barely breathing
Hang on while your heart’s still beating
Hang on
Just don’t ever let go

Three days, thirty years
So hopeless, doesn’t matter
Don’t say it’s too late
If you blink your eyes
The sun is rising
The sun is rising…

Hang on when the water’s rising
Hang on when the waves are crashing
Hang on
Just don’t ever let go

Hang on when you’re barely breathing
Hang on while your heart’s still beating
Hang on
Just don’t ever let go

10.17.2009

It Took One Hundred and Nine Lines

Line 109 on the spreadsheet, shaded bright lemon yellow, reads: "accepted position." Yes, after about 2 1/2 months out of work and a lot of hard core networking I have a new job, albeit very short-term. I will be filling in for someone who has to take an unexpected leave due to a family emergency. The project has a hard stop at the end of December, so this will be a fast-paced sprint to the finish line.


I sowed a lot of seeds in this job hunt, and a few of them recently sprouted up in a huge clump all on top of eachother, literally within hours of getting this interview scheduled. The interview was scheduled in the morning, and by that same afternoon I had yet another in-person interview (completely separate from this one) set for the following morning AND two additional phone screens - each for separate jobs as well - later that afternoon.


After accepting the offer I canceled those other appointments, but explained I would likely be job hunting again in January unless I get extended or reassigned somewhere in this company. Then, the phone rang again - it was another recruiter giving good news that a hiring manager wanted to meet me in person! Oh gosh...I'd completely forgotten he had submitted me as a candidate for that other job a few days prior. So, I told him I was no longer available. It got a little quiet on the phone, but he was genuinely happy. Really and truly - it is feast or famine out there. The email and phone can be quiet for days, crickets chirping, and then all of a sudden everything hits and explodes.

I'm glad. I'm grateful to be getting back to work and to a routine. I suited up many times in a dress, pantyhose and heels, whether it was 95 degrees out or blustery, rainy and 50. I've also spent my days here in the home office in shorts, a t-shirt, flip flops and no makeup more times than I'd like to admit and kind of got used to seeing myself au naturel rather than cleaned up.

But, I now have a job through the end of the decade (what's left of it)! And I have no idea what is "really" going on with the state of things (quick questions about the 'weather report' in the interview but there was not much time to drill in further.) I won't understand the politics initially either, but I'll know they are there. Honestly, the pay is nothing to write home about, but all the more reason to have something short-term. And technically it's a hell of a lot more than my current income level of ZERO...plus I'll stop being a "Professional Check Casher" claiming unemployment. Yes, I'll definitely continue the "Money Diet" I wrote about earlier.


Working short term contract assignments for the past three years has sharpened my edges and street smarts - I've learned and continue to learn how to build rapport and relationships quickly. Shy need not apply!! At times I joke it's like being an Army brat or an exchange student...always the new kid and under the microscope. I've zoomed in and out of very, very different work cultures and continue to draw upon the great things and reject the toxic practices. I've learned what to share and not share, as longterm employees don't always know or understand anything different than where they've worked; my stories and recollections often are greeted with blank nods and stares. [That's OK; just paradigm stuff and all]. And I've learned that no matter how great things seem on the surface, there are fires burning and messes everywhere.


I keep my eyes and ears alert and open all my senses up wide to the vibe and environment around me. I've learned to trust my instincts. For example, I'd never visited this company where I'd interviewed before even though it's very well known and established. It's a large campus tucked away off a 4-lane road full of strip malls. Once I drove past the main entrance, I felt a wave of calm, even though I had the usual pre-interview adrenaline flowing. I thought to myself that somehow, this was where I'd be working. I don't know how else to explain it but that's how it's been every time with each job.


Even if it's short-term, this is where I'm supposed to be. And I can't wait to dig in.





10.11.2009

Tiny Dots

Maps and globes fascinate me. It’s hard to describe but even as a young girl I had this innate sense – I just knew - that there was more to the world than my house, my neighborhood and my school.

My grandparents had a double-sided jigsaw puzzle at their house. One side was the United States (each state was its own puzzle piece) and the other side was a map of the world. This puzzle was the coolest thing ever (and I loved puzzles as a kid in general). As we did the puzzle together they would name each state and something about it like a famous river, the capital city or a favorite landmark they'd visited; they had driven in their camper all over the country and through Canada and Mexico too on many camping and fishing trips and had lots of memories to share!

One year I got a globe for Christmas. It had raised mountain ranges and a small, clear plastic dial on the North Pole with time zones. I couldn’t believe it was possible for it to be daytime here and nighttime for other people in the world at the exact same moment! And all those lines…the Equator, latitude and longitude – my parents would try to explain what they meant and that they were just imaginary lines. I was positive they were wrong; after all, the lines were there plain as day, so people living on the Equator must have a big blue stripe going through their cities! Maybe the people were painted blue too. My grandparents traveled several times to New Zealand and tried explaining how the International Date Line works. Too confusing!


As I looked more closely at the globe I noticed there were tiny dots in some parts of the oceans. What were these dots? I learned they were their own countries or islands off the coasts of some larger countries. This was astonishing: how could an entire country just be on one dot? Wasn't it crowded? How did people even move around? I just couldn't comprehend the idea of living on an island.

And later when I discovered my parents' large Atlas (perhaps when I was old enough to be trusted not to tear pages or spill on them), I saw much larger, detailed closeups of the countries I'd seen on the globe. But the Caribbean and South Pacific islands? Still, relatively speaking, just tiny dots.

I guess I was fascinated by these tropical islands because it was such a stark contrast to where I lived. In the Pacific Northwest the ocean is unforgivingly cold, not like a warm, inviting bath. The water is greenish grey rather than clear, turquoise blue. And we don't necessarily need a plane ticket or a boat to get out of town.

My first trip to Hawaii was in high school. I will always remember the moment I first felt the water. A warm ocean!! I didn't want to leave.

Ten years later I made my first of two trips through the Caribbean - the eastern and southern islands from St. Thomas all the way down to Trinidad, just off the coast of Venezuela. This region fascinated me most of all. I couldn't believe the stark contrasts between the islands. Martinique had a boutiquey city vibe about it, while Dominica was much more rural and laid back - lush, green trees and rolling hills. I took a downhill bike tour with a small group and I remember whizzing through hot breezes and the thick honey scent of flowers. We stopped at a little fruit stand to grab a snack - called It's Nice to Be Nice. Love it! On some islands the British influence remained strong, including driving on the left. Others drove on the right. This got confusing from country to country, honestly!

Now I look at those tiny dots with a smile, as I've experienced a few of them firsthand. That glorious, turquoise blue water. Warm smiles. Relentless, pounding sun. Drippy, overhead air conditioners from businesses and apartments in town. Plants and bushes everywhere that would only survive as indoor houseplants here. And a far more relaxed pace.

The next time I visit I'm leaving my watch at home.





10.09.2009

A Seat on the Panel with a Paycheck of Zero

This past summer – and now early fall – has been largely about trying new things while continuing the job hunt. Varied things like launching this Blog, running a couple of 5Ks for the first time ever after a couple months of training and attending a local political campaign kickoff event.

I also started doing something I haven’t done since changing beds while candy-striping at the local Hospital back in the 1980s and doing a recurring radio news broadcast at a Braille library in the 1990s: I volunteered my time and started working for free. Guess that keeps my once-a-decade pattern going!

Volunteering has been a part of my memory since childhood, and I owe the lion’s share of that to my Mom. My Mom was an elementary school teacher, supporting both she and my Dad while he completed his MBA studies full-time when they were newlyweds. After I was born, Mom became a full-time stay at home Mom and Dad went back to work full-time. This was the late 1960s so it was perhaps generally more expected that these things would happen.

But what I remember about my Mom when I was younger was that she was never the watch-the-soaps-all-day type of stay at home Mom. Nope, along with raising my brothers and me she was an active volunteer and hard-core at that. The calendar was always out on the kitchen counter, full of blue-ink circles, red-ink birthday reminders, scribbles and to-dos. The phone was always, always ringing. People were coming and going all day long in and out of our house for meetings or maybe a friendly game of Bridge.

I can’t begin to compare my volunteer work with her decades of accomplishments, but I do understand and appreciate the importance for us to take part whenever we can to give back to our community, and I thank her for that message and influence.

In September I began working pro bono for a longtime colleague and friend. He’s launched a consulting firm and I am working around 8-10 hours a week providing very basic project management to the back-end structure of the business as we get foundations built, procedures put in place, while our sales team passionately pursues our first win (and the bank – meanwhile and hopefully – says YES to a funding loan).

Frankly, I was both humbled and honored to be asked to do this work. He and I have known eachother for about ten years, so we already have an essential bond of rapport and trust built up. We're about the same age and have pretty much grown up professionally together through good, bad and really, really ugly. And we both know what we're like on a bad day too which is very important and not necessarily what you would discover about a new hire right away!

Meanwhile, in support for our local community and to promote our business, he has participated on panels at a local college with classes focused on Resume Writing and Interviewing. And when he was invited to return recently he asked me to join him. I was very honored to be asked and more than happy to donate my time to do so. I can be a bit long-winded about lots of things, so any speaking practice in public with pressure to keep answers short and sweet is good!

I found it ironic to be speaking to a class about interviewing and resume writing when I too could be learning from this as well! But once I started speaking about the work A and I are doing, my passion for it and answered questions from the class it all just flowed seamlessly. It felt great to speak about past experiences, things to do and not do when interviewing and to share real-life stories supplementing things that might be taught by the instructor from a textbook! And to see people take notes while you're speaking? Wow.

But I didn't get a chance to share my best interviewing tip on how it boils down to comfort - dress professionally but also stay comfortable and wear the right socks/hosiery/underwear underneath it all. Maybe I'll get to that next time.





10.07.2009

I Felt Grown Up When I Got My Own Stairs

My earliest memories are as a young girl in my parents’ first house. I remember running down the bedroom hallway looking up slightly to doorknobs. Light switches were perched just out of reach. It was a rambler – a one level house with a huge back yard. Most of my friends in the neighborhood lived in very similar style houses. It must have been typical suburban housing at the time. We did not have a single step in that house, except for one step up to our front door.

I have other vivid memories of going to my grandparents’ homes for dinner. Every Sunday it seemed my brothers and I were piled in the car with my parents, headed over to visit one set or the other. I feel very fortunate to have had all four grandparents in a nearby city, and to have known them all when they were young, active and healthy (and one is still alive today in her early 90s)!

What else was great about visiting my grandparents, besides endless fun, great food and enormous amounts of hugs? Their houses had…STAIRS. These houses were older, full of character, creaks in the floors, cracks in plaster and fancy chandeliers. Oh, the stories these houses could tell! The faceted, glass doorknobs looked like huge diamonds and I imagined they really were! Some stairs led down to basements – basements! – full of wonderful old artwork, my grandfather’s desk with a black rotary phone, typewriter and adding machine, shuffleboard tiles built into the floor and an easel with colored chalk for doodling. Another basement had small, old machine parts for my brothers to dig through, the washer and dryer and funny comic strip clippings on the walls. It was all endlessly fascinating.

The “up” stairs led to bedrooms, plushly carpeted with scores of old family photos on the walls. One staircase was so steep it just seemed so daunting and enormous to me, especially as a child! What a journey to just go upstairs to bed!


These houses might seem a little small by today's standards, but I can tell you to me they each seemed like mansions. Stairs meant unknown excitement about what was waiting on that next floor - it's very hard to describe but profound nonetheless. And even today lots of my dreams have both stairs and doors in them. I guess it's just something I'm continually mesmerized with despite how simple and basic they are.

A few years later, my folks decided it was time to move us - my brothers and I - out of our rambler to a new house a few blocks down the street. I think we'd run out of bedrooms, come to think of it!

The first time I stepped into our soon-to-be new house, Dad was busy painting bedrooms while Mom was busy packing boxes. I couldn't BELIEVE it...our new house had stairs! This was a floorplan I'd never experienced before: the main entry and living area was on the top floor, and the stairs led down to a daylight basement and family room. This was the most amazing house ever! Yes, at age eight I knew this!

When it came time for me to branch out on my own after college I lived in four different apartments before buying my current place. The apartments? Each was a flat. My home purchase? A townhome. And an end unit to boot; I wouldn't have to worry about anyone stomping above me or below me unless they're were in the house with me. I've got just one common wall with a neighbor. And if I have guests over for entertaining, the upstairs bedrooms can stay a mess as long as the kitchen and living room are cleaned up. It's absolutely perfect, as I get to be in a "house" of sorts, but still connected as part of a community which is very important.

And, I have my own stairs.

10.05.2009

Y2K+10

It might be a little early to reflect back, but we ARE at the end of another decade. Have we decided yet what we’re going to call these past ten years? We had the 80s, the 90s and we now are just about done with the, ummm…aughts? Zeroes? Oh-ohs (as in ‘double zeroes’)?

Long before the copious discussions about the turn of the century (and millennium), as a young girl I remember wondering what the world was going to be like in the year 2000. I knew how old I was going to be - and that was about the only definite thing that happened as it turned out from my predictions (no, we're not living on the moon yet, for example)! I thought about the big change going from 1999 to 2000…kind of like watching all the nines on an old odometer bending down all tired and flipping over to zeroes.

So what did you do the night all those nines turned to zeroes and the '1' became a '2'? I’d always had dreams of being at Stonehenge or the Pyramids or maybe on a beach in Tahiti.

But rather than hanging out on exotic beaches or at historical landmarks, I spent the night of Friday December 31, 1999 at work, sipping sparkling cider and munching on lasagna from Olive Garden. I was in the Helpdesk/Call Center industry at that time, working as a vendor on the campus of a major software company. There was simply no doubt: that night – and all the preparations leading up to it – was going to be All Hands on Deck. Time off would have to wait.

Our department Director had ordered in food for our whole crew working that night. We had beefed up staff because, well, we had to be prepared for just about anything that might happen, in every time zone we supported (which happened to be just about every single one).

Remember all the Y2K paranoia? We were worried computers were going to crash, power was going to go out, food would get automatically dumped from inventory – people were even hoarding canned food in some extreme cases. Generators flew off store shelves and some people filled up their gas tanks as if they were expecting a hurricane, not a New Year. We heard reports of relief that Y2K would fall on a Saturday - an offpeak time for most business - so the REAL test would be Monday January 3rd. On and on and on.


It might be tempting to laugh about it now but I don't think it's worth a lot of finger pointing. We simply didn't know what was going to happen - or not happen. None of us had ever been through this before, and none of us would be alive the next time around. We were becoming more and more technologically savvy as a global community...and more and more dependent on it too. At the same time we were also learning about the pitfalls and ugly sides of technology, such as computer network virus outbreaks. My team dealt with virus scares, outages and cleanups about every 2 or 3 months it seemed. We were still learning how to protect our networks and respond to reports and threats. What would happen the night of Y2K? We simply weren't sure.

We DID know we were all in it together. And that's probably about it.

I spent part of that unglamorous night at work with my Director in her Jeep picking up forty (yes, forty) lasagnas and delivering them to our teams. We had a glass of wine in the restaurant bar while waiting for the food to be packaged up, reflected back on the year and had a few laughs. We agreed that whatever happened we would get through it together! I'll drink to that!

The lasagnas were each packed in disposable foil baking pans sealed with a layer of foil on top, stacked 3 or 4 high in paper grocery bags. We made sure to drive back to the campus very, very carefully. But when we arrived at the first building we opened the Jeep tailgate and suddenly - SPLAT - a few bags plopped right into the tailgate hinge, creating a huge, reddish-orange steamy blob.

That was a moment where it really helps to have a sense of humor. Thankfully we both did and burst into huge belly laughs! What more could we do? Some of the bags had ripped along with some of the sealed tin foil, so we lost a few trays of food deep into that tailgate hinge. I'm sure her Jeep smelled of lasagna for days! Luckily we had plenty of food to go around despite the casualties.

A few hours later our teams both cheered and breathed a collective sigh of relief when the clock struck midnight. The building was still standing. The power stayed on. No one started rioting in the streets. We didn't have a massive network virus attack. The only glitch we had was a brief phone outage due to outrageously high call volumes for a few minutes! WE MADE IT!

That was my magical turn of the millennium moment. It doesn't seem like nearly ten years ago, but maybe time just appears to go by faster the older we become.
A lot can happen in ten years: I became an Aunt 3 times over. I bought a townhouse for the first time. Worked four different jobs, and had a handful of relationships - some serious, some not. I got rid of "friends" who were toxic and welcomed in new ones. My family said goodbye to two grandparents. My parents became grandparents, retired and survived health scares with flying colors within months of one another. I traveled to ten different countries between 2000 and 2001. Our country experienced its worst act of terrorism ever. Seven years later we elected an African American as our President.
There is just so much to reflect back upon; as we get closer to the end of the year I'm sure there will be numerous retrospectives in the media and perhaps in our own thoughts too. Along with celebrating, I get a little sentimental every New Years Eve.
And I think it's OK to start now.