The Burn of the Roller Coaster

I confess - I wanna get off the ride! 

I busted out of the world of somewhat-steady work nearly four years ago (in a vendor role onsite at a large, well-known company who was our client) and into the world of contract project management.  Meaning, short-term positions that *might* get extended in length or *might* lead to opportunities to join the group as a full-time employee but nothing guaranteed.  What WAS guaranteed was a load of excitement, learning and feeling your edges. 

And for me, stretching and growing professionally and personally in ways I'd never imagined.

Never underestimate the significance of a random phone call!  I'd gone about as far as I'd wanted to with a company after a little over seven years and posted my resume online as part of my way to network.  A few weeks later I got a call out of the blue from a recruiter asking if I'd want to interview for "a really great opportunity."

Boy, this group moved fast!  I had two phone interviews with their client's department manager and lead, and within about an hour they wanted to hire me!  And the pay rate...could we BE more seductive?  A HUGE jump from what I was making earlier.

Little did I know what I was getting into.  I have to thank the teams, agency recruiters and account managers profusely for their guidance and support, as I dove somewhat naively into the pool with a message of "this is how we do things - you do the same - figure it out."  I was naive in understanding the mindset shift required in being a contractor versus being a full-time, permanent employee.  After a few unsuccessful beatings of my head against various walls, I realized as a contractor that many companies don't WANT you to propose other ways of handling things if they've got a rhythm and groove already established.  Just execute as they've always done!  Collect your paycheck, work hard, and that's that!  End of story!  Thank you!

So, I did.  And yet I still so innocently, painfully assumed that this was how it was going to be going forward.  I would make this same fabulous in-a-new-tax-bracket pay, I would either get hired on full-time by this client who seemed to love me or I would be able to network and immediately find a new gig after finishing up this one.

HA.  Turns out sometimes the folks who want to bring you on quickly can let you go just as quickly.  As in I'm driving home one night after work and get a phone call to say I don't need to come back the next day after 7 months kinds of quickly.  So quickly that my agency account manager has to collect my desk items and hand them off to me in a plastic bag at a Starbucks a couple days later.

Did I take it personally?  You bet I did - no lying here.  And admittedly I'd gone through a bad breakup mere weeks before so I was feeling very unhappy and bolted off my normal stance and pedestal already.  As time went on and other work assignments came and went I realized there are far more factors at stake and that taking things personally is totally unproductive. 

So that started the ride of feeling the burn/feeling the edges.

I wasn't sure if I wanted to do contract work forever, but in the short-term it was a great way to earn extra cash and zoom in and out of very different work cultures very quickly and learn more about what I like and don't like in a work environment.

Now, remember, my debut into contracting work was in late 2006.  Remember the days when the economy was thriving?  Silly, silly me never suspected the economy would tank so sharply in the next few years.

But dang it sure did!  Haven't we all felt it in one way or another?  I do think we're slowly but surely pulling out, as I am getting more phone and email activity around potential job openings as this year unfolds.  Ummm...but let's face it - I've worked only two months out of the past nine and being out of work is getting old.  I don't find it relaxing at all - I wish I was in a place I could feel that way but that's not my story.  When you have super high paychecks for the short term they can mellow out and dissolve over time.  And once again, the paychecks are zero. I have days I feel energized and elated and a few days I want to hunker down with the TV and hide out from the world.  Thankfully it's more of the former than the latter.  I am incredibly blessed to have wonderful family and friends around me to keep me positive and motivated on the days I just can't feel it myself.  

And the roller coaster's been at it weather-wise as well recently!  I went on an amazing walk the other day, deterring a bit from my typical "up the killer hill/lung crusher" route and decided to go explore a home development (which also has good hills) in the suburb next door.

Talk about the economy tanking.  This hillside development is a handful of absolutely gorgeous, breathtaking homes polluted and punctuated by barren, seedy and weedy vacant lots randomly throughout.  It's been this way for over a year.  Some lots have markers for foundations or sewer hookups, some not.  Sidewalks are paved and yet achingly empty and unused.  And only the faint pounding and whirring of workers on one new home echoing on the hillside.  It was like looking through a gorgeous coffee-table type book and finding pages missing or ripped out. I hope this year brings more hope and promise to that neighborhood struggling to get legs underneath itself and to all others out there feeling the same pain and strain.

What happened today?  A wonderful interview!  I had a somewhat restless night the night before which is not typical as I usually sleep pretty soundly.  Know the old expression, "March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb?"  Well, this year around here it's been a total reversal - we've had cold, biting blustery winds and pounding rain and hail recently!  And calm, even balmy weather most of the rest of the month!  Now, when you're trying to get a good night's sleep and your (south facing) bedroom window is taking the brunt of the storm (i.e. it sounds like you're going through a car wash at 4am) that is not a good sign.

I rolled over during last night's storm and saw the clock glowing back at me - 5:19.  Obviously, that's a number close to my heart and being. Heh.

I also felt good getting up this morning despite the late March chills and rain, feeling more like I was getting up to go to work rather than to an interview. Anyone remember when I was talking about getting ready to go to an interview a few weeks ago, but feeling overly stressed, sweaty and jittery trying to get dressed, blaming it on too much coffee?  Well, looking back it was my gut telling me the job, as much as I thought it would be a good fit, actually wasn't!  Despite how incredible everyone was and my friend K who got my foot in the door!

I remember the same "jittery/no-go" feeling a couple years ago when I was in a relationship and he'd been over to my house for dinner as he did so many joyful and passionate times.  God I loved cooking for the two of us.  But one night we were doing something simple like washing and drying pots and pans and my body freaked out and started trembling.  And no, I'd put on the decaf coffee and not regular by mistake.  Hmmmm.  In the end as much as we cared for one another there was just too much baggage we weren't willing to sort through together.  I'd felt kept at arm's length from what could have been something really wonderful.  And, sadly, I felt more like his mistress than his girlfriend.  And yes, I told him that to his face.  But anyway, that's fodder for another post another time.

Good luck charms for today's interview?  Well, I'm not superstitious but I did bring the last purse where I'd interviewed and received my last full-time, permanent job offer a few years ago, rather than the tried and true one that has gone on many a recent interview prior plus a few business trips.  Who was the lucky charm purse today?  Why, my dear old black leather Coach Ali shoulder bag.  Not sure if it's even still available but it's a wonderful, understated bag and great no matter how iffy the weather!

I try to remember to relax, breathe, pray and enjoy.  But I also remember how Tom Petty so spot-on nailed it:  "the waiting is the hardest part."


The Ones Who REALLY Know You...

We grow and change over the years through our teens and into adulthood.  And "adulthood" is hardly a generic bucket - there are so many phases of adult life both planned and unplanned that shape us.  Major life events all over the spectrum from incredible joy to heart-wrenching tragedy give us strength and perspective.

Yet at the core aren't we the same little child inside?  How many people, other than immediate family or relatives, really know you this deep in your DNA?

I was going to call this post "Giggling, part Two," but I decided it needed a different name this time.  I can't even describe how blessed it is to have a small group of women in my life who have known me pretty much my entire life.  A 15 or 20 year gap since many of us had last seen eachother?  We picked up right where we left off.

We can talk about pretty much anything in this group.  And listen and learn so much.  When some are up, some are down.  We've all been both places and everywhere in between - we've got years under our belts and there's no need to one-up eachother on who has what or has done what.  Life sprinkled on each of us differently - most of us are mere months apart in age, but our lives are so different:  some of us are married with teenaged kids getting ready for high school...or have a toddler and infant.  Some are divorced and single or divorced and remarried.  Some of us are die-hard bachelorettes (sheepishly raising my hand here).  What we have in common are our ages, the neighborhood where most of us were raised and our elementary school, junior high and high school - for the most part.  And we're all still living just a city or suburb or two away from where it all happened!

We wear the badges of these decades and their unique experiences and secrets only we know - badges of history invisible to most but very, very shiny and visible within this group.  Because we Know and Remember.

Thanks to the magic of Facebook and the old school magic of the telephone, five friends (plus one absolutely adorable 6 month old) got together for a mini-reunion and potluck.

These are friends where we can just look at one another and understand eachother without saying a word - although most of us are chatterboxes.  I bet we could even finish eachother's sentences.  For most of us the bonds go way, way back.  As in Kindergarten kinds of "back."  I look into our eyes and see warmth, caring and wisdom.  I know that we "get" eachother and the memories from over 35 years ago and onward are still so vivid.  We all pretty much look the same save for a few crinkles or grey hairs on some - and boy we've earned 'em!  And so many of us have picked up on mannerisms our mothers did or do!  Yes, my friends, you can't escape DNA.

We laugh about stupid and silly things we did screwing around in school. Those in the group who are parents - parents of teens - talk about what THEY have to deal with now.  Texting.  Facebook drama.  Learning to drive.  High school.  Weren't WE just there a few years ago save for the texting and Facebook?  Even texting and Facebook are debatable, divisive topics in this crowd; we've got some hard-core computer and technology types and others who refuse to touch a phone to text or a computer keyboard once the workday is done.  And just because some have email addresses doesn't mean they'll read email.  Pick up the phone already!  What we DO agree on is the world is a far different place now...how did we survive walking (walking?!?) to school in small groups?  How were our parents comfortable letting us cut through woodsy trail shortcuts to school?  How did we ride bikes the first half of our lives without helmets? 

We're really and truly REAL here.  Nope, no silicone'd, tequila-soaked shrieking matches or flipping over tables in restaurants a la the Real Housewives series on Bravo (which is a total guilty pleasure, by the way). 

You know it's a good evening when you just talk, eat and talktalktalk and then "all of a sudden" it's midnight.  The cat makes his nocturnal debut after most of us have gone home, probably feeling a little overwhelmed by the hours of noise of girls' night and makes his mark coughing up a fur ball on the beautiful hardwood floors.  Poor kitty!

We're already looking forward to next time!  Hopefully we'll still be doing this pushing walkers and screaming at eachother when we're stone deaf.


The Importance of Giggling

I probably won't have much of a voice tomorrow but after such a fabulous afternoon hanging out with girlfriends, who cares? A friend of mine had a get together at her house for girls only today - no husbands, boyfriends or kids allowed at this one. Sometimes you just gotta let your hair down and be silly and the best way to do that is with your girls!

So, we chomped down on cake, cookies, drank tea - the whole works. But nothing tea-party stuffy here - we know how to let 'er rip and get down and dirty on any range of discussion. Men. Dating. Sex. Food. Careers. Kids. Home projects. Exercise. Funny dreams we've had. Movies. Celebrity Gossip. Concerts. Even reminiscing about cheezy 90s music we used to love (New Kids on the Block or Color me Badd anyone?? Come on, admit it, you liked 'em too). Oh and don't forget Milli Vanilli...and hockey for those of us in this group who play and/or are huge fans. And at the fast pace we move that was just the tip of the iceberg.

One thing I've learned about myself over the past couple years is that my opinions and viewpoints are crystallizing. It's refreshing to be confident and secure in knowing what you like and don't like and can speak about it where it rings true through your whole being so there's no question to anyone on where you stand. And, people don't have to like it! But I also made a strong vow to myself early on in adulthood - probably around the time I graduated college - that I would ALWAYS be open minded to try new things no matter how old I got.

And I think I've done a pretty good job of living that out. Taking up hockey at the relatively late age of 36 and training to run 5Ks for the first time at 42? Never EVER would have thought I'd be doing either. Each of those parts of my life are SO important to me...and yet hang by the tiniest, fragile threads of coincidences which give me shivers. Shivers in wondering how different my life would be now if they had not happened.

I just "happened" to be working on a large corporate campus back in 2003 where moving from building to building was pretty much an annual occurrence. Our motto was "don't get comfortable!" And I just "happened" to be in a certain building and office and "happened" to have a new workgroup move in down the hall from me who had relocated here from out of state and were really into hockey. It was common for new groups - groups I didn't work with directly - to cycle in and out of this building, while my office stayed pretty constant.

Fast forward a couple years and I was unemployed and "happened" to apply online for a job at a well-known company where I didn't know a soul but the job looked wonderful. The next day I got an email from someone I used to work with years prior who just so "happened" to now work there and helped me get my foot in the door. And through that work experience I found a wonderful friend in P and several others, but P was the one who inspired me to try running.

I really, truly shiver. There are people so important in my life these days who I NEVER would have met had I not tried hockey or tried training to run 5Ks. What a blessing.

So today the "being open minded and trying new things" mindset took two very different turns within hours: a scrapbooking type of project and...Wii!! I am not sure what happened, but my arts & crafts gene has withered away. I have pictures from college still piled up in drawers in my home office which need to be put in albums badly...pictures over 20 years old! Really and truly, I have no patience for scrapbooking or pouring over paper/stamps/stickers/pinking shears or all the other "paper nerd" type of stuff out there. But at today's get together we got to spend time doing a relatively simple card project...and mine actually turned out pretty good I must say! Good coaching helps tons.

Fast forward a few hours and those of us still at the house decided to bust out the Wii and try bowling. I can't decide if I'm worse at real bowling or Wii bowling but I about died laughing the entire time. And when your hostess decides to pop a lasagne in the oven? OK, I'm in...we're not overstaying our welcome one bit, even on a Sunday night for those who are working.

Just like the night I took time to breathe and pray...taking time today to be silly and laugh was also a huge dose of soothing I didn't know I'd needed. But I feel jazzed, refreshed and energized for the week ahead.


A Thump Went Through Me

I literally stopped in my tracks walking up to the rink the other night, hockey sticks in hand and gear backpack on. It felt like walking into an invisible wall or force. *THUMP*. I had to stop, breathe...and then I whispered a little prayer...a prayer for the promise of the week ahead and to find joy and relief from a job hunt that has left me humbled and battle-weary more than I'd like to admit sometimes.

What's that old saying - "Despite the high cost of living, it remains popular." Ha! I got reminded of that yet again during our annual HOA meeting over the weekend. It was really nice to reconnect with neighbors as it's so easy for us to just drive into our garages and not really interact too much save for the mailbox. Kind of sad. But we're a fun, genteel bunch. Our townhouse complex is going to need a new roof soon. We dodged a bullet over the winter as it's been relatively dry here but the reality is soon it's Gonna Be Time to Do It. And when 20 - 30% of our Association has been unemployed over the past year (no joke) it's easy to bury heads in the sand. I'm very grateful (knock on wood) I have not had major expenses with the house or car during these leaner times other than the normal stuff. But my house is dated in quite a few ways and with every year that goes by I feel further left behind in the dust. Sometimes my project list is so long I just get overwhelmed and then NOTHING gets done. Whoops!

So when I got to the entryway of the rink I paused yet again. This rink has several custom tiles at the entrance, and a couple are in memory of a friend from the league who passed away suddenly a couple of years ago this month. I took a deep breath and told her how much we miss her. She worked at this rink as an administrator with a youth hockey program for years and everyone loved her. I met her at an adult beginner hockey clinic about 7 years ago. And I still can't believe she is gone. You know, I ran into her one night at a Silvertips game (junior hockey), just about a month after we had played in a womens tournament in Vegas. It was Leap Year day 2008 (Feb 29th) and I was at the game with my boyfriend at the time. She was running the 50-50 raffle and pretty much vaulted over the table with a big smile and gave me a huge hug when she spotted me. 'Cause that's just the awesome person she was. Always always always. She smiled and shook K's hand and he commented later on how nice and friendly she was.

Two days later she was gone. I still cry a little sometimes.

So I had a lot of deep thoughts on my mind that night, thinking back on the memory of B and thinking forward about what's coming up in the days and weeks ahead. I drove home feeling cleansed, reflective and energized - my team had a great game and a nice win to start our playoffs! I smiled as I drove past one of the places I used to work and wondered, wished if it could happen again as I really enjoyed it there.

The next day I got contacted about THREE new job leads within the span of 30 minutes. And after sushi with a great friend that night I came home to find an email from a recruiter with that company where I used to work, asking if I'd be free for an interview later this week! WOW!

Does the power of breathing/positive thinking/prayer work? Absolutely yes it does!! And it's nice knowing that people are looking out for one another out there. No one does it alone.

And yet through all this deep stuff Life still smirks, giggles and injects a little quirky into our paths to keep it interesting.

Ah yes...dating. OK, so when you meet someone for a first date and it's 4:00pm and you haven't had much lunch you get something like club soda or an iced tea. At least that's my stream of thought, especially at that weird early-happy-hour time of the day when I wasn't sure if we were going to hit it off and have food or just a quick drink. My date? Four vodka crans. Oh yeah, we did have some food - we split a small order of coconut shrimp - but WOW. Now don't get me wrong; nothing wrong with going out and grabbing drinks. But our King of the Cranberry Bog here was overdoing it juuuust a tad. I'm trying to be nice, people. Funny guy, but I felt like an impostor on Guys Night Out shooting the shit and bantering, not out on a date. Oh well!

I'm keeping my chin up. Really.


"I admire how positive you are."

You know, I've been told that or variations of it for most of my adult life. And I'm glad that people out there see me in general as a positive person. Sure I have my down moments and bad moods but through it all I try my best to look on the bright side of life and find the humor in the unexpected, unplanned things that can plop in along the way. And I think I've done a pretty good job weeding out negative, toxic friendships and relationships. There's a huge difference in a good old fashioned gossip or bitchfest with girlfriends versus being in the company of someone who's always pick-picking, hating on or criticizing anything and everyone around them. No thanks. NEXT!

Is the glass half empty or half full? Well, my signature response is "THE CUP OVERFLOWS WITH HAPPINESS." . And I truly feel that in my entire being. But let's face it...even the glass needs some timeout for a good cleaning.

I've felt a few more bumps along the job hunting path as I didn't get picked for a couple of different positions I thought went really well during the interviewing process. But I have to just chalk it up to more experience under the belt and that in the end it wasn't meant to be and there's something better out there. It's SO HARD to remember this in the short term because let's face it - it SUCKS to be rejected. "The Manager has decided to look at other candidates." Mmmmkayyy...I guess that's a diplomatic way to say 'thanks but no thanks.' And it's SO HARD to get specific feedback as to WHY sometimes. Were my job skills not up to snuff? Was my personality not a good fit? Something intangible chemistry-wise that turned off the hiring manager? Hard to say. And often times it has nothing to do with anything I said or did, but rather it could be politics or just that some other candidate had a certain something that I didn't. See how easy it is to get sucked in a swirling spiral of doubt and wondering?

How do I get through this? Well, I try to carve out a set amount of time, say, an hour or two for a pity party and then after that MOVE ON. This really works for me. Otherwise I find myself constantly dwelling on feeling down about whatever it was waayyy after the fact.

I saw a few recent pictures and was shocked at how much I've aged in the past year. Maybe I'm being too hard on myself but I see more crinkles, drier skin, some weight gain (UGH) and my hair is so much thinner than it used to be. Good thing it was pretty thick and wavy to start with. And a couple sprinkles of zits still. That's the "zits AND wrinkles" bonus they never told me would happen in the early 40s. Surprise!

Anyone know of that phenomenon where someone anorexic looks in the mirror and sees themselves as "fat" even when they are dangerously, painfully thin? I swear, I have the opposite problem!! I "see" myself as one way in the mirror but then am totally surprised how the pictures look. Maybe I'm just not very photogenic. No biggy there. I guess I'm just used to looking past my somewhat larger size these days and the double chin that plays hide & seek depending on the angle.

So let's move off the narcissism...I got reminded yet again that if I relax and breathe and let the Universe wash over us (yes that's 'wash' not 'watch') we DO get exactly what we need when we're supposed to. Yeah, I was bummed about that job rejection yesterday BUT coincidentally (or not?) I had a fabulous lunch with 3 friends/former co-workers already scheduled. And later that afternoon another friend called me to kill time on her commute home from work...and then that night I trotted over to a friend's house in sweats to giggle together watching TV (LOVE the Real Housewives series on Bravo!). You know, pinot grigio and popcorn isn't the most nutritious dinner, but it was spot-on perfect for that night.

What was it that I needed during that downer day? Support from wonderful girlfriends, time out of the house and off the computer...and lots of laughter.

Consider the "cup that overflows with happiness" freshly-washed and ready to rock.


Learning to SKIMP better...even when bitchy

Can this dorky Recession be done with already? Yeah, we're moving onward in to the TENS/TEENS [how's that for a decade label?] and onto better times ahead but sometimes I get impatient. Can I write even more about collecting unemployment and/or working pro bono to bore or piss off any loyal readers out there? Dang I hope not. Sheesh I am ready to rock and get back at it with a normal paycheck and work schedule.

Meanwhile, for those just tuning in I have been unemployed since late July of 2009. I did work a very short 8-week contract assignment at the end of '09, but while I adored the company and opportunity the pay was extremely paltry compared to what I'd been used to making the past couple of years. And while everyone there was very open and hopeful to hiring me on later in '10 it's now March and nothing's chugging forward. That's OK: I do have other irons in the fire and know that staffing/recruiting processes can be unpredictable at best. I don't regret working there for sure! But let's face it: the bottom line still is sagging.

And yeah, I've been feeling bitchy recently. Most people who know me would likely not use "flighty" or "moody" to describe me (riiight??). If I do have mood swings they're pretty lowkey compared to others I'd say. But I DO always come back to center...or at least my version of whatever 'center' is. Dang it already but PMS REALLY kicked my butt this time around. Sorry if we're getting too girly in here, gents, but here it goes: thankfully I typically only have maybe one day a month where I am extra cranky or emotional. And I try to just lie low and ride it out and not take it out on others. Thankfully regular exercise really helps keep it in control. I don't know WHAT happened this month but my symptoms went into overdrive.

Over the past week I'd been craving salt like I never have in my life. I went through a couple jars of dill pickles. And I craved mayonnaise of all things. What the hell?? I never keep mayo in the house but had to hop to the store and grab a small jar. The real stuff - not the lower calorie version. I also felt sick for awhile - mild stomach problems - and meanwhile kept drinking tons of water to try to flush through those off-the-chart salt cravings. [I'm going through about a gallon of spring water every two days since kicking my Diet Coke habit cold turkey in January.] At a work session last week I got so pissy and annoyed when we were all ready to break for lunch and apparently one of our guys had come down with a bad case of verbal diarrhea. He would NOT STOP TALKING when it was clear the rest of us had mentally checked out! Boy was I annoyed!! And hungry. And feeling a wee bit homicidal. And yeah, at one point I thought oh God I'm not preg...can I even say or type it - eeeek??? OK settle down, everyone, NO I'm NOT. I just had a rather extreme (and rare) PMS episode this month. It's all good. Really, I have to just laugh at myself, honestly, through all this. It keeps me sane. And I count my blessings: I am healthy. I didn't even get a flu shot this year and knock on wood have not been ill. Normally I write off the first week of January because I have some sort of flu with a flu shot or not around that time. This year the New Year Gods were smiling on me.

OK, are we done with the tangent now?

Let's regroup...so, what's a sorta-high-maintenance-but-doesn't-wanna-really-admit-it kind of girl to do on a budget? Cut back...immensely! Hence the Money Diet I've squawked about a few times in here. I LOVE LOVE LOVE eating out but I've stopped doing that save for a few special occasions and limit it to cheap happy hour and just one drink when I do. Mac & cheese at home is nothing to sneeze at. Plus you can class it up with a little pesto. Soup is good too. When the pro bono work team and I meet downtown once or twice a week we opt for places like cheap Thai food for lunch or Taco del Mar.

I am now staggering my haircut and highlighting appointments as long as I can without looking all full of dark roots shot through with grey or straggly split ends. Trust me, when you are job interviewing that is not a good look. And as I've touted before we wear our hair and our face every day, so it's important to invest there. Meaning, I would never resort to cutting/coloring my own hair. We'll continue to leave that to the pros.

Manis & pedis? I'm pretty good at doing my own nails and can thankfully avoid the need for regular pedicures in the winter. But my feet take a beating with walking, running and skating so it IS nice to get some pampering once in awhile. There is a cheap nails place near my house but I swear the lotion they use smells so bad it makes me gag so I don't go there any more. Instead, I go to my favorite spa - but far fewer times a year.

I've temporarily canceled my monthly cleaning service. Yeah, for someone like me with no kids or no pets having one is pretty indulgent. But I tell you, it's wonderful. This will be one of the first things I start back up again once I'm working. Meanwhile, I can certainly whip out the Swiffers and dust and clean the bathrooms myself. I've just been spoiled all these years not needing to worry about that too much.

Makeup and grooming? Thankfully I am not a "brand snob" and have always had an eclectic mix of drugstore and department store products on hand. I'm learning even more about really great, inexpensive drugstore cosmetics and avoiding the pricier purchases. And...learning to just enjoy what I already have and not feel the need to want more. I've got a pretty killer makeup collection I admit!

Some of my favorite drugstore products:
- Cover Girl LashBlast mascara (in the orange tube).
- Aussie shampoos & conditioners. I found the 3 minute Miracle conditioner marked way down at a grocery store the other day and forgot how wonderful this stuff is!
- Neutrogena Rainbath shower gel. This is an ongoing staple for me for 25+ years and thankfully is pretty cheap and lasts a long time.
- St. Ives apricot scrub (as an exfoliator). If you really want to be cheap you can actually just resort to good old baking soda. Yes, baking soda. It gets your face smoothed out and doesn't irritate. Don't laugh till you try it!
- John Frieda's Spun Gold balm (for hair styling). Another great product that lasts forever! In fact, mine has lasted so long I think this might even be discontinued now - whoops!
- Revlon ColorStay (liquid) foundation. I've heard amazing things about it and picked it up one day when the drugstore was having a 30% discount on all Revlon products. I must say, I'm impressed. Honestly, foundations are one area where I DO feel it's good to spend a little more and get professionally matched at a makeup counter or with the help of someone at Sephora. After all, if your foundation is the wrong shade or formula you're gonna look like crap no matter what else you put on.
- Generic (store brand) vitamins.

At the grocery store I look for bargains as well - much moreso now. I absolutely love cheese and seafood but I avoid buying Brie or other more expensive types and stick with the store brand's version of Cheddar or Monterrey Jack. I now know the term "Brand Down," which means to check out the store's versions of products instead of national brands. Some will surprise you! Seafood? I rarely buy it for cooking at home anymore and instead splurge occasionally on really great sushi out with a really great friend. I do enjoy cooking but stick with the basics and steer clear of dishes which need expensive, specialty items.

Two things I absolutely won't cut out of my budget? My home landline and my gym membership. Well, I guess they say never say never but my landline has saved my butt a couple times to where it's totally worth it. And the gym membership is a way to keep a healthy, active lifestyle which is rock bottom core to my mental and physical well-being. So they stay.

I'm not GREAT at skimping. But I'm getting better and learning. I had a shoe craving and I caved so I admittedly went a little over budget this week. But they were under $60 and thankfully don't look it - bonus! Excellence, not perfection! Hopefully these will be good habits for the future too.


"We want fantastic...but with a better ending."

Oh yes! Don't you love it when these gems are said or read and leap out into your brain and being? I heard this just a few days ago when a recruiting manager with a consulting firm I've been interviewing with pretty rigorously called me yesterday to tell me I hadn't been picked for a particular job, even though I was a strong finalist and had gone through a few interview loops. What can I say - it wasn't meant to be! The consulting firm team has been top notch throughout so it almost makes a 'rejection' like this a bit more bearable. That's when I told the manager that while I'm a little bummed understandably, "everyone's been fantastic." And hence his response!! I could have burst through the phone lines and hugged him right then and there.

I'm on the lookout for excellence big time. And I've been through a fair amount of life to know when it's there and when it's not whether in office work, restaurants, gas stations, cleaners, you name it. A grunt from a cashier instead of "you're welcome" after I say thanks? Give me a fucking break.

You know, the one area I've been especially impressed with recently has been the whole area around Bellevue Place and Lincoln Square. I can't put my finger on it but the whole vibe in those city blocks just drips of excellence and precision. People seem jazzed, upbeat and enthusiastic, whether it's a worker in the parking garage, the barista at the Tully's I love to frequent, the doorman at the hotel who greets me with a smile and tip of his hat if I happen to pass through that way or the receptionists at the shared office space area I'm working with pro bono with a few other colleagues. The receptionists there are friendly, courteous, helpful and uber professional. What a difference! Ever walk into an office and find the person at the front desk smacking on gum, gossiping or even worse - you get a glimpse of their computer screen and they're playing solitaire? I'm sorry but that is all kinds of WRONG. First impressions, anyone? Yeah, I was a receptionist over 20 years ago and perhaps I'm old school but solitaire on a computer screen where clients can see that just speaks volumes that people at that company don't have enough work to do.

I'm very aware of rhythms and vibes of life around me whether it's in work settings, people's houses, even different cities or parts of cities. Now please, don't get all freaked out or weirded out, people. I don't see people's ghosts or auras or anything like that. I'm not psychic or clairvoyant. It's just part of my 'feeling' instinct I've talked about in here before and have learned to listen to it more as I've gotten older. When I was younger I tended to dismiss it as it wasn't anything practical or rational that I knew how to explain to others. Now that I'm older and 'know' myself better I can freely listen to whatever this 'thing' is and pay attention.

I can walk into an office building and immediately sense whether or not I feel comfortable. I've gone on job interviews in years past where I just 'knew' I was going to get the job even though I still had a ways to go in the process. This group I interviewed with a few times who I mentioned at the top of this post? I sensed the excellence walking through the front door before I even started shaking hands. I've walked into buildings where the mood seemed somber, saggy and lethargic. And, frankly, that's how the people behaved too.

When I was looking around at colleges my senior year of high school I 'knew' the minute I stepped foot on one particular campus that that was where I'd end up going (and, did). And I hadn't even gone through the application procedures! In contrast, I remember reading about a different university that seemed absolutely ideal in so many ways. Yet the minute I arrived for a visit? Ummm, no thanks. Stuffy, stodgy and so many people kept pronouncing my name incorrectly!! Even after I'd correct them! Trust me, my first name is not super common, but I'd bet most people have heard of it at one time or another. So, no excuses. Sloppy.

Same thing with my townhouse. I thought the flyer sucked and it seemed very unappealing. Yet I stepped inside and presto - this was gonna be home for awhile! And, it still is.

Let's go deeper: kids. As in the choice to have them or not. When I was about 12 or 13 I remember saying outloud, "I don't want to have kids." Not sure if this was to my friends or my Mom but it came out. Even though I was a young teen at the time there was some 'adult' part of me that said hey, just wait, you're still young...you've got time. I grew up with two siblings quite a few years younger than I am so I ended up being the built-in babysitter. Sure, they're my siblings and I love them more than anything, but when you are 12 or 13 and puberty's in full swing NOTHING is right with the world. And family is just all kinds of annoying!

However, I have known deep down that I would never be a parent. A stepparent, possibly, but not kids of my own. I LOVE kids. I love holding babies. I adore my nephews and niece. I just don't want kids of my own.

Oh dang does that ever fly in the face of what's expected of women or what? And counter to what 99.99% of the population does - have kids! And I have to say I would even question this to myself as well...am I not realizing my full self as a woman if I choose not to give birth? How many times have I been asked, "...but don't you want to have kids someday?" I heard that more in my 20s and 30s. And now that the early 40s are under way I am thankful I'm not getting that OH SHIT I FORGOT TO HAVE KIDS feeling clanging away. Rather, I feel SO GOOD just being able to relax and relish and know my gut 'knew' this would be the case about 30 years ago!

So how does this tie in with the "excellence" I was talking about earlier? Well, I don't necessarily need it to. These are my streams of consciousness so I don't feel tied down to rules. As long as my thoughts keep flowing and a few people out there tune in to read this stuff then we're all good. Perhaps the "excellence" part of this is Knowing Yourself and trusting gut instincts. Wisdom that comes with life experience.

And...excellence - NOT perfection. This is a motto that drives me both in my personal and professional life. Have I talked about this before? I can't remember, but if it's a duplicate thought it's worth repeating because it's taken me years and years to strip out the perfectionist tendencies I somehow got dealt in the gene pool. We're human. We're gloriously flawed. We're not robots. I found that the quest to be "perfect" only gripped my brain with paralysis and procrastination. And I finally feel I've learned to reject that grip when it strikes.

Thankfully it doesn't nearly as much as it used to.

PS: props to the CNSA for this photo - I love it!