Mindfulness

Yesterday, I had a friend visiting from out of town. We got together with another friend to play tennis and then have a BBQ. It was just great. The sky was blue with big puffy white clouds. The temperature was about 78 degrees. There was a light breeze. The tennis was really fun and my 13-year-old daughter was my doubles partner. My out-of-town friend commented, “This is the best. I love seeing Y'all and playing tennis on this fabulous day.”

Yes, it was kind of perfect. 

This prompted a discussion between all of us about "being present" and a new appreciation for the “little things.” Little things like good weather. A blue sky. A soft breeze. A great tennis game. Delicious food and getting together with friends. Anyone of those things would have been lovely, but all of those things in one afternoon made it exceptional. Oh, and for me, having my daughter as my tennis partner was the icing on the proverbial cake.

Being present in the moment (dare I say mindful) is a new superpower for me. I was totally present and enjoying every moment that we were playing, eating, and catching up. Having spent a lifetime of juggling a big career, small children, and all of the responsibilities of being a working mom, especially one with an overly heightened sense of perfectionism, I was rarely ever present. I always lived in the future: Lists, deadlines, preparation for the next activity, the next meeting, tomorrow, next week, ten years, etc. 

Only now am I trying harder to do LESS. Less multi-tasking. Less worrying. Less living in the future. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I still make lists every day. I still keep a tight schedule. I am still a prepared-ness freak. But I am re-training my brain to stop and smell more roses. To savor my food. To enjoy my meditation. To be mindful when I am playing tennis or practicing yoga. I am learning to be grateful for the little moments... as well as the big ones.

My dad has been gone now for three weeks and I have been thinking about him a lot. He was unintentionally “mindful.” He never drove by a beautiful tree without admiring it. It was always a good day when he saw family or friends. He loved what he did for a living. He took great pleasure in driving a car or just riding in a car when he no longer could drive himself.  As his grandson said in his eulogy, “He thought every meal he ate was the best meal he ever had.” 

My dad always told me to “worry less and count your blessings.” For him, it came naturally. For me, it has been a slower process. (50 years or so). But each day that I remember to admire a tree, note the color of the sky, or just be more present, I am honoring his memory. Implementing his sage advice, I find myself a little happier.

Yesterday, my cup ran right over the top... and it was the little things that made it so joyful. 

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I Really Miss French Fries

I miss French fries. 

I miss potato chips.  

I miss cold beer. 

I miss warm chocolate lava cake. Especially since Costco started carrying it in these adorable individual ramekins that are ready in the microwave in less than one minute. 

I miss these foods because I decided to cleanse my body of all junk food and bad eating habits that I developed over the last holiday season. 

I have been watching documentaries and reading articles and books on the latest new theories on eating for optimal health. As an added bonus, I might shed a few unwanted pounds… and what middle-aged woman doesn’t want to lose a few?

So I went on a modified Keto/Paleo/Whole30/low-carb-high(good)fat program. This means:

No alcohol

No sugar

No bread or pasta 

No grains (wheat, corn, rice, etc.)

No potatoes

No artificial anything

No fruit (except some berries)

No fun

The good news is that you don’t count calories or portions. You eat lots of veggies, healthy oils (avocados, olives, coconut), meats, eggs, fish, seafood, and nuts (no peanuts or cashews). Macadamia nuts have been the most fun to eat without any guilt. My number one goal was to reduce inflammation in hopes that my muscles and joints would hurt less. Soooooo... 35 days, 16 hours and 20 minutes later (but who’s counting?!), here are my results:

I lost a whopping THREE pounds. I know. I know. Totally ridiculous.

My joints hurt exactly as much as they did a month ago. That should have been a deal breaker right there.

My neck has been stiff for weeks and is still tight as a drum. My chiropractor, however, is very happy as I currently have him on speed dial.

I don’t sleep any better. Which sucks.

My hair is no shinier. Maybe if I put the coconut oil ON my hair instead of IN my food, I might have had better results.

My nails didn’t grow any faster. So, my dream of being a hand model isn’t going to happen.

My skin isn’t less wrinkled. But if it were, I would be writing my own diet book and be making millions.

I didn’t suddenly win the Pulitzer… nor an Oscar. 

And sadly, I am just as neurotic. Well, no one thought that was going to change. Although, there is a theory that my underlying neurosis might actually be the root cause of my muscle tension. But we’ll explore that in another post.

And in spite of my unremarkable results of junk food deprivation, I actually DO feel better in a whole host of unexpected ways -- I am calmer. I have a lot fewer sugar cravings... and I have a lot more energy. So, believe it or not, I am going to keep it going for a little longer. I don’t know if I am doing it out of self-preservation or due to some kind of masochistic tendencies.

I had one friend recommend that I stop eating nuts to reduce inflammation. Another friend told me to stop eating tomatoes. One doctor told me to stop drinking carbonated water. Another one told me to stop playing tennis. I have tried everything, but my muscles are still tight and my joints hurt. But I remain open to suggestions. So, if anyone has a (natural) magical cure, I'm all ears.

My favorite comment, since I started this dietary program, was from a friend who simply said:   

“You lost me at no alcohol.” 

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The Five or Six Stages of Grief

Last Monday, I didn’t post for the first time since I launched my blog. I even posted on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day (Mondays!) But, last Monday, I could not write a post because I was too preoccupied with writing my father’s eulogy. 

My dad passed away at the age of 91. He had a pretty great life. Well into his 80’s, my dad still practiced law, drove a car, traveled the world, went to concerts, played bridge, and had a very active social life. Around the age of 87, a complicated stew of aging, dementia, Parkinson’s, and three different kinds of cancer started to slow down the fun train. His body was no longer reliable enough to navigate the world independently. He accepted a new life with full-time caregivers quite well. Over the last two years, there was a steady decline in the quality of his life. Still, he remained happy to go out every day, eat in restaurants, and continue to see friends and family regularly. It was only in the last few months that his mobility and cognitive skills were so diminished that he started sleeping most of the time. When he was awake, he just had a blank stare as if he was always in a dream state. Finally, he passed away quietly in his sleep.

When I got the call, I went into hyper-vigilant-mode to help get things organized (long distance). My brother was doing the bulk of the heavy-lifting — making the funeral arrangements and organizing the reception. I just needed to do a handful of things, but everything was going wrong. It felt like I was trying to move in quicksand. It took me hours to write his eulogy. Hours to write his obituary. Hours to book my travel. I even booked the wrong dates the first time. Then the electricity and the internet went out. I thought it was some kind of sign. I am still not sure a sign of what, but maybe that no matter how prepared you are for someone to die… you are never really prepared.

I flew to Los Angeles where we held the funeral. It was well attended by family and friends. His 88-year-old brother gave the first eulogy. His 83-year-old sister gave the second. All four of his children gave a eulogy along with two of his five grandchildren. Without knowing who would say what, each person told a funny story -- stories that my Dad had told them. Each one commented on how full and joyful his life was. Each one commented on his love of food, family, and storytelling. He was well honored. He was appropriately adored and admired for his zest for life. The service was filled with genuine laughter through some heartfelt tears. Everyone who attended felt that it was a celebration of a life well lived.  

The theme of my eulogy was my father’s relentless optimism and how grateful he was to have been alive for 91 years. After the chapel service, we had the traditional burial. My dad was buried next to my mom where she was laid to rest 43 years earlier (minus five days). Ironic that they both passed away in the month of June. I remember my mom’s funeral as if it had happened yesterday. I remember what I wore. I remember being terrified of cemeteries and caskets. At her funeral, no one gave eulogies except our family rabbi. No one uttered a word. No funny stories were told. It was nothing but sadness. She was 45 years old, and in the prime of her life, when cancer robbed her at the halfway point. She left four children (ages 10-21.) She left a husband who adored her. She left a mother, father, sister, and a huge group of friends who were all devastated. I remember thinking my world ended the day she died and wondered if the sun would come up the next day. I remember thinking even if it did come up, what would be the point of it? Without her, my world had ended. She was my best friend. 

But I survived that day… and the next 43 years too. Now I was standing on that same patch of grass, burying my father. But this time everything was different. With maturity and perspective, I was able to celebrate my dad’s life. I was able to appreciate the time we had with him. I was grateful that he passed away peacefully. I was grateful to all the dear friends and family that showed up for the service. Losing a parent is always difficult. But there is no comparison between losing your mother when you are a little girl and saying goodbye to your father as an adult... when their life was truly complete.

After the service, we had a wonderful reception at my aunt’s house. We feasted on deli platters (my dad’s favorite) and sat around sharing more stories. Then for the next four days, my siblings and I got together to eat meals, sifted through old photographs and talked more. We dredged up a lot of memories… some hilarious and some emotional ones too. By the end of the week, my heart was full. There was very little sadness or grief. I had my first dissonant moment when I wanted to call my dad and tell him about this incredible memorial service… but then remembered it was his.

By the end of the week, my siblings and I went back to our respective homes in our respective cities. And now the melancholy is starting to creep in. When my siblings and extended family were all together, it felt like my dad was with us. He was laughing too and enjoying the lox and bagels. But with everyone returning to their separate homes, it suddenly has become very quiet. Feeling a bit unmoored, I decided to look up the Five Stages of Grief. I did this the same way I might look up a recipe… as if there is a formula for making this feeling go away.

Here are the Five Stages of Grief:

Denial

Anger

Bargaining

Depression

Acceptance

Yes, those emotions would definitely apply to other times in my life. But this does not depict my current emotional journey. My stages have been more like:

Numbness (the initial news)

Overwhelm (funeral planning and travel logistics)

Teary-eyed (seeing family and friends at the memorial)

Laughter (storytelling about his wonderful life)

Gratitude (for the beautiful sendoff and his longevity)

Melancholy (when the family all went home)

So I am having my own SIX stages of something else, and I don’t like it. I want to hold onto those stories. I want to hold onto that celebration of life. I want to hold onto the virtue that defined my dad: Optimism.

So I remind myself of three simple things:

My dad is in a better place.

On this earth, he is in his final resting place… next to my mom.

In heaven, they are taking a walk in Paris… and catching up on the last 43 years.

Dad, may you and Mom both rest in peace… you are loved every day and never forgotten.

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The Kids Are Alright

My husband’s cousin and her boyfriend were visiting us for the last two weeks. She is 23 years old. 5’9” with long blonde hair and crystal blues eyes. Everything about her is perfect. She is beautiful inside and out. She is smart, strong, and athletic, and her boyfriend (28) is truly her equal. He is tall, lean, and muscular with piercing blue eyes and a big bright smile. He is from Germany and she is from Austria, and they met doing competitive alpine sports. They are both outstanding athletes. Highly educated. Polite. Organized. Bilingual… and just lovely. I don’t know what they put in the water in Europe, but they are truly awesome young adults.

They rented their own car and would often leave early in the morning and not return until early evening. They saw the island the way it is meant to be seen. They went to the beach. They swam in the ocean. They hiked into the crater. They played tennis. They snorkeled. They surfed (for the first time and loved it). They fell in love with Coconut's fish tacos so much, that they drove 45 minutes (each way) and ate them every day for a week. They are both triathletes and compete in cross country skiing, downhill skiing, ski mountaineering and Ironmans. They are a gorgeous couple and couldn’t be sweeter or smarter. It was a real treat to have them visit us.

Meanwhile, two of my daughters are traveling in Italy. My oldest daughter (23) is halfway through her nine-month global backpacking adventure. After four months in Southeast Asia, she is now in Europe. For my middle daughter's 21st birthday, I gave her a plane ticket to meet her sister there for 10 days. Their uncle, who loves Italy and will use any excuse to go, decided to join them as well.

So, now my brother and two of my daughters are eating their way through Italy. Their uncle has been to Italy dozens of times, so he is taking them to all of his “favorite restaurants in the world.” Apparently, my oldest daughter started crying when they went to this one restaurant in the countryside and tasted the "Lard and Truffle" bruschetta. She said, “It was the greatest thing she has ever tasted in her life.” Meanwhile, my middle daughter (who adores pasta) is in heaven eating all the fresh-made pasta she can consume. Their uncle insists that they eat gelato every day because “it’s the greatest in the world,” and in honor of their other Uncle who never passes up gelato. Sometimes they eat it twice in one day. 

They are having a ball and sending me pictures daily. I can’t explain how happy this makes me. They sent me one picture of the two of them drinking wine and laughing their first night in Florence. When I got the picture, I burst out crying (tears of joy) because they looked so happy to be together and enjoying life. 

And me?

Somehow all of these travelers have inspired me (dare I say given me permission) to play hooky from my normal overly-regimented-adult-life. My husband, my youngest daughter, my sister-in-law, our cousins, and I played tennis for hours and hours on Mother’s Day... and it was awesome.

Later in the week, another friend of mine was visiting from the mainland, so I took the day off to play tennis with her one morning. After the game, we had lunch at a restaurant right on the ocean. We had a fun playing and a great time catching up. I felt like I was the one on vacation!

Later, I went to pick up my daughter from her tennis lesson, and I ended up playing with another group who needed a fourth. After that match, my husband and daughter and I stayed to play another match before dinner.

Yes, I took my own advice and I chose fun! How did it feel? Glorious. It was the first time in a long time that I wasn’t watching the clock, worried about the laundry, what to make for dinner, giving notes on a script, or preparing for a conference call. Okay, maybe I had a little twinge of panic at the end of the day, but not for a moment while I was playing. Yay me!

I haven’t felt joy like that in a long time. Although my immediate family wasn’t physically all together, we were together in groups… and doing what we love most. Knowing that the older sisters were together, and having a ball with their uncle, made it just perfect. Meanwhile, I was home with the other half of my immediate family playing tennis... and we were having a great time too. 

But it’s Monday now. My houseguests have left. I have a post to write. I have scripts to read. I have errands to run. I need to prep something for dinner. And, of course, I need to finish the five loads of laundry because no matter how much fun you might be having… somethings never change. 

But these two girls are a great reminder. Enjoy your life... and don't forget to do what makes you happy. It just might be contagious.

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Mother's Day

As the saying goes, “It’s Complicated.”

Mother’s Day is a complicated holiday for me. When I lost my mother at the age of 10, Mother’s Day became one of many annual reminders that opened up the gaping wound in my chest and poured salt directly on my heart.

Losing your mother when you are a child is one of those battle scars that you carry for your whole life. Only those who have fought a similar war can truly understand what it feels like.

Growing up, I didn’t know a single other kid without a mom. I always felt like I was "the girl whose mother died.” It was like being a minority, a foreigner, or having a handicap. Mostly a handicap. I was the one who walked around with a hole in her heart.

For years, I had to fight the melancholy that came over me on these kinds of holidays. At every family function, it felt like the guest of honor was always missing… especially on Mother’s Day.  

At the age of 30, twenty years after my mother died, I started my own family. I wish I could tell you that having a child made the pain magically disappear. While I was grateful to have had a baby of my own, in some ways, it was a painful reminder of my mother's absence all over again. My friend’s mothers were there to plan their baby showers, hold their babies when their daughter’s needed to rest, answer all of their questions about newborns, run errands for them, babysit, and celebrate the milestones of their grandchildren. I felt overwhelmed, and often alone, trying to figure out how to even be a new mom. 

When my second daughter was born, two weeks before Mother’s Day, I started to feel a slight shift. I felt more confident about being a mother. I felt like Mother’s Day was no longer about what I was missing, but what I had. As my children grew older, I was able to share stories about my mom and my own childhood. They would come to know her through me. 

All three of my daughters delighted in the fact that I was such a different child than they were:

I was a worrier. They are not. 

I was clingy. They are not. 

I was a homebody. They are not. 

All three of them will take any opportunity to go on an adventure, travel, or be with friends. In fact, on this Mother’s Day, my two oldest daughters are traveling in Europe together. (Both remembered to call me… which made me very happy.)

My youngest daughter will be spending the day with me, and we will spend the day doing my favorite thing: playing tennis… which coincidentally was my mother’s favorite hobby too. 

So Mother’s Day is no longer a sad day. It remains a day of remembrance, but also a celebration of life. I am grateful to my daughters for making me feel like a good mom (most of the time). And for allowing me to tell them the same stories over and over again about the woman who had the most influence on my life... even though she was only in my life for such a short time.

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Advice From My Teenage Daughter

Last week I was having a pity party (table for one please). My work projects were all in a state of chaos or on life support. I was feeling kind of blue. Frustrated. Angry. Dare I say bitchy? (Mostly bitchy.)

So, I wrote a sad sack poem about my feelings. It was really less of a poem and more of a list. 

I like lists.

I like grocery lists.

I like To-Do lists.

I like gratitude lists.

I like lists for when things are bugging me. (Since this is the opposite of gratitude, I call them my  attitude lists.)

Lists help me think. They help me clear the cobwebs out of my brain.

I was planning to just post the list of my feelings under the guise that it was poetry… but it wasn’t really poetry.

It wasn’t particularly insightful.

It certainly wasn’t witty.

I would have been better off posting my grocery list... which might have been more entertaining.

But when I wrote my list/poem, I was hoping to kill two birds with one stone:

1) Write my way out of a bad mood.

2) Write something that I could post today.

But that didn’t happen.

So our family dinner conversation was consumed with my complaining about my frustrations at work. I was lamenting to my husband that all of my projects seemed to be blowing up all at once. While in mid-rant, my 13-year-old daughter looked up from her spaghetti and meatballs and asked me this:

“Mom, of all the producers you have ever worked with, which ones had success right away?” The question stopped me in my tracks. I thought long and hard and finally said, 

“None of them. It takes years to get even one project off the ground.”  

She smiled and said, “So why would it be any different for you? Success takes time. Just keep going.”

Wait a minute! Did my 13-year-old daughter just give me advice? Is she actually paying attention to things I have taught her? Things I have said? Is this the same daughter who can’t remember to pick up her wet towel off the floor every day? 

Yes, it is.

Her words were so simple and yet so perfect. For this one moment, I stepped out of my self-indulgent, panic-induced, stress-riddled, producer-ranting, irritated professional-self, and took stock in a joyous moment of motherhood.

My daughter is paying attention. Not just to me. But to the world. She is able to assimilate a lot of amorphous information and distill it down to a few words of wisdom. My daughter is compassionate, insightful… and 100% correct. My daughter is listening. This means she is learning... and in turn, I am learning too. I am reminded (yet again) that everything takes time: My producing career. Raising a child. Even this blog post. 

So this week’s life lesson (and post) is dedicated to my daughter. It is her sage words of advice that I am sharing because we all need the reminder (especially on Mondays): 

Just Keep Going

P.S. Her wet towel was on the floor again this morning, but she gets a free pass today.

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Accidents Happen

I believe it was the brilliant comedienne Carol Burnett who said, “Comedy is tragedy plus time.”

The other day, I offered to help a friend with her daughter’s birthday party at the beach. My daughter and I volunteered to make cupcakes for the party, so we were up late the night before frosting 36 sprinkle cupcakes with bright blue icing. It turns out that blue icing is a messy business, so cleanup went later than I expected.

In spite of our late night, we got up early the next morning. I thought I had plenty of time to start the weekend laundry, make breakfast, wrap the gift, meditate, and try out my dog’s new bark collar. My dog has always been a barky little guy, but it has escalated to a new level lately. It’s like having a car alarm go off every time a stray cat wanders by the window or a bird lands on our roof… which happens more often than you might think. I considered putting him on some kind of doggy Prozac, but my sister-in-law, who has three barky dogs, swears by this collar. I read the instructions and double-checked to make sure the “shock” setting was off so that it would only vibrate and beep. I figured the perfect time to test it out would be during my morning meditation. We went into my bedroom, like we do every morning, and sat on my reading chair, and started my 20 minutes of attempted tranquility.

Unfortunately, I underestimated just how much he didn’t like this new collar. It is kind of bulky and anything new scares him. About two minutes into my meditation, my dog jumped off the chair, and I heard a terrible retching sound.

Normally I don’t get up from meditation even when he barks. But this wasn’t barking, this was that horrible pre-vomiting sound. I jumped out of my chair to grab him before the vomiting began. I could hear him, but I could not find him. I looked all over the bedroom, in the bathroom, and the closet. More retching, but no sign of my dog.

Then I realized the sound was coming from UNDERNEATH my bed! I rushed over because the only rug in my house is in my bedroom, under my bed… and it’s a shag rug. Needless to say, I didn’t need him throwing up on that. I have a low-profile bed frame, so I wasn’t sure exactly how he was able to get underneath that three-inch clearance, but he did. My goal was to grab him before he threw up, and in my frenzy to try and save the carpet, I dove under the bed like I was sliding into home plate. I heard a sickening thud, which turned out to be my face hitting the hard ground. (No, the shag rug did very little to cushion my fall, and I got a nasty rug burn to boot.) I laid on the ground with my arm stretched out as far as it would go under the bed, but I still couldn’t reach him. It was dark under the bed, and my face was contorted at an odd angle on the rug, so I couldn’t see much. Finally, I coaxed my nervous little dog out from under the bed, but could not assess the damage he might have created under there. I immediately took off the bark collar, which never even beeped or vibrated, but in spite of that, he still managed to work himself into a full state of hysteria.

After I got him out of my bedroom, I went into the kitchen to grab some paper towels and my daughter screamed, “Mom! Your eye is all red and bleeding!” I grabbed a bag of ice and went to assess the damage. Thankfully, it wasn’t bleeding, but I did have quite the “shiner” under my eye. Yes, in an attempt to prevent my dog from barfing on my shag rug, I gave myself a black eye! Well technically, it was a bright red eye from a broken blood vessel, but it was turning a lovely shade of purple as I sat there staring at it in utter disbelief. I placed the ice bag over my eye while wondering if this was the best remedy? I distinctly remember Fred Flintstone always used a Brontosaurus steak whenever he had a black eye, but I was fresh out of Brontosaurus steaks.

In spite of my boxing match with my hardwood floor, we still made it to the beach party on time. Around lunchtime, I offered to go pick up all the pizzas. The beach parking was in a residential neighborhood and the street was quite narrow. I got in my car, backed up a few inches, and suddenly heard the terrifying sound of metal on metal. I looked in my rearview mirror and saw nothing behind me. Phew! But when I got out to investigate, I discovered that I had scraped my car against a mailbox that was hiding in my blind spot (ironic I know!) Don’t worry, the mailbox was fine. My car, on the other hand, not so much. The corner of that mailbox carved out an 8-inch gash along the side of my car. It looked like it had been “keyed” with the edge of a crowbar. In the blink of an eye (my swollen, black eye), I just had my second accident (dare I say tragedy?) of the day. But I was there to help my friend, so I got back in the car and went to get the pizzas that were waiting for pick-up. When I returned to the beach, we had 20 starving kids ready for hot pizza and homemade cupcakes. They were all so happy, and for a moment, I almost forgot about my two unfortunate accidents. But I couldn't help but worry that bad things happen in three’s... and it wasn’t even Noon yet.

Later that evening, I had a charity dinner to attend. It was kind of a western-themed jamboree. I had bought cowboy boots (my first pair), a cowboy hat, and a simple tee-shirt dress. For someone who doesn't like to dress in costume, I thought I pulled it together pretty well. But then there was the issue of my freshly-created black eye. I wasn’t really planning on this last minute accessory. I don’t own actual cover-up makeup, so I ended up improvising by using a lot of tinted moisturizer. I just kept layering it on until it almost looked normal. If nothing else, the bags under my eyes would be very, very moisturized.

The party was great fun, but the whole night I felt like I was waiting for the other shoe (or cowboy boot) to drop. What was going to be the third mishap of my day? I found myself walking extra slowly, dancing cautiously, and made sure that I didn’t drink more than one alcoholic beverage. I made it through the evening without any more incidents… well almost.

In celebrating the survival of my black eye, my car damage, and an injury-free jamboree, I might have over-indulged in the rich comfort food... and I definitely went overboard on the pie tasting. Everything was delicious, but all that rich food (and pie) didn’t sit well. So, I went home feeling a little queasy. I went to bed with a bad stomach ache and woke up with an even worse headache. Is there such a thing as a “bad day” hangover? I think I had one. So between my upset stomach, my blinding headache, my black eye, my really ugly dent across the side of my car, I decided that should fill my quota for bad luck happening in groups of three’s.

The next day I was really feeling sorry for myself. Then I decided that I was looking at it all wrong. I had three minor mishaps that almost ruined my weekend. But I had a weekend of being surrounded by good friends, good music, good food, and good fun.

My headache and stomach ache only lasted a few hours… with a little help from a handful of antacids and a couple of aspirin.

My black eye should heal in about a week or two. Needless to say, I won’t be appearing on the new cover of Vogue.

My car will get fixed. Although, I haven’t seen the estimate for the repair, which might end up being the real tragedy in this story.

The good news is that nothing was permanently damaged… and I did attend two great parties. So the lesson learned is that accidents happen. Or more aptly sh*t happens. As for the silver lining… at least I had something to write about today. And maybe even something to laugh about later.

Much later.

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My Sanctuary

I have this place I call my sanctuary.

My husband built it for me.

Not with his bare hands. For he is not a builder.

He is more of an architect.

Not the kind that draws, models or applies for building permits.

He is an architect of ideas.

He was the architect of having a different life.

His actual vocation is finance.

He spends his days with spreadsheets, presentations, and emails.

But he had the vision to get us out of a rat race that was causing too much physical and emotional stress.

He wanted to live somewhere more peaceful.

Somewhere with less pollution and traffic.

Somewhere with more nature and land.

He wanted us to have more life, and less work, in our quest for work/life balance.

He wanted me to have a refuge. A place to live that turned down the volume.

He wanted me to stop saying things like: I Hate Mondays…

and Sundays because they were ruined while preparing for Mondays.

He knew that I needed an exit strategy from my old job. My old life.

So, he became the architect of a new life.

One that allowed us to move to Hawaii.

One that allowed me to leave my high-pressure job for an opportunity to create a new career for myself.

One that allowed me to think for myself... and work for myself.

He knew that I needed an office.

He knew that I needed a door to shut out the noise.

He knew that I needed a window to look out... to daydream for inspiration.

He knew that I needed to look out at something beautiful.

There was no place for that in our new home.

We had plenty of space, but nothing private.

So he figured out a way to give me that office.

He figured out a way to turn a walk-in closet into an office.

By adding a window and a door, he made it feel bright and beautiful.

Now I have beauty right outside my window.

Now I have fresh air... rather than recycled air-conditioning.

I wanted my office to be uncluttered and minimalistic, so I have white walls and minimal furnishing.

He set up a system for me to play my classical music while I write.

For the first time in years, when I get up in the morning, I am excited to go to work.

My office is my sanctuary.

A place where I go, with my little dog in tow, turn on the music, look out the window... and I write.

A place where I no longer hate Mondays, because I love what I do… and where I do it.

My husband was the architect of my sanctuary.

It’s not just a physical place, but a state of mind too.

In honor of our fourteenth wedding anniversary this week, I am dedicating this post to my architect.

I am truly grateful.

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Choose Fun

I saw an ad for Carnival Cruise lines. Their new slogan is: Choose Fun.

Isn’t that just the simplest thing you’ve ever heard? Take the cruise. Slide down the waterslide. Jump on the trampoline. Drink the umbrella drink. Watch the waves go by. Enjoy the sunset. Eat the food. Dance. Sing. Laugh. Fall in love. Perfect.  

Although cruising isn’t exactly my idea of fun, I couldn't stop thinking about the tagline Choose Fun. I contend that I am too much in my head to be truly happy. I am always thinking about stuff. Not necessarily useful stuff. Just stuff. Always processing. Always wanting to find better processes. Always wanting better results. This simple advertisement has sent me down a rabbit hole of introspection.

Do I Choose Fun? Do I have enough fun? Am I having any fun? This reminds me of those bumper stickers: Be Happy --another catalyst for rabbit hole introspection. Am I happy? Am I Happy-ish? Happy...er? Is anyone happy? Is happiness a choice too? Are people who Choose Fun happier?

It is not an issue of discontent. Nor a lack of gratitude. It is not about wanting something more out of the world around me. Or even something different. It is about wanting more out of me! I am just a constant self-improvement project. Constantly striving to be better. Be more patient. Be more Zen. Be more peaceful. Be more productive. Be in better shape. Be in better health. Be more joyful. Be more fun.

Cue more introspection: Why do I have to be more? Why do I have to be better? Why do I have to be better at being me? Why can’t I just be?

I was always a planner. A worrier. A neatnik. Even when I was a little girl, I shared a room with my older teenage sister. When she wasn’t home, I would tidy her half of the room because it made me feel better. Now I do that with my youngest daughter. Old habits die hard. A sad statement that my idea of fun is tidying up.

One of my dear friends says that for better or worse, I am a Type A person. She claims that Type A people just aren’t as good at Choosing Fun. Even with success, she believes that Type A’s are too driven to simply relax and enjoy their lives. Driven to succeed. Driven by perfection. Driven to a fault. Driven to the point of restlessness. Always forward thinking and struggle with living in the now. I desperately want to disagree with her, but I am afraid she might be right. Even though I am my own boss, and live in paradise, I remain a workhorse. A rule follower. I watch what I eat. I watch how much I drink. I wear sunscreen. I color within the lines. And, sadly, I still sweat the small stuff.

I want to be one of those people who Choose Fun. Which isn’t to say that I don't have fun. I certainly do. I just have to pencil it in. It’s a little bit more (dare I say) work for me to have fun.

I feel like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland racing to the next thing on my perpetual To-Do list: Go to the grocery store. Make a healthy dinner for the family. Do the laundry. Write the thank you note. Walk the dog. Pay the bills. Buy the birthday present. Order the wedding gift. Plan the baby shower. Bake for the bake sale. Bring snacks for the field trip. Bring snacks for the volleyball game. Bring snacks for the potluck. Buy more snacks! Drive carpool. Exercise. Get a manicure. Lose weight. Do more squats. Clean out the closet. Plan the graduation party. Write a book. Have more projects in development. Get more sleep. Meditate. Do more. Do better.  

I don’t think my To-Do list excludes me from feeling happiness. I just think it gets in the way of enjoying my fun. My sense of order and responsibility are noisier than my desire to just relax.

This weekend I thought a lot about those two words: Choose Fun. Yesterday, my husband, my daughter and I played tennis (quite possibly my favorite thing to do in the whole world). I was completely present as we played for hours, and we all had a blast. (Fun!) My husband wanted to stay and continue to play another match with friends. Since we had all driven in one car, I felt an immediate sense of panic about the time. I had errands to run, scripts to read, and laundry to do. I needed to let the dog out, start prepping dinner, and my daughter needed to clean up her room. But I started thinking about Choose Fun… and I said, “Okay.” My daughter and I grabbed some lunch, and then took a walk on the beach while my husband played more tennis. She was thrilled to be putting off cleaning her room for another hour or two, and I was thrilled to have the leisure time. So this whole concept of fun might actually be more about my perspective than my actions (well maybe it is a little about actions too). I guess I struggle with my relationship with fun. I am always putting a clock on it, and I think it needs to be a little more fluid. It was a beautiful day, we were all together as a family, and the messy room would still be waiting for us when we got back. That change in my mindset created the space in my day for fun (and dare I say happiness) that I might have otherwise missed.

I would love to be the girl who always says “yes” to having a drink after the tennis game. Or grabs an impromptu dinner with friends. Or eats more dessert (because dessert is fun!) and doesn’t worry about gaining weight. Let me be clear. I do all of those things on occasion, but it comes with an unnecessary sense of guilt… and there goes the fun, right out the window.

I admire people who know what makes them happy... and go for it.

I admire people who give themselves permission to put themselves first.

I admire people who don’t sweat the small stuff.

I want to be one of those people, but I have been this way my whole life. I am wired to be hyper-vigilant. But like I said, I am also a lifelong self-improvement project. So, if I want to change, I can change. I don’t want to be a different person, but I sure would love to lighten up a bit. Maybe like everything else, it just takes practice.

So, like any good Type A person, I am writing down the words Choose Fun... and adding it to my To-Do List.

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You Are Not Alone

There are 7.3 billion people on the planet… and growing.

As human beings, we all essentially want the same things. Yes, of course, food, shelter, and safety are paramount.  But after the basic needs are met, I believe what most people really want most is to feel connected. In some ways that is why I started writing a blog: To connect with others. Sometimes that connection happens with a relative stranger. Right place. Right time… and maybe the right questions.

Last week, I was taking a long walk and ran into someone who I knew… although I don’t know her well. We started talking about the weather, our dogs and then our kids. She was excited to share some good news about one of her sons becoming a dad and her daughter was getting married. She seemed happy as she shared her good news, but there was a “but” in her voice. So I asked, “This is all good news right?” That’s when she casually mentioned that her other son was having trouble finding a job. Keeping a job. Apparently, her son is very bright (as are all her three kids), but this one seems to have more trouble staying focused. As we started talking more, she admitted that he was having trouble getting out of the house. Her house. He still lives at home. Apparently, some days her son doesn’t want to get out of bed. I gently asked, “Do you think he might be suffering from depression?” She got very quiet and then said, “Maybe… and he’s been drinking a lot too.” She said that she and her husband have struggled with what to do about this situation. Their other two kids seem to be thriving, but this son dropped out of college and is living at home with no prospects of further education or employment. I asked if he was getting counseling or taking any medication? She said, “No.”  They tried something a while back and the drug made things worse. She also, confided in me that her best friend’s son lost his own battle with depression and committed suicide a few years ago. She’s afraid this might happen to her son too.

Suddenly, the tone of our conversation shifted dramatically. Apparently, she and her husband have kept this situation very private, and they have very different points of view on how to handle it. The husband thinks it will resolve itself in good time. She thinks it might be more serious than that. I could see that there were layers of pain being revealed here: The admission that her son was not functioning in society. The admission that it has caused stress in their marriage. Then the admission that her son might be suffering from depression and that they don’t know what to do about it. When she was done confessing this family secret, I could see a visible sign of relief, but I could also feel her pain. It was palpable.

So it was my turn to share.

I told her that just in this past year, I have had a few friends and family members who have suffered from debilitating anxiety and depression. Thankfully they all found help, but for each one of them, it was a different path. I reassured her that there is a lot of help available:  Inpatient programs. Outpatient programs. Psychiatry. Cognitive Therapy. Behavioral therapy. Family counseling, western medications... and alternative treatments too.

She felt like her son would benefit greatly from a daily routine to avoid becoming totally reclusive. She frequently asks him to take walks with her, but most of the time he is not interested. I, too, am a big believer in having daily routines and think walking (and talking) can be very healing. I even know a therapist who does “walking therapy.” Rather than sitting in an office doing “talk therapy,” she takes it outside and so they “walk and talk”. The irony that we ended up having our own impromptu therapy session on this walk is not lost on me.

As we were talking, her son came down the street to take a walk (I had never met him before). Aside from his disheveled appearance, he was a handsome young man with a gorgeous smile. He was quite engaging, although quite shy. We talked for a bit. He was on his way to physical therapy for a shoulder injury. We bonded when I shared my own stories of struggling with a shoulder injury myself. He found it particularly amusing when I recounted my tales of plotting to kill my husband during that time — as my husband continued to play tennis for hours at a time, paying no attention to my chronic pain, or my isolation. This story made him laugh, and in turn, I could see his Mom was smiling too. I got the feeling that she hadn’t seen her son smile in a long time. For this moment in time, there was a connection made… and there was a shared moment of compassion, hope, and optimism.

We said our goodbyes and I realized the serendipity of running into my friend and her son. My friend was silently suffering over her beautiful, intelligent son’s struggle with life, and she was at odds with her husband about how to handle it.

I don’t know if they will get him in the right program or find the right medication, but for the 30 minutes that we chatted, there was this profound connection. A relief from the unburdening of a family secret… and a family stressor.

How did I know what questions to ask? I didn’t. People will tell you what’s on their mind… if you just listen. In this case, it was a Mom excited to share some good news about two of her adult children, but I could see there was something else on her mind. What started as a mother’s casual concern about her son finding a job was really about something much deeper.

She needed to connect with someone about this. I just happened to be there at the right time to ask a few simple questions... and the floodgates opened up. My hope is that this chance encounter will have a positive impact on this family, and become a lifeline to finding the right help.

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Quieting The Voice In My Head

Ursula is back. For those of you who are new to my blog, Ursula is the really mean voice that lives inside my head. We all have one of these. Ursula embodies doubt. Ursula is my editor before I ever type a word. Ursula is my alter-ego when I am feeling down. Ursula never has anything nice to say. Ursula is a bully. Ursula tells me I can’t. Ursula tells me I shouldn’t. Ursula makes me feel stuck. Ursula is negative self-talk.

I hate Ursula.

When the slow simmer of negative self-talk gets out of control like a small grease fire, I like to read a good memoir or inspirational book to help quell the flames. But lately, it’s not as simple as throwing some baking soda into the frying pan. This is more of a brush fire, and I needed some bigger water cannons to drown out this sucker.

So, I’ve been reading a LOT lately.

At the recommendation of a friend, I started listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s (Eat, Pray, Love) podcast: Magic Lessons. Gilbert offers wisdom about letting go of fear and embracing your inner creative artist. She invites guest speakers to elaborate on the subject of unblocking creativity. During one of the podcasts, she invited Blogger/NY Times Bestseller Glennon Doyle Melton. Glennon caught my attention like a lightning bolt. I went home found her blog, read it, subscribed to it, and then ordered her latest book: Love Warrior. When it arrived, I read the entire book in two days. I couldn’t put it down.

Usually, a good memoir will inspire me and get me out of my own head. I read memoirs because I love the first person narrative. The personal journey. The human condition. People who have struggled and found their voice through survival. I was inspired by Glennon’s story as she raised three children and started writing her blog in a closet. I have three kids and write my blog in a closet too! (Well technically, it’s my office now, but it was a converted closet because I needed an office more than I needed a walk-in closet… but I digress.)

I was so excited about this book, I called another friend and asked if she had heard of Glennon Doyle Melton. She said, “Oh yeah. I went on Oprah’s SuperSoulSpeaker cruise last summer and heard her speak. We’ve become friends.” A million things run through my mind: Oprah has a cruise? If only I liked cruising. I read Glennon's book and subscribed to her blog. Will she be my friend too? Can she help me get rid of Ursula? I am sure with a million readers and tens-of-thousands of social media followers, she is pretty busy. But I decided to write Glennon an email anyway. She hasn’t written me back yet, but I did receive an automatic reply thanking me for subscribing to her blog. (For those of you who have subscribed to my blog, I am thanking you now and apologize for not knowing how to send an automated response. But, if you write me an email, I promise I will write you back.)

Something in the universe must be signaling that I needed more guidance because another friend suggested a podcast by NY Times Bestseller Jack Canfield (the co-author of Chicken Soup for the Soul). Canfield’s philosophy is all about setting goals and accomplishing them through positive affirmations and actions. He has written dozens of books on the subject, so I decided to order two of them. After listening to his podcast, I realized that I engage in a lot of negative self-talk (Hello Ursula!) and I probably don’t set high enough goals for myself. I have a lot to learn about dreaming big and not being afraid to fail.

Then another friend recommended that I read Maria Shriver’s new book: I’ve Been Thinking. It’s part memoir, part self-help, and part inspirational guidebook. Although it doesn’t have the rollercoaster, soap opera, witty ride of Love Warrior, it still speaks to me just as deeply. Shriver’s book leans heavily on prayers, religion, and her relationship with God. While I am not super religious, I still found it very inspiring.

Since I started writing, meditating, and practicing yoga, I believe I am having my own spiritual awakening. When I was a busy television executive, raising three children, juggling a divorce, a second marriage, all while trying to figure out when I would find time to eat right, sleep or exercise, my spiritual life was non-existent. I had no time for self-reflection or creative outlets, I was just trying to survive my day-to-day hamster wheel. (By the way, I don't think hamsters are all that spiritually enlightened either.)

Although I was raised with a healthy dose of religion, it was defined by holidays and food (the good part) with a layer of guilt and obligatory temple appearances (the bad part). Spirituality was not really part of the equation. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think religion and spirituality are mutually exclusive, I just hadn’t discovered the spiritual part yet. Spirituality, for me, is my connection to other human beings and living things. A sense of purpose and mindfulness. As I got older, I find myself yearning for more of this.

But even after two podcasts, two memoirs, and two self-help books, I was still looking for more inspiration. The brush fire of doubt is now a forest fire burning out of control: Will I ever finish a book? Become a bestselling author? Be anointed by Oprah? Make a living in my second act.

Afterall, Glennon hasn’t even written me back... and Ursula is laughing.

Back to the bookstore. Upon another friend’s suggestion, I pick up Amy Poehler’s Yes Please. If I didn't love her enough already, she had me at Page One with the words: Writing is Hard.

She gets it. She gets me. Every chapter of her book is a perfect balance of honesty, self-doubt, self-deprecation, and pure comedy. She even has her own version of Ursula whom she refers to as her “demon.” (Maybe if I send her an email, she will write me back?)

Armed with a stack of inspirational writers and marching instructions, I am starting to feel validated and inspired. Writing is hard. Everyone struggles. Everyone has demons. The key is to keep going. Set goals. Lose the negative self-talk, and implement daily positive affirmations.

So if positive affirmations are the secret sauce to success, here is my list for today:

I am a writer. I am successful. I am grateful. I am healthy. I am calm. I am peaceful. I am inspired. I have a wonderful family… and I have the cutest dog in the world.

So take that Ursula and go back to the rock you crawled out from under.

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The Lunch Club

While I was in Los Angeles, I went to meet my three best friends from junior high school for lunch. This was the third time as adults that we’ve all gotten together. The first time was 15 years ago, then it was 5 years ago… and this time.

Two of the girls have been friends since birth. They literally were born in the same hospital, on the same day, their mothers became friends, and so did they. They have remained close ever since.

The four us became friends in 7th grade, but we were only in school together for two years, as we all ended up going to different high schools. Yet somehow, we stayed close through high school and we touched base occasionally in college. But it wasn’t until our late 30s that we all reconnected for one dinner. Then in our 40s for another, and now in our 50s for lunch.

15 years ago, when we had our first reunion dinner, marriage and divorce were the primary dinner topics of choice. Two of us were recently separated and the other two were still married. There was a hint of formality when we first got together, but it didn’t take long to get reacquainted. Soon after we got comfortable, we all confessed to the struggles we had in our marriages… including infidelity, financial issues, and general incompatibility. With every confession made… another confession was revealed. It felt so good to bare our souls. While we were practically strangers as adults, we were like sisters growing up. The dinner started to feel like a family reunion (if the reunion had been hosted by Oprah). It was all so personal and intimate. We were telling each other things that we had never told anyone else. It was this weird “safe space” confessional. I remember leaving that dinner feeling elated, exhausted, and completely moved by these women and their honesty. We vowed to do it again… very soon.

But “very soon” turned into 10 years later. I think life got busy for all of us. (I know mine did. Ironically, I met my current husband a few days after that first dinner. We got married the following year and had a baby shortly after that. This is while I continued to work like a maniac 60 hours a week. Then I moved to Hawaii. But it wasn’t just my life that was busy, we were all incredibly busy.)

But we finally had that second dinner 5 years ago. I don’t remember much about it, except that it was so much fun! I had just moved back to California for my last “tour of duty” as an executive and we arranged to meet at a restaurant in Manhattan Beach on a Saturday night. The only thing I remember about that dinner was sitting down at 7 pm in a big crowded restaurant. We each ordered a glass of wine, something to eat… and picked up where we had left off ten years prior. The next thing we knew, the waiter was telling us that we had to leave because the restaurant was closing. Apparently, 5 hours had passed and it was Midnight!!  The four of us were so engrossed in our conversation that we never bothered to look up and see the restaurant was empty. (Needless to say, one of our greatest bonds is our collective gift of gab.)

So here we are now, 15 years after that first reunion, having lunch. Those who were once married are now divorced, and those who were divorced are now remarried. One of the more recently divorced women announces that she is only dating women now. (Ironically, I know several women who have done the same thing recently.)

Between the four of us, we have nine adult children total and one teenager. (I am the only one who had another child after my first marriage.) We all start swapping stories about our adult children. Like the dinner 15 years ago, one confession leads to another. We learn that our collective clan represents quite the microcosm of society:

Two of the ten kids are gay.

Two others have struggled with substance abuse. (Thankfully both are fine now.)

One is in a relationship with someone who currently struggles with substance abuse.

One struggles with an eating disorder.

One is a genius.

Two of them live abroad.

Three of them have dropped out of college.

Three of them still live at home and...

We love them all equally and proudly.

When we are done swapping stories about our kids, their boyfriends/girlfriends, college experiences, jobs, travels, psychological issues, hopes, and dreams, we turn the conversation to reminiscing about our own childhoods. We talk about dressing up as the KISS rock band for Halloween two years in a row. (Don’t judge. It was the 70s.They were big fans… I went along for the ride.)

We talk about all the concerts we went to (Tom Petty, David Bowie, Supertramp, Springsteen).

We talk about going to Palm Springs for long weekends and Spring Breaks in the late 70s/early 80s.

We talk about laying out in the sun with nothing but baby oil… trying to get as tan as possible.

We ate whatever we wanted... and we never got fat.

We stayed up all night… and slept until Noon on weekends.

Some of us smoked cigarettes. Some of us got high. Some of us drank.

We were ALL boy crazy. We were fun and flirty.

Today…

We eat salads… with dressing on the side.

None of us smoke cigarettes. (But I still miss them.)

Not sure if anyone still gets high.

We are careful not to drink too much.

We go to bed early.

We drink decaf.

And now, we wear sunscreen.

We all look younger than we are, but we all complain about our bodies ache more than ever.

We all agree that in spite of our aging bodies, life is better now.

We feel more confident.

We feel like we are beginning to live a more authentic life.

We are starting to come into our own.  

We all wonder, why did it take us 50 years to learn this?  

In spite of our gray hair (which we all color), the need for reading glasses (which we all take off as soon as we read the menu), our crows feet, and our slightly rounder bodies, we all feel more confident than we did 20 years ago. None of us know why. Maybe because wisdom comes with age. We all agree that we are all starting a new chapter of our lives: One of us newly divorced. One of us newly married. Three of us starting new careers. Some of us starting second careers.

None of us want the lunch to end, but we all have to get home and get back to our families and whatever Sunday chores are left to do. I feel so connected to these women. I feel like I just had a three-hour group therapy session. I feel a piece of my childhood rekindled. I feel loved. I feel inspired. I feel reconnected to myself and to these women that I have loved for four decades. But none of us feel like 40 years have passed because we don’t even feel 40 years old. We feel like teenagers who have hopes and dreams. We feel like the world has endless possibilities (again). We feel like survivors. Survivors of the journey of love and life. While there has been a lot of joy and we are all grateful for our lives, it has not been an easy path for any of us. In some ways, I think that is what bonds us...  as much as our mutual gift of gab.

When we all get home, we start a group text. We say things like: “I love US. May we all continue on our journeys as we grow into the women we always dreamed of becoming.”  

One of the other women amended that “blessing” with, “May we continue to grow into the ever-changing spectacular vision of the women we now dream we want to become. I don’t want to be limited by my old dreams anymore.”  

Then another one of us sent emojis representing the “rock ’n roller,” the “healer,” the “writer,” the “speaker.”  Two of us could not identify the emojis because they were too small to see (even with our glasses), so they were sent again in a larger font.

We all responded with the emojis of laughing so hard we are crying.

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Spring Break - My Ski Vacation

There is nothing more beautiful than sitting by a roaring fire with a warm cup of cocoa, reading a book, and watching the snow fall outside.

That is how I am spending my Spring Break.

My youngest daughter and husband, on the other hand, are outside in that 28 degrees of falling snow sliding down a mountain on two wooden sticks… also known as skiing.

I used to ski, but one of the great luxuries of turning 50 is learning the power of saying, “No thank you.” So this year, I have exercised that option when my husband and daughter wanted to take a ski trip for Spring Break.

I skied off and on throughout my life. When I was a teenager, I learned to ski because my brothers skied and so did all my friends. I skied a few times in my 20s and a handful of times in my 40s. But, admittedly, I just never loved it.

On a good day, I am was an intermediate skier, but never felt like I was in control. I clutched my poles in more of a death grip than a gentle squeeze. My feet and shins always ached from the tight, heavy rental boots. My body is rigid and my jaw would be tight for fear of tumbling down the mountain out of control. And no matter what I wear, I am always cold… and I hate being cold. Now that I am older, the idea of falling is even scarier. If I were to injure myself, it would preclude me from participating in sports I really enjoy... like tennis and yoga. So the whole thing is just stressful, exhausting, and expensive.

So this year, I declared without any guilt, that I won’t be skiing. My husband was profoundly disappointed. For some bizarre reason, he likes to ski with me. I am not sure why. He is an expert skier and has skied his whole life. He is very comfortable on the expert runs, where I am barely comfortable on the bunny slopes. He says skiing is more fun when you go with someone else. But that still doesn’t make sense, because we aren’t actually skiing together. It takes him about 5 minutes to get down a typical run, where it might take me about 15 minutes. Which means, he spends a lot of the time waiting at the bottom of the hill for me. When I do finally make it down the hill, I look like an out of control 5-year-old in a less than controlled “snowplow” (beginner’s wedge). But somehow he doesn’t mind. He says he enjoys taking in the scenery together as we ride the chairlifts up the mountain. But secretly, I think he probably enjoys the comedy of watching me ski and so out of my (normally controlled) comfort zone.

But now that our daughter is 13, she is a better skier than I was (on my best day), she is fearless and she loves it. So now my husband has someone else to ski with. It’s a win-win. I applaud her for loving the snow, loving the sport, being fearless, tireless, and having such a can-do attitude. She loves everything about it. (For me, the only great part of skiing was “lunch.” And it turns out I can do that part without having to actually ski).

I still get up early with them, so we can eat breakfast together. When breakfast is over, I wave goodbye to them as they get on the gondola. I return to the comfort and safety of our hotel, where I have the luxury of watching the snowfall from the picturesque windows and sitting by the fireplace. I spend my day reading, writing, doing yoga, and meditating. I am currently reading Maria Shriver’s new book, I’ve Been Thinking…  which I am loving. The solitude is heavenly, and I have time to reflect on my gratitude to be on vacation, enjoying all of my new hobbies. (Mostly I am grateful that I don’t have to force my feet back into those rental ski boots and endure the frigid temperatures while riding up the chairlift.) When they return in the afternoon, I get a recap of their day.

Apparently, the wind was really blowing and it started to snow sideways. A lot of the chairlifts were closed because it was just too cold and windy to go higher up the mountain. One of the chairlifts got stuck (thankfully they weren’t on it at that time). My daughter said she almost got clobbered by two snowboarders. She got stuck in fresh powder between some trees, so getting her skis back on was tricky a few times when she fell. She said it was quite cold in spite of all her layers. But as she recounted the tales of her day, she had a huge smile on her face, because she LOVED it all. There is a lesson in this for both of us. She knows that as much as I love being active, and spending time together as a family, skiing does not work for me. In turn, just because it doesn’t work for me, it doesn’t deter her love for it.

My daughter says skiing is a real challenge, but she loves the snow and didn’t even mind falling down. When she was stuck in the fresh powder between the trees, she was able to figure out how to get herself back up and start over again. In a weird way, this reminds me of my love of writing. It’s a huge challenge and I get stuck a lot. But when I find my way out, I feel exhilarated and can’t wait to do it again. I started writing as a way to help me process my feelings while I was in a career/life transition. I was looking for patterns in my behavior and in my thinking. But when I decided to share my writing, the greatest thing happened: Writing became a way of connecting with others too. There is no greater feeling than writing something and someone saying, “I can totally relate to that.” This is the thing that keeps me going when I feel stuck.

As I was walking through the ski village on my way back from lunch, I saw this chairlift that was repurposed as a lovely bench. I thought to myself, this is me. Retired from skiing and finding just as much purpose doing other things now.

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5 Things To Improve A Bad Mood

I am having one of those days. Maybe one of those weeks. Dare I say one of those months? None of it is terribly serious. It started as one little thing. Then another. Then another. Minor irritations like:

My dog is hopelessly spoiled and nicknamed “favorite child” by my children. He is my constant companion throughout my workday. Most of the time, he lays by my feet like a gentle little lamb, while I play classical music and work in my home office. I depend on that serenity and music to help me get into the zone of creativity. Unfortunately, his breed tends to be a bit territorial, so any distraction outside (like a random bird or stray cat) will result in an unexpected bark-fest. His barking comes out of nowhere and has all of the charm of a screeching smoke detector or a colicky baby crying at the top of its lungs. Admittedly, he was probably always like this, but for the last few weeks it seems to happen more often... and my patience is currently in short supply.

Then there is the post-mortem of my daughter’s messy room from last week. I continue to preach about my life philosophy that an organized living/workspace results in a more organized mind. When things are organized, everything feels a little less overwhelming. Less time is wasted keeping track of stuff. That extra brain power is then available for higher productivity and better results in meeting your social, work and life obligations. At least, that’s my theory. So when I learned that my daughter forgot to finish one of her math assignments last week, I felt like that whole discussion simply fell on deaf ears. Apparently, organizing her room is completely unrelated to a forgotten homework assignment. While I attempted to make that connection again, I was greeted with that classic teenage-eye-roll and dismissed.

Meanwhile, I am trying to juggle the various projects that I am producing. I am waiting for a studio to get back to me on a contractual issue on a reality show. I am waiting for a network to get back to me on a pilot script. I am waiting for one of my writers to do an overhaul on a movie. I am waiting for another writer to come back to me with an outline for a pitch. They all seem to be in various stages of limbo at the moment… and I hate limbo. Some people are not tortured by limbo. They see it as balls in the air. Plates spinning. Things are happening. Possibilities are endless. I look at limbo as a lack of control. It’s emotional Jell-O. You can’t get a grip on it (and I don’t really like Jell-O). I am humbly reminded (yet again) of the art of Patience.

Then I am having technical issues with my computer. And by technical issues, I mean my own limitations of computers, with the exception of my mastery to send emails. My tech support has been out sick, so my to-do lists are stacking up around me. This makes me feel anxious because I feel helpless and annoyed that I am not more self-sufficient.

If I wasn’t irritated enough, I am feeling physically uncomfortable in my clothes lately. It's as if my clothes have shrunk. How is that possible? It’s not like anyone else accidentally did my laundry. Then it occurred to me. Since the holidays, I might have developed a mild addiction to comfort food. I blame it on the weather for being uncharacteristically cold and damp. So maybe it’s not so much that my clothes are shrinking, but that I seem to be expanding. Seems like all that comfort food is making me… uncomfortable. So I am going to need to work on fixing that too.

None of these issues are a big deal on their own, but they feel like a series of paper cuts. Now I am just irritated and cranky. Cranky begets cranky. It’s going to be a downward spiral if I don’t nip this in the bud.

I am really good at dispensing advice about how to take control back into your life. How to snap out of a bad mood. How to avoid a self-pity party. How to re-energize yourself. But sometimes when you are in the “spin cycle” of irritation or doubt, you forget the very basic lessons you tell others.  So I thought I need to sit down and write a few “Operating Instructions” for myself. (Warning: At the risk of being Captain Obvious, and having you employ my teenage daughter’s famous eye roll, these are a few things that help me when I am feeling annoyed with myself and the rest of the world.)

Take a walk. Fresh air and sunshine (if available) can be a real game changer. If you have the luxury of walking with a friend, a co-worker or even your dog, this is even better. My dog is not a particularly good “walker.” He tends to stop and sniff every blade of grass. He has never met a single object that isn’t worth lifting his leg for. It’s not much of a workout for me, but sometimes it forces me to stop and smell the roses… which he insists on peeing on anyway. The added benefit is that he is ridiculously happy… and that makes me happy.

Take a timeout. I am a big proponent of meditation. I was really cranky the other night and I needed to get dinner on the table. I decided that dinner could wait 20 minutes, so I went into my bedroom to meditate. When I came out, it was as if I had hit the reset button. I was noticeably calmer and my family seemed a lot more appreciative that I was making dinner. (Or they might have been wary of my mood before meditation, so they were just being a little nicer.) But if meditation is not your thing, I would recommend laying down quietly for a 15-minute power nap. Or sit by yourself in a quiet place. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and think about 10 things you are grateful for. They can be big or small. Sometimes just counting your blessings can change your entire perspective.

Avoid the news or social media. Read something uplifting. Sometimes I will search the internet for positive quotes. I will write one down and set that as my intention for the day. Sometimes finding the right quote, at the right moment, can make me feel less alone. As if someone else understands exactly what I am feeling at that moment. This makes me feel more connected to the universe.  Sometimes just the power of positive thinking can help me see things more clearly and problem solve. The one I found today was:

Only in the darkness can you see the stars.

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Donate. It doesn’t matter what it is. Your time, your money, your old stuff or even just your attention to someone who needs it. Last week, I volunteered to bake cookies for the bake sale at my daughter’s school. Later I donated money to a few of my favorite charities.

Smile. It’s really hard to smile when you are cranky, but smiling truly is contagious. Have you ever noticed when you’re on vacation, it seems like everyone is nicer? That’s because when you are on vacation, you are probably smiling. So the world is smiling back at you. Positive energy attracts positive energy.

My dog is still barking. My daughter’s room is still not tidy. My projects are still in limbo… and the cookie baking didn’t quite help my current comfort food addiction. But I am smiling and I think my sour mood has passed in spite of everything else being virtually the same. So to keep the good vibes flowing, I am headed out for a walk, and then I am going to drive my brother to the airport.

That’s my charitable contribution for the day.

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Hey Mom, have you seen my gym shorts?

What is it about the five loads of laundry that plagues me every week? I don’t even hate doing laundry. Maybe it's just an issue of volume? Or maybe no matter how much or how little I accomplish in any given week, every Sunday there it is waiting for me. A not-so-gentle reminder that my life has transitioned from a high-powered television executive to a stay-at-home mom/writer/producer. Have I simply traded piles of scripts waiting to be read for piles of dirty socks waiting to be washed?

I probably make it harder on myself because I am very meticulous about doing laundry. I don’t just separate the darks from the whites. I separate the delicates from the regular wash. I hang dry ALL of the sports clothes… and there are a lot of sports clothes. I could let my husband and daughter do the laundry, but that would mean everything would get washed together and promptly dried together. I suppose that would be ok, except that the dryer would destroy about half the clothing we own. Anything white would either turn pink or gray. So, I just accept that this is one of those household chores that I do because I want it done right. Yes, that is the statement of a control freak with a little hint of OCD. Mea culpa.

So when my teenage daughter sheepishly asked me if I had seen her gym shorts this morning, I could feel a sense of mild irritation bubbling up. I suggested that I go in her room and look for them, but she warned me not to do that.  I said, “Why?” She said, “Because you might start yelling.” As I headed towards her bedroom, I laughed and said, “Why would I yell? I haven’t raised my voice in over a month. Look at my Yell Jar, it’s empty.”

But when I entered her room, it looked like it had been ransacked and burglarized. All of her dresser drawers were open and overflowing with clothing. Her clothes weren’t just bursting out of the drawers. The jeans were mixed in with underwear. The pajamas were mixed in with athletic wear. The socks were with the sweatshirts. A bunch of clothing had been turned inside out. Clearly, she had been searching for the aforementioned “gym shorts” for a while, but to no avail. I wasn’t upset that she couldn’t find her gym shorts, as much as I was unnerved by the crime scene in her bedroom.

It would be one thing if I didn’t spend hours and hours every weekend sorting dirty laundry. Washing them exactly as recommended by the manufacturer. Meticulously hanging dry all the delicates and athletic wear. Folding them all into neat little piles. Delivering the neat little piles to the bedrooms, so that they are easy to put away with like items… maybe I wouldn’t have been so crazy when I saw the chaos that was her entire wardrobe stuffed into six drawers. Maybe.

I proceed to hunt through every drawer looking for the requisite gym shorts. Now I am on a mission. I know that I washed the PE uniform and I am determined to find them and then teach my daughter the lesson of putting things away properly. But I comb through every article of clothing to no avail. I even check the laundry room again. I go back to her room and start looking through backpacks, volleyball bags, and that’s when I notice a random sweatshirt on top of her tennis bag.

Hmmm.

I pick up the sweatshirt and underneath it I discover a freshly folded batch of laundry. Apparently, when I washed her gym clothes and delivered a neatly folded pile to her room, it never made it to the “drawers from hell.”  This small stack (with the gym shorts) got covered up by a sweatshirt and forgotten about days earlier.

For a brief moment, I feel a great sense of relief and accomplishment. I race back to the kitchen with the “prize” gym shorts in my hand like I had just crossed the finish line of “The Amazing Race.”  Unfortunately, that fleeting moment of satisfaction quickly turns to anger when I realize I have just been through a completely unnecessary fire drill. This is when I start to yell. “Why don’t you keep your drawers organized? Why don’t you hang up your clothes? Why didn’t you put away your clean laundry? Why didn’t you look under the sweatshirt?”

She has a million excuses for this: Her drawers are too small. Her clothes are too bulky. She didn’t have time to put things away. It’s much easier to just shove them into the drawers. Hanging clothes in the closet is simply too much trouble. (Seriously?) She claims that she usually has no trouble finding anything. She likes the treasure hunt of finding something “new” by having the items randomly placed in the drawers.

Aaaaagggghhhhh!!!!!  

This kind of logic (and behavior) is like gasoline on the fire to a “neatnik” like me. The world is chaotic and my mind is a busy (and messy) place. Organization, lists, and routines are how I keep my sanity. Being organized has always been my superpower and I believe it is, in large part, the reason for my success. So I spend a lot of time reinforcing this habit with my kids. I believe that they will have more control in their lives by being organized. Yes, I am one of those people who think a messy room = a messy mind. But at this moment, my philosophy is lost on my daughter, because the clock is ticking and she is about to be late for school.

She just looks at me and says, “Oh, by the way, you are yelling.”  

But I was prepared for that. I had a quarter in my hand and promptly placed it into the Yell Jar. I said, “I know. It was worth the 25 cents.” I, then, handed her the gym shorts and somehow we still managed to make it to school on time.

But now I have to fight the temptation to reorganize all of her clothes myself while she is at school. It would definitely make me feel better and would have the added bonus of helping me procrastinate from working. But that will not benefit anyone. She will not learn the lesson, and her room will return to utter chaos in mere minutes upon her return… which might end up costing me another quarter in the Yell Jar.

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This Is Us

I don’t do TV reviews very often, but I couldn’t help myself. I had all but given up hope for broadcast television (ABC, NBC, CBS & FOX) to be able to compete with cable. The paid cable channels (HBO, Showtime, etc) have spoiled us with no commercials. The streamers (Netflix, Amazon, etc) have spoiled us with the ability to binge-watch our favorite shows. Not since Lost, Friday Night Lights, and the early seasons of Desperate Housewives have I been committed to a regular weekly television series on broadcast television. But This Is Us has changed all that. It has me wrapped around its proverbial little finger… and I am hooked.

Admittedly, I was skeptical at first. Organically weaving the stories of four adults, each celebrating their 37th birthday, seemed kind of gimmicky. But by the end of the pilot, those stories were brought together in an unexpected way. It was so profound and emotional, that I felt my heart leap into my throat and my eyes unexpectedly well-up with tears.  

The veteran-TV-executive and longtime "been-there-done-that” skeptic (in me) was certain that they couldn’t keep up the hat trick. Surely it would be an unsustainable device. We used to call it “pilot-itis” (where the pilot is so good that the series simply can’t live up to it).

But I kept watching anyway… and I was so glad I did. This series is like a soft blanket that wraps itself around you on a cold winter's night. There are so many things I love about this show. I almost don’t know where to begin.

I love the characters. Which is really to say I love both the writing and the cast. They feel real. They feel relatable.  They feel honest. They are funny. They are tragic. They are human.

The cablers and streamers have become such a competition of R-rated language, violence, and sex that people have forgotten how hard it is to write for a mainstream audience where there are guardrails and restrictions to what you can say and what you can show.  It doesn’t mean you can’t tackle difficult content, it just means you have to work harder to do it.  

This Is Us tackles eating disorders, love, heartbreak, life, death, drug addiction, adoption, divorce, fostering, diversity, racism, gender issues, sibling rivalry, parental favoritism, step-parenting and so much more.

As someone who also lost their parent when they were little, this series taps into all of those issues of loss, guilt, abandonment, canonizing the deceased, blame, fear, depression, sublimation and a gamut of other emotions that occur as the result of that loss.

I have heard some people say, “The show is too sappy.”  But for me, it’s just the right balance of humor and pathos.  Good old-fashioned television combined with contemporary issues that feel relevant… and yet timeless.  

So I just love This Is Us because it is.  

It is Us.  

It is Them.

It is Me.

It is You.

It is special.

It is memorable.  

It is emotional… and it is so fun to have something to look forward to every week.  

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Conquering Fear

When I feel fear creeping into my body, I am reminded of all of those well-worn quotes:

  • Do not operate from fear.
  • There is nothing to fear except fear itself.
  • Fear = False Evidence Appearing Real

I have hypothesized before that fear is kissing cousins with “doubt.”  Fear creeps in…

When we feel uncertain of our expertise.

When we feel worried about being judged.  

When we feel unsupported.  

When we try new things.  

Doubt comes with us and fear jumps in the suitcase like an unwanted bed bug.

Lately, I find myself feeling more fearful. What do I fear most lately? I suppose failure.  

After decades of being a television executive, and now almost two years into being a television producer, I find myself feeling almost apologetic when people ask me, “How are things going?”

I am talking about my professional circle who when asking about “things," actually mean “work." And, by “work”, they mean my television projects. They want to know how this “second” career as a tv producer is panning out. Occasionally, someone will ask me if I am enjoying “retirement.” They assume I am retired because now I live in Hawaii. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with retirement, except that I am not retired. This results in me feeling some combo platter of defensive and deflated. In spite of the fact that I have a number of projects in development, I don’t have any shows on the air yet. So it seems like I am not doing anything. I remind them (or really myself) that television development is a very slow process. It takes months to develop a project. It might take years to get anything made, which is why I started writing in the first place. I needed something that I could create. Something that I could control.

It is also why I started writing a weekly blog. It gave me a forum to be totally creative. Where I can create my own content. Pick my own topics. Not have to answer to anyone else. Not have to wait for anyone else. It’s something that allows me to explore ideas, rant, whine, celebrate, wordsmith, ponder and engage with others.

I gave myself some parameters: a post every Monday. A weekly goal. It was going to cure my Monday Blues. In many ways it has.  In many ways, it has not only given me incredible freedom, but also joy and purpose.

But I hear the “peanut gallery” in my head. The peanut gallery are those who knew me “before.” When I was a professional, successful TV executive. Those who are waiting for me to parlay that experience and knowledge into my next lucrative endeavor. The blog doesn’t fit into that mold.  

Some of those nearest and dearest to me have referred to it as “psychic income” or my “vanity project” and it’s like a knife through my creative heart. I hear those labels and I feel defensive, embarrassed and even selfish. I am supposed to be using my expertise to create another lucrative career.  Not just writing to write.

I come from a generation that doesn’t acknowledge art unless it comes in a familiar package: a song on the radio, a screenplay that gets made into a movie, a teleplay that airs on television, an article that is published, a book that you can buy.  “Art” is validated by someone willing to pay for it. Even I can fall into this trap.

My teenage daughter and I listen to music in the car ride every day to and from school. I have given her the gift of “Spotify premium." She spends hours curating music and playlists that she likes, and in turn, I am exposed to new music almost daily that she finds and shares with me in the car. Her taste in music is excellent. She searches for songs that have lyrics with meaning and melodies that are haunting.  She leans towards the singer/songwriters of her generation in the way that I did when I listened to those of my generation like Joni Mitchell, Carole King, James Taylor and Elton John.

But as I listen to the inspired lyrics and beautiful melodies of these young artists, I can’t help but think:  If only I could write music. If only I could play music, then MY words would have more meaning. I look at the extraordinary artists, rock stars, sports stars, movie stars, novelists, screenwriters, and inventors as having a real talent.

A blog simply doesn’t fulfill those criteria of my generation. A blog is not a book. A blog is not a screenplay. A blog is not music. A blog is not considered an art.

But my blog is my music. It is my poetry. It is my book. I continue writing every week as an exercise, as a discipline, as an expression, as an art form… it is my art.

And yet, this is where the fear creeps in.  

In Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast Magic Lessons, she had a beautiful description of fear:

Fear has a lot of shady disguises.

Fear shows up as perfectionism.

Fear shows up as insecurity.

Fear shows up as guilt.

Fear shows up as procrastination.

What if I work really hard and nothing comes of it? What if I have made a mistake in my new endeavor?

Fear is kryptonite to creativity.

But when things are quiet, why do I feel more fear coming up? Is fear generated by silence? Is that when we over-analyze everything because there is simply not enough distraction?

Does distraction quell fear? No.

Bravery quells fear. Doing quells fear.

So I tell myself:

Go and do. Keep writing because it makes you happy.  

Keep writing because you make a connection with others.

Keep writing because it just may lead to something unexpected.

Be brave and be passionate about what you are doing.

… and something beautiful will unfold.

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Practice and Patience

Practice, practice, practice.

It reminds me of the punchline to an old joke:  “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”  

Practice, practice, practice.  

This year is already shaping up to be my year of practice:

Meditation
Yoga
Writing
Patience 

I constantly have to remind myself:

These are not destinations…

They are journeys.

Practice is patience.  
Patience is a practice.   

Two words so intertwined.  

Two words that I have to wrestle to the ground every day.  

Two words that I try to incorporate into my daily vocabulary… as I stumble through the amorphous world of being an entrepreneur. An independent producer.  

A writer.  

A woman who moved to a place (Hawaii) where I am no longer bombarded by distraction (Hollywood).

A woman who is making a conscious effort to find balance and (if I am lucky) a new way of being. My adrenal gland should be happier. My cortisol production has got to be a fraction of what it was when I was a corporate executive.  

But I still wake up every day very task-oriented. Schedule oriented. Success oriented.  

Some of that works. I am a firm believer in routines, schedules and tasks. I believe most of my previous success came from these self-imposed rules. But now the measure of success is different. With no corporate ladder to climb, and no imminent paycheck in sight, what is the measure of my success?

I am accustomed to a letter grade, a title increase, a promotion, ratings, rankings, winning and losing.  But I stepped off the proverbial “hamster wheel” to redefine success because I wanted “more.”  

More balance.  
More joy.
More creative control.  

I wanted to stop marching to the beat of someone else’s drum (i.e., having a boss) and the rhetoric of corporate agendas.  I wanted to be my own boss. Create my own projects and feed my soul.

But in doing that, I am required to spend a lot more time alone. Alone with my own thoughts. Often a scary place to be because my thoughts are fast-moving mine-fields of self-doubt and negative self-talk.

So I am still learning to be with that new boss:  Me. She is a taskmaster. She is very judgmental. She is very impatient. She is very results-oriented. She is me. Me is she. I am not sure there is room for the both of us.

Which is why I learned to meditate. As I have said before, meditation is a practice. I have talked about how difficult I found it at first, but I continued to practice. It has been a year now. Finally, a few months ago, I had a breakthrough in my practice. I have developed a love of this daily practice. A serenity (or ease) that I have never felt before.   

But meditation has not been enough to drown out the voices in my head. (It’s a stubborn head.) So I needed to re-introduce yet another “practice.”  Yoga. I had done a bit of yoga way back when… way back before I had children. But I lost my yoga practice when my favorite studio (and teachers) were too far from my home (and work). Finding the right teacher is so key.  Maybe that’s true with any training, but for me, yoga truly needs that connection with the right teacher and environment.

Yoga is a little like riding a bike, but in this case, the metaphorical “bike” has not been oiled or serviced in decades.  So there is some memory of postures, but my body doesn’t bend and fold in the same way that it might have 25 years ago.  In my practice, I am reminded (and humbled) by my limitations.

Then there is writing.  Like meditation, this is a new muscle. A new discipline. A new passion. A new practice. As I write this blog, I am reminded just how much practice this muscle requires.  In some ways, this is the least tangible of the “practices.” In yoga, I am rewarded when I touch my toes or hold my “plank” position for extra time. In meditation, I just have to survive 20 minutes at a time with my eyes closed in a comfortable seated position. But in my writing practice, there is no tangible measurement of “doing well” or “progressing.” So all I can do is continue to practice... and be patient. 

 

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Bucket List

My eldest daughter is the embodiment of independence.  

The only period of her life that I ever saw her unhappy or complain was her first year of life. 

She did not like being bathed.
She did not like getting dressed.
She did not like having her diaper changed.
She did not like napping.
She did not like going to bed.
She did not like being held.
She did not like cuddling.
She did not like baby food.

She did not like being a baby. Plain and simple.

At the time, I thought she was just colicky.  But, in hindsight, I think it was just who she was.

She wanted to be free.

When she was about 4 years old, one of the little girls in her preschool class invited her to her birthday party.  It was the first birthday invite since she had started at this particular preschool. When I told her that she was invited, she said, “No, thank you.”  I was sure that she misunderstood me, so I said, “But there will be cake, ice cream, and goodie bags.”  She said, “No, thank you.” I asked, “Why not?”  She then told me that this particular girl had been mean to her on the first day of school and had pushed her out of the lunch line.  So, she didn’t want to go to her party.  And that was that.  

At the age of 6, a bunch of her friends were taking a drama class for the summer.  I asked her if she would like to take it with them.  She simply said, “No.” When I asked her why? She said she didn’t want to. I was concerned that maybe she didn’t understand what I was saying, so I explained that the kids would be putting on a play. She loved plays and always liked going to them. She looked at me and said, “Yes. I like the part where you sit in the seat and eat popcorn and watch the play.”  And that was that.

At the age of 8, she went to sleep-away summer camp for the first time. It was a two-week camp, where they meet at a location and take a chartered bus to a camp a few hours away.  When we arrived for check-in, she looked around and saw all the kids clinging to their parents.  Some looked terrified.  Some were crying and begging their parents not to leave them.  Some didn’t even want to get on the bus.  Then there was my daughter.  She said, “You don’t need to wait until the bus leaves... and please don’t cry.”  She climbed on the bus. And that was that.

My heart broke a little.  Why didn’t my kid want me to watch and wave as the bus pulled away? Why wasn’t she nervous about going away for two weeks?  Why did all the other kids hang onto their parents for dear life but mine couldn’t wait until I left?

The answer is that she’s not like me.  I was a super “clingy” kid.  I hated summer camp and being away from home.  I wanted to be with my mother 24/7.  I wanted to follow her everywhere and never leave her side.  Apparently, “clingy” skips a generation.  All of my fears about giving birth to "clingy" children (like me) was an unnecessary expenditure of energy.  My kids loved sleepovers, sleep away camp, traveling and going places.  That said, couldn’t she fake it a little?  

While she was away, I wrote her letters almost every day and sent her care packages.  I never got a letter back.  My other friends would brag that their kids sent home long letters with every detail of their counselors, their bunkmates, the food and the activities.  

When I picked her up, two weeks later, she said she had had the best time of her life and next time wanted to go for a whole month. She loved being away from home.  She loved being with other kids. She loved all of it. I asked her why she didn’t write me a letter?  She said, “There was no time. I was having too much fun.”

The following year I created form letters and self-addressed stamped envelopes.  They said something like this:

Dear Mom:

I am (circle one):

Fine.  Great.  Hanging in there.

Camp is (circle one):

Awesome. Boring. Just ok.

I (circle one):

Miss you.  Miss the cat.  Never want to leave camp.

My counselors are (circle one):

The best.  Just ok.  Really mean.

The food is (circle one):

Great.  Just ok.  Terrible.

Love, Your Daughter

She didn’t even want to fill those out.  But apparently, those “form letters” were the talk of the camp amongst the counselors. They loved them so much, they filled one out for her and sent it back to me.

Now my daughter is 23 years old and is currently on a nine-month backpacking adventure. She and one of her friends are spending a few months in Southeast Asia and then a few more months traveling throughout Europe. She has been planning (and saving) for this trip for two years. It’s on her “bucket list.”  When I was her age, I had just started my career in television. I was working as an assistant for two producers, and I was determined to climb the ladder and find my place in the food chain. I wasn’t sure (then) if I wanted to be a writer, producer or an executive, but I knew I wanted to be something important. I wanted to have success. I wanted it all.

My “bucket list” back then looked something like this:

  • Have a career
  • Get married
  • Have kids
  • Own a home

Travel and adventure were not on that list.  My focus was on finding purpose and validation. Thirty years later, even as a woman who has been married twice, had three children and reached a modicum of success as a television executive, I still wake up wanting exactly the same thing: purpose and validation.

If I had a “bucket list” for these past few years, I think it would have been:

  • To be my own boss
  • Do something that I love for work
  • Live a more balanced life

All things I’ve found in since I’ve started writing 52 Mondays.  My daughter, on the other hand, has already figured out what took me 50+ years to learn: Do what you love. Live a balanced life. Enjoy your life.

As I watched my daughter get ready to start an adventure that she had dreamed about for years, I couldn’t help but think her itinerary is skeletal at best and her budget is frightfully lean. They are mostly staying in youth hostels, their entire adult lives packed into enormous backpacks, and just figuring it out as they go. This is so foreign to me (the planner, the homebody, the lover of creature comforts), I don’t know how to advise her. But my daughter doesn’t need my advice... because my daughter is so different than me. She is independent. She loves to travel.  She loves adventure.  

But it’s not her sense of adventure that inspires me.  It is a lifetime of marching to her own drummer.  It is a sense of self that keeps her from doing things she doesn’t want to do.  She is content.  She is peaceful.  She avoids drama and she has a ton of friends.

I love her sense of calm. I love her self-direction. I love that she knows what she likes and knows what she doesn’t. I love that she doesn’t need to go to birthday parties of girls who weren’t nice to her. I love that she didn’t need to go to sleep-away camp with a bunch of old friends because she knew that she would make new ones. I love that she is a great cook. I love that she is a loyal friend. I love that she has a good work ethic. I love that she is a good saver. I love that she has no interest in climbing a corporate ladder and is not driven by money. She is driven by good friends, good food, good music and a comfortable bed to get a good night’s sleep in.  

I have a lot to learn from her... and I love her even if she still doesn’t write me letters from abroad. (Although now she uses various apps to send me photos and messages when Wifi is available. So, at least, we’ve come a long way since summer camp.)

Recently, I came across a quote that I thought exemplified my version of a “bucket list,” but I think it might actually apply to both of us:

My goal is to build a life that I don’t need a vacation from.  

- Rob Hill, Sr.

What is on your "bucket list"?

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