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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The Missile Crisis

A few weeks ago, my husband and I had just dropped our daughter off for an entrance exam at one of the local schools. We were standing outside the testing center (the school cafeteria), chatting with some other parents, when suddenly everyone’s cell phones started to beep:

BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

We all stood there for a moment a little stunned and a bit skeptical.  We get these warnings periodically for flash floods and tsunamis, but an IBM attack would be a first. It was a gorgeous morning on the island. A perfect day in paradise.  Hard to believe that our world was going to come to an end in the next 15 minutes?

But when the school principal made an announcement telling everyone to get to the gymnasium immediately, reality kicked in.

I turned to my husband and, with no irony, said, “This is your fault for not voting for Hillary.” He just looked at me like I was from Mars.

We then split off in different directions to look for our daughter.  

I was told that the high school kids were being sent to the boy’s locker room and the junior high school kids were being sent to the girl’s locker room. So I went to the boy’s locker room, but my husband and daughter were not there. I checked my phone and found a text from my daughter:

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I had a strange mix of emotions reading this text:

Part of me was beaming with delight that she is so fiercely independent that she would communicate this information to me so matter of factly and tell me not to worry.

Part of me wondered if she was actually relieved to be getting out of her three-hour entrance exam that she didn’t want to take in the first place.

And part of me was concerned by the number of grammatical errors and typos.

As I stood in the boy’s locker room, with dozens of other parents and students (a number of whom were quite shaken up), separated from my daughter and my husband (who I later learned were holed up in the girl’s locker room),  I just felt annoyed.  Annoyed that this was how I was going to be spending the last 15 minutes of my life. Annoyed that I had a head cold.  Annoyed that all of this was happening because someone had stepped on the proverbial anthill with North Korea and now this was how it all ends. But 15 minutes passed… and nothing happened.

Slowly the texts started coming in that it was a false alarm. There were rumors about it being a hack. There were rumors about a shift change in emergency services. There were rumors about someone hitting the wrong button. A couple of people said it was supposed to be a “high surf advisory” warning.

Really?  Shouldn’t a "surf advisory" be something like a yellow button?  

Shouldn’t the “Incoming Ballistic Missile” button be a red one?  Or a bigger one?  

Shouldn’t there have been a second button that says:  “Are you sure?”  

I can’t even delete an app on my phone without getting a second “Are you sure?” warning.

Even after the missile crisis was deemed a “false alarm,” the school still sent everyone home and rescheduled the test. My daughter was thrilled.  

Later, my husband and I talked about whether or not we were actually scared. Oddly, I was not scared. He says that was because I was too distracted by my head cold. I said that might be true but, honestly, I just felt like it was out of my hands.  What could I possibly do to stop a missile from blowing us all up?  

He didn’t think the missile was going to hit our island. So, for him, it was an issue of fallout. Radiation poisoning.  Being stuck in that locker room for days or weeks until someone in a hazmat suit was able to bring us food and water. He worried about how long it would be before it would be safe to go outside again.  

Turns out we had two very different scenarios in our head. Mine was fatalistic. Nothing we can do. Why are we going for cover anyway? While he was only thinking about how devastated the islands would be, the amount of destruction of infrastructure and the possible long-term ramifications of radiation exposure, etc.

My husband accused me of being more traumatized a few years back when our youngest daughter got lice on vacation. (He was not wrong.  We were in a foreign country and I didn’t know how to communicate with the pharmacist about the instructions on the shampoo.)

This pretty much exemplifies the way we each see the world.  He’s a big picture guy.  A chess player.  A strategist.  A blank canvas architect. I am a detail girl.  Worrying (planning) the little things. Time management.  Day to day stuff.  Logistics. Since I hadn’t entertained another scenario, I just figured this was completely beyond my control. So it was either the end of the world (or at least our world as we know it) or it was nothing.  

Thankfully it was nothing. 

The whole thing lasted about 38 minutes. Everyone had a different reaction.  For some, it was truly terrifying. For others, it caused them to re-examine what they would do next time (G-d forbid). A bunch of people slept through it. And finally, there were people who saw an opportunity. So they made tee-shirts... like this one:

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The Swear Jar - reinvented

I was reading an article on parenting last week and it talked about how damaging yelling is.  

I have written two posts about losing my temper (yelling) at my teenage daughter lately. Once for watching TV in the shower (instead of doing her homework)... and later for not letting the dog out in the morning (so he went potty in her bathroom).

I don’t think I yell a lot, but I am told when I do yell that it is “scary.” Not good.  I don’t want to be that person. I definitely don’t want to be that parent.  

Yelling doesn’t work anyway.  The behavior comes right back.  It creates anxiety for your child… and frankly, it makes me more anxious too.  After I am done yelling about some mess that was created, or reminding my teenager to do something for the  “umpteenth” time, I always feel like I have just thrown up all over myself and her.  So even as a metaphor, it’s pretty disgusting.  

This all started me thinking about being more accountable for my yelling.  Maybe I could find a way to calculate exactly how much yelling vs. repeating I am doing?  I decided to implement a system that will quantify my unwanted behavior: I am re-branding the “swear jar.”  

I came up with a two-jar system:

The “yell” jar.  If I yell, I have to put money in the jar.  (If I swear while yelling, I have to put in double.)

My daughter has a jar too.  It’s called the “repeat” jar.  If I ask her to do something and she doesn’t do it (and I have to remind her), she has to put money in that jar. Every time I remind her, money in the jar.

We are starting with quarters because that seems reasonable.  

It’s been 24 hours and I haven’t yelled once.  It feels really good. My daughter seems to be listening better too. She did end up forgetting to pick her clothes up off the floor, and I had to remind her, so she had to deposit a quarter in the “repeat” jar.  She seemed happy to do it… and grateful that she didn’t get yelled at.

We’ll see how this experiment goes.  Maybe I’m on to something…

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Advice for the Common Cold

I am in bed sick today.  It started the other day when I went to do my afternoon meditation. That twenty-minute meditation turned into a two-hour nap with a heating pad. The fact that I was chilled to the bone should have been my first sign because it was a warm day in Hawaii and there was no reason to be that cold. Not to mention, I almost NEVER take naps.

So here I am two days later and now my head is stuffy, my throat is scratchy, I am exhausted, and I can’t seem to get out of bed for longer than a half hour without feeling like my legs are going to give out.

My husband was sick last week with these exact same symptoms. I thought I could avoid it. I am a vigilant hand-washer and borderline OCD about washing dishes, emptying trash cans, wiping countertops, etc.  But I think six nights in a row of his nose blowing, his hacking cough and his sub-standard containment of germ-spreading did me in. He claims that "he did his best" to keep his germ-fest contained. When I told him that it was a “C+” at best, he was offended by this grade and argued, “It was more of a B-."

I wondered to myself how many times have I gotten sick since I started writing this blog. So I decided to do a search.

It turns out I’ve only written about it once. I think I did get sick more than that, it just didn’t fall on a Monday. I know I got my husband’s cold last year in March too. Almost exactly the same circumstances. So there is a pattern here.  Men are not as good at keeping their germs to themselves.  A gross exaggeration and I have no evidence of this, but it makes me feel better as I am feeling sorry for myself today… and I need someone to blame.

I have a pretty strong immune system, and some pretty good natural remedies to boost my immune system when I feel like I am fighting something (or if I ultimately come down with something).

As I mentioned before, there is no better line of defense than good old-fashioned hand washing.

But if that fails, and you feel like you are coming down with something, here are some things that I do:

Get plenty of rest. This is hard for me because I am so active. I don’t like canceling plans (especially tennis and yoga).  But rest is best… and boring.

Drink plenty of fluids. Clear fluids are best (e.g., water, chicken broth, vegetable broth, herbal tea, etc.)

Avoid dairy products and alcohol. Cut back on sugar (as best as you can). Dairy products contribute to congestion (mucus).  Alcohol and sugar weaken the immune system.

For a sore throat, my favorite lozenge is the Original Ricola Herbal drops. They do have sugar, but I make an exception for these. I find that if you suck on these lozenges regularly in the first 48 hours, most scratchy throats disappear. Mine is almost gone.

For immune support, I like Herbal Wellness Resistance drops. You can buy them at Whole Foods and most health food stores. Four “squeezes” (dropperful) in whatever liquid you prefer four times a day.

I like using them with Emergency-C, but I don’t recommend more than two Emergency-C packages per day.  So you will need to find some other liquid that covers the taste (like a small amount of juice or herbal tea with honey.)

Eat protein. Protein fights infection. If you are vegetarian or vegan, I would avoid dairy-based proteins if you have any congestion.

Don’t eat “cold” foods if you have a cough or post nasal drip. The body has to work twice as hard to “warm up” the cold beverage and it can often cause the bronchial spasms. Ice cream or milkshakes are the worst for a cold (even though they taste so good). Room temperature water is best. Warm soup and herbal tea are also excellent.

So now it’s time for me to take my own advice: another dose of herbs in a cup of tea and a bowl of soup.

I will be skipping my yoga class this afternoon and canceling tomorrow’s tennis match which makes me very sad, but all will be worth it if I am feeling normal in a few days.

Hope you are all staying well and enjoying your three-day weekend.  Meanwhile, I will continue to blow my nose and passive-aggressively glare at my husband for giving me this cold in the first place.  

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"What is Your Blog About?"

"What is your blog about?" People are constantly asking me this question and despite answering it so many times, I don’t know if my answer is ever the same.

My blog was a series of emails that I wrote to myself during my last year as a corporate cog in a Fortune 500 company. I was trying to figure out what I was going to do as I was winding down not just my job, but my 30-year career as a television executive, and a busy city life that included juggling family, friends, and my own sanity. Those emails became the framework for what I thought was going to be a book. A book about surviving the crazy life of being a working mother in a high-pressure job while on the precipice of reinventing a new life. The book didn’t seem to have a natural “ending,” so I kept writing… and that’s how this became a blog.

So here I am, two years later, still writing. I am now a television producer. Or a former television executive, who has produced and is still trying to find success in that arena, while writing a weekly blog. But this blog has become a lot less about a former-harried-executive who used to balance 14-hour days, back-to-back meetings… all while overseeing multiple television series at one time. Now I am a stay-at-home mom/TV producer, who spends a lot of time writing about my eye-rolling teenage daughter and a spoiled white fluffy dog.

Let’s take Friday morning for example. My youngest (teenage) daughter was on Winter Break, and since I had no conference calls, I thought I would sleep in. My only concern was if my teenage daughter had let the dog out. I went into her room to find her propped up in bed staring at her computer (watching TV), and the dog peacefully sitting next to her.  Uh-oh. I knew from this familiar tableau that she didn’t let the dog out. I could hear the “Psycho” music start playing in my head. I checked her bathroom and sure enough, there was a fresh “poop” on one bath mat and a little yellow pee stain on the other. Needless to say, I started yelling. “You have ONE responsibility in the morning. Let the dog OUT as soon as you wake up. Why are you on the computer?  Why are you still in bed?”

Her response: "He must have done that in the middle of the night, so he didn’t need to go out this morning.”

I thought my head was going to explode.

I made her shut off the computer and get out of bed. We opened the door and shoved the dog outside. I marched her to the laundry room and showed her how to disinfect and wash the bath mats in the washing machine. We then went back outside to retrieve the dog. Unfortunately, he had taken off to the neighbor’s yard (again). It took us about 10 minutes to find him and get him back with bribery (a doggie treat). Although he came back for the treat, he (oddly) didn’t eat it.

Instead, he scurried off to the other part of the house while I went back to the laundry room to sort the rest of the dirty laundry. (This has also become a recurring theme in my blog. I seem to always be doing laundry.) My daughter went back to her room… presumably to continue watching whatever show she was “bingeing” on Netflix.

About a half hour later, I walked past my bedroom and I thought I smelled something weird… but chalked it up to my overactive imagination. I found my dog in my bathroom lying quietly, but he wouldn’t look up at me. He must have still felt bad about going #1 and #2 on the other bath mats earlier.

I went back to the kitchen to make breakfast. Another half hour passed. I went back into my daughter’s room and now the dog was lying on her bed. He still wouldn’t look at me. This seemed odd. My daughter said that I must have scared him from yelling so loudly. I guess that’s possible (and a little terrifying). I actually didn’t yell at the dog at all. I only yelled at my daughter. (I know, not good either.) Hmmmm…  and I still smelled something funny on the other end of the hall.  

My dog followed me as I went back to my bedroom to investigate. There it was. On the very corner of the rug under my bed, my dog has had diarrhea. It’s green. It’s slimy and it’s truly gross. Oh, and it’s on a SHAG rug. The only rug in my entire house! The bathmats are inconvenient, and I don’t want him to make a habit of going in the house, but they are very easy to wash. The “shag rug”... not so much. Oh, and my husband is absolutely freaked out by dog poop. I am pretty sure that if he discovered this disaster, it would be the end of the dog, me and our marriage. Even if my husband did recover from this “accident,” the dog would be quarantined to a confined area for the rest of his life and we would all be miserable.

So I ran back to my daughter’s room and said, “We have a problem. Go get a roll of paper towels, “Nature’s Miracle” (a pet stain remover), a plastic bag and meet me in my bedroom.” My daughter brought all of the sanitation materials and sat down on my bed for moral support. I started cleaning as best I could and asked her to scour the internet for all of the various ways to clean a shag rug. Meanwhile, my husband was safely tucked away in his home office without any knowledge of the nuclear waste explosion that had occurred in our bedroom. Just as I was getting rid of all of the evidence, I heard a retching sound coming from behind me. My dog was on the reading chair in our bedroom about to throw-up. I dropped everything and raced to scoop him up off the chair. Mid-scoop, he barfed all over the floor. This time it was a lovely mixture of yellow bile and grass. I found myself oddly grateful. It only landed on the hardwood floors. I could deal with that.

I finished cleaning up the floors. I opened the windows. I blotted up the "Nature’s Miracle” solution. I threw away all of the paper towels (evidence) in their own plastic bag and took it outside. I checked on my husband. He was still on his computer with no idea that the last 90 minutes have been nothing but chaos. I put another load of laundry in the washing machine.  

I then sat down to meditate. My dog sat next to me. About 10 minutes into my meditation, he began to bark at the birds outside. He proceeded to run around the house barking his head off. I guess he was feeling better.

So what is my blog about?  

I am no longer the blogger who writes about going to the Emmy awards.

Or corner offices.

Or even being a producer in remote locations.

I am now the blogger who writes about spending my entire morning cleaning up dog pee, poop, diarrhea, and vomit. I am the blogger who yells at her daughter for not taking the dog out first thing in the morning. I am the blogger who now keeps secrets from her husband because he will never know about the accident on the shag rug. (Unless of course he reads my blog… which is highly unlikely.)

So while I may not have not been planning my outfit for the Golden Globes this past weekend, at least I now consider myself a writer.

And the best part about being a writer is that after a terrible morning like today, I had the inspiration to sit down and write… and that is my silver lining.

104 Mondays Later… Happy New Year!

While I was hunting through my attic, I discovered one of the many boxes that contain my old journals. I found a mish-mosh of greeting cards, letters and some random notes that I had scribbled down on a notepad.  

The piece of paper that stood out amongst the rest had a bunch of different dates on it, all from the Summer of 2001. It was written on a notepad with my former married name. Reminding me of a different chapter of my life. It was pre - 9/11. Reminding me that the world has had a different chapter of life too. On the paper, I had written things that I aspired to do. Not a bucket list. More like “operating instructions” on how to live smarter… dare I say “happier.” 16 years later, they are still the basic instructions that I live by… or aspire to live by. Which means either:

  1. I haven’t changed.  
  2. I haven’t learned.  
  3. Or some things are so big that you have to write them down over and over again until you get it….  

Here they are:

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This is the big one.  This is the one that reminds me that I still have some work to do. I set out to be more patient this year and I am still very intent on incorporating this word into my daily vocabulary and being. The good news is that I have become more patient with others. The bad news is that I am still rather impatient with myself. So that remains a work in progress. It’s no coincidence that last year, I commissioned a local artist to make me the sign that proudly hangs in my office above my desk: be patient.
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I heard these “rules” at a business meeting way back when. I wrote them down, memorized it, and have tried to live by it ever since. I work in an industry of people who were always late, often times didn’t show up, rarely told the truth, and I was the one who was always (too) attached to the outcome. I decided that I couldn’t change “them.” I could only change me.  I am pretty good about the first three rules. #4 remains a struggle. I have to remind myself everyday about being “less attached to the outcome.
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When I wrote this down in the Summer of 2001, I was going through a lot of different issues. My personal life and my work life felt very unstable. My company was being sold. The management team was being restructured. My first husband and I were struggling. In both my workplace and personal life, I was surrounded by people who were telling me one thing, but doing another. I made this note to myself as a reminder to not just trust what people say, but to remember to look at their actions as well. In these last 16 years, I have become much better at watching people’s behaviors as well as listening to their words. I no longer waste time with people who make lofty promises and have no follow through.  It has saved me from a lot of aggravation… and hurt feelings.
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I haven’t learned this lesson yet. Something to strive for in 2018… along with a few other goals too which I will get to.
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This is the same message they give you when you are on an airplane: “Put your own oxygen mask on before helping others around you.”  When I wrote this, I was always helping others before helping myself. I had an acupuncturist who once said to me:  “You pour out your Chi (Chinese word for “life energy”) and you have nothing left for yourself.” I have gotten better about this. I really try and take care of myself first, so that I can better take care of those I love too.

So here I am, 16 years later, writing a blog that deals with all of these issues. I have made a lot of changes since I wrote these words. I have since been divorced, remarried, had a third child, changed my career, changed my home, learned to play tennis, went back to yoga, started meditating, went through menopause, learned to survive panic attacks... and even started writing.

I have lived by most of the words on this paper and I have achieved some of these goals, but I am still a work in progress. (Particularly my penmanship, which still sucks, and probably is why I prefer to type.)

But, it’s no coincidence that the very first word on the list was “patience.” As I venture into this new chapter of my career, patience is a continuing theme. Now that I am a producer and a writer, I still want everything to come fast, but it doesn’t. So I am reminded that I have evolved, improved, succeeded in many ways, but everything still requires patience.

As I look back on the last 52 Mondays, and the 52 Mondays before that, I am rounding the corner on writing steadily for almost two years. But what I realized is that I have been a “closet writer” my whole life. It started when I got my first “diary” in the 3rd grade. That was the beginning of keeping a journal on my feelings about things. I have kept journals my whole life. I guess that made me a writer-ISH for most of my life.

Even when I wasn’t keeping journals, I was always writing down ideas. Quotes. Thoughts. Expressions I heard. Words. I have loved words since I was a little girl. It’s probably why I have always talked so much. I am always trying to find the right words to express an exact feeling. For me:

Talking is sharing.  
Sharing is bonding.  
Bonding is intimacy.  
Intimacy is friendship... and sometimes love.  
Banter is foreplay.
Great banter is intercourse. (Get your head out of the gutter… I meant social intercourse, but sometimes social intercourse is just as satisfying. I know. I know. Only a woman would say that. But it’s true.)

I love words and I love conversation. But I have come to realize over the last two years, as I have sat down to write something every Monday (and sometimes on other days too), I also love to write.

I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. Something about the word “resolution” feels like too much pressure.  So I prefer to refer to them as goals for the new year.  So here are some of my goals:

Be less attached to the outcome.  (An oldie, but a goodie.)
Grow my readership. (A new one... since I just started writing for an audience.)
Continue to make a living as writer and/or a producer. (Fingers crossed.)
Love what I do. (I have loved the last year more than the 30 years that led up to it. I want to continue this trend.)
Stay balanced. (Doing better each year.)
Stay healthy. (Knock on wood.)
Be Patient. (This might be on next year’s list too... since it's been on my notepads for the last 16 years.)
Keep writing. (One down.  51 more Mondays to go.)
Be prolific. (Dare to dream.)
Be Inspired. (I have been this year... and I want to keep it going.)
Inspire others. (I hope so.)

Last but not least, as I wrap up these last 52 Mondays and look to the next 52, I want to thank YOU. My new found friends who have given me another kind of conversation. For all of you who have been reading my blog, comment on on the posts, like on Facebook, heart on Twitter, email me privately, or share with your friends and family, you are engaging in this new conversation with me. It fills me up and it keeps me writing. I thank you all and wish you only good things in the new year to come.  

Happy New Year!

With gratitude,

JC
The 52 Mondays Lady... and her fluffy white dog

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What To Watch Over The Holidays

Having spent my entire career in the entertainment business, people love to ask me, “What should I be watching on TV?” or “Can you recommend a good movie?”

So after popular demand, I thought I might actually dedicate a post to some of the great television and movies that are currently out this holiday season.

Let’s start with the movies:

The Shape of Water - It’s pretty spectacular. I am not a big lover of fantasy, nor horror, nor anything with creatures. That said, there are exceptions to every rule and this is one of them. Guillermo del Toro is masterful in his filmmaking and co-writing this script with writer Vanessa Taylor (Game of Thrones). This movie tackles several genres: noir, thriller, love story, creature feature and just good old-fashioned movie making. Every scene is remarkably purposeful and thematic. As advertised by the title, water is thematic throughout. Water represents not only a life source but also birth (or re-birth) as the opening scene suggests in an almost amniotic fluid-like dream sequence. Water, also, functions as an aphrodisiac for our heroine. It defines her in her daily rituals and it is what draws her to finding true love. del Toro’s use of subtle imagery is beautiful throughout.  Even the ever-present egg represents an almost biblical theme as not only an offering of sustenance but of rebirth. 

The performances are flawless. Sally Hawkins' (Blue Jasmine) portrayal of a mute cleaning woman speaks volumes without ever uttering a single word. Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures) is brilliant as always. Richard Jenkins (Six Feet Under) is sublime. Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road) is equally awesome as the “real” monster.

del Toro manages to craft a beautiful love story amidst a delicate exploration of racism, handicaps, xenophobia, homophobia, political agendas and even sexual harassment.  

It is a must-see.

Next on my list is:

Coco - Every time I think I am finally finished with seeing “yet another" animated movie, Pixar continues to surprise and delight me once again. Coco is amazing. It’s not just an amazing technical achievement. It is a beautiful story about the traditions behind Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead). In my wildest dreams, I could not imagine that someone could pull off a children’s film about a little boy getting lost in the Land of the Dead as he searches for his great-great-grandfather. But somehow they did it... and this film is not just for children. It is engaging, heartfelt, funny and truly poignant. I loved everything about it: The music, the story, the animation, the plot twist, the message… the whole enchilada (I apologize for the bad pun).  Run don’t walk to this movie. Bring your kids. Your grandkids. It’s a special treat with a beautiful message. 

Okay, let’s go to television:

There was so much good television this year that it’s hard to know where to start.  So I am going to go with my two most recent favorites:

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel - (Amazon Prime- 1-hour comedy). It is quite possibly perfect. The cast, the production design, the brilliant writing by Amy Sherman-Palladino (Gilmore Girls) and her husband Daniel Palladino. The direction is flawless. At times it feels like a beautifully choreographed Broadway play. At other times, it feels like an homage to the "rat-a-tat" of great films with Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. Or maybe even Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's.  The costume design is nothing short of awesome. It’s a love letter to New York City and all of the great comics that came out of that era (the 1950s). It is a hilarious depiction of Jewish families and women who juggle things flawlessly… until they don’t. I can’t recommend this series enough. It is bold. It is beautiful. It is fun and it is funny. After finishing the eight episodes, I found myself a little depressed that there were no more for now. But with Golden Globe nominations and the growing buzz, I am sure there will be a lot more to come.  

Schitt’s Creek - (Netflix - 1/2 hour comedy). I discovered this series late in the game. They are about to launch Season 4 and I just finished binge-watching Season 3. Eugene Levy (American Pie) and Catherine O’Hara (Home Alone) star in this series about a wealthy family who loses everything and is forced to live in a rundown motel in a town because it is the only asset they still have. It’s a modern day Green Acres meets The Beverly Hillbillies (in the reverse). While some episodes gel better than others, the series is positively addictive. David Levy (Eugene’s son) co-created it with his dad and they are hilarious. Catherine O’Hara steals every scene, but everyone is a joy to watch. The costume design is superb... as it is the only vestige of their old life, which they maintain.The incongruence of their avant-garde taste provides endless entertainment as they navigate through their new life in this charming Podunk town.

 

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How I Came to Celebrate Christmas

When December first rolls around, I am always a little “bah-humbug” at first. I never think I will have the energy to shop for all the presents, wrap all the gifts, trim the tree, bake and prepare the holiday dinners. But once we turn on the music, start lighting candles, and trimming the Christmas tree, the excitement comes back.

What’s a nice Jewish girl been doing celebrating Christmas for the last 28 years?  

It’s a long story.

I was raised in a fairly conservative Jewish household. We didn’t celebrate Christmas. No tree. No stockings. No Christmas lights. No Christmas carols. No presents on Christmas Day. No Santa Claus.

But, like most Jewish families, we had Hanukkah. Eight nights of lighting candles, at least one big family dinner, singing songs… and sometimes eight presents. Although my mother didn’t believe in eight nights of presents, we usually got something on the first night and something on the last night. Usually, there was a family party or two, so we exchanged gifts with relatives on some of the other nights too. All while eating the most delicious heavy comfort food you can imagine. Usually some kind of brisket and lots of potato latkes (potato pancakes) that were deep fried and served with a sour cream and applesauce garnish. They were insanely labor intensive (as they required hand grating the potatoes and onions), but indescribably delicious. Whomever made the latkes, their house would smell like fried food for weeks afterwards. I loved them so much.  

Growing up, most of my friends were Jewish too, so I didn’t really feel left out on Christmas. But I always loved Christmas movies. Christmas lights. Christmas decorations. And Christmas holiday music. I admit it... I had Christmas envy.

When I got married to my first husband (a lapsed Catholic), he was happy to convert to Judaism. His only request was to continue to celebrate Christmas too. Basically he just wanted a Christmas tree, a Christmas breakfast and presents. (He loved presents.) Having felt deprived of this delightful indulgence in colorful lights, pine-scented smells, and having another excuse for a family get-together, how could I resist?   

For the next 13 years, we had a big tree, lots of lights, Christmas music, even Santa Claus came and left surprise gifts. It was a ton of fun. All of our Jewish friends would come over on Christmas day and the kids would play outside with all the new toys, and we’d have a big buffet of finger foods and baked goods.

When I married my second husband (another lapsed Catholic), he had his own family traditions with Christmas. Their family was a Christmas Eve family (meaning they had their holiday dinner and opened all of their gifts on Christmas eve).  There was no “Santa Claus” or opening gifts on Christmas morning in your pajamas. It was a new tradition, but equally fun.

So here we are again.  Christmas 2017. I still get excited when I open my storage boxes of ornaments and reminisce where each one came from. I have been collecting ornaments since my first christmas in 1989. Ornaments that I have purchased. Ornaments that were given to me. Ornaments that were made by my kids in school, and ornaments that were one of a kind made by local artists. I still have my favorites. My kids have theirs. I turn on classical Christmas tunes (Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis and Frank Sinatra) and we trim the tree.  

We still light candles on Hanukkah too. No one loves potato latkes like I do, so I don’t bother making them from scratch. (The truth is if you buy the good frozen ones, and bake them for about 5 minutes longer, they are almost as good without the mess of deep frying. There is the added bonus of not having to spend hours peeling potatoes and grating onions as well.)

I am grateful to have both traditions and to have raised my kids knowing both holidays.

So for those of you who celebrate either or both:  Happy Hanukkah and/or Merry Christmas.

For those of you who don’t, I wish you a happy December.  May something magical happen... whether it comes from Santa Claus, an old friend, a new friend, a new opportunity or just something delicious to eat that reminds you of your childhood.

P.S.  This year’s Christmas tree.

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P.P.S. The last night of Hanukkah. I was making tacos for dinner and there happened to be one ripe avocado left to make 
guacamole, so it made it into the picture. It was truly a holiday miracle... and delicious.
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10 Misconceptions About Living in Hawaii

Living in Hawaii really is just like living anywhere else. People do all the same things here that they do on the mainland:  cook, clean, laundry, grocery shop, drive their kids around, argue with them about doing their homework, get colds, pay bills and even sit in traffic. It’s life. Don’t get me wrong, it’s about as nice of a place to do it in, but the daily grind doesn’t go away because there are palm trees and trade winds. The thing is no one seems to believe me. So to clear a few things up, here are my top 10 misconceptions about Hawaii:

1)You never get sick.  

When my daughter had a cold a few weeks ago, one of her friends from California texted her, “How can you be sick?  You live in Hawaii.” She was like, “Uh… because people get sick here too.”

2) You cannot possibly manage a career from Hawaii

People are always amazed that I can do my job remotely.  Every conference call starts with one of two questions:  “Are you in Hawaii?”  Yes, we have telephones. Or “How is the weather there?” Usually sunny, but we might have showers later because it rains here (a lot). And, yes, that weather includes incredible rainbows and spectacular sunsets, but that still doesn’t get in the way of managing my career.

3) You either live in a hotel or in a hut.

No, we don’t live in grass-thatched huts. We have regular neighborhoods and homes… complete with running water, electricity and the Internet.

4) You drink Mai Tais ALL day.

That would make it difficult for me to function…  

5) Hawaii is really, really far away.

It’s actually the same travel time (and time difference) from Los Angeles to New York.

6) There are no grocery stores.

There are a lot of grocery stores. Including Safeway, Whole Foods, Costco, Walmart, and Target.  Groceries are, however, much more expensive. Especially organic milk. Double the price compared to California.

7) Everyone assumes you surf.

Nope. I tried. Not my thing. Most everything is geared towards some kind of sport though. Ocean activities are king: Stand-up paddle surfing, kite surfing, windsurfing, foil surfing, skim boarding, body surfing, scuba diving, snorkeling, ocean swimming, kayaking, paddling (canoe racing), boating, jet skiing, parasailing, fishing, etc. I like my sports on land: tennis and yoga are my thing(s).

8) Pineapples grow on trees.

Actually they grow on the ground.  But very few pineapples are even grown in Hawaii anymore.
Ranching, pineapple and sugarcane production used to be Hawaii’s primary businesses. But most pineapple production is now in the Philippines and the last sugar mill closed last year. Only ranching remains. The number one source of revenue now is tourism. We still have cowboys in Hawaii though. (They are called Paniolos.)

9) Women wear grass skirts.

Yes, if they are hula dancers who are performing at a Luau. Everyone else dresses the same as anywhere else where the temperature is 80 degrees most of the time. Except for the fact that Hawaiian shirts are considered “business casual” for men and people wear flips flops (aka “slippahs”) all year round.

10) People are always in bathing suits.

Not true. Maybe the tourists.

But here’s the crazy thing that no one probably knows unless you live here:  We have wild chicken and roosters everywhere. Not just on the farms or in the countryside.  They show up on the school grounds, on the highway and especially in the parking lots of grocery stores. Just like this lovely couple I ran into in the Safeway parking lot while I was doing my grocery shopping.

Fifty Shades of Grey

When we bought our house a few years ago, we agreed to remodel the inside (which was many years overdue), and wait on painting the outside and replacing the 20-year-old roof… which was still in “good enough shape” according to my husband.

Finally, we are ready to have the outside painted, but we’ve been going back and forth on the color for weeks. The current color of the house is chocolate brown. This color was very appropriate color for when it was built in 1975, but now it looks tired and dated. I wanted something a little more contemporary. Due to the style of the house, it needs to continue to be a deep, dark color. So we decided on something in the charcoal grey family. Unfortunately, we just couldn’t find the right shade. Everything was too blue or too light and it wasn’t in keeping with the style of the house. We tried a half dozen different colors ranging from a deep tan to almost black. My husband vetoed everything until we settled upon a greyish-brown. Something called “Mocha Berry.” He then left for a business trip on the east coast.

The painter came on Saturday and by Saturday afternoon, when I saw the first coat painted on one of the exterior walls, I had a mild heart attack. It was basically a richer (darker) version of the brown house that I have been waiting to get rid of for years.

So Saturday night at 8pm, I found myself at Home Depot talking to the “paint guy” explaining my dilemma. I explained that my husband and I agreed on this one color, but when the sunlight hit it, it looked completely different and now I am in a panic. With my husband out of town and the painter due to come back at 7am on Sunday morning, I needed to provide a viable alternative first thing in the morning… before more time and money was spent on the “wrong” color. I had my husband on the phone while I was having this conversation with the Home Depot “paint specialist” (marital counselor). I really don’t think he completely understood the gravity of the situation, but he was very patient with me as we went through every version of grey that they carried in the store.

I found two new slate greys (one was more of a charcoal grey) and I was ready to meet the painter at 7am on Sunday with two sample-size quarts in my hand. I introduced myself. (I had not met him yet because my husband had been dealing with him directly.) Then I promptly apologized for asking him to stop painting and try these two samples on another wall. I think the painter knew that he was in the middle of a potential marital upset.  This isn’t really about paint.  It’s about communication.  Compromise.  Coming to an agreement and then throwing a wrench in that agreement when someone is out of town and not there to defend their position.  It’s also about waste. Time and money.  But the painter recognized that I was in a full blown panic and he helped me settle upon the darker (more charcoal) grey. He agreed that in the sunlight, the other color we had “chosen” (dare I say “compromised” on) was too brown. And that this new color was an improvement.

I then called my husband (who was five time zones away) and tried to explain why I was making this executive decision (which included me racing back to Home Depot and picking up 10 gallons of paint so that the painter could get started.) My husband was not pleased. He liked the color we picked. He didn’t want it to be too grey. Why was I making this decision now? Why didn’t I do all my second guessing weeks ago? I don’t know, because paint looks different from a chip to a wall. In fact, this paint looks completely different in the shade as it does in the sunlight. How was I to know that his Mocha Berry was going to look like a bad cup of coffee and I needed a Charcoal Grey to give it more life and a fresh new look?

Unfortunately (or fortunately?) our painter has a day job. So he can only paint on the weekends, which means he could only paint a portion of the house on Sunday. He will be back next weekend to do the rest. This is good news because my husband will be back and he can do his own compare and contrast of the two colors before we finish the job. The bad news is this morning when I went to examine the two different colors, my husband’s color didn’t look so bad after all. In fact, it looked kind of rich and awesome in the morning light. I started to panic again. What if my “freak out” about the “brown” paint was my imagination and maybe, after two trips to Home Depot at ungodly hours, I am the one who made the mistake to stop painting the first color that was actually the “right” color? I take a deep breath and remember that I need to wait until the afternoon light shines on the “brown” to make a clear determination of what’s best.

I had a conference call on a very important script that I needed to get ready for so I went inside. As I tried to put on my thinking cap to figure out the best way to tackle the notes, I couldn’t stop thinking about how I may have overreacted, wasted time, possibly money and had an unnecessary argument with my husband only to have to face the real punishment now: to admit that I was wrong. (Anyone who is married or in any kind of relationship knows this is a bitter bitter pill to swallow...)

Finally, the afternoon sun came out and I could examine the two colors side by side. Much to my dismay, neither color was right.  The Mocha Berry was simply too brown… and the Charcoal Grey was too harsh.

Needless to say, when my husband returns from his business trip, I think we are going to have to go back to see the “martial counselor” at the Home Depot paint counter.

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