My Top Eight for 2014

UnknownAs cliché as it sounds, time does seem to move faster the older we get. It seems I was just starting to appreciate the positives of 2014 – not to mention, get used to writing a “4” instead of a “3” on my checks – when I realized the end loomed near.

Instead of writing New Year’s Resolutions, most of which have the tendency to get tossed aside within a few weeks of the New Year, I decided instead to write a note of appreciation for the highlights of 2014 – my top eight of 2014. These are in no particular order, as assigning a ranking to these would seem arbitrary (and so did making this a “top ten”, hence the less-than-round number of eight).

  • Daughter #2 got her driver’s license. In truth, this milestone ranks among both the most frightening and the most exciting events of 2014. To have our youngest become a licensed driver was certainly thrilling for her and a huge relief for us chauffeurs in the family who no longer had to plan work schedules and social events around high school and swim practice start and end times – not to mention, being on call for drop-offs and pick-ups at friends’ houses and social gatherings. We all gained independence, though in return, of course, had to battle the ever-present worry of having our little one navigating the L.A. freeways and crazy drivers on her own. At the end of the day, the freedom is a positive result for all.
  • My second favorite item of the year also involves daughter #2: Claire qualified for and participated in her first championship swim meet. When Claire told us she wanted to swim, we were surprised. Swimming was always her sister’s sport and her sister excelled at it. We’d never discouraged Claire from swimming, but never encouraged either, lest she have to compete with her sister or take on the burden of being “Shannyn’s little sister” in the pool. Despite our reservations, she decided to jump in with both feet – literally! She had setbacks almost immediately, tearing her labrum (not due to swimming, according to the doctors) and undergoing surgery just a year after joining our club team. She battled through the rehab, spending months in the pool just kicking, then slowly working to get her shoulder back into shape and resume swimming. She found herself behind most of her peers at that point, but insisted that she would move up to the next level (she did) and that she would finally make it to a championship meet. So it was with amazement and pride that we watched her this summer achieve her goals. Not only did she get her Junior Olympic time standards at a small meet in Santa Maria, but two weeks later, at the Junior Olympics meet that our club hosted, she bettered her times and made it back for her first JO finals and dropped time, once again in the finals competition. Persistence? Stubbornness? Probably a bit of both, with some hard work thrown in, but as a parent, it was a proud moment. Truth be told, even we doubted that she could do it, but fortunately, she never doubted herself.
  • After changing her major twice, Daughter #1 finally settled on her academic goals and can see the finish line. After many trials and tribulations, soul-searching and so-called epiphanies, not to mention the agony of having to take Microbiology and Organic Chemistry, Shannyn finally settled on a course of study that suited her. While she went in as a Business major (code for “I don’t know what the hell I want to do with my life”), she soon had a brilliant brainstorm that nutrition has always been her passion and becoming a Nutritional Sciences major was the path for her. Unfortunately, the self-declared “non-science person” quickly realized that this major required her to take – well, SCIENCE. After struggling through a semester of brutal classes like O-Chem that caused her GPA to suffer, she realized she needed to change course. The final epiphany (accompanied by some solid academic counseling) was that a major in Economics and a minor in Nutritional Sciences, would make the best use of courses already completed, while allowing her to pursue a career in marketing for the nutrition/fitness industry. Yes, she’ll go an extra year (thank you, continuing athletic scholarship), but she is happier, more focused and her GPA is back to its previous good standing.
  • Work travel was educational and fun. I’ve worked at home now for 20+ years and am thankful that I’ve had the ability to maintain a challenging and rewarding career with the flexibility to be available for my children. I love working from home, but there are times when I miss the “water-cooler” talk and close bonds that develop from being in an office. This year, I was able to not only pay a few visits to my key client in Silicon Valley, but to also travel with them to their annual customer and partner conference in Las Vegas. Whenever you can learn things that help you do your job better and, at the same time, have a blast with a group of smart and fun people, you know you’ve hit the jackpot, career-wise. I was grateful to participate in the four-day event, meet some of the employees, partners, customers, analysts and reporters I’d previously only communicated with via email or phone, and learn more about my client’s technology and how it’s being used in the real world.
  • Old friends came to visit. In a perfect world, we’d go abroad every summer as we did in 2013 when we visited Per’s family and friends in Sweden and spent a wonderful week in Paris, seeing the sights. But until we win the lottery, we’ll settle for visitors coming our way occasionally, as was the case this year when Per’s best friend from childhood traveled to Southern California with his wife and two children from their home in Oslo, Norway.
  • We’ve been able to continue traveling to see daughter #1 finish out her swimming career. It’s hard to believe that the toddler who took to the water like a fish at two is nearly twenty-two now. And that after almost 15 years of competitive swimming, it will all come to an end this Spring. I’m sure this will inspire a separate nostalgic and emotional blog post when it’s over. For now, suffice to say that I’m thankful for every trip I’ve made, every event I’ve watched from the side of a pool deck or bleachers of a stadium, and every hour of sitting in a timing chair, because I know it’s almost over. It has been an amazing ride, we have all learned so much, and made wonderful friends along the way. And most of all, I feel so fortunate for all the incredible benefits Shannyn has reaped from the sport – not just having her education funded – but the lessons of discipline and commitment, leadership, working through adversity, and the lifelong friends she has made. As we get ready for a few more trips between January and March, I will brace myself for the end and be grateful for the opportunity to witness it.
  • We have our health. Nothing more to say about this one. As you get older, you realize how lucky you are to escape each year without a serious malady and you’re thankful that you and your extended family are still healthy.
  • And finally, on a lighter note, no words needed for this one…you didn’t think I’d leave this out, did you?!
  • images

 

images-2

 

 

images-1

 

Go Kings Go!

 

Happy New Year, everyone! What were your favorite moments of 2014?

The Requisite Thanksgiving Blog: Thankfulness Never Gets Old

images

While I hate to cave to the expected, there is always value in producing a list of things one is thankful for – even at this, the most expected times of the year to express thankfulness.

With Thanksgiving just a day away, I will keep my list short, but sweet – three reasons who I’m grateful this holiday season.

1) I am thankful that my girls are growing into women that I not only love, but like very much.  Every day, I see more evidence that my little people are growing into big people who will be more than equipped to take on the great, big world in which they live.  Not only do I love them because they are my flesh and blood, I truly LIKE the people they are becoming. They care about the world around them, they are engaged in discussions of importance, and most of all, they are kind to others. I am a proud mother and I am grateful for the people they are becoming.

2) I am thankful for my house. It’s old. The kitchen cabinets are peeling and the appliances are outdated. Blue carpet remains in three of the rooms and some of the tile is cracking. Neighbors have long since painted, revamped, redone, remodeled…some of them multiple times. We’ve chosen to spend our dollars on other things – mostly experiences we enjoy with our family whether it be traveling, going to sporting events or concerts. Would I love to remodel? Of course. Am I thankful for this old house, regardless? I am. My children have grown up in this house, we’ve had many moments of laughter (and of course, some tears) and celebrated many wonderful occasions. At the end of the day, this house is comfort and it is our home, even if the floors creak and I don’t get around to cleaning all those cobwebs that sit at the top of the ceilings.

3) I am thankful for my spouse and for the fact that he grew up in another country. Not just any country, but one where women are valued and hold equal roles in society. I’m not saying there aren’t American men who believe that women should be paid equal wages, don’t complain about sharing the household chores and chose their partners in life based on more than just a pretty face. But there is a vast difference in cultural attitudes between America and Sweden, and regardless of how “evolved” some American men are, the fact is, they’ve never lived in a society that inherently values men and women equally. My spouse’s home country does. Because he was raised in this environment, he benefits from a culture wherein young boys and girls must BOTH take classes in home economics and shop, where both men and women are given equal time off for the birth of a child, where contraception has always been the responsibility of both men and women, without question, and no man is allowed to regulate what a woman does with her body.  The result is probably subtle, but it’s there. At no time in my marriage have I felt that my husband did not view me as an equal partner in all things business and domestic. At no time, did I feel he expected certain behavior from our girls, simply because they were girls. And most of all, at no time have I felt a lack of respect from him.

That’s my list. Undoubtedly, I have many more things to be thankful for, but I am thinking about these three today.

What are you thankful for this holiday season?

If Money Didn’t Matter…Turning a School Project into Real Life Advice

This week was Back-to-School night at my younger daughter’s high school. Walking around campus, I was painfully aware that all of the fresh-faced parents I’ve known since our teens were just tots in elementary school have become, well, to put it mildly, older.  And that if I’m calling them “older”, I have to look in the mirror and acknowledge that I’m there, too. I was also mindful of the fact that this was the second-to-last time I would ever go to a back-to-school night. EVER.

My daughter had told me ahead of time that her history teacher was one of her favorites and that he coincidentally had a great deal in common with me (UCLA grad, fan of music) and her Dad (back-packed through Europe in his younger days). As expected, his classroom was my favorite: as we walked in, we could smell fresh-brewed coffee, the lights had been dimmed and the John Mayer Pandora station played in the background. His presentation did not disappoint and the parents were given one of the same assignments he’d given to the students that week: to watch a popular, short video making the rounds on YouTube and social media called “If Money Was No Object” and write a response to the video focusing on advice, hopes and dreams for our student’s future.

Naturally, my engineering/math-brained husband looked in my direction and my eyes lit up at the prospect of a creative writing assignment.  I’m not sure if I was the first parent to turn in their paper the next day….but it’s very possible.

I don’t know if youth is truly wasted on the young, but I certainly felt a small pang of longing when I read my own words and realized that I could have been better at taking my own advice, say, 35 years ago. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I’d like to believe that there are still a few nuggets here that apply to us older and wiser folks.  In case I’m right, here are a few excerpts from my response to “If Money Was No Object”. These were the pieces of advice I crafted for my daughter, with a little commentary plugged in for us older folk…

  • Explore your options now, while you’re young. While I don’t regret the path I took, I do have the “what ifs” from time to time. What if I’d gone back to school right away and pursued an MFA in creative writing? What if I’d studied a semester abroad and done more traveling? What if I’d parlayed my college tutoring job into a teaching job or, early in my career, moved from marketing and PR in the technology realm into an area I was more passionate about like music or sports? Explore the things you are passionate about now, while you’re in high school and for as long as you can in college and early in your career. It’s hard to change direction when you’re 40 or 50.

Ok, so for those of us who are getting up there in age, admittedly, it is hard to change direction entirely. But not impossible. And if you can sprinkle just a little of what you love or do just one thing each day that keeps you in touch with those earlier passions, you’ll still be exploring those options, if not making a radical move towards them.

  • Find ways to travel early on. See the big, wide world. Look for opportunities to study abroad in school. If you’re a dual citizen, as my kids are fortunate enough to be, go to school or work abroad. Grab the opportunity and see what’s out there.

Great advice for the young, but of course, easier said than done once you are settled into a career (unless it happens to involve world travel) and have a mortgage and college tuition to pay for. But when those opportunities arise, take them.  Add a few days onto that business trip and see the city you’re working in.  Plan to use that bonus money for a weekend somewhere you’ve never been instead of upgrading those bathroom floors. I truly believe that travel is the best education there is. I can’t tell you how many people make comments about Sweden, its culture and system of government to me and my Swedish-born and raised husband without ever having stepped foot in that country. Not surprisingly, they are usually all wrong. Go, see, and learn for yourself – there’s nothing like it.

Quick illustrative story: I was once on a press tour in New York City with the CEO of a start-up I was working with. He told me that he’d been to New York numerous times in his career but had never been to the top of the Empire State building or seen a Broadway show. I asked him why not and he couldn’t answer, but for some reason, on this trip, he decided to change all of that. We went to the top of the Empire State building after our meetings and looked at the glorious view. We saw not one, but TWO Broadway shoes on that business trip!  A few months later, he passed away unexpectedly; while on his regular, early morning walk/run with his dogs, he had a heart attack. He was only 51 and left behind a wife and two young kids. I felt fortunate that I got to accompany him on that very special trip to New York.

  • Rekindle and/or nurture your love for reading. Reading expands your mind, opens new doors, and teaches you empathy. Beyond that, as I advised my daughter, reading improves all of those great communications skills you need in virtually every college class you’ll take and every job you’ll ever have.

This is advice that applies to anyone, at any age. There is always time to read a book, just like there is always time to fit in a workout – you just have to want to find that time. 10 minutes here and there – waiting in the car to pick your child up from school, while dinner is in the oven, on your lunch break from work, 10 minutes before turning out the light at night.  I truly believe that reading is the single easiest thing to do to keep your mind active, continue learning, expand your horizons and visit new places virtually. Bonus: it’s enjoyable and relieves stress!

  • Remember that there are trade-offs. This is where we have to acknowledge that money does matter and that means there are compromises and trade-offs to be made. If you’re passionate about traveling, find a job that allows for it, or be prepared that you’ll be backpacking through Europe and sleeping in youth hostels, not four-star resorts. Living in this area and having so much, our children sometimes get the message that having the latest iPhone or the coolest car are things that matter more than what you spend time doing each day. Some jobs don’t come with a big paycheck, but my message would be, try it when you’re young. If you truly love it, it will be worth the trade-offs.

As adults, we are always making trade-offs.  The hope is that when you’re in the rocking chair at 80, looking back on your life, you’ve made the right ones. I live in an area where people seem to “have it all”. They don’t have to decide between that expensive vacation, redoing their kitchen and paying for private college tuition. That doesn’t mean they haven’t made trade-offs. To afford that lifestyle, one or both parents may not be spending as much time with their families as they’d like.  Maybe the wife gave up a great career that she misses to stay home so her husband could have a job that involves a great deal of travel. Or maybe they are both working at jobs they really don’t love just to keep the wheel spinning. We all make trade-offs and compromises. The key is to figure out which ones you can live with.

  • What will your verse be? The famous line from Whitman’s poem and the words that Robin Williams famously spoke in “Dead Poet’s Society” are words that haunt me a bit every day. Make sure that something you do in life makes you feel that you’re contributing, giving back, adding something to your community, to society, to the world at large. Find something that has meaning not just to you, but to others.

While I haven’t figured this one out completely, I’ve taken little steps here and there to be sure I’m moving in the right direction. Is there a specific cause or issue you believe in passionately? Give your money and more importantly, your time to it.  Write about it.  Or to come full circle to the assignment and “If Money Was No Object”, make a video about it and share it with the world. Someone might listen and be inspired.

What advice would you share with your kids in response to “If Money Didn’t Matter”?  And do you think that advice is helpful for all ages for just for those of a certain, youthful age?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Thing Worth Remembering: Thoughts on the Anniversary of September 11th

 

imagesWe awoke to an unremarkable Southern California day. That is to say, it was brilliantly sunny and warm with blue skies – unremarkable for our little corner of the Earth.

It was a workday and a school day and like most families, we were preoccupied with our morning routine. My husband and I were getting our then-eight year old ready for school and preparing breakfast for our then-three year old. I would take our oldest to school, our nanny would arrive so my husband could go to work and then I’d head into my home office to start my workday.

The phone rang. It was my Mother.

“Are you watching the news?” she said, a little breathless.

“No, we don’t have the TV on in the morning,” I answered, a bit irritably. Our days were typically a jam-packed juggling routine and I didn’t have time to watch — much less chat about – Good Morning America or whatever else was on that time of morning.

“Turn it on,” she commanded. “You won’t believe what’s happening. New York is under attack.”

Like millions of Americans, I tuned in that morning and for weeks could not tune out. Smoke was billowing from one of the World Trade Center towers. The scene was unreal – like something out of a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. This couldn’t be the actual news, could it?

We stumbled through our routine that morning, in a murky haze of uncertainty. Our younger daughter was too little to understand what was happening. Our older daughter had a vague notion that something bad had happened and airplanes had crashed into important buildings in New York, but of course, at that time of the morning, no one knew the hows and whys. Would school be cancelled I wondered? As the scene unfolded before us on TV, the entire country woke up to the nightmare of September 11th. Neighbors and friends began calling and talking, wondering and worrying. Did we know anyone on those planes? In the towers?

I remember scattered fragments of the day.

I remember taking my older daughter to school, reassuring her that everything was fine and it was a safe place to be, all the while realizing that my whole notion of “safe” had been turned upside down. Nowhere was safe. Every parent dreads the day when his or her children begin to realize that Mom and Dad can’t protect them from all the bad things in the world and the events of September 11th underscored this all too well. The tragic events brought home for all of us the fleeting nature of life, the way it can all be swept away so suddenly and without any warning.

I remember arriving at our elementary school, walking my daughter to the square in the center where the students recited the pledge of allegiance, the administration made announcements and the teachers and students lined up to file into their classrooms every morning. On this completely foreign morning, our principal talked to us about how important routine can be when and event like this occurs and how letting our children attend school and have a “normal” day was the best thing we could do for them. We envied our children their normal day in the middle of such an abnormal circumstance.

Parents who had barely spoken to each other before, hugged in the courtyard and clung to each other, speaking in hushed tones about waking to the tragic news. We left our children reluctantly, knowing how hard this simple act would be today. It was pre-smartphone and pre-social media days – we did not know how we’d wait six hours to see or hear from our most precious treasures.

I remember that no one could focus on work that day and no one expected us to. My husband stayed home. We took a walk around the lake by our house in the afternoon. We still didn’t know how to process what had happened. The skies were eerily quiet since no planes were allowed to fly.

That night, I remember not being able to sleep, laying in bed, listening to the complete and utter silence outside and wondering if it was over, if the terrorists were done, or if there would be more devastation. We still didn’t know all of the details and Los Angeles was mentioned as a potential target. I remember thinking that this sort of thing just didn’t happen in our country. But now it had.

Over the next few days, details emerged, names and photos of the missing and dead began appearing. All of us felt touched deeply by the tragedy, but we also all knew someone who had been affected more personally, whether they had been in New York at the time, had family there or had a loved one who worked in the twin towers. Some of us even had family and friends who died that day. It was a painful time and tears flowed easily.

A few nights later, our neighbors, like many others across the country, gathered at our community park just up the street from our house, with candles lit to remember the fallen, to pay tribute, just to be with each other in our sorrow and grieve together. We had a new family who had just moved into the house across the street and diagonally from ours. I had not met them yet, but when I stepped outside that evening, the parents sat on their front porch with their two year old daughter in their arms, holding candles, the Mom with tears streaming down her face. We acknowledged each other with a small wave, understanding that we didn’t need to speak.

The remarkable thing is that it still hurts. To watch the footage of the towers falling still causes me to gasp and turn away. To watch video of the tributes from those in the public eye on that day, whether it be interviews with the firefighters and police who valiantly stayed to search and repair, addresses by Mayor Giuliani, the late night talk show hosts or the stoic news anchors who simply couldn’t remain stoic, still brings tears to my eyes. I know I am not alone.

But what also remains is the feeling of bonding together during that time – not just friends, family and neighbors, but even those we barely knew, the strangers on the street, the heroic first responders we might never know save their weary faces in newspapers and TV, those we never agreed with and might still not, but in whom we found temporary kinship and solace. We were all impacted by this terrible nightmare. We were all one nation.

Though “cherish” is a strange word to use when remembering a terrible tragedy, that bond we felt to our fellow humans may be the thing I cherish most from those long and sad days. With so many things about that day we don’t want to recall, that human bond, the way we came together in love and acceptance, may be the one thing we so desperately need to remember and cling to each and every day of our lives.

I Love LA: In Defense of a City

A funny thing happened last week after the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup for the second time in three years. I suddenly found myself surrounded by a lot of, for lack of a better term, “haters”.

I don’t mean just fans of the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, Chicago Blackhawks or New York Rangers either. It’s natural that some good, old-fashioned hockey rivalry hatred circulates on the web and social media channels amongst fans and that various reporters, bloggers and experts weigh in and begin debating the pros and cons of the newly-crowned champions.

What I mean – and what was truly unexpected – was the sudden tidal wave of disrespect and dislike for an entire city. A city of nine million people…or 13 million if you want to include the outlying suburbs. A city so diverse that it defies generalizations or at least, so one would think. But the haters came out in full force and unleashed criticisms that were often unfair, always unkind and sometimes just downright ridiculous.

It started as condemnation of what some claim is a lack of sports culture or a “fair-weather” fan environment. Many said that LA has never been and will never be a hockey town and that even fans of the Dodgers, Lakers, Clippers and our college teams are unsupportive, lackadaisical and only loyal when their teams are winning. I buy that LA hasn’t always been supportive of every team. Just as the US was oblivious to the World Cup and the sport of soccer prior to virtually every suburban youth hitting the fields, LA was uneducated and uninterested in hockey until The Great One came to play for us and youth hockey began to take off.

Image

But beyond the sports culture smack-down, some folks I know claimed that bad fan behavior and dangerous situations are representative of sports in Los Angeles, if not unique to the city. It would take me hundreds of pages to document examples of the same sorts of behaviors occurring in cities throughout the United States (and around the World) – even those that are believed to be the great sports centers of the country, but I have no space to list them all. I would guess that most reasonable people could agree that one fan or one group of fans are not indicative of an entire fan base and that every city has its share of truly terrible fans. I mean, do I need to remind Chicago fans of the time when they all but abandoned their Blackhawks team? Do I need to remind my Bay Area friends of the 3,000-seat drop-off the Sharks experienced in season tickets at one point? Or bring up the time an Oakland Raiders fan beat a Dallas Cowboys fan unconscious? How about this hockey season when some Boston Bruins fans hurled racist comments at Montreal Canadiens’ defenseman, P.K. Subban after Montreal handed the Bruins a loss? Or when those classy Seattle Seahawk fans threw food at an injured SF 49ers player during the NFC championship game their team won?

I’m sorry, folks, but fair weather fandom and bad behavior is not exclusive to ANY city and suffice to say that when you take the behaviors of a few and generalize them to a population of nine million, you’re going to lose a statistical battle, if nothing else.

But beyond this sports talk, what really stunned me during this past week was how this critique of LA’s sports culture was extended to Los Angeles and its people as a whole. Among the things I’ve seen bantered about via social media, papers and general discussions this week (and I’m paraphrasing, but citing the gist of what I’ve heard):

– Sports fans in LA are only concerned about winning and are not loyal to their teams and by extension, people in LA are all about winning.

– Los Angeles is just a self-centered, materialistic city of excess.

– Everyone in LA is overly concerned with their appearance.

– People in LA are more interested in Hollywood than the rest of the world.

– People in LA are more interested in entertainment than education. While sports fans are uninformed about sports, the general population is just uninformed.

– The traffic in LA is terrible.

Well, ok, that last point is thoroughly indefensible and 100% accurate.

I consider myself more experienced than most when it comes to comparing Los Angeles to other cities. Born in Birmingham, Alabama – about as far from Los Angeles and its culture as you can get – I also lived in Atlanta, Georgia, Tampa, Florida, both Dallas and Houston, Texas, Kansas City, Kansas, San Diego, California and San Rafael, California. I can tell you firsthand that while each place has its pros and cons, there’s no place I’d rather live than right here in Los Angeles.

I spent my college years at UCLA where I witnessed firsthand the diverse population of the city, made lifelong friends, developed a fierce loyalty to both my school and its sports teams and got a great education that has served me well throughout my career. If there was a lack of diversity, a worship of entertainment over education or a dearth of loyalty, I certainly did not experience it there.

Is there materialism, excess and superficiality in Los Angeles? Absolutely. And yes, perhaps, because LA is both the entertainment capital of the world and a city blessed with incredible weather and beautiful beaches where folks spend an inordinate amount of time in very little clothing, there is more concern over appearance in this city than most. But I can tell you firsthand that of my friend and acquaintance circle, I know just as many women (and men!) in Silicon Valley getting Botox injections as those in LA. I can tell you that I never felt more excluded and judged based on my appearance than I did in a mall in Dallas, Texas where every woman wore heels and full makeup to go shopping and I was scolded for not owning a Neiman-Marcus card. And speaking of cities that can’t sustain professional teams and display a certain, blasé attitude toward sports, how about Birmingham (or any city) in Alabama?

The point is, Los Angeles is not unique in having its share of materialistic, wealth and appearance-obsessed denizens, nor is it unique in having some bad, fair weather and, frankly, moronic fans. But to take these as representative of the City of Angels is truly to miss the heart and soul of the city. Indeed, I’ve met my share of fake socialites, corporate ladder climbers and collagen-lipped housewives, but I’ve surrounded myself with a larger population of friends who believe in working hard, who don’t spend money on plastic surgery, who value education and who root for their hometown teams. These include friends I made in college, neighborhood families that I’ve become close with through my children, work colleagues and a very large population of Kings fans that I’ve come to know and appreciate via the wonders of social media. These are good people who all appreciate and love their city, as I do. Everyday, I consider myself fortunate to be surrounded by a beautiful community that spans the Santa Monica mountains to the beaches of Malibu on one end, the Hollywood Hills and hubbub of downtown on the other, with so many remarkable places in-between. The valley, the South Bay, the campuses of both UCLA and USC (yes, a Bruin said that!), the Coliseum, the fabulous Forum, the Santa Monica pier, the streets of Westwood, Los Feliz, the Hollywood Bowl, the Greek Theatre, the Los Angeles Zoo, Griffith Park, the recently-discovered and wonderfully-working Metrorail(!), Universal City, Venice boardwalk and canals…I won’t go on because it would take all day.

ImageImage

My husband and I have talked frequently about the sacrifices we’ve made to live in expensive Southern California. Had we stayed in Dallas for 10 years, we would have saved a bundle and maybe we’d be on the verge of retirement. Instead, we’ve both worked continuously to have an opportunity to raise our family in Los Angeles. It’s not for everyone and that’s ok with me – in fact, with our always-expanding population and popularity, I’m more than happy for people to continue disliking LA and leave it for the rest of us who love it here. At the end of the day, LA is my city and I’m proud to be an Angeleno. I love LA.

 

It’s a New Year…How about those Resolutions from the Last Year?

And so, it’s January again.  Time to take stock and look back at the New Year’s resolutions that have come and gone. While I say I’m not one to make resolutions, I did, in fact, make a small list of things I wanted to work on last year.  How’d I do? Well, let’s just say that of the six I listed in last New Year’s blog post, I probably made some minimal progress on three of them. Hey, that’s a solid half, right?!

The issue with resolutions is that, once made, we need checkpoints to assess how we’re progressing and take action when we’re not making progress. Just like at work, there are certain milestones that need to be checked off the list and progress reports, if you like, need to be turned in.  I don’t know about you, but given I have to be accountable for these kinds of activities at work, I’m not likely to hold myself to that same structure on the personal front!

How, then, do we actually resolve and take action to improve certain areas of our life? It seems trite to simply say “I plan to be a better person in 2014”, but really, that’s the heart of it all, isn’t it?  Being kinder. Less irritable. More patient. Less hurried. More giving. Less judgmental. More understanding. Less stressed.

So this year, I’m going to give myself a break from the traditional list, knowing full well that putting in place the measurements necessary to ensure success is something I just won’t take the time to do.  I resolve in 2014 only this: to be a better person, in whatever way I can be.  That means taking time to connect with those I care about, rather than getting too wrapped up in the minute details of the day. It means making sure that all my good intentions don’t remain just that…that I occasionally take action and give to that charity, spend time doing something that yields no personal return for me or simply deciding to be understanding, rather than judgmental in situations that test my patience.  It means ignoring the insufferable, materialistic social media posts that clutter my news feeds and remembering that my family values experiences over things. Maybe it’s as simple as letting that car cut in front of me without swearing to myself or giving a stranger in the grocery store a complement, just because.

I know. It sounds like a lot of rainbows and fluffy puppy talk. But sometimes I think the world could use a little more of that. And a little less of the standard “10 Ways to Improve Your Life”.

Happy New Year, everyone. Enjoy 2014, however you resolve to do so.

Post Play-off Depression: It’s All About Connecting

UnknownWhen I was nine years old, my family moved to Atlanta, GA for a couple of years, settling into a lovely little apartment complex called Windy Hill Village, notable for nothing much but its proximity to downtown and the newly built Omni Center. The Omni Center was the home of the then-Atlanta (now Calgary) Flames hockey team. Because of its location, Windy Hill Village boasted not only the Rubin family as its residents, but also most of the Atlanta Flames hockey players. Somehow, my parents became friendly with a few of the players and next thing I knew, we had become hockey fans. I could name all of the players (to this day, I remember Captain Keith McCreary, Ernie Hickey, Jacques Richard and goaltender Dan Bouchard) and loved boasting to my classmates that I actually knew these guys personally! For the first time in my young life, I felt the excitement of attending a live sporting event, the bonding that occurs with a crowd of people all chanting the same thing in a great big arena, the emotional connection one develops with a local team – particularly, when you know the players personally.51LTCH15-9L._SL500_AA300_

Cut to many years later, after living in a hockey-less San Diego for most of my teens, attending UCLA where football and basketball were front and center, finally settling down to love, life, marriage and kids with a Swede who played hockey growing up. The fires were rekindled a bit and then, when our oldest daughter went off to college, befriending a couple of Canadian hockey fans (yes, I recognize that’s redundant) and realizing that she also enjoyed the game, it was time to really reconnect with the sport and our local team, the L.A. Kings. It didn’t hurt that the Kings were experiencing a resurgence that would soon lead to a 2012 Stanley Cup win – just in time for us to remember what it was like to be part of an entire city rejoicing over a shared victory.

Cut to this year when after watching nearly every game either from our couch or at Staples Center, after heated rivalries with friends and colleagues, Twitter wars, Facebook posts and many evenings of bonding over the details of a game, our beloved Kings have just been pushed out of the play-offs, after a valiant effort to win game 5 against a powerful Blackhawks team. There is a sudden empty feeling now that our team’s season is over – not just sorrow for their loss, but a definite void where it feels like something more important than just a hockey series is missing.  It made me wonder what this hockey passion is really all about.  What is it about this weird, emotional investment we humans make in a sports team that is so compelling and at times, all-encompassing?   Is it as simple as sharing a common interest with other humans? Is it living vicariously through the players, being competitive in a way that you might never get to experience on your own? Or is it deeper than that, the thrill of being part of something larger than ourselves, a connection to humanity that sometimes goes missing in our everyday lives, particularly now that connections are less face-to-face and personal, and more online and distant.

ks_stanley-cup_blog

Even if you have no passion for hockey, football, baseball or any other sport, you may still understand this urge to be part of something larger than yourself. If you have a favorite band, think of how it feels to be in a crowd of people at that band’s concert, all singing the same words to the same song, surrounded by a shared connection that seems to transcend a simple concert performance. (Anyone who has seen U2 live must know what I’m talking about, right?)

I’m sure in a few days, I’ll go back to “life before hockey season” where I am not racing to finish up my work so I can don my jersey and join my hubby on the couch or pick up our younger daughter early from school so we can battle the freeway traffic down to Staples Center to make it to our seats before warm-up starts.  There are plenty of things to occupy all of us until the fall and soon, the normal routines will again take over and my Twitter and Facebook posts will not longer be all about that bad call or that amazing goal in the last 10 seconds of regulation. But I’ll still be looking forward to the next season, the next game, the next opportunity to share in that connection to something bigger than me – a way to share an experience that is all at once exciting, emotional, aggravating and compelling with my family, my friends, my team, my city, with the other humans who share the planet – and a passion for hockey with me.

Connecting with the Past: Reflections on a Friend Lost

We all gathered in our scenic, beachside hometown to honor the life of one of our classmates. That some of us had not seen each other in 25 or 30 years did not seem to matter, but it was clear that time had not stood still. We were all older and one might hope, a bit wiser.

The occasion was sad, but not without laughter and joy. It was deemed a celebration of life and so it was. Family, friends and colleagues stood up, one after the other, to pay tribute, often eloquently, always movingly, to our friend, Rogie.   As one of our high school classmates said, Rogie was the “glue” that held many of us together. This classmate expressed how Rogie was everyone’s friend. That it didn’t matter to Rogie back in our high school days if you were a jock, a nerd, popular or not – Rogie accepted everyone and even more importantly, when he was with you, Rogie made you feel as if you were his best friend.

I thought about Rogie and all of my classmates, friends, family and moments shared over the years for many days after. We were together so briefly to honor his life, as is often the case with these occasions, I suppose. I longed for more time to ask questions and continue the feeling of connection that had been lost over so many years.

To some of my classmates, I wanted to ask: Was I ever unkind to you? After all of these years, I hoped that it wouldn’t be held against me, that any transgressions would be viewed as the typical, immaturity of a teen trying to find her identity and seek her place in the world. I knew in some cases, I had been unkind. Or even broken a heart. And I wanted to say, even though it doesn’t matter anymore, I’m sorry.

I knew there were a few in attendance who had been less than kind to me, but it was clear by the smiles on their faces, the hugs all around, the attempt to connect through our departed friend, that even if we had not forgotten, we could all forgive – at least, I felt that I could. We have all been equalized by our common experiences: growing up, attending college, moving away and then some of us moving back, getting married, some of us getting divorced, having families of our own, getting jobs, maybe losing them, finding careers, then changing them, saying goodbye to family and friends, some of them too soon. Figuring out how to become the people we were meant to be.

When it was over, I felt a sense of loss and sadness all over, not just for my friend, Rogie, now gone, but for all those years left behind and for all of those that I would likely lose touch with again…until the next occasion.

I reconnected with friends I’d known only through Rogie and realized how much I enjoyed their company and wondered…why hadn’t we become closer friends? Is it too late?

With others, I felt the closeness of our years together like it was yesterday and wondered why we ever let it get so far away. I wished to spend more time catching up, late night talking and laughing. It was so fleeting.

I wanted to ask all these questions and most importantly: Why, when we’ve returned to our normal, daily routines, after vowing that things will not be the same, that we will remember the importance of our connections, of staying close, of staying together, have we already begun to separate again? Why have we so easily become consumed with the day-to-day, forgetting what we said, why we had come together for our friend. What it all meant to us.

If only I could call Rogie, I know he just might have the answer. For sure, even if he did not, he’d convince me that he did.

New Year’s Resolutions for Even the Most Non-Resolute

imagesI’m not a big believer in New Year’s Resolutions. I’ve always thought that if you really want to do something in life, make time for or accomplish something, you’ll eventually (to coin a Nike marketing phrase) just do it. There’s no time like the present and New Year’s Day or not, if you truly want to do something, you’ll do it and if not, well, maybe you don’t want it as badly as you’d originally thought. That said, there’s something about a new year, a fresh start, a clean white board, that gives one a tiny bit more motivation, that extra push to get a long languishing project moving.

In goal-setting, it’s always important to break big goals into smaller, more realistic steps and the same holds true for resolutions. You could resolve to be a better person….but specifically, how? You could resolve to be more organized, but what steps can you take to get there?

Pushing aside the notion that resolutions need to be daunting tasks that can only be thought of once a year, I’ve made a small, starting list for myself that I hope will have some impact.

1) I resolve that each time I want to curse silently – or not so silently – at an impolite or even dangerous driver on the road, I will take a deep breath and remind myself that they win when I feel stress.

2) I resolve that every time I think about calling, emailing, texting or otherwise reaching out to a friend or loved one I haven’t connected with in awhile that instead of saying I’ll do it later when I’m not busy (as if!), I will take five minutes to actually reach out or, at the very least, I will put it on the to-do list with an actual deadline so it becomes a priority.

3) I resolve to focus more and multi-task less.  The phone doesn’t need to be constantly in hand, the texts can wait and no reason to try to “save time” by responding to emails while on conference calls. Constant multi-tasking creates more stress and even more work. Better to focus on one thing at a time…unless of course it’s folding laundry while watching TV!

4) I resolve to walk past the mess and clutter in the house at least once a week without stressing out, picking it up or yelling at someone about it.  Life’s too short, right?!

5) I resolve to have books, music, writing, exercising and conversation add up to more hours each day than any time spent on social media. I’m talking to you, new Pinterest addiction!

6) I resolve to put forth energy and action for at least one cause I believe in, rather than just ranting about it or reposting rants on Facebook and Twitter. Action speaks louder than words.

Are you making any resolutions this year? Do you think it’s a useful practice. Happy New Year and all the best to you and yours in 2013!

Is “Follow Your Dream” Good Advice?

“Follow your dream.” Maybe your parents gave you that advice when you were in school. Or maybe you read it in a self-help book along the way. Following your dream is certainly a deeply rooted idea in American culture – the idea that if we just do what we love, we’ll be rewarded – if not with riches, than with self-satisfaction and happiness.  Think of Olympians who say that their parents always supported their dream or Broadway stars who say that living just barely above the poverty line for many years was all worth it because they were following their dream.

When I was little I was convinced that my dream was to be a writer. I had a romanticized view of what that might entail and like most kids had no idea what the day-to-day reality of being a writer might really be, how difficult it was to be published and obtain some level of success at writing. Economic realities meant that I always had a job during my college years, seemed to always owe someone money and upon graduation with a Bachelor’s in English, was faced with the same question repeatedly from well-intentioned friends and family: “What kind of job can you get with an English major?”

Turns out, there are many jobs out there for good communicators, but the one I dreamed about, penning the great American novel, seemed awfully naive in the face of mounting bills and debt. After taking the summer to go home to San Diego and think about what I should do, I resolved to return to L.A., resume my part-time job of English tutoring at UCLA and search for “real” jobs.

After a couple of months of interviewing, I was rewarded with a job offer that I thought wouldn’t entirely compromise my dreams. A technology company wanted to hire me – an English major with no technical background – to write their user manuals. How bad could that be? I would be paid to write, albeit, about the ins and outs of test equipment and communications protocols. I was thrilled that I could pay my bills, pay off my debt and enter the real, working world. My writing dream wasn’t completely sacrificed, I thought.

But writing user manuals became tedious and un-fulfilling, to say the least. Fortunately for me, the head of the marketing department noticed my writing skills, my youthful enthusiasm and my desire to be more involved in the external-facing aspects of the company and offered me a job where I could apply my skills to public relations, event management, advertising, collateral and many other aspects of marketing communications. 25 years later, I’m still working in technology PR and marketing, but for myself and from the comfort of my home, with my own consulting practice that I’ve built over the past 19 years.

Did I follow my dream? Not exactly. When people ask me if I like my job, I always say that every job has good days and bad days, fun parts and frankly, soul-sucking parts. There is the reality: 25 years later I have a mortgage, one child in college and one heading there in a few years and a lifestyle that requires both my spouse and I to contribute. There is also another reality: I’ve quietly pursued my original dream, fiction writing, on the side and discovered something important – while I still love to write, I am probably not cut out for the life of a full-time writer. The reality is that even my so-called dream job has good days and bad days, enjoyable activities and those that are painful.

So what do you do when you discover that your dream isn’t truly what you had in mind? You move on. There are parts of my day job that I still enjoy and parts that I don’t, but all in all, it continues to reward me both financially and intellectually. Separately, I continue to pursue the parts of my childhood dream that fulfill me – taking classes to improve my creative writing skills, penning the occasional short story, continuing to work here and there on the novel I “finished’ a few years ago, when the mood strikes me, and writing this blog.  Outside of work and writing, there are other passion-fueling activities: family and friends, music, sports, great books, food and wine, watching my daughters imagine, explore and wrestle with their own dreams.  Some might say I didn’t follow my dream and I guess I didn’t follow the track exactly. Still, I can’t help but wake up some mornings feeling blessed and lucky, that despite it all, I am living the dream – maybe not the one I’d imagined, but one that fulfills me, nonetheless.

How about you? Did you follow your dream?  Or find another along the way? Do you encourage your kids to follow their dreams? How do you support them in their quest to pursue a dream while still preparing them for the realities of the world?