An Ode to 2017

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Remember at the end of 2016, when the combination of Trump’s election and a seemingly unending series of celebrity deaths had us declaring that 2016 was “the worst” and we couldn’t wait for it to be over?

Then 2017 came along and said “hold my beer”.

It has been a historically difficult time for America. And around February, it seemed like our family’s personal journey might mirror the difficulties facing the country. But when I look back on 2017 now, I see that there were many wonderful moments to embrace and be thankful for and lots of great memories to cherish. Since one of my resolutions for 2018 is to start focusing on the positives, I took a look back at some of the wonderful things that took place in 2017 and realized that there were plenty of moments to appreciate and that, if anything, the tide has turned as we approach 2018 and hope (and change) is close by.

  • 2017 started with the Women’s March and we flocked to downtown L.A. with friends and strangers, alike, to show that we wouldn’t be silent and wouldn’t give up. It was an inspiring beginning to this challenging political year. On January 20, 2018, we will do it all over again.
  • We had visits from our family in Nor Cal and San Diego, Birmingham, Alabama, and even some of the Hultin clan from Sweden. I loved time spent with a college friend visiting all the way from South Africa, work friends during trips to San Jose, CA and Nashville, TN, reconnecting with a friend just “down the road” in Pasadena, and attending book signings for two great friends and authors – one local and one from Vancouver – to feed my literary longings.
  • We enjoyed celebrating one niece’s wedding and with the engagement of her sister, have yet another happy occasion to look forward to in 2018.
  • One daughter completed her first year on the job, while the other completed her freshman year of college. They are both healthy, happy and generally thriving and as a parent, you can’t ask for much more (although, I know I do – READ A BOOK, GIRLS!).
  • Per and I celebrated our – GULP – 31st wedding anniversary. The time flies. Clearly, I was a child bride, because I cannot be old enough to have been married this long, right? We are fortunate that we still love hanging out together, still laugh together and of course, I credit myself with taking our relationship to the next level by finally deciding a few years ago to become a crazed hockey fan.
  • In 2017, I was fortunate enough to watch the UCLA Bruins, Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Kings in action, see U2, Lady Gaga and the late, great, Tom Petty, live, at some of my favorite venues (Rose Bowl, Forum, Hollywood Bowl, respectively), experience some new L.A. restaurants (Yamashiro, Alta Kitchen) and some old favorites (Saddle Peak Lodge, Otium), watch outdoor movies on the rooftops of Los Angeles and even in a famous Hollywood Cemetery, tour the Norton-Simon, Japanese American and Broad Museums (the latter including the fabulous and freaky Infinity Mirrors) as well as the Museum of Ice Cream, attend a free concert in beautiful DTLA’s Pershing Square and drink coffee at Grand Central Market (G&B is a MUST try if you like coffee).
  • I read a lot of great books. Among my favorites: Bear Town by Fredrik Backman; Gangster Nation by Tod Goldberg; Dragon Springs Road by Janie Chang,; Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty; Moonglow by Michael Chabon. Also, sorry to say that I actually liked the movie version of Hidden Figures much better than the book (which almost never happens!).
  • Most every day of 2017, I got to walk by the beautiful lake and neighborhoods of Westlake Village. Most times, I was accompanied by the sweetest yellow lab on the planet.
  • A Dem won an election in Alabama for the first time in 25 years and he defeated a crazy pedophile. If that sounds like something that shouldn’t be remarkable or shouldn’t need to be celebrated, you’re right, but we’re living in a new age, so celebrate we will (‘cause life is short, but sweet for certain). Other year-end election results looked promising and Mueller is still employed, so I remain hopeful and optimistic as the new year dawns.

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I hope this day finds you all looking back on some cherished memories and good times. Happy New Year, everyone, and may 2018 bring you all health, happiness and joy!

 

 

 

Empowering Women: Four Steps We Can All Take

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Even if you’re not a self-proclaimed feminist, it’s pretty difficult these days not to notice there’s a new and rejuvenated focus on empowering women and ensuring they have a voice in our society. From the Women’s March that protested the election of a man who admitted to grabbing women by their private parts, to the heartbreaking rise of #MeToo that began an avalanche of allegations against powerful men who have abused their positions to sexually harass and assault women, attention has turned to what we as a society – and individually – should do to better empower those who form nearly half of the world’s – and more than half of our country’s – population.

While I’m actively rooting for anyone who even acknowledges there’s a problem, I’ve seen far too many giving lip service to the issues and not presenting real solutions – and not just men. Women are sometimes their own greatest enemy (I’m speaking directly to you, Roy Moore supporters) and often, without realizing what they’re doing.

I recently sat through a sales pitch for a multi-level marketing company that is aimed almost exclusively at women (though they talk about expanding both their product reach and employee makeup to encompass men). It’s no secret that these companies make their bread and butter more from recruiting salespeople to join their ranks than the actual products they sell, and that they have become very popular amongst women with young children looking for a way to have a business and earn money without sacrificing full-time, stay-at-home motherhood.

This particular sales pitch leaned heavily on the idea that this sort of home-based business empowers women to “have it all”. The products sold by the organization are also primarily geared towards women: makeup, skin care including the all-important anti-aging line, and of course for “internal beauty”, a wide variety of diet and nutritional products. The entire organization and its products were pitched, in a nutshell, as another form of female empowerment.

I certainly don’t begrudge anyone who is trying to have a home-based business and I’m not against the idea of beauty and nutrition and taking care of oneself. Most of us want to feel good and look attractive. But I do have a few issues with this organization’s philosophy and product portfolio being sold to me as female empowerment.  This leads me to some steps I think we could all agree to take that could actually give women the power they seek and so richly deserve in our society.

 

  • Work on male-female equality in the workplace AND in the home. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for women-owned businesses and enabling the flexibility to work from home and take care of your children. My career choices changed dramatically when my older daughter was born and I started my own PR and marketing consulting practice, working from home, because I couldn’t bear the two hours of commute time and 10+ hours per day my corporate job demanded. But what we really need are corporations to step up and make it easier for women to climb the ladder: equal pay for equal work, affordable childcare and flexible working hours. Studies show that children – both girls and boys – benefit from having a positive, working mother role model in the household, so policies that allow women to work benefit everyone.

 

But perhaps, most importantly, let’s make it easy – and socially acceptable – for men to have the same workplace flexibility so they can share in the household and parenting responsibilities. My husband was an odd-man-out when he took paternity leave to stay home with our older daughter for a month in the early 1990s. For him, it was an expected step, having been born and raised in Sweden where both working parents are given generous leave to care for their newborns. Here in the U.S., while we’ve made some progress, I know far too many women who shoulder the entire burden of childcare, parenting and household activities – whether they are working full-time or not. We must make it easier – and more acceptable – for men and women to share these duties. I don’t know about you, but I never want to hear another man say that he is “babysitting” his own child. That’s not babysitting. It’s your job as a parent.

 

  • Stop talking about “anti-aging”. No one enjoys the process of growing old. From creaking joints to sagging skin to a forgetful mind, none of us enjoy watching these things happen to those we love or ourselves. But we can’t be anti-aging unless we want to be anti-life. Aging is part of life. We are all aging – every day – and there is absolutely no known scientific way to stop that. If you’re not aging, you’re dead. So why are products that cater to “anti-aging’ so popular in our society?  I’m not immune to vanity – I complain about the wrinkles that have sprouted on my face and certainly, I’m in daily denial about what my body can and can’t do any more – but I am becoming increasingly irritated with all of the focus on stopping a process that can’t possibly be contained. Sure, we all want to feel and look as good as we possibly can as we age, but by constantly focusing on the aspects of aging we don’t like as women, we’re missing out on the opportunity to embrace the positive aspects of aging. Gaining wisdom, having adult relationships with our children, or just being able to say “I don’t give a rat’s ass about that” because we’ve earned the right to – these are all aspects of aging that we should revel in. And the constant focus on anti-aging as it relates to beauty is probably the least empowering thing we can do as women for each other as it puts the focus squarely on our appearance and diminishes the value of our minds and our accomplishments.

 

  • Compliment your daughters – and the other women in your life – on more than just their appearance. “What a pretty, little girl!” “You’re so beautiful!” “You look so thin!” I’m not saying that these kinds of compliments are never appropriate. But the amount of times we comment on young girls’ appearances dwarfs the number of times we tell them how smart, capable and independent they are. Boys, on the other hand, are rarely complimented on their looks, but more for their athletic prowess, their accomplishments in the classroom and their ability to complete tasks on their own. Perhaps the worst of these three statements above is the “you look so thin!” remark. Take it from someone who battled disordered eating early on in life – women become so used to the societal emphasis on “thin is beautiful” that they begin to crave those kinds of remarks to the point of self-destruction. Emphasize “healthy” and “fit” all you want, but an overemphasis on being thin does the exact opposite of empowerment.

 

  • Quit putting yourself down. If you’re like me, this may be one of the most difficult steps to take. It’s not humble or self-deprecating to constantly look in the mirror and put yourself down. As women, we are sometimes taught early on to not be vain, to brush aside compliments and praise, to be grateful, humble and “nice”. And combine this with the rise of social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, where every picture can be altered, filtered and airbrushed, and that “anti-aging” message we hear over and over in advertisements, in magazines, in TV and movies, and amongst our own friends, and you can see why young girls grow up to be women who are constantly analyzing their every fault in the mirror. But if you look in the mirror when your daughters are standing beside you and complain about your newly-formed eye wrinkles, or stand sideways and grab at a slightly-protruding belly and call yourself “fat”, remember that your daughters are watching you and modeling your behavior. And let’s not forget the boys: what message does it send to young boys if they continually hear their mother complaining about her own appearance? That appearance matters above all else and the women in his life need to conform to some unachievable beauty standards?

If current events are any indication, we have a long way to go as a society when it comes to female empowerment. And while the recent spotlight has been squarely on men and their attitudes and behaviors – and rightly so – women also need to take a long look at their own, often unwitting, complicity (Side note: is it any wonder that both “feminism” and “complicit” are Merriam-Webster words of the year?).

We’ve got a long way to go, baby.

You Don’t Know How it Feels…Or Maybe You Do.

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I had last seen Tom Petty in 1981. I wasn’t about to miss what was billed as his 40th anniversary tour with the Heartbreakers and what he, himself, said might be his last tour. And turns out, sadly, he was right about that “last” bit.

Well, it was nearly Summer as we sat on your roof
Yeah, we smoked cigarettes and we stared at the moon
And I showed you stars you never could see
It couldn’t have been that easy to forget about me

It seemed an eternity between the time I bought the tickets – as soon as they went on sale – and the night we finally walked up the familiar path to the Hollywood Bowl. Side note: you haven’t really lived until you’ve experienced the magic of the Bowl in the waning days of summer. Or in Los Angeles, well into September, during what other parts of the country might call Indian summer. Magic lives at the Bowl, the way it lived in Tom Petty’s lyrics.

My husband and I went to the concert with my niece and her fiancé. Turns out Tom Petty appealed to generations much younger than ours – something I’d never really realized. Our own daughters were certainly exposed to his music because we played it, and while there are many artists for whom we share a passion, I never suspected Tom was one of them until my older daughter complained that we didn’t buy her tickets, too. I suppose I shouldn’t have been so surprised that songs full of yearning, love and loss like Tom’s could cross that generational divide.

Oh, baby don’t it feel like heaven right now
Don’t it feel like something from a dream
Yeah I’ve never known nothing quite like this
Don’t it feel like tonight might never be again

After food and wine, we sat on the wooden benches of the Bowl, snuggled in close because, the couple next to me had revealed, we had “one extra” – someone who didn’t have a ticket in that row and section, but had squeezed in between us. He was a young guy, at the show by himself, and somehow, rather than calling security over to have him removed, we just decided to make it work. He was enjoying some very fragrant weed during most of the concert and asked me more than once if the smoke was bothering me. No, I told him. It was just fine.

 So let’s get to the point
Let’s roll another joint
Let’s head on down the road
There’s somewhere I gotta go

Tom told the audience that they’d just “throw a bunch of records out” and play what they wanted to.  And they did. With joy. There was the crowd-pleasing sing-a-long of “Free Fallin’”, the soaring “Learning to Fly”, and classic encore of “American Girl”, but there were also lesser known tunes like “Forgotten Man”, “Crawling Back to You” and “It’s Good to be King”.  Truth be told, I had hoped for a bit more “Damn the Torpedoes” and never really imagined I wouldn’t have another shot at hearing those songs live.

And for one desperate moment there
He crept back in her memory
God it’s so painful
Something that’s so close
Is still so far out of reach

My niece nudged me towards the merchandise on the way out of the Bowl because the lines were short and I was not opposed to adding a shirt to my collection, wishing I’d bought one the first time around in 1981. Yeah, guys were selling them for just $10 all the way down Highland Avenue, right next to the street dogs and the scent of peppers and onions in the air, as we walked back to our cars, but paying for the official merchandise seemed like the right way to go at the time and doesn’t seem like a bad choice now either.

That night, my husband and I drove down the 101, past Reseda and all those vampires walking through the valley. I was playing some of Tom’s songs, of course. Mostly the ones I didn’t get to hear live that night. My favorite of Tom’s songs, “Straight Into Darkness”, came on.

I don’t believe the good times are over
I don’t believe the thrill is all gone
Real love is a man’s salvation
The weak ones fall, the strong carry on

As his songs played, I recalled the many times I’d heard them in the past, and the people and places that were forever linked to them. I was overcome with sadness. Tears streamed down my face and I felt at once, foolish and distraught. Why was I crying? What was so overwhelmingly sad?

It could have been that I drank a little too much wine. Or inhaled a few too many times as my bench neighbor at the Bowl exhaled.  It could have been a nostalgia for times past, for times when Tom Petty’s voice played in the background of my youth – ever-present through first loves, first heartaches, first jobs, first moves.

After all, his voice had accompanied me through my first love in high school:
But then something I saw in your eyes
Told me right away
That you were gonna have to be mine

He had been my companion for a period through heartache in college:
Even the losers
Get lucky sometimes.
Even the losers
Have a little bit of pride
Yeah, they get lucky some times

When my husband and I found ourselves far away from our beloved California and tried (rather unsuccessfully) to convince ourselves that we could make a new home with our shiny new jobs in Dallas, Texas, it was Tom’s brilliant ode to Los Angeles that filled me with a homesickness I couldn’t shake (and spoiler alert – we didn’t stay in Texas):
I’m gonna glide down over Mulholland
I’m gonna write her name in the sky
I’m gonna free fall
Out into nothing
I’m gonna leave this world for awhile

His voice was a constant companion and thankfully, it still can be. I had no way of knowing that night would be my last opportunity to see Tom play. I guess none of us did. But maybe it’s why, driving home that night, realizing how much time had passed since I’d first heard “Breakdown”, I sensed the beginning of an ending, as we all do when pieces of our lives come rushing back into our heads and we long for certain moments and cling to remnants of who we were the first time we heard those notes.

Yeah and it’s over before you know it
It all goes by so fast
Yeah the bad nights take forever
And the good nights don’t ever seem to last

The day after Tom – and so many innocent people in Las Vegas – died, I wore my concert t-shirt to run errands. People everywhere I went – the grocery store, the CVS, the Starbucks – stopped me to comment on my shirt, to ask me if I’d gone to the concert, to remark on the sadness of his passing and of that day, in general. One girl told me that she’d had a chance to go to one of the last Bowl shows, but didn’t, and was now regretting her decision.

In the wake of both his passing and the horrific massacre in Las Vegas, it seemed to me the time was ripe for some communal grief and Tom had given us a soundtrack to express it. What is a great song, after all, if not a vehicle for sharing joy, sorrow, yearning, frustration – all of the things that make up the complicated lives we humans lead?

Clearly, Tom Petty knew this.

You wreck me, baby
You break me in two
But you move me, honey
Yes, you do.

Is This What it Sounds Like When Doves Cry?

when-doves-cryPrince died today. He wasn’t my favorite artist nor did I ever have the chance to see him perform. But he was certainly a touchstone for a time in my life that was peppered with equal measures of excitement, angst and emotional upheaval.

That time was the 1980s. I was at UCLA and life seemed to be spread out before me like a banquet, ripe for the tasting. You didn’t escape Prince on the radio or on the newly-launched MTV back then whether it was “Little Red Corvette”, “Controversy”, “1999” or his masterpiece, “Purple Rain”. In the early 1980s, when I turned my borderline obsession-compulsion with going to aerobics classes into a part-time job, Prince’s “I Would Die for You” was featured on my very first aerobics tape (that’s right: cassette tape). It was a fun time to be young. I think Prince knew that.

This isn’t just about Prince, though. It’s about David Bowie, Glenn Frey or any of the many talented musicians out there that bring us joy, pain and sorrow through their art. And it’s about the actors, writers, painters, athletes that are all part of the fabric of our lives and to which we form an attachment. It’s about emotional investment.

Some people call me “passionate”. I am ultra-aware that I am often too emotionally-invested in things that bring me pleasure, but in equal measures, pain. It’s why I am an easy target for taunting when my Los Angeles Kings or UCLA Bruins lose. It’s why in my work life, I often follow my clients to their next job and their next, and why I sometimes go to bat beyond the point of reason for a decision I disagree with. It’s why I cried when David Bowie died. And again when I heard about Glenn Frey. And again, today, for Prince.

Partially, it’s about feeling your own mortality. If Bowie and Frey and Prince are gone at ages that are now not too far from my own, I am suddenly cognizant of how fast time is moving and how little time might be left. In part, it’s the reminder of people I used to know, places I used to go, things I loved and lost, memories that are stored away but brought quickly to the surface just by hearing a few notes. I’ll never hear “Young Americans” and not remember a particular summer between junior and senior year of college when two of my friends – one, a summer love – painted my Mom’s living room in exchange for beer and that song blared from the speakers. I’ll never hear “I Can’t Tell You Why” and not think of my college roommate who loved – and actually possessed the vocal chops – to sing it around our apartment on Gayley Avenue. I’ll never hear “Baby I’m a Star” and not think of the little aerobics studio in La Jolla where I first started teaching and where my summer was a blur of teaching classes, riding my bike to the beach and drinking margaritas at Jose’s Cantina.

Certainly, it begs the question: is such a fervent emotional investment worth it?  My girls sometimes make fun of my intensity watching hockey games or my excitement at a concert. Or wonder why I would cry over the death of someone I never knew personally. I tell them it’s not just about the game or the team or the artist or the song. It’s about what it all represents. And it’s simply inevitable that anything that gives you so much happiness when it’s all going well, is going to bring you sorrow when it doesn’t.

Is it worth it? As I listen to “Purple Rain”, feeling a familiar pang as the memories shelved long ago flood over me, I want to say no, but I know that’s not true. For me, the answer can only be yes. A resounding and emphatic yes.

Letting Go

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The plane begins its descent and I shift in my seat and look out the window. Nearly home. My younger daughter, sitting beside me leans her head on my shoulder and reaches for my hand, intertwining her fingers with mine. My heart does a small leap and I clasp her hand a bit tighter. She is seventeen, nearly an adult, and these moments don’t come often anymore.

We are on our way back from a college visit. She is “stressed” about making the right choice. I tell her she has choices and choices are good. There are so many places that could be right for her and she will figure it out. She nods her head but I can see in her eyes that my words are of little comfort. She will have my experiences and her Dad’s experiences and her sister’s experiences to draw from, and plenty of advice from us, from well-meaning friends and other family. But ultimately, she will have to choose.

Her eyes close and we push through the clouds. I stare out the window and try to remember the last time she held my hand to cross a street or climb the steps onto the school bus or approach a neighbor’s door at Halloween. When she was little, we held hands all the time. A small, daily act taken for granted, as so many are when our children are small. We think we’ll remember every second, then with the passage of time and all of the many activities filling our days, our memory fades and we wish we could have taken a snapshot of those moments.

When the kids were young there were always dishes to wash, laundry to be done, bills to be paid. There was work and the dog and all of the sports and activities and playdates and school and homework. In a blink, they were out the door, driving their own cars, and while there was worry, there was also relief. Time alone, time to do whatever we like. The end of being a chauffeur and the beginning of the next stage in parenting.

I have been through this once already, I think. It should be easier. Somehow, it feels a bit harder. It could be because she is the baby of the family. It could be because facing an empty nest is quite different from having one child leave home. It could be because I’m older and more aware of the time slipping away. Whatever the reason, there are mixed emotions. Excitement for her and the next chapter in her life. Anticipation of the freedom that comes with an empty nest. A bit of jealousy at the wonderful experiences that await her. But also sadness that this chapter is closing. That she is moving on and away and of course, things will never be the same. Riddled with doubt as to what the future holds and how everything will change forever.

The aircraft hits a few bumps on its way down and she shifts in her seat to look out the window. She begins to untangle her hand from mine. Don’t let go, I whisper silently to myself. I take a deep breath and swallow hard. There will be no tears. She is letting go and so am I. Don’t let go, the voice inside me pleads. But I know it’s time and while we have a few more months like this, it is inevitable.

And then, we both let go.

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?!
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Go Kings Go!

 

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

The Requisite Thanksgiving Blog: Thankfulness Never Gets Old

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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.

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.

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.