DO SOMETHING

According to Social Progress Index, a global report card, out of 163 countries evaluated, the United States, Brazil and Hungary are the only ones in which people are worse off than they were in 2011. You can read the details in this opinion piece by Nicholas Kristof of the NY Times, but one of the factoids that stood out to me: “The United States, despite its immense wealth, military power and cultural influence, ranks 28th — having slipped from 19th in 2011. The index now puts the United States behind significantly poorer countries, including Estonia, Czech Republic, Cyprus and Greece.”

My guess is that no one living through 2020 would argue this point. And although today marks the 19th anniversary of a terrible day in our history, with great loss and human suffering, it’s sobering to realize that 9-11 took approximately 3,000 lives (though the toll continues to rise – particularly amongst first responders who have subsequently contracted all manner of illness and disease including cancer), while nearly 200,000 have died of Covid-19 in our country since March…and counting.

It goes without saying that these are tough times. Many people are suffering whether it’s from job loss and financial strain, concern for elderly parents who are isolated, the struggle to help children learn from home while trying to work, or even worse, the illness or loss of a loved one.

My family is not immune and we have experienced several of the above. But we are among the lucky ones. We have the kind of jobs that have allowed us to work from home. We’re fortunate to have a house with a big backyard and a neighborhood where we can walk. We have the means to order groceries online and our children are grown and no longer in school, so the plight of today’s working parents is no longer one we share.

I know there are many in my neighborhood and in neighborhoods around the country that are the same. And I know that many who live in these neighborhoods are also grateful for what they have and for their comfortable situation, despite the circumstances.

But that’s why those of us who are fortunate enough to be healthy, have jobs or the financial means to sustain us during this time, and to be in positions of relative comfort need to DO SOMETHING. And I’m not simply talking about opening our pocketbooks, though that’s certainly one way to help.

During these unprecedented times, we have an equally unprecedented void in leadership that has exacerbated, rather than helped our country. Not only did the federal government play down and ignore, then mismanage the pandemic response, they’ve added fuel to the fire by failing to continue providing financial and economic relief to those who need it most, by ignoring the threat of interference in our election by foreign adversaries, while at the same time, sowing the seeds of doubt when it comes to mail-in voting and tampering with our US Postal Service – not only hurting our ability to safely vote by mail, but interrupting the delivery of important medications, necessary checks, and other important documents to our citizens. They’ve egged on violence in the largely peaceful protests for racial justice that have taken place – going so far as to actually defend a cold-blooded murderer who stormed into a town in which he didn’t belong with an AR-15 and the purpose of gunning down those exercising their constitutional right to protest. They’ve ignored intelligence that shows Russia placed bounties on our soliders’ heads –failing to even raise the issue with Vladimir Putin, and Trump himself, has said terrible things about our military (anyone who heard with their own ears and saw with their own eyes how he treated the late Senator John McCain knows this to be true). And there’s so much more that I could fill a notebook with the criminality, the cruelty, and the rollbacks of important legislation, like EPA and climate-related laws…just ask anyone inhaling the smoke in California, Oregon or Washington, or towns recovering from flooding and hurricanes how that’s working out for them, especially during this pandemic.

Yes, there are those who still support this President and his administration. I will never, if I live to be a million years old, understand it. But most of you, my fellow Americans, are sane and compassionate and want change as much as I do. So my question for you is this, and I mean it with respect and with the knowledge that I, too, can do more:

What have you done and what are you doing to help?

It’s not dramatic to say that saving our country is what’s at stake. Trump’s proclivity for dictators, his questioning of mail-in ballots, and his belief that he and his administration are above the law and not responsible, for the mess in which the country finds itself, are all huge, blinking red flags. “It is what it is,” he famously said about the deaths of hundreds of thousands of our citizens.

So what will you DO?

You may say you’ve given money – and that’s great. But typing in your credit card information on a website takes five minutes and while it’s generous and needed, this is not going to be enough to defeat Trump and save our democracy. I know you will vote. And that’s important. But we have to DO MORE.

I belong to my local Democratic Club and am involved with an organization called Swing Left that is trying hard to both flip the Senate and the Presidency so we can hold this administration accountable for the unprecedented damage done to our country. And through these organizations, I’ve seen many dedicated folks who are working hard for change. But equally, I’ve been rather stunned to see apathy in many corners of my world. “I’m not an activist”, some say. “I don’t have time.” Maybe those of us who live in comfort think it won’t affect us, but even if you’re fortunate enough to have a job or financial security, to have a roof over your head, a well-stocked fridge and a nice backyard, you have already been affected by this pandemic, the economic and social fallout. Maybe you already feel defeated as I sometimes have, watching the Republican party destroy any principles it once claimed, forgoing a party platform and declaring its allegiance only to Trump. Maybe you’re just worried about the sanctity of the election and that your vote won’t count.

But we can’t give up. Each of us has to do more. Now. Today. We can’t resign ourselves to live with this for four more years. We can’t allow this country’s values to be cast aside in favor of allegiance to a narcissist who cares only about enriching himself and his family, who is destroying our democratic way of life right in plain view, in front of us, no matter how many times he tries to say the news is fake and you shouldn’t trust your own eyes, ears and ability to think critically.

So here is my plea to all of you. DO SOMETHING. And then do something more. Write letters and postcards. Make phone calls and send texts. Join a local or national organization that is getting out the vote or ensuring that voters in poor communities can’t be disenfranchised. Write an op-ed and send it to your local paper. Call your family and friends to make sure they have a solid plan to vote – especially if they feel compelled to go to a polling station. Volunteer to be a poll worker, or if you’re older or higher risk, get your kids to volunteer (it’s a PAID volunteer position). Protest (peacefully and safely). And if you’re not a Democrat, that’s ok – you just need to be an American and a patriot who believes that no one is above the law and the constitution means something. You can join Republicans for Biden. Or support The Lincoln Project.

We can all DO SOMETHING. We can all do more. We have less than 8 weeks until the most important election of our lives and our children’s lives. 8 weeks until we know if we’ve done enough to save our country. 8 weeks for you to step up and feel like you tried, you made an effort, you recognized that living your comfortable life isn’t enough anymore and that we all have to be activists if we want change. As Ghandi, said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” 

DO SOMETHING.

There Was Supposed to be a Celebration…

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There was supposed to be a celebration.

Hotel rooms were booked for family flying in. Restaurants were reviewed. Announcements were examined, a cap and gown were on the to-do list.

There was supposed to be a proud walk, across a large stage, students marching up to hear their names called, to hoist a diploma in the air representing four years of hard work. Maybe some caps tossed after the tassels were turned.

There were supposed to be friends, joining in mutual recognition of what has been achieved, of relationships cemented by living and studying together during these past four years.

This strange time in our history has robbed us all of many special events that were on the calendar, but most of all, I am so sorry that it has robbed you, my sweet graduate, of your opportunity to walk across that stage, hoist that diploma, and celebrate your significant accomplishments with family and friends.

I know it may seem of little comfort to you in this moment, but allow me to celebrate you anyway, in this small way, and tell you how very proud I am of you.

Four years ago, you told me and your Dad that you wanted to follow in your sister’s footsteps and swim in college. But of course one that had the right academics and the right “fit” for you, and had football and basketball and all of the other perks of college life. We took some trips and visited some places with and without swim programs, and I’ll confess that I had my doubts about you finding your way onto a Division 1 swim team, as you insisted you could. But like so many times throughout your life, you persisted and proved me wrong, and began your college experience as a D1 student-athlete and journalism major at San Jose State University.

Two years in, it turned out swimming was no longer the right path for you. It was hard transitioning from the routine of a student-athlete. But you didn’t dwell on what could have been. You took your college life into your own hands. You joined a sorority. You worked three different jobs. You wrote for the school paper. And you determined that while you liked to write, journalism might not be your calling after all. You changed your major to Public Relations – a surprise to this day that you’d want to do what Mom does for a living.

During this time, you were named a Dean’s Scholar multiple times. You studied abroad in Italy and applied the wonderful lessons of global travel to your resume. This past semester, you landed an internship at a technology company, while continuing to keep your grades high and work a part-time job. And then COVID-19 decided to interfere with all of your best-laid plans.

The way you’ve navigated through this time might make me prouder than almost anything else you’ve accomplished.  After living on your own as an adult these past four years, it was no small feat moving home temporarily to life with Mom and Dad again (although the cooking must have been an improvement!) and you continued your studies and your internship, working from home. You consoled yourself by FaceTiming with friends and doing workouts online and to be completely honest, most of the time you were the one who helped keep our spirits high. And during this difficult economy, you managed to turn your internship into a full-time job.

This time has been tough and continues to be so. You – and all of your fellow graduates – deserve so much better. But I’m so proud of the way you’ve persevered through your entire college career, from start to finish, and through this difficult time, in particular. I’m so proud of how you tackle life itself.

You are a college graduate. And the world will soon take notice, whether we celebrate now or later, of what an exceptional and talented young woman you are.

Congratulations, Clairebear, and Happy Graduation. I am so very proud to call you my daughter.

 

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.