Thursday, August 26, 2010

There's No Place Like Home

This week's travels took me to Kansas by way of Kansas City, Missouri. 

As a kid, I was so confused by the fact that Kansas City is not the capital of Kansas.  Not even in Kansas for that matter.

I remember telling the teacher defiantly, "That would be like New York City being the capital of Connecticut!"

Just not right, I tell ya.  Just not right.

On the plus side, I was always able to remember that the capital of Kentucky was Frankfort.  See, "frankfort" reminded me of frankfurters (hot dogs) which reminded me of Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Frankfurters, Kentucky.  Who could forget that?  (I was a twisted kid, what can I say?)

On one of my previous business trips I wrote about the Alamo for no other reason than I was there.  Clearly I need more hobbies when I am challenging myself to write a blog post tying life balance to the battle at the Alamo.    (Okay, so I'm still twisted.)

So, there I was sitting in the lobby of my Kansas hotel waiting for my ride to the client site.  Knowing I wanted to do some blogging during my trip, I passed the time trying to come up with a good writing challenge. 

Something about Kansas.  Hmmm...   The Wizard of Oz.   Of course!  There must be a way to tie life balance to such a great, iconic story.

Too bad I'm not staying in Wichita, I thought.  Wicked Wichita.  Wichita of the West.  The Good Wichita.    My mind searches for more ideas.    What else?

Trying not to let my inner brainstorm die down, my eyes scan the room for inspiration.  It's a standard issue Marriott. 

I got nuthin.

My co-worker arrives with rental car keys in hand.  "Me" time is officially over.  I give up with a sigh and reach down to pick up my computer bag.

My eyes lock on my shoes.  My red shoes.  My ruby red, I'm-not-even-kidding-you, pointy toe, patent leather shoes.  In my mind it is a totally amazing fluke that I am in Kansas wearing my ruby red pumps.  What are the chances?

But what I think of next (after I snap a quick picture; see right), is that these are my 10-year old Miss M's favorite shoes.  And I have a lot of shoes.

She calls them my "fabulous" shoes. 

For the rest of the day, whenever I got a pang of stress or fatigue I just looked at my shoes, thought of Miss M and let the joy of her spirit wash over me.

"There's no place like home," I thought and chuckled inside.  My own little private joke kept me company and kept me smilin'.

When I finally got home after several hours of planes, trains and automobiles, I told Miss M. about my trip and the fabulous shoes in the land of Oz.

Without skipping a beat she said, "Mom - you could have gotten home so much sooner if you had just clicked your heels!"

Not sure if my fabulous shoes will be the thing to put Delta Airlines out of business, but it's a great reminder that home is always just one thought away.

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Got Stress? Take Five.

Whew - what a week!   In addition to the usual stuff with work, travels, house repairs, getting the kids ready for school (etc etc), I started my second round of P90X and am also looking at my own next educational adventure. Crazy land!

When things get especially hectic, it helps me to have a few mantras that I can quickly pull out of the mental toolbox.  Some days I may sound like a broken record but these are the basics which keep that "overwhelmed" feeling away.   Balance from the inside --> out and all that.

As we prepare for the new week ahead, I thought I would make some of these mantras handy:

1. This is not life or death.  I use this at the office a lot.  Whenever I need to talk someone off a ledge at work, I remind them (and/or myself) that we are not doing brain surgery.  Personally, this reminder helps me keep things in perspective.  Sometimes we make little things far bigger than they deserve. So not worth it.  (My experience in Cannes helped me learn this.)

2. This too shall pass.   Sometimes you may feel like you won't live through certain situations.  But you will.   (Well, most likely... unless you are going in for brain surgery and your doctor ascribes to philosophy #1.)  I just think of all the other crap I've survived which is now a mere memory.  This will pass.  The good times pass too so this is also a great gratitude reminder.

3.  I choose.  While we do not have any control over other people, places or things, we do have control over our reactions and (to some extent) our feelings about what happens around us.   Still, when I feel like I'm giving way to much power to others to the detriment of my own sanity, I take that power back.  I choose peace, health and happiness.  Very Oprah, I know.

4.  Put it in a bubble.  Sometimes, in order to get to #3 we have to let go.  Put it in a bubble and let it float away.  This is in the category of "it is what it is."  You can also sweep it or flush it.  As an admitted over-thinker, this is an important one for me.

5.  It's five o'clock somewhere.   Hey, we all have our vices. Whatever works.

Hope you all have a GREAT week.  Let me know if you have any other favorite sanity-saving sayings!


Photo taken behind my house - love the rainbow!

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Up in the Air Bender

As some of you know, my work requires a fair amount of travel. The downside of course, is being away from my family.   Apart from that, I have to admit that I kinda love it.

One would think that after more than thirteen years of planes, trains and automobiles my travel glow would have faded.  Okay, so the driving I could live without.  But I actually enjoy airports, especially when I am traveling alone.

What's not to love?
      - The usually free Wi-Fi, though suddenly a non-issue thanks to my brand new iPad.
      - People watching; I could spend hours creating stories of others' lives.
      - A blissful sense of solitude, despite the crowds. This may surprise you but I am so NOT a chatty Cathy when I travel. It's a relief to rest my mind and voice for a few hours.
      - Tasty treats; everyone knows that Hudson News takes the calories out of all their snacks (wink, wink).
      - Responsibility only for me, myself and I.  When I'm on the road, it's all about me. (This is in stark contrast to my usual days of course.)

My love of airports could go back to when my dad used to take us to go watch the planes take off and land.  More likely it stems from my senior year of college back in Boston.

My childhood home was within easy driving distance from my residence on campus. However, most of my friends lived outside the "close enough for mom and dad to drop by" range.

We'd start out as a crowd of maybe a dozen creative types, just "hanging out" in Logan International Airport. In retrospect, probably too full of energy for the hour.  

I want to say we started the day with coffee. Yet my memory of it is fuzzy enough that it was probably something alcoholic. A little "hair of the dog" given the prior evening's celebration of finals being over.  Plus, we were all newly of age to drink so there was a sort of novelty to being able to sit and imbibe in public. 

So then, I want to say we enjoyed some big, spicy Bloody Mary drinks. Except we were all pretty broke and were unlikely to sustain ourselves on such an expensive choice.  Not to mention that back then you could buy three packs of cigarettes for the price of one Bloody (and it was still legal to smoke indoors, despite how disgusting that sounds now.)

Maybe next trip I'll stop into the Samuel Adams bar for a cheap draft beer and see if it conjures up any memories.

Anyhoo... one by one, flights departed for New York, New Jersey, Michigan and Florida.  Even St. Thomas and Germany.  The crowd got smaller and smaller until I was the only one left.  I took the "T" back to campus and waited for my dad to come pick me up.   The car ride from school to home signified the temporary but welcome journey from (perceived) independence back to dependence again.

Since I knew I'd be seeing everyone again soon, it was au revoir but not goodbye. The memory was not about a bunch of hungover, obnoxious undergrads, drinkin' beer and smokin' "butts" but about friendship, laughter, support and the comfort of such ritual.

These days, I still like get to the airport plenty early. I like to be relaxed, not stressed. I enjoy being one of the shiny, happy people. The sort that asks the TSA agent how they are doing, has a smile on their face as they walk down the aisle of the plane and doesn't get impatient with the person who takes far too long to put their bag in the overhead.

If you saw the movie, "Up in the Air," you can picture a more positive, quirky female version of George Clooney.   (Though I don't have near the frequent flyer perks thanks to my preference for family-friendly scheduling over airline loyalty.)

Last week I had a day trip to Raleigh, NC. In a surprisingly long security line for 5:45am, I accidentally bumped the lady in front of me.

She was tall and thin (but not fit), probably in her late 40s but still 20 in her mind.  Her hair was clearly confused about being teased "big" in one decade only to be over-straightened as flat as a board in another.   I found myself wondering if she borrowed her outfit from her daughter, or if she had recently raided the Juniors section of Ross for Less, or if her clothes were just well-maintained items from the Tello's days when she actually was 20.  

My sister got me to stop me wearing my acid-washed jeans by enlightening me that, "Just because you can still fit into them doesn't mean you should."   

(So, I ain't sayin'.... I'm just sayin'.)

As if with double annoyance that I had bumped her and was thinking such rude, judgmental thoughts, she whipped around and glared at me.  Yikes.   If looks could kill.   Now she was not only in great need of a makeunder but clearly angry as well.

"Watch it!" she hissed.

"I'm so very sorry," I replied back in as friendly tone as I could muster. "Haven't had my coffee yet."

Somehow I guessed that this woman knew the language of caffeine.

The alternative response in my head was "Who pissed in your Cheerios this morning?" but I opted for adding my very best "olive juice" smile instead. A peace offering.

This encounter made me think of a film I talked about in a previous post.  After that movie, Miss M made everyone in the family take an online quiz to determine which kind of "Bender" we each were. I secretly wanted to be an Air Bender so the results were very gratifying for me. (Might be a Gemini thing.).

Anyhoo, one of the questions was actually about what your reaction would be if someone accidentally bumped into you.   No question that my Tellos friend in the security line was a Fire Bender.

What kind of bender (or traveler) are you?
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Sunday, August 1, 2010

The TAH DAH! List

When I first started this blog eighteen months ago, the initial idea was to answer the question I get often which is, "How do you do it all?"   Since then, there certainly have been plenty of posts about how I don't do it all that well all the time.

Still, I like to think I have a few tricks up my sleeve. Okay, so some of them aren't exactly rocket science. It's more about the consistency of action. Good habits. Organization. Et cetera.

One of my very favorite tools is the TO DO list.  Simple, I know.  When life gets crazy and stressful, that's when we need simplicity the most.

There have definitely been times when I felt like I was going to throw up thinking about everything that had to get done in the day or the week or before a certain deadline.  Somehow keeping an organized list of all these tasks provides a special perspective, which is much needed at these times.

Personally it helps me to see on paper that it's really not so bad after all.  Okay, so sometimes it really is that bad.  Still, it's helpful not to have all that "stuff" swirling around in my head.

I've tried a lot of different organizers and pre-fab lists over the years and have finally settled on a simple 7x10 spiral bound blank notebook.  Maybe it's just me but the more formal systems stressed me out.  Plus, I like the idea of throwing the old list away each time I make a clean new one.  (That might be my OCD actually.)

Here are some other logistical details for what works for me:
  • keep different pages or columns for WORK to-do's vs. PERSONAL to-do's
  • organize tasks by similarities, i.e. for work, I group tasks per client or project; for home I group cleaning tasks vs. finance tasks vs. tasks per kid, etc...
  • be sure to include "me time" items on there, i.e. workout, blogging
  • file any emails related to the items on my list in a special TO DO personal folder in Outlook
  • check off items as they are accomplished (and move the emails into their respective personal folders by project/client or sender)
  • add items to the list as they come up; usually from scribbled notes on later pages
  • rewrite / reorganize the list as the last thing I do before bed (or first thing when I get to work, or when I realise it's been a few days and my list is a mess.)
I would love to know if you use "to do" lists and what works best for you!

My mother-in-law recently told me that the first thing on her to do list is always, "Make to do list."  This provides her with the immediate gratification of checking off one item right away.  Check.  One thing down. Yay!

It might be helpful to know that my mother-in-law is like Tinkerbell.  She needs applause in order to live.  I totally get it.  

There's such a great feeling of accomplishment which comes from checking things off the list.  In fact, I think I'll start calling it a "TAH DAH!" list now instead of a "to do" list.   Love it.

There is also the famous "honey do" list.  You know... that list of stuff you want your special someone to accomplish.  Today please. This year maybe?  Somehow they just can't be trusted to get it done without a helpful nudge from their schmoopie.  

Personally, I make lists for Big D as rarely as possible.  Trust me, there are days I would really love to unleash my inner control freak.  It's just not the best recipe for marital bliss.   Not to mention that Big D. suffers from a common ailment which afflicts many men:
Shiny Object Syndrome (SOS)
     Man yells upstairs to wife, "Honey, I'm going down to clean my workbench!"

     Ten seconds later, man is left unsupervised in basement... "Oh look - shiny object!" 

     And so, five years later the workbench is still a mess.

Call me lazy; I'd rather live with a messy workbench in my basement than nag 24/7.    Nagging is not on my "to do" list.  And, certainly not worthy of being on a TAH DAH! list.  

I almost had an epiphany about only putting things on my list which, when completed, are worthy of a TAH DAH!   But then reality set in and I realised that sometimes there are things that need to get done sans applause. 

Sorry Tinkerbell.

What's on your TAH DAH! list today??
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