Thursday, October 16, 2014

Who are you?

Who are you?
Who looks back at you from the mirror?

Who are you? Could you write a tag line or elevator speech about yourself as they suggest you do in professional development seminars?

I've always had a difficult time bundling my skills and interests into a concise yet still coherent sentence, and I've decided that's a good thing.


Being in your 40's doesn't mean you've made all your major life decisions and the road is clearly paved. In fact, this time is exciting for many of us, who've worked in corporate America, paused to raise children, and now have the opportunity to reinvent ourselves. It's an exciting fork in the road that I must admit I sometimes travel with exhilaration and other times with great fear.

I have no idea who I am, and I'm happy about that, because I'm just now discovering new interests and skills. 20 years ago I ate cereal for dinner because I could barely put in the effort to heat up soup. Today, I chop, sauté, and braise. I come home from restaurants and try to recreate dishes. 15 years ago I did nothing but eat, sleep and breathe technology. I worked 16-hour grueling, yet mind-bending days at a consultancy in Boston. If I had interests, I had no idea what they were. Today, I'm painting pianos, researching fascial tissue, teaching Pilates, writing books, blogging, and selling skincare products. Each activity opens doors, exciting new places to experiment and learn.

Not everything leads to success, and I've had my share of duds (calls for takeout when my meals flop, rejected books and blog posts, DIY projects gone horribly wrong, lackluster starts to new businesses).

These bumps can put a wrinkle in my confidence, and they require reflection about my own skills and interests. But all of this is crucial if I'm to truly understand who I am and what I can offer while living in this world.

Funny. When I was in my 30's I thought I had it all figured out. I knew what I wanted. I was climbing the corporate ladder and enjoying success. I did not have open questions. Today, I've learned that I'm far from figuring anything out. And when I think I have, something (a recession, an illness, or some other calamity) is likely to blow that understanding to pieces. Today I know I'll be working on developing an answer to that above question for some time. In fact, I'll worry if I ever arrive at a concise answer. How about you?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Urbanites and the pull to earth

A retreat to nature restores the spirit and the mind

My husband is such a smart aleck. After I painted a picture of familial bliss this past Saturday, complete with blue skies, fiery red foliage, happy children picking apples, and satisfied husbands eating savory applesauce and home baked pie, I thought I'd convinced him he'd enjoy a retreat from city dwelling.

But right before getting into the car he sent this tweet to his gazillion followers:

Wife tells me that apples grow on trees and you can go miles away and pick them. 
Seems easier to go to the grocery, but whatever… 

Clearly, he doesn't get it.

A result of today's plentiful concrete and skyscrapers, today's urbanites have acquired a thirst for the land, for rustic living, and fresh air. This is evidenced by the chicken coops, beehives, and ambitious organic vegetable gardens that now occupy my neighbors' backyards. And, ever popular farmer's markets cater to our new found desire to see dirt on our vegetables and embrace the unwaxed and not so perfect looking, yet still delicious, tomato.

Because somehow we know, intrinsically, that a communion with nature and the earth will revive our spirits and senses. 

My yearly apple picking adventure has nothing to do with convenience. Instead, it's a retreat for the soul, an opportunity to marvel at the clean air and feel the powerful sun warm my body. It's an opportunity to walk the fields and smell the fruity scent that travels down each row of trees. It's an opportunity to savor  that first, crisp bite of fruit and laugh as the sticky juice runs down my chin. It's an opportunity to teach my children that food grows from the earth, not from color coded bins in the supermarket.

That's why the grocery store just won't do.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Busy-ness and its risks

Don't let busy activities distract from enjoying the moment

Silly me. I thought things would slow down a bit when school commenced this fall. I thought I'd have a moment to collect my thoughts, to sit down at my computer and write some beautiful blog posts I could share with you.

But no. Work, school activities, extracurricular activities, and housekeeping chores have crowded out space not just in my schedule, but in my mind. Clearly, this year's challenge will be to carve out time to slow down, reflect, and make sure life doesn't skate by without my taking notice.

Being busy is good.

In fact, I feel gratitude every day, because I wake up to a full schedule of clients and stacks of books that are challenging me to think and teach in different ways. I relish the enthusiasm my children display towards math, science, reading, art, basketball, speed skating, choir, and piano. I marvel at the way they are slowly revealing to me who they are, answering the questions about their passions, their creativity, their unique talents that I asked when I held them in the hospital on the days they were born. I thank my incredibly committed husband, who works 7 days a week and lately travels often, for persevering against all odds and building a business from the ground up, something many don't have the stomach to do.

But this busy-ness. It comes with risks, risks of focusing on getting through the day and the task to the exclusion of actually noticing what happened and enjoying it. Perhaps this blog will help me avoid this risk and enjoy the crazy days. I hope so, because they aren't going to end. Any. Time. Soon.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The neglected piano

This summer I found out there's a chalk paint cult following. There is a small group of people in your community that is, right now, painting, waxing, distressing, and buffing chairs from flea markets, beds from grandma's garage, forgotten attic mirrors, and other items they once thought they detested.

These people will transform these items, ohh and ahh over the amazing results, top them with flowers and pictures, then quickly search for the next item to tackle. They cannot stop…

I jumped into this creative and crafty community with trepidation because, although I love art, and I love to make things with my hands, I'm also terrible at it.

But a friend of mine, who knew I had a tight decorating budget, pushed me. Because she has exquisite taste, and because she owns a home that ought to be plastered on the front page of a decorating magazine, and because her design aesthetic is a perfect model of gorgeous, affluent, yet comfortable living, I responded.


During the four years I lived with my parents, my mother introduced my son to the piano. A former teacher, she taught him until he was hooked, then found a fabulous teacher to carry on from there. My son loves to play, and he excels in his ability to hear tunes and rhythms. The expression he plays with astounds me. He is definitely a natural, in a way that, to my mother's chagrin, I never was.

Upon moving, my mother announced that we could have her second piano because, really, a 74-year-old and her husband don't need 2 pianos. This piano was mom's original, later replaced by a grand piano. It sat, neglected, in the basement, only occasionally banged on by a bored grandchild in between play with Legos and Lincoln Logs. It had traces of mold traveling along its bottom and wore years of wear and tear on its chipped and scuffed frame. The color of its keys were stained, like an old smoker's yellow teeth.

That piano was going to ruin my living room. I knew I had to take it, for my son's sake, but I abhorred the idea of its sulking in the corner of a room where celebrations and intimate gatherings take place.

So, I decided, despite my lack of skills, I'd join the cult. I simply had nothing to lose: I could not ruin this piano. My friend held my hand as I agonized over colors, waxing, and technique. But, it looks pretty darn good right now, don't you think? I actually like the charm it adds to my living room. And you know what? It was easy.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


This post is an excerpt from my book, based on my experiences in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis

It was mid-January.  The year was 2009.  It was a particularly mild day, and the sun was shining brightly.  My nearly two-year-old daughter, Kayla, and I pulled into the parking lot at the local grocery store, King’s.  We needed baby food and vegetables, and I figured I could purchase the necessities if I moved quickly.  Kayla just spent an hour climbing, crawling, and jumping on the foam gym pieces at Gymboree.  Surely she’d be able to sit in the grocery cart without a fuss for 20 minutes. 
Just as I reached to loosen the straps on her car seat, my cell phone rang.  Annoyed at the interruption with a time crunch on my hands, I dug through my purse in search of my ever-elusive phone.  It was my husband Dave.
            “Hello?”  I answered, about to tell him I’d call him back when I got home.  Didn’t he know I had such a brief window to get things done before Kayla had to be fed and put down for a nap?
            “I just got laid off.”
            “You’re joking, right?”
            Dave had been talking about the risk of lay-offs for at least a year now.  He frequently told me his boss believed an economic collapse was imminent.  “You’d be better off taking your money out of the market and putting it under your mattress,” Dave would exclaim over dinner, in between bites of salmon and couscous.  He’d look me deeply in the eyes as he shifted in his chair, wondering if I understood the enormity of his statements. 
I wasn’t sure how to react to Dave’s prophecies.  We definitely weren’t as comfortable as we’d been before moving to the New York area in 2006, but the mattress seemed a bit extreme when it came to savings accounts.  Isn’t that what they did during the Great Depression?
No.  I did not have any idea what Dave was really talking about.  Instead, I interpreted his dramatic statements as symptoms of dissatisfaction with his current job.  Financial instability was not one of the fears I considered when alone, contemplating the injustices the world might inflict on me, because I’d always had employment and money when I needed it.  
            “No.”  I could feel the tension in Dave’s voice.  It traveled along the waves with swift precision, quickly penetrating the mommy bubble I’d been operating in.  My body stiffened in response, resisting the push out of that safe, beautiful space.
This was no fucking joke.   
            “Where are you?”
            “I’m on the train.  Can you pick me up?  I’m arriving in ten minutes.”
            I began to refasten Kayla’s car seat straps immediately.  It took just ten minutes to drive from the grocery store to the Maplewood train station. 
            “I’ll be right there,” I answered. 
            As I hurried around the car to get into the driver’s seat, my mind began to race.  The wind cut through my jacket and the unusually warm day suddenly felt seasonally chilly.  There were a lot of unknowns to contend with, but I was certain of one thing: we had to get the hell out of Maplewood.
Our move to New Jersey in 2006 had been an ill-fated one.  Though I’d made some friends and begun to feel comfortable, Dave hated every minute of it.  We’d moved so Dave could pursue a position as a trader at a large international bank, but the job never amounted to its promise; he felt his daily commute through Penn Station was dehumanizing, a regular visit to one of the circles of hell; his expected bonus went unrealized year after year, and his two children from his previous marriage made infrequent visits.  For Dave, living in New Jersey was nearly intolerable. 

            I pulled into the station to see Dave’s head bobbing up and down as he walked up the steps from the platform.  His was among the first to roll, but there would be thousands of others.  Hundreds of thousands of others.  His face was hardened by decades of charts, figures, ledgers, management strategies, budgets, relocations, backstabbing colleagues, trading desks oozing of testosterone in overdrive. 
Without a word, he slipped into the passenger seat in the car.  The car wheels sputtered on wet leaves as I put my foot to the gas and the car screeched up the hill to our house, an oasis that would soon become a crippling debt. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The first renovation

I ascribe to the idea of a home participating in the great memories and milestones of life: births, baptisms, communions, graduations, promotions, and engagements. A home is a place to remember and celebrate life's offerings. It's a place to grieve and struggle with what life takes from us. It's a place to play, learn, love, and grow under a protective roof that brings all your precious family members together each night.

And so I've always been drawn to the neglected fixer upper that I can pour my soul into. I always end up buying the home that can somehow change, laugh, cry and improve right along with me and my family. 

My new home falls into that category. It yawned at potential buyers as they toured. Its jammed windows, peeling paint, unsettled porch flooring, and funky layout deterred busy buyers who didn't want to put time and effort into it. Its master bath came with such an outrageous tub/shower that most didn't want to dip a toe into it: 
My shower, built in 1920, has a 2 foot hole in it. Why?

But this old home and its demands for attention did not frighten me.  I knew it had good bones, and though it might not be my forever house, I would live in the moment and love it as I did the others I've lived in. 

This week we completed our first project. It was small: undoing a bad renovation that left three doors opening up in the same 4 square feet of space. We knocked down a partial wall and moved two doors.

Today the house feels more open. The flow feels right. The house is exhaling, and so am I. It's a good start to a new chapter in life, one that I hope will have many pages.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Birthday candles

Source: Baking Arts, Richard Festen, via Pinterest
When I was young I spent my entire birthday month counting down the days until it was my party day. On that special day my mom would organize and run a celebration just for me. On this much anticipated occasion, I'd shimmy my newly bathed body into tights and a party dress. I would tolerate a head of plastic rollers, their insides bristling against my scalp like a wire brush to the skin. I didn't mind these sacrifices, because my birthday was a big day. I would wear my new age like a badge, with pride and shiny new excitement, often wishing there was just one more candle on the cake, one more year of growth to celebrate.

Nowadays, I look forward to birthdays because they issue a well deserved excuse to go to a fancy restaurant, sip a cosmo, and savor a piece of carrot cake. But I don't wish for extra candles on my cake. Instead, I try not to think too much about how they won't all quite fit on it.

A woman in her mid-forties, my awareness of the temporary nature of human life is acute these days. As I watch my parents age and begin to think of long term care for my dad, I've started to wonder not if I'll have to wear Depends undergarments, but when. I wonder not about if I'll lose my independence, but when. I wonder not if my mental capacities will decline, but when. And I wonder how I will get along, who will support me, and if I'll be happy.

Strangely, even though we all age, and we all struggle as we age, most of us have no patience or time for the elderly. For many, older people are a nuisance. They slow us down. Rather than aiding them, we focus on how to get around them. They shuffle along the sidewalks in our neighborhoods mostly unnoticed. They sit at our tables and in our armchairs and often fade into the background.

Today I feel a responsibility to minister to the aged. It's hard to make the effort to slow down for others, but the elderly we encounter at the library and the grocery store are moms, dads, grandmas, grandpas, uncles, aunts. They've lived full lives, they've accomplished much. Many have made life a little better for us because of their hard work and commitment to schools, towns, governments, medicine, law, technology. 

And one day we will walk in their shoes. They ought not to be too uncomfortable.

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