business, life lessons

A FRESH PERSPECTIVE


I walked into my first training with an extra bounce in my step. I was excited to start my new alternate career path of becoming a certified business coach for a company I had been born and raised with called Strategies. Because I have been a recipient of their wisdom, business strategies and philosophy since I opened my business over seventeen years ago, I considered myself already a member of the team. This is the luxury of knowing a company’s culture before your first day on the job, believing in it so much that the training in its culture is almost redundant.

some of the newbies I had the privilege of training with

This business company, the first of its kind in the beauty industry, strives to change the archaic model of pay and team found in its most often female centric businesses and was about to become part of my life. For the first time in over twenty years, I was about to become a sort of ‘employee,’ not in the sense of a real employee, but someone who would be working more as a per diem so that I could still run my own company.

The beauty industry, salons especially, are notorious for wacky compensation. I don’t know if it is because when we take a look at their history in the world, they were often wonderful entrepreneurial opportunities for women to have their own careers with less than one year of schooling and still manage to be there for their children. Business training wasn’t much more than how to ring out a client and order business cards. I am guessing that these single operating salons evolved for many over time into successful operations with no basic understanding of business and payroll. Like so many of us who have had the starry eyed notion of opening our own businesses on a scrap piece of paper, we are often technically savvy, but lack the business acumen to operate and grow it successfully. We wing it. A lot.

What fascinates me is how we succeed with barely a math course in our tool belts, but we chicks are resilient and as many men who have found their way into the beauty industry, we all need help in the way we run our companies. In fact, most small businesses could use more than a consultation with an SBA Score volunteer. Just like we had to learn our craft, whether, hairdressing, facials, nails or other industry like pizza making, donut making, gift shop running, law practicing, personal training, we learn quickly that this is only one component of running a successful operation. This is what I have learned in my business life and this is what I am excited to teach others because without the important skill of business I wouldn’t be where I am today.

What has given me the most thrill in this experience thus far in addition to the intense learning and presenting, has been the birds’ eye view of a fresh perspective on another person’s company. This has led me to consider how valuable new employees are to my own company if I can manage to get them to feel safe enough to share their first impressions. For me, this is easy because I believe in this company like it is my own and I know the owner and the president well. This translates into feeling safe enough to offer my insights into my first impressions and know I will be listened to and considered, genuinely. This is not something I take for granted and it speaks volumes of their leadership style.

When I consider sharing my voice, it is with the layer of interest and care for this company’s success. I know my intent and if I don’t share it, I am leaving valuable information in the closet that surely serves no one. It is risky opening your mouth and giving an opinion on someone else’s story, but as Strategies teaches, there are a lot of brains to be accessed in the employees who show up to work every day. We just have to access them.

As single operating business owners, it is common to leave new employee thoughts and ideas out because we get so wrapped up in our own day to day. We forget to simply ask, or even encourage their valuable opinions. My way or the highway serves no one and it surely does not make for a happy team and a strong growing culture that someone can believe in. Here are some of my thoughts and observations that I have brought back to my own company.
When someone walks into a company for the first time, they see everything with fresh eyes. How does the company clean their space, how do people participate, where do they eat, do they eat together or apart? Is the environment encouraging and supportive using simple and sincere language like, Thank you and Great Job on a regular basis? Do they ask for help and are they open to yours?

New employees watch for how hierarchy demonstrates itself. Does the leadership team show up and act as if they will roll up their sleeves to assist or do they stay away? Is the leadership team gender centric or is it diverse enough where a new employee feels like they not only could be a part of the tribe but want to be? How does leadership communicate with the new employees? Do they say hello with a cheery smile and do they make it a point to say good bye first when they are leaving the building? Or do they lack consciousness? Are systems in place for leadership development right out of the gate, does this seem possible or is it not mentioned anywhere and one can only rise up by happenstance? Is the top tier of the company a part of the bottom rung; do they have a true open door policy or is that just jargon?

Then there is the dynamic that is like a vapor. How does everyone communicate with each other, with customers, how do they discuss each other when that very each other is not in the room? All of these play an integral part in the binoculars of a new employee and it is all happening with barely a conscious thought. The vapor is both subtle, and tremendously powerful because this is the time when these belief systems are formed. Then there is the mirroring that goes on. Do the behaviors of the team and the essence of the company mirror what the new employee just learned in the employee manual on the company’s culture and philosophy?

some of the leadership team and coaches enjoying dinner together after a long day of presenting

The most revealing aspect of watching the dynamics of a company from this perspective is how much I learned about my own company and the way its very personality shows up not only to new employees, but the veterans as well. Is there a clear path that encourages movement and change for their own careers and do they feel like they have options within the company’s future? Is it career development or just a job? If a new employee is asked or made to feel welcomed in sharing their perceptions, magic can happen.

I came back to my business after my final training with a book load of actual information and also an entire new outlook on the way I welcome and honor my own team every day. I am proud to say that in this company I am about to embark on as one of these coaches, most of the observations matched their philosophy. This affirms my choice to be part of the party because as much as they said YES, Alayne, you passed the training and we welcome you to our family, I too was able to answer with a clear yes that I want to continue with them as much as they want me. This is an important lesson here. How often have we worked for companies that don’t match our own visions or that the companies don’’t even have their own vision for one to match?

Leadership in a company has a huge responsibility out of the gate. They need a deep consciousness on their welcome committee. What they say, how they say it, their tones, their assistance, the way they answer questions all speak. This is where the new person on the job forms feelings good and bad. I paid close attention to what came up for me in my training. Was the best brought out in me or did I feel dismissed and diminished by my questions? All of these feelings are so important to grow new people and as important as new clients are to our own businesses, new employees and employee retention is even more so. Employees are the messengers of our culture. They are the reason clients come to a business or don’t. Where do we compromise? Are we aware of these times and do we make corrections promptly?

Owning and operating a successful company is more than numbers. The numbers are the end result of the behaviors we encourage- the good ones and the bad ones. This new journey of mine is opening up the floodgates of possibilities. Like a great movie or a interesting eye opening book that I want to tell everyone about, this chance to teach business owners the business of their business is something I am super excited about. All because a man named Neil decided that he wanted to hire people like me. #Luckyindeed. #Becarefulwhatyouwishfor.

my new fearless leader, neil and me celebrating after completing phase 1 of the training.

life lessons, motherhood

TO MOTHERS DAY

I was raised with lots of expectations leading me to a lifetime of feelings of not good enough over my lifetime. Expectations are a double edged sword. We set them and expect. We expect certain behaviors, we expect performance, we even expect people to show up and act like they should act based on our own set of standards and values. In a work environment, this is standard practice and is a necessary piece of the puzzle we call careers. In our families, though, at times, expectations can also have layers of guilt attached and this is when they can turn into something other than what was originally intended.

In my family, when I was a kid, there was always an expectation of being good. What does this even mean? We use this one liner well into our adult lives when we say things like, “I’ve been good,” as it relates to avoiding the enjoyment of a nice big bowl of ice cream when we rationalize the stop on a warm summer day. “I’ve been good,” we say when we have decided to stop doing something that could interrupt us mentally or physically like going to the gym, abstaining from the nightly routine of a big glass of red after a long hard day at the office or making a big purchase when trying to say on a strict budget.

I’ve been good is a phrase so easily tossed around when our brains need to change some behavior that may have otherwise been helpful to our beings and we need a rationale for the change. At least this is me and my patterns. It is all too easy to blame this belief system on how I was raised, but the truth of the matter is, expectations are set so we have something to reach. At times they may seem unobtainable but we keep trying to climb anyway. We fall off the horse and we either walk away or we get back on and try again. Sometimes the very expectations that are set are subtle. In my memory much of our experiences are subjective when we look back. Two siblings can live under the same roof and have two completely opposing memories of one experience. I linked an interesting podcast below on the subject of memory from Malcolm Gladwell that will surely question your own memories.

When it came to birthdays and Mother’s Day, I was expected, as many of us were, to give at least a card and as I got older send one in a timely manner. This seems reasonable on paper, but for me, because there was an unwritten code that this was something I was supposed to do, often I would forget or be late in getting the card in the mail. This would cause hurt feelings, causing me to feel like a failure as a daughter, guilty as charged for missing the boat, lacking thoughtfulness and consideration for the person who gave birth to me.

I could never seem to get it right. Mother’s Day is always on a Sunday and if I mailed the card on a Monday, it would surely arrive in time. But Monday seemed to early, so Tuesday or Wednesday would be my target date so the card would arrive in perfect timing for Sunday. But I wanted the card to arrive on Saturday because for some reason earlier than that seemed contrived. At least in my monkey brain of aiming for perfection and then finding myself forgetting to mail the card completely until it was too late thus arriving after Mother’s Day defeating the whole holiday all together.

Clearly there was more to the simple act of sending a card here, years of expectations all fully present in all of this thinking. As easy as it sounds to get birthdays and Mother’s Day right, one slip up and you get it wrong and two people end up feeling bad defeating the purpose. Perhaps if my relationship with my mother hadn’t been so tumultuous over the years, these issues would be non existent. I never forget my son’s birthday or anyone I am deeply connected with. Ironically, this entire problem was solved when my mother stopped talking to me and in some ways it was freedom from the pressure of not getting it right.

The true irony though is not sending my mother a Mother’s Day card when she wasn’t speaking to me became almost painful. So at year two, I sent her a blank one that I had hand written simply, “You are still my mother,” and sent it on its way. In all of the years of those silent thunderous expectations, this card was probably the best Mother’s Day card I had sent. Because it was my own thoughts and heart that sent it, not Hallmark’s, and not my mother’s. Mine. My decision, my kindness.

When I had my own child, I made a decision to not set the barre for any of this nonsense. If my son made me a card, sent me a card, wrote a few lines with a stubby pencil on a piece of scrap paper, simply said Happy Mother’s Day or none of the above, this one day did not summarize his lack of love and adoration for me. I would not allow one day of the year to dictate the other three hundred and sixty four. The feelings of guilt in not getting it right and my own mother’s hurt expressions over the years would not be something I would put on my son. Ever. And I think because of this deliberate act, I have been the recipient of lovely handwritten stubby penciled notes over the years that have more meaning than any five dollar sappy card. As a result I have had lots of lovely Mother’s Days and I enjoy them so much because I know that when if time comes when my son could get married and have children, these Mother’s Days will have a shift for sure. So they are precious and appreciated.

I write this today so that we can remember that days like Mother’s Days are not about professing a years worth of maternal adorations for all of our hard work. If your child forgets to do something special, or not as special as you would have liked, could it be possible to just allow this and use the day to remember how lucky we are that we actually have children? Maybe we could choose to not say anything, not show hurt or disappointment but to just show gratitude for the day.

Every single day is special and as my own son gets older, I am more in tune with the privilege of having a healthy child who is still alive and well, who has made it this far so far. This is the best Mother’s Day gift I could ask for. Keeping this in perspective is the lesson from my mother over the years that I have learned the hard way, but my son gets to reap the rewards from.

one of the many lovely Mother’s Days out for a walk with my boy.

Happiest of Mother’s Day to all of you who get to wake up to your child tomorrow. There are so many moms who don’t. Lets try to remember this as we lie hoping for the breakfast in bed or the call that may not come at exactly the time you wanted or at all. As my grandmother used to quote frequently, “Those who hath no expectations shan’t be disappointed.” Easier said than done, but perhaps just relishing in the day and using it as an excuse for breaking your own rules, going out for your own ice cream sundae or a walk alone in the park listening to the birds and celebrating your own goodness as a mother. Enjoy the glorious day and cherish the little people we have raised. This is something to celebrate for sure.

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/free-brian-williams/id1119389968?i=1000413184954
family, life lessons, Uncategorized

THIS IS YOUR LIFE

“Grandpa, didn’t Grandma have a shortened version of a Seder that she wrote?’ I asked him a few days ago. Passover is by far my most favorite Jewish holiday. Jewish families all over the world share the story of Moses (and Miriam for those of us who like to add some female power to the night) leading the Jews out of Egypt into The Promised Land. We eat the symbolic foods and have conversations about freedoms, slavery, privilege, humanity and so much more over a delicious feast all under the full moon.

Passover is one of those transformative holidays that usually gives me some type of spiritual ahha moment and I always wake up with a more grounded sense of myself the next day. What I enjoy about Passover is that is it more than just Let’s Eat, it is a ritual, a tradition and a retelling of the story of a liberation.

The Seder is community and pausing with family and friends. It is celebratory and hopeful and it goes on worldwide with each family adding their own twists and turns. This is how I remembered that my grandmother had made her own service to condense it for the many friends my grandparents have had over the years to make it more personal, more meaningful. And shorter. Because traditional Seders can be many hours long before dinner and this is a recipe in this short attention span life we lead for invitation turn downs at some point. Being in the Reformed Judaism category, I take some bold liberties in making sure that the Seder is both interesting and concise so when my Grandfather suggested that I take a look in my grandmother’s computer, I bolted into her old office.

My grandmother passed away almost six years ago, but yet her computer is still going strong. As I made my way into her office I noticed some vestiges of her still lingering, like the abundance of scratch paper and address labels, you know those free ones you get as a bait to make a donation to whatever charity thinks sending free address labels will get you to do this. But it is her Mac that most reminds me of her presence. Isabelle had a Mac before people were really buying Macs. She was always on the hip side.

I opened up her computer and went to her file labeled “Isabelle” thinking that so much of ourselves, who we are, how we think show up in what is stored and how it is filed. I was also struck by the notion that all may have been lost if I hadn’t been lucky enough to remember to ask about the Seder, too.

As I went through the treasure trove of files, I saw all of the writings I had sent her in my earlier years of writing that she had saved. She too was an avid writer, albeit a closet one, and I quickly discovered every trip she had gone on with the date, her itinerary and even the tour guide’s name. My grandmother not only recorded the sights and sounds of their trips, but she did it all in rhyme and I was quickly transported to China shortly after the cultural revolution. I time traveled to Africa, Tibuktu among some of the points they traveled to in the seventies. There were her trips to Israel right along with the one they took me on in 1977, too.

While their friends were headed to the Carribean and The Grand Canyon for pleasure, my grandparents were off on wild adventures to learn about the world. Because I was the oldest grandchild and lived nearby, their influence on my ability to look at the world differently was significant. I was able to read about her joys in traveling with the love of her life and was reminded of how hip she was. Then like magic, like she had directed me to this very moment herself, I found her Seder outline and printed it, happy to have found her words to share.

Since my grandfather’s stroke almost five years ago, he hasn’t gone out much and certainly hasn’t had any Passover celebrations at his house. I had decided to come down to Florida this year to have a Passover Seder with my grandfather instead of the usual Seder with my lovely son and our circle of friends back home. so that he could participate in one at his 101st year. As I have mentioned in many writings, we never know if this one will be his last one, the odds shorten each year and my pragmatism abounds.

I set up the formal dining room instead of the usual breakfast area in the kitchen and took out the good china, all of the candlesticks, and the cloth napkins. This is the joy of a holiday. The excuse to make something a little more special than just another day. Flowers on the table, special wine glasses, the old china serving dishes that I will never know their origins of. I just know they are old and were saved for special occasions. I used as many as I had food to fill them. And I printed all of her itineraries right down to her memories of her marriage to my grandfather in August 1942. It was here I got to spend some time with her in her recollections of their beginnings, the draft, the bombing of Pearl Harbor and her young life. So right before dessert, I pulled out the story and announced, Herb, this is your life and began reading it as the story it was.

Passover is the story of Exodus, the Jewish plight, the enslavement of people, but also of our own prisons we put ourselves in by our thinking. My grandmother’s writings reminded me that she did not take her own personal freedoms lightly. She lived her life to the fullest, and after re-reading her own writings, I was clearly reminded of why I live the life I do. Even though many of the people I adore were not physically at this year’s Seder either because of proximity or because they have left us, having this Passover with my Grandfather felt like everyone was there at our table. Liberation in our own way, connecting generations on this one special holiday I got to celebrate my fifty fourth year with a most cherished father figure, Herb Horowitz, my shining example that life is what you make of it.

life lessons

WE BELONG TOGETHER


“Weeeee Belong Together!” Ricki Lee Jones belted out from the fancy stereo in my silly yet stunning car I recently leased. I was headed to Connecticut on a very early morning this past week -so early that it was still dark out. The light mist caused me to use the windshield wipers and the defroster because April hasn’t gotten the memo yet that it is in fact Spring, not winter.

This was no game of chicken, you were aiming at your best friend,” she sang slowly to get to that luscious build up to the chorus of “Weeeee Belong Together!” She seemed to be in the seat next to me singing her brilliant prose. I feel like we grew up together as she was always one of my favorite female vocalists all of these years later.

And just like that I was seventeen. Driving in my beloved 63 VW bug, my first car purchase. Eighteen hundred dollars and I bought it without even test driving it. No parent along with me to help me with my purchase or to even guide me in whether it was a good idea to drive to the house of the owners with a pocket full of cash. My two dear friends, John and Andy were my chaperones. I was afraid to drive the car by myself for its first run so I made Andy drive it back for me. And now that I think of it, I don’t even think I asked my father who I was living with, kind of, if I could purchase it. This seems so unbelievable to me now that I reflect back, but that car was an introduction to life for me. So maybe it wasn’t a bad thing that my father who really didn’t have a clue on how to parent anyway wasn’t micromanaging this very helpful life experience.

And just like that, I was propelled back to 1982. My Christian Dior pale pink vintage gloved hands were on the steering wheel in the lightly drizzling nighttime. This time though Ricki Lee Jones was belting out “We Belong Together” from her new album, Pirates, on the cassette player I had installed as any respectable seventeen year old teenager with her first car would have. Pirates was the album after her first one with her famous song, Chuck E.’s in Love.

Windows fogging because for anyone who has a history with any Volkwagon bugs, Halfbacks, Hatchbacks or Vanagaons would know, the heat never worked and if it did it was full throttle on or off, no in between. A defroster would be the little fans you would have to buy at stores like Benny’s to attach to the dashboard hoping this would help you see out of the tiny windshield. I can still hear the puttering bubbling sounds of my beloved 63 Volkswagon driven on a very quiet North Rd in Jamestown, RI headed to my boyfriend’s house in the evening.

And it was one of those moments. One of those magical moments when everything worked. The car, the music, the weather, the smells, the sounds. And my life.

At seventeen for a brief moment in time, there was nothing better than that particular moment and I remember it like it was this moment. A perfect time travel back to that time as I made my way almost forty years later to Connecticut on a rainy Monday morning. I could almost smell it. I don’t know what made that moment so special for me, but the distinct memory of it has always stayed with me comforting me like the soft blanket you had when you were a little girl that you had to have to fall asleep easily.

Music can do this, sensory awareness, sounds, smells, tastes all can make it easy to time travel. As I reflect back on to that evening, I think it was my first experience of completely living in the present moment. Though I didn’t realize this at the time, I am sure that this was what made that particular evening so special to me all of these years later.

Ahhh that often unattainable PRESENT MOMENT we know we are all supposed to be striving for. Right? Oprah says it. Every guest she has on her Super Sunday says it. Deepak Chopra says this, Wayne Dyer used to say it before he left us. Eckhart Tolle says it. Podcasts, blogs everywhere I turn screaming the importance of LIVING IN THE PRESENT! Another task we are supposed to be striving for and improving on and checking off our lists.

What I know for myself to be true is that when I do manage to carve out just a few moments in the day to make an attempt to take on this call, I feel better. Way less anxious, worried, concerned and stressed. Consciously striving for this is no easy task in our busy lives especially as caregivers, business owners, parents and just humans. Living in the present is a practice– not a one and done check it off my list and move on to the next life goal on my quest for perpetual zen status.

Living in the Present is not compartmentalized into some neat little box ‘over there.’

It is about living in the moment while the moment is occurring. Using driving as a metaphor for this since this piece today features my 63 VW Bug, there are those moments in time when I am driving from point a to point b and when I get to my destination I have almost no memory of how I got there. Some call it absent minded driving, I like to call it driving while thinking too much.

When I was married to Dave, he wasn’t much of a talker and I was. I liked talking about feelings and working on improving but this wasn’t his way of marriage. Often times when I wanted to talk about something, he would go quiet and say, “I’m thinking!” And I would sigh with frustration and think “What is there to think about?” If I would bring the conversation up again at a later time, he would say, “Alayne, you think too much.”

This drove me bat shit crazy, but often in hindsight there was some wisdom in this. I do think too much at times though it serves me well many of these times, there are many times it does not. Being present is being here. Being nowhere and NOW HERE. All I know is that as I get older my goal is to feel good. When I am in the moment, I feel good. When I am fretting and worrying about the past and the future both of which I have no control over, I do not feel good and this is not good. For my health, for my mental and physical state. And for my ability to lead my team and be a great mom and a better human, I must choose to feel good as often as possible.

Perhaps this recent trip down memory lane with Ricki Lee in the passenger seat was a reminder of this. Goodness knows that I must be constantly reminded that I have choices in how I think and what I think. We all do. Our minds are powerful allies when we choose to use them for the good they offer.

Today is my second #noplanthursday so I am off to remember that WE BELONG TOGETHER is a great phrase for me and my present self. Together again.

this isn’t my exact car, but it looked almost like this one except mine was way more perfect.

life lessons

A RISING STAR

I started a second career this past month. Well rather an extension of a long glorious career in the business of beauty I get to lovingly call my career. This second endeavor is as a certified business coach for a company called Strategies. I have written a little about this new experience and like anything new, it has my attention. This is no small feat because for the many friends in my inner circle, they could likely attest to my short attention span. I am filled with one hit wonder ideas on a daily basis, lucky if one percent of them come to fruition.

I have a small barn in the back of my house, some people call it a she-shed. My ideas usually find their way into the barn as the centerpiece. Learning to make chocolate babka, I now want every person I know to experience the delight of this on their tongues, my co-conspirator in all barn ideas, Morgan, kindly and patiently rolls her eyes — and says, “Are we opening the Babka Barn?” Macaroni and cheese? Yes. The mac and cheese barn.

Then there is the Breathing Barn because now I am meditating every day so of course everyone needs to have this experience. Let’s move this to the barn! I haven’t even mentioned the typewriters, but of course that would be a perfect fit in the barn along with the writing barn and the art barn and the visionboard barn. See where I am going? Ideas flow at the speed of light in this entrepreneurial brain of mine. God forbid I have an idea and just keep it to myself, taking my own bath in its essence. Why I need to share every single experience with the world is beyond me, but I accept it as one of my personal core drivers. And as my grandfather says often, “Be that as it may.” And so it is. Never ends. One can see why I need to actively attempt a no plan Thursday. And my struggle with this idea too is that I want to make it a thing. I exhaust myself and likely people around me. Who cares though, I seize time like there isn’t any and it will likely be this way till the day I die.

I am taking this new career path as seriously as most people would when they start a new job. Reading the company manual from cover to cover, studying the material I need to inform myself with so I can pass my knowledge to someone needing to improve their business model and systems and going on the private Facebook accounts and making my comments to other like minded business owners. I may be a bit of an out of the box bohemian when it comes to life, but in working for another company, I respect their rules and regs and try to follow their suggestions for full throttle participation. Overachiever? Maybe. But more now that I am a grown up and much less inclined to do it to impress anyone other than my own work ethic and joy I get from this new experience of ‘employee.’ It is a major and joyous paradigm shift and frankly one I have the luxury of really wanting rather than really needing, A nice position to be in for sure.

This learning brings me back, though to the struggle with the overflowing social media and technology I have had for some time so much so that I — pre-Strategies- was on my merry way back to real paper address books and appointment calendars. This went out the window as soon as I had my first training week since everything is technology. Appointment making, scheduling, calendars, webinars, training, group texts, group emails- all technology. So I jumped back in and figured it would be a great addition to my knowledge base and here I am. If you can’t beat them, join them, I suppose. Kind of, but with caution and trepidation this time around. Back on Facebook daily posting questions about business to the thousands of people who are friends in this private group.

This is now a morning habit along with my while the coffee perks meditation and writing habit and I have surprisingly enjoyed this experience. Maybe because it has a beginning and an end. I only allow myself about twenty minutes to post the question and make my comments to others, then I am off Facebook. I didn’t put it back on my phone and this helps me not become addicted to checking the replies, likes, stars, hearts and whatever other symbols Facebook has created to turn humanity into Pavlov’s dogs.

Yesterday when I was making my post for the day, I noticed that I had a star next to my name. I scrolled through the other names and didn’t see any stars next to anyone else’s names. So I clicked on my name to learn that Facebook in all of its wisdom declared me “A RISING STAR.” Some algorithm has decided that my posts and the comments that follow make me worthy of this new symbol. I wasn’t asked if I wanted this next to my name, I guess Facebook just assumes that every user wants outward star recognition. They didn’t seem to think that before their label, I may have already thought I was a star, they also didn’t think that maybe a star next to my name would make me think of other stars next to people that don’t have such a positive vibe, like those yellow stars Jewish people were forced to wear to identify them. Maybe this is a stretch, but I have just read Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris after reading The Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly and yellow stars and labeling are fresh in my mind.

a poignant read

With anti-Semitism on the rise as close as eight miles away in Fall River, Mass the defiling of gravestones with appalling anti-Semitic phrases and symbols, I am thinking that less labeling is probably a better business strategy. Especially for a provocative and bold lovely bad ass Jewish chick like myself. Some people may be rolling their eyes at this assessment of this star next to my name on Facebook, and maybe it is an overreach, but the labeling of people without their consent or choice gives me the willies. Maybe I have watched too much Handmaid’s Tale, or have read too many books to keep what happened to so many Jews, Romas, gay men and women, disabled and anyone else who didn’t look or fit the part declared by a madman. This was less than eighty years ago and there are still people from this time in history who lived through it to talk about it. Less and less which is why I voraciously read and recommend books that take me back there. As sad and painful as it may be from the comfort of my heated house, packed refrigerator, Mercedes in my driveway and safe and comfortable life I lead, I refuse to take this life I lead for granted.

I am struck by the ease of which we have become used to accepting these little types of recognition as normal. And I don’t want to believe that any of these seemingly innocent Facebook recognitions could be laying the groundwork for some sinister plan, but the Holocaust didn’t happen in a blast. It was a slow and steady stream of propaganda and commentary. It was humankind never thinking that a mind could think the way the crazy man with a mustache and hatred in his heart who I refuse to name in my piece today could imagine. Little dribbles of hatred and labeling of anyone who was the OTHER.

So Facebook, Apple, Google, and all of the other big techs out there we have slowly let infiltrate our life, please think about your power and stop trying to tell me who I am and who I should be by labeling me with a star. I already know who I am and I have already risen.

family, life lessons

MOMENTS OF INTIMACY

There is a baby monitor in the living room that lets anyone sitting there hear the sounds of my 101 year old grandfather when he is in his bedroom. His long life has come to this and he is lucky. We are lucky to have a man in our lives who actually did what the commercials keep telling anyone who will listen.

Save for retirement.

Herb Horowitz did so when he and my grandmother retired, they had a nice not so little nest egg to move permanently to sunny Florida andlive the retired life. Cocktail parties, tennis, walks on the beach and lots offamily to visit. A successful well-planned life.

Herbie and Isabelle were good planners, responsible and thoughtful in the way they planned out their golden years. My grandfather readily admits though, that he never planned he would still be living at the ripe age of 101. Or that my grandmother would exit before him instead of the other way around, but as he would say himself, “Be that as it may, there is nothing that can be done about this.”

Herbie has chosen to stay in the comfort of his surroundings, his home, because he has the wherewithal to do this as well as the means. Because of this, he has 24 hour very expensive care to the tune of 3600 a week, yes a week and this is why there is a baby monitor in the living room. So the caregivers can hear his call, his bark at times, his breath to make sure it is still exhaling and inhaling at the rate that an alive versus dead person breathes.

When I am visiting, I am usually in the kitchen cooking and this is when I often hear the intimate dialogue between caregiver and Herb. I often wonder if these strong heady women who get paid to care for other people’s family members while said family members parade in and out of Herb’s home like it is their own personal vacation spot think why the hell are they not taking care of their own? This is my grandparents doing as their mantra has always been to never be a burden to their children and made it their personal mission to make this happen.

We are the luckier ones for it for sure and because of his planning and pragmatism, I get to comfortably sit on the patio by the in ground indoor pool sunning myself on an 80 degree day in Sarasota while my friends and family are lighting fires and bundling up in 22 degree New England.

As I made my way to the beach for the fifth day in a row yesterday, the notion that this life I have been privileged to take part in for the last thirty years will, just by statistics, come to an end. This made my eyes water. Herb is not getting any younger and despite the fact that every time I see him, he seems to be gaining more enthusiasm and zest in his reply when asked “Herb, how are you doing?”  “FANTASTIC.” He says this with a vigor that sometimes people in their sixties are lacking. And he means it. Herb, through all of his losses in his life, lives a happy life, an appreciative one, one of kindness and care and love. I appreciate it more every time I visit realizing how one day I will get the call that it is over. Herb taught me to me a realist and for this in my emotional curvy swings, I have a thread of this, more so now then ever.

I sit here in the luxury, surrounded by a golf course and million dollar homes set up like a monopoly board, palm trees swaying in the warm breeze, tropical sounding birds singing to me and barely a soul outside to enjoy this delight. Where is everyone? I often think this as I make my way in and out of the complex passing the workers making their way in to take care of the chemically greened grass and the too organized and perfect gardens. Are these hard working people scratching their heads like I am? I hardly ever see a soul out and about in this sprawling gated community and as much as I love being here, I am happy to get home to my cold house to actually interact with the many troves of people braving the cold and walking by my house to engage in neighborhood conversation.

“Hello, How are you today? It’s a brisk one,” as they march forth on their Yankee jaunts on a blustery New England day.

My grandfather is appreciative of the visits and we are appreciative of him. I love being in his house because frankly it is the last of the vestiges of my childhood home. This house is the place where when I walk in, I am also home not just because I go in and out with a carefree abandon, but because it is the place I have always felt safe, loved, cared for. My grandparent’s home is that space I am still a grandchild at almost 54. Not just the physical space, but the emotional one that is present as soon as I am greeted. Just like I am five again coming for a sleepover. It is magic.

My grandfather has been the connector of all of us cousins, the patriarch who manages to keep a family who lives as far away as London, to Austin, Texas, and New England to DC to stay in touch despite our young busy lives. I am the oldest of 8 very close cousins, oldest by twelve – fifty two years.  I consider myself more like an aunt to my cousin’s young children. I love knowing them and being a part of their lives. My grandfather taught me this by his example of always showing up. If  he still physically could, he would.

As I listen to him through the baby monitor gently bark and his bark has gotten softer with age, I am struck by how full circle life is. Out of the womb, back to it. The baby monitor is that metaphor that serves as the constant reminder that this life I know shall pass. I know when the inevitable call does come, there will be a finality like no other I have known because even though I am so lucky I still have a grandparent, he is my last one standing. The safety and comfort I have felt knowing his role in my life is an etching in my heart that lies in wait.

I am home today with him instead of the beach because a new caregiver was due in today and he wanted me close by. “No problem,” I said, my skin needs a break from the bright sun. And I am planning a birthday party for him today because even though his birthday is November 17, I have decided that every day he wakes up is a birthday now. So today he is 101 and three months and I can’t think of a better reason to have a party.

Health, life lessons

INSTEAD OF THE GYM

The days that come our way in little staccatos during our winters I refer to as tease days. Those luscious days after a freezing cold spell where the temperature magically climbs to 35 or 40 degrees causing elation and jubilance among fellow New England comrades. It is not unusual to see an immediate surge in the roar of motorcycles, convertibles out and about with their drivers wrapped up like they are headed on an expedition to Mt. Everest. Shorts and an extra pep in the step of people who had previously thought they were hunkered down for the long haul and bike riders trying to appreciate the glorious bonus day of some added warmth and brighter light.

We New Englanders so willingly get sucked into that tease. When the slightest increase in temperature makes it feel positively balmy outside almost making us want to pull out the gardening equipment to clean up the yard. But we seasoned souls know that this is only a lure of nature, playfully provoking us to think that this is a reliable temperature. We shut down our heat, open our windows, change the sheets on our bed and lean full force into what we know is temporary. After all, it is February and though we have not had even a drop of snow, we have been here before. That year not too long ago when we thought we were home free, barely a snow plow bill and just like that- snow in record amounts every day for almost an entire month. Mother Nature as usual made fools of us. It is we who choose to live in this environment rather than a larger space of a state offering sun and fun most of the year.

I have been on a mission this year to pepper my fitness routine with bouts of nature. Hikes, walks, climbs, outside no matter the temperature instead of the gym running like a hamster on a treadmill among the tribe of the fabulously fit. My love for the crazy gym workouts is still pure, but I have found my body desires less of that potency and more of outside walks so I honor this as often as I can. Walking to the library to return my latest read and hoping that another great book awaits fills my soul as much as fifty burpees, (well maybe 20 burpees).

Because I have the luxury of two spaces I get to call home in two glorious locations, both near large bodies of water, the beach is easy access especially on my way from one to the other in the early morning light. Recently I have been stopping at the beach, leaving my phone in the car so as not to be distracted by feeling the need to take it out of my pocket every five minutes to capture a picture that will never look as good as the real one in front of me. The sound of the waves, the tide, the shrieking of the seagulls, the wind in my hair and in my lungs and that deep smell that wakes a very tired olfactory system up from its dormancy that has been locked up in forced heat and closed windows makes my heart open wide.

I make my way from the parking lot, locking my car and feeling the change of scenery in my shoes as they move from pavement to sand and I am home. The beach is my happy place. I have figured out much about my life and who I am in these tender moments. I have released old stinky stale thoughts and welcomed new bright sun-filled ideas that seem to pop at rapid fire. Problems solved, anxious thought cast out to sea, heart rocks avail themselves at every turn and nature bathes me like a baptism. Outside never disappoints and whether it is freezing, blustery, humid, baking, misty and everything in between, the beach right in my backyard in a fifteen minute drive is a reward beyond pushups and ab crunches. Though my body may not be as rock hard as those pesky movements create in my muscles, the deep breaths, the contemplation, the change in scenery and aroma in my hair is enough to compensate.

As I walked yesterday in what seemed like a 60 degree rare day in February, I did a lot of soul searching, I sat on a piece of driftwood that had made its home from goodness knows what journey and meditated for a good fifteen minutes breathing in and out at the pace of the wave. When I opened my eyes I looked ahead, I looked to my right and to my left and I was the only one on the beach. My private moment deep within witnessed only by me and I smiled at my good fortune and appreciation that I was able to veer off my course and take a right into the parking lot instead of saying I will do a walk when I have more time. Because really what does this even mean, how do I know that I will have more time? How does anyone know this? The power is in the present moment. We just forget to look. Yesterday I didn’t forget and today I will try again to remember the gifts of every time I do.

life lessons

One Word Prompts

The exercise from WordPress asked me to choose a word. There were only six words, but my word stood out like a beam of light.

Choice.

That is my word.

Choice takes me back to the preverbial forks from my past.

When I could have gone left, or right or forged my own path, maybe backwards or straight or simply staying right in the center and looking ahead.

Choice.

I remember the only job I left almost before it started as a banquet waitress. It was like the employees gave me a test and said, here, clean this candelabra. It was covered with drips of countless candles from hundreds of events past. One of the senior banquet waitresses, you know the type, been doing it for her whole life, stout, bossy, matter of fact and in love with her role as senior banquet waitress had given the order.

I was about twenty one and had never had to clean a candleabra in my short life so I began chipping away not knowing that if I had simply put it in the freezer, the whole project would have taken less than thirty minutes. But there I stood in my little white button down with the black pants and black shoes chipping endlessly waht seemed like hours and impatiently away.

The whole reason I was even working at this job was because I had been fired from my previous one, the only time I had ever been fired in my life. Because I did something unworthy and embarrassing, because I made a stupid choice to add a ten dollar tip to a bill when a customer failed to acknowledge my brilliance as his waitress. This choice, of course and completely appropriately, prompted an abrubt firing and subsequently found me jobless. This banquet waitressing job was the only employment I could muster up after the foolish choice I had made. To even write this aloud for the world to read makes me cringe at my stupidity, but truth be told, it was a most painful lesson and to write it at least lets the ghost out that has been hiding in my closet for the last thirty years.

I stood there while the seasoned and older workers were likely snickering at my slowness and lack of knowledge about the freezer alternative. All of a sudden as if by magic, this thought occurred to me- I don’t have to do this. I had a choice. At twenty-one, I realized somehow that I had a choice in my happiness. I don’t know where this source of power came from, but  gratefully it did. For the rest of my life, though I wasn’t evolved enough to realize this at the time, I would never work at a job unless I totally loved it. This was a deep thought for a young woman who didn’t seem to have many choices in front of her as far as job prospects went. But I did. I looked around at my future colleagues and took my sassy over confident self, walked up to the head banquet waitress and said, “I can’t do this. I am leaving.” With that I flipped my hair and marched out, my choice carried with me for the rest of my employed life.

Now some of you may be thinking, this is so irresponsible. You should finish what you started at least finish the shift. Fuck that. I was beyond miserable, there was no team work, that group was hoping I would fail. I could feel it and what was the point? For some reason, maybe it was my higher power, I was transported to the realization that LIFE WAS SHORT and there was no time for misery. As a result I ended up with a super fun job as a cocktail waitress grateful someone would choose to give me a second chance.

Choice is around us. Maybe this notion of choice is simply whether you think you have one or not. Maybe it is based on where you come from and how you think about the life in front of you. What I do know about this example though is that choosing happiness as my guide whenever possible has never let me down. Even in the bad choices, good has come out of it becasue of the lessons learned. Lessons learned were also choices. Choices because I chose to learn from them rather than repeating the same mistake again.

I know as I write this today that I am speaking from my perch of living in a free country where choice seems like a right. I know that I am not choosing life over death situations simply because I am fortunate in my geography. But for those of us who do have the privilege to live in a free society, looking at your life on a daily basis as one that you get to choose where it heads, can make the difference in the life you lead.

How we choose to look at our lives is surely choice and this quote that I refer to often in my writing sums it up in a neat little package. How do you choose to live? Does it feed you and make you happy? If not, then when?

As you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

– wayne dyer.

life lessons

Making a List

 

Yesterday’s assignment generated from Day 2 of WordPress University that I have embarked on since deciding this past weekend that Yes, I can build my own website. Here is the writing prompt below.

“Today, let’s write a list. Compiling a list is a way to let loose, unlock ideas, and free your mind. Today, write your own list on one of these topics:

  • Things I Like
  • Things I’ve Learned
  • Things I Wish
  • Things You’re Good At

There are no rules, though you can create some boundaries for yourself by deciding in advance how many items you’d like to include, or by settting a timer — try a list of 15 items, set a timer for 45 minutes.”

The goal seems to be getting thoughts to run freely and wildly, but to contain them somehow in the confines of list making. List making is something I do not struggle with. I am a list maker. I am also a vision board addict. I have them in my office which is out in the open off of my living room forcing me to never forget the major projects I am working on. I just found out about a program called Creately that I almost bought until I realized that I already have organizational charts done that I created myself in excel that work perfectly fine.

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My brain never stops. You could say I have the entrepeneurial spirit, like my father, like my grandfather and if I didn’t make lists and storyboards and visionboards, I am certain my head would fly off the top of my shoulders like a spinning top. This intensity of mine, of the creative ideas that move through me as if a spicket was turned on full throttle and being stuck in the on position is part of my writing energy, though. List making, outlines and order to the electricity that is my head helps move it up and out. I am grateful for the ability to know myself well enough to know that all of these ideas must take up a residence outside of this very full brain. Usually the lists are To Do lists, sometimes the lists are dreams and desires, but the theme is always a call to action. 

Organize the basement, put the dishes away, clean the closet in the bedroom, call my grandfather, move the doctor’s appointment from this week to next week, sign up for the art class, even when I am hoping to add areas of spirtuality into a list, as I consider this list making, even that is active. Deepen meditation practice, take more yoga classes, go to Synagogue once a month.

So as this call to action from WordPress University asks me to consider a different way to look at list making and I write today with this in mind. I never use a timer for my morning writing, I let my writing class leaders do that. When I wake up and write, it is my morning peace. This is why I wake up at five am and jump out of bed, so I have the time to write. The prompts are a different way to think. This is what writing prompts do, they open possibilities and creativity in a way that five minutes before would have not thought of. So here I go. This is just a quick list otherwise this writing would be over one hundred pages

Things I Like

  • early rising
  • conversations with interesting people
  • learning
  • writing writing writing
  • going to the library, taking out a book, finishing the book and returning it before the due date
  • collecting typewriters
  • being introduced to new ideas and considering them
  • nature and gardening
  • seeing a cardinal when I am deep in thought about something I am planning
  • watching my son grow up and develop his own identity
  • wearing my grandmother’s lighthouse jacket
  • cooking, walking, going to the beach
  • going to the movies and to museums
  • travel
  • expressive arts
  • being home
  • organizing 
  • leading my team and developing leaders
  • hanging out with my partner
  • being with my close tribe of women
  • organizing fun

     

  • working out
  • a good stretch
  • remembering my dreams
  • silence

Things I’ve Learned

  • To let shit go
  • To let shit go
  • to not take things personal at every waking moment
  • that when someone leaves your life say thank you with grace not malice
  • living in the present moment is all that is important
  • I am good enough
  • boobs aren’t as important as I thought they were
  • food is thy medicine or poison
  • drinking alcohol is not good for spiritual clarity (but it tastes so good)

Things I Wish

  • I had been better with money management earlier in my life
  • I could see my brother one more time6d33b-1ndLRbRVhNrgu9pHv_-lsMQ@2x
  • my mother and I had a really good relationship
  • I had a condo on Siesta Key for two months a year
  • I had the time and money to finish my degree and get a masters in writing
  • To really make time to research my historical fiction book idea 
  • i was better at growing vegetables

Things You’re Good At

  • Life
  • being a mother
  • friendship and being a strong partner in my Living Apart Together relationship
  • being an exwife
  • developing relationships
  • connecting people
  • owning a business
  • writing
  • creative thoughts
  • kindness and charitability
  • hosting parties
  • dreaming new ideas
  • cooking and baking
  • growing herbs
  • Love 

I am not sure if I have ever done this before, but I must say it was a nice way to start my day. Thank you WordPress. Again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

life lessons

THE WAKEUP CALL

Don’t look at the clock, I thought to myself. How long had I been sleeping? It seemed like if I did look at the clock it would be early. Not early like four am, but early like bad early. But I was awake. So I did what I normally do when this happens, I review my previous day. Food intake, movement, etc and could only come up with that I gave myself a full day off and sat on the couch by the warmth of the fire doing what I love. Writing, reading and more writing. I didn’t even really get up to move and my food intake was perfectly fine, no sugar or drink so I couldn’t really blame this. But then I realized that the early morning wakeup was my call to action and it had nothing to do with yesterday.

I finally looked at the clock. Worse than I thought. 2:14. Holy early. This is even early for me, but there is a surge happening in my body that is commanding creativity in a way I haven’t experienced in a long time. The feeling that is leading me down the path of flow and connection with what I am supposed to be doing. When this happens, the three am wakeup call becomes my friend. I need to get up and get writing and realize that this is the power time for my creatvity, when thoughts and ideas come at the speed of light. If I don’t get up and get writing, I will lie there thinking about the ideas, thinking that I will remember them. This has happened to me in the past and when I do finally fall asleep, I wake up with barely a thread of memory from those luscious thoughts just a few hours earlier.

Creative purpose. When I am on point, there is no stopping the flow. All of the support comes at me like a meteor. I meet the right people at the right time, I find classes or hear podcasts that support whatever ideas I am working on. The list goes on and when I am in tune, all of the people places and things show up like I asked for it. Universal flow.  Say for example you decide you want to learn to play an instrument, like the piano, maybe this is something you have always wanted to do, but never had the time. So you think the thought, then like magic, you are at a party and start talking to someone. You ask him, “What do you do?” He responds, “I teach piano.”  Or you are perusing the newspaper and happen to land on an ad that says “PIANO LESSONS AVAILABLE, TAKING NEW AND BEGINNER STUDENTS.” You may ignore this thinking this is just a freak coincidence, so you take that seemingly small voice nagging at you and store it away in that old dusty suitcase in the attic where it sits- for awhile anyway. But then you hear a beautiful concerto on a Sunday morning or you see a sign at a coffee shop that says, “FREE PIANO, ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS PICK IT UP, GREAT CONDITION,” Reminding you to go pull that suitcase down from the attic and make the time to full- fill you. The laundry will wait, the bills can be paid tomorrow. When was the last time you allowed a creative force into your heart, that could take you away from the blither of your mindchatter and allow getting lost in something else for awhile?

This is what I am talking about. As always when I listen to my soul’s desires, the right books, articles and podcasts land in my radar. So last week on another three am wakeup call that I didn’t heed, I instead scrolled through some podcast episodes and landed on one that changed my mindset. It was about reisistance and how resistance is the unique messaging power that communicates the force to be reckoned with in something creative you are supposed to be doing. I am attaching it to this writing today because it really helped remind me to listen to that voice that seems to whisper but really is shouting your direction if you would only open yourself up to the YES instead of the BUT.

Podcasts by far are one of the easiest ways to educate your mind on almost any possible thought out there and this is just one of many that have inspired me. Whether right before I go to bed, or a drive in the car, when I am working out or just a random listen, there is so much out there to source if you want to change your thinking and attract more goodness into your life.

Listen to Steven Pressfield: Unlock Your Creative Genius from Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations in Podcasts. https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/oprahs-supersoul-conversations/id1264843400?mt=2&i=1000427290930

Wherever I am at in my life, what I know is that each step, the ones in the deepest darkest parts of the forest and the ones where the sun is so bright it hurts my eyes, I am always divinely taken care of and that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. I also know that I can’t rush things, but I can give them a little nudge. And if I am still not paying attention, the three am wakeup calls surely get my attention.