life lessons


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.




ME: Grandpa, do you want to go lie down for a bit? (he had been falling asleep at the table after finishing breakfast this morning)

GRANDPA (AKA HERBIE): That may be a good idea.

ME: Yes. Why not.

HERBIE: Yeah. I got time.

Herbie, my grandfather is 100 and four months. This is a positive outlook at its best. Everyday he wakes up it is another day he wakes up. This must seem like a surprise to him, but I don’t know that. It has never been a surprise in my consciousness until this visit as I consider that every day he wakes up is another day I get to have him in my life. I don’t usually think in terms of the literal day to day appreciation of waking up. Sure I am grateful for each day, but because I am young and healthy, for the most part I get to assume that tomorrow will be available to me and the next day. When you are 100, I am guessing that this may not be the case.

I suggested that from now on we have a birthday cake every day to celebrate his life because seriously every day is, well, every day.

My grandfather is a bad ass I have decided. Not the kind that you may think of like my friend’s grandparents who grew up in the tough neighborhoods or were boxers or fighters, but the type of fighter that has the grit in his core. I love this trait. Grit. He is the son of a man who made his way alone to America from Russia in the late 1800s. His mother too was a Russian immigrant and because I was born to such young parents I actually knew both of them. My grandfather was drafted in WWII. He was an entrepreneur, a textile mill owner in Fall River, Mass back when Fall River made things. A fiscal example of frugality, but intense generosity, a charitable mix of practicality and reasonable behavior, my grandfather’s approach to life is summed up by his favorite five words, “It is what it is.” At my brother’s funeral he at 78 having lost his first born grandson who was only 25 to a rare form of lung cancer got up to speak at our informal gathering. “Michael was too young to die, but he did.” I will never forget those simple words filled with the essence of his belief system that life goes on despite itself.

It is interesting to sit on my perch and watch the de-birth of someone. His body curves naturally into a fetal position as his shoulders hunch a little more each time I see him. His baby fine hair easily mats and he gets messier every time he eats. He sleeps a lot and his appetite grows smaller each day. It is like watching a new baby but opposite. He needs the walker more and when his legs are causing more and more discomfort, he uses the wheelchair more often to alleviate the pain. It is backwards infancy. This is the only way I can explain what I am witnessing. I am a voyeur of sorts as I get to watch this without having to do anything other than be in his company. He has 24/7 care and my visits are nothing but love and cooking for him. This gives me the gift of a vacation as well as a visit and I feel really lucky for his conservatism with money all those years before now.

When I am visiting the weather is always an improvement from the north so outdoor running, walking and beaching is my personal threesome of love. I try to run each day to increase my distance because no matter how much I run on the treadmill in the winter cold, the pavement is completely different. The first step outside feels like I have done zero cardio for the entire winter as my heart speeds and my breath grows heavier with each stride. I wear no headphones or music, got rid of this nuisance a long while ago as I found it completely distracting. To each their own because I know there are many of my friends who can’t imagine running without sound. I enjoy the sound of my heart and my breath; it is meditative and allows for deep appreciation as I try for longer and longer distances each of the days I am blessed to be in sunny Siesta Key in the cold New England March of unpredictability. As much as I get out and exercise, I have found my thoughts interesting in the day to day decision making of going for the run. I don’t really love running, but I love the results of running and this is the draw.

On my way down here, I have all kinds of plans, run every day, train for a 5k, eat healthy, blah blah blah. This is my perpetual mantra and I strongly visualize myself at the tail end of the week completing all of my self imposed rules and regs. What strikes me is the mind fuck that happens as my brain starts its campaign on rationalizing why I don’t need to run. “I am achy from yesterday,” (boo fucking hoo). “I cut my finger cooking today,” (I know that one is a stretch, but complete transparency here). “I don’t want to miss a good parking spot at the beach,” (since the temperature gauge is reading 58 right now, I am guessing this is a non issue). “I want to get my writing in and the morning is usually the time,” (well let’s see, I woke up at 5:00am so I’m guessing there is plenty of time). “I want to cook for Herbie,” (read previous rationale). So here I sit, watching the thermometer slowly (very slowly) climb to a meager 60; the sky is clear and blue and it looks like it is about 75 out, but the air is cold. I have baked blueberry cake, prepped dinner for tonight, made my lunch for today and the weekend’s beach visits, gone for a run (2 miles thank you very much) and done some stretching and a ten minute tabata workout. And it is only 9:40am.

As I sit here writing this today, with the sound of my grandfather snoring over the baby monitor that has become the background noise of his house, I reflect on these excuses. I know that his example, combined with the loss of my brother so young as well as my own health bumps in the road, health is an innate privilege. When you have the freedom to move, the advantages are something that commands the movement. I have had the times when I have not been able to move at the pace I have wanted. Many promises pour from my soul as I make the pacts with the universe promising regular exercise when if and when I ever feel good enough to do so again. The privilege of health is my own connection with a higher power and despite the wacky brain excuses that arise, I usually find my way around them. I do this in honor of my brother, in reverence to my grandfather and even more the respect to my own health and body that I have been blessed with for these soon to be fifty three years.

Now I am ready for my beach day. So lucky and healthy and I can’t wait to do it all again tomorrow.




If I close my eyes, I can see the almond color refrigerator. I think it was a side by side, but I can’t imagine it was in the late seventies. Like soldiers, there they stood at full attention, a line up of homemade frozen ice cream parfaits layered with homemade vanilla ice cream and homemade hot fudge sauce. They started and ended with the darkest of brown chocolate sauce waiting to be consumed by my grandfather or someone other than my diabetic grandmother who made them for “us.”

My visits to my grandmother’s house, (my mother’s mother who we called Kitsie) from the time she and my grandfather lived on Commonwealth Ave. in Boston, Mass to her basement apartment in Newton were some of the best memories of my young life. I was so fortunate to have a loving, kind relationship and a lengthy one with both sets of my grandparents. I have written about them many times and the positive influence they have had in my life. My grandparents still have this influence in me even though only one of the four of them is still alive.

My grandmother’s voices are in my head in my daily life especially when I am in the kitchen. From the type of sponge I use to wash dishes (Dobie, unless our friend Kalman comes for a visit from Israel or I go there, then he brings these amazing silver toned scrubbers) the way I clean as I go, wiping counter tops down, washing the dishes so there isn’t a big mess as I prepare my meal. The way I grocery shop driving to a variety of little stores to buy specific things, Persimmon Provision in Barrington for meat, Fruitland or Decastros for my fruits and vegetables, Green Grocer for the organic staples; Venda Ravioli for Italian goodness and so on; this is all when I have the time to do this. When it comes to food, I usually make the time because my grandmother taught me that food is love and love is worth the drive. When I don’t have the time to drive everywhere, I go to Whole Foods, the little one on the East Side, but my preference is always the small privately owned stores where I can talk to Champ, the butcher or Harold the fruit guy and find out about their kids and their lives. Like her mother, my mother did this too and though I dreaded the outings when I was a child, my memories of the experience are really special. Little did I know that these shopping excursions would be forming my foundation in the kitchen and my love to cook.

My aunt Kiley and I used to make fun of all of the driving to these small stores my grandmother would do. But like most traits we laughed about in our youth, I find myself mirroring many of the same ones in my fifties. This feels like I am honoring my grandmother and it comforts me.

Kitsie taught herself to cook as she was the generation that witnessed the first cooking show of the mother of all cooking shows, Julia Child. There was never a stick of margarine in the house, never processed food. Kitsie’s nemesis was sweets. She was always watching her blood sugar on one hand and cooking elaborate sugar laden desserts with the other.

Like a stunning bottle of red wine on a perfect cool fall evening, sometimes Kitsie’s desserts cannot be replicated. This is likely because of the experience surrounding the dessert, the smell of her house, the conversations in the kitchen, and the dishes they were served in. She always made chocolate chip cookies and put them in the freezer. Not only can I taste the frozen cookie as I think about them, I can see my entire being standing in the kitchen, opening the freezer door, reaching into it and pulling one out. I can almost smell Kitsie’s kitchen and like the movie, Back to the Future, I am transported back in time and it feels lovely and safe.

Grandmothers have this magical force especially when they are the good kinds of grandmothers. Many of my close friends have really spectacular loving relationships with their mothers, but didn’t know their grandmothers on that level. I was the opposite and though the pain of not having that type of depth of a relationship with my own mother, my grandparents on both sides served up a plate of delicious love and divine intervention with their examples and their hearts. Food was one of those ways. The action of the recipe and the preparation rather than the voice of it became the ripple effect in its omnipresent force in my life. It still is every time I pull out the hand typed HOT FUDGE SAUCE recipe that Kitsie created on one of about two hundred index cards for my twenty-first birthday because I asked for them. I have two full boxes of these vary worn cards and they all smell like butter, aka my grandmother’s kitchen.

Every time I whip up a batch of the gritty deep chocolate recipe and pass on a jarful to my friends, I pass on her torch, honoring how much she was a great example to me without even trying. I also whole-heartedly share the recipe because everyone needs a batch of homemade hot fudge sauce every once in a while.

Though this recipe is called Chocolate Sauce, i have always referred to it as Hot Fudge Sauce and even though this says margarine, it is a lie, Kitsie never used it. Her recipes assumed lots, like mixing things and temperatures and knowing that bitter chocolate means bitter sweet chocolate. They were also a bit contradictory: “stirring constantly until mixture comes to a boil” and the ending with “Don not let it boil.” Translation? Cook over low heat and just cook it until it smells delicious and thickens. 1 square bittersweet melted with 1/4 cup butter, 1 and 1/4 cups of cocoa, 3/4 cups sugar, 1/2 cup evaporated milk. (you know the old school kind in the can.) This freezes perfectly and it also doubles and triples easily.
The box of recipes Kitsie hand typed for me before computers, spell check and backspacing; and all of the ingredients except for the stick of butter because I realized that I am out. If you use the Ghirardelli, it is 2 squares not one since their squares are much thinner than the old fashioned Bakers brand. Carnation makes smaller cans which serve this recipe well if you are only making one batch, this can makes 2 1/2 batches. I usually keep all of this on hand to whip up a batch at the blink of an eye.