Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Guilt of Paradise and finding Malu

So here we are in October. Andy is still unemployed and depressed. I'm employed but going crazy with stress from my job and a little bit too from knowing that I am the only one bringing in a salary. That in itself is enough motivation to not say no to every project coming your way even though you are overbooked. But we are on vacation in Hawaii and I'm looking for some "malu" or peace. At least for the two weeks here in paradise! Expensive paradise. In the middle of my biggest project at work.

The guilt, of course, is a bit overwhelming. But why shouldn't we take a vacation? Yes it eats into our nest egg that we've utilized quite well since Andy's lay-off. We've done the due diligence our finances. We've cut out unnecessary expenses -- no cleaning service, no landscaping projects, more cooking at home/less eating out. We have consolidated our mortgage into one 15-year low interest loan. I make a very decent salary. So why should we feel guilty about a vacation?

Well, for one thing, everything is so expensive here! I had a mani/pedi yesterday and didn't ask how much it cost before I got it. I thought how much could it be? Well, you can imagine my surprise when I got a ticket for $150!!! The little flower on my big toe cost $25...for each toe! But it was a wonderful mani/pedi...they rubbed a delicious pineapple and sea salt exfoliation treatment on my legs and then a nice massage with pineapple scented oil. The same for my hands and arms. Plus I got acrylic pink and white on my nails. I'm used to paying about $80 for these services at home. I guess I got the premium Hawaiian service for the extra $70!

My husband tells me to not worry about it. I deserve the pampering. Honestly, I agree with him! I have been so extremely stressed out and this vacation has done wonders. I don't really care how much we spend. The guilt comes because I think I should!

Everyday the news shows more and more issues about the economy. More job losses, more people evicted, more people going hungry. I have many friends who were victims of the same lay off as Andy at that big blue company. They are out there looking for jobs and wondering what they are going to do after the severance pay is gone. Andy has applied for so many jobs online and the only responses he's had have been for selling insurance or personal financial services.

I feel guilt that I am not happy in my job right now. I am overstressed, got too much going on to do the kind of job I want to do and I want to do something different! I want a promotion! I want to move up in my company. I keep telling myself, "At least I have a job." But you know what? That is so unfair that I'm not allowed to have goals and expectations. I think some companies use this as an unfair advantage. Let's get rid of the people that make this company what it is and then the people we have left will be so fearful of keeping their job they'll take on everything we throw at them. I'm not sure all companies think this way but it sure feels like it. From a company financial perspective, looking at figures on paper, I'm sure it is easy to cut spending by cutting employees. Publically traded companies have an obligation to their stockholders to be profitable and an easy way to drive profits if sales are not there is to cut expenses. Employees being one of the highest expenses. As a stokeholder in several large companies, that doesn't really give me Malu. I'm not sure what the Hawaiian word for agita is but...I feel it.

So, I'm taking almost three weeks off in the middle of my biggest project's most busy time. And I'm spending money on luxuries and gourmet dining. And I'm having a great time and de-stressing. And hopefully, I can keep a little of Hawaii's "malu" (peace) with me when I'm completely underwater in everyday life.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Learning Passion from Your Parents

My husband and I are coming up on our 15th wedding anniversary. It hasn't been an easy road to maneuver. I was lucky enough (or cursed...not sure which) to have parents who were passionately in love with each other as my road model to marriage. In this case, the word passion can describe the good times and the bad times. There were more good times than bad times, but let me tell you, when the bad times came there was a lot of passion about who was right and who was wrong!

My early years were spent in a small town outside of Boston, Massachusetts. This was the town that both my parents' family had settled in when they came from Ireland. My grandfather was the superintendent for schools. His wife, Catherine, however died when my father was only two years old. She had tuberculosis. Dad was raised by different members of the Collins family and a housekeeper who took most of the cash given to her for the weekly groceries and fed my father a concoction of white rice and raisins which left him with a permanent grudge against and rice products. Because of my grandfather's standing in the community, they were considered to be a well-off family. Members of the local yacht club, housekeeper, and only two kids in the household. As an Irish Catholic family this was not the norm, even in the Great Depression. My dad was born in 1930 and my mom in 1933.

My mom on the other hand, grew up, technically on the wrong side of the tracks. She was the youngest girl of 13 brothers and sisters. There were two younger brothers after her. My grandfather Cahill worked multiple jobs to make ends meet for his large family. He was also the main cook, disciplinarian and bread winner of the family. He was totally devoted to my grandmother and my mother was his baby girl. He did things for her that the other sisters (and brothers) did not get. For instance, he bought her a car when she was old enough to drive. She didn't have to "help" with the chores around the house. In other words, she was a spoiled young lady!

I give you this brief history of my parents and the way they were raised so you may have a little insight to my parents "passionate" marriage. My mother came into their marriage with little knowledge about being a wife. She didn't know how to cook. She didn't know how to keep house. She definitely didn't know about sex and devoured all my pamphlets on the monthly miracle we woman have been bestowed when the school had "THE TALK" session in 5th grade. The pamphlets seemed to answer a lot of questions she had but still wouldn't talk to me about it. She went from a home that took care of her into another home where she was to be taken care of.

My dad, on the other hand, was brought up with a distant father who lamented the loss of the love of his life and never really got over it. He was not close to his children because he left it up to everyone else to raise them. My father hungered for a home of his own where he felt loved and wanted. Where someone would take care of him and he would take care of his special someone.

And then he found my mother. She was the best friend of the girl his best friend, Donald, was marrying. The only problem was that my mom was engaged to another guy. That didn't stop my father. He wooed her until she broke off her engagement and went out with him. On their first date, my dad leaned over as if he was going to kiss my mom but instead whispered in her ear, "You are going to be my wife."

And in a year, on June 4th, 1959, they were married. It's the stuff movies are made of...or at least a mini series. There was passion and drama and humor in their marriage. My mom even learned how to cook a few dishes when they lived in the attic apartment of a nice old Italian couple. I was born into that apartment and my older brother and I called them Grandma and Grandpa. Grandma taught my mom how to make spaghetti sauce from scratch and lasagna and pizziola.

When I was in third grade, some drama came to the marriage. Wedding vows, Commandments, etc. were broken. A new music teacher came to down and she was a "gay divorcee" which in 1970 was still not that common in a 98% Catholic town. I do not know when and how they met but a relationship was formed with Miss Beaver (yes that was really her name) and my father. All of a sudden, I was getting asked to sing solos at the assembly the chorus groups had for parents. Miss Beaver would miraculously show up to the places we were. She was a bit of a stalker I'm afraid.

Soon after the shady coincidental meetings started to happen, a dark blue Cadillac started appearing in our driveway when my dad was at work and we were at school. As I rounded the corner to walk down our street to our house, I could see it leaving our driveway. A dark-haired man driving. When I came home early one day because of some kind of malfunction at the school, the man was still at my house. They were both a little shocked when I walked into the house but I did not catch them in a compromising situation. They were sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee. I found out this was the man my mother dumped to marry my father. It turns out that my father had the affair first...really a mistake, one-night stand (was his version 20-years later). My mother wanted to retaliate by sleeping with Adrian Z (I can't remember his last name but it was Italian). Once they were "even," their marriage went on like nothing happened. But, within the year, we packed up everything, left family and friends and moved to Florida where Mom and Dad didn't know a soul and really had to depend on each other for love, companionship and friendship. Their marriage grew stronger. This is the time that they learned how to be each other's best friends, confidantes and partners. Life was good for the Collins' house in Florida.

Growing up in Florida was wonderful. Our land was covered in orange, grapefruit and tangerine trees. We had a pool and our house became the central entertainment house on the block. All the kids and all the parents used to hang out there. My parents brought to Florida their ability to socialize regularly. Any one of the half-dozen families on the block would stop by for cocktails at 5:00 pm sharp. A beer or a highball at the ready. I get my passion for entertaining from my parents. Not only did they party at home but almost every Saturday night, they would take off for the Moose Club with their new best friends the Wilsons to go dancing.

Even when they were fighting, it took on a sense of humor. I remember one spat about friends of my father who wanted to come to Orlando and stay at our home. It would require a lot of bedroom re-organization to accommodate a married couple and their hyper-active kid. My parents were sitting outside by the pool and every time my father said they were coming, my mother said, "No!" and bopped him on the head with an empty paper towel roll. They were giggling and laughing. All of a sudden my father picked my mother up, lawn chair and all, and threw her into the pool.

In 1977, however, their marriage took on another twist. My mother had a massive heart attack and needed to have a triple by-pass surgery. One important item to note here is that both my mom and dad were intensely uncomfortable with the medical world. As children, we did not go to the doctor unless our arms were hanging limply by our side, our head was cracked open or we were hacking so bad from bronchitis that they thought our insides were going to come out our mouths! My parents never even thought of going in for an annual check up. The only time you went to the dentist was if you had a toothache. There was no such thing as preventative care.

In the 70's a heart by-pass wasn't as routine a surgery as it is today. There was a lot more risk associated with it. My mother didn't want the surgery. She kept saying that she was alive today and she couldn't take the risk. So she didn't have the surgery. As the years went by she steadily lost the use of her legs. The doctors kept attributing it to the lack of oxygen going to her limbs. My dad expanded his care taking to include her.

What the doctors missed was that my mother actually had multiple sclerosis. Until her death in 1992 my father was by her side. He retired from work at 55 so he could be her caretaker full time. Their devotion to each other was incredible. After my mother's death, my father passed away within a year. I think he died of a broken heart.

My husband and I have had our ups and downs in our marriage but at the end of the day, he's my best friend, my lover and my partner. His strengths match my weaknesses and my strengths match his weaknesses. I know we can overcome the downs and share the joy of our up times!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Rash of "Feel Good" TV Messages

There's no doubt about, America needs something to celebrate life and living to our fullest potential. That's why I turn to TV to get my dose of "living life to the fullest." I need a TV show that takes up an hour of my precious life to tell me to get up off that couch or out of that lounge chair and go sky-dive, or write a novel or marry the one you love. Thank goodness for the network shows or else I wouldn't understand that in these trying times of job losses, economic ruin, war casualties and overall insecurity, I need to stop and smell the roses or do a random acts of kindness or drink from the cup half full.

If I record the shows, then instead of giving up an hour or a half-hour, I only have to give up about 45 minutes or 22 minutes. I can speed through the commercials which will ultimately give me back some time but waste someone's advertising dollar requiring the ad company to lay off people because the client is not happy and possibly requiring the client to lay off people because their product isn't selling. Is Ford the only American car company because it placed its vehicles in Knight Rider, the TV Show? Can't skip through the placement during the whole TV show. But, alas, you can skip the whole TV show when it is brain numbingly stupid.

So, I'm trying to learn to not be an "armchair life liver." At times I have my moments like the really cool vacation when we are white water rafting Snake River...the same river that Evil Knievel jumped in the 70s. Or I feel like I'm living life when I'm at the homeless shelter serving food I cooked for them. Or when I'm playing with my dogs just for the pure joy of play.

Is optimism a genetic thing? I watched the Michael J. Fox documentary on optimism. Now, there's a guy who is definitely a glass half full guy! There are all sorts of studies going on now about optimism. In one study, there actually seems to be a genetic indicator in your DNA that indicates if you are an optimist or not. I'm not sure I believe that. I think you have to open your brain, your logical side, and your heart to see the good things in a bad situation. Perhaps it is a genetic disposition that allows you to change the way you think. On the flip side of that coin, it is so much easier to buy into the cup half empty scenario, especially if you are surrounded by negative people. Someone drives that giant bandwagon of doom and gloom and you can see the people running along side to jump on board.

I'm trying to optimistically look at the obstacles I need to overcome. I think I can make it over these hurdles. I have to accept that it is a work in progress. Somewhere along the journey of life, I've become a bit OCD. I think that in order to be successful I have to have everything available and ever obstacle resolved FIRST. And then I should be able to skip along the path and achieve the goals that I've set for myself.

Life doesn't work that way. Some obstacles are actually brick walls that you have to find a way around. You can't get over them but you need to take different routes. And sometimes the road around the brick walls allows you to see and smell flowers you've never seen before. Not from an armchair but from your "Feel Good" journey.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Things I've Learned in Vegas

Las Vegas is the land of opportunity, the land of hopes and dreams, the land of fantasy...the land of believing in yourself! Some folks "poo poo" Vegas as a den of sex, sin and stereotypical indulgence. I'm telling you, though, you can learn a lot about yourself and life lessons that everyone can use--even when they are not in Vegas.

1. You control your own life! The array of choices that Las Vegas gives you can be overwhelming for the week. Where do you go to gamble? Where do you go to eat? What shows do you go? How much money can you afford to entertain yourself with gambling? When do you stop? It is very easy to over indulge in Vegas. In fact, I think they hope you will. Which isn't all bad -- if you can keep in mind that you have the power to say yes or no. Sit through those boring timeshare talks knowing that at the end of the spiel, you will not be tempted and will say "no." You'll get a lovely night out or an invigorating day at the Spa all on someone else's dime. Of course, we are the proud owners of three timeshares (investing in our future vacations) including one in Vegas!

2. Believe in yourself! Vegas does have the ability to make your dreams come true. If you invest some money in yourself to go play poker or blackjack, you are not only building skills but you have the possibility to win the games. Look at professional poker tournaments today...the World Series of Poker gets larger and larger every year with everyday Joes and Jos showing up to play. Vegas offers other venues too like live Rock Band karaoke, outrageous roller coasters, and tournaments galore. You can even fly in Vegas in an indoor parachuting place. Embrace the fear and believe in yourself.

3. Math is always an important life skill. Vegas is all about the math...statistics and just plain arithmetic. I started playing penny slots on our trip to Vegas last October. I had no clue what I was doing nor that I had changed the penny ante to a nickel. Penny slots have multiple lines you can bet on and none of them seem to make sense to me. And then they fool you a bit and talk about how many credits you have...not how much money you have put into the machine or won or lost on the machine. I won a couple of hundred bucks on that slot and have no clue why. After I cashed out, I finally figured out that the nickel ante I was playing had been doubled and then multiplied by 15 lines. Each spin of the wheel cost me $15.00! That was way more than I ever played on a hand of Black Jack or a quarter or dollar slot machine. On the trip we just came back from, I was winning again on a penny slot that I had upped to a nickel. About an hour before we needed to leave for the airport, I won a jackpot. I called Andy up and said, "How much is 52,200 nickels?" He grumbled at me that he was playing Black Jack and to use the calculator on the iPhone. About a minute later he called back because he realized I just won over $2500. The night before I won about $700 which I thought was pretty darn skippy but this was wonderful! This was, take the dog training classes I want to take money or cut down some trees in the backyard money or buy that gadget that I wanted but didn't really need money. This was pay for the whole trip, all the shows, all the food, all of Andy's losses (from this trip and a couple of other solo trips to casinos in 2009) and still come out ahead!

4. Always have a plan. When Andy and I go to Vegas we have a gambling plan that we mostly stick to when playing. We have an "entertainment" allowance -- that's what we call our gambling money. It's up to you if you want to play it all on the first day or have a limit each day. If you win, you cash out and start with that starter "entertainment" money. With slots, it is easy to keep track of what you are starting with and cashing out with. With the real people games like poker or Black Jack, it is harder to cash out and remove yourself from the temptation to not win more. I remember the first time I gambled with Andy was at a Black Jack table on our honeymoon cruise to Bermuda. As fast as I could win, Andy was taking my chips. We seem to have a yin yang win/loss ratio. When I'm losing, he's winning and when he's losing, I'm winning.

5. Know when to walk away from the table. Like old Kenny Rogers says, "You gotta know when to fold 'em." This is not just a Vegas gambling lesson but a useful skill in the real world. Don't gamble with anything that you can't walk away from. It's harder to negotiate on a salary when you don't have a job but ultimately you have the power to say yes or to walk away from the table.

6. Leave on a high note. Who doesn't love George Castanza from TVs classic show, Seinfeld? Remember his philosophy to leave on a high note? He would make a contribution (no matter how big or small) and leave on that contribution. After I won my big jackpot, I had to be paid the jackpot by a slots manager rather than getting a cash out ticket. I think because Uncle Sam wanted his share (I had to fill out a tax form). The slots manager was a little amazed I took the winnings and cashed out the machine and walked away. It was great leaving Vegas on a high note!

Maybe I'm just a control freak but lately I've been totally aware that my every action is determined by a decision I make. I make the choices that control my destiny and every decision is important. I can choose to be positive about life or I can choose to wallow in my shoulda, woulda, couldas. I can choose to bet one penny at a time or I can max bet -- bigger risk but bigger payoff.

Ahhh Vegas! You are the land of opportunities, the land of hopes and dreams, the land of fantasies. You are the epitome of self-fulfillment and choice. Oh, and thanks for the big jackpot!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Five Year Plan

As a kid, your potential is boundless. You can be anything your heart desires. One day you can tell everyone that you are going to be a singer and the next day you are going to be an astronaut. Everyday there can be a new career plan. As you get older, the daily career plan turns into a monthly career plan. As you hit junior high school, you maybe have an idea of what you'd like to do as an adult but you are still free to explore other areas of interest. Maybe you are a budding actor or a talented artist and the reality of making a living at these occupations isn't a factor for you at that age. The point is that you think you can be anything when you grow up!

As far as I can remember back, I have loved animals and wanted to be a veterinarian. Our house was filled with dogs and cats I found a way to raise $5.99 plus shipping and handling for a monthly set of Animal Kingdom cards. Some kids collected baseball cards or Garbage Pail Kids cards. I wanted cards that told me that the Capybera was the largest rodent in the world. I wanted to know that the Platypus was in the same family as the Opossum and the Koala. I even wanted to know that spiders and crabs were in the same class (arachnida) even though they weren't warm and fuzzy mammals!

In high school, I was delivered a blow by an adult. Someone who was supposed to be my champion decided I was worthless and I should give up my dreams. I will never forget the feeling of humiliation, the heat climbing up my neck and spreading out over my cheeks, when she said, "You aren't really college material. Perhaps you should think about becoming a secretary." This statement was made in the beginning of my sophomore year during my first meeting with Ms. Ophelia Irwin, high school guidance counselor.

I didn't understand this. I did not know what she was basing this statement on because this woman didn't know me. She didn't know my passions. She didn't know my abilities and my capabilities. What she did know, or I should say who she did know was my older, trouble-maker brother. And although I was, in my own right, a trouble-maker too, I was smart. I was academic. I knew animals and science and I was a good student. The operative word here is 'was.'

For the next three years I literally sailed through school not caring what was going to happen after graduation. My senior year I had two student assistant periods, three acting classes and creative writing. I didn't care about academics. I wasn't college material so why should I care?

I graduated with average grades and had come to terms that I would end up working at an office. I had a night job with Orange County Voter Registration filing. I couldn't expect much more from life.

But my dad thought I was college material and bless his heart, he went down to the local community college and signed me up for the first semester. I still wonder what he was thinking when he signed me up for biology, french, calculus, and freshman composition. I am so thankful that he had faith in me. But, my nagging self-doubt continued to rule and I threw away my dreams of being a vet.

So fast forward 27 years later and my need to work with animals is as strong today as it was when I was a kid. I still know that the capybera is the world's largest rodent. At 44, I'm probably not going to vet school. But I have a five-year plan to build on my existing skills as a salesperson, business leader, strategic thinker and, most of all, animal lover. I'm looking at animal behavior programs (that's the new, fancy term for dog training). I might look into a vet tech program. But ultimately, I want own a doggie daycare with all the services -- boarding, training, doggie boutique, etc.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Rebel Without a Clue...

As a 44-year old woman, I don't like being told, "No." My loving husband has a tendency to spout out that word often which generally invokes the following response from me: "You're not the boss of me!" I know, very mature...

My whole life, though, I've dodged situations where people could tell me no. So, at a very young age, I learned to stop asking permission to do things. Granted, that doesn't always work for say a four-year old. In kindergarten, I discovered one of my new classmates lived on the same street from me. Pleasant Street was a pretty long street and she lived about five blocks "down" the street. One day I decided to visit Jeannie and left our big yard and started my journey.
I made it to Jeannie's house and she was outside in her own yard playing. Jeannie and I had the best time playing tag and Chinese jump rope (remember the chant, "In, Out, Side to Side, Back, In, Out!).

About three hours later I walked home as it was almost dark. I didn't expect that there would be a police car in my driveway. I didn't expect my father to rush to me and bear hug me at the same time he swatted my bottom with a fake spanking. I certainly didn't expect my mother to burst out into hysterical tears. I had no idea what the big deal was or what was going on!
Being a December baby, I was about three months shy of my fifth birthday. I was certainly no baby! When my parents asked me where I had been, I told them in a very matter-of-fact tone that I was "down" the street at Jeannie's house. Now that I was home and safe, the battle of the wills began.

"Who gave you permission to leave this yard?" my mother said through her gritting teeth.

"Who said I had to stay in the yard?" I inquired since no one had really said that rule out loud that we were never allowed to leave the yard without explicit permission from one parent or the other.

"You are a four-year old baby! You are not allowed to leave this yard without your father or me," she exclaimed. I don't remember the exact words that she used but the sentence probably started with a "Jesus, Mary and Joseph and all the Saints in Heaven." My mother was always invoking the Trio and the Saints.

The police officer that was dispatched to our house was watching this exchange between my mother and me. He seemed very entertained by the whole conversation. My father, by this time, had calmed down and asked me why I didn't ask them if I could go over to Jeannie's house.

I looked up at him with an innocent look and big, wide eyes and said, "Because you would have said no."

My father's eyes betrayed all of his emotions. If he was mad, they would just about pop out of his head! If he was amused, the became all soft and smiley. If he was hurt they became cloudy and moist. I could tell he wanted to laugh and his eyes got all twinkly. Meanwhile, my mother's shoulders were drilling into her ears and her body was stiffer than a corpse. She was waiting for my father to discipline his little girl. Her expectations were that he would take her side and that I would have a fitting punishment.

My dad mumbled, "Don't do that again unless we tell you it is OK." And that was it. Dad released Bud the cop thanking him for coming out to the house. Bud smiled and winked at me. And that sealed the deal for me. This was the turning point in my young life's philosophy found! A philosophy that I still live by 40-years later!

It is better to ask for forgiveness later than permission first. No one is the boss of me...except me! If I miss out on something, I have no one to blame except myself for not making it happen.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Striking a Balance...

I don't know about anyone else but by the end of a week my senses are raw. Some days I spend eight or more hours on conference calls. My brain turns to mush. On Friday afternoons, my biggest wish is to wrap up in a blanket and read whatever book I'm into at the time...or just taking a nap and shut out all the goings on around me. In other words, I want to escape! I don't want to talk or be out among people. If I do an activity on Friday night, I want to cancel (sorry girls who I go out with on Friday nights!).

I often have said that I would love to become a hermit. In fact, I think a lot of people think that they would like to become hermits. I have a great business idea that I would find a series of caves (or maybe build some underground fortress or something like that) that I would fix up with all the comforts and luxuries one could imagine or want. Before checking into "The Hermitage" the guest would have to answer an extensive questionnaire that would include favorite movies, TV shows, books, magazines, games, food, drink, etc. There would also be a number of different services like massages or mani/pedis or Wii games...whatever your little heart desires. So, when you checked into your cave you would be surrounded with all your favorite comforts. But, because there are really few people out there that truly want to be by themselves, I would schedule Hermit Mixers so that if you were tired of being by yourself you could meet other hermits -- people who really don't want to be by themselves. I'm good at planning parties and throwing parties. I'm not good at going to parties!

So, how do I keep my inner hermit in check? I have become the planner in my circle of friends so I guess I socialize on my own terms. My friends all know that they shouldn't leave phone messages for me. I don't answer the phone. I don't listen to messages. If Andy's not answering the phone, well your sort of SOL because I answer for very few people. It has nothing to do with how much I like a person. In fact, I'm always happy when I go out with my friends but there is always a moment the hermit emerges and I want to call off the plans and escape to the comfort of that blanket. You know that feeling -- it's the same thing you go through when you are trying to talk yourself into going to the gym. You don't want to go, you don't feel like it, but once you are there, it feels good.

So everyday is a battle with the hermit and trying to strike a balance between my natural tendencies to be an anti-social, non-doer and pushing myself past my comfort zone. We all need to push ourselves past our comfort zone and challenge ourselves. I push past my comfort zone everyday in my relationships with people in general.

I think I should probably win an Academy Award for the part I play during the day. You could say I'm a method actor. My feelings for my friends and family are certainly genuine and honestly, if I didn't have these people in my life it would be so much easier to slip into that hermit, anti-social mode. And it would be sooo boring! I'd probably be some crazy bag lady talking to the pet rat in her pocket. But, I think people would still approach me, even as the crazy bag lady. I've always been so baffled about this aura I seem to give off that allows perfect strangers to approach me so even as the crazy bag lady, I'm sure people would still ask me for directions on the street.

One of my early people nightmares was when I was in first grade. First, let me preface this story by telling you how excited my mom was when she had me. I was a living doll that she could dress up and share all the girly-girl things in life. Before I was old enough to say no to the frills, Mom had turned me into a living teddy bear. Rabbit fur coat, matching hat and muff...I mean really, who in the modern day uses a muff??? It wasn't like I took the sled to school everyday! At recess, the children in my class were so amused by this chubby bear that they encircled me and wouldn't let me out of the ring. I was traumatized. The more I tried to get out of the circle the more they laughed and caught me up in their entwined arms. They had no idea until the tears started rolling down my face. I didn't want the attention.

I'm no good in crowds. I don't like people touching me. My mind still wanders to the teddy bear incident. In fact, I have a big fur (fake) coat that I bought last year. It's really really warm but I'm afraid that people will pet me! It's like the pregnant woman phenomena. Somehow total strangers think it is OK to approach me. If you ever stand with me in a line, you will be amazed how many people who want to cross the queue will choose me to break into the line. And crazy people...don't even get me started on the radar I emit that says to the crazy people of the world, "Talk to this woman...she likes you!"

I blame my parents. They taught me to be polite to one and all. It is the ultimate internal struggle of my inner being...balancing the crazy hermit with the polite, well-mannered little girl. If someone addresses me, I have to acknowledge them, even if they are wearing a helmet made of tinfoil. This has often made me the victim of crazy people all over the world. I once had a man follow me from the Metro to my office in Washington, DC because I made the mistake of making eye contact and muttering, "Good Morning." I soon got a phone call at my desk from this crazy person. He had followed me into the office and asked the security guard what my name was and then called the main number of the National Association of Home Builders where I worked.

You might be thinking, "Awww...what a great story to find have your eyes meet across the Metro station." Well, it might have been if this man had not called fourteen times within the span of an hour! Cuckoo for cocoa puffs is all I can say.

So maybe you think this only happened when I was younger (and better looking!) but actually no. It has happened all over the world. Last year I was in Barcelona on a business trip and my last night there, a colleague and I went out to our favorite Irish pub in Barcelona (her being a Bailey and me being a Collins, we have a thing for visiting Irish Pubs). We sat at the end of the bar enjoying our pints and chatting away. She left for a few minutes to find an ATM. I watched the soccer game on the TV and ignored the man sitting at the bar a few stools away. I could feel him looking at me. I refused to look over because I knew that it would be enough of an invite for him to strike up a conversation. I would not look over...I would not look over. Oh crap, I looked over!

That was enough for him to introduce himself. He was 26-years-old and somehow in the span of one minute I found out his mother was from the Congo and his father was Belgian. My friend Amy soon came back to the bar and found me engaged in conversation with this young man. "Is he OK?" she asked me through the side of his mouth. "Nothing bad yet with my spidey sense," I replied. Of course this was the same woman who didn't want me to strike up a conversation earlier that week at Columbus Square with a homeless man selling tissues. Let's say we balanced each other out very well.

Soon this gentleman invited himself to our end of the bar and even began to eat our food! This, of course, alerted the spidey sense. Once his strange hands (who knows when the last time he washed them) hit our food, I didn't touch it again. Trying to be polite, Amy asked him what he did for a living. That was when we knew this guy must of just escaped from the funny farm. He looked around to see if there was anyone listening and then leaned in to tell us the secret. "I am Illuminati," he said in a somber and serious voice.

Amy and I looked at each other and both said at the same time, "DaVinci Code Illuminati?" And he let us in on the plan to kill Dan Brown for exposing the order. Spidey Sense is now ricocheting off the wall. But I can not be rude to him and tell him to go away.

Somehow we get into a conversation about politics. This was before President Obama took the nomination. He was arguing with me that Michael Bloomberg, yes the mayor of New York, was going to be a surprise Republican nominee and win the presidency. Of course I had to tell him this was idiotic since he wasn't even in the running or throwing his hat in the ring. But I did it in a very nice and polite way!

Out of nowhere, the odd man says to me, and I'm quoting, "Do you know that when you walk down the street all people see is a stupid fat woman and no matter how smart you are, no one will take you seriously because you are fat." I'm in a little shock because how fast this guy turned ugly. And I'm always a bit shocked at how fast people are willing to sacrifice other people's dignity to make themselves feel good.

Well all I can say is God Bless the Irish...all the staff at the Michael Collins Pub are wonderful Irish lads and lasses. Our bartender was a lovely girl from the motherland who immediately went and told one of the larger, burly bartenders about the incident. He promptly threw Mr. Illuminati out of bar. After that, we were their guests for the night and the Guinness turned into Jameson's and we were well taken care of. We called one of our colleagues who lived in the city and he came to see us back to the hotel. No crazy Illuminati were waiting for us when we left. I do, however, feel the need to warn Mr. Dan Brown though!

When incidents like that happen to me, it reinforces my instincts to turn my back on people. Life is so much easier if I could ignore the bulk of humanity and be a hermit. But, and this is a big but, then there would be no stories. Life would be pretty boring

Monday, March 2, 2009

Pancake Night and Baked Bean Sandwiches Spawns an Entrepenieur

I didn't know my family was poor when I was growing up until I was well into my 30's. There were lots of tell-tale signs but either I was too dense to know or I didn't want to know. I think it was probably the latter.

In our family, every Thursday night was Pancake Night. It was a big coincidence that Pancake Night fell on the night before payday. But the ingredients where plentiful and always in the house. We never went hungry but I knew my parents struggled to make it from paycheck to paycheck.

Food became the barometer of my parents wealth. Saturday night was steak night (makes sense as it was the day after payday). As the payday got further away, the meals became less robust, culminating in the famous Pancake Night. My mother would get quite creative at lunch times and to this day, I still love a baked bean sandwich. I know, it sounds weird but she would take Wonder Bread and butter it and then smash Bush's Baked Beans in as the filling. Don't knock it until you try it! Every once in a while I get a jones for the comfort of a good old baked bean sandwich!

The funny thing is that I never ever heard my parents discussing money. None of us kids knew how much money my father made. Being children of the Depression, my parents main goal was to have more than their parents and provide more for their children. My father saw it as a personal failure if he was not able to give us something we wanted. Perhaps I was an overly empathetic child but I sensed that it broke my father's heart to say no so it was my personal goal at an early age to not give him the opportunity. I don't think I understood it 100% when I was a kid but my need for financial independence was a combination of not wanting to put my father in the position that he couldn't do something for me and also not putting my parents in the position of saying no to something I wanted. If I earned my own money no one could tell me how to spend it, right?

I was a regular Donald Trump with my entrepreneurial drive. I had many different businesses growing up from lawn care to babysitting but it was in 1977 that I built a kingdom out of rope. It was the year of macrame. I started with less than $5 seed money to buy some basic supplies and made as many macrame planters as I could. Then I went door-to-door in my neighborhood and sold my inventory and took custom orders. At 13-years-old, I knew how much profit I made on each piece. I actually made more profit on the fast and easy basic designs that I could make in bulk then I did on the custom pieces. The most detailed custom piece was a hanging table made with a giant piece of cut cypress about six feet in circumference. The time and effort it took me on that piece along with the high-end beads and rope made it one of my most expensive custom pieces at $350 but ultimately I would end up losing money if I paid the labor (me!) an hourly wage. I barely covered cost of supplies.

And then I learned how to make the pot-bellied owl hand towel ring. Sales went through the roof! These towel rings were made with a special macrame rope that you knotted through the body of the owl and unravelled it. Then you took a wire hair brush and teased the heck out of it until it was fat and fluffy. I couldn't keep up with the orders. The summer of '77 was all about the owl and I seemed to spend every waking moment making these horned creatures.

The demand for these owls was so huge that I had to hire an employee -- my mother! In addition to paying her 20% of the profits made from each owl (she still wore her hair in a teased up bee-hive a la Priscilla Presley and had much experience with teasing). Plus I also paid my parents room and board. It was only $50 a month and I'm sure it cost a lot more than $50 a month to feed me and house me. I was proud to pay that to my parents.

The laws of supply and demand caught up with me and the bottom fell out of the macrame business. Meanwhile in the world, the bottom was falling out of lots of things in the economy. Remember the lines for gas? But I had caught the bug for independence. I was no longer looking for a little pocket change but I was anxious to pay my way. Also, paying my own way gave me (or so I thought) the unwritten, unsaid permission to do what I wanted. I stopped asking if I was allowed and my motto turned into a philosophy I still use today. It's better to ask for forgiveness later than permission now!

I would continue to be blessed to have a job (or jobs)...knock on wood! I give my parents credit for jump starting my work ethic. Just think, it all started with pancakes for dinner and a baked bean sandwich.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

What is passion?

One of my best friends (we've worked together across two companies for many years) and I were having a philosophical discussion on finding your life's passions. Actually the discussion was on our company's Instant Message as we were both participating in long, uneventful conference calls and rather than waste an hour of our time that we would never get back, we put it to use having a deep conversation...on instant message. I know...ROFLMAO as I picture the event.

The ideal situation would be Joye is vacationing in Paris and is dressed in a glamorous little black dress with 4-inch, extremely pointy shoes that she would be traipsing all over Paris in with no pain at all. She'll be waiting in a chic coffeehouse for her husband as they meet for dinner and then the opera so she has decided to "instant message" her friend in the States.

Meanwhile, Kasey is zipping along in a chauffeured car to her next might be Rachel Ray or it could be Martha Stewart...she can't remember. Her best-selling novel has made her an instant celebrity.

Joye: IDK...I'm jealous that you know what your passions are

Kasey: LOL! You live a fabulous life traveling the world with your family

Joye: I know...we're fabulous! We got everything in life right!

Kasey: I know! We're so fabulous! We've got so many of life's passions! the scene isn't as fabulous but the conversation was probably better. In reality, we were both still in our pajamas, waiting for a break in our schedules to rush into the shower, maybe grab a meal. Joye had read my first blog and had made the comment that she wished she knew what her passions in life were.

It got me to thinking about the word passion. It's a dramatic word to use. It fills up pieces of our lives to have a passion. In today's society, it seems to have to mean something dramatic and out of the ordinary. You don't hear a lot of people declaring their passion in life to be broccoli.

I looked up the word passion. Passion (from the Latin verb patior, meaning to suffer or to endure, also related to compatible) is an emotion applied to a very strong feeling about a person or thing. Passion is an intense emotion compelling feeling, enthusiasm, or desire for something. The term is also often applied to a lively or eager interest in or admiration for a proposal, cause, or activity or love.

I look at Joye and I can see her passion, even if she can't or doesn't deem it exciting enough to be called a passion. Joye is the mother of three beautiful children and she is raising them to be the best humans that they can be. She's teaching her oldest daughter to be a confident, mature young woman and to pursue her passions. She's teaching her teenage boy how to pursue his passions and have not only the sports but the education. Not to mention the hours she spends on activities for parents of the athletes and supporting him at games. And her youngest, she is showing her how to be a strong woman and raise a loving family. She does all this for the kids and let's not forget her husband! There's a passion all on its own!

Sometimes we don't think our lives are exciting enough and could hardly call raising families a passion. Passions don't have to change the world. They change you. Not every passion can be converted into a career or an adrenalin rush. But I guarantee you that your passions change your life. I don't think I could live without my husband, my dogs, my want to have a family, my friends.

So, I declare publicly, on this blog, I have a passion for my life now...and for all things to be pursued. Now is the time to declare your passions...even if it is a passion for broccoli!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

How do you turn lemons into lemonade???

After feeling like my husband has had an affair for 15 years because he has been so focused on his career, he was "resourced" from IBM. Andy is a singularly focused guy and sometimes it felt like his only focus was on work. Everything else, including me and our plans for a family, were secondary. My winning argument was often, "If you focused on me as much as you do work, we wouldn't have any issues!"

Anyway, Monday was his last day at IBM. He was totally down on himself, feeling like he was a failure in life and struggling with the idea that his wife would be supporting him. He even felt like a failure at the Unemployment Office because after some bum advice, he found out that he wasn't eligible for unemployment until after his severance package terms were covered. I am trying to be the super supportive wife and let him talk through everything that is going on but as I mentioned before, Andy is a singularly focused guy. Lately, his focus has been on his shortcomings and failures.

I want to shake him and tell him to wake up! This is an opportunity for him to figure out what he really wants to do with his life! O-P-P-O-R-T-U-N-I-T-Y...not the downfall of our life. To be honest, I'm jealous. I've been trying to get him interested in things that I would like to do like write a book or open a doggy day care/camp just so I could live vicariously through him! In his situation, I would write and spend time volunteering or taking classes just because I could. Or maybe going a whole different direction and go to cooking school. Or become a bartender. The possibilities are endless...for me. I have a list in my mind of all the things I want to do. I have passions I want to pursue at some point. I have dreams and ideas and fallback plans.

But, how do you get someone who is a glass half-empty kind of guy to fill that glass with lemonade? What are the magic words to tell him that he wasn't a failure and that the resource action (fancy term for lay-off) wasn't personal and was just a nameless business decision? How do you get him to have faith in himself again? And how much time do you give an individual like this to be able to moan and groan and relive his past? It is a very precarious line to walk between support and enablement.

I met with a friend today who is going through a spiritual journey and trying to find, well, basically himself. Stefan is young and single and doing well in his career. He's not hurting to meet women, not hurting for money, has a great job -- so whatever could be missing in his life? He took off this fall and travelled for three months in Asia. The culmination of his trip was a 10-day stint at a meditation camp in Thailand at a Buddhist Monastery. When he told me he was going to a Monastery my response was, "You???? Is this a joke???" And he told me today that a majority of his friends responded the same way!

At first he hated the rules and the schedules (4:30 am wake up call!) of his stint in the monastery. He didn't know how to meditate or how to get in touch with his real self. But each day he was able to see a little more of what his life's journey is and a little more of his real self. Instead of quitting (which he really wanted to do!) he took the challenge and stayed. I could see a change in him. Don't get me wrong, he's still the fun-loving German I met three-years ago but somehow he seems to have focused in on his purpose and a course for his life's journey. He doesn't want to wait and see, he wants to live and see!

Bill O'Reilly, media personality and Bold Fresh guy said in his latest book, A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity that he wakes up in the morning and asks what his purpose is every day and before he goes to sleep at night he asks what purpose did he serve each day. What Bill (and Stefan) have learned is that you can't skate through life. You've got to belly up to the bar, declare your purpose and go for it.

For Andy, he says he wants to focus on getting himself healthy -- going to the gym regularly, taking responsibility for his diet. He says he wants to be the "Domestic God" to take some of upkeep responsibilities off of my shoulders. I want him to believe that his purpose is taking care of himself and building our family (we are in the process of adopting an older child(ren) in the foster care system). He says the words, but I think I see some of the gleam wither in his eyes and I'm not sure he believes that his his purpose.

So I will try to be the spiritual guide, wife, #1 fan, nurturer, supporter (but not enabler) and hope that it is enough to teach him how to make lemons into lemonade. Sometimes life sucks and sometimes those sucky events just give you the kick in the pants you need to lead you to happiness!