A Little Bit of This and That

I haven’t posted much lately, it’s true. My mother-in-law came to visit for a week earlier this month for the first time in years. I didn’t take time off work to visit with her, so evening was the only time we had to spend together. I figured I shouldn’t spend it blogging while she was here.

It was a wonderful, relaxing visit, and she said it was the nicest week she’s had since her husband passed away over 40 years ago. That’s quite the testament! I’m a little bit blown away by the pronouncement, to be honest. However I’m so glad it was a good trip for her and all of us. Our kids don’t get to see her very often so this really was a special treat, especially since she is the only living grandparent.

My husband took time off work while she was here and took her all around town and out for some good eats most days. She raved about the food. That alone is an impressive feat since we don’t exactly live in a foodie kind of town and she is a foodie kind of woman. She got to see schools where her son works, meet the kids and his coworkers in the music departments, visit me at my work and meet my coworkers, hang out in his favorite cigar shop, attend our daughter’s dance competition (where she was BEAMING as her granddaughter took the stage), and visit our church. She was a hit every where she went. She always is. Tutu, which is Hawaiian for grandma, sparkles with personality and takes no guff.  She also stays out of our business which makes her a pretty good mother-in-law as far as those go.

My husband picked her up from the airport on Day 1 and took her straight to a restaurant where the kids and I met up with them to celebrate his 50th birthday. I watched as he escorted her like a gentleman from the car to the front door. She had her light golden brown hair blown out in a bouffant pageboy, nails all done, and she sported funky, dangly earrings. She was dressed head to toe in black, wearing little black cigarette pants as they called him back in the day, and a black faux leather jacket with rivets. She works out at Curves every day back in her home city so she’s in pretty good shape. No lie, she looked like a million bucks. She just had her birthday, and when I saw her I thought, “Holy crap: she’s 80 and edgy! I wanna be 80 and edgy!” She was absolutely beautiful.

It’s been an semi-eventful month all around. The day Tutu flew home, I learned my boss left our company which was totally unexpected. So unexpected, it almost feels like she died. A group of us are left dealing with the shock and immediacy of the news, and trying to keep juggling the ball. However, as I told a coworker of mine, “I am the ball”, meaning as far as I am concerned there is no juggling, no dropping.  I am one with the ball and it ain’t going nowhere.

DeltaAnd now I’m sitting in Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport waiting for my flight back home. I came here for a two-day conference, on maybe my fifth visit to this city and countless connecting flights through this airport over the years.

This time is different, though. Someone from my past – someone with whom I’ve had a supernatural connection – lives in this city and the mere act of being here stirs a huge number of memories that were happy at one time but ended in a way that makes me sad and feel bad about myself and bad about how things ended.

I didn’t think it would bother me. Ok, let’s say that I really hoped that I had evolved enough as a person to move past that time but it has been an unsettling couple of days. I was even more of an introvert than I normally am at conferences….I didn’t feel much like talking to anyone. I have been uncomfortable in my own skin. I just don’t let things like that happen. I mean it: I don’t live that way. But I can’t seem to help it right now.

Not to mention how my hair and humidity have never been friends but on this trip, they are outright feuding. I had to walk three blocks from my hotel to the conference and on arrival, I looked like I let my hair air dry after a shower. Two days of feeling like I wanted a paper bag over my head. Yoy. Even my hair knew I didn’t want to be there.

I have always tried to live my life looking forward toward hopes and dreams, and not backward on regrets. But if there was one thing I could change, it would be the relationship I had with this individual. It’s painful, and time hasn’t really healed it. Naturally I don’t like thinking about that and feeling this way, but it’s otherwise difficult for me to equate Atlanta with anything else at this point.

However another one of my friends is moving to this city later this year so maybe just maybe there is hope that I will drop the existing mental connection I have with this city and develop a better one as I watch her take this town by storm. She’s an orthopedic surgeon and author with a great perspective on life and health. It’s a joy to watch a powerful, ambitious, dynamic, intelligent, and beautiful woman develop a vision for herself and her family and make it a reality. Now THAT is a very forward-looking, hopeful development I can focus on, even if it is my friend and not myself.

Maybe what I have going on here in Atlanta is fear. And to conquer fear you must face it.  Maybe I’m starting to face it by talking about, albeit somewhat cryptically, in this blog.

But right now? I just want to get on that plane and head back home to my family, squeeze them hard, and tell them I love them. And take a big, deep breath since I’m struggling for air at Delta Gate B27.

An Introvert Speaks

Reprinted from a Facebook post two years ago today.

I had a pretty good day today and so many emotions are bubbling up inside. Bear with me while I sort through it all.

neonbrand-258972-unsplashSeveral weeks back I was invited to speak to a group of internal audit leaders from across the country as part of panel at a big bank in Cleveland. I won’t say the name of this bank because something tells me that the inner workings of Facebook are sneaky, as in, “Here’s what others are saying about XYZ…” and what you think is a private post to your friends somehow gets surfaced for public consumption. So if you happen guess the name of this particular bank in response, I will delete your post! lol Not that I’m saying anything truly private, sensitive or controversial here; these are just my reflections on the day and on my career relative to where I started out in life.

I was surprised to be asked to participate alongside chief audit executives from another sizeable bank and a major insurance company, entities you may very well know. My immediate gut reaction to being asked was excitement and “YES!” followed immediately by fear, genuine puzzlement, and “Wha? ME? Oh surely they don’t mean me. I mean, my department is relatively small and our audit work isn’t nearly as regulated and sophisticated as anything in the financial services industry, and yada yada yada. How could you possibly compare my audit department with this group of banks?! Why would they ask ME? Who thought to call me?”

And maybe they just called me because we represent a local, iconic American brand and it comes with the territory of working there. Or…. there are two influential people I work with today who have a strong connection to the bank, who could have suggested calling me and that is entirely plausible too. I don’t think I’ll learn how it came about but that’s ok. Not really the most important part of the story but definitely part of the story.

Seriously, three times in the weeks leading up to the event where I was coordinating logistics with them, I wanted to graciously bow out. I had to give myself the pep talk and restrain myself from cancelling. I was concerned I would let them down, that my perspective was small potatoes relative to what they deal with. Their coordinator so effusive and bubbly with anticipation about my visit and thought of every last detail. I wondered if I was out of my league, and whether I should put them in touch with an international conglomerate or two in town.

And then I kick myself for discounting who I am and what we do…and specifically what I have done in my career. Humility is a very good thing – and although you may think differently about me – I frequently let it consume me. However sometimes humility needs to get kicked to the curb so that confidence and leadership can reign in a world where both are desperately needed.

Yes, I know I can do this. I know I can knock it out of the park both in terms of content and delivery. Yet part of me likes sitting quietly in the corner without any visibility or notoriety. And part of me wonders if people think I’m full of hooey so what right do I have to speak up? What do I know? And yet another part of me wonders if there are people who are surprised that I even have this internal struggle. And I KNOW there are people who just don’t care at all and consider all of this to be mindless blither and drama. (And….you have a point there. I have amazing capacity to do just that.) And then I circle back to the part of me that thinks about how I know what to do and I love helping you figure out if what we do would help you too. After this exhausting analysis, I end up with that as the lingering thought.

So there I was today, part of me just thrilled to participate as this is the first in a long while – 7 or 8 years – that I’ve had a public speaking gig. Granted, it was a relatively small but national audience but they were a bright and engaged group and it was fun. I even got to use my line in response to “how’s business?”, which is, “we’re jamming”. (My company makes jam and jelly among other food items.) And they all laughed…..”Thank you, you’ve been a great audience, be sure to tip your waitstaff!”

True to style, I didn’t go in with a boring Powerpoint, either. I introduced some flair. Not exactly Steve Jobs-slick but commendable nevertheless. Ha! Flair and internal audit don’t really go together, but honey that’s part of the bling I bring to the profession.  I told you this was a GIANT nerd alert. But you’re still reading, so we’re good!

I didn’t know what to expect but it was a very cool morning. It was interesting to go through the security process. Nothing like pulling into a parking garage under the careful watch of a machine-gun armed guard. You could either be really nervous or feel pretty good about that. I didn’t even see the entrance to the garage, and here the wall opens up and the on ramp into the building unfurls like a rug. Who knew? At least I had a parking space among all the downtown St. Patrick’s Day revelers, and I’m comfortable that my car isn’t laced with a bomb unbeknownst to me.

As soon as the session ended, a couple of people approached me immediately to talk further, and then some of the women in the bathroom made a point to say they really enjoyed my remarks. That was gratifying, I’m not gonna lie.

The organizers liked what I had to say enough that one of them approached me about speaking at a sister bank location in Dallas later this year, if schedules align. The speakers they’ve invited in the past were chief audit executives at a major airline and a major home improvement store, the very people who were among the keynote speakers at the 1,300+ conference I attended last week, kind of the “stars” of the audit world. So while that was one guy’s opinion, he placed me in the company of some very talented people. Even if a follow-up gig doesn’t happen, I’ll say my thanks as that was a very nice compliment!

I think I would enjoy more speaking gigs. I have a lot to say – practically and academically – on the topic of audit, risk, and control. Perhaps the time has come to grow my career that way. God knows if it’s a way to network, abandon the safe route of sitting in my quiet little office, and let my career move in directions I never could have imagined, then so be it. I always wanted to be a teacher…and clinging to what is safe can be foolish as I’ve already learned the hard way.

Like Liz Gilbert says, fear should be acknowledged and it is allowed to have a seat on the bus but it isn’t allowed to drive. I am trying to treat fear just like that. Who knows where the scenic route leads?

As icing on the cake today, we panelists got a tour of the facility which was loaded with amazing architecture, art, and other features such as a three-story marble lobby with all kinds of architectural symbolism, Warhols with the silk screen dollar signs, the largest albeit no-longer-operating vault in the world protecting 9′ thick walls which was an incredible sight to see, a $100,000 bill, and all kinds of beautiful old currency. I wondered if I looked like a geek gawking at all of it…and if the financial services guys were going to be all Joe Cool about what we were seeing because they’ve seen stuff like this before. Yet they were geeking out over how cool all of it was too, so I felt pretty good about being in the club, so to speak.

So why am I sharing all of this? 1) There are so few people that I ever open up to about this sort of thing. Yet this is Facebook, you know, my online diary, haha, and you’re my friends. And if you hung on and read this to the end, I appreciate it. 2) Guys just don’t even debate this kind of stuff. They just do it and they don’t give it a second thought. They’re probably wondering why the hell I am dissecting this situation to this degree. But I do. 3) To know that I grew up unable to carry on a coherent conversation with people I KNEW let alone speak publicly on a professional topic to a bunch of people I don’t know….well, it still blows me away what you can accomplish if you put your mind to it. And every step along the way, you chop away at the fear so that you can, for example, progress from where I was to where I am. Maybe that’s being a bit too vulnerable for all of you to see but it’s true. 4) I like to write. This is what struck me today.

I had a pretty good day today.

PS…A few times over the years, people find out where I work and then they ask if I brought any free samples, as they did today. I good naturedly shrugged it off like a “my bad” oversight. I should have asked them if they had any free money to hand out as samples. Darn it. What a missed opportunity! That only seems fair, right? I can just imagine the scene unfold:

“BRR…BRR: security? We have a suspect identified. 5’4″, a brunette/blondish wannabe…we’re not really sure what hair color she was shooting for as it doesn’t appear in nature…with a deer-caught-in-headlights look on her face. She swears she was joking…”

Image courtesy of Neonbrand on Unsplash.com

Angels Unaware

jenelle-ball-6163-unsplashI have two friends who often get signs from guardian angels or loved ones on the other side of the veil. Every now and then they will post a picture online of the signs that have materialized: angel symbols in unusual places like a tattoo on the shoulder of someone who photobombs a selfie, a feather, a cardinal or bluejay, or the repeat of certain numbers, like 1:11 on a clock.

I don’t really get these sorts of signs. The closest I come is frequently glancing at the clock at precisely 3:33 pm. Makes me wonder what is the significance of that time. Maybe it’s because three is my favorite number? But it got me to wondering why I don’t ever get signs from those who have passed, or why I don’t feel that I have a connection with my guardian angel. I wish I did. So very many people in my family and a few friends have passed, you would think I’d have a connection with someone, but no. Nothing. Radio silence.

It seems most people aren’t concerned with this sort of thing, whatsoever. But I often ponder what happens after we die. Where exactly are the souls of those who have passed? Part of me wants to know the science behind it, not just the mysticism. Can they hear us? Should we be having an ongoing dialogue with them? I mean, I catch myself periodically talking to my parents like they are right here with me, but then I stop because maybe I’m just crazy.

Speaking of crazy, I’ve been trying to have a dialogue with my guardian angel lately, just acknowledging that he or she is there. Saying, “hey,” and thank you for the guidance so far. Part of me feels silly because I haven’t had any overt experiences with angels and I don’t know why that would start now other than I’m actually trying to make a connection. I would probably get really freaked out if I encountered one at this point in life but I’m still curious. Can I get my angel’s name, at least? Maybe I’m too much of a baby Christian to have that kind of relationship. For example, I’ve spoken more about my faith on this blog than I ever do in real life. I practice my faith quietly…hoping that it shows in my actions versus my words…and maybe that’s not enough to be granted the gift of a sign.

I do think guardian angels are real, though. Now to be clear, I have had a couple of close calls and I think my angel intervened. These aren’t amazing stories or anything, but when I was 18, I hit a patch of black ice driving on a turn heading down Blaine Hill late one November night after work ended. My car made an instantaneous 90 degree turn to the left and I would have gone straight off the hillside landing who-knows-how-many-feet-below except something caused the car to turn yet another 90 degrees and come to a complete stop on the edge of the road, now headed uphill. A coworker happened to be right behind me and saw the whole thing transpire. He jumped out of his vehicle to check on me, and while he didn’t say it was a miraculous recovery on my part, both he and I knew I was almost a goner. I have no idea what stopped my car. It could have been sheer terror and adrenaline, and my foot jammed on the brake pedal. Sure it could. But it could’ve been something else.

How many of us go about our daily business unaware of the angels around us?

I experienced a different encounter on New Year’s Day when my husband and I visited a church we had hoped to make our new place of worship, given that we had moved into our current house the week before. It was a small but beautiful Orthodox church the next town over from where we lived.

10-15 minutes into the service, our little family of three made up half of the attendance, including the priest who had so far only spoken church Slavonic, a language I have heard since I was a kid but don’t understand, at all. I looked at my 2.5 year old kid, then to my husband and told him, “I can’t do this. I can’t go to a church that doesn’t speak English. The service must be in English if there is any hope our kid stays Orthodox when he’s older. Let’s go.”

Set aside for a minute how ridiculous it is to make language an important criteria for church, but that gives you an idea what you contend with when you’re Orthodox Christian in America. However, I digress…

We left. I still feel bad about bailing 15 minutes into the service, but I just couldn’t do it.  Outside the church on the sidewalk, our 2.5 year old repeatedly threw himself down on the ground, having a tantrum about leaving. Except this wasn’t your normal toddler tantrum. He wasn’t wailing and writhing…he was trying hard to make his point known. He wasn’t simply upset we were leaving; no, he was trying to say something very specific. He kept pointing to a spot a few feet away from him, saying, “Look!  Look!” and nothing more, except from my vantage, he was pointing at thin air, nothing that we could see.

It was one of those time-stands-still moments. Something told me he saw an angel. Don’t little kids have a connection we adults have shut off? What else could it have been? I promise you, we saw nothing there. I even got down on his level to see what I was missing. Still nothing as far as we could tell. I honestly felt like he saw an angel and he was trying desperately to tell us not to leave. Our son couldn’t put it into words. He simply did not want to go.

That was one of my last encounters and now it was years ago. My physical body simply hasn’t been very intuitive lately.

For whatever reason “signs from beyond” caught my attention this week and I read a completely random article online about the top ten signs that angels are near you. The number one sign is feathers. Makes sense to the common man, right? Angels have wings, and the good ones have white ones or so we think, so of course there would be feathers nearby.

FullSizeRenderThe very next day I got into my vehicle. It was a bright, sunny day and there I saw it, in the corner of my eye: the tiniest feather, stuck in the interior on the front passenger side. It’s so small, it would be easy to miss, but I didn’t. I never have feathers in my car. Mud? Yes. Petrified McDonald’s Happy Meal french fries from days gone by? Yes. Feathers? Never. Not once in the 33 years I’ve been driving.

How can I not smile about the little message my guardian angel left me?

PS – Then again maybe my guardian angel has been screaming to get my attention. We have a down comforter in our bedroom and it must have a hole or something because that thing spews feathers non-stop. It often looks like a couple of geese had a fight in our bedroom. Call me dense but I take that to be a sign that we need a new comforter, lol.

This “message from beyond” thing is hard. =)

Photo by Jenelle Ball on Unsplash

A Mother’s Prayer

First published on Facebook March 5, 2011. Edited slightly today for small changes I’ve made since then.

On Facebook several months ago, someone posed the question, “What do you wish for your children?” Excellent question.

My oldest son was already five or six by that point, and I wasn’t sure if I knew what I considered to be essential for my kids. I had an idea, but I had not boiled it down to the essence. That’s the great thing about having children. It forces you to get clear – crystal clear – about what you value and to live by those same values.

And I got to thinking that whatever I wish for my children is what I ought to be praying for my children. After all, a wish is a prayer. And a prayer is a thought that turns into words that turns into action and maybe reality. At least there is a better chance of it turning into reality than what is not articulated in prayer.

Now, I’ve been a Christian all my life but not a very good one. I’m not a gifted, Bible-verse-quoting one. I stumble around as far as Christians go. The discipline in my prayer is lacking severely so I’ve been working on it. But this question about what I wish for my children has tumbled around in my head enough that I’ve built a prayer around it. I worked on it and worked on it, until it felt real to me and had a natural, meditative cadence.

milada-vigerova-36934-unsplashI have no idea if my prayer is a good, worthy, humble one. But I have high hopes for my children, which means I lift up my prayer to God who listens and grants us what we need in His time according to His will. I don’t have a lot of patience, so this has been a tough lesson for me personally, but that’s just the way it is. His time, his way.

I would often recite this prayer in my car on the way to work, one run-through for each child, then for my husband, and then for a few other people as my heart so moved me. Every now and then I insert a special petition for whatever else my loved ones may be going through in life. For purposes of sharing, however, I’ll refer to them collectively. Here is my prayer.


It isn’t enough for me to simply share the prayer. I want to share how to came to find these words. Just as there is poetry and deep meaning behind each word of the Lord’s Prayer, each phrase of my prayer has an expanded meaning, at least to me. So here it goes:

God bless them: this is a simple appeal to God to grant His blessings upon my beautiful children in whatever form He wishes.

God bless them and keep them safe from harm: I scares me to think of the evil in the world, and safety of our children has become such a screamingly real issue these many years, so I ask for His blessings again and beseech Him to project my precious children, please.

May they grow strong:  strong in spirit, emotional fortitude, physical strength. Life on this earth requires stamina. I want them to always build upon this strength: body, mind and soul.

May they live long: let them experience the fullness of a long life and live to see their children’s children.

Happy, and healthy: and may that life be foremost a happy one, and then a healthy one.  Since it has taken me quite a while to recapture happiness and health is not something I have mastered, I wish for this first. No matter what else happens in life, what bigger blessings could I hope for my children?

Wealthy: maybe it’s a bit much to ask that they be blessed with wealth, but I’m going to ask anyway. I don’t mean I want the wealth of a millionaire for them; I just don’t want them to struggle with money issues…and if wealth means nothing more than an accumulation of grace here for the riches of God’s kingdom later, I’ll take it.

And wise: may they be fair and knowledgeable and gracious and balanced and live with perspective on the good and bad that inevitably come with life. Wise can mean so many things, and maybe it too is a bit much to ask but I don’t want any of our kids to be naive. I want them to know their way in this world, and maybe guide others.

May they always know love: love in its purest form, starting unconditionally and forever with us, their parents. But let love envelop them from all angles – siblings, grandmother, aunts, uncles, Godparents, cousins, teachers and friends. And then, when they leave home, may they still be surrounded by the love of good friends and be directed toward their soulmates. May they never let anyone stomp on their hearts; may they always seek out and be surrounded by the purest love. And then, when each has found the love of his or her life, may our children know the love of a child of their own, one or more as they choose. I want them to always know love in their lives. It doesn’t matter how many people are involved, only the quality and constant presence of that love. I have ached with prolonged loneliness for years on end; it is my wish that my children never know this feeling.

May they find joy and passion in life: I know life will come with inevitable sorrows, but we must actively cultivate the joy.  I want them to find it, keep it, sustain it. And passion – ah, that’s a loaded word. But I hope each child finds something that will interest them, jazz them so much that time stands still and it doesn’t feel like work. What a joy that will be! I truly believe they go hand in hand. This is another area where I personally have pecked along, unsure of what brought me joy with no one to guide me in that discovery, and then I was blocked from it when I found it. It is my job as a mother to help my children discover their inherent joy, talents and passions and help bring them to fruition.

May it uplift them and all those around them: joy and passion can take all kinds of forms but I don’t mean self-serving, self-destructive, incurred-at-the-expense-of-others joy and passion. I mean the kind of joy and passion that does nothing but uplift their spirit and that of everyone around them. Happy, positive, life-affirming, wholesome joy and passion. Filling-the-bucket joy and passion. That kind of joy and passion.

May their thoughts, words, and deeds be positive, confident, and kind: may what they think turn into what they say and turn into action. May they dwell on the positive instead of relentlessly focusing on the negative. May they find confidence deep within themselves and let it shine. And please, Lord, let them be kind to one another, to those they meet in this journey of life, and to themselves.

And may they give thanks for their blessings all the days of their life: we practice gratitude in our house, and I hope this is something they carry in their heart always and express and teach others to do the same.

For this I pray: Yes, for this I pray. This is what I pray, beseech of the Lord, want for all my children, and will actively work toward, doing whatever I can to make it a reality.

Amen:  It is so, so be it, let it be.  That is the definition of amen, after all.

The joy and love I have for all three of my children knows no end.

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

The Standardized Vacation

On a recent Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, the host and her co-host sister talked about the benefits of a “standardized vacation”. It struck a chord with me.

I’m a travel buff. Have suitcase, let’s go! I’ve been one to explore new places as often as I can for as long as I’ve lived but there is something to be said about hitting the easy button especially now that we have kids. Enter: the standardized vacation.

Here’s the basic premise: same location, same hotel, same time of year, same length of time, same people, same restaurants, same activities.

Beautifully simple.

Nothing to think about, nothing to plan. Just do what you did last time, and build upon what you know, if you want.

anton-sharov-133628-unsplashMyrtle Beach, SC, has become our go-to vacation, like 5 million other Ohioans if I had to guess! We found our favorite hotel about 10 years ago, and we even get booked to the exact same room each time we go. It’s glorious.

We know exactly what to pack. Rule #1 is more bathing suits, fewer clothes. Rule #2 is bring a laundry basket and a small bottle of Tide so I can do a quick load mid-way through the trip and recycle what we wear. Rule #3 is bring whatever gadget you can’t live without and the charger. We’re not hard-core enough to unplug entirely while we holiday.

Last night my husband and I laid in bed and talked about how excited we were for this trip. We drive it. He’s not a fan of the drive, but he talked about how he was actually looking forward to it this year because he knows exactly what to expect. No thinking involved whatsoever.

Seriously, we laugh the whole way to South Carolina because nearly every car on I-77 has Ohio plates and we know where they’re going: Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head. It’s 11-hours non-stop, which means we have found ways to minimize the number of stops along the way and make it a 12 hour trip max, barring traffic.

Our routine involves hitting the road at 5am. We gas up and load the suitcases the night before. The kids sleep walk to the van with their pillows and PJs on, and they’re crashed out for the first four hours of the trip. From our house in Ohio this takes us to Charleston, WV, where the kids change clothes, we all get a potty break, we gas up if need be, and switch drivers. I’m better on the curvy roads though West Virginia regardless of the weather, courtesy of growing up in the tri-state area of Ohio, Pennsylvania, & West Virginia.

Waze is my favorite travel app for this trip. It’s crowd-sourced in terms of traffic jams, road hazards, and speed traps monitored by police or state highway patrolmen. Waze conveys the speed limit and whether you’re over it, and gives you that wonderful metric, the estimated time of arrival, otherwise known as the “time to beat”. LOOOOOOVE Waze.

The car is still pretty quiet as the kids are now awake but on their devices with their headphones or maybe they watch a new movie we buy and laugh. The two of us adults get loads of time to talk and talk, or we take turns napping while the other drives.

I drive four hours till we hit the North Carolina border while all of us nosh on ham sandwiches, snacks, and drinks we’ve packed, and then we stop again for a bio break, gas up and switch drivers for the last time. Then my husband drives the final four hours to our hotel where we check in, unpack, relax for a bit, and then head out to dinner.

We hit up Walmart for some food while we’re in the area. Our hotel has a kitchenette so we alternate meals out and in for lunch and dinner. Breakfast is free at the hotel so we eat up and take our time feasting on all kinds of hot and cold food items.

I remember the first time we made this trip as a married couple with an 18-month old baby in tow. I basically had my husband back the van floor to ceiling with the entire nursery: you know, Pack-n-Play, stroller, tub toys, travel high chair, lovies, baby food, an entire box of diapers….it was endless. You couldn’t even see out the back window. He looked at me like I was nuts. I wanted all the comforts of home. Nothing like having a baby attached to your hip on vacation. It defeats the purpose of getting away for a few days if you don’t have a way for your precious kid to be mobile, clean, and safe.

Now it’s funny how little we need. Beach towels, beach toys, electronic gadgets, headphones, chargers, bathing suits, sunscreen, sandals, laundry basket with detergent, clothes for three days to last us through eight, sandwiches, snacks, drinks, and that’s it. I don’t even sweat it anymore. If we forget something, we just buy it down there.

It helps that we go the same week each time, for the same length of time. We know what restaurants we’ll hit up. We rent beach chairs for the week. There is nothing else to even think about other than which putt-putt place we’ll visit on which day. If we want to sleep, we sleep. If we want to splash in the pool or lazy river, we do. If the kids want to build sandcastles or boogie board, they do. No debating, no thinking about it. We just rotate between 3-4 activities at most. It’s as low key as vacation can get.

And me? Mama Louie? I sit and read under a giant umbrella with my coverup, sunglasses, sunhat, and SPF maxed out, courtesy of a melanoma diagnosis 25+ years ago. It’s a bummer as all the kids just can’t quite understand why I can’t play with them in the sun. Thankfully they have these bronzed bodies courtesy of their Hawaiian and Asian genes and didn’t inherit my pale Eastern European skin.

Man, we love the ocean. Now some people prefer lower-key, very scenic Hilton Head over Myrtle Beach because they think the latter is over commercialized. Parts of it are, but we don’t do that stuff. We don’t walk Ocean Boulevard at all hours, slipping in and out of the souvenir shops. We just skip that. It’s pretty easy to avoid the mass of humanity while you’re there.

Yep, our hang is the beach itself and the amazing putt-putt places. Our kids think putt-putt (mini-golf to some of you) is the most glorious thing ever. It doesn’t take much to entertain our kids and we’re fine keeping it that way, at least for a few more years.

We’re all excited to go back. Hawaii, California, Utah, Colorado, and Florida have been incredible these last few years but it’s time to hit the easy button and return to our home away from home, just the five of us. We have often wished that we were there with a larger group but then we realize that others may not enjoy the next-to-nothing we like to do, so our week away is always just us.

I can already hear the waves in my mind.

Image by Anton Sharon on Unsplash.com

Celebrity Talk Is Cheap, So They Say…

I’ve noticed a trend among conservative or right-leaning individuals in the US to bash the opinion of celebrities which are often more left-leaning and liberal. This strikes me as really odd.

I’m not even one to be awestruck by celebrities…I’m kinda put off by our country’s celebrity worship culture…but to bash celebrities for having an opinion? Something about that rubs me the wrong way.

gritte-346468-unsplashThe arguments against celebrity opinion have had a couple of different facets, regardless of whether the celebrities in question are artists like singers, actors, and comedians or athletes:

  1. Celebrities have a huge following among the national and even the world population, making their extracurricular activities particularly vile because their opinions contaminate the thinking of large swaths of people who look up to them.
  2. Celebrities get paid money to do whatever it is they do and therefore they should simply stick to that and nothing else. Like a certain Fox News person coached Lebron James recently, “Shut up and dribble.”
  3. Celebrities live in gilded mansions with bodyguards and have no idea how common people live so therefore their opinion has no value in the real world.
  4. Celebrities by and large exhibit a liberal point of view, one where anything goes and any manner of amoral behavior is perfectly acceptable.
  5. Celebrities contribute nothing of value to society, unlike the common man who holds down a “real” job, so the very platform upon which celebrities exist in the first place has no merit whatsoever, destroying any credibility they could possibly have to express their opinions.

Let’s break these arguments down.

1. Celebrities have a huge following and unduly influence whole populations of people.

Yes, people become famous for all kinds of reasons. And other people will follow the antics of the rich and famous for all sorts of reasons. For heaven’s sake, there was even a show about this on TV several years ago. I never watched it. The showcasing of how people flaunt their wealth never appealed to me. Instead I admired people who used their wealth or their talents to positively impact the world around them. But I digress.

Sometimes a celebrity’s efforts are awe-inspiring, like Olympians who train for years to hone their skill. Olympians understand sacrifice, humility, teamwork, sportsmanship, rules, endurance, strength, failure, perseverance, disappointment, success, luck, and glory. Other people are eager to connect on a personal level with these individuals, to understand what it takes to be a champion, what it takes to be the best in a given sport. Because more often than not, the characteristics these athletes exhibit are transcendent, traits that can be applied and lead to success in real life. Despite the Herculean efforts these athletes exhibit, the common man connects deeply to these stories of human triumph.

Even if someone isn’t Olympic caliber, as an athlete they still have a talent, and a passion or zest for the sport that got them to national or sometimes international levels of recognition. Many of the same attributes apply.  There is a reason why so many parents want their kids to play a sport because of the life skills it teaches them. Sure, some parents only see dollar signs and want their kids to make it big, but there is inherent value delivered via sports that is realized later in life. Certainly it’s inspiring for a kid to see someone who happens to look like them also be the best they can be.

Much of the same could be said for actors and musicians, really. Those kinds of celebrities touch people’s hearts in an altogether different way, an emotional one. But that’s just like life, isn’t it? It takes all sorts of people to make the world go round, and some people value the heart over the body and vice versa.  Actors and musicians and writers literally tell the stories of our humanity. They elicit a huge range of emotions and replay the ancient tales of what it means to be human. To be able to do that well, to touch us or get us to laugh even in dire times, is a gift.

So sure, actors and musicians, comedians and writers, are admired for their work, and they are asked about what it takes to get there. But it doesn’t stop there. These artists are often inspired by the people whose stories they tell, inspired enough oftentimes to want to be an advocate for change when they aren’t on stage. Sometimes their art is a parallel to what goes on in American life. How can these artists tell a story and avoid talking about what it means to them personally, especially when they are interviewed and asked those very questions? They are gifted storytellers of their chosen medium…of course they are asked about their work, and use their gift to tell the story yet again and again but in a different way.

Now granted, there are celebrities who are famous simply for being famous. Take Paris Hilton…whose only claim to fame was her family money. Her antics were ridiculous. And yet she somehow got her own “reality” TV show which only served to prolong and heighten her fame. I saw no redeeming value in Paris Hilton. I couldn’t understand people who wanted to emulate her, or who just outright adored her. Maybe she was adorable, but she mostly played dumb. I wasn’t a fan of her for all those reasons…I tried to avoid her but it was hard to escape her influence on pop culture for those several years she was the It Girl.

And then there are the people who become celebrities for infamous reasons…like the over-tanned mom, or the over-zealous, misguided, trigger-happy vigilantes like George Zimmerman. Go figure. Our First Amendment gives all kinds of people a platform to use their voice for their 15 minutes of fame or to prolong it even further on Twitter and social media as they now have the option to do.

No doubt, if you have a way to touch millions of people, you’ve been given a gift beyond the art or the physical prowess that got you there in the first place. The Bible says we should not hide our light under a bushel. For better or worse, celebrities use a gift that was given to them.

2. Celebrities get paid to do what they do. They should do that and nothing more. I.e., “Shut up and dribble.”

Yeah. I have a problem with the “shut up and dribble” kinds of statements. It sounds so incredibly sinister to me, like a master to a slave, not to mention the overtly racial overtones directed toward Lebron James.  This is akin to saying, “Shut your piehole. I don’t care one wit about you as a human being. You are here purely for my entertainment and enjoyment, period. I command you do to what I want and nothing more!”


Can you imagine saying something like that to a waiter? “Shut up and deliver my food.” Or a teacher? “Shut up and teach my kid.” Or a mechanic? “Shut up and service my car.”

In a society where we recognize that we should acknowledge each other as human beings, see the whole person, connect with one another and engage in dialogue….we have a part of society that looks down on others as if they were servants instead of equals.

Even if that isn’t what people mean, that’s how it sounds. And that’s downright ugly.

Good thing Ronald Reagan didn’t follow that sort of advice long ago. Where would we be as a nation without The Great Orator? Should he have stuck with acting? Was it wrong for him to evolve into a governor, and then a president?

3. Celebrities live in gilded mansions with bodyguards and insane amounts of money. They have no idea how the common people live and couldn’t possibly speak on their behalf.

Certainly there are certain celebrities who were born into rich and famous families, and they could very well be out of touch with the average American. Jane Fonda, I’m looking at you.

However the vast majority of celebrities grew up in average families like you and me. They didn’t have gobs of money growing up. They didn’t have bodyguards. They didn’t jet-set around the world or live in mansions. Sometimes they struggled for years before they made it big…struggled on a level that the average American with a steady job can’t appreciate.

And there are celebrities who have been rich and famous for decades, part of that enormous Baby Boom generation that has so strongly influenced American life for 40-50 years now. Over time they may have forgotten what it was like when they were young. They hire bodyguards for sure, because even benign crazy people don’t respect personal space or personal property, and some level of protection is completely reasonable.

But to bitch and moan that celebrities are out of touch with the common man? As if these people don’t deal with illness and sorrow, insults and betrayal, death and destruction… These unhappy events come for us all over the course of a lifetime. Some of us become more somber and wise because of it, and some of them embrace the joy of life even harder as a result.

4. Celebrities by and large exhibit a liberal point of view where anything goes, including all kinds of amoral behavior.

Yes, all kinds of celebrities exhibit a liberal point of view, and a whole bunch of them are conservative too. Perhaps we should disregard the esteemed opinions of Scott Baio, Clint Eastwood (who was talking to an empty chair on national television a few years ago), and Stacey Dash, who’s now running for Congress. Should I list a few more? Who was it that visited the White House last year? Kid Rock and Ted Nugent? Role models, are they?

And what about this criticism of amoral behavior? I struggle with this one a bit. Is it amoral when pastor Joel Osteen refused to open his enormous church to hundreds of Houstonians in need of shelter post hurricane, even though that is exactly what Christ coaches us to do?

Or is “love is love is love is love is love is love” amoral?

I’m confused by this. One man’s morality is another man’s sin. It isn’t quite as binary as you might want to believe it is.

5. Celebrities contribute nothing of value to society, rendering invalid their platform to speak, unlike people with “real” jobs.

Really? I suppose I could repeat all of my earlier points on this one. As a society, we place value on what celebrities say and do, for good and bad. Some of us have exerted a certain level of effort to be in the spotlight…a moving piece of art, a sacrifice and precision in sport that enthralls us, an ability to communicate that connects with our souls and minds. These celebrities came from somewhere to get where they are. They come from us.

If you had a platform, you’d use it too. You use it every time you share your own opinion at the coffee shop, water cooler, or Facebook. Celebrities just happen to have a much larger audience than you.

Maybe I just have a soft spot for expressive types, since I am one myself and I feel most at home around those sorts of people too.

Surprise! Now I want you to go back through each of my points. You could easily make the argument that Donald Trump is one of those celebrities that people disdain so much. For heaven’s sake…he came from money he didn’t earn himself. Lived in a bubble his entire life, a gilded penthouse literally. Never held a common man’s job and avoided military service when he was needed. He is a reality TV star and that was the extent of his celebrity to a very large degree until he graduated to the biggest stage in the world. Until this election, he held a liberal point of view. ANYTHING goes with this guy. He is the very definition of amoral.

Tell me again how celebrities ought to shut up. It would be a boring world indeed if they did. It seems to me you can’t complain about some celebrities and not all of them. Like it or not, their opinions are here to stay.

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Controlled Chaos

Monday evening. Sitting here trying to figure out how another weekend blew by. I can’t believe February is almost over and I wonder what I have to show for it. I am just exhausted from the never ending stream of things to do for myself, our family, each individual kid, our extended family, friends, the house…..it’s endless. And I feel guilty because I don’t volunteer for anything in our community…but I have no idea how I could possibly squeeze that in along with the demands of my job. I don’t have the stamina and I don’t want to let people down. It’s just non-stop crazy.

For the longest time I’ve been fascinated with the concept of a patron saint, someone Godly that represents a body of people or maybe even an individual. I often wondered who my patron saint would be. Then it hit me. If I had a personal patron saint, it would have to be Martha, always the busy body. Mary Magdalene sat and visited with Christ because she realized the gift before them all, while Martha huffed and puffed that there was so much to do to and no one offering to help.

Yeah, Martha’s my home girl.

You should see my massive “to do” list. I scare people when I show it to them. I break it up into three buckets – the stuff that I really want to tackle this week, the stuff that needs to happen fairly soon (maybe the following week), and a third list of stuff that needs to happen eventually. I write all of it down so I don’t forget about it, and I have a version for work and for my personal life.

I keep all of it on Microsoft OneNote on my work computer. I discovered this life-changing tool maybe about five years ago and can’t believe I had not found it sooner. All you need to do is type…everything is automatically saved. You can easily drag and move around whatever you type on the page, so whatever I put in one bucket can easily move into another if the timing changes.

As things pop in my head throughout the day (at the most inopportune times, of course), I can write them down on the respective lists, and then organize them by theme (different projects at work, meeting agenda planning, action planning, vacation checklists, blog ideas, home projects, etc.)

If you have access to the Microsoft Suite on your work computer, I urge you check this software out because it has made a world of difference in how I stay organized, versus writing tasks and ideas down on random pieces of paper and then transferring it to a master list that I would write over and over, like you used to do with those Franklin Day Planners once upon a time. I can’t do it justice in explaining the value of OneNote in this blog. Really, I can’t. You just have to see for yourself.

85fifteen-323873-unsplashFor some crazy reason I also started using a personal planner last year, Ink + Volt. I now have a red 2018 Ink + Volt planner. I don’t know why I use both methods to stay organized, but I do. I know there are all kinds of planners out there but I don’t need a cutesy one with stickers. Mine has a substantial cover – book quality – with page markers and prompts to ponder. It’s big enough to be easy to write in and small enough to throw in my purse. It has a section for you to plan your year, each month, and each week.

I enjoy checking off a task that I teed up for the week but lately I keep carrying over the same stuff from week to week. True, I’ve been making minor progress on each of my tasks but I am not getting the satisfaction of being completely finished. That bugs me.

March is almost upon us and in my planner, there is a prompt for what I will focus on in March. I feel so scattered. I don’t know what to do.

On one hand, it’s Lent. Lent gets all kinds of bad rap from people who don’t observe it, and I’m not exactly a role model when it comes to my personal observation of it, but one of the purposes or benefits of Lent is to close yourself off from outside distractions and draw inward. Many people use this time to pray, to fast, to break from the demands of the outside world. This is a good thing, a very necessary and helpful thing. Good thing it comes around once a year. And I suppose I could do that. I probably should do that. If you only knew how scattered and fractured my mind was, you’d know why this is a good idea.

But March is also my husband’s 50th birthday, and a way to celebrate and honor him. This is a man who at this point has lived eight years longer than his own father, a topic comes up quite often for an event that happened 42 years ago. No matter what I do, I don’t do enough to honor my husband. He deserves every good thing and I continually fail him as a wife, supporting him the way I ought to. I’m still really selfish and let my needs come first. Right this very moment I should be ordering a cake but I may very well just go to bed, at 7:30 pm.

I’m also having mixed success with the detox I started last month (see Detox Day 5), and feeling kinda bad about that. And I still haven’t cured the wanderlust that hit me pretty hard 10 days ago. Which leads me right back to Help Wanted. Sometimes you just want to call up your mom, wave the white flag, and ask for and get the help you need. But I don’t have that option. I’ve never had that option. I’m not looking for pity – it’s just the way it is.

So today I’m tired. And feeling a little uninspired. And wondering what March has in store for us. Will it feed our souls or punch us in the gut? Will it be the punctuation needed at the end of winter’s monologue? And why do I feel the need to control chaos anyway?



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