Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Practicing the art of doing (almost) nothing…

The last two months have been way too hectic for me. In June, I took two weeks vacation. When I returned to work at the end of June, my team had been restructured—adding three new employees to the six I already supervise. Between mid-July and early August, I attended four weddings—two in Southern California on back-to-back weekends. I have other challenges in my personal life that only add to this madness. To top it off, I stopped exercising. This was a bad move. All of this stress took its toll on my disposition. Fortunately, my boss noticed and told me to take a “mental health” day. Knowing how behind I was in my work, I reluctantly obliged.

A few weeks ago, Elrond and I quickly made plans for one last family getaway before school officially started for Kat. After I read a review for a restaurant called Duarte’s Tavern, we decided to go to the little town of Pescadero, California for the weekend. Pescadero is a small farming and ranching community nestled in a valley east of Highway 1 half way between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay. Our timing couldn’t have been more perfect. The annual Pescadero Art and Fun Fair was the same weekend. We found the last available rooms at a B&B (in this case ‘bed and biscuit’) called the McCormick House Bed and Biscuit Inn. You can read my review at Trip For the next two days, we were tourists. We walked around Pescadero, explored the art fair, ate some delicious food, and visited a goat farm. We slept in. We read. We sat in the garden. I pushed Kat on a tire swing. We watched the sunset at the beach. We practiced the art of doing (almost) nothing.

Lately, my weekends at home have been spent catching up with everything I haven’t been getting done during the week. Consequently, my life has been one continuous grind with no down time. This past weekend reminded me that I don’t spend enough time ‘recharging my batteries.’ I realized it’s okay to spend some time each weekend practicing the art of doing nothing. I have made time during the week to exercise again. With a life as hectic as mine, this is necessary for my mental and physical health. Summer may be almost gone, but I am going continuing perfecting the art of doing (almost) nothing.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Connecting the Dots

I was talking to a friend of mine recently and lamenting the accident I had 16 months ago. I realized shortly after the accident how close I had come to dying and how I wasn’t ready to die. Since then, I have felt this incredible pressure to figure why I am still here; what my purpose is. My friend asked me if I had ever watched Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech (I had not). He sent me a link to YouTube with instructions to watch it (click here if you haven’t seen it either). Steve Jobs told three stories about his life. I have summarized the main points here with direct quotes:

Connecting the Dots: “…You cannot connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect the dots looking backwards. You have to trust that somehow the dots will connect in your future… Believing that the dots will connect somewhere down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well-worn path.”

Love & Loss: “…Your work is going to fill a large part of your life and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do…If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking and don’t settle.”

Death: “No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven, don’t want to die to get there. And yet, death is the destination we all share; no one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent -- it clears out the old to make way for the new. Your time is limited; so don’t waste it being trapped by living someone else’s life.”

I was immediately stunned by those stories, to say the least. As I watched and listened, I quietly cried letting it all soak in. I was also inspired. This is what I learned:

When you come to an unexpected place in your life, the reasons for arriving at the place only become clear as you look back and “connect the dots.” Over the last 16 months, I have often wondered why the accident happened—and have been impatient to know what lesson is in it for me. I now realize that I have to trust that somehow the dots will connect in my future. Believing that the dots will connect somewhere down the road gives me a sense of peace; a sense of peace I have not known in a very long time.

I need balance in my life in order to be truly satisfied. Prior to the accident, my life was primarily my work. Although I believed what I did was great work, I didn’t have that balance with a great life outside of work. The balance is still a struggle, but with a renewed sense of peace, I feel a better sense of balance.

My time is limited. I feel pressure to live my life well each day…and every day I seem to fail in some way. I am sad on the days that I “waste,” knowing how quickly it can all disappear. However, my time here is limited. I need to focus more on the success I create each day and less on the failures.

I am thankful to my friend for helping me to connect one of these dots. I should clarify that this friend only recently came back into my life—after a 25 year absence. I am 43 years old now—you do the math. How someone who has missed the past 25 years of my life could be so perceptive overwhelms me. Perhaps this renewed friendship is just one dot helping me connect the other dots.

Monday, March 30, 2009

A Little R & R...

Ok, so this phrase conjures up visions of vacationing on a white sandy beach in some far away place. Right now, for me, this means “Reading and Recovery.” Last week, I had reconstructive surgery on my left leg—remember that near-fatal accident in December 2007? This surgery removed the excessive scar tissue and skin that resulted from the way it healed…think of it as a “thigh tuck.”

So, it has been a week since the surgery and the incision seems to be healing well. To pass the time, I have been catching up on reading—reading legal cases and writing briefs for my Planning Law class at UC Davis and finishing a book I had checked out of the library well over a month ago. The book is called “The Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson. It was recommended by a fellow student in one of my Planning courses since the book focuses on the Fair’s architect Daniel Burnham—notable architect and urban planner who is one of the founding fathers of urban planning. Among other structures, he designed the Flatiron Building in New York City. In addition, the book focuses on Frederick Law Olmsted who designed the landscaping for the Fair. As the founding father of landscape architecture, he also designed Central Park in New York City. The backdrop of the book is the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair – the Columbia Exposition that celebrated the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival the New World.

The Fair was nicknamed “The White City” for its majestic beauty. Intertwined within the story of Burnham & Olmsted designing the “White City” is the story of H.H. Holmes—a serial killer who uses the Fair to lure his victims to his hotel. This was a fascinating book to read—all the more enthralling because it was a true story.

Here are some fascinating facts associated with the Columbia Exposition:

--One of the carpenters who worked there was named Elias Disney…eight years later he had a son named Walt (I wonder if his dad’s stories about the “White City” inspired him?)

--A poet named Katharine Lee Bates visited the fair which inspired a line in her poem “America the Beautiful”

--The belly dancers on the Midway danced to an improvised tune now commonly associated with snake charmers (you know the tune…There’s a place in France…)

--George Ferris built the first Ferris wheel here as a structure to “out ‘Eiffel’ the Eiffel Tower” built for the Paris World's Fair in 1889. The wheel was 264 feet high with 36 cars that could hold up to 60 people each!

--Some well-known products made their debut at the Fair: Cracker Jack, Shredded Wheat, Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix, and Juicy Fruit gum

While the Fair was being planned, built, and hosted, America was in a state of economic turmoil—banks were failing, people were losing their jobs. Sound familiar? Yet, through it all, a group of talented people created something that forged change in America in many so ways. I have hope that the times we’re living in now will make us equally stronger.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Back to Basics

Recently, I saw a commercial for Allstate Insurance. According to the commercial, Allstate has been in business since 1931—through the last 12 recessions (have there been that many in the last 78 years?). The commercial goes on to say that after the fear subsides in a recession, people start enjoying the small things in life—“back to basics,” they called it. Coincidentally, I received Ina Garten’s latest cookbook as a Christmas gift. The title? Back to Basics.

I think I have always embraced a “back-to-basics” kind of life. In 2000, my family and I moved to the Bay Area of Northern California. At the time, the technology industry was at its peak. We moved right into the middle of the “lifestyle of excess” in Silicon Valley—expensive cars and even more expensive real estate. At the time, I was a stay-at-home mom and we were living on one income. We felt so out of place. We couldn’t compete; even more, we didn’t want to compete. That was probably the most difficult 16 months of our life. Then, we faced not one, but two lay-offs in one year. We were fortunate to live not only within our means, but well within our means. Living by this principle helped us survive that turmoil.

Fast forward almost 9 years to the worst economic year in our lifetime. While people in our community are losing their over-mortgaged homes, significant portions of their retirement savings, and jobs, we are blessed to be in pretty good shape. We wanted to buy a home just as much as the next person, but we resisted the insane California real estate market. We have a long way to go until we retire so, despite our retirement losses on paper, we have time to recover. In the face of Monterey County’s economic trouble, my job looks pretty secure; having some seniority to fall back on doesn’t hurt either.

I can’t help but wonder if our country would be in such bad shape if more of us had embraced a “back-to-basics” kind of life? We can all help the economy get back on its feet without spending our way into bankruptcy. Start enjoying the simple things again—home-cooked meals, visits with friends and family, gifts from the heart. Let the “Joneses” keep up with themselves. Pretty soon, I bet they will be trying to keep up with you.