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Chapter XVII

because you never know someone from the very beginning

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Lists

All The Things I Do Not Know (at age 44)

Here’s the bottom line, I feel younger than I thought I’d feel at 44. I don’t know if this is because I am shocked than I am actually 44 (denial makes you feel younger) or a sign of fundamental immaturity.

Truth be told I don’t begrudge age. I feel lucky lucky lucky to be here, have the family I have, count my friends as friends and have full use of my body. This last point is no joke – you know that “at least you have your health” adage – it’s true. If you’ve ever broken a toe, burned your tongue or worse, you know what I mean. Don’t take your body for granted.

When my mom was 44 I was 14. When my dad was 44 I was 6. God bless my mom for dealing with me as a teenager when she was the age I am now. Pretty sure I was terrible. My dad at age 44 had 6 year-old me. Pretty sure I was an angel. What would he say now if he were alive? He always loved telling people they were middle aged, so he’d likely start there. He would tell me I should start going to church again. He would want to hear about the cake and food today. I don’t know if he would have any words of wisdom…but maybe.

Since he’s not here, I wrote my own list of things I think people should know, or at things I think my kids should know. Here goes…

Living

  • Work on empathy. Be around lots of different types of people. Pause to imagine what it’s like to be in their shoes.
  • Go to places where you don’t speak the language at all. You need to learn what it feels like to have to ask for help.
  • When in doubt, take the kind road. It’s unlikely you will ever regret being kind.
  • Not everyone will be honest about facts. Don’t be naïve about this.
  • Stretch your limbs every day.
  • Lift up heavy things.
  • Enjoy ALL of your firsts.
  • Don’t wear uncomfortable shoes. There’s no reason to let a pair of shoes make you miserable all day.
  • Write things down – memories, thoughts, impressions. You won’t be around one day but people who are in your life will want to know what you were thinking.
  • Learn how to take care of your needs and act accordingly. Over time, you cannot take care of others if you aren’t taking care of yourself.
  • Ask a lot of questions.
  • Be an active listener.
  • Simplify elements of your life so that you are better able to make decisions about other things. The more decisions you have to make, the worse you are at making them.
  • No nail polish is far better than chipped nail polish.
  • Use your fireplace.
  • Watch Friday Night Lights, Steel Magnolias, West Wing, The Wire….

Work/Money

  • Put simply – WORK. Work when you’re young. Earn your own money in college and high school.
  • Be honest with yourself about your financial health. Don’t tell yourself you owe less than you do. You are only making the headache bigger when the chicken comes home to roost.
  • The chicken ALWAYS comes home to roost.
  • Save. Even a dollar a week from your very first paycheck.
  • When you’re about to leave your place of work, identify one more thing you could do that day. Do that one thing.
  • Be early.
  • Read your emails twice before hitting send.
  • Think about being a problem solver not just a problem identifier.
  • Focus on your strengths. You will hear a lot about developing your weaknesses…hogwash. I mean, not total hogwash but often strengths get lost in a sea of “weakness focus.” Life and work are more fun when you play to your strengths.
  • On this, I recently took a test to help name my strengths. I got: Consistency, Relator, Discipline, Learner and Empathy.

Friends

  • Expect that you will get different things from different friends. Don’t expect all of them to be what you think you need them to be.
  • Accept what people can give. Don’t be angry about what they cannot or do not give. It’s just not worth it.
  • This is the “Friend Contact Hierarchy”: Text < Email < Phone call < In person hang out. But all of those are better than NOTHING – so pick one and do it.
  • Skype and Facetime could be on the above list, but I am not sure where (admit when you don’t know something)
  • Also, notice “snapchat” isn’t on the list. I am 44 and I cannot figure out how to use it.
  • Don’t forget good old fashioned cards. People love getting cards.
  • In almost any circumstance, do not lend friends money, unless you are fully prepared to lose that money and that friend.
  • RSVP. Do not be one of those people who doesn’t even RSVP. It’s beyond rude.

Love

  • After a breakup, wash and change all of your entire bedding. There is nothing like a fresh bed. Do this for a friend if they’ve been dumped.
  • Don’t keep score.
  • When you are parents, be a couple FIRST.
  • Romance is not love.
  • On being parents, don’t feel the need to have kids if you don’t want them.
  • If each of you try to give more than you get, you’re on the road to relationship contentment.

Food

  • Guacamole is best when mixed as little as possible.
  • Often, the appetizers are better than the entrée.
  • Make my spaghetti sauce recipe and share it with friends. It’s three generations of goodness.
  • Know what you are eating – read food labels.
  • Don’t hesitate – just buy an extra carton of milk.
  • Develop a taste for hot mustard.
  • Leave room for dessert.

Lastly, take all of the above with a big grain of salt. The only thing I really know is that it’s getting easier to ask questions as I get older. I am less afraid of looking silly…I used to be really afraid of looking silly.

Notable Items Of The Week

This is my 427th post. What a great number…427.

Entertainment: I never tire of holiday music. But I always cry no matter who sings “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”  This makes for some awkward moments at work.  “No no – don’t mind me – I’m ok – just a little teary over here again…”

Kids Are Awesome: Avery told me the other day that she didn’t want to meet “some fake Santa in a costume” that she wanted to meet the real guy.  She didn’t buy my story about the fake Santas being Authorized Reps for the real guy.

Same night, Aiden told us he wanted to put on a show. He directed us to sit on the floor.  He got the ukulele and stood in front of us. Then he said he needed a stool.  So he went and got a stool, sat in front of us, lightly strummed the guitar and watched all of us watch him.  I just wish I’d taken a picture.  Watch for this kid to hit the stage in 20 years.

Men (and women): http://www.salon.com/2013/02/17/why_are_men_so_foolish/.  I learned that science shows that men take more risks then women generally because they are less apt to consider the downside, whereas women are far more calculating about risk.

 “When the odds are actually good, women will compete (by entering the race) more than men. They just refuse to waste time with losing.”

 “Men tend to focus on the reward. The larger the reward, the more they ignore the odds. Women are the opposite: they tend to focus on the risk, and larger rewards are less relevant.”

 “The bottom line is, if you have a girl, I would put her in the best school as possible and have her around the smartest peers possible,” Jackson summarized. “If you have a son, you should put them in the school with the brightest teachers, but you should be wary of putting him in a hypercompetitive environment. Being a small fish in a big pond is particularly bad for boys,” Jackson added.

Goodness is contagious: The other day a woman walked onto the subway train I was on.  She asked for food. This is a pretty common sight.  She wasn’t having a lot of success.  I had a box of raisins so I gave it to her. And then another woman gave her money, and another, and another.  It was like a yawn that everyone caught.  That was all it took – a first step.

Hope Springs Eternal:  This almost needs no explanation.  As a dedicated Knicks fan, all it seems we have at times is hope.

But then something good actually happens (not to the Knicks).  Something good like a dear friend calls and says “please come to dinner…I’ve met someone.” And you learn that she had maybe not totally given up hope but was literally on the verge of checking out of the dating scene and there was a moment – a brief fated moment that stopped her. And that was the turning point…several weeks later it seems she has met someone wonderful and I don’t know when I’ve seen her so happy.

Grief and Joy – which is which:  I cannot recall what prompted this thought but at some point in the last few days I felt the need to list the most wonderful days of my life.  And the usual suspects were there – the day I got a fat envelope from a grad school (good day), our wedding day, my sister’s wedding day, the weekend I spent with my mom cleaning the loft at her house (long story), the days our kids were born, and at last…the day of my father’s wake.  Yes there it was.  Right up there with all the others.  In our house, friends arrived from years past.  People came to sit in his chair.  To look at his books and CDs.  To open his desk drawers and see his handwritten notes.  I surprised myself thinking about this and realizing “Wow, that was a wonderful day.”  There is no other way to describe it.

And Finally a Poem to Sum it up:

To live in this world

you must be able

to do three things:

to love what is mortal;

to hold it

against your bones knowing

your own life depends on it;

and, when the time comes to let it go,

to let it go.

~ Mary Oliver

Lessons Learned Today

  • Never let a McKinsey alum build a financial model
  • If you feel at all sick, do not get on the subway
  • Never underestimate the power of gingerbread to make someone’s day
  • Coffee works
  • I am oddly creeped out by people who sample soup at Hale and Hearty
  • Holiday music is good for focusing at work…
  • Except if it’s The Chipmunks singing “Deck The Halls”
  • NYC is at it’s best during the holidays…
  • Except when you are in rush hour trying to get home from work and working your way through crowds gawking at Macy’s windows
  • The days are long but the years are short
  • We will always feel too young to deal with sick parents.  (don’t worry, my mom is in good shape)
  • The “Santa Is Watching Threat” (SIWT) is a wildly effective parenting technique
  • When your almost 4 year old beats you at Concentration, you are either raising a genius or you are suffering from serious lack of sleep
  • Unsubscribe is a key to liberation
  • Just because someone wants Power does not mean they want Responsibility
  • Never confuse Activity with Achievement
  • When frustrated, try laughing instead of growling
  • If you tell your child to “Stay in your freaking bed!” you can be sure they will repeat this to everyone you know and you will be evil-eyed by other parents everywhere
  • And from a friend, “It’s never too late to start the day over” (and today was a good day – but this is always a good lesson!)

New Sensation

I like lists.  I LIVE for lists.  Most of my lists are in Excel.  I also live for Excel.  Recently I came across an old Excel file that had notes on things I'd experienced that were BIG.  We are talking major sensations.  Memories.  Things you re-tell at a bar over a great bottle of wine.  Some of which I never want to experience again, and others which I hope to get to again.  Here is what I found:

  • Singing on stage in front of several hundred people.  College. 
  • Winning a crew race where we were at least two boats behind, dead in the water, the odds on loser and yet…we WON.  We WON.  Man did that feel good.
  • Getting stuck under a raft in a moving river.  In Chile. 
  • Realizing at mile 13 that yes, I was going to finish that marathon.
  • Opening a mailbox to find that big envelope that you know says "you are in"
  • Rock climbing a perfectly vertical and seemingly perfectly smooth (i.e. nothing to grab) rock wall…and then falling.  Was on belay.  And apparently the instructor's object was to push us until we "fell"…never before have I been so in the moment.
  • Being told "You are no longer employed by this company" (Thank God, a near miss…was re-hired 6 hours later into a new role.  But oh, the drama of post-9/11 job cuts.)
  • Getting a tattoo (I consider this Big.  It will be with me forever.  I'd pondered it for years)
  • Seeing Paul McCartney…EATING DINNER TWO TABLES FROM US. Cheesy, perhaps.  But you know you would stare too.  I saw a Beatle.
  • Speaking to someone in the moment of death
  • Fear for my life
  • Looking down the aisle 🙂
  • Labor pains…let's all take a moment.

OK

  • It's a girl
  • It's a boy

A Few Things I Know

You know you are old when the hemlines at a conservative store like Ann Taylor Loft strike you as risqué.

You know you have good neighbors when they call you on a Tuesday night and say "We have some leftover ribs we would love to give you."  Ahh, yes please!

You know you are sentimental when you read about the world's oldest dog dying and you get a little misty.

You know your 18 month old is a GENIUS when she waits until you are about to leave the room after putting her down to sleep before she yells "Wuv YOU!" as loud as she can through a veil of tears.

You know your cats are fat when they have trouble hauling themselves in and out of the litter box.

You know you love your job when you are still working on a long range strategic plan for one of your companies and you barely notice that it's approaching midnight.

You know the BEST time of year in NYC is about to arrive when you leave the house and feel a slight need for a sweater.

You know you have good friends when, well, a lot of things.  I have good friends.

You know you have your financial priorities straight when you are not flipped out by daily market fluctuations.

You know you are not as cool as you used to think you were when everyone is talking about Inglourious Basterds and you think "who are these disgraceful men people keep referring to, and for god's sake, WHY can't they spell 'bastards' correctly!?!?"

I know you may be tired of this now, but I am on a roll, so am going to keep going…

You know you are sitting next to a total snob at a dinner party when said SNOB asks you in all seriousness "So, where do you SUMMER?"  Pardon?  Since when is "summer" a verb?  Excuse me, I almost tripped over my tennis whites.

You know you like your in-laws when they are coming home from a month of vacation and you are really excited to greet them at their house upon return and cook them dinner.

You know you have a great husband when he buys you flowers every once in a while for no reason and fixes things around the house and they actually work after he is done. 

You know you are a parent when the last movie you saw in the theater was (The Age of Your First Child in months + 3 Months) ago because movies went from being $30 for 2 to $130 for two.  Darn babysitting costs.

You know you are done with a blog post when, well, you say to yourself "OK, I may even be boring myself now – ENOUGH!."

Things I Hate

I read a post recently on someone’s blog that says that most bloggers are very positive in their posts.  That is nice, but let’s face it, there are lots of things to be negative about!  Here are a few:

  • Really hot humid days
  • Homophobia
  • People who are easily offended
  • Being told I HAVE to do something.  I am kind of bad about this.
  • Flat soda
  • People who are not inquisitive
  • Loud talkers
  • People who spend money on things for show.  I am sure I fall into this category myself sometimes, but I am not proud of that.
  • People who are mean to waiters and waitresses
  • Ball point pens.  I much prefer the Pilot Extra Fine Roller in black.
  • People who are quick to judge
  • Wet bathroom floors.  Gross.
  • Moving
  • Worrying about money
  • The Macarena
  • Losing things.  Makes me feel out of control.
  • When someone passes gas in an airplane or an elevator.  I mean, come on people.  Please.
  • Bible pounding pastors.  Mercy…how can I hate a pastor?!?!?  Yikes.  Well, it’s really the Bible pounding, far right wing thing I hate.
  • Tripe

This is harder than I thought.  I don’t HATE a lot of things.  Maybe that is a good thing. 

Questions for Thought

If you could be President of the United States, would you take the position?

If you feel unhappy or down, what would you change right then to turn your feelings around?

What would you do within the first 24 hours of winning $1 million, $10 million and $100 million?

If you have a dream you are not following, what is really holding you back?  Is it really something you cannot change, or are you using that as an excuse to not follow your dream?

Do your thoughts rule your emotions?

If you find you often have challenging interactions with people, have you ever thought you might be the problem?

What is the point of saying "I am overwhelmed!"  Are you looking for pity from others?  If yes, how come?  Will that really help?  What about just saying "Hey, I need some help here."

If you set your mind to learning something new in the next twelve months, what would it be?

What happened today that was good?

Which would you rather win, a Grammy or an Oscar?

Little red box (Cartier) or little blue box (Tiffany)?

Beach or lake?

Cat or dog?

Deaf or blind?

Spring or fall?

Breakfast or dinner?

Morning or night?

Mom or dad?  JUST KIDDING – THIS IS NOT A GOOD CHOICE TO HAVE TO MAKE

Flowers or candy?

New handbag or new shoes?

God or atheism?

Italy or France?

If you could pick up right now and move you/your family abroad for a year – and know it would be ok – where would you go?

Gorging Myself On Media

I am outdoing myself with media consumption, and in doing so, am accomplishing/retaining less than I had hoped.   I need to rationalize what I am reading, watching, etc.  "Do Less To Do More."  This is my new motto.  Along with "Be Here Now."  See, it’s happening again – is one motto enough?  Nope.  Must have two.  Yikes.  A survey of what I having been taking in, of late:

On TV: The Tudors, various movies on the Sundance channel, The Winds Of War, 20/20’s series on faith (the piece on the nuns is pretty interesting), 60 Minutes, 24 (though I am boring of it quickly) and of course Grey’s Anatomy (McSeries!).  And I am intrigued by Traveler.  And I watch cooking shows.  But I am a little tired of quick meal, dinner in a hurry, 15 minutes to being a dream wife shows.  Can someone bring Julia back?  Perhaps a show for those of us interested in really cooking?  But I digress.

Now, books: My Life in France, Julia Child; Life is Meals; Founders At Work; Ghost Wars.  I also started Dracula again.  This is my third start with it.  I like it each time and then get distracted.  Third time a charm?  Am also 150 pages into Nicholas and Alexandra.  And of course, So You Think You’re Not Religious (thanks Dad).

This is not to mention various other things lying around: the NY Times, NY Magazine, the Atlantic Monthly, two issues of Vanity Fair, more cooking magazines than I care to admit, a few interior design mags (check out Blueprint, BTW – a little frantic, but great ideas), and many many others.

And this is not to mention what I read for work (blogs, newspapers, newsletters, research whitepapers, etc etc etc). 

Clearly I have a problem.  Or I have MADD (Media Attention Deficit Disorder).  I am reading so much that I am actually reading nothing.  I am reading while watching TV.  Unlike others, I will admit I am a mere mortal and am unable to do several things at once.  While my bookshelf might suggest I am a fabulously in the know person who is up on all kinds of things, this could not be further from the truth.  Crap.  I am a fraud!  I suspect that this fragmenting of my mind and attention is doing me a major disservice.  I am all talk and no knowledge.  I am comprehending little and retaining even less. 

Do others have secrets on how they manage to get through it all and at cocktail parties spout off facts that show they actually read it?  Where do you find the time!  Or is the answer that you take the Martha Stewart Bill Clinton approach – you are not human, you only need 2 hours of sleep, you are trained to speed read (oh no, it comes NATURALLY to you) and therefore consume a book a day…minimum.

Well, not I.  As much as I would like to be a speed reading, need no sleep, bring home the bacon and run a company all while doing power yoga woman, it’s just not me.  This feels like a failing.  But that would be silly, wouldn’t it?  To allow not being a super human to make you feel like a failure?  Who needs to to 55 things at once anyway?  Perhaps the way to not feel bad about realizing I am not The Bionic Woman is to view the situation through a different lens – the stop and smell the roses lens.  It’s OK to read one thing at once.  It’s OK to just watch a TV show and not try to get through Proust at the same time. 

So I vow to slow down.  Do one thing at a time, and do it well.  Not spread myself too thin.  Focus.  Do something to completion.  Slow down.  Breathe.

A few things I am thinking about this morning:

  • How we have had virtually no Spring season.
  • Brooklyn
  • The growth of the Hispanic population in this country, and the opportunities that provides.
  • Lunch.  What is for lunch.
  • Spending a quiet weekend at home.  This weekend for me will be something like a silent retreat.
  • How long has that uneaten apple been sitting on my desk?
  • Why is it so common to underestimate the challenges of being a stay-at-home parent?
  • Will long will it be before there will be more people watching Internet video on average, than broadcast television.
  • Is it possible to travel through time?  Seriously.
  • What it’s like to feel a calling.
  • What technologies my kids (G-d willing) will wonder how I lived without.
  • Why some companies have great cultures/vibes, and others just don’t.
  • How I can barely remember what it was like to be at work and not have access to the Internet.

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