I am such a lucky girl. I don’t count my blessings nearly often enough, and I count them daily. I have a great family, my mom, my kids, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, and many departed family members I am grateful to have had in my life as well. I have many friends and many acquaintances, all of whom I cherish. I have a good job, a good career and many talents. I have my health and my fitness. I have a special someone to love who loves me in return. I have so, so much to be grateful for, I have not yet begun to account.
Of my friends, I have a group of friends I have known for nearly “all of time”; a couple of us have been friends since kindergarten, the rest joined us along the way. There are five of us and we were nearly inseparable in high school. I am so happy to still be close to these “girls”. We may not see each other as frequently as we’d like, but we will always be close. Some are closer than others, with the demands of careers and families and the division that distance and absence can cause. But we are all still close.
This weekend we had the good fortune to be able to spend the weekend together at a villa in the Shenandoah Valley wine country in Amador County in northern California. Being Napa girls and with connections in the wine industry, this wonderful opportunity was made available to us. It was as if time had never passed, and again, as though it had been ages. We talked and shared stories, reminisced and laughed not just over lunch, as we try to do every so often, but for the entire weekend, beginning late Friday morning and ending late Sunday evening. Just the five of us; no kids, no spouses or significant others, no Internet and not much of a cell signal. It was a retreat, really, in every sense of the word, and a time I will cherish for the rest of my life.
We talked about all the things we used to talk about; the guys we dated, who did who, who may have been first to “lose it” (still unclear), other friends and acquaintances, and all those stories of our youth. We shared pictures and we took pictures. We talked about more current topics; health, husbands, movies, music, careers, the triumphs and the tragedies of life and of our dreams. We floated in the pool, played outrageous card games and a little tennis, watched movies and ate fabulously. There was a winery at the end of the driveway and we didn’t even make our way there. Every minute was spent just being us. It was magical.
And in spite of challenges in life that we face, some serious health issues, career challenges, joblessness, financial trials, marital strife, not a tear was shed. There was only joy, laughter and the undying support that only lifelong friends can understand.
All I can say is, if you have friends that you don’t see as often as you’d like, or if you’ve lost contact with friends you once held dear, make every effort to reconnect, or to reconnect more often. When we are blessed with such friendships, we need to give them some priority. It is vitally important to have time apart from those who occupy our daily life; spouses, children, parents, co-workers. Reserve time for those whose friendship you held dear before spouses and children and the demands of family and career. Amidst all the daily demands of our life and what seems like so little free time, it is so very important to retain our individualism, our autonomy, and occasionally, our freedom from the life that dictates the ordinary day. We become ourselves again when we are removed from that which occupies our daily life in an almost robotic repetition. We are refreshed and rejuvenated by our renewed sense of self that only a separation from daily life and the bonds of friendship can provide. To fortify our sense of self strengthens who we are for the rest of the roles in our life. Make it a priority, and often enough to make a difference.
People are interesting. Have you ever noticed, in conversation, how much people enjoy talking about themselves? There is nothing wrong with that, don’t get me wrong, it’s what we do. All of us. We like to share things about ourselves, our experiences, injustices, adventures, helpful information, unbelievable details. Nearly everything we bring up in conversation relates to our personal experience or relationship with the topic at hand. Even when we speak of others, it is usually based on our own personal experience or exposure. It may seem obvious, but we do know more about ourselves, our experiences, our methods for doing things, than anything or anyone else and this becomes our basis for participating in conversation. The trick is to know when you are only talking about you and not listening, really, to anyone else.
Have you noticed how we often refer to ourselves in conversation? Of course we use the word “I”, and in proper grammatical use, it is capitalized when written. It would be weird for us to refer to ourselves in the third person, so this one letter word has been devoted for expression of self as a proper noun. But, when we use the word “I” in conversation, we often place a lot of exaggerated emphasis on it. Instead of just “I”, a single syllable, single letter word, it comes out as IIIIIIIIIIIIiiiiiiiiiii, in about three syllables. If it were a musical note, it would have one of those crazy symbols, a “maxima”, which octuples a whole note, so in 4/4 time, that would be 32 counts or beats. A really long time, that’s my point. It’s emphatically crazy. When we’re trying to get our point across or to be convincing in any manner, we over emphasize the word “I” to add reliability and justification to our statement or position. The more we emphasize the word “I” the more right we are, at least that’s what our subconscious seems to think. We don’t come out and say “I’m right, you’re wrong”, like we did in the second grade, which then usually digressed into the “uh-huh/huh-uh” exchange. How refreshing that would be, as an adult; to spend ten minutes defending your position by simply saying “uh-huh”.
I catch myself doing this and I observe others. Frequently. And, it seems the better we know someone, the more likely we are to engage in this behavior. Once you become more aware of it, more attuned to it, it becomes almost entertaining to observe, in yourself, hopefully so you can fix it, and in others. And though we are all susceptible to falling prey to this self-righteous behavior, anyone who has ever read a book on conversations, charisma, or relationships is aware that the most important part of a conversation is the listening part.
I am often described as quiet. I can be. I try to be, at times. I’m listening. Intently. I am asking salient questions to validate the speaker’s topic and to clarify my understanding. When I speak, I speak carefully without trying to sound too self-absorbed or too self-righteous. It is hard. It is a skill, an acquired skill, and one that is never perfected, but that always takes conscious effort.
With people close to us, family and close friends, the exaggerated “I” comes out. At its worst, the exaggerated “I” is prefaced with the word “well”. Listen for it. Our unsophisticated (egoic) mind uses this combination of words almost like bait, “well IIIIIiiiiii …” and, since we consider ourselves experts on the particular topic (the amount of emphasis on the word “I” is proportionate to the amount of knowledge we feel we have on the topic), our subconscious is begging, begging, begging for someone to ask “why?” That gives us license to unleash our vast wealth of knowledge, information and examples on the topic, further leading to our validity and (self) importance.
One of the more recent examples of the “IIIIIIIiiiii” monster coming out was in a conversation about the “correct” order for brushing, flossing and mouth washing. I honestly cannot remember who the participants in the conversation were, but there were quite a few “IIIIIiiii’s”. No one was right, no one was wrong, and we all had different sources for our (very strong) beliefs. So, did the “IIIIIIiiiii’s” have it? Nope. To my relief, based on this conversation, I was just happy to know that everyone believes, passionately, in solid dental hygiene habits.
Often in, shall we say, “lively” conversation, debates, or, heaven forbid, fights, we feel so passionately about our position or argument, that not only are we using the exaggerated “I”, we use the time the other party takes to state, or restate their position to think through what our response will be. There is no listening whatsoever. I remember this in my former marriage, or, more correctly, the marriage I no longer live in. I would (and rightly so), state my position and my spouse would be so busy rebutting, and usually talking over me, interrupting and getting louder and louder in the process, that he never heard what I said. In other words, there was no conversation, no exchange of ideas or information. Our “conversations” resembled what we see on political panel discussions on television, which I think is the cruelest version of hell and the hell people who don’t listen are going to be banished to.
So, what do IIIiiiii recommend? IIiiii suggest listening carefully to yourself, and of course, to others, in conversation. Be mindful of how you speak and to how well you’re listening. Observe how people begin to react to you differently as you practice listening actively and being genuinely interested in what they have to say. They will begin to make eye contact with you more during conversation, they will lean a little towards you as they speak, and, most miraculously, when they are assured that you are listening and are interested in a compassionate sense, they will stop using the exaggerated IIIIiiiii, and their tone of voice will soften.
When you have the opportunity to speak, keep the “I’s” short, speak clearly but not loudly, make eye contact with everyone in the conversation and allow others their turn to contribute to the conversation. You may not have the chance to expound completely on your topic; learn to let it go. Conversations are like a school of fish; they change shape and shift and move in different directions. Let it go, don’t try to force the conversation, don’t try to force your agenda. Share your ideas and let the conversation evolve. Successful conversation is in the “I” of the beholder. This is the art. This is the key to success in family relationships, friendships, romantic relationships, and in business relationships. It’s what IIIIIIiiii try to do.
Which would you rather be; a little fish in a big pond or a big fish in a little pond?
I’m working onsite this week with a very small accounting firm in, well, sort of the center of the universe. I’m in Silicon Valley, just south of San Francisco. My hotel is in the shadow of the great and mighty Oracle. I’m a few miles from Facebook headquarters, and a hundred other huge and notable tech companies.
In my classes, I normally have multiple participants, up to fifteen. To be able to provide adequate guidance and excellent customer service, we limit our class sizes to fifteen. Usually. This week, a rarity; one participant. The class I’m teaching is in audit methodology and a related software and this particular class usually has enough participants that we can break into discussion teams and play games and award prizes. Which is kind of hard with only one participant.
My participant is a young man, born in Hong Kong and reasonably new to the accounting field. He has a girlfriend in Hong Kong and will, in all likelihood, return there some day. His life in the U.S, most of his life, has been centered in this world; Silicon Valley. To this young man, the American dream is to become the Corporate Controller or Chief Financial Officer of a company, and to him, “a company” means something like Oracle, Facebook, or Hewlett Packard. With only the one participant in today’s class, we finished a bit early. The class is timed to allow for plenty of questions and answers, technical difficulty and other delays that just don’t occur with just the one attendee. After we covered our planned curriculum for the day, we chatted, for about an hour. I’d given my standard introduction at the beginning of the session, outlining the highlights of my impressive sounding, but truthfully, very mundane and really, unimpressive career. When I mentioned I’d been a corporate controller for two companies, the young man’s eyes lit up. No, I was controller for two very small, very unknown companies. Oh, I’m quite proud of my accomplishments, but I was not at the financial helm of anything close to an Oracle or a Facebook. In fact, the annual revenues of one of the companies I controlled probably wouldn’t even pay for a minute of operating expenses of one of these Silicon Valley giants.
I’ve worked for larger companies, I work for a larger company now. And that brings up the question; would you rather be a little fish in a big pond or a big fish in a little pond? I favor the latter. When I worked in the accounting department for a very large company, my entire accounting responsibility consisted of overseeing and reconciling the transactions for one, single asset account. Just one. One general ledger account. Okay, it was a big account with a very large balance, but that was all I knew of this company. I was a guppy in an ocean. When I was controller of a much smaller company, I knew the details of every account that comprised every line item on the balance sheet and income statement. I oversaw the entire process, I reviewed every transaction and produced those financial statements each and every month and I knew every detail of the financial position of that company. I dealt with the bankers, the auditors, and the attorneys, the insurance agents, did the hiring and firing in my department, and I generated any and all reports, on demand, for the shareholders, upon request. I was a whale in fishbowl.
This brings up another question; to work for a company and facilitate someone else’s dream, someone else’s wealth, or to be the entrepreneur and make your own way? My dad was self-employed. My former husband was self-employed, during the better years. The love of my life is self-employed. My son is an entrepreneur while still in college, and while he’d like to gain experience under the umbrella of a large automotive giant, in the end, he is determined to be self-employed. I yearn for that as well, but find myself cowering under the perceived safe umbrella of a steady paycheck and ever diminishing benefits. It takes a certain amount of bravery, tenacity, wisdom, and, well, balls, to “fall out of the airplane”. I have all of that, why do I resist being in charge of my own destiny?
I consider myself an unusually brave, or perhaps daring, woman. I take risks, in adventure, like backpacking, kayaking, horseback riding, snowboarding, wakeboarding, etc. This past weekend, I completed my first tandem “jump” in skydiving. Okay, so I wasn’t at all in control of exiting the airplane, I was firmly strapped to the man who did the exiting and even if I did scream and shout in objection, we would have exited the airplane anyway. That’s what I paid for. But it was fun! And I’ll do it again! I may even seek to become certified to solo jump, who knows? So how is it I am afraid to let go of the W-2, salaried employee, airplane?
I have always been a bit of a non-conformist; in fashion, in education, in musical preferences, in my career path, in sports and leisure activities, in many, many things. And yet, when it comes to what I do for a living, I find myself following the path of the lemming; work for someone else’s wealth and benefit until the appropriate and ever increasing age for retirement, then exist, barely, on an extremely fixed income for the remainder of my days. Every cell of my being is in riot against this plight! And yet, I cling. I conform.
I realize that I am blessed, that I am fortunate, lucky, even, to have the fantastic job that I currently have. And to walk away from something with the semblance of consistency and stability would be crazy. But, with the semblance of consistency and stability, ever decreasing benefits and the regular paycheck, there is a trade off; the limitation of potential advancement, the limitation of residency in certain states or more rural areas, the limitation of personal time off to travel or attend to family matters. And this must always be carefully considered and reconsidered as life changes. Is it wrong to want stability and more freedom?
The freedom I yearn for exists just a few steps from where I am. The freedom to work my own hours, my own schedule, from wherever I choose. I have the expertise, I have the experience, I certainly have the energy, I have the tenacity, I have the work ethic. I have a plan, a vision and a timeline. I just don’t have the guts to let go or to even to set the plan into full motion. I pick at it, I poke at it, but I don’t’ deploy it. Only steps away, and I can’t seem to lace up my sneakers. Are you in a similar situation? Are you a cog in someone else’s wheel? Do you get by and work like a slave for someone who is able to set their own hours, vacation more than work and retire at 50? I know we can’t all be successful entrepreneurs, but what is it that separates the dreamers from the drones?
This is not about amassing wealth, it is solely about freedom. I seek the freedom to live where I want, to work at what I love, and to love what I do so much that it doesn’t seem like work. That’s what the dream should be about, not net worth. On the day of judgment, don’t you think it will be better to have lived a life of passion and purpose than a life building the net worth of someone who’s only motive was amassing wealth and power?
I wasn’t scheduled to work with a client today, nor did I have a project for work. The latter half of my day was marked on my calendar as a “travel day”. I work on site in Redwood City, California, about sixty miles from home, for the next couple of days. My morning was free. So I got paid to sit around the kitchen table, in my pajamas, and visit with my mom, answer the occasional email and be ready to assist if anyone on the team needed help. No one did.
I had a leisurely breakfast, my usual, plain Greek yogurt with local, organic honey stirred in and some organic blueberries. We sat and talked and talked and sat as the morning wore on. I went upstairs, finally, and returned a couple of emails and a couple of phone calls. My “obligations” were met for the morning, all I had left to do was shower, pack and drive.
Mom and I had entertained the idea of having mimosas, for the sole purpose of finishing off that pesky opened bottle of sparkling wine in the refrigerator before it lost its effervesance. We dismissed the idea, initially, it was Tuesday. Morning. So? We revisited the idea and decided it was probably better to enjoy the bubbles and orange juice sooner rather than later.
Three mimosas later.
We were still talking, and coherently. It was after noon and, still, I was in my “pajamas”, sweats, actually, but still, I was in what I wore to sleep in last night. This is so unlike me, I am actually repulsed by the thought of still being in PJs at noon. Blech! I planned on leaving for my hotel at about 3:00 PM, to hopefully miss traffic through San Francisco and get there early enough to complete my “first night ritual”. I showered and got ready, finished hanging and folding last night’s laundry and packed simultaneously, in fairly short order.
I’ve been missing a sock. I’ve been missing a sock I really, really like. I have these “business socks” I wear with my slacks, for work. And the sock that is missing is actually silver. And glittery. Last night, after my run, I grabbed a clean towel to use after my shower. I guess the silver, glittery sock clung to this towel and has been folded up with it since before I went to New York over a month ago. When I got out of the shower and grabbed my clean towel, out fell my missing glittery, silver sock. I was so happy! Really. It doesn’t take much. I was so happy, I even told my man about finding my silver, glittery sock during our nightly phone conversation. As I explained finding my beloved sock, I was looking for the mate, the one that wasn’t lost. I couldn’t find it! Shit! Now the sock that was there, wasn’t and the sock that had been lost was here. I’m hopeless, sometimes. Today, in folding my clothes and packing, I found the sock that hadn’t been missing, so, yes, now I have two silver, glittery socks. In my suitcase, ready to be worn with my business attire tomorrow! Excellent, I just wasn’t sure how many more times I could stand wearing black business socks with my blue, pinstriped slacks. There is peace and harmony in my world once again.
But, as I continued to sort and fold my laundry, it came to my attention that I only had one of my super expensive, hot pink, Balega running socks. I swear, it’s a curse. I just wore them last night, and I washed them and put them both in the dryer, I remember, vividly. I shook the other clothes out, once, and again. No pink sock. I looked downstairs by the dryer. I looked in the dryer. I looked in the washing machine. My mom had put my clothes that had been in the dryer on my bed, and she’d noticed the solitary pink sock, too. A curse, I tell you. A curse. It was nowhere. It’s like there is this cosmic balance that is maintained only by the fact that there is always at least one highly valued, missing sock. I had almost texted my man the good news of finding the silver, glittery sock, but now that my pink sock was missing, I decided not to draw any additional attention to my ongoing sock saga. Curses are never good and are probably best not discussed.
An hour later, after my mom took her clothes out of the dryer, I went to the garage for some other reason, and there, on the floor, my hot pink sock. If the world tips off its axis or the cosmic well-being of the universe is at all unsettled, just know, it’s because all of my socks are presently accounted for.
After I packed, Mom and I decided to have lunch, and, no, we did not have more mimosas. We were out of sparkling wine and I had to drive. We did decide to have a half a cantaloupe each with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in the middle! This is my new favorite lunch and I need to not indulge in this deliciousness too often! It has been a big food week, and with work related travel, meaning dinner out for the next three nights, and another “party weekend” coming up, this could all add up to very tight size sixes by the time next Tuesday rolls around. Or I roll around. At least I’ve run a couple of times this week.
At 3:00 PM, precisely, I loaded up my car and headed for the “peninsula”. As planned, traffic was light. There was a little congestion here and there, but nothing like commute time. I made good time and found my hotel very easily. I checked in and went about my “first night ritual”. After dropping my bag in my room, I grabbed my purse and my TomTom and headed back to my car. The first order of business is always to find the clients’ office. When I booked my hotel, I noticed it was only a couple thousand feet from the address my client provided. I could walk. I may walk. It is about a block away.
The second order of business, upon ascertaining that there was, indeed, a small refrigerator in my room, was to find the closest Whole Foods and buy a few items for my breakfasts and lunches for the next couple of days. I take great delight in shopping at different Whole Foods locations. I don’t know why, exactly, but I do, and I “check in” on Facebook, if for no other reason, than to keep a record for my own purposes. I think it would be cool to be able to claim to have visited EVERY Whole Foods location. Not likely, but cool. I bought Greek yogurt with honey in it, organic blueberries, organic raspberries, a small wheel of Brie and two apples for my lunches, a split of sparkling wine, a split of Zinfandel and a couple bottles of water. Oh, and at the register, impulse buy, two small squares of dark Peruvian chocolate. I made my way back to the hotel and loaded up the refrigerator.
Before leaving home, I made reservations for dinner at a French restaurant in the same town as my hotel. I use Open Table to make my reservations, even though I usually eat early and am always by myself. In other words, I don’t usually need reservations, but, when you use Open Table, you earn points for every reservation you make. You can then redeem the points for gift certificates that can be redeemed at any participating restaurant! I’ve almost earned a $100 certificate, I’m just a few meals away!
When I got to the hotel, after my Whole Foods trip, I pulled up my dinner reservation on my phone to get directions, only to find that the French restaurant was downstairs, in my hotel! Excellent! And it was! A flight of three French red wines, striped bass, quinoa and grilled vegetables, supposedly only 195 calories and for dessert, because it was only supposed to be 90 calories, fresh berries gratin, flambéed. I skipped appetizers, soup, salad and sides, thankfully, that was the most filling three hundred calorie meal I ever ate. I think the French must count calories differently than we do. Or is it the “French paradox” again? How they eat like they do and look like they do, I don’t know. Actually, I do. If you haven’t read “French Women Don’t Get Fat” by Mireille Guiliano, you should. Hopefully, you like leeks. I love them. I eat them every day.
After dinner, the ritual continues; I iron all the clothes for my entire stay, drink more wine, some of the Zinfandel, confirm the time training begins in the morning, set two alarms, each, on both of my iPhones, and make sure all the files are ready on my work computer. Then I busy myself with something entertaining for the rest of the evening like duncing around on Facebook, texting my Sweetie, reading, watching the YouTube channels I subscribe to, or, actually, pretty much what I’d be doing if I were home and everything that needed to be done was, in fact, done.
I’m not sure at what point in my life I decided I “needed” to go skydiving. I really had no inclination to do so, ever, until the past few years. It may have begun as a joke with my kids. We decided when my daughter turned eighteen the three of us, my daughter, my son and myself, would go get tattoos, go skydiving and go to a hookah bar, together, all on the same day. For several reasons, it didn’t happen. Now my daughter lives in New York and my son is headed to Hawaii, so I am left here, with nothing better to do than to go skydiving by myself.
I did it in celebration of my fiftieth birthday, actually. I figured, having made it through a half a century, I needed to do something drastic to kick off the next half century. Sort of like a rebirth, or an affirmation of life.
I did a tandem jump, meaning I was firmly strapped to a man who knew what he was doing. How brave is it, really, to strap yourself to someone, pay big bucks to have them fall out of an airplane and guide you safely to earth? Based on the feedback on Facebook, I’d say some consider it brave, some consider it insane, and some do it nearly every day and welcome you to the club. Brave or not, it provides you with the experience of losing control and then regaining control. It gives you enough of an experience to consider being able to do this on your own.
Once someone else does that for you one time, and you are “imprinted” with that experience of loss of control and regaining control, you can more readily take the next step of doing it on your own, perhaps. I am fairly certain I would not have been able to exit the plane on my own. I don’t think they even allow that now. I’m pretty sure you have to do a tandem jump, then take a bazillion classes, and then solo jump. I don’t know, I haven’t’ really checked into it. Yet. The tandem jump worked out very well. He jumped out of the plane and I really, at that point, had very little to say about the whole thing. Having experienced free fall and the feeling of the chute opening, and drifting to the ground while taking in the scenery across three counties, I am quite comfortable with the whole ordeal, I think I could easily do it on my own once I took the required lessons.
Many years ago, before I was ever in the picture, the man I married attempted to sky dive. His twin brother was an avid skydiver, so my husband decided he needed to try. He paid to be taken up in the plane and when it came time to jump, he could not let go of the plane. His fingers were wrapped around some sturdy piece of airplane and could not even be pried loose. He landed with the plane and never made another attempt. And that sums up much about him; unable to let go of the plane. Years later, he took private pilot lessons, at considerable expense. He finally got to the point where he had enough experience to solo, and he kept opting for “just one more lesson”. He never did his solo flight, never got his private pilot license and his training is all expired by this point, I’m sure. More recently, and the catalyst for the death of the already unhappy marriage, was his decision to “day trade”, in his own fashion. After observing the “behavior” of stocks over a very long period of time, he devised a plan where he could make very short trades, purchase and sell again within minutes. I did an independent study of his plan, and a financial model of the potential results. It looked good, it looked like there was considerable potential, so I consented to let him try. He hasn’t worked since. Nor has he made any money since. Every morning, for the next couple of years, he sat in his chair at the kitchen table, disheveled, unshowered, over-caffeinated, and wide-eyed with fear, and he watched the potential trades come and go. He couldn’t let go of the plane. He just couldn’t make the trades, and when he did, he second-guessed himself and bought and sold too early or too late and either made very little, broke even or lost. But he certainly did not replace his income and the empire we’d spent a lifetime building, fell. All because he couldn’t let go of the plane.
Skydiving is interesting. That may seem like an understatement. It is and understatement, and it isn’t. Skydiving is amazing, the adrenaline rush is awesome! But skydiving is also interesting in the way things become interesting when you overanalyze them, like I do pretty much everything.
Upon exiting the plane, free falling is what much of life feels like; you’re out of control and just plummeting. When the ripcord is pulled and the chute deploys, you regain control, you grab the handles and steer yourself to safety. In skydiving, as in life, we are in command, even if we feel like we are in free fall and completely out of control. All we ever have to do is pull that ripcord, grab the handles and steer ourselves safely back to the ground. When do we feel like we’re in free fall? After high school graduation, before beginning college. After college graduation before landing that first job. Any time we leave a comfortable job in quest for new, better, more enriching experiences. Selling a house to buy another. Moving from one city to another. Ending a long-term relationship. Retiring from a long, rewarding career. Receiving a dreaded diagnosis. We are almost always in free fall in some realm of life, or are approaching it. Yet, we usually land on our feet and continue to live.
This applies to just about anything. Change is scary, we are fearful of much in life, and we allow those fears limit us, limit our potential, limit our possibility for growth, fulfillment, happiness and possibly even being able to contribute in a very meaningful way to the world in which we live. Do you think, possibly, there is a scientist out there, somewhere, who has the potential to develop a cure for cancer or AIDS, but is, perhaps, limited by their fear? Perhaps there exists somewhere a gifted leader and politician, someone who is honest and has integrity and could help our divided nation overcome its partisan differences, but because they are limited by their fear, they don’t pursue their gift. What gifts do you have that your fear of change, uncertainty or failure prevent you from sharing?
Whether you decide to skydive in order to fully understand the analogy of free-fall and then regaining control, or whether you just rely on my description of it, do consider finding a way to overcome fears that limit you. My favorite quote by Eleanor Roosevelt has helped me many times over; “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Just let go of the plane.
I have been such a slug this week. Just back from a month away from home, a week and a half for work in New York City and a few days in New Jersey, then just over two weeks for a wonderful, amazing and adventure-packed vacation in Alaska. And back to work within hours of my return home. Long days on the phone with clients, teaching the finer points of audit software skills. My “free” time has been spent trying to get caught up on outrageous (NYC) expense reports and other administrivia, plus trying to catch up on a few blog posts.
There may have been a fiftieth birthday in there, too. But, here it is. Saturday. As you can imagine, over a week in Manhattan, followed by vacation and the celebration of a birthday, my eating and workout habits have been sort of sidelined. For three weeks. The last deliberate attempt at exercise was a short, hot, run in Central Park. And here it is. Saturday. I belong to two running clubs, one in Napa, where I live, one in Sacramento of such high quality and superior coaching that it is worth the hour and a half drive. I’d intended to make the drive to Sacramento today, but a quick glimpse at the weather and the planned track workout changed my mind quickly. Forecast temperatures were 102 degrees, and the track at CSU, Sacramento is notoriously hot. The track workout, I rationalized, would not really benefit me as far “off-program” as I am right now. What I really need are some miles on my shoes. The local group set off early, and fast, and far, and, again, what I really needed were some miles on my shoes, and not necessarily fast miles. Just miles. To get back into the swing of things. So, with every ounce of gumption I could muster up, I got out of bed, pulled my hair into a ponytail, pulled on my yoga pants and a jersey from my first half marathon. I laced up my running shoes, ate a quick, light breakfast, and set off. I intended to run between three and five miles, depending on how I felt. I felt pretty good, and it wasn’t, yet, too hot, so five miles it was. I was so proud of myself! I love it when I actually do what I think I should do. There is nothing worse than letting yourself down and nothing better than the satisfaction of having done what you knew you should. Does this make sense?
After my run, though, I had a whole day with no plan. A whole, beautiful Saturday and no one around to conspire with to find trouble to get into. I’ve been stuck close to home pretty much all week, with the exception of my birthday and a meal out and some errands yesterday, okay, and lunch out. But I really, really, really think I might die if I had to sit at home on a lovely, sunny Saturday. So. I didn’t.
What to do when you have nothing to do; a lesson from Scarlett. Something. Anything.
There is always something to do or to see, even if you have no plan, little money, and no one to get into trouble with. You just need to be creative and willing to try something new, all by yourself. And so I did. After a couple of errands, I planned on going to my favorite public Wi-Fi hotspot in Napa, Oxbow Public Market, a collection of food and spirit vendors in a “market” type environment. The Wi-Fi is weak, but the people watching and festive atmosphere more than makes up for it. I enjoy working from there, in complete, total and blissful anonymity, because everyone there is a tourist, but me. I work there for a couple of hours every now and then, for a change of scenery.
Before actually heading to the market, though, I decided to put one of my new initiatives into action. I grew up in Napa, and I’ve lived not too far from Napa for some thirty years since moving away. But I really don’t know Napa anymore. I had a conversation with a guy in a wine bar in Seattle last week, he was from L.A. and knew way more about Napa than I did. So, with the convenience of residency, I’ve decided I need to learn more about the wine industry that has pretty much changed every aspect of this once sleepy, unknown little cow town. Yes, cow town, there used to be a lot of cattle, sheep and many orchards, with just a few vineyards. Decades ago. So, my new initiative is to visit at least one different winery per month AND to visit at least one of the many tasting rooms in downtown Napa per month. So, today, a tasting room, just a couple of doors down from Oxbow Public Market, The Taste at Oxbow. I walked in, MacBook tucked under one arm, scarlet handbag over the other. You know, I wear something scarlet in color every, single day. I do. Just because. I took a seat, alone, at the wine bar. The tasting room was nearly full of tourists, sitting at tables and at the bar, all chatting with one another and enjoying some wine.
I was greeted by one of the sommeliers behind the bar, who, I’m sure, probably doesn’t get too many solitary patrons on a sunny summer Saturday. I explained that I’d grown up in Napa and had just recently moved back to town. So had she, from Portland, Oregon, so conversation ensued. I further explained that I wanted to learn more about the tasting rooms in the area so when I had guests I would know where I could take them. I also inquired as to whether there was a “locals” discount“. Yes! They were part of the “Napa Neighbors” program, which, today, here, meant five tastings for free. Free. I couldn’t stay home for that! If I tasted wine at home, I’d have to buy it, right? And even at Target, with my Red Card 5% discount and my additional 10% discount for buying six bottles at a time, I was doing far better here! And this wine isn’t available at Target! After the first couple of samples I was feeling a little punchy, and a little guilty for getting so much for free. I ordered a snack off the menu, a small “wheel” of Brie from a cheese maker in nearby Marin County. With the Brie came local, organic honey (link I love everything about local, organic honey), crackers, and some dry roasted peanuts. For $9. I don’t think I could’ve purchased all of this for $9, at Target, or anywhere. There is nothing quite like a chunk of high quality brie, drug through sweet, golden honey and spread on a crisp, light cracker. With red wine. Best. Afternoon. Ever. For an afternoon with “nothing to do”. Right?
I chatted with the sommeliers and with other patrons and had a fine, fine time. I could’ve stayed home and watched re-runs of Will and Grace or Modern Family, like I did yesterday afternoon. So very glad I didn’t. After my wine and cheese, local honey, crackers and peanuts, I headed to the public market, found a seat, and wrote and wrote and wrote. Why do people sit at home alone when they have nothing better to do? There is something, somewhere, everywhere, to do, to see, to learn, to experience. A coffee shop, a book store, a park, a pub, a restaurant that doesn’t mind if you linger, for example, McDonald’s and Denny’s locations often have free Wi-Fi, and if you order a cup of coffee or an iced tea, they’ll let you stay for as long as you like. I know McDonalds and Denny’s aren’t the most glamorous places on the planet, but isn’t it just nice to get out, about, and be in public now and then? To experience life first hand?
So I encourage you, like I sometimes have to encourage myself, get out there and find out what there is to do and see in your town, your city, your community. Become a part of your community instead of being a fixture on your couch. Be a tourist in your own town! It is fun and so, so much better than sitting home wishing there was something better to do than nothing!
Today, I am half a century old. I don’t feel it. Thank goodness.
I’ve taken the day off of work and it is mine to do with what I want. What do I want?
I remember when I turned forty. I remember when “we” turned forty, my group of friends from high school, and earlier. We’ve been friends, forever. The oldest of us has a February birthday and she has always sort of been our “leader”. The first to drive, the first to be able to attend R-rated movies without a parent, the first to be able to buy alcohol, legally. I’m next, with my July birthday. Two birthdays in September, one at the beginning, one at the end. The youngest of us has a late November birthday.
The year we all turned forty, my February friend was thrown a secret, magical surprise party, by her husband. It was thrown at a winery, in the caves, and for some reason, I was unable to attend, some conflict with leadership and kid activities, if I recall. Which is regrettable. But, the party was grand, by all accounts, and attended by many, and the surprise was total and complete. Salute to the man who can pull off such a masterful surprise for his wife! From planning through party, impressive.
My November friend had a big birthday party for her fortieth, too. Not a surprise, as she is the master party thrower and entertainer, but a large fete, again, attended by many. Falling on Thanksgiving weekend, and with the whole family in tow, we set off late and ended up stuck in traffic for nearly four hours, and only half way there, the night now nearly over, we aborted and returned home. Organizing my family, at that point in time, in particular, my husband, was like steering the Titanic through a slalom course; impossible. Not one to appreciate parties or social gatherings, they upset his constitution and caused an undue amount of stress and anxiety for him, and so, for all of us. It was barely worth the effort, I preferred go alone, but that was a whole other problem. So, we rarely made these social gatherings, and the cost was high.
The September girls celebrated their fortieth birthdays on their own, that I know of, no large forets were held.
My fortieth birthday was a surprise all its own. Now, my thirtieth had been a big party, all my plan, all my doing; a weekend of camping, loud music and wakeboarding with friends at a lake in the Sierra foothills. My husband hated it. Every single minute of it. And was none too quiet about it. Which made it miserable and awkward for everyone in attendance, for the whole weekend. Never again, I vowed. As my fortieth approached, I secretly hoped a surprise was being planned, a party with friends and food and celebrating. I knew better, but I liked to entertain the idea. I kept quiet about my birthday, I didn’t make any hints or suggestions, provide reminders, or anything. I just kind of wanted to see what would happen. I got pretty much what I expected; a great big surprise! My daughter was at camp, so on my actual birthday, mid-week, we decided to go out to dinner, my husband, my son and me. This was not anything unusual, we went out to dinner more than we ate at home. When asked where we should go, I mentioned a restaurant we didn’t normally go to, one that was a little more expensive than our “usual”. Still, no mention of the date or the significance of the date. The restaurant was agreed upon and my husband, my son and I followed the hostess to our table. I ordered a very nice glass of red wine, which was not unusual behavior. I ordered my dinner, nothing extravagant. But when I ordered dessert, an eyebrow was raised. Wine and dessert? At which point I said “Surprise! It’s my fortieth birthday!”
A few years ago, I vowed my fiftieth would be an unforgettable party, the world would be invited. As the year approached, I thought maybe a chauffeured limo through the wine country with my closest dozen friends, or so. As the year arrived, and it became evident that wasn’t going to happen, with busy lives and tight budgets, I downshifted. Maybe five people I’m acquainted with, who happened to be free, in a Civic.
I woke up, today, late, and against my whole, sprouted grain snob attitude, consented to eat Eggo waffles with my mom. Which I washed down, quickly, with mimosas. What is it bout Eggo waffles, they don’t retain heat for two seconds? I have never eaten a warm Eggo waffle. And they don’t brown, they go from frozen and pale to dark, dark, dark brown and too crunchy to cut with a serrated knife, in about two seconds. But no matter the degree to which they are burnt, they are cold before they touch the plate, butter never melts on them and the warmest of maple syrup quickly congeals on top. Thank God for mimosas.
I received a phone call from my daughter and son-in-law from Saratoga Springs, New York after the first mimosa. We chatted and they wished me a happy birthday. I felt loved. I miss them.
I exchanged texts with my son, I’d made noise about going to DiRosa Art Preserve or to Castello di Amoroso for the chocolate and wine tasting tour, by myself, so he wasn’t sure where I’d be or what I was up to. And there I was, at the kitchen table, sticky with maple syrup, silly from mimosas and still in my PJ’s. He was free for the day and his close friend was home from a semester in Brazil, before returning to school in Hawaii. It was agreed, they’d both come down to help us celebrate, in some way, my half-century birthday. I’d have to pay for their gas, and part of their dinner, but it was worth the price to have them in attendance. So, it was four of us, in a Civic. We went to V. Sattui Winery for a tasting, then to Longmeadow Farmstead for dinner. It was low key, but it was a splendid day. I am determined to continue celebrating in my own way over the next week, or so. I have a few tricks up my sleeve, a few bucket list items I may seek to satisfy. We’ll see how it goes, but I do not intend for my fiftieth birthday week to pass without some sort of commotion.
As far as the girls go, now that we’re all turning fifty; my February friend had a big get together at a local tavern. I was in Alaska. I missed it. With the rest of our birthdays coming up in fairly rapid succession, and one of the September girls in what appears to be, hopefully, a permanent remission from cancer, a treatment plan for life, and a prognosis of, as she put it, “I’ll be alive until I die, just like everyone else,” we’ve decided a girls’ retreat to a winery estate villa for a weekend of celebrating is in order, and so that comes up in a couple of weeks.
I guess with age, comes a certain amount of wisdom and certain amount of flexibility and understanding. Yes, I’d love a big party, but the people in my life, whom I care for a great, great deal, are not and never will be the big party planners or participants that I may be. I don’t love anyone less for that. And making such plans on my own, and “requiring” people to attend for which it maybe a hardship is not fair, so I am understanding and flexible and appreciative and will celebrate with all those I love, each in their preferred manner. I know that I am loved and that is better than any drunken limo ride. I suppose this comes from maturity, goodness knows I should have THAT by now, I’ve had fifty years to practice!
Ever have one of those days? This relates to an article I wrote on the fallacy of “balance” in life. We all assume we want “balance”, but balance, trying to keep everything equally attended to actually results in mediocrity in everything we attempt. Great things are done only by applying a great amount of energy to the related tasks, the trick comes in applying energy, in great amounts, to the right things, at the right time, so as to achieve excellence in all areas that require your attention. Herein lies another trick, determining which areas in your life require your attention, and which ones you really shouldn’t bother with. So many tricks. I recommend “The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results ”, a book by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.
Today, my only focus was work. I was scheduled to train for eight hours, and when that was done, having just returned from a two week vacation, I had six hours of very important administrative work to attend to, namely, my expense reimbursement reports. After eight hours on the phone with a client, and six hours of tedium entering expenses, scanning receipts, and all that, I. Am. Done. Wine.
There will be no effort or energy applied to any other area of my life; fitness, reading, studying, organizing, minimalizing, etc. Yes, I will eat, likely a frozen pizza I happen to have in the freezer, the last morsel of food I own, but I will not go grocery shopping. Not tonight. Other than that, a phone call to my Sweetie and this very short article. My energy for the day has been applied and none is left for any other important areas of my life.
Day one back in my world. Ugh. Too early. Not enough sleep. Too long of a day that went an hour longer than it should have. For the sake of customer service. It’s what I do.
I didn’t even go outside except to toss my empty beer bottles into the recycle bin.
I did share my pictures and videos from my last four weeks with my mom, and I realize what a crazy, magical, wild, full and unusual life I have crafted for myself. For that I am grateful, and for that I also wish for change.
I have a good life. I am so grateful for my job, my home, my family, my friends, and not particularly in that order. Vacation gives us the opportunity to vacate our daily lives, to, hopefully, gain a different perspective on the world, to rest, to relax and to rejuvenate. My vacation provided me with all of that, and more.
I’m in a phase right now. I believe our lives go through phases, this seems logical, there is the phase, of course, for growing up, then different phases for each of us as our lives progress, for me, the college phase, the career phase, the marriage and family phase, the “I have teenagers” phase, the empty nest phase and, now, the “what’s the next phase?” phase. Never content to sit back and just ride anything out, I am chasing down the bull I need to take by the horns. With many little efforts, many tiny attempts to move things in a vague direction, I have only managed to see the bull I want to conquer run off, yonder, over the next hill. I never lose sight of him, he just keeps eluding my attempts to grab him by the horns and wrestle him to the ground. Do you ever feel like that? You have some specific goals in mind, and have made some cursory efforts in moving toward them, yet they seem elusive. Ever distant. Ever “some day”. I’m not satisfied by that. I know exactly what I want for several different areas of my life and I’m just sitting on the fence watching that damn bull graze in the distance.
Well, now, I’ve pulled my boots on, my chaps are strapped tight, my hat straightened, I’m wearing my best Clint Eastwood squint and I am taking the first bold, determined strides towards the bull. As the bull seeks to elude me, or perhaps turns to charge at me, I will adjust my path as necessary. But I know what I want and I am not going to keep saying “some day”. Nor should you.
Your life is just that, your life. It is up to you to decide what it should be and then make a plan to make it happen. No one else should, or will, do that for you. If you have a dream for your life, you deserve to live that dream, not to just wish for it. Are you just treading water, keeping your head afloat, while your dreams pass by with every wave? Get on that board and ride those waves. Life is meant to be fulfilling, not just wishful, and eventually regretful.
Is it that we are fearful of our dreams, whether they will be all in reality that they are in our dreams? They will likely be different, they may be better than we ever imagined, or not, but by moving towards them we will, at the very least, not be stuck where we are now. Treading water. We will have learned something, gained some experiences, and possibly everything in our wildest dreams, or maybe some new dreams. Dreams, in life, are related to the phases in life we pass through, they, too are subject to change. The dreams we had for our lives as a child are likely very different than the dreams we have at whatever phase of adulthood we’re in now. And, the dreams I had in early adulthood, some even having been realized and cherished, are now, very different. I have new dreams, different dreams, and, a couple of the same dreams, though refined. Just because one dream doesn’t amount to all we expected it to be at some point in life doesn’t mean we should abandon all of our other dreams. Or worse yet, give up dreaming. As the phases of our lives change, as our dreams change shape and direction, so too must our energy, our focus, our goals and our efforts in realizing those dreams.
I don’t know if you need this pep talk right now, but I do. Time to be bold because time waits for no one. Here, bull! Here, bull!
It’s here. The day I have been dreading, the day vacation ends, the day I travel back home to my “normal” life. With every pore of my being, I don’t want to go, but I am duty bound. My airline ticket is paid for and I have work at the crack of dawn tomorrow morning and I know Mom has been missing me. I thought of “missing” my flight, but I know that would just create way more drama than I’m willing to manage.
I’m packed. I’ve been packed for a couple of days. This is the only place I visit or travel to, ever, that I actually unpack into drawers. Ordinarily, when away from home, I just live out of my suitcase. Even at home, some things, I just leave in my suitcase and deal with from there, because I know, sooner rather than later, I’ll be heading out again. I started making my customary piles several days ago. As a frequent traveler, that’s what I do. I make piles. I have my electronics pile, my personal care products pile, my shoe pile and my clothing pile. To most, I appear hyper-organized, to me, the piles are random, but very necessary, and the only means by which I’ve managed to never forget anything vital. A few things, I just have duplicates of, one for home, one remains in the bag, to avoid that horrible discovery, no deodorant or no toothbrush.
I’ve begun to leave things behind here, now. For example, my snow boots, which we bought here when I visited in March. I have more use for them here than in Cali, though I do snow camp, and such, I’m equipped enough for the snow down there. I’ve left my favorite old pair of Vans, too. Ironically, I bought them here when I first came here for work, nearly three years ago, the day before I met the man I call mine, now. And they came in so handy, an impulse buy, a BOGO I picked up with the purchase of practical work shoes for my last day on site training my client. I ended up using my BOGO Vans for the first ever airboat ride. Now, though pretty worn out, they are permanent residents in Alaska and have been on many, many more airboat excursions. And now I’ve left my old Lucky Brand jeans behind, the ones I always use for painting and staining projects when I visit, one size too big and soft beyond soft from wear, spattered with various shades of wood stain, the deck of the neighbor’s bus, the porch posts of my man’s house.
What I am taking home is crammed into my suitcases and my computer bag, headed back to Napa after four weeks away. Bulging is an understatement. Heavy is a gross understatement. The temptation of a third suitcase, full of frozen, dried and jarred salmon is met with sheer practicality. Alone, managing three suitcases at nearly 12:00 midnight, when I am due to land, then having to make my way to the bus and to long-term parking, then to load them into my car and make my way the additional hour and a half home, to then have to unload them into the freezer. With my alarm set for tomorrow morning at 5:00 AM, it is just more than I can bear. I do manage one generous Ziploc of dried salmon strips in my purse. Double bagged. They are quite aromatic!
Quietly, early for a Sunday, we make our way to the airport. We arrive early, thankfully, because the line to check bags is moving incredibly slowly. At last, my bags are checked and I head for security. A brief goodbye, they are never long enough in my opinion, but that is probably for the best. He heads back to the car as I enter the short security line. Before I make it to the podium, I see him back out and drive away. And, as always, I fight back tears, more successfully this time than any time before. They are there, I just don’t let them out. Yet. My computer bag gets pulled off the conveyor at this airport, but never at LaGuardia, Logan, Newark, LAX, SFO, O’Hare, or Kennedy. Funny. But I am patient, the TSA folks are doing their job, and with all the electronics and cords I carry, I can only imagine what my backpack must look like in the x-ray. I have actually been conducting an ongoing experiment, unwittingly, mostly out of forgetfulness, but, still, for months, and probably nearly 60,000 miles of travel on four different airlines through, likely, a dozen different airports, I have had a bottle of eye drops in my computer bag and a bottle of mouthwash in my purse. Undetected. So I am actually relieved when my bag garners some scrutiny, and yet, the eye drops and mouthwash go, again, undetected, even with a “thorough” inspection. My shoes and my cardigan back on, my computer bag zipped up once again, I go to the coffee stand and buy a coffee and a yogurt. I’m not hungry, my stomach is actually quite unsettled, either from too much wine last night, too little sleep, or just trepidation. Maybe all three. I put the yogurt in my purse for later, I’ll eat it on the plane, in coach. I have window seats both flights and an eight-hour layover in Seattle, which just makes the dreaded trip home seem that much worse. An eight-hour layover! Another reason the suitcase full of fish may have been a less than fantastic idea. I sit, without thought, waiting for the boarding announcement. I pay very little attention to what is going on, I just sit.
I do hear an announcement from the gate agent, for those with flexible travel plans, a voucher for this overbooked flight and a later flight out. I am alert once again and run for the counter. I show the agent my ticket and tell her if I can make the connection in Seattle, I would be happy to rearrange my flight. My name is added to a list. The boarding announcement comes and I am asked to wait to see whether they’ll need my seat. I am just a little “anal” about boarding at the earliest opportunity, I like to claim my wee bit of overhead bin compartment territory for my computer bag. My oversized purse fits snugly under the seat in coach, and there is no room for both under the seat. I’m a rather particular traveler. Travel is a very large part of my life, I seek to move through this world with ease and as much comfort and convenience as I can secure for myself. So, to miss my boarding opportunity makes me a bit edgy, it had better be for good reason.
At long last, it is determined that my seat can be given to a young lady who is traveling with her grandparents. I am happy to forfeit it, and, in exchange, I receive a $400 voucher good for a ticket to anywhere Alaska Airlines flies, like right back to where I’m standing now. The agent is tapping madly at the keyboard and revealing no expression whatsoever on her face, I can’t tell if she is making any progress in rebooking my travel. I DO have to make it home in time to teach early tomorrow morning, I DO have to make that 9:30 PM connection in Seattle. Finally, she looks up, makes eye contact, and then smiles. The only seat available for me on the later flight to Seattle is first class. Oh, darn. It is 8:30 AM, my new flight leaves at 2:00. And I only have a one-hour layover in Anchorage and two in Seattle. Darn. I hate when that happens. Not. Upgrade. Upgrade. Upgrade.
I take my voucher and my new tickets and text my man to tell him I gave up my seat on the morning flight. He turned around and picked me up out front and we spent the next few hours strolling through the Georgeson Botanical Gardens at University of Alaska, Fairbanks, one of our favorite pleasures that we hadn’t taken the time to enjoy during this visit. We grabbed a quick breakfast at Sams’ Sourdough Cafe and finished our time together browsing through Gulliver’s Books in town. Just those few bonus hours made all the difference in the world. Cherished time.
Back at the airport, a few hours later, I made my way through security. My bag got pulled off the conveyor, again, and I smiled. I like consistency. And, again, the eye drops and mouthwash go undetected.
I flew to Anchorage, in first class. Is it bad when you begin to recognize flight attendants and crew members on more than one airline? I was fortunate enough to be on a plane with Woody Woodhouse piloting. I’ve flown with Woody before. Woody is an “old school” pilot, he speaks clearly, and loud enough to be heard, he loves his job, he loves Alaska, and he wants to share. One part of Alaska that Woody is particularly in love with is Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in North America at 20,320 feet. Woody somehow manages to fly the plane, while narrating, within what looks like mere feet of the peak, first so the people seated on the left side of the plane can get up close and personal with the mountain, then he turns tightly and the people on the right side of the plane get to get personal with the mountain. Last time I flew with Woody, my camera and iPhone were buried deep inside my carry-ons and I couldn’t grab them quickly enough. This time, I was ready! With both!
We landed shortly after we buzzed past McKinley, with just enough time in Anchorage for a quick porter at the Silver Gulch Brewery in the airport there where I chatted with a jolly woman who’d been to Beerfest at Silver Gulch in Fairbanks just the night before, as had I, sort of. I flew first class, again, to Seattle where, with my two-hour layover, I had just enough time for a quick flight of wine and some lively conversation with other traveling wine enthusiasts at Vino Volo.
In a state of travel induced exhaustion, I collected my luggage in Sacramento, grateful to have only two suitcases to wrestle onto the bus and then into my car, where there already was a box of my “career clothes” and a third suitcase, left from my brief parking lot visit between my flight from Newark and my flight to Anchorage over two weeks ago. I cram my suitcases into the backseat, marvel at the total and complete darkness of the sky, and make my way home. I arrive at 2:00 AM, huck my luggage upstairs, set up my computer and training materials for morning and find my way to bed. As I turn off the light, the darkness feels oppressive, almost as though it has weight and volume and I struggle to fall asleep. Finally I do, about the time my alarm jolts me back into the reality of “my world”. I am not ready to face it, but I do, I must, and I plough through, with thoughts of that $400 travel voucher safely tucked in my wallet and I begin to plan what I will do with it.