The World According to Baci

I have been living in a pandemic bubble with my thirteen-year-old Brittany, Baci, for over a year. We spend 95% of our waking hours together. Typically, she is within 3 feet of me as I work in my office, either at my desk or my writing chair. She is attached. I am attached. She observes me. I observe her. She is my priority. I am her priority. Outside of the first few months with my newborn children and an eight-week cross-country trailer trip with my family as an eight year old, I cannot remember being in such close proximity to another being on this earth for an extended period of time.

The Stare from Baci

I’ve observed a lot over the last year and this is the world according to Baci:

Time

Baci has the uncanny ability to know what time it is. She is outside my bedroom door at precisely 5 AM every morning. I am amazed by this. Of course, I have the uncanny ability to be up without an alarm at 5 AM every morning. Since the pandemic, our schedule has been so regular and rarely wavers. We both know the day begins at 5 AM and ends at 9 PM without fail. Breakfast is at precisely 6:45 AM and a change to a later time is quickly remedied by shaking her head back and forth as if she wants to twist off her head like a bottle cap. If I’m not keeping track of time; Baci will remind me.

Sleep

Baci sleeps for upwards of twenty hours a day. Granted, some of that is napping with one eye wearily keeping tabs on me. She sleeps in all manner of positions, sprawled next to me on the floor, curled up on the couch next me and, my boyfriend Roy’s favorite, upside down on her back with her legs strewn in the air. Most evenings she is fast asleep for the night by 6 PM. Waking her up before 9 PM to take her out for a bathroom break is something like waking a sleeping teenager from an all-nighter. We coax, cajole, demand and she ultimately, stubbornly, reluctantly, slowly rises from her bed and acquiesces. I’m jealous that she can sleep just about anywhere.

Anticipation

Baci and I are in a symbiotic relationship for most of the work week.

First thing she waits next to the leash closet to be walked, then into the kitchen while I make my coffee, off to the couch while I meditate, then back to the kitchen for another cup of coffee, back to the couch for Spanish. Not to be outdone – outside my bathroom while I shower, then on to the most important item of the day, breakfast, off to the office to sit next to me while I type. She walks ahead of me, glancing back, keeping tabs on my every move. I can see her hesitate sometimes as if thinking, “Hmmm, is she going to have another cup of coffee or will she head to her desk for a video call?” She’s like a butler waiting in anticipation of my wants and desires.

Outside

Baci’s greatest joy is getting outside. We go for walks almost every day. Perhaps it’s the memory of spending her whole day outside at my lake house and having the freedom to explore anything and everything she wanted. It’s the highlight of my day as well. Escaping to the fresh air, the birds, the insects, the trees, the elusive squirrel; we both enjoy getting outside. Baci’s focus is smelling everything, her head is down and there is nothing that escapes her nose. Like a beacon, she inhales all the information inclusive of previous visitors to the trails, other dogs, squirrels and discarded food. Baci loves to explore outside, true to her breed.

Stare

If I have learned anything from Baci since this pandemic started, it’s that her stare is a call for attention. Whether I am sitting on the couch, at my desk, or making dinner in the kitchen, she will stand in front of me squarely on all fours and stare at me intently when she needs to go outside. I was slow to learn this. There was plenty a conference call or Zoom chat where she tried desperately to get my attention, and I ignored her, petted her or threw a toy to distract her. Typically, this resulted in a puddle somewhere in the house once I was able to get off the call. Now? I drop everything. I tell folks I’ll call back. I cut the meeting short. I realize I am the one being trained but The Stare means NOW, not later.

I love being needed and the center of Baci’s world. She loves me unconditionally; it is reciprocal. I love her unconditionally. I struggle knowing that someday this will change whether I am no longer home all day or when she passes away. It’s all inevitable and I need to remember that I’m in Baci’s world right now and to be present for it.

5 Surprises at Moores Creek Battlefield

I am the daughter of a history buff. Ironic that for most of my life, I didn’t care much for American history, European history, and outside of knowing which decade a world war took place, I have been oblivious. My father, an eighth grade history teacher at Mount Pleasant Junior High for most of my 1960’s childhood, would periodically take me along on his class trips to Gettysburg and Washington DC. I seem to recall caring more about how long the bus ride would be and if we would be able to have fast food (a luxury at the time) for lunch. I am surprised that now, in my late fifties, I have discovered an interest in history and have spent quite a few weekends and side trips traveling to Bennett Place, Gettysburg, Harpers Ferry and Spotsylvania. Some well-known, some not, but all landmarks in U.S. history. 

Moores Creek Bridge

A few weeks ago, my boyfriend Roy and I traveled to Moores Creek National Battlefield well outside Wilmington, North Carolina. Here are some of the interesting surprises I found:

  1. Revolutionary War. I have had this crazy paradigm that the Revolutionary War was fought in New England and Pennsylvania. Until we arrived at Moores Creek Battlefield, I assumed that this was a Civil War location. Turns out this was a battle between the Loyalists (those loyal to the British crown) and Patriots in February of 1776. While most of the battle fields I have visited in North Carolina have been Civil War related, this battle took place before they had inked the Declaration of Independence.
  2. River Crossing. The Loyalists, led by General Donald MacDonald, were headed from Fayetteville to Wilmington where they were to join the British forces at the coast. All they needed to do was get across a river.  Seems rather benign by today’s standards. The Patriots under Colonel Richard Cashwell and Colonel James Moore had been able to stay ahead of the Loyalists forcing them to try to ultimately face off at Moores Creek Bridge in order to cross the bridge. It is amazing that so many waterways at the time were crossed by ferry or boat and that a bridge was so valuable.
  3. Highlanders.  Most of the Loyalists were Scot Highlanders. They came with bag pipes, drums and tartan plaid. I am surprised because in North Carolina, Highlanders are associated with the Piedmont and Appalachian Mountains, not the Coastal Plain. I’m also surprised that the displaced Scots would fight for the crown with their own acrimonious relationship with the British. It turns out there were Scots on the Patriot side as well. 
  4. Bridge.  The Patriots arrived at the bridge well in advance and had built earthworks on the east side of the bridge and armed them with cannons. A scout from the Loyalists had come to the camp the night before with a demand for surrender which the Patriots rejected. The scout had not crossed the bridge and did not see the encampment on the other side of the bridge. The Loyalists thought they had an easy fight to win. The Patriots retreated to the encampment, dismantled most of the bridge and left it covered in grease to impede the Loyalists. It almost sounds like a prank.
  5. Swords.  The Highlanders were known for their Broadswords. That’s what they brought to the fight as they managed to cross the swampy water full of Cypress Knees and a slippery dismantled bridge under the darkness of the morning hours of February 27th, 1776. Their field commander, Lieutenant Colonel McLeod, came across the bridge and declared, “King George and Broadswords.” He and his Loyalist troops didn’t realize that the Patriots were above them 50 yards away with muskets and cannons. They brought knives to a gun fight. It lasted 3 minutes. 30 Loyalists were killed instantly including McLeod. The remaining Loyalists retreated into the darkness.

North Carolina was fractured at the time and the British were trying to shore up their North Carolinian support in defeating the Patriots. This battle was a defining moment in the momentum for North Carolina to join the rebellion against the British. Patriots from North Carolina signed the Halifax Resolves on April 12, 1776, a document which gave the delegates of the colony sent to the Continental Congress the right to vote for Independence. North Carolina was the first colony to do so. This was fascinating from a woman born in Delaware, aka “the First State”, because the Delaware delegates were the first to arrive to sign the Declaration of Independence.

You Can’t Push a Rope

This has been my mantra for the last few years. My son insists on texting instead of calling. “Whelp, you can’t push a rope.” My coworker rarely makes a deadline. “Yep, you can’t push a rope.” You want your friend to sober up. “Hmmm. You can’t push a rope.” Pushing is frustrating. It’s trying to force reality. It’s trying to change someone or a reality that is not within your control. I do it all the time. I tell someone how great I feel since becoming sober. Or how my asthma and inflammation has receded since going sugar-free. I send reminders about the deadline to my team only to have the same culprit miss the deadline AGAIN. All this pushing is exhausting. I cannot force my will on anyone. I am only responsible for myself.

I read a post from Seth Godin this morning in which he wrote, “People don’t change (unless they want to). Humans are unique in their ability to willingly change. We can change our attitude, our appearance and our skillset. But only when we want to. The hard part, then, isn’t the changing it. It’s the wanting to.” And it’s not my personal wanting to change my child or coworker or ex that works. It’s their own personal decision. It’s their wanting. Not yours. Not mine. The only way to push is if they ask you to help them.

Here’s how to give up pushing the rope:

Relinquish control          

For the longest time, especially as a parent, I thought I had control. Like I was the puppet master. If I wanted my daughter to be a great volleyball player, or my son to attend my alma mater, I could make it happen. I could push and dictate and shove my wishes upon my children. I could impose my will. I can take the same stance with projects and deadlines I disagree with and lose sleep over not having the ability to reroute the course toward my way of thinking. I think that’s why I even started saying, “You can’t push a rope.” I was essentially acknowledging that I didn’t have control. I relinquish. I let go of the struggle of trying to rewrite the outcome. I think of the Carrie Underwood song, “Jesus, Take the Wheel.” Let what happens happen, let go of the rope and relinquish control.

Patience

I have always admired my father’s ability to be patient. I frankly try to channel his energy when I want something (out of my control) to change. I want an answer from the attorney, I want this fight behind me, I want the project to be done, I want everyone to turn in their work on time. I want. I want. I want. When I channel my father’s patience, I get calm. I slow down. I step out of the whirlwind of desire and wants. It’s uncomfortable but peaceful. Time will unfold and what is supposed to happen will happen. Perhaps someone else will pick up the rope when it’s time to pull instead.

Provide support

If I’ve learned anything from being sober, it’s to share my experience and let it lie. The teacher in me wanted to preach and dictate. “This is how you should do it.” I’ve learned that it’s better to start off by asking for permission: “Do you want some advice?” or “Do you want to know my experience?” If you just give out advice, neuroscience shows that it shuts your listener’s brain down. Think about that when you are trying to educate your child on the dangers of drugs or who they should be dating. By giving advice or dictating what they should or should not being doing, you are shutting down their brain. They won’t hear you. If your advice is asked for or permitted, start off with: “My experience with drugs, alcohol, dating, overdue projects, parenting, graduate school, cooking, marathons, dog ownership, divorce, home repairs, debt, finding a job, a difficult boss, waiting tables, owning a restaurant, riding a bike, driving a car, etc. is…” Provide support but ask for permission and tell your story. Try not and tell someone what will happen if they start drinking again or don’t pay off their credit cards or don’t take a job in plastics. We aren’t clairvoyant. Speak from your experience the last time you pushed a rope.

Actively listen

I have found in coaching that reflection on your own thoughts is one of the most powerful tools of coaching. Knowing that someone isn’t trying to sway, influence or manipulate you helps you feel safe and reflect on what you really want. This happens through active listening. If I’m trying to push a rope, I’m wrapped up in my own agenda. When I am actively listening, I am making a safe space for someone to reflect. I’m also not tied to the outcome or the agenda (see Relinquish Control). Perhaps your child, parent or coworker will ask you to pull the rope with them. It’s up to them. Listen to what they need and then decide what to do with the rope.

I think about the months and years that led up to my marriage falling apart. As I look back, I was pushing that rope so hard, I was tripping over it. I had no control over my husband and never did. What I realized in just a few weeks after the collapse was that I could control my own path, one step at a time. I let go of the rope and, after anguish, time and self-reflection, it’s never been better. Leave the rope behind.

5 Benefits from Going Vegan

I started dating my boyfriend Roy almost three years ago. On his dating profile, he said he had been a vegan for about 9 months and found it boring. Being that I am quite the foodie, I assumed I could convert him from the “dark side” of boring bland veganism back to being an omnivore. Well here I am, three years later, and I am practically a vegan although I have succumbed to cheese pizza and my beloved cambozola cheese. There is also the about once-every-two-months bite or two of seafood, but that has occurred less frequently over time.

Roy slowly indoctrinated me into going plant-based by first sharing a few documentaries, Forks Over Knives and What The Health. These are films not about animal cruelty, but focused on the health affects of eating meat and dairy. I come from a long background of seeking out and preparing culinary delights, regardless of if said culinary delight had a mother or not. Alligator, escargot, caribou, foie gras, yellow tail…I have tried it all and enjoyed it immensely. Vegetables and fruit were in my diet, but I was lucky to be having one or two servings a day. After the documentaries, Roy turned me on to NutritionFacts.org by Dr. Michael Greger. He sent me YouTube video after YouTube video on meat, chicken and pork. I asked him to not send me anything on dairy, as I was not ready to give up my beloved cheese. I finally acquiesced and he started sending me the YouTube videos on the evils of cheese. I am at this point of being 95% vegan, with only small amounts of dairy products in my diet (perhaps some cheese in a salad or a cheese pizza about once a week).

Here are the 5 benefits from going vegan:

Cheap

I have saved a ton of money going vegan. I thought it would be more difficult to find ingredients, but every grocery store has apples, blueberries, grapes, mixed greens and a whole plethora of dried and canned beans. I have had a more difficult time finding vegan cheese at my local, rural Walmart, but as long as I stock up when I am at a specialty grocery or natural foods store, the rest of those items are incredibly cheap. I think I used to spend $10 per meal on flank steak, chicken tenders and lamb chops. Focusing on having meat for one, two or three meals (bacon and eggs for breakfast) is a lot pricier than two cans of beans, a bag of greens and several types of fruit. Outside of specialty items like vegan cheese or substitutes like beyond or impossible meat items, the rest of the items are very inexpensive.

Cholesterol

Two years ago, after I had lost 50 pounds from eliminating alcohol. I had high cholesterol when I visited my doctor. I was on a low carb diet at the time. I had assumed with a dramatic weight loss that all of my “numbers” would have been terrific. Not so. My doctor threatened me with statin drugs if it didn’t improve in the next year. I assumed it would work itself out and that the cholesterol was just a fluke or age-related. I became a vegetarian about two months later and mostly vegan about five months later. When I returned to the doctor for my annual exam, all of my cholesterol numbers were in range. I have to say, I was shocked and assumed that when I returned to the doctor, I was going to walk out with a new prescription for statins.

Prescriptions

I have been on asthma and allergy medications for the last twenty years. I am allergic to dogs (yes, I own my beloved Brittany Spaniel, Baci), cats, dust mites, trees and grasses. I read Dr. Greger’s book, How Not to Die, about a year ago. He addresses how being plant-based can eliminate many drugs from one’s diet. Well, I decided to drop one medication for about four weeks, and then another, and then another. So that now, I don’t take any medication related to my allergy-induced asthma. I went from 5 drugs daily down to zero. I have no scientific reason for it except that meat and dairy cause a lot of inflammation (which is why it is tied to so many cancers). So here I am prescription-free, which is a huge cost saving and hassle-free.

Interesting

I love a challenge. I want to figure out how I can take an old tried and true recipe and make it vegan. It might mean finding a vegan cheese or meat substitute, or searching the internet for how to make cashew blue cheese. It’s all out there. I will say, the last gauntlet for me is trying to figure out how to use my sous vide for vegan recipes and I’m going to try it this week. I have some terrific cookbooks like Thug Kitchen and But I Could Never Go Vegan, which really helped in the first months I took this challenge on. There was a point where I just didn’t care about trying to replicate something I would have had as an omnivore. The impossible and beyond products are great but replicating meat isn’t my desire anymore. I prefer beans, tempeh and whole grains. It’s taught me to flex my culinary muscles and I can make a chili now that you would be hard pressed to even realize it’s vegan.

Easy

When I asked Roy about being a vegan, he said it was easier than he thought it would be. I think that initially I figured I’d be out there buying tofurkeys and chorizo substitutes. I did a little of that and bought crazy ingredients like EnerG Egg Replacer, Whole Wheat Pastry Flour, White Miso and Nutritional Yeast Flakes on the Internet. It’s now mostly buying seasonal items, like butternut squash, figs and Cosmic Crisp apples (they are awesome). Going to a restaurant has gotten easier as well. There are more vegetarian menu options (they will frequently have cheese…usually too much cheese) or even at chains like Cracker Barrel or BBQ restaurants, you can order three or four vegetables as an entrée. Almost everyone has a salad on the menu – you just need to make sure there isn’t any bacon or feta cheese in it. I do carry a vegan protein bar in my purse, but it’s rare that I have to resort to that. Peanut butter on an apple or banana is a perfectly healthy vegan meal…it’s just not that hard.

I never thought I would be a vegan at this point, but as I have been culling out my kitchen over the last few months, I decided I needed to donate my electric knife, whose sole purpose over the last twenty years was to slice up turkey on Thanksgiving. I can’t see going back to being an omnivore at this point. There is no upside and I’ve lost my desire for bacon and foie gras. If you had asked this foodie ten years ago if I would be a vegan today? I’d have said you were crazy. Seeing all the positive impacts it’s had on my life, I can’t imagine going back. What stops you from being a vegan?

Quantum Flirts (the Universe is Winking)

This is a repost from over 6 years ago: ORSC is still a terrific course and the Universe is still winking.

I have been training for the last year with CRR Global and a few weeks ago I went to the fourth installment of my Organization & Relationship Systems Coaching (ORSC) training. This stuff is magical. The topic on the last day was Quantum Flirts which is as described by CRR Global, “a short-lived, transient, perceptual signal which can be used to provide us with insight.” It is based on the work of Arnold Mindell and Quantum Mechanics. So the way I see it, it’s like the Universe is sending you a sign. As Arnold writes, “In everyday terms, Arny explained this idea of ‘many worlds’ by saying that when we begin to focus on something, we see its most probable state, the one that fits into our culture and consensus reality. Yet, in each and every experience there is a multitude of other experiences lying in wait, though in Arny’s interpretation, we choose one and marginalize the others. To say it very simply, the moment we call something ‘a’ or ‘b’ we have marginalized all of its other possible states (c, d, e, etc).” The Universe is flirting with you and you need to pay attention to catch it so that you can see the possibility of a different outcome. It may be a flicker of a bulb, the song of a bird or a flash of sunlight on a wave, but it’s the Universe winking at you laying out hints.

I was fortunate to be the volunteer coached by Grace Flannery in Quantum Flirts. She asked that I bring up a current issue or hot spot that had stressed me out with someone close to me. I talked about my son and his desire to find a place to live this summer instead of coming home and there are a multitude of options and growing for staying in Miami. I further explained how his mode of communication is texting which can leave one wanting (me) for more and frustrated. She then asked me to look around the room or outside and see if there was anything that caught my attention for just a second. I noticed how a classmate was flipping his reading glasses and the glint of light from it. This was my “flirt”. Grace ask me to animate the flirt and I flickered my fingers in an arc in front of me. Grace expounded on my gesture with a “Fa la la la la”. I copied her. She said, “So when your son texts, you can just say ‘fa la la la la.'” We did it in unison. The observing class then copied me. We were all there “fa la la-ing” and copying my gesture. I could not stop laughing. We all cracked up. The Universe flirted with me and it was hysterical. My aggravation with my son was a construct of reality but by paying attention to the spark or “flirt” I could imagine that there could be a different outcome. I could let go and see it in a different light. It’s not a hot spot, there is potential in my relationship with my son to any outcome that I chose. His constant texting and options are his way to engage. So be it.

So how do you tune into the signals and flirts around you? Here are some ideas.

1. Presence. If you aren’t living in the moment, it’s going to be pretty hard to pick up on any signals. If you have ever meditated (and if you are a faithful reader of my blog you should be by now 🙂 ) do you start to notice every sound or smell or the crazy shapes on the inside of your eyelids when shut? You are officially “present”. I always notice the sound of the clock in my office, the birds outside or the ventilation system. Get present; become present.

2. Notice. Take notice of what is going on around you. I started noticing every animal that crossed my path and not just my dog. Turtle out in the lake bobbing with its head at the surface. A glint of light off a wet leaf, the clock is at 11:11, the receipt fell on the floor to only show the word “thanks”. Start to take note of what is going on out there or in there. My dog is sleeping, my dog is sighing, my dog is running around at lightning speed because geese are in her space, my dog is out of the water. I try and remember something about the dream I just woke up from. Take notice.

3. Offer. So what does this sign have to offer? Why is the universe or a higher power or quantum physics sending a signal to you? I know that each time I see a turtle I feel like I need to slow down and be patient. When I see a robin I think of rebirth and Spring. Canadian geese are a nuisance and I’m wondering if I am pestering someone. Perhaps my children? My neighbor? My boss? My dog is out of the water. Maybe I need water and nourishment as well. The receipt that fell with “thanks” showing is offering me gratitude. What is the offer?

4. It’s right. Don’t get caught up in perfection about what the sign or the flirt means. It means what it means to you. I know sometimes I “cheat” and Google “tornado as a symbol in a dream”. Apparently, this could be a sign of stress. Makes sense. That resonates for me. If it doesn’t, maybe the tornado is a sign of escaping danger. Animals like Robins, Herons and Turtles almost always have a Shamanic reference. Those are easy to Google as well. I dreamt about a broken bottle the other day and the reference for that symbol was “potential”. What it felt like for me was avoiding the broken glass. There was a person I was walking on egg shells for and I feel like the broken glass was the symbol I could relate to.

I’m less about everything happens for a reason and more about taking in information. I do like to think that things show up at the right time and that the turtle that just stuck his head up through the surface of the lake is telling me to slow down. What signs do you see?

Reconnecting in Paris. No Regrets.

This is a repost from 5 years ago. Great trip, the best of friends and countless memories.

“Those Girls and The Blonde” sounds like a great name for an 80s girl band. It wasn’t. It’s the name of my two roommates and I from 1981 when our landlord (otherwise known as Dragon Lady) coined the phrase after “The Blonde” (Susannah) ripped up the carpeting in our basement, slummish apartment in Collegetown. Susannah is one of the few born and bred Manhattanites I know. She takes charge. She’s decisive. The carpet was horrible and “there’s hard wood floors under there.” So the other “Girl” Janine and I went along for the ride, ripping up the carpet.

We have remained friends for over 35 years. We all had our first born children in 1993. We’ve seen each other marry, sometimes divorce and move to various cities (Washington D.C., San Francisco, Boston, Croton-on-Hudson and Scottsdale). We’ve never lived in the same city at the same time since Ithaca. We’ve had a few reunions but since about 1983, TG&TB have not reunited at the same time sans kids and spouses. So when I had an opportunity to go to Paris, I contacted them both and suggested we reunite in the City of Light. Janine and I were both Paris Virgins and Susannah was fully versed in all things French. We had a plan and TG&TB always execute a plan. We spent 6 days reconnecting in a lovely apartment near the Eiffel Tower.

These are my lessons from reconnecting some 33 years later:

  1. Let someone lead. Several weeks before departing for Paris, I found some activities that we might want to try out. There were huge email trains between the three of us about costs, times, travel between arrondissements, etc. It wasn’t working. It would take several days to get confirmation. So I finally suggested that Susannah take over the planning going forward. Janine and I signed off on whatever Susannah wanted to cook up. We had faith that she knew what we would like and what would work. As they say, too many cooks spoil the broth. Pick a leader, have faith and stick with it.
  1. Be willing to get lost. Ever since my daughter turned me on to Google Maps for walking directions in Manhattan, I’ve been pretty obsessed with not being lost. I realize now I am a “Direction Control Freak.” I also hate to appear the tourist with the pocket map. I had to let my judgment go. For God’s sake Cathy, you are a tourist. Who cares if someone else knows it? They will the minute you try and say “Bon jour.” So what if we walked the wrong direction for half a mile in the Marais. It’s Paris. Every street is interesting and unique. I believe it was Janine who said, “It’s all as intended. We are where we need to be. No regrets.” When we were lost, we stumbled on an out of the way café full of locals and sans tourists. It was wonderful. Get lost.
  1. Quality versus quantity. When you go into one of the largest museums in the world, focus on quality over quantity. We took a guided tour through the Louvre with an American expat who had phenomenal art and history knowledge. We stood looking at a sculpture of Hercules for almost 20 minutes. We discovered how his face change from docile to contemplative depending on the angle. It was fascinating. I’ve never spent that kind of time on one piece of art…ever. I’m more of a fast food consumer of art. Trying to check off each piece as fast as possible, Degas…check, Renoir…check, Mona Lisa…check. This is not the way to appreciate art. This was a huge shift for me and I appreciate our guide’s contemplative example. Don’t consume, appreciate.
  1. Make space for connection. I’m not positive but I think we ducked into at least three cafes a day. So if we had walked for an hour, let’s grab a table and a drink. If we stumbled on an interesting café, let’s grab some café crème. It was around one of these tables that we reconnected about career choices, our kids and reminiscing about our youth. Those conversations may not have happened if we were too busy trying to make sure we went to every museum in Paris (which I’m not sure is possible but is certainly not practical). I found fantastic advice and stories from two women I respect immensely.
  1. Utilize your strengths. We all were paying for different things. I figured, it would all wash out by the end. I didn’t feel compelled to keep track. Thank goodness Janine is incredibly organized and meticulous. Between the exchange rate and dollars versus euros, she kept it all straight. Susannah was our motivation. She knew the best falafel place in Paris. It might be a mile and a half away but her enthusiasm was contagious. So what if we walk 8 miles in one day. I was the compass. Street crossing in Paris is pretty crazy. There are cars and motorcycles come ricocheting in from all angles and walking at the cross walk is critical. It became a chess match as to how to get to the street you wanted without losing life or limb. Fall back on your strengths.
  1. Be realistic. We made sure that we were rarely rushed. So if we wanted to check out a park on the way to Notre Dame, we make sure it was doable at a slow pace with time to spare. If it wasn’t? Move on. If the Uber driver hasn’t been able to find you for twenty minutes, take a cab. If the maître’d explains that the dish has raw duck in it, order something else. Be realistic.
  1. Be open to adventure. Janine and I went up the Eiffel Tower together. It’s a pretty trippy adventure. The funicular is at an angle and with all the structure supports going by, it is a bit disorienting. When we got to the top, I wanted to stay inside. I was as high as my acrophobia wanted to take me. Janine ran upstairs and ran back down. “Cath. You have to go to the top. It’s not bad.” I did and it was worth the flight of stairs up. Susannah wanted to see the Saint-Chappelle. From the outside, it’s not very impressive and we had just been through Notre Dame. When we entered what I later found out was the first floor, it was some chipping paint with a low ceiling and trinket stands. I thought, “What’s the big deal?” Then we walked up a stone circular staircase (did I mention I’m claustrophobic?). At the top was, and is, the most beautiful chapel I have ever stood in. My breath was taken away and tears were in my eyes. I know that if I hadn’t gone with TG&TB to Paris, I would never have stood in that awe-inspiring spot. Be an adventurer.

This was a trip of a lifetime with two of my favorite people in the world. So think about it. Who would you like to connect to again? Break out of your normal agenda and take off on a reunion adventure of your own. There will be no regrets.

Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Paper

I recently read an article by James Clear where he referenced a statement often heard in grade school: “Keep your eyes on your own paper.” He referred to the admonishment of not cheating. Clear pointed out the deeper message: “It doesn’t make a difference what the person next to you writes down for his answer. This is your race to run. It’s your assignment to complete. It’s your answer to create. How your paper compares to someone else’s is not the point. The point is to fill the paper with your work.” It’s the same as Hike Your Own Hike or Sticking to Your Path–your work, art, trip, journey, life is your own masterpiece, project, destination and adventure.

Keep your eyes on your own paper

The rebels in the classroom (ahem, like myself) would, once admonished, give a side glance to the room to see who had their head up with their eyes off their paper, or squirmed in their seats or dozed off in the back. I was also gathering information on how confident everyone looked as they took the test or quiz. Scanning the room is nothing but a comparison, which is the thief of joy. Whether or not someone is succeeding on the test, or whether they do it quickly or confidently, has nothing to do with my work. My test. My art.

Here’s how to keep your eyes on your own paper:

Clean slate

As Clear wrote, “No matter what you spend your days doing, every morning you wake up and have a blank piece of paper to work with. You get to put your name at the top and fill it with your work.” The possibilities are endless. There is something magnificent about a clean slate. It’s like starting a new recipe and dicing the onions, sautéing them in the pan, moving forward with possibility. I can keep the onions raw, translucent or caramelized brown. It’s all up to me. I am the chef. I have the paint brush and I can make any stroke with any color I have. There is such power in possibility. And we get a new clean slate each morning and I have absolutely no idea what my neighbor is doing with their slate. It’s your clean slate. Use it for your art.

Don’t judge

As Clear wrote while he reflected on his own writing: “I thought this was a good article. Why don’t people seem to enjoy it? Or, I’ll feel like I wrote something average only to see it become the most popular post of the month. Regardless of the outcome, I’ve realized one thing: we are often terrible judges of our own work.” I can relate. I wrote a post on my father’s time in Korea a few weeks back. I thought it was a great post and yet it had barely 100 views. I wrote a post on Earnest Shackleton’s leadership style back in 2014 and it’s been viewed over 6,000 times. There is no telling who will like it or who won’t. We are terrible judges of our own work. I can remember leaving tests, finals or quizzes from elementary school through grad school and I was rarely good at determining how well I did on the test. Stay away from judging yourself – odds are you really don’t know anyway.

Ship it

In Seth Godin’s book Linchpin, he says: “The only purpose of starting is to finish, and while the projects we do are never really finished, they must ship.” I have to say that especially during test taking, I was without fail the first to leave the exam. If it was five students or two hundred, I was almost always the first to leave. I didn’t go back and double check or perhaps it’s my penchant for the $hitty first draft. I write, I create, I leave my art and ship. Put the pencil down and move on. Perfection is constricting. As Godin says, “Ship it.”

There is one you

Martha Graham was consoling Agnes de Mille about the randomness of success: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.” There is only one of you. Don’t let your art be lost. Keep going. Produce no matter what product, what art, what music. You are here for your unique ability to produce your unique product.

There is joy in being present with the process. Don’t focus on the end product. Or the end product of your neighbor or the runner next to you or the hiker in the next tent. It’s the journey, not the destination. Make your own art, whatever that may be, and be there in the process with your eyes on your own paper.

Memories of My Lake House

This is a repost from last fall, enjoy.

This house has been home for over 17 years. My children grew up here. My parents built onto the house. My dog has fought tirelessly against squirrels and honed her fly catching skills (yes…she can catch a fly) in this house. My friends have visited to stand on the deck and take a selfie with the lake as a backdrop. My boyfriend has observed all manner of wildlife with his morning coffee while perched on a deck chair. I have documented and marveled at countless sunrises. It’s been home and the center of my life for seventeen years.

My son came home this past weekend to say goodbye to the house. We moved here when he was eight and his sister Natalie when she was ten. Their heights and weights are marked on a closet door. The slow evolution of my son’s height lagging his sister until a growth spurt propelled him ahead. It’s all there. Each penciled line and scrawled date. Years in the making. Time marches on and, so do my children. He is in Miami and she is in Seattle. My father passed away, my mother is on the West Coast. The boyfriend Roy is in Carteret County or as he refers to it: “God’s Country.” All that is left is me and my dog and the move to an apartment about 8 miles away.

Memories of our lake house:

Remodeling

The house was built in 1975 and for almost every minute I have lived here, it’s been in a perpetual state of remodel. When we first moved in the kitchen was completely gutted and I remember trying to feed a family of four with a microwave in the family room, a refrigerator in the dining room and washing dishes in the bathroom sink. I think back now, why the heck didn’t we just eat at McDonald’s every day? There was the porch and carport that eventually became a sunroom and garage. There was the three weeks of summer camp when we decided to surprise the kids by completely remodeling the second-floor bedrooms, bath and all (and yes, I actually painted). The dining room and living room remodel where my dog would not walk across the new floor for weeks (yes…she’s that neurotic). And the addition of the in-law unit and a front porch; my parents moved in six years ago. Finally, the reflooring of the first floor and a brand-new deck across the back of the house. The paint colors have changed, the seventies wood paneling is gone, and popcorn ceilings were scraped off, but the bones are still there. It’s the same steps my kids came down each Christmas morning to see what Santa left.

Games

My fondest memories are of playing games around the kitchen table. My son remembers Tripoly, using macaroni to ante up and dreaming of ending up with a huge pile of macaroni by the end of the evening. I remember playing Uno and prefacing each +2 draw card (a really bad card) with “I love you!” to try and soften the blow. I remember always wanting my Dad on my team for Trivial Pursuit, especially for the history questions and my Mom for all the science questions (Medical Technologists know a bunch of medical and scientific terms). I looked forward to every Christmas break when my college-bound children would come home and play Super Mario Brothers on the Wii. I can hear Natalie laughing and screaming at her brother as he always seemed to be charging ahead and taking advantage of his sister’s good graces. There was also the brief stint of playing with the Wii and having endless sword fights. There is a ton of laughter in these walls.

Boats

I remember when we bought this house and the original owner pointed to the boat slip and said, “You’ll need to get a boat.” Well, sure enough we did. This led to knee boards, beginner skis, wake boards, single skis, and a tube. You name it, we tried it. Benson was amazingly tenacious on an innertube as we tried in vain (most of the time) to kick him off banking the boat on a tight corner. I remember the one and only time I got onto an innertube behind the boat and I could not stop laughing from fear and exhilaration. My poor kids stared from the back of the boat forlorn yelling, “Mommy, are you OK?” I survived. Later there were kayaks and paddle boats. I have truly learned this lake from stem to stern. It’s an amazing eco system that changes from cormorants to martins to mallards in an endless cycle with the ospreys and herons being the only apparent constant. There are a multitude of memories in that lake.

Neighbors

For almost seventeen years we have had the same neighbors. I can remember the original owner, Pat Jones, pointing to the houses and saying, “Well, there’s Fred and Pete across the street and the Nuns next door.” I was a recent transplant from California and I remember thinking: “Wow, a gay couple across the street and catholic nuns next door…pretty progressive.” Of course, this was incorrect, “Pete” was Marilyn’s nick name and the catholic nuns were actually “The Nunns.” Terrific neighbors all. We didn’t need neighborhood watch because I’d get a text or call if anything out of the norm was happening in my yard while I was away at work. The best story that Natalie remembers is that the original owners let us drop the kids off at the top of the driveway to be picked up by the bus at the beginning of the school year (before we moved in). We had instructed the kids not to bother the owners and that we would swing by to pick them up. One time, Natalie desperately had to use the bathroom and she ran across the street to Miss Pete’s house. Natalie asked to use the bathroom and, of course, Miss Pete obliged. This started a family friendship that led to many shared gatherings and Thanksgivings together.

This week has been a week of lasts. The last loaf of bread baked in the oven. The last sunrise photo posted on Facebook. The last evening watching a lone Great Blue Heron pacing the lake bank searching for a fish. The last cup of coffee. The last shower. The last walk through the neighborhood. The last post written from my chair looking out at the lake. As Dr. Suess said, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Goodbye, Sweet House – thank you for the memories.

Keeping the Amygdala in Mind at Work

The amygdala is the almond shaped cluster of cells at the base of your brain and is part of your limbic system. It is responsible for your stress response and because it is innate, you have very little control over it. Fear is a good thing. It has protected you, me, our ancestors from walking off cliffs, encounters with tarantulas or even saber tooth tigers. The amygdala is also the keeper of fear memories, a log book of those past dangers and close calls that were avoided. As with any operating system, no two people are alike. We each have our own modus operandi. Your amygdala is unique to you and has kept score differently than mine. I may have no problem speaking in front of an audience of 200 folks and you might be terrified. I might cringe and shut down at being the brunt of a joke on a Zoom call while you may love being the center of the hilarity.

There are four classic responses to fear or stress: Fight, Flight, Freeze or Fawn. As written by Sherry Gaba in Psychology Today, “Flight includes running or fleeing the situation, fight is to become aggressive, and freeze is to literally become incapable of moving or making a choice. The fawn response involves immediately moving to try to please a person to avoid any conflict.” Imagine all these in the workplace, even more so, think of these in a mostly WFH workplace during a pandemic. Perhaps our hands are tied but it is still showing up.

The Amygdala in the workplace:

Fight

So how does fight show up? A stressed-out coworker using the fight response might send long diatribes blaming every other department for missed deadlines, or veto a change to the plan without reason, or go behind their arch enemies back to shut down a program. The fight response may not be overt but behind closed doors. The fix? A private conversation. In this case, I think video is better to be able to read body language. For someone whose automatic response if fight, addressing it quickly is important. The fighter wants to be unchecked so they can do more damage. Hold them accountable, although I would try to do it privately, if possible. Remember that the fight response may be behind closed doors and might take some effort to uncover.

Flight

So how does flight show up? For someone working under stress or anxiety, they may ghost a meeting with a contentious coworker, not respond to requests for a deadline, and, perhaps worst of all, just quit. I have seen folks just quit “out of the blue” because they can’t seem to cope with the demands of work. Flight, for them, is their automated response. 

The fix? Try to talk to the coworker privately. I think speaking over the phone without video can feel safer, as in safer to express our true feelings (and fears). If you are managing someone in flight mode, give them some space and then help set up resources that will allay their fears. When we see no end in sight, the overwhelm can make us want to flee. See what resources are available to reduce their workload. This maybe not be possible and it may not work; sometimes, the only solution is to let them fly off.

Freeze

So how does freeze show up? An anxious coworker will become inactive. They may be afraid of losing their job due to the recent company initiative, and not respond to emails and phone calls. It may feel difficult to move things forward due to a coworker’s inaction. They may never answer the poll, or the meeting request, or the IM. The fix? I think a private phone call maybe the best approach. Make sure they are alone and, if not, schedule the call for a private time. Privacy while WFH can be difficult to arrange. Once on the phone, probe for their fears or frustrations. Putting their saber tooth tigers in a cage can help them do better thinking. When someone is hijacked into freeze response, there won’t be effective thinking until the cage door is closed. Someone reacting with freeze response may take some time to uncover.

Fawn

So how does fawn show up? The stressed coworker turns to pleaser mode. They preemptively agree so as not to upset or anger a coworker. You may notice that they quickly agree perhaps without reason. You may have thought they were opposed to working on the project on a Saturday, but they quickly prove you wrong and say, “Yes”. 

The fix? Well, the pleaser sometimes will take care of all the loose ends and be quick to move forward. You may think, why should I question it? Again, although it might seem counterproductive to talk to the fawner, talk to them by phone. When it is a private conversation and you ask if they have any misgivings with the plan, you are more likely to get an authentic, non-fawn, response. Having a bunch of pleaser responses may seem easier but their responses, especially long term, will alienate and burn them out.

Having stressed employees react from their amygdala is automatic and lacks cognitive reflection. Once someone has left their prefrontal cortex (where they do their best thinking) and landed in their amygdala, thinking has dropped. What is important is to adapt our response to their amygdala reaction. 

6 Tips to Stop Pleasing Others

The disease to please is Habit 8 in the insightful book, How Women Rise. I am a recovering please-you-alcoholic. When I felt trapped in my unhappy second marriage, I was wallowing in trying to be “love and light” to a man who would never be happy. It has taken me four years to realize that, in retrospect, I kept tying my happiness to whether he was happy. I spent years keeping track of my internal list of rules to try and make him happy. No lemon, no lime, steak is too rare, too well done, not too spicy, not too bland, dinner at 6…no at 7…no at 5:46, heat set at 70…no 73…no 68, no dairy except for pizza, nothing vegetarian…ever. I look back and wonder what I was trying to find or obtain. Why did every grunt or disapproving look have such a hold on me? Where was I in that relationship exactly? I had evaporated into a pleasing abyss. Was I his codependent?

Pleasing others is why women are held back from rising in the ranks. When I coach female clients at some point in the coaching engagement, they frequently figure out that they need to be able to say “no”. As Katie Phillips wrote for Talented Ladies Club, “People pleasing isn’t a topic we talk about often, and it may not have occurred to you that you were stuck in the rut of putting others’ needs and happiness ahead of your own.” Tying yourself to anyone else’s happiness is exhausting. If how you are feeling at this current moment is dependent on anything outside of yourself, it’s a losing proposition and, one, you have little, if any, control over.

Six tips to stop pleasing others:

  1. Delay your response.  As Vanessa Van Edwards wrote, “Here is my favorite anti-people-pleasing phrase: “Let me get back to you.” Or Stop. Just for 50 to 100 milliseconds. This small amount of time is all you need, according to a 2014 Columbia University study, to make better decisions.” So instead of a knee jerk reaction to say yes to a project or meeting or updated slides or making chicken fried steak, delay your response. Frequently in the moment, especially if it’s your boss or unhappy spouse, you are in your limbic brain. When you are in your limbic brain you are in fight or flight or freeze response. Your prefrontal cortex (where you do your best thinking) is shut down. All the blood has rushed to your legs for you to take flight. Give yourself some space and delay your response.
  2. Start small. Say “no” to small things at first. Like watching the basketball game, or the movie, or the Friends episode, or answering the phone, or taking out the garbage or staying up late, or getting up early or scheduling a meeting over lunch, or after five. I think starting in your personal relationships might be easier at first and then move on to your work relationships. It’s easier to say “no” to one more treat from my dog than “no” to my bosses’ demands. My son was home earlier this week and was watching some show I had no desire to watch on my only television. I said, “Let’s watch something else”. He was surprised but we found something else we both enjoyed. As with most things, it seems to start with small steps.
  3. Effective relationships.  This next idea may seem crazy but it is better for your relationships. As Dr. Ilene Cohen wrote for Psychology Today, “I learned that when you do too much for others, you over-function in your relationships, which inevitably leads others to under-function. Though my intentions were good, they ultimately hindered the overall effectiveness of my relationships.” I think of saying yes to so many projects and tasks at work actually doesn’t give my direct reports and coworkers opportunities to learn and grow. As for my marriage, it created a scenario where my ex functioned in a smaller and smaller role as I maintained the scaffolding of the relationship rules. In the end, I was exhausted and the relationship was a figment of my imagination. Strive for effective relationship through an even playing field of collaborative roles.
  4. Be authentic. Aligning with your values and being authentic with your needs and wants is not something many women are brought up with. As Cohen writes, “I came to terms with the fact that we’re all unique individuals. We should be able to act authentically and connect with who we are and what we value, instead of always doing what others want.” Perhaps it was being the mother of a new born child and 4 a.m. feedings, but somewhere after motherhood, I forgot how to prioritize myself. Be authentic with yourself and what your needs, and yes, your wants are. Align with your authentic self.
  5. Don’t. Saying “I don’t” instead of “I can’t” is so much more empowering.  As Van Edwards espoused, “‘I don’t’ establishes a clear boundary, making you sound much more confident and clearer in your intentions. On the other hand, people who say ‘I can’t’ seem like they’re giving an excuse and might have some wiggle room to give.” I have actually used this frequently as a sober vegan. It’s much more empowering to say “I don’t drink “ or “I don’t eat meat”. Try using “don’t”.
  6. Stop apologizing. My boyfriend Roy has admonished me for this many times. “Quit saying sorry!” And, yes, he means apologizing for everything, which I have been known to do. Again, I think this is more frequently part of the female vernacular. As Van Edwards wrote, “The next time you say no, say it with meaning. Don’t apologize because you have to prioritize. Don’t feel bad that you have something to take care of. You are standing up for you; and remember, if you don’t stand up for you, no one else will.” Apologizing is discounting and minimizing your priorities. Stop stepping back from what you want.

I struggle with this every day. I want to do for others. I realize now that pleasing others is in many ways a way to give my power away. To a great degree, it’s implausible to think that pleasing others has an impact on how someone perceives me. Perhaps the most important thing is how I perceive myself. How does people-pleasing impact you?