My Christmas memory

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My mother could be flighty and fickle, throwing things away on a whim and often wondering why we cared when we discovered something we loved was gone. Most material things meant nothing to her. But as far as I know, her collection of Christmas decorations and other ephemera was never weeded through.

One of her favorite traditions was to take out her copy of A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote and place it near a fireplace or on a small side table where it would be seen and picked up. If you haven’t read it, run out and get it…but not from the Durham Public Libraries since they are closed until Monday. Hrummph, bankers hours from a library.

IMG_1596If you don’t know it, A Christmas Memory is the story of Buddy who lives with indifferent relatives and one gem of a cousin who he refers to as his “friend” throughout his first person narration of the book. In late November each year she counts her coins and with her money, she and Buddy make fruitcakes. One for the President even! It’s a charming, short story of two people – one young and one old –  who love each other dearly (“when you’re grown up, will we still be friends?”) in a world that is less than loving to them. They are misfits. Except they have each other.

Until they don’t.

“And when that happens, I know it. A message saying so merely confirms a piece of news some secret vein had already received, severing from me an irreplaceable part of myself, letting it loose like a kite on a broken string. That is why, walking across a school campus on this particular December morning, I keep searching the sky. As if I expected to see, rather like hearts, a lost pair of kites hurrying towards heaven.”

I’m missing my mother in unexpected waves as seems to happen often these days. This time though, I find myself desperately wishing for a copy of A Christmas Memory so I can lay it near our fireplace and then put my hands on it, even if I can’t touch my mother ever again.When Mom died in May, Christmas was the last thing on my mind. But now I wish that I had snagged her copy of the book. It must be there somewhere, in my parents Colorado apartment. That does me little good now.

“Love, having no geography, knows no boundaries,” Capote said at one point. That’s where I am now. Overwhelmed with love and gratitude for my family and my rich, rich life but boundary-less and unmoored without mother on this Christmas Eve and for who knows how long. I think I’ll call the Regulator and see if they have a copy.

Unfinished Business: A Book Review

Hall-Magill’s biggest concern is mine also (although I’m only 3/4 finished) “…Unfinished Business fails to fully consider the ways in which institutionalized #sexism, #racism create an unequal marketplace.”

Elizabeth Hall Magill

UnfinishedBus

In 2012, Anne-Marie Slaughter, who served as Secretary of State Clinton’s director of policy planning, wrote an article for The Atlantic entitled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” In the article, she discussed the difficulties she experienced in working a highly demanding job while meeting the needs of her sons; she chose to leave the State Department and return to teaching at Princeton (a far more flexible, though still demanding, job) so that she could be near her sons at a critical point in their development. Her article ignited a heated and passionate national conversation. Ms. Slaughter received many responses (including my own open letter) and spent thoughtful time with them. She then created a vision for moving forward as a nation of people who must fit both work and care into their lives. That vision is articulated in her new book, Unfinished Business: Women, Men…

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Being A Girl: A Brief Personal History of Violence

This is something most women I know could write, sadly. But it’s painful and hard so most of us would let it go. I’m glad Anne didn’t.

The Belle Jar

1.

I am six. My babysitter’s son, who is five but a whole head taller than me, likes to show me his penis. He does it when his mother isn’t looking. One time when I tell him not to, he holds me down and puts penis on my arm. I bite his shoulder, hard. He starts crying, pulls up his pants and runs upstairs to tell his mother that I bit him. I’m too embarrassed to tell anyone about the penis part, so they all just think I bit him for no reason.

I get in trouble first at the babysitter’s house, then later at home.

The next time the babysitter’s son tries to show me his penis, I don’t fight back because I don’t want to get in trouble.

One day I tell the babysitter what her son does, she tells me that he’s just a little boy, he doesn’t know…

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Valley of the Dolls

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I say “no” to my only child. It’s hard sometimes but I do it. When Elisabeth asks about a doll though my answer, albeit not right away, always turns into a reluctant “yes”.

Toy store dolls, immaculate and untouched in sharp plastic boxes, are not the “yes” dolls. Elisabeth finds her dolls eking out an existence alone in one of two huge wooden bins at the TROSA store before they come home to us. They are thrown in casually with stuffed lions, Sponge Bobs, elephants, cheap plush sharks, Tony the Tiger and other predators. Legs are bent at awkward angles but frozen smiles and wide eyes are resolutely in place. They are seldom clothed which, for me, adds to their desperation. Always naked, little girl dolls. These dolls are one of the cheapest things at TROSA: 50 or 69 cents. The price is one of the worst things but also one of the best: their low cost makes them easier to save.

And they are being saved. By us. As Elisabeth’s doll collection increases, my hesitation grows but ultimately my “yes” comes down to the same thing: How can I say no to a naked, little girl baby in an unsafe place? These dolls, naked and alone, seem like all the girls in the world who are abused and abandoned.

We don’t have space for endless dolls aIMG_6838nd sometimes I wonder if we’re in too deep already: will they get enough love? In our home, though, Elisabeth makes sure there is enough. She spends time with her rescues, murmuring soothingly. She offers bottles, blankies, beds and milkie even, from her own tiny nipple. I draw a hard line, though, at these babies staying in the car by themselves or remaining behind alone on the front porch. From time to time, I’ve even curbed Elisabeth’s yelling by simply telling her it scares the babies. The dolls are happy though to remain in her single parent, imperfect family. I think they accept Elisabeth’s mistakes and see that she tries hard and wants to do what’s right. Best of all: she’s actually present in this home. They can count on that.

A woman was a child was a baby once. All the lost girls in the world had to have been loved then, even if briefly? But if that is true, it almost doesn’t matter if they all seem to land anyway in the hard purgatory of TROSA. Let me say “yes” then to this small kind of heaven, our home, and help them heal from the wrongs suffered from this hell of a world which doesn’t do well by our girls and even worse caring for the broken women those lost girls become.

Last week, Elisabeth found a new doll with a clunky, hard battery pack. “No,” I said quickly. “She’s scary.” “Why?” Elisabeth asked. I was thinking of Talky Tina but that was too much to explain. I did say that batteries could make the doll talk and that was a little creepy. As we headed out, Elisabeth said she didn’t want that doll. “Why?” I asked. “Because she’s scary,” Elisabeth said. My influence crops up at unexpected times and in this moment, her response felt like more than I could take. I explained Mimi had allowed me to see a movie when I was small which had a talking doll that had scared me. (Forgive me, Mom, I know that’s not exactly what happened). But this doll didn’t even look like that doll, I argued in favor of another baby that I hadn’t really wanted in the first place. Elisabeth seemed satisfied and handed over her 53 cents. We went home to wash up this new baby, find her clothes and come up with a name.

It’s hard to love the inner voice that compels me to do work which offers a reluctant “yes” to these dolls. But they are not hard to love. I swallow and say, “yes, come,” a little more firmly this time.

Noticing

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I intentionally left my cell phone in my office on my way to Joe Van Gogh for a coffee and told myself, “You will notice what is going on. Just notice.”.

I noticed my shoulders back and my chest out as I walked, happy in one of my favorite dresses that looks fantastic. I also noticed another woman a few steps behind me, heading for coffee as I walked in. I stopped to hold the door. There weren’t many people there but there was one gentleman whom I often see. Just by my intentional use of the word “gentleman” you may know already that is much older. He watched the people come and go, likely me too, but I didn’t notice him until I was waiting for my cortado. I watched him watch the chatty women next to him and thought, “someday, when I am as old as he is, no one will notice me either.” I thought about what this meant. I will be an old woman on a bench sitting a coffee and no one will talk to me, or likely even really see me.

Near the door, I sshutterstock_196053107aw a poster for the art on the walls and saw the quote “nothing gold can stay” at the top. It felt eerily appropriate in that moment. The quote wasn’t cited and I couldn’t remember who said it*. My mother would have known. She knew poetry and writing and art but, as often happens now, I can’t reach her to ask. Leaving Joe Van Gogh, I noticed that loss. I didn’t think, “Oh why?” but I did think “Oh Y!” which is what I called my mother. If I had been able to tell her about the old man, she would have said she’d LOVE to sit in a corner and have no one notice her. We would have laughed at that, me a little more uncomfortably than she.

When I told someone where I worked last week she said, “Oh it’s the brick building.” And I looked at her and said, “I don’t think it’s brick.” On the way back to my office this morning, I looked up. Outside The Mom Box is on the first floor of the Lane Professional Building at the corner of Broad and W. Club in Durham. The building is brick. But I didn’t notice. I’ve had an office here for over a year.

When I put aside technology for a few moments, during my drive or two weeks, I notice more. I crave that mental click that comes when I make a connection or take a risk as a result of my noticing. It doesn’t happen as often when I’m plugged in. I don’t think it does for any of us. But you need it as much as I do.

When most of us go as fast as we can most of the time, noticing is an act of bravery. But it’s not just my act, is it?

*Robert Frost.

Manic Monday

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Let me explain, dear friend.

I hate having to explain because it reeks of apology. And apologies are so habit-forming. But I sort of want to explain because I don’t want you to feel hurt. You can imagine how the inner struggle! Anyone who knows me is aware, though, that I’m not an over-apologizer so I’m going to offer up this explanation to you:

You are someone I want to see. 

valentines-day-heart-san-serif-hug-kiss-xo-message-free-stock-photoI do. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t initiate contact or when you reached out, I’d turn you down pretty quickly. But I do want to see you and that’s why I offer a date in the future. Yeah. I know, it’s maybe 3-4 weeks away. You likely feel surprised and put off. I don’t blame you. But here’s the thing. Here in the US, we don’t have full-day quality, free childcare for small kids. My daughter is not old enough for kindergarten. While my husband and I pay a considerable amount each month to have her in an extraordinary preschool, she’s there just four, half days a week. Most of the rest of the time she’s with me. I work and see friends like you (and head to anyone else like the doctor or hairdresser) when she’s at school and evenings when my husband is with her. My business and my personal life come after childcare and my husband’s career.

A bit about the business since you don’t work for yourself…as a newer, small business owner, I am the marketing, IT, PR and finance departments. I’m also the main creative, the only trainer, the careful administrative assistant, the eternal blogger, editor and the only community liaison. All of this (plus all individual and group client work) needs to fall within my 25ish hours a week at Outside The Mom Box.

So, you see I have a lot going on. Not more than you, perhaps. And my time isn’t more important than yours. This is all why, though, I can’t see you more immediately. Why I offer that lunch option three weeks away. I don’t have a hard time prioritizing; you are important. I teach clients how to weed through commitments or relationships that don’t work all the time so I’ve got that down. What I do have difficulty managing is the lack of support that our country gives to families so parents, especially moms, can be successful. That includes paid parental leave and sick days, early care and education, flexible work schedules. I shouldn’t have to say “it’s not me,” but I do because it sure looks like it’s me, doesn’t it? It’s no more “me”, however, than it is any other parent who is the primary caregiver in their family.

Until we live in a society where parents who provide the bulk of the childcare are valued equally, by helping moms like me with family-friendly social structures like early care and education, you might need to bear with me. At least for a few years, until my daughter is in Kindergarten. Oh wait, never mind. Nix that “few years,”, we’ll be in the same spot during the summer months.

Explanations are never good enough for anyone on the receiving end. But I don’t buy a “never complain, never explain,” attitude. Too many people are quiet when it matters. And you know me: seldom quiet when I “should” be. I deserve better and so do you. Can we get there together?

Develop a Unique Voice

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I’m back at Seth Godin’s freelancer course via Udemy and have arrived at Lesson 44, that’s Lesson 44, Develop a Unique Voice. In typical Seth fashion, he encourages us to make our discoveries public so mine go here and are routed to FB and Twitter. Here goes-

Part I: Seth says “If you could choose an archetype that you want your business known for, what would it be?” Somehow others have chosen 5 so I chose 5 also.

  • confidence
  • curious
  • empathetic
  • creative
  • service

DeathtoStock_Clementine10Part II: List 5 ways you could express these attributes.

  1. Confidence: modeling it myself in how I live, love and act…both in my personal and professional lives so that clients know I can help them become more confident. They see me, my periodic struggles and can identify with that and trust me.
  2. Curious: showing genuine interest in the world around me as well in the people I come across, whether or not they are clients. Being curious about ideas and, not the nosy parker sort a la Gladys Kravitz.
  3. Empathetic: being with someone as fully as I can be, without concern about how it might look or how I might be perceived my someone who doesn’t get me. I’m struggling with my empathy right now, though, as I deal with some providers who speak so disparagingly about their clients.
  4. Creative: Willing to think outside the mom box about ideas, projects and borings tasks too. Custom designed programs are always on the table.
  5. Service: creating the highest possible level of experience for a client(s), going above and beyond when it’s not expected, wowing someone who wasn’t excepting it and continually being mindful of how I can act in service my clients. This is one of my favorite pieces of my business.

Eight days of Cake

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This is my fourth visit to Germany, Regensburg specifically and the first two times, I found myself frustrated by the lack of good bakeries or pastry shops. At the end of my third visit here, I realized that I was mistaken. It wasn’t a lack of good shops but the fact that I was searching for pastry that was as good as I’d experienced in Italy. That was a lost cause and always will be. Nowhere is there pastry like Italian pastry. In the US, our best baked goods are cookies…although this is obviously somewhat regional. In Germany, however, their best baked goods are cakes. On this visit, I’d adjusted my thinking and set out to sample as many cakes as I could.

Cake is the perfect vacation food. It implies leisure. You have to sit down to indulge in it, which is absolutely one of the reasons why I seldom order cake in the US, at least not in the middle of the afternoon. Who has the time? You cannot eat a cake in 2-3 bites. Ice cream is wonderful on the go, as you circle round a new city examining old churches and considering dinner plans. When you’re eating cake, though, you really must sit there and eat it.

Cake is lIMG_6313ost on small children then. Elisabeth has no time or desire. She wants an ice cream or a cookie and to be on her way. I learned that cake is best enjoyed without an impatient child by your side. So, when I could, I tried to indulge without her. But the first few days of my eight days of cake were with her. Early on, I tried Chocolate Cherry (her choosing) at Anna, my hands-down favorite place for cake. Anna Liebt Brod und Kaffee, a wonderful restaurant cafe near the old city where we’re staying. Elisabeth can’t pass up anything chocolate; she has no good boundaries in this way. I’ve never been a chocolate cake fan but this cake was quite good. It was just moist enough to not get stuck in your throat but didn’t have the “damp” texture which can occasionally lend a soggy texture to some chocolate cakes.

Cake is an afternoon event and as my husband told me, it used to be the Sunday afternoon event. Today, it’s any afternoon excuse for anyone. I like to take my cake between 3:00-4:00 which is the time of day that many of us are looking for a small, in-between sweet to last us until dinner. Cake fits the bill; the slices are never big. They are always just enough of a generous taste to leave you satiated. With my cake adventures here, when the last bite has been consumed, I’m done too. I never want more, which is interesting in and of itself. At home, I’m always ready for another bite of doughnut or additional cookie.

IMG_6405The next day, Fabian was in Munich again so Elisabeth was still with me but this time I asked if she wanted a kinder kugel (80 cents of child-sized ice cream- a bargain!) which freed me up to enjoy my cake un-rushed. Well, for the most part. I opted for lemon knowing it was mine alone. It had a fine, sugar drizzle on top. The lemon was light and delicious. On my third day here, I’d indulged in way too many coffees so instead of opting for a coffee to go with my cake as is intended here (hence the usually dry cake), I ordered a housemade soda with lemon-basil syrup. A lot of lemon even for me but it worked. Elisabeth’s chocolate ice cream gave me just enough time to finish my slice and almost all of my lemonade.

The next day I was on my own in the afternoon and headed back to Anna to do some work and for my daily dose of cake. While I’ve been here, I’d made a lovely habit of heading to Anna to sit outside and writing for a few hours. Sometimes I had postcards with me but I’ve wrote letters and blogged as well. Writing, like cake eating, takes time. They are a perfect pair for that reason.
We are nearing the end of asparagus season here (it’s short-lived but absolutely wonderful…always, always order the spargelsuppe when it’s on any menu) and so raspberries are close behind. Germans more than Americans tend to use what’s in season so raspberries are coming up next. I saIMG_6447w a lovely himbeerentorte at Anna so I ordered that. It had a creamy center which wasn’t whipped cream exactly but something similar and helped hold the raspberries in place, although they were also suspended in their own juices and a bit of gelatin perhaps? But it didn’t taste gelatinous or have a strange mouthfeel. This was my favorite so far. The sweetness of the cream wasn’t cloying but a perfect foil to the rich raspberries. And this was just visually so beautiful. The picture above doesn’t do it justice. Use your imagination a bit on this one.

Like at home, on vacation we tend to spend our money on food. We’ve bought children’s books in German but scrapped the trip to the Playmobil parkin part due to Elisabeth being just three. So food it is!  There’s a Turkish market near our apartment where we get doughnut peaches, Gala apples, gorgeous peppers, feta and olive salad, and mini cukes on a daily basis. Cake, thankfully, is normally just 3 Euros for a slice. Some places are less expensive. Cake is a cheap indulgence.

On Wednesday afternoon we headed to the train station to take the 3 minute train to see my in-laws. I’d timed our trip to stop at the Anna in the mall, next to the station. Fabian and I both ordered cake and Elisabeth had a cookie. I remember the apple cream from last year (I may have no idea what street our apartment is on but I recall
the important things!) and ordered it. Fabian took the rhubarb crumb. Crumbs on top of a cake are always a good idea and so it was for this one too. We both agreed that it needed a side of cream (not a very German embellishment, however) but it was still IMG_6464excellent. Fabian is a sucker for rhubarb so he wanted more in the cake. I was content.

Yesterday was an off-day. Cake didn’t happen. It was missed. The afternoon was a hot one and without air conditioning or the promise of it, none of us felt much like leaving the apartment. Already today at not quite noon, it’s almost 85. It feels like Durham so much that I have a pang for home. But we leave soon and that will be the end of my cake days. Cake, though, has come to represent ore than indulgence; it’s a reason to step back and slow down. And that I will be taking with me.

Reflections on a German vacation

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There’s so much to love being here. This is my fourth visit to Germany, to Regensburg a city that I have grown to love. It’s Day #9 and I wanted to put down some thoughts as I’ve been thinking about them-

One of the reasons that I love being in Germany is being able to pass the bulk of the day to day responsibilities on my husband. I don’t speak the language so can get away with pretty much everything. I don’t ever go to the bank to get cash or figure out which bus or train to take. I purchase bread, coffee, apricots, Playmobil and ice cream. Anything more complicated is beyond me.

Stores have plenty of help and clerks are friendly. Unlike Paris. A city that I would be happy to never return to again. A resolution based on the fact that everyone I met there for a week in June three years ago was incredibly, unforgettably, rude…even when I was speaking French. Never again. This stereotype, sadly, was one I found true.

Euros are lovely and completely unlike dollars. Having American dollars in hand is a great way for me to go shopping because I hate parting with them. It has something to do with working for them and thinking twice about purchases. But it doesn’t work that way with Euros. Euros are like play money; so big and beautiful, they don’t seem real. And the coins are small and charming. I am reminded of being able to buy a cappuccino in Florence for a mille lire, with just one coin and feeling brilliant and savvy as I did so. Somehow using Euros is like that.

Is it in part because tax is included? Another nicety that makes it easy to be here and understand exactly what you need to pay for an item, especially if you don’t speak the language. The shoes I like (one of the pairs anyway) are 109 Euros so that’s all I’d hand to the clerk if I were to buy them. If, I said.

Euros can also feel lovely becaIMG_6376use some things are incredibly cheap here. Little rolls and bretzel (pretzel) are 70 cents and they’re not proof-and-bake. Homemade and delicious. A 1 hour Thai massage – a good one at that- for 30 Euros. A slice of the best cake you’ll ever have is maybe 3 dollars. Like the bread, cake slices are everywhere and very, very good. More on this coming.

Speaking of food, Haribo (the gummy bear folks) makes mini bags of their gummy bears and for some reason, they are often given out at restaurants. Beer gardens too. Keep kids happy and slightly sugared? Why not? I say. It’s not bedtime yet.

Kids have it really good in other ways here too. I often see children by themselves. On city streets, no less. You know, the place where “anything could happen”. And I love it. A little boy (maybe 8?) carries his “Mein Buch is Da! Pustet.de” purchase out of the bookstore, grabs his scooter across the street and pushes off. With nary a parent in sight. This is another one of my loves with being here. The independence of the children and the utter lack of helicopter parents.

In Germany I can be anonymous…even if I am hovering on the playground taking pictures. Most of the time people speak to me initially in German and when I fumble my way through the money, they immediately get my limitations. I don’t mind. When you’re taking a break, going on vacation, it’s refreshing to not have to engage anyone in conversation. Although sometimes I want to.

But it’s better that I don’t know German when the woman next to me lights up her third cigarette in 20 minutes. Dirty looks speak volumes. The amount of smoking here is akin to an episode of Mad Men. Everyone, all the time, seemingly as a second occupation, is smoking.

But some things here are similar. I searched for a mailbox for 2 days. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a mailman, notable for his bright yellow bike and rain gear, and consider for a moment flagging him down and handing my postcards to him. Maybe saying “bitte?” as a way to ingratiate myself to him. It wouldn’t have worked, or so I tell myself. Germans are very systematic. (You should have seen the city office where we registered our daughter so she could one day get a German passport!)

FullSizeRender-8Mainly, though, the differences stand out. The utter whiteness of everyone I see. Easily 85% of the people I see on a daily basis are white, or look white. And this, my husband, says is an improvement over what it was when he was growing up. Regensburg is more diverse than Heidelberg is. Everyone in Heidelberg is not only white but also thin and unbelievably beautiful. At least in Regensburg I see some difference. But I’ve still never seen two women holding hands or anyone who even appears to be gender non-conforming. Living a different life other than the “norm” here would be very lonely.

Dogs in department stores, mainly small ones, are very European in general. I loved when I landed in Italy for the first time in 1995. Dogs aren’t relegated to incessant barking in hot cars (nowhere to park here anyway!) but leashed and brought right into a store, even a grocery store, as if they had some hard-earned cash of their own to spend.

Speaking of which, work is left behind here, when the day ends. Other than myself, I haven’t see anyone on a laptop working outside. Wireless at cafes is nonexistent so that may be part of the reason. But everyone other than Americans have a clearer life/work boundaries. Taking your computer on vacation? Unimaginable. Vacation is intended to get away from work. And Germans, like other Europeans, actually take vacations. They take the weekend off. It’s a lovely reinforcement of work/life balance.

Can anyone be upset when they are woken by bells? It’s 7:00 am on a Saturday and everyone except me was out drinking last night and partying under our bedroom window, but the bells rang out marking the 7:00 am hour and I was awake. What a gift to be woken up not by a buzzing on my phone! What a gift to be here.

B2C Sales

More from Seth Godin’s Freelancer course on Udemy. This is Lesson #24.

Q. “What is your client afraid their husband/partner/friend will say if they say ‘yes’?”

A. “Why are you spending money on that?” “Will it be worth it?”
“How will you know it’s working?” “Why not see a therapist since insurance might cover that?”

Q.” What would your client say to explain why they bought ___from you?”

A. “I want to accomplish ____ and she doesn’t take on clients that she doesn’t think she can help succeed.” “My friend worked with her and she was terrific.” “I haven’t invested any money in me since college.” ”

Q.”What would you like them to tell their husband/partner/friend?”

A. “Coaching is very different from therapy. It’s action-oriented and Elizabeth’s programs center more around accountability and measuring success than many other coaches’ do. We check in at 5 weeks, a little less than 1/2 way through, to see if I’m getting what I need to reach my goal. If I don’t feel like I am, we end our coaching and she refunds the money I invested. I have a feeling that working with her will change my life.”

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