Tag Archives: California

In Real Life

Riding the Camel057Several years ago, I lived in Sonoma, California and worked in a small business. I hired a marketing assistant who became a friend. I was single and Trish was married but we connected. She made plans to travel to Tunisia to visit her husband’s family and she invited me to accompany them. It was a unique offer. I had never actually considered a vacation to Tunisia. It turned out that we would need to fly through Paris, so that was going to be a few days’ visit. I decided to do it. It was an interesting trip. I had not thought through the language challenges. Her husband was tri-lingual and I had assumed his family might also be but they were not. So while he spoke English, no one else did. He sometimes would translate into French for Trish (she was bi-lingual) and she could turn around and let me know in English what was happening. Sometimes I could not follow. Perhaps the funniest episode was we were driving and I got excited as we spotted a man walking with a camel. A camel! Live, in person, just walking along the road. I wanted to take a picture, so we stopped the car. Then, Trish’s husband approached the man and said something to him in Arabic, so he stopped to pose for me. It got better! He invited me to jump on the camel. OK—I reacted without hesitation! Perhaps I should have paused to consider it more. As I sat on the camel and it stood, I was almost pitched off its back. You don’t think about it but how a camel is built, with long legs and neck, means it is a bit awkward in its movement. As it stood, it rocked forward and I did not expect to go in that direction. So I squeezed with my legs with all my might because I immediately thought of flying to the ground and having to go to a hospital where no one spoke English and then calling my mother to tell her I was hurt and thousands of miles away. This could not happen. It did not.
Well, Trish ended up quitting, then getting divorced, and she moved to Chicago. Then she returned home to Tennessee. Years passed and I moved to Chicago. I got married and had a son. She became an artist and produced theatre work. We have sent each other Christmas cards and Facebook came into existence, so we have watched as we posted random notes or photos. We have visited each other twice since I moved to the Midwest.
A week ago, I had a business trip to Nashville and she came to get me. We realized very quickly that it had been TEN YEARS since we actually had seen each other in person. TEN YEARS! I’m not sure how that much time had passed. She’s never met my son. I never met her second husband. We ate lunch, we drove to the airport, and we chatted non-stop. It was so much fun and it reminded me that I need to get to Nashville more often. I cherish the friendships I’ve developed over the years and I rely on social networks to keep in touch. For the most part, it feels like it works. After all, we can’t jump on planes and travel all over the country every year. But seeing someone live, in person, really is so much better. That short visit covered so much territory.
I have other friends, who live in California, who I’ve seen more than once in ten years. Like my friend since junior high, Susy, who was in my wedding and has come out to Chicago multiple times. Or, Aileen, who I have known for more than two decades. I saw her son as a newborn and her second son just had his Bar Mitzvah. Their kids have grown up mostly in pictures, so it is nice when you can see them in real life. Status updates or tweets only provide a limited amount of information. It is good to be reminded how to connect the old fashioned way.

Getting Past Writer’s Block

This year started off uneventfully.  Weather was not particularly harsh (I live in the Chicago area so weather is a big topic of conversation).  We were all healthy and I got a good job review.  In December, I had downloaded a list from Chris Brogan with blog topics so that I would have a number of ideas to spark my creative juices.  Yet, I was not motivated to write.

What a difference a few weeks can make.  I was laid off.  I was completely blind-sided.  So now I am brushing off my resume and reaching out to my network to let former associates know I am job hunting.

I have moved around during my career, however, this is the first time facing a transition married, with a child, a mortgage, and unemployed.  It is a new phase of my life.  When I was younger and single I could up and relocate without consideration of someone else.

The last time I was laid off was September 2001.  I was working in the Silicon Valley and the ‘dot-com’ bust was underway.  I sold my condo and relocated to Chicago on the advice of a friend and found employment.  I took a big risk.  I did not have any family here and only had one friend, who was one made via my job, so I was not going to be living with her and hanging out (she did circulate my resume and provide a glowing reference).  I am eternally grateful for that support.  But the reality was I came here on my own and needed to re-establish myself in a new city.  I met any and all friends of friends, played tourist, checked out all the big attractions, and learned my way around on my own.

So here we are, nearly ten years later, and faced with a grim economy and competitive job market.  If I limit myself to Chicago, what are my prospects?

I have been calling people to inform them of my situation and I have been heartened by the support.  Now, of course, there is a real storm brewing here in the Midwest.  I’ve decided to split my time between job hunting and pursuing some personal interests.  I found yet another resource yesterday with more creative inspiration for bloggers from Diana Adams.  I think I’ll get going with some of those and so my posts will likely take some new directions.  As I am still a novice (read: small audience) I think this will be ok but am hoping to get feedback from those out there who do read what I write.  More to come!

Vacation musings

We just spent eight days in California.  It was special for a number of reasons.  As we departed, we just beat a big storm that hit Chicago.  Weather at home was 6-16 degrees plus a wind chill.  In California, while not “warm” by most people’s standards, it was 55-65 degrees.  My son got to see the beach for the first time.  That was awesome!  He and my husband walked down by the water and ran away as the waves almost reached them.  I stood back and took pictures.  I got some very good shots.  It would have been perfect if it had been warmer but he enjoyed it.  And, I did too.  He said it was “the best day ever.”  And here is what else made this week special: he said it was “the best day ever” almost every day.

We visited friends and family and they almost all had gifts for him.  I never expected it but he came home loaded with new toys.  And, many were dead-on favorites.  Lego and Star Wars, Transformers and Toy Story, these all made him very happy.  He had fun meeting new people and seemed surprised at how much family was in California.  He’s seen my husband’s family more often because we live in the same state.  This was his third trip back west but he really doesn’t remember past visits.

We went to San Francisco and there was a street performer who captured his attention.  He was dressed all in silver and wore a silver mask, so he had a bit of a robotic appearance but he would stand still like a statue.  Then, he’d start moving around because he had music playing.  I gave him $5 and he jumped down and waved us over to take a picture.  Funny, now that I think about it, that we understood his intentions even though he did not speak.   That was a bit of an adventure.

There were some more sobering moments, too.  We saw aunts and uncles who are aging and two aunts are no longer with us.  Their husbands carry on now, after 50+ years of marriage, and it is obvious that they miss their spouses.  Those visits brought to mind years gone by but you can’t go back.

We got to one winery, two parks, two libraries, many restaurants and shops.  We enjoyed “Tangled” in 3D and got back to the church where we were married.  How’s that for variety?

As we were taxiing on the runway, he looked out and I told him to say goodbye to California.  He waved and then he quietly started to cry.  He turned away as he wiped away his tears.  He said he would miss it.  Me too.

Is home where the heart is?

This morning, as I was sitting at my desk, I received a call from an aunt in California.  With the time difference, I knew it was bad news.  My Aunt Toni had passed away during the night.  She was battling cancer and had been going through chemo but in recent weeks I had not gotten any updates.  Sometimes no news is good news but in this instance it was not.    It was a bit stunning, since the last messages I had received were about my uncles visiting her and making her laugh.  They were rallying around her.  My father was the oldest of five children and this was his next sibling.  Ironically, I was sitting at my desk when I got the news of his death, too.

As I received a call from a cousin in California, I learned that they had started hospice a week ago.  Well, had I known that I would have been mentally prepared today.  I guess it was determined the chemo was not working.  I don’t blame her.  I am a firm believer in the quality of life and sometimes when I hear of extreme measures being taken for a person to live, I wonder why the choice was made.  But, this all drove home the point that I know and struggle with: I am not at home.

I’m one of two people in the family not residing in California.  We don’t have a huge family but obviously it takes more effort to keep us apprised of the latest events.  So now I need to decide if I will travel back for the funeral.  I would have preferred to see her alive.

One happy note is that we used modern technology to stay in touch.  I had mailed some recent photos of my son to her daughter.  I also sent a video message of him to her that was funny.  That went two weeks ago.  She does not use a computer, so I relied on my cousin to take a computer with her to share the updates.  I have to credit shutterfly with making this process really easy.  The site offers a password-protected share site for both photos and videos.

Well, more to consider: I’ve lived in Chicago for 8 years.  That is not temporary.  When will it be home to me?  Hmmm…where do you consider home?

Giving Back in 2010

As 2010 was starting, I decided to submit an article to the “Yummy Mummy Club” website.  The editorial calendar called for pieces about giving back (for January) and that topic sparked my writing very quickly.  It was the first time I was published somewhere and so I thought I’d continue with it.  I’m expanding that original work since they had a word limit, I can elaborate on a few things and thus begin my new blog…

I don’t recall what prompted me to visit the children’s hospital near my college, but I did and I found out that I could volunteer there in the recreation therapy room on a weekly basis.  The kids and their families were optimistic and strong in the face of chronic ailments.  I continued to do volunteer service as I started my career and I found that it helped me to better balance the stress of a job with the more important challenges of life.

When I relocated to Chicago in 2002, I looked up the Stanford University alumni association.  I found out that it had established a partnership with Chicago Public Schools and I ended up judging science fairs and history fairs at Curie Metro high school.  We all seem to be strapped for time, especially those of us who juggle motherhood with careers.  Finding extra hours (or minutes) in the day might be a tall order, but it is possible to make a difference in small ways.  As I met those young students, and interacted with the faculty at the school, I saw that a few hours really helped them and I enjoyed the time spent there, too.  It was not an on-going commitment but the one-day experience made an impact.

This past year I had the opportunity to help launch the corporate social responsibility program at our company.  I got to do research on non-profits across the U.S. as we sought a partner of national scope.  We decided to go with the Ronald McDonald House Charities (www.rmhc.org).  It has been very gratifying to see how the relationship has blossomed across the country.  On a personal level, I have enjoyed working with them and value my counterpart in the organization.  But before we made that decision, I discovered so many worthwhile organizations I want to promote to others.  A couple I’d like to share here:

DonorsChoose.org — Here’s how it works: public school teachers from every corner of America post classroom project requests on DonorsChoose.org. Requests range from pencils for a poetry writing unit to violins for a school recital.  Then, you browse project requests and give any amount to the one that makes your eye twinkle. Once a project reaches its funding goal, they deliver the materials to the school. You’ll get photos of your project taking place, a thank-you letter from the teacher, and a cost report showing how each dollar was spent. If you give over $100, you’ll also receive hand-written thank-you letters from the students. You can give as little as $1 and get the same level of choice, transparency, and feedback that is traditionally reserved for someone who gives millions. They call it “citizen philanthropy.”

First Book – if you are reading this right now, I’m guessing that you enjoy reading in general.  The idea that children can be growing up without books to read made me sad.  It shocked me, really.  This organization’s mission is simple: First Book provides new books to children in need addressing one of the most important factors affecting literacy – access to books.  Now, nearly 20 years since its start, First Book has delivered more than 65 million books to programs serving children in need across the United States and Canada.  Learn more at www.firstbook.org

Closer to home, I like Lamb’s Farm (http://www.lambsfarm.org/).  It is an organization that empowers an extraordinary group of more than 250 people with developmental disabilities to lead personally fulfilling lives.   As a result of the earthquake in Haiti, I also chose to personally support the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund (www.clintonbushhaitifund.org).  Back in California, a long-time favorite of mine for the past decade has been Project Open Hand (www.openhand.org).  San-Francisco-based Project Open Hand provides home delivered meals, groceries and nutrition counseling to people living with HIV/AIDS.

As I look at the groups I gravitate toward, they typically cluster around helping people be self-sufficient and providing food or shelter.  I have less time to devote to volunteering so I tend to give money lately.  As my son gets bigger, I intend to have him join me in some activities.  More on that later.

What are some of your favorite non-profits?  Are there other unique ways you’ve found to give back in your community?