Yurts, Yoga and YOLO: Why I am at a Women’s Retreat with Bear Guards

 

Retreat: to pull back, move away.

In battle, it marks a failure to win a battle.
But in life?

This week, I’m retreating. And I’m doing so with a group of 20 women, many of whom I’ve never met.

We are gathering on a mountaintop lodge — remote even from the sparsely populated town at the base of its long, long, long private gravel road. The lodge and tiny town share a zip code and a spectacular view across the Strait of Juan de Fuca separating Canada’s Vancouver Island, in British Columbia from the northern tip of America’s Olympic Peninsula, in Washington State. This setting in the crisp chill of early Autumn at the top of the tree line, naturally inspires slower, deeper breathing; softer, quieter thinking; and a sense of deep reverence.

Remote Lodge, Bankrolled from Bear Guarding

This place is testament to the vision and passion of two brothers, who opened Soule Creek Lodge 16 years ago as a place to connect their professional expertise as chefs with their personal passion for enjoying and preserving pristine natural environments.

This labor of love was bankrolled by a stint of lucrative but “unusual” work in Alaska, cooking salmon and guarding bears. Turns out that accomplished chefs can elicit equally passionate responses from two- and four-legged diners. The problem is that if the latter ever actually taste the food, their addiction to the savory simplicity of dining on at someone else’s table marks them for extermination, as they could become very dangerous moochers. So, the accomplished epicurean siblings had to take turns either preparing meals or standing guard with pepper spray to deflect the interest of prospective 900-pound diners with names like ScarFace and Victor.

That fund-raising junket also taught the brothers about the value of another kind of agility: the ability to have a plan B and plan C at the ready. So, when the Alaskan weather grounded the sea plane explorations that brought them many of their dining guests, they learned to captain and curate their own boat trips to offer stranded visitors with alternate and unique options to taking in the majesty of their environment. These experiences, in turn, fueled lively dinner conversations and new-found community around a long, shared table in their restaurant.

After six subsequent years of searching the Pacific Northwest for the right location, they found the foundation for Soule Creek Lodge.  At the heart of this mountain top site ringed with a collection of unique Yurts on cantilevered decks, is the main lodge featuring a restaurant with sweeping views. In keeping with the commissioned First Nation art depicting family paintings from a traditional longpole house, the dining room is intended to inspire and connect its guests with a single seating for each meal at a long common table.

Yurts, Yoga and YOLO

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An apt setting for the retreat’s mission: to take the time and space to learn more about ourselves — our innate behaviors and passions — and explore how we can connect who we are more successfully with what we chose to do.  And the bonus: connecting with 20 women at various stages of leadership in their work, their communities and their networks.

We’re here for a workshop to better understand ourselves. With facilitators, we’ll look at the individual results from our SuccessFinder behavioral self assessments.  And we will also explore how those results connect us as a group —a cohort— of participants that we can learn with and learn from.

That reflective, introspective workshop is in the middle of an agenda shaped to advance mind, body and soul. Like last night’s delicious dinner (sans bears), the workshop is a savory entree, preceded by a developmental amuse bouche: sunrise yoga with a majestic dessert of daily hikes in the wilderness at the water’s edge.

I am thrilled to be here, briefly retreating from a life busy with responsibility, commitments, and deadlines to explore, advance and more purposefully experience what’s possible in this life that you only live once.

Do You DuoLingo?

 

old-dogs-new-tricks

Confession: I am middle aged, but spend the first part of every morning watching cartoons.

Brightly-colored characters speak in short sentences, flash simple words and phrases, and wait on me to respond or reiterate what they’ve just said. All from my phone.  And with every correct reply, like Pavlov’s dog, I look forward to my reward: the satisfying “DING.” Better yet, I earn a trumpet serenade by accumulating my daily quota of 30 XP (experience points).

Not so far off from my kids mornings with Sesame Street or Dora the Explorer years ago. The biggest difference: I am an old dog, learning a new trick—the German language. (ich bin ein alter hund and lerne einen neuen trick). My cartoon pals are all on my iphone german language app, DuoLingo.

I harbor a tiny flame of hope that in one month, when we help move our son to Berlin for his first job, I can be marginally more helpful knowing a tiny bit of local language.

But to be brutally honest, my husband an I are gleefully signing up “to help” for a marvelous excuse to travel, see new sights, taste new foods, dance to new music, communicate a little (ein bisschen) in a new language, and embrace our new stage of life as empty nesters.

So, in addition to many hours on the internet scanning apartment listings, indulging in HouseHunter’s International in Berlin, watching Rick Steve’s travel tips, I am having some fun taking a daily dose of language with my free DuoLingo app.

With Oktoberfest around the corner, it is fun (if a tad nonsensical) to learn to talk about drinking beer, drinking beer with your husband, drinking beer with your friends, and yes, even on occasion drinking beer with a cow or dog.  I don’t plan to drink with animals, but it makes me smile to translate those sentences while sipping my morning coffee.

So, even if your near term travel will be mostly virtual from the comfort of the internet, why not introduce a few choice words into your vocabulary and your relationship? It’s fun getting a little lost in translation together.

 

 

I Hope You’ll Dance

I hope you'll dance 2

I love theme songs.

Whether for a party, a movie or an era in my life, a good song that ties off the moment — preferably with a kick-in-the-gut emotional twist — gets me every time.

When our son was one, I got my theme song fix from a Marin musician, Steve Seskin, in his ballad to his newly-adopted son: “Baby boy.” His opening lyrics delivered:

“Words can never say how much I miss you, when I go away. All I want to do is hug and kiss you.

I’ll stand beside you through the hardest times. I’ll try to be your eyes when you’re feeling blind. I’m gonna love you til the sea goes dry.

You’re my baby boy
You’re my baby boy” 

Queue the waterworks.

When our daughter was two, and enrolled in her too-cute-for-words ballet class, Lee Ann Womack came through with a ballad that splayed open my sappy, sentimental soul: “I hope you’ll dance.” This mother’s wish for her child includes the refrain:

“I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean. Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens….And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance: I hope you’ll dance.”

Three days ago, we dropped our daughter off at college. Four weeks from now we move our son to his first job in Berlin, Germany.  

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So today, as one door in my life closes on up-close parenting, and the empty nest looms, I don’t choose to sit it out. I’m gonna dance.

Belly dance, that is.

Tucked in a strip mall between a nail salon and a car repair, my first stop in a future of unexplored possibilities beckons from the aptly named Belly Dance Studio.

This morning I met my friend and fellow empty nester, Birgit, there. To my delight, like my daughter’s long-ago toddler dance class, there was a box of costume props at the front of the room. And just like that, with bejeweled and jangly scarves tied around our hips, we parked our middle aged, mundane to-do lists and became absorbed in the shapes and chink-a-chink-a-chink sounds we made with our own coin-wrapped swaying hips, shimmying thighs and undulating arms.

The instructor, the 10 other women of all ages and sizes, and the whole experience in that eggplant-colored room was beautiful.

A simple enough experiment of re-coloring my world.

As we close a personally emotional, and globally horrifying week filled with far too much change and hatred and intolerance, a wish from a favorite theme song to us all:

May you never take a single breath for granted. And god-forbid love ever leave you empty-handed. I hope you’ll dance.

 

The Day I Fell in Love with a Cowgirl

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Last Thursday, my husband and I decided to reclaim the whole day as ours. No work, no chores, no to-dos, just a day to be.

Mother Nature accommodated us brilliantly with a clear, sunny, 72 degree day. What a phenomenal backdrop for indulging a long, meandering walk on a nearly-empty Stinson Beach.  After hours of dreamily wading in the waves, watching the pelicans gliding overhead and the seals playing in the harbor, we contemplated how to get home without breaking the spell in a phalanx of traffic. We opted to drive the coastline north and catch the sunset.

On a whim, we pulled into the Hog Island Oyster Farm.  It was about 4:30 and the bartender let us know they were closing shortly but offered us drinks and let us know it was shuck-your-own-oysters Thursday. My husband gamely went off to get shucking equipment and pick a few shellfish from one of the watery outdoor vats. This was especially impressive since a) he’d never shucked an oyster and b) he didn’t even like to eat them, but did it for me.  To compensate, I ordered some cheese and crackers from the rustic outdoor bar to provide him with something to eat until we found a restaurant somewhere else on the way home.

Little did I know that what would arrive in a basket at our weathered picnic table overlooking the Hog Island Oyster Farm, would rock my world.  Our cheese and crackers were both from a local business in Pt.Reyes Station, just a few miles down the road. The sea salt crackers were crispy and quirky: long and thin, they looked like the cracker dough was cut with pinking shears.  Delicious, but they didn’t appropriately prepare me for the white butcher paper-wrapped small wheel of heaven: Triple Creme cheese.  I’d somehow lived all this time without ever having encountered a Triple Creme cheese. This healthy handful of white-rind wrapped lusciousness looks for a moment like a brie, but is in a class by itself.  One cut, reveals an interior that looks like some dreamy marriage of frosting and cheese — in the best possible way.  And the makers of this Mt. Tam Triple Creme, are seared in my mind and on my tastebuds forever: Cowgirl Creamery.

I fell in love with the Cowgirl on that picnic bench. Forever and ever.

If you’ve likewise lived under a rock, the great news is that Cowgirl Creamery distributes its phenomenal food nationwide.  The Cowgirls that founded this artisinal organic cheese business an hour north of San Francisco have culinary pedigrees at world class Chez Panisse and Bette’s Oceanview Diner. Evidently, customers and investors alike were as entranced with their product as I was: in March, they were acquired by Swiss Dairy giant, Emmi.  Please Emmi, don’t screw it up.

The Triple Creme was mind-blowing with oysters and dry Rose wine as the sun set on our blissed out day.  And it was equally inviting on a slice of hot-from-the-oven banana bread this morning.  And guess it also worked it’s magic right off the spreading knife all by it’s resplendant self. If that doesn’t work for you, here are some recipes from the cowgirls themselves>

Giddy-up!mt_tam_cheese_large

 

 

In the Attic: The Art of Improv

1237bdb7a83c0ba10074c469210c6be3Note: this is the first in a series of happiness chronicles — discussions that focus on why and how interesting people pursue things that make them happy.

 

Two things that go bump in the night: something in your attic and someone on stage doing improv comedy.

For many people, the idea of crawling around in their dark, crowded, and potentially vermin-visited attic is equally appealing to the idea of stepping onto an empty stage with no props, no script, no clue — and only their quick wit to armor them from a cynical audience.

Lauren Bossers (nicknamed, appropriately, LaBoss) is an exception. She bravely visits attics and stages, and far off places in her very agile and very funny mind.

“My mother best describes me as my own best opposite,” says Bossers, a 40-year-old mom with a high-powered marketing role at Oracle. “I’m equally serious as I am silly. I’m a Type B in Type A clothing: relatively driven, but not consumed by it.”

Professionally, the petite, blonde and doe-eyed marketer is a master of the arcane technical details of supply chain software, and wields a grammatical sword with the passion of a warrior.

Personally, in 2012, Lauren was regrouping after a separation and looking for a new way to meet people and learn more about herself.

On August 20th that year, she read the obituary for famed comedienne, Phyllis Diller, who died at the age of 95, leaving the world with a lifetime’s worth of wit and humor about families, relationships and womanhood.

If you’ve never heard or read her work, here are a few Diller quotes that moms from any generation can relate to:

“Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the sidewalk before it stops snowing.”

“Housework won’t kill you, but then again, why take the chance?”

“I want my children to have all the things I couldn’t afford. Then I want to move in with them.”

Here’s what jumped off the page of that obituary to Lauren: Phyllis didn’t start doing comedy until the age of 37. Lauren was 36 at the time.

“I’d been a shy child: an introvert, by Myers-Briggs standards. In my 20’s I worked hard to overcome that. Now I test off the charts on the extrovert side; and when I meet new people, they tend to think I’m a little insane. But people have always told me I was funny and quick, so I thought it was a good time to try improv.

“ I wasn’t that familiar with improv before doing it. Stand-up comedy is really different from improv: using a script versus flying by the seat of your pants. I had comedic heroes like Ellen Degeneres, Rosie O’Donnell, Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock. But since then, I’ve listened to a ton of interviews with comedians and learned that most do either stand up or improv. It is a rare person that does both.”

Lauren signed up for Pittsburgh’s Steel City Improv Theatre introductory class.

Steel City’s website tagline is: Listen, Commit, Play. This was an appealing draw for the newly-single mom.

She wasn’t nervous about the first class since it was an introductory level and she came armed with a well-honed quick wit. But Lauren quickly learned that great improv requires equal parts verbal and physical comedy: the actors are not supported by script nor props. They need to create both an engaging story and a visual environment using only their minds and their bodies to set the stage for their audience.

One improv game created to help develop that skill set is called “In the Attic.” The first person in the group imagines something in an attic that they need to go and play with, like a doll, a wedding dress, a bottle, a gun. Each person, in turn, plays with something new plus everything the prior people have played with, doing something different with each item. For example: play a game of Russian Roulette, take shots out of the bottle you found, put on a wedding dress, then grab the gun…

This exercise helps the actors develop on two fronts.

  • First, the “yes, and…” priority of improv: when you are on stage with someone else, all you have are that person’s eyes and ideas. You always need to connect with them by really listening to build on the story ideas put forward before you. If you cut off the idea, you kill the sketch. And, ideally, if you are the first person in the sketch, you start on a positive note, which provides a lot more room to grow the content, versus a negative angle.
  • Second, if the actors —like great mimes— can’t clearly physically “show” the difference between each item they are working with, they can quickly lose the audience.

Putting the show into the right context for the audience’s mindset is a third leg to the comedic stool that Lauren experienced firsthand. The date of Lauren’s first show was the night of the tragic Sandy Hook shooting. She doesn’t remember that content for the show at all. “It was incredibly difficult to be funny or carefree that night. It was really tough.”

But overall, Lauren found improv incredibly energizing.

“You get an idea of why performers do it. It is an adrenaline shot. After working all day, you need to get your energy up to take a two hour class. But once you tap that creative energy, it’s almost harder to wind back down. It is exhilarating.”

Today, Lauren’s busy work and mom schedule doesn’t make it easy for her to do as much on stage with her improv skills, but those classes have carried over to her professional and personal life regardless.

On the personal side, she’s met a community of people from millennials to grandmas that she still sees, including one of her best friends that she met at improv class.

Professionally and personally, she’s taken the “yes, and” idea to heart in her relationships and collaborative teamwork.

“The power of validating and perpetuating an idea helps you connect better to other people. It makes you more engaged to try to understand what the other people are and to build on that idea.”

Those lucky enough to be on Lauren’s Facebook page, see the fruits of that collaboration every day, from the string of hilarious give-and-take discussion threads with her equally funny friends, to the brief and brilliant outtakes she shares from her life with her middle school son.

Here’s one recent example:

Adam and I were doing our usual bedtime routine of the NYT mini-crossword puzzle.

Me: Much debated Donald Trump word…

Adam: Bad hombres! Nasty woman! Chinese steel! Chiiiiiiiiina! DISASTER!

Me: Um, it’s “bigly.”

Adam: Good one.

Phyllis Diller has gotta be loving this.

 

Are you willing to share some insight about what makes you happy? Let me know, I’d love the opportunity to chat about it and share here…

Eat, Create and Learn Pomodoro

pomodoro

This week, my company zagged.  Unfortunately for me, I was still zigging away, deep in many interesting projects and didn’t see the course correction coming.

On the flip side, the timing was rather lovely.  I’d just arrived for a week with my husband at the lake house. Working remotely with a magnificent view across the water and of the surrounding fall foliage is a treat.  But it doesn’t compare to the freedom to follow a whim to hop on a bike, go for a run, take the convertible for a spin through the back roads, shop for pumpkins and snuggle up during a rainstorm with a book.

I have a lucky life, and it’s always pretty easy for me to find a silver lining during the occasional freak storm. But on Monday, when this little twister landed on my lakeside retreat, I was struck with a new revelation.  Rather than just indulge in my well established list of go-to experiences, perhaps I could use this time for a little zag of my own. Find some new tricks, push some new experiences, explore my “someday” list.

And so, I’ve started. I plan to use my blog to keep myself accountable to coloring outside my own lines.  Here are a few categories I’ve started with in the 55 hours since I learned that I’ve been freed of my corporate obligations:

Adventure with food. When it comes to eating, I am fearless. I haven’t met much I haven’t tried, or haven’t liked.  My decade of vegetarianism might have contributed to the giddy, reckless abandon with which I now approach food — especially pork products.

Besides eating, I am very accountable in the kitchen for food prep and dish clearing.  But I’ve long abdicated the actual preparation of food to my patient and creative husband.  In fact, when our son was about four, he told some of our friends that in addition to his daddy (who had just produced a lovely mushroom risotto for dinner), his mommy was a great cook too: “she makes cereal!”

So this week, I am taking baby steps toward self sufficiency in the kitchen. Monday, was Red Curry Shrimp (okay, it was with the help of a fabulous boxed kit from Marion’s Kitchen—but I selected and managed not to mangle the seafood and veggies). Last night: jalapeno vegetable casserole (my own making, and therefore meekly reviewed by my spouse). Tonight, I’m counting on divine inspiration for the small pumpkin awaiting its fate on my counter.

Make something tangible (and useful). Confession: my family does a collective groan every vacation when after a few days of idleness, I make my way to a craft store in search of yarn and knitting needles. It is not ever a well-planned initiative (I’ve always surmised that this is a good thing on vacation, because I plan —in detail —everything in my work life). This usually means I find a few skeins of yarn in a color or texture that makes me happy and then I just while away my vacation downtime making nothing in particular. Or at least nothing that anyone in my family would ever want to wear.

So this week, I started with a plan to learn to do more than a scarf or to sew together squares of knitting into something that causes my family to gasp “not it!” when I appear with my finished crafty confection.  Through the glory of Ravelry, Google and YouTube, I’ve learned to do a “tops down” raglan sleeved sweater designed by the talented Carol Feller. Since dinner last night, I learned to read the hieroglyphics of a knitting pattern from RS and WS to kfb, and ssk to k2together and CO. So far, my efforts look to have the potential to actually clothe a human form.

Learn, More Broadly. Ironically, for nearly 2 1/2 years I have marketed learning technology. I’ve written countless articles and blogs and tweets and produced educational videos about the power and potential of new tools to engage business people in more meaningful learning and development. So, along the way I’ve learned a lot about learning. But my own learning has been incredibly focused on technology and marketing.

So this week, I enrolled in a UC San Diego neuroscience course on Learning How to Learn. The professor, Terrence Sejnowski — just a few clicks of a mouse away —is one of the top ten experts in computational neurobiology on the planet.  And I get to learn from him and his colleague on how to train my brain to accept — and perhaps enjoy —topics that have otherwise unnerved me, using a few exercises.

The first tip: the Pomodoro technique. My brilliant professors counseled me and my virtual class that includes a high school student, a Filipino teacher, a Russian marketer and a number of call center reps — that less is more when it comes to learning new, complex topics.  They say that research shows if you want to absorb something into long term memory and build a foundation around it, limit the amount of time you focus on the new information. Ideally, no longer than 25 minutes at a time.

The decidedly low-tech way to support this process: set up your focused learning time (reading, reviewing, looking at anecdotes and visual examples) with a kitchen timer; the most common one happens to be shaped like a tomato.  Pomodoro in Italian.

So far, I’ve got an A in my first Coursera online Learning to Learn quizes.  And I’ve got an appetite from the Italian food mnemonics.

Must be time cook: little pumpkin, I am coming for you!

Looking forward to the next 55 hours.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Spinach Pie of Friendship

Today, I was reminded of the delightful reward of being present. And of being kind.

It is mid September. For as long as I’ve been a software marketer, every turn of the calendar to September is like the turn of a southern debutante at the coming out ball: backed with hours of meticulously detailed preparation, carefully considered choreography and a mind-numbing amount of work.  Each and every September I am hip- deep in my version of announcing a debutante.  Mine is one in a sea of lovely new enterprise software coding “offspring” that is swanned around the veritable cotillion of technology industry tradeshows, each vying for the perfect blend of attention and social advance.

Caught up in this swirl of work, today I boarded a plane for a quick two-city business trip, to lay the foundation for my upcoming marketing events.  While I pride myself on my ability to constantly juggle and accomplish the ever-changing pile of work to-do’s, inevitably in September I drop a whole lot of other connections.  I almost missed two today on the plane: Jimmy and Janet.

I was looking forward to this flight. Since I was flying Virgin America, I’d made a deal with myself: after two weeks of very late nights of work, if I could manage to finish editing a partner prospectus, I would treat myself to to movie on the flight. Unlike me, I packed headphones and even did advance check-in to get my seat situated.

So, when I got to my row and saw an older woman sitting in my assigned seat, leaving a middle seat between her and her husband, I was a little bummed. But I gamely wedged in between the two of them and their many overstuffed bags of travel items, and set right to finishing an email before the flight. But my seat mates had other plans.  “Thank you so much, sweet, for taking the seat,” said the man. “My wife likes to lean against the window.”

Sure, no problem. And I went back to my detailed instruction to a colleague via email.

“My name is Jimmy and this is my wife, Janet,” he beamed, flashing a broad smile through a very thick accent. “What is your name, sweet?”

The feminist in me prickled a bit at this diminutive, but I explained my name and stuck my nose back into my work.

They became quiet, so I worked away, excited when I still had time for movie. After putting in my earbuds and paying for a movie, Jimmy leaned over and asked how I got the movie to work. I explained the on-demand channel and that it required a credit card. He thanked me. Five minutes later, Janet asked where I got my earbuds.  I pulled them off again and showed her how she could order some for $3.  “Can I give you cash, sweet, for some?” No sorry, but the airline said they only took credit cards.

To my left and to my right, each member of the 50+ year couple, chose to nap quietly instead of fight the array of digital prompts and requirement on their seat back entertainment systems.

When they rallied for a bathroom break, I did too. And on my way back I asked the flight attendant if I might buy headsets for my two elderly neighbors.  She gave me two sets with a smile: “it’s on us.”

I returned with my two cheaply-manufactured offerings and my seat mates responded as if I’d delivered them a lobster dinner. “What, for me? And even some for him? Oh, you are so darling.”

I set each one up with a show.  News for him: “Any stations where I can learn something  new and good about Hillary,” he said with a wink. “Oh, I think a movie, for me,” she said.

Reabsorbed into a romantic drama, I lost track of them both until I noticed lots of rattling packages and whispered comments between the husband and wife, with lots of hand signals. Seemingly, many of the hand signals were pointed at me.

“We thank you. And now, we eat.”  Then from the bottom of their many bags, emerged a bounty : first sandwiches, then packages, and more rustling and rattling…and a bag of pistachios. And eventually, spread across their little drop-down tables, emerged a lovely Greek picnic.

spinach-pie

“Please, eat with us.  Especially this, this is for you, you must try. It is homemade, and you will love it. I made. You try.” And Janet handed me a small hand-held spinach pie, with an entreating smile.

It was at once soft and light, but dense and savory. It was a treat made with care and it tasted of kindness.

And as we broke bread together, a mile in the sky, we broke the barrier of strangers and the chokehold of work and reveled in simply being present.

A gift without measure.