Yesterday, my dog and I hiked the foothills of Mt. Diablo, grateful for the sunny California winter day that is incubating a vibrant blanket of fresh, green shoots. Nature is setting the stage to welcome the new year.
Lost in thought about my own new beginnings at the turn of the year, a bright glimmer caught my eye. Darting among the branches of an ancient oak tree, a few birds were likewise soaking up the sun…literally. With the full force of the mid-day sun behind them, there was a split-second where the light shone through their opaque and downy white-tipped wing feathers and rendered them translucent. In that fleeting moment, the artistry of their flight transcended from gliding and graceful to shimmeringly radiant and other-worldly.
A moment made at the intersection of simplicity and serendipity.
May your new year be filled with translucent moments that shine a light through the well-known to reveal something magical that lies just below the surface.
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
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.
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>
I realized my excess in accommodating for our annual family lake house vacation when I had to barter with my minimalist kids for some space in their duffle bags. All of my clothing choices were practical, casual and very lightweight to account for the typically oppressive midwest humidity. But the clear breadth of exercise clothes vs. any other category was telling. While I’d like to say it is due to my maniacal dedication to exercise, it was more about stuffing my bag with hope and a passive-aggressive suggestion that I could really use to be about 10 pounds worth of maniacal about exercise.
On this first day of vacation, everyone is settled into our wonderful summer sanctuary, and our clothes are all put away. But in a morning conversation over coffee with our son, I realized that I have even more baggage. Turns out that I packed a big pile of expectations, along with a healthy dose of attitudes and even bias that I’m not even conscious of on a normal work day. I think I depend on my well-worn attitudes and biases to be the filters or guide rails that help me focus, to weed out information, ideas, circumstances and experiences that might sidetrack me from the work, family and friend priorities I’ve developed to enjoy a really wonderful, interesting life.
But with my first day of downtime, it appears that –like my suitcase– I could use to cast off some of my pre-set thinking. Instead of waking up to my typical list of “to do’s” and a pile of personal goals I push off until vacation to stare down, I want to lighten up. Whether it be about the experiences that I will seek out or the way I receive new information, new music, new news, new food, new friends. I want to pull off the filters and fold up the agendas and give my thinking a little reinvigorating skinny dip.
My boss, the mother of two small kids, often says it is helpful to think with a child’s mind. She doesn’t mean to this in a demeaning way, she means to cut the clutter and block out the noise, rules and regimen that ostensibly protect our busy lives from chaos but also dull our receptivity. Instead, she advocates opening up and tuning into the potential of each experience.
I did get out and jog around the lake this morning. But along the way, I picked up on my son’s sense wonder at the real down-home friendliness of midwesterners. And sure enough, with the swelling weekend crowd around our lovely lakeside idyll, came more cars on the small, twisting roads, more walkers, runners, bikers. And I took stock today. Each and every one of them waved and said good morning as they passed. Every one. The buzz I got from my morning run was amplified by the buzz from a slipstream of friendliness.
We feel so fortunate to live in Northern California where diversity, acceptance, intellectual curiosity and tolerance are the norm. For example, I was awed a year ago at the response in my daughter’s high school, after a young man in another city chose to wear a skirt on a public bus, and was beaten. The next day, the majority of kids in her school — boys and girls alike– came to school wearing skirts in a sign of solidarity: be okay with who you are. I didn’t imagine that this type of social statement would be likely in the midwest, where I lived for four years after college and have visited every summer since with my husband, a Hoosier.
But not everyone in our lovely hometown waves and wishes one another a wonderful day either.
Kindness, openness and goodness come in many forms. And they are geographically neutral.
My daughter, who is logging hours toward earning her driver’s license this summer, got her “Hoosier on” by tuning into a country music station in her late Grandpa’s truck before navigating short trips into town for groceries. The stories that emerged from the dashboard crossed from funny honky tonk pick ups (“Rain is a good thing, because rain makes corn and corn makes whisky and whisky makes my baby a little bit frisky”) to soulful ballads. But they were stories that hooked us like the perch on fishing lines off the pier. Later, as we dipped our feet in the rainstorm-swelled lake, she turned up her iPhone and we happily sang along to a now familiar Keith Urban song…”and I learned everything I needed to know from John Cougar, John Deere and John 3:16.” Simple songs, simple shared pleasures. Nice change from the dashboard duel at home between “old people music” and her occasional interest in a genre that truly makes me feel ancient: “screamo.”
As the Indiana weather turns on a dime from sunny, hot and humid to boiling black skies dumping more rain in a hour than we’ve had in California in a month, I feel both sated and energized by the change in the weather. And the change in the pace. And the tiniest little changes in my own receptivity to “just be.”
Okay, I am a little sheepishly happy that I finished 4 loads of laundry and organized our family’s belongs between the clouds, my run, a few games of dominoes on the deck and my nearly-finished blog post… But you can’t undress bad habits all at once, right?
Beyond my profession as a marketer, I draw on skills for persuasion daily in my other roles: as a a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sibling, a neighbor, a friend, a volunteer and a pet owner.
An incident yesterday got me thinking about the ingredients of effective persuasion. When you mix all of the art and science tricks in your repertoire to no avail, how far are you willing to reach to help cajole someone to change their thinking or take a different course of action?
Case in point: persuading a 14 pound dog to run around a 3 mile lake.
No brainer, right? Wrong.
Understandable challenge if the dog is old, overweight, arthritic or ill. Or maybe just lazy or unwilling to brave an unseasonably cold, rainy or hot day. But, what if there is no reasonable reason?
In marketing speak, my dog was already a satisfied “customer” that I was sure would be an easy “renewal”. She already loved our daily runs in every conceivable venue from mountain trails to beaches to neighborhood sidewalks and even across the noisy new span of the Oakland Bridge with a zillion lanes of traffic. And her Net Promoter Score (customer satisfaction) was off the charts: she cajoled every other dog–and even tried with a few cows, deer and turkey–to come and run with us. So I thought I was good judge of her overall customer experience, level of engagement and willingness to respond favorably to an adjacent offer.
As we hopped out of the car at the lovely local reservoir on a stunning, sunny afternoon (in a small window of time between kid sports), I was comfortable that I was backed up with my time-tested communication tools to see me through a successful experience:
1. A leash and one word: “run?” This does the trick 99.99 % of the time and is equally, efficiently effective for trips to the beach, jogs in the neighborhood, and adventures across miles of open space trail running.
2. Occasionally, there is a need to pull out the big guns: “treat?” Which brings the girl back, boundingly, across hillsides, from muddy ponds, and even tantalizing explorations of a hillside brimming with squirrel holes.
And then the inexplicable happened. My ever-ready running friend and ally stopped. Cold. She was suddenly, maniacally consumed with a grass-born OCD. Each and every blade of grass along the trail now needed her personal triage: to be sniffed then methodically sorted into a to-be-eaten or to-be-peed-on classification. Every single blade.
Amused, I watched carefully, determined to understand her motivations and needs. About 5 minutes and 89 blades of grass into this, I engaged her with a little “campaign prompt” about how much better her experience might be with a change of venue.
She gave me the doggie version of an email unsubscribe. Not interested.
Then I tried proving the clear value of my customer service –and without her asking– I picked her up and carried her for a while, free of charge. When I put her back down to let her test the new experience for herself, she balked.
GE’s CMO, Beth Comstock recently said in a keynote address to a roomful of marketers, that the ultimate skill of marketing is “to fly well in the fog.” And even though everyone else out on this glorious day at the reservoir was indulging in 75 degrees and a bright sunny sky, I realized I’d run a-ground (or a-grass) in the fog.
Cajoling (“run?”) and bribery (“treat?”) were not working. Then, I tried the toddler- tested skill: distraction (“see the squirrel?”). Finally, the signal in the noise! She temporarily dropped a blade of grass from her mouth and looked up for a furry plaything… Buoyed by that momentum, I tried again: “Oh! Let’s go find that squirrel… I see it over there, let’s chase it!” She jogged 10 steps, then sniffed out my totally over-hyped promise. And went back to her fascinating weedy triage.
Flabbergasted, and with the carpool clock ticking in my ears, I made one more desperate attempt. A bit of a high-wire act for me to attempt on a deadline and in front of dozens of happy, sun-drenched exercisers. But desperate times…
A little shyly, I tried the first one in a suitably high pitched tone: “blah-dahl, lah-dahl, lah!” My dog stopped her 312th pee and looked up, warily. So, empowered, I let it rip, full-throated with no pride left to protect and a deadline to meet: “BLAH-DAHL, LAH-DAHL, LAH!” She was transfixed, alert, attentive to my every movement–we were on the hunt! She and I could both see and smell them in our imaginations–a gaggle of ungainly, opinionated turkeys. I’d reached her actionable core, and it was time to make my move to persuade the ultimate action–a full out run around the 2.99 remaining miles of this lake loop.
And so there I was, the fearless, feckless marketer, delighted to have hit on the magic elixir that persuaded my pint-sized canine to change course and try a new action. Loudly doing my best turkey imitation: over and over and over, past every single blade of grass.
I guess I plan more in weather, since we don’t have that much of it.
And I remembered the leash, a water bowl and bottle of water.
Simple things that flit away from my mind on yet another sunny, Northern California day, when I get the dog in the car and my daughter to her Sunday volunteer class across town– but forget the rest.
With two hours to ourselves and miles of canal side paved trails, the dog and I are giddy at breaking free after two days of rain-induced cabin fever.
It’s not the same as our beloved leash- free runs on the miles of open space near home, but it will work.
We rush for no other reason than to open up our dormant limbs, and feel the exhilaration of cool air filling our lungs.
The much needed soft February rains that I’ve used as excuse for a few lazy days of reading by the fireplace or indulging in a Saturday movie with the family, may be a long way from answering a certain summer drought, but they nonetheless have been busy, secreting away a labyrinth of small treasures:
– the very first tentative but joyful cherry blossoms pushing their bright faces
out from an outstretched limb;
– the small waterfalls emerging in the swishing creek, stirring the ducks from
their submerged underwater explorations for a mid morning snack;
– the light tiptoeing of rain drops on the canal’s surface, like an invisible
dancer leaving only intermittent ripples where her satin wrapped tiny toes glanced
– a small sparrow, resting lightly on a bench under the protective spread of a
pine tree, like an old woman enjoying the momentary timelessness of the verdant,
quiet space, while waiting for her bus;
– the rebellious escape of a mass of purple flower-covered vines rushing through
an unnoticed space in a backyard fence;
– a hopscotch path of puddles, bidding my pup to break her running gait and
gleefully pounce into their outstretched watery arms, one to the next, to the
next, and the one after that.
We missed a turn on our run, adding an extra half mile, because we were so caught up in this tea party of perfectly prepared little joys.
Because I’d planned for the rain, when we returned to the car, soggy and tired, we shared the towel and the water, my dog and I.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the promise of a fresh start with the turn of a page on the calendar. In fact, every December, without fail, I imagine some magical chasm will appear in the days between Christmas and New Year’s that will literally slow down time so that we can truly stop to appreciate the end of one year and adjust ourselves appropriately for the next.
Even though that leisurely gap never happens, it is not the cause of my avoidance of resolutions. I guess it seems that most resolutions seem a kind of punishment. First acknowledge where you really screwed up — your rampant snacking, your couch surfing, your inability to read anything more intellectual than People magazine. Then vow to change your dreadful ways…in a very public proclamation. Finally, manage to retain your sense of pride when you inevitably bore of this resolution sometime before Ground Hog’s Day … And duly recognize you need to sign up to atone for this failing again in 11 months.
But, this year is different. This year I am interested in a little personal challenge, not a resolution. As we embark on 2014, I am challenging myself to loosen up, to take more chances, to peek around the corners of my well established comfort zone parameters. This year, I want to remove the middle ground– or the gray area– from my options in life. I am going to try to live without evoking the option of “maybe.” Further, if I need to make a decision and it’s not a clear, unequivocal “no”, then I am challenging my self to err on the side of “yes.”
I took this concept for a test drive on Christmas Eve. My very social, very generous neighbors who have as hard a time saying no as I have in saying yes, invited a large contingent of people over for dinner. Theres’ is the type of company everyone loves…and therefore people linger on for hours after dinner is over. But this year, they had a brilliant crowd-clearing idea: after dinner, everyone was encouraged to join in for a “polar plunge”– a jump into the unheated pool in their backyard. This would normally be a no-brainier for me: thank them for the novel idea, say my goodbyes and scram before the first bare feet made for the backyard. Instead I gamely arrived with suit and towel to dinner…and a bemused husband and kids who never imagined even a pinky toe of mine would connect with the 48 degree water that night. If the unseasonably cold California weather wasn’t enough, surely the idea of baring my winter white, dry-skinned middle aged limbs in public should have done the trick. But I was resolved to stick to my ill-conceived “no maybe” plan. I did it! And even though I needed to be fished out of the pool in my pink Spanx suit when the shocking cold slowed my reflexes, I was thrilled to have done it!
A week later, I’ve been mountain biking twice, rode a 26 mile loop on an unknown trail and even managed not to jump out of a stalled car in the city today when my husband felt that gunning the gas pedal into oncoming traffic would be the best way to unclog the engine…