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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beginning

image

It’s December 27th. The work year has been wrapped. The gifts were selected and exchanged. The well wishes shared. The food prepared and leftovers assembled and stored, beguilingly, in the fridge. One zap in the microwave to an instant replay of our favorite holiday tastes, conjuring the best of our family memories and traditions.

But the biggest indulgence of all is nothingness.  Nothing on the calendar. And a wide open week ahead, to fill– or not–as we like.

Into this wide open possibility, I started my day with a random act that was at once thrilling and terrifying. I deleted my email. Every last one of the work and personal inbox items that veritably ruled my life all year long.

My newly downloaded IOS gave me the giddy-making one button power to finally round up and annihilate the 7000+ ghosts of deadlines passed and the weedy camouflage of junk mail.   I feel liberated and ready to reset that which I’ve allowed to shackle me.

As I get older, I’m realizing I no longer want to be as cavalier about what I do with my days, my life. So today, well into the middle of my life, I contemplate the possibility of beginnings.

I like this passage on Beginnings from David Whyte’s book  Consolations: The solace, nourishment and meaning of everyday words. 

BEGINNING
Beginning well or beginning poorly, what is important is simply to begin, but the ability to make a good beginning is also an art form. Beginning well involves a clearing away of the crass, the irrelevant and the complicated to find the beautiful, often hidden lineaments of the essential and the necessary.
Beginning is difficult, and our procrastination is a fine ever-present measure of our reluctance in taking that first close-in, courageous step to reclaiming our happiness. Perhaps, because taking a new step always leads to a kind of radical internal simplification, where, suddenly, very large parts of us, parts of us we have kept gainfully employed for years, parts of us still rehearsing the old complicated story, are suddenly out of a job. There occurs in effect, a form of internal corporate downsizing, where the parts of us too afraid to participate or having nothing now to offer, are let go, with all of the accompanying death-like trauma, and where the very last fight occurs, a rear guard disbelief that this new, less complicated self, and this very simple step, is all that is needed for the new possibilities ahead.
It is always hard to believe that the courageous step is so close to us, that it is closer than we ever could imagine, that in fact, we already know what it is, and that the step is simpler, more radical than we had thought: which is why we so often prefer the story to be more elaborate, our identities clouded by fear, the horizon safely in the distance, the essay longer than it needs to be and the answer safely in the realm of impossibility.

Email deleting may not be courageous, but it’s a start.

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Skinny-Dipping: Peeling Down to the Barest of Bias

Skinny-dipping vacation; stripping away bias
Skinny-dipping vacation; stripping away bias

I overpacked for our summer vacation.

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?

Watch out midnight lake, I’m coming for you.

 

 

 

All I really need to know I learned at book club

It's what's under the covers that counts at book club
It’s what’s under the covers that counts at book club

We gather around 11 carefully considered selections each year.

Sometimes the group weighs in on the choice, as it is a heavy burden to pick correctly. Luckily, like master safe-crackers, we’ve developed a group muscle-memory to cleverly sense and sort through the limitless combinations possible.

“Is it really long? Like more than 300 pages?”
“Is that non fiction?”
“Has Bev already read it?”
“Did Donna choose it? Don’t forget about Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady
and that awful Magus book!”

Every book club has its own charter and its own character. It just so happens that our book club, created 20 years ago, on the charmingly sweet notion of a mother-daughter gathering of hearts and minds, has many characters. And while there is only one matriarchal pair left today, the group –like family– is both disparate in perspectives, experiences and passions and inextricably connected.

I haven’t been in book club all 20 years. In fact, like the names of authors and titles of books I read just weeks or months ago, I honestly can’t remember how many years it’s been since Jan invited me to join. I know it is more than 10 and less than 15. But in that time, I’ve come to realize that I get so much more than a few hours of pleasant socializing and a few minutes of book review each month, I get to learn. In fact perhaps all I really need to know I learned at book club.

Since my memory can’t be trusted to recall it all, and life is too short to think up –or read through– 20 memories, here are the top five lessons I’ve learned in book club:

  1. Eat Bon Bons

The book we read the first time I hosted book club was Housewives Eating Bon Bons. At the time, the title sounded frivolous and book club, too, felt light and breezy. There were no rules on when or how we discussed the book. Even the rules of hosting were simple: the host takes care of drinks and everyone else brings something to eat. No one is assigned salad, entrée, dessert. Just bring what you feel like. And it somehow always works out.

I was maybe six months into book club and starting to sense a pattern to our agenda-less agenda:

  1. Exchange hugs, check out how amazingly cute and well put together all these women are
  2. Check in on each other’s families, kids and grandkids
  3. Nibble and chat about the latest travels. Typically, Jan and 6-20 of her closest friends had just come back from a fabulous cruise.
  4. Chat about upcoming travels. Yup, that would be Jan and aforementioned group of friends, including many in the group: Sue, Vera, Bev, Barbara
  5. Bev looks at her watch, says she and Sue need to leave in 10 minutes for the long commute back to Marin, and we (sometimes grudgingly) turn our animated conversation to the book.

This book was perhaps the first I’d read that alternated narrators for each chapter, allowing the reader to get to know the characters more intimately. And, it explored the complexities and secrets of women’s lives beneath the light and breezy masks we sometimes wear for society.

That night we talked about friendship. About looking out for others, listening beyond the spoken words and outward appearances. We connected with, grieved for, and cheered on the conquests of the characters.

We bit into the metaphorical bon bons, and discovered the centers had more substance, and sustenance, when we explored and took the time to “taste” their relevance to our lives.

  1. Be Present to Your Past

 We are a very privileged group. While we’ve each had our struggles, heartbreaks and hardships, by and large, we’ve been graced with prosperity in love, friendship, health and life. And so many in book club are likewise privileged to have our lives’ tapestry of memories embroidered with threads from each other. Lives shared and cherished –from growing up in San Francisco in the 1950’s or raising families in Walnut Creek in the 1970’s or the 1990’s.

Much of the tremendous privilege we enjoy comes with our collective good fortune to have been born as US citizens. Yet, so much that has happened in this country over those decades has dulled or diluted in our memories. So, it is with book club that we connect or reconnect with a deeper context on our pasts.

Books like The Boys in the Boat and The Orphan Train reminded us of the tenuous connection of families –even some of our own families– under financial constraints of the 1920’s. Or the travail of US citizens imprisoned on US soil during the war—their only crime, their heritage– which we learned about in The Corner of Bitter and Sweet, and The Underside of Joy. The Help and the Secret Life of Bees schooled us in the excruciating dual existence of people living on both sides of the racial divide in the 60’s – a time when some of us were otherwise caught up in raising families in the suburbs or learning to ride bikes on wide sunny cul-de-sacs. The Tortilla Curtain likewise helped us understand the wide gulf of luck and liberty that separates our existence from that of illegal immigrants striving to survive on the other side of our gated communities. And we got a front row seat on the leaders and leadership of our country that had the greatest privilege and most onerous responsibility of all in the book about the US Presidents and their wives.

Revisiting our country’s history, transgressions, horrors and advancements helps put our own histories in deeper context.

  1. Travel the World in Someone Else’s Shoes (or Glasses)

What history class did not imprint in our minds, many book club novels have. Our choices blend the irresistible closeness of an insider’s view within historical context.

We got a look at European life from: the middle ages to the present; from the lowest castes to royalty; from artisans to courtesans; from clergy to despots; and from soldiers to students and Germans to Jews. Our guides include authors of Pillars of the Earth, The Outlanders, The Girl with the Pearl Earring, All the Light We Cannot See, The Plum Tree and The Book Thief.

And we took big leaps from the familiar with exploration of truly foreign experience and perspective from South Africa, India, China, the Middle East and North Korea through on-page witness to atrocities borne with unimaginable hope. Nothing to Envy, The Kite Runner, Little Bee, the Joy Luck Club and Cutting for Stone.

And we even did a shorthand imbibing tour of the ages with Connie’s suggestion: The History of the World in 6 Glasses. Glad that we drink wine and beer freely today – not just to survive dysentery.

Somehow, the global tragedies and triumphs in the daily news seem closer, more accessible and personal with all of this context.

  1. Be Uncomfortable

When I joined book club, there was often talk about the latest “letter” coming from the Sue Grafton mystery series. While we took on a decent range of genres in novels, we tended to stick with the familiar themes on relationships, women, and mystery.

Over the years, we not only began to explore geographies and history, we took an topics that touched a nerve, explored differences, and hit on hard experiences very close to home. These books helped us look a little more carefully—and talk a little more openly—about topics that are very visceral, helping us face being uncomfortable together.

We got both intense and warm-hearted tours inside the minds of those who think differently: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, House Rules, the Rosie Project and Turn of Mind. Thanks to Karen for helping us learn about the tragic disease, Alzheimer’s, with frightening statistics and very personal reference.

Great teacher that she is, Karen also gave us a very vivid pneumonic for the physically and mentally constrained existence of a kidnapped woman raising a child of rape in an 11 by 11 foot space: The Room. We had our entire discussion inside a taped off 11X11 space in her livingroom.

We alternately held our breath and cheered for the child and his family members bravely facing a world behind the eyes of a terribly disfigured face in Wonder.

We explored the line between driving achievement and driving success in parenting when we reviewed The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

We got our sexy on with the poorly written, but nonetheless guilty pleasure of 50 Shades of Gray. If only our own very sexy, daring and never shy Vera who we lost to lung cancer a few years  earlier, would have been here for that review. The conversation would have clearly been a lot less reserved!

And we surprised ourselves when we looked at the personal impacts of being introverted in an extroverted world with our review of the book Quiet. Who would have thought that our fearless leader, Jan, had an ounce of introversion in her sassy, generous, perfectly polished and stylish self?

  1. Be Generous, and the Next Generation will Aspire to Your Legacy

Best of all of my learning from this collection of awesomely inspiring, tremendously caring, wickedly smart, brilliantly witty, effortlessly athletic, intellectually curious, gut-bustingly funny, barrier-breakingly brave, and unfailingly supportive women is one thing: be generous. The generosity of open doors, open minds, open hearts and open arms modeled by the women of the Mother-Daughter book club has set a model that all of those lucky enough to join have learned from each and every month!

Jan, Donna, Beverly, Sue, Barbara, Joan, Karen, Connie, Vera, Barb, and Mardie, I am forever in your debt and honored by your friendship.

Happy 20th Anniversary!

Flying without the seat of your pants

What happens when the seat of your pants ceases to exist?
What happens when the seat of your pants ceases to exist?

Speed: a core ingredient of success in the technology marketing world. Here in Silicon Valley, you need to:  be a quick study; have hair-trigger responsiveness; and learn to make your point in a nanosecond to an increasingly distracted audience of peers, customers and influencers.

And if you are a consultant in this world —surviving on your instincts, context, contacts and flexibility—you sometimes need to fly by the seat of your pants to ensure you meet the speed requirements of your clients.

But what if you discover that the seat of your pants has literally ceased to exist?

Yup, it happened to me this morning.  On route to a new business meeting at 9:40 am, my biggest concern was the one thing you can’t plan for: chemistry. I’d done my homework, read market research, prepped key points and business questions and had a proposal on my iPad.

I’d also given thought to my wardrobe—which in the post business suit world is a social minefield for women— navigating the fine balance of professionalism, function vs. fashion, dowdy vs. trashy, etc.  But I felt confident in my choices:
-Sweater and shoes: fitted and fashionable styles, neutral palette, but still functional enough to walk a mile from the train without heat stroke nor injury,
-Fitted leather jacket: took the edge off the windy 55 degree morning without being an “establishment” suit blazer;
-A few select accessories:  bold designs, yet sleek and good quality silver, and
-A pair of tailored pants: age-appropriate cut and material, and comfortable enough to navigate whatever start-up situation awaited me—bean bag, floor mat or rolling ball chair.

I was on my game with eight minutes to spare if I walked quickly.

What I was totally unprepared for: a  nasty “wardrobe malfunction.”

It started innocently enough. “Excuse me, Miss, I thought you might prefer hearing this from a total stranger,” said the handsome business man walking up from behind me. “It appears that the back of your pants has…um…come undone.”

Aghast, I felt the backside of what I’d thought was a flattering pair of trousers, to find a gaping—and growing— hole at the seam. “Oh, no! I am on my way to an interview!” I managed, incredulous at my predicament.

“I’m sorry, perhaps I shouldn’t have told you,” offered the kind man, who had been following  behind a demure, age-appropriate pair of gray pants with a peek-a-boo swatch of silky bright orange panties competing for attention.

It was my very own Bridget Jones moment.

With a ten minute walk still ahead of me, I had to come up with a plan:
a. try to buy a pair of appropriate pants (requiring a 15 minute wait for the closest stores to open) and call the client to request we start the meeting half an hour late, or

b. attempt to cover my blooming backside with my (well selected, outfit-coordinated) bag, and back into the room, praying that the act of sitting down didn’t blow my cover.

Flabbergasted, I decided to keep moving toward the meeting and option B.  For peace of mind, I called my husband.  “What would you do?”  After he remarkably swallowed at least three inappropriate scenarios that jumped to his creative mind, he suggested: “Tie your jacket around your waist, march in there and let them know that you are dedicated enough to their business to overcome a wardrobe challenge.”

As I contemplated tying the bulky leather jacket, unable to help himself, he added: “Or, buy a gray Sharpie to replace the orange panties.”

Three blocks and seven minutes from the meeting, I found a new lifeline, Siri.  “Women’s clothes near here.”  Miraculously, she served up the Levi’s store, directly across the street from my meeting—and even more fantastical—open at 9 am instead of 10. I jogged the last block, well aware of the refreshing breeze, and dove, laser-focused through the door. A lovely salesperson asked if I needed help. “Oh, yes, this is a retail emergency!” I gave her my details and requirements and she yanked two pair of jeans from the hundreds folded on the wall display.

I must’ve done something kind somewhere in my past: the first pair fit. Perfectly.

Two minutes later, I strode into my meeting, on time, with a slightly bulging briefcase filled with great ideas, strategy and a pair of butt-less pants.

No one was the wiser. I got the job.

I haven’t worn Levi’s since high school.  I am now a brand champion for life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jury Duty: Inconvenience, Truth and Opportunity

Scales of Justice
Scales of Justice

Six hours after I checked in for jury duty today, I made it to the jury room along with the suburbs’ best approximation of the American melting pot.

Judge Judy (really, that is her name) opened with: “Jury Duty is both instrumental to our American system of justice and an inconvenience to nearly every juror.”

Yup.  But if you are remotely fascinated by anthropology, jury duty is a treasure trove of ideas, ideals and “who’da thunk” insights on the human species in your corner of the world.  A few observations from today:

The Generation Gap Filler.
How long would it take you, if forced to sit right next to a complete stranger of a vastly different generation, to strike up a conversation? A friendship?

In our shared nine hours, I participated in, and witnessed many pleasant conversations, but one I overhead fascinated me the most.  Likely the very youngest and the very oldest juror each shared a row in the antiseptic waiting room and began a conversation so engaging, that I admit to ditching my new book club read to eavesdrop.

The octogenarian opened the gambit with a seemingly oddball question to the college boy next to him about whether he studied Daniel Boone in school… One thing led to another and the two engaged in a verbal tennis match of observation and follow-up questioning that covered:

1. Innovation:
Serve:  college boy snapped a selfie of the two of them to exhibit the speed of social          media and innovation of the iphone.
Return: elderly man. “Well I’ll be darned. That’s us! Steve Jobs was definitely an
innovator, even if he didn’t invent the phone, the camera or the computer. But do
you know the only president to have a patent? Abraham Lincoln for an inflatable
bellows patent that was secured in 1849 for use to raise river boats  stuck on a sand
bar…

2. Fact Checking:
Serve: elderly man. “Did you know Madam Curie won two nobel prizes, one of which she shared with her husband? And I have my own connection with great thinkers: I once had a science class with Albert Einstein’s great niece–and beat her best scores!”
Return: college boy. “Wow, when was Albert Einstein alive again?”
Volley: elderly man. “He lived to his mid 60’s I think. I believe he was born March 14, 1879…”
Deuce: college boy. “Want me to check on my iphone? Oh, this says he was born March 15, 1879.”
Advantage out: ” Well, I’ll be darned. How’d I miss a day?”

This pair sought one another out during breaks and picked up their educational exploration –and blossoming friendship–right where they’d left off . It was hard not to follow them and tune in to see how many times the Grandfather might just trump Google…

The Inequity of Justice
An hour after everyone was seated and the Jury director was wrapping up orientation instruction to a room full of 200 plus prospective jurors, a woman in a friendly-colored summer pastel cotton outfit, swept into the room, towing a quiet young man.

They sat and listened for about a minute, until the director asked if there was anyone in the room she hadn’t called from her list.

“You haven’t called this young man!” Shouted the woman, clearly aggravated.  “He got a jury summons; that was clearly your error. He has Down’s Syndrome.”

The director apologized and offered to speak with the woman separately in 5 minutes after she dispatched this group to the jury room where a  judge was waiting.

There could have been a million reasons why the situation unhinged the woman. Certainly, a misdirected jury summons–yet another paperwork reminder of the injustice of her son’s human experience–set the wheels in motion.  “I WILL NOT WAIT! AND, I DO NOT APPRECIATE THAT YOU ARE BLATANTLY WASTING MY TIME,” countered the woman, who likely spent the majority of her mothering years having to become increasingly assertive in advocating for her child, against the tide of society’s inequities.

Sometimes there is no right and wrong when it comes to rights of the wronged.

Running The Selection Inquisition: Balance of Sensitivity and Humor
The jury selection process is particularly fascinating, to have a front row seat to learn the backgrounds and biases of 18 total strangers. But it is a dicey business to socially undress a dozen people in front of a roomful of strangers. It takes a special touch to be the judge and have the job of  drilling–in a two minute group interview– into the impact of a father’s alcoholism or a spouse’s violence on a person’s ability to be an impartial judge of character on a jury.

This judge used plain speaking and a little humor to set the context; and she did it well. To set context she told the “underwear story” about a man who, 25 years after his underwear was stolen from a public laundromat (and the thief never tracked),  still held the view that all police were uncommitted to do their jobs well–and solve all reported crimes. “Are you,” she’d subsequently ask each of the 18 seated juror candidates,  “the underwear guy?”

She was also quick to show her own bias: as the long day drew to an end, without a jury fully selected, she asked for final questions.  One man –still in the back up group in the gallery–stood up and offered to take the place of anyone seated so far in the jury box, claiming he was keen for the opportunity to participate in the process for the first time. Without pause, Judge Judy shot back: “Remember what I said at the beginning about inconvenience? We tend to be suspicious of anyone who volunteers to be here.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did you trap an elf today?

You know me. I’m the one in your yoga class that the instructor is addressing when he asks anyone that has a noisy mind, to kindly empty it out and just focus on their breathing.

I’ve always taken perverse pleasure in my ability to multi-task; to always have an updated to-do list top of mind; and –to my husband’s great dismay- to be poised at any hour of the day to helpfully complete a speech, a paper, a story, or even a sentence for anyone at a momentary lack for words.  I wake up caffeinated and ready to charge into each day.

But this year I have the opportunity to slow down for a bit. To take stock and think about breathing in my life a bit more fully, consciously and slowly.  I’m truly enjoying long conversations, beautiful California vistas from bike, hike and kayak vantage points, and more time with the people I love and admire.  And, I am reveling in the time to really look at the experiences that color my existence: finding little moments of kindness or beauty, or whimsy that light up a day.

Today, I strolled a path that I’ve only biked on previously.  A lovely dappled-light Spring afternoon set the dreamy backdrop for my walk, where I spied things that I’d completely missed in the past,  likely too busy thinking of my task list.

First, a full neighborhood of quaint birdhouses.  Brightly colored and creatively crafted, two dozen sweet homes were tucked amidst a copse of branches, literally off the beaten path of the nearby bike trail.

Birdhouse neighborhood.
Birdhouse neighborhood.

At my house, we have a new family of tiny wrens chirping away in a birdhouse our son built 10 years ago in grade school, propped up on our chimney base.  This is the first year I’ve stopped to notice the momma swooping in with offerings to the tiny chorus members nested inside. Fun to imagine all of the growing families ensconced in this hidden village of houses.

Next, was a flight of fancy.  A sunny collection of flowers caught my eye.  Upon closer inspection, the pink Gerbera and purple Hyacinth were part of a tableau, accompanied by a moss-lined and coin-topped treasure box and a sign that read: “Trap the Elf”.  And, just a few feet away, a tiny wooden door had been built in front of the trunk of a tree–ostensibly the Elf’s woodsy home.

Whimsical moment: Trap the Elf!
Whimsical moment: Trap the Elf!

These sweet, whimsical moments made me grateful. Grateful for the afternoon. Grateful for the families that had lovingly painted little corners of the world with their creative expressions. Grateful for the memories this sparked of my family’s magical moments. Grateful to clear my mind and breathe. Deeply.