New Year’s Revolution

1 Jan

Skating at Rockefeller CenterEach January, I review and renew my list of self-improvement practices. I recommit to exercising my body and vocal cords, so I can be comfortable on stage as a singer – obviously these habits provide beneficial side effects every day, not just in performance situations. “Be in the moment” has been my mantra for years – as a younger person, my tendency was to always worry “what happens next?”. Not that I don’t plan ahead, I certainly do, but I also make an effort to find a way to enjoy where I am now, right this moment. Even if I’m in the car, in traffic, and I need a rest stop soon. Here’s my little remedy for this situation: crank the volume on your iPod or radio and sing at the top of your lungs until the next rest area appears on the horizon. You’re welcome!

The next practice I’ll renew and continue is daily gratitude, requiring increased mindfulness on my part. It doesn’t always occur to me to feel grateful for the small pleasures in life, like a cup of french roast coffee in my own kitchen, a full refrigerator, or that parking space waiting just for me in front of the dentist’s office. I’m often wearing blinders against these small gifts, taking them for granted, when I should be giving thanks to the universe for allowing me these simple delights. Gratitude practice reveals more to reasons to feel grateful – I see that when I remember to look.

Each year I vow to challenge myself: learn a new computer skill, take on an unfamiliar duty within my  business, add a new yoga stretch to my morning routine, smile at strangers or be more loving to my family, friends, colleagues. I like having the New Year as a reminder to press on, to do and be a better person. I haven’t fleshed out what the 2012 challenges will look like, but getting back into the gym is one routine I’ll restart this week.

For the past six or so years, author, speaker, media and marketing whiz Chris Brogan has published his January 1 edition of “My Three Words“, an alternative to resolutions where he states his focus for the coming year in three words, which for 2012 are: Temple. Untangle. Practice. Chris challenges his readers to respond with their own three and focus on defining goals and experiences related to the chosen words. My three words for 2012 match the Fisher-Price toy company’s tagline: play – laugh – grow.

What’s your plan?

The Scent of Memories

18 Nov
Happy Little Girl Swinging

Happy Little Girl

“Memories, imagination, old sentiments, and associations are more readily reached through the sense of smell than through any other channel.” ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

An article in the Boston Sunday Globe discussed the theory that “smells are very much tied to memories, yet scents are overlooked as we record history.” I don’t recall much detail of the history taught to me in school, but I’m sure if you’ve ever read an account of the Pilgrims crossing the ocean in the Mayflower, you’ll understand why certain smells would forever trigger unhappy memories in the minds of those hardy souls who finally landed in America. No doubt also that the smells of other hardships, like war, would stay with the unfortunate participants and witnesses for a very long time.

Certainly my fondest childhood memories, my personal history, are tied to scent in one way or another. Even now I love the smell of new books and crayons, which were the best (sometimes the only) reason to anticipate that first week back at school after summer vacation. We always had an above-ground swimming pool in our backyard, so the chlorine wafting out of the pool room at the gym reminds me of home. Mom was and is a great cook, so the aromas of foods we regularly enjoyed in my childhood, like spaghetti and meatballs or broiled steak and french fries, still evoke fond memories. As she encouraged all five of us in the ways of cleanliness by doling out chores regularly and urging our participation in housework on a weekly basis, we became familiar with the pleasant scents of Lemon Pledge (used sparingly) for dusting, Niagara Spray Starch for ironing, Windex for sparkling, streak-free windows.

As a kid, I assumed everyone lived exactly as we did, eating pork chops or American chop suey for dinner, washing dishes with Ivory liquid, cleaning bathrooms with lemon-scented ammonia, using Cascade powder for the dishwasher and All laundry detergent in the washing machine. Walking into another family’s home  – a rarity in the days when we’d play outside all day until the streetlights came on – I recall feeling physically assaulted by the weird new smells of these unfamiliar homes. Unrecognizable food smells, cleaning products (or lack thereof), cigar or cigarette smoke (this was the old days, when people smoked in their homes), pets – all were a reminder that everyone is not the same, they don’t all live the way we do, care about the same things, have the same concerns and goals. And they probably thought our house smelled weird, too.

To this day, the smell of Lemon Pledge reminds me of home, as do the scents of Murphy’s Oil soap, Windex, spaghetti and meatballs, chocolate chip cookies, apple crisp and Christmas trees. Diesel bus fumes bring me back to the excitement of summer drum corps travel and competitions. All comforting reminders of my happy childhood, my personal history.

What scents bring back good memories for you?

A Great Start

26 Oct

Pee Wee's Big AdventurePerhaps you’ve been here? Business travel took us a two-hour plane ride from home. Comfortable in the knowledge that our reserved rental car would be ready for the two-hour drive to our first meeting, we stepped up to the Hertz service desk: “Good morning, we have a reservation.” The pleasant customer service person replied “I’m sorry, we don’t have any cars.” I looked at him in disbelief, “I’m sorry, what did you say?” “Unfortunately, we have no cars.” I looked around the waiting room, suddenly noticing there was someone sitting in every available chair in the building – obviously all waiting for rental cars. I began to feel I was in a Seinfeld episode without the laugh track.

“We have a meeting that’s a two-hour drive away, what are our options?” After explaining that there had been a race car event that weekend, a huge trade show beginning that day, as well as a big charitable event in the same locale, thus, the shortage of rental vehicles, the Hertz rep thought quietly for a moment. Meanwhile my travel companion, business partner, husband, brains-of-the-operation, expressed dismay that we could have flown all the way from Boston only to miss our first appointment of the week. Not a good start.

Kenneth, the nice Hertz rep picked up the phone, made a three-minute phone call to Renita at Dollar Rental, then nodded his head, “You have a car, let’s get you a lift to Dollar and you’ll be all set.” We didn’t have to push him, Kenneth wanted to help us take care of business, as did Renita at Dollar, who made sure our GPS was in good working order before sending us on our way.

It could have been a disappointing start to our travels, but I think most people given the opportunity would do whatever is in their power to help in this situation. It took a simple phone call to give these travelers a great start. By the way, I emailed Hertz expressing our appreciation of Kenneth and his solution to the challenge.

Here’s what happened to Jerry and that other Elaine:

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish

7 Oct

Apples“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”

Steve Jobs inspired his audience at Stanford University’s commencement in 2005, relating three important stories of his life, including his adoption as an infant, the creative freedom he felt upon being fired from the company he started in his parents garage, and the way he understands death to be “life’s change agent”.

Jobs himself has been a serial agent of change and innovation with his vision of how life should be lived. In his world, change was not to be feared, but embraced.

I think this quote filters his 15 minute address to the graduating students down to its essence. “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life…..Stay hungry; stay foolish.”

Be sure to watch Jobs’ 2005 commencement address at Stanford – brilliant:

Autumn is Lovely But….

22 Sep

It happens every year. Summer comes to a close, the evening air is cooler, vacation time is over, the neighbor children appear at the bus stop at 8:15 a.m. each weekday. It makes me sad. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for each breath I take and love my life most days, but I mourn the passing of Summer and have done so for 50 years. Actually, I can trace this feeling back to when I started 2nd grade. I love the heat and the humidity and the sand in my shoes.

They say if you love something, set it free. I’ll miss you, Summer. Until next year…Sandy Footprints

That Nice Kirby Sales Rep

8 Sep
Kirby Sales Rep

Kirby Sales Rep at Work

We had a Saturday afternoon free. Relatively free, anyway – just errands to be done and tying up loose ends before heading out to dinner and a show with friends. During a cold call from the Kirby Vacuum cleaner people that morning, we decided to let them come by and show us the vacuum/carpet shampooer in exchange for a free rug cleaning, which we had been putting off for ages. What we didn’t plan on was that the Kirby sales rep would be such a great guy.

Once a musician, some changes in his life required him to work a 9 to 5 job so he could take care of his young son, so he signed on with the local Kirby distributor and learned about the Kirby system ten years ago. We had done some research – if you Google “Kirby Vacuum”, you’ll find many stories of people being bullied by unsavory sales people into making purchases they neither wanted nor could afford. Our Kirby rep told us at the beginning, “I’m here to show you how it works – you’ll either buy it or you won’t”. Fair enough. We wanted our carpet cleaned. And we felt strong enough to say “no” to this guy at the end of the process.

He was neither a bully nor unsavory. What he was, was knowledgeable, pleasant, quick, and efficient. Being in sales ourselves, we appreciate that in a salesperson. He was personable without being too personal.

We listened to his pitch, asked questions, and let him clean our carpet. What we didn’t do was say “no”. The Kirby Sentria system vacuums rugs, floors, furniture, and delicate items like lamp shades. It also shampoos carpets (without soaking them or using harsh chemicals) and has brushes and crevice tools to make vacuuming air conditioning grates, ceiling fans, that narrow space on either side of the fridge or car seat, and especially carpeted stairs, easy and quick. There are more accessories for floor buffing or polishing, sanding and other tasks, but we opted out on those. I’ve since used many of the attachments and functions of the Kirby Sentria we now own, and it truly is one of the best and most efficient household appliance investments we’ve made in our 28 years of home maintenance.

This post was intended less as an endorsement of the Kirby product itself, and more an endorsement of this terrific sales professional, who represents his company, his product, and himself, with enthusiasm and class. Thank you, Tom, for showing us how it’s done.

Earn the Right to Ask

5 Sep
The Colosseum

The Colosseum in Sunshine

In relationships, whether business or personal, you must earn the right to ask the difficult questions or make the requests that seem impossible to fulfill.

It’s all about trust and it requires time and effort. Totally worth it, though, don’t you think?

Photo by Matt Spitz

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