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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

School Stole Our Summer

It's July 31st and I just made the last batch of chocolate chip pancakes for my girl.  Her new backpack and school supplies are spread across the kitchen table and she's plotting the right outfit for tomorrow's first day of school. August 1st, first day of school.

Yes, we have adopted the "balanced calendar" which is a really nice spin on the reality which is -  year   round   school. 

Here's how it works:

June and July off for summer
October - two weeks off
December - two weeks off 
April - two weeks off

Apparently the schools think if they have more time with our kids more consistently they will retain what they have learned. 

Let's be clear.  The only reason this matters to them is because they are trying to up the test scores.  Which I don't give a rats behind about.

Summer is meant to be long and lazy and relaxing.  A detox from stress and deadlines and papers and early mornings and fights about homework and lunch money and all of the things that make our life just a little bit harder. 

Summer is meant for sleeping in, hanging out at the lake, eating pancakes at 10am or 11 or noon.  Summer is for families to relax and enjoy each other without the demands of school and all that school brings.

Even though I work a full time year round job, I have also latched on to the summer time vibe. My shoulders drop two inches to where they are supposed to be.  I knock off a little early on Friday to hang with my kids, we hang around outside until 10pm and then rush in to have a PB&J and call it dinner.  Life is better in the summer.  Laundry doesn't really need to stay caught up because no one cares about the perfect outfit or that it's gym day.  Groceries largely come from the farmers market and the ice cream stand with little to no regard for a schedule. For the kids, bed time is whatever time your eyes finally can't stay open and the alarm is when you finally have to pee so bad you have to get up.  Our kids need that easy breezy summer time vibe.

And because our kids have their own "island time" we parents don't stress about bed times and dinner times and getting to school on time and paperwork to sign and skinny jeans to buy.  So we relax too.  And when we relax, we see how beautiful our kids are with their summery skin and perfect dive and we see that lightening bugs are one of God's most amazingly magical creatures and we too become more aware of the love and the gifts and the joy.

With just two months of summer we had to hurry through it and check off the camps and the vacation.  Not enough time for the lazy beautiful joys of summer.  Not enough pool time, not enough fireflies, not enough pancakes at 10am.

So when October comes around and my kids have two weeks off, I might take a week or a long weekend to travel but then I'll be hurrying off to work and they'll be laying on the couch watching tv and the fireflies will be gone and the pool will be closed and the frantic will barely subside.

Our kids grow up quickly enough. Give me more time to relax and enjoy them. I'll sacrifice their algebra grade for that any day.

Two weeks isn't three months.  It's a blink. The long and lazy days of summer, school has taken them away.

A system that isn't serving any of us very well, has now also taken our summer. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Prayers- Start Anywhere...

  I've been in a couple of conversations about prayers this week. They got me thinking about my prayer journey. I'm no Biblical Scholar, but I am in constant conversation with The Big Guy. Here's how this goes down with me. 

1. Believing. This one is pretty loose in it's interpretation. You don't have to wear your Jesus Freak t-shirt or know all the words to The Lord's Prayer to start with this one. This is important because some Christians can be pretty intimidating. That threw me for awhile. Believing can start anywhere and go everywhere. Sometimes it starts as a child with an invitation to Bible School from a friend, or in a hospital room in desperation. Or just that lost feeling life throws you when you know you need a better compass than the one you can buy at REI. There are no rules about when or where the believing starts. Sometimes it comes in all crackly like a radio signal too far in the distance and gradually gets clearer as you get closer. Sometimes you turn back and lose the signal all together for awhile but you can always go back and pick it up again. 

2. Just talk to Him. No rules, no pretense, no filter. The one conversation you can have like that. Geez, use it. You can have this conversation anywhere, anytime. Silently, out loud. Really loud. Going down the freeway, putting the laundry away, in the weekly staff meeting. A n y w h e r e. He's your +1, He goes everywhere with you. To give you some examples, here are some of my conversations, otherwise known as prayers.

* Seriously? This is what we're doing today? And what do you want me to do with this?
* Thank You for this ( fill in the blank). Could be a new client, found my sunglasses, best Sea Bass I've ever tasted, kids not fighting during dinner, husband home safely from a trip, kids and husband leaving me alone for the evening for some quiet time, paying the mortgage when I didn't know how or where it would come from, finding my keys before I'm late for a meeting, it's your blank, just fill it in.

 Now, this is the advanced version that took me some time to get to but if you can, get there quicker. Thank Him for the challenges too. I know, I know. It's a tough one but it's a game changer. I've finally embraced that my biggest transformation comes from the tough stuff, not always the good stuff. *sigh*  So, then you start to Thank Him for the challenges too, because you know He's preparing you, building you up, strengthening you. 

3. Now, hand it all over. Yep, release. He's not your genie in a bottle ready to make all your dreams come true. He's your Father, teaching you, rewarding you, watching over you. I'm a parent and sometimes I've been known to let my kids have ice cream for dinner, but I don't give them everything they want, because that's not what is good for them. It's not what they need. Same goes for you and your prayers. I still tell Him what I want,  but I usually follow it up with, "but You already know that". What he really wants to know is if you trust Him. I have so many examples of things in my life that were bigger than I knew to dream or ask for. His plan is always better. The road to get there might not be a familiar path. Trust Him. So when you feel ready, plant that seed of trust and faith. Water it. Feed it. Give it space to feel the sun and grow. You might try a prayer like this......

Dear Lord, wow, this life is a little whacky these days. I'm kinda tired of driving. I'm going to ask you to take over. I'm going to try really hard not to hand You my map for this trip but to trust You'll get us where You want us to go. I'll try not to backseat drive or complain about the snacks in your cooler. Maybe I'll just kick off my shoes, put my feet up on the dash, like I did when I was a kid and enjoy the ride. 

This works really well with your worries, He's really clear in His Book that He's not a fan of worrying. So I actually visualize handing it over. I wish I was a cartoonist because they'd make some good ones. Me crying like a toddler, clinging to my worry and Him standing next to me tapping His foot with His Hand out. The caption would read, "That's enough, young lady, hand it over."

Or the one where I run in the room breathless from carrying this heavy burden and I burst into His room and say, "Here, take it, I just can't carry it anymore!"

Or the one I've been doing more often, where the worry comes in like a game of hot potato and I immediately pass it over to Him and He pats me on the shoulder like I've done a really good job. 

Prayer used to intimidate me, like something I needed to get just right. Yes, I think you can improve upon your praying when you learn more and understand more but there are no rules on how to start. My path was to start anywhere, then to take Him everywhere, and then let Him take the lead.  

4. Ask others to pray for you and with you. He digs that. 

Write me about your path, I'd love to hear it. Teach me something that's been helpful to you. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Early Riser Gift

We come to the beach, packed with sunscreen and family in tow. Two days, 14 hours of windshield time.  We trudge mile by mile.

Finally, we build castles in the sand, eat shrimp by the pound and let the surf pound at our bodies and feet.

And each morning, long before another eye has fluttered to life, I rise without alarm and tiptoe to my beach.

Yes, it's the same sand and the same salty sea, yet it brings a whole new purpose in these first minutes of daylight. This is the gift to the early riser. This sea reminds us and promises us of a power greater than ourselves. It washes over us, puts us in our place. It's a small crowd, a gathering really. Each honoring our beach and holding tight the reasons we come; the reasons we seek and gladly accept the early invitation.

The fisherman, the gatherer of shells, the pondered and the runner. We join together in solitude and quiet reverence to this sea and this beach. Soon the toddlers, kites and coolers will trickle in and invade. We won't put up a fight as an invasion to our space. We'll shift, into the rest of the day of vacation celebration, secretly waiting in anticipation for tomorrow's quiet start. Waiting to again unwrap our precious gift.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

New Machine Makes Time!

No, not really but wouldn't that be newsworthy.

 I saw a sign the other day that made me laugh and then made me a little sad.  The sign was asking people to come in and donate blood, an important request for sure.  The sign said, "Please make time to come in and donate".  Now, you can make a lot of things, you can make a cake, you can make a sign, you can make a rug, you can make a mess.  Lots of things can be made, except time. 

You can't sneak into the kitchen late at night and cook up some time like a late night snack.  You can't buy special equipment that will manufacture time.  It is one of the few things in our life that is absolutely finite. Fixed. Complete. It is what it is.  Time: 24 hours available each day, use it or lose it.  The same amount is available today as was available on the wagon trail or the roaring twenties, the colorful 80's or last week.

I think it's a pretty safe bet to say no matter how far advanced we become in technology or neuroscience, we will not create the ability to make more time.

So, now what?

If we can't make more time, now we have to figure out how to use what we have.  Ugh.  That's harder. That requires the awareness that we aren't getting more and even more important and difficult, is becoming aware of how we spend the 24 that we have.

And, I don't know how many more of those sets of 24 we're each going to get.  So maybe you really just have one, or two, or ten.  Or hopefully thousands. 

If I was the sign maker, I might have created this:

Please choose one of your 24 hours today to come and donate blood. 
 Your one hour might allow someone else to get lots more hours.

And if you have, in fact, created a means to make more time, call me, this is big news. I'd like to report it first. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Play the Part You Are Given - and play it really well

Today is Dude's, my 15 year old son, last day of School of Rock practice before he plays his gig tonight.  He's a true artist.  Loves to get up on stage and jam, no fear, just joy.  The set this year is 90's so there aren't a lot of screaming guitar solos like last year's 80's set. 

There is, however, one amazing minute long epic guitar solo.  And he isn't playing it.

I think because he's been playing longer than some of the kids and he is the oldest one there at a very manly and mature 15, he made some assumptions.  Like, "Surely I'll get the great parts".   And his favorite Smashing Pumpkins song was cut from the playlist. This happens sometimes.  You've got a week to put a group of kids together and play a set of 6-8 songs and sometimes you just have to let one or two go to focus on the rest. So the combination of these two realities had him a little bummed out.

His disappointment started to escalate into, "how dare they" this morning.  I saw his mood shift and he was no longer the joyful artist.  He mentioned going to the director and asking to have part of the solo.  I simply said, "let's talk about it in the car."  He bristled for the lecture.  I instead kept it light and said this.

Dude, do you know what good sportsmanship is?  Of course he did.  Well, this is your sport.  And ultimately, you are old enough to decide how you will handle this today but I'm just asking you to look at all sides.  I'm a huge fan of standing up for what you want and being brave, however, I'm also a huge fan of the lesser known traits of humility and gratitude.

I reminded him that the Lord wants us to give our very best with the part we are given, digging ditches or rocking a screaming guitar solo. Maybe this is a different lesson than bravery but he'd need to decide.  I am really blessed that my son is willing to listen and discuss things like this.  We had a bit of banter.  He's a pretty good negotiator, he tried the, "but you paid big money for this camp" approach.  He tried to suck me in and get me worked up that my money should  buy him a guitar solo.  No go, Dude, that's not my game.

After a few minutes he started to tell me about some of the other songs and how much fun they were to play.  His joy returned.  I smiled and said, "it's a lot more fun to focus on the good stuff isn't it?"  He gave me the eye roll and said, "I know I know, I'm sorry I got worked up about it." 

Life has a lot of disappointments, far more than those times you shine in the spotlight.  Best to prepare them to handle those with grace and humility.  And most of our life is playing a sound rhythm guitar, keeping everything together, on beat, in sync.  Best to prepare them well for that too.

And once he focused back on what he loved about the parts he does have, his joy returned.  Gratitude is amazing and transformational.  Find friends and family that focus you back on what you do have. So many people want to focus on what they don't have or when they were "wronged" or what sucks and well, that really sucks.  Those relationships are exhausting.  And you have complete control over your ability to practice gratitude.  Try it, you'll be surprised how the joy returns.

Sunday, July 7, 2013


The last guest has gone home and the sun is setting on another holiday weekend here at The Hession House. I'm soaking up those last tender moments of daylight before the mosquitos come back to lay claim. Surrounded by fish jumping, birds chirping, bees buzzing and the pant of a stinky dog at my feet.  I'm selfishly lapping up every last ounce of joy and gratitude this weekend has to give.

The dishes are done and the last of the life jackets and fishing tackle put away.  Tired, happy, full, and satisfied. The last 5 years we have put our heart and soul and every paycheck into creating a home for us, for our family, for our friends, and for friends of friends. As much as I love my solitude, this lake life is a life better when shared. 

I think of the grueling hours clearing thistles and brush and poison ivy and weeds with sweat dripping from our brow. Back then I don't think we knew to dream this big. We just pushed on each year with a new excitement and new ideas for how to love and live and share this place. And when hard times came and yes they did come, we held onto this place and a dream that just kept growing through God's grace.

I can tell you every flea market and roadside find that has been brought home, scraped, painted and placed lovingly. I can point to the plants that were given to us by guests and family when we didn't have anything but the beautiful bloom of a thistle to call a garden.

Thank you Lord for letting us rent this place from you.  We plan to leave it better than we found it with enough memories, joy and stories to pass long after we've gone. For now we laugh, we fish, we float, we toast marshmallows and wine, and we gather.  We gather together to enjoy each other in our beautifully feathered nest. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Look, Dreams Really Do Come True

I was surfing through some Vintage Random Thoughts circa 2010 and I came across this little gem that totally and completely validates my previous post

Other than the fact that I gave up most things wheat including those damn Cheez Its that I still miss, I've had a few days that are pretty special like this one.  Proving that dreams really do come true.

I Have a Dream -

 This week has been dark and cloudy with a chance of temper tantrum and tears. Not sure if it's the full moon or my overly full schedule but geez.
Monday was the first day of school for the girl so that alone requires days of planning and prep. I took her to school to get my healthy dose of "stupid practices that waste money" early because I'd missed it all summer.

On Tuesday morning I found the girl's favorite cat dead on the porch just as I was getting her ready for school. I hid that from her until she got home from school. Then we spent the evening painting tombstone rocks.

On Wednesday, Mother Hubbard's cupboard was so bare the girl was seen eating an ice cream cone with no ice cream for an after school snack. She also told me at 6:29 that the parent night at school was starting in one minute. I poured a glass of wine and toasted to those great parents that probably read the flyer on Monday and were neatly perched in their metal folding chairs.

At 8pm the girl stubbed her toe so bad while getting into the shower, she'll likely lose that toe nail. Of course when I told her that, she began sobbing wrapped in a towel in the living room which sent her into an hysterical fit of nakedness on the family room floor.  I did what every good mother does, I started to cry too and told her to just get in the damned shower and we'd deal with it later.

Thursday morning was a frantic dash to get haircuts for Dude and I. Of course, I was on a conference call until 10 minutes past the time we were supposed to leave. We jump in the car and half way there I run down the list of what I told Dude to do before we left. Brush teeth, eat breakfast, take your medicine. He was 0 for 3. So I took the green toothed kid talking 400 mph to get his mullet cut. At least he was wearing pants and shoes.

The girl comes home from school today and says, "The teacher sent home about 40 pages for you to fill out since you missed the meeting." Nice. (Insert what I'm thinking here ^&*^##)

Here it is Thursday night so I decided to live out of my imagination instead of my reality.  That's the kind of stuff I get paid to teach, by the way.

In my imagination, I have a dream....

I dream of a day that I wake up alone, in a house with clean sheets, where outside it is 65 degrees with low humidity. I pull on my running shoes and a cute little running outfit and head out to meet the girls for a nice long run.

I celebrate my running greatness with a frothy little number from 'fourbucks' where I head out with my trendy green logo wrapped in cardboard. I go in search of a little Asian girl that has a perfect chair that vibrates my cares away while I read the latest about JLo and Heidi Montag's surgical woes and hope not to get gang green from my bargain pedicure.

I stop at the grocery and pick up all the necessities for the night, Cheez Its, wine, and anything and everything else that catches my eye and can be wrapped in bread or dipped in sauce.

I arrive at my Pet Hair Palace to find that the Pet Hair Fairy has come and swept away all the Pet Hair to knit sweaters for the homeless.

I take a long bubble bath with wine and more mags and then migrate to the couch for dining and entertainment. I crack open the Cheez Its and flip on the tube to watch David Bromsted's biceps color Miami, and to realize that Sarah actually is coming to my House to do the guest bath downstairs. (All HGTV references BTW)

With the wine half gone, I turn the channel to find that I miraculously have been blessed by the satellite gods to have every channel known to surfing. I even have those channels with Project Runway and Real Housewives with fake boobs and fake hair and BOTH are marathons for the next 10 hours. I scoop the ice cream to celebrate this greatness and tweet it to my tribe.

I watch three hours past the time I have to hold my eyelids open because I don't want this moment to end.

I wake up to find my family back at home, messing up the house and complaining that I ate all the Cheez Its. I smile ready to face the day, rested and rejuvenated and ready to love all of their unlovableness.

Ahh, what a beautiful dream. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Letter to Mom's of Kids age 4 to 9

It gets better.

Yea yea yea, we love our kids, they are our Gifts from God.  They are our sun and moon and stars.  I agree. 

Maybe I'm the only one, but I found the ages of 4 to 9 really challenging.  They were no longer cute little curly haired toddlers but still carried the defiance and dependence of the wee ones.  And they whined.  A lot. They still needed turkey sandwiches made and cleaned up and spent very little time entertaining themselves.

My kids are now 11 and 15 and I'm loving this little stage.  No one can drive yet so there's no underlying current of fear and increased insurance rates.  They make their own food, clean their own rooms (occasionally).  We have interesting conversations, when they have friends over I'm not the party planner.  We can watch PG13 movies, they'll eat more than chicken nuggets, they still like me most of the time, they put away their own laundry, we like some of the same music, we like some of the same tv shows.  Seriously, they're pretty amazing little humans. 

I'm working really hard this summer to enjoy this stage. 

So if you are one whine from homicide and one bad play date from throwing in the towel.  Hang on.  It gets better. 

In fact, while writing this little post my baby girl brought me this.  And she made it herself.  And if I ask her to take my empty bowl back to the kitchen when I finish, she actually might do it.


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

5 Reasons you Should "Check Out" While on Vacation

So, what did you think of yesterday's post? Does completely checking out of work on vacation scare you?  Or does the idea thrill you?

Let's look at why you should "check out" on vacation. I want to encourage you to try. 

1. It's very likely you're exhausted, or at best, just plain tired.  Trying to do work and do vacation isn't at all restful. It's more juggling.  You won't return to work feeling rested.  You'll return feeling disappointed and still tired.

2. Your family could use some time with you.  Just you.  Not you and your phone, not you and your iPad.  Not looking at the top of your head, but seeing the whites of your eyes.  Your family needs to feel important. That will require you to choose them.  They need you to actively and purposefully choose to spend time with them and not juggle them with your colleagues and clients. That just makes them one of your "many".  They want to be "the ones you chose".

3. You aren't that great of a multi-tasker anyway.  No one really is.  So you try to do work on vacation and you don't do your best for your job and you don't do your best for your family.  That's a lose-lose idea.  By dropping the work for a week, you get to win with your family. Because you will return rested, you can go back and win at work too.  That's a win-win idea.

4. When your brain is buried in stuff, your creativity is choked out.  When you are constantly looking at emails and tasks, you're not tapping into your best creativity.  I'm not saying you need to take a vacation and do finger painting.   Although that sounds pretty darned fabulous to me.  I'm talking about clearing the clutter to think creatively about anything.  To generate new ideas, new projects, new passion for your work.

5. Let's start looking at your legacy.  When you are old and gray, you won't remember the project you finished for Mr. Client while on your balcony pretending to watch your kids play in the pool.  You will remember seeing your daughter finally master the handstand in the pool and to see her beam with pride knowing you were actually watching.......the whole time.  Time is a tricky little bugger.  You think you have mountains of it.  Until you don't and it's like sand slipping through your fingers and you're begging to get some back.  They love you.  They need you.  Build the kind of memories that will make you both proud.  It's just a week or two.  You all deserve it, crave it, need it.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Oh What a Flurry a Vacation Can Bring - 12 Inbox Strategies for the Soon to Depart

It's summer vacation season.  I see it everywhere.  A little more out of town traffic on the highway, and lots of out of office messages from my clients and colleagues.  And mostly what I recognize is the flurry in the voices of those both preparing to leave and just returning.  Some are frantic. 

Now, I'm no rocket scientist but let's revisit for a moment.  Isn't the intent of a vacation to relax? 

Yea, I thought so.

It's not working all that well for most of us.

My vacation isn't until later this month but I can already feel it creeping in, the flurry and the frantic.  There's this sick need inside of us, especially those with an email account, that we'll be caught up before we leave.   Now, the sad reality is the only reason we want to get caught up is we're preparing for the "big dump" into our inbox that will happen while we're away.

Some will actually haul their laptops into the beach bag just to clean it out each day and not suffer under the weight of it when we return. 

Some of you have to do this because you work for the antichrist of a boss. For those I say, skip the rest of this post and go straight here: 

Seriously, it's time.

For the rest of us, let me suggest that we've created this flurry of expectation and it's not helping us or our companies or our customers. 

Here are a few strategies I've used to work against the psycho in me that always wants to be caught up.

  1. Relinquish to the fact that you will never ever ever ever be truly caught up. It's a figment of your imagination. 
  2. Put on your out of office message a few days to a week early.  This gives people early warning.  They'll look for other solutions and other answers to their questions. 
  3. Set your out of office message to reflect an extra day.  For example, your flight lands home on Sunday, have your out of office reflect you're not back until Tuesday.  Then on Monday work offline cleaning up your inbox.  At the end of the day hit connect.  If you don't work offline, the minute you send one email out, 50 will come in, they will bombard you.  Best case scenario, work from home that Monday.  Catch up on laundry and email the same day.  Or take the extra day as an actual vacation day if you have to.  It will be worth it. 
  4. Hire someone to manage your email while you are away.  I had a great colleague that had just left my company to run his own consulting company.  I paid him a fee for the week to manage my email.  He reviewed it, sorted it and took care of what he could and then gave me a list of the top priority items when I returned. 
  5. Do your packing a full week before you leave to prepare for the last minute projects that you know folks will dump your way.  Running through Target buying flip flops and goggles while you are on a client call takes up too much stress.  Get all that packing done early. 
  6. Two days before you leave, go through and sort the inbox.  Create a folder called, When I Get Back.  Then go through your list and be realistic.  Anything that can wait until you return,  immediately drag into that folder.  You might want to shoot them a quick note that you'll get to them when you return.  That will reduce your stress by dealing with a smaller list of  'to-do's before you head out.
  7. If you are directing your incoming messages through your out of office to a colleague, Go online and buy them a Starbucks gift card with a thank you note before you leave.  A few bucks in lattes goes a long way in how well and eager they are to take on your stuff.
  8. Send those managing your out of office spillover a note with instructions on any big projects or clients that might contact them while you are away so they are well prepared and ready to handle as much as they can while you are out.
  9. Don't set the expectation on your out of office that you will check messages once in awhile.  Just don't.  Once you crack that door open they'll bust through like the FBI.  
  10. Turn off your office email to your phone.  Just delete that inbox.  You can put it back on when you get back.  That allows you to leave your personal email in case you want to use it.  If you don't rid yourself of that work inbox it will mock you while the number of unread messages grows by the minute.  
  11. Don't pack the laptop.  Just don't.  Take your phone or a tablet to search the best place for oysters in the area but do not take the laptop.  It's a pain at the airport and it gives you far too much access to work stuff.
  12. And my favorite and most used strategy of all.  Schedule your vacation at a remote lake in Kentucky or an International Island with absolutely no cell or wireless signal. 
 Now, if you are hyperventilating at the thought of being untethered for a week, get it grip.  I'm sorry to say, you're just not that important. 

Let those tips soak in.  I'll hit you with some additional insight tomorrow. 

Just breathe.  And go buy some sunscreen.