Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Holiday Travels

For some reason, none of our family trips when the kids were little included the Grand Canyon, an omission we've been hearing about in recent years. So this year, we punctuated our holiday get-together in Las Vegas with a post-Christmas, pre-New Year's Eve road trip. It was great and, I suspect, a whole lot more fun with 20-something kids than it would have been with younger kids (who, after all, can't be expected to appreciate the extraordinary geological implications and would likely have been more interested in the hotel pool than anything else).














Thursday, December 18, 2008

Snow, the Aftermath

OK, first of all, check out the sky in the next-day photos below. Nice, huh? To be fair, I do remember sunny skies immediately following snow in the Midwest too, but maybe not quite so brilliantly blue. My view has reappeared, the mountains are heavily blanketed in white, the rooftops slightly less so, and I can see the patches of snow shrinking in the sun before my very eyes. I imagine the humidity is higher than usual, although it feels cool and crisp. You wouldn't think someone who spent 50 years in the Midwest would be so thrilled by a snowstorm, but hey, context is everything and I like the unexpected.

I especially like the fallen snowman in the last picture below. For some inexplicable reason, people here love to use giant inflatable things as holiday decorations, and the irony of an inflated snowman face-down in actual snow is pretty great.

Click here for a news story about our rare event and, if you do, be sure to check out the picture of snow covering the sides and Sphinx of the Luxor.








Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow

According to the weather people, we're having something called "a rare snow event" today in Las Vegas. It's incredible. The palm trees look depressed, with nothing but skinny central spikes reaching upward and the tips of all their fronds sweeping the ground, weighted down by snow. Drivers can't negotiate the slightest of inclines or declines and are generally going about 4 mph. I can't see much further out the window than my own backyard; my glorious view of the Strip and the mountains has completely disappeared into a bright cocoon of white, white and more white. And we're doing a great imitation of the Midwest - snow has been falling consistently since mid-morning. I guess I'll have to dig out some non-flip-flop footwear. Do I even have snow boots?

Here are pix:












Saturday, December 13, 2008

Pleasures Expected and Unexpected

I finally finished the last of the items on my current to-do list that fall into the "obligation" category. Since mid-September, I've had more than my usual complement of these things. They're not all bad. Preparing for and giving speeches, co-conducting a business development workshop, writing articles, etc. are all fine. But they have deadlines, and so they usually end up creating some pressure for me. I get all enthusiastic when someone makes a request and I tend to say yes too quickly and then regret the feeling of obligation, the knowledge of a deadline, the compulsion I feel to do a bang-up job. These pressures don't really get in the way of what I consider my real life, but they do take up space in my mind and eventually, even as I resent the distraction, it becomes more trouble to ignore them than it does to handle them.

Finishing the last of them this morning felt absolutely fantastic. I decided to celebrate by writing a poem in response to a prompt from a new Twitter connection. It's amazingly difficult to try to be pithy and rhyme at the same time - and totally gratifying to come up with something you're not too embarrassed to post. My poem is quite bad, if slightly charming, but it does manage to express how I'm feeling about social media at the moment. Just when you think it's all one big self-serving infomercial, you find some cool, interesting people and get inspired to do something unexpected.

(In case you're a glutton for punishment, my poem and several others may be found in the comments to the December 13 post on Blogging Roads, an interesting and thought-provoking blog from a person whose Twitter bio endearingly reads "Marketing Copywriter, Professional Blogger, Mom, Soc Media'er, Lover of Butter."
)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Distracted & Slightly Reluctant

How can it be so long since I've posted? I knew it had been a few weeks, but apparently it's been a month and a half. Yikes! I guess I can stop trying to get used to writing 2008 on things and just start thinking about writing 2009 instead.

The last couple months have been crazy with travel and responsibilities, very much like having a job. And they've been packed full of things to write, too: my new book, two speeches, an article, a treatment for a web-show, stuff for my website, and about a zillion emails (many of them relating to the thrilling election; three conversational threads with new friends/penpals; one renewed conversation with an old friend normally on the opposite side of the political spectrum). I've also been experimenting with Twitter and Facebook. (Feel free to follow/befriend me on either or both. I use my actual name.)

All that was evidently enough writing to stem the flow of blog post ideas. Also, my mind tends to move less along blogging lines when I have a lot of interaction with real people, and I've been face-to-face far more in the last couple months than my life normally requires.

Well, and to be honest, the few times I've thought about blogging, the topic - or my view on it - has been controversial enough to be better spoken/written to friends than blared without context into cyberspace.

I've realized a few times before that I censor myself here, not so much to avoid offending someone (I have no doubt I've already done that, however unintentionally, via some of the things I have posted), but because some opinions and ideas can't be properly conveyed out of context to total strangers
. All evidence in the blogging world to the contrary, this is not a private diary. It's also not a written chat among friends who know each other and can recognize inflection and resolve disquieting concerns based on familiarity and shared history. I don't pretend to be someone I'm not here, but this is a public face, not my whole face. And expressing in this forum certain of my "what the hell is the matter with people?!?" views on the ideas and causes my fellow human beings hold dear is something I just don't feel comfortable doing.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Doing It All: Reality and Myth

I started thinking about balance, priorities and time management because I am frequently asked how I "did it all." I know the question is intended to be flattering and to refer to my particular combination of successful business career, happy marriage, and cheerful, interesting, grown children, but I don't like the underlying assumption. As flattering as the question is meant to be, "doing it all" is an illusion, and a bad one at that. What we need to do is "our" all. Every working mom needs to articulate her priorities and then spend her time and energy - scarce resources both - doing what matters most to her.

Getting your priorities clear isn't impossible, but getting comfortable with the notion that you get to set your own priorities - and then setting them - is evidently close to impossible for many of us. If you can discern between, on one hand, what you really care about, your spin on what's really important to you and, on the other, what's traditionally done and believed, then you can clarify your priorities and allocate your time so as to spend it on what matters most to you.

You also have to shed any all-or-none mentality you might have. It's not necessary to devote yourself 100% to your kids to be a good mother, and it's not necessary to devote yourself 100% to your career to be good at that. (Most men, by the way, understand this instinctively. They have balance issues, too, but as my character Jane says in A Merger of Equals, men don't worry that they're somehow doing the wrong thing by working when they have kids. Whether for traditional reasons or because they're just wired differently, men expect to work and be parents simultaneously. And everyone else expects that of them, too.)

Throughout all but the first few years of my intense and time-consuming career (which I loved), I also had two kids. There was never a shred of doubt in my mind about what was more important, my kids or my career. My kids won hands-down. That didn't mean, though, that everything about having children took precedence over everything else.

When my kids were babies, I found them boring and needy. Somewhat to my surprise, I learned that adoring them didn’t stop their need for constant care from making me want to jump out of my skin, their non-verbal demands from making me long for words. Who knew? Now, I could have seen this as evidence that I was a terrible mother and should never have had kids, but whose rule would that have been?

Because I had clearly articulated my priorities – and because my self-confidence gives me courage and makes me largely impervious to worrying about things like what some magazine defines as appropriate motherly feelings – I didn’t doubt my fitness for motherhood.

Instead, I tried to figure out which parts of traditional mothering were important to me as a mother and to my kids in their development toward becoming independent, happy, productive members of society. Whenever a time allocation issue arose, it was this frame of reference I fit it into and measured it against. With my priority firmly in mind and a clear framework against which to measure tasks and decide which ones were the important ones, I allocated my time as wisely as I could.

I didn’t need to see my kids' first steps or hear their first words to take – and demonstrate – great pride in their development as walkers and talkers. So for me, putting them in daycare as infants was easy and guilt-free. School plays? I’d rather be working. Teacher conferences? After a memorable conference with an elementary school teacher who evidently had our son confused with someone else (the teacher referred to him as a “quiet, reserved boy” and I politely asked her if she had ever met him), my husband and I decided that he would handle this aspect of parenting. (He was also a busy professional, but one whose competencies include bedside manner.)

It also wasn't necessary to define success at work the same way others did. Like many women, I took a far from linear path. My
all-encompassing job as a young lawyer was great when I was learning my craft. But after my daughter was born, I wanted to be able to spend more than 30 minutes a day with her. So I left a law firm in the city for an in-house legal position closer to home in the suburbs. Everyone told me I was closing doors; a few people even told me I was throwing away my career. At the time, I figured I was willing to pay the price of a few closed doors (the principal one being law firm partnership) for the prize of a job I could enjoy and do well in fewer than 16 hours a day.

As it turned out, seven years later I became a partner at a different law firm (where I worked part-time for 4 of the 6 years I was there) and that led me to a senior executive position at a $20 billion company. No doors closed as a result of my non-traditional decisions. Even better, other, arguably superior, doors opened.

The point is not the particular choices I made, but rather that I made choices that used my strengths (and compensated for my weaknesses) in the context of my priorities – and then I lived by those choices. I suited myself. And my kids, my career, my husband and I all flourished.

Success and contentment come from knowing and articulating what matters most to you, then living your life achieving those priorities. The balance is not going to be perfect at every individual moment, but it doesn't have to be. It’s the long-term balance over the course of the journey that counts.

(I write about balance-related issues often. Click here, here, and here for other posts you might find useful. You might also enjoy my Suit Yourself Essays.)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Question du Jour

I don't go to the Post Office very often. I think my experience is sufficiently randomized to be statistically significant and, based on that, I find myself wondering why virtually everyone in the inevitable line is either: (a) ancient; (b) evidently a newcomer to the wonders of the USPS and desirous of an explanation of every available service; (c) mailing 20 or more items of various sizes and bulk, each one seemingly via a different method and to somewhere exotic that requires a separate (and not-filled-out-in-advance) form; or (d) entirely unsure why he or she is even at the Post Office and apparently in need of USPS personnel assistance to figure it out.

Just like at the cashier windows in casinos, everyone in front of you always seems to have an incredibly complicated transaction. Mysteriously, when it's finally your turn, it takes all of 45 seconds to cash in your chips or, in today's case, send a Priority Mail package to Seattle. Wouldn't it be great to end up in a line behind 45-second-transaction people instead of always being the first such one? That's the dream...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Adventures in Air Travel

The whole airline business is a mystery to me. I'm not sure why it wouldn't be susceptible to the same business principles that govern every other business, but it seems to have some enigmatic ability to swallow money. What other business would lose money when it routinely sold out or oversold its market-priced product? I have been on a couple dozen or so flights in the last year and every single one of them was packed to the gills. In most cases, the time I spent waiting at the gates was punctuated by the now-familiar "We need a volunteer to take a later flight" plea - always entertaining since no one volunteers and, somehow, the flight boards and departs anyway. Are the extra people stowed in baggage? Vaporized?

And don't I remember that the incentives used to grow in value the closer you got to departure time? Said offers from Las Vegas to Chicago, then Chicago to Albany, last Thursday were evidently fixed at a free round-trip ticket for the future and a later flight for the moment. But the later flights were 9 hours later from Las Vegas and over 24 hours later from Chicago. What the heck did they think the volunteers (had there been any) would do in the meantime? Well, OK, 9 extra hours in Las Vegas would be a kick, if potentially expensive, but who flying from Chicago to Albany on a Thursday evening would likely have the flexibility or the interest to wait until Saturday morning?

I usually fly Southwest. Although the flights are tightly packed, at least some of the other amenities of flying are still intact. My US Air and United flights on Thursday were a rude awakening to the new realities of non-Southwest flights. To check a bag now costs $15. This may or may not be an offensive nickel-and-diming of customers, but the upshot is that people now haul on board everything they possibly can, either to avoid this fee or to avoid the potential hassle of lost baggage. But the plane is packed, the aisles are too narrow for rolling suitcases to be rolled, and the overhead bin space is insufficient. So the unfortunates who board last end up having to check their bags anyway. I presume there is no $15 fee in this case - the flight attendant didn't mention any fee in her oft-repeated "If there's no overhead space, bring your bag to the front and we'll check it for you." This bringing the bags to the front business was also ludicrous - the aisles are TINY and packed with people organizing themselves into seats evidently designed for a species much smaller than most adult travelers. Suppose the extra $15 actually collected on bags checked in the terminal is enough to offset not only baggage-handling costs, but the extra fuel it takes to cool the plane during the now even slower boarding process?

Airlines obviously are saving money by deferring decor maintenance. Both my Thursday planes showed all the signs of hard use. I guess the mechanical maintenance is kept up to snuff (we got where we were going without incident), and I'm a firm believer in "first things first," but do the seats and seat pockets have to be falling apart? Do 10-20% of the tray tables, lights and air vents have to not work? Do the wings and wing flaps have to be adorned with what look (alarmingly) like black skid marks? Does the whole experience have to be so much like taking the bus, but at 5-10 times the cost?

On the US Air flight, I was charged $2 for a bottle of water. This is OK, I guess - it would have cost at least that much to buy a bottle of water in the airport - but the collecting of money and making of change was a ridiculous waste of flight attendant time. And how does the money process work? Do the poor flight attendants have to account for every can, bottle, styrofoam cup and dollar to make sure it all matches up at the end of every flight? Does some idiot in accounting think this effort is without cost? Why on earth don't they just charge $5 more for each ticket and keep the complimentary soft drinks, the customer appreciation that goes with free stuff, the extra $5 from everyone, including people who get no drinks or buy alcohol, and the flight attendants' focus on quick service and safety? What passenger wouldn't pay $329 instead of $324 for the ticket? Is whatever the airline manages to net from the airborne-convenience-store approach worth making me think they're cheap bastards with whom I'll not fly again unless there's absolutely no other option?

The flight attendants on the US Air flight were also incredibly cranky. This might be because they're also now functioning as sales clerks or maybe it's because of the dowdy uniforms they still have to wear - the contrast between their 1950s "air host and hostess" apparel and the "I could comfortably sleep in this" clothing of most passengers is hilarious. Or maybe it's because they don't get paid enough or treated with respect. Who knows? But it seems to me that any business that "recognizes that you have a choice in air travel, appreciates your business, and hopes to see you on another [insert name of airline] flight again soon" might also recognize that it would be a plus to instruct its customer service personnel to treat the customers like fellow human beings instead of annoying scum.

Having said all that, both my flights arrived early. I was resigned with my usual air-travel serenity to the connection being a problem, but the only difficulty I encountered (if you don't count feeling like a sardine in a seen-better-days tin) was the distance I had to trudge between the two gates at O'Hare. Obviously, it was my lucky day. Too bad I couldn't stay home and use that luck at a blackjack table.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Oh, Boo-Hoo

Articles about the so-called "empty nest syndrome" drive me crazy. Conversely, I love that I received this one from my own 26-year-old daughter, who sent it along with a note that read "Here...this will get you all riled up. :)"

The linked article isn't as bad as some. It includes a melancholy dad in with the weepy moms, a rarity for empty-nest commentary, as well as some women who are more exuberant than misty-eyed about their new "childless" status. Still, even leaving the deeply anti-feminist subtext of articles like these aside, all this moaning and wailing over the growth, development and departure of one's children mystifies me.
Isn't their maturity the point? Why would it make anyone "sick with sorrow?"

I saw my daughter off to college and through graduation with delight and pride. Ditto with her younger brother, whose departure created the much-ballyhooed empty nest at our house. I can honestly say my pride and delight were wholly undiluted by either grief or relief. (A little smugness maybe, over everything having turned out so nicely.) And I never once wondered who I was or what I might do with myself once I was no longer a resident parent - just as I never considered being a resident parent my raison-d'ĂȘtre or my justification for the space I take up on the planet.

Any parent who believes, as I do, that a parent's duty is to guide his or her kids on their way to happy, productive, independent adulthood ought to be thrilled to see them go off to college and then on into life. Of course, there are nostalgic moments - and in hindsight it's amazing how fast the years seem to have gone by, especially when you remember those interminable afternoons of nonstop infant fussing or the four years of siblings at each other's throats or the terrifying (and blessedly rare) hours of waiting for medical situations to resolve safely. But what's with the "I need them to pace my work life," "I'm so lonely and cranky" and "My life is too far on its way to over" baloney described in the article?

And it's not like this "it's all about me" attitude toward child-raising does kids any good either. Anyone looking forward to hiring or managing the college student in the article who thinks the best way to find Pilates studios, dentists and the meaning of words is to call her working mother in another state?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Book Announcement

Two of my works were selected for inclusion in Heart of a Woman in Business, an "inspirational collection of stories, strategies and ideas to help working women everywhere." Written by teachers, coaches, experts, businesswomen, speakers, CEOs and others, it's a "here's how" book that combines insight with guidance, ideas, stories and encouragement.

My pieces are:

  • an excerpt from A Merger of Equals called "The Nature of Leadership and Personal Ambition" and
  • an essay adapted from one of my popular speeches called "Suit Yourself and Become a Star"

Heart of a Woman in Business is a 288-page 6"x7" gift book that retails for $16.95. Click here to order the book from Sparkle Press, the publisher, or here to order from Amazon.com.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Senescence

When I was 15, I tore a ligament in my right knee. The ER doc barked, "You would have been better off if you'd broken your leg" and the medical treatment went downhill from there. As I recall, everyone paid more attention to my mother, who was green around the gills and in danger of fainting. (Medical stuff always made her woozy.) And the science of dealing with torn knee ligaments was apparently nowhere near as sophisticated as it is now, at least where 15-year-old girls were concerned.

After the initial injury, my knee more or less returned to normal. It occasionally locked up and made me limp for a day or two, but not very often and it never hurt. People who played tennis with me quickly learned that I wasn't much of one for running to the right, but otherwise the knee was a non-issue. Then, when I was 35, it locked up at a shallow angle and refused to bend further or straighten all the way. If I was insistent about moving it within its limited range, it made nauseating popping sounds that could sometimes be heard even by other people. Clearly, something had to be done.


That something was knee surgery to remove a chunk of cartilage that was jaggedly and irreparably torn, probably as a result of the original ligament tear, the healed scar of which was visible - and quite interesting - on the TV on which I watched the surgery. The recovery from knee surgery featured the worst pain I've ever endured, and I've endured a tonsillectomy, two C-sections, two herniated vertebral discs, migraine headaches, and the removal of my left inner ear. (This is an astonishing list, isn't it, for someone who's essentially been healthy all her life.)


Anyway, the 1989 knee surgery was a success. Once the initial 10 days of agonizing pain were over, I was again back to normal. Until last Tuesday, that is, when I stood up from my desk chair and realized my right knee hurt. There was no wrench, twist or other calamitous triggering event. The soreness continued, neither better nor worse, all week. No problems with strength or mobility, but the sucker really hurts. When I asked my husband what he thought was up, he very calmly, cheerfully even, told me the ligament was probably just degenerating - surgically repaired soft tissue degenerates more quickly than intact stuff, he explained - and maybe even torn again along the scar.


What the hell? Just degenerating? I don't like the sound (or feel) of that at all. I've never had a problem with my age, mostly because I like having already had the happiness and success of kids and career and having arrived at a stage where I can contentedly sit back and enjoy the fruits of both. But at least a little of why I like being 54 is that I look and feel younger. Or I did until I was callously informed that not only might my knee be degenerating, but that's not even big news for "someone my age."


Of course, my husband got more sympathetic the minute he saw the shocked look on my face, and the anti-inflammatory medicine he recommended is already improving things. If the pain goes away and I have no further problems, we plan to go back to ignoring my poor old right knee, whatever may have happened in there. But I have to admit I suddenly feel if not 54, then certainly older than I did before I had to accept that, where my own body is concerned, I no longer get to be alarmed or outraged by a phrase like "soft tissue degeneration."

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Extinction, Outlaw Country, Home

Probably because of our urban roots, we tend to assume that interstate highways will be if not ugly, then certainly less than scenic. This assumption could not be more wrong where I70 is concerned. It's gorgeous in Colorado and gorgeous in Utah. We take it today from Moab to its terminus at I15. Along the first leg of the journey, I70 climbs to the top of the San Rafael Reef, gaining 1,000 feet of elevation and losing 50 million years of geologic time in about eight minutes. Because of erosion and the shape of the land on this anticline, the rocks at Black Dragon Valley are 50 million years older than the ones on the banks of the Green River. Black Dragon Valley's rocks are the oldest we see on the trip. They date from 250 million years ago, just before the greatest mass extinction event in the history of the planet. For unknown reasons, 95% of all species on earth were wiped out. Land and sea were virtually devoid of life; the Paleozoic era had ended and the Mesozoic had begun.

This makes us wonder just how many times this whole life experiment has occurred. Does it take approximately the same number of years each time to evolve from single-celled organisms to space travel? Or are some iterations faster or slower? Does every iteration exhaust some non-renewable resource along the way? Does it cause its own extinction or do external events - plate tectonics, geothermal events, ocean venting of hydrogen sulfide gas, meteors, supernovas, marauding aliens, what have you - typically bring down the curtain? How will the next iteration fuel its transportation if it arises sooner than the 700 million years it took Mom Nature (as our geology professor liked to call natural forces) to create the petroleum we've all but used up in the last couple centuries?


Fueled ourselves by these lofty questions, we drive on - and up. The elevation climbs to over 7200 feet and we reach Ghost Rock, the so-called Outlaw Country where Butch Cassidy and others hid out from the law. It's Navajo sandstone here: buff-colored, stark, spectacular and reminiscent of the zillions of Westerns filmed in this area.

I70 ends at I15, the road from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles. We've driven this road before and thought it dull, but either the dull part is north of the junction with I70 or our geology-educated eyes are better able to appreciate its beauty. It has some extravagantly spectacular segments north of St. George in Utah, in the part of Arizona that sticks its neck up into what you expect will be the Utah-Nevada border, and south of Mesquite on the way to Las Vegas. In a spectacular example of engineering short-sightededness, I15 parallels the Las Vegas Strip and creates serious gapers' delays even on the rare occasions when there is no accident. (How did the road engineers miss the obstructive impact on their high speed highway of several blocks of the most eye-popping manmade scenery in the world?) We're so happy to see the Strip - the signal that we're 20 minutes from home after over 7,000 miles - that we don't object to having to crawl along for this stretch.

And then, suddenly, we're home, with our own sandstone and shale mountains out the windows to the west, our own glittering pool of blue water, our own furniture and art, our wonderful, wonderful shower. This has been an amazing trip, full of delights, the last and not least of which is the comfortable delight of being at home.







Thursday, August 14, 2008

Utah, the Beautiful

Once upon a time, some 300 million years ago, southeastern Utah was covered by a sea. When the sea retreated 250 million years ago, it left behind thick salt beds. The wind picked up sand grains and carried them to the region, depositing them on top of the salt. By 200 million years ago, the area looked like the Sahara. Then the sand dunes hardened into rock. The weight of the rock liquified the underlying salt beds, which started moving along the ground (not unlike the way glaciers move) and the movement cracked the rock above. Water seeped into and further scored the fractured rock. The effect of water and ice freezing and thawing year after year widened the cracks, increasing the porosity and permeability of the sandstone, which permitted the entry of yet more water and, eventually, created the buttes, spikes, hoodoos, arches and other fantastical formations we see today. It also exposed some of the sand beds, sinuous fissures in the enormous landscape.

As the minerals in the Entrada (red) and Navajo (buff) sandstone met the atmosphere and oxidized, the iron turned red, the manganese turned black, and the clay minerals turned purple and green. The glorious results are on vivid display in Canyonlands and Arches National Parks. Visiting them is like visiting the moon and Mars, too. The grandeur and depth are hard to capture photographically, but I did what I could. (See below.)

You get a strong sense of the vastness of geologic time when you consider that water was and is the main sculpting agent in all this (as it is everywhere on earth), even though this region gets only 10 inches of rain annually. As the professor in our geology course reiterated, we don't have to worry about time in geology - we have all the time in the world.

After spending most of our day in Arches and Canyonlands, we decide to drive the La Sal Mountain Loop Road at sunset. This turns out to be a 50-mile paved loop that climbs up to 8,000 feet or so (with minimal terrifying switchbacks) from the Mars-like red sandstone of Moab up to verdant plains and tree-covered mountain peaks, then back down into the red and buff backside of Arches NP along the Colorado River. It's a drive of surpassing beauty, the calm green of the forested mountain slopes and the cascading water (murky with eroded red rock though it is) providing a restful optical counterpoint to the stark magnificence of the sandstone spectacle.

Utah is a state of extraordinary beauty. It looks, depending on where you are, like the Alps, the Sahara, the plains, the moon, another planet altogether. Although we fell in love with Montana, we recognize that Utah is the money state for scenic travel: five eye-popping National Parks, countless dense forests, craggy escarpments, lush high-altitude plains for grazing cattle, and damn good French fries just about everywhere you go.