Saturday, June 29, 2013

Holding Hands with Seals

After TEDxBoston this week, our company moved right into a 2-day All Company meeting. We have these 2 times a year and each one is focused on something different that will propel our company forward. They are usually invigorating, exhausting, fun, emotional, and inspiring. This meeting was no different.

Towards the second half of the first day, it was clear we all needed a break. Emotions were rising and we were tired. We were instructed to go out in groups or alone, and just take a break. The rules were simple. No checking email/phones and just go out and clear your heads.

Small groups formed and as one of the three K's - Kelly, Kate, and Katia - we headed out on our own. We decided to grab some ice coffee and head to the aquarium, which is one of my favorite places to go when I have time for a walk. I try to exercise 5 out of 7 days a week...whether it's hot yoga, boot camp, or walking...I try to get something in. If I have some time at lunch and haven't gotten any exercise in I always head to the aquarium and spend 5 minutes just looking at the seals. For some reason, they make my day.

About 2 weeks ago, on a sunny day, I walked down and there was one seal who was sunning herself on the rocks. I knew she was a girl because there was an aquarium worker who was also taking a moment to come out and visit the seals and she called her by name. She kept putting her flipper over her eyes to shade from the sun and would look over to see who was watching her. She would crinkle her eyes up, check out the people, and then put her fin down and just soak in the sun. It was the absolutely cutest thing. The short visit totally made my day.

So, when we took our walk the other day, we were pleasantly surprised to find the aquarium staff were working with the seals. We walked to the end where a staff member was training with one of the seals. She was using fish to entice him to do all kinds of things like swim and come back and kiss her on the mouth. The absolutely cutest thing though was when she had him float on his back so she could rub his belly. I know they do this so when the do vet exams, it makes it easier. But the most adorable moment was when he reached his flipper up to hold her hand while she rubbed her belly. The trainer thought it was the cutest thing...and so did we.

Just one day after being reminded to be grateful for the little moments, I realized this was my moment for the day. Animals are amazing and being able to see this little interaction that not only brought joy to the trainer but also made me smile, was well worth the walk.

Grateful moments of the day - walking/talking with friends and observing the seals. It was a good day!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Get Happier

Every year, the company I am lucky enough to work for (www.collectivenext.com), co-curates TEDxBoston (www.tedxboston.org) which is focused on sharing the revolutionary ideas of those who live, work, and are from the Boston area. The stories are always amazing and this year was no different - from the woman who had the idea to put "organs on a chip", meaning that she puts cells on a slide, grows diseases on them, and then tries different ways to cure those diseases....all on a microchip. Her goal? To grow a human on a chip to use as a petri dish for medical advancement. Or how about the man that is turning food waste into renewable energy? Or the two best friends that have started Fresh Truck which brings fresh fruits and vegetables to urban areas that don't have access to fresh, affordable, healthy food. I will admit...listening to these stories every year makes me feel a little stupid. I'm just going to be honest. When my friends get together on Friday nights we aren't talking about how to cure SARS....I'm just sayin'....

I always do feel incredibly energized from the stories I hear each year - it makes me want to do something impactful, even if it is just something little. Enter Nataly Kogan, chief happiness officer of www.Happiness.com. She was our last speaker of the day and I now have a new rule...the person that is last can't make us cry. It's purely selfish...we take pictures of the TEDxBoston team immediately following and she caused me to ruin my make up. Thanks a lot Nataly.

Let me tell you a little bit about Nataly's story. She shared with us that she had fled Russia in 1989 with her parents, moving to refugee camps first in Vienna, then Italy, and then finally just outside Detroit, living on welfare. After all she went through, she decided that she was going to be "happy" - which meant chasing the American dream. She was wildly successful in all areas that she pursued, and although she felt "successful", she realized she wasn't necessarily happier.

Because her father was a scientist, she turned to science to explore how to be happier. During her research, she uncovered a simple fact - that people that write down or focus on a few things that
they are grateful for each day, reported feeling more optimistic and feel less stressed. Focusing on the little moments in life that make you happy will indeed make you happier. Nataly stresses that we should focus on collecting moments, not things.

Now, back up a minute. I ran into her in the bathroom during rehearsals earlier in the day and had to tell her how much I loved her outfit. She was wearing an adorable orange dress with fantastic shoes, she has an adorable Halle Berry like hair do, and you just get a happy, adorable vibe off of her. I am always a big believer in giving strangers compliments on their outfits. Doesn't it make you feel good when someone asks you where you got your shoes or tells you they love your skirt? I know I do, so when I see someone wearing something I love, I go right up to them and tell them....much to my teenage kids chagrin.

Fast forward to Nataly's talk when she started talking about all the things I believe in. I experienced a similar situation where I was a workaholic, cramming my time with the things that didn't really matter, although at the time they seemed incredibly important. I finally left that job and started this blog to chronicle my attempts to find more happiness in my life. Not only am I a big believer in being more positive, but I truly do practice it.

Before I fall asleep each night I take a minute to mentally name at least one thing that I am grateful for that day. Nataly says one of the simplest things you can do to be happier is to be grateful for and thank those that do something little to make you happy. So, I'm going to take my moment to share with you the things that I am grateful for today.

I am grateful to work for company that embraces innovation and allows me to be exposed to such incredible, inspirational people...not only those that spoke today but those that I work with every day.

I loved when Mimi texted me today saying the bunny was hot and asking if we could sew her a bikini this weekend. We joked about whether it should have flowers or carrots on it. Just what a bunny needs - a bikini. For the record, I said no to that...but it was really cute of her to suggest and just what I needed in the middle of a crazy, busy day.

I was thankful to hear Eliot Fisk today - he is a classical guitarist - check him out at http://www.eliotfisk.com/. Just absolutely mesmerizing music.

Today, I am also grateful for my friends. For the last several years my friend Cori has come in for the event and for the last two years, her sister Robin, who lives in PA, has joined us too. Tonight we engaged in a conversation about having those key friends who you can share things with, bounce ideas off of, and just enjoy the simple moments in life. Over dinner our conversation ranged from  talking about all the speakers who inspired us, the inability to do jumping jacks (successfully) after having kids, the importance of finding hobbies and other outlets that spark creativity, and just how fantastic Ryan Gosling's abs are. I'm a firm believer that these types of conversations, with your friends, can make your day just a little better. Thanks Cori & Robin for a great night!

So, why did I cry at the end of Nataly's talk? Well, other than the fact that you know I cry at commercials on tv, it was really the moment when she thanked her parents, who were there with her today, for all the sacrifices they made and making her the person she was today. It might have been easier to take in if she hadn't teared up while saying it. I'm a sucker for those that can't get their heartfelt sentiments out. I tend to sob. It's not pretty. Today my eyes just turned on the waterworks and I spent a good 5 minutes brushing away my tears before going on stage with a swollen red face for pictures. I am also grateful that I heard something that made me smile and cry at the same time. How incredible is that sentiment? Pretty powerful.

At the end of her talk, Nataly asked us all to fill out a nametag that said "My name is_______________ and I'm happier today because_____________." I love walking around the reception tonight and seeing the answers which ranged from "spending time with my son last night" to "taking the water taxi today". It truly is the little things that can make us happy...and then string those happy things together to enhance your life and focus on the most important things. The happy moments in life. What made you happy today?




Thursday, June 20, 2013

Appreciating the Little Things in my House

I was traveling a lot during the month of May which translates into...I read a lot of magazines...which I love to do. I will admit, though, I had read so many magazines that I was stretching to find some new ones to read. So, one day at the airport I got the HGTV magazine and a little article from the Editor in Chief immediately caught my eye. It was titled "A big shout out for the small things" and was focused on the editor's favorite little things around her house. Things like her grandmother's little green sugar bowl, the flowers on her nightstand, and tiny little candles that she can't get enough of.

I have many friends whose houses are very well decorated. You know the ones I'm talking about. The ones who have silk pillows lining the seat around the whirlpool tub in the bathroom. The ones with pictures perfectly hung in every room, filling every space, but not feeling overdone. Yeah...that's not my house. I wish it had that professionally decorated look that said "This room is done" but I don't think that is ever going to happen...unless I hire a decorator.

But what I do love about my house is that it is filled with things I absolutely love. Which is why there are corners with nothing in them, walls without pictures, and piles of rocks and shells on all my tables. I really try to fill my spaces with the things that I love and sometimes it takes years to find just the right frame for that favorite picture. I'm not the kind of person that runs to Home Goods just to fill up the space. It doesn't feel authentic to me. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with it at all...after all I am envious of that nicely decorated look....but I just can't make myself get there.

I have an old gateleg table that was my mother-in-law's as an end table in my living room. It's not a highly polished piece but rather a well worn table that I pull out and use in many ways, depending on the occasion. On it are books about Cape Cod, where I grew up, that I found at yard sales that have beautiful illustrations of my favorite sea creatures - sand dollars, horseshoe crabs, and sea horses. Piled on the books are some of my favorite shells, rocks, and pieces of driftwood I have found at different beaches. It's a good thing I don't live in a beach house, actually. There would be no room for anything but the beach treasures I would lug home every day.

I have an antique frame that my sister in law Sharon gave me over the living room mantle. Inside is one of my favorite pictures of the kids...walking along a beach path in Nantucket, holding hands. Their outfits aren't what I would have chosen if I were trying to get the perfect shot. That's what I love so much about it...it's just them...looking like their 4 and 5 year old selves, bouncing along the path to the beach.

I painted my dining room to complement an old green hutch I found at Brimfield years ago. It has uneven shelves and drawers that stick. But it's a beautiful green color with white chipped shelves and it holds my wedding china and little pieces that my Nana used to pull out at the holidays.

In my mudroom I have yet another Brimfield find...a $50 sea blue bench that rocks back and forth whenever anyone sits on it. I love that it has uneven feet and I love even more that it has a history. I also love that I scooped it up for $50!

I have a blue spotted tea cup that has a white goose on it that my Nana used to drink tea out of every day. When I would come home after school, she would be there sipping her tea, watching Guiding Light. I pull the mug out every time I have a cup of tea. It just makes things seem right.

In my bedroom I have my heart shaped rock collection. Years ago we went on vacation and our cat died. She was 14 and just laid down after we left for vacation and went to eternal sleep. My friend found her the next day. It was absolutely heart breaking. That day I was walking on the beach feeling very sad for myself and I came across a red heart-shaped rock just lying on the beach in front of me. I'm pretty sure it was Gracie who put it there. Every since I have been collecting them whenever I, or Tim, or the kids come across them. It's amazing how many you can find...I would say we come across one at least once a year. The latest one I found was in May when Tim and I were in Mexico...I found a heart shaped piece of white coral. I immediately brought it home and put it with the rest of my "friends".

In our kitchen, we have a table that was made out of 100 year old wood from an apartment that we lived in. Tim's parents owned the 3 family house and were redoing the attic into an apartment. The house once belonged to his father's secretary who had been with him for many, many years. I love that our table is made out of the wood that was in the house of someone so important in their lives. And it was built by a good friend of Tim's parents. It doesn't get much better than that in my book.

My office, which hardly anyone sees, has a lot of my favorite little things. Every single time I go in there it makes me smile. My desk is covered with my favorite pictures - there is the one of 4 year old Mimi at her first ballet recital and right next to it is her teeny tiny little ballet shoe. There is a picture of Jack at 5 sitting on a bench outside my brother's house in Pennsylvania...he is wearing a little bucket hat and looking down at his stuffed bunny, aptly named Bunny Bunny. I have a collection of sea glass that I have found throughout my life, another one of my favorite things. I also have an old carved box that Tim's aunt Kathy gave to me for my wedding shower. On the front is a carved picture of a bride & groom driving away after they got married. It's such a unique piece - I just love looking at it.

Ask me about most of the things I have in my house and I will tell you the story of where I got it or what it makes me think of. I might not have that perfect chair that I'm searching for in the corner of my living room yet, and I might not have those pictures that my dining room walls are waiting for, but what I do have I absolutely love and tell the story of our family.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Piglet's Adventures at Home

This week Mimi's entire 8th grade class went away for their annual Washington DC trip. They travel in big motor coaches watching movies and eating candy for 8 - 10 hours and then run around DC taking in all that great city has to offer. They stay in a hotel just outside DC....4 kids to a room....essentially living on their own. Of course there are chaperones and people monitoring each hotel floor all night long. It's great fun for the kids, gives them some independence, and makes parents sigh at home.

Last year, Jack went and I held it together until I dropped him off and then I let some tears fall over the dam. Not too many but a few. I then spent the first two nights sitting on the couch, sighing, and saying " I wonder what Jack is doing now...." while Mimi and Tim rolled their eyes at me. I can't help it. I love my kids and as much as I love my alone time, things just don't feel the same when they aren't at home. And it's not like I'm not used to them being away. They essentially spend the summer at my parent's on the Cape and we "get" to visit them on the weekends....and beg them to pretend they miss us. They have a blast every summer...grandparents, cousins, eating ice cream and candy non- stop...what could be better?! As much as I know they are having a great time, and it's nice to have a little independence from running everything 24-7, there is still a piece of me that just doesn't feel right until they are with me again.

Fast forward to last weekend and the packing. With Jack, we just threw some clothes in his bag the night before and he was good to go. With Mimi, we had to shop beforehand - part of this trip is a dance on the last night where the girls wear nice, casual dresses and the boys wear collared shirts and pants. A big deal for both sexes. I was 4 hours into a mall trip, listening to "I just can't decide which dress to get" when I snapped and said "Ok, you need to make a choice within the next 10 minutes because we are leaving." Funny how that works....we had a dress and some accessories in 10 minutes flat.

She packed for days...and I mean days. First there was the laying out of outfits. Then the editing of outfits. Then the relaying out of new outfits. Then the lists of things she still needed to pack. Finally on Monday night we were in good shape. I should mention, Monday night is our night....we watch the Bachelorette....I know...not the best tv...but it does provide some good discussions like "Don't ever date a guy like that" or "Don't ever be someone you are not because you think that is what someone is looking for". We also have a lot of discussions like "He's cute" and "That dress is horrendous on her." So, there we were, like any Monday night, in my bedroom, curled up watching the show. She was stressed about being able to fall asleep later so she asked if we could sit together...and could I rub her hair? Uhm...yeah! I told her during a commercial break that we had to get up at 4:30 so she could be to school by 5 and she said "Well, maybe we should just sleep in here together so you don't have to come in and wake me up....it would just be easier." I almost did a little jig. Did I want to have a sleepover the night before she went away for a week?! Heck, yeah, but I wasn't going to bring it up. And I could tell, as excited as she was, she was still a little anxious about the week.

I practically flew down the stairs telling Tim he had to sleep in the spare bedroom because we were having a sleepover! His response? "Did you force this on her?" No! But I couldn't be more excited about it.

The next morning went amazingly well. For someone who can barely open her eyes each morning, she jumped up like a little chipmunk and was ready in record time. We hugged our goodbyes at home since it was a drop and run situation. I just goofed around saying goodbye so neither of us would get weepy.....well, ok...so I wouldn't get weepy. I didn't want to make her feel sad before she left.

Well, I don't say this often but thank God for text messaging. Jack had informed me last year that he would not be texting me at all "because no one is going to text their parents". I think I got 2 messages..."I'm here" and "I'm ready to be picked up".

Girls and boys are definitely different. She has been texting me each day - mostly saying good morning and good night, but at least I know she is ok and back at the hotel safely each day. She left behind the little Piglet she has slept with every night since she was a month old...of course that would not be cool to bring. So, we have been texting her pictures of what Piggy has been doing while she has been away....eating out of the cat bowls with the cats, sleeping with Jack, making lunch in the morning with Tim, feeding the bunny, sleeping in our bed...she has gotten a kick out of it but I think we have had the most fun with it.

This week, I had a flash of Tim and I doing things like this when the kids are in college. Us taking the Pig out to dinner and saying "Look where he is!" or snapping pictures of Jack's turtle "drinking" a beer. I'm afraid for us. Really afraid. I think the kids are afraid too. They probably should be.

Tonight she comes home and I can't wait to see her! I'm sure she'll show her teenage attitude about 15 minutes after I pick her up but I'll take it. I have missed my little buddy.