Thursday, December 16, 2010

Happy Holidays

"Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time."
  ~Laura Ingalls Wilder
In my family, we have two sayings that must be abided by at all times. The first is, "If an otter can't have fun doing something, it simply won't do it," and the second is, "A gift is the choice of the giver." These mentalities have served us well in getting through the tough times and celebrating the good times. They serve as a good reminder that everything is a gift, and you can have fun doing virtually anything. Even when that fun sneaks up on you when you least expect it.

It's December 16th, and the holiday spirit is in the air. The tree is up, the Christmas gifts are neatly stacked under it, cookies and tea with the neighbors, and Matches, the cat, is trying to bite the head off of baby Jesus in the manger scene. And finally, the time to reflect on what the holidays are really about. It is a time to remember those holiday traditions you really miss, create new ones, and learn from those that should never have been introduced.

I will never forget the Christmas my darling mother decided to enter our house in the city's holiday light contest. It was just the three of us, my brother, my mom, and I. I couldn't have been much older than 5 and my mother was looking for a way to get us in the holiday spirit. She decorated our house proudly, my brother helped, and I acted as the "artistic consultant." Together we made our house look beautiful. It didn't matter that it was cold, that we perhaps couldn't feel our toes, or even that we really didn't know exactly what we were doing. We were creating memories.
Then came the night when the official judges were scheduled to come look at our display. I remember being anxious and very sure we were going to win first place. I was very proud of the work we put in to sharing the holiday spirit. Startled by a knock at the door, my heart raced. My mother answered and the judges said, "You can turn on your holdiay lights, now." After a brief awkward silence, my mother said, "They are on....."
Moments later, the judges returned. Did they come back to tell us how badly we'd lost? No, in fact the came to tell us we'd won 3rd place. The prize? A gift certificate to the local funeral home.
Needless to say, "if an otter can't have fun doing something, it simply won't do it," and "the gift is the choice of the giver."

Happy holidays!


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Light My Candle

"Your own neighbor's vision is as true for him as your own vision is true for you."
~Miguel de Unamuno

Dear Sweet Neighbor Lady,
Thank you for the offer to join your church choir. I regret to inform you that "Light My Candle" from the Broadway musical, RENT has nothing to do with Jesus. Had I known my windows were open, I wouldn't have decided to sing at the top of my lungs. Don't worry though. You may think my voice is pretty enough for church, but it certainly is not pretty enough for the tough critics of New York. Or, perhaps you know exactly what this song is about and you're attempting to save my soul. In any case, I appreciate the offer, but I'll have to decline. I only sing when I think no one is listening. I'll close my windows next time and limit the use of the f-bomb while singing along to Linkin' Park.

So sorry I disturbed you,

Your Neighbor

Now might be an excellent time to explain that I live in a townhome community and the average age of my neighbors is 65. The neighborhood consists of retired women, and some men, who have taken it upon themselves to make sure that I am cared for. An offer that was, for a long time, not appreciated. Their concern for my relationship status?  Not cute. We tend to disagree on who the perfect match for me really is and where I'll find him. I sometimes miss the days when they'd knock on my door with the "Eligible Bachelor of the Day"; not because the options were men I'd consider, but because it was quite entertaining and I appreciated the effort. But perhaps I should be grateful for their reassurance that I am, in fact, a very good catch. "The best there is," the lady with the poodles once said.

If only they'd stop asking me who changes my lightbulbs with such concern.... I'm not quite sure how to answer that question.. or why they are so worried in the first place. Is changing your own lightbulbs a test of my independence?  A test of my beauty or intelligence? Maybe I'm just too afraid to know any more about why they even choose to ask, or maybe it just doesn't matter.

Needless to say, I've learned that sometimes being a neighbor means letting them share their vision; even if that means showing concern for who changes my lightbulbs, where I've been so late at night, and letting them suggest better lyrics for those times when I just have to sing at the top of my lungs.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Let's Talk Personal Safety... in a Tube

"Personal protective equipment is self-defense."
  ~Author Unknown

Dear Personal Safeness Tube Manufacturer,

So let me get this straight... you really, really think that someone can escape from danger using ONLY a face mask, a glow stick, a whistle, and a ketchup packet of water? I'm no Girl Scout, but I see several flaws in your "brilliant" plan.  Let's look at this step-by-step.

1. Keep this emergency kit at your desk.

Okay, clearly, you do not work in a corporate environment. I don't even know where my desk is... I'm running up and down 13 flights of stairs tracking down couture dresses that needed to be in New York yesterday, "calmly" trying to explain the difference between shades of hot pink that look exactly the same to me, and shipping button samples via FedEx to Asia. Because apparently, there aren't any buttons in Asia. So, the population of an entire region of the world is potentially unable to fasten their pants and you want me to send 8 buttons. Really? Are you sure 8 buttons will be enough? The only thing my desk is good for is to hold the lattes I'm supposed to bring to the 9am meeting. Shit.. it's noon. Where's the microwave?

If you really want to create an effective Personal Safeness Tube, the contents would include deodorant, a large ketchup packet filled with a "water-like substance" that smells like Christmas trees, and maybe something to fix my broken heel. I will give you credit for the glow stick.. might come in handy the next time someone locks me in the sample closet.

2. In case of an evacuation: Alert co-workers by yelling "Come with me!" and get out of the building as quickly as possible. Call for help once you're outside. Seek shelter from harsh weather and stay with others. Do not go back into the building until cleared by authorities.

Really?? You've got a skyscraper filled with overachieving alphas desperate for attention and you want all of us to shout "Come with me!"?!  Do you have any idea what chaos this will create?!  We'll be tackling each other for the Safety Captain hard hat and vest.. even if  "safety orange" trimmed with reflective tape is not fashion forward.  It'll be a blood bath and before you know it, the company's hottest designer will be mass producing "Personal Safety Wear" so that everyone can shout "Come with me!" At least then it won't matter what the difference is between "Hot Pink A" and "Hot Pink B." 

 3. Chemical release: Follow the directions of local officials

Okay, you're going have to be a little more specific. This is fashion. I open packages from all over the world; Mexico, India, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Ecuador, a few countries I have yet to find on the map; a "chemical release" could be anything. The packages are usually squishy and although they claim to contain clothing, they oftentimes arrive on my desk labeled "samples." See my point?!

Who are these "local officials" anyway? Are you saying that in case of a chemical release, Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn from Project Runway will appear and demonstrate the proper use of the Personal Safeness Tube? Are we going to be judged on what we can design with the contents of the tube?

Maybe that's it.. I'd better start sketching now...


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Like Magic...

"What we provide is an atmosphere... of orchestrated pulse which works on people in a subliminal way.  Under its influence I've seen shy debs and severe dowagers kick off their shoes and raise some wholesome hell." 
~Meyer Davis, about his orchestra

Dear Board Member,

Thanks again for asking me to join the board. I thought of something that I meant to share, but it completely slipped my mind. Too much time spent with absent minded professors I guess. It was initially an episode of Sesame Street that inspired me to play the violin. The letter of the day was "V" (for violin) and that was it. I absolutely had to play the violin. Once I had outgrown Sesame Street and had begun playing the violin in school, I discovered MVO. I became enthralled with their ability to turn boring notes on a page into beautiful music. It was like magic. Pure magic. And the members of MVO, or at that time MVCO, very quickly became my heroes. I wanted to be a magician, too.

I never in a million years would have guessed that I would have grown up to become an "MVO magician" nonetheless be asked to join the board. Assisting in the task of ensuring that others have the opportunity to be inspired like I was, and continue to be, are big shoes to fill. But it is the least I can do to give back. With that said, it means so much to be a part of this. More than you know. A little intimidating considering that some of the people on the board, and in the orchestra, are ones that I so highly regarded as magicians and heroes. I am still convinced I will be absolutely lost without Ed, the leader of the magicians. But I look forward to being a part of continuing his legacy long after he has retired.

PS. A letter of thanks will also be sent to Sesame Street as I'd imagine they'd be just as proud of my accomplishments.

Needless to say, one should not shy away from the use of magic to inspire others. Well, let's rephrase that. Do not shy away from the use of magic to inspire others as long as your magic trick doesn't involve the use of sharp knives, swords, and/or  large animals with big teeth. Remember, if the risk outweighs the benefit, find a different magic trick or select the right pep talk from your "pep talk" file. Everyone has a file on their computer labeled, "pep talks" right??

As a side note, it never occurred to me that my new role as Secretary on the board would require me to be serious. Something I haven't practiced in quite some time; nor do I really know anyone to look to for serious face advice. It seems that I work in the department of all things serious so maybe I just need to take a look around. There are probably some great looks to choose from.  Or, I could follow Pablo's example:

A girl in love with the letter V grows up to be a classical violinist turned magician and Poof! now is being nominated to serve on the board of directors? Now, THAT'S magic....



Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Holy Sweatpants, Batman!

"You know the message you're sending out to the world with these sweatpants? You're telling the world, 'I give up. I can't compete in normal society. I'm miserable, so I might as well be comfortable.'"
~Jerry Seinfeld

Unless, my friends, those sweatpants were given to you by Jesus. The message you are sending to people then becomes, "I haven't given up. I can compete in normal society and I don't need fancy clothes to do so. Not only am I blessed by Jesus, but these giant sweatpants were also blessed... by Jesus.. and put on a rack.. just for me. I'm extremely happy, so I might as well be comfortable." 

Yes, I am the proud owner of a pair of sweatpants that Jesus Himself wants me to have. And it's all because I decided to brave a garage sale in the basement of a synagogue, and dared to accidentally bargain with a fellow worshipper of God; two things I very, very rarely do. But, this was a special occasion. If you are going to bargain at a garage sale, it might as well be with the good intention of loving thy neighbor, right? 

About a month ago, I decided to brave the biggest garage sale I've ever seen in search of a good deal. My friends and I spent hours searching through the sale for items of interest; a designer purse for $.50, something to store my garlic in, some scraps of fabric.. you know, the things you usually find at a garage sale. Before I knew it, my arms were overflowing with items, and I was about done. Then, I found the most glorious sweatpants hanging on a rack. Looking back on this, I could have sworn they were glowing. I picked them up and felt that, for the right price, I would take them. I proceeded to the cashier, placed my items on the table and said, "How much for the sweatpants?" 

We argued over pricing, I admitted that I really just didn't want or really need  the sweatpants; but if they were dirt cheap, I'd take 'em. This, my friends, is when I discovered that Jesus blesses sweatpants; or at least that's what one person thinks.  The volunteer assisting me at the check-out station assumed that I was poor and insisted on giving me the sweatpants. I tried to explain that wasn't the case, and the argument ended with, "We do not deprive people of the things they want and need at this garage sale. Jesus wants you to have these sweatpants." How do you argue with that?

So I left, with the sweatpants in hand, totally embarrassed by the whole transaction. They sat on the floor of my bedroom for quite some time that night; until the temptation to know what sweatpants blessed by Jesus looked like on, assuming they'd be a perfect fit. I put them on, and they were huge. Huge. Not only were they way too long, they were way too big. But, I wore them around the house, tripping everywhere I went because gosh darn it, Jesus wanted me to have them.

Granted, they are the most comfortable sweatpants I've ever been "blessed" with, I found myself completely trapped in bed the next morning. Literally could not get out of bed because the pant legs got caught in my sheets, and I couldn't get the pants off to untangle myself. Suppose my "Personal Safeness Tube" would have come in handy about then.....

I did eventually manage to get out of bed, take off the pants and throw them in the wash with hot water in an attempt to shrink them. They didn't shrink.

Needless to say, the lesson here is to be grateful for everything we are blessed with; even the things we haven't figured out what to do with quite yet.


Monday, September 20, 2010

It's Not Easy.. Being a Baker..

One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.  ~Luciano Pavarotti and William Wright, Pavarotti, My Own Story

Dear Julia Child,

I’m still trying to figure out exactly how this happened, so any thoughts are appreciated. While taking dinner out of the oven last night, my cell phone went on a ski trip down my shoulder, whizzed down the oven door, and landed right under the heating element at the bottom of the stove.  Oh wait, it gets better….

Then, I set a towel on fire trying to get the phone out, and burned my ear when trying to answer a call. Why on earth I put a flaming hot cell phone up to my hear, I’ll never know.

If it’s not too late, I think I should ask Santa for an Easy Bake Oven this year.  Although it really limits what I can bake, I’m pretty sure it is impossible to jam a cell phone past those tiny little doors. Might just be safer for everyone involved.  


Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Round of Applause....

Applause: The act of applauding; approbation and praise publicly expressed by clapping the hands, stamping or tapping with the feet, acclamation, huzzas, or other means; marked commendation.

Well, I did it again. Made a complete fool of myself in front of new student employees, and I don’t even know how many. This just about ranks up there with the time I left a self help book on my desk and people started to feel bad for me, when in reality, it was a required text for my grad school class.
Soooooo…. I play the violin in an orchestra, and I often listen to what we’re playing on YouTube throughout the day. Wouldn’t you know it, I just had to pick a YouTube video with an extended round of cheering, applause, AND a standing ovation at the end of it. So, when students stopped by, they got the impression that I listen to people cheering  for funsies. Awesome. 
This, my friends, is exactly why you do not listen to recordings of live performances on YouTube while at work.


Far Away from Where I Started

"Even though we 've changed and we're all finding our own place in this world, we all know that when the tears fall or the smile spreads across our face, we'll come to each other because no matter where this crazy world takes us, nothing will ever change so much to the point where we're not all still friends."

Shortly after graduating from college, fate led me to my first "real" job in the corporate world. Each morning, I'd get up ready to fight the good fight, coffee in hand, no smile. I'd go off to make decisions about things that didn't really seem to matter, always questioning if this was really the best I could do. Two and a half years ago, I decided to leave the corporate world in search of an enriching organization that believed in people as much as I do. And as my luck would have it, I was led straight back to the very arches I walked out of 4 years ago as a proud graduate. I was back and on a mission to give everything to the community and people I had missed so much.

It didn't take long to realize the short term effects of trading the big city life for a small community. Before I knew it, nearly everyone in a small community knows you and deems you unforgettable.  This concept was, and still is, a little overwhelming. Especially considering that in my corporate life, management went out of their way to promote self sufficiency through a variety of resources. They even handed out kits to be used in case of an emergency. Yes, that's right. In case of a fire, terrorist attack, or other emergency, the new directive was to save yourself.. and no one else.

Needless to say,  it now seems silly that I stole the "Personal Safeness Tube" from my corporate desk just in case there was an emergency and someone forgot to rescue me. A "Personal Safeness Tube" includes a whistle, glow stick, face mask, a ketchup-like packet filled with water, "simple" directions for use and maybe a Band-Aid. I questioned the functionality of the "Personal Safeness Tube" while at my desk on the 13th floor of a skyscraper, and I have no idea what I was thinking in leaving it on my desk in my new job; my new life. Yet it still sits on my desk as a reminder of where I came from and how blessed I am to be where I am today.

Then, the reality of departmental politics set in and I realized that maybe I really would have to use it to rescue myself. The funny thing is, I still have no idea how to save myself using only the contents of a "Personal Safeness Tube." Maybe I need to bring this question to my friends in housing. They're great problem solvers. Do incoming freshman get a "Personal Safeness Tube"?

The stories in this blog are true, but the names and some of the circumstances have been altered to protect the identities of those involved. I hope that in sharing some wisdom and a few laughs you'll be inspired to be the super hero you are when no one is looking.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

When No One is Looking

When I was a little girl, the neighborhood kids and I used to pretend we were super heroes. While all of the other children chose to be Batman and Robin, Superman, or Wonder Woman, I took a different approach. I insisted on being myself. Not only was I certain that I could change the world by simply being me, I was determined to prove that doing so did not require a cape, spandex, or super powers. It only required a plan, the appropriate tools, a little elbow grease, and a smile.
So, with that, I became “The Amazing Annie”; a super hero who helped the neighborhood stuffed animals work through difficult transitions in their lives.  Whether they learned to run the soup kitchen, fold blankets for the disaster relief shelter, or to read Where the Wild Things Are, the goal was to make each stuffed animal believe they were valued and had something unique to contribute.  I used to hug each stuffed animal and say, “Hi, my name is Annie. My mom thinks I’m amazing, and you can be amazing, too!” 
In my own little world, this mantra inspired them to become good leaders who made a difference in their communities. I eventually came to realize that stuffed animals didn’t really have feelings, and no one really wants to know that my mom thinks I’m amazing. But in looking back at what I was trying to do at the age of four; I think I was on to something.
This is the story of a former introvert who believed in fate and was severely disappointed in where it led her. What she didn't realize is fate ultimately had a final destination. She reached the end of the road, looked down and saw that there was no longer a path to follow. In order to move forward, she had two choices; Become someone she didn't really want to be, or stop believing in fate and start doing the things she does when no one is looking. Because the person who sang at the top of her lungs, told great stories, loved her life, all happened when no one was looking. She wanted to write her own story. One that didn't have a final destination.

Any good story has to have direction, right? This one really only has 3 ground rules.

1. Become the person you've always wanted to be. The world can always use more super heros.
2. Love yourself, your life, and all the people in it with everything you've got. Take the risk that you might lose it all. You may be wrong more times than you are right, but the few times you are right will prove to be more powerful than all the times you failed.
3. While staying true to your beliefs, seek wisdom and knowledge from a variety of sources. Why have 8 crayons when you could have 120?
Needless to say, choosing the 120 crayon option is not for those who insist on wearing a cape and spandex; nor is it the best option for the indecisive. However, those who are brave enough to withstand it encounter their fair share of characters and find wisdom in the strangest of places. This blog is for everyone who seeks to be inspired to write their own story. It's not easy, no matter what path you choose. But there isn't anything that says you can't have fun along the way. I challenge you to ask yourself what you would do if no one was watching. It serves as a good place to start and makes for some fantastic stories.

My name is Annie, and it doesn't matter who thinks I am amazing. All that matters is that you can be amazing, too.

Happy Reading,