Monday, October 30, 2006

Minding Your Manners

This weekend found me in New York City and in Philadelphia, working on my book and catching up with my oldest friend and on some window shopping, too. A good walk down Madison Avenue in the fall is always a good thing. As is a good book store browse, a slow coffee-brownie indulgence in a side street café, and a peek inside an antique shop or two. We did all of the above in spades.

There are few things that bring me more pleasure while in the city than shopping. Not real shopping, as in buying, but leisure shopping, as in looking and touching. I need not, so I am rarely tempted. And certainly not at Madison Avenue prices. But the enormity of selection, the newness of collections and the entertainment value of people-watching is just too wonderful to ignore.

And so it was with great fun that we ventured into and around the flagship Ralph Lauren store on 72nd and Madison (a must-stop on anyone’s agenda. No kidding.) It evokes awe. Masterfully designed, with gilded-framed oil paintings lining every wall, densely-piled carpeting lining every step and attentive sales assistants lining every aisle, one certainly glides through the store as if on cushioned ballet shoes. It would be difficult to escape without feeling better for having had the experience. For having tasted “Ralph’s” genius.

And so, as I walked down the heavily-cushioned staircase on my way out, I couldn’t help but feel as if I had experienced civility at its New York best. That attention to detail and to good manners was contained, if nowhere else, within four large walls on one city block in my favorite city on the face of the earth.

My visit wasn’t long and it became time for me to retrieve my car from a soon-to-expire meter on Lexington Avenue. I walked quickly toward the exit and as I leaned against the heavy glass door onto the sidewalk, a gentleman (and he was, indeed, a gentle man), called out to the two ladies who were entering at the exact time that I was exiting.

“M’am. M’am,” he called, shoving what looked like a ten-dollar bill towards them, as they looked back over their shoulders, puzzled. “One of you dropped this on the sidewalk.”

I could hardly believe it. I said, rather softly to him, “Now there’s a real gentleman,” but he either didn’t hear me, or he ignored me, as if to suggest that chasing ladies who had dropped money out of their wallets was a perfectly normal everyday thing to do and that there could simply be no other alternative.

Picking up pennies on city sidewalks is a silly thing to do. But giving them away to the first child to cross one’s path makes it a worthwhile adventure. But picking up a ten-dollar bill and chasing down a complete stranger to give it back is hardly a common occurrence in a big city. And it caught me completely off guard. It gave me renewed faith in mankind. In young men in general. I smiled thinking of the mother who, some time, somewhere, had—over the years—taught her son well.

Holding doors open for people, shaking hands firmly, smiling while talking and expressing genuine thankfulness, are all wonderful gestures of civilized people everywhere. I vow to work on that this week with my own brood. To make sure that my boys know how to treat young ladies and that my daughter knows how to treat young men. And to remind them of the rules. That they say thank you for treats and for gifts. Always. And remember to write notes by hand. That they speak clearly to adults. And look them in their eyes when they talk. That they always answer the phone or the front door cheerfully.

Little things count. And minding one’s manners—one of those littlest things of all—is one of those little things that counts the most. I trust you feel this way, too!

Blessings on your week,


Monday, October 23, 2006

7 Must-Do’s for Fall

These past few weeks have found me busier than ever: my new job has kept me with a textbook in my hands every day for the past four and a half months as I became re-licensed and certified in virtually every area of the financial services industry; working on a new book has kept me traveling throughout the northeast, interviewing homeowners and photographing magnificent interior design; and spending these past two weeks out of town in back-to-back meetings, leaving the hotel before sunrise and returning at dusk, has prevented me from reveling in the majesty of Fall. How awful it is to be unable to enjoy these glorious colors to the fullest!

Perhaps it has been, as some well-intentioned friends have suggested, a need to return to a very full life after dealing with childhood cancer and care-giving for two solid years. Point made and well-taken. I think there’s some truth in that. Perhaps it’s the need to finish out a career I started twenty-plus years ago. Or perhaps it’s my way of simply helping out with four college tuition bills (they come whether we’re ready for them or not, y’know!)

But along with that busyness comes much-needed respite. For time to take a simple yet meaningful pause. I’m hearing from lots of moms that it’s just that time of year again. When the rush of back-to-school has taken a backseat but when other stuff hits: parent-teacher conferences, Fall recitals, and soccer and football practices every other day. We’re anxious to regain equilibrium. To get perspective before the anxiety-provoking Holiday rush. To catch your breath, delight your senses and enjoy the company of family and friends in the beauty of this season we’re finding ourselves in.

Here, then, are seven must-do’s for celebrating this fabulous season:

1) Go for a drive in the countryside. Last weekend, to celebrate our son’s birthday, we attended a college football game; the timing couldn’t have worked out more perfectly as the stadium was located within twenty minutes of the hotel where I was staying out-of-town for those two weeks on business. Afterwards, we drove to a charming Connecticut village to have dinner with the photographers who are collaborating with me on our upcoming book. The roads to their home were winding and narrow, but oh!!! The colors of the New England countryside were beyond description! Red competed with gold, along with orange and violet, in some of the most beautiful foliage I’ve ever seen. As wood smoke mingled with crisp air, we became intoxicated by the sensual delights of the area. (For all of you old friends in Florida, a trip up East within the next couple weeks is a must-do!) Please try to carve out some time in your everyday busyness to spend some time out in the country.

2) Visit a pumpkin patch. Hopefully by now you’ve already picked out the best of the best and plunked it down on your front stoop. Smaller gourds and miniature pumpkins, arranged on tabletops and windowsills throughout your home, make for charming displays. Don’t let too much time get between you and fall decorating, or the Christmas tree will be up before you know it.

3) Make a big pot of homemade soup. While admitting to buying commercial stock for the boys (fewer things fill them up faster after long, hard football practices in the crisp fall air up here in New England), I have not had time—nor been home—to make the stuff from scratch. But now it’s on my list! Chicken noodle, beef stew and cream of tomato are our family’s personal favorites. Settling back into the routine (oh, those good ‘ole days!) of always having a large stock pot of soup simmering on the stove sounds like a good thing to me. The days ahead will only be getting colder after all.

4) Bake a pie. I admit to skimping on time in the kitchen. Somehow, baking has not yet made it onto my short list. Too much to write, too little time. If you’re feeling like I am, how about at least trying to bake one easy pie this Fall? Pumpkin is a no-brainer. Sweet potato and apple both work perfectly, too. Or how about a cobbler or crisp?

5) Rake leaves with the kids. What a great way to get your blood moving! Fall yard work is especially invigorating. And just think: within the next few weeks (if you live in the north anyway), your lawn may be covered in snow.

6) Set out fall flowers. Ornamental kale, mums and pansies look splendid against the deep colors of fall foliage. Cluster flowers together for fuller impact. And while you’re at it, make time for planting bulbs. The ground will be completely hardened in but a few short weeks.

7) Take a hike in the woods. And if you don’t live near one, shy of coming to visit me, get out of the city for awhile and dive into nature. My husband’s favorite daily ritual is a solitary walk in the woods surrounding our home. Being alone for an hour is nourishment for one’s soul. Fewer things could provide more glorious time for personal reflection. With leaves crunching underfoot, babbling brooks singing their own songs and foliage screaming for one last look, meditative woodland walks rank as absolute necessities.

Enjoy these next few days before the leaves fall completely off the trees. Go for a few last bike rides. Play with the kids outside. Walk. Breathe deeply. Fall is upon us so briefly.

Blessings on your week,


Monday, October 16, 2006

On Spread

I’ve been giving much thought lately to “spread,” or to the impact I’m having on those around me. Most days find me frustrated that I don’t have very much of it, feeling that once I’m gone, my legacy won’t be large enough, that enough lives won’t have been positively affected by my having been here, and that I won’t have had the effect that I always hoped I would have had.

Our society is celebrity-driven and success-oriented, so oftentimes I feel that unless I’m doing something that’s truly in the limelight, nothing I can say or write will have enough impact to much matter. I suffer from the “little ole’ me” syndrome, which is rather unfortunate, as I feel quite certain that little folks and little words generally matter more for all eternity than most of the great “success” stories alive today.

I realize all too well the impact of small acts of kindness. Of gentle words spoken to a neighbor, funny lines imparted to a weary colleague, or the impact of taking time out of a busy schedule to visit wounded, frightened or sickened loved ones.

I realize, especially as I get older, that serendipity happens, and that we need to rejoice in it. That people come into our lives for but a short time and that each one plays a distinct role. That circumstances are oftentimes orchestrated by our Creator. That His mysteries should be embraced, reveled in with joy and wonder, and celebrated for what they are.

I’ve also made the conscious decision to divest out of activities that take me away from my passions. I realize more than ever how my time is limited and that I need to invest it where I feel called to impart the largest spread. Teaching our church’s cherub choir of three, four and five-years olds is one of the highlights of my week. I have the distinct sense that serving these little ones is where I need to be one day a week. As I reflect back on my own childhood and on those dear souls who had significant spread during those years, I can count them on two hands. One of them was my Sunday School teacher who, forty-five years ago, had such a strong impact on me that all these years later, she always bubbles to the top of my list.

I’m still out-of-town on a business trip. I’m meeting new people daily and wondering where in the world my place is in all of this. Wondering why I’m supposed to be here, away from my own family. What I’m supposed to be learning and imparting. Whose life will cross mine. Who needs a kind word. A laugh. Encouragement. Trying to find out if I’ll spread.

How about you? Where are you? Are you supposed to walk alongside someone this week? Are you supposed to spread? And if you feel too spent by motherhood, by your spouse, or by your daily four loads of laundry, will you recognize those moments when you’re supposed to spread? Or those people put into your path who you are supposed to impact? We’re all on the journey together, that much I know. It’s figuring out the important stuff that keeps me up at night…..

Blessings on your week,


Monday, October 02, 2006

What’s Your Story?

The unfortunate and surprising news this week of a friend’s sudden passing has caused me pause. Healthy fortysomethings are expected to live long enough to take full care of their young. Deaths at this age are termed “untimely,” and they always knock the wind out of our sails. And while I don’t use the particular phrase of “untimely death” often, as it generally cuts across my own religious beliefs about life and death and the role of the Creator in both, I do admit to feeling at ease with the thought that indeed, one’s death at this age seems to be out of the natural order of things.

Combined with the uncanny timing of my re-taking (some twenty-plus years after taking it the first time) the licensing exam for life insurance, I’ve given more thought than usual to my epitaph. I’ve been thinking about what my husband would write about me. About which handful of words he’d engrave into stone which would preserve my memory for all those who will come after me. Perhaps I’ve been studying the rules and regulations too hard; perhaps it’s getting to me. Perhaps I’ve spoken with one too many associates this week. Been forced to be too “net” when describing someone, or when describing myself, for that matter. At a business dinner on Tuesday, I had to stand up and give my own “elevator speech,” those two minutes which were supposed to shed light on just exactly who I am to a roomful of complete strangers.

And at our Society meeting this week, we discussed how to “get our groove back.” We talked about how we choose to participate in activities and how we de-select out of others. How the bottom line to involvement is passion. How we need to direct energy and time into those things that define us according to our natural gifts and talents and interest. And pass on those that don’t.

When I think about those things that will shape my own story, I know that certainly those organizations in which I’ve chosen to be involved will add texture. That how I’ve chosen to spend my time has shaped the person that I’m becoming. That the people I’ve surrounded myself with will add chapters. That they’ll color it or highlight it or punctuate it. With spice or laughter or compassion, as they have been placed into my life to add accordingly. That my children will further develop me. That my life work will help others construct measurable boundaries in attempts to describe me.

What’s your story? If someone had to work on your epitaph, what would they write? If you sat twenty of your closest friends and associates around a table to distill your story into a handful of words, what would they be? Do your everyday activities reflect the real you? Do your friendships help you to become the person you feel destined to become? Is your work life representative of your life work? If you had to choose just one word to define you, would you be able to come up with one?

I’m not thinking about my epitaph in a morbid way. I believe that each one of us needs to reflect on our own story at one time or another…or at many different times throughout our lives.

For me, it’s not even the “live life one day at a time” thing…although I appreciate now more than ever the gift of each day. For me, it’s the going through the motions of each day, the tough driving-through-traffic-eating-your-lunch-at-your-desk days and the getting-kids-ready-for-school-while-trying-to-catch-up-on-laundry days that give me the most food for thought.

For I don’t believe that it’s necessarily the mountaintop experiences that provide the most food for the soul. I believe it’s how you live the day-in-day-out that means the most. That makes people notice. That provides teachable moments. Mentoring opportunities.

Fodder for your epitaph.

Blessings on your week,