Someone’s Been Sleeping in My Bed

Over the last 6 months, we have started renting out our house, our primary residence that is, on Airbnb.com (as a marketing professional, I feel obligated to tell you how much I abhor their name, although I do recommend their services). We started because we happen to live in a town that has quite a few huge events (SxSW, ACL & the inaugural year of Formula 1) and some smaller events (usually UT related) and not nearly the hotel capacity to meet the demand during these times. We also happen to live centrally, an attractive proposition for renters. Due to the supply-demand ratio mentioned above, this has turned out to be quite a lucrative opportunity. In addition, we love to travel and love that our travels or weekend away ‘splurges’ are no longer splurges because they are paid for. Since we started this, I’ve been asked lots of questions by people who are rental-curious and also by those that think we are absolutely nuts to allow perfect strangers into our home. So I thought it might be helpful to create the definitive resource of “things to consider if you think you want to rent your home out to perfect, or not-so- perfect or you-want-to-believe-are-perfect-but-really-aren’t strangers.” Here’s what I’ve learned in the first 6 months of this adventure:

  1. You are probably more attached to your things than you think you are.

It is true that I do not feel particularly attached to my things. The first question people ask me when I say we are renting our house is “where do you put your valuables?” and my first question back to them is “like what?” I do not possess family heirlooms, I do not buy unique one-of-a-kind antique furniture pieces and I do not own fine china. I can hardly think of anything that the $1,000 deposit we require wouldn’t cover to replace or fix. While I have refrained from making circles with my thumbs and pointer fingers and staring into the distance with a meditation-induced trance, what I usually say next is, “I’m not very attached to my things.”

Well, upon arriving back to our home this last time, I opened a drawer and noticed a piece of my pottery was gone – a bowl I picked up at an Iranian pottery market in Kuwait during a trip in my 20’s. I rarely use the piece, but I do like it. More than I realized, in fact, because the moment it wasn’t there, my brain went a little frantic –   What happened to my bowl? That is a UNIQUE piece….I bought that in Kuwait! I can’t replace THAT! How inconsiderate – breaking my pottery without letting me know?? What a shame! My pottery! Woe is me…my beautiful, forever lost bowl! Until I opened the dishwasher and found it in there. I’ve never put it in the dishwasher, assuming it not dishwasher safe, so that was risky, but there it was. It was fine. I was fine. I had to blush, even just to myself, thinking back to the “I’m not attached to my things” comments. OK, so I AM attached to my things. One just doesn’t realize until they are gone. So, you’ve got to be good with this. One day, my bowl from Kuwait may disappear or get broken by someone other than myself or someone I love. Now I’m at acceptance (yes, I am making circles with my thumbs and pointer fingers and staring into the distance with a meditation-induced trance), but this is part of letting others use your space.

After the ‘valuables’ questions, more often than not, the next question is, “what about artwork?” which frankly, I find an odd question. Fair enough – we have a couple pieces that couldn’t be replaced by the $1,000 deposit, but really, I can’t imagine this being the ploy for an art thief to disguise himself as a UT parent attending graduation on the off-chance the Miro he saw in the house picture is real and he plans to replicate/replace each item exactly, during the weekend he’s here. And a piece of art is actually something even I, the notoriously unobservant, would notice if it was gone. That seems awfully nervy for anyone to try to pull off. So this might be where some of my naiveté comes in handy because,

2. People do inexplicable things, and more than likely, you will never get an explanation.

We let a friend/babysitter stay in our house once while we traveled for the summer. We came back to some strange goop in one of the showers we never used that clogged up the drain. It was fairly easily cleaned up, but when we asked about it, she claimed to have no idea. That was someone we knew and trusted, so left it at that. But when it’s not someone you know or trust, you also have to be fine with leaving it at that. One of our renters left a door to the outside open – not just unlocked, but open, and also claimed to have no idea how that happened. Four of our forks and 2 steak knives (separate occasions) have gone missing. I’ve lived in my home for 6 years and never managed to lose any silverware or cutlery – how someone does this in a weekend is perplexing. These are things you don’t notice right away, and by far, the profits made from these ventures allow for the replacement of forks and knives, but it does make you wonder what people are doing. Which brings me to my third point.

3. You must have the stomach for never being fully informed of the goings on in your home

One of my pro-renting arguments was that you have conversations with the people. They contact you, you call them, they tell you about their plans, who they are visiting, who is staying in the house, their family history including which relatives came over on the Mayflower, etc. etc. One of our future renters just e-mailed us a picture of their family after discoving how much we have in common. With some, by the time they show up, you feel you’ve forged some sort of friendship, especially because you are letting them stay in your home! Yes, BUT, they do not necessarily feel the same about you. They may just see you as a home they want to stay in. So, one of my “friends,” while she shared details about her life (3rd and final daughter graduating from UT), what they were going to be doing at the house (small get-together of family to celebrate), she never did mention that they were going to have a band in the backyard. Now, there is no problem with this, exactly. We have ‘house rules’ set up that say no entertaining or noise after 10:00pm and they followed this rule. But when a neighbor told me about the sound check coming from our yard over the weekend, I felt embarrassed and frankly, betrayed that Renee never mentioned the band. Clearly, she didn’t want that idea of hers shot down so she just failed to mention it. I felt odd that a concert was held in my backyard and I didn’t know anything about it.

The other part of stomaching strangers in your home is just to know that every time something is misplaced, temporarily (or not) missing or broken, you will find yourself immediately damning the renters. Even if you live with small children that easily could break things and not tell you. Even if your husband puts the blender behind the cereal boxes on the opposite side of the kitchen. Even if you forgot that you lent that copy of Hunger Games to your mother-in-law. It’s all the renters fault. And this isn’t the best of feelings because, even for just one moment, you feel a little betrayed that someone didn’t tell you they broke something, that they didn’t care enough to put things back where they found them, that they didn’t respect your stuff enough not to take it. Until you realize the truth. Or not. At the very least, consider these little reminders that strangers have been in your home, so just make sure you really are OK with that. It’s kind of an emotional roller coaster that is not that big of a deal if you’ve got the stomach for it. If you think these things would upset you greatly, or even a bit more than a little, renting may not be for you.

For us, for me, I’m actually OK with all of the above. Otherwise, we would stop doing it. Like a scene from a Brady Bunch episode, my son once threw a ball in the house and it broke an antique vase that I bought on one of my travels to China. I was really sad about the broken vase, but I got over it. I was mad at him for throwing the ball, but I got over that too. Stuff happens – you just have to decide how much ‘stuff’ you can tolerate and by whom you can tolerate it. In short, Know Thyself.

To answer the very first question, we put all of our ‘valuables’ in our master closet, which is then locked. Everyone we know that rents has a locked space where they put the belongings that they don’t want people to have access to or to see. For us, more often than not, these items are training toilets and other kid accessories that our non-kid renters may not appreciate having around. Perhaps my list of items I put in that closet will grow as we continue to rent our home. Perhaps we’ll get the art-thief in disguise renter who ‘teaches us our lesson’ and we stop forever. In the meantime, and until Austin’s hotel supply increases (doing so as we speak) I’ll be enjoying our paid-for vacations and lump sums to put towards our mortgage. If you’ve been on the fence, I hope this helps. If you choose to do so, from one to another, happy renting!

Smoke, Mirrors and Las Vegas

I am just returning from a trip to Las Vegas, which by most accounts has got to be one of the stranger places, if not on the planet, then definitely in our country. I fall into some in-between class of people who really don’t belong in Vegas. I am neither smart enough nor dumb enough to really enjoy Las Vegas. I am not smart enough to calculate my odds and re-calculate my odds based on what just happened. I also have zero memory – I can’t remember if I took my vitamins this morning, let alone if the Ace of some suit has already been played, a skill which is key to many card games. So that would leave me with something overly-simplified: the slot machine. This mind-numbing activity appeals to me as much as tossing my money into a toilet and then ingesting it. But even if one isn’t into gambling, there is still a lot on offer, the ads will tell me, in this town, or I correct myself, in this 4.2-mile strip* of a town. And as of yet, even with my ambivalence to the gambling mecca of the world, I don’t see much reason to venture off of this glitzy strip, which at least does offer that – glitz – and some great people watching. So why would a person like me go to Sin City? The same reason millions of people visit Vegas every year – business. I personally jumped at the opportunity to go because, well, I’ll go almost anywhere if I get a free trip away from my kids for a few days where I get a whole room just to myself, flights without other beings to take care of and dinners that I don’t need to eat by 6:00 pm. But generally speaking, conferences, tradeshows and large-scale meetings are, over and over again, lured to the affordable snaz of Las Vegas. Along with bachelors and bachelorettes, people from every industry are invited in to learn, conduct business and, in their free-time, entertain every possible vice a person might have. Why not? No reason, for sure, it’s just what makes it….weird. I live in a place where the tag-line is Keep Austin Weird. It speaks to the hippie-like nature of the town and at least some of it’s inhabitants. But Las Vegas is a different weird to me – it’s a weird I can’t quite figure out. Like how I rarely see anyone smoking, but the whole place smells like smoke. It’s how buildings and signs are built at angles so that it’s almost impossible to determine how close or far they are. Things that looked close are kind of far, things that seemed far are one walk-way across. It’s an alter-territory, there’s something not real, not right about it all. It’s kind of unsettling, kind of fun. Kind of weird. 

I should mention that approximately 9 ½ weeks ago (no relation to the movie), I took a 10-week no-alcohol oath. It’s related to me taking on another round of The Presence Process, but I had several reasons attached to it (will undoubtedly blog about this very soon). The alcohol abstinence has varied in its level of difficulty, as different social and life circumstances have pointed out to me, my “trigger points” to where I particularly enjoy alcohol. Las Vegas is definitely One. Huge. Alcohol. Trigger. Upon arrival, within 5 feet of the check-in desk was some sort of glowing cocktail bar. “What am I doing here?” I thought. Oh yes, working. Las Vegas and booze go hand-in-hand, of course because alcohol helps us ‘loosen up’ and ‘lose apprehensions’. It’s a vice to induce other vices. It’s a partner to Las Vegas like the nurse to the surgeon. Las Vegas could still be Las Vegas without it, but it wouldn’t be nearly as effective. Don’t get me wrong – I am not dissing alcohol or Las Vegas, I’m just saying, it is kind of weird. Not drinking made me realize absurdity in how we use alcohol to release inhibitions, but also to enhance times that are already fun or nice…and make them more fun or nice…to a point, of course. So then you take an over-the-top over-glitzed place like Las Vegas, and you put it on the rocks. And it’s an even nicer over-glitzed place…we pay to make ourselves enjoy it even more. We spend money to go there and then we pay more money (considerably more, depending on where we go, though, there are plenty of discounts to be found too) to drink to release inhibitions for activities like, gambling, so we can pay even more…for fun.  Kinda weird.

Logistically speaking, there is a strange phenomenon with time that happens in Las Vegas. Opposite the New York Minute (which does not apply in the Casino, New York New York), the Las Vegas Minute is actually the equivalent of 30 minutes, normal time. Even sober, without the distortion of any time blurred by a buzz, or losing any time to gambling, I had entire hours disappear from my life with virtually nothing to account for it. It takes an eon to actually get anywhere on this infamous strip. Short distances, or sometimes only seemingly short distances, are marred by a labyrinth of walk-ways, moving sidewalks, convoluted “paths” through casinos and questionable and confusing signage. All, of course, is intentional to lead you to places to spend money – casinos, restaurants, retail shops. I’ve never made my shopping habits a secret, so I didn’t always mind the diversion, but there comes a time in every LV tourist’s life when you just want to go from point A to point B – when you just want to actually get somewhere…to catch your show or your much-needed reservation. The endless diversions can be maddening, yet it’s also what we love about this city of lights. 

The other thing I find bazaar, and this is a timely discussion with all of the Occupy Wall Street movements going on, is that nowhere, in my experience, is the spectrum of wealth on display so blatantly in one small area. Everything is high end…offering just a taste of what 99% of the people who visit there can not afford. There are incredible showcases of opulence and wealth. As we entered the Venetian, I was reminded of the splendor of the Vatican. Seriously, I imagine people discovering the Venetian 1,000 years from now, explaining how all the money was taken from the poor to build opulent palaces in the name of…not God, but the other thing we worship in our society: money. I can’t help but think it’s these immense displays of wealth, a touch of the high society that is flaunted for the Las Vegas visitor of every income level, that draws those said visitors to the doors. Those few who can afford the ultimate in luxury, it is on offer in doses only the super-rich could find over-indulgent. The gambling tables and over-priced entertainment call to the wealthy with the same luxurious velvety voice as those who will never ever be able to afford a room, but can afford an over-priced hamburger in the food-court that you’ll find just outside the area where your eyes first travel. It’s almost like leveling class lines, but in a sort of taunting way, because, ultimately, Las Vegas does level class lines – she wants to take everyone’s money, just the same. And take it, she does. 

I paid an exorbitant amount of money to see a show that I’ve heard about for over a decade: The Blue Man Group. The blatant strangeness in something like blue men seems to fit right in with the oddities of the place. Along with magicians and comedians, all touting their slight of hand and wit, seeing something beyond ‘normal’ seems the thing to do here. But I am not a sucker. I went to the Half Price Ticket Booth. In hindsight, I am convinced that no one pays the ‘face value’ to see any of these shows, but since it’s Las Vegas, maybe they do. The Blue Man Group at half the price seemed like a deal, until I actually saw it. It has to be said: WTF? I had a moment with this show – just as the Venetian took me back to the grandiose of the Vatican, this show took me back to a childhood classic: The Emperors Clothing. I sat, from the beginning, with as much anticipation and excitement as the next person to see this show we’ve all heard about for decades. My colleague and I decided to splurge on it based on it’s seeming to be one of those things to check off one’s life To-Do lists. See the Grand Canyon, The Eiffel Tower and The Blue Man Group. The Grand Canyon and the Eiffel tower lived up to the hype, but this show was astonishingly boring. Yet people around me cackled and cawed – one woman, in particular, who was sitting behind me, ended up being more entertaining than the show itself. She gave me solace that at least some people were enjoying the show as much as I was supposed to be. Let me say here, too, that I am an appreciator of the arts – I love dance, art, theatre and all the rest. I consider myself pretty open minded when it comes to being entertained. For a while, I blamed myself, thinking I was being too judgmental or was stuck in some kind of analytical, or maybe, sober mode…”let go”, I told myself, “let go and just enjoy…take in the colors….the blue men on pipedrums (which was one of my favorite parts)”. And there were a few moments of pure brain-stimulating, toe-tapping entertainment…but not nearly enough in this 90 minute escapade to make it worth even half of what I paid…let alone it’s supposed double-price face value of the tickets. I decided I had “let go” as much as I could…it just wasn’t a good show. I still think it was the price that people paid, along with all of the hype, that made people convince themselves that what they saw was funny. The only potential I saw in the whole thing was that, I thought that perhaps, within their own show, there were several elusions to the question, “what is art?” which then could be turned around and applied to their own show. The thought that they were, in fact, questioning themselves and in turn everyone who would sit through one of their shows brought me some solace that perhaps me and the Blue Men were on the same wavelength in the end. Lovers of irony. 

And irony is where I’ll leave my tale of Las Vegas. My first child was conceived in this town (for another work conference that I attended with my husband), so this place of insanity actually holds a place in my heart. You weren’t expecting that one, were you?. Some dear, dear friends of mine – very spiritual and down to earth people – got married here. They, like so many others, attracted by the more-affordable luxury. There is irony hiding around every corner. A wry smile. A wink that makes one blush. A velvet hook that may lure you in, but that may be spat out and left behind as one continues on with “normal” life again. Leaving the weirdness for the next tour bus behind you.

  

* Love this (from Wiki): “The Strip lies within the unincorporated townships of Paradise and Winchester.”  Of course it does.

Fjord Fun

During my recent trip to Norway, one of my Facebook posts eluded to my husband trying, once again, to kill me. This was how it went down.

Every so often and at least once every trip, I am reminded who I married and ultimately, or at least partially, why.

On our last day at the Fjord, we had most of the day before our train departure at 5:25 to choose either a fjord cruise on the water, a hike or a bike ride with the bikes we had rented the day before. Typical for us, we got a bit later start than planned (it was vacation, afterall). We checked in at the boat, but it was already full, so we decided to “ride our bikes for a while.” A suggested itinerary in the guidebooks was to take a train up the mountain to a town called Myrdal and then bike back down to our town, Flam. We had already done a small ride out to the spot to hike up to the waterfall the previous day, so we headed in that direction, towards Myrdal. Note that we were now headed up-hill. I knew this, but a) had no intention of riding all the way to Myrdal (20km) (I don’t actually know if Mark had this intention), and b) it was the kind of incline that you can’t really SEE that you are going up-hill, so there’s no, “whoa, I’m not going THAT way” reaction. Curiously, however, you end up riding in the easiest gear and still working fairly hard. I call those hills blind, but deadly. This might also be a good time to mention the bikes – 7 speed, heavy, more of a hybrid city bike. It started out a very pleasant enough ride, despite the slight up-hill battle. Then it turned downright gorgeous with jaw-dropping waterfalls around every turn. For a while, I got so caught up in the scenery that I was hardly paying attention to the fact that I was riding…up. Around every turn there was a waterfall at least as spectacular as the one before, with a few show-offs in between. We found one that Mark dubbed his “all-time favorite waterfall of all times.” It was absolutely magical. DSC00215

I’m not sure how long we had been riding, but I started to noticeably fatigue. I noted that we had not brought any food with us, despite the fact that I had on a backpack that probably weighed at least 10 pounds – it did contain water, but also 3 books, an ipad and other miscellaneous travel items (remember, I had not really planned on a 20k bike-ride). I started to stop more frequently. I found more things that I needed to photograph, which, to be fair, was every 10 feet, really. And then I hit the wall. This happens to me with some frequency while biking – well, with running too, but it takes a much longer distance for me to run out of gas while running. Once I have exhausted my physical energy, my mental energy soon goes – let’s face it – I’m using a lot of that as my physical drains, to keep me going. All that is left, then, is pure emotion and what always surfaces at this stage for me is crying. Yes, like a girl. I start o weep on the steeper inclines, partially mad and cursing Mark’s name (it’s handy to have him around) and partially just at my own end, I feel “I can’t go on”, but know that I have to, so out come the tears. Mark has usually ridden ahead of me, and he’ll either cycle back or stop and wait for me somewhere.  DSC00218

I finally started getting off and pushing my bike up the steeper switchbacks. We consulted along the way and it seemed the best idea was to push on to the next town on the map in search of food. As it turned out, however, this “town” consisted of a cluster of houses. By then, we were close enough to Myrdal that it seemed the best option to continue the quest for sustenance. Knowing the train station was there, we knew there would be a café. We also finally found ourselves in a relatively flat valley, so my mood lightened as I made my way closer to my next meal.

I should also mention that how Mark and I eat and use food is totally different. I eat small bits of food (or sometimes not so small) throughout the day – I am almost always hungry. Mark eats like a lion at one meal and then may go a day without eating again.  Also, this up-hill ride was 10x the exertion for me, given Mark is a category 2 bicycle racer and rides the hills of Austin 3x/week. This is just to say that this was literally a walk in the park for him, while I was struggling through my sweat and tears. When the road headed up again we ditched my bike to the side and I hopped on the back of his. When it was too steep for him to ride with me (slacker), we walked and ditched his bike too. The last few kilometers were straight up. The walking was, at first, fine for me, but as we carried on, putting one foot in front of the other, even the walking was too much for my drained body.DSC00241

There was some snow just before the town (which I was also unprepared for, in my suede sneakers), and it caused us to lose the path a bit. We ended up at a railway workers lodge. I was so hungry and so frustrated at this point that I barged into the lodge, looking for any sign of life that would be able to direct us to food, or perhaps give us some, seeing me in my pathetic state. And if they didn’t give it to me, I was ready to rip it out of their hands and duck into a nearby corner tearing into my find, like a wild hyena on the African savannah. But there were no people in the lodge. Only up-turned lounge chairs, some gym equipment and a half-naked girl on a calendar on the wall. I hung my head in defeat and we went searching for the train station once again. We found the path again and finally arrived to the train station. By this time, every other word out of my mouth was a curse word and I was feeling a bit pessimistic. As I cussed my way the final 100m, climbing over some train tracks, I panicked at the lack of other humans around. “oh god, the café is closed…there isn’t going to be any food here!”

And right then, I thought I might die.

I cared less about my children I was about to orphan than I thought I would in that moment as I was caught up in my own grumbling tummy. When I get that empty, I feel like I am made of air and I think that the wind might just whisk me away and I don’t really care. I might have thought about eating Mark, but given his stellar physical state, I knew I had no chance at pinning him down.

But there was a café and it was open and there was food on offer. I chose a cheese sandwich, a piece of apple pie and an orange Fanta. I could not get to the table fast enough, my body did not calm until a good 4 bites into the sandwich and ½ of my sugary drink. The apple pie (heated, no cream) was some of the best I’ve ever had. I sighed in relief – I was going to go on living after all. I sat for a moment, feeling the calories reverberate throughout my body.

Then we realized that we were potentially going to be cutting it tight to get back for our train. We jogged back down the hill (fully fueled, this was no problem). We collected the 1st bike, rode down the rest of the way to gather mine. It then took us only 45 minutes to cycle home the same distance it had just taken us 2 hours to cross. I enjoyed the coasting even more having felt I had I had earned every bit of those down hills. As we whizzed by the waterfalls and spectacular scenery, I was glad we had the slow ride up to really take it all in. There were a couple spots we had to ride up, but my newly fueled legs could manage, especially when Mark rode beside me and pushed me up. We rolled into town exhausted but exhilarated by the fast ride home. I felt proud for having worked so hard. I was again reminded why I love being married to a super-man. He pushes me (figuratively and literally), he helps me, he holds my hand through it all. At the end I feel accomplished and proud of myself for pushing through, even if I don’t do so very gracefully. The fact that he doesn’t mind my lack of grace – he never reacts or gets mad about my childish and irrational behavior – it makes me feel accepted for all of my colors, like he’s really going to see me through in life. Now that bike ride will go down in the memory books as one of the best of my life, despite the poor food planning. Thank you, Superman!

I Chose to Ski

I wrote this as a follow-up to my first post about skiing (To Ski or Not to Ski) while I was still on the trip. Travel and logistics got in the way of posting it so here it is now… 

Now that skiing and I are getting along better, I can say that I actually like it. Like the end of an after-school special, when the bully and the bullied run off hand in hand after clearing up all of their misconceptions about one another, this is me (the bullied) and skiing (the bully).

After taking a day off (bad weather = good excuse to visit the children’s museum), and with some new ski gear (ok, ok, I have to admit that part of my negativity toward the sport MAY have come from a lack of appropriate apparel. I do heart clothes, so wearing my husband’s old (circa 1995) ill-fitting ski jacket only made me feel worse about the whole thing), I have a new outlook on skiing. I have started a list of things that I appreciate and things I, um, don’t, about the sport. I am hoping skiers and non-skiers alike might appreciate the list. In Buddhism one strives to live “in equanimity, free from attachment and aversion”. Well, at this stage, here are my attachments and aversions – I have a new like for the sport, but I am still striving for equanimity.

Me No Like (this is Eliana speak):

Winter. I think anything below 60 degrees is cold, 70 and below is chilly and 85 is my sweet spot. Somewhere between ~30 degrees and 85 degrees lies my problem with skiing. I wasn’t built for cold weather. Like a beacon of distress, my body sends out a flaming red distress signal called, my nose, to let everyone know that I am too damn cold. It also incessantly drips to remind ME that I am too damn cold.

The clothes. More specifically, snow caps. I do not look good in them. I see so many cute, rosy-cheeked, braid-wearing Suzy chap-sticks that look adorable in their ski garb from their caps and goggles down to their awkward boots (more about these later). I, on the other hand, have tried on a good 1,000 ski caps and I look like a Q-tip in every one. Combined with my fire-engine red nose above, it’s just not attractive.

Ski boots, Getting them on, getting them off, walking in them, carrying them, dare I say I h-a-t-e these things. With as much as skiing technology has evolved (or so I hear), I have a hard time believing more could not be done about the boots.

Adrenaline. I don’t get “adrenaline rushes”. I only see my life pass before my eyes.

Speed. See above.

Me Like:

The lift ride. Alone. Meditation time anyone?? Floating over the tree tops in a chair all my own, one just naturally meditates. Like a wait for the rollercoaster, the lift takes much longer (at this mountain anyway) than the descent. Unlike the rollercoaster, however, for me, is that I enjoy the wait as much, if not more.

Hot chocolate. Winter’s antidotal confection, what’s not to love? Add to it enjoying a cup from a mountain chalet? Positively dreamy.

The people. These folk who are “one with the mountain” seem to understand that everyone on the mountain is one, no matter their skiing ability or how ridiculous they look in a snow cap. The people who work at the ski hills seem to be some of the nicest on the planet, as far as I can tell.

Skiing. OK, this is a big one for me. It’s the first time in my life (see part 1) that this has migrated from the ‘no likey’ to the ‘likey’ category for me. I finally feel enough control that I can a) stop in a reasonable amount of time, if needed, and b) control my speed for the most part, with some exception of course. None of it is very pretty but I am fine with pure function for now.

Apres-ski. In addition to just liking the French referenced name, after a day (or a half-day, which is enough for me), one’s body buzzing from the cold mountain air, the after-burn from the quads and a deep hunger, wherever one goes (in our case, our cozy cabin), some lounging, some snacking, some thawing, and some sharing of stories from the day – it’s a Norman Rockwell painting come to life.

The focus. This may be an advantage of being a beginner, but talk about being in the moment. If I look too far down the hill, I panic. If I let my thoughts wander, the next thing I know one ski is meandering in another direction. After getting off the lift in my meditative state, it’s nice to balance this with going into a single force concentration and the mental discipline needed not to freak out. This should definitely be part of Jedi training, if it’s not already.

My therapist-parent coach has a habit, at the end of our sessions, in reference to parenting, to say “You are doing it.” It always makes me feel good. No matter what I am struggling with at the time, and how badly I SEEM to be at it, she’s right about one thing, I am doing it. At one point on this trip my heart swelled with a little pride when my father-in-law (my skiing coach) saw me coming down the hill and he yelled to me, “You are doing it!”

He could not have known that that was the the perfect thing to say. I’ll add him to my “like” section too.:)

To Ski or Not to Ski (sorry I couldn’t resist this title)

Here I am again. Like a bad relationship, I keep coming back, hoping it will be better. This is me and skiing.

I grew up in Wisconsin. There were no mountains in or near Wisconsin. I had parents that didn’t grow up skiing themselves and believed skiing was only for the uber-rich. We weren’t even rich, let alone uber. My only experience, which I don’t even count as skiing, was when I was in middle school and my best friend had moved to a Chicago suburb. There was a small ski hill there and, technically speaking, this was the first time I put on skis. If you know anything about Illinois geography, you might have some appreciation for how small this hill must have been. Without instruction (or none that I remember), I managed to stay on my feet down the hill, but with no way to stop, I kept gliding all the way to the fence that separated the snow hill from the parking lot. There was a 6 inch gap between the ground and the fence and I always think that if anyone was just on the other side of the fence, they are probably still telling the story of the ‘thwap’ and the skis appearing from the other side. I think it was the humiliation more than the pain, but that was the only trip down the hill I took.

When I was 20, I went skiing for what I considered the first time on a first date a guy I really liked. One should not mix so many firsts. I was so nervous the night before that I did not sleep a wink. I had all of my clothes laid out, but I was sure I didn’t have the proper attire, and for a first date, that seemed important. I kept replaying the scene in my mind – breaking one limb or another, but trying to wince in pain in a kind of attractive, flirtatious way. I think I gave up hope of falling with any grace, but just hoped I didn’t hurt him in the process. Hurting me seemed inevitable, but hurting him seemed that it would have killed any chance for relationship success. I didn’t end up hurting myself or him, but I wouldn’t say I conquered the sport. I flailed around to the point of exhaustion and then we carried on a 5 month relationship that may have been characterized in the same way. I didn’t ski again for a long, long time.

And so it went my relationship with skiing. I would show up ever 4-5 years with some hope that this time it would work. That this lesson, that this friend or boyfriend might be able to do the impossible: teach me to ski…well. But the “ski well” part, seemingly, only comes with practice and with an on-again (2-3 days at best) off-again (usually at least 2-3 years between trips) relationship, things never progressed.

And then I met my husband (why do so many ‘defining moments’ in my essays begin with this phrase?). He grew up skiing – family stories abound about him breaking free from his kiddie-instructor, finding the adults and pleading to be taken to the top of the mountain. He was taken, and he soared. He was on the ski team in college. He takes annual ski trips to the Canadian Rockies where he goes into the back-country in order to find the most preposterous cracks and crevices to ski down. When we discussed our relationship and that all was going so well, I finally confessed my biggest worry that would break the relationship apart like a raw egg. I didn’t ski. Well, through the years I could usually manage my way down all of the bunny hills, and had occasionally worked my way up to some easy blue runs. Compared to him, however, I really didn’t ski. He said that it was actually better – all of his prior girlfriends that had skied usually ended up frustrated and mad at him – while they might have been great skiers, they couldn’t quite keep up with him, and he didn’t always want to wait for them (hmmm, can’t imagine). Great! We were set up for relationship – and skiing – success.

Here we are, our oldest child is 5 and learned to ski last year. I want my children to grow up skiing – I want them to learn how before the falling hurts so much, before they have the visual of being transported by helicopter to the nearest emergency room. This, however, translates into frequent ski trips. Annual ski trips are already “frequent” for me, but now Mark is talking at least twice a year. But in this, I have found hope for myself. 39 is not too late! Perhaps, with some frequency, I can actually improve my skiing abilities and salvage this relationship after all. This is our second year to Utah – to Sundance. It’s a small mountain – perfect for children and adults with child-like skiing abilities. First day (yesterday), was a relative success. I worked my way up to the hill that I left off on after a week of skiing last year. After all of these years, perhaps this was the missing link in this relationship with skiing – sticking with it. I’m still most fond of après-ski, but I think I might, though it’s too early too tell, start enjoying pendant-ski*.

*note: the French word for “during” is pendant. I know, if I have to explain my “cleverness”, perhaps it’s not so clever. It’s probably even arrogant to try to use a foreign language to be clever. Très désolé (translation: very sorry)).

Typing to the Rhythm of the Sea

There are many areas of my life where I feel blessed. Lucky. Privilaged. Whatever word one wants to use to express extreme good fortune. Of course, the most important things are that I have a loving and supportive family and that I married a loving and supportive husband, which has lead to two healthy and beautiful children. Then you add things like I married a brilliant guy who loves making money and so uses his brilliance for such things. I would love him the same either way, but it is a very nice side benefit that I don’t need to worry about finances. This doesn’t always stop me from doing so, as I DID grow up in the Midwest, but rationally speaking, I don’t really need to. AND I get to live a really comfortable and privileged life. There are also other things, like, a spiritual fortune where I feel I’ve been lead down a path that was not likely for my upbringing, so I feel even more grateful to have encountered it. And then there is right now. Right now I am typing this very blog post on gratitude from my resort room in Belize.

About 10 months ago I was in a workshop entitled, Your Best Year Yet. It was all about looking forward and creating goals for the coming year. It was a mix of some spiritual woo-woo stuff about putting stuff out to the universe and some Stephen F. Covey stuff about making goals and checking in on them regularly. I’m all about making goals, although much less about checking in on them regularly and I love the idea of putting stuff out to the universe and just having it come to me. Yes, I am ultimately very lazy and I do recognize this about myself. Around this time I knew I wanted to start working in 2010, well, I wanted to start earning money in 2010 (a mother always argues that she is always working and this is true). But I really did not know what direction to go. This was a big reason I was so drawn to doing the workshop. From the exercise, I ended up with a list of 10 goals. This seemed like a lot to me, but then maybe this is because I am lazy. These 10 goals were written with purple marker on sparkly paper – all to make it fun and light and not burdensome, like, now I have to go out and work really hard on all of these goals. That was definitely not the point of articulating my aspirations. Anyway, one of the goals was to make $100,000 doing something that I love. I know – it’s a little vague. We could get into all kinds of psychological reasons why it was because the instructions were actually to be very specific, but somehow, I ended up with a few vague ones on my list. I started the new year with gusto, networking and talking about going back into consumer research. But everyone I spoke with said doing this part time was going to be difficult. OK, yes, I put down that I wanted to earn $100,000 in a year doing something that I love – part time. The ratio of work to money seems a bit disproportionate, but the point was to write anything down that I wanted. There was nothing about reason. After some time, it seemed obvious to me that finding a part time job through normal networking and job-finding channels was going to be challenging. And then I had a little tiny inkling of an idea.

I have two friends who I had thought before that it would be nice to work with them because we have complementary professional skills. None of us were working and I didn’t really know if either of them wanted to, but I put it out there. During a run with one of them I asked if she had any interest in working, maybe together, and maybe with another friend of mine. She was. Then I called my other friend and told her I had an ‘interesting idea’ and that we should meet for coffee. She was intrigued enough to show. I suggested to them that we had complementary skills and would they be interested in starting a conversation about working together. The answer was yes and we started meeting weekly for coffee. Lots of ideas came and went and our bond began to grow. Finally, we agreed to launch a “Marketing Boutique”, a name we thought was original for the few minutes before we went online to find that other people were using the term. It took us a good while to land on our name – ThreeDefined – but every meeting solidified the notion that we were going to make a great team. A couple of us were worried, as you might imagine, about finding clients, but our 3rd partner kept assuring us that they would come. Me, with my MBA was prepared to do all the work to ensure that happened. She just suggested, as she always does, to “just put it out there” and “see what happens.” So we did.

Much to our surprise, clients just started coming. Of course, our first couple clients were people we were close with. Then we got referrals from them and we’ve been busy for a ~ 6 months now without having to make much effort to find them. And then we got this client. A friend and business partner of my husband’s is buying a resort in Belize. He hired ThreeDefined to do the re-branding work so we had to fly down here and get the experience for ourselves so that we can market it properly. Seriously. We really did need to do this to do our jobs effectively. And as I’ve been walking through the waves on the sandy beach, or looking out to the horizon over the vast ocean of blue, I can’t help but notice that I’m earning money carrying out one of my life passions – travel. It would take a small miracle to hit $100,000 by the end of the year, but I have to admit, this really fits the bill. Today we kept looking at each other, as we experienced the snorkeling trip on offer at the resort, and we just kept saying, “ok, seriously?”  I think it’s ok to be in disbelief of one’s good fortune. But at some point, I had to give up my disbelief and as I sit here, typing to the rhythm of the sea, I feel intense gratitude that the universe really does seem to be listening. And delivering.

What a Difference a Year Makes

Here I am in Chicago again. It is one year after my last Chicago trip, when I blogged about my first trip away from children in a year and a half and how life-changing it was and how every moment was spent soaking up alone time and time not spent taking care of anyone else. And it was that…life changing.

This year, I am not the same mother and my kids are not the same kids. Last year I got very clear on what I need to keep myself sane. With the support of my husband, I made more time for me and then I started working. My children are different too – they are another year older. Every mother should remind all other mothers that one year from now, their lives will be totally different: a message to both appreciate what is, now, and to not worry about xxx, because in a year, xxx will be different. Where we are, in terms of our relationship, and their needs from me, and my ability to give it – are so vastly different from just one year ago, I hardly recognize us. We are growing up as a family! We also just had a fantastic family vacation, spent mostly together as a family, but 8 days were alone with my husband …it is only a month after that trip and I was feeling very much in balance at home. When this trip came up, I really did not want to leave at all!

The reason we come to Chicago every year is for a trade-show one of my husband’s companies. My sister usually comes to help at the show and we have a great week catching up and hanging out in the windy city when we are not working. But her life has moved on too, and she just started a Masters program at age 47 (go girl!) and she was not able to come:(.

I think this is the first time in my mothering history, where I would have chosen just to stay home. It is not that I am not appreciating the time away. I sat in front of a mother and her child on my flight here and I savored my magazine and not having to read children’s books. I savored my ginger-ale and not not getting a drink because we would probably end up spilling it. And I really savored my ability to close my eyes and rest when I was tired instead of not getting a nap because my children decided they didn’t need one either.

So I will be sure to appreciate the week, the dinners (and not having to make any of them!), the shopping and even the working (this company does provide most of our income in a year, so it’s the least I can do!) on behalf of mothers everywhere. But a big part of my heart is back at home with my children, taking them to school, hanging out in the afternoons, putting them to bed.  Last year this trip allowed me to pull all of me back together. This year, I feel I have left part of me at home.

Because We are Worth it

(again, not in real time because we are home now!)

As we enter our final week of our six week family adventure, well, our six-week German adventure, because anyone with small children knows that every day is an adventure, I am reflecting on our time together.

We have had some rough patches, this is for sure. This was expected, traveling with a 2 and 4 ½ year old and dealing with almost constant change, irregular sleeping schedules, new beds, new people, new languages, etc. It was totally expected to encounter some crankiness, some tantrums, lots of tears of overwhelm (from both mother and children). Expected or not, however, when traveling with small children, there is always that moment when in the middle of such “crises”, when one wonders if the trip is really “the right thing”, or at the very least, if it was worth it – for everyone involved. But as our family grows up, I am finding myself coming to some answers.

I come at this from two angles – my self, who LOVES to travel, who feels strongly about giving my children an international outlook in life, and who, quite simply, wanted to spend the summer away from Austin’s heat.  I wanted to be among beautiful, historical buildings, quaint outdoor cafes, cobblestone streets, gargoyles, statues, castles and bakeries and European treats on every street corner. Then there is the mother-me who has read her share of parenting books, who not only knows but who fully embraces the idea of structure and routine, and who can quote you the AAP’s guidelines for recommended hours of sleep at each stage of development. These things – structure and sleep – have been my formula for raising happy and healthy children, to date. Plus some adherance to nutrional considerations. So, when we planned this trip, I kept asking myself – can these two parts of me be wed for a time such that we can traipse around Germany and still adhere to some sort of schedule, some semblance of eating well and some maintenance of happy and healthy children? The answer, as it turns out, is no. no. and yes.

I have tried to justify and explain our “schedule” to my mother-side self, over and over again. But no amount of manipulation of truth has allowed me to find peace with us adhering to any kind of schedule. The kids are sometimes, if not often, tired. When they are exhausted, we make all concessions to catch them up. Driving for hours on end on the Autobahn, from one city to the next, often serves this purpose. And other times, I am happy to take a break from our sight seeing fervor to allow Eliana (our napper) a proper afternoon nap. The children have not been to bed before 9:30 since we started this trip and it has been as late as 10 or 11 on many occasions. They do sleep in, but there are those mysterious days where they wake hours before their recommended sleeping hours are achieved. I’ve ‘let things go’ on this trip, for sure, but I have not been able to stop tracking their hours of sleep and making sure we at least get close to their sleep quotas, even if it’s catching up in the car. I used to think car sleeping didn’t really count. It does now.

On the eating front, imagine how we parents often let eating habits slide while on vacation because, “it’s vacation”, because we are eating out a lot and because their usual food may not be available (though, interesting to me is that kinder-menus in Germany are virtually identical to ours in the States, with the addition of Schnitzel). Our six-week slide has looked something like this:

Beginning of trip: “No, we don’t eat candy for breakfast.”

Now: “We don’t eat candy until after breakfast”

Beginning of trip: Take two more bites of chicken and then you can have more French fries.

Now: We order only the FF because we are so tired of wasting whatever they come with.

Beginning: If you don’t eat ____(insert some meal, breakfast, lunch or dinner), you won’t get dessert later.

Now: “ok. Eat this piece of bread and then we’ll get ice cream.”

Pizza has become the “healthy food” that we push on them. I am not proud of any of this, of course, but this is what happens after five weeks of vacation.

Despite all of the large deviations from my routine +sleep + nutrition formula, my kids are happy and healthy. Having had their parents or grandparents for such an extended period of time has had them basking in the constant rays of attention. It has also been very healthy for both Mark and I to have to do so much continuous parenting – together. At home I feel like we often to a lot of trading off while here we have had to handle every situation as a team. The eight days spent away from the children were also marvelous for rekindling our relationship and connecting as the best friends that we are. I feel our parenting has reflected this too. And at 2 and 4 ½, we have seen the relationship between Max and Eliana deepen. They are becoming real buddies, running off together, happily leaving mom and dad to enjoy more than just a few moments of conversation time. Eliana’s vocabulary has really expanded during this trip so the whole family has been rejoicing together with each new word. And even at this young age, family jokes have sprouted. I love the large windmills, used to generate electricity, that are dotted all across the German countryside, so I was often pointing them out. Exasperated, Max finally said, “we see those all of the time – stop pointing them out!” Now, we point them out, smirking at each other.

In short, this trip has allowed all of us to get to know each other better. This is what family vacations are meant to be for, I realize, but up until now, when we were traveling with really little ones, this was lost on me. I sometimes wondered why we were taking vacations! These family moments, the memories for some (Eliana won’t “remember”), the shared experiences, the new and re-kindled relationships – these things are also part of a happy and healthy child (for our inner-child too), so, to answer myself in whether it was all worth it, I would say, immeasurably so.

When we get back home, Eliana will start back to school and Max will have swim lessons then start school himself. Mark and I will jump back into our work schedules and the nanny will return. We will resume our schedules and at least some semblance of structure (ok, while I believe in this, I don’t provide perfect structure at home either). Sleep schedules will again be adhered to and vegetables will be served at every meal -even if they aren’t eaten, they are always served! We will look at pictures and tell friends about our adventures. We will continue to joke about mama always being lost…we may as well, remember some of the meltdowns (from both mama and child) because these make up the trip too. But in the end, I have realized that the formula can smudge….and it still equals happier, healthier family.

Lederhosen & Bread

(not posted in real-time, we are actually 20 days into our 6 week vaca now!)

Almost 10 days in, we are fully entrenched in our Germany family adventure now. I was looking forward to and have been enjoying our German breakfasts, full of bountiful German breads, one of my favorite things here.

Our first week was spent staying near Mark’s cousin and his family. It was lovely – we stayed on a farm that has several apartments for rent for short term use. Think Bed and Breakfast without the Breakfast because you have your own kitchen for that. OK, kind of like thinking ‘hotel with kitchenette’, but it’s not a hotel, it’s a farm. It is a small farm and I was wholly impressed by the cleanliness and organization of it. I am not sure I have the authority to say that this is a result of it being a German farm (I’ve made my stance clear that this ‘neat and clean’ German stereotype has certainly come about for good reason), as I have not seen any other German farms, but somehow they even contained the smell of the cow barn – a smell I am acutely familiar with, having grown up in Wisconsin – to smell only in the immediate vicinity of the cow barn. Unfortunately, even the Germans can not rid the actual barn of the odor of cow and it’s bi-products – a hideous odor, indeed.

There seemed to be several businesses going on at this bustling locale. It is a small farm…with very happy cows that graze in pastures of green grass. I do not typically eat beef, but if and when I do, I try to find and buy from places where I can think of it coming from places like these. There are the apartments (all new) and many projects going on around that – holes being dug, things being fixed or built…not always clear what was being done, but judging from the 3+ men deliberating their next moves, there was clearly an abundance of something’s-going-on. In the short time we were there, the driveway bricks were perfectly laid, finishing what had clearly been a very large project.

They have beautiful vegetable and flower gardens smattered around the grounds, one of which was just outside of our apartment, and which were often being tended to. And then there were other barns, several tractors going in and out during all times of the day and what appeared to be some logging going on as well. The children absolutely loved it – in addition to the cows, there were 2 dogs and a few cats running around. Even Max, who is usually afraid of dogs, fell in love with Lota (small border collie) and cried on our last day there because we were leaving the cows and her. Both kids love cats and Eliana was in heaven with almost constant cat sitings outside our door.

The best part of all, however, in this farm setting, was that Max had taken to wearing his Lederhosen every single day. There were two pairs of these leather trousers – one knickers – one shorts – that Oma had been given by an old friend back when Max was born. At 4 ½ he is finally the perfect size to wear them, and for whatever reason, from the moment he was shown these garments, he refused to wear anything else. They are beautiful – with suspenders that display beautiful embroidered flowers. And what made them even more perfect is that they were eloquently paired, each day, with the Paul Frank t-shirts that Oma had also brought for him. The universe aligned and the colors in each of the shirts paired perfectly with brown leather laden hosen and the colors on the suspenders. His perfectly shaped, slightly lanky legs brought the whole look together in the most endearing way. And the piece de la resistance, really, were his Huck Finn feet. He spent much of his time running around the farm checking in on the cows, looking for cats, playing with Lota, etc. He didn’t always wear his shoes, so he would come back looking like a lederhosened Huck Finn. The first time I saw him like this, I knew, for certain, our German adventures had begun.

My Heart and San Francisco

I have spent the last 5 days in San Francisco, a city which captured my heart 7 years ago and has never let it go. When I tell people that I love San Francisco the question that always follows, of course, is what it is that I like so much about it, unless they share this love, and then they just nod their heads in understanding. My answer to those who don’t already understand is almost always the same, “I don’t know….the architecture, the natural beauty, the attitude of the city.” But I actually think the most accurate part of my answer is the part where I say, “I don’t know.” While this isn’t a very fulfilling answer for people, which is probably why I feel compelled to expand, the truth is, I am not sure we ever “understand” love and things and people that we feel a real connection with. If someone asked me why I love my husband, I could give a list of things that I admire about him, but explaining that real connection I feel with him, I can’t do it. I don’t know why I feel that way towards him and not everyone on the street, especially because my spiritual beliefs are such that we have that exact connection with everyone in the world. But I don’t feel it for everyone in the world, so again, “I don’t know” pretty much sums it up. I just do. If someone would ask me why I love my children…. “I don’t know” would fit the bill even more. While I could create a list – they are adorable, amazing, funny, sweet and kind, etc. even more so than when describing my husband these list of things have absolutely no connection to why I love them. I just do. Indescribably so.

And so is my love for San Francisco. Indescribable. Before you think this is too weird, consider that cities are made up of the energy of the people living in them. When I lived here, every time I would return after traveling, I would breathe a sigh of relief to having returned “home”. There was a sense of peace that settled in my belly like some part of me was attached to the city the whole time I was gone, and after profuse and uncomfortable stretching, it was allowed to spring back into place. Like San Francisco, herself, was wringing her hands while I was gone, and when I returned, she rested again, knowing I had returned safe. We fulfilled each other. I continue to experience this sense of peace every time I return. Though this is not where I live, it is like it is still home for part of me.

On this trip in particular, I have really noticed how inspired I am by the details of this city – inspirational plaques are cemented into the sidewalks, unexpected sculptures pop out of concrete, sides of buildings and beautiful planters laid with bright, cheery flowers. Historical buildings and new buildings stand next to one other, melding, making time irrelevant. It is a city of art. A city of creativity. And I am starting to see that this is what speaks to me – what settles my belly. While I have not, in the past, considered myself a “creative” or an artist of any kind, the city has spoken silently to this side of me that was lying dormant. The city expressed a side of me that I was not outwardly expressing for myself. So maybe this is my answer to the question of why I love the city so, “because it speaks to the creative me.” People will either nod in understanding or look at me like I am a freak who belongs in hippy San Francisco. If it is the latter, then I’ll add, “and because of the beautiful architecture and the natural beauty.” It is all true.

As with anything, the city has it’s faults. I am not oblivious to the dirt, the anger or the poverty that create balance in this city of charm. And there are a lot of reasons I do not want to live here right now. Perhaps my two beautiful children will appreciate this city as much as I do one day, but it is not the place for us right now. Managing our day to day is challenging enough for me – I don’t feel the need to increase the challenge factor by living in 900 sq feet apartments, shuttling two small children between different modes of public transportation, crowded streets and traffic jams or paying exorbitant prices and jumping through exorbitant hoops to get them into preschools. I live in another creative community and for that I can be very thankful. And I know that San Francisco is here for me whenever I need her – to embrace me and stroke my hair and send me on my merry way to be the best, most creative mom/wife/being I can be.