The Blog

Picture this. A suburban mom and eight little kids on a summer day, surrounded by -- what else? -- piles of laundry. The older girls don’t look forward to ironing, folding, and knowing it’s all going to come around again the next day…and the day after that.

Now imagine the same scenario, except with the Camelot album playing through stereo speakers.

What a difference! The first image? A dreary factory floor. With music added? Santa’s workshop.

Not even kidding.

There’s a tiny piano -- a lapel pin, actually -- in front of me right now. It has a place of honor on my desk. It reminds me to play music while I work. The boring tasks feel sacred. And the work I love? Sacred doesn’t begin to cover it.

Darrell played classical music on Sunday mornings when Katie was little. I made brunch while Kate read the newspaper over his shoulder. Our lives felt even more the fun movie they would’ve otherwise.

Think of what you love about the movies you love. The conflicts -- yeah, conflicts -- but also the memorable scenes. The dramatic exits. And the music.

Always the music.

Why not honor the fact you’re writing your life story? Why not make it something you’d enjoy watching -- while it’s happening, and as it’s winding down? Don’t forget the soundtrack!

I love asking people if they know anyone who’s gone even two weeks without junk food -- without, for example, a potato chip or a cookie. No one’s answered yes. Not until recently, when a woman raised her hand during a presentation. She was on a plan that looked -- at first glance -- similar to one of those celebrity-endorsed regimes. I suppose I could’ve asked her if she liked it, but I didn’t want to pry. She didn’t look happy. Maybe she was having a bad day.

But maybe it was her diet.

If so, maybe she’s always hungry. Maybe bored. Maybe both.

That’s what Darrell and I can’t get over about my way of eating. I eat all day long and I never gain weight. And for as easily bored as I am you’d think I’d have gone crazy two months in, let alone be so hopelessly devoted after more than six years.

I’m not bored, not really. I keep finding ways to keep things interesting. Don’t have to look far for the life lesson in that one!

My latest discovery drew raves from Darrell. Take a slice of New England Brown Bread and sprinkle it with a bit of salt. Microwave it on a medium setting for thirty or forty seconds. What do you get? You get what tastes like fresh bread straight out of heaven. For reaching into a bag and then pushing a couple of buttons!

So I have fewer foods to combine. So what? It’s more of a challenge to spice up a meal. That’s great.

Challenges are fun. Remember?

nail polishI’m getting a manicure soon. And for the first time in my life I won’t have to apologize for the condition of my nails.

For a whole month, after I’d made the decision to stop going after them, I didn’t even touch them except to slap on a coat of polish. This was an achievement on the order of climbing Mount Everest. It’s been four months, and I’m still getting used to the new me.

One thing that helped in the beginning? When I noticed a rough spot, a burr on a cuticle so tempting I thought all my problems would be solved if I could go after it, I heard a little voice inside my head. And that voice just sort of screamed, “No!!!”

It reminded Darrell and me of a telephone company technician I once worked with, who worried I’d make a bad situation even worse when I reached for a box with some wires in it. “Don’t you touch that thing!” he barked.

“Don’t you touch that thing!” I yelled at myself, over and over and over, all day.

I usually guard against mean voices inside my head, but being gentle hadn’t worked. I told myself to steer clear of my nails with as much gusto -- panic, even -- as I once used with Katie when she was little and I worried she’d dart into traffic. Her life depended on that, after all.

And my life -- really living into the vision of I have for myself -- depends on this.

You know, for now.

After I gave up junk food I thought it would be relatively easy to break other bad habits. What could be more difficult, after all, than giving up donuts for the rest of my life?

I’ll tell you. Not going after my nails. I’ve always found it soothing to pick, pick, pick while waiting for a page to load or waiting for someone to answer a question in fewer than three pages.

And while I’d gone as long as a day or two without touching them, by day three I was once again apparently powerless over their call. That’s how it seemed. I found it so difficult to leave them alone I wondered if I was wired to pick at myself. Worse, I didn’t know if I wanted to stop -- that’s how ingrained, and soothing, the habit was.

Once in a while I had an epiphany. I’d aspire to bigger stages, for example -- taking my work to a brand-new and noteworthy level -- and glance at my nails mid-reverie. I couldn’t reconcile the two images. My nails were the penny in Somewhere in Time. They made this beautiful new life impossible in ways I’m only beginning to understand.

And still I went after them. I pondered the drag they had on my spirit. If there was anything worse than how they looked, after all, it was the constant reminder I hadn’t done something I’d set out to do.

“What would it take?” I wondered.

I found out this summer. A woman Darrell and I met is taking our family on a little adventure this winter and part of it, believe it or not, hinges on me having beautiful nails. If everything goes well I’ll document it in the blog. I’m motivated. If I fail at my quest for beautiful nails this time there’s a lot of money at stake. A pretty penny!

So I have the motivation, finally. In my next post I’ll explain how I’m actually following through on it.

Go ahead and take questions after your presentation. Just make sure you save a story -- a good story, maybe the best story -- for after those wind down.

It’s a suggestion from public speaking coach Nick Morgan, and it never fails to impress Darrell. “That’s a really good move,” he’ll say, every time I use it. Which is…every time.

You don’t have to do it this way, of course. You can hope whatever question you get last is also the one everyone had -- so they’ll be hanging on every word of your answer.

But why take the risk?

I had a closet full of clothes in my twenties. And I mean full of clothes. But when I had a job interview or an important meeting or a big date, I found myself reaching for the same few things over and over.

No more.

I got rid of everything that wasn’t flattering or didn’t make me feel good. I’d have trouble coming up with ten separate outfits if you asked me to do that, not that you would. But I love every one.

I don’t love them all in the same way. The dress I’ll wear to Katie’s graduation from NYU (yep! chosen already!) is perfect. But so are my workout clothes -- loose enough to move in, tight enough to be flattering, warm enough to make it safe to run outside in subzero temperatures.

When I survey the choices I don’t feel depressed anymore. I no longer see a jacket that needs mending, a sweater that itches, or shoes that hurt like hell.

What an unnecessary drag on the spirit, eh?

poker gameWhat do you want to be when you grow up?

Silly?

Good move!

Have you ever been stunned by the tone of someone’s request? We have.

There’s no rule that says you have to be nice. It’s more of a guideline.

We have a rule, though: “Not one unkind word.” Not if we can help it. And you know what? We can always help it.

You’ve almost certainly heard the saying, “You always hurt the one you love.” It makes me want to say, “Maybe you do. We don’t.”

Oh, sure. It’s more work to wrap a request in courtesy, if not kindness. And people might not remember -- or appreciate -- the time you took.

But they’ll remember if you don’t!