Archives for December 2009

Somebody Else's Experience is the Best Teacher: Lessons of 2009

p_013Experience is not the best teacher, unless it’s someone else’s. Here are some experiences had by others in 2009 and the lessons I hope you learned from them.

1. If you are a high profile celebrity who is stepping outside your marriage to have affairs with other women, do not leave voice mail messages to one of your lovers. Even if you don’t identify yourself by name, we recognize your voice. And, the temptation of your lover to turn that saved message over to the media for big bucks when she finds out she is just one of many is just too tempting to resist.

2. If you decide to stage a hoax involving your son in a hot air balloon publicity stunt, spend more time rehearsing what your son should say when questioned later by the media. Or decline any interviews (Oh, I forgot. The whole point was to get publicity.) You can’t expect a six year old to grasp the importance of misrepresenting the truth or realize that this “game” is punishable by jail time for his parents.

3. If you’ve just gotten a new high paying job don’t diss your new company on Twitter:

[The company in question] just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.

Tweets go out to anyone on Twitter, not just your followers. And, major companies are not only tech-savvy these days, but monitor social media to keep up with what’s being said about their brand.

4. If you are an Arizona video podcaster on vacation with your family, consider telling us about your vacation when you return rather than giving blow by blow details of your travels as you go. Burglars read tweets too, and after reading the following tweet may decide to relieve you of some of your possessions while you are away.

We made it to Kansas City in one piece. We’re visiting [wife’s] family. Can’t wait to get some good video while we’re here.

Modern technology is a wonderful tool, but when you use it to put your foot in mouth the result is swift and unretrievable.

Get With the Program: We are in Permanent Beta

ribbonswirlThings are changing so fast around us that we can no longer wait to find the beaten path or use past techniques as a guide. Whether you are looking for a job, marketing your own business, planning to return to school or longing for a life mate, chances are you can’t rely on doing things the traditional way any more.

The term “beta” refers to the preliminary or testing stage of software or hardware products. Once the glitches were worked out, a more finalized version was put out on the market.

The only problem is that software and hardware continue to have so many problems that companies don’t even expect the first version to be problem-free. They count on you, the user, to test the product and discover the problems.

We are in a state of change where we are testing new ideas and products knowing that adjustments, adaptations and upgrades will be needed. At the heart of all this change is technology.

Resisting the push toward technology is futile. Even the State Board of Equalization finally has set up electronic submissions, not as an option but as mandatory. When the government and educational institutions finally see the benefits and make the move to technology, it’s time for everyone to face that it’s here to stay.

A former colleague who takes pride in being a dinosaur was shocked when her credit union suggested she not buy traveler’s checks but use her debit card to get cash while traveling abroad. She had never accepted a debit card years ago when it was offered to her, so now she had to get up to speed on using a debit card the week before her trip abroad.

The same warning about traveler’s checks not being the ideal anymore was lost on a tourist who was traveling with our tour group to China. As we were leaving the hotel headed out to visit the highlights of Beijing she was waging a verbal war with the hotel front desk clerk and manager who didn’t think her signatures on her traveler’s check matched.

Not only is technology here to stay, but it’s changing daily. Whatever features are in place today will change by next week, so keeping up is essential if you plan to stay in the game.

When I upgraded to a new Blackberry last month, the body of my phone looked pretty much like the old one, but I had to learn new features, download my GPS again, and sadly discovered that my favorite places were no longer set. My new phone has almost as much memory as my computer and can take pictures and videos.

If I want I can access not only my email, but store PowerPoint presentations, work on Word documents and access my Facebook and Twitter accounts from my phone. Anyone who gets comfort from having things in the same place and work the same way are in for a lot of discomfort in this new land where technology leads the way.

Instead of fighting it, why not begin to get acquainted with one or two key tools slowly. The Internet is loaded with tutorials to help you. And don’t think you’re alone.

In spite of the fact that I know a lot about many tech tools and features, I hit learning curves almost every day. Today, for example, when I set up my Facebook fan page (not to be confused with a profile page) I had to search for a while before I discovered why I couldn’t set up a vanity URL yet. The vanity URL is a short one that would read instead of the long complicated one they assign you at first . See what I mean?

After two hours of searching, I found the answer. You need to have 25 fans before you are allowed to get the vanity URL for a fan page. So, I sent out invitations to all my Facebook friends and within minutes I had enough fans to get the easier-to-remember URL for my Color Your Life Happy fan page. Yippee! Now I just have to relocate those instructions for setting it up.

I must admit that keeping up with technology is not for the faint of heart. But if keeping an active mind staves off Alzheimer’s, I’m safe.

Part of enjoying your life is embracing change. You certainly don’t have to jump on board every new gadget that comes on the market, but you also can’t expect to remain unaffected by the changes taking place around us.

It was once said that nothing is sure but death and taxes. Add to that change. It’s here to stay.

Give Me Some Seamless Days


My friend, Linda, says that I invented the term, “seamless days.” I’m not sure about that but I do know that somewhere along the way I discovered that I needed them in order to get big projects done.

A lot of people praise multitasking, while some time management practitioners say it’s not humanly possible to do more than one thing at a time. Regardless of who is right, I seem to get major projects done best when I can work continuously without outside interruptions and the tyranny of the clock. I call these my seamless days, and they are the times when I believe I can accomplish my best writing, thinking, and planning.

Seamless days are a series of two to three days when I don’t have appointments and can stay home working on important projects. I don’t work nonstop, of course. My seamless days are punctuated with snack breaks, sometimes even a short walk out of doors. What is most distinctive about them, however, is that I don’t have outside appointments, guests or disruptive thoughts. I screen my phone calls and don’t turn on the TV. Without the distraction of the media, telephone and other time thieves, I can get absorbed so deeply in a project that hours literally go by before I realize. The result is that I get big chunks of work done.

Occasionally during a break from work during my seamless days I’ll daydream. I’ll just lean back in my easy chair and begin to think about whatever. Scenes from my childhood or episodes of raising my children flash by. Sometimes I recall how a specific moment felt, like waking up to the sunrise over Puget Sound in Bainbridge Island where the large bedroom windows gave me a full view.

Other times I imagine what it’ll be like to hold my next grandchild, whenever one of my children decides to take this step. Once in a while I’ll get spot a bird perched on a tree branch outside my window or a lizard doing pushups on my patio.

When I was still teaching full time, running a side business and managing my family I would long for seamless days. When the need became urgent, I would pull out my month at a glance calendar, check for three consecutive days without appointments and make a plan to stay put for that time frame. Sometimes I would have to reschedule an appointment to make this happen, so I would.

I urge you to occasionally make space in your life for some seamless days. You can use them for major projects or to get away from your normal activities.

You’ll return to your routine rejuvenated, able to stave off stress and more likely to keep a positive mood.

Open your calendar now and schedule your seamless days. You’ll be glad you did.

What Does Your Christmas Tree Say About You?

decorating our first tree 1969
[Decorating our first tree in 1969]

I had never given any thought to what my Christmas tree says about me until I read a post by Maria Kellam, a colourist with a similar sounding blog to mine Colour Me Happy. As Maria shared her saga about her less-than-perfect tree, I began to reflect on my own tree story.

My mother and father always put up our tree on Christmas Eve while my two sisters and I were asleep. You see the first room of our house was my mother’s beauty shop until the last customer was done on Christmas Eve. When we awoke on Christmas morning the tree would be up, decorated and have presents all around it. My parens must have been up all night creating this transformation and assembling toys. Even though we were asleep just on the other side of a makeshift wall my father had built to turn one big room into two, we slept very soundly in our eagerness to make Christmas arrive as quickly as possible.

As I grew up I admired the Christmas trees in movies and Macy’s window and longed to have my own Christmas tree that would be up for many weeks for me to enjoy leading up to Christmas Day. It would be a real tree, like the one I had as a child, but it would be taller and lavishly decorated like the ones in the department stores.

In the early days of my marriage our tree was indeed a real tree. I insisted on it. It was about 6-7 ft. tall, but the decorating was not very inspired. I draped the typical tinsel and hung the ornaments, but was never thrilled with the results. As I began to have children, getting the toys, books and cookies baked became more important than the tree. We always had the real tree, but while it was decorated to the kids’ satisfaction, I always longed for more. My husband was content because he preferred simplicity and often viewed me as being too flamboyant. (Can you be “too” flamboyant? Isn’t flamboyant enough said?)

Over the years I began to grow disenchanted with the real tree because after a few weeks of burning lights in it and the drying effects of the fireplace, I began to worry disproportionately about the potential for fire. Besides, a three-week-old real Christmas tree loses its vibrant green color, gets brittly and begins to droop.

As the children grew older and even less interested in decorating the tree than they were before, decorating the tree became my holiday focus. Although I wanted the fragrance of a real tree, I succumbed to investing in an artificial tree, a 9 ft. tall one, eventually the prelit one. To maintain the illusion of the real tree I put potted rosemary around the tree.

After giving thought to my over forty years of Christmas tree decorating, I’ve discovered a few things my Christmas tree says about me.

1. I can be just as shallow as the next person, choosing appearance over authenticity.

Even though I love the fragrance of a real tree, I eventually gave up this pleasure in exchange for a perfectly shaped tree that I could control. I could decorate heavily without branches breaking and could enjoy for the whole month of December without worry about a fire.


2. I’m influenced by beauty wherever I find it thus creating an eclectic theme.

To get ideas on decorating my tree I observed Christmas trees in stores and offices wherever I go, as well as combed the Internet. One year while spending Thanksgiving in Hawaii I spotted a Christmas tree configuration that was about 12 feet of poinsettia. Every year since then I’ve included poinsettia as part of my decorations.

Another year I didn’t want to display my Christmas cards on the wall as I once had, so I stuck them in the tree. Beautiful!

Even though our tree is prelit with white lights I added a few more strings of multicolored blinking lights. I like fullness (are you starting to think I’m flamboyant too?)

My ornament collection is quite extensive and yet I like to add something new from the after-Christmas sales or unique items I find on vacation. My newest ornaments are a Cloissone Christmas boot ornament from China, some elongated stylized angels from Pier Imports after Christmas sale last year, two USC Santa hat ornaments from my son and a Peet’s coffee mug ornament from my walking buddy. (I told you I was eclectic.)

3. Tradition and nostalgia are very important to me. but I am practical too.

Although I admire the themed trees I see in craft stores and other places every season, I prefer to put up the multitude of ornaments my children and grandchildren made over the years as well as the many ornaments my coworkers gave me as gifts during twenty years at my last teaching position.

Since this wide assortment of keepsake ornaments are many colors, I stick mainly to red and gold ribbon and other enhancements. One year I tried weaving a candy-cane-striped ribbon throughout the tree, but it seemed to disrupt the look, so I removed it and used a wide gold netting instead. Exquisite!

I could never see the sense of using those Christmas tree skirts they sell in the stores. They were too small and since the gifts were going to cover them, why invest in them in something where you wouldn’t see the design. Instead, I put a large red tablecloth around the base of the tree. It did the trick and are very affordable from discount stores.

Sitting on the floor in front center of the tree is our very first nativity set. It’s 40 years old and missing the nativitywise men. I remember that one by one the wise men lost their heads, then got cracked on the sides, and eventually disappeared altogether. It’s absolutely amazing that the Mary, Joseph and Jesus survived the rough handling of my children, nieces, nephews and grandchildren over the years. That proves that they are indeed Holy. Even the shepherd boy, a lamb a donkey and oxen are intact.

No matter what my Christmas tree says about me, the important thing is that I’m now thrilled with it each year. It always recalls many happy memories of the past, embraces the joy of the present and brings hope for the future as well.

What does your Christmas tree reveal about you?

Happy Holiday of Your Choice

2006 Holidays 001

[Few days bring up so many memories, regrets, wishes and strong feelings as Christmas. As I reflected on my own feelings about Christmas, I ran across this blog post by Janet Conner and thought I’d share it in its entirety with you. In addition to the feelings she shares, I love the many celebrations that surround December 25th and that she decided to embrace.]

I’ve been a bit of a Scrooge this year. I announced to my family and friends that I was bowing out of the whole present obligation thing. One brother said, “Tough, I’m sending you a present anyway.” The other said, “Thank God, I’m not doing presents either.” If it weren’t for credit card miles, my son wouldn’t even be getting a present. I’ve planned no humongous dinners, no holiday get-togethers, no eggnog, no Christmas cookies, no red and green candles. But I did do one thing: I got a tree.

It killed me to drop $70, but I had to have it. I can’t explain it, but I love a real Christmas tree. I love the little white lights — the more, the merrier. I love the glass icicles I carefully position in front of the lights. They remind me of the beauty of the real thing back in Wisconsin. Most of all, I love reliving the history — my history — as I take out each ornament: the hand-painted porcelain German bell my acting friend Alice gave me in 1976 when I left Los Angeles and my acting life behind, the delicate Dansk animals I bought in 1984 for our first Christmas in Florida, the ridiculous elf with “baby’s first Christmas” painted on his belly, the 1992 Waterford crystal stocking commemorating the year my father died, the ornate red ball with my son’s name in gold glitter marking the year I was confident that life could only get better and better, the mercury glass moon I bought the first Christmas on my own, and my favorites — the ones my son made in nursery school. I love them all, but the heartbreaker is the piece of green burlap with his tiny hand stamped in red paint. I cry every time I put it on the tree. When I’m finished, I cap everything off with the weathered, red and white striped bows that I’ve tied on the tree for over 20 years. Each year I tell myself, “You know, you really should get new ribbons,” and each year I stand back, look at the finished product, smile, and think it’s perfect just the way it is.

But this year I couldn’t bring myself to decorate the tree. For ten days, the 7-foot fir stood forlorn and naked in its stand, challenging me to get off my duff. Finally, on Sunday, I put down The New York Times and said, “OK. This is it, Janet. Just get it done.” I didn’t put on any carols or pour myself a libation. I just circled the tree in my bathrobe, cursing the knots in the lights and fuming about the whole stupid Christmas thing.

This is so fake, I thought. Dec. 25, as everyone knows by now, is not anywhere near the date Jesus was born. Spring, most scholars think. And the tree itself, for heaven’s sake, has nothing to do with the religion of Christianity. It’s an ancient pagan symbol for the mysterious continuation of life while the earth looks dead and cold. I felt dishonest. By decorating it and calling it a “Christmas” tree, wasn’t I just another cog in the commercial event labeled Christmas, a date that has nothing to do with Jesus’ or any other spiritual teacher’s life or message? Christmas at this point seems to be more about spending money and salvaging the stock exchanges from global doom. (Sorry, boys, but aside from the tree and a few bottles of wine, you’ll have to save the markets without me.)

If you’d peeked in the window last Sunday, you’d have seen a middle-aged woman who was singularly not in the Christmas spirit. When I finished, I didn’t step back and admire my work. I just dragged the empty boxes back into the garage and figured that’s one more thing I can check off my to-do list. But when I came back in the living room and saw my precious memory-filled tree sparkling brighter than the Florida sun coming through the windows, I smiled. I plopped back down in my reading chair, but instead of picking up the book review section, I sat and stared at my tree. “You are beautiful,” I said. “I love you.”

I was happy, but I refused to label this good feeling “Christmas.” What’s the matter with me, I wondered. Why can everyone else say “Merry Christmas” with a genuine smile on their face, but I choke on the words? Because, I thought, Christmas has been hijacked.

It’s been hijacked by the world of commerce. That’s painfully obvious. But it’s also been hijacked by the fundamental Christians who think they have the right to shove Jesus down the throats of the non-Christians in America, despite our essential foundation as the one country in the world where religion does not dictate or supposedly even influence government. Our predecessors fought a revolution for that principle. Where did that promise to one another go? The original Americans, the Native Americans, obviously didn’t know or care about Jesus or Christmas. And the early Pilgrim settlers looked down their dour noses at any foolish frippery like Christmas. When Charles Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carol,” Christmas Eve was just another workday. This whole Currier and Ives image of the happy family at Christmas is a Victorian creation, introduced not so very long ago.

I decided to dig into this whole Christmas thing. Just what is Dec. 25, I wanted to know. Well, in Roman times it was the culmination of a week of revelry honoring Saturn, the god of agriculture and sowing. Romans would have a wild time during Saturnalia, allowing slaves to debase their masters, eating and drinking to excess, and hitting the temples to honor Saturn. Scroll ahead a few years, and the Zoroastrians are honoring Mithra on this date. Mithra was the enemy of darkness. He protected souls on earth and, when they died, accompanied them to paradise. Mithra, like Saturn, was a god of prosperity. Dec. 25 was also “The Nativity of the Sun,” a celebration of Sol Invicta, the invincible god of the sun. Before any of these, of course, late December was the ancient celebration of Solstice, honoring the miraculous continuation of life despite the apparent death of the earth.

Given all the delightful pagan fun happenings on and around Dec. 25, it should come as no surprise that the early church fathers hijacked that date and turned it into Jesus’ birthday. Why not? They had a church to build, and they were building it on the idea of Jesus as the son of God, the “light of the world.” How better to reinforce that idea than to commandeer all the celebrations of the light of the sun? Jesus wasn’t too keen on people honoring or worshiping him. He kept saying he was the “son of man,” not a god. But he did enjoy a good time. It seems that in every other story in the Bible Jesus is with friends, and often eating. And we know he went to a wedding and, when necessary, fed a few thousand people.

So, I’ve decided Jesus would approve of my idea: I am going to celebrate all the Dec. 25 holidays. At my house it’s Solstice and Sol Invicta and The Nativity of the Sun and Christmas. Plus, let’s not forget Hanukkah, the festival of lights, which just ended; Kwanzaa, a smart new holiday; and Eid ul-Adha, which begins on Dec. 20.

Why not? The message of all these celebrations is the same: We humans are connected to and protected by an all-powerful, all-loving, all-giving God — a God of light and life. Whether you see that light as the Sun or the Son, or any other name, doesn’t really matter. Late December has a rich history of humanity’s desire to touch the unfathomable. I ask you to join me in this spirit and honor the light — all the light.

So at this house, I’ll be celebrating a very happy Solstice, Saturnalia, Sol Invicta, Nativity of the Sun, and the birth of Jesus, all rolled up into the thing we call Christmas.