Winter Sports

This is why we don't wait for good weather to get outside
This is why we don’t wait for good weather to get outside

Last year, for a period of about two months, we could not take a walk. Every week we got pounded by another storm. Every week we’d laboriously clear the new fallen snow – moving it on top of the shoulder-high piles of snow that had already fallen. We struggled to make it to work. By the time the last foot fell, I was pretty sure that if another storm came it would be physically impossible to dig ourselves out – there was no where left to put snow. Everywhere we walked, we walked in narrow channels between vast and dirty snow banks. My awesome neighbors had a rotating potluck on storm nights so we could get out of our own walls, but eventually the entire world felt constrained and constricted. The walls seemed to compress under the weight of the frigid winter, as though it might finally crush us.

Family snow portrait
Family snow portrait

But some people seemed less claustrophobic. The skiers were ecstatic at the powder. The cross country folks went places they’d never gone before. The snow-shoers had the Fells to themselves. In the heart of this winter vice, we rented snow shoes to see if we’d like it. It was like taking the first deep breath for weeks, to get out into those woods again. My mother must have heard us gushing, because for Christmas this year we got the great gift of four sets of snow shoes, so we can break down those walls again.

Liberty!
Liberty!

2015 was also the first year that the Y offered ski lessons for the boys after school. They got picked up from the Y and taken to Nashoba Valley, where they were learning to ski like proper New Englanders. We signed them up again this year (with a ski group that doubled in size since last year!).

Then, this summer, came word that Stoneham Town Common would host a free, open to the public ice skating rink. For the price of a pair of skates, we could all glide around the common whenever we wanted, with our friends and families. Plus, Grey has started getting invited to open time at the Stoneham Arena (ice rink) on Fridays by one of his friends. When the local used sporting goods store announced they were going out of business, we quickly procured four pairs of ice skates.

So in the course of one year, we went from people with no winter sport proclivities to folks with snow shoes, ice skates and kids who know how to ski. (That’s what last winter did to us!) And now we find ourselves in our summer stomping grounds in the White Mountains. We have switched our regular tent for an unexpectedly swanky White Mountain Resort. I do not ski. I actually cringe if I start thinking too much about skiing, due to major knee injuries from the first and only time I went skiing. But Adam likes snowboarding, and the kids enjoy the slopes too. (Even if they do seem to be geniuses at losing ski gear.) So I’m enjoying hanging out in the resort and working on my book while the guys are skiing. (Edited: here are a few pictures I took!)

Well, at least that was the concept. In reality, it’s difficult to manage two not-strong-yet skiers simultaneously. Right now I have on my left a sweet little Thane-boy narrating the creation of Lego elements telling the story of Lloyd Alexander’s “Book of Three”, which he’s reading at the moment. Adam and Grey are skiing together. They’ll switch off in a little bit.

Brunch was tasty AND scenic
Brunch was tasty AND scenic

I’m enjoying the hygge of a mountain lodge. The scenery here is downright spectacular. The food is unexpectedly excellent. Last night, all the boys were asleep by 8:30. If the time spent skiing hadn’t gotten them to bed early, the hour the kids spent in the heated-to-99-degree pool while having a snowball fight would’ve helped them nod off. I wasn’t tired, though, so I got to spend two hours in front of the roaring fireplace working on my novel and listening to the guy behind me hold court for two hours. (I’m not sure anyone else in his party got a single word in that entire time.)

Of course, the hilarious thing is that this winter has so far been record-shatteringly warm. That ice rink on the common will open nearly a month after it was scheduled to. There hasn’t been enough snow to snow shoe on yet this year. In a Murphy’s Law moment, some of the heaviest snow of the year so far fell JUST as we were driving up here. I had an hour of white-knuckle driving of the highest degree. We haven’t gotten to try the rink yet. A repeat of last year is statistically unlikely, but it’s possible that this winter will be the inverse of last year’s unusual weather. (Of course, we’ll all remind you that the snow started after the Superbowl last year – it hadn’t kicked off by now.)

But when the snow comes, if the snow comes, we’ll be ready to enjoy it!

PS – Here’s a video Adam took of just how white-knuckle the driving was!

Christmas in a troubled time

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

We have seen a great light
We have seen a great light

Growing up in the 90s set my expectations unrealistically with regard to how much tumult and warfare I might expect during my life. There was this brief shining moment where we hand only a few small combats going on – and those seemed from my privileged perspective to be minor and easily resolved. The economy was good, feminism was working, the Cold War had been won, we weren’t talking about racism (it seemed like a problem of the past) and we’d finally found a way to treat AIDS. Clearly everything was only going to get better from there on out!

I think I know the day I lost my innocence about that. I was in the car, driving to a special youth symphony rehearsal on the streets of Tacoma. I had NPR on, as I always did. I think both Car Talk and Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me had wrapped up for the day. (I liked to joke I was getting my NPR PHD.) I was 17. And there was a breaking bulletin that Yitzhak Rabin had been assassinated. Because I followed the news so closely and diligently I knew what that meant for the Oslo Peace accords. I – like so many others – originally assumed it was Palestinian terrorists. I still don’t understand why someone hated peace so much they’d kill their own leader. That moment both broke my heart and shattered my illusions about how the world was trending. It’s telling (to me at least) that it’s the moment where I remember where I was.

This time of year is one of my favorite times. I slow down from the insanity of my Fall and drink deeply of the music, the lights, the decorations, the crazy traditions we didn’t realize would become traditions the first time we did them. I look through a year’s worth of happy moments recorded on camera. I write my Christmas cards – each one a breath of prayer for the beloved person who will receive it (incanted several times as I address, write and prepare the cards). I buy too much stuff for my kids, and cuddle with my husband on the couch while we argue about whether the Kingston Trio’s “Last Month of the Year” or Roger Whittaker’s Christmas Album is superior. (Duh – obvious answer there!)

But this year I have had more trouble than usual finding my Christmas zen. When it seems as though I might just slip into the joy of the season, there’s a bombing, a shooting, a story of refugees. We are deep into the volume of violence and war that seemed to start that November day in 1995. My spirit feels dry, my back hurts, and I can’t help but think that my sons will have a less innocent innocence than I got in my childhood. We never had an active shooter drill in our school. But Grey is the same age as the children gunned down in Sandy Hook who never got to walk to school by themselves.

As I was thinking through this depressing litany (which I’ve now shared with you – you’re welcome), I wondered if I was depressed. You know, the whole “usual activities bring you less pleasure”. Having carefully considered the question – I’m pretty sure I’m not. I’m just pretty sure that this is a time where a responsibly informed person can reasonably feel pretty bummed on a regular basis.

I was reading my usual list of advice columnists today, and there were two different letters from people saying that they were having a hard time enjoying life with all the suffering that was going on. That’s truly a pity – all our challenges included we have the highest standard of living for the most people that’s ever existed in the history of our species. I wonder if we’re designed to hope in adversity and worry in plenty. I know some people take social media holidays to hide from the onslaught – but I love the people I interact with every day on my many social media channels.

What can counter the malaise of being responsibly informed? One of the advice columnists recommended service to others. I think that’s a wise response. I also think that active gratitude can help. It really is hard to stay blue while you write your Christmas letters to the people you love. I have a hunch that exercise would really help me (I swear my butt hurts from too much sitting – yet all the things I really want to do involve sitting and most of them involve a computer).

Are you finding this true for yourself? Is this year harder to find the joy in? Is this just because I’m getting older and losing my sense of wonder? How do you push past trauma and horror and incivility and unkindness and find light and warmth and joy in the darkness? Where do you lift your eyes to see the light?

Come writers and critics who prophesize with your pen

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’
For the loser now will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin.

– The Times They Are A-Changin’ by Bob Dylan
Read more: http://www.bobdylan.com/us/songs/times-they-are-changin#ixzz3WOWjRwf5

I was late with my blog post this week. It’s the first time this year I didn’t put up a real post on the right day, and I’m rather pleased that my scheduled posting time has worked so well. (And hey, I put up an “I’m not posting post” which practically counts.) And to be truthful, it wasn’t because things aren’t happening in my life, or because I ran out of time.

It’s because I didn’t know what to say.

Life goes through these long periods when you just don’t have much change. I’ve stared my Christmas update in the face many a year and wondered what I’d really spent the twelve months doing, other than slowly accruing happy memories – a accruative drip building the stalagmite of my life. And then there’s a period where woosh! Things change!

I’m in a woosh period right now, although a pretty minor one. The big change (not to leave you on tenderhooks) is about my job. Specifically, I got a new one. I’ll be leaving my current employer at the end of next week. I have a little time between (and an impromptu trip to Mexico for April vacation – woo!) and then I start a New Thing. I suppose that’s only one area of my life changing. (We’re not moving.)

In this blog, I very rarely talk about work. (I never want to wonder if my boss or client read something.) But I spend 10 hours or so a day on my employment – more time than on any single other thing I do except maybe sleep. I dream about work often. (Which I hate, by the way.) I try hard to not go to sleep thinking about work, but I fail more often than I succeed. And my labors (and my husband’s) make possible the rest of my life – my tithe at church, my farm share, my children’s carefree childhoods, trips home and on vacation, the pink house in which nearly everything needs to be updated or fixed… all of it. It matters a lot where I work, and how, and with whom. It matters how long my commute is, and how much I travel. It matters a lot whether I come home satisfied with the works of my hands (well, mind) or anxious and disappointed at my day’s labors.

Five years ago I made a big move. I have learned SO MUCH in those years. I’m stronger, more polished, better informed and more capable than I could have imagined. I also have some idea of how much I DON’T know (way, way more than I know!). I’m not sure you ever get over the anxiety of wondering if you’ll actually be any good at a new job. Five years ago, I truly didn’t know. But now, I’ve done this a few times. It’s worked out each time.

(Hmmmm this post is just as boring and vague as I was afraid it would be. Oh well.)

tldr;

I’m moving jobs. I’m SO EXCITED. I’m nervous. I’m thrilled beyond belief. I will miss my old work friends. I’m really going to enjoy the time in between. And hopefully it won’t mess with my blogging schedule too much!

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

Brenda’s Stoneham Selectman Voter’s Guide April 7, 2015

On Tuesday, April 7th 2015, Stoneham Voters will head to the ballots to select our town’s leaders. If my engagement with the Bikeway has shown anything, it’s shown how critical great town leadership is to improve the experience of living here.

[3/26/2015 10:39 pm: Edited to remove “pros” from Caroline Colarusso that are also shared by Erin Sinclair – see comments for details.]

Recommendations

Town Moderator: Lawrence (Larry) Means

Stoneham Selectman (2 slots):
1) Thomas Boussy
2) Caroline Calorusso

No recommendation (advise me!):
– Constable
– Housing Authority
– Planning Board

One of the great challenges I’ve realized lately is how hard it is to get information and form an informed opinion on local politics. There’s very little easily available information. If you don’t know where to go for what information there is, the problem is worse. This means that new folks to town, or people who aren’t amazingly well connected, either don’t vote, or don’t cast a knowledgeable vote on the election that may have the most impact on how they live. Will the town have a bikeway, or not? Will we bring more people to our downtown, or not? Do we build affordable housing, or do we lose some of our autonomy and have state oversight to guarantee we have affordable housing? How do we balance our tax base, infrastructure needs, education spending and other services? It’s local officials who decide those key issues.

I had tried to figure out how I’m voting in this upcoming election. The Selectman’s race is particularly a difficult one for me. I’ve had some personal conversations with some folks in Stoneham about who they’re voting for, and why. I should mention that my thoughts below are my private opinion, and not as well informed as I’d like it to be. I’m certainly open to corrections, amendments or additional thoughts from you – or the candidates – about the elements I’m thinking about. I really wish there were an independent, clear, easily accessible voter’s guide for Stoneham voters. As far as I know, that doesn’t exist. This isn’t that – this is my opinion.

The selectman’s race was one I thought a lot about. It’s a crappy job. It pays something like $3000 a year, requires considerable time and effort, and brings with it a ton of aggravation and abuse. One has to think through the motivations for why you’d do it. Idealism? Service? Love of power? Love of attention? Desire to change the town? Desire to help your friends? Family habit? Greater political ambitions?

Tom Boussy
Tom is the one candidate for Selectman I feel I can wholeheartedly endorse. Tom worked very hard on the Bikeway (before we brought 800 people to a town meeting to forcefully exert the will of the people). He’s energetic and enthusiastic about making the town a more awesome place to live. Tom and Anne Marie O’Neill represent the forward-thinking contingent of the selectmen (you know – the ones who DIDN’T vote against the Bikeway in the October meeting.) I feel like his motivations have to do with an energetic enthusiasm for the town.

The second selectman vote has been hard hard hard for me to decide. Frankly, I don’t like any of my option. There was a second vote (Devon Manchester) whom I was excited about. I heard (admitted hearsay!) that he withdrew because the State Republican Party told him if he opposed Caroline Colarusso they’d never support him again. I resent having my choices limited for me like that.

Robert Sweeney
I quickly ruled out Bob Sweeney as a choice. He’s definitely been one of the folks who has never taken a public stand against the bikeway, but quietly worked to make sure it didn’t happen. (Someone had to be working hard to make sure it didn’t happen!) He has been dismissive of other voices in the community, and has a tendency not to show up for his duties. He didn’t even show up for the televised Candidate Forum. No, thank you.

So now I’m down to two, and I have a number of pros and cons for each.

Caroline Colarusso
Pros:
– Spent time on the finance board, which is another thankless task

Neutral:
– Given the number of elections, it’s clear that she sees selectwoman as a step on a larger political path. On one hand, that means she’ll be posturing to make herself look good for the next run. On the other hand, it gives her a motivation to show up and do work.

Negative:
– I dislike that (assuming what I heard is correct) she used her position with the state party to remove competition in the race
– I am not sure she’ll be a strong advocate for new residents in Stoneham
– She keeps talking about taxes instead of services or growth

Erin Sinclair
Pros:
– Not an incumbent

Negative:
– She’s Bob Sweeney’s daughter, and if they’re both elected we’ll need to get a nepotism allowance for her to serve [ed. 3/26 see her note in the comment regarding this]. I don’t actually think the town needs MORE nepotism.
– She’s also a salaried town employee. That seems like a conflict of interests that would require special handling.
– When I asked what she’d done for the bikeway, she said that she was a “private citizen” and therefore hadn’t done anything. I am also a private citizen and I did do something, so I’m not super impressed with that answer. You can see my question and her response on her Facebook page.

Larry Means – Town Moderator
From what I’ve seen, Larry has done a good job in a very thankless job. His opponent has a platform of making passive aggressive jabs at Larry, and then not showing up for voter information forums. Not impressive. So I’m ready to vote for Larry!


So that’s what I’m thinking. I’d love your feedback. Who are you thinking of? Why? What did I get wrong? What resources did I miss that a Stonehamite should know about? How are you making your decision? Who do you recommend for the races I don’t have an opinion on?

Resources:
– Here’s a copy of the ballot for April 7th: http://www.stoneham-ma.gov/sites/stonehamma/files/file/file/april_7_annual_election_ballot_proof.pdf
– A number of the candidates did an hour long interview with Stoneham TV. Not mind blowing, but it gives you a good perspective on how they think on their feet (and who cares enough to show up): http://stonehamtv.org/ondemand

Tales from the heart of a blizzard

These are semi-regular updates from our snow day. Since I’m going to be getting cabin fever, the least you can do is read about it!

9 am – woke up to a windy, white world. It’s hard to tell with the blowing snow, but I’d say there’s considerably less snow than predicted. This looks more like 6 – 8 inches than 18. (Note the lower portion of the fence.) Not saying we should be having school today, by any means.

Everyone is now on a screen – Mom and Dad are working, Grey is on his Chromebook and Thane is watching Wild Kratts.

Backyard blizzard view

10 am – Adam made four hot loaves of fresh bread for our neighbors, to help keep starvation from the door. I invited the older kids over to entertain our kids with a rousing rendition of HeroScape. Then I realized that people probably needed to be able to, you know, get to our house. So I grabbed a shovel.

The snow on the stairs was taller than the door, but powdery and easily pushed aside. I cut my way to the road, noting that the front yard snow was waaaaay deeper than the back yard snow – the promised 18 inches at least! The snow filled it even as I cut it. I got slightly stymied by the plow berm, but then decided my friends have legs and they could step over it.

Great thing about elementary schoolers is that four of them are less work than two of them….

Snowstorms make getting to your neighbors a logistical exercise.
Snowstorms make getting to your neighbors a logistical exercise.

11 am – the kids read and played quietly for an hour, but then they spotted other little heads on the street, and booked it to get their snow gear on. Let’s all take a minute to appreciate having kids who can put on and take off their own snow gear without parental intervention… ah….

Now there are some hijinks next door that involve sleds and vertiginous drops. Despite the transport ban, the road is a bit busy for sledding. Adam’s taking his turn on the walks to try and stay ahead of the DOOM. (The sidewalk portion of what I shoveled had completely filled in. The walkway portion stayed bare.)

Little figures in the snow
Little figures in the snow

1 pm – We went out sledding at noon. The DPW was attempting to plow our street, which was a bad combination. They asked us to stop sledding, so we did. I took most of the older kids in the neighborhood, and they’re currently wreaking havoc in Grey’s bedroom. Grilled cheese for lunch!

Grade school neighbors
Grade school neighbors

2 pm – I found the snow from the back yard. It was all on top of the cars. A million thanks to both David and Tobin for the snow-blowing. The snow removal on this driveway is a classic reason you should never buy houses during glorious October weather.

There's a car  under there. Somewhere.
There’s a car under there. Somewhere.

4 pm – Nothing like a day at home with your children while trying to do a full day’s work to make you really grateful for school. It’s just about time to stop splitting my personality and being full time at home!

7 pm – Best possible way to end a snow day!

Potluck with neighbors
Potluck with neighbors

10 pm – friends have returned to their home and our house is returned to a semblance of order. And yet it snows.

Two decades of building a bikeway

Over 30 years of leadership is represented with these two gentlemen
Over 30 years of leadership is represented with these two gentlemen

Back in 1988, a few folks had an idea about turning an old rail line in Stoneham into a trail. It was a cutting edge idea, at the time – the rails to trails projects were just kicking off. But the land was publicly owned, and it seemed like a good idea. Twenty-seven years later, the plan has final cleared (almost) all the hurdles required to break ground. My own part in this saga was trivial from that big picture perspective, but it was extremely illuminating for me.

Looking from the outside in, it can be awfully hard to get a hook into local politics. For example, googling my selectmen before a vote revealed… pretty much nothing (fun fact – my blog posts are like time 20 hits on nearly all of them). You can find some general information on what they do for a living. One or two of them have campaign pages, which reveal, well, nothing. Without a hook into the community, it’s hard to tell the obstructionists from the development-happy, the cooperators from the blockers, the sensible from the selfish. It’s almost impossible to educate yourself to vote responsibly when neither you nor anyone you know has any insight into these candidates.

Then came the Greenway. This project was so incredibly clear cut, I didn’t need a 20 year Stoneham veteran to explain the ins and outs to me. The pro was that we had an amazing project on public land paid for by state funds and sponsored by MassDOT. On the opposing side we had… uh…. safety concerns (which were bogus – the crossings will be much safer with the new work to be done) and uh… … The funny thing was that despite voting down a delay of a vote, and then voting down the initiative in the October meeting, no one could or would articulate a real & compelling reason why they didn’t think Stoneham should have this awesome amenity. The reasons, I believe, were all buried in relationships, history and some selfishness on the parts of the businesses who had been using the land for years with little or minimal compensation to the public. (I’m left to speculate. Anyone who’d prefer to explain the real reason is free to leave a comment!)

So in this complex community, I finally had a touchpoint. Using information available to me, I could see that the Greenway was good. This provided me the entryway into understanding more about the town. My involvement started out very lightly. In 2011 I walked the Greenway route. In May of 2013 I wrote about the project. In a sign of my outsiderness, I tried to reach out to the Selectmen using the publicly available contact information (which was rather unsuccessful). Then this fall, at the request of a friend, I went to the Town Hall meeting where the vote was both delayed and denied.

I was shocked into action. The excuses for failure were SO LAME. And they looked very much like they were going to successfully kill the project. I spoke at the meeting, and came to the attention of the advocates. Coming back from that meeting, I wrote a letter to the local newspapers. I reached out to the supporters, and helped collect signatures for a special town hall meeting. I engaged in the ad hoc group that pushed to get out the vote over a one month period. I walked door to door with my kids. I cold called 200 likely voters (a more pleasant experience than usual, based on the fact that 99.8% of the town thought the Greenway was a great idea). I called for the vote in the special Town Hall meeting, packed to the gills with hundreds of usually unheard residents who had answered our calls to support the project.

The townhall meeting felt like a movie where the hard work all pays off in the end
The Town Hall meeting felt like a movie where the hard work all pays off in the end

My portion of the effort was definitely at the eleventh hour and much less than that of others, but when the time came for drinks afterwards, I got the invite. I sat at a table of people who had poured years, tens of thousands of dollars and their hearts and souls into making the town a better plan to live, with no ulterior motivation. There was elation. There was exhaustion. There was a vague sense of unease that the opposition might find one more thing we hadn’t known about or thought about to block the project. I looked at those people, still struggling to put faces and names together, and settled into my place in the community.

Many things have come from this effort. The largest, of course, is that we now have a Greenway (assuming nothing bad happens from here on out). We have invited many residents of Stoneham to their first ever Town Hall meeting – hopefully some number of them become more engaged in guiding our community. I hope that the older entrenched interests in the town have realized that there are many more people in Stoneham than the handful of hundred who have historically done so much for the community, and that our planning needs to take both new and old residents into consideration. And I – I hope that I and my neighbors become more engaged in the town. Finally, enduringly, I have made some new friends in this adventure, who may be my friends in this great town for years to come.

What about you? Do you understand how your town ticks? Are you a voter? How do you figure out how to vote on local issues? How does a stranger come to become a local in your community?

Five key tips to travel like a pro

The other day I went on a business trip with a young lady who didn’t – as part of her job – go on business trips all the time. She was super excited about the whole thing. The novelty of flying, the eating dinner with the client, the spending the night in a hotel all by herself. Her degree of enthusiasm shocked me regarding my degree of cynicism.

The author, in a random hotel room in…. Philadelphia I think.

Business travel has some similarities to backpacking. People who don’t do it are amazed by the concept. But when I’m actually on the trail (in the airport) I know that I’m still a rookie. Do I travel a lot for business? My “deal” with my husband is that I travel, on average, once a month. I’d say I might be traveling a little more than that these days. Once every three or four weeks I crawl on a plane and go somewhere for a day or two. When they posted a description for my job, it said 50% travel. I have worked with people, though, who spend 3 or more days a week, every week, on the road for work. (That might be listed as 80 – 100% travel – the folks who travel the most are project consultants who will spend ~5 days a week, every week, in a city which is not their own. That’s folks like Accenture & Deloitte. They also tend to work 90 hours in that week and have a massive burnout rate.)

I know I have a ton yet to learn about how travel best, but as I drove from the Richmond International Airport to the corporate business parks in Glen Allen, I thought that maybe you, dear reader, might benefit from what I have learned so far.

Rental Cars
This was probably my biggest rookie mistake. You might have rented a car at an airport once or twice. You take the shuttle to the rental car center, stand in line, answer mysterious questions about levels of insurance coverage and take a bet on whether you’ll have enough time between meeting and boarding to refill the tank. I once got into a situation in Los Angeles with Hertz where it took me almost 2 hours to finally get a car – and that was after a long transcontinental flight, with several hours of driving still in front of me.

But that’s how it works, right?

No. It is not. My dearest business partner, after he got done guffawing and making fun of me for such a rookie mistake, explained. Many rental car companies have a second method – a premier method. I now use National (I’m part of the Emerald Club). I make a reservation ahead of time. Then I walked directly out to a row of cars, decide which one I feel like today, climb in and drive off. I stop at the gate on my way out to give them my license. All the rest of that stuff: gas fillups, insurance etc… is just on record. It takes minutes.

The business partner who laughed at me has upped his game, though. Now he just takes Uber everywhere, and doesn’t bother with pickup or dropoff.

Security
When I travel overnight, I have four things that go into the bins in security: my laptop, my toiletries, my shoes and my wallet. Here are some keys I’ve found to never being slower than the person in front of me:

  • Always, always wear slipoff shoes. Wearing boots or even tennis shoes is a mistake. I prefer to wear slacks with socks so I don’t end up standing barefoot in the security line, but flats will do in a pinch.
  • Don’t keep your toiletries in your Dopp Kit (what my family calls that back you keep your toothbrush and hairbrush in). Keep them in a ziplock bag in the outer zippered pocket of your carryon, so you can just slide it in and out.
  • Don’t bury your laptop under anything else.
  • Pay attention to whether you’re Pre. Increasingly, they’re putting more people through the lines where you don’t have take anything out or off. This only helps you if you’ve noticed in time to skip the long line.
  • No sequins. I have this shirt I like to wear with a peacock feather done in sequins. (Saying that it sounds appalling. I swear it’s not that appalling.) But when I go through the body scan with it, I light it up like Christmas. Patdown time! You need to build a travel wardrobe of clothes that are comfortable, washable, professional, good looking – and don’t have metallic bits. This isn’t as impossible as it sounds. I like Dressbarn for helping me find qualifying outfits.

    Points & Perks
    I avoided signing up for frequent anything miles because I know myself well enough to know that I’ll never get around to figuring out how to use them. The few times, in the past, I’ve tried, my one or two trips a year were laughably short of earning me anything, and definitely not worth the aggravation. But now that I’m travelling all the time, I think it might start to add up to something meaningful. The best programs are the ones that have both points for tomorrow and perks for today.

    In terms of perks, business travels are notoriously not price sensitive. My company pays for my travel, and doesn’t really case as long as I keep it within approved ranges. So offering me $10 off a rental car doesn’t actually encourage me to do much. But offering to make something simple, fast or comfortable counts for a tremendous amount.

    Hotel Loyalty
    There are two kinds of enterprise sales people at my company: Marriott people and Hilton people. (OK, they’re actually all Marriott, and fanatically loyal.) These companies make things better & better for you the more you stay with them. I have both sets of rewards (diluting the value of both – conveniently…) As an example, if you’re a Marriott Gold member, you get invited to the Concierge room. There’s late night snack food there, and a free breakfast in the morning. The non member people are downstairs paying $18 for their omelets. Way faster to zip through the buffet and grab a water on your way out, without having to pay. If you’re a platinum member – a coveted status – the hotel may be full for other people, but not for you.

    Also, just so you know, business travelers never, ever, ever check out of a hotel. (I apparently get laughed at a lot when I travel – this was another moment.) Just leave your key (and your tip!) on the table on the way out. Your receipt was likely under your door in the morning.

    The loyalty programs work together, so you are going to want to see if you can’t line them up. For example, as a Hilton person, I’d have a combo of Jetblue – > National -> Hilton family of hotels. This allows me to earn more points for the travel I’m already doing than if I just mixed and matched.

    I’ll let you know how to claim the points as soon as I figure that part out.

    Consistency & GPS
    If you’ve ever been in an airport and watched a business traveler, they often look extremely confident. They’re walking fast, roller bag trailing behind like a patient puppy, eyes on the horizon. “Wow, they really know this airport well!” you think. Ha. They’ve never been here before. But there are two things that make this possible: consistency & GPS.

    Every airport:

  • Has a bathroom right after you get through security and in baggage claim (business travelers never ever ever ever ever check a bag unless they’ll be gone more than a week)
  • Has ground transport next to baggage claim
  • Has a rental car facility where all the rental companies are (this may either be in the airport, or accessed via shuttles).

    When you get off the plane, you immediately walk in the direction of the sign that says “Baggage Claim”, stopping at the first bathroom you see. When you get closer, you start looking for rental car center. It’s always clearly marked. When you get to the rental car center, you follow the signs for your particular company. The closer you get, the more information on what you need. If you watched me landing in Richmond yesterday, you would have thought I knew exactly where the car was I was going to drive and had been there a thousand times before. It was the first time – I just knew what signs to look for.

    Once in the car, the hard part is trying to figure out how to drive it. (I drove a Prius this time. To my great surprise, I hated it. It beeps when you’re in reverse!) Plug in your phone, pull up the appointment for your meeting, and launch your GPS. I had no idea where I was or where I was going, but I got there in good time.

    So, does it sound glamorous and fun? Is there anything here you’re glad to know? Is there anything here I’m completely missing?

  • Because futbol

    Three of the Team Greece players
    Three of the Team Greece players

    There have been many discussions during this World Cup round whether this is finally the moment where the United States joins the rest of the world in not just FIFA-fever, but in a regular love of the game.

    I remember when I watched my first soccer games. There was no soccer in my community or school – it simply wasn’t an option available. But the summer of 1998 I was home for the summer. I was working, but not SO hard. And the World Cup was on tv. I don’t remember any of the games I saw, or the teams. I do remember that it was sponsored by Snickers and there was a Snickers logo right under the score box for every game. I probably ate 10 Snickers during that World Cup, and just watching the game still makes me want a Snickers Bar.

    My sons have a different experience of soccer. We’ve tried a number of things: swimming, aikido, dance (ill-fated), basketball. (They both really want to do t-ball, but the times for t-ball are completely unworkable with two working parents.) But they’ve done more soccer than pretty much anything other than aikido. I actually love the games and practices. I love sitting on the sidelines in a camping chair that smells like woodsmoke, next to MY friends, and watching the boys play. I love on gamedays, when all six fields are full of blue and white jerseys and parents and neighbors and friends – with little siblings putting together their own little games on the sidelines. (I’m impressed and grateful to the excellent run Stoneham Soccer Club for the program they’ve put together for our kids.) My sons know soccer better than baseball, football, hockey, basketball or any of the other classical American Sports.

    Grey’s team, Greece, coached by our excellent next door neighbor, came in second for U8! I found myself engrossed and full of nerves while I watched these 8 years olds I have come to know and love do actual ball handling and real actual skills and passes. It was amazing to see how much they learned and improved in one year!

    And it’s not just the prior generation. I’m a suburban WASP, surrounded by many other folks whose families have lived in the US for generations. And you know what we’re talking about these days? How great it feels to finally leave Ghana behind. How we owe Renaldo a debt of gratitude. How we’re caught between wanting to watch Messe play and not wanting to face him and Argentina on the field. Whether that biting suspension was a bit too much, and how hilarious it is that he fell on the ground and clutched his teeth after the whole biting incident. We’re messing up details and maybe not 100% sure on all our countries/claims, but we’re watching and talking.

    I think the time has come for the international game to take its rightful place in the US. I think that we’ll not have to wait another four years – or watch Univision – to watch the game!

    What about you? Are you watching the World Cup? Do you find yourself having to Google things in order to follow along with the conversations? Are you feeling inspired to go see your local MLS team?

    Stylin' on the sidelines
    Stylin’ on the sidelines

    Deadliest Catch: Five secrets to winning over a tough team

    Matt Bradley: problem solver
    Matt Bradley: problem solver

    The Northwestern has had its share of trouble in Season 10. It almost caught on fire, the steering broke & then half the fresh water was lost due to a leak. The men working 20 hour days doing physical labor were barred from taking showers. Edgar even brushed his teeth using coffee. (“Not half bad!” he opined about the toothpaste/coffee mix.)

    But the one hit hardest by this was Matt. Watching how he dealt with his team piling on about his BO was one of the most instructive lessons I’ve ever had in how to deal effectively with a real problem in front of an aggressive group. Watch how he does it.

    The classic definition of a Salty Tar

    You could almost hear the relish in Mike Rowe’s voice as he called Matt’s aroma a “manly musk”. All the fishermen stunk, but Matt stunk worst. Eating dinner, his crew joked about how badly he smelled. They told him, quite literally, that he smelled like shit. Sadly, Discovery has not yet developed Smello-cam, but based on his reactions and the universal comments of his crew, his fragrance was appalling. But what could he do? The remaining freshwater was needed to run the engines. He wasn’t ALLOWED to take a shower. His work required him to work hard, and in working hard he sweated. He had no options for fixing the problem, and so he just grinned back and kept working.

    But on deck, the situation got worse. The men of the Northwestern are not ones to delicately pass by the opportunity to discuss your aromatic characteristics in case your feelings get hurt. Every time he walked by they’d tell him how awful he smelled. They left him alone on the crab sorting table with a “crabalanche” in front of him because (they said) he smelled so bad. At one point a look crossed his face as he realized: this was not going away, and this was not going to get better.

    Matt stalked off the deck.

    Now, Matt has a temper. We’ve seen fistfights before. We’ve also seen our fair share of greenhorns running up to the captain complaining that the crew is not treating them right. (This is often true. See also: poor Myles on the Cape Caution). I wondered what he would do: take a forbidden shower? Show them how much less fun it is to work on a deck one seasoned hand down? Douse himself in cologne? Tell the captain that they need to lay off him, that it’s not his fault? Wipe his body down with a damp towel and hope it improves things enough to stop all the teasing?

    He comes back onto the deck, stripped down. He takes off his shirt as he walks to the middle, leaving boxers and his wellingtons. (Still can’t figure out why he left his boots on!) Then, he jumps in the crab tank. In January. On the Bering Sea. In sub-freezing temperatures. In front of all his crewmates. He stayed in long enough to get totally wet, making a huge show of scrubbing his armpits with a bar of soap. As he comes out, his “friends” aim the saltwater hose at him to help him rinse off.

    But once that’s done, his teammates thank him for fixing the issue and all the teasing stops.

    I’ve never actually seen someone effectively counter that kind of personal, embarrassing, destructive abuse before. And Matt, with his tank-dunking technique, not only completely countered it, he used it as a way to make himself closer and more respected by the very jerks who were tormenting him.

    I thought a lot about that last night, and I think I’ve isolated some of the elements that made this most effective.

    1) He didn’t deny there was a problem
    Matt didn’t try to deflect the issue at all. He owned it. “What day is it? I can say I haven’t taken a shower all year!” He didn’t diminish the concerns of his team, he didn’t remind them they smelled bad too, and he didn’t trot out the excuses for his stench. He just moved on.

    2) He correctly judged the point of no return
    He didn’t fall all over himself to fix the issue until it was clear that it wouldn’t resolve, and was escalating. He didn’t escalate the issue himself (see also: decking the other guys), but he didn’t start panicking at the first joke about his olfactory objections. He waited until the issue was clear & quantified.

    3) He thought “outside the box”
    Matt’s solution never crossed my mind. It probably didn’t cross his teammates, either. There was a solution to his problem (which did require great personal sacrifice). He was clearly thinking about it, instead of getting mad or feeling trapped. None of this would be possible without his problem solving creativity.

    4) He fixed the problem obviously, and in public
    If it had been me, I would have been hiding in my bunk trying to fix the smell. But Matt was smart enough to know it wasn’t just about the smell, it was about the reputation of smell. Even if he’d snuck in a surreptitious shower and fixed the actual issue, I bet he wouldn’t have gotten much credit for it. They either would have continued to tease him about his (now non-existent) smell, or made fun of him for caring that much. Making his ablutions in front of the entire crew was the ONLY way that he could permanently put this issue to bed. It is KEY that Matt did this in front of everyone – with a smile. Not only that, but Matt enhanced his reputation for toughness (a key on the Bering Sea) while erasing his reputation for stench. An illicit shower would have been more thorough, but it would have been massively less effective.

    5) He engaged his critics in the fix
    It may not have been part of his original plan, but when the guys turned the seawater hose on him, they were buying into his solution. He didn’t duck the stream, or get pissed. He took just long enough in the stream to make the other deck hands feel like he accepted their addition to his solution. As he walked off the deck (freezing cold, holy cow) his teammates were thanking him for solving the problem, grinning and clapping him on the back.

    Matt managed to take a really uncomfortable situation of being ostracized and humiliated for his unavoidable odor, and turn it into a way to bond more deeply with his team and enhance his reputation. I was deeply impressed.

    Now, I don’t work crab boats on the Bering Sea, and I’m unlikely to be in the exact same pickle. But I have never been able to figure out how to handle situations where you’re coming under fire for a deeply personal problem with no clear resolution. Matt just gave a masterclass in doing just that.

    Sad to say, but I’m on my way

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    A fortnight ago I picked my careful way through icing puddles to the nail salon. I drove, even though it is two blocks away and I had time, because the sidewalks are nigh impassible. I asked for a pedicure, and picked a completely unprofessional, unseasonable, inappropriate robin’s egg blue. I watched ice skating and slalom while my toes were transformed. I carefully covered them in layers of thick socks and sturdy shoes for my homeward journey. It seemed impossible to me, in that moment, that there would ever again be a time when my toes would willingly encounter non climate controlled air.

    20140221-212238.jpg

    A week ago found me rising at 3:30 in the morning, and pouring my dressed-before-bed children into a taxi, which wound in the predawn darkness to the airport. (Which airport was absolutely chock-full of other parents with other tired children.) My sons both blew my mind with their exceptionally awesome behavior on the first flight to Houston and the second, down to the small island of Cozumel – just across the channel from the playground of Cancun. The island is very small – a teardrop off the cheek of the Yucatan. We stood in unaccustomed heat in an outdoor line. The returning travelers looked tanned, relaxed and sad to be leaving. The pale and pasty newcomers, waiting for immigration, had anticipation writ large across our tired & dark-eyed features.

    It was nine years ago that I last came to Cozumel. I was gravid in pregnancy, and longed for the weightless relief of warm waters. I noticed the changes as we took the short taxi ride from the airport to the resort (a new one – I discovered the one I’ve been to twice before is in the midst of a major remodel, which explains why it had no rooms available).

    We are at the Presidente Intercontinental. Even the driveway made me feel like I was about to experience something rather more luxurious than my standard expectation – which was true. Our room is small, with two full beds and a fine carpeting of Legos (to make it feel like home). Strangely, there was no lamp on the balcony (the phrase “you get what you pay for” usually refers to what happens when you cheap out. In this case, a more-expensive-than-I-would-have-liked vacation has come along with excellent service and facilities, and within moments sent two guys to figure out how to get a light on the balcony.) But I have watched warm pacific waters through a peek-a-boo curtain of palms every day here.

    I have taken somewhere between a bajillion and a quadrillion pictures (discovering that the lighting conditions on tropical beaches are actually quite challenging for people pictures and also that my children have come to see me as unwelcome paparazzi when I have a camera in hand). The resort has a fantastic child care offering (paid for as part of the overall price, which I appreciated), so all the days but two Adam and I have gotten to snorkel together, as we have on romantic vacations since we got married. We visited Mayan ruins and watched the wild, unchecked waves of the Caribbean. We saw many, many, many iguanas. The boys played in the sand, learned to love the pool, learned to swim way way way better and learned absolutely nothing about effective bargaining techniques. (Ask me about the shark tooth necklaces!)

    Today we coaxed Grey, who had spent days snorkeling in the pool and avoiding the ocean, to join us for a snorkel. I was entirely prepared for it to be beyond his courage. It can be intimidating, seeing the vast seascapes of the ocean unfold as an unknowable world before you, the colors fading in distance. When we encountered a barracuda in the first five minutes, I was entirely prepared for a hasty retreat. As we, holding his hands, pulled him further away from shore and towards the coral-encroached sunken ship, I could hardly believe his courage held. But it did. We saw so much together. It was a moment past what I could have hoped for, where the vistas of his dreamscapes expanded. He also devoured, in a heart-warmingly familiar way, “The Westing Game” For a day or two there, any question pointed his direction was answered with an “mm-hmmm”. I loved seeing his sun-burnt nose stuck in a book. For all he was an early reader, I have had trouble moving him into chapter books. He prefers the easy familiarity of comic books. I hope that an affair or two with a good novel might change that.

    Thane is, as ever, indomitable. Fearless in the water, he started the week nearly drowning himself. A pool noodle added just enough buoyancy for him to not drown mostly. Towards the end of the week, we just put him in a life jacket and let him go in the pool. (Actually, his wonderful caretaker Keri thought of that first. The Kids Club here isn’t just Screens R Us. She takes them to see the iguana habitats, and to go swim at the pool. Thane refused to join us twice today because she was helping him sew a very cool alligator puppet.) He also loved hanging out on the beach (I wonder how long it will take before he has no sand in his hair?) He and Grey have been amazing brothers this week. I just loved seeing his excited face and bouncing eyes above his third cup of strawberry yogurt every morning – so full of joy and wonder and gratitude.

    While I was writing this on the porch, a fire dance broke out on the beach below. So cool!
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    I’ll post again once I go through the pictures. When Adam and I came here last, we had a film camera. This time we took pictures on: my good camera, my old point-and-shoot, Adam’s phone, my phone, my iPad. It’s funny how many changes a decade can bring.

    We prepare our return back to our land of cloudy skies and gales. I confess to being unenthused by piled snow, chill drafts and stinging cheeks. I prefer the nuisance of sunscreen. But I feel thawed, rested, invigorated. I have connected strongly and deeply with the people I love most in this world. I have visited the Summerlands from the heart of winter, and won a respite from the seasons. I’ve seen lionfish and stars and smiles. I return to my labors with a lighter heart and darker skin.