Monday, November 28, 2011

Christmas Came on Wednesday that Year

It was an ordinary Wednesday. Nothing special really. A hectic day filled with too much work for too little pay. I was rushing home in the dark, exhausted and hoping to make it in time to see the girls before bedtime, and secretly dreaming of a hot bath.  When I turned the corner onto our street I saw my house at the end of the cul-de-sac...shining like Time Square at New Years. Yes!, it was my house strung up with white Christmas lights.

Now that may not seem all that unusual for a Wednesday in December, but take it from me, I was witnessing my very own Christmas miracle.

You see, my girls had always wanted to have Christmas decorations on our house -- sparkling lights and a wreath on the front door just like every other house on our American street. It was never easy telling them we couldn’t afford something but saying those words at Christmastime was especially difficult.   Between the money and the time I just could not do it so I just made excuses.

I was stopped dead in my tracks; taken by the moment. Through rivers of tears and sobbing like a child, I glimpsed their joyful faces waiting for me outside.  And standing right beside them, with a grin just as big, was Hugh Buck, my next door neighbor. When the girls had told him we wouldn’t be having any lights that year, he decided to buy them and hang them himself.  I just could not believe we would be the recipients of such a loving gesture.

The sheer joy my girls felt at that moment was one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. My neighbor has since passed away but every year and after Thanksgiving, when I string my Christmas lights, Hugh’s memory lives on. It was the purest form of kindness I’ve ever experienced. It was, in word, Christmas.

 Go ahead and enjoy every moment of this season!

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Taste of Tradition

Years ago I was dating a man who spent an entire holiday season bragging about his aunt’s pecan pie: “The custard is like velvet.” “The crust is so flaky.” And on and on it went. What I soon came to realize was that his attachment wasn’t to that piece of pie, it was to the traditions it represented -- the traditions he was missing.

Now we all know this Latin girl is not from the South. I can whip up a fierce flan but I’m at a loss when it comes to pecan pie. Determined to give my guy a slice of home, I turned to one of my clients for her family’s recipe for Texas pecan pie. To say it was a hit would be an understatement. It may have just been a pie, but to this guy it was evidence that I understood what it was like to be away from the ones you loved, I knew that the traditions of our childhood were powerful things, and, most of all, I cared.

What about you? If you close your eyes and recall the tastes of your childhood, the memories of your holidays growing up, what comes to mind? In my family it’s pork. In fact, my son-in-law, who currently plays for the Atlanta Braves, once told a reporter that what he was most looking forward to over the holidays was my slow-roasted pork. We sit around the table, push up our sleeves and dive into that tender meat stopping only long enough to grab some greasy pork rinds. It may not be everyone’s idea of Thanksgiving, but it’s ours.

Over the years, I’ve tweaked that pecan pie recipe -- added a bit of this and a touch of that -- and I hand it out over the holiday season. I’m no longer dating that man, but his pie still lives on. I hope that everyone who eats it tastes more than just a yummy dessert. I hope, like him, they taste the love.

Texas Pecan Pie

  • 1 9" unbaked pie shell
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup melted butter (=1/2 a stick, I use salted)
  • 3 well beaten eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups pecans
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Mix sugar, corn syrup, and melted butter. Add beaten eggs, vanilla, and pecans.  Fill pie shell.  Bake at 325 for 30-45min.  I move/wiggle the pie while inthe oven before taking it out, if the center moves, it is not done.  Check every 5 mins.  If the crust is cooking too fast, cover border with foil.  Cool thoroughly before slicing.

Other variations:

Substitute with Macadamia nuts
Add handful of chocolate chip morsels


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

When Taking The Lead May Leave You Out Of Step

This past weekend I went out for salsa lessons and learned a thing or two about taking the lead and learning how to follow. As I clasped hands with my instructor, I was prepared to move. What I wasn’t prepared for was having him stop me, grab me by my hands and say: “I need for you to wait for me and then follow. I’m going to take you some place, but it requires that you let me make the first move.”

A lesson in dancing for sure; but what about life? Could it be that by always anticipating the next step and preparing myself to react, I had forgotten how to follow?

As I drove home that night, I recalled a similar conversation when the guy I was dancing with said to me “are you going to lead here too?” (Yikes!)  All this got me to thinking and questioning just who’s in the lead? In taking control of my relationships, do I project that I don’t want a man to guide me? Do the men I meet ever question what role they would play in a relationship with me? Am I capable of surrendering control sometimes to allow someone else to pick up the reins? Like in a dance, does he feel my resistance?

After the all-too-true assessment of my dancing, my instructor asked me to close my eyes and just relax. No seeing where he was taking me and with no music playing to follow a rhythm.  No awareness of any obstacles that might be in our path. Just blindly following his lead.   What I experienced was something totally new. I could feel the softness of his hands and the strength in his arms. It was smoother, less regimented.  I was aware of him in a way I had not been before; and, amazingly, I never missed a step and never resisted the lead. 

So what I’m taking away from the experience is this: It’s okay to surrender control or leadership sometimes. I may not always be able to close my eyes, but I can certainly look the other way, get in step and just enjoy the dance.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Checking In: Party of One

Up 330 steps of spiraling stairs I climbed until I reached the top of the dome of St. Peter’s basilica. As I emerged, I could see the colonnade, the Pantheon and all of Rome laid out below me. From inside the gallery, the sounds of music and soft whispers rose from a church service taking place below.

This was a delightful surprise -- a stolen moment -- an experience that almost didn’t happen.

It all started while I was visiting Umbria with a guy I was dating. In the middle of our trip we had a disagreement and I ended up spending the day by myself. I ate lunch alone in a charming restaurant, had a pleasant conversation with the couple sitting next to me and wandered around the city. I enjoyed myself so much that I wanted to stay and explore more of Italy but we were scheduled to leave for a business meeting the following day.

At that moment I faced a choice. The “little people” inside my head, who only see the negative, told me it wasn’t safe for a woman to travel alone, that I couldn’t have fun without a companion and that I had an obligation. But the truth was, I wanted to stay. The decision I made that day opened up the world to me and showed me that there was no reason to put off experiencing it just because I didn’t have someone to go with.

Today, 32 million single, American women travel at least once a year, one third of them travels more than five times a year -- alone. Like me, they have decided to quit listening to fear and doubt in exchange for searching out whatever adventures await. Here are some common-sense ideas that will help you get out and experience the world as a single traveler:

  Ask for help. The hotel concierge, shop employees and wait staff are very accommodating and can steer you where to go and what places to avoid.

  Ask yourself what circumstances would make you vulnerable then determine how to avoid them.  When in doubt, make sure someone knows when to expect you back.

  Only carry one day’s worth of cash and one credit card on you and use the hotel safe for your remaining funds and passport.

  If you have to use an ATM, pick a machine on a busy street and go during daytime hours.  Never store all your money in the same place. 

  In case of an emergency (ex. stolen phone) go to an internet cafĂ© and get on FB or use emails to communicate.

  Know where you’re going before you leave and the name, address, phone number and email of where you are staying so you’ll know where to return.

  Know your limit. I never have more than one glass of wine when I’m alone because I know the second will lead to the third and that is what will impair my judgment.

  Have a sense of purpose when walking through airports, subways and train stations. Online maps and information sites will help you know where you’re going.

  Take a trial run. If you’re not sure you can travel alone at this time, take along your significant other but ask them to let you do it your way. Plan the trip as if you were taking it alone and have the experience you’re looking for.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

If Time Is Currency, How Are You Spending Yours?

I admit it. I’m just a tad bit obsessive about my time. I like having things in order, I think idle time is wasted time and I never do one task when I can multi-task. It’s true, I brush my teeth in the shower and I set my timer so I’m done getting ready or done with a mini home workout by the time my meal comes out of the oven. And while that may seem a bit much for some of you, consider this; I only work six months out of the year.

I’m often asked how I can afford to have so much free time to travel, see my kids, and start a second business. The answer came to me while I was talking to Missy, one of my clients at the salon.

At the time, I was in a relationship with a man from South Africa. When he decided to return home, I began to think of ways we could still see each other while living on two different continents. My client helped me see how with a bit of creative planning, I could manage to fit in the same number of clients in fewer days by working longer hours and making schedule changes. The result was that in six weeks I could do three months’ worth of work.

Even though the relationship ended, I have kept my work schedule. It gives me free time to see the world and spend time with family. If I wanted, I could even live somewhere else. The way I look at it, by planning for my life I’m always ahead of it. If I didn’t plan, I’d feel like I was behind my life always trying to catch up.

Here are some tips I have found to help you manage your time so that you’ll have more of it to spend creating the life you want to live:

•  Find someone objective who you trust. Ask them what areas they see in your life that aren’t serving you or are simply being wasted.  Quiet the little people and reflect on it.

•  Keep track of how you are spending your time over the course of several weeks. Where could you be saving time? What could you accomplish with that saved time?

•  Ask yourself, “If I only had more time, I’d love to ___________.” Fill in the blank with something you long to do but don’t see possible at this pace/stage of your life. You’ll never manage your time wisely unless you have something you’re trying to save it for.

•  Prioritize your life into things that are urgent and non-urgent, important and non-important. The urgent things have to get done (ex. you have to go to work). The important things need to get done (ex. going to the gym). What are the non-urgent things that you can reassign to another day? What are the non-important things that you can set aside?

•  Don’t excuse the things you need to prioritize. Things like your health, your values and the success of your family should never be overlooked.