Wednesday, March 30, 2011

If You Could Start All Over

One of my girlfriends posed an interesting question on Facebook a few weeks back that got me thinking.
If you could clear your slate (in other words, no obstacles in the way) and start again to follow your passion, what career would you pursue?
Growing up, we all have dreams of what we want to become when we're older. Our dreams as children are idyllic and limitless. We don't have the pressure of boundaries and expectations we start to carry around as adults. We dream about being athletes, ballerinas, artists, actors, models, astronauts or rock stars -- things that sound glamorous because as children, we don't know what those roles are really like. We only know the idealized view of them society gives us. 
It was interesting reading through the responses my friend received. A lot of people went right back to those childhood dreams and listed one as their great passion in life. My first instinct was to do the same, but I think I've been an adult too long because I censored myself and tried to come up with something I'm passionate about but could still be a "realistic" career for me. I love taking photographs and I love writing, so photographer and writer would have made great sounding responses. I can't even remember what I chose to post, but I just remember thinking what I answered wasn't really truthful.
If I'm really honest with myself, what I would love to be if I could start over is an organizational expert.
THIS makes me happy.
As everyone in my family and even my closest friends can attest, I've been rearranging stuff my entire life. When I'm stressed out, I clean closets. I reorganize cabinets. Shopping in a container store is sheer nirvana. It's the best way I know to get out of a funk, get your mind back on track and regain control of your life. I would love to make a career out of helping other people find peace through eliminating clutter from their lives. Maybe one day I'll figure out a way to make money doing it.
What career would you choose if you could start over?  

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Artists have a totally different view of the world from most people. They don't see boundaries or limits, they are not confined by expectations or norms of behavior. They only see possibilities, opportunities and unique points of view.

It takes a true artist to imagine that stainless steel, aluminum tubing and punching bags can come together and create beauty.

It takes an even bigger artist to use that beauty to honor an icon. 

Realize is on display at LA Live in downtown Los Angeles until April 9th.  See it and be moved.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Taking A Stand

There were large labor union protests in downtown Los Angeles this past weekend. The only reason I knew about them is because I was walking to a hockey game and streets between my place and Staples Center were blocked off.

I will freely admit I don't devote much time to current events.  Besides major elections, I don't participate much in this wonderful democratic society we're privileged to live in.  I follow world events mainly through the Internet and never watch my local news.  I'm too busy running around, living my life.  I don't have time to worry about things I can't control.

I'm a perfect example of the apathy that has gotten this great country where it is today.   If I took the time to get involved, while I still might not be in control, I would be a part of the solution, not simply one of the many people complaining about the problem.

When I was in elementary school, my father was part of a transit union that went on strike in Wilmington, Delaware.  He went to Washington, DC along with a group of his fellow union members as part of an arbitration committee working to negotiate an end to the strike.  I was too young to understand that he wasn't being paid, which made supporting a wife and 3 small children hard.  I do remember how passionately he talked with friends and neighbors about the issues he faced, even though I couldn't understand them myself.   He was a good citizen and chose to act on what he believed, even though it created hardship for him.

Standing up for what you believe in even when it's hard is exactly the point.  This country needs more people motivated to do just that.  It's the foundation upon which our democracy was built.  My Dad knew it.  These folks know it too.

So even though I don't unilaterally support unions, and I don't know enough about the issues of these protesters to decide whether I agree with them or not, I support their right to protest.  I admire their determination in speaking up.   Change only happens when you show the courage to stand up for what you believe.

Now it's time to figure out what I believe.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

When Will I Learn?

I like to think I'm enough of an adult to control myself most of the time.  But for as long as I live, there will be certain things around which is have zero control.  Small pieces of chocolate are on that list.  Especially ones with candy coating that come in pretty colors.

I've been snacking way too much lately, and feeding dollar bills into the vending machine in my building is becoming an expensive habit.  So on my last trip to the grocery story, I bought a bag of M&M's thinking if I just had something around the house to snack on OCCASIONALLY it would be cheaper that way.

I did the math, and it IS actually cheaper to buy the bag, but the occasional part of the snacking equation went out the window.   I've now eaten roughly half the bag in the same amount of time as s typically would have 2 little vending machine packs.

I've always known there was a reason I never became a mathematician.  Or a nutritionist.  At least I'm colorful and chocolaty....

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Fun With Photo Editing

Rain is great in two situations.  It's lovely when you can be inside relaxing and listening to it and sometimes it makes really pretty designs when it lands on things.  Like the sunroof of my car.

So before I headed home on a wet and miserable commute, I snapped a shot of the rain from inside the car.  I like the original result, but I also thought it might be fun to play around with the photo editing software built into my laptop.   I'm not the most creative photo editor in the world, but I think a couple of these are pretty cool.

The first photo is the original, followed by 4 variations.

The Original Photo

Obviously my photo editing software is a little basic, but I'm not inclined to drop bucks on Photoshop at the moment.  If you're a photo nut like me, have you found any FREE photo editing software you like?  If so, please leave me a comment and I'll be grateful forever.

In the meantime, Happy Photographing!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Rainy Days Make Me Want To...Exfoliate?

I woke up to rain this morning.  It's been raining all day long.  As I write this, it's STILL raining.  Not your typical day in sunny, Southern California, to be sure.

I don't know what it is about rain that saps the energy out me, but it does.  So since I was having a rough time getting motivated this morning, I posted this question on my social networking sites to see what other people do to pass time in the rain.

Rainy Days Make Me Want To __________.

Here's a sampling of the responses I got:
  • Read a book
  • Watch movies
  • Scrapbook
  • Get stuff done around the house
  • Make yummy comfort foods like stew and chili
  • Sleep
  • Curl up by a fire
  • Cuddle with someone (far and away the most popular response)
The key element of all these activities was relaxing.  Being mellow.  No one was in a huge hurry, just doing something fun and seeing where the day took them.  I have books I could have read, getting stew ingredients would have meant leaving the house, I don't have a fire place and I have no one to cuddle with.  Sadly, I wasn't in the mood to drag out my scrapbook stuff even though I have a pile of projects needing attention.  So what's a girl to do?

I decided a little in-home spa treatment was the ticket.

A friend got me this tub of Origins Modern Friction mircrodermabrasion scrub AGES ago.  It's been sitting in my medicine cabinet staring at me since I got it.  I've packed it up and moved it at least once.  Terrific gift idea, but another one of those things I just never get around to doing for myself.  But on a rainy day, I figured what the heck!

This stuff is basically the consistency of wet sand.  You put it on your skin dry with the little spatula, let it set for a minute, then massage it into your skin and rinse it off in the shower. 

Pretty easy, right?  For the most part yes, but I did learn a few lessons.
  • Stand in the tub when you apply something like this.  Otherwise the spatula splatters a little, and you get dabs of this stuff on the floor, in your bathmat, etc.  You get the idea.
  • When you rub it in, it's gonna be a little rough.  The exfoliating ingredients are things like Chinese purple rice, corn cob extract and bamboo extract.  Not exactly the kindest ingredients on the planet.  Actually, when I read this stuff had corn cob in it, all I could do was laugh and think of my Dad.  If I ever told him I was using something like this, he would have offered to save me money and go buy me a corn cob to do the same job!
  • While you're doing the massaging part, be standing in the tub because little pieces are gonna fly everywhere.  Why does beauty always have to be so hard?
But the payoff was totally worth it!  I can honestly say my skin has never felt softer or smoother.  The best part is that Origins got smart and is now selling this same product in a tube so it's easier to use (plus no more keeping track of the little spatula)!

Now I just need someone to cuddle with and this rainy day will be just perfect.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Life Lessons From A Little Black Book

The digital world we live in today allows us to capture and recall so many moments in our lives more quickly and efficiently than ever before, but nothing brings them flooding back quite like a memento from our past. 

There's something about an actual physical object that you can touch that has special meaning.  You know a memory is important to you when you've had to pack and move it a ton of times.  You're acknowledging that it's a significant enough piece of your past that you will always find room for it in your future.   The things we choose to keep close to us are part of who we are and what defines us as a human beings.

This Kappa Kappa Psi pledge book is one of my mementos.

Kappa Kappa Psi is a National Honorary Band Fraternity.  Like most Greek societies, you earn membership through a process known as pledging. 

My pledge class

I pledged the spring semester of my freshman year of college, and it was one of the happiest and most challenging times in my life.  I learned life lessons through the process that I carry with me today.  I am a better person for having served this organization and my fellow brothers. 

Now before you get worried I spent half of my freshman year drunk, standing on tables and reciting slogans, it wasn't like that.  KKY is a co-ed service organization, not a social one, so my pledge period consisted of things like helping clean the marching band uniform room, selling coffee and donuts in the music building to raise money for chapter projects and breaking my back loading tubas and drums into the band truck after daily practices.  I will admit we did have fun too...but those stories...well, some of those stories aren't actually blog material!

What life lessons did I learn from my experience pledging?
  • Responsibility.  I had to carry my pledge book with me at all times, or I was in big trouble with my big brother. 
My Big was a senior when I was a freshman, so I got to see him graduate!  Proud Little Brother over here!
  • The value of hard work.  All those back-breaking band truck loading sessions earned me points in my little book.  So did getting up early to get the donuts.  Points were good, and nothing good comes easy.
  • Time management.  I had to have visits with all the active members of the chapter so we could get to know each other.  That meant juggling my class schedule and theirs PLUS band commitments, and we had a limited amount of time to do it.
  • Valuing differences.  Some brothers gave lots of points pretty easily.  Some were really tough and asked a lot of you before they gave you any credit.  Easy or tough, they were all valued friends that were there for the organization in their own way, and we needed each and every one of them to be successful.
  • Appreciating your history.  I had to learn the names of the founding members of our chapter (some of whom I'm proud to say are friends to this day), as well as the history of the organization.  Without the contributions of all those people, I would never have been fortunate to enjoy the experience I did as a member.
  • Brotherhood.  If any of my brothers needed me today, I would find a way to help them.   When my father died, my mother was astounded at the number of my brothers that sent flowers in his honor.  The bond we all shared is stronger than any test of time, and it will always be that way.

So why did I have occasion to pull out my pledge book today?  My chapter is celebrating it's 30th anniversary, and MY Little Brother texted me for some information about our family tree. 

I love my Little Bro!

And wouldn't you know, the answers to everything were right in my little black book, just like always.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Seeing Green In Downtown LA

I've lived in downtown Los Angeles almost 2 years and sadly haven't seen much of my neighborhood.  I realized this during my regular walk to Staples Center for the Kings game on St. Patrick's Day.  Someone scheduled an unofficial pub crawl around downtown and I never got the news.  I just saw lots of green people.

At least the green people helped me find another Irish-themed bar only 3 blocks away from my place.

Amazing what you find when you look half a block south of Figueroa....

The only other Irish bar I knew about is the one on Figueroa I pass on the way to Staples Center.  Never stopped in, but if they have stiff drinks that will be changing soon!

Plus you have to love a bar that wants someone drunk to get their head stuck in honor of the holiday!

So I passed two Irish bars and didn't stop in for a St. Patty's day libation?  Not when they had a beer garden set up in the plaza right across the street from Staples Center!  The best part was getting to see one of those epic bottom up better dispenser thingys in action!

I quickly figured out the secret when a couple of my fingers shifted to the bottom of the cup. The only thing keeping your beer in there is a little magnet, so if you don't hold your cup by the sides, you're going to spring a leak.  We all know lost beer would be alcohol abuse, right?

And you certainly can't have a proper St. Patty's Day quaff without a drinking buddy.  Luckily I found the perfect one on the walk downtown.

Hockey babes & drinking buddies.  WE RULE!

Plus the best part of having all this downtown?  No worries about driving home!  I think we can all drink to that...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

My Time In Ireland

In December 2006, I traveled to Ireland for a memorable 8 days with a bunch of current and former JMU band geeks who also happen to be some of my best friends in the world.   I had an amazing time, and my visit confirmed absolutely everything I had read and heard about the beauty of the Emerald Isle and the warm hospitality of it's people.

Unfortunately, I returned with a horrible cold (the Irish climate in December will do that to you), so I put all my photos in a box, intending to pull them out later and get around to making a scrapbook.  Sadly, they haven't come out of the box until today.

So in honor of St. Patrick's Day, here are a few of my favorite scenes from my Irish adventure.

Malahide Castle

 Views of the grounds around Malahide Castle

Coastal views on the drive from Dublin to Fingal County

Trinity College - Dublin

And of course, there is nothing quite as fun as watching the locals stare in awe at the biggest marching band they've even seen forming a parade down the streets of Dublin at Christmas time.

But by far the best part of the trip was sharing an Irish beverage... or two....with one of my oldest friends.

Sadly, I'm not much of a Guinness girl...
THIS is more my speed.

At least they had plenty of hangover helper in Dublin....

Cheers, everyone!  Hope you have a very Happy St. Patrick's Day!  Or as they say in Ireland, Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Lessons From The ER: The Worst Part

Not feeling well is bad.  Feeling like something might be wrong with your heart is worse.  But far and away the worst part of an ER visit is the last part -- THE BILL.


I believe I mentioned I have great health insurance.  I do.  But like most insurance, it includes things like deductibles and co-payments.  Thank goodness I work in the insurance industry and understand what these things mean, so I was at least expecting a bill.   I just had no idea it would be this much.  If this is only MY portion, exactly what does an ER visit cost these days? 

Luckily my insurance has a lovely website where you can review details of your plan and any bills on-line so I could get some answers.  In doing so, I remembered I voluntarily chose a higher deductible plan because I NEVER GO TO THE DOCTOR and it helped lower my insurance premiums.   I've already set a reminder on my calendar to change that during my company's next annual benefits review period!

But getting back to the bill itself.  Here is an itemized list of everything I had done.  Some of it's in plain English, some of it isn't.  Again, thank goodness for my professional background or I'd be going insane trying to understand this.

So what's the grand total for an ER visit including an EKG, chest x-ray, blood test and face time with a doctor?  I was amazed to discover it was $2796.79.  This, my friends, is why you should be afraid of doctors.

Sadly, I've resigned myself to the fact that health care must now be a more regular part of my annual budget.   The best I'm hoping for at this point is simply avoiding another ridiculous bill like this and paying smaller amounts on a more regular basis.

I guess that's a small price to pay for being healthy....and alive.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What Does $50 Buy These Days?

My hard-earned dollars seem to buy less and less. Today I spent $56 on a single purchase! Any guesses what is was?
  • My groceries for a week?
  • Two seats in Section 210 for the Los Angeles Kings vs St. Louis Blues on St Patrick's Day?
  • 10 mornings started with a Decaf Venti Non-Fat, No Whip Peppermint Mocha at Starbucks?
  • 4 nights of skating at Toyota Sports Center (including skate rentals)?
  • 5 Chipotle Burrito Bowls with sides of chips and guacamole?
  • Movie tickets for myself and 3 other friends?
  • A new Brighton necklace for my collection?

No. I got this.

A single tank of gas in Pasadena, California.

I won't be having much fun this summer....

Tweets From 400 BC

Informal learning isn't a new concept, but it is garnering more attention from professionals in the learning community.   The concept of informal learning is pretty simple -- one critical part of how we learn is the moment when we apply knowledge, whether that application is doing a task at work, learning a new hand craft or playing a sport.  In short, you learn by doing.

What is new in the professional learning community is finding ways to leverage technology, especially social technologies, to support application of knowledge.  I've been reading up on the subject for some projects at work and came across this quote at the beginning of one of the chapters.

"One must learn by doing the thing; for though you think you know it, you have no certainty, until you try." - Sophocles

Sophocles - photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user Shakko
So not only is informal learning not new, it's been floating around since the 4th century BC!  And interestingly enough, Sophocles wasn't a teacher, he was a writer.  A playwright, in fact.  So learning from others outside the "education" community isn't new either.

But my real revelation came when I posted Sophocles' quote to Twitter and realized it's exactly 121 characters, including the quotation marks and attribution to the author of the quote.  So communicating with a big impact in 140 characters or less is just the same thing we humans have been doing all along too.

Everything old is new again.

Monday, March 14, 2011

What's The Big Deal About A Little Thing Like Hair?

A friend of mine was complaining the other day about hearing the news that her hair stylist was moving, and how worried she was about finding someone new to manage her head.  I can totally relate.  Having moved more than a few times in my life, finding a good stylist is always a source of anxiety for me.   Luckily I haven't been in that boat for twelve years, and I can't even handle the thought of having to do it again, although I know the day will come at some point.

So why is hair such a big deal?  It's only hair, right?  I think most people obsess about their hair because it's the one thing we're given genetically that we can change easily if we don't love it.    Changing your eye color means wearing contacts.   Making your lips fuller requires collagen injections.   Modifying your cheekbones, your nose or something more substantial means full blown cosmetic surgery.  By contrast, hair is simple, and you can change it as often as you want with few harsh side effects and no long term commitment.  With your hair, you're in control -- at least relatively speaking.

I've been battling for control of my hair my entire life, and it's not a one person job.  It takes incredible amounts of time, numerous hair products, and a large chunk of my discretionary income.  Patience and stamina are also paramount.   My current hair dresser jokes that doing a blow-out for me is her best aerobic workout, since it takes close to an hour.  She should probably be sainted for dealing with my head all these years.

You see, my hair has a mind of it's own.  I've got a ton of it, and it's naturally curly, which equals unruly most of the time. Always has been, always will be.

Take second grade, for instance.

My mother spent all morning wetting my hair down and spraying it into place so it would look nice for my school picture.  During my walk to school on a windy day, it took flight and went it's curly way.  If I remember correctly, she cried when the photo proofs arrived.

Then there were my early teenage years.

As if simply BEING a teenager isn't awkward enough, I had to do it when the Mullet was in style.  I looked back through my high school yearbook the other day, and half the girls in my class had some version of this hair cut.  The only reason I'm smiling in this picture is because I had just gotten my braces off.

By my senior year of high school, the Mullet was gone.

That's about the only good thing I have to say about this look.  If it wasn't for the pearls, I'm pretty sure I could be mistaken for a really cute boy.

For most of my college years, my hair looked like this.

Kind of a longer, softer version of the high school cut -- short on the sides so my hair kept out of my face, but long in the back where it mattered.  My hair product of choice in those days was Aussie Sprunch spray.  Ah, that magical purple bottle!  It was sticky as hell, but my hair didn't move.

Then I graduated from college and moved out on my own.  My first major move away from college took me to Virginia Beach, Virginia -- home of sun, fun and cute Navy guys.  I lived four blocks from the ocean and my apartment complex had an Olympic size pool, two perfect venues to change up my look and try out a fine little product called Sun-In!

The look I was going for was sun-streaked highlights.  The look I got was orange hair.  I thought I was a babe, and the Navy guys didn't seem to care, so I didn't care either.  Until I went to my first legitimate hair dresser and she explained how much that crap was damaging my hair.  She said if I wanted to lighten my hair, foils were the way to go.  Despite my concerns about the expense of going with "real" hair color, my vanity got the best of me and I started going blonde.  In the process, I experienced a religious hair experience in the form of my first blow-out.

The girl who had never known anything but curls finally went straight!  That is, at least for a few days until I had to wash my hair.  I had dreamed and wished for straight hair my whole life, and now I knew I could have it whenever I wanted!  Praise be to the God that invented the blow dryer an flat iron!

I kept variations on the same basic color and style for years, until I moved to California.  In the process, more and more foils got added to the mix until I was finally a full blown, all over BLONDE!

Then one day, I decided I was tired of my bangs and decided to grow them out.  I don't think I've ever been more frustrated with my hair in my life.  It's always resisted anything that smacked of "training," so convincing it to lay the right way took every bit of patience I had.  And by the time the bangs and finally grown out, my hair was damaged from too many years of 40-volume peroxide stripping the color out to make it blonde.

So we chopped it shorter and did kind of a bob thing.

At the time I liked it.  Looking back at this picture, I don't know what I was thinking.   The color, the length, it just all seemed wrong.  Being a blonde was fun for a while, but I started looking washed out, and no matter what we did, the damage just didn't go away in a few spots.

So I decided my days as a blonde were done, and I've been much happier since.

This is redder than my natural color, it's the longest it's ever been in my life, and I feel the most like "me" that I ever have in my life.  It's taken a long time to get here, and the battles have been many, but I feel like I've finally won the war with my hair. 

Then again, maybe we've just reached a truce.