Thursday, December 22, 2011

My Christmas Card Inspiration

In this digital age we live in, I know a lot of people have given up on sending holiday cards.

Thankfully some of my friends still like them!

I'm not one those people, and designing my annual card is one of my favorite things about the holiday season. It's fun to look through photos of all my adventures from the year and decide which ones tell the stories I want to share with my friends and loved ones in printed form.

This year many of my adventures were made more special because I got to share them with my boyfriend Paul. He loves taking pictures as much as I do, and he even served as photographer on some of my favorite shots. Since he's such an important part of my life, I wanted him to be involved in the design of the card, so I asked him to choose his favorite picture of me to be the "cover shot."

I'm not including the photo or a shot of the finished card here so it will be a surprise to those that receive it, but I wanted to share the the story behind the photo he chose. Hopefully I can paint the picture well enough with words that you can visualize it for now.

Paul and I met over a year ago but didn't "officially" start dating until February. Then in April, he made his first trip all the way from New York to visit me in California. The photo he chose was taken during that trip, on a visit to the Santa Monica Pier on a gorgeous spring afternoon. It was a breezy that day, and random curls of my hair kept flying in my face or up in the air, ruining his perfectly planned shot.  Every time he saw a hair out of place, Paul stopped, walked over to me and put it carefully back in place. After numerous trips back and forth without a photo, I warned him that fighting Mother Nature AND my hair was probably more than any one person could handle, but he was undeterred. When he finally got the shot he wanted, he looked at his camera and smiled. Then he smiled back at me.

I was happy Paul chose that shot, because thinking about the moment it was taken reminds me all over again why I fell in love with him. Everyone wants to feel special, and he gives me that feeling every day, in big and small ways. My holiday card is one small way to celebrate that and hopefully give some of that feeling back to him.

Now to find some inspiration for the addressing and mailing....

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Beating The Holiday Rush, Apple Style

Not everyone digs the cult that Steve Jobs built. Some people feel Apple products, while well designed, are overpriced. They don't always play nicely with non-Apple products. They upgrade models a lot, making you feel like you're constantly having to spend a lot of hard earned coin to have the latest and greatest in toys.

Steve Jobs never cared about those concerns. Apple still doesn't. But Apple has a thriving business because when you DO choose to become their customer, they think about what you want and they give it to you.

For evidence of that philosophy, look no further than my Apple store shopping experience 5 days before Christmas. The store I went to was PACKED with people, but Apple knows how to handle that.

  • They put the most popular items right at the front of the store in a special express purchase section. No WADING through crowds.
  • Payments are completed with hand held card readers -- right where you stand. NO WAITING in line at a register.
  • Receipts get emailed to you, including gift receipts if you need them.
  • I was in and out of the store in 10 minutes -- less time than it took to park the car.

This is why I'm a happy and loyal Apple customer. Join the cult and enjoy your holiday.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pearl Harbor

My first visit to Hawaii was April 2003 for a friend's wedding. Since my father was a World War II veteran, a visit to Pearl Harbor was at the top of my must-see list in Oahu -- right behind dipping my toes in the water on Waikiki and enjoying a Mai Tai at Duke's Barefoot Bar.

Many of my friends had visited Pearl Harbor before me, so I had gotten great advice on what time of day to go and other logistics when I started planning my trip. But nothing anyone can tell you about a visit to this sacred place prepares you for how you feel being there.

I visited Pearl Harbor on a cloudless sunny day, much like it was on the day the attack occurred. Standing at the visitors center and looking across the water where the remains of the USS Arizona lay waiting for me, I couldn't help but think how unfair it is that the universe operates on a system of balance, blending breathtaking beauty with unthinkable horror in the same moments of time.

On the boat ride out to the monument over the Arizona, you receive strict instructions on how to behave once you arrive. There is no talking while on the monument, for it is a place to contemplate the meaning of the sacrifice of the 1,177 crew members that died that day -- especially those entombed in the sunken ship below your feet.

One end of the floating memorial houses a marble wall with the names of the victims. In the eerie quiet, I read the names through a blur of tears. Talking may be discouraged, but tears are appropriate here.

On the boat ride back to the visitors center, I found myself unable to speak, and for once I was happy to be traveling alone. I am uncertain I would have found he right words to express what I felt even if there had been someone to share them with.

I thought not only of the lives that were lost directly that day, but the totality of losses sustained around the world from the chain of events that began that fateful day. Over 60 million military and civilian casualties world wide during World War II. Countless others, like my father, changed by the war forever in spite of surviving it.

On the 70th anniversary of the vicious attack on this peaceful island paradise, I think back to my visit to the USS Arizona, I think about my father and all members of The Greatest Generation that fought for the freedom I still enjoy today, and I shed tears of gratitude all over again.

Monday, December 5, 2011

What Is Your "Thing"?

Whether you've given it much thought or not, you have a "thing."

Maybe it's a hobby, or a place, or an activity. Whatever it is, it makes you unconditionally happy. You have complete confidence in your ability when doing your "thing" and never second guess yourself when you're knee deep in it. The world could be falling apart around you and doing it would make you feel better, more at peace. Your "thing" makes you smile without hesitation. It lifts your spirits.

I'm reminded every holiday what my "thing" is -- wrapping gifts.

I am never happier than when I am in the midst of rolls of shiny paper, yards of metallic bows and covered with a light dusting of glitter. I'd put my gift wrapping skills up against anyone on the planet, except maybe those people that work for Martha Stewart and dream up stuff like this. I've actually tried to think of ways I could turn custom gift wrapping into a career that could keep a roof over my head. No luck so far.  If you've got ideas or funding to help me out, I'm all yours.

Since I had an attitude in need of some adjustment this evening, I was glad to have some gifts that needed wrapping. Now I feel much better after spending some time doing my "thing."

What's your "thing?" And why aren't you making yourself happy and doing it RIGHT NOW?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Heart of Iron

Some people have a harder road through life than others.

Imagine your life if you started fighting cancer at age 18. You go three rounds with Hodgkin's disease and beat it all three times. At 26, you discover the chemotherapy used to fight the Hodgkin's gave you leukemia, so you beat that too. But the chemotherapy gave you something else too -- cadiomyopathy -- which weakened your heart to the point where you need a transplant. You wait 5 long years to get your new heart.

So now you're 35 years old and healthy for the first time in almost two decades. You should finally be able to relax on the couch and do nothing but enjoy being alive after all that, right?

Not if you're Kyle Garlett.

If you're Kyle, you endure all those years of fighting cancer, get your new heart and promptly start training to tackle The Ironman World Championship. Then you do it a second time -- because you can.

Kyle's tells his story in his new book Heart of Iron: My Journey From Transplant Patient to Ironman Triathlete.

Before reading it, I knew some of Kyle's story because I am lucky enough to know Kyle personally and privileged to have had small "walk-on" roles at important moments in his life. Witnessing his excellent choice to marry my friend Carrie was my favorite -- and I still cry every time I think about that beautiful moment. In some ways, reading the book was hard because I constantly thought about the suffering Kyle endured in a more personal way than the average reader. I needed an entire box of Kleenex to get through the book -- but please don't let that stop you from picking it up!

I wish I had the financial resources to buy a copy for every single person I know, and not just because Kyle is my friend and I want his book to be successful. Everyone should read this book because it is about more than beating cancer or conquering athletic challenges. It is a lesson in how positivity can shape your life.

Of all the wonderful moments in Kyle's book, this is the passage that I've been reading over and over for inspiration lately:
"There will always be something big and important and stressful going on in your life. It may not be as serious or debilitating as a battle with cancer, but if it's the thing most dominating your life, it's imposing. To you it is everything, and for that you need offer no apologies. But in spite of its presence, you can always choose to be happy. It is your choice to remain positive, upbeat, and focused on the good. Your attitude is entirely within your control."
I firmly believe that attitude is what kept Kyle Garlett alive through insurmountable odds. That attitude is what makes him such an inspiration to others. And that attitude is what keeps him reaching for even higher goals each and every day.

I'm rooting for him to achieve each and every one.