lazy choices feet hammock

Within 90 minutes this morning I heard the same sentence uttered by two different women I admire. In each instance, a second party had commented on a lifestyle choice my friend/client had made and remarked, somewhat snarkily, “It’s so nice that you have that choice.”

One woman heard it from her husband after mentioning the delightful time she’d had at the beach with their grandchildren. The other was a client who doesn’t take business calls over the weekend. Her client couldn’t comprehend why a call made on Sunday hadn’t been returned that day.

That left-handed (sorry, Lefties!) compliment–“So nice that you have a choice!”– carries an underlying message.

Let me see if I can get it right. What they really meant was that “If you were in any way a responsible human being LIKE I AM, you’d surely work as hard as ME and quit fooling around and having fun.”

Right? Isn’t that the subtext you read into that statement?

I was hoping and praying that my client’s response would line up with my thought bubble, which it did. “Thank you,” she responded. “I do realize how lucky I am to have that choice.”

While the martyr uttering those words wants to appear supportive, the self-righteousness inherent in her assessment belies the wish for the other.

The truth is, we are ALL always at choice. That’s a bitter pill to swallow when you’re talking about tuitions, mortgages, car loans or professional self-image. Someone else’s seeming disregard for your chosen way of life is not a crime.

This post is actually a plea for those of you on either side of this equation to choose to take some well-deserved time for yourself before the end of this glorious summer. I promise you that you have the choice and whatever it is you’re choosing NOT to do for the hour or three of relaxation and self-care is well worth it.

 

secret surprising

I’m getting ready to re-start my Mastermind Intensive this September. I’m interviewing each of the eight women entrepreneurs who will be joining me monthly for the next year. I’m inviting the members who’ve participated before to recall each expert we had address the group to help me understand what worked best.

More than a few mentioned one expert’s excellent content, but commented on the lack of follow-through. Even months later, that missing link stayed in their memories.

It’s the little things. The things that aren’t mentioned that have us make choices.  And whoever says, “The reason I’m not hiring you (again) is….” They offer lots of reasons, but rarely is the real truth uttered.

How often have you heard someone say, “I was unimpressed with your business card.” Or, “There were too many typos in your handout, so I’m going to pass.”

You may register that what you see and what you get don’t reflect the business owner’s professional investment in their image or reputation. But your executive decision maker acts on that noticing and is too polite to mention it.

The better news here is that our reasons for hiring or using another’s services can be strictly personal. You asked about my grandson, or you remembered that I don’t eat tomatoes. Anything you say or do after that has a halo around it. And anything less-than-fabulous you said before may be erased. It’s a complex balance.

All I’m really saying is, you may not know the real reason for either decision.

 

eraser erasing editingI’m in the process of applying to be a writer-in-residence for a few weeks this coming winter. The location is remote and far away. It is exclusively for women.  We each get our own cabin, write all day, then gather in the evening for community and support. Meals are delivered to our doors. Each of us is responsible for keeping our own shelter heated by stoking its wood-burning stove.

Some might find this description abhorrent, but for this introvert, it sounds like heaven. As many of you who’ve been following my blog know, I’m working on a memoir. I would love to have 15 days straight to engage in nothing else.

In order to be selected, there’s a rigorous application to be submitted. I’ve been wordsmithing for days now, but without feedback, I had no idea how my writing sounds. I took the opportunity to share the four pages of their questions and my responses to members of my mastermind group. This morning I received comments from one of our members, in green (appreciative that it wasn’t red), for which I am eternally grateful.

What I received was an outside reader’s perspective, solid suggestions and superb clarity on what was needed to improve my application. I trust the source (she’s a marketing wonder), will make the changes and feel more assured that what I’m submitting is the best I’ve got.

Readers and friends frequently comment on the support system I’ve built in my years as a business owner. I have someone who helps me appear well-dressed and professional, a coach to assist me in putting my stories together when I speak to assocations, a writing coach, a business coach, a goal buddy, a financial team and a raft of friends willing to take a call when I’m struggling in any way. One of the biggest lessons in my growth and development of an entrepreneur and human being has been learning how to ask for help.

I’m curious how you’ve done with creating your own team of advisors. How are you at saying, I don’t know how to do this, but I know someone who does? And then contacting them…the hardest part.

P.S. When selecting an image for this post, I started with the word EDIT. Not liking the first batch of photos, I tried CORRECTION and was horrified that 90% of the images were of beautiful women being marked up for plastic surgery. I went back to EDIT and chose this antedeluvian icon.

Yin Yang Symbol - Structuring Thesis of Macrobiotics

Yin Yang Symbol – Structuring Thesis of Macrobiotics

I didn’t often read Red Smith‘s column in the sports section of the NY Times, but on one occasion I was extremely taken by his humility. He wrote something like, “I’ve been writing about baseball for 30 years, and I think I’m beginning to understand it now.” (Please, Sports Fans, correct me if you know the quote!)

Why this strikes me today is that I am attending a macrobiotics seminar in Gaithersburg, MD, where after seven years of studying and practicing this amazing way of life, I’m beginning to understand it. Last night’s lecture by counselor Warren Kramer focused on the yin and yang of energy. Macrobiotics is not simply a food choice, but also a spiritual, mental and physical way of life.

Though I’ve heard it before, macrobiotics focuses on the ‘seven conditions of health.’ I always considered myself healthy because I don’t have any chronic or terminal diseases. But, looking at these seven conditions, there is much room for improvement. Number 1 is LACK OF FATIGUE. I was nodding off as Warren was talking about this. Definitely an area that is affected by choice of foods and lifestyle. I’m not a late-night person, but granola may be too yang for me to eat on a daily basis.

I know. This is pretty strong stuff. But as my eyes are being opened to the benefits of macrobiotics (translates to: Great Life), I’m better able to understand the why of making food and lifestyle choices. Certainly my profession is a lifestyle choice.

GOOD MEMORY is number 4. This one caught my attention because my memory is not what it used to be. Looking on a website for more details I found this description of #4 which I found reassuring:

Good Memory: Memory is the mother of our judgment. Without memory of what we have experienced, we have no judgment or ability to evaluate life’s changing circumstances. Good memory is essential to a meaningful life.

Remembering the name of the woman I just met is not as important as remembering that when I had that ‘macrobiotic’ cookie after dinner, I suffered a poor night’s sleep. I need to make a different choice for my body.

Since we complete our growth cycle as humans at 19 or 20, what continues to grow are our mind and consciousness. Our intake of food is what supports that. Understanding this, whenever you do, makes choosing what goes into your body more important than ever before.

An Egg by Jane

My First Logo

When I first started my business, I called it, very imaginatively, AN EGG BY JANE.

Gosh! How’d I think that one up?

During my keynote address, I repeated a conversation I’d frequently have with new vendors.

“What’s the name of your company?” they’d inquire.

“An Egg by Jane,” I dutifully answered.

“A what?” was the typical retort.

“An Egg by Jane,” I’d repeat slowly, then spell it out. It often led to a discussion about what I did, but I preferred to simply dictate the spelling and move on.

I’ll never forget receiving a package of gift boxes I’d ordered with my business name printed as AN EGO BY JANE–as if that made more sense than an EGG by Jane.

Besides the importance of a good name for your business, the whole process helped me to keep a sense of humor about myself and what I was contributing to society.

A page from the new edition of Decorating Eggs

Good thing! I’ve recently had the gift of a publisher re-printing my book, Decorating Eggs: Exquisite Designs with Wax and Dye that had been in print for about 15 years after which it suddenly disappeared. I watched its value escalate on amazon and also on ebay. Clearly, the public still wanted my take on pysanky.

Fortunately, along came an advocate for the re-publishing process and a deal was struck with Schiffer Publishing who did a lovely job of re-issuing my book this spring.

It’s right there on page 20 of their catalog alongside Gourding and Knot Making. I can brag that the Egg Deocrating category is mine alone.

If you’ve been hankering for my book for the past few years, here’s your opportunity to own your own copy.

If you’ve been hankering for a decorated egg in the Ukrainian tradition, I point you, with honor, to a remarkable talent, Helen Badulak, whose work is still available since mine is not.

hospital bedWe didn’t know that these would be the last words that my 88 year old mother would utter, but it turned out that they were.

“Shut up!” she barked at me and my sisters who had congregated in the emergency room of White Plains Hospital. There were seven of us in that small curtained-off space tending to her needs. My mother, my two sisters, myself and three doctors who were asking her questions and measuring her vital signs.

She was supposed to leave for her four month stay in Palm Beach that week, so this hospitalization appeared at first just a wrinkle in the plan. Something she had eaten the night before hadn’t sat well with her.

I was so accustomed to her being taken to the hospital for whatever ailed her, that the boy-who-cried-wolf effect seemed to be in operation once again. There had been so many false alarms that I dutifully showed up, but never gave her actual condition a second thought.

Molly, Beth and I were gathered near the feet-end of her gurney. We three were talking about our plans for the week ahead. I was due out in Colorado for a business appointment a couple of days later. Molly had her roster of client calls, and Beth’s kids were still young enough to require her full attention. Who would get Mom to the airport for her flight to Florida? Were any of us planning to visit her there this winter?

It wasn’t that we were even speaking loudly, but my mother wanted the complete focus of the gaggle of physicians at her end of the bed, and didn’t want the competition. So she told us to shut up.

I left the hospital shortly after that, knowing that she was in safe hands. I flew to Denver that Wednesday morning having checked in with Molly the night before. “She’s resting comfortably,” I was told.

As soon as I landed, I phoned again to hear Mom’s status.

“There’s been an episode, Jane. Can you get back right away?”

The consultant whom I was scheduled to meet in Denver was at the airport to pick me up. Instead of bringing me to our meeting place, he helped a shaken client go through the process of re-booking a return flight as soon as possible: two hours later.

Mom had had a heart attack while in the hospital and was now in a coma. Not too many people make it through these catastrophic events.

Suddenly everything in my life changed. Including, weirdly, my flying status. Having successfully gotten tickets back to New York, I was now departing shortly after having just landed. The TSA must’ve glued a red flag next to my name on the computers, because for years after that alteration, I was pulled out of every airport line and interrogated; every carry-on dutifully inspected.

When I arrived back at the hospital, they had put Mom into ICU. There were bags of fluid hanging everywhere, tubes going into her body. I’m not sure I’ve seen my mother so still. Her mouth was slightly open. Her hair disheveled. She would have hated that.

We maintained our vigil for several days. My brother flew in from Los Angeles to join us by her bedside. My daughter, fresh off the plane from her time in Japan, stopped in briefly. It wasn’t that Nana would know she had come. It was for me. That I was losing my mother, and I needed the comfort of my children witnessing that fact.

We four adult children, all in our 50’s, remained at the hospital throughout the days. I knitted a sweater. Molly stuffed envelopes rejecting potential authors and wishing them good luck. Beth and Jay chatted easily.

At one point, when I was alone in the room with Mom, I slipped under the covers with her, nestled up against her back, and whispered in her ear. “Thank you for all you did for me. I forgive you, and I love you.” And I meant it.

I knew that I would not be able to withstand another day of sitting in a hospital room. At this point my mother was on a morphine drip, her head reclining on a pillow, her mouth now wide open taking in air. We’d sat for three days with no change in her condition.

I woke up early Sunday morning wondering how I would tell my siblings that I simply couldn’t bring myself back to her bedside. I was writing in my journal when the phone rang at 6am.

“She’s passed.”

It had happened at 5:30 that morning, about when I’d awoken.

She died alone.

Some people wait until all family members have arrived before they can let go. My mother needed us to leave.

cut cord

I knew that I had decorated my last egg when Lindsey became engaged and I wanted to commemorate the occasion, as I had when Rob proposed to Anne, by making a Double Wedding Ring quilt-patterned egg with the couple’s names following the curves of the design.

I went to the sink in my studio to fill the kettle in which I boiled water for the dye baths. I had taken a fresh set of powders out of the drawer to dissolve into the colors I’d need: yellow, pink, aquamarine, red, violet and black. Two packages per jar, plus vinegar to help them set on the eggs.

But as I went to run the tap, I felt a wave of resistance in my stomach and chest. Not quite nausea, but a complex set of synapases firing up and down my throat, lungs and solar plexus. I paused. Took my hand off the faucet and stood in that small kitchen space of my studio for a minute or two.

“I can’t do this anymore.”

Those were the classic words I’d used when my longterm relationship with Sarah eneded. She’d called to invite me out for a walk after three weeks of silence. I’d been processing all along, but it felt fresh to her to hear my voice.

“Want me to come pick you you for a walk at the beach today?” she chirped.

“I can’t do this anymore,” I replied, and she knew exactly what I meant. I had the same sense of finality at that moment by the sink.

The end of my egg era wasn’t dramatic or emotional. I’d been working at the craft for over 30 years. I was done.

If I had to make a list of what contributed to its finale, it’d be short.

1. I used to hate when customers or fans would walk by my booth in November, say “Everything looks beautiful!” and that they’d see me at the show in May. I had worked so hard. Didn’t they know the unwritten obigation to patronize the artist? Could they really have so little commitment to keep me in business?

2. In the early days, especially when I had Lydia assisting me, I was undaunted when a technical issue arose. She was vital in my making a success of the epoxy-filled jewelry pieces I made using duck eggshells. Those last few months in business, the final coat of epoxy–the one I used to create a glowing coat over my handwork–started buckling. I didn’t have energy or desire to find the root cause. Lydia, or anyone else in my studio, might have taken on the challenge. But I was done. I didn’t care any more.

3. I had said everything in “eggs” I needed to say. After 30 years of painting the shells for 4-8 hours per day, I had conquered the medium and was no longer in its thrall.

So I had a blowout studio event to sell off all my inventory. I cleared over $10,000, then gave away my equipment, packed up a few items to save for posterity (or the Smithsonian), and actually cut the cord on my egg-cutting box because it was tucked behind the counter in such a way that I was unable to pull the plug. I loved the metaphor.

My friend Betsy helped me turn my artist’s studio into a coach’s office. She moved my art books from one side of the space to the other, creating plenty of room on the shelves closer to my computer and phone.

“We’re leaving room for more to come in,” she explained as she replaced the volumes on batik and ornamental design with my scant collection of business-building literature.

I could feel waves of fear churning in my gut. But I’d taken risks before and recognized this physical sensation as necesssary when planting seeds for continued growth.

“You can’t leap a chasm in two bounds,” I’d been told.

I fully embraced letting go. I have never regretted it.

A Similar Egg to the one described here

A Similar Egg to the one described

At a friend’s 40th birthday party the guest of honor ceremonially opened her gifts, one by one, and acknowledged the person who gave it to her. As she got closer to the gold-wrapped box I’d brought, my heart started to beat more rapidly. Id’ been having an enjoyable time at the party, had met a few kind women, but being my typical shy self, I knew the next moment would alter that dynamic, as it always did. I was about to become somebody.

My friend picked up the small cube of a gift I’d brought, gently removed the large bow and gift wrap which revealed my signature logo on the top of the shiny white carton. She carefully folded back the tissue paper and removed the enclosed literature I’d painstakingly created to establish my craft as more than loving-hands-at-home. It was a well-written marketing piece that I tucked into every customer’s purchase.

Under that folded piece of paper was my art. She very gingerly extracted the egg between her thumb and middle finger, and held it up for everyone to see. On it was an elegant pattern that I had batiked, a floral arrangement, with her name in tiny letters (similar to the one on the left designed for a friend’s mother) along the border design. There was a moment of silence followed by an audible intake of breath.

And then the comments came, as they always did.

“Who did that?”

“Jane! Did you make that?”

“How do you do that?”

“That’s incredible!”

“It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen!”

Invariably, one or two guests would come right over to sit beside me and insist that I tell them all about this unusual art form, how I got started doing it, and where they could get one of these exquisite pieces.

I’ve never been good at social events, but learned along the way that if I brought something special, it would get me the attention I craved. I believe that a large part of my artistic development came out of the need to show who I was through my art–all the love, the beauty I see and know, and creativity was more easily expressed in an object that in words or behavior. My art was my entree into life. Love my eggs, love me.

Brooches and Earrings made from duck eggshells

Brooches and Earrings made from duck eggshells

When I exhibited at craft shows, my booth was 10 feet by 10 feet and filled with hundreds of intricate patterns done by my hand. Jewelry pieces made from eggshells lined the vitrines in my corner display. There were bright red eggs dangling from thin gold ribbons, decorated with fine lace-like snowflake patterns, and my objets d’art under glass domes with price tags in the hundreds of dollars. I had had a huge sign made: AN EGG BY JANE that let fairgoers easily find me.

Holiday Ornament

Holiday Ornament

I often had people come to my booth at these shows and make the same remark. “Did you make all of these yourself?”

I loved the attention. I didn’t know any other way to achieve the awe, admiration and attraction, so I kept doing my craft for 30 years.

It was my silver bullet.

 

Portrait of My First Love

Portrait of My First Love

Apologies for the lack of paragraphs. I’d prefer to get these up and out by cutting and pasting rather than re-keystroking.
I’m not sure there’s ever been a gender attached to this entity, but let’s assume my first love was male. And his name was Sugar.Of course, I didn’t know I was in love until it was time to let him go.
But a little backstory first. A child of the 50’s and 60’s, there was not the awareness then about the evils of this guy. White Sugar was king of the hill. It was in everything, delicious, highly addictive and readily available, not like the unavailable guys I sought later in life.
He ruled the household I was brought up in. Nary a day, nary a meal passed without his appearance. Besides sweet treats at breakfast, lunch and dinner, a typical Sunday evening ended with us watching Perry Como in living color on the tv set in our den where there was a jar of Hopjes, an opened package of brown licorice, and more often than not, the offer of a scoop of ice cream brought out on a tray. This was a sign of love. I readily ate it up. Sugar and me forever.
Sugar was my best friend. Any time, and I do mean any time there was anything the least bit distasteful occurring in my day, I would unroll a Life Saver or a wrapped peppermint candy and pop him into my mouth. Ahhhh. Now I can handle it. Sugar was in endless supply, served as a balm in testy relationships, and ever-present at meetings where there would be a tray of donuts in the center of the table to get you through.
In my early 20s there was an article in the Times about finding housemates for summer rentals in the Hamptons. One group of renters met their prospects at a hip Manhattan bar to test the fit. I wouldn’t have made it to first base with those folks. Had they said, “Let’s meet for an ice cream sundae at Friendly’s” – my all-time favorite House of Sugar–I might have considered a seasonal opportunity that would never have attracted me otherwise. That’s how powerful my feelings about Sugar were. I would do things I wouldn’t ordinarily do if it were available and on the table.
One of the things I most enjoyed about going to my husband’s childhood home in NJ were the generous portions of mint chocolate chip ice cream his mother would serve me. None of those measly one scoop bowls in their household. She’d fill a cereal bowl with 4-5 scoops of that luscious light green treat flecked with dark brown pieces, and bring it to me with a soup spoon. I took large bites there. Nothing bothered me in those days.
But this love of mine was not always kind to me. He was reliable, but there was a residual effect to being in his company. While I was high, happy and satisfied anticipating our time together, during it and for awhile afterwards, inevitably I would begin to notice feelings of disgust, disappointment and depression within hours of our coupling.
It took me a long time to make this connection, because I was so deeply in love. How could I accuse the one relationship that made me so ecstatically happy of also making me consistently so unhappy. No! Please! Anything but that. Don’t take away my Sugar!
I toyed with a break-up. I’d hear friends saying things like, “My doctor says this relationship is bad for me and doing terrible things to my body.” I thought, so is mine, but…whatever. And I’d dabble. “Let’s do a trial separation,” I’d offer. “One week. We won’t see each other for one week.” Sugar made no counter offer. He accepted my decision. He was quiet like that. Never made a fuss. Let me go.
But my desperate need for him would weigh on me. I’d think about him incessantly. Not just daily, but hourly, even minute to minute. I missed him something fierce. After a few days of separation, that craving for his presence in my life would let up. My head would be clear and I’d have bursts of joy for no particular reason. I knew then that I could live without him, and I stopped missing him.
And then, inevitably, there’d be a reminder of our joyful times together. Heading through the checkout line at Waldbaum’s, I’d pass the candy section on my right—Peppermint Patties, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, packs of Bazooka bubble gum called my name. And Sugar would be back in my life, taking over every waking minute of my existence with his profound impact on me, my body and my life. He was so sweet, so there, so fulfilling.

The affair lasted over 40 years. The final breakup was swift and decisive. Sugar is out of my life. I miss him occasionally and allow some of his cronies in in small amounts, but net-net, I don’t miss him at all anymore. There’s a Leonard Cohen line that sums it up: I lost the one thing that makes me happy. Now everything makes me happy. Goodbye, Sugar. Hello Life!

diplomaA work in progress…

I hung our graduate school degrees from Columbia over our marital bed. My husband’s on the left where he slept, and mine on the right. Mine was actually delayed in its receipt as I took an incomplete in the pottery course I should have finished in 1971. I hated the cliquish atmosphere of the ceramics studio and stopped going. I had learned to center pots on the wheel, but didn’t get much further than that. Ultimately, I designed enough hand-built bowls and mugs to fulfill the requirements of the course and received my physical diploma a year late. My parents never noticed the year on the sheepskin.

I’ve always had a high regard for certifications. If you had letters after your name, that spoke for itself. No one would question your presence here on earth.

When I attended Mount Holyoke College in the late 60’s, there was the unspoken desire to graduate with an M.R.S. My freshman year, every senior in the dorm had an engagement ring, subscribed to Bride’s Magazine and was given a surprise bridal shower by her classmates. By the time I graduated in 1970, everything in our world had changed. No one in my dorm was engaged or read Modern Bride. Kent State happened that spring. There was a moratorium on final exams, and we wore peace signs on our mortarboards.

I’ve taken a lot of courses since graduating. The first non-academic class I enrolled in was Assertiveness Training. No certification, but a world of difference in my life. It was only four sessions, and there was no piece of paper indicating I’d achieved anything. But that one unaccredited course began a trajectory of self-examination, self-improvement and self-acceptence that has been a theme for me ever since.

I went to LaMaze classes to learn how to give birth. My husband and I returned to the group after our successful delivery to share the experience with the still-pregnant couples who craved hearing real-life stories and how the breathing techniques worked in the labor room.

I attended La Leche League meetings for years before and after my first two children were born. I wanted to learn how to be a mother. I learn best by being in a real situation, not reading it from a book. When I was 8 1/2 months pregnant with my first, I found my way to a woman’s apartment in Stamford and watched wide-eyed as infants suckled at their mother’s breasts on and off for the entire 2-hour meeting. One woman said during her share, all the time with her infant latched onto her nipple, “I believe this is the best thing for Alistair.” Beyond the constant sucking, I also learned that a baby born in 1974 could have that big a name.

I nursed each of my three children for three years. I learned a lot from those women.

Including from Sharon Roberts who talked about going to her gynecologist with a concern about a small growth in her vagina. “What were you doing with your fingers in there?” he grilled her. She repeated his outrage at her self-examination. I have to admit, at 26, I, too, thought that was his territory, not hers. I had so much more to learn.

Although this wasn’t really a course, part of my parental education included enrolling my kids at the Community Cooperative Nursery School where parents worked in the classroom alongside the paid teachers on a bi-weekly basis. I learned how to say, “Use your words” and “You need to tell me what you want” instead of “Don’t do that!” or “She had the toy first.” I learned to use my words and speak from the I perspective–all new to me.

Through the nursery school I enrolled in PET – Parent Effectiveness Training class to become a more effective parent. This was all pre-internet where blogs sharing experiences proliferate today. My mother was not a reliable source of parenting education. I needed to go where women were parenting the way I wanted to parent. These courses and schools that required hands-on classroom time were good filters for finding role models and peers.

In addition to finding classes for parenting and life, I was introduced to audiotapes by my chiropractor. She lent me her set of Wayne Dyer’s cassette collection called “Choose Your Own Greatness.” I honestly believed that I was engaging in some counter-cultural movement listening to words without really knowing the author of its message.

A funny thing happened though. I loved it. I loved being able to rewind and re-listen. I loved that he told stories of magical coincidences. It was the first time I ever began to contemplate the role of the universe in my life. Wayne Dyer was making a case for it, and I was buying it.

I was careful who I shared this new knowledge with. Maggie, my new friend down the street, also listened to these messages. Others, closer to me, thought it was hooey.

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