Macy’s Parade or Tournament of Roses Parade

December 7, 2011

Macy's Parade or Tournament of Roses Parade  Over the Thanksgiving holiday, my husband and I checked off another experience on our “Bucket List.” We had already “reserved” our larger family for the Christmas holidays coming up and decided to let everyone off the hook for entertaining us (or feeding them!) for Thanksgiving. This freed us to skip town with a clear conscience.

                It’s a 650 mile drive from Cincinnati to New York City (not counting the detours for seeing friends or getting lost in Harlem.) That seemed very reasonable when we chose to make this our year to see the Macy’s Parade in person instead of tuning in while being held hostage in a busy kitchen. Thanks to the welcome of friends enroute (near Pittsburgh PA) and in Pelham, NY, we had lovely places to stay, clear directions for train travel to Grand Central Station, and scrumptious dinners with great conversation waiting for us when we returned from our adventures.

                Thanksgiving was a chilly but sunny day. We both are keen on experiencing the diversity of the urban scene in New York so the train and street crowds were energizing. We staked out our piece of the curb with small campstools that we could stand on and steady ourselves with the low branch of the small tree that was our “buffer” from the passing foot traffic. I will not bore you with all the details of the grand turn those balloons and marching bands take at 42nd Street and 6th Avenue. The defining word is ENORMOUS. (If you enjoy parades, you probably watch it annually on NBC.)

                It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And that’s the main lesson we took away. For us, the Macy’s parade was a “been there-done that” experience. I wanted to see it once. I saw it once. And I don’t need to go back because it won’t be that different next year.

                The Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade is a different story. Instead of the “same old/same old” giant balloons every year (with a few additions,) each float in Pasadena is unique and every designer tries to outdo the float that was produced by that same sponsor the previous year. The same variety we relished in the people around us in New York City is what “floats our boat” in the Rose Parade itself.

                We each have our own preference on that spectrum between variety and consistency. Some people are perfectly happy to go to the same cabin, condo or National Park for vacation year after year. Others want to visit all 50 states and see something in every climate or continent. Visit a Kiwanis meeting or church sanctuary and you might think the seating was assigned. But if you don’t have Season Tickets to the stadium, symphony or theatre, you will meet new people every time. Some people are attracted to the familiar order and language of a particular liturgy and others want their worship experience to be constantly changing.

                Even Christmas highlights these differences. When we break out the Christmas decorations, we know “exactly” where to put that particular angel, nativity scene or centerpiece. Other people “change it up” and re-do the tree theme periodically. Shall we sing only the familiar carols or learn that “new” Advent hymn that turns out to be ancient? Even our “spectrum choice” has some variety.

                Being aware of our comfort with consistency or desire for change is also important as we make choices about careers, retirement options, or relocation. Macy’s balloons or Rose Parade floats? Where do you fit on the spectrum?

WHILE SUPPLIES LAST —The annual Seasons of Purpose (Life and Career Coaching) gift is an adhesive “Computer Monitor” twelve month calendar strip. It is now available while my supply lasts. Send your request to In order to send it to you by USPS, I need your name and mailing address. Please put “calendar request” in the subject line.



Healthy Ambition

October 31, 2011

The first Encarta Dictionary definition for ambition is a strong feeling of wanting to be successful in life and achieve great things.  (example) “She lacks ambition” 

            The synonyms for ambition include goal, aim, objective, aspiration, dream, hope, desire and purpose. All of those synonyms are part of “coach talk” but I rarely use the term “ambition.”

            NBC Evening News (October 31, 2011) chose a report from the November Issue of More Magazine to highlight a new trend among college educated professional women. In its third annual workplace report, More “partnered with the Polling Company/WomanTrend to survey women about their attitudes toward their jobs. Their responses make clear that in the search for balance, women are sacrificing ambition. When asked point-blank, 43 percent of women described themselves as less ambitious now than they were 10 years ago; only 15 percent reported feeling more ambitious.” 

The NBC news feature highlighted two women who had chosen to step back from a major promotion or modify their career path in order to “not regret” giving up so much in order to maintain a highly paid professional target. Had they become apathetic? No. These women wanted more time for a balanced life.

            “Women are finished living to work; now we want to work to live.”

            My question is this: Why does it have to be considered newsworthy when women choose to leave a relentless pace behind in order to live a balanced life? This is not “sacrificing ambition.” Ambition for purposeful life goals and a balanced life are not mutually exclusive.

            Any Life Coach can tell you that this kind of healthy ambition defines what a “successful” life includes for both men and women. It is the foundation for achieving truly great things.

What Were You Doing Half Your Life Ago ?

October 17, 2011

Life and Career Coaches are all about envisioning and moving into the future. But sometimes that glance into the rear view mirror can be motivating, too. Try this just for fun:
• Start with your age today.
• Divide that number in half.
• Add that number to your birth year.
• The number you reach is the year you were “half your age” now.

What were you doing that year? Usually we anchor the memory of a particular year with a memorable event. Did you experience a milestone event, a transition or a loss? Perhaps you moved into another home or career path. Where did you live? Who were your friends? Were you in school? Where were you employed? Did you make a difference in someone’s life?

Looking back can give us perspective. Whether we see ourselves on a positive path or shaky ground, it is helpful to take the long view of our successes as well as the opportunities for doing it better the next time around. How can I take that experience from half my life ago and learn from it? Who was in my life back then that was a positive influence on my future? Do I have those people or that kind of person still persuading me to be all I can be? Am I a positive influence on someone else? Where did I think I was heading then and how is my life today better or different?

Your “half-life” changes noticeably by the decade of your life now. I posed this question to my 31-year-old son recently. Half my life ago was the year he was born. Half his life ago, he was getting his driver’s license. My oldest friends have a half-life in their mid-forties. Their mid-life memory would come from the 1960’s. You can glance back with regret, nostalgia or pride.

We do not benefit from remaining stuck in the past. A backward glance can inform our understanding of a better way to live forward. I subscribe to this perspective:
Life can only be understood backwards, but it has to be lived forwards. — Søren Kierkegaard

What were you doing half your life ago? What will you allow yourself to learn from that? How will that perspective influence the choices you make about the years and decades ahead?

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Traveling Light in Life

October 10, 2011

       You might be surprised how often my clients talk about their frustrations with owning too much “stuff.” They see the connection between their stressed out lives and their cluttered attics, basements and living space. Perhaps I am more conscious of this because my “antennae are up” during this particular Season of Purpose in my life.
      My husband and I are middle-aged empty nesters. Maintaining a house with three guest rooms only makes financial sense to us if we open a Bed and Breakfast. This was once a “retirement dream” for Steve. Fortunately, for me, we aren’t zoned for that since I do not care to make muffins seven days a week. Add in the yard work, swimming pool maintenance, and the utility costs and this house does not make sense for two thrifty people anymore. Consequently, we embarked on the “downsizing plan” which gives us a head start on what those Realty folks call “staging” a house. Our focus is on painting (in two colors- Bland and Boring) and De-Cluttering.
     In addition to three extra bedrooms with their dresser drawers, bookshelves and closets, this house has three walk-in closets in the basement, three large closets on the upper floor, an attic that runs the full length of the front of the house, a yard equipment room and a pool equipment room. Do you get the picture? This house is a “stuff” magnet. Just as carrying a too-large suitcase allows you to bring along too much stuff on an excursion, so does a too-large house allow a middle aged couple to acquire too much stuff. This is why some people can become successful Professional Organizers and a popular television series can focus on cleaning up clutter.
     Like many people, we have accumulated an amazing quantity of useful and beautiful things, heirlooms and a lot stuff we do not use anymore. My rule of thumb has been “if you haven’t used it in over a year, you probably don’t need it.” This covers all the seasonal decorations, summer entertaining ware and the snowblower. But we still somehow never managed to throw out 20 years of National Geographic Magazines, hundreds of my father’s slides, and that outdated set of 1980 World Book Encyclopedias. In order to “travel light” in the future, we are donating, repurposing or recycling whenever possible. I refuse to “offload” onto my children without their consent. Thankfully, the women of our church had a Rummage Sale as even more incentive to Repurpose. We contributed several boxes of stuff. Then we left town before they put the price tags on anything! Donate – and stop shopping!
     Now I am getting a head start on the packing-for-staging we must do to put this mansion on the market next year. The positive side benefit is that clearing this “stuff” out of my vision field is already giving my mind a rest and helping me feel more balanced. Would less stress and more balance be enough incentive for you? Perhaps you could donate or discard one box of stuff a week until you create a more acceptable living space.
     If you have clutter-removal hint you would like to share, please post it!
How would your life improve with less stuff?

For vacation excursions and for daily life, I am making an effort to travel light.

What to carry – part 1

October 3, 2011

“He who would travel happily must travel light.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery 

Since our return from Turkey, I’ve given a lot of thought to the topic of “what to carry” in luggage and in life.  In the next blog I promise to segue back into non-travel topics that are closer to Life Coaching. But now I’m focused on “what to carry.”  Next week we will get to what we carry on this journey of life. That will be about “traveling light” in the way we treat our “stuff.” 

If you have ever taken a Rick Steve’s Tour to Europe,  you found yourself restricted to 20 pounds in a carry-on–size bag. He recommends an unstructured 9″ x 22″ x 14″ bag that fits under most airplane seats. (As if you want that bag to BE taking up your foot space on an eight hour flight!) Rick brags, “That’s my self-imposed limit. At my company, we have taken tens of thousands of people of all ages and styles on tours through Europe. We allow only one carry-on bag. For many, this is a radical concept… But they manage, and they’re glad they did. After you enjoy that sweet mobility and freedom, you’ll never go any other way…..When you carry your own luggage, it’s less likely to get lost, broken, or stolen. …Quick, last-minute changes in flight plans become simpler. A small bag sits on your lap or under your seat on the bus, taxi, and airplane. You don’t have to worry about it, and, when you arrive, you can hit the ground running. It’s a good feeling.”

If you are wondering how it’s done, print out a packing list from his website that is customized for men or women. It worked for us when we traveled with his group to Italy seven years ago. I would add two light, flat things to his list. Bring a soft, collapsible bag that you can pack inside the carry-on enroute to  Europe. It will come in handy for a carry-on full of gifts on the way home. (Sh-h-h – don’t tell Rick Steves but it’s okay to check that initial carry-on for the return trip. If it gets lost, you have extra underwear back home. All your precious mementos are still with you in the cabin.) Second, bring a giant zip-loc bag…the kind meant for storing blankets. Use this as your own personal washing machine in your hotel room. Instead of slopping suds and water all over the bathroom floor, you can splish and slosh your laundry around in the sealed bag. Rinse it out and hang it up with your laundry. Maybe you could even use it for that extra carry-the-gifts-home bag! 

Here is one more trick that helps with carrying less stuff on your travels. Unless you are going to a place that has experienced total economic collapse, you are going to spend some time shopping. Nothing says, “I’ve been there” like a nicer shirt or an umbrella purchased on your trip. A friend used to purposely leave something off her packing list so she could buy the item at her destination. Then when she used it back home, it always reminded her of the joy of her travels.

 If you aren’t convinced you can travel this light, Rick suggests you pack what you think you need the week before departure. Then give yourself a test run. Take your carry on and purse or backpack and head out for a trial run. “Go into your hometown, and practice being a tourist for an hour” with everything you would carry in an airport. Fully loaded, you should enjoy window-shopping. If you can’t, stagger home and thin things out. Remember, it’s only your tour members who are going to see that same shirt every third day…and they didn’t spend their savings on this trip to see your fabulous wardrobe!

This is the fifth in a series of Seasons of Purpose blogs focused on the topic of Travel.

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Musings on travel – When to travel part 2

August 13, 2011

“A plan is a list of actions arranged in whatever sequence is thought likely to achieve an objective.”

~ John Argenti ~

                When our nest emptied, we started choosing  travel destinations not only on their reputation for their history, culture or natural beauty, but also  based on “physicality.” We invited some experienced world travelers to dinner and quizzed them on all the places they had visited. They regaled us with great stories that circled the globe. One couple was in their early 70’s. When we asked them, “Which trips do you wish you had taken when you were younger?” the question was met with silence at first. Then the stories began to spin out about what they could not do in some locations because of high altitudes, rough terrain or a lack of U.S.  accessibility standards. As a result, we rearranged our priorities to visit the destinations that were the most physically demanding in our 50’s and 60’s. River cruises can wait until we need to stay seated.

                Both of us have lead group tours and felt sad for those who had to “wait on the bench” while others ventured forth. Occasionally we have borrowed from our savings to cover costs to make these big dreams a reality. Why? We are too aware of folks who say, “I wish we had done that when we were younger” or even worse, “I wish we had taken that trip before he had his stroke (or worse yet …before she died.”)

                Whether you are making a family memory; expanding your child’s or grandchild’s horizons; or getting out to enjoy God’s world in a National Park or an amazing diversity of people in a new location, set your goals and make a plan that will enable the travels that fit both your physical and fiscal capacity. Then “set sail” with your goals and plans toward that destination.

This is the third in a series of Seasons of Purpose blogs focused on the topic of Travel.

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Musings on Travel – When to travel – Part 1

August 4, 2011

If you Google “When to Travel” you can find websites about the cheapest days to fly and the best time to buy airline tickets. Other websites advise the reader on when to travel to which location based on the favorable weather patterns. How about another angle: Is there a best time to travel in certain Seasons of our lives?

One rule of thumb we adopted early in our marriage was the Would-we-go-for-the-funeral? Rule. If the extended family is going to gather for a wedding, 50th anniversary or 80th birthday, shouldn’t we save up our money and blow all those frequent flyer points to be there while the guests of honor are still alive? Big trips are a major expense so we cut corners in other places to make it happen. These “memory makers” are priceless and left us without regrets even though we lived thousands of miles away from our families of origin.

Robert Benchly says, “In America there are two classes of travel – first class, and with children.” Not true for us. Long before DVD’s kept kids busy in the back seat of a minivan, we drove from San Diego to Colorado and Arizona with two young boys. Joey didn’t want to try new foods and Ben was vocal about seeing too many Kachina dolls in gift shops. Now they remember the hike down into Canyon De Chelley before dawn; scrambling up the ladders in the cliff dwellings; standing at the edge of the awesome Grand Canyon; and sprawling our bodies across the boundaries of four states joined at one corner. It was well worth tolerating their minor complaints to make those memories.

Another long drive took us from San Diego to Canada where we camped enroute and in beautiful Banff. Camping allowed us to extend our travel dollars as well as experience the beauty around us “up close and personal.” Some of my friends regard a night at an economy motel to be “camping” but having been raised on camping by thrifty parents, I still enjoy it. However, I will admit I have graduated from a tent to a trailer!

Two other long treks with children offered us accommodations with friends we had not seen in a long time. Sleeping bags and flexibility are the name of the game. “Mooching” also stretches travel dollars. We are delighted to return the favor when offered the same opportunity.

Q. When should you travel?

A. Before the opportunity to see and travel with the people you love passes you by.

Is that special occasion a year out? Where can you cut some corners now to make “being there” a reality? When will the children leave the nest and no longer be able to travel with you? It takes some forethought and sacrifice in other arenas but it’s well worth it.

“Without goals, and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination.” ~Fitzhugh Dodson ~

Musings on Travel – part 1

July 21, 2011

I took a “writing break” since early June to travel to Turkey with my husband, Steve. This adventure had been on our “bucket list” for several years. Rather than risk boring my readers with a travelogue, this let’s reflect on some decision-making steps about the “whys” and “whens” of travel and let you fill in your own destinations and adventures.
Not every moment of a vacation has to be filled with seeing and doing. Some time for this Introvert to read a good book can balance out a day filled with too many conversations, new tastes, and more memories than my brain can absorb. The best place to read is stretched out in a hammock and one of the worst places is crammed into a seat in the Coach Class with headphones clamped on trying to find a way to focus in a cattle car environment. A gripping novel can keep me up late anytime but my vacation choice was The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement. David Brooks created a composite couple on whom to “hang” some fundamental new understandings of human nature. I highly recommend this book.
Among lots of under-linings, marginal stars, and post-its, were some comments on travel. The premise was, “…wisdom beings with an awareness of our own ignorance. We can design habits, arrangements, and procedures that partially compensate for the limits on our own knowledge.” So where does travel fit in? Brooks illustrated his point about the value of a long and arduous process of wandering. He cited a gobiid fish that lives in shallow water and can jump from little pool to puddle at low tide with great accuracy during a low tide. It completely misses the rocks and dry ridges where the fish would be stranded and die. How? During high tide the gobiid fish swims around absorbing the landscape and storing maps in their heads. Then when the tide is low, they use that mental map to “know” what ridges will be dry and where the hollows will be full of water.
Brooks maintains that human beings are good at accumulating this sort of wanderer’s knowledge. Like the 90,000 generations of those who have been exploring landscapes before us, we have the opportunity to also explore new landscapes and visit new countries to open our attention to everything. Like a baby exploring all the contours of a new play area, one thing catches the eye. Then another.
“This receptiveness can happen only when you are physically there. Not when you are reading about a place, but only when you are on the scene, immersed in it. If you don’t actually visit a place, you don’t really know it. If you just study the numbers, you don’t really know it.” If you only watch the travel channel, you don’t know it. “If you don’t get used to the people, you don’t know it. As the Japanese proverb puts it: Don’t study something. Get used to it.”…
“… The more complicated the landscape, the more the wanderer relies on patience. The more confusing the scene, the more tolerant his outlook becomes. He not only has an awareness of his own ignorance, but of his own weakness in the face of it. He knows that his mind will seize on the first bit of date it comes across and build a universal theory around it. This is the fallacy of anchoring. He know that his mind will take his most recent experience and try to impose the lessons of that case on this one. This is the fallacy of availability. He knows that he came into this scene with certain stereotypes of how life works in his mind, and he will try to get what he sees here to conform to them. This is the fallacy of attribution.”
So why travel to new places? I am convinced that it is never too late to allow this middle-aged mind to be trained to reinterpret old data in radically new ways. That is the beginning of a different kind of journey — the journey to wisdom.

Musings on Strengths and Alzheimer’s Disease

May 27, 2011

WARNING: What you are about to read has no basis in scientific testing. It is primarily anecdotal and an invitation to dialogue.

Over the years, I have observed many people, including my parents, as they progressed through the stages of Alzheimer’s Disease.  I have often described an Alzheimer’s patient’s behaviors as “more of whatever they were before.” That means, the happy person stays cheerful, and the bad-tempered person becomes unpredictably surly. A man who was always polite may compliment his waitress or caregiver endlessly. And the person who expected others to bow to her demands can be even more demanding with aids and nurses.

As I become more familiar with the Strengthsfinder 2.0 Assessment, it strikes me that if we knew what the Signature Themes were for an Alzheimer’s patient during their best years, we could better understand their behaviors AND provide opportunities for them to continue to feel fulfilled and emotionally energized even though their thinking and remembering abilities are diminishing.

Let’s try this with Command.  If someone without dementia has Command talents, that will influence the way that person most naturally thinks, feels, and behaves as a unique individual. That Command talent would serve as the foundation of a strength… it could be what makes that person a strong advocate for the downtrodden in her earlier years.  The Command person is a take-charge person who will share their opinion and can often be interpreted as blunt.  So…even in the prime of life, unless the Command person has appropriate skills and knowledge, they could be seen as bossy, domineering and even rude.

What if a Social Worker or Activities Director knew that one of a particular patient’s five Strengths was Command? Instead of just seeing him as bossy and demanding, that person could be provided activities that made him feel “in charge” sometimes. He could be asked for his opinion about the color of the napkins to put on the tables that evening. He could choose the movie or channel. A caregiver would let her choose her own clothing combinations, no matter how unfashionable they might be. A family would also need to be aware that the Command Strength will make it particularly difficult for this person to give up driving. 

My parents provide two other examples. If he had taken the Strengths Finder 2.0 Assessment, I am quite sure my Dad would have scored high on Learner. What did he do as his mind failed?  He hid behind a book and pretended to be reading. It was familiar and comforting – even if the bookmark stayed in the same place day after day. I have no doubt that one of my Mom top Strengths was Positivity –the perfect example of the person who could make lemonade out of any lemons. People would stop me in the halls of her Retirement home and say, “Your Mother is the sweetest person I know. She is always smiling.”  Yes, she was.

I consider the day when I will begin to show the signs of Alzheimer’s Disease. That will be the final “Season” of my life and I know that for many people it serves no positive purpose. For now, I will again participate in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s * in the hope that science will find a way to cure it before I enter that fog. But just in case we don’t beat it, I will be clear with my family that my caregivers should be made aware of my Strengths. “Tell them that I am an Arranger who likes to figure out how all of the pieces and resources can be arranged for maximum productivity  so they can find ways to honor that in my daily tasks. Maybe all I can do is move the chairs around before we play a game. Honor that Strengths. My Relator will be happy to be seated next to familiar faces and won’t want to be pushed into too many new friendship quickly. You get the idea. What will honor your Strengths even when your mental capacities are diminishing? 

If you have taken the Strengthsfinder 2.0 assessment, contemplate this proposition. Does it make sense to you? Can you guess what the Strengths of an Alzheimer’s patient are from their earlier life patterns and find ways to continue to honor those?  Or is your experience totally opposite of my contemplations? I would welcome a conversation and encourage you to send this particular newsletter along to others who might join the Alzheimer’s dialogue.  For their own subscription to future newsletters, please direct them to 

*You are invited to walk with my team (Keys to the Car) or contribute to before October 1!

Calvin and Hobbes stuck on the sidewalk

April 28, 2011
  •  In the first frame of one particular Calvin and Hobbes comic, six year old Calvin is standing on the sidewalk with his stuffed/man-sized tiger-friend, Hobbes, in broad daylight. “Let’s say life is this square on the side- walk. We’re born at this crack and we die at that crack.”
  • (next frame) “Now we find ourselves somewhere inside the square and in the process of walking out of it. Suddenly we realize our time in here is fleeting.”
  • (Calvin stands alone with his arms spread wide) Is our quick experience here pointless? Does anything we say or do in here really matter? Have we done anything important? Have we been happy? Have we made the most of these precious few footsteps??”
  • In the final frame, both Calvin and Hobbes appear to be trapped on that particular existential sidewalk square and are staring at the crack that marks death. It is pitch black outside except for a crescent moon against the darkness.

                Which of Calvin’s statements motivates or intrigues you? For some people it is a profound realization that “our time in here (between life and death) is fleeting.” A contemporary dies unexpectedly. A medical scare of your own reminds you that life is not endless. A monstrous weather disaster like Wednesday’s tornadoes appears out of nowhere taking lives and you realize, “That could have been me!” Suddenly we realize our time in here is fleeting.

                Your own version of Calvin’s  other questions might follow.

Does anything we say or do in here really matter? Is anyone paying any attention to my feeble attempts at making a life?

Have we done anything important? Is it all about mere celebrity or does substance matter?  Was there a higher purpose I missed seeing at some fork in the road?

Have we been happy? And what is happiness? Is it cheerfulness or contentment? Does happy equal lucky or blessed? Is there something more important than being happy?

Have we made the most of these precious few footsteps? That’s the tough one, isn’t it? What really is “making the most of” our time between the one sidewalk crack and the next? Does it include values like loyalty and compassion? Or is it about filling our shopping cart or our resume with top quality goods and experiences?

                Six year olds don’t have mission statements. Most 60 year olds don’t either. But some self examination about the why’s and how’s of the way your life will be lived between the two cracks of your life sidewalk would be a good start.

                You may need a “Hobbes” to help you think aloud, too. Consider an accountability partner, Life Coach, Pastor, or Small Group friend to confide in about your own sidewalk square. And don’t be stuck there until the moon appears.     

This is the first in a new series of Seasons of Purpose blogs/newsletters focused on “repurposed newspaper .”  Instead of merely recycling the newsprint, for the next few weeks I’ll be repurposing the stories, comics and features from the newspapers (that I actually still read from paper) and reflect about them on a weekly basis. Please feel free to share them with others who can benefit from these reflections.