The Blog

When I got my civil engineering degree from the University of Nebraska in the early eighties I had no idea how useful it would be. Nothing has inspired more laughter.

The inner workings of my computer are as mysterious to me as the engine of a tractor. A remote control is one aptly-named apparatus -- I just hand it to Darrell and say, “You do it” -- because there’s nothing remotely understandable about it. I’ve been known to come out on the losing side of an encounter with a can opener.

The other day I tried to close the blinds in an apartment Darrell and I were renting for a week. He’d already left for some errands. I was going to lock up and wait for my ride. First I needed to close the blinds, but the cords got twisted. I couldn’t figure out how to untangle a mess of this magnitude, so I did what anyone else who’s wary of strangers would(n’t) do. I talked a landscaper who doesn’t speak English into coming back to the apartment with me! I’m apparently better at sign language than window treatments, and I was relieved when he agreed to help.

I had a great day and Darrell did, too. Then we had fun comparing notes about the engineering degree that had failed me once again. Though we wondered if the landscaper had the same degree, because he hadn’t been able to unjam what I’d jammed up.

I doubted it would be the last time a technological innovation gets the better of me. But I’ll forgive myself. “I have lots of gifts,” I’ll think to myself. “This isn’t one of them.”

Caribou for the blogI love coffee. I love coffee-scented candles. I love meeting for coffee, talking about coffee, fetching Darrell and Katie more coffee.

So when a recent experiment required me to give up coffee for a week and maybe forever I thought, “What are these people? Crazy?”

I did it. I weaned myself from the copious quantities so gradually over the course of a couple of months I barely had headaches at all. Oh, sure. There was a mild depression, wondering what the point of anything could possibly be, that sort of thing. But I was committed to the experiment I just mentioned, so that was it.

A funny thing happened after I’d been caffeine-free for a few weeks. I started sleeping so much better. I fall asleep right away and I wake up rested. If I have to get up in the middle of the night I fall back asleep quickly. Sources say I sleep more, shall we say, quietly. The joint pain that’s been nagging me for years was suddenly and most thoroughly gone, so there was none of that tossing and turning in an attempt to get comfortable enough to nod off. That by itself made me sure I’d never go back.

And that isn’t even everything. My energy waxes and wanes the way it used to, but I can tie it to actual events as opposed to how long it’s been since I’ve had a fix. In almost every way my life is so much better without coffee. I feel clear and calm in a way I didn’t think possible.

It's funny how often we decide we can’t live without something, only to discover the opposite is true.

I love surprises. Don’t you?

Someone asks, “How are you?” You don’t say, “Fine.” Instead you say, “I’m great!”

Try it sometime. You can judge the quality of the people you hang out with by how many of them ask you to elaborate.

If you aren’t surrounded by people who are pulling for you, my condolences. And while I’m not trying to change the world on this point, I think in the privacy of our own homes -- among people who really care about us -- it would help to acknowledge that we, all of us, are indeed gifted.

It might make sharing a quick story or two about that easier in a job interview. It might make us feel better about the ways in which we aren’t gifted. It might feel like there’s more of a point to getting up in the morning if we consider it our mission to share our gifts.

Be kind to yourself. That’s how you change the world.

“Make lots of memories.”

That advice from a friend after I had Katie has been the sweetest echo as I’ve tried to infuse even supposedly ordinary days with magic. The stakes felt higher last spring when Kate graduated from NYU. There was the all-school ceremony at Yankee Stadium on a Wednesday, and the business school commencement at Madison Square Garden that Friday.

Thursday it was. That was the day Darrell and I had Katie mostly to ourselves. We planned a series of adventures so exquisite our travel agent decided she didn’t want to be a travel agent anymore. She wanted to be a kid again, and have us adopt her.

And our kid? How’d we do by her? Well, as the day unfolded she promised we were hitting it out of the park. Later she made me question the idea you’re only as good as your last at bat.

Because she recently told us about a conversation she’d had with a best pal several months after graduation. “What would your perfect day be like?” he’d asked her on a whim. “I’ve already had it,” she’d said. It was the day I just told you about.

I feel my friend’s presence every time we set off on another adventure with Kate. He died when she was only eight years old, and this post is dedicated to him.

Your kid made the team. Congratulations. And good luck finding the right thing to say to that child when things get difficult, which they will. That’s why I loved the suggestion to offer this: “I love to watch you play.” Isn’t that a dandy?

With Katie it became, “I love to watch you live.”

It was a great line to have at the ready last summer, when Kate was honored for her contributions to NYU. Darrell and I weren’t prepared for the flowers, the champagne, the balloons -- and most importantly, the most elegant remarks from the kid herself.

We’d later learn other people “never” get this kind of send-off on their last day. As one gentleman put it, “I’ve been in this job for twenty-five years and this is the first time it’s happened.” Katie was about to suggest everyone gather for a photo when I risked embarrassing her. “May I say something?” I asked. “Sure,” she said, smiling. So I said, “Thanks for letting us watch you live. You put on a good show.”

I’ll let you imagine the sweetness that ensued, while I bask in having found a way to tell Kate in front of others -- and with only thirteen words! -- just how lucky we are to know her.

When Darrell discovered some exercises that would alleviate at least some pain in what we call his volleyball shoulder, I doubted he’d stick with them. He’s a hard worker, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that I’m the glutton in the family. I’ve rarely been introduced to a punishing form of discipline -- like fasting -- I didn’t eventually embrace.

Darrell’s been faithful to his exercises, and the shoulder pain’s eased accordingly.

I continue to do all the things. The weights, the fasting, the relentless devotion to so many work projects that keep me engaged but under the radar.

When I hit the pillow, though, it’s rare I’ve put in any time on the one project I’ve decided is the most important right now. I’m not sure what’s going on. My guess? I can measure the progress on other fronts -- workouts, radio, writing -- so it feels like I’m getting somewhere. This new thing? I could spend hours a day on it for a year with no guarantee I’ll get anywhere. So I do nothing. Worse, I talk about doing nothing. Here, for example.

drink photoThere are two kinds of alcoholics, a friend once told me. The kind who refuses to admit he is. That person can’t be helped. But the person who admits it? That one has a chance.

I’ve been buckling under what Steven Pressfield would call Resistance. Admitting it is the first step. Shutting the hell up about it until I’ve wrangled it is the next.

I’ll keep you posted. Eventually!

The tricky part about getting married a second time is that you’re no longer operating under the illusion that marriage is a guarantee. You’re entering into an arrangement with someone who has a free will, just like you did the first time.

I’m surprised I had the nerve. Three years into the second round I characterized my desire to get married again as reckless. There was much more at risk, and I just bounded right back in. “You’re saying yes to life,” a favorite uncle told me. I’m not sure I was armed with anything that would help me get it right the second time, which makes the relative longevity of that all the more mysterious.

It reminds me of being on the dance floor with my college boyfriend. It was at a disco -- remember those? -- and I thought I was doing an okay job of imitating the moves of the people around us. Nope. In a trivial but oddly defining moment of my life, my boyfriend looked at me with exasperation and said, “Listen to the music.”

That’s what marriage is, I decided. A dance. I vowed that if given the opportunity, I’d pay lots of attention to the music, metaphorically speaking. I’d do my best to be a good dance partner, and my marriage vows were more of a promise to keep learning than anything.

“The length of the marriage is inversely proportional to the price of the wedding.”

Ever heard that?

I teased my first husband-to-be that I’d never met as many people as he wanted to include. There were fourteen groomsmen and ushers, and our group wedding photo looked like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Did it make me mighty jaded when that starter marriage wound down, less inclined to splurge on other special occasions?

Nope!

I’m still a sucker for ceremony. We celebrated so much as Katie grew up Darrell started teasing me she got presents because it was Tuesday. But I say: “Just look at the results.”

The occasional out-of-this-world gesture may seem extravagant, but I doubt I’m the only person who finds it irresistible. Nothing says “your life is worth celebrating” than actually doing that once in a while.