OHBD 2015

OHBD 2015

Thursday, August 18, 2016

My Bonus Sister

My husband has one sibling a sister born nine years after him.  The family legend has it he was not so enthused by this new addition when she arrived home, saying to his mom, “We’re not going to keep her, are we?!?” 

A lot has changed since then. They have been each others' rock through some tough times including the loss of their beloved mother.  She is my "Bonus Sister" to the three I have through biology and those I have added through deep and abiding friendships.

My Bonus Sister and I share a few obvious things.  Our names start with E, both have birthdays in late November, are approximately the same age, enjoy good food and wine as well as both adore her brother/my husband and her niece and nephews/my kids.  

The list of differences is longer and more substantial.  She lives in Athens and speaks Greek; I live in Seattle and speak English.  I finished graduate school and followed a reasonably traditional career path; she finished high school and has made a name for herself in music production and now restaurant management.  Her life revolves around a group of key friends many of whom didn’t married or have kids.  Mine revolves around my husband and our kids and close friends who mostly chose a similar path.

We don’t have an easy time communicating although I am fully confident of our mutual love and respect.  She shared recently how much my blog post about her mother meant to her.  She said she read it again on the second anniversary of her passing when sadly her mother's older sister passed away this year too.  

As I was walking in the Greek sun after having said, "Good Bye for now," to my Bonus Sister, I felt some melancholy. I hoped she knew how much she means to me.  I realized I don’t express these feelings explicitly often enough and don’t want to miss this chance.  So I hope she doesn’t mind, “I put down the words”.  

Below are the top three qualities I admire in my Bonus Sister:
  • She is a giver.  Evangelia resembles her mother in this respect.  She is happiest if she can make others’ lives more enjoyable.  I can see that is why she was successful in her music producer career and now with her restaurant management one.  She pays attention to people.  She really sees them and connects to them.  And with this knowledge, she truly elevates their experience.  This trait was fully on display last year.  She celebrated her brother’s his first marathon in Athens by planning parties – pre and post --and creating a banner in anticipation of success. My superstitious husband wasn’t sure he was happy with the pre-celebration initially.  She is the official god-mother to our middle son but beautifully connects in a different way with each of our three, who light up around her.  Before she left, she cooked a week’s worth of our mouth-watering Greek favorites so we could enjoy our remaining time together more easily.  
  •  She is a survivor. Times have been tough for Evangelia and I am sure I only know a bit of it.  The Greek economic woes have created real innocent victims of ordinary people.  My Bonus Sister is one of them.  She lost everything she had worked so hard for the previous two decades.  And her chosen vocation was no longer viable.  As a forty something single woman, she needed to start over with nothing.  And she did: no complaints, no pity party.  With a smile on her face, her amazing connections, and her willingness to put in both the time and effort, she started a new career as a restaurant manager at It Restaurant in Athens.  She helped make it hugely successful and it recently expanded and now includes It on the Go.  This is all the more admirable since she only finished high school.  She created two successful careers for herself with sheer determination and deep resilience.
  • She is joyful.  Most of my memories over the years of Evangelia involve her creating laughter around her.  Even with the language barrier, she is super funny.  She is the first to defuse a tense situation with a joke.  And she is the one who can always get a table or room full of people to burst into side splitting laughter, over and over.  Often you will see tears streaming down the smiling faces, with the mock request, "Stop, now, Stop, PLEASE."  I also know she has times where laughter doesn’t come easy. But still, she prefers to choose joy and laughter in those situations.  And in consistently doing so, she lifts those up around her too.  The world needs more joy and laughter.  And Evangelia is doing more than her fair share contributing. She is a true light on this earth. 
So my Bonus Sister, Evangelia, I hope you know how much you are appreciated.  You wrote me some amazing sentiments when you visited us in Seattle and I cherish them.  Now this is my turn.  

I also want to leave you with some pieces of sisterly advice if I may.  
  • Take as good care of yourself, as you do of others.  You have worth and value that needs to be fully cherished first by you so you can continue to give joyously to others.  
  • As you survive, also take time to pause and enjoy your beautiful journey.  I love that you spend time with dear friends and recently took up attending yoga retreats.  Please continue to do more things like this.
  • And finally, don’t let your laughter mask pain you don’t want to share.  You have many who care about you, starting with your brother and me.  They would honored to share your burdens as well as your joys.
You are a truly amazing woman, sister, daughter, aunt, friend and godmother!  

I will leave you with a favorite Irish (apologies, don't know any Greek ones) blessing which says it best:
May the road rise up to meet you

May the wind always be at your back

May the sun shine warm upon your face

and rains fall soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again

May God hold you in the palm of His hand

 σε αγαπω παρα ΠΟΛΥ, Evangelia Angelidou, η αδελφή μου!!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Nothing Gold Can Stay -- RIP Bella

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
Robert Frost

Bella literally bounced into our lives as a tiny two pound ball of fur.  She stole every single person’s heart that first day.  She was the complete embodiment of everything good in this world.
  • She loved unconditionally everyone who she identified as hers. Each expression of adoration was as unique as the person it was directed toward.  We all thought she slept with us because she would bed hop during the night looking after her beloveds.
  • She embraced life with abandon.  Nothing was half way with her, whether jumping two feet in the air in welcome or the hopes of a treat, or racing around crazily at top speed with amazing turning ability to burn off steam or to entice someone to play with her.
  • She knew home is wherever her family was.  She traveled the world with us including two assignments in Luxembourg and France and countless hotels in the EU and the US.  If we were with her, she was home.
  • She was liquid joy which was contagious.  It was hard not to smile around her and be uplifted.  She was always happy to see one of hers return whether from a two week trip or a walk around the block.  
  • She fully understood we were better together.  She was most content and settled when we were all in the same place just relaxing as a family.  She had a way of making those times extra special with her presence.
  • She wanted to be our protector which was humorous given her diminutive size and her general fear of anything bigger than herself.  She would keep look out all day for unexpected visitors at the front door or the back yard.  It was both funny and touching.
  • She sensed when someone was sick or down.  She would give that person more of her precious time and attention.  She would stick to them like glue until she was sure that person was back to normal and her vigilance no longer needed.
So it seems so unbelievably unfair that on the day when Bella suddenly and inexplicably breathed her last breath, I cannot sink my tear soaked face into her sweet, soft fur as I have done on countless occasions over the years.  I need her comfort now more than I could have imagined and she is gone.

Bella was solid gold.  I wish it were not so but nothing gold can stay.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Taking Care of Self is the Key to Success in All Areas

Since I was a teen, I had beautiful long nails.  I was genetically blessed with fingernails that were thick and strong.  With a bit of care, they would grow to enviable lengths. I enjoyed painting them every imaginable hue.  I nurtured them and loved hearing the compliments as well as the question, "Are they real?"

During those adolescent years, they were a sign of beauty I could honestly claim when my hair, my face and my body were not as I wished.  My nails were also a creative outlet as I could use them as accessories, color coordinating with my makeup and clothes.  I embraced a rainbow of possibilities. I loved rotating 10 or more shades preferring a bold and attention getting palate.  I even hand modeled for a brief period.
As college and searching for my path in life challenged me, I saw my nails as a symbol of how I wished the world would see me: beautiful, strong and unique.  When I became a mom, maintaining my nails became a luxury of my previous life that was just too difficult to maintain. My nails immediately showed if they were not given consistent, proper care.  They peeled, chipped, and broke.  I gave in to the message they sent me.  With the limited investment I could make as a new mother, I needed to settle for short, natural nails. I also felt deep down perhaps manicures were now a bit of a frivolous use of energy when there were so many important obligations calling to me
However, as my firstborn grew into a more independent toddler, I again found the time as well as the joy of length and polish.  My approach was more practical at this stage; I stuck with muted colors where chips would not easily show.  I also was okay with short and natural if they were healthy.  I no longer wanted to garner attention.  But rather, I was content to just enjoy their beauty -- more appreciated because of the hiatus.   
Over two more kids and lots of health and work challenges, I noticed a pattern. If my life was well managed, my nails were long, healthy and meticulously polished.  When I took on too much, was in transition, or in the eye of storm of three kids and two careers, my nails became ragged and broken; a reflection of where I was. 
I maintain them now but don’t take it too seriously.  I garden, play piano and do many things that involve using my fingers as tools.  However, when I look down at my hands, I see instruments that have played many melodies in my life.  They still gives me much satisfaction.  I have learned I let the decorative piece go sometimes if my schedule gets out of control, keeping them healthy is always a priority. Now it is for different reasons.  I have nothing to prove to the world.  But I do know I need to take care of myself to be a success at home or at work; and my fingers let me know how well I am doing.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

What Load Balancers and a Power Outage Taught Me about Myself and Transitions

One summer, I was sitting in Greece breathing a huge sigh of relief that our whole family including two pets safely arrived on the first leg of a momentous trip.  I had created some goals for my time there. I have so much I want to accomplish each day.  And I found I follow through if I make it official and write it down.  My goals for these trips are different than my regular life ones.  Some are small like, walk every day or do yoga with my daughter.  Others are more aspirational like; create another painting with the kids.  And yet others are just fun, like try out at least 5 recipes to add to our next cookbook.
I took stock as I sat there on the end of two full days with only a tiny dent in my “to dos” – all of which I really wanted to accomplish.  I had close to zero energy and motivation to do anything about it.  It dawned on me that my big life change required me to take a different approach, a re-balancing.  I try to make my life like the suitcases I packed to the gills to fit in our car with 5 people and two pets.  I tucked t-shirts, underwear and socks in every crevice, not wanting to waste any space.  I want to live my life that way too; filled to the brim with things that matter to me; time with friends and family, giving back, my work, my garden, my writing, the list goes on.  But it takes me effort and focus to find ways to fit it all in again when my foundation shifts as it did with our relocation to Europe.

I was reminded of a work call some years ago about a technical issue where load balancers were discussed.  Apparently, because of an unexpected event we reached near peak capacity and some load balancers “fell over” which led to downstream effects.  There was a discussion by techie types that you needed to always have excess capacity to handle an expected spike, which they had in this case.  But the spike was much bigger than planned for; so they were adjusting for the future.
The discussion stayed with me over the years.  I don’t want to waste “excess capacity” waiting for the occasional spike.  So I load up my life to nearly its full potential.  But the unfortunate result is when I have a spike, like last year’s international assignment and move, my personal load balancers fall over.  It takes me some time to get everything working back as it was before and that is okay, even good.

Time is so precious; I don’t want to waste it.  But I also want to leave time to breath and just be.  This is a constant tug of war inside me that is most exposed during times of transition.  One evening during that summer, our handyman, who honestly is less handy than you would expect but he is pretty much the only game in town, was fixing our hot water heater.  Suddenly the house went dark. Apparently his screwdriver slipped and he cut off our power.  Much about that explanation didn’t make sense to me either.
Good times in Greece
My daughter and I were on the coach watching TV; I was catching up on some writing and emails.  When the electricity went off, we headed out to the patio where the last few rays of the setting sun over the Mediterranean highlighted the night sky.  We just snuggled together with her sweet head on my lap as I stroked her beautiful curls.  It was priceless and perfect; all else could wait. This was a moment to savor – and just be. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Need Vocation, Bliss and Purpose - in Measure

I had a few friends express some dissatisfaction with the current state of their life without a clear sense of why they felt it.  I asked them questions about how they viewed their current professional role, the state of their personal life, what they did for fun, and what gave them a sense of purpose.  I always want to provide helpful advice.  Well if I am perfectly honest, what I really want to do is fix it for them.  But I have come to understand that isn’t often possible or even wanted.

After having a similar conversation a couple of times, I came to a self-realization which is what frequently happens as I try to sort through an issue with someone else.  For me to have life feel balanced, I need to keep three pieces in rough equivalent proportion.  I have always had ambitions to do something that mattered and put my talents to work in a professional environment.   I also need creative outlets that give me joy whether it be cooking, gardening, writing, music or painting.  And I find the "creating" process often helps me break down complex challenges I am wrestling with.  Finally, I want to know my life has some larger purpose outside myself – that at the end I left the world a little better place than I found it – or at least I tried.  When I invest in each of those areas in some equal measure it gives me peace.  This picture of my daughter sleeping in my arms as we are bouncing along dirt roads in her native Ethiopia is the epitome for me.

I envy my husband.  He found all three very early in life.  He always loved basketball.  He started as a player, then moved into coaching and teaching, and finally into running a basketball program and helping our boys.  He is a gifted teacher of math and basketball and through his efforts he changed many young lives who often come back to share how he helped them on their path.  His vocation, his joy and his purpose were all wrapped in a neat package. He knew what he wanted to do and has enjoyed how the natural progression of life revealed the next iteration. 

I was never sure of what I wanted to be.  I liked to do so many things.  I won awards growing up for poetry, dog training, short stories, a crime poster, fundraising for MS, piano, art and academics.  Notably lacking were any prizes for sporting achievement which were never my strong suit. After a failed attempt to become a doctor, I pursued being a lawyer.  But I will admit, not for some great love of the law.  I looked at what I was good at and enjoyed – writing, speaking, philosophy and psychology -- and it seems like a good choice. Over the years, my career evolved from being a litigator at a large firm, to going in house, to becoming a commercial lawyer, a marketing lawyer and then moving into a business role. 

I gardened throughout my life as much for the therapeutic aspects as the beauty that were the results.  I experimented with cooking which led to writing a cookbook with my son.  A few years back, I also started writing again, dabbling in painting and getting involved in not for profits, both sitting on a board and actively fundraising. 
But I found when I feel most at peace and in balance, and also when I have the most success, is when I have activities in three buckets. I titled them vocation, bliss and purpose.  When talking to my friends, I often found they neglected a bucket.  For one, it was the purpose bucket and for another it was bliss. 

I gained a powerful reminder too.  This balancing effort is a dynamic process. It requires focus and dedication.  Only in checking in with myself and being willing to adjust and evolve as my life changes, can I maintain my preferred state of being.

Previous published on my blog on Working Mother

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Kid Speaks Out Against Bullying: A Lesson for Us All

Damian at twelve reflecting and Leyla posing
One of the great joys of motherhood for me is when I learn profound or simple truths from my children.

They can come in so many forms; a reminder to smell the roses by seeing the exquisite joy on the face of my daughter as a four year old as she put her hand in a fountain or the realization of the vast human potential as my teenager considers his path.

My middle son’s lessons often come through his poetry which can simply express deep concepts.   When he was twelve, he shared a poem he wrote against bullying (and gave me permission to publish).

What struck me was he captured not only the pain of the bullied but also the pain of the bully. Treating others in that way is a sign of something else amiss inside – feelings of worthlessness or unresolved hurt and anger.  It can happen in a school as well as in workplace or even in a home.

By understanding the why behind what we do and bringing it out in the open, rather than burying it, we all have the chance to take away its power and make a positive change.

Asking for helping or finding someone to listen can be a key first step to break a destructive pattern. Every day is a new opportunity to make a different decision; adults as well as children.

But to do so, we have to take the message seriously as the last line implores.

"Stop Bullying"
I don’t know why I cry
In the darkness, without light
Is it because the demons inside
Or the ones at school
I don’t get why they break the rules
Why do these people
Pick on kids weak or
Keep their identities unknown
But know their cowardice does grow
You were not this way at birth
Know that you are of a worth
You may think you aren’t
But know that you are.
You are not just par
You are a birdie, you’re an eagle
Fly high like a seagull
Swoop down, change your plans
Be good, be a man
There is nothing bad
Within in your body
But there is a poison hidden
The more bad you do, it quickens
We must rid us of this evil curse
Before it can get any worse
For those people giving hurt
Know that you are being heard
Don’t be physical to express your words
Don’t have dark secrets unshared
There are people who care
Find one and share your problems
Then you may start to wobble
And then you burst into tears
But know that person still can hear
And know that you are getting thru
No longer does your anger brood
And to those people receiving pain
Know that the bully can explain
Problems with his life
But tell someone of your strife
Don’t just sit alone, a stray
Please don’t play that silent game
All alone, no one there
But like the bullies, people care
You need help with this curse
It has been afflicted on you
But if you tell, it will be released soon
This has to do with everyone
And please don’t take this poem for fun 

By Damian Angelidis

A version of this post previously published at my blog on Working Mother.