Half-Assed Crafts, and Other Tales

I hosted Easter dinner on Sunday.

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I briefly considered doing a Tutorial From Hell on how to make the teensy Easter baskets, but then noticed that a) I did not snap any photos whilst making the craft so as to document how the baskets were constructed, and b) they really are just fancy cupcake wrappers with half a length of fuzzy pipe-cleaner attached with tape.

(I could probably write an entire book called: Half-Assed Crafts for Every Season)

I love Easter.  I love the prospect of renewal and possibility that comes with this time of year.

And I love candy.

Our Winesday Easter was one of those lovely, happy holiday dinners where people were in good form, and everything was funny, and there was a lot of wine but not too too much, and the food was glorious and there was Enough of Everything.

This winter was long, and cold, and nothing seemed to work out right.  But having our little family around the table again — surrounded by wine and cheer — reminded me that we made it.  It was just a moment; a season of darkness, and now we are stepping out into this wonderful new light.

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This was my view last weekend flying into Dublin.  It looks…peaceful, right?

This weekend, I’m hosting Easter.  I’m tired and frazzled, and I have massive stacks of work to do.  But I want to see my family of friends that I’ve barely seen this year.  We used to see each other almost weekly, and now, we barely see each other with any regularity.

I am not unique in questioning the achievability of a work-life balance.  But I think people get bogged down in looking at the idea of “balance” in too much of a day-to-day sense — i.e., are my DAYS balanced?  Do I get enough family/friend/leisure time on a DAILY basis?

I’m not sure that is the right way to look at it.  In fact, I get extremely irritated when I say that I’m busy with work right now, but will another time work, and I get a dismissive response like, You can’t take it with you!  Don’t you think it is more important to spend time with your friends and family?  No one on their death bed wishes they’d worked more!

Please keep that kind of attitude to yourself.

I think that looking at it in a more holistic way might be more practical, i.e., is my LIFE balanced?  On the whole, do I get enough time to do things I want to do, even if this particular week or season is weighted too heavily in one direction or another?

To suggest otherwise would be to say that CPAs have a “balance fail” during busy season.  Or that an attorney who is completely sucked into one litigation or deal has not achieved “balance” when the work is cyclical, and maybe during the “off” season, that lawyer works significantly less.

In my case, my life does tend to be more heavily weighted towards work these last few years.  But I’m happy with what I do.  I find it fulfilling and challenging, and I enjoy it — even when I wind up travelling for long periods, or things don’t go the way I want, or I get really negative feedback on something I’d worked hard on, or…I can’t spend enough time with my friends and family.

Will I wonder whether I could’ve worked more when I’m on my deathbed?  Probably not.

Will I look back and think: I worked really hard, and I did good things, and even if I didn’t always get to spend my time the way I wanted to, I am satisfied with the work I have done?

Probably, yes.

I get sick of the same old song-and-dance trotted out by people who don’t like and/or can’t relate to the balance I choose.  I get sick of being told what I will regret.  Because I don’t regret the long hours spent working; I don’t regret the many, many flights I take; I don’t regret the moments of insanity trying to schedule things.  I’m sad that I’ve missed events and weddings, and what have you, but I don’t…regret it.

We choose how we balance ourselves out.  The balance might not look the same for every person, in ever circumstance, in every season.  And the fact that I am frazzled, and frantic, and seeking peace in this season — this year to date! — of chaos doesn’t undo the bigger balancing act I’m working to achieve.

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April Showers

#Reverb14 is the opportunity for us to reflect and project throughout 2014.   Each month, Kat, Sarah and I will be posting on a new prompt.  Please check out the #ProjectReverb main page and join in.

April Showers Bring May Flowers: We’ve had a long, wet, cold winter here and we’re ready for spring.  Show us a photo of your “April showers” and tell us all about it.”

It snowed yesterday.  I went out to walk the dog in the morning and there was a dusting of snow on cars; a slick of ice on the pavement.

What the hell..?

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I was not expecting that.

Truth is: I have not been expecting much of anything that has happened this year.  Or any year of the last decade or so, for that matter.

Then again, no one really expects a hurricane and a malignancy within the first ten days of changing the calendar.  Everything else following that has seemed like a chaotic anticlimax.

Unrelated to climaxes, but related to the idea of it being April, last week I remembered that I have been keeping a journal in the format I do now for 20 years this month.  There are a few notebooks kicking around from the year or two prior to that, but for the last 20 years, I have meticulously documented my life in neat spiral-bound, and cloth-bound, and eventually Moleskine notebooks that are lined up on a shelf in my bedroom.

This means I can look back to most dates, or date-ranges, and be able to tell you what I was doing or thinking or experiencing then.  I have my present-sense impressions from being a teenager; I have deeply descriptive narratives regarding sleepovers, and nights at the movies, and friends who are still friends now, and friends who I just exchange Christmas cards with, and friends who faded into the ether and aren’t even on Facebook.

Twenty years ago, my predictions of who and what my future self would be like are startlingly accurate as to who I turned out to be.  The bit in the middle — between then and now — has turned out to be much messier and less accurate than I expected.

It seems strange, sometimes, to have so much information about myself.  The notebooks don’t take up a ton of space, so it’s not like a weird and obvious Library of Me on display in my home.  But when memory plays cruel tricks, or I think something was one way and my recollection doesn’t seem to jive with reality, I can prove to myself what was and what wasn’t.

As a lawyer, I am very obsessed with proof.

Anyway, I suppose the point is this:  It has been a long, dark, wet, and freezing winter.  And there are moments, now, even when I look back ten, twenty years, that everything seems…light.  Like I finally have the freedom to be who I am and who I want to be — maybe because I’m older; maybe because I have the means to do it and be it; or maybe because I’ve just reached That Moment of being ready to be free.

Twenty years ago, the things that seemed like Big Deals were mostly, not really big deals at all.

And likewise, this morning, the snow on the ground gave way to the little white blossoms opening on all the trees on my street despite the frosty afternoon.

Things change.  And change is good.

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A Week in the Life: Springtime Saturday

Lie in.

Discover Paul has downloaded a new iPad game and has been playing some weird equivalent of Risk for hours as I slept.  He shouts at me because I wake up Not Hungry, and he is afraid of me becoming a monster.

Truth: I haven’t had much of an appetite in weeks.  The only thing that tastes very good is clementines.

Maybe he is not afraid of me becoming hungry.  Maybe he is afraid of me remaining Not Hungry.

We bicker.  We fight about his silly computer game, and the way the women get dressed up for each other in Dublin, and how I just want to spend my Saturdays in running clothes but in Ireland, that is not a done thing.  We argue about breakfast and brunch and whether to go into to town or stay close.

We decide to stay nearby and go to the place we always go where we have the same things we always have, regardless of which city or country we are in: eggs and smoked salmon for me; whatever the special is for Paul.

Paul needs his hair cut.

He says: I won’t bother; I will wait.  But I tell him that he isn’t coming out for Easter with a shaggy head of hair.

Let’s go get your hair cut.

We drive to the center of town and we are early for the haircut.  So we go to buy Paul a new pair of jeans at Brown Thomas.  The heavily made-up, spray-tanned salesgirl tries to interrupt me as I am asking Paul about which jeans he likes.

I know I have unwashed hair, and I have been in Amsterdam, London, and Dublin since Wednesday.  I know I am not wearing any make up, and have topped my fancy jeans from LA with an old cashmere sweater.  I am wearing hot pink flats because I had nothing else.  I know no one is looking twice at me.  I know I left all the hallmarks of worldly success back in New York — the big handbag, the sunglasses, and the other Wealthy White Chick accoutrements.

I was in the c-suite by 30.  I’m here on business.  This is hard.  Sometimes I just want to wear running clothes on Saturday and not be bothered.

The girl keeps bringing Paul jeans, and I know it’s just her job, but she’s bringing him brands that don’t fit him, and the one thing I know is my ultra-premium denim.  He buys the pair I have suggested, because it’s the pair that fit him like they were made for him.

I may not be anything special to look at, but I know my denim.

Paul goes on to get his haircut and I walk around.

Walk walk walk.  What am I doing.

I haven’t had time to consider anything that has been happening.  Should I feel guilty about Andrew?  Should I apologise for the tough and consequential things I have been tackling — and succeeding at — in my career?

Should I apologise for being who I am, where I am?

Everyone loves an underdog; everyone reveres a hero.  But what happens to you when you’ve survived the worst of the underdog days and you’re just slogging through the middle part?  When you’ve picked up the pieces of ten years of constant catastrohpe, and you’ve managed okay, and you’ve survived humiliation, and heartache, and you’ve finally met a nice guy, and you’re doing well in your career, and you’re just trying to be a good person and get on with life?

What I’ve discovered is that nobody likes that.  That’s a shitty novel that doesn’t sell; a pilot that doesn’t get picked up for the full season.

Should I buy tights?  I think I need to wear tights to this meeting on Monday.  I should stop at H&M and buy tights.

I buy tights.  In one pocket of my jeans is Sterling; the other Euros.  That’s the same for most of my coats, and bags, and I don’t remember the last time I could find a US Dollar.  This isn’t to say I’m fancy, this is just to say my life has changed.

Paul’s haircut is finished.

I go back across the street to meet him.  My hair is still unwashed; I am still not wearing any makeup.  I thread my way between the tourists and the natives, and find him at the appointed meeting place, texting me.

We buy smoothies, then walk across St Stephen’s Green back to the car — the morning’s bickering forgotten; the afternoon light filtering between the trees.

I am thinking too much; I am thinking about nothing at all.  I am thinking only that my sense of relief is palpable — the same thought I have been having for days — the only thought I can muster.

I had believed for so long that I had done something terrible by getting divorced — that I had ruined or broken Andrew and scarred him for life.  It wasn’t that I didn’t love him — I did — but circumstances were such that our marriage was never going to work.  I knew it, and I knew that I did the right thing, but the guilt of the last five years has been…crushing.

Some of my divorcee girlfriends struggle when their spouses remarry because they feel inadequate, or they become nostalgic, or the pine for what could have been.

I didn’t ever feel that way.  I just felt the weight of the world, and the Catholic church, and a man who still called his mother “Mommy” on my shoulders.

We walk through St Stephen’s Green, where we laid in the grass last summer on my first visit to Dublin, and I think: For the first time in five years, I can finally breathe.

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A Week in the Life: Heathrow Happy Hour

By Friday, I was that special kind of exhausted — that hot and dizzy kind of Too Much Going On tired that didn’t go away with water and clementines, which seemed to be my panacea lately.

I was in the office, and in meetings, and I was meeting D and Rach for lunch.  It was hard to believe how long I’d known them now.  It had been three years since D had convinced me to come back from Edinburgh over the bank holiday weekend; now N and Rach had a baby — not a baby, a little boy! — and D and I continued to be the unmarried, childless friends.

So much had changed in both New York and in London and still nothing had.

We met, and we ate, and it was lovely.  Then Baby Z fussed a bit, and mother and child had to dash a bit early, so D and I stayed and caught up.  It was one of those gorgeous springtime Fridays in London where the sun was out, and the trees in Grosvenor Square were green, and even the squat, post-modern, could-only-have-been-hatched-in-a-Cold-War-architect’s-imagination American Embassy was softened around the edges.  (Which was true, but is a terrible thing to say, because later that afternoon some building right behind it collapsed and a man was killed).

Then our lunch ended, and we kissed on the cheeks, and we were off into the afternoon.

A little bit after that, I was off to Heathrow for the third time in three days, and then on a plane to Dublin.

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(Obviously, I just discovered Instagram.)

Paul and I had a dinner date with one of his best friends and his wife — he was an Irish native, and she was a Californian, as is the case with many of Paul’s friends (strangely enough).  She grew up about 15 minutes from where I did.

It was strange, you know, sitting in a restaurant in Dublin with a couple whose experience was similar to ours — both lawyers, both grew up in the places we had.  It was so strange that I couldn’t wrap my  head around it.  It was strange that I could say the words “the 405″ or “the 210″ or “where the 10, the 210, and the 57 meet” and she would know what I was talking about.  I could probably have sung the radio jingles of my youth and she could’ve chimed in.  It was weirder still to think that she probably knew what the smog looked like in the ’80s, and the way that the Earthquake felt, and all of those weird, muscle-memory things about Southern California that you want to forget but never do.

But I was too tired for any of that.  We just talked in the way that Strangers talked — the same way I would have talked if she were Irish or English or Chinese.

So we talked and laughed and shared food and wine, and I stumbled into bed later than I had expected.

I am happy.  Things are lovely.  But I am at a strange crossroads.  As it turns out, my entire life has been a series of forks — a hideous, unexpected, dusty table laid with cutlery where just when I think I have grasped the right utensil, it is time for another course.

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A Week in the Life: Thursday

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From a taxi, between meetings in London.

This winter has been so long, and when I left New York on Tuesday, the spring was just creeping up on us.  In London, the weather was gorgeous, and even between meetings, and with the sunshine on the river and the green just popping on the trees, everything felt…perfect.

It has been a long, cold winter, but I feel as if I am just coming back to life.


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A Week in the Life: Urge for Going

After the call with Andrew on Tuesday, and Everything Else, I finally escaped New York.

I’ve been like that lately — when the going gets tough, the tough get the hell out of Manhattan.

Maybe I was always like that.  But I’ve been cautioned that I sound plaintive or depressive sometimes when I write (to the point where one of my friends was intervening in my affairs because she thought I had…problems…yikes), so I’ve been trying to balance escapism with serious cheeriness.

So it was a car to JFK; JFK to LHR; LHR to AMS.  Arrived at AMS Wednesday morning to springtime sunshine, which, my colleague pointed out, was precisely what the Impressionist painters saw when they painted their waterlilies, and still-lifes, and eerie self-portraits.

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(This is what the approach to Amsterdam looks like if you are coming from London.)

I arrived in Amsterdam to a day of meetings during which my fitbit, one of my iPhones, and my garmin were promptly stolen.  I’d stored my luggage during one set of meetings, and all of my electronics were removed from an external pocket.

No matter.  It was just…stuff.

(Remember, cheeriness…)

Back to London; quick stop at a friend’s new flat in Holland Park to see the gorgeous north/south exposure and early evening light through the trees on the park.  The new place was great — spacious, gorgeous, and homey, with a view of the park beyond the treeline.

I came out of my friend’s place and out on to the street. I wanted to drink in the air, and the evening sunshine.  I wanted to kiss every single petal falling from the trees.  It had been such a long, dark winter in New York that the London springtime felt like such luxury.  In fact, the day I’d left New York had been the first day in more than six months that I’d worn something so light as a trench coat!

The car took me on to my hotel.

I hadn’t stayed at this place in over 18 months; I tend to avoid it for lots of reasons — one being that this hotel once gave out my personal information to someone that they shouldn’t have; another being that I’d once been kissed in the lobby when I was in the throes of a strange, lovely, and utterly confusing romance.  It had been one of those moments that had been So Perfect and So Wonderful, that it has been almost physically painful to walk through the lobby since.

I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, I’m just saying that it’s funny how life changes.

Also, this hotel is old…and loud.  Which I’ve complained about to them before, so there must’ve been a black mark in my file where they had noted: Irritating, Whiney American.  The travel agent must’ve also alerted them, because they sent the VIP/Embassy Relations Staff to greet me upon arrival.

The VIP Greeter took me up to my room, during which time he discovered they’d put me in a gorgeous, well-appointed suite, next to a Jack Russell Terrier, who apparently had his own suite, and was barking his head off about it.

I am so so so sorry, the VIP Greeter said, This would drive me nuts! 

Nah, doesn’t bother me.  I love dogs, I laughed.

No, we will move you.  We will upgrade you.  We will put you in the bridal suite if we have to.  I think we have a bride in there, but we will put you there!

(For the record, I don’t think this hotel even has a bridal suite…)

It’s fine.  If he doesn’t stop barking, I will let you know.  But I am sure that once his owner comes back, he’ll shut up.  I know dogs.  He just wants something.

Are you certain?


Eventually, the dog stopped.  And I went downstairs for a walk, down the grand staircase, to the gorgeous lobby where I once held on to someone who stroked my hair and kissed me on the lips and forehead.  I walked outside into the London springtime night, and everything felt…not just okay, but good.  Really good.

It’s good to love the warmer weather, and beautiful things, and being out of one’s comfort zone.  It’s good to accept that it’s only stuff when things go missing.  It’s good to have loved before and to feel the twinge of loss and to have moved on, and even feel the bit of longing when back in places that remind you of those really great experiences.

And it was good to hear the barking of a terrier and confirm that I love dogs, and am not bothered by them at their best and worst, but my decision not to take my ex-husband’s dogs was the right one, and I don’t feel guilt or fear or sadness in making that choice.

Wednesday night in London was good.

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