Better get living while you’re alive

The constant chorus throughout my days — and in the days of many of those around me — is that life is busy and stressful & we’re not accomplishing enough today and we’re worrying too much about tomorrow.   How do we manage and keep life in perspective?

My daily stresses are presented in various arenas — financial, emotional, parenting, health, global, career… and sometimes, they overpower me.  Luckily, more often, my awareness of these stresses and my conscious reaction to them have helped to better balance the ups-and-downs of my life.  This blog is often about those travails.

Over the past few weeks, a few experiences have served as direct reminders of how to keep life in perspective.  I want to share them here.

Live your life as if it will end suddenly

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 7.12.51 PMA few week’s ago, I received news that a friend (a fellow mother in my daughter’s preschool class) had died after being struck by an elderly driver.  She had been standing beside her parked car, just before noon on a beautiful day in downtown La Jolla.   I suspect she was out running errands.  The accident left three young children motherless.  I often wonder what the Mom’s last words to her children were that morning.   “I’m glad we spent last night cuddled together on the sofa talking instead of cleaning out our backpacks, practicing our spelling words and arguing about who gets which water bottle for lunch”?    How careful I now am that my own parting words to my two children are not, “Hurry up or we’ll be late!

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 7.09.37 PMIn September, I stumbled over the blog postings of a young Harvard college freshman who, during her first trip overseas as an earnest, fledging editor of a European travel guide book, stumbled on a hike, fell into a waterfall and died.  Reading her travel journal, knowing that she dies, is a terrible experience — and one that will make you tear up.  And then, weirdly laugh with joy when you read about the over-budget lunch she splurged on in Vienna, one month before her untimely death.  I’m not saying you need to go out and buy that expensive purse you’ve been ogling for months BUT if you do splurge on that purse, go about it as if it’s the last purse you’ll ever own.   Why not?!  I had that second glass of wine last night — and you know what?  I REALLY enjoyed it.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 7.08.55 PM

Earlier this week, Brittany Maynard committed assisted-suicide (or death-with-dignity, DWD).  I did not follow her story before its end (although I do recall hearing a sound-bite in the last month or two).  Brittany did what my friend — and Harvard’s friend — could not.  She was ever-present and in-control of her own life AND her own death.  It’s quite a powerful position — and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was a bit envious of the true consciousness in which she lived her shortened life.

Brittany’s obituary (which I assume was written by Brittany herself) is filled with a few clues of how we can live through the stress.   While we must accept the limits and realities of our life, we must live honestly — and fully.   I can’t speak for how I’ll die (whether it be with such dignity and awareness as Brittany or with no advance-warning as it occurred with Melissa and Haley), but I know that I’ll have to cherish better each moment alive.

Here’s to embracing my stresses… while embracing all the meaningful moments in between.

Happy Friday to you all.

Profound thought delivered in kid-speak

For all of us nocturnal types...

For all of us nocturnals…

“I would like morning-time better if was at the night” — my (8) year old son

Don’t Wake Me Up, I’m working!

"Brain Rules" by John Medina

“Brain Rules” by John Medina

After 10+ years of being bombarded by doctors-cum-celebrity-authors that my children need sleep (“Without sleep, your child won’t go to college!”  “Bad Mommies let their kids stay up past 9 pm!”), I’m here to say that Chapter 2 of that book is much more relevant.  Chapter 2?  That’s the chapter titled, “40 YEAR OLD WOMAN — GO TO BED!”

I’m 42, tired and behind on my reading.   Turns out, sleep is the most important thing I should be doing for my health (and by association, my career, my family and my overall quality of life).   Sounds simple but sleep is always the first sacrifice I make in the craziness of my life.  It’s very easy to stay up to 12 am answering a few more emails or watching a YouTube video series on “E-Commerce SEO 101.”   It’s also easier to drag myself out of bed at 6 am to make breakfast for my kids, pack their lunches and review pick-up & carpooling details with my husband than to sleep in and deal with the guilt of hungry kids &  missed calendar appointments.  That’s why they created the 10-cup coffee machine.  Pour and roar, Baby!

What’s a little exhaustion in the plight of the juggle?!   Honestly, there’s a badge of honor in the exhaustion of burning the candle at both ends.   There’s no balance in the juggle.  It’s part of the Puritan “work-hard” ethic.   If I’m sleeping 8+ hours a night, there’s NO WAY I’ll turn Totefish into the billion dollar juggernaut I dream it to be.   Napping in the afternoon?  That’s so Marie Antoinette!

For the last 18 months, I have been surviving off 4-5 hours of sleep a night.  And when I say “surviving“, I mean “dying a slow death.”  Turns out, exhaustion is like juggling with real knives.  Better re-up your health insurance plan.

My newest trek into non-fiction, soft-science books is with “Brain Rules” by John Medina.  The book outlines the science behind the importance of sleep in an adult’s life.  Proper sleep enables a human to 1.) better process the day’s data, 2.) solve problems, 3.) remember things, 4.) be in a better mood, 5.) make fewer mistakes, and 6.) not suck wind.

Spoiler-alert.  I’ve been sucking wind.

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 8.44.01 AMLast week, I hit empty.  I sat at my desk and jumped from email-to-email, Powerpoint presentation-to-excel-spreadsheet, To-Do-list to To-Do-list WITHOUT accomplishing anything.  Turns out, when you’re exhausted, your brain is unable to focus on a task AND when it can focus, it takes 2-4xs longer to finish the task, makes 75% more mistakes while doing that task and can’t remember what the point of the task was in the first place.  Frustration and depression follow.  Lack-of-sleep makes one moody, diminishes their short-term memory capabilities and makes learning new concepts nearly impossible (the brain processes information during sleep).  So, while my Puritan values of work-work-work drive me to create massive plans, my Puritan disdain for sleep-rest-and-relaxation drive me to waste my time (and get more tired).

Sleep.  Nap.  Repeat.

I spent the last four days sleeping.  And I am a new woman.  The sun is sunnier.   My kids are lovelier.  And my To Do List ain’t so mean and angry.

Why do you think I’m writing this post today?   I slept 9 hours last night.  Give it a try.  I think it’ll change your life!

I’m a 42-year old Mom & I just launched a website!

Yes, you 22 year olds!  Zip up your hoodies and move your recycled-canvas messenger bags over ’cause I’m working in the internet now.

Congratulations!   It's a baby… website!  Time of birth?  12: 21 am.

Congratulations! It’s a baby… WEBSITE!                            Time of birth? 11:21pm.  Duration of labor?  18 months!

HOW’D SHE’D DO IT?

The short answer?  Made a lot of mistakes, went to bed after midnight most nights of the week, read too many articles on “Lean Start-Ups,” learned how to make a Prezi from a 5th grader, spent some serious money and gained 10 pounds.  But that’s not helpful, is it?   NO!  If you’re really curious how to start up a website, read on.

[If you just want to see my site, CLICK HERE (and go to Totefish!).   Otherwise,  stay tuned… ’cause I’m going to be blogging all month about women & websites & children & stuff.]

HOW TO GET STARTED WITH A WEBSITE 

This list is NOT prioritized by how I did it.  It’s the order, in my next life, in which I will do it.  It is the most efficient,”Learn-From-My-Mistakes,” tough-love advice I can give:

1.  Take a class on HCI (Human Computer Interaction).  

Just because you’ve matched a movie, doesn’t mean you know how to write one.  Same goes for the internet.  Just because you’ve surfed a website (and came up with a few ideas on how it could be better), you are NOT trained to jump in & design a site.  There’s a science and a HUGE knowledge base behind good website development.  I’m not talking about coding — I’m talking about organization.  Trust me.  If you’re going to dedicate your time & money to building a site, take 3 months to learn everything there is about HCI.  It is the theory behind UI/UX.  Wait, what’s the difference between UI/UX?   My point exactly!   If you’d taken the time to study HCI, you’d know your “I” from your “X”.   I took the 12-week studio track of Scott Klemmer’s Human-Computer Interaction Coursera Class (when it was sponsored through Stanford).  It’s the tip-of-iceberg but it will change your “start-up” life.  Check out my Resources: Startups menu above for links to various HCI programs.

2.  Spend a month watching every webinar on the Stanford HCI Group website

And then, go to YouTube and watch every Stanford HCI Group video uploaded there.  It should take about 6 weeks.  No joke.  Keep watching them until the videos get repetitive.  That means you really understand HCI and you’re finally ready to design a great website.   Oh, that sounds boring and middle-aged??  Well, guess what?  Middle-aged folk don’t spend their Saturday nights drinking cheap beer out of a funnel, either.  Experience makes us wiser.  We know that spending 4+ months to learn everything about building a SMART website will save you 10 months of wondering why your site kinda sucks.  You know the joke about the two bulls on a hill, right?

The Stanford HCI Group website is http://hci.stanford.edu.

3.  If you think PHP is a virus, HTML-5 a type of cable and CSS a new cop show on NBC, then you need to find a Technology partner

The interesting thing about an internet business is that it’s combines business AND technology, 50/50.  You need both to make it work.  Running the business side takes intelligence, organization, problem-solving, creativity, multi-tasking, marketing, financial modeling and presentation skills (just to name a few).  Running the technology side takes hard-core computer science knowledge and expertise.  You need both to bring an idea to fruition.  If you’re the business-type (like me), then you’d better find a strong tech partner, otherwise, hiring a tech team will be difficult (and managing a tech team will be frustrating for everyone involved).   [I’ll drill deeper how to do this in a later post — In the meantime,  focus on the HCI stuff].

If you’re someone like me (a Mom who didn’t have a Facebook account when she began this endeavor 2 years ago), welcome yourself to 2014.  Get the newest phone, download the newest APPs, go to the newest websites and never say “Oh, I’d NEVER use that software” without trying it for a week.  If you want to be on the web, you’d better BE ON THE WEB.  Imagine writing a  romantic comedy without renting Julia Robert’s repertoire of movies?   You can’t do something new in technology if you don’t like new technology.   “Respect the Tech” and go upgrade all your devices!

Newsflash: Mom lets kids “own the tree”

Kids decoratingEnthusiastic Kids: 1

Controlling Perfectionist Mom:  0

Actually, that zero is probably just one in a million (as in Mom: 1,000,000) but hey, life is a journey, right?

This Christmas, I let the kids pick out the tree (bare spot included) and decorate it without any Mom-carp about clumping ornaments, cattywampus beads, dead spots in the lights or glass figurines hung precariously where they could fall.  I let my children, aged 8 & 10, choose the candy-cane lights, wind tightly the beads, construct a hand-made star and hang the ornaments wherever they darned-well pleased.   I watched from the kitchen and bit my tongue when the “urge to command” came over me.

Yes, it was a Christmas miracle.

Bah-Humburg, Martha Stewart & Pinterest

Long before Facebook was popular on the grandparent scene, I fell prey to the pressure of a providing the photo-worthy Facebook Pintastic Christmas; the elusive “Looks Just Like A Department Store Tree” vision I’d always strived to produce.  But alas, the limitless pins of “If-You-Really-Loved-Us-Mom-You’d-Make-Our-Pizza-In-The-Shape-Of-A-Snowman” and “Hey-Slacker-Mom-You-Forgot-To-Handpress-Our-Christmas-Wrap-With-Old-Photos-Of-Us-From-Our-First-Christmas-With-Santa” are overwhelming to anyone who wishes to go to bed before 2 am.

This year, I finally gave up the ghost of Christmas Perfection.  I’m focusing on the simpler things.

I banned myself from Pinterest.

Screen Shot 2013-12-24 at 3.32.25 PM

Courtesy of Pinterest

Is my tree color-coordinated to my living room?  Did I grow a dozen amaryllis in a vintage cookie tin and tie it with a raffia bow?  Did we mail calligraphed, peppermint-scented letters to Santa?  Did I tape Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindoor, buy those tickets to the Disney Concert Hall Holiday show or hang real boughs of holly off the banister??  Hell NO!

I’m not sure how the pressure to provide a Fairytaled-Christmas experience started – but I am thankful that I’ve finally crossed the rubicon into the world of a reasonable-and-sane holiday.

I “designed” our christmas card in 10 minutes, I outsourced cookies to Aunt Meemee, Grandma and the local bakery, I bought EVERY present online (oh, Totefish), I brought out the advent calendars two days ago and YES, I “accidently hid” that crazy elf that I’m supposed to hide every night in the garbage on Trash Day.   Oops.  My bad.

In my version of “A Christmas Carol,” the ghost of Christmas Past shows a young girl running around in the snow, ice forming on her toes, snot dripping from her nose.  She’s laughing.  She grabs the cracked & faded sled and follows her brother up the hill for one more ride.

Screen Shot 2013-12-24 at 3.28.00 PM

Courtesy of Pinterest

Through a steamy window, the ghost of Christmas Present watches a tired mom, wiping the sweat from her brow, mumbling curse words under her breath as she takes her 3rd attempt to get that homemade “William Sonoma Exclusive” Victorian gingerbread house to stick together with organic frosting that’s just too runny while her children watch silently from the safe distance of the living room sofa.

The Ghost of Christmas Future?  An old woman falls into a grave made from frosted, swirled cupcakes dusted with varying trendy shades of charcoal grey sprinkles.

Pin that!

Pin that!

It’s hard to redefine what is “perfect” in today’s life.  Looking at this year’s tree leaves me hopeful that I’m on the path to finding it.

Have yourself a wonderful & relaxing Christmas (and a more self-realized “perfect” New Year)!

A “Feel Good” Friday Post

Here’s a story that brought tears to my eyes (Washington Post’s “Students Build a Better Home for Wounded Solider Who Couldn’t Get Around His House.”)

Human beings have so much potential.

Happy “Feel Good” Friday!

We do make a difference in others' lives.  A big difference.

Showing love for others can take so many different forms BUT it always has the same effect.

The Pressure to Prezi

Screen Shot 2013-09-20 at 3.49.12 PMWhat’s a Prezi?

That’s what I said when my daughter (age 10) came home from school last April and said “Mom, we learned Prezi today!”  My struggle to stay up-to-date on technology rivals my flailing attempts to stay informed on pop music (I thought Robin Thicke was Alan Thicke making a late middle-age comeback… and yeah, I thought “t’werking” meant “using twitter like a jerk”).

Prezi is the new “Keynote” (which is the new “Powerpoint”) and it’s all the rage in tech-forward academic circles.   Oh wait.  You don’t know what Keynote is?  It’s MAC Powerpoint.  Powerpoint?  It’s McKinsey crack.  Still confused?   Don’t worry.  Two years ago, I didn’t know any of this.  Welcome to the tech ride, Mama.  It’s real.  And it’s coming from the bottom-up.

So why the pressure?

After my daughter showed me the Prezi she’d made in school, I got to thinking.  It was very modern.  It was very cool.  And it looked very user-friendly.  I mean, if a 10 year old could figure it out!?  Why not use it for Totefish?  I decided to make an About Us video using Prezi.   It would be more interesting than a long, promotional write-up on the website, right?   Who reads those, anyway?

I spent 5 months working on it.  Yeah.  That’s right.  I’d never used Powerpoint or Keynote (although my daughter has made at least 4 presentations of each) so my learning curve was steeper than most.  But you know what drove me through it?  Fear of disappointing my daughter.

Do as I say, not as I do

I am one of those women who believes men and women should have equal opportunity to do anything.  Because of that, I filled our house with trucks, building blocks and rainbow-hued legos when my daughter was born.  I ended every Disney story with the line, “And she lived happily ever after she got a great job, invested her money in a diversified portfolio and ended up buying her own castle on the beach.”

When my daughter turned 8, I sat her down and said “Things are going to change around here.   I’m going to start a company so now, we’ll have a babysitter pick you up at the bus-stop.”  Her response?  “You can’t start a company.  That’s what Dad does.”  FOR REAL.

Failure is not an option

In the last two years, my daughter has been privy to the stresses, struggles and realities of achieving my dream to launch Totefish.   Although I always lace my talks of Totefish with warnings of  “the odds of it working are slim” and “the average entrepreneur fails 4 times before they succeed”, my daughter tells everyone that her Mom is a building a big company.  She also tells them that I’m an expert on Prezi.  Expert?!?  Not even close!  But I have spent the last 5 months showing her my baby-steps of improvement.  It’s become our thing.  We don’t talk fashion.  We don’t talk Miley Cyrus.   We talk Prezi.

I showed my daughter my finished Prezi this week.  Her response?

“I love you, Mom.”

I can’t think of a better reason to Prezi than that.

Here it is (converted to a YouTube video):