Did you ever watch the TV sitcom Friends with Jennifer Anniston, Matt LeBlanc, Lisa Kudrow, etc.?
One of my favorite scenes featured Phoebe.
You remember? The self-described blonde ditz who sang, “Smelly Cat, Smelly Cat . . .”
Phoebe was complaining to Joey about something her brother had done.
After listening to her carry on for awhile, Joey finally interrupted and said, “Well Phoebe, have you told your brother how you feel?”
She said, “Yes.”
Long pause. “Well . . . not out loud.”
When it comes to important birthdays (heck, ANY birthday); I believe in telling people out loud what we want.
I have a friend who told me that when he was growing up, his dad always told his family he didn’t want anything special for his birthday.
So, no one ever got him anything.
But when his birthday came and he didn’t get any presents, his dad would stomp around the house in a bad mood, slamming doors and giving orders.
Hmmm . . . mixed messages?
Since 2011 was a significant birthday year for me . . . I wanted to make it special.
So, I booked the National Press Club months in advance and invited friends and family way ahead of time so they would be able to carve time out of their busy schedules to be here.
This was originally going to be wrapped around a mini-triathlon.
My sons, me and a few friends decided a great way to celebrate this milestone was to train for a ½ mile swim, 16 mile bike ride and 3 mile run/walk in the foothills of the Shenandoah Mountains in the town of Luray, VA.
That’s one of those ideas that worked better in theory than in practice.
Suffice it to say, it didn’t happen.
Instead, we planned a Saturday night in VA horse country for a country picnic at twilight polo, plus the annual Perseid meteor showers were going to be on display. What better way to spend a summer evening than on a blanket under the shooting stars with our resident astronomer, Tom Horn, (who works for NASA at Houston’s Johnson Space Center) serving as night sky guide?
Well, that didn’t work out as planned either as rain moved in and the polo match was cancelled.
What DID work out was even better.
A night spent around our dining room table, eating pizza, playing cards, laughing and conversing for hours on end.
Our own little My Dinner With Andre’. (If you haven’t seen that charming movie which captures a fascinating conversation between two men over dinner; it’s worth checking it out on Netflix).
They always say the simplest pleasures are the best. I agree.
I know it’s trite to say this, but really, is there anything better than being surrounded by the people you love? Everyone’s healthy and happy – laughing and talking about a wide range of topics, all of them interesting?
Now, when I sit at my writer’s desk over-looking the lake, as I am now, I look up at the dining room and remember it full of laughter, energy and good times. Forever fond memories.
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Now, I know all about keeping blogs to under 500 words . . . and it’s my birthday so I’ll blog if I want to . . . okay?
I’m going to indulge and go down Memory Row and relate some of the incredible things that happened that weekend.
If you don’t feel like reading this whole thing, I understand.
Suffice it to say . . . don’t “pull a Phoebe” when it’s time for your birthday.
Say OUT LOUD exactly how you’d like to celebrate your special day . . . so it is indeed special.
Back to my birthday:-)
Another favorite memory was playing “Best?” at the dinner table.
Best book? Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist and Orson Scott Card’s Enders Game were the winners.
My favorite? Black Stallion by Walter Farley.
This weekend was permission to reminisce and tell stories. So, tell stories I did.
I told about growing up in a small town where I rode my horse to the library. Really. I would tie him up outside while I went in to get books. The Black Stallion adventures were mana to my independent mind and searching soul.
We had more horses than people in the small town of New Cuyama, CA where my mom and dad, Ruth and Warren Reed, raised my sister Cheri, brother Dave and me.
Even when we were six and seven years old, we would take off on our horses all day and our parents never worried.
It’s where I learned to be resourceful. A reporter once asked me where I got my confidence and I said, “On the back of a horse.”
When we were out in the middle of nowhere and we fell off or got bucked off; there were no cell phones or adults nearby to rescue us. We simply had to “figure it out.”
In fact, one of the anecdotes in the Memory Jar Mary Loverde and Denise Brosseau collected for me comes from my sister who remembers the time I was riding in a gymkhana (kind of a rodeo with horse games like pole bending and barrel-racing).
I was going around the far barrel when my crazy Palomino Joe’s bridle broke. He thought that was an excellent opportunity to take off – which is exactly what he did.
It was like a scene from Keystone Cops with everyone jumping on their horse to chase me down. It was wildly romantic. Elton Kissee on his sorrel Tamper (the fastest horse in the valley) finally caught up to me and brought me to a safe halt. Sigh.
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Another of the great moments on the birthday weekend was when long-time friend Judy Gray (President of Florida Society of Assn. Execs) decided, on the spur of the moment, to cook a full course meal for us . . . in an hour.
So, several of us went shopping . We fanned out over the grocery store with our delegated items to buy.
Everyone chipped in; setting the table, preparing the fresh corn on the cob, pouring and sampling wine (my job), mashing the potatoes and getting things in and out of the oven.
We sat down to a scrumptious meal and . . . later. . . freshly-made Bananas Foster. Aaahhh .. . why does food always taste better when other people cook it?
During our meal, Dr. Nisha Money (a colleague of Deepak Chopra’s) and a practitioner of East-West medicine was talking about shamans.
Denise, ( co-founder of Springboard Enterprises – which has helped entrepreneurs receive $5 billion in funding) said, “I just don’t know what to do with shamans.”
Judy piped up from the kitchen, “Just don’t squeeze ‘em.”
You go, Judy . . .
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Simple moments, enduring memories.
What a pleasure it was sitting on comfy couches in the living room, next to the lake windows.
My son Tom was there with his girlfriend, Patty, who also works at NASA in Houston at Johnson Space Center as an astronaut planner and scheduler (how’s that for a job title?).
They were regaling us with behind-the-scene stories of the ISS , shuttle, and space program.
Like the time the astronauts on Skylab 4 got so tired of being over-worked that they . . . wait for it . . . mutinied.
Really. They were being scheduled through their lunch hours and time off. After repeated requests for a break, they announced to mission control, “We’re taking the day off,” and cut off communication.
That revolt killed their career – none of them ever went into space again – but they made their point and NASA is more sensitive to astronaut needs and requests now.
Tom also told about the time he walked in a few minutes for his shift, looked up at the console and it “was lit up like a Christmas tree with cascading malfunctions.”
The external cooling tank had broken.
NASA had predicted this would happen . . . someday . . . but didn’t know it would happen so soon. The crew members weren’t in immediate danger, but this had to be fixed asap which entailed training the astronauts in space how to get the spare out of storage – and remove the broken tank – and replace it with the spare.
Easier said than done.
The cooling tank weighs about 700 pounds. Once it gets moving, as Tom says, “It doesn’t want to stop.”
That wasn’t the problem though.
At the end of a 7 hour space walk, one bolt wouldn’t budge.
The exhausted astronauts had to go back into the ISS to rest and to give NASA tiger teams a chance to strategize what to do next.
On the next space walk, they still weren’t able to budge it. The future of the ISS hinged on this unmovable object. Finally, they did the astronaut version of “whaling on it” and succeeded in fixing it. Disaster averted.
Side note about this story. Tom and I had a chance to speak on a cruise last year – to Rome, Athens and Cairo. (Yes, it was fantastic. I will always remember jumping on a camel and riding out into the desert and gazing back at the Pyramids . . . it might as well have been hundreds of years ago.)
When Tom got back, his boss met him in the hall and said, “I need to see you in my office.”
Bummer. Tom thought, “I’m getting laid off.”
As you may know, with the shuttle program being shut down, thousands of space flight employees are losing their jobs and Tom thought that was his fate too.
He went into his supervisor’s office and there was a manila envelope sitting on his desk.
Tom thought, “Those are my walking papers.”
His boss motioned for him to open it – and inside was an announcement that Tom had been selected as NASA Employee of the Quarter. Such a deal!
How does this tie into SerenDestiny?
When Tom and his brother Andrew were growing up in Maui, Hi, we would go for walk ‘n rolls almost every night in our neighborhood near the beach. I would walk and the boys would ride their scooters, big wheels, skateboards or bikes. We would pick a plumeria for our pillow and enjoy the gentle Hawaii night air.
Even then, when Tom was 8 years old, if you asked him, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” he would point to the stars and say, “Something to do with up there.”
How sublime that’s exactly what he’s ended up doing. And how sublime that both my sons are doing the work they were born to do.
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Andrew, who runs Dreams for Kids – DC (more on that in a bit) – had a great suggestion for how to spend Saturday morning and afternoon.
“Let’s go to the Farmers Market in Reston and then go to see Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.
One of the many lovely things about living in Reston is their delightful Farmers Market which features fresh produce and so much more. Handmade arts and crafts. A beloved used book store on the plaza. Music. A marvelous way to spend a Sat morning . . . strolling amidst the booths, sampling fresh peaches and tomatoes picked that morning that actually taste like they’re supposed to.
What fun to see such a thought-provoking movie with your sons and best friends. And what fun to see THIS movie that has Owen Wilson, a novelist in Paris, traveling back in time and meeting Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Salvador Dali and other great writers/artists of the last century.
At one point in the movie, these gifted creative souls were expressing their yearning to go back to the Renaissance so they could meet Rembrandt, Renoir, da Vinci, etc.
Owen Wilson gives this impassioned soliloquy (much like Emily in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town) where he tries to convince them that the grass is not greener – that another time, another place will NOT be better or more special than the time they’re in right here, right now.
He pleads with them to understand that” THESE are the golden times” – these times deserve to be fully experienced, imprinted and treasured. His entreaties fall on deaf ears.
But everyone in our group got the message.
We agreed as we re-entered the sunlight that these days – these simple days strolling the farmers market, going down memory row together, laughing and talking about shared experiences – THESE are the golden times.
We knew it and were enormously grateful for having this blessed opportunity to be together as our mini-Camelot unfolded.
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Mary Loverde (author of I Used to Have a Handle on Life, But It Broke and the upcoming The Invitation) creatively developed the “This is Your Life” Jeopardy Game so it focused on fun topics including why I used to wear a hat (yes, those days are over) and kiss and tell.
Maybe you had to be there.
I had a couple drinks in me and what was said at the National Press Club STAYS at the National Press Club. Although I’ll give a hint – it involved skinny-dipping and phospheresence (spelling?) in the ocean off Hilton Head Island, SC at midnight.
Her categories also gave me a chance to answer the questions, “What is a particular reason you’re proud of Andrew” and “What’s a particular reason you’re proud of Tom?”
That gave me an opportunity to talk about what it’s like realizing every parents’ dream – seeing your kids happy and healthy, with the light on in their eyes.
Katherine Graham said, “To do work you love and feel that it matters; how could anything be more fun?”
Well, the only thing that could be more fun is doing work you love that matters with people you enjoy and respect – that’s exactly what Tom and Andrew (and me too, while I’m at it) are doing. We’ll all living our dreams.
Many of you know the story of how Andrew interned for Tom Tuohy, (www.DreamsForKids.org) in Chicago. After graduating from VA Tech with a degree in Business, Andrew was fortunate to land a corporate job in downtown DC.
However, I had dinner with Andrew one night about a year into the job and the light was out in his eyes. It was a wonderful job; it just wasn’t the right job for Andrew.
I asked him, “Whazzup?”
He said, “Mom, I want to quit.”
“What do you want to do?”
“I want to start a non-profit. I want to start a Dreams for Kids chapter here in DC.”
This conservative person I didn’t even know came out and perched on the tip of my tongue. “Non-profit?!” it wanted to say. “In this economy? Do you know how many non-profits are closing their doors because their funding is drying up? What are you doing to do for health insurance??”
Thankfully, that conservative voice was replaced with a wiser voice that said, “Andrew, I believe in you. You’ve always been resourceful. I know if you put your mind to this; you can make it work.”
Well, Andrew has put his mind to it – and boy, has it worked!
Starting with almost nothing, he discovered the Affinity Lab (a fabulous collaborative work place for social entrepreneurs and small businesses), started recruiting interns and within one year developed relationships with the Nationals, Capitols, Legg Mason Tennis Tournament, etc. and has even taken kids to the White House.
The story I chose to share that night at the Press Club was just one of many that showcases Andrew’s leadership. (Yes, I am a proud mama – and it’s my birthday so I get to tell stories about my sons.)
This particular event was an ice hockey clinic for almost 50 kids with disabilities held in conjunction with the Washington Capitols. I was sitting next to a woman, watching her son on the ice, who had tears streaming down her face.
I asked her, “Are you okay?”
She looked at me and said, “I am more than okay” and then told me her story.
Her son has autism and she has dedicated the last 8 ½ years of her life to him. She said, “I heard about Dreams for Kids and thought we’d give it a try; although I almost didn’t bring him today because I was afraid that putting on the skates might set him off.”
Then we both proceeded to watch a mini-miracle unfold.
Andrew had conducted an orientation for everyone helping out with the clinic and gave the volunteers such enough guidance – balanced with freedom and autonomy – to bring their best selves to the rink.
This woman’s son, Sam, was creeping along the side of the ice – holding on with both hands as he took one step, then another.
His buddy, Dan, a strapping 20-something who had played college hockey, got down on his haunches a couple feet away from Sam, looked him in the eyes and said, “Skate to me.”
Dan said it with such confidence, such trust, that Sam let go of the side of the rink and skated to Dan.
Dan then put him in front of him and started skating around the rink, smoothly, effortlessly, joyfully.
I can only imagine what it felt like to Sam to have the wind in his face and to be sliding around the rink so easily and athletically. He looked a little scared, but he was also grinning from ear to ear.
Then, Dan got a hockey stick and a puck and put Sam’s hands on the stick and they started pushing the puck in front of them as they skated around the rink. He then got another stick, put it in Sam’s hands and said, “Stand there.”
He then backed away a few paces and tapped the puck toward him and said, “Hit it back to me.”
After a few tries, Sam did just that.
And back and forth they went.
Sam’s mom said, “He’s made more progress in the last 30 minutes than he has in the last 3 years.”
THAT is an example of what Andrew has created here in DC, not just with that activity, but with the water-skiing clinic at Pohick Bay, the baseball clinic at the Nationals Ball Park, and on and on.
Many of you are parents – so you know what it’s like to see your children – who we remember, as if it were yesterday, bouncing around in their jolly jumper – and now they’re out in the world contributing. What a blessing.
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Can’t reflect on my birthday without talking about my sister, Cheri. Many of you know she’s been running my business for 15 years now – but she’s so much more than that.
Cheri has been my best friend all my life.
It is rare to have someone who has your back . . . AND your front.
That’s what Cheri’s done all these decades.
(Along with her husband Joe Grimm – who has been a one-person tech team who’s created my website/bog and social media accounts and trouble-shoots all my computer/ online issues.)
Cheri’s always there for me. She encourages. Supports. Shares her wise, balanced input . . . and takes care of the not-so-fun operational details so I’m freed up to do what I love most and do best.
She is the public “face” of my business because she handles all the client contact. When I travel to speak, the first words the meeting planner often says to me is, “Cheri is a delight to work with.”
Many of you are close with a brother or sister so you know what it’s like to share your life journey with someone who has known you from the beginning. It is a privilege to have that shared history with someone – someone who knows you inside out – someone who endures the not-so-pleasant times and still loves you and wants the best for you.
One of our fondest memories is that we were both pregnant for the first time . . . together.
We would look at each other in amazement.
Was it all that long ago that we were riding horses in New Cuyama, playing with Barbie dolls, marching in band, rafting down the Stanislaus with Gary and Ronnie, going to see Sonny and Cheri at Sacramento’s D.A.R. Constitution Hall, playing in Granny’s backyard in L.A. with our cousins, having our house T.P’d in high school, going to slumber parties and staying up all night to listen to Simon & Garfinkel’s Sound of Silence, enjoying the Santa Maria County Fair with Mom’s chocolate chip cookies and Dad helping us prepare our 4-H sheep, hogs, steers and rabbits to show?
We got to to share the growing-up years of her daughter Christy – and we’ll always remember going to an international softball tournament in Florida where Christy won the Fastest Pitch contest and pitched/played first base in 5 games in one 100 degree day.
Sending up love and gratitude to our mom, Ruth Reed, and dad, Warren Reed for teaching us to always “do the right thing” and for bringing us up in an environment of love, support . . . and animals.
We’ll always remember the chickens flying around the corner whenever we opened the back door, hoping we had some grain for them . . . and the sheep chewing gum during showmanship at the county fair (needless to say, we didn’t win) and the time I entered a buck (male rabbit) in the doe (female) class. Since Dad was the FFA advisor for our country, it took him a long time to live that one down.
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Speaking of horses, I got a final final birthday present when my friend Matt surprised me . . . with a horseback ride in the rolling hills of VA horse country. And I do mean the ROLLING hills.
This was on a glorious, sunny Tuesday afternoon so we had the countryside to ourselves. Rding along back roads with the windows down and the music playing – and then the 5.9 earthquake hit 80 miles away. Rock and roll!
How wonderful it was to be back in the saddle. It has been way too long since I’ve been on a horse.
They were a big part of my life for many years – I actually taught the Disney grandkids how to ride at a summer camp near Mt. Lassen in California where I was “Head Wrangler.” Yes, that was my official title.
I even competed for rodeo princess at my college and barrel-raced on my friend Peggy Pedrick’s horse at the Folsom Rodeo – but that’s another story – and I need to wrap this puppy up.
Suffice it to say, I plan to do more of everything that took place over the birthday week.
More hanging with my friends. More sitting around the dinner table enjoying laughs and good conversation. More horseback riding and eating fresh peaches from the farmers market. More imprinting and appreciating these golden days – these precious golden days.
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So, it’s time to bring these birthday memories to a close.
I wish that you also have the joy of family and friends coming together and contributing to make your birthday this year special and oh-so-memorable.
Whatever you do; don’t pull a Phoebe.
Don’t be subtle and hope people celebrate your big day in a big way.
ASK FOR WHAT YOU WANT.
The way I figure it, your birthday is the one day a year you get to be “selfish” and spend it exactly the way you please.
So, figure out what you really, really want . . . and then ask for it . . . and then revel in it and be grateful for every blessed moment.