Lost a Step or Two Along the Way

It’s been quite an eight months. Carolyn, Juan Carlos and our grandchildren returned to Santiago, Chile.  Fought and won a quick war with breast cancer. Lived through two and half months of construction, as a leak turned our house into a disaster zone for way too long. Took on an intense assignment for a San Francisco client that was a lot of fun – and a lot of work. Then got an even more intense assignment with a Southern California client that has had me running non-stop for three months and will do so for the foreseeable future. And finally, since nothing much else was going on, we decided to demo the kitchen and start over from scratch.

I’ve managed to juggle it all, but for one thing – walking five miles a day  become just impossible, or so it seems.

Two weeks ago, the battery on my FitBit died, and I couldn’t find the stupid little recharger that comes with the One. I tossed the FitBit into my nightstand and ordered a new recharger. Which is on back order until May 13. The final excuse to be a lump had fortuitously arrived.


Except that I find myself anxious and prone to depression. Not to mention chubby. Walking 5 miles a day, it turns out, is a pretty good treatment for whatever ails you. So rather than upping my Zoloft, I bit the bullet and order a new FitBit – just for the recharger. Extravagant, yes, but I decided that waiting another two weeks to get back to a good routine was too long. And yes, thank you, I am that neurotic that exercise doesn’t count unless I can measure it and strive to meet a goal.

I’m no less busy and my life is no less crazed. But with the motivation of knowing that I don’t want to look at the FitBit at the end of the day and see that I’ve taken exactly 45 steps, I think I can start to get healthy again. One step at a time.


Common Sensa

before after

If there’s a diet designed for suckers, I’ve fallen for it. Cabbage soup? What a fabulous idea! South Beach? Yup, done it. (Lost 30 pounds on that one, which is kind of amazing because the complete lack of whole grains and dependence on protein made for a seriously constipating experience. Oh, and I gained the weight back once I returned to eating normal food.) I’m embarrassed to admit that I even tried the Shangri La diet – for one day (This one swore that if you swallowed a teaspoon of olive oil in the morning, you wouldn’t be hungry all day. Which was true, because I was nauseous for 12 straight hours.). Tried Jenny Craig but couldn’t stand talking to the saccharine sweet “weight advisor” once a week. Tried NutraSystems but my freezer wasn’t big enough to store 30 days worth of frozen meals that tasted suspiciously like cardboard. And yes, I’m on and off Weight Watchers but hate to clock the points for those two glasses of wine every night.


Hey! Stop rolling your eyes! I can see you!  And I know what I’m doing wrong. Including those two glasses of wine at night. Which I don’t want to give up (and have no intention of doing – life is tough enough without skipping wine).

I also know what I’m doing right – tons of exercise, don’t eat dessert, always eat breakfast, don’t drink soda. So I’m not a complete loser. And in fact, took off 15 pounds three years ago and have kept it off. But I’d love to lose another 15.

So I’m back to searching for the silver bullet – the plan that will let me eat and drink just as I’m doing today but will help me shed weight. Because you know? I’m not into sacrifice right now.

And then, as if Facebook’s magic genies were reading my mind, up popped a series of ads for Sensa on my home page. Yes, Sensa, the latest miracle cure for us fatties. I resisted for a few days, but my resistance was down. (One of the many unpleasant aspects of having cancer is going to the doctor constantly – and being forced to get weighed with every visit…””Hmmm, very good, Mrs. McKenzie, you haven’t gained any weight. But your BMI is still over 27….”) So I clicked on the link…

And there it was. The miracle diet to beat all miracle diets. And, best of all, it involves magic powder! All you do is sprinkle the magic on your food and after a few bites, you’re full. You can eat whatever you want, but Sensa powder gives you instant portion control. Instead of scarfing down the entire turkey burger, you’ll have a few bites, put the burger down, yawn casually, and say, “Oh my. I don’t think I can eat one more bite. I’m sooooo full.”

Sign me up! I was about to click “Yes! I want to try Sensa for free and with absolutely no risk!” when my finger hesitated. Was this perhaps too good to be true? So I typed “Is Sensa a big fat fraud?” into my browser. I was immediately swept to Amazon customer reviews where I learned the following:

  1. Yes. It’s a big fraud.
  2. The magic powder makes your food taste so vile that of course you stop eating it. You could accomplish the same thing by making yourself a dung burger instead of a turkey burger. After one sniff, you won’t be the least big hungry anymore.
  3. Once you click on the free trial, Sensa will be in your life forever. Just try unsubscribing or quitting the program – once Sensa has their lethal claws in your bountiful flesh, they won’t be leaving without a fight.

Damn. I was so sure I had found the solution. If you’ll excuse me for a minute, I think I need a glass of medicinal Pinot Noir to get myself over this severe shock…

Mornings with Public Radio

With the recent hot weather, the Boo and I tend to strike out early on our daily three-mile hike through my hilly neighborhood.  She’s smiling and wagging the whole way, smelling delicious odors that (fortunately) escape me, rationing a few drops of pee for each deserving spot. I’m entertained as well, but while it’s Boo’s nose that keeps her occupied, it’s my ears.

My morning companions are American Public Radio’s The Story, Ira Glass’s This American Life, and the marvelous podcast, The Moth. This summer, I listened to the story of a marathoneer who, at the age of 23, found she had a potentially fatal heart condition, and I followed her through her eventual heart transplants (yes, she had two) and her special relationship with her cardiologist. Incredible.  I learned about the habits of ants (!), and why being a guy ant is not such a terrific idea. I was privileged to hear about the life of a rap singer who studied Bach in Africa, and the story of a man who grew up poor, never realizing that his threadbare, eccentric uncles were worth millions – and would one day leave it all to him.

I’m also a fan of the New York Times Book Review, where Sam Tanenhaus keeps me up to date on what’s new, including lots of books that I’ll never read, and a few gems that I never would have known about were it not for the podcast.

Slate Magazine’s Culture Gabfest endlessly entertains me. I love the camaraderie of the host and guests as much as I enjoy their review of music, books, movie and TV.

And finally, who can get by without listening to Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air?

I don’t listen to everything, mind you. If it’s depressing – no way. If it’s aggravating – forget it. If I find myself getting stressed out, as I did when listening to a recent episode on false confessions that ran on “The Story,” I stop listening.

Yes, I know there are bad things that happen out there, but when I’m out walking my dog, I want to be at least as happy as she is.  I want to be uplifted, thrilled, amazed, and humbled. I want to learn about the best of us, not the worst.  I want a happy ending, when you get right down to it.

Sometimes I can barely wait to get home to download a new album or book. (I suppose it’s a sign of my age that I have to keep repeating the name of the work to myself over and over so I won’t forget by the time I walk in my front door.) Other times I can’t take off my headset until I finish the episode, so I wander around my house puttering and listening until the story concludes.

There’s so much great content out there (Oh, no! I forgot to mention the Ted lectures!) that I never worry about running out of interesting material. And I’ve been known to sneak my iPod into bed at night, when I’m having a hard time sleeping, and catching up on a “Fresh Air” episode or two (I feel like an 8-year old child, reading with the flashlight under the covers!).

Small pleasures. Big rewards. I’m totally a public radio addict!

Spring Back in My Step

It’s hard to believe that just a year ago, I was in Cleveland with my mom in her last days on this earth. Those were dark days but I’ve had time to heal, get some distance, and rebalance my life.  And I’m doing great.

First, I think my mom is happy, wherever she is.  She was tired of her body falling apart and of not being able to do everything she wanted.  She missed my dad.  She was ready for whatever comes next. And we were ready to let her go. It was time.

Second, in the past 12 months, I’ve come to embrace my new life away from work. To my astonishment, I don’t miss it at all. I was worried that I would be bored, that I would be lonely, and that I would feel useless. And you know what? I’m not bored, lonely or feeling useless.

My family is happy that I’m around. My dog is thrilled.  I’ve planted a garden, traveled, read dozens of books.  I keep an active life online and stay in touch with treasured friends around the world. I give back to my communication profession as a Melcrum Black Belt trainer. I pick up the occasional consulting assignment – if it looks interesting. And if it doesn’t, I’m happy to refer it to someone else.  I’m here to tell you: this is an awesome gig!

One of the most healing things I did was go through all the old photos with my sister.  I saw my parents as young, middle-aged and old.  But happy through all the years of their lives. I saw how they loved family, friends, travel, their lovely home – and most important, each other. It made me feel better about saying goodbye to them, because, in fact, they lived wonderful lives. And have inspired me to do the same.

With joy, I watch my garden grow.  Peppers, tomatoes, citrus, figs, herbs and beans coming to fruition in their own time.  Like me.

A Bad Hair Life

Note:  Guys, run from this entry.  Ladies, enjoy…

Many of us complain about having a “bad hair day.”  Well, boo hoo for you.  An unfortunate few of us have had a bad hair life!  It’s too thin, it’s too thick, it’s too curly, it’s too frizzy, it’s too unpredictable, it takes hours to manage and even then, it looks horrid.

This could be me but he has way more than hair than I do...

I freely admit to having bad hair.  It’s thin – and thinning. It’s fragile.  It’s ridiculously curly.  It succumbs reluctantly to hot rollers, curling irons and flattening irons only to have its bad hair revenge by looking frizzy, over-processed, poufy, stringy or some sad combination of all the above. Or by going “SPROING!” the instant I sweat. (BTW? My blog photo was the short-lived result of some patient hairdresser spending hours slaving over my so-called hair.)

So the first time I heard about the Brazilian Blowout, the beauty industry’s gift to people like me, I was very skeptical.  Why?  Well, because of comments like these:

Girlfriends, I don’t know about you, but when I read reviews like this I immediately think I’m being had.  So I declined to try it.  Frankly? I was terrified my hair – the remaining five strands of it – would fall out.

But then my sister called me.  Her hairdresser had suggested it to her and had raved about it.  I went online to do some research and…? It still sounded too good to be true.

The next morning, I looked in the mirror at my usual crappy “hairdo” and groaned.   Bald or bold, what would it be?  I chose… bold.

The result (drum roll, please) is, well, amazing.  Yes, I still have thin hair but it’s thin smooth hair that has life, body and manageability.  I can actually brush my hair without it exploding into frizz!  I don’t blow dry it, iron it, hot roller it – I just scrunch it after washing and it falls into shiny waves.

I think I’m in love.

But will this love affair come to a premature end?  Reports about formaldehyde in the Brazilian Blowout posing a danger to stylists and customers have surfaced.  NOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I’ve waited my whole life for this!  Don’t let it be so!

I feel a little like Gollum, hiding the ring in my pocket, whispering, “My precious…” I’m not ready to give it up. I’m going to choose salons that are extremely well ventilated and hope that the industry has so much demand for this product that they’ll come up with a solution before I need a touch up.

Meanwhile, I don’t yet have a picture to share with you. But I will, very soon. And then you, too, will be like Gollum, holding on to a secret weapon so tantalizing that you can’t say no.

Speaking of Speaking…

Warning:  This blog is politically incorrect – and cranky.

I finished my last official talk of 2010 on Sunday, this time speaking on the particularly juicy topic of CEOs, Communication and Culture at PRSA’s annual international summit in Washington, DC.  And honestly?  If it weren’t for Carly Fiorina and Mark Hurd, it just would not have been anywhere near as much fun.

In fairness, I spoke glowingly about such CEOs as Gordan Bethune, who turned Continental around in the 1990’s, Andrew Witty, who has combined humanitarianism with good business practices at GlaxoSmithKline (his employees have nicknamed him “Saint Andrew”), and of course, Scott McNealy, who brought so much heart, passion and smarts to my old company, Sun Microsystems. Each of these CEOs truly valued and respected employees, and treated them as they themselves wanted to be treated (yeah, I know – the Golden Rule.  Go figure…).

We can learn a lot from these guys.

As could HP’s last two CEOs.  I feel badly for HP employees, who have gone from Carly, with her goal of destroying the HP Way, to Mark Hurd, who gleefully cut employee pay and benefits while allegedly playing fast and foul with his own expense reports.  What’s sauce for the goose is clearly not sauce for the gander, at least at HP.  I’m hoping that the new CEO is a step up for this company that clearly deserves so much better.

So how did it happen that the queen of self-interest, Ms. Fiorina, might become my new U.S. senator?  How can Californians vote for a fired CEO who outsourced California jobs overseas and laid off over 30,000 California employees?  What is the appeal in someone who managed to be ruthless AND unsuccessful? Someone who employees despised, and cheered the day the board gave her walking papers. Do voters truly believe Fiorina has one ounce more respect for the citizens of this state than she did for her employees at HP?

I don’t get it.

And speaking of ex-CEOs, we have eBay’s Meg Whitman, who failed to vote for her first 40 years on this planet, running for the biggest job in the state – governor.  Never mind she has never held an elected office.  Nope, she has boatloads of money, so experience is apparently not a requirement. At the moment she’s behind in the polls, but just barely.  Since she’s already spent $120 million of her own money, I’m sure she’s ready to pony up a few million more to put her over the top.

Mind you, I’m not a huge Jerry Brown fan, and I worry that California cannot be governed anymore, since we’ve painted ourselves into a corner with heated partisan battles, two-third majorities required to do anything to do with money, and a proposition system that creates more problems than it solves.  If Whitman wins, she may well end up regretting it – being governor of this state has got to be a miserable job.  But I’m rooting against her, because democracy shouldn’t be sold to the highest bidder, even on eBay.

I’m sorry to be Terry Cranky Pants, but honestly? November 2nd can’t come – and go – too soon for me.

Of Love and Loss

It’s the summer that went by in the blink of an eye.  It started in loss but ended in glory. I lost my mother, parted ways with two people I thought would be friends for life, said goodbye to my 15-year old cat, and struggled with deep sadness through this unusually cool season.  But it’s ending with joy – my son moving back to Los Angeles, two weeks with my daughter and 15-month old grandson, a surprise birthday party for my husband, a wedding shower for my niece and her partner, and the promise of a new grandchild this fall.

So at a time that traditionally signals the winding down of the carefree part of the year, I find myself looking forward to what happens next.

In thinking about this summer, I flipped through loads of photographs.  Pictures of my mom and dad as young parents and as grandparents.  Pictures of my sister and me as children, as teenagers and as adults with children of our own.  Pictures of my daughter and son-in-law at their wedding, on their travels, and now with a child of their own.  Pictures of my son as a child, as a performer, and as a partner. Pictures of the disastrous Thanksgiving last year, when we mixed panicked trips to the emergency room with a family gathering that pulled our far flung family together for what we hoped would be a wonderful holiday.

And then I looked at pictures from the past month and remember the look of shock on Scott’s face when he walked into the family room to find the room filled with our friends and family, including Carolyn, Lucas and JC from London, and Andrew from Seattle. I smile at the pictures of a giggling Lucas in the swimming pool, happily being tossed in the air by his dad and splashing with his mom.  I take another look at the sonogram showing our granddaughter, safely developing in her mom’s womb and waiting for her entrance in late November.

If you’re very, very lucky, out of loss grows joy. And if you’re even luckier, you have the good fortune to be able to be present in the moment and live life as it comes at you – the good and the bad, the happiness and the sadness, and yes, the love and the loss.