Archive for May, 2011

Birthday Gifts for Any Budget

Do you remember this awkward rhyme from school days? Thirty days hath September, April, June and November. All the rest (except February) have thirty-one, including May, my birth month. Most people know exactly what they want for their birthday—golf clubs, a designer this or that, a party, a puppy—but, after casually pondering the thought all month, I haven’t come up with anything elaborate. I have, however, decided to give myself a basketful of gifts I can afford:

• The gift of health – My Monday night Zumba party is where I can strut my stuff in the name of keeping my heart pumping to a healthy beat.

• The gift of knowledge – A commitment to read more and watch less TV. I’m currently reading Half Broke Horses by Jeanette Walls for book club and recently picked up a copy of Freedom Writers Diary by The Freedom Writers with Erin Gruwell. After watching the movie, Freedom Writers, about a week ago and seeing a presentation by Ms Gruwell at a leadership conference, I’m eager to know what else the students have to say. Thank goodness for gift certificates and library cards!

• The gift of inspiration – Membership to an online book club.

• The gift of companionship – Lunch on my birthday with a special friend that she’s preparing just for me.

• The gift of deviation – A night off from cooking dinner is a nice break from the norm.

• The gift of fellowship – Spending time with my extended church family giving thanks for the blessings God has given me.

• The gift of anticipation – I love getting birthday greetings and well wishes from family and friends, whether by email, phone or in person.

So when people ask me what I got for my birthday, I’ll have to tell them to sit down. It’s a l-o-n-g list.

Pride and Heritage

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I love Heritage Day. The anticipation. The excitement. Cheering on the brave souls who enter the Marathon Derby from the side of the road. The familiar sound of my camera clicking its way through the subsequent parade. Most of all, however, it’s a time to enjoy genuine pride in my country and its people. Citizens of any country need a day for nationalism and patriotism that remain absolute despite the daily troubles that often threaten our peace. It’s a day to stand side by side, shoulder to shoulder with people we may not ordinarily encounter or interact with in our ordinary routines. On this day, we have a lot in common. We’re all cheering on the runner who looks like she wants to give up one mile from the marathon finish line. We chat about the heat, cloud cover or rain that’s affecting our day. We all want everyone to succeed—finish the marathon, win a ribbon for the best float of its class, perform that dance routine with enthusiasm and precision.

I love the 24th of May. It’s one week from my birthday, marking the official countdown to the first day of the next year of my life (Lord willing). I spend a lot of time reflecting on why I returned to the country of my birth as an adult. It’s the first birthday gift I open every year. When I consider the talent and pride that shines through the faces of the majorettes or float attendants, I am reminded how privileged I am to live here.

I love Bermuda Day. Formerly Commonwealth Day, it has become a day that is uniquely ours. Intended as a way to bring races together in harmony, it became Bermuda Day. Whether the holiday accomplishes that feat is debatable. Black, white, Portuguese and other residents support the day’s activities by volunteering, operating business stalls and floats, working behind the scenes in any one of the hundreds of roles required to make the holiday a community success.

I love Heritage Day. I respect it. Heritage is not something a child dwells on or normally appreciates. Heritage is the concept that is longed for when the adult wonders where he fits in the universe. When he asks Who am I? it helps if he knows a bit about his heritage. Which brings us back to the child. We need to teach our children about their heritage. The good, the unflattering and the lessons we had to learn the hard way. Teach them so they can walk with pride and power. Teach them and remember.

Not Too Old to Zumba

In typical late-bloomer fashion, I have only recently gained first-hand exposure to the exercise phenomenon that is Zumba Fitness. Frightened by the evidence that my over-40-year-old body craves a sedentary lifestyle, I entered the hall where the class would be held, equally frightened by the twists and turns this same body would be required to execute. Surely this was an exercise program for the young and already relatively fit. I found a place in the back.

Just the music of a Zumba class tells you it’s a high-energy, Latin-inspired fitness program that combines fitness steps to an international beat. Zumba has been around since the 1990s, attracting followers of all shapes and sizes. Dancer and choreographer, Alberto “Beto” Perez, created the fitness program by accident—another reminder to me that some opportunities land on your doorstep disguised as mistakes.

I have taken aerobics classes in the past and I’m usually good at keeping up or being able to pace myself. To me personal expansion means moving beyond one’s area of comfort, and this would be a good test. My first lesson—bring water! I don’t know how I could have forgotten to drop my water bottle into my exercise bag on the first day, but I have yet to repeat that mistake. There was a point when my mouth was so deprived of moisture that I hoped it might actually be possible to siphon moisture from the humid air. Did I think I needed another challenge?

Actually, I have three challenges: (1) coordination; (2) endurance, and (3) inhibition.

Coordination. Even if I stare hard enough at the demonstration to bore a baseball-sized hole in the back of the instructor’s head, that’s still no guarantee my feet won’t go left when everyone else moves right. I like repetition because by the time we are on our fourth or fifth rep, I’ve just about got it. My fleeting sense of satisfaction is abruptly interrupted by handclaps as the rest of the class celebrates completing that dance move. “Great job, everyone!” the instructor calls out to the sweaty mob (or am I the only one who is drenched?).

Endurance. When the music starts again, I’m ready to nail the next movements, and I do. I catch on quickly this time even though the movement is high impact. I’m having a great time but I begin to wonder how long the song is. It seems much longer than the previous song. And—lift your leg higher—it’s much more strenuous, I determine. Turn! I lift my leg. Turn! I can do this. So I’ve been sitting at a desk all day. Don’t be a wimp. Turn! Just keep going, old girl. How would it look if I fainted in front of all these people? When the step changes, I’m relieved to use other muscles. Zumba! When the song ends, I’m surprised my legs are still holding me up.

The greatest obstacle, however, is inhibition.

Considering the last class I took was classical ballet (where I also demonstrated a remarkable lack of coordination), the movements of Zumba are . . . different. Compared to a potentially graceful plié or grand jeté, jamming to a Zumba beat feels a bit—how shall I put it—exotic. All of the pumping, thrusting, and shimmying is new territory. Undignified or not, I remind myself that I need the movement if I’m going to delay being relegated to Geriatric Zumba.

Actually, I hope I’m still able to do Zumba when I reach fourscore and ten.

*Please consult with your doctor before starting any exercise program.

Categories: At Play Tags: , , ,

It’s Not the Thought That Counts, It’s the Email

Happy day smiles!

I didn’t wake up on the wrong side of the bed or miss my bus or experience any of the normal signs that herald that the morning was going to be rough. Instead, things just steadily fell apart after I arrived at work. Countless occupational hazards awaited me as I ricocheted my way from one challenge to another like a marble in a pinball machine. I tried to smile, remain calm and work professionally, while inside I could feel the frustration grow. I tried to remember the stress management techniques I had taught others in a seminar not too long ago.

• Be aware of your breathing. When we are stressed, our breathing tends to become shallow. I took time to pause and breathe deeply.

• Ask for or accept help from others. I called IT for help with the computers. After all, they’re the experts.

After doing battle with uncooperative computers, looming deadlines and the inability to achieve bilocation, I returned to my office and slumped in my chair. My stomach growled reminding me that I hadn’t had breakfast as I clicked into my inbox to check emails. No longer hiding the frustration I felt, I grumbled out loud, “Rotten day. Rotten, rotten, rotten day. What a rotten day!”

My eyes landed on a new email from my daughter and I just had to laugh.

Subject: Happy day!
This from a person who never gives her emails a subject. Ironic? Coincidence? No way. This was God’s way of reminding me of the many lessons He could teach me at that moment. Lessons such as how blessed I am to be alive. How thankful I should be that my daughter is safe and happy. How unstressed and peaceful I should feel because He’s always close. And oh, by the way, have a happy day. Love, God.

Five Points from Chick-fil-A to Chew On

May 10, 2011 1 comment

When I think of Chick-fil-A, leadership doesn’t immediately spring to mind. Chicken does. Those waffle potato fries. And cows. There’s no Chick-fil-A in my area, but I did bring home five points from the presenters at the 2011 Chick-fil-A conference on leadership to chew on and use to move forward.

  1. No knowledge is irrelevant. Ben Carson—Pediatric Neurosurgeon, (from the 2010 Conference). How does a student progress from being the worst student in the class to a straight-A student in just 18 months? By listening to his mother. Ben’s mother knew her son was intelligent and didn’t accept excuses from him about his potential. She cultivated in both of her sons an appreciation of and love for reading. As they followed their mother’s directions for limiting time spent watching television and replacing that time with reading and completing mom-assigned book reports, Dr. Carson shared that he began to learn things that other students did not know. His grades and his self esteem improved. No longer was he resigned to being the lowest-performing student in his class. Same brain, different opinion of himself. Knowledge is power.
  2. See what is, not just what you are hoping for.  Seth Godin—Author, Marketing Expert, Entrepreneur. The art of making a decision involves facing situations head on. Don’t ignore the future just because you don’t like it. Some people think inside the box where it’s dark; others think outside the box where there’s nothing to lean against. Those who think on the edge of the box, poke the edge of the box and invent the future. Develop the ability to see what actually is instead of only what you are hoping for, and make the decision that is required.
  3. Reinvent yourself every year. Create an edge every day. Mack Brown—Head Coach, Texas Longhorns. When his team hit a rough stage in their playing history, they learned to reinvent themselves, create a new edge. As a leader, he took responsibility for the team’s performance, made the changes needed and with a renewed purpose and determination, the Longhorns reentered the stadium—literally and figuratively. Sometimes your worst day can create a positive result. 
  4. Connect your decision making to your values. Suzy Welch—Author, Television Commentator, Journalist. How many times have I fallen into the trap of reactive decision making? That is, via the two deadly ways of making decisions—gut or guilt. What if I did  it the way Suzy suggests, using the 10-10-10 method? Think about the consequences as they would unfold in 10 minutes. Ten months. Ten years. Your values are like your fingerprint, individual, special. How would my decision using 10-10-10 differ from the gut-guilt way? Live authentically. Live your values.
  5. Leadership is service. Dave Ramsey—Radio
     Personality, Author. My takeaway from Mr. Ramsey is short and sweet. Run every part of your life God’s way. We have been put on this earth to serve others. There are five things that matter: people matter, an excellent team matters, slow and steady matters, financial principles matter, and a higher calling matters.

Five things. Five points. Life is a classroom, an opportunity to learn. Our teachers come from all walks of life, different experiences, and perspectives we may not have considered before. Keep learning. Keep growing.

The Legacy and Duty of Motherhood

Greeting card manufacturers must love Mother’s Day. Have you noticed how big Mother’s Day cards are? The average Mother’s Day card seems to be 8” by 10”, accompanied by a large, white envelope that not-so-subtly declares in the upper right-hand corner that it requires extra postage. At the cash register, I plunk down $10 and only get the kind of currency that jingles in return, and I still have to mail it—airmail, first class. Frankly, I’m not consistent about the card thing anyway, not because of the cost but because, no matter how creative the sentiment on the cover or inside the card, it’s always woefully inadequate when expressing my feelings toward my mother.

I’m blessed with a mom who can be described as truly lovely. But with that loveliness is also a mixture of strength, honor, diligence, patience, hope and faith. So if the restaurants, florists, spas and greeting card manufacturers have a conspiracy to squeeze the money from my wallet in favor of a made-up day on which we are all supposed to express our gratitude to and for our mothers, it’s a small price to pay. It’s not the card or gift that shows how I feel toward her, but it’s how I continue her legacy that shows that I honor her.

Living up to an example like hers is a struggle sometimes, because you don’t know how tough the job is until you’re already in it. It doesn’t take long, however, to realize that you’re in for a lifetime of service. Some moms seem to have a neighborhood-mom quality that makes the job look easy while others constantly strive to live up to the standard they believe has been set for them. Some mothers bail out. Trying not to make being a mother look as hard as it sometimes is, I have come up with two ways to honor my mother.

Do for my daughter what my mother did for me

When the going gets tough, the tough get relentless! Relentless love for our children means understanding that no woman is an island either. Networking can get weary moms over the humps like being pulled up and over a hill in a bright red Radio Flyer wagon by a faithful friend. In the physical absence of my own mother for whom intercessory prayer was (is) an everyday occurrence, the experience of networking with members of Moms In Touch International ( has been a beacon of hope. For more than 10 years we have met weekly to pray our kids through exams, relationships, scholarship applications, health challenges, impossible teachers, crashed computers, summer jobs, driving tests, spiritual misgivings, and everything in between. Real moms need real support. Each phase of their lives has brought a new phase to our parenting. It’s quite a ride.

Give a gift to another mother

Yet, even with the challenges I experience, I must agree with this sobering thought that, depending on geography, the situation is better or worse for mothers around the world. According to an article I read recently, the best country in which to be a mother is Norway, while the worst country to be a mother is Afghanistan (of 164 countries ranked for a 2011 list). When was the last time I considered child or maternal mortality rates as a threat? When was the last time I worried about raising my daughter while living in a war-ravaged country?

In honoring my mother this year, let me have a world view. Yes, the cards and gifts are wonderful, but what about sharing a sentiment with a mother that I don’t—and will never—know, just because we all want the same thing for “mother’s day”. Safety for our children. Health. Peace. Our basic needs met. Hope. Those are gifts all mothers want regardless of geographic location or economic situation. Through church and charitable organizations, I can assist another mother through a variety of ways—from a microfinance loan to supporting skills training to fair trade purchases to advocacy to friendship. Perhaps the reason I am a mother in my country is so I can pass a blessing on to a mother at home or in another country.

Reading Good Books

Welcome to May. The weather is getting better, and it’s my month of give and take. Mother’s Day is next week and I always try to do something special for my very special mom. Sometimes I strike gold and other times, well, let’s just say it’s the thought that counts. Fortunately, my mother is easy to please—and quite understanding.

After Mother’s Day, I start thinking about how to spend my birthday, often with the same results as mentioned before—hit or miss. But there are other things to look forward to. I have two book club meetings this month. One is for “Sarah’s Key” by Tatiana de Rosnay, and the other is for “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls. I don’t read bestsellers just for the sake of reading something hot off the press, so my reading list contains novels that are a few or even several years old. Still a good book, I figure. On that list is Jhumpa Lahiri’s “The Namesake”. Having seen the movie first, I was curious about the original version, to see what remained  intact and which parts gave way to Hollywood interpretation. The paradox immigrants face between trying to give their children better opportunities and watching them grow up disconnected from their heritage intrigues me. Even the main character’s name, Gogol, represents a gift that his father wishes to pass on. A name that Gogol struggled to appreciate  or understand. Nor did he understand the price his parents paid by leaving their country in favor of education and future prospects attainable in “the land of opportunity”, the United States. Births, deaths, weddings and even mundane daily experiences that we take for granted occur long distance. Relatives’ letters  create a wistfulness and leave Ashima (Gogol’s mother) feeling that she’s constantly missing out. So she continues to wear traditional, Indian clothing and cook the way she did when still in Calcutta while carving a life for herself and her family in New England.

Gogol does his best to grow up as a typical teenager, trying desperately to blend in and at the same time make his own way. Ivy League school, career as an architect, an American girlfriend—not Bengali—who has no understanding of his heritage. This is not because she has no interest but more because Gogol treats his heritage as something to be segregated from his ideal life. When tragedy strikes his family, he starts to accept his roots.

Gogol’s story resonated with me in that there were so many situations that sounded familiar. The book brought memories—some good, some not so great—that helped me understand how Gogol must have felt. That’s the wonder of books, the experiences that draw you in and allow you to connect with the characters in a way that feels real.