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Sunday, May 1, 2016

The $500 Trajectory

It's a story I've often found myself telling, and I'm sure you have a version in your history like it as well. A moment, when you might not have known it at the time, when the trajectory of your life took shape, all over some almost meaningless distinction. For me, it's the $500 moment, and the next 16 plus years have been shaped by that relatively small amount of money.

In early January of the year 2000, just after we miraculously survived Y2K, I pounded the pavement as a new college graduate (a semester early), trying to find my first full-time job. I had two not-so-great business suits, paper resumes laser-printed one at a time on expensive stock, and $23 left in my bank account. I worked with two different staffing agencies, playing one against the other, conserving quarters to call them in between interviews from various payphones around the city. Within two weeks, I had two job offers. Not a lot of direction or idea about what I wanted to do with my life, but two offers nonetheless.

Both offers were from solid companies, but very different opportunities. The one I got first was with a prominent Boston family office, where they owned a lot of property then used as parking lots. I would help manage those parking lots - carry a lot of cash, work with the employees of the lots. I was told that they knew someone like me wouldn't expect to stay in a job like that for very long, but that the family was so well-connected, they'd help me find something else within six months to a year. They would open doors, invite me to fancy parties. I had no idea how I'd afford the kind of lifestyle they suggested on the salary they offered, and I was worried about my odds of succeeding in a position like that, but I still felt it was a solid job offer.

I'd only had my first round interview with the other company at that point, and my second interview was scheduled for the following day. I was tempted to blow it off, but also worried about being "nice" and didn't want to cause problems for the recruiters who had been helping me, so I went. I was young and dumb (or maybe smarter than I thought), but I told the woman interviewing me that I already had another offer. I couldn't find any information about this private company online (there were few websites for this sort of thing back then) and almost nothing in the press. But the offices were nice, and I'd only be working in one spot, not all over the city. They asked me how much I was offered. I answered honestly, mostly because I was so proud of the number. They came back with $500 more.

I figured that even if I hated the job and only last six months, I'd make $250 more there than at the parking lot job. That was a lot of money at the time. I took the second job offer.

I stayed for almost six years. I've stayed in this very niche industry for the entirety of my career.

I think back on that moment often. I'd never negotiated for anything before, much less a full-time job. I knew incredibly little about the decision that I was making, just that I really wanted to stay in Boston and I needed a job to make that happen. And, a really good, successful life and career has been the result. I never could have imagined then, having the type of job I have now. I couldn't have imagined it even when I started my MBA program a few years later, or when I applied to join the group I'm in now. But I do wonder what might have happened to me if I'd taken the other post. I would have feared for my physical safety, I'm sure, but I might have thrived. I might have met someone at a party like they promised me, and seen my life go in a completely different way. Sliding doors, as the movie goes.

As I said, $500 doesn't seem like that much money to me now, but it's still not the kind of money I spend on anything regularly. But over the course of a year, it's less than $10 a week. Even less after taxes. Less than $10 a week, a #Hamilton, influenced my destiny.

Pretty crazy to think about. Has anything like that happened to you?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

How Do You Do Passover?

All the Passover foods
As I've said many times on this blog, I'm fascinated by the minutiae of life, how we make decisions big and small, and how there are so many ways to do the same things. And so now I'm going to pull back the curtain on how we celebrate Passover (or Pesach) in our home. Because as you know, a clean kitchen is very important to me.

While I'm showing you all of this, you should know that our practice is largely driven by how Marc would like to observe things for the week, as I didn't grow up doing anything like this. So I can't take much credit for how this has evolved (and evolved is definitely the right word), but I still think it's interesting to share.

For those that don't know, during the eight days (though some people do seven) of Passover, you can't eat any chametz, which is defined as any leavened food. There are many intricacies and ways to follow these rules, but basically, there's no bread, pasta, cereal, cookies, or anything like that for eight days. Instead, we eat matzah, a cracker-like substance that represents how quickly we needed to leave Egypt when we were slaves, as our bread dough did not have time to rise.

For our family, it's not just about what we eat, though there is a lot of attention paid to that subject alone. But we also take the extra step of putting away all of the dishes, pots and pans, utensils and small appliances we typically use, and do an extra deep cleaning to try to remove any chametz from the kitchen. Then we bring up plastic tubs filled with our Passover dishes, pots and pans, utensils and (very few) small appliances, separated for meat and dairy meals, and we use those, supplemented by paper goods as needed, for the length of the holiday. When we first started celebrating Passover together, Marc had a fairly bare bones collection of separate kitchen items, but the collection has grown every year, and we seem to find something new to add each year. This year also meant buying a new microwave. Ours died some time ago, but Marc waited to replace it until the holiday, so it will definitely be chametz-free.

A few photos to show you how we do it in our house. First, the photo at the top of the post shows the corner of the counter where all of the food is set out for the week, things we'd normally keep in a pantry. There is Kosher for Passover cereal, snacks, various desserts and candy, even new ketchup.


Here's our famous apple green countertops, with none of our typical appliances pushed up against the wall. No toaster, no Cusinart, no heavy wooden cutting board; they've been stored in another room for the holiday. Even the drying rack got a deep clean with the kitchen steamer before we're using it for the week. You'll also notice the blue electrical tape on some of the cabinets, there to remind us not to use the contents in those cabinets during the holiday. There are a couple of new baking sheets on the stove top as well; we'll use those for Passover this week, and then they'll transition to become regular everyday use afterward, since we really needed some new baking sheets too.


These are our Passover plastic tubs that hold all of the items we use specifically for the holiday. We've accumulated more over the years, or decommissioned some items from everyday to Passover-only (like a set of orange mixing bowls that I think my parents were given as a wedding gift; I used them in college, now they're Passover only).

So there's a peek inside our Passover process. I'd love to see yours, or to hear about some other traditional items you use at different points in the year!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

10 Years at Home

We closed on our house 10 years ago. Here's how it was then, with me, Marc and 2yo Hannah:

April 2006


 And here's how it is now, plus a shot of Max in the front yard, since he didn't even exist back then:

April 2016


I'm really lucky to call this place home.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Glimmers

I'm a bit lost.

Not in a traditional sense. Or maybe the most traditional sense. I'm approaching 40, after all. But I haven't been feeling much like myself lately.

A story:

When Hannah was just a baby, maybe 10 months old, I went to a book reading at the Brookline Booksmith. At the time, we lived about 2.5 blocks from the Booksmith, but as I was working full-time, parenting an infant, and going to school for my MBA part-time, I didn't spend much time in bookstores. We were also in a relatively new home, involved in new communities, practically still newlyweds. Constants were hard to come by, but writer Catherine Newman had become one for me.

When I was pregnant with Hannah, Newman's columns on BabyCenter were a lifeline for me. She updated them weekly, but I'm sure I went back in time and read the entire archive. Her daughter, nicknamed Birdy, is close to Hannah's age, and Newman's blog became a book, "Waiting for Birdy." Though I felt like I already knew the story, I devoured the book too, and made attending the book reading a priority. This was 2004, and while it's hard to believe now, meeting people you knew through the internet was still a rarity discussed in hushed tones.

So when Newman came to town, I was there, probably sitting in the front row. She read and I nodded along eagerly. She signed my book, and complimented my smile, a complimenting strategy that works so well with new mothers who may be wearing ill-fitting, possibly stained clothing, no make up, and haphazard ponytails, but who at least made sure to brush their teeth that day. She didn't invite me to be her new best friend on the spot, but she still bothered to connect with me, and with her stories of slightly older son Ben, I knew that there was light further down in the tunnel, ahead of what I could picture then.

I left the reading feeling more like myself than I had in a long time. It was a glimmer of how I could, and would, feel again, with time. I think I did feel that way for a while, but I've lost it again.

I see glimmers of that version of myself sometimes: a really productive day, a new way of thinking about an old problem. But the hard thing is that the glimmer is all about me. It can't be generated by something my kids do, or some goal we've reached as a family, though those things contribute to it. Maybe it sounds selfish, but I need to have things that are just my own, too. And so much of my life right now doesn't feel like it's about me.

Newman has a new book out. Though I've kept up with her blog all these years, like me, she's shared less and less about Ben and Birdy as they've grown. I'm looking forward to reading it, and catching up with them again. I wonder if, in the intervening 12 years between her books, Newman also felt a little lost sometimes too. I wonder if, with the publication of this new book, she's catching a glimmer of herself again. I hope that the glimmer is actually a glow.

And maybe I'll catch her on her next book tour.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Year Nine: Making Room

My desk and vanity table in our bedroom. Spaces for me.

It's another blogiversary, my ninth one. I'm still here, I guess.

I sounded a lot more confident last year, at the end of year eight. That feels like a very long time ago, longer than the year it's been.

I haven't been writing very much. I wrote something I'd rather forget, had to re-learn not to read the comments, and to let the comments said to my face not derail me completely. That piece was only part of a much bigger reckoning that kept me awake during many middle of the night hours in recent months. I then wrote a long piece about the difference between friends and family, grappling with issues on that topic that I've had for as long as I can remember. That piece is sitting in drafts, probably never to see the publish button clicked, but it helped me process things.

Writing always does, which is why I keep coming back.

I've made room for so many things over the past year. We literally made room in our house, doing the addition. I now have a place for me - a desk and a vanity - and they make me so very happy. I've made room for more work-related travel. I made room for planning a trip to Disney, and now, maybe, for buying a puppy. I've made room for running lines with Hannah and for practicing spelling bee words with Max. I've made room for Marc to add more coursework as he pursues one of his dreams. I haven't made much room for blogging.

We'll see what happens in year 10.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

On Going Back to Disney World

Aboard the Disney Magic

We just got back from a trip to Disney World: three days at the parks, and a three day Disney cruise to Disney's private island in the Bahamas. It was fabulous for far too many reasons to list, but if you really want to hear them, I'll tell you them all. Seriously, our list of negatives included approximately three items, one of which was an overly-attentive server at the adults only restaurant, who was required to be so attentive because they included so many free extra courses with our meal. Among the many positives: the weather was better than the weather in Boston, we had very little wait times thanks to well-planned Fast Passes, the kids were old enough for all the rides they wanted to go on and could handle all the walking, the many engaging activities and shows on the ship, the fact that I couldn't check my email for three whole days, and, most especially, continuous uninterrupted time with my three favorite people. Well, except for the parts when the kids got to experience a little independence and do their own things on the ship. But then we had fun texting them.

I sang pop songs with abandon, and I danced. I sang princess songs too. I can't stop singing Frozen's "In Summer" since we've returned.

I survived "scary" rides. I even laughed during the Tower of Terror. 

I took more pictures than I realized. I took videos. On our last trip, I had a Blackberry. iPhones have changed everything.

Before we left, I was doing a lot of comparing the upcoming trip to the one we took when the kids were 5 and 1. That was such a great trip, too. I will never forget Hannah's sweet voice, from the darkened backseat of the car as we left the hotel for the airport, "it was a really good four days, Mommy." Now, I can remember Max saying something similar at the end of this trip.

I couldn't help comparing the two trips because I was in such a similar emotional state to when we'd last gone to Disney, a state I described in this post, which became the genesis for The Having It All Project. While I've had some time off and trips, the last "real" vacation we took was in December 2013, our jam-packed trip to Israel. We've still been spending time moving back into the house post-renovation (and we'll still be doing that for quite a while). The kids are busier than ever. The economy is lousy and work has been stressful. Situations with family and friends have weighed heavy on my mind and heart. February descended, bringing snow and extreme cold, and I was growing ever more certain that our lousy February luck was going to come back and derail everything again. But that string of lousy February's was why we'd planned the trip in the first place. We needed to break the cycle. Thank goodness we did.

Aboard the ship, there's one themed night, a pirate party. Bandannas are left in your room, some people dress in costume, but basically it's a chance for another dance party on the top deck of the ship, ending with fireworks. The characters are brought out, Mickey saves us all from Captain Hook, and there's more of that dancing and singing with abandon. Marc, Hannah and I stayed together, but Max ran around the deck, sword fighting with some kid he'd just met, flush with independence. As the fireworks began, he came back to me, and put his arm around my waist, leaning in to watch the lights. I was completely in the moment. All of the stress I'd felt just a few days ago must have been left back on the shore.

It's the first time I've left a trip to find myself sitting in the airport, strategizing about how and when we could do it all again. Hopefully, it won't be too long.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Themeless

A few little things I've been wanting to write about, none of which are developed enough to be their own post, but all felt worthy nonetheless.

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A month or so ago, Max started using a checklist he'd written on our dry erase covered basement door. The list was of all the things he needed to do before leaving the house each morning, and contained mostly run-of-the-mill items: brush your teeth, put on your shoes and socks. Then he created a row where he could mark off the numbers of days he completed everything on the list, which then grew to a month, which grew to the entirety of second grade. "When do I get to stop?" he asked me. "Never kid. You never get to stop. You have to do those things for the rest of your life."

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Around 9:15 on a Friday night, I'd already gotten into bed and was watching an episode of "Girlfriend's Guide to Divorce" when my neighbor texted that my camp counselor from when I was 10 was sitting in her kitchen, and did I want to come over? I was stunned by the invitation, but I threw my clothes back on, walked down the four houses, and spent a couple of hours catching up with my neighbors and someone I hadn't seen in decades. The amazing thing was that it wasn't the slightest bit awkward, yet I'm sure that if I'd known about it in advance, I would have stressed over it for some reason.

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I traveled around Philadelphia for three days this past week, though none of my meetings were in Philadelphia itself. I was all over the suburbs and in New Jersey and Delaware too, which I find fascinating. It's not really my job to know where I am, as I am taken around by various sales people who cover the territory, and my story is largely the same no matter who I'm talking with at that moment. But I couldn't stop looking out the window as we drove from town to town, as it was just so different from the other trips I've taken so far. I feel like it's expanding my view of our country, and I'm grateful for these opportunities to see places I wouldn't have gone on my own.

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I read this post on the NYT Motherlode blog, "Parents of Teenagers, Stuck Taking Out the Emotional Trash" last month, and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. The gist is that often teenagers unload their problems on to their parents, and then the teens feel much better while the parents sit and stew and try to come up with (generally unwanted) solutions. I don't think this pattern is exclusive to teens though, as I know I've unloaded my problems on others, not wanting a solution, but perhaps wanting empathy. I seem to be entering a new phase of life, though, where the problems of my soon-to-be-teen aren't the only problems that seem to be getting heavier. My own friends are going through a lot, and I often feel ill-equipped to help. I'm not a therapist, a physician, a financial adviser, an expert in scenario X, Y or Z, but I can try to be a good listener. It often doesn't feel like enough, but maybe sometimes, it is.