I gave up eating animals…

After a few years of trying to get myself in better shape and healthier, in November I decided that 2018 will be my year to give up meat.  It started simply as an idea to not eat meat, at Thanksgiving when nearly every dish is made of some meat product.  I was determined though and managed to eat only side dishes. I was still eating dairy and eggs so it was a fairly simple change for me.

As always I got deep into the details of a vegetarian diet, reading books and watching videos.  I knew I was doing the right thing though I felt like I wanted to keep it to myself.  My family already thought that I was kinds nuts:  I wake up at 4:30am to run each morning.

Then I started seeing more about the vegan diet and how giving up meat is just the beginning.  In the many videos that I was watching, Facebook groups that I was joining and books that I was reading, I discovered that the dairy and egg industries are just as damaging as the meat industry with regards to animal treatment. climate change and human health.

At week three, I decided to try a vegan diet. This was a scary decision because so many foods would be no longer part of my diet…foods like cheese and ice cream not to mention bacon and eggs.  I wasn’t sure I could do it.  I have been conditioned to think that massive amounts of animal protein were required for my athletic lifestyle.  I have learned that that is not actually the case.  More to come on that.

As of today, I have been a vegan for one week.  I haven’t been 100% vegan all week…I had pizza one evening but I am committed to making this happen.

So am making it official and putting it out there: for one year I am going to try to live a vegan life.  Meatless in Seattle 2018.

I acted like every minute could be my last?

I am not sure why it is happening now but there are those that think that the end of days, The Rapture, is coming this Saturday.  It is funny to think about because there have been so many other predictions of the end that have come and gone…with the usual group of believers that sell all their possessions and hike up to the top of a mountain to live out their last moments watching The End.

I think it is funny because how can someone read the Bible and conclude that May 21, 2011 is the last day? It does make me wonder though, about the idea that we should live each day as if it were our last.  In some respects it sounds exhausting to keep up such a pace, but it also sounds wonderful to imagine a life that is full and filled with amazing experiences.

Practically every time I pick up a magazine or turn on Oprah, there is another person with a terminal diagnosis who is living out their last days to the fullest…doing things they would never have imagined doing before they were faced with just a short time to live.  Why is it that being closer to death makes us want to really live?  Is it because the odds are worth the risk, or that the worst that could happen is death and, well, that is already going to happen?

For whatever reason, every time I ponder what I would do if I had just a few months with my husband and kids, I start to feel guilty about snapping at someone for dirty clothes on the floor or for complaining that my steak was too done.  I vow to be more patient, to stop and smell the roses.  I promise to be happy just being alive even when I am cleaning the bathroom or waiting in line at the DMV.

But just like my New Years Resolutions, those promises eventually fade and I am back to harping on my kids about socks on the floor.  Why is that?  I think because mortality is too hard to focus on indefinitely.  Something very powerful happens when we are faced with a small, finite amount of time left.  We discover the courage to prepare and to open up ourselves to the experiences without fear.

So…if we can’t replicate the urgency, can we tap into the courage we KNOW is there and let go of our fear a bit?  Can I let the clothes sit on the floor a bit longer while the kids play on the slip and slide when it is just 70 degrees out…or spend our vacation in the van on a road trip to see the coast.  I will give it another try.

I’ll report back on how it’s goin’ on Sunday…May 22.

I discovered my love of architecture, again?

Last week I spent four days in Indianapolis, check off one more state I have been to, for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics conference.  What an amazing and overwhelming experience…who’d have thought that such a group existed and that there were so many avid attendees?!

As the executive director of a math nonprofit, I attended just to learn the trends, see what’s out there and to rub elbows with math teachers from all over the country. One of the great parts of the whole experience was that we provide scholarships to local math teachers who are making a difference in the lives of kids.  This year we brought four teachers with us, all great people doing great things with math in the classroom.

In preparing for the trip, I first reviewed the list of sessions, and let me tell you this catalog was about half an inch thick, offering over 600 different educational opportunities.  Of course I found very little that I was truly interested in…because I am not a math teacher, but I did find a few.  The focus of the conference this year was geometry, so actually it was the best year for me to go:  I love geometry!  I tended to lean toward the sessions that talked about the impact of women in the sector or 3 dimensional discussions.

One in particular caught my eye:  Building Geometric Understanding with the Buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright.  Jackpot!  A session on architecture, and FLW for that matter; I considered this to be the perfect session for me, even though it was at 8:00 am and in a place that was three hours ahead of my timezone.  I would have to get up at 2:30 am “my time” to get there but it was worth it because I was not going to miss this class.

I arrived in time, got a great seat and waited for the magic to begin.  When the presenter introduced herself as not an architect but just a Frank Lloyd Wright enthusiast, I realized that this was not going to be the class I had hoped.  Her presentation images were photos of photos in magazines and her ability to crop two page spreads was not great at all.  Without the architectural background, she struggled with the right terms to use and many times her explanation for his design decisions were just plain wrong.  At this point, I wished I had gotten a few more hours of sleep. 

But the session wasn’t a total loss.  I began to realize that giving up practicing architecture doesn’t mean that I have to give up my love of design and buildings.  I left the field just a few months ago because I no longer felt connected to the profession.  My passion from the time I was little was that I wanted to help people especially poor children, find a way to a better life. 

In recent years, I had lost that passion. I was at a firm that dictated what “good design” was and what it wasn’t; I didn’t always agree with their definition but I kept that to myself.  I learned to say the right things so that I could keep my job, move up the ladder and not risk looking stupid. I realize now that squashing down what I truly thought was wonderful and beautiful made me lose my love of design.

I have to admit that I miss the glamour of the title.  Just like George Costanza, saying I was an architect made me feel important and worthy.  But I still have my license and I still am an architect, I am just using my life in a different way.  The best part is that I can love design and buildings for the reasons I think are “good design.”  I can love the details and beauty of Falling Water and Robie House, hip roof and all!  The best part is that I can share that love with the kids who are in our math programs!  Sharing with them the possibility of becoming an architect brings a genuine smile to my face and helping them reach for that goal makes my heart sing.

It might be a sort of grieving process that I am going through…for the death of my lifelong dream to be an architect.  But I think it is just an evolution of the dream that will help me reach a little girl who is just like me, who is thinking that her love of drawing and math could mean a life of loving design.

I enjoyed the simple life?

I attended my first official event for my new job:  a family math night at one of our partner schools.  What an amazing experience!

The school is located in one of Seattle’s most diverse and economically challenged neighborhoods.  Over 40% of the students receive free or reduced lunch benefits and a significant amount of public subsidy just to get along.  Many are the only English speakers in their household and most will receive more education than anyone else in their family.  Life is not easy for these kids but it is life and for most of their families, it is a much better life then where they came from.

The whole experience was mind blowing to me. I walked into the parking lot and was amazed that at 6:00 it was full and people were making their way to the gym.  Though there was a scheduling conflict and a quick reworking of event location, you would never have known it by the assembly line of volunteers and teachers directing people.  They served dinner to hundreds of families before the activities and I marveled at the laughter and fellowship of the meal.

Once they had finished eating, the principal announced that kids would stay in the gym and parents should go to the auditorium for their activities.  I decided to first see what the parents were up to; being a parent myself I was already intrigued by what would bring so many out on a Thursday night.

I saw one of my Mathematicians, Joseph, at the front of the room directing the parents to open their decks of cards to try out the first game, Find Ten.  Translators were stationed all over the room carefully explaining the game and helping people set up their cards.  Find Ten is like concentration but instead of finding a match, you are to find two cards that add to 10.  Joseph taught them the proper terminology, “4 plus 6 equals 10.”  Unlike auditorium “lectures” I was used to, no one was bored or falling asleep.  Everyone was laughing and playing, some with total strangers and others with volunteers.  I couldn’t help but smile as I played with two moms at the front of the rows.  We jabbed each other when we tried to get out of saying the sum, and we enjoyed the competition.  Amazing!

I then wandered in to see what the kids were doing.  All set up in rows of tables and benches, the kids were playing all kinds of games, most of them knew how to play already.  Student volunteers helped other kids get started with games and helped littler kids.  Volunteers from Rotary and the great community sat with kids to encourage interaction and to provide positive reinforcement for their activities. The room was full of laughter, joyful noise and smiles.  Not what you’d expect from a night filled with math, right?

But that’s the thing…the very simple thing about this organization.  We “work to build a positive math experience within public elementary school communities to create a sustainable math culture.”  In other words, we make math fun so kids hopefully love it, but at the very least aren’t afraid of it.  It is as simple as that!  And I am just amazed at the simplicity…

For most of my career, I have felt constantly on the run to know the latest/greatest products, information, technology.  Most recently, the attitude of my boss was never about celebrating our good, but always about pointing out our deficiency.  It was not only stressful but exhausting.  I lived in constant fear that I’d be caught not knowing something and that I would be fired for it.  How ridiculous is that? Yet it is so common; I actually feel like there has to be more to the success of Explorations in Math than I have seen because it feels too good to be real.

And there is…relationships with school administrators are not always easy and helping schools find the money for our programs is a constant challenge, let alone finding donors and funders for our own operations.  But boil our work down and it really is just math games and playing!  I can not only sell that to a foundation or a donor, I also can, with confidence, share everything about what we do.

It is a joy to come in each day, and each day I see more and more of the good we do.  I still have much to learn but I am eager to learn it.  And I don’t fear my boss’ temper any longer…that alone has changed my life!

I accepted my limits and focused…

All life I have been the survivor, the protector, the leader.  Two of these titles were inevitable; the last was a choice so that I could be successful at the other two.  As a child I lived on the edge of homelessness, though at the time it felt more like a game.  Our mother used alcohol to numb the pain of responsibility and reality which meant my sister and I took care of ourselves for a great deal of our childhood.  We were explorers building forts in the vacant lot across the street from our apartment.  In reality we were on the brink of losing everything.

Recently during my UW class, we took a personality test, sort of a Meyers Briggs thing but a bit different.  I was classified as a Guardian/Protector.  It was no surprise that 75% of the class was that classification…a group of budding nonprofit leaders.  Our personalities aim to protect traditions and celebrate individuals.  We are great listeners, collaborators and defenders.  Duh!

Personally,  I have sought out the leader role: in my work as a way to move up the ladder and in my volunteering as a way to fill the void that work couldn’t.  It all was in great balance, though a grotesque balance of too much good to smooth over too much bad.  I really wanted my work to provide that feeling of fulfillment and joy; it couldn’t due to a lack of leadership and inflated egos.  My volunteer work allowed me to tolerate work with the chance to do something really valuable and heartwarming.

Then I thought about how I could bring the two together: Could I find work that was valuable and heartwarming?  It seemed impossible at the time but I was intrigued.  I began my class and found a whole group of people just like me…a population that not only shared my desire but were so much like me I felt truly at home.

And then came my new job…I couldn’t have dreamed of a more perfect opportunity to do valuable work with a team that truly valued me.  So how could I complain, how could anything be wrong?  The problem now is that the void is not only filled, it is bursting at the seams.  I have too many things that need my 100% and I risk doing nothing well.  I must decide what is best for each and accept that it may mean disappointing some people.

Some may call that a limit, I think of it as direction or focus.  When I was a stay at home mom, I created journals and sold them at craft fairs.  I loved the process of creating one of a kind books but I always felt lost when they were sold and I couldn’t remember what I had done.  I started scanning them so I could have a record.  I loved my scanner especially the way it captured the shadows of the 3 dimensional bits I had glued on.  One day my scanner died so I thought about how cool it would be to have a printer that scanned and copied and faxed!  It was going to free up so much space on my desk and we could do so much more!

Though the machine did all of those things, it did none of them very well.  And worst of all, it was a terrible scanner.  The 3d bits lost their dimension and the colors were terrible.  In the end, I bought another scanner for my journals, a machine knew how to read colors accurately and picked up subtle shadows in the covers.

It’s time to accept that in order for all of the work I am currently involved in to thrive, I need to decide what I can be the most effective at.  Right now I am trying to be the all-in-one answer to everything. I must thoughtfully find the things I can do well and focus…for the good of everyone.

I discovered I was living the impossible dream?

Just about one month ago today I was sicker than a dog and was preparing for yet another job interview.  I look back at December, heck, the entire year of 2010, and I am grateful that I didn’t give up on what felt like an impossible dream: an architect looking to break into the nonprofit sector with seemingly little relevant experience.

Today as I closed up my tiny 700 square foot office in Rainier Beach, I turned around to take a mental inventory.  The room is crammed with 3 computer stations, boxes of math supplies, and reams of paper.  My computer is connected to the internet outlet across the room with a bright blue cord that I have taped to the floor.  I still don’t know what phone number is mine, no one can figure out the voice mail code and there isn’t one ounce of White Out in the place! But just like a young woman in her very first apartment, it is home and I wouldn’t change a thing.

The luxuries that I had at my old office,  supply closets filled with boxes of pens in every possible style, kitchens with dishwashers, real plates and utensils, an IT team that kept the operation running seamlessly…these things don’t seem to matter anymore.  I realize once again that it’s not the money, the title or the benefits that make a job enjoyable.  It is the people and I am so fortunate to say that the 10 (yeah, 10) of us that share those 700 square feet are a fun loving, compassionate bunch that give, laugh and compromise all in the name of math culture for the kids in our schools.  My team is amazing!

I haven’t stopped smiling this past week.  I took out all the garbage and recycling yesterday as well as vacuumed and I was smiling.  I cut tiny pieces of blank, sticky labels to cover typos and changes to a document and I was smiling.  I re-taped my internet cord which I had snagged once again getting out of my chair, and I was smiling.

Rejection is a powerful force against the tender and vulnerable emotion of confidence.  It is easy to say, “keep at it, something’s bound to work out,” but actually doing it takes strength, determination and tenacity.  I have to admit that the evening following my interviews, I thought for sure I had failed and I told my husband that I was giving up the fight.

What have I learned from all of this…  I learned that having a positive attitude and considering every experience a learning opportunity are 100% necessary in reaching any goal.  I learned that if you are true to yourself, your path will never lead you astray.  I learned that in some jobs, heart is just as important as experience.  I will close with a note I received from my new boss today:

“We feel lucky to have found you…your passion for helping people and your demonstrated ability to listen to people and hear their hopes as well as their fears…that we could never teach you.  But that is what you bring that  will help us accomplish our mission and every day be proud of the work we do.”

I can finally say, maybe for the second time ever, that I love my job and it feels really good.

I weathered the perfect storm?

The rain in Seattle is legendary, though if you actually live here you know the truth. It is a wet place but we don’t have the monsoons that are synonymous with Seattle. We get the constant drizzle that makes your hair curl and the concrete slimy.

But sometimes, like earlier this week, we get a true downpour…the kind that wakes you up from a dead sleep and sounds like a stampede. Lately we have been experiencing the “pineapple express:” a series of storms that come from Hawaii. The air is warmer but the rain is amazing, causing landslides and floods throughout Western Washington.

This past week I embarked on a journey that seemed impossible: convincing a nonprofit board of directors that I, a career architect, was capable and passionate enough to lead their organization. The cards were stacked against me from the beginning: 20 applicants, whittled down to 15 who filled out a lengthy questionnaire, of which 9 participated in screening interviews, of which 4 were invited to formally interview with the board. I somehow kept moving along the continuum, impressing upon the search executive that I truly did possess the skills needed to bring this organization into “its next phase of maturity.”

The week of the interviews finally arrived, as did one of the nastiest head colds I had ever experienced. The first of the three part process was dinner with two of the board…and my head was so congested I could hardly think. My voice was nasally, my face all puffed and I didn’t think I could even put a coherent sentence together, but the evening was fine…even though our table was 45 minutes late (somehow make small talk with two total strangers!) and my car got locked in the garage (bbbbzzzz “Excuse me but my car is in your garage, can you let me in?”). I even learned that my super power of delivering bad news with grace and respect was not only unique but appreciated.

Part 2 was the following day: interview with the proposed staff of 10. My head somehow was feeling a bit better and my confidence was up. While waiting in their very tiny office, I could overhear their comments of the previous candidate and I was beginning to get nervous, but quickly pulled myself together when it came my turn to meet. I apologized for my lack of voice and away we went. Questions were very staged but the answers and the conversation came easily.  They seemed to really like me and I walked out with my head high.

Part 3: board interview. This time, the crowd was quite a bit more formal. The page and a half of questions, some with 4 parts!, was put in front of me and each of the 5 board members took turns asking. They were hard questions, thought provoking and cliché at the same time but I just kept going. The panel was emotionless, better poker faces than any I had seen on the Texas Hold Em’ World Series, though I didn’t let it derail my passion. You could have heard a pin drop as I walked out; I hadn’t a clue whether it was a good interview or a disaster…as my afternoon progressed, I began feeling more disaster than good.

I am not sure why it happens, but we always expect and prepare for the worst, maybe because it is too painful to be surprised by bad news. That whole evening my confidence in my answers plummeted, my sinuses got more and more painful and my future seemed stuck on the pier. How could I go back there, a place that was once wonderful but recently has felt very foreign?

The next morning at about 5:00 am, the dog and I got up and I began the day. My phone had a voice message from the search executive that I must have missed giving the kids their showers, and all I could think of was that he wanted to deliver the bad news so the winner could be celebrated and announced publicly. I had lost all hope in just 12 hours!

I got to my office, waited for a reasonable time to return his call and took a deep breath. He explained…

…that the board found my passion and team spirit to be so genuine that I had been selected as their preferred candidate! I nearly fell out of my chair, and dropped the phone! “You’re kidding me, really?!” He laughed and shared that they were blown away by my interview, that the decision was unanimous, and they were hoping I could start right away!

Despite the crashing waves of each new storm, I had somehow landed the job!  After all of the hard work, numerous rejections and battered emotions this career change process has caused me, I know that as I untie from the pier, I am setting sail on an uncharted course that can only be bright and full of adventure.

I said thank you…

A while back, a dear friend of mine sent me a magnet with a quote from Leo Buscaglia:

                Too often we underestimate

                The power of a touch, a smile

                A kind word, a listening ear

                An honest compliment,

                Or the smallest act of caring,

                All of which have the potential

                To turn a life around.

Yesterday a colleague resigned from my office and though this happens all the time, especially these days, it really has affected me.  This person was the spark that kept the office a little light-hearted, the goofy one that always made you laugh (most of the time at yourself) and the one that was perfectly fine being deemed the office clown/prankster/Costello to a bunch of otherwise too serious Abbotts.  Yet under all of that silliness and fun, is a consummate professional who takes his art and the power of great architecture very seriously.  His designs have been recognized over and over and his knowledge is sought after from around the country.  He is the humble designer that loves what he does.  No capes or capital A’s required.

But as soon as the word got out that he was leaving, the real impact of this person was made evident.  People shared stories of mentorship, inspiration and support for younger designers in the office, sentiments that could hardly be expressed in words.  He had touched people in ways that will last a lifetime and I am not sure he realized it before he had to say goodbye.

This morning I realized that we don’t live in a bubble:  the actions we take, or don’t take, affect people.  The way we live each day can either lift up another person, or bring them down.  It’s Christmas time and in a time when money is very tight, remember that sometimes our greatest gifts are of time or talents.  And for those on the receiving end, these gifts can mean the difference between feeling valued or feeling invisible.  The “butterfly effect” of an act of kindness and caring can’t be overestimated.

And while you’re at it, if someone has touched your life, tell them.  Don’t wait until their last day at the office, or “maybe next time” to thank someone for making a difference.  The millions of clichés out there are right:  we are only here for a short time so use it to live a life of gratitude, grace and giving.  Thank you Ron!

I decided not to go to Abilene?

I am working toward a certificate in Nonprofit Management, a midlife dream to hopefully find work that utilizes my passion and talents.  Although I have worked my whole life to be an architect, somewhere along that way, I realized that it really wasn’t a good fit for me…and that has everything to do with feelings I think you can only experience after 40.

In my class, we read a piece called The Abilene Paradox, which explains the phenomenon of the peer pressure of agreement.  We have all been in a meeting or get together where we decided to go along with the group because we didn’t want to rock the boat or didn’t want to disappoint someone, or worse case, didn’t want to get fired.  In the article a southern family decides to put down their card game, and their fans to go get a meal in Abilene.  They all agree to go, even though the car isn’t air conditioned and the cafeteria is over 50 miles away.  Upon returning from the miserable trip, they all realize that no one really wanted to go but agreed to go just to satisfy someone else.

A simple trip to get dinner is not a huge loss, but not speaking up in other situations can be disastrous.  We all go along with the group at some time, and for various reasons.  I think deep down, we succumb to this peer pressure because of fear.  Sometimes it’s the fear of ridicule or alienation and sometimes it is fear of change or the unknown.  I will admit that I have succumbed to the pressure for all of these reasons at one time or another, and I am not proud of any of them.  The one I particularly hide from is fear of change or the unknown.

Ever since I was 7, I have known that architecture was going to be my profession.  Whether that was based on solid research or not, it was comforting to have the decision made and, frankly, out of the way!  I succeeded and that helped justify the decision, but now the cracks are getting bigger and harder to mask. 

Like Camilla in “A Bad Case of the Stripes” I was afraid to admit that I love something no one else does, that is until recently.  In the story, Camilla endures stripes and an endless display of other visible ailments until she admits that she loves lima beans.  Now that I am working toward the goal of leaving the profession, I am afraid to actually do it.  I know that sitting at my desk day in and day out is required in order to get a paycheck, but in exchange for my time I give up focusing on getting a job I may truly love, leaving me on sort of a trip to Abilene:  fearing change and the unknown.

Interestingly, the Paradox article outlines the the results one can expect whether you speak up or whether you decide to go along with the crowd and to me they are universally true for any decision you make based on fear.  If you decide to let fear take over, you can expect that bland feeling that comes with taking the safe route and possibly loss of self respect. If you decide to go with your heart, you can expect it to change your life by either opening a new door of opportunity or excelling your current situation. 

Each day I struggle with whether to keep sitting here, or taking a deep breath and leaving.  As the bread winner for a family of 5, I am taking baby steps to rid myself of my stripes and divert that train to Abilene.  I’ll let you know how it goes…

All the negativity stopped!

Negativity is everywhere:  the media, the workplace, at home…there is something to complain about everywhere I turn and it is such a downer.  And it’s so needless!  Yes, the economy has tanked and nearly half of those in the construction industry are out of work or on unemployment.  Yes, businesses are making tough decisions and employees are working harder with less resources and lower wages.  It sucks, I am not blind, but what good does all the negativity do?

What if we lived a life of gratitude regardless of the circumstance, because that is all it is:  circumstance.  Take a deep breath and slow down for a minute to be grateful for something…anything!  Fresh air…a cool drink of water…a job that pays the bills even if it isn’t your dream job…an old beater car that still gets you where you need to go each day. 

What if we allowed the recalibration of the economy and our lives to open up the opportunity for appreciating the simplest of things.  Last spring I had a chance to talk with the California Parks Foundation and learned that the economy actually caused an increase in people spending their vacations camping!  Families were unable to pay for the fancy trips, but I believe in place of them were a lifetime of memories of s’mores and singing around the campfire, games of volleyball or tag and the quiet sounds of nature in the morning.

Refocus your mind and I think you will find that negativity begins to melt away, and is replaced by a feeling of “it’s all going to be just fine.”  And it is…regardless of whether you have an Escalade or a Pinto…a company parking space or a bus pass…5000 square feet or 1500.

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