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Wednesday
Sep212016

Things You Should Never Leave Home Without

The formidable foursome of things I can never leave home without. August 14, 2016. Houston, Texas.

Even men who only have pockets to pack have leaving-home essentials, right?

Other than wallets, keys, and cell phones (a relatively new addition to the list), all of us have items we need to feel complete when leaving the house.

Here’s mine:

Book

You’ll never regret bringing a book.

If you bring it on your phone or tablet, that counts. As a real-book person, my taking one along when I leave the house makes for a lot less convenience. Yet I do it anyway.

I’ve regretted not bringing a book when I’ve gotten stuck somewhere without one—in a car on high ground sitting out a flash-flood storm, in a waiting room, sitting at a coffee shop when the person I’d come to meet got caught in traffic—and have never regretted having one when I haven’t ended up with a reading window.

Need suggestions? Check my list of all-time favorites (so far) and check the “Writing” category on this blog for annual and biannual best-reads reviews.

What’cha reading?

Lip Balm

Who in the world—man or woman—can manage to leave the house without lip balm? Even in Houston, a veritable swamp, I use lip balm regularly throughout the day. Once an hour. Maybe more.

Sure, it soothes, but dry, chapped lips look kind of creepy, too. Who wants that?

My favorite is the Nivea Smoothness Lip Care pictured above, but really, any lip balm without the menthol stuff that just seems to chap lips even more (has anyone else noticed that this happens?) and without fake flavoring that I have to taste all day works for me.

Any I should try?

Sunglasses

Blue-eyed people tend to suffer from greater photosensitivity, my optometrist tells me.

I use this medical opinion as my excuse for buying the darkest possible sunglasses and wearing them even on cloudy days, which feel just as bright to me as the sunny ones.

My first album purchase as a kiddo? Corey Hart, of “Sunglasses at Night” fame. (My dad felt horror—on the record cover, Corey Hart has an earring.) I’ve worn sunglasses at night, too. Though not due to hiding from a love interest, like our friend Corey.

Seems like Dolce & Gabbana reliably makes sunglasses with dark-enough lenses that work on my face and don’t have a bunch of unnecessary bling (e.g., charms, rhinestones, scrollwork). I’d buy much cheaper ones if they worked as well. (So far, no luck.)

Found any cheaper options you like?

Tea Bags

Maybe you don’t drink hot tea. Then bring some sort of liquid flavoring along with you. The powder packets that make lemonade. Or Kool-Aid. Or instant coffee, if you like that.

Who enjoys going somewhere and not liking any of the drink choices? And yes, this does mean I will ask a waiter for a cup of hot water when the restaurant doesn’t have tea. (Restaurants actually don’t sometimes. Or offer only Lipton. Which doesn’t count.) If we have lunch or dinner somewhere, brace yourself for this possibility.

Now, tea that comes in tea bags tastes so distantly inferior to properly brewed loose-leaf tea that it feels laughable to name a favorite. I have liked the Stash plain green tea as an option I can buy at the grocery store, though finer tea options like Taylor’s of Harrogate do taste a bit better when you find them.

Any better teas I should try?

Surely I’ve missed something. What does my list lack? The rest of you have to have similar lists of must-have items for leaving home.

What don’t you venture out without?

Wednesday
Sep072016

Summer 2016: My Review

This post marks an attempt at something new on this blog, something more diary-style, though necessarily selective in its details.

We’ll see whether I keep it up. This may turn into a one-of-a-kind. Yet in case it becomes a regular feature, I’ve decided to craft it as a season in review, and to cover June through August.

Here goes:

Work, Work, WorkWorkWork

The FrogDog team's two wins at the IABC Bronze Quill Awards. June 2016.

Let’s get the professional matters out of the way first, as they probably have less interest for the most of you and, out of necessity, I can only and always keep relatively mum on specifics in this life facet.

In June, my FrogDog strategy team and I won two Bronze Quill Awards from the Houston IABC for our work helping a client redirect its marketing strategy and message through primary research and analysis.

Otherwise, the summer brought a number of evolutions to FrogDog:

  • We worked on setting an aggressive road map for the rest of 2016, for one.
  • For two, we started assessing our strategy for the year ahead.
  • And third, we had some staff changes: In addition to bringing on board an amazing new FrogDogger I’ve tried to team with for a couple years at least—a big win!—one of our staff transitioned out due to her husband’s transfer back to Australia and another left as planned a full-time MBA program at The University of Chicago. A couple other teammates moved on to other roles. We miss them!

Ahead for fall: Our end-of-year plan and our strategy work will kick into action, which excites me. Also, we’ve applied for the next award up from the one we won in June—the regional Silver Quill—for which the IABC will announce nominees in late September or early October.

Friends

For one reason or another, spending time with friends became a big focus of this summer. No huge doings: Just getting together over food, drink, fireworks, parties and celebrations, porch sitting, and even pedicures.

In most cases, these friends and I live near enough in Houston to see each other more often than we do—and shame on us that we don’t—yet a few of the occasions brought in friends from as near as Corpus Christi and as far as Guelph, Canada.

Life feels better on all levels with close friends to share it. Not long ago, I took my friendships for granted. Not so much in recent years, in which nurturing my friendships has taken priority.

Family

The gardens across the street from The French Laundry. July 2016.

In July, my mother and her husband, my brother and his wife and two young children, and I met up in Calistoga, California, for a long weekend of family time.

Nonstop time, actually, as the swimsuit and extra books I brought for relaxing and reading by the pool went untouched: We visited a couple wineries, saw some of the Redwoods, feasted at The French Laundry, ate at other fabulous restaurants (frankly, I munched my way through Napa Valley), and had a photographer come along to take varieties of posed and candid family photos.

After that, I needed a vacation from the vacation. (Didn’t happen.)

In August, a cousin threw a housewarming party that brought together members of the family I rarely get to see though with whom I grew up.

We didn’t have nearly enough time together as I’d have liked; it feels melancholy, a bit, to spend so little time with people you saw weekly as a kid. Though distance makes it a challenge, I call for more such gatherings in the future. (Too bad I don’t have a backyard pool to lure people!)

Dating

I’ll say here that dating this summer has held some interesting surprises. And I will leave it at that.

When I have more distance through which to distill the lessons learned, I might. Stay tuned.

Fitness

My blindingly, awesomely vibrant new Adidas boxing shoes. August 2016.

Can’t say much changed in the fitness arena—I still ran four to six miles four or so times per week and boxed on the nonrunning days—except that the importance of exercise increased with my eating. Even when not with friends or on travel, I managed to feast on everything terrible I could find, from cookies to chips to crackers to cake to… You name it.

This fall, I’ll need to keep my mouth shut in addition to keeping the body moving to atone for my sins.

Thankfully, I now have a pair of super-sweet Adidas boxing shoes that help. (Think I’ll blind ‘em?) And watching Claressa Shields, Heather Hardy, and Shelly Vincent fight on the national and international stages gives me motivation, as does a 10k with a good friend coming up on Thanksgiving morning. (Love when I can mix two loves at once: Friends and fitness!)

World Events

I can’t hark back to a golden era—a time during which truth and beauty and light infused the majority of this planet. Yet this summer, the world looked sad and dark, indeed.

I have so much more to say—and have written so much already on some of this summer’s predominant tragic themes—but I’ll hold the additional words for some other, future post.

Tell me about your summer.

Wednesday
Aug242016

Society and Living Alone

My living room, dining room, and kitchen. All to myself. Houston, Texas. August 2016.

I’ve lived alone for years now. Technically, I’ve dwelled solo since 2008, after my once-ever live-together relationship ended. Yet as my subsequent boyfriend stayed here much of the time, let’s say I’ve lived alone since 2010.

So six years solid, and eight years mostly.

Unquestionably, only the fortunate can live alone. Living alone means I can personally afford to fully fund my household expenses. Would it help—and give me more fun money—to have contributions to living costs? Sure. Yet I don’t need them.

As with most things that only a few can afford, living alone means luxury. I don’t have to share my space with anyone. And not just my physical space—I don’t even have to share my home-related headspace.

I don’t have to compromise on how to decorate or where to store or leave things. I don’t have to worry about whether the things I do at home bother someone, bore anyone, or make me look stupid. I don’t have to consider whether I should wear clothing while doing any of these possibly annoying, boring, and stupid things and, if so, what sort of outfit would look good. I don’t feel embarrassed when I eat cookies for dinner or bad that I didn’t share them with anyone else or that, in eating them, I spoiled shared dinnertime and conversation. I don’t need to answer questions when I go back to bed after my morning run.

Further, I don’t have to put up with anyone else’s bad or annoying behavior. Or deal with someone wanting interaction when I just want to hermit in a corner with a book. And so on.

Yet could solo living prove harmful?

I don’t mean just for me. Sure—if I hurt myself or fail to come home one night, no one may know for days. And without additional income to support household expenses, I don’t have as much cushion if things in my life go south for a bit.

Yet, though I confirm my high importance (or, at least, self-importance), let’s look beyond me. How will widespread solo living affect the world?

After all, for years, even single people like me shared space with family, friends, associates, and even colleagues. Today, an increasing number of people live in single-person homes. Per the New York Times, a single person living alone occupies one in four U.S. households. Over the fifteen years between 1996 and 2011, the number of people living alone skyrocketed 80 percent around the globe, according to a research report by Euromonitor International referenced in The Guardian.

Does the increase in single-person households mean lost community? Lost goodwill for our fellow human due to decreased immediate coexistence? Increased isolation that could lead to despair and disaffection?

Trends aside, humans make for social animals. We tend to gather together in protection, support, joy, and sadness.

Technology may make it so that each human has other people to hand at any moment, yet could electronic interaction possibly prove as good as time spent in person? (Personally, I can’t say that interacting with people on-line makes me feel better about the world and the humans who live here.) Could increased reliance on digital communication methods heighten our personal and societal dissatisfaction?

Or—more positively—will the increase in solo-person households make humans increasingly proactive in finding new people, having experiences, and getting out into the world?

If so, increasing numbers of people living alone in urban areas could even revitalize cities.

Of course, it could all prove situational.

Maybe the relative healthfulness of solo living depends entirely on each individual’s personality type and geographic area and its societal effects will depend upon the varying concentrations of personality types living in each area.

For example, my introversion means living alone likely increases my happiness—and my forgiveness for human foibles—as I have a reliable place to go to recharge from human interaction.

And I don’t mind leaving home to find people and things to do, which living in an urban area makes easy. Further, I have a fabulous neighborhood community, which helps immensely. It makes me feel part of something larger, rather than isolated—which living alone could do.

If my personality tended toward extraversion and I didn’t want to put in the work needed to get friends out and about with me, or if I lived in a less densely populated area, living alone would likely prove less healthful.

What do you think?

Wednesday
Aug102016

Simple Things I Suck at Doing

I even consider myself--perhaps unjustifiably--a good draw-er, in my own fashion. FrogDog Headquarters, Houston, Texas. June 30, 2016.

I have decent self esteem. Though I recognize that the vast majority of things escape my expertise, I feel I have decent proficiency in many and expertise in a few.

My existence doesn't feel like a waste of space, anyway.

I do try.

Yet I have a handful of very basic life skills that I simply cannot master. In the spirit of confession and transparency, here goes:

  • Automatic dispensers. Oh hello. In the way, yes, sorry. Just here in the lavatory wandering between the soap, water, and paper towel machines, flailing my hands around and failing to get help from any device. As one does. Carry on.
  • Names. Upon introduction, my brain—unbidden, mind you—makes up a name for the person no matter what the introducer tells me. And then I can’t get the made-up name out of my head. Besides, names feel arbitrary. So many people called Charles, all of whom have nothing in common. I’ve known one guy for a couple years now who should have the name Gary who I know doesn’t actually have the name Gary.
  • Pushups. This has to be a mental block or some failure of muscle memory—or lack of muscle memory, more like it—because I have decent strength in general. Yet, despite any amount of goading, I can’t do a single quality pushup from the ground up. (Though I can slowly lower myself down—never to rise again.)
  • Coordination. Ask my trainer about my attempt at jump lunges. He still laughs, years later. Given his request that I do them again so he can film it for YouTube, no one will ever witness my attempt at jump lunges.
  • Cookies. Can any of you eat one cookie when you have twelve cookies in front of you? Exactly. Wait—you can? Oh. Well. Now you see why I need a trainer.

Other people have got to have similar challenges. Right?

What simple things do you suck at doing?

Wednesday
Jul272016

Just Show Up

Empty chairs awaiting actors for a reading of my friend Abby Koenig's new play. Houston, Texas. January 25, 2016.

You don’t know what to say. You don’t know what to do.

So you don’t say anything. Worse—you don’t do anything.

Even worse? You say and do nothing and then you either disappear entirely from the person’s life or you let an unconscionable period of time go by and then, upon seeing them again, intentionally fail to acknowledge what happened and your subsequent silence and absence.

I get it. I’ve done it.

And I was wrong.

In fact, the entire premise for my paralysis was misguided. You don’t have to say anything. You can erase the question mark around what to do.

The next time something happens to someone, however big or small the troubles, show up.

Even just to bear witness. Even just to show them that someone cares. Even just to sit, talk about it, not talk about it, talk about something else, stay quiet. As my Indiana family would say, “Visit.”

While an acquaintance sat at the bedside during her mother’s final days, one of her mother’s longstanding friends showed up and stayed for an hour, perched on the edge of the mattress, rubbing lotion into her mother’s arms and hands and talking softly. Over a decade later, the daughter still speaks of the kindness. And you know what? I’d bet the mother, even unresponsive, felt gratitude, too.

Shortly after I got the news about Ramona and grief racked me, a friend came by, met my pup for the first time, and sat with us on the couch over tea. She stayed only a couple hours. We talked about a lot of nothing in particular.

I still feel the love.

I’ve heard people grumble about going to funerals because a dead person doesn’t know you went. Even still: Show up. Let the people left behind know that the man, woman, or child who died mattered. Share a story. If you didn’t know the deceased person, let your grieving friends or family know you care about them and their grief. Pay respect for a life lived. Provide comfort.

When people go through rough moments or patches, they need community. Community means other people—even people who don’t know what to say or do.

And if you feel like showing up doesn’t mean enough (even though it does), just pick a doing, any doing:

  • Bring food to share in the moment with the person or people in need or food that can easily get reheated in a short time without much trouble.
  • Clean their home or a portion of their home or hire someone else to clean it.
  • Take their kids for an afternoon.
  • Get your friend out of the house and his or her head—plan an activity you know your friend enjoys and go do it with him or her, even if you don’t typically like that type of thing.

Most importantly, do not ask people in distress what they want or need. They likely don’t know and, if they do know, they probably don’t want to bear the guilt or shame of feeling needy and making requests. Telling them to think about what they need and pressing them to ask for something from you adds burden when they need relief. Get it?

And don’t forget: All you really need to do is show up.

When has someone just shown up for you?