Jan 26

Window Into Our Wombs

When I arrived at Union Station on Friday, January 19, I was overwhelmed by throngs of March for Life participants. In the midst of the chaos, I spotted an older white man sheepishly holding a sign, looking really uncomfortable. Averting my eyes, he shifted his sign sideways so I couldn’t read it. Which made me really curious.

A few minutes later, while he was being interviewed by a reporter with a camera crew, I crept closer to read the sign, and snapped a photo of it. It said “Fewer women would have abortions if wombs had windows.” Incredible. There’s nothing more infuriating than a pro-life man.

Creepy. Voyeuristic. Intrusive. Judgmental. Sexist. Clueless. These are just a few of the words that come to mind when I think about it now. I’ve been rolling this around for days, going back and forth, sparking a vigorous abortion debate inside my own head. It’s easy to go down the rabbit hole on this issue. I guess that’s why we are still arguing about it 45 years after the landmark Roe V. Wade decision. I think it’s important to reexamine important issues, though, and not assume that we know everything. We may not change our thinking, but might learn something if we keep an open mind.

I was in town for the sequel to the Women’s March on Washington on Saturday, and knew women’s reproductive rights would be one of many topics discussed. But strangely, their march was exclusively about the life of the unborn. For a brief moment, I thought I spotted a kindred spirit carrying a “Defend Planned Parenthood” sign. On second glance, it clearly read “Defund Planned Parenthood.” Sigh. What a difference a letter and a day can make.

They shipped Catholic high school kids in by the busload for the event. They are a captive audience, and primed for this through their schooling. I know – I was one of them, a few decades ago. For a long time, I didn’t permit myself to think too far outside the lines.

It’s easy to see why a young person could have a simplistic view of a complicated issue. When your life experiences are limited, so is your viewpoint. Wrong is wrong. Maybe they saw the photos, too, which I admit are damning, traumatizing and powerful. I think I was about twelve when one of my classmates shared her pro-life pamphlet at school. It contained a disturbing photo of a black trash bag, casually discarding what appeared to be dozens of human fetuses.

When I look back now, it’s hard to imagine how this slipped through the cracks of censorship. Gum, perms, large earrings and some Judy Blume books were all considered contraband in my Catholic grade school. Then again, they weren’t shy about using graphic imagery if it served the “faith.” Stations of the cross and vivid, realistic crucifixes are just a few examples.

The Catholic School system used shame, fear and religion in an attempt to shape our views and exert control over our sex lives. Telling us simultaneously that an unplanned pregnancy would be catastrophic. But, under the “right” circumstances, read “marriage,” children are a “blessing.” The sudden transition of sex from forbidden to mandatory and celebrated was always really confusing to me. Talk about bringing baggage to your romantic relationships.

The “womb window” sign evokes the same shame game. If the most intimate details of a woman’s life were visible, it posits, she can be guilted into carrying a child to full term. Or worse, forced into giving birth against her will.

The religious overtones, and use of dated, pious, biblical language is so manipulative. Holding the Madonna up on a pedestal of purity is never helpful. She’s flat and one-dimensional, like the sign, widening the gap between an impossible ideal and real women. This thinking prevents us from understanding the full breadth of women’s humanity and personhood.

Given the man’s embarrassment and messaging, he probably doesn’t feel comfortable talking about sex either. Which is, of course, a big part of the problem. We need to talk about the broader issues surrounding and impacting sex, birth control, pregnancy and abortion, without rushing to judgment, and pushing to impose blanket regulations and legislation.

There are REAL PEOPLE involved, including, but not limited to, the unborn child. Anyone wishing to gain better insight into a women’s womb must begin by getting to know us, individually, and through a broader lens.

I wish I could have told the sign-carrying pro-lifer that women’s lives, pregnancies and relationships are unique. We have our own stories and experiences that inform us and our choices. An unplanned pregnancy may turn our lives upside down, and challenge what we think we know about life.

We know ourselves, our circumstances and desires better than anyone else,. And must have the freedom to make deeply personal and complicated decisions autonomously, with the support of a trusted medical professional and partner, if we are so fortunate. Our futures can’t be determined by a stranger carrying a sign, or the government – a government that routinely fails to support women in these situations, and their children, once they are born.

Our stories are our own to tell, if we choose to share them. As adults, we insist upon our privacy and dignity. We don’t need our relationships and private lives monitored or controlled.

To encourage a more thoughtful discussion around women’s reproductive choices as they relate to the rest of our lives, I’m including a number of perspectives below. Many of the examples are taken from women I know personally. Their stories burn inside me, and beg to be told.

I plan to expand on many of these topics in future blog posts to bring additional insight, sanity and humanity to this complex, but critical, conversation.

This is probably the most popular, canned response to unexpected pregnancies. Adoption sounds great, and makes people feel better, not unlike dropping clothing off at Goodwill to give it another chance at life. But like the sign that considers only the womb and its contents, it takes a limited view of the situation.

For starters, without knowing the particulars of conception, it’s extremely ignorant and insensitive to suggest or mandate women carry an unwanted child to full term. Pregnancies conceived in trauma, for example, are arguably not a blessing. Read on to learn more about the lives of real women below.

The adoption process is also really complicated in the United States. A wonderful couple I know with the heart and means to be great parents ultimately adopted daughters from China after exhausting their options in the U.S.

The pro-life enthusiasts also fail to understand that childbirth is not without risk to the mother – especially if the woman has her own health issues.

This should be a no-brainer, but never seems to be included in any discussions around abortion. Many women have physical, emotional or mental health issues which would make it difficult for them to complete a pregnancy, or parent a child. These private matters are part of the choice equation that women shouldn’t have to justify to religious leaders or legislators.

My sister, a breast cancer survivor, was required to sign a waiver promising to use birth control while taking Tamoxifen, a cancer-fighting drug associated with birth defects. As a precaution, breast cancer survivors are advised to wait two years after completing treatment to attempt a pregnancy, to ensure the cancer has truly retreated for good.

Other medicines women take to maintain their own health inhibit different types of birth control.

People love to use words like “responsibility,” “morals,” and “consequences” when talking about abortion. It appears they want women to pay, or be punished for presumably having unprotected sex. I believe they have a very specific woman in mind when they make this assumption, making it easier to judge and throw her under the bus.

The reality is, no contraceptive method is 100% effective, even when followed religiously. We live in an imperfect world, and responsible couples in committed relationships can and do become pregnant while using birth control.

All relationships are not created alike. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that one in three women are physically abused by a romantic partner in their lifetime. In addition, of all total female murder victims, one in three are killed by their partner. It’s always challenging for women to escape abusive relationships, but an unplanned pregnancy can make it even more difficult.

Women may not be emotionally or financially prepared to have or raise a child by herself, for example, or pay for an abortion. In addition, it’s not uncommon for abusive men to use children to control women, going so far as to sabotage her efforts at birth control.

Pro-lifers who wish to shame women should also understand that not all sex is consensual. They should know that one in six women are the victim of an attempted of completed rape in her lifetime. Forcing a woman to complete a pregnancy born of a traumatic, violent act, is unconscionable. Their bodies have already been invaded once against their will.

If you’ve ever known or talked to a rape victim, as I have, you would know how fragile they can be following the assault. They need sympathy and support, time to heal and recover.

But even in the case of rape, we often blame the female victim. Where was she, what was she wearing, did she drink too much?

This is especially true when popular or powerful men or boys are involved. Their status seems to trump their misdeeds, with even other women rushing to defend the offender – especially if he happens to be a football player.

Steubenville is just one recent, disturbing example of the link between rape culture and football. Businessmen like Harvey Weinstein borrow from the same playbook, which brings me to the next topic…

Things can become even more complicated when a woman’s tormentor also happens to be her supervisor or boss. A recent survey, prompted by the explosive #me too movement, showed one in four women have been harassed by men with influence over their careers.

Historically, taking a stand against a powerful man could mean career suicide. Three quarters of women say they experienced repercussions when they addressed workplace harassment. Recently, however, they have become emboldened by rampant stories of misbehavior in Hollywood and Washington, and are finding the courage to speak up.

Originally, the thinking and reality was that most men were breadwinners, so needed to make more money. Things have obviously changed, and there have been improvements. But there’s still a 20% discrepancy between white women and men’s salaries, with a wider gap for minority women.

As we continue to play catch up salary wise, the single mother demographic has mushroomed, with 23% of families  now headed by unmarried women. Even if an unmarried or unsupported single woman opts to put an unplanned child up for adoption, provided that’s an option for her, she’ll have to succumb to a slew of doctor’s appointments which usually means missed work and wages.

The pregnancy itself comes at a much steeper price, with prenatal, delivery and post-partum care costing upwards of $8,000. If an unmarried woman opts to brave parenthood alone, she’s likely to require childcare while working, which can consume up to half of her salary. A recent study shows women got the memo on this, with most saying they had abortions for financial reasons.

There aren’t any easy answers here. But if we truly care about women and unborn children, we must move away from judgement to a place of empathy and understanding. Only then can we take a wider view, and improve the conditions and circumstances impacting women, family planning, unplanned pregnancies and reproductive choices.

End Sexual Violence. Affordable HealthCare Now. Equal Pay, Equal Rights. Worker’s Rights. Stop Sexual Harassment. Planned Parenthood. Make Childcare Affordable.

These are just a few of the powerful messages delivered from the podium, on signage and tshirts at the Women’s March on Washington 2018, the day after the March for Life. But they are more than words. They can be our marching orders, and a checklist for creating a healthier, brighter world for women AND tomorrow’s children. And a climate that supports and empowers women so they can make the best possible choices for themselves and their families.

Jan 29

Standing Still

The movement began in stillness

“Be still and know that I am God. – Psalm 46:10

This powerful quote comes to mind sometimes. And it always gives me a sense of peace.

It’s a gentle command, imploring us to pause, be calm and pay attention.

When I reflect on the Women’s March on Washington last weekend, I’m struck by the flurry of excitement and activity that ironically culminated in hundreds of thousands of people standing still. Together.

There was so much passion leading up to the event. I personally met women from Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan and California who commuted by plane, train, bus and car to participate in this historic gathering. Some were even motivated to travel from Canada and other countries.

The positive energy was palpable on the MARC train line from Odenton, Md., to Union Station. Marchers could be clearly identified by their pink pointed “cat” hats and homemade signs with catchy slogans scrawled across them in colored marker.

It’s amazing, but for all of the signs, only a scarce few contained duplicate messages. They were largely unique, but linked by a common thread – support for the groups of people and rights marginalized or called into question during the 2016 presidential election cycle. “Black lives matter;” “Men of quality do not fear equality;” “Hate won’t make America great;” “End voter suppression;” “Love trumps hate;” “Tiny hands, Yuge mistake;” “Save Melania;” “Women’s rights are human rights;” “We the People;” “Ours is a country of immigrants;” and “A woman’s place is in the resistance.”

Carrie Fisher’s alter ego, Princess Leia, was there in spades. Her untimely death occurred at a time when we are desperately in need of strong female role models. Superheroes even. Her image and dedication to the “resistance” was emblazoned across countless signs, and aligned with endless messages. It’s safe to say she won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

Spontaneous conversations were cropping up among giddy, like-minded strangers who seemed thrilled to meet each other. There were even more people, signs and hats as I drew closer to Union Station. The turnout was overwhelming. Despite the crowds, I easily found my friend Kate within minutes of arriving. She had boarded a bus out of New York at 2 a.m. because tickets for trains to D.C. were sold out.

We moved swiftly, with purpose, following the buoyant crowd up the escalator and outside. As we got closer to the march, we passed the U.S. Capitol. People were snapping selfies just outside of where the 45th President of the United States was sworn in the previous day. The rows of white folding chairs were still in place. A woman we met who had volunteered for Hillary Clinton’s campaign in Scranton, Pa. took a photo of Kate and I holding our protest signs.

We arrived just before 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, January 21, 2017, when the speeches were supposed to begin. Entering unknowingly from behind the stage, we found the space thick with happy dissenters. I didn’t know a protest could be so positive and uplifting. But it was. And I felt encouraged by the sheer number of people who came out, like us.

Managing to edge a little bit closer to the right side of the stage, we saw Gloria Steinem when she emerged to cheers and applause, wearing a distinctive red scarf. We settled into a small pocket of space to listen to the speakers. And stood in that general area for several hours.

We were standing up for our rights. Praying for them, in a way. In the form of speeches, calling for the dignified treatment of immigrants and Muslim Americans. Voicing concerns for women’s, civil, voter and gay rights; the future of healthcare and the environment. And through our vibrant signs, which echoed similar sentiments.

Although, for the first hour and a half or so, the sound system was off. And we could barely make out the messages coming from the stage.

So we took to our phones to communicate, which is what we do now. But the cell service was terrible. And we tried in vain to upload and tag our photos. We wanted people to know we were at THE women’s march in D.C. And were completely oblivious to the tremendous outpouring of people at the sister marches across the country and worldwide. We would later learn that it may have been the most extensive, coordinated protest in American history.

We had no choice but to stand still, and take it all in. Some of us proudly pushed our signs upwards for maximum visibility. There was nowhere to go but up. Or hugged them closely to our chests to conserve on limited personal space. And eventually, the voices onstage became audible to the masses.

Some had celebrity status, like Michael Moore, Ashley Judd and Scarlett Johansson. Others like Gloria Steinem and Angela Davis, were veteran activists and marchers. And there were a few new faces, too. Who felt compelled, like the rest of us, to be in D.C. that day, and speak out about the disturbing new world order.

I think the organizers were overwhelmed by the A-list speakers. And didn’t want their contribution or star power to go to waste. So they built them all into the schedule, along with a few musical performers. The crowd erupted with enthusiasm when Alicia Keys predictably performed “Girl on Fire.” We WERE fired up. And we wanted to move.

Our backs were aching and we were restless. Part of the crowd started chanting an outcry for the march to begin. Just a few more speakers, and acts, they announced from the stage. We attempted to move through the crowd for an out. But we were stuck. With each other. And maybe this was by design. So that we could reflect on the messages, in the stillness. And come up with a plan. Together.

Eventually, the organizers shared that the march route was filled with participants. When my cell service finally resumed, a text message from my husband revealed that an estimated 500,000 people had shown up for the event. My face started to tingle as I processed the magnitude of the crowd in my midst. It was incredible – more than double the expected 200,000 participants! It was Brexit times five, to coin a phrase.

Later, when I was privy to the bird’s eye view photos, I nearly burst with pride. And I was humbled by the stunning display of humanity at the sister marches in the streets of New York, California, Chicago, Tokyo, Paris and beyond.

It seems fitting that the efforts for advancing the rights of an oppressed or disenfranchised group of people are often called a “movement.” It’s natural to want to move away from or avoid uncomfortable, undesirable or painful circumstances. These instincts can be very good, and prompt us to get out of a bad marriage, for example. Or to leave a company or country under new, dubious leadership.

Given this tendency, perhaps it should come as no surprise that Canada trended as a search term the night our new president claimed his shocking victory over his experienced opponent. I admit that fleeing the country has crossed my mind more than once since the election.

But when we eliminate leaving or moving as an option, we are forced to confront difficult issues and problems head on. And that’s when some of the best solutions can come to light. To some, it may have looked like we weren’t doing anything. But we were reigniting the women’s movement and many other movements when we stood still at Independence Avenue on January 21.

We didn’t get to “march” at the Women’s March on Washington, like we expected. But we DID receive our marching orders and initiation. And now it’s time to move. With conviction.

There are so many causes. And we can all do our part, using our natural talents and abilities, to advance the ones most important to us. We are just getting started.

judy thomas

Dec 04

ICE! A Charlie Brown Christmas

ice-a-charlie-brown-christmas-charlie-brown-treeBaby it’s cold inside… at the ICE! A Charlie Brown Christmas at the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center in Orlando. Nine degrees, to be precise. But visitors should be prepared to have their heart melted by this classic Peanuts story all over again.

It’s not clear if our two-hour wait to get into the exhibit last Saturday was a testament to the Christmas tale’s popularity or the event proper. Or just poor crowd control. But we were able to dodge long lines at the ICE! ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas display last year, and visited just a week before Christmas.

Some say we appreciate things more if we pay a hefty price, or have to wait for them. And the Gaylord Palms ICE! show, with onsite tickets at $29.99, succeeded ice-a-charlie-brown-christmas-skatingon both counts. It was well worth the price, though, given the incredible artistry on display. But if people are going to be subjected to theme park level lines, they should work on providing more entertainment in the queue.

And it was a bit more of a drag because so many of us were wearing and carrying extra layers and coats to brave the icey temps. Despite this, the overall mood was still positive, with the line kicking off in full view of the snowtubing course – giving guests a preview of other fun activities they could explore later.

By the time we finally suited up in our complimentary winter coats, we were prepared to be dazzled. When we experienced the first shot of cold air, we found our favorite blockhead carved, appropriately, from an enormous block of ice, with his iconic, straggly tree, in hand. Snoopy was reclininice-on-the-blocks-ice-bar-2016g over his famous dog house next to a pile of glassy bones, with Vince Guaraldi Trio’s Linus and Lucy playing in the background, setting the tone.

Turning the corner, we happened upon a string of uber familiar holiday skaters before sneaking off to experience the On the Blocks ICE! bar. Since we were so late getting into the exhibit, we decided to scrap our other plans for the day and double-down on the Gaylord Palms holiday offerings. The $15.95 tasting included a sample of their Jolly Mint and Merry Margarita drinks, and a Goose Winter Ale. If you liked what you tried, you could purchase a full size version of the drink in the hotel lobby. The Jolly Mint was my favorite.

The chilly temperature kept bar guests from getting too comfortable. There were no stools in this bar – only seats made of solid ice. So we moved along pretty qice-a-charlie-brown-christmas-mailboxuickly, right back to the cold reality of Charlie Browns’ empty mailbox during the holiday season. And the unapologetic consumerism that sends our hero to the neighborhood know-it-all for psychiatric help.

The ICE! display did an excellent job of bringing this and all of the quintessential moments to life. Along with many of the design elements, like the Chevron from Charlie Brown’s shirt, expertly worked into the background.

I gasped when we entered the “auditorium,” where the characters were frozen in their happy dance poses, with Charlie Brown yelling hopelessly into a megaphone. I couldn’t take it. It was just fantastic, how they captured the energy and excitement of that scene and the holidayice-a-charlie-brown-christmas-tree-lots simultaneously. Along with two really cool ice slides, pun intended.

From there, we meandered through the “commercial,” Christmas tree lot, which resembled giant, multi-colored popsicles or frozen rock candy. I immediately understood why they kept asking us not to lick the ice. I wanted to, and I’m old enough to know better.

The Linus room was understated, as expected. Just a boy and his blanket, with a story to tell. I had to listen to the audio a few times to hear it all the way through amidst the crowds. Brad joked that I would have risked hypothermia or frostbite to stay in this moment a little bit longer if he wasn’t along.

The final Peanuts room echoed the heartwarming, last scene of the show – when the children finally see the potential ice-a-charlie-brown-christmas-linus-speechin Charlie’s Brown’s sparse tree, repurposing Snoopy’s doghouse decorations to save it, and him. They were frozen in song, with their humming breaking into an energetic rendition of Hark! the Herald Angels Sing. All of the characters, Lucy, Marcy, Franklin, and Peppermint Patty, were centered around Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the little Christmas tree that could, with their mouths agape. Charlie Brown was rotating in his own circle, as if he was poised happily on the record of the Christmas song that kept looping continuously.

From here, visitors transition into the nativity room, which overwhelms with enormous clear ice figurines resembling expertly cut glass. Visitors may need a little more time to take in the subtle beauty and detail of this room. Which, like most ethereal experienice-a-charlie-brown-christmas-nativityces, doesn’t lend itself to good photographs.

The ICE! display was not only a real treat for Peanuts fans, but a brilliant way to introduce this classic Christmas story to a new generation of children. It also gives Floridians a chance to see what it’s like to brave the cold to experience the beauty of the season. Nearly every Christmas special includes a cliched snow scene. But there’s likely lots of people who have never had this experience.

In addition, the hotel and convention center offered lots of other holiday activities, such a snow tubing, that give visitors a chance to retain the faux December experience a little bit longer. I can see why visitors would want to take advantage of some of the packages the hotel offers. Immediately returning to 70 degree weather after viewing a beautiful ice display would surely be a buzz kill. We decided to stick around ice-a-charlie-brown-christmas-snoopy-bonesourselves to witness the tree lighting in the hotel atrium and revisit the holiday drinks.

On a personal note, this may be the first time in recent years that I can relate to Charlie Brown’s blues during the holiday season. But I am happy to report that the combination of the cold air, which I always associate with Christmas, nostalgia and sentiment inherent in the ICE! A Charlie Brown Christmas display inspired me to go home and decorate my own tree and home for the holidays. It truly lifted my spirits. And I am grateful for that.


Layer Up: If you’ve been living in Florida for a while, you may not be equipped for the cold. But don’t worry – you can layer up with a few shirts, topping off with a hoodie. Layering socks can be just as effective as legwarmers.

Bring a Bag: Keep a bag on hand so you can carry your extra gear while waiting in line.

Buy Advance Tickets: You will not only only save some money, but also ensure your desired time slot is available.

Take Advantage of Package Deals: If you want to participate in some of the other hotel activities, like the Elf on the Shelf® Scavenger Hunt, Alpine Rush Snow Tubing, or the Cirque Dreams Unwrapped Stage Show, you may want to consider some of the hotel and other bundled offerings.

Relive or experience the On the Blocks ICE! Bar samplings with the recipes included below.


Build, add ice and shake. Strain over fresh ice. Garnish with peppermint candy.


Build, add ice and shake. Strain over fresh ice. Garnish with lime.

Have a spirited and happy holiday season!


Dec 01

Just Say No… to the Office Christmas Party

It’s that’s time of year again. Lights and trees are going up everywhere. The quest for the perfect gift has begun. Cards will start arriving soon – and so will the invitations to the office holiday party.

Let me start off my saying that the term “office party” is a textbook oxymoron. Merriam-Websters.com defines oxymoron as “a combination of contradictory or incongruous words (as cruel kindness); broadly :  something (as a concept) that is made up of contradictory or incongruous elements.” This is just perfect. The office Christmas party  really is a well-intentioned gesture gone awry – at least for most people who self-identify as introverts. You know who you are – we’ve met in the bathroom at an office event, or casually hiding behind a large plant or curtain.

And it truly is a marriage of unequal parts. When I think of going into the office, or, more accurately, dragging my ass into work in the morning, I definitely don’t feel like I’m on my way to a party. And I don’t even like parties. Still, parties are in the eye of the beholder. And I can once recall an acquaintance dubbing a particularly good sandwich a party in their mouth. Put succinctly – parties are personal, and the office is in a whole other category.

Companies like to schedule light-hearted social events throughout the year to bring people together. Tedious team-building activities have become much more common, and are painful in their own right. But the office Christmas party is a lengthier form of forced socialization with one’s coworkers. It leaves the door open for many more awkward interactions – especially because it is one of the few work-related events of the year that involves alcohol.

Don’t get me wrong – I can completely understand why one might be tempted to indulge when faced with hours of unstructured small talk. But I’ve seen these events end very badly on more than one occasion. One of the rare Christmas parties I attended in recent years culminated in an exceptionally short, intoxicated coworker, being driven home in a child’s car seat. Cell phone photos were taken and shared. True story. It was not good.#coworkerincarseat #youcan’tmakethisup

We have all experienced a version of a holiday social catastrophe. Don’t let yourself be a victim or a statistic! Just say no to the office holiday party this year!, Or, Christmas party smart with the helpful tips I’ve provided below.

How Can I Skip the Christmas Party?
If you’ve made it this far in my post, you are probably a like-minded soul, and wondering how you, too, can gracefully avoid the office holiday function.

As a seasoned Christmas party dodger, I routinely scheduled my Christmas vacation around this dreaded social for several years in a row. Some companies make a really big deal out of these events, and it’s best to come up with a really good excuse for opting out. You aren’t being dishonest if you really aren’t available.

Other valid excuses may include having family in from out of town. No one has to know that you invited your family to visit – you can completely throw them under the bus. This is perfectly acceptable and legitimate. Or you could always accidentally purchase tickets to Disney on Ice or another holiday show the same night. But keep in mind that you can probably only get away with this excuse once, so use it sparingly.

If it’s truly an optional function, it may be okay to “just say no.” You can check with other coworkers to judge the importance of the event if you are unsure.

How Can I Survive the Office Christmas Party?
For some, completely avoiding the event may not be an option. I feel your pain. I’ve been there. So I’m going to provide some really fun diversionary tactics that you can use at the annual holiday party or throughout the year at any office social.

  1. Keep Cell Phone in Hand: The mobile phone is God’s gift to the introvert. There are so many ways it can be used to avoid awkward, forced conversation. You can pretend to read a text or email, or even excuse yourself to take or make a call. If you get stuck with someone and can’t think of anything else to say, share boring photos of your kids or dog. You will lose them in no time.
  2. Limit Face Time: Another tried and true tactic is arriving late and leaving early. If planned strategically, you may be able to shave up to an hour or two from your total party time. In many cases, it’s only important to be seen at an event. So be sure to make eye contact or have a brief conversation with a few key people. And then reward yourself with an early dismissal. #savedbythebell
  3. Bring a Camera: This may be tricky at an office party, but I’ve used it at a number of other occasions, like weddings. Having a big honking camera in front of your face makes it really difficult for others to strike up a conversation. And you can also make a contribution to the event by capturing a special moment. Having a specific purpose at an event can take the pressure off of socializing with people you don’t know very well.
  4. Bring a Friend: If you aren’t permitted to bring a date or a friend, you can drag another equally screwed coworker along with you. You can spend the evening bonding over what you wish you were doing instead;  take up chain smoking, just for the night, and/or hide or kill time outside or in the lobby. Technically speaking, you are still there.
  5. Sit in the Back: This hearkens back to the school days when the really enthusiastic students sat up front because they didn’t want to miss anything. The same holds true as adults. Chances are you will find other coworkers who are watching the clock and hoping to blend into the background.
  6. Safe Topics: Brainstorm a few harmless topics that you could work into a conversation if it’s going south or awkwardly waning.
  7. Have a Safe Word: If things start getting really crazy (see carseat story above), you may want to have a word that lets a friend or date know you need to get out right away. My husband Brad and I use “lederhosen.” But you might pick want to go with something a little more creative or seasonal like “snowballs.” If it’s really bad, “balls” may be more appropriate.

I hope this helps! Good luck with your party dodging techniques!

Jun 02

One-Way Street

We got stuck in the traffic on the way home from Key West on Monday. I’ve heard this happens a lot on Sundays. So it’s no surprise we would run into a jam returning home on a national holiday. Especially since there is only one lane in and out of the Florida Keys.

One-way-street-mandala-5-31-16-jtI’m definitely not the first person to say this. But if you are going to be stuck in traffic for several hours, you might as well have a beautiful view. I literally just kept exclaiming out loud at the beauty quite literally all around me.

It was also a little intimidating and humbling to be on a such a thin strip of road with ocean on all sides. What would happen if I lost control of the wheel for a moment, or got a flat tire? And, from a philosophical standpoint, it’s hard to argue that the world was created to serve and center around man, as some religions do, when there is nothing but water all around you. It made me feel pretty insignificant, but in a good way.

As beautiful as it was, I still felt trapped. Kind of like a man married to a trophy wife. And I got to thinking about options and choices.I know some people love tradition. I’m not a huge fan, because I think it can stop people from living the life they really want to live. But I can see the value in routine. It’s more a framework than a mandate, and you can still maintain a lot of freedom within a routine.

I synced the car radio to my “red ipod” mix, the one I play on my red “AIDS awareness” iPod nano on the rare occasions that I exercise. On a regular day, this would get me pumped for the drive home. I love listening and singing along to my favorite songs on long road trips. But the music was giving me too much energy that I couldn’t use while standing still, spinning my wheels. So I had to slow myself down for the long ride home. Which is another observation I’ve made – that you almost have to slow or dull your excitement when you are stuck in an undesirable situation or with unappealing people.

It’s a long way down the holiday road. – Lindsey Buckingham

When you know you are stuck, it’s easy to adjust, temporarily. But for me, being stuck in a life with only one way to go and live would be insufferable and suffocating.I can understand why some people in past and present times have become so bored with the staid path that they are willing to take a chance of ending up mangled on the rocks below to escape the predictability and monotony of the well-trod path. Cue “Standing Outside the Fire” by Garth Brooks.

Thankfully, we have many more choices today than ever before about where we work, vacation, dine; what we read, drive, consume, do in our free time, and so on. Some say having too many choices can be as bad as having too few. If you’ve ever had to choose from a restaurant menu that is more than a few pages long, you can probably identify with this. It’s overwhelming. You almost have to pick a category like chicken and go from there.

Despite the traffic, which extended our return commute by an hour or two, and maybe because of the gorgeous scenery, I was sad to see the long and relaxing weekend come to an end. We had a chance to completely disconnect and really enjoy ourselves sleeping in, at the hotel pool, listening to live local music, enjoying delicious seafood and walking to all of our sightseeing destinations.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, I had plenty of time to work through this feeling. By the time I got home, I remembered that it really is my favorite place. My grandfather used to say he liked to get his “feet under his own table.” Vacations are great, but there is a unique and indescribable comfort that comes with being in your own home.

For the day’s mandala, I decided to create a one-way road to nowhere in the center to represent US-1. Which ended up looking more like a stream or a waterfall in the final analysis. Which might not be too far from its watery fate if a really powerful hurricane were to whip through the area one day. Yet another poignant reminder that this “land” belongs to no man.

I then surrounded the road with waves, bubbles, palm trees and foliage to represent the wide world around me. There’s another ring of lighthouses pointing beacons of light in a number of directions, beckoning the lemming on the one-way street to go another way, any way.

I also added a ring of arrows going in the same direction, pointing counterclockwise. Which is interesting, because let’s face it, if you are on the one-way street, you are probably going nowhere, or traveling in circles. Unless you are lucky enough to be going home. 🙂 jt

May 31

Choosing What You Let Into Your Circle

bamboozled-by-pool-mandala-5-29-16-jtSunday, May 29, was a pretty hot day in Key West. So we decided to do our exploring in the morning before it got too hot. We have only been to Key West one other time. And this was the first time we got to see the Key West lighthouse. Had we known it was right across the street from Hemingway’s house, we would have definitely gone before.

I’ve always loved lighthouses, and I believe this is the only one I’ve climbed aside from “Old Barney” Barnegat Lighthouse in Long Beach Island, NJ. It seemed pretty short for a lighthouse, at 90 feet. But it offered spectacular 360 degree views and great photo opportunities. They also let us tour the keepers’ quarters. And I was happy to learn that three women played a role in keeping the lighthouse alight in its early days when it required ongoing oversight.

We also visited the Southernmost point as a matter of course, and passed a mother hen and her baby chicks along the way. We merely nodded at the landmark, but took several photos of the chickens. That’s how we are, I guess. We saw a lot of baby chicks over the weekend. And Brad wondered aloud how they survive the predators.

For lunch, we sampled Sloppy Joe’s famous sandwich, which reminded me of my grandmother’s sloppy Joe roosters-rising-mandala-5-28-16-jtsandwich. As someone who has been without a grandmother for quite sometime, I can tell you that it’s a real treat when you get something in a restaurant that evokes grandmom’s cooking. An older gentleman was playing cheerful, retro tunes on the upright piano while we ate.

With the day heating up, we headed back to the pool. I had been eyeing a large Asian stone statue by the pool, and decided to work the pool environment into my mandala for the day. I started with the statue at the head of the pool as my center point, which seemed a really appropriate subject for a mandala. I am really drawn to Asian artwork and symbolism. There were lots of bamboo stalks around the statue and far end of the pool, which seemed like great natural elements to include. And real hibiscus and other flowers, too, which I also brought into the circle.

One of the things I like about mandalas is that you can choose what you allow into your circle. Which is a great reminder that we can do this in other areas of our life, too. Sometimes it seems more complicated when people are involved. But it really is up to us to decide who we let into our inner and other social circles.

This concept can also be applied to television, social media, and many other things. For example, I can’t watch shows with lots of violence. Even though I know it’s fiction, the images still disturb me and I have a hard time forgetting them. I also find I need to limit the amount of negative news programs I watch for similar reasons.

And I’ve learned to unfollow certain people on social media if I don’t want them to be part of my daily experience, for whatever reason. It’s perfectly okay, healthy even, to opt not interact with childhood friends on a daily basis. Or with people who bring me down.

We have control over what we allow into our lives. And can choose to focus on the people, places and things that make us happy. jt

May 30

Hibiscus Mandala

hibiscus-mandala-5-28-16-jtI’m doing my daily “mandayla” from the Hibiscus room of the Duval Inn in Key West today. So I decided to use a hibiscus as my centerpiece and starting point.

I immediately noticed that the hibiscus I was referencing online bore a strong resemblance to a vagina. I pointed this out to Brad, who is relaxing next to me on the bed. And he reminded me of Georgia O’Keefe. We discussed her fascination with flowers and the vagina. And quickly googled to learn she was bisexual.

There are a lot of intricate lines emanating from the dark center of the hibiscus, like veins. And they reminded me of the expression “the devil is in the details” for some reason. And also made me think about wrinkles. The details are often what really make things beautiful. The fine lines make everything so much richer and define the whole.

I can recall thinking once before that people earn their wrinkles. Kind of like the way boy scouts collect badges and patches that represent their accomplishments, and proudly display them across their chest. We marvel when we see the rings on a tree, but, as a society, we blanch when we see them on people.

This is really something to think about, especially as I get older. Women talk about wrinkles all the time, and plastic surgery, too. Some people I know become more and more beautiful as they get older. And I would say they wear their wrinkles well. Maybe some of the others have wrinkles born of unpleasant experiences, and they carry a different look on the owner?

My mother used to warn me when I would make a sour face that it might freeze that way. I definitely know a few people that have captured the permanent frown. Much like the joker is stuck with his hideous grin.

I’ve decided to name this mandala after the hibiscus that inspired it, in the room in Key West filled with bright paintings of flowers. I also used the word hibiscus around the outer circle of the mandala drawing because I think it’s so fitting of the flower. It’s an excellent example of how we sometimes get it really right with language. To me, hibiscus is much prettier and unique than rose or lily. But I’ve never met a person named Hibiscus. jt

Apr 16

Why I Love Walt Disney World

We are just six days out from our next Walt Disney World vacation. Our personalized magic bands have arrived, one purple and one green. I have made a few, tentative FastPlus+ selections and thought I’d share some of my excitement in a post.

We are going to the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival next weekend for the first time. I’ve done my research, and read that they will have outdoor kitchens “around the world” where guests can sample food and drinks in addition to viewing their elaborate flower and topiary arrangements.

I am a true Disney fanatic, and my husband Brad has always been baffled by my enthusiasm. A few weeks ago, I remember saying to him, “life is short, I’m going to Disney.” He shook his head and said “I don’t get it.”

I am able to drag him to this event because he does like flower shows. And he does enjoy Epcot’s Wine and Food Festival in the fall because it’s more about the event than Disney or the parks proper. But it’s an understatement to say that he hasn’t embraced the magic.

I’ve tried to explain the brilliance of Disney to him many times without success. He DOES do an excellent Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse impersonation, so there might be hope for him yet. And I thought I saw a glimmer of appreciation when we went through the One Man’s Dream attraction, a museum and short film about Walt Disney’s life, narrated by Julie Andrews, in December. But the closest I can get to explaining it is by borrowing the words of Helen Keller, who supposedly said:

The best and most beautiful things cannot be seen nor even touched. They must be felt by the heart.

It’s a feeling I get when I go to the parks that keeps me going back over and over again. You either feel it or you don’t. And the build up starts long before you get there. Thinking about going there, and the roadtrip across the state, is part of the experience. It reminds me of many similar family quests for fun with my Dad channeling Chevy Chase from the wheel of the wood-paneled station wagon, with my sisters and I torturing each other in the backseat. It’s also like a visit to grandmother’s house, with all of the warmth and familiar sights, smells and sounds

Wall-E and Jud-E

Wall-E and me at the Franklin Institute

that conjure up lots of great memories.

For me, the seed was planted at a very young age. We watched all of the Disney classic movies religiously and listened to the classic Disney album over and over again until we knew the words to every song. My Mickey Mouse blouse and denim dress ensemble was in constant rotation when I was five. Disney was always a part of our household.

I devoured all of the fascinating books about Walt Disney’s life, was there when Epcot Center debuted, read Disney Magazine and even watched the Disney Channel. I used to practice drawing the characters, and was thrilled when one of the sketches I submitted to the Disney Channel was featured on the air. I was hooked.

When I was in college, I had a chance to interview for the Walt Disney World College Program. I was absolutely ecstatic when I was accepted, and jumped on a plane two days after my graduation from Penn State. Disney apparently loves Penn State students. I spent a humid summer working in the ever crowded bakery and cone shops on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom. And loved exploring behind the scenes, eating up all of the insider information and trivia. So, when I go to Disney World, it really is like going home.

Disney started the magic by taking our favorite, childhood fairy tale characters to the big screen. If that wasn’t enough, they brought the pivotal movie moments to life, frame by frame, just like the movies, on their attractions. They created a special world where the characters dwell among us.

Fairy tales went from being in a place in our minds to a physical location in Orlando, Florida, and Anaheim, California. Disney makes it possible to get your picture taken with the princesses and villains, get their autographs, and even enjoy breakfast with them. Now that’s cool.

They keep stepping up their game, and finding new ways to make the parks and surrounding areas more magical. I’m a little envious of children today who can get a royal princess treatment at Disney Springs. Their attention to detail and theming is second to none. It is possible to blissfully avoid reality and stay on theme throughout your stay. This is especially true if you are staying at a Disney resort hotel.

And, finally, it goes without saying, but it’s just a really cheerful place. You really can buy happiness, at least for a few days, at the Walt Disney World Resort. jt

Jan 08

The Dust Test

To me, dust is one of the most pervasive annoyances on the planet. I have always despised household chores. But the act of dusting has always seemed especially futile to me. It’s painfully boring, and needs to be done over and over again because the results are so short lived. Growing up Catholic, the priests cheerfully reminded me every year when applying fresh ashes to my forehead that I am dust, and will once again “return to dust.” Which is kind of like telling someone who has been fighting off mosquitoes their entire life that they will succumb to mosquito-hood upon death. But they got their point across. We will be dealing with dust until the day we die and join the great dust cloud in the sky. So we need to learn to manage and make our peace with it somehow.

As a girl, I remember sighing every week as I removed my knick knacks and bottles of perfume from my bureau for dusting. I hated every minute of it. This may have been one of my first insights into the idea that owning things is not necessarily innocuous. There is work involved. Somehow this didn’t deter me from becoming an avid consumer. Like most people, I acquired more and more things. Which, of course, required the same monotonous treatment. And over time, I noticed myself becoming more and more frustrated and overwhelmed by my belongings.

One of the helpful tactics I’ve used to minimize dust accumulation is to keep most of my things out of sight in a closet, drawer or cabinet. I find it’s much easier to clean and maintain an uncluttered surface. I also try to store smaller things in larger containers to eliminate the need to dust individual items. Think curio cabinet. More recently, though, I have started to critically question whether I even need or want some of the things I am storing. And whether I like something enough to dust it. This simple question has served as an excellent litmus test for eliminating items that have outlived their stay in my home. It’s easy to let things be when you aren’t thinking about the responsibilities ownership brings. In addition, I find that releasing some of these things also frees up limited, better storage for the truly useful and cherished belongings. So it’s truly a win win if you can find the courage to let go.

It can also be useful to ask the dust question when considering a new purchase. It really puts things into perspective. To me, the mere thought of dusting and cleaning while shopping is a buzz kill. Even more costly than the bill that will inevitably arrive for any new purchases. But this line of thinking is great, because it helps me be really selective about what I allow in my living space. Marie Kondo says items should “spark joy” when we hold them in our hands. But I take this one step farther for most things. I want any new purchases to prove their purpose or usefulness to make it into my living space. Which, in the end, helps them earn their keep in my newly decluttered home. And makes any cleaning or maintenance efforts more worthwhile somehow. jt

Jan 06

Redefining More

The person who dies with the most toys wins. Bumper sticker wisdom like this says a lot about how we relate to our things. It’s not just about having lots of things we like. It’s about having lots of things just to have them, and having more things than everyone else.

In a consumer-driven society, it’s hard not to get caught up in the acquisition game. As a marketing professional, I’m really familiar with marketing and selling tactics. And I admit I’m not immune to the constant advertisements and commercials in our media and walking among us. There are literally endless amounts of new products. And with online shopping and services like Amazon Prime, instant gratification and fulfillment has become the norm. It’s just a click away.

More can be fun. Especially at the point of sale, when you receive that shiny new thing. It’s the honeymoon phase. But over time, more can become oppressive. When you find yourself surrounded by unused, impulse purchases, or can’t find something in an overstuffed closet or drawer, more can be a drag. For me, having to constantly organize or store random things was taking up way too much time. Time that I could have been spending on something else.

When I released many of my dated and unwanted things, a new kind of more surfaced in my life. One of the first things that emerged was more space. I can’t explain the joy I felt when I could easily walk inside my walk-in closet! But it was more than just physical space. Feeling less penned by in by my things also gave me the mind space I needed to think more clearly. About everything.

I realized there were so many other things I could do without to make room for more life. This clarity inspired me to continue with the decluttering process. And I started applying the concept to nonessential activities, too, which gave me more time to pursue other interests. I felt a greater sense of freedom in general, and more open to life’s possibilities. It was okay to free myself from a blouse I bought in 1998, along with other less tangible choices from my past. And to be wide open to new ideas and experiences, too. We all have this freedom.

The clothes that made the “keep” pile helped me redefine my current look, and frame how I see myself today. And having a pared down wardrobe relieved me of the pressure that can come with too many choices. This streamlined my morning process, and, you guessed it, helped me reclaim precious time in a.m. I’ve become vigilant about not repeating old patterns, and think carefully about what I purchase now. For me, having less makes me want less, the same way consumerism causes us to want more.

I also became clear that my clutter was making me feel overwhelmed and stressed. The seemingly harmless items I acquired never escaped my line of sight. They were all things that I had to deal with or maintain in some way. Which made them feel like like a physical to-do list. When I modified and decluttered my living spaces, I created a more relaxing environment in my own home. Which proved much more valuable to me than having more things. jt

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