Monday, August 17, 2009

Trying Not To Be Negative Has Moved!

After two years, I have decided to buy the actual domain and redesign.

Please go to

I hope if you are subscribed, you will sign up at the new site - or - change your bookmark.

The new location offers more design options and features. I hope you like it. Please let me know!

Thanks so much for reading!!


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What's It Like to Ride the Zorb?

Riding in a Zorb is a wild rebirth of an experience.

Last year when my husband and I were watching the Amazing Race, the contestants raced down a hill with Zorbs in New Zealand. We knew we’d jump at a chance to try. After firming up our vacation plans with our friends to go to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, my husband and I were dual-laptop researching the area and he turned his screen toward me with his find. “The Zorb! How close?” I asked. “IN Pigeon Forge.” Woah, baby!

After hiking along cascading streams and then to the top of an amazing waterfall in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, our group was hot and wanted to cool off. Ranging in age from 8 to 48, the nine of us couldn’t wait to ride in a giant ball.

For years I played with my sons designing Marble Raceways and dropping balls down plastic chutes. At the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore, one exhibit has balls travelling around on metal tracks. Maybe because I love roller coasters, I always stare fascinated by the motion of gravity, trying to imagine what it would feel like to be on those tracks. This was my chance to be IN A BALL as it free falls, twisting, turning, reversing down a zig-zag trail on the side of a mountain.

So what’s it really like? You start by diving in arms first through a small tunnel. You are zipped in twice for the inner and outer balls. The ride is too brief, only 40 seconds. The sensations were just as I imagined and I laughed the whole way down. Water in the Zorb allows your body to shift from side to side, back and forth. Sort of like body surfing on a wave but with much more motion and sloshing. You are at the mercy of your weight and gravity then wind up falling backwards. If the zippered opening rips across your back, you need to shift your body to another side or pay a raw red consequence. You get out by slipping feet first out of the hole with all the water, which resembles my vision of birth a little too closely. We all felt a weird birthing moment at the end.

The price for our group was $33 each. That’s a steep cost for such a quick experience but we all were glad we did the Zorb. It’s just one of those things you HAVE to do in your life because you CAN! We all tried the water version, Zydro. The other version is Zorbit, which allows you to experience weightlessness and g-force. My arm was in a sling and I’m still trying to decide if I would have strapped myself in for the dry rollover version if it wasn’t.

Maybe I have an addiction to balls but you want to ride the Zorb, even if it’s just once in your life!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Secret Cindy: Who Are You Online?

Friends came up to me at a picnic and immediately asked about the motorcycle rally I attended. I blurted out a short description which had them laughing, “I didn’t need the Lane Bryant coupon and I’m not a lesbian.”

“That’s not what you said on Facebook, but I have a much better picture now.”

“Yeah,” I responded, “Lately I’ve been wishing I had a Secret Cindy account so I could be myself.”

Over the past couple of years I’ve happily added friends, acquaintances, political figures, co-workers, church members, family, and bloggers. I enjoy reading the news feed and keeping up with everyone, but I don’t know who I am now. When I post a status, who am I talking to?

I think some people don’t post status updates for exactly this reason.

I don’t have anything to hide. But if I posted the description of the motorcycle rally, people who don’t know me well might not understand my comment in the right context. I’ve always been overweight and have shopped at Lane Bryant. For many of the women, the rally was a chance meet up, but obviously not for me. If you aren't a close enough friend to know how I struggle with my weight and have close friends who are gay, you might misjudge my status.

A friend didn’t like how Barack Obama, as a candidate, changed his demeanor for different audiences. When he first mentioned it, I realized I do the same. I don’t speak with a friend from another culture the same way I speak to a politician. My word choice, speed, and content are different. Both online and offline, I have a diversity of friends. Isn't this true for all of us?

The situation on Facebook is perplexing, especially when professional contacts are included on your friend list. Obviously I would tell my family more intimate details about our weekend than I would share with a state delegate. Family want to hear about your kid's accomplishments but to everyone else it's bragging.

A friend who grew up down the street from me, couldn’t believe a current friend called me “Cindy” on Facebook. Didn’t I hate that? For 23 years I was against the nickname unless we were family or close friends, but as work blended with socializing, the distinction blurred. Eventually I felt silly telling people to call me Cynthia.

Now people from every part of my life are blended together on social networks. I’m very conscious of what each person thinks about every word I type. I'm concerned aboout what people will think.

I like sharing details of my life which helps me keep in touch and get to know others better, but it is difficult to speak to large, diverse audiences. Even though the message is the same, often the words need to be different. My status updates are generic and perhaps less fun, hence my wish for a wild and crazy Secret Cindy account because I like to joke around.

Who are you typing to?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

My Dad Was Way Before United We Serve

A friend from high school said he never drives past a volunteer community car wash without thinking about my dad. My dad owned a gas station and he was always letting scouts and schools have car washes. My friend marveled at all the gallons of water he donated.

I’d never thought about it. In fact, I’d forgotten all about the car washes.

A couple of years ago, I was chatting with a friend and recalled the name of my dad’s gas station -- Community Service. I’d never thought about that either. You take everything for granted from childhood. I’ve never taken a step back to think about a person naming their gas station Community Service.

A large group of men hung out there. It was truly the hub of our township. The hours were filled with lots of joking and discussion. I couldn’t help but think about the men at the gas station when watching Gran Torino. Clint Eastwood’s character takes the boy into the barbershop to teach him how to talk like a man, which involves foul language and insults. Although they cleaned up their act for me, I know this occurred. My grandmother always disapproved, especially when our minister joined them.

On June 22, 209 First Lady Michelle Obama, kicked off the United We Serve campaign at Bret Harte Elementary in San Francisco, California. She explained what United We Serve is all about:

“It's a nationwide effort to call Americans to make service a daily part of
their lives -- like all of you here; it's not something that you do in your
spare time.”

Surprisingly, the first thing I thought about was my dad and his gas station. He was a successful businessman who held the highest ranking volunteer position in Boy Scouts. He always sponsored a work study program at our local high school. He took young men, gave them a job, and taught them work skills. My dad was great at what he did. The teachers always sent him the toughest cases. He struggled with one boy who wouldn’t make eye contact or speak. Others needed to learn how to show up on time and be dependable. Simple skills like making change and being courteous to customers were unknown to these boys. For years, day in and day out, he spent his time at work teaching them how to make a living. Although it wasn’t always easy, they became functioning members of the workforce. Many came back to visit and it must have been so satisfying to know the important part he played in making each of them succeed and talk like a man.

My dad had not graduated from high school. He never went to any formal leadership training.

With New Jersey’s laws requiring gas to be pumped, he needed workers. He combined this business need with a community need. He offered his business to help community groups on a regular basis. He used what he had to help others regularly. Nothing fancy.

He obviously influenced me because I’m a Boy Scout leader and volunteer in my community to make people’s lives better too.

As Mrs. Obama said:

“… community and national service is something that's near and dear to my heart.
It's not something that we just started to do in the White House. It's been sort
of the air that we breathe in the Obama household in so many ways…”
How does it become the “air that we breathe”, a daily habit? Community service spreads by example from father to daughter. It spreads by invitation from neighbor to neighbor. The only necessary ingredient is a person who cares. It’s a lifestyle of growing and nurturing those around you while seeking or creating opportunities to help every day.

We simply need a call to service, a daily mindset. Now we have it from Mrs. Obama.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Being Leftovers

Sometimes I wonder if attending a funeral during our honeymoon influenced my fairly frequent thoughts on the frailty of life. After traveling for a week, my groom and I visited his grandmother. Soon after we arrived his grandmother’s sister lost her husband in the middle of the night and the commotion woke us. I still can picture every detail of the guest room as I lay for a long time holding tight to my new husband.

This week I took my sons to see the movie Up. The loss of a long-time partner never fails to make me crumble. Since I don’t want to spoil the movie, I won’t give away any plot, but go see it even if you don’t have kids.

As many people know, one of my best and most supportive friends, Michael, lost his partner last summer. Ira’s friends and family have maintained a blog in his honor. I read the posts and feel Michael’s pain.

Reading Michael’s most recent words and seeing Up both brought me to tears, but more importantly they both showed me strength and hope after losing someone you’ve spent a lifetime loving.

So I’m sharing part of Michael’s message of renewed spirit:

He would be proud of Zachary and I but at the same time tell me to settle down -
just be. Sit on his beloved couch, read a bit, take a nap or just hang with
Zack. This Michael who understands mortgage rates, homestead exemptions and
watches the market's rise and fall would be very boring to him and worst of all
only make worry about us more. He would ask what happened to my shopping,
gardening and why aren't you sitting down to dinner anymore? The poor guy - his
last meal was leftovers and he was perfectly happy with that. I've always hated
leftovers but he defended them like a UN Peace Keeping Force.

So that takes me to the thought, in end I've become a "leftover" another way to
look at being a widower. But what if I embraced it the way he did? What if I was
a "festival of leftovers"? What if I represented the very best of what I had
been? What if what was left of me, of him, or us was the very best - made
richer, full of flavor - savory. Now I understand the attraction to the
"left-over". So cast in the light of open refrigerator I am resplendent like a
piece of apple pie at midnight or cold pizza for breakfast. So embrace your
inner leftover and maybe just maybe you'll here his chuckle, feel the warmth of
a distant smile or know the perfect happiness of cold KFC.

We shouldn’t waste our lives thinking about what was or what might be, rather we need to embrace what’s best in our lives now, confident of our love. I've become a great fan of leftovers too.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

All I Really Needed to Know About Success I Learned In Kickboxing

While grunting with each move, I push myself to complete the rotations from my kickboxing instructor. As I finish the last one I invariably think “Wow, I can’t believe I just did that!” and she almost always yells “Again!”

For the first time in my life, I’m physically pushing myself beyond anything I have ever imagined. Muscles I didn’t even know existed all over my back, sides, shoulders, arms, and legs hurt constantly. Since I never seriously trained, and only half-heartedly exercised for most of my life, I had no idea about the pain involved with reshaping your body.

In class I have the reputation of repeating the instructions. She’ll say “jump rope – 5 minutes” and I’ll incredulously repeat “5 minutes?” Granted I can jump for 5 minutes but after 20 minutes of nonstop physical activity, I’m not happy about it. In fact, I hate working out and my body groans in agreement.

I thought people simply went through repetitious moves and their bodies looked better. Now I know why people say “No pain, No gain.” How could I have been so clueless?

Lots of people have been noticing the changes in my body. They ask questions about how I’m doing it. With my slug background, I’m asking myself the same questions and the answer is always “my trainer”. She’s a natural. Having left everything behind in Chile to move to the United States, Lyu Pollard is strong and driven, which rubs off on her students. As I’ve learned and struggled, I’ve realized her methods for improving my body apply to many situations in life.

How much better can I be doing this? My trainer’s heading to California to obtain a 5th degree black belt. All the martial arts are based on improvement. There’s always a next goal. Since she participates in our instruction, we are always training right along with her. The important lesson is thinking about a next level. Never accept the present situation. To be successful we need to constantly seek the next best thing in whatever we are doing then work toward it.

Haven’t I done enough? Since my trainer grew up with a military dad who made her wake up each morning at 5:30 AM and exercise, her demeanor resembles the sergeant’s program. We sometimes hear “Let’s go soldiers.” When we don’t want to do something or start to loose energy, we need motivation. I lack discipline, but my trainer insists on it. She’s tough and points out when we are slacking or taking the easy way out. “Not like that!” “Lift your leg higher, you’re trying to kick them in the face!” Constantly test yourself to see if you can do more and go further. You might be surprised by your own stamina and dedication.

Can’t I do this alone? My kickboxing instructor used to be a trainer in one of those fancy gyms. She knows all about the muscle sets and complete fitness. Sometimes we need specific help from knowledgeable people. If you can’t make yourself do what’s necessary to improve, then find someone who is qualified to push you in the right direction. Surround yourself with good people who know what they’re doing. This might mean joining Weight Watchers, Alcoholics Anonymous or Toastmasters. Perhaps you need a special course, a partner, or work mentor. My whole life I’ve viewed getting help as a weakness but I’ve finally learned to reach out to others. I lost 50 pounds with weekly Weight Watcher meetings because of the program and the people. Everyone in my kickboxing class is supportive. We cheer each other’s accomplishments because we are all struggling together.

After my first night of kickboxing I decided that if I could actually do her class, I would be in excellent physical shape. Underneath I didn’t think it was possible, but I keep showing up.

I’m learning more than I expected.

Kickboxing Classes are at the second floor studio at Rockville Martial Arts and Learning Center (just south of Woodmont Country Club entrance). Everyone is welcome to stop by and try a class for free, no pressure. There are monthly rates or less expensive long-term commitments. Believe it or not, I still pay by the month and could revert to being a slug at any moment!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Real Life Parable Made Me Think

After church started on Easter Sunday, an Asian man in his 30’s sat down in the pew in front of me. I had the feeling he was homeless but it wasn’t obvious. I handed him my bulletin and showed him where we were. When it came time for the offering, I couldn’t help but watch. I worried because if I was right about him, this could be an uncomfortable situation. He opened his wallet and all I could see was a coupon and two dollars. He pulled out the two dollars and put them in the offering plate.

We all know about the parable of the woman giving her small amount in the temple showing far more love than the rich man who gave a larger amount but a smaller fraction of his wealth. I had witnessed the real thing. While I thought selfish thoughts on his behalf, he emptied his wallet.

So today I sit here thinking I would never give away all our money. Who would empty out their mutual funds, retirement plans, savings accounts and stocks? I wouldn't, not in a million years. Where does this leave me?

When my husband and I were young starting out, we had very little. I knew in the back of my head we were “safe” from this parable lesson. The day I married my husband he was ABD without the dissertation started and had no income. He didn’t even have a car because he had to junk it on the way to the university one morning. Meanwhile, I was working at a local nonprofit. We had nothing but our love and my large inherited real estate debt.

I learned real estate, bought and sold property, then refinanced our current house seven years ago when the interest rates hit rock bottom. One day I told my husband we had earned what we had. He was quick to point out that it was all a gift from God. He was right.

The homeless man reminded me of my wealth.

All the gifts in our lives are precious. Sometimes I think I squander love and friendship much more than money. We can lose everything we love very quickly.

While adding up the terrible investment losses from last year, I thought about everything I could have done with the money to help others and fulfill our dreams. Now I’m reminded it’s never too late to start.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been hanging onto it after all.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

We’re All In This Together: Mandatory Volunteering

As I was sitting at a picnic for one of my son’s activities, a leader stood up and proceeded to describe all the volunteer duties for parents. “O boy,” I thought, “This is entirely my fault.”

After leading a youth organization for a few years, I decided to tell parents to commit to a volunteer job on an index card and hand it to me along with their membership payment. One night in a parking lot as we were leaving a meeting, this leader talked about how certain parents were overburdened with a few jobs each, while other parents did nothing. I told her about my new system for my group and she was intrigued.

If you have ever volunteered for your school’s PTA, a scout organization, youth group, or sports team, you know how volunteering usually goes. The leaders do all the activity coordination themselves, a few other parents step forward on their own, or the leaders beg the same few volunteers to help. Eventually people don’t want to step forward as leaders because the job is overbearing.

The burden must be evenly spread across all members so everyone feels like they are doing their fair share. When I implemented the system, I worried about parents’ reactions to being forced to do an activity. What I found is that parents went overboard in their responsibility. Since they knew it was their “one thing” for the whole year, they threw themselves into the job. We almost had to hold them back. My leaders knew they could concentrate on their real responsibilities without additional time requirements. The quality of all our activities improved.

After the presentation at the picnic, the leader came to me and confirmed my earlier thought. Her presentation was due to my suggestions. All I could do was laugh. She talked with the leaders and came up with the plan to encourage more parent involvement.

Taking my idea a step further, she had taken a collage of photographs of the kids, cut it into puzzle pieces, and put a volunteer job on each piece. She encouraged the parents to take one puzzle piece and create the full picture together. When some did, she was delighted.

Perhaps mandatory volunteering will help your organization. Don’t be timid when you ask.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Learning to Love Letting Go

Scaffolding rose up toward the ceiling where the altar usually stands at the front of the church. Even though this was a special day for my son to celebrate Communion, we were not going to be kneeling at our familiar altar. Nothing was usual.

When I first heard the stained glass window was to be re-installed and the church would be in disarray, all I could think was “bad planning”. In my life, both personally and professionally, I plan everything. Schedules, timetables, and details are paramount.

But I think God had a strong message for me today.

The makeshift altar and distribution held the same promise. This Christian family meal provided the same joy of celebration with the millions of Christians who have lived or will live around the world. Life can’t be typical with so many people in the chaotic throws of life. You can’t plan everything with thoughts and power crashing in all directions.

When I became pregnant with my first son, a colleague told me having a child would be good for me because I would have to learn to let go. Everything would not go exactly as I expected. For the past dozen years, her words were a daily invitation to put each instance in perspective. I have changed.

Today’s free-wheeling service took my thoughts a step further and made me appreciate the unexpected, embrace the uncontrollable unknown. After all, earthly objects are immaterial.

A couple of weeks ago, our seminarian preached about his first time in our church. Our minister told him how he loved the stained glass window of the Ascension. As Jesus rises, the disciples are all standing around with expressions on their faces which seem to ask “Where are you going and what are we supposed to do?”

I ask myself the same thing everyday.

Today I realized I'm supposed to take Communion even when there’s no altar and be glad while I do it. After I am fed, I'm responsible for feeding, or looking after, others.
In life we often have to succeed with a failed plan. We will, by letting go of our perceived failure and finding joy in the situation.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Should I Abandon Real Life for My Laptop?

As I began to start a new community website, I caught myself thinking I’d need to jettison real life commitments in order to maintain it. Then it hit me, I was actually thinking about quitting my volunteer work with other people to sit at my laptop.

In the last week I’d volunteered at our elementary school festival and field day then participated in a cub scout service project. Between my family, work, church and a city commission, my days are booked. Something would have to give.

Should we really reduce our real life community time in order to have one online?

When I confided my dilemma to a friend, he told me about his six years maintaining a national website for train enthusiasts. After a while, the site took up so much time that he realized he wasn’t fixing trains anymore. All he wanted was to grab tools and scrap paint to repair old engines in the museum, but he’d spend his weekends on the website. He stopped.

For people who don’t have volunteer or community activities, online groups and interactions provide a sense of community. Anyone can spend time blogging and commenting to provide a place for like-minded people to participate from the comfort of their own computer screen.

But what if your time is filled volunteering in the flesh? Even if you streamline, you still need to have the time to do a good job and respond to others online. It’s unavoidable.

Now I’m seriously considering the benefits from all of my activities by asking myself four simple questions.

Does the organization have a positive influence on a priority in my life, such as my children?

What do I get out of the experience personally?

Am I truly helping a broader good or cause?

Will the online interaction improve an aspect of my real life community or career?

When I find the answers, I still have to prioritize whether an online effort with the same benefits outweighs a real life effort with people physically in the same place at the same time. It’s amusing to even consider it.

More and more, time spent online truly competes with real life interactions. How many times have you been dragged away from your computer or internet cell phone connection by someone standing in front of you?

A fellow mom sent me a piece of Flair on Facebook, “Not now sweety, mommy’s on Facebook.” I read it out loud with my 7-year old in the room and he said, “That’s alright mommy.” I spun around in shock and explained that I was only reading something. Was I ignoring him for the computer? At that moment I hadn’t thought I was. Though I often say, “Just let me post this blog real quick and we’ll do something together.”

I can’t imagine quitting as a volunteer to spend my time on my laptop no matter what the reason.

What we all need are online clones to handle our internet duties, blogging, programming and design. Our look-alike avatars could handle everything for us. Who’s working on THAT kind of robot?