Category Archives: Community

Uncle, Uncle

I started my new corporate job last week. It’s a great company, great people I work with, a fun department and challenging work. I haven’t done a corporate gig since the last millennium, so I’m adjusting to the new schedule. It’s working out well so far.
Today the CEO walked past our row of cubicles. Apparently this doesn’t happen often because there was a lot of buzz about it. It got me thinking about my Uncle John.

photo of John F. Akers

He would have caused a buzz like that walking past any floor in IBM. My uncle was the CEO of one of the largest corporations in the world. The last time I saw him was at my parent’s house during Easter a couple years ago, the year before he passed away.
My new job has gotten me thinking about another uncle lately too. My new job title is “Editor”. This was my Uncle Roger’s title at People magazine. For a couple decades he was the senior editor at this major magazine and now, in a small way, I’m echoing that. I like my new job, and my new company. I’m excited about this opportunity and getting to know my new co-workers.

Vietnam in 2000

We spent Thanksgiving in Ho Chi Minh City with Megan who was spending four months teaching English there. Kia and I flew in to Seoul South Korea and spent the night in a Korean style room with mattresses on the heated floor before boarding a plane to Vietnam where we would spend the next couple weeks. We shopped in Korean markets which displayed cell phones with color displays as yet unheard of in the states at the time.

Megan met us at the airport with rice hats. We took a cab to her house which would be the only time we rode in an actual car for the rest of the trip. The city runs on scooters and motorcycles.

Vietnam Taxi Ride
Vietnam Taxi Ride

We had clothes custom made for us, including some silk china doll dresses. There were plenty of pre-made dresses to buy, but none of these fit my 5’10” self. We bought material at a fabric shop while playing patty cake with the local kids. Then we went to a seamstress. She took our measurements, looked at some of the pictures we brought from home, them made us awesome outfits for $8-$10 each.Silk Dresses

We toured the Mekong Delta. But before that, we got food poisoning from an upscale Chinese food restaurant serving drunken prawns. I’ve never been so sick in my life. That night president Clinton made the first visit to Vietnam from an American president since the war. The streets were going crazy in celebration and I didn’t have the strength to stand at the window and watch. Still, it was cool to hear and witness that.

The museums in Vietnam show history from a different side than we Americans are used to. We lost that war. The museums showed atrocities committed by American soldiers and the damage done to that country rather than celebrating any freedom we had hoped to bring. It was a different story in Korea where the war memorial celebrated the various countries that helped South Korea escape communism. The Vietnamese museum was the first place I’ve experienced feeling like I was on the losing side of history. Helicopters from 30 years before still littered the airfield.

new old friend
new old friend

Kia, Megan and I got head massages. They lasted for one hour. It cost $1. It felt amazing. I looked like a Qtip after with my short platinum hair sticking straight up and frizzing all over the place after. Totally worth it!

one dollar head massage
16,000 vietnam dong head massage

Taj Mahal in 2000

Dad and I had arrived in New Delhi at night. The temperature had cooled so as the cab driver drove us to our hotel room, we watched the crowded streets as thousands of people flocked to the grassy fields and park areas for late night picnics. Before dropping us off at the Ramada Inn, our taxi driver taught us to greet the people of India. “Namaste” means “all of god’s goodness be with you.” It’s a beautiful word.

We toured the carpet factory as Suresh and Sushma led us through. Sushma was quiet, but she instantly felt like my friend. The guy in charge of mixing carpet dye was ancient and worked over a large kettle of liquid to which he would add the dye later mixing it with the wool for custom rugs. “He can smell the color!” Suresh told us with conviction.

After our rug tour, they sent us a driver to take us to Agra. It was a long drive. On the way we would see many trucks overturned, presumably crashed in order to miss hitting something in the road such as a person or a cow. There were many cows and monkeys roaming about. It was fascinating. Also, people all along the road for the 230km journey were seen squatting, defecating, and carrying on in squalid living conditions. It was sad and exhausting and eye opening.

The Taj Mahal was a beautiful building constructed as a mausoleum for the wife of some big shot. It was beautiful and ornate but much smaller than I had imagined. One must take off their shoes before entering. There are millions of visitors here. Fortunately we made it through without contracting disease to our bare feet.

Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal 2000

There were many people on pilgrimage visiting the Taj Mahal. One couple I spoke to had come for their honeymoon. Several people asked to take pictures with me and my dad. With my short blonde hair, his guess was perhaps they thought I was Sharon Stone.

I handed out candy to a few children who were begging. This quickly turned into a throng of children surrounding us with palms open and raised, begging for more. My dad tossed the bag into the crowd and we left.

There were beautiful people there, colorful, desperate, hopeful, talented, happy people there. I don’t understand India. I don’t understand the starvation while emaciated cows roam the streets. I don’t understand the filth and poverty that so many millions of people live in, nor the abundance of others. There were so many bright smiles there…and so many lost and desperate souls.

Prague 1998

We rented a car and drove throughout Europe in the summer of 1998. It was Sheryl and me together with our moms. On this day though, we had to leave the car behind. The rental car company would not allow us to drive into the recently opened Czech Republic. So we sat down on the train, four seats facing each other in pairs, ready for a full day of adventures. It was sunny and warm and we had our backpacks supplied for a day trip to Prague.

Just before the train pulled out of the station, a very friendly young man passed by and asked Sheryl, “Can I have a sip of your water?” Sweet Sheryl had one of those tall bottles of Evian water as yet unopened. It would last her a full day in the 100+ heat. But this guy reached out his hand as she hesitantly agreed. He cracked it opened, took a swig and handed it back to her enthusiastically saying “Thanks!” She had such a look of disgusted disappointment on her face. It hadn’t occurred to her early enough to tell the vagrant who obviously hadn’t bathed in many days that “no, you cannot sip from my water bottle.”

Lesson learned: It is wholly appropriate and necessary to say “no” sometimes and often…even to very friendly people who smile though green teeth.

Prague 1998
Praha 1998

What’s Your Story

I took a road trip this weekend. I love road trips. The sun was shining. The music was blasting. The red and blue lights twinkled in my rear view mirror. Wait. That last part wasn’t so great. I’m convinced that the speed limit on the 5 should be no less than 100 mph. Since the California Bullet Train is at least a millenia from completion, please give us this little favor. How many times can a person traverse the vast expanse of the Dust Bowl actually going the speed limit? Nevertheless, I enjoyed my drive to not-so-sunny San Diego. In fact, the only sun I saw while attending the Storyline Conference at Point Loma was this beautiful sunset. If there’s only going to be 10 minutes of sun for the weekend, this is how I’d like to see it.

Sunset at Storyline Point Loma
Storyline at Point Loma

Palm fronds littered the streets and trees fell in the soggy ground and high winds. Meanwhile, I sat in an auditorium and listened to awesome speakers like Jon Acuff, Bob Goff, Donald Miller, Kristen Howerton and Anne Lamott. Also, this guy was here…

And this guy

The Storyline conference is to help people figure out how to live a more meaningful story. I discovered this group after reading several of Donald Miller’s books and then reading his storylineblog.com. We were encouraged to look at the different events in our life, both positive and negative. When we can find a redemptive purpose for our suffering, some meaning behind the negative things that happen, then it ceases to be suffering. “Joy is what you experience after the pain changes you” says Donald Miller. Bob Goff encouraged us all to Live in Grace and Walk in Love and also to see people for who they are turning into, their better, future selves.

When I look back at my life at the age of 75, what do I want it to look like? Instead of ending with regret at not having invested enough in important relationships or ignoring dreams, do this:

-Cultivate deep friendships
-Be Grateful
-Don’t ignore your dreams
-Project who you were created to be onto the world
-Keep work & relationships in balance

This list was made as a warning after a nurse listened to the 5 most common regrets of many elderly dying:

-They ignored their dreams
-The worked too much
-They didn’t say what they thought
-They wished they had made more friends
-They wished they had chosen to be happier

I love that happiness is a choice and it has to do with gratitude.

Storyline Sunset
What will you think of your life when you’re 75?

So, the conference was great. In addition to that, I got to visit with two dear friends. I stayed with one in Escondido. She has three beautiful kids whom she’s homeschooling. I played volleyball with both these girls in college and it was so fun to see them as moms. Tired moms. Are there any moms of young kids that actually have energy? Please, I’d love to hear from you. The second friend I visited on the way home has four boys. This is the girl who said she would never have kids. She’s an awesome mom, and also runs a school. On my drive down, I also got to pay a quick visit to two old surf buddies too. Kids were everywhere, mostly boys. In fact, of the 4 friends I saw, there were 9 boys, one girl, and one more boy being born as I type this.

As I drove into Palm Desert to visit my friend Deb, I was running low on gas. I was running low on oil. I needed to pee. 400 yards from my exit, the car started to sputter and cough. It coughed up the off ramp and through the stop light and into the gas station where it died. I had no power steering as I coasted to the pump. The timing could not have been more perfect. I filled what I needed to. I emptied what I needed to. I got to church almost on time. I got to see my dear friend and not get towed out of the desert. It was amazing. The sunset. The gas pump. The speeding ticket. The old friends. The weekend was a reset. It filled up my gas tank, and my oil, and relieved me. Okay, I’m taking that pit stop analogy a little too far.

If you want to learn more about Storyline, click here. You can also start planning your story on this cool site at mysubplot.com. It’s free.