Sunday, October 21, 2012

Mentorship Moments

Madeleine Albright is famous for saying that there is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women. I'm guessing she's referring to women helping other women in the business world - and that if a woman "makes it" she has an obligation to help other women achieve success. That makes sense. I agree with her since historically it has been so hard for a woman to compete. It's gradually becoming easier, but there are still some very real boundaries in the business world.

I think Madeleine was on the right track, and she spoke from her heart and probably from experience. However, I think she got derailed. I believe that if you have achieved any measure of success, or can impart some knowledge to someone who needs it,  you have an obligation to help - not just to someone with whom you share the same sex.

This lesson was brought home to me most recently by a chef at a Buffalo country club. He was chosen to speak at our 2nd annual TEDx talks.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with TED, please take the time to visit TED  and browse through the topics. TED (which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design) started out as a conference where experts were brought in to do chats of 18 minutes that were designed to change people's way of thinking. Its mission was to spread ideas. Now that conference has morphed into mini sessions at  local levels. Recently, Buffalo hosted its own conference and James Roberts, the aforementioned chef was chosen to speak about mentorship. When we first met James, Bill and I were struck by his passion for food and his general affability. He was more than happy to share kitchen tricks and recipe ingredients even with amateurs like us. Check out a short video about his work here.

I know that some people are born to be teachers. But mentorship is so much more; not only do you have to have the knowledge and be able to impart it, you have to be a role model and you have to be able to recognize the give and take in mentorship - for, as in any relationship, a mentor will inevitably gain something from the mentee.

One of the perqs of being married to Bill is that his love of teaching has helped me to grow. He is happiest when he is in front of students (whether formally at UB, informally with pals, or just with his family). He can expound on WWII military aircraft, the ingredients of garam masala, what happened at Stalingrad, whether Brian Mormon was the most valuable player for the Buffalo Bills, the changes in Giant Steps, the flying buttresses of Notre Dame... you get the point.  His eidetic memory allows him to converse on a host of subjects and this ability has allowed him to have a series of mini-mentorships with many people - for he has figured out that you can learn from others ALL THE TIME.  He, in fact, had manufactured his very own personal TEDx before it was even invented. 

Once, when I picked Bill up from the airport, he was so excited to tell me what he learned from his seat mate that the usual 'how are the kids' dialogue was forgotten.  He immediately launched into the composition and virtues of concrete because he had spent that last 90 minutes with an expert.

And, even though he will list out those that provided valuable mentorship to him, he would strenuously object to being called a mentor himself.  I would have to disagree - for he has been a true mentor to me. We have a wonderful relationship that is based on love, but it is also rooted in a give and take of learning and growing. Bill has shown by example that you can learn things from everyone that you encounter, that you should never stop inquiring and that you have the ability to create your own personal TEDx experiences every day. That's a lesson that I will never forget and that I feel an obligation to pass on. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Canadian Thanksgiving

My friends and family in Canada are celebrating Thanksgiving tonight. Living in the northeast, it seems a more appropriate time to celebrate the harvest since it is actually harvest time. Perhaps I should start a rebellion and petition to move Thanksgiving in the US from November (where it competes with Christmas shopping) to October. How hard would it be to get something like that accomplished?  How does one go about doing this? I wouldn't know where to start. Perhaps a grassroots movement in my favorite rust belt city? I think almost everyone I know in Buffalo has at least one Canadian relative or, at the very least, enjoys visiting Toronto every so often. Spacing out the turkey/mashed potato/pie intake might be prudent, too.  

Thanksgiving in Canada is really the best holiday because it is all inclusive. There are no religious obligations, no ethnic overtones, no political agendas - it's a holiday for everyone. The whole Pilgrim/Indian sit down never happened - so there's not guilt either.  Canadians didn't co-opt the idea of Thanksgiving from their southern neighbors, either. One of the first Thanksgiving in Canada occurred when Martin Frobisher, a famous explorer studied by all Canadian students, was searching for a northern route to the Pacific Ocean (good GOD that must have been frigid). Somewhere on Baffin Island  he gave thanks, not for food, but for his mere survival during his expedition. That was in the late 1500s.  
Today, Canadians are merely required to eat, drink, assemble family and friends and say a big thank you. Some may also be lucky enough to have water nearby to have a celebratory paddle.

As I examine my ever increasing girth, I'm thinking I should say 'no thank-you' more than I should say 'thank-you'. However, we all understand that Thanksgiving is about being thankful for all our gifts - not just the plentiful harvest (although I understand the apple harvest will be scant this year). Taking time to be thankful is always a good idea and, unless you're in the enviable habit of saying 'grace' at each meal, or your prayers each night,  it's something that we just don't do enough.

Listening to my co-worker list the heart-rending issues with her extended family this morning, I was once again thankful for the incredible luck I have had with my family, our kids and my husband. Our troubles are few and minor in comparison to others.

So, even though I did not eat a feast tonight (although Bill did whip up another tasty meal), I am thankful for my friends, my co-workers, my family and my many blessings. Even though it isn't Thanksgiving stateside, I hope you are in a position to give thanks, too. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Healing Hands

Ahhhh... a massage. Even the word is calming. Maaaaaaassaahhhhhhhhhhhge. It's a beautiful thing.

Last weekend I used a gift card for a massage to alleviate the ache in my head, neck and sinuses. I was lucky enough to get gift cards from Bill for Christmas. And, then I was lucky enough to have a wonderful therapist lay hands on me at Spa 400 in Williamsville.

I explained to Gina that I've been suffering from sinus headaches and that if I get up too quickly I suffer from vertigo. So, she spent the next 1/2 hour kneading my head, scalp and neck.  That’s THIRTY whole minutes where the entire focus was my head. Then she spent the next 20 minutes on the rest of my body. As a special treat, she spent the last 10 minutes on my scalp. She did all this with an oil base lotion infused with eucalyptus. I left in a state of bliss.

It’s Gina’s theory that if everyone started and ended each day with a massage there would be no war.

I believe her.

Bill hates getting massages. He is uncomfortable with the whole process. Only once did he ever agree to a massage. We were in Chiang Mai, Thailand and we found this small establishment that specialized in ‘couples’ massage. It wasn’t some kind of weird sex trade thing. Believe me, I was skeptical.  It was completely legitimate. No oils were used and we were completely clothed during the whole procedure. 

We both lay on straw mats on the ground - surprisingly comfortable. Then, two small Thai women worked on me and two tinier Thai women worked on Bill. And when I say 'worked on' was work. The Thai massage is more of a give and take. The masseuse puts you into what I would describe as yoga-like poses and then proceeds to stretch and pound you. She will also walk on you and press her feet into your muscles.

I tried to achieve a meditative state during the poses but it was impossible because of Bill’s gyrations, snorts and laughter. He said it tickled and that he couldn't stand anyone touching him ("ahhh .... dear! That's what a massage is!"). He just could not take it and suffered through the whole experience.  His two ladies found the whole thing hilarious; they whispered non stop to each other in Thai and giggled behind their hands. What was supposed to be a ‘sensuous’ experience turned into a laugh riot.

That very same night, we went to a Thai cultural center where women in traditional garb danced the fingernail dance or Fawn Leb. They have REALLY long nails. And, they click them a lot. It's all ABOUT the hands.   

Bill swore he saw the woman who massaged him up on the dance floor. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The fine art of writing a thank you note - dedicated to Danielle

You know how much you love to get a package in the mail? Even when you've ordered it for yourself? Well, I love getting thank you notes 100 million times more. It's a gift all wrapped up with kind words.

The art of writing a thank you note is not a difficult one to master. Sincerity is key - so is promptness. Mention the gift/the dinner/the outing/the thing for which you are expressing thanks (hereafter "it"). Tell the recipient of the note why you liked "it" or how much you would love for "it" to happen again or how much you'll use "it". Then add a line about your relationship and why it is special. Finally, close with something genuine.

Don't use graph paper or lined paper or something ripped from a memo pad. Get yourself some stationery or a pre-printed thank you card. I guarantee that when the card arrives all mixed up with circulars and bills and political requests for contributions your letter will be the first one ripped opened. The tactile experience of examining the envelope, looking at the return address and slipping the card from its envelope is just too delicious.  A simple pleasure. You will create a smile and a warm spot in the heart of the recipient.

Sure, sending an email is okay to acknowledge a gift or a favor.  I use email all the time to express my appreciation (I'm a sucker for a hoops and yoyo e-card).  I think most people under 40 generally rely on email for most correspondence. But, there are some stalwart younger souls out there who still believe in the old fashioned pen to paper method of expressing gratitude. Maybe we have their mums to thank? Or maybe they just know...

Oh! The bonus is that the post office needs our help. :)

Try it out soon..especially on someone who would least expect it.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A love letter to Emma

Early on in our dating life together, Bill and I discussed having children. True, we weren't 'betrothed' but we both avowed that having a family had to be part of the marriage deal. Although I was uncertain about whether I was actually maternal, I knew that Bill would make a great father. He loved to teach - and he was so passionate about so many things that I knew he couldn't help but share his joie de vivre with the next generation of Savinos.

I was right.

I am thankful for so many things that Bill has brought into my life but, the best part of our life, bar none, is the fact that we were able to have two terrific kids. We were lucky that we agreed on parenting tactics and values. We rarely disagreed about issues with the kids - and we are fortunate that we didn't have to deal with any huge problems.

My pregnancy with Emma, our first born, was touch and go. I think that that fragility and uncertainty made me appreciate her even more when she was eventually ripped from my gut. The first year of Emma's life I took a leave of absence from law school and stayed at home full time. That was probably the best year of my life.  She was a dream baby. In fact, her name, Emma, came to me in a dream when I was pregnant with her.

Emma was not a popular name 22 years ago - it was pre "Friends" and it was kind of old fashioned. Her name is actually an acronym (E for Elizabeth - my name; MM for Mary Margaret - my mother's name; and A for Antionette - Bill's mother's name). The acronym part is what I dreamt about. I woke up with a start and announced to Bill that the baby was going to be named Emma. He loved it even though we didn't know if she was female. (PS: Don't you love what your brain can do when you're asleep?!)

Twenty-two years later, my love for her is only outweighed by my respect for her. She is such a great daughter and an even better sister to Will!  I have no doubt that whatever she sets her mind to do, she will accomplish. And she'll do it with flair! She is so smart and organized and beautiful and determined and caring and frugal and unspoiled and genuine.  She and her father often butt heads - I think it's because they share so many characteristics.  

She's in her final semester at the University of Toronto. The world is open to her and I can't wait to see what she will do. It's such an exciting time of life for her and I know she is stressing about all the choices that are ahead of her.

It's funny how a little more than 22 years ago I was just fine with life and the people in it. And now, I don't know how I ever lived without her.

Our own wee Emma! We love you so much!!!

Monday, January 16, 2012

In the blink of an eye

It was a busy weekend this weekend - that's the way Bill likes it. I usually have to negotiate with him to get an evening off and he loves to be booked every Friday and Saturday.

Friday night we spent with some great people at a really lovely birthday party. We were celebrating the 65th birthday of a guy who could easily pass for 50. When the guest of honor spoke to the revelers, he said that those 65 years had passed in a 'blink of an eye'. And, even though I often reflect upon how fast life seems to fly by, for some reason his words resonated deeply with me that night.

As I climbed the stairs to bed that night, I looked at the 'rogues' gallery of pictures on the wall. Those pictures chronicle much of our life and I felt like I was looking at people I knew - but not very well. It was almost like those photos were of someone else's life. The kids have grown up and Bill and I have grown old and I don't know what happened to the time in between.

Luckily, I married a man who does require me to negotiate with him to have a day off. He is intent on living life to the fullest and to jamming as much as we can into a day. Which is why our weekends leave me little time for laundry and cleaning and the other mundane but necessary parts of life. Our vacations are no different. If we're in Paris, damn it we're going to see every corner of the Louvre and read every word about the architecture. If we have to catch a plane, we'll get there at the last possible minute so as to not waste time at the airport (I believe I may have written about this issue before?).

Maybe that's why I can't seem to recall details of the last 25 years; I just have too much stuff packed into that ever shrinking gray matter. Before I met Bill I thought I was pretty adventurous and full of life. But, after that fateful night we met at Jimmy Mac's (Dec. 20th, 1985) it was never quite the same. Echoing the sentiment in the Frank Sinatra tune "The best is yet to come", Bill insisted: I'm gonna teach you to fly - We've only tasted the wine - We're gonna drain that cup dry.

Hopefully, if I'm the least bit lucid in my waning years, I'll be able to recall all the fun that we had. And, I'll be thankful that Bill is a much better negotiator than I.

Monday, January 9, 2012

A night of firsts

In my second half century, it has occurred to me, more than once, that I have become a little jaded - nothing excites me the way it used to when I was young. Things just aren't 'new' anymore. I am very rarely surprised. Fortunately, life taught me a lesson this weekend.

Saturday night I stayed out late - very unusual for me. It started off innocently enough - dinner and the hockey game. Our friend, Pete (not his real name - no really, it's NOT his real name. His real name is Allen but everyone calls him Pete) took us out for a night on the town.

We started off at a relatively new eatery on Amherst Street called the Black Rock Kitchen and Bar. We feasted on tongue tacos and bone marrow among other things. Our server was very happy to find patrons who appreciated a good tongue. Fortunately, Pete had the foresight to begin the meal with a large and lovely Belvedere martini. Believe me - it helped all that raw protein go down. Pete is always introducing us to new things. In fact, it was Pete who ordered me my first gin martini many, many, MANY years ago.

We rolled out of the restaurant and drove down to the HSBC center. Oops I mean the First Niagara Center, for the Sabres game. Pete had fantastic seats; we were so close that Bill eyeballed Center Nathan Gerbe and proclaimed him to be a real short ass. In comparison, Nathan did appear to be quite a bit shorter than the rest of the players - especially when he skated a shift against a huge Jets player named Antropov. Antropov looked like a lumbering ox next to nimble Nathan. Our row seatmates (apparently Jets fans) frequently called out "get that big, dumb Russian off the ice".

Bill quickly googled the Sabres website and found that Gerbe was listed as being 5'5" tall. Wikipedia proclaims that he is, in fact 5'4" and THE SHORTEST player in the NHL.
Nathan number 42 at 5'5" or so (maybe with his skates on)
Nathan is now Bill's hockey hero.

After the game we headed uptown to the Elmwood Lounge. I haven't been there in years. It was nice to see the decor has not changed. Saturday night the legendary "Lance Diamond show" is on the menu. Lance explained to us that we might notice a photographer taking pictures. Apparently, the Buffalo News was doing a story on him - I can't wait to read it. The photographer giggled all night long, clearly enjoying his assignment. Artvoice, another local newspaper, has declared Lance the Best Genre Defying Act. That about sums it up. You have to see Lance to believe him. On Saturday, he wore a lovely green 3 piece sparkle suit.  At one point in the evening he gave away his cuff links to a cute service-woman in the audience. He is smooth!

We stayed through his first set. Amazingly, Bill turned to me as the set was winding down and told me he couldn't stay up any longer... I had to take him home. That was the FIRST time in 26 years that he pooped out before me. I got up from the bar stool, said thank you to Lance and drove everyone home.

At 51, it's nice to know that I can still be surprised and do new things. Especially when friends like Pete remind me. Thanks, Pete. 

Monday, January 2, 2012

Acts of kindness

When I was little I was afraid of the dark. I'm still not entirely comfortable with being in complete darkness  - even at the ripe old age of 51. Bedtime was not a happy time for me. I always fought when it was time to go upstairs to bed.

Remembering my issues with sleeping alone, I was always easy, some thought too easy, with my own kids: reading to them until they were almost comatose and lying beside them until they fell asleep. As a mum, I knew that I was probably promoting bad habits with my kids - but selfishly, I loved this time of day. As a working mother, I grabbed any time I could with the kids - and lying beside a sleeping child is a small piece of heaven.

Sometimes they would wake up, and, finding me gone, they would find their way into our room. I would put one hand under their butt and lift them into bed without a word. They would fall asleep immediately - and so would I. Half the time, or maybe more than half the time, Bill would have no idea that there were 3 (or 4!) in our bed.

Eventually, the practice stopped. The kids didn't need me to read to them or even to tuck them in. Despite my questionable mothering techniques, they outgrew the need for companionship in the middle of the night. I don't regret my behavior  - not one bit.

As a child, I remember lying awake looking around my room and feeling afraid to move. Only my eyes moved - surveying the doorway, the closet, the cupboards, the toys. I knew that "sanctuary" was just beyond my door and in the next room. I just had to gather my courage to leap out of bed and run as fast as my little legs could carry me to my brother, Kevin's room.

Once there, I would wedge myself into his single bed, and he would pull the covers over me. He didn't exactly welcome the intrusion nor could he have appreciated the fact that I squished him up against the wall, but he didn't ever kick me out either.  Even after I vomited all over him one night. Kevin knew I was terrified of the dark; he never taunted or made me feel silly. He just resigned himself to the fact that every so often I would squeeze in beside him. I had made up some weird belief system that as long as a part of my body touched his body I would be safe all night. Usually it was my foot on his knee. I'm not sure he knew how much I appreciated his indulgence.

He was a great big brother. When he could have been mean he showed kindness - and tolerance. He's the same way today.  He looks past my idiosyncrasies, and, if he judges me, he never reveals what he may think.

And that brings me to my NEW YEARS RESOLUTION! Which amazingly was reinforced today at the Grand Island bridge. I resolve to perform an act of  kindness to someone in need  at least once a day.  If I do that, I will have made at least 366 (remember it's Leap Year this year) people a little bit happier in 2012. Just like the toll taker at the Grand Island bridge today. She flashed me a big smile and wished me Happy New Year! She made Emma's day, too.

So, Happy New Year everyone! Let's hope that you receive a kindness every day too!