Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Crippling Grips of Crying and Public Speaking

I am the queen of boo hoo. Simply put, I'm a crier. Big time. And not the pretty type whose face takes on an angelic melancholy while picture-worthy tears, one by one, trickle with precision down a sweet pink cheek. No, I'm the lip-contortioning, face-all-blotchy, sucking-in-air, eyes-red and face-all-wet kinda big hot mess. And it doesn't take much to get me into this state. Everything from our church choir singing in harmony to firemen collecting donations in boots at stop lights . . . it all gets me the "Mom, are you crying?" look from Harleigh  You'd think after 20 years, she'd know it was a gimme. 

I remember once when walking through the mall, I chanced upon one of my favorite local authors, Deborah Smith, sitting at a table doing a book signing in Waldenbooks. I had just read her book A Place to Call Home and loved loved loved it. I went in, bought the newest release that she was signing, attempted to convey to her how much A Place to Call Home had touched me, and with tears and sobs on the verge of spewing out like projectile emotional vomit, ran to the book stacks, hid myself from the crowd, and lost it. Dramatic? You betcha. 

The other thing that has crippled me is public speaking. Hated it with a burning passion. I don't remember speaking in front of groups in middle school, high school and college simply because I've erased it all from my memory. As an adult, it was equally dreaded. I seemed to have decent luck at leading our company staff/traffic meetings every Monday morning, as they focused mostly on work. I always managed to lead them with both fact and fun (my sense of humor has gotten me through many a situation). But ask me to talk about something remotely personal and you're heading for a train wreck. 

On with the story. Many many years ago our company held a "Cool Day." Each of us was charged with finding someone analogous to what we do as a company and sharing that in a presentation. I could feel my bowels begin to move. I  chose Rodgers and Hammerstein (faves of mine) and equated their partnership with the collaborative way we approach things here at Unboundary. When it came my turn to speak, I was shaking so badly that I couldn't get my reading glasses on; it was so exaggerated, I look palsied. I lost my place with the cheat sheet index cards I had made. My lip quivered. It was a catastrophe. I think I may have locked myself in a bathroom stall afterwards and dry heaved. Can't really remember. Like I said, erased from memory.

From that day on, I vowed to become a better public speaker. When a couple years ago my weekly staff/traffic meeting changed complexion due to the shift in our work focus, the meetings went from the intimacy of talking around a small table to being mic'd and standing in front of what amounted to an auditorium of my peers. Once again, a poop-my-pants kind of situation. But a blessing in disguise. I tackled it. And now I love it. But, unlike talking about something more personal (Iike the Rodgers and Hammerstein thing), these meetings are about work, so it was relatively easy to get up in front of everyone and deliver. 

When at church, on our call committee for a new Senior Pastor, I was asked by the group to be its chair, my first thought was, "This, Dawn, is a great opportunity. You'll have to talk in front of the entire congregation, a lot, and about a search that at times could be emotionally charged." Sign me up. And by the grace of God, I tackled it. At one service, Harleigh turned to me after I'd spoken (mike in hand, to the congregation) and said, "Mom, you were amazing." I beamed.

So, last week Harleigh comes home from camp and tells me that this week there is a big end-of-summer-camp assembly with counselors, core leaders, staff, parents and church congregants. The director of camp asked if Harleigh and I could speak about what camp has meant to us as a family (since Harleigh has been a part — from camper to leader — since she was little). At first I said "no way can I talk about something that close to my heart without crying like a goon." "Think about it," she said. Outcome: I'm doing it. She and I met with the director and a staff member last week and mapped out what we'll be talking about. I imagine the auditorium will be filled with 300 or so people. I plan on hitting it out of the ballpark. No crying. I truly want to do a good job. I want to be one of those poised people on stage that the audience finds engaging, warm and well-spoken. And I know I can do it. Lots of praying and practicing will ensue, but I'd wager to say that even Tony Robbins does a little of both before taking the stage.

Over the weekend I practiced "not crying." I watched a few videos about heroic athletes and held my un-teary-eyed ground. After a baptism at church on Sunday I went up to the mother holding the infant and oohed and aahed over the beauty of the moment (and not a tear, although I did cut the conversation short because I could feel a wave of emotion begin to swell ). This morning when I went to go vote, a first-time voter was in line behind me. I knew that at my small voting precinct (and they probably do it at all), all the volunteers give a rousing round of applause as the first timer gets his voting card to plug into the machine. Felt a slight lip quiver when the clapping and cheering began,but kept it together.

I will always be grateful that I have a big heart, that sappy songs and Hallmark cards can put my tear ducts on overdrive, that certain events and people can make me want to curl in the fetal position as emotion renders me useless. But I so want to control it more, so that when I want it to flow, it does, and when I want it not to, it doesn't. I CAN do this. I must. For the ultimate reason. My daughter will be getting married one day. Enough said.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Leader

I've watched Harleigh grow so much this summer. It's really amazing to see a child turning into an adult. I've always loved her (well, there have been times when I wanted to sell her to the gypsies), but as she matures and becomes more comfortable in her skin, more sure of who she is and where she's going, what her purpose is and convicted about how the choices she makes shape her future . . . this is the point in a parent/child relationship when truly liking your child becomes one of the sweetest gifts of parenthood. I like her for her kind spirit, her sense of humor, her social graces and her commitment to Christ. And this summer, I've seen her whip-smart ability to lead with both compassion and accountability for the responsibilities put before her.

As a core leader at Camp All American, she has led and discipled 8 counselors. A core leader must have a heart of service, flexibility and humility. After years of being a counselor, she slipped into this leadership role not fully knowing what was ahead of her. She has wound up loving it, challenges and all.

This past week, the next to last before camp is over, Harleigh took all the girls out for a sushi dinner and asked me to take some pictures. I was more than happy! (I apologize for some of my cheesy Glamour Shots effects, but the images of these girls laughing and loving each other in 100 degree heat just made me feel cheesy happy!)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The 50th Birthday Party (and some party planning tips)

Last week we celebrated the 50th birthday of our company president, Tod. Here are pix that captured the event.

The theme of the party was A Christmas Carol (Christmas in July). Christmas just happens to be one of Tod's favorite holidays; every December our company and spouses/guests load onto a tour bus, enjoy dinner at a super nice restaurant and then head to the Alliance to see A Christmas Carol. (Tod also feels a connection to Fezziwig — he is his management role model.) It's one of My favorite traditions here at Unboundary.

We decided on a cocktail party from 4:00-6:00. With Tod's schedule as crazy as it is (and he's not a huge fan of surprises), we gave him an invitation. It was modeled after an 1830's Thanksgiving invitation. It didn't give a clue as to the Christmas theme, just a hint to that Regency period of time. We had a custom wax stamp made to seal the invite (unfortunately the custom stamp didn't arrive in time, so we opted for a "T" stamp from our local art supply store; the custom stamp, once it arrives, will be gifted to the boss!).

Tod arrived to the party, surprised by the theme and the care we took to turn the space into a Christmas wonderland. The food spread was all served on silver trays. Garland and candles adorned every surface. Music filled the air (lovingly put together by our music aficionados here and created using favorite songs of Tod's sprinkled with Christmas classics). 

One of the best projects revealed at the party was a Regency portrait of Tod done by Laura. She took a photo of Tod and photoshopped it into a portrait, printed it out on canvas and stretched it on a wooden frame. What a great focal point (and keepsake for Tod) when popped into an ornate gold frame and hung front and center over the fake fireplace mantle. 

One of the other gifts we gave to him was a 1915 edition of A Christmas Carol. Not a first edition but the first edition with illustrations by Arthur Rackham.

We also printed out the Regency portrait of Tod and made "Tods on a stick" which we held up, bringing quite a reaction when he turned around from seeing his portrait above the fireplace. Sorta creepy, but we are a bunch of goons working here.

Also had custom rubber stamps made (presented in a vintage-like carousel holder) with many of his favorite or signature sayings on them.

What's a Christmas soiree without figgy pudding?!?! Laura made homemade figgy pudding and once lit, Tod had the perfect "birthday candle" to make a wish on and blow out!  Note the dude sitting on the chair with one of my Christmas sweaters on. I brought a stash in and people wore them without hesitation. Like I said, a bunch of fun goons.

Chuck, our resident mixologist, made Smoking Bishop punch, THE punch from the Christmas Carol book.  We took an excerpt from the book where it was mentioned and had that nearby for reference.

ALL IMAGES courtesy of Tim Redman, who so graciously donated his time to photograph the event!

And here are some of my tips for planning a party/event:

1)  Create a folder. I'd like to say that I'm one of those people who rely 100% on the Notes app on my iPhone to capture ideas, but I'm an old-fashioned paper kind of girl (and in my case, paper ranges from napkins to post-it notes to index cards). So I like having a place to corral all my notes. And I keep all my party/event files in a special bin so that I can reference them, which I always do!

2)  Create a master list. I have standard categories for all that I plan (things like food and drink, linens, decor, serving pieces and utensils, lighting, favors, etc.). It's easier, and less daunting, if I plan using these buckets.

3)  Have a brainstorm session. Even if you go into the planning process thinking you know exactly what you want to do, there's always more ideas to be hatched and ideas to be refined. These sessions can be me and one other person, or in the case of Tod's party, me leading the entire company (minus Tod). Put it this way, I have a lot goin' on in this creative noggin' of mine, but I've always made things better by bouncing ideas off of others and asking for different slants on how to approach one of my brainchilds. I use the master list as the basis for an agenda.

4)  Depending on how far out the event is, I schedule check-in meetings (weekly, monthly, whatever is needed) that include all those involved in the planning process.

5)  Create a floor plan of the event, mapping out where EVERYTHING is to go, from food to furniture.

6)  Delegate!  I can be one of those "I can do it all" type of people, but I'm fooling myself if I think I can do it all. I have learned to delegate WELL. There's a difference between delegating and delegating well. The best delegates are those who match the skill set of what you need done. I learned that the hard way when a chronically tardy person volunteered to bring ice to an event. When she showed up an hour late, long past when we needed ice, it taught me a big lesson.

7)  Collect items in one place. Whether it's an empty office at work or my garage, I like to collect party items in one place. It makes it easy for inventory and set-up.

8)  Allow time! It's never too early to plan, especially if there are craft projects to undertake.

9)  Remind! I am always sending out emails (especially after a group meeting) to remind everyone of what they are to do, to bring, etc. I usually put names in bold, just in case people skim the email. I prefer sending out a group email (vs. to individuals) for two reasons: 1) it gives everyone an idea of the big picture, and 2) if anyone gets to feeling "put upon," it's a gentle reminder that everyone is contributing.

10) As the event gets closer, usually within the week before, I create a TO DO list broken out by day. This allows me to spread out the final tasks evenly and without facing a last-minute, there's-no-way-I-can-get-all-this-done panic.

10)  On the night before, I set out all my serving pieces, floral arrangements, etc. For those perishable items, I put out labels out so I know where everything goes.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Birthday Party for the Boss

A few months ago I began planning efforts for the boss man's 50th birthday. As I've mentioned before, working in a design firm affords a party planner the best resources imaginable. The group, for this particular event, did not disappoint. This afternoon, 4:00-6:00, is the par-tay.

We have a professional photographer coming in to shoot everything. In the meantime, here are the gift boxes (fake) that greeted Tod when he came in this morning. They allude only partially to the theme of the party (which I won't reveal here).

We had the boxes on hand. I covered them in dollar store gift wrap paper. For the ribbon and bow, I didn't want to go to the expense of buying ribbon, so I got brightly colored duct tape (again, at the dollar store). For the bows, two strips of tape were stuck to each other with a thinner strip of poster board cut and sandwiched in between (a two-man operation) to give the finished bows some structure. The base of the bow (a big, taped mess) was inserted into a cut slit in the box top. By using duct tape for the bow, I was able to match the tape used to wrap around the box. One of our designers made gift tags. Quite festive!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Looking Ahead

What a booger of a weekend it was. I began feeling badly on Saturday afternoon and by Sunday morning I was feeling gut-wrenching heartburn, lower back pain, nausea, shakiness and light-headedness. After a woman at church told me this sounded like symptoms precursor to a heart attack, the inconvenient constitution shift took on a whole new apprehension of what exactly I might have. A sleepless night left me heading into work early on Monday — to prepare for my weekly company meeting — feeling a bit puny to say the least. I led the meeting sitting down (I normally stand) and by 11:00 was "done." A visit to the doctor and off to the lab for bloodwork. Doc thought it could be a virus, stomach flu, or, heaven forbid, gallstones. Gave me a prescription for the heartburn and one for nausea, neither of which I took, since within 24 hours I felt much better. Still getting some upper abdomen pains, but feel much, much better. After googling gallstones (and way too many other diseases and ailments that had my symptoms written all over them), I came to the conclusion that this old broad needs a lifestyle change. I'm 51 and overweight. Enough said. Over the past three days I've been eating better, going to bed earlier (which means waking up alive and full of energy), and enjoying the discipline of it all. I feel more in control, for sure.

This Friday I have foot surgery to remove a plantar fibroma on the bottom arch of my left foot. Dreading that ordeal, for the recovery alone.

And all the while keeping my eye on the prize . . . my three-week sabbatical.

I've got a folder going of all that I could be doing (and not doing, which is just as sweet to the girl who tends to take on too much). One of the projects I will undertake, one which I will enjoy for years to come, is to do a scrapbook journal. I got the idea from blogger Melissa over at Bursts of Creativity. With a plan hatching on all the contents I can capture, I bought this book for the cover, a true nod to the beachy days ahead. And I couldn't resist this PVB sticker. Both book and sticker Etsy finds.

Maybe by the time I head out on my dream trip I'll be skinny and hot.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Hosting Counselor Bible Study

As core leader at Camp All-American, Harleigh is in charge of discipling and mentoring a group of seven counselors. In addition to that, she handles camper/parent/counselor issues of all kinds. It's been a challenging summer, but she has loved the problem solving and leadership in a way that makes me so proud.  Every Thursday night she leads a Bible study with all her counselors (infused with time beforehand to relax, talk and laugh, and enjoy time together). The Thursdays rotate amongst the girls' homes, and with me being off this past Thursday, I was more than happy to host the girls. And don't I love to entertain!

I wanted to do a menu a little more robust and homemade than ordering pizza or serving a big lasagna. Here is the menu I came dished up:

-  Appetizer of edamame sprinkled with sea salt (the girls went through two big bowls of these).
-  Appetizer of Smashing Bean Dip, a really healthy choice. I'd had this recipe forever and decided to use the girls as guinea pigs. While not a very pretty dip, the girls ate it all. I ran out of the sliced 3-foot baguette I served it with and pulled a sleeve of water crackers from the pantry so they could finish it up. (The recipe calls for it to be served with yellow summer squash, but I decided on the bread since I had plenty of veggies.)
-  Maggiano's Little Italy Salad. This salad is THE BOMB. It's the second time I've made it, and eating it again made me realize it needs to be my go-to salad for more lunches and dinners. Don't ignore putting in the prosciutto; I swear it's what makes this salad so tasty. I buy the 4-ounce pack from Trader Joe's and fry it until it's brown and crunchy on the edges, then put it into a food processor and give it a few taps to make sure all the pieces are small.
-  Chicken skewers with peanut butter dipping sauce. With the girls being in a camp environment where there are absolutely no nut products allowed, I thought I'd serve something nutty. I boiled a bunch of chicken breasts (my preferred method for moist chicken; must make sure you boil them only until done and no more), cut them up in bite-sized pieces and put two to a skewer. A big platter of these and the warmed peanut sauce were a huge hit.
-  Friend Laleah's frozen fruit salad is one I've done a zillion times. It worked as a side and a dessert. Not too sweet, but sweet enough. Here is a version I found online, but Laleah's recipe uses sour cream and confectioners' sugar instead of the milk and Cool Whip, and also has grapes, banana, and maraschino cherries in place of the cherry pie filling. Hands down, an easy side.

What's more rewarding than a houseful of girls gobbling up my home cookin'! And I love adding the touches of fresh flowers (even if they are just a huge, cheap bouquet of mums from Trader Joe's) and cloth napkins (these Vera ones were thrift store finds, especially appealing because there are fourteen of them!).

I love tucking flowers into a tin from my collection (a tin teapot did double-duty to hold the utensils).

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Glorious Fourth

This year was definitely the most jam-packed of the 4th's we've ever had, but at the same time, it was so relaxing. We kicked off the holiday with the Dunwoody parade. It started at 9:00AM, so definitely dodged the heat of the day, but was hot nonetheless. It was a 2-hour parade and we came home sticky and in need of showers before starting round 2 of the day. I love the bands and the war veterans the best.

Then we headed to Monroe to Kasey's homestead. And I use this term because the Brown clan is, for the most part, all living in Monroe. Acres butt up against other family members' acres. Cousins and aunts and uncles are a four-wheeler ride away. The huge family enjoys the perks of being close in proximity to each other.

Grandpa's house has a pool and a picnic pavilion — kid heaven. We spent the afternoon eating ribs the men had cooked on an open firepit, some swam in the saline pool, and we sat around in lawn chairs and the many swings dotting the property. I didn't know but a handful of people, but the Browns have the gift of making everyone feel welcome. I moved from conversation cluster to conversation cluster, where silences were relished and felt as comfortable as the chattery moments and laughter that punctuated the Southern, slow summer day.

The ladder you see in the picture below leads up to a zip line. Like I said, kid heaven.

Grandpa's chair has "Do not move" written on the headrest. It is, most definitely, his chair and not to be messed with.

From there we went back to Kasey's house. I was in need of an afternoon nap before the evening doings, and Karen was more than happy to set me up in older brother Kyle's room. His room has a bay window and I napped for just under 2 hours, feeling like I was sleeping right under the sky.

Off to Monroe's Freedom Fest held at the high school football field. It's as small-town Americana at it gets. All the food was free (hot dogs, funnel cakes, sodas and waters, cotton candy, PB&J sandwiches), and people walked around to the various tents, camped out in chairs and on blankets on the grassy field, and listened to bands play on the stage (including our favorite Oswald Brothers Band and the ever popular Byron Chambers, aka Talkbox). The fireworks concluding the night were spectacular, and with every Fourth of July fireworks show, there's a connection one feels to all the others watching them on every other football field in a million small towns all over the U.S.A.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Surreal Sunday

The heat today made going from one destination to the next feel like playing the board game Stratego, where capturing the flag translated into combat warfare for an air conditioned refuge. By 2:00 I was home for good. And at one point I laid down in bed simply because my bedroom is darker than any room in the house, making it cooler than most. Gideon was invited onto the bed and assumed his favorite sleeping position. What a nut.

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