Saturday, April 30, 2011

Ju5t Wed

I know, I know - there are a whole bunch of people that don't give a monkeys about the Royal Wedding.  I know, I know, that wars and poverty and earthquakes and tornadoes abound.  And I know, I know, that we fought a bloody revolution over two centuries ago to throw off the tyranny of the rule of a monarch.  So go ahead and judge me, but I was well excited for the Royal Wedding.  I love all things wedding, and what with tiaras and glass carriages, good old British pomp and circumstance, a newly-minted princess (or duchess, whatevs) and the dress, Oh, the DRESS - what's not to like about a royal wedding?

I know I'm not the only one.  But for her husband's emergency surgery, I would have been toasting Wills and Kate with friend J.  Friend P told me that she and her teen daughter only just discovered a fascination for it in the few days leading up to the wedding.  And after I facebooked my excitement on the eve of the big day, I received a message from a faraway friend in New Zealand to say she too was watching the coverage.

Because of the time difference, I wasn't planning to watch it live (at 0300 Pacific time!).  So I set my dvr to record BBC's 6+ hours of commercial-free coverage and went to bed, intending to watch it on my own in the morning.  However, at nearly 3 a.m. I unexpectedly woke to an empty bed.  I wandered out to the living room, my sleep-addled brain completely spacing the event, and the husband said, "You came out at the perfect moment!"  Kate was just climbing into the car at her hotel.  "I haven't been up watching the wedding build-up since midnight," he said, then with a wry smile admitted, "okay, I totally have."

You should understand that the husband is a born-and-bred Englishman down to his very bones.  "The crowd is brilliant; it's so nice for us all to have a reason to celebrate being British," he said.  In the weeks leading up to the wedding, he would send me links to the anticipatory press coverage, indulging me in what he knows is a bit of a wedding fetish.  He himself, though, was not really that arsed about it all.  Until the BBC pre-ceremony coverage completely sucked him in.

So I was treated to a viewing partner, which was awesome.  The husband voiced firm approval of Kate's gown - high praise indeed - and a bloke's understandable admiration of  maid-of-honor Pippa's amazing dress.  I loved watching William and Harry nervously awaiting the bride.  I got a bit misty-eyed as Wills whispered, "you look stunning, babe," when Kate arrived at the altar (according to a lip reader employed by The Telegraph - other interpretations were that he simply said "you look beautiful" but I would love to think that the prince refers to her as "babe").  D turned up the volume when the congregation belted out Jerusalem, and I smiled when he cheered lightly under his breath as the couple was pronounced man and wife and discreetly crossed his fingers in hope when it was intoned "let no man put asunder."

Much like I vividly remember watching the pageantry of Charles and Diana's wedding as a child 30 years ago, decades from now I will fondly recall watching the union of William and Kate as a live event in the dark pre-dawn hours with D - a completely unexpected, but entirely enjoyable treat.  May their marriage be a long and happy one.  Given the obvious love and affection displayed today, I have great hope that it will be so.

Congratulations, William and Kate!

UPDATE: For those of you finding my site by searching for what Ju5t Wed means: There are no personalized license plates in Britain and a number must be included, so there is a bit of an art to getting plates that seem to say words through a combination of letters and numbers.  In this case, the plate cleverly reads "Just Wed."  I am puzzled, though, as to which vehicle this plate came from, since the front of the car (owned by Prince Charles since 1969) reflected an entirely ordinary number plate. 

* * *

So tell me, were you one of the millions that tuned in to watch some of the wedding?  What did you think of the hoopla?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Sometimes they are actually worth watching, Part II

Back in this post, I waxed rhapsodic about my DVR and the power of the pause button to morph watching TV into an interactive activity for the husband and me.  More importantly, the power of the fast forward button virtually eliminates the torture of inane and asinine commercials.  "We don't watch no stinkin' adverts!" we intone in our best Clint Eastwood impression, as we indulge in the heady power of our very own time machine.  You know - the one that gives you back 20 minutes of your life when you've reached the end of an "hour long" TV program?

That's why it is so satisfying to come across the kind of advertisement that sucks you in and makes you want to watch it again and again.

This week I stumbled across an intriguing and cinematic ad for Heineken created by the Dutch office of powerhouse firm Weiden + Kennedy (a little hometown love here, since the firm is founded and headquartered in Portland).  The catchy soundtrack is by Danish band Asteroids Galaxy Tour.  There is so much going on between the characters and our hero that I would love to know the backstories.  In a genius bit of leveraging the power of "The Facebook," W+K actually did create short films about some of the characters seen in the ad, which can only be viewed if you "like" a certain tab on Heineken's fanpage.  The films are non sequiturs, but entertaining none-the-less.

Without further ado, I present my new favorite commercial, "The Entrance" for Heineken (or linked here):

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So tell me - do you have any favorite advertisements (either in current rotation or a golden oldie blast from the past?)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Way Back Wednesday: Because It's There

I wrote this back in December 2009, just after three climbers were lost on Mount Hood.

* * *
This is a somber post, but the topic has been on my mind all week.  Three people were lost last weekend climbing on Mount Hood; one perished and two are missing and presumed dead.  They went out for a 13-hour round-trip to the summit and didn't make it back.  It's a tragic story, one that has been repeated over 140 times before. 

Sometimes stories of loss insinuate themselves into my psyche and my mind keeps returning to them, worrying at it like a tongue in the groove left after a tooth is lost.  My heart is breaking for the loved ones left to ponder the fate of these three vibrant young people, well equipped and experienced climbers all, lost in their prime.  I find it disturbing that this mountain, of which I have so many fond memories, exerts a lure that can be deadly.

Mount Hood presides over Portland's skyline, a peaceful sentinel.  It's a striking mountain, rearing up over 11,000 feet - its volcanic height impressive among the low rolling peaks of Oregon's Cascade range.  The mountain has a special place in my heart - an icon of the little corner of the world I've claimed as home.  On a clear day in winter, I can just catch a glimpse of it, if I stand on the rotting sequoia stump on the very corner of our property when the leaves are off the trees down the road.  We mark the seasons by the mountain's cloak of snow.

I beat myself up for six days on Mt. Hood learning to snowboard at the age of 25.  Without an athletic bone in my body and no sense of balance, it didn't come easy, but I was determined to find a reason to be glad when the winter rains started. "It's snow on the mountain" became my refrain when the gray, soaking season set in.  I can lose myself in snowboarding.  It was the first, and still one of the only, activities in which I can completely disengage from the constant consideration of the minutiae of life.  I only think about the next turn, the next line, the feel of my edges biting into the snow - or on a really good day - the board floating over powder.

In the summer, D and I have driven 10 miles up a bumpy gravel road to escape the city heat and camp in the relative solitude of Tilly Jane campground at 6,500 feet.  On a hike one day, we went up to the old stone Cooper Spur shelter at 8,500 feet.  Then I rested my bum knee there, enjoying views of the valleys unfolding below, whilst following D's progress through the binoculars as he powered up another 1,000 feet of elevation or more.  It was only a day hike, strenuous but not technical.  Still, D - always prepared - had us kitted out for an (uncomfortable) night out if something went wrong.  The mountain deserves respect at any time of year, summiting or not.

One winter, when D visited me for Christmas before we were married, I coaxed my rear-wheel drive sports car - completely unfit for the dodgy drive - up the icy Timberline road to stay at the lodge for a night.  Arriving in the parking lot, we were treated to the most stunning sunset I have ever seen.  The colors were intense and the sun was below the horizon formed by the nearby mountaintops, shining a beam of light straight up into the vibrant clouds.  I can't pinpoint the date of any other of the many beautiful sunsets I've seen, except for this one - December 29, 2000.  Standing there, my chilly hand enclosed in the warm palm of this man I had so recently fallen for but who lived so far away, a kaleidoscope of possibilities for the future were spread before us like the colors of that sky blanketing the mountain range; we felt on top of the world.

But I have enjoyed Mt. Hood from a relative cocoon of safety.  Statistically, Hood is not a deadly mountain.  Thousands of people climb it each year.  I think about the enthusiasm of its three most recent victims... getting up early, registering their climb at Timberline Lodge, heading out with the anticipation of reaching the summit for spectacular vistas since the weather had been crystal clear for over a week.  Then the mountain turned on them - an unfortunate climbing accident while a storm closed in, making search and rescue a dangerous and improbable prospect.  I wonder if they ever considered the potentially deadly consequences of their decision to climb that day.  I wonder if that was part of the lure.  I don't understand the attraction, but my husband does.  We are very different people, he and I.

Life is precious, but for those who crave a challenge, who wish to push themselves against the awesome backdrop of nature, I suppose life is meant to be grabbed by the nuts and experienced, risks and all.  For them, the mountain is meant to be climbed simply because it is there.  I hope that these three felt some peace in their final moments.  I hope there is some value in that old cliche - they died doing what they loved - if only to help those left behind come to terms with their loss.

* * *
So tell me: What challenges move you to take them on, just "because it's there?"

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Crash and Burn

I have had a truly terrible no-good rotten week.  I returned to work on Monday after a week off, ready to get stuck in to the quarterly busy period that comes with the territory in my accounting job.  Little did I know that the job I've loved had morphed while I was gone into something I'm not sure I want to do.

There are big things afoot at my company, and I have been asked to take on some different responsibilities.  It's placed me outside of my comfort zone.  Up until now, I've approached the requirements of the job with over a decade's worth of experience and expertise in a specialized field.  There are rules and guidance to address technical accounting issues.  I understand my objectives and there is a framework, a discipline, that I can apply to the process of achieving those objectives.

Now I've been asked to partner with someone in our organization who doesn't have financial sophistication to help him analyze how he runs his part of the business.  Hard questions have been asked of him.  Questions that he needs my help to answer.  Questions that need to be answered quickly.  However, mining the company's disparate information systems to try to answer those questions is a new process for me.  I haven't done it before and the only way to figure out how to do it is to just do it.  At times, I'm not even sure I'm trying answer the right questions, let alone doing it in the right way.

I've worked so hard this week.  Pretty much all my waking hours.  Wednesday night, after a 15 hour day where my effort was monumental but my accomplishment puny, I hit a wall.  I started to question whether I could be effective at this part of the job.  It's a possibility that these new responsibilities will soon become ALL of my job.  I started to wonder whether I even want to do this.  I started to feel like I was failing.

I'm embarrassed to admit this: I sat in front of my computer and wept, harder than I have cried in a long time.  The frustration had built into this lump of tension that sat in my stomach, traveled up to my throat, behind my eyes and squeezed my brain.  I had to let it out. 

The next morning, I confessed to my boss how I was feeling and requested some coaching on the best way to approach the issue.  I was assured that nobody thinks I'm failing.  I said that no one had made me feel that way, but that I felt that way.  I don't like it, not one little bit.

Coincidentally that evening, on the drive home from the office at 9:30, the local public radio station was hosting a Think Out Loud segment on Failure.  There was a fascinating discussion on research with children to study the impact of praise, motivation and coping with failure.  Professor Corpus presented findings that show it can be detrimental to young children to constantly praise them for how smart they are.  It leads to a mindset that success comes from an intrinsic, uncontrollable attribute.  When the children face challenges as they grow, their response to failure is a tendency to give up.  They attribute previous successes to their intrinsic characteristic, smartness, and believe the failure has occurred because they are "just not smart enough."  This is demotivating and can lead to a child's disengagement from the challenge.  The research conclusion: it is important to praise children for their effort, not their attributes.  This leads to an ability to view failure as the result of a controllable action (I did not work hard enough) and provides motivation to increase future efforts.

I reflected on this discussion of failure and how it related to my current dissatisfaction with my performance.  Why did I end up indulging myself in a 10 minute crying jag so intense I nearly hyperventilated?  I think it was because I knew that I had literally given all of the effort I could and was not succeeding.  There was no more left.  I have met with much success in my career, the product of both hard work and a general aptitude.  I was thinking if this kind of effort is required and it's not enough, I want no part of it.  I've never flamed out that thoroughly and it hurts to consider that happening now.

This is not the first time in my career I have shed frustrated tears.  It will undoubtedly not be the last.  As I try to relax and recharge this weekend, I'm reminding myself that just because this is hard now, I can improve.  This too shall pass.  I will learn and become more efficient.  I may, in the end, decide that I'm better off applying my current expertise at another company that requires it rather than applying myself to this new facet of financial analysis that I don't enjoy.  But I will have learned something in the process. 

So tell me, have you any advice as I deal with this potential failure?  Have you overcome a failure in the past, or had to admit defeat?  Misery loves company; tell me your stories.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Way Back Wednesday: Adrenaline

Thanks to encouragement from Educlaytion and Ironic Mom, there have been few new faces around here recently.  I thought it might be an idea to dig up some old posts that really never got much exposure when I first started writing.  This is the very first post that I wrote here, published back in November 2009, recounting the story of a leap of faith taken just days after our 2003 wedding.

* * *

D and I got married in Queenstown, New Zealand - the "Adventure Capital of the World."  D was determined to take on the bungee jump there at Nevis canyon.  This is no ordinary bungee jump - you throw yourself off a gondola suspended on cables 440 ft above the bottom of the canyon.  8 seconds of free fall.  Count that up: 1-one thousand, 2-one thousand.... that is like, forever, in free fall moments.

I am decidedly NOT an adrenaline junkie.  The rush that some people get when that natural chemical starts coursing through their blood just leaves me wishing to curl up safely under my blankie with a nice cup of chamomile tea to calm my racing heart.  So, despite all the recent til-death-do-us-part-yada-yada, I had no desire to join D in this particular leap of faith.  However, everyone on the gondola - even spectators - gets kitted out in a jump harness.  So we both got strapped into the gear and headed out to the jump platform.

There was a group of about 10 on this mission.  I was the only chicken that was not jumping.  The group is set to go in order by descending weight for technical reasons.  My newly minted husband's turn came up, and on the count of "3-2-1-bungee" he executed a perfect swan dive.  They hauled him back up to the platform sporting a grin so big it could split his head in half.  His first words were, "Can I go again?" which he summarily did.  I wasn't surprised that he enjoyed it so much - he who loves throwing himself down steep hills on a mountain bike in maneuvers that I find terrifying.

After a while a giggling gaggle of youngish girls rotated through the jump order - and every single one of them leapt on the cue of "3-2-1-bungee!"  No hysterics, no crying or shaking or hesitating or being talked into it.  At this point I was starting to feel a little stupid.  If even one person had freaked out about their jump, I would have stood aside and sagely said, "You see - that's why I'm not doing it.  Why put yourself through the trauma?"  But, as luck would have it, I'm small enough to jump on the lightest weight cord, so I was given the final option to jump before we all returned to solid ground.  I thought if they can do it, I can do it.  Man up - here I go.

You jump at Nevis head-first with your feet strapped together.  As I sat fidgeting in a reclining chair, getting strapped in, I was silently repeating this mantra: no thinking... no thinking... if you think, you don't jump...

I penguin-scooted to the edge of the platform, and put the tips of my boots out over the end.  I remember clearly that I never once looked down.  I even crossed my eyes a little when I checked my toes to ensure I wouldn't accidentally focus on the HUGE EFFING CHASM that I was about to throw myself into.

The mantra continued: no thinking... 3-2-1-bungee and you go... if you don't go the first time, you'll never do it.  Then they counted it out - and I pushed off the platform.  Weightless, free falling, yelling my head off because as long as I was screaming, I was conscious, I was alive.  After about forever, I felt the bungee slow my descent - stretch tighter and tighter and then all the blood rushed to my head before I shot upwards again.  I don't really remember much as they hauled me back up to the gondola - but it was an intense rush, and the photographic evidence shows that I had the same grin on my face that D did.  I freaking did it!

For the rest of the day, I was giggling and completely loopy, totally high on adrenaline for the first time.  I've never felt that since; nor will I in the future because, although I'm proud that I conquered the Nevis bungee jump, I am still an adrenaline-averse chicken, and I am NEVER doing that again.

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So tell me, what's the scariest thing you've ever done?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Missing the Killer Instinct

I've come to face a truth about myself recently.  I am a lousy competitor.  There must be a fundamental gene that is switched off in my DNA because I really don't thrive on competition.

Recently, I threw my hat in the ring to back Harry Potter in Educlaytion's March Movie Madness.  I entered a March Madness bracket, despite knowing next to nothing about basketball that wasn't gleaned from my high school cheerleading days. (So, in a word, little.)  The husband and I went bowling last night.  These mundane details all have one thing in common: I decided to "compete" at something.  Results would be tallied.  Rankings would be made.

The results:
  • Harry and I lost to The Lion King in the first round so GO PRINCESS BRIDE!
  • My quirky and completely uninformed bracket strategy quickly shuttled me to the bottom half of the pool standings. 
  • I was reminded that I really, really suck at bowling.
The revelation here is, although I wasn't a great success at any of these recent competitive efforts, I really didn't care.  Sure it was mildly disappointing, but had I succeeded in winning, I would have struggled with the discomfort of beating someone else.  How would they feel, being in a losing position?  In my own twisted mind, the desire to be liked means not making others feel bad, and that is in direct opposition to my pallid desire to win. 

My supreme lack of coordination means I've never been on a sports team faced with the opportunity to make a clutch play.  But had I been so, I would most definitely have choked.  I don't have that killer instinct, that mental toughness that says "I want to win and I'm not going to let ANYTHING stop me.  Now, self, let's MAKE THIS HAPPEN."

My husband and I play a round of Tiger Wood's Golf on the Wii every Friday.  To keep it interesting, he generously handicaps me by playing on the advanced level while I play easy.  I've gotten a lot better with practice, so I regularly find myself in front.  However, the husband is a competitor.  Sometimes if he's having a particularly rough game and I get on a roll that handicap starts to feel a little unfair. Even though I don't deliberately throw a game - he would hate that - my concentration falters and I start making bad shots too.  It's like I can't actually make myself go for the jugular.  Even when we're talking about an electronic stand-in for a game that some would argue is barely a sport considering how unfit an excellent player can be in real life.

I have known some ultra-competitive souls in my lifetime, and I see how invested they are in the result.  They are intense, irritated when things are going poorly, elated when things are going well and it all just seems so exhausting to me.  I wonder whether my indifference to competition is born of mediocrity?  Do I refuse to care simply so I won't be too disappointed if I don't succeed?  Perhaps.  I get frustrated enough engaging in activities I'm bad at - it would only be worse if I also cared that I'm not as good as someone else.

For me, life isn't about competition, it's about excelling myself.  When I bowled, I achieved improvement and even managed to break 50 in the third game. (Yes, I really am THAT BAD.)  I knew to stop when the score dropped in game four due to the fact that I couldn't grip a ball, or indeed even a doorknob, anymore.  Simply improving was enough for me - and it had to be when I was playing against a man who had only bowled once more than two decades ago but is good at everything.

Thanks to a free subscription to the daily newspaper, D recently rediscovered an enjoyment of crossword puzzles.  He starts them and if he happens to get stuck, after a while he'll hand it over to me.  I hate not finishing a crossword puzzle and I'm not above resorting to google to suss out a clue.  I try to resolve it through research, not just finding the answer.  Invariably I'll stumble across someone on Yahoo answers who has posted a question that could only have arisen while trying to solve the crossword.  Invariably there will be correct answers provided.  I love this - crosswords as a global team sport.  I'm not competing against, I'm competing with people.  When D hands me a crossword and I can unlock it solely through my own efforts, I'm stoked.  I proudly hand it back to him and say, "I did it!"  I feel that I excelled, but I didn't have to beat anyone else to do it.

It might mean I'm a loser, but at least I am an excellent loser.

So tell me - are you a competitor?  What's it like on the other side?