Saturday, May 08, 2010

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Dreams Coming True

I just realized that with only about five months until the wedding, I need to hurry up and figure out where my fiancé and I will spend our first days as newlyweds. So I'm finally getting serious about planning my honeymoon.

Some little girls dream about their wedding day, but I never did. I only dreamed about the honeymoon, and I always imagined I would fly off to some faraway place and spend a week or two in unimaginable luxury. I had visions of Tahiti or the Caribbean, and recently I looked online and found places like this Canadian lodge.

In an unexpected turn of events, though, I don't have just one trip to plan for, I have two: our honeymoon and a journey to Perth.

My parents are returning to work in Australia for another year. Last time they were there, my fiancé and I visited them in Brisbane. It was incredible. The city was great, within a couple of hours drive from both beaches and rainforest; the people were friendly; the lifestyle in the area where my parents were fortunate enough to live was enviable — outdoor restaurants along the river where you could sip a cold beer at sunset, for example, and botanical gardens at the edge of downtown, and lovely little restaurants everywhere.

My fiancé and I could have never made the trip to Australia if my parents had not been there to provide us with a place to stay. Even without the cost of accommodation, it was very expensive. So, now that my parents are going back for another year, this time to the other side of the country, I want to take the opportunity to go back to Australia. But that means we'll have to save every extra penny in order to pay for the airfare and any other costs. Which means that I have to choose between Australia and my long-awaited luxury honeymoon.

Why don't we make Australia our honeymoon? My dad suggested the same thing. But there are a couple of reasons why I don't want to do that.

First, I feel that a honeymoon should truly be about the newlyweds spending some precious time together away from the stress and demands of work, home, other people, etc. I love my family, and I want to see them in Australia, but I don't want to see them on my honeymoon. (We're not even bringing our dog on our honyemoon, which, for those who know me, gives you an idea of how special the honeymoon is to me.)

Second, I've always felt it was important to take your honeymoon directly after the wedding. I don't know why exactly — perhaps it's one of the few ways in which I want to stick to tradition in this whole wedding business. So I don't want to postpone my honeymoon until 2011, which is when we plan to go to Australia.

There's just one solution that I can see, then. Cut back dramatically on the cost of the honeymoon, and save our money for Australia instead. That's as close as I can get to having my cake and eating it too. In addition, I'm thinking about buying simple silver rings as "interim" wedding rings and using the money we would have spent on more expensive rings for Australia instead. Then, we can buy each other our "permanent" wedding rings for one of our anniversaries. I'd rather travel than have a chunk of costly metal on my finger. I'll still be married to Bernard no matter what my ring is made of, and that's what counts.

We have $1,000 available for the honeymoon, a generous gift from my parents. Anything above that comes out of the money that we could be saving for Australia. So, I did some research today and found some all-inclusive resorts in Mexico. There are also hotels in Texas and nearby New Mexico and Arizona that we could look into. That would mean a short flight and a few nights in a nice hotel. As long as I can truly relax, have fun, and enjoy Bernard's company for a few days, I'll be happy.

I'm calling the travel agent tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Keepin' It Real: Leadership at Work and at the Dog Park

The other day, I mentioned to my dad that you can learn a lot from a dog. He laughed, but he listened to what I had to say. And I believe you really can learn a lot from a dog.

For example, I just got done listening to this audiobook my boss gave me, Leadership and Self-Deception by the Arbinger Institute. One of the points the book makes is that people can sense insincerity in the workplace. If you pretend to care about your employees or co-workers, they'll know, either immediately or eventually, that you're faking it. You will lose credibility. You have to truly care about them in order to garner loyalty and respect. You have to be genuine with them. You can't be a true leader without being a true person.

It's the same with dogs, I've decided. You can take your dog to a hundred training classes, but if you don't build a true bond with your dog, she'll never really respect you. She might roll over if you have treats in your hand, but she still won't always stay when you ask her to, or come to you when you call her.

I'll give you an example. When I was in Holland in January for my grandmother's funeral, I spent a day with one of my cousins. We stopped in a beachfront surf shop near his house for a few minutes, and a resident golden retriever gave us a mildly curious sniff and then continued his ambling around the store. On our way out, we drove past the back door of the shop just as the owner was taking some boxes to the dumpster. His arms full of boxes, he turned toward the dog when he saw us approaching in the car, and told him, quietly but firmly, to stay. The dog, instead of crossing the street to join his human, waited patiently for our car to pass.

The dog was off leash, free to run away to the beach or do anything he pleased, but instead he followed his human out of the store and listened perfectly when he was told to stay. Perhaps he is just a wonderfully docile and obedient dog. But I would bet that the dog also enjoys a relaxed and happy relationship with the shop owner.

I have a book of dog tricks, and I have taught my dog some cute ones, like how to twirl and how to shake hands. She's supersmart and will do anything for a piece of food or a tennis ball. But teaching tricks no longer has the allure it used to. I'm focusing now on bonding with my dog by simply being a good caretaker for her. If I truly care about her, which I do, and if I set fair but firm expectations of her (no jumping on guests, no stealing food off our plates, listening to us the first time when we ask her to sit, etc.), which I am working on, I believe she will sense it, and that her respect and loyalty will follow.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Kids Who Don't Exist Yet

I had this weird moment yesterday at my parents' house where I was walking toward the open door that separates the kitchen from the living room, and I saw, for a split second, the image of a couple imaginary future kids running through the door. It was a whole life story in one fleeting moment — I had two kids, they were visiting their grandparents, and they were having fun running around the house. Is that normal? Is my biological clock taking over my brain?

To find the answers to those questions, I headed to the Internet, of course. There are several blogs I read on a regular basis, and one of those is Penelope Trunk. Penelope's blog fascinates me because, while I don't always agree with everything she says, she's a great writer, her posts are compelling and informative, and her topics are exactly the kinds of things I wonder about — like, how to be successful in your career, how to deal with challenges in the workplace, how to write openly about your life. Plus, she's been blogging forever so there are a ton of things to read on her site. For example, here's one from 2002 about having kids in your mid to late thirties.

I'm getting married in September, three days before my 31st birthday. Not that I believe marriage is a prerequisite for kids, but my husband-to-be and I decided to wait until we're legally bound to each other before we start a family. We have a trip to Australia planned for about a year from now, though, so kids will have to wait until after that. (I don't see myself travelling through the Outback with morning sickness.) I hope I can keep my biological clock at bay until we come back from Down Under!

(If you already have kids, one of the other blogs I read regularly is Opie Dawn. Check it out if you like modern, adorable, stylish children's products, along with ideas on how to enjoy time with your family.)

Sunday, April 04, 2010

I Love Brunch

Of all the meals you can eat in a week, surely brunch is the best. By definition, it's a combination of two meals (breakfast and lunch), which gives you license to linger over the meal for a couple of hours, at least, and truly savor it. The fare is usually delicious (my favorites are smoked salmon, cream cheese, eggs, pastries, crepes, Dutch-style pancakes, and a good cup of coffee to finish it off). Not to mention, when else is it acceptable to drink alcohol before noon? (Mimosas!)

Friday, April 02, 2010

Good Enough

I took a half day of vacation today, with the intent of breaking out the elbow grease and scrubbing my house until everything gleamed.

Instead, I left work at 12:30, headed to the venue where my fiance and I are getting married in a few months, dropped off the damage deposit check and spoke for a while with the owner about ideas for our reception. Then I headed to the bank to take care of some business there. Then I went home and made myself toast with cheese and enjoyed it on the patio with a mug of tea and a homemade chocolate chip cookie. Then I took my dog for a short walk and played ball with her in the driveway. It had been a while since I had been able to relax like that, just sitting on the patio, walking and playing with my dog. I also filled out the census form that the government sent to my house and popped it in the mail. And, I had a long discussion with my neighbor, as she sipped a beer at my kitchen table, about the homeowners association, which is holding its first meeting ever tomorrow morning.

By most standards, I would say, a fairly productive afternoon.

So why, when dusk began to descend, did I still feel like I had been unproductive? I thought about my original purpose for taking the afternoon off: to give the house a very necessary cleaning. I hadn't done that. But, I had spent some "quality time" with my dog after weeks of working late and barely seeing her. I had attended to wedding and banking tasks. I had connected with a neighbor. I had enjoyed some quiet time on my patio. But I still felt like there was so much more I needed to do.

After dusk, I cleaned up my kitchen, so at least I can say I did some cleaning today. But I also realized that setting impossible standards for oneself is a good way to squash motivation and progress. No, I didn't achieve the perfect, sparkling house I had imagined I would with a whole afternoon free to focus on it. But I accomplished several other tasks that needed to get done, and best of all, I was able to relax a bit and give my dog the attention she deserves.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Bringing the Backyard to Life

One thing about living in Houston is that you better enjoy the nice weather while it's here. Early spring and late fall are usually very nice in this city, but the summertime sucks.

So on Sunday my fiance Bernard and I decided to take advantage of the cool, sunny weather to plant a new tree in our backyard, which is the size of a postage stamp but nonetheless needs some serious landscaping. After two years living this house, it's still an embarrassment how little we have done with the yard. Sunday was the first step.

We went to a local plant store called Buchanan's and after much perusing decided on an Oklahoma redbud. Ours is about 5 feet tall, with purple blossoms. It's got a lot of growing to do.

Amazingly, this tree in its 10-gallon pot, two other smaller plants, a 40-pound bag of mulch and a 30-pound bag of compost, along with me, Bernard and our dog Nema all fit into one four-door Volkswagen Jetta. The Buchanan's employee looked worried as he wheeled the tree up to our car, but we all squeezed in (although the 55-pound canine had to sit on my lap for the ride home).

When we got home, we pulled the crape myrtle out of the ground and planted the redbud in its spot. (The crape myrtle has barely grown in two years and has been plagued by mildew and lack of sufficient sunlight.) Then we stood back and admired our handiwork.

And don't worry about the fate of our unearthed crape myrtle. That afternoon, we took it to my parents' house, where we replanted it in a sunny spot by their front door.