🎶 “When will you realize, Vienna waits for you?” 🎶

From the moment our sleeper train pulled into the Vienna station, that old Billy Joel song began buzzing through my head and didn’t stop until our plane touched down 3 days later in Chicago. I found myself humming it through my tour of the magnificent Klimt paintings and statues of great men who died long before America was born.

I stood people watching by the staircase in The Belvedere Museum and had a moment of realization—I was probably surrounded by representatives of the whole world. All around me swarmed young families, little old ladies traveling together, groups of students, romantic couples, all chattering in languages I strained to identify. It would seem we had the same agenda that day: We would immerse ourselves in the power of art. And just by looking at us, you couldn’t separate us into countries or religious beliefs or political affiliation.

It was hot in Vienna, as hot as it was in Los Angeles, so it wasn’t only California burning up—Vienna was too.. And so was Sweden. Russian parents are worried about terrorism and a brutal government, just like us. Norway is so concerned about alcoholism they hit alcohols with a high tax. England fights pollution in London by attempting to limit the number of cars entering the city limits. If you buy a pack of cigarettes in Europe expect to see a giant black warning emblazoned on the front of each pack, bigger than the brand logo.

You’ve probably heard the statistic “Less than 10% of Americans own passports” so I googled it. While that may have been true in 1998, it’s not true today. Far from it—Americans are at 48% and rising. So, though over half our country still never leaves the comfort of their own borders, the rest of us travel like mad. And for those of us who travel, the world is a much smaller, friendlier place than some would have us believe.

It’s not “Us” versus “Them” anymore. We’re all one big, homogenized Earth family no matter how much that concept scares some people. Please don’t buy into the fear mongers who’s intent is to frighten us. Frightened anxious people are easier to control. The reality of our world is, we’re all in this together. If you need proof, just come to Vienna—it’s waiting for you.

Accepting what we are—the right way

A Facebook post I saw recently posed this question: Which astrological Sun sign would you choose to be instead of the one you are? Well, I was born when the Sun was in Scorpio. Black and white. Wrong. Right. All or nothing. Tell anyone you are a Scorpio and you get this raising of the eyebrow thing and an ”ohhhh”, like they really know. When I was a teenager (and back then everyone asked), I actually said I was a Sagittarius—it seemed to take the edge off.

Once I began to truly study astrology I learned I there were four planets in Scorpio and no planets in Sagittarius at the time I was born, so that whole, “I am really a Sagittarius” thing went right out the window. I was obviously very Scorpio.

Then I spent much of my adult life allowing the ‘all or nothing’ intense, passionate, ridiculous Scorpionic thing to determine my actions. Enough already.

Now I know. When you are born with the sun in a certain sign, it’s because you are in this life to master the aspects of that Sun sign, positive and negative. As astrologist Steven Forrest would say, I am not ‘a Scorpio’—I’m ‘Scorpio-ing’. We aren’t supposed to wallow in our stuff, or allow ourselves to be buffeted about by it, or use our Sun sign as an excuse.

We have the task to show the rest of the world how to do ‘this’ the right way, and it may take all of this lifetime to do it. Allowing a passionate nature or any other aspect of our personalities to control us can cause lots of problems for us and those around us.

Now, I try to take the middle road, the peaceful way. I find, like Robert Frost, The Road Less Traveled has made all the difference. Moderation is the hardest road, but it’s the most rewarding. Strange coming from a Scorpio. But I believe in the wave pattern as a physics and life principal.

Now I would rather float on the small, luscious, sweetly lapping waves off the beach in Playa Del Carmen than try to surf those intense, crashing, impossible-to-swim-in-and-freezing-waves (where someone was eaten by a great white, by the way) off the rocky beach in La Jolla, thank you. Every time.

Trying to live my life like A Boss

How can I be the boss of anyone, when I am just barely the boss of my own life? I’m asking this as I check my bank balance because this week I deposited a check into my savings account instead of my checking account and now I’m overdrawn. I would love to blame the smiling tellers crammed into the Wells Fargo drive-through box like veal, but no. It’s me. Like the small sign on Teddy Roosevelt’s desk, ‘The Buck Stops Here’. The buck stops at me, or rather at my desk if I had one. This is the flip-side of small business entrepreneurship—It doesn’t matter who did or didn’t do what, at the end of the day it’s all your fault, all of it. As A Boss you give credit for the good stuff to your team, but if something isn’t working it’s up to you to fix it. And that’s a scary thought. I know my strengths and I know my weaknesses and the skills necessary for running a successful business, more often than not, fall on the side of ‘Stuff I Don’t Do Well’. For instance, I’m trying to sign up for an on-line Illustrator class. It’s taken me three weeks—three friggin weeks—to figure out how to even sign up on-line for that class. And they want to know I’ve taken photoshop first (which I haven’t). So of course this leaves the big, elephant-in-the room question: If I’m having trouble signing up, how am I going to manage the class work? Yeah. Now, imagine if I were your boss. It scares even me. I didn’t start out in life to be A Boss, but I’m naturally Boss-y. It’s a character flaw. So now, here I am. I actually have ten or eleven, maybe twelve, could be thirteen now, employees. They aren’t all full time, but I am in charge of their job. They all depend on me for rent and mortgages and groceries, and child care and car payments. They arrive to work every morning and leave every night and come to me when they have “issues” and get upset with me when I don’t solve their problems immediately, and never doubt that I can. Solve their problems, that is. Unlike me.

14 Life Lessons from The Great British Baking Show

If you know me you tolerate my obsession with the original Great British Baking Show. Each season begins with about 12 amature bakers and progressively tortures them with difficult and obscure baking challenges designed to eliminate them one by one. It’s much like the TV show ‘Survivor” but very British. And very sweet. Nobody’s hair is perfect, no one is trash-talking anyone behind their backs. When one of them is asked to go, big group hug. We can learn a lot from this.

Here are some life lessons gleaned from The Great British Baking Show:

1. You can be really, really good at something and still meet someone better than you.

2. Mistakes happen. How you handle them is what’s important.

3. You don’t have to create drama or villify people when they (or you) have to, or choose to, leave. Hug, smile, and move forward.

4. More often than not, being consistent is more important than showing off.

5. If someone tells you they want you to do something, and you don’t do it but you give them something else, don’t be surprised if they aren’t happy.

6. You use math and chemistry more often than you think.

7. No matter how pretty a pastry is, it still has to taste good.

8. Meltdowns are never pleasant to witness. Nor are they productive.

9. Do your homework.

10. When you bravely stretch outside your comfort zone, what you can accomplish will astound even you.

11. There’s nothing wrong with learning as you go.

12. Really know your basics. This alone may keep you out of trouble.

13. You don’t have to be the star of the show to make a big difference.

14. The pursuit of your goal can be more important than what you actually win, ie: Spending ten weekends baking in a tent with a bunch of strangers to win an engraved cake plate and an armful of flowers.

But. Afterwards . . . contestant Richard Burr wrote a book on baking, ‘BIY: Bake it Yourself’, Luis Troyano wrote ‘Bake It Great’, Chetna Makan wrote ‘The Cardamom Trail’ and ‘Chai, Chaat & Chutney: A Street Food Journey Through India’. Martha Collison wrote two baking books, ‘Twist’ and ‘Crave’ and she also has a weekly column with Waitrose. Jane Beedle has appeared on tv, including a spot making muffins on TV’s ‘Lorraine’.

Ian Cummings developed recipes for food brands, created a classic Thai green curry for Cambridge News, and wrote about baking bread in an Icelandic volcano for the Telegraph.

Ruby Tandoh wrote ‘Crumb: The Baking Book’ and ‘Flavour: Eat What You Love’. Ruby writes for The Guardian, co-founded “Do What You Want” and wrote a new book about body image and feminism “Eat Up: Appetite and Eating what you want.

And by the way, NONE of these personalities and successful cookbook authors actually WON The Great British Baking Show—they just participated their hearts out.

Life as Cake Batter

I know lots of folks who are experiencing extreme change in their lives right now. Whether moving house, starting a new business direction or completely altering a long-standing family dynamic, to an outside observer these changes might look erratic and a little, well, messy.

But, when I have the opportunity, I always tell these stressed folks that I liken this state of affairs to “Cake Batter”. It’s like this: Lets say you love cake but have never seen it made from scratch and know nothing about baking.

Watching the process just might shock you. “Wait”, you’d say, “You’re breaking the eggs! Oh, you’re putting all that dry stuff in with the wet stuff! That’s just a bowl of goop. It looks nothing like cake.” You would not think it possible that a mess like that could actually become the cake you loved, and in a way you’d be right.

You could put that bowl of batter in the fridge and not do anything to it, just let it sit there for a month and it would never turn into a cake on its own. For the batter to turn into a cake you must first pour it into a pan, stick the pan in the oven and turn up the heat.

The heat is the important part. The temperature needs to get pretty hot in that oven for any significant change to occur in the batter and change is what you want. So you have to wait. You have to have faith. You have to believe in your recipe and trust your own personal baking process and intuition.

There’s no speeding this part up. Watching it through the window in the oven door won’t make it bake any faster, no matter how much of a hurry you may be in. After some time in the oven the cake may look done, but then you stick a toothpick into the center and . . . nope. Three more minutes of heat. Or five. Or ten. It takes as long as it takes to complete the magical alchemy of transforming a gloopy, inedible wet mess into something sweet, solid and delicious.

Well, big life changes are just like that. You must be willing to combine disparate elements, take risks, break eggs. Then you have to heat things up and allow enough time for the cake to bake completly. And have faith. Please. Don’t give up before your cake is done.

Aging . . . cheerfully?

Tuesday morning is always a favorite time for me– I’m happy to be back in my little salon again after an interesting weekend, with a cup of coffee in my hand and a new interesting conversation to anticipate. This morning the conversation turned to aging, and a person’s reaction and relationship to it.

My first client was a realtor, in a people-intensive profession like mine. She confided some interesting observations to me. “I’ve noticed something about older people” she said. “They seem to be either ‘Lively older people’ or ‘Cranky old people’. I haven’t met many people in the middle.” This prompted an energetic salon discussion, with everyone in the room weighing in.

“I watched both sets of grandparents age” said my blonde assistant. “When my paternal grandfather retired, we couldn’t get him out of the house. He just sat on the couch watching tv and complaining about the world, and my grandmother. He seemed to get grayer and smaller, shrinking in on himself, not really living. Then he died. On the other hand, my maternal grandparents are exactly the opposite. They have more friends than I do. They’re always going to dinner parties and on cruises, really living their life. They both still drive and they’re in their eighties. And they always seem to be smiling.”

Aha. Smiles. The big secret to aging well. Forget ‘aging gracefully’—we all fight aging a little (or a lot) and we don’t necessarily do it with grace. What really gets us through this life is consistent and inexhaustible cheerfulness. We need to make smiling part of our daily spiritual practice. We need to stay cheerful in spite of the lines on our face and the pain in our joints.

If you’ve ever had the honor of meeting real Tibetan monks, their consistent cheerfulness is a defining feature of their persona. Standing in their presence, you get the feeling they know something we don’t.

Oscar Wilde once said, “Don’t complain about getting older— it’s a privilege denied to many.”

We’re alive right now, this minute. That in itself is a joyous miracle. But also, there is a physics principle: “The observer affects the experiment, always.” In other words, your cheerfulness creates a life to be cheerful about. And conversely, crankiness creates things to be cranky about. This has nothing to do with what actually happens to us—It’s more our attitude about what happens to us that determines our quality of life.

And best of all, smiling is contagious.

Your year of “Yes”

Last year Shonda Rhimes (that amazing, multitalented award-winning Television producer) released a book called ‘My year of “Yes”. She begins the book by saying, “I am a liar” and goes on to describe the tall tales she used to spin at catholic school.

She was always getting into trouble because she was always making things up. You might think an unrepentant lie-teller would have a little trouble finding success in the real world, but you would be wrong.

She goes on to tell the story of discovering her perfect place with people who appreciated a good lie and paid well for it: Hollywood. She’s the mastermind behind TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy, How to Get Away With Murder and Private Practice.

Rhimes was also an introverted workaholic who never accepted invitations, social engagements or events. Her debilitating social anxiety and unhappiness with her weight caused her to say ‘no’ to many amazing opportunities outside of her comfort zone—her made-up world. After a challenge from her sister in late 2013 Shonda decided she’d say yes to anything for a full year. She wrote “My Year of Yes” about that year, and the important things she learned from it.

TOP 5 LESSONS FROM RHIMES’ YEAR OF YES

1) SAY ‘YES’ TO USING YOUR VOICE

Your experience matters. The lessons you learned and the wisdom you acquire from your experience is a valuable asset you can share. You can affect your part of the world so be brave and let your voice be heard.

2) SAY ‘YES’ TO YOUR WEIGHT

Rhimes turned down a lot of events because she wasn’t happy about her weight. Whether you want to lose weight, gain weight or stay the same, accept it or work on changing it, but don’t be ashamed of it. Say ‘yes’ to loving your body and commit to giving it the best you possibly can.

3) SAY ‘YES’ TO SAYING ‘NO’

Before her Year of Yes, Rhimes avoided conflict. Learn to say ‘’Yes’ to difficult conversations and meetings, and no’ to things and people who are sucking the life out of you. Don’t waste time on frivolous aquaintences or negative people.

4) SAY ‘YES’ TO REAL FRIENDSHIPS

Don’t let work supersede every other social occasion. Pay attention to the people in your life who you really enjoy and who really enjoy you. Sometimes you need other people.

‘Sometimes the only way to get going is to have others push you’. The self made person is a myth. No person got there alone. Say yes when someone offers to help without asking too many questions.

5) SAY ‘YES’ TO LOVE

Saying ‘yes’ to love communicating truthfully with the people you love. You owe your yourself and your loved ones that much. Say ‘Yes’ to self love when you stop rebuffing compliments. Instead of self-deprecating jokes or comments, just say, “Yes”. Thank you!”

And smile.

Why I started buying real books again

I could read like a fourth grader by my first day in Kindergarten. I got my first library card, by myself, when I discovered a small community library at my bus stop. I was lucky—the librarian didn’t let my scant nine years stop her from recommending grown-up books to me. She recognized a kindred spirit when she saw one. I wondered over big glossy art books, thrilled by the colors in the paintings and the stories of the artists’ lives.

Some of my fondest memories are of sharing books with my numerous brothers and sisters. We loved discovering oddities on my father’s bookshelves, and that man always had a book in his hand. My own daughters treasure books they remember from my bookshelves during their childhood. Sharing books has always been a joy and I, too, always had a book with me wherever I went.

I stayed faithful to my library until I discovered I could own them. That’s when the ‘collecting’ began. My bookshelves were a clear picture of who I was and what fascinated me, obvious to anyone interested enough to browse them. And, conversely, I loved browsing other people’s bookshelves, fascinated by what I found out about them as well. I have books everywhere, on nightstands, kitchen counters, and big art books on the coffee table in front of my sofa.

But I once took ten pounds of books with me on a two-week trip to Russia and Finland. Big mistake. I bought a Kindle as soon as I got back to the States. It was brilliant, really——the thing held hundreds of books and didn’t even weigh a pound, perfect for traveling the world. Technology is insidious and now, ubiquitous. I have the Kindle app and Audiobook apps on my phone, earbuds in my purse, a usb cord in my car. Now I can read anywhere, anytime. It’s impossible to resist convenience.

Discarded book collections overflow in Goodwill stores and thrift shop shelves. In the last Pottery Barn catalogue I noticed featured “nick-knack” shelves instead of bookshelves, and I’m seeing that shift everywhere I look. No longer can I browse bookshelves as a guest in someone’s house. You can’t tell what I’m reading (or thinking) anymore from looking at my bookshelves, and it makes me sad.

So, shopping in a local second hand store, I came across three or four shelves of hard cover books I have already ‘read’, but on some random device—I didn’t own the actual book. I felt a sense of kinship with the previous owner of these books—we had the same taste in fiction! I grabbed a basket and tossed as many of the books I’ve actually read in the basket. As I checked out (grand total:$35) I made myself a promise: I’m going to attempt to track down every book I’ve ever read. I’ll take my time, I’ll buy them used, and I’ll share them with friends again. But mostly, they feel like old friends, and I like keeping my old friends around.

Hello 2018–Astrology and Audiobooks

Welcome to 2018. You will find this year a radical change from last year, but that’s a good thing. Every January I compile a list of books I know will be helpful for each astrologically sign. If you know me you know I’m a big fan of audiobooks, so this year it’s audiobooks for everyone!

Here’s my list:

Happy Birthday Capricorn! (Dec. 22-Jan. 20) This is your year and you deserve it! Finally, you can exert some real influence again and expand your fan base. What you do this year sets into motion a three year cycle of prosperity, success and for the next ten months, popularity. To help get you ready, I’m recommending: Influence: Mastering Life’s Most Powerful Skill, by The Great Courses, Narrated By Professor Kenneth G. Brown. You have influence this year, so use it for good not evil.

Aquarius (Jan 21-Feb. 19) For the next couple of years, your job is you—your mind, your visions, and the exhaustive study of what makes that brain of yours so powerful. Having said that, this is also your year for stellar career success and elevated social standing. If you handle it wisely you will have an extraordinary 2018. To help navigate your way to the top, read: “Your Best Year Ever—A 5-Step Plan for Achieving Your Most Important Goals” by: Michael Hyatt, narrated by: Michael Hyatt. This book can be your roadmap.

Pisces (Feb. 20-March 20) It’s time to let the world know how amazing you really are and over the next three years you’ll be called upon to speak your truth in front of an audience—several, in fact. But this year you travel, spiritually and physically. Discovering who and what you believe in may not seem very interesting, but when the path includes all sorts of travel, real and metaphoric, things get exciting. To prepare you might listen to this audiobook: “The Art of Pilgrimage—The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred” By: Phil Cousineau, narrated by: Efrem Zimbalist Jr. Just a suggestion.

Aries (Mar. 21-Apr. 20) 2018 kicks off a 3 year cycle, where your power and status accelerate exponentially. Especially important are the next three months. I know you like to think you need to go it alone, but this year the keys to your biggest successes lie in collaborating. This does not come naturally to you, so you may need help. Try listening to the podcasts: The Foundations for Collaboration, The Collaborative Podcast Series, Book 1 by David B. Savage, narrated by David B. Savage.

Taurus (Apr. 21-May-21) You work well in the context of partnerships, so this next year should feel great, because partnerships are lucky in 2018. But, your main difficulty has always been truly listening to your partner when your emotions are involved. That’s why I recommending the book: The Five Keys to Mindful Communication—Using Deep Listening and Mindful Speech to Strengthen Relationships, Heal Conflicts, and Accomplish Your Goals” By: Susan Gillis Chapman, narrated by: Gabra Zackman.

Gemini (May 22-June 20) Your natural desire for cooperation kicks in this year but sharing your business resources is a technique you can learn. This could mean you need to amp up your corporate structure while you fine-tune your healthy work habits and lifestyle. To start off right, take some advice from the corporate superstars and listen to: “The Four—The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google” By: Scott Galloway Narrated by: Jonathan Todd Ross

Cancer (June 21-July 22) 2018 is your year for having some fun, exploring and expanding your innate creativity and improving relationships of all kinds. Cancers can secretly hold on to things like people, feelings and habits, but you don’t want old habits to get in the way of an outstanding year. Be brave and explore some new inspiration. Listen to: Creativity Rules—Getting Ideas Out of Your Head and into the World” By: Tina Seelig, narrated by: Eliza Foss. Just an FYI: pregnancy is a possibility, so take extra precautions if this isn’t what you want.

Leo (July 23-Aug. 23) Your success over the next few years depends on powerful and consistent day-to-day habits and the actions you set in motion this year. Your success over the next year depends on a secure, happy and expanded home and family environment. To help you in learning some important new techniques—listen to the audiobook: Habit Stacking 127 Small Changes to Improve Your Health, Wealth, and Happiness by S.J. Scott, narrated by Greg Zarcone.

Virgo (Aug. 24-Sept. 22) You’re overloaded and inundated with creativity this year, and virtually bursting to share it with the world. This ‘sharing your thoughts with the world’ thing is what you get to focus on this year, and you do so creatively. Your fan base grows as folks all over sit up, take notice, and clamor to hear what you have to say. Learn some good tricks by listening to:The Marketplace of Attention: How Audiences Take Shape in a Digital Age by James G. Webster, narrated By Tim Andreas Pabon,

Libra (Sept. 23-Oct. 22) Chip Gaines did some amazingly successful things with his home and family and so will you, because the focus and magic (and prosperity) lives right in your own back yard. Have you researched house flipping? Remodeling? Redecorating? Anything you feel like doing to make money at, in, or through house, home or family is lucky for you. Read: Capital Gaines: The Smart Things I’ve Learned by Doing Stupid Stuff by Chip Gaines, narrated by Chip Gaines, Joanna Gaines, Melinda Paul, Rachel Agee, Gabe Wicks, and be inspired.

Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov.21) You have a lot going on in your life right now so don’t become overwhelmed or scared and back off. The planets support your bravery. The key is to grab opportunities as they present themselves to you, even if the opportunities seem small and insignificant. You’re in the process of growing your image this year. Next year your money grows. To support you as opportunities swirl around you, download: “The Click Moment—Seizing Opportunity in an Unpredictable World” By Frans Johansson, narrated by: Erik Synnestvedt

Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 21) Finances are in sharp focus in 2018 (finally) and you find you’re a little more solid and stable. It may even feel as though you have an invisible angel sitting on your shoulder, protecting you and directing you in mysterious ways . This year challenges you to a quest to seek the true meaning of your life. Recharge your batteries and prepare for the personal image explosion next year brings. So, to take advantage of this time, get the book: “The Soul of Money—Reclaiming the Wealth of Our Inner Resources” by: Lynne Twist, narrated by: Cynthia Barrett

Change, Stress and Socrates

I love an Australian TV show called ‘800 Words’. The main character sort of narrates his monthly column as he lives his new life. He writes at the end of one of the first shows: ”Experts say some of the most stressful things in life are: 1. death, 2. buying and/or selling real estate, 3. emigrating and 4. international travel.” I’d also like to add, 5. losing a job or starting a new one, 6. Kids–having a child and/or sending the last one off or just worrying about them. “Only an idiot would attempt all of them at the same time.” He said. He was referring to himself, of course. But as so often happens in life, when it rains it pours.

We seldom get to amortize stressful situations and spread them out evenly over the timeline of our lives. Sometimes stressful things converge on us at once and we have to figure out how to manage. without a break to relax and regroup. And sometimes those things change the course of our lives completely without our permission, making it hard to see the silver lining.

Change produces stress in everybody, even if you go into the change willingly. Stress (and a loudly opposing opinion) makes us doubt ourselves and our decisions. Sometimes we even beat ourselves up by looking back, thinking we’ve made a huge mistake by initiating change. In his book “A Long Way Down” Nick Hornby wrote, “..Hard is trying to rebuild yourself, piece by piece, with no instruction book, and no clue as to where all the important bits are suppose to go.”

But avoiding anything makes it harder to face when our avoidance techniques stop working for us. For emotional success during times of stress and change Socrates gave us this formula: “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” Notice he didn’t say to use ‘some’ of your energy on your changes while you use the rest to talk about your stress and suffering. Socrates suggests we use all our energy to build, and building implies a step by step process of construction starting from the ground up. We need to work at creating our new reality, our new normal. Try it–before you know it, the change becomes the silver lining.