Tuesday, November 1, 2011

And the little children will teach us...

I'm a Great Aunt!

My oldest niece had her first baby. The most beautiful little girl - Natalia Ann - came into this crazy world so innocent - so small - on October 5, 2011 - ironically the same day as Steve Jobs (yes, that Steve Jobs of Apple genius) died.

This new little being entered the world to a loving mother and father - both extremely smart - with lots of education and talent. Natalia comes into our family with a melting pot of relatives. Her father is Polish - a ranked tennis player and head tennis coach at Purdue at 6 foot 7 with parents and family living in Poland. Her maternal Great G'ma is from Germany. On the Solomon side - her paternal Great Great G'pa
and Great Great G'ma came to America from Jewish Russia escaping the Czar and pogroms - her maternal Great Great G'pa from Jewish Poland. She will be able to trace her family back several generations and have a beautiful patchwork quilt of history to explore when she is ready, with photos I have gathered over the years. Born into the age of technology, she will read in history books about vinyl records, audio tapes, land line dial phones, computers and days before email, texting, smart phones, Facebook, Twitter and digital photography.

The excitement of waiting for her to be born and then seeing her photos on my computer, made me realize that this little girl has already changed my life. Since I have no children and don't have friends who have children, I'm not used to talking about children or things that go along with having them. So I wasn't anticipating the feelings and love that I have for this new little girl. Since my two oldest nieces were born in other countries and my youngest on the other side of the US, I wasn't around to be a part of their lives when they were born. But for some reason, I eagerly awaited Natalia's birth. I wept when my niece sent me an email with the sonogram and beamed with pride at the big-belly photo of the various stages of her pregnancy. I wasn't prepared for the joy I felt when I saw on Facebook that this amazing little girl had entered the world. She has softened my heart. I want her life to be amazing and free from pain and for her to have big dreams that she sees come true. I want her to be healthy and happy and loved and fulfilled. I want her to make a difference in this world and to feel a connection to all the beauty there is to see.

Since her birth - even though I haven't met her in person yet - I feel like I need to be there for her. To be that Great Aunt that my Aunt Anne was for me.

The one who lends an ear without judgment - creates a place to laugh - and learn and talk. I think of my dear Aunt Anne (94) who passed away on July 16, 2011 and wanted to meet Natalia so much. I want to be all the things she was to me for Natalia. This baby has already made me stop by the children's clothing department for the first time and want to buy everything in the store for her. But mostly I want to be a better person for Natalia. I want to be the best person I can be, reaching my full potential using my artistic and other gifts to be an example for her. How did this happen? Where did all these feelings come from when I never thought about her coming into the world much before she was born? I truly believe she's a gift from G-d and I am truly blessed to get to know her as she grows and blossoms into a young girl and young woman. And I can truly say I can't wait! Welcome to the family and the world, Natalia Ann.

May your adventure here be filled with many blessings.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Historic Day in America

No matter what your party affiliation, today is an historic day in American history. Today I watched what I thought I would never see in my lifetime - I saw U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton former candidate for President of the U.S. - a woman, place the name of Barrack Obama-a black man- into nomination as President of the United States - the first African American to be nominated for President by a major political party in the history of our country.

Think about that for a minute. Only one hundred forty-three years ago the Civil War ended and our country began to heal and change. Human beings who had been held as chattel - snatched from their countries, their families, their homes, shoved onto ships chained to one another to sail in unthinkable conditions to what was supposed to be the "land of the free" and enslaved against their will by other human beings. Those courageous people, who worked without compensation, without freedom, without free will, are the ancestors who never dreamed that they would ever gain their freedom let alone see a descendant educated at Harvard, become a U.S. Senator and be placed into nomination for President of the United States.

I was raised in the South. I lived through the horrible times of segregation and the fights that many courageous people led to speak up for human rights - civil rights. That was only forty-six years ago. I remember signs on water fountains saying "white only", buildings with bathrooms marked "colored" and hotels and businesses that actually had signs that said "no actors, no dogs, no colored". I saw courageous people beaten by other Americans who thought they were superior and had more rights than other Americans. I saw people die on our streets in the South for what they believed in. And then I saw President Lyndon Johnson sign Civil Rights legislation into law. Ironically, today is Lyndon Johnson's 100th birthday!

I think of all those who came before us in history like Harriet Tubman, and W.E.B. Dubois and Martin Luther King and how they must be looking down on this historic day in disbelief. And yet maybe with relief, because they fought hard for what they believed in - and led each in their own way - to make way for the freedoms we all have today.

I can only imagine what African Americans must be feeling today. I know what I am feeling today. Pride in our country. Pride in our people. Proud to witness this historic day... historic for all Americans. We have finally put into practice what we have been fighting to achieve since the end of the Civil War - less than one hundred and fifty years ago. No longer is it merely rhetoric. No matter who you plan to vote for in November, today is an historic day. Today we as Americans have finally shown by our actions that we are truly able to honor the words of our forefathers who had a vision of "freedom for all" and a country that embraces all who live here. Yes, we have a long way to go, but today is a great start.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

My Poppy...My Hero

With the shocking news a couple of days ago about the untimely and unexpected death of NBC newsman Tim Russert (Meet the Press) who dropped dead of a heart attack at the young age of 58, it gave me pause to reflect. Even more sad is the fact that Tim passed just a couple of days before Father's Day. He loved his Dad and his son and had just returned from a trip to Italy to celebrate his son's graduation from Boston College. I found myself riveted to CNN watching the stories of his life and accolades from friends, colleagues and fans over and over again. In every photo and video clips, the one common thing was that Tim Russert was always smiling and there was a twinkle in his eye that reflected his love for what he did and those around him. Family came first for Tim. He even wrote two best sellers about his Dad and their relationship. Tim was an unselfish, giving, and authentic kind of guy. Rare today - no pretense - no entitlement attitude. True to himself and to his family. What a gift. What a sad day for all of us. We have lost that spirit in the world. How sad for his family.

Tim Russert's passing made me think of my own Dad. They had a lot of similarities. They were the same kind of men with similar values. My Dad passed away at the young age of 59 from a long battle with cancer. At the time, I didn't think it was young, but now that I have lived longer than my Dad I understand how much was lost and that he still had so much more to do and see in his life.

My Dad left college in his freshman year and went off to WWII to serve his country in the Army in the Pacific in the 11th Airborne as a paratrooper in the medical corps. He was the youngest of eight born to immigrant Russian/Polish Jewish parents who came to this country as young teenagers with little formal education. He grew up poor in the tenements of New York City but with seven much older brothers and sisters, he was never without family around. And just like Tim Russert, family was the most important thing to my Poppy. Although he did not live in New York after returning from the war, there was never a holiday or a birthday or special occasion that my Dad did not call his father and sisters and brothers. He taught me that family comes first, above all else. Sometimes that was not always easy for either of us, but somehow it always worked out okay.

Poppy married his high school sweetheart before he went off to war. She was only 17 years old and her parents were not in favor of them getting married. She lived with my Dad's parents in NYC and waited for my Poppy to come home. They waited for the letters to come, giving them some glimmer of hope that my Poppy was safe. Unlike today, there were no cell phones, no e-mail, only handwritten letters that were read before they were mailed and censored with things that might be dangerous to send out. The letters that my parents saved have a "Swiss cheese" look - with dates and locations, etc. cut out of them before they were sent to my Mom. The mail was not what it is today and sometimes it would take weeks to get the letters.

When Poppy finally came home, he and my Mom moved to Washington, D.C. where his older sister Anne was living and working for the Federal Government. Apartments were scarce after the war and she offered hers to them. Poppy went on to finish college and then to Law School.

As their first born child, I had a uncanny resemblance to my Dad. My Poppy went on to work most of his life as an attorney for the Small Business Administration in Washington, D.C. His work was important to him and it was important work to the country. His work helped to create minority loan programs for minorities and women which are still in place today. It also created a path for future ways small business people can get education and help for their businesses.

Poppy also taught me to give back to the community. He and my Mom were always involved in school activities, band parents, PTA, dance recitals whatever we were participating in they would help (often to my protests). They also participated in local politics (the wrong party, as far as I was concerned). They led by example. My Poppy served on the Fairfax County School Board during the Civil Rights era. He was the Chairman at the time, given the responsibility to lead during a most difficult and historical time. Although we lived outside Washington, D.C. in Northern Virginia, we still lived in the segregated South. There was separate everything - drinking fountains marked "white only" and "colored"; the balconies in movie theatres were for "colored only" and they had to enter from a back entrance. There were "white" and "colored" schools. And it was at this time that my Dad had to take an unpopular stand and do what was right - not what was popular. It was through my Dad's leadership that Fairfax County, Virginia let go of the past and integrated our schools. My Dad was harassed in person, on the phone and in the newspapers. It was during all of this turmoil and personally distressing time, that he told me that we must always do the right thing, even if it is unpopular.

My Dad was not perfect. He was a human being. He had many personal challenges in his life. As difficult as some of them were, he finally overcame them. And I am proud of him for that. In the last years of his life he fought cancer. It was not an easy fight. I was living in California during most of his illness. I thought I wasn't there for my Dad during this difficult time, but I recently came across the letters he and my Mom wrote to me. My Dad always wrote on yellow lined legal pads in his small difficult to read script. I was so glad I saved the letters, because they keep my Dad close to me and also made me realize from his own words that I was there for him. I'd forgotten all the phone calls back and forth between us and the visits home. He actually said the words that it was his connection between us that helped him during these difficult days.

The last time I saw my Poppy, it was Xmas time. We were one of those assimilated non-religious Jewish families that always had a tree and stockings. My Dad has movies of us coming down the stairs on Xmas morning to open our stockings stuffed with treats and toys. Poppy was like a little kid. The presents under the tree were overflowing in excess. He would stay up till the wee hours of the night on Xmas Eve putting together the latest bikes or toys so they would be there for us waiting under the tree when we woke up way too early the next morning. I still see him in his bathrobe sitting next to the tree handing out gifts one by one and delighting in each one that was opened. And when we were too old to have toys under the tree, Poppy made sure there were toys for the dog.

That last Xmas I came home, they were now living in Atlanta, Georgia, Poppy was but a shadow of himself. He wore a terrible wig to cover his loss of hair from the chemo and was very thin. I was not prepared for what I saw as I walked in the house. He sat as always in his big black leather lounger chair in the family room, but the man I saw when I walked in was old and tired. His skin was gray. He was dozing in his chair. The second I entered the room, and ran over to hug my Poppy, all was okay in that moment for both of us. I know he must have been in a lot of pain and emotionally it must have been a bittersweet moment. But he never, never complained.

I took over and tried to make it a happy holiday. I bought him gifts that we both knew he would never use and never wear. Neither of us talked about it. We laughed and ate and spent time watching his favorite black and white movies on television. I was staying until December 29th. On the day before I was to leave to go back to California and back to work on Merv Griffin's Wheel of Fortune, my Dad asked me to come upstairs to his bedroom. There on his dresser was the jar of Jelly Bellies (gourmet jellybeans - his favorites) that I had sent him from Los Angeles. My Dad held my hands and with great difficulty, choking back tears, he told me that he was proud of me. I tried to make a joke, but he told me not this time - to listen to him, it was important. He told me to always be true to myself, even when it isn't such an easy thing to do. To use my talents, that I've been given a gift - to make something of my life. He told me how important I was to him and that I was a good daughter. He told me he loved me, as he often did. We both held each other and cried. We never said it, but we both knew that this would be the last time. I can't tell you how difficult it was for me to leave my Poppy, but I knew I had to. I also know that I was lucky to have had this moment to say goodbye and have this one last conversation.

When the phone call came, one month to the day - January 29, 1983 - I was devastated. My Poppy was gone. How could I go on? Who would be my champion, my confidant, my guide? I could not imagine a world without him. And the next few years would prove difficult for me. My world turned upside down without him. And I was lost. But somehow through all my challenges, I always heard his voice. His values, his commitment to life and family, his work ethics led me to get my life together and become the woman I am today. I know he would be proud of me.

I wish I could call or visit my Poppy today on this day when we honor our Fathers, but instead this blog will have to suffice as a love letter to him. I am proud to be his daughter. I'm proud of him. I know he's still there for me. I love you, Poppy. Happy Father's Day.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Walking the Walk...

Today in Los Angeles, 10,000 people showed up at a church to say good-bye and pay tribute to a slain police officer - the first S.W.A.T. officer killed in the line of duty - only 51 years old, Officer Randy Simmons leaves a wife and two teenage children. He was shot and died during a police stand-off - taking a bullet for his partner who survived as they entered a home where a 21 year old - distraught for 11 years over the death of his mother - opened fire after killing his own father and two brothers.

Sad as this senseless death is, it would not have been the subject of my writing, had I not been moved by a video shown at his funeral and heard the tributes by his friends and family (the memorial and funeral were carried live for over 3 1/2 hours on all stations here in LA). And like so many others who watched and learned about this extraordinary selfless human being, I was moved to tears.

Many things we learned about this man, we can say about many people we know. He was a loving husband, a wonderful son, an incredible father. He had a deep faith in G-d and carried that faith with him to his job, with his friends and family - his nickname was "The Reverend" - He loved sports - especially football - and shared that love with his friends and his son. They were inseparable - did everything together. No one had anything but good things to say about this man. So just knowing these things about Randy Simmons, we can say he was a good man and it is sad to have him leave this earth so soon.

But there was more - so much more. Although Officer Simmons lived in the lovely community of Rancho Palos Verdes and enjoyed a comfortable life there, he spent much of his off duty time on the streets of Los Angeles reaching out to the disadvantaged youth of this city. He tirelessly lent an ear to kids who had no one to listen to them. He never stopped sharing with them that there is another way out of the life they are surrounded by on a daily basis - the life of gangs, drugs, hopelessness. He called those kids his "babies" and they showed up today wearing t-shirts with Randy's picture and the word HERO on the front.

I am reminded that there is no man so great as one who stoops to help a child. Randy was that man.

I have been thinking lately about being of service - what can I do as an individual to help others? I often discuss this topic with my clients and urge them to find something that they can do to help others - no matter how small, do something.

Some months ago I started doing simple things to change how I live my daily life. I make it a point to hold the door open for the person behind me when I enter the bank or a store. Sounds silly to even mention it. Doesn't everyone hold the door for the person behind them? You'd be surprised at the reaction I get when I not only hold the door for the next person (and sometimes wait for them to walk up to get the door) and then smile at them. The most amazing thing happens when I do this. The person smiles back at me and says thank you. But something else happens. A warm feeling passes through me and I feel like I have made a small connection with another human being. I have respected that person - acknowledged them in such a small way. I often wonder what that person is thinking - if they are - and will they do the same for the next person when they walk through the door? Does it matter? Well, it matters to me - I believe that we can change the world one step at a time - one small step at a time. And one of the things lacking in the world today is a connection to others and a respect for each person as a human being.

I didn't have the privilege of knowing Officer Randy Simmons but in his passing he reached out to me - I saw a man who was never too busy or too selfish to help another person - especially a child. Randy Simmons talked his talk and walked the walk. He has touched me - and I will remember how he chose to live his life. He was a real hero, not a celebrity with a PR hero campaign created in Hollywood. I only wish I could live my life with such a clear purpose and help others along the way. So I challenge each of you reading these words - what small thing can you do to help others? You will make a difference if you reach out.

You will be missed, Randy Simmons, even by those of us who didn't know you.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Dr. Martin Luther King's Dream...What's Yours?

As we celebrate a day of tribute and honor to the slain civil rights leader, I remember what it was like growing up before his work began. I grew up in the South - in Northern Virginia in the suburbs just outside of Washington, D.C. - our nation's capitol. I remember the two separate everythings - the water fountains marked white only - the movie theatre balconies for "colored only" - the signs on restaurants restricting entrance or directing "colored" people to the back or side door. I remember driving through streets right next to the White House and the Capitol where people lived in the most abject poverty in the shadow of the most powerful leaders in our nation and the world. I saw families sitting on the curb with all their belongings around them - evicted from the only home they had ever known with no place to go. It pained me then as a young girl, as it pains me now to see how low human beings would go in their ignorance and lack of caring for other human beings, simply based on the color of their skin. Dr. King's dream has many facets. But the part that speaks to me is the part that said, he dreamed of a day when his children are no longer judged by the color of their skin, but rather by the content of their character.

"...Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!..."

Martin Luther King was only 26 years old when he lead the boycott of segregated Montgomery, Alabama buses gaining national recognition. And he was only 35 when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for Peace - the youngest person to be awarded this prize.

But I believe Dr. King's most important work came towards the end of his life. When arrested in Birmingham, he wrote his famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" where he laid out the groundwork for what would continue to be his life's work until the day he was shot down on the balcony of his motel room.

"...Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly..." -- Dr. Martin Luther King jr, "Letter from Birmingham Jail", April 1963

Today we live in a different time. Some of what Dr. King fought so hard to achieve has come to fruition. But there is so much more work to be done - in so many areas of the world we live in. I take time today to reflect on my own life. How am I giving back to my community, my family, my friends, and to the greater world? What small things can I do to make this a better place in which to live? How can I be of service? I start with simple things, like holding the door open for someone who is walking behind me at the bank or the store. I speak to workers I come in contact with even if it's just to ask how their day is going. I try to smile at someone I don't know each day. After all, if I am not part of the solution, then I am part of the problem. If everyone does one small thing each day, who knows what would happen? I'd like to find out. Won't you join me on this day when we honor a pioneer and leader - lost too soon - to think of something you can do to make our world a better place? By each of us doing our part, we give Dr. King the highest honor - the honor of taking his words to heart and continuing his work and his dream.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

When Life Gives You Lemons...

So what do you do when you are presented challenges in your life? How do you approach them when you are in that exact moment of realizing that you have been presented with a challenge? Where does your mind go first? acceptance, denial, fear? and what about your body? what are the physical things you feel as your mind absorbs what is going on?

Some of us meet the situation head on without thinking - we just go into attack mode or action mode. Some of us step back to assess the situation thoroughly in order to make calculated decisions about what to do. And some of us remain in denial, even in the most dire of challenges because it's all too much for us to handle. Some of us reach for substances to help us - drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, food, sex, shopping, or whatever. How do you handle extreme situations? A health challenge for you or a family member, an accident, a loss of job, a death of a loved one or a pet or any other thing that might be a challenge.

Who and what do you depend on to get you through such times? Is it your Higher Power or G-d? Is it your spouse or partner? A best friend? A family member?

And what about a twist on this question? What do you do when a friend is faced with a difficult challenge? What do you do as a friend? Where do you set boundaries in helping another person? And what about situations where the friend doesn't realize how extreme their situation is and no matter what you say or suggest they stay stuck in their situation not willing to ask or take help offered. They remain in denial. What then? Do you just sit by and watch your friend self-destruct? It's a tough place to be.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Welcome to My World!

Welcome to my first blog post! I hope to periodically post things to make you think, perhaps inspire you and help you move forward, both in your creative life and in your personal life. I will often use my own life experiences and those of my coaching clients (anonymously, of course!) as examples to help those of you who are reading my blog. So get ready to ride!

The past few weeks have produced interesting life experiences for me. On the up side, I traveled to NYC to stage manage an awesome show at the legendary Birdland jazz club www.birdlandjazz.com showcasing the original music of the incomparable Ron Abel www.ronabel.com and several of his Broadway friends. For the first time in my professional career, my cousins came to see the show and see what I do! Next I traveled to Phoenix, for my first ever art retreat - Art Unraveled www.artunraveled.com where I knew no one and had no visual art experience.

On the down side, my mother had an accident in her home. She woke up in the middle of the night and either tripped or fell and was injured with a few fractures to her face that resulted in a black eye and a very sore arm. Thank G-d it wasn't worse! Then her significant other, George, was hospitalized with pneumonia for several days. The husband of a client and friend of mine, was diagnosed with cancer and has to have an operation to remove a large cyst in his neck and then have chemo. My first mentor, Merv Griffin, passed away at 82 of cancer. And, just today, I learned of the passing of the mom of my dear friend, Ron Abel - composer and musician extraordinaire. Quite a list for one week!

I write of these things not to wallow in doom and gloom, but rather to speak of how they can be the catalyst to my own gratitude and to move me forward in my own life. Life is short...shorter than we think as witnessed by the above list. When we are young, we feel invincible and that the future will always be around just waiting for us. But as we grow older, we realize that time is of the essence and life is very precious. No amount of wealth, status or celebrity can buy us more time.

I believe that we can create the life we want. It starts with knowing what you want your life to be and begin to visualize it. Break it down into components: Health, career, significant other, money, personal environment, family & friends, fun & recreation, and spiritual growth. Where are you with each of these areas of your life? Sit down and actually rate each one on a scale of 0 - 10. Nothing is written in stone. Everything can change by action taken by you. In designing your life, I encourage my clients to create tools to help determine what they want and how to get there. Write a daily gratitude list. Try journaling about a subject by asking yourself a question or just write "stream of consciousness" and see what comes out on your paper. Create a vision board by cutting words and pictures out of magazines to make your design and your dream tangible. Ask yourself questions, like what did you dream of when you were a little girl or boy? Have you accomplished those things as an adult? Why or why not? Do you still dream those dreams? What's stopping you from attaining them? What's in your life that's contributing to stagnation or procrastination? Is it clutter, your weight, addictions such as smoking, drinking, drugging, gambling, or shopping, etc.? Are you willing to get help for these? When? What are the "rocks you're carrying in your imaginary backpack" that are weighing you down and keeping you from following your dream? Are there small things in your life (the things you've been meaning to take care of) that you are tolerating? What would happen if you started taking care of this list? Who do you know that could help you with your dream/life design? How can you use "six degrees of separation" to move forward towards your dream? What's one small step you could take TODAY to do things differently and start on your new life path? Are you stuck in fear? What would it take to let it go and do these things anyway?

What will it take for you to do something you have always wanted to do without letting others steal your dreams? Remember this is YOUR life. No one else has the exact same gifts you have and no one else has the exact same dream as you. So you must be proactive in creating it for yourself. Don't wait another minute. Do it now!

Challenges both big and small are presented to us almost every day. What we choose to do with these life challenges is the difference between moving forward in our lives and reaching our dreams and sitting stagnant and wishing. Most dreams take time to achieve. We need to break them down into "baby steps" so that they are not so overwhelming and feel impossible to reach. The people who succeed in reaching their goals and living their dreams are the people who start with just one small step. Will you be one of those people? It's entirely up to you. Someone much wiser than me once said, "If you can dream it, you can attain it." I believe that for myself and I believe it for you. I send you off on this first ride with many blessings...Reva