Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Perfect Red Eggs

Greeks dye their Easter eggs red. It was one of those things that I drew issue with as a kid. I didn't understand why everyone else got to paint their Easter eggs in pastel pinks and blues and my only choice was red.  So I didn't get involved. I watched my mom fuss with a big pot of red dye on the stove, trying to get the eggs that deep red that her mother and her father had. But I didn't pay much attention.

The point of the red is to symbolize the blood of Christ. But the part of the tradition that sticks most with those of us who only know of red eggs is the ritual of cracking them. The way it goes is everyone gets an egg. You turn to the person seated next to you and say Christos Anesti, which in Greek means Christ has risen and you tap the egg of that person who responds with Alithos Anesti, truly he has risen. You keep going around the table until everyone has cracked eggs. It is supposed to be good luck if you are the person with the egg that did not crack.

One of my five dinner guests this year is a non Greek who let me know this was their first ever Greek Easter dinner. It wasn't until then that it occurred to me I should make an effort that this is a true Greek experience.  Roasted lamb, spanakopita , roasted potatoes with lemon and oregano, koulourakia cookies, and oh, red eggs. I was going to have to dye red eggs. Even though I never have!

So yesterday in the pouring rain I  trekked down Ninth Avenue to the International Grocery, the only place I know for sure would carry red dye after which I headed home to the half dozen eggs I had left in the refrigerator.

Did I mention that I never boil an egg? I'm not a big fan of hard boiled eggs. Yes, I can cook an elaborate dinner, but don't ask me how to boil an egg, much less dye one red.

I didn't want to call my mother. I wanted to surprise her knowing she would be happy that there would be red eggs at Easter dinner. But after googling and finding at least a dozen different ways to boil and dye an egg I caved in.

"You only have a half dozen eggs? What if you lose  a few?"

Lose a few?  Where were they going to go? Jump out of the pot? It never occurred to me they could crack while boiling.

"Only one packet of dye? You need at least two to get that rich red color."

Two? I took a cab instead of the bus to 39th Street and I didn't think to spring for a second $1.25 packet of dye? What was I thinking?

But this is what happens when I jump into the unknown. I go for it. I don't think about making mistakes. I don't account for the what ifs that might go wrong. I just do it. I plan on success.

"Honey, don't worry. They'll come out perfect. Everything you do always does."

Thanks Mom!  Some days I need to hear that more than others.

P.S. Only one casualty. More pink, than red. But now I know that cutting corners over the little stuff is not always good business.

Christos Anesti!

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Storytellers

I grew up in a family of storytellers. My dad was always spinning a tale, engaging not just his family and friends but strangers with his words and his charismatic smile. His passion for life and people rippled forth in his energy. People turned their heads when he entered the room, his personality and gift of entertaining with story was that big. His baby brother, my Uncle Alex had the same gift. A thinner version of my dad and nineteen years his junior, they had the same eyes and smile, the kind that made you feel instantly comfortable in their presence and not want to leave their side.

My Uncle passed this Friday having just turned 70. Like his big brother who left this world at 64, it is far too young.

Death has this way of tapping into the parts of ourselves we don’t normally look at. All those stories we keep stored away in our memory, the ones we remember living and the ones we remember being told pour forth along with our tears.  

My uncle surrounded by my Dad on the right
and their other brother on the left.
I love story. I love to read story, watch story, hear story and write story. The roots of that passion are in their tales, this generation that paved a path for me. And I worry what will happen to their stories as they pass to another plane.

They were not writers but masters of the spoken word. I question if I listened enough or if I am able to store all those details of their lives in my memory before we, the next generation arrived. Is my capacity that great? Should I have taken notes, asked more questions? It is their stories that keep them close and still alive. And I feel desperate to account for every detail.  

Their stories of Coney Island, Brooklyn in the Depression, WWll, how they thought my grandmother had a tumor when in fact she was pregnant with my Uncle Alex. It was 1940 and a women well into her forties and pregnant was rare. The day my grandfather cut the telephone cord because my grandmother was talking on the phone too long with one of the neighbors. Or the time the police showed up looking for my father when in fact it was one of their cousin's using his name and pretending to be him that was in trouble.

But every detail is impossible. What is not is my version of their narratives.

I am the one who writes stories.  They are in all of them. Maybe not in a specific character but in a nuance, an insight, a perspective that I convey to a reader.  A detail that belonged to their visage, a scene whose seed was in some story they told me that made me smile, or squirm, or recoil in disbelief. 

The way I set the stage was learned from these experts in the telling of story, this family I was born into.  And for that I am ever so grateful.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

You Don't Know What You Know

Every day I read about all these people who know so much. Tweets in 140 characters or less, Facebook posts and Blogs. Newspaper articles and television feature segments. Many refer to themselves as experts, some promising miracle cures that used to only be found on late night TV. It's hard to discern the ones who are real from the impostors.

I've no doubt that many really do know what they say they do and just as many have the experience to back it. But I also know there are just as many spinning tales and  trying to convince you that they know more than you do.

Sometimes they succeed. Sometimes they have persuaded you that maybe you don't know all that much.

But what do you know? 
When was the last time you took a personal assessment?

I'd forgotten all I knew about sales and marketing. After 25 years I knew I was good at it. I'd enjoyed  a lengthy and successful career, but I had taken for granted just how much I knew. It's what happens when we spend our days surrounded by people who do the same thing. We take our knowledge, our skills and our expertise for granted.   Especially in today's corporate environment where accolades from above are few and far between and the  focus is on what you don't know or should have known.

It wasn't until I was far enough away that I could look in the rear view mirror and take toll of  all I had stored up in my brain  and what of that had value to me moving forward. That my sales background made the marketing aspect of writing easier. That my teaching and sales management experience was essentially years of coaching expertise. That life itself, if you are paying attention to what is happening affords you insight and intuition that you cannot put a price tag on.

Sometimes you don't know what you know until you step away from it. And it is only then that you can use it moving forward.

What do you know?
Have you taken a moment to reflect on what it is and its value?
Can you make a list?
How will you use that?

My next Selling is NOT a 4-Letter Word, The Basics course starts April 20 at the specially reduced price of $225! Designed for all those entrepreneurs, writers and professionals looking for their next gig who want to take the scare out of the word sell, it is based on what I know! 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Secret Of The Egg Timer

The egg timer has been a permanent fixture in my home since I was a kid. My mother had a white one with black numbers to keep track of her cooking. She kept using the same one for a long time, even after it melted slightly when it was accidentally left too close to a burner.  Now timers are everywhere. Even my iPhone has one. But I still like my old fashioned timer. The kind you turn for however long you want and that makes an almost annoying ticking as each minute disappears into the ether.

I have two. They are both in the shape of an apple. The one in the kitchen is green and the one on my desk is red.

Yes there is a timer on my desk. It is my secret weapon for anyone working for themselves and juggling several projects. Or for that matter anyone who is trying to monitor their Facebook and Twitter time.

Here's how I've been using it lately.

I have a lot on my plate, every one with its own set of deadlines, from my upcoming webinar, to coaching clients, my book proposal, preparing for my June self publishing debut and a consulting project. They all need a portion of my day.  Uninterrupted. No phone calls. No TV breaks.

I decide in advance, either the night before or in the morning,  how much time I need to devote to each. Then I set the timer. An hour of writing. An hour for the consulting project. A half hour of phone calls. A half hour for emails and social networks. You get it. I don't stop until the timer goes off which coincidentally has been about the time I feel I have made some progress. I schedule in my breaks too, which lately have involved a lot of dancing to loud music.

When you are in an office, someone is usually standing over you or at least their energy is, reminding you of what you are supposed to be doing and invariably measuring your progress.

But when you work for yourself, you have only you and in my case, an egg timer.

How do you self monitor when you have a lot going on?
Have you tried the egg timer trick or do you have one of your own?

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