Archive of ‘Sentiments’ category

The Last Bad Act: Choosing to Remember Love in a Time of Loss


Mario Simoes: Choosing to Remember Love in a Time of Loss | The Champagne Supernova

This picture of Mario Simoes perfectly personifies his spirit. Antisana, Ecuador, February 20, 2016.

How often have we judged someone by the last bad act they committed?

Remembered their life ending in an act of rage?

Rolled our eyes as we read newspaper articles or watched TV shows about someone who “snapped” and dismissed them as being crazy?

Labeled that person for the one last despicable thing they did in their otherwise extremely rich life?

My law school classmate and friend, Mario Simoes, died following a shootout with police on March 19, 2017.

These events happened in my hometown of DeLand, Florida.

According to news reports, Mario drove to his wife’s law firm in his Mercedes-Benz and, intoxicated, began shooting at the building. When police arrived in response to a 911 call, Mario embarked on a high-speed chase with the police on DeLand’s back roads, reaching speeds of 100 m.p.h. His vehicle became disabled after he struck a couple who was leaving a Lowe’s home improvement store (luckily, neither of these individuals were injured).

Police purportedly advised Mario to “drop the gun, drop the gun, drop the gun” for two minutes until they opened fire, as they believed he was reloading his gun in the vehicle. He was killed.

Mario was 45 years old.

I have known Mario for over a decade and, while we lost touch over the years, he was not the type of person I ever imagined would do something like this.

He’s actually one of the last people.

The shooting was all over the local news.

Just another crazy man with a gun who appeared to be on a murder-suicide mission.

Newspaper articles claim Mario and his wife, also an attorney, were having marital problems and she moved out of their home the week before. Engulfed in despair, he showed up at their shared law practice with a gun and began shooting at the exterior windows from his vehicle.

These events are shocking.

I have been emotionally tied to Mario and his wife, Kim, since mid 2006 when they adopted my family dog, Scout.

Mario wasn’t just someguyIwenttolawschoolwith.

He was special and we were connected.

As background, my parents got divorced when I was in law school and moved to places where they could not have pets. My sister and I were students and unable to care for a dog. This left us with needing to find a new home for our family dog, a rat terrier named Scout.

Mario Simoes: Choosing to Remember Love in a Time of Loss | The Champagne Supernova

Scout when he was roughly ten years old.

We got Scout in 1998 when he was ten weeks old. It was the summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school and we put in all the work and training that comes with having a puppy.

Scout was a great dog and we loved him. When deciding on his new living situation, we thought long and hard about who would take him. One of my best friends, who was living in New York City, offered to adopt him. Like most young and ambitious New Yorkers, she worked long hours and my gut told me that she and Scout would not work out. Another friend asked her mother to take him, but the mother was having health issues and it was not the perfect fit. None of our options felt right, but dropping him off at the Humane Society was never an option because we wanted to maintain control over where he would go.

One day after my law school contracts class was over, I ran into Mario in the outdoor study area. Knowing that he was a huge dog lover, I went out on a limb and blabbered: “Hey Mario, do you and Kim want another dog?”

Whatever, all he can do is say no, I thought to myself.

I explained the situation with needing to re-home Scout and Mario immediately took an interest, despite already having four dogs at home and despite that he never laid his eyes on Scout.

This worked out perfectly. Mario and his wife lived in my hometown and Mario coordinated a time for my dad to bring Scout to their house to meet Kim. She would decide whether Scout could stay there, as Mario was away at law school in Gainesville and she would be Scout’s primary caretaker until Mario graduated.

In sum, Mario and Kim ended up adopting Scout and they gave him a wonderful life. In fact, they gave Scout a better life than my family would have given him if he never needed to leave our home in the first place. Mario and Kim lived in a beautiful house on a large piece of property where Scout had plenty of room to run around. He had four new doggie brothers and sisters to keep him company while Kim was working during the day. He had a swimming pool and an air conditioned dog house that was fancier than some peoples’ real houses. He got to travel to cool places like the Bahamas on the Simoes’ private plane.

Scout had it made.

Mario Simoes: Choosing to Remember Love in a Time of Loss | The Champagne Supernova

Flight tickets Mario made with Scout’s picture. He nicknamed Scout “Nubby” because his short tail resembled a nub.

After graduation, Mario and I kept in touch. He constantly updated me about Scout and how much he, Kim, and the other dogs were all enjoying him. Then, in August of 2014, Mario informed me that Scout passed away peacefully in his sleep at the age of 16. He had a long and fulfilling life, and Mario and Kim were sure going to miss him.

Mario Simoes: Choosing to Remember Love in a Time of Loss | The Champagne Supernova

Mario and me at law school graduation in December of 2007.

When reading Mario’s message of Scout’s death, I felt a mix of sadness and gratitude. Sadness about the loss, but gratitude about Mario and Kim’s kindness in welcoming Scout into their home during my family’s own time of grief over the end of my parents’ marriage.

As the years passed, Mario and I would occasionally touch base with each other on social media. I followed his adventures that included flying his plane to exotic cities and embarking on high-stakes adventures.

Mario was more than an attorney, husband, and friend. His story is remarkable.

Born in Venezuela, Mario relocated to Portugal with his family as a child and eventually graduated 1st in his class at the Portuguese Air Force Academy. He began his career as a military pilot and, later, as a commercial pilot for a major airline. He graduated 2nd in our law school class of 208 graduates at the University of Florida. He was an exceptional writer, which was especially impressive considering English was not his first language. He was a member of The Florida Bar and the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

Mario was also an accomplished mountain climber. He recently completed the “Seven Summits Challenge” by climbing to the top of the seven highest places on Earth. In addition to Mt. Everest, Mario climbed to the top of the highest mountain in each of the six other continents: Puncak Jaya in New Guinea, Vinson in Antarctica, Elbrus in Europe, Aconcagua in South America, Denali in North America, and Kilimanjaro in Africa.

Mario Simoes: Choosing to Remember Love in a Time of Loss | The Champagne Supernova

Mario and his guide at The Matterhorn.

His next adventure was going to be the Explorers Grand Slam, which involved skiing to both the North and South Poles. He was supposed to start this challenge in April of 2017, when he would be flown to a block of ice in Norway, 70 miles from the North Pole, where he would ski over difficult terrain until he reached the pole.

Mario didn’t make it to April.

In the week preceding his death, Mario published a series of daunting status updates on his Facebook account.

March 14, 2017, at 5:24 p.m.:

It’s scary what a smile can hide.

March 14, 2017, at 8:11 p.m.:

I have descended to a very dark place. 

I believe Mario’s last status updates were cries for help.

I did not reach out to him because I did not see the status updates until after he died, but I am not sure whether or how I would have responded if I would have seen them before it was too late.

I can tell you how I will respond in the future.

I will reach out to people who need it. I will not be deterred by the fear of prying into someone’s personal life. I will show people who I love that I love them. I will tell them that I care. I will give them compassion even if it is not convenient.

Mario Simoes: Choosing to Remember Love in a Time of Loss | The Champagne Supernova

Mario and law school friends getting ready for a pre-dinner flight.

People are people. We all have struggles. I haven’t seen Mario or Kim in nearly a decade and certainly don’t know the inner workings or their marriage but, based on my own experience, marriage can be really hard.

Life can be hard.

Love can be hard.

It is painful to think that Mario, despite all of his worldly experiences and possessions, spent the last days of his life in, as he described it, “a very dark place.”

Mario Simoes: Choosing to Remember Love in a Time of Loss | The Champagne Supernova

Photograph of Mario’s dogs that he uploaded to Facebook six days before he died.

I don’t know the man who shot up his wife’s law firm and fled from police.

Nobody knows that man.

It wasn’t Mario.

The Mario I love and remember adopted and cared for my dog in my family’s time of crisis. He was a true friend who was respected among our peers. He was adventurous, kind, smart, ambitious and authentic.

That is the man I will choose to remember.

The Mario I knew was not the man who shot at his wife’s law office and he was not the man who was killed by police officers.

That is not the man I will remember.

I refuse to remember him by his last bad act.

Mario made his final descent into the clouds on March 19, 2017. I hope that flight was more beautiful than the view from Mt. Everest, more satisfying than time with his beloved dogs, and filled him with all the love and warmth he ever lacked.

Mario Simoes: Choosing to Remember Love in a Time of Loss | The Champagne Supernova

This picture of Mario is hauntingly beautiful and is exactly how I envision him entering the light.

Godspeed, Mario. You were a treasure who will be missed.

Cheers to you.

    I Am Retarded: The Extraordinary Life of Mary Janak


    Aunt Mary riding her rocking horse at the age of 2.

    Mary Judith Janak was born on April 19, 1962, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. She was the daughter of Martha Rybar Rees Janak, an elementary school teacher, and Stephen Benton Elkins Janak, a mill worker. She had two older half-sisters, Ann and Judy Rees, who were fraternal twins.

    She was my Aunt.

    Aunt Mary and my grandmother shortly after her birth in 1962.

    On October 25, 1987, Aunt Mary was found dead in the bedroom of a group home where she lived in Portage, Pennsylvania. She died from complications associated with Type I diabetes, a disease she struggled with since she was diagnosed at the age of two.

    Her life was not easy.

    She was always “different.”

    Aunt Mary in 1963.

    When she was in kindergarten, Aunt Mary’s IQ tested at 56. My grandmother called her psychiatrist friend, Frank Chianise, M.D. The conversation went something like this:

    Is she toilet trained?

    Yes.

    Can she tie her shoes?

    Yes.

    Can she dress herself?

    Yes.

    He responded, A 56 IQ is an imbecile and they are incapable of doing any of that. She may have a low sugar day, but she is not a 56 IQ.

    And that was that.

    Aunt Mary went on to live a life of trials and adversity.

    I was only five years old when she died and have very few personal memories of her.

    I remember my mother and father driving us from Florida to Pennsylvania one summer to visit my grandparents and Aunt Mary. I vaguely recall Aunt Mary excitedly approaching me and my younger sister on the steps of my grandparents’ house and hugging us when we arrived. I remember Aunt Mary was missing knuckles on some of her fingers, a condition that often accompanies those like her who had pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism, a rare genetic malady where the affected individual has skeletal abnormalities.

    I remember Aunt Mary routinely pricking her finger with a needle and then wiping the blood on a small strip of paper that she stuck into a little machine.

    The news of Aunt Mary’s death is another “standout” memory from my childhood. My family was living in the small town of Palm Coast on Florida’s east coast, and I remember my mother standing in the kitchen nook talking on the phone with whomever broke the horrible news. The look on her face was a mix of despair and shock, as Aunt Mary’s passing was truly unexpected.

    Yes, she had diabetes, but nobody expected her to die. Not at that age.

    Those are all the things my young mind remembers about Aunt Mary.

    It wasn’t until later in my life that I learned Aunt Mary was “slow” and had mental handicaps.

    Aunt Mary in grade school for the 1973-74 year.

    To my five year-old self, she was no different than anybody else.

    Though she only lived to be twenty-five, Aunt Mary’s life was extraordinary.

    She was a legend.

    It’s fair to say that every single person who ever encountered Aunt Mary has their own favorite story about her.

    She had attributes that so many of us lack.

    She saw her self worth and defended it.

    My grandmother thought it was important for Aunt Mary to live as independently as possible despite her disabilities. When Aunt Mary was in her early twenties, my grandmother moved her into a group home for the handicapped in Mylo Park, a suburb of Ebensburg in southwest Pennsylvania.

    One of the staff members at the group home, a college graduate, decided it would be beneficial for Aunt Mary to wear a medal around her neck that read:

    “I am Retarded.”

    (While offensive, this term was widely used in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s to describe a person who is cognitively impaired.)

    That way, the staff member reasoned, if Aunt Mary ventured into town and found herself in a conundrum, whoever she approached would know she had a handicap and could try to help her.

    Aunt Mary was having none of this “I am Retarded” medal business and suggested that the staff member should wear a medal around her neck that read:

    “I am Ordinary.”

    Aunt Mary had self respect, spoke up for herself, and put the staff member right in her place.

    With her ordinary self.

    Aunt Mary didn’t end up wearing that stupid medal.

    Aunt Mary (right) at a local pool with a friend.

    She met obstacles with wit and creativity. 

    Aunt Mary was routinely mocked about her physical appearance.

    When she was in high school, Aunt Mary came home crying several days in a row. She told my grandmother that one of the popular jocks, a well-known athlete named Scott, was teasing her and calling her “Moonwalker” in front of all the other kids in the hallways. (This name calling was likely triggered by the fact that Aunt Mary walked with an awkward gait and, because of that, wore corrective shoes.)

    Hurt and frustrated, Aunt Mary asked my grandmother if there was something she could to do help.

    My grandmother told Aunt Mary she couldn’t stop the names and she would need to ignore it until Billy moved along and bullied someone else.

    “Sticks and stones.”

    Several days later, the phone rang at my grandparents’ house.

    Is this Mrs. Banda?

    Yes it is.

    This is Scott’s mother. I’m calling because Mary started a rumor at school that she’s pregnant and Scott is the father. You need to tell her to stop spreading lies.  

    My grandmother internally screamed “YES!” and mentally gave Aunt Mary a high-five.

    Well, my grandmother said, If you tell Scott to stop calling Mary a moonwalker, than I’ll ask her to stop telling people she’s pregnant with his child.

    That was the end of it.

    From that point forward, Scott left Aunt Mary alone.

    Instead of feeling sorry for herself and waiting for the storm of Scott’s browbeating to pass, Aunt Mary took matters into her own hands.

    She knew what she wanted and went after it.

    Aunt Mary was a huge Pittsburgh Steelers fan. Perfect timing, because she was alive when they won four Super Bowls championships.

    Don’t get me wrong, Aunt Mary was absolutely not a bandwagon or fair-weather fan. Win or lose, she would have proudly waved her Terrible Towel, an iconic symbol of their fan base. Her bedroom was adorned with Steeler paraphernalia.

    Bobble heads. Pennants. T-Shirts.

    Aunt Mary had a particular crush on Jack Ham, a well-known linebacker who played for the Steelers between 1971 and 1982.  Like Aunt Mary, Ham was born and raised in Johnstown and went to the same Catholic high school as my mother and her twin sister, although they were seven years younger than him.

    He was a big deal and a celebrity. Such a big deal that he was subsequently inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988.

    One evening my grandmother’s phone rang.

    A young man’s voice was on the other end.

    Hi, is Mary there?

    No, she’s not, may I take a message?

    Yes, this is Jack Ham. Do you know when she’ll be home?

    Oh my goodness, Jack, it’s so nice of you to call. Mary is a huge fan of yours. She’s not here right now because she’s over at a dance being held by The Association for Retarded Citizens. Do you want to leave a message and I’ll have her call you back?

    Mr. Ham didn’t want to leave a message and he never called back.

    Who knows why he was calling.

    To this day, nobody knows whether Aunt Mary somehow tracked down his number, called him, and he was returning the call or if she was sending him letters for which he was responding with a call.

    We will never know.

    All we do know is that she was fearless and unintimidated.

    How many of us would have the guts to contact our celebrity crush?

    Our world is consumed with labels.

    Everybody has one.

    Autistic. Depressed. Little Person. Rich and Poor. Anxious. ADD. Schizophrenic. Tomboy. Bimbo. Immigrant. Fat. Republican or Democrat. Druggie. Bookworm. Nerd. Dyslexic. Emotional. Socialist. Adulterer. Disabled. Alcoholic. Obsessive-Compulsive.

    Retarded. 

    Aunt Mary didn’t allow her label to limit her. She didn’t care what other people thought about her and lived her life by her own terms.

    She generally did what she wanted, when she wanted to do it.

    There is a special freedom that comes with not responding to what other people think.

    With not being consumed by what the world has labeled us.

    Like Aunt Mary, the freedom comes with seeing and defending your own self-worth.

    It comes with meeting obstacles with humor and creativity.

    That comes with knowing what you want and going after it.

    Like most handicapped individuals, Aunt Mary had a great personality. She was a happy person who shared easily and was friendly and kind. She had a moral code, lived by it, and expected that it be reciprocated. Mean people confused her perception that life was beautiful.

    Her funeral viewing lasted two full days. My grandmother was amazed at the many young and old people who came to say goodbye to Aunt Mary, many in tears.

    One in particular stands out. Linda, the University of Pittsburgh basketball star player who came to view Aunt Mary who said: My best friend died.

    Aunt Mary had the freedom that so many of us lack and her life was cut short so we could appreciate her and learn from her.

    She saw that being ordinary was so much worse than any other label.

    Cheers to you, Aunt Mary.

    I love you and will see you again.

    Me (left) and my sister with Aunt Mary the summer before she died.

    I don’t know why but I love this photo more than any other. My Aunt Mary laughing with her grandfather (my great-grandfather) Stephen Rybar in the late 1970s.

    Aunt Mary at her high school graduation.

    Aunt Mary loved to swim. Here she is sliding into the water at BethCo Pines, a pool for high-ranking mill workers and their families, in the 1970s.

      Happiness: problems vs. PROBLEMS


      How to cope with your problems | The Champagne Supernova

      We all have difficult days and need to be reminded that what we consider problems are not problems.

      At all.

      Or even close.

      My husband was out of town traveling for work (and leisure) for the last week and I’ve been on my own with my two young daughters, ages 2 and 4. Sure they are (overall) good and sure I’ve transitioned from full-time to part-time employment, but dealing with getting lunch made, everyone dressed and out of the house in the morning, driving the kids to school and myself to work, doing pickup and attending extracurricular activities, then returning home and making dinner and getting everyone bathed and in the sack are exhausting.

      Not to mention that on the mornings I have to wash and blow-dry my hair, it’s like the world has been turned upside down.

      (Curly haired people, you know what I’m talking about!)

      Pepper all of this with occasional tantrums, backtalk, and refusal to put on their socks and allow you to brush their hair in the mornings. Now add dealing with demanding clients at work, getting stuck at lengthy stop lights when you’re in a hurry, and a rude toll booth lady (this happened to me two weeks ago at the Tampa Airport, but that’s a blog post for another day.)

      It can be worse. Way worse.

      You or your spouse got laid off at work and you can’t pay the mortgage. Your parents got divorced or you’re going through one yourself. Your child consistently gets bad reports at school and was recommended to undergo behavioral therapy. A loved one is dabbling with illegal drugs. Your cousin was caught plagiarizing and might be kicked out of school.

      You likely know people who are going through these things.

      It can still be worse.

      Much worse.

      In my career as an attorney, I’ve seen incomprehensible tragedy.

      Children who have been sexually abused by their own parents.

      Young kids who accidentally drowned in the family swimming school while their parents were upstairs napping.

      People whose lives were cut short in car accidents by other drivers who simply weren’t paying attention to the road.

      I’ve had to review thousands of photographs of murder scenes, motor vehicle accidents, and autopsy reports. While doing so, I’ve thought about the people in those photographs and about how they had lives with dreams, goals, and other people who loved them.

      Those are real problems. Not the “problems” you have. Those aren’t real problems. 

      Because here’s the thing to remember when you’re feeling frustrated.

      There are problems and then there are PROBLEMS. 

      It all comes down to perspective.

      God is amazing at giving reality checks.

      I was recently stressed about something meaningless and stupid. Sure, to me it was a problem, but it really wasn’t a PROBLEM.

      That same day, I met a man who was suffering late stage colon cancer. Having been through chemotherapy and radiation several years before, he thoughtfully decided to let the disease make its natural progression after it returned from being in remission. The man told me he had no purpose to live because, twenty years ago, his daughter was murdered by her husband in a domestic violence dispute, and he felt he had no reason to fight for his life.

      As he told me his story, I sat in my chair and wondered if I would have the mental capacity to survive something so horrific. If and how I could continue if someone I loved so deeply was taken away from me. How I would cope if I had a terminal illness. How my current “problems” will pass, but how this guy deals with ongoing torment.

      Those are real problems.

      I was going through problems and this man had PROBLEMS. 

      So did the people I described in my cases above. 

      Sure, our lives aren’t perfect and sometimes it’s difficult getting through the tribulations of everyday life.

      It’s easy to get stressed out about deadlines at the office, but at least you have a job.

      Sure, you can get upset when your child gets a bad report card, but at least your child is healthy.

      It’s annoying when your spouse doesn’t clean up after himself, but at least you have an overall good sense of partnership.

      Waiting in the carpool line is monotonous, but at least you have a car and your kids are able to attend school.

      One or both of your parents is still alive. You have friends and people in your life who love and support you. You have the cognitive ability to read books, watch movies, and carry a conversation. You don’t need help performing standard activities of daily living. You live in a country that isn’t torn by war and aren’t afraid to go to sleep each night. You have food and clean water.

      You’ve got it pretty dang good. 

      This is not to say that I don’t have bad days and that I don’t get frustrated.

      I’m not Polyanna, I promise.

      But when the hard times are happening and I’m in the middle of a super stressful moment that I know will eventually pass, I try my hardest to remember that my problems aren’t PROBLEMS.

      And that makes me grateful for my problems. 

      But if you’re reading this and you do have PROBLEMS, then drop me a note. I will pray for you (promise!) and I hope you have people who can support you and see you through them.

      Cheers.

        Relationships: How to Deal with Mean Girls


        How to Deal with Adult Mean Girls | The Champagne Supernova

        I’ve heard too many folks talk about their experiences dealing with the wrong people in their lives. Mean Girls become Mean Adults who become Mean Old People. Relationships and friendships can grow toxic. In the past month, I’ve seen at least a dozen articles come across my social media news feeds about navigating challenging relationships.

        It’s a sad reality.

        Over drinks with a friend a couple months ago, my friend shared that she was feeling hurt by a friend in her life who repeatedly wasn’t being a good friend back to her. Despite knowing in her gut the friendship wasn’t productive, my friend hated the feeling of being excluded and socially disconnected by this girl and also didn’t like the way she felt when she was around her. All that aside, my friend sadistically kept going back for more.

        I know that feeling and have been there myself. It stinks.

        When I was in my mid-twenties, I studied abroad in the Netherlands. It was my first time overseas and I was alone and missing my friends, boyfriend (now husband), and family back in Florida.

        There was a girl in my law program named Amelia. She was from Toronto and was one of the first people I met at the new school. Amelia was beautiful, engaging, and rented a huge apartment that overlooked a river in the center of town. She always knew how to navigate any social situation, which was noteworthy considering I often caught myself bumbling and feeling insecure. She was the girl who all the guys wanted to date and all the girls wanted to be friends with.

        A total “It Girl.”

        Every Monday night, Amelia hosted raging parties at her apartment that our classmates would attend before hitting the popular clubs as a group. Everyone wanted to be invited to Amelia’s parties.

        But the more I got to know Amelia, the more I felt uncomfortable. Despite spending plenty of time together (we had all of the same classes and made several mutual new friends) there was no depth to our friendship beyond the exchange of casual formalities. Based on my observations, it seemed she was that way with everyone. What made things worse is that Amelia was overly critical of other people, including our “friends,” and usually had something unnecessarily snarky to say. If someone didn’t give Amelia the attention she thought she deserved, they were on her radar and she passive aggressively bullied them. I knew I would eventually become a target.

        In my gut, hanging out with Amelia just didn’t feel good.

        One by one, Amelia started ganging up on our classmates and not inviting them to her Monday night soirees. Always for stupid reasons. She would blow off the situation under the guise of “We’re all adults here.”

        Being around Amelia felt like walking on eggshells. I never knew if I was going to say or do the wrong thing. I didn’t want to stand up to Amelia in fear of retribution. Even though I knew our friendship was not the right fit and as pathetic as it seems, I somehow wanted Amelia’s acceptance and validation. I wanted to scream from the rooftops, “AMELIA, I’M COOL. LIKE ME. ACCEPT ME. BE MY FRIEND.”

        But it wasn’t to be.

        After a while, I shifted my focus from Amelia to a girl from my own law school class at the University of Florida, Ashley, who arrived late to the Dutch program after the semester already began. Ashley was authentic and being her friend was easy. I never felt judged. Never felt worried about saying the wrong thing. Never felt like I had to be “on.” Never felt scared of being excluded.

        A decade later, Ashley and I are still good friends.

        How to Deal with Adult Mean Girls | The Champagne Supernova

        Me and Ashley in Amsterdam. January 2007.

        Sometimes removing yourself from the wrong people is difficult. You can’t easily separate yourself from co-workers, neighbors, and family members. For me, getting away from Amelia wasn’t easy because we had every class together and several mutual friends. Of course, I had the good fortune of returning to the United States when the semester was over and never having to deal with her again. We don’t always have that benefit.

        Here’s the thing.

        We all have Amelias. People who we know deep down in our gut, something ain’t jiving.

        We’ve dealt with them in the past. We might be dealing with them now. We’ll deal with them again.

        There will always be an Amelia.

        But this is how you deal with the Amelias.

        You focus on the Ashleys.

        The people who you love who love you back. The people who are easy to be friends with. The people who you could stay up talking to all night. The people who discuss goals and ideas. The people who mourn your losses and celebrate your achievements. The people who are emotionally intoxicating who make your heart expand just by being around them. (You know that amazing feeling!) The people who give a damn about who you are and not just about what you can do for them.

        Those are the people who you should focus on. Not the Amelias.

        There are so many Ashleys in this world. Go out there and find them.

        And here’s the thing about the Amelias. There’s nothing “wrong” with them; they’re just not “right” for you. While I don’t know what became of my Amelia, I’m not the same person I was when I was in my twenties and I’m willing to bet she’s not either. Heck, perhaps there’s been a time when we were someone else’s Amelia.

        There are millions of people living on this planet. You aren’t going to have a genuine connection with everyone. Be polite to the Amelias (because they need compassion and kindness) when you are around them, but don’t spend your spare time agonizing about them.

        I’ve spent valuable time doing this and I can never get that time back.

        What a waste.

        Feeling excluded and disconnected can be awful, but you don’t need anyone else’s validation.

        God created you in His image and He loves you. You have already been validated. 

        And remember that gut feeling we’ve been talking about? That’s the universe trying to tell you something. Listen.

        Cheers!

          Career LeaderShift: How to Make it Happen


          How to get the career you want so you can spend more time with your family | The Champagne Supernova

          Until recently, this empty room is where I spent the last half-decade of my life.

          A corner office in a fancy high-rise building in downtown Tampa that overlooked Davis Islands, the Hillsborough River, and parts of Hillsborough Bay.

          A well-respected and established law firm with over 150 attorneys statewide.

          Amazing co-workers who were like family.

          This was the place where my husband and I both had major life changes.

          Moving into our first home.

          Having both of our children.

          He took the plunge and started his own small business, a boutique structural engineering firm.

          I started The Champagne Supernova.

          My boss was a true mentor. He was (is) an honest attorney (yes, they do exist!) who genuinely cared about developing his associates into thoughtful, strategic, analytical litigators. Amid trying several high-stakes cases and reporting to anxious clients, he took the time to call me when I was on maternity leave just to see how I was doing. (Again, in the legal field, these people do exist, despite the rumors suggesting otherwise.)

          The work environment was pretty much ideal. As my first job out of law school was in an unprofessional, oftentimes abusive environment among those who were both personally and professionally bankrupt, I felt working at this new firm was God’s way of making the first bad job up to me.

          Despite everything good that was going for me in my career, something was missing.

          Time with my children.

          I always knew that when my kids reached a certain age, I wanted to be able to pick them up from school and take them to their activities.

          Once my oldest daughter was about to start Pre-Kindergarten, the clock started ticking.

          In December of 2016 ,I tearfully put in my two-weeks notice and said goodbye to the people I spent forty hours of each week with.

          I walked in and out of those doors for six years and walking out of them for the last time was difficult.

          However, I accepted a position at another law firm where the owners agreed to provide me with the flexible schedule I needed to have more time with my family.

          Now, my schedule is even crazier than it used to be.

          Mondays are spent at a ballet-jazz combination dance class. On, Tuesdays, I hang out at the playground preventing my kiddos from breaking their necks on the monkey bars. On Wednesdays, I hike both girls to gymnastics. Thursdays are for after-school errands and, occasionally, ice cream.

          Having the flexibility you want and the career you envision is, while not always easy to find, absolutely achievable.

          Even in professions where the glass ceiling is high.

          If you are considering taking the plunge and making a “LeaderShift” here’s what you can do:

          Reach out to as Many Resources as Possible. The saying is true: it’s not what you know, but who you know. About a year ago, I reached out several trusted friends and colleagues who worked in the legal profession. I put the bug in their ears that I was looking for a position at a firm that could give me a flexible schedule and asked them to let me know if they knew of anyone with such a need and to pass my name along. I ultimately ended up getting my current position from a friend who subsequently resigned from the firm to go in a different direction professionally. In other words, I filled her position after she voluntarily left. If I never would have reached out to her, she wouldn’t have known to give my name and resume to her boss. Use your connections! Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Most people are ready and happy to assist others.

          Be Patient. You will never get the job you want if you don’t bless the situation with your patience. Don’t accept less than what you ultimately want and be ready to wait for it. Over the last few years, I received offers from other firms that, for various reasons, were not right for me. Knowing it would be foolish to leave a good work environment unless the new opportunity was the perfect fit, I declined those offers and am glad that I did. Which leads to…

          Know Exactly What You Want. You need to keep a mental blueprint of exactly what you want your position to look like. I knew that I wanted health insurance benefits (the mandates of Obamacare made it too expensive for me to add my family to my employer’s health insurance, which left us with no choice for my husband, a small business owner, to purchase an individual policy with a high deductible for himself and the girls. We shopped around for two months and purchased the plan that made the most financial sense. As luck would have it, we had two freak hospitalizations in 2016 which cost our family literally twenty thousand dollars) and I wanted to be able to leave work on time pick up my oldest daughter from school at the end of the day so she didn’t have to go to after-care. I needed to work in an environment that would permit me to meet my billable hour requirements however I could do it without being concerned with “face time,” something that plagues associates at many law firms. I waited until the right firm came along that would enable me check these things off the list.

          Be Prepared to Go Small. If you need an “out of the box” position, know that you are most likely going to get it at a small firm or business environment. I’ll be the first to say that the nature of the litigation beast can make it difficult to guarantee someone that they can leave at a certain time each day. Court events, hearings, depositions, and mediations routinely run later than anticipated. For large firms, special arrangements for one employee can create major headaches for the employer who doesn’t want to set the precedent that everyone can leave early. I get it. Smaller businesses tend to have more flexibility to give you what you want.

          Ask and Ye Shall Receive. You’ll never get what you want if you don’t get out there and make it happen for yourself. So many people sit around and complain about their careers without doing anything about it. They want things to be different and better, but never ask for what they want. I know this because I used to be one of those people. And trust me, I heard from the naysayers (including a legal recruiter) who said it would be impossible for me to find a position that would provide a flexible schedule. (Neener, neener!) Ignore the naysayers.

          And lastly…

          Be a Good Person. Be the kind of person who other people want to recommend to their employers. Be the kind of person who others are willing to help out. When possible, don’t burn bridges. A few years ago, one of my law school colleagues sent me his resume asking me to hook him up for an interview at my firm, which was running an ad for an attorney position in the classified section of the Florida Bar News. Knowing this guy had left five other lawyer positions in the preceding four years, I could not in good faith recommend him to my boss, knowing that he would potentially flake out. I also remembered all the times he was a schmuck to other people in our law school class and, while I wasn’t going to hold the past against him, I certainly wasn’t going to go out of my way to do him any favors. Just be nice!

          Here’s to getting what you want and doing what you can do in order to make room for what you truly want from life.

          Because it’s too short to be chained to a desk. And no amount of money will ever make you happy. Besides, how much money do you really need? Most of the best things in life are free anyway.

          Cheers! xo

           

            The Holiday Hangover: How to Deal with the Post-Holiday Blues


            I’ve got a Holiday Hangover.

            It’s not what you think.

            It’s the crappy feeling experienced when the holidays are over and it’s time to return to reality.

            Visiting family members head home and the house is quieter.

            The decorations are being slowly put away and the Christmas tree is laid to rest at the corner of the driveway.

            The assorted cheeses, gingerbread cookies, and egg nog are catching up with your waist.

            I consider the holidays to start in October during pumpkin patch and Halloween season through the changing of leaves (or, if you live in Florida, dead grass) and Thanksgiving, through Christmas tree decorating, Santa visiting, Elf-on-the-Shelf bribery, holiday parties, the Big Day Itself, through fireworks and New Years Day.

            Sigh.

            The holidays snuck up on me this year and, truth be told, I was often too busy and stressed out to appreciate them as they were happening.

            This year, December was an especially crazy month. I resigned from the firm where I’d been for the last six years in exchange for a position at another firm that would provide me with more flexibility to spend time with my family. A risk-averse creature of habit, this move was emotionally taxing, although I know I ultimately said My Best Yes. The days preceding my last day at work involved wrapping up cases and getting into a minor car accident with an Uber driver for which I’m still dealing with the headache of getting my repairs reimbursed.

            My parents and in-laws visited for Christmas, and my kids were thrilled when Santa delivered on his promise for a bicycle and a baby doll. Two days later, my sister and brother-in-law came in from D.C. We shopped, ate at good restaurants, went to a local theme park, and made a lot of special memories. My mother helped organize my house, and my sister returned home with a giant suitcase full of my girls’ old clothes, which was bittersweet.

            There were many times I looked around my living room and mentally acknowledged that all the people I love the most in this world were sitting in it.

            And now I have to return to work tomorrow, sick from a Holiday Hangover.

            I realize that for many, the holidays are unpleasant. Reminders of painful childhoods or lost loved ones. My friends who work in the mental health profession say the holidays are their busiest time of the year, requiring them to work evenings and weekends to accommodate their fragile clients.

            Regardless of your reason behind the post-holiday blues, you’re not alone. Studies show that 25% of Americans suffer from low-grade to full-blown depression after the holidays.

            Here’s what I do to take the edge off my anxiety when I’m feeling crappy.

            Go for a Walk Alone. I thrive from alone time and enjoy going for walks. Spotify has a playlist called “The Most Beautiful Songs in the World” under the “Mood” playlist genre. The songs provide for good meditation and each song really is more beautiful than the last. I listen to this playlist on my walks.

            Watch Relaxing, Stress-Free TV Shows. Get ready to laugh. My husband and I recently came across Rick Steves’ travel shows on public television. They are addicting. It’s hard to feel anxious and stressed watching some soft-spoken dude walk across the English countryside petting sheep and drinking beer.

            Stay off Social Media. I think Facebook is making me dumber. My brain isn’t programmed to keep up with all the information surrounding who’s selling what, which kids just had birthdays, who got breast implants from Santa (yes… there was one of those!), and continued political posts regarding Trump’s presidential win. As much as I love catching up with old friends and feeling “in the loop,” social media can also trigger my own insecurities and leave me feeling down. If it weren’t for the fact that Facebook accounts for most of my blog’s traffic, I would deactivate my account completely. Instead, in the new year, I’ve resolved to spend two minutes per day scrolling the ole newsfeed. Two.

            Spread Love. I enjoy sending texts and emails to my friends and family members telling them I love them or how and why they are special to me. Probably comes across as weird and random at the time, but when you give love, you get love.

            Take Your Vitamins. I take Vitamin C, fish oil, and multivitamins as part of my regular regimen. I also recently purchased an anti-stress probiotic, which I’ll let you know if it works.

            Be Mindful of What You’re Putting in Your Body. I feel better when I eat better, but this isn’t always easy or convenient. I feel more anxious when I drink caffeine. While I enjoy wine, unless I can stick to just one glass (nearly impossible!), it often disrupts my sleep and makes me feel depressed the next day. I try to avoid these things. Not worth the strife.

            Put away the Smart Phones at Night. There is a direct correlation between not getting enough sleep and feeling depressed. In the evenings, I used to keep my iPhone on my nightstand, mainly because I relied on the alarm to wake me up in the morning. I was at the point where, once my insomnia kicked in, I’d pick up the phone and find myself scrolling through social media and emails, making it even more difficult to return to sleep. I purchased an inexpensive old-school alarm clock from Amazon and am keeping my phone downstairs in the evenings. Adios.

            Read a Book Before Bed. This is a nice escape from the reality of a crappy mood and helps break the cell-phone-scrolling-habit. I’m currently alternating between Hillbilly Elegy and The Best Yes (see above.)  

            One child liked Santa. One did not.

            Me and the crew on Christmas Eve.

            Me and the crew on Christmas Eve.

            Wishing everyone for a happy and mentally healthy 2017.

            Cheers!

             

              Thoughtful Thinking


              How to be thoughtful and show gratitude | The Champagne Supernova

              The post is sponsored. The blog ain’t gonna pay for itself (and I’m due for low-lights!)

              How many times have we thought about doing something special for someone to show our gratitude for them and, while our intentions were good, life got in the way and we never got around to doing it? Or maybe we did it, but not the way we envisioned.

              This happens to me all the time.

              A personalized “happy birthday to you, you live in a zoo” phone call in your best Beyoncé impression becomes a short “HBD!” text message.

              Making a home cooked meal and driving it to the house of a sick relative becomes an Uber Eats delivery.

              Visiting a friend and her new baby in the hospital becomes hiring Betty-Sue’s Florist to deliver carnations in a beat up minivan.

              Sigh.

              We all have busy lives. Carpools. Work deadlines. Soccer practice. Tennis matches. Trips to the grocery story. Trying to survive the chaos.

              But when did it become acceptable to let being busy get in the way of being thoughtful and showing gratitude? This post here made me realize that life is too short to take someone for granted. To assume there would be another time to tell them you cared.

              Then, I recently discovered one of my newest favorite companies. A company that makes it easy to be thoughtful and show the ones we love they are appreciated.

              I am a huge enthusiast of supporting small businesses that make our already busy lives easier.

              Thanks to Bond, sending a personalized note is as easy as shooting off an email. Seriously.

              As in, they have an app and you can do it from your phone.

              Riding the subway.

              On an elevator.

              In an airplane.

              Standing in line for a Frappuccino.

              Laying on the couch in your pajamas. (Me over here!)

              Bond allows you to send beautiful, handwritten notes on customizable, high quality stationery from your phone or computer, and they make it easier than ever to make a habit of being thoughtful.

              I tend to be slow-to-learn when dealing with new technology, but it only took me about five minutes to send these personalized note cards to my loved ones directly from my smart phone on the Bond App.

              Five minutes!

              And even better, the Bond app even addresses the notes, slaps a stamp on them, and has them delivered to the recipient.

              Viola!

              When you download the app, you can send your first note to a friend or loved one for free!

              See the fruits of my non-laborious labor here:

              How to be thoughtful and show gratitude | The Champagne Supernova

              How to be thoughtful and show gratitude | The Champagne Supernova

              How to be thoughtful and show gratitude | The Champagne Supernova

              How to be thoughtful and show gratitude | The Champagne Supernova

              The new Bond app simplifies being thoughtful and showing gratitude- just in time for Thanksgiving and the holidays.

              Cheers to that!

              <

              How to show gratitude and be thoughtful toward others | The Champagne Supernova

                Tips: How to Help a Grieving Person


                Tips for how to help a person who is grieving after losing a loved one | The Champagne Supernova blog
                Some people are lucky to never have to deal with grief.

                The kind that’s crippling.

                The kind of grief that makes you sleep during the day and awakens you at night.

                The kind that makes you forget to eat or paralyzes you from functioning.

                The kind of grief where, because of the loss, you’ve accepted the world will never again feel the same.

                Some of us have never felt that type of grief. We may have lost grandparents or distant loved ones, but those people were older, their time came, it was painful to lose them, but also exemplified the circle of life, and so it was.

                Sometimes we feel so stressed by the pressures of everyday life that we forget how good we truly have it. Racing to get to kids’ birthday parties. Unloading the hundreds of dollars of groceries from the car and getting them inside the house. Career deadlines. Getting locked outside the house. Rainy days when you wanted to go to the beach.

                Then we see someone who experiences such horrible grief or sadness that we are reminded our “stressors” are small stuff.

                And we don’t know how to treat that grieving person.

                Because we don’t know how we would handle being in their shoes.

                We want to reach out to the grieving person, but we might not know them “that” well, or addressing their sadness feels awkward, so instead, we do nothing.

                It’s not because we don’t care or because we aren’t thinking about them, it’s just because it’s difficult to know the right thing to do without feeling we are overreaching or doing something that “isn’t our place.”

                In 2015, my high school classmate, Heather Gast, experienced true sadness. The kind that you see on the televison and wonder how you could ever go on if it happened to you.

                I watched the events unfold as Heather bravely kept everyone informed via Facebook, and I closed the door to my office at work, read the updates on my computer screen, and sobbed.

                Like seeing tragedy occur in other peoples’ lives, I wanted to reach out to Heather and give her a hug. Tell her I was praying for her. Tell her I’m so sorry and there were no words but that she and her family would be on my mind.

                So many of us feel this way. We want to be there for the grieving person, but don’t know how.

                Heather has been kind enough to share her story and her insight about the people who showed their support and helped to make the loss more bearable.

                Here is the story, in Heather’s words.

                In March of 2010, I married the love of my life. Just over three years later, we began the crazy journey into parenthood when we welcomed our beautiful twins, Nathan and Sophia. The first years were dotted with career changes, moves and chasing babies. Life was crazy, but we managed to settle into life as a family just fine.

                Then, in March of 2015, I discovered what I initially thought was the flu was actually a surprise pregnancy. I soon found out that our then 14-month-old twins would have a little brother. I was shocked, but elated! My husband and I were definitely open to baby number three, but it happened a lot sooner than we anticipated. The next several months were filled with routine OB appointments, tiredness from chasing my toddlers around, deciding on nursery decor, and looking forward to my third November baby, due just before the holidays. I missed the newborn snuggles stage, and was really happy to have another baby to add to the armful!

                Tips for how to help a person who is grieving after losing a loved one | The Champagne Supernova blog

                Henry’s pregnancy announcement that was shared with friends, family, and on social media.

                We took maternity photos. Sweet friends threw me a baby shower. After a traumatic birth experience with my twins, I looked forward to an uncomplicated singleton delivery. There were no pregnancy complications, and our sweet boy passed every scan with flying colors. I managed to dodge the bullets of swelling and pregnancy induced hypertension this round. I was relieved. This time there would be no NICU. I made it to 40 weeks.

                Tips for how to help a person who is grieving after losing a loved one | The Champagne Supernova blog

                Maternity session during pregnancy with Henry. Photo Credit: Ann Axon Photography.

                At 40 weeks and 3 days, my husband and I decided it was time to meet our son. We hadn’t finished the nursery yet, but it didn’t matter. We were going to meet him.

                The day was November 9th.

                That is the day our family was changed forever.

                At 5:52 p.m., Henry James was born. It was a beautiful birth. My doctor and the OR staff were nothing short of amazing. My husband got to watch our baby’s birth. I’ll never forget the soft little cry I heard and feeling the warm tears of relief rolling down my cheeks.

                Henry was here.

                We heard him cry.

                He’s okay.

                But we soon learned that things were far from okay.

                Within minutes of his birth, the NICU staff assembled around Henry. He began to turn purple and struggled to breathe, and his oxygen saturation levels remained low. Henry was immediately taken to the NICU so the doctors could figure out what was wrong. I sent my husband after them, while I stayed behind as my OB was still sewing me up.

                I was wheeled to recovery.

                Alone.

                Again.

                With empty arms.

                How was this even happening?

                My husband and I remained hopeful. My OB and the attending nurses assured me that some babies just need a little help transitioning from inside the womb. Henry probably needed some supplemental oxygen. I waited in the recovery room for what seemed like an eternity. The recovery nurse kept calling the NICU for updates and information on Henry’s condition. It was shortly after that we received the news that Henry needed to be airlifted to a children’s hospital, more than 80 miles away.

                Thankfully, the nurses wheeled me into the NICU before the flight crew wheeled Henry away. He was beautiful, and had a thick head of hair like is big brother Nathan. I reached out to touch him, and he grabbed my finger. I was a goner. I was in love. The attending neonatologist suspected a cardiac issue, but Henry needed further testing that our birth hospital was not able to provide.

                Tips for how to help a person who is grieving after losing a loved one | The Champagne Supernova blog

                Henry, after he was placed on life support.

                That night, we learned Henry had a defect with his pulmonary veins, and would need surgery right away. My hours-old son was 80 miles away, and there was nothing I could do for him.

                I never felt so powerless.

                The next few days were a blur. By the next morning, Henry had deteriorated so much that he developed hypoxemia and was placed on a machine considered to be the last ditch “Hail Mary” of baby life support. Henry was very sick. He was diagnosed with what we later learned was an exceptionally rare and serious congenital heart defect: Obstructed Total Anomalous Pulmonary Veinous Return (“TAPVR”).

                The obstructed kind.

                The “critical” version of this defect because, not only was the “plumbing” around Henry’s heart all wrong, his veins were also abnormally thin. Tragic fact: TAPVR is most often discovered after birth, because the pulmonary veins are not visible on routine anatomy scans. Or even on the level 2 scans that I had. Henry was due to have his open heart surgery on Friday, November 13th. Henry’s cardiologists determined that he had healed and was stable enough for surgery.

                But this was not to be.

                Over the course of that Thursday evening, Henry suffered a catastrophic complication that necessitated his removal from the life support machine. He wasn’t going to make it. We had to let him go. My husband consented to the withdrawal of life support. At 3:02 a.m. on November 13, 2015, Henry drew his last breath on Earth and took his first in Heaven. Our world has never been the same since.

                There we were, my husband and I, left in profound grief and shock. Instead of cuddling our newborn son at home, introducing him to family and friends, we were sitting in a funeral home making arrangements.

                Purchasing a tiny casket.

                Choosing a burial plot.

                How were we ever going to get through this?

                The days, weeks, and months that followed Henry’s tragic death have been the most difficult our family has faced. However, this time also really taught me about caring for those who are grieving. When tragedy strikes a friend or loved one, most of us are left wondering what to do and how to help.

                I can attest to the fact that those who are grieving are just trying to survive, and they don’t have the energy to advocate for themselves and reach out for the help and support that they so desperately need. I wanted to share some simple do’s and don’ts, and I hope that they will help you find ways to reach out and help your friends and loved ones who may be grieving.

                Tips, do's and don't for how to help a person who is grieving | The Champagne Supernova blog

                Do show up with food. I know this one might sound a little silly, but keeping a hurting family fed removes a HUGE burden. My friend, Keri, organized a month-long meal planner for us, and we had meals delivered several nights a week. We were grateful for the food, but even more so for the familiar friendly faces, hugs, and company. If you don’t cook, consider sending a gift card to a favorite restaurant or mail a care package with all of the essential (read: disposable) cups, plates, and utensils.

                Don’t disappear because you don’t know what to do or say. I repeat, don’t disappear because you don’t know what to do or say! Trust me when I tell you that, to a person who is grieving the loss of a loved one, silence is deafening. I was amazed at the people who I barely knew who came out of the woodwork with texts, calls, cards, and who showed up to support our family at Henry’s funeral. I can’t even begin to tell you how much it hurt to have people who I thought were close friends and even family members not reach out. The friends who I had been there for who never even so much as sent a text message. I felt so sad and even a little angry. I may have moved forward and forgiven those people, but their lack of support is difficult to forget.

                If you did disappear, it is NEVER too late to reappear. This is important. I had many friends who eventually reached out, and were honest about not knowing what to do or say. They worried about hurting me by saying the wrong thing, and were trying to give me space. Just know that it is totally okay to not know what to say! You don’t even have to say anything. Just be there.

                Don’t say, “let me know if you need anything.” Just don’t say it. This puts the responsibility on the grieving person or family to coordinate their help. Please don’t do this. If you really want to help, ask when you can bring a meal, or when you can help clean, or whatever it is that you know would help the grieving friend the most. We will gladly accept.

                Do say their loved one’s name. Talk about them. Even nearly a year later, friends often mention Henry by name. It is such a gift when the people in my life talk about my Henry or ask about him, and often say they are willing to listen anytime I want to talk about him. Some people have said that they worry about reminding me about my loss, but no one needs to worry about reminding me. I’ll never forget that Henry was here, and that now he’s gone. Acknowledge often. It’s a wonderful thing.

                It’s common knowledge that death is a part of living. It is a certainty that every last one of us will be touched by grief during our lifetime. Our society often doesn’t do well with caring for those who are thick in the weeds of their grief journey, but it really doesn’t have to be this way. As long as we have compassion, we can find ways to come alongside those who are hurting and love them.

                Feed them.

                Talk to them.

                Listen to them.

                Hug them.

                Be there.

                Having walked the difficult path of grieving my son for nearly a year, it has given me the gift of perspective. Being Henry’s mom has made me a more compassionate human, and seeing the impact his life has made in the lives of so many has truly been a gift.

                Tips for how to help a person who is grieving after losing a loved one | The Champagne Supernova blog

                The Gasts’ 2016 holiday card, which honors Henry. Photo credit: Ann Axon Photography.

                The most heartfelt thanks goes out to Heather for having the courage to share her family’s story. Henry is gone but never forgotten.

                Cheers!

                  Pet Peeve: Don’t Use Me, Bro!


                  feeling-used-by-other-people

                  At this stage of the game, all of us are old and wise enough to know when we’re being used.

                  Smart enough to see through the shenanigans.

                  The event triggering this post happened last Wednesday.

                  I’m at my desk sorting through Motions and medical records when the following email popped up on my Outlook. Easily distracted, I clicked the little bubble on the bottom right corner of my screen.

                  Below are the contents of the email with my commentary in parenthesis.

                  Hi Jennifer,

                  I came across your name on LinkedIn and wanted to say hello. (Stalker!) I found you because I like to meet like-minded folks (oh, so you’re a psychopath too?) in the Tampa area and, in all honesty (as opposed to dishonesty?), form new relationships or connections (that’s not very honest, you want me to help you in some way). We are both in lines of work where we may be able to help each other, or act as a local resource for one another (alrighty, dude, what do you want from me?). Let me know if you’re up for meeting for a quick coffee one day (there’s no such thing as a “quick coffee”.) At the very worst, I’ll cover your coffee (gee, thanks… because my time isn’t worth more than $3) and won’t take up too much time- but hopefully, we’ll get to chat and get familiarized with each other and the work that we do for clients.

                  Hope you are well!

                  Aaron (That’s a lie, but his real name rhymes with Derrick.)

                  The signature line below was a lot more revealing.

                  Just as I suspected, Aaron is a financial planner. He wants me to invest with him.

                  “You wanna invest? I got some nice, shiny quarters for ya!”

                  Aaron, just be completely up front about your motives from the beginning.

                  Delete.

                  I hate emails like these.

                  I used to receive about five a week when I first started practicing law. Financial planners who wanted me to invest with them right out of the gate, without major expenses and with lots of money to invest. (Or so they thought.)

                  If I tallied up all of the emails I’ve received like this, there would be hundreds. No joke.

                  I’m sure any type of professional routinely receives emails of this nature.

                  My husband has his own structural engineering firm (plug… how’s that for being transparent?), and I know he’s constantly getting approached to join strangers for “beers,” “coffee,” and “lunch.”

                  It’s only through my experience that I immediately smell the rat and move on. But in my younger days, I would have taken Aaron up on this offer because I enjoy meeting “like-minded people,” only to have been disappointed. It’s similar to the first time you received an email from “The Desk of Mr. [name]” who, in weird Engish, requests a charity donation for a family member who suffered a brain hemorrhage while visiting some remote African country. It’s the same basic plot- there’s an emergency and won’t you please wire them some money? Don’t worry, they will repay you tenfold as gratitude for your kindness and generosity. The first time I got an email like this, I wanted to contact the United Nations so they could send assistance to whatever African country the guy was emailing about so they could please get this poor soul some help.

                  Now I get these emails and delete them.

                  I’ve seen it most frequently in the financial planning arena but, don’t get me wrong, have a few close friends who work in this field who I love and admire. Then, there are the ones who are constantly hitting people up in a super sneaky way and it’s annoying.

                  For instance, one of my college sorority sisters got her feelings hurt a couple years back when she agreed to have lunch with an acquaintance whom she hadn’t seen in a decade. Out of the blue, the girl reached out to my friend, faked an interest in her marriage and birth of twins, invited her to lunch for the sake of “catching up”, and then BAM… asked her to invest with her company with her serving as the financial planner.

                  My friend left lunch feeling used. Rightfully so. She never invested with the other girl. And she was maddddddd.

                  Let me be clear. I am aware of and respect that everyone has to use their connections and personal relationships to promote themselves and to grow their businesses. That’s exactly what you’re supposed to do.

                  Ain’t no problem with the hustle.

                  I do it too.

                  The problem is when people aren’t immediately candid about their true motives. The problem is when people try to get what they want using “sneak attack” antics. It’s bad business. 

                  All Aaron had to say to me in the email was “I’d love to discuss financial planning with you- are you already working with someone? Can we have coffee to go over it and, if you’re not interested, that’s fine?”

                  Then, I would have respected Aaron. I would have told him we don’t need anyone but that I would keep his name in mind if the opportunity presented itself or for referrals for someone else who might be interested.

                  But nooooooooooooooooo. Aaron sent me an evasive email and tried to trick me into joining him for coffee so he could subsequently launch his sneak attack.

                  What a turnoff.

                  Drops mic.

                  Cheers to honesty and transparency!

                    Life: The Five Screw-Ups that Made a Huge Difference


                    how-mistakes-make-your-life-better

                    Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.”

                    Who here is tired of seeing ole Ralph’s quotes? Half the time I wonder if he really said some of these things, or if someone just writes something uplifting and then slaps his name on it. (No, I don’t want to research it unless it has a billable code.)

                    But someone has a point here.

                    I’ve screwed up a couple times in my life.

                    Ok, a good number of times.

                    But the best times I’ve learned were through my own screw-ups or by witnessing someone else go down in a Blaze of Glory.

                    Practice makes perfect?!

                    I’ve never learned anything by adhering to adults’ warnings during my youth.

                    And certainly, not from my parents who, in my mind, were merely trying to keep me from having a good time.

                    I don’t have any degrees or licenses in psychology or sociology or anything like that.

                    I’m not a mental health counselor. But a bit mental.

                    Just a gal with a couple of decades of mistakes under her belt with time to ponder what worked and what didn’t.

                    Here’s my list of the five most valuable lessons. Things I’ve started doing or stopped doing that have made a huge difference.

                    1. Contact your parents every day. When you’re in your teens and early twenties, the prospect of your parents dying, if you’re lucky to have both still alive, seems so far away. You imagine they’ll pass peacefully in their sleep in their nineties like Noah and Allie did in The Notebook. 

                    Now that I’m in my mid-thirties, I have plenty of friends and acquaintances who have lost one or both of their parents. Some during childhood, some following long battles with terminal illnesses and, for others, unexpectedly and without warning.

                    I made a vow that I wouldn’t take another day with both of my parents for granted because I know there’s no guarantee and I’ve witnessed the painful heartache of seeing someone lose someone they loved. My parents are two of the most important people in my life. Accordingly, I make a point to have some type of contact with them every single day, whether it’s a phone call, email, or text message. I don’t want to have regrets.

                    There will come a time when I wish I could contact them, but I can’t.

                    2. Stop Caring What Other People Think. This one can be tricky. If you didn’t care what other people think, you’d be a sociopath with no friends.  You have to care, to a degree. Just an eensy weensy teeny tiny one.

                    Not caring about what other people think requires a balancing being kind and courteous to others while being your true self. It also requires you to decide whose opinions you’ll actually take into consideration when making choices. For me, this number is small and is limited to my immediate family, my husband, a few close friends whose friendships have spanned multiple decades, and my boss (dang, that pesky mortgage!)

                    I used to be a slave to other people’s opinions. I used to cringe at the idea of not making someone happy or the prospect that someone could be upset with me. It was exhausting and a waste of time.

                    I’ve learned you can try and try and try and try, but there are times someone will never like you and there’s nothing you can do about it. Absent extreme circumstances, most of the time, their reasons for not liking you are meritless. You have a similar voice as their second-grade teacher, who once slapped them on the knuckles with a ruler. You asked their ex-boyfriend to the Sadie Hawkins dance your sophomore year of high school. You once picked them last during a game of dodgeball. You play your music too loud in your car. You’re a dentist and they once had a bad experience getting a tooth pulled. Twenty years ago. By someone else.  Your breath smells like celery, and they’re allergic. You have a great body with tons of friends and the face of an angel, while they are feeling down-and-out about themselves (e.g., the way I feel about Margot Robbie.)

                    See how dumb?

                    I’ve wasted so much time worrying about the opinions of people who don’t matter. I can never get that time back. And when I decided it was time to stop worrying, the quality of my life (and friendships that really mattered) grew exponentially.

                    3. Have a To-Do List. In the past when I felt really overwhelmed, instead of being able to tackle projects, I felt mentally and emotionally paralyzed. I didn’t know where to start.

                    Now, I create a “to-do” list of things that I need to accomplish throughout the day. The list isn’t made in order of importance; just whatever needs to be done. I usually keep the list in my purse or in my planner, and add to it throughout the day.

                    When performing tasks, I start with the easiest items on the list. The ones that require the least amount of brainpower and stress.

                    Paying the electric bill. Emailing someone a confirmation about something. Responding to a text message.

                    Then, by the time I attempt the “hard” stuff, I feel like I’ve already accomplished a lot.

                    Psychologically, having a list is so important to the Type A crazy person in me. It’s like the adult-version of a baby blanket and, for me, is critical to staying sane and on task.

                    Sun Basket

                    4. Water Your Own Garden. It’s easy to look across the proverbial fence to see what other people have and feel like your own garden isn’t good enough.

                    But it is.

                    It’s simple to think someone else has a happier marriage and more well-behaved children and tons of money with plenty of time for champagne wishes and caviar dreams.  Well, they don’t. We all have our struggles and our weaknesses.

                    Sure, I’d love to live in a bigger house with a more spacious kitchen and larger backyard in a “better” neighborhood (Tampa peeps: South of Gandy in the heezy), but I also know that would mean a larger mortgage, less money for “family” stuff, and more overall headache.

                    It’s normal, albeit unhealthy, to look at what other people have and compare it to what you have and then feel like you’re not good enough. Been there, done that. It’s no fun. But I promise, your real friends don’t care about the size of your house, what kind of car you drive, the brand of clothes you wear, or whether you rub elbows with people who are deemed socially important. Your real friends like you for you.

                    So go ahead and rent the matchbox apartment, drive the boxy Scion (y’all know what I’m talking about), and rock the Xhilaration leggings with reckless abandon. The people who matter won’t notice and won’t care.

                    5. Know When to Be Quiet. This has been one of my biggest struggles. The biggest. In my younger days, I would say whatever came to my mind, no matter the topic, and if someone got their feelings hurt or it got me into trouble, I would justify myself (and dismiss their feelings) as “just speakin’ my mind.”

                    I’ve learned in some situations, it’s better to shut the heck up. Everyone knows what those situations are. And if you want to go ahead and speak your mind, be prepared for potential consequences of hurt relationships. Is it worth it? Nope.

                    I guess in life, experience is the best (and sometimes only) way to grow.

                    These include screwing up.

                    I needed the screw-ups. They were actually gifts.

                    Cheers!

                    (By the way, what lessons and screw-ups would you put on your own list?)

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