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Archive for March, 2013

Last week I attended a digital conference here in the UK called Digital Cream. I met a good friend there, who was also once my boss. For a number of years now we’ve toyed with the idea of one day starting our own business. And so the conversation started up again, over muffins and coffee in the breaks between round table discussions (all of which were highly thought provoking). And then after the conference came to a close we partook in the “networking” drinks and started brainstorming ideas, then when the wine ran out we continued it in the local bar… And so it went on…

Then what followed was a very quiet weekend, getting bits and bobs done in preparation for the wedding, a few. Things ticked off my to do list.

And, as I lay in bed on Sunday evening, flipping to the latest page of Tim Ferris’s “4 Hour Work Week” on my Kindle, three words floated into my mind.

Procrastination.

Will power.

Focus.

I’m noticing that these words/themes crop up regularly from my inner (negative) voice. I, like all human beings on the planet, procrastinate. I also find it particularly difficult to focus, getting easily distracted or excited by something else. But perhaps the thing that ties these together, and something I know I have a low opinion of my own strength in this area is will power.

I don’t really believe that the force is strong with me.

But I want to (and herein lies the dilemma).

Just think what I (you, one) could be capable of without procrastination, with focus and huge stacks of will power?! Now that’s exciting.

I’ve tried in the past to wake up early, to cut out cakes, to exercise daily, to drink more water… All these things, but it never really works out. So what do I do? I could download a book on it to add to all the other books that I have yet to read, and then promise myself that I will read it as soon as I’ve finished the others (don’t start a new book until you’ve finished the others).

I need to start writing my own rules for this.

First up, chose one thing to work on. OK, will power.

Next, set a timeframe. Two weeks until I’m on the beach. Need to get beach-ready.

Finally the goal. Don’t eat cakes or sweets. That will be tough. I need my afternoon sugar rush.

And so, this week I’ve stumbled like a dazzled gal through what seem like endless opportunities for biscuit scoffing and flapjack chewing. It is tough. And then today I received a package at work. A parcel from my mum. And within lay the Ultimate Test. A tray of beautiful Toffifee. My mouth started watering, my mind waivered, I felt doubt and greed start to curl the corners of my mind.

So then I wrote big letters on a post-it note a slapped it on that tray.

“WILL POWER”

It may torment me, perhaps I’m being cruel to myself. But the force WILL be strong with me. This is the first step in a bigger journey. And it’s only 2 weeks….

Toffifee with post it

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It was with trepidation that we drew up to the car park in Great Bentley, ahead of our full day in the church with the vicars and other couples getting married this year. We’d already had a mini-barny in the car, I was worried that his distaste for spending the day under the watchful gaze of The Almighty, casting judgement on our preparedness for marriage, would spill out all over the church floor.

And so it was that we were to spend the next 7 hours of our precious Saturday reflecting on what it means to be married.. And the first question the group was asked – why are you getting married to this person? – was directed at the person whose name began with the letter at the start of the alphabet – A. Oh good, that’s me then…

So we cringed and blushed our way through that first ‘baring our souls’ ice-breaker – I’d already shed my first (and not my last) tear of the day. We sipped our teas and chomped through plates of biscuits and all started to relax, and our facilitators stepped up with their bright smiles and presentations on ipads and the meat of the day began…

What followed was quite a suprise! It turned out to be a fun, interesting and enlightening day, delivered by one of the loveliest, warmest, funniest and most welcoming group of people I’ve met – all of whom were involved with one of two parishes in the local area – Food for thought and something to explore more? Maybe…

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After amusing welcomes from our lovely facilitators we were introduced to ‘Rob Parsons’. Rob wrote a book called the 60 Minute Marriage and the bulk of the content for today is discussed in his short book that we can all read in 60 minutes (and I did, two nights later). We’d be getting a copy of the book later, and Rob would crop up throught the day…

So onto the first session – Communication – here we split into groups – the drawrer and the communicator – one partner drawing a replica of a picture seen by the other partner – hillarious. We then completed a short survey and compared answers and discussed, in private. This was the first time that we have seriously discussed how we communicate. It was insightful and reassuring. And GOOD to talk.

Then we discussed time. How many hours a week do we think we eat, sleep, work, play, watch TV, shop, etc and how much time do we think our partner spends? Compare and contrast. This kicked up some rumbles amongst the other couples and reaffirmed that we are pretty aware of each others’ time and agree.

Next up, family. We cleared the tables, got out the play-doh, separated girls and boys and had to ‘make family’ on a plate. Then we came back together to view the artistic interpretations and listen to the creative explanations!

I think lunch was next and a chance to chat with other brides about the lack of ideas for bridal entrance music…

After lunch we talked about trust, leading each other blind-folded around the church and churchyard. Up and down uneven church steps and swaying spikey tree branches. Then onto resolving conflict, leaving behind ghosts of behaviours taken on from our parents, past loves or other influencers (enter the knowledge of Rob Parsons).

The final topic was our wedding vows. This was my favourite session. We had our vows written out and we reflected on the meaning of each and every line. I knew instantly that I need to learn these and recite them on the day by heart. It enables me to fully engage with them. It was quite a profound moment.

Finally we went into the church and were each handed three strands of coloured cotton tied at the top. We were encouraged to plait them into friendship bracelets, potentially to wear on our wedding days. As we sat on the pews, plaiting away, some readings from the bible were read – suggestions for the day – one around the three strands of love, the husband, the wife, and God. It seemed fitting. And the plaits are in my colourscheme 🙂 I may wear mine.

Throughout the day we also watched slideshows and heard experiences and shared stories which added to the context and relevancy of the topics covered.
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Before we left we were handed Goody bags with chocolates, a small bottle of wine, leaflets, a tea towel and a candle, also a photo taken earlier that day of our play-doh creations – a lovely touch. We all left exhausted but I also felt energised and happy with a new vigour to continue planning.

Overall it was an amazing day. Not at all what I expected, and it has made me more excited, more sure, and it’s provided more depth to my understanding and, yes my preparedness for my future marriage than I could ever have hoped for when walking into that draughty church earlier that morning.

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I’m only just shaking off the jet lag from my recent jaunt to the US. Part holiday, part work trip, this involved me jumping on a plane and heading straight to Las Vegas for the weekend. How I’ve longed to say that! Of course it’s not typical that you take a weekend to Vegas from the UK, but since it was (sort of) “en route” to New York and it conincided with a good friend’s Elvis wedding, how could I turn down the opportunity?!

So this was my second visit to Las Vegas, the last time being nearly twelve years ago (in 2001) as part of a six month backpacking trip around the USA, Mexico and Guatemala. I have strong memories of that first trip, including:

  • Stepping off the Greyhound bus, after hours sitting next to a large man and feeling the heat of the dessert slowing beating down the air conditioning, and thinking I must have stepped straight into the path of the exhaust as it was so hot. Nope, it was simply THAT hot there (this was August)
  • Living in a run down backpackers near Freemont, attempting to walk to the main drag in the day, but retreating back to be by the pool, under sprinklers in the searing heat – save the exploration until after dark
  • Feasting at the “all you can eat” buffets – piling plates high with all the different food you can ever imagine. And paying six bucks for the pleasure.
  • Riding the rollercoasters in the casinos – at the top of the Stratosphere, New York New York, and one other.. can’t remember where
  • Meeting an Elvis near some slot machines, with a sickly orange cocktail in hand. Feeling Vegas, 100%
  • Making the pilgrimidge to “the sign”. It was much smaller than I thought…
Las Vegas sign

Me, in Vegas, 2001

So that was 12 years ago.

This time I was staying the nicer end of town, in the very plush Vdara, no smoking, non-gaming, with a room the size of my flat in the UK and a view of the desert. This time I was on a whirlwind trip with my friend to witness her get married. This time is was winter, we used taxis, and we didn’t get close to a buffet (and they’re certainly not $6 anymore). The rollercoaster at the top of the Stratosphere has been replaced with rides that make me shudder. Here are my observations…

  • When you fly into Vegas and approach the airport, take a look out of the window to get a stunning bird’s eye view of the canyons in the surrounding area. Not everyone can afford the helicopter tours, but you get a pretty good view on the descent.
  • Las Vegas is like Disney Land, or maybe EuroAsia Land – it has these themed hotels which recreate places from around the world – Venice, Rome, Cairo, all places I’ve been, an American visiting will see the landmarks all pristine and complete (Coluseum), if they ever make it to the real place they may be disappointed in the crumbling version of the real thing
  • You can work your way along the strip through the rabbit warren of interlinked casinos, escalators, and moving walkways which move you around the hotels and across the streets. But there are no signs, or at least it’s not that clear, so you end up completely lost and spun on your head. Don’t be a hurry to get anywhere, just enjoy the madness and cruise along
  • Everyone smokes here. It’s like the eighties. Casinos and hotels all have patrons puffing away. It’s weird being back in that kind of environment. Bring water and sore throat pastilles.
  • The place smells of green. I could mean money, but I actually mean plants. Despite being in the dessert they have planted shrubs and lawns that belong on picture postcards. And it smells of green. Which is really pleasant but more than a little weird. There are also imported trees and perfect turquoise lakes. This is better than real life.
  • There is piped music at every turn (along the Strip). You don’t notice it at first, you just feel a little more bouyant than usual – why not, you’re on holiday and the sun is shining? Then you stop and realise that Stevie Wonder is coming out from a fake rock (speaker) on the road side. More weirdness.
  • People are in the party mood. Maybe it was because it was nearly “Spring Break” – in the evenings everyone carried giant plastic Eiffel Tower shaped cocktail buckets, all in neon plastic complete with mega straws to suck up the deadly concoctions within. People would whoop and holler at us (the bridal party) shouting cheer of congratulations.
  • It is expensive. Full stop. Money rolls in and out of those casinos like it’s going out of fashion. Food, drink, hotels, shows, shopping. There’s a lot to spend money on. The bus is cheap (or free if you can’t work out how to buy a ticket) and there are a couple of free shows (Belagio fountain, Sirens show at Treasure Island), you can buy really cheap tshirts as you head towards downtown, and of course people-watching is free, as is walking miles through the casinos, gawping at the ridiculousness of everything!!

So my advice is go, for a wedding, for a weekend, look around, feel the madness and the contrast of the neon with the beauty of those dessert rocks in the distance. You don’t need to stay long, but everyone needs to see it to believe it!

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Just had an insanely busy work trip to New York. An emotional, challenging, inspiring and full week of strategy meetings and presentations as we look forward to a year ahead in increasingly difficult market conditions. We created visions, brainstormed, creative problem-solved, … all sorts.
One of the key things that came out of the sessions was a constant need, in the face of change (which these days is so normal within organisational structures and working practises), to be able to work smarter and make informed decisions more quickly and easily. It’s an area that I’m learning about all the time with various training programmes, books to read on leadership and change. An area that I need to master as potentially more complex issues land on my plate than ever.
And so it came to the end of my work week in NY and my ‘day off’ in the Big Apple. I went over to the chocolate box area of Williamsburg to have brunch and a good old chin wag with a great friend and colleague of mine (who is also facing the same challenges over the year ahead).
We poured out our learnings and observations of our past week over bottomless coffee in mismatching crockery and eggs an toast, and intermingled “work stuff” with our usual chatter of hopes and fears, reflections on past losses, and dreams for the future. She had undergone some major life changes down to personal circumstances in the past year and one of the things we had talked of previously, she had acted on.
She had got a brand new (and first) tattoo.
We’ve both discussed this previously, coming from an initial place of getting memorial tattoos for lost loved ones and then moving into something deeper for us both, and she has gone right ahead and got one. And it looks beautiful.
It was a bold move, it’s big, it was painful, and my friend had a few concerns that she needed to work through ahead of getting it. Including the question “but what will it look I’ve when I’m an old lady?”
Luckily she asked the right person, her mum, who responded with the exceptionally wise words “you’ll look like an old lady… with a tattoo”.
And herein lies the most important and simplest life lesson that we took from last week. Don’t over complicate the issue with crippling analysis and worry, what if? What if? What will I look like if? What will happen if? What will they think if? It will be as it will be, simple. What will I look like at 90 with a tattoo. I’ll look like a 90 year old and I’ll have a tattoo. That’s it. Nothing more. Deal with it and get on with it.
It was kind of profound.
We then went to the water for me to catch the ferry back to Manhattan and I took a photo of my beautiful friend and her amazing tattoo that holds important memories, meaning and values, and will still be there in 60 years. And that’s it.
And I’m going to look at this photo throughout my year and remember to make clear headed decisions when I need to, and to avoid analysis paralysis to just get on with it.
And I’m one step closer to getting my own tattoo…
Girl with rosé tattoo

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March 2nd, 2013. The day Anita and Frank got married.

I awoke to a pull to adventure along the strip, it was early morning so there weren’t many people about, just hard core joggers and some random crazies, so I spent the morning meandering through the rabbit warren of interconnecting hotels and casinos, from the mighty Belagio to the Venetian, from Treasure Island to Circus Circus. It was amazing, I experienced Europe’s greatest sights in plaster of paris and all to the whistle and hum of the arcade soundtrack. There is no way to walk directly along the Strip, so I had to take twists and turns, up escalaters, along bridges, through casinos, past gardens. Three hours later and the heat of the day was buiding, I jumped on the bus home and headed to the pool for a relax and sun soak before wedding preparations commenced.

Anita had ordered a hairdresser to her hotel room and I went up to find her with a hair brush stuck in her barnet. The hairdresser had come, primped and preened her hair, covered it in hairspray and left. She didn’t like it and decided to brush it out. This was the start of the craziness.

She had no shoes to wear, so I had to dash to a gift shop in a neighbouring hotel to pick up some white and silver sparkly flip flops.

Back to the hotel and the happy couple are lounging by the pool. One hour until the limo gets here. No rush.

Time for me to get ready – my outfit for the occasion, a gold dress with hawaiian flowers and elvis glasses. And then went back to find the bride in a state of half dress in her bathroom.

Getting ready was suprisingly quick – I don’t know what takes all the time back in the UK- Anita slipped into her beautiful white rental dress, popped on her veil, tiara and matching neck-bling, popped her feet into her new flip flops and tadaaaaah – ready to roll! We had a few minutes until we were due to meet Frank in the lobby, so took some “getting ready” snaps…

Anita and I went down to the lobby to find Frank and his brother in the bar. A quick margarita? Why not…

The limo arrived and pulled up out the front – very exciting, more snaps and then all aboard, turn up the Elvis music and head to the chapel!

We arrived at the Graceland Wedding Chapel and took some more pictures out the front, then went in and Anita received her rose bouquet.

Once inside the chapel it was a bit of a whirlwind. The witnesses (me and Frank’s brother) were at the front and held the rings. Elvis suddenly appeared and Anita took him by the arm and they walked down the aisle, as Elvis played his guitar and sang. The minister said the vows and Anita and Frank said their “I dos”, more music and singing, we were all dancing and laughing, photos, singing, photos, dancing, laughing… it was INCREDIBLE.

It was all over in a flash, the photographer was expertly maneouvring us in our bewildered and bemused states to pose for lots of photos, he passed us a CD with the website where we can view the ceremony video in a couple of days’ time, and then Elvis disappeared – Anita and Frank were married!

We all left the chapel in a state of bliss, just as the next couple was being ushered in.

Outside the chapel we walked round the back to the carpark where we bumped into our Elvis, plus two more, plus Tom Jones. And the pink cadillac, ready for our tour of the old signs of Vegas.

More photos, then all aboard the pink Cadillac (Lucile O Ball’s old car) with a new Elvis driving and we spent the next hour driving the streets of Vegas with the Wedding March horn sounding, passers by whooping and cheering, and our car full of crazies in Elvis glasses (yes, that was us) waving and cheering like we were royalty. Stopping several times for photos, exhausting work!

Finally we got dropped off at the Stratosphere, just before sunset, and we took the lift up to the top of the tower to get breath-taking views of the city – stretching out for miles and dissolving into the desert. It was dusk and there was a magical silence that seemed to fall across the city.

Taxi cab back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner.

Dinner was devine – seafood and champagne, Anita rocked the veil all night, getting compliment after compliment from the casino hoppers.

To finish off a fabulous and unforgettable day, we had tickets to see the Cirque de Soleil show – Zirkana – an awesome, trippy spectacle, which took the final gasps from my body to close one of the most surreal, funny, and fun experiences of my life!

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One of the positive side effects of jet lag is that for a short time it allows me to become a “morning person”.  And some days (like today) that means that I get to experience those first blissful moments in a big exotic city where it lies still. This morning I am in Las Vegas, in this ridiculously large hotel room (for me, anyway) which offers an almost panoramic view out to the desert.

Yes, there are miles of strip malls and a few gigantic casino hotels dotted on that horizon, as well as some serious roads snaking around them with small bugs of cars crawling along as they make their morning journeys, but these lie flat and don’t disturb my beautiful morning picture-postcard. The light is a soft yellow at this hour and over in the distance I can see the mighty rocks that form the canyons and valleys of the Nevada desert, surrounding Las Vegas as it sits in its scorched dust bowl. It’s breath-taking. Despite the concrete, despite the cars, despite the subdued neon. It feels incredibly peaceful and a stark reminder that this city wasn’t always here.

I’m excited. I have a few hours before I’m due to meet with my fellow Vegas explorers, so I’m going to jump in the word’s deepest bath, put on my new Elvis specs, and head out for a morning stroll down the strip…

Las Vegas view

 

Window view of Las Vegas (day)

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Gatwick. Probably the most unglamorous airport in the world. Even Instagram can’t make it look sexy! It’s white and echoey and if I shut my eyes it sounds like a cross between and amusement arcade (whistles and beeps and strange tinny music) and a local swimming pool (the screams of small children bouncing off the tiled floors).

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So I have a couple of hours to kill and i’ve done the standard coffee and pastry from Costa, wander round the bookshop to get Kindle download inspiration, I nearly bought over priced sparkly flip flops from Accessorize, despite not heading to a destination with sand, and next I’ll head to Boots to buy water and no doubt several tiny bottles of things to supplement my already bulging carry on.
Oh, at least my carry on is glamorous – look! – my latest purchase from Brighton/Morrocco 🙂

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Soooo I’m particularly excited as my destination today feels like one of the coolest places one could fly to from Gatwick. It’s the fabulous LAS VEGAS and I am multi multi excited. I have been once before, in 2001, but that was a loooong time ago and I’m sure I didn’t appreciate it back then. I have high hopes for LV, my friend is getting married tommorrow and is having an Elvis wedding (half an hour service, 5 songs…) and I’m going to be her witness. I have my gold dress and fake aviators at the ready.
I’m hoping for neon and bright lights, crazy people and energy, everything bigger and better. I want to ride the rollercoasters, chow down at the all-you-can-eat buffets, cruise the strip in a cadillac… I want to climb the Stratosphere in the middle of the night and gaze out to where the chaos meets the desert and observe that black sea as the lights stop (as I did all those years ago). I want to celebrate the beginning of a good friend’s life with her man, in this unique and special way and look forward to my own in six months… Vegas holds a lot of hopes and dreams, it raises expectations for anyone who flies there. I’m excited to have it once more in my life, if only for a couple days…
Viva Las Vegas, bring it on!

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