September Summer

Miata

One of the Bay Area’s best kept secrets is September.

Unfortunate travelers optimistically arriving in the normal summer tourist season make the unhappy discovery that The City by the Bay is often cold and foggy in June, July and August.  They’re greeted by street vendors selling very expensive San Francisco sweatshirts to a very cold and captive audience.

With the beginning of September, school starting and Labor Day behind us, a real summer begins here.

Sunny days, a sky so blue and temperatures so perfect, warm breezes that kiss your skin, your heart can’t help but burst into song.   Ahhhhhh … finally summer.

Now we take the sweatshirts off and pull out our shorts and skimpy T-shirts.  Now we put the tops down on our convertibles.

The tourists are gone and we have our town back to ourselves.

Yesterday evening I drove across the Bay Bridge to The City with the top down, enjoying the 80° breeze, The City skyline outlined against the breathtaking red-toned sunset, The beautiful water of the San Francisco Bay.

Coming home at night the sky was full of stars and full moon and summer joy.

Mark Twain said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”  But he said nothing about our September summer, October and even November, which often feels like spring.

For a girl from Philadelphia this is the craziest gumbo of weather pattern I could imagine.  But as I sit on my patio, sipping my breakfast tea, watching the butterflies and the bees sip on the flowers, as I look at the bluest blue of skies, and contemplate the wonderful hike I have planned for this afternoon, I celebrate that summer has begun.

Wishing you the start of a glorious new season in your life.

Just a little note in case you visit:  San Franciscans cringe when someone calls our town “Frisco” or “San Fran”.  We mostly call it The City (yes, with capital letters) or San Francisco.

Love,

Ingrid

 

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Life lessons from a fig farmer

Tony Inzana farmer's market 2

Tony Inzana owns a 190-acre ranch in central California and brings his organic produce every Sunday morning to my local farmers’ market.  He grows the largest, juiciest, most mouth-watering delicious figs in the galaxy.  His pistachios and walnuts have a just-picked freshness I can’t find anywhere else. Each black mulberry bursts with sweet, intense juice.

All this abundance is harvested just yesterday and brought brimming with a life and flavor that make your taste buds stand up and sing.

Tony also has the distinction of having, not only the longest line of customers waiting to buy, much longer than of any of the other farm stands in the market, but also the slowest moving one.  This line moves REAL slow.

The reason for that is because Tony talks to each person as they get to him.  He tells you what time he picked whatever you’re buying, what’s happening with the weather, what the crop will be like next week.

He wants to find out what you’re going to do with it (are you going to grill the figs or put them in your salad?). You’ll hear about his friend coming to visit from Australia and he’ll want to find out what’s going on in your life.

The people waiting in line have no recourse but to talk to each other, which they do. You find out new recipes, you learn about fruit you never thought about buying that the person in front of you has loaded in their basket, you get talked into trying the kiwi.

The lady behind me this past Sunday got impatient.  It was her first time shopping in the stand.  She was huffing and puffing and commenting on how slow the line was moving. Tony noticed this and gave me a fig to share with her. That shut her right up.  When she tasted her fig, she wanted to find out what else in the stand was that good, which I was happy to tell her.  She got friendly and talkative along with the rest of us.

In today’s age of modern efficiency, in today’s age of impatience with slow-moving lines, Tony’s business model defies current wisdom.

Everybody wants things fast, they want to get in and get out and get on with the next thing.

I have never seen anyone approach life and business as leisurely as Tony. He is slow on purpose.  He is very deliberate about building a relationship with each person who buys from him.   If you don’t like it, you don’t have to shop there.

When you finally make it up to the front to pay, and it’s your turn for him to talk with you, he’ll still continue to take his time.  Tony makes unusually direct eye contact and listens intently.  He carefully considers what you tell him, what kind of salad you’re making, what your friend said about the dried cherries you got last week, how much you miss the pomegranates when they’re out of season.  He’s interested in everything about you.

Business is personal in Tony’s world.  Very personal.

He’s a happy man.  Very few eyes in this world twinkle like Tony’s do.  Looking into them is magical.

The sellout crowds in his stand don’t just come for the figs or walnuts.  Two weeks ago Tony wasn’t there.  It was his birthday and he was off celebrating.  His replacement kept the line moving fast and there was a second person helping too.  Hardly any waiting.  But when Tony came back last Sunday, everyone was asking him, “Where were you??????????  We MISSED you!!!!!!!”  The slow, long line was back and the sellout crowd was happy again.

You can watch people who just paid walking away, laughing, beaming. And as you walk away, you find yourself grinning a happy grin that stays in place for several minutes after you’ve gone.

You’ve received so much MORE than the fresh and dried fruits and nuts in your bag.  You’ve just had a powerful conversation with a man who really cares.  He cares about what he grows. And he cares about you.

Not everyone is willing to wait in a slow-moving line, to wait for the seemingly endless conversations ahead to come to a finale.

It’s surprising how many are though.  The combination of extraordinary food and soul-nourishing conversation makes it all worthwhile.  They respond and are drawn to it.  Tony has a long line from the moment he opens to the very last.  No one grumbles.

What it tells me is that, MANY people care not only about the quality of what they’re buying, but also about the quality of real communication and, as a result, the quality of relationship, they experience.  That it’s worth waiting for.  That it’s valuable to them.

In truth, I think the world is hungry for it.

If that’s what you choose to serve, people will come, they will stay, and when they leave, they will REMEMBER.

Wishing you great figs and meaningful conversations!

Love,

Ingrid

 

Breakfast with Anaxagoras

Anaxagoras 2

I had a brilliant Saturday morning breakfast with Anaxagoras of Clazomenae.

No, this ancient Greek is not a neighbor.  While savoring my green smoothie, I was deeply immersed in conversation with a book of his writings and speeches from 480 BC.

There are so many things I love about the ancient Greeks.  One of them is that an ordinary person could become a philosopher, provided he had a new and interesting view of the world.  Along with that great opportunity, 500 BC was a time when philosophy was considered a respected and important profession.

Today if you study philosophy (does anyone even study philosophy today?) you’re mainly reading about others people’s philosophies, most of them long dead.

Back then you were exposed to many emerging philosophies.  You could study directly in person with the philosopher, walking together around a lovely scented tree-filled grove.  But even more importantly, you were encouraged to create a new philosophy.  I love that.  It was an exciting time for philosophy.

What’s notable for me about Anaxagoras is that he was the first recorded philosopher to state that a human being has a mind. He called it Nous.

Anaxagoras saw the mind as not having a material substance. He saw it as separate from the physical universe and believed it was senior to, and the power behind, everything in the physical universe. He believed that our Nous controlled the cosmos.

Anaxagoras was one of the first to make a study of thought, of mind over matter. To me, such a vital subject.

There’s a world of difference between studying the mind and studying the brain.

Today scientists are uncomfortable studying anything they can’t dissect with laboratory instruments or plug into a machine, so they are obsessed with the brain.

Not so back then. Back then they were discussing and studying things that I personally find more intriguing, like awareness.

For me it’s the things you can’t see that are the most compelling, the most worthy of study.  Like love, hope, courage, friendship, intellect, playfulness, creation of beauty, the desire to reach out, affection, kindness, understanding, the human spirit.

Anaxagoras taught Socrates’ teacher, he preceded Plato and Aristotle and influenced all of them. He was a very close friend of Pericles, the architect of Athens’ Golden Age and the greatest leader the ancient Greeks ever had.  He hung out with the best.

And today we had a sunny breakfast together in the Montclair hills of Oakland California, feasting on a deep discussion of the human mind and spirit and their relationship to the cosmos.  A most fascinating breakfast companion.

Wishing you an abundance of all those good things we can’t see but do deeply experience, especially happiness.

Love,

Ingrid

To refuse to be tamed

New Jersey Pine Barrens

It was a perfect hot August summer night.  My foot was pressed flat on the accelerator of a small green Italian sports car.  I was too scared to look at the speedometer to see how fast I was driving, convertible top down to the open air, wind ripping my hair, summer music blasting on the radio.  I was 16 and learning how to drive.

The car belonged to David, an 18-year old guy I met who was teaching ice-skating at an outdoor rink in Center City Philadelphia the winter before (just a friend, but a good one).

I grew up in Medford Lakes, New Jersey, a lovely, wooded lake-filled village with no sidewalks 20 miles east of Philadelphia.  We were about an hour from the Jersey shore.

We locals knew better than to take the highway to get there. We had the coolest back roads, absolutely nothing on them except for the New Jersey Pine Barrens which are miles and miles of endless pine trees.  No street lights, no houses, no stores, no buildings, no nothing.

The only “town” between Medford Lakes and the shore was a hamlet called Chatsworth (population hardly anybody except for some hermits living in the woods).

Except for a left turn at Chatsworth, it was a straight shot to the shore.  Straight road 17 miles to Chatsworth, turn left and then another straight road for 32 miles with nothing to see but pine trees will get you to Long Beach Island, which is where I was headed.

Best driving back roads in the world.

It was a road that was most likely to be completely deserted at night.

David drove us to a spot where no one was around, got out and had us switch places so I was in the driver’s seat.  He showed me the accelerator and the brake and taught me nothing about shifting gears.  He said, “Just put your foot on the clutch when I tell you to and I’ll do the shifting.”

Easiest lesson I’ve ever had.  When he got us into high gear he told me, “Okay, now go for it.  Floor it.”

I knew what he meant and I did.

It was pure high school crazy freedom.  And it felt so good.

I was thinking about it today, when I was thinking about what a wonderful sensation it is to do something completely unleashed.  To be wild, to be free.

There’s still something inside me that refuses to be tamed.  Feels so good.

I hope you too have something inside of you that refuses to be tamed and feels so good.  Something wild.  Something free.

Love,

Ingrid

How to transform your life

Munchkinito assisting at computer

Life is transformed when you have a kitten in the house.  This particular one is extraordinarily adept at making every moment unforgettable.

He’s been here for a month now.  Nothing is ordinary to him or with him.

He follows me everywhere and investigates each thing I do.  If I’m reading, he climbs all over the book and gets in between the pages. If I’m working on my computer, he is all over the keyboard. When I’m eating, he practically climbs into the bowl. When I’m walking, he walks between my feet to make sure we don’t get separated.

Every moment is exciting to him. He greets each new activity with an astonishing burst of enthusiasm.

He’s always alert. Always on the lookout. Interested in everything. Curiously examining the littlest motion.

His spirit of play is inexhaustible. Everything is a game. Putting on my shoes, making the bed, turning the page of the newspaper (one of his favorites).  Just give him a paper towel and stand back. He will turn shredding it into an Olympic event.

He’s the easiest being in the world to make happy. He starts to purr when he sees me coming. Rub the top of his head, he closes his eyes in ecstasy.  Bury your face in his soft fur and the purr turns into a deep rumble. Invite him to sit on your lap, his sudden look of joy will flood your heart.

He’s an unwitting entertainer. I’m sure he has no particular desire to be funny, but his playful antics are laugh-out-loud comedy skits. A professional couldn’t get this many laughs. He goes upside down into pillows with his hind legs pedaling in the air, creates a one-man soccer game the length of the house with anything smaller than a tennis ball, gleefully attacks the broom … well, truth be told, he gleefully attacks anything that moves (and many unmoving things too).

Having a being this alive, this joyous, this engaged, this loving, this small, this soft, this fluffy, turns the ordinary into extraordinary.  He fills this little world full with laughter and love.

May your world too be filled with laughter and love.

Love,

Ingrid

How to grant yourself true freedom

Signing Declaration_of_Independence_(1819),_by_John_Trumbull

In Philadelphia 243 years ago, 51 men stood in line to sign their names on a bold document intended to change the course of human history. It was an act that could easily have cost them their lives.

The final sentence in the Declaration of Independence, the one right above all their signatures, ended with: … we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”

They didn’t consider their lives sacred, nor their fortunes.  But their honor was, and that compelled them to openly communicate their beliefs, to clearly state where they stood, regardless of the tremendous risk to their lives.

William Ellery of Rhode Island, recognizing the tremendous significance of the moment, positioned himself so he could observe their faces as they signed. He described their expressions unanimous in “undaunted resolution.”

As a result, tomorrow we celebrate one of the most important holidays here in the United States.  July 4th is a tribute to the courage these men had on that day, to their sense of sacred honor which threw the doors open to democracy and the freedoms that form the very core of our country.

What is honor?

It is integrity in our beliefs and actions.

Honor almost always requires communication, necessitates our speaking up to bring it fully into being.

We may not have one big moment in our lives that requires us to “risk it all” for our honor. But we have many important moments that do require courage and resolution.  It’s the seemingly small, daily tests of our truths and dignity that either chip away at our honor or keep it sacred and build it up to powerful self-respect.

In these moments, it’s our decision to step forth and communicate what we observe, where we stand, what is true for us, that enables us to live lives of true freedom.

My wish for you is the ability to communicate as these men did, without fear or restraint, to communicate powerfully and successfully in a way that sets you free in your vigorous pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.

Happy July 4th!

Love,

Ingrid

Meet my greatest public speaking coach

Ingrid and Tetukas

My love for my father is deeper than the ocean.  I remember when he decided to retire as a VP of an international insurance company where he was responsible for handling the major claims which ended up in lavishly expensive court trials. He had made insurance law his specialty.

He called me from Philadelphia to say they’d asked him to give some talks to attorneys in major cities around the country before he retired.  He was coming to San Francisco and wanted to have dinner with me.

I was delighted and asked if I could come to his talk.  He told me I wouldn’t find it interesting, but I was very welcome.  I asked where it was and he casually said the Mark Hopkins Hotel and I said, “Dad! The Mark is a super fancy luxury hotel on Nob Hill in San Francisco!”

That’s the first glimpse I had that his talk was important. The second was when I arrived and the hotel receptionist directed me to the ballroom.

He had already started when I walked in. I don’t know how many hundreds of attorneys were in the audience, but they filled the immense room.  It was a way larger crowd than I was expecting.

I took a seat in the back with no idea what was in store.

I was floored listening to him. At home he had never really talked much about his work. He had come here as an immigrant escaping the suppressive Soviet occupation of Lithuania and, although he spoke three languages, English wasn’t one of them. He taught himself English and created a successful career. We could see this somewhat at home, but he never really talked about it.

Watching him, I was staggered by his ability to communicate, his ability to captivate an impressive group of attorneys. He was effortlessly charismatic. Eloquence seemed to just flow from him. He wasn’t dramatic, but he had a powerful presence and dignity that filled the room.  His words, his ideas, were clear, compelling.  His pace, his pauses, his timing, his delivery were impeccable.  He was in complete control.  He infused the room with a quiet but rich enjoyment.

Even in that large ballroom, listening to the melody of his voice, you felt he was talking directly and intimately to you, as if you were in the comfort of his living room, sitting by a fire, slowly sipping a snifter of brandy (something I had the good fortune to experience many times).

The audience was utterly enthralled and so was I.  We all hated when it was over. The Q and A went on forever.  I didn’t think they would ever let him go.

The moment he was done, he was mobbed as a very long line formed to talk to him. He saw me standing off to the side and told everyone in line, “I’m so sorry! I wish I could talk to you but I want to see my daughter.” He took my arm and we left.

I had no idea my father had this amazing ability for public speaking. Without any bias, to this day he is one of the top three best speakers I have ever heard in my life.

We had a wonderful dinner and I asked him if he would coach me on my public speaking. I already had a career giving presentations, and even teaching presentation skills workshops, but it was evident he was much better than I was and could teach me a lot.

He said, “Oh, Ingrid! That would ruin our relationship!” I laughed and told him I really wanted his honest feedback and coaching.

I videoed a couple of my talks and when I went home to visit, we watched them together. He didn’t need to see much, I immediately could tell from his face he didn’t like them.  He was very reluctant to tell me what he thought, but I persuaded him.

He looked at me sadly and made a simple statement:  “Too much effort.”

I asked him what he meant and he said, “You’re using too much effort. You’re trying too hard.”

That was it.  He was done. That was all the coaching he was going to give me.

I realized he was right. I was trying too hard to be compelling.

I worked on that for months, created a new video and brought it home. He looked at it and said, “Better.  Still too much effort.”

This went on several more times.

It took me about a year to get all the effort out until I was communicating effectively, yet effortlessly.  By then I had learned about intention and I experienced an energy and a flow, a power – one I had never felt before.  I had a dignity I never thought was possible.

I took my latest video home, he looked at it and said, “Yes.”

Since then I’ve had many people say to me, “You’re a natural.”  I answer them by saying, “Not at all.  I made myself a natural.”

I’ve had many coaches throughout my career, many very good ones, but this was the most valuable coaching I ever received.

Simple.  Direct.  Focused.  Accurate.

The difference it made in my presentations was profound. He nailed the one thing that, once resolved, changed a million other, lesser important things and brought out my full talent.

In his late 60’s my father went on to become a trial attorney and successfully argued cases in court until he was 80, including winning a case judged by the resplendent Pennsylvania Supreme Court.  When he was 77 I asked him what had been the high point of his career and, after giving it some careful thought, he answered, “I actually think it’s ahead of me.”

There’s no way I can capture all the richness my father gave me in one blog.  Emotionally, spiritually, intellectually.

I just know he was the greatest presentation skills coach I ever had and I have dedicated my life to being that for others. To finding what it is that unlocks and releases their special powers to the world, just like my father did for me.  And to be able to do that in 2 days so it doesn’t take a year.

We spoke Lithuanian at home and I called him, “Tetukas”, the Lithuanian word for father.

As we head into Father’s Day, whether you have a father or you are a father, or both, or perhaps you are in my shoes and you had a father you will never forget who lives in your heart, I wish you a very loving and special celebration of this very extraordinary day.

Love,

Ingrid