Welcome to Maura4u – where there’s always something for you!
Welcome to Maura4u – where there’s always something for you!
Every once in awhile, I find reason to disclose a little bit more of myself in these Maura4u blogs.
As I share my tale with Graves’ disease (hyperthyroidism), I hope the message will translate into some hope and inspiration for readers.
At age 28, my health took a turn. I began experiencing weight loss, over-exertion, fatigue, heart palpitations, under-eye circles and my hair turning totally brittle. The first indications occurred while I was running; I felt completely drained and faint.
Doctors misdiagnosed me twice: once, to say I had a brain tumor and next to tell me I had a heart condition.
Barely able to function by afternoons at work and appearing like I emerged from a coffin (it was pretty dreadful), I finally found a doctor who diagnosed my symptoms. I suffered from hyperthyroidism, otherwise known as Graves’ disease. Apparently, this small but over-stimulated thyroid gland had the capacity to govern and badly interrupt much of my body’s routine functions.
Unable to slow the activity through medication, the doctor ultimately recommended full removal of my thyroid.
“You’ll have to take thyroid replacement for the rest of your life, but at least we’ll get it under control,” he told me. “You should feel fine once it’s removed.”
Living in Florida, I covered up repeatedly, wearing turtle-necked tops even in the middle of summer. I didn’t want my husband to see the surgery staples that kept my scar together and didn’t want others to wonder if I inadvertently (or worse) had attempted suicide.
For a number of years, I dutifully took my synthroid pills but found myself increasingly disturbed by the passage of time.
“Was I really supposed to be depending on this pill? Was this right? Was this what God said about his creation – namely, that a small pill was required to keep me alive?”
The mental and spiritual question continued to grow. Increasingly, I was living somewhere between worldly wisdom and an emerging faith that was challenging me. Adding to my dilemma was a strict upbringing that taught me to obey authority. Questioning a medical doctor’s orders ran smack into that training.
A defining moment occurred nearly twenty years after surgery. One morning, while brushing my teeth, an inner voice spoke:
“If you have no lack and you are unable to die, why would you place yourself beneath any institution of man?”
I wish I could tell you that it was a well-received word. To the contrary, the message (probably meant to free me from my own fear) actually increased my sense of trepidation.
All stress hit the fan when I waited to the very last moment to reschedule an annual exam with the endocrinologist.
On the way to the doctor’s office, I transformed into a horrified child. Driving alone in my car, every fearful thought about obeying authority pummeled me, completely intimidating my still childish mental state.
I already endured the corrective words of the nurse who admonished my foolishness for scheduling such an overdue appointment. Now I’d be facing her boss, the doctor.
To make matters worse, I needed to “confess” something to the doctor. I had taken a pill that morning but also skipped, on and off, taking pills a few days prior. There was no way I planned to share the so-called message I received while brushing my teeth.
Thankfully, the doctor had an easy-going nature. He smiled slightly as I “confessed” the sin of unfaithful pill ingestion.
“Well, let’s see what the blood test shows,” he commented.
A day later, the doctor phoned with a follow-up call. “Well, Mrs. Sweeney, you’re good for another year. I lowered your dosage just a fraction.”
I was relieved to hear his jovial voice, not addressing me as an angry parent but, instead, as a friendly medical provider. Consistent with his direct nature, he also advised me that a body without thyroid production could only survive about seven days.
That afternoon, I dutifully drove to Walgreens and picked up my next supply of thyroid supplement. Yet, once home, I could not swallow another pill. The bottle remained before me like a life preserver, but I wouldn’t open it up.
I should complete this personal story by conveying yet another “message” I’d received – at the same master bathroom sink where I’d received the original one.
First, I’ll share some personal history. Since I was little, I believed in a Higher Power, a benevolent Heavenly Father who gently, yet powerfully, presided over the events of men.
While I knew God wouldn’t be showing up as my neighbor, I felt He could – and wanted – to be “known” in other ways. Perceiving this Benevolent One as a spiritual presence rather than a physical one, I trusted that He could make a way for emotional, social and other non-physical forms of healing.
One day, as my thoughts contemplated my body’s adaptation to life free of thyroid supplements, this message interrupted me:
“You make distinctions. I do not.”
May something I’ve shared be of inspiration to others. Somewhere, beyond us all, there is a Benevolent One who does not distinguish in terms of how healing can – and cannot – be accomplished.
From His over-arching perspective, healing is all the same.
She writes on personal happiness and authenticity
Find her series of books, The Art of Happiness, on Amazon
Does the person you present in public match up with who you are in private?
Are you fully authentic, a mere facade or somewhere between the two?
Weddings provide us with a fascinating context in which to explore the concept. Involving our private thoughts, ideas and wallets, weddings also challenge us to express our values, tastes and beliefs in the public arena.
What if you had an Authenticity Meter? Similar to a truth-o-meter, it would measure just how genuinely you took your private values and translated them into public view. Using my own wedding as a test, here’s how the Authenticity Meter measured my decision making skills. A score of 1% registers least true to my ideals and 100% matches up perfectly with who I am in spirit.
1. Spouse – I wasn’t contemplating marriage, but a chance meeting with Jim Sweeney in college marked everything I might have imagined in a spouse, plus more. Smart, sincere and full of adventure, Jimmy could offer me a future of fun, selfless love and unlimited personal growth. I’m starting off with my best authenticity score: 100%.
2. Mother-in-Law – Serving as counter-balance to #1 and subject of one of my books, the personality and persuasion of my future mother-in-law wouldn’t exactly prove golden. Never able to convince her there was no need for conflict or contest between us, I can report good news – even if delivered in bittersweet fashion.
Declining in memory, she surprised me with a smile when I paid her a recent visit. “It’s good to see you, Theresa!” she gushed over the now forgotten daughter-in-law named Maura. Mother-in-law Authenticity Meter reading: a set-aside.
3. Ring – I’m a creative who also loves diamonds. Rather than following my heart, I caved to convention. A pave-styled diamond ring would have satisfied my desire for individuality and worked within our budget, but I chose a half carat solitaire instead.
Pristine in quality, the diamond was set in a totally unimaginative gold band. Joined by the equally unimaginative wedding band I purchased for myself, it spoke zero of my personality. I wore the ring occasionally, often more comfortable without one. Lacking in originality but honoring it for quality and the fact that Jimmy and I picked it out together, the ring comes in at 35% authentic.
4. Honeymoon – Our mutual love for travel and my appreciation for Latin America brings our honeymoon choice to a zenith. Scraping cash together, we booked reservations at the Acapulco Princess for a 9-day stay. Set on 400 sprawling acres with fine dining, open-air lobby, Spanish guitarists and a room overlooking the Pacific, we were totally at home in this lush Mexican resort.
It was pricey but we both stayed true to our ideals. Jimmy’s boss bribed us to stay local with a 4-day free honeymoon in the Poconos. We declined. Even today, that honeymoon registers 100% authentic.
5. Gown – Worse than the ring, the gown falls to the bottom of the Authenticity Meter. I envisioned myself in a spaghetti strapped cocktail dress, perhaps of ballet pink. It would give me a simple silhouette and tastefully expose my summer tan. Since wedding protocol was decided by others (see below), my ideal for a dress evaporated.
With total lack of interest, I settled upon the first wedding gown that fit. The long sleeved, high-necked, traditional white gown spoke of some bride, just not this one. Gown gets a 2% authenticity rating.
6. Ceremony – Our Catholic Church ceremony provided a mixed bag. I held cherished childhood memories from the parish school but questioned some Catholic tenets.
Visually, I loved the welcome effect of a pink aisle runner and topiaries that marked each pew in church. I also loved our presiding cleric, a most decent and humble man.
For the religious service, I dispensed with the recommended Ave Maria solo and presentation of flowers to a statue Mary (both costing extra). I also dispensed with any scriptural references commanding women to obey their husbands. Having already played the role of a child, I had no intention of bringing notions of custodianship into a marriage. Jimmy and I happily lit the Unity candle: it symbolized our oneness of spirit. Ceremony authenticity rating: 50%.
7. Reception – Expectations were dashed for an intimate cocktail party serving artful appetizers on silver platters: it would have befitted the low-profile natures of both bride and groom. Since lack of funds meant surrender to parental pocketbooks, Jimmy and I transitioned to token players.
The result was a cocktail party, sit down dinner and 10-piece orchestra hosted at a chic country club. It was lovely but inauthentic. Fortunately, I could exclude Daddy’s Little Girl, cake-in-the-face and raucous music for a non-existent garter belt. Reception authenticity rating: 50%.
Looking back on my 1981 wedding, I probably received a 70% overall authenticity score. At 23, I was doing my best to be genuine. Years later, I’ve come a further distance. A vibrant life with the same man, some cocktail dresses in my closet and the freedom to celebrate as I wish make me one happy and authentic woman.
Bride or no bride, I’m grateful for the lengthy journey that brought me here.
These days, I’m scoring 100% me – inside and out.
Find The Art of Happiness on Amazon
“Maura,” my husband called from his downstairs computer, “check out the Sunscreen Film Festival link I just emailed. You need to go!”
With a constant eye, Jimmy provides me with a font of networking, training and social opportunities to attend both locally and elsewhere. Never quite sure if his motive stems from altruism or his need for relief from my chatter, I’m nevertheless grateful for the suggestions. He manages to identify all kinds of things that contribute to my thoughts, interests and desire for social interaction.
Perusing the link to the Sunscreen Film Festival, my first inclination was to decline. It’s not that the weekend event wasn’t notable; to the contrary, this growing Tampa Bay festival featured worthy film entries, plenty of workshops, some VIP gatherings and a couple of well-known film celebrities.
It wasn’t until I happened upon an iconic Hollywood name, the familiar title of blockbuster book Mommie Dearest and the operative word “thrive” in its film description that I felt compelled to attend. I purchased two on-line tickets and invited my friend Joanne Weiland to join me. We headed for a night out at the movies to meet executive producer Jerry Rosenberg and watch Christina Crawford’s newest documentary: Surviving Mommie Dearest.
For those too young to recall, Christina Crawford is the adopted daughter of Hollywood goddess Joan Crawford. Mommie Dearest, Christina’s seminal book on parental abuse, set off a firestorm with its 1981 release: it lifted the veil off a carefully orchestrated façade and revealed the troubled woman behind the Hollywood legend.
The American public ate up the story of how a little girl navigated a troubled private life in the shadow of her famed mother’s spotlight. Adopted as a public distraction to the elder Crawford’s declining Hollywood career, little Christina began life as window dressing and transitioned through a series of painful, and often frightening, phases. Moving from hostess and bar maid to the “uncles” who routinely visited her mother’s bedroom, Christina later suffered sibling loss and banishment to boarding school as a teen. In her adult years, while pursuing her own craft as an actress, she found her mother competing against her and finally torpedoing her TV career. By most accounts, it appeared a thwarted life controlled by a powerful parent.
Horror shows aside, what brought me to the viewing of Christina Crawford’s Surviving Mommie Dearest documentary was a single word of promotion: thriving. I liked it – and, watching the documentary, liked Christina as well.
Now a mature woman living a quiet but purposeful life out west, Christina speaks with wisdom, understanding and plenty of good humor. Hardly a victim, she has channeled her life experience into a positive vein. Instead of wallowing in the swamp of the past, she enjoys sharing a life lesson with others: we are only victims when we believe ourselves so.
Somehow in her storytelling, Christina enables viewers to see beyond the hurt to an elder woman’s overwhelming need for public approbation and private male affection. Through Christina’s sagacious eye, viewers can understand how Joan Crawford endured the ultimate private role as prisoner of her own making, a mindset from which she knew no escape.
For all those who have suffered behind the curtain of childhood abuse or experienced a victimized mindset at any age, Christina Crawford’s life has a demonstrable happy ending. She sets forth an example of easy forgiveness. Realizing that some among us truly do not know any better, she invites us to a peaceful life derived from an understanding lens.
Kudos to Christina for inspiring happy endings.
Find her series of books, The Art of Happiness, on Amazon
In a sort of odd and quirky way, the Rip Off hit home for me recently.
I learned the spa I’ve belonged to for years just stopped serving apples.
The spa also used to serve oranges and fresh squeezed juice, but I never remarked at the diminishing offerings until my apples were summarily removed. Since the sudden absence of apples and a few other changes affected my membership enjoyment, I asked for a meeting with management.
The new Spa Director delivered the reason behind the new edict. The death knell for “free” apples fell when a member was discovered emptying an entire basket of them into his (or her) backpack.
“We wasted $15,000 on apples last year!” he protested. “Members also take home boxes of Tazo tea. They even lift the specialty sugar packets. You want to know how many of our resort robes were ripped off last month alone?”
Fortunately, I don’t know the identity of the person who ripped off the spa apples. Neither was I interested in the names of countless cons who helped themselves to the spa’s plush robes. But the event gave rise to my considering the Rip Off as a social and psychological phenomena worthy of attention.
I laughed when I photographed the above sign at McDonald’s. I wondered, is this necessary? The sign was there to remind patrons that purchasing a single fountain drink did not entitle the cup bearer to a lifetime of free refills.
A reasonable facsimile of the McDonald’s sign showed elsewhere. Fresh Market is one of my favorite destinations, more gourmet food emporium than neighborhood grocery. Despite the store’s higher prices, presentation and clientele, patrons at the Fresh Market – much like those sipping $1 coffees at McDonald’s – need a similar reminder. Enjoy the amenities, but don’t cross over to the dark side. This complimentary coffee is supposed to be enjoyed by everyone – not just you.
It’s a marvel to me how Rip Off behavior is not defined or limited by one’s social, educational or economic condition. It’s easy to understand how persons down on their luck, starving for a meal or facing eviction might be drawn to appropriate something for their own survival. But that’s not always the case.
Rip-offs range from the innocuous and petty to the outrageous and epic. They span the civil service employee treating himself to paper clips and extra pencils to the Wall Street tycoon siphoning billions of dollars from unwitting investors.
Given the opportunity, many avail themselves of what should rightfully belong to another. I find it amusing how Rip-Off artists get offended when someone takes advantage of them. They frequently resort to legal action, retribution and even long term offense. On the other hand, these same minds easily justify and rationalize their own behaviors. Somehow, they don’t process information similarly when negatively impacting the lives, stations and circumstances of others.
A few years ago, a friend referred to me as “not human” and an unwitting student. The remarks were intended as a criticism, a chiding for my failure to play the common game of life. Desperate to make her own mark in society, she didn’t understand what I maintained as my own quest – Happiness and Peace in life.
While it’s never fun to be ripped off, I’d rather be counted among the ripped off than suffer the private effects of engaging in the alternative.
For example, does anyone explain to those who consider ripping off others the long term effects of their actions? Taking what rightfully belongs to another is anything but a real gain. It’s often a nightmare and a psychological bad deal.
If you doubt me, let me proffer a few examples . . . .I’ll first offer a female acquaintance. She used her early career at a corporate headquarters not only to accept a lucrative salary but to extract additional cash from the till. Though driving a Mercedes and shopping at the finest retail stores, she needed more. Her desire to overcome a former middle class identity drew her to criminal behavior. She was never prosecuted and I don’t know if she was ever found out. But years later, her legitimate career success remains offset by the looming shadow from her former behavior. It remains a private backdrop to any outward show of largesse. Today, she’s not happy.
I had opportunity to witness over time how a young and earnest local pastor transformed into a master con. The blue jeans and truck that defined his early ministry morphed into custom-made suits, a shiny new Bentley and a mansion on the Bay. An unmet need for public respect, coupled with his own sense of lack, propelled him to a national stage. He rose to financial prominence fleecing the wallets of the underclass he sought to help. Sadly, his antics were exposed – and so was he. The media rabidly reported his IRS and personal scandals in measures commensurate with his hard-earned celebrity. Today, he’s desperate and rutterless.
Here’s a final, personal example as to why, given the choice, I’d rather play the role of the ripped off than suffer the private agony that accompanies the alternative.A few years ago, I signed on to a business agreement. It carried a monthly retainer that equaled the hefty tuition payments my husband and I were outlaying for our daughter who was attending a private university up north.
I personally knew my partner in contract. I also knew the highly respected reputation he carried in his field. Before signing, I looked him in the eye and asked for his personal commitment.
“Absolutely,” he assured me. “I will personally oversee my end of the agreement.”
My job was to write a monthly retainer check. His job was to work. It didn’t take longer than a few months to realize that the only work he was doing was emailing the invoice for the monthly retainer.
Promises of a written business plan and agreed-upon deliverables were never met. My attempts to reach him by phone and travel to see him in person were repeatedly, and deftly, dodged.
Despite making regular inquiries about progress, I was repeatedly asked to “sit tight”, “trust me” and “wait”. Even when I gave my friendly industry expert an opportunity to come clean for the lack of performance and misrepresentation of work, he still couldn’t own up.
The most telling moment occurred when I scheduled a high-level appointment and he failed to join in at the meeting. I watched in disbelief as this otherwise engaging personality transformed into a fearful image of himself. He literally slipped behind a wall before escaping, in ghost-like fashion, into a crowd.
This desperate man, whose reputation coasted upon former success, had come face-to-face with his own nightmare. He was a smooth-talking salesman who possessed neither the confidence nor fortitude to back-up by performance the compensation he was exacting from his clients.
Obviously, I’ve reached out to him since. We’ve amicably dissolved our one-sided agreement. I still learn of further feigned business meetings and contacts who were never approached on my behalf. In all, it was an obvious – and rather protracted – case of my having been ripped off. I wasn’t the first, nor will I be the last, this otherwise fine fella has been pulling on a string.
I bear no grudges and feel nothing like a victim. I’m sure I’ll see my friend and former agent again. I’ll likely greet him with a hug and a smile.
Call me crazy or a bit of a non-conformist. I’ll continue to keep my eye on the Happiness ball, my sense of worth tuned to Peace of Mind. It’s so much better than the alternative. I do, however, carry a single request:
When it comes to finding happiness, it starts within. Meet Heather Manley, co-owner of a young film makers program featured Continue reading
When you love what you do, it shows!
Over the past few weeks I had the opportunity to reflect upon a simple, yet profound, truth. You don’t have to be a major celebrity or stashed with cash to love your work.
When work is fun, people are happy and the radiance of it can’t be missed.
I’ve got a few examples that prove the point.
1. Kevin Harrington – The Man Behind the Brand
I’m starting with Kevin Harrington, a face you’d likely recognize from season 1 of ABC’s Shark Tank. Kevin’s the mastermind behind the As Seen on TV brand, a passion he’s pursued since the late 1980s. The guru who brought Tony Little from a $40/hour personal trainer to grossing $1B in sales atop his famed Gazelle exercise bike, Kevin’s been having fun experimenting and expanding upon his own brand of marketing genius.
Kevin spoke recently about innovation and entrepreneurship. I marveled at this 56-year-old’s passion and energy as he spoke. Meeting with Kevin proved an equal pleasure. His keen interest and sense of continuing inquiry into “What’s next in TV sales” show no sign of slowing down. Always seeking new angles and opportunities, Kevin is as compelled to deliver advice as he is to listen, learn and collaborate with others.
You don’t need to be socking tons of money in the bank or even have a face for TV in order to love what you do.
2. The Women of Paradise (Restaurant, that is)
A recent morning visit to the Paradise Restaurant in Safety Harbor, Florida demonstrates how the sunshine of work can show up in everyday places. An unexpected morning pit stop into this local establishment literally made my day.
The women who work at Paradise’s neighborhood eatery create the very atmosphere the name of the restaurant implies. With a natural enthusiasm, unfeigned interest in their customers and a sincere joy in serving the public, they light up the day for many.
Whether finely attired or dressed in Florida casual, everyone from babies to adults, foreigners to nationals, and snowbirds to civic groups is welcome at the Paradise.
“Is Billy here today?” I heard one of the regulars ask Ruthie, a sweetly smiling grandma in the next booth. Looking like one of the customers, Ruthie was munching on breakfast before occupying her position as the Paradise cashier.
The women who work at Paradise are both quiet and chatty. With near perfect fluidity, they stick around and make small talk or give patrons space to work quietly. They know their customers’ names, circumstances, favorite foods and how they like them prepared. For a newcomer like me, they were happy to learn I take cream in my coffee and real butter on my English muffin.
I picked up a conversation with a guy in the booth next to mine, a retired correctional officer who moved from Buffalo after working 30 years in Attica Prison.
“I’ve been a regular since I moved down three years ago. I’m here at least once a day and I’ve never had a bad meal.” This surprisingly amiable patron, who jokingly referred to himself as a former professional baby sitter, continued filling me in on what he liked about Paradise. “Most of the waitresses have been working here over 20 years. They’re like family.”
For me, the Paradise provided a pleasant time warp with booths overlooking Safety Harbor’s Main Street, its downtown Gazebo and the weekly outdoor farmer’s market. Part diner, part luncheonette, part neighborhood restaurant, the Paradise features eclectic design and familiar old tunes from the likes of Barry Manilow, Stevie Wonder and Gordon Lightfoot. A menu featuring reasonably priced American, Italian, Greek, German and native Albanian food signals it’s a friendly place for all.
I asked the servers if I could take their picture for one of my blogs. They were flattered and happy to oblige. Only through inquiry did I learn that one of the servers was also the manager and owner’s daughter. Forget politics and pecking orders here: everyone worked well together, equally at ease in this wonderfully pleasant, service-oriented restaurant.
The pay and profile of those who work at the Paradise Restaurant aren’t likely to reach the levels of TV entrepreneur Kevin Harrington or America’s famed fitness trainer Tony Little. Yet the joy they derive from serving good food to a steady stream of happy customers makes them shine. Day after day and year after year, these people love their work – and it shows!
Service industries need people who like people. Happy and enthusiastic workers create goodwill, that vital but hard-to-measure component that causes businesses to stand out from their competitors.
3. Two Brilliant Flight Attendants of KLM Airlines
Picking up on positive attitudes of those who truly enjoy serving became equally as evident a few months ago. The same two flight attendants that caught my eye on a trip to Europe appeared again on my return flight from Amsterdam. Despite completely full cabins on both routes, these women enjoyed being in the company of others – even the babies and little children having challenges adapting to their unfamiliar environment.
Curiously, I watched from a distance as these women performed their “job”. With sparkling eyes and smiles that remained on their faces when no one appeared to be watching, the women accommodated a myriad of passenger needs.
They pleasantly switched between English and a few foreign tongues. Within the confines of a high-stress, time-sensitive schedule, they flourished and gained obvious satisfaction from their work.
Someone once remarked, “Maura, you’re so easily impressed.” It’s true. I naturally notice the unique strengths, talents or otherwise noteworthy qualities in others. Yet who can remain unaware of those who obviously don’t like their work.. . . .
Providing a complete contrast to the above flight attendant experience, let me share with you another. A decade ago, I boarded a flight from London with a friend. The two of us were thrilled to discover we’d be sitting in a near empty cabin. Giddily noting the extra space and the pleasant service we would anticipate from a flight staff that, for once, wouldn’t be overburdened with a full passenger load, we’d soon learn we were wrongly inspired.
Our flight attendant shared neither our enthusiasm nor expectations. An obviously unhappy woman, she spent nearly the entire flight sitting in her seat. Her attention was absorbed in magazines and a steady supply of Pepsi, something she failed to offer the few passengers sitting nearby.
When I asked for tea, the flight attendant provided no response. Waiting about 20 minutes, I inquired again politely. Perhaps she hadn’t heard our original request. Lifting her head with a perturbed look and noticeable huff, she proceeded to inform us of airline procedure: “Refreshments will be served later. I’ll bring the cart out . . . when it’s time.”
“Did that really just happen?” asked Janis, a fiery redhead who stood 6 feet tall with a frame to match. “I feel like I was just put back in 2nd grade and publicly sentenced to the time-out corner!” The two of us laughed silently – and incredulously.
Our flight attendant’s demeanor was imposing, her personality more prison warden than attentive server. What began as an anticipated atmosphere that would match our high-flying spirits quickly morphed into a 20,000 foot drop in altitude. Janis and I spent the rest of the flight minding our business, asking for nothing.
By the time this flight attendant felt ready to deliver our meals, Janis and I found ourselves awkwardly thanking her – as if we were somehow imposing on her private time. We joked that requests for a second cup of coffee might cause it to end up in our lap.
Obviously, this Ms.-I-Am-A-Senior-Flight-Attendant-But-I-Hate-to-Serve-People did not like her work. It definitely “showed”. Unfortunately, her lack of enjoyment reflected poorly upon the airline that employed her.
4. A Creator and Author of Sports Entertainment
As a final example of the positive, I’ll serve up someone who absolutely loves his work – and it shows. It’s my husband, Jim Sweeney.
With only limited assistance from me over the years, Jimmy built a computer rep firm he’d lovingly cultivated from scratch into a quiet powerhouse and highly lucrative operation. Jimmy was a guy who always loved what he did, but as the computer industry matured he found his work increasingly bureaucratic and creatively stifling. The income remained, but the fun factor had definitely declined.
A few years ago, Jimmy and I made way for a new future. We wanted to do something fun and create opportunities to engage in personally rewarding forms of “work”. Today, the same man who was growing frustrated in his former occupation is immersed in a new industry and a new profession – sports entertainment.
The guy who formerly brokered computer deals now exercises his bent for the creative and teams it with his passion for sports. He authors comic books for his own alter-ego, a trademarked cartoon microphone character aptly named MIKE. As author of twenty MIKE Sports Comic Books and counting, and armed with embedded affiliate links from the likes of MLB.com, NFL.com and Fathead, Jimmy spins countless stories about what’s best, funniest, and most extraordinary in sports.
Employing MIKE as alter-ego to publicize his own thoughts about sports is my husband’s full time gig. He’s at the forefront of a new business paradigm, is constantly growing within the digital space, and networks with some of the biggest names in the business of sports.
Awhile back, Jimmy was putting the final strokes to MIKE’s Comic Book on Spiritual Sports Favorites. The book includes religiously familiar themes like Pigeon Heaven, Immaculate Reception, Hail Mary Pass, Amen Corner, and the University of Notre Dame’s famed Touchdown Jesus.
Without realizing it, he suddenly uttered :“I love doing this!” The remark was part Freudian slip, part public confession. This was a satisfied guy who probably yearned all his life to do exactly as he pleased. In his case, it meant giving creative rise to his voice and employing his passion for sports as catalyst. His utterance emanated from a mind that knew where he might have been had he not made a mid-life career change to pursue what he loved.
This weekend, Jimmy and I were out in search of a new desk and bigger Apple computer for work. Driving around in pursuit, Jimmy reflected upon his late dad. Don Sweeney made a happy living as a truck driver, Trenton bridge toll collector, and part time bartender at the Polish American Club of Central New Jersey. Jimmy spent lots of “windshield time” driving with his dad in the family truck. He also made numerous extended trips to Trenton to visit with his dad in the latter years.
“My dad always told me he never worked a day in his life. He was a simple guy, but he was always happy. Somehow, I feel like I’m living out his words today. I love what I’m doing.”
Neither my husband nor I have replicated our former incomes, but we’re certainly having fun. We’re doing what makes us happy by engaging in personally satisfying pursuits.
5. Yours Truly – Maura4u!
Decades ago, I was as a young manager in the telecom industry. I remember remarking that I would have performed my job without pay. (Okay, I did need a paycheck, but you get the point!) I loved the people I worked with, the challenges for growth and the opportunities for positive impact my position entailed.
Today, I’ve reflected similarly: If no one watched my Maura4u videos, read my blogs or ever purchased my books, I’d still be doing what I do. In my current capacity as Maura4u, I get to report on pleasant reflections, happy thoughts and news that others can use to brighten their personal outlook.
Doing what I do today makes my life brighter than I could have ever imagined.
Do you love what you do? Are you finding ways to enjoy where you are, who you’re with and what it is that you’re doing? If not, it’s my hope that you discover new ways to “work” your way into something fun, satisfying and enjoyable.
May you love what you do, and may it brightly shine through!
Find her series of books, The Art of Happiness, on Amazon
In Bucharest, Romania to ask the question: Do you radiate, too? For more thoughts to help you discover personal happiness Continue reading
I was born to travel and destined to meet the world.
My earliest recollections involve watching planes fly over our New Jersey neighborhood as they headed to and from nearby Newark Airport. Though others might not have noticed, I was the one child who would stop playing and immediately drop to the ground. Playtime or not, I needed to watch these steel birds as they crossed the sky above.
Planes were still a novelty during the 1960s and it wasn’t just the elderly who protested that air travel ran contrary to God’s order:
“If man was supposed to fly, he would have been born with wings.”
Wings or no wings, I was born to fly – even though I mostly felt tethered to the house and to the ground. My great grandmother never left the kitchen. My mother used a car when going to school or the local produce store. It didn’t matter that both destinations were a mere block away: to her, they constituted a “trip”.
My relatives weren’t all that unique. There were plenty who believed crossing the bridge into the next town qualified as a field trip. Others thought traveling the Lincoln Tunnel into nearby Manhattan, only 20 minutes away, required a special passport. It was a common mindset.
So, even while many around me preferred the nearby and the familiar, I envisioned myself a pioneer. Don’t get me mixed up with Laura Ingalls and her Little House on the Prairie or imagine me needing to scale Pike’s Peak.
My idea of pioneering was exploring the world through people. I wanted to meet them directly in their cultures, their homes and their local environments.
Kidding aside, I did travel a bit while growing up. My most surprising first encounter with other people was traveling by jeep through the island of St. Thomas. Technically, we hadn’t left the US. But I recall being shocked viewing local islanders dwelling in makeshift houses and lean-tos along the road. Until then, I thought everyone slept in a house or an apartment.
Even back then, the greater world was beckoning me to meet others whose lives weren’t exactly like mine.
My first formal experience abroad was in 1979 as a student living in Madrid, Spain. The semester living away proved a major adjustment – not the least of which involved the thousands of miles that separated me from my future husband.
At the time, Spain was emerging from decades under General Francisco Franco’s rule. I was initially intimidated by the frequent sights of military men armed with machine guns positioned in front of banks, buildings and public squares.
I slowly adapted to a standard of living behind our own. Women didn’t shave their underarms, deodorant wasn’t yet popular and some public bathrooms were equipped with handles for squatting over holes in the ground.
The senorita I was assigned to live with didn’t own a refrigerator. She kept her food chilled on an outdoor ledge and employed a weak water heater only when absolutely necessary.
Each day, Senora would carefully prepare an egg sandwich for my lunch and remind me to return home with the aluminum wrapper. The thrifty widow made ends meet by hosting exchange students like me in her tiny, dark and remote apartment.
I left Senora Portero to find lodging in a lively and safer part of the city. She felt sad and a bit dejected. I felt guilty for denying her the rest of the rent for the semester.
But my guilt turned to delight as I discovered a second Spanish family who welcomed me into their bustling hostel. This family would play surrogate family to me for the rest of the semester and totally change the way I would view my experience.
I quickly grew to love the adorable grandparents, parents and children who opened up their kitchen, family room and lives. With bedroom doors that now opened to outdoor sunshine and views to the Plaza Mayor, I was immediately brightened in spirit.
Mornings were sweet, illuminated by the smiling dad who steamed up aromatic coffee and played cook to me and the other boarding students. Extra servings of eggs, bacon and toast were always offered and encouraged.
I’d also spend time with this family’s happy wife who saved a few dollars each week to take her daughters away for “holiday” in August. Spain was still living in the conservative era: the girls attended nearby Catholic school, came home to iron and do domestic chores, and were always accompanied by chaperones when invited out on dates.
It was during that trip that I received news from America. Arriving home after class one night, my family host announced: “El Duque de America se murio!” Translated, it meant The Duke died.
“What Duke?” I asked my hostess. “We don’t have dukes in America. We don’t use royal distinctions in the US.”
“El Duke John Wayne!” she uttered, still excited.
To the viewers in Spain, Hollywood legend John Wayne was a familiar – and iconic – character from the US. They eagerly watched him in western films and he would be sorely missed.
It’s been many years and many countries since my first adventure abroad. During the interim, many other personal encounters have added to the fabric of my life. They’ve also contributed to my understanding and appreciation of others.
During a trip to Cuba, I learned how sharing something as simple as cookies with the locals would prove an experience. Excessive food rationing, coupled with decades of living among fellow apartment dwellers who doubled as undercover police, made the most basic social gestures trying. After opening a few plastic boxes to reveal something sweet inside, then carefully distributing cookies out equally among all, I succeeded in my quest.
While in Cuba, I would learn that all citizens needed in-country passports to travel from place to place. Many who dared to question the communist government were denied food rations, fired from their job, or both. Friends and family would reduce their own monthly rations to quietly feed these dissidents.
I found the Cuban people to be dignified, well educated and refined, despite their severe shortages in food, clothing and supplies. One unforgettable moment occurred as I watched one desperate soul head out from Havana’s harbor atop a single inner tube. He brought a mop handle to serve as his oar. I wondered how long he would last at sea without water, food and proper protection.
A few years later I received a surprise envelope in the mail, postmarked Cuba. A photo was enclosed containing a smiling couple holding hands. I didn’t recognize either of them until I spotted a familiar item. It was my original wedding band, a narrow gold circle punctuated by a few tiny diamonds. The ring served as the focal point of this picture.
The band was something I’d bought for myself just before my husband and I married. I didn’t have any particular emotional attachment to the piece and felt led to leave it behind with this soon-to-be-married couple.
The letter and photo was a thank you note. While I’d long forgotten the gesture and the ring, these two young people had not forgotten me.
How does one express connections that go beyond words? I’ve fondly recall memories of sitting down with little children on a remote island in Uganda. They had never seen a white person and curiously rubbed my hands, believing the white would wear off to reveal a skin tone resembling their own. When I pulled out a photo of my little daughter, they became even more animated, chatting away about this marvel who appeared to be their age.
A chance meeting years ago would begin a lengthy friendship with the Mandic family in Dubrovnik, Croatia. The Balkan War was over but the country’s infrastructure was yet to mend. My husband and I arrived by ferry and were greeted by Nina, a woman who ran to the ferry port nearly out of breath. She was seeking guests to stay at their family home.
“We have a very clean room not far from here,” she offered in decent sounding English.
“Do you have a hair dryer?” I inquired. (Hair dryers were my standard back then. No hair dryer, no Maura.)
“Hair dryer? Yes!” she responded. That fact, plus an agreement for breakfast as part of the deal, and my husband was ready to set us up for a few days of lodging.
We arrived at the apartment of this multi-generational family to learn that Nina and her husband would be sleeping on the couch. Apparently, the two would regularly surrender their bedroom to tourists arriving by boat.
Nina’s mother-in-law LaTinka greeted us with cups of her finest and strongest Turkish coffee. The 6-year-old granddaughter made herself right at home atop my lap.
In the following days, we would learn that Grandpa was a former pilot who now spent most of his time playing afternoon cards with friends. Daughter-in-law Nina was a former instructor for the Soviet Army who spoke four languages, one of them English.
The collapse of the Soviet Union signaled the end of their careers and their livelihoods. More than that, this was a family comprised of warring elements within the Balkan War. Like so many in the former Yugoslavia and elsewhere, religious, cultural and even tribal differences arising from political heads had created devastating loss to family, friendships and familiar forms of living.
We’ve stayed in touch with the Mandics over the years as they’ve continued to rebuild their lives. The family has prospered and Nina’s husband has added on numerous guest rooms and apartments to their original structure. We’ve lodged with the Mandics on a few more occasions, shared some meals and learned more about each others’ lives while sitting together on the family’s outdoor patio.
Travel has enriched my life – perhaps more personally than geographically. I’ve lost count of all the places I’ve been, but my memories are captured by moments when I’ve connected with others.
I always wanted to meet the world. This summer, I’ll be wandering through a few new countries. While I’m there, hope to meet a few new friends.
Whether they’re far or near, a block away or around the globe, I hope you meet those people who are destined to enrich your life, too!
If you’re older than 10, chances are likely your answer to the question is no.
But what if you’re not among the norm?
Consideration of the magical hit me twice yesterday. The first occurred as I read a Yahoo headline. Televangelist Pat Robertson was explaining why Americans don’t witness miracles here like common people do in Africa (answer: we are much too educated). The second arose during an evening yoga class. Our instructor informed us that she gave her 7-year-old son “one more year” to believe in the Easter Bunny.
These two unrelated remarks got me thinking about the existence – or lack – of magic in our lives. I’m not referring to stage performers and their exercises in sleight of hand. Instead, I was thinking about magic in terms of the wonderful, the extraordinary and even the miraculous.
I followed along during workout class last night, but found myself in the middle of ruminations. . . .
If you’re like most, your parents taught you early to believe in fantasy. That meant believing in things like Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and a multitude of Disney characters. You might also remember parents who read fairy tales to you before bedtime.
In similar fashion, these same parents (plus a few other adult figures who taught you to believe) eventually recanted every magical story and legend they previously purveyed. As if by rite of passage, children are taught to believe in fantasy when small must also, ultimately, learn the “truth”: There is no Magic in Life.
Contorting myself into another yoga position during class last night, I extended the thought to religion. Did your parents teach you to believe in God? Had you joined them at church or learned about angels, prophets, apparitions and even life after death?
It’s curious how the same adult figures who tell their children to stop believing in Santa become disappointed when some of the same offspring grow up no longer believing in anything beyond the natural.
Maybe at some deep level, parents hope to instill their unrealized dreams into the next generation. Yet, as if by another deeply ingrained pattern, parents feel an equal obligation to school their kids in the so-called realities of life. Miracles don’t happen. Magic is just for uninformed kids.
By the time most of us reach adulthood, childhood dreams are relegated to just that: Dreams.
I was both practical and spiritually minded during childhood. I recall bringing up disturbing questions about my Catholic religion when doctrines and rules were randomly, rather than universally, applied. Despite contradictory and illogical teachings, religion never managed to quell my belief in Benevolence. I always believed there was a grander and far wiser existence beyond this material realm. My faith in the Wonderful never departed.
Whether my belief opened me to surprises in life, I can’t be sure. However, I can report more than a few experiences that refuted science, statistics and common sense.
For example, nearly 30 years ago, I knelt to the floor in desperation. My husband and I had recently moved to Florida and we were applying for our first mortgage. A huge responsibility fell before me and I knelt down to pray:
“Dear God, I know what job I want. But I want the job You want me to have. Tell me what it is . . .. ”
As I was still in prayer mode, the telephone rang and interrupted my plea. It was the voice of Mike McNamara, my future Sales Manager. “Maura,” he asked, “have you decided to take the job we offered you?”
This was the job I definitely didn’t want, yet I obediently accepted his offer on the spot. As a result, I would soon find myself in an emerging industry with a future that included personal and professional growth.
Decades later, another magical moment transcended the ordinary. Rather than coming up with my own prayers, I felt a flicker of desire to sit quietly. Instead, I would ask the Unseen Almighty what He wanted me to pray for that day.
The message I received shocked me. It presented an ungodly and materialistic thought, one that should never be considered during prayer time:
“Ask me for diamonds.”
Surely the message had to be blasphemy from some demonic source! Prayers for world peace, food for the hungry or an end to human suffering would have been far more appropriate.
Yet one day later, I received the same clear message:
“Ask me for diamonds.”
Obediently, though still perplexed, I mumbled:
“Okay, God, I’m not sure what’s happening here, but I’m going to ask You for diamonds.”
Only a few days later, my family and I traveled to my girlfriend’s brand new condo to celebrate Easter Sunday with her and her extended family. As we sat down to eat, Joan presented me with a familiar 1-carat solitaire diamond set in a simple gold necklace.
Suspended in the moment, I became alternately confused and elated. The diamond was an inheritance piece from my late Aunt Mae. Precious to me, the diamond had been lost for years following an unfortunate visit to a medical office. Despite numerous inquiries and pursuits, Aunt Mae’s diamond was never seen again.
Yet fifteen years after its disappearance, Aunt Mae’s diamond was being presented anew. The long lost gem had been “rediscovered” inside an old Louie Vuitton portfolio I’d passed along to my friend. Apparently, a bothersome sound caused her to make further inquiry into the source. Joan carefully slit the bag’s lining and unwittingly unearthed a precious jewel. With it, she also renewed an old connection to Aunt Mae.
Granted, I heard a specific request for “diamonds” in the plural rather than the singular solitaire I received. But you’ve got to admit that the timely rediscovery was awesome! For me, the experience marked an exhilarating and hopeful life event that points to a Force beyond our normative and typical existence.
Perhaps there remains a day when the rest of those diamonds will be discovered. Maybe their unearthing will intersect with some unexpected purpose or even a greater good.
I left my yoga class last night feeling happy. I realized yet again how I enjoy making room for the magic. I wouldn’t wish to be its creator or attempt to control its outcome, but I certainly want to be in the middle of its marvelous and extraordinary possibilities.
I’m happy to announce I still believe in magic.