A Long Hiatus

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Hello….It’s me.  I was wondering if after all these years you’d like to meet (thanks Adele).  I am sorry for my very long absence from Five Spinning Plates.  I have accumulated dozens of half complete blog posts and probably have 100+ blog titles with a few words or pictures on the page from the past few years.  The problem has not been lack of ideas or experiences, it has truly been a lack of time and prioritization.  I just have not made this blog the priority like I would have liked to.  I started Five Spinning Plates when I was working only 3 days a week.  I had a little more time on my hands and a lot of things I needed to say with 3 little babies at home.  Now, I still have the 3 not so little kiddos and plenty to say, but I also have a very busy full-time job and the usual demands of home weighing me down.  I have prioritized quality time with the kids, time with Les, exercise, and other personal pursuits like reading and travel, over taking the time to sit down and write.  Something has to give when you get too many plates spinning at the same time, and unfortunately the writing plate got shelved for a while.

Writing is something I have missed over the past few years.  I miss the nightly therapy of sitting down and putting my thoughts into words.  I have missed the recording of life’s poignant and mundane moments, snapshots into this amazing time of life.  I miss having a written record of all of this craziness and having witnesses to it all.  My problem is that I am not a fast writer.  It takes me a long time to write even the simplest of posts.  I enjoy writing, and have been told that I am an above average writer (not sure about that, but I try to accept a compliment when one is given), but the words don’t flow freely enough to complete a decent post in under an hour.  I will never be able to write for a living because of this.  It is hard to justify sitting down to an hour of nightly blogging, when I can’t manage to pay bills or get an expense report in on time.  I am envious of all the bloggers out there that can turn out amazing posts in just 15-30 minutes.  I am a perfectionist writer – I don’t like to rewrite or revise anything.  I want the thoughts that end up written on the page to be the final draft.  This is how I wrote papers in high school and college.  I put a lot of thought into the planning and writing, but very little time editing or revising.  This method usually worked well for me, but I am not sure if it works for these purposes.  At this point though, I am not planning for my posts to be read by many people or have them move beyond friends and family and the occasional curious reader from the web.  In order to try to finish some of the many posts I have started in the past few years, and to encourage me to write more in the moment, I am going to try to write faster and not be quite as deliberate in my writing style.  If the quality of my writing suffers, ya’ll will just have to forgive me.

The title of this blog is still so appropriate.  I still feel like I am spinning AT LEAST 5 plates at all times.  There are some things, like the sheer level of neediness and physical demands of parenting babies and toddlers, that have become so much easier as the kids have grown older, but other things, like activities and school, have gotten more complicated.  My work has kept me very busy and Les’ career has undergone a lot of changes.  We continue to try and Carpe Diem and live life to its fullest!  We have not forgotten how quickly things can turn bad and how the health, money, love, or luck that you have always counted on can simply run out.  As I am getting older, it is not that unusual to hear stories about people my age or a little older getting sick or dying suddenly from a heart attack.  Life can be too short for some.  It sounds so cliche, but we do feel very blessed and try not to take anything for granted.  I have too much to do and say before my time on this earth is cut short.  I want to document as much of it as possible, and I want to continue to spend as much time as possible enjoying my family and the things that give my life meaning – friends, travel, books, my home,  my health, and all my spinning plates.

 

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Winter Break Fun

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The holidays are officially over and we are back to our regular routines again.  Gone are the days of sleeping in until 8 AM,  figuring out which museum to explore each day, what wonderful friend or family to visit with, and how many yummy treats to indulge in after each meal.  The kids are back to school, I am back at work (full-time at that), chocolates and cookies have been replaced with fruits and veggies, and we are back to the hustle and bustle of our busy life.  The holidays are busy too, don’t get me wrong, but it is a different kind of busy.  There is gift buying and wrapping, a busy social schedule of holiday parties, and long days of no school to fill for three little kids, but that is certainly a fun kind of busy.

In our house, the “holiday season” seems to run from November 15th – January 8th.  During that time we have Isabella’s birthday, Thanksgiving (which we host every year), Hanukkah (what we celebrate in our house and with the Levins and Stevahns), Christmas (which we celebrate at my parents), the New Year, and Les’ birthday.  It is two months of nonstop eating, spending money, socializing, and fun.  It can be a little exhausting and overwhelming, but I love it.  This winter break seemed especially great – for the kids, for us, and for me personally.

As the kids get older, they seem to get more into the holiday spirit and understand more of what is going on.  Isabella really got into Hanukkah this year.  She has always enjoyed getting presents, but she was much more interested in some of the culture and tradition that comes along with the holiday.  By the 5th or 6th night of Hanukkah she could almost say the entire prayer over the menorah, making Les and I very proud.  She loved having her Grammy and Pop as special guests at her school to teach her classmates about Hanukkah.  She lead dreidel games and even tried her first potato latke – a big deal for our very picky eater.  Jacob and Noah both got into the spirit of Hanukkah and Christmas, relishing the unwrapping of the gifts as much, if not more, than the gifts themselves.  We all got a kick out of Jacob’s squeals of delight and laughter as he unwrapped a gift or Noah’s exclamations of “Whoa” or “cool this” each time he opened a new toy or book.  The kids had a blast on Christmas day at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, opening their stockings and presents, and playing with all their new toys.  I love experiencing any holiday through my children’s eyes, especially Hanukkah and Christmas.  There is just something magical about that look in your child’s eyes as they open that special gift they have been wanting all year.  I don’t think there is any gift I could receive that would equal the excitement and joy I get from giving my kids gifts.  I know that the holidays are not all about the gifts, and I want my kids to know that too, but when you are three or five – it kind of is all about the gifts.

This winter break was really great for Les and I because we got to have some pretty awesome dates.  We had an overnight trip to Richmond for a delicious dinner with friends and a day of holiday shopping and time alone in the car and at lunch with just the two of us.  We try to go out on dates regularly, but there is just something different about being away overnight that feels more luxurious and special.  We also got to see our close friends John and Corynne for a dinner date.  These are friends that we don’t see nearly enough of, and it was great to catch up on the exciting things coming up in the new year.  Les and I have also been on three movie dates in the last month – pretty amazing considering that we probably had not made it to three movies in the theater in the past five years total.  Although Les always works a lot around the holidays, I had a lot of time off as I transitioned to my new job.  The overall pace in our house was slower, more relaxed, and less stressful – making for a happier marriage.

I was thrilled to spend quality time with my sister Emily.  We don’t get to see her nearly enough since she is in California, so we try to spend as much time as possible with her when she is in town.  We even got to go out for sushi and a movie date to see Les Mis (a fantastic movie, but glad I spared Les on that one).  I was able to tackle some home organization products (freezer, refrigerator, pantry, and only a small part of the office).  I completed home study for my new job and went away to San Antonio for a week of training for the new job.  I am very happy with the job change and very impressed with the new company so far.  I really enjoyed being home for a few weeks.  Of course, getting paid while being at home probably made the whole experience more relaxing and enjoyable than if I were not employed.  Now if I could only find a way to stay at home for work AND still get paid – that would be the ticket.

We rang in the New Year with our neighbors and friends at a fantastic grown-up party.  We got all fancied up and danced the night away.  I look forward to this party every year and am so appreciative of the Hempecks for throwing such a wonderful bash.  We got together with the Reuter family for a fun play date and gift exchange.  Even though we only live 30 miles from each other, it seems impossible to get our 6 kids and crazy work schedules aligned for more frequent family fun.  We’ll have to do better at this in 2013.   We did our annual trip to the Great Wolf Lodge with our dear friends Zach and Parul and their adorable daughter Madeline.  That place gets better and better as the kids get older and more independent in the water.  This is one of our favorite ways to kick off a new year and celebrate Les’ birthday with some of our best friends.

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All in all – we have had a blast these past couple of months.  As I have been able to sit back and reflect on the past year, I feel so fortunate to have the life that I have.  We feel so blessed to have our health, our amazing family and friends, jobs, and a wonderful life.  I know how quickly life can change and the good times can turn to bad in just the blink of an eye.  In 2013, I am trying to cherish each moment  and be grateful for the many gifts that I have in my life.  Now if only I can remember this resolution during the crazy, stressful times that will inevitably occur in my world of five spinning plates!

Work History and Resumes

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I never really knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.  Some kids grow up dreaming of being a doctor, a journalist, or an artist.  Very few actually grow up to fulfill their childhood career dreams.  I went through phases where I dreamt of being a teacher, an astronaut, a ballerina, actress, singer, television host, writer, lawyer, and psychologist.  Some of those dreams were more realistic than others.  I did not have a lot of guidance regarding career choices when I was growing up.  My parents just wanted to me to go to college and get a good job one day, never really pushing me or directing me into specific career paths.  I don’t feel like the schools helped provide any sort of direction either.  The message was basically that if you did well in school and went to college, you would get a job and do well.  That advice is partially correct, but a bit simplistic and naïve, especially in today’s job market.  It takes a lot more than good grades and a college degree to get a good job and succeed.

Since getting laid off, I have been busy preparing my resume, references, cover letters, and “brag book” (a compilation of your career accomplishments – practically required in the medical/pharmaceutical sales world).  It had been six years since I last updated all of this stuff and it felt like starting over since so much time had passed.  On the plus side, I had a chance to  reflect on my history of work – during my time with Bristol-Myers Squibb and all the years before.  This walk down memory lane helped me realize a few things about myself and what I am looking for in my next job.

I have always been a hard worker.  I started babysitting for my sisters at the age of 10 and for neighborhood kids shortly thereafter.  I lied about my age to get my first real job at the age of 14 (4 months shy of the required age of 15) at a gift shop at the Virginia Beach Resort Hotel.  We were not poor, but money was tight growing up.  My dad was in the Navy and my mom ran a home daycare, and they were doing the best they could to support 4 kids.  There wasn’t extra money for new school clothes, trips to the movies on the weekends, or even school activities like debate or cheerleading.  There was not going to be a car to drive or gas money for me when I turned 16, and I knew I would be on my own for college.  I realized from a young age that if I wanted certain things, I would need to work to earn the money to buy those things myself.

I loved the independence and financial security that work gave me.  I learned a lot about myself, about money, and the workplace through these high school and college jobs.  I worked 3 jobs in the summer of 1994 to buy my first car.  Similarly, I worked 2-3 jobs at a time while at the University of Virginia, all while maintaining a very high GPA.  By the time I graduated from college in 2000, I had worked in gift shops, the Gap, Abercrombie, worked at the front desk of a hotel, waited tables at a truck stop, waited tables at a fine dining restaurant, been a hostess, bused tables, worked as a secretary, worked in the library, and worked in catering.  The lessons I learned through working have shaped me in countless ways.

I learned the value of work.  When I was 17, I was awarded Employee of the Month at the Virginia Beach Resort Hotel, possibly the youngest person to receive that honor.  During that summer I would work a double or even a triple shift, most days of the week.  I was working at the front desk in the morning and working in the nice restaurant of the hotel busing tables or working as a hostess in the evening.  If they needed someone to pick up a shift in catering or fill-in at the gift shop I was eager to volunteer.  More hours meant more money, which meant more freedom and security to me.  I took great pride in doing a good job.  I thrived on praise and appreciation from my bosses and loved being part of a team with a tangible goal (even if that goal was keeping tables clean or making a guests check-in process as pleasant as possible).  I was hard-working and reliable.  I only missed work once, because of a bad case of food poisoning.  All of these things made me a valuable employee, and I liked being valued.  I realized at a young age that no matter what I did in life, if I showed up, worked hard, and did a good job – and did that job with a smile – I could succeed and eventually move up in almost any job.

I also learned the value of a dollar.   I was never the best math student, but I could do the simple arithmetic to figure out how much money would be needed to pay for new brakes on my old car, go to a concert with my friends, or pay my share of the rent and bills in college.  Since no one was giving me money for my expenses, I could only count on my student loans and money I earned to pay for necessities and extras.  I knew how much free time I had and how much money I needed to make to take care of my expenses.  It was frustrating to work at my library job during the day for $7/hour, when I could make $10/hour + tips at my catering job on the weekends.  I prioritized the higher paying jobs, but I had to fill as much of my free time with work as possible at whatever pay I could get.

When I was waiting tables, I would sometimes work incredibly hard with less-than-pleasant customers, for $30-$40 at the end of a shift.  There were other busy nights with great customers where I could walk away with $150 a night.  As a waitress, your hourly wage is primarily determined by how many customers you can see and on the generosity of those people whom you take care of.  Waiting tables is hard work and you really do earn every dollar you make.  You can make a living waiting tables, but I figured out after one summer that I never wanted to depend on that as my primary source of income.  I took comfort in knowing that I could support myself by waiting tables if I needed to, but that I would hopefully not have to do that job again after college.

When it came time to choose a profession, there were several things I considered doing.  I am passionate about education and pursued the teaching path for a while, but quickly realized that I would not be able to support myself on a teacher’s salary.  I would be coming out of college with piles of student loan debt and the math just did not add up.  There was no way I could pay rent for my own place, a car payment, my large student loan bills, and basic living expenses on a teacher’s salary.  I guess I could have made it work if I had roommates to share the rent and expenses, or taken a summer job teaching or waiting tables (see previous paragraph), or if I took 30 years to pay back all my loans instead of 10, but I knew there had to be a better way.  I thought about grad school to become a psychologist or law school, but many of my friends were getting good paying jobs in the business world, and that seemed to be a good way to go.

After graduating from UVA, I took a job in sales that was filled with risk and promise.  The risk was that it was 100% commission – I would only really make money if I made sales.  The promise was that there was no limit on my earning potential.  If I worked hard and was good at my job, I could make a lot of money.  This sounded perfect for me.  I did well those first two years and learned that I liked many aspects of working in sales.

I loved the idea of upward mobility – that your income could be tied to your productivity and your skills – in salary and/or in bonus.  I never questioned if I would make money in a sales job, because I have a good work ethic and a personality well suited for sales.  I liked flexibility, especially as I thought about having a family.  I did not want to have to be at a desk at a specific time every day and have to stay in the same place all day.  I love working with people and talking to people for most of the workday, and this is an essential aspect of any sales job.  I could not be happy in an office or cubicle all day staring at spreadsheets or a computer screen.  I decided to look for other sales jobs that would afford me the opportunity to work with great people, make decent money, and have an independent and flexible schedule conducive to having a good work-life balance.  Pharmaceutical sales offered all of this and so much more.  I quickly realized that I could have all of the benefits of other sales jobs, while getting to talk to smart and interesting people about the science and medicine behind products that really could extend and enhance people’s lives.

Since I did not really know what I wanted to be when I grew up – this sounded like the best possible job –  given my background, skills, and interests.  I started with Bristol-Myers Squibb in the summer of 2002 and it has been a terrific 10+ years.  I have been through promotions, a move, a spouse’s cancer battle, IVF, and the birth of my three children in those 10 years.  No job is perfect, but this job has been pretty darn good through it all.  I still don’t really know what I want to be when I grow up (thirty-four is not grown-up, right?).  Maybe it is ok to just have a good job and a full, meaningful life as a mom, wife, and part-time blogger.  Maybe that IS what I always wanted when I grew up – and now I have it and am losing it.  Hopefully the lessons of my past will help guide and inform me as I take these next steps toward my future.

Life in Limbo

My life is in limbo… and not the fun kind.  I am not normally an anxious person.  I don’t have trouble sleeping because of racing thoughts or fear of the unknown.  I actually consider myself to be a pretty easygoing person.  I admit – I don’t love change.  Who really does?  I prefer a sense of order and routine.  I am a planner and usually have one or two back-up plans in case my original plan does not work out.  Despite my preference for the expected, I think I handle the unexpected pretty well.  I have had many things come my way over the years that I handle with grace and a smile.  For some reason, I am having a tough time with this latest set of unexpected circumstances.  I am more anxious than normal, my skin is a mess, stomach often in knots, and I am not the nicest wife right now.  Unfortunately for Les, he has borne the brunt of my anxiety, frustration, and insecurity about my future.

You see – I was recently laid off from my job.  I know that this is a situation too many Americans are facing right now.  Every situation is different, but in my case I saw this coming for a little while now.  In some ways I have seen it coming since I got into the pharmaceutical industry over 10 years ago.  I was actually hired to promote a product that never ended up receiving FDA approval.  Luckily, Bristol-Myers Squibb had plenty of other products doing well and a strong pipeline that allowed me to avoid an early exit from my awesome new career.  Between stricter FDA approval standards, increased public and political scrutiny of the pharmaceutical industry, a changing healthcare and physician practice environment, new technology, and patent expirations – a career in pharmaceutical sales looks very different than it did 10 years ago.  I knew that the patent for the product I promote was nearing the end.  Bristol-Myers does not even own the patent on the product I promote, which means that my job could change if the contract changed.  Bristol-Myers had not been able to develop any new products for our division and had not had any luck finding other suitable companies to partner with in Neuroscience.  I have been through three previous layoffs, thankful and half-surprised to survive each one.  It just seemed like my turn would eventually come, and the signs and hints have been coming for months now that the time would come sooner rather than later.

I am so glad I saw these signs and started preparing, mentally and logistically.  I updated my resume and gathered all of my performance results and awards for the past 6 years, which was the last time that I applied for a job when we moved from Florida to Virginia.  I started my job search a couple of months before the announcement was actually made.  Even though I knew in my gut that the layoffs were coming, I was still a bit surprised and disappointed by the news and the way the news was delivered.  We were told on a Friday afternoon that there would be a mandatory teleconference on Monday (usually the way these announcements go).  Unfortunately, Frakenstorm Sandy was starting to make impact on the east coast on Sunday and the teleconference was pushed back until further notice.  On Monday morning, an e-mail came through from the President of the company announcing the dissolution of the Neuroscience division effective December 31st.  There were very few details in the e-mail, and I had to wait until later in the day when my manager had more information about the changes that were about to take place.  Maybe that e-mail would have been a fine way to announce that 500+ people were getting laid off if the teleconference was still going to take place that day (although I question that wisdom too).  Maybe a better plan would have been for them to go ahead and hold the teleconference Friday afternoon, before the storm was coming, ahead of the President’s e-mail announcement.  Perhaps they could have held off on sending the e-mail until they could reschedule the big teleconference later in the week.  I am not sure what the best strategy would have been, but telling people they are going to lose their jobs via generic corporate mass e-mail, on the same day as a terrible storm, was less than ideal.  We finally got more details by Thursday of that week and were told that we would remain employed through the end of the year.  The expectation is that we do our jobs as normal (as normal as you can in these circumstances), while looking for employment elsewhere.  The Japanese company that owns the patent on the product I have promoted is hiring for many positions around the country, including the exact same job that I have done for six years in Virginia Beach.

I know I am fortunate compared to so many that are going through layoffs and facing an uncertain job market.  I am not the sole breadwinner of my family.  If I do not work, we will not risk losing our home, pulling our kids out of preschool, falling behind on bills, or not being able to put food on the table.  Changes and sacrifices will have to be made for sure, but we would thankfully survive if I could not find a job.  The question is not really do I have to find another job, but do I want to find another job and what job do I want?  This is where the anxiety, indecision, and soul-searching come in.  This is the dilemma of so many mothers out there.  Work vs. not working, part-time vs. full-time, play it safe or take a risk – these choices are a blessing and a curse all at the same time.  I am thankful to even have the luxury of choice and to be in a position where there are jobs out there that I am qualified for and interested in.  I guess I just did not expect it to be this difficult to know what the right course is.  I thought I would have clear signs pointing me in the right direction, but it is much messier and complicated than that… or is it?  There will be several more blog posts coming as I try to sort out all of these issues and decisions in the coming weeks.

On top of all of the changes at work, our beloved nanny for the last 3.5 years is resigning at the end of the year.  She put in her notice around the same time that I found out about the layoff.  She says it is not personal.  She loves working for our family and loves the kids, but her husband’s business is at a point where they need her to do the accounting/bookkeeping full-time.  In all of this bad news, I take a little comfort in feeling like these decisions are not about me personally.  I am not getting let go because of something I did or did not do with work, and my nanny is not leaving because of my children or me.  Shit happens, businesses and people need to make changes because of what is best for them.  I get that, but it still sucks!  Anyone who knows me, knows how much I value our nanny.  She is like part of our family.  I trust her with the kids and the kids love her.  I was in complete denial about her impending departure for at least a month, and I am finally starting to accept the news and find a new nanny.  I already tried bribery, pay increases, and anything else I could think of to get her to stay, but she is set on leaving at the end of the year, even though I can see how difficult this is for her to go.  Of course, I sort of need to know what is happening with my job to figure out if and when I need a new nanny.  So while I am out there interviewing and looking for a new job, I am also interviewing and searching for the best person possible to be our new nanny.

I am getting anxious just thinking about all of the stuff on my plate right now.  Luckily, I do believe that things happen for a reason.  I believe in karma, faith, and fate – all of that stuff you rely on during uncertain and challenging times.  Combined with hard work, preparation, and a bit of luck – these beliefs have never let me down.  Although I certainly don’t always know why things are happening or how they will end up, they usually do work out and have a reason.  It would just be a lot easier and less stressful if I could know how all of this will end up and when.  Hopefully by sharing the journey and my thought process, I can try to cope a little better and get some extra support along the way.

Livestrong

The famous yellow wristband that has helped raise millions for cancer research and services, in addition to being a visible symbol of strength and hope.

Seeing Lance for the first time during cancer treatment. The Tour of Hope was a great event sponsored by Bristol-Myers Squibb. Very inspirational to us before the month-long hospital stay.

In the Pyrenees waiting to see the Tour de France riders. Camped on the side of the mountain to make sure we had a great spot.

Discovery Team – Lance winning #7

Celebrating Lance at the Tour de France in Paris

Ride for the Roses in Austin, TX in October, 2006. This was our first, and best, year of fundraising for the Lance Armstrong Foundation. We were part of a select group of cyclists/fundraisers that got invited to the Ride for the Roses.

Meeting Lance was the highlight of the Ride for the Roses

Getting a poster autographed – We have six autographed Lance items and display them proudly in our guest room

Completed our 1st Ride for the Roses – in the rain

Hanging with Jake Gyllenhaal at a fundraising dinner for LAF

Getting to hear Lance speak

Meeting other cancer survivors and fundraisers is always one of the most fun parts of these rides

The yellow survivor rose

Our second Ride for the Roses in Austin. Our second best fundraising year.

Lance crossing the finish line at Ride for the Roses

Les crossing the finish line

One of my favorite images – Les giving our daughter a high five – the yellow survivor rose and Livestrong shirt make it even sweeter.

Les with his parents – they joined us in Austin for their first Livestrong event

Our best friends Zach and Parul joined us for the Livestrong Challenge Philadelphia. Zach was a loyal and generous friend during Les’ cancer challenge and has been a great training and fundraising partner for the Livestrong Challenges

Les and Zach starting the ride

Go Les!

Isabella standing by the yellow survivor roses

Introducing Jacob to the Livestrong Challenge

After the second Livestrong Challenge Philly – another rainy ride

My Livestrong kids – what little miracles

Livestrong Challenge Philly 2012 – days before the USADA announcement