Tag Archives: California

What is a “sphere of influence”, Alex?

–News Bulletin–

A-a-ron Rod-gers just won celebrity Jeopardy… so that was kind of awesome. And got me re-hooked on Jeopardy. Which I love love love. Even though I don’t know anything about classic literature or operas of the twenty-fourth and a half century. True story though, one time I took the online Jeopardy test. They never contacted me. I’m convinced that it’s because in a moment of complete and total idiot-level panic I typed in “positron” instead of “proton” for “this positively charged atomic particle…” or something along those lines. Such a ridiculously dumb answer, and for a chemistry major no less. This has been my secret Jeopardy shame for many a year.


Even more secret a shame than the fact that I was all about middle school Quiz Bowl once upon a time and took great delight in the fact that 1) I was the only girl on the team (boom!) and 2) that I wore the most gloriously denim jumper that ever denimed to the competition in 8th grade. Holy crap did I rock that thing. In my own mind anyway. Smart. Denim-clad. Barettes in my hair. Maybe I’ll make that my story if I ever do get on Jeopardy. I hope I can tell it awkwardly enough– lord knows that people with legitimately cool stories at the break never get very far. Just, next time around, it’s proton… proton… proton…



Seth and I are headed to SoCal to visit the Lemas over the long weekend and I’m crazy crazy excited about it. SoCal because that’s where they live. Like all the time. Can you even imagine?

One of the coolest things about the Lemas is that we have never lived any closer to them than whatever the astronomical distance between Michigan and California is (but also never further than the even more astronomical distance between DC and Cali, so we’ve got that). And yet, we’ve remained super close. I’m sure it helped that Chris was Seth’s boss for a good long while… but he’s not any more and we still super love them and I’m pretty sure that was never the only thing. Regardless, as a result of that distance, our relationship is completely and totally travel-fascinating. FASCINATING! We have gotten together to hang out all over this lovely country of ours (plus Mexico!) and that makes any and all of my Lema Memory Montages extra special and fun.

This weekend, I spent a TON of time doing yard work. I got a bug up my butt about needing to remove all the plastic lining from the garden beds in our back yard and replace them with brick and for some reason, I decided that removing all the plastic, trenching the sod, pulling all the weeds, and purchasing, laying, and securing 126 individual 10 lb bricks would be a one person, one day job, most certainly… and when I was done, I was going to maybe mow real quick and use the string trimmer around the trees and along the fence line.

Completely delusional. Also, my hamstrings are still KILLING ME.

But, in my delusional state, I had lots and lots and lots of time for mind-based montages. And the Lemas kept popping in on account of, as I said above, 1) we’re going to see them this weekend and 2) such montages are especially brilliant.

During one such sweat-soaked, sun blasted (because, guys, it got up to like 75 degrees this weekend– snap!!!) montage, I stumbled upon Chris’s notion of “sphere of influence” and realized that finally, after something like7? maybe even 8? years… I think I finally get what it means. Finally! And it’s not even ridiculous at all. In fact, I love it. Just like all love every other thing that is Lema. Of course.

I don’t remember what hotel or what city or what year it was… but once upon a time, long ago and far away, Chris mentioned something about his desire to have influence. To have a sphere of influence, I believe, or at least that’s how it imprinted in my brain. I don’t know that I was necessarily even part of that particular conversation, I may have just overheard something between Chris and Seth, but it was such a weird thing to say (I thought) and such a foreign concept (to me) that I really did just kind of let it tumble through my mind over and over and over again over the last several years.

Like a pebble in the sea, that idea is smooth now.

(And that’s a particularly appropriate metaphor here because I have been to not just two oceans with the Lemas, but also a legitimate sea — The Sea of Cortez.)

Sea of Cortez
Sea of Cortez

At the time, way back when, I knew Chris as Seth’s boss. At a software company. He was different, of course, because he’s from California and really introduced the whole “working from where you are” concept to the company. He put a lot more emphasis on intelligence and value and culture than most (well, any) other “boss” I’d ever known and he super appreciated all of those things about Seth, so naturally, I loved him. At the same time, Chris also had this little side life that I was vaguely aware of… computers, internet, WordPress, something…

And in that arena, influence was his goal.

Sooooo… what? Like he wanted to be the boss of computers and the internet and WordPress or something? Because that’s what influence means, right? Being the boss, in charge, in control, telling people what’s what and how’s how and who’s who.

Not to Chris. And not in reality. Where Chris lived.

Turns out, influence is not synonymous with power or control or position. If it’s forced or mandated or manufactured, it’s not genuine influence at all.

What Chris has taught me is that influence comes from sharing your story, building trust, and cultivating interest.

Chris taught me this not by actually saying any of it (although he probably has, because Chris has basically at one point or another said all the words— kind of like, if you give enough monkeys enough typewriters and enough time, eventually they’ll stumble on a literary masterpiece… but seriously, most of Chris’s words are on purpose insightful, I believe)… nope. He taught me this by doing it. By letting me hang at his beach house for a week as crazy fascinating and ridiculously “California” people came and went to celebrate my husband’s birthday and smoke cigars and play in the sand. Then again when we went on a cruise with a bunch of WordPress folks that scared me (on account of coolness). Sometimes they talked shop, most of the time they laughed and told stories. Built trust, relationships… influence. More recently, Chris transitioned full time into the WordPress world. He’s no longer technically Seth’s boss, but it wasn’t really ever about being Seth’s boss. He and Seth had a relationship that really transcended work roles and that lives on, regardless of what company Chris calls home. And when Chris did join a new company, he did so with a big old sphere of influence spread out in every direction (because that’s what spheres do) and that meant sooooo much more than his new fancy job title, high up position, standing in the company.

Like I said, completely fascinating.

So yeah, being an influencer, that’s a pretty worthy goal. Not a weird one at all. Watching Chris do it was kind of spectacular. And I think building a solid sphere of influence is kind of my goal too. Not power or position. Not fame or fortune or money. Definitely not in the WordPress community (I mean, thank goodness for WordPress, allowing me to blog without understanding a dang thing about it, but therein lies the problem in that sphere, you know?) Not even an appearance on SNL. Rather, to have a sphere of influence because I shared my story, I built trust, and I cultivated interest.

Anyway, I’m off to SoCal… got to go pack a bag! Woot!

V is for a vacation… with and from my values. With is better. Trust me.

I started writing this V-themed blog post in the wee hours of the morning on Thursday, August 21st on a chartered bus heading from LAX to San Diego after a very long day of traveling.

This is what the inside of the bus looked like at 2 am PST somewhere between LA and San Diego... because I thought it might be blog-worthy.
This is what the inside of the bus looked like at 2 am PST somewhere between LA and San Diego… because I thought it might be blog-worthy.

V… vacation… values… it popped into my head, I started writing (and then got very bus-sick, so put it away), and it’s been writing itself in my brain since that day. More and more and more. Time to get it on the screen and then out into the ether.

Since that super late night/very early morning bus trip in California, I visited friends and got an opportunity to see their new house and ridiculously adorable new puppy.

Oh how I want to steal this sweet puppy and make her my own!!
Oh how I want to steal this sweet puppy and make her my own!!

I boarded a cruise ship with my husband and said friends (plus some new ones!) and cruised down the coast of California from Long Beach to Ensenada and back.

I think we all know that the towel animals are legitimately the best part of a cruise, am I right?
The towel animals are totally the best part of a cruise, am I right?

I got on a plane, came home to Wisconsin, weathered an eczema flare and a bit of a head cold, and welcomed my sister, her husband, and their two ridiculously cute little girls into my home.

GAHHHH!! The cuteness of my nieces! I can barely stand it!!!!
GAHHHH!! The cuteness of my nieces! I can barely stand it!!!!

And now here I am, back and ready to tell you about my vacation– with and from my values.


We’ve talked about all kinds of values in this space– some explicitly, more often implicitly. But based merely on that word cloud that pops up on the right, I think we can get a pretty good picture of the things that are important to me: family, friends, kindness, love, health… Harry Potter. These are things that I value and I try to live my life accordingly.

Except when I don’t.

When it comes to kindness and health, I spent some time on vacation with and from both. With was where it’s at. Trust me. Let’s talk about that.



Getting to our friends’ house in San Marcos was quite trying. I’ll spare you the details, but you’ve all traveled by air, you know what it’s like to miss your connecting flight… Long story short: 12 exhausted passengers (including three from first class and one mom with two young children) were waiting at the closed gate when the agent came back from sending off our flight without us. That’s a recipe for a very angry party. And that gate agent? She was a very easy target.

Lots of people were yelling lots of things at her… demanding managers… using the phrase “first class ticket” over and over again…

But kindness, you know?

Patience and such… catching flies with honey… it’s something Seth and I value. And we made it to San Diego that night. Late, yes. But completely unscathed and super happy to see our friends. No yelling necessary.

But then there were new friends of friends and I got super scared. I was a little Judgey McJudgerson, assuming I wasn’t going to like people… mostly because I assumed they wouldn’t like me. They were all from SoCal and had cool hair, listened to cool music, owned cool companies, wore stylish clothes, and so on and so forth. No way could they have all that and still be nice… except they were. And then I felt like a big ol’ dummy for not giving them the chance I would have wanted them to give me… and that they did give me.

Kindness. It’s something I value. That was a good little lesson about it. Also, I have some new friends (with cool hair and cool jobs and cool music and cool locales– suh-weet!).



I also value my health… and it’s a constant struggle to uphold this value in my daily life on account of all that stuff with weight and food and gastrointestinal issues and such. You’ve read about it if you’ve been reading along.

First, the upholding of the value: I packed weights! In my carry-on bag! That I dragged across the country! And more importantly– I used them every day!! They were just 2.5 lbs a piece, but a 20 min Jillian Michaels-based circuit workout once a day plus some “olympic jogging track” walking with my friend Melissa and I felt awesome, awesome, awesome about getting some physical activity in, even while on vacation. Yes, TSA and I had to chat about the weights, but I joked with them and it was all good. (Oh how I wish I could have gotten a picture of the weights on the xray screen– it was hilarious!)

TSA guy (to other TSA lady): come look at this!

Me: It’s weights!

TSA guy: How much?

Me: Just 2.5 lbs a piece… I’m not very strong!

TSA lady: I only do three [grin].

We all laughed… ahhhh ha ha ha ha! (And Seth just rolled his eyes…)

Health FTW!

Except… I decided that since I was on vacation and since it was super hard not to eat gluten while traveling, I was just going to do it. And I did it. On the plane (Biscoff cookies… nom nom nom…), in the airport in Minneapolis (I got the chicken nuggets rather than the sandwich on a bun– a feeble attempt at limiting gluten intake…), a Subway cookie on that crazy bus (because it was my consolation prize!), and by the time we made it to San Diego, my hands were starting to get puffy.

I didn’t eat gluten the rest of the time, but the damage was done. And by the time I got home to Wisconsin, I was in a full blown eczema flare.


In retrospect, it actually looks much worse while healing... those blisters don't seem so bad. It's the complete loss of skin after the fact that's hardest to bare.
In retrospect, it actually looks much worse while healing… those blisters don’t seem so bad. It’s the complete loss of skin after the fact that’s hardest to bare.

Super suck. I beat myself up about it for a while, mostly because my hands freaking HURT.

Then my therapist made a really good point: health is hard, even if you value it. AND… what would I say to my friend Melissa? (I think that’s his new favorite line…) I’d be kind to my friend Melissa, of course, so I gave myself a little break. (A little one.)

The blisters are gone now, all my skin has peeled or flaked or done whatever it’s going to do (I’ve coined the term “handruff” to describe the skin flakes my palms leave behind on pretty much everything I touch until the new stuff grows in), and some new fresh stuff is finally growing in nicely. It was a rough week — definitely not worth the cookies and nuggets, no matter how delicious. (Biscoffs… so delicious!)


Basically, vacations are tough for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love them… they’re awesome. But sometimes I make them harder for myself than I really need to, just because I don’t stay consistent with my own values. I value kindness… I value my health.

The most important thing I think I learned from all of this is that your values are your values, no matter the place, no matter the circumstance…. that’s what makes them a value and not just a passing fad.


(Good news: I also value blogging and the wheels seem to be perpetually turning and turning and turning! I’ve got some words percolating about family and friends of friends that I’m excited to say. WOOOORDS! Yay!)


PS: Harry Potter

Also, real quick, Harry Potter is a value that I never leave behind… and our little cruise vacation was no exception. Melissa, Emily, Christian, and I went to Harry Potter trivia night on the ship. We were late and didn’t get to officially participate, but I can say with absolute confidence that the four of us would have ROCKED IT had we been there the whole time. That ship on a stick would have been ours! Lucky for the other contestants, we were only playing for fun!

O is for Odd Thomas. Well, Dean kOOntz, really.

Anyone else out there a Dean Koontz fan? Personally, I am OBSESSED!

I love almost everything he’s ever written (77 Shadow Street is the one and only exception to date), even his old pen name stuff. My favorite of all is his book Life Expectancy. I rarely read books more than once and that’s one of the rare exceptions (that and The Historian and Jemima J— so random, I know).

But besides Life Expectancy, I absolutely, completely, and totally dig the Odd Thomas series.


Until writing this post, I didn’t realize just how many Odd books there are… there’s a lot! And I’ve loved every one and it feels like such a long wait in between!

Odd Thomas is a young man who sees ghosts… mostly people, some dogs, some famous, some not. He defines himself as a fry cook, but we know he’s so much more. And I love him for that. He’s humble and loving; loving in a completely heartbreaking way (but no spoilers from me– and don’t read any of the Odd Thomas books before you read the first!! I did… and sobbed all the way through the first one…).

Like I said, Odd is a fry cook; a short order cook at a local, hometown diner. He’s famous for his fluffy pancakes and truly aspires to nothing more than cooking good food quickly. When I started reading Odd Thomas this was a pretty foreign notion to me– the idea that you could aspire to be happy doing something well without meeting the societal norms that define “success.” It was the first time that I really thought about the idea of being ok without always, always, always striving for more and more and more. Lots of Dean Koontz’s characters are like that… they don’t all have to be millionaires and billionaires and fancy, important people. They’re regular, but special, not because of what they do or where they live or how much money they have, but because of who they are on the inside. Just like Odd, loyal and loving, thoughtful and intelligent.

Odd also taught me about trusting your intuition. Granted, he has what he refers to as “psychic magnetism,” which is more than just intuition… when he lets go and really trusts his gut, it never leads him astray. But it’s a good reminder for me because I spend a lot of time mulling things over in my head and not following my gut-heart (because I think when people say follow your heart, they really mean gut). My gut knows what’s up though. When I follow my gut, I end up in the right place. So do all of Dean’s characters.

Finally, I love, love, love how Odd loves. He’s amazing in that respect. I really don’t want to give anything away, but this is a man who follows his gut in all matters, including love. Romantic love and otherwise– friends and family. (Also, I may have mentioned once or twice that I’m an absolute sucker for a love story, and Dean Koontz almost always adds a love story. He knows the recipe for absolute literary delight!)


Odd Thomas is awesome. To me, he’s the epitome of all that’s good about Dean Koontz’s characters. He tells us what’s important– loyalty, optimism, perseverance, hope, kindness, generosity… and dogs 🙂 He always adds a dog, ghost or otherwise, and I love that. I loved it even before I had my own. Now I super love it!

Dean Koontz has made me love the regular guy, to look for the extraordinary in the every day, to swoon over all that is California, and to recognize that no matter how bad things can seem, how bad things can be, there’s always, always, always an opportunity for good.

I recently downloaded the Audible app to my phone (there’s an app for that!) and I’ve been listening to audio books while I run, walk, mow the lawn, or drive the dog to the emergency vet… and only then. A chance to listen to a good book is ridiculously motivating in such instances, I love it! And to date, nothing has been more motivating than a good Dean Koontz book. Yes, I pepper in other things (Divergent by Veronica Roth, Nudge by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein, for example), but I’m completely Koontz-ivated! At present, I’m listening to his newest– The City. It’s wonderful, and so different from the usual! For one thing, it takes place in New York City, not California (or New Orleans). Secondly, it’s centered around a child. Children play prominent roles in others of his books, but this is the first time a child is the main character. Fascinating! He’s branching out, after oh so many books, and still killing it!

Do you have an author like that? One who has found your formula for literary genius???


PS: Speaking of all things high brow and literary… My sister and I have been texting back and forth about The Bachelorette: Men Tell All… and she said to me, “By giving in to the greatness which is the Bachelor, you have helped us take our seester-hood to a new level!” She’s right, you know. This trashy, reality television series is where it’s at!! And books, too. Books. Yep.

People over Things– 6 years worth of wisdom

As you, observant reader, may have gathered over the course of this week, my husband and I were in Mexico.  With amazing friends.  And it was a dream-come-true kind of vacation.

However, with a family wedding to attend in Jacksonville, Florida, this weekend, we were forced to leave Cabo just a bit early and we said our goodbyes this morning.  We were having such a good time and we live so far away from our friends in real life (they live in SoCal, we in NoCenWis… that’s north central Wisconsin for those of you not in “the know”), so saying goodbye is always really hard.  Especially saying goodbye to those kiddos!  They give great hugs, but those little cartoon character eyes and the pleas to not go will really break your heart.

This week, Christian, who is 6, found that my husband has some really awesome games on his iPad (something about monkeys and balloons (?) was a big hit, apparently) so I jokingly asked Christian as he was saying goodbye what he was going to miss more—Seth (that’s my husband, big name reveal!  Saying “my husband” is becoming somewhat tedious…) or his iPad.

To which Christian responded, “Seth!  Because in our family, we value people more than things!”

Christian people vs. things

It was such a heartfelt and obviously true sentiment.  From a techno-philic, Apple (like the brand not the fruit)-loving, 6-year-old.  Dang.  Color me impressed.

Wise words from little Christian…

Happy Friday!  Enjoy some people this weekend!  (And some things too… because why not?  Just remember what Christian said and try to put the people first!)