February 1, 2014No Comments

Echeveria envy

I envy the echeverias in a garden by where I work. They are stunningly beautiful, with red ruffled tips extended from green bases, growing in concentric circles in a dozen unique patterns. Every circular cluster has a different geometry and a different balance. Some reproduce little rosettes in orderly circles, others produce them randomly, unevenly. They sit in the same patch of dirt and soak up the same amount of light, but they all have these unique, individual rates and patterns of growth. Just like people, except little echeverias probably don't compare themselves to one another and then wish their rosettes were different. That's why I envy echeverias.





January 16, 20141 Comment

Would Buddha have worn noise-canceling headphones?

"Hear what you want to hear," proclaims one television ad for noise-canceling headphones, showing professional athletes walking through jeering crowds but still at peace thanks to sound-proofing technology. We already focus our eyes on little screens in front of us, so covering our ears is a natural extension of the technology bubble we live in. But it has me a little worried about the shift from actual, serendipitous human interaction.

Hearing what you want to hear has its merits. Right now my peaceful evening is disturbed by the bass beats of a repetitious video game from the unit upstairs. Certainly it is easier to plop them on my ears then actually confront my 20-something neighbors at 10:30 at night. And also more likely to result in peace for me rather than frustration.

I rode the LA subway to work for three years and listening to music was a nice way to pass the time as well as a very effective shield from unwanted attention from hustlers, panhandlers and intoxicated persons. But wearing them and hearing only what you want to hear definitely takes you out of the moment and into your own head. When I consider the amount of time I have spent in yoga classes trying to "be in the moment," wearing the headphones makes it seem like I am running away from the moment rather than embracing it. But would Buddha have strapped them on? Probably, if he worked around jet engines. But would he do it to listen to chants while waiting on the bus? I don't know.

Life after all is pretty mundane. Commuting, making the bed, grocery shopping, standing in line. None of us should blame ourselves for wanting to escape. Perhaps the key, as with everything, is balance. Don't wear them all the time; some days, let yourself be immersed in the world. You might just walk right by something extraordinary and be the only person who noticed.

Want to see a real world application? Check out this video from a Washington Post reporter who conducted an experiment where famous violinist Joshua Bell played in a DC subway station during rush hour. Thousands rushed by, not even noticing; only a few stopped to enjoy. They called the project "Stop and hear the music."



December 20, 2013No Comments

Eight things that surprised me in 2013

Remember those golden years when you thought you knew everything? This year was not one of them for me. 2013 was full of surprises. Here are eight of them.

  1. The Catholic Church is evolving. I'd figured it for a lost cause, a musty, judgmental church darkened by terrible scandals. And then, a Pope resigns! The Cardinals elect Pope Francis! What a breath of fresh air, with his messages of humility, acceptance, understanding and compassion. He's said he won't judge gay priests. He's washed the feet of AIDS patients, prisoners and women. He cooks his own meals. He rides in a mini-van instead of the Pope-mobile. For the first time in a long time, I consider going to back to Mass.
  2. It's never too late to start exercising and training. Diana Nyad, 60, showed us when she swam from Cuba to Florida in Sept. She's one of my motivators when I'm doing a long run.
  3. My friends in Tulsa, OK, felt more earthquakes this year than I did in Los Angeles. Plus they had tornadoes, hail and ice storms. Glad this Okie came west.
  4. Politicians are nearly as entertaining as reality TV stars. Toronto Mayor Tom Ford and his drunken stupor. Anthony "Carlos Danger" Weiner and his sexts. The FBI raiding the office of Montebello's bribe-taking, cigar-chomping good ole boy Ronald Calderon in the California state capitol.
  5. There were about two weeks in March when I was really loving JCPenney for women's clothes. I'd only bought drapes in JCPenney before; now I was finding cute outfits that got compliments at work. The Joe Fresh and Cosabella Amore lines were stylish and well-priced. Then they fired the CEO who brought them in. Oh well. Back to Nordstrom Rack.
  6. I spent ten days in China and wasn't served a grain of rice until it was nearly time to leave. I expected rice every day, at every meal, in China, based on my limited experience with American Chinese food chains like Panda Express. I think that they just didn't serve it much to tourists; but it certainly was a staple there, based on the 10-pound bags of rice stacked tight in the grocery store aisle.
  7. After years of turning off all electronic devices on airplanes, suddenly it is OK to leave them on during take off and landing. I spent decades worrying that my cassette tape player, then my CD player, then my MP3 player and finally my iPod were interfering with air traffic control messages, and then with the flick of a switch, it's suddenly all right to play Candy Crush Saga while listening to Arcade Fire. Remember when they threw Alec Baldwin off of a flight for not turning off Words with Friends? He should sue.
  8. Dogs can look surprised. We saw it first hand, when my miniature dachshund sniffed the butt of what she thought was another dog outside my building. Chloe pup did a double-take and took several steps backward when the animal turned around to reveal the snout of a pot-bellied pig. Now she just barks at it whenever she sees it. She won't be fooled again.

I can't wait to see what 2014 will bring!

December 10, 20132 Comments

My dad, the feminist

I was born in 1969's 'summer of love' and learned how to walk and throw tantrums while women across the United States read Betty Friedan and fought for equal pay for equal work, the right to practice law or sit on a jury. For little girls like me, doors were being opened that had been shut to my mother and my aunts and my grandmothers. I take it for granted most of the time, but it is pretty amazing if you think about it.

Looking back, I'm pretty sure my father was a feminist. Not the kind who marched in protests or got arrested or wrote letters to the editor. And not the kind who argued his point at parties or asked people to sign petitions. But the kind who quietly and consistently raised his two daughters to believe they could do anything they wanted to. His belief in our potential was so deep and strong that we never doubted his faith or our abilities. What a gift that has been for us.

My mother told me that someone asked my father once if he was disappointed he never had any sons to carry on the Lipinski surname. "I love my girls - and I'd take a dozen more of them," he said.

Dad loved women; we joke that his progressive attitude was because he grew up with four sisters and no brothers. He was surrounded by women later in his life too -- the only man living in a house with my mother, my nana, my sister Laura and me.

Dad, surrounded by women

My mother says that the thing she loved about him the most was what a good father he was to Laura and me. But when I look back at all the gifts my parents gave to me, I realize that the most precious thing has been this extraordinary, fundamental belief that there are no limits to what I can do. Thank you, Dad. We miss you every day.

John Lipinski
John Lipinski
June 28, 1936 to December 13, 2012

September 11, 20131 Comment

Dinosaurs, bottles and cans

Collecting cans

No one in North Hollywood collects cans and bottles with more style and whimsy than this man. My Spanglish was good enough to get a shy smile and permission to snap his photo in my apartment building garage, but not enough to get the story behind the diorama featuring Jesus, dinosaurs and ponies on his shopping cart. Love his creativity.

August 13, 20131 Comment

Slow down and breathe

Two minutes of running as a beginner and I was gasping for air. How did people run for a mile? I couldn't make it around the block. I asked my fast-footed sister for advice.

"You've got to slow your breathing down," she said. I had no idea how to do that, but on my next run, I focused on my breathing and tried to slow to a reasonable pant. And guess what? It worked. It seems that focusing on your breath, a common mantra in yoga, works like magic in stopping that fish-out-of-water heaving I thought was inevitable.

Slowing down has turned out to be my favorite Jedi mind trick lately. When I'm about to start a complex writing project, slowing down and finding my place in the moment increases my focus and productivity. And much faster than my past strategy of frantically jumping in and flapping around like a chicken in a swimming pool.

This blog post is a prime example. I get the idea for writing a blog post about slowing down, so when I finally bring the laptop out and start drafting it, I feel this urgency to write it, all at once. Not over hours or days, but now, in this minute.

So I take a breath. I notice where I am. I remind myself that there really is no hurry. I get the words out of my head and onto virtual paper, and then I stop. I let the work breathe, and I come back to it, sometimes in half an hour or sometimes in days. I re-evaluate it, work on it some more. Usually I improve it, sometimes I scrap it. Slowing down the process from rough draft to final often helps me take the work to the next level of creativity and quality. Kinda like how slowing down your breath allows you to run further (I'm up to three miles now) and, later, faster.

Slow down

Slow down

August 4, 2013No Comments

You know you’re a Los Angeles dog owner when…

Your dog has taken Intermediate Animal Acting...twice, but still no breakthrough role.

Your dog has taken Intermediate Animal Acting...twice, but still no breakthrough role.

You keep trying to schedule a play date with your dog and the neighbor's pot-bellied pig but you're just too busy.

You keep trying to schedule a play date with your dog and the neighbor's pot-bellied pig but you're just too busy.

You've complained about cell service at the off-leash dog park.

You've complained about cell service at the off-leash dog park.

While at work, you've watched videos of your dog playing at doggy day care.

While at work, you've watched videos of your dog playing at doggy day care.

You've driven the dog 10 miles to Runyon Canyon for a hike (and spent 15 minutes looking for parking) instead of walking her around the block.

You've driven the dog 10 miles to "see and be seen" Runyon Canyon for a celebrity-spotting hike (and spent 15 minutes looking for parking) instead of walking her in your own neighborhood.

Courtesy of Flickr by Heartlover1717

You have considered asking your medical marijuana doctor to label the dog as an "emotional support dog" so she can go into Whole Foods Market and Target with you instead of waiting at home.

You've used dog-sitting services at the local farmer's market so you could pay too much for organic apple butter and handmade soap.

You've used dog-sitting services at the local farmer's market so you could pay too much for organic apple butter and handmade soap.

You take the dog to Olvera Street every year on the Saturday before Easter for the Blessing of the Animals.

You take the dog to Olvera Street every year on the Saturday before Easter for the Blessing of the Animals.

You've brought the dog to a screenplay writing class.

You've brought the dog to a screenplay writing class you bought through Groupon.

You underwent a background check and two home checks to adopt your chi-weenie/labradoodle mix from a local rescue group.

You underwent a background check and two home checks to adopt your chi-weenie/labradoodle mix from a local rescue group.

July 22, 2013No Comments

Communication Breakdown, It’s Always the Same

In my job at ICANN, I have the privilege of traveling around the world for our thrice-yearly meetings, and year-round I get to meet and work with people from every continent. The biggest barrier is typically and unsurprisingly language -- my three years of high school Spanish don't take me very far even in Los Angeles, let alone China or the Czech Republic.

South Africa, I thought, would be a breeze for communication. Though they have 11 official languages, English is one of them and students learn it in school, along with Afrikaans and Zulu. Great, I thought. Easy understanding. No surreal situations like in Beijing where I produced a video shot and edited by a Chinese-speaking crew shot and the subjects spoke only in Spanish. You can see it here by the way: Rodrigo de la Parra's Conversation on Latin American Strategy.

Anyway, the ICANN meeting in Durban turned out to be a lesson in just how communication takes more time -- or breaks down entirely -- without common cultural references and without good listening skills. It also made me think about how often we talk right past each other even when we come from the same background.

Example: sitting in the meeting control room with about 15 people, I started singing the American folk song "O Susanna!" I cannot actually remember why I was doing this other than probably just being punchy and tired from jet lag, early mornings and long days. The Americans rolled their eyes at me and one sang along as far as "with a banjo on my knee." The South Africans in the room assumed I was singing an 80s UK hit by a Dutch band called the Art Company and then are confused. The Australian AV crew and our Argentinian language services manager pretty much ignored me. I realized that my humor definitely relies heavily on cultural references.

There were lots of other examples I observed. On a van ride, one of my co-workers asked if we could stop for souvenir shopping and the South African driver asked "Now?" but it sounded just like "No" to us. It took time to sort out that he was being accommodating, not un-accommodating. These comms misfires can be quite taxing or time-consuming, particularly if you are feeling impatient or stressed or are prone to taking offense. I'm not proud of it but I had my own experience where I had trouble communicating about wireless service at my hotel and I just gave up without resolution...too tired to deal with it.

Reflecting on those situations, though, I think about how this kind of breakdown happens daily, even between those of us who speak a common language and have common references. Sometimes we don't listen, and sometimes we frankly hear what we want to hear. It's worth slowing down and really listening sometimes so that we can understand better the people around us and avoid the communication breakdown. To quote Led Zeppelin, communication breakdown, it's always the same. (I'd quote more but frankly that song is not about verbal communication.)

May 29, 2013No Comments

Brownies with Greek Yogurt

I've been experimenting this week with healthy versions of delicious treats, and these brownies are a knock-out. Vanilla greek yogurt adds protein but no fat, and gives the brownies a dense, rich texture.


Vegetable spray

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 1/4 cups wheat flour

2 cups granulated sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1 egg + 1 egg white

2 tsps vanilla extract

3 tbs unsalted butter

7 oz non-fat vanilla Greek yogurt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 8x8 baking pan. Combine cocoa, flour, sugar and salt. Lightly beat the egg and egg white in a separate bowl. Pour beaten eggs and vanilla into center of dry ingredients. Mix until combined.

Melt the butter and add to mixture. Add yogurt and blend into a thick batter. Spread into pan. Bake for 55 minutes, or until sides pull away from pan. Let cool. Cut into 16 squares and enjoy!

Greek yogurt brownies


May 8, 2013No Comments

Avoiding that Peaceful, Sleepy Feeling While Driving

In cities with a lot of traffic, road rage gets all the media attention. But I'm more regularly afflicted with a more peaceful, sleepy feeling when stuck on Los Angeles' great bottleneck, the 405 Freeway through the Sepulveda Pass. There's a mile-long stretch that can take 20 minutes or more to lurch your way through at speeds ranging from zero to five mph. It's more hypnotic than hackle-raising to me -- it's like the lack of scenery and lack of progress conspire to send me into dreamland.

Driving while drowsy seems like more of an issue for long-haul truckers, shift workers and road trippers, but an informal survey of co-workers and friends who commute showed that I'm not alone in fighting off sleepiness on the daily drive. And driving while drowsy can have serious consequences: it causes one out of six deadly traffic accidents, according to a 2010 survey by the American Automobile Association.

Adequate sleep the night before is clearly the best solution to the problem, but not always possible. Pulling over for a short nap when your eyelids start to droop is the second best strategy, but this is not feasible on the narrow 101/405 interchange.

The only other solution blessed by science is caffeine -- about two cups of coffee worth. Downing caffeine via coffee, energy drinks, colas or NoDoz about 20 minutes before you hit the road will give it time to hit your bloodstream.

Another option is to try varying your activities and the car environment as traffic begins to thicken. Keeping your mind alert and changing the environment can help keep sleepiness at bay.

Keep your mind alert with these preventative strategies:

  1. Nibble on something tart, like a green apple or sour candies.
  2. Crunch on ice.
  3. Chew gum.
  4. Sing out loud.
  5. Drive barefoot. It's just uncomfortable enough to keep you alert. It's illegal in some places, so check local laws.
  6. Listen to an audio book or podcast.
  7. Roll the windows down, especially if it is cool outside and warm in the car.
  8. Turn up the music. Whatever gets your feet tapping will help keep you alert, at least temporarily.
  9. Reach out and talk to someone on the phone -- hands free, of course -- conversation and interaction boosts your brain.
  10. Pay attention to your surroundings -- move your eyes around, noticing who is in front of you, who is in back. Try not to let your eyes fix on an object for too long. Memorize the license plate of the car in front of you or try to turn it into an anagram.

I've found though that once sleepiness sets in, these tricks don't always work. Remember, the best thing you can do once you're sleepy is take a short nap, no longer than 20 minutes.