I Love a Good Plot Twist

About a year ago, I did a little exercise as part of a Personal Renewal Group for Moms. I think it's a good exercise for anyone, but as a new mom, it was particularly pertinent. It was a piece of paper that said "My Wants" at the top, and my job was to write a list of statements beginning with "I want." Pretty easy, right? There are a lot of things that I want, both material and experiential. So I took myself to a coffee shop and started translating the things that my heart really wanted into words. And I came up with a list of 14. It certainly wasn't an exhaustive list, but it was a good one, and I am pleased to report that I did a decent job of working on the list over the course of the year. Not on the list: new car, new phone, new house, though those are definitely things that I want. Most days, I am happy just to have a car, a phone, and a house, and I know that compared to most people in the world, I am blessed when it comes to having stuff. And frankly, I am blessed when it comes to the non-material stuff, too—family, friends, job, health, love.

So what is left to put on my list? Mostly, it's about how I spend my time. Some items on the list have to do with my daily routine ("I want to spend time playing with Lulu every day"), while others have to do with longer term goals ("I want to get out of debt"). What's especially challenging about the list is how some of the items conflict with each other, such as "I want to get more sleep" and "I want to write a book." There's only so much one person can do, and the art of living, I suppose, is to find a balance in which daily life is pleasant but you still reach for those dreams.

When I wrote the list a year ago, I had no idea that I would get so far on "I want to write a book." In fact, I'm working on two. A couple of months after creating the list, I was given the opportunity to write a leadership book with two of my professional colleagues. This past Thursday, we co-authors had our "Author Day" at the San Francisco offices of our publisher, Berrett-Koehler. It was a fantastic day, and I am so excited for our book to come out in April.

I rarely travel, and in fact, Josh and I hadn't been on a trip together, unless you count a wedding in Wisconsin or a quick weekend in Northern Minnesota. So, we took advantage  of my west-coast business trip and made a long weekend of it (Check, check: "I want to travel with Josh;" "I want to have a fun marriage"). Thanks to both sets of grandparents (who watched our darling girl) and my brother, Kent (who watched our dogs), we were able to get away with peace of mind.

Josh and I stayed near Union Square and walked all over town. Our vacation mostly consisted of eating, of course, and we hit up some amazing places, including Plouf, a16 (Did I really need to discover cream-infused fresh mozzarella?), and the legendary Chez Panisse in Berkeley. Whenever possible, Josh did brewing research by sampling the local brews, and we even had lunch at Rogue Ales Public House.

Not only did we eat our way around San Francisco, but on Saturday, we rented a car and headed to Napa Valley. My dear cousin, Laurel, lives there, and she was an amazing tour guide. We got a behind-the-scenes look at Dana EstatesFantesca Estate and Winery, and Robert Sinskey Vineyards. We had a killer lunch at Solbar, the restaurant at Solage Calistoga, a resort that might just have to go on my "I Want" list. We finished off our time with Laurel at Oxbow Public Market in Napa, where I had some amazing lemon cookie ice cream, and Laurel and Josh had some ridiculously good coffee. The market is basically a food court for foodies, and my only regret is that I didn't have a bigger appetite by the time we got there. Oh, and yes, it is possible for a pregnant woman to have a grand old time in Napa Valley.

Lest this post sound a little too dreamy and puke-inducing, I'll share a little experience that is definitely not the stuff of "I Want" lists. The car rental place was a good eight city blocks from our hotel, which wasn't really a big deal on Saturday. I went for a walk every morning of our vacation, so when I had to pick up the car, I just made it part of my walk. Naturally, I had a nightmare experience in the rental office—basically, what you'd expect at a downtown location. I waited way too long for my car, but it was entertaining to listen to the foreign tourists ask questions about how American cars work. A group of three young ladies asked so many questions that the customer service representative finally said, "You guys are freaking me out. You don't do anything with the steering wheel except use it to steer." I'm not sure what the confusion was.

Sunday morning was another story. The night before, we'd parked the rental car in the garage next door to the rental office. So, all I had to do was walk the eight blocks, pay my fifteen bucks (a steal for overnight parking), and return the car. Except. When I woke up, it was pouring rain. Now, naturally, I thought about playing the pregnancy card and talking Josh into returning the car, but the rental was in my name, so I had to suck it up. I did borrow his enormous golf jacket, since I had neither an umbrella nor anything resembling a rain coat. The front desk clerk politely informed me that all of the loner umbrellas were locked in the sales office. Alas.

So I walked in the pouring rain to the parking garage, and the moment I saw it, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. The damn garage ticket—the one I needed to get out of the garage—was in my hotel room. Now, I thought about catching a cab back to the hotel, but I was already soaking wet, so I thought "What the hell?," and I set out in the rain again. I was in the hotel room for all of one minute—I told Josh the hideous story, grabbed the ticket, and left with renewed determination. Eight blocks back. Rain not so bad anymore, but what did I care? I was soaked to the bone.

When I finally got the car pulled into the rental return area, I realized that I had committed the cardinal sin of car rental. I hadn't remembered to fill the gas tank (That'll be $5/gallon, please). To add insult to injury, the attendant was smoking his cigarette right in my pregnant face. I was sent up to the rental office to settle my bill, and when the kind woman behind the counter asked how I was, I wanted to yell, "What does it look like, lady? I'm soaking wet, I'm pregnant, and I haven't had any breakfast." Instead, I smiled, said, "I've been better," and informed her that I didn't think it was very professional for the garage attendant to be smoking in my face. Score one free tank of gas for the drowned pregnant rat.

By the time I walked back to the hotel (32 blocks now!), I was ready for some dry clothes and some oatmeal. In fact, I was ready to go home to see my baby girl. So we packed up our stuff and headed to the airport. Walking in the rain aside, it was a fantastic vacation, and it wouldn't have happened if not for the book project—something that I couldn't have anticipated just a year ago. It makes me think that there's something to this "I Want" exercise. Now, you won't always get exactly what you want, but oftentimes, God or the universe (or whatever or whoever) has a way of creating the nicest little twist in plot, and maybe what you get is even better.

*****

I Want to Know

What's on your mind after reading this?