Thursday, July 3, 2014

Reflections on turning 60

What age are you inside?

Selfie taken on June 29, 2014 in my Ukrainian Tryzub cap. 

This past weekend, Aleria stayed calmly on her mooring while her crew pursued shore side pursuits. Specifically, we bought two-day tickets to the Westport Festival of Music and Food.  Westport happens to be on Clew Bay along the Wild Atlantic Way so I feel justified in spending time writing about my home town. Alex grew up here but I'm a recent transplant. Every day I feel fortunate to be allowed to live in such a beautiful and welcoming place. I look out the window on the water and gaze toward Croagh Patrick and thank the Lord for my good fortune.

Yet I agonized for ages. My 60th birthday was coming up and it's a big deal in Alex's family to celebrate birthdays, especially significant ones (as though one number is more significant than any other), in a big way. We never did that in my family. So I thought, "How can I make this one really stand out?  What would I really most like to do on my birthday?  What would be so outrageous I would never forget it?"  I wracked my brain. I thought maybe we should sail to the Baltic, but I really did not want to join up with the OCC 60th Anniversary cruise for several reasons, chief among which was that I could not go to St. Petersburg, which would be the highlight of the trip. You see, I could not go to Russia when Russia was the aggressor in Ukraine.

Then I thought, why not go to the Black Sea?  Or at least visit Ukraine by air or land. We thought about driving there...big problem with importing vehicles if you drive your own car. We thought about flying into Poland and visiting my parents' stomping grounds, and we might still do that later this year.  But each time we made a decision, new violence broke out. The US Embassy issued a travel advisory warning Americans not to go there. So, my plans were once again thwarted. What was I going to do?

That's when I realized that now that I've found home, that was going to be the best place to "be".  I didn't want to be "doing", I wanted to just "be".  And so we stayed home and fortunately, the biggest party I could ever plan came right to us. An estimated 15,000 people came to Westport to help me celebrate my birthday. Not only that, we put down a lobster pot and had lobster and blue crabs Friday night, Saturday AND Sunday. I was in heaven. The strawberries, gooseberries, black currants and raspberries from our garden were to die for. It was a fabulous weekend.

On Saturday, I found myself celebrating the last day of being in my 50s. I filled out a survey and ticked the 50-59 box for the last time.  I thought about what I had done in the past ten years...and realized I had done a lot more than I thought I had...
  1. Ran a successful independent consulting business 
  2. Was recruited to start up a cultural competence unit in S&H and ended up running the NY office off 400 employees, as well as all the digital ops, and instituted a highly successful integrated marketing capability. 
  3. Served as President of the HBA
  4. Started HBA Europe
  5. Built a house on the water in Westport, Ireland 
  6. Sold up in the USA and quit my high powered career
  7. Sailed across the North Atlantic double handed with Alex on our own 57 foot ketch Aleria
  8. Moved to a foreign country - Ireland
  9. Spent a sabbatical year circumnavigating the North Atlantic during which we sailed across the Atlantic twice more
  10. Started a new business in Ireland, secured government funding, and developed an innovative programme that is now ready to launch 
  11. Brought HBA to Ireland and received the HBA STAR Award
  12. Started a novel based on my mother's story of emigration from Ukraine
  13. Supported the efforts of Ukraine to align with Europe and manage its own sovereignty
  14. Sold several major articles to magazines on both sides of the Atlantic
  15. Joined OCC after satisfying the 1000-mi offshore passage requirement and was co-opted to serve on the OCC Committee with the Strategic Planning Group and as PR Officer
I'm sure I've forgotten a thing or two. When you look at it that way, aside from the agonizing fact that I have outlived my beautiful sister Oksana, I have done a lot in the last ten years. I am sure that if you all look back on the last ten years, you'll find that you've done a lot more than you give yourself credit for. That bit of reflection game me the courage to face the planning phase for the next 40 years.  Don't know if I'll make it, but at least I'll be trying all kinds of new things along the way there, wherever there is. 

So the weekend turned out outrageously memorable. Saturday, we got to the Festival as the evening acts were getting started having had lobster sandwiches and lobster bisque for lunch. The lineup at the festival was a bit weak, but it did include:

  • The Ukelele Orchestra from the UK which was a great gas
  • The Overtones - your basic 1960s boy band doing old hits 
  • 2Cellos - amazing!!! What an innovative inspirational performance. Made our day! Croatians Stjepan Hauser and Luka Sulic. Love. Following. What great fortune to see them here in our own back yard. 
  • Shane Filan, formerly of the Westlife boy band and now on his own, was surprisingly fun
  • David Gray, the headline act, who we thought was awful until he got to his old stuff. As we didn't know him, it's not that we were familiar with the old, it's just that the old stuff was so much better. It's almost as though he was forgetting the lyrics to the new music. 

Sunday, we missed some of the early acts in favour of strawberry pancakes for breakfast and lunch at home - lobster and crab!!! Yum!!! Heaven. Straight out of the water and into the pot. Thank you lord for all your have provided. The lineup for Sunday was pretty strong, and included:

  • Tinariwen, a Tuareg band from sub-saharan Africa, which we enjoyed tremendously. Very different.
  • Mundy, who was obnoxious using the F word on stage and swearing about not having a guitar that works - bad form Mundy, the children were really turned off. Losing your next generation here...
  • Sinead O'Connor who rocked the crowd - loved her!!! Tattoos, clothed in black and shaved head - she looked great and sounded awesome.  
  • Kool and the Gang were a polished act and it was great to finally see a Motown gig - Celebration topped off the set. Great horns and sax.
  • Bryan Adams brought the house down.  He was fab. Has aged extremely well. He introduced himself as "I'm Bryan f---ing Adams" and the crowd went wild. What a performer. So much energy. Worked the crowd perfectly. Amazing that all these young kids knew every word to every song. It's been so long since he was my idol that I'd forgotten half of them. 

And, as if that wasn't enough, there were fireworks when the music stopped, just for my birthday...after three returns by Bryan, they started at 11:45 just to finish off my birthday with a great memory. Here's a video Alex made of the fireworks.  

And it didn't end there. When I got home, there was a magnificent birthday present from my creative and highly talented, self taught artist, mother in law, Meike.  What a day.

My best friends by Meike Blackwell

On Tuesday we continued and went out to dinner at Newport House with friends and family. The Thompsons bought us a bottle of very special champagne to start off and we topped it off with a five course meal and birthday cake. What great fun it all was. During dinner we each decided how old we were inside because we all have a physical age and a mental age. I, for example, will always be 35 - old enough to be beyond caring what other people think, old enough to have wisdom and style, old enough to have the freedom to do what I choose effectively. No need to worry about the rest.

Now I buckle down to work. After weeks of spectacular weather - blue skies, no rain, little wind and brilliant sunshine with temps hovering around 20 degrees, the rain is now upon us finally. The gardens are lush, the water is warming up, and the mackerel are running. Life is grand.  Let's see what's in store next. 

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