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Amy Leggio: Aging Brilliantly

Sue Habib, Lexis Florist, brought two gorgeous bouquets of flowers to our May meeting, one bouquet for the youngest mother and one for the oldest mother. Dana Hailat, DDS, was the youngest mother. Genie Fuller and Kathy Driscoll compared notes, and Genie received the flowers as the oldest mother. I was a little uncomfortable with the oldest-mother designation since I was raised in era where women had their 21st birthday year after year!

After the meeting, Kathy and Genie approached me and said they sensed my discomfort but it was very important to them that ROBWEC members know that they were 78 and 81 years old, respectively, and that they are proud of how healthy and productive they are. They want our members to know women can be engaged in life and business for decades after the standard retirement age – just like men can.

In true ROBWEC fashion, we went for drinks to talk further about the topic. We met at the outside bar at Hungry’s which was packed with young professionals, none of whom looked more put together than my companions! 

Kathy told us that she used to worry about aging and would try to “hide it” in her 60’s.  Then she went to an event and saw a 75-year-old who “looked great, dressed great and who was lively and engaged. ” Kathy realized that aging was like everything else in life, “There are consequences to every decision and behavior and you decide what you are willing to accept.” Kathy decided she was not willing to accept being a “little old lady” and to retire to “get old.”

Kathy and Genie both actively make decisions related to staying active and fresh. They agreed that constantly learning and trying new activities keeps them dynamic. They implement new business ideas, focus on health and take up and renew hobbies. They let their lives grow and change as they do rather than clinging to what used to be. Genie emphasized how important keeping up with technology is in business and in being able to keep up with current trends.  Kathy’s motto for technology is “show me or teach me but don’t leave me behind!”

On a more spiritual side, we spoke about the cycle of life being real and how we evolve as the wheel turns and we go through stages of joy, grief, hardship and plenty. Kathy urges us to always take advantage of our age and enjoy every stage. “Just keep going.  You just have to keep going. The cycle will change and you will benefit from your determination to keep going. You will become more tolerant  and less excitable because you will live through crisis after crisis and will learn not to expect perfection of yourself or others.  It is keeping going that counts.”

Genie and Kathy expressed the process of aging as a progression toward freedom. With the passing of time, both ladies enjoy being more open with their real opinions and accepting who they are. “I don’t have to please the whole world anymore,” says Genie.

This sage advice ended with a quip from Kathy “A sweetly-spoken ‘Bless your heart’ will soften any truth you need to tell.” 

I found the whole experience to be so wonderfully ROBWEC, from Sue’s delightful generosity, to our members gently guiding me after a meeting, to a glass of wine and a deeply personal and honest discussion that is so important to us all. These interactions make ROBWEC unleavable. I do hope you are all benefiting in some way from connecting with members outside of the monthly programs. It will enrich your life and keep you young!

cvanzandtAmy Leggio: Aging Brilliantly
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Amy Leggio: Proud American

This piece is based on letters that are now in the ”Irene Hodel Bruinsma” archive at the University of Houston Special Collections, where the ROBWEC papers are housed.

My grandfather, Karl, was born in 1901 in the Black Forest. Visiting his birthplace, I was told by a stranger, related through blood, “This is the bed where your grandfather was born.” This stranger went on to tell me about the tax-related dispute related to that bed: a village boundary runs through the center of the family house,  right through the “marriage bed.”  Depending on the tax situation, the house and bed move from village to village!  At the moment, they remain in a favorable tax position.

In 1923 Karl took a boat, third class, to the United States.  There were no jobs on either side of the bed and he and his three siblings left  for America in pursuit of the American dream.  Karl was processed through Ellis Island where he became “Carl.”   He told me once over penny blackjack that he wrote a prettier “C” than “K” and filling out the paperwork at Ellis Island was his  big chance to make a change.

In 1925, Carl applied for American citizenship.  Ethnicity: German.  Occupation: chauffeur.  Employer:  Mr. Lewis, Elm Street, Glencoe, IL.  Wife: German, not yet a citizen.

In 1927, my mother, Irene, is born and she and her sister are raised in an apartment over the garage on Elm Street.  Mom starts kindergarten at age 5 and stomps home after her first day to launch “kuchen kindergarten.”  She realizes her parents’ English is not up to par!  And they had better get with it!  “This is America.  And they speak English here!”

During the Depression, angels in the neighborhood pay mom and her sister to pluck dandelions from spring gardens for .10 apiece.  Feeling quite confident with this skill, they go on to cut all the tulips in the neighbor’s garden for a Mother’s Day bouquet. The neighbor is poet laureate Archibald MacLeish. When sent to apologize, MacLeish suggests they apologize  to his gardener because he was the one who put his back into the flowers.

Throughout, Carl studies library books and advances in responsibility. In addition to chauffeur, he becomes the estate gardener, then estate manager, and eventually handles all of Mr. Lewis’ business affairs. 

World War II rages in Europe as mom wins a scholarship to go away to college.

Concerns follow her from Glencoe.

Mr. Lewis writes mom a letter about her mother, about how upset she has been, “She is struggling. It is hard for her to see you girls grow up and leave home.”  The doctor prescribes hormones.  Mr. Lewis continues with a paragraph that my mom writes over and over in her journal and on scraps of paper that she retained in her letters:

“Irene, in life—what matters is courage.  I hired your daddy years ago because he and your  mother were in the neighborhood on a cold, winter afternoon looking for work.  I thought, ‘Who knows what this man’s skills are.  But he has courage.’ And courage to

stand up to life’s challenges is more valuable than a teachable  skill. I have never had a minute of disappointment in your daddy in all the years he’s worked for me.”

Ultimately, my mom needed courage to let go of her educational dreams. She had to find work and send money home to family hurting in post-war Germany.  And then find courage again to take a much better paying  position with Aramco in far off Saudi Arabia. She followed her daddy’s advice to go to the library to check  that “this Aramco” had the capital to pay her once she arrived  in Saudi. This was a good move. She could send money to Germany and have a little leftover for herself.

Years later the family settled in California from Saudi. Grandpa retired, and mom was on full-time mom status to a second generation of Americans. We loved road trips and often packed our family up and visited Tijuana, Mexico.  When passing through immigration back to California, my dad would hand over the stack of passports for everyone in the car, usually a stack of ten.  Big Catholic family.

When our names were called and we were asked our nationality, we kids, writhing around and socking each other in the back of the station wagon, would holler, “ ‘ Merican.”   “ ‘Merican.”  “ ‘Me too!”

I think dad would purposely put grandpa’s passport last.  There was always a pause before the question to grandpa  and his response. Hair would rise up on the back of our necks.  Grandpa’s bright blue eyes prepared for the challenge. And our childish blue eyes would look at the immigration man for the first time. “Sir.  What is your nationality?” 

The answer never varied.  “ I am a praut Amerikan!”

Courage.  It is not just for heroes.

It might be part of becoming a “praut Amerikan.”

cvanzandtAmy Leggio: Proud American
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Amy Leggio: Shining your light

You don’t need anyone’s permission to be great,” said a participant in an early morning radio talk show about female entrepreneurs. She went on to say how she trained herself early in her career to eliminate the noise in her head caused by validation from others.  Even positive feedback limited her because it shifted the focus of her decision making from pursuing her unique goals to taking action to please others. Her success is based on creating a distinct brand around her own creative talent. As she said, “If you are not going to shine your own light in your career, just get a job.”

Let’s give a shout out to the many ROBWEC women who are shining their own lights and, as a result, lighting paths for others. 

cvanzandtAmy Leggio: Shining your light
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Amy Leggio: Finding joy in our daily life

I was inspired this month by a conversation with a female physician I talked with at a recent reception. She appears to have it all – several biomedical start up firms, thriving research projects, three well adjusted children, and a happy marriage to the CEO of a world famous med center institution. I saw her alone at the buffet line. Ah, perfect time to approach her. I picked up my plate and asked the big question, “How do you do it? How do you hold it together? Playing so many roles and succeeding at all of them?”

Let’s face it. It’s obvious she has worked hard for her success. But she seems to have something else going on. What was her guiding principle?

Surprisingly, she took my question seriously and responded thoughtfully as we stood there with white plates empty in our hands. “You think I have it all? All I can tell you is that I wake up every day and I consider everything ahead of me. I think about it all. And then I only do what gives me joy. If I feel no joy about an activity ahead of me, I cut it out of my day. I don’t do it. Life is short. Life is meant for joy. I don’t do anything that doesn’t give me joy.”

Hmmmm. I thanked her. I filled my plate. I moved on. I am a duty-bound, honorable country girl myself, so this was a lot to absorb. “Joy?” A motivating force? It’s all I can do to navigate through a single day of my every growing list of obligations.

During the next week, I thought about all the reasons this world view was unsustainable and selfish and unrealistic. Then it clicked. I started to pay attention to all the things I do in a day. I realized I am committed to a lot of things that are are filling up my life. But they are not fulfilling. And certainly not bringing me joy.

I challenge you to try this yourself. List all the things you think you need to do today. Then highlight only the important tasks, ones that bring you joy. The rest can get done later, be delegated to someone else, or left undone.
To bring joy into our lives, we need to let go of the idea that we should be able to do it all. Choose what you put your attention on and learn to let go of the rest. Give yourself permission to purposely choose joy. You will soon be more effective in all areas of your life.

I have started my journey towards joy. I am beginning to look forward to each day. I feel more energetic as I make choices.

Please join me. This is a fun exercise!

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President’s message

Last year my daughter Sofia called me in a panic.  It was her senior year in college and she “hadn’t had an interesting thought in TWO DAYS! “

“Is this what it means to be an adult, Mom!?”

She described keeping up with her studies, her two jobs, bills, planning for the future.  Trying to maintain friendships and family ties.  And how hard it was to have time to think

I had to admit that, yes, that was a downside to being an adult.  Sometimes the pressure of making a living and keeping up drove out the space for “interesting thoughts.”

One reason I think the ROBWEC  breakfast  programs are so important and so much appreciated is because the programs give us space to think about our world in a new way and to look at issues through different eyes.  We can apply what we learn to evaluate information we receive or decisions we make.  A reminder that not everyone is me.  Not everyone thinks like me.  And not everyone receives information like me.  What a business advantage! 

And where else are we able to interact in a small group setting with a MacArthur Genius?  The mayor of Houston?  Who doesn’t like being the most interesting woman in the room after a ROBWEC breakfast?!

Emilie Booth and our board do a wonderful job vetting and securing speakers for our programs,  ensuring the topics are relevant and the speaker is of known quality.   With compelling programs, we will make ROBWEC unleavable and create a magnificent opportunity for the Sofia’s of Houston when they, too, become Women of Impact holding on to the need for interesting thoughts!

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1975-2016: Celebrating 40 Years

Katharine CabanissWe will be joined by over 30 former members at the November meeting. Some are traveling from far destinations to reconnect and celebrate with us! We look forward to seeing old friends and making new ones.

Our November meeting, in addition to being a celebration, will also contain a short business meeting. We will approve the 2017 budget and slate of board members.

It is a privilege to celebrate our ROBWEC birthday with all of you. ROBWEC women have always been Women of Impact, and our current membership certainly fits that model. We continue to work, serve, and make a difference in our community. Thank you for all you do as a Woman of Impact in the greater Houston area.

Keep up the great work. When a ROBWEC woman is in the room, business gets done!

Katherine Cabaniss
robwecwebdev1975-2016: Celebrating 40 Years
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