Sunday, December 25, 2016

Smoke, Speed and Drink Wine

I feel hung over. After an eight day trip to Italy, visiting four airports in 22 hours while fighting a gnarly head cold, I woke up back in America on Christmas not knowing what day it was. Oh, that's right. This is the day Jesus was born. It's called Christmas. Wait, where am I?
Even though my head is three feet thick on the most important day of the year, it was worth it. Italy was amazing--like an outdoor museum. Every building, statue, fountain, staircase and lamp-post seemed to be 2000 years old and designed by a famous artist. The country is full of majestic rivers and ruins, beautiful fountains and flora and people who smoke, drive like maniacs and park on sidewalks.
I am not kidding.
I made the mistake of sitting at the front of the tour bus a few times and was absolutely shocked at how often we came millimeters from sending a brunette on a motor-scooter to her death or vaulting a pedestrian into a fountain. Smart cars, fiats, scooters and motorcycles weaved around us and criss-crossed in front of us like angry bees. We drove winding, narrow, ancient roads where our bus driver had to honk as he approached a curve to ensure that pedestrians, drivers, birds, WHOEVER, would not end up on the windshield. On one trip up a hill to a Tuscan restaurant, I don't think I breathed the entire trip. I gasped, but didn't breathe. My tour guide actually warned me not to sit in the front because of the craziness I would witness. I should have listened. She also told me when I used crosswalks in Rome to just "step out and smile." I tried it and made it home to talk about it, but there were a few times I almost ended up a hood ornament. At least I would have been a smiling hood ornament.

Here are a few others things I learned that I think you should know if you plan to travel to Italy:

  1. Order wine. Italians drink wine at every meal. OK, maybe not breakfast, but they don't really eat breakfast so that doesn't count. (I felt like a PIG eating anything more than a postage stamp sized pastry and a drop of espresso.) At lunch, they will offer you soda just to be nice, but if you order it, you will look like a crazy American.
  2. Whatever you do, if you DO order a soda, do not drink it straight out of the bottle or can. Evidently, Italians think that is gross (i.e. American). One time in Amalfi after ordering a slice of pizza, I asked for a can of Italian orange soda (wine was not an option since this was a fast-food like place) and was asked if I wanted a plastic cup to go with my soda. I said no. I was promptly handed a straw. It became clear to me that OBVIOUSLY, if I wasn't going to POUR my drink into a cup, then I was going to sip it with a STRAW because I would NEVER drink it straight out of the can like a barbarian (i.e. American). I learned my lesson.
  3. Put down your money. Want to hand that bill to your cashier? Don't. Put it down my friend. Right there on the counter. Let her pick it up. And when your change comes back, do not stick out your hand like a peasant. Just wait for her to plop (or slam) it down in front of you, then meekly pick it up one Euro coin at a time while the Italian behind you pushes you out of the way.
  4. Take up smoking. You might as well. You are going to smell smoke everywhere you go--sidewalks, restaurants, cafes, museums, parks--it doesn't matter. I think I even smelled smoke inside the Vatican at one point, but that may have been money burning in the tourist's pockets when they caught site of the bottled holy water in the gift shop. If you want fresh air, you'll have to leave the country. Let me put it this way--I had to come back to Los Angeles to breathe clean air. Does that tell you something?
  5. Do not drive, but if you must, drive like you are being chased or you are late for your wedding. Do not wait behind other cars or large tour buses, simply zip around them like they are children on tricycles. Speed on the wrong side of the road. Flash your lights to tell other drivers to get out of you way. Honk profusely. If you are on the freeway, flash your lights and honk profusely at the same time. Back up into oncoming traffic on a narrow street and cuss people out in your best Italian as they gesture at you with disgust. One thing though, wear a helmet. Yes, even if you are driving a car.
  6. Park wherever you'd like. Anywhere really. In America, you get a ticket if you park in a handicapped spot or on a one lane road, and you'd get towed if you dared to park on the curb in front of a store with your bumper 6 inches from display window. But not in Italy where parking is a free for all! If someone beats you to a spot, act like you are at the Hollywood Bowl and stack park behind them.
  7. Stop smiling, talking loudly and laughing. What is it about being American that makes us so dang happy all the time? I think Italians find this very annoying, bordering on obnoxious. My tour group was constantly "shushing" each other every where we went because no matter whether we were in a restaurant or a museum, no one else was talking loudly, or laughing, or smiling. I pretty much walked around Italy for eight days trying to hold in my laugh and talk like I was a nun in a library.
  8.  Learn a language other than English. Everyone I met in Italy spoke at least three languages, usually Italian, English and French. Our tour guide spoke Italian, Spanish, English and French and was learning Portuguese. I speak English and intermediate Spanish. I felt like an uneducated moron. I learned four Italian phrases (three were greetings) and that was all my brain could hold. The good news is if you speak only English, you will have no problem in Italy since nearly everyone speaks English and a lot of signs are in English, but you will feel like you should have paid more attention in your high school language classes or at least ordered Rosetta Stone for Christmas.
  9. Do not wear white tennis shoes. Or baseball hats. PLEASE. No one in Italy wears these except the American tourists. Italians dress like every day is business casual Friday or they are headed to a fashion show. If they wear jeans, they are form fitting (bordering on "painted-on" if you are under 30) and a nice collared shirt or sweater with a puffy jacket and a scarf if it is cold. The men wear brown leather dress shoes or boots. White sneakers and baseball hats look tacky inside the Pantheon or other places of importance. It just doesn't seem right to be standing next to two thousand year old ruins in the Forum with a Dodgers logo on your head.
  10. Watch your step. Americans are used to smooth paved roads, hand railings on stairs and flashing signs that say "Watch Your Step."  Italians are not. You either watch your step or fall head first into the burial site of an ancient pope or off of a sheer cliff into the Mediterranean. So for goodness sake, put down your phone unless you want a selfie of your last few seconds on the planet.
That's about it. I hope you find this helpful if you decide to travel to Italy. Now, if you'll excuse me, I am going to have some wine, a smoke, and head to bed.
Buon Natale!

-Hope A. Horner, 2016
Contact author on gmail at hopeh1122
or follow on Twitter @HopeNote

Sunday, November 27, 2016

I Blew it on Small Business Saturday

I just couldn't do it.
Saturday was "Small Business Saturday." I was supposed to go out and support local small businesses and snub the big chain stores.
But it just didn't happen.
I needed hardware for my new house - nuts and bolts, that type of thing.
Anybody seen a local hardware store around lately?
I ended up at Lowe's and got what I needed.
At least I didn't go online. Or shop at Walmart. Give me SOME credit.

Shopping local just ain't as easy as it used to be. Many small town stores just don't exist anymore. It's all Home Depot and Target and Toys R Us and Petsmart. The best I could do this past Saturday was have coffee at a non-chain coffee shop--A place with three chairs, a lady with braided hair and an espresso machine that sounded like a VW bug. But that didn't happen. I made myself Starbucks coffee at home. My home is small; does that count? It wasn't that long ago there were small stores for tools, electronics, pet supplies, sporting goods, and toys. Now they're like endangered species: Rare, specialized and really expensive to try to save.
I grew up in the 1970's and 80's in a suburb of Los Angeles. Even being that close to the big city, we had lots of small businesses to support. A few of my favorites were Burt's Pharmacy (I was too young for prescription meds, but they had LOTS of jawbreakers, lemon-heads and Snickers bars) and Marty's Hobbies. Only one of the two still exist today and it has added drones to its inventory. Poor ol' Burt probably got beat out by Rite Aid and CVS. I wonder if Marty is worried about Hobby Lobby coming to town? I remember back in the early 1980's Marty had a soda machine right at the front of his store. It wasn't the usual type of machine. It was a tall metal machine that dispensed bottled soda---grape, orange, cola, lemon lime. I think they were 25 or 30 cents--I can't remember--but you would put in your money and pull a soda out of what looked like a vertical wine cooler. It made a great ker-chunk sound when you pulled it out. Even better, it had a built in bottle opener and when you pried the bottle open, the cap would fall in a catch basin below. Soooo coool. The grape soda was the best! Sometimes I would just go into the store to get a soda and walk out. I wasn't much of a fan of the remote control cars or model airplanes. I preferred the music store just a few doors down that had cassettes and CDs in giant packages. I forget the name of this
store, but it was where I bought my first CD. I wish I could tell you it was U2, or Talking Heads, or Bruce Springsteen, but instead it was Falco. I know, it's a crying shame I saved all the money from washing Dad's car and scooping up dog poop in the backyard to buy a CD with Rock Me Amadeus on it.
Now I don't even buy CDs anymore.
I don't buy music anymore!
I have a subscription to Spotify and listen to Sirius XM in my car.
My how things have changed.  Even if I wanted to buy a CD this past Saturday, I would have been hard-pressed to find one. Does Best Buy still sell CDs? I had heard they were phasing out their CD department. Plus, I was not about to elbow my way around sleepy people carrying $40 ninety inch flat-screens to get Sting's latest album. Album? Speaking of album...
Remember record stores?  So maybe I am not old enough to remember the REAL record stores of the 50's and 60's with listening booths and rows and rows of vinyl, but I have perused a few pretty cool ones in Southern California. I have about 100 records in my collection and love the scratch the needle makes when you first put it on the record and the rush of warm nostalgia that flows out between the crackling of dust.
I should have hit some records stores on small business Saturday. It's just that I didn't need any more records and the things I did need, were not available at small stores anymore.
Small business Saturday. Shop local while you can; if you can! I didn't do such a great job this year, but I'm grateful my childhood was full of bottled soda and 10 cent candy in small cardboard boxes. I'm still sorry my first CD was a one hit wonder though. By the way, where is that thing? I might be able to put it up on Ebay.

-Hope A. Horner, 2016
Contact author on gmail at hopeh1122

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Boo! 10 Ways Fear Disables Leaders

The ghosts. 
The ghouls. 
The goblins. 
It's Halloween--the time of year we love to be afraid.
I was waiting in line outside a "Haunted Hospital"at a Halloween event the other day and wondered, "What is it about being scared that is so much fun?" It's the adrenaline rush. The unknown. The loud screaming and frantic group hugs. Fear can be fun this time of year, however, at work? Not so much. Fear causes problems when we let it drive our decision making. As leaders, we'd like to think we make decisions rationally based on input from stakeholders, survey results, and good common sense, but sometimes we make decisions based on the "scary what ifs". Depending on our line of work, we could be afraid of financial loss, angry customers, politicians, liability, lawsuits, looking bad, setting a precedent, or failing all together. All important to consider, but when fear becomes our bottom line--the driving factor behind our decisions--then our decision making will be skewed.

Here are 10 things that can happen when we let fear drive our decision making:

  1. We no longer take risks. Instead, we play it safe. And the result? Our products, programs, and services become homogenized and sanitized. We aren't special; we're "one size fits all." We lose our uniqueness, impact, relevance, and creative edge. It's like being a ghost in a white sheet for Halloween every year. Boring.
  2. We become paralyzed. We no longer make decisions or recommendations. We leave that to "the higher ups"--our supervisor, board, CEO, lawyers, or council. Pretty soon we find ourselves running even the simple things up the chain of command because we don't want to be the one to make a mistake or have "something come back to haunt us." (Soon our staff will be paralyzed, too. See the next point.)
  3. We micromanage those who work for us. We require our staff to ask for approval for nearly everything--turning our team members into robots who can't even order a pencil without asking for permission. We make them do research before they can proceed on even the simplest idea. (a.k.a. "Analysis Paralysis") And if what they propose to do isn't listed as a "best practice" in some important document somewhere, we won't 'practice' it at all.
  4. We become "Negative Neds or Nancys." We talk more about what we can't do, than what we can. We point to other businesses/organizations that screwed up and say "We don't want to end up like them." We find ourselves describing "worst case scenarios;" overplaying the "what-ifs" and as a result morale suffers, creativity dies, and paranoia thrives. 
  5. We put people in boxes or "demonize" them. When we're scared or uncertain, it's easier to just say a customer, co-worker, or boss is "always like that" or "that group of people always..." We rely on broad generalizations and stereotypes as opposed to seeking to understand (or encouraging) a different perspective or trying to build relationships. When everyone is in their box (coffin?), we feel safe.
  6. We don't do special things for special people. We lump all our customers/participants together and treat them all the same regardless of whether or not we are actually meeting their unique needs. Did one person get a little extra special attention in a program or service? Did we modify a product, process, or program to meet a customer's unique need? Well, that's not fair to the rest of the customers/participants so therefore NO ONE will get any special attention. 
  7. We create paycheck collectors--paranoid paycheck collectors.  Everyone is so worried about making a mistake or standing out for the wrong reasons that they just do the bare minimum or only what they're told. Team members work hard to "stay under the radar" and just "do their job" which isn't working hard at all. The core motivating factor for all humans--making a difference--gets lost and people just do what their told or what's in their job description and nothing more. 
  8. We end up naked and don't know it. Remember the children's story "The Emperor Has No Clothes"? Read it Here  Fear makes people "go along to get along." They don't want to disagree with the boss or sound like the "squeaky wheel." They think: "I'm not going to say anything because this could come back to haunt me." As a result, leaders no longer receive honest input from their employees about how they are doing or candid feedback on the direction the company or organization is headed. Good leaders know that employees fear speaking up and encourage a culture where people can speak the truth. We can't just tell people to "talk straight" and expect them to do that. We have to show that we can tolerate difference of opinion or criticism by listening respectfully and with an open mind.  Also, do we only hire, reward, and promote those who tow the line? Disparage, alienate, or mock those who dare to disagree?  
  9.  Our health suffers. Fear activates our adrenal glands and releases a "flight or fight" response in our bodies. This is good if we are running from a goblin, but elevated cortisol hardens our arteries, skews our thinking, and makes us more prone to heart disease, weight gain, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
  10. Ironically, what we fear becomes more likely. Fear keeps us from building relationships with our customers, clients, and participants. We just want to get them "in and out" of our programs, offices, and businesses without getting sued or yelled at. We want them to use our products and not complain. They're no longer people; they're numbers, survey respondents, spreadsheet fillers. So we lose touch. As a result we lose the very thing that keeps us from having problems in the first place: relationships. When we care for our customers/participants and they care for us, they are more likely to talk things through, work things out, let things go, and give us the benefit of the doubt when things go wrong.
As leaders we have to consider risks and use common sense to ensure our products, programs and services are safe, equitable, and inclusive. Of course, we must think about consequences, but we can do that without letting fear rule our every move. We can listen. Take a chance. Be courageous. Be creative. Think big. Welcome different perspectives. Encourage respectful disagreement. Ask for input. Make decisions. Make mistakes. Make exceptions. Make a difference.

Now, if you're done reading this, please sign below indicating that you will not sue me if none of the above works.

-Hope A. Horner, 2016
Contact author on hotmail at hopeh1122
 #forbes #leadershipnow #fearbasedleadership #hopehorner
For more great insight into this subject, check out this article for Forbes by Liz Ryan:
5 Characteristics of Fear Based Leaders

Saturday, October 8, 2016

More Than a Body

When I was eight years old I asked my Mom this question:
"Mom, when I get older, will I still think the same way inside my head?"
She kept drying the dishes but turned to look at me.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"I mean, the way I think, inside my head, will I think the same way? Be the same person inside?"
She paused momentarily.
"No, you won't sweetie. You will grow up and think differently."
Even though this happened decades ago, I remember this conversation vividly because this was a VERY important question for me. I needed to know. I HAD to know. What I was trying to ask is, "Am I always going to be me as I know me to be inside my head?" I think about it now and that was a pretty deep question for someone who had just played Atari Donkey Kong five minutes before. No, I wasn't a budding philosopher, but I was the type of kid who always had the sense there is more than meets the eye; that there is more to this world this just the physical--just what we can touch, smell, see, and hear. I knew I was more than just a body, that there was a "me" inside my head and I was curious to know if it was going to grow up like my body. While I would add height and pounds and grow hair in strange places, would my thoughts grow up with me or was I already who I was going to be inside my head and my body just needed to catch up?
I'm not sure my Mom understood what I was asking. I had a hard time putting words to that question at eight. I had to grow up to understand both what I was asking and what the answer was.  Of course, now I know the real answer to that question is both yes AND No. Yes, I would always be who I am inside (my soul/spirit/person-hood), but my mind--my thoughts, attitudes, beliefs and perspective would change.  Just like any good philosophical question, the answer is ABSOLUTELY CERTAINLY MAYBE.

We are more than our bodies.
We are more than just mothers or sisters, daughters or sons, uncles or fathers or cousins.
We are more than just employees or bosses or CEO's or day laborers.
We are souls.

Have you ever had a chance encounter with a stranger and felt that connection? Not a body or mind connection, not a love connection, but a soul connection?
Recently, I had a cancer scare. I had a mammogram and my doctor told me to come in and have another one because they found something on my upper left breast that was "abnormal."  As I sat in the waiting room for my second mammogram with a bunch of women in hospital robes, a young woman came in the room and sat next to me. Her eyes were wide and wet. She fidgeted with her gown, picked at her nails, and shuffled through her purse. She heaved a big sigh and I turned toward her.
"Are you OK?" I asked.
She looked up quickly and just as quickly looked back down at her hands.
"Not really." She said.
"Did you already have your mammogram?" I asked.
She nodded. "They found something and plus I have an infection in one of my breasts and have been on medication and it is not working, so they don't know what it is."  She started to cry.
"I am so sorry." I reached into my purse for a tissue. I handed it to her and she took it and wiped her eyes.
"I have kids." She said.  "I can't even think about..."
I reached out and put my hand on her shoulder.
"I know. I'm sorry." I said, "This is very scary."
She nodded and then looked up with eyes full of tears. "Did they find something in your scan?"
"Yes." I said. "They did."
"I'm sorry." She said and put her head back down.
"Thank you."
Just then her name was called and she grabbed her stuff and disappeared from the room holding her gown around her.
I looked up and the lady sitting directly across from me gave me a timid smile.  I smiled back. I thought about how we were all sitting here thinking the same thing:  "Am I about to be told I have cancer?"
A few minutes later, my name was called and I stood up to go with the nurse. As I walked out of the waiting area, the lady I had spoken to earlier came down the hall.
"Good news!" She said. "It's nothing!" She smiled from ear to ear.  I gave her a big smile and a thumbs up.
"What's your name?" she asked.
"Of course it is." She said with a little chuckle, "Thank you." I hugged her and followed the nurse ahead of me into the examination room.
Turns out my "abnormality" was nothing, too, and for that I was very grateful.  But I will never forget that moment of connection. As we sat in that waiting room realizing our bodies may have failed us, our souls connected. We connected as people. People who were scared. Nervous. Anxious. Fragile.
Maybe I have always been me inside, in the sense that I have always known there is more to me than just what meets the eye.
I hope you feel that way about yourself, too, and see others the same way. It's what connects us all.
We are more than our bodies.

-Hope A. Horner, 2016
Contact author to publish on gmail at hopeh1122. Follow on Twitter @HopeNote

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Trust, Amplified

"Hi, my name is Hector. I'm interested in the amplifier?"
His voice went up at the end and he had a thick accent. Hector was pronounced Heck - Tor, like two separate words. Eeenterested had a double e sound at the beginning.
"Do you still have it?"
"Yes, I do." I was selling my old Kenwood stereo amplifier on Craigslist.  I had just put the ad up a few hours ago and Hector was the first person to call.
"Can I come in awhile--in 20 or 30 minutes?" He asked. I could tell he was driving.
"Uh, I'm actually just heading out to dinner. Where are you?"
"I am near Topanga Canyon in the Valley and I am going home to Lancaster."
"Oh, so you will pass right by me." Not exactly, but close. I could tell he wanted to pick up the amp on his way.
"Yes, if I can come by in a few minutes on my way that would be good."
I knew on a Friday it was going to take a lot longer than a few minutes in the middle of rush hour to get from the most western part of the valley all the way to Santa Clarita.
"I'll tell you what, Hector, I am going to leave the amplifier outside my door for you, OK?  Just put the $20 under the door mat, OK?"
He paused.
"Does that work for you?" I asked.
There was a long pause like he was thinking it over or maybe we had gotten disconnected?
"Thank you." he said. "I will leave you the money. I promise."
"I know, I trust you." I said.
"Can you text me your address?"
We hung up and I texted him my address. I put the amplifier on my porch next to a couple of Sparkletts water bottles I had yet to bring in, grabbed my keys, and headed out to dinner.
About thirty minutes into dinner my phone rang. I excused myself from the table and went outside.
"Hi, this is Hector. I think I am here in your neighborhood but I can't find your house."
"What street are you on?" I asked. People always made a left instead of a right when they entered my town-home complex so I figured he was probably one street over. Sure enough, he was.
"OK, Hector just go back out and make a right, and when you get to my street, go all the way to the end."
I stayed on the phone as he drove, naming each street on his way. He eventually got to mine. "OK, I found it." I could hear the relief in his voice.
"Great!' I said. I was ready to hang up and go inside to finish my dinner.
"Thank you." Hector said. He sounded closer to the phone now. "Thank you for trusting me."
"You're welcome, Hector. I do trust you."
"You don't know me; I have an accent and you trust me. You're a wonderful person."
I didn't know what to say. I think I told him thank you and enjoy the amp, drive safe, or something like that. I went back inside and finished my dinner with tears in my eyes. I knew there would be $20 under my doormat when I got home. There was.

I think about it now and I realize Hector trusted me, too. He trusted I would leave the amplifier where I said I would. He trusted that when he got home to plug it in, it would work.
We had both trusted each other. Given each other the benefit of the doubt. Believed that given the opportunity the other person would do the right thing.
This is how I want to live my life:
Trust Amplified.

-Copyright Hope A. Horner, 2016
To reprint or use offline, please contact author on gmail at hopeh1122.
Follow Hope on Twitter @HopeNote

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Why Spiders Make Bad Leaders

I hate spiders. While I appreciate the work they do keeping the mosquito and moth population down (frogs do the same thing and they're cute!), I just can't think warm thoughts about a spider. In fact, my blood runs cold around them. The other day I used a drinking fountain in a public park, and RIGHT THERE as I was slurping water INTO MY MOUTH, was a LITTLE BROWN SPIDER in the bowl making his way TOWARD MY FACE. I jumped back so fast, you would have thought the water was scalding hot. The poor little guy just probably wanted a drink, but that was too close for comfort. As I walked around the park with my nerves recovering, I thought about spiders and what I don't like about them (EVERYTHING) and it dawned on me that some of these disagreeable traits could also be ascribed to leaders. So while I don't want to snuggle up to a spider, I do want to thank all spiders everywhere for inspiring my latest blog about bad leadership.

15 Reasons Why Spiders Make Bad Leaders
They spin webs that trap others.
The spend most of their time sitting and waiting.
The work they do comes out of their ***!
They don’t clean up after themselves.
They scare people.
They do things behind your back.
The real dangerous ones aren’t always easy to identify.
They see others as either what they can get from them or as an enemy.
They are on your back or in your face when you least expect it.
They take great pride in making the weak squirm.
They have lots of eyes on everything, but lack vision.
They are fine with glass ceilings.
They never give second chances.
They greet guests rudely.
And when you least expect it, they use your bathtub.

-Hope Horner, ©2016
To print or publish, please contact author on hotmail at hopeh1122

Sunday, September 11, 2016

I'm 44 and Too Old For This

Today I was asked to fight.
Let me remind you that I am a forty-four year old mild-mannered woman who has a steady day job. While I am a quarter Irish, I am not a member of a street gang or in a mid-life fight club. I was just minding my own business, walking to my car, when a young woman came up behind me. I was about to open my car door to get in, when I noticed she wanted to get into the car right next to me so I offered to let her go first.
"No. Go. Get in." She scowled at me and waved her arm at my car. "Go!" She practically shouted.
I raised my eyebrows.
Wow. Really?
Okaaaay....I said under my breath and got into my car. I closed the door, put down my purse and looked up to see this twenty-something year old blonde sticking her long middle finger as close to my face as she could get without touching the window. Behind her finger she is mouthing the words, "Come on. Get out!" Then she starts beckoning with long exaggerated "come here" gestures to get me out of my car.
Is this really happening?!
She is actually challenging a forty-something-year-old woman to jump out of her small SUV and "throw down" in the parking lot?
I am shocked.
And then I start to chuckle.
I can't help it. This is hilarious!
My laugh makes her friend very angry. Yes, her friend. Her friend is a twenty something year old who is sitting in the same car this girl was about to get in. Now this girl is yelling and gesturing at me from inside the car to get out. I can barely hear what both of them are saying because my window is up, but I can read lips. F Bombs are being dropped left and right and they are egging me on by repeating "Let's go b****!"

I am still smiling. In disbelief actually. It's probably making things worse, but I cannot believe that this woman is trying to start a fight with me! All I did was offer to let her get into her car first! I showed some good old fashioned manners for heaven's sake! Granted, when she rudely declined, I did raise my eyebrows and sigh an extended Okaaaaay, but I certainly did not say or do anything to suggest that I wanted to exchange four letter words and fisticuffs.
If this sets her off, my goodness, how does she get through the day without throwing a punch? I sure hope she is in a high-energy boxing or karate program somewhere where she can work out her anger issues. I backed up my car and drove away, windows up, with both of them still begging me to fight, and smiled.
OK, and I blew a kiss.
Bye ladies. Sorry I don't have time to rumble today. I have somewhere else to be. 
I was headed to my favorite thrift shop.

I am an admitted thrift-aholic. I LOVE thrift shops--they are a yard sale I can always find.  As someone who is direction-ally challenged, it is nice to be able to find all kinds of used goodies in one spot instead of trying to follow crooked cardboard signs written by eight year-olds in strange neighborhoods.
Once I got to the thrift shop, I head to the bric-a-brac section. (I'm pretty
sure "Bric-a-brac" means "Grandma's junk" in Olde English.) As I perused a shelf full of unicorn statues and old coffee mugs, I hummed along to the hit song playing on the store radio. Then I got down on my knees to see some Disney glasses on the bottom shelf and continued to sing along. While I did not know the artist, I had heard the song before---a super catchy dance ditty with simple enough lyrics that I was able to get most of the words right. I mean if it is meant for teens in love, it is pretty easy to tell that love is going to rhyme with above and night is going to rhyme with right. I was singing along when this little girl came up to me. Since I was kneeling, we were at eye level.
 "You KNOW this song?" Her eyes were as big as saucers.
"Yes, I do." I smiled at her for a moment and then added, "Do you?"
"Yes," she said with a little smile on one side of her mouth. She was wearing boys basketball shorts and a dirty white t-shirt. A total tomboy. She sprinted off somewhere behind me.
"Dad! That lady knows this song!" I heard her yell. I was sure at that moment she was pointing at me; her eyes expanding from saucers to dinner plates.
"Really?" Her dad responded. He didn't sound as impressed as she did.
"Yes! She was SINGING it." I laughed.
Yup, little girl. I'm pretty cool. I'm up on all the hip songs.
Shoot. Did I just use the word 'hip'? I meant dope. Or crunk. Or tight.
Even though my knees hurt from kneeling and the Disney glasses were all dirty, my smile expanded when I thought of how I could have called her back over and whispered:
Hey, guess what?
Her eyes would widen again.
I'm so cool I almost got in a fight today.
Instead I just wondered how I was going to get up.

-Hope A. Horner
Contact the author on hotmail at hopeh1122

Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Writer Who Didn't Write. Until Now.

I used to be a writer who didn't drink coffee. Who ever heard of such a thing? AND I was a writer who didn't burn the midnight oil. I preferred to get up to write while the early bird was picking out her worm. Then I became a writer who didn't write.
Which meant I was no writer at all.
You know what it took to get me back on track? Why I am actually typing this right now?
It took the kind words of a friend. She looked me square in the eyes and said, "I am going to hound you for the rest of your life about this if I have to. You NEED to write. You MUST write. I love your writing.You have a voice that needs to be heard."
Wow. Her words made me realize I HAD stopped writing. I was getting over the tragic death of a friend, dealing with some health issues, navigating massive changes at work, and in the midst of all that my blog, poetry, and music had gone completely silent. The most I had typed was my eBay log-in name and password. Not good. NOT a writer. She pointed this out not in a "Hey Slacker, why the heck aren't you writing!" kind of way, but in a "Girl, you NEED to do this because you're good at it!" way. Big difference. I heard love in the second one. Kind of like sugar in the medicine, you know?
OK, so I know I just blogged a compliment, (LOVE it when that happens!) but I bring this up not because to brag, but because I want to share how the simplest words can do amazing things.
I already know that! You say.
But do you LIVE it?
Do I live it?

If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say: "I can't remember the last time my boss thanked me," I would be able to leave my retirement account to my unborn children and settle into a nice little Hacienda in Santa Barbara. OK, maybe not Santa Barbara, but Oxnard. In a recession. And maybe not a Hacienda, but a really, really nice condo, one block from the beach. OK, maybe ten blocks, but STILL--you get my point. Those two words -- "Thank you" don't get said enough. I am no perfect boss or person, but I do try to say those words on a regular basis. As the 60's hippies used to say, I try to Spread the Love. (Unfortunately, they spread a lot more than love, but that is beside the point.) Whenever I say thank you, someone either lights up into a big smile or tries to act nonchalant--either way, I can tell they are bursting with pride. There's nothing more motivating than feeling appreciated.
I figured out another way to thank someone: Take their advice and then tell them you did. I took the advice of someone at work to go visit a particular vacation spot and when I did, I came back and told her all about it. I even used the words, "I took your advice" and she lit up like a Vegas billboard. Such simple words - "I took your advice" yet so powerful. This is what I mean by living out our thankfulness. I could have gone to the vacation spot and never told her. By TELLING her "I took her advice" and saying "I loved it!" I created a powerful moment of thankfulness.

Another phrase that has gone "MIA" at work is "Sorry" or "My mistake." These can be tough words to say when we have screwed something up. We worry we are going to lose credibility, or the confidence of our employees or Supervisor. In fact, in my experience, the exact opposite is true. I actually gain credibility and confidence from others when I am willing to admit I screwed something up, misunderstood, or accidentally dropped the ball.  Notice I said "accidentally"--you CAN lose credibility and trust if you are a blatant ball-dropper and a "Sorry!" won't clean-up the mess. But everyone screws up once in awhile and the best thing to do is just admit it. Try using "Sorry" sometime and you'll see what I mean.
By the way, for more tips on how to say sorry at work, see my article for GovLoop here: How to Say Sorry at Work and Mean It

So now, thanks to my friend's kind words, I am a writer who writes again. Oh, and I am also drinking coffee. But that is thanks to someone else. (And going to Paris last year had a little something to do with it, too!)

Hope Horner
On Twitter:

Monday, July 11, 2016

Confessions of A Strawberry Chucker

The other day I threw a strawberry at someone I loved. She had joked that there was a worm on it just as I was about to take a bite. Normally, I would have just laughed, but instead I threw it at her in a panicked outburst.
There was no worm on my strawberry, but my brain said there was. So I chucked that strawberry like it was a baseball. At her face. I missed and it landed behind her on the floor. She laughed at first, but then when she saw that I was upset, her smiled faded. Then something even worse happened.
I started to cry.
A lot.
I dropped my chin, covered my eyes, and sobbed.
"I'm so sorry!" She said over and over, putting her arm around my shoulder to console me. I could not be comforted. I just cried and gasped and mumbled through my snot that I knew she was only kidding but I wasn't able to control myself right now. A few minutes and several apologies later, I finally got a hold of myself while my dog licked the smushed strawberry off the floor.
I realized right then that stress can turn you into a whole 'nother person.
It had turned me into a strawberry chucker.
Why was I chucking my favorite fruit? Because a close friend had recently committed suicide. The stress of losing him has changed me in amazing ways. And by amazing, I don't mean good; I mean in ways I never expected. Besides being easily startled and a total cry-baby, I had started to act like my dog. She is a rescued whippet mix who is scared of silly things like plastic bags that float in the wind (Thank God she's never seen American Beauty!), fire hydrants, traffic cones, and bunnies. If she farts too loud, she runs away from her butt like it is out to get her. She also has severe separation anxiety. From age 10 months (when I adopted her) until about three years old, she'd eat the corners of my couches, dining room chairs, and kitchen cabinets when I would leave. She finally got over that. Now she just chews her stuffed animals until their fluffy white inner guts and plastic squeaker spill out. Just like her, I am now scared of strange things and have separation anxiety. Street noise, like car horns and truck rumbles make me jump. Don't even think about coming up behind me and tapping me on the shoulder these days, unless you want to be treated to a swift kick in the crotch. And quick stops in the car make me splay out like a cat about to go into a bathtub. And then there's the separation anxiety. I am not chewing on my couches (yet!) but when someone leaves I think, "Will I see them again?" "Are they going to die?" "Are they suicidal?" No, I am not thinking that when the UPS guy walks away from my doorstep, but I think about it when family members, friends, and co-workers leave.
I also cry over little things. Last week, I saw a dead squirrel in the road and you would have thought the two of us shared acorns and tree hollows over the years, the way I cried all the way to work.
And all this is normal according to my therapist.
I am suffering the effects of a tragic, traumatizing, sudden loss, she said.
My body is still reeling.
My mind is still recovering.
My emotions are all over the map. And some days I can't find the map.
This is what happens when you wake up to a phone call that one of your closest friends killed himself. My mind is there to protect my body after all. It had to go into overdrive to keep further damage from occurring. It had to raise my awareness, put me on guard, get my defenses up. Well, congratulations, mind. You're doing a heck of a job protecting me. You made me throw a strawberry at someone I love. Made me want to punch them in the face as a matter of fact. Luckily, you snapped me back to reality just in time to keep me from going to jail. Now if you could just keep me from going crazy, I would appreciate it.
While it sure feels crazy, chucking strawberries and crying over squirrels does not make me ready for the straight jacket according to my therapist. She said I should look up Post Traumatic Stress Disorder I will probably recognize a lot of my symptoms. "You don't have to go to war to suffer PTSD," she said. So like anyone doing major research, I Googled my symptoms and a lot of them matched exactly what I was experiencing. Thankfully, I don't need medication. I just need time and rest and that is exactly what she prescribed. Take two chill pills and see me in the morning.
I have hundreds of sick hours because I take very little sick time off from work. Partly because I am very healthy (Thank God) and also because I was raised by parents who would send me to school even if a my leg was hanging on by one bloody thread. "You're fine sweety. Just a minor flesh wound. Grab a band aid and get to school." So, I get my butt to work even when I am not feeling well. So when my therapist prescribed time off, I balked, but she insisted. She said two things that helped convince me:
"What would you do if you had the flu? Take time off, right? Well, you have a very serious case of the flu. You are sick with loss." Secondly, she reminded me that we don't deal with loss well in American culture. "In other cultures people take time off to mourn a loss. They sit Shiva. They have relatives around them for weeks while they sit at home remembering, contemplating, grieving. Other cultures have people take care of them for a year, or they wear black for a year. What do we do in America? We tell people to get over it and move on."
She said this is not healthy and we are suffering because of it.
I was suffering because of it.
So for the first time, I actually took sick leave from work to heal from something that I could not take antibiotics for; something that didn't require a bandage, a thermometer, crutches, or a gallon of orange juice. I had taken a day here, a half day there since losing my friend, but had taken no significant time off. I was just pushing through, taking it "one day at a time." Instead, I needed to take 7 days at a time and stop pushing. I needed to collapse. To rest. To heal. To hibernate. Hit the reset button.
Thankfully, I was able to do that.
I turned in my doctor's note and went to the beach and watched the surfers challenge themselves in the waves. I bought scented soap at a lavender farm. I perused old books in an antique bookstore. I sat on a metal bench at the end of a busy street with my dog and nodded yes to people who came up to ask if they could pet her. I ate Chinese food and read old science magazines from a tiny community library. I put my toes in the sand, and my head on a pillow that belonged to a comfy chain hotel in a cozy, beach town. I took a nap after my nap, went to bed early and got up late.
I stopped pushing through.
Last week, I went back to work and for the first time, I didn't feel like I was sleep walking. I could smile without feeling like a phony. I could get work done. My friend who passed away was mentioned in a work related newsletter that came across my desk, and it didn't rock my world like it would have a week ago. It made me pause, it made me sigh with sadness, but it didn't make me break down. I know that I will cry again, probably even bawl and snot all over myself at some point, but I'm going to be OK. My dog has tasted her last strawberry.

-Hope A. Horner
Copyright 2016
Contact author on gmail at hopeh1122

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Dear Andy

A bunch of your friends showed up at your memorial to say goodbye to you today. I brought fruit salad, tablecloths and plastic cutlery and a box of tissues. When the time came, I got up on the mic and told them how we met and how when I showed up at your place for the first time, I had mace. You were the guy who answered my ad on Craigslist almost ten years ago--the ad where I said I needed a music producer. I didn't know you from Adam so I had to come prepared to take you down if you were a perv or a creep. When I knocked on your door, I had one hand on my mace and one was gripping my guitar case. When you answered it, I had to raise my head to look you in the eyes; you were so tall. Your black hair was long and greasy and pulled back into a pony tail. You had on a black T-shirt and army style shorts, both were wrinkly, but you were undeniably cute. You looked high, but friendly. You ushered me in to your apartment with a smile and I put down my guitar case on the hardwood floors in your living room and kept one hand in my pocket on my mace.
Yes, very, very special. Artwork by Andy.
Your dog, a big puffy black and white mix of a mutt, was outside, confined to the porch. I could see him through the sliding glass door. This is where he would spend most of his time when I was around because you didn't want him to bite me. He was "broken" you said. He had another side to him and for no reason he could snap.

You seemed nervous as you showed me the recording studio which was in your bedroom. I felt awkward going in there with you, like I was going to be on the 11pm news for all the wrong reasons, but I immediately saw you were legit--you had microphones, a mac and a bunch of guitars, amps and cords. The room was cramped and I didn't know where to put my guitar until you pointed to the bed. I put down my guitar case, popped it open and pulled out my notes. I had twenty years worth of songs just bursting to come out. We talked about what I was trying to accomplish, what I needed and we agreed to a price and to start meeting once a week. Usually, I would come over on my Fridays off and we would work on one part of a song. We would "lay down" rough guitars, or vocals, harmonies, bass or percussion. You could play it all with ease and I could fake it. During the week, I would send you MIDI files to add into the song we were working on and you would try to make them sound less "processed." Every week, when I would show up, you would drink multiple cups of coffee while we would chit-chat on your couch, and then you would confine your dog, fill up your coffee cup again, and we would head into your bedroom where you would hook up all the mics, cue me when to start and record everything on your Mac. I remember you just clicked and
pointed and dragged, and dropped and magic happened. You told me to "sing angrier" to "play softer" or to "listen to the metronome." We would do numerous takes, sometimes singing together. One song would have rows and rows of recordings on your computer and you would layer them all as I would share how I wanted the song to sound or feel. I wanted more reverb on my vocals. You wanted to re-do your guitars because you didn't like one little part. We used blankets to dampen echoes, we recorded live birds outside your windows, duct taped mics, and searched for just the right sound. It was a long process, but thrilling. You were very patient through all my songs, although I could tell you did not enjoy recording "One White Rose." I admit, it is a sappy little country dittie--a real love story in a song--and you pretty much gagged over it, but kept your professionalism and made that song come to life. You did that for all the others, too. I remember telling you that I wanted the acoustic guitar in the song "Stay" to sound like the toy that hangs over a baby's crib. You know the one with all the little dangling animals that spins around to keep baby occupied? It usually has a soft plucking song that is played intentionally slow and with a soothing touch. You nailed it.  I told you that I wanted a guitar riff right after the line "I bet you take me to be lonely" in the song "Life Through Omission" that sounded like someone laughing and you nailed that, too. We joked about layering my vocals in "Nobody's Home" to the point that I sounded like the Forester Sisters. We laughed over the piano solo in "Devil's Hand" singing "Rain is falling, rain is falling" along to it. Every week for four years, I was at your house every week hours. In between all the recording, coffee drinking and dog corraling, we became close friends. We went to lunch, helped each other with online dating, babysat each other's pets (I managed to stay unbitten), went on hikes, even jumped out of plane together. I critiqued your art, did your resume and helped you get a job as a graphic artist where I worked. You helped me learn how to sing into a mic, how to properly tune a guitar, and how to use a Mac to record. We loved dogs, Iron Maiden, old records, concert T-shirts and running. I went to Pasadena to watch a
1000 Suns in North Hollywood.
screening for a movie you scored and I watched you play with your band in converted living rooms, parks and clubs.You helped me get coffee shop gigs and we played together at the Paseo Club. You told me I "didn't suck" and I told you that you were the most talented person I knew. We shared stories about our nephews, living in the San Fernando Valley, and growing up in religious families. I bought you a mandolin, you re-strung my guitars for free. I brought you Led Zeppelin memorabilia and you took me to Chinese food. We met through music, but we discovered we had a lot in common besides music. We both had a dark side. A sad side. Most people would comment about how "sad" or "depressing" my music was saying, "But you're such a happy person!" I would explain that is WHY I am so happy; I get my sadness out in my music. If something bothers me or someone hurts me, you'll find it in my music I said. You understood. While you didn't write many lyrics, I could hear your anger, pain and longing in your guitar riffs. You asked me once to listen to your music and tell me what I heard in it. "What is happening in the movie when you hear this song?" You asked. You always wanted to write music for movies or TV. I told you I heard a woman running from someone who was chasing her or a son walking across a field toward his father after years of being away and wanting to reconcile. You just nodded. Other songs would start soft and melodic--with the beautiful sweetness of you and then all of a sudden, like a cloud passing in front of the sun, a dark, heavy guitar riff would drown out the tenderness and take over. I told you I could hear you in your music. I heard you today, Andy, at your memorial at that park just up the street from your house. One of your band mates played the last song you ever recorded, and it was hauntingly beautiful. As your guitar rang out through the speakers, a breeze picked up and I just sat with my eyes closed, crying, hearing sadness in every note, remembering all the times we would just "riff" songs in your apartment. I remembered that's exactly how the song "Fool" came to be. You had so much creativity in you--too much to be contained. Too much for one person. I was glad I had brought a box of tissues as your friends got up to share how they met you, how they cared for you and how they missed you.

Only you know exactly what caused you to turn your back on everyone and everything and say "Enough is enough." I do know you had severe depression. As we got closer over the years you shared with me some of the burdens you carried and I believe depression was your closest companion. It wasn't a good friend to you. I hope I was. I won't share all your burdens, but I want you to know that no matter what you heard inside your head Andy, God loves you.
But I know you know that now.

I miss you my friend. We should have gone to the park today to hear you play. Instead we said goodbye. I know I will be saying goodbye to you for a long time--every time I listen to my music, every time I look at our pictures, see your artwork, and hear your songs. You will live on in music--in every note, I hear you.

Why are you out there? So far away.
Where the sun drops like ripe fruit at the end of the day.
If only those years, I had a chance to replay
I'd tell you
I'd tell you

Love always,

Videos from the good ol' days:
Hope & Andy Live a@ The Paseo Club
Making "Unsteady As You Go"

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Hills, Highways and Hamstrings

Last spring, I jumped over a snake and ran around a dead raccoon. I also sprinted across a narrow bridge in complete darkness. Oh, and I changed my underwear in a van full of people. I felt nauseous, elated, scared, thankful and tired. All in the span of two days. 
What was I doing?
I was running my first Ragnar relay race in northern California ( )

To sum it up for those of you unfamiliar with this running event, Ragnar is a 200+ mile relay race. You run from one town to another with 12 teammates for 36 straight hours. Each of you runs three legs--with each leg ranging anywhere from 3 to 13 miles. The twelve of you are divided up into two vans, each with 6 runners. The runners in van #1 do the first 6 legs (1-6), and those in van #2 do the next 6 (6-12). While one team mate is running, the others are following in the van to cheer you on and occasionally pull over, hand you water, and say things like: "You go girl!" or "You got this!" or "Are you limping?" Then they get back in the van, breathe a sigh of relief they didn't have to run your leg, and drive ahead to the next place they can stop safely, like on the edge of sheer cliff on a two lane winding road in the middle of nowhere. Eventually, they end up at the next "Exchange Point" where you will hand off a very sweaty orange reflective bracelet to the next runner and take your turn stinking up the van, cramping and cheering. You keep doing this - over and over, cycling through all 12 of your runners three times. By the end, you have run two hundred miles very close to a van that could have easily driven you the whole way in air-conditioned comfort. When I told my Dad about the race, he said politely, "Well, that is not something I would do." Basically what he meant was "You're crazy."
I was in van #2 and my race was in Northern California. My team ran from Golden Gate Park in San Francisco to Napa, CA. We started at 5am on Friday and ended around 5pm on Saturday. I ran about 20 miles made up mainly of hills, highways and headlights. Most of the roads were two way middle-of-nowhere stretches of black-top that leaned to the left.

I am not sure what town I started in, but I know it was hilly, hot and dusty. I had about 10 miles to run and every time I thought I had hit the last hill, another one would pop up. It was about 85 degrees and thanks to the ice bags my team-mates kept giving to me, I was able to keep going despite the heat. I also had a rockin' Spotify playlist in my ear which helped keep me moving. Oh, and there were lots of supportive runners on the course. Several guys said nice things as they ran by like: "Wow you have amazing legs!" or "I wish my wife was as good looking as you!" Well, OK, so they didn't say THAT, but they did say things like: "Keep it up. You're doing great!" and "Good job!" Of course, they were saying these things as they were PASSING me, which in Ragnar terms is considered a "kill," but STILL. At least they were nice about 'killing' me. During my first few miles, there was a female runner I kept trading spots with. She'd run ahead of me; I'd run ahead of her, then again, back and forth like that for about a mile. I finally decided to draft behind her and that must have annoyed her because she finally dropped off to my right and I didn't see her again. Sorry, whoever you were. There wasn't enough room for two on that road. Nice shorts, though.
As I came down the back of one long hill that reminded me of Grimes Canyon in the Conejo Valley, I started to pick up speed. Not because I felt good, but because I was finally running down hill. I kept thinking of what our coach always tell us when we run down hill: "Let your body go..." and I tried to, but all I could think was: "If I let my body go, I am going to end up in a ditch never to be found." So I 'sort of' let my body go and then all of a sudden underneath my right foot was a snake. Not a huge rattler or anything, but a small black one. I leaped up in the air like I had been bitten. A few yards ahead, a van had pulled over and the runners were standing around. As I approached I noticed they had puzzled looks on their faces. They must have seen me shoot up in the air like a jack-rabbit. I told them I had just jumped over a snake and they all gasped and looked concerned. Well, at least the women did. The guys looked thrilled and ran to the spot they had seen me jump. I just kept running.
Around the next bend, the hill disappeared and the view opened up. I was running alongside a pasture which was a dusty brown thanks to the drought. Standing around in the dust were a bunch of dairy cows, chewing slowly and switching their tails. All of a sudden, they turned their heads, looked at me, then started running. TOWARD ME. I looked behind me to see if someone was offering them some hay or something, but no one was. They kept charging and I wondered if I was going to have to hurdle a whole barn-load of cows as part of this crazy race, but eventually they stopped, snorted, and just started chewing again as though nothing had happened. A van load of runners on the side of the road just a few yards ahead were laughing and pointing at the cows. I asked "Burgers in a half hour?" They laughed.
My next few miles are a blur because I think my head was on fire. It felt like a summer day in Phoenix, not springtime in Napa. I had ice in my shirt and ice in my shorts and had gone through about three bottles of water already. I remember a quaint town with narrow sidewalks, light blue ranch houses, American flags and the occasional barking dog and slamming screen door. Kids were in the street on skateboards and scooters. It was probably around 5pm at that point. I saw the "One More Mile" Ragnar sign ahead and breathed a sigh of relief. I felt good. I found the Exchange Point, passed the bracelet off to my team-mate and walked around for a little bit, trying to shake out my legs and bring my heart rate down. The sun was fading in the distance as vans pulled in and out, people talked in groups, stretched, laughed and drank water. I saw lots of painted faces, Ragnar jackets, funny hats and exposed skin. One Ragnar tradition is to decorate your van so I took some time to look at the other vans in the lot. One had pictures of ice cream cones on the side and runners were handing out ice-cream sandwiches while "ice cream truck" music played. There was one that had a picture of Lionel Richie on the side and it said "All Night Long." Our van featured lights, our running team logo and lots of hash tags including: #runnowwinelater #whereisvan3 and #ragnarvirgins just to name a few!
All of a sudden, I started to feel nauseous. Very, very nauseous. I put my hands on my knees and leaned over. That didn't help so I stood up and took a few breaths. My team was gathering and talking. We took a few photos and I walked around a little bit with my stomach churning. Finally, I decided to speak up and a team-mate gave me some medicine. Then I heard the bathroom calling my name. Luckily, I made it in time because it was just across the street at a public library. When I walked out of the stall there were about ten people in line and I pushed past them sweaty and still nauseous. I was told by a team-mate that I looked "green." By the time I got to the van, she said I was "white" which I guess was an improvement.
We drove to the next exchange which was over an hour away. I spent that time lying down in the van shivering with heat stroke and fighting off the urge to barf. All in a day's Ragnar!

We picked up our final runner of the day and headed to the hotel we had booked for the night. My stomach had settled down and I had gotten plenty of fluids in me. We figured we had just enough time to eat, shower and sleep for maybe two hours. The Habit veggie burger has never tasted so good and even though I had just run over ten miles on two hours sleep, I was not sleepy. After showering, I lay in bed and rested, but could not fall asleep. My body was tired but my mind raced. I wondered if this was how it felt to be high on cocaine. At 9 pm we got up and loaded up the van for our second round of running.
The next legs would be all in the dark.  My team-mates ended up running in everything from the woods to the 'hoods. One, ran with a group that got lost for awhile and ended up running about two miles out of the way. They missed a sign and didn't make a turn. We ended up picking up a lost runner that was not on our team and returning him to the race. He was heading down a dark, woodsy road out into the darkness. Another one of our runners ran down a busy street in a downtown area. When her leg was over, she got into the van her eyes wide and said, "Oh my gosh! I just ran through the Grand Theft Auto video game!" She described seeing suspicious characters and activity all along her route. The runner before me was our coach and she ran along a dark stretch of highway. She made good time and ran strong. I was worried about running in the dark and got more and more worried when we seemed to be driving out into the area where the Blair Witch Project was filmed. I got out of the van, stood in a field with my team-mates waiting for the runner before me to arrive with the bracelet and when she did, she slapped it on my wrist and I took off. The cool air felt really good after running in the heat the day before. I had about nine miles to go and my legs felt good. I was wearing pink flashing hair as part of my team costume and it fell off twice before I even got 100 yards away. Then my left bra strap came unhooked. My sports bra had Velcro straps and evidently, they were tired, too. I tried to run and fix my bra, but soon discovered that wasn't going to work, so I stopped and re-Velcro'd myself in and then continued on. I was running next to a field at this point, headed up a hill. For the next nine miles I ran into oncoming headlights. Many times, I stepped off the road to let them pass.  All I could think of was: "It's 3:30am on a Saturday night. I am in wine country. How many of these people are drunk?" I put on my headphones and decided to listen to music to take my mind off my pending death. About five miles in, I think I began to hallucinate. I thought I saw white cones up on my left and then when I got up to that spot, there was nothing there. Maybe I need a Goo? Some electrolytes? A pizza? I was hungry. Why was I hungry? It wasn't even 4AM! Were there really cones in the road? White cones? Maybe the headlights temporarily blinded me? Was it my flashing hair? Lack of sleep? I wasn't sure, but I shook it off and kept going. Ahead of me was a narrow bridge with no where to step off if a car was headed my direction. It was only about 25 yards from one side to the other, but I knew I would need to sprint so I wouldn't get caught on it. If a car approached while I was on the bridge, I would have to GI Jane my way off the edge and hold on to some under-bridge suspension rail until it passed. I was not up for that. So, I decided to sprint. Well, at least that is what my brain decided. I told my legs to sprint and they kind of jitter-ed ahead of me like I was trying out a new dance step. In my head, I was sprinting. In real life, I probably looked like a speed walker on cystal-meth.  I made it across without having to dangle off the edge and slowed down to catch my breath. The next few miles were a series of slight hills and turns and I eventually ended up in what I would find out later was the town of Elk Grove. It was pretty and looked like a great place to camp. The lawns were expansive, and numerous trees blocked out the stars and moon overhead. Everyone in this town was asleep, but it felt good to be in civilization again. Soon, I saw the "One mile to go" sign which was a relief.
The last mile felt like more than one, but I got it done. My knees were done. About two years ago, I tore my meniscus and never had surgery. I also spent a lot of time getting up and down as a catcher in softball. My knees were shot and my hamstring was out so my final leg was a no-go. I was all out of gas. The best I could do was run in with my team for the final photo, bad pizza, and my medal. I felt bad that I couldn't complete my leg, but my team-mates reassured me that it was OK. The heat, the hills, the sheer number of miles had taken their toll. I was already near the 20 mile mark after two legs which was more than I had ever run.
I WOULD NEVER DO THIS AGAIN. I said to another team mate shortly after the event.While I enjoyed being with my team-mates (had a blast in fact), it was "one and done" for me.
Until April 2016.
When I decided to run Ragnar SoCal.
I told my coach I would do it, but that because of my hamstring (which was now at about 95%) it would probably not be a good idea for me to run 20 miles again. She agreed. She put me in van one with about 15 miles to run and somehow I found myself writing a big check and shoving three running outfits into a beach bag and making a bunch of ham sandwiches for the road. It was that time again.
This Ragnar relay race began in Huntington Beach and would take us to Coronado Island in San Diego. Due to the Enterprise Rent-A-Car recall, vans were scarce. We ended up renting two Mercedes passenger vans (or airport shuttles as we called them) which were jet black, huge and had a large "toy hauler" type space in the back.We threw food (enough for a week!), a bike, our clothes and assorted team apparel into the back and headed out for Huntington Beach at 4AM in the morning on a Friday. I was driving. As I cruised down the 405 it this giant beast of a vehicle, I felt excited and calm at the same time. I was curious to see the areas where we would be running. I wondered if my knees and hamstring would hold up. I was calm because I had done this before and didn't have all the questions burning in my mind like I did at the last one. I knew what I had to do. I knew I wasn't going to kill myself this time. That if I needed to stop and stretch I could. That if I needed to walk a hill it would be OK. We had all agreed it would be about the experience. We weren't trying to win anyway. We just wanted to finish.
Our first runner started in the dark on the beach and finished at another beach a few miles away as the sun was coming up. It took me a long time to back up the van without taking out a light pole or another van, so we didn't get to greet her when she came in. We ran from the van to meet her as she stood on the beach catching her breath and raising her arms in the air to celebrate. We felt bad and apologized, but she took it in stride with her usual positive attitude. I knew from now on I was going to have to park the van so that I didn't have to back up even if that meant I had to park in Mexico. The most useless thing in the van was the rear view mirror because there was no back window, just a wall that separated passengers from cargo. I was backing blind, except when my coach would jump out and direct me like she was trying to land a plane.

I was runner #5 and my first leg would start in Santa Ana. I am pretty sure I have never been to Santa Ana and my only real knowledge of the place is the terrible winds they send us every fall. I was not in a nice part of Santa Ana, if there is a nice part of Santa Ana. I ran by graffiti, barbed wire, homeless encampments and dilapidated garages with open roofs covered by tarps and rotted wood. I went down a narrow alley-way and had to turn sideways to let two homeless people with a piled-high shopping cart go by. I saw pit bulls, graffiti, bald headed teens on bikes and beer bottles. I ran under a long freeway under pass and came out in Tustin. Suddenly, it looked like Pasadena. Gone were the pit bulls and run-down ranch houses - in their place were Golden Retrievers and million dollar craftsman homes. Impatiens hung from pots on porches and white picket fences supported blooming rose bushes. Lawns were green. I ran through the downtown area and it was all I could do not to stop at an antique shop or pop in to a quaint boutique. Pretty soon I was coming into the exchange and passing my sweaty bracelet to my team-mate. As I caught my breath, I thought about how it was only one freeway--one twenty-five yard bridge-- that separated blight from bliss. For that reason, I wasn't smiling, but I felt good about completing my leg. I was still outside the van when a father and son came up to me. "Can I ask what you guys are doing?" the father asked. 
I said, "We are running a 200 mile relay race from Huntington Beach to San Diego." He looked puzzled. "Why are you doing this? Is it just running?" 
"Yes." I said, and then feeling like I should say more I added, "and teamwork." He and his son shot me a look that told me they did not understand my reasoning. No money at the end? No big prize? I guess I could have told him about the free beer and pizza, but there's no explaining crazy.

My next leg would be in the dark, but it wouldn't be like Napa. It wasn't 9 miles and it wasn't running through vineyards and across narrow bridges. It was about five miles around the city of Oceanside, on the outskirts of San Diego. It was close to midnight and the temperature was probably in the low 50's. The exchange was cramped with runners and drivers criss-crossing each other's path, a mixture of headlights and headlamps. I started at an elementary school that was up in a hilly part of town and proceeded to run up a narrow street and then down for a little bit before the rest of my run was up, up up...the whole time with the stench of sewer swirling in my nose. Other runners commented on the smell too. We must have been near a sewage treatment plant or maybe it was the Ragnar porta-potties scattered all over Oceanside for desperate runners. The neighborhood was nice, not Tustin, but nice, and there were a lot of other runners around so I wasn't concerned about getting lost. While waiting for a traffic light to change, I talked to a young man from Costa Mesa who commented on how hilly this leg was. He said this with a dry brow and a voice that showed he had complete control of his breathing. I nodded, huffed my agreement and then lifted my water bottle to take a drink. I squeezed and shot water straight into my boobs. Luckily I was warm by that point so it felt good, but I was a tad embarrassed. He didn't seem to notice (probably recapping his "kills") and took off as soon as the walk sign appeared. Dry mouthed and wet-chested I lumbered on.
The final mile was all uphill on a very wide street which allowed me the pleasure of watching runners on the other side run down hill. I stopped only once to stretch out my tight hamstring. I wanted to get this done. When I ran into the exchange and handed off the bracelet to my team mate, I smiled. My night leg was over. I unscrewed of the cap of my water bottle and carefully took a sip. I wanted to make sure it made it into my mouth this time.
In between this leg and my next a lot happened. We went to a Motel 6 in Carlsbad. Took showers. Crashed and tried to sleep. My coach and I went out to try to sleep in the van at around 3 AM, and were greeted by a flood of squeaky rats who scampered out of the ivy and up a fence that surrounded the motel. We moved shoes, water bottles and Doritos to lie down on the seats. We finally dozed off when suddenly the hotel sprinklers went off, which seemed to be pointed directly at the front of the van. Evidently there is no drought ordinance in San Diego because these suckers went off for a half an hour. After the sprinklers stopped we fell back asleep for a few minutes until someone knocked on the back of the van. We both sat straight up, and looked an each other with question mark eyebrows. I peered out the windows to see who was there but couldn't see anyone. I did not open the door to find out. At 5:15 we left the van to wake up our team-mates and go get Starbucks for everyone. There were a lot of other bleary-eyed Ragnarians inside the Starbucks. As I walked by a few of them to pick-up our coffee, I knocked a energy bar off the shelf with my shoulder. One of them looked down at it and said, "I'd help you pick that up, but I can't bend over." I laughed and said no problem and bent over to pick it up. I tried to act casual, like I was totally fresh and in awesome shape, but the groan that came out of my mouth when I bent over gave me away. I returned the bar to its place and carried coffee back to the van and then drove to the hotel. My Cafe Americano never tasted so good. I think I had an orange and half a bagel for breakfast. And maybe a chocolate-peanut butter ball. And three jelly beans. And some trail mix. I can't remember. When Ragnar is going on, you eat whatever is right in front of you. You don't ask what time it is and you don't ask if you should be having this. You just HAVE IT and you tell yourself you DESERVE IT.
My final leg was in La Jolla and started at around noon. It was warm, probably around 85, but there was a cool ocean breeze. The skies were clear and my run was in a residential area that looked like Santa Clarita until I got to the beach side of the hill. Then the traffic picked up as did the breeze. I could see the ocean off in the distance and also lots and lots of vans. My legs felt good and my breathing was fine. I was going to do this! I really was! I picked up the pace and caught up with two Ragnarians who had stopped at a crosswalk. One was holding her wrist and had blood on her knee. Her team-mate told me she had fallen about a mile back--tripped over a uneven part of the sidewalk--and probably broken her wrist. I asked her is she was OK and she said,"Oh, I'm fine. I took 800 milligrams of ibuprofen this morning so I can't really feel it right now." Wow. Sounds like she had Motrin for breakfast. Must be Ragnar.
I followed the signs which led me into a beach parking lot for my final fifty yards. I knew I was in La Jolla but other than that, I had no idea where I was. That's the thing about Ragnar. You can get so focused on just getting through your legs, that you forget to enjoy the scenery--you know, "Stop and smell the flowers"? (If you can bend over and reach them!) I took a moment to thank God for my health and then turned a corner and there was my coach. She was up next and had a big smile on her face as she reached for my bracelet. "You did it!" she said. "Congratulations! Way to go!" She gave me a hug and her smile said it all. I was done. DONE! I walked around with my hands on my hips breathing deeply. My team-mates were in the van waiting for me. Somewhere. Where? Not sure. There they were! Just around the corner. They had gone to the wrong parking lot and had pulled in just in time to pick me up and drop off our coach. Gotta love Ragnar. It's not just the running; it's the driving that matters, too. I hopped into the front seat of the van and put my feet up on the dashboard. It felt good to put my feet up. My hamstrings enjoyed the stretch and plus, when do you ever get to put your feet on the dashboard of a big, black Mercedes?
After our coach ran the final leg for our group of six (uphill at blazing speed), we had some time to kill so we decided to go somewhere nice for lunch, or dinner or linner --whatever--we wanted a real meal.  We headed to Old Town San Diego for some Mexican food. When we arrived, it was so crowded you could not have parked a Matchbox car, let alone a huge passenger van so we decided to head to Coronado, closer to where the race ended. We found a barbecue joint out by the water, with live music playing just a few feet away and ordered up some beers and grub. The ocean view was amazing and the food went down well. We headed back to the van with happy bellies and blistered feet. 

The final leg of the race was completed by two our of our team-mates in van #2 who ran together to Silver Strand beach on Coronado. The sun was down and the air was crisp, but we were all warm with a sense of satisfaction. We were dog tired, hungry, achy and blistered. Our lips were chapped, our hair matted, and our faces make-up free and salty. We ran together as a team the last hundred feet of the race through a tunnel that ran under the road way toward the beach. As we came out of the tunnel the DJ was supposed to say our team name, but instead he was too busy making announcements, probably about how to safely navigate a parking lot full of 800 vans with sleep deprived drivers.We didn't care. We had done it! 200 miles in 2 days! We hugged, cried, smiled and took pictures. We proudly hung our heavy gold medals around our necks and congratulated each other.
We went to In and Out Burger in Encinitas. 
I drove.
After dinner, I turned over the keys to a team-mate. I never saw Orange County. Or Los Angeles. Or even the Valley on the way back to Agoura Hills. I slept through 135 miles. As we parked, I rubbed my eyes and smiled.
We did it.
One step at a time.
One mile at a time.
Despite hills, headlights, and hamstrings.

Oh, and this is my last Ragnar relay.

-Hope Horner, 2016
Twitter: HopeNote
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