What got you here, won’t get you there…

In my last blog, I mentioned that I had started a new job and referenced a quote my daughter had sent me. In part, it said, “Let go of the idea that you must always be who you have always been.” When I read that again today, it stuck me as interesting, because it’s directly tied to the title of this post.

Incidentally, the latter is the title of a book by Marshall Goldsmith. I suspect it’s a good book, but I will confess that I usually only read the cover fly and first chapter of business books. I can usually distill the key message from that (“Who Moved My Cheese?” = People don’t like change. Boom! Done.) And then I move on to something else.

(Incidentally, several people have made a business out of that very skill. I should have capitalized on that sooner.)

The premise of the book from which I took my title is basically referencing the Peter Principle. The fact that you may have had solid skills that contributed to your success at one level in your career may become irrelevant as you move up the next rung on the ladder. I was explaining this concept to a former employee when I left my last position, and the truth of it has smacked me in the face multiple times since I started in my new role.

She’s come undone
She didn’t know what she was headed for
And when I found what she was headed for
It was too late
It’s too late
She’s gone too far
She’s lost the sun
She’s come undone
Undun –  The Guess Who

I’ve been in Marketing for ages, and I’ve led marketing teams and have been the lead marketer in the organization—all at previous companies. But each of those instances evolved over time so I knew solidly what I was doing.

With my new job, I became the lead of an existing (and somewhat dysfunctional) system. Lots of new people in a matrixed organization. I love the company. The people are friendly and competent, but the company itself is in a growth-plus-plus-plus mode in a booming industry, and all of that adds up to a very frenetic pace and high expectations that I am struggling to adjust to.

Let me be clear, here, I have never been a laid-back coworker. You can ask KitKat or any of my former colleagues, I work very hard and intensely with little time for chit-chat around the water cooler. I usually skip lunch or grab a handful of nuts while reviewing something. That’s my natural work mode, and although I’ve sometimes been criticized for not being “social” enough, it’s worked well for me. When I shut down from working, I’m usually able to turn it all off and enjoy the other aspects of my life.

When I started my new role, there was a several month backlog of work to be done and a couple of years’ worth of unmet expectations on top of that. I’ve been challenged to get on top of things and get some functioning processes in place. None of the marketing tasks themselves have challenged me—after nearly 30 years, I should know what I’m doing—but the politics, expectations and lack of resources are much harder to navigate. Consequently, my work days are even more intense (to the point where I haven’t taken a lunch break since I started and am afraid to schedule an overdue doctor’s appointment due to it messing up my work week). And I never shut off. Evenings and weekends, I’m either working or worrying about work. It’s not healthy and I know it’s not sustainable.

KitKat has been a tremendous help in reminding me that I’m still new and will get things under control once I better understand the company and its people. But I still have moments of despair where I worry that I’ve made a terrible mistake. KitKat’s in a similar boat, but with school-age kids that need to be factored in to the picture as well. I admire her ability to carve out little moments for recharging with her friends.

UndoneThe situation actually reminds me of a post KitKat authored at one point, “Learning to Live in the Maybe”…although that’s not the lesson before me. My lesson is “Learning to Live with the Undone.”

This is not an easy thing for a Type A control freak. Marketing by nature is a discipline where you are never “done”…. Your work is only limited by your imagination and skill and time—not dollars and people. You can always crank out another social media post or write another case study. Even an organization with ZERO budget can do SOME marketing if they have a clever enough staff. That’s why I have always been attracted to it and I’ve always been okay that there was more I could be doing. But that’s different than leaving IMPORTANT things UNDONE. And that’s what I need to embrace now.

In my new role, I need to focus on getting the CRITICAL things done and anything else is gravy. I also need to remind myself that I’m doing the best I can and “happiness matters.”

I had often thought about this comment with respect to President Obama (not our current Commander in Cheeto, who I believe has no real regard for the importance of the office). I always thought that it would be challenging to be the President, with so much at stake and so many issues to work on and to be able to enforce ANY type of work/life balance. I admired the way that Obama was able to be such an effective president without sacrificing his health or family (although, like most presidents, he left office with considerably more gray hair). And I’ll extend this admiration to other past leaders from both parties—men who, I believe, were dedicated to doing what they think was best for our country, even if I may have disagreed with them on individual policy decisions from time to time. It’s a tough gig.

worklifeNow, I don’t have the responsibility of the Free World on my shoulders (although I’m sure I could do a better job of it than the Cheeto), but for me and my world, it’s a similar balancing act. Will I rise to the occasion or let it bury me? What got me here won’t get me there—I need a new set of skills. I need to develop them and see what I’m made of. I still have confidence that I can do that, but I need the support of KitKat, my family and others to remind me that if I’m doing my best, that’s pretty damn good—and I deserve to take a day off once in a while.

We’ll see what the future holds—I hope the next time I write you about work I’ll have a better handle on my work/life balance, but I know that’s easier said than done.

 

 

 

 

 

Stormy rises from the ashes of her own expectations

When KitKat and I launched this blog four years ago, we decided on a posting cadence of biweekly, thinking that between the two of us, we could manage an update to this blog once a week. We met that goal for the first six months and it’s been downhill ever since.

We’re more than two months into the new year and I have yet to post my annual “New Year’s” post, brimming with optimism and resolve. Never fear, I HAVE made a few resolutions and have actually made a fairly drastic change in one aspect of my life: I’ve started a new job that is consuming my thoughts and free time.

This was a big deal for me. When I started at my last job, after leaving the company that KitKat and I worked at together, I thought I would stay there until I retire. With my husband’s Parkinson’s Disease, I was anticipating the need for a flexible work arrangement at some point as his condition required me to provide more assistance. I thought that by building some job equity with my company that they would be willing to work with me on a flexible arrangement when that time came. However, when Oskar’s surgery transformed our daily lives by giving us back his mobility, I realized that I had other options. Although I liked my coworkers and my job (well, most of them, most of the time), there was limited opportunity for me to advance.dreams_dont_scare

Early this year, I accepted a new job. The company and my role are interesting and I’m enjoying it (although fully aware I’m in the “honeymoon period”). But the best part about making the switch was remembering that it’s never too late to make a change. After interviewing, I felt a bit nervous—everything sounded good about the position, but it meant going from a comfortable situation where I knew what I was doing to something unknown. And that scared me a little. Then I decided if I was a bit scared, that was a sign that I should rise to the challenge and accept the job. And KitKat had bravely made a job change a few months earlier and encouraged me to make the leap. So I did.

The day I started, my daughter Lucky sent me a quote from her aunt’s Facebook wall, it read:

“There is no statute of limitations on starting over. Re-invent yourself every day. Be the girl who walks barefoot and listens to the blues. Tomorrow, wear a trench coat and speak fierce truths. Be a phoenix. Be ashes. Burn down. Resurrect. Let go of the idea that you must always be who you have always been.”

Then she added, “You’re about to rise from the ashes…” 😉

I loved that because I needed the reminder—and I loved that my daughter sees me as someone who can continue to evolve and grow, even at my “advanced age” (wink). I think, ultimately, that’s the theme of this blog: KitKat and I reminding ourselves—and each other—that we can be whomever we choose and strive to be our best, truest version of ourselves, regardless of the other claims on us…by our families, our jobs and society as a whole. And encouraging others to be their best, truest selves.

That’s what I want for my children, and that’s what I want for myself. And even though it’s sometimes “easier said than done,” it’s ultimately worth it.

 

 

A Christmas wish for a better 2017

I’ve been thinking about two of my favorite Christmas movies during this uncertain post-election season. Now, it’s no secret that neither KitKat nor I were rooting for our President-Elect to win. In fact, we were both plunged into a depression that required a fair amount of co-counseling—and wine—to overcome. While neither of us is resigned to a Trump presidency, we realize that we need to find a way to cope during the next four years and this post is my attempt at that.

KitKat and I are both members of the not-so-secret secret group, “Pantsuit Nation,” that’s comprised of Hillary supporters (or at least, non-Trump supporters). And in the days since the election, it’s been interesting to note that a shared conviction that Trumplethinskin is a narcissistic, evil Cheeto doesn’t necessarily mean that those who oppose him are lockstep in all of their viewpoints. There has been a fair amount of finger-pointing, liberal angst, fear and—alongside the shame and blame—also some impressive conviction and positivity.

Which brings me to my two favorite Christmas movies… These are Frank Capra’s masterpiece, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and the musical “Scrooge,” based on Dickens’ classic, “A Christmas Carol.”

The first time I saw “It’s a Wonderful Life,” I was 21. I was at a party on Christmas Eve and sat riveted to the TV. This was partially due to my introvert nature, but also because of the movie itself—I was entranced by Jimmy Stewart’s performance. I still watch it every year and love the quirkiness of the plot: The bravery and loyalty of young George Bailey. The sauciness of Mary Hatch. The unbelievable engineering of a retractable dance floor in a high school in the 1920s. The integrity of a grown George Bailey who turns down an impressive salary from the film’s villain (but still holds onto the high-quality cigar given to him by the same)… I love George Bailey because to me he represents the millions of decent people who do the right thing day after day with no expectation of reward or fame.

However, I think the most remarkable thing about the film is the fact that—in a very un-Hollywood-like twist—the villain never gets his come-uppance! In the movie, dastardly Old Man Potter nearly gets George sent to prison for embezzlement—and although George is saved by the contributions of his many friends at the end of the film, there is no indication that Potter is ever identified as the culprit who took the missing money. There’s no denouement where Potter is indicted and sent to Sing Sing. To the contrary, we’re led to believe that he remains unrepentant, despite George’s tribulations, and life in Bedford Falls goes on much like before. Except with a renewed outlook for George Bailey.

And for some odd reason, I like that. I guess because it smacks of reality. The lesson here isn’t to do good because some day “the bad guys will get theirs.” It’s merely to do good for the sake of being good. And this brings me back to the “Pantsuit Nation.” There are numerous posts by people who have encountered hatred and prejudice merely for being themselves—black, gay, Muslim, women—and they’ve turned around and responded with love and forgiveness: The father and son who shoveled their racist neighbor’s driveway. The woman who bought coffee for the homophobe behind her at Starbuck’s. And dozens more examples of people responding to hatred with love. And in a country where the haters seem more emboldened than ever, this is what keeps me going. This is what gives me hope.

My other holiday favorite, “Scrooge,” appeals to me for a completely different reason. Everyone knows the story: Over the course of his visits from three ghosts, a crotchety old miser comes to the realization that he’s been living his life all wrong. Redemption is a powerful thing and none of us are beyond the need for it. But to me the best part of the movie isn’t the fact that Scrooge has a change of heart—it’s how readily his acquaintances accept and celebrate his new-found enlightenment. They don’t say, “Screw you, Ebenezer—I’m not going to forgive the time you charged me 20% on that loan!” Instead, they all embrace the new-and-improved, forgiving, kinder Scrooge and rejoice in his better-late-than-never humanity.

If our country could internalize these two lessons, it would be a game changer:

  • Combat hatred with kindness—everywhere you see it. There is nothing that will disarm a hater more quickly than being responded to with love.
  • Readily accept any person’s attempts to be “better,” whether they are seeking to understand another’s viewpoints or making a small gesture of reconciliation—accept it graciously.1970-song-tiny-tim

I’m not suggesting that we ignore or discount acts of hatred, prejudice or violence… It’s very important that we acknowledge these for what they are, but don’t let them be the last word. Let the last word be love.

God bless us, everyone!*

* Note: There is no disclaimer here. “Everyone” means everyone.

“The Soul-Crushing Futility of Tidying Up” or “Making Peace with our Beautiful Mess”

Last month I was sitting with KitKat, having a glass of wine and catching up, when I glanced down at her coffee table. The New York Times bestseller, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo was sitting on top of another book (ironically titled, “A Beautiful Mess”).

I had read reviews of the book and its controversial “KonMari” method for determining what to keep and what to discard—so I asked KitKat what she thought of it. She said, “I haven’t had a chance to read it, and I won’t get to it for a while since I’m leaving on vacation. Why don’t you read it and report back to me?” I accepted the assignment and am sharing my findings with all of our readers for your collective organizational edification. KitKat, what do you think of these tips?

Highlights of the Book:

Go big or go home – Unlike many books on organizing that advocate tackling decluttering bit by bit (for example, one closet or drawer at a time), the author insists that the key to success is to do your whole house at once. “Tidying is a special event, not a daily chore,” she states. (If this sounds daunting, keep in mind that Marie Kondo is a professional declutterer based in Japan. This is important context because the average Japanese home is much smaller than the average American home so the average Japanese person has fewer possessions.) Even though this sounds ambitious, her rationale makes sense. By doing your entire home at once, you’ll experience the benefits of organized living and won’t want to revert back to your cluttering ways. Whereas if you just tackle clutter one drawer at a time, you’ll never experience the “life-changing magic” of an organized home.

KitKat: I understand how this would make sense. Take for example, cleaning. I never get to enjoy the true experience of a clean home since I only have time for a room or two each cleaning. By the time I get through a full round, the rooms I started with are messy again. The few times I splurged on hiring house cleaners, it was a magnificent feeling walking into a completely clean house. (I may have actually heard background music and saw glowing lights as I entered my home those magical days.)

“Getting rid of clutter would eliminate 40% of the housework in the average home.”  

-National Soap & Detergent Association

Does it spark joy? – This is the aforementioned controversial method of determining what to keep and the part of the book that most reviews focus on. Although a bit limiting, it’s an interesting way to look at one’s possessions. (Disclosure: I don’t think a toilet plunger will ever spark joy for me, but I intend to keep one around anyway.) A better way I’ve heard this stated is, “Don’t keep anything that isn’t beautiful, useful or preferably both.” This is my new litmus test and in my newer, smaller home, I’m working on “upgrading” my possessions rather than adding to them.

KitKat: It sounds like a logical test but I am not sure it would be that straightforward for me. Depending on my mood the day I do it (if doing it all at once, as advised), I will either have nothing left in my house or I will get rid of nothing. I function on extremes.

Sort by category, not location – Kondo’s method recommends that you start by discarding all items of a similar type and that what’s left should be kept together, not necessarily where the items are used. This seems practical in a small Japanese apartment, but maybe less so in a three-story home.

KitKat: So if I was sorting vases, they would all end up on one floor in one room? My hair accessories would have to live with my daughter? All kids’ entertainment lumped together? I don’t think this one would work in my house. For both visual pleasure and family peace, we do better with separation.

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Lucky needs more clutter like Stormy needs another pair of boots

Don’t force your clutter on other people – My girls could tell you all about this one. Lucky, Blossom and I are approximately the same size for tops and every time they come see me, I’m offering them my clothing discards. For some reason, it’s easier for me to part with something that I like (but never wear) if I’m giving it to one of my daughters. But the truth is, they’re in a very transient stage of their lives and the less “stuff” they have to move with them, the better.

KitKat: Agree! My grandma keeps sending me old artwork and cards and my mother-in-law brings a new bag of stuff she found cleaning out her place with her each time she visits. As everyone else is decluttering, I am drowning in stuff. 

Thanking items for their usefulness – One of Kondo’s more interesting points is that it’s hard to get rid of something if you don’t understand its purpose in your life, but its purpose may not be what you think. For example, you bought a beautiful sweater on sale but every time you go to wear it, you end up taking it off again. It’s beautiful, but for whatever reason, the color doesn’t suit you. This is the kind of thing people have trouble getting rid of. Kondo suggests you hold the item, recognize that it’s purpose may not have been to keep you warm, but rather to teach you that you shouldn’t buy chartreuse clothing, even if it is 100% cashmere and 75% off. Thank the item for the lesson it has taught you and let it go.

KitKat: Thank you super-expensive, camo mini-skirt for teaching me that there is a time where age comes into play with what you wear. You have done your duty and now it’s time to find a millennial who can pull you off.

Sorting clothing – Kondo recommends putting every item of clothing you own on the floor to see what you have and decide what to keep. I don’t have enough floor space for this.

KitKat: I am with you, Stormy. I couldn’t test this one out. My clothes-to-floor ratio doesn’t work out, even if done in categories of clothing.

Treat your socks with respect – One of the more amusing chapters was on the topic of socks, which featured this gem: “Never, ever ball up your socks.” The author described her conversation with a client who had done just that, “Look at them carefully. This should be a time for them to rest. Do you really think they can get any rest like that?” She then explained that socks and stockings in your drawer are essentially on holiday from the difficult chore of protecting your feet and the time they spend in the drawer is their only chance to rest… As much as I like the idea of my socks having a secret life in my drawer that is unknown to me, I opened my sock drawer quickly at several random times throughout the day and was never able to catch any of them with an umbrella drink in their hand, so I’m questioning this one a bit.

folded-socks
Who knew KitKat was a sock sadist?

KitKat: I can’t do this one. One of my weird pleasures when sorting laundry is finding matching socks and then balling the pair up. It’s the only part of folding laundry I enjoy. When I end up with no single ones, it’s like I won the game. If a sock doesn’t have a match to become a ball, it has to sit on the dryer waiting for its mate. (Another bonus of this method is I don’t get called into my kids’ rooms during our rushed morning chaos because they can’t find matching socks.)

Unread books: Sometime equals never – If you have a book that’s been lying around for more than a month, thinking you’ll read it someday, you’re lying to yourself. Just get rid of it. (Note: This may apply to the book I’m reviewing, KitKat!)

KitKat: Very true. I love reading and am usually searching for new books to read. But if I haven’t picked it up in a month, then it hasn’t caught my interest enough. Usually the fiction books are devoured, while self-help books on getting your shit together, self-improvement, or organizing all lay around mocking me.

Decorate your closet with secret delights – This was just an interesting note that if you have something you love that doesn’t fit anywhere else in your house, you can decorate your closet with it. Love posters of kittens or your Best Thespian certificate from high school? Put them in your closet! I actually have some little star shaped mirrors that I put in my walk-in closet (to remind myself that I’m a superstar, naturally) and of course, this is a perfect place to keep a vision board.

KitKat: I have kept my vision boards there! It is a perfect spot. I also put up photos I rip out of magazines of cool ways to style my hair or pull together an outfit. I used to keep them in a file, but never looked at them. Yet I didn’t want to throw them away because they inspired me. Now I actually sometimes even try to pull off the looks I see when opening closet doors.  

Your possessions want to help you – Again with the anthropomorphism. Kondo must spend a lot of time alone, because she has a very rich imagination. She believes that “Everything you own wants to be of use to you. Even if you throw it away or burn it, it will only leave behind the energy of wanting to be of service. Freed from its physical form, it will move about your world as energy, letting other things know that you are a special person, and come back to you as the thing that will be of most use to who you are now, the thing that will bring you the most happiness.”

KitKat:  Hmmm. She may have have poured one too many glasses of wine at this point in her writing. Plus, I don’t want to imagine that the energy of the life-sized doll I “decluttered” when my daughter was at camp is haunting us. 

The big payoff – One of the more grandiose claims of the book is the transformational power of tidying. The author asserts that once you’re no longer distracted by the clutter in your house, you’ll be able to see other parts of your life more clearly and may end up changing self-defeating personal habits, your unfulfilling job, maybe even your deadbeat spouse! 😉

KitKat: The clutter does distract and overwhelm me. Then, add in holiday decorations or bags of items collected and waiting to go up to the cabin, and I have actually lost it from being inundated by all the stuff. If I had time, let’s say I could send my family away for a month or have a paid week off to focus just on decluttering, I think it would be transformational—at least for my temper.

Stormy’s Summary – Having downsized a year ago, I find that much of what the author says is true. It’s amazing to think about how many things my husband and I got rid of that we have not missed one bit. I hope those objects were able to “spark joy” (or at least be useful) to someone else and sending them off to their new homes enabled us to make room for some new things (not necessarily “stuff,” but concepts, hobbies, habits) in our new life.

KitKat: We took your extension ladder and it was very useful. We used it to change the light bulb in our cabin garage that was out for over a year, so we could see the ping pong table we added. And the light sparked a lot of joy (and competition).

A Halloween tale with a happy ending: An Orphan Blossoms in America

A few years ago, KitKat shared a scary Halloween tale of lost socks and lost patience. This year, I have a scary story of my own. A poor rural Chinese family gives birth to a baby boy. This would usually be cause for rejoicing, but this family already has two children—a school-age daughter and a three-year-old girl. Given the political and economic circumstances in China, they aren’t allowed to have three children, so one of them must go. The older daughter is in school and contributes to the household. Due to a centuries-old tradition, the baby boy will be responsible for supporting the parents in their old age. Therefore, the “logical choice” is the precocious preschooler—the girl with the smile like sunshine whose antics make her parents laugh and delight in her warm, open personality. They’re poor and not able to support all of their children. The girl is malnourished despite being well-loved.

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The ceiling of the Tianjin train station has a mural of a guardian angel, protecting those on their journey

The parents are too heartbroken to part with their darling daughter, so her grandparents volunteer to take care of things. They bring her to the train station. With so many people coming and going, nobody will notice a small child left behind. At least, not right away. Eventually a train station official notices the small girl crying on the platform. She’s looking for Lao-ye and Ye-ye and wondering where they are. The station official gives the frightened child a piece of candy and takes her to his office while he calls the local police. He’s hoping it’s a case of a lost child and not an abandoned one, but his heart tells him otherwise. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, children are going from house to house saying “Trick or treat!” The whole evening is devoted to frightful pranks that aren’t really scary, because they’re only make-believe. However, for the girl back in China, the scenario that’s unfolding is truly frightening.

The girl is taken to the police station where they keep her for three days. They are waiting to see if she is in fact a lost child and merely separated from her family or one of the many unfortunate girls whose family cannot afford to keep her, due to a social system that places responsibility for aging parents on the sons.

After three days in police custody, the officials face the sad fact that nobody is searching for the child. They bring her to the local orphanage where she is given a new identity and a chance for a better life.

KitKat and I are both parents of adopted daughters and the story I just told is my imagined “horror story” of my daughter’s early childhood. Blossom was abandoned on Halloween, so witches and ghost decorations in the stores always make me reflect on this. My daughter turned 21 last November. This is a milestone for any young person, because they are finally recognized as an adult in all respects. But for Blossom, birthdays have always carried a little twist: You see, her birthday was “assigned” to her the day she came to the orphanage.

When we first discovered that, I was a little dismayed. “You mean, we won’t know how old she really is?” I thought. Then, upon reflection I realized this was a pretty trivial matter. After all, she came to the orphanage when she was around three. The orphanage director was a doctor and assessed her as being three years old. In thinking about my (many) nieces and nephews, I realized that the margin of error on predicting a three-year-old child’s age is only +/- six months at best (in other words, you’re unlikely to mistake a six year old for being three) so I figured this was close enough to not worry about it. Her assigned birthday meant she would always be one of the older kids in her class, so that seemed to add a layer of security, ensuring she would be sufficiently mature for the various rites of passage.

Traditionally in China, all children were considered “one year old” at birth and then would age by one year at the lunar new year and on each lunar new year thereafter. So the fact that Blossom’s true age was a little “off” from her celebrated birthday actually seemed to pay homage to her Chinese heritage.

the-orphanage-1
Gong, Hua (soon-to-be Blossom, in the Green School Hyogo t-shirt, front row) with her classmates at the Tianjin Children’s Welfare Institute

When the orphanage officials brought Blossom in to meet us—her Mama and Baba—for the first time, my immediate reaction was “Oh my God, she’s only two!” Our information had told us she was four-and-a-half, but she was a little peanut and didn’t look older than two. I panicked a bit, because as parents of two other children, we weren’t really expecting to go all the way back to the toddler stage. However, soon after interacting with her, we could see that she was no toddler. For example, she could tie her shoes—and we could tell that she was quite clever in making little verbal remarks (even though they were in Chinese and we couldn’t understand anything she was saying). We asked the orphanage director how confident he was in the age he had assigned to her, and he responded, “She’s four alright—four going on eight!” (referring to her precociousness).

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Blossom being carried off the plane by baba to start her new life in America

So we had no medical reason to change her birthdate—and I had another more important reason to keep it. With an older “waiting child,” the rules are different than for adopting a typical international baby, thus I had been inquiring into Blossom’s adoption availability, only to be told another family was working on adopting her. For whatever reason, the other couple decided not to proceed, and the day the orphanage called to tell me that she was available to us was on her assigned birthday. So, you see, on that day she was “born” into our family as our next daughter. So in my heart her birthday has always seemed appropriate.

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Always challenging herself

Unlike a lot of adopted children, Blossom has never drilled us for details around her adoption. One of the blessings of adopting a child of another race is it’s a pretty in-your-face move. When you see our family, four Scandinavian Minnesotans with a short Asian girl, it’s clear she’s adopted. Which in many regards, has simplified things. And truthfully, although we’re all well aware that Blossom has a different genetic and cultural background (when her parents are acting too weird, she likes to lord over her img_3303siblings the fact that she’s actually NOT genetically predisposed to the weirdness, whereas they are), we don’t really give it a second thought in our day-to-day lives. I knew I would adopt before I ever had biological children, so she was always part of “the plan,” and we’re very much a regular family with all of the idiosyncrasies that brings. I wish I could tell her birth mom that our shared daughter is living a life filled with opportunity that she never could have imagined on that sad Halloween in China. And Blossom acknowledges the uniqueness of her circumstances by wanting to contribute to the betterment of the world in some way. And I know she will. She already is.

Why ProTrump is NOT Prolife

A lot of prolife Christians are in a quandary over Donald Trump. They realize he’s a fool, yet know that he’s likely to appoint a conservative judge to the Supreme Court, which is a necessary step if they hope to overturn Roe v. Wade. As a result, many are conflicted about how to vote on November 8th.

guiltNow Stormy has been prolife for as long as she has been aware of the issue. In grade school, back in the post-Roe v. Wade late-70s, a women’s group visited our parochial school classroom to tell us about the issue of abortion. But they didn’t just bring pamphlets and rhetoric, they brought “visual aids” in the form of embryos and fetuses in glass jars preserved in formaldehyde. (Were they aborted? miscarried? I don’t know the details, I was only about 10 or 11 at the time.) All I can tell you is that peering at their tiny features in different stages of development affirmed to me that 1) they were tiny people 2) it was impossible to tell at what stage they went from being “a blob of cells” to tiny people. One of them even had a bruise where his/her head was hitting the glass—a very “human” reaction that I could relate to as a fairly rough-and-tumble girl who was usually sporting a few bruises and scrapes herself.

Obviously, no school could get away with this today. Not even a Catholic school. Parents would declare it traumatizing, although if society is deeming these babies to be mere tissue, than it shouldn’t be any more traumatizing than looking at gallstones in a science class. But I digress. My point in telling you this story was only to point out that I’m writing this as someone who is opposed to abortion in all but the most extreme cases.

jimmySo, as a prolife Christian who has voted on this issue myself in the past, I’m not experiencing any such conflict. Why? It’s simple. Trump is not prolife. Being prolife extends far beyond appointing conservative judges or regulating against abortion. It means respecting life. It means working to ensure that everyone has health insurance and access to affordable birth control. It means fathers stepping up to take care of their children. It means creating sensible gun laws to safeguard against senseless violence. It means offering compassion to victims of war. It means respecting and supporting people with disabilities. It means expanding education to strengthen future generations.

republican_jesusUltimately, being prolife means respecting, affirming and supporting life—at all ages and stages. It means advocating for life every. single. time. Trump has proven over and over that the only life he cares about is his own.

The number of abortions is at its lowest point since Roe v. Wade due to a number of factors, including education and better access to birth control. These are the kinds of issues pro-lifers need to focus on—and vote on—in the next election because the values that Trump preaches ultimately show a lack of respect for human life…a “looking out for Number One” mentality that inevitably will only lead to more loss of life.

The family you choose…

At the beginning of summer, my company lost a dear colleague unexpectedly. This woman was the kind of person who had friends everywhere—at all levels within the business, in all geographies—and it sent everyone into shock and mourning. Fiona had relocated to the US from our UK office but was born and raised in Ireland. During the last decade, she worked mostly in Minnesota, spent a couple of years running our India office, and patched together a wide network of friendships that included coworkers and even clients. During her brief hospitalization and subsequent death, the closest of those friends gathered together with her parents who had flown over from Ireland to help plan her services, settle her affairs and share a decade’s worth of memories, laughs and tears.

At her memorial service, someone referred to these closest friends as the “family Fiona chose” to surround herself with when she was far away from her actual family back in Ireland… and that phrase stuck with me… I think we all do this, to some extent. Even when our actual families are just down the street.

friend signThere is an inherent difference between family and friends—at least in my introverted view of the world. While regular friends are a great addition to one’s life, they can invoke a bit of anxiety for an introvert: Do I seem friendly enough? Am I being “fun”? Am I acting like a dork? (Shades of junior high.)

Family is another matter. They’re stuck with me—in all of my dysfunctional glory. If a family member drops by unannounced, I throw open the door without worrying that the house is a mess. If there’s a lull in the conversation, I’m not compelled to fill it. They can see me without my make-up or with a stain on my shirt and I won’t lose sleep over it. We can bicker about something, but I know they’ll love me anyway. Sometimes, however, despite our love for our families, we don’t always share the same views or interests. And so we may not hang out with them the way we would a friend. But when friends and family come together in the same person, it’s a beautiful thing.Clean

I have lots of acquaintances, but I have a smaller number of “friends” and an even smaller subset of friends that I would classify as “family I choose.” But when I realize someone has reached this hallowed status, I try not to take them for granted.

KitKat, for better or worse, has reached this status. We’ve known each other for 18 years and know the ways in which we’re different and the ways in which we’re exactly the same. I can always trust her to “give it to me straight” when I need a dose of reality. At the same time, if I’m anxious or upset about something, I know she’ll say exactly the right thing to calm me down. Since KitKat’s the oldest girl in her family and I’m the youngest in mine, our relationship gives me the chance to be the big sister and her the chance to be the little sister… Because, alas, I’m four years older, I’ve undergone certain milestones first. Both the good (marriage, children) and the bad (turning 50). For all of that, it works well. After all, I’m capable of giving awesome advice (even if I don’t always follow it myself) and KitKat is great at helping me envision a better version of myself.

I’m blessed to have a few other friends in this category as well—and also a couple of family members who I think would still be “chosen family” even if they weren’t already sharing the same last name.

shenanigans
This one is dedicated to Fiona. 🙂

At my colleague’s memorial service, it was clear that her chosen family knew they were special to Fiona. She made a point of living her life that way. Her death was a reminder to make sure my own “chosen family” understands what they mean to me.

 

Chasing rainbows

I know what some of you are thinking… “I started reading this blog because Stormy and KitKat promised they are more messed up than me. But now all I’m getting are introspective posts on world politics, brain surgery and death. I want to know how is Stormy handling being 50? What about the move? Is she still crazy?”

So for those of you looking for some shallow reading—the beach blanket chick-lit version of this blog—Stormy is happy to oblige. It’s the middle of summer and I’m exhibiting my usual, “Wait! Slow down!” despair as I contemplate the dwindling number of free weekends in which to schedule my summer must-dos. For example, I’ve had my boat for four summers now, and have yet to get KitKat and family out on it!

popeye-I-am-what-I-amI’m also in a weird mental place right now. There is so much that’s going well in my life, but for some reason I’m feeling aimless and dissatisfied. Do I need a new job? Do I need a new hobby? Do I need to just quit bitchin’ and appreciate my blessings (my money is on the latter). I need to figure out what the next phase of my life looks like.

It turns out that being 50 is okay (well, I’m actually 51 now). I still can’t believe I’m in this decade, but I just try not to think about it (denial is my friend) and keep doing what I’ve always been doing and wearing whatever I like. I believe in being comfortable and true to myself, yet I don’t want to get a lecture from my girls (“Mom, what are you wearing?… Really?”) so I try to temper my need for self-expression with a little common sense. I trust that they’ll tell me if I push the limits too far.

mature?I had an epic revelation the other day: I looked at my husband and said, “Woah. I just realized that I’m as mature as I’ll ever be. I probably am not going to mature any more than I am!” He laughed, but I pointed out the irrefutable truth of the situation: By the time a person turns 51, that’s pretty much it. That individual isn’t going to get a whole lot more mature. For some reason, I found that oddly comforting…knowing I’ve reached an age where I no longer have to worry about trying to be older or more sophisticated or younger or hipper. I am what I am (a favorite saying of both God and Popeye). In other words, this is it, folks. Move along, there’s nothing more to see here.

On a brighter note, Oskar and I are celebrating the anniversary of our move into our downsized digs. This was a monumental effort last year—I still get exhausted just thinking about it. On the other hand. I L-O-V-E LOVE our new home. It’s the perfect size. It’s in a perfect location. I love having a new space to decorate. I also love having very little maintenance work. And although I had a tough transition in seeing my little chickies fly the nest, now that we’re out of their childhood home, I love living the life of an empty nester. It’s sort of like being newlyweds again except now we have more time (we were only married for a little over a year when I got pregnant with my oldest) and more money.

shark5Which brings me to the last update—you’ve already read about my husband’s successful surgery, so the big question on everyone’s mind (well maybe not, but it’s on my mind, at least) is what’s next? I wish I knew. I know myself well enough by now that I realize I always need some type of project to keep me focused and happy, and right now I don’t really have that and I feel like I’m floundering as a result. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, and I’ll keep searching for that “thing” that will make me feel grounded. I’m not sure if it will be work, school, a hobby or volunteer work, but I’ve always lived my life like some species of shark—that is, I need to keep moving or I know I’ll drown—so I’ll keep chasing rainbows until I find that emotional pot of gold. I haven’t figured out the answers yet (another example of “easier said than done”), but as soon as I do, you can be sure I’ll let you know!

Test driving the new brain

In my last post, I explained the process my husband was undergoing for brain surgery. I’m happy to report that the results are better than either of us were expecting. I’ve described his off and on periods before, but this video shows his results better than I can explain. The “task” is to go back and forth between two pieces of tape as fast as he can. In the first snippet, he is completely “off,” no DBS, no meds. In the second, both are working together.

The beauty of his DBS device is—even when his meds are “off”—he still has about 70-75% mobility, compared to about 20% without the device (see the chart below). As you might imagine, this has been life-changing. (Editor’s note: That’s not a word I use lightly—I once wrote an article about getting braces as an adult and the magazine publisher wanted to edit it to have me say it was life-changing but I refused to put straighter teeth in that category. My teeth weren’t horrible to begin with and it was really more of a vanity thing.)

For the first couple of days we were stunned—we kept waiting for Oskar to go “off” to the extent he had previously on previous occasions and it never happened. Well, actually it did one evening…sort of. When we were out for dinner later the following weekend, Oskar felt the familiar slowness associated with being truly “off.” We were both a bit depressed about it—thinking the results had been too good to be true—only to discover when we got to our car that he had accidentally shut off the device. He pressed the on button and surged back to mobility. It was truly a miracle.

Oskar and I realized over the next week or so that many things that had been difficult or impossible for him to do while “off” were, once again, on the table…such as:

  • Driving
  • Cooking
  • Going to Target (invariably, if Oskar tried to go to Target while his meds were on, they’d crash on him just as he was needing to maneuver the checkout line/payment process)
  • Visiting his deceased mom’s elderly partner, Harold (see driving, above)
  • Riding a bike
  • Hiking
  • Standing while waiting for a table at a restaurant
  • Taking walks around the park
  • Sight-seeing

Actually, that last one was my realization when I thought, “What better way to test-drive the new brain than by going on vacation?” We had had a grueling, busy winter and were ready for some fun in the sun, so we booked a spontaneous trip to California to visit some friends and Oskar’s little sister—and to see how much of a contribution his DBS device would make to our vacation.

DBS_chart

The vacation was enlightening. The first night, we stayed with my high-school friend Dot and her husband. We had a fun afternoon and dinner out, catching up on Dot’s new hobbies (painting and pottery—which reminded me that I have to make time for more art in my own life) and her husband’s acting career.

The next day, after going out for breakfast, Dot was chained to her home waiting on an important delivery, so I decided to take Oskar on the hike we had done with Dot and my girls on our last visit, in a park near her house. I remembered the trail as being fairly long, but not too strenuous, and it had beautiful views of the LA area. Still, it was the type of hike that Oskar would have had problems with in the past—so I wanted to see if the “New Oskar” could handle it. We found the trailhead and headed up the path. The trail went up…and up…and up… I kept asking him, “Are you okay?” “How are you doing?” “Do you need to rest?” and each time he said, “No, I’m fine…” And here’s the thing: He WAS fine.

The next day, we went to meet Oskar’s little sister and her husband. They’re both scientists working for a biotech company and have a lovely home in Thousand Oaks. We had dinner at an interesting outside restaurant in the Santa Monica mountains. The next morning, we sat out in the backyard contemplating how to spend the day. (Interesting observation: Oskar’s sister and husband have a lovely backyard, complete with swimming pool, but don’t spend much time in it. “Do you entertain out here?” I asked, thinking of my love for outdoor parties. “No, not really” was the reply. It was a clear geographical difference—in Minnesota, it’s nearly mandatory that if it’s nice, you’re outside. No debates. We don’t have a lot of nice, warm weather, so we cherish every sunny day, and nobody knows how to celebrate the beauty of summer like a Minnesotan. California, on the other hand, sees so many nice days that its residents TAKE IT FOR GRANTED. This is nearly an unforgiveable sin, but our hosts did a good job of indulging our craving for Vitamin D.)

We grabbed a bottle of champagne and headed to an oyster food truck that parks along the ocean in Ventura. We ordered a variety of oysters—raw, fried, baked—and had a picnic on the beach. It was awesome. Oddly, my sister-in-law had gone running on the beach past the food truck many times, but had never stopped for oysters. So our visit prompted her and her husband to try it out. How many great experiences do we all overlook in our own hometowns, and how many cool things might we discover if we looked at our city through the eyes of a tourist?

Afterward, we went to a microbrewery and continued our day of indulgence. Later, we went up the coast and met an old college friend of Oskar’s at another microbrewery. (Do you see a theme here?)

IMG_3109The next few days were spent in the Santa Barbara wine country and one day consisted of a long day trip up to Big Sur and Carmel. All along our trip, I was evaluating how Oskar was handling things. He was able to drive more than he normally would (although I drove most of the PCH, he took the wheel for most of the route home).

On our last full day, we visited a number of wineries. We noticed that for the first time since Oskar’s DBS device had been switched on, he was experiencing some noticeable “off-time.” This tempered our “New Brain—New Life!” outlook a bit, and we were both a little quiet and reflective. What seemed too good to be true apparently was.

We returned home and back in his everyday environment, Oskar quickly rebounded to his new-and-improved self. We decided that Oskar’s off periods while on vacation were caused by a little too much beer and wine, combined with him taking a more lax approach to his medication schedule.

The vacation had mixed results… We learned that Oskar’s surgical success didn’t mean he was cured, but we also discovered that it was possible to turn back time to a point where Parkinson’s didn’t rule our lives. And we have to admit, we’re pretty excited about that!

 

 

Well, it’s not rocket science…

Right now, I’m sitting in a hospital waiting room as my husband has brain surgery. The road here wasn’t short. When he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 13 years ago, we investigated treatments but found that there weren’t many options. The gold standard for Parkinson’s Disease is a drug called carbidopa/levodopa that Oskar has been taking for a number of years. As I’ve written before, it’s not a predictable treatment—sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Moreover, the longer one takes carbidopa/levodopa, the more likely one is to experience dyskinesia: Unintended movements caused by a surplus of dopamine in the system. These can be annoying (like when Oskar dropped my favorite mug) or potentially dangerous (for example, while driving).

For more advanced Parkinson’s patients, there is one surgical option—Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS)—but it isn’t a cure and the procedure can only be done once, so it’s usually not recommended until the disease is more advanced.

In recent years, Oskar started to reach a dosage level that brought on the dyskinesia. While the excess movements didn’t bother either of us much initially, it was becoming quite pronounced and, when he considered that along with the increasing frequency of “off” times, Oskar decided it was time to explore DBS.

Oskar volunteered to participate in a clinical study for a new device and underwent a series of tests to see if he was a good candidate for the surgery.

One of his consults required him to go off his medication overnight so that he was completely “off” while being evaluated. Then, they had him run through a series of motor tests to record his movements on video and time how long it took him to perform certain tasks. Then they let Oskar take his medication and he re-performed all of the tests with the carbidopa/levodopa in his system.

Now, I have seen my husband in both his on and off states hundreds of times, but the truth is I don’t pay attention to him much when he’s off. Oskar generally doesn’t like me to help him when his meds are off and it’s frustrating to watch him struggle and a bit depressing to see him sit there motionless. Truth be told, he’s not the best company when he’s off, so I usually go do other things while he waits for his meds to come back “on.” However, during the medical evaluation, I watched intently as he went through all of his motor tests both “off” and “on.” The difference was amazing. When he was off, he had a pronounced tremor, a blank expression, a softer voice, and very slow movements. When his meds came back on, you could see the relief flood his face. The tremor was replaced with dyskinesia, but he was more relaxed and able to do most of the motor tests with ease and greater speed. But throughout both on and off states, he kept his sense of humor and grace and reminded me once again what a classy guy he is.

The dramatic change in his motor skills was good news, though, because how well a person responds to the medication is an indicator of how they will respond to the surgical procedure.

brain surgeryOskar’s first surgery (on the left hemisphere of the brain) took 6 and a half hours. This was time he spent mostly awake with a halo screwed into his head, while the surgeon drilled a dime-sized hole in his skull and placed an electrode into his brain, looking for the optimal spot. The surgical team would test the location by having Oskar move his hand and leg and listen for the sound of the electrical impulses going from the brain to the muscle—basically listening for static. It took them five “pokes” to find the right location, but his surgeon was pleased by the results once they hooked him up to the transmitter because Oskar responded to very low levels of stimulus.

Before the procedure, family and friends offered their support—Do you need anything? Do you want someone to sit with you in the waiting room?—and I was actually a little confused by it. After all, this was a voluntary procedure expected to have a good outcome; it wasn’t an inoperable tumor or something… But as the hours wore on I started to get concerned; I hadn’t expected such a long time in surgery. My default coping method is denial, but that strategy requires one to keep busy so the real concerns don’t creep in. And that’s hard to do when you’re sitting in a hospital waiting room, alone, with a spotty wi-fi connection. After the successful completion of surgery number 1, I was grateful for KitKat’s company as I downloaded the day’s events to her over a glass of wine that evening.

Writing this in real-time, Oskar just completed his second surgery (for the right hemisphere) last week. This time, they were able to place the electrode on the first “poke,” although they took two more passes at it to ensure they had the proper placement. Although both procedures were somewhat exhausting and wore him out more than he was expecting, we were glad to get past them. All jokes aside, it was brain surgery, after all. We’re anxious to get through his final surgery later this week (implanting the transmitter in his chest) to see how much of an improvement he gains when they switch everything on later in March. The large scars on his head seem like a small price to pay for the increased mobility he hopes to gain.

It's a good thing scars on guys are "rugged and sexy"...
It’s good that a guy’s scars are “rugged and sexy”…

And there’s nothing like spending time in a hospital to remind you how fortunate you are. During these procedures, we both crossed paths with a number of people facing bigger challenges than us, and those encounters served as a humbling reminder of how lucky we actually are. We’re very optimistic about the outcome, but are trying to temper our hopefulness with reasonable expectations.

I don’t know what the future holds in terms of Oskar’s DBS results or how it might change our future, but I’m curious to find out. Yet, one thing Parkinson’s has taught me is to take it one day at a time—so you’ll find out when I do…a few months from now.