Category Archives: Attitude

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.) 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 times. But each of those instances evolved in a way where 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 and 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, 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 have challenged me—after nearly 30 years, I should know what I’m doing—but the politics, expectations and lack of resources is 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 overdue a doctor’s appointment due to it messing up work week). And I never shut off. Evenings and weekends, I’m either working or worrying about work. It’s not healthy and 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 that I’ve made a terrible mistake. She’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 then 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.” 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.

 

 

Our 100th post proves blogging is Easier Said Than Done…

Well, 2016 has been a surprising (for lack of a better term) year in general. We have faced heated controversy: Trump, Clinton, Standing Rock. We said goodbye to icons: Prince,  George Michaels, Carrie Fisher…followed the next day by her mom, Debbie Reynolds! International chaos: Brexit, Russia, Aleppo. Admittedly for many topics, I only know the quick blurbs I get out of my morning Skimm. But at least I can walk into the office and not be totally unaware of the day’s buzz. (Past years, I would avoid discussions till I had time to Google whatever current event was being discussed.) When the Things We Skimm’d in 2016 came out this year, I was proud I actually knew about each one. Thank you to my other crazy, busy friends who suggested the Skimm cheat.
There was another surprising 2016 tidbit—Stormy and I end this year with our 100th blog! Stormy is probably a bit nervous right now if we will hit this goal, as I wait till the 11th hour to get this out. Next time she starts a blog, she may want to choose her blog partner more carefully. Perhaps a retiree, or at least ensure it is someone who can at least manage to find time to read the news as a prerequisite. But now that she is tied to me and we are celebrating our 100th together, I want to share my blogging reflections.
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I am glad Stormy chose me. Corny as it sounds this blog has done a lot for me. It has served as self-help when I need it. I never journaled, though I believe in the idea of writing things you are grateful for or to self-reflect on your feelings. There just wasn’t time or motivation.This is my journal. Also, looking through these posts I realized I captured lots of moments in time and a lot of small memories that would have otherwise been fleeting.
 I do have an attention span. Four years may be the longest activity I ever took up. Usually my big ideas die after a few weeks or months. I have had a lot of stop and starts. Jewelry making. Writing a children’s book. Running. Selling toe rings. (actually a different phase than jewelry making). Hockey for me may also be trending into this pile.
I need to write as I am feeling it. My biggest struggle is having the time to write when a topic comes to my head. I have a lot of started blogs, where I jot down ideas but by the time I can take the time to sit and write it isn’t with me anymore. I am for sure a write-in-the-moment gal (and prefer when I can be a live-in-the-moment gal too). When I tell Stormy I have planned time to write, she never gets a thing. When I do, she usually gets a surprise text that I have one ready to post!
I can’t pick my favorite blog. I would say I still love reading about the “Bloggers.” Maybe because it is when it started and speaks to both of our personalities. I always look forward to new ones from Stormy. Usually I know some of her tendencies and they make me laugh (belly buttons and big bird) and I also usually learn something new. If forced to pick, maybe our joint ones like “True Confessions” on parenting. The joint ones illustrate what this blog is about and started for. Stormy and I sharing and supporting each other through the good and bad. We decided that it made us feel good to know we weren’t alone in being quirky and a bit messed up, maybe we would share our random thoughts online in case they connected with others.
I look forward to what will ignite next year’s posts.  My hope for the new year is to start making time to get back to posting more. I am getting more settled into my new job and hope to find my rhythm again. My posts are often inspired by moments with my friends and family. I can’t wait to see where 2017 takes us.
Cheers Stormy! I look forward to hitting our next milestone, as well as the laughs, cries, talks, drinks and chaos we share and write about until then.

Stormy looks back…

Back in the fall of 2012, I was toying with the idea of doing a blog. I had been thinking about it for several years because I like to write, but I was having trouble committing to a theme—and I knew I would have trouble committing to a schedule. I floated the idea by KitKat thinking a partner might help keep me accountable (and, as former colleagues, I knew her writing and work habits). I was actually a bit surprised when she seemed receptive to the idea. After all, my kids were mostly grown, but her children were in elementary school and her free time was (and still is) very scarce.

We spent a bit of time trying to determine what our theme should be (and as you can tell, it’s a pretty loose one) and tossing out some ideas for topics, a blog name and our nom de plumes. We decided that we’d try to follow a schedule of us each posting every-other-week. This would require us each to post twice a month—a rhythm we thought was achievable. We launched our blog with the new year in January of 2013.

68194-ben-franklin-quote-writingIn the four years since then, I’ve learned a lot—about writing, myself and KitKat. First of all, the writing. I’ve always liked to write and often thought that—as someone who liked to write—my goal would be to write a novel someday. After a couple of quickly failed attempts at that, I realized I do NOT have a novel living inside me. It’s simply not there. While I usually have a couple of impassioned rants lurking in my soul, there’s not a novel to be found. In fact, there may actually be a non-fiction book lurking in there somewhere—the jury is still out on that one—but definitely no novel. And that’s good to know. Therefore, the blog perfectly fulfills my current need for written self-expression without any larger purpose looming in the shadows.

I’ve learned a bit about blogging. This one is admittedly pretty rudimentary, but we are using the free WordPress option. I recently upgraded to a business account (Look ma, no more ads!), so you may see a few more bells and whistles on here in the months ahead. As a marketer, it’s helped me to understand the medium in a way that simply reading them wouldn’t do.

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Stormy’s Christmas present from her daughter Lucky.

Blogging as a means of global understanding. One of the fun surprises of our blog is seeing just how far our readership extends. We have readers in 54 countries—some of them countries I haven’t even heard of! I can’t help but wonder if they have actually read one of our posts—or stumbled on our blog by mistake. I like to think it’s the former, probably accompanied by a shaking of their head in disbelief about those crazy Americans.

My favorite blog: KitKat’s. KitKat and I have been friends for quite a while, but I still learn new things about her via her blog. For example, who would have guessed about her freakish cushion-equity obsession? At the same time, we’ve both discovered that sometimes the things that are weighing most heavily on our minds are the topics we can’t constructively write about. But whatever can’t be written can usually be hashed out over a walk or a drink (and thanks to our new Christmas bottle keepers, we can do both at once). My favorite blog of hers was probably the note to her daughter’s other two moms. Since we’re both parents of both adopted and biological kids, that’s a unique bond we share.

My favorite blog of my own. Occasionally, I’ll be looking to link to a previous post and stumble upon something I forgot I had written. It nearly always makes me laugh to remember whatever it was that moved me enough to make a post out of it. Some of them are pretty trivial, but I’m proud of others and find nearly all of them interesting in the journaling sense that KitKat mentioned—they allow me to relive a moment in time. I particularly like the New Year’s posts because they show so much optimism for the future. (Although it’s a little depressing to realize that I haven’t progressed much in all of my self-improvement efforts!) I’m sure the next time you hear from me, it’ll be about my latest attempts at perfection. 🙂

As my co-blogger mentioned, I too am better at coming up with ideas and starting things than following through. I’m equally surprised (yet delighted) that we’ve managed to keep it together for four years. That’s longer than many of the jobs we’ve both held! Most of all, I’ve enjoyed tackling this project together with KitKat who, despite her occasional episodes of writer’s block, is an excellent parter in crime. I’m excited to see what we come up with in Year Five.

We did it—100! Happy New Year’s to all our readers (or those who happened to accidentally land here) worldwide.  We hope you stick around for #101.

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.

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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 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, they decided not to proceed and the day the orphanage called to tell me that she was available to us was the same date as 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, although they are.) But, 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.

Stormy & KitKat for office? That’s just the ticket!

Someone recently posted on my Facebook page, “Stormy for President! I’d vote for you…” This made me laugh because I view politics as a necessary evil and generally identify as an Independent. I usually have very little to say on the topic and have only been opinionated this year because a madman is in the race. However, the post got me to thinking: “If I were running for president, what would my platform be? What are my beliefs and how do they define me?”

True to my apolitical roots, I’m going to stay away from foreign policy, gun control, and economics (although I have opinions on all of the above) and, as I’m running an honest, transparent campaign, I’m going to tell you what I really believe.*

It’s never too late – Maybe I’ve watched Scrooge too many times, but I honestly believe that everyone has the capacity to change—and at any time—so long as they want to. I keep hoping that will be the case with my 89-year-old mother, but I’m trying to balance that by having no expectations that she actually will change. That’s a tricky balance.

Find a penny, pick it up. All day long you’ll have good luck – I never walk past a penny on the ground without stopping to pick it up. It’s not that Stormy is cheap, but she is thrifty. At one time lack of finances was a very real issue for me, so I like to remind myself how far I’ve come and remember that it still is an issue for many others. Even if I’m blessed with a comfortable lifestyle, I never want to discount money’s worth—even if it’s a lowly penny—out of respect for those who must save every cent.

He who hesitates…is going to have to wait for me – I adhere to the rules of the road (in most cases) but if we come to a stop sign and you don’t go when it’s your turn, I’m not going to sit around waiting for you. I’m going.

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This jacket actually has Stormy looking forward to cooler weather…

Smart people buy used – There are people out there who think buying used is for “poor people” and won’t purchase anything that’s not in the original packaging. Poppycock. You get way more for your money buying certain items used (cars, clothes, everyday dishes and glasses). I’ve admitted to being a bit of a clotheshorse, but people don’t realize how much I purchase secondhand: Like my cashmere sweaterdress from Neiman Marcus, the Missoni dress I wore to my niece’s wedding reception or my new favorite: The black leather moto jacket I bought from ThredUp. The best thing about buying consignment clothes is you get a preview into how well they will hold up and can get high-quality threads for knock-off prices.

If you’re having a terrible day, end it – No, I’m not advocating suicide…just an earlier bedtime. Occasionally, despite our best efforts, some days just suck more than others…but getting a good night’s sleep can improve your whole perspective.

If you’re having lots of terrible days, do something about it – If your circumstances are making you miserable, change them. Oftentimes, the biggest hurdle standing between you and a positive change is your own attitude. Maybe you can’t make a wholesale life change (like quitting your job) immediately, but you can take steps toward change (like updating your resume or brushing up on a skill that will make you more marketable). If you absolutely cannot deal with your circumstances OR if your life is good but you’re still miserable for some unidentifiable reason, PLEASE SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP.

All things in moderation – Fanatics (of any type) scare the shit out of me, so I stay away from environments that encourage fanaticism (sports play-offs, political rallies). I also try to understand both sides of an issue, because there are very few situations that are as black and white as they first appear. But I’ve found that this moderate approach works for other things as well. Dieting? If you deny yourself your favorite foods, it’s probably just a matter of time before you fall off the wagon. If you satisfy those cravings with a moderate amount of chips (or whatever) on occasion, it may take a little longer to lose the weight, but you’ll be more likely to stick with your overall eating plan.

Big changes start with small steps – There’s power in motion and sometimes great achievements are made through lots of little mundane steps. When I was working toward my bachelor’s degree, I was married and raising small children, while also working part-time. Progress was slow, but 11 years later, I had a degree. That success also led me to earning an MBA a decade later…(Thankfully, it didn’t take a decade to earn that one!) The habits-quotespoint is, those achievements were the accumulation of MANY mundane steps, but by sticking with them and keeping my eye on the finish line, I got there. This same principle can be applied to so many things. As Woody Allen said, “80% of success is showing up.”

How about you, KitKat? What does your “platform” look like? (And no, I’m not talking about shoes…)

KitKat Weighs in…

It’s KitKat, remember me? I have been a bit quiet as I adjust to a new job while balancing my normal chaotic family schedule. But, there is nothing like a political debate to pull me out of the shadows. Having divorced parents on two opposite sides of the spectrum, I have grown up listening to opinions shared with extreme passion. I learned that it is ok to express your beliefs, and a good family debate is sometimes a great way to firm up your own convictions and even counts as quality family time.

Though I found Stormy’s expressed beliefs undebatable (including the madman), I thought I better add mine to the ballot. Who knows, she may ask me to be her running mate!

Share the real things – I love seeing everyone’s photos documenting all the bests, but don’t forget to share the other real things too. Friends, acquaintances and even random bloggers, who have opened up or provided self-deprecating humor about struggles with kids, marriage, or other life issues have helped me in ways they will never know. Hey, it is nice to learn you’re not a freak with weird thoughts and emotions that no one else could imagine. It’s not about a bitch sessions. It’s just about being real. Otherwise, we all would just see the snippets from Facebook and wonder why our lives aren’t always made up of countless shiny moments like everyone else.

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KitKat shakes things up by taking her fear of flying on a seaplane in Seattle

Shake things up Try new things, learn new skills, meet new people and make different mistakes. Sometimes my risks are bigger like quitting a safe corporate job to join a start up and sometimes it is as simple as changing my hair color. Shaking things up keeps me awake. “To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself.” – Soren Kierkegaard

Keep moving – Sometimes you just can’t fix a rough day or bad situation, but just physically moving will help get you out of the wallow of self-pity. Twisting your body into different yoga poses. Taking a walk outside. Or my personal favorite: turning on music and dancing. No, it may not fix anything,  but it provides a momentary escape from a really crappy day.

(This may sound like a contradiction to Stormy’s “end it” advice but think of it as an alternative to those of us who don’t have the luxury to go to bed early. Stormy and I support all lifestyles.)

Your life isn’t all your own – There are many great readings on how to be happy and do what is right for you. I devour these when I see the posts. Who doesn’t want to grow old knowing they were fulfilled in every way? But the real truth is life isn’t all about you. There are friends, family, kids and even strangers who also count. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices or do things for others that may mean giving up some more selfish choices. Your life is part of a community. People who are there to share in the highs, and pick you up from the lows. Your peeps, those you know or will know, are part of your life and decisions. And that is ok—you need them!

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You never know what kind of a fairy you may encounter!

Let children believe – Soon enough we learn fairy tales don’t always have happy endings. But let them discover that themselves. So at my house Santa and the Easter Bunny are real, or at least nothing any of us question aloud, so they will keep visiting. And of course I was a fairy in my 20s with all kinds of mystical stories to share with my daughter whose deepest wish is to also become one. And, I am going to let my son think he has a solid career plan, being that if he doesn’t get recruited by the NHL or MBL, he came up with the fallback job of  being a pro-sports lawyer. No reason to crush his dreams with realistic expectations at 13. Plus, it is fun to hear all the things he is going to buy me when he is rich and famous. Let children believe in the whatever after. I find that going along with their imaginations lets me believe a bit in magic and wish bigger too.

Words count – Words hurt, much more than sticks and stones. The things we are told stick with us. Some of the comments told to us out of anger or disappointment, haunt us later. You may be surprised how much someone held on to words you forgot you spoke. It is ok to be honest and tell people the truth. I advocate for not being passive-aggressive and as I mentioned above, being real. The hard part is to remember to also go back and share when you don’t feel that way anymore or when they have made amends. Words also have power to heal. (This is something I am trying to remember in dealing with my own kids—especially navigating around a temperamental pre-teen.)

Arguing is ok – Simply put, if I am not willing to argue with you, that’s when you know something is wrong. There is passion in caring.

Embrace everything that has shaped youEveryone has made some choices that they may go about differently given the chance. But it’s not just “right” choices that form the better you. Sometimes it’s the other paths where you learn the most. I may not want my children making some of the choices I did, but I hope they safely make it through some unchartered journeys. Instead of living in a cloud of regret, remember the things gained or experiences had. The skeletons in your closet are also your treasure chest of memories and learnings. For example, the R-rated job I took up in college; sorry Mom and Dad but I am still glad I was dumb enough to make that bad choice. Love all of your story—it is what makes you interesting.

Some things are best left alone – As much as I stand for trying new things and always improving, sometimes we need to realize when we already have something good and just leave it alone. For example, take Swedish Fish Oreos. How could someone take one of the best candies, which I will eat until my teeth actually hurt, and combine it with a favorite classic childhood cookie. You took two greats and transformed it into an awful. Another example is taking a yummy piece of bread and then dipping it in a bowl of creamy tomato bisque. Now you just created wet, and pinkish, bread—gag! (I loved those hot lunch trays in elementary school that kept my foods separate.) Basically, don’t ruin a good thing when you have it.

What do you say, Stormy? Should we throw our hats in the ring? The way most Americans feel about their choices this year, we may actually stand a chance. 🙂

*This list was inspired by another blogger whose work Stormy admires. See the original post here.