Category Archives: Blogging

The coming new year begs a new approach to politics: Can we finally move past 2016 to focus on unity in 2020?

A couple of months ago, I posted a blog about what I thought the Democrats needed to do to defeat Trump. That post was based on my career in marketing and proposed how certain marketing best practices could be employed by the DNC to strengthen their overall campaign against Trump. While writing the post, I knew it was lacking a specific course of action. However, I was interested in gaining feedback from others to further my thinking on the topic. To that end, I pushed the blog out via several channels—LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter—and as of this writing, it’s had over 500 views. (I think this is a solid number, considering it was posted to a brand-new blog I had created—one with no existing followers, SEO or paid marketing behind it.)

FBechoGiven our contentious political climate, I expected lots of push-back from my post, but I didn’t get any comments from Trump supporters. This was disappointing, since I was interested in understanding their perspective. My social following tends to include many like-minded people (what Republicans would call the DNC Echo Chamber), so it’s not surprising that I did hear from numerous liberals. They nearly all agreed with my overall assessment of the situation and expressed a similar feeling of helplessness about how to reason with people who were supporting 45 in light of so much damning evidence against him.EchoChamber

An outsider’s inside view

However, the most interesting exchange I had on the topic was with a good friend of mine who is a 40-something white, male executive. This demographic is much maligned among liberals, but I think it’s an important group to understand because they still hold the most power in this country. I was particularly interested in my friend’s view because 1) He was born/raised outside the US where he experienced being a racial/religious minority firsthand, 2) he’s been in the US for long enough to be very informed about both politics and business and 3) he’s not a citizen, so therefore didn’t vote in the 2016 election. This gives him a uniquely objective viewpoint on what’s happening in our country.

We had a very spirited conversation via text. At one point in our conversation, I texted, “…I have no respect for Trump supporters for backing someone who is 1) so stupid and 2) destroying our democracy by ignoring the Constitution and colluding with foreign powers.”

His response to that really made me think. And truthfully, after reflecting on it overnight, it caused me to reframe the problem I identified in my earlier blog. He responded (paraphrased a bit for clarity), “The difference between you and them is that they also value not having a stupid president. They also value no collusion with foreign governments, they also value the Constitution, but they value all of those things secondary to the other values, like ensuring a conservative court, etc.” His opinion was that I likely had more in common with Trump supporters than I’d like to admit. But because they placed a higher value on certain issues, and then voted based on those priorities, we now found ourselves on opposite sides of a growing chasm.

It seems elementary in hindsight, but this discussion around priorities was really a revelation to me. My friend’s view, that perhaps Trump voters didn’t endorse his full agenda but just one or two key issues that drove their voting, gave me a glimmer of hope that our country may not be as divided as I had previously thought. After all, we all prioritize in that way. In a world with too many problems to solve, we all pick and choose which battles we want to fight. It just seems that when it comes to Republicans and Democrats, we view each other’s choices very differently.

The varying levels of commitment to a cause

Let’s begin by acknowledging that there are multiple ways to support any cause and that each requires a different level of commitment. For example:

  • Vocalizing your support or opposition of an issue in conversations with peers
  • Voting for policies that support certain causes
  • Donating money toward supporting a cause
  • Volunteering time or energy toward supporting a cause
  • Taking action in their personal life related to the cause
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Young Stormy had many bunny friends, both real and imaginary.

Let’s dive into a specific example—animal rights. Personally, I like animals, both
domestic and wild. I’ve had dogs, bunnies, birds and even a hermit crab for pets. I would never personally intentionally harm an animal and I don’t like for other people to harm animals. Yet, I’ll admit that I’m not a vegetarian. I eat meat regularly (as long as it comes from what I consider to be ethical farming practices). At the same time, I’m conflicted about hunting. I don’t personally hunt or like hunting. However, I don’t object to others who hunt (because the deer or duck hunters I know use the meat and it would be hypocritical of me to condemn that when I eat meat myself. However, I am disgusted by trophy hunting, which I classify as strictly killing animals for sport. Yet, while I profess to care about animal welfare, I will readily admit that I don’t regularly donate to animal rights charities because I prioritize other causes ahead of them.

You can see from this example that, although I believe in animal rights, my level of commitment to that cause is all over the place. And while I have friends who are much more dedicated to animal rights than me—they provide foster care for shelter animals and contribute time and money to related charities—I still get along fine with them. That is, they don’t condemn me for my relative lack of support of their cause.

The fact is, it’s human nature to prioritize issues that affect us or our loved ones personally. For example, I have a husband with a disability and a daughter who was adopted and is both gay and Asian. Because these people are precious to me, I tend to prioritize issues around Parkinson’s Disease, adoption, healthcare, minorities, immigrants and LGBTQ people more highly than I do many other equally worthy causes.

GhandiI think we all inherently understand that others have to prioritize their beliefs. You could take any issue Democrats collectively care about: immigration, healthcare, climate change, gun control, etc., and you would find the same varying levels of support and prioritization among voters. For example, it makes sense that the face of climate change, Greta Thunberg, is a 16-year-old activist. Her generation will have to live with devastation that won’t as directly impact your average retiree.

Liberals regularly extend slack to each other about which causes they throw their time and money behind, so long as they are all voting blue.

Yet, as a whole, Democrats don’t grant this same dispensation to Trump voters.

I’ll admit, I am 100% guilty of this. From my anti-Trump perspective, I believed that anyone who voted for Trump agreed with everything he stood for. Even though I personally have never agreed with every issue on either party’s platform but nonetheless have voted in every presidential election since I was 18.

How shared values can diverge in the real world

When my friend pointed out that, in all likelihood, Trump supporters were only concerned with one or two specific issues that they were prioritizing above all others (e.g., a strong economy or adding conservative justices to the Supreme Court), a light bulb went off. If Republic voters weren’t necessarily toeing the whole party line, then maybe there was hope?

I remembered a conversation from last spring when a Republican-voting relative of mine was diagnosed with cancer and debating where to go for treatment. His note included a little slam for his more liberal relatives: “Isn’t healthcare choice wonderful? Single payer? WTH?”

I was taken aback by his attitude, because when my husband had been given a devastating medical diagnosis years before, we had the opposite reaction. We, too, were grateful to have good insurance and choices in how to pursue treatment. But it drove home to us how awful it would be to face a similar diagnosis as one of the 27.9 million nonelderly individuals without health insurance.  

In other words, my relative and I both shared the belief that “good healthcare is important.” However, he prioritized his desire to keep his affordable employer-provided insurance above the right of everyone else to have even a basic level of insurance coverage (assuming that extending insurance to everyone would result in higher costs or decreased options for him personally). Whereas I considered us fortunate to have good employer-provided insurance for my husband—and viewed that as a privilege that shouldn’t come at the cost of others being uninsured—he considered it critical to his personal survival and worth fighting for.

In voting for Trump, Republicans may believe that “the end justifies the means,” while liberals will argue that these same individuals have “sold their soul to the Devil.” However, once I wrapped my head around the idea that most Trump voters probably don’t support everything he stands for, it changed my view of the challenge facing Democrats.

Branding is what other people think, not what “the brand” thinks

Since this started as a conversation about marketing, I want to explain a fundamental principle of branding. That is, a brand only exists in the minds of the public. It’s the sum of everything a person knows about a company: its products, its services and its messaging about itself. Most companies spend lots of money to carefully craft a brand identity that will be embraced by their customers, but ultimately, the consumer is the one who will determine whether they are successful. If the company aligns to its brand in ways that extend beyond the marketing message, chances are good that the public’s perception of the brand will be close to the company’s intention. But if there is inconsistency, the consumer will put more store in the company’s actions—what they know to be true—than in its marketing message.

And the same applies to both Republicans and Democrats.

RefFor example, while Democrats brand themselves as the compassionate party—the ones who are tolerant and care about others—many Republicans reject that branding because it goes against what they have experienced in their conversations at Thanksgiving Dinner or while scrolling through their Facebook feed. They see widespread condemnation of anyone who voted for Trump and consider the Democrat’s self-branding as the caring, tolerant party to be the height of hypocrisy.

Right or wrong, most Americans believe they are “good people”

Psychologists are aware of something called the “self-enhancement effect” which is people’s tendency to rate themselves “above average” when comparing themselves to others. While we generally cast ourselves in a positive light relative to our peers, above all else we believe that we are more just, more trustworthy, more moral than others. Consider the implications of this: If a Republican’s self-concept is that they are NOT racist, greedy or a white nationalist, how do you suppose they will react to the angry remonstrations of their family and acquaintances? In my experience, they will respond with bitter accusations of their own. The least likely reaction is that the Republican will undergo an immediate self-analysis and conclude, “Gee, you’re right. I AM awful for voting for Trump. I’m going to make amends by voting blue in 2020!”

Yet, most Democrats are just so darn angry about the situation our country is in that we WANT to blame everyone who helped put Trump in office. It makes us feel better in the short-term. However, to succeed in defeating Trump, I’m going to suggest another approach. Don’t engage in political discussions that appear to judge someone else’s priorities (even if you vehemently disagree with them). In other words, we need to resist from bashing Trump supporters. Instead, place all of your focus and attention on those who are being marginalized and help uplift them. Flip the conversation so that you’re appealing to your opponent’s self-concept of being a good person. For example, if there’s a new story that triggers your political ire, don’t launch into a diatribe blaming your brother-in-law and the other idiot voters who elected Trump. It might feel good in the moment, but it will only cause those individuals to further entrench themselves in their position. Rather, bring them into the conversation about how we as Americans can help those who are hurting.

We all prioritize our friends and neighbors—what’s happening in our own communities—above the suffering of others. It’s a human coping mechanism that allows us to function despite the many injustices in the world. But it’s also harder to ignore the plight of others when you begin to know them as fellow human beings. So, use that knowledge to get Republicans to see how Trump’s policies are harming others by personalizing the struggles of those who are negatively affected.

bfad022f-c979-422b-ba02-40f15dd94f08-HCG_OnlineAfter all, if we’re going to live in a democratic society, we have to trust in the process. That means sometimes Democratic priorities will move forward and other times Republican priorities will prevail. At the same time, we still have a duty to protect the democratic process—so keep the spotlight on Trump’s impeachable offenses and on the victims of his policies. But do it without implicating or condemning those who—in their minds—were just choosing the lesser of two evils when they voted him into office. Even if you believe they deserve that condemnation, it simply won’t move us toward the end game of getting rid of Trump. So, with the new election year just a couple of short weeks away, we need to ask ourselves: Is it more important to get Trump and his minions out of office or is it more important to “punish” family and acquaintances that voted for him?

I believe that continuing to direct anger at Trump supporters is likely to make things worse for Democrats, not better. And despite my personal feelings on the issue, that’s a chance I’m no longer willing to take. Many recent polls have found that Americans on both sides of the political spectrum are troubled by how divisive our country has become, so let’s focus on fixing that problem…together. I believe that a new leader—one who doesn’t thrive off the chaos they’ve created—will naturally emerge as a result of all of us choosing to prioritize kindness and unity in 2020.


Postscript: As a strong believer in personal redemption, I wanted to suggest in this message that reframing the current political situation would allow those reading this to put aside their differences and once again reunite with estranged friends and family members this holiday season (visions of “A Christmas Carol” dancing in my head). However, I think the damage to our country— and to our individual relationships—is deeper than that and will take longer to heal. Still, much like Ebenezer’s nephew who invites Scrooge to Christmas dinner year after year, only to hear “Bah Humbug!” in response, I’ll keep trying. After all, eventually Scrooge said yes!

 God Bless Us Everyone!

 

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.

 

 

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.
 screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-12-00-36-pm
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.

cup

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.

2016: Stormy’s year to “Choose Different”

New Year’s and its related resolutions are a perennial theme for KitKat and me. (YES, we’ve been doing the blog long enough now to have “perennial themes”—and the fact that this blog started out as a resolution proves my point, I think…)

From vision boards to attitude adjustments, we’re both a bit obsessed with self-improvement. Or at least identifying our shortcomings on a regular basis (ha, ha). Seriously, with how much I think about these things, I should be perfect by now. But as you probably realize, thinking and doing are two different things.

While I can be decisive and even a little impulsive, and I sometimes abandon my efforts when they don’t yield immediate results, I’m also a big believer in adopting the approach of the tortoise over the hare—slow and steady wins the race—and over time, small incremental changes can have a large impact on my life. Case in point: the bachelor’s degree that took me 11 years to earn.

Most of the time, it’s just about the choices you make.

Back when KitKat and I worked together, I had a 2 p.m. pop habit. (I suppose I should explained to some of our unenlightened readers that “pop,” not “soda,” is the proper nickname for carbonated beverages like Pepsi, or in my case, Diet Coke.) Each workday at 2 p.m., I’d saunter down to the break room and stick my two quarters in our company-subsidized (boy, in those days we were livin’ large!) vending machine. You could almost set your clock by my daily pilgrimage.

diet coke imagesWhen I left that job, I was unemployed for a while and quickly got over the need for my 2 p.m. caffeine jolt. However, on my first day with my current employer, I found myself in the breakroom at 2 p.m., dollar bill in hand (no subsidized vending machine there!) and as I was about to slide my money into the slot, I asked myself, “What am I doing?” Here I had successfully broken myself of a habit that was unhealthy and I nearly resumed it based on…what? A habit? A memory? I made a conscious decision NOT to buy the pop and have consumed very little since then—about 10 cans a year vs. the previous 60 or so.

GR_headerbooksThis remembrance inspired my resolution for 2016. What could I accomplish by simply making different choices? I was reading Gretchen Rubin’s book “Better Than Before” about the process of creating and breaking habits—if you’re a self-improvement junkie it’s a must-read. Around the holidays I received her e-newsletter, which included an article about choosing a New Year’s theme instead of a resolution. This theme would consist of a word (or words) that would guide decisions for the upcoming year: “Health,” for example, or “Learn.”

As someone with new-found time on my hands after our recent downsizing, I wanted to get in touch with activities I wasn’t able to pursue when I was taking care of a house and three kids, so I originally was going to make “Discover” my theme for 2016. Then I realized that word wasn’t broad enough to encompass the other changes I wanted to incorporate into the year ahead, so I revised my theme to “Choose Different.” This has a few meanings for me: One is synonymous with “Discover”—because I still want to explore new interests. But “Choose Different” also reminds me to challenge my dysfunctional thinking patterns and alter behaviors that haven’t been serving me well.

Apple

Srsly? I chose a variation of an old Apple slogan for my New Year’s theme? How derivative!

We’re only three weeks in, but so far it’s yielding some positive results. One change I made was to force myself to be less of an introvert at work. It’s something I’ve told myself I needed to do a dozen times before, but a 360 review coupled with a tongue-lashing by a coworker friend convinced me I needed to make a change. Well, it hasn’t killed me and it IS improving some relationships at work, so I’ll keep plugging along until it feels natural. There are other examples as well, and I’m curious to see where this theme might take me in 2016. I guess that is one of the benefits of getting to 50. I can see the horizon ahead and know that even if I don’t get to my self-actualized destination overnight, I can become a better version of myself along the way…simply by making smarter choices most of the time. Are you making any changes in the new year? Please share in the comments…

A Charity Case or a Case for Charity?

It’s a bad sign when KitKat asks me, “…any blog ideas?” which happened just this morning. If you look back at our postings, you can see that the longer gaps between posts are when we’re waiting on KitKat. Of course, this is justifiable because she has school-age kids and other obligations that keep her very busy. I have way more time to write. Usually, KitKat’s thrilled to have the blog-ball in my court because it gives her more time to work on her next post. But even she can tell I’m in a serious drought—and when she starts gently prodding me, I know it’s time to settle on a topic and get to work.

It’s not that life has been boring. On the contrary, there have been a lot of serious issues consuming my thoughts lately. However, both KitKat and I have noticed that the more something is on our mind, the harder it is to organize our thoughts on the topic and write about it. Consequently, you’re not going to hear about my challenges with my parents (although I’m sure that will be a future topic), or my thoughts on the recent terrorist activity in Paris (my brain will never be able to organize such a cowardly, inhumane act into a coherent post).

Paris_attack

There’s plenty of fodder for a blog post in this situation, but I can’t eloquently articulate this level of evil… I don’t think anyone can.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m an introvert and the worst part about that is it it’s easy for negativity to get stuck inside my head. That’s what’s been happening lately, and I know what I need to do in order to counter that: Turn negative inward thoughts into positive outward actions.

For the last couple of years, ever since my youngest flew the nest, I’ve been aware of a lack of purpose in my life. Raising three kids has been my primary activity for the last 26 years and now that they are largely independent, I’ve felt a void. I’ve been seeking out a volunteer opportunity where I could feel like I was doing something worthwhile and after a couple of false starts, joined a program that provides mentors to unemployed/underemployed women.

My first mentee match was unusual, to say the least. I looked up my match on LinkedIn before meeting her—a native of Zimbabwe, spoke multiple languages, won several scholarships, was working on an advanced degree, had previously been Miss Africa, and had started a couple of businesses and non-profits. I met her and we had a great conversation; however, I wasn’t sure how much I could help her. She was a force to be reckoned with and it was clear she would go far in life. In fact, she made me feel a bit inadequate about my own achievements: I had done far less with far more. We tried to coordinate our mentoring sessions but she had too much going on in her life to meet with me. (She was interested in public policy and had been chosen for an internship with the United Nations—seriously!) So while I was happy to have met such an ambitious young woman, I didn’t get much personal satisfaction from “helping” her.

Enter Ellen, my second match via the mentoring program. As with my previous match, I tried looking her up on LinkedIn beforehand, but there was no profile to be found. We met at a coffee shop. I was surprised to see that she was older than me. And then she told me her story. Her first son had died quickly of a brain tumor at the age of four and that sent her into an emotional tailspin (which anyone who’s a mother can understand). She became divorced and later became pregnant and had another son. She never married the boy’s father but supported him by cleaning houses. (After losing her first child, she wanted to make sure her schedule allowed her to be there for her son, as caring for him was her top priority.) Now her son had graduated from high school and she wanted to find a better paying job with benefits so she could start saving money for retirement.

floppy-disk-iconNow here was someone I could help. We talked about how to translate the skills gained from her house-cleaning business into marketable experience—managing a staff, scheduling, selling her own cleaning products. We talked about online applicant tracking systems and how to best present your information to potential employers. (When I suggested that in addition to completing the online application, she also should attach a PDF of a nicely formatted version of her resume, she asked, “You mean put it on a floppy disk?” That’s when I knew I had my work cut out for me.)

volunteerAt our next meeting, she excitedly told me about a job interview she had the next day. I told her what I knew about the company and helped her research the position online. I gave her tips on what to do/not do during the interview and stressed the importance of sending a thank you note afterward. Driving home, I thought about how the mentor/mentee relationship was benefitting both of us. Although I have been frustrated with my job of late, from Ellen’s perspective I was living the glamorous life—a well-paying job, an experienced team, global responsibility, fulfilling work—and I was reminded how fortunate I am to have all those things.

Meanwhile, I realized that the value I was bringing to Ellen wasn’t in the employment-seeking pearls of wisdom I was bestowing on her (those could be found in any job-hunting book), but in the faith and encouragement I was bringing her: From my vantage point, she was a strong woman who had overcome a lot of challenges and was willing to work hard. I believed in her success, but she needed encouragement.

At one point she said to me, “There’s no dignity in being a housecleaner” and I immediately disagreed: “You provided for you and your son by doing honest, hard work—there’s plenty of dignity in that!” And hearing it from me, she started to believe it as well.cleaning supplies

I’m happy to report that Ellen got the job for which she was interviewing. While it’s starting at the bottom of the company and her shift begins at 3 a.m., she was thrilled to have benefits and hopes to work her way up to a customer service job with regular hours. With some help and support, I have no doubt she’ll get there.

And I gained something from the mentorship as well. I learned that getting out of my own head for a while is as restorative as any vacation—not to mention cheaper—and what I take for granted can make a difference for someone else.

A Flash of Summer

I knew that I was a bit behind on my blogging, but was astonished to discover that my last post was in April… A whole summer had passed! A quarter of a year since I last logged in, yet I had thought I was only about a month behind on my writing. Actually, this summer has flown by in all aspects. Where did it all go? Next week my kids return to school. Usually, I am ready to push my kids out the door and back into a routine. Instead, this summer it feels like we were short changed by at least a month. The kids haven’t even yet started their ritual of bugging me, and each other, from too many days with no real structure.

I know I did plenty these past few months. And I actually have about four different blog topics started to document some of the activities that passed during this time. Though, I still have to prove it to Stormy who kept hearing me say, “I have something to write about this week.” Yet, nothing ever fully materialized past my initial jotted notes. I’d get distracted with a game of catch in the front yard, a neighbor beckoning me over for a glass of wine on the porch, or time commitments of baseball games replacing the winter hockey schedule. Then suddenly, with an uncompleted list of planned summer activities and several unfinished blog drafts sitting in my to-do pile, summer is wrapping up.

Is this the start of what my grandma warned me about? How time would speed up and pretty soon I’d be looking back wondering where all the years have gone?

Grandma still is the last one to leave a party!

Grandma still is the last one to leave a party!

This observation came from the same grandma who gave me and my friends lessons on how to best hold your drink and appetizer while still socializing at a party. So she has earned my trust in passing on truly valuable nuggets of wisdom.

I am hoping that it is just a strange happenstance versus getting older that caused the summer time warp. As you may remember from a past birthday blog of mine, I am not taking the whole aging process graciously. I am not quite ready for even more “attributes” of getting older, so time speeding up is exactly what I don’t need.

Whatever the reason, this summer cruised by way too fast. Reflecting back on these past months, I can only remember flashes of memories, rather than a good summer story.

  • It had its simple pleasures – cabin trips, moms-and-kids staycation, family visits, and lots of outdoor time with good friends.
Staycation travel: from GoCarts

Staycation travel: from GoCarts

To limos!

To limos!

  • It has had its downers – breast cancer scares, parent’s health issues, and helping a friend through some intense life decisions and changes.
  • It has had its celebrations – my favorite being Stormy’s joint 50th birthday/moving party (which included drunk dancing in her backyard and a text the next day asking if I had any recollection of how she broke her toe after too many drinks!)
  • It had its lessons learned – wiener dogs do bite, waterslides are fun, and if the pool at the club closes unexpectedly just pull out the baby pool, hose and Prosecco in the backyard.

I guess, overall, the summer has just been filled with living in the present. I took a break from wondering what is next. I have a habit of always trying to peek at the chapter ahead versus engrossing myself in the current story. Maybe creating this new way of living through one of my chapters is what also messed with my time perspective. (Again, trying to deny the aging theory.)

If I was summing up this chapter of my life, I would just say it was a relaxing time, enjoying simple things, and growing up a bit (not growing old!). I did purposely try to make some self improvements such as watching how I acted and reacted, taking deep breaths as needed, and making sure I did the things I thought were best for those I love (whether they realized it or not).

I wasn’t always successful at this new calm, “take-it-as-it-comes” self. Just this past Sunday while back-to-school shopping at Target, I had a random moment where my mind was surprisingly confronted again with how fast time really does go. How quickly life changes. I had to remind myself to breathe–there was a reason I was there at that moment–and to just focus. No regrets. No worrying what was missed. Trust that I am making the most of my time, even in those periods of time that seem to disappear in a blink.

My personality won’t lend itself to taking this mellow approach to life long term. I am already plotting my plans and goals with fall approaching. I am considering taking up playing on a mom’s hockey league. I have some lofty career aspirations I want to hit. Also, I have a personal physical goal that I hope will send some parts of me back in time. As time keeps passing and new life chapters unfold, I want to find the right mix of excitement and challenges while regularly adding in some contentment and just enjoying the present.  If my grandma’s warning is true about looking back and wondering where all the time has passed, I want to make sure I have filled the time with a vast collection of stories to look back on. I already have some wonderful ones to keep my old mind happy and as a good place to revisit.

My next chapter: The kids head back to school and I head to New York (a setting for several favorite memories already). Maybe saying goodbye to summer won’t so bad with an interest in finding out what is ahead.

photo-4

You never know exactly what will be next or what tale will unfold. That should be the fun part, the unknown. It makes the passage of time easier. At least that is what my Grandma told me over a recent  phone call. She also reminded me, “Growing old isn’t for sissies.”

D-I-Y attitude adjustment

Usually, it’s KitKat who has trouble getting her posts queued up in time. Our unofficial schedule is supposed to have us alternate posting, one each week, but sometimes (read: often) life intervenes. This time, however, Stormy is the slacker. KitKat has been patient. Meanwhile, my muse has been buried under an avalanche of work and isn’t bringing anything to the party, so I’m left to struggle it out.

I was trying to come up with some Significant Thought that encapsulates everything going on in my life right now. But I’ve found that sometimes the more that’s going on, the less I’m able to write about it—coherently. However, a loose theme has emerged over the last couple of weeks that seems to be worth sharing.

You’ve probably figured out by now that both KitKat and I are introspective people—always trying to look for the meaning in things, figure out a way to do things better. I already know I over-think things. I’m not very good at stopping myself from thinking discouraging thoughts, even when I know my time would be better spent focusing on the positives in my life. But even though I can be a bit slow to learn some of life’s lessons, it’s hard for even me to ignore them when they come in threes.

The first reminder was while reading a post from an email that KitKat mentioned in a previous postThe Daily Love. I don’t remember the exact wording but the topic was aimed at people like me who have this over-thinking problem—that we have a tendency to get stuck in the information-seeking stage (i.e., analysis paralysis). It said, “You likely know exactly what you need to do and just have to take action.” This is true. I keep looking for answers to some of my pervasive challenges—but I KNOW the answers. I just don’t want to take the actions I need to.

The second message was a friend’s Facebook post. She was posting a book. I know nothing about the book (and this shouldn’t be considered a recommendation) but the title electrified me, “We make the road by walking.” It was such as simple statement, but was a powerful reminder that it’s the really simple actions cumulatively can make a difference.

Traveler, there is no path.
The path is made by walking.

Traveller, the path is your tracks
And nothing more.
Traveller, there is no path
The path is made by walking.
By walking you make a path
And turning, you look back
At a way you will never tread again
Traveller, there is no road 
Only wakes in the sea.” 
― Antonio MachadoBorder of a Dream: Selected Poems

The third message was at my daughter’s college graduation. I’m not a fan of commencement ceremonies, because—let’s face it—they are excruciatingly dull. As proud as I am of my daughter’s achievement, this one was particularly stressful as it required a long drive to her college while my husband was suffering (and I mean suffering) from a kidney stone. The planned speaker wasn’t able to make it to the ceremony and another student stepped up to the plate to deliver the commencement address on short notice. He did a remarkable job. The theme was based on a Zen proverb: “Before enlightenment, I chopped wood and carried water. After enlightenment, I chopped wood and carried water.”

As a marketer, I know that it sometimes takes multiple exposures to a message in order for something to sink in, and this was the third message that seemed to be telling me the same thing: Quit sulking and get on with your life.

You see, I already know that I’m the only one who is responsible for my life and that regardless of what happens around me, I’m the only one who can make myself happy. In fact, I know this so well that I based my New Year’s Resolutions around these very principles. But somewhere over the last few months, I seemed to have forgotten myself.

Last week, I decided enough was enough. I had been working extremely hard and had nothing to show for it but a bad attitude. It was time to try a new tactic. I started by following through on an idea I had been toying with—to take my daughters out to LA to visit a high-school friend who had moved there. It seemed a bit indulgent, but after reading about KitKat’s Vegas trip, I figured a trip with my girls might do me some good.

I took this new-found attitude right into the upcoming Memorial Day Weekend. I didn’t have time to schedule any social activities for the holiday, but had vague plans to go to our cabin with my husband and youngest daughter. I decided to just enjoy each day as it came. I spent nearly every moment doing whatever I felt like doing and was fortunate to have Blossom hang out with me. It was an awesome weekend—and nobody else suffered because of it. If anything, I was better company to my family than I’ve been in quite some time. By Sunday night, I felt a bit too decadent, and we headed home from our weekend place. On Monday, I was a bit more productive, but continued the theme of “doing what I want.” Overall, my weekend went like this:

Friday night:

  • Dinner outside on a restaurant patio.
  • Early bedtime.

    Oreos, chocolate, bananas and whipped cream.

    Oreos, chocolate, bananas and whipped cream.

Saturday:

  • Coffee on the balcony.
  • Run/walk along the river.
  • Boating.
  • Dinner at the local malt shop—sundaes for dessert.
  • Boutique shopping in town.
  • Read fashion magazine with a glass of wine on balcony.
  • Movie.

 

Sunday:

  • Coffee on balcony.
  • Run/walk along the river.
  • Made smoothies and lay by the pool.
  • Lunch on another patio.
  • Came home.
  • Shopping.

View from my morning walk/run.

Monday:

  • Run/walk at the local nature center.
  • Visiting Mom & Dad*.
  • Stop at Dairy Queen. (Yes, that’s two sundaes if anyone’s counting.)
  • Buying plants at the local nursery.
  • Grilling dinner.
  • Writing blog.
  • (Bedtime.)

*Visiting my parents was the one activity that was more obligation than fun since my mother tends to stress me out most days—but I didn’t stay long enough to let her get to me.

All in all, it was a nice, restorative weekend—just what the doctor ordered. While there is no Significant Thought in this post, that’s the takeaway: Sometimes life doesn’t require a complete overhaul. Sometimes a simple tune-up can do wonders. What can you do to make your life a little better…right now?

 

Happy Anniversary!

Our EasierSaidBlog is one year old! Last November, when we started discussing the idea for a joint blog, I don’t think either of us knew how it would go and whether we’d be able to keep it up, but in January we launched it and have been muddling through ever since.

At this reflective time of year, we thought it might be interesting to interview each other and share our perspective on the last year of writing together.

KitKat, what did you set out to do by starting a blog and do you feel like you’ve accomplished that?

I think there were a couple things wrapped into doing the blog for me. First, I had a constant “to-do” item on my list to start journaling. When you mentioned doing a blog together, it seemed like a good way to be held accountable to get that checked off. The other, bigger piece was it was always the talks with you and other friends that got me through times my mind was spinning. Whether it was talking over inane things, kid concerns, wishes and wants, or feeling overwhelmed, simply talking it through always ended up lifting my spirits and let me know I wasn’t alone. The blog seemed like another release to let out some of those thoughts and to share with others that none of us have it perfectly under control, are above making mistakes or have it all figured out.

As far as accomplishing what I set out to do, I did stick with it so my “to-do” was accomplished. As for the less tangible goal … when I wrote about Learning to live in the maybe, I had friends—some I haven’t had a chance to talk to for a long time—reach out and let me know they were there for me without judgment and no matter what happened. They didn’t need details, just wanted to support me. So I’m not sure the blog has helped anyone else feel “not alone,” but it has certainly reminded me!
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Stormy, do you have favorite parts of, or experiences about, the blogging process?

Well, it sort of changes how I look at the world. I think you’ve mentioned this as well—how you look at odd situations or funny experiences and think of them as “blog material”… The interesting thing is, sometimes episodes that seem ripe for documenting just don’t translate into the written word very well. And other things that seem simple can take on new dimensions when you start writing about them.

The other thing that I find fun is looking at our blog stats—reach of readership, who follows, likes and comments. We’ve been read in 44 countries! Who is reading us from the Maldives? Introduce yourself and say “Hello”! And let’s not forget the copious offers to help us with SEO. (Hint to same: We’re both marketing directors, if we were concerned with site optimization we’d hire someone we know to do it, not an Internet spammer.)
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KitKat, what has been the biggest challenge of doing a blog?

TimeTime! Though once I do sit down and write it always calms me to be doing something reflective and just for me, finding the time to do something that isn’t a “have to” is tough. A kid who won’t go to sleep on time, an unplanned work project taken home, or an extra hockey game scheduled can all derail a planned time slot to sit down and write.  

For this blog post, the biggest challenge is my kids are on Winter Break so I am writing this with a ton of chatter in the background and a house strewn with holiday gifts. It is hard to think, much less write, in such chaos.
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Stormy, have there been any posts where you hesitated before pushing “publish” or decided not to make public?

Yes! Basically any of the posts about my mother. For a grown woman, I’m ridiculously self-conscious about my mother’s opinion of everything I do. I know she would be appalled at some of my posts, but the process of getting these frustrations down on paper is strangely cathartic for me.

There are other posts where I might hint at something from my real life, but keep the details veiled. Like Stormy’s identity, I don’t like to reveal everything about myself to the masses. I need to maintain the illusion that I (mostly) have my act together. (LOL)
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KitKat, where do you find inspiration for your topics?

It seems my life is full of inspiration for topics, the good and the bad. Kids for sure. Girlfriends. Family. The biggest, though, seems to be wherever my mind is wandering at the moment I write. There have been lots of times, for example up at the cabin with a girlfriend, that I will jump up in the middle of a funny conversation and jot down an idea. Friends and family have grown accustomed to that. The funny thing is now I have this long list where, at the time each was jotted down, my brain was already creating the post around the idea. But when I actually have time to sit and write, the inspiration has passed and I end up writing about something that is currently on my mind—even when I struggle with knowing that my list has the potential for more interesting posts than where my brain landed on the day I write. 
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Stormy, have there been times when you have had writer’s block or struggled with a topic?

Oh yeah. I definitely need to be in the right mood to write a post. Some topics I mull over in my mind for months before they slowly, painfully make it onto the page. Others come spewing out in 20 minutes of frenetic writing. There’s no logic to it either. Sometimes, the more I have to say about a topic, the harder it is to get those thoughts on paper. 
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KitKat, we’ve known each other a long time and used to work together. Have you learned anything that surprised you about me?

Admit it: He's creepy!

Admit it: He’s creepy!

Big Bird, belly buttons and wool were all oddities I knew you hated. I actually remember tormenting you on your 40th birthday at work when we all hung photos around your office of your least favorite things. I also knew you had my control freak nature and not a lot of tolerance for things you found stupid. So I had no illusions that you didn’t have some “idiosyncrasies.”

I have learned the boss and mentor who “had it all together” is a lot more like me. Actually, I learned just how much we are alike. I also learned that you are great at giving sound advice and not so good at taking it yourself, whether from me or from your own wisdom. I also was surprised about your “whimsical side.” Very out of character and an interesting dynamic. For some reason, I think you will keep surprising me.
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Stormy, back at youanything that surprised you about me? 

The cushion confession absolutely slayed me. And the “wet bread” thing will forever color my menu choices when I invite you and the hubby to dinner. Other than that, no big surprises—by this point, I think we understand each other pretty well. Actually, I take that back. I’m surprised by the fact that you’ve been able to stick with this so long, given all the other demands on your time.
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KitKat, which do you consider to be your favorite post?

That is a hard one! Do The Bloggers and About count as posts? I think those and the initial stories you and I posted were my favorites simply because it was the beginning to our blog. We admitted who we were and started down the blogging path.

I do still get a kick out of writing and reading our joint blogs like the True Confessions and Phobias. I would like to do more of those this year.
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Stormy, do you have some posts or overall blogging plans already on the agenda to tackle in 2014?

We’ve talked about doing a “cabin post,” but I have trouble trimming that down to a manageable length. And I’ve thought I should do one on adoption—but that’s another topic that I could go on about for days. When I can come up with “that one key idea,” I’ll be ready to tackle those topics. Otherwise, I’m just curious to see what unfolds in 2014. I’m sure there will be no shortage of material. 🙂

The lazy, hazy, unproductive daze of summer

When KitKat and I conceived this idea for a blog, a key question lurking in the back of my mind was, “Will we have enough energy/dedication/content to keep this thing going?” After all, I’ve been known to start many projects with great enthusiasm only to lose steam once life intervened (as it invariably does). Nonetheless, we launched in January with high hopes:  This project would sharpen our creative writing skills, serve as a crash course in blogging (something two marketers should understand) and, if we were lucky, would also allow us to exercise some middle-aged demons.

Our goal was for each of us to do one post, every two weeks, for a total of four postings a month. Off to a promising start, in January we posted 11 times. We each had a backlog of topics floating around our heads, and it seemed there was no end to the curveballs—or perhaps “snowballs” is more accurate—life was tossing our way. Every day seemed laden with a fresh blanket of material… February brought a slight decline in our writing output, but the shortest month of the year still saw us generate 7 posts. After that, we stabilized at a pace of about 5 posts per month. That’s one more than our “guidelines” dictated, so we were still doing great.

Then it finally got nice out.

feet by poolIf you’ve been reading this blog from the start, you no doubt detected a theme in our early posts that can best be summarized as, “two-mentally-unstable-women-living-in-a-perpetually-frozen-locale-churn-out-ironic-observations-about-life-to-keep-from-slipping-over-the-edge-of-sanity-and-bludgeoning-those-around-them-with-an-icicle.”

And for the most part it worked. We finally made it to summer with our marriages, jobs and good humor mostly intact. But if we consider blogging to be a form of online therapy (and we do), then there have been a couple of mental breakthroughs along the way. And one thing we’ve both learned is this: You’ve got to strike when the iron is hot–whether you’re talking about writing or living. Carpe diem. That may be trite and hackneyed, yes, but it’s also undeniably true.

Enjoying the beauty around you.

Enjoy the beauty in your own backyard.

Today’s swimming hole is tomorrow’s skating rink, so you need to make your splash before the first thin layer of ice takes hold of your heart. I know that a lot of people swear by meditative silence, but I find that if I spend too much time alone with my thoughts, I find myself fretting over thorns when I should be smelling the roses. I’m much happier when I’m doing stuff—whether it’s making strides toward solving a problem (e.g., at work), improving my surroundings (e.g., weeding my garden), focusing on others for a change (e.g., visiting my parents) or just enjoying the best that Minnesota has to offer (e.g., concerts in the park with my kids).

Concerts by the lake, a favorite summer past-time.

Concerts by the lake, a favorite summer past-time.

At the same time, KitKat and I have also found that writing a post when we’re uninspired—or when long summer nights are beckoning us outdoors—is useless. It just ain’t gonna happen. Yet, we believe there will still be a few summer moments when inspiration strikes, and we can crank out our thoughts in record speed. But until then, we’ll just sip our margaritas while waiting patiently for that muse to arrive.

The bottom line here is KitKat and I are slacking off a bit with our posts during these months. But we hope you won’t really notice because you, too, have dragged yourself away from the computer and are enjoying these fleeting days of summer. That’s what we want for our readers…  Just remember to come back in the fall. We promise that once October rolls around and the kids are settled into their school routines, our postings will wax as surely as our daylight hours wane, and we’ll be full of new stories to share. In the meantime, slack off a little yourself and go enjoy a margarita on the deck. We won’t tell.

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.
– John Lubbock
 

Worst End of School Year Mom Ever

Following in Stormy’s footsteps, I would like to share my most recent, favorite blog post: Worst End of School Year Mom Ever.

Besides for providing a good laugh, it also reminded me I wasn’t alone. If you remember things came tumbling down for me back in March.

And as my kids start their summer vacation, I am packing my bag for a girls get away in New York. Four days and ten pairs of shoes packed!