Running away from home… Cali style

As I mentioned in my last post, KitKat’s tale of Vegas fun inspired me to schedule a trip with my two best girls—my darling daughters. The impetus for the trip was to use an airfare credit my youngest had, and the premise was visiting a high school friend who had moved to LA a few years earlier. However, as I mentioned in my last post, the real motivation was trying to regain my sanity by getting out of my frenetic rut and spending some quality time with my girls.

First of all, I was just pleased that my daughters wanted to travel with me. It’s true I was paying for everything except the one plane ticket, but even so, I can’t imagine myself at that age wanting to take a trip with my mother to visit one of her friends—or at any age, for that matter. Our tastes are just too different.

I’d never taken a trip with just my girls before, but from our family excursions I knew that traveling with Lucky (22) and Blossom (19) would be akin to vacationing with The Odd Couple. Indeed. To illustrate my point, we were leaving on an early Thursday a.m. flight, so I asked my girls to drive home from their respective cities Wednesday afternoon with everything packed. Blossom arrived two days early to babysit for KitKat (whose regular summer sitter was unavailable) and had her suitcase ready and waiting in the living room the day before. Felix Unger all the way.

Lucky started the long drive home on Wednesday afternoon, forgot her contact lenses, realized it an hour into the drive, returned to her apartment to get them, and finally made it down to our house at about 9 p.m. on Wednesday night—a bit bedraggled and with a suitcase full of dirty laundry that still needed to be washed. Clearly our Oscar Madison.

Both girls were ready by the appointed time on Thursday morning, though. So after a quick trip through the security lines, we were sitting on the tarmac, waiting for stormy weather to pass. We touched down a bit late at LAX and got our rental car. Blossom (our Felix) was my human GPS. She pulled up all of our destinations on her smartphone and gave me real-time directions out of the rental car area and smoothly onto one of LA’s infamous multi-lane freeways toward my friend’s house. (Her quick-draw-with-an-app skills also came in handy later, when we were looking for a pharmacy and grocery store.)

I already knew my girls would click with my high school friend. Dot is just one of those people who can make friends with anyone—because she is interested in everyone and everything. In fact, her pseudonym comes from her role in a high school performance where she played an Uber-Geek with complete and utter commitment (something the self-conscious Stormy wouldn’t have been able to accomplish at 16). As Lucky said after meeting her, “I love her. She just radiates positive energy.” Not a bad sort to hang out with 😉 which is good, because that was our plan: An unstructured vacay comprised of some cheesy Hollywood/LA type of activities and lots of hanging out.

That first afternoon we hung out at Dot’s pool and plotted the rest of our visit. We decided to tackle Universal Studios the next day. Since Lucky graduated with a film degree and Blossom was deprived of the Disney Experience bestowed upon her older siblings, it seemed like a clever way to kill two birds with one stone. Or in my case, entertain two diverse daughters with several hundred dollars in admission and overpriced burgers.

Universal Studios was a blast. It had been a long time since I had been to an amusement park, and I was amazed by what can be done with computer generated special effects. Likewise, the studio tour was fun—spotting familiar scenes like the town square from Back to the Future (a favorite movie for our family of Michael J. Fox fans). Throughout the day, I was acutely aware that it would have been a very different experience with my husband. The crowds, long lines and sprawling theme park would have been challenging for him to navigate. It was fun to have the freedom to explore all parts of the park and not be worried about wearing out my spouse.

That evening, we went to the Hollywood Fringe Festival to see one of Dot’s friends perform. It was a sweet, engrossing play and our front-row seats put us nearly on stage in the tiny theater. After spending all day at the theme park, we were a bit tired. But since we were trying to pack as much as we could into a short vacation, we were glad we were able to catch this unique performance during our trip.

Lucky was inexplicably delighted to discover Nicholas Cage's handprints. Yes, Nick Cage.
Lucky was inexplicably delighted to discover Nicholas Cage’s handprints. Yes, Nick Cage.

The next day was our “tourist” day. We went into Hollywood to see the famous sign (from a distance), tour the Walk of Fame and people watch. Afterward, we drove to Santa Monica and had a late lunch on the pier. Lucky was excited to play in the ocean—she couldn’t recall the earlier Disney trip to Florida that Blossom missed and had no real memory of swimming in the ocean as a child. After a long day, we got home early in the evening, but Lucky wasn’t ready to call it a night just yet. She said, “You know, if I was on vacation with my friends, we’d probably go to a club or something.” I said, “You know, if I was traveling with my friends, we’d probably do the same thing.” So Lucky determined we should go back to Universal and explore the “City Walk” portion of the park—which is basically shops and restaurants and rather reminiscent of our own third-floor Mall of America. And Blossom, being Blossom, was happy to go with the flow.

hiking_LASunday was our last full day, and after the previous two jam-packed days, we decided to dial it down a bit. We texted Dot in the a.m. to see if she wanted to go hiking, and she led us on a beautiful trail up in the hills. Afterward, we hung out in her pool again, where Blossom (my usually practical child) learned you shouldn’t try to scoop a bee out of a swimming pool with your bare hand.

Dot is married to an actor. He’s not Brad-Pitt-with-paparazzi-hiding-in-the-bushes famous, but he’s recognizable, respected and steadily working…while still able to live a pretty normal life. (Which, when you think about it, is probably the level of success one should strive for, if one goes into that business.) He joined us at the pool where the girls got a big kick out of talking with him and realizing that—even though they’ve seen him in multiple TV roles—he’s a pretty normal guy, all in all.

Later that afternoon, we drove through Topanga Canyon and up the coast to Malibu to meet my husband’s sister and her husband for a seaside dinner on the deck at Duke’s. Lucky ordered King Crab legs and kept her eye out for dolphins and whales (no luck spotting them, though). I had fish tacos and the house specialty—a Mai Tai. It was fun catching up with my sibs-in-law, and I was envious that what was a vacation outing for us was just another Sunday night for them. Our Minnesota summer has been turbulent from the start, so the consistently 80-and-Sunny LA weather was mighty attractive.

Oh those vacation romances! Meet Blossom's new boyfriend...
Oh those vacation romances! Meet Blossom’s new boyfriend…

On our last day, our agenda centered around going home: Get up, shower, pack, hang out by the pool for an hour, have lunch, return the rental car and check in at the airport. (Can you see my control-freak side rearing its head?) I had timed out how long we had for each activity, but Lucky (Oscar) wasn’t operating on my timetable. We got into a bit of a tiff about it…the result of too much togetherness, I think. The fact is, I could travel with Blossom for a year and experience nary a kerfluffle—we’re just that compatible, and she’s a great traveling companion. On the other hand, Lucky and I are not much alike in terms of our hobbies, but we’re emotional twins. I’ve just been on the planet longer that she has, so I’ve learned how to fake my confidence. It frustrates me to see her wrestle with the same insecurities I had at her age when I know—KNOW!—that she has such strength and competence and intelligence inside of her. But I also realize she has to figure that out for herself, so I apologized to her once we were both in a better mood.

We arrived home tired and slightly crabby, but with some fun memories to carry us through the next long winter. All in all, the trip was a success. Not only for me getting a rare chance to spend time with my darling girls, but for being able to take a “vacation” from Parkinson’s—something, sadly, my husband can’t do. I think there are more such forays in my future (as long as I’m paying). After all, there’s some truth to this adage:

If momma ain't happy

Because I know that when I’m happy, everyone around me is happier, too. I just hope Lucky learns this lesson sooner than I did. And, more importantly, realizes that her happiness is in her hands.

 

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?

 

Beta-testing Stormy 2.0

Despite the fact that I’ve never considered “Mom” to be my primary identity, I’ve been having a tough time adjusting to my empty nest. I remember back to when my mother-in-law found herself “retired.” Her husband passed away about the same time her youngest two graduated from high school. After spending 40+ years as a wife and mother, she literally didn’t know what to do with herself. She spent the next several years in a funk until a chance meeting with an old high school friend blossomed into a “golden years” romance.

Having seen her go through that, I—as a young mother—vowed to have more balance in my life so that my identity wouldn’t be defined by my relationship to my family. But as most of you probably know, raising a family while building a career doesn’t leave a lot of extra time for “self-actualization.” So despite my best intentions, now that my children are off starting their lives, I’m floundering too.

I try to get excited by the potential of what lies ahead—I’ve got time to pursue my interests now (if I could only remember what they are!), I’ve got time to volunteer for causes I’m interested in, time to reconnect with friends. I can totally reinvent myself for the next phase of my life. However, before I unleash Stormy 2.0 on the world, I need to figure out who I am today—independent of my role as wife and mother.

So, as an experiment I conducted a poll, asking my Facebook friends to describe me in three words. I thought this would be an interesting experiment because my Facebook friends are comprised of people from all walks of life: family, coworkers, former coworkers, and friends from high school, college and church. I assumed that I acted differently with these various audiences, and therefore different descriptors would emerge based on how I knew the person responding to the poll.

Here’s a Word Cloud that shows a distribution of the responses:

Screenshot 2014-03-24 21.05.25
Me in Three

First of all, keep in mind that the poll was conducted with Facebook friends. Consequently, I expected most words to skew toward a positive light. (But because just about any trait—when taken to an extreme—can be negative, I also tried to keep in mind that some of these traits might be categorized in a less positive manner by those who don’t know me as well.) Although it’s true that an assortment of terms were posted, a few themes emerged…

“Driven” took top billing – Okay, I expected that one from my coworkers, but I was surprised when a few family members chimed in with that descriptor as well. KitKat and I have observed that we both share a vague dissatisfaction with life—always wanting more despite the fact that we are both pretty blessed. So I recognized this trait as the source of my current unhappiness—because it’s a core part of my personality, yet I have nothing I’m driving toward. As I mentioned in a previous post, it’s a fine line between contentment and complacency. On the one hand, I credit my “drive” with helping me to accomplish many things in my life. On the other, I sometimes wish I could learn to be satisfied with all I’ve been given.

Another set of words centered around authenticity—being genuine. This surprised me a bit. I know I could apply a little more diplomacy at times, but I guess it’s generally considered positive that people know where they stand with me.

The most surprising responses? A current coworker who described me as “sweet” and a former employee who described me as “empowering.” Both of these responses made me smile.

Overall, the “Me in Three” exercise was insightful. While there weren’t any life-altering revelations, it was a good reminder that there is more to me than just my role as an employee, wife or mother, and I’m generally happiest when I can find a way to express all sides of myself. Now that I’ve got the time to reacquaint myself with those other aspects of my personality, I plan to do just that. At the same time, there are a few words missing from my Word Cloud that I would have liked to have seen appear among my three-word descriptions. Apparently these are traits that I haven’t quite mastered. So this exercise may also serve as my inspiration to make some new descriptors a reality. Can I do it? Of course… After all, I’m “intelligent,” “capable,” and let’s not forget: “driven”!

 

Fit-shaming or fat-shaming… How about neither?

It’s no secret that a large part of the US population has a dysfunctional relationship with both food and exercise. Last year, the US was dethroned as the “Fattest Country in the World” (that title now goes to Mexico), but the need to lose weight is still deeply engrained in our collective psyche. We have an incredible variety of food available to us, but convenience and cost often skew people’s choices toward cheap, overprocessed food. Many people also outsource physical labor and then turn around and pay a gym or Pilates studio to help them burn calories.

"Of course that damn Nellie is getting more attention from Almanzo... She can afford a personal trainer and a private chef!
“Of course that damn Nellie Oleson is getting more attention from Almanzo… She can afford a personal trainer and private chef!”

I sometimes imagine what it would be like to give an 1860s farm family a glimpse of our modern lifestyle. I’m sure they would shake their head in amazement at our excess and foolishness.

The older I get, the more I realize the need for conscious exercise. And yes, I’m occasionally guilty of avoiding a free workout (shoveling snow, for example) in lieu of paying someone to make me sweat.

In my personal quest for better fitness, I’ve also purchased some gadgets that have a mechanism for monitoring weight loss and goals—namely a Wii Fit and a FitBit Flex wristband. As I was setting up both devices, they each required me to set a “weight goal.”

In a country obsessed with weight loss, this is an unpopular admission to make—but I don’t really need to lose weight. My weight bobs up and down within a 5 lb. range at any given point, but it’s all within a healthy BMI. Since I consider my optimal target weight to be on the lower end of that 5 lb. fluctuation, that’s the number I entered into each device. Living in a perpetually frozen state makes exercise inconvenient, so like many Minnesotans I put on a couple of pounds over the holidays and had been hovering at the upper end of my range for a few weeks. I wanted to drop a few pounds and return to my comfort zone.

The new year has been crazy-busy so far, so I had my youngest set up the Wii Fit in her vacated bedroom so it would be more convenient for me to work out. I also started wearing my Flex again to remind me that I needed to be conscious about making time for exercise. While I haven’t been terribly successful at that, the one benefit of my hectic schedule is the ability to cut calories without too much effort (because I’m much more likely to overeat when I’m bored than when I’m stressed).

Consequently, I recently stepped on my Wii Fit and elicited cheers from the little balance board guy: “You’ve reached your goal!” His excitement was short-lived, however, as he immediately ordered me to set a new goal. “Wait a minute,” I thought. “I don’t need a new goal…I’ve reached my target.” I wasn’t sure what to do next. I know there will be days that I creep above my optimal weight again—so I just wanted to leave my goal where it was so I could be reminded of where I needed to be. Unfortunately, this concept seemed completely foreign to my little avatar friend.

Likewise, I was logging my weight on my FitBit dashboard and the same thing happened. It congratulated me and immediately demanded I set a new goal.

FitBit tile

That neither of these devices seems to allow for simply maintaining one’s weight disturbs me because it discourages the concept of accepting one’s body as it is. There’s also a lot of debate in this country about what type of shape is acceptable for a woman. Those who advocate fitness are sometimes accused of “fat-shaming” and the backlash from some in the overweight camp is to demand that the media acknowledge what “real women” look like. I find the latter personally offensive—as if I’m somehow “fake” because I’m at a healthy weight?

Having two daughters with different genetic make-ups has underscored for me the need for a broader definition of “real.” One daughter is tall and willowy, the other is short and strong. The willowy one has bordered on anorexia before, has a pretty appalling diet and doesn’t place a high priority on exercise. When she comes home to visit, I check her weight to make sure she’s getting enough calories and eating something besides burgers and pizza. My other daughter has a very healthy diet, loves sports and is in great physical condition, so I don’t worry about her from a health standpoint at all. But in our house, the focus has always been on health and strength—not what size jeans one wears (in fact, I think they may wear the same size jeans, despite the fact that they have completely different builds). And you know what? They’re both gorgeous in their own unique way and they are both very real. Dove got this right in its Campaign for Real Beauty.

There are many factors that influence obesity: Large portions, unhealthy food, sedentary lifestyles… and there are other factors that can lead to obesity—some that a person can control (usually diet and exercise), but also some that a person can’t control (genetics, physical impairments that affect the ability to exercise, life situations that minimize free time for exercise—e.g., a sick child, demanding work schedule).

Knowing this, I don’t spend time judging others on the root cause of their current weight. As I’ve shown here, I’ve got my hands full trying to work on my own issues even if weight loss isn’t one of them. At the same time, there’s a fine line to walk between contentment and complacency. While self-acceptance is important, it’s not inherently bad to want to improve oneself—whether physically, intellectually or emotionally. That’s why I’m happy to live and let live…while encouraging others to achieve their personal goals, whatever they may be. After all, real women know we’re all in this together and consequently, we should try to lift each other up.

Baby bird gives mama bird lessons in flying solo

I’ve mentioned in a few posts how my youngest has flown the nest and how this has left me in a bit of a free fall. After spending 24 years actively parenting, it’s a little unsettling when you’re no longer needed except to dispense money and advice on occasion.

Child #3 left for college on Labor Day weekend and has barely looked back. She settled right into the collegiate routine, making friends and getting good grades. As her mom, I’m very happy that the transition was so easy on her, but I found myself missing her tremendously during the fall months.

A picture really does say a thousand words. Her smile in this orphanage photo was a promise of everything that was to come once she joined our family.
A picture really is worth a thousand words. Her smile in this orphanage photo was a promise of everything that was to come.

That’s because she is not only my baby, but from the time that she was very small, she was also my steady companion. Whether I was running errands, cooking dinner, visiting my parents, or doing chores—Blossom (in Stormy fashion, not her real name but a variation of her Chinese name) was always at my side, ready to help. However, during the last couple of years of school, I didn’t see much of her: Between school, work, sports, and volunteering, she simply wasn’t around.

So I was pleasantly surprised to be given an opportunity to spend time with my youngest over her Christmas break. Originally, Blossom had been planning to leave town shortly after Christmas, but her trip fell through and most of her friends had to head back to campus before her, so she found herself home for an extended break without any real plans.

During this time, we hung out a lot. We went shopping together. Despite my daughters’ no-holds-barred fashion critiques, Blossom wanted some pointers on how to evolve her look from high school jock to sophisticated undergrad. I remembered shopping with my mom at the same age (something I used to hate because my mom—having birthed nine kids—was never very happy with what she saw in the dressing room mirror) and was flattered that my daughter actually wanted my help. Being the experienced shopper that I am, I helped her get the most for her dollars and she came home with a bunch of new looks.

She accompanied me to the gym a couple of times, once as my personal trainer—a task she took very seriously. Why was I paying someone else to do this when my little sadist was as effective as any of them?! We also went grocery shopping, cooked together, and she visited me at the office, meeting my coworkers and going out for a “business lunch.”

pantry
Six boxes of lasagna noodles. Are we anticipating a global pasta shortage?

Blossom also helped around the house, taking down all my Christmas ornaments—heck, she even tackled my pantry solo. A daunting task, given I’m an impulsive grocery shopper who loves to cook.

I reflected on how much Blossom had grown up since leaving for college just a few months earlier. And I realized that, in many ways, she was a more functional adult than her older and ostensibly wiser mother.

My youngest is incredibly competent. The family joke is that it’s because she doesn’t share our genes or that it’s the result of “that good Chinese orphanage training.” She just dives in and does things. She doesn’t hem and haw or overthink things or dither around and get sidetracked (as I’m known to do). And it’s impressive to watch. She’s not intimidated by anything and she’s incredibly organized. As an employer, I’d hire her for any job in a heartbeat.

At the same time, she’s incredibly thoughtful and compassionate. When I was staying with my dad who has dementia after my mom’s hip surgery, she offered to go with me because, “I want to get to know Grandpa better and I know this whole thing has been hard on you.” She must have made an impression on him, too, because I was surprised a week later when my dad actually remembered where Blossom was going to college. (Heck, after 7 years, he still can’t remember where I work.) In fact, after one particularly trying day at the office, I came home late and she offered to 1) make me dinner and 2) give me a backrub!

The night before Blossom was to leave, I told my husband how much I was going to miss her. I realized she had temporarily filled a spot that my husband’s Parkinson’s had left vacant in my life. Although I’m an introvert, there are some activities I can tackle better with someone at my side—cajoling, challenging and encouraging. That’s Blossom in a nutshell. I know I can’t rely on my grown kids to fill that gap, however. They have their own lives to live and their own adventures before them. It left me thinking about how to address this on my own, and that’s when I realized my baby bird could teach me some lessons about flying solo.

A fierce competitor...against herself
A fierce competitor…against herself.

I decided I would do well to model a few of her behaviors—the ability to jump into a task without procrastinating, for example, or the genuine interest she shows in everyone from the butcher at the grocery store to her older relatives. As parents, we usually think of ourselves as the one teaching our kids, but as my kids have grown, I realize it’s a bit like horticulture—we’re propagating the strongest features, cultivating the best traits—and so I’ve learned there are many things they can also teach me. I hope that by learning from my kids, I’ll be able to fill my own garden with more blossoms and less weeds.

Looking for some luck

Unlike Stormy, resolutions are not something I ever have prepared as the New Year rolls in. Usually, it isn’t until the vision board party is planned that it even crosses my mind. And still then, actually thinking through my resolutions doesn’t usually start until I am driving to the party … heart racing as I search for an idea meaningful enough for the year.

Don’t get me wrong. There is more than enough for me to work on, hope for and aspire to. It is just that resolution picking, narrowing it all down to a few key items, is hard. Watch me freeze every New Year’s Eve night when I am asked. The vision board collage gives me the room to wander through a web of topics, specific goals, broad themes, and—sometimes—contradictory thoughts. It works more like my mind.

The beginning of this year has forced a few resolutions to already start unfolding in my mind, prior to the party (which is still in the stage of figuring out a date that works in a group of busy calendars).

One came from an article I read. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, just do one simple thing to check it off your list. It breaks the “too much to do anyway freeze” and gives you a sense of accomplishment. Now the lists littering my house and office also have the simple tasks added. It seems to work. Even being able to cross off things such as “schedule the doctor appointment” or “add a post to the company Linked In page,” reminds me how good it feels to cross something off and gives me the momentum to get started on the bigger items.

Along with that specific goal or plan, a broader theme is also circling in my mind: Find my luck again. So far this year has rolled in with a lot of hits. The car saga has continued—no clean slate for me. Lack of sleep due to my son’s painful tooth infection that we can’t get under control—which always seems to magnify on the weekend when the dentist office is closed! A broken dryer, which has meant multiple photoLaundromat trips as we wait two weeks for the new one. Followed by the washer breaking down the same day the new dryer is delivered. The list goes on. I definitely need to find a lucky charm. Or make my own luck. Which is easier said than done.

But taking note of Stormy’s resolutions, I can make my own happy. Such as enjoying the cuddling of a ten-year-old boy, who if not in pain would not allow so much mom mush. Appreciating the magic a six-year-old girl brings to the Laundromat by seeing it as a wonderful adventure.

Plus you never know where some of these smaller struggles will lead.

So until I can see the big picture of some of these struggles, I will try to find, or make, some smaller moments.  So Happy New Year’s, readers—I wish us all a great year, strength in our struggles, and special moments … many shared with great friends and good wine.

P.S. I actually might have just gotten some luck. Having actual printed photos for my children was another item I planned to start this year. (I still love looking through my parents and grandparents’ photos.) Shark Tank was playing in the background as I wrote this, and I just downloaded the  GrooveBook app that was featured. Could this actually be a simple way to take care of that big item? Ill let you know how it goes!

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 rantings of a bad daughter

I yelled at my elderly mother tonight. If this blog is supposed to be a slice of life—an honest chronicle of being a certain age—then I should be “mature” enough to admit this ugly fact. I’m not proud of myself, of course. As soon as I stormed out of my parents’ house and slammed my car door, I turned to my husband and demanded to know: “What’s WRONG with me?!? Why do I let her GET TO ME like that?!” But my outburst had taken him by surprise, too, so he just shrugged sympathetically.

Everyone pitches in to do yardwork at Stormy's parents house
Everyone pitches in to do yardwork at Stormy’s parents’ house

I alluded to my aging parents in an earlier post. My dad has dementia and my mom has a host of other ailments, yet she’s reluctant to move into an assisted-living facility, even though my parents are no longer capable of maintaining a home and living independently. Now, my mom needs surgery on her hip and both knees. Despite her advanced age (86), the doctor is willing to do the hip surgery because he thinks she “still has a lot of life in her.”

That’s no understatement. While my dad is continually amazed that he’s lived this long and greets every day as a pleasant surprise—a gift to be slowly savored—I believe my mother fully expects to achieve centenarian status. She is in complete denial about the limitations that aging is placing upon her and who knows? If “will to live” counts for anything…or sheer stubbornness…she’ll be leading the chorus of “Happy Birthday” at my 100th birthday.

So if you’re half as astute as I know our readers to be, you’ve likely surmised that the aforementioned “yelling” had something to do with my mom’s impending surgery, her stubbornness, and the general stress a grown woman feels when she’s trying to do right by all the people in her life and constantly coming up short. Short of time, short of patience, short of grace.

box_ornamentsWhile it’s tempting to try and garner sympathy by relaying the whole conversation or past childhood laments, that’s all irrelevant. Overall, my mom has been a good mom. I know I’m not the only grown daughter who has baggage about her mother, and I’m fully aware that these incidents will seem small and insignificant when she’s gone and I’m facing my first Mother’s Day, birthday or Christmas without her.

But it’s sort of like telling the exhausted parents of a newborn to cherish the sleepless nights because “they grow up so fast.” After all, hindsight is 20/20—today’s myopic view is the result of a gray November day, relentlessly busy work schedule, upcoming business trip, Mom’s impending surgery, my equally stressed siblings trying to coordinate schedules to care for Dad, etc. So my mom’s assertion that it’s perfectly reasonable to expect one of her kids to spend hundreds of dollars and take several days off work to fly down with her to Florida so she can retrieve old Christmas ornaments (and let me add that one of her sons did this just last spring, but she didn’t take the gesture seriously enough to pack up the items she wanted to bring home) Just. Set. Me. Off.

The key to our harmony? I hadn’t learned how to talk back yet.

As I said, I’m not looking for sympathy. I don’t deserve it. She’s 86 and she raised me and that’s enough justification for me to go recover a moldy Santa or two. All I really want is to get this anger out of my head and onto this blog post, so I can let go of it and do the hard work of trying to regain my patience…because I know I’ll desperately need it in the days ahead.

And if any of you can relate to this story—and know that you’re not alone in your frustration—then that’s the silver lining.

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Postscript: This was obviously written a couple of weeks ago. My mom has since had her surgery and although it went well, the recovery process (with mom in a transitional care unit and dad at home with us kids trading off staying with him) is about as challenging as we all expected. However, I’m so blessed to have an abundance of siblings who are working peacefully together to shoulder the burden, and I empathize with all of those who must navigate the challenge of elderly parents on their own. My siblings are truly my parents’ greatest gift to me.

An Argument for Whimsy

Those who don’t know me well would be surprised to find I have a whimsical side. Hidden from all but close friends and family, this quirky trait only emerges on rare occasions. This past summer, when I was feeling uncharacteristically lighthearted after a couple of medical scares proved to be benign, I created a little elf home in the large pine tree in my backyard. Signified by a little wooden door draped in moss with a little stone path and—the piece de resistance—a little Weber grill (with real charcoal ash in the bottom: Stormy knows the devil’s in the details).

Home Sweet Home
Home Sweet Home

We were hosting a graduation party for my youngest, and I thought my great-nieces and -nephews would find it intriguing. I showed it to a few of them at the party, and they marveled over the tiny door and what might be inside the tree.

Fast forward to late fall. I took a day off work to tackle some neglected yard work and was clearing an overgrown mess of dead weeds from my garden when I happened upon my elf home. The grill was knocked over and the path had broken in two. I considered bringing in the grill, to keep it from rusting or getting lost in the mounds of snow imminent in a Minnesota winter, but instead I set the grill upright, carefully pressed the two halves of the walkway together and left it in place. The next day, I was hosting a small family party that would feature chili and a bonfire, and I didn’t want any of the kids who had seen the elf’s home to wonder what became of him.

“Every girl needs a bit of whimsy to remind her that life is a game and it’s all about having fun.” 
― Candace HavensTake it Like a Vamp

The next night I had forgotten about the elf and was talking with my sisters when my great-nephews ran into the house buzzing with excitement, “Do you have a flashlight? We found a little grill! And a little door!” asked Caleb. His cousin, Sean Ryan was jumping up and down with unconstrained enthusiasm, while his older sister looked on with skepticism.

“Oh,” I responded nonchalantly, “you must be talking about the elf’s home. Don’t harass him too much. He likes to be left alone,” I warned as I handed Caleb a flashlight.

The boys ran out the door to investigate. Later, Caleb’s sister came in to report that, “I don’t believe an elf really lives there, but the boys sure do!”

I think the thing that made their encounter so magical was that they discovered the elf’s home themselves—literally stumbled upon it in the dark. No adult had led them to it, pointing out the details carefully constructed to help support the illusion. Therefore it must be real, right?

“Those who shun the whimsy of things will experience rigor mortis before death.”
― Tom Robbins

The kids’ reaction reminded me of some things I’d forgotten during a very busy year: 1) Creating joy is a very productive way to spend one’s time. 2) You may discover magic when you least expect it, and 3) It’s more fun to believe. This is a timely reminder given that we’re entering what is generally regarded as the most magical season of all—because my “very busy year” doesn’t show any signs of letting up. So, I’ll make sure to appreciate the little pockets of whimsy to be found amidst the holiday hustle and bustle. Heck, maybe I’ll even create a little myself. Does anyone know where I can find a teeny tiny wreath? 🙂

Fashion over 40: Catwalk or Tightrope?

The year I turned 40, I instantly became more self-conscious about my clothing choices. I had always liked fashion, but I didn’t want to be one of those women who looked like she was trying too hard to hang on to her youth (aka: “mutton dressed as lamb”). Plus, with two adolescent girls, I didn’t want to embarrass them by trying to look like their peers.

At the same time, I like clothes. I like to be comfortable. I like what I like and I don’t like to be subjected to “rules” that are determined by my age. Over the last several years, I’ve become more comfortable with determining what’s right for me. And I think I walk that tightrope between fashion and appropriateness pretty well. But if I start to lose my balance, you can bet that my now 18- and 21-year-old daughters will extend a hand to save me from making a serious style misstep.

Case in point: Last year, I was obsessed with a leather sheath dress from Banana Republic. It was a classic style in soft brown leather—more polished and unexpected than the predictable black—so I thought I could put a professional spin on it and wear it to the office. sheath_dressMore expensive than my usual wardrobe choices, I watched the website for a sale. First it was in stock, but not on sale, then on sale, but out of stock. Finally the planets aligned: It was in stock and on sale. I ordered it and waited impatiently for my new purchase to arrive. A few days later the package was delivered. I rushed upstairs to try it on. It really was a lovely dress, with buttery supple leather. But when I tried it on and looked in the mirror: Meh. Despite the sizeable investment, it didn’t transform me the way I’d hoped. And at my age, I can’t afford to let my fashion dollars sit idle. Or was I just being too critical because of the hefty price tag? Looking for a second opinion, I walked downstairs and modeled my new purchase. “Whaddaya think?” I asked my husband and daughter. My husband (ever the diplomat) answered, “It’s nice.” My daughter—on the other hand—responded, “Mom, you look like a couch.”  With that appraisal, I had to face the cold hard truth: I wasn’t fashionable, I was furniture. Needless to say, back went the dress…

A fashion miss is one thing, but I take other “don’ts” more seriously.

Ummmm. "Don't"
Ummmm. “Don’t” (Photo credits: Michael Tran/FilmMagic)

For example, the fine line between “attractive” and “suggestive.” Having a rather delicate décolleté (i.e., the “girls” are truly “girls,” not full-grown “ladies”), I don’t have to worry about excess cleavage. But is this skirt too short? …this dress too form-fitting? …these heels too tall? I always struggle with finding the right balance.

Years ago, when KitKat and I worked together, if we were trying to evaluate whether something was inappropriate for work we had a foolproof test: The Bob Miller Axiom—named for a somewhat salacious coworker. If you were wearing anything borderline, you could rely on Bob to compliment you on it. And then you knew beyond a doubt that you probably shouldn’t wear that outfit to the office again.

In fact, when my husband and I ran into Bob and his wife on the beach as part of a work incentive trip, he even complimented me on my bikini. Now everyone knows that if you’re among coworkers in swimwear, you should assume a Cloak of Invisibility. That is, you do not acknowledge the aforementioned swimming attire, you don’t take candid photos and post them on Facebook, and most importantly, you don’t compliment the 30-something coworker’s taste in swimwear while you’re standing there with your 60-something wife.

With all these perils, you’d think it would be easier to just choose a “uniform” and stick with it (and as someone who spent her formative years in parochial school, I’ll admit to still having a bit of a thing for Black Watch plaid). Yes, while playing it safe would certainly be easier—and shave some time off my morning routine—I know I’ll continue to walk the tightrope. Because fashion is fun. Fashion is expressive. And when you’re in Marketing, you can justify spending more than you should on clothes by telling yourself your chosen field requires a stylish career wardrobe … at least that’s the creative rationalization KitKat and I employ. After all what better way to subtly underscore your keen grasp of pop culture and trends? Hey, whatever pays the (shoe) bills!  😉