Category Archives: Entertaining/leisure

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? 🙂

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
 

Power of the Clover!

Anyone living in Minnesota has felt a bit unlucky this year. As KitKat and I have mentioned several times, we’ve had unprecedentedly lousy weather this spring/summer. In addition, work has been relentlessly busy. It’s all a bit wearing on the spirit, so in early June—when a brief break in the rain allowed me to get to some long-neglected yardwork—I found this:

Power of the Clover!

Power of the Clover!

We were preparing for my youngest child’s graduation open house and our home really isn’t large enough to host her many family and friends, so when I found the clover, I was excited. I may not believe in gambling for the big jackpot, but finding such a lucky token surely must mean something, right?

Feeling a bit beaten down and daunted by the task of getting my house and yard into tip-top shape for the party, I decided to embrace the power of the clover. No matter what transpired in the coming week, I was going to view it as good fortune. I believe that our outlook is mostly a matter of attitude, so if I used this symbol of good fortune as a reminder of my blessings, it would bring about a change in attitude that would ultimately benefit me. Well, that was my theory at any rate.

I started the week with my attitude adjustment firmly planted. I was lucky! Good things were going to happen at every turn! I just needed to keep my outlook positive and my eyes open. The previous three months may have been a bit—well, sucky—but the tide was a turnin’ now and everything would be going my way!

Despite my positive outlook, the week was inauspicious. While nothing terrible happened, it wasn’t exactly like Lady Luck was smiling upon me. I was a bit disappointed in my botanical harbinger. Then, at the end of the week, things took a decided turn for the worst. We had a system issue at work. This wouldn’t be terribly catastrophic except that we had just had a similar problem—one that cost our company time and money and our clients considerable disruption—a mere month earlier. We hadn’t experienced such a significant disruption to our business before that, and the thought that this new incident might mirror the earlier one was weighing heavily on our minds as we sought to troubleshoot the situation. “Power of the Clover!” I invoked. Maybe this was the situation for which the luck was intended? Well, the problem was resolved much quicker than previously, but it didn’t feel so much like good luck as just an avoidance of really bad luck.

Disenchanted with my clover, I turned my attention back to other matters. My daughter’s graduation was troubling me and not just because we were hosting a big party and the weather wasn’t cooperative. This was my youngest child’s graduation from high school. I would soon be an “empty nester.” Moreover, my birthday was looming ahead. So, combine bad weather/party stress/empty nest/mid-life crisis/anxiety about getting older and you get a stormy Stormy.

So on my long list of to-dos, was my annual exam. I was telling my nurse practitioner about all of the things going on in my life and she was nodding sympathetically. At the same time, she was telling me that I was in great shape. My blood pressure—great! My lungs sounded good. Pressing on my abdomen, she commented on my muscle tone and said I was in the best shape of anyone she had seen that day. I have to confess, I was feeling pretty good about myself. Maybe turning 48 wasn’t that big of a deal. Then it came time to do my breast exam. “There’s a lump. Feel it?” Sure enough. How did I miss that? (Maybe because I do a half-assed job at breast self-exams when I remember to do them at all?) “When was your last mammogram?” she asked. It had been 2 ½ years. Shit. “You need to get that checked out.” Next was my pelvic exam. “Your ovary is enlarged.” Double shit.And I had made an outrageous statement about cancer being more suited to my temperament than Parkinson’s in an earlier post. How stupid could a person be? I was just asking God for another big slice of humble pie! Even if neither were indications of cancer, it would likely take a while to get the all-clear report and the specter of doom would be hanging over my head all weekend—tainting my daughter’s party, Father’s Day and my birthday. Boo.

Fortunately (luckily?), my doctor’s office was able to line up diagnostic tests quickly: The mammogram would be later that afternoon, and an ultrasound of my ovaries would be done the next day.

Stormy freaking out.

Stormy freaking out.

I have to confess, I freaked out a bit while waiting for the tests—after all, I was facing TWO diagnostic tests for two DIFFERENT kinds of cancer, one of them highly fatal. I wasn’t sure of my odds, but they were doubled, right? It was like a frickin’ BOGO! Suddenly, the status quo looked pretty attractive. Preparing for my daughter’s open house seemed very insignificant. So did turning another year older. After all, it’s a blessing to tear another page off the calendar, right? A lot of people don’t get that privilege. What was wrong with me that I had been so absorbed with such petty matters?

Well, if I ever needed to invoke the Power of the Clover, this was it. And I’m happy to report that my little four-leaf friend came through for me. Both abnormalities were harmless cysts, not malignant tumors. Afterward, I was much more enthusiastic about the fact that I had a wonderful accomplished daughter whose graduation we were celebrating. (After all, this is a good thing, right?) And despite an ominous forecast, it was even sunny for her party. Yay! So lucky! And so what if I was turning another year older—that’s better than the alternative, right? And I was certainly another year wiser as well. Sooooo lucky!

My dad always says, “It’s better to be lucky than good.” And while, I can’t determine who coined that expression, there’s some truth in it. However, the part that’s not explained is that luck isn’t something you “find”—like a clover—it’s all around you, hiding in plain sight. Rather, it’s something you need to RECOGNIZE . In the end, the clover was just a lens through which I gained some much-needed perspective. I don’t expect this realization to last (it never does) but maybe I can come back and read this at a later date and that will help me remember the good fortune that surrounds me. And if it helps you keep a little perspective, too, then it’s all been worth it.

What would you do with 1/53 of a fortune? A whole lotto stuff!

lotteryThree weeks ago, unbeknownst to me, the Powerball jackpot reached $600,000,000. This is a lot of dough. However, not being much of a gambler, I wasn’t aware of the hype surrounding the potential payout until a coworker mentioned she was collecting $20 from anyone who wanted to go in on tickets. I just laughed and shook my head.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I will let it be known that I have been known to bet on things in the past. Generally speaking, I’ll bet on things like which artist recorded a one-hit wonder or what movie actor started a career on which sit-com. Smarty-pants bets, with the common thread being my desire to prove I know more than my opponent does of matters about which nobody really cares. Often I win, because I have a surprising memory for trivial facts. Occasionally, I lose and have to eat a well-deserved piece of humble pie.

“Italians come to ruin most generally in three ways, women, gambling, and farming. My family chose the slowest one.”

Pope John XXIII 

However, I rarely partake in institutional gambling—where it’s simply a matter of me trying to beat the odds against a corporate entity, state government or Native American tribe. I know this type of gambling wouldn’t exist if the house didn’t have the advantage, so it’s easy for me to pass by a slot machine or blackjack table. In fact, during my last trip to Vegas (for work), I didn’t so much as plug the penny slots.

Yet, I was surprised by my reaction to my coworker’s invitation to participate in the pool. Not because I was passing up a bet, but because I wasn’t that enticed by what should have been a tempting jackpot. I realized, much to my astonishment, that I actually have pretty much everything I need—and the remaining things I most desire can’t be purchased with a gambler’s winnings.

This hasn’t always been the case. For many years I thought most of my problems could be solved with more money. Lack of an education? Money for tuition. Lemon of a car? Money for a new one. Lousy job? Seed money for starting my own business. Etc., etc. However, after slowly finishing school and building my career, I now have little debt, a comfortable nest egg, and money for small luxuries and occasional big ones. When I realized how far I’ve come, I felt a sense of accomplishment. At the same time I was concerned: Was my Powerball apathy a sign of depression? Could I seriously not figure out a way to spend millions of dollars?

All around me coworkers fell under the spell of the potential jackpot and ponied up their $20. Even the president joined in. Jokes were made about what a ghost town the office would be on Monday when everyone simultaneously quit. Although I like my job, I eventually succumbed to peer pressure—the jackpot wasn’t the incentive, but holding down the fort as one of the few “left behind” was not an appealing thought.

In the end, 53 individuals joined together to increase their odds of winning by a miniscule degree. And when I challenged myself to consider what I’d do with 1/53rd of the winning jackpot, I actually came up with a few enticing ideas:

  1. We could move to a really nice, one-level house that would make life easier for my husband as his Parkinson’s progresses.
  2. I’ve always wanted a shiny convertible.
  3. I could invest in my brother’s restaurant.
  4. I’d pay more of my kids’ college tuition/student loans.
  5. I’d buy a vacation home in a warm location that all of my extended family could share.
  6. I’d also enjoy being able to offer greater financial support to my favorite causes.
  7. And finally, a month in Bora Bora would make next winter much more tolerable (yes, Barbigrrrl, I’d take you with me).
This seems like a good spot to ride out the Minnesota winter!

Whaddayathink? This looks like a good spot to wait out my next Minnesota winter!

I’ll admit that I didn’t really give the lottery a second thought after I dove into the pool, but that’s okay. It’s no secret that we didn’t win, but I didn’t have a shred of disappointment. I decided I was already pretty lucky—I have everything I really need and my imagination is still intact. 🙂

You’re never too old to play hooky

As my previous post might have implied, I’ve had a worse-than-usual case of cabin fever/winter doldrums due to a worse-than-usual winter. In fact, I was seriously considering finding a last-minute airfare bargain, ditching my family and leaving town for someplace warm. I mean, I was SERIOUSLY considering this. But it smacked of “running away from home” (admit it, you’ve wanted to do this at times) and seemed…well…just a wee bit…unbalanced. So, I resisted the urge and dragged myself into work, as a responsible middle-aged woman should do. This may have been the same day I texted KitKat the line that prompted her recent post, and apparently great (though rebellious) minds think alike, because I decided to do what any defiant teen would: Play hooky.

I had learned a few days earlier that my middle child—a junior in college—would be coming home for a few days over spring break and knew seeing her would lift my spirits. I decided to “seize the day” or more accurately “the next day” to spend it with my darling daughter.

Okay, here I confess that I am—at heart—an extremely conscientious person with a self-detrimental work ethic. So, I didn’t fake being sick. But since I had no pressing meetings, I scheduled a spontaneous vacation day.

I skipped out of work that evening feeling a bit lighter than I had when I dragged myself in. When my daughter arrived home, we discussed potential options for our mother-daughter outing the next day. Now, my daughter is attending college in the Fargo-Moorhead area, where fewer trees dot the landscape to offer a break from the cold and blowing snow, and the fierce Minnesota winter I complained about in my last post has been magnified. So for our Cabin Fever Play Day, we decided to seek out green plants, blooming flowers, chirping birds, tropical fish and exotic animals.

A Sea Dragon

A Sea Dragon at the Minnesota Zoo

Our first stop was the Minnesota Zoo. Since it was a school day, I think I was the only mother there with a child over the age of five. I had not been for a zoo visit myself since the kids were…what? Preteens? A long time, anyway. Several new attractions had opened since then, and we walked through all of the indoor exhibits. Kids on field trips swam by us like schools of fish, and we saw plenty of real ones in the large aquarium (fish that is, not kids).

When is lunch?

When is lunch?

After a couple of hours we had exhausted our options for indoor exhibits, but not our desire to stay in the warm, green surroundings. So, we decided to hit another zoo in town—a favorite destination of my childhood: Como Zoo, which also has a lovely conservatory.

Not a bad role model for a pope!

Not a bad role model for a pope!

First, though, we needed sustenance, so we made a detour for lunch in St. Paul. As we dined, the announcement that the new pope had been chosen was breaking news. As the major stations showed coverage of an empty balcony for an hour (seriously!) while waiting for the new pope to make his appearance, we discussed the challenges he would face and speculated on what name he would choose. I guessed John Paul III would be the choice (to build an association with the more popular of the recent popes), but my prescient daughter thought St. Francis would be the best choice, as that was her favorite saint–exemplifying peace and humility.

Afterward, we headed to the conservatory to bask in the humidity and sunshine, and when we got to the wing with all the spring flowers, I was struck by two things: 1) The explosion of color, which was almost an assault on my color-starved eyes. In the dead of winter, the Minnesota landscape is white and gray and its residents follow suit, clothing themselves in black, gray and other dark, drab colors. 2) The intoxicating fragrance. Winter has no smell. Well, actually when you live in the city it smells a lot like car exhaust. Yuck.

The sweet smell of spring

The sweet smell of spring in the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory at Como Zoo

We headed home feeling a bit more optimistic. Spring would return, we just had to wait a bit longer. I also realized that I had spent a full day with my daughter—the longest time alone together I could recall—and I genuinely enjoyed every minute of her company. Not just because she’s my daughter and I love her, but because she’s a genuinely cool person. The flowers were a lovely bonus, but I was more enchanted by the girl who had blossomed before me into a confident and compassionate young woman.

It turned out that my day of playing hooky was just what the doctor ordered. For as KitKat pointed out, one of the privileges of being a grown up is deciding when it’s okay to act like a kid.

Do we really need an excuse to party?

The other day, I got an “invitation” in the mail. Party? Fete? Soiree? Gala? Nah, it was an invitation to a direct-selling party. You know: Avon, Tupperware, Silpada, Pampered Chef, Tastefully Simple… There are dozens of versions.

tupperware_party_729-420x0oNow back in the 50s and 60s, direct-selling parties had a practical purpose. When my mother was a young wife, there weren’t nearly as many retail options and many households had only one car. For a young mother, stuck at home with small children, an invitation to a Tupperware party was a welcome opportunity to socialize with “the neighbor ladies” while seeing some innovative new merchandise. Add in some fondue or that nifty lime Jell-o with the shredded carrots and cottage cheese and you’ve got yourself a PAR-TAY!

Fast forward to today: I live in a major metropolitan area a mere four miles from the infamous Mall of America, one of the largest malls in the country. Moreover, I have high-speed Internet—which literally brings a world of merchandise directly to my front door. Access to retail is not a problem for me.

Do I enjoy an evening or afternoon of socializing with other women? Generally, speaking: Yes. So long as they aren’t trying to sell me something.

Although I have a pretty demanding full-time job, I understand the appeal of being an “independent representative” for a direct-selling company–either because your primary job is raising your children, or you just want to make a little extra money on the side. That’s all good. But I don’t understand the party-throwing aspect or the weird sense of obligation women feel to support each other in these efforts. I mean, I work for a company that pays me a bonus based on our revenue numbers, but that doesn’t mean I expect my friends to help me earn my bonus.

Actually, the selling part is fine. And if it’s a product I’m interested in and I want to support my friend, I may even go. But  it’s the obligation-to-buy/attend inherent in so many of these invites that I loathe. I remember an episode many years ago when my children were very small, I was talking with the mother of one of my child’s friends. She said, “I’m planning a girls night party a week from next Thursday, would you like to come?” As a young mom, I didn’t have a lot of friends that were in the same stage of life and welcomed the invitation. So I said, “Sure, it sounds like fun.”

avon-ladyA few days later the invitation arrived—to a party selling overpriced cosmetics! A classic bait-and-switch! I had already said I was free, so what could I do? I went to the party, resentful the entire time, and purchased the only thing that seemed reasonably priced—a clay face mask. (In addition to my aforementioned frugality regarding paid services, I’m also a cheapskate when it comes to cosmetics. Most of my stuff comes from Walgreens or Target.)

I know a lot of women will disagree with me and sincerely welcome the opportunity to attend these parties. But I think the draw for a lot of women is they sincerely enjoy social time with their women friends, but feel guilty about getting together with them. Getting together under the guise of a direct-selling party alleviates the guilt of ditching dad with the kids for an evening, because you’re “supporting a friend’s business venture.” So the subject of this particular rant, er, post is: Why? Why can’t women just get together to socialize without it being related to one of them trying to sell something to the others?

Thankfully, technology has made direct-selling without pressure an easier thing to achieve. These days, items can be sold via catalog parties, online or at an open house where the guests/customers can browse at leisure rather than sitting through a 30-minute pitch and waiting awkwardly for the order form to be passed along.

Again, I’m not bashing the ambition of sisters looking to make an extra buck. Not. At. All. But let’s treat it like a business, not a social event. If you want to get together with your girlfriends—do that. But do it because you work hard (whether in the home or outside of it) and deserve a night of fun–not because you’re one party away from earning the hostess gift.