Category Archives: Hobbies

KitKat & Stormy: A fair debate…

Stormy’s Perspective: The Fair

The end of August means two things to a Minnesotan: Back to school and State Fair time! Given my kids are grown and my one college-age daughter doesn’t need help choosing a backpack or new shoes, it’s all about the fair for Stormy. Generally speaking, there are two kinds of people—those who love the fair and those who…inexplicably…don’t. Despite the many commonalities between KitKat and myself, this is one area where we part ways. However, with this season passing at warp speed and many of the items on my summer checklist going unchecked, this was one opportunity I wasn’t going to let pass by.

The Great Minnesota Get-Together has been located in St. Paul since 1885. It’s where Teddy Roosevelt introduced his foreign policy to “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” It’s where 85 lbs of butter are carved into the likeness of a dairy princess. It’s an event memorialized by F. Scott Fitzgerald in “A Night at the Fair.” It’s a place where half a million corn dogs are consumed each year. It’s an institution. It’s nirvana.

The Food

statefair_reubenbites

We made short work of the Reuben Bites (aka: deep-fried spheres of goodness)

People might tell you that they go to the State Fair for the exhibits, for the entertainment, for the animals—and there’s some truth to that—but make no mistake: They really go for the food. While many Minnesotans are pretty conservative in their dining habits, that’s all tossed out the window at fair time when deep fried pickles, cheese curds, alligator on a stick, beer gelato, deep fried Twinkies, deep fried Snickers (really, anything deep fried or on-a-stick), is the order of the day. In our six hours at the fair last weekend, Blossom and I had Reuben bites, an apple dumpling with ice cream, a beer (just me), walleye mac ‘n’ cheese, candied almonds, a prime rib taco, Sweet Martha’s chocolate chip cookies, all-you-can-drink milk (Blossom), a wine slushie (me again), and a roast turkey sandwich. (After too much indulgence, I always crave a turkey sandwich. I guess it’s supposed to signal my tummy that the smorgasbord is over and it’s time to return to sensible eating.)

The Entertainment

Enjoying a little Chinese culture at the International Bazaar

Enjoying a little Chinese culture at the International Bazaar

The fair has lots of free acts and whenever you need to sit down and take a break, there’s sure to be a performance to watch. We watched the CAAM Chinese Dance Theater perform, which reminded me of the performance given to us by the children at Blossom’s orphanage when we adopted her. Later on, we caught the “dock dog” competition of the lumberjack show. Walking by the grandstand, we noticed throngs of teenage girls whipped into a frenzy over a teen duo, “Jack and Jack.” You’d think it was the Beatles, In Sync or New Kids on the Block appearing during their peaks. I hadn’t heard of them, but (surprisingly) neither had Blossom—more evidence that she’ll be exiting her teen years in a couple of month’s time. But the vast array of performers begs the question: Where else can you see Chinese dance, leaping dogs and boy bands in the span of an afternoon?

The Activities

Admit it. This scarecrow is some downright frightening!

Admit it. This scarecrow isn’t just scary, it’s downright terrifying!

There’s plenty to see if you embrace the randomness of it all. We saw homemade scarecrows (one of them entered by my kids’ former teacher), some amazing crop art (what some people can do with seeds!) and a whole gallery of really good “amateur” art. Usually the animal barns are another highlight, but for some sad reason, when we visited this year most of the barns were closed for cleaning or some other bogus reason. We were able to see the horses, but had to pass on the cows, bunnies and the World’s Largest Pig. The midway is another prime attraction for those who like to live dangerously, although my favorite ride—the double Ferris wheel—was missing this year, so we skipped the rides. But everyone would agree that the best activity at the fair has got to be people-watching. You can see politicians, local newscasters and other minor celebrities, but the regular folk provide the real entertainment. Much like Vegas, they shed their inhibitions and exhibit behavior they would eschew in their more respectable daily lives—standing in long-lines for yardsticks, donning silly paper hats, eating foot-long hot dogs at 6:00 a.m.

A Minnesota fashionista wardrobe must include at least one papier chapeau.

A Minnesota fashionista wardrobe must include at least one papier chapeau.

The Shopping

Even if you’re a seasoned shopper, you’ll find something unique at the fair. This year, I bought a cool Indian-motif tank top and Blossom bought a handmade necklace. It’s also the motherlode for items you never knew existed, but soon learn you can’t live without. Case in point: My d’marie Frappe Vino frozen cocktail fusion. This purchase alone will have KitKat rethinking her State Fair ban. Take one box of mix, a bottle of cheap wine, a gallon Ziploc freezer bag and 3-5 hours later: Voila! A delicious wine slushie. (Purchase three boxes and they throw in a free slushy—guess how many boxes I bought?)

KitKats Rebuttal

Unlike Stormy, I am still in the stage of back-to-school preparations. And as tedious as it is searching for the exact supplies listed for each of my children’s classes, I would choose that over a trip to the State Fair. Every year when the State Fair arrives I listen to co-workers, friends and even strangers in stores and restaurants mapping out their plans for their fair visit. Often these plans include not just one but multiple days, which means it isn’t just an obligation, they have to do for their kids or as a Minnesota “thing.” I have sucked it up a few times to give my kids the State Fair experience I hear they deserve, but for the past few years I have turned over the chore to my husband. I have experienced no guilt at all about missed family time. I am content, actually thrilled, to know I have relinquished all responsibility to attend the fair.

Stormy does sell a good story, and I will pay the wrath of the fairgoers, but let me provide you the fair experience from my perspective.

The Food

It doesn't have to even sound good to be on Fair goers menu for the day.

It doesn’t have to even sound good to be on fairgoers menu for the day.

Granted, there are always interesting items and I love to learn about each year’s newest food vendors. The Business Journal’s article on fair food had me wanting to try a beer gelato and cringing at the walleye mac & cheese. (Yes, mac & cheese is another item on which I differ from the majority of the population by my dislike for it. There is NO way to make it taste good.) But I do enjoy exploring the odd menu options from the comfort of an iPad on the couch. For actually eating any good food available (like the Cajun lobster rolls or prime rib tacos), I want to be able to sit and enjoy it in a cool atmosphere. As for the historical walking fair food, often on a stick, I am not a fan. For example, the popular cheese curds that taste like greasy rubber bands. Or all-you-can-drink milk, by a barn and in the heat: Yuck. I am not above greasy fries or warm chocolate chip cookies but I much prefer to abuse my calorie intake while not standing in line, being bumped and pushed by crowds, and paying triple for the so-called experience.

The Entertainment

This may be the one area where I will give kudos to the fair. I did see both Def Leppard and B.B King there. Not often does my weird, eclectic taste get catered to. Though it would be a hard sell to get me to any concert playing there now, knowing the price (and I don’t mean monetary) that I pay for that entertainment. I also don’t mind the skate park. I actually enjoyed some of the stunts (for a few minutes) and as my son was entertained for a long period of time, I escaped for 20 minutes of walking and enjoying a beer—my one moment of fair bliss.

Pour Some Sugar On Me can make anyplace tolerable.

Pour Some Sugar On Me can make any place tolerable.

The Activities

Last year's Fair winnings that I missed carrying around.

Last year’s Fair winnings that I missed carrying around.

My first memory of a fair activity is being convinced that the haunted house was fun and not to be missed. I knew I didn’t enjoy being intentionally scared in any setting. But, I caved to peer pressure and went in. A few minutes into the haunt, I refused to take a step further and had to be walked out a side door so the crowd of fairgoers could continue the haunted tour. Returning in later years as a mom, our activities revolved around the animal barn and The Midway. I would walk through the animal barns feeling sorry for the animals and me. Growing up with summer visits to an actual farm, I knew we all were happier in that environment. As for The Midway, it simply consists of carnival rides and games. The insane ticket prices cover a shorter time on the same rides that can be found at our community carnivals. The games consist of me helping lug an assortment of prizes (won by my son’s uncanny ability to win the basketball shooting games) through a crowded fair. Again, I would prefer the small community carnival that does the same job with less people to maneuver through with a giant stuffed dog in my arms.

The Shopping

Actually, my first experience of the fair, at least that I remember, was working  my uncle’s dollar booth. (My mom obviously shared my fair dislike.) I worked in the Merchandise Mart selling all kinds of trinkets for a dollar. On breaks, I would wander to discover more junk. I was the only sibling who worked for only one season. The next summer I got a job in a small clothing boutique at Southdale Mall.

The Merchandise Mart at the Fair - My first job, first Fair and first time realizing I did not like either.

The Merchandise Mart at the Fair – My first job, first fair and first time realizing I did not like either.

So again this year, I will pass on the fair. Happy to wave my family off for their Minnesotan obligation as I watch The Notebook again without being made fun of. Though, I will ask them to grab me one of the wine slushie things Stormy mentioned.

 

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”!

 

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. 🙂

Stormy learns the importance of going with the flow

Born to take the helm

Born to take the helm

The Summer of 2013 will hereafter be known in our household as The Summer Stormy Got Her Boat. KitKat and I live in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, and it’s part of the local culture to have a cabin and a boat. I grew up with this reality. My parents bought their first cabin when I was very small and bought another one when I was a teenager.

On the other hand, my husband—despite being a native Minnesotan—was raised like an Iowa Farm Boy. He never wore shorts as a kid. And if he or his siblings serendipitously found themselves near a lake, they were allowed to roll up their pant legs and wade along the shore, but that was the extent of any beach activity.

Fast forward to 2008, when we purchased our own “cabin” (that’s a topic for another post) in a beautiful river town.

Our getaway destination

Surely a boat was in my future.

With active teenagers, I knew we’d never have enough time on the water to justify a boat, so we settled for renting a pontoon a couple of times each summer. But this spring, as we were gearing up for our youngest child’s graduation from high school, I got a bad case of boat fever.

Stormy finds her soulmate

Stormy finds her soulmate

My ever-tolerant husband accepted that the metaphorical vessel was leaving the dock, and he had no choice but to climb aboard…and so he did. I researched options with other watercraft owners and sifted through a boatload of advice. A friend helped me narrow my choices and I spent Mother’s Day weekend checking out local used boats for sale—after three days of intense shopping, we found it in a showroom an hour north: A used deckboat in great condition with a 250 hp motor.

First, we needed to gear up. Life jackets, ropes, bumpers and a new rolling cooler were on the list. Memorial Day weekend provided our first opportunity to take the boat out. Cold and windy, it was lousy boating weather. But we were two weeks into a 30-day warranty and I wanted to make sure the engine ran. So we embarked on our maiden voyage. The first step was getting out of the marina. Surrounded by large, expensive boats, this was a daunting task. Did I mention that it was cold and windy? Wind + river current + novice driver + other people’s yachts = a very stressed Stormy! I decided to let my husband navigate out of the marina, while I wielded an oar for the purpose of pushing away from any boats toward which we might drift too perilously close.

Out on the river, I relaxed a little and we were able to confirm that everything ran properly. After a short excursion, we headed back to shore. My husband’s Parkinson’s meds had worn off, so I rose to the challenge of returning to the marina and took the helm. I had to drive faster than I wanted just to counteract the wind and the current, but I still found myself drifting uncomfortably close to much more expensive vessels. I quickly panicked and the only nautical skill I displayed was my ability to swear like a sailor. Fortunately, my gallant husband swooped in to rescue me. Even though, his meds weren’t working, the adrenaline surge caused by his wife’s distress compensated for the lack of dopamine until he flawlessly brought us to safe harbor—all neighboring boats unscathed.

After that initial excursion, a late spring and my daughter’s graduation kept us off the water until mid-June, but we spent the rest of the summer trying to make the most of our new purchase. Looking back on the season, I’ve learned several things about boating.

  • B-O-A-T stands for Bring On Another Thousand – My brother taught me that one, and based on one season’s experience of paying for gear, accessories and repairs, it appears to be true.
  • Rivers are trickier than lakes, and more fun – I had spent many summers boating on lakes, but boating on a busy river is a whole new ballgame. I love seeing all the other watercraft and their ports of origin—the St. Croix gets summer travelers from as far as the Gulf of Mexico—and people watching. I’ve also learned there are many hazards to navigate, as my propeller took a nasty hit when we ventured too close to a buoy and likely hit a wing dam. What’s a wing dam, you ask? Hah! Now you see my point!
  • I like going fast – Anyone who has ridden in my car would guess this, but I looooove it when the river finally widens so I can open up the throttle and jump the wakes of larger boats. I’ve also learned that can coolers, life preservers, hats and mojitos all need to be secured, lest I inadvertently pollute my Wild and Scenic River.
  • I will never get my money’s worth from this purchase… – There’s an old adage that the two happiest days in a boat owner’s life are the day they get the boat and the day they sell the boat. I’m sure this is based on the fact that boats are pricey toys and most people will never use theirs enough to get their money’s worth out of it. I can already see that will be true for us. Still, we got out on the river 7 or 8 times this summer, so that works out to…what…still more than $2k per outing!? At that rate, it’ll take us quite a while to make this a cost-effective recreational investment.
  • …yet I don’t regret it – This is perhaps the biggest surprise of all. I thought that after wanting a boat for so long, I’d become bored with one once I got it. But on a sunny summer day, there’s no place I’d rather be than on the river.

While I’m still very much a novice, my driving has improved a lot in one summer and learning a new skill has been good for my psyche. Most importantly, I’m learning that life—like boating—is easier when you learn to go with the flow.

The river beckons...

The river beckons…

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. 🙂

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.