Category Archives: Money

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

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

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

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

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

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

moto_jacket

This jacket actually has Stormy looking forward to cooler weather…

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

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

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

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

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

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

KitKat Weighs in…

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

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

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

IMG_5681

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_5593

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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. 🙂