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.

 

“He who owns little is little owned” (Learning to let go…)

I came across this quote by Henry David Thoreau when I was going through a simplification phase in the mid-90s. It struck a chord because I was at a point in my life where I realized that acquiring “stuff” was not the key to happiness.

Let’s back up a bit. Remember that I’m one of nine children and even though my parents did fine by us financially (we had all the basics covered and enjoyed some modest luxuries as well), I frequently heard, “We can’t afford that” as the response to whatever I was asking for. (Looking back, I think it was just my parents’ go-to excuse—not necessarily rooted in lack of finances, but invoked whenever they didn’t want to do or buy something.)

Regardless, my reaction to this childhood “deprivation” was the desire to buy whatever “stuff” I wanted once I had the money and independence to do so. And for a few years, that’s what I did. I’m no candidate for an episode of “Hoarders,” but I have accumulated enough stuff to overwhelm my fairly small home.

kids08-mary_033
For Sale: 24 years’ worth of memories

I fell in love with my little Cape Cod when I was 25. When we moved in—Mom, Dad and new baby boy—everyone exclaimed, “What a cute little starter house!” They were expecting us to stay in it for a few years and then “trade up.” But I knew we’d be in this house longer than anyone suspected—it looked like where “Happily Ever After” should take place. Although not large by modern US standards, it’s a near duplicate of the house in which 11 of us lived until I was seven, so surely there would be sufficient room for my small family to grow. And there was. That’s not to say that it didn’t become crowded at times, especially during the teenage years, but I believed in what a member of my congregation once observed, “The closest families I know all come from small houses,” and we never traded up to a larger house.

I don’t consider myself terribly materialistic, but over the last two decades, this smallish house has become filled with “stuff.” Stuff that holds memories, stuff that I think my grown kids might need some day, stuff that I feel guilty adding to a landfill, stuff that reminds me that some phases of my life are over.

And it turns out that our cozy house isn’t adequate for the unwelcome guest that arrived 11 years ago and shows no sign of leaving. So, I’ve reluctantly concluded that, as my husband’s Parkinson’s continues to progress, we should find a home that’s more conducive to his lifestyle, with an attached garage, smaller yard, fewer stairs and other features that can make his life easier and more enjoyable. At the same time, if I’m going to leave this home I love, I want to gain some benefits from moving as well—things like a master bathroom and walk-in closet.

Although I’m trying to be optimistic about our next home, the thought of moving is overwhelmingly stressful. Over the last 24 years, we’ve made a lot of home improvements, but there are also a lot of little things we’ve let slide. Dozens of small repairs that need to be made and other tasks that will either fall to me or have to be contracted out.

Love me, love my floor (but don't cry over spilled milk!)
Love me, love my floor (but don’t cry over spilled milk!)

Then there’s the issue of my rather eclectic taste. My home is uniquely me. My husband retains veto power, but gives me a pretty free rein. Consequently, I’ve never really considered other people’s opinions in my decorating choices. But I know that to put my house on the market, I need to tone down certain aspects of my style. For example, I accept that my living room and dining room need to be transformed from a sociable, lively pink (which I spent hours rag-rolling to achieve a very subtle textured effect) to a more crowd-pleasing neutral tone. I also have a lot to do in “de-personalizing” my home, as it’s filled with photos and mementos. However, the new buyers will need to love the gold metallic cove around my ceilings, as well as my checkerboard kitchen tiles as there are some things I refuse to change. After all, I need to ensure my beloved house ends up in worthy hands.

IMG_0413I’ve set a deadline of next spring to put the house on the market, since my little house is most alluring when you can see my great backyard with multiple gardens, two patios and a fire pit. It’s a backyard just made for entertaining and we’ve had some wonderful parties there in the past. I know I’ll miss that yard, but this year as I was pulling weeds in the various gardens I thought, “I’m not really going to miss this part.” So I’m thinking maybe I’ve turned the corner and can now dive into the rest of the process with less sentimentality.

Another important step for me has been renting a storage locker for our excess belongings. I know that to show our house, we’ll need to stage it properly and that requires some extensive decluttering. I don’t want to fall into the same trap my parents did when selling their last home: My mother refused to do any staging and left all of her clutter and outdated décor intact. My parents ended up paying double mortgages for months when the house wouldn’t sell. And a lot of those same musty, dusty items are sitting in my parents’ current basement—waiting to be dealt with all over again. I like to think I can learn from others’ mistakes.

Even so, it’s been difficult for me to part with some of my own stuff, even when I know I’m unlikely to need it again. But when I’m considering what to put into storage, I’ve found it’s much easier to ask myself, “Will I need this in the next year?” than to ask, “Will I want this again at some point in the future?” It seems like about half is going to the trash or charity and the other half is going into storage. And hopefully, when we’re settled in our new place and moving stuff out of storage, the answer of whether to keep X or Y will be much clearer and even less “stuff” will find it’s way to our new home.

It’s a little exciting (and a lot scary) to think that a year from now I’ll likely be living somewhere else. I want our next home to reflect a positive change and a new chapter in our lives, rather than feel like a concession to my husband’s disability. But I know it’s up to me to make that happen. I have to clear out the past to make room for the future. Wish me luck!

 

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”!

 

Baby bird gives mama bird lessons in flying solo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking for some luck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New year, new resolve…

Happy New Year, Dear Readers… Welcome to the Clean Slate that is 2014! As you may recall from one of my first posts on this blog, I take New Year’s Resolutions seriously. Last year, for example, I chose three:

  1. Assume good intentions in other people.  
  2. Do something nice each day for myself and another person.
  3. Don’t overthink things.

These were excellent resolutions for me. But while I made progress, I can’t say I mastered any of them. So I was tempted to recycle these, but meanwhile I had dozens of new ideas swirling around in my brain—things to try, ways to grow, mantras to live by—and I didn’t want the end result to look like this:

Woody Guthrie’s “New Year’s Rulin’s” – While number 3 is amusing, 19 is the one I like best.

Rather than try and commit 33 separate ideas into actionable behavior, I decided to categorize them into a few Big Ideas that I could focus on for the year. Once I settled on this year’s themes, I realized that my new resolutions are really just an expansion of last year’s.

For example, I’m modifying Resolution Number 1 to “Assume the Best.” This expands the original idea beyond assuming good in other people’s motives to assuming positive outcomes in all aspects of life—everything from work projects to getting stuck in traffic. There’s a quote my dad has used (although my Google search attributes it to a number of people) and that’s something to the effect of “Worry is like paying interest on a debt not yet incurred.” This strikes me as particularly true. There have been a number of times I worried about something that didn’t turn out nearly as catastrophic as my mind had imagined.

I was tested on this my first day back at work after the holiday… and I failed, giving into a bad mood. Sure enough, the thing that was stressing me out—not being able to find a hotel room for an upcoming client visit—turned out just fine (thanks to a resourceful coworker)… Now, I’m not naïve enough to think the worst won’t happen on occasion, and I’ll still think through how to deal with a negative outcome—but I’ll make an effort to not waste valuable energy stressing out about an imagined problem until it actually occurs.

An outing to a wine bar to "make my own happy day"... This is NOT Stormy & KitKat, but most definitely are "Troublemakers" as the wine indicates.
Making “my own happy day” with a couple of friends and a bottle of wine that obviously has found its rightful owners.

Resolution Number 2 is being expanded to Make Your Own Happy Day.” Credit for this one goes to my niece. During my last hair appointment (she’s also my stylist) we were catching up on all sorts of things and we got on the topic of how each of us is responsible for our own happiness. She said when her young son is crabby about going to school, she tells him, “You have to make your own happy day” and I thought that was excellent advice. We all hold so much power to make our own days better and happier—by calling a friend, indulging in a small treat, kicking back with a good book for half hour, taking a walk outdoors on our lunch break—yet we often fail to seize these moments. In 2014, I’m going to be mindful about doing the small things I can to “make a happy day.”

Resolution Number 3 is becoming Turn Negative Inward Thoughts into Positive Outward Actions. This is loosely related to Resolution 1… KitKat and I both tend to get caught up in negative thoughts at times and while assuming a positive outlook is one step toward fixing that, the best antidote for a control freak who’s feeling out of control is to control something—anything—in a positive way. I can either become overwhelmed at the thought of making all the cosmetic touch-ups needed to put our house on the market OR I can tackle a small job and cross one thing off that list. I can fret about the overdue mammogram or dentist appointment OR I can take five minutes and schedule them. I can beat myself up for not working out OR I can jump on my exercise bike.

994400_10152061525469523_665319223_nA coworker once had an insightful screensaver message that said, “The best way to get rid of an unpleasant task is to do it quickly.” So my last resolution will focus around taking action toward the things that are bothering me rather than just stewing in the stress.

KitKat made an observation in our last post that jumped out at me, “you are great at giving sound advice and not so good at taking it yourself.” Does this mean I’m doomed to fail at these resolutions? Well, time will tell, I guess… but meanwhile I’m going to assume the best! 😉

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. 🙂

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? 🙂

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…

Fixing the broken windows

KitKat and I have known each other for 15 years now and have become closer over the years due to some eerily similar personality traits. Really, it’s quite fascinating. To look at the two of us, you wouldn’t think we were that much alike, but our core attitudes—how we view the world—are so similar that I sometimes think we were separated at birth.

So when KitKat talks about making a mess of her life, I can admit that I’ve also got some cleaning up to do in mine. An article I read recently cited a theory about crime, the Broken Windows Theory, which I found interesting. In a nutshell, the theory is that small indicators of disorder can quickly escalate into something much more serious. That is: broken windows in an abandoned building lead to widespread vandalism which leads to squatters which leads to drug deals which lead to homicide… you get the picture.

The assumption is that your personal life has to be a mess to create, but how much chaos can you allow in before it takes over?                                  – David Byrne

This got me thinking about the broken windows in my own life. For example, I know this theory holds true in my house. When my house is clean, I make an effort to keep it that way—I’m more likely to put things away, wipe up the crumbs on the counter, etc. But if I’m tired one evening and leave a pile of papers on the coffee table or my shoes strewn on the living room floor, look out. A few days later, the house will be one big mound of clutter.

The broken window effect at work in my then-teenaged daughter’s room.

I’m sure a lot of you can relate to this example, but broken windows can also be more individual. A few months ago, I was having lunch with a friend. This friend was completely buried from a work standpoint, but had made time for lunch on the condition that on the way he could drop off his car to get it cleaned/detailed. I was a bit surprised he was concerned with something as superficial as his car, given all the critical work issues he was facing. He explained that his car was a mess—overflowing with the usual kid detritus and even dirty underwear from the gym. While as a dad this was understandable, as a sales person, it was a source of stress if he was suddenly required to drive a client or prospect to dinner or the airport.

This made sense, of course. The messy car was his broken window.

Since learning about this theory, I’ve been looking for the broken windows in my own life and I’m chagrined to admit that I’ve neglected a few. Part of it is summer laziness. Part of it is denial about what the future holds (like KitKat, I’m also uncomfortable Living in the Maybe). Part of it is just getting overwhelmed by the weeds… Every year, I have a beautiful, enviable garden through the month of June. Then the heat ratchets up, the mosquitoes all hatch and the weeds take over. Against this triple threat, I simply give up. With weeds, the consequences are not that serious (heck, even ragweed adds a striking touch of yellow to my late season garden), but when I let weeds take root in my life they seem to choke out every healthy thing.

From this...
From this…
...to this
…to this

So, like KitKat, I’m going to use this back-to-school time as a new start as well. I’m going to identify all the broken windows in my life and set about fixing them. It won’t happen in a day or even a week, but I’m hoping when the real new year begins (2014), I’ll feel more optimistic about the future than I do today.