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The coming new year begs a new approach to politics: Can we finally move past 2016 to focus on unity in 2020?

A couple of months ago, I posted a blog about what I thought the Democrats needed to do to defeat Trump. That post was based on my career in marketing and proposed how certain marketing best practices could be employed by the DNC to strengthen their overall campaign against Trump. While writing the post, I knew it was lacking a specific course of action. However, I was interested in gaining feedback from others to further my thinking on the topic. To that end, I pushed the blog out via several channels—LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter—and as of this writing, it’s had over 500 views. (I think this is a solid number, considering it was posted to a brand-new blog I had created—one with no existing followers, SEO or paid marketing behind it.)

FBechoGiven our contentious political climate, I expected lots of push-back from my post, but I didn’t get any comments from Trump supporters. This was disappointing, since I was interested in understanding their perspective. My social following tends to include many like-minded people (what Republicans would call the DNC Echo Chamber), so it’s not surprising that I did hear from numerous liberals. They nearly all agreed with my overall assessment of the situation and expressed a similar feeling of helplessness about how to reason with people who were supporting 45 in light of so much damning evidence against him.EchoChamber

An outsider’s inside view

However, the most interesting exchange I had on the topic was with a good friend of mine who is a 40-something white, male executive. This demographic is much maligned among liberals, but I think it’s an important group to understand because they still hold the most power in this country. I was particularly interested in my friend’s view because 1) He was born/raised outside the US where he experienced being a racial/religious minority firsthand, 2) he’s been in the US for long enough to be very informed about both politics and business and 3) he’s not a citizen, so therefore didn’t vote in the 2016 election. This gives him a uniquely objective viewpoint on what’s happening in our country.

We had a very spirited conversation via text. At one point in our conversation, I texted, “…I have no respect for Trump supporters for backing someone who is 1) so stupid and 2) destroying our democracy by ignoring the Constitution and colluding with foreign powers.”

His response to that really made me think. And truthfully, after reflecting on it overnight, it caused me to reframe the problem I identified in my earlier blog. He responded (paraphrased a bit for clarity), “The difference between you and them is that they also value not having a stupid president. They also value no collusion with foreign governments, they also value the Constitution, but they value all of those things secondary to the other values, like ensuring a conservative court, etc.” His opinion was that I likely had more in common with Trump supporters than I’d like to admit. But because they placed a higher value on certain issues, and then voted based on those priorities, we now found ourselves on opposite sides of a growing chasm.

It seems elementary in hindsight, but this discussion around priorities was really a revelation to me. My friend’s view, that perhaps Trump voters didn’t endorse his full agenda but just one or two key issues that drove their voting, gave me a glimmer of hope that our country may not be as divided as I had previously thought. After all, we all prioritize in that way. In a world with too many problems to solve, we all pick and choose which battles we want to fight. It just seems that when it comes to Republicans and Democrats, we view each other’s choices very differently.

The varying levels of commitment to a cause

Let’s begin by acknowledging that there are multiple ways to support any cause and that each requires a different level of commitment. For example:

  • Vocalizing your support or opposition of an issue in conversations with peers
  • Voting for policies that support certain causes
  • Donating money toward supporting a cause
  • Volunteering time or energy toward supporting a cause
  • Taking action in their personal life related to the cause
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Young Stormy had many bunny friends, both real and imaginary.

Let’s dive into a specific example—animal rights. Personally, I like animals, both
domestic and wild. I’ve had dogs, bunnies, birds and even a hermit crab for pets. I would never personally intentionally harm an animal and I don’t like for other people to harm animals. Yet, I’ll admit that I’m not a vegetarian. I eat meat regularly (as long as it comes from what I consider to be ethical farming practices). At the same time, I’m conflicted about hunting. I don’t personally hunt or like hunting. However, I don’t object to others who hunt (because the deer or duck hunters I know use the meat and it would be hypocritical of me to condemn that when I eat meat myself. However, I am disgusted by trophy hunting, which I classify as strictly killing animals for sport. Yet, while I profess to care about animal welfare, I will readily admit that I don’t regularly donate to animal rights charities because I prioritize other causes ahead of them.

You can see from this example that, although I believe in animal rights, my level of commitment to that cause is all over the place. And while I have friends who are much more dedicated to animal rights than me—they provide foster care for shelter animals and contribute time and money to related charities—I still get along fine with them. That is, they don’t condemn me for my relative lack of support of their cause.

The fact is, it’s human nature to prioritize issues that affect us or our loved ones personally. For example, I have a husband with a disability and a daughter who was adopted and is both gay and Asian. Because these people are precious to me, I tend to prioritize issues around Parkinson’s Disease, adoption, healthcare, minorities, immigrants and LGBTQ people more highly than I do many other equally worthy causes.

GhandiI think we all inherently understand that others have to prioritize their beliefs. You could take any issue Democrats collectively care about: immigration, healthcare, climate change, gun control, etc., and you would find the same varying levels of support and prioritization among voters. For example, it makes sense that the face of climate change, Greta Thunberg, is a 16-year-old activist. Her generation will have to live with devastation that won’t as directly impact your average retiree.

Liberals regularly extend slack to each other about which causes they throw their time and money behind, so long as they are all voting blue.

Yet, as a whole, Democrats don’t grant this same dispensation to Trump voters.

I’ll admit, I am 100% guilty of this. From my anti-Trump perspective, I believed that anyone who voted for Trump agreed with everything he stood for. Even though I personally have never agreed with every issue on either party’s platform but nonetheless have voted in every presidential election since I was 18.

How shared values can diverge in the real world

When my friend pointed out that, in all likelihood, Trump supporters were only concerned with one or two specific issues that they were prioritizing above all others (e.g., a strong economy or adding conservative justices to the Supreme Court), a light bulb went off. If Republic voters weren’t necessarily toeing the whole party line, then maybe there was hope?

I remembered a conversation from last spring when a Republican-voting relative of mine was diagnosed with cancer and debating where to go for treatment. His note included a little slam for his more liberal relatives: “Isn’t healthcare choice wonderful? Single payer? WTH?”

I was taken aback by his attitude, because when my husband had been given a devastating medical diagnosis years before, we had the opposite reaction. We, too, were grateful to have good insurance and choices in how to pursue treatment. But it drove home to us how awful it would be to face a similar diagnosis as one of the 27.9 million nonelderly individuals without health insurance.  

In other words, my relative and I both shared the belief that “good healthcare is important.” However, he prioritized his desire to keep his affordable employer-provided insurance above the right of everyone else to have even a basic level of insurance coverage (assuming that extending insurance to everyone would result in higher costs or decreased options for him personally). Whereas I considered us fortunate to have good employer-provided insurance for my husband—and viewed that as a privilege that shouldn’t come at the cost of others being uninsured—he considered it critical to his personal survival and worth fighting for.

In voting for Trump, Republicans may believe that “the end justifies the means,” while liberals will argue that these same individuals have “sold their soul to the Devil.” However, once I wrapped my head around the idea that most Trump voters probably don’t support everything he stands for, it changed my view of the challenge facing Democrats.

Branding is what other people think, not what “the brand” thinks

Since this started as a conversation about marketing, I want to explain a fundamental principle of branding. That is, a brand only exists in the minds of the public. It’s the sum of everything a person knows about a company: its products, its services and its messaging about itself. Most companies spend lots of money to carefully craft a brand identity that will be embraced by their customers, but ultimately, the consumer is the one who will determine whether they are successful. If the company aligns to its brand in ways that extend beyond the marketing message, chances are good that the public’s perception of the brand will be close to the company’s intention. But if there is inconsistency, the consumer will put more store in the company’s actions—what they know to be true—than in its marketing message.

And the same applies to both Republicans and Democrats.

RefFor example, while Democrats brand themselves as the compassionate party—the ones who are tolerant and care about others—many Republicans reject that branding because it goes against what they have experienced in their conversations at Thanksgiving Dinner or while scrolling through their Facebook feed. They see widespread condemnation of anyone who voted for Trump and consider the Democrat’s self-branding as the caring, tolerant party to be the height of hypocrisy.

Right or wrong, most Americans believe they are “good people”

Psychologists are aware of something called the “self-enhancement effect” which is people’s tendency to rate themselves “above average” when comparing themselves to others. While we generally cast ourselves in a positive light relative to our peers, above all else we believe that we are more just, more trustworthy, more moral than others. Consider the implications of this: If a Republican’s self-concept is that they are NOT racist, greedy or a white nationalist, how do you suppose they will react to the angry remonstrations of their family and acquaintances? In my experience, they will respond with bitter accusations of their own. The least likely reaction is that the Republican will undergo an immediate self-analysis and conclude, “Gee, you’re right. I AM awful for voting for Trump. I’m going to make amends by voting blue in 2020!”

Yet, most Democrats are just so darn angry about the situation our country is in that we WANT to blame everyone who helped put Trump in office. It makes us feel better in the short-term. However, to succeed in defeating Trump, I’m going to suggest another approach. Don’t engage in political discussions that appear to judge someone else’s priorities (even if you vehemently disagree with them). In other words, we need to resist from bashing Trump supporters. Instead, place all of your focus and attention on those who are being marginalized and help uplift them. Flip the conversation so that you’re appealing to your opponent’s self-concept of being a good person. For example, if there’s a new story that triggers your political ire, don’t launch into a diatribe blaming your brother-in-law and the other idiot voters who elected Trump. It might feel good in the moment, but it will only cause those individuals to further entrench themselves in their position. Rather, bring them into the conversation about how we as Americans can help those who are hurting.

We all prioritize our friends and neighbors—what’s happening in our own communities—above the suffering of others. It’s a human coping mechanism that allows us to function despite the many injustices in the world. But it’s also harder to ignore the plight of others when you begin to know them as fellow human beings. So, use that knowledge to get Republicans to see how Trump’s policies are harming others by personalizing the struggles of those who are negatively affected.

bfad022f-c979-422b-ba02-40f15dd94f08-HCG_OnlineAfter all, if we’re going to live in a democratic society, we have to trust in the process. That means sometimes Democratic priorities will move forward and other times Republican priorities will prevail. At the same time, we still have a duty to protect the democratic process—so keep the spotlight on Trump’s impeachable offenses and on the victims of his policies. But do it without implicating or condemning those who—in their minds—were just choosing the lesser of two evils when they voted him into office. Even if you believe they deserve that condemnation, it simply won’t move us toward the end game of getting rid of Trump. So, with the new election year just a couple of short weeks away, we need to ask ourselves: Is it more important to get Trump and his minions out of office or is it more important to “punish” family and acquaintances that voted for him?

I believe that continuing to direct anger at Trump supporters is likely to make things worse for Democrats, not better. And despite my personal feelings on the issue, that’s a chance I’m no longer willing to take. Many recent polls have found that Americans on both sides of the political spectrum are troubled by how divisive our country has become, so let’s focus on fixing that problem…together. I believe that a new leader—one who doesn’t thrive off the chaos they’ve created—will naturally emerge as a result of all of us choosing to prioritize kindness and unity in 2020.


Postscript: As a strong believer in personal redemption, I wanted to suggest in this message that reframing the current political situation would allow those reading this to put aside their differences and once again reunite with estranged friends and family members this holiday season (visions of “A Christmas Carol” dancing in my head). However, I think the damage to our country— and to our individual relationships—is deeper than that and will take longer to heal. Still, much like Ebenezer’s nephew who invites Scrooge to Christmas dinner year after year, only to hear “Bah Humbug!” in response, I’ll keep trying. After all, eventually Scrooge said yes!

 God Bless Us Everyone!

 

Stormy gets serious. Serious enough to use her real name.

Last week’s visit by Donald Trump resulted in more news coverage than normal as well as lots of contentious Facebook posts from supporters and protestors. As someone who thinks Trump’s presidency represents a constitutional and moral crisis, it pains me to see so many people I formerly respected still supporting him after such clear evidence that he’s unfit. As a lifelong American Christian, it particularly pains me to see human rights violations being enacted in the name of Christianity and a complete disregard for the Constitution by those who profess to be patriots. Let’s just say, it’s put me in a bit of a funk.

LOVE_THY_NEIGHBOR_grandeI’ve been trying to figure out how to express my frustration, both to Trump voters themselves and to my fellow resisters who are floundering* in their efforts to have a rational discussion with irrational supporters. Having worked in marketing for the last 30 years, I tend to view things through a marketing lens, so I framed up my thoughts in a blog post and shared them with KitKat for her reaction (since she has nearly 20 years of marketing experience herself).

Because this is a serious topic, I didn’t want to hide behind Stormy’s identity. (Let’s face it, if you know me personally, you know my stance on this topic anyway… KitKat and I mostly just use our pseudonyms here to keep our respective children and spouses from becoming too embarrassed by our blog posts that mention them.)

As a result, I’ve posted this on my professional website and am sharing it via multiple channels. If you agree with the sentiments and are inclined to do so, I invite you to like/share/comment as well among your social channels. I really think that Democrats need to unify their message to succeed over Trump and his minions and believe that singular mission is more critical than advancing any individual DFL candidate over another.

Read the post here.

 

PS: Don’t worry, Stormy promises a more fun and frivolous topic again soon.

*Side note to Oskar: Yes, I mean floundering (thrashing about wildly) vs. foundering (sinking), although I suppose the latter may also be true. 

Stormy learns today is the first day of the rest of her life (blah, blah, blah)…

It’s Stormy and I’m baaaaaack. I threatened to resurrect this blog a while back, but when your fandom reaches the very corners of the globe, staging a comeback is not to be taken lightly. I mean, KitKat’s comeback blog was saying goodbye to her father after a long and difficult illness. You can’t get more heartfelt and significant than that. Consequently, if I turn around and post about something inconsequential, like cleaning my fridge or sewing repairs, it could be considered a bit tacky… However, the lack of having something monumental to say could force my silence indefinitely, so I’m going to succumb to the mundane if only to get past this hurdle. Because, above all else, this blog is supposed to be a representative slice of life from the two of us as we schlep through our everyday existence…and sometimes, dear reader, that existence is pretty meh.

However, I do actually have a rather significant life event to share. As you may recall, in early 2017, I left my previous job of 10 years to pursue a new opportunity at a growing company. This was something I had not been planning to do, because as the spouse of someone with Parkinson’s Disease, I thought I needed stability. However, Oskar’s successful brain surgery in 2016 had me rethinking my future, and I thought it would be exciting to take one last stab at leading a marketing function.

My most recent employer hired me at a pivotal time in the company’s growth. The CEO had been systematically fine-tuning the company over a number of years. And once all the product and service issues were addressed, he turned his attention toward sales and marketing—with the ultimate goal of making the company attractive to a potential buyer and selling it. I knew this going in, but it was still a whirlwind experience. I learned a lot and enjoyed what I was doing, but I was stretched far too thin to continue this blog. I also had developed an impressive variety of repetitive stress injuries, including carpal tunnel in both wrists and cubital tunnel in both elbows. Any non-critical typing was not a good idea, so less than a year into the new position, I decided to say goodbye to this blog.

So why am I writing to you now? Because the times, they are a changin’… at least for Stormy. Professionally, the last two-and-a-half years have been a very exciting and gratifying experience for me. Our team not only positioned the company for a successful sale—we were able to command a record price within our industry.

However, after the freedom and autonomy of my latest gig, I knew that I didn’t want to go back to working in a public company for the long term. After a successful transition to the new owners and with the full support of my spouse, I decided it’s time for something new. Quotefancy-731755-3840x2160

The goal of my new schedule is flexibility. I want to spend some “quality time” with Oskar while he was still healthy enough to enjoy it with me. And so far, I’m enjoying the luxury. Think about it: Time is probably one of the most precious assets we have, but most of us don’t have enough time to do the things we want to do, because of our family and job commitments. And all too often we squander the time we do have because we’re too exhausted after working a full day to do much besides veg in front of the TV.

Oskar and my boat… Less work means more time for both!

So, what exactly have I been doing with all of my new-found time?

  • Systematically catching up with busy friends that I haven’t seen in a while
  • Spending more time at my cabin (and reconnecting with my neighbors there)
  • Planning my next few arts and crafts projects
  • Cooking more
  • Exercising more
  • Eating and drinking more (unfortunately—but that’s the topic for another blog)
  • Spending more time with my elderly mother
  • Framing up what I want to do for my consulting business
  • Doing some consulting for my old company (i.e., my first consulting “client”)

In the one-off category:

  • I cleaned my fridge (including wiping down the shelves!)
  • I defrosted my freezer
  • I sewed up a hole in my tennis shoes (normally I wouldn’t get around to something like this and would just wear them until they needed to be tossed. However, my newfound time–and sense of frugality–is making me more mindful of such things)
  • I made a batch of smoked maple bourbon cherries…and some homemade vanilla ice cream that coupled them with caramel swirls
  • Took a trip to Vegas for Oscar’s 60th birthday
  • I went to the State Fair on a weekday (and avoided the major crowds)
  • I’ve donated a lot of my professional wardrobe to Dress For Success
  • I took a workshop in Encaustic Painting (my soon-to-be new favorite medium)
  • KitKat and I had a fall sleepover at my urban cabin, which led to us creating a “challenge” for ourselves for the month of October (more on that next month)

All of my shoes wear out in the same spot, due to what Oskar wisely refers to as my “island girl feet” (i.e., fat feet). Hoping that a “stitch in time” saves a new pair of shoes?

It has been an interesting transition—and for the most part, an easy one. I actually feel like I have time to attend to the various parts of my life, and my stress level has dropped dramatically. I definitely feel like I’m starting a new chapter, and I’m excited to see what life has in store for me. Part of me thinks that as the days grow short and cold, I may regret this move and wish I had more on my plate. But I know that anything worthwhile is easier said than done and I’m determined to make this new phase of my life the best one yet.

Gone, but not forgotten.

Stormy and I had said goodbye and stopped blogging. But, after the new year, she told me she missed it and was going to post once in a while. I knew that I would also be writing at least one. I had something to say. I needed to say goodbye to my dad in writing. Well, at least try.

My dad, Bruno, had interstitial lung disease. I hate starting with that because it certainly isn’t what defined him. But it was what took him from me too soon. Some would say that I should be grateful since he lived 10 years past his diagnosis; normal life expectancy is only three-to-five years from that point. Though, if you knew my dad, you wouldn’t be surprised that he didn’t follow the norm.

My dad was stubborn, opinionated, competitive, and if you asked him, he was always right! This may have served him well battling the disease. Though, it could also have been his Achilles’s heel. We have seen dice, a ski, and a Monopoly board all go flying when things weren’t going his way

That may sound bad to an outsider. (“Gasp,” he threw the dice at his youngest daughter’s head when he was losing.) To clarify, he didn’t throw them hard, and Kristin was rolling with unbelievable luck. We played games for hours on end with Dad—from when Kristin was so little, she had to use a tinfoil container to hold the cards. Games were always for money and it was always serious. That is what made it fun!

We never stopped playing games. Just months ago we were still sitting at the table playing games. No dice were thrown, and Kristin now had a martini instead of tinfoil in front of her. This time my daughter sat at the table, too. As when we were little, she learned the pure joy of joining the adults late into the night, seeing them get sillier as they continued to pour drinks, and gambling and laughing along with them. I am so glad my daughter experienced what was so special but hard to explain about those memories. She still giggles and recalls stories of Grandpa teasing her when he was winning or getting annoyed when he was losing. She loved being with him and those simple game nights will stick with her.

Dad was fun. With my parents being divorced, Dad did get the luxury of being the “fun” dad. Parents didn’t share time back them. He lived in different state, and we would visit or meet him in Wabasha at the river when he was home to visit his parents. Though we didn’t see him a lot, the times we did were vacations and quality.

Besides fun, dad was mischievous. He loved to tease and found great pleasure in getting under your skin. His brother Mark can attest to this as a long-time passion of his. Nothing brought a grin to his face like when he was sharing his plot to “get someone.” Nothing was sacred in his plans. This was one of the things my son loved about him. Grandpa was naughty. When Grandpa took him to Mark’s in Florida for a special guys fishing trip, I received a photo of my 12-year-old son sipping on a martini with them. I should have known not to have lectured Dad about being careful with boats and drinking with my son along! My son loved that his grandpa would dare send an inappropriate photo to his mom and learned how fun it was to be an insider in one of Grandpa’s pranks. I can’t believe I am going to say this, but I will even miss the nights battling about politics, because as much as he believed in his position, I know some of his pleasure was just from getting such a rise out of me.

What sticks with me the most, though, through all the memories is that he gave me a safe place to not be perfect. I never felt I disappointed him, even at the times I fully earned it. He just simply adored me. it’s hard to lose someone in your life who regards you as perfect despite your imperfections.

I am thankful for every additional year we had Dad with us. I know he fought to stay around for us even though many of those years were a struggle for him. What I am most thankful to my dad for is giving me my stepmom, Shari. I don’t really remember Dad without Shari. My parents divorced when we were so little that I only have a couple of faint memories of them together. All of my vivid memories with Dad include Shari. She loved us from the beginning, and we loved her. We are family. This January, Shari, Kristin and I went out to celebrate their 41st wedding anniversary. A milestone Dad wasn’t able to make.

I want to share all the memories swirling in my head. The things that make me laugh. The late nights, times on the river, days on the ski slopes, or the hangovers we shared. Dad made everything fun. We would watch a movie together and he would whisper, “Let’s go sneak ice cream now that Shari is asleep.” I was in my 40s. Shari didn’t care if we had ice cream. But, the act of pretending we needed to sneak and tiptoeing around while attempting to stifle our laughs is an example of the fun dad brought to everyday situations.

When dad did finally succumb to the disease, he transitioned fast. He was never a patient man. Shari called my sister and me to get there as soon as we could. Within six hours of me being there Dad told Shari it was time. He wanted to die at home on his own terms.

I will save all the details of those last days for the memories of those who were there. But I will say, he went out leaving a Bruno story. Things didn’t go as planned. In general, we were told he would peacefully go to sleep after we turned off the oxygen. We had morphine to help him if he got agitated. Well, morphine seemed to make him a super her0 and a man who lived on 24-hour oxygen 24/7 seemed unaffected when unplugged. After many hours, plus three times of turning oxygen off….and back on…. and some surprising Pulp Fiction-like awakenings, we knew the three of us couldn’t do it. We had to transfer him to hospice. He needed more help to get through his final moments. and so did we. Over all he was agreeable to going to hospice, of course he had to grumble in the ambulance about how they took the bumps. If you ever drove in a car with Dad, you wouldn’t expect him to not complain about the way someone else was driving.

Shortening the story of the up and downs at the hospice, after about 24 hours they finally got Dad medicated to a peaceful place. The three of us took a quick break before the next step which was for the hospice workers to turn down his oxygen with us beside him – just family this time, without his nurses. We took a quick break to change and eat to prepare for what they thought could be a long night, and of course the jerk instead chooses to quickly die on full oxygen fifteen minutes after we left.

Since that time, I feel I am in a surreal world. Something so drastic has changed but everything else around me just goes on as normal. I am not fully functioning as a parent, wife, or friend, but instead I’m just trying to figure out my way. I know things will start to settle again. But in this new world, I am enjoying things that once seemed so small and unimportant. I am not letting little things bug me. I am also just doing what I want and not caring if it isn’t always what everyone expects. I don’t care because I have more important things on my mind. A friend told me to enjoy this part of the roller coaster: “It is the dead dad pass.”

I’m sorry I can’t write a true eulogy for you Dad. This was very random. There are just too many memories to sort out. Too many raw feelings to get through. I still need to figure out living in this world with a hole I didn’t have before. Or as Kristin said, an anchor that is gone. I want you to know that you will never be forgotten. I know you were so much more than a dad. You have so many friends carrying their own memories in your honor. To me though, you were just my perfect dad. Not a perfect dad. But perfect for me. You will continue to live on in me, Kristin, Shari, Mark, your grandkids and all your friends. You gave us all so many moments to hang on to.

Here is my toast to you:

I love you so much. I miss you. My heart hurts. But…I am so thankful you are no longer struggling to breathe. Shari, Kristin, Mark and I will be okay. We have each other. We will take care of each other. We have our Bruno bubble together. You certainly made sure to super glue that bond on your way out. 😉

Thank you for the love, the laughs and even the crazy traits I am stuck with. Most of all for the love you surrounded me with. The love you gave me was bigger than just you…Grandma and Grandpa…Mark and Shari. I never was, and never will be, lacking in that. I’m so proud to be a Procopio and your daughter.

In your memory, my goal is to remember to breathe deeply and enjoy the moments. And, of course, get into mischief once in a while.

I love you Dad. Cheers.

 

Bruno Salvatore Procopio: 1945 – 2018

 

To everything there is a season…

Sometime last summer while walking with KitKat, I asked a question that had been on both our minds, “Do you think it’s time to kill the blog?” The first year we launched this blog, we posted 47 times. This past year, we barely mustered up three. It’s not for lack of desire or even lack of material. It’s just that… things…change. When KitKat took a new job at a start-up and had little time to write, I picked up the slack. I didn’t mind it, as I enjoy writing and I had the time to do so. Then I started a new job myself, and suddenly I was spending all my free time working. In addition, my elderly parents were requiring more of my time. Suddenly, what had been an escape started to feel like an obligation.

My personal goal with this blog was always growth. I wanted to learn more about the blogosphere and my own discipline of writing. I also wanted to work out some personal issues through my writing. I feel like I did both of those things successfully. In many ways, I feel like I’m a completely different person than I was in 2013 when we launched this thing. And so it’s fulfilled its purpose.

bryant-mcgill-ending-new-beginning-7twaI believe “to everything there is a season” and that we’re entering a new season—older and wiser. I’m adjusting to my new job, but I know it’s going to continue to take a lot of my time in 2018. My beloved father passed away on Christmas Eve and I know that I’ll need to spend more time helping my mom this year as well. So, it’s time to end this chapter, but I have no regrets about either starting this blog or ending it. I’ve learned a lot along the way…about myself and about KitKat. I hope you’ve enjoyed our occasional rants and raves and that you keep in touch. Although we’re killing the blog, we may keep the FB page going for longer. Just to keep in touch. Peace!

A Christmas wish for a better 2017

I’ve been thinking about two of my favorite Christmas movies during this uncertain post-election season. Now, it’s no secret that neither KitKat nor I were rooting for our President-Elect to win. In fact, we were both plunged into a depression that required a fair amount of co-counseling—and wine—to overcome. While neither of us is resigned to a Trump presidency, we realize that we need to find a way to cope during the next four years and this post is my attempt at that.

KitKat and I are both members of the not-so-secret secret group, “Pantsuit Nation,” that’s comprised of Hillary supporters (or at least, non-Trump supporters). And in the days since the election, it’s been interesting to note that a shared conviction that Trumplethinskin is a narcissistic, evil Cheeto doesn’t necessarily mean that those who oppose him are lockstep in all of their viewpoints. There has been a fair amount of finger-pointing, liberal angst, fear and—alongside the shame and blame—also some impressive conviction and positivity.

Which brings me to my two favorite Christmas movies… These are Frank Capra’s masterpiece, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and the musical “Scrooge,” based on Dickens’ classic, “A Christmas Carol.”

The first time I saw “It’s a Wonderful Life,” I was 21. I was at a party on Christmas Eve and sat riveted to the TV. This was partially due to my introvert nature, but also because of the movie itself—I was entranced by Jimmy Stewart’s performance. I still watch it every year and love the quirkiness of the plot: The bravery and loyalty of young George Bailey. The sauciness of Mary Hatch. The unbelievable engineering of a retractable dance floor in a high school in the 1920s. The integrity of a grown George Bailey who turns down an impressive salary from the film’s villain (but still holds onto the high-quality cigar given to him by the same)… I love George Bailey because to me he represents the millions of decent people who do the right thing day after day with no expectation of reward or fame.

However, I think the most remarkable thing about the film is the fact that—in a very un-Hollywood-like twist—the villain never gets his come-uppance! In the movie, dastardly Old Man Potter nearly gets George sent to prison for embezzlement—and although George is saved by the contributions of his many friends at the end of the film, there is no indication that Potter is ever identified as the culprit who took the missing money. There’s no denouement where Potter is indicted and sent to Sing Sing. To the contrary, we’re led to believe that he remains unrepentant, despite George’s tribulations, and life in Bedford Falls goes on much like before. Except with a renewed outlook for George Bailey.

And for some odd reason, I like that. I guess because it smacks of reality. The lesson here isn’t to do good because some day “the bad guys will get theirs.” It’s merely to do good for the sake of being good. And this brings me back to the “Pantsuit Nation.” There are numerous posts by people who have encountered hatred and prejudice merely for being themselves—black, gay, Muslim, women—and they’ve turned around and responded with love and forgiveness: The father and son who shoveled their racist neighbor’s driveway. The woman who bought coffee for the homophobe behind her at Starbuck’s. And dozens more examples of people responding to hatred with love. And in a country where the haters seem more emboldened than ever, this is what keeps me going. This is what gives me hope.

My other holiday favorite, “Scrooge,” appeals to me for a completely different reason. Everyone knows the story: Over the course of his visits from three ghosts, a crotchety old miser comes to the realization that he’s been living his life all wrong. Redemption is a powerful thing and none of us are beyond the need for it. But to me the best part of the movie isn’t the fact that Scrooge has a change of heart—it’s how readily his acquaintances accept and celebrate his new-found enlightenment. They don’t say, “Screw you, Ebenezer—I’m not going to forgive the time you charged me 20% on that loan!” Instead, they all embrace the new-and-improved, forgiving, kinder Scrooge and rejoice in his better-late-than-never humanity.

If our country could internalize these two lessons, it would be a game changer:

  • Combat hatred with kindness—everywhere you see it. There is nothing that will disarm a hater more quickly than being responded to with love.
  • Readily accept any person’s attempts to be “better,” whether they are seeking to understand another’s viewpoints or making a small gesture of reconciliation—accept it graciously.1970-song-tiny-tim

I’m not suggesting that we ignore or discount acts of hatred, prejudice or violence… It’s very important that we acknowledge these for what they are, but don’t let them be the last word. Let the last word be love.

God bless us, everyone!*

* Note: There is no disclaimer here. “Everyone” means everyone.

An election morning surprise

This is a surprise blog. A surprise for Stormy who has been carrying all the posts. A surprise for me who has started many, but no time to finish any. A surprise topic that I wasn’t planning on. Today was a surprise.

I woke up this morning surprised about how I felt. At first I wasn’t sure what it was I was feeling. Just odd. I figured it had to do with the election. I have been listening to my vocal family and friends (including blog partner!) and reading all of the strong posts and comments behind today’s election. And of course, I have been taking part in sharing my own feelings with those I am comfortable with. But for the most part, though I do have strong feelings, I have been pretty calm. Maybe everyone else was feeling for me. Perhaps it was too much raw emotion and anger on all sides surrounding the lead up to today. Maybe I was just ready for it to be over. But overall I was the calm one of those around me. A new behavior for me.

But today that changed. I woke up. I felt. Analyzing the knot in my stomach, I tried to figure out if it was nerves. I thought through my morning plans:

  • Bring my son to the orthodontist
  • Drop him off at school
  • Go vote

That is when my eyes filled with tears. What was going on? It hit me like a brick, I am casting a vote for a woman for president. It was crazy how proud I felt.

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I didn’t have a true pantsuit to cast my vote in but I had white and wore pants!

Let me stop for a second. This post is not to infuriate people. I am not starting a last minute rally. It is not to convince anyone to change their mind. It is just a personal reflection of how something actually affected me. Surprised me.

As I got ready a long-lost memory struck me. A test I took in fifth grade, and one of the questions was writing what was required to be president. The things that stand out as requirements was being a certain age, being a citizen and being a man. Was that really on my test? I am not sure, but it is a vivid memory so if it wasn’t, my mind as a young girl was imprinted with the fact that being a man was part of being president. Funny I didn’t remember that ’til today.

It was also interesting how in the midst of this surprising emotion, how blessed I was feeling not just about the opportunity I have, but the people around me.

  1. My dad, my polar opposite on this election. Well, every election. As much as my vote will probably infuriate him (but not surprise him), I respect that he cares and showed me that politics are important and worth fighting about. He never expected nor wanted me to be a quiet, well-behaved girl. I know a piece of him will try to understand how his two daughters may actually take seeing a woman on the ballot. (No political emails dad! I know it’s not the woman you would want. If it was one you would vote for, I wouldn’t probably be able to cast my vote that way but would still smile at seeing “HER” name on the ballot.)
  2. A mom who is as  vocal and dedicated to politics as my dad, just on the other side of the spectrum. A woman who marched for women’s rights and is a proud feminist voter. She raised her daughters to be as strong and stubborn as her.
  3. My stepdad who will be casting a proud vote for a woman he strongly believes in.
  4. A daughter who will never get that a woman couldn’t be president.

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    Another surprise: My daughter’s teacher sent me this photo as I was writing this blog.

  5. My grandma who shared with me at 89 that she always voted her own mind and opposite of grandpa – though she never told him.
  6. My other grandma who is still alive and will probably cancel out my vote, but who lives her life as a strong woman who is never shy to speak her mind.
  7. My friends and sisters who represent so many different kinds of success and strength, who prove over and over there is never just one right way to be a beautiful, strong woman.

It is amazing to think there is a real chance a woman can actually be a president. It makes me proud of our country. It makes me proud to be a girl, woman, lady…..I am proud of my tears.

I woke up, I teared up

I pulled up to the polls, I teared up

I voted, I teared up

I wiped off tears my whole way to work

…and then I walked in to do my job. And thanks to strong women who battled for my rights in the past, I have a lead spot in my company. Damn, more tears.

It is a good day. I am glad that what could have been a morning to wake up filled with fear or hate – from the whole attitude of this election – turned out as a day of pride and power for me. No matter what happens, that will stay with me.

Stormy, I will meet you tonight for a drink and to watch the outcome!

A Halloween tale with a happy ending: An Orphan Blossoms in America

A few years ago, KitKat shared a scary Halloween tale of lost socks and lost patience. This year, I have a scary story of my own. A poor rural Chinese family gives birth to a baby boy. This would usually be cause for rejoicing, but this family already has two children—a school-age daughter and a three-year-old girl. Given the political and economic circumstances in China, they aren’t allowed to have three children, so one of them must go. The older daughter is in school and contributes to the household. Due to a centuries-old tradition, the baby boy will be responsible for supporting the parents in their old age. Therefore, the “logical choice” is the precocious preschooler—the girl with the smile like sunshine whose antics make her parents laugh and delight in her warm, open personality. They’re poor and not able to support all of their children. The girl is malnourished despite being well-loved.

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The ceiling of the Tianjin train station has a mural of a guardian angel, protecting those on their journey

The parents are too heartbroken to part with their darling daughter, so her grandparents volunteer to take care of things. They bring her to the train station. With so many people coming and going, nobody will notice a small child left behind. At least, not right away. Eventually a train station official notices the small girl crying on the platform. She’s looking for Lao-ye and Ye-ye and wondering where they are. The station official gives the frightened child a piece of candy and takes her to his office while he calls the local police. He’s hoping it’s a case of a lost child and not an abandoned one, but his heart tells him otherwise. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, children are going from house to house saying “Trick or treat!” The whole evening is devoted to frightful pranks that aren’t really scary, because they’re only make-believe. However, for the girl back in China, the scenario that’s unfolding is truly frightening.

The girl is taken to the police station where they keep her for three days. They are waiting to see if she is in fact a lost child and merely separated from her family or one of the many unfortunate girls whose family cannot afford to keep her, due to a social system that places responsibility for aging parents on the sons.

After three days in police custody, the officials face the sad fact that nobody is searching for the child. They bring her to the local orphanage where she is given a new identity and a chance for a better life.

KitKat and I are both parents of adopted daughters and the story I just told is my imagined “horror story” of my daughter’s early childhood. Blossom was abandoned on Halloween, so witches and ghost decorations in the stores always make me reflect on this. My daughter turned 21 last November. This is a milestone for any young person, because they are finally recognized as an adult in all respects. But for Blossom, birthdays have always carried a little twist: You see, her birthday was “assigned” to her the day she came to the orphanage.

When we first discovered that, I was a little dismayed. “You mean, we won’t know how old she really is?” I thought. Then, upon reflection I realized this was a pretty trivial matter. After all, she came to the orphanage when she was around three. The orphanage director was a doctor and assessed her as being three years old. In thinking about my (many) nieces and nephews, I realized that the margin of error on predicting a three-year-old child’s age is only +/- six months at best (in other words, you’re unlikely to mistake a six year old for being three) so I figured this was close enough to not worry about it. Her assigned birthday meant she would always be one of the older kids in her class, so that seemed to add a layer of security, ensuring she would be sufficiently mature for the various rites of passage.

Traditionally in China, all children were considered “one year old” at birth and then would age by one year at the lunar new year and on each lunar new year thereafter. So the fact that Blossom’s true age was a little “off” from her celebrated birthday actually seemed to pay homage to her Chinese heritage.

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Gong, Hua (soon-to-be Blossom, in the Green School Hyogo t-shirt, front row) with her classmates at the Tianjin Children’s Welfare Institute

When the orphanage officials brought Blossom in to meet us—her Mama and Baba—for the first time, my immediate reaction was “Oh my God, she’s only two!” Our information had told us she was four-and-a-half, but she was a little peanut and didn’t look older than two. I panicked a bit, because as parents of two other children, we weren’t really expecting to go all the way back to the toddler stage. However, soon after interacting with her, we could see that she was no toddler. For example, she could tie her shoes—and we could tell that she was quite clever in making little verbal remarks (even though they were in Chinese and we couldn’t understand anything she was saying). We asked the orphanage director how confident he was in the age he had assigned to her, and he responded, “She’s four alright—four going on eight!” (referring to her precociousness).

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Blossom being carried off the plane by baba to start her new life in America

So we had no medical reason to change her birthdate—and I had another more important reason to keep it. With an older “waiting child,” the rules are different than for adopting a typical international baby, thus I had been inquiring into Blossom’s adoption availability, only to be told another family was working on adopting her. For whatever reason, the other couple decided not to proceed, and the day the orphanage called to tell me that she was available to us was on her assigned birthday. So, you see, on that day she was “born” into our family as our next daughter. So in my heart her birthday has always seemed appropriate.

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Always challenging herself

Unlike a lot of adopted children, Blossom has never drilled us for details around her adoption. One of the blessings of adopting a child of another race is it’s a pretty in-your-face move. When you see our family, four Scandinavian Minnesotans with a short Asian girl, it’s clear she’s adopted. Which in many regards, has simplified things. And truthfully, although we’re all well aware that Blossom has a different genetic and cultural background (when her parents are acting too weird, she likes to lord over her img_3303siblings the fact that she’s actually NOT genetically predisposed to the weirdness, whereas they are), we don’t really give it a second thought in our day-to-day lives. I knew I would adopt before I ever had biological children, so she was always part of “the plan,” and we’re very much a regular family with all of the idiosyncrasies that brings. I wish I could tell her birth mom that our shared daughter is living a life filled with opportunity that she never could have imagined on that sad Halloween in China. And Blossom acknowledges the uniqueness of her circumstances by wanting to contribute to the betterment of the world in some way. And I know she will. She already is.

Why ProTrump is NOT Prolife

A lot of prolife Christians are in a quandary over Donald Trump. They realize he’s a fool, yet know that he’s likely to appoint a conservative judge to the Supreme Court, which is a necessary step if they hope to overturn Roe v. Wade. As a result, many are conflicted about how to vote on November 8th.

guiltNow Stormy has been prolife for as long as she has been aware of the issue. In grade school, back in the post-Roe v. Wade late-70s, a women’s group visited our parochial school classroom to tell us about the issue of abortion. But they didn’t just bring pamphlets and rhetoric, they brought “visual aids” in the form of embryos and fetuses in glass jars preserved in formaldehyde. (Were they aborted? miscarried? I don’t know the details, I was only about 10 or 11 at the time.) All I can tell you is that peering at their tiny features in different stages of development affirmed to me that 1) they were tiny people 2) it was impossible to tell at what stage they went from being “a blob of cells” to tiny people. One of them even had a bruise where his/her head was hitting the glass—a very “human” reaction that I could relate to as a fairly rough-and-tumble girl who was usually sporting a few bruises and scrapes herself.

Obviously, no school could get away with this today. Not even a Catholic school. Parents would declare it traumatizing, although if society is deeming these babies to be mere tissue, than it shouldn’t be any more traumatizing than looking at gallstones in a science class. But I digress. My point in telling you this story was only to point out that I’m writing this as someone who is opposed to abortion in all but the most extreme cases.

jimmySo, as a prolife Christian who has voted on this issue myself in the past, I’m not experiencing any such conflict. Why? It’s simple. Trump is not prolife. Being prolife extends far beyond appointing conservative judges or regulating against abortion. It means respecting life. It means working to ensure that everyone has health insurance and access to affordable birth control. It means fathers stepping up to take care of their children. It means creating sensible gun laws to safeguard against senseless violence. It means offering compassion to victims of war. It means respecting and supporting people with disabilities. It means expanding education to strengthen future generations.

republican_jesusUltimately, being prolife means respecting, affirming and supporting life—at all ages and stages. It means advocating for life every. single. time. Trump has proven over and over that the only life he cares about is his own.

The number of abortions is at its lowest point since Roe v. Wade due to a number of factors, including education and better access to birth control. These are the kinds of issues pro-lifers need to focus on—and vote on—in the next election because the values that Trump preaches ultimately show a lack of respect for human life…a “looking out for Number One” mentality that inevitably will only lead to more loss of life.

The family you choose…

At the beginning of summer, my company lost a dear colleague unexpectedly. This woman was the kind of person who had friends everywhere—at all levels within the business, in all geographies—and it sent everyone into shock and mourning. Fiona had relocated to the US from our UK office but was born and raised in Ireland. During the last decade, she worked mostly in Minnesota, spent a couple of years running our India office, and patched together a wide network of friendships that included coworkers and even clients. During her brief hospitalization and subsequent death, the closest of those friends gathered together with her parents who had flown over from Ireland to help plan her services, settle her affairs and share a decade’s worth of memories, laughs and tears.

At her memorial service, someone referred to these closest friends as the “family Fiona chose” to surround herself with when she was far away from her actual family back in Ireland… and that phrase stuck with me… I think we all do this, to some extent. Even when our actual families are just down the street.

friend signThere is an inherent difference between family and friends—at least in my introverted view of the world. While regular friends are a great addition to one’s life, they can invoke a bit of anxiety for an introvert: Do I seem friendly enough? Am I being “fun”? Am I acting like a dork? (Shades of junior high.)

Family is another matter. They’re stuck with me—in all of my dysfunctional glory. If a family member drops by unannounced, I throw open the door without worrying that the house is a mess. If there’s a lull in the conversation, I’m not compelled to fill it. They can see me without my make-up or with a stain on my shirt and I won’t lose sleep over it. We can bicker about something, but I know they’ll love me anyway. Sometimes, however, despite our love for our families, we don’t always share the same views or interests. And so we may not hang out with them the way we would a friend. But when friends and family come together in the same person, it’s a beautiful thing.Clean

I have lots of acquaintances, but I have a smaller number of “friends” and an even smaller subset of friends that I would classify as “family I choose.” But when I realize someone has reached this hallowed status, I try not to take them for granted.

KitKat, for better or worse, has reached this status. We’ve known each other for 18 years and know the ways in which we’re different and the ways in which we’re exactly the same. I can always trust her to “give it to me straight” when I need a dose of reality. At the same time, if I’m anxious or upset about something, I know she’ll say exactly the right thing to calm me down. Since KitKat’s the oldest girl in her family and I’m the youngest in mine, our relationship gives me the chance to be the big sister and her the chance to be the little sister… Because, alas, I’m four years older, I’ve undergone certain milestones first. Both the good (marriage, children) and the bad (turning 50). For all of that, it works well. After all, I’m capable of giving awesome advice (even if I don’t always follow it myself) and KitKat is great at helping me envision a better version of myself.

I’m blessed to have a few other friends in this category as well—and also a couple of family members who I think would still be “chosen family” even if they weren’t already sharing the same last name.

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This one is dedicated to Fiona. 🙂

At my colleague’s memorial service, it was clear that her chosen family knew they were special to Fiona. She made a point of living her life that way. Her death was a reminder to make sure my own “chosen family” understands what they mean to me.