Category Archives: Work/careers

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. 🙂

Fashion over 40: Catwalk or Tightrope?

The year I turned 40, I instantly became more self-conscious about my clothing choices. I had always liked fashion, but I didn’t want to be one of those women who looked like she was trying too hard to hang on to her youth (aka: “mutton dressed as lamb”). Plus, with two adolescent girls, I didn’t want to embarrass them by trying to look like their peers.

At the same time, I like clothes. I like to be comfortable. I like what I like and I don’t like to be subjected to “rules” that are determined by my age. Over the last several years, I’ve become more comfortable with determining what’s right for me. And I think I walk that tightrope between fashion and appropriateness pretty well. But if I start to lose my balance, you can bet that my now 18- and 21-year-old daughters will extend a hand to save me from making a serious style misstep.

Case in point: Last year, I was obsessed with a leather sheath dress from Banana Republic. It was a classic style in soft brown leather—more polished and unexpected than the predictable black—so I thought I could put a professional spin on it and wear it to the office. sheath_dressMore expensive than my usual wardrobe choices, I watched the website for a sale. First it was in stock, but not on sale, then on sale, but out of stock. Finally the planets aligned: It was in stock and on sale. I ordered it and waited impatiently for my new purchase to arrive. A few days later the package was delivered. I rushed upstairs to try it on. It really was a lovely dress, with buttery supple leather. But when I tried it on and looked in the mirror: Meh. Despite the sizeable investment, it didn’t transform me the way I’d hoped. And at my age, I can’t afford to let my fashion dollars sit idle. Or was I just being too critical because of the hefty price tag? Looking for a second opinion, I walked downstairs and modeled my new purchase. “Whaddaya think?” I asked my husband and daughter. My husband (ever the diplomat) answered, “It’s nice.” My daughter—on the other hand—responded, “Mom, you look like a couch.”  With that appraisal, I had to face the cold hard truth: I wasn’t fashionable, I was furniture. Needless to say, back went the dress…

A fashion miss is one thing, but I take other “don’ts” more seriously.

Ummmm. "Don't"

Ummmm. “Don’t” (Photo credits: Michael Tran/FilmMagic)

For example, the fine line between “attractive” and “suggestive.” Having a rather delicate décolleté (i.e., the “girls” are truly “girls,” not full-grown “ladies”), I don’t have to worry about excess cleavage. But is this skirt too short? …this dress too form-fitting? …these heels too tall? I always struggle with finding the right balance.

Years ago, when KitKat and I worked together, if we were trying to evaluate whether something was inappropriate for work we had a foolproof test: The Bob Miller Axiom—named for a somewhat salacious coworker. If you were wearing anything borderline, you could rely on Bob to compliment you on it. And then you knew beyond a doubt that you probably shouldn’t wear that outfit to the office again.

In fact, when my husband and I ran into Bob and his wife on the beach as part of a work incentive trip, he even complimented me on my bikini. Now everyone knows that if you’re among coworkers in swimwear, you should assume a Cloak of Invisibility. That is, you do not acknowledge the aforementioned swimming attire, you don’t take candid photos and post them on Facebook, and most importantly, you don’t compliment the 30-something coworker’s taste in swimwear while you’re standing there with your 60-something wife.

With all these perils, you’d think it would be easier to just choose a “uniform” and stick with it (and as someone who spent her formative years in parochial school, I’ll admit to still having a bit of a thing for Black Watch plaid). Yes, while playing it safe would certainly be easier—and shave some time off my morning routine—I know I’ll continue to walk the tightrope. Because fashion is fun. Fashion is expressive. And when you’re in Marketing, you can justify spending more than you should on clothes by telling yourself your chosen field requires a stylish career wardrobe … at least that’s the creative rationalization KitKat and I employ. After all what better way to subtly underscore your keen grasp of pop culture and trends? Hey, whatever pays the (shoe) bills!  😉

Power of the Clover!

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

Power of the Clover!

Power of the Clover!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stormy freaking out.

Stormy freaking out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pope John XXIII 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re never too old to play hooky

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

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

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

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

A Sea Dragon

A Sea Dragon at the Minnesota Zoo

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

When is lunch?

When is lunch?

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

Not a bad role model for a pope!

Not a bad role model for a pope!

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

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

The sweet smell of spring

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

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

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

Florida vignettes, part I: The work chronicles

I recently returned from a trip to Florida. An industry conference brought me to The Sunshine State and since my folks spend their winters there, I tacked on a couple of days to visit them. This trip produced a number of blog-worthy moments. But many of them could be considered incriminating to myself or others, so I’m just going to share with you some random and relatively harmless vignettes.

A room with a view

Generally, when I travel for work, I end up in a room overlooking a rooftop and related heating and cooling systems or perhaps hotel rooms in another wing of the hotel.

Room with a view

Room with a view

This was my view on this trip. Beautiful, right? And even better, I could leave the drapes open the whole time and wake up to the gorgeous sunrise. (Okay, someone on a passing tanker or cruise ship may have caught a glimpse of my naked-out-of-the-shower self, but I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.)

First-world problems

A consistent problem when I travel is what to do about my caffeine addiction. As you may have gathered from my confession about drinking coffee in the shower, I need my morning cuppa merely to cope with the onerous task of getting showered and dressed. I’m also very particular about my joe. My standard coffee is a dark roast, brewed strong (brewed coffee should be completely opaque), diluted with a generous splash of half-and-half, with the addition of a teaspoon of sugar (regular old sugar, not some new-fangled substitute) and a teaspoon of Ghirardelli ground chocolate. Sugar and chocolate are optional (though preferred), but half-and-half is not (although cream, whipped cream and ice cream can be used in a pinch). Bailey’s is also an acceptable substitute, but not recommended on workdays.

A coffee shelf!

A coffee shelf!

So how do I make-do with in-room coffee? I put two pods into the single-serving machine for a nice espresso-like base and, thankfully, Westins provide real half-and-half vs. the wretched powder. In fact, after two days of noticing me using up all four little containers, the maid got wise and left me six. (I left a good housekeeping tip in exchange for this thoughtfulness.)

And guess what? This Westin even had a coffee shelf in the shower!

Miami Vice: A classy joint

At our industry conferences, we typically host dinners for clients and prospects and this event was no exception. The last evening, we hosted a large dinner party. We had rented out the lounge of a fine-dining establishment and planned a generous menu of wine, seafood and other delights. For transportation, our event manager arranged for pontoon boats to shuttle guests to the restaurant along the intercoastal waterway, so everyone could enjoy the beautiful evening and see the various mansions that line the route. Everything was carefully planned to ensure a lovely evening.

Being on the first pontoon to arrive at the restaurant, I ducked off the boat and headed to the restroom to see how windblown my hair was after the boat ride. That’s when things took an interesting turn. I opened the ladies room door to two strippers changing clothes. How do I know they were strippers? Well, to be honest, I’m merely making a judgment based on visual evidence: Fur thigh-high boots, sequined bra, hot pants. You decide.

Our intention was to provide a first-class experience for our guests, so this was an unexpected wrinkle. I stood outside the restroom sending panicky texts to our event planner and sales staff. I wasn’t sure whether they were changing into or out of the attire mentioned earlier, and I was trying to decide whether I should act shocked or amused if the women walked out in full regalia and were spotted by our guests. But eventually the ladies left in their street clothes (vs. street walker clothes) and I breathed a sigh of relief. Crisis averted.

However, that introduction set the tone for the rest of our party. From what we could gather, the restaurant is frequented by those in the import/export business (wink, wink) and their regulars are accustomed to living large. The cars in the parking lot were a motorhead’s fantasy and the bar tab for the 60-person private party in the next room totaled $50k according to the waitstaff. (That’s $833+ per person, if anyone cares to do the math.)

Oysters were served in a giant tub, shrimp cocktail appeared on a ceramic elephant two-feet high, and desserts were served out of a giant silver spoon. (The same size as the tacky wooden one in my mother’s kitchen!) Everything was completely over-the-top in the blingiest, Miami Vice sort of way. Ironically, the whole experience became the night’s entertainment–an unexpected bonus. The food was great, our guests were jovial and a good time was had by all.

After the conference ended, I spent an afternoon on the beach with a few coworkers and clients to rest up for the second half of my Florida adventure–a visit with my elderly parents in the heart of the state. Stay tuned for part II…

Do we really need an excuse to party?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frugality vs. Sanity: The fine art of creative rationalization

I was raised by parents who were children during The Great Depression. This has served me well in many ways… My parents instilled in us kids an appreciation for hard work and frugality that has put me into a relatively comfortable financial situation. However, it’s had an interesting side effect on my psyche and that is a knee-jerk aversion toward paying for services that I can do myself for much cheaper. A prime example: House cleaning. As one of nine kids, you can bet I was taught how to clean. However, once my career started to take off, I hated spending my limited free time cleaning—yet hiring someone else to clean seemed so “elite.” It felt like a slap in the face of my mother and mother-in-law, both of whom maintained large family households without any domestic help (well, except for the help provided by the aforementioned large families–did I mention I know how to clean?).

feather dusterA discussion with a coworker at the time changed my view. She relayed some advice from an executive in the company who had similar concerns over hiring a lawn service. He asked himself whether his limited free time was better spent mowing the lawn or focusing on his career, and he chose the latter, knowing his executive salary would more than offset the cost of the lawn service. This perspective made economic sense, as well as career sense. I had found the perfect rationalization to alleviate any guilt I felt about hiring housecleaners: I wasn’t a lazy slug or spoiled princess–I was a competent working mother making a strategic investment in my career. Bam!

Over the years, I was able to apply a similar rationale to a few other paid services. For example, hiring a plowing service is easy to justify with my husband’s disability and I creatively rationalize my rather expensive hair cuts/color by going to my niece who is a senior stylist at a local salon (because I’m supporting a relative in her career, haha).

The one line that I could not cross—until recently—was paying for a gym. This is most directly related to my upbringing. Thankfully, my Dear Old Dad is still on this planet, but if he weren’t, the thought of me paying a company money for the privilege of sweating would make him roll over in his grave. Actually, exercise for the sake of exercise would confound him when there is a world of productive exercise—in the old days we called them chores—just ripe for the pickin’… (And if the “chore” is weeding the yard, that’s a very literal analogy!)

I figured what my Dad doesn’t know can’t hurt him. And I knew that a lack of exercise could have much more expensive consequences down the line–in the case of my parents, consequences like diabetes, joint problems, high blood pressure–things that can be prevented or lessened through exercise. So guess what I decided to do?

I’ll tell you about my fitness adventures in a future post. Meanwhile, they say everything has its price… So I’m curious: What are the jobs that are most worthwhile for you to outsource?

How this came about: KitKat’s story

I woke up one day as a grown up. No one tells you how to be that. Sometimes I excel at it and other times I am tripping through it.

Looking at myself from the outside, I see a woman busy raising two young kids, enjoying great family and friends, and building a demanding but good career. Shouldn’t that be enough? Isn’t it all I ever wanted? If I have it all, why do I fantasize about giving it all up and running away to sell toe rings on a beach? Maybe I need to add another distraction to my already over-scheduled life?

Usually a glass of wine and good girlfriends get me over the hump. Lately, the more I talk with others, the more I find out I’m not alone in my contradictions and craziness. Take Stormy for example, she was my professional mentor, the one who always provided words of wisdom through my ups and downs, gave sound advice on marriage, parenting, and career choices. Yep, the one who had it all together! So as our friendship grew over the years and we became peers, I was surprised (and secretly thrilled) to discover not even she had it all figured out and put together.

Since talking and sharing is what has helped us get through some major and minor internal struggles, we’re hoping this blog will allow other women to know they aren’t crazy – or if they are, well at least realize they are in good company. I also am hoping that by writing down and examining all the contradictions running though my head, I will finally discover that perfect balance between adding new excitement and being content with what’s already there. I have a feeling that this is easier said than done.