Tag Archives: Advice

Big book of advice makes great good nights

After I glance at the front page of the newspaper every morning, I turn to the advice columns.

(My newspaper nowadays is electronic, and I read it on my iPad. I feel strongly I get the least biased news reports from newspaper; it’s still biased, but less so. If you’re getting all your news on Facebook or 24-hour news networks, please reconsider your sources.)

Beyond the news, I’m addicted to Ask Amy and Carolyn Hax and Dear Abby. But the woman who started it all (or, at least, made it famous) was Ann Landers, otherwise known as Esther Pauline “Eppie” Lederer (she took over the “Ask Ann Landers” column in 1955 a few months before her sister began offering advice under the pen name Abigail Van Buren).

It’s the letters that are so fascinating (though I like comparing my own advice to the column authors’). Truth is stranger than fiction, and people are weird. I suppose the true confession is that the columns made me feel morally superior. “At least I’m not that stupid or crazy.”

In an effort to escape violent television shows and the bombastic talking heads on 24-hour news networks at the end of the day, I recently picked up Ann Landers’ Wake Up and Smell the Coffee! Advice, Wisdom, and Uncommon Good Sense, a whole book of advice columns! It was published in 1996 and a little bit quaint but still compelling. I read a chapter or so of letters and answers before drifting off to sleep, and it was mindlessly satisfying.

Since I love true stories anyway, this was a good way to enjoy true stories without getting wrapped up in a memoir about sorrow, sickness or psychos. The advice guru covers relationships, sex, work, aging, disease and death, all with wit, insight and humor. Ann Landers was a gem, and her book will remind you of it (or introduce you, if you’re a younger type of reader).

Sweet dreams.

A great day


Oh, that face.

I’ve watched that smirk blossom from the cherub-like visage of a 12-year-old boy to the masculine features of a 21-year-old college graduate.

Congratulations, Adored Stepson.

He officially passed through the portal of adulthood today when he graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. (He did it in three years, folks. Count ’em, three. No one graduates with a college degree in three years. OK, some people do, but it took me five. So I’m impressed. But thanks to PSEO which helped him earn college credit in high school and a nose-to-the-grindstone approach to earning credits that meant something, he earned his degree in business administration in record time.)

Back to the face. The one to Caswell’s left.

While we were taking celebratory pictures this morning near the river where River Falls gets its name, we passed this brick wall spray painted with a mugshot. Like a Rorschach test, the viewer assigns its meaning. Stepson saw George Bush. The one with the W.

I see Lyndon Johnson. And I can’t read the hashtag.

But for the sake of conversation (and an ending to this blog post), let me quote from George W.’s commencement speech last year at Southern Methodist University:

It is a glorious day when your child graduates from college — and a really great day for your bank account.

I’m kidding. He really did say that. But he also said this:

To those of you who are graduating this afternoon with high honors, awards, and distinctions, I say, “well done.” And as I like to tell the “C” students: You, too, can be President.

Funny guy, that George W. OK, enough goofing around. Bush also said this, and I share this to encourage my Stepson, who somehow became a bit cynical since the first day I met him when he recounted the entire plot to Eragon by Christopher Paolini while sitting across from me in a booth at Space Aliens cafe (he was so cute telling me all the details of a boy who finds a mysterious stone in the mountains). Maybe this commencement quote from Bush will encourage you, too.

Today, some doubt America’s future, and they say our best days are behind us. I say, given our strengths—one of which is a bright new generation like you—these are not dark days. These are great days.


Best piece of advice I’ve heard in, like, five years:

“Flutter on the wings of a butterfly.”

Meaning, you can’t control most things in life anyway so go with the flow.

I remember adopting this attitude nine years ago when I left my first husband and began dating the man who would become my Beloved. I loved that fearless, bring-it-on perspective, and when I heard the flutter-butterfly line this morning, I thought, “Yeah, let go of the control freak. Be one with the chaos.”

To be clear, my life right now is in a big comfortable rut — no divorce, no multi-state move, no career change, no health challenge — but going with the flow means gliding with the lulls and appreciating the quiet, too.

The early evening light is finally beginning to feel like summer. The sun even poked out from behind the clouds today. Memorial Day weekend is a week away.

May the butterflies alight on summer’s flowers.

Horse racing tips for amateur bettors

If you’re serious about finding good horse racing tips, look elsewhere. Over my lifetime, I’ve lost more than I’ve wagered so I clearly don’t know what I’m doing.

But today, I won the daily double!

That’s a whopping $30.40, baby!

Because I’m just that sort of gal, I’m going to share my secret betting tricks with you, my dear Minnesota Transplant readers:

  • Never bet more than you can afford to lose. For me, that’s $2 a race. I figure I easily acquire $2 worth of entertainment from the 10-15 minutes I’m dreaming of the big payout and the scant two minutes I’m rooting for a particular horse.
  • Stick with exotic bets. Oh, some folks recommend personally meaningful picks, like choosing according to a horse’s name or birthday or a favorite color worn by a jockey, and some people like betting on the favorites or the long shots every time, but me? I stick with random choices and wild bets like trifectas and Pick 6s. This is how you win the big money.
  • Never bet on gray. This is advice from my mother I have found to be pretty sound.

So, how did that work out today, a gorgeous summer afternoon at Arlington Park?

Race 1: I bet $2 on Onedayatatyme to show. Betting “to show” is not an exotic bet — it’s the safest, most boring bet there is; I was violating my own tricks though I did sort of like the horse’s name. He come in 4th. The long shot won. No gray horse in this race.

Race 2: I bet $2 on Gran Torine, a long shot, to show. He came in 5th, right behind the gray horse. A horse with 6-1 odds won.

Race 3: I bet a $2 exacta box on long shots with cool names: Zes T Cat and Misty Castle. Misty Castle came in fourth and Zes T Cat was lost in the pack. A favorite won. No gray.

Race 4: I bet $1 on the Pick 6 (meaning I had to pick the winner in this race and the following 5 races). I got two of the 6 right (which, with a quarter, won’t even get me a phone call home). A long shot won this race. The gray horse finished second to last.

Race 5: I bet $3 on a trifecta box of favorites. One of the three placed, and a long shot won. No gray.

Race 6: I bet $2 on a daily double of favorites. My horse in the first race came in 5th (just ahead of the gray horse) so it didn’t matter what my horse in the second race did. A long shot won.

Race 9: [If you’re keeping track, you’ll notice I skipped races 7 & 8, but then, I already told you I won a daily double, so I’m preserving whatever suspense I have left.] I bet $2 on the favorite to place. He showed. And the gray horse won. Darn.

Races 7 & 8: I bet $2 on a daily double of favorites. After I walked away from the teller’s window, I realized my horse in Race 7 — Mr. Mostly — was gray. Ugh! Doomed! Mr. Mostly A Waste Of Money, I thought. But no! Mr. Mostly won. Now all I needed was Let’s Call A Truce — a chestnut beauty and the clear favorite — to win Race 8. He started out in last place and stayed there for three-quarters of the race, but Let’s Call A Truce was a closer and close he did! He won by a length.

I parlayed my $2 daily double into $30.40, meaning I won $14.40 more than I wagered all day. This would be considered good by some. Except I paid $8 admission, $2.50 for a program, $7 for an executive box seat upgrade, $3 for a bottle of water, $9 for a Cactus Cooler, $10.95 for a Snacks & Dips plate and $6 for a glass of Zinfandel. Which means I left $32.05 at the track.

OK, so I’m a big loser.

But if there’s any tricks I’ve learned about gambling, it’s this: Only brag about what you win. And I won the daily double!

What to do when you’re fed up

Are you sick to death of an important relationship, your weight, your inertia on a project or the pigsty you call an office?

Whatever it is with which you’re fed up (for me, it was the pigsty), consider wallowing in your fed-upness before reacting prematurely.

The term “fed up” comes from the barn yard.

Imagine cows or pigs being force-fed to make them fat and meaty for market. They are fed until they are full and then fed a little bit more to get the best price before slaughter. They’re trapped in their stall with ready access to the trough, no longer free to graze in the meadow or root around for tasty morsels in the pen.

That’s how it feels to be fed up. Overfull. Trapped. Slaughter looming. Being fed up is having had more than enough of something, whatever it is. So when you’re fed up, you’re understandably tempted to quit or get away from or otherwise take rash action with the something.

Don’t do that quite yet.

How about doing nothing?

Control is an illusion. We itty bitty human beings have control of nothing. Oh, sure you can choose to eat this or that, but really, we’re all standing at the trough of life, dining on what’s in front of us.

Should you quit or wait until you’re fired? Same result, different timing. I don’t get to choose whether I get wrinkles. I only get to choose whether I can afford the wrinkle cream and laser treatments to stave them off (temporarily). My brother, the smoker? He died in a car accident.

Stuff happens. Inevitably.

like a dandelion disintegrating in the windEverything in this world is impermanent. Except our souls. I believe our souls are eternal. But everything else will eventually dissolve, break, end or disappear. And it probably won’t happen on our timetable.

So to think we can somehow control anything is dubious at best.

I’m reading a fascinating book. Have I mentioned it already? Yeah, it’s that good. In “A New Earth,” author Eckhart Tolle says, “sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on.”

Maybe your suffering is necessary. Instead of trying to get rid of it, consider trying to roll with it and quit trying to predict what will happen. As Tolle might say, “The more expectations you have of how [your] life should unfold, the more you are in your mind instead of being present for [it].”

Maybe whatever it is with which you’re fed up is a necessary experience, a crucial step in a much bigger process. From “A New Earth”:

You differentiate between events that are “good for me” and things that are “bad.” This is a fragmented perception of the wholeness of life in which everything is interconnected, in which every event has its necessary place and function within the totality. The totality, however, is more than the surface appearance of things, more than the sum total of its parts, more than whatever your life or the world contains.

When you’re fed up, that phase of doing nothing, rolling with it and accepting the greater wisdom of the interconnected universe helps prevent reaction and informs action. At some point, you’ll know what to do.

I am reminded of some advice from Cheryl Lightle, one of the co-founders of Creative Memories, which declared bankruptcy a couple of months ago and is in the midst of a reorganization some might describe as chaotic. Lightle retired a decade ago after 15 years of epic success, and I’ll let someone else opine on whether the company’s current woes can be found in the abandonment of some of guiding principles followed by Lightle and other top execs in the company during its infancy.

In her book, “Creative Memories: The 10 Timeless Principles Behind the Company that Pioneered the Scrapbooking Industry,” Lightle counsels, “Don’t knee jerk”:

Change is hard. Our immediate reaction when faced with change is to take action. I say stop and hold tight.

Was my complete and total lack of willingness to address my messy office the past couple of weeks somehow interconnected with the universe? Perhaps. I cannot say for sure. But I wallowed in it for a while. Was change hard? Yes, cleaning takes effort (at least for me). Today, I took action (not reaction) and found a home for every file, photo album, manuscript draft, unsold product, outdated handout and book cluttering the floor of my office. For some items, the home was nearby (the bookcase), and for others, their destination was the garbage can in the garage (why I was holding on to catalogs from 2004 is beyond me). I cleared enough space to vacuum! Ah, never has such a lowly household machine been put such a higher purpose.

I’m no longer fed up. I’m admiring my space.

Looky there! Space for the pretty puppy to lounge.

Looky there! Space for the pretty puppy to lounge.

10 random tips for improving your life

Sure, the big decisions are important — get an education, marry the right person, do work you love — but often, after you establish the big things — or if you get the big things wrong — it’s the little habits that make every day better.

It required a solid 40 years to learn these things, but now that I’ve incorporated them into my life, I live better. I share them so you may live better, too.

1. Eat fruit with breakfast. No matter what else you eat, eat a piece of fruit. It’s always time to go grocery shopping when I’ve run out of fruit. Bananas are the no-excuse go-to option because you can even eat a banana on the bus, in the car, while you check your email when you get to work. If you have any hope of getting 5 a day (i.e., five servings of fruits and vegetables a day), you have to have at least one at breakfast.

2. Air dry your bras. Today’s bras with their space-age materials do not hold up well in the high heat of the dryer. And my bras don’t even do any heavy lifting. If you have large breasts, it’s even more important to treat your bras with care.

3. Set a timer to do unsavory tasks. I can unload half the dishwasher while I’m heating water for tea. I can file at least five things while my computer warms up. I can run (or walk) for 20 minutes. I can make at least eight phone calls in an hour. If I have a lot of housework, I set a timer (30 minutes, 60 minutes, 90 minutes, whatever) and turn up the music. I focus for the allotted time, and I have permission to quit when the timer goes off, no matter how much I’ve accomplished. It’s better than procrastinating and getting nothing accomplished.

4. Garnish your soup. Soup is a delicious, filling and usually healthy choice for lunch or dinner. But any soup is better with a garnish. Toasted croutons on tomato soup. Shredded cheese and bacon bits on potato soup. A dollop of sour cream (and maybe a few pepitos) on almost anything. Presentation matters. Feed your eyes as well as your stomach.

5. Floss. Flossing regularly improves your breath and your health. Once you get the hang of it, it takes seconds. And it costs next to nothing. If you need help getting started, commit to doing it every day for three weeks no matter how inconvenient and see how No. 6 works.

6. You can train your brain. Habits work. If nagging, negative thoughts keep coming into your head, then keep banishing them. Eventually, the positive will sink in. Don’t dwell. Bad habits can be replaced with good habits if you’ll just give them a chance. “You are good enough, you are smart enough and people like you” as the “Saturday Night Live” character Stuart Smalley would say. Stuart Smalley might be a dork, but he’s a dork whose creator is a best-selling author and is now serving on the U.S. Senate.

7. Facebook is a process, not a destination. There is not just one way to be a friend. Be present. Write. Call. And if you’re friends on Facebook, use the information in the real world: Invite people to events, mention news you learn on Facebook on the phone, send a card based about important posts. For real friends, Facebook is a means, not an end.

8. Use fresh lemon, garlic and basil. The dried, reconstituted stuff has no flavor and is a waste of money. These ingredients are affordable and they improve the taste of basic foods like pasta, fish and eggs. Fresh lemon juice plus sugar and water makes the most divine summer drink. Fresh garlic is an essential ingredient in world cuisines like Asian, Italian, Mediterranean and Mexican dishes. Even a person as completely uninterested in gardening as me adores her basil plant every summer.

9. Don’t waste your time on local television news. It’s alarmist infotainment, and the weatherman doesn’t know what he’s talking about anyway. It’s cheap and empty. The TV shouldn’t be on during dinner whether you dine alone or with someone, and you could use the sleep more than the 10 p.m. crime report. The only time I watch TV news is in the morning when I’m running at the fitness center; at least then I’m multitasking.

10. Walk your dog. No matter what size she is. If you don’t have a dog, you’re off the hook on this tip. But if you own a dog, go for a walk. Dogs love walks (or, if you’re the right person and she’s the right dog, runs). I was 41 before I owned a dog, but I love her like no other pet. Dogs are pack animals, and you can be the leader of the pack — no one at your house will greet you with as much enthusiasm as your dog when you come home. If you feed and pet your beast, you have a friend for life. Walking your dog gets you outside, forces you to smell the roses (and any number of other things along your route), gets you moving and relaxes you.

Bonus tip: 11. Pray. Even if you’re not particularly religious, prayer helps. You won’t always get the answers you want or expect, but the very act of assigning control of chaos to Someone (or Something) else will improve the situation. Scientific studies have proven the power of prayer.

What did I miss? What little piece of advice do you to share to make life better? Do tell.