Tag Archives: Lists

What I cast away in 2016

Americans, I think, tend to think about things — everything — in terms of gain. Bigger means better. More is good. The best houses are mansions. Personal income and the stock market should always go up. Value meals are valuable because they offer more calories for the buck. The Grand Canyon is worth seeing because it’s, well, grand.

I look at my accomplishments like this. A job worth doing is even better when I can multi-task. Any day is a better day when I can look back on a long list of things to do that got done. A year is always better when it was full.

But 2016 was not of year of making gains for me, it was a year of losing things. Mostly, I lost clutter, an untidy collection of people, places and things no one wants.

A big thing I lost was a court case. I wrote about this court case last January, when we were in the midst of trial. To summarize a seven-year ordeal as succinctly as I can, I was among four named plaintiffs suing on behalf of 400 fellow employees to recoup our retirement fund. I was hopeful a year ago that we would prevail, but we didn’t. The judge issued his ruling in September and I learned, much to my dismay, that losers have to pay the winners’ court fees. Yeah, first I lost my retirement, then I lost the court case and then I was on the hook to pay literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in court fees. That would explain why I never blogged about the judgment; I struggled to find a bright spot.

But after much back and forth, we were forgiven the court fees and legally put the whole drama to bed. So even though I lost the case, I gained peace of mind and the gift of putting all the stress and sorrow behind me.

My Beloved and I also observed the end of an era when my stepson (the younger of my two stepchildren) graduated from college and got a job. He’s still our child, but he’s no longer a child. He’s a self-supporting adult. What we lose in terms of a dependent, we gain in the form of a new approach to parenting. Less control, more equality.

I also helped my stepdaughter scrape a barnacle off the hull of her ship. Without getting into the details, I relished in the opportunity to live in the same house with her for a while, a chance I didn’t get when she was a teenager. Living together with anyone breeds familiarity and in this case, affection.

I effectively and definitively kicked my 40s to the curb in 2016. On Dec. 23, I officially became a member of the AARP crowd. Honestly, I hate aging and I’m not thrilled to be 50, but let’s just say, I discovered some elixirs to dull the effects. Thank you, modern pharmaceuticals.


An image of abundance, captured at an outdoor market in Barcelona, Spain. I didn’t need to buy pounds of dried fruits or nuts to appreciate their beauty.

Other losses in 2016: The Cubs ended a long drought of World Series wins. That was fun. The Dems lost the White House. No matter what you think of the result, a poli-sci major like me found the whole messy process fascinating. I gave up my post-a-day blogging habit, having written something on this blog only 81 times this year, the fewest since 2008 when I posted three times (I’m hoping to turn this bad habit around in 2017).  And I lost 17 glorious June days on a European vacation. In fact, I traveled 161 days in 2016, and the only thing I missed about home was the bills stacking up.

Most significantly and triumphantly, I lost an ugly pantry, some disgusting bathroom flooring and a literal ton of household ephemera. When we decided to list our house on the market (the house itself was the reason for the aforementioned bills), we knew we had to remodel the pantry (did you miss the before-and-after shots? Not to worry — click here) and replace the carpeting in the master bath. Yes, carpeting. Can’t believe I lived with it for nine years. My Beloved and I learned how to tile, and now I can see each individual stray strand of hair I leave behind after a shampoo. After sorting through every last closet and drawer in the house, we shredded 14 boxes of paperwork, filled the trash can innumerable times and dropped off 15 carloads (or at least trunks full) of stuff at Goodwill. I won’t miss a single one of those things, and I’ve learned how to curb my propensity to accumulate.

To fair, not all that I cast away had an upside. I also lost a few treasures.

Like my uncle, who succumbed to a brain tumor in September at age 65. I got one last visit with him in August that feels like a gift.

And my youth, which died quietly of an overdose in April in an elevator in Paisley Park. Of all the shocking celebrity deaths in 2016, Prince’s was personal for anyone who considers Minnesota home.

These sorts of losses serve as reminders that time is short and should be spent carefully, with people and in places we love. So here’s to 2017: May we all spend our time well.

Lucky 13 ways to make new friends

“Making friends is hard,” I heard someone say the other day.
I don’t agree. OK, making real friends isn’t as easy as clicking “accept” on Facebook; making friends takes effort, but it isn’t difficult. You just have to go looking for people and then invest a little time in them. I’ve made three major cross-country moves in my adult life, which is nothing compared to some nomads, but it gives me a little experience in how to make friends in a new place. Probably most of my friends were made at work, but that’s not the only place.
If one of your new year’s resolutions is to make more real friends, here is a list of places — besides work — where you could find new friends:
  1. Book club: Check the library or a bookstore — ask people who work there because they might know of non-public groups you could get involved with. I love book clubs.
  2. Dance class: I just watched “Silver Linings Playbook,” a movie about a guy who has bi-polar disorder and takes up dance. How about beginning ballet or belly dancing? Even Zumba classes, which is sort of dancey fitness, might be fun.
  3. Professional group: All kinds of professional groups exist, especially for women. I attended a Smart Skirts gathering once in Chicago. Very cosmopolitan. Google can help here or ask a former professor what kinds of groups she might recommend or belong to.
  4. Politics: Small communities are always looking for volunteers for park boards and other groups. Also, your local Washington or state representatives might need volunteers for their campaigns. The library might have a Friends of the Library group or a library board. 
  5. Parent group: Whether you’re a mom of twins or preschoolers, a single dad or a stay-at-home one, a stepmother or something else, there’s probably a group for you.
  6. Church: With more “spiritual” than “religious” in America nowadays, church might not your thing, but you can certainly make friends at one where you’re comfortable. Not sure which church/temple/shrine to visit? Try this quiz.
  7. Poetry slams and book readings: Consider taking up writing poetry and reading it out loud at coffee bars. OK, I know this is a stretch, but even attending such an event and talking with the people who do read their stuff might be appealing.
  8. Community education: Take a class in making meatballs or photography or anything else that might interest you. You’ll find people with similar interests.
  9. Direct sales: During my time in the direct selling industry, I saw thousands of women make lifelong friends  You don’t even really have to sell much. Good companies have regular meetings where you can meet other people selling and using the same products. Pick a company whose products you love — like a food company or Pampered Chef if you like cooking, or jewelry if you like fashion, or Stampin’ Up or Creative Memories if you like crafts, or a candle company or Longaberger baskets if you like decorating your home. You can find a list of companies here
  10. Leisure sports: Find a dart club or bowling league or bike group or jogging club. You’ll get exercise even if you don’t make friends.
  11. Toastmasters: I loved Toastmasters, a club where you learn and practice public speaking. (This would be good for your resume, too.)
  12. Knitting or quilting: Want to take up a new hobby? Almost every yarn store and fabric store offers classes and clubs for learning together.
  13. Alumni group: Find other people who graduated from the same school as you. LinkedIn should have groups to find where you can make posts about alumni meetings or outings.
 Have you used meetup.com? I haven’t tried it, but if you have, let me know — depending where you live, there are dozens of options for all kinds of interests. Not finding what interests you? Create a meet up of your own.
Good luck on your friend quest.

12 auspicious dates for the end of the world (or my world anyway)

If the end of the world is like a thief in the night and destruction comes suddenly, I won’t make it to the end of this post. But if 12/21/2012 is simply a new page in the Mayan calendar, then it’s an opportunity to reflect and I am reflecting on the Top 12 turning points in my life:

  1. Aug. 1, 1968: At 18 months old, I tottered off the back step and broke my arm. To date, it’s the only time I have broken a bone. But not the only time I’ve taken a step in the wrong direction.
  2. May 27, 1975: Alerted by my parents to my imminent move five hours north, my third grade teacher at a parochial school in Fairmont, Minn., planned a going away party for me. I still have the homemade construction paper card wishing me well and signed by all my classmates. The highlight of the party was supposed to be an extra few minutes of recess. I remember running down the hallway to doorway to the playground and seeing rain pouring out of the sky. I was so happy! I hated recess, and the rain meant more time to party back in the classroom.
  3. Dec. 23, 1980: I received a diary for my birthday. A few months later, I marveled on the pages, “I’ve never written in a diary this long!” It was the beginning of my writing obsession.
  4. Sept. 4, 1982: My first experience french kissing began when a boy asked, “Can you kiss?” I said, “No,” and he asked, “Do you want me to teach you?” I recount this ominous date in my latest novel in progress.
  5. Nov. 9, 1985: A pizza brought me and my first husband together for the first time. Talk about a turning point.
  6. April 21, 1987: My high school boyfriend dumped me when I had a tantrum over after-dinner coffee.
  7. Nov. 11, 1997: My first day on the job at a major scrapbook manufacturer, my boss said, “Book a ticket for Cincinnati next week. I need you at the video shoot.” It was the beginning of a jet-set career that gave me the opportunity to travel the nation and the world.
  8. Feb. 2, 2001: I didn’t know it at the time, but this date goes down in infamy as a pivotal moment in my life. It’s a long story. A book, in fact. Check out “The Percussionist’s Wife: A Memoir of Sex, Crime & Betrayal” to see what happened on this date.
  9. Jan. 10, 2006: After a lifetime of avoiding running (except when I ran down a hallway to cheer for a recess rain out), I took up jogging. Five months later, I finished a marathon. I still run 10 or 15 miles a week.
  10. Nov. 23, 2006: I dipped my toe in the water of online dating by creating a profile on date.com, and within two weeks, I connected with the man who would become my second husband, my Beloved.
  11. Jan. 16, 2007: Becoming a stepmother is about as natural as rocket science for of a woman who vowed never to have children, but it’s turned out to be an out-of-this-world experience. I met my adored stepson, 12 at the time, over a meal at Space Aliens Bar & Grill.
  12. June 9, 2011: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. I got laid off and took the time to finish writing a memoir. How sweet it is!

Well, lookie there, I made it to the end of this post. And we’re both still here. Maybe those turning points aren’t so ominous after all.

It’s the end of the world as we know it,
And I feel fine.


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.

9 things I learned from watching stock car races for a season (and 1 thing I still can’t figure out)

The last night of the season for stock car racing ended with a smoking hulk that came just shy of winning the demolition derby.

Junior, after the demolition derby. Nice rim, eh?

Casualty count: 4 cars, 1 wrist and about 20 evenings on the dirt track at Sycamore Speedway. We won’t count dollars spent. Don’t want to know.

Accolades earned: About six trophies and $100 for second place in the demo derby. Also: Machismo firmly established.

As the No. 1 fan, I sat in the wooden bleachers almost every race night and videotaped almost every race. Which is tricky with buttery fingers from the evilly delicious speedway popcorn doused in real golden flavoring. It wasn’t my first choice, but when we were dating, my Beloved and I made an agreement: He would go to baseball games with me if I would go to the races with him. So I did this for love. Here’s what I learned:

  1. A dirt race track is not a fashion runway. I wore boots and jewelry the first night, and that was the last time. T-shirts, preferably with obscene comments, and torn jeans were more appropriate.
  2. Sycamore Speedway smells like London. I’m not sure if I was catching whiffs of cabbie exhaust or the dank odor of the
    Underground, but especially in the spring and fall when it was cool and damp, I caught myself thinking of London. I know for sure it wasn’t the accents of the redneck fans that evoked those memories.
  3. Races are won where the rubber hits the road. A bad tire brings even the fastest overpowered car to a stop. My Beloved and his brother went through at least 25 tires during the course of the season, most often the left front one, which took the most abuse on the quarter-mile track of constant left turns.
  4. Lip gloss and dirt race tracks don’t mix. As the cars passed the stands at 50+ mph, they threw up a thin spray of grit on everything and everyone. Try looking sophisticated with mud on your glasses.
  5. The super late models do not impress me. I was there for the spectator class — street cars modified only to remove the windows and unnecessary weight (like seats). The super late models look like sleek, nicely painted Nascar vehicles, but they’re louder, smellier and a lot more dainty. Every time there was a dust-up, the race was suspended. Babies. In the spectator class, disabled drivers were forced to sit in the middle of the action, flinching with every lap, until the race ended.This is what separated the boys from the men (or, in the poweder puff class, the girls from the gorillas).
  6. Race car driving requires skill. I used to think anyone could step on the gas and turn left, but now I understand the courage, timing and finesse a successful race car driver must possess. Really!
  7. A good race car driver requires a good pit crew. If it hadn’t been for our 17-year-old mechanic who loved wrenching, the season would have been over in June when My Beloved drove into the wall and killed the first car.
  8. Race car fans breed. The roster of top drivers read like a script from a redneck “Dynasty.” Two surnames kept coming up, and in the Powder Puff category, two sisters — the daughters of the guy with the obnoxious cop car — took first and second place. And the stands were filled with kids! Last night, a woman brushed past me three times complaining “That’s how it is with potty training.” Really? Your 3-year-old needs to be exposed to smoke, noise and drunks until 11 o’clock? Yup. That’s how it is with race car fans.
  9. Hot dogs taste better outdoors. This, I should have known, but I’m the woman who once enjoyed eating sushi and drinking wine at a Major League Baseball game in Toronto. Hot dogs are street food for a reason, and boy, those mustard-covered all-beef franks made a great chaser for blue smoke and gasoline fumes.

There’s one thing I still don’t understand though:

  1. Crashes are awesome, man! The crowd was never so vocal as they were when two cars collided; 360-degree spins got extra points. Race track organizers saved the demolition derby for the final marquee event of the evening for a reason. At least a half-dozen cars flipped on their tops during the course of the season, and my heart always stopped when that happened. To the credit of the crowd, though, they cheered when the driver emerged triumphant from his upside-down vehicle.

Despite the dirt and blood-thirsty crowd (they must have been thirsty for something, given the piles of beer cups under the bleachers at the end of the night), I had a good time. I can’t say I’m sorry to see it end, because I’m not. But there’s a certain irony in the whole experience.

The speedway does a drawing every night for prizes like T-shirts and caps. Every night, I dutifully filled out my drawing slip, deposited it into the box and then listened to the track announcer call other people’s names. Until last night, the final night of the season. They drew my name! And guess what I won?

A free pass to a night of racing next summer.

Take me out to the ballpark

Besides one night in Bangkok, my life’s to-do list includes seeing a baseball game in every Major League ballpark in the country. And Canada, too, while we’re at it, since the Blue Jays are Toronto’s team and I’ve already crossed that park off my list. Come to think of it, I’d like to see a baseball game in Tokyo as well, seeing how Japan is becoming a farm league for the majors. But that’s a different goal.

With 30 Major League teams, a fan has to prioritize, and Bleacher Report came out with a Top 10 list this week that helped me realize I’m well on my way to my goal.

Bleacher Report’s list made Fenway, Yankee Stadium and Wrigley Field “no duh” options, meaning, if these three ballparks are obviously the best places to see a ballgame and if you haven’t seen a game there, well, get thee there now. Here I am, living 21 miles from Wrigley for the past four years and I still haven’t seen a Cubs game. Every time I think of it, I blame American Airlines for disrupting my travel plans in 2009 and preventing me from enjoying my $121 ticket to see the Twins play the Cubs in interleague play. And avid baseball fans know that interleague play between the Twins and Cubs at the Cubs home field happens only one series every six years.


Obviously, I ought to see a Cubs game at Wrigley before 2015. Duly noted.

Moving on.

Of Bleacher Report’s Top 10 after Fenway, Yankee Stadium and Wrigley, I have already seen ball games at four of those parks:

  • AT&T Park in San Francisco: I saw Barry Bonds hit a home run during a weeknight when I caught a game during a work trip once.
  • Petco Park, San Diego: I recall sitting quite close to the first base line when I saw a game there on vacation.
  • Ranger Ballpark in Arlington, Texas: I enjoyed watching the Twins play here while sitting in a fabulous seat for which I didn’t pay. I attended with the very bold college-age son of a friend.
  • Miller Park, Milwaukee: I’ve seen several games here. In my experience, fans at this park are as ardent about the park sponsor’s products as they are about the team.

I’ve also seen games at Rogers Centre, Toronto (where I dined on sushi and white wine); U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago (scary!); Busch Stadium in St. Louis (which is scenically located and maybe should be in the Top 10) and the now passé Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati (replaced by the Great American Ball Park) and Metrodome in Minneapolis.

That leaves the following unique ballparks on Bleacher Report’s Top 10 list:

  • Safeco Field, Seattle. I would love to visit Seattle and see a game here.
  • Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles.
  • Camden Yards, Baltimore.
  • PNC Park, Pittsburgh.
  • Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia.
  • And Target Field, Minneapolis.

Isn’t it fun that the Twins new park is among the Top 10 must-see ball parks?Alas, I did not catch a game at Target Field during the inaugural season last year. Really, really hoping to remedy that situation this year.

That’s Minnesota Transplant’s version of Babe Ruth’s called shot.