Tampa with the family = only 2 books

We went to Tampa for Spring Break to visit our family.  It sounds so weird to say that but it’s true we have a lot of family there.   Sean’s Auntie Jan has lived in Florida for years, my mother in law and her husband “winter” nearby and my daughter recently moved to St. Petersburg to pursue her dream job with the Tampa Bay Rays.

For the first time ever we stayed at an Airbnb which was so much better than a hotel.  We had the full use of a small house.  In our typical fashion we under utilized the kitchen but made up for that by using the common areas to play cards and games.  Being an Airbnb guest opened my eyes to what people really need when traveling which I think will make me a better hostess.  I brought six books but only read two of them because we were so busy with the family.  Both were very good books about the strength and resilience of young women.

The first was “The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane” by Lisa See.  This novel is about a young Chinese girl who was given up for adoption by her teenaged mother.  She is adopted by a wealthy family in California but can’t help but wonder about her birth family back in China.  Her friend group is made up of a number of other adopted Chinese girls who are the victims of the one child policy in China.  These girls realize they are “grateful but angry”.  They are grateful to be the cherished children of their adopted family yet angry because they feel abandoned by their Chinese family.  This is an interesting book that I would recommend even though I hated the way the author forced a coincidentally overly happy ending.

The second book was “The Underground Girls of Kabul” by Jenny Nordberg. I have known for a long time that being a girl in Afghanistan doesn’t sound like very much fun.   This book explores a hidden resistance of girls who are temporarily raised as boys.  The custom is called bacha posh and is done because families without sons are not considered complete or prosperous until they have a son.  This custom also benefits the young girls posing as boys because they have freedom to learn, participate in sports and live freely outside of their home.  I didn’t know anything about this hidden practice which I found fascinating.

As we were getting ready to leave I couldn’t help but think of the opportunities my own daughter has living in this country.  She was able to move across the country to pursue her dream job in the male dominated world of professional sports.  I think this gratefulness caught up with me because these goodbyes were much harder than when she left in January.

Goodbye, Erin.  Goodbye, ML, Jan and Harlan and Goodbye, Florida.  I could not have picked two better books about strong and smart young women to keep me company on my trip.


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“Hunger: A memoir of (My) Body” by Roxanne Gay

I have had a lifelong struggle with body image and my relationship with food.  My story is extreme: I left my sophomore year of high school weighing in at a healthy 135 pounds and came back as a junior at 97 pounds.  Seriously.

Looking back on it I think I felt overwhelmed with my life and food was the one thing I could control.  And control it I did.  I kept a food journal which shows the depth of my discipline.  It would say things like:  6 cherries, chicken bouillon with 4 saltine crackers and a personal favorite at the time, grape nuts with water (instead of milk which had so many calories).  I ran every day and played summer basketball in a league.  I became obsessed with my weight and even at the lowest weight I still saw myself as fat.

I struggled throughout high school and the beginning of college with my weight.  After my “discipline stage” I turned to another stage – binge eating and purging.   I was a mess.  The summer between my freshman year of college and my sophomore year of college I packed on the pounds.  I had two jobs that required me to wear a uniform, a hotel cleaning lady and a waitress at Perkins.  Both uniforms had an elastic waist which I knew was expanding.  Every day at Perkins I had a piece of pecan pie.  I was out of control.  Getting ready to head back to college I knew it was bad when even my fat jeans didn’t fit.  I had reached 180 pounds.

Roxanne Gay shares her personal story about her struggle as a “fat” person (her words).  She was gang raped at age 12 and ate and ate and ate so nobody would see her.  She wanted to become invisible to protect herself from boys.  Roxanne’s weight at it’s peak reached 577 pounds.

When you gain (or lose) weight rapidly your body becomes fair game for people to talk about.   She tells stories of people taking things from her shopping cart and lecturing her about what she should eat.  She also tells of the difficulty to do normal things like go to a movie theater or fly on an airplane.  She explores this difficult subject head on and in a very direct manner that is both eye opening and heartbreaking.

This book brought to mind my own personal history and issues with my body.   Over the years I have found peace with my body through healthy eating and daily exercise.  I began to take this healthier view toward the end of college and have maintained a healthy weight since then.

This book is a good look at this issue.  I enjoyed it and I hope you will too.


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Transitions – settling into the discomfort

I’ve been uncomfortable lately and I couldn’t put my finger on the reason why.  As an analytical person not understanding this discomfort was troubling.  I like to identify problems and solve them.  Check them off my list. So I spent time ruminating in this uncomfortable feeling and I found the reason:  the majority of my life is in a transition. Transitions are hard.  The big announcement is over and it’s time to make the changes happen.

Let me explain.  I recently posted about several wonderful changes in my life:  I got a new job and even a new cabin!   And while these changes were positive the good stuff doesn’t always happen right away.

The biggest change was the new job.  I really like it, however, I am learning a whole new industry, meeting new colleagues and am trying to understand how to be effective in a completely new culture. Almost everyone will tell you it takes 6 -12 months to be effective in a new job but what they fail to tell you is how uncomfortable the transition time can be.

The second big change was the new cabin and the process of selling our old cabin. The new cabin is beautiful but let’s face it:  it’s winter in Minnesota and the fun stuff comes in the summer.  Oh and a teeny little side note:  we still own the old cabin.  It’s going on the market in the spring but in the meantime I am an Airbnb hostess.  I had to learn how to use the app, communicate with my guests and clean the property on a weekly basis.  Most of the feedback I have received from my guests has been positive and has made me happy to be sharing my beloved cabin.  However recently I got a few nuggets of critical feedback which threw me for a loop.  This transition has me working almost every Sunday and sharing a beloved space with strangers.  Not easy.

My family is also going through transitions.   The biggest and most obvious of which is Erin’s move to Tampa Bay for her dream job.  I know this is the right thing for her but I worry about her and miss her more than I thought I would.  She is still settling in and so boxes are being shipped, mail is being re-routed and my feelings are being tossed like a salad.

I’m glad I have put my finger on why I am feeling uncomfortable.  For some reason it makes it easier.  And now I have a plan – attack the feelings with action.   I started this week by attending my company sales meeting which was not required but allowed me to learn about another division and meet new people.  I also decided to take action on the critical airbnb feedback and I added a few upgrades to my old cabin.   And plans are made to visit Erin during spring break.

In the end, I am getting comfortable with my discomfort because it’s all part of the process.  Change is good.

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My Top 10 “favorite things” list for 2017

This was a year full of change.  Reflecting on it all, here are my top 10 favorite things for this year.

  1.  I cut way back on my Amazon spending.  How did I accomplish this?  Simple – I changed my password.  My kids thought they had an open Purchase Order (they did) until I realized the small items they purchased added up to big bucks. And since I joined the library my need for Amazon has been way reduced.
  2. I became an Airbnb hostess.  Well, let’s be honest I had to.  We bought a new cabin late in the season and the old cabin is just sitting there waiting to be sold in the spring.  So why not make a little money and let others enjoy it?  After a miserable landlord experience on Craigslist I decided to try Airbnb.  I love the app because it takes away all of that pesky reference checking and cash collecting and allows me to do what I do best – hostess!
  3. I am no longer a basketball mom.  When Shannon told me she didn’t want to play this year it was hard on me. But I realize I don’t miss the stress that comes with watching your kid play or the frustrations of seeing them not play due to injuries, foul trouble or coaching decisions.  Instead of basketball I am watching her chose new things SHE really wants to do which include a job at a daycare, studying at the library and playing lacrosse.
  4. After 18 years at the same employer I have a new job. As comfortable as I was at BBY is as uncomfortable as I am at Ergotron. And that’s a good thing.  I have grown as a professional and in my first 90 days we opened a new website store and I love watching the business grow every day.
  5. I got a sit/stand desk.  Of course I do since I work at Ergotron who manufactures and sells them!  That said, I have wanted one for a long time and I find myself standing much more than sitting. And while I stand I move around a lot which is good for me since it helps me burn off all the extra energy I always have.
  6. I started drinking de-caf.  Speaking of all that energy, could it be somewhat related to my coffee problem?  Perhaps.  This is why I switched to decaf in the afternoon which basically allows me to enjoy my favorite guilty pleasure all day long.  I always thought de-caf was fake coffee but I seriously cannot tell the difference.
  7. I have a hands free phone in my car.  This allows me to call my parents almost every day.  I think they may be getting sick of me now that I have a longer commute so if anyone wants a call at 730 am or 530 pm just let me know and we can chat away.  I realize we are not a phone talking culture anymore.
  8. I started listening to podcasts.  Actually on this point I can’t believe how few people listen to them!  Download an app and check it out!  Exchanging programs has been a fun thing to do with Erin and Jack who are always sending me suggestions. Erin and I really liked both of the “Serial” series, Shittown and Dirty John.  Jack has me listening to a bunch of diet and exercise shows and has even got me to try “intermittent fasting” because of a podcast.
  9. Speaking of which, I re-joined weight watchers.  Yep, a couple of years ago on this very same blog I got all confident and said I was done counting my points.  Bad idea.  So I am back at WW with some of the basketball moms.  This program along with “intermittent fasting” have helped me keep it all in check and have been a way to stay in touch with friends.
  10. I continue to work on being grateful.  This is something I always work on especially when life hits you with surprises. I am blessed to live in the greatest country in the world.  I’m lucky to have meaningful work.  I’m lucky to have wonderful friends and family.

So thank you for reading my top 10 things and for being part of my world.  I’m blessed.

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Two books about North Korea

North Korea has been in the news a lot lately.  Recently President Trump called North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un “the rocket man”.  This worried me. Doesn’t he know better than to bully a country?  Especially one that has nuclear weapons and an immature leader at the top. Scared as I was,  I realized I didn’t know very much about North Korea.  Frankly, my knowledge was limited to thinking of North Korea as the bad place and South Korea being the good place. And all the leaders in North Korea seem to be named Kim Jong something or other.

My research led me to read two books about North Korea.  The first was the Pulitzer prize winning novel “The Orphan Master’s Son” by Adam Johnson.  The novel features Pak Jun Do who reminded me of Forest Gump.  Pak Jun Do is an orphan who grows up in a labor camp.   At a very early age he is identified to be a good citizen who not only does what he is told but does it extremely well.  He starts out his career as a kidnapper and goes on to reach the highest level of government.

The book is a story of love and sacrifice and also paints a picture of what life is like in North Korea.

It was a novel so it got me thinking, is it really that bad?  My friend, Cathy, recommended a companion book called “Nothing to Envy” by Barbara Demick.  Barbara is a journalist who interviewed and  followed the lives of 6 North Korean defectors over 15 years.

This book explained more about the culture of “Songbun” which is the caste based system that assigns jobs and status based on party membership.  This system fosters the repressed society by instilling fear in the minds of all citizens.  One bad word about the party that is overheard by a spy (they are everywhere – who can you trust?) can banish you and your family to a prison camp.

In this system the government provides jobs, food and housing, however in the mid ’90’s a terrible drought impacted the crops and left millions of people dead of starvation.  The book goes into great detail about the imaginative ways the 6 defectors survived.

While these books are a bit depressing they are both excellent books that I would highly recommend.  I found myself appreciating our fine country even more.  We have plenty of food, opportunity and free speech.  In North Korea I would be banished to a prison camp for the first paragraph of this blog. God Bless America.

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New Job, New Cabin, New Gym

A lot has changed in the last few months, more than is comprehended in a Facebook update, and frankly more than most people probably care about.  So for those of you who invested a few more clicks into my life, here’s a deeper dive into the BIG three changes that have happened in my life.

First of all:  New JOB:  After 18 wonderful years, my time at BBY came to an end late this summer when my position was eliminated.  I quickly embraced this change and enjoyed a brief and productive search.  I ended up having just a few weeks “off” as I landed at Ergotron in Eagan as AVP of E-commerce.  The company manufactures ergo-dynamic office furniture (sit stand desks, converters and monitor arms) and I look forward to sharing a link to our new site soon.

With this change, my “three exit commute” expanded to a 13 exit commute (still not bad!) which now forces me to allow 25 minutes instead of 10 minute to get to the office.  There is much to miss about BBY, the size and scale of the company, the rewarding work and all the friends I have met along the way.  That said I am embracing working at a smaller company whose perks include an office, free coffee, being able to book my own travel, new friends, easy access to conference rooms and the opportunity to build our e-commerce business from the ground up.    I’ve been here for one month and I love it.

Next up:  New CABIN:  This was a shocker to some when I shared the MLS listing for our old cabin, but have no fear, this was not a knee jerk reaction.  We have had our place on Lake Marie for 6 years and have loved every minute of it.  That said, with 6 acres it got to be too big for us.  That plus my hubby loves his power tools so whole weekends would go by with me barely seeing him.  We are “downgrading” a bit on the size of the property but our new cabin (we close in a few weeks) should allow us to see each other more.  It’s still in the Annandale area with a lovely view of Pleasant Lake.  It will require some work to get it to where we want to, but most of that is inside.  By the way, old cabin is still for sale – spread the word!

Finally, when I left BBY I had to find a new GYM.  Laugh if you will but this was a big deal for me.  After years and years at the BBY Wellness Zone I had many friends and beloved trainers that I saw every day.   I was sad to leave them, but we have already had a few lunches and I expect more.  After a brief search, I joined Lifetime Fitness in Bloomington and have started to make new friends.  The gym has state of the art equipment, a group fitness class every morning and free coffee!  (See the theme here?)  One nice thing about my new routine is that I am able get ready at home which allows me to see my family in the morning.

There has been a lot of change and I am excited and energized by it. Now it’s time to settle into some new routines before something equally new and exciting comes along.  Till then!

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The Bahamas – We missed the hurricanes

Every fall Sean and I book our “vacation” aka travel without the kids (for future reference a “trip” includes the offspring.) In the past we have been horrible parents and missed Homecoming events, confirmations, you name it we have missed it. This year we “threaded the needle” and decided to go before JHS Homecoming, during a Hamline football bye week and ended up picking “Hurricane Month”.

The week before we left Hurricane Irma was creating a sensation and every time we looked at the weather we made a percentage prediction of whether or not we would go.  The week before we left the most common prediction was 50%.  But Irma passed by the Bahamas so off we went!

We landed and the weather was beautiful.  We rented a little white car and cruised the islands.  We saw a lot of boarded up windows but upon further inspection it appeared that much of the work was not recent.  Like many tropical islands there is a wide range of beauty and upkeep. We stayed at the gi-normous Atlantis hotel and marveled at the magnitude and beauty of the place.

And of course we did what all well informed American’s do:  we watched American politics and the weather.  No comment on the politics.  Sheesh.  But the weather!  Who is this Jose?  And what about Maria?  Crazily it appeared they were going to again miss the Bahamas and the weather remained hot and gorgeous.  We were so sad to see many of our favorite places ravaged by these storms (St. Maarten AND St. Croix) and felt a little bit guilty that we were sitting on a beautiful beach while these storms raged around us. In many ways it feels like the same good fortune I feel when I think about being born an American – more on that in a minute.

But this is a book blog and I digress….yes I read many, many books.  There is only so much weather and politics and sunning I can take.  The best of the books I read was “The Latehomecomer” by Kao Kalia Yang about growing up as a Hmong woman in St. Paul.  READ IT, you will learn much about what it’s like to come to America – again with the thankfulness!

I also read the super snarky and very funny “Don’t Get Too Comfortable” by the late David Rakoff.  He laments about first world problems in a series of hilarious essays.  It was great to have a little bit of comedy and relief amid all the politics and weather.

Then I went and got all depressed when I read “What the Health” by Eunice Wong.  Many of my family and friends have become vegans after watching this on Netflix.  I already AM a pretty healthy eater but this talks about the dangers of meat, dairy and even eggs and is a proponent of a plant based diet.  I tried.  I did.  I ate veggie wraps at lunch.  Sean kept calling me “Plant Head”, yet I broke down the last night and we had a meat lovers pizza.  YUM!  The good news is that this book doesn’t rip on my best friend in the world – the CARB.  Go carbs go!

I also read “Everything you want me to be” by Mindy Mejia, another Minnesota writer.  Plot:  A high school senior is killed and her boyfriend and English teacher are the main suspects. It is very well written and was the most entertaining of the books I read.

I ran out of books and had a very interesting experience trying to find something else to read.  Amid the land of plenty (aka Atlantis) people furrowed their brow and looked confused when I asked them if there was a book store nearby.  One woman actually said “you mean like to read?” We had to venture off the property to BookWorld to find a mega store that had more school supplies than books.  I knew it would interesting and I am glad we got there at 5:15 because it closed at 5:25.  Yep, not 5:30 or 6 but 5:25.  Amazing the things you see when you travel!

It’s good to travel and even better to be back home.

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