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On a Whim

 

on a whimTechnology has made these days unlike any we’ve experienced before. Almost anything we want we can have within seconds. Years ago (okay, decades) if there was a song you wanted to hear that you didn’t own on (take your pick) 8-track, record album, cassette, or CD, you had to turn on the (gasp!) radio and wait. But if it wasn’t a Top 40 or a classic tune you were out of luck. Nowadays, if you want to listen to a song, any song, you simply go to YouTube and in an instant, you can be humming along.

Ever hanker for that candy you ate as a kid? Red Hot Dollars? A Marathon candy bar? Well, after a quick visit to Amazon, a bag of that nostalgic sweetness can be delivered to your front step within days. I know. My dentist knows.

Or maybe you read a review of a book you want to read. No longer do you have to schlep over to your local bookstore or library. In less time than it takes to heat up a cup of chai to sip while reading, the book can be uploaded from Barnes & Noble or your library right to your tablet. It’s as simple as that.

Then there are our memories. It used to be when we’d get together with friends someone would ask, “What was the name of that movie where the soup bowls had hands come out?” And then someone would add, “Didn’t it have that actress in it from that new show with all those kids?” Then you and your friends would rattle your brains trying to remember the title until eventually someone shouted, “Beetlejuice!” and everyone would sigh a collective, “Oh, yeah.”

Today we don’t do that. When we can’t remember something we just hold up our phones and ask, “Google, what was that movie…?”

Will immediate gratification override the need for longing and thinking? Will our memories slowly be erased by this new technology or will it enhance our lives? Good questions that I’m not entirely sure of the answers too. Guess the only way to find out is to Google it.

 

 

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Focus, Focus, Focus

distractionsFor a while I thought it was just me. Simple mistakes—a misspelled word in an email, a forgotten attachment, the wrong name on a document. Each time it happens I feel queasy. I’m always so meticulous, what’s going on? Turns out, I’m not alone. Not by a long shot. In the last few months I’ve noticed others’ simple errors.

  • Inverted numbers on a mailing address and the mail came back
  • Misspelled speaker’s name on a flier mailed out to hundreds of people
  • Forgetting an important conference call
  • Signing up for a spin class at the wrong studio
  • Putting the wrong year on an invoice (this from my accountant!)

The list goes on.

What’s with all the blunders? Are we trying to get stuff done rather than done right?Perhaps. Are we too busy? Maybe. Are we being rushed by others? Could be. Are we too distracted? Bingo. Many of us have lost our ability to focus, to sharpen our senses on what we’re working on because of the beeping sounds from cell phones, tablets, computers and telephones vying for our attention. And guess what, they’re winning. Turns out, keeping one eye on incoming emojis is not good, whether you’re sitting behind a wheel or behind a desk.

I was interviewed last week for Moneyish.com on how to be more productive at work. Removing distractions, like excess paper or items not useful to your job is a must. But so is shutting off notifications. Even for just thirty-minute intervals, you’ll be amazed how much more productive you can be, not to mention the fewer mistakes you’ll make. When writing I shut off all notifications because it’s hard enough to get my tush in the seat, I’m not going to waste the time when I’m in it.

Our plates are overflowing like someone piling on more than they can eat at a buffet. But in the end you can only eat one thing at a time. At least you should if you don’t want to be sick.

This New Year’s Cold Comfort

fridgeThere is a Japanese custom close to my heart. It’s called o-souji. It’s the process of cleaning and organizing your home and office during the last week of the year, while at the same time giving thanks to the previous one. For me, it’s less about organizing and more about starting the year with a clean slate. A workspace muddled and messy will only stand in your way of New Year’s resolutions.

fridge3With o-souji in mind, I’ve been tweaking areas of my parents’ home on Cape Cod this past week, however there was one area I wasn’t planning on attacking.

“Why is the ice cream soft?” My dad said removing it from the freezer. I reopened the freezer door and felt a container of soup. It was soup. We realized the fridge was on the fritz. What to do? We decided to put all the food in our backup fridge: the garage. Mom called Sears, Dad removed the contents, and I put “salvageables” into the 400-square-foot 9-degree Fahrenheit fridge.

fridge2Next I grabbed a roll of paper towels, some cleaner and got down on my knees and wiped up the puddle of purple liquid on the bottom of the freezer, a mixture of melted ice and frozen berries. O-souji? More like o-save-us.

Our menu plan is now simple: since the weather is predicted to remain around zero for the next straight week on Cape Cod, we’ve decided to either select our meals from the garage menu or eat out a lot in Japanese restaurants.

Whether you want to follow an ancient custom or just want a neat environment, one thing is for sure: when your living space is clean and orderly, your disposition has no choice but to be boosted, which is a great way to approach the new year.

Happy 2018!

 

Come Fly with Me

spinningAfter 15 years I recently said “Buh bye” to my gym. No more sweating on elliptical machines next to people scrolling through their Facebook posts on cellphones. There’s a new playground in town.

Flywheel Sports is, at heart, a spinning class, something I’ve been doing for years at my old gym, but this one has something else: competition.

What makes Flywheel unique is the TorqBoard, a large screen posted in class where you can measure your performance against others. Of course you can opt out of having your name listed, but for me that’s the whole point. Seeing “90SQFT” (my spin name) move up the TorqBoard is just what the doctor ordered.

I no longer wake up thinking “I have to workout today.” Instead I think something I haven’t thought in decades: Game Day. An hour before class I get that same tingly feeling in my stomach I got in high school before a big match. I can’t eat. I can’t sit still. I love every second of it. And when I enter the spin room, I look at my fellow riders, sizing up the competition like I’m about to challenge them to an actual race. But the 47 other spinners in class aren’t my adversaries, not really. The one real opponent is myself. Sure, I want to see my name in first place when class ends, but I’m striving to do better than I did in the previous class. Flywheel pushes me. It pushes me to work harder than I’ve ever done in my life. And I was captain of three varsity high school teams and briefly played two Division I college sports.

Thirty years later however, I’m digging deeper, finding that resolve, and pushing my legs to the limit. It’s now about believing I can still do it. I gotta say, sweating never felt so good.

Organizing 101

VSC group“He who can, does,” said George Bernard Shaw. “He who cannot, teaches.”  I beg to differ. Not only can I organize spaces, apparently I can teach how to do it too.

Last month I was a guest lecturer at New York University. Being the city’s unofficial spokesperson for small spaces, I was all too happy to give the 25 students, mostly retirees, tips on what and how to toss what you have a hard time parting with.

Recently, I also began teaching a virtual online class to seniors about organizing. I wasn’t sure this segment of the population would be interested. At this point in their lives, was getting rid of stuff even on their radar?

Turns out, it was. Smiling faces began popping up on my laptop and before I knew it, there were 37 students. A record I was told.

I started by discussing sentimental items (Check out MakeSpace’s great tips on what to do with these items) and this proved a popular topic. Participants had furniture, dishes, even tablecloths from relatives long gone that they couldn’t part with, even though they no longer wanted these items and needed the space. I helped them see that objects aren’t necessarily sentimental, it’s the memory behind them.

After class the Director of the program sent me comments from participants. Here are a few:

“The best class EVER since I have been a member. The adrenalin is coursing through my veins. I am so excited. This class WILL (not may) change my life for the better MORE THAN any other class you offer.”

“Best class yet! Took an overwhelming subject and made it less threatening. You hooked me.”

“She’s so supportive + nice, but still tells it ‘like it IS’. She can help me do something very important for myself in my own home, my llfe-long problem w/ papers. Organizing + discarding would make me more comfortable. Thank you for her great class!”

No matter our age, deep down we want to be happy and stuff proves time and time again that it can be a barrier to happiness. Conquer your stuff now so you can enjoy your golden years without clutter.

Trick or Treat to Eliminate Clutter? You Betcha.

trick treat bagIt’s trick or treat day and that means goodies galore. And though my take on this timely tradition does not actually entail a sweet, the results certainly are.

One night this past summer my mom asked for my help in tackling some clutter pockets around the house. Knowing how exhausting clearing clutter can be, I came up with a new game. We each got a paper grocery bag and headed out for some in-house trick or treating.

“The goal,” I said to Mom, “is to fill a bag. Then we get a treat.”

“What’s the treat?” she asked.

“We get to see an episode of Better Things,” I said, a TV show we love to watch together.

felice and shellyMom was game. We took our bags and off we went. We hit the laundry room, the kitchen, the den, and her office. Opening drawers, looking inside closets, and rummaging in the back of cabinets, we filled the bags with both trash and stuff for donations like receipts, sweaters no longer worn, and cans of food that passed their expiration date.

We even went into the garage where my dad was polishing his car.

“Trick or treat!” we said, encouraging him to scrounge up a few rusty nails, smiling as each one rattled to the bottom of a bag.

Before we knew it, both bags were full and I had to run back to the kitchen for a third. Our game took about an hour and it never felt like work. It’s a simple trick really. By creating a goal of filling a bag, we removed the pressure of thinking we had to clear away clutter. Of course doing it together helped. Buddies bring motivation, a heap of laughter, and the best part? The treat of watching a favorite TV show with my mom about mothers and daughters.

Happy Halloween!

 

Preparation is Half the Battle

 

cloudSeptember is National Preparedness Month. Seems fitting. It’s the month we prepare to go back to school, prepare for the change of season, and prepare our homes for the onslaught of winter.

But it’s not just this month we make plans. In life we’re always preparing for something—a new baby, selling a house, even death. It’s about thinking ahead and being ready, as we just witnessed in Houston and Florida. But sometimes in a crisis all you can do is grab your most important possessions and flee.

If I were to ask, “Do you know where the title to your car is?” Could you find it easily? Or find it at all? Can you list every account under your name? Chances are good you might not remember one or two, or more.

As an organizer I help clients systematize their ownership of assets by creating lists of accounts, inventorying an entire homes, and identifying the whereabouts of important filed documents like wills, passports, health records in one secure spot. That’s only helpful if someone else in your family knows where those spots are. More often than not, they have no idea.

I was approached recently by the creator of ZokuVault.com, (he had found me on LinkedIn under organizers) and explained his fabulous product for organization; an actual virtual safe deposit box for important documents you can get your hands on in a big hurry (like a flood or when everything is lost) if you need it. Even if you’re hesitant to put information into “the cloud”, according to my test you don’t need to give account numbers. It’s ultimately “a checklist that thinks of everything”.

For example, in 2015 my Uncle Mark died unexpectedly in his 50s. As executor of his estate I handled his accounts. As much as I love puzzles, this was a real challenge. Mark was organized with his paperwork, but I still had to search for things I wasn’t sure even existed. Life insurance? Gym membership he was paying for month after month? Had my Uncle Mark had access to something like this with everything in one place, my extended search would have been a lot (lot) easier.

No one wants to think about the inevitable, but by planning ahead you can make it less stressful.

P.S. I actually like the creator, an affable, knowledgeable guy. In fact, he was so nice he offered my readers a 20% discount.

 

Notes from a Cape Cod Beach

Back when I was in college, a handful of columnists for the Massachusetts Daily Collegian took turns writing the column “Notes from the Campus Center Basement.” The title came from the fact the newsroom was in the Campus Center basement. (We were a literal bunch). These articles were a laundry list of topics instead of one cohesive-themed op/ed. After taking this summer off from writing my blog, I decided to start back up by going back to my roots and writing a “Notes” column. So, without further ado, here are a few highlights from my summer vacation.

That Girl is A Woman Now
paigeSo proud of my niece on her bat mitzvah. Not only did Paige do an amazing job reading directly from the Torah scroll, but she stepped up big time (as did my 10-year-old nephew) helping out after my sister dislocated ligaments in her heel. It may be the Year of the Rooster, but it was the Summer of the Foot. Legs too, apparently, as Paige is now officially taller than I am. Thanks a lot DNA!

Summer Bride
Back in July at a Tiny House Festival in New Paltz, NY, I thought I spotted a famous actor and pointed him out to a friend. “That’s not him,” she said. “What would he be doing here?” Then the man in question approached my table, picked up one of my books and asked, “Are you Felice?” “Yes,” I said. “Are you Mandy Patinkin?” He smiled back and nodded. Only later did I think to have said instead, “No, I’m Inigo Montoya. You killed my father, prepare to die.” But it’s probably just as well. He might not have bought copies of my books had I repeated that line from the Princess Bride. Thanks again Mandy!

Rock On
boxingMy dad took up boxing this summer. I went to watch the first class and ended up helping through all eight weeks. Rock Steady is designed for those with Parkinson’s Disease. Boxing is about fighting and that’s exactly what the workout is intended to do: fight back against the symptoms. The 15 participants came to class eager to hit something. They bonded over squats, combination punches, and walking backwards in a straight line. Each class offered new techniques, and afterwards they left stronger, more confident, and with increased joint flexibility than when they arrived. I got so much out of it myself, I plan on getting certified to teach this fall. Thursday is the last class and I anticipate it to be like the last day of camp—teary goodbyes to newfound summer friends.

Never Settle
car

I bought a new car. Okay, it’s a 2014, but compared to my 2001, it’s new. It’s my third Honda Accord (Yes, I have a type.) I’m excited about the Bluetooth, XM radio, and especially the navigation. No longer will I have to roll down my window and yell out to strangers, “Do you know how to get to X from here?”

September is Not Just for Students
bagFall is in the air. The sunlight has changed, acorns are down, and Halloween paraphernalia is once again on store shelves. That means one thing: back to school. Unless, of course, you’re on the other side of graduation, which means you have other things to look forward to. For me, it’s a chapter in the new global anthology “I Bared My Chest,” a book of personal stories from 21 female authors from around the world. I’m honored to be chosen and look forward to the book’s release in October. To celebrate in style, I bought a new backpack. While transferring my stuff into the new one I felt studentish, that sensation that anything is possible. I guess it takes going back to your roots to remember that.

Happy Fall!

 

Before Google

familyWhere did you turn to before Google? Do you remember? The library? The phone book? Asked a friend or called 411? What did you do when you were curious to know one of the top songs in 1986? (Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel) Or when you wanted to know the name of the 16th president? (Abraham Lincoln)

I asked a few people what they did B.G. Some shrugged, while a few admitted they didn’t know they were curious about wanting the information until the answers became so readily available.

I remember exactly what I did Before Google. I had a personal source. Still do. Many others use this source as well. Some call him Richard or Ricky or Rick, but my sisters and I simply call him Dad.

Dad was a straight-A student at Boston Latin School. He aced his SATs and graduated from Clark University before attending Yeshiva University in New York City for a doctoral program. But that plan was cut short when he was drafted and joined the U.S. Navy at the height of Vietnam. After serving two years and now married with a daughter (guess who?), he saw a well dressed man in a suit carrying a briefcase and walking down a Boston street. When Dad found out the man was an attorney he thought that was a more direct way to earn a living than being a psychologist. “I wanted to do something concrete and leave a mark at the end of each day. When I get an idea I try to follow it up,” Dad said.

It was summertime. Wearing a T-shirt, shorts and sneakers without socks, Dad walked into Northeastern Law School. “There was only one other guy there and he was dressed like I was.” Turns out, it was the dean and they had a nice talk. After listening to Dad’s background and skills, the dean arranged for Dad to take the LSATs the following week. (Note: The LSATs recommend a minimum of three months of study before taking them. Just sayin’.) Dad scraped together the $50 exam fee and took the test. Out of 1,400 applications for 40 seats to Northeastern Law, Dad got one of the top scores. “They called me and said, ‘we’ll take you.” That fall he enrolled.

Now, 45 years and over 10,000 cases later, is it any wonder we still go to Dad before Google?

Happy Father’s Day Dad!

Major Change

 

majorAre we destined to stay on the same career path? Can we change on a dime? I love stories of the PR consultant who became an OT. The hedge fund manager who became a dog walker. Even I, once chief of staff to a college president, quit to finish writing my first book. Turns out, I’ve been making major changes all along.

I recently found a poem I wrote my sophomore year of college. After three semesters as a math major I was miserable. I wrote a poem expressing how I felt, then spent an entire weekend reading the course catalog, choosing a new major and subsequently, a new path. Meanwhile, if it didn’t work out, I was sure I could be the next Shel Silverstein.

Rereading this poem 20 years later, I may not have become a poet, but it’s safe to say things worked out okay.

Major Change
I want to change my major
you did not hear my wrong.
I feel so far away
it’s not where I belong.
I don’t enjoy my work
the tests confuse me more
I break out in a sweat
at the mention of my score.

I want to change my major
you did not hear me wrong.
This is a serious statement
not just a poem, rhyme or song.
There is a feeling deep inside
that upsets me all the time.
Could it be an ulcer?
A claim that seems a crime.
If I change my major
The pain may disappear
no more calculus or physics
for the remainder of my years.

I want to change my major
you did not hear me wrong.
Math has turned out not to be
the area in which I feel strong.
What I want to do
is write a play or book
or maybe paint a picture
or design a storybook.

I’ve still got lots of time
as far as for my life.
Not looking for a husband
or to be somebody’s wife.
I like to ride my bike
with my hands create with clay.
Reading is one habit
one of many I can say.

I want to change my major
you did not hear me wrong
I could continue with this poem
but that would take too long.
With my point set down on paper
As clear as I can state
I’ll have to prepared
for with my parents I’ll debate.
“What’s wrong with you and math?
Are you crazy or inept?
You’ll never make no money
and you’ll always be in debt.”
But what they don’t realize
‘case they find my idea funny
is that I have other plans
as for how I’ll make my money.

Now I’ve gone and changed my major
you did not hear me wrong.
With all the work I’ve now to do
I’ll have to say so long.
It’s been a tough decision
one I had to take with stride.
But just the first of many
to have survived I’m filled with pride.

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