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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.

 

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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.

S.O.S. Sending Out Scary (texts)

text sosSunday night on Cape Cod. My parents and I had finished dinner and I was in for the evening. So I thought. My cell phone buzzed, a text from my youngest sister.

SOS!” it read, along with a link to her cell phone’s GPS coordinates in Yarmouth, the next town over. I called her back. No answer.

“I’m coming,” I texted back. Seconds later, a second text.

I need help,” it read, with a link to the same coordinates, along with a 5-second garbled audio message and two blurry photos.

“It’s Meri,” I told my dad. “I think she needs help.”

“Let’s go,” Dad said.

“Mom, we’ll be right back!” I yelled upstairs. I didn’t want her to worry. She worries.

We got into my car and plugged in the coordinates from the text. On the way we passed the Barnstable Police Station.

“I think we should pull in,” I said. Dad agreed.

In the station, their quiet Sunday night was interrupted by our rushed entry. We showed the desk sergeant the alarming texts on my cell phone screen. As we stood there, the sergeant radioed the police in the next town. Dad and I went back to the car and headed for the same coordinates. It was starting to drizzle. The road we were on—the Old Kings Highway—was winding and dark, my headlights just barely illuminating the way ahead.

“What if it’s a scam?” I wondered aloud. “Bad guys luring people to destinations and chopping them up?”

“I doubt it,” Dad said. Still. In my mind I reviewed the contents of my trunk for what could possibly be used as a weapon. A rollerblade? A bike shoe? I’ve been living in New York City too long.

Our destination was a house. Lights on, cars out front. I parked on a neighbor’s lawn. At the same time a police car appeared. The cop was calm as he asked for my name and my sister’s name; he had obviously been briefed. We approached the front door together. He knocked. No answer. He knocked again louder. No response. Even more worried, I suggested, “Let’s just go in.” The cop blinked his flashlight through the glass storm door. Finally a woman appeared, my sister behind her! Seeing an officer at the door, both looked alarmed. When they opened the door there were sounds of soft jazz. We had interrupted a dinner party. I explained about the texts. We were mystified. The cop, seeing everything was OK, left. My sister swore up and down that there was no emergency and that the phone had been in her pocketbook. Despite her utter mortification, it was comforting to know a complex system like that works.

Nevertheless.

I called Verizon. “How does a cell phone call for emergency assistance on its own?” Turns out, on some phones, if you hit the “home” button three times, the cell phone sends an emergency SOS to a designated contact. But do most people even know about this capacity? While it can be a reassuring feature, it can generate a lot of mischief when accidentally triggered by the contents of a pocketbook. I used to laugh at “butt dialing.” Not anymore.

Remember This

papa felice baby

Me and Papa

Today is Yom HaShoah, a day of remembrance for the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. It’s also a day I celebrate those who survived. Those courageous men and women, boys and girls, who found the strength to keep going, to hold on, who had luck on their side. In particular, I remember my grandparents. Had either of them succumbed to the nightmare that was their daily life for five years, I would not be here. If they hadn’t come to this country with the determination to make it, the willingness to work hard, I would not be here.

But I am here.

To show my appreciation I have been educating others about the Holocaust for the last six years. On April 13 I had an opinion piece in the New York Daily News about Sean Spicer’s insensitive comments, about my grandfather and about the book we wrote together. When What Papa Told Me, a memoir I wrote as a gift for Papa, came out in 2010, I never expected to sell one copy. To date I’ve sold over 30,000 copies around the world, have spoken to thousands around the country and had the book translated into Polish. Recently I received a request to have it translated into Japanese.

Let me write that again, Japanese.

When my grandfather was on his last legs at the end of the war, weighed 78 pounds and spent his days hiding among piles of rotting dead bodies in Bergen Belsen, did he imagine the story of his survival would become a book to be read by many? Not in a million years. But it has. Today I remember my grandparents, I remember what they went through and I give thanks to them for never giving up. It’s the least I can do.

Recharge Me

 

low batteryHas the battery on your cell phone ever dipped below 15% and you didn’t have a charger and wouldn’t be home for hours? Did you get nervous? Chest feel tight? Breathing become rapid? Did you begin to conserve power by not checking Facebook every ten seconds?

I woke up last Friday morning and my phone was dead, blank screen, nothing. Spent a few minutes holding down every button, but nada. Should I run to Verizon? It was pouring outside and I didn’t have to be anywhere until late that afternoon, but had a lot of work to do. I decided to stay put. I emailed my mom saying if she needed me to call my neighbor. Then I got busy. And for the next six hours I was superwoman.

No one wants to lose power with these devices we’ve become addicted to, but it happens. To avoid this, we put a lot of energy into being prepared. We carry around battery packs, chargers, and take note of where the outlets are in Starbucks. Heaven forbid we fall off the e-grid.

But what about ourselves? How many of us take the same precautions to keep our bodies from dipping into low energy? Imagine if we put the same effort into keeping ourselves from losing steam as we did our phones. Sure it takes time to cut up celery and spread almond butter on whole wheat bread, but isn’t it advantageous to take a few minutes here and there, as opposed to doing nothing and then being faced with a real issue that stops us in our tracks? Just like our cell phones and tablets, our bodies give us signals when it falls into low energy—sleepy, hungry, thirsty. We need to listen to those warnings and not assume another cup of coffee will do the trick.

In all honestly, when my phone didn’t spring to life, I felt anxious, but the sensation lasted only seconds. Soon peacefulness came over me as the pressure to text and post and tweet fell away, and I happily settled into the realization that there was nothing I could do.

Please visit my website at www.felicecohen.com

Small Talk, Big Benefits

small talkIt was dinnertime, about a dozen of us, all with growling stomachs, crowded in front of the Fairway deli counter with pink ticket numbers in hand, thumbing through emails and waiting to place our orders. After a long day, many wanted to get their food, go home and watch March Madness.

I know I did.

Four Fairway employees moved behind the counter in their choreographed dance, carving meats and scooping roasted vegies into containers. No doubt they were tired too. In the midst of placing orders, one person was slowing things down. One Fairway deli man called out the next number and said to his customer, “Hi, how was your day?”

Groans appeared from folks waiting their turn. I admit to being one.

“Uh, it was okay,” answered the male customer, taken aback. “How was yours?”

“It was great, thanks for asking.” Smiled the employee. Faces looked up from their cell phones as the banter continued.

“Only one piece of salmon?” joked the employee. “Certainly a big guy like you can eat more.”

“Oh, I’d also like three pieces of chicken.”

“Now we’re talking,” joked the employee.

Customers were now exchanging that “Only in New York” expression, while wearing genuine smiles. Even though we were not part of the conversation, it lightened the mood for each of us.

Turns out, that’s what small talk does. Makes us happier. But small talk has been swallowed up by cell phones, and instead of engaging with strangers while waiting for a bus or talking to our doormen, we’re texting or Snap Chatting. In losing our communications with people, we’re losing out on connections. And we need it now, more than ever.

Researchers from the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that “even a little interaction with your regular barista at the coffee shop, can contribute to day-to-day well-being.” Imagine feeling cheerier from a simple, “How you doin’?” whether they’re a friend or not. And you never know, your new best friend or soul mate could be just inches past your cell phone and all you need to do is look up.

So as I waited my turn in Fairway, I was hoping to get the chatty employee. Sure enough.

“How was your day?” he asked me.

“It was fabulous,” I said, seeing heads turn to me. “I met the nicest guy at Fairway.”

Click here for some tips on making small talk.

Everything Old is New Again

ipod.jpgI recently came across my old iPod circa 2006. I had downloaded thousands of songs onto it and listened in my car, on my bike, at the gym. But in a few short years, like with most electronic devices, it became obsolete, replaced by newer and better. So into the “electronics” tote it went, somehow surviving a number of my annual clean outs. “Maybe I’ll sell it or give it away,” I’d say, before dropping it back into the tote.

Until a few months ago when I finally said it’s time to sell it. But the best offer online was $5. Not worth shipping. For old times sake I charged it and plugged in my ear buds. Songs I used to play on rotation that perked up my mood, motivated me to organize a closet or ride 30 miles filled my head. It was like finding an old friend.

Today I listen to music online, keeping my iTunes with only a few songs as to not use up space on my laptop. But since our reunion, my trusty old iPod has been with me to the gym, my cell phone remaining in the locker. All I hear is music, no texts, emails or calls. I’m focused, letting the music do it’s thing. This old iPod is worth way more than $5.

As many know, I am an advocate of getting rid of excess, even sentimental stuff. But sometimes an old thing can bring new happiness. The key to finding that diamond in the rough is to clear out the extra stuff so we may find new meaning in the old.

violinJust like in the documentary Joe’s Violin, nominated for an Oscar. Joe, a Holocaust survivor, bought a violin in a Displaced Persons camp after the war. Playing it reminded him of his childhood. He played until his fingers got too feeble. When New York City held a drive to collect musical instruments for students Joe donated that violin. This special violin was given to someone special—a young female violinist in the Bronx—who was as moved by the violin’s story as Joe was when he heard her play it.

And that’s a story that never gets old.

You can watch the short film here

Make the Moments Count

likeDoes it count if you walk 12,000 steps, but it’s not recorded on your Fitbit? Does it count if you travel to Australia and high-five a kangaroo but don’t post a picture on Facebook? Most importantly, does it count if you make the winning shot and it isn’t captured on video?

It’s like the adage: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” The philosophical belief is that “objects of sense exist only when there is somebody by to perceive them.” Hence the question: Do these moments in our lives count if they’re not posted for the world to appreciate? Bigger question: Did they before?

Our days are filled with moments—happy, heartbreaking, exciting, routine. Once upon a time (not too long ago) we experienced a moment and you know what we did? Nothing. Sure we cherished it or wrote about it in our journal, or perhaps told a friend, but not today. Today we share with everyone. I mean everyone. And what’s more, we feel pressured to do so.

So we post. And we post. And we post.

We post so much that the interwebs are chock full of these moments, and we all know what too much of anything turns into: clutter. In this case, e-clutter. By default this makes your special moment not so special, resulting in fewer “likes” which might make you feel bad, deeming this whole self-esteem building structure counter-productive.

What if instead of focusing our cameras on these moments, we focused ourselves on being in the moment. Might we actually enjoy it more? Being in the moment is being present, and present is just another word for gift.

Hhmm.

Okay, I can hear you saying, “But if we capture the moment then we can relive it.” Yes, that’s true, but life is about collecting experiences so for sure there will be more. Lately it feels like in our haste to try and capture each “special moment,” we’re ultimately losing out on what makes them special in the first place. And who likes that?

Coming up: February 20-24 is the virtual Tiny House Summit and I am one of the keynote speakers. I will be talking about how to prepare yourself to live in a smaller space and also how to motivate you to live with less. The event is free.

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