Family

Thankful For So Much... Including An Organized Home

In 2017, the Thomas fire came within inches of my parents’ home. 

My grandparents built the house in 1972, and my parents bought it from them in 2000 and remodeled it as their forever home. So, I didn’t grow up there, but for my entire life it has =been a beloved place to be with family and celebrate holidays.

Charred brush on the left, house on the right.

Charred brush on the left, house on the right.

That whole fall was a wild ride. In an unrelated but unfortunately timed water based incident, the bottom floor of the house flooded and my parents had to move everything upstairs so that reconstruction could begin. Then, the fire came, and they packed up what they could fit in their cars and evacuated. Then came the mudslides, and there was no access to the house for weeks. When the roads were cleared, the house stood in a sea of burned landscaping and melted pool equipment, full of sooty walls and smoke-damaged furniture and clothing.

There are so many ways in which I’m thankful, beyond words and with some significant amount of survivors’ guilt. Of course, that my parents were safe the entire time. That our home was still intact, while so many people we know and love lost everything. That our family has the resources to rebuild. That amazing firefighters came from so far away to work so hard to defend our neighborhood (shout out and huge thanks to the Moraga Fire Department http://www.mofd.org/!). That the Montecito community came together to take care of its own.

This is how warm it gets inside a house surrounded by fire.

This is how warm it gets inside a house surrounded by fire.

And I’m thankful that my dad is the most organized person I know. Because I am here to tell you, when then entire contents of a home have been relocated within it AND packed up for evacuation AND packed up again for post-disaster cleaning, you are really and truly glad from the bottom of your soul that every object has a designated location.

When I went to Santa Barbara to help my parents move back into the house, the three of us unpacked for three straight days. I did not take a picture of the pile of boxes that was delivered to the driveway, which was a big miss, but suffice it to say it was truly heroic. And yet, by the time I came back to San Francisco you would never have known anything had ever happened.

If my parents hadn’t had such an organized home in the first place, it would have taken us three times as long with three times as much frustration… maybe more!

I fervently wish that none of you reading this ever have to evacuate due to natural disaster, let alone lose your home. But based on my experience, I would heartily recommend getting your home organized and inventoried (might I suggest pictures of the insides of cabinets? Those would have helped even more!) as part of your personal emergency plan.

So, in this week of Thanksgiving, when so many people have just lost their homes and loved ones, and even the air around me is choking thick, all I can do is be thankful for everything that I have and try to give back to the people who need it. To help the victims of the Camp Fire, please consider donating here:

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. I’m thankful for you!

LMW

Don't Buy Random Crap for Your Loved Ones

You’ve heard of The Five Love Languages, right? If not, the basic premise is that people tend to prefer to give and receive love in one of five ways: words of affirmation, acts of service, physical touch, gifts, and quality time. Once you and your loved ones figure out your individual love languages, it can help you show love to each other more effectively. In fact, if you’re not sure what you prefer, there’s an online quiz you can take to find out!

Recently, I’ve watched my clients struggle with the gift giving love language. Specifically, they have family that lives very far away and misses them very much, and shows their love by sending them inexpensive gifts regularly. While I haven’t met the gift givers in person, it’s clear to me that these gifts are sent out of an abundance of love, with absolutely no ill intent.

However, there are serious side effects to a regular gift giving routine.

  1. Those gifts add up fast. In thinking of one client in particular, her mom likes to send her costume jewelry, cloth bags, cute glasses and dishware, and general tchotchkes. My client, like many of us here in San Francisco, lives with her boyfriend in a one bedroom apartment. It’s plenty of space for them and their cats, but there just isn’t enough storage to accommodate the constant inflow of gifts. 
  2. Those gifts cause serious guilt. My clients tell me that they don’t want to donate these gifts because they know that if the giver found out, they would be hurt. The gifts, in effect, become an emotional burden and an extension of the guilt my clients already feel over living so far away from their loved ones.
  3. Those gifts can cause relationship strife. I have a couple of clients who deal with continuous gift giving from both of their moms. They are each uncomfortable with dealing with so much stuff from their own mothers, but end up taking that frustration out on each other and the other’s mom. While this is so common for all of us as humans - we redirect anger at a person we can’t confront to the people who see us every day - it’s completely avoidable in this case.
This is what years of inexpensive gifts looks like after I've helped a client decide what's important to keep... and what's not.

This is what years of inexpensive gifts looks like after I've helped a client decide what's important to keep... and what's not.

People whose love language is gift giving (and I am one of them, so I know of what I speak!) sometimes struggle with the idea that a gift could be a bad thing, and they often don’t know how to communicate their love in other ways that feel just as effective. So, I have a few suggestions!

  1. Take a picture of the cute tchotchke, send it to your loved one, and tell them why it made you think of them. How fun is a random loving message in the middle of the day? You get all the benefits of gift giving, like reminding someone that you love them and showing that you understand what’s special about them, without any of the downside. This also gives you the opportunity to see whether or not your loved one actually wants that item! If they text back “hahaha, love that, I miss you too!” then the thought was enough. But a text that says “OMG I need this!” means you have the green light to send a gift!
  2. Give experiences rather than objects. This is something my family has wholeheartedly embraced as part of our gift giving tradition and we all absolutely love it.  You get the gift giving experience - opening something, the surprise, the feeling of being special to the giver - and then you get to extend it by talking about the upcoming event, planning for it, then doing it and reminiscing about it after the fact. My sister gave me a trip to Jackson Hole for Christmas a couple years ago and it was one of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten!
  3. Direct your gift giving energy to people who are in need. Every holiday season, my husband and I adopt a family through Compass Family Services, and take great joy in making their Christmas magical. I love giving to friends and family, but it's even more rewarding to give to people who truly need and appreciate the gifts.
  4. Save your gift giving effort (and budget) for select occasions. Often, people send many cheaper gifts because they feel that the number of gift giving occasions should be maximized but they don’t have the funds to purchase high quality gifts that often. When it comes to gifts, like many other things in life, I recommend going for quality over quantity. Two high quality, beautiful gifts per year will give your loved one all the surprise and delight you crave, and because you have the extra time and money to spend on selecting it, chances are much higher that they will use and love the gift.
  5. When in doubt, just pick up the phone and say “I love you.” Because that’s what we’re all really trying to do with gift giving, right?
This not my family's Christmas, but the gifts prepared for our adopted family this past holiday season!

This not my family's Christmas, but the gifts prepared for our adopted family this past holiday season!

I, personally, will never stop loving the process of opening a present that someone has selected just for me, and then watching them open something I know they’re going to love. But I love it even more when it’s a truly special moment and not just a regular thing.

LMW

My Favorite Mountain

I love Jackson Hole, you guys. For the second year in a row, my husband and I made the trek for a ski weekend, and this time we convinced my entire family to come along, as well as a few friends.  And I do believe we've made converts of them, too!

Most of my ski days happen at Alpine Meadows for one simple reason: that's where I work as a volunteer patroller, so I have a pass.  Pretty hard to pass up unlimited days, especially on a mountain that offers a wide variety of steep, interesting terrain - especially if you're willing to hike for it!

However, Jackson Hole has won my heart and I know we'll be returning again and again. Why?

Taking a little peruse through a powder stash...

Taking a little peruse through a powder stash...

...and agreeing, once again, not to ski  Corbet's Coulouir .

...and agreeing, once again, not to ski Corbet's Coulouir.

The terrain: it's unbeatable. Vertical for miles, plenty of steeps, lots of varied aspects, tree skiing, that great dry snow... it's really got everything you could want. Plus, there's a pretty impressive amount of beginner and intermediate terrain so a group with varied skill levels like ours can be happy.

Long steep blue runs for days.

Long steep blue runs for days.

The views: I mean, just look.

I ended up with jalapeño infused tequila (yum), a pickle juice back (even grosser than I thought), and a sour beer.

I ended up with jalapeño infused tequila (yum), a pickle juice back (even grosser than I thought), and a sour beer.

The village: lots of hotel options (we absolutely adored the Four Seasons - even the smallest rooms are big and comfy with plenty of places to unpack your ski gear, the service in the boot/ski room is next level, and there's a fully staffed bar at the hot tub/pool after 3pm with tasty warm beverages), good restaurants, and an excellent apres scene (don't miss beers at the Alpenhof or roll the dice for a potentially disastrous shot/back/beer combo at the Handle Bar).

The simplicity: United has direct flights from San Francisco, making Jackson Hole more accessible than pretty much all the great Colorado mountains. And this year, no cancellations!

My sister taking a few glorious turns.

My sister taking a few glorious turns.

The bonus: you can do a day heli-skiing trip! My husband gave me heli-skiing for my birthday last year and made good by sending my sister and me for an epic powder day unlike anything to be had inside resort boundaries. It was total hero snow: 6 inches of light high mountain fluff on hard pack, and fresh tracks all day. And we completely geeked out climbing out of a helicopter on the actual top of a mountain!

Usually at this point in the year I'm pretty excited about the end of winter, but if I could I'd go back to Jackson this weekend. It's that good. That said, I'm always willing to try something new! Where else should we look at for next year's ski trip?

LMW

Thoughts on Natural Disaster

My home town is burning.  And that's in every sense of the words "home town:" I grew up in Ventura, CA; went to high school in Ojai, and my parents have lived in Montecito for 20+ years.  If you're not from Southern California and those names are sounding familiar to you, it's because of the Thomas fire, an epic blaze engulfing huge amounts of land across Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. 

Yesterday morning, my parents packed their cars and put the silver in the pool.  (Yes, really – this is a good strategy if you’re short on time or transportation because pool water will not damage silver, and you can also do this with oil paintings although frames may be ruined.)  By the time the mandatory evacuation area included our house, they had already left.  They of course texted my sister and me to ask if there was anything specific we wanted them to save.

My response today is very different than it would have been a few years ago.  You see, I was always a pretty materialistic person – I liked nice things, and I preferred more of them than less. I was also really attached to my stuff, especially the higher value things and those from my childhood.

My work has really changed my perspective on stuff.  As I watch my clients grapple with their possessions and space, it continues to impress on me that what’s important is not the stuff but the memories and relationships the stuff represents.  I’ve also realized that it’s easy in our culture to form an unhealthy connection to said stuff, and to let that replace more meaningful connections to people.

I still love nice things, but I know I don’t need very many of them, and I also know that they are replaceable.  So, when my parents asked if I wanted them to save anything, my answer was no.  Everything I need is with me in my home in SF, and I will always have lovely memories of my childhood, my family, and my friends from across the years.  Of course, if the house is damaged or destroyed, it will be sad.  But practically speaking we will be ok.

Another reason I’m so calm about this is that we’re both mentally and logistically prepared for fire.  We know our house is in a risky area and have prepared to evacuate before, so we know what to pack and when.  Our house is insured and has a spray foam protectant system in place that can be used by the fire department if they have time.  My dad even recently had every single family photo digitized, so we don’t need to take up space in cars with albums and boxes of pictures.

As I said, we’re prepared, safe, and fortunate enough to have the resources to recover and rebuild if necessary.  Many people had much less warning and are less lucky, and will need help from their communities.  If you’d like to pitch in, there’s great info on how to help here: #venturastrong

And don’t wait: prepare for disasters likely to strike your area today.  Coming soon: a post on organizing our earthquake preparation strategies.

LMW

Weekly Peek - Trip of a Lifetime Part 2

I keep telling people that the week my mom and I spent at Arctic Watch may have been our favorite trip of all time.  I think part of the reason is that it caught me so by surprise. I honestly didn’t know you could actually go there, much less how you would do it.

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What made it so special?  I think it was a combination of the vast, barren natural beauty of the landscape; jaw dropping wildlife sightings; incredible people who are polar experts and delight in sharing their favorite place on earth with visitors; more creature comforts than you deserve at that latitude but not enough to feel too guilty about it; the ability to truly disconnect from the outside world and be present in the series of unique moments you experience; and being presented with countless opportunities to say yes to adventure.

We decided expedition parkas must be yellow so that the guides can keep track of the hapless tourists.

We decided expedition parkas must be yellow so that the guides can keep track of the hapless tourists.

This is a musk ox.  We met his live brethren later in the week!

This is a musk ox.  We met his live brethren later in the week!

As I explained in Part 1, we added a stopover in Calgary for the Stampede to our itinerary before meeting up with the tour group in Yellowknife.  The night before we left, we were given our expedition parkas (included in the trip fee) and our Muck boots (a loan for the duration of the trip).  You’ll see us wearing those boots in every picture for a reason: they are waterproof, warm, and extremely comfortable.  I hiked all day in those suckers and had nary a hot spot.

Sea ice on Somerset Island

Sea ice on Somerset Island

On the runway at Arctic Watch

On the runway at Arctic Watch

Bright and early in the morning, we loaded onto a bus to the airport, where we boarded a charter flight on a Dash 8 plane.  The pilot pointed out when we crossed the Arctic Circle – which, by the way, was before our halfway point refueling spot.  Arctic Watch is on Somerset Island along the Northwest Passage, and as we landed on a dirt runway with only some all terrain vehicles and a wind sock to be seen, it truly felt like the end of the earth.

Arctic Watch as seen from the runway

Arctic Watch as seen from the runway

Closer view of the main tent

Closer view of the main tent

At Arctic Watch, every day is an adventure.  You find out the options first thing in the morning and sign up for your choice (my mom and I were totally those people who hopped up to make sure we got our first pick since there was limited space on many of the excursions…). Many activities involve motorized vehicles, either ATV’s or this giant beast called a Unimog that they use to haul you to jumping off points for hikes.  After a day of, as my mom described, yet another peak experience, you come back in the evening to hang out in the great room and then go to dinner.  There’s not much activity after about 10pm – everyone goes to bed since the days start on the early side.

Mog.

Mog.

Mog selfie!

Mog selfie!

And those peak experiences?  It started our very first day, when a few of us walked along the ATV trail to a spot overlooking the bay and realized that what had looked like whitecaps in the water was actually a pod of 400 beluga whales.  Later in the week, we went down to the shore after dinner and stood just yards from them as they played and itched their shedding skin on the rocky bottom of the river mouth.

Whitecaps?

Whitecaps?

Nope, belugas!

Nope, belugas!

My mom and I went on a kayak trip one day.  It was incredible enough that a beluga whale bubbled right under our boat (I won’t lie, we shrieked, and then shrieked again when our friendly guide Alex informed us that meant the beluga was not pleased) and then paddled close enough to see seals on the sea ice (and I also almost got us stuck on said sea ice, it is wily).  But then we got out of our kayaks and walked up a beautiful, dramatic canyon with a waterfall in it, and Alex very unceremoniously walked in and swam in said waterfall in his dry suit.  So of course, we all had to give it a try! 

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Left: suited up to kayak one day, hike the next.  Top: lovely view from pretty much anywhere on an ATV drive

Left: suited up to kayak one day, hike the next.  Top: lovely view from pretty much anywhere on an ATV drive

Another day, we were supposed to all go on a rafting/stand up paddle boarding adventure on the river.  I was FIRED UP for this, and super disappointed when, just as we were arriving from a Unimog ride and short hike, the wind came up and the whole thing had to be scrapped.  The day was saved by guide Dave who offered to take anyone willing to keep up with him on the 8 mile cross country hike back to camp.  Two other women and I took him up on the offer, and it was so worth it.  He showed us hidden canyons, wind-barren hilltops and lakes, and actually breathtaking vistas (I say actually because we were literally leaning into the wind).

Inside the great room

Inside the great room

Some toothbrushing realness inside our tent

Some toothbrushing realness inside our tent

So here’s the nitty gritty.  There is one flight a week that lands on a dirt runway: the same plane that drops you off delivers all the food and picks up last week’s guests.  The camp itself is a group of semi-permanent white tents (the white part is important).  Each pair of guests has their own small tent with beds (fleece sheets and giant duvets, SO cozy), hanging storage shelves, a small sink console, and a marine toilet behind a zipped curtain.  The heat only goes on for 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the evening, so you're not exactly hanging out in there.  The main complex houses a great room for gathering, dining room and kitchen that seats the whole camp at long tables, gear storage areas, the staff office, and ladies’ and gents’ bathrooms with sinks, showers with changing rooms, and marine toilets.  So yes, to shower, you pack up your stuff just like in college and mosey on over to the main bathrooms.  Some guests waited a couple of days before attempting, but there was plenty of privacy and hot water to go around, so my mom and I took full advantage every day.

The 24 hour daylight thing is actually crazy in real life.  The sun doesn’t appreciably dip at any time of day, and it’s not really ever overhead, it just looks like a pretty consistent 2-3 pm on a fall day… all day.  This continues to be weird every which way you encounter it: when it’s 10:30pm and you’ve had a full day but you’re not tired, when you wake up at 3am and it looks like you’ve slept til noon, when you realize there isn’t a single electric light in the entire place (remember – white tents!).  The first night, my mom debated whether or not to wear a fleece hat to bed and decided to keep it right next to her in case she needed it in the night… as she carefully positioned the hat, I pointed out: “it’s not like you won’t be able to see it!”  We dissolved into semi-hysterical giggles.

A gourmet picnic in the high Arctic... only at Arctic Watch

A gourmet picnic in the high Arctic... only at Arctic Watch

We died upon realizing that the keg is outside unrefrigerated because... Arctic.

We died upon realizing that the keg is outside unrefrigerated because... Arctic.

The food (by Toronto based chef Justin Tse) is incredible.  It’s the kind of food I want to eat all the time: great ingredients, freshly and simply prepared.  Plus they have an espresso machine, as well as beer on tap and a selection of great Canadian wine.  Even the packed lunches hauled by the guides on all-day excursions are incredible: a different soup every day, each of them to die for, and make-you-own sandwiches on this delicious homemade bread.

Above all, the people are what make Arctic Watch.  The Weber family runs Arctic Watch and they are the consummate polar experts.  They also hire an incredible staff of friendly, experienced people who truly love the Arctic.  Theirs is a uniquely adventurous life, and I have to admit that although I love my mostly urban life, I’m more than a little jealous.

You won't believe it until you see it.

You won't believe it until you see it.

A trip to Arctic Watch is a once in a lifetime opportunity, for those of us who are even lucky enough to go in the first place.  It’s expensive, it’s remote, it’s a major commitment.  But if you ever get the chance: man, do not pass this up.  Go.

LMW

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Weekly Peek - Trip of a Lifetime Part 1

Sometime's life's best experiences take you by surprise.  It's why I've made it my personal policy to always say yes to unique opportunities.  So, when my mom emailed me the link to a Stanford Travel Study trip to an eco lodge well north of the Arctic Circle and told me my dad couldn't go, I just said, "let's do it!"

By saying yes to adventures, you also often encounter an amazing amount of serendipity.  The best way to get to Arctic Canada from the west coast of the US is to fly through Calgary, and our dates perfectly aligned so that we would be there for the final weekend of Stampede - one of the biggest rodeo events on the planet.  Obviously, we took this as a sign and extended our trip!

I can't do justice to this trip in one short blog post, so I'm going to break it up into a couple of parts.  Today: our adventure at the Calgary Stampede and exploration of Yellowknife, the jumping-off point for our Arctic expedition.

Calgary

My limited knowledge of Calgary came from stories I've heard about Stampede from horsey people (I briefly learned to ride gymkhana races in another life) and the Disney classic film Cool Runnings about the 1988 Winter Olympics.  As it turns out, Calgary reminds me of a hybrid of Denver and Houston: a modern city built on oil money in the middle of the plains featuring a high rise downtown and significant suburban sprawl.  There's clearly a lot going on there as evidence by the modern indicators of prosperity: a burgeoning food scene, a million condo buildings going up, and plentiful Ubers.

We had a great dinner at Rouge (fresh, local ingredients prepared expertly on the pretty patio of a historic home in the beautiful Inglewood neighborhood) the first night, followed by the heroic portions and epic kimchi hollandaise of brunch at Anju the next morning.  Appropriately fortified, it was on to the Stampede!

Our seats for the rodeo (that guy is about to go flying over the stands)

Our seats for the rodeo (that guy is about to go flying over the stands)

The Stampede Spectacular

The Stampede Spectacular

Calgary Stampede is basically a combination of a huge rodeo and a massive state fair.  All the fried foods you could ever wish for are on site, plus tons of agricultural exhibits and acres of livestock barns.  My mom did her research ahead of time and got us tickets in the stands to the actual rodeo events in the afternoon, which were so worth it: I had never actually seen bronco or bull riding in person, and it was so thrilling I watched most of it through my fingers.  We each picked a decadent fair food for dinner (spicy custom mac and cheese for me, poutine for my mom in honor of our Canadian hosts) and followed it up with fried cookie dough to share which was EVERYTHING wrong and delicious in this life!  We rounded out the evening by watching the Stampede Spectacular, which was basically a mini version of closing ceremonies at the Olympics.  We were both impressed by the theme of the show - "We Are Better Together" featuring many of the cultures that make up modern Canada and enthusiastically supported by the crowd - and wistful that such a progressive theme would never be featured at a similarly rural/conservative leaning event at home in the US.

If you go to the Calgary Stampede:

  • Book your hotel early.  We booked months ahead and the boutique hotel my mom wanted was already full so we ended up at the Fairmont.  It is perfectly fine, but overpriced for a relatively under-remodeled old hotel (good bathrooms though!).
  • Dress for the heat and potential thunderstorms.  We both wore light cotton sundresses and flat shoes and carried rain shells and although we wilted slightly we were happy campers!  If I had tried to cowgirl it up in jeans and boots I would have been sweltering, and I felt for the riders in their heavy leather chaps.
  • Once you're at the Stampede grounds, plan to stay until you go home for the day.  The lines to enter only increase as the day goes on.
  • Fly Air Canada if you are a United customer with status - Star Alliance gold gets you into priority check-in and security lanes as well as the Maple Leaf Lounge.  Bonus: Global Entry also works for immigration in Canada, both arriving and leaving! 

Yellowknife

The official Stanford Travel/Study trip began in Yellowknife, Northern Territories, because it has Canada's northernmost airport served by major commercial airlines.  We really didn't know what to expect here, to be perfectly honest.  It's a bigger city than we imagined, about 25,000 people, and has a definite frontier town feel.  It's built for the harsh winter weather: buildings are square, sturdy, and no-nonsense.  The biggest industry in the area remains mining, so there's cash on hand - as we saw in our exploration of a very high end grocery and homewares store - but the legacy of mistreatment of First Nations and Inuit peoples is also pretty obvious in the form of substance abuse issues and social stratification.  Food and alcohol are expensive, since everything must be trucked in over vast distances: a head of organic broccoli was on sale for $7.95 CDN!

Looking over old town Yellowknife from the Bush Pilots Monument

Looking over old town Yellowknife from the Bush Pilots Monument

View across Frame Lake to downtown

View across Frame Lake to downtown

Looking back towards downtown from the Bush Pilots Monument

Looking back towards downtown from the Bush Pilots Monument

Inside Bullocks' Bistro

Inside Bullocks' Bistro

Yellowknife is less a tourist destination than a jumping off point for adventure excursions, but we had a day and a half there and had a great time!  Our first day, we walked into the historic old town and poked around - and were somewhat gobsmacked to realize that Yellowknife's pioneer heyday was pretty recent as in the 1930's and 1940's!  The second day, we did the hike around Frame Lake, a very pretty and well marked trail that borders the newer downtown, and visited the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre which has really high quality exhibits.  That evening, we met our travel group, got fitted for boots (more on those later), picked up our expedition parkas, and then headed out for dinner at Bullocks' Bistro.  This is one of those places with extreme amounts of local character, and also the best fish and chips I have ever had in my life - and I have spent more time than the average bear in the UK including sampling of various types of fish and chips!  On the way home, it felt so early - at was probably 8:30 p.m. and fully sunny - that we stopped off for a beer at Northwest Territories Brewing Company.  A great spot (we ended up coming back for dinner on our way back through Yellowknife at the end of the trip), and I recommend the Amber!

That would be PM.

That would be PM.

The view from our Explorer Hotel room

The view from our Explorer Hotel room

This was where we realized that the long northern days were going to be weirder than we thought.  In Yellowknife, the sun does set at midsummer, but it only really ever gets dusky.  As a trip host told us, she hadn't seen stars since early May!  So, we easily lost track of time and found ourselves rushing back to the hotel after 10p.m. to make sure to get some shut-eye before our early-ish departure the next morning!

If you go to Yellowknife:

  • There's no need to dress up.  I felt overdressed at the hotel restaurant in jeans with a nice top, and we bummed around during the day in workout clothes and our finest Patagonia outerwear and fit in just fine.
  • If you want to sleep properly, close your curtains!  It may feel at 11pm like it's about to get dark... but it won't.
  • If you're patient, everything is walkable.  Taxis exist, but we were perfectly happy walking everywhere.  Nothing you want to see or need to do is more than a mile away.
  • Lodging options are limited.  We stayed at the Explorer Hotel, which is supposedly the best in town.  Facilities are what you would expect from a big city Holiday Inn or similar, rooms are less recently remodeled but perfectly fine with comfortable beds.

To see even more photos from this epic trip, be sure to follow me on Instagram.  I'll be back with more on our Arctic adventure next week!

LMW

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Organize First, THEN Move

When I came across this article, I found myself nodding along to every word.  Liz Johnson's 4 Tips for Paring Down Your Belongings Before A Big Move are a clear, concise distillation of so many of the topics I cover with my clients who are going through moves.

I’ve seen firsthand that when it comes to moving, taking the time to get organized beforehand will pay huge dividends during the unpacking process.  You know those last few boxes that just have random junk shoved into them that you have no idea what to do with?  If you get organized before packing, those boxes won’t happen in the first place!

Photo courtesy of food52.com (Liz Johnson)

Photo courtesy of food52.com (Liz Johnson)

I’m working with an adorable family right now who just moved from an apartment into their first home (and are expecting their second child).  It’s such an exciting time for them, and so fun to be a part of their major life transition.  In fact – the husband joked with me last time I was over that I’m now part of the family!

However… I wish they had called me sooner!  We only had time for a couple of organizing sessions in their old place.  We got a lot done, but I could have helped make their transition even smoother if I had had the opportunity to go through all the spaces in the old apartment before the movers came.

Don’t get me wrong – they are still going to end up with a beautifully custom organized home at the end of all this!  But because we weren’t able to spend more time on the front end, they moved more stuff than they needed to and are now in the position of making keep/toss decisions at the same time as we make placement and organizational decisions.  It’s now a more complex and overwhelming process, and I’m glad I’m there to streamline it for them!

To be specific: if you’re moving and want help, call me with about 2 months of lead time.  I’ll help sort your belongings in your old place, manage your move, and organize everything during the unpacking process so that your new home works for you from the get go.  Moving can suck – but it doesn’t have to!

LMW

What I'm Organizing - Everyday Sparkle

I'm into fashion, but to be totally honest with you, I’m not very good at accessories.  Conventional wisdom says that accessories complete an outfit, but somehow when I try to incorporate them creatively I feel like I leap over the line into trying-too-hard territory.

I think part of the issue is that my taste in jewelry runs to the small and simple.  Not TOO small, because I am not a particularly delicately proportioned person, but I’ve just never been a fan of gaudier, bulkier styles.  For example, anything with pavé diamonds is my personal kryptonite.

So, instead of trying to keep up with the latest trends in jewelry on a daily basis, I usually wear a tightly edited set of simple, meaningful pieces.  It's only when I have more time to think things through that I bust into my small collection of inherited treasures and costume jewelry.   

I keep my jewelry in an undisclosed location, and it was becoming a serious pain  to pull out my standby pieces at the beginning and end of every day - because, of course, I am an organizer and I hate leaving things just laying around.  I started keeping them out on the bathroom counter, but that made me nervous - one false move and they'd go sliding down the sink drain, never to be heard from again.  I am, it must be said, a clumsy person.

Fortunately, the right answer arrived in the form of a stocking stuffer this past Christmas: a fun little china dish my mom found.  It's just the right size to keep my daily essentials, and looks cute out on my bathroom counter.  After a couple of months of incorporating this jewelry dish into my daily routine, I definitely think it strikes the right balance between a strategy that works and a decorative addition to my space.

Clockwise from top left: pink sapphire and diamond engagement and wedding rings, picked out by my husband; Cartier trinity bracelet, a gift from my husband; diamond solitaire necklace, a gift from my husband; Cartier trinity ring, a gift from my husband; diamond stud earrings, a gift from my parents; Omega Lady Seamaster watch, a gift from my parents

Clockwise from top left: pink sapphire and diamond engagement and wedding rings, picked out by my husband; Cartier trinity bracelet, a gift from my husband; diamond solitaire necklace, a gift from my husband; Cartier trinity ring, a gift from my husband; diamond stud earrings, a gift from my parents; Omega Lady Seamaster watch, a gift from my parents

You can see the theme here: my daily jewelry has been picked for me by the people who love me most, and so these pieces mean even more to me than their aesthetic contribution to an outfit.  When I put them on every morning, I'm reminded that I'm loved and cared for.  Of course, I do love the look of these simple, classic pieces, otherwise I wouldn't be so happy wearing them all the time!

For me, having my skin care, hair care, makeup, and jewelry routines dialed in exactly where I want them means I have more space in my brain to put together the things I have fun with varying, like clothes and shoes.  We all have those things we love doing and the things that stress us out - I recommend making a routine out of the latter so you can fully enjoy the former!

LMW

What I'm Reading

Image courtesy of nytimes.com (Emily Beri/Andy Chen)

Where Have You Gone, Angelina Jolie? Celebrities Vanish From Fashion's Front Row

I find the changing landscape of the fashion industry fascinating to follow.  And I wonder what this means for the world of Instagram stars and influencers if the fact that a celebrity is seen wearing a brand doesn't really move the needle in terms of sales.

Photo courtesy of vulture.com (Bill Matlock/ABC)

Why A Black Bachelorette Is A Big Deal

I haven't been in the loop for a few years, but The Bachelor/The Bachelorette were my Monday-night go-tos during business school with my girlfriends. And it doesn't take a genius to watch a season or two of this monster franchise and realize that people of color a) are severely underrepresented and b) if they are present, exit stage left in very early episodes.

Photo courtesy of nationalgeographic.com (Antonio Faccilongo)

A Million People Live in These Underground Nuclear Bunkers

I find pretty much everything left over from the Cold War a combination of fascinating and terrifying, and this is no exception.  This article also reminds me how little I know about the world - I had literally never heard of this phenomenon before!

Photo courtesy of glamour.com (Miguel Reveriego)

Chrissy Teigen Opens Up For the First Time About Her Postpartum Depression

I've said before and I'll say it again: anything related to being less than perfectly maternal remains a huge taboo for women.  I'm all for bringing everything into the light, so that each individual can find her way and get the support she needs, whatever her motherhood status. (In related news, Glamour has been killing it journalistically in recent months.)

What I'm Organizing

Or, should I say, what I'm failing at organizing!  I'm never too proud to admit when I go wrong, and I definitely did last week.

Our renovation means that our contractor has to periodically turn off water and power to move things around, and he wanted a week without us in the house to accomplish the latest round.  So, my plan was to spend the week at my parents' condo at Tahoe.  I'd have few distractions, so I planned to get some serious work done: set up my CRM system, do a lot of writing for the blog, start to work on some cool partnership ideas, take a new look at my social media presence.  Photo below was from Day 1...

If you happened by the blog last week, you'll get an idea of how much of that happened: pretty much none of it!

During the week, whether I was on the slopes or curled up on the couch, I got into that mode where I was happy with what I was doing, l was terribly guilty about what I WASN'T doing, and i was unable to snap out of it.  I had everything I needed in terms of resources, time, ideas, space, and I just could. not. get. it. together.

Looking back, I think it's because I was adrift from my usual work habits and hadn't set myself up for success.  At home, I've developed a series of rituals that make me feel like I'm in work mode and help me concentrate.  For starters, I work on a large computer monitor with separate keyboard and mouse.  There's something about sitting at a desk with that big monitor that deters me from general internet screwing around.  Of course, I only had my laptop with me at Tahoe, and I do plenty of screwing around on that so... 

I also do things like have a candle on my desk that I only light when I'm working (and usually only when it's cold outside, because apparently flame = heat = warm? WTF self?), only wear my glasses when I am actually butt-in-seat working, and only keep work related items on my desk.  At Tahoe there was no candle, I found myself wearing my glasses around constantly, and the small desk in my room in the condo was cluttered with my purse, various charging devices, and other random stuff I brought with me that wasn't work related.

These seem like really small things that a person should be able to overcome easily.  And maybe you're made of tougher stuff than I am and you can get work done anywhere, no matter what.  But for many (most?) of us, the small habits and rituals we create to nudge ourselves into doing the things we need and want to do are crucially important.  This is why I always say that organizing isn't just about stuff, it's about habits.

About to drop down and get first tracks in Counterweight Gully at Alpine Meadows, I'm closest to the camera (Photo by @xoxjulianne)

On the plus side, I spent great quality time with my parents and enjoyed an AMAZING powder day skiing with some of the coolest hard-charging ladies around.  So, instead of dwelling on the fact that I didn't get much done last week and now feel behind, I'm trying to be thankful for the great experiences I did have and start anew this Monday.

Have a great week!

LMW