Compromising On the Road to My Horizon

“There’s been a load of compromising on the road to my horizon,
but I’m gonna be where the lights are shining on me
.”
– “Rhinestone Cowboy” by Larry Weiss, popularized by Glen Campbell

This song is on my iPod, thanks to Eric. During a recent workout, I got to thinking about what Glen meant by “compromising” and what sort of compromises I might have made on the road to where the sky has met the earth in my life.

The  word “compromise” has many different meanings. To compromise is to reach an agreement, find a middle way between two extremes, or expose or make liable to danger, suspicion or disrepute. I think Glen had the following definition in mind: a concession to something derogatory or objectionable;  a compromise of principles.

We have all made compromises in our life. It is a part of growing up to make concessions, to choose the least objectionable path, to focus on the positive and ignore the negative.  If you’re lucky and the road is smooth, you won’t have to give up too much of yourself to get where you want to be – whether it’s Broadway or the corner office.

So what concessions have I made in my life, prejudicial or otherwise?

Love: I have rarely compromised in the area of love, which I would define as dating, or even marrying, someone for reasons other than a sincere desire to be with that person. A classic example of compromise would be choosing a husband based on his perceived ability to keep you in the style to which you have become accustomed rather than feelings of romantic love. I never felt the need to let economics play a role in choosing who to date.

Education: Not from my perspective. I went to one of the best undergraduate schools in Minnesota and the only law school in the community where I lived at the time. From my perspective, it would have been a compromise of my values to insist on going to a top tier law school at the expense of spending time with my family.

Work: Often. In private practice, I did not have a proper work-life balance and sacrificed time with my family to keep the partners and clients happy.  Chasing billable hours can also feel like trading your soul for money, but I learned how to provide value for dollar and always ensured the bill reflected the value provided.  As an in-house attorney, I very rarely feel the need to compromise.

Family: It depends. I have no regrets about choosing to have a child or choosing to have only one child. This is an intimate decision that is best worked out between the parents. I had to compromise though on where we lived when raising our family, which influenced how much time I could spend with my parents and siblings. Go hug your mother now.

Fun: Almost never. I have the pictures to prove it. I tend to lose all perspective on what is the right way to behave when there is wine and dancing. It’s just how we Brom girls roll.

Politics: Not intentionally. I have always tried to pick the candidate who can do the best job, and not the one who will further my own interest.  My Dad was a Democrat. We watched the 1968 election returns hoping Herbert Humphrey would make us Minnesotans proud. My mother was a Republican. She probably voted for Nixon in 1968, but I didn’t figure that out until I was in my 20’s.  In the past, I liked some of what I heard in both parties and have voted for both Democrats and Republican for President.   These days I am a registered Democrat and support Democratic candidates.

What compromises have you made on the road to your horizon?

Views from an Empty Nest

Eric and I were in Napa Valley a few years ago. It is a great place for adults to do things that adults like to do, particularly those who are empty-nesters or who left their children at home. We took a wine tour, played golf, ate nice dinners, visited with new friends and relaxed and enjoyed the beautiful sights.

We also walked every day.  During our walks, we discovered the Veterans Home of California near our hotel. It is a scenic, campus-like home for qualified veterans, complete with a 1,200 seat theater (home of the Napa Valley Symphony), 9-hole golf course, RV park, baseball stadium, bowling lanes, and swimming pool. The campus is nestled in the scenic hills of Napa Valley with great views and within walking distance of the village of Yountville, even for those using a motorized scooter.  It’s great that the California Department of Veterans Affairs is able to make such nice accommodations available to those who have served our country.  There is probably a long waiting list to get into the facility.  If it were a private facility, it would be in great demand.

Eric and I are veterans so we meet some of the basic eligibility criteria. But I do not strive to become a resident of the facility. I am hoping to avoid nursing home care.

In the  documentary by Doug Block, The Kids Grow Up,  he chronicles his daughter’s senior year of high school and how he and his wife dealt with their only daughter’s imminent departure for college.  This is a stressful time for parents and child.  The parents are saying goodbye to their daughter and coming to terms with their own mortality.  In the movie, while in a therapeutic walking pool at a Florida recreation center, Mr. Block is quoted as telling his wife: “This is our future together. Get used to it.”

I can relate.  When you become an empty-nester, your focus shifts from raising a child to . . . .  what? What are you going to do with your extra time? Will you work more, find a new hobby, start blogging, watch more TV, have more sex (Eric votes yes)? What do you want to do with the rest of your life?  Even if you still have kids at home, you may want to start thinking about this now. It goes by fast.

Lost It!

Scientists apparently disagree on whether counting calories helps or does not help you lose weight. This Healthline article by Alina Petre is a good summary of the evidence for and against calorie counting. Ms. Petre concludes counting calories helps because, duh, you can’t lose weight unless you burn more calories then you consume.

Ms. Petre also does a good job explaining why some studies appear to show it doesn’t work. She thinks it’s because these studies fail to account for how poorly people estimate what they eat and how much they exercise. Also, studies showing that people on low-carb diets lose weight even though they don’t consume less calories are misleading because low-carb diets are higher in protein and fat, which have different impacts on the body than carbs, and can result in water weight loss rather than fat loss.

For what its worth, calorie counting works for me. I have lost at least 10 pounds since I began counting calories and recording my exercise activity on the Lose It! app on September 1, 2017. The weight loss happened gradually and I did not feel like I had to deprive myself of the foods (wine!) I love and enjoy. I was also able to eat out with loved ones without carrying around my own salad dressing. Often, if I consume more calories than my calorie budget for the day allows, I will either exercise more or cut back on my calorie intake the next day. I feel more in control of my weight than I have in years.

When I wanted to lose weight in the past, I would pick a restrictive diet and follow it for one or two weeks. I was miserable most of the time. Watching what I ate was counter-productive because it made me think about food more. It also made me feel worse about myself.  “Mostly Miserable Marcia” was a good description of my mood during those weeks. Needless to say, these restrictive diets did not result in long-term weight loss.

In the past few years, I relied on my step counter to control my weight. I thought as long as I got my steps in, I could eat and drink (most of) what I wanted. This approach stopped working, probably because my metabolism slowed down as I got older. A new approach was needed, so I did some research on calorie counting apps and chose Lose It!. The app is easy to use and has great search and scanning features. I probably spend 15 minutes per day entering my food and exercises into the app. Using LoseIt! facilitates contemporaneous record-keeping which (as long you don’t intentionally cheat) improves compliance.

My happy experience with the app has encouraged others to use it, including my husband, my daughter, my sister-in-law, a co-worker, and her son and mother. We have long (entertaining to us, but probably boring to others) conversations about what we ate, how many calories we recorded for what we ate, our exercise activity for the day and how many calories we have left to consume. Eric and I have also developed our own comedy routine about who ate more of the shared dessert and has to record more calories. Eric definitely ate 75% of the Hula Pie at Duke’s Beach House in Maui. Even though we blew our calorie budget that day, it was worth it!

                                                         Try the Hula Pie at Duke’s!

My Birthday Should Be a Holiday

March 8th is a special day in the Smith family household. We celebrate two out of three birthdays on this day, mine and Katelin’s. Eric often jokes about how this makes things easier, as he only has to remember one date. In truth, trying to make the two most important people in your life feel equally special on the same day is a daunting task, particularly when one of them is a small child and the other is her mother.  He never disappointed either one of us.

Birthday with Kakey

Although Katelin has learned to appreciate our shared day, when she was a child, she did not give it much thought.  More often than not during her childhood,  we would have two completely separate birthday celebrations.  She was busy planning her own birthday party: who should she invite, where should it be, what would the theme be. You know you are doing something right as a parent if your child is allowed to be self-centered.

Now that she has learned to adult, she thinks it is great and has embraced the specialness of sharing her birthday with her mother.  We send each other birthday “gifs” and have at least one joint celebration. This year Eric booked us a Signature Escape at the Langham Hotel’s Chuan Spa: 5 Wu Xing Elements In-One.  It sounds heavenly and just what two busy women need to relax and unwind.

Our friends, family and acquaintances will usually exclaim “How neat” or “What a blessing” when they are told (or remember) that we share the same birthday.  So how rare is it? Ken Thompson, a researcher at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi calculated the odds of a baby being born on the same day as the baby’s mother and father (this actually happened in 2016):

“There are lots of variables at play,” he said. “To make it as simple as possible, let’s say that the distribution of birthdays throughout the year is uniform, that people are equally likely to be born on any given day of the year. This isn’t necessarily a true assumption, but it makes the interpretation much easier. I don’t know what the true distribution would be — babies are not likely to be conceived uniformly throughout the year — and let’s ignore leap years, which brings another level of complexity.”

“Given these ideal situations, the probability that a person is born on any given day of the year is 1/365, regardless of the day. The probability of being born on Dec. 18 is 1/365 for the mother, the father, and the son.”

“The probability of three independent events would be the product of the three probabilities. Thus, the probability of mom born on Dec. 18 and the probability of dad born on Dec. 18 and the probability of their son being born on Dec. 18 is (1/365)(1/365)(1/365), which is 0.000000021.”

The odds Katelin would be born on my birthday are 1/365, since I have already been born, and my birthday is known to be March 8.  These odds are a lot better than claiming the Power Ball jackpot (1/292 million) or being struck by lightening some day this year (1/700,000), but it’s still a pretty special occurence.

March 8 is also International Women’s Day  How perfect is that? Women from all over the world celebrating their womanhood and empowerment on our special day.  International Women’s Day has been celebrated for over 100 years. It began as a women’s suffrage and workers’ rights movement, and is even credited with starting the Russian revolution. Although originally celebrated primarily in Socialist and Communist countries, the event has continued to grow and is now recognized in over 100 countries.  Afghanistan, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China, Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar, Moldova, Mongolia, Nepal, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Zambia have declared March 8 an official non-working holiday.

The United States does not officially recognize March 8 as International Women’s Day, not even as a working holiday. Maxine Waters introduced a resolution in 1994, but the resolution did not get an up or down vote. It is time we fixed this oversight.

This year women were protesting all over the world on March 8, and more people were talking about it because of the #MeToo movement.  Those of us who thought the battle was won, are waking up to the realization that women have a long way to go to achieve equality and be fully empowered.  #MeToo has changed the nature of the conversation, but even more importantly, it has increased our awareness of where the lines are currently being drawn and where they should be drawn. Real and permanent progress will come when women have more than a token seat at the table, and have the power to ensure our perspective is heard and the issues we care about are addressed.

I believe my daughter’s generation will make this happen and in the future, our special day will be celebrated as International Women’s Day in the United States.  Why not make it a non-working holiday like those other countries.  We need a holiday in March!

How to Buy and Sell a House

Eric and I recently sold our house in New York and bought a new house in Iowa.

We have some prior experience with this process. We have bought four houses and sold three during our twenty-four year relationship. We bought our first house in Northern Virginia in 1989, just before we got married. The interest rate was 10.5%.  According to the flyer that we received from the selling agent, who was also our agent, we paid more than anyone else in the neighborhood had previously paid for a house there, ever. Yeah us!

When Eric got transferred to Idaho in 1991, we tried to sell it but the housing market had fallen and we were under water. We eventually sold it at a loss, after renting it for less than we were paying on the mortgage for about five years.

We did a little better on our next house, but not much. We bought it in 1992 and sold it in 1993 for the same price. Luckily, Eric’s employer paid the realtor fees so we didn’t lose too much money.

Having learned our lesson — you need to be in a house for awhile if you want your investment to pay off — it took us some time to get back into the market in New York. We moved there in 1993, but did not buy a house until 1999.  Luckily, its value nearly doubled during the twelve years we owned it. When we refinanced in 2002, we also put more money down at a time when many homeowners were taking equity out of their properties. We would have paid for the house completely in less than four more years had we stayed.

With that much equity in the property, we were able to put down a very sizable up-front payment on our Iowa house once we sold the New York one. So that’s how it’s supposed to work! Here are some other things I have (re-)learned about buying and selling an existing home:

  1. Work with an experienced realtor. They are professionals and they know what they are doing. The realtor will keep your expectations in check. They do most of the work and make everything easier. They know the market and what is out there.  They are also a buffer between you and the people who are touring your house and making snap judgments about your decorating choices and budget priorities. Being judged is bad for the soul. Also, if you are buying a house, make sure you have your own agent, someone who represents your interests and not those of the seller.  Eric and I strongly recommend the realtors we worked with: Mary Anne Hess at Coldwell Banker Prime Properties and Sue Mears at Mid-America Group Realtors.  You may get lucky using a for-sale-by-owner approach, but it puts an undue burden on you, the buyer, and the buyer’s agent if you do so, since there’s no way you’re going to know all the ins and outs of the legal, contractual and civic requirements associated with major property transactions in your market. You get what you pay for, especially in this situation.
  2. Buyers want the latest updates. A friend told me recently that she and her husband were updating their kitchen because they planned to sell it in a few years and move to Florida. This sounded crazy to me. Why spend all that money to put in features that you will not have a chance to enjoy? So it will sell faster, of course.
  3. You should fix the stuff you know is a problem before you put your house on the market. Every house has issues. You know better than anyone what the issues are with your house. Don’t wait for the home inspector to tell you what you already know. Just fix it.
  4. Don’t waste too much time looking at houses that have been on the market for months, unless you want to buy a fixer-upper. Houses that have been on the market aren’t selling because there are too many things wrong with them.  At least in the markets we have been looking at, a house that has been on the market more than 90 days isn’t selling for a reason.  We stopped looking at them to save time.
  5. If you are not sure what you are doing, ask for help.  We should have asked our parents and older colleagues for advice when we bought our first house. I am not sure why we didn’t, probably because we thought we were smart enough to figure it out on our own.
  6. A house is an investment, until you live in it awhile, and then it becomes a home.  Don’t fall in love with a house until you own it. Don’t pay more than market price for a home because you think it is your dream home. If a house is priced right, it should sell for about 95% of the asking price, so you need to start there or below there if you don’t want to pay too much. While it is true that your monthly payment won’t go up by much if you overbid $5,000 for a home, you will notice that $5,000 when it comes time to sell the house.
  7. Don’t buy more house than you need.  Buying a house is a big investment. There are many other investments that you need to make in your life. You need to save for your kids’ college and save for your retirement. You also need to enjoy life along the way, because there are no promises that you will ever make it to retirement. If you buy more house than you need, you are putting too many eggs in one basket and short-changing those other investments (unless you are among The One Percenters).
  8. It’s the interest rates, stupid!  We thought we did well when we refinanced our house in New York at 4.6%.  The rate on our house in Iowa is 3.2%. That is a lot of Cheetos (which is what Eric and I call things we impulse buy).  If you are sitting on the sidelines wondering whether it is a good time to get into the market, you should act now and buy that house.  Interest rates are already starting to go up.

I don’t plan on selling another home soon, and hopefully never will again. I hope Katelin likes this house because we are seriously thinking about handing her the keys, if and when we decide to move on.

Here it is: our new house (and home) in Des Moines . . .

Career Advice for Twenty-Somethings (Part Three): Navigating a Bad Economy

I graduated from college in March 1983. The unemployment rate was 9.6%, about what it is now, but the other economic indicators were much worse, not that I was paying attention to such things in those days. I moved from Minnesota to South Florida and found work as a waitress and then a secretary.  South Florida was a fun place to live.  I went to the clubs, hung out at the beach and had a great time. But GTL is a lifestyle and not a way to make a living.  I looked for a professional position but had no connections or contacts. I had a college degree, but could not find a job that made any use of it.

I decided to join the Navy, mostly because they valued me and my degree.  They also had a need. This was the era of the 600-ship Navy and they needed manpower to run the ships and staff the back-office operations. Applicants with a college degree were sent to Officer Candidate School. If you had a degree in business or economics and had done well, you qualified for the Naval Supply Corps.  At Naval Supply Corps school, they taught you how to run the ships’ food service, retail, supply chain and disbursement operations.  While there, I was selected for service in the Naval Reactors program.  Military service was a good starting point for me and I learned many valuable skills during my six years in the Navy.

Millennials are also likely to be looking for work in a bad economy.  The Great Recession has hit them particularly hard.  From a supply chain perspective, the job market is a “LIFO” operation: recent college graduates are the “last-in-first-out.”  Entry-level management training jobs are hard to find.  Employers don’t want to train you, only to lose you two years later.  They want to hire someone who knows how to do the job from day one.

Here are some things I learned about navigating a bad economy:

Stay close to home.  Home can be where you went to college or where you grew up.  For me, it was both.  I should have stayed in Minneapolis when I graduated. I had contacts and a place to live.  Yes, you can start from scratch someplace new, but you are only making it harder for yourself.

You guys invented social networking, so use it.  Anyone who has ever looked for a job knows the value of a good network.  Don’t be shy about letting your friends know that you are looking for a job. It helps if you know what you want to do.

Let Mom and Dad help.  Use your parents’ networks too, and your sister’s, brother’s, grandfather’s, aunt’s, uncle’s, and anyone else who will help. They want you to succeed, and are your biggest fans (really).  They can help, particularly if you are looking for a job near where they live.  If they get you an interview, follow their advice about what to wear and show up fifteen minutes early.

Save money by living at home.  This was not something I would have done, but Millennials as a general rule have a better rapport with their parents.  You tell them more about what is going on in your life so you have less to hide from them than we did from our parents.  If you are worried about losing your new-found adulthood, then treat your parents like roommates.  Help them with the household chores and offer to pay them rent.

Take advantage of your college’s career services office.  You (or your parents) are paying for them and they are there to help you.  Apply for an internship, paid or unpaid.  Sign up for on-campus interviews, if there are any.  Use the alumni network.

Consider government service.  Millennials are not signing up for military service. Only 2% of Millennial men are veterans at ages 18 to 28, as compared to 6% for Gen Xers and 13% of Boomers at this age. This is understandable.  When I joined the Navy, the nation was not involved in two wars and had been at peace for ten years.  Government jobs will be hard to get in the near future due to shrinking budgets, but there are other types of government service.  Consider Teach for America, the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps or similar programs.

Stay in school. If you did not get your high school diploma, get your GED. If you stopped after high school, go to college. If you just graduated from college, consider a graduate degree. As many of you are learning, college is a great place to wait out the bad economy. There are ways to pay for school,  and even ways to work off your student loans, like the public service loan forgiveness program.

Career Advice for Twenty-Somethings: The Introduction

My daughter turned 20 this month. She’s a smart, hard-working, focused college student, a few years removed from starting her career. It occurs to me that she and her friends could benefit from what I have learned in my thirty-six years as a working woman.

Mother and daughter in Iceland.

As she is my daughter, I can’t say these things to her directly. The advice would get caught up in the “If your mom is telling you to do something, then she must be wrong” filter. I am not sure why this filter exists in every teenage girl and twenty-something woman who is fortunate enough to have her mother in her life at that age. It just does and there is nothing we can do about it.

Having had my own mother in my life until my mid-forties, I know this filter often dissipates as you get older, or get married, or have children, or just live and experience a little more. That’s when you start to realize there is some benefit to listening to someone who knows you, wants only the best for you and loves you unconditionally. I’ve sensed the early stages of this melting resistance to parental advice already in my own daughter.

According to my most recent Social Security Statement, I have been working since 1975, when I had earnings of $453.  In the 36 years since then,  I have worked as a bus girl, waitress, car hop/dishwasher, deli/bakery clerk, door-to-door salesman, retail clerk, secretary, Naval officer, program analyst, and attorney.  According to Social Security, my lifetime earnings have exceeded $1.8 million. Believe me when I say I earned every penny.

So my next few posts (until I run out of things to say, that is) will focus on the things that I have learned while working. My goal is to pass on some useful information to my daughter and her friends, both male and female. As I will discuss in my next post, the young men and women of the millennial generation, all 50 million of them, tend to want the same things out of life.  The attitudes of men and women of this age toward work and careers are more alike than they are different.

My daughter may not read these posts now, or she may read them and the advice may get caught up in the “she must be wrong” filter.  But everything on the internet lives on forever and can never be taken back (another future topic), so I am confident that she will read these posts someday, later if not sooner, and that my advice will not go unheeded and will help her in the future.