31: How Marie Kondo fucked up my life

Halfway into the first episode of “Tidy Up” Noel and I were pulling armloads of things out of our closet.  I started watching on New Years Day night inevitably to avoid doing something else I should have been doing.  Now the monster has been unleashed.

If you don’t know about this show or Marie Kondo (first of all I don’t know where you’ve been the last few weeks), she is an organizing consultant and author who suggests that we decide what to keep and what to throw away by determining what “sparks joy.”  All I could think about watching her tutorials with a couple that needed a divorce more than a Japanese organization expert was this olive green polyester shirt with an awkward cowl neck that I bought on clearance from Kohl’s nine years ago.  I hate that shirt. WHY am I still keeping, let alone EVER WEARING that shirt?

I am not generally a saver of things.  I have come to realize that horizontal surfaces just become places for clutter to collect.  I also am fairly ruthless when it comes to saving keepsakes.  Only the most special, most unique things make the cut.  The one exception is clothes.  I think the reason for this is two-fold.  1) clothes = all the memories and 2) I never want to look boring.

Growing up new clothes were the sign of some important event.  We got new dresses for Christmas and Easter church.  We got a new first day of school outfit.  As we got older, a school dance was an occasion befitting something new.  Money was tight but our mom would rather walk around with holey socks (literally) than see us go to the stupid Snowball Dance without a new dress.   We would make the trek 45 minutes to the mall, twittering in anticipation about colors or features that might be nice to look for.  We’d walk the whole mall to all the usual tween places looking for just the right thing.  But of course “just the right thing” also meant finding the bargain.  And then there were the shoes.  Always the shoes had to be the perfect compliment, also at a bargain.  In the end I was so sure we found exactly the right thing for this occasion.  We would stop over at my Grandma and Grandpa’s house as we arrived back in town so they could oooooh and ahhhh the latest ensemble.

As the years have gone by I realized that I have just found more “occasions” to dress for. First dates.  Job interviews.  Trial.  Dinner party.  Vacation.  Holiday.  My closet became my scrapbook.

As Noel and I stood in our giant walk in closet, the one we cut our master bedroom nearly in half to build, pulling out garment after garment I had to tell the stories.  First garment out, that hideous green shirt.  I bought this shirt nine years ago on clearance at Kohl’s when I was staying with my parents over Christmas break my 2L year.  Lucas had just broken up with me and I was so sad.  My parents convinced me to come out to some dinner my stepdad had for a professional group.  It was at one of those cook-your-own steak places.  I had three dirty martinis.  I definitely got drunk and cried all the way home.  I literally think about that night every time I wear that stupid shirt.  It fits awkwardly, it gives me pit stains.  The only reason I still wear it is because I can easily layer it with a black suit coat and pants.  That is possibly the dumbest reason ever.  Gone.

A lot of the things were like that.  Shirt, Banana Republic clearance, so I could wear under a suit.  Almost everything I’d owned for at least five years and most close or upwards of ten.

This pair of pants was the first thing I bought after I got married the first time in 2004.  We finally had a spare $40, so I bought these and this shirt from Anne Taylor Loft clearance because my mom always said that place was perfect for me.

This shirt was $3.50 at Charlotte Russe in 2005.  Krissy and I bought “going out” shirts at the same time and then swapped them like three years later.

This shirt is fine for work if the safety pins hold.

And there it is.  The oldest thing in my closet.  A black polyester suit dress with a matching knee-length jacket.  My mom and I bought it at the same time we got my confirmation dress.  That’s 10th grade.  18 years ago.  Maurice’s clearance.  She said I’d need something to wear to job interviews.  Little did either of us ever think I’d still be wearing it to the office, every time thinking “I probably shouldn’t be wearing this anymore.  It’s too short even when I wear black tights.”

None of these things spark joy anymore.  They were things I bought because they were colorful, I found a bargain, and I wanted things around for those time when I *might* need to wear it.  They weren’t special, they didn’t fit right, they certainly didn’t make me feel my best self.  The time had come to keep the memories and lose the garments.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things I held on to simply because of those memories.  Not gonna lie, I still get into my Homecoming Queen dress sometimes just because I can.  Even some garments that will never fit me again, there’s still something there.  Something special and joyful that tells me it’s not time to shove it into a yard-waste bag.

We were able to completely reconfigure our closet.  About four bodybag-sized bags went to Goodwill.  Sometimes I get anxious when I go in my closet and only see fifteen shirts hanging there.  But at least I know that whatever I put on I’ll feel good in.

So that’s just the closet.  Marie says you’re supposed to do this with your whole house.  Little by little I take 20 minutes to empty out this drawer or that.  It is truly freeing to feel like you can see and find the things you need in your house.  It also got me thinking about my life, like the stuff you can’t see.

What are the things that spark joy? What are the things I’m hanging on to that don’t?

It was no accident Netflix released this show at the time of year when people are focused on change and self-improvement.  As I mentioned in my 2018 year in review post, I, too, use the new year to refocus and create some goals for the upcoming year.  This year I was challenged to come up with a word. One word to become a mantra or a touchpoint.  A word came to mind immediately: unapologetic.  Almost as quickly I dismissed it.  That’s not what I mean.  That’s selfish.  It sends the wrong message.  Until I realized that’s exactly why I needed to stick with it.

Unapologetic doesn’t mean never making amends for doing something hurtful or for making a mistake.  It isn’t about walking through the world unaware of how the things I do affect other people.  It is about not apologizing for who I am.   Who I am is very flawed.  It sometimes means being too loud, bossy, overbearing, demanding and inflexible.  These qualities are also sometimes wrapped up in this package we call power, qualities that if I were a man or in a different profession or a different community may not be something I feel I have to question so much.  These qualities have a flip side: outspoken, leader, encouraging, setting clear expectations, focused on the mission and vision.  All of my qualities are that way.  There are some that are more obviously “good” and easy to accept.  There are others that I have to actively work on to stay on the positive side.  That’s a journey that never ends.  But it’s all me.  Good, bad, or ugly it is the stuff that makes me up and has brought me this far.

2019 needs to be about living as authentically as possible.  Connection feels good to me.  Being unafraid to stand up for what’s right feels good to me.  Using my skills and abilities to benefit myself and the people I love feels good to me.  Appreciating the comfort and beauty of our home feels good to me.  Enjoying the taste of good food.  The sights of places I’ve never been.  The feeling of a fit, healthy body.  The pleasure of rest and quiet.  Soaking in and moving with the energy of the world.  Continuing to discover this city that I love.  All of these things bring me such monumental joy.  I just cannot allow myself to be weighed down by the worry of what others think about it.  I will be too much for some people.  I will fail despite the best of intentions.  I will still encounter all of the challenges that life brings.  But maybe I’ll soar higher heights than I’ve ever known without the weight of the shoulds.  I suspect the greatest critic will be myself.  It’s a world of possibility out there.  I hope to take it for a spin with a lightness and freedom that will make this joy multiply beyond my wildest dreams.

Happy New Year.

28: My Obituary

Only about ten people knew it was my wedding day.  Noel and I decided on a surprise wedding before we even got engaged.  After being a total bitchy basket case the first go-around, I was on the lookout for the best way to do things better.  How do I make sure that we have the experience we want without feeling pressure to do things a certain way?  The idea of eloping didn’t appeal to us.  Having the people we love around was too important.  A few days after Noel’s dad was hospitalized, I pitched the idea and held my breath.  “I love the way your mind works,” he said, and then went to sleep.  Over the next few days we talked more about how this would work.  How do we get people there if they don’t know it’s a wedding?  What are the things that are important to us?  Can we afford to do this in less than three months?  Is it even possible to find a venue?

A few weeks later we were officially engaged and sprung into action planning our wedding and our strategy for keeping the whole thing secret.  Ten weeks goes by quickly so we didn’t have a lot of time to be engaged, which was just fine with me.  The business of getting married, thinking about finances, working out logistics, running all the errands people typically have months to do…all crammed into ten weeks.  All the while, Noel’s dad’s illness was progressing and each week was a reminder of how uncertain we all were about how much time he had left.  One thing I hadn’t considered when I convinced Noel to do a surprise wedding was that when no one knows, there is no one to offload things on.  The time was stressful to be sure.  It didn’t help that things were tense with my sister.  She was going through some tough stuff and despite living with us, there was more distance between us than we’d ever had as adults.

The morning of our wedding Noel and I woke up together on the futon serving as our bed.  He went off to start wedding day tasks.  I headed to yoga.  On the way out the door I hastily texted my sister (who was in on the wedding secret of course) “I’d really like some berries and some eggs when I get home please.  Can you help me out with that?”  “Yeah,” she said apathetically.  Great, the one request I have as a bride and I’m going to end up doing that too, I thought.

As I put on my jacket and socks after the yoga class, I checked my phone.  “Look at this dress I got just for your party” one friend had texted with a picture of a full length sequined gown.  “So excited to see you tonight” said another friend.  I drove the five minutes home on the verge of tears.  I walked into the house and there on the table was my bathrobe folded next to a plate of meticulously arranged berries, a giant toy diamond ring sat on top of the robe.  I just burst into tears.  The most genuine and grateful tears of my whole life.  All of these people, doing things for me because they cared, on a day they didn’t even know was my wedding day.

This is the third week of Advent.  After a week of hope, and then a week of love, this week is about joy.  Catch up on previous posts for the first and second weeks’ posts here:

26: Arrival of Hope,

27: Daddy Issues

Summer 2015, I was in Minneapolis for the weekend.  I visited a UU church and to this day the sermon is the most memorable I’ve ever heard.  The topic: joy.  Specifically what makes joy different than happiness.  “Joy,” the minister said, “is a visceral spiritual reaction to deep connection.”  Happiness can be experienced in isolation.  It is in the mind.  If we were on a desert island with a funny movie we could be happy.   Joy is only possible through connection.  It is felt in the gut and soul.  Happiness interrupts pain, but joy encompasses it.  “Joy is grief turned inside out,” she went on.  Think of that feeling you get when you look at a person you love so much and simultaneously think about the pain of losing them.  Softening to create the connection that forms joy ultimately means the grief of deep loss when that connection comes to an end for whatever reason.  But the depth and experience of joy makes it worth the difficulty of losing it.

I am in a discussion group at church.  The group is intended to foster deep listening  and sharing about spiritual topics.  We get the topic a month ahead of time along with readings, activities and questions to consider.  Last month the topic was “memory.”  One of the activities was to speak with people you are close with to ask them what three memories they would share at your funeral.  I thought of a number of people to ask, most of whom I don’t see very often but remain a very important part of my life.  So I sent an out-of-the-blue text to some of my favorite people to see what I’d get back.  I should not be surprised with how in stride my friends took a random text about memories for my funeral, but I was.

Here were some of my favorite responses:

I can’t remember the bar we went to for drink the very first time, but I remember the scene perfectly. We sat on a high top in a corner of the bar. You had short hair and a huge smile. We talked about life. Your accepting and understanding led me to talking all about crazy things from my past. It was weird how much it felt like we were lifelong friends. I don’t know why that memory is so vivid. But I can still feel that warmth and closeness with you. It never went away.

Your raw emotion. You seem determined to feel emotions whether good or bad, like it’s a part of life that you relish. I find that really admirable, especially your ability to control your emotions while still feeling them.

When we broke into the pool to go skinny dipping. I’d never done anything like that before and was so scared we’d get caught but you had this way of pushing my boundaries and making me try new things (that wouldn’t hurt me if course). And it was exhilarating!!

Just always there: we’ve talked about this before, but your mantra is that you show up. I remember you saying to me “it’s what we do, show up.” I think of that often and try to live my own life that way. Showing up.

When you randomly sat down and made me take of my headphones while I was working hard in the lunch room. Ha!  You are fearless. And you genuinely care about people and their stories. It’s one of my favorite things about you. You are willing to take chances that many other people aren’t.

There were so many responses.  Ultimately I categorized them so I could find patterns: connection, emotional openness/sharing, FUN!, inspiration, showing up.  The assignment asked us to consider what others would take away from our life if we took our last breath today.  I was comforted to know that the things I try to prioritize in these relationships seems to be working.  In the end I decided the best way to share these takeaways with my group was to write my obituary.

The Life and Memory of Katie Kegel

Katie Beth Kegel’s life ended on (date).  Katie’s affinity for thoughtful writing and her need to be in control has culminated in a self-written obituary. 

Katie’s life cannot be defined by labels: daughter, sister, wife, lawyer, athlete.  It also cannot be defined by qualities: intense, energetic, persistent, intimidating, over achiever, leader.  These words cannot capture the fullness and complexity of a life so defined by intention.

Katie lived her life to tell the stories.  Through her work, stories of people who have done terrible things and had terrible things done to them.  Dotting the chapters of her life with the long, arduous journey to physical and professional achievements.   But most importantly the stories of shared memories with the people she cared most about. 

Katie will be remembered for the connections she made.  Whether friend-at-first sight or succumbing to her persistence, you saw something special in her and she saw it right back.  There was an energy; you were special, someone she had to know, because you were like her or maybe completely unlike her, but whatever you were, you were interesting with a story all of your own, a story she needed to intersect with her own.

Early and often Katie showed you who she was.  Whether clumsy or effortless the rainbow of her emotions shone bright for all to see, her thoughts and feelings never a secret, but instead poured out in her words or her touch or her laughter.  Her strength captivated you but her softness kept you there. 

It kept you there because she was there. Physically.  Her motto “just show up” guided everything about the way she spent her time.  Just show up for people, however big or small.  For one never knows which of life’s events will be life changing.  And she wanted to be there, for all of your life’s wonderful and terrible changes.  Just as she pulled you willingly or unwillingly into the adventure of her life replete with drinking or dancing or nudity or costumes, so she asked to join you on the adventure of yours.  She challenged you and was challenged by you and wouldn’t have had it any other way.  Her relationships were not easy because life is not easy.  But life certainly can be fun and Katie found all of the crackpot ways to make things fun.  “Wanna come do this with me?” she’d say out of the blue. Yes, just say yes most learned.  It was always worth it.

All those intersections of lives wove a fabric of armor.  A fabric strong enough to withstand time and distance and hardships.  Break ups, break downs, years long breaks in conversation were no matter because when the time came to be together again it was as if nothing changed. 

And now something will change.  Katie is not here to lead the charge, have the ideas, or make that phone call. The stories are what you must share.  SHOW up.  SHARE the stories.  Be brave.  Be vulnerable.  Big or small, sharing creates connection, a connection that honors what you most loved. 

The stories…the stories you created together are what Katie thought about until her last breath.  Her stories will live on through you, and what an honor for her story to be woven in with yours for all of time.

In the end, it won’t be about the accomplishments.  The things that are defining my life are the people in it.  “Surely joy is the condition of life,” Henry David Thoreau wrote.  Indeed sir.  Indeed.

25: The Fuck-Its

The only time people can swear in court without the judge getting mad is in treatment court when people say they got a case of the fuck its. The fuck its usually explain a relapse on drugs or alcohol.  I am a firm believer that most of the bad choices in life are preceded with a conscious or unconscious “fuck it.”

A few months ago I needed to see a different acupuncturist while Jodie was out of town.  Lucky for me, she was a “specialist” in using Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to help women get pregnant.  I happened to start seeing her when my attitude was at a low point.  I sent her an email the night before on of my appointments.  I said the f-word.  Not at her, just like “I wanna say fuck it!”  She responded by asking if I wanted to cancel my appointment.  I think I wanted attention.  And some consoling.  I think I could have handled this better.

Just the day before, a client of mine got a serious case of the fuck-its.  I gave him a case update that included the fact the DA was still seeking jail time.  “Why am I doing all of this then?  Why did I get a good job?  Why did I get into treatment?  Why am I going to those meetings?   Why did I get back in my daughter’s life?  It’s all going to be taken away from me if I go to jail.”  “Because they are the right thing to do,” I told him.  “Because it matters.”  Sometimes these conversations don’t go this well. Frequently I am the bearer of bad news and clients take out their anger and frustration on me.   I am the reason they are going to jail.  I don’t understand, I could never understand.  I’m not doing my job.  I don’t care.  It’s the worst.  It makes me want to scream at them “That’s not true!” along with the laundry list of things I’ve done for them or the evidence that I really really DO care.  I think I’ve even done that a couple times.  It didn’t help.

It comes with the territory.  I am the only person who will speak for them.  I am the only person on their side who has the ability to do anything to make this situation less bad.  I am the one person in this process filled with stress, confusion, and unfairness that they get to talk to.  Sometimes they want answers.  Most of the time they want to be heard.  Many don’t have the words or the emotional intelligence to communicate fear, so they communicate anger.  I get that.  I’ve done that!

That new acupuncturist promised she gets great results.  People are “very satisfied” when they work with her.  She made us keep a food log.  Praised our efforts in all the things we’ve been doing to try to conceive.  Reassured us.  But things felt like they went backwards.  And I blamed her.  “Why should I listen to her?” I asked Noel.  I actively didn’t meditate just because she told me I should. 

It’s self preservation.  You just start preparing for the worst when you feel pretty done with hoping for the best.  

Around this same time I read the book Evicted by Matthew Desmond.  It looks at the role eviction plays in the cycle of poverty and happens to be set in Milwaukee.  It completely changed the way I understand the bigger picture that many of my clients are facing on a daily basis.  It describes the squalor many people live in: some because of greedy landlords who know they are in a power position, and some of their own making.  This is something I’ve never understood.  Even if you’re poor, why not treat what you do have with respect?  Why are the poor neighborhoods so full of trash?  Why not keep their apartments tidy even if they are in disrepair?  Why not dress as well as you can for court, even if it’s modest? 

“Substandard housing was a blow to your psychological health: not only because things like dampness, mold, and overcrowding could bring about depression but also because of what living in awful conditions told you about yourself. It was once said that the poor are ‘constantly exposed to evidence of their own irrelevance. Especially for poor African America families – who lived in neighborhoods with rates of violence and concentrated poverty so extreme that even the worst white neighborhoods bear little resemblance – living in degrading housing in dangerous neighborhoods sent a clear message about where the wider society thought they belonged.” ~ Evicted, Matthew Desmond

Even before reading this book I was aware that generational poverty in America is often traced back to the lack of affordable housing.  For many, a meager house is all they have to pass along to their kin at death.  Where many of white families got government assistance or GI loans after World War II, systematic racism meant that most veterans of color were not given the same opportunity.  Middle class white families were encouraged to take advantage of new, suburban housing, but government policies meant that people of color were literally forced into certain areas of the city where they rented rather than owned property.

Let me be clear, I’m not saying being frustrated with some new acupuncturist compares to poverty and jail.  First world problems right?  My point is about ease with which even someone who is dealing with first world problems can get to the fuck-its.  To think about the opportunities and privilege I have and still get to the point that I’m ready to self sabotage, that’s a reality check.  The common thread is hopelessness.  Hopelessness is a product of feeling helpless, my situation is not my choice.  The reaction to this helplessness is to act out and blame or to turn inward and self destruct.  In either case, it’s bad and leads people to make reckless and harmful choices.

Late this summer a friend asked me to attend an event for an organization that she is on the board of.  I said yes without knowing a thing about the event or the organization.  I arrived at at address near Marquette University in an area of town that I typically have no reason to be.  There was a huge coach bus outside. Women started to arrive, most of them white and all of them looking very professional.  As we boarded the bus we were handed a neat little folder with fliers and brochures strategically placed inside.  The bus was full of women in Tory Burch flats and designer handbags.  A video started to play to tell us about ACTS Housing.

ACTS Housing helps people determine whether they are financially ready to purchase their first house.  If not, they help folks create a long term plan for saving, debt reduction, or credit building.  Once people are financially ready (for many that takes years!), the organization works with licensed real estate agents to show people primarily foreclosed homes in the central city.  ACTS then works with families to identify a budget for rehabing these homes.  For families who cannot obtain financing through a bank, ACTS can help.  Families often contribute a lot of sweat equity and are entirely responsible for finding and hiring any needed contractors.  The result, a home of your own.  ACTS stats show that most families remain in this home well past the required years.  In fact, many ACTS families seek homes on blocks where other ACTS families already reside, transforming formerly vacant and boarded up streets into  a strong network of cared-for houses and supportive neighbors.

This.  This was real change in our city.  Since 1995 ACTS Housing has helped over 2,400 families find homes.  This bus tour was to see a before and after.  We went to a home in an area of town that I definitely had never been.  This luxury bus pulls up in front of a home that the city is trying to sell for around $30,000.  These women, who I learned were financial planners, lawyers (at big firms), accountants, business owners…are offered masks as we file off the air conditioned bus and tentatively walk into a house that is filthy and falling apart.  Some rooms are badly damaged.  Others are full of abandoned things.  A little girl’s middle school photo is tacked onto a bedroom wall as if they left in such a hurry they forgot it.  As we are walking through this house, a man off the street just walked in smoking a blunt to take a look around.  It was…memorable to say the least.

We get back on the bus and start driving through the neighborhoods again.  As we do, I see people getting home from work in scrubs or UPS uniforms.  An older man with a broom and a shovel sweeping the sidewalk.  A tiny fenced in yard just full of colorful blooming flowers.  These neighborhoods with street names I only associate with the shootings on local news, they seem to be filled with people.  People who cared.  People who were doing the best they could.

We stopped in front of a house where a woman and some children in their teens and early 20’s was waiting on the porch.  She was beaming.  Out of the bus and into the home she proudly showed us.  “These cabinets are all new.”  “All the wiring in that bathroom was redone.”  “This woodwork is original and we restored it.”  The home was modest, but well lived in and obviously loved.  She made it a point to thank each one of us as we walked out into the yard and gathered for a farewell.  “What do you like most about your house?”  The woman got tears in her eyes.  “I’m so proud that my children have a place they aren’t embarrassed to bring their friends and that some day when I’m dead and gone I’ll be able to leave them something.”  We were all wiping away tears as we got back on the bus.

What most impressed me most about ACTS Housing, was learning that over 90% of these families remain current on their mortgage.  Not only does that show that the process works, but shows the pride that homeownership creates.  To be seen.  To be valued.  To create the possibility that poverty in this family will end. To give hope where decent, hardworking people thought there was none.  That is the power to create real change.  I see the spectrum of the fuck its on a daily basis.  From the societal to the self-imposed, the problems people face create so much destruction.  I am so proud that Milwaukee has an organization that is building up people and building up our community.  That is why on this #GivingTuesday, I ask that if you haven’t read Evicted you pick up a copy immediately and that you join me in making a donation to support ACTS Housing.  Why?  Because it’s the right thing to do.  Because it matters.

See more pictures from my tour HERE


23: The Debut of Soul Food Friday

Man I loved me some Febreeze.  Living in the same closet-sized apartment with a dog for eight years meant some limited cleaning options.  A vacuum and some Febreeze later and it was like a new place.  Before I met my husband, I didn’t give chemicals or toxins a second thought.  I bought the cleaning supplies that worked, and the cheaper the better, chose the beauty products I used by how they smelled (and the cheaper the better), and bought the cheapest healthy food I could find.  See the pattern?

My husband made a Febreeze joke within a week of our first date.  I clearly hadn’t sprayed it right before he came over because he just said it, like an inside joke that we were both in on, probably with an eye roll. Something real judgy like “it looks like the kind of place that smells like Febreeze” or something ridiculous.  I was not in on the inside joke but definitely made a mental note “do NOT let him see your Febreeze.”  Don’t get me wrong, as bitchy a comment as that was, it’s not like his cabinets were full of Seventh Generation, no, no, he’s the kind of granola that doesn’t care about show-labels.  He had an industrial size spray bottle full of a Thieves oil concoction.  What is it exactly?  “Thieves.”  Yeah, but what IS it?  “It’s like a non-toxic cleaner.”  I don’t get it.

Then there was the fabric softener conversation.  After we lived together, I was folding our laundry one day when he said “I would really prefer you stop using fabric softener.”  “I would really prefer our clothes smell like Mountain Spring,” I retorted.  “Well, I do not want all those chemicals on my clothes so maybe we’ll need to wash our clothes separately.  I don’t mind.”  “Yeah, maybe,” I said indignantly.  We never washed our clothes separately.  I stopped using fabric softener…and, bought three of those goofy yarn balls you put in the dryer at a farmer’s market.

Oh, and I can’t forget the deodorant conversation.  “You know, you should really switch over to deodorant rather than antiperspirant.”  Then I’ll have sweaty pits.  I’m not cool with that.  “Well you are basically putting cancer directly on your body all day every day.”  (Eye roll)

As luck would have it, about the time I started reading my babymaking bible, The Book, (Making Babies by Jill Blakeway & Sami David), I was also introduced to the Think Dirty app by a pregnant coworker.  “This will horrify you,” she prefaced.  The app contains a search bar and a bar code scanner for you to see how chemical-laden your cleaning and hygiene products are on a scale from 0-10.  Since The Book says eliminate as many chemicals and toxins from your everyday life as possible, and as previously established since I pretty much do whatever the book says, thus beginneth the chemical overhaul.

I soon learned that almost everything, even “unscented” or “sensitive skin” products has fragrance which just dirties up anything that might otherwise be ok.  I also learned that some of the things I’ve come to associate with “clean” is synonymous with chemicals.  Clean smelling, foaming, sudsing, moisturizing, mostly all created to make you perceive things are working.  Fun fact, even Febreeze was originally scentless.  It didn’t sell.  It was only when they added “fresh” fragrance that people bought in droves.  The research showed even though the freshening properties worked exactly the same, the scent made people perceive the rooms as cleaner.  Changing over to better cleaning products was actually the easiest.  “What is the name of that stuff in the spray bottle?”  Everyday hygiene products were a little tougher.  “What?!? A plain bar of Dove is an 8!”  And then there were the real doozies, like cosmetics and supplements.  “Wait, they make these vitamins out of chemicals?!?”

I’ve started to embrace  this process as a fun (sometimes cathartic) challenge.   For a girl who loves a bargain, I still get that high when I find the supplement BOGO sale.  Or when I stumble across that dishwasher rinse aid I’ve been looking for because it’s a 0 on Think Dirty.  And even when it’s not on sale, there is something satisfying when I find a lotion that’s a 1 AND smells like lavender rather than my unscented lotion that’s a 3.

So what’s the point…?

The Baby Buddhist Blog is debuting a new weekly installment called Soul Food Fridays.  Each week I’ll highlight a person, place, product, podcast, quote, song, book…something that is feeding my need for spiritual growth, balance, or healthy mindful living this week.


For people committed to living a purposeful, mindful, healthy life the things we put in, around, and on our body, matter. The places we spend our time, the people we are around, the media we consume, the phrases we repeat in our head…it all matters.  And, life is busy.  Sometimes we just need things to be easier.  If I can share a product you’ll love, a quote that inspires your day, a picture that makes you laugh my hope is that it makes it just a little bit easier for others to find their own purposeful, mindful habits.

Without further ado, I give you the very first installment of Soul Food Friday.

What’s feeding my soul this week?  Laughter.  I am a podcast freak.  Love em.  Listen to them in double speed anytime I’m in the car.  A lot of political and legal stuff.  But this week, I’m on the way to work in the usual Monday morning fog of blah and put on This American Life.  This American Life is one of my favorites. I just love the stories.  But the introduction of this particular episode just tickled my funny bone.  The chuckles were a welcome start to the week, put me in a great mood, and made me genuinely nicer and more patient with my Monday morning court clients.  Start your weekend off on the right foot and take a listen to the first 7 minutes.  I dare you not to laugh.

This American Life: The Radio Drama (first 7 minutes)




21: Sissy

I know exactly what my first memories are.  It was the day my sister was born. I was 2 years, 2 months and 15 days old.  I remember helping my dad pick out a balloon at the florist.  I remember walking into a hospital room and seeing my mom laying there.  I remember trying yogurt for the first time.  I didn’t really understand what was happening, but whatever it was it was a BIG deal.

We were not always close.  On any given day, we were likely to be somewhere on the spectrum between annoyed and outright disdain.  She was into dolls and dress up and drama.  I was into sports and school and socializing.  When we were younger, attempts to do much of anything together inevitably wound up in a fight.  It wasn’t uncommon for us to be forced to sit on the kitchen floor looking at each other and “thinking about how much you love your sister.”  There was a time I put chewed up gum in her hair so she had to have a piece of her hair cut off.  There was the time she was jumping on the bed, fell off and then told my parents I pushed her.  But we were built-in companions so we found ways to compromise so we could play together.  She would play alligator swamp on our swing set with me…if we could put on sparkly outfits and pretend we were in the circus.  I’d play dress up with her…and be maid while she was the princess.  We’d play softball in the backyard and when she got tired of me winning she’d just throw the ball at me instead of running to tag me out.  We managed.

As we got older we just avoided each other more and more.  Middle school was brutal for us both (and everyone right?) and we both had some self esteem problems.  By high school our interests and personalities were so different there just wasn’t a need to spend time together.  We didn’t get each other.  She was angsty and didn’t care about school or much of anything it seemed.  And from her perspective I was a goodie two shoes know-it-all just looking to tell her what to do any chance I could get.

I graduated high school and moved away.  Cell phones and social media weren’t really a thing yet so my Krissy updates came through my mom.  It was only because she guilted me into staying at my sister’s new apartment while I was home on a visit that we are so close today.  She showed me her new place with pride, we ate Kraft mac and cheese and talked.  For some reason, we both had our guard down this time and we learned a lot about each other.  The rest is history.

Our lives and interests are still very different.  My path was easier for people to wrap their heads around, school, career etc.  Krissy paid her way through her early 20’s and cosmetology school by working at Hooters.  When she told us she was going to start working at Hooters, it would be an understatement to say that our family had “concerns” about her employment choice.  We also quickly saw that Hooters wasn’t as scandalous as we thought and that she was kicking butt at the company.  In her years at Hooters she traveled all over on the company dime for special publicity events, received national-level awards, was an extra in a Denzel Washington movie, did a segment on Good Morning America, was  a contestant on the Singing Bee, was a regular in the Hooter’s calendar and swimsuit pageant, and was the covergirl and centerfold of Hooter’s Magazine.  Oh, and she also was quickly recognized as a fantastic salesperson and an even better mentor/trainer.  Within a few years, she was promoted to store manager and, let me tell you, any idea you might have about how she may have been treated as a Hooter’s Girl pales in comparison to how she was treated as a young female manager.  She proved a lot of people wrong.

Despite that, people have always had some skepticism about Krissy’s ability to do things.  “Are you suuuuuure you’re gonna do _________?”  I’m embarrassed to say that I have fallen into that category too.  Last Fall Krissy asked me one day if I wanted to go on a run.  Sure, I’ll go on a run.  I told her we’d run on the Oak Leaf until she was tired.  Four miles in I told her we were turning back.  That first eight mile run led to jokingly suggesting that Krissy run a half marathon with me.  About six weeks later Krissy ran her first half marathon.  “Why haven’t you ever done this before?” I asked her one day.  “Because I never thought I could,” she said.

I suggested the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C.  The race is always on the Top Ten marathon lists and the idea of traveling somewhere for a race appealed to me.  It also happened to be one of the only races that allowed you to transfer bibs or defer to the following year.  Perfect, I thought, if I get pregnant or she’s not ready we can just defer a year.

Training started pretty slow.  A lot of sporadic short runs that we walked half of. If I didn’t suggest a run, we weren’t doing one.  We were sitting by the pool on vacation in California with about 12 weeks til the race, surely safe enough to broach the topic of being in or being out of this race.  Clearly annoyed I’d even brought it up Krissy said “I’ve been running you know.  I wanted to surprise you.”  Right then we agreed we’d do our long training runs together every weekend no matter what.  We were doing this race.

My confidence wasn’t fully restored when we started our training runs.  A lot of “I didn’t eat enough” or “I didn’t stretch enough” or “what’s that pain?!”  I didn’t know how to help or what to say.  Without an athletic background, she had no way of knowing whether what she was feeling was just her body adjusting or something that meant she needed to stop.  I didn’t know when to be soft, when she needed tough love, or what advice to give.  We both just fumbled our way through.  But one thing was clear from week to week, she was getting stronger.  The distance we struggled to finish last time, she would run with ease this time.  She learned from her mistakes and got into a solid habits.  She took care of herself.  She tried different things on her runs.  All of it was paying off.

Our 14-mile run was a major breakthrough.  It was raining, not like sprinkling, really raining.  True to our word, we were running today.  No excuses.  We hooked up Juneau and off the three of us went down the Oak Leaf, completely soaked.  Luckily the rain was warm and there was no wind, so besides wet, we were pretty comfortable.  And it started to be a fun, cool thing that it was just us out there…training…in the rain.  Doing our thing.  About mile 9 Krissy started to fade, needing to walk more, clearly struggling and the thought of four more miles daunting.  We walked for a bit.  She cried.  We decided to bail out and called for a ride back.  Krissy was so mad.  Totally down on herself, doubting whether she would be able to do this.  She called me later that day.  She’d been out doing errands and at two different places overheard people talking about marathon training and having to bail out way sooner on their runs than we did.  With that, she was back in it.  We agreed to redo our 14 mile run the next week.  She was very angry with me by the end, and struggled through the last couple miles but she finished it.

A couple weeks later as we prepared for our 16-mile training run, I could already feel her uncertainty.  Can I do this?  We had guests in town who ran the Chicago marathon a couple years ago.  She told me later talking to “normal people” made all the difference.  With that, her mind got right and stayed right.  There was such a determination.  Not all fired up and intense and rah rah like I get.  Quiet, matter-of-fact almost.  She was running better than I’d ever seen her.

Race day was great.  We weren’t rushed for time.  Of course there were Marines and flags and cheering people and motivational signs all over the place.  We’d were very strategic about our race shirts.  It was common for us to brainstorm shirt slogans in the worst part of our training runs and we settled on “Bad Year to Bad Ass,” a nod to using some of the recent challenges we’ve each had to motivate us to focus on something positive and accomplish something we could really be proud of.  On the back, her shirt said “My first marathon” on the back of my shirt “Krissy’s first marathon, show her some love.”  The strategy worked.  The entire race people were shouting “Go Krissy” “You got this Krissy” “It’s my first marathon too!”  But they were also shouting “And GO Krissy’s friend!”  I found myself wanting to correct everyone who said this.

She’s not my friend.  She’s my sister.  She’s in a whole other category.  She takes more of my grief, gets more passes, has said yes to the most crazy ideas, and has more of me figured out than anyone besides maybe Noel.  Even more than him sometimes.  She will literally share more years of my life than any other person. After years of Krissy showing up at every athletic competition I’ve ever done with signs and support and the title of “Katie’s sister” it was one of my proudest days not to be Katie but to be “Krissy’s sister.”  Back when we were just trying to become close, I called Krissy for advice about I don’t even remember what and her answer was simply “family comes first.”  She has lived by that not just in words but by showing up, taking a backseat, being a supporter.  What a privilege to be by her side as she accomplished this goal for herself.  I hope she always knows that I’m by her side.  As she’s accomplishing goals.  As she’s figuring it out.  And when she’s not her best self.  I also hope she never doubts herself again.  I know I won’t.

17: Purposeful Hustle

Law school lunchtime “info sessions” were an excuse to get free Jimmy John’s or pizza.  My first year of law school I was the info session queen  (which explains the extra 15 pounds).  When I walked in to the Street Law info session I knew right away it didn’t matter what they were serving for lunch, I was into it.  At the front of the room were two women of color.  One had the biggest hair I’d ever seen in real life and was tending to a small child who was restlessly scampering around the classroom.  The women were talking with each other, laughing loudly with sparkling eyes.  I turned in my application to be a Street Law student instructor the same day was later accepted into the program and had the privilege of teaching a class of seniors at Hope High School (mock trial runner ups I might add!).

At one of our weekly seminars the woman with the big hair showed up again as a guest speaker.  Our instructors introduced her as “a woman you have to know.”  She was off to the races.  In Street Law you never really know what’s coming next so you learn to let go and let flow.  This was one of those times.  This woman was the most animated speaker I’d ever seen, a mile a minute, talking about being a college student and I though I kept thinking “where is this going?” I was totally hooked.  She was ten minutes into her story before someone finally said “Can you tell us your name?”  With a jovial eye roll and a belly laugh she told us she was Deanna Singh, the person who brought Street Law to Milwaukee.

Deanna is much more than the person who brought Street Law to Milwaukee.  She started a nonprofit while she was in college in New York.  Then she moved to Washington D.C. for law school and declared (as an ineligible 1L mind you) that she would be participating in Street Law.  And then she hung around day after day until they gave her something to do.  By the end of law school she was teaching multiple classes at multiple locations throughout the city.  After graduation she decided her hometown needed Street Law too.  So she copied all the materials and packed them up into binders and boxes and just started going from place to place and person to person telling them the wonders of Street Law.  She tells the story of how every time she pitched and got a “no” she would go home and figure out how to change whatever their grievance was until finally Marquette Law School couldn’t say no anymore.  Milwaukee Street Law Project was born.  Deanna’s visit to our class that day, telling us about the roots of Street Law and seeing what it meant to her made me feel a part of of something so much bigger than a class.  It was a calling.  A true vehicle for change.  A real opportunity to make a difference.  We heard about Deanna’s vision for education in Milwaukee and her newest project, a school.  That’s right.  This woman wanted education in Milwaukee to be better…so she started a school.

A few years after graduation, I got an email from Deanna asking me to meet to discuss Street Law.  Um, yup, I’m there.  The program had lost some momentum, to the point of needing a year break.  Deanna talked about Street Law with such care and concern.  “Milwaukee needs Street Law.”  She promised to help bring Street Law back to Marquette in whatever way she could…as long as I understood that correspondence should go through her assistant and that she only replied to emails when it was in her schedule because she was very cautious to protect her family time.  All of this I took in with amazement.  At the time Deanna was working for the Burke Foundation.  Well, that’s how she casually put it.  I found out later that she was CEO of the Burke Foundation, a charitable organization started by Dick Burke of Trek Bikes with the kind of resources at her disposal to provide financial backing for many of Milwaukee’s most important initiatives.

And still, every year, Deanna accepts our invitation to come back for that Street Law seminar and tell three or four law student instructors about their roots.  Sometimes she still brings her children.  Every year I watch her tell the stories and every year I hope that I’m doing this program justice, and with a fraction of the energy she has.

Deanna has done more than inspire me in this professional realm.  The fact she brings her sons with her most places is one of the things I love most about her.  It’s so real.  It’s such a sign of the commitment she has to her values. One day her social media page was alive with news of a children’s book.  “I am a Boy of Color” was a book she wrote to remind her sons and all of the other sons of color how incredible they are.   A short time later another announcement, “I am a Girl of Color.”  Keynote speaker for this.  Guest of honor for that.  Even a Ted Talk.  I shouldn’t have been surprised when I receive an invite for another event, a book launch.  “Purposeful Hustle: Directing Your Life’s Work Towards Making a Positive Impact.”  Um, yup, I’m there.

At Deanna’s book launch today I learned that since leaving the Burke Foundation, she’s trained as a doula and started Birth Coach Milwaukee, become executive producer of Raghead, is a motivational speaker reaching thousands of people a year, and author of a novel in the works centered around female executives of color.  She’s done more in her young life than ten regular people could ever accomplish, all because she has identified her purpose as a change maker and a builder of bridges.  She is a true super woman and she inspires the hell out of me.  “Purposeful Hustle” is about how to define your own purpose, the reason you exist, and use it to power you through the work it takes to create real change.  I was struck by how aptly this has fit everything I’ve ever seen from Deanna.  Standing in one of the most diverse crowds I’ve seen here in Milwaukee hearing Deanna profess the power each of us has to change our own world and then change the world I knew that this wasn’t empty talk: Deanna had done it.  Now it’s our turn.

Please consider supporting this outstanding human and the causes she supports.  Her books make fantastic gifts.