Living the New Normal

JennerLiving a new normal is not an easy thing. 

After our kids were born, my husband and I learned to deal with being tired all the time, having the shoulders of our clothes stained with shmushed Cheerios, and remembering never to leave the house without the diaper bag.  

That was our new normal for many years, and it was all consuming. But it’s nothing compared to the new normal that two very different women described living this week.

First, Caitlyn Jenner, known up until now as Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner, introduced herself to the world on the cover of Vanity Fair. Jenner, 65, first talked about her transition to a woman in a TV special with Diane Sawyer in April that was watched by nearly 17 million people. So the fact that he would soon be a she shouldn’t have been a complete surprise.

Read more: Living the New Normal

7 Ways to Celebrate Earth Day

Next Wednesday, April 22nd is Earth Day, a global event that celebrates the beauty of our environment and supports its protection. First celebrated in 1970, Earth Day is widely credited with launching the modern environmental protection movement. The inaugural event capitalized on rising awareness of environmental damage from humans and started with the publication in 1962 of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.” 

Despite the book’s chilling predictions for nature and wildlife, by 1970 nothing had changed and, indeed, a lot had gotten worse. We drove big heavy cars that guzzled leaded gas, we littered at will, and we allowed industrial smoke and sludge to spill into our air and water.  

We've made progress, yes, but today we have even bigger challenges: climate change and global warming. Sometimes the depth and breadth of our impact on the Earth seems so big that individual action seems fruitless. Our roadways and airways run on carbon. Thirty-nine percent of our electricity is powered by coal. Plastic, created from petroleum derivatives, permeates almost every aspect of consumer culture: it’s in cars, phones, furniture, toothbrushes, floss…everything! 

Can individual action make a difference to the health of our earth? Believing that it does is the only sane option. Climate activists are routinely asked how they reduce their own carbon footprints, and they respond seriously with real solutions.

So in celebration of Earth Day, here’s our list of the ways we can all try to reduce our carbon footprint and increase the health of our environment. Individual action matters.

Recycle and compost: I am fortunate to live in a county (Marin, California) with municipal recycling and composting. Our garbage is complicated: aluminum, tin, glass and plastic goes into one trash can; clean paper goes into another and everything organic from chicken bones to coffee grinds to lettuce leaves, as well as pizza boxes, goes into the compost can. Thanks to this system, the smallest can in our collection is the landfill can.

Read more: 7 Ways to Celebrate Earth Day

How To Help When Someone You Love Has Cancer

With 2.3 million people in the U.S. diagnosed with cancer each year, it's highly likely that all of us will, at some time, know someone (or several someones) living with cancer.

Personally, I can count three in my extended family, and one dear friend, Sandra Cannon, who, thankfully, is now completely healthy and cured. She was “lucky” to have a type of cancer (large diffuse b cell lymphoma) that doesn’t just go into remission; it gets completely eradicated.
During her treatment she created a circle of care that included close friends and a chef, learning along the way what kind of help and support she really needed. Here, in her own words, is her list of 11 physical and spiritual gifts for supporting a loved one undergoing cancer treatment.

1) Nice pajamas

Your loved one will see a lot of down time whether they want to or not. It took me a long time to submit to my bed, but the choice turns out to be rest a lot now or die. Rest seems to be the obvious choice.

Read more: How To Help When Someone You Love Has Cancer

On The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

I usually reserve January for coming to grips with the dietary excesses that start with Halloween candy, then carry on through pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, standing rib roast on Christmas Day and oyster stew on New Year's Eve.

But this year I’m putting eating clean and lite aside, in favor of living clean and light. My new resolve to clear the clutter comes thanks to an amazing book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo.

Subtitled, “The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” Kondo’s book offers detailed instructions on how to unburden your home from its mass of things, and then put what you keep in order.
I’m not one to be swayed by self-help promises, but my brief experience with Kondo’s approach, which she calls the KonMari method, has worked some “magic” on me. I’ve read other books about clearing life’s clutter, but there’s something about this neat, trim little book that has had a real impact on my day-to-day existence. Here are just a few of these strategies.

Declutter and organize thing by thing, not room by room. This incredibly simple approach is revolutionary. Start with clothes, then books, then papers, then miscellany, and finish with mementos. I haven’t had time, as Kondo suggests, to pile every item of clothing I own into the middle of a room, so I’ve broken my work down to smaller categories: socks, scarves, work out clothing, pajamas, sweaters, etc. Still, I’ve managed to take almost 15 garbage bags of stuff to Goodwill. I can open all my dresser drawers, take what I need, and close them without a struggle. Magic!
Keep only what "sparks joy." Deciding what to keep has always been a burden for me. I’m no hoarder, but I definitely have trouble getting rid of stuff that I “should” like or wear. Those things, whether a set of hopelessly fusty and outdated scarves or a crystal candy dish, trigger feelings of guilt if I so much as look at them. They are not sparking joy. Kondo says they've got to go. On the other hand, if a favorite old T-shirt makes you happy, keep it. Now, I listen to my inner discarder every day. Those ugly coffee mugs and plastic 7-Eleven Icee cups can be someone else’s problem.
Folding can be fun! Kondo’s instructions on how to fold clothing are enlightening. Properly folded clothing takes up much less room -- in my experience up to two-thirds less. My once-chaotic drawer of workout clothing feels almost empty -- in part from getting rid of worn-out items but in larger part from taking the time to neatly fold and/or roll each item. (The Japanese have a history of fascination with folding, as One Thing New's Kimberly Weisul noted in a column about it.

Kondo’s method is as follows:
“First, fold each lengthwise side of the garment towards the center…and tuck sleeves in to make a long rectangular shape. It doesn’t matter how you fold the sleeves. Next, pick up the short end of the rectangle and fold toward the other short end. Then fold again in the same manner, in halves or in thirds. The number of folds should be adjusted so that the folded clothing when standing on edge fits the height of the drawer…If you find the end result is the right shape but too loose or floppy to stand up, it’s a sign that your way of folding doesn’t match the type of clothing. Every piece of clothing has its own ‘sweet spot’ where it feels just right.”
Using this folding technique and standing items on edge, I can assess a drawer’s contents at a glance and see if I’m running low on socks, for example. Yes, even socks and underwear should be folded. If you do, you’ll never have to search frantically at 6 a.m. for clean underwear. Again, magic!
You already have all the storage you need. The KonMari method is completely storage-system free. No trips to the Container Store required. As Kondo puts it, “Storage experts are hoarders.” The solution is not to find a place for all your stuff, but to cull your stuff to fit the space you live in. Once you discard what you don’t love, and fold what you do, you’ll have more than enough room. With all the extra space I’ve created, I’ve moved items from my own overflow storage back to my drawers, discovering a few ‘lost’ items in the process. In my kitchen, the tea and coffee cabinet is free of weird teas I will never drink, and the mugs fit easily on the bottom shelf.
The word “tidying” is misleading; “jettisoning” is closer to what I’ve done so far. And it feels great. I really do feel lighter. Kondo offers a completely new take on “getting clean” that I’ve already recommended to anyone polite enough to listen to me rave about it.
Kondo has an even bigger lesson in store for her readers: The ultimate, far-reaching impacts of tidying, according to her, include learning that “letting go is more important than adding;” confronting and addressing our “attachment to the past or anxiety about the future,” which manifests in the stuff we keep; and understanding that memories live in our hearts and minds, and not in mementos.

I can't guarantee this book will change your life. But it really has changed mine. -- Emily Brower Auchard
Missed our last issue? Here you go:
New Year, New Ideas

If you liked this story, you might also like:
Six Steps to a Lovely Condolence Note
Is Multi-Tasking Frying Your Brain?
20 Things To Be Thankful for: 2014 Edition

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Dads Who Are Raising Our Daughters

girlsatschoolIf you have a daughter, it’s hard not to be discouraged about her future, given the constant media messages about girls’ lack of confidence and disinterest in engineering and computer science. Is she getting a fair shake in math class? Will she really be encouraged on the field or in the pool?

The answers to these questions are in the hands of the coaches and teachers on the frontlines, and lately I’ve been feeling much more encouraged about the opportunities for girls in my Northern California community. I always knew that parents, both moms and dads, are doing their best to inspire their girls to become confident, capable women. What I don't think I fully appreciated was the depth of knowledge, and support, that existed among the guys in my community on behalf of all girls -- even when they have no daughters of their own.

I recently had an opportunity to chat with three of them, including Greg Chambers, lawyer, father of three boy, and girls water polo coach at Drake High School; Conrad Gregory, realtor, father of two girls and girls soccer coach at Drake High School; and Nate MacDonald, father and middle school math and STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Art and Math) teacher at White Hill Middle School.

From what they told me about their day-to-day work, it’s clear these guys really have our girls’ backs.

Read more: Dads Who Are Raising Our Daughters

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