Words of Wisdom

If someone asked you to give words of wisdom about life, what would they be?

In the past two weeks I have been asked to write down thoughts and advice to commemorate special life milestones for an 18 year old, a 21 year old, a 30 year old and a 50 year old. All are women, all live in different parts of the U.S. and they are worlds apart in their life experience and expectations. I tried to find the right mix of sage-like seriousness and practical life-induced humility and humor. A little “Ann Landers” with some “Ellen” thrown in. Although I was sending my thoughts to others it felt like the assignments were an opportunity to reflect and explore, “What advice would I give to my less-experienced self?”

The younger women are grappling with the dawning of adulthood; the excitement and anticipation that anything can be tackled head-on. They are also no doubt experiencing a bit of fear over not knowing what lies ahead at the next river bend.  The 30-year-old already has a little bit of wind at her back but is now gaining an appreciation for the need to make deliberate decisions. The 50-year-old has lived long enough to experience life’s bumps and triumphs and has a sense of urgency about making her mark on the world.

The advice I gave was heavily influenced by my personality as a measured planner. Certainly, individuals who tend toward the spontaneous side of life would give completely different counsel. No one would ever peg me as a “in the moment” type of gal, so in general I said:

  1. Go after what you want. Make a plan, and then take steps to always move toward your goal even if you need to take teeny steps. You will still be 5 years older 5 years from now regardless of what you do or don’t do so you might as well do something.
  2. Appreciate the little things as life goes along. There are a lot of simple pleasures in life — a sunny day, a hearty laugh, a good friend.
  3. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. A bad decision can be corrected by a good decision.
  4. Prioritize your relationships with people. In the end, they are the only thing that will really matter.

However, I am also a big fan of inspiring quotes. I own a hard-bound copy of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations and more recently my on-line citation source has been http://www.brainyquote.com/. Here is some of the advice I gleaned from these resources:

“They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do and something to hope for.” Tom Bodett

“Believe you can and you’re halfway there.”  Theodore Roosevelt

“Nothing is impossible; the word itself says ‘I’m possible’!”  Audrey Hepburn

“Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start.”  Nido Qubein

“Be faithful to that which exists within yourself”.  Andre Gide

“If you accept the expectations of others, especially negative ones, then you never will change the outcome.” Michael Jordan

“In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.” Bill Cosby 

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”  Mahatma Gandhi

As you get older, it is easier to understand how you got to “here” once you have already been “there,” or as Steve Jobs said, “You can only connect the dots looking backwards.”  My wish for anyone is that when the dots are connected it creates a satisfying unique life picture.

Please use our comment section or Facebook page to share with readers the quotes that you have found inspiring.

Carol Lewis Gullstad October 29, 2012



Breaking Rules and Boundaries

When the email arrived inviting me to join friends at a guided-painting event, I hesitated to reply. My sister – an accomplished printmaker and book artist living in Minneapolis – would be in town, and I worried that she wouldn’t want to spend an evening “learning” how to paint.

At the same time, I thought it might be fun to have a “girls’ night out,” which would involve wine and appetizers in addition to creating a canvas. What’s more, the event was a fundraiser for the local Boys & Girls Club, so we would be supporting a good cause.

My sister was game, so off we went to the Canvas studio in Kirkland on Sunday evening.

As we enjoyed a glass of wine, a selection of cheese and veggies and irresistible chocolate cake, we spotted small easels and canvases awaiting us at long tables, as well as a copy of the sunflowers painting we would replicate.

(Feel free to pause for a moment to check out my sister Jody’s website, and you’ll see why I started to feel this was a grave mistake. Bright flower paintings aren’t exactly her artistic style.)

I could tell Jody was feeling uneasy as she searched the wall—chock full of examples for other class sessions–for alternatives. However, she was game, as always, and picked up her brush.

The instructor gave a few pointers for mixing paints and using brushes, and then led us in covering our canvasses with a background color. Three of my friends mixed aqua, as instructed, and my sister created a lovely deep blue. Two other guests had selected a tulip painting from the wall, so worked on a cream-colored base.

I was envisioning a way to match my artwork to my home, which includes several burnt-sienna (remember your Crayolas?) walls. Thinking I would make a bold artistic statement, I mixed yellow, orange, white and a little blue into brown for my work’s base. “We have a name for that color at art school,” Jody said. “Monkey sh@t brown.” We both burst out laughing, which caused the instructor to glance our way.

We sang along to Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” as we painted our canvasses. The instructor covered hers in sweeping strokes of aqua, and then suggested we refresh our beverages and appetizer plates while the paint dried. At that point, my canvas was only half-covered, as was Jody’s.

After a short break, it was on to the flowers. “I really just want to paint dots,” Jody whispered to me. This was no surprise; some of her early prints included dots and other “do-dads.”

“Go ahead,” I told her. “It’s not like you’re going to get in trouble for painting what you want.”

She gave me a big smile and said, “Thanks. I really just needed someone to give me permission.”

So, as the rest of us painted stems and pedals, Jody worked on rows of yellow dots on a deep-blue background.

My painting wasn’t shaping up all that well. I loved the model, but didn’t want to replicate it exactly. I continued to divert from the instructions, and my sister – who actually teaches art at a college – couldn’t help giving sideways glances to my disaster-in-process.

“I tell my students to beware of using black outlining as a crutch,” she told me, as I worked to outline every pedal in black, in an effort to salvage my chef d’oeuvre.

I admired her yellow-dot painting, which was coming along very, very slowly, and suggested I could pick her up from the studio in the morning.

Meanwhile, the other women at our table were creating perfect, lovely copies of the model.

Jody and I started giggling again, realizing that neither of us was following instructions. Our stomachs literally started aching from the laughter. And when Jody reminded me of a giggling episode from several decades earlier, we could barely focus on our paintings.

The first time we took a trip alone together – when I was 14 and she was 19 – we accompanied our grandmother to church in the coal-mining town were my father was raised. We were surprised to find paper fans in the pew advertising a funeral home. It just seemed wrong, especially in light of the aging population in a no-longer-vibrant town.

I absolutely had to take a fan home as a souvenir, so stashed it under my dress. That worked fine until the congregation stood to sing, and I had to hold the hymnal and my mid-section (to keep the fan from falling) simultaneously. At the art studio, Jody gave an imitation of me trying to stand up, with an arched back, one hand on her belly and the other pretending to hold a book, and we both laughed even louder.

Since that trip to Eastern Pennsylvania so many eons ago, Jody and my lives have taken very different paths. She attended a small, very academic liberal-arts college. I went to a Big Ten university, where I joined a sorority.

Now, Jody is a nationally known book artist (in fact, she gave a lecture at the University of Washington the other day), who makes a living teaching art and selling her work. She lives a very cultured, urban lifestyle in Minneapolis.

And while I do work part time (writing, editing and teaching French), I live a very kid-centered life in suburban Seattle. Jody’s visit emphasized this disparity, as she accompanied the family to a homecoming parade, high school football game, dog walks in the park and pre-dance photo gatherings.

However, out with the gals, drinking wine and breaking rules, the boundaries between our diverse lives broke down. With paintbrushes in hand, we gave each other permission to be ourselves—to be who we always were—while rediscovering our common ground. I am sure we will laugh about our failed guided-painting endeavor for years to come.

Linda Williams Rorem, 22 Oct. 2012
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Dog is Good


Last month I wandered around the national trade show for pet retailers, SuperZoo.  I was there to scope out new items to sell at Positive Approach, a dog-training, day-care, pet boarding and retail store in Tacoma. I saw an eclectic array of goods including pet furniture worthy of an 18th -century English manor, homeopathic meds for Fido and the Furminator pet hair elimination tool. But mostly I saw real entrepreneurship, vendors and buyers in real-time, not the mythical ones that politicians like to pander toward.

I loved talking to the entrepreneurs about how they got their idea, why they were passionate about it and what prompted them to start it. The essence of small business is relationships built on trust. I can’t even count the number of vendors who told me that they like to know who they are dealing with and look them in the eye. I was struck by the high number of women at this event who were the product creators as well as the buyers.


One of the businesses that intrigued me the most was Dog is Good . I had long been a fan of the company’s irreverent, humorous products such as my teenage son’s t-shirt that reads, “It’s all fun and games until someone ends up in a cone.”  It put a punctuation mark on my enthusiasm once I met Gila Kurtz, the tour de force behind Dog is Good.  Gila is a tiny woman and a bundle of dynamite. Within five minutes of meeting each other we were talking about the challenges of being a mother, wife and entrepreneur.


As stated by Natalie MacNeil in Forbes magazine in June 8, 2012,Many women start businesses that align with personal values and offer freedom and flexibility when it comes to things like scheduling.” I asked Gila about the back-story on her business and she confirmed the assertion of MacNeil.  Kurtz told me that she had wanted to create a clothing line that was fashionable and expressed her love of dogs. In addition Gila and her husband Jon, after moving around for his 27 year career in the Navy, were craving a place to “anchor” with their daughter. They liked the idea of not only producing products they would buy for themselves but also the freedom and control to conduct business in a principled way. Jon and designer Nichole Smith are the other partners in this family enterprise.


It was clear from talking to both Jon and Gila that they are highly ethical and value social responsibility. Their booth was constantly busy as they not only had good stuff but were easy to do business with and cared about their customers. They embodied the ideal of risk-taking, exhaustion –inducing, optimism-encouraging entrepreneurship.


Women are expected to create nearly half of the new jobs through small businesses in the next decade and I left the trade show feeling buoyant about these vibrant purveyors of pet products.  Gila’s personal motto is “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.” However, she is also leading the way for other women to give themselves permission to pursue a doggone good idea from their store, “Always leave your mark.”


Carol Lewis Gullstad, permissionslips1@gmail.com

October 15, 2012

Golden Slumber

A famous artist had come to speak to employees of the art museum, and after the engaging slide presentation in the auditorium, my boss turned around and hissed, “Can you believe someone was sleeping during that? I heard SNORING!”

I agreed, and breathed a sigh of relief that I hadn’t been caught.

Any new parent can attest that sleep is a precious and scarce commodity. Between the middle-of the-night feedings, diaper changes and cries for attention, it’s tough to secure a solid stretch of shuteye. And even when the little ones start sleeping through the night, the motherhood workload – dishes, laundry, cleaning, bill-paying — keeps most moms awake until the wee hours.

When I was working outside the home and still birthing babies, I was constantly sleep-deprived. I often shut my office door and put my head on my desk for a 20-minute cat-nap or found myself drifting off during meetings in warm conference rooms.

At home, I would steal a few minutes of sleep whenever I could – for instance, while my daughter watched The Artistocats for the 347th time.

I believed that as my children aged, I would get more sleep. However, I found that parenting teens is even tougher on the body. Teens are constitutionally programmed to keep un-Godly hours, and I can’t crawl into bed until my “babies” – now ages 19, 17, 15 and 12 — are snuggled into theirs.

What’s more, like most parents, I can’t with clear conscience sleep in past noon as the kids do. So, I end up burning the candle at both ends.

We all know that sleep is important. Recent research has proved that lack of sufficient shut-eye can hinder memory, metabolism, safety, pleasant moods and cardiovascular health.

And although we know that eight hours of sleep each night is optimal, about one third of all working adults in the U.S. (some 41 million people) report that they generally sleep for six hours or less, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As an article in the Harvard Health Watch points out, “While more research is needed to explore the links between chronic sleep loss and health, it’s safe to say that sleep is too important to shortchange.”

In a five-year study (1999-2004) conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, some 40 percent of adults reported that grogginess gets in the way of effectiveness during the day several times a month.

So for those who can’t get enough at night, naps are the best solution for maintaining health and sanity.

One of my favorite venues is the movie theater. With the dim lights, cushy seats, salty snacks and 90 straight minutes of escape, I’ve taken some wonderful cinematic naps. This catch-up method has failed me only once, when I escorted six middle-school boys to a late-night blockbuster. I slipped into a different film at the multiplex, and when I awoke, realized I had missed seven phone calls (my cell was of course on “vibrate”) alerting me that the boys’ movie had ended 30 minutes before mine.

Now, the rec-room couch has become my strongest ally. In fact, my reaction has become a bit Pavlovian: if I stretch out on the coach and pull a fuzzy blanket over me, you can bet I’ll start snoring within a half an hour.

Late on weekend nights, my husband and I might rent an On Demand movie or turn on SNL, and before I know it, one of my sons is shaking my shoulder to prove he made it home before his curfew.

Often, I’ll slip back into sleep, only to wake up at 3 am with a fitness-machine Infomercial droning on. I’ll drag my tail upstairs, wash up, crawl into bed and then lie awake for an hour, trying to drift back into dreamland.

For me, napping has become a critical parenting tool. So, you can imagine my feeling of vindication when I ran across a New York Times article a few weeks back, which stated that interrupted sleep is not all that harmful.

While many experts still claim that eight hours of sleep is critical to good health and happiness, some researchers have discovered that such solid blocks of slumber aren’t historically natural. This article points out that in China, India and Spain (we’ve all heard of post-lunch “siestas”), daytime napping – even on the job – is socially acceptable.

A Virginia Tech history professor found several examples indicating that centuries ago, eight straight hours was uncommon. For example, in the ancient literary tome Canterbury Tales, a character returns to bed following her “firste sleep,” while a French physician in the 1500s claimed that laborers wanting more children made love after their “first sleep.”

This professor, A. Roger Ekirch, suggests that we take the pressure off ourselves for the eight-hour stretch, and that if we wake in the middle of the night – either because of sleep problems or late-arriving teens – we should embrace this time for “self-reflection, getting a jump on the day or an amorous activity,” to quote the New York Times writer, David K. Randall.

And, thankfully, it turns out that napping is not a bad way to catch up. Randall states that “a number of recent studies suggest that any deep sleep — whether in an eight-hour block or a 30-minute nap — primes our brains to function at a higher level, letting us come up with better ideas, find solutions to puzzles more quickly, identify patterns faster and recall information more accurately.”

In fact, the article continues, researchers for the University of Pennsylvania, in a study financed by NASA, learned that naps as short as 24 minutes could improve “cognitive performance.” The New York Times article quotes several other studies that prove the same.

As such, programmers at Google, Army recruits and players on the Texas Rangers all have their bosses’ permission to nap briefly while on the clock.

I’m thrilled to learn that my short nights and frequent naps may become socially acceptable and probably won’t lead to an early demise. So, I’m giving myself permission to continue “waiting up” on that comfy couch until I no longer have teens in the house.

-Linda Williams Rorem, 8 October 2012
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Letterman Jacket

The crisp fall air has arrived and in high schools around the country students are beginning to wear coats to school for chilly mornings. Some will enter the hallway proud as peacocks displaying personal and school pride by donning a Letterman jacket adorned with personal awards earned for athletics or even academic activities. While teenagers are notorious for not displaying any kind of excitement in front of their parents, I have observed my own children’s sheer exuberance — even in front of me — the first time they flew out the door with their jacket.

It occurred to me that public recognition of accomplishments is not to be underrated. My kids have generously offered their Letterman jackets to my husband and me post high school graduation so that we can continue to wear school colors with pride. However, it occurred to me that there is a better option, one that represents an all new product opportunity, a Lettermom jacket.

This jacket would be like no other ever seen. It would be a real conversation piece on the sideline of a game or in the grocery store. The first varsity letter could be earned just for entering the realm of motherhood. After all, once you have a child, you know that you will be the starter on the varsity team and rarely come out of the game. You could earn further recognition for activities and accomplishments. Perhaps an oval track patch for driving, a pantry patch for meal preparation and a red cross patch for first aid.

You could be named “first team all-league” for running concessions for an entire sports season or volunteering all year in a classroom. You might even get “league MVP” for extraordinary work as team parent or PTA president. You could earn your “State” patch for exhibiting a cheerful state of mind through four years of high school parenting. Reward for a “State Champion” patch? The possibilities are endless.

A Varsity Lettermom jacket would definitely sell. As a bonus, it is a real fashion statement this season. Taylor Swift sports a Varsity coat in Glamour; how cheeky. It would make a great present and in the very least it would be a great Halloween costume. Moms and dads, you have earned your letter no doubt and would wear one with pride. Please humor us with your own ideas of how parents can earn letters in our comment section.

Carol Lewis Gullstad October 1, 2012


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