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Happy 6th Birthday, Finn.

I posted a small little tribute to Finn on Facebook, as I have done for the last six years.

However, I wanted to take a moment to expand upon it here. Six years ago I was heading into a dark place. I was depressed and battling anxiety, and I knew if I didn’t do something drastic I was going to fall into a black hole. So against the advice of basically everyone I wrote up an adoption application on a small litter of yorkie puppies born into a no-kill shelter. Yorkie puppies get adopted quickly. I didn’t think I had a chance.

I was wrong. A few weeks later, I got a call following up on my application. The physical aspects of my home didn’t exactly meet their requirements (no fenced-in yard). I explained how I planned to handle this and explained to the person following up my past experience with dogs, that I wanted a puppy because I’d never raised a dog on my own before and I didn’t think I would be good with a junior or senior dog and that because of what was happening in my life at the time, I really wanted to experience the puppy stage. I also explained I wanted a small dog because that’s what I had as a kid, that I planned to travel and that I thought my lifestyle was suited best for a small dog. He wasn’t sure I was a good fit, but he passed my application onto the adoption coordinator anyway.

A few days later, I got to speak to her about the puppies, my life, my home and she invited me to meet them. I met them on February 14th. Oh man. Did my heart melt. I fell in love. I was nervous—there was a little boy puppy that climbed into my lap and picked me. But I wasn’t sure about a boy. I had never had a boy dog before. There was a lot of thinking and a lot of coaching from the adoption coordinator and a lot of tears in private because I was really scared to take on this responsibility. But I also really-really wanted to take on this responsibility.

In the end, Finn came home with me. The first couple weeks were rough. I read a bunch of dog training books. And I was determined to do a lot of things myself. In a way, I kind of went through postpartum-like phase in that for a brief few days I had remorse. I didn’t think I could live up to what he needed. That everyone who told me not to get him was right. One friend, got me out of the house and took me to a pet store and got me a wire crate. She explained in the early days, that’s not cruel it’s what you need to do to keep puppies safe while you’re away. And she was right. She walked me through a few other things too. And soon other friends were giving advice—helping me choose his vet, advice on pottybreaking, which leads to get and tricks like tieing knots in them, and eventually with their help and my own stubbornness, over the next few months I turned into a pretty okay dogmom.

I’m not perfect. I have made some mistakes. But I don’t think those mistakes diminish the quality of our lives (pro-tip: Get pet insurance).

Finn has enriched my life in ways I will never be able to fully articulate. He’s a constant source of light, joy, and cute. He’s taught me more about myself and trusted me and loved me unconditionally. I often joke, “Xanax would have been cheaper,” and it would—Finn has a ridiculous amount of medical bills. (Pro-tip. No seriously, get pet insurance)

Anyway, all that to say, I continue to silently thank the adoption staff that took a chance on me and delievered Finn to my home. Finn is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. The most rewarding risk I’ve ever taken. Soon, he and I are going to be heading into another crazy adventure—lik on a tornado ride, down a yellowbrick road sort of thing—but it’s because of him and all that has happened these last six years that I’m ready.

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Operation Organization: Planner Pages

I adhere to certain aspects of being organized like one does religion. (And other aspects not-so-much). For me, it's a neverending quest to obtain personal perfection—and it's a damn fine stress reliever. It's a stress reliever in a few different ways, the most obvious being that when you're organized you save time because you have a handle on your shit. However, for me, the simple acts of getting organized are acts of meditation. Staying organized is one of the few things in this world that is within my control. And my type-a personality demands I hold on to and nurture the things within my control.

It is this personality quirk that requires careful monitoring when I walk into any office supply store. I will drop a small fortune on supplies that I think will help keep my life organized and in control. And Martha Stewart brand products are a mainstay in this ever quest of mine. About a year ago, I dropped some cash on a mint colored 6.5x9 inch ARC binder and many of its accessories. The amount of time I've put into perfecting and personalizing this system for myself is borderline obsessive. I take no shame in this. This pride probably stems from the same feelings of pride I had over my college edition FranklinCovey planner. #BigRocksFirst

The one thing that was lacking was quality, personalized planner pages. And I'm that person that wanted a page for tracking E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.NG. Ever heard of the 1,3, 5 rule? Do you goal plan? Do you meal plan? Are you a bullet journaler? Do you pick out your clothes before you go to bed at night? Because I do. Do you have small beings you look after? Like a really cute rescue pup? Do you run a business? Manage Clients? Because I do. And I craved planner pages that could keep track of and manage all of these personal aspects and business aspects of my life. So I fucking made them myself.

I am not a designer. Like I have a decent eye for it in some settings, but it's not a muscle I flex often. And when I do, it's usually by cobbling together other people's designs that have inspired me. So I won't take credit for the beauty or lack thereof with these planner pages. In fact, the basic design came from a template in Canva. What I will take credit for is their functionality and personalization that has developed over several months.

I first started with lined paper I cut out of same-sized journals. (I don't like wasting paper in journals) and once I had the basic idea of how I wanted to go about keeping organized on the page, I worked on it in Canva—making alterations every couple of weeks.

I'm really damn happy with this most recent iteration and how my "Martha" has come together as a whole.

There are 3 pockets, 8 color dividers & 5 wide, color dividers.
Section 1: the month-view
Section 2: goal planning by month
Section 3: weekly plan
Section 4: day plan w/ 2 months at a time
Section 5: notes I want to keep for a bit (The ARC system is repositionable)
Section 6: blank, lined paper
Section 7: dotted graph paper
Section 8: unknown yet

I'm using the red, wide divider to mark what day I'm on. And another to mark the start of the next month. The remaining three I haven't decided on yet. I also stick sticky notes to these dividers as well. I told you, I have a problem.

They say step one is admitting you have a problem. Raise your hand, are you this structured in your time management? And how would you customize your planner?

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My TEDxGR 2014 Takeaways.

TEDxGR view from the Balcony.
TEDxGR view from the Balcony.

This was my third year attending the TEDxGR conference. As the attendees are invite only and curated, it’s a good feeling to be considered an important piece in the growth and creative fabric of the Grand Rapids community. My community.

But I suppose that’s why I chose to settle here. Because perhaps unlike Chicago (which I tried on after college), Los Angeles, or New York, I can make a true, creative impact here in Grand Rapids. Plus, its city leaders are understanding and supportive of small business and the creative class. And you see that in TEDx. As far as the “X” conferences go, this is truly one of the best.

So! Here are my TEDxGR Takeaways:

1. Get there early.
Something I didn’t do this year. 131, the main highway into GR was nearly shut down. And what normally takes me less than 15 minutes took nearly 40.  So I missed some important networking time before the curtain rise, and in some ways, that set the tone for the whole day.

2. If you can, go with a friend.
I’m an introvert. I know; shocker. Truth be told, it’s incredibly exhausting for me to talk to more than 3 people at a time. And conferences wear me out like nothing else. After this year’s, I needed a full day and a half to reboot. That’s why I’m really happy I didn’t have to go alone this year. Having a planned buddy to digest and decompress with, someone who knows you well enough that you don’t feel like you need to be “on” at all times is a recharge in itself. Especially, if they’re an extrovert.

3. Networking is relative. But have really great questions to ask the people you meet.
Most people go to these things for the possibility to say their elevator pitch. Me? Not so much. Some would say that I’m doing it wrong. (Actually, a few have.) But I don’t feel I have to be a room worker. I am a relationship builder. If I meet one or two really great people I’m satisfied. I’m not there to impress people I’m there to learn from and be inspired by people. So I spend far more time listening than I do talking.

4. My body language does not mean what you think it does.
Some body language expert reading me at TEDxGR this year would have thought I hated everyone. I don’t. I actually quite like everyone. For example: My constantly crossed and closed off arms = I’m FREEZING and even though I’m wearing a jacket, I’m wishing I were wearing a parka. My shifting posture and feet = I’m really regretting my shoe choice and this floor is really, really hard. Also, I probably need a nap.

5. Don’t set your phone down.
Two years in a row, I lost my phone. No joke. Last year, I left it in the bathroom; this year, I set it on a table while I scooped out food. Thankfully both years I got it back shortly after I discovered it missing.  And hey: Security at the GRAM, thanks for keeping my and the other 5 black iPhones in black Belkin cases safe.

6. This one’s for the ladies: Don’t bring a laptop bag.
Bring one of those giant purses you can fit diapers in. You know the kid of purses that if you buy at Target they’ll think you’re preggers. Because, you don’t want to carry a heavy laptop. You want a tablet and a charger. You also might want a sweater, change of shoes, lipstick, water bottle, coffee travel mug, and who knows what else. This year, above all else, I really wanted a thick sweater, warmer shoes, hand sanitizer.

7. Embrace the awkward moments.
And find the humor in them. Because, there will be plenty of these.

 

On Co-Winning The Internet

A few days ago, randomly, the show @Midnight’s Twitter account started following. Then I got this tweet:

@midnight
(Click Image to Enlarge)

They had picked me to be one of their TagTeam Thursday players. Emails flew around. I had to email their show my driver’s license and sign the standard release form. It asked me to list who lived in my house, and naturally I put:

Name of People Residing in your Home: Finn.
Relationship: My dog
Their employer: He’s just a dog. ;))

Then I got another couple DMs asking me how to pronounce my name.

Then I waited until Thursday.

@Midnight Screengrab
@Midnight Screengrab

At the opening of the show, I learned that Morgan Murphy would be playing for my bragging rights. She said nice things, like that I’m her bestie and that while we’ve never met, we’d probably get along. I’d happily add her to my list of besties and she’s right, we probably would get along.

So as the show progressed, it came down to the final question. And Morgan knocked it out of the park with wit and brevity.  (Sometimes the best jokes are timely and short.) And bam! Just like that, I co-won the internet.

I will take it.

I’d like to thank Morgan, Chris Hardwhick, the fine folks at @Midnight, and Comedy Central for the fun.

Finn Heart Update: The Beats go on.

Finn chewing a bone.
Finn chewing a bone.

Edith Wharton once said, “My little dog – a heartbeat at my feet.” And that took on a whole new meaning for me on #MSUMonday for #FinnsHeart

MSU is a 2-hour, 20-minute roundtrip drive.  And, like the over planner I am, I overpacked. My mom just shook her head when I walked out of the house. My mom offered to make the trip with me, because it’s a long, emotional ride home if it’s bad news.

So I packed two large cups of Starbucks–one for me, one for my mom–my mobile office, (i.e., my laptop bag) stuffed with client work, supplies, and a couple magazines, because I had no idea how long I’d have to wait. And extra money. To treat my mom.

Finn had a bag too. Finn approved treats because of his food allergies. His leash, harness, travel water bowl, a blanket (that smells like me), and a few toys. You know, just incase they had to take him back there, somewhere, for a long time without me.

We made it on time no trouble. (Thanks GoogleMaps!) We checked in at the front desk. Found our waiting area and before we knew it, were in a room with a Sr. Student Resident trying to keep Finn calm so she could examine him.

She went through the standard questions my normal vet asks.  “Any coughing, sneezing? Runny eyes? Shortness of breath?” And I of course rambled on like a scared parent who forgot her notes. Telling her about the time Finn shocked himself on an electrical cord. The jerky treats I gave him but shouldn’t have. His whole life history.

Finally, she listened to his heart. After all, that’s why we were really there. And she listened a long, long time. And then. She said, “his rhythm is normal. I don’t think we need to do an ECG. But rather just the Cardiogram. (The ultrasound for the heart).” She went on, “There is a clicking I hear. So we should check that out, but I don’t think it’s electrical.”

So, special treats in hand, I walked back with her to Cardiology. Finn wasn’t going to leave my side so It was just easier to walk him back and then leave.  During the walk the Resident made sure to tell me that skipping the ECG would save me some money too. Which was nice, but honestly, it’s just money. If Finn needed it, I would have done it.

But this little gesture was important. Much like my own vet, I very much sensed it wasn’t about making money and doing needless tests just to do them. This facility at MSU was about care. And that small gesture put me at ease, that Finn was truly in good hands.

Mom and I got some quick snacks and hunkered down in the waiting area.

After not too long, I could hear Finn’s tags down the hall. It’s surprising how in a place with like a million dogs and cats my ears can pick out the sound of Finn’s collar tags.

Along with the awesome student resident, was Doggie Cardiologist, Dr. Sanders, and another student resident specializing in Cardiology. I should point out, both are male. Automatically I noticed that Finn wasn’t barking at them. A bit shy, yes. A bit playful even, sure. But not barking. Which is huge, because it usually takes him many, many meetings before he warms up to a new guy. Finn got it. These guys were here to help. Further telling me that whatever they said next could be trusted.

“I have some good news,” Dr. Sanders said. “Finn does have a leaky heart valve and thus heart disease. So that’s the bad news. It’s his tricuspid. Sometimes a little of the blood being pumped through flows backwards, and that’s the sound your vet heard. It’s actually like a click at the end of the beat.”

That’s not good news. I thought.

“However, the good news is it’s very, very tiny. Go home. Forget about it. Because the best thing you can do for him is keep him active, lean and trim, and healthy. He can even run a 10k if he wants to.”

And that’s when I started laughing. It was a really good laugh. Needed.

We talked more about what might have caused it, most likely he was born with it and the fill in vet during his first year check up missed it. What we need to do to keep an eye on it, to see if it progresses, and long term care if it gets worse.

We exchanged some jokes, talked about Finn’s diet, etc. And for nearly 10 minutes Dr. Sanders went on to give props to my vet, saying most wouldn’t have caught this until much later. And this early detection will make all the difference in Finn’s longterm care.

And then, after paying, we were on our way home.

We’re to do this again in a year and monitor for changes. No surgery or meds. Finn’s to just be a dog. 

So for now, that furry heartbeat at my feet, the one filled with love and puppy kisses is still beating. And I am grateful for its love, warmth and comfort ever more so now. 

When routine is not so routine.

Finn at 20 weeks
Finn at 20 weeks

I am asking for your prayers. And maybe that sounds like a silly request, and for some, maybe especially after you read why, but nonetheless I am.

I took Finn to the vet this morning for his yearly checkup. He’s 2 years old now and to look at him and play with him you’d think he’s totally healthy. That said, today his vet heard the distinct sound of a heart murmur and is recommending he see a doggie cardiologist. (I’m sure that’s the professional title.)

It may be nothing to worry about. He may have always had it.  And while last year, at his physical it wasn’t picked up on, last year his regular vet was on maternity leave and he saw a fill in. So while I’m sure she’s great, maybe the fill in didn’t know him well enough or pick up on it.

I think his regular care giver is extremely knowledgeable and thorough. And frankly well adapt at dealing with a “helicopter pet parent.” And I’m thankful for her due diligence and constant attention to detail.

Sleepy Finn 1.10.14
Sleepy Finn 1.10.14

But never the less, while she was explaining how the heart works and that he might need medication I went straight to “is he going to have a sudden heart attack and die? Because you just said ‘cardiologist’ and ‘heart disease’ in the same sentence.”

There was a moment where I didn’t believe her. And when she said it could be stress/adrenaline induced I waited awhile longer, for him to calm down and asked her to listen again. She’s amazing. Totally calm and willing. She let me listen, too. And there it was, I heard it. An offbeat. In triplicate. “It fades in and out,” I told her. “Yes, it does. And that may be a good thing,” She told me.

But still. I got in my car, put Finn in his crate, called my mom and cried. Shock I guess. Concern too. And sometimes that’s just how I need to process things like “cardiologist” and “specialist” and “EKGs” and whatever else he’ll need to know what’s going on.

For two years, he’s been my constant companion. A virtually instant bond. My toto in this crazy land of Oz.

I’m much more resolute as I type this. I know he will be fine. Later today, I will call MSU and set up an appointment. Another thing for which I’m thankful, a world-class veterinary program and facility right in our backyard.

In the meantime, I know he’s just a dog, but since he’s my dog and my very best friend would you please keep him and us in your thoughts?

Thank you.

Reflection: A letter to my 22-year-old self

It’s the first week of January, still. So I’m allowed to be all reflective and thoughtful, right? In that spirit, I was recently thinking about what I was doing 10 years ago and how much I’ve changed since then. It’s a good time to look back, learn from, and grow forward.

Dear 22-year-old self,

In the spirit of the Internet, I’m writing to you from the future! Right now, you’ve begun the Interim semester of your senior year of college. You’re currently taking an English grammar class. You had to FIGHT to get into, because it’s that awesome of a grammar class. In six months, you’re going to move to Chicago. But you already know this. What you don’t know is that this year is the beginning of a very beautiful and difficult time in your life. A lot happens. But 10 years is a long time, so a lot should. When it’s over, you will emerge a beautifully strong woman, but a very different woman from the young girl you are right now.

If I could give you any advice or prepare you for what’s about to happen, these are the big ones.

On Love

1. Love will change everything about you. In a few weeks, you’re going to fall in love with one of your friends. Hard. Not including your Dad, this will be the second man whose influence will change how you think about yourself. Right down to your name. This man won’t call you by your nickname, Tammy, he will only call you by your given name, Tamaryn. And he will ask you, in a very Walt Disney to Annette Funicello kind of way, “Why would you ever use a common name like Tammy when you’re anything but?” From that point on, you introduce yourself as Tamaryn. (Your Dad will still call you Tammykins though, even after you’re 30.)

2. Love will break you. This man is going to break your heart. It’s going to take a long time for you to understand why this was a good thing. That he didn’t mean to hurt you and that it was for the right reasons. And no. There’s nothing you could have done to change the outcome.

3. Your Family is going to mean everything to you.  They’ll be the only ones who can help you glue yourself back together again.

4. You’re going to make a lot of bad decisions. A lot.  Like playing it safe, with pretty much everything. Your 20s are for risk taking. Unfortunately, you’re not going to many. You’re going to move back to your parents’ home after Chicago.  Instead of moving to New York, you’re going to take the safe corporate job right after. And eventually, you’re going to buy a condo in your home town. Because home is safe.

5. Don’t over analyze everything. But you will. And it’s going to take you a while to figure out knowing the answers to everything in life, unlike in school, doesn’t win you any points.

6. You will compare every man you date, from here on out, to him. You will seek out and date guys completely different just to try that on. You will date guys a lot like him, because maybe that’s what works. And eventually, you’ll figure out why Mr. Right was, and more importantly, why he wasn’t.

7. He’ll get married. Not to you. This one takes you by surprise. But the biggest thing that will surprise you is that you’ll be happy for him. You’re even going to like his wife.

8. You’ll fall in love again.  By the time number 7 happens, you’ll have met someone to love.

9. You’re still not married. I wish I could tell you that in 10 years you’ll be married too. Because at 22, that’s what you really, really want. But you won’t be.

10. This new person is going to leave you too. And just like before, this man will leave for all the right reasons. But you won’t follow him. Because…

11. You’ll have learned how to lead.

On Your Health

1. Foot surgery was a good decision. Genetics were not kind to your feet. At 22, you have the bunions of a 60-year-old.  After these surgeries, you’re most likely going to live the rest of your life with two, two-inch titanium screws in both feet. (They’re still there 10 years later.) And it’s going to be awesome. You’re going to be able to wear 4-inch heels for 9 hours and not cry. You’re going to take up karate and running.

2. Love the body you have?  Then stop taking birth control and start drinking organic milk. Because your body will never be the same. A few years from graduation, regardless of how many karate classes you go to, you’re going to gain 45 pounds in one month. Your stomach is going to stop working. You’re going to feel dizzy and sick. Like your body is toxic. You’re going to be the heaviest you’ve ever been. You’ll wear like one pair of pants for an entire year.

3. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. You’ll be so dizzy and sick at times that you’ll call your mom at 4am crying because you’re afraid your head will quite literally explode. You’ll start to lose hearing in your right ear, and you’ll hear ringing. You’re going to start mixing up words when you type or write and slur them when you talk. And when you think that you can’t possibly feel any more gross or sick, your hair is going to start to fall out.

4. You’re going to be tested for everything. From Meniere’s disease, a brain tumor or MS or an aneurysm, to a malfunctioning thyroid, lupus and hell, even for a gluten allergy because it’s trendy.

5. You’re not going to have any of them. Thank God!

6. Listen to your mom. Don’t slouch. You’ve had scoliosis since your were 10. You’ve heard all your life that there’s nothing doctors can do for it. And so you’ve ignored it. You will spend 40 to 60 hours a week in front of a computer. Not a good combo.

On Wellness

1. You’ll go through a really long hermit phase. Because you won’t have the energy to do anything, your brain will feel like it’s on fire, you’re afraid you sound drunk, and your stomach will hurt so bad that all you’ll do is sleep. You will be miserable. You’ll be depressed. And it will suck.

2. It’ll be ok. You’re not going to trade one single stretch mark, or consequence, that happens as a result. Because out of this will spawn some really, really amazing things.

3. You take control of your own health. You keep a health journal. You start tracking everything from what you ate, how you felt, how many sit ups you did (or didn’t) do. You’ll track your headaches, dizziness, when you’re mixing up your words, when there’s ringing in your ears, energy levels, moods, your “that time of the month”, and how much hair you’re losing. You’ll do this obsessively. As in, you’re going to count every hair that comes off your head in the shower, on the pillow, and in the brush and keep a damn spreadsheet.

3. You’ll become Veronica Mars, Nancy Drew, and Batgirl. You’ll be on a mission to figure this out. And you will.

On Finding Answers

1. Your hormones will be out of control. Think roller coaster from hell. Between birth control, a high diet with a lot of hormone infused milk products (see no. 11), and a natural sensitivity you never knew you had, your body is going to think it’s going through menopause. And it’s going to take a while, but after you cut out a large chunk of artificial hormones, synthetic chemicals in your skincare and makeup, and a bunch of other stuff, you’re going to feel a lot better.

2.  Take Iron and Vitamin D.  Maybe it’s related to everything else, but your iron stores are going to drop so low you’re basically anemic. Your hemoglobin is going to test fine on every test. No one is going to think you need iron. But in fact, your ferritin levels (when you finally see the right doctor to get this tested) are going to be abysmal. This is why you were losing your hair. This is why your mom kept saying, “You’re so pale. Have you seen the sun at all? Are you feeling okay?” This is why all you wanted to do was sleep. This is partially why you’re dizzy, why you can’t concentrate, and why you feel out of breath all the time. Once you start taking iron (and later vitamin D) and almost everything will be back to normal.

3. Start seeing a chiropractor sooner. He will fix everything else. You ignored your spine and everything was out of whack. The “airplane bubble” and ringing in your ears, and any left over migraines will disappear once you start working to realign everything.

On Finding Your Voice

1. You start to write a book. While you were at the hight of feeling sick and being a sloth, you get a really great idea for a story. It will pull you out of your hermit phase.

2. It’s not finished. Life will get in the way and you’ll set it down for other projects.

3. You start your own company. It seemed like a good idea. You didn’t know how to be healthy in a cube. You knew you needed balance in your life. You needed to take a risk.

4. It’s a huge risk. Huge. The riskiest thing you’ve ever done.

5. You will struggle with it. You jumped in without a plan and you didn’t know how to swim. If you had a plan, you might have thought twice about starting a company when it’s an economic recession. You learn that “winging it” is not a strategy.

6. You’ll make sacrifices.

7. You’ll work harder than you’ve ever worked before.

8. You’ll figure it out. You will actually grow your business, work with some really awesome people and clients, and create some seriously awesome work that you’re proud of.

9. You adopt a dog. This little guy changes you. He’s the best present you’ve ever given yourself. He’ll teaches you all the stuff you didn’t know you had in you…like patience.

10. Finish your book. Once all the things you were afraid of and that kept you from finishing are out of the way. Come back to this. The story is still a really good one.

11. Go back to school. You’re going to do a semester of GVSUs MBA program. It’s going to be hard because you’ll be juggling a ton. You will learn a valuable lesson…

12. You can do a lot. But you can’t do everything all at once.

13. You’ve got this. The next 10 are going to be really amazing.

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