Yes, I love lists. But I'm not "that person" who looks at a terrible situation determined to find the silver lining. Yet alone a list of items. Somehow that changed a few weeks ago when Black and I were working on a Book Bite about exercise. In the P.S. section, which explained why the excerpt's as relevant today as when it was written, we commented that the pandemic made me look at exercise as a way to help reduce my stress and that maybe we should write a separate post about positive changes we've made due to the pandemic. (Similar to the positive things that happened to me years ago when my husband got fired.) As often happens, I thought it was just another one of Black's countless ideas for posts that I'd file away – except it really did get me thinking. So, I decided to create this checklist, although I struggled to keep it to only five things:


  1. Exercise (Stomp?) Away Your Stress
    Yes, the pandemic really did make me look at exercise (again) with fresh eyes. I've always had a love-hate relationship with it, made worse by the fact that Black has always embraced it, keeping to an exercise routine for decades with nothing stopping her (when the pandemic hit, she turned her balcony into a mini-fitness center), which often makes me feel guilty. But like most people, I found my stress levels reaching a new high over the last nine months. One day I'd just had enough (the particulars aren't important) and had to get out of the house, so I literally stormed out the door. Well, the first trip around the block was more of a stomp than a walk, but by the second lap I was on a nice pace, breathing again like a normal person and the steam coming out of my ears had disappeared. By the time I turned the key to re-enter the house, I felt human again. Now I take a walk almost every day although sometimes it does start out as a stomp.
  2. Give Yourself Permission To Slowdown And Enjoy
    Before the coronavirus, I used to look forward to those rare days when I didn't have to leave the house. Between playing chauffeur for my daughter (even once she could drive, I found I still enjoyed taking her places as it gave us quiet time in the car together), seemingly endless errands, dinners with my mom, and plenty of Red & Black meetings, having a day where I could truly stay home was a novelty. Well, today, it's the norm. But a funny thing happened. Instead of things being less hectic, everything seemed more complicated and I found myself busier than ever. Some was self-inflicted as I decided to work on "home projects" that previously I never had the time to do or had previously neglected. Regardless, it has taken me much longer than I'd care to admit to realize that it's ok to "enjoy" doing nothing or doing something for the pure enjoyment of it.
  3. Turn Mountains (Of Paper) Into Molehills
    One of those "home projects" (working from home muddies the distinction between work and personal projects) was to finally start tackling those constantly growing piles of paper that have accumulated over many years. (Yes, years!) Although I sometimes feel like it's one step forward, two steps back, I can now look around me (literally) and realize that I've made huge progress. Black always told me that the piles represented unfinished work, and their mere presence caused stress. Now that the piles are shrinking (not as fast as I'd like but still moving in the right direction), combined with giving myself permission to take breaks, I'm staying motivated and feeling a sense of accomplishment.
  4. Never Ever Take Your Health For Granted
    I'm one of the very fortunate people who always assumed when I woke up in the morning that I'd go about my day and be able to physically do everything I needed to do. Yes, there might be a few aches and pains, or I might get a stomach ache, or catch a cold or even the flu. But I was basically healthy. The same for my daughters (ok, my older daughter's the type that overreacts to a hangnail while the younger one rarely lets anything slow her down). Pre-pandemic I never really thought about our health, except when I reviewed our health insurance. But the coronavirus made me realize that in the blink of an eye everything can change. It's made me realize how fragile life is and how it's so easy to take your health for granted – until it's gone.
  5. Focus On What You Have … Not What You Don't Have
    It's human nature to focus on what you don't have, what you want, what would make you happier. Rare is the person who's completely happy and satisfied with where they are, literally and figuratively. That's not to say that one shouldn't have goals, ambitions, desires, things you want to improve, things you want to accomplish. But there's a huge difference between wanting all of that at the expense of ignoring what you already have. I like to think that I've always appreciated the most important things in my life, which is first and foremost my daughters. But living during a pandemic made me realize that even when it came to them, I needed to focus less on what could be better and fully appreciate that they are happy and healthy. At the risk of oversimplifying things, it's appreciating that the glass is not only half full, but that it has any water in it at all.

Of course, I wanted to know what Black would have to say on the topic. Not only is she extremely pragmatic, but if there's anyone who tends to live in the moment, appreciating what's here, right now, it's my sister. On that she was consistent, but the pandemic did add an interesting twist …

I have always said that you have to live for today, because tomorrow is not guaranteed. The pandemic has not changed that – but has made me realize that how we each live our lives today will have a ripple effect on the lives of so many others.
My youngest daughter's now a freshman at college, but it seems like only yesterday that she was in the midst of the college application process. So, when Black and I recently featured "Thank You For Sharing!!!" from a College & Career Readiness Counselor about my approach to letters of recommendation, I realized it was probably worth "rerunning" for those students and parents going through the challenges of college selection. (Trust me, you'll get through it … but remember to enjoy this time as once they start college you'll miss these days.)

Well, my younger daughter, Sawyer, is a high school senior. And it's November. Which means that we're in the midst of the college application process. It's exciting. It's also very stressful. So, I thought I'd share a few tips that I've recently learned in the hope you'll find them useful. But first a disclaimer!

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Over the last month or so, I have been contacted by various people and organizations wondering how I managed to "teach" my 40+ year-old-sister about personal finance. (Yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks, especially if you are an even older dog.) It seems everyone is looking for a step-by-step guide or even lesson plans, but I realize the key to making smart financial decisions is to learn to talk to yourself. And then, if appropriate, expand the conversation to your significant other and/or family.

Upfront disclaimer: I am not a financial expert or a self-help guru. My sister had a crisis, and I did the best I could to help her. (OK, so I also turned it into a book, but that was because I thought it would make a good sitcom.) Which meant, much to her dismay, instead of giving her "answers" … I gave her questions. Lots of questions.

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People have told us they're using our sisterly banter to start conversations with others (family, friends, and even in classrooms), so Black created "Conversation Starters".


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As a mom, over the years, I've had to become familiar with various children's health issues and basic healthcare (and don't get me started on health insurance). But whenever it was something more than the common cold or flu, a stomach ache, or the usual scrapes and bruises, I felt like I was back in school. And between the terminology and trying to understand how the body works, I often felt like I needed a nursing degree. Not to mention, there's so much information on the internet, it can be overwhelming as well as confusing and sometimes scary.

Over the years, I've also had to deal with my aging parent's more serious health issues, and I've lost count of the pages of notes I've taken and questions I've asked. Or the conversations discussing risks vs. benefits that I've had with medical professionals and my sister. (I'm glad Black finds statistics "fun" and can look at them unemotionally because they give me a headache.)


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Until recently, I had never heard the term "health literacy," and when I first did, I initially thought about general literacy skills such as the ability to read and understand numbers. Skills that are essential if you are sick and need health information and services, but also impact health decisions that should be simple, like filling out forms, taking over-the-counter drugs (aspirin, cold and flu remedies, etc.), and learning about the things we should (or should not) do to live a healthier life and reduce the chances of serious illness.

But then, I thought about how anytime I had to deal with a health issue, especially ones that could potentially be serious, it was a tedious, complicated, and technical challenge. And, at the risk of sounding arrogant, I like to consider myself well-read, pragmatic, and comfortable with numbers and research documents. In other words, although it impacts some people more than others, the issue of "health literacy" affects us all. (And, that does not even address what it does to the cost of healthcare.)

THE CONVERSATION STARTERS

  • Before now, have you ever thought about "health literacy"? How would you describe it? What impact does it have on your life? How can it impact your ability to be successful in the workplace?
  • Why do health and healthcare topics seem so daunting?
  • Does health literacy only impact you when you are facing health issues? Explain your answer.
  • Have you ever had a medical situation or condition that required you to learn more about it? Where did you seek information? Did you have any problems learning about it? Explain your answers.
P.S. – You might be interested in our Conversation Starters for Financial Literacy and Digital Literacy.