Category: life

How to be less annoyed with everyone

Do you find yourself regularly annoyed? With your co-workers, your kids, your partner or your friends? I think most of us feel this way. You can stop today if you read this >>
It started, like many things do, with a pair of misplaced shoes.

Last weekend, our house devolved into a pit of yelling and blaming and annoyance over a pair of ripped up trainers. My usually-calm husband was attempting to hustle his kids out the door and in the manner of children everywhere, they were Taking For Actual Ever.

They had to stop and talk to/about the dog. They had to argue about which jackets they were wearing. They had to look for their shoes and fail to find them.


How To Throw A Tiny, Meaningful, Easy Wedding (or at least how we did it)

wedding on Lake Superior

Kenny and I had the We Want To Marry Each Other conversation five months into our relationship on a lumpy mattress in Mexico. I remember smiling into the darkness, listening to the ceiling fan click overhead and thinking “Oh! So this is what it feels like when your life changes!”

It was another year and a half before we actually married each other. I wanted to drive around America, Kenny wanted to get his feet under him at his dream job, and we both wanted to give his boys as much time as possible getting to know me.  In that year and a half we spent a lot of time thinking about the kind of wedding we wanted and (much more importantly) the kind of marriage we wanted.

Like so many things, we knew what we didn’t want. We didn’t want a wedding that cost an arm and a leg. We didn’t want to send those obligatory invitations where neither the sender nor recipient is particularly sincere, but both are bound by familial and societal obligations. We didn’t want a bridal party or wedding favors or engagement photos or a wedding registry. We love it when other people do those things, but we didn’t want them for ourselves.

So, we simply didn’t do that stuff. Instead, we did things that were meaningful to us and created the wedding experience we wanted.

wedding on lake superiorwedding on lake superiortiny-wedding
We got married on The North Shore of Lake Superior, a beautiful, rocky place we’ve both visited many, many times. On our drive up, we stopped at Toby’s, home to our favorite green vinyl booths and The World’s Best Cinnamon Rolls.

We spent the day before our wedding poking around Grand Marais, clamoring over rocks, hiking. We spotted a little bear cub and took it as a good sign. We drank wine and ate Trader Joe’s appetizers with our wedding guests (all five of them) and after they left, we spent an hour scribbling our way through this book.

On our wedding day, we slept in, drank mimosas, and made my favorite breakfast. We found a tiny, hidden beach and dipped our toes in the freezing water. I snuck away and read a few chapters from a favorite childhood book.


Kenny and boys got ready in our room and after all the shoe polishing and tie tying, Kenny gave the each of the boys a polished piece of Labradorite. Devoted Harry Potter fans, Kenny told the boys that the polished stones were similar to a Horcrux: they symbolized his never-ending, immortal love for them.

I got ready in my parents’ condo, doing my hair and makeup pretty much the same way I always do – because if there was ever a day to look like yourself, isn’t it your wedding day? I wore an $85 dress I bought from Asos with sandals from Marshall’s. My sweet grandma sent me an antique handkerchief with blue embroidery that read “With Love from Grandma Arleen.” I wrapped it around my bouquet of beautiful, weird, architectural non-flowers.

At 6 pm, Kenny and I joined our parents and the boys on a rocky outcropping and promised to have ridiculous adventures together until we die. We included the boys in the vows, trying to make them promise they’d never, ever question our rules or requests. (This was met with laughter.) Our lovely friend Meredith photographed our seven-minute ceremony and her boyfriend Bobby married us. I cried and sniffled through most of it but, like the pro she is, Meredith found other things to photograph while my nose was red.

Afterward, we  dined at a nice restaurant nearby. We ordered off the menu, laughed and told stories and generally wished we were wearing clothes that were a bit more comfortable so we could eat more.

In lieu of a reception, we’re having extended family over for brunch and next summer, we’ll alienate our neighbors by throwing a big one-year anniversary party in our backyard. There, we’ll indulge in all the thematic centerpieces and custom cocktails and perfectly curated playlists that we didn’t do this year. You know I’ve already got a secret Pinterest board going.

Are you married? What was your wedding like? What did you love about it? What would you change if you could do it again? Tell me all about it in the comments!

P.S. In case you were wondering, I’m not changing my name because a) I’m lazy and b) my name is awesome. We’re not planning to further expand our family; two stepchildren is the right number of children for me 🙂

all photos by meredith westin

In Which I Choose My Life Over A Book Deal


this is me, being contemplative

I devoted most of May and June to the sort of indulgent, naval gazing self-analysis usually reserved for early 2000’s emo music.

As I drove across the country, I wondered (aloud, to my empty car) what I should do about The Book Thing. In Idaho, I thought I had it figured out. In California, I reconsidered. In New Mexico and New York and Kitchener, I bored every friend I saw with my concerns about The Book Thing.

See, over two years ago, I signed with a literary agent. After a year of half-hearted attempts on both our parts, I politely suggested that we see other people and promptly signed with another – significantly more impressive – literary agent.

There were big ideas and big plans and a lush, professionally designed proposal. We planned to turn the True Story series into a gorgeous gift book filled with all my best, unpublished interviews and beautiful photos.

You know, the kind of thing they sell at Urban Outfitters and museum gift stores.
The kind of book you proudly display on the coffee table or give to your Cool Aunt.

I was totally aware of all the reasons I should want to publish a book.  
It would introduce my work and this blog to a whole new audience. It would open doors that I didn’t know existed. I could charge more for my services and get booked as a speaker. I’d get to live out my childhood dream of being a published author.

But all I could think of were the reasons I didn’t want to.
I’ve watched multiple friends write and publish books. I’ve seen the book-writing process totally consume their lives – frequently at the cost of their health and their relationships. I’ve ghost-written books for major publishers and worked through those merciless edits.

I don’t want to shuttle around the country on a book tour or appear on morning television in Spanx and heavy makeup. I don’t want Yes & Yes to fall apart as I spend all my time on another project. I don’t want to give up the client work I love doing or the new things that I love trying.

Rather greedily, I want to publish the best interviews myself. I want the instant gratification of your comments telling me how the story resonated with you or how it introduced you to something new.

For me, pursuing a book deal felt like exchanging money for the next two years of life.
Instead of poking around the back roads of Ontario, I’d be chained to my laptop. Instead of roller skating date nights or cabin weekends or weird new recipes, I’d live in my inbox.  Instead of writing posts about how to trick people into thinking you’ve made an effort with your appearance, I’d be chasing down photo release forms.

I didn’t want that. I don’t want that.

Which is, perhaps, not a particularly inspirational conclusion. Maybe I’m taking the easy way out or I’m afraid of failure. Maybe in a few years I’ll regret this decision. Maybe my eighth grade English teacher is shaking her head right now; I’m sure my former agent is rolling his eyes.

But instead of the childhood dream I thought I wanted, I’m choosing to pursue the day-to-day reality I know I want right now.  It’s equal parts scary and anti-climatic but – at least for now – it’s the right choice for me.

Not where you want to be? There are many paths to the same destination

You can travel many roads and get to the same destination.


I was sitting in the sunny corner of Mrs. Buisman’s third grade class when I decided that I wanted to be a writer. Of course, I imagined the path that would take me there would be paved with a wildly successful book series about talking otters.
When I was 20, I thought my path was writing for newspapers.
When I was 22, I thought I’d reach my destination by scribing press releases.
When I was 25, it was ad copy.
When I was 32, it was About Pages and snarky product descriptions.
These days I pay for my pho and Old Navy Rockstar Jeans by ghostwriting blog posts and even entire books for other people.
I’ve achieved my childhood dream! Hugs and high fives to Mrs. Soderquist and Mrs. Kanz and Mrs. Lofgren and every other teacher who encouraged me and my overwrought fourth grade metaphors and creepy stories about dead racehorses. I’ve reached my destination; the path has looked somewhat different than what I expected. 
When we’re starting on just about any adventure, we imagine a point A to point B path. We’re aware that it’ll take hard work and commitment to reach point B, but if we play our cards right, we’ll get there.
And though we’re aware of the hard work involved in getting what we want, I think many of us imagine pretty specific paths.
Committed relationship >> lady partner easily gets pregnant >> family
high school >> college >> job in an area you studied >> increasing responsibility >> dream job
meet someone >> date for 2-3 years >> get married
Those are awesome paths! But there are other, completely valid ways to get where you want to go.
You can reach your destination of parenthood via
Getting pregnant “the good old fashioned way”
Working with a surrogate
Marrying or partnering up with someone who already has kids
You can reach your destination of self-employment by 
Slowly building a portfolio while working a day job
Totally changing careers to something that’s more freelance friendly
Acting as a contractor for just one client
Having several sources of freelance income that add up to a livable salary
You can reach your destination of skill mastery by
Getting a college degree in it
Taking heaps of online courses and reading every book you can get your hands on
Learning on the job
Apprenticing to a master
I mention this not because one path is better than the other but because many of us become blind to our options. We become down-to-the-bone convinced that there is A Best Way (nay, the only way!) to get what we want. We spend months or years machete-ing our way down a path that isn’t working – failed IVF treatments, a collapsing publishing industry, a degree that we hate.
If you’ve been swashbuckling a tough path, don’t give up on your destination. Just shift your gaze a few feet to the left, a new path might present itself. 
P.S. This post is dedicated to my incredibly driven and intelligent man-partner. After getting kicked out of college (twice), getting his PhD at 35, taking a job in the private sector well outside his field of study, while professor-ing and lecturing on the side to keep his foot in the door – last month he finally reached his destination: Senior Climatologist for the state of Minnesota. It’s been a long, winding path from his childhood fascination with tornadoes and I’m so, so proud of him.Photo by Giuseppe Milo // cc

You Are Not Responsible For Other People’s Happiness

other people's happiness

“Doyoulikeit? Doyouliiiiiiiikeit? It’sfunnyright? Youlikeitright?” 

This was my internal dialog pretty much the entire time my guy and I watched  What We Do In The Shadows. The moment I’d heard it was showing in Minneapolis, I purchased tickets and started sending Kenny links to the trailer, reviews, interviews with the directors.
Because Wellington, New Zealand and Jemaine-related humor are Important To Me. I did my M.A. in Wellington and it still holds a big piece of my heart. I love everything Jemaine writes and NBD I once saw him in the Reading Cinema food court wearing a purple velvet blazer, eating a corn dog.
Obviously this equates to love me = love this movie. In my mind, because I brought Kenny to this movie, his enjoyment and happiness were my responsibility.
He liked the movie (he nearly wept at the ‘doing my evil bidding on the internet’ bit) but he wasn’t quite as over the top in love with it as I was. Which gave me a few moments best described as hurt, offended, guilty.
Hurt because this was somehow a rejection of me. Offended that OMG WHY AREN’T YOU LOSING IT OVER THE CHORE WHEEL BIT?! And guilty that we might have had more fun at a different movie or doing something else.
But all this overwrought self-analysis served a larger purpose. It reminded that we’re not responsible for anyone else’s happiness.
Of course, we’re responsible for not acting like total dillwads. We’re responsible for treating people with respect and doing our best not to judge them. But making them enjoy a movie we like? Making them deeply, thrillingly happy? Or fulfilled? 
We’re not responsible for that.
There are so, so many things that contribute to a person’s happiness: their brain chemistry, their relationships with their family members, their self-esteem, how they feel about their job and their hobbies, how they manage their time/money/health. You can talk to them about those things and maybe nudge them towards healthier habits or carefully suggest they seek professional help, but you can’t really change any of those things.
You can show them you love them. You can support them in their goals. You can share inside jokes and stay in touch and invite them along on your fun adventures. But you can’t necessarily make someone happy in a long-term sustainable way. And you don’t need to.
So if you’re looking for permission – this is it.
Be a kind, loving, supportive partner, child, parent, friend but you are hereby absolved of the responsibility of making anyone else happy.
(even if you’re convinced that happiness is properly appreciating a hilaaaarious vampire mockumentary) 
What do you think – are you responsible for other people’s happiness? If so, whose? If you’ve let go of that responsibility – how’d you do it? 
photo by Giuseppe Milo // cc

We All Have Permission To Be A Work In Progress

work in progress


Here are some things that I’ve tried and failed:
1. Eating less dairy
2. Going completely screenless after 6 pm
3. Not checking my email till noon
4. Eating every meal at my dining room table, with a placemat and napkin – never, ever in front of my laptop, scanning Facebook as I eat popcorn with a spoon
…. and about a million other things.
I’ve read articles and studies that support these lifestyle changes and whenever I do these things I feel amazing. I feel like a brighter, shinier, more centered version of myself.
Which you’d think would be enough, right?
But inevitably, something will happen – I’ll travel and fall out of my routine, I’ll have a week of early meetings that require 7 am email checking – and allofasudden I’ve fallen back into my cheese-scarfing, screen-staring, Twitter-refreshing rut.
This will trigger a lot of internal eye rolling and some mild self-flagellation. I’ll huff around my apartment muttering “Get it together, Von Bargen!” More than once I’ve referenced my own blog post How To Restart A Bad/Annoying/Unproductive Day and I regularly wonder “Is it easier for everyone else? Am I fated to spend the rest of my life falling off the wagon and clawing my way back on?”
I brought this question to my friends Katie and Jina and, oracle-like, they gave me this piece of tattoo-worthy wisdom:
“Give yourself permission to be a work in progress. But then actually do the work.” 
Don’t you want to write that inside your eyelids? Or at the very least frame and hang it next to your bathroom mirror?
None of us will be perfect 100% of the time – and we shouldn’t expect ourselves to be. It’s not kind, realistic, sustainable, or particularly interesting. But it’s called a work in progress, not a make-a-list-you-then-ignore in progress or a give-up-after-one-try in progress.
What does that work look like?
For me, that work looks like following more vegan food blogs and trying some of the dairy substitutes at my co-op. It looks like using Cold Turkey to block myself from email and social media till noon or taking my laptop somewhere that doesn’t have wi-fi. It looks like actually turning off my laptop at 6 pm and closing the door to my office.
Will these measures make me a flawless human who never eats a whole wedge of Parmesan in one sitting or falls down a Broad City hole?
No. And frankly, I’m not interested in perfection and I’m certainly not interested in a life that doesn’t include cheese curds or the occasional Hulu marathon.
But I’m ready for a bit more progress in my work in progress.
Do you struggle to stick with habits you know are good for you? How do you stay on track? Do you have a mantra that helps? Tell me all about it in the comments!
P.S. I learned this during Lifestyle Design Camp. This isn’t a sponsored post, I just want to give credit where credit is by Tuncay // cc