10 tips for Successful Virtual Meetings

If I took a poll of my readers asking, “Have you had a meeting via Zoom, Teams, WebEx, or another virtual meeting platform?” I would bet almost all of you would answer, “YES!”

Virtual meetings are taking over not only our workplaces but our social lives. While I have attended countless virtual meetings, virtual interviews, and virtual seminars- I’ve also been to virtual happy hours, virtual baby showers, and virtual class reunions!

As someone who frequently moderates virtual meetings and teaches virtually, I have learned quite a few tips and tricks to have a successful virtual meeting- whether you are running the meeting or attending.

Some of these tips work for both virtual and in-person meetings, and somehow they seem to slip through the cracks more easily when attending virtually. Here are a few reminders to help us all succeed through this virtual pandemic life we are currently living!

  1. Schedule your virtual meeting well in advance and use a shared group calendar (like Outlook) to remind attendees about the event multiple times, including just prior to the event. Without needing to plan for travel time, virtual meetings are more easily missed! Consider attaching any required reading or agendas to the meeting invitation to keep everything in one place.
  2. Have a clear objective, communicate it early on, and stay on task. Do not let your virtual meeting become one of those meetings that, as they say, “Could have been an email.”
  3. Be welcoming to everyone as they enter. We would not slink into an in-person meeting without saying, “Hi,” to anyone, and that same concept applies to virtual meetings. You can either greet people individually or greet them together. If you are not sure who the attendees are, ask them to be sure their username reflects their actual name. Use a welcome slide so everyone knows, immediately upon logging in, what the meeting is for- and they can make sure they are in the right place. This can be a great time to communicate your preferences with attendees- do you prefer for attendees to keep their cameras on for a more socially interactive environment, or would you like people to keep their cameras off? Communication is key here, and I am not just saying that as a communication professional. 🙂
  4. Work from a quiet, well-lit space with as few distractions as possible. Seek out a neutral background or use a virtual background. Sit with the light hitting your face and avoid having bright light sources behind you. You can use desk lamps or windows to create the light you want. Sit in a comfortable chair and keep good posture. Perhaps the couch is not the best place for your meeting, despite how cozy it is, and you may need to move to the kitchen table or counter.
  5. Test your technology ahead of time. If possible, log in early and make sure your audio/video is working and you know how to screen share. Do not forget about the possibility of using a wired connection if hosting (or presenting) and you are concerned about the stability of your wireless internet connection.
  6. Put your webcam at eye level. It feels more realistic AND helps avoid the dreaded double chin! If your computer/camera is lower than eye level, you can purchase a laptop lift or use something simple like a stack of large books or a box to prop your camera to the right height.
  7. Dress the part! This is especially important if you are working from home. It’s so easy to slip on something cozy as you shuffle over to your laptop, but putting on work attire helps us adjust our attitude and get into “work mode.” Of course, enjoy the perks of virtual meetings… you only need to look the part above the waist. When I interviewed virtually with my most recent consulting client, I was wearing a blazer on top and yoga pants on the bottom!
  8. Do not multitask during the meeting. Resist the urge to turn off your camera, unless you are performing a distracting task, like eating or getting a refill on your coffee. If you are not engaged in the meeting, you cannot contribute appropriately. Keep in mind that if you are hosting the virtual meeting, it is your job to keep things engaging so your attendees don’t WANT to multitask! Keep your energy level up, work to be as optimistic and energetic as you can, and keep the meeting efficient and on task.
  9. Keep yourself muted when not speaking. We have all been on meetings where someone started talking to a housemate or took a phone call while everyone on the meeting could hear them. If you are moderating or hosting the meeting, keep an eye on the participant list so you can mute people if necessary. You never know when a delivery person will arrive, ring the doorbell, and startle the dog… and suddenly, you are the unintended center of attention.
  10. Do not judge fellow attendees. We are in the midst of challenging times for many people. Some people are working through illnesses, childcare shortages, shared workspaces, or cluttered offices. Attendees may want to keep their cameras off for a variety of reasons, so be as flexible as possible. Virtual meetings are a unique opportunity to be invited into the homes and offices of your fellow attendees, so be as kind and polite as you would be as a houseguest under any other circumstances.

While we are all anxiously awaiting the opportunity to gather in-person for meetings, virtual meetings will keep things running in the meantime. I hope these tips help you as we navigate this virtual world, both with work and with our personal lives.

Until then, I’ll see you in your virtual meeting rectangle!

As always, thanks for reading!


This post is modified from an article I published in the WIAWWA tri-annual newsletter, Spring 2021.

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4 Common Questions (and Answers!) to Make Your Headshots Memorable

Hey, friends!

One of my personal goals this year is to spend more time writing, and I thought I’d start with the topics that I get the most questions about.

This post features HEADSHOT questions! ❤

“How do I take a professional headshot?”

“Can I take my headshots outdoors? Is it unprofessional to skip the backdrop?”

“When do I need to bring a prop along?”

“What do I wear?”

Don’t worry, y’all- I have you covered. Here’s a little “insider” information that I share with my clients prior to our headshot sessions. 🙂

“How do I take a professional headshot?”

You hire a professional! 😉 Of course, you can always ask a friend with a camera to help you out, but working with an experienced professional will help you achieve a natural, fun, flattering portrait.

“Can I take my headshots outdoors? Is it unprofessional to skip the backdrop?”

You can DEFINITELY take your headshots outdoors- especially if it aligns with your brand. I’ve done headshots in my studio, in my clients’ offices, in their workspaces, and outdoors- both in urban and rural settings. Your headshot location should reflect your style and fit the brand of your company. For example, these stylist headshots were taken in their salon!

“When do I need to bring a prop along?”

You never NEED to bring a prop, but props can be used to add interest and personality to your portrait. You would know this makeup artist is a makeup artist by looking at her website or Instagram page, but her makeup brush and unique posture adds visual interest and allows her to stand out among the competition!

“What do I wear?”

In general, I recommend solid colors or simple patterns. However, it’s also important for your attire to match your brand. If you work in a healthcare field, perhaps you want to wear your scrubs, or whatever your patients will see you in when they have an appointment.

If you work in fashion or a creative field, consider something that represents your own style. The location and/or backdrop that you choose may change based on what you are wearing. For a traditional style, we’ll choose a contrasting background, but for modern styling, we can throw that “rule” out the window and play around with a different type of contrast.

If all else fails, and you’re at a loss for what to wear or where to do your headshot, remember that a professional photographer can take a classic, professional headshot and inject your personality, so the results are outstanding, not outdated.

As always, thanks for reading, friends! Here’s hoping 2021 is our best year yet! ❤



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COVID-19, Colorado, and Mount Bierstadt

A few months ago, my husband whispered the sexiest words in my ear, “Let’s talk about you taking a solo trip to Colorado.”

One of my best friends, Meredith, lives in Denver, and I typically fly out to visit 2-4 times per year. It helps that flights from MSP->DIA are usually between $50-$100 each way, so the flights are relatively affordable for our family.

The global pandemic put a big hold on our travel plans, and we haven’t gone anywhere since January. Our most risky trips involve Target pick-up, Sam’s Club, and sharing a cabin up north with Amy and crew.

We’re a mask-wearing family, and have limited our exposure to others. This isn’t a surprise to those who know me- I’m not really a risk-taker when it comes to stuff like this. I like following rules and generally being a “good girl.” The summer was a wonderful break for my constant COVID-19 related guilt, as I could see friends and family outside, and not worry as much about engaging in risky behavior. I know I have many friends who are also struggling with the constant fatigue of worrying whether or not we’ve made the right decision. Can we go to this event? Can we order from this restaurant? Is it okay to visit my grandparents? Should I teach my son to stop hugging people?

Most of you know that I’m very transparent about my mental health struggles, and I’d imagine that almost everyone has felt heightened anxiety and stress during the pandemic. I’m so thankful that I have a wonderful therapist who helps me work through my grief, anxiety, and PTSD.

She asked me a really important question, as it relates to my COVID-19 anxiety. I’d expressed my worry, that if (when) I get COVID-19, I’d feel incredibly guilty about giving it to anyone.

“Do you think people spread COVID-19 maliciously?”

Honestly, other than a couple psychopaths, NO! Of course not. Sure, there’s that one guy who knew he had COVID-19 and went around coughing on strangers, but that’s an exception. The vast majority of people aren’t out spreading the virus with terrible intent in their heart.

It’s sometimes hard for me to remember this perspective. I feel irresponsible when I don’t take precautions to protect others, so I imagine that it’s irresponsible for others not to award me the same treatment. I usually get angry when I see people seemingly being irresponsible- not wearing a mask indoors in a public place, or going to a packed bar for hours.

However, it’s not always this cut and dry, and if I’m being really honest, I place the blame for a lot of this familial/neighborhood tension on our majority party government leaders. They had a chance to take charge here, to protect individuals and take the pressure off businesses and families to make decisions prioritizing safety, and they didn’t. The reason this is such a challenge for people like me is that we feel personally responsible for the health of others, when faced with a viral pandemic. It feels really strange when I discover that other people don’t feel the same. “If you’re so scared, then stay home.”

It’s in this vein that I worry that people will be angry that I wanted to take a trip out of state right now. The idea of making short-term sacrifices to save someone’s life… that resonates with me. Am I being incredibly irresponsible to think about traveling? Should I continue to make short-term sacrifices, and worry about traveling later? What is short-term? When is “later?”

Anyway, I would never spread COVID-19 intentionally, but I do take calculated risks. For example, while I primarily work from home, I DO take Teddy to daycare. There’s no way that I could complete my work at an acceptable level with a toddler at home. I DO go to the grocery store, sometimes. I use grocery pick up occasionally, but I like to choose my own produce, you know? Calculated risk. I get take out food and sometimes have to go in to pay. Brian works outside of our home, and I don’t ask him to strip naked before walking in the door, or shower before I kiss him hello.

As I was thinking about calculated risks, and Brian’s suggestion for a solo trip, I realized that it may be possible for me to take a calculated risk and travel to Colorado. I’m prone to black-and-white thinking, and when the pandemic hit, I put travel on my mental DO NOT, NEVER EVER list, and never looked back. I thought there would be a “perfect” way that I could live to protect my family and those whom I love. I’ve really struggled with this idea of “perfectly” managing the pandemic. My goals of “perfection” are completely unsustainable. Once I remembered that everything in life is in shades of grey, I reconsidered my idea of banning travel.

What kind of precautions could I take to make this trip safe? What is the risk of me bringing the virus home to my family? What is the risk of me having the virus at home and taking it to Colorado? What steps have the airlines and airports taken to keep travelers safe?

Of course, this trip isn’t exactly like a typical family vacation where you go to packed tourist spots and stop at every gas station along the way. Most of my trips to Denver look like this: fly in, Meredith picks me up, we go back to her house and hang out, maybe get takeout, take a nap, explore something beautiful outside, drink some beer, go for a walk/run/hike, occasionally go fly fishing or do some other fly fishing thing (I’m talking about you, Flyathlon!), take a nap, marvel at the mountains, maybe visit another Colorado friend, drink some whiskey, take a nap, pack up, drive back to the airport, and go home.

I’m not exactly packing the clubs and looking for hookups with strangers. 😂

I’ve been working with my therapist on determining what activities make up my identity. I identify as a photographer, runner, and mother. I identify as a fly angler, adventurer, and wife. I identify as a dancer, musician, and athlete. I really identify with being a kind person. Part of my identity is tied up in seeking outdoor adventures and training for physical challenges, and I lost many parts of my identity when my mom died and I wrapped myself in the comfort of motherhood. I solely took on the identity of exhausted, worried new mother and deeply bereaved daughter.

I wanted to take these other parts of my identity back, so we decided to go ahead and plan a trip to Colorado. I wasn’t sure exactly what I would do, but I figured it would involve playing outside with my friend, drinking beer, and napping, so I knew it would be good.

As we planned the trip, Meredith text me, “Weather permitting, how do you feel about doing a 14er while you’re here?!”

Obviously, the answer was F*$# yes. My challenge was chosen, and I was ready to reclaim a portion of my identity.

We made the necessary plans at home, and Brian was excited about having a few days alone with Teddy. I laid out Teddy’s outfits and made a meal plan for “Boys’ Weekend!”

I was excited about being away from Teddy for the first time (outside of work engagements), but I was also nervous.

The boys dropped me off at the airport, and I flew out of CWA on Delta Friday afternoon. I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by a mask-wearing flight attendant handing me a sanitizing wipe, and found that the flight was mostly empty, with passengers sitting kiddie-corner to each other.

I arrived at MSP an hour later, and my friend, Jenna, picked me up. I planned to spend Friday night with her, and return to the airport Saturday morning to head to Denver. I’ve known Jenna for 25 years- her mom occasionally picked me up and took me to dance class with Jenna and her sister when I was a young dancer, and we sang together in school until I graduated. 🙂 Jenna and I talked and laughed and caught up over wine and snacks and a two-mile walk around the lake. As we ate a delicious (home-cooked!) dinner in her beautiful screen porch, we lamented the cancellation of many planned girls’ weekends with the three of us- Meredith, Jenna, and me. In what seems like a serendipitous moment, I said, “Why don’t you come along with me?” A few short minutes on the Southwest app resulted in a boarding pass for Jenna that matched mine. We were going to surprise Meredith!

The evening took a fun turn as we redirected our attention to packing a bag for Jenna, and barely slept a few hours before we headed back to the airport- this time, giddy with this new surprise.

MSP was mostly empty, which was eerie but comforting in our COVID-19 world. Note to all hipsters: don’t pack your safety razor. TSA will take your blade and you may end up with hairy legs on your trip.

Waiting for our flight to Denver!

When we landed in Denver, Meredith pulled into the passenger pick-up area and saw me with my carry-on and my laptop bag. Little did she know, Jenna was hiding behind a concrete support beam, and stepped out right when Meredith came around to help load my luggage.


Girls’ weekend had begun.

The whole weekend was a blur of driving through the mountains, shopping, hiking, and drinking beer at outdoor brewery patios.

The drive time was filled with our newest obsession- a podcast about the takedown of NXIVM, a cult. We met some of Meredith’s friends and talked about climbing my first 14er. I was a little nervous when Meredith said the weather wasn’t looking great for our Sunday climb, and even more so when we decided that it wouldn’t be safe for us to make the trip. I mean, what part of 50 mile/hour wind gusts above the tree line sounds dangerous to you? *sarcasm* We discussed our options over beer and food truck snacks.

Meredith’s work schedule didn’t allow for time off on Monday, so she reached out to her group of friends, hoping someone would be free and interested in taking a stranger up a mountain. What a way to spend a Monday, huh? I wasn’t particularly optimistic, and wondered aloud if it was something I could do by myself. It wasn’t, although I didn’t know exactly how outside of my normal skill set it would be. We wondered if maybe someone could take me on Tuesday, but I’d have to change my flights home, and the logistics were a challenge involving Jenna driving me halfway home from Minneapolis and Brian meeting us there. Not ideal. I tried to adjust to the idea that a trip to Colorado was still an acceptable calculated risk, even if I wasn’t spending my time reclaiming part of my identity. I mean, cherishing long time friendships is a part of my identity… I tried to reassure myself. It didn’t really work. I wanted to climb a mountain.

Sunday afternoon, while shopping with Meredith and Jenna, we got the fabulous news that Meredith’s friend, Karl, was free to take me on Monday.

Hike a mountain with a stranger? Sign me up.

Karl text me to work out the details. He was just as excited as I was to discover that we share a 715 area code. The dude grew up less than an hour from me. It had to be a good sign.

I want to say that I went to bed early on Sunday, but I didn’t. I hung with the girls and we watched tv and shared a pint of ice cream, like old friends do. Jenna was flying home early Monday morning, and we wanted to make the best of our time together. ❤

Karl picked me up in his Subaru at 3:30 am Monday to head to Mount Bierstadt. The general rule is to be heading back down the mountain by noon, so we needed an early start. I drank my coffee in the car and wondered if I should take my Dramamine. The road up to the trail was filled with switchbacks, and when my motion sickness kicked in, I dug through my (loaned) backpack for the tiny tube of nausea relief.

We made it to the trailhead, with two cars already parked. When I opened the car door, I was greeted with a chilly blast of wind, and couldn’t wait to put on snow pants and hiking boots. Brr! It was 10 degrees, windy, and pitch black. Instant winter.

I dressed up and loaded down, turning on my head lamp. Karl led the way in the dark, and I tried to follow his footprints on the snow-covered trail.

We walked on some gravel, and some big rocks, over a boardwalk, and crossed a creek by stepping on large rocks. It was a little scary. I kept looking up for the mountain but couldn’t see anything in the solid black sky, lit only by a million stars and a thumbnail moon, which reminded me of my mom. “Miss you, Mom,” I thought. She’d be proud of this adventure.

In hindsight, it’s a good thing that I couldn’t see the path ahead, because I probably wouldn’t have believed I could do it. Instead, I just focused on putting one step in front of the other. Sometimes my steps were pretty small, and I did take a few breaks to catch my breath. Karl was so reassuring and kept telling me that I was “crushing it,” which felt like a very Colorado thing to say. 🙂

It was a little harder to breathe as we got higher and higher, and the trail also got more technical. There was less of a clear path, and more markers to follow that left us room to find our own route.

I kept trying to measure my progress in my head, but I’m not used to thinking in two directions of measure at the same time. I’m used to tracking distance, of course, but less used to measuring “vert,” or the vertical climb. It was hard to imagine being 2/3 of the distance but only 1/2 the vert, and my brain was working just as hard as my body.

As the sun started to rise, and we got closer to the summit, the mountain’s silhouette started to appear. The mountains behind me turned pink, and I could finally see all the snow covered peaks. I could also see my goal- the top.

I looked back for the first time with the mountains in view, and gasped. You can see Mars shining away in the sky.

I saw my first pika, squeaking at me as it peeked around from a rock.

The pika is hiding in here somewhere. 😂

There are more pictures than words for this climb. I just focused on putting one foot in front of the other, and watched as the climb unfolded in front of me with the sunrise.

Behind me, as the sun rose
Getting closer…

I’ve never pulled this particular move before, but I got quite acquainted with her.

I’ll spare you the gory details, but after a lot of climbing, a few slips, and lots of deep breaths, trying to get more oxygen, we made it to the top.

There were three other people up there, and everyone was so relaxed.

Karl brought margaritas to celebrate, and mixed them with mountain snow. How very Colorado.

Margarita with a view

I was an incredibly proud girl. I did it.

We scampered down the mountain much faster than we climbed up, but we still needed to be careful as the snow made the descent more dangerous.

I slipped a couple times. I bashed my arm on a rock, and have a nice little bruise to prove it.

The final mile of the 8 mile hike was one of the hardest, as the last chunk of hike is actually uphill, back to the trailhead. I was tired and emotionally drained, but pushed through.

I took this near the trailhead. Look how far we hiked!

Karl was a saint, encouraging me and making me laugh. It was a huge blessing to have him there, and I’m so thankful that he took a chance on spending his day with a stranger.

We headed back and met Meredith in Golden for lunch. We planned on going to a Tibetan place, but it was closed, so we settled for D-Deli, which I found on my last trip to Golden! They gave me a brownie for finishing my first 14er, and I felt like the whole city was celebrating with me. 🙂

I want to say that I went back to Meredith’s house and was incredibly productive, but I took an Epsom salt bath and a two hour nap. We ordered sushi takeout for dinner and I went to bed at 8 pm. That mountain wore me out.

Tuesday morning involved packing and heading to the airport. Both DIA and MSP were relatively empty, so getting through security was a breeze. I even had time to walk around the terminal for some exercise. I felt pretty good, other than a little soreness around my knees from the hike back down the mountain.

Special thanks to Meredith for loaning me cold weather equipment and to Jenna, too, for cheering me on from afar.

Colorado wind showing off at the airport.

The next couple weeks will involve self-quarantining and only seeing people outdoors, with the exception of dropping Teddy off at daycare. There is a perk to teaching virtually, and doing most of my work from home. I took my calculated risk, and I’m planning to be as safe as I can be- though Wisconsin is currently a much more dangerous place to be (COVID-wise) than Colorado.

I’m writing this from the plane on the way home to CWA, and the pilot just made his announcement that we’re beginning our final descent into Mosinee. I can’t wait to see my boys.

I feel proud. I did it!

I can’t wait to tell Teddy about this trip and I’m excited to model an active life.

As always, thanks for reading.

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What’s the solution?

I’ve noticed a long-standing trend in the thought process among vocal people involved in politics. I first noticed it when I was just getting started as an advocate for groundwater ten years ago, I really experienced it in my four years on our local city council, and now it is being shoved in my face as a voter in the 2020 election. Originally, I only saw it in person, when hearing a person testify or in having a conversation at a political event. Currently, I read it in the comments section, or in posts from my friends and acquaintances on Facebook, and LORD KNOWS I heard it in the debate last night.

This same line of thinking is directly related to why I became liberal while attending college. Spoiler alert: I wasn’t “indoctrinated” by my “liberal overpaid professors.”

Have you heard these? Have you said/typed them?

“I haven’t seen ______ so it doesn’t happen.”

“I lived in poverty, and was able to pull myself up to join the middle class- why don’t they?”

“This housing development will never work- the yards are too small and no one will want to live there.”

“People choose to be gay.”

“I don’t see color- systemic racism is a joke.”

“I was sick with ______, and I recovered just fine- those people with ‘long-term illnesses’ are lying to manipulate the system.”

A great place to start in solving these obviously flawed arguments is realizing this: Your lived experience is not the only lived experience.

Your lived experience is not the only lived experience.

Sure, I’d never seen anyone hurt unjustly by a police officer. In fact, I grew up around police officers. Once I moved to college, met other people, and learned about their lives, I realized that some people HAD been hurt unjustly by police officers. I didn’t live it, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Sometimes it’s really hard to imagine something so outside your own life and it feels uncomfortable. It’s easier to pretend that it isn’t a problem, and that’s a luxury that many people don’t have.

My lived experience is not the only lived experience.

This is very apparent in the pro-choice/pro-life debate. I grew up in a very Catholic household, where I was raised to essentially be a one-issue voter. I still understand exactly where Catholic pro-life voters are coming from: I never needed an abortion, because I was a virgin on my wedding night. Then I moved away, met a lot of new people, and realized, you know what? My lived experience is not the only lived experience. Abortion wasn’t right for me, or necessary, and I honestly hadn’t ever thought about it for myself because I was too busy thinking about other college stressors like working and making friends and learning to be a classically trained musician. However, many people had VERY different experiences than I did, and it didn’t sit well with me that I should be telling other people that I didn’t know what they should be doing with their bodies. This was a huge realization, and quite literally a “Voila!” moment. I thought, “Holy shit, I shouldn’t be telling anyone what to do with their body. That is between them and their doctor and God, if they want.” That realization didn’t happen until I was able to imagine myself in someone else’s shoes. It wasn’t comfortable.

It’s worth mentioning that I researched abortion rates as a part of this realization, and discovered that abortions have gone down with “liberal” policies in place. I was pretty shocked. If ending abortions is the real end game, I was fighting for the wrong side all along.

My lived experience is not the only lived experience.

Currently, this is playing out locally, with an absolutely INSANE fight over the installation of new bike lanes. I routinely see angry people commenting about what a waste of taxpayer money it has been, despite (in our local situation) having quite a chunk of the lanes paid for by a very competitive Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) grant that our city secured. I see things like this, “I didn’t see a damn person in the bike lanes yesterday. In fact, I saw two riding on the sidewalk!” “We installed these bike lanes for the three months out of the year that those people in spandex want to speed through intersections, and they’ll be completely out of use during the colder months.” “Bikes don’t pay taxes, only drivers do! Bikes should pay their share of road maintenance and help us fix those potholes.”

The discrepancy here is that people seem to be unable to fathom a scenario different than their own. Perhaps people choose to ride their bikes, and they don’t have to. It’s fun to ride your bike! 🙂 There is also a segment of people who don’t drive, and if they want to get around, they need to use an alternate form of transportation. There is even a segment of people who wish they could drive but can’t, either for safety reasons or not having a car. Many of those folks need to ride their bike. Bicyclists aren’t only joy riding around, although that is certainly a subgroup of people (that includes our family!). Bicyclists are elderly folks riding to the grocery store, and college students riding between their apartment and campus, and people struggling to make ends meet with a higher-paying job that isn’t within walking distance of their home, so they ride their bike year-round. We have US Census data that shows that a portion of our community rides their bike to work year round, despite the snow and cold. In order to truly absorb this information, most people need two things: 1) to understand and believe in accurate data, and 2) to believe that someone may have a lived experience different than their own. Yes, yes, I know that you started working a job at 14 to pay for the car that you drove to school (me, too!), but other people are living in different situations under different circumstances.

Your lived experience is not the only lived experience.

When I was on city council, I made an appeal to my colleagues and community members at a meeting regarding a new housing development. The city was looking to hire a local builder to put up new houses right in the middle of our neighborhood- a place where single-family housing is hard to come by. The developer came to the meeting with plans for what the houses would look like and how they’d lay out on the lot slated for building. I was shocked to hear my neighbors repeatedly argue that since these houses didn’t look like theirs, they wouldn’t work. No one would buy them. No one wants a yard that small. No one wants a modern looking house. No one wants to be that close to their neighbors. In response, I essentially said, “I understand where you’re coming from. I personally like a big yard, too! However, I have several friends who moved away from Central Wisconsin to a place with zero lot line homes and and minimal yards, because they don’t want to spend time on yard maintenance. Honestly, our houses here are already very close to each other- many of our Northside lots are 50 feet wide. My house is one foot from the property line. Putting houses close together isn’t a new thing- our house is 100 years old, and this neighborhood is older. Your lived experience is not the only lived experience. Just imagine that it’s possible someone may want something that is different than you do. In this case, it’s not even imaginary people, it’s real people who took the surveys that compile our housing study.”

I thought it was so eloquent, honestly. I was shocked that I had to remind my neighbors that different people want different things! As I walked back to my seat, I passed a neighbor who looked at me angrily, saying, “You should be ashamed of yourself.”

For what? For reminding people that the world is larger than inside our own head? Larger than our own family? Larger than our own community? People worldwide are waking up today and having vastly different experiences than we are. Some people aren’t waking up today, and their families are certainly having a different experience than I am, sitting in my office on this rainy fall day with hot coffee and silence to work.

Your lived experience is not the only lived experience.

Sometimes people ask me about my conversion from Catholic conservative to liberal. I used to tell them that I grew up. Sometimes I would say that I went to college. The truth is both of those, and more. I went to college, where I grew up, and my worldview expanded greatly as I met new people and learned about other lived experiences. I was suddenly uncomfortable. I was faced with real issues that seemingly impacted only “other people,” and I needed to make some tough decisions. How do I feel about racism, now that I know people who have directly been impacted? How do I feel about making health care decisions for other people? How do I feel about ensuring that everyone has equal rights, even if I don’t understand where they’re coming from?

There is really interesting research showing the connection between your political persuasion and the population density where you live. The tipping point from Conservative to Liberal is right around 800 people per square mile. Source: https://medium.com/@davetroy/is-population-density-the-key-to-understanding-voting-behavior-191acc302a2b

The more you are exposed to a variety of other lived experiences, the more likely you are to vote for liberal policies that protect all people.

My takeaway? Please remember that your lived experience is not the only lived experience. An important follow up is this: No one is trying to tell you that your lived experience isn’t true- you lived it! You know your experience better than anyone else. Acknowledging others’ lived experiences doesn’t take anything away from your own experience. If anything, you have a duty to share your experience for others to understand you! Just keep in mind that other people likely have a different experience than you do.

If you don’t need a bike lane to ride your bike to work in January, cool! Some people do.

If you don’t need a small yard, cool! Some people do.

If you don’t need an abortion, cool! Some people do.

If you don’t experience racism daily, cool! Some people do.

Please keep this in mind at the ballot box. Problems still exist even if you don’t see them. They exist even if you haven’t lived them. It seems clear to me that the incumbent doesn’t believe in problems that he doesn’t see. If he hasn’t experienced racism, then it doesn’t exist. If he hasn’t experienced police brutality, then it’s been invented by the “liberal media.” If he hasn’t experienced joblessness or homelessness, then these problems aren’t real. FAKE NEWS.

Your lived experience is not the only lived experience.

Thanks for reading.


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When Mom died.

It was a cold, freezing rainy Monday night in January- the 15th day of 2018, to be exact.

I came home from a City Council meeting and, as a pregnant lady, I was exhausted and achy.

Laying down on the couch with Brian was exactly how I wanted to relax! We were under a big down blanket and were watching Netflix. It was after 10 o’clock, and we were usually in bed with our phones turned off by then, but we were still up on this particular night.

My phone was sitting on the coffee table, and it rang, catching us by surprise. It was my mom’s husband, Bill, saying, “Your mom fell, and you should come visit. The ambulance took her to the hospital.”

I asked for more information but he reiterated she had fallen and we should go to the hospital to see her. It was so icy outside that I assumed she’d fallen when walking across the driveway to my grandparents’ home, and maybe she hurt her elbow or shoulder or knee? We packed up our things and got in my Subaru, then headed up to Wausau. I-39 was very slippery, so we took our time, and we were worried but still pretty calm. In hindsight, that was a huge gift. If I had known how serious things were, the drive would have been a nightmare.

When we arrived at Saint Claire’s, we were the first ones there. That was a big surprise for me, since my family lives so much closer than we do, and the icy roads made the drive 45 minutes long. Someone ushered us back into a small room, The Quiet Room, telling another staff person that Patient Number Two’s family had arrived. Looking around the room, I immediately knew something was wrong, and I instinctively put my hand on my baby bump. The doctor came in and asked us what had happened to my mom. The doctor looked very concerned, so I was alarmed, because I didn’t really know what had happened. I passed along the information that she had fallen but that was all I knew. Different people stopped in the room, and they asked me two or three times, “So, what happened tonight?”

The air became so heavy in that little room and I knew something was terribly wrong. “Brian, call my aunts. All of them. Call someone.”

I asked to see my mom, and they said they needed to see if it was OK for me to see her. My heart sank. Why would they need to check? Check on what?

“She is in extremely critical condition.”

I don’t remember much that happened after that. At some point my grandparents and Bill arrived. I was so upset, but my grandpa didn’t know what was going on because he cannot hear. He saw me holding my baby bump, and asked loudly, “Is the little kicker moving?” He smiled at me… and I nodded yes, even though that was a lie… I hadn’t been able to feel Teddy move yet. Extremely critical condition.

At some point, the rest of my family (my aunts and uncles) started arriving. I have no idea how much time elapsed, but I was shocked that they were already there. I don’t know when the doctors came and brought me back, but I remember holding Brian’s hand and just knowing the worst was coming. When we entered the ER room (maybe room number three on the left?), she was laying on a stretcher with a large compression machine on top of her chest.

I was so scared.

She looked awful.

The machines were large and loud. Lots of air inflating sounds and beeping. The CPR machine looked violent, and her small 5’2″ frame jerked with each compression.

Looking at her face, I knew she was gone. I immediately grabbed her hand and put it on my bump. I desperately wanted her to feel Teddy in there. In hindsight, I don’t know why I did that. Of course, I am devastated that my mom is not here for my pregnancy, labor, for Teddy’s life. I don’t know why I wanted her to feel my bump, but that was what I did.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Everyone came to visit in that room, and everyone cried. It felt like I was having an out of body experience, and I couldn’t believe where I was or what was happening.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Since both of my grandparents are hard of hearing, they often speak very loudly because they cannot hear themselves. I could hear my grandma loudly talking in the hallway, “I’m worried about the baby. What if she loses the baby?” I know she meant well, and that worry was probably already on the minds of everyone, including me. One of the nurses (or doctors, maybe?) realized I was pregnant and brought me some water and a chair. She said that I really needed to focus on hydration. I’d cried a lot already. I took a few shaky sips out of that small crinkly plastic water bottle.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Eventually, the ER doctors asked my mom’s husband what we should do with my mom. She would never recover. Machines were the only thing keeping her alive, and we all knew it. Bill said that the decision was up to me, which was overwhelming at the time, but a very kind gesture. I made the decision to turn the machines off, and she died very soon afterwards. I held her delicate little hand until she started getting cool.

Things got very strange.

Apparently after someone dies in the ER, the hospital immediately asks you what funeral home you want to use. I was completely shocked, and I had no idea. Funeral. Home. Funeral home. Funeral home?

I don’t know any funeral homes.

It has been a long time since I lived up there. My grandma has a local funeral home director in her rosary group, so she suggested that we use that facility. I agreed, without even realizing what a serious (and expensive!) decision we had made. The doctor said we could stay as long as we wanted to, but eventually you have said everything you can say and you feel like you should leave…

But where would we go?

What would we do?

What would happen to Mom?

Would I see her again?

We were escorted out to the lobby and we stood there, completely lost. I was wide awake, even though it was 3 o’clock in the morning. We called the nurse line for my OB/GYN, and asked them what I could do to help myself calm down and sleep. They recommended Benadryl, so Brian and I drove to the store.

Walmart was the only store that was open, and being a Target girl myself, I can’t tell you the last time I was in a Walmart store. We walked around aimlessly for a while, and I was lost in a very weird place in my mind. I have a lot of memories with my mom, and some of them were in a Walmart. I cried remembering shopping there with Mom. This phenomenon happened over and over for months. I’d do something that I once did with Mom, or go somewhere that I once went with her, or use something that she once used, and I’d go into a tailspin of tears.

I couldn’t believe that my mom was gone- it felt like the last couple hours were a terrible dream or something.

I remember texting my best friend Amy at 4 AM that night, as we drove past Log Cabin on the way home, to tell her that my mom had died. I did not expect a response, although she was awake with Baby Lyra. In hindsight, that’s a ridiculous thing to text someone in the middle of the night. Thanks for reassuring me, Amy.

On the way home, I got a call from the Lions Eye Bank of Wisconsin, wanting to know if we would donate my mother’s corneas. It was probably during the 4:00 hour. She was an organ donor, and they wanted to know if they could send someone for her eyes. Everything was so overwhelming, but this seemed like something that we needed to do, so we agreed. I had to answer a lot of questions and didn’t know all the answers. I tried not to get overwhelmed but in that moment, I couldn’t remember when she had elbow surgery and I didn’t know what mediations she was on.

So much had happened in such a short period of time, but this organ donation was a small bright spot.

When we got home to Stevens Point, I just laid in bed and cried myself to sleep.

Somehow, our close friends and family found out what had happened, and the preparations for Mom’s funeral were put into place. The next day, I sat on the couch in our little home, binge watching Will & Grace. As I grieved, I found comfort in rewatching old sitcoms.

My friend, Amanda, had lost her own mother to cancer while Amanda was pregnant. She drove up from Madison and was sitting next to me on that couch. She was such a blessing, as she helped prepare me for the difficult decisions to come. I’ll write more about that process (and share all the questions that I wish I could have asked my mom) in another blog post in the future. I don’t know that people in their 30s are prepared for this kind of thing, and there is a lot that I would have done differently if I knew then what I know now.

Eventually, I had to go back to the ER to pick up my mom’s personal items. She had some cash and change in the pocket of her black jeans, and I had to go get it from the security office in person. Horrifying.

I cried so much during this time that I developed severe pain in my eye, from my tear ducts being so irritated and swollen and the natural oils being too diluted by the excess tears. I didn’t know that was even possible. I’m thankful that we have a good eye doctor to take care of my vision.

The OB/GYN staff under Dr. Stoffel was incredible. Not only did the on call doctor call me the night Mom died to talk to me about Benadryl and hydration, they let me come in the following day to hear Teddy’s heartbeat. I came in twice that week, and every week after that until he was viable. They took such good care of me, knowing everything we’d gone through to get pregnant and how worried I was that something had happened to him because of my grieving.

I cannot think Brian enough for taking care of everything during this time. He took care of me, the house, the dog, calling and talking to everyone, arranging for meetings, and making sure that everything else was taken care of. At some point, I shifted into work mode, and was able to help take care of logistics of the funeral, despite my insane grief.

Brian stayed home from work as long as he could, then he returned after a couple weeks. He would come home from work to a sobbing, pregnant wife who hadn’t moved all day. I can’t imagine how hard that was. I love you, honey. ❤️

This post is for me as much as it is for you. I want to remember these strange and sad moments and the process of grieving, so I’m documenting it here.

I also want to remind everyone to cherish those that they love. Life is so short. It feels insincere and cliché so say it like this, but I really mean it. People can be taken from us at any time, and we may not be able to say goodbye. Tell the ones you love how you feel as often as possible. You never know when it will have been your last chance. ❤️

For example: my whole family got together the day before my mom died to celebrate my beloved Grampie’s birthday. I skipped the party because my in-laws were celebrating Christmas, and I didn’t want to be difficult, considering how hard it is to get everyone together. I’ll never forgive myself for missing that birthday party. I could have had one more day together with my mom. 😭

I know she knew I loved her, but I wish I could say it to her face a million times more.

I love you, Mom. We miss you. ❤️

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As 2019 comes to a close…

…I’m overwhelmed with self reflection.

At first, I thought to myself, “Oh my God, I barely survived this year. I just scraped by.”

I saw a meme on Facebook that said something along the lines of, “now is the time of year when everyone recaps their amazing year. If all you did was survive, that’s worth celebrating, too.” I totally agree, and I felt that someone had written that post just for me: the broken, uncomfortable, sad, and anxious woman that I have become over the past couple years.

That thought was interrupted by a video montage of posts from 2019, reminding me that we did a lot of traveling, too- Colorado, then Florida, then Colorado again, then California, then Colorado AGAIN, twice!

Traveling with Teddy is fun but crazy, especially when I’m traveling by myself.

Maybe I did more than just survive?

We made it through Teddy’s FPIES diagnosis, found him some specialists, and carefully discovered what food he could eat.

I resigned from my city council position and haven’t regretted it.

I sang the National Anthem at the D3 NCAA Hockey Championship and our family cheered the Pointers on to victory.

At this time last year, I was the heaviest I’ve ever been, and my grief felt awfully heavy, too. I lost 40 pounds this year, and through therapy and EMDR, I have more good days than bad. I’m so thankful that I’ve been making a return to running. I ran several 5K and 5 mile races, and even a half marathon- my first real postpartum distance race!

I was able to relaunch my business, heidi oberstadt media, and took on new clients and some fun new projects.

We took roses to the tenants in NaNa’s (Norma’s) building to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

I threw a beautiful first birthday party for Teddy and spent the day celebrating him. I’m so thankful that he’s here and that he’s mine.

Teddy started daycare, which was a big change for all of us, and I went back to work at the University of Wisconsin: Stevens Point, where my students called me “Professor Oberstadt” for the first time. It’s still kind of weird.

We moved into our new home, our Bukolt Estate, which is the first two story home I’ve lived in, and is just perfect for Teddy and Abbie to run around.

The interior is almost finished and I often can’t believe that this beautiful home is mine. Brian has done an incredible job.

In general, I feel like I’m just now starting to pick up the pieces. After my mom died, and worsening after Teddy’s arrival, I felt so overwhelmed by even the simplest tasks. Emails and text messages went unanswered for weeks. I forgot EVERYTHING, and I stayed in this limbo, struggling to get out, for a long time. In many ways, I am just now cleaning up the mental, physical, and emotional disaster that I was living in. It feels really good to start getting caught up on everything, and I’m so thankful that my friends/family/clients are so incredibly understanding and supportive of me on this journey.

I still have really bad days, but they are coming less and less frequently. I still cry Teddy to sleep sometimes as I rock him in my mom’s rocking chair.

I have so many hopes for 2020- if I can just keep going, and keep improving, then I’ll be in a really good place at the end of the year once again.

There is so much to be proud of and so much to be thankful for. I’m looking forward to sharing more of it with you. ❤️

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A tiny glimpse of my former self…

“Hello, old friend!” I went to yoga last week for the first time since I was five months pregnant with Teddy, and it felt like seeing an old friend!

One of the things that is a big challenge for me right now is the feeling that I’m so weak. It’s hard for me when I run because I’m working so hard and going so slowly. My effort doesn’t match my output. Yoga is different- when I’m practicing yoga, I feel like I’m challenging myself right where I am, and my yoga practice is meeting me right there. There is no expectation that I’m going to be at the same level that I used to be. I’m thankful for yoga and I’m going to keep going.

Weight loss is weird like that, too. I miss my body. I get down on myself a lot because I miss the way I used to look. I miss my clothes. I miss not having achy joints and being able to do more without getting tired. I miss walking into the gym and feeling like I belong there, rather than an outsider. Teddy was worth it, and I don’t regret this journey at all, but I miss my former self.

I didn’t realize quite how judgmental I used to be of other overweight people. I used to think that everyone was just like me, and just needed to prioritize themselves to lose the weight. If they just realized that they deserved better, and could spend the time and energy in meal planning and working out, they’d be able to lose weight, too!

It wasn’t until my experience with Zoloft and weight gain that I realized there are lots of reasons people gain weight or are unable to easily lose it.

Right after Teddy was born, I lost 25 pounds. That’s probably the 25 pounds I was supposed to gain with pregnancy. It’s too bad that I gained 50. Anyway, I was so proud that I lost that weight and felt like I was well on my way to losing the rest of the pregnancy weight and the 30 pounds of fertility hormone weight. That was until my postpartum depression set in and I needed help managing my emotions. Unfortunately, every time I had a dose change of Zoloft, I gained ten pounds. After four of those, we decided I should go off that drug.

Where does that leave me now? I’ve lost 21 pounds since February. I’m basically a quarter of the way back to my ideal weight.

When you have such a large weight loss goal like I do (almost 100 pounds!), it’s hard to enjoy my progress. I feel really good about it for a while, but then I see a picture of myself and I’m vaulted back into reality. It’s hard not to let my weight be my defining characteristic when it affects every part of my day. Brian and I had a conversation last night where I realized he didn’t know the calorie count on his two dinner options. I wonder what my life would be like if I wasn’t mentally calculating the calorie content of everything I’ve eaten for the past 25 years.

So what can I do now?

I’m currently working on giving myself credit for the work I’ve done and trying to stay motivated for the future work to come- and not let myself get discouraged.

It’s so easy to be discouraged in the world of parenthood- I see moms of one year olds who look fantastic- both the baby and the mom!Their kids are sleeping through the night, and the moms are back at work full time, and they are thinner than they were before they got pregnant. There is so much space to feel inadequate. I’m fighting that feeling all the time, and trying not to let my postpartum depression take over. I can barely get teddy fed (and hosed down and scrub the high chair) three times a day, nurse him, keep the dishes done and stay on top of the laundry. I really miss having a dishwasher. I’m constantly cleaning the floors and trying to meal prep and play with Teddy to keep him engaged. On my lucky days, I get my laptop open during nap time and try to frantically get as much work done as possible. I feel guilty for not keeping up with my friends and returning text messages and emails. When people are mad at me for not being good at keeping in touch, I cry and berate myself for not being good enough. I feel like there isn’t enough time in the day, and I end every day feeling like a failure, regardless of what I’ve accomplished.

I know this is a season of life, and my journey is different than others. I may feel better if my mom was here to help. If I wasn’t grieving her. If I was able to prepare for having a newborn while pregnant instead of being lost simultaneously in grieving and in finishing my master’s degree. If I hadn’t had to sell my home when Teddy was a month old and frantically pack and temporarily move to my mom’s house while we remodel the new house. If my sweet husband was cloned so he could simultaneously work on that new house and be home to help me. If I wasn’t missing my mom while living in her house and if I had my own space to relax. If I had my own appliances and a dishwasher to help me sanitize all the bottles and breast pump parts. If I had a parent who could watch Teddy during the day so I could get work done and make some money to take some of the financial pressure off. If I didn’t have a huge student loan payment and see people on Facebook reminding me that I’m an idiot for having loans and going to college and that I deserve all the financial stress I feel now because I should have known that I’d be paying for my undergraduate degrees until I’m 50. If we weren’t trying to pay for two houses at one time so we had more flexible finances. If I was better at asking for help.

There are a lot of reasons that things could be different and this journey could have been easier- but this is my difficult road to follow and I’m doing my best.

For the next few weeks, I’m going to try to be proud of the work I’ve done and give myself grace as I try to be the best mom and housewife and friend and businesswoman that I can be. I’m failing all the time, but I keep trying.

2019 pounds lost: 21

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PPPR. Postpartum Personal Record.

Given the postpartum part, it could be a PPPPPR, but I’m doing okay (thank you, pelvic floor therapy!). I could call it a PP-no-PP-PR. 😂 That’s a win on so many levels. Mamas out there know what’s up.

I’ve run several races since Teddy was born, at various stages of my health, and I have decided that I need to stop competing with my former self, for now.

Every time I head out for a run, I’ve been criticizing myself.

For the short distance.

For the slow pace.

For how long it took me to get out the door.

For how poorly my running clothes fit around my new body.

I get out there and as my feet hit the pavement, I criticize myself for not buying new running shoes meant for heavy people and for running until I want to stop, only to look at my Garmin and see it’s been less than a mile. I criticize myself for not prioritizing myself and needing Brian to force me out the door.

It took my most recent race, the Sturgeon Shuffle, for me to realize how flawed that line of thinking has been. I worked really hard during that 10K. I had a legitimate concern that I would be last. I’m a long way from where I was when I placed third in my age group at this race just a few years ago.

I won a handmade cup for placing third, and I ran this race six days after finishing a marathon. It’s like I was a completely different person.

This year, I took some walking breaks. I thought about my form and prayed that I’m not doing any long-term damage by running while so heavy. I focused on my arms when my legs got tired. I kissed my baby when Brian brought him to see me on the course. Maybe Teddy drove himself?

I got so excited when I saw Teddy on the course- he squealed and smiled when he saw me and I just wanted to snuggle him. It gave me a little more motivation to keep going.

I still thanked all the volunteers on the route- some things never change. 🙂

When I turned the final corner and saw the finish line, I saw my little bear with his cute hat waiting for me!

Teddy watched me finish!

I was so proud when I finished the race this year, even though most of the other runners were long gone. The 5K runners had collected their bananas and cookies and were in their cars on the way home.

The finish line clock read 1:16:29, and the only people waiting at the finish line were waiting for me- Teddy, Brian, and my mother-in-law, Jean. The crowds were gone. It actually felt weird to have music pumping at the finish but be the only one there.

I walked around to catch my breath, saw the classic puke on the pavement just past the finish line, and thought, “At least I’m doing better than that guy!”

I wasn’t the last one to finish. There were a couple people behind me. I feel guilty for being thankful that I wasn’t last- someone needs to be last, and why is it such a big deal? Am I really that low in self-confidence? The jury is still out on this one.

I walked over to the recovery table and picked up some water, a banana, and a cookie. I tried to take a bite of the cookie but it didn’t sit well. It’s been a long time since I ran so hard/fast/long that I was nauseous. I coughed a lot as I warmed up. As I found out later that weekend, I had bronchitis and the start of pneumonia. Maybe that’s why I felt like I was working so hard. Or maybe it’s because I’m 240 pounds. Maybe it’s both. Either way, I was thankful to have finished- and so was Teddy. 🙂

I know many mamas who go on to lead amazing running lives. I see them- in the park, on social media, even when they pass me in a race pushing a double stroller while simultaneously feeding their toddlers fruit snacks. I have faith that I will get my body back, I have faith that I will get my running life back, and I have faith that I will get my spirit back.

I’m excited to raise Teddy in an active home. I want to be the family that runs 5K races on Thanksgiving and packs running shoes on vacation. I can’t wait until Teddy is old enough to cheer me on in a race with a sign drawn in crayon that says, “Go, Mama!” I want to be the healthiest mom I can be for Teddy so he doesn’t have to go through the shock of sudden loss I feel for my own mother.

In the meantime, I’ll be celebrating the small victories, and you’ll note my new acronym on my races page. PPPR, baby.

Huge thanks to my cheering squad!

As always, thanks for reading!

2019 pounds lost: 19

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On my last day of public service…

I am celebrating. I am celebrating my final day as an alderwoman- my last day representing the citizens of Stevens Point in District 4.

For those who are interested in reading my final statement, it is below. It’s long, but it includes a lot, and I mean every word of it.

On my 30th birthday, I did an interview with a local media outlet- an urgent phone interview so she could meet a deadline. I was celebrating with my family, but I skipped my own birthday cake and did the interview in the car on the way home. I was excited to be part of a series about women in government. One question sticks out in my mind, to this day. “What do we need in local government?” 

My answer? “Kindness,” and I stick to that answer today. I’m sure many people will still consider me naïve, or too soft for elected public service. They may say that I just don’t understand the inner workings of politics or the secret world of what REALLY happens in local government. Many will say that by being elected, I knowingly signed up for people treating me cruelly, and as a result, I have no right to complain or bring it to light.

Unfortunately, my sacrifice of birthday cake was in vain, as the article never ran. I hope it’s not too late for me to try and spread that message of kindness in government.

Lately, at all levels of government, there is an overwhelming amount of hatred, and loads of criticism that doesn’t serve a purpose. Many local officials, including my colleagues, are serving in their positions out of a passionate desire to make our community better. Some are focusing on keeping the awesome parts of Stevens Point awesome, and some are working towards improving upon our weaknesses. Some are even focusing on just making sure that our city workers receive paychecks and we are able to continue offering services to the community. This gets harder every year, in light of less and less funding assistance from the state. My colleagues and I are different people, but we have much in common. We are the type of people who pool our own money to buy candy to hand out to kids in our community parades- those Skittles you ate at the holiday parade were definitely not paid for with taxpayer money. Political communication scholars frequently refer to the term “civility,” and I think that asking for kindness and civility in government is a simple request. However, my hope for tonight lies less in the academic world of civility and more in the basic tenet of kindness. I believe some of our problems locally are due to a lack of kindness and a lack of perspective. I’d like to leave you all with a small dose of both- I’ll try and clear up a few things about my experience in our local government and share a little of my perspective in the spirit of transparency, and I hope that it will pave a space for kindness in the future.

I’ll start with an introduction. 

Hi, I’m Heidi. Do you remember me? We met years ago, before I was a councilwoman. Believe it or not, I’m still your neighbor- the one with the small and crazy dog, the one who loves kayaking and spending time on the water. Our proximity to the river is a big reason we chose to live in District Four.

My kindness, positivity, and authenticity are not a fluke- I’m really like this! My personality is certainly at odds with what most people expect for an elected official, and it was definitely a challenge in many ways.

My start in public service could certainly be called a baptism by fire. In my first meeting, the infamous Reid Rocheleau pointed his finger at me and told me that I was cold hearted. I was shocked, and I cried the entire way home in the car. I know, I know… I’m too soft for politics. Reid didn’t know me at all, and I appreciated his perspective on issues, yet he felt so strongly about my character that he wanted it said, publicly and on the record. I was definitely not prepared for that. I’d seen city meetings before my appointment, and I didn’t remember that kind of relationship between alders and constituents. I wondered- did I just miss it? Were there more attacks coming? Should I somehow prepare myself?

My first feedback in the anonymous suggestion box at city hall was that I show too much cleavage and it’s not dignified for an alder of our city. Of course, a photo in the paper had just run where the photographer was standing right above me as I sat at a table, signing my official paperwork. I probably would have shown cleavage in a turtleneck. I also can’t believe that I just said “cleavage” in a city meeting, and not referring to roads during the spring thaw, but that’s what a swan song is for, right? 🙂 After I received that message about my choice of attire, I wondered what the heck I’d gotten myself into. Is there a dress code? More importantly, does what I wear affect my ability to do this job? I hoped that my ideas for the city and my passion for learning would be helpful as I struggled to learn fast enough to do my job, and I wondered what other unwritten rules I’d unknowingly break.

Believe it or not, I’m still your neighbor- the one who moved here for my undergraduate studies at UWSP, and just fell in love- both with my husband, and with our city. It seemed like the perfect place to raise a family and put down new roots.

I want to clear up a big misconception among angry people on the internet: no one is here for the money or the glory.

Money? There is no big money in this job, there are no big lobbying groups that pay us, and there aren’t any kickbacks. To be honest, my take home pay from this job is $395.39 per month. It ends up being less than minimum wage with all the time I spend in meetings, researching, going to conferences, and talking with constituents. If I didn’t have my husband or kind friends to help me watch my son during meetings, when possible, I would lose money keeping this job with the cost of day care. Doesn’t that say something about our dedication to our city? I am aware that these positions fall under public service for a reason, but if we really want to encourage more people to get involved and increase the diversity of our representation, we should consider a raise in the salary of our public servants. Having young children shouldn’t be a barrier to serving our city. Someone needs to represent all the parents, too! I was too afraid of the perception to bring this up while still actively serving, but I hope that one of my colleagues can bring this forward in the near future. 

Are we in it for the glory? I’m trying to remember the last time that someone I didn’t personally know said a single positive thing about our work here. I don’t believe that it’s because we’re not doing good work. Maybe it’s because the public doesn’t know what is going on. I didn’t send out a press release when I reunited a sweet elderly woman with her lost cat, when I helped a new family get connected with a translator to get their children registered for school, or when I threw on my muck boots and helped my constituents clean out their flooded basement during that terrible flood a couple summers ago. We do good work in our communities, even if most people never see it. We’re totally fine with being out of the spotlight during our day-to-day work- I actually prefer it. Sometimes the work we’re doing in government takes longer than we wish it did. I couldn’t prevent that flood for my constituents, so I helped with the cleanup. In the meantime, we kept working on a solution, and this year, their road will be reconstructed. It will help with stormwater management and help many people in the long run. I didn’t tell anyone about it, and I don’t know if the public connects the dots between that problem and that solution- I just wasn’t concerned with tooting my own horn when that’s a part of my job and there’s more work to be done!

So why do people authoritatively claim that we’re terrible? Maybe it’s because they assume the worst about us, so even when we do great things, they believe there is an ulterior motive. WHY do they think awful things about us? I’m going to venture a guess- bear with me. Sometimes the frustration of feeling like your voice doesn’t matter manifests itself in anger or cruelty. I understand the feeling- I’ve driven all the way down to Madison to meet with my senator several times, yet his votes rarely reflect my concerns or opinions… even when I bring data to back up my position. I don’t take it personally, even though I’m frustrated. I know he hears me… he just believes, for whatever reason, that the right thing to do is something different than what I think it is. 

There is a big difference between my senator and I in our elected roles, though- local city council positions aren’t partisan. Many of our issues just aren’t liberal or conservative. What kind of lawn mower should we invest in for the parks department? How should we prioritize our capital spending? What should the holiday trash collection schedule look like for next year, and does everyone have the garbage and recycling cans they need? Do the police and fire departments have the gear they need? How about staffing? Do the treasurer and clerk have the people they need to serve our city the best we can? I couldn’t tell you what the partisan stances are on most of the decisions we make, because there aren’t any.

This is going to be controversial; I know it. I’ve done plenty of research on political accountability, both before and during my time with our city. I won’t go into details of models of representation, because we’d be here all night and honestly, I’m sure most people just don’t care. 🙂 I can sum up the important parts as they relate to us in this room, though.

I don’t believe that the role of an elected official is simply to regurgitate the thoughts of their constituents. If it was, then we wouldn’t need to have elections- a robot could do our job. We wouldn’t need to run our campaigns on a platform of goals for the city, because they wouldn’t matter. I DO believe it’s important to listen, actually listen, and ask many questions to understand the situation, but it’s also the job of an elected official to gather additional information, talk to staff and experts in the problem, and propose different options- along with assist in providing the logistics of the solutions. I often asked my neighbors, when they brought up an issue, what they thought a few possible solutions could be. They often knew the situation better that I did at first, and I really valued their ideas. It’s rarely black and white, and it’s our job to look for creative solutions and find an outcome that will best suit our community as a whole. It’s not an easy job, but the simple act of doing it doesn’t mean that we deserve such negativity.

One of my favorite “not my job” tasks is encouraging everyone from the public who comes to speak at our meetings. I do my best to give them nonverbal feedback to reassure them and help make them feel more comfortable. I teach public speaking at UWSP- I know how hard it is for most people to come forward and speak in front of us, and the staff, and on television and the radio. If you’ve been to a meeting and spoken with us, you probably remember me- I was the one smiling and nodding while listening to you. Many things about approaching us here can be intimidating, and I wanted to give our citizens a little bit of kindness when they were feeling anxiety. I’m not sure that a robot could do that.

Believe it or not, I’m still your neighbor- the one who grinds her teeth at night, sings in the shower, and loves hanging out on her back porch in the warmer months.

Most of you know that my mother died unexpectedly last year, when I was four months pregnant. I was so surprised with the response from my neighbors and constituents. The week following her death, one neighbor came by and used their snowblower to clear our driveway. Another dropped off a heartfelt card and a bouquet of flowers. From a few blocks over, someone arrived with a loaf of homemade bread and fresh butter. Yet another called me a fucking bitch and asked why I wasn’t at work representing her, even though she knew the situation… and she wasn’t the only one. 

I don’t even know what to say about that. I’ll never forget the way those neighbors made me feel during the absolute worst time in my life. I will never forget it. It changed the way that I looked at our community- why would people feel that it is okay to treat me this way? I would never do that to someone. Is it because I am elected- so I deserve to be treated this way? Is it because I disagreed with them on an issue? I’ve thought about this over and over again and realized that despite the well-intentioned warnings of friends in elected positions, I never got that hardened heart that would allow me to have these terrible comments roll right off. I always assumed that staying kind, vulnerable, and truly caring about my neighbors would be an asset to me. Was I wrong? I want to pretend to be tougher than I am, and act like it doesn’t bother me, but having people treat me this way forever changed the way that I look at our neighborhood. Was that the goal?

I completely understand questioning your elected officials and holding us accountable for our decisions- it’s a key component of our government. However, I’m here to tell you that if you continue being cruel to your local elected officials, you will end up with cruel people in return. 

Believe it or not, I’m still your neighbor- the one who loves riding her bike along the Green Circle by the river, and I really enjoy meeting new people. We’ve been pouring money into our new home as we convert it from a duplex back into a big single family home, and yes- we have all the correct permits. 🙂

I know that I will catch a lot of flak for my statement tonight. I know some people will be livid. How dare I talk about my experience this way? I deserve everything that happened, especially the bad things, because I’m a politician, right? I’m sure some members in the media will write terrible things about me, and some people in our city will be so angry that I ventured to say these things. Will there be a call for the council to be replaced by robots? Who knows!

I’m honestly looking forward to a break from the constant criticism and questioning of my motives. I never took any funding from anyone for my campaigns. I don’t have an agenda other than keeping what’s great and fixing what’s not. I do wish that there was better communication between the city and our citizens, but that is probably due to my background and a little insight from “the inside” of city hall. I think many local governments could use some help from a communication professional… we’re certainly not the only one. Perhaps we can work on adding that to our budget in future years.

Believe it or not, I’m still your neighbor- the one with the hard-working mustachioed husband and the sick baby, the one who loves to bake and share her treats with everyone.

I am proud of my honesty in deciding to resign to take care of my son and being very transparent about what is going on. I thought it would be better to explain what was happening in my life, admit that I am actually NOT superwoman, and allow someone else to devote their time and energy to serving our community while I devote my time and energy to helping my son grow up healthy and strong. Of course, while most people were supportive, there are others who question my timing, the REAL reason I’m leaving, and whatnot. There was even a constituent at a meeting who was angry with me so she responded by making scary faces at my son and made him cry. Really? Come on. 

I hope this statement doesn’t sound like I’m just here to complain, rather- I truly feel that it is the time to ask for kindness and empathy among our community.

Please treat my replacement with kindness. Please treat my colleagues with kindness. And above all, please treat each other with kindness. We all want the same things- a happy, healthy, thriving, safe community that serves people of all ages, and we’re all in this together.

Dear council members and staff- I thank you with all my heart for all the opportunities I’ve had to work with you. I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished together, and I look forward to seeing what you all do next! I appreciate your patience as I learned the complexities of issues that people outside of city hall may not even consider. Thank you so much for helping me celebrate our alderbaby and being as helpful as possible with Teddy once he arrived. Please continue to help the new council members, as we all know the learning curve is steep, and we were all new once. 🙂

Dear citizens of Stevens Point- thank you for allowing me to serve you for the past four years. While it had many challenges, I don’t regret it for a second. Perhaps once my son is a little older, I’ll be able to afford to come back for another term or two. I still care about you and I will still fight for you, but it just won’t be on the public record anymore. Believe it or not, I’m still your neighbor… so I’ll see you around. 🙂

And with that, I’m done. Time for some wine and an evening of thanking my lucky stars for my family! 🙂

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FPIES, sigh.

After months of struggling with low weight gain and severe reflux, we got a diagnosis for Teddy.

As some of you know, we’ve worked hard to get Teddy back on the weight chart. He was born around 50%, then dropped down to 5%, then 2%. We were able to keep him at 2% with a constant battle… his reflux meant that he needed to eat frequently and often spit up a LOT. The more his reflux caused a loss of milk, the more formula I tried to supplement with. I constantly worried about my milk supply and when he would spit up ounces of my milk, I cried. We tried a bunch of different formulas to see if any of them made a difference in his reflux. They didn’t. When I had to be apart from Teddy, and he got formula, much of it came back up. All over me. All over him. All over the couch. And the floor. And his dad. And the carseat. And the bed. And the rock and play. And the blankets. I bought a special breastmilk removal soap and put it in every load of laundry to try and salvage some of our clothes. I wanted to pump milk to give him, but I didn’t make enough extra to pump and save it for later. If I pumped, then I wouldn’t have enough milk for his next nursing session. I felt so inadequate.

Having a doctor tell us that there is, indeed, something wrong, made me feel so relieved. As if it wasn’t entirely my fault, and some of my guilt started to lift. I felt like such a bad mom, even though I basically dropped everything and spent my entire day trying to make him gain weight.

What is his diagnosis?

FPIES. Food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome.

I was so relieved to have a diagnosis and a name for the group of symptoms because I thought it would mean some answers for us and a clear path forward. Instead, FPIES raises more questions. It also basically forces us to make some serious decisions about Teddy and his virtual life.

How much of his life do we have the right to share? When I told people that Teddy had severe reflux and that we couldn’t be separated for long, they thought I was being difficult. I didn’t know if we should tell everyone about his FPIES. People saw me taking him everywhere and wondered why I couldn’t just get back to work without him or something like that.

I know that it’s healthy for moms to leave their babes with someone else and take a break. The thing is, I often have more stress when we’re apart because I’m worried about how his reflux is doing and how his tummy feels. When he’s upset and not feeling well, it’s like he’s a colicky baby, and that’s so much to ask of a friend or babysitter.

“Why can’t you just give him formula?” Well, I can, but it makes his reflux much worse. It often almost veered into vomiting territory.

“Why can’t you just pump and give him a bottle with pumped breastmilk?” Well, I don’t make more milk than he needs. In fact, when his reflux is flaring and he spits up so much milk, I barely make enough for him.

“Why don’t you try (insert lactation supplement here) to increase your supply?” I have. I am. Herbal supplements, power pumping, meditation and deep breathing. I’m trying to relax but I’m watching my skinny baby and feeling like a failure.

FPIES babies aren’t like normal babies. The challenges are different, and finding solutions can be really difficult.

It’s a rare disease, and many doctors don’t know what it is. Teddy’s pediatric immunologist/allergist gave us a letter to give to the ER doctor, describing FPIES. Kids with FPIES reactions often vomit until they go into shock, so he wanted us to have the letter ready for our inevitable trip to the ER. That whole idea is so scary- that we’d get to the ER and the doctor wouldn’t have any idea what FPIES is.

What should I tell people? Do I have a right to tell the world about his FPIES? How can I make people understand our challenges without telling them about it? Obviously, we’ve decided to share his diagnosis with the world. I hope that maybe another struggling mom or dad will find this post and discover that they’re not alone. I also hope that it explains why Teddy and I go almost everywhere together and why being separated is a little more difficult for us than it is for other parents and babies.

So what IS it? FPIES is a type of food allergy that affects his GI tract. The allergy is to the proteins in different foods, and instead of a typical food allergy reaction with a rash or having trouble breathing, the reaction is a slightly delayed (2-4 hours after exposure) intense vomiting episode.

One of the scariest things about FPIES is that kids can have foods several times (so parents think the food is safe) then they develop an allergy to it. This is what happened to Teddy. He had oatmeal several times and was totally fine. In fact, he loves it!

Then all of a sudden, he got really sick a couple hours after eating. He threw up for 20 hours. He was so scared, because it was the first time he’d thrown up. We were so scared, too. We were trying to give him little bits of pedialyte to keep him hydrated but he started to go into shock. Our poor little baby was pale and lethargic. We took him to the doctor, and they thought he had a stomach bug. It didn’t occur to us that it was the oatmeal- he’d had it before with no problems.

(Teddy on our home baby scale)

The next time we gave him oatmeal, it was the same reaction. We were a little more prepared but still scared. We talked to his doctor, and they said he must have some kind of oat allergy. I was so afraid to feed him anything, but we know he needed to start eating food. He was also so thin. That day of vomiting caused his weight to drop right off the bottom of the weight chart- after we’d worked so hard to get him up to 2%!

We decided to try rice cereal, since it’s supposed to be so easy to digest. I made him one teaspoon of rice cereal, and it was extra watered down.

Two hours after eating, he had a reaction. Luckily, he only threw up for about five hours with rice- I think due to the very small amount that he’d ingested.

We knew something was wrong- TWO foods with this awful reaction? His pediatrician referred us to a pediatric GI specialist, who diagnosed him immediately. She gave us a prescription for an elemental formula, which is dairy- and soy-free, amino acid based, and hypoallergenic. We started supplementing with this formula at night to try and encourage some weight gain. The formula is $50 a can, so it’s very expensive, and I’m incredibly thankful that I’m able to nurse him. That formula makes it possible for us to be apart for a little longer at a time, and for that I’m so thankful.

(Teddy with his GI specialist)

We think that his FPIES triggers include dairy and soy, as well- so his reflux and low weight gain was probably a symptom of him reacting to the dairy and soy in the regular formula that we were giving him. The thinner he got, the more formula I tried to give him on top of breastfeeding. It turns out that we may have been making things worse.

For now, Teddy Bear is doing great. He’s up to 8% on the weight chart! His reflux is almost gone. The tricky thing with FPIES is that there is no test for the allergy- babies need to eat a variety of foods to discover their triggers. The symptoms range from constipation to diarrhea, from vomiting to diaper rash. I am constantly tracking what he eats, when he eats it, and watching for any kind of reaction. There are different theories about how to prevent kids from developing allergies to foods that were previously considered “safe,” but most parents believe that continued exposure is the key. That was easy to do when there were only three foods that he could eat- but now that he’s up to 11, it’s getting harder! I’m trying not to go more than a couple days between exposures to his safe foods, so we’re making lots of purée mixes and he gets a lot of variety.

It feels a little like a weight off my shoulders to write about FPIES. Honestly, I was so burned out from the constant criticism in my city council position that hearing people question my decision to resign really pushed me over the edge. I told the public that I was resigning to take care of my sick baby, but that apparently wasn’t a good enough reason. People demanded more information- and insinuated that there was a different reason for me leaving.

Well, here you go, John Q. Public- our family is struggling with FPIES. Teddy needs a little more of my time than I expected, so I’m choosing to focus on him and helping him grow up healthy and strong.

He is doing much better, though we are struggling with other digestive problems as we start to identify more problem foods for him. I’m happy that we have an idea of where to go from here, and there are FPIES support groups that have been helpful.

We have an appointment with a pediatric nutritionist this month to help us come up with some “finger foods” for Teddy to start feeding himself, since most of the easily dissolvable baby foods contain rice.

Now that he’s feeling better most of the time, his personality is really showing. He’s a very happy, easygoing boy. His smile lights up a room.

Part of me feels guilty for talking about how difficult this has been because I know there are so many people out there who desperately want to have a babe of their own. After all of our struggles with infertility, you’d think that I’d be able to take this challenge in stride and be thankful that I have our miracle. I also feel guilty since I get to stay with Teddy most of the time. I don’t know how FPIES parents that have to work full time can do it. They are true super-parents.

So there you have it. Teddy and I are pretty much inseparable for now, and I’m learning how to rearrange my life and my work around him. I’ve been taking on clients that understand the situation and are patient with me. I’m so thankful for that.

As always, thanks for reading, friends.

2019 weight lost: 19 pounds

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