Archive For The “Inner Thoughts” Category

The Mayor & Me (What You Don’t Know About South St. Paul)

The Mayor & Me (What You Don’t Know About South St. Paul)

Pairs Well With… South St. Paul Pride + Excitement – Great Things to Come

Newly elected Mayor Jimmy Francis

The Mayor and Me.  Me and The Mayor.  Either way, it has a nice ring, don’t you think? One of the things I love about life is crossing paths by happenstance. You can’t always know where a simple hello, a kind smile or brief conversation with a stranger will lead.  In this instance, it was a case of friendly banter that progressed into a unique partnership and an opportunity to learn more about the underrated city of South St. Paul.

Let’s time travel backward for a moment, shall we?  It all started in August at the land of everything on a stick, the Minnesota State Fair.  I was proudly showcasing my Minneapolis pride (in St. Paul) by wearing my “I Heart Mpls” tank top, and he was dressed in his “I Heart South St. Paul” t-shirt. It was a shirt showdown of the two cities.
The man, unknown to me at this point, walked up and introduced himself as Jimmy Francis, candidate-in-the-running for the Mayor of South St. Paul.  After a brief episode of “whose city is better” banter, I decided I liked the guy.  Witty. Personable. Easy going. Knowledgable. Overall, solid. One thousand percent the kind of person I would want to run my city.  His character is what all politicians should have at their core: an energetic vision and relatable personality.  After a photo and business card exchange, I wished him well in his election and was on my way to find deep fried everythings.

Fast forward to December.  The election had come and gone, the shimmer of the holidays had concluded, and I’m sitting at lunch with my family drinking a martini, plotting my work resignation. Because that’s what every normal person does on a Tuesday afternoon, right?

My poor table manners decided they needed to check in to see what was happening in my inbox. I had an email titled “connect.”

The newly elected mayor had come across my card from the fair and reached out to see if there was partnership potential.  He invited me to attend his swearing-in ceremony at the beginning of the year.  Before our discussions and my research, I knew very little about South St. Paul.  The preconceived notion in my head was that it was full of crime and a far drive.  Not so.

The swearing in of Mayor Francis

Everything I knew or thought I knew about South St. Paul was a far cry from its actual flourishing state. My curiosity caused me to dig into local crime index ratings to educate myself on how South St. Paul stacked up against the larger, well-known Twin Cities: Minneapolis and St. Paul.  According to Neighborhood Scout, here the three city’s crime rates:

City                      Crime Rating (100 is safest; i.e. 5 crime rating = safer than 5% of cities in the U.S.)
Minneapolis       5
St. Paul               10
South St. Paul   19
(Details of the crimes that contribute to these indexes can be found here.)

Because I’ve been living in my Minneapolis bubble for so long, I’ve not paid attention to other neighboring cities. As it turns out, South St. Paul is the safest of the three cities.  So why does it get such a bad rap?  My best guess is that a past reputation has carried forward for years because no one has chosen to do anything ongoing about it.

Until now.

Mayor Francis spent a half day taking me around South St. Paul after only two weeks in office.  He shared his vision for the city and goals for the year, as well as some of the city’s best assets.  I couldn’t help but feel inspired. South St. Paul should be excited for the great things in store.  Could a potential move to South St. Paul be in place upon my overseas return?

Our first stop was to Town Square Television, the local community cable TV station serving the seven cities of Northern Dakota County.  The station’s programming covers everything from high school sports to music and entertainment, to local city meetings such as the swearing in ceremony I attended earlier this month.

One of the things I found fascinating at Town Square Television is the state-of-the-art multi-media studio, which means you can create your own videos and programming.  (Think Wayne’s World, my friends!) They even have a green screen!  Town Square Television offers a handful of head turning services including:

Memberships start at $25 for residents and $50 for non-residents.  Town Square Television is a great venue and community resource to be able to bring creativity to life.

Our next stop was around and through a few of the city’s renovated areas and historical landmarks. The Kaposia Landing Off Leash Dog Park, a 6.3 acre fully fenced perimeter gem, is perfect for pooches big and small, and strolling all year round.  It’s spacious, offers lovely views of the Mississippi River, and is highly affordable, too, with annual residential memberships at only $20!  Expect this destination to be a gathering spot for more than just the young pups in coming years.

Also included in our fifty cent tour was a drive-by of the new lacrosse and soccer facilities, schools, and the South St. Paul History Mural and Municipal Airport. The history mural, according to the description on GigaPan “tells the story of the city’s founding and settlement. The mural includes the shabby treatment of the Native Americans in the area, as well as the city’s growth into a meat packing center.”  It’s quite a sight up close.

Photo Credit: Tom Nelson

The South St. Paul airport is where pilot turned president George H. Bush did his flight training.  Its history dates back to the 40’s and has remained one of the city’s flagship landmarks.  Now, when the Mayor told me to be ready for a 3 pm flight and not to wear heels, I thought he was kidding.

He wasn’t.

Our final stop of the afternoon was Wipaire, Inc., aircraft and seaplane manufacturer.  Upon arrival, I met my pilot, Brian, and chatted with him about what our flight would look like, as well as his flying background.  Unsure of what I was in store for, I boarded the plane, took a few deep breaths, buckled up, and braced myself for an unexpected adventure.

We flew around the bordering limits of South St. Paul so I could take in the aerial view.

These planes are known for being able to land in water, something you can’t do this time of year in Minnesota, but intriguing none the less.  Flight lessons are offered through the company’s partners.

The best part?  Perhaps it’s all the great things to come for South St. Paul.  I had the chance to touch base with the Mayor this week on his 2017 goals, which I found to be encouraging:

  • Run good meetings where South St. Paul citizens can see the action we are taking to engage them and their needs.
  • Bring in new and unique business to South St. Paul.
  • Revise neighborhood watch, including our vertical neighborhoods in highrise buildings in and around South St. Paul, in an effort re-engage our residents and business owners to take back the town we love and keep looking out for each other.  
  • Invite new young families to South St. Paul.  We are close to everything, and we need good people to backfill our city streets as our elderly move out.


I can honestly say that I was highly impressed by South St. Paul’s charm and all that the city has to offer.  I was unaware of all these wonderful community assets within reach, which means that my eyes aren’t open wide enough, and I need to expand my personal radius.  I leave you with a few interesting facts about this great city.  Although I’m living in Asia, I still plan to keep an eye on all things South St. Paul from afar.  Who knows, after my Remote Year adventures, maybe I’ll find myself living on the other side of the Twin Cities.


DID YOU KNOW?  (All the things you didn’t know about South St. Paul)

  • South St. Paul was the first in the nation to have a woman vote.  We ended women’s suffrage in right here in Minnesota.
  • The South St. Paul Fleming Field Airport was a US NAVY training facility for WWII. George H. W. Bush did his training from this airport. After the war, the Navy leased the land for $1 to the city of South St. Paul and they operate it today as a recreational facility.
  • We have had three Minnesota Governors and one almost Presidential Nomination from South St. Paul?  Yes, Governor Harold LeVander, Governor Tim Pawlenty and Governor Harold Stassen.  Governor Stassen went on to almost win Republican Party nomination for President in 1948.


A Pit Stop For A Piece Of Humble Pie

A Pit Stop For A Piece Of Humble Pie

Pairs Well With…”Another Day in Paradise” by Phil Collins 

“There is no us.  There is no them.  There is just a we.”  – J. Lee

What would you do if you lost everything?  Could you handle it?  Would it break you? Maybe you didn’t have a lot to begin with, but tomorrow you wake up and find yourself homeless, living on the streets with nothing more than shreds of dignity – if you’re even that lucky.

Life has an interesting way of unfolding.  Everything can turn on just one twist of unforeseen fate, and change the trajectory of life.  For whatever reason, some of us dig out, others of us can’t.  And more often than not, we look at someone living on the street with pitiful glances, if we even acknowledge their presence at all, without regard to how they fell into their circumstance.  As if they chose to be there.  Maybe yes, maybe no, but what remains constant is that they are still there and, like us, they are human too.

February 2015, my first trip to Rio, was my first real glimpse into such an eye-opening and deep level of poverty.  It both rocked and unnerved me.  I hadn’t seen anything like it, and maybe that’s because for so long, I tried not to.  Entire families camped out looking for food, or any other handout to help them get by.  I would offer up my leftovers in an attempt to keep hearts beating and stomachs full for at least one more night.

I reflected on Rio as I headed into my first volunteer shift at Kuala Lumpur‘s Pit Stop Cafe, a community cafe working to find solutions to urban hunger and poverty by marshaling volunteers and repurposing food.  They are truly a one of a kind model.  (America, take note.)

The owner, Joyce, shares a story similar to mine: Woman gets fed up with Corporate America. Woman quits her job. Woman works to find something more meaningful and fulfilling.  Through her change of course, Joyce founded Pit Stop Cafe, which costs $6-8k monthly to operate and offers warm meals daily to 200-260 urban working poor or homeless people.

Earlier in the week, in a presentation to my Remote Year group, Joyce shared learnings around her community work, what it means to be in need and how the less fortunate are viewed.  What she shared was interesting, and in some cases, jaw-dropping:

THE CITY OF KUALA LUMPUR CHOOSES NOT TO ACKNOWLEDGE (or report) ANY HOMELESS POPULATION. Turning a blind eye much?  When you don’t report issues, you don’t have to acknowledge them.  And because you don’t acknowledge them, they aren’t “real” – and the government doesn’t have to spend dollars on “non-existent” economic issues. Typical case of ignorance is bliss.

(I was curious to learn more about this issue and stumbled upon an interesting article which accuses the city of rounding up homeless people and dumping them (yes, dumping them) outside city limits. W.O.W.  I’m not sure what is worse, throwing money at a problem or throwing people away.)

MAKE SURE YOUR IMPACT IS, IN FACT, IMPACTFUL.  While we have the best of intentions, we don’t always know what someone needs – unless we ask.  When was the last time you asked someone on the street what they needed, or better yet, what they wanted?  Most people approach the homeless as a one-size fits all, “you’ll take what you’re given” type mentality.  How helpful is having a size ten pair of shoes for a size seven foot?  Or a goose down jacket in Kuala Lumpur when it’s above 80 degrees the majority of the year. At Pit Stop Cafe, diners are asked what meal they want from the options available. By asking someone what they want, you allow them to feel as though they are in control and have a choice.  It’s how we build people up again.

THOSE IN NEED ARE OFTEN LOOKING FOR A HAND UP, NOT A HAND OUT.   The majority of our lives are spent trying to be better and do better.  To do so doesn’t always come easy, and it isn’t always a solo effort.  Many people don’t enjoy asking for help when they need it, especially when it’s someone they don’t know, but when you’re playing the survival game, it can become necessary.  Help where you can, and allow someone else to rise up.

DON’T ALLOW ANYONE TO BECOME INVISIBLE.  By acknowledging a person’s presence, you make them visible.  Everyone wants to be seen.  Just because someone is down on their luck doesn’t mean they should be counted out.  Each person has a story.  Take the time to hear it.

HOMELESSNESS IS NOT A PITY PARTY.  But it is about respect and treating a human being as a fellow human being.

Before my volunteer shift, Joyce was gracious enough to spend some time talking to me one-on-one about her career moves, new business, and worldly opinions.  I loved hearing about the vision and foundation on which Pit Stop Cafe was founded:

“When you look, or when you think about something called a pit stop,…a pit stop is a place for you to refuel. To refill yourself.  To change your tires.  And we wanted something like that but in the human context for people to uplift or upgrade themselves.  You couple that with our tagline, “Love all. Feed all”…Love is not just that between a husband and wife or whatever. It’s an encompassing thing. Compassion is part of the love thing as well.  So when you show compassion, you show love.  And that’s what we wanted.

But feed all…people think you just feed the stomach.  You do not just feed the stomach.  You feed your heart.  You feed your soul.  You feed your mind. You can fill your stomach all you want and, in some ways, I think that is what is wrong with the world sometimes.  All you are thinking about is feeding your wallet, feeding your stomach….Where’s your heart?  Where’s your soul?  How do you feed your heart?  How do you feed your soul?

How do you make yourself happy?”

I kept thinking about Joyce’s words throughout my shift and felt internally conflicted about the impact I thought I was making.  By the end of the shift, I decided to try a new approach: joining one of the gentlemen that I served just a bit earlier.  I asked if he minded that I join him.  After exchanging names and proper greetings, we dove into a more personalized conversation: our backgrounds, how we each got to be at Pit Stop Cafe that day, and past and present professions.  We shared a common bond over the love of reading and discussed our favorite books.  I couldn’t tell you the exact reason I approached the man, other than he had a kind smile and great spirit.  I suppose I wanted him to know that he is important and worth talking to, not that he needed my validation by any means.  Maybe I felt at that moment that he needed to be seen.

Upon leaving Pit Stop, I felt an intense wave of emotion and quickly stepped outside.  I don’t know that it was this particular volunteer shift that triggered me so much as it was realizing how engulfed I am my goals and needs to see anyone else’s.  I took my moment and let the tears slowly stream down my face, while I took a few deep breaths.  How selfish of me to be crying when these people have more challenging circumstances than I do. I circled around the idea that if we’re all operating independently, no changes will be implemented and no impact will be made to better the world.

Why do we let things get so bad in the first place?

As you ponder, I leave you with this: next time it’s too cold in the house or the food isn’t cooked to your perfection, or there’s not enough hot water for a shower, remember the person out on the streets.  Check your privilege, and remember, there is someone out there who is asking for nothing more from you than to be noticed.

Click here to listen to the full interview with Joyce Lee, owner of Pit Stop Cafe.

It’s My Job & I’ll Quit If I Want To

It’s My Job & I’ll Quit If I Want To

Pairs Well With… “It’s My Life” by Bon Jovi


What will you do for a job while on Remote Year?” asked…everyone. While I was still in the throes of determining my job, I knew immediately what I was not going to do anymore – anything that doesn’t make me happy or feed my soul. Ya feel me?

True story.

What she said…


LIFE TRUTH #1: It is just as important to know what you DO NOT want to do as it is the things you DO.

I just threw the biggest Hail Mary of the last ten years by quitting my job in search of something “more me.”  It had escaped me that I had also pulled this stunt ten years ago during a status with my boss.  During that conversation, the words “I think I’m going to resign from this job,” flew out of my mouth before my mind even had a chance to register them. He looked at me with confusion and asked, “Do you want to rescind that statement?” to which I replied, “Mmm…(3-2-1) No, thanks,” as if I were merely turning down a cookie.  “I guess it flew out of there for a reason. I’ll stick with it,” I continued.

One thing I’ve learned about myself over the years is that my hand-eye coordination is superior to my mind-mouth connection, clearly.  Oh, and if history does, in fact, repeat itself, I’ve got a couple more career changes ahead before retirement.

Little did I know at the time, this “decision-making method” of mine would land me my dream job in Event Marketing…then Entertainment Marketing…and then down a path of creating and owning a few brands of my own.

LIFE TRUTH #2: You won’t find out anything new about yourself if you keep doing the same shit.

Over the last fifteen years, I busted my ass and built a successful marketing career for myself. The higher I stood on the corporate ladder, the more I felt burned out from the wear and tear of Corporate America. It is all I’ve ever known.

The demands of last minute requests causing me to rearrange personal commitments and pressures to outshine favorite colleagues for advancement opportunities got to me.  But it was the vicious “spin, twirl, repeat” cycle of the “meeting about the meeting” where teams tried to align in “real time” (and hit a word count for the day) and would “circle back” on action items by EOD.  Are you kidding me?!

All of it, little by little, began to feel like I was selling my soul for a good paycheck and excellent benefits. Because that’s what we’re “supposed” to do, right? Or so I thought…

I needed a break from the life I was leading. Actually, settling for.

So, I quit.

And figured out my plan and my new job.

LIFE TRUTH #3: Take a chance on yourself. If you won’t take a chance on you, why should anyone else?

Once I got accepted into Remote Year, I spent endless hours writing proposals, applying for jobs, setting meetings and selling my skills. Since then, I have been crushing 12-14 hour days, six days a week, for the last couple of months, and have faced more rejection in this window of time than I have in my life.  However, every morning I woke up with optimism and new-found hope that I would receive word of good news in my inbox.

One by one, I was served up these delicately phrased rejections letters, each stating a different version of the same thing: “Thanks, but no thanks.” The job interviews I had even led to rejection letters, most of which said, “We’d love to hire you when you’re back. Please keep in touch.”

Ugh. Ugh. And ugh.


When you get another job rejection letter...

Another rejection letter? You’ve GOT to be kidding me!


I quickly learned that despite having a breadth of experience, excellent background and an extensive list of accomplishments, I was going to need a new plan.  By the end of last month, I had heard it all. More often than not, I was either over qualified or an exciting, promising candidate but would be abroad. If nothing else, I could make money writing an e-course called “50 Shades of Saying No.”

But I knew I could create a new path for myself, but it was going to be a bit harder than I intended.  Lucky for me, I like a good challenge.

LIFE TRUTH #4: Quit fighting what isn’t working, and pay attention to the path you are traveling.  All paths lead to something.

There are three key things I know about myself:

  • When I stand still long enough and remain patient, the answer I’m seeking is always in front of me. Sometimes I just choose not to see it.
  • I always land on my feet, right where I’m supposed to be.
  • When it seems like I lack direction, I’m being forced to figure it out. (Spoiler alert: I figure it out every time.)


Finally, I threw my hands up and said, “F*ck it. I’m going to work for myself and create opportunities for myself.”  Now, that’s what’s up!

That, my friends, is precisely what I’ve begun to do.

LIFE TRUTH #5: The only thing that remains consistent in this life is change.

What you are doing today doesn’t always need to be done again tomorrow. Just because it’s easy doesn’t mean it’s right for you. And because you are good at doing something doesn’t mean you need to keep doing it.

If you do the things you love, success will find you. You may just discover you’ve been standing in your own way and limiting your success. This is YOUR life. Design it in a way that appeals to YOU.



Out With The Old, In With The New

Out With The Old, In With The New

Pairs Well With… “The doors will be opened to those bold enough to knock.” – Unknown

Out with the old, in with the new.  I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for 2017.  For whatever reason, the day after Christmas leaves me a little sad.  It’s likely because the anticipation that the holiday brings subsides and all the shimmer and sparkle is taken down. Once that happens, my mind starts to think about what the fresh start of the new year will bring.  Will it be good?  What will I do?  Will this be my year?  My thoughts dance around the endless possibilities in store for me and the many things I can and want to accomplish in the next 365 days.

As I look back on 2016, I still can’t peg if this was a particularly good or bad year.  It was….different, to say the least.  Lots of emotion, lots of new things, lots of adventure.

I took my first solo trip and, by reader vote, went to Sedona.  It was the best trip ever…

I’d go back in a heartbeat.

…followed by a trip to Alabama a few days later, which ended up being pretty much the worst trip ever.  (But hey, my picture turned out marvelously.)

Carrot cake by the ocean? Well, duh. What else are you going to do in Alabama?

I managed to make some shit…

Bubbly cheese dip?! Yes, please.

…try some shit…

There’s a first for everything, including raw oysters. #neveragain

….and then rant about some shit that gained me national recognition

It’s true.

…and then set a record for most uses of the word “shit” within a blog post.  Just kidding.

I had my first photoshoot and put myself out there in a severely uncomfortable way, but one that got me published…

Somewhere in the middle, I stopped to think about what is and isn’t working for me in my life today, who I want to become and what I want to accomplish.  I guess you could say in some regards it was a record year.

Yet, somehow I feel like I didn’t do enough with myself.  I don’t know what I feel like I was missing, but something.  And I can’t put my finger on it.  It’s something in between feeling like I didn’t challenge myself as much as I could have and didn’t live up to my own expectations. Somewhere in the middle, I think I became complacent.  You certainly wouldn’t guess it from the pictures, that’s for sure, but something inside of me stalled out and became idle.

2016 became a regroup year for me and I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that. But next year, I plan to do more: be bolder, live more freely, be less guarded and embrace the unexpected without question.

Because when you do these things, the world becomes your oyster.

Cheers to 2017!


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