Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Life Management Tips, Part One

Just a few things ...

Learning and Working
College isn't the only road to success. Tech schools, on-the-job training, self-instruction and even noncredit courses can give your career a boost.

Keep learning. Acquire a new skill every year. Everything you learn to do with your hands or mind teaches you something else, some less tangible skill. Gardening taught me patience. Cooking taught me discipline. Using social media taught me to edit myself.

In your first years of employment, dress simply. Always shop sales and don't overlook resale shops. Don't be a slave to fashion.

Putting Down Roots
Buy an affordable home in a good neighborhood. Choose a lot that gives you room for expansion. If you buy a fixer upper, focus on making it the home you want.

Get to know your neighbors. Participate in neighborhood events. Loan out tools, or offer to help with DIY projects.

Plant a garden. Being able to harvest your own food is satisfying.

Support local farm markets. Get to know regional growers. Visit pick-your-own farms and farm stands.

Get involved in a community organization, a theater group, art center, sports league, or garden club. Find a church you feel comfortable with and get involved. Volunteer. You meet the best people that way.

Use the library. Subscribe to a community newspaper. Go to city council meetings. Support the YMCA. Become part of your community.

Seeing the World
Put aside money for travel. In your early years, try to take one major trip every two or three years. Planning and researching the trip will be as much fun as travel itself. Having something to look forward to makes life more fun.

If you can't afford long-distance travel, make day trips around your region. Take Sunday drives in the country. Go camping. Once or twice a year, schedule a long weekend in the closest big city. Save and don't rely on credit for anything but plane fare. Pay off any accumulated travel expenses as soon as you can.

To be continued...

Another Post About Lands' End

The Lands End we know and love is back! The mens' catalog we received today is loaded with the styles, colors and fabrics - lots of plaids - we've come to expect from the Wisconins-based merchant.

Better yet, gone is the type of cover photo we've seen in the last few years: European-style preppies cavorting at country manors. The photo below was taken in the Chicago River.

What's more, I actually ordered four items from the recent woman's catalog; they'll arrive tomorrow. Quick service!

Nine months ago when news broke that Lands End had ousted Federica Marchionni, I successfully fought the urge to opine on the matter.

After all, the somewhat-hapless CEO was only doing what her board told her to do.

And clearly, her board hadn't the foggiest notion of how to revitalize the sagging Lands' End brand.

(And after having written two other posts on Lands End, I didn't want to give the impression this is a Lands' End blog.)

Under Marchionni's stewardship, Lands' End went from selling sporty, reliable classics (albeit somewhat tarnished by the Sears' association) to slim, nipped-waist clothes for rich-looking people who appeared more like Europe's upper crust than down-to-earth Midwestern sailors.

Then there was the Gloria Steinem thing that ticked everyone off, or so it seemed.

I felt sorry for Marchionni. I've been a CEO, albeit of a non-profit. I know how it's impossible to be successful when your board has no idea what it's doing, or what direction it should go. You might please one contingent but annoy another one. They need to be aligned before you, the leader, can succeed.

This is common. In fact, I'm involved with an organization now that while well-intentioned, hasn't performed the visioning and strategic planning that could take it from well-received efforts to phenomenally successful efforts.

Back to Federica. Slimming down the Lands' End silhouette confused and frustrated long-time shoppers. It was not a financial win for the struggling company.

So in September of last year, the company announced Marchionni's sudden departure. Two interim leaders were brought in, and this winter, Lands End announced the hiring of Jerome Griffith, the Tuma Holding CEO who has also worked for other stellar brands.

I was encouraged by the news that Griffith, unlike Marchionni, had moved to Wisconsin. He and his wife bought a condo in one of my favorite Madison, Wis., neighborhoods, the Hillsdale/Hill Farms area. Let's hope he opens a Lands' End store nearby soon.

I was further buoyed by the news that Lands End would be mounting a return to its roots and phasing out the Canvas line. The hope that it would do so was behind my responses to a customer survey I received via e-mail about 5-6 months ago.

As a woman of a certain age, I like loose-fitting clothing that hides my flaws. I prefer sporty classics to chic styles. I'm a gardener, walker, traveler and sometimes gym rat. I live in a small midwestern town. I seldom travel to large cities, at least in the US, and I have little need for LBDs (although I always have one or two in my closet, and currently, they are both from Lands End).

(But I'm pretty sure the Canvas line predates Marchionni. I seem to recall reading about it in 2013, at least 18 months before Marchionni began running the company, mostly from Manhattan. Not that it matters. But let's be fair.)

In the intervening years, while Lands' End was trying to find itself, I discovered another Wisconsin company, Duluth Trading, that is even more basic and more no-nonsense than the Lands' End I grew to love more than 20 years ago. Duluth Trading offers no LBDs, but plenty of clothing for gardening, walking and tooling about town, whether on a bike, on foot, or in my SUV. The fabric is good and the colors are rich.

I've now got two options for no-nonsense clothing from Wisconsin retailers.

Thank you, Lands' End, for listening.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Where Do We Go From Here?

I woke up Wednesday morning to find a Facebook post from an Indiana-bred friend, urging unity.


Even if Donald Trump had not presented himself as vile and boorish, as uninformed and unprepared, as devious and divisive, supporters of Hillary Clinton could hardly be expected to immediately unite behind him.

I was a Bernie Sanders supporter until late summer, when I finally did enough reading up on Hillary Clinton's character and beliefs to enthusiastically support her. I voted for Bernie in the primary, just as I voted for unsuccessful candidates in the past, including Paul Tsongas in 1992 and the Rev. Jesse Jackson in 1988.

But on Election Night, I was prepared for a Trump victory. I took Michael Moore seriously, and I agreed with my husband when he predicted Clinton would take the popular vote but lose the electoral college. I'm no political savant, but I was a political reporter for a few years and I've covered more elections than I can count.

Things can go very wrong. I know this. I just didn't feel it - a Clinton victory - would happen.

Still, I was not prepared to get behind Trump less than 12 hours after the polls closed. Are you kidding me? I'm not prepared to unite with Republicans ever. Yet I don't consider myself a Democrat.

After the sappy posts about uniting, came the bashing of protestors and those who failed to immediate ly declare unity with a president-elect who vows to gut Obamacare and everything else our first black president has accomplished.

In between were fearful comments from LGBT friends, concerned that Trump would abdicate, figuratively speaking, to Mike Pence and various and sundry GOP thugs like Paul Ryan and Rudy Guiliani.

So I began unfriending and blocking. I like that social media platforms allow this. I wish it were so easy in real life. I do not need negativity on top of what may well become a global tragedy.

Three people fell from grace yesterday, one more this morning. A few more are on shaky ground.

Those of us who feared a Donald Trump presidency need time to vent, time to process, time to heal. Then we need to consider how we will move forward to ensure that in two years the destructive forces of Trump, Ryan, Guiliani and others like Scott Walker and Christ Christie will not continue on their collective hate-filled path.

We also need time to watch what unfolds as Trump makes his plans to move forward as the ill-equipped leader of the free world. I do not think he can do it. I do not think he will.

During the campaign, Donald Trump gave us no reason to consider uniting with him. We - those of us who hoped for a different result on Election Night - need time to grieve and make our own plans for moving forward.

Please don't urge unity. Please don't criticize us for objecting.

Frankly, to do anything but watch now would be foolhardy. Let's see what happens next. And keep up the protests.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

How to Survive

I started this post about three weeks ago, and have been tinkering with it, changing the introduction, for some time now.

This morning, after a long sleepless night, I got up hoping I'd had a bad nightmare. No such luck.

I read think pieces online. I saw my friend's posts on Facebook. I watched Hillary Clinton's speech just a while ago.

Now, what I think is this. We need today to mourn and regroup, recover from last night's madness. And then we need to take charge.

Here's my personal prescription for dealing with the notion of a monster like Donald Trump in the White House:

Take baby steps. Volunteer for the local United Way, community foundation, or some other group that helps fight poverty and inequality. Become involved in a PTO or other group that helps schools and kids.

Get involved in politics on a local level. Go to local meetings; they are open to the public, with very rare exceptions. Start with the school board or the city council. Run for office, or help someone else run for office.  At the very least, let your mayor know you'd like to serve on a citizen committee. I've served on four such committees over the past few years, and its been a very rewarding and very interesting experience.

Join or start a League of Women Voters. Our community doesn't have one but for a time a branch of the local women's club took an active roll in promoting issues and politics.

Make your own world brighter. Join a church for spiritual sustenance and grounding. Invite friends over for pizza. Exercise. Make regular medical and dental visits. Embark on some DIY projects, or take up a new hobby. Pare down; hold a yard sale. Simplify your life, and your kids' lives. Take time to breath; don't rush from activity to activity. Seek balance.

Make someone else's world better. Our community has an organization that connects donors with needs. Many of the organization's projects are small ones, like collecting jars of peanut butter and jelly for kids' summer snacks, or holding a diaper-bag drive for new mothers. Do something small to help someone. Do lots of small things to help.

Build community. Go to community events and become part of your town or neighborhood. Meanwhile, build a sense of place at home. That may be as simple as rearranging the furniture, or as complex as building a new addition or landscaping your yard.

Broaden your horizons. If you can afford to, travel. Make day trips or long weekend jaunts, if nothing else. A change of scenery is always refreshing.

Read history. Learn about past responses to unfortunate turns of events. Learn from 1930s Germany. Learn from Reconstruction-era America. Read about real leaders, Winston Churchill and Franklyn Delano Roosevelt.

Find your tribe. Make friends with like-minded people. You are not alone.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Lands' End, come home to the Midwest

A few days ago I chimed in on Lands' End's Gloria Steinem controversy, which was badly mishandled by the catalog company.

But I didn't offer a solution, although I hinted at what I would do if I ran the Dodgeville, Wis., firm, whose reputation was damaged by its affiliation with the once-venerable Sears.

As a former public relations specialist and ad-agency creative type, I have a few ideas that involve truly taking the company back to its roots.

Lands' End was founded when Gary Comer, an avid sailor and Chicago native, left his ad agency job to explore Europe. When he returned, he started his own business selling sailing gear. He was joined by two Olympic Gold medalists, Robert Halperin, a sailor and football player, and also a Chicagoan, and Richard Stearns, a sailor.

Sailing and Chicago. Get it? That's why I suggested using a photo relating to the annual Chicago-to-Mackinac race on the catalog cover. I am sure the Chicago Yacht Club would love the tie-in.

The Midwest is full of sailors. I grew up in a city on Lake Michigan and summer here means sailing and racing. The shores of Lake Michigan and other Great Lakes are dotted with yacht clubs, marinas, beaches and lighthouses (the Lands' End icon). Here's a map of Lake Michigan lights. See what I mean?

But instead, Lands' End focuses on saving the Alcatraz Lighthouse. Is anyone at Lands' End paying attention?

Yes, I know: Alcatraz is a name everyone knows. But there are plenty of wealthy San Franciscans who will happily support its salvation as a local landmark.

Lands' End needs to take baby steps and build support in its own back yard. Make friends at home by supplying durable and classic sportswear we can wear sailing, bicycling, playing and watching football, raking leaves and doing all the things we do and that customers across the country do, too.

The Midwest offers scores of sports and outdoor opportunities, from Big Ten and NFL football to the Birkebeiner to local 5 and 10k walks and runs. We love baseball, softball and all manner of outdoor activities. We play tennis. We golf. We do it all.

Ever heard of Lambeau Field and the Green Bay Packers? Soldier Field and the Chicago Bears? Door County? Michigan Dunes? Boundary Waters?

Smart company marketing pros would have looked closer to home for assistance in bringing back the ailing company.

It's really pretty sad.

Lands' End not only erred in its approach to rebuilding its brand, it erred in hiring Federica Marchionni, who stipulated she'd take the job only if she could remain in New York City.

That was a warning sign, but no one was paying attention.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Lands' End, you've made everyone unhappy

In the 1980s when I was drowning in a sea of student-loan debt, Lands' End was everywhere in Wisconsin, where I live. Well-made, classic American clothing, but beyond my budget until the company opened a seconds shop on State Street in Downtown Madison.

Since then, I've turned to Lands' End for everything from turtlenecks to LBDs. I was cautiously optimistic when Sears acquired the company a decade ago, remembering the quality and value the former behemoth catalog firm represented in my youth.

I continued to order parkas and pima-cotton tops from LL Bean, and was never disappointed in quality or service, given the reasonable cost and the fast delivery.

But Lands' End was losing other customers. The company began to plot a comeback in late 2014.

I was excited when a new CEO was hired a year ago. I didn't see her as an especially good fit for a company that got its start with canvas sails, but I thought the results of the transformation she would lead might be interesting.

The fake preppy family gatherings of rail-thin models on the cover of the new catalogs didn't do much for me, but then I'm part-Sconnie: Down to earth and suspicious of pretension.  I'd have used photos of sailors in the Chicago-Mac race or something similar. Lands' End needs to return to its core customers, and that wasn't happening.

A week ago, I tossed the spring catalog into the recycling after a brief glance. I've been following Gloria Steinem for decades. In college, some people thought I looked like her. I didn't bother to read the center-spread article because I simply don't see what Gloria has to do with sportswear.

The backlash from conservative, "pro-life" customers didn't really surprise me, but Lands' Ends' knee-jerk response was disappointing. Quickly apologize and scrub the company Web site? Really?

One of the cardinal rules of crisis management is to "tell it all and tell it fast." It's not "back down and do it fast." Someone, a group of someones, on the LE management team acted too quickly, fearing the company's parochial-school uniform sales would be damaged.

Seriously? They didn't consider this when they chose to feature a polarizing figure in their catalog and on their Web site? Does this company know what it wants to sell? I have my doubts.

That's what worries me. The company ended 2015 on a disappointing note. Now it's made a seemingly foolish public relations decision that's made everyone unhappy. Established customers who like and respect Steinem are unhappy with Lands' End capitulating to anti-abortion types.

Gloria Steinem stands for more than a woman's right to choose. But she doesn't have much to do with Lands' End. The decision to feature her was not well-considered.

Nor was the decision to yank her image off the company Web site. Read what PR specialists have to say here.

I won't threaten to boycott Lands' End because of the decision to throw Gloria Steinem under the bus. I have no plans to purchase anything this spring or summer, but who knows what the future will bring? Lands End made some management changes earlier this year, and I wouldn't be a bit surprised if more were to follow.

Current management is confused about goals and core customers, I suspect, and has little clue as to how the company might regain some of its former luster.

It promises to be an interesting spectacle to observe.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Clothing for Women of a Certain Age

For the past two years, I have been appalled at the clothing offered in catalogs and at my local department stores. Everything seems to be dingy in color and decorated with bits of lace.

I cringe.

Back in the day, I wore tailored Jones New York and Liz Claiborne to work, accented with certain pieces from Ralph Lauren and The Talbots. When I moved to a smaller town where I earned less and the style was more casual, I found my best value buys to be department store brands.

I have never owned a designer piece in my life, or anything remotely couture. When I moved into a CEO job that required a few pieces of evening wear, I found those at Nordstrom's in Chicago.

Never any lace. Just not me. I knew at age 13 that my style was tailored, bordering on sporty. In high school, I drooled over Bobbie Brooks, Garland and John Meyer of Norwich in my Seventeen Magazine. I knew this was me: Plain cardigans and crew necks, plaid A-line skirts and jumpers, solid turtlenecks, tiny sprigged-print blouses, plain T-shirts and jeans, striped pullovers in summer. Sneakers, loafers, ballet flats and low pumps.

In my 20s, I was lured away for a time, attempting to achieve the Stevie Nicks look, favoring ruffly wrap skirts and flowered tops with long, flowing sleeves. And fringed shawls. It didn't last. In grad school, I wore sweatshirts and Dockers - much more my style.

The fashions of the mid-80s to mid-90s were too large for a short woman. Finally fashion turned my way again about 10 years ago. It was a short run.

Today, retired but busy with volunteer work, I live in jeans and khakis, with turtlenecks, tartan plaids and corduroy. A twinset and pearls for dressier occasions. I don't buy much, other than lingerie and pajamas, it seems. These items don't change much.

I love packing for travel because it forces me to choose items that can be worn together and that serve double duty. I love choosing, oh maybe 12 items, most in a neutral color. One trip to Europe was gray, black and white. Another was navy and white. An autumn trip to the southwest of France was black with aubergine and rust. Scarves are a must in Europe; they tie together many ensembles.

But that's travel. In general, I have way to many things hanging in my closet. I've given just about all I can part with to Goodwill or St. Vincent de Paul.

I fantasize about a 10-or-12-item capsule wardrobe. Determining how I could do this is something that puts me to sleep at night.

If I had to cull my wardrobe down to 12 items, this is what would stay:

  • Little black dress
  • Blue jeans
  • Tailored white blouse
  • Blue chambray shirt
  • Black cardigan sweater
  • Black turtleneck
  • Ivory pullover sweater
  • Striped T-shirt
  • Plaid flannel shirt
  • White cotton T-shirt
  • Black dress pants
  • Tweed hacking jacket

Since it's cool where I live for all but 2 1/2 months of the year, I could actually get by with this wardrobe. I'd augment it with a camel wool coat and a khaki raincoat plus an olive or brown barn coat. Maybe a gray sweatshirt for really cold days. That brings my total to 16 items, excluding undergarments, pajamas, robe and shoes.

I could do it.

It would sure cut down on clutter.

Here's an idea I love: Cutting down to 37 items. I could do that and it would give me more flexibility than the 16 items above. Among other things, I'd add: A white cardigan, a red pullover, an ivory turtleneck, a navy blue dress, khaki trousers, a blue Oxford cloth blouse, an ivory spring and summer jacket, a cotton floral dress, a deep red jacket, black leggings, a black tunic, a white tunic and tops in blue, yellow, pink and turquoise.