Hello and Happy Summer!

As many of you may know, I have a serious creative side! I grew up as a performer on stage doing singing, acting and dancing in local community and regional theaters. I wrote poetry, short stories, and kept a journal since I was 8 years old. So creativity in general, and writing specifically, has been a big part of my life for many years.

And don’t even get me started on reading! I am a voracious reader across many genres. Last year, I read over 80 books and this year, I am already up to 32. I not only love to read, I love to review books. So that has become a fun hobby of mine.

In 2010, I wrote a non-fiction book called “The Ultimate Life Organizer: An Interactive Guide to a Simpler, Less Stressful & More Organized Life,” which was published by Peter Pauper Press in 2011. It sold out after a limited print run, so is now out of print, but can still be found as a used book through select bookseller sites. (If any of you have read it and loved it, please consider posting a review on Goodreads and/or Amazon. Great reviews help an author with their future books. And as I’m busy writing more works in progress that I want to publish in the future, my reviews will be important for an agent and a publisher to look at. So thank you, thank you, thank you!)

Now, I am trying something completely exciting and different… writing fiction! I am learning so much by taking online and in-person classes and workshops on craft, dialogue, description, character development, plotting, story telling and more. To that end, I attended the San Francisco Writers Conference in February, which was an amazing 3-day experience. I have also joined the Women Fiction Writers Association and will be attending their retreat in New Mexico this fall. And I am loving every minute of this creative journey!!

Through my business, I have had the pleasure of speaking to audiences across the U.S. (and around the world!), as well as coaching with private clients, about the concept of life-work balance. And what I hear from most people is that they want to pursue their passion projects, enjoy their hobbies and interests, and be able to live full lives while enjoying their work.

So I am sharing this passion project with you so you can see life-work balance in action. The new LisaMontanaroWrites.com website is an example of life-work balance. This is a side project for me, a hobby I have to make time for when not working on my business, with private clients, or traveling to and from speaking engagements. I love my business and the work I get to do, but I also love my writing. And creating this website is a chance for me to give my writing (and reading and book reviewing!) the place that it deserves.

So without further adieu… I invite you to visit LisaMontanaroWrites.com. I want the website and blog to be a place to spark creativity, including writing, reading, and story telling. It is my creative playground! And I hope you will join me there.

Grab a cup of coffee or tea (or even better, a glass of vino!) and poke around.

Read some blog posts (and while you’re there, subscribe to the blog so you can get updates). Enjoy some book reviews. Share your favorite books while I share mine.

Pass the site onto others. Interact, comment, and stay awhile.

I hope you like it. But more importantly, I hope it inspires and motivates you on your own creative journey, whatever that entails. Make time for your own passion projects! And when you do, share them with me as I want to see YOUR life-work balance in action.

bookaholicI know it is June, so it may seem strange to bring up New Year’s resolutions. But in some ways, it is perfect. What’s the point of setting a New Year’s Resolution if you don’t commit to it? So I thought I’d share mine with you in case you want to try it yourself at any point in the year, or perhaps as inspiration to get back to your own New Year’s Resolution.

I woke up in 2015 and realized that all I did was read business content all the time. And while that may be great for a business owner, I was getting bored with it. Thus, I made a resolution to go back to reading for pleasure, which has always been one of my favorite hobbies since I first learned to read as a child.

I absolutely love to read. It is one of my great joys in life. But I had reached a point where I felt my reading always had to somehow improve my business or provide skills or information that I could pass onto my clients. It started to feel like a chore, and a nagging to-do list. My stack of “to read” business books lined my shelves, but when I looked at them, I wasn’t jazzed to dig in.

So I decided to do an about face and go back to my first love, which was reading for pleasure. I joined the Goodreads challenge and set a goal for 12 books in 2015, all personal, non-business. I wound up reading 15 books last year and loved every minute of it! I wasn’t as serious about it in the first half of the year, but once I took a month off and went to Italy last summer, I couldn’t stop reading for pleasure!!!

me_before_youSo that brought me to January 2016 and setting this year’s New Year’s Resolution. I decided to up the ante and set 24 books to read for the year. I have already passed that and am up to 27 books to date. So I just raised my 2016 reading goal to 45.

I took all the business books away from my nightstand and replaced them with personal books. I’ve joined some awesome online virtual book clubs, and now I’m devouring a book a week! I always have a book I’m reading. And I do still read the old fashioned book versions. I bring them with me everywhere I go so if I have any “found time,” I read. I also make time for reading in my day — every day now. Furthermore, I downloaded an app called Overdrive, which allows me to borrow audio books and ebooks for free from my local library. So now while I read one traditional bound book, I also listen to an audiobook (not at the exact same time of course!). I love listening to books while I exercise, walk my dogs, cook, drive in my car, etc.

the_year_we_turned40I have never been a fan of reading a book on a device. But with all of the business travel I do, I decided to give it a try. I downloaded the Kindle app onto my iPad and voila, a whole new world of e-reading is at my fingertips. I admit that it is still not my favorite way to read, but when traveling for 10 days to 2 weeks, it sure beats lugging around hard cover or even paperback books.

And here’s an added benefit. Reading has sparked renewed interest in a major hobby that I had put aside… writing! I have always loved writing. I have been keeping a journal since I am 8 years old (yes, by hand!). I wrote and published an organizing and life coaching book years ago, which was a fabulous experience. But again, that was business focused. My first love of writing was always personal … journaling, poetry, short stories, essays, etc. I started writing a memoir in 2005 and have now turned back to that and am excited to give it my writing attention in the future.

drink_wine-read_booksAnd have I mentioned I’m loving every minute of it and don’t miss the business books at all? In the end, what makes me a great entrepreneur is my mind and spirit. And I am feeding it with lots of great fiction, nonfiction, memoirs, poetry, and short stories. And I think not only am I better for it, but so is my business and my clients. Because reading is good for the soul. Yes, even the soul of a business owner. 🙂

 

 

 

 

I was getting dressed for a formal event recently and as I put on my outfit, which I took great pleasure in choosing, I got a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I smiled as I recalled a memory. When I was a little girl, I used to watch my older female cousins getting ready for events and getting all “dolled up” as my family called it. I was in awe of them… their beauty, their fashion sense, their maturity, their womanhood. I thought ahead to when I would be a grown woman and could carry myself like that, wear sophisticated clothes, and attend formal events. As an adult woman, wearing nice clothing when the occasion calls for it has become the norm. That got me thinking about all of the things I dreamed of when I was a little girl and imagined myself being or doing as an adult woman. There are many things I longed to do when I was “old enough” or when it became socially acceptable to do them.

graduationFor example, the younger version of myself dreamed of driving a car someday. I got my drivers license when I was 16 years old and have loved driving ever since. (I come from a family of Italians who love their cars and driving, but that also comes with a love of speed so I often set the cruise control to avoid getting speeding tickets!) I also dreamed of being able to drink when I finally turned 21. Of course, that day came and went, and now I enjoy drinking socially, especially wine (living right near California Wine Country has its advantages!) and craft/microbrew beer (I am married to an Irishman who loves his beer and instilled that love in me too over our years together).

parisI also would imagine myself falling in love and getting married, traveling to amazing far off places, and being financially stable (yes, I did think about that at a young age as my mother instilled in me the importance of being a strong independent woman that could support myself financially!). But there were some things that I just didn’t think to wish for, but now I realize are so vitally important and only come with age and maturity. Like having the wisdom of years of experience and formal education under my belt, feeling sexy, confident and secure, and accepting and appreciating my body — often feelings that a young girl doesn’t get to experience, and sadly, even many grown women too.

all_dressed_upWhat this little glimpse into my past taught me was that we probably wished for many things when we were younger that we now just consider par for the course. And that’s just the way it is. But take a moment to remember what you wished for, or hoped to do or be when you grew up into the woman you are now. It is pretty powerful! It may help you to appreciate the woman you are now rather than wish for your youth again. Yes, being able to stop the clock and not age anymore would be amazing… and superhuman. But that is not in the cards for any of us. What we can do is appreciate that where we are now is pretty darn good. Maybe you are actually living the dreams that your younger self longed for. Maybe you had some big life dreams and they came true. Or perhaps other types of more subtle dreams came true. Like being a fashionista and wearing gorgeous sophisticated clothing, having a life long love affair (what little girl doesn’t wish for that?!), being a “smart cookie” that excels in your business/career, or just having the self confidence and security that the younger version of you hadn’t grown into yet.

Take a moment to look at the woman you are through the eyes of your younger self. I hope you love what you see.

welcome_to_CAIn July 2012, my husband and I sold our house in Warwick, New York and moved over 3,000 miles across the United States to the town of Davis, California. What prompted this move was that my husband was accepted into a prestigious residency to specialize in veterinary internal medicine at the UC Davis Veterinary Teaching Hospital. This required that we sell our home in New York, and rent a home in Davis, as the residency is for a three-year period, and we have no idea if we will be sticking around after it ends.

On our first trip to Davis in November 2011 for his interview, we toured the town of Davis and got an idea of the real estate. Most of the homes are either mid-century modern (in the Northeast we just call this a “ranch”), Spanish mission style, or bungalow style. Square footage wise, they are much smaller than the homes back in the Hudson River Valley of New York. Although our NY home was a modest Cape Cod style, by Davis standards, it was quite large. It was approximately 2,000 square feet of living space, plus a 2.5 car garage, a full basement, an attic, and a shed out in the yard. I considered us to live a somewhat uncluttered lifestyle in NY, but after seeing how much smaller the living and storage spaces were in Davis, it dawned on us that we needed to downsize.  The rental home that we wound up signing a lease for is 1,400 square feet of living space, with a one car garage, no basement, and no shed out in the yard.

house_in_ny

Our house in New York.

And so the downsizing began. Some items were easy to part with: anything that had to do with the winter weather could be sold or donated. That included our snowblower, shovels, etc. Also, anything having to do with our pool could be sold or donated, as we would no longer have a pool in our yard in California (ironically, we now have a fireplace which we did not have in New York, but no pool!). We also had about 3/4 of an acre in New York, and here in California we have a small compact yard with a little grass and a lot more patio and garden areas, which would be tended to by our new landlord. This meant that we could also sell our ride-on lawnmower, and other yard equipment. (Interestingly enough, the items that were the hottest tickets for sale were our ladders! We had several people call up and ask us to save them until they could come by, and they wound up getting into a bidding war. Who knew!)

I made a list of every item on a room-by-room basis that was going to California, versus every item that could be sold or donated. Our landlord took measurements for us of the smaller rental home in California so that we knew what could fit. We then had a huge moving sale on a weekend day. We hung up flyers around town, spread the word, and then lugged everything into the garage and organized it all by category. We had some helpers, which we were very thankful for. In the long run, we wound up selling pretty much everything we wanted to, and the few items that didn’t sell got donated.

We then had movers put the remaining items in a moving truck, which we then were reunited with a few weeks later in California when we were moving into the rental home. Because my husband had already started his busy residency, it was my job to unpack, organize, and put everything away in the new home. And here’s what was so fascinating about it. Although I had spent years as a hands-on professional organizer, I was actually nervous! The house was so much smaller. Yes we downsized, but I was still concerned about whether everything would fit. So I took my time, examining each item carefully, checking through the storage in the home, measuring, trying items in certain places, etc. In the long run, we didn’t just fit everything, we even had extra space available. And I loved it.

I really thought I would miss certain items. In fact, that’s one of the biggest things that holds back people from decluttering in the first place — the fear that you’ll release something and then immediately miss it or want it back. That wasn’t the case for me, not in the least. There were a few sentimental items that I even had to part with, like my beloved mother’s couch and love seat (sadly, my Mom passed away in 2010). But these items were given to close friends and family, which made me feel like I was sharing her with them.

officeNow as I sit here, a year and a half after relocating, I realize that downsizing was an amazing opportunity to revisit some old friends, send them on their way, sell or donate items to people that really wanted and needed them, and move to our California home with a fresh perspective and the clean slate that we wanted. I love having less things, and knowing that pretty much everything I need fits into a small space. It actually can become addictive. I was always one to think carefully about not acquiring too many things, and practiced what I preached as a professional organizer. But going through this type of downsizing myself gave me a renewed appreciation and understanding for how some of my clients felt over the years after they decluttered. This downsizing process made me realize that I can keep stripping down further and further. It’s very freeing. You have more flexibility and mobility, less to take care of, less to insure, less to worry about. Just… Less. Which in the long run gives you a feeling of abundance. And that is how I discovered the upside of downsizing.

If you want to work on some home projects, including getting more organized, check out my new La Dolce Vita 6-Week Group Life Coaching Program. One of the topics we will cover is getting your “house” in order – literally and figuratively. It’s an opportunity for you to focus on all of those home projects that you’ve been putting aside. But that’s just one of the awesome topics that we will be covering in the program. We will also be covering productivity, life-work balance, health and fitness, relationships, and finances. It’s powerful, but affordable. We start on February 20, with early bird rate in effect until February 13. Visit LisaMontanaro.com/lmg-university/LaDolceVita for details and registration.

I relocated last year from New York to Northern California, specifically, to the college town of Davis. There are many things that make Davis a fabulous place to live: fantastic weather, an abundant farmers market, a University smack in the middle of town, a plethora of outdoor activities, proximity to the mountains and ocean (not to mention California wine country), and the amazing city of San Francisco about 60 miles away. But one of the things I love most about Davis is the bicycle culture.

bikes_in_DavisI read about Davis’ bike-friendly reputation before our relocation, and even experienced a little bit of it when we came out here to look for housing before we moved. But nothing prepared me for how truly unique and awesome it is. There are approximately 65,000 bicycles in the town of Davis — approximately one for every person. The bike lane was supposedly invented here, and there are bicycle lanes on almost every road in town. In addition, there is an intricate greenbelt system with bike paths that weave through residential neighborhoods, downtown, and campus, making it easy to bike miles without ever having to roll onto a road.

Davisites, as those that live here are called, bike for exercise, commuting to and from work and school, to do errands, and just about everything in between. It is not uncommon to see business events where professionals don’t only carry a briefcase, but also their bike helmet. Parents still get their exercise even if their little ones are too young to ride a bike by pulling their babies in a baby bike carrier. When school lets out, parents don’t line up in their cars the way they do in most other towns, but wait to accompany their kids home by bike. Some of the kids bike alongside, and others jump on the back of a tandem. The farmers market is surrounded by locked up bikes waiting for their owners to return with all of their farmers market goodies to be transported home in backpacks, clip on bike bags, or baskets affixed to the front or back of every type of bicycle.

I’d love to be able to say that every single person wears a helmet. Unfortunately that’s not the case. In California, it’s only a law that children under 18 must wear a helmet, leaving it to the discretion of an adult as to whether he or she chooses to protect his or her head. In other respects, the laws pertaining to bicycles are very strict. Cyclists must follow pretty much all of the same laws that an automobile does. Thankfully, because most people that live in Davis love the bike culture, drivers have a profound respect for cyclists.

loaded_down_bikeI already loved cycling when I lived in New York. My husband and I would ride for exercise and pleasure. A few years ago, we did a self-guided bicycle tour through the region of Provence, France. We biked about 155 miles over 5 days and loved every minute of it.  In some ways biking in New York was harder than biking here in Davis. We lived in the beautiful Hudson River Valley of New York, in a town called Warwick, which is filled with lots of hills, some of them quite large. Davis is blessedly flat from the standpoint of a cyclist, and all of the hills and mountains surround it, as opposed to being in it.  This makes for some pretty pleasant and fast cycling.

fruit_standI joined a cycling group in Davis and we bike often to the nearby town of Winters. It is a lovely ride totaling about 32 miles from my house round-trip. We bike past campus, olive trees, walnut farms, grapevines, and stop for breakfast at a great little cafe to fuel up for the ride home. When I get back from the ride, I always stop at the farmers market to load up on fresh fruits, vegetables, and baked goods before heading home. I fill up my bike bags and sometimes even have to balance an extra bag hanging from my handlebars. My new-found friends have told me that I am now a true Davisite because I’m able to carry so much by bike!

Using a bicycle as a means of transportation is a bonus in many ways. It obviously helps to keep one in shape because it is such good exercise. It also is better for the environment because there are so many less cars being used around town, which means less emissions being released into the environment. It’s also good for one’s wallet, because gas is so expensive these days, so it’s a convenient way to save money.

But by far my favorite thing about using the bicycle as a means of transportation is the unique vantage point that one gets to experience from being on two wheels. Life doesn’t pass by as fast on a bicycle as it does when you’re in a car. You’re exposed to fresh air, nature, sounds, the weather, people, etc. Yes, sometimes that means you might get caught in the rain. Sometimes it means that you might be a little hot and actually break a sweat. You do have to stop for the same traffic lights and pedestrian crossings as you would in a car, which means having a lot of patience.

Davis_viewIt also takes longer to get to many of your destinations, so you need to plan out your trips more carefully.  You also may wind up riding your bike home in the dark, which means preparing yourself with lights and reflectors.  One of the most romantic nights that my husband and I experienced since we moved here to Davis was riding our bikes home in the dark after we had gone to dinner and a movie together. The moonlight was streaming down on us, the air was crisp and fresh, and it felt like it was just the two of us on the road.

Is bicycling as a means of transportation, and as such a large part of the culture of a town for everyone? No, of course not. But for Davisites, and this brand spanking new member of the community, it’s perfect.

welcomeIf you have been following my blog for awhile now, you know that last year in the summer of 2012, my husband and I sold our home in the Hudson Valley of NY (about an hour northwest of Manhattan), sold a bunch of possessions, said goodbye to family and friends, packed up our two dogs, and drove across country for 13 days, visiting 13 states and driving 3,600 miles. Why? To relocate to Northern California so that my husband could follow his dream of doing a prestigious 3-year residency in veterinary internal medicine at the University of California at Davis Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

Well, an entire year has passed since that relocation. And boy, am I loving California! And what’s interesting is that seems to surprise some people. They seem shocked to find out that a New Yorker could love California so much! But for those of you that know me better, you know that I thrive on change, and am a life-long learner with an adventurous spirit. Here in NorCal, I’m choosing to focus more on fun and recreation, and being there to support my husband through his very busy veterinary residency. I am enjoying biking, swimming, learning Italian, taking dance classes, doing community theater, and walking our dog (sadly, up until a month ago, that was “dogs,” plural, but we just lost our 15 year old Shepard mix…) in our new neighborhood. Yes, I am working a lot too (I love my business and the work I get to do, so it never feels like “work” for me thankfully), but am also enjoying many non-work activities.

liveSo I decided to start a new blog series called Adventures of a NY Gal in NorCal to share some of my experiences. I am an avid social media user and those of you that are connected with me via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Pinterest get an almost daily dose of my adventures out here in NorCal. But I want to take it even further and use this blog series as a place to expand on some of the adventures, big and small, good and not-so-good, that I’ve been experiencing as a newcomer to NorCal. Some may resonate with you if you have made your own relocation at some point in your life. Others of you may just enjoy reading about what it’s like to experience a new place for the first time.

So join me for this new, up-close-and-personal snapshot of what this NY girl’s adventures are like in NorCal. And please, post comments! Let me know if you have had a similar experience, whether a post gives you a reaction, makes you think, or reminds you of something. Adventures and experiences are a lot more fun when shared. I’d love to hear what you think of mine, and read about some of yours! 🙂