Thursday, December 31, 2009

Goodbye 2009

Here we go again, a short and sweet blog.  

Enjoy your last day of 2009.  Tomorrow will be 2010.  While each year passes with the bitter and the sweet, may you always remember the good and look forward to the great.

Happy New Year.  See you next week.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Say Goodbye to 2009 - But Not the Lessons Learned

Some days I have deep and amazing things to say, today is not one of them.  What I will share is a few thoughts I have on the passing of 2009. 

2009 was a hard year.  While many stories are on the news feeds about slow retail sales, a repressed housing market, crazy celebrity antics and notable disasters around the globe I think the story which truly affects us all is the insecurity we feel about our immediate future.

I read somewhere lately that the country as a whole went from a .8% to a 4.4% personal savings rate.  They noted this was a larger percentage than had been seen in 20 years.  Even as income has decreased the savings has increased.  Experts are saying this is a sign people are worried and scared. (I have to interject here.  Really? They think that? Wow! It must be hard to become an expert and notice obvious things like that... Was that a tad sarcastic?)

As obvious as that statements is, people are worried about the future.  Don't kick me, but I think that is a good thing.  For the fist time in many years we see a culture which checks price tags, defers luxuries and scales back on excess.  Call me crazy, but I think that is a good thing.

I am sure some of you know someone who did Christmas even bigger this year and has no fear of things to come, well every rule needs an exception.  Overall we are seeing a little more care go into our expenses.  As a personal example, I am noticing the sales more often at the grocery store, I am repairing instead of replacing and I am buying things larger for the kids to grow into.

Don't get me wrong, I am not destitute.  I am just more aware, and that is a good thing.

I wonder how much of what we have previously seen as a "need" is now a want.  I also wonder what items we think of as luxuries which we previously felt we "deserved."

The experts on that article also noted the economy will be much slower to recover if people keep saving instead of spending.  Spending money creates jobs they say.  What about spending money we don't have?? Does that create jobs too?  For the last few years our culture has turned to the borrow now, pay (or don't pay) later model. I am encouraged to see more people buying with cash, saving before spending and being aware of needs versus wants.

Now 2009 is almost gone.  Contrary to what the news may be telling us, January 1 will not be vastly different from December 31.  (I admit it will cause me pause when I write my first check...) The economy will not be perfect, the housing market will not be robust, the retail industry will not be back on its game.  It will happen eventually, but not January 1.

I invite you to reflect on the changes you saw in 2009.  Look at the changes in the world and the changes in yourself.  When making your resolutions think about how you want to use this time to better your habits, improve yourself and become more financially secure.  I do hope 2010 will bring change, I just hope we remember the lessons we have learned in 2009.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Law of Conservation of Sanity

The Law of Conservation of Sanity clearly states two activities cannot occupy the same person at the same time.  If in doubt, try it.  I am one of the best multi-taskers on the planet and it is not possible to do two things at the same time while maintaining your sanity. You can do many things at about the same time, but not at the same time.

If you don't remember me pointing this out in the past, I will remind you I am an engineer and thus I love the undeniable rules of physics.  Things like "water runs downhill" and work = (force x distance) are balm to my soul.

I remember when I learned about the law of conservation of mass, which states no two objects can occupy the same space at the same time.  Once again, if you doubt me, try it.  Do I even have to explain the disaster when your toddler tries to "help" while you are in the kitchen at the end of a marathon baking event?  Toddler comes in, mommy goes out.  Big brother forces his way in, toddler leaves crying.  Mommy comes in, demands big brother leaves... Do you see how that works? No two objects can occupy that kitchen space at the same time.

(For the record, I am aware there were other reason for the law of conservation of mass, most of them quite profound, but it appears to apply to my family as well, so I go with it.) 

So now we are back to the Law of Conservation of Sanity.  All good laws have been tested by many scientists over the ages and have been proven to have no exception.  Using the scientific method I have determined the Law of Conservation of Sanity to be true, un-yielding and un-bendable.  It is absolutely not possible to maintain sanity while doing two things at the same time.

Now it is time to explain the law does not state it is impossible to do two things at the same time, only that one cannot maintain their sanity if they try.  I have years of scientific notes to prove this law, but I will relate only two.

Case Study #1: After attempting to build a set for a stage production, coordinate a school wide organization, facilitate educational goals for my children, be kind to the people I met on the street, run a business and complete a genealogy project, I not only failed miserably, I lost my mind, rambled uncontrollably and nearly slept until new years.

Case Study #2: After having a newborn, I attempted to sleep, shower, clean my house and care for and hold a fussy baby 24 hours a day.  (Do I even need to detail how badly that went?)

While each task was achievable on its own, none of them were achievable together.  Eventually priorities were established, tasks were divided and things were accomplished in order, one at a time.

You might assume I follow this law to maintain my sanity, but alas I do not.  I regularly attempt multiple things at the same time and my husband and close friends can tell you the results.  It isn't pretty, I promise.

I heard in a report once that multi-tasking reduces brain function to a level equal to a person smoking marijuana.  The report also said men are much less likely to multi-task than women.  From this report, (which I couldn't cite if I wanted too) I gather the following: When I try to do too much at one time I am reduced to the capacity of a person on drugs without any of the fun side effects.  (Big disclaimer here...I do not now, nor have I ever endorsed drug use. I am merely pointing out the obvious.)  Even more important is that my husband has no idea why I multi-task or why I appear to be in a stupor when I do.  He questions my sanity, and do you blame him?

The New Year is just around the corner and we have the opprotunity to make many pledges to ourselves.  I suggest this year you needlepoint the Law of Conservation of Sanity on a pillow for all to see. Embrace it and use it.  I will attempt to remember this somewhat obvious Law in my life as well.

Let's see if it works...I still have that genealogy project to finish.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Short After Christmas Thought

Today is a short blog.

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday.  For me the food was good, the company better.  I love the holidays and the anticipated activity of cleaning it up when everything is over.  We have celebrated and we have cleaned.

All is well.  Enjoy your day.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Integrity Instead of Elves - My Christmas Message

Responsibility and Integrity.  They are pretty big words.  You might think the day before Christmas I would turn my thoughts to elves and Santa.  Believe me there has been plenty of that around my house.  I was struck however by some recent events which reminded me why responsibility and integrity are so important.

In our day the simple act of doing what you said you would do is becoming rare.  Making "promises" is a common occurrence, unfortunately breaking those promises is almost as common.  We don't really expect people to do what they tell us, and that is sad.

Integrity is defined differently by many people.  I am sure there are philosophy books dedicated to just that one word.  I looked it up in the dictionary and a very interesting definition caught my attention.  It said integrity was incorruptibility, soundness, completeness and honesty.  That sounds like a very tough standard to meet.  I would say personal integrity is doing what you say you will do, even when it is hard.  I think it also means doing what you know to be right, even if it isn't in your best interest.

There have been days when I have not lived up to this definition, I am sure there are days when everyone fails this standard.  The question is, do you try?  When people think of you do they know you will do what you say or do they assume you will bail at the last minute?  Do they know you will do what is right, or do they assume you will do what is in your own best interest.

Not to get morbid on Christmas Eve, but what legacy will you leave?  Do you remember that old pizza commercial, "What's on your Tombstone?"  Will yours say "Honest, Hard Working, Dedicated and Thoughtful" or will it say, "Too Many Unfinished Promises?"

I am sure you are all wondering why I brought this up right now.  There are many reasons, one of which is the craziness of the holidays.  During the times when we are busiest do we forget our integrity?  Do we forget our promises and responsibilities?  I hope not.

Being on the receiving end of those without integrity, as I previously defined it, can be frustrating.  It is hard not to take it personally when a person fails a promise given.  This is true in friendship, customer service and especially family.  Somewhere inside we wonder if we were just not important enough to that person.  If they cared about us, would they not do what they said?

There is a responsibility to our friends, customers, co-workers, employees and especially family to be who we say we are, to follow through on the promises we make and to complete the actions we start.  I think the simple (but profoundly difficult) addition of integrity in our lives would change the world faster than all the wars, laws, peace accords and treaties the world has ever seen.

Integrity may be the personal step we can take towards Peace on Earth, which brings me back to Christmas.  There were no elves in today's blog, but maybe that's okay. I would rather have Good Will Towards Men than an elf any day.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My Life on Traction

I had the opprotunity not so long ago to do physical therapy.  I had repeatedly injured my back and the doctor felt it was time to get help strengthening my muscles.  One of the best parts about therapy was the traction.  It was amazing.  They would hook me up to a contraption and just pull.  I laid there each time with a dumb grin on my face as I felt my back stretch and my spine lengthen.  It was heaven.  I remember having to adjust the mirrors in my car each time I left because I sat so much taller in the seat.

As luck would have it, this experience left me with a great metaphor for life.

Do you ever feel the pressure of the world on you like a great big lead weight?  I know sometimes I do.  I feel a little squished by my responsibilities and the expectations I have of myself.  I can feel myself getting smaller as the things I do don't meet my expectations and I see failure in my actions.  (This was your official pity party, brought to you today by the letter "P" and the number 6.  And yes, that was a Sesame Street reference.)

Every so often I think we need to put our perspective in traction.  It needs to be stretched and lengthened.  In the here and now things can look a little glum but over time things may look more rosy.  I remember looking like a Cheshire cat when I was being stretched, content and relaxed.  Most of us probably need the same experience with our outlook on life.

So take a minute and stretch your perspective.  Will the stuff of today last forever?  Will you even care in a week?  Will the crisis of this moment even be noteworthy tomorrow?  Just think about it and see if it is worth your time and effort.

When you are done you may just have a dumb grin on your face...and that is a good thing.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Stiches and Other Life Lessons

Today was fun.  We had time with the kids, activities galore and friends to boot.  There was a trip to the park and tons of other great fun.  To top everything off we ended in the urgent care center.  You know you had a good time when you end the day at urgent care!  Whoohoo!

You may wonder why it is we were there.  I could lie and tell you it was because we missed the awesome customer service or quick speed of care.  In fact we were repairing my daughter's finger after a run in with a quickly closed door.

Do you remember when your mom told you not to stand in the middle of traffic, not to touch a hot stove, not to lick a frozen flag pole, not to swat at bees, or not to slam doors?  She had a reason and that reason wasn't just to hear herself talk.

Tonight my kids as well as those of our dear friends learned that lesson.  I hope they take it to heart and never do anything their moms and dads tell them not to.  As I was a perfect angel who never disobeyed my parents I know it will serve them well.  (Those of you who know me can stop rolling around on the floor laughing now.  Thanks)

So the truth is my kids, along with kids all over the world, will ignore their parents fervent attempts to keep them out of danger.  They will test limits, push boundaries and likely get hurt a few times.  While it was really hard to see my little one in tears I know this lesson will stick with her a long time. There is no lesson learned as well as the one born out of pain, either emotional or physical.  (This is a good thing because the adults involved lost years of our lives when we heard the cry of pain and I don't know if we can handle it again.)

As an adult now I think back to the lessons I learned over the years and remember the experiences that went with them.  Some were not so great.  Failure and pain are not fun, no matter what "seemed like a good idea at the time."  I am a stronger person because of the lessons I learned and I wouldn't trade who I am now for who I was then.

As a mom I want my kids to walk through life unhurt.  I know this is not possible and I hope with all my might that my children make the best choices possible.  After that I hope they learn the lesson the first time.

So may we all learn our lessons the first time, may most of the lessons keep us away from urgent care and stitches and may we be better people for the experiences.  (And may my friends and family stop laughing from my previous angel comment.)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Are You Afraid of Your Stuff?

Are we afraid of our stuff?  I ask this question seriously...well almost seriously.  Think about it, we earn money to buy stuff, we then earn money to buy space to store our stuff, and then we hold on to our stuff as long as we can.  People fight over stuff, people go into debt to get more stuff and then people die and leave all the stuff. Stuff seems to have more control on us than any other single thing.  It is almost as if we work to support our stuff.
Why is it we are a "stuff" society?  I know people talk about keeping up with the Joneses, but why did the Jonses need it in the first place? It seems stuff runs our lives. Almost all commercials try to get us to buy more stuff and all we seem to do is worry about stuff. 
Please understand I like stuff as much as the next guy, but I do seem to spend a lot of my life taking care of my stuff. 
There was a depression era phrase, "Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without."  Have we forgotten this concept all together?  The new motto seems to be "Waste and Replace."  As frustrating as this is, our society builds landfills to hold our junk.  What are we thinking? 
You may ask why I am on this little rant.  It is a fair question.  Every year I take stock of my stuff near the new year.  You might consider it a mini nesting episode.  I look at what I have and what I want to get rid of.  It can be very overwhelming. 
If I am being honest, the reason I don't get rid of a ton of items is because I don't have anyone to give them to.  I know you just asked yourself why I have never heard of Good Will, and I have. I donate to places like that regularly.  The problem is I want to give my stuff to someone I know will benefit from it.  I want my kids clothes to go to a family in need, I want my crib to go to a young family.  I want my furniture to go where it will be appreciated.  I don't want to feel I have wasted money by buying things I didn't use completely.  If I give it to someone I know can keep using it I don't feel as bad. 
Just so you are aware, I know half of you just rolled you eyes and wondered why my therapist hasn't been on this a little sooner.  I can't be the only one who wants to know my stuff is going to be used and loved.  It brings me comfort and eases my guilt for owning so much stuff. 
So I am back to my original question, are we afraid of our stuff?  Does it keep us up at night? Do we wonder how we got so much stuff and what we are going to do with it all?  Do we feel guilty about it and vow to not buy so much stuff? 
Ah, such deep questions.  As you can tell, my mini nesting is in full swing.  Don't drive by my house next week, you may see half of my belongings piled up on the sidewalk.  Oh, who am I kidding, it will be my husband's belongings...I want to keep my stuff.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Stressed Out and Upset - Who Isn't?

Tonight my daughter woke up crying her eyes out.  She is still small, but has not done this in a very long time.  When asked why she was so upset her words were unintelligible.  We finally figured out the reason for her distress and that it was part of a dream.  It was heart wrenching to see her so upset over something that didn't really exist.

Then I thought about myself and realized we all do this.  We become very upset over things that are imagined or perceived, but not real.  We worry, we stress, we may even cry our eyes out.  In the end it will pass, but that doesn't make it any more fun.

Sometimes we borrow trouble.  We stress over events that aren't happening right now but "might" in the future.  I am seriously guilty of this specific transgression.  I'm sure my picture is in the dictionary next to the word stress.

At this time of year the stress level can be very high.  There are presents to buy (and pay for) and relatives to visit.  There are extra activities and parties along with the regular schedule of duties to perform.  We may find ourselves overwhelmed and stressed just thinking about it all.

So back to my daughter.  How do we comfort someone who is upset over something we don't think is real?  It is important to remember the fear is real to them and use compassion when consoling.  I don't think anyone wants to hear, "It's all in your head."  Remember to be kind while explaining how it isn't as bad a s it seems.

What do you do when you are the person upset?  I suggest taking deep breath and remembering your life is more than this one problem.  If you have friends to help, great.  It isn't fun to be upset over a real or imagined problem so calming down and getting a new perspective is important. 

I hope you don't find yourself in this situation very often, but if you do remember this: This too will come to pass, it may pass like a gall stone, but it will pass.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Prelude to New Year's Resolutions

Every so often I feel the need to throw in a blog about organization.  I know it is shocking.  Just because my company sells a product designed to organize personal paperwork doesn't mean I should actually mention it or anything...

The end of the year is upon us.  We must wrap up the holiday season, clean up the decorations and face a new year.  While it is exciting to see the conclusion of one year and the beginning of another, it can also be very chaotic.  One area of chaos is our paperwork.  We must sift through piles to find receipts for taxes and year end reimbursements.  We must get rid of old paperwork to make room for the new stuff to come.  I can only begin to tell you how much fun I have with the shredder in January.

As much of a task as it can be I think it is important to start the year fresh.  I know I am an organizational nut and a bit militant about such things, but there is nothing more frustrating than starting out a new year with a mess from the last one.

You may wonder why I am bringing this up the week before Christmas.  I know you are busy.  I also know you are not likely to do anything about your paperwork right now.  I mention it so you don't feel surprised in January.  I like you enough to not blind side you.  Yep, I'm just that nice.

So here is what you can expect from me in January:
1) Motivation
2) Support
3) Ideas
4) Understanding

So go forth and celebrate your holiday season.  I will revisit this idea in January.  (Whew, did you just dodge a bullet or what?)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Cinnamon Roll Theory of Life

Last night I made cinnamon rolls. This isn't very interesting if you don't know I have tried to make these rolls for almost 10 years.  Don't laugh so hard, yes I said 10 years.

Many years ago (well, almost 10) I took a class by a lady who used to own a bakery.  She demonstrated how to make amazing cinnamon rolls.  These weren't just any rolls, these were so fabulous they could haunt your dreams.  I saw everything she did and took notes.  I went home and tried to make them the next day.  Utter failure.  Cinnamon rolls should not be dense enough to throw at people's heads as weapons.  Just saying.

So I tried again and again.  Some of the results were not pretty.  I have tormented friends and relatives with these horrible creations, but yet I continued to try.  This brings us to last night.  Somewhere between finishing the project I mentioned yesterday (btw no one gave me any suggestions, so I took on yet another project.) and dinner I decided to try the rolls again with a few alterations.

I have to admit the first attempt was horrible.  I made something resembling lumpy glue.  Not pretty.  So I started the process a second time last night, and the result was amazing!  In fact, they are possibly the best rolls I have ever eaten, maybe even better than the originals she made years ago.  (I do have to admit my memory of those rolls is a little dim, it was 10 years ago...)

I am sure you are dying to know what I did differently this time.  (Maybe "dying to know" is an over statement.  Maybe just "slightly curious" or "bored and still reading" apply more.)  I made substitutions.  Yep, that's it.  There was one part of the recipe which never worked for me.  I always thought it was why the rolls were hard, but I wasn't sure.  Last night I changed it to another similar ingredient and it worked like magic.

It struck me as I was cleaning the kitchen after the roll making event that I had stumbled on a deep metaphor for life.  As long as I can remember I have been given a recipe for living my life.  My family, friends, and even society tell me what I need to add to my life to have the perfect result.  Some of these things seem like a good idea, but some of them just don't work for me.  After adding a few cups of this and a few tablespoons of that I usually realize the recipe isn't quite right.  I am not getting the results I expected.  The funny part is that I keep trying the same things over and over. You would think I would learn.

When it comes to happiness everyone has a slightly different recipe for success.  (Yep, I just had to throw that trite metaphor in there.  Mrs Jenkins, my freshman English teacher, that one was for you.)  While some ingredients, such as flour and yeast are vital, other things such as type of flour and quality of yeast are flexible.   Knowing when to alter things a little bit is important.  In fact, as I proved last night it can be the difference between success and failure.

So I close this metaphor with a thought.  Work on the recipe of your life.  Look at your ingredients and see if anything is causing your life to be harder than it needs be.  Add only the best ingredients and remove or substitute the things you don't like.  Keep notes, as you don't want to forget what you have changed. And in the end enjoy your result.  As I have learned with 10 years of experimenting, the reward is sweet...and yummy too!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Help! My Projects are Taking Over My Life...

Have you ever started an "easy" project just to discover it was a time sucking vortex?  Yeah, me too. 

I started this really fun, "finish in one evening" project in mid November.  You may have guessed by my first sentence that it isn't finished.

I have a motivation tool I use for unfinished projects.  I leave them and their supplies on the dinning room table so I have to stare at them daily.  It usually motivates me to finish the project so I don't have to look at it.  I am ashamed to say I have stashed this project on the washing machine when people come over and then put it right back on the table.

So today I realized said project would not make a very good Christmas gift if I didn't finish it until the new year.  So I spent hours, dare I say many hours, working on this lovely thing.  It is not finished.  I did however manage to shove a piece of card stock weight paper under my fingernail at just such an angle that I saw stars.

I bet you are jealous, aren't you?

Guess what I am doing tomorrow?  Yep, shoving more card stock under my fingernails.  Yippee!

So why is it we start projects we either don't know how to finish or don't have the time to finish?  Don't look away, I'm talking to you, yes you.  I know I am not the only one who does this.  I bite off more than I can chew, knowing I will sacrifice my sanity and sleep to get it finished when I just can't handle the undone project anymore.  I am starting to wonder if I should lock myself in a box labeled "Craft Free Zone."  I could put a nice pillow and fuzzy blanket in there with a good book.  Hmmm, that sounds very nice.

I realize I can't do that, so I am begging my blog reading audience for suggestions.  How do you pass up on the opprotunity to add things to your schedule?  Be it craft, activity, responsibility or other, how do you say no?

I will spend the day tomorrow finishing this dastardly project.  Hopefully I will get your suggestions before I do something rash and start a new project!  Help...

Monday, December 14, 2009

Why I Hate Wrapping Presents - and Other Musings on the Holidays

I love getting presents.  I love giving presents.  What I don't like is wrapping presents.  I don't know too many people who love doing it, but I used to be one of those people.  I prided myself on how straight the paper was, how well the pattern matched and if you could see any tape lines.  I have wrapped presents so nicely that the recipient had trouble finding the edge.  I have created bow masterpieces and ribbon extravaganzas.  I was a present wrapping snob.  In elementary school my teacher even farmed me out to other classes to teach the kids how to wrap their holiday gifts for their parents.  I used to love it, now I don't.

You may wonder what happened to my crazy obsession with all things wrapped.  I used to get joy by watching people admire my beautiful gifts under the tree.  I knew the wrapping paper was just a preview of what was to come when they opened my fabulous gift inside.  Once again, I don't love it so much anymore.

I used to spend hours decorating everything and making things just perfect.  I loved to add little items every year and spent hours hand painting decorations for the house.  I sewed matching runners for the tables and added knickknacks all around.  Now, not so much.

I used to spend days baking pies and goodies.  I loved the chance to share treats with friends and family.  I would spend way too long stirring home made toffee and other tasty treats.  My house smelled like a candy factory.  That doesn't even sound exciting any more.

I think I have probably depressed you enough by now, so I wanted to get to my point.  Christmas (or any other holiday celebrated at this time of year) isn't about any of that.  It isn't about perfectly wrapped presents, beautifully decorated homes or tasty morsels of heaven.  It is about family and remembering the holiday for what it represents.  Many of us forget why we celebrate the holidays, in fact many people celebrate more out of custom than belief.

Before you get upset, there is nothing wrong with celebrating Christmas for the commercial aspects (if that is your intent), in fact the economy thanks you.  The problem is if you turn your celebration into such a stress event that you forget why you are doing it.

In my case Christmas has a deeply religious meaning.  It also has a cavernous commercial side.  I spend too much time looking for presents and not enough time remembering why I am going to the effort.  Have you ever been to a birthday party for which the presents you brought were more important that the person having the birthday?  Have you ever been to a birthday party where the decorations made you forget the person celebrating?  I thought not.

Hanukkah and Kwanzaa are celebrated at this time of year as well.  They each have deep meaning and the potential to get wrapped up in "culture" as well.  I think it kind of defeats the purpose.

So back to why I hate the wrapping, the decorating and the food.  I don't actually hate these things, it's true.  In fact I am thinking about toffee as I write.  What I do hate is the crazy stress holiday "perfection" brings.  I want my holidays to be about family and memories, and to that end I wrap presents and carry on with holiday traditions.  However, in the end I don't want my kids to remember Mom being stressed as part of the tradition.  I would rather have a less than perfectly wrapped present and be calm and happy.  I want my children to have magical memories of peace and happiness, not frazzle and grumpiness.

So I finish this blog with a "Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good/peaceful/calm/stress free night!"

Friday, December 11, 2009

Simple Pleasures

Simple pleasures.  I am a fan of simple pleasures.

Tonight I had the chance to attend my son's choir concert.  It was wonderful.  I don't know if the singing was all that great or if the songs were in tune. I wasn't really paying attention to that.  I do know my son was front and center and sang and danced with his class.  He even had the chance to play an instrument, a surprise to me.  When I asked him later why he hadn't told me, he smiled and said, "Cause it was supposed to be a surprise."

As I held his hand and walked to the car in the cold I realized I was a very happy woman.  Being a mommy is a great job.

The holidays are getting closer and I realized what we all have in common is a season of gratitude.  It does not matter what our religion or customs, this is the time to give thanks.  Tonight I am thankful for my son and his quiet talents which amaze me.  Thanks Pal, sometimes I forget.

P.S. For those of you who read my post about the Mommy Monster I wanted to note that events such as tonight's really help put things in perspective.   I think my Monster may take leave of absence, and that is a good thing.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Mommy Monster

Tonight I was the Mommy Monster.  It happens every so often and it is not pretty.  I have determined the recipe for my Mommy Monster to make an appearance is a delicate mix of stress, mess and disobedience.  Tonight we had all three in spades.

Have you ever noticed how your ability to handle a situation is directly related to how many situations you are dealing with at one time?  One thing, no problem.  Two things, that's easy.  Twenty seven things...well the house of cards is on its way down fast.

Today I had a glorious collision of events which conspired to attack me all at the same time.  I started the day feeling productive and on top of my game. (That feeling was meant to lull me into a false sense of security.)  Then things unraveled fast.  I realized my carefully laid plan to meet deadlines was useless and I needed to do many things all at the same time.  My kids trashed the house I just cleaned and then a favorite toy was broken. Arrgghh!  Factor in the realization my Christmas crafts meant to be given as presents had a malfunction during the drying phase, and that I have to deliver graphics to the printer for another project by tonight and that I am so tired I can't see in a straight line and you have a Mommy Monster.

If anyone out there wants the Mommy of the Year award I want you to know you can't have it.  It belongs to me, muhaha...

So now that my Mommy Monster came out and I have drained all my stress into a numb exhaustion I am ready to pick up the pieces and move on.  If any of you reading this post happens to be a mental health professional, don't worry, I have this on the list of things to discuss with my therapist.

It is hard to be all things to all people and all projects.  I know I beat the "be good to yourself" drum a lot, but sometimes the events that get in your way are not of your making.  Annoying things happen all the time, most of them out of our control.  We had a wicked storm Monday night.  While it was neat to hear the wind thrashing, it was not neat at 2 am.  I had the privilege of starting the next day exhausted.  My kid was sick, also not on the schedule.  I had information come to my attention that needed to be dealt with immediatley. You get the idea.

So what do we do when we have things come at us from all sides?  How do we maintain our cool when faced with stress, mess and disobedience? I wish I had a brilliant suggestion here, but I don't.  One idea I do have is this:  I get the angriest when something comes up that disrupts my plans.  (Yep, that was me admitting I am selfish.  I didn't want anyone to miss that announcement.  I am sure my kids will love to print out this post and nail it to their doors as proof.)  When I have a plan of how to get things done, be it housework, business commitments, errands, whatever, I don't like it when forces act to change things.  I choose to be grumpy in a big way.

As an imperfect human I am going to have to work on this one.  My Mommy Monster needs a long trip to outer Mongolia to chill out.  (I might add that I need an equally long trip to the beach to chill myself.)  I will attempt to be more flexible and see the big picture.  I am sure in the long run that most stress, mess and disobedience isn't all that important.

In the mean time, if you see my Mommy Monster out and about, remind her to go home and chill out.  Thanks.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Changing the World One Child at a Time - Odyssey of the Mind

As I have mentioned before, I think volunteering is a great idea.  It feels good to do something for someone besides yourself and it is amazing when your help changes something for the better.

Tonight I had the chance to train a group of volunteers acting as coaches with the program Odyssey of the MindI love this program and have been involved for many years.  If you haven't heard of Odyssey of the Mind you are missing out.  It may be the best kept secret in education where I live.

To understand why I love the program I must tell you a little about it.  Odyssey of the Mind (OotM) is a creative problem solving program with a competitive component.  Students K-college are given open ended problems and asked to create a solution and present it to a panel of judges.  They are given a time limit, a budget and a set of guidelines.  Where they take the solution is up to them.  There is no right or wrong answer and they are limited only by their imagination.

I participated in the program while I was in middle and high school.  I also coached when I was in college and had the chance to serve on the State Board later on.  All in all this will be my 14th year involved with the program.  I currently serve as the school coordinator and help with my son's team.

I can honestly say OotM changed my life.  It taught me to stretch my thinking and question everything.  I learned that most limits are the ones we give ourselves and I can remove limits as easily as make them.  I learned to work on a schedule, follow a budget, do research, work within a team, and respect the ideas of others.  I learned how to carry my own load within the group and to speak up when I had ideas to share.  I learned to have confidence in my ideas and to be able to present them with clarity.

Lest you think I spent years training in a harsh and rigorous environment I will tell you I did not.  I learned these skills while laughing, brainstorming, sewing costumes, building sets, creating friendships and solving problems.  I loved the excitement of discovery and the thrill of competition days.  It was truly a life changing experience.  I became an engineer because of the skills I learned and the interests I developed.  I was a good engineer because of the way I questioned the norms and developed solutions beyond the expectations.  I started a business because I was taught to not fear the unknown.  I repeat again, it changed my life.

So now we are back to the group of volunteers I trained tonight.  They are amazing people.  They are parents who want to see their children grow in confidence, or gain the ability to work with a team, or develop their sense of humor.  They are parents who value unique opportunities and are willing to share their time to make it happen.  They are the backbone of programs like this.  They make it happen.

As I reported in a blog months ago, only 1 in 4 people volunteer their time in the United States.  A majority of these people volunteer with activities related to their kids.  I can only imagine what it would be like if 2 out of 4 people volunteered.  The world would see an amazing change.

The kids we have involved with OotM will experience some amazing changes this year.  They will make friends, they will learn new skills and they will redefine their ideas about goals, possibilities and expectations. I know, because I have seen it happen every year.  Many people talk about changing the world.  When we were young and idealistic we just knew we could make a difference.  Some of us may have abandoned our plans but not all of us.  Getting involved is an amazing way to change the world one child at a time.

So here is my heartfelt plea.  Please get involved.  Spend your time changing someone's world.  My coaches created an engineer, who was an exchange student, who started a business, who volunteered time working with kids, who introduced her children to the program and started the cycle again.  They made me who I am.  (Okay, my parents get a little credit too!)  Their time changed my life.  Please go out and change someone else's.  It is worth it, I promise.

Okay, here is the practical part.  If you are interested in learning more about Odyssey of the Mind, please click here to see their web site where they can direct you to a local group.  If you can't commit to coaching then volunteer your time to judge.  If OotM isn't your thing, then go with your passion.  Remember you can change the world.  At least I know someone changed mine.  (Thanks, Mrs Rouyer.)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Recharge the Batteries - Be a 7 Up Dot

Today I did something for me. I took an all day Photoshop class.  I left my house at 8:40 am, dropped off the kids and headed to adult only heaven where I sat with over 300 of my closest strangers and enjoyed adult words and knowledge.  It was bliss.  Not only did I spend an entire day doing something to educate myself, I also spent the day recharging my batteries.

Did I mention I am in heaven?

After yesterday's post about taking care of ourselves I decided to do just that.  I want to mention that when my friends and family saw that post they laughed at me.  One friend declared she was going to cry "hypocrite" until I said it myself.  I am not very good at talking care of myself.  In fact, I am horrible.  Today I had the chance to fill my well. Yippee for me!

So how do we go about taking care of ourselves on a regular basis?  Most of us don't have the chance to run away from our lives like I did so how do we fit "me time" into our lives without causing ourselves more stress?  I don't know about you, but if I have to add one more thing to my list I will scream.  "Me Time" is not worth loosing my sanity.

I suggest that "me time" is not as hard to find as we may think.  It is a little bit like the 7 Up dots of 1980's commercials.  (I have just dated myself, but do you remember how the red dots on the 7 Up cans would get up off the cans and play when no one was looking?)  My "me time" has a lot of fun when no one is looking. I read magazines when I eat breakfast.  I check my facebook page when I come up the hall to fold laundry.  I call my friends when I am doing housework.  When no one is watching I am recharging.

Some people may call recharging evil things like "being lazy" or "goofing off."  I think of it as recess for the adults.  I don't know a teacher alive who doesn't want their class to run around, play, explore and come back recharged and ready to go.  I am ready to go after "me time."  I will even go as far as saying I look forward to my regular routine after "me time."  (I can hear my family laughing.  You can laugh, just don't hurt yourselves.  I am working on it.)

So find a way to recharge, to renew and to regress.  (I threw that last one in for those of us young at heart who may want to go to a park and swing.) Fit it into your life in little ways and don't be afraid to have others look at you strangely.  I hope you are inspired.  I may have even convinced myself to stick with it.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Taking Care of Yourself and Other Priorities We Ignore

Why is it when we are stressed or over scheduled we cut down on our sleep?  Don't look over your shoulder, I am talking to you.  Don't tell me you have never pulled a series of "all nighters" to get something done.  We all have.

In fact I am doing it right now.  Although you may get this post bright and early in the morning, I am actually writing it late at night, long after I should have been asleep.  You may ask why I would do such a crazy thing, and I will tell you.  I am afraid I won't get everything done in the morning.

Mornings are crazy for me.  With young kids my mornings are full of 'the routine."  I get people out of bed, showered and dressed.  I feed people breakfast, make lunches, pack bags and put people on buses.  I take care of household chores, get things organized for the day, get the next round of kids out the door, shower (well at least we all hope I do...), eat and run out the door myself.  If it wasn't lined up, set out or prepackaged the night before it just isn't going to happen.  Most of my day is then spent at a dead run until I once again stay up late getting things done.

You may wonder why I find this to be a problem.  It is obviously working for me, right?  Well, not really.  I like sleep.  In fact, I love sleep.  Before kids I could sleep 9-10 hours a night and wake up happy and refreshed.  Now I am excited about 6-7 hours of sleep and wake up ready for a nap.

So why do I continue to make myself a sleep deprived ninny?  Why else?  Because I can.

I have found my life to be an endless cycle of to do lists.  You have heard me whine about this in the not so distant past so you must know I mean it.  I always feel behind the 8 ball.  You would think it would have occurred to me that what I am doing isn't working, but no, I'm not that smart.  I have decided it would be even better if I was sleep deprived when I was stressing about getting everything done.

Your issues may not be the same as mine, but we all have something for which we sacrifice.  Don't get me wrong, sacrifices are great and I really enjoy the rewards of being a mom.  I just know I would be a better mom if I didn't sacrifice my sleep.

If I start sleeping 8 hours a night I am going to have to give something up.  Wow.  That is a scary thought.  I don't want to give up mommy time.  I don't want to give up me time.  I certainly don't want to give up quality getting things done time.  The answer must be there somewhere...

Ah yes, there it is.  If I take care of myself first I will be better equipped to take care of others.  I will be a better mommy, I will accomplish more and I will enjoy my me time more if I am well rested.  You can't pour water from an empty well, or at least that's what I've heard.

So raise your right hand and promise to take care of yourself.  For you it might be sleep, or eating right, or getting exercise. You might need to spend more time outdoors or read more.  Whatever it is, do it.

I started by asking why we stop sleeping when we are stressed or over scheduled.  What I really meant is why do we put our needs last when other things seem more important.  I would like to say it is because I am such a wonderful person that I willingly sacrifice for others. (Those of you who know me can start laughing now...) The real reason is we don't have our priorities where they should be.  While there will always be exceptions such as sick kids, mid term exams and the school science project due in the morning, these things need to be the exception and not the rule.

Now that I have made myself a huge hypocrite by staying up late to tell you to go take better care of yourself, I am going to bed.  Sweet dreams.  May all your priorities fall into place, and may all of your projects get finished! zzzzzzzz

Friday, December 4, 2009

Cleaning the Baseboards of My Life

As stated many times this week, we are in the middle of house projects.  I know I already used up my fair share of philosophical blogs this week, but I have one more. (Good thing for you it is Friday and I have to stop the projects...)

Anyway, here is my deep thought for the day.

Today my assigned task was baseboards.  They were nasty, dirty and in dire need of paint.  In fact, most of the house needs a new coat of paint, but I digress.  I found the correct brushes, the soft squishy foam knee pads and my detail paint pan and started at it.  I painted baseboards for a few hours and realized I had miles left to do.

So tired, sore and with a serious wrist cramp from balancing my body at baseboard height I stood up to view the work.  I was amazed.  The entire area looked better.  I had not know how much the dirty baseboards reflected on the feel of the entire space.  I was a little giddy from my effort.

My baseboards are now clean, crisp and shiny.  I don't even notice the walls which really need paint too.  (Seriously, 2 kids and 6 years will shred paint.  I shudder to think how many coats it will take to make it look fresh.)  I am loving this feeling of cleanliness in my house.

This is now the part where I get deep.

I realized the details in my life are what dulls my overall outlook on things.  I am a talented woman.  (Yes,that was bragging.) I have accomplished many things and my life is good.  However, sometimes I don't feel bright and shiny. I feel dull and used.  I think the baseboards of my life need freshend up a bit.

As we all know, baseboards are at the bottom of the wall and they appear to the eye to be the foundation of everything.  They are small, but important.  I have started to wonder about the small but important things in my life I may be overlooking.  What have I neglected?  My baseboards have dirt and scuffs too.  How unsightly!

So it is time for me to get out my detail brush, strap on the fluffy knee pads and get to work.  The difference it can make will be huge.  I will evaluate the baseboards of my personality and see what needs spruced up.  I will clean out the cobwebs and dust and leave my life sparkling.  I can't wait to see the finished product.

Oh, by the way, if you have extra time and a steady hand, I have miles of baseboards yet to paint.  Come on over and we can be philosophical together.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Endless List and the Couch Potato Approach

Some days are just long.  They drag and drag.  These days are usually full activities, but instead of making things speed up, the list of things to get done makes the day go on forever.

Today was one of those days.  We are in the middle of house repairs galore.  This was a planned activity and we have accomplished a ton, but I am now officially out of steam.  I would like to crawl into bed and sleep for a few weeks to make up for the long drawn out process of getting things done.

Here is the sad part.  I realized today the list of stuff to get done doesn't stop.  Right now I am doing house repair, after that I have to write the Christmas letter and finish a quilt. (You may remember this quilt from a previous blog...) Somewhere in there I need to catch up on my reading, bake some bread, finish my Christmas shopping, balance my budget, visit some friends, decorate my house, draft a new ad campaign for Prepared Binder and eat.  I add eat to the list because it is the thing I am most likely to forget.

When I had this realization today I was depressed.  I want to sit on my backside and do nothing for a while.  The problem with that plan is while I am sitting on my backside I would be thinking about everything that needs to get done, thus defeating the purpose. grrr

So I would like to exchange my personality for that of a couch potato.  I don't need the switch to be permanent, just long enough for me to clear my head, forget about what needs to get done and take a deep breath.  Maybe after 2-3 days I will be able to face the never ending list, or maybe not.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Customer Service - A Lost Art?

Today I experienced both ends of the customer service spectrum.  I had two separate companies goof up but they dealt with it in very different ways.  I found it interesting to see their reaction to the problems.

  • Company Number 1 - Did not follow through on written instructions, and were unable to deliver services as promised.
  • Company Number 2 - Was not able to keep appointment as scheduled, thus unable to deliver services as promised.
As you can see, both companies had a break down in service.  They failed to do what they said they would.  Given their mistakes both companies had a choice to make. They had to decide how to deal with it.

Years ago I heard a great quote, the basis of which I will paraphrase. "The mark of a good company is not IF they make mistakes, because every company will.  The mark of a good company is HOW they deal with the mistake."

Company Number 1 decided to not tell me about the error for 36 hours, thus causing other problems.  Their mistake could have been small, but because they didn't fess up it rippled throughout my day and caused me more problems.  I am still dealing with fall out from their choice.  I did not get the service as described and instead of problem solving to find a solution they dumped the problem on me.  The lack of service was annoying, their inability to tell me about it was inexcusable. I was forced to get the owner involved before we had a resolution.

Company Number 2 determined they were going to have a problem in the future.  They realized they had over scheduled my technician and before he was late they called to apologize.  They asked me how to best resolve the problem for my convenience.  They were concerned the technician would be unable to give me enough time to do a quality job and offered me options as solutions.  It was a little annoying to have to schedule more time for the task, however their humble apology and eagerness to make it right were refreshing.  The dispatcher who called me was able to quickly find a solution and I had no need to speak with a manager.

Now I had these two experiences within an hour of each other. Rarely do you have the chance to get such a clear view of what not to do in customer service compared to a great example of what to do.

I thought a lot about this dichotomy and reflected on other companies I have seen in action.  I know a few who have been amazing during a problem, I know other who have not.

This economy is hard on businesses, especially small and medium sized businesses.  I have seen a trend of cutting back to save cash.  Unfortunately some companies are cutting back on customer service.  I would suggest this is a bad idea.  I will never do business with Company Number 1 again, I will however recommend Company Number 2 to my friends.  The courtesy of a phone call will earn them new business.  The lack of support will cost the other company business.  What an expensive mistake.

As a consumer I want to spend my money with companies who appreciate my business.  Appreciation takes many forms, but ownership of a problem is a big first step.  I am glad I had the chance to see Company Number 2 in action during a mess up.  I have more confidence than ever in them and I look forward to our continued relationship.

Not so much for Company Number 1.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Painting Rooms - A Philosophy of Life

Today we painted our bathroom.  The exciting part of that sentence isn't that we painted, the exciting part is that we did it today.  As in one day.  Yes folks, my husband and I painted a room in one day.  Before you can understand my excitement you must know this is a 3 - 4 day process normally.  We have painted many rooms in our house over the years, and we have NEVER done it in one day.

For us painting is a process.  There are steps, procedures, orders of operation, assigned tasks and a quality control process. There is order amongst the chaos of paint.  There is also a lot of stress.

Painting is a hard task for two engineers to handle together.  It is even harder when one of the engineers is an artist and the other is a planning queen.  (Must I tell you who is who?)

We agree on a few things, namely the room must have clean lines, neat edges and crisp detailing.  We also agree we must like the color.  After that is where things get a little sticky.  We both have very firm opinions on how to paint a wall.  I can almost hear the joke now, "How many engineers does it take to paint a room?"

So here is what I learned.  We are both right.  Yep, in fact we are.  We are also both wrong.  Yes, indeed.  The reason for this silly truth is there is actually no perfect way to paint a room.  The room itself isn't perfect.

I hope you just had an "aha" moment there because this is where I insert my deep thought. 

Most of us go through life having some very firm opinions about things.  We have learned either through experience or observation what we feel is the "right" way to do something.  We try and use this information wherever we can to guide us in our actions.  The problem is this, no two situations are the same and no human is perfect.  How can a "perfect" solution fit imperfect people?

So we do the best we can.  Some people do a better job of smoothing things over than others.  Some people do a great job of being honest, whether or not the situation calls for it.  Some people avoid conflict, others dive in.  Any way you slice it, people do the best they can.

I don't believe there is a perfect method to get through life.  There are perfect theories and perfect intentions, but as I mentioned, there are no perfect people.  So we are all right, and we are all wrong.  In the end, the room will get painted.  It may take a day, it may take a week, but in the end it won't matter. We will either like the color or not.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Information Overload - Why I Hate Shopping for Appliances

Don't laugh, but my biggest problem right now is my dryer.  Of all the things that can go wrong I know this is small potatoes, but a problem none the less.

Every so often my dryer just doesn't.  It will be working fine and then, POOF, it stops drying.  I start it again, and it does just fine.  If an appliance had the ability to be in death throws, I think this is what it would look like.  It is like watching an oncoming train and I don't like it.

I finally admitted to myself it was time to start looking for a new washer/dryer to replace the 13 year old pair we have.  To my amazement I have no idea what I want.  There is so much information out there that I have absolutely no idea what to buy.

I am fairly certain I want a front load washer.  If for no other reason, a front load washer is the "hip and cool" trend.  I remember seeing a front load washer in Chile when I lived there years ago and I thought they were soooo old fashioned, but now I must have one.  Can anyone say sheep...baaaaa?

I think I also want the pedestals, let's face it, this old gray mare just ain't what she used to be, and I don't want to bend down.  (You may ask yourself why I want a front load washer then, but you must remember they are hip and cool and I am a sheep.)

Now is the real problem, do I want steam?  Am I willing to pay for steam?  Do I even know why steam is important? Do I want to steam my clothes anyway?  Agghhhh! I hate struggling with the mysteries of the universe.

Here is the rub, these beasts are expensive.  I can get cheap units made in the old style, but remember I want hip and cool.  Right there I have doubled the price.  Now I am considering this magical steam, which once again doubles the price.  Then I have to add the pedestals, which adds almost $400 to the price.  I have just given up my first born's college account and I still don't know if I have the right machine picked out.  grrrr

After stewing on this all weekend and missing some great sales, I realized the problem is the amount of information I am being asked to digest.  There is Consumer's Report, which I LOVE.  I use it for all major purchases.  Then there are the individual store web sites where you find not only manufacturer information but customer reviews as well.

Have you ever noticed how different customer reviews can be?  One person will love the item with a passion to last the ages and someone else will hate it so much it burns your eyeballs to read the review.  How can one item cause such passion?  More importantly, who do you believe?  I am on serious reviewer overload.

So here I sit, no washer and dryer set picked out, my dryer mocking me and me just as lost as I was when I started.  I want some unbiased knowledgeable person to knock on my door and explain all of this to me using regular English and data based analysis.  I want this mythical person to then sum up the conversation with a decision, preferably one I can afford.

As I doubt this will happen I am forced to go back to my original options.  Option one is to ignore the problem and hope my dryer has a burst of new energy.  (Did I mention my dryer sucks energy? Yet one more reason to get rid of it.) Option two is to throw a dart at the list of options and just buy that one.  Option three is to let my husband decide.  He did a great job last time and as we already know, I am a sheep.  My last option is to lock the door, hunker down, wade through the information and make a choice.

So anyone want to buy me a dryer?  No...?  I told you I had a problem.

Friday, November 27, 2009

My Elf on the Shelf - Why Adults Believe in Santa Too

Today my kids found out about the Elf on the Shelf.  We now have a little elf named "Ollie" who sits on our shelf and watches the kids all day.  At night he returns to Santa and reports on good deeds.

Why oh why have we not had an elf on our shelf for years?  My kids got ready for bed so quickly I almost got whiplash as I watched them run down the hall.  They put themselves to bed and fell asleep in record time.  I think I am in love!

So this got me to thinking, why do my kids (and most adults I know) only put forth their best behavior when there is someone watching?  I can promise most bedtime routines are filled with the wails of protesting children, the pleas for more time and the sounds of feet running in the opposite direction from bed.  Tonight I had my children replaced by obedient angels. hmmm 

Santa is a powerful and amazing man.  He judges you and rewards you based on effort and deeds.  This kind of sounds like my last boss.  He was also an amazing man.  He watched what I did, evaluated my effort and the result, then rewarded me accordingly.  So why is it I didn't get giddy when I knew he was coming for a visit?

Have you ever seen a cubical farm full of employees dash to their desks when they think someone in management is watching?  It reminds me of my kids diving into their rooms tonight.  Have you ever seen coworkers explain their amazing productivity at a department meeting? It reminds me of my kids explaining why they "earned" toys from the man in the big red suit.

After thinking about these parallels I have come to the conclusion all adults believe in Santa Claus, if they didn't why would they behave the same way my kids do?  All adults want to be recognized for their good deeds.  All adults want rewards.  All (ok, most) adults try and be good when someone is watching.

That makes us all grown up kids who want a reward, preferably one stuffed in our stocking.  We know "Santa" is all around and we hope he will notice how good we are and how much we deserve praise.  We may no longer giggle in anticipation, but our hope is still the same.

Think about this and start to notice the people around you who could use a little "Santa Cheer" in their lives.  My mom always said Santa was the spirit of Christmas, if that is the case may we all join in and bring a little spirit to those we associate with.  Just like my elf on a shelf, may we take this opprotunity to report on good deeds.  May we reward those who deserve it and acknowledge the efforts of others.

The holidays can get crazy.  Please remember, Santa is watching!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tis the Season for Gratitude

A few years ago my sister hosted thanksgiving and had us list the things we were grateful for. In fact she had us draw pictures of the things we were thankful for and we displayed the pictures around the room while we ate.  My toddler was thankful for toy cars, my mother was thankful for family and someone was thankful for the earth. I have no idea what I mentioned.

I find it interesting the number of stories I have read about gratitude this year.  This morning I was reading an article in USA Today talking about how people are cutting back, but not feeling deprived.  They are realizing they went to excess in the past and have self corrected.  Even those who have lost jobs and been forced to drastically change their life styles seem able to find a silver lining to their cloud.

In times of economic change, and especially economic downturn, we find people reevaluating their circumstances and discarding the unimportant, the trivial and the frivolous.  They embrace the important parts of their life and enjoy what they do have a little more.

I hope you have the chance to enjoy a few traditions this year.  Cherish the memories you make and be thankful for the loved ones you hold dear.  May the silver lining to this economic correction be a return to values and principles and a reminder of the important aspects of life.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Finding Down Time - An Exercise in Listening

I have to admit blogging this week is hard.  As Thanksgiving looms and the shopping season is gearing up to take off, my mind is elsewhere.  I have a list of personal things to get done, I have an even longer list of business things to get done, and somewhere in there I need to find time to clean my house, prepare for the holidays and find some down time. 

Have you ever noticed we live in a society which does not look kindly on down time?  An occasional vacation is great, as long as it is short and doesn't happen too often.  If you spend too much time relaxing or being non-productive you are considered to be a slouch or a freeloader.  Heaven forbid you be called the "L" word, as being lazy is a sin.

You might note a little sarcasm in my tone, and rightly so.  It is amazing to me the importance we put on checking items off our to do list.  I am no exception, but I find the practice a little disturbing.  Other countries expect their citizens to vacation and de-stress.  In the US we are impressed by workers who never take a day off.  hmmm

I was watching a PBS special years ago about a family who went to live in a village in Africa.  I don't remember exactly where they were, but it was remote and had no contact with modern conveniences.  The family had a daughter and son who were used to electronics and fast paced living.  Slowing their lives down was a bit of a challenge.

The family they lived with in the village had a father who was a quiet man.  Every day he would take long walks looking for firewood.  He started taking the son of the American family with him.  They would be gone for an hour or so at a time.  As an audience we started to see this boy open up.  He stopped complaining about all the things he was missing and started helping out around the village.  His parents were stunned and asked the village father what he was doing on those long walks.

The interesting part was he wasn't doing much in an active sense.  He didn't coach the boy on better manners or polite and respectful behavior.  He simply would ask a few questions and listen.  He listened to his hopes and fears, his worries and anxieties.  He would ask thoughtful questions about situations the boy was facing and offer insights from his life.  More often than not he would just be silent and listen to the wind.

The American parents weren't sure how to make this work for them, so the African father took them on walks and taught the American dad what it was like to listen.  Eventually both dads would take the son on walks and the son began to open up to his own father.

I remember the African dad commenting about listening and how it is the most important thing you can do for your child.  He made reference to the fact that you can't listen when you are doing.  In order to learn to love your children and for them to learn to love you there must be quiet.

I was inspired by the kind and soft words spoken by this humble man.  His point was heartfelt.

When the American family returned to their home in the US they vowed to remember the lessons learned, however in a few short weeks they were too busy to follow through.

How do we take the time we need to forge relationships?  How do we eek out time to learn to love and how do we prioritize the quiet time our minds so desperately need?  How do we reconcile the need to complete our to do list with our need for human connection?

The silly thing is this: The media reports on the lack of community and the rising crime rate all the time.  They also mention the increase in productivity.  Is there a link between the shift in values?  The more we spend time accomplishing things and the less time we spend building relationships the weaker our communities become.

As we get closer to this Thanksgiving holiday I will try to remember to slow down.  It won't happen in a day, or even a week.  It may take me a lifetime to get it right.  But I believe the African father has it right.  I need to learn to be still and listen.  I need to listen to my family, my community and most importantly, myself.  If I can pull that off I may just be able to find some down time.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Wrong Turns and Amazing Experiences - A Lesson in Embracing the Unexpected

I was reading the BBC news headlines this morning and found a story about a man who went out for a newspaper in the morning and didn't come back for 9 hours.  His wife got worried and called him on his cell phone only to find he had driven 370 miles away.  This is akin to leaving your house in Phoenix only to find yourself in San Diego.  The man said, "I didn't know where I was going but I knew it was somewhere, and with a bit of luck I would eventually find my wife again."  Wow.

Have you ever started off on a journey and found yourself someplace other than your destination?  I mean this as much philosophically as I do literally.

Of course you have, everyone has.  While you may have reached your physical destination chances are you took an emotional detour somewhere along the line.

I had plans when I went to Chile as an exchange student the summer before my senior year of high school.  I was going to immerse myself in the language and become one with another culture.  I was going to integrate myself into another country and learn to love another way of life.  (If that sounds a little flowery and naive you have to remember I was a teenager...)  Oh yeah, and I was going to spend a summer away from my parents.

When I arrived in Chile I was tired and ready for a shower.  After 5 years of Spanish classes I could only remember one sentence "Que es bonita" or "how pretty."  I didn't recognize the food, I drank the water without realizing it and I had jet lag that knocked me out for almost a full day.  My host family spoke English, so there went the "immersing myself in the language" part of the plan.  We lived in a mining town 45 minutes from the nearest community, so that shot the "culture" aspect as well.  And here was the most unexpected part, I was homesick, VERY homesick.

So what next?  I was sitting in a foreign country, I didn't understand the local Spanish, and I had no idea how I was going to survive 6 weeks of strange food while avoiding the water.  I had made a wrong turn somewhere along the lines and I wasn't sure what to do about it.

The amazing part is all of those "wrong turns" led me to the best experience possible.  I had to ask for help, something I didn't do at home. It taught me humility but also showed me how similar we all are.  The teenagers in Chile were exactly like the ones in the US.  They had friends and schoolwork.  They had crushes and heartaches.  They were as interested in my culture as I was in theirs.

I also had to pay attention to everything.  As my language skills were almost nonexistent I had to pay close attention to my surroundings.  I memorized intersections, bus routes and store signs.  I learned to use hand gestures to explain my needs and depended more than once on the kindness of strangers.  I had to take a lot of risks because I never had any idea of the outcome of a situation.  I tried new foods in the local bakery, mainly because I had no way to ask for what I wanted.  I learned to shop for only the basics because I had limited money and almost no understanding of what I was buying.

I left Chile with an amazing experience, one I could not have planned and one I cherish.

My guess is we take detours all the time.  Some detours we may not be very happy about, but some are a stunning gift.  We may not realize how important the detour was until years later, but every detour changes who we are and how we relate to the world around us.

Like the man who left for a newspaper and found himself 370 miles away, I challenge you to embrace the "wrong turns" in your life.  Learn from them, or at least laugh at them.  Find a way to incorporate what you discover and adjust your views accordingly.  I came back from Chile with a love of the people and the culture, and I even learned a little of the language.  It didn't happen the way I expected but I wouldn't trade the experience for anything.

What "wrong turns" have you taken in life?  What did you learn? What adventures did you have? Did you ever make it back with the newspaper?  Have a great day, even if you end up someplace unexpected.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Getting Through Hard Stuff - A Little Perspective

I have a dear friend who has stuff going on in her life.  This stuff isn't fun, this stuff isn't exciting.  This stuff is hard.  This stuff is miserable and this stuff has no end in sight.  Ick, ick and double ick!

I was talking with her a few days ago and we spent the time having a good laugh.  While the things going on around her are nuts we found numerous reasons to laugh until tears came to our eyes.  We giggled and chortled.  We he-hawed and guff-awed.  We poked fun and mocked.  It was great.

When we took a breath from our jovial expression of craziness she told me something I needed to hear.  She said when she was at her lowest a friend had said to her, "Well, at the end of the day, they can't eat you."  How right she is.  They may try and gnaw at your leg, but they can't eat you.

I think back to the times in my life when someone seemed out to get me.  Nothing I did was good enough, nothing I said was right and no where I went got me ahead.  I think Anne of Green Gables referred to that as "the depths of despair."  It wasn't my favorite place to be.  It still isn't.

So what do we do when we get to that spot in our lives?  No one enjoys it, but my friend is able to laugh.  How come?  I don't remember laughing too much, unless you count that hysterical cackling sound I made after loosing my marbles.

I would suggest a few things now that I have a little hindsight.  

First, know they can't eat you.  Yes, it's true.  You will come out on the other end in the same number of pieces you started.

Second, know it will pass.  Are you still upset with the girl who didn't play with you in second grade, or the boy who didn't share his toy at recess?

Third, don't become part of the problem.  It is tempting, oh so very tempting, to get down in the mud and wrestle.  The desire to give back what you are getting can me overwhelming.  Just don't.

Fourth, find a good support network.  Identify friends, family or coworkers who are safe and able to prop you up.  You won't need them forever, but use them while you can't stand on your own.

Fifth, get on with your life.  Do not wallow or dwell. (I add this to the list because I am particularly bad at it.)

And last, but not least, learn from it.  There is a lesson in every trial.  The lesson may be simple, like don't stand in front of a moving train...or it may be a little deeper.  For me, knowing I am a different and stronger person who learned an important lesson makes surviving the incident all the sweeter.

So buck up, start laughing and make it through, because in the end, they can't eat you!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thinking Ahead

Tax Time.  (Did you just shudder?) I know tax time strikes fear into the hearts of the strongest and smartest.  While we all try to pay the correct amount throughout the year it doesn't always turn out the way we hoped.

As I get older I find tax season to be a little stressful.  It is not that I am a wasteful doofus who can't control my spending, I promise. The stress comes in the form of paperwork gathering.  Every year I have these amazing intentions to organize as I go.  If I receive a statement I put it into a "safe" place for tax season.  The problem is remembering where that "safe" place is come tax time.

This year I have decided to start early.  I will collect information as I see it and put it into a slightly less "safe" location so I can find it.  I will collect receipts and document expenses.  I will submit all reimbursement forms for my medical flex account on time.  I will rotate my files on December 31. I will have my information to the accountant on Feb 1.

Apparently I will also need to keep dreaming.  I think I will do all of this, but I won't.  I will struggle just like everyone else.  I will flip and flop, staying awake thinking of all the information I need to gather.  I will remember deductions after I have submitted to the IRS.  I will wait by the mailbox (or inbox) for proof of my return.  (Yes, I am optimistically thinking I will have a return...)  I will be relieved just like everyone else when it is over.

So why am I bringing this scary thought to the surface in November?  I have almost half a year before it is a true crisis.  Lest you forget, I am the "Prepared Binder" lady.  What kind of preparedness nut would I be if I wasn't prepared for tax season? hmmm?

I will raise my right hand, you can follow along if you wish, and I will swear to calm down, relax and not worry about it.  I will also promise to dutifully collect information as I find it.  I will start my return in a timely fashion.  I will enjoy my rebate or survive my payment.  I will NOT shy away from this task, but I will not obsess over it either. (You can put your hand down now.) 

Okay, now I am prepared.  That felt good...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Walking the Road of Adversity and Change

Every morning I sit down to write these blogs and wonder what to say.  Some days I have a burning desire to discuss a topic and other days nothing pops into my head.  Today I was looking at the articles on my news feed for inspiration and saw an article regarding Charla Nash, the victim of a chimp attack.  If you remember the story she was attacked by her friend's chimp and lost both eyes, 9 of her 10 fingers and most of her facial features.  The chimp was eventually shot and killed.

What I found interesting about this article is the resiliency Charla is showing.  As a 56 year old woman with a teenage daughter, she appears very optimistic about her life.  While she can not take care of herself or her family anymore she has not crawled into a corner and given up.  Instead she appears to be exploring what she can do.  Admittedly what she can do is a very short list right now, but she is working on it.

I wonder how many of us find ourselves in a position just like Charla's.  Most of us will never suffer the horrible attack and subsequent physical deformations she has, but many of us are stripped of our own status quo and forced to forge a new path.  I think of women who are recently divorced and thrown back into the work force.  I think of men who have worked for one company who are laid off and must find work in a new industry.  I think of people fighting illness or seniors struggling with dementia.

Millions of people find themselves changed every year.  The question then becomes one of surviving or thriving.

I was a very sick child.  In hindsight I wonder how many times my parents didn't know if I would make it.  I was in and out of hospitals for six years and it was difficult.  Unfortunately for my family I wasn't the only sick child.  My sister had the same problems I did and spent a similar amount of time needing hospitalization. 

To say I was used to being incapacitated was an understatement.  I didn't run like other kids, I didn't participate in sports like other kids and I definitely did not go outside to play like other kids.  While I learned to ride a bike and play on the swing set in our yard I had specific rules about the temperature, the wind, and the germs around me.  To me it was normal, but I assume other kids thought it was strange.

I got used to this version of my life and was even a little shocked when I got better in my teen years. I started leaving home without my rescue inhalers in tow and I was stunned when I realized I no longer had a bin of  medications to take daily.  I was healthy for about 4 years.

Then things changed.  I started getting sick again, but it was different than before.  I didn't need to be in the hospital, but wasn't functioning very well.  I went off to college and during that first year was diagnosed again.  This time it was really scary.  I was told what I had was terminal.  Now before you get too upset, please know it is manageable and I am doing fine.  I often tell people what I have is as terminal as getting hit by a bus...and just as likely.  As long as I am proactive about my health I will live to a ripe old age.

My point in this narrative is not to tell you a sad story so you will feel bad for me.  I want to point out the life I have lived so far is very different than what most of you experienced.  I have had my share of pitying looks and head shaking.  I know some people felt bad for me.  In truth, I felt bad for me too.

So back to Charla.  She was given a one-two punch.  Not only was she attacked by her best friend's chimp, she was mauled and lost the use of her body in the normal way.  Her reality changed quickly.  She had to adapt. When I think about it, most people do.

I was a sick kid, a sick teen and a sick adult, but here is the funny part.  When people ask about my health, I tell them I am healthy and doing great.  I know from experience it could be so much worse, because it has been.  While I am not even close to understanding Charla's pain, the adjustments she will need to make and the psychological ramifications of loosing her physical identity, I do understand the need to adapt.  I understand the need to find good things among the bad.  I understand the need to live life on whatever terms you have been given.

Now we are at an end of this blog and I hope I have not depressed you too much.  If you take any message away from this, please let it be one of hope.  Nasty stuff happens.  Being sick is no better or worse than going through a divorce or loosing you job in uncertain times.  Each of these situations challenges what you know about yourself.  Making the choice to start where you are and go forward is a brave choice and it will take you much farther than looking back.

On the trite side, you learn the most from challenges, you grow the most from adversity.  Looking around me, I see a lot of strong people with amazing challenges in their past. If you are in the middle of one of these "growth" opportunities I challenge you to keep going.  There is life on the other side, and it is amazing!

I would love to hear about your challenges and what you have learned from pushing through them.  I think we all find strength from knowing we aren't the only person who has walked this road.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Choosing to Choose - Lessons Learned by Sitting Up Straight

I had the opportunity last week to help a dear friend edit his thesis.  While I have no idea how helpful my comments really were I found value in the act of reading his ideas.  One such idea continues to bounce around in my head, thus I am throwing it out for discussion today.

The thesis introduced me to the concept of Choose to Choose.  Based on the Alexander Technique, a turn of the 20th century movement and alignment technique developed by F.M. Alexander, Choose to Choose goes beyond the original ideas utilized mainly by artists and dancers.

The concept is this, each day you are given choices regarding everything from how you stand to how you speak.  You can sit with your back straight, you can bite your nails.  You can speak in a whisper or you can run around in circles.  We usually make conscious decisions on the big stuff, but most of us do not think about the small stuff. Instead of allowing our actions to happen without thought, we choose to choose what we do.

While the Choose to Choose idea mainly formed for use in stage awareness and habit formation, it started me thinking about my life in general and the applications it has almost everywhere. Self help groups have extolled the virtues of self awareness and leading an "intentional life" for decades if not longer.  But as is the way with all great ideas, it means nothing until you incorporate it into your life.

As I was driving down the street yesterday I chose to sit with my back straight. I thought about it and then did it.  I discovered quickly I must slouch quite a bit when driving.  The first thing I noticed was my mirrors had to move.  The second and somewhat more uncomfortable realization was my back ached.  Not good.  By making a conscious decision I realized I had a habit of slouching, something I would like to change about myself.

I am sure you are wondering why you bothered to get out of bed to read this.  Whether or not I slouch in the car does not, on the surface, seem very interesting or pertinent.  The interesting part, and I promise there is one, is the simple act of sitting up straight showed me I was doing something unconsciously to hurt my back.  It then dawned on my, and yes I am a bit slow sometimes, I likely have a myriad of other small habits hurting me every day.  I am aware of many big habits I should change, but the small ones have escaped my detection.

Now is the part where I tie this into preparedness.  I bet you just gasped, as I do not tie my thoughts back into Prepared Binder very often.  Here you go, the tie in....

"Preparedness, when properly pursued, is a way of life, not a sudden, spectacular program." (Spencer W Kimball)  To me that quote means preparedness should be part of our little habits, not a big and special exception. Is it part of your little habits?  Do you even know?

Everyone looks at preparedness slightly differently.  To some it means food storage, for others survival skills and equipment, for others it is a disaster plan.  Prepared Binder looks at preparedness from the paperwork standpoint.  Anyway you slice the topic, there is work required to make it happen.

To be prepared we must Choose to Choose.  We must make conscious decisions about learning new information and acquiring new skills.  We must challenge the small habits in our lives that keep us from our goals.

So today I choose to become aware of my food storage.  I will look at what I have any my buying habits.  Do I have a balanced diet stored or only mass amounts of dessert?  (Do you do that, store the most of your favorite food?) I will challenge my habits and determine what needs to change. I will become aware.

In case you were wondering, the idea of Choose to Choose has many profound implications.  Given the interest, I suggest incorporating it into your own life.  You may surprise yourself with a few amazing discoveries.

I need to thank David Poznanter for his wonderful thesis which started this change in thought for me.