Fresh Start

Birds and Bees

Mommy, where do books come from?

Well, when a person has a story to tell, she writes it down and sends it to a publisher, and the publisher makes a bunch of copies, and binds the pages together with glue and string, and then he sends them to bookshops for us to buy.

But Mommy, where do stories come from?

Go ask your father.

Where do you get your stories? This is not a rhetorical question!

Fresh Start

There Is A Person Behind This Face

Image by VISHNU_KV on PixabayI

I was visiting with one of my best friends the other day and I could tell she was having a tough day. She seemed a little distracted, sad, beat down. Eventually she got around to spilling it; she had been reprimanded at work for a safety violation.

It wasn’t the write-up that bothered her. She knew she was in the wrong. She had forgotten to replace her safety glasses after taking off her hoodie. She’s very conscientious and had not been written up before. It was the way it was handled. The guy got in her face and yelled, violating her personal space and embarrassing her in front of her workmates. She is not an overly-sensitive person. She has worked in the public her entire adult life (not to mention a good part of her adolescence). But he had frightened her and she was still rattled 12 hours later.

I suggested that my friend file a complaint with the human resources department, but she said she didn’t want to appear petty.

Image by geralt on Pixabay

“Happy International Women’s Day, Mr. Safety Manager. I got you this. It’s a Free Pass.”

Now, this woman is smart, tactful, and has a wonderful vocabulary. I know that she could graciously accept her reprimand without accepting that kind of abuse from a superior. In reporting the incident, she would be doing herself, the safety manager, her fellow workers, the company, and society in general a good turn. Maybe the guy was just having a bad day, in which case nothing will likely come of it. But if it’s part of a pattern of bad behavior, maybe he needs training or reassignment.

So how do you complain about (or to) a supervisor while still maintaining a relationship and not looking like a whiner?

  1. Decide whether the incident deserves reporting. Was this a one-off or is there a pattern of misbehavior, poor communication, or abuse? If you’re lucky, you may be able to approach your manager with your concerns or wait for skip-level reviews, a chance for you to review your boss’s performance to his boss. If not…
  2. Review your company’s policy about up-level complaints. If you work for a company of any size, there will usually be a formal complaint process or skip-level performance reviews.
  3. Remember, there is a person behind your boss’s face, too. Bosses have bad days, sleepless nights, pressure from above, sick children, and cars that won’t start. If the complaint needs to be written, write it, but don’t be nasty.
  4. Just the facts. “On Monday, January 28, Mr. Safety saw me violate Safety Regulation 47(b). I appreciate the reminder and accept responsibility for the oversight. However, I felt the way he handled it was unprofessional. Mr. Safety approached me walking at a high rate of speed, got within 6 or 7 inches of my face and yelled at me for what seemed like a very long time, although it was probably on 15 or 20 seconds. He is quite a bit larger than I am, I’ve only met him twice before, and I felt very uncomfortable and a little afraid by what I perceived as an assault on my person. Company policy states that reprimands are to be done in a private area with one other manager present, but Mr. Safety yelled at me in front of my workmates. I was stunned and embarrassed. As a result, my mind was not on my job for the final 90 minutes of my workday, hampering productivity AND safety.”

I hope you never have an experience like this in the workplace (or anywhere!), but if you do, take responsibility for your own peace of mind by learning your rights. Reporting improper behavior is not weak or whiny. Done right, it’s the responsible thing to do.

What do you think?



Uncategorized

There Is Life After Facebook


Photo by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

Thinking about leaving Facebook? I considered it and even made a few brief “Fexits” before I finally made the leap around the end of 2018. I suppose each person has his or her own reason for bailing, and mine varied from time to time: it was too time-consuming, there were too many ads, I had privacy concerns. What it came down to for me is that not only did I find that I was losing respect for my family and friends, I was losing respect for myself. Without getting too deep into the weeds, suffice it to say that my sociopolitical views are quite different from most of those around me, and while I can live with that, I can’t respect people who insist on their own facts or are willing to compromise their core values for political expediency. And I don’t seem to have the ability to
just
scroll
on
by.

The main things holding me back were that 1) I needed to be able to manage by business’s Facebook page, and 2) I had used the Login with Facebook option on so many sites. I also really enjoyed a few quilting, crochet, and blogging groups, and wasn’t sure I wanted to give those up. At the end of 2018 I closed by business, and I decided I could do without the special interest groups and anything that requires a Facebook login. My sanity and self-respect depended on it.

I think the final straw was this guy.

The most abused emoticon on the Internet.

I assume that most of you are nicer than I am and don’t get into regular fights with your friends and family, not to mention people you don’t even know and whose good opinion you don’t value. Whatever your reasons, leaving Facebook (or Twitter or Linked in or even Pinterest) it will b a lot easier if you have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish and why social media is holding you back.

I entered 2019 with a rather hazy vision, but a vision nonetheless, of where I want my life to go. Debt-free, clutter-free, low stress, creative, present and productive. Leaving Facebook was for me an important step in that direction.

I deactivated my Facebook account 2 months ago. According to an article on Marketplace.org, millions of Americans are leaving Facebook, with an estimated net loss of about 15 million in 2018. Fifteen million more Americans chose to opt out of Facebook than joined. Let that sink in. I don’t know how many Americans joined Facebook last year, but with 5 new users joining each second worldwide, I thinks it’s safe to say that the actual number that left is huge.

So how’s it going? Pretty well, actually.

Pros:

  1. I’ve reclaimed an hour or more per day, and that’s just the time spent on Facebook. It doesn’t count the time I spent stewing and fuming over the fact that my Facebook ‘friends’ either have no concept on information literacy or are intentionally sharing misleading articles for their own presumably nefarious purposes. (This paragraph illustrates beautifully why I had to leave Facebook. It reflects poorly on me and on most of my Facebook contacts.)
  2. I’ve begun to reclaim my information. I don’t have to worry about what Facebook is doing with my information. If I’m not on Facebook, my profile is of little to value to them. What value it does have is getting more stale by the day. There are any number of companies mining an compiling data for exploitation on the Internet, but Facebook is a high profile bad actor, and I like to think I’ve sent a message regardless of whether it was received.
  3. Out of sight, out of mind. I’m not bombarded with invitations and requests from people who only thought of me because I showed up in their friends list.
  4. I’m happier, and I feel that wee bit more dignified each day I don’t participate in the circus that Facebook has become.

Cons:

  1. The urge to ‘share’ lingers. When my mom died, it was years before I quit reaching for my phone to call her whenever I had something to tell her. My urge to share an interesting article to Facebook is similar, the difference being that many of my Facebook shares ended in disappointing interactions. I find that I can satisfy this urge by sharing to Pinterest where it will be seen by people who are more likely to be interested, and there are no comments. I also share via SMS message to whichever of my friends or family I think might enjoy it.
  2. Out of sight, out of mind. There’s nothing like taking yourself out of the news feed to make you realize how forgettable you are.
  3. Some of my best photos are in my Facebook albums... and nowhere else. I didn’t take the time to download my albums before my Fexit. In a couple of months I’m going to log in long enough to download my albums, then I will delete my account permanently.

All the best!

.

Family, Fresh Start

My Anxiety Fish

About six weeks ago I was given custody of my grandson’s Betta while he and and his mother went to Texas to visit her family. I have worried and fretted over this fish for the past 42 days, bought him special water, kept a room extra warm for him, read up on why he might not be eating, talked to him at meal times, left detailed notes about his care when I left town… It was crazy. I was crazy.

My grandson’s parents assured me he wouldn’t be traumatized if his fish died, but I was obsessed with making sure this fish survived his time in my care.

Now this is particularly silly because we also have one of their dogs, a beloved and totally lovable Labrador Retriever who, to my knowledge, didn’t come from Labrador and doesn’t retrieve. He would be very much missed if anything happened to him, but I didn’t worry about him except in the normal way one worries about a dog in their care.

My husband calls the Betta -my anxiety fish, and I think he means that I am going to fret over this fish until he is returned to his own home, thankfully tomorrow. But I think it’s something deeper. With my life so full of things to cause worry, it’s easier to concentrate on the anxiety fish. Sick, elderly dad? Eighty-year-old uncle with pneumonia? Failed business and financial ruin? These things I can handle. But this fish…

Last night I dreamed that instead of the one fish I have been caring for, it turned out that there were three, and two of them were getting really hungry. As I was looking for their food, I kept finding tanks and tanks full of fish that I was supposed to be taking care of, each needing different food, and some of them were supposed to be fed to the others. One was supposed to be fed linen glitter, whatever that is, but I could only find regular glitter… It went on and on and on.

I think my mind has fixated on to this fish as a way of not getting overwhelmed by everything else. I can still do what I need to do, but I’m not focusing on the things I can’t do anything about.

Do you have an anxiety fish?


Family

Caring for Dad: The Good, the Bad, and the Great, Not In Any Order

The Bad
A few years ago my dad was diagnosed with a rare blood condition called myelodysplastic syndrome. At the time the doctor didn’t think treatment was necessary so it sort of sat in the background, something to be aware of but not overly concerning. Last summer things started falling apart. Dad contracted pneumonia and they discovered he was also very anemic. He spent some time in the hospital, received blood transfusions along with his antibiotics, and was advised to contact his ‘cancer doctor’ as Dad calls him.

At the time, Dad was living alone with an assortment of cats and dogs; three of each. He lived in a nearby but we didn’t visit often because he preferred to visit us. He stopped in almost daily and had a standing invitation to dine with us, and in the months leading up to and immediately following his hospitalization we noticed he was visiting at meal time more and more often.

Dad lost his partner of two decades a few years ago, and my brother and his family had recently moved back to town. We chalked up his visits to missing Norma and wanting to catch up on lost time with my brother.


The Good
After following up with his doctor, Dad started chemo in August. Toward the end of September my brother stopped in to visit and was concerned about how much Dad was deteriorating and the condition of the house. We went to do some emergency cleaning, and three days later Dad was installed in the guest room of our home. Dad is a gregarious person so we always worried about him living alone. With five other people in the house there is always someone to listen to his stories.

My business was already struggling. I may have been able to pull through without the distraction of caring for my dad, but I may not have. I will never know and honestly, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. I closed it up and filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Not ideal, but there it is.

We divided up the pets, my brother and sister-in-law initially taking the two young dachshunds (my daughter has since adopted one), and Norma’s son taking the ancient female cat. We brought home two cats (one stayed and one moved on), and my dad’s 16-year-old poodle, Jake.

Jake was like a creature from another planet. He was deaf and blind with bad knees and about three teeth. His tongue hung out the side of his mouth, and he hobbled around like a newborn lamb. He relied mostly on his sense of smell to guide him, and he had been ‘doing his business’ in the house for years. He quickly figured out there were rewards for ‘going’ outside, and within a few days he was pretty well house trained. He cried vociferously when Dad was gone. It sounded like a cat. He was a weird little dude and sometimes we enjoyed him, other times not so much.

More of the Bad
Over this past weekend, Jake got sick. He was struggling to breathe and having lots of accidents. Somehow he survived the weekend, but Dad made the difficult decision to have him put down. I made the appointment for the afternoon to give Dad and the family time to say goodbye, and my son drove to the vet clinic as I held Jake in his favorite blanket and loved on him all the way there. He perked up as we drove past the Dairy Queen, and I will always regret that we didn’t stop for a final treat.

The euthanasia process was mercifully quick. I, his second favorite person in the world, was with him as he passed more or less peacefully on. I say more or less because he protested as the doctor shaved a patch on his foot and poked him with the needle. I know he didn’t know what was happening, but I’m sorry he felt pain and fear at the end. I felt like a traitor telling him everything would be alright. 

More Good
Dad always says he doesn’t watch much TV, but he absolutely loves the game shows, old movies, and documentaries about almost anything. Many time throughout the day he will call to me, “Mary, come look at this”. Despite much cajoling he almost never eats at the table with us, preferring to watch Jeopardy, although I suspect it’s mostly because he can feed the dogs without anyone fussing at him.

We have him set up for a weekly ‘bubble bath’ at the local nursing home, so he stays nice and clean without having to navigate a dangerous bath or shower. His lovely silver hair shines after his bath.

He’s getting three squarish meals a day and plenty of snacks. He has put on 25 pounds in the past five months and keeps telling everyone he’s getting fat, but he’s actually about in the middle of his recommended body weight range.

The Great
Last night I sat with Dad and showed him some wonderful things on YouTube, like the video of Lukas Nelson singing his dad’s song, You Were Always On My Mind. His favorite song is Gentle on My Mind by Glen Campbell, but he had heard The Band Perry do their version and asked to see it. I don’t know where he ever heard of them, but watching it made him tear up. He also really like cat and dog videos – go figure. These things happen almost every day.

At Dad’s last visit to the doctor he was told that his prognosis was not good; he will probably live six months to two years. I got tearful. After the doctor left the room he chuckled and said, “I don’t have long to live? I didn’t see that coming!” This was one week before his 90th birthday.

Dad can be infuriating, selfish, and demanding. I think this is a more or less universal trait of Man, starting at birth and growing in intensity throughout life. But he is also kind, generous, and grateful. Caring for him has helped me and the rest of my family focus on what’s important. Would I like to write a blog post twice a week? Yes. Is it more important that easing my dad through his final days and doing what I can to alleviate his fears? No. It has helped me become more patient and to learn to ask for help. It have learned how generous and thoughtful my husband and children can be.


Clean Start, Fresh Start

Christmas Lessons, Part 2: Using a Planner (or Old Dog, New Trick)

I mentioned previously that I am not a fan of planners (the objects, not the people). Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, my daughter had already purchased by birthday gift when that post was published. It’s a lovely, flowery thing with inspirational quotes throughout; not too big, not too small… just right. She included a set of comfortable, smooth writing pens and an add-on for the planner, pages of moveable lists with the phrase ‘listers gonna list‘ at the top, just to add a welcome splash of hip hop to my day.

My girl is that rare creature, an organized creative. She started using a planner in college to keep track of work, classes, homework, etc. Over the years as her life has evolved, so has her planner. It now includes work, social engagements, general budgeting, and doctor and grooming appointments for herself and her pack of hounds. Her planner is a work of art and a wondrous combination of planner and diary.

I enthusiastically accepted her gift and the promise of coaching. On Christmas morning, we spent about an hour setting up a very basic planning routine. She emphasized to me that the planner is a tool to alleviate stress, not a master or a source of guilt, and that it’s OK if I make mistakes, don’t follow it exactly, or forget to use it for a week. (She knows that perfectionism is one of the hurdles I’m trying to overcome.) That gift, along with her pep talk, have already made a huge difference in my life.

If you are struggling with disorganization, stress, or both, maybe you could try a planner. Here are some tips for getting started.

  1. If you don’t have a planner, get one. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. In fact, there are all sorts of free options available online. The Handmade Home has some beautiful free printables, including some stylish covers.
  2. Write out some short- and long-term goals, and whatever steps you can identify to achieve those goals over the next days, weeks, and months. Mine included setting up a thank you card system (cards, pens and stamps in box), exercising regularly, drinking more water, blogging twice a week, and organizing my sewing room.
  3. Go through and plug in annual events like birthdays, anniversaries, and family reunions. You can also put in one-time events that you already know about like upcoming graduations, weddings, or vacations.
  4. Next, add monthly events like meetings and standing appointments for the next three months, or whatever horizon seems useful to you. I only did one month because my primary job right now is homemaker and carer for my elderly stepfather, and my schedule is largely dictated by his ever-changing needs. At the end of January, I have a note to remind me to fill in February’s schedule. Don’t forget your goals! This is also a good place to plug in bills you pay and payments you receive on a regular basis.
  5. What weekly and daily things do you want to schedule? Probably your work or class schedule, especially if it varies from day to day or week to week. Again, don’t forget your goals. I placed a legend at the top reminding me to exercise, drink water, and organize my sewing room for a few minutes each day. In theory, I should place an asterisk or a check on the days I complete these tasks, but mainly I just use them as a reminder.
  6. Good start! As you go along, put in new appointments or events, or reminders to make phone calls and follow-up calls if necessary. Whatever will help you accomplish what you want to, but also free up space in your head. If something is stressing you out, think about how your planner can help. For example, I sort my dad’s pills into a pill organizer once a week, but it was always running out on Saturday evening. Every Sunday morning when I really just wanted a cup of coffee and twenty minutes to myself, I would have Dad wanting his coffee, pills, and breakfast, and the dogs wanting walks, attention, and breakfast. It was not the best time to be sorting pills, and I was cranky. I put ‘fill pill organizers’ on my schedule for Friday evening, and now my Sunday mornings are a little less hectic, and I’m quite a bit less resentful.

My daughter recommended that I leave my planner open in a place I would see it several times a day and not carry it with me. I sit down with it in the morning to review the day and the week ahead, and in the evening to add new appointments or make changes. I keep my monthly to-do list under ‘Notes’ on the margin, and use the ‘listers gonna list’ pages for daily and weekly to-do lists and shopping lists.

My stress level has plummeted over the past two weeks or so, and I know a lot of it is that I no longer have to try to keep so much stuff in my head. I’m sleeping better, and I’m seeing results.

Using a tip from an episode of the Clutterbug podcast, I set up a Google calendar. It’s nice because you can access it from just about any device, and you can sync it with Alexa, which I find very helpful to my ADD brain.

Family

Christmas Lessons, Part One: Margin and Macarons

When my family decided on a simple Christmas, I imagined a quiet day of games and puzzles, snacks and naps. No big meal to prepare, no big mess to clear up later. Of course, reality rarely matches the imagination; with 11 adults, three small boys and five dogs in the house, the whole day was a bit more energetic than I had envisioned. 


© Daniaphoto | Stock Free Images

The lack of a formal schedule was amazing. The out-of-towners were able to wake up on their own and arrive refreshed and unhurried, we all enjoyed wonderfully long FaceTime calls with my Army Guy brother in Korea and my cousin and his family in Houston. I even got to go for a short walk with my dog with no guilt about leaving my guests.

But there were two things that were particularly meaningful to me: a lesson from my daughter on the art of using the planner she gave me for my birthday, and helping my cousin conquer her cookie Everest, the macaron, both of which were made possible by our relaxed agenda.

Susie has been an enthusiastic and prolific baker since she was a preteen. She and her best friend would spend long afternoons creating cakes and cookies, while simultaneously destroying her mother’s kitchen and grocery budget. She has kept it up as an adult, baking in her free time and always volunteering to bring desserts for family gatherings. Baking is her comfort and her guilty pleasure, and she can be pretty ambitious in her confectionery undertakings.

To me, baking is a pleasant chore. I tend to stick to the basics: biscuits, cornbread, brownies and a few simple cookie recipes, eschewing anything that requires ingredient or tools not available in any moderately well-stocked and well-equipped kitchen. My husband bakes and decorates the birthday cakes, and our pies often come from the freezer section of the local grocery store.

Back to the macarons. I had been following Susie’s saga with the fussy French confection on Facebook for a few days, but I did not realize that the struggle was actually a year long and that she had made four or five failed attempts at the little beasties. I didn’t understand her obsession, but I sympathized.

When I saw her on Christmas Eve, she was tired and emotional. We visited a bit about our mothers (both gone for some years now) and the holidays we spent together as children. We spoke about balancing family tradition with the needs and desires of the current generations. She also mentioned her disappointment with the cookies, and I asked her to bring the recipe and whatever special ingredients it required, and we would give them a try together.

She did, and in the early afternoon we cleared off space on the counter and went to work making the macarons, which it turns out are a meringue-based cookie often served sandwich-style, filled with buttercream or jam. The recipe she brought called for the creation of a ganache , which is one of those words I like to make fun of, often in conjunction with a phrase like, “The macarons and ganache marry beautifully to form a lovely, delicate dessert that melts in the mouth and sets off the silvery raspberry notes of the digestif.” My husband tells me that the Food Network is not meant to be a comedy channel, but I’m not convinced. (Mirepoix!)

We carefully followed each step of the recipe, including using kosher salt and the food processor; Susie had used table salt and skipped the food processor in her earlier attempts, thinking the ingredients were fine enough. We carefully whipped the egg whites to the proper stiffness, folded in the dry ingredients, piped the cookies onto cookie sheets, and let them sit for a bit before baking.

The cookies turned out beautifully. Susie had to improvise a piping bag because my kitchen isn’t so-equipped, so they weren’t exactly uniform in size, but they were well-formed and chewy with the characteristic ruffled edge and ‘foot’. The main thing is, Susie was happy with them. Delighted, even. If you’d like to give them a try, you’ll find the recipe here.

Takeaways

First, whether you’re baking cookies, knitting a cap, building a website, or trying to get your life back on track, it’s often best start at the beginning a proceed one step at a time. This may seem obvious, but I’ve often misread instructions or made incorrect assumptions resulting in costly mistakes.

It turns out that the problem with my cousin’s first attempts at macarons was probably simple physics. She assumed that it wouldn’t make any difference to substitute table salt for kosher salt, but the larger grain size results in about half the salt by weight than a similar measure of table salt. It’s all explained right here on the website of the network I disparaged in fun earlier. The food processor is need to reduce the size of the salt particles, if not the other ingredients. At least that’s my best guess.

Second, traditions are meant to serve us, not rule us. We have chosen to celebrate Christmas in an apparently much different fashion than our mothers, who celebrated in much the same way as their own mother. But we honor them by making an effort to be together, by loving one another more as sisters than cousins, by cherishing one another’s children and dreams, because in doing so we acknowledge the esteem in which our mothers held each other, and the value they placed in family. We have the recipes they loved and make them regularly, but they are not imperative for observing a holiday. I have shed any number of tears over an absent loved one, but never one over a missing Texas Fruit Salad.

Finally, when you set aside slavish adherence to family tradition or societal expectations, you free yourself up to enjoy what you love, and you create margin for pursuing dreams or being present for those you love. By skipping the big dinner and focusing on family, we don’t dilute our family tradition but distill it to its essence.


Grandma’s Texas Fruit Salad Recipe

2 21-oz. cans cherry pie filling
1 11-oz. can mandarin oranges
1 20-oz. can pineapple chunks
1 cup pecan halves, lightly chopped
1/2 cup flaked coconut
1 banana, peeled and sliced

Drain mandarin oranges and pineapple chunks; mix into cherry pie filling. Add pecans and coconut. Refrigerate for an hour or so, or overnight. Add bananas immediately before serving.

Honestly, it’s not that great, probably some Depression Era holdover that my family forgot to let go of. But Grandma would be pleased that I shared it, and it does make a nice change from pie.’?

What is it that’s important to you? How would you spend time saved if you weren’t doing what’s ‘expected’? Or do you prefer things to stay the same? (Because that’s OK, too!) Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, and please follow and share this blog with someone who might enjoy it.

Photo by Carl Attard on Pexels.com