I have a confession to make

“I have a confession to make,” said my husband this morning as I was drinking coffee at the breakfast table. He was behind me. A dozen thoughts whirled through my mind. He had been by himself last night, as I was out at a mom’s event for drinks and dinner with my son and friends. Is it something dire, worthy of a movie or novel? Another woman? An addiction?

Note to others – don’t start out with that phrase unless it’s something big. I was glad I was already sitting down. Without turning around to look at him, I asked him nonchalantly what it was.

Deep breath from behind. “I broke the multicolored coffee mug.”

Big smile from me. “That’s OK, it’s just a mug.” Relief. It’s a mug! Big deal. So it’s the fourth one in as many months. He has a lot on his mind and is not paying attention to his mug-handling skills. The first one he broke was my fanciful fish mug, a gift from a co-worker 15 or more years ago. I didn’t give him much grief, just mourned it and the memories it had carried for me silently for a moment and assured him it was just a mug. The second one was HIS mug with a corporate logo. Who cares about THAT one? The third one was a pretty floral mug with a lid that was perfect for steeping tea – the lid helped keep the water hot while the tea steeped. Again, not a big deal, we have others.

This last one was one I had found at a garage sale, a fun jazzy design, but certainly nothing I valued. I think the accumulated breakage is wearing him down. Men like to be faultless and always in the right, you know.

“I wasn’t going to tell you, I know you liked that mug. I was going to let you discover it for yourself. But I felt guilty.”

If this is the worst my love has to confess, I’m the luckiest woman in the world. How about you – worst or best confessions?

Stress and the office worker

Do you have times when you’re on the road to burnout?  Try some of these 20  ways to combat stress.

  1. Make a plan.  Put everything in your plan – resources, tasks, milestones, deliverables, dependencies, dates, approvers.
  2. Establish regular meetings to work the plan.  If you don’t need a meeting on every occasion, send out notes on status.
  3. Communicate status, hurdles and proposed solutions frequently.
  4. Enlist help – from above, sideways and below.  It’s not ALL on your stress-holding shoulders.
  5. Go for a 10-minute walk, or take a coffee break away from your desk for a few minutes.
  6. Turn off instant messaging and email notifications for a block of time in order to work.
  7. Leave your office and work in a conference room or other unoccupied space.  Work from home for a day or more if feasible.
  8. Exercise first thing in the morning and eat nutritious food.
  9. If having trouble sleeping, get up and work  if it enables you to resume sleep – but save all email drafts and review before sending in the morning.  This prevents late-night errors from being sent and keeps co-workers from seeing that you’re so stressed that you’re firing off emails in the dark of the night.
  10. Chunk your workload and reward yourself.  Tackle the most urgent or important pieces in small chunks.   Reward yourself for crossing it off the list with a quick walk or other type of break or treat.
  11. Be grateful – this period will make you stronger and more experienced.  Count your blessings and make a list of what you are grateful for in your life.
  12. Combat negative feelings by seeing the opportunity in every situation.  If someone criticizes you, see it as an opportunity to show how you learn and improve.  Silently thank that person for giving you that opportunity.  Really.
  13. Laugh for no reason.  You’ll be surprised by how good that feels.
  14. Do something for someone else – deliver a cookie, offer a kind word or observation, recognize efforts.  The people around you are probably stressed as well.
  15. A day off may not help but an eventful evening or weekend doing something out of the ordinary may give you a new outlook and perspective.  A massage may help.
  16. If you can’t spare an evening or weekend, make sure you give yourself small rewards – but only if they’re not vices.  A small amount of your favorite treat (fill in the blank – coffee, alcohol, chocolate, snacks, shopping) is one thing, but don’t turn it into a habit or an excuse.
  17. Spend time with a good friend or two but don’t complain.  Get your concerns off your chest with a sentence or two, then change the topic.
  18. Try meditation, yoga, herbal tea – it helps many, many people.
  19. Know that this is temporary.   The days will pass.
  20. Breathe deeply and be in the moment.  Being frantic never helps.  Breathe…

Twitter – a mirror, or a façade?

I don’t wade out into the Twitterverse very often but occasionally I’ll log on and see what’s happening.  Today I noticed the trending topic #itshardwhen and thought I’d see what that was about.  The messages scrolled through so quickly (about 10 per second) that they were hard to read, but they fell roughly into three categories: love/relationships, sex, and money/hardship.

It’s amazing to read a cacophony of answers to the question.  There’s a lot of pain out there.  A lot of people who are missing others, who wish they were being missed but are not, who expect a response from a loved one or boss or friend and get a wholly different response.  There are LOTS of broken hearts, crushed ambitions, regrets.  Many people feel invisible, or tongue-tied, or hopeless.

Then there are all the people whose minds are in the gutter (and if that’s what first came to mind when you saw the words “its hard when,” well, you can imagine all the responses.)  And lots of tweets about Justin Bieber – when will THAT trend be over?

And finally there’s the general malaise about not making it, feeling like a failure.  Letting circumstances get the better of you.  It’s hard to keep going but the alternative is worse. 

But does everyone type out their true feelings into 140 characters, or is there still a façade to be presented to the world?  Some tweets mentioned that they wanted to say one thing but typed out another.   Once words are posted they can’t be taken back easily.  In more ways than one.

Holiday Gifts – My Personal Consumption

I admit, I do buy and spend a lot in November/December, much more than I should.   My criteria for purchasing gifts are simple:

 Must be something the recipient will like!  Most important!

Ideally, the purchase supports a local business or fundraiser.

In addition, the gift uses a minimum of “stuff” – raw materials, packaging, other resources.

So how did I do this year?  Just OK.

Books for husband – purchased from independent bookseller.  Good.

Clothes for kids – purchased online from large companies – not good.  But this is what they really wanted.

Mother-in-law – grocery store gift card.  Good.  Just a plastic card representing purchasing power.

Father –in-law – subscription to Economist plus handcrafted items.  The handcrafted items support local artisans; the subscription does use paper but can be recycled.

Nieces and nephews – toys and books, purchased from local store.  Good on one count (local) but they are “stuff.”  Hard to avoid with young nieces and nephews who live out of state.

Brother- in- law – headphones.  Not good at all.

Sister- in- law – handmade bag.  Good, purchase supports local artisan and was purchased at a fundraiser.

Sister and her daughters – handmade jewelry.  Good.

Teachers – wineglasses and wine – glasses at fundraiser.  Good.

Co-workers – chocolates from national chain.  Not good.

Friend one – CD from fundraiser – musicians were there performing – good support of local artists and fundraiser.

Friend two – handmade jewelry.  See above.

Friend three – cosmetics and bag purchased from nation chain – not good.

By my count, that’s nine in the good category, four in the not good category.  So how could I have improved?  The clothes for the boys came from specific requests for brand, style, etc.  Other than ignoring the request, there’s not much I could do here.

 Toys and books – these were crafts and a combo of wooden and plastic toys – in the past I’ve purchased toys from Ten Thousand Villages for the young boy but the girls like crafts.  Unless I put together my own craft kits (and I have neither the time nor the talent) I think I’m stuck here as well.

Headphones.  I tried these at a store and was impressed, as they could be used with a mobile phone or any music source and they sounded great.  I think he’ll really like them, and they weren’t cheap.  Usually I buy him steaks and other food items from a Midwestern family-owned company but it can’t be considered local.  So he gets “stuff” this year because he’s had a tough year and deserves a treat.

Chocolates – There is a local chocolatier; I will consider buying from him next year.  You just don’t get as much bang for your buck – it’s more of a WOW of a couple of bites instead of several days of enjoyment. 

So that leaves the cosmetics and bag – I will not do that again.  I had thought that the store used all natural ingredients in their products but turns out their claim to fame is no testing on animals.  I could have made a much better purchase from local sources of all-natural soaps and lotions and put in a bag that was made locally. 

 On the other hand, I plan to send most of my cards electronically this year.  We’ll see how that goes over!  And most of the gifts go into re-usable gift bags to avoid dumping extra paper and ribbons into the landfills.

 I know I can do better in the future – how about you?

The Marketer/Consumer Conflict

I’m a marketer. I’m a consumer. Because I’m both, I sometimes feel like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. As a marketer, I have to be disruptive – I have to figure out how to grab your attention with a message that targets and interests you. You, as the recipient of marketing messages, have power, absolute power. You can scroll past commercials; you can opt out of emails; you can subscribe to do not call and do not mail lists. This power is good for you, and good for marketers, who’d rather not waste money on people who won’t respond.

As a consumer, I’ve learned to engage in behavior that will protect my interests against unwanted marketers. I don’t click on banner ads or willingly give up information on the web unless I’m making a purchase decision. I ask telemarketers to take me off their list if I don’t want to be contacted by them. I don’t enroll in webinars unless I REALLY think it will be worth my time because it puts me on email and telemarketing lists.

So what’s the bottom line? As a consumer, I put up a protective shell, which marketers try to penetrate. As a marketer, I have to be respectful of potential customers, because if I communicate with you too much, you’ll opt out and I’ve lost you forever. I think the bottom line is courteous, targeted marketing. It can still be creative and disruptive, but it must not border on assault.

A Tribute to Jake

Jake is our cat. He is one of two cats that we acquired since moving to the Kansas City area 6 years ago. We adopted Jake almost immediately because our son Andrew missed Felix, who died of heart failure a month before our move. I had promised Andrew that we’d adopt a new cat once we’d settled in – of course, an 11 year old has no patience and his definition of settled in differed from ours. So on a rainy Sunday Alex, Andrew and I set off to meet a rescuer of cats who had about 26 of the poor creatures in a house awaiting adoption.

To the boys’ annoyance, I ignored the very cute kittens, preferring to focus on the two cats that were older and declawed. “No claws” on the front paws was the defining criteria because we don’t have the time or patience to teach a kitten not to claw the furniture. One of the two prospects was clearly hostile, so we crossed her off the list. This left Jacob, a very shy gray and white cat who had to be fished out from under a sofa and placed near me. As I talked with the cat rescue lady, he slowly inched toward me. I could tell he had potential – he was very tentatively heading in the direction of affection, and readily took to my petting him. So despite the pleas for a cute kitten we put Jacob in the carrier we had brought with us. He cried all the way home and puked in the carrier, a habit he never lost, much to our dismay.

He spent his first two weeks with us under the bed in the spare bedroom. Once he realized there was no danger, he came out and sat on my lap for short periods, running off at my slightest shift of position or noise. As time went on he’d stay on my lap for longer and longer periods of time and proved to be affectionate with all the members of our household. We never came up with another name for him, so Jake it was.

Jake was never a “fun” cat -didn’t like to play, was skittish, and threw up a lot. But what affection! He learned to greet not only us but our friends, and would sit on laps for long periods of time purring loudly. As the years went by, he’d not move even for the vacuum cleaner, which I later realized was because he was losing his hearing. A second cat, Cecil, joined our family, but that’s a story for another day. It took a year for them to begin to hang out with each other, and I can’t say they were ever friends, but they would sleep on the guest bed together.  Jake was always interested in greeting Cecil when he returned from his outdoor adventures, living Cecil’s exploits vicariously through the scents he brought back with him.

We never really knew how old Jake was. We were told he was 2- 1/2 years old at the time of adoption, but he always acted like an old man, ignoring invitations to play. When he began to lose weight this spring I attributed it to old age. I went out of town for a week in June, and learned during phone calls that his weight was dropping quickly. Upon my return we scheduled him for a visit to the vet. He was diagnosed with chronic kidney failure, and we put him on a prescription diet. We also learned that Jake is a girl – and yes, this was the same vet we’ve been going to each year. None of us ever bothered to check the evidence on a cat named Jacob!

We’ve reached the point where Jake has stopped eating, and she has chosen a spot under our bed to spend her final days. She is extremely weak and mostly sleeps. She doesn’t want to be touched or handled, and Cecil will sniff her from a distance but won’t go close. He clearly knows she’s very sick and is respecting her wishes.  I’ve considered taking her to the vet, but she doesn’t appear to be in pain and we don’t put people down, so I prefer to let her decline in comfort and peace. She has always HATED rides to the vet – pukes every time from fear and anxiety. There’s no reason to add stress at the end of her life. When Felix was ill, I took him to the pet hospital and left him to be cared for, and he died overnight without any of us having said goodbye – he had been perfectly healthy and normal the day before, and we thought medicine would clear the fluid that the vet detected in his lungs. I was devastated when the vet called early the next morning to tell me Felix had passed away during the night, and I regretted not being with him at the end, and imagined him in a crate in a strange place with unfamiliar scents and noises, passing away anonymously during the night.

This is my tribute to Jake. She was not the perfect cat – I really didn’t like cleaning up hairballs several times a week. But she was an affectionate member of the family, giving each of us attention and love, and it was gratifying to see how our love and care allowed her to emerge from her scared shell (we have no idea what her earlier life experiences were but they can’t have been good) and to watch her blossom into a loving, happy family member who had the run of the house. She looks peaceful under the bed, curled up on a blanket, a bowl of water nearby.

It’s hard for me to sleep knowing she’s just beneath me, her days nearing their end.

Here’s to Jake, who has been part of our family for six years. We’ll put her in a plot in the back with a plant to mark her resting place. She’ll be in our hearts and minds for a long time to come.

Vacation Reflections

We had to relinquish our summer vacation plans this year due to unexpected expenses that diminished our savings account. What we had planned was based on a previous vacation spent at the Grand Canyon and Brice Canyon with another family. That trip was an unqualified success for the following reasons:

• First and foremost – the two families are vacation-compatible, meaning that we were all flexible, tolerant, had the same goals, and enjoyed each others’ companionship
• We experienced new places – the canyons, as well as all the sights en route
• We enjoyed being with our family and friends
• We recreated – we enjoyed new activities and experiences while removing ourselves from routine. Every day brought interesting cafes and restaurants, fantastic scenery, dry desert climate, gorgeous hikes, and encounters with unfamiliar flora and fauna.

So when my husband and I agreed to cancel our trip to Glacier National Park, I was reluctant to break the news to the other family. After all, I had initiated the project, and we’d already made reservations and preliminary plans. But the news was graciously accepted, and the other family proceeded to venture ahead without us.

Which leads me to my feeling of loss. I don’t feel that I’ve gained anything, such as money in the bank. I feel that I’ve lost something of value. I’ve lost all those experiences that I mention above. The time with family – it’s so important, especially now that our boys are teens and we don’t have much time left to enjoy their company. The opportunity to explore and see new sights, to be with friends. How long will the glaciers remain? Will we be able to coordinate schedules with our friends again?

We’ve cancelled trips before, one to Spain/Portugal, the other to Hawaii. We’ve not rescheduled either one. I didn’t feel a loss with those, because the first was prior to having kids, the second was replaced with a trip to Costa Rica. THIS trip involved our friends and was a chance to repeat a wonderful experience in a new locale. I don’t really NEED a vacation. I’ve taken time off from work recently for a trip to visit my hometown, and my weekends and weeknights are filled with activity. It’s the lost chance to see a specific location with a specific family – and now that opportunity is gone. Another trip with our friends would be to a new location that they’ve not been to before. Or a trip to Glacier National Park would be with just our family, and won’t be nearly as successful.

Life is filled with tradeoffs and choices. We all accept that we can’t always get what we want. What this tradeoff has done is made me determined to start squirreling away extra funds to try to ensure we will not have to cancel any more of our dreams.