My own worst enemy

IMG_0164Imaginary friend you say? Sure, I see her in the mirror every day. Had coffee with her just this morning. But I’m not sure I’d call her a friend. She’s a harsh critic.

“Looking a little gray,” she’ll say. “And worn out. You look like you could use a nap.”

“No time for a nap,” I snap back. “Too much to do.”

“You wouldn’t have so much to do if you were more organized. You were home half the day yesterday. What, exactly, did you accomplish?”

“Are you kidding? I did a ton. I raced off to an early morning meeting. Did the grocery shopping. Washed and folded three loads of laundry. I checked in on my pending projects. Spent two hours helping H. study for a test. Made dinner. Plus it was my day on the carpool. How is that nothing?”

“Well, it still looks like a cesspool around here. You didn’t get all that laundry put away, did you? And there’s more to do. It’s late October already. Have you thought about cleaning up the yard? Washing the windows? Having the furnace checked? The holidays will be here before you know it. Any plans there?”

I can feel my pulse quicken. My head start to pound. This chick is the worst.

“You said you’d get the house in order before this project kicks off. Clean off your desk. When are you going to do those things? You’re running out of time!”

“It’s not that bad,” I say, not really believing it.

“Well, I don’t see many items checked off that to-do list.”

Silence.

I wish I could see less of this friend. But if it weren’t for her, I’d be alone much of the time. What’s worse, isolation or constant reflection? Is there an in-between? A way to turn this nag into a motivating force? If there is, I can’t see it.

“Alright, I’m done here,” I say. “I’m headed to yoga class.”

“I’ll get my coat,” she says.

“Sorry, you can’t come,” I say, with, I admit, a great deal of satisfaction. “It’s the one place you aren’t welcome.”

I feel myself relax as I shut the door in her face, start the car, head down the driveway. But I know she’ll be there when I get back. Just hope she’s made some more coffee as she awaits my return.

This is a Daily Post #postaday piece. Read other posts here

 

Time bank

0098OPThis morning’s Daily Post writing prompt asks what we would do if we had an extra hour. Well, I’ve got this one down. I’d do what I do every year when we “fall back” from Daylight Savings Time.

One October, we forgot to turn the clocks back. When I realized it, about halfway through the morning, I decided to wait. I figured I didn’t need the hour as I perused the Sunday paper and drank my coffee, but I was pretty sure I’d need it later in the day when the full impact of the week ahead, and my massive list of unfinished chores, started to hit me.

As is typical, I began to fall behind in the early afternoon. Laundry was piling up. There were dishes in the sink. None of the kids had their homework done. I hadn’t planned anything for dinner. I could feel my weekly Sunday panic starting to take hold.

So I set all the clocks back. Voilà! I was once again on schedule. Or at least closer to on schedule. And a new habit blossomed into being.

Even though I don’t accomplish a whole lot more in my extra hour, it gives me a great deal of satisfaction. I’m cheating, somehow, and that’s pretty thrilling for a “rules girl”. If I could, I’d do this about once a week. The bad news? I’d be years in the past by now. The good news? Some of those dated items in my wardrobe would look a whole lot less offensive.

We’re “falling back” in a few weeks. I’d strongly recommend you give it a try…

A day of housework and productivity: a non-sequitur

IMG_0240At least for me. In my world, housework is like traveling to a destination I never reach.

With the nice, fall weather we’ve been having, I threw my energy into some large outdoor chores. A huge sense of accomplishment was achieved. (Yes, I realize that is passive voice. I did it for effect.)

But when I ventured back indoors, I was shocked to discover that the house did not stay neat and tidy without me. The laundry room alone looked like it could qualify for superfund status. So I took a day “off” to get my house back in shape.

Which was a mistake. I can’t clean up my house in a day. Or even a week. Although in my work life I can focus on a puzzling problem, or stay on task for hours to meet a deadline, I cannot do this in my house. I am constantly distracted and wholly ineffective.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

  1. I start to tidy up the bedrooms and realize that it’s time to change the bedding.
  2. I strip the beds, and reason that since cold weather is on the way, I should take the opportunity to put on the heated mattress covers.
  3. While I’m swapping the mattress covers, I decide to vacuum the mattresses, which requires me to haul a vacuum up a flight of stairs.
  4. And, of course, I have to wash the mattress covers I removed which requires hauling them all down a flight of stairs.
  5. I figure as long as I am washing the mattress covers, I should wash the comforters.

And so on. I end up with room after room of bedding in varying degrees of cleanliness on every surface. And then it’s 3:00 and my children start to arrive from school. If my house isn’t picked up by the time those others get home, I can forget it.

Here’s another example:

  1. Halfway through cleaning the kitchen, I realize I don’t have anything planned for dinner.
  2. I glance in the refrigerator and notice there are several items that are, ahem, a little past the due date.
  3. I clear the refrigerator of less-desirable items which makes it evident I need to wipe the shelves.
  4. I wipe the shelves, restow everything, and realize there is nothing in the refrigerator suitable for dinner.
  5. I check the freezer and notice there are several items that I can no longer identify.
  6. I clear the freezer, which makes it evident there is nothing in there for dinner either.
  7. I go to the store.

And really, I never get my kitchen tidied up. Ever. There is too much stuff that goes on in there, like homework and eating, also sometimes cooking.

Clearly, this is not where my skill lies. My ability to see beyond the problem at hand, to follow a thread and see where it takes me, helps me in my professional life. But it’s not worth a moldy kidney bean the rest of the time.

Who knew work could be such a refuge.

Twice as much or twice as long?

IMG_0590Because I am a small, aging woman, it falls upon me to do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to the chores around the house. (See why here.) Thus it was I found myself power washing the deck on a beautiful afternoon in a last-gasp attempt to refinish it before the snow flies.

In some Minnesota households, this is like a hobby. You spend the period from May to October scanning the weather forecast for three nice, warm, consecutive days. When the planets align, you put your plan into action:

  • Day #1: Power wash deck
  • Day #2: Let it dry thoroughly and prep it for stain
  • Day #3: Watch unexpected storm cover deck with dirt and debris
  • Repeat

You get the idea. If you’re lucky, you finish the project in time to host an outdoor party that requires only a light jacket, and not a parka.

My companion in this task is a well with a pump that pre-dates the Mad Men era. The pump’s a plucky old gal whose primary attribute (providing free outdoor water) outweighs the fact that she’s a little arthritic, and requires frequent breaks to recharge herself.

When you’re lazily watering a garden plot this is no obstacle. The water trickles to a halt, you pull a few weeds, and when it hisses back on you continue. But it’s not so tolerable when you’re washing a large deck whose condition I’ve likened in previous posts to a shipwreck that someone pulled up from the bottom of a freshwater lake and deposited on our lawn, barnacles and all.  While some around these parts are fanatical about keeping a clean deck, I’m pretty sure ours hasn’t been washed since our youngest was still eating his Cheerios in front of Elmo’s World (he’s 10).

So this large, filthy endeavor was made worse by my unreliable partner. The old gal would work diligently for a few minutes, then stop to catch her breath, and after a brief set-down, would get going again. (Lest there be confusion, the old gal in this instance is the pump, not me.)

I tried to make the most of the interruptions. I made myself a snack. I had a cup of coffee. I had another cup of coffee. But how much coffee does one really need? I’m not a patient person, and wasting all this time was getting on my nerves. The caffeine was not helpful.

So I decided to do what any reasonable person would do when faced with too many chores and too few nice days – weed in between washing. My garden’s a disaster, and the weeds, at this point, were mocking my efforts, so I decided to dispose of a few of the little suckers just to make myself feel better.

And so it went. Power wash for 2-3 minutes. Hear water sputter off. Set hose down. Descend deck stairs. Weed for 5 minutes. Hear water sputter back on. Climb deck stairs. Restart washer. Continue ad nauseum.

I grew frustrated. And my glutes were getting a little sore. The work was taking twice as long as it should have. But then, again, I was doing two tasks simultaneously. So maybe it was taking half the time. Or maybe I was doing twice as much work in the same time. Or maybe none of this was true.

It made my head hurt.

So I gave up the reasonable person’s plan, and instead opted for what an unreasonable person would do. I decided to blog about washing the deck in my downtime. In fits and starts. 2 to 3 minutes at a time. All afternoon.

Anything for a little time to write.

My post has a virus, uh…

detritusWent viral. Viral-ish. And it’s strangely demotivating. Plus Andre is getting on my nerves. He’s my…well, you’ll just have to read on to see.

It’s been two months since I innocently published a post that had the same title as a porn video. My first notice was a little like spiking a fever – a sudden realization that I had way more traffic than usual something was just, well, off.

After my initial panic, I decided to laugh, enjoy the traffic, and wait for it to die down.

But it never did.

In the days following my post, my traffic doubled. Then it doubled again. Now, it’s running about five times what it was in the days P2PR (Prior to Porn Reference). Sounds great, right? But I’ve no illusions that these visitors are all reading. P2PR, I could see from my metrics that most people who stopped by read two or three posts each visit. Now they just hit and run. It really dampens my urge to write.

“Ignore your metrics,” my sage blogging buddy, Cristina at Filling My Prayer Closet, advised. But I can’t. I’m a numbers girl. It’s sort of like telling me not to cough. *coughs* See, I coughed right there, just thinking about it!

I’m even getting to know this traffic a little. It’s highly skewed toward international visitors, many from former Eastern bloc countries. I know when they visit, what days and what times. Weekends are a big draw.

I even know some of them think they’ve landed on the right page because they click on the picture associated with the post. (Yes, they click on the image looking for the video. Sigh. Those former Soviet countries apparently aren’t churning out the rocket scientists they used to.)

While I can’t shake the vision of a room full of frat boys huddled around a screen trying to access a get-ready-for-the-weekend video, and their utter disappointment when they instead find someone who looks like their mom staring out at them, I’ve developed a profile of who I think my average porn-seeking visitor is, and how he differs from the traffic I’m accustomed to.

Being a marketer, I like to think in terms of reader profiles. Yes, I know reader profiles are gross generalizations. But given the chance, we marketers prefer to deal in gross generalizations.

Here is the profile I’ve developed for my average reader three months ago:
She’s a mom we’ll call Jenny. Jenny is a professional woman who used to work full-time, but left her job to stay home with her kids, age 4, 7, and 9. Jenny is smart. Jenny is witty. She blogs. She struggles to find balance in her everyday life. She is into fitness and nutrition. She likes to commiserate with me, and is glad to read a humorous take on parenting now and then. I like Jenny.

Here is the profile I’ve developed for my average visitor now:
We’ll call him Andre. Andre lives in (your Eastern European country of choice.) He is a computer programmer. When he needs a break, he doesn’t get up from his computer and wander down the hall – he surfs porn. And when he finds a great video, he tells all his friends who, unlike Andre, do not have the liberty to surf during the day. They search sometime between Friday morning and Sunday evening, hitting my blog by accident, and not at all amused to find a humorous take on parenting. Unlike Jenny, I don’t like Andre. I think I dated him once, and I learned my lesson.

Dealing with Andre has given me a massive case of writer’s block/torpor/disinterest. He doesn’t care what I write. He isn’t even going to read it. Unfortunately, writing is like exercise. You have to keep at it or you lose the muscle. I feel like I’m starting to develop the not-writing version of a beer gut. I’m not sure what that would look like, but I’m guessing “b”.

I’m even starting to resent Andre. On a slowish traffic day, I find myself angry at him for NOT showing up. “What’s your problem?” I hear myself mutter, “Video porn not good enough for you anymore?”

So I need to move beyond my dinner with Andre. Get back on the horse. Turn over a new leaf. Get my blogging groove back. (Ugh, see what I mean? I can’t write without using cliches.) It’s time to elevate the conversation a little. I even have my next post prepped. It’s called Road Kill.

Yes, well, that’s how bad it’s gotten. Obviously, my recovery isn’t going to happen overnight.

#8: I wish I’ve never worked too hard

desert

Today’s Search Term of the Sad and Desperate is “I wish I’ve never worked too hard,” and its companion term, “I wish I’ve paid more attention to those grammar lessons on past tense.”

OK, I made up that second one. I crack myself up.

Dear person who has worked too hard,

Buck up! This is America! We are all about working too hard. If you’re not working too hard you are probably dead.

(An aside: I realize this could be someone from a country other than the U.S., but I’ve chosen to believe this is a person who is instead contributing to the gradual erosion of the English language. Besides, most of my international visitors these days are looking for porn videos.)

Where was I? Oh, yes…Dear person, this is the home of the free and the land of the over-scheduled. Maintaining a ridiculous level of activity is how we validate our existence. Haven’t you ever heard of productivity? Let me run it down for you. When you perform work you are an input. What you produce is output. The goal is for output to exceed input at a steadily increasing rate throughout all time. Otherwise, productivity goes down and we all suffer the consequences of a dismal economy.

I am a firm believer in productivity. That is why my to-do list always gets longer, not shorter. Oh, wait a minute…technically it should get shorter as my productivity goes up. Or the list should get longer first and then shorter. Or…

OK, let me try this another way. If you don’t have enough to do, it will eventually impact your self-esteem. You will see others rushing by you, too busy to pause and it will dawn on you that you are unnecessary to…to…

Huh. Thing is, I don’t want to rush around. Maybe ever-increasing productivity is not my goal! I want time to contemplate nature, think great thoughts and take a shower.

I think I’ve talked myself out of this. Go ahead and take the day off.

Read the series:

Anxiety dreams involving my kids 

How do I talk to my surly teen? 

I have only one child but laundry and housework never end

Life is not a competition

How to relax and enjoy your children

Gym class was never like this

Your husband’s fashion sense

 

A disclaimer: While it perhaps shouldn’t need saying, let me remind you that I have no credentials, training or certifications of any kind that would qualify me to mete out advice to anyone. This is a humor blog. If you don’t find it funny, well, that’s another issue.

What’s the secret password?

Remember when this phrase meant something exciting? When it represented mystery, or access to some exclusive environment? Now it just gets you access to stuff you already have. If you’re lucky.

No entryI’ve just spent way too much time trying to access a long-forgotten password so I can renew my boys’ sports association memberships – to no avail. It now looks like I will have to make *audible gasp* an actual phone call to retrieve them.

Who uses the phone anymore? Well, I’ll tell you – only those of us desperate, feeble people who can’t remember/find/access our %*#! passwords.

I come from a bygone era where we told – explicitly – not to write down our passwords. I suppose the thought was you had to protect yourself from your co-worker (yeah, that guy in the next cube whose password was “password”) so he would not log on while you were at lunch and access the salaries of all your key executives.

Or maybe you were protecting yourself from that thief with the time to log on and shop before they left the house with your obsolete PC that couldn’t get through an online transaction without timing out.

But now, because there are people around the world who spend all their time looking for ways to hack your passwords (for the sole reason, it seems, of hacking other people’s passwords) we not only have to write everything down, we also have to develop elaborate, indecipherable codes. You know, the ones that look like you fell asleep on the keyboard?

I think I spend as much time trying to retrieve passwords as I spend doing whatever it is I need the password for – sports team registration, renewing a library book, ordering museum tickets. There are some functions I’ve used once and never used again because I can’t access my password or set up a new account with my existing email (the site that manages my kids’ school pictures comes to mind).

I’m hoping some entrepreneurial hacker will decide to go the straight-and-narrow and set up a service for those of us who can no longer access our own accounts. Should be a growing market – after all, the computing public isn’t getting any younger. Soon we won’t be able to remember passwords OR read our own handwriting. There’s money to be made.

Until then, I guess I’ll dig through the file folder full of illegible chicken scratchings to see if I can turn up the password I need. If I can find the folder.

10 signs your day is off to a rough start

UnknownI know, carpe diem and all that stuff, but some days just don’t warrant a lot of enthusiasm. Ever wish you could go back to bed for an hour and wake up to a second start? Here’s some signs that might send you back to that still-warm pair of pajamas.

 10 signs your day is off to a rough start:

  1. The cat has thrown up in your shoe.
  2. You forgot to put the pot on the coffeemaker before you started it and are now cleaning up Lake Dark Roast.
  3. You have a voicemail from the school principal.
  4. You’re late and you’re out of gas OR it’s -8 and you’re out of gas OR all of the above.
  5. The day’s school lunch offering is something your kids call “that stuff that bounces when you drop it.”
  6.  Three members of your household have asked you a question that started with the phrase, “Have you seen my…”
  7.  You have to iron.
  8.  The only thing you can find for your breakfast is a granola bar that came free in the Sunday newspaper delivery.
  9. Your child leaves a musical instrument that cost more than your first car at the bus stop.
  10. Your black sweater is in the wash.

For any of you who are counting, this list includes five unplanned errands or chores and two rolls of paper towels. Not that I’m counting.

Some days are better than others, and some improve as the day goes on. I hope for you this is one of them.

What unbelievable obstacles will you overcome today?

18 reasons I can’t work on a snow day

My summer office

My summer office

Or a cold day to be more exact – air temperatures hovering around -20 with windchill around -40. This is the fourth cold-weather school closing this month, and we’re preparing for a fifth tomorrow. This in a school district where we haven’t had a single snow day in the ten years I’ve had kids in school, even when we had to traverse knee-deep snow or two inches of solid ice to reach the bus stop.

School closures are hard on all parents, and it’s no exception when you work from home. The kids are here all summer but it’s different. We have some space. I frequently head to our screened porch where I can get some distance and some fresh air while I work. The beach has wireless access so I can work there. Ditto for the bowling alley. But I’m at a complete loss when we’re all cooped up in the house.
In case you’re struggling with this issue, I’m offering up some justification you can provide to your clients.


I’m sorry, I can’t work right now because:

  1. I can’t hear over the three people in the next room arguing over the remote control.
  2. I’m still doing the breakfast dishes and it’s nearly time for the lunch dishes.
  3. I’m playing a 14th game of double Solitaire and we haven’t won one yet.
  4. I’m fruitlessly encouraging home study.
  5. I’m explaining for the 100th time that it’s too cold to drive anyone to the coffee shop/mall/bowling alley.
  6. I’m explaining for the 200th time why we won’t be inviting any friends over.
  7. My office is freezing cold and all the afghans are being used for the fort in the sunroom.
  8. There are so many people on the wireless we’ve brought it to its knees.
  9. I’m trying to sell fun family activities to an indifferent crowd.
  10. We’re drawing lots to see who goes down to the curb for the newspaper.
  11. I’m exercising my power by requiring everyone to clean out their closet.
  12. I’m confiscating all electronic devices – again.
  13. I’m trying to create dinner out of our remaining food – a can of tuna, a beer, half an acorn squash, and a lemon.
  14. I can’t get past the 4000 Legos in the hallway.
  15. We’re chipping the frost off the inside of the windows.
  16. I’m busy updating my calendar to reflect cancelled school-related events.
  17. I’m drawing up a list of possible activities with dreaded certainty that they will call off school again tomorrow.
  18. And finally..there isn’t enough coffee in the world to keep me going on a day like this.

I can’t help but think of the hardy souls who first populated this harsh country, huddling all day around a smoky fire, fingers stiff with cold, conserving their meager rations to keep the family fed through the winter. Makes us seem pretty wimpy when we’re arguing about what to watch on Netflix. But I’ll be more sympathetic to that line of thinking once I get all these people out of my office.

How can I keep them busy today – and tomorrow? Any ideas?

Productivity is in the eye of the beholder

On the days we clean, we follow an operational process – sort of. I have a list of all the tasks we need to complete and because I believe a little competition is healthy, my children sign up for them on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Feel like sleeping in today? Be prepared to scrub toilets. Didn’t hear me the first time I asked? Cat boxes for you. You snooze, you lose.

It’s a pretty long list but not as long as my pre-children days when I was apt to spend a Saturday morning cleaning out the inside of the fireplace or dusting the furnace (I know, I know). No time for those tasks anymore. My standards are considerably lower than they used to be.

Lest I leave you with the impression I am actually organized, I must confess that we do deviate from the list – for example, on the Saturday our mercurial dishwasher decided it wasn’t going to cooperate. The door kept popping open in mid-cycle and then guess what? It doesn’t run. After I’d closed and restarted it about twenty times, I assigned my youngest to sit on a stool in front of the dishwasher until the cycle ended. A productive use of time? It was that day.

We’re not cleaning today. Instead I’m enjoying the blissful silence of an empty house. But later, just for fun, I might dust the furnace.

Any great suggestions for accomplishing those mundane weekly tasks?