Good-bye 2013 – a tribute to the passing of the seasons

One of my favorite blogging goddesses suggested a 2013 retrospective. “What a good idea!” I thought. “Then I don’t have to come up with any original material today!” Anyway, here is my tribute to the passing of the seasons as we head into the new year.

One sad-looking inventory – a late-winter’s lament – in which I describe the horrendous state of my children’s outerwear and really offer no useful advice at all.

The work-at-home personnel manual – A few guidelines for the parent who works at home and is blessed with the presence of their children. All. Summer. Long.

Are you really in the weeds? An ode to my favorite season, Weeding. Is that a season?

…and the changing of the seasons – How do you measure change? I measure it by what is in my car.

And finally, a salute to the current season, and I’ll guess you can figure out just what I’m saluting with. 9 things to hate about winter

Happy New Year to all – and a sincere thanks to all who read and comment. You are truly a blessing to me. It keeps my cynicism (just barely) at bay.

Free-floating dissatisfaction, or what’s bugging me today

What is it about autumn that makes me feel frustrated with my environment? Since I work primarily from home, it’s probably that I’m shut up in the house. I’m surrounded by things that bother me, yet I don’t feel any particular urge to fix any of them. I feel disoriented, restless yet unmotivated.

As a result, I have spent a great deal of time standing around today, feeling annoyed…and strangely that does not seem to tick off any of the items on the to-do list.

Things that are bugging me today:

  • My garage smells like a combination of new tires and mice.
  • It’s only 62 degrees in here but I haven’t had the furnace safety-checked yet so I don’t want to turn it on. I’m so sleepy I’m afraid I won’t notice if I’m being overcome by carbon monoxide fumes.
  • There’s nothing for lunch.
  • Our deck looks like a shipwreck that has been raised from submersion and plopped in our backyard, barnacles and all.
  • There are at least a million wet oak leaves on the lawn.
  • I need to make a trip to the compost heap, but I’d have to walk through the million wet oak leaves on the lawn. My obsession with re-using all things organic means I have a kitchen full of vegetable peelings and coffee grounds.
  • I am working on two different computers because I can’t seem to migrate everything over to the new one. It seems I have a problem with commitment.
  • I’ve done all the laundry except the socks and underwear but I don’t feel like gathering up socks and underwear.
  • We did sun salutations for the first 20 minutes of yoga class yesterday and I have sore muscles I have never been aware of before.
  • Did I mention there’s nothing for lunch?

If I applied myself I could take care of most of the things on this list pretty fast. But it’s so darn cold in here. Guess I’ll start by kicking that furnace on and taking my chances. At least then, if I’m disoriented, I’ll know it has an origin.

What’s bugging you today? And what are you going to do about it? I am badly in need of some inspiration.

Life is not a competition. Or is it?

About once a day I find myself telling my boys, “Life is not a competition.” This is usually in response to a) a fight; b) someone bragging; or c) the constant one-upmanship that occurs in our household – my day was worse, my math score better, my defensive play more aggressive. I find the constant, competitive banter exhausting.

My spouse disagrees. To him, getting up in the morning is a competition that I either lose by getting up first, or lose by getting up last. (Yeah, I see the problem in that statement.) And while he doesn’t openly encourage the competition, he makes no move to squelch it either.

If I’m honest with myself, I can’t put the responsibility for the competitive nature of my kids solely on him. I’m also competitive. I think of the early years of our marriage as a battle for supremacy. (Who won? Depends on who you ask.) It’s not realistic to assume our kids will be that different from us. And my husband’s competitive nature works to his advantage in his sales career and that, in turn, makes my self-employment possible.

I’m conflicted about the whole thing. In some respects, I think it’s stressful to grow up feeling like you have to be faster, smarter, better…but on the other hand, if you don’t have a competitive sense, how do you achieve excellence? The very root of excellence is that you must excel – that is, be better than everyone else – to succeed. And I also think because of the self-esteem movement, we’ve raised a whole generation of individuals for whom excellence is highly subjective – and man, are they ever hard to manage.

So what do you think? What role does competition play in our lives and workplaces?  How have you or your kids benefitted or suffered from competition? There has to be a line somewhere. I just don’t know where it is.

If you don’t like this post feel free to yell

So apparently, there is a study out that says yelling at teens is not an effective form of discipline. Not only doesn’t it work, the study purports, but yelling at them may be as harmful as hitting them. If you are a parent who regularly yells at your teen, like I do, and you have not already heard this, you are probably moving rapidly through the five stages of grief right now:

  • Denial: What? You’ve got to be kidding. I don’t believe this hogwash. My parents yelled at me all the time and I turned out fine.
  • Anger: I’m only human! Sometimes this kid drives me absolutely crazy!
  • Bargaining: If I can just yell for the next year or two maybe my kid will get the message and then I can stop.
  • Depression: It’s official. I am clearly not cut out for this parenting thing.

If you’re lucky, you’ll reach Acceptance and find a new way to communicate. If not, you’ll probably bounce between frustration and guilt – in other words, fall back into the state of mind common to the average parent.

If I can’t yell, my parenting style will experience a serious void. I have this mental picture of me standing in front of my kids, mouth agape, completely paralyzed. Man, will they ever take advantage of that.

Thing is, I agree with this on principle. I don’t think losing your temper gets you anywhere. When I was managing employees I wasn’t a yeller. I worked hard to maintain my composure even in the most uncomfortable circumstances and at my angriest, was likely to dish out no more than a withering glance.

But at home, I find myself yelling more than I want to. In a house with three kids, it too often feels like the only way to be heard. Literally.

I typically apologize after I lose my temper. Later. When there is no longer steam emitting from my ears. But according to this study, by then the damage is done. So once again, I face my imperfection and go off to wallow in guilt and frustration. And wait for the study that documents the damage done by the withering glance.

How do you keep your temper when your kids – or coworkers – drive you nuts? Inviting all those better than I to weigh in…

Because I have time today – embarrassing admittances

I don’t know why, but I’m feeling the urge to disclose some things I’m sort of embarrassed about. Perhaps it’s a step on my path to self-awareness. Or maybe it’s just Monday. Anyway, here goes. Feel free to  share your own and purge your shame.

  • I have not cleaned out the cabinets in our master bath since it was remodeled 9 years ago.
  • Though I pride myself on my professionalism, I once said about a colleague, “Don’t worry, I’ll find some way to get him to stop bugging us,” not realizing he was standing in my doorway.
  • I eat my breakfast (and sometimes lunch) off whatever plate happens to have been left in the kitchen so I don’t have to wash two.
  • Some of the pajamas I wear are older than my high-school age daughter.
  • I have been hit by bird poop in public three times, and two of those times I was at a work event.
  • I once entered a high school class late because I had been off registering for college courses, something I was really proud of, only to discover that my zipper was wide open as I sauntered in.
  • When tasked with turning around a really crappy line of business, I had to present a profit improvement chart to our CEO in front of my colleagues where the trend line never hit break-even.
  • I wash out and reuse Ziploc bags – but only the storage type bags, not the sandwich bags (typically).
  • My bank once lost a sizeable check and I had to ask a brand new client to reissue it.
  • One day, in front of a room of 300 students, a college professor absent-mindedly patted me on top of the head.
  • Even though I make my living as a business writer, I had to double-check that I was spelling embarrassing right.

I’m sure I could think of more but I’m not feeling that self-aware. Hope you enjoyed a laugh at my expense. And in case you haven’t already guessed it, I’m going to clean out those bathroom cabinets this morning.

Am I doing this right? Or, a little doubt might be fine

In yoga class the other day, my teacher posed this question: “Are you asking yourself right now, ‘Am I doing this right?'” The thought that instantly came to my mind was, “I am forever asking myself this question.”

As are we all. When did you last ask yourself:

  • Do these pants make me look fat?
  • Did I turn off the coffee maker?
  • Did I handle that conversation well?
  • Did I hire the right person?
  • Should I go ahead with this?
  • Should I have let my kid go to that sleepover?
  • Why am I doing this?
  • Did he really say what I thought he said?
  • Why did I eat that when I wasn’t even hungry?

Doubt is with us all day long. I’m not writing to tell you to get over it. Au contraire – I think a little doubt is a healthy thing. While it can be paralyzing and terrifying, it can also stop you from blazing your way down a trail that is clearly the wrong one.

When you have doubts:

  • Ask someone you trust. You may not even need an answer. Sometimes just talking about your decision can help you see if you’re on the right track.
  • Tap someone else’s experience. We’re not pioneers – perhaps there’s no need to blaze a trail, but many of us muddle through rather than seeking someone else’s expertise.
  • Do the old pro-con thing. I know it’s trite, but a list of pros and cons sometimes provides a remarkable visual of which way you should go.
  • Double-check outcomes. Do you get the results you want? If not, it’s a pretty good sign that you need to change something.

Don’t smother your doubt – embrace it. Consider it a warning sign on the trail. Even if danger isn’t imminent, it’s smart to be alert.

What questions are you asking yourself today? Post your comments or send them to sarah@dayonebusinessservices.com – if I use them I’ll feature your business.

Cleaning tips from a lazy, work-at-home housekeeper

If you frequently work at home, like I do, fall weather brings with it a type of claustrophobia. It’s nearly time to close everything up to keep out the winter gales, but after a summer of kids in and out of the house it’s grubby and cluttered. In my precious spare moments, I’m trying to get my house in order. Here are some of my shortcuts for tidying up – maybe you can use one or two:

  • When you’re cleaning the kitchen, fill the sink with warm water and the cleaner of your choice. Use it to wipe down the various surfaces around your kitchen. When you let the water out the sink will be clean.
  • Dust from the top of a room down. Start with the cobwebs in the corners and work your way down to the furniture and the baseboards. Then vacuum up whatever has settled on the floor.
  • Dust the lightbulbs in your fixtures. You won’t believe how much this lightens up a room.
  • Set the table while you’re emptying the dishwasher to save yourself a step, even if it’s early in the day.
  • If you have time for only one chore, vacuum. I don’t know why, but that’s what seems to “pick up” a room the fastest.
  • Fold laundry as it comes out of the dryer. Fold items in order according to their owner or storage location – the clothes that belong in the farthest location at the bottom of the basket, and those in the closest location at the top. Put them away as you walk to that farthest location. (And if your house is like mine, you can fill the basket up with dirty clothes on the way back.)
  • Take out a garbage bag. Walk around and fill it with either: 1)  items you can throw out; 2) items you can donate. Do this once a week until things are noticeably better.

And the best tip of all – if you can spare the money, outsource the cleaning – or at least get someone else to clean the carpets and windows. It’ll cast a whole new light on your work.

Any tips to add? I’d love to hear them – it’s still pretty dusty around here.

Last ditch tips for entertaining

Just in time for the weekend, my shortcuts for entertaining. I love to entertain but I sometimes commit to more than I can reasonably pull off.  Here are my rules for those times when guests are on their way and you’re running out of time.

  • Dress blues. Get yourself ready first. People will stand about and chat with you while you prepare food or set out snacks. They will be less inclined to visit with you if you’re still in the shower when they arrive.
  • Quick pick-me-up: Get a large laundry basket. Load all loose items and detritus into it and stow it in a room your guests won’t be in. If necessary, get two baskets.
  • Clean sweep: From my friend, Liz Truesdale-Witek, clean your bathroom. If that’s clean, your guests will assume the rest of the house is clean.
  • No whining: If you’re low on wine (or you’re down to the $3 a bottle good-enough-for-us wine), make sangria. You can throw darn near any fruit or juice you have in the fridge in there and it will taste fine.
  • Food for thought: Serve food the guests can assemble themselves – sandwiches, tacos, build-your-own pizza, or a pasta bar. It saves a whole step in food preparation and everyone gets to choose something they’ll actually eat.
  • Just desserts: If you have some time, buy a gallon of good-quality vanilla ice cream and make Martha Stewart’s Cherry-Almond Brownies – they taste like you expended more effort than you did. If you have little time, skip the brownies and just buy the ice cream. If you have no time, serve a lot of wine and no one will notice there’s no dessert.

And one last note – If I’m still trying to pull together food and arrangements, I have the kids meet guests at the door, take their coats, and escort them in. The kids like to do this and it seems to give guests the impression (at least temporarily) that they are well-behaved.

Have any other tips we can share? Post your comments or send them to sarah@dayonebusinessservices.com – I’d invite the “owner” of the best tip for dinner, but I’m guessing that by now that does not have much allure.

Next up: Shortcuts for household chores. Yippee!

Are you really in the weeds?

I’ve discovered a solution to one of the most nagging tasks on my list. I’m going to take a cue from a neighbor and park a sign that says “Native Planting” in my weedy perennial bed. I think I just might pull this off. Not to brag, but my “native plants” are taller and much more impressive than his.

Just like that, one of the biggest to-do’s on my list gone. Not really a miracle – just a change in perspective.

If you find yourself in the weeds:

  • Ask yourself what someone else would see if they looked at your “garden”. Would they be looking at the detail, or would they see the big picture? And how does that big picture look?
  • Pull the big weeds first. It will improve the picture considerably. If all you pull out is the small stuff, when you stand up you’ll still be knee-deep in greenery.
  • Start in one area and work on that area until you’re done. If you’re like me, you find yourself jumping from task to task and when you step back, the impact isn’t that great because nothing is actually “done”. It’s a lot more satisfying to clean up one area and then check it off your list.
  • If you can, enjoy the disorder. I decided to let a large group of milkweed stay because it looked gorgeous. How is anyone else going to know it’s not supposed to be there? (Until now, of course.)

I confess, I do get caught up in the weeds sometimes, and this isn’t the first time I’ve taken up native landscaping. One year as I cruised through the beautiful Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, I saw a rambling bed of greenery marked “Creeping Thyme”. It was the same stuff I’d been pulling up out of my garden path for days.

“If they can embrace it,” I thought, “Why can’t I?”

But in the end, I couldn’t stand it. A decade later I’m still pulling the darn stuff up.

Need to sort out the big weeds from the small ones? See my previous post on how to prioritize tasks. And while I’m on the subject, I think I’ll dig up some other tips for productivity. Stay tuned.

Time to get serious, I guess

The other day I dropped everything and took a swim. I was multi-tasking, working at the lake with my kids. It was blistering hot. I was sweating onto my papers. So I dropped my work in the beach bag and hit the water. It was a perfect day. I cruised around with my eyes half closed, enjoying the warmth of the sun, the cool of the water, and the shouts and splashes of kids as they jumped off the dock. A classic summer afternoon.

I’ve never been one to enforce a rigorous summer schedule. My kids have it pretty easy. I no longer even fake the intention to have them complete the summer math workbooks their school suggests. Since I have three kids, I’m probably responsible for a huge percentage of the drop in academic achievement the district sees in the fall. But I’m loathe to push schoolwork in the summer. Maybe it’s because I long for the carefree feeling of my own childhood summers, where the months stretched ahead full of endless opportunities and outdoor activities, not math facts and science camp. Or maybe it’s because I prefer they do something physical – golf, hiking, baseball, lacrosse, dance, swimming. Plenty of time to sit behind a desk the rest of the year.

Or maybe it’s because when you live in Minnesota you never quite lose the melancholy sense that we have so few of these perfect summer days, really.

When I worked in a “real” office I barely noticed summer. I spent my days in air conditioned isolation, so I’m grateful for the flexibility I have now to move my “office” to the beach or the porch. But there are days I have to fight the urge to set my work aside. I know I’m not the only one. Anyone who’s lived through a Minnesota summer knows there are days it seems no one is working.

Now fall is approaching and for me, it’s time to get serious. Get a schedule. Get to some networking events. Get dressed every once in a while in something other than a swimsuit or yoga pants. Put some structure behind all this work I somehow manage to finish despite our lax summer routine.

But I’m going to try to keep that summer urge to every once in a while, even in the midst of a stressful project, anxious day, or an endless to-do list, take a few moments to enjoy my surroundings. And soak up a little sun if there is some.

Do you take leisurely approach to summer or are you all business? Post your comments or send them to sarah@dayonebusinessservices.com – and have a great Labor Day if you celebrate it.