August 2010


Well, today is my birthday and the official launch date of my family history project. Yay!

Now the work begins…

I pulled out that old photocopy of my paternal family history and noticed that 1) the last entries were handwritten in the early 80’s, 2) some of it is faded and difficult to read, and 3) really old photocopied paper makes yours fingers itchy.  Ah well, its a place to start.

My aunt put me in touch with a family cousin who is supposedly really into geneology and has been keeping up with the itchy paper side of the family. I sent her a “may I pick your brain (and files)?” email this morning. Then I sent out an email blast to a large chunk of both my side of the family and my husband’s announcing my project, and asking for any help they could give, and warning them that I would soon be pestering them for info.

My husband has been out of town on business since Wednesday so I haven’t even told him about the project yet. Surprise! Tonight’s dinner conversation should be interesting. I think overall he will be pleased though as he knows very little about his ancestry.

Wish me luck on my project, and if you have any tips on geneology research I’d love to hear them!

Advertisements

Yesterday the stress monster was closing in fast and I was in danger of cracking like an egg. Instead, I did one simple thing. I left work two hours early. That one small gift to myself changed the course of my evening, and considering the amount of calm I’ve experienced today, it has set the course for the rest of my week as well.

Too often we push ourselves harden than we should with the “I can take it” mentality. In reality, should we take it? Should we push ourselves to the brink? Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I was under the impression that we are here to enjoy life, make the most of it, do good unto others and all that jazz. I’m pretty sure dashing through life beating ourselves up along the way is not the best approach to achieving an enjoyable life.

To that end, I sifted through some of the abundant writing on stress management, and compiled my favorites into a short list of methods to defy stress and regain the calm.

1. Recognize the problem, not the symptoms. What is the root of your stress? Decide how best to alleviate it.

2. Take care of yourself first so you can take care of your life. (This includes eating right, exercise, drinking lots of fluids, and taking your vitamins and medicines as prescribed.)

3. Allow yourself extra time. Don’t overbook or underestimate how long a task will take.

4. Schedule “me time” to do the hobbies or activities that you enjoy and that refresh you.

5. Ask for help. (This is one I’m terribly bad at doing, but when I do, I’m so glad I did!)

6. Practice good time management. (Plan ahead, don’t procrastinate on nagging tasks, use technology – smart phones, etc – to your advantage.)

7. Develop and maintain personal relationships. (Whether its your spouse, family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, or spiritual – these are the relationships that can help you through any crisis and visa versa.)

8. Laugh. A lot. (Which makes you feel better – a rolling on the floor, tears in your eyes, belly laugh or a lot of frowning, being irritable and snapping at those around you? Enough said.)

9. Use the words “yes” and “no” to your advantage. Say “Yes!” to things that make your life better, and “NO!” to things that add to your stress. (It’s easier than you think! Give it a try.)

10. Get perspective – sometimes its just a matter of seeing our lives from the right angle. (Instead of comparing your life to someone who seems to have it so much better, try comparing it to someone who has it a million times worse. Try volunteering, helping a friend or neighbor in need, expressing gratitude, or watch the world news.)

It’s not by accident that many of my favorite methods all relate back to time. We have a limited amount of it here on earth and need to make the most of it. I don’t know of anyone who wants to get to the last days of their life, look back and say, “Wow, that really sucked.”

A number of years ago (before the days of personal computers in every home) my Dad gave me a photocopy of my paternal family history dating back before the Revolutionary War and involving a land grant from the King of England. At the time I thought it was “really cool” and read through the whole thing, then took it home and filed it away. I’ve pulled it out once or twice since then and flipped through it, and then returned it to its folder. 

Years later my Mom gave me a copy of my maternal family tree dating back to our original clan in Scotland. That family tree is handsomely framed (thanks Mom!) and hangs above my great-grandmother’s Singer sewing machine. Occasionally I’ll have a look at it, find my grandfather’s name, and look at all the brackets of family members that came before him, and wonder. 

From time to time over the years I’ve thought a lot about examining those two family histories, researching them further, updating them, and putting them together in some kind of cohesive fashion, but life always got in the way. Lately, however, I’ve starting thinking about this again, and more urgently. 

Having had Little M a bit later in life than expected, I’ve begun thinking about the importance of having a family history available for her to know where she came from. The more our society becomes digitally connected and less face-to-face connected, the more priceless that sense of history, roots, belonging becomes…at least to me anyway. 

Another thing I’ve thought about is how much I’d love to explore the countries of my ancestry. I’m English, Irish, and Scottish. At a recent networking event related to my day job, I met a woman who was born in Scotland, but has lived stateside for three decades. She still had a lovely Scottish lilt and just listening to her speak had me mentally packing a suitcase and boarding a plane with Little M in hand and my husband bringing up the rear. 

To my knowledge my husband’s family doesn’t have an assembled family history, but it’s a question I’m about to ask. 

I’ve read a lot the last few months about yearlong projects people have undertaken in every conceivable category, and have thought a lot about what I would do as a project without great results. Thinking about my family tree, that lovely Scottish lilt, and what a wonderful gift a sense of history would be for my Little M would be (especially since we live so far away from most of our relatives), I think I’ve find my project.

Friday is my birthday and what better time to start? I’ll devote an hour a week minimum to the project.  I’ll pull out my the family history my Dad gave me, photocopy the family tree in the living room, send out some email inquiries and see where it gets me. I’ll even start a spreadsheet to track my efforts, and maybe a page here, and next August 27th we’ll take a look at my progress.

 

I am convinced that magazines have a secret life, and that when we’re not looking they multiple like bunnies. Maybe it’s their way of getting back at us for going digital.

My husband reads a ton of magazines, and with the exception of his beloved High Performance Pontiac and Auto Restorer, they all eventually make their way (with help from me) to the recycling bin.

My Mother-in-Law used to save all her old magazines for me to read because she knew that I would enjoy looking through them, and I did – up until the point I became a Mom and the magazines started piling up unread. Between the magazines she was sending my way and the ones to which I subscribed, (not to mention my husband’s collection) my house was becoming a glossy paper nightmare.

Finally I asked my Mother-in-Law to pass her magazines on to someone else, and I cancelled my subscriptions. Now I’m left with the carnage of my past sins – a stack of Parents partially read, a stack of Taste of Home (and a few other cooking magazines) barely flipped thru, and worst of all, a stack of Bead Style that I haven’t even given the time of day.

In a weaker moment I considered throwing them all in the recycle bin to be done with it, but that’s taking the easy way out and is wasteful on so many levels. Instead, I’ve decided to tackle the magazine monster like any other project – one step at a time (or in this case, one magazine at a time). I’ll work my way thru each one of them, scanning any recipes or articles that I want to save for later.

My BFF and I are already whispering about the possibility of a yard sale in the Spring, so as I go thru the stacks of magazines I’ll add them to the yard sale pile. Anything related to cooking and crafting tends to sell well. (In the event they don’t sell, there is always Craigslist or Freecycle.) In the meantime, I’ve got about nine months and a lot of reading to do before the yard sale – I better get busy.

Many of us don’t give a lot of thought to the actual process of decision-making, but there is a great deal of literature to be found on the process. For the sake of brievity, we can boil it down to a few basic steps:

– Define the problem

– Determine criteria for solving the problem

– Determine possible solutions

– Evaluate the possible outcomes and make a choice

– Evaluate the decision to see if you made the right choice

Often we chose hastily based on what will serve our needs right now, and not our long term goals. Other times we avoid making a choice, and the choice is made for us by proxy. The best choices are the ones that we make using the decision-making process because we have evaluated how they will affect us long term and chosen based on that information. I’ll give you some examples from my week to show you what I mean.

Here’s where using the Decision-Making Process served me well…

About a week ago Little M received an invitation to go to a birthday party to be held at a water park this afternoon for one of her classmates.  M commutes with me everyday, so her school, classmates, and the water park are all about an hour from our house. The party started at noon which meant M would have to have a very early lunch and catch whatever Zzzzs she could in the car on the drive over (and then home again) in place of a nap. The party was scheduled to last several hours so we would most likely arrive home around dinnertime. All this meant was a little extra planning on my part, a bit of a long day for us both, and possibly a cranky toddler by early evening, but it was all completely manageable.

The problem came yesterday morning when M woke up just on the edge of being really sick. What to do? Yesterday from work I monitored M by calling the school to check on her, and I informed the birthday girl’s Mom about what was going on. Today I determined the problem (M is still borderline sick and not her normal self), established the criteria (I don’t want her to get any sicker), determined solutions (a – stay home, b – drag her to the party), evaluated the outcomes (a – staying home allows her to rest and get back to normal, b – taking her to the party risks her getting sicker and possibly ending up at the doctors forcing me to miss work, use personal time, etc.), made a choice (stay home), and evaluated the decision (M was more subdued than usual, ate her lunch quietly, and went down for a nap early meaning she was tired and needed extra rest). Good decision!

Here is where not using the Decision-Making Process has caused us extra expense, and then finally using it saved us money all in one example…

It’s a couple of problems in one, so flowchart it if you must.

Problem A: On Tuesday my husband’s cell phone suffered a fatal attack of Can’t-Be-Fixed. This was a lucky break for him because he desperately hated that phone and reminded me of it regularly. The problem was he wanted to upgrade to a smart phone, but I was extremely frustrated at how much we were paying for my smart phone and I didn’t want to double that amount. For the sake of keeping the man happy I started doing some research online for possible smart phones for him to determine phone costs, plan costs, etc., and ended up in a live chat with a rep. During the course of the conversation I vented my frustration about the cost of my phone and found out that we were paying $30 a month for a service I had not asked for and didn’t want but that the initial sales rep had said I was REQUIRED to have. Not true. I/we learned the hard way that if we had made the decision then, or any time in the last 18 months, to question that charge we could have saved ourselves a lot of money. But at the time of the initial purchase we were more focused on our getting our couple month old baby out of an extremely packed store during cold and flu season (short term goals), and in the time since, well, lazy is all I can say (choice by proxy).

Moving on to Thursday, we hit the cell phone store. My husband had decided on a smart phone, and its monthly data package was extremely reasonable.  The phone he chose was eligible for a rebate, and we had a gift card that would cover half the cost of the phone, so after rebate the phone will end up costing us $30. (Ironic, I know.) We talked to the rep in the store and got the unnecessary charge removed from my phone and a similar (though not as costly) bogus charge removed from my husband’s phone, and voila, we both have smart phones and our bill will be cheaper than before.

Problem B: My husband hates MY cell phone because I’m constantly trying to take pictures of a moving target (Little M) with it and I end up with 1 good shot for every 9-10 blurry ones. I don’t hate my cell phone, I hate my 8-10 years old point and shoot camera that eats batteries and is slower than molasses in a snow storm, which is why I’m always grabbing the cell phone to take pictures. The problem – my husband wanted me to get a better phone to take pictures, I wanted a better camera to take pictures. To make him happy, we checked new phones at the cell phone store. I’m not eligible for an upgrade for a few weeks, but when I am the natural upgrade would be $125 after rebate and I would still be getting cell phone quality pictures of M. Not what I want. To make me happy, I researched new point and shoot cameras, I went to the big box store and touched the display cameras, I read reviews online. Finally, yesterday, I found a point and shoot that had all the qualities I wanted and was reasonably priced, and I could get free shipping with my order. I weighed all the possible scenarios and made the decision to order the camera.  Then, that evening, I opened the mail and had (surprise!) two birthday cards with almost enough money to cover the cost of the camera, save $9. Patience and good decision-making saved us money, and solved several problems.

What decisions are you making hastily, or putting off all together that are costing you money, or creating problems in your life?  Make the decision to make a GOOD decision.

Yesterday evening as I was picking up my daughter from childcare, I happened to overhear another Mom ask the teacher about the “nap mat” she needed to buy for her son as he was moving up to the next class on Monday. This caught my attention because Little M will move up in a little over three months.

In their current class Little M and her classmates sleep on stackable molded cots with their own favorite blankets from home. In the next class up parents are required to provide nap mats that are much larger to accomodate growing children. The mats are also machine washable, as the children will be in potty training mode. The school also suggests that you buy two mats so that in the event of accidents, you aren’t scrambling to wash and return a single mat everyday.

Further research determined that the school sold mats in several standard theme patterns for $30 each, but the fabric seemed very stiff and not the least bit “snuggly.” I found similar mats with better fabric on the Internet but they were $50 for mats for boys and $75 for mats for girls.

Sidebar: Why are girl items always more expensive??? (Don’t worry, you don’t have to answer. The question is rhetorical – it’s because we’re girls, we like pretty stuff, and we pay a premium for it.)

Taking a look at the construction of the ones for sale at school, and then studying the ones sold on line, it would not be a difficult project to make. Fabric for the mat itself – back and front, foam padding, sheet material, a pillow, some nice binding, and velcro or buckles to secure it when its rolled up. Plus, making them myself would be considerably cheaper.

Hmmm. Buy overpriced, boring, and questionable quality, or make them myself?

I think it goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that I will be taking door number three. Mama will make the nap mats and will use warm, snuggly cute fabrics, make the pillow removeable for easy cleaning, add a nice closure, and, if she’s really, really good, perhaps she can get her BFF to monogram them with Little M’s name.  That would be sweet.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go check my fabric stock.

 

In my world it’s Tuesday…plus a few hours. 🙂

I have never considered myself minimalist by any stretch of the imagination, though I do love clean lines and uncluttered space. However, I’m starting to wonder if I’m not heading in that direction. So often now I find myself looking around my house, seeing objects with new eyes, and thinking, “that needs to go”. And these were things that I formally loved. My ideas about what is wanted or needed seems to be changing daily, and the desire to lighten the load is increasing exponentially the more stuff I get rid of.

Case in point. Two years ago my sewing/work room was contained within a small extra bedroom. It was a crowded but cozy space with walls the color of caffe au lait, curtains I’d made myself, a bookcase full of books, a closet stuffed with all my sewing, needlework, and jewelry making supplies, an antique dresser filled with odds and ends. I loved that room, and all my little treasures.

Then, I discovered I was pregnant with Little M and the extra room needed to be transformed into a nursery. I carved out an area in the basement and set about creating a new cozy space. It was different but it still had the cozy woman-cave feel, and it worked well until Little M outgrew the basinet and then the pack’n play. When it came time to little Little M roam free, suddenly it was all too much. There were books that could be torn, cords to get tangled in, open shelves with two many things to topple over on a little one. It went on and on. I had to find a compromise that worked for me and for a baby discovering the world around her.

After tossing around several options and trying some that didn’t work, I decided to move the table that my sewing machine sat on back upstairs and set it up in the master bedroom (with creative arrangement of furniture we had the space). Then a lot of related began to follow – books, supplies, a lamp, tools – just because I was accustomed to always having them nearby. Time passed and I realized I was spending more time decluttering the work table than actually creating projects. It was frustrating. 

Finally, one day I took everything back to the basement that I did not absolutely need for the sewing project that I was trying to complete. The table was left with a sewing machine, a task lamp, and a basket that contained my patterns (that were in use), sewing tools, and notions, and a magnetic straight pin holder. Suddenly the space was inviting. I couldn’t wait to use the area. And now I do, regularly. I’ve discovered that the less visual clutter I have hampering me, the more productive I am. Now, the basement area is my storage space, and that little table is my workspace. I bring up to the table only what I need for a project, and return what I don’t need any longer when I’m finished. It’s Heaven, but it has me looking at that basement area more and more wondering, “what can go?” A lot, I’m pretty sure.

Next Page »