Friday, June 29, 2012

Stealing Time

I work best when I have a large chunk of uninterrupted time to focus on a project.  In fact, in that case, I'm unstoppable.  I don't multi-task well, and I've known that for a while, so I try to focus on one thing at a time until a good stopping point comes along.

This is difficult in a workplace with a LOT of meetings.  Most of my focused work happens earlier in the morning before everyone shows up, or late afternoon after the myriad meetings.   Sometimes I need to take time in the evening to really focus when it's quiet and empty.

But, as parents know, huge chunks of uninterrupted time on weekends for personal projects is hard to come by.  Especially with a baby or toddler who can't yet get out of bed on their own, fix their own meals, or even dress themselves.  Nevermind being able to go to the bathroom alone or trusting her to sit and read a book or play alone for hours at a stretch.

Lately I've been CONSUMED (obsessed?) with crafty projects.  I have four things I'm working on (actively) right now:  Project Life, my first mini scrapbook album made from scratch, a birthday gift for my mom (secret!), and an album kit from ScrapScriptions.  I switch off between them depending on my mood, what the next step is and *how much time I have*.

Which is often not enough by a long shot.  I could sit and work for 5-6 hours easily, when I am inspired.  But I *never* have that much free time at a stretch.  When T is at preschool, I'm at work.  Occasionally we'll drop her off at my parents' place for a morning or afternoon (woot) but not for the whole day, because *we* want to hang out with her, and her schedule is surprisingly full for a toddler.

After tilting at this immutable parenting windmill for 2.5 years, I am finally starting to figure it out.  For now, while I have small children, I just won't have those whole days to dedicate to my craft or  my other leisure pursuits.  I can't sit around waiting for the "perfect day" or that big uninterrupted chunk of time because it will NEVER come.

So I've resorted to "stealing time" when I can.  As soon as she goes down for a nap, I head to the craft room.  No idly checking email or Facebook, which can stretch from 2 minutes into an hour easily.  No quick loads of laundry or dishes, unless I'm intentionally doing that particular task right then.  (I like to save my toddler-free time for more exciting things than house chores.)

After she goes to bed (thankfully at 7pm), it's the same story.  I pick a project and get to work and then I can put in at least 3 hours before I need to sleep. 

Remarkably, my obsession about these projects has even carried over to the morning and I am NOT a morning person.  TJ typically takes most of the morning toddler duty, so if I get up just a bit before she does, I can get in 30 minutes to an hour of crafty goodness, and even squeeze in a tiny bit of treadmill walking, all before getting ready for work.  I was also inspired to try this by Laura Vanderkam's awesome new e-book, What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast.

I've also thought about how to break down the projects, so while T is playing by herself or doing her own art project, I can bring something upstairs and work on it next to her.  This way I'm making progress with the time available rather than waiting for that perfect time to materialize.

And to that point, here I am at the doctor's office, 45 minutes into my 2 hour glucose tolerance test, finishing up a blog post.  I've already checked my work and personal emails, and will also be able to squeeze in some Morning Pages.  Woot!

How do you steal time to do the things you want to do?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

What Alice Forgot: BlogHer Book Club Review

The last fiction book I read was What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty.  It was a fun, light  read, perfect for lazy summer days. What drew me to it was the interesting premise - after an accident, a woman loses 10 years of memories and has to go through her daily life without them, and figure out who she is and how she relates to the people around her.

It sounds grim but was actually quite funny and easy to read.  It's set in Australia, but could be anywhere really.  Alice figures out that she had turned into a not-so-nice person over the 10 years she "lost", and starts to rebuild her relationships with her sister, children, and husband.

The characters are familiar and likeable, for the most part.  The most interesting to me was her sister Elizabeth, who narrates part of the book in first person, and details her struggle with infertility, in a very convincing way.  Moriarty definitely got that part right.

For the first half I was impatiently holding my breath, waiting for Alice's memories to return and it hindered my enjoyment of the book.  Somewhere in there, I just let go of that idea and accepted her state for what it was, and then it got much easier and more pleasant to read.   I will admit I was a bit disappointed when she did get her memories back as I quite liked the "new Alice".

Like most "chick lit" books, everything ends well, which was just fine with me. I love a satisfying happy ending with all loose ends neatly tied up.   It took me just a few days to read the whole thing.

This book overall was good, but not great.  I probably won't keep it to re-read but don't feel like it was time wasted, either.  It's nice and meaty at around 400 pages so if you're looking for a vacation book, it's a worthwhile read.

I was compensated for this review by BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are totally my own.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Just another day

I'm at an age where I'm supposed to hate birthdays or at the least, downplay them for fear of "getting old".  No way man!  I LOVE my birthday.  It's my own personal holiday.  I can be a diva.  I get new stuff.  People bring me cake.  I typically take the day off from work. What's not to love?
So here I am, at the ripe old age of 37, 6 months pregnant and wearing my awesome handmade birthday crown:

Yep, my fabulous husband and fabulous daughter made me a fantastic crown to wear for my birthday.  I wore it to work.  I'm wearing it at home.  T also suggested to TJ that my birthday present should be getting my nails done.  I don't know how/where she came up with that, but we were surprised at what a good idea it was.  So I'm now sporting glittery fingernails and bright almost- BMW M3 blue toes.

Birthdays are often about a new gadget for me: iPhone, iPod, camera, whatnot.  In fact Birthday iPod 2006 has been pressed into (underutilized) service as T's sleepytime "rain sounds" machine.  This year we got a new computer for our living room so that T can watch the occasional DVD there.  Plus we can use it as a digital photo frame/slideshow thingy when we're not watching anything and also stream our music through it.  It's supposed to show up today - woo hoo!
Birthday Week also has included a trip to Canlis, most years since 2005.  This year is no different. Hooray!  Today is a Good Day.

What about you - do you celebrate your birthday or try to ignore it?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Project Life: Ireland Edition

I've been trying to get to the mythical land of "caught up" on Project Life since we returned from Ireland.  I knew I'd get behind on vacation, but didn't anticipate the total lack of interest in the month before we left.

So each week since we returned, I've been doing one "old" week and the current week, so that I can eventually close the gap and just work on one week at a time.  This was hard to do with the vacation photos, because there were SO MANY to go through and then I had to narrow down which ones to use for the album.  I'll probably make a separate photo book with all of our trip pictures (add another thing to the list...).

But finally, last week, I finished the Ireland trip.  Woot!  I made the executive decision to use more than one 2 page spread for each week because even though I was sick, we ended up doing quite a bit of stuff.  So really, it was more work than I anticipated.

I started getting a little more adventurously crafty with the 2x3" spots when I didn't have photos, and for the last week I downloaded some designs for my cool Silhouette die cutting machine to fill in some of the slots.  That was pretty fun and there are a ton of Project Life compatible designs out there.

Click each photo to see a larger version.

In our first week, we settled nicely into our rental house in Kenmare, and wandered around the town.  We took an afternoon trip to Killarney.  Later that week, TJ and T went on a couple of excursions while I stayed home to sleep (thanks, virus).  TJ had his first Guinness on tap in Kenmare, and continued his comparison study whenever we found ourselves at a pub for a meal.

Week 1: airport, Kenmare, Killarney

Week 1: Killarney, Staigue Fort, daddy-daughter excursions

Week 1: more daddy-daughter fun, soy milk at Eask Tower

In our second week, I returned to the doctor, which didn't help much either.  I was able to make it to the playground in Kenmare (which TJ and T visited a lot) and an ancient stone circle, which T liked as much as the playground.  TJ also found The Vestry, an old church converted into a house, which he was all set to purchase until he realized the yard had a cemetary (creepy!).  We took a road trip out to Ballinskellig, an old priory built right by the water and had the worst meal of our trip on the way back.  Nice restaurant, horrible (and expensive!) food.  I wanted to visit a city so we went to Cork and wandered about aimlessly.  Next time we'll have a plan.  That weekend, T got to feed a baby lamb with a bottle at the Kissane Sheep Farm close to Kenmare.

I wish someone would invent some kind of tiny (cheap!) flexible screen with a memory chip so you could embed a little video in your scrapbooking pages.  I'm sure this is something that'll come out in the next 10 years, and of course if I did these pages digitally, I could do it now.  But I'm a tactile, pen and paper sort of girl...  Akso, the cute little hexagon card on the last page is from Smitha Katti's free printables on her blog - woot!

Week 2: Ballinskellig, awful meal at Dooleys, Kenmare stone circle and playground

Week 2: Cork, Kissane Sheep Farm

Week 3 was all about us wanting to go home (ie our Vacation Limit had been reached).  I was tired of being sick and not being in my own comfy house and bed.  But the high point was our all-too-short trip to Dublin.  We were there for about a day and a half and resolved to come back when the kids are older because there was so much to see and do and we barely scratched the surface.  I think it was one of my favorite parts of the trip, because I'm a city girl at heart. 

T loved the crowded but super fun playground in St Stephen's Green, TJ and I liked the Guiness Storehouse tour even though it was super-touristy, and we all enjoyed wandering around St. Patrick's Cathedral.  The Hop-on, Hop-off bus tour was an inspired suggestion of TJ's so that we could get a quick tour of the city and not have to deal much with traffic.

Week 3: Dublin - Guinness Storehouse, St Stephen's Green, St Patrick's Cathedral

Week 3: Dublin, funky diner in Farranfore and Heathrow Airport

I did a decent job of keeping ticket stubs and business cards to use for the scrapbook.  One of my favorite slots in Week 3 was the star cutouts from the Silhouette machine, which I backed with crinkled up shiny silver tissue paper.   I'm getting more adventurous about using papers from my stash and making *some* attempt to coordinate colors, or at least color families.  I'm sure I'll get better at it over time.  I'm also becoming ruthless at photo editing and throwing out duplicate photos or those that just aren't that good or interesting.

I  ordered some automatic Instagram prints from my Android phone with Piccaprint, and their quality is great, but they are just too expensive when you figure in shipping from Sweden.  And now that I have a fancy new printer, I can just print them at home.  In fact, most of the week 3 photos were printed at home, and the quality is as good as the ones I got from Target.  Hooray for that.

Now that the vacation pages are done, I can go back to my usual (easier!) 2 pages per week and hopefully crank through the rest of April and the beginning of May in short order.  That's the plan for the next few weeks...

Thursday, June 21, 2012

I'm fully focused, man

OK, this post is a little braggity-braggy so if you're not into that, then feel free to skip it.  I even borrowed the title from 50 Cent's master work "In Da Club" which is one of my favorite "I'm so awesome" rapper songs.  I think it was the track that made TJ wonder exactly who he was married to when he borrowed my iPod one day...

Remember way back in January when I said one of my necklaces was accepted for publication in Bead Trends magazine?  I held my breath, figuring it might get cut at the last minute, and not getting my hopes up.

But, as it turns out, there it was, in the June 2012 issue with my name on it and everything :)  There was another page in the back with my website details and the materials list.  So weird and surreal to see my name in print, but I am *totally* stoked.  (Click on the image if you want to see a larger version.)

The lesson I learned from this?  Don't be afraid to put myself out there.  I've still got my eye on Cards magazine, but haven't had a ton of time to sit down and make a bunch of new cards aligned with their submission guidelines.  But I printed up the guidelines and marked the deadlines on my calendar so I'm sure gonna try.

The second little braggy bit is that my blurb about Canlis, our absolute favorite Seattle restaurant, was published on!  It was an opportunity I got by being part of the BlogHer network, and I wrote it figuring it wouldn't make the cut.  But it did :)  Hooray!

This ties back to something I saw on the anonymous question list at work (man, that thing is full of blog fodder!).  Someone was worried about performance reviews and how despite getting good feedback from people they still get lower scores than they expect, and were feeling really bad about it.  Like bad enough to go to therapy and get medication.  Which I'm all for, by the way, if you're feeling crappy.

But it made me realize how important it is NOT to let your entire identity and self-worth be based on how you're doing at work, and how easy it is for us to fall into that trap when we get all the accolades, awards, and bonuses.  Then when they slow down or stop coming, you start to feel useless, or "bad at your job" and this can spiral into worse mental health issues.

Those work rewards are tangible, whereas something like being a great parent is often unappreciated.  Sure, occasionally your hubby or mom might give you an occasional compliment (which I treasure for months and revisit in my head every time I'm feeling down), but by and large, your efforts seem unnoticed and the "rewards" come much later, when your kids develop into well-adjusted adults.

This is why I like to have things outside of work that I can work at, and be good at.  By and large the activities themselves give me joy.  My perfect day is one with a HUGE chunk of uninterrupted crafty time.  Getting published, or selling my work, is an added bonus. 

This can also become unhealthy if you stop getting joy out of the process and just want the external rewards, but at least you're diversifying, to borrow a term from the personal finance arena.

But having all these different "passions" in life means I'm probably doing well in at least some of them, even if the others feel like they're not going well or the results are not yet evident (as in the case of BabyT who is doing a great job of being 2 years old, if you know what I mean).

I'm *so* much happier now that I have a lot of different things I'm equally excited about, as opposed to pre-2007 when all I had was work.  Sometimes I struggle with having enough time to commit to all of my interests, or context-switching between them.  But that's a time-management issue and one that can be easily solved.

So, what are you excited about outside of your "day job"?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Hello, what?

As I was falling asleep last night, a thought popped into my head.  I'm really looking forward to nursing another baby.

What the heck??  When did that happen?  Before I got pregnant with T, I was thinking "you want me to do what?! And that's her only food source?  Who thought that was a good idea?"  I thought I'd have to sequester myself in a dark room somewhere and never leave the house. 

One of the first questions I asked our prospective pediatrician was her thoughts on breastfeeding because I wanted to gauge whether she was going to harangue me or guilt me if I wanted to quit.  (She did not, and she has been awesome in every way.  She said she asks new moms to try to give it a month, and that was a good answer in my book.)

It took us a long time to get the hang of it.  I didn't like it at first.   I set small goals for myself - make it through the first day, three days, a week.  Then 2 weeks, a month, and before I knew it, we got to that magical time when it was actually *easier* to nurse her than sort out a bottle.  And she got so efficient, we'd be done in less than 10 minutes and I lost my leisurely Facebook/NYT reading time.  Heh.  I was all set to quit at a year, but T got sick for the first time right around then, we had two trips planned, and we were still navigating her dairy allergy, so she nursed until just short of 14 months.  I never imagined making it for that long.  When we quit, we were both ready - not a single tear was shed and she never asked about it (ok, that made ME a little sad inside, I'll admit!).

I even got brave enough to nurse in public, sort of.  I could do it in the car, or at other gatherings with mamas and babies.  I never managed to get comfortable nursing in a random public place like a restaurant but I suspect Baby X' will be nursed wherever we happen to be, since we'll be out and about more.

So maybe I'm remembering those blissful, easy days of nursing in bed for 10 minutes and going about our business.  When it's 4 hours a day, it probably won't be so awesome.  But oddly, I'm still looking forward to it.

But there is nothing in this world that will make me look forward to pumping again.  Blech.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Artist's Way Toolkit: BlogHer Review

I was super-excited to see the request to review Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way Toolkit.  It's a book I've wanted to read for a while, so getting access to the online version for free sounded like an awesome deal.

You can use the website without having read the book - there's enough introductory material there to explain the background.  The Artist's Way is a series of exercises to lead you to more creative thinking and inspiration, and to get you past anything blocking you from being creatively awesome.  It's not just for visual artists - it's for writers, crafters and all manner of creative thinkers and doers. 

One of the core practices she asks you to adopt is doing "morning pages" - three pages of stream-of-consciousness journal writing in the morning.  She insists you must do this by hand, rather than typing, which is my style anyway.  This is something I'll keep doing for a long time - I haven't yet made it part of the daily routine, but I do it more days than not.  It's quite surprising what it yields - it clears my brain of any nagging items, lets me capture random creative ideas that I didn't know I had, as well as more concrete to-dos for the coming days.  It's been easy and fun, and a good way to start the day.

The Toolkit has other components - a daily affirmation, which is not really my thing, but had some good quotes (most of them by Cameron herself).  There was also an audio component called "Creative Soundbites" which was a little woo-woo for me - cheesy New Age music with people talking about metaphysical concepts.  I didn't get much out of that.

The part I loved was the weekly "Artist's Date".  It's an assignment to go and do an activity on your own, to stimulate creativity, and they've been fun ones - take a walk through a (safe) part of your town you've never explored, buy candy you enjoyed in your childhood and eat it, visit a funky thrift store, etc.  Fun little tasks you can then write about or capture ideas from.

The Artist's Way Exercises were another core practice, and one I couldn't get into, but still want to attempt.  They're hard questions where you have to analyze blockers to your creativity, or come up with new ideas.  They're meant to make you think and really dig deep inside yourself for good answers.  I'm feeling a little stressed and busy these days so just couldn't make the time to sit down and focus on these as much as I should.  It would be awesome work for someone who intends to make a career out of their creative pursuits, though.

What I would have liked more was a choice of activities for the Artist's Date or the Exercises - ie, if you don't like the current one, you should be able to skip to a new one.  But the online version has the same one up for a week, so you have to wait and log in to get a new one the following week.

The site is set up like a "notebook", which starts with a "contract" to commit to the practice of morning pages and doing this work.  That was a nice touch to get some commitment from the users.  You can write up your experiences from the Artist's Dates and Artist's Way Exercises in that "notebook" and save them online.  In addition, there are some more blank sections for other creative notes and you can export your work.

For things like this, I'm more a pen-and-paper kind of girl, so I didn't make use of these sections.  I'd rather have hardcopy notes in front of me.

There's a mobile app for Apple devices, but not Android or Windows Phone, sadly.  The material is supposed to be "spiritual" and thus mentions God a lot, but is not focused on a specific religion.  I'd have liked it better if it didn't mention God altogether, but I think that is a core part of the original Artist's Way and I can respect that.

I'd definitely recommend this toolkit for folks looking for some new and different ways to spark their creativity, *especially* if you're trying to support yourself as an artist or writer.  It's great for those who are surgically attached to their laptop or iPad. 

Have you read The Artist's Way?  What did you think?

I was compensated for this review by BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are totally my own.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Paul Simon, Sisters, Golden Cricket, and no more Target Photo

About 3 weeks ago I was on my way to get my 20-week ultrasound done, where we would finally find out the sex of Baby X'. A song I had never heard came on the radio and I fell in love:

Specifically the part where he says "my mama loves me, she loves me like a rock".  That, and the gorgeous sunny day were a great accompaniment to this Big Deal appointment. 

And then I was so excited to find out Baby X' is a girl!  T is going to have a sister, which is something I really wanted for her.  It doesn't guarantee they'll be BFFs, of course, but I like the idea that they might be.  If not while they're kids, maybe when they're grown up.  A mama can dream, right?

But wait, that's not all!  The second trimester goodness is going strong.  TJ painted my new craft room a gorgeous shade of lime green/chartreuse yumminess called Golden Cricket.  It's a magical color - looks like a pale spring green in the early morning, a minty green at night, and a gorgeous lime during the day.  It's so different depending on the light and delights me every time I see it.

He and his cousin J helped me move all the big furniture in there, and I've gotten nearly everything set up the way I want it (still working on the final bits and pieces).  I love it, maybe even more than my old craft room - everything in there is something I use and love and has a logical place.  It fills me with a sense of peace and crafty possibility every time I set foot in there.

One of the things in it that makes me ridiculously happy is my brand new Canon PIXMA Pro printer, scored new in box from Craigslist for an awesome price.  Canon is running a huge rebate deal for people who buy a DSLR camera and a printer together, so a lot of folks bought the printer and sold it  just to get the deal.  It prints photos like a dream, and the first batch I tried are good enough that I don't have to rely on Target Photo anymore to process my weekly Project Life photos.  Hooray.

All these little things are conspiring to make me very happy lately.  What's good in your life these days?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Project Life: March 2012 Catch Up

I'm diligently working on catching up with Project Life.  Last night some friends came over for Craft and Cocktails, which really was just Craft, Chat and Pig Nose Pretzel Chips with Mascarpone Cheese (yum) and the odd glass of wine so I used that time to work on Week 2 of our April Ireland trip.  But before I post that, I'd like to post all 5 weeks of March! Click on each photo to see a larger version.

March was an exciting month for us.  T said goodbye to her daycare friends and teachers and started her new preschool.  TJ celebrated his *redacted* birthday.  We got ready for our trip.  We had a date night at Canlis.  It was the end of the first trimester of my pregnancy with Baby X' and we finally told everyone about it. T had her last physical therapy session and we said goodbye to Miss Carrie, her therapist for the last 18 months. TJ quit his job.

Feb 27-Mar 4 - endings and beginnings

Mar 5-11 - short on photos!

Mar 12-18 - art projects and Kirkland waterfront

Mar 19-25 - more art projects and Canlis

Mar 26-31 - Baby X' goes public and TJ quits

I needed to *do something* about the huge binder my Project Life pages live in.  Thinking it would be fun to be extra-crafty, I bought an American Crafts chipboard binder. It mocked me for months with its incompleteness.  I wasn't sure where to begin with decorating it, or how to cover it with something durable. (Sometimes my crafty aspirations get the best of me.)

I debated just buying another binder which didn't need any covering, but decided to get over my fear, and try *something*.  If it gets trashed, I can get a new binder later.   So I used some of the Project Life coordinating cardstock, some phenomenal adhesive sheets from ThermOWeb, letter stickers, rub-on transfers, and a bunch of Mod Podge decoupage glue to seal the whole thing.

sometimes a girl just has to face her fear and pick up the damn glue

Not bad for a first try, but it wasn't perfect. I didn't cover the entire binder surface with those adhesive sheets because they're expensive, so when I used the decoupage glue, the paper that wasn't stuck to the sheets bubbled a bit. However, it looked better once everything dried, thought not as perfect as I would like.  I cut the ribbon for the edges too short so it's already starting to fray at the edges.  A better trick would have been to fold it over the bottom, or use Fray-check.

I did the same thing with the inside covers and the back, with varying degrees of success.  The back bubbled horribly and looks awful.  I tried to sand it a bit to make it look "distressed" and now it just looks like it got run over by Bubba's truck.  I'm not sure what to do about that, and whether a second layer of paper will make it better or worse.  Sigh.

But I love this project.  It's gotten me to jump headfirst into scrapbooking.  Since I'm capturing a little of T's preschool work each week (usually), I don't feel bad about throwing away the steady stream of papers coming into our house.  I'm starting to explore all the great crafty resources online - there are people who offer free printable cards that fit perfectly into the slots of the page protectors, as well as those who post great ideas about *what* to put in if you're short on interesting stuff or totally flaked out on taking photos that week.

One thing I discovered after perusing others' Project Life layouts online - I'm primarily approaching this like an annotated photo album, while other more seasoned scrapbookers are much more crafty about the whole thing.  They have tons of journaling, embellishments, and whitespace, while I primarily fill the slots with photos and then use what's left to tell the story.  I've noticed as I get more practice,  my crafty skills are increasing and I'm having more fun with the non-photo slots.

So yay.  And every week, as I get closer to reaching that elusive state of "being caught up", I feel a pretty hefty sense of accomplishment.  I have tangible evidence of my craftiness to hold in my hands.  *That* is why I do this.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

All the Money in the World: Book Review

Laura Vanderkam was nice enough to provide me with a copy of her book, All the Money in the World: What the Happiest People Know About Getting and Spending.  I devoured it in a few hours which is pretty remarkable because I am really not into reading personal finance books.  Her writing is crisp and clear and the examples and stories were again relevant and useful, like in her previous book, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think.

What I liked about this book was that it was far more about the *philosophy of money* and what it could do for you, more than tactical tips about budgeting or doing crazy frugal things like washing out Ziploc bags for reuse (which she does talk about but in a different context.)

This book wasn't quite as useful to me as 168 Hours, simply because as a family we are on top of our finances, thanks to my fabulous hubby who actually likes that sort of thing.   But it was an enjoyable read, and the exercises at the end were useful to clarify priorities in life, which can then inform how we choose to spend our money. 

There were some really interesting ideas in there, too.  One was creating the "perfect weekend" full of fun things to do.  It was couched in terms of cost, and how "perfect" doesn't automatically mean expensive, but that section resonated with me more on the time management/planning side than the financial side.  We often fritter away our weekends doing non-essential stuff, and not planning ahead, and on Sunday night we mourn that we didn't *do* anything with our weekend.  This approach means planning activities ahead - not a wall-to-wall packed hourly schedule, but just a couple of activities each day, but still being able to adjust on the fly.  I'm intrigued by the idea and will definitely do this in the future - more to maximize happiness than to minimize my spending.

Another idea that resonated with me was her view that finding work you really, truly enjoy means you're not just slogging it out until thankfully it's time to retire and play golf all day.  That in fact, if you like your work, you might want to consider doing it *past* retirement age, and then continue to earn more.  I interpreted this to mean that we also don't have to postpone our "big dreams" until we retire and have all that supposed free time - that we can pursue them now, and keep working at the same time.  Or take breaks from working to pursue them and then go back.

I love her writing because she has opinions and I get a sense of the author's personality, unlike a lot of nonfiction which reads like college term papers, dry and lacking any personal insight.  But that quality also made it frustrating to read at times - there were several points in the book where I flat out disagreed with her statements.

For example, in the chapter about how having more kids isn't necessarily a huge financial burden, she posits that it might not be necessary for parents to pay for their kids' college, and that private college tuition may not be "worth it".   In some cases that may be true, and if your child is brilliant, they'll figure out a way to get a stellar education even with no college. 

But for students like me who were smart but not super-extroverted "go-getters", going to a small private university where I was guaranteed personal attention was exactly what I needed.  Quite simply I would have gotten lost in the shuffle at a huge state school and just coasted my way through as I did in my entire school career prior to that.  For us, the cost of college (and potentially private school before that) is a huge financial consideration and given that we have the means to pay for college for our kids (if we're careful about our resources), it would be irresponsible of us not to plan for that.

The other chapter that didn't ring true for me was the one on charitable giving and the "selfish joy" it brings to people.  I found the examples fascinating, but I just couldn't relate to the idea of getting personal satisfaction or pleasure out of giving to charity.  Don't get me wrong, we write lots of checks to organizations we support and I try to research them to find ones that use the money wisely, but by and large I do it because it's just the right thing to do, not because it makes me feel good.  I feel neutral about it - I see it as one of those things you do as part of a community, especially as someone who has a lot of blessings in her life.  Perhaps that means I'm an unfeeling person.

In this book she definitely toned down her "everyone should do paid work full time" message, for which I was grateful (it was a consistent frustration for me in 168 Hours).  

I loved the chapters where she talked about buying less house than you can afford (or the bank thinks you can afford), as well as scaling back the expenses related to the Engagement-Wedding Industrial Complex.   This would be a great book for someone in their 20s just starting out in the "real world".

I definitely recommend reading it- even if you're super-responsible with your money, you'll likely come away with some new ideas after reading it.  It's more about figuring out your overall life priorities than the nuts and bolts of personal finance, and that kind of introspection is good for everyone, right?

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Goodbye fear

Cloud has an awesome post about work-life balance with a couple of great points:

1.  If you don't ask for it, your boss won't know what you need
2.  Everyone is entitled to work-life balance, not just moms or parents

Go read it and then come back.

About once a month, I get pinged by someone at work who wants to know how they can set up a part-time schedule.  My short answer?  I asked for it

The longer answer?  I knew it was a priority for my family, and I didn't back down.  Returning from maternity leave, I would have quit if I had to go back to working the 45+ hours a week, 5 days in the office plus more-time-from-home schedule I had before I left.

The first answer I got was "I don't think we can make that work."  So I went home that day prepared to start cleaning out my office.  And then the next day, got an email saying that they could, in fact, make it work.

Note that I didn't threaten to quit during the first conversation.  I just laid out what exact schedule worked for me.

But in order to do this, I had to stop being afraid.  I've got a huge fear of failure.  It's probably one of my worst traits (aside from the inability to stop eating stuff that's bad for me).  I'm a Type-A perfectionist who wants her gold stars. 

I liked being GREAT at my job and being needed.  I loved the high review scores, big bonuses, promotions and special awards.  I was the rat who figured out how to press the lever to get the little food pellets.  That's what made me happy.

Until it didn't anymore.  My life changed completely when I had T.  I considered becoming a SAHM, something I had never given a single thought to before.  In a few short months, my entire life focus shifted to something even more motivating than those shiny gold stars.

And that's when I realized I was no longer afraid.  What if they turned down my request to work part-time?  Well, then I wouldn't work.  And we were ok with that.  If I absolutely HAD to work, I would have worked full-time.

Each year, the familiar nervousness creeps back around performance review time.  Did I do well enough to get the rewards?  By working part-time I've chosen to make a compromise in this area.  Since I'm working less, I get compensated less.  Since we're "graded on a curve", my coworkers putting in 60 hours are getting better rankings than I am.

I can't rant about the unfairness of that, because they have chosen to make work "their thing".  I used to be very afraid of getting a "bad score" and I still stress out about that.  But what if I do?  The scenario that plays out is not really the end of the world. 

The worst possible case is that it's so low that I'm asked to leave.  But that's unlikely as it's a very small percentage of folks who get that score.  If I did, maybe the job or team is not a good fit for me.  Any other low score would mean a small or no bonus, which is a bummer, but not a tragedy.

Fear just gets in the way of doing great work *and* having the life I want.  If I'm too afraid to ask for a flexible work arrangement, one is not just going to miraculously drop from the sky.   If I work harder and longer hours to assuage my fears of getting a bad review, I'm going to miss out on the other things I like to do, and I'm not respecting my own priorities.  Fear makes people do a lot of things they don't truly WANT to do and that is really no good.

I have a hard time sympathizing with people who SAY they want flexibility but then don't assert themselves to get it (this happens a lot).  Yes, it takes balls to do this.  But the upside is pretty great.

Once I stopped being afraid of hypothetical "bad things" happening to me at work, I felt a lot more free to find work I wanted to do, a team I liked, and just plain happiness.  Who can argue with that?

So, how bad do you want it?

Friday, June 01, 2012

Focusing on priorities

My favorite lesson from Laura Vanderkam's excellent 168 Hours was reframing "I don't have time for xyz" as "xyz is not a priority for me".  Sounds so simple, but it's brilliant.  If you are reasonably careful with your time, you will absolutely make time for the important things.

This is why I've been able to continue being crafty in some form or another even after T was born.  I know it'll be harder with Baby X' in the mix too, but something else will fall by the wayside and I will likely make time to be crafty, because it feeds my soul.

In the past few weeks I've made some hard decisions.  After posting my quandary about my Etsy shop, I decided to stop accepting custom orders even though business was good.  I realized it was stressing me out more than making me happy, and also realized I could be happy making non-custom pieces and posting them for sale on my schedule, instead of someone else's.  So I don't have to stop doing metal work or jewelry making entirely, but I can control my schedule a lot better this way.

Another practice that helped me crystallize what's important is doing "Morning Pages" from The Artist's Way.  I'll write more about this later with an official review next week, but the short version is that once a day I handwrite a couple of pages in a journal - stream of consciousness, to clear my mind.  This has some surprising results - I got a bunch of new ideas for things I could make for my shop and gave me the peace to stop doing custom orders.  It also gives me a short list of crafty and house projects I want to focus on for the next few days.  

One thing I love about being pregnant is the constant reminder that I am solely (for now) responsible for another human's well-being and the best way to care for her is to care for myself.  (Did I mention BabyX' is a girl?)  This makes it easy for me to be a lot more assertive about what I need. 

And one thing I definitely don't need now is emotional stress or drama.  A few weeks ago I blogged about some uncertainty with my job.  After talking it over with some trusted coworkers, I reframed my priorities.  While I need interesting work, even more than that, I want to keep my part-time schedule.  So I put the brakes on my frantic job search and just waited for a bit to see what would happen on my current team. 

As it turns out, I got some new responsibilities that are rocking my world, and I didn't have to go through the gauntlet of interviews or the awkward conversations around "hey, I'm pregnant and due in October *and* I also work part-time".  So life is good and I'm learning to live with a little ambiguity which is another good skill to have.

On the drama front, I received an email from someone I haven't spoken to in 15 years after a messy situation.  It was more complex than just "hey, how's it going, been a long time" and I agonized over what to do with it. Conventional wisdom would say it's been long enough, be the bigger person and accept the olive branch.  I could envision long email chains with friendly banter about current lives, raising kids, work, blah blah blah. 

When I first saw that email in my Inbox, I got a visceral gut feeling that was NOT good.  It was exactly the feeling you get when you're a kid and just about to get yelled at for something.  I was physically shaking when I saw it.  That surprised me.  When I thought more about exchanging email, being "friends", Facebooking and whatnot, it just made me tired.  I didn't want that.  I knew every email would feel like an obligation to be cheerful and witty, ask friendly questions, and pretend to care.

You know what?  I don't care.  I wish this person well but I don't want continued involvement.  I definitely don't want to rehash and analyze what happened 15 years ago.  I've worked out a lot of stuff since then and have NO desire to revisit it.

But I've got that ridiculous sensitivity about conflict.  I can't just let things go.  It didn't feel "nice" to drop this email into the bit bucket.  So I replied, tersely, and then gave myself permission to let it go.  It's weird how that worked for me.  Not responding to email #1 was bugging the heck out of me, until I did.  But choosing not to respond again to the reply?  It feels right.  I'm over it.

And that's how I know I've chosen the right priorities for myself.  This is why I revel in being a grownup who can make her own choices, and try to remember when dealing with BabyT to choose my battles very carefully.  I don't want her to feel like childhood is a long series of things you do to keep other people happy.  It's not a good way to raise an adult, because it's really hard to let go of that "programming".

It's still a work in progress...

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