Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I Used to Be A Complainer

I don't mean to make myself sound older than I am, but do you remember when customer service actually meant something?  I'm not talking about the idyllic 50s that has been portrayed on television and in movies (though we know it was not nearly as idyllic as the entertainment industry would like us to believe it was); I'm not THAT old.  I'm talking about the 70s and even into the 80s. 

Remember when diners were not expected to leave a 20% tip unless the service was great, and a simple comment to a staffer about something amiss - a dirty bathroom, a mistake on a bill, cold food, etc. - warranted a visit from the manager?  The idea that a customer might complain to someone higher up the food chain (pun intended) was enough to make managers do whatever was necessary to make it right.  It was not unusual to get a comped meal or dessert or a discount coupon for the next visit.  In my experience, in today's restaurants, the manager isn't even there half the time and customers NEVER get anything comped.  The wait staff is usually hustling but everyone else seems to stand around a lot.

But the restaurant industry isn't the only one that has allowed customer service to become extinct.  Remember when gas stations were "service" stations?  Full service was the same price as self service, and it included a fill up, a window cleaning, an oil check, tire check, etc.  And - gasp! - you could ask for directions and you might even get a free map.  Now you can't ask for directions because some young kid is behind the counter in the mini-mart.  Maps are $5 - if they have them.  You have to pump your own gas; in fact, very few gas stations have "full service" as an option even if you were inclined to pay the higher per gallon price.  And the clincher??  We now have to PAY for air and water!!

When I was a kid and even into college, when I went to the grocery store, the butcher knew everything I could possibly ask about meat and poultry.  The produce man would cut open a melon and let me taste it.  The liquor department had its own manager, who bought everything the store sold, and could recommend a great gift or pairing.  There were stock clerks everywhere and plenty of checkers.  In today's "super" markets, we have banks and coffee shops and pharmacies but God help you if you need to ask a question about something; you will have to schlep all the way up to the front of the store just to ask for help, and then you have to wait while someone who knows next-to-nothing comes to "help" you.  If you're lucky enough to have one of the nicer markets in your area, you pay about 4-10% more for your groceries.  And let me tell you ... I worked in the grocery industry in the 80s and today's grocery employees do not make much more than I made way back then, and their benefits and retirement are not as good as they were, so we can't blame the inferior service on high-paid union members.

Back in those days, if you experienced poor customer service, you could get satisfaction.  I used to write letters; anytime my customer service was lower than an acceptable level, I wrote a letter of complaint.  And guess what?  I ALWAYS got some sort of response.  Some responses were better than others, but the point is, I always got a return letter or phone call.  Managers made me feel like my business was appreciated and they wanted to keep it.  Sometimes I got free stuff, much to the laughter and giggling of friends and family.  (My cousin's husband used to urge me to write letters because he loved it when I got free stuff!).  Sometimes I just got an apology.  And you know what, the apology was fine.  No matter the response, I felt like my opinion mattered.  Now THAT is customer service.

Now let's look at customer service today.  Oh, wait.  There isn't any.  We don't interact with people; instead we are sent to a website.  Sometimes we are told to fill out a comment card.  But you know what?  I never hear from anyone anymore.    

I miss the good ole days.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Project Pound Loss: Week 3 Boo Hiss!

I didn't lose this week.  In fact, I gained.  Not much, but I gained.  So the question is, what went wrong?  Here's what I know I didn't do this past week that I did on the weeks I lost:  cook most of my own meals and track my food.  Seriously, for me, eating out is going to be the death of me.  It doesn't matter where you eat or what you eat, it is ALWAYS better to eat at home if weight loss is the goal.  Even "grilled" things in restaurants are full of oils and fats because they keep the "grill" lubed so food doesn't stick.  And they don't lube with cooking spray, let me tell you!!  And we don't even need to talk about portions in restaurants ... a typical restaurant meal is 3 or 4 times the portion size we should be eating. 

I remember a quote from Dolly Parton many years ago that I thought was weird at the time but now I think it's genius.  Someone asked her how she kept her tiny waist and she said she eats a lot of fruits and vegetables and she really controls her portions.  She said that whenever a plate of food is placed in front of her, she divides everything into threes: one for her to eat now, one for her to eat later, and one for her guardian angel that she leaves behind.  And this was back when portion sizes were much more reasonable than they are now.  Brilliant, I say.

I have made up stories in my head about why I gained this week.  They make me feel less discouraged, but I realize they are just stories.  The truth is, I gained 1.2.  I just added another week until I reach my ultimate goal.  That's a bummer, but it's not the end of the world.  I remain committed and I'm working on discipline.  Next week I'll be back to being "friends" with this project.

What is The Universe Trying to Tell Me?

I'm a big believer in creating the life I want by conscious thought and specific action.  It's a relatively new attitude for me, so I'm still learning, I'm still asking for the wrong things, and I'm still trying to interpret.  I believe the Universe delivers what you ask for, whether you realize you ask for it or not.  You know what I mean: negativity begets negativity, positivity begets positivity.  It's important to stay focused on the positive, on the present, and on what I want.

In December I declared out loud to God and everybody that I think solo practice is not for me and that I want to "try" - there's the first problem - and see if I can make a full-time schedule work with a particular firm.  One of the reasons solo practice doesn't work for me is because I don't like marketing myself when my very livelihood depends on it.  I also don't like dealing with the administrative stuff - filing, etc.  And if you read my previous post, you already know I don't like that people think I work for free and that they don't have to pay me for my efforts.  I also want security, health insurance, etc.  But I love the easy schedule I currently have and I love the flexibility so I can spend time with my kids (though that did not work out how I thought it would when I went into business for myself.  Another blog post on another day, perhaps).  The questions I'm currently mulling are: what is most important to me? what working situation will give me the best balance? how long can I stay on this fence I'm currently sitting on? 

So riddle me this: Why is it that (literally) right after I declared that solo practice is not for me and that I want to try a full-time schedule with this particular firm, clients started coming out of the woodwork?  Seriously, I have had more client referrals in the past month than I have had the entire time I've been practicing on my own.  What does it mean?  What should I do?  How did I create this?  One friend thinks the Universe is telling me that I should not go work for someone else and I should stay self-employed, and the Universe is providing me with clients to enable me to do that.  That's a fair interpretation, I suppose.  But what if it is the Universe providing me with an opportunity to earn some money to make up for the "pay me, you owe me" clients I already have?  Or, maybe the Universe is setting me up so that when I make the move to employment with someone else, I am more appealing because I have my own (albeit small) client base.  It's interesting to say the least.

I need to take some quiet time and really figure out what I want.  The Universe is not sending clear messages because I'm not sending clear requests.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pay Me, You Owe Me, Pay Me My Money Down

Have you ever heard that song "Pay Me My Money Down"?  Apparently it's been around for a long time - I've seen it described as a "traditional west indian sea shanty," whatever that means - but I first heard it a few years ago at a concert with my kids.  We went to see Dan Zanes, a kooky-looking guy who writes and performs kids music because, as he tells it, when he had a child and was trying to find some decent music, there wasn't any.  So he decided to make his own.  His concerts are fun; he rides a bicycle on stage, and it's really just musicians and their instruments without all of the gimmicks and characters that are so prevalent in children's music.  And he encourages the kids to get up and dance at any time during the show, which I absolutely loved.  If you're interested, check him out at

So why the discussion of a west indian sea shanty?  Well, friends, I have a struggle in my life that is weighing on my mind and the alternating line of this song keeps popping into my head:  "Pay me, you owe me, pay me my money down."  People don't want to pay their legal bills!  Now before you get your panties in a bunch, let me say this:  I have been a client of a lawyer and I know how awful it is to get a monthly bill and be shocked at the amount.  I know what it's like to realize that you've been charged for every communication you have had, no matter how short or seemingly inconsequential.  I know what it's like to get charged for every copy made, every fax sent, every stamp affixed.  I get it.  But here's the thing.  If you sign a contract for a lawyer's service, you are agreeing to pay that lawyer for the services provided.

I have a couple of clients who hired me on a contingency basis, which means that if they don't get money, I don't get money.  I'm not paid hourly, I'm paid a percentage of whatever money is recovered.  Sometimes that set up works to the lawyer's advantage - very little work with a big payout.  I've had one of those.  Other times it's a big financial loser for the lawyer - lots of work with a small payout.  I've had some of those, too.  It's a gamble, and it's part of the agreement.  It's an expensive gamble for the lawyer to take because litigation is not cheap, and the lawyer usually pays costs along the way.  If the lawyer is lucky, he or she will recoup those costs whether the case is a winner or not.  I haven't had that kind of luck.

I also have a couple of clients who hired me on an hourly basis.  This is the arrangement that is a problem for the clients because the bills add up more quickly than they expect.  If the client is lucky, they have a lawyer who will work with them to make payments.  I am one of those lawyers; I work with my clients because I realize many of us don't have hundreds or thousands of dollars laying around that we can comfortably part with.

Why on earth would you choose to pay hourly if you can get a lawyer's services on a contingency, you ask?  It usually depends on what kind of work the lawyer is doing.  If you are the person suing people, your lawyer will probably take the case on a contingency if he thinks you have a decent case.  If you are the one being sued, however, I don't know a single attorney who will defend you on a contingency.  "Defense" equals "hourly" almost all of the time. 

But here's the thing that is getting to me and is provoking the "pay me, you owe me" song.  Though I am willing to work with clients to ease their financial burden, I am not willing to work for free.  That means that I expect SOME payment every month, as a show of good faith that the client intends to keep her end of the deal and pay the balance in full eventually.  But that is not what's happening.  I have one client who has repeatedly requested that I "work with her" about the bill, and I have.  I reduced my hourly rate; I don't charge her for every communication; I reduce my travel expenses and only charge her one way; I let her perform tasks that I should have a professional do.  From my perspective, I have bent over backwards to make this as painless as possible for her.  My reward?  ONE payment in 6 months.  The bill is in 5 digits now.  And to make matters worse, she keeps asking me to do additional work!  Really? 

I like this client a lot, and I want to help her, so I am struggling.  The human side of me wants to see this through.  The business person/lawyer/single mother in me wants to terminate the relationship.  Ethically I'm somewhere in the middle; I can't really cut bait, but I don't have to continue to work for free.  I took her case because someone who matters to me professionally referred her to me.  What to do, what to do?  Oh, and did I mention that I did some work for her brother and he hasn't paid me one red cent?  Um, yeah.

I can't help but wonder: what makes them think that I don't need to be paid?  What makes them think that I can "carry" that kind of debt in my books?  I'm a solo practitioner starting a brand new business, for pete's sake.  It's a big fat mess.  So I continue, with that song playing in my head ...

Pay me, you owe me,
Pay me my money down,
Pay me or go to jail,
Pay me my money down.

Project Pound Loss: Week 2 and we're still friends

The second week of Weight Watchers was a bit more challenging for me because that silly thing called life got in the way.  I was really busy.  But I noticed a few things along the way ...

The longer I stay away from sugar, the less I want it.  My mid-afternoon chocolate craving is almost gone.  GOOD.  I fall into old habits very easily.  I need to be on my game or I will eat too much, of the wrong stuff, and then eat too much again.  BAD.  I take advantage of every possible excuse to get off track.  Oh, I'm busy so I need to grab something quick (read: carbohydrate-y, probably deep-fried-y, greasy, goodness!)  BAD.  If I really want to change my  body and change my life, I cannot drink beer.  Seriously, not at all.  There is nothing redeeming about beer in terms of value to the body.  So it's apparently just another habit I need to break.  BAD.  If I am not focused, I do not stay on the program.  BAD.  If I really put my mind to it, I can find a little time in my busy schedule to exercise, at least a couple of times.  GOOD.

I lost 2.6 pounds in week 2.  I'm only a few pounds from my first goal (and my first reward). 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Ya Gotta Have Friendship

Have you ever seen that I Love Lucy episode where Lucy and Ethel have been asked to sing a duet about friendship in a show of some kind?  They are so excited that they get to sing together!  After they've been out shopping - separately - they cannot wait to show each other their brand new gowns.  Lucy runs upstairs to her apartment to get hers and Ethel pulls hers out of her closet and you immediately hear that very common and canned "uh oh" - it is the exact same dress!  After an argument, they agree to take them back and choose something different, but neither of them does and neither of them tells the other.  So when it is time for them to go on stage, they both walk out in the same dress and they both get so mad.  As they are singing "Ya gotta have friendship, friendship, such a perfect friendship" they are literally ripping each other's dresses.  By the end of the song they are both wearing tatters.  I've seen that episode so many times - I'm a big fan of the show - but it gets me every time.

Though fictional, Lucy and Ethel had a remarkable friendship.  I've been thinking a lot about friendship lately and it occurs to me that perhaps Lucy and Ethel set my example of what I thought friendship was supposed to be.  Of course, it was a different time and a different place, but it was something special.  To my knowledge, there was no other woman-woman friendship like it anywhere else on TV, and my mom didn't have a friendship like that (as far as I knew).  Women on TV were depicted as devoted and subservient to their husbands, but not Lucy and Ethel.  Sure they had restrictions - they were homemakers entirely dependent on their husbands, which was common - but they pushed and challenged and tested their husbands all the time.  They had minds of their own and they figured out how to use those minds to get what they wanted for themselves. 

So let's compare their friendship to friendships of today.  They spent time together nearly every day.  Outside of people at the office, I don't even TALK to anyone every day, though I have a friend I talk with several times a week.  They supported each other (though Ethel, wisely, often declined to participate in some of Lucy's hair-brained schemes).  I find this to be the part missing in my friendships.  My female friends can be supportive but they are usually too involved in their own lives to be supportive in a meaningful way.  I'm meeting new people all the time, however, who are proving to be supportive of me and encouraging me to take risks in my life.  Ricky and Fred got along and in fact had their own friendship separate from "the girls."  Though that didn't happen in my life, I know this happens quite a bit and it's wonderful to see.  Usually, however, either the women or the men are friends already and they drag their spouses along for the ride (or at least that's how it starts).  Lucy and Ethel were in the same women's clubs.  Lucy was the first one Ethel ran to with news - good or bad - and vice versa. 

I've often wondered who conceived and wrote that friendship.  In those days there weren't many women writers in television so I assume a man did it.  He must have based that friendship on women he knew because I simply cannot believe a man could conceive that kind of friendship on his own!  I saw the movie The King's Speech a couple of weeks ago and walked away thinking about friendship again.  Though the relationship between Bertie and Lionel started as a professional one, they became lifelong true friends until their deaths.  Even a King needs to have a trusted and loyal friend and he found one in his speech therapist.

The person I felt was my "best" friend over the past decade has really been testing me, though I'm sure not intentionally.  In one moment she is totally supportive, present and available and we have great conversations and really good fun.  Another moment - which seem to be more often and lasting for longer stretches - she is consumed by her own life and, though we "talk" it's really her talking until she says what she needs to get off her chest and then rushes off the phone.  I was feeling "slighted" - for lack of a better word - so I started paying close attention to our conversations.  She literally went three months without asking about my children, though we spoke several times a week.  That was an eye opener.  In the past couple of weeks we've been out together, with a couple of her other friends, and my eyes opened again.  While I was catching up with one of her friends I have not seen in awhile, after he asked how I'm doing, how's work, how are the kids, etc., she interrupted our conversation and started telling a story about something her 2 year old son did.  Really?  You had to pick that time to share that story?  The thing that really gets me is when she calls with the express purpose of asking for parenting advice and then she completely blows off what I say.  Um, toots, if you do not agree with my parenting style then why do you call to ask me for advice?  Needless to say, I've been reevaluating that relationship.  

I'm watching my boys struggle with friendship.  Though he doesn't say it, I think Sweetie really wants to have a "best" friend but he just hasn't met a boy who has the right combination: the same desire to be "best" friends and parents who are willing to schedule play dates, etc. through me.  He has a friend he really likes who is two grades above him - and I know and like his parents - but that boy already has a "best" friend and I think Sweetie feels a little like the third wheel when they are all together.  He has another friend in his grade that he likes but his parents are immigrants, struggle a bit with the language and culture, and do not seem interested in getting to know me.  I tell Sweetie to have lots of friends, not just one or two, but he's very shy and making friends is not easy for him.  Stinker, on the other hand, very clearly wants a "best" friend.  He made friends with a set of twins in pre-school and he loves them, but they go to a different school clear across town.  I know and like their mother, but scheduling time to play is very challenging.  We last got together in October and I have been trying to schedule something since then.  We are having a play date with one of my friends (who has a son Sweetie's age) on Monday and I invited the twins to join us but they are busy.  Stinker cries every time I have to tell him they will not be doing something with us.  He made a new friend in kinder, but this boy is friends with everyone - not just Stinker - and that makes Stinker sad.  Knowing how badly I seek a true bond with people in my life, it's hard for me to watch them struggle as they navigate their way.

"Lean on me, when you're not strong, and I'll be your friend, I'll help you carry on, for it won't be long, 'til I'm going to need somebody to lean on."

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Rules of Conduct for the Gym

Ladies who attend a gym, especially those of you who shower at the gym, I offer these rules of conduct:

1.  Do not wear perfume to the gym.  When you sweat it starts coming out of your pores and the odor is really strong.  And it's not a good odor.  I don't care what fragrance you wear ... sweat and perfume is an unpleasant mix.  Plus, I may not like the scent you're wearing so I don't need you to make it stronger.

2.  Wipe the equipment when you're done.  Even if you are not a sweaty Betty, you sweat when you exercise.  Even if you don't drip, your sweat gets on the equipment ... on handles, on seats, on padding.  I don't even like to touch my own sweat, I certainly don't want to touch yours. 

3.  Do not talk on the phone while you are exercising.  When you exercise and start breathing a little harder, you talk louder.  I can hear everything you say.  And I don't want to.

4.  When you shower, don't leave your hair all over the place.  If it comes out while you wash your hair, leave it on the drain so the custodian can remove it when the showers get cleaned.  Do not leave it stuck to the wall.  Or the faucet.  Or the soap dispenser.  Just sayin.

5.  If your hair falls out when you brush/comb/style it, throw it in the trash.  Do not leave it on the hand dryer.  Or the counter.  Or the floor.  Seriously.

6.  Do not bring your young children into the locker room.  I love kids, but not yours.  I don't like to be naked in front of my own kids so I definitely don't want to be naked in front of yours.  Besides, it's not safe for anyone when your two year old is climbing into the lockers and closing the door behind her.  Drop your children in the designated kids area.  That's what it's for.

7.  Look around.  You'll notice trash cans.  You know, for you to throw your trash in.  Don't leave it on the floor. Or on the benches.  And guess what?  They have them in the kids' area, the gym, AND the locker room.  Imagine that.

8.    Don't cut the line for zumba or any other popular exercise class.  People come early to ensure they get a spot.  They've taken time out of their day, and organized their schedule, because that class is important to them.  When you come in at the last minute, say "excuse me" and act like you're joining a friend but you're really just cutting the line, we want to hit you.  Hard.

9.  Rack your weights.  You were strong enough to pick them up, you're strong enough to put them back.  If they feel too heavy when it's time to put them away, you're using the wrong weight.  Try something lighter.

10.  When the gym is crowded and people are waiting, follow the gym's time limits.  Truly, I don't care if you spend 90 minutes at the gym every day, just don't do it on the same piece of equipment the entire time.

It's called common courtesy, people.  Use it.

Where Do I Fit In?

Over the past couple of years I have been doing a lot of work on myself.  I'm working on being "conscious" in my every day life: conscious of what I eat, conscious of how I act, conscious of what I say, etc.  Don't get me wrong, I am far from perfect.  But I can  honestly say I am much improved.  A huge part of me wishes I had done this work a decade or so earlier, but this is my path and I'm happily traveling it.

One of the things I've been paying attention to is my interactions with other people, especially women.  I don't have a lot of friends.  I have plenty of acquaintances, but I don't have that core group of women that I can count on.  For example, I find myself "all dressed up with no place to go" all the time.  How did I reach my middle 40s without a core group of friends?  I hear other women talking about "girls night out" and I don't really have that as an option in my life.  Interestingly, I never really have.  I've never really felt like I fit in anywhere.

Many women have had their core group of friends since high school or college.  I have one friend from junior high that I've stayed in contact with over all of these years - off and on, up and down, frequent and infrequent - but I think we're still friends simply because we've known each other so long.  Growing up my cousin was my best friend, and we remained really close friends well into our twenties, and then life took us separate ways.  She got married and moved away, which made our previous constant contact very difficult.  Then she had a baby and I went to law school ... the rest is history.  We still keep in contact, we visit occasionally, but we have totally different lives now.  I have one friend from college that I talk to regularly, but she lives 6 hours away so we don't see each other very often.  I have one friend from law school that I stayed in touch with, who lives within visiting range, but even that relationship has basically disappeared over the past few years.

I have no way of knowing why I didn't develop lasting friendships when I was younger, and frankly it's a waste of time and energy to look back and ponder it.  Instead, I've been trying to figure out why I haven't bonded with any of the fabulous women I've met over the past five or ten years.  I don't know the answers, at least not yet, but I have had a realization.  Right now, at this point in my life, I am in a "no man's land."  Single mothers don't really fit in anywhere.  I don't have much in common with my "single" friends because my world revolves around my children and their lives, while my single friends' lives revolve around career, relationships, travel, etc.  I don't have much in common with my married friends, in part because I did not have a good marriage so I don't have anything positive to contribute, but mostly because their lives revolve around their intact families.  I certainly have more in common with single mothers than with anyone else right now, but even within that group there is distance.  As an example, unless our parenting schedules are similar - which is rare - one of us always hads kids in tow.  My closest single-mother friend is very close to her family and spends a ton of time with them, we are on opposite weekends with our kids, and she is currently (actively) dating.  I ask you, when does she have time for a cocktail?  And then there's the issue of common interests: once you get us away from our children, we're left to our own devices ... what if we have nothing in common?

Don't get me wrong; it's not like I'm this lonely little sad sack.  I'm not.  But it occurs to me that I don't have a core group of good friends that have my back.  As examples, I locked myself out of my house at 2:00 a.m and I had no one to call; the only person who has a spare key is my 70-year-old mother and I'm not going to call her in the middle of the night.  I got in a hit-and-run accident in a bad part of town at midnight and I had no one to call.  I woke up at 4:00 a.m. in excruciating pain, thinking I needed to call 911, and I had no one to call.  Those moments in life happen to every one, and they are the moments when you realize who's got your back.

What to do, what to do?  I'm not sure yet.  It's clear I need to develop a support system, I just don't know what it's going to look like.  I joined a running group a couple of years ago with the hopes of meeting new friends, but what I actually got was more acquaintances.  That's not a bad thing but it's not what I'm looking for right now.  I've been invited to join a bunco group; maybe my support system will start there, but maybe not.  As I've been learning over the last year or so, when things don't work out as we hope, we should consider it nothing more than feedback: What we did and/or how we did it did not give the result we wanted.  Adjust, do something different, and wait for feedback. All I can do is keep trying different things until I find my fit.

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Day of Service?

Martin Luther King, Jr. day is now a national Day of Service.  People and their families are encouraged to find a way to spend the day volunteering in service of others.  I'm all for it; no matter the cause, everyone can use a little help now and then, and the ability to help others is a fairly unique trait we as humans have.  I also want to instill in my children the idea that they should take some time out of their self-indulgent lives and do something for someone else.

Last year I didn't plan ahead and I didn't start looking for a service project until the night before.  I couldn't find anything that would be appropriate for the kids and me; the few service projects I located in my community were heavy labor (painting, etc.) and/or had age requirements far higher than the ages of my boys.  I just assumed all of the "appropriate" projects had been filled by those uber-organized families.  So this year I planned ahead and I've been researching service projects for the past few days.  Guess what?  I can't find a project that is appropriate for the boys and me to do as a family. 

I began to wonder.  What happened to those "clean the park" days?  Why aren't agencies that serve food advertising for help on the Day of Service?  My kids are still pretty little, but they could certainly accompany me while I clean up the banks of one of our five rivers.  In fact, they would love it ... they would find every odd rock, plant and bug.  What a missed opportunity!  My little guys could certainly help carry plates of food, or pick up leftover meal trash at a meal-serving agency.  They could probably help pack boxes at a food bank.  Alas, none of these projects is available to us.

As I've mentioned previously, I started a non-profit that will provide weekend food bags for food insecure children.  We aren't up and running yet (we're getting our legal paperwork done, corporate structure done, etc. and raising money), but after this experience I am committed to having a Day of Service project ready to go next year.  If nothing else, we can make that the day we clean out/organize everything.  Ideally, it would be a day where we unpack and organize tons of food to get ready for distribution.  Either way, next year we will have our very own project for the Day of Service.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Is that Dr. King?

It comes as no surprise, with the observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. day fast approaching, that my children are learning about him and his legacy.  Last week Stinker - my kindergardener - had a school project about dreams.  As a family we were to talk about our dreams for our family, for our community and for the world.  Stinker's project coincided with one of Sweetie's cub scouts projects, in which he was to make a poster about what it means to be a good citizen.  I feel like I know my kids pretty well, but these kinds of projects always reveal delightful little facts about my kids.

Stinker's dream for our family is that his Gigi - my mother - wouldn't be old anymore.  I know he's close to her, that he loves her, and that he knows she's old, but it never occurred to me that he might have some understanding about what it means to be old.  I'm not sure if he does or not because I didn't press him for details, but the comment resonated with me.  Stinker's dream for our community is that everyone has a warm place to sleep.  This is pretty deep stuff for a 5 year old and I was so proud to discover such compassion.  (He IS a stinker, after all.)  And then he blew my mind: His dream for the world is No War.  I don't talk about war very often, and as far as I know The Ex does not either, but it's apparent that whatever discussions have occurred around him have sunk in a little bit.  I must confess that I have told them - Sweetie especially - that ever since they have been on this earth we have been at war with countries far away.

Sweetie has similar compassionate sensibilities.  His dream for our family is that his mother will live a long and happy life.  (Are you saying "AAAAwwww" yet?).  Seriously.  Isn't that the sweetest thing you've ever heard?  (Now you see why I have dubbed him Sweetie in this blog!)  His dream for our community is that everyone has enough to eat.  (I've started a non-profit that will provide weekend food bags for food insecure kids at his school so we talk about hunger quite a bit in our home.)  His dream for the world is peace.  I'm verklempt.

For his cub scout poster, we talked a lot about what it means to be a good citizen and his compassion came out again.  He said things like "be nice to the planet" "follow the Golden Rule" "Honor my country".  The poster ended up including an earth in the center, and then it was surrounded by symbols of things he thinks are important: recycling, a police badge (obey all laws), an American flag, seeds (to grow his own food), trees (to save the ones we have and plant more of them), and a "True American Hero" badge because "that's what I want to be when I'm a grown up."  I was very proud of the ideals he chose, in part because they align (at least a little) with the ideals that I and their father believe in, but also because these are very mature thoughts for an 8 year old boy obsessed with Legos and video games to have.     

So this morning, Stinker and I were snuggling in bed before it was time for me to get up and I had the news on the television (as I do every morning).  The station was showing clips from President Obama's speech yesterday at the memorial service in Tucson.  When he talked about wanting to live up to Christina Green's expectations and to live in the world she imagined, he emphasized with his arm and the crowd applauded.  Stinker looked at me and said, "Mom, is that Dr. King?"  Wow.  What a great reminder that little kids are sponges!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Project Pound Loss: Week 1 is my friend

Last year (or maybe it was the year before?) I posted a weekly update on my unsupervised, totally solo efforts to lose weight.  (I may have been trying Weight Watchers, I'm not sure.  Notice I used the word "trying" as opposed to the word "doing."  I'm sure you get the picture.)  The posts really didn't add anything to Like Sand in an Hourglass; I just felt like it would make me more accountable if I blogged about it.    I'm either an idiot or delusional.  Needless to say, once I quit trying to lose weight - like I always do - I went back and read my blog posts.  It was pathetic and I deleted them. Then I crawled back into my metaphorical cave of self-loathing and had a cookie.  Or 4.  What can be so difficult, right?  Eat less, move more.  Duh.

Here's the skinny (pun intended).  I used to be skinny.  Then I was thin.  Then I was in decent shape.  Then I had a few extra pounds.  Then I was "a little" overweight.  Then I was a fat "skinny person."  Then I was a skinny "fat person."  Then I just got fat.  I didn't gain very much weight when pregnant because those silly little babies already had ample room to grow in there.  After delivering each of my children, I lost my pregnancy weight and then an additional 40 or so pounds.  Those blasted pounds kept finding me, and they brought their friends!

I'm all out of excuses.  Stinker is almost 6 years old, so I can't blame it on post-baby body.  I'm not unhappily married anymore, so I can't blame it on my loveless marriage.  I'm not lonely, or injured, or any number of things people rely on to explain how they got fat.  I'm just unconscious about my eating and too sedentary. 

Each year, like millions of other people, I declare it will be the year that I lose the weight.  Each year, like millions of other people, I start and then I stop.  I make up stories and excuses, I get "too busy," whatever ... I make up some story to explain why I can't stick to any program.  IT ALL ENDS NOW.

Have you seen Jennifer Hudson?  Damn, that girl looks gooooooood.  She is my muse.  My body looks like hers did in Dreamgirls - a square block - except I don't have the booty for balance.  She is a spokesperson for Weight Watchers so I thought I'd go check out the new Points Plus program.  I know what you're thinking: So?  You do this every year, and every year you quit. Why should we care that you're starting again? Why should we be supportive when our love and energy will be wasted?  My answer: I'm doing a few things differently this time and I'm setting myself up to succeed.   

I've joined with a friend, so I actually do have accountability.  She's someone I see almost every day, so I have to look her in the eye and confess to my eating sins.  I've chosen a center right down the street from where I spend most of my working hours, so it is not a big chunk of my time to stop in and weigh myself.  I chose a center that literally has 18 meetings a week; no matter my schedule, it's highly probable I can find a meeting that will work.  Plus, in addition to 18 meetings a week, it has 24 "open hours" where I can go weigh in even if I can't make a meeting.  No more trying to convince myself to interrupt my Saturday to go to a meeting (ick!) or rushing home in traffic to get the kids, get them fed, take them to grandma's and then get to a meeting on time.  Do you see what I did there?  I eliminated all of my excuses for not going to meetings!  As much as I don't like them, statistics show that people with the best weight loss results regularly attend meetings.

But wait, there's more.  (Does that sound like an infomercial?)  I'm also working the exercises in A Course of Weight Loss.  It's got 21 lessons that are designed to help the reader identify the emotional reasons for overeating, address them and release them so one can lose the weight and not gain it back.  If it works, this is a HUGE part of my journey because I am definitely an emotional eater.  (Someone once described the phenomenon in a way that makes sense to me [as gross as it is]: Feelings are like cat poop, food is the kitty litter, and the eater is the cat.  Whenever we experience unpleasant feelings, we try to bury them with food.  OMG - this analogy speaks to me, dear reader.) 

I'm not done.  I'm also following a biggest-loser type of program that 24 Hour Fitness will be hosting.  I get extra Points Plus for exercise - bonus! I get to eat more! - AND I'm 40-something and realize that no matter what I do with food, the weight will not come off if I do not exercise regularly.

And speaking of Biggest Loser, if all else fails and I can't get a grip on this weight loss issue, I'm going to the Biggest Loser ranch in Utah in the fall!  So there.

So here's the status for Week 1:  I lost 4.8 pounds!  Woo hoo.  I didn't have a perfect week - I had bunco with the girls last week plus I baked chocolate chip cookies for the boys (masochist, I know!) - but in the grand scheme I worked the program, and it worked me.  I know I won't continue to lose so much each week as I progress in the program, but a nearly 5-pound loss is definitely motivation to carry on.

Oh, and I have some rewards for myself for each milestone I hit (5%, 10%, etc.)  Alas, those are for another day.


It's a "No Pants" Day

I was catching up on my reading of my bloggy friend Boys Mom's page, and I realized I'm not paying close enough attention to the silly things my kids do.  Boy Mom is so good about sharing the little things her 8 boys (that's right, I said it - 8 boys, God help her!) do, good, bad and hysterical.  If you're interested in a day in the life, you should follow her.

So after I read some of her posts, I sat pondering.  What have my boys done lately?  They make me laugh almost daily, so surely I must have some great examples.  Let's see.  Well, they were playing with my couch cushions again over the weekend - a BIG no no - and they tore one of the cushions.  Oh wait, that's not silly; that's a reason NOT to have children.  I know what I'll share today ...

Stinker has decided - out of nowhere as far as I can tell - they should have "no pants" days.  We have pajama days, so maybe that's where he got the idea.  Anyway, it's not unusual for me to walk out into the living room where they are watching TV and see them without pants.  I usually tell them to put their pants back on, though I'm happy to let them put on pajama bottoms or some other lounging-friendly pants.  It's winter, it's cold, put some pants on for God's sake! 

Last week Stinker comes into my office area without pants.  I asked him where his pants were, and he responded - in all seriousness - "Mom, it's a no pants day."  When pressed for details about why it's a no pants day and what that means, he said, "Mom, boys don't like to wear pants.  You make us wear pants, but we don't want to wear pants.  We're just on the couch, so we're not wearing pants.  It's a No Pants day."  And then he scooted out of the room.  I followed him out to the living room and Sweetie wasn't wearing pants, either.

I fear for their future wives.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Happy New Year?

I try to end each year on a positive note.  While I'm decking the halls and fa-la-la-la-ing, I try to slow down enough to take a glance back at the year.  Often I reflect on the year while writing a holiday letter.  Oh wait, I haven't written one of those in years.  Now I have Facebook.  And this blog.  Who needs to write a Christmas letter?  But I digress.

As I've mentioned before, The Ex and I have been apart for five years now.  He moved on right away, and had a live-in girlfriend within 8 months of moving out of our family home.  I was not so unrooted.  I did what I had always done before; I wallowed; I felt sorry for myself; I cried; I belly-ached to anyone who would listen.  Meanwhile, The Ex seemed completely unaffected.  I, on the other hand, needed some time.  In the past year or so, I felt like I had let go of all of that baggage and was moving forward with my life.  Two years ago I joined a church.  I took a couple of spiritual growth classes.  I met new people.  I stopped engaging The Ex in arguments and heated discussions.  I focused on the good things in my life.  Though I have had setbacks - old habits are hard to break after all - I felt like I really made some good progress towards peace and contentment.

As I've also mentioned before, though The Ex and I have done a pretty good job of getting along when it comes to co-parenting our children, something changed last spring.  I won't re-hash the story (check out "Is it Just Me or Is An Apology In Order?"), but suffice it to say I shut down.  I went from having love for this man who gave me these beautiful children even though I don't like him, to REALLY disliking him.  A lot.  Despite my hard work at letting things go, the feeling of dislike really stuck with me.

So, in an effort to end my year on a positive note, I went to church on New Year's Eve and participated in the Burning Bowl ceremony. I wrote down everything I felt about The Ex and the situation, and I told him off like I would if that were an appropriate thing for me to do, and then I dropped it in the burning bowl, watched it go from paper to ash, and then scooped the ashes away and into a disposal bin.  I "washed my hands" of the whole thing right before midnight. 

Now the fun part begins.  Did I actually release all that crap?  Have I moved forward?  Did I let it go?  Is it a happy new year?  Time will tell, and then I'll tell you.