2014: less consumerism

My love language is gifts, which makes me more likely to buy a thing when I want to show my love. Or be more organized. Or be more grown-up. Or, well, anything.

I buy things. Things make me hope for better. Then I have to deal with said things, which devolves into maybe buying more things, and… yea. Too many things.

So if I have to buy things, I want to be more intentional about where I make my purchases.

For me, it’s about the people.

I have started to buy from a person (or a place owned by a person) I know, else from a place owned locally or by a company I believe in.

I do not think corporations are evil. (Hi, I work for a big one.) I do think *some* corporations aren’t good for the people in them or who buy from them. McDonald’s isn’t good for me as the buyer who eats the food or the person who works at the place. No more McDonald’s if I’m buying.

I’m not sure about Walmart. I don’t think you can complain about globalization or the impact of outsourcing on the American worker if you buy from Walmart, a corporation dedicated to low prices above all else. I don’t judge people who shop at Walmart, but I do judge those who b*tch and then still shop at Walmart. It’s all tied together for me. (I need to delve into why “hypocrisy” is a such a hot button for me at some point.)

I have been driving out of my way to buy paint and home improvement supplies from an Ace Hardware (versus Home Depot or Lowes) with a paint manager I really like who really cares about her work. I buy lumber from Home Depot, though, because John the lumber manager has put great effort into getting me accurate lumber cuts in the past.

Along these lines, I am going to continue to buy food from animals who had as happy a life as I can find or afford. I get that driving 20 miles out of my way to buy local, humanely-raised pork might not be a net benefit to the environment, but I am choosing the happy pig over the shorter drive. For someone else it might be about the drive; for me, it’s about the people (or animals).

Made in the USA doesn’t resonate for me personally. “Made by actual people who are craftsmen” does (regardless of where in the world they live). Barring that (as craftsmen-made wood screws are out of my price range, ha), I will buy from the best approximation of that spirit as I can.

I’m still struggling to find my way on what and when to buy.

I’d like to be more intentional about purchasing and not immediately assume I need to buy things to see improvement. Because I often assume I need to make a purchase to achieve <insert any word here>, I often don’t bother to try, because although I buy things as gifts, I often don’t buy the things I really need.

So, I’m going to try only buying off a list, which means I’m going to maintain a list of things to buy and then buy the things on that list. I also have to limit my opportunities to binge-buy, so no more Target trips for a while. I’m not going to buy on any day but Friday to stem the constant flow of incoming stuff. I’m not going to buy kid things (barring real needs) at all in the first quarter. I’m going to struggle mightily with all of this.

In the end, though, I’ll have what I want: what I need and want but not so much stuff.

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2014, welcome

Hi, there. Oh, and happy 2014.

As is my usual practice, I have begun the year thinking about where I should focus my change energies this year. I am a person who needs change and must grow to feel successful, so that I will change is a given; how I will change is what I try to choose.

One year I declared I would get my financial life in order; another, that I would learn to be a good partner. Both are ongoing challenges but each benefited from some focus.

My favorite part is that by thinking and setting an intention, I tend to succeed whether I think about <insert focus here> every day or week or month, or not.

So, 2014:

I’ll be 35, certainly about time to finally figure out how not to look for so much external validation.

I’d like to do things in chunks of time rather than all at once, every minute or two. 30 minutes at a time sounds about right, and no phone in hand. I’d like to not have to know where my phone is at any given time.

I’d like to read real books, on paper, with the light on. I’d like to do yoga more than rarely. I’d like to pay careful attention to my son. I’d like to laugh, which is hard to do when one is distracted.

There are moments when I look at my son and I am overwhelmed by feelings – hope and love and amazement and fear and wonder. I’d like to not push those away because ew, feelings, I don’t like them. I’d like to stop censoring what I might read because it might make me feel something other than level. After years of striving for a level baseline, I’d like to reach for highs (and lows) again.

I’d like to care less what other people think and know more about what I feel. I’d like to breathe more deeply.

I want to be engrossed.

Need kitchen layout opinions to break a logjam

Our kitchen renovation has once again come to a standstill. Many factors are at play, including total lack of oomph or ambition to do anything beyond keeping our house fairly clean, but we’re hoping to resolve that soon so we need to make some decisions.

This is the current state of our kitchen (squint and you’ll get the right idea of the space without getting caught up in my crappy photo stitching):

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Right now the floor plan is like this, owing to a brilliant idea I had to make it more of a galley instead of a single counter line:

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However, this requires that we a) deal with the open hole where there used to be an old, narrow fridge, b) we build two cabinets (the ones on either side of the stove), c) match counter tops on both sides of the kitchen. It also potentially blocks the view from the dining room through to the back door which might make the kitchen seem smaller… maybe?

I had this idea for the hole, which would also require building:

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My updated brilliant master plan is to go back to the single line of cabinets both so you can see through to the back door (which would ideally be switched out to a glass door) and also to minimize the building work necessary..

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Joey thinks this will ruin everything and we’ve agreed to get more input before I bring the plumber back to move the gas line for the stove… again.

Please weigh in?

Corporate mama hits the road – again

Next week I’m headed to Chicago for a work conference, returning mid-day on Wednesday and leaving again (with Javi this time) to spend the rest of July with my family in New Mexico. While we don’t travel as often as some families, this will be Javi’s fifth plane-based trip and our second solo trip (without my husband along to help). Since we don’t live near a hub, we have connecting flights everywhere we go, so that’s 20 flights, four of which were just he and I.

Because he’s a different age each time (so, pretty much a different kid), every time is a new kind of experience. That said, we’ve learned a few things. Since I find it comforting to think through each trip as I prepare, I’m jotting it down here both for myself and in case it helps anyone else.

I think through each step of my experience as I plan. I picture each step of driving into the parking lot, getting my stuff and kid out of the car, somehow getting inside to the ticket counter, checking my luggage, going through security…. Much like an athlete benefits from mental imagery, walking through the process in your head not only gives you practice and makes you feel more familiar when you actually do it, you get the chance to make notes about packing and preparing you might have otherwise missed.

A stable stroller is really important. We own a “luxury umbrella stroller” but I prefer my more solid Bumbleride Indie because it doesn’t tip if I lift my kiddo out of it. I can put my hefty electronics bag in the basket, hang my not-lightweight tote on the handle, stash any number of blankets and stuffed puppies and water bottles in the hood and still maneuver one-handed while jogging. (How would I know this? One guess.) Before each trip I insist my husband do a full tune-up (check tire pressure, oil the moving parts) and I wash the fabric, then off we go.

I practice. Before my first solo trip with Javi, I practiced closing the stroller while holding a tote in one hand and wearing a weighted Beco Gemini (see next tip for more info). It took me a handful of tries to lock in my method, but I didn’t have any awkward moments when I had to do it for real, in an airplane terminal, with a line of people waiting behind me. We also tested out the maneuverability and stability of the stroller by loading it down with 100 pounds of stuff and pushing it around our living room and driveway.

I use a body-pack for my kid. Until this trip*, we’ve used a Beco Gemini for all airplane trips. I do not carry him in it through airports! We both prefer the stroller for that, but a baby carrier is a must for getting on and off the plane. Yes, I have a whole carrier that only gets used in the few minutes spent boarding and deplaning. With Javi safely corralled in a carrier, I have both hands free to get us to our seat, put a bag in the overhead compartment, stash another bag under the seat and sit down. Once seated, I leave the carrier attached to me and unbuckle him (airline regulations and my kid’s comfort both dictate this), but in the event of turbulence, I strap him back to me PDQ.

Pack lightly and tactically. I carry our big electronics and his extras in a backpack I wear that goes in the overhead compartment once we board. One (or two) changes of clothes for him, an extra shirt for me, three diaper/ undies changes, two wet bags, two freezer ziploc bags, a pack of wipes, the iPad and an assortment of snacks and toys all go in a tote we keep with us. His favorite stuffed buddy and his blankie hang off the tote with carabiners for quick access. Note that I have diapers/ undies, wipes, clothes, electronics in two places (my backpack and our tote) because I want everything I might need in the tote with the option for more in a different place. I don’t want to have to go into two different bags to get to an iPad and a snack.

I spent a lot of time thinking about which toys to pack. The first time we traveled I packed them all and he played with a bright red spoon from Starbucks. Now I’m more strategic. I always take stickers and bandages (which double as stickers). I pack two favorite books and at least one new one. For the last couple of trips I’ve taken a bag of Schliech animals; since one of our favorite books involves animals, we can combine the toys and books. My son is very physical and mechanical, so I’ve been searching for a good manipulative and am planning to order these two.

The rest of my tips all at once: 

  • We travel in the morning because we’re at our highest energy and patience points then;
  • I book longer layovers when traveling with him so we have time to go to the potty and he can run off some energy between flights;
  • I talk to people watching us, sometimes to explain that I’m letting him work off some energy so he doesn’t make himself and everyone else miserable during the flight, sometimes just to say hello;
  • I try not to worry about germs but do pack sanitizer;
  • I carry my ID and one card in my back pocket so I don’t have to get my wallet out every time;
  • I pack our own (empty) water bottles and fill once we get through security;
  • I dress my kid in the cutest clothes he owns;
  • I ask for and accept any offers of help;
  • I act as though I have it all under control even when I don’t;
  • I talk to my child in a just-you-and-me-in-this-world kind of voice so he feels a connection even among the crowds and try to pause and get down to his level anytime we have to wait in a line;
  • I dress in layers (at least two tank tops plus a third in our bag, a loose sweater that can double as a blanket, dark jeans, easy shoes), put on full make-up (because people are less judgmental if I look like a grown-up), breathe deeply, and smile.

*Javi vehemently dislikes the Beco these days, telling me his legs are stuck and freaking out. Now that he can walk, I debated not taking a carrier at all, but instead bought a woven wrap ring sling in the hopes that he’ll allow it’s use for those critical few minutes. If not, my carry-on packing plan allows me to have a hand free to hold his, at least.

On structure at work and home

Fifteen years ago I attended a training session on Steven Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” Hosted by the brilliant head of learning at a small community hospital, I continue to use two principles I was taught:

  • You should never be too busy to learn about better time management.
  • Prioritization is key.

Five years ago I stumbled upon Charles Gilkey’s planner system and remembered another principle:

  • Think big, act small.

Only recently have I started to learn how to pull these pieces together, the most critical piece for me being:

  • Schedule time to think strategically.

I’ve shifted into a leadership position where I no longer have my hands in everything. It’s been a difficult transition from knowing it all because I’m in it and trying to figure out what’s going on, especially because I’m opinionated about the usefulness of status reports and metrics. I hate to add yet another meeting or action for my folks but I also need to know what’s going on!

For the past month, I’ve been responsible for dropping Javi off at school, and since I’m already dressed and driving, I’ve been heading to a local coffee shop to work… and wow, there’s the time to think big and broadly. Rather than using a meeting to propel me, a totally non-work action is getting me thinking about work.

Until I wrote this post, I didn’t realize I’m imposing a similar structure on myself as I do with my son. We don’t have a “schedule” but we do have a structure with appropriately alternating periods of quiet/ alone/ thinking time and do-stuff time, actions leading to the next necessary thing, and respect for transitions. We practice finishing one thing before moving to another. We give each other space to be and do within boundaries.*

I share this because one simple change in routine has given me the time and space to think about how I run meetings, long-term ideas, and my own development as a leader. I’ve also had a chance to read (not skim!) a book on child-raising that brought me a huge epiphany that ended up being work-related.

In my 20’s, my personal and professional selves seemed completely disconnected. While I was successful at work, my personal life was a disaster. While I struggled with confidence at home, at work I always thought I knew what was right. When my marriage fell apart, I clung to my professional success as a reminder that I could do things well.

Now, my lives are (thankfully, gratefully, successfully) connected. The unfortunate consequences are that I often face the same challenges at work and at home, but on the bright side, an epiphany in one area brings me improvement in the other. And while I’ll never enjoy a rigid schedule, I am finding value in a relatively firm structure, perhaps because we’ve had success with it at home.

File this one under: upside at work for being a mom.

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*Lest you think we’re all awesome, please know that most of the paragraph about our structure at home refers to our ideal kind of day. On any given day, we’re too much of one kind of time and not enough of another, we’ve forgotten to give each other time to finish a thought before interrupting, and someone has infringed upon someone else’s space. What’s key is that we are all trying to do our best at these things for every other person in the house, not just adults for toddlers or vice versa. How we strive for respect is universal for all of us, and we are all struggling to learn and do them.

From spender to acquierer to investor, perhaps

On my way to the coffee shop after dropping off Javi, I listen to talk radio, preferably NPR, but really anything with words not set to music. The topics are wide and varied and I like the break from my usual thought obsessions (potty training, cleaning my house, resourcing options, coaching teams). I like that sometimes I end up thinking about something that doesn’t seem to be related to my life but ends up being an important perspective shifter.

This morning’s topic was investing in art and it got me thinking about values and how we inhabit our lives and money, adding and expanding the thoughts I’ve been processing here.

Long story short: I’m ready to be an investor, not a spender or acquirer or hoarder*.

I feel like I’ve moved beyond spending, which to me implies throwaway, disposable, use up and replace kinds of things. Now I’m an acquirer, happy to prove I can by buying anything that might mean something. Now, though, I’m ready to invest my money in things and people and experiences. Going to the beach was a great use of this year’s bonus, investing in family time and giving my son a beach experience.

I really like this perspective, even on a small scale! Every morning now, I drop off Javi and head to a coffee shop to buy overpriced coffee and work. When I add up the cost, I’m spending about $80 a month, but upon consideration, I’m investing in myself and my productivity. See, I don’t do well when I’m home all the time. Like my son, I struggle with abrupt transitions and need both clear delineations between worlds AND a graceful passage between them. Dropping him off, driving five minutes to a coffee shop, and sipping my coffee while I think and ponder and plan has been such a great improvement to my daily patterns, far more impactful than all the money I’ve put into sprucing up our basement office.

Finding a good method for myself has helped me provide similar structure for him. I’ve noticed that this summer’s 3pm pick up time is really hard for him because he’s fresh from a nap and hasn’t had time to himself before having to do things again (get in the car, get buckled in, go to the potty, change clothes, do this, do that). When we picked him up during the school year at 4:30, he had time to wake up, have a snack, and play outside on his own before having to follow rules again. Noticing his challenges because I had finally solved my own led us to a better transition strategy: we now pick him up from school and head straight to a park 2 minutes away for some quiet time. He has a snack and pokes around in the picnic area while we sit quietly, and when he’s ready and happy again, we move on to the rest of our schedule.

My $80 a month seems like a great investment from that perspective!

*I’m not actually even close to being a hoarder, and I’m uncomfortable when people use what is a real and critical psychological problem as a cheap descriptor, but my husband is fond of calling me one (pot, meet kettle) so I make the reference tongue-in-cheek.

This vision thing is changing my whole perspective

I’m best able to live among things I love when I’m single. In my first marriage, and again in my last, I’ve managed to accumulate less-than-perfect things — and lots of them — and I’m trying to figure out why. I know that I avoid talking to my husband about anything I’ll have to convince him of, having already gone through the exhausting (for me) process of convincing myself and loath to repeat it. I know that I’ve always struggled to pay more for something of quality than to buy what I think I can afford; I apparently don’t feel like I can afford or deserve the best so I settle too soon.

And while managing stuff can be important, and spending equally so, I cycle back to the same old patterns because I haven’t dealt with the underlying challenge: I don’t think nice things are for me.

When I’m single, I can convince myself to acquire in line with my deep desires (simplicity, beauty, history, longevity); when I have to convince someone else, I get all caught up in guilt and explaining and not-wanting-to-convince because you’re-not-my-parent and I end up with a bunch of stuff I don’t really like.

Javi and I had a playdate with a friend (of his!) from school. On the way from one place to another, we dropped by their house to put some food in the fridge and I realized: I have only twice, ever, been comfortable inviting people into my home (ever or spontaneously) and both times I was single. I’ve blamed that on the place, assuming that apartment was just more appropriate than this house, but I’m realizing the story is bigger.

I like this house, and while it’s not huge or expensive or in a chic neighborhood, it’s spacious, eminently practical and has a history. It’s not the house that prevents me from feeling good about having people over, it’s how we live in it. The half-finished projects don’t help, but how we inhabit our spaces is the problem.

I don’t inhabit my body well, either.

Hmmm.

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So there’s that. Identified but not dealt with. I’m going to let it soak a while. In the meanwhile, here are three photos I love so much I want to lick them.

Okay, four:

After looking at these images, the only conclusion I’ve come to is that I probably need to paint my baseboards white. Clearly not as deep an epiphany as I was hoping for….