Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Woes of Being Frugal

A lot of women I know lament the possibility that they are turning into their mothers.  I could do worse than turning into my mother. As a matter of fact, I believe I am doing worse. I recently realized that I’ve apparently skipped a generation. I think I’m morphing into a blend of both of my grandmothers.  

My paternal grandmother was born knowing the secrets of mise en place – it’s a French term, used primarily in cooking, that means everything in its place. She was highly frugal – but also a bit of a hoarder, a trait I can see looking back but it didn’t show at the time because of her genius for organization.  Enter my mother’s mother - also a highly frugal woman who wasn’t in the least bit organized but very inclined to save everything for some special occasion that never materialized. When she died, at 82, she had half a closet full of clothes with the tags still on them and drawers full of lingerie and linens that were still in their wrappers. 

What I got from both of them was the frugal part. Where most men will spend 2 dollars on an item only worth a buck because time is money, almost any woman will spend $1 on a $2 item she doesn’t need simply because it’s on sale.  Thanks to the frugality genes from both of my grandmothers, I will generally buy at least two of them to increase the savings.   

Earlier this year, I was sick enough to leave work and found myself home, alone, with a handful of daytime colds meds in one hand and the TV remote in the other. By some fantastic stroke of good fortune I found myself at one of the really popular broadcast shopping malls – in a kitchen themed show. I was mesmerized by the color coded, silicone sealed plastic containers that all came with a single sized lid.  I’ll take two sets of those, please, because I *know* that those containers are the only thing standing between me and the immaculate, mise en place, domestic paradise my kitchen was meant to be.  

Now, please consider, when I tell you what I did next, that the only way these amazing storage containers could fulfill their destiny is if we had LOTS of homemade food to fill them. So, you see, the purchase of the next item up – a stand mixer (in a to die for color) by a highly respected manufacturer of small and large kitchen appliances – was essential to my plan.  I’d like to add that it not only has “planetary action” it also has a rubber squeegee on the paddle beater that will scrape the bowl as it mixes my culinary creations with an astounding 450 watts of power!  That’s 125 watts of power more than the smaller version of the same mixer I purchased about 10 years ago.  I did NOT purchase two of these even though it was $120 less than it’s normal price and came with a card for an additional $30 rebate AND a subscription to a magazine favored by snobbish foodies.  

Upon delivery my husband, the kitchen neophyte, seemed unable to grasp the simplest of kitchen concepts.  He wanted to use mega-mixer immediately!  Uh – no, we need to save it. Why on earth did he think it was a good idea to begin using that shiny new mixer to make a boxed cake mix when there was a perfectly good mixer already sitting on the counter? I had to keep explaining it to him so long that it literally stretched my patience, to the max, trying to make him understand that when I got ready to make food for the new containers, it was essential that I knew where all the attachments were and the only way we could ensure that was to leave the damn thing in the box!  Jeeze - they are so *thick* sometimes!  And he calls ME difficult? 

When I opened the fridge door the next morning and saw three of my brand spanking new color-coded, silicone-sealed, storage containers randomly scattered across three shelves, I thought he was just toying with me. So I cheerfully scraped the contents out of the new containers and into three of the various shaped containers manufactured by sandwich bag makers, washed the new ones and lovingly put them back in their organized stack (did I mention that all the lids are the SAME size?) on the pantry shelf. I was less amused the next morning to find three more in the refrigerator. What is wrong with this man? I have to confess that, because my patience had not yet recovered from the beating it took over the mixer, my tone when I asked him that same question may have been just a tad sharp.  That does not excuse his rudeness when he took the containers out of my hands, took their lids off, turned them upside down on the kitchen island, and then tossed them into the sink. He scratched one for God’s sake!  Several days later, when we were both calmer I again explained basic kitchen concepts to him. It shouldn’t take a nuclear physicist to see the relationship between the mixer and the containers. If we aren’t going to use the mixer until I have the time to fill the containers why would anyone, with any common sense at all, think it was okay to use the containers for food not prepared with the new mixer?  Damn, man!  This is NOT rocket science! If I only have a few containers to fill up, why in the world would I need that big ass mixer?   

He still doesn’t get it.  With reasoning skills that lacking, I know that trying to explain the purchase of 8 dozen quart size canning jars, the 21 quart pressure canner, and the new vacuum sealer in advance preparation for the garden I want to plant next year is really going to be a challenge. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Siri-usly Wondering

Unless you’re Amish my guess is that by now you’ve seen the commercials promising a happier, more informed life – led by Siri. A life where

  • Morons can enter Death Valley with an almost empty gas tank and then query their iPhone to find the closest fueling station

  • Women looking for an excuse to avoid romantic moments with their gorgeous male escort can feign an interest in locating constellations by asking Siri to reveal one (if they had any real interest in astronomy, they would know without asking Siri)

  • Couples who have been instructed by their marriage counselors to spend more time together can use Siri to schedule their spontaneous moments

My oldest son, who is not usually a fan of Apple – for reasons that are fodder for another blog, told me earlier this week that he is actually considering getting an iPhone, because of Siri. If there was a 12 step program for gadget junkies, he would be the organization’s poster child – always on the prowl for some new toy but jaded by the sheer volume of technological marvels that are now so plentiful and so cheap. Siri has captured his attention and he’s moving toward her, like a sailor lured by a siren – full speed ahead and to hell with the boulders! When he speaks about Siri, his tone holds the kind of awe and wonder that should be reserved for discussions about the wife that has given him six children. He can recount one Siri-spoken marvel after another, the way a bookie can tell you the odds on every horse in a major race.

One such recounting was about a gentleman who had, since childhood, made a game of contemplating the destinations of jets passing overhead. Siri can, upon request, provide that information. The gentleman reports that he can now stand in his own front yard, look up, and say something specific that roughly translates to “Siri, give me the destinations of planes overhead.” Siri processes his GPS location, taps into some governmental flight tracking database, and delivers the answer faster than the man can draw another breath. Many of us grew up having to rely on our parents to get us to the library, according to a pre-set plan, so that we could do the research we needed for school reports that were coming due. If you know what I’m talking about – those days where we measured wait time in days or weeks rather than nano or pico seconds - that kind of information delivered as an instantaneous response to a voiced question is magical indeed. And yet, when my son was recounting the anecdote to me, the phrase beating a repetitive refrain in my head was “just because we can doesn’t mean we should”.

I hope his new found ability to get an answer and get it so rapidly serves that gentleman well because it was purchased with the magic of gazing into the sky and simply wondering or imagining where those jets might be taking their passengers. Is that REALLY a better life?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Blog About Nothing

If you’re one of the 8 or 10 people that read this blog, you may have noticed that I took a bit of a hiatus. Very shortly after I posted the last blog, a series of events occurred where I rediscovered that perception is NOT reality and that I really needed to start paying more attention to my BS-ometer.

My BS-ometer is legendary in my family. My oldest son has long been in awe of my ability to detect BS almost immediately upon hearing it. He now stands in awe of the person who managed to escape it for such an extended period of time. What can I say? I’m getting older – something had to slip first. The good thing about what happened is that I discovered, in the person that was able to fool so many for such an incredible length of time, a true talent for storytelling. I’m talking about the kind of talent that could garner serious literary awards if it is properly nurtured and explored. Of course, that takes work and committment so we'll just have to see if that person is willing to make the effort. The downside is that it will be DECADES – if ever – before I automatically assume that what issues from the mouth of this person, from comments about the weather to current state of life, is the truth and not some fantasy fabricated to relieve boredom and combat self-esteem issues. My BS-ometer may be permanently broken since the mere presence of this person makes the lights flash and the alarms ring.

Anyway, during the time I spent NOT blogging, I’ve been on several journeys of self discovery, trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up. The blog was on the back burner while I was trying to figure all of that out because it was my plan to turn this into a themed blog – I just needed to find my theme. I only have time (and barely that) to maintain ONE blog so I needed to pick a single theme. What I’ve discovered is that the problem with doing a themed blog is that when I do too much of any one thing, I get really bored with it. The only two activities I’ve found that do not seem to be susceptible to waves of boredom are breathing and eating – not necessarily in that order.

So, this is going to be a blog like Seinfeld’s TV show. It will be a blog about nothing. Nothing other than what’s going through my mind at any particular moment in time. And that’s often nothing. On the days that it’s actually about something – I might even post some pictures to go with it.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Passing the Torch - Part 2

There is a current push in Fortune 500 corporate type circles to help employees identify their areas of strength so that the employees can leverage those strengths to make more money for the company. It’s actually the result of a 30 year study, conducted by Gallup, where the research team tried to identify characteristics that top performers share. They were looking for one or maybe a few psychological factors or talents that high achievers have in common. The thinking was, apparently, that if they knew what they were looking for, it would be easier to eliminate the poor performers before they were stuck with them as employees. Stick with me here because this is really very interesting and has application in parenting too.

Gallup looked at workers across every conceivable field of interest, including financiers, teachers, artists, athletes, doctors, lawyers, tinkers, and tailors. The reason it took the researchers 30 years is that they couldn’t pinpoint any particular set of psychological traits or personality types that were shared by the people they studied. What they ultimately found is that there are 29 different areas of strength (i.e. leadership, flexibility, rational thought, harmony, deliberation, etc) and that nobody is good at all of them but everybody is good at some of them. What top performers share is that they have risen to the top because they have learned to capitalize on their areas of strength rather than working fruitlessly to improve their ability to perform in those areas where they are weak.

It was an eye opener for large-scale employers. The days where annual reviews focus on what you didn’t accomplish or what you could have done better are giving way to giving employees ownership of the jobs they do and getting them to engage in their jobs by identifying and recognizing their areas of strength.

Long before I was exposed to the results of the Gallup study, I recognized that most parents have a tendency to look at the children of their friends and acquaintances and see THOSE children for all the things they are. And then they look at their own children and see all the things their own offspring aren’t. That’s not a criticism of parents. Lord knows I’ve spent most of the last 30 years in the same pattern. All the way through high school, if any of my children brought home a report card that had three A’s, two B’s, and a D, it was the D that got attention. That kind of parenting behavior is rooted in all the hopes and dreams we have for our children because we love them. Now I think that approach is as counter-productive in aiding them to reach their potential as primarily focusing on the things they are good at, and not dwelling on their failures, is counter-intuitive. It’s simply not part of most of our parenting bags of tricks to ignore what we perceive as deficiencies. But good parents, like good employers, can learn to focus on areas of excellence, in order to maximize potential. They can learn that you cannot turn a weakness into a strength; that all we can really do is help those in our charge develop ways to minimize the impact of
the weaknesses.

And so most of this is another iteration of that singular theme from yesterday. Chill. Recognize that she is what she is; assisted by her unique combination of genes and acknowledge that nature and nurture should work in harmony to bring her to her best. If she is going to be a lily, you can’t turn her into a cactus by withholding water. And, if she’s destined to thrive in the desert, more water than she needs will keep her from blooming.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Passing the Torch - Part I

A young woman I know, and one who happens to be one of my daughter’s most cherished friends, very recently had her first baby. I have no doubt that she and her husband will develop top-notch parenting skills that will exemplify the amazing young people they have already proven themselves to be. So, I would not offer them parenting advice if she hadn’t issued an open call - especially since I’m not one that believes it takes a village to raise a child. I can clearly recall multiple occasions where I felt it appropriate to remind relatives, friends, and/or educational personnel who it was that give birth to my three offspring and assured them, each in turn, that when I wanted their advice I would remember to ask them for it.

But since this young woman did make such a request, and I’ve been at this for over 30 years already, I’ve decided to accept the challenge and share what my children have taught me.

Most of it can really be summed up in one word. Chill. Children, even the very young, have an innate ability to let you know what they need when they need it. In no time at all you will recognize the tone of the cry. But, if it takes you awhile, or even if you just disagree with her current demand, she is not going to explode or disappear into a puff of dust if she doesn’t get what she wants, or even needs, right this very minute. That’s as true now when she thinks she wants a bottle as it will be when she’s 6 and wants a pony or 16 and thinks she needs a Mustang Convertible.

Chill. The horse will drink when it gets thirsty. It is NOT your job to tell the horse when it’s thirsty. It is your job to provide the skills needed to recognize thirst and the skills needed to find the water.

Chill. Let her find out who she is. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t set boundaries and standards. Of course you should. It does mean that when those boundaries and standards cause conflict – and they will – that you will win some of the ensuing battles and you will lose some of them. And you should not mark your success as a parent by keeping score. Nor should you mark your success as a parent by your child’s successes or failures. GOOD parents have children that fail at life and parents that do TERRIBLE things have children that do amazing things with their life.

I’ll post part II of this tomorrow . . . . it’s pretty much along the lines of “Everything I Need to Know About Parenting, I Learned in Business School.”

Friday, July 16, 2010

Top 10 Reasons for Staying Married

10. He makes really GOOD hamburgers.

09. He likes to mow.

08. He gets up to take the dog out in the middle of the night.

07. He doesn't expect me to pick his clothes up from the floor. (Let's be clear. He's not going to either but he doesn't expect ME to do it.)

06. He doesn't take himself seriously.

05. He knows how to fix my internet connection.

04. He encourages me to pursue the things that interest me - even though most of them bore him to tears.

03. He never suggests that I should lose weight (even though we both know I need to).

02. He "gets it" when I cry.

01. He fixes the coffee in the mornings!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Time Well Spent

I knew that I liked it (major understatement!) but I did not know that Scrapbooking is the national number one leisure pastime. According to Wikipedia, where golf was the previous reigning champion, the number of households with scrapbookers exceeded the number of households with golfers starting in 2004. One in 5 households includes a golfer but one in four can now claim a scrapbooker. In the United States alone, Scrapbooking is a 2.5 billion dollar industry with over 1600 companies that make scrapbook related products. The craft originated with traditional paper pages but has grown to include an increasing number of pages and projects completed exclusively with digital products as well as hybrid creations that employ both techniques. And you’re all thinking “zzzz ZZZ zzzzz. . . is there a point to this?”. Well, yes, but I agree that these dry facts are only almost interesting to MAYBE one person in every 4th household but that it does nothing to explain the allure for those of us that are so hopelessly addicted. I can’t speak for anyone but myself. But I can tell you why it’s such a major part of my life.

My husband would tell you it’s because there such a wide range of products and events for me to spend our money on and that’s not entirely without justification. It did open a whole new world of things to buy! But that’s just a benefit – not a reason. It’s an art form of sorts and the artistry calls out to the inner child in me – the part that really liked to color when I was kid. Finding and mastering new techniques soothes my needd for change and growth. I like for my pages to look better that Sally-Sue Smugwitch’s pages so the contests and challenges to be found in the world of scrapbookers appeal to the competitive side of my nature. But, since I can and have satisfied all of those personal needs with other things, I know that they are not the reason I find it so appealing.

I’ve spent a lot time in the last 20 years with my mother on my mind. I’ve only been scrapping for three years and of course, I thought about her before I began to scrap and frequently think of her even when I’m not scrapping. But to me, she seems closest when I’m in my scraproom. What’s different about the times she’s on my mind when I’m wearing my scrap hat is that my thoughts are focused on my mother as a whole person and not just about how much I miss sharing my daily life with her or how my daughter is so much like her. In my scraproom, I see my mother outside of her assigned roles as my champion, my coach, and my protector from the storms of life.

I’m able to see her as the person she was because of what she gave me during the last year – when we knew the end was coming and we knew we couldn’t stop it. Her bequest to me wasn’t a material thing and I didn’t understand it at the time. In fact, at the time I viewed it as kind of peculiar and there were days when it made me uncomfortable. But now, maybe because of my advancing age or maybe because I’ve started scrapbooking, I’ve begun to understand what it was that she was doing during those private afternoon gab sessions. There were several times when she really came close to crossing the boundary into the land of Too Much Information (you all have or had mothers so you know how it is – I was 30 something with a very colorfully checkered past of my own but I was still reasonably certain she had never even held hands with anyone other than my father). To her credit, she never really crossed the line of propriety and there was a point to everything she shared with me. The point was that she NEEDED for me to see her as whole person and to have a glimpse of the world through HER eyes. She NEEDED for me to understand that as much as my brother and I enriched her life (her words, not mine), she was a person of depth and interests and experiences that had nothing to do with us and that it was the sum of those many parts that made her whole self. She NEEDED for me to know that the concentric circles that rippled outward from her life encompassed but were by NO means limited to her career as wife and mother.

After her death and even before I started scrapbooking, I became the keeper of the family repository of photographs. Now that I know HOW, it’s really easy for me to scrap photos of my history and my view of the history of my children and my grandchildren but it becomes increasingly more difficult for me to successfully create a meaningful page when I move backwards through the generations; especially the people she didn’t talk about. And the reason is, I don’t KNOW those people. Well, yes, I know that this picture is my paternal grandfather and this one is her twin uncles, CB and MB, but that knowledge doesn’t give me a clue about the essence that made the person. Of those that comprise my heritage, my mother alone that it was important to bridge the gap in knowledge.

She was a poet and for others in the family, especially my dad and my brother – and, as I’ve recently learned, aunts and uncles and cousins - she told them what she wanted to say in her poems but since I don’t do poetry more complex than Jack Be Nimble, she made my gift with the only other tools she had available. What she spent that last year giving me was a verbal scrapbook.

William James tells us “The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast us.” So, other than a few thousand lines of COBOL code, generated over a 30 year career, the pages that I create and compile into books are the legacy I’ll leave. They’ll be unknown and unimportant to the outside world, but they will, I hope, be enduring ways for my children and their children to look at the people that are their heritage AS people and not just really weird names on the lines of patchworked pedigree. I NEED that in the same way my mother did and I believe my children and my grandchildren also need it even if they don’t fully know that yet.