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weekends

I really soak in the weekends with the kids this year.

There was 2016 and 2017, when I was sucked into work projects that required my getting out of bed every day and driving away for something like nine months in a row, just no letting up. I liked my job, sometimes I'd have a Sunday off to snuggle with a kid on the couch while I had my coffee, then I'd jump up and try to organize the disaster of a house that I'd let go all week when I came home late and tired. Then there was 2018 when I moved jobs and suddenly got most weekends off but I was playing catch up everywhere.

Now suddenly I feel like I'm in a good place. Lots of time over the holiday to organize toys and gather up stuff we didn't need. We're trying to save money so we don't go anywhere. I dropped my Sunday night toastmasters club. I just hang out at home.

Marc was out of town last weekend. Saturday we woke up and did nothing until noon when we went to a birthday party at a bowling alley, then came home. Olive found her playdough toys and wanted playdough, I made her some because we have too much flour. 1 part salt in 2 parts boiling water, add some food coloring, a little vegetable oil, add 2 parts flour, mix it up. that occupied them for the afternoon. Josie had a friend sleep over. The girls baked a cake from scratch. I barely helped.

In the morning Josie made pancakes, her friend got picked up, I took the girls to the library. Then we went to the pool at the YMCA and swam for an hour. When we got home Marc was home from his trip. We had leftovers for dinner, read our books and that was it. I went to work Monday refreshed and looking forward to it.

How privileged is it to get two days off in a row, every week, I keep thinking. I was always feeling bad for yearning for it when I was working more, and it was pure accident that I escaped from it and got back into having weekends. Now should I feel bad for getting them? I was always thinking about soldiers overseas never seeing their families at all, and feeling bad that I wanted MORE time with them, when I already had several evenings a week. Or I'd think about people who worked two or three jobs, waking up early for incredibly long commutes and leaving their kids to fend for themselves. I appreciate my time a lot more than I ever did in years when it was routine to get both Saturday and Sunday off work.

voluntourism

Marc and I used to joke that the worst church service to ever accidentally attend was NOT the "we're asking you for money" or "we're talking about hell" like you'd think... it was the service where the high school youth group just got back from their summer mission trip and are passing the mic around up front to share their experiences with the congregation. exhausting, trite, repetitive, and full of cliches about how they went to give back to the world but "those people really gave back to ME!" because it was so eye opening and educational.

as more and more people are recognizing it, there's a great new word for meaningless travel: voluntourism. it's what happens when an affluent person with no special skills or experience goes on a trip and combines tourism with pre-packaged volunteer hours spent doing something that involves no thinking or organization on their part... painting a building, cleaning toys at a daycare, digging a trench. but they learn so much!

I can't throw too many rocks. I went on a high school mission trip. I was more concerned with what guy I'd get to sit next to on the van ride up than the long-term affects of what we'd accomplish that week. I did remember looking across Chicago and realizing we hadn't made any kind of dent in the problems facing the population. What drove so many people to the projects? Why didn't they finish their lunches at the soup kitchen? Why was one guy in our group bullied so harshly by the others, when we were on a mission trip trying to tell other people to step up and achieve great things? Lots of questions. But our week was up, and we drove back home.

Now that I'm thinking back on that trip and how ineffective it was, I see "mission trip" mentality around me all the time, people don't even really have to go on trips. It happens in every non-profit... you get someone who joins the group, volunteers for a role, then suddenly steps back because it's not going perfectly with a long resignation email about how they TRIED to change us but can't so it's not worth filling out their term but "thank you all for this experience, I learned so much!"

or the newbie who comes to one meeting and spouts out a million ideas for other people to do, (they say "we", they mean "everyone but me") and they're not going to handle the hard work of thinking/organizing/bugging people but we should really pre-package all of this for them, it's so SIMPLE, don't you see. They fly in like birds, eat a few bread crumbs, fly off, and arrive home thinking they really helped out.

your first week on any job, you are learning. the people training you are doing so with the hope that you'll contribute in the long term, train the next person, take over some of the mental work and thinking that they're doing now. if you're a student, paying a teacher, that's one thing... but you'd never leave school after a day of hearing lectures telling everyone you feel really good about your contributions. we do no pretending there.

Maybe that's how every high school mission trip should REALLY end, with a deep dive into the underlying causes and a long discussion about what it takes to run an organization that truly makes a difference. administrative costs, grant writing, licensed social workers. or a dive into the issues, what drives the cycle of poverty. or hear about what the last mission group did, and evaluate the long-term implications. if you're here to learn, well let's really learn. call it a class.

the kids would leave understanding that it takes more than a week to be a part of something, and you can't just descend down into it, and real change requires listening and slowing down and above all else - perseverance. we don't try to teach them to be readers, or mathematicians, or athletes in a week. they are disciplines that cannot be mindless or simple. why do we tell kids that improving the world is any different?

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early reading

Olive is midway through kindergarten and has really taken into reading lately. It is the most wonderful adorable thing to see and just melts my heart! It kind of caught me off guard when she started sounding out words, she started the year knowing her ABCs and writing her name and some letter sounds. Then she had her sight words that she was very excited about, telling us all about THE and AND and LIKE. Then I saw her sounding out words to write them. She made her dad a note that said "YUR SO OSOM" and he framed it.

So I combed through the house to find Josie's old BOB books and Olive and I had a perfect evening plowing through the stack, she treated them like little puzzles and loved sounding out the words and was so proud of herself that she could read real books. Grandma's house had more bob books. Then we went to the library and found the learning to read section and she read all about "Big Dog and Little Dog", and "I Like Bugs". She'd sometimes struggle and get frustrated with new words, but then she'd get them and the next night we'd read the same books again and they were already familiar and she'd breeze through them. So what does that mean? Back to the library! Again and again, and she's sounding out "Acrobat" by herself in the back seat of the car with her new books.

Everything kids do is zero to 60, and you never know when, and you try to keep up. Both my babies learned to walk the same way. Josie was barely 10 months old, Olive was 14 months, but it didn't matter, they both took 2-3 steps in a row and we were so excited, then we counted five steps in a row, then nine, then we lost count, then laps around the house, all within like a two week period. Something clicks and they're off. Josie rode her bike the same way. Anything you try to count, you soon can't. You catch them, encourage them, celebrate the milestone, then it's over.

This month made me think a lot about kids and books and privilege. I've read to Olive since she was an infant. I dropped everything when she started sounding out words to find those bob books I knew we had. already had a library card because I'm a reader, so we could immediately get a stack of books at just the right level, challenging but not too challenging. It made me think of the story of few years back of the mailman in utah who asked for books for the 12 year old boy on his route. he saw the boy reading the junk mail thrown out by his apartment mailboxes, and he asked the postman if there was more because he liked to read, didn't have books so he was just picking up advertisements. It makes me think of little girls in countries where girls don't go to school, or generations where literacy rates were down under 50%. Olive loves to read so much, and it's such a foundation for everything else to learn about in life.

Also, I just finished Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. It was beautiful, slow and fast at the same time, and it was about people following the path set out for them. Even if it's not a fair path, even if they're curious about other options in life, you just don't break out for whatever reason, it's too hard when you were never given freedom from the start. It was a beautiful story. Maybe I will buy a copy, I'm sure someday Olive will read it.

remembering names

I've been reading this book Remember It! by Nelson Dellis after I heard him talk about it on the Becoming Superhuman podcast.

This whole podcast is nuts, let me first say... every guest is WAY charged up about some kind of health craze, like trying to drink the right mushroom coffee to live to 180 years old - we'll see won't we - or in the case of memory, winning pi digits memorization contests, memorizing a deck of cards in 30 seconds, they train for it like a pro sport. speed reading, supercharged sleep, fitness, too much talk about supplements, it's just weird, but I kind of can't stop listening.

Anyway I checked out this book because a few years ago I made a new years resolution to remember people's names in meetings, and I'm better, but not perfect... I was just tired of being embarrassed at work seeing a guy, not knowing his name, but knowing that we're all in the 9am thursday schedule review or whatever so I literally see him every week for MONTHS. And when you've gone that far it is really embarrassing to ask someone's name! This book has a lot about remembering everything, but I'm going to blog here about names because I think this is important.

I had been writing them down, and that helps. Sometimes in a meeting people go around and do introductions, I started paying attention. Turns out that's a good first step - your brain definitely cannot remember anything that you zoned out entirely for. We forget our keys when we mindlessly throw them in an odd place, we forget names when we don't care to hear them.

Step 2, from the book, is to make links in your memory. Stare at the person's face, find an interesting attribute... forehead texture, wrinkle, facial hair, dimple, then link it to a word. I met a Justin with beard chops that remind me of the judge (Justice) from Idiocracy. Erika at a party who's high heals would make me ERROR because they look hard to walk in... this is cheating I realize, using clothes, the book says to use faces, but I figure at a party I might not see these people again so clothes would work for the night, maybe?

Last night I was at a party and it was so much more fun playing these name games with myself. I was more interested in the people too - I remembered which ones made an effort to introduce themselves and talk to me, I wanted to talk to them. My memory started crapping out as the night went on. Or if I met more than two people at once, I had trouble keeping track because I couldn't invent links that fast... I don't have words for every name. But I can TOTALLY see how if I was well practiced in this I'd get better at it.

Brandon looked like his clothes were good brands. Alex had altitude, he was tall. Elise was wearing leggings that showed off her knees.

And the whole time, if I was between conversations, I'd be scanning the room quizzing myself to see who I still remembered, then I'd go talk to someone because it was easier to approach them feeling like we already had that connection. I had a much more enjoyable party experience and was really happy I went out.

It could be tough at work... people look so similar! I constantly find myself in rooms full of 50 year old white men... with SIMILAR names even, three named Tom, four named John, five named Mike. I could put all the Mikes in one category somehow, then try to remember last names, which is its own new trick, the book helps because again it's all about making up similar words but it's work!

I'll keep at it, and report back next year, as a memory champion. Right? No. But I'll be better!

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the irish potato famine

I picked up The Irish famine: an illustrated history by Helen Litton after a talk around the family table brought up questions about why a whole nation of people decided to go all in on potatoes, and why we let so many of them starve to death. It was an unpleasant story, with familiar themes.

To write a single journal entry I'll have to gloss over a LOT of details, but basically:

The Irish were poor as hell to begin with. Already a lot of them were hungry during the months right before a harvest. There wasn't a lot of money in the economy. A lot of what was grown was shipped away, owned by absent wealthy landowners who were much more concerned about their grain prices than whether the people working their land were paid enough to eat.

Then this potato blight started infecting the crops. The hungry families were used to running out of money at the end, then suddenly there was nothing to start over with.

There were workhouses. It was a cruel system where families were immediately separated, there was no room to separate sick from healthy people so your odds of getting sick and dying that way increased, but that was the safety net. After a few seasons of decimated treasuries, even the workhouses were overcrowded. So if you didn't leave our kids at the workhouse the custom was you go in your house, lock the door, huddle with your family and all starve together in a dark corner without bothering anyone. This is how people were found.

The disturbing theme that came up again and again was that the British government was more concerned with fair economics for the landowners than the people starving to death. I say it's a familiar theme because it also slowed down our efforts to abolish slavery, end child labor, pull back from colonization.

"What about the rich people?" The slave owner, the land owner, the factory owner... we just wring our hands and worry so much about them. It's not fair to change a system they've invested in. We can't reduce their profits. They're the economic engine. So they starved some people or abused some... they were within the framework of the laws (that they helped make) and surely they are the smartest and deserve to be in charge, they know what's best for us and eventually they will bring all the downtrodden to their same standard of living.

We can't just stop exporting grain from ireland or send food there, then food prices will go down, and then what about the rich people?

meanwhile people are starving to death in the streets, with no time to wait for an "eventually". They're caught in some program that expected them to work when they haven't had anything to eat, so they can't help. They can't afford seeds for a different kind of potato. They ate the seed potatoes sent to them. The government kept trying to make systems that would ensure that food only went to the most needy and not to anybody who could possibly work... while they worked at that, people starved. There was talking and thinking and philosophizing and new programs and the end of programs and through all of this, people were just starving, and no one could even really count how many because they'd been too poor to get a real census done in the first place.

Some of them got in boats to America, and starved on the boats. Or they got to America to be treated miserably here. No country wants to deal with or listen to the poor. They're just inconvenient.

I was semi-involved this year in a fun plastic recycling project, a shredder to keep bottles out of landfills and one idea we got sent a LOT was this idea of building bricks to make houses for homeless people. How awesome, right? Except one of the comments on the article stuck to me... "there's enough vacant houses already for us to house all the homeless"

true statistics. in the 2008 housing crisis, vacant houses outnumbered the homeless six to one.

we didn't need new innovative building materials, we needed banks and landlords to give up on profit or confront the idea of renting to someone less than ideal who might mess up their property... which won't happen.

we have enough food and houses for the world, but we can't figure out how to distribute it because what would happen if we hurt the people who have more than enough? we're still the same.

not gifted

Last year my daughter's teacher recommended that we have her assessed for the gifted program. I was hesitant. I brought up two concerns:

Risk: When I was a kid I asked about the gifted program, went through some review then was told that I was not gifted. This message probably made me work harder in life but the self-esteem thing happened, I've written before about how I decided not to go into computer science because I didn't think I'd be able to compete. Engineering seemed like a more level playing field, everybody had to go to college at least, and looking back it was a perfectly great decision but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't based on a little insecurity. A few years ago I was meeting with an executive coach about my role in supervising 60+ engineers and listed one of my weaknesses as just not being all that smart, she looked at me totally sideways with a "are you hearing yourself?! STOP," kind of response.

Benefit: I'm not sure I like gifted programs taking kids out of normal classrooms, as a manager now I need employees who can slow down and help a team along. I'm always having to tell new college grads that I don't care how they took calculus in the 8th grade - we don't certify airplanes based on trust that the designer is smart. You have to write your stuff down, show your work, be in a GROUP of mixed skills and bring everyone along with you. Public school is a great place to learn this lesson: wherever we're going, we have to get there together.

All this explains why I was definitely not pushing the school to assess my kid for the gifted program. But they convinced me that it wasn't much time out, that it would help her, and Josie came to me upset one night because the reading assignments at school were way too simple and boring. She's an odd kid, she totally does her own thing 99% of the time, doesn't care what anyone around her is doing or telling her what to do (sigh). She gets frustrated with herself. Marc and I used to quote eddie izzard a lot: "can't... get the trees... just right... I'M GOING TO KILL EVERYONE!" But she doesn't care what anybody else thinks.

I've been in groups with other moms around and their daughters are coming up to them with play-by-plays about the social scene, who insulted who, how they feel, why they're hurt, what they want to do. Never my kid. Marc and I asked Josie once if other girls at her school were mean and she said nope, it's all good. I was like oh crap, maybe SHE'S the mean girl! But watching her friends all play, she just takes what she wants from the world, her goals overshadow her empathy. She plays fine with the kids and doesn't analyze where she's at in the scene.

Except now that's she's eight, every 3-6 weeks I catch her in some weird mood where she is frustrated with the outside world, and she very emotionally spills a million concerns, usually concern about her school abilities and things she doesn't get. The next day I'll ask her about the same thing or how school was and she shrugs and says it's all fine, and reminds me that for christmas she wants a unicorn light.

Back to the topic at hand. The school called us and said she's not gifted. Dammit you jerks, this is the same crap that happened to me, why assess and label a borderline kid?

I THINK she won't notice or give a crap, I'm just worried about these little rare occasions we have where I find out everything this kid internalizes, like if you don't let it out it just eats forever and it's worse than the kids who are always talking about their feelings. I don't want things to eat at her. I want her to know she's smart.

fun home

The Wichita Community Theater performed Fun Home, the Tony-nominated musical based on Alison Bechdel's memoir about growing up and becoming a lesbian cartoonist. The Wichita Kansas Community Theater, people. Does that blow your mind? They did an amazing job and the house was packed. I have wanted to see this show since it came out on Broadway and I was really disappointed that it didn't have a longer run so I could see it in NYC - then I find out it's playing down the street? Stars aligning! I got tickets immediately.

I knew it was about Alison Bechdel and how her dad was a closeted gay man and she was an out lesbian and growing up in her family's funeral home, I thought it was about her life but it was really about her relationship with her dad. Enter my mistake: I brought my BFF who just lost her father this year and spent half the show sobbing. I DIDN'T KNOW. So that's a warning. I'm sorry about that.

There's this amazing scene where we're flashing back to college Alison about to go on her last car ride with her father, then suddenly for no reason her dad says, "Do you want to go?" to the present-day Alison who's been in the background, writing the story and talking in "captions" as a grown up cartoonist. She says "me?"

As in, do you, the grown-up, want to re-live a conversation from your past, knowing everything you know now, what would you say differently, would you know what to say... and she doesn't, and she's outside wanting everything to change. My life has not been so dramatic, but if a scene like that doesn't punch you in the chest you're not human.

Definitely a favorite musical forever, even if it was very sad.

it's not about you

two lessons I am trying and failing to teach my eight year old:

1) the meaning of the word "defensiveness" and why being defensive is a bad first response to a problem
2) how the other bad and related response is to first think about every problem in terms of how it affects you personally

like, her little sister will drop something and tell us "Josie bumped into me and made me spill my cereal!" Josie launches into "I BARELY TAPPED YOU THIS IS NOT MY FAULT MOM SHE'S SAYING I SPILLED THE CEREAL AND I DIDN'T"

meanwhile nobody is moving to clean up the cereal. and yes, it's also an issue that the little one is assigning blame, and I deal with that, she's five years old. and I was an older sister so I know how annoying it is to be held to that higher standard and told that you should be an example. but it's true! when you're eight, your emotional intelligence should be way past that of a five year old!

then again, I remind myself, there are grown ass adults whose emotional intelligence is not past the five year old.

Can you just say "I don't think I bumped you, but I will help you clean this up because it's not a major hardship for me, plus I know that if I spill something later you will be more likely to help me."

Sorry we armed both sides of your country's conflicting regimes at one time or another. Now we see that it's not safe for your children, so we will allow your families to live and work here and contribute to our society rather than having you starve in a refugee camp or drown trying to cross the ocean. it's not a hardship for us. Maybe your kids will give back when they are our next generation of teachers, doctors, engineering, social workers needed to take care our our aging population.

I haven't figured out how to get through to my kids, which tells me just how programmed we are to escalate problems, tunnel in and fight, then we miss opportunities to be proactive. some people are naturally empathetic, others are not, I know I've had my moments of failure. My kids are not great at this. But what's the use of being smart if you can't use it for good? And if you are smart, can't you wrap your head around the end game and what's best for everyone in the long run?

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I read all the Harry Potter books

I used to post a lot more books I read... well let me say that this year I did read all seven Harry Potter books, that was good.

Things I did not like about them:
1) Ron Weasley always whining about the most inconsequential shit, until later in the end I wondered if it was secret Voldemort making him into an asshole? I'd literally skip pages about him being dramatic. I might have glazed over half of book four over it.

2) It really did not make a ton of sense that Dumbledore kept so many secrets from Harry. Harry was right to be mad about it. That guy was crazy.

3) The tri-wizard tournament made zero sense. Zero. Why not just play the other schools at Quidditch every few years?

Things I did like about them:
1) The conspiracy theories that young people are figuring out all the time are really a great lesson for the way the world is, always be asking questions, looking at history, looking at motives! The world is not always simple.

2) Werewolf tolerance, half horses keeping to themselves, giants reconciling their violent genetics... it's a diversity story. Not to mention that the good guys are the ones who don't care whose "blood" you have. Tolerance FTW, throughout all the books!

3) This idea that we are formed as kids and to really understand an adult, you need to understand their childhood, and that's why it's such a crucial time. All adults were once kids, and in this case, Hogwarts students, too. The backgrounds were fascinating.

I originally read the books because I'd only caught snippets of the movies, that's how I watch movies, I'm busy with life so I catch them here and there if they're on. I roam around and get things done in the house and miss parts, so I lost track of all the complicated character relationships. To really get the details I had to read the books, so I did. I'm in that club now.

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Reshare from a reddit question:
What are some aggressive things your partner has done that made you leave them?

My answer... from college, a million years ago, but I still remember it:
I had a boyfriend who was fairly disrespectful to me but I didn’t really realize what a jerk he was until I noticed his driving. He’d floor it all the time for no real reason. The last straw was the night I got nervous because he was driving in a movie theater parking lot with lots of pedestrians and I asked him to drive slower, I was like hey there’s little kids everywhere between these cars. His response was something like “well their stupid parents might learn to watch them!”

I said nothing else, then got angry, when he dropped me off back at my house I burst into tears and screamed at him and after that fight we were done.

birthmark hurting

I don't mean to be an old person just blogging about my health problems but this year, man. they're crazy! I'm not even old!

This one ends very stupidly though, I mostly want to write it up to help internet people.

I have a birthmark or strawberry mark or whatever on the back of my head. It's a bald spot. It has not made my life terrible, except it was tricky wearing pigtails, I had to make the part crooked.

Anyway while traveling for work I noticed it hurt if I leaned up against it or pressed it. Weird. I tried not to mess with it.

But as the week went on it got worse. It hurt all the time. It kind of itched. It felt bigger... I couldn't tell, I didn't totally remember the boundaries. So I did some googling about a birthmark hurting, birthmark growing, itching, etc.

The internet said I definitely had skin cancer and melanoma and weeks to live.

This was upsetting. I called my doctor and got an appointment for two days later, when I'd have time to go in... no hurry right? I had my husband look at it, since it's on the back of my head and I'd tried taking photos but it was too hard, he said it looked red and weird and was glad I was going to the doctor.

The morning of my appointment it hurt so bad and I was so convinced I was going to die I also called a dermatologist who told me they couldn't see new patients for MONTHS and I needed to see my primary care physician and I was like okay fine. I'd had trouble sleeping because it throbbed all the time, I wondered why I didn't just take off work as soon as I noticed pain because now I was definitely going to die, right? It wasn't until that morning that I got really worried.

Well I was fine. My doctor said it was just some stupid clogged hair follicle or zit or something. Stabbed it and told me to keep it clean. I did, and it went away. It was a total coincidence that it was on my birthmark, a lot of people get these on their head, I just never had before.

So I'm going to make it, internet.

Never a terrible idea to see your doctor I guess, I had all these apologies about how I felt stupid but it's on the back of my damn head, I can't see it! She said it was seriously no big deal.

I've had actual friends my age have to get skin cancer stuff removed. I've had actual friends my age die quickly of cancer! So I'm writing this up because you never read stories about "and then I was fine" kinda like when you're pregnant and so worried about the future, you never read about "oh my god I had a baby... and it grew up and lived to be 90 years old" None of that is shocking enough to go viral.

every day, millions of people are very boring.

that's my big news.

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self checkouts

man, if you want to start a fierce facebook debate, bring up self-checkouts at grocery stores!

I use them. I admit they are not perfect. It is stupid how much they want to yell at you for "stealing" when you're obviously right there trying to check out. As my husband once said looking around, "If I wanted to steal from this place, I'd steal from this place." I am sure they were programmed by someone who hates technology and doesn't trust it and just dreams up worst-case scenarios that some poor IT guy has to jump through just to get his project done.

I like how I can go to a store at oh-dark-thirty in the morning with a pocket full of spare change and shove pennies at it until I've paid for my peanut butter cups. I wouldn't do that to a human cashier, they would roll their eyes at me and not want to count all that change, and they'd be in the right.

Let's get to my real rant though - old people on facebook who say we should not use self-checkout because JOBS. Robots TAKING human JOBS! Don't you care about the poor cashiers getting tossed out on the street because they've been made obsolete by technology?

What a strange argument. I have not heard any news interviews about people who wanted to be cashiers but could not because grocery stores are hiring fewer workers. They still need people to monitor the machines. They've never hired enough cashiers to make my checkout experience queue-free... if they're going to have just 2-3 working at a time, why not have one of them monitor a self-checkout with six stations so I don't have to wait? Same number of employed people, less waiting.

And even if they weren't hiring cashiers... well, jobs go obsolete! When I get into facebook debates with these people I ask them about other obsolete jobs they could feel bad about...

- when you want to find a business' contact information do you call information, or just google it?
- to type this facebook status, did you hire a typing pool?
- did you request an elevator operator, or hit the 9th floor button yourself?

These are all things people used to do, but with a little technology help, the jobs went away and now we are all "burdened" with doing these jobs "ourselves" - but I'm not sure we'd go back. And we don't feel bad. If the self-checkouts keep improving, why should I just stand and stare off into space while a human person does my scanning for me? I'm just standing there bored, it's not like this costs me time.

At the end of the day we have to ask ourselves how to move the world FORWARD, and clinging to the past is never the solution to that. Humans will always be needed. The biggest tech companies in the world employ hundreds of thousands of people - tech companies! If robots could replace us, they'd figure it out, right? So if you're worried about cashiers, look for ways to find people jobs where their human talents are put to worthy use - aka jobs that we can't program a computer to do. Fight for higher wages. Fight for efficiencies to make our lives easier, so we can work fewer hours a week and still have what we need.

Trying to freeze the world because the touchscreen is glitchy is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There's a real enemy here but technology is not it.

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drama queen 101

In working with groups who email a lot, I've learned to recognize four types of overdramatic posts that toxic people make to screw everything up. There may be more, but these are my favorite.

First, someone puts out an idea. I think we should have a plant in our office.

In theory people could just agree or disagree. Or not care! "I don't think we need a plant, but I will support whatever the team decides."

But instead we get...

1) The attack.
"Having a plant is the worst idea ever. Truly awful."

2) The personal attack.
"Whoever suggested a plant is a total idiot."

3) The mountain out of the molehill.
"We could have been the greatest team in the universe, conquering the world and becoming billionaires, but if we get a plant this place is going to explode and we will all die or go to jail."

4) The history dredge up.
"I have suggested a cactus 5,000 times a year for the last five years and nobody listened to me, now all the sudden we want a plant?"

Olive's kindergarten download

The older Olive gets the more I think she's an external processor, happy to let everyone know what's in her head. It's great and adorable.

In the weeks leading up to kindergarten she was stoked, telling the world how she graduated pre-k, was going to kindergarten where they let you climb everything on the playground, pre-k they wouldn't let you climb on the big stuff. Then the night before kindergarten she told me she didn't feel ready because there would be monkey bars and they weren't allowed on those last year so she couldn't do them. I reassured her this was not important for going to kindergarten.

When she got home she had all the stories! There was drama - a kid got sent to the principle's office for hurting another little girl on the playground and the little girl had to go to the nurse's office, which is like a hospital inside the school. There are lincoln logs. She got a rainbow lollipop for listening so well. Her best friend has a coat hook next to hers. Chicken nuggets and yogurt for lunch.

The schools staggers kindergarteners the first week - a few kids attend each day, then next week they all start in, so Olive went to school Wednesday and that was it. The other days, she went with Marc to pick up her big sister, and gave her teacher a big hug and said she missed her and couldn't want to be back again.

managing volunteers

Three things I've learned about being very involved in volunteer organizations:

1) Chickens. There's an old joke about a chicken who goes to a pig and says, "Let's start a breakfast restaurant where people can eat ham and eggs!" The pig responds, "Sounds like I'd be committed, you'd only be involved."

Chickens are the ones who constantly come up with things "we" should do, but they're only going to be sidelined involved. The worst is when they throw criticism at the pigs who are TRULY committed and doing the hard work.

Step 1 is turning their great ideas around, when they say "we" should do something, respond with "AWESOME idea, I totally support that, I'd suggest that YOUR first step will be to..." Never respond with "we don't have time" or "don't you see how hard I'm working?" Help them in.

2) On the other hand, you can go past the committed pig and become the all-out martyr. Toxic martyr volunteers sacrifice huge amounts of time themselves, then guilt everyone who isn't doing the same. They'll complain loudly that they're the only one working... even in a room full of people working. That's when you notice a pattern — they never ask for help or try to organize anyone to assist, and they hate when you try and take their (volunteer!) job away from them. There's a great article about how we need to celebrate the lazy leader who gets even help from everyone instead of the guy who lost his job/family/sanity for your organization.

3) Constantly ask for help. I've been shocked at the number of times I've asked for someone to take over an activity 150 times, then suddenly I get the wording or timing right and somebody jumps up and just takes it over, telling me it's such a fun thing they do they wish I'd asked earlier. We have to be creative and look for ways to package volunteer jobs to make sense to people. Be like habitat for humanity, who invites people to show up with no skills, planning or thinking and somehow gets them all to build a house. Most of the volunteers have no idea how much pre-planning and expertise is involved in giving them that mindless day of "giving back" — but that's what it takes, that's what all non-profits take. Nothing is mindless. The mind is somewhere. If the mind is you, seeing what needs done and planning long term, make sure you're not also the one brush-painting the house. As soon as you really know how to do a job, train your replacement and give it away. Move up to the busier intersection. That's how you grow.

ironphoenix told me about Maxwell's level's of leadership last year and I still refer to it a lot. In a volunteer organization I think it looks like this:

1) Step 1: ask people to do things. You'd be surprised how few leaders are even here.

2) Know who to ask. People will help because they're your friend.

3) Design an engaging, interesting system that draws people in

4) People know what to do even without you

5) Your values are part of people's identity, they own the organization and can't help but be extremely involved. You've made something that lasts

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what's up with build-a-bear this week?

so here's a relevant, topical post for the week... build a bear! wtf?

They had a "pay your age" day where you could go get a bear for your age, so if your kid is 8, her bear is only $8.

Which sounds awesome except I've been to build a bear, haven't a lot of people? The bears are never that expensive. They're like $12, maybe $20, sure there's some flashy licensed ones but there's almost always some on sale or a buy-one-get-one deal. They have sales all the time.

The sales never extend to accessories, and that's the bread and butter of build a bear. I was telling a friend of mine about how we might have build-a-bear clothes that are more expensive than my clothes.

You get your $12 bear then realize the little shirt for it is $8, but why just get the little shirt when you can get the $15 dress, $10 shoes, $20 rollerskates (yup), hat, bow, headband, purse, and you walk out thinking "I got a $12 bear! It was only $50!"

Maybe I notice these things because when I worked in the shoestore we were always getting pressure to sell extra accessories and items. We were graded on the item count average on all the days receipts. Profit margins on "stuff that's not shoes" was huge. Shoelaces, socks, shoe cleaners and care kit, bags, bows, etc.

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vampire talk with the 5 year old

olive: I do not like vampires.

me: well that's okay, because they're not real.

olive: but they turn into bats. bats are real.

me: well yeah, bats are real, but not vampires.

olive: but there's vampire bats.

me: well, okay. vampire bats are real. but you don't have to worry about them because they don't live in Kansas.

olive: I saw them in our zoo!

me: okay YES they live at the zoo but... not, like, outside? NOTHING IS TRYING TO SUCK YOUR BLOOD.

olive: mosquitoes are sucking my blood.

me: (deep breath) you're very smart olive. this is a very good talk.

olive: I just don't like vampires. 

me: me neither, babe. 

Upcoming Reunion

Can we talk about high school reunions?

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no socks

When I first came to work in an office 15 years ago, our company dress code required that everyone wear socks or hosiery.

My staple was close-toed dress shoes, knee high hose, and slacks.

Now it looks like the fashion for women is to never wear socks at all. So I'm trying to ditch the knee highs and go with those weird invisible socks that nobody can see but I think I hate this trend.  I'm in a nicer building these days with people who dress better and it looks like they really do not wear socks. Maybe that's the fashion. Why wear socks? They help your shoes last longer that's for sure. Why have shoes that last longer? It's women's shoes, you're supposed to throw them all out and replace them every three months. Oh wait, I hate that.

On jeans day I wear normal socks and brown leather lace-up sneakers that I got in the men's department. Leather holds up so much better I really try to get only that, but in the women's side of things it's hard to find and crazy expensive if it's any where. Men get leather shoes for $60. I think the ones I got are clarks or bass or something. I did get recognized one day when a guy saw that we were wearing the exact same shoes and he just said "that's so cool, they make the same ones for women!" and I just said "YUP!" At least, they made some for this woman.

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code switching robots

I think I realized why it's so infuriating to talk to robots on the phone. You know what I mean — you call a helpline or something and they've got the voice saying extra happy things like "Sure SPACEFEM, I'll help you with that right away. But first I need some information. What are you calling about? You can say CHANGE SERVICE, FILE A CLAIM, or CUSS US ALL OUT."

Then they kinda do or don't understand you and that's frustrating in itself but you know what's worse? They will never code switch like humans do. You know what I mean. When I'm talking to someone who talks fast, I talk fast. When they talk slow I talk slow. When they have a southern accent, I instinctively work in the word "ain't" every once in a while. It's what we all do.

I think I'm good at it actually.

Robots aren't that smart. There are too many tiny details. They can type, I've heard, and fake us out and make us think we're talking to a person, but it will be a VERY long time before verbal communication can pass a turing test.

My 7 year old definitely changes how she talks when she's around her friends, I notice. The 4 year old kinda doesn't. She talks slower to little babies but at some toddler age, they're all the same.

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