Category Archives: This and That

What about me?

As the mother of four, I witness first hand how my children are growing and changing almost daily. Their looks, their interests, their voices.

As the caregiver for my mom who has Alzheimer’s, I witness first hand how she is changing almost daily. Her communication, her fine and gross-motor skills, her cognition.

But I don’t necessarily see or take time to notice the changes in me on a daily basis or over time. Oh, I see the visible stuff. Changes in my weight (usually in the wrong direction). A new wrinkle here or there. Another gray hair. Photos, mirrors, the scale-they all reflect these changes back to me. These things I notice.

But I’m moving too fast to pay attention to the bigger changes in me and my life over time.

Yesterday, I happened to click over to my about page. I read a description of me that I wrote four years ago (based on the stated ages of my children and length of my marriage in that post).

about me

And I thought, “That doesn’t even sound like me anymore!”

So, it’s time for a new “About” page. One that reflects all the ways I’ve grown and changed over the past for years. Hopefully, for the better!

This has been a good exercise for me. To pause. To reflect on the past, acknowledge the changes and examine the present. To look to the future with a plan of what I want the next “About” page rendition to include.

Share with me! How have you evolved in recent years? What are your goals for future change?

 

My first guest post

guest_post_blog

I wrote my first guest post for another blog yesterday–My Life in Frames. It was for a client’s blog so maybe it’s not the true honor that it would be had I been asked to write for a blog that I am not connected to, but it was fun nonetheless.

It’s a fun little post with some advice for guys about how to really touch their ladies’ hearts on Valentine’s Day.

Writing is something I love to do, so I hope to do it more often here on my own blog…and maybe other places as well.

I’m not a Jedi Knight

Yoda, in all his wisdom, stated, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

That may be true if you are a Jedi Knight, but for the rest of us, me specifically, not so much.

In February, I jumped feet first into uncharted territory after attending a board of education meeting. Our school district is in financial crisis. Many cuts are on the table.

I went home that night heartsick about our district and the financial trouble it is in. Some people blame the administration. Some people blame the school board. Some people blame the teachers (who at that time had been working without a contract for approximately two years). Some people blame the Michigan legislators.

I began to think. What if? What if people stopped complaining? What if people stopped placing blame and pointing fingers? What if people came together to make a difference in the lives of kids? What if we raised money to pay for one of the positions being cut?

I emailed the superintendent of the district first thing the next morning. He called me within 10 minutes.

For details and background on the position I was fighting to save, read this.

I proposed starting a fundraising campaign separate from the district to raise the funds. Was it legal? Was it something he’d be willing to let me try?

Let me just say quickly that the reasons I chose to fight for this particular cut are:

  • Safety of my children is paramount
  • This cut represented the lowest annual dollar amount ($29 per family in the district)
  • The position being cut impacts every student, teacher and staff member in the district.

Once I had the blessing of the superintendent, I contacted an acquaintance who I knew to be very passionate about this position and a very involved parent in the district to see what she thought.

She was in.

The next four weeks were a whirl wind. We met with the superintendent, the township supervisor, the local community foundation.

We received so much guidance and support from these people! It was truly remarkable.

On March 1, we attended the school board meeting and announced the launch of BSP CARES: Bedford Students Protected through Combining Area Resources for Educational Safety.

We worked our tails off and had much early success, raising $17,000 by the end of March. The media was very kind to us and covered every fundraiser we had, helping us spread the word. We definitely had the support of the local business community.

But over time it became clear that we lacked the financial support of parents and teachers-the two most important groups if this effort was going to succeed.

In the end, we raised over $38,000 against a goal of $80,000 and the position was cut December 6.

I guess Yoda would call that a “Do not.” I call it a “try.”

I learned a lot about people in our community, politics, my family and mostly myself.

  • Our community is filled with generous people! Generous with their time, their talent, their wisdom and their money.
  • People can take the well-meaning efforts of two moms and turn them into a political issue.
  • My family has a limit in how much of my time they are willing to allow me to give to others. (It’s a very high limit, but there is a limit.)
  • And myself—
    • I jump in quicker than I should sometimes.
    • I allow my priorities to get upended sometimes, putting other things ahead of my family.
    • I’m not bad on camera.
    • I place a lot of importance on my hair.
    • I can make a difference.

And I hope I am teaching my children:

  • Stand up for what you believe in.
  • Get involved.
  • Don’t be afraid to try.

So, no, I’m not a Jedi Knight. I’m a mom. A wife.  A community member. And so much more!

And, I’ll keep on trying!

Talk to me! Have you ever taken on a huge project that you were very passionate about only to fall short of your original goal? How did it feel?

Just a little back story

This is not really a blog post on its own, but rather background information for I’m not a Jedi Knight.

One of cuts presented at the meeting was of a Monroe County Sheriff’s Deputy School Resource Officer—one of two in our district. The two officers provide safety services and educational programs to the more than 5,000 kids in the system throughout five buildings. With only one officer in place, safety services will be diminished and the educational programming will be eliminated.

Many people had shown up at the board meeting pleading with the board not to cut the position. The deputy slated to be cut is a well-known and well-loved member of the community.  At least one of the speakers broke down in tears while relaying why this position was so crucial to our children’s education and safety.

Clearly, for most of the speakers, it was personal. They knew him, liked him, wanted him to be in the schools protecting and educating their children.

I listened. I decided to speak. I basically stated that the safety of my children was more important than their education. I said that I didn’t know him. But my kids do. They know both of the deputies. Not because they’re bad kids who get in trouble, but because these deputies entered their lives when they started kindergarten. They teach every kid, in every building.

Stranger Danger, DARE, Gun Safety Awareness, Bicycle Safety, Dangers of Texting and Driving, Cyber-Bullying…the list goes on. So as the years go by, the kids feel comfortable with the deputies. They respect them. They trust them. And the deputies know the kids. They know the good ones who make a bad choice on occasion. They know the bad ones that need to be watched closely.

If the position is cut, the programs go away. One officer won’t have time to do it all. He will become reactive instead of proactive. The trust and respect that is built over time, throughout the elementary years will be lost. The intervention that takes place when those good kids make bad choices early on will cease.

So if you haven’t read, or finished reading I’m not a Jedi Knight, go do that now.

You can take the girl out of retail…

-Courtesy Lars Ploughman

-Courtesy Lars Ploughman

Black Friday.

I have a love-hate relationship with Black Friday. I wouldn’t be caught dead shopping on that day, but I worked in retail for 20 years and the thrill of seeing the sales figures rise so rapidly is hard to beat. I’ve been out of retail for 5 years and this weekend was reminded of just how fun it is to see the results of my Black Friday prep work pay off.

Cue the flashback music

It was supposed to be a 3 month summer gig after my freshman year in college.

But my hairdresser knew differently. Throughout the next three years when we’d talk about my job at a local department store:  “You’re going to be a retail queen. It’s in your blood!” I shrugged it off because that wasn’t what I was going to school for. Little did I know…

One of the best parts of my job was seeing a direct impact on sales through my actions. Because the company was still relatively small, I could call the buyers. If something was blowing out the door, I could call and say, “Get me more!” Or, if it wasn’t selling, “Transfer this out or let me mark it down!” I was also afforded great freedom and creativity when it came to merchandising my floor. I could move stuff around, make “shops,” be creative. Then I could watch the sales numbers. If they went up, I celebrated! If they went down or didn’t move, I made adjustments.

My career grew. The company grew. And I got pregnant. As I went about my job, and the pregnancy continued, I wondered, “How in the world am I going to be the kind of mom I want to be and work nights, weekends and 6 days at Christmas?” That thought began to take the fun out of the job.

Then, I was offered a demotion. Not because I wasn’t doing well, but because the regional director’s administrative assistant was leaving. I had to take a slight pay cut, but the job was Monday-Friday days.

No nights. No weekends. No stress.

I jumped on it!

I worked in that position for 9 years and for the majority of the time it was great! I worked in an office alone 3-4 days a week while the boss traveled. I made connections friends at the corporate offices, and in many of our stores throughout the company.

The company had grown so much that a lot of what I had considered fun…the merchandising, working with buyers to hone the inventory…was not part of the job anymore. It was cookie-cutter. I was glad I wasn’t in the trenches anymore.

But there was one day out of every year I missed it. Black Friday! As I said, I’ll never shop on Black Friday but to prep for it and be part of the fast-paced excitement was a rush! A favorite saying was, “Pile it high and let it fly!”  Watching the sales numbers shooting up (on a good year) was amazing!

Retirement Party. Betcha don't know many women who retire AND have a baby all in the same week!

Retirement Party. Betcha don't know many women who retire AND have a baby all in the same week!

Less than two months after my 20th anniversary, I “retired.” Not because I was ready for my AARP card or Medicare, but because I was about to have my 4th child. My boss and his wife hosted a lovely retirement party for me and colleagues friends came from miles away to wish me well. It meant the world to me!

That was five years ago. I still won’t shop on Black Friday. But, I do miss the people and the excitement that goes along with it.

This year, I was reminded just how much I miss watching those sales numbers rise. I’m a social media specialist working with Weaving Influence. One of the clients we’re working with is Dean Vollmar. His company, 1stFrame.com, is an online retailer. He creates beautiful, custom laser-engraved frames. Part of the work we’re doing for him revolves around this weekend: Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.

We used a photo from my summer vacation to design a frame or use in our Michigan Small Business Saturday Frame.

We used a photo from my summer vacation to design a frame for use in our Michigan Small Business Saturday Frame.

He kept us updated throughout the day yesterday as sales began to come in. Before 10:30 a.m., he had already sold as many frames as the year before. As of midnight, he had a 500% increase! Once again, I felt the rush of seeing incredible sales figures and knowing that my knowledge, my expertise, my actions created a direct impact on sales.

But this time, it was from the comfort of my own sofa!

So, you might be able to take the girl out of retail, but I don’t think you’ll ever take the retail out of this girl.

Let’s talk! Do you shop on Black Friday? Work on Black Friday? Have you retired or left a job and find that while you wouldn’t go back, there are aspects you miss?

Change to Change

Recently, I’ve been reading a book for work. It’s called Stop Selling Vanilla Ice Cream by Steve Van Remortel. It’s not really about trying to ban vanilla ice cream from the supermarket shelves. I mean, really, who would want that?! It’s about differentiating your company through strategy and talent development.

So, to be clear, the reason I’m reading it is because I have to for work. But, I do not have to write a post about it for work. Haven’t been asked to. Not being paid to. And, actually, this post isn’t really about the book. But in the spirit of full disclosure, I wanted to share that.

Now, on to my point.

As I read the book, I’m finding tidbits that pertain to family, household, personal life–not just the business world.

I read this sentence:

“If nothing ever changes…nothing will ever change.”

Think on that for a minute.

If nothing ever changes…nothing will ever change.

If I don’t ever change the way I eat, if I don’t change the way I exercise (or the fact that I don’t)…I will never lose weight or be fit.

If I don’t ever change my messy habits…I will never have a neat house.

If I don’t ever change the way I manage money…I will never have more savings.

If I don’t ever spend more time in prayer and Bible study…I will never have a closer relationship to God.

The list goes on!

What can you insert into the blanks?

If I don’t ever change _______________…I will never_______________.

My take away is this: if there’s something in my life that I’m not satisfied with, how can I expect it to improve if I don’t take action and initiate the change?

Did you miss me?

Did you miss me?

It’s been nearly 18 months since I wrote my last blog post, Take Care of You. I wish I could say I’ve been very busy following my own advice from that post.

Instead, I think I was doing the opposite. I was immersing myself in taking care of everyone but me. You could probably call me a professional volunteer. My house was a disaster, my mother’s health was getting worse and life was getting more chaotic and less blissful all the time. For much of that time, and for the first time ever in my life, I was unhappy.

My mother’s health hit a bump in the road last October. It’s a long story, and one I will probably tell sooner than later. The relevant point here is that she’s been living with us since December 1. We’re all still adjusting. The adjustments probably warrant a blog post at some point, too.

In the midst of all of this adjusting, I took on the biggest challenge of my life: raising $80,000 to retain a school safety officer in our school district. A cause I greatly believe in, but one that has consumed much more of me than I ever thought possible!

Stress. Stress. Stress.

Even doing things you enjoy and are passionate about (rather than work you have to do) cause stress when there are so many things going on at once.

I was also wrestling with the idea of what life was going to look like when school started this year. My oldest started high school. My second child started junior high. The third started 4th grade. And, my baby started kindergarten. All day kindergarten.

Sniff. Sniff. Sniff.

And OUCH!

Nothing like three of four kids embarking on educational milestones to slap me in the forehead and scream, “YOUR KIDS ARE GROWING UP FAST!”

My baby. The one I quit work and got to stay home with was leaving for kindergarten.

Did I make the most of the time we had? There are crafts to make, books to read and cupcakes to bake that we never got to!

Oh no! I’m going to be home all day, alone, with my often cranky, always forgetful, rarely conversational mom.

Summer. Summer. Summer.

We had a wonderful time as a family this summer! Thanks in large part to my husband and his crazy (and sometimes annoying) spontaneity. Lots of little day trips, one long weekend. Tons of fun and memories!

School.  School.  School.

School has been in session for two weeks now. I have 35 hours a week with no one here but my mom and the pets.

There is peace. There is quiet.

And in that peace and quiet, I’ve found some things—

–a much cleaner house

–the buzzer on my dryer when the cycle ends (I don’t think I’ve ever heard it before)

–the tranquility and giddiness that comes simply from an uninterrupted shower

–and me.

Yes, in the peace and quiet, I’m finding me.

My old self.  The self that is a better wife, mother, daughter, house keeper, friend and even volunteer.

I know, you probably didn’t miss me over the last 18 months.

But I did.

Planning a trip to Disney World, Take 2

Just about this time, four years ago, I was beginning to plan our family’s first trip to Disney World in Florida. We planned on whisking our three children, who would have been 9, 7 and 4 at travel time, away on the last day of school for the most magical experience of their lives.

I had everything all mapped out and saved on the Disney site. I had 30 days to put down a deposit on the trip, or my planning wouldn’t be saved anymore.

My 30 days were almost up. I looked at the calendar, ready to make the deposit. A little voice inside me said, “Maybe you should wait a couple days.” I waited. The voice said, “Why don’t you give it a week?” I waited. I waited another week.

OK, I was two weeks late.

Our first three children had all been conceived through the help of fertility drugs. We didn’t use any birth control, other than the we-have-three-children-and-we’re-exhausted method. Chances of me getting pregnant were very slim.

Turns out, slim is enough.

Well, instead of going to Disney in June 2007, we welcomed our “Bonus Baby” in July.

Now that baby is 3 and we’re trying again. For the vacation!! Yeah, fool me once–we both got fixed!

So here’s where you come in. Usually when I blog, it’s because I have something to say and I hope at least a few people out there will want to read it. If not, that’s ok because the blog is creating a nice little diary of our life. But this time, I want you to tell me something!

I want to know your money saving and sanity saving tips for making the trip a success without needing to take a second mortgage on the house!

You should know our kids will be 13, 10, 8 and 4 when we travel and we’re coming from extreme southeast Michigan.

Some of my questions are:

  1. How many days do you really need?
  2. Where’s the best place to stay?
  3. Should we drive or fly?
  4. Is park hopper worth it?
  5. Is the dining package worth it?
  6. What is the one thing you wouldn’t want us to miss?
  7. What is the one thing we could skip?
  8. What else do you know that only comes with experience?

I recently read DonMartelli’s Parent’s Guide to Surviving a Disney World Vacation. He gives down and dirty practical advice which is just the kind of stuff I want to hear.

So, whatcha got? Go ahead…comment!

Too Chaotic for My Chaotic Bliss

I last blogged about 6 1/2 months ago. I was elated when I wrote that post . Michael had just been hired after a long layoff. Just six weeks later, he was laid off again as the start-up company quickly realized they’d hired more people than they could afford at such an early point. He wasn’t the only casualty, but that was little consolation.

What ensued was 3-4 months of chaos–and nothing about it was blissful. I’m not going to go into a lot of details, but suffice it to say we were sinking fast. And I guess, maybe it wasn’t fast. Afterall, the initial layoff began on August 20, 2008, so it had been nearly 2 years. Hope was hard to come by. Faith was being tested. Life pretty much stunk.

During all of this financial stress, I had another major stressor in my life. My mother and her continuing decline into dementia.

I have truly never known such stress, such despair, such an overwhelming feeling of, well, being overwhelmed. (Let’s not forget I’m the mother of 4 young children).

My prayers shifted their focus. Instead of  just praying for blessings on our family, my prayers became desperate. Something had to give. I believe the Lord won’t allow you to go through more than you can handle–

1 Corinthians 10:13: No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

but, I was truly reaching the end of my rope. Something had to give. You know, I’m very familiar with the first part of the Bible verse above. But I found myself forgetting, maybe doubting the last part–”He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

Then came August. Our darkest month financially.

My friend Elizabeth told me about a support group for caregivers of dementia patients. Oh, my gosh! Talk about a gift from God! Our group met weekly for  the first month, and now we meet monthly. I have learned so much and am so much better equipped to handle my mother’s care now than I was before.

Out of the blue, the ladies from my church took up a collection and provided us with a gift card to help with back to school shopping.

By the end of August, Michael’s freelance work was really picking up again.

September was a good month, too. But by mid-month, it got really good!

He landed a terrific job! Two days before he was contacted about the job he said, “When it’s right, it will be easy.” Well, I guess so! This opportunity came looking for him. It’s quite literally his dream job. You can read his take on his blog at Mike’s Points.com.

The Sunday after he was offered the job, I sat in Bible study at church and listened as the teacher read the following passage to us from James 1:

 2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

and,

12Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

I doubt it was coincidence that those passages were the focus of our discussion that day.

Michael started his job on October 4. We’re adjusting to another new normal. It’s a good adjustment to make.

Life’s less chaotic and more blissful now.

Thank you,  God!

Waiting to exhale

Well. Here I am. I’ve been looking forward to being able to write this post for months. Now the day is here, the time has come, and I’m not sure how to begin.

If you’re a friend of mine, or a family member or even a regular reader of this blog, then you know the shlumping economy hit our household on August 20, 2008. The last time I wrote about our experience was on the first anniversary of that hit.

It was a pretty positive post. We were doing pretty well. Then in the blink of an eye, we weren’t so OK anymore.

The months of September, October, November and December sent us one blow after another.

BAM! Michael’s biggest client decided they no longer needed his services.

BAM! The Department of Human Services decided we weren’t eligible for benefits anymore.

BAM! The COBRA subsidy ran out.

BAM! The Department of Job and Family Services decided Michael wasn’t eligible for unemployment anymore.

I felt absolutely defeated. I was frustrated. The savings we’d built up over several months was gone seemingly overnight. We were back to square one–or square zero.

I know I probably wasn’t much fun to be around. (Thank you my dear friends for sticking with me.) We were in almost exactly the same situation we’d been in a year before but my attitude was much different. I still had faith, still trusted in God’s plan, but really felt I was reaching the end of what I could handle.

I remember crying myself to sleep on New Year’s Eve. A night when most are feeling hopeful about what the new year will bring, I was almost hopeless.

So here we were in January, again. Amazingly, the interviews started happening again. Little by little all the bureaucratic red-tape got straightened around and we started receiving help again from Human Services and Unemployment. The COBRA subsidy was extended.

There was hope, but less of it. I guess one gets jaded after being knocked down from the pedestal of hope time and again.

Amidst the job interviews, one opportunity was most intriguing. But also most risky as the company is a start-up. We began having the same conversation we’d had the previous January during the slew of interviews while we weighed the option of Michael having his own business.

How will we know which is the right decision? If there’s an offer from a stable company that’s been around awhile, do we take that and then have regrets later if this start-up really takes off? What if we go with the start-up and they fail in 6 months or a year? Then we go through all this again.

We prayed for guidance.

You know, I think maybe God doesn’t trust our decision making ability because he seems to make the answers abundantly clear. None of the other interviews panned out. Nothing to lose. Take the risk.

Michael’s been on contract with them for the last two months and we’ve been holding our breath. As of today, he is EMPLOYED! (insert Hallelujah chorus here)

Is this God’s plan? No clue!

But, we’re hopeful again. Making plans again. And if it turns out this IS God’s plan, we’re thankful for the past 19 months, 11 days which brought us to this opportunity willing to take a risk.

and…EXHALE!