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<img src="https://floramargaret.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/092313venusflytrap.jpg&quot; class="size-full" alt="whats making me happy this week 09.22.13: JUDGE john hodgeman, aging and a sad song” />

photos:
1) the venus fly trap my nephew gave me last mother’s day…it sits in my office window in it’s plastic container not eating flies as there are no flies to be eaten. someone suggested i put a piece of banana in there to attract fruit flies. not sure about that…
2) working merch at the the ark last weekend…it was a slow night… respect to a band that puts out vinyl…
3) taking refuge from the pouring rain on the front porch of lexi’s toybox

Saturday night my husband and daughter and I were all crabby to each other, resulting in cancelled plans to see a late movie together and my husband driving off to hang out at Barnes and Noble on his own just to get away from us.

Our simple dishwasher replacement, which we have been waiting for the right financial time to replace, has turned out to be not so simple. The new dishwasher, with the exact same measurements as our old dishwasher, at least on paper, won’t fit under our old countertop. Sigh. Do we figure out a way to rig it, or do we do things right, tear out the entire floor (which appears to includes at least 2 layers of subflooring sandwiched between 2 layers of linoleum…nice) and start all over again? At what expense? And who has the time?!

My son was up until 1am studying for an AP Chemistry test and my daughter up until 4am studying for an Organic Chemistry test…

Chemistry, Schmemistry. We are a mess.

But really, we’re okay, of course.

These are such little problems on the scale of world problems. Our kids don’t go hungry. We are just fine.

Here are some little things that help me to stay just fine during our more trying moments this week:

1.
the Judge John Hodgeman podcast. You know John Hodgeman…”I’m a PC…” He is silly, and a geek and extremely smart and funny and, it turns out, a very fair judge. I listen to his podcast while loading (and unloading and loading…) the dishwasher and giggle and giggle. My son has Hodgeman’s books, The Areas of My Expertise, and More Information Than You Require, but he has not listened to his podcast and it drives my son crazy when I refer to him as Judge John Hodgemen. My son insists, “It’s JUST John Hodgemen! You do not add “judge” in front of his name. He is not a real judge.” So of course I say JUDGE John Hodgeman all the time now. We call it “poking the bear” in our house. I feel like we should petition JUDGE Hodgeman for a ruling on this dispute.

2. The movie Austenland. The reviews were mediocre at best, but it appealed to my odd sense of humor. I, and truly the entire small crowd at the Michigan Theater, laughed out loud throughout. Bret (Brit?) Mckenzie from Flight of the Conchords is in it as is Jennifer Coolidge and Keri Russell. The ending was meh, and there was one part of unfinished business that I didn’t like, having to do with a seemingly repeat old man sex offender that they made a joke of…is this funny? But still, I would pay to see the movie again just for the 70 minutes of silliness prior to the ending. True Austen lovers, of which I am not, may like the ending; not quite predictable, but ultimately uber (grotesquely?) romantic.

3. Sometimes I look in the mirror and am reminded of that movie Freaky Friday where the (very young and adorable) Lindsay Lohan character wakes up and finds she has turned into her mother, played by Jamie Lee Curtis. Upon seeing herself in the mirror she cries, “”Oh! I’m old! I’m like the cryptkeeper! Ahhhh!”
But when I read this “Dear Polly” letter for advice, which was relinked to a blog I read (the Hairpin), it made me so glad to be old and aging and beyond all of this dating/boy/sex and what does it all mean nonsense and uncertainty. Oh the clarity and wisdom age brings to some areas of life…not all, but some.

4. A friend had a FB post about an upcoming concert for the band Devotchka. I forgot about this band…they did the soundtrack for the film “Little Miss Sunshine.” Loved the soundtrack and loved the film.
When you get home from work, turn up the volume and join me in a glass of wine and a dance around the kitchen while making dinner, because even if the research says it’s not possible, we can and do multitask:
Till the End of Time by Devotchka

5. Now turn your volume down. Saw Colin Hay here in AA a couple of weeks ago. Such a great show. He is quite a story teller …he told funny and sweet stories about his father who he referred to a “good daddy.” He later explained that he had been singing in show in Scotland when his father died in Australia, and he never got to say goodbye. If your heart is hurting a little now at that thought, just wait until you hear this song.…He didn’t sing this song during the concert and I had never heard it before my daughter found it this week and emailed it to me.
Dear Father by Colin Hay

All of that and so much more was keeping me just fine this past week…and here is Monday again.

Monday…groah…ah well, another week to watch vigilantly for the good stuff! Right?!
xox

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interviewing anxiety

September 21, 2013

interviewing anxiety

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photos:
1) first fall leaves
2) low morning sun = long shadows
3) sun bathing student in front of angell hall
4) stunt planes above our house, prior to um vs. notre dame night game
5) no parking signs and construction on madison and fifth, so tired of this endless street project, also for those of you who live near the stadium and want to reserve a place on the street on game days…free no parking signs…madison and fifth people…

the only thing that the photos above have in common with this post, is that both are a glimpse into my life…

I sometimes see certain people in my family avoiding opportunities for fear of failure, or judgment. Oh how well I know that behavior…because, sadly, even at my age, it is often my own behavior. My recent words of support to these certain people include, “What have you got to lose? Worst case you get interview experience. If they offer it to you, you can decide then to turn it down if you don’t want it.”

Of course those words came back to haunt me, as words of wisdom will do.

I have written before about feeling antsy about life and my current job. It is a job many would be grateful for—almost complete autonomy, ridiculous flexibility, lots to do and lots of variety, and feeling like I’m making a difference…. But I’ve been doing it for nine years and sometimes, autonomy can be lonely and the work never finished. Sometimes I want to be part of a thoughtful team of people. I have also been concerned about my program losing funding…there has been a lot of change around these parts.

So I applied for two jobs and got called to interview for both.

This initially made me feel great, until I learned the first interview was going to be 7 vs. 1 for an hour, followed by a 1 vs. 1 with the program director for the next hour. I started to get really nervous. Even more nerve wracking, I found out that 3 of the 7 were people I know professionally, but marginally.

I am not a great interviewer, or at least not a confident interviewer. I have had 4 interviews in the past 15 years and I have been offered every one of the jobs, so I can’t be completely terrible. But I do think my experience and references weighed heavily in all of those cases.

So many negative thoughts went through my head: What if I screwed up? What if I embarrassed myself? They would all know I’m lame.

In the meantime, I was assured that the funding for my program of employment was secure, so I conveniently decided that I really didn’t want a new job. My current job was PERFECT. I would withdraw my application.

But my own words of encouragement started sparring with the negative thoughts, “What have you got to lose?” (my dignity) “Worst case you get interview experience.” (and lose my dignity) If they offer it to you, you can decide then to turn it down if you don’t want it.” (I already know I don’t want it so why lose my dignity?!)

I was very nervous on my walk across campus to my interview, still wondering the whole way, “Why am I putting myself through this?!” And there I was in at the end of a long table packed with people who took turns asking me questions. “What are some examples of reports you’ve written or presentation you’ve given?” “Why do you want this job.” “Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?” “How do you currently measure success in your programs?” and so on.

I felt pretty good when that interview finished and so the one-on-one interview with the director felt much more relaxed. When that was over I was walking on air back to my office. I felt elated to have it behind me and to have done so well.

Hours later, and then periodically throughout the week, while in my office, or driving, or making dinner, I would suddenly remember one of my interview answers and cringe. Really? I couldn’t remember one report I’d written? I write many every year.

I answered many questions pretty well, but others…Ah well, I am who I am. Imperfect. Best they know that before they hire me.

I had lunch with my mentor the next day and told him that I didn’t think I wanted the job. But now my reasons were founded. The interview raised some concerns for me, including a concern about too many chiefs and about management styles. I tried to come up with a salary figure that would tempt me to take the job, but I couldn’t. He told me that I’m spoiled, and also that it’s good to be in a position where I can be choosy. I agreed with both statements.

I had a phone interview for the second job the next day and it was incredibly easy in comparison. I was very confident. The job seemed great, one I would have loved, but the salary turned out to be very low; too low for me to take. I had to withdraw from the interview process.

At the end of the week I had a call from the first job, and I was feeling guilty about having to turn them down. I had sent a follow up interview email, as one does, further explaining my excitement for the position, when in reality I had little excitement, and now I was going to have to turn them down.

It turns out I didn’t have to turn them down, because they didn’t offer the job to me! At first I felt relieved, and then…slightly miffed. Haha. Spoiled indeed.

In short long, I feel great that I interviewed, and in particular for a job I didn’t want in the end. Practice is the only way I will get better. I have renewed love for my current job. Also, when I get antsy again (next month?), my resume is updated, my references are primed and I will definitely be more confident for the next interview.

In the past, external job offers have resulted in counter offers and raises for me. But for this position, I wasn’t ready to leave and let my boss know it. I think you can only use external offers as leverage for a raise, when you are really ready to take the outside offer.

It’s a mute point anyway, as I didn’t get the job offer. I know my boss wants me to stay, so maybe I can negotiate something else…classes? meetings with others in the country who are doing similar work as me…maybe I’ll work on this when I return from my week-long visit to my sister in Seattle….ah flexibility.

Another great outcome from this adventure is that I have more credibility with my loved ones when I tell them they have nothing to lose by interviewing, and I have much more compassion for the anxiety and self-doubt they experience as they approach seemingly scary opportunities.

a look back at spring

September 16, 2013

a look back at spring

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photos:
1) hand shadow holding a petal in michigan league courtyard
2) table shadow in michigan league courtyard
3) looking out through the courtyard wall
4) one of my favorite doorways on campus, at the dental school, i should photograph it at night
5) stenciled near the power center (i googled the date and I think this must refer to the uc davis police pepper spray attack on occupy wallstreet protesters)

Searching for something to post about, I came across these photos I took on campus in May? April?

I remember that day.

I met my daughter in the Michigan League courtyard. She had just recently returned home from her first year of college. The whole summer was before us. The students had just left town for the summer. There were parking spaces to be had. The trees were in excessive bloom. It was a day to pause for a moment on the sidewalk under a petal-raining tree and to breathe and be grateful. I did and I was.

Then we fast forwarded to here and to now.

Do I sound nostalgic? I am a little, but happy for fall. The students are back, with their energy and brilliance and shiny, shiny selves. (Were we ever so shiny? Ah yes, before we had kids…or maybe before we had mortgages. Responsibility is dulling.)

Walking my dog this morning I was excited to see burning orange leaves on mostly green trees. Maybe tomorrow I will remember to bring my camera. Soon I will be pausing to breathe and to be grateful, under a tree raining copper leaves.

I hope you will be too.

settling into fall…

September 15, 2013

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photos:
1) while I was “watching” a movie with my kids, my son was using my ipad to take photos of our puppy resting his chin on my son’s shoulder…I laughed when I saw this one…at least my mouth wasn’t open…
2) my mother’s kitchen floor…my sister and I call her house “the sanctuary”…I feel taken care of there and her floors are always clean.
3) a praying mantis on a window down the hall from my office

A few random photos from the past month. Most of my photos are on my DSL camera, which is not with me today. But since I wanted to get back into posting, here are some random ones that I have with me.

Life has been intense, as life will be this time of year.

I squeezed much into that last week of summer: had a visit from my dear friend Cath, then a spontaneous trip up north with her and my daughter, applied for two jobs and had calls to interview for both, worked to get ready for a new semester at work, engaged in negotiations to get my son’s crazy high school schedule set (he’s taking classes at 3 schools again, including our local community college), and sadly attended a funeral for my dear neighbor’s mom.

And here we are. My kids are back to school, work has picked up and become more intense, the weather had changed to fall, the football season is in full swing in this college town, we celebrated my mother’s birthday last weekend and will celebrate my husband’s tomorrow and I had my two job interviews with the end result that I’m staying put at my current job and am even more grateful for it! More on all of that another time.

As I settle back into this more rigorous, but predictable schedule, I hope to be back to blogging more regularly! xox

of bonsai and roller derby

August 20, 2013

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photos:
1) my neglected bonsai gingko
2) roller derby sign of support
3) vicious and jax check out the competition
4) shutting out the jammer, kamikaze
5) low fives all around, rochella de ville
6) my, formerly pristine, roller skates from middle school. (yes i had my own. be jealous.)

When I told my mother that my daughter and I had attended a roller derby event last Saturday she was bemused. “Tell me again why you were interested in seeing roller derby?”

This is a woman who had called me to encourage me to enter the bonsai gingko tree that she gave me several years ago in a bonsai show taking place in Ann Arbor this weekend. I laughed, but could have easily replied, “Tell me again why you are interested in bonsai, Mom?”

I’m kidding. I do appreciate bonsai and I admire her interest in it. I love the little gingko tree she gave me, thriving despite my neglect. But the practice of bonsai is not my thing; it’s hers.

All of the reasons I don’t share her interest in bonsai are probably the reasons I enjoyed watching roller derby for the first time— bonsai requires patience, roller derby doesn’t; bonsai is elegant, roller derby is scrappy; bonsai is individual, roller derby is team-based, bonsai is serious, roller derby is full of good humor.

I’m not sure roller derby is “my thing.” I’m not much of a spectator of anything. I did find it fascinating. The names/personas are my favorite part: Vicious, Upzette, Justice Fast, Missy May Knock You Out, Czarcasm, Kimikaze. The faux tough names are as much a part of the show as the ripped tights and tattoos. I have never seen a burlesque show (which, by the way, like roller derby, seems to be moving toward mainstream around here), but I imagine roller derby and burlesque share much of the same campy showmanship.

The big surprise of the night: my 19-year-old daughter loved it and wants to learn to play. She does have skills. She had to learn to roller skate for a play a few years ago, using my nearly pristine white roller skates from middle school. She decided her derby name would be: Princess Slay-ya (a name used in Drew Barrymore’s roller derby movie, Whip it!, filmed right here in Ann Arbor and Detroit).

Why not yoga? Running? Soccer? All of the things I am interested in? I know the answer is…bonsai.

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what is pomodoro time boxing?

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Sometimes I’m so overwhelmed by everything that I need or want to get done, that I can’t even think what to do next.

At these times, reading blogs and Facebook seems like a great idea. But two hours later, when it’s time to go to bed, I think about everything I should have completed in that two hour block and go to bed feeling worse.

I may have made a breakthrough this week! No, I didn’t hire a housekeeper (sigh), instead I have found help with maximizing my time: Pomodoro! (and Vitamin R)

Pomodoro is a time boxing/time management technique developed in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo. The technique is named after his tomato- (“pomodoro”) shaped kitchen timer.

As Cory Bohon describes in his March 9, 2011 Chronicle of Higher Education article, “The Pomodoro Technique: An Overview”:

This technique uses 5 basic steps:

1. Identify your tasks to be completed
2. Set your timer to 25-minutes (or 1 Pomodoro) and begin working
3. When the timer ends, put a checkmark beside the completed tasks
4. Take a 5-minute break to rejuvenate yourself before the next work session
5. Wash, rinse, and repeat (minus the wash and the rinse)

After 4 consecutive Pomodoros (4 25-minute sessions, or almost 2 hours), you will take a longer break, say 15-30 minutes. After this break, you will repeat the normal process until your tasks have been completed.

I use a pomodoro Mac software called Vitamin R. They offer a 14 day Trial version, which so far I have been using for 4 days and I love it. I have been incredibly focused and efficient at work (no so much at home yet). It’s $29.95 after the trial version expires.

There is also a free pomodoro app for iPad/iPhones called 30/30 that I started using at home. It’s much more basic than Vitamin R (which will block applications and/or windows for your timed work period if you want it to, and it offers white noise, and verbal time updates when you schedule them), but 30/30 is still useful.

There seem to be many time boxing apps for iPhone and iPad. You may want to try find some online reviews.

So at work, I open up my Vitamin R, type in the task I will be working on, let it know if I want it to block applications and windows, then I set the time and I begin. I have it set up so that every 10 minutes it let’s me know how much time I have left. If I have I wandered off task, hearing “you have 20 minutes left” jolts me back to work. When the time is up, I am alerted by a sound (that I select) and then I rate how productive I was.

Next I decide if I want to take a timed break, an open break, or move on to another task. After 25 minutes of work, I always take a 10 minute break during which I make myself get up and move around. At work, I usually sit at my desk for hours on end, which is really terrible for my health, and for my legs in particular, since I sit cross-legged and hunched over.

My break often includes standing over a recycle bin while I go through stacks of papers on my desk. Once I’m through my piles, maybe I’ll take my breaks outside, or I’ll walk up and down stairs.

Once my break timer goes off, I settle in for another 25 minute work session. I really do feel more focused during these timed blocks.

The trickiest part of this technique, for me, is handling interruptions by my family and co-workers. I can turn my email off; I can set a limited amount of time to read the news and blogs; but I can’t tell my kids or boss to go away. I don’t WANT to tell my kids or boss to go away (most of the time).

I have decided, at work I’m going to announce that I will be closing my door to cut down on distractions for the morning/day/afternoon. I know people will understand, though it seems a little anti-social. But we have a pretty standard time in the morning where we share stories about our kids or discuss the latest news. I can shut the door after that.

At home, I may have to wait to use this technique when my family is away or occupied, or just pause my timer when they need me. I don’t consider that time as wasted. I see them so little these days.

To learn more about Pomodoro, like how to get better at estimating time for particular tasks, and how to increase focus, download the pdf of the book here (I have not read it).

If you come across, or already use, time management software or apps that work for you, please share!

discordant and antsy

July 21, 2013

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photos:
1) size 11 watershoes left on the patio
2) the cottage, looking in from the front porch
3) the cottage, inside looking out onto the porch where the men are playing a game over breakfast
4) the cottage, doggy doorstop
5) a stealth photo of my son cuddling finny as we watch television in the basement
6) too many days of this weather
7) finnegan finally gets a properly-sized pool

This summer has felt…discordant…just off in some ways. Parenting teenagers has been tricky. Schedules are feeling like tectonic plates grinding against each other. My expectations for everything I will get done in the summer are always too high and unrealistic. In fact, it feels like I am able to get less done during the summer because schedules and needs are unpredictable. And I am antsy for a new direction, one that involves creativity.

Today I am home alone. My husband and daughter are up north at my husband’s family cottage. My son is working all day. So I will try to make progress on a long list of tasks.

Hope your summer is feeling more settled than mine and that you are not, like me, feeling a little panicky about August lurking around the corner…