Saturday, March 8, 2014

Cooling Off

Introducing "a cooling off period"

Learning a new concept on my last day at work

On my last day at my beloved job, a group of us boycotted the office-sponsored pizza party favoring a nice restaurant that serves great food, Trap Rock Restaurant. There we ran into another group from the office, some of whom also had chosen good beer - it's a brewery too - over no beer, pizza and uncomfortable conversation between "those who are staying" and "those who aren't". At least ten colleagues fall into my category. As my colleague said, "this is survivor and we've been voted off the island."

Plans for when I warm back up
At the bar I saw Kumar, a visual thinker, and former colleague. I'm not sure whether it is marketing or perspective, but he referred to his last few months outside of the full time workforce as a "cooling off period". As a consultant he has a freedom to take time between projects. Evelyn and I both loved that description. So I've spent my first week "cooling off" at the gym, cleaning the house, looking for jobs and having lunch. In fact I went to lunch or coffee with a friend every day this week! Evelyn - the ever-talented - spent her time writing poetry.

Cooling off and stepping back

Years ago, when I quit my job at Rutgers to stay home full time, I made a promise to myself: no television during the day. The two exceptions were when folding laundry I could watch TV and when I was sick (or a kid was sick) TV could stay on. This time I am using Lent as an excuse to give up Facebook. I really enjoy Facebook - but it is a time suck and only gives an alternate form of reality. It's much better to see people in person, talk on the phone or write letters. Yeah, right - remember letter writing?  Nothing feels quite like getting a handwritten letter. So why not write a few?

Opportunities and obstacles

There are lots of jobs out there - but many more applicants. I plan to blog about job hunting soon, but for today I want to continue the cooler path. Many friends from my old job have asked me about collaborations, but I still am waiting for someone to have something "real" beyond the intangible. So many people have the desire to start a small business. Having done that, I know that running a business isn't my strong suit. It's important to know your weaknesses too. It's hard to know who to trust to run a successful business. 

Spring is here and with it, I sense renewed optimism. I still see snow, its brightness almost stings my eyes on this sunny day. But the birds are singing and the forecast calls for great running weather: high 40s, sunny and low winds. I've been waiting all winter for a day warm enough for a pleasant run (and no ice on the streets). I hope this is the day. Fresh air breeds fresh ideas. Ideas bring hope. Hope leads to results. Time to step away from the computer and into the sunshine.

Have a wonderful day!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Unsolicited advice

Advocacy and advice 

Soccer mom with many years' experience teaches the tools of the trade

When I first got involved in local educational issues, I was introduced to the old-timers. The veterans who had sat through many a Board of Education (BOE) meeting. I was new blood, and full of enthusiasm to elicit change. For many years I was the parent in our school who knew what happened at the latest board of ed meeting (whether or not I attended) and understood the multiple sides of any story. Whether or not I agreed, I kept up with the oppositions argument. Yesterday I was introduced to a friend of friends with young kids. She has jumped onto the advocacy bandwagon. Without doing any research, I think I support her cause (bringing full day kindergarten to Bridgewater schools). But it isn't my fight, and I'm glad to be an observer this time and not take center stage.  

Words of wisdom

Looking back I realize I have a lot of advice that may be helpful to share. There are certain things I wish I knew before speaking at the BOE's podium. So here they are, unsolicited and unedited:

  • Keep it short! The BOE doesn't want to hear back stories of any kind. They don't care if you cry; they don't want personal narratives. Stick to facts.
  • Be Bridgewater-specific. It doesn't matter to them what happened in your sister's kids' district (unless it happened somewhere close and affluent, like Basking Ridge).  
  • Mind the BOE "rules of play". If you don't know them, an old-timer (or even a BOE member) will shame you, and you will learn quickly. The BOE is very particular on when you may speak and for how long.
  • Don't expect answers. Even if you ask direct questions. You rarely get feedback immediately - or even an answer to a direct questions. 
  • Know the budget related to your cause. Do your homework! Know what they spend now, what they would spend/save if your initiative passes.
  • Cite the number of children your initiative would impact over time. 
  • Don't name names of board members, of teachers or of administrators. 
  • If you have a large group of supporters, have them speak if possible (otherwise the BOE doesn't know which item brought them) but keep it short. Five sentences is enough: 
    • My name is and I live at. You have to provide this information.
    • My kids attend [name] school. 
    • I am supporting [cause]. 
    • Please vote to [action]. 
    • Thank you. 
  • Remember you are being recorded and what you say becomes part of the public record. 

Beware your allies

Don't assume because a group agrees with you on this particular issue, you have continuing support in the future. This is possibly my greatest fault. I've had the experience where I was sitting with a group of supporters, went to the podium, said my peace and sat down to a very different group of people. They didn't like PART of what I said. Especially union members. They may love you, and love what you say, but they are a very strong, and very, very unified group come negotiation-season.

Beware of individual BOE members - if you say one thing they don't like (it doesn't matter if it is true), you may face unexpected consequences.

Unanticipated costs

Being very involved means your children enter a grade without a blank slate. This is something you should weigh carefully! While you think you are doing something in their best interest, or in the best interest of all children, once you are known in the district it can be a double-edged sword. Your children's future teachers will have heard of you, and it is very hard for even the best teacher to be unbiased.

Advocacy and ambivalence 

While the flame of my passion regarding the school district issues has somewhat abated (and being much less involved in district matters provides less fodder for blogging), I still want to express my experiences. If only I had equal amounts of energy and passion? My impressions of the district used to come from many sources, and not just my family's experience. My credibility has waned as I've pulled one child out of Bridgewater schools. Most of all returning to the full-time workforce has taken away a lot of free time to attend meetings and be involved in the schools. 

Other things have also happened - we no longer vote on the budget. This is a huge issue! I have no impact on the budget anymore, so who cares? When citizens had a vote, we had a reason to follow along with the process. 

Hope for new changes

So dear friend of friends, I wish you and your cause well. Although I can count tangible wins on a few fingers, being involved in the district's politics has consumed my energies for the past decade. I hope my experiences serve you well. In the end, even with politics, backlash and negative consequences, I am proud of my time fighting for my beliefs and I am sure you will find it just as rewarding, and addictive, as I do. If I sound jaded, maybe I am, but I'm also inspired and proud of my engagement. Best of luck to you!


****
Update: A reader e-mailed me offline and reminded me not to forget the importance of behind-the-scene e-mail. Send the BOE something in writing. Some will respond right away, others won't. Don't write anything you would not want seen in print.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Quick update

According to NJ.com the note to the waitress may have been a hoax.

What a sad world we live in. Making up hate? Isn't there more than enough to go around?!!!

Sweating small stuff

Ho Ho NOOOO!!!!!!!

Holiday's off to their usual start

Tired feet from a day in the kitchen
I love a good holiday tradition. But why is my most faithful tradition to stress? Thanksgiving always includes "a difference of opinion." Some years it is something someone said at my cousin's beautiful table (discussed on the ride home, not at the table), or what time we should arrive/leave, or what I could possibly contribute to such a perfect dinner? This year we were just us with Dad in 08807. We nearly made it the whole day squabble-free, but alas Thanksgiving traditions are safely in tact. C can't text during thanksgiving dinner, and I should ask for help, not bark commands. 

When will I ever learn?

Sit! Stay! Focus? Look here!
Another key to a successful holiday? Sending "the perfect" holiday card. Since the kids were infants, it's been the same "joy". Maybe this sounds familiar? I take 2000 pictures hoping that one image focuses with 2 smiles and the dog facing forward.  Then I make the same decision: save money and print them downstairs, or spend more and get them done "offsite"? Lately, I've done the latter.

The problem is, I'm never happy. When I self-print, they look crafty. When I trust someone else - in recent years this included Costco, RiteAid and Target - I'm disappointed by the quality.  For the second year in a row, I have been tricked by seemingly better online printers. Last night I spent several hours picking just the right images, only to notice a small detail that I missed:  the cards were "estimated" to arrive to me on December 10th. Then I remembered why I didn't use them in 2012 --- the exact same reason. Snapfish and Minted have much cooler cards, but their turnaround time means no one will see anything before Christmas (and Minted prices themselves outside of my budget). When do they think people take Christmas pictures? June??? When 40% of our 100 cards go to non-US addresses, I must take time and budget into account.
Calendar from a few years ago

Finally, another advent tradition... the calendar

When do kids get to be too old for childhood traditions? I would have said last year. But alas, I can't admit my kids are too old because that would mean I have to let go of something that I'm not ready to give up. That doesn't mean I've learned from experience. Today is 11/30. I'm up against a BIG deadline. 

Advent - an event

For the next 24 days each of my kids will get a package to open. Some days will be gifts. Some days will be activities. (Getting ice cream or hot cocoa, sleepovers, etc.). The hardest part - wrapping 48 gifts. In a way I'm ahead of the game. I've bought half of the days and already wrapped them. Some years I've really waited until the last minute and only started wrapping and organizing on the last day of November. 

Joy of the season

In the end, it's important to take a little time to reflect. Embrace the traditions and not make myself crazy by focusing on my unreasonably high standards.

But now it's time to embrace small business Saturday. Somerville is our main street. See you there? 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Loving thy neighbor in 08807

"I feel a blog coming on"

Hateful acts in 08807 make national news 

Whenever anything interesting happens my girlfriend says to me, "I feel a blog coming on." And while I haven't seen her lately, I wonder if that's what she was thinking when she saw that once again Bridgewater made the news for its ability to spew hate. 

Keep your stupid tip!

Diners in Bridgewater refused to leave a tip to a waitress because they assumed she was a lesbian.  Even the foreign press knows about it. NIMBY is alive and well here!

It's one thing not to leave the tip - but the note? We don't tip gay people??? Did they think their note would make her re-think her hairstyle, and "lifestyle"? 

Mosque update kept quiet

I understand that I haven't been at the forefront of Bridgewater politics this year, but I assume I would have heard about this ruling earlier. In 2011 Bridgewater made the New York Times when this first came up: see http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/19/opinion/no-room-for-tolerance.html?_r=0. The ruling is back in the news... and the township is appealing the loss, even though we've already spent a quarter of a million dollars (of tax payer money!) according to the Courier News. (While I wouldn't quite call it "mob rule" here in 08807, here is another take from a Courier writer on it). Call it traffic if it makes you more comfortable, but you can't deny that increased traffic is the only reason some don't want a mosque in Martinsville!

And then the saddest hatred of all: the silent kind

My Dad spent 55 years as a pathologist and he has seen his share of hatred, horrifying stories (not to mention that he lived in Europe during World War II and was an officer in Egypt during the Suez Canal crisis - an undeclared war). 

Often he would come home from work and share another sad story of brutality in which a husband killed his wife. Recently a my daughter's former classmate survived a horrifying thing: her father killed her mother while she was home. (That was the original article, here is a follow up story.) Unfortunately this happens EVERYWHERE. Every single day women are brutalized in domestic violence.

Beside the  hate, there is plenty of love <3 font="">

I try to keep optimistic. As I learn about these outpourings of hate, I also find out about so much positive:
Finally - if you want to do something for the young girl who lost her mother so tragically this week, there is a trust fund being set up to help with her college expenses.

Nitya Kalidindi Trust: 

A Trust account has been established to assist Nitya Kalidindi, age 16, daughter of Janaki Dantuluru who passed away under tragic circumstances on November 16, 2013 at  Somerset Medical Center.  A trust fund will be used exclusively for the health, education and welfare of Nitya Kalidindi, a gifted student at Somerset Academy for Health and Bio Sciences. 

Checks can be made payable to:  "Nitya Kalidindi Trust" P.O. Box 6245 Bridgewater NJ 08807

Thank you to my friends who keep me informed of the good, the bad and the ugly in 08807 and beyond. Remember that even if you don't agree with the posting or any other, when you voice your disagreement, do it respectfully. Your friends, your neighbors - and the press - have enough reason to think we're all a bunch of bigots here. 

I know that there is bigotry everywhere and domestic violence is world-wide, and that the Jews, Christians and Muslims have been fighting one another in some form for centuries. I just feel a little NIMBY too - not in my backyard too....But I'm NIMBY about the hateful rhetoric and horrific actions in my neighborhood. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Finding TLC in Somerset County

It Was a Week Unlike Any Other (and thank God for that!)

A rough start by calm seas**

Last Sunday I went to a wake. It was "down the shore" so I took the rare opportunity to visit the Atlantic Ocean. I felt so alone. Normally I feel at peace near any substantial body of water, but this time my demons haunted me and stayed. Maybe that's what happens when you go to a wake? I've never been a big fan and am eternally grateful that wakes aren't my family's way of saying good-bye. It was so ironic: a gorgeous Sunday, unseasonably warm, calm ocean. New boardwalk and I wallowed in self-doubt and unhappiness.

Office jitters abound at Halloween-time (but not because of any goblins)

Everyone in my office started the workweek knowing about 200 people had lost their jobs and Halloween was the final day. So it seemed that my Atlantic demons followed me to the office and spread their wings. 
Real-life drama at every turn. A colleague's brother was diagnosed with very nasty cancer in the abdomen. Another colleague needed consoling as she faced an uncertain future as "unemployed". Another colleague got scary medical news. Finally a colleague who had been living with her boyfriend for a long time "got dumped" and all the "look at the bright side" rhetoric I could muster fell on very deaf ears.

On Friday I learned that I will report to a different supervisor. I like him, but not like I loved my now-ex boss. One less ally in the workplace... and the politics that go with it leave me wondering.

A friend in need 

Demons found their way outside of my work world, too. A friend e-mailed in a panic - should she stay with her kids or fly across the country to see her mom for possibly the last time (I counseled her to go). Another friend had lots of issues with her family - her Aunt died recently and there were unresolved "issues" - so I listened, as she has listened to me countless times. In addition, I heard that another friend has lost her Mom, so I'm heading to another wake tomorrow. We shared stories and then I had to go - people were crying near my cubicle...

Weekend: project rejuvenation

My brilliant colleague saw my overwhelmed state. She pulled me aside to remind me that it isn't my role to take on all the world's problems. Mentioning one specific issue listed above she said, "Focus on your own life. Don't try to fix hers!" She's right, of course. 

Step one: focus on me

So this weekend I "actively" took care of myself. Friday night I took out yarn that I'd been saving for something special and started a project for me. 

The view from the parking lot
That's what I've done. Taken care of me. Besides knitting, I spent yesterday shopping - bought myself a pair of much-needed shoes AND boots (How decadent). Then my DH and I took the dog for a long walk at the gem of a county park - Sourlands preserve.  I'm sure I've blogged about them before, including here (which was exactly three years ago).  There were fewer people than the busy parking lot would have indicated, and we hiked for nearly two hours. We even wondered if we would get out alive - it was getting dark and at one point we were unsure where we were.  

Today began my day a bit earlier than expected. A friend had posted on facebook that she was up early to see a solar eclipse. That woke me right up (I turned on my cell to check the time). After a while I exercised at Strength and Honor Fitness where for 40 minutes I gave it my all. This helped so much! Exercising two days in a row may actually be the best medicine against anxiety.

Step two: a little luck

When I left the gym, I went into the Desert Plate for some coffee. There I met a very interesting woman named Melanie Davis. Ms. Davis is the author of A Look Within. She writes about sexual health and self-awareness. I found her to be very interesting and so I bought her book, which is actually a kind of reflective journal.

I need to reflect on my life and find what makes me most happy and focus on that. This will give me a good start.

So I will start a new week rejuvenated and ready to take on the stressful work environment. 


** This was written 11/3/2013, published 11/10. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Welcome, Fall

Last week TV began it's fall season. And much like when I reread my blog, I found myself trying to remember what was going on last May.

  • Why was Jax's wife (doctor-what'shername) in jail? (Sons of Anarchy) 
  • Were Juliana Margulese and Will getting together or was she sticking with Mr. Big? (The Good Wife) 
  • Did the oldest kid actually go off to college? (The Middle). 

Modern Family is so funny that the plot doesn't really matter. I can just turn on the TV and watch.
Fall knitting season has started (a WIP - work in progress)
If only life were like that.

May seems about 5 years ago. N was struggling in school. C was busy with lacrosse and T spent many weekends chopping wood. I worked 45-50 hour weeks, but really loved my job and laughed every day at work.

Fast forward through a chaotic summer. The highlights:  
  • a disappointing vacation 
  • I chaired my high school reunion - aka the world's most thankless job 
  • only spent 1 day at the Jersey Shore (another day we left after two hours when it started to rain) 
Our big news came at the end. The last straw broke my final hope for C in public school, and I pulled her out. My decade struggle with the district ended after a single conversation. Sometimes you just know: I had to put C into private school. She's now at Rutgers Prep

Bye, dreaded school bus. C has to get a ride now.
What happened?

Mediocrity for the middle mixed with the seemingly district-wide notion that only certain top-tier students deserve to be treated like they are college-bound. Specifically, we had an incident with the guidance counselor when we went in about changing C's schedule. Here's how I explained it in my letter to the district (excerpted):

"I asked the counselor about college planning. She said they don't do much until after they have the PSATs scores to guide kids to see what "kinds of schools" they can aim for. I asked the counselor if it was better to have lower grades in honors (i.e. harder) classes or to have higher grades in academic ["regular"] classes.

The counselor said it didn't matter since C wasn't looking at top schools. C should just work on getting good grades.[...] We are certainly considering very competitive colleges. (Or at least not ruling them out).

I find it highly inappropriate for a guidance counselor to discourage a 10th grader from thinking about college when a parent asks about college preparation."

A representative of the district answered this letter by saying that she wished I had given her the chance to fix this before pulling C. I responded with a curt, I've contacted the school many times, and you've never helped with a single appeal. 

So now we have one child in district and one child in a local private school. So far it's been a good experience for C, although she misses her friends at BRHS.

What else is new?

Since May I'm now the parent of two teenagers. No more babies. No more little kids. I miss having them.  

Sharing life: We took Dad to Brooklyn.
I also miss blogging. I miss sharing my strange life with strangers and friends. How can I feel disconnected from people when I don't know who most readers are? 

It was my first summer where I worked full time in a decade. I can't deny I missed spending the summer in the sun, but I enjoy my colleagues. Most of them are bright, compassionate, interesting and dedicated writers and artists. Here are a few of their sites: Andrea's, Evelyn's and Haydia's. Come cool portfolios? How about JeremyJim and Gregor? My talented work buddies inspire me every day. 

Welcome, Fall. It's knitting season (every season is knitting season but this is PRIMO knitting season). Time to make soups, time to sleep well through cool nights. Time to read good books (I finished "The Boy in the Suitcase" yesterday) and drink coffee with faux-pumpkin flavor. Time to curl up on a sofa under a blanket with the dog . Time to challenge my brain by helping my kids with homework.

Time to blog again? Let's hope so.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Monday

It was one of those Monday mornings. I woke up tired, forced myself out of bed, into the shower and by the time I had gotten out, my son had gone. My daughter and I spent precisely three minutes together in the kitchen. She drank half a cup of very sweet coffee and off she went into the world of high school.

I faced the traffic, which wasn't as bad as I had imagined, and came into an office filled with stress. Or perhaps it wasn't filled with stress as much as my little bubble was surrounded by it? I opened my work e-mail which I intentionally left alone for the weekend and I felt like I'd been bitten by something. Have you ever opened a credit card bill and taken a double take at the amount due? "That can't be right?" you think, and as you survey the damages outlined by Chase, you see that it is, of course, accurate. You charged every single item.

Such was my e-mail. Copy went to a client that I had tried to improve, but actually made worse in my haste. Today I heard from the client. Little things that I had done or left undone throughout the past few weeks all seemed to come back to me today. Like a seemingly innocent $53.98 from an online retailer isn't a big deal, when added with other similar things adds up to quite a lot of stress.

I did the worst thing I could have done to remedy the situation. Instead of taking, stock and prioritizing, I foolishly tried to fix everything at once. This was likely the cause of my issues to begin with.

It's important to remember that not everything has to be done immediately. It's actually faster in the long run to do things slowly and correctly that rush through things, even if they are "must do now!" But it goes against my nature.

It was also important to turn off the laptop today. After "only" eight and a half hours, leave and go home to the people I love. Had I spent more time with them this morning, perhaps I would have shown up to work slightly more ready to take on the world.