Where Logic Meets Love

Investing in Daily Happiness

Thursday, December 30, 2010

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Investing in Daily Happiness | Faith Permeating Life
This end-of-the-year post was supposed to be about the happiness project I'm starting in 2011, but since my computer's in the shop for who knows how long and I'm working off my iPad, my ability to map out a comprehensive plan and create my Resolutions Chart is a bit limited at the moment. So I'll talk about something else instead.

A while back I wrote about a job opportunity I was being pushed toward that wasn't the kind of work I wanted to do. I told my boss I'd rather keep doing the work I was doing than get paid more money to do something else.

Well, I guess she finally understood both my love of the work (from that conversation) and the value it brought to the college (when she heard people in other departments talking about my work) because she submitted a request to HR for a title and salary change for me. It's not official yet, but basically I get to keep doing the work I've been doing for the past few months, except have it actually be my job, and get compensated accordingly.

This whole experience really brought home for me why it's so much more important to be doing work you enjoy than to be continually striving for a higher position and more money. When I first heard about my (for lack of a better word) promotion, I was excited and told Mike and my family about it. But the excitement quickly wore off once I got used to the idea. The real joy comes from doing work I love every day. I've already been doing this work for a while, and I get up every day looking forward to going to work. My title and my salary can't provide me with that kind of daily contentment and satisfaction. I think there's so much more happiness to be gained from spending eight hours a day enjoying your work than striving for those periodic bursts from a promotion.

Another note: I was reminded of how lucky I am to have a husband who shares my financial goals and philosophy. The truth is, we have a modest budget right now, but we've been living fairly comfortably and happily. Assuming all goes well on HR's end, I'm going to get a pretty substantial raise. As I've said before, and as Mike said to me the other day, a lot of people would mentally adjust their standard of living and say, "Oh, now we'll be able to _____________." But we don't plan to do that. Our only new expenses will be Mike's student loan payments that start next month.

What this means is that that extra money is going to go into savings. And that means that when we talk about wanting to buy 20 acres of land and build our own house in the next 10-15 years, that's a reasonable goal. When we talk about adopting kids (some or maybe all -- but that's another post), we know that's expensive, but we know that's important to us. And it makes a lot more sense to put that money toward our long-term goals than to increase our budget for eating out.

In some ways, it's the same idea as what I said above about work. We have a goal in mind of what we want our day-to-day life to be like in the future, and so it makes more sense to invest in a satisfied daily life than to invest in short bursts of happiness from new purchases or nights out.

We're happy now, and we're laying the foundation to be happy in the future. What more could you want?

The Many Gifts of Marriage

Friday, December 24, 2010

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The Many Gifts of Marriage | Faith Permeating Life
I recently finished a sweet book called I Like Being Married. It's basically a collection of quotes and stories from both celebrities and unknown people about why they like being married or about meeting their spouse. Nothing earth-shattering, but if you're married, it's a cute, sweet book to reminder you why being married is awesome.

One of the couples talked about having a wedding ceremony around the theme of service and incorporating foot-washing. This made me take notice because so many people at our wedding told us they'd never been to a wedding with the theme of service before ours, and how meaningful they found it.

It made me start thinking about our readings -- which were not your typical readings at a Catholic wedding. (Actually, it was kind of funny that the priest asked, rhetorically, "When's the last time you were at a wedding where the Gospel was about the Last Supper?" because my friend who got married three months earlier had the same reading.) We didn't like any of the traditional Old Testament readings around marriage because they tend to focus on a wife-be-submissive-to-your-husband theme that we're not big on. We settled on the shema (aka "Hear O Israel") as a representation that faith was the foundation of our marriage, just as the Jewish faith formed the foundation of the Christmas faith.

Our New Testament reading is the one that really got me thinking about how it's played out in our marriage. It's 1 Corinthians 12:4-14. (Reproduced here thanks to the awesome biblegateway.com.)

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills. For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many.

We picked this to echo the "two become one" sentiment, with the idea that we were both bringing a completely different set of gifts and abilities to our marriage to make one life out of them. That it was one God we both believed in, but that we remained two individuals with different strengths who formed one union.

I was surprised recently to find out that some couples we know really have gone into marriage expecting that both partners will do 50% of everything. I don't think either of us ever had that notion going into marriage, or if we did, we quickly settled into a different pattern. I acknowledge that I am extraordinarily blessed to have a husband who enjoys doing the dishes. And cooking. I guess we did split the cooking initially until I got sick and he cooked every night, and he eventually got in the habit of planning out meals and shopping for groceries. I am perfectly happy in my role as the breadwinner who carefully manages and tracks our finances, organizes our receipts and our papers, and generally makes sure things get picked up around the apartment. Mike does laundry once a week and runs errands as needed. I used to do laundry while he was at work on Sunday until we figured out it was keeping us at our parents' too late, so now he takes it there on his day off.

The point is not so much who does what as that we both acknowledge that we have different strengths and thus should take care of different things. And sometimes it's just a matter of who has time to do what. Or who is most bothered by things. And there are compromises. I accept that the dishes will sit in a big pile on the counter all day, but that they'll be done when I wake up the next morning. Mike knows that I will support his dream to be a restaurant manager, despite what anyone might say and despite that we spent a ton of money on his social work degree, but also that our future plans will always revolve around my career above his. (Not that he really cares -- he can't wait to be a stay-at-home dad.)

It kind of saddens me to think that people are holding grudges against their spouses for not having the same priorities they have. God made us different to complement each other. I hate cooking and Mike is awesome at it. Mike makes big piles of things all over without seeing them as messy, so I keep our apartment organized so it's easy to pick up when needed. I try never to hold it against him that he's not me.

One other thought, and this is for the guys. Guys seem baffled by this concept that their wives will be more willing to have sex with them if they, say, clean the kitchen. It's not that having a clean kitchen turns us women on. But I realized that most women have the responsibilities of shopping, cooking, cleaning, watching kids, running errands, and so on. You expect them to do all that and then have sex with you? We may not divide all the chores 50/50, but when it comes to serving your spouse and your family -- you both have to be giving 100% wherever possible. And just going to work all day isn't enough, because that doesn't make your spouse feel like she's being served.

Mike thinks he's a really lucky guy, but I'll tell you something -- I get home from work and dinner's on the stove, errands are run, the bathroom is clean, the laundry is done, and you're going to wash the dishes for me? I'm the luckiest women ever to have a husband that serves me like you do. It feels like all I can give in return is to have sex with you. Does that work?


The Joy of Giving

Thursday, December 16, 2010

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The Joy of Giving | Faith Permeating Life
Today I was reminded what a joy it is to give.

It's the one activity that consistently makes me happy -- not just giving, but thoughtful giving -- and yet I often forget. It's one of the reasons I know God has infinite patience, because I will come to him when I hit a low point and ask God to bring more joy into my life. And God is like, "C'mon, Jess, you know this." And as soon as I remember (usually during reflection in church), I always get so excited thinking back to times when I worked to find the perfect gift or surprise someone in a way I knew they wanted.

I also thought today how irrelevant cost is when you're getting a really thoughtful gift for someone. I have four bosses and I got them each a personal gift, ranging from $50 to $0. Actually the $50 gift could technically be $0 too because I bought it with Amazon money I earned from taking surveys. Anyway. One of the gifts I had bought used, in "acceptable" condition even, and yet my boss was absolutely beside herself that I had remembered a comment she made over a year ago about giving away a favorite movie to a friend and never finding another copy. And to be able to do that for her just brightened my whole day.

What surprised me, though, was how much some of the other gifts touched their recipients. For my coworkers, I had baked cookies and wrapped them up in individual packages. I also wrote a little thank-you note in a card for two of my coworkers who had taken on some of my work when I was working from home with mono. Both of them seemed really touched and one even came over to give me a hug. It wasn't that I had been thoughtless about their gifts, but I wasn't expecting such a big reaction. One of my other coworkers got really excited because she loves chocolate-chip cookies. And for one of my bosses, I had taken a guess at something she might like and it turned out to be one of her favorite things. And so while I had just intended to do something nice in the spirit of the season, it ended up affecting people even more than I'd thought, which in turn brought me so much joy!

I really want to give this kind of special gift to Mike this year, but it's more difficult with him. With my boss, this one thing stuck in my head because she rarely talks about something she wants. With Mike, it's not that he's a greedy person or anything, I just live with him and so get to hear every thought that goes through his mind about things he might want to get or thinks are cool or whatever, and he's forgotten about 90% of them by the next day, so unless I write them down, I don't remember. Plus he changes his mind a lot. When we were dating, it seemed easier because could grasp onto small things I learned about him and build gifts or surprises off those, but I realize now that those things were based on an incomplete and not very accurate view of him as a person. Not that I have a complete view of him now, by any means, but I know and understand so many more facets of his personality now that it's easier to see what he wouldn't like, but hard to know exactly what would thrill him.

Anyway, that's my challenge for the next week or two, but I wanted to jot down this reminder that doing nice things for others is a good way to give me a boost. I think I'll try to build this into my happiness project / resolutions for next year.

What kind of thoughtful gifts or surprises have you received? Or given?

Maternal Instinct

Friday, December 10, 2010

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Maternal Instinct | Faith Permeating Life
When Mike and I were dating in college, we started talking about getting married: When we would want to get married, how long we'd want to be engaged for, etc. At some point I explained to him that, in my mind, there were two timelines at play here.

The first was the timeline of our relationship. We seemed to be at or at least near to the point where we'd been dating long enough and our relationship was mature enough that it made sense to get engaged.

The second timeline, though, was that of my life -- or, I guess, in this case, each of us had our own life timeline. And when I thought about myself -- Jessica, college junior, 21 years old -- I didn't feel ready to be engaged. I didn't feel that I was mature enough to think about myself as a woman engaged to be married.

I should back up and explain something. I once heard the Holy Spirit described as the love between the Father and the Son, and Mike and I have modeled our understanding of our relationship after this; that is, our relationship is a third entity separate from either of our lives. So, for example, we chose to be abstinent until marriage because even though both of us individually might have desired sex, we felt it wasn't the best thing for the life of our relationship.

Sometimes people ask me whether I feel I got married too young, or whether it was a good point in my life, or whatever. I always tell them that I felt it worked for three reasons:
  • One, Mike and I were both mature enough to be ready for marriage.
  • Two, we had been together almost five years at that point and were at a good point in our relationship to make that commitment.
  • Three, we were both at good points in our life timelines -- he was in grad school, I had just finished grad school and started a new job -- that it was a good time to get married.

The next expected "phase of life" now is having children. Many people have told me (usually pregnant friends) that "There's never a 'right' time to have a child." But looking back at how we were engaged and married at good points in our lives and our relationship, I'm not entirely sure that's true.

As recently as six months ago, I honestly loathed the thought of having a baby. The only reason I knew I wanted children is because I could imagine myself at 30, and I didn't want to reach 30 and have it still just be the two of us. I can imagine myself in a house full of kids who are older, playing board games, doing chores together, watching movies, building forts, playing in the yard. But Jessica, 24 years old, was not remotely ready to be a mother.

God has been shifting things around in my heart lately -- and confronting me with lots of adorable babies -- and Jessica, 25 years old, is a little more comfortable with the idea of being a mother. It doesn't seem so far-fetched to me anymore. And this gives me hope that when we reach the time we do actually plan to have a child, I will be not only on board, but -- as it turned out with the engagement -- a little impatient.

At the same time, I don't think our marriage is ready for a child yet. We want to adopt first, and there's a reason some adoption agencies require you to be married at least three years. We're still building the foundation of our family. We're constantly working on our communication, even after six years together. We will spend 15 seconds fighting and then 10 minutes dissecting the argument to pin down the point at which the miscommunication occurred. (If this sounds overly rational to you, know that it's usually a matter of, "No, you said this!") I fully expect we'll spend the rest of our life together improving our relationship and our communication, but I also know that having children is going to throw such a wrench in how we do things that the more positive patterns and habits we can establish now, the better.

Having finished reading The Happiness Project (the book) today, I want to spend the next year working on getting my happiness commandments and resolutions entrenched in my brain. I need better heuristics to live by before bringing anyone else into our family! I'm feeling good that working on my heart and mind now is going to prepare me for having kids down the road.

From Course Evaluations to Self-Evaluations

Thursday, December 2, 2010

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From Course Evaluations to Self-Evaluations | Faith Permeating Life
One of the things I advocate for most at my job is the student voice. I feel that education is vitally important, and we can't improve education if we don't listen to our "customers" -- the students. This is why it's so frustrating to me when instructors dismiss evaluations written by students as having no value. Students need to be able to have a say in whether they're receiving the quality of education they're paying for!

I recently realized that the issue in improving education is not so much identifying "good" teachers and "bad" teachers and getting rid of the bad ones. It's no coincidence that the instructors I had in college who made a point of saying that our evaluations didn't matter were usually the ones I disliked most. The biggest concern is instructors who are willing to accept feedback vs. those who aren't.

I've encountered two examples recently of really excellent teachers being very receptive to student feedback. I discovered that an instructor at our college who recently received a very prestigious teaching award (and also happens to be one of my favorite people) not only encourages her students to complete the end-of-semester course evaluations, but actually has the students write down a few sentences at the end of every class about what they found useful and not useful about the lesson. If there are contradictions (half the class likes breaking into small groups and half the class hates it), she presents the dilemma back to them and asks them to devise a resolution. Similarly, a friend on the other end of the education spectrum (teaching first graders), who received near-perfect scores on both parts of her PRAXIS exam, holds "morning meetings" with her students to go over the daily agenda and get their input on any problems the class may be having.

It seems like a contradiction in a way -- why are the best teachers seeking student feedback when they're obviously doing a good job already? But it makes sense that it is that spirit of constant self-reflection and openness to feedback that made them so good in the first place. In any business, the worker who can receive constructive criticism gracefully and learn from it is going to be more successful than the worker who is defensive and refuses to see any truth in the feedback they're given.

So this was my first revelation -- that the importance of course evaluations for performance review is not in identifying the highest- or lowest-scoring instructors, but in identifying over time which instructors are able and willing to learn from and improve upon their teaching methods as a result of their feedback.

My second revelation was how this same truth applies not just to education, but to life -- to self-improvement, specifically. As I've said previously, I'm a fan of Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project blog, and I finally got my hands on her book of the same name. She talks in her introduction about how people criticized her embarking on this project because she wasn't unhappy. She was pretty happy, in general, but wanted to find ways to be happier. She says you don't have to miserable to want to improve your happiness. Just as even the very best teachers can learn from student feedback, even a very happy person can find ways to bring a boost of joy into their life. And there's nothing wrong with that.

This is also similar to an idea often mentioned by Scott Smith of Motivation to Move, whose Daily Boost podcast I listen to. He talks about the importance of asking yourself once a week, "How's my life going?" It's a way to have self-reflection and self-feedback. Even if things are pretty good for you, it's not until you take the time to do this self-reflection that you're able to really make progress toward your larger life goals.

So how is my life going? It's good -- I have a lot to be grateful for -- but I'm also excited about the possibility for challenging myself and bringing more peace and joy into my life.

How is your life going?

Giving Thanks

Thursday, November 25, 2010

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Giving Thanks | Faith Permeating Life
I've neglected this blog a bit lately because I've been off enjoying my regained health and my wonderful friends and family.

In that light, it seemed appropriate to return to do a Thanksgiving post.

I'm grateful that after a grueling seven months of mono, my health and my happiness have both returned. Mono helped me appreciate both even more.

I'm grateful that regardless of what my title or my job description or my salary may be, I'm allowed to spend the majority of my time doing something I absolutely love, and which other people love me for.

I'm grateful that I have the energy to go out to lunch with friends, attend events, join a knitting club, and judge speech tournaments. But I'm also grateful that I don't feel too busy or overwhelmed. (We'll see if that holds true when I start taking classes in two different programs in the spring!)

I'm grateful that in the past year I have, almost literally, learned to stop and smell the roses; or, as the case may be, smell the scent of sautéing onions (at one point on my walk to work), listen to rain hitting the roof, wake up and just soak in the amazing view from my aunt and uncle's house, close my eyes and revel in the feeling of a 70-degree day, or savor in small bites the delicious food my husband cooks. I've found that, for me, happiness is in very small things.

I'm more grateful for my husband each and every day. He makes me laugh all the time, and we have the best conversations. Despite (hopefully) soon taking on more hours and responsibility at his part-time job, he has embraced the role of "house-husband" and makes my lunch every morning, goes grocery shopping, cooks dinner every night, does the dishes. I'm totally spoiled. We really make a good team, though. And I'm especially grateful that we now have one day a week -- Saturday -- when neither of us working.

What are you grateful for today?

For Love of a Job

Friday, November 5, 2010

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For Love of a Job | Faith Permeating Life
It's a typical hypothetical question: Which is more important to you, the work that you do or the amount of money you make?

I've always believed that, given the choice, the work I did would be more important, but I hadn't been actually confronted with the choice before today.

Things at work lately have been fabulous. I have been deluged with surveys to design, data to graph, and focus groups to run. I'm diving headfirst into learning everything I can about infographics (a.k.a. information design a.k.a. data visualization) to help me translate the data I have into meaningful terms for the departments using them. My downtime is nonexistent, and I'm thrilled.

The only downside to this setup is that what I'm actually doing bears no resemblance to my job title or job description. (I'm still doing most of the things I was hired to do, I'm just doing a ton more on top of it.) I'm having trouble getting leverage to take on some projects I want to take on because of my job title, and there's no question that my entry-level salary doesn't match the skill level for the work I'm doing. The only reason I'm able to do so much of this work that I love is because I have awesome bosses (the people I officially report to) who have re-delegated some of my more mindless tasks, and an even awesomer pseudo-boss (the guy I don't officially report to but who provides me with all this work that I love).

My pseudo-boss and I have recently been pushing to get my job title changed, which due to all sorts of institutional factors and rules and whatnot is incredibly difficult. So when I was presented an opportunity that I thought was going to finally lead to this job title change, I was completely caught off-guard by what it actually turned out to be.

Without going into too much detail, I discovered that one of my (actual) bosses was pushing for me to be considered to fill a higher-level, higher-paying version of the job I was hired to do. The job that, for the last year, I have been slowly getting away from doing.

I get it. I'm not being paid for the skills I have, and that really bothers her. It just completely caught me off-guard because I am finally so happy with the work I'm doing, I'm thrilled to go to the office every day, and I feel like I'm making a difference.

I'm not looking for prestige. If I had to choose between being a low-level data analyst and having a high-level position where I got to go to fancy lunches and get paid lots of money, you can bet I'd be most content in a basement in a pair of jeans sifting through a 1,000-row dataset in SPSS. Not that I'm choosing between either of these options, exactly. I just know what makes me happy.

For me, this was a eye-opener that after I've been doing this type of work more and more over the course of the past year, she still doesn't understand how much I love it. And really, honestly, I'm not sure I fully grasped how much I loved it until I was presented with an opportunity that would take me away from doing all of it.

The difficulty, of course, is that insisting on the status quo means continuing to do work I'm not supposed to be doing, with the wrong job title and job description and salary, and only by the grace of the people I work for. Far from ideal. But you know what? As long as I'm allowed to keep spending my days playing with data, I'm sure as hell going to keep doing it.

The Blessing of Advocates at Work

Saturday, October 30, 2010

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The Blessing of Advocates at Work | Faith Permeating Life
Mike and I have both been very blessed recently in our jobs. We are both poised to take on positions of more responsibility at work, and this is in large part because we both have mentors and advocates at our jobs who are working on our behalf to get us into the positions we want.

I was struck by this because this certainly isn't everyone's experience, and yet it happened to both of us, who work in complete different types of jobs in different industries. What is it that has allowed us both not only to keep our jobs, but to have people actually trying to help us reach our goals?

In case this may be of benefit to anyone else, I thought I'd share my thoughts.

1. We are willing to do our jobs.
This probably sounds obvious, but some of the most difficult people to work with are those who don't want to do their jobs. It's a lot easier to procrastinate in an office job like mine than at a restaurant job like Mike's, but in both cases you'll find people doing what they want to do ahead of what they're supposed to be doing. I've had several ridiculous conversations with someone in another department who was supposed to be doing work for our department to the effect of, "Well, I could do that, but it would be really hard and take a lot of time." So? I also recently had the experience of working on a committee with someone whose one assignment was to ask one question of someone he was already working with, and in two and a half weeks he didn't do it. It's people like this that make us look good simply because we do our jobs.

2. We look for ways to do our job better.
Mike started out as a dish tanker when he was in grad school. I started as a secretary after graduating with my master's degree. It would have been easy for either of us to say, "I could do this with my eyes closed" and just settle in to do what we were assigned. But I'll tell you, Mike was a damn good dish tanker and made things run so efficiently in the dish room that even as he's moved into different positions they're always happy to let him back in the dish room for a day because he can whip it into shape in no time. In my case, rather than just recording attendance for our workshops like I was assigned, I used my downtime to put the huge backlog of paper attendance sheets into our electronic systems, then started running analyses and making suggestions about improving attendance. (I recently checked, and attendance is up 25% since I've been in the position than before I started.)

3. We care about our organizations.
I am a huge advocate for the student voice and the importance of listening to students' feedback. I've joined a few different committees and volunteered to take on extra work -- in one case, even taking the initiative to reorganize an entire committee -- because it's so important to me that we serve our students effectively. In most (if not all) cases, I'm the youngest and most junior staff member there, but that hasn't stopped me for speaking up when necessary to keep things moving smoothly or to ensure that we're not ignoring the student perspective. In Mike's cases, he's started going in one extra day a week (for free) to work with the marketing staffer on fundraising and marketing ideas because it's so important to him that the restaurant become more well-known in the community.

4. We are specific about our goals.
When I had a one-on-one meeting with my boss about a year ago, she told me thought I was a genius and she couldn't believe how cheerfully I did work that was "clearly beneath me." Clearly, at that point I had stood out as an employee, but nothing more than a really excellent secretary. I'm not even sure she knew about all the extra work I was doing for the office I really wanted to be in. As part of my annual performance review, I had to complete a self-evaluation, and so I decided to take a risk and put one of my long-term goals as becoming a full-time staff member of this other office. She completely got behind it and started working to make that happen. I was amazed to find that once she saw value in me as an employee and thought I would should be in a higher position, all I had to do was say what I wanted that position to be and things started to move. Similarly, once Mike found that he probably wasn't going to get a full-time job with his master's degree anytime soon, he agreed to ask for a higher position and better hours at his restaurant job. At this point it sounds like they're just trying to find a way to make it happen.

I say all this to show that promotion doesn't have to be a battle, but neither is something you have to sit back and wait for after putting in your time. You can start in a job that's beneath your skill level and work really hard at it, go above and beyond, and show yourself as a valued employee. That makes it a lot easier to ask for more responsibility, especially if it seems to be a good match for your skills. And I think that even if you don't love your job, if you're really committed to your customers, clients, or students, that can be all the drive you need to stand out as an employee.

Anyone else have tips to share about how to get others rooting for your success at work?

Escaping the False Dichotomies (or Why I Think *gasp* Condoms are OK)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

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Escaping the False Dichotomies (or Why I Think *gasp* Condoms are OK) | Faith Permeating Life
Sometimes it feels like I'm the only one with a nuanced view of the world.

Some examples:

1) I spent some time recently reading through some blogs talking about Natural Family Planning, to see other people's thoughts on the matter. I found quite a few variations on the "more children=better" theme, and a lot of people who were very active in pro-life and anti-contraception movements.

Mike and I practice NFP, and we love it, and I am absolutely an advocate of it for anyone who is in a stable, monogamous partnership in which both partners can be equally committed to the NFP philosophy. But I believe it's unrealistic to try to operate under this idea that everyone should be abstinent until marriage and that it would be a terrible compromise to meet people where they are. People ARE going to have sex outside of marriage, and I think it's a lot more beneficial to encourage people with STDs to use condoms and people who sleep around to use birth control pills than it is to just try to ignore those people and push for nothing but abstinence and NFP. That's fine if you don't want to be the one handing out condoms, but that doesn't mean there's anything wrong with the people who are.

I think it's possible to be an advocate for and a model of something you believe in without preaching it as the only possible way to live. And I also believe that targeting root problems -- such as poverty and lack of sexual education -- is a more beneficial route than legislating your views.

2) I came across a fascinating debate on the issue of overpopulation in the comments of one of the abovementioned blogs. As far as I can tell, there are two main camps on this issue.
  • The first is "Just look at [fill in the blank city] where there are far more people than can be fed/housed/etc. Clearly the world is overpopulated."
  • The other is "If you took the number of people in the world and divided it by the amount of available food / the amount of liveable space / etc., you would see that there's plenty for everyone. Overpopulation is a myth."

Now certainly, just because one city is overpopulated, you can't extrapolate that to the entire world. And you can't logically tell an American woman that her having seven children is directly contributing to the lack of food for people in Rio de Janeiro.

On the other hand, here's the part no one seems to address: Unless we who have more than enough land and more than enough food are willing to share with those people who do not have enough, the whole "there's enough food and land to go around" argument is also irrelevant. And it seems to me that a lot of the same people who are using "overpopulation is a myth" to argue against birth control and legal abortions are the same people (::cough:: conservatives ::cough::) who condemn any sort of redistribution of resources as "socialist" AND the same people who want to drive out a lot of the immigrants who are "stealing" our jobs/land/what-have-you.

I don't think you can say the world, as a whole, is or is not overpopulated, but I do think we have a commitment to our fellow humans to be responsible stewards of the world's resources.

3) I feel very passionately both about my Catholic faith and about gay rights. The fact that this is somehow considered a contradiction infuriates me. (See this long list for why I don't think this is a contradiction.)

It's frustrating for me in more than one way. It's frustrating to hear hate speech from other Christians, particularly Catholics, and particularly Catholic leadership. I hate hearing the Bible twisted to serve people's political agendas, the same way it was used to argue against interracial marriage, women being able to vote, and many, many other things. BUT I also hate hearing people who are pro-gay speaking unilaterally negatively against religion and religious people.

Now, I completely realize that a lot of anti-gay sentiments come from people speaking from a religious perspective and that this can lead to a lot of confusion and self-hatred for many LGBT people that is only resolved through renouncing religion altogether. But I watched a lot of videos from the "It Gets Better" project and I cringed whenever people made sweeping anti-religious statements. I wanted to yell, "Don't you know that there are people who believe in God who are your allies??"

I was really excited to learn about Catholics for Equality. I found "It Gets Better" videos from a gay teacher of theology and a straight Christian ally. I also spent some time on Saturday watching RobTish's awesome videos, which systematically debunk the main arguments against gay marriage, particularly the religion-based ones. All of these things make me hopeful that religion and homosexuality can stop being enemies someday.

I love the idea behind the Rally to Restore Sanity because it gives me hope that I'm not the only one who wants to have discussions outside of the framework of a false dichotomy. There are so many of these supposedly polarizing issues in this world, and I feel like the generally accepted way of holding an opinion is to plant yourself at one pole and then find evidence to support that view.

I dare anyone to call me wishy-washy on my beliefs for choosing to stand between two fake poles. I feel very strongly about all of the things I've talked about in this post!

My suggestion to you is that next time you stumble upon an either/or debate, ask yourself, "Is it possible both sides are right? Or neither side? Where is the truth is both arguments?"

Naturally, I am open to discussion on any of the above issues or anything else, although I generally find that others have already explained things better than I could. (Thus the rather link-happy post today!)

Just a Number

Saturday, October 23, 2010

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Just a Number | Faith Permeating Life
About a week ago, I took a pregnancy test for the first time in my life.

I didn't want to, and I didn't think I was pregnant. Actually, I was about 99% sure I wasn't. And that is why I'm not going back to this gynecologist.

When I first went to this gynecologist a year ago, I was newly married and naturally had some questions for her. She was efficient and business-like, but did take the time to answer my questions. She seemed to know what Natural Family Planning was and didn't push birth control pills on me, so I was satisfied enough. The nurse beforehand had, of course, asked a lot of questions about my medical history and taken a lot of notes. Not surprising for a first visit.

This time, though, I was struck by how little they knew or cared about me as an individual.

When the nurse first took me back, she asked me questions I expected, like when was my last period. It then quickly became apparent that she hadn't bothered to look at my chart ahead of time. "Any surgeries?" Before I could answer she flipped back to my chart from last time. "Never mind, I see them." She seemed to be filling out a blank version of the exact same chart as last time.

"Sexually active?" "Sexually monogamous?" I was a little taken aback by this. Sure, it was standard enough information for a gynecologist to have, but it seemed a little insulting to ask the questions so briskly of a married woman. She may not have even realized I was married until she started to ask another question and then flipped back a chart and said, "You live -- with your husband?"

Without going into too much detail, I had brought my cycle charts because my current cycle was pretty screwed up. It looked to me like I just hadn't ovulated at all, but because I'd had a week of heavy spotting in the middle of the month, I knew I should bring it up. I started to explain about the various signs that were out of whack, but it was clear it all went over the nurse's head until I got to the part that I hadn't gotten my period when I expected to.

"You trying to get pregnant?" No, I explained, if I were pregnant I would have a consistently high basal temperature, but I had a consistently low one, as if I hadn't ovulated. But that wasn't my biggest concern--

She came back with a cup.

Naturally I had just used the bathroom before being called back (who wants a GYN exam with a full bladder?), so I had to suck down the contents of my water bottle, pace for five minutes, and then go pee in a cup. It was humiliating enough that I had to wait for my turn outside the one-person bathroom for a good five minutes holding a cup, and then bring a cup of my pee down the hallway back to the nurse, but the fact that it was completely unnecessary just made it all the worse.

The nurse was unsurprised when the test showed I wasn't pregnant, and muttered about the doctor, "Just because you a week late she want to do a pregnancy test. You knew you weren't. You got a chart." Never mind she didn't have any clue what my cycle charts meant.

About five or ten minutes later, the doctor breezed in. "We just doing a pap smear or you need an STD test?"

I'm sorry?

A standard enough question, I'm sure, but I'd been interrogated enough between this and my last visit that she should have known that was an unnecessary question.

The exam itself only took about five minutes, but the kicker is that the second she looked at me she could tell I was about to start my period. So the pregnancy test was even more unnecessary.

Before she left she asked, "You need any refills on any -- wait --" she looked at my chart "--you're not taking any birth control or anything, right? You don't need a refill on anything?"

No, no refills.

"OK, you should get your results in three weeks. Call me if you don't." She turned to head out the door.


The nurse hadn't told her anything about the cycle I was concerned about. I described the symptoms, and she agreed it sounded like an anovulatory cycle and said it was nothing to worry about.

And that was that.

When I got home, I tried to find a gynecologist in the area who specializes in NFP (or the non-Catholic version, Fertility Awareness Method), but there's no one anywhere close that I can find. In any case, that might be a trade-off if they subscribe to CCL's notion that "responsible parenthood" means "being pregnant as much as possible."

At this point, though, I'd be happy with anyone who bothers to look at my chart before seeing me and knows that they don't have to ask me every time if I need an STD test.

I don't know if I have any NFP- or FAM-practicing readers, but anyone have any suggestions / similar stories?

Building My Happiness Commandments

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

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Gretchen Rubin of the Happiness Project has a set of commandments, kind of mantras that help her remember how she wants to act during the day. What I love about these is that they're not resolutions, they're not self-improvement type ideas, but rather they're ways of seeing situations and making decisions that help her to be happier with her life.

It's kind of like -- to use a stupid example -- if you're trying to remember which way to tighten something and the phrase "righty tighty, lefty loosey" pops into your head. It's a phrase you've heard repeated that helps you know how to act. These are like this, but for making decisions that lead to greater happiness.

I'm trying to start by identifying some of the ideas I already use on a regular basis. There is one that I've started using more in the past year as a way to overcome anxiety: I find myself telling myself "One step at a time." This seems to happen often when I arrive at work and my brain tries to tell me to "takeoffyourcoat-takeoutyourkeys-openyourlocker-setdownyourpurse-takeoutyourcellphone-changeyourshoes-putyourlunchinthefridge-hangupyourumbrella-checkyourmessages-turnonyourcomputer."

I get to work about 20 minutes early anyway so I remind myself that I have plenty of time to do everything, and then I find a logical order: Set everything down that I'm carrying. Hang up any outerwear. Take everything out of my bags that doesn't need to get locked up. Unlock my locker. Put my things away. Change my shoes. Put my lunch in the fridge. I make sure to make myself some tea and get myself comfortable before I do anything like turning on my computer and checking my messages. I have a tendency during the workday to get overwhelmed if I have a lot of things to take care of right away (I come back from a meeting where my boss has asked me to do something, my voicemail's blinking, I have 10 e-mails, and someone's coming over to talk to me). So I remind myself: I can only do one thing at a time.

There's another commandment I try to live by, which I don't really have an elegant way of expressing, but which boils down to "Don't get in a pissing contest." As I said, not very elegant, but you get the point. Every so often (like today) I run up against someone who so desperately needs to be right about everything that I have to remind myself that it's not going to hurt if I let them think they're the expert and that they're teaching me something.

This was especially hard today when someone was lecturing me extensively on my own area of expertise. Because the lectures were starting to derail the project at hand, I did try a few times to hurry things along by responding, "I know what you mean, that same thing happened to me before," but I tried really hard not to otherwise show off my own knowledge or "one-up" the other person, and to agree with their suggestions whenever possible. Sometimes when someone is clearly trying to show off I'm tempted to take them down a peg, but I've learned it's not worth it. It doesn't make me feel any better, and it hurts my relationship with that person. And I also think people respect me more when I don't feel a need to show off.

Finally, one mantra I'm working to ingrain in my mind is "Don't feel guilty if you're not doing anything wrong." I am an obsessive rule-follower and feel excessively guilty if I ever break a rule, whether I knew it was a rule or not. Where I think this aspect of my personality interferes with my happiness is where I set up my own boundaries of what I should and shouldn't be doing. So for example, if I plan to do something and don't do it, I feel guilty even if it affects no one but me. (This is partly why I have such a hard time with Mike's tendency not to follow through on things he says he's going to do.) If I'm at work and I've finished my projects for the time being, I feel guilty for not doing work, even if I'm productively working on personal projects. (This happens despite knowing that my coworkers sometimes read the newspaper, watch movies, read gossip blogs, and otherwise engage in far less productive activities.) I'm trying to work on giving myself permission to let go of guilt when it's accomplishing nothing but hindering my happiness.

I'll continue to look out for other ways I can improve my happiness.

What are some of the mantras you live by?

Lessons in Happiness

Saturday, October 2, 2010

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In an effort to find things that make me happy, I've been spending some time on Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project site.

One common type of post on the Happiness Project is a "happiness interview," in which Gretchen interviews some person about their thoughts on happiness. One question she always asks is "What's something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?"

What's so interesting about this question for me is that I think I had a better handle on happiness at 18 than I do now. I just spent part of the afternoon reading through things that Mike and I wrote to each other in college, and this led me to find a project I'd created in high school and given to Mike our sophomore year of college. A treatise on my worldview, as assigned by my English teacher, titled "Portrait of an Optimist as a Young Woman." (I'm sure you can guess what we were reading at time.)

What I mean is this: Remember this post on how my life was perfect and I was finally happy? Well, I was right. That didn't last. Don't get me wrong: I still love my husband, my friends, my apartment, and (again, recently,) my job. But all it took was six months of mono and some total asshats at work to make me have a complete depressive breakdown.

This is what I get for investing my happiness into my external experiences rather than myself. High-school me would have a right to slap me upside the head. She got it. It's about how you see yourself, and how you deal with what happens to you, that really matters. Not about what happens to you.

[Here's what I don't get, though. This project was done in the spring of my junior year, which was by all accounts the most miserable of all of my high school years, so much so that I have a distinct memory of a February diary entry that I wrote documenting my complete emotional shutdown. I couldn't handle the emotional pain I was going through, and, not being one for substance abuse, I just became completely and utterly numb. I stopped feeling anything. It took until my freshman year of college for me to be genuinely open to my emotions again.

So how happy was I, really? Was it just the absence of pain, the lack of caring, that allowed me to be so positive? I really have no idea.]

I'm trying now, one step at a time, to build back that sense of internal peace and joy that can withstand anything that happens. I'm trying to be more patient with Mike by understanding that my happiness is not dependent on anything he does or doesn't do. I'm trying not to worry too much about the future, keeping in mind that every time in my life that I have had a clear view of where I wanted my life to go, it never turned out that way anyway.

I'm going to try taking out my old rose-colored glasses, dusting them off, and seeing if they still fit. And if they don't, I'll find myself a new pair.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Sunday, September 26, 2010

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Recently, I came to a realization.

Genealogy is a hobby, not a project.

My life is driven by projects. I sent a goal for myself, something I want to accomplish, and then I work toward it doggedly. And I love that. I don't always love the process, but I love the feeling of accomplishment.

I had this notion in my head that I was going to get all of the people into my family tree, the bare bones, and then I would be able to go back and add detail about their lives that I found from letters, books, etc. What I came to realize lately, though, is that my family tree project was not enjoyable for me anymore because it was never-ending. I could work for hours and hours and not get anywhere closer to a finish line, because there isn't one. There will always be more branches, more children, more lines to trace back and forth. I've started spending more time on the stories, reading letters, just enjoying learning about the people whose lives led to mine. And maybe everything on my tree is not accurate, but it's a lifelong work in progress.

This might seem like a small paradigm shift for me to make, but it's an important one. As I'm in my sixth month of mono, I've started to get weighed down by the depression that comes with being ill for this long. Mono doesn't cause depression, but it's not uncommon for people who have it for a long time to experience a lot of the same symptoms that come with depression. And so I'm making a concentrated effort to channel my energy not into never-ending, life-sucking "projects," but into activities that make me happy.

There's a lot in my life that should be making me happy, but it's somehow tied up with things that are making me unhappy. For example, my job responsibilities are changing at work to allow me to do less scheduling and more data analysis, which is exactly what I wanted. A few responsibilities have already been shifted, but the major change was supposed to happen Sept. 1, and that has been pushed to Oct. 1. I'm not 100% sure it's going to happen then. And my fear is that once it does, there won't be enough evaluation projects to fill the gap, and I'll just end up with more downtime, which is probably the worst part of my job. I like to be doing something. And yet, lately, with exhaustion and now a head cold, I haven't had the energy to really focus on any big projects. So what do I want? I think it's this uncertainty that's most upsetting.

Things at home have been really good, too. Mike finally made peace with the fact that I wasn't my old self and he couldn't be disappointed when I didn't want to do activities that took a lot of energy. The past few nights, he's made us both tea and we sit and do Sporcle quizzes together. He's really stepped it up with taking care of the apartment, so I don't have to constantly face the choices of a) stressing out about living in mess, b) exhausting myself by cleaning it up myself, or c) nagging him. He's started learning to plan ahead for a week of meals so he can do the grocery shopping and cook dinner every night. And he makes me smoothies every night so I can take these packets of Vitamin C I need to get stronger.

At the same time, though, the reason he's able to do all of this is that he doesn't have a full-time job yet. He's been out of school more than four months and applies to a job every few weeks. He keeps changing his mind about what he wants to do and what kind of jobs he wants to apply for. He paid $50 to get a substitute teaching license only to see that no schools around us were hiring subs. And when he's home, he doesn't accomplish as much as I would. He does a lot of errands, but he plays a lot of video games. I'm starting to look into a future where he never has a full-time job.

Now that I write about this, I guess what's causing me the most stress and unhappiness is a complete lack of vision for the future. We want to move to Seattle, sure, but then I look at the schools out there and see that they don't even have the kind of jobs I want. So what would I do there? And how long do I have to stay here first, in this uncertain set of responsibilities with who-knows-what job title, before anyone else will consider me prepared to be anything but a secretary? We talk about moving somewhere else first, where Mike can do Teach for America, but that would be somewhere other than Seattle, and then will he just be a waiter until then? Where do kids fit in? When will we get a house? What about building our own house? And on and on.

So my goal, for right now, is to find a way to be happy while being completely and utterly unsure of what our life is going to look like one, two, five years from now. My hope is that if I focus on doing small activities that make me happy, then I will be at peace knowing that I can be happy wherever we are and whatever my job is.

Now to figure out what makes me happy...

Why Don't YOU Try Living with Mono?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

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In our household, the phrase "Why don't you..." is banned.

I'll admit that I can be overly sensitive sometimes about the way things are worded. Mike has accepted this and says he doesn't mind saying something differently if it's going to make the difference of whether I get upset or not. In this case, though, I think that this change has actually had a profound impact on the tone of our conversations about sensitive topics.

The problem, simply, is that "Why don't you..." is generally used to introduce a suggestion, whereas I hear it, literally, as a question. My brain apparently has trouble bringing in a "Why" question and producing anything other than a "Because" answer.

Meaning that if you'd asked me two weeks ago, "Why don't you go back to the doctor?" giving that I'm going into my sixth month of chronic fatigue, I would have answered, "Because mono is viral, so I don't feel like paying $15 to have my doctor tell me to continue to rest and drink fluids and let time heal my body."

On the other hand, if you'd substituted Mike's magical phrase and asked me, "Have you considered going back to the doctor?" you would have gotten a much different response. Yes, I've considered it. I consider it every morning when I wake up and don't think I can get myself out of bed, every time I come home from work and collapse on the couch, every time I fall asleep at 7 o'clock at night. Every time someone tells me a horror story of being misdiagnosed with mono and I remember that I was only diagnosed on my symptoms. I wonder if maybe there's something more I could be doing, or at least some new information I can tell all the people who keep asking, "When will you get better?"

As it were, I did go to the doctor a week ago and got the blood test that proves that I have mono and have had it for some time. My doctor added vitamin B and a probiotic to the collection of pills I'm already taking every morning, and he told me about a roommate of his in college who had mono for three years. And somehow I feel better being able to say that YES, I have mono, and NO, I don't know when I'll be better and neither does my doctor.

In any case, I think how a suggestion is put forward can make a huge difference in the conversation. "Why don't you..." makes assumptions. I assume you haven't done this. I assume that the cause of your problem stems from your not having done this. I assume that this is a good option for you because I assume that I know best.

"Have you considered..." is an invitation into the conversation. Have you done this already? Have you thought about it? What are your thoughts on it? Do you think this would be a good option for you?

In a marriage, especially, where (I believe) decisions should be made jointly and power shared equally, it makes a big difference when you don't try to imply that you know best.

Or maybe I'm just weird. :)

Why You Should Stop Building Bigger Barns

Sunday, August 1, 2010

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This morning in church the Gospel reading was Luke 12:13-21, which follows:
Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me."

Jesus replied, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?" Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."

And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.'

Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry."'

"But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'

"This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God."

The priest spoke generally about having possessions, having too many possessions, being tied down to possessions, and so on, but didn't directly touch on what I find most interesting about this story. The man already had barns, right? The ones he was going to tear down? And in building these barns he had, presumably, determined the maximum amount of grain he needed to store to feed his household, sell some, and have an emergency stockpile. And yet, when he produced more than that quantity he had set for himself, he changed his perception of how much he needed to store.

This seems to be the American story, in my mind, at least for those who move middle-to-upper class over the course of their adult lives (and isn't that "the American dream"?). A young couple starts out with "nothing" -- which is how we refer to it, though it's not really nothing. It's a small salary, a small apartment, a tight budget. One or both of them is promoted. They start bringing in more money. They move to a house. They treat themselves to more luxuries. They make more money and spend more money taking care of the bigger house, the electronics, the cars, the boat/camper/jacuzzi/whatever. The more they make, the more they find to spend it on.

At what point do we say "enough"? That's not part of the American story. Maybe that's the myth, in our minds, that we'll get to a point where we have "everything," but there's always more to buy, and the message is that you're supposed to spend more as you earn more.

Last night we went to a party one of my coworkers and his wife hosted. We met another young couple -- maybe 4 years older than us -- who had recently bought a new place in the city, which I gathered to be an apartment. At one point one of them made a comment wondering when they'd be able to afford "a place like this" -- the second-floor condo where the party was held. Not to detract from the condo, which was beautifully decorated and certainly spacious, but it was essentially a long hallway with a living room on one end, a kitchen on the other, and a bedroom and bathroom off the middle. In my mind, it offered no advantages over what we currently have -- maybe some more square feet, but nothing we "need."

We do, eventually, want to move to a house (actually, build our own), but that's because we want to have five kids. In designing our house, we're trying to minimize unnecessary space -- our kids can share rooms; we want easily movable furniture to have adaptable spaces. I just don't grasp the notion of wanting to move "up" for some psychological or social reason.

I recently read an article on Mint.com (one of my favorite sites, if I haven't mentioned it enough) that suggested that the easiest way to make lots of money is to "act poor." (Then the article goes off in some other direction about why you should invest in the stock market now, but anyway.) This is the part that I found most relevant to what I'm talking about:
Your friends probably won’t be doing this. The moment they get jobs, they're going to want a better car; fewer roommates; dinners on the town. And that's ever so tempting to do since you've likely suffered through lean years as a college student. And that new job you're getting could allow you to pay for some luxuries, even if it doesn't pay a lot. But there's a great pay off to living like a college student. If you manage to save really prodigiously for just a couple of years, you can build an emergency fund that will tide you over when times are really bad.
The article is aimed at college grads, but I think the advice works for anyone. If you have a reasonable budget that takes care of your needs and doesn't deny you some wants as well, then there's no reason you have to change your budget every time you increase your cash flow.

To be clear, what I don't like is the idea of being a penny-pincher for the sake of hoarding as much money as possible. That's just being the rich guy with the bigger barns all over again. My mom always talks about how her father was so cheap that she had to pay her own way through college even though he had the money for it, and then when he died, she "got a bunch of money when I was too old to need it anymore." The point is not to save money for the sake of saving money.

I'll close with one final reference. Last summer at a garage sale I picked up a book by Larry Burkett called "The Complete Financial Guide for Young Couples." This was right before Mike and I got married, and I thought, what better time to read a book like this? The book is from the '80s, and I didn't realize until I started reading it that it had a Christian focus. What I loved the most about this book was his philosophy. Essentially he said: If you are making enough money to be relatively comfortable -- to take care of your needs and your basic wants -- and you have an emergency fund saved up, as well as a retirement fund and college funds for your kids, then you're set. That's it. You don't need to make crazy investments in the stock market; you don't need to invest in rental property. You don't need to take huge financial risks and chance getting yourself into debt.

This was completely the opposite message from practically every financial article I'd ever read or anything I'd heard from financial "experts," telling you to invest, create passive income, get out of the rat race, and don't you know you could be a millionaire if you play your cards right?

You can't take it with you, folks, and you'll never catch up to the Joneses, so if you're blessed to have a steady income that allows you to save a little every month -- give thanks.

P.S. Today marks one wonderful year of my married life with Mike -- here's to many more!

A Lesson in Mortality

Saturday, July 3, 2010

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If you want to comprehend mortality, study genealogy.

For the past few months, I've been building my family tree on Ancestry.com. (This project has superseded everything, including both blogging and sweeping -- though I plan to get back to both.) In some cases our records go back to the 1700s, and we may have had some ancestors immigrate to the first colonies.

What's so fascinating to me is this: Take a person who came over to the U.S. in say, the 1840s, as almost all of my Irish ancestors did during the potato famine. (I was actually in Ireland last week, so knowing this about my family made it so much more interesting to learn the history!) Through the census records every ten years, you see their family grow -- 2 kids, 5 kids, 8 kids -- then shrink as those kids move out and get married, until it's just the husband and wife left. Then the husband dies. Then the wife. You find their death records and confirm the dates.

Now go to one of their children, that one who was 2 years old when she first appears on a census record. You picture a little girl toddling around the house, maybe in a frilly dress with pigtails. Now she's 12. Now she's 22. Now she's 32, a different name, married with 4 kids. She's 42. She's 52. She's 62 and it's just her and her husband left. Her husband dies. On the next census she's moved in with her oldest son and his wife. Then she dies. That son is 27. Now he's 37. Now he's 47. Now he dies early when his youngest daughter's only 9. Now she's 19. Now she's 29 and has 3 kids. Now 7 kids. Now 4 kids. Now 1 kid. Now she's dead.

You can't do this kind of work and fail to see this circle of life, this inevitability of death. Some die young, some live til their 90s. Some have 12 kids, some have none. Some never get married, some get married 5 times. They all die.

A lot of people can quote to you the fact people used to have large families because you didn't know how many would live to adulthood, but it becomes a lot more real when you see names and dates. So many stillborn babies, so many babies living a month or two. After seeing my cousin go through the grieving process of having a stillborn baby, I can't imagine the woman who had three babies die and still went on to have eight more children. Nine months of pregnancy every time. That's incredible.

Some children, if they were born dead, don't even have names, at least not officially. Baby Girl. Infant Boy. Did people then not grieve as we do now? Or did they just understand that that was life, and you had to try again? Both my grandmother and Mike's grandmother had sisters who died young, and they don't speak of them with sadness, just memories. But then, all of my grandmother's other sisters are dead now too. I guess at some point you just absorb it as a fact of life. You reach a certain age, and a lot of people you knew and loved will be dead.

There's a final facet of studying genealogy that shines back mortality, and that's the information held by living relatives. For a year now I've been trying to get my cousins to sit down with my great-aunt, the only sister of my deceased grandmother, the only person in our family who still remembered personally so many long dead ancestors, and record her talking about her life and those memories. After one cousin promised twice and never delivered, I gave up and started looking up flights out to Seattle to do it myself. I was planning to go out there in August, but the flights were too expensive, and I had to aim for late September.

And then, two days ago, she died.

There are old family photographs we've been going through to post on the website, and when my mom couldn't identify someone, or couldn't figure out how two people were related, she would always say, "Dori will know," and she'd call up her sister and have her go over to the assisted living facility to ask my great-aunt. Now there's no one left who knows.

If you want to comprehend mortality, study genealogy.

Incompetent Service: Update

Monday, May 24, 2010

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I arrived to the building where the event was taking place that we needed the boards for this morning. One of the people in charge of the event pointed out the supplies to me, and the boards looked the wrong size.

I asked, "That's what they delivered?"

He said, "No, they didn't deliver anything. I pulled this from our supply closet."

I stood there with my mouth hanging open for a few seconds, then pulled out my phone and called the store.

"How may I direct your call?"

I gave the name of my contact in Customer Service.

A few minutes of bad hold music passed.

"How may I direct your call?"

Seriously? I told them who I was holding for, and they said she wasn't in. "Then, anyone in Customer Service," I said.


"How may I direct your call?"

I nearly lost it at this point. "I'm holding for Customer Service."

"This is Customer Service."

Then why the &#%$ didn't you say that? "I'm calling about a delivery that was supposed to be made Friday and was apparently never made."

She took down my name and phone number (the one on record -- my office phone -- and my cell phone number). She said she'd call the delivery manager and get back to me.

At this point, we had no choice but to pull out some used boards (the boards were being used as dry erase boards for artwork) and erase them. Not what we wanted to do, but we had no choice at that point.

The event started. About half an hour after my initial call, I got a call back. There was no record of my order.

"Was this an Internet order or...?"

"No, it was a phone order. I spoke to three different people on the phone on Wednesday and Thursday and gave all of my order information."

We went through an exchange about Edwin, the second person I'd spoken to. She asked for a last name, and I thought she meant my last name, but she meant Edwin's last name. She couldn't figure out who I'd spoken to. Did I know Edwin's last name? No -- why would I know that?

She looked up my phone number again. No order on record. My phone was cutting out.

"I'm losing you. I'll call you right back--" was the last thing I heard her say.

Finally, 20 minutes later, she called me back. She had an answer. The delivery men, rather than calling the person they were supposed to call to come down and get the boards, had left the boards with the security guard downstairs.

I raced to the elevators. Sure enough, down in the lobby, there were our boards, tucked behind the security desk. The guard was glad I'd come to claim them -- "We didn't know who these belonged to."

So an hour after I initially called the store, after we'd already erased our old boards, we had 12 blank boards. Useless.

And yeah, when I checked back in the office? My receipt has tax on it.

Incompetent Service

Friday, May 21, 2010

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Incompetent Service | Faith Permeating Life
Yesterday was a huge headache.

It began the day before, when I was working at home and had pretty much nothing to do the entire day except order some boards from a hardware store and have them cut it half and delivered to one of the buildings on our campus Friday morning. Even though this is nothing against my work, it involves my work, so I'll refrain from telling you exactly which hardware store decide to try to make my head explode. In any case, that was my task for the day.

I didn't call the store until around 3:30 because I was waiting for an e-mail with my boss's purchasing card information, which I finally got around that time. I called and explained what I needed to buy, and was transferred to the Millwork department. This began my conversation with Marco.

The first thing Marco asked for was my phone number. This was more complicated than he probably anticipated, because I was calling on my cell phone from home, which I didn't really want in their records, but when the guys came to deliver the boards on Friday they were going to have to call a different person's office number to have him come down and get the boards.

I attempted to explain this to him, and apparently it confused him, so first I gave him my cell phone number. This appeared to be the right decision, because he said he wasn't at his desk and needed to call me back, and hung up.

He called back and took down my name, which I spelled very carefully for him, what I was ordering, and my office phone number. Again I tried to explain that they were going to be delivered to a different person in a different building, but he was bound and determined to fill out the form on his computer screen in the right order, with no extra information.


I started to tell him where I wanted the boards delivered, and he interrupted and said no, he needed my address, to put in his system. I gave him my work address.

Eventually I got him to put somewhere on the order the name and phone number of the person the boards were being delivered to. Then he told me how much the delivery charge was going to be.

"Did I tell you where they were going to be delivered?" I asked, knowing I hadn't.

He repeated my work address back to me.

I explained for the third -- at least -- time that the boards were not being delivered to me, and gave him the delivery address.

Finally, I gave him the purchasing card information. Then I asked him to repeat back to me the details of the order, which he did. I hung up, relieved, and e-mailed my coworkers to say that the boards would be delivered Friday morning.

Around 5:30pm, I got a call on my cell phone from Marco. The card was a debit card, he said, and the computer was telling him he had to swipe the physical card. Knowing that a coworker had ordered the same boards from the same store over the phone with a purchasing card from the same school, I said that couldn't be right, and that I would have to call him back the next morning when I was in the office. I thought maybe there was some step I was missing. He said OK.

The next morning, it was around 9:15am, and my coworker hadn't come in yet. I had a 10am meeting, so I decided to go ahead and see if I could get it straightened out myself. I called the store and asked for Marco.

"Marco's not in today." Of course he's not.

I got transferred to Millwork, where I spoke with another person, named Edwin. Edwin agreed that that didn't make sense about the card. He tried to look up my order by my name. No order on record. Fabulous. He asked for my phone number. I took a lucky guess which of the three to give him and gave him my office number. Found it -- my name had been spelled wrong.

For some reason, Edwin decided that the only way to make this work was to take my entire order over again. He kept saying he needed to do it "as a phone order," as if my order the day before hadn't been a phone order. So I dutifully gave him the item information, the instructions, the multiple phone numbers and addresses, the credit card information, the billing address -- everything I'd given Marco the day before. He said he'd call me right back to make sure the card worked.

This effectively chained me to my desk for the next 15 minutes, afraid to go do the other work I needed to do in case I missed his call before my 10am meeting. Finally, he called me back to say the card worked fine. He would call me back when the purchase went through. Um--?? Is that different somehow? I said OK and hung up again.

At this point, I saw that my coworker had come in, and since her desk is within earshot of my phone, I figured it would be safe to go talk to her.

She confirmed that she'd ordered from that same store using a purchasing card with no problems. Then she informed me that Accounting had sent back all her paperwork from her purchase because she hadn't gotten the tax taken off, so she had to fax them our tax exempt letter plus her receipts to get a refund. She hadn't been able to get the fax machine to work, which is why she hadn't told me about it before now. She had been planning to come in that morning and use a different fax machine in our buildling.

So she said I needed to call them back, tell them about our tax exempt status, tell them I was faxing over a letter, then ask to be transferred to Customer Service and speak to the person she was talking to yesterday to follow up on her order and get the refunds.

As I was attempting to process this, my phone rang. Edwin said the payment had gone through. I told him that I'd just found out I needed to have the tax taken off the purchases. He put me on hold. Then he said I needed to fax over the letter and then call and speak to someone in Customer Service (not the same person my coworker had spoken to). I asked if the fax number I had -- the one my coworker had tried -- was correct, and read it to him: XXX3. He said no, that fax machine was broken, he would call me back and tell me which number to fax it to.

I told my coworker that no wonder the fax hadn't gone through -- their machine was broken. Then Edwin called me back. No, he said, that was their only fax machine and it was working. Use that number. He hung up.

I tried four times to fax the letter and receipts. No luck. The fax machine helpfully printed out a sheet of paper every time, telling me that my fax had Failed. I got back to my desk just as Edwin called to ask if I'd faxed the information yet.

I told him the fax wouldn't go through. He said oh, they'd already canceled my order, because they had to put it in again from the beginning with the tax exempt status. I told him I had to go to a meeting, but would be back around 1pm and would try a different fax machine. So I left for my meeting knowing that we were supposed to have six boards delivered the next morning and I had no order in their system.

I got back around 1:30pm and went down to use the other fax machine. Tried twice. Nothing. I came back upstairs to tell my coworker, who pointed out that on the fax she'd received from that store had come from XXX9, not XXX3. I tried faxing to that number, and it went through.

I called the store back and got connected to my contact in Customer Service. She asked if I'd faxed to XXX3. I said I tried six times on two different fax machines and it hadn't worked, but that the fax we'd received from them had come from XXX9 and so I'd tried faxing it there.

"Hold on, let me call down there," she said. I was put on hold.

After a good five minutes, someone else picked up the phone and asked if they could help me. (Don't you hate that, when you're put on hold forever and then someone else picks up and treats you like a new call?)

I explained who I was waiting for, and she said, "Oh, she said to tell you to fax it to XXX1."

So much for only having one fax machine.

I picked up the papers and went to fax them for the eighth time. They went through. I prayed to God and called the store back. Yes, they had received the letter and would fax me a receipt.

My coworker then called to try to straighten out her order, and after a while, the store faxed over all of our receipts. The paper my coworker handed me had two receipts on it, one of which had tax added, but at that point my brain was too mush to try to figure out whose was whose and which were old or new or whatever. I will have to look at it again on Monday and call them back if they did, indeed, add tax to my order. That will be thrilling. [Update: They did.]

All of this probably doesn't even rival the next two hours my coworker spent on the phone with the other area store she'd ordered from. (She'd ordered from two because one told her they had more of the product in stock and then it turned out they didn't have enough.) They didn't want to let her fax the tax exempt letter, but insisted she had to physically come into the store with it, that that was "policy," even though the first store apparently didn't have this policy. After speaking with multiple people, she ended up faxing them some combination of work ID/letterhead/etc to prove that she did indeed work there and didn't just steal their tax exempt letter.

The boards were supposed to be delivered this morning, according to everything that any of the people I'd talked to had told me, but I called into my work voicemail and had a message that they would be delivered between 2pm and 6pm. Because I'm sure that the guy they're delivering them to has nothing better to do on a Friday afternoon than sit around and wait for six freaking boards to be delivered.


Let's hope I don't get into work on Monday and find out the boards were delivered uncut...

My Work -- An Update

Monday, May 17, 2010

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 My Work -- An Update | Faith Permeating Life
I want to revisit this post about my job because so much has changed since I wrote it.

The first big change, which I've mentioned previously, is that I now have a steady freelance copyediting job (which is what I should be working on right now...). I am connected into a network of authors who love my work, and I will probably be working with books for a long time to come. That is exciting to me. It also makes me feel like I haven't deserted my dream of working in publishing, even though my full-time job is in higher ed.

Another huge change in my work is that back in October, after being very vocal about my desire for more projects to work on, I started doing work for our learning assessment department -- first very basic, menial tasks, but increasingly more complex and important projects. The director made a big effort to get me access to a computer with SPSS so I could do more meaningful analyses, and he's been able to take on a lot more projects with my help. My boss has finally become aware of all the work I've been doing, and at my recent performance review said she wanted to review the responsibilities shared across the department to allow me to do more of this kind of work.

This is a help with two of the points in my previous post -- I have a lot less downtime now, and I feel like I'm putting my graduate education to work. Actually, a third point as well -- I'm able to help a lot of different people, and a lot of my work has a clear benefit for the quality of education for our students.

I've become really involved with student course evaluations and getting trained on our new evaluation software, and I'm trying to be a vocal advocate for the importance of course evaluations and allowing students to be part of the process of crafting good evaluation questions. I've done a lot of work recently looking at the research on course evaluations, so I feel educated enough to talk intelligently with anyone who wants to dismiss them as "an outlet for disgruntled students" or something like that.

Probably the most amazing transformation, and one that has only come in the past month or so, is the change in how people in my office view my capabilities -- not everyone, but not just one or two people anymore. My job, officially, is designed to be low-man-on-the-totem-pole -- I'm the one who gets the tasks that are too menial, monotonous, or time-consuming for people "higher up" to waste their time with. Everyone else in the office has the power to dump on delegate to me. Now, suddenly, people are saying to me, "Let's find someone else to do that -- we don't want to waste your time. Your time could be better spent on other projects." That's amazing to me! Especially because I'm perfectly happy doing time-consuming tasks if they support other people.

The most recent change in my job is that my boss -- who, ever since I got mono, constantly looks at me like I'm going to die -- suggested I start working at home two days a week, starting this week. I worked at home last Thursday and it made a huge difference. No commute meant I didn't have to walk anywhere, I didn't have to get up so early, I didn't even shower or change out of my PJs, just ate breakfast and brushed my teeth. And Mike is done with his internship, so he's here to make me lunch and refill my water. I've gotten better about asking him to do things for me, and he's gotten better about offering. He was a little put out about not being able to play his video game while I was working, but once I finished the report that required a lot of concentration, I was able to put in my headphones and let him play his game.

I believe it's true what people told me when I was job-searching: You can get a job that's not your ideal job, prove your abilities to the people you work with, and end up doing something you love. Granted, I'm not doing evaluation and assessment work full time yet, but as soon as that's a possibility organizationally and financially for my department, it sounds like everyone wants me to. And that is awesome.

An Open World

Sunday, May 16, 2010

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An Open World | Faith Permeating Life
What would the world look like if everybody knew everything -- or at least, a lot more -- about one another?

Two things have gotten me to start thinking about this.

One is the increasingly open settings on Facebook that are causing panic in the blogosphere and -- of course -- on Facebook. It's becoming more difficult to choose to put something on the Internet and then control who sees it.

Two is the fact that I'm going to be on the news on Tuesday, talking about my sweepstakes hobby, something my friends and family know about (thanks to Facebook) but which I've only told a few coworkers in anticipation of the news broadcast (to mixed reactions).

The whole Facebook thing fascinates me. People are frantic about keeping other people from reading things that they personally chose to post about themselves online. In my own case, I don't have a lot to hide, so I guess that's part of my confusion -- and I've always tried to view my Facebook profile through the eyes of potential employers, with the knowledge that anything put on the Internet could be viewable to anyone.

Yet at the same time I carefully select privacy settings (Friends Only) and have a separate Facebook account for work. That's not because I put anything damning out there -- no angry rants against coworkers or obscene pictures of myself -- but just out of the uncomfortableness of the idea that someone would judge me for my beliefs or my hobbies, the things I'm comfortable sharing with friends, family, and even old classmates, but not the people I work with every day.

My guess is that this -- the fear of judgment -- is much more the reason people are freaking out about Facebook privacy than fear of stalkers or identity thieves or anything like that. We compartmentalize our lives so much, sharing different parts with different people depending on what we believe they will find acceptable. Maybe you bond with your best friend over trashy reality shows but would never tell your in-laws you watch them, while your best friend spends her nights on anime fan sites and would be mortified if you knew.

So this brings me back to my question of what would happen if everything was thrown out into the open. If PostSecret was no longer necessary because everything was already known. What kind of a world would we live in?

Would you get mocked for your Harry Potter obsession by your coworker, if you knew that she is a compulsive autograph seeker? Would you tease your brother for secretly spending hours editing Wikipedia articles, if he knew you spent as much time writing soap opera fanfic?

It's hard to know if we'd be a more or less accepting society if everything was out there. I'd like to believe we'd be more accepting. We'd find more things in common. We'd ask more questions about each other's passions and learn more about each other and the world. Secret collections of Barbie dolls, NBA cards, Warhammer figurines, and arrowheads would see the light of day to be marveled at by seemingly unlikely admirers. We'd learn which friend to go to when buying new cabinets (the one who is obsessed with home remodeling shows), which friend to ask for fashion advice (the one who likes to cut out clothes from magazines and rank their features), and which friend to recommend the best ukulele to buy (the friend who has three).

And what about the more serious things? Would there be fewer affairs, if they were impossible to be secrets? Would more people get help for self-harming, addictions, eating disorders, psychological problems, if their habits were well-known? Or would they be more resistant to help, being able to throw back in the face of their parents, friends, counselors their own bad habits? Would we become overwhelmed by how many problems so many people have?

What about our judgments? What if everything we ever said or wrote about another person was all but guaranteed to make it back to them? Would we be kinder, less willing to voice our negative opinions, or would it breed a middle-school-ish passive-aggressiveness of saying things in hopes that they make their way to the target, without having to say them to their face?

I don't know the answers. I just know that we're moving toward a more open Internet, in a patchwork sort of way. The possibility has always existed that anything you put on the Internet could eventually be seen by anyone else, but this will become more salient to people as they choose what to post, how carefully to craft their online image. And I know that on Tuesday, my "secret" hobby is going to be out there for everyone to react to in one way or another. I'm OK with that because it's who I am. The more I think about it, the more I'd like people to judge me as a person in my entirety, not based on some image I craft.

What about you?
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