Archive for February, 2007

Trash Talk

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

Sometimes in life there are small situations that have bigger moral implications.

I stumbled across one of those times when I was walking our dog as the sun was coming up on Saturday morning. I almost put my foot into the remains of a Cheesy Gordita Crunch Supreme as I crossed the street a couple of blocks from our house. Given the assorted burrito and nacho wrappers and dozen packets of Fire Sauce also lying in the street, I didn’t have to be much of a detective to pretty sure that it was a bunch of kids making a middle of the night Taco Bell run.

“People can be such jerks and when it comes to littering, youth is no excuse!” I said to myself as I grumbled my way through the debris to the other side of the street. “There’s nothing that looks worse on a normally tidy suburban street than spilled trash. Grrrr”¦lazy kids.” I gave Xena a strong yank on her leash and picked up the pace. Nothing like some self-righteous anger to really get my heart rate up.

As we strided up the hill, I starting running”¦well, actually it was more of a fast walk”¦through the list of potential trash collectors and how soon it might get picked up. After all, trash after it’s been run over by a few dozen cars looks even worse.

Well, first of all, there are the people who live in the houses closest to it. Their trash can is handy; they should easily be able to pick it. And I wonder how often the street sweeper comes? Or perhaps someone on their way to work will stop.

I continued on for the next few blocks wrestling with who’s responsibility it was to pick up the trash. But about halfway through our walk, I came to the conclusion that it was as much my responsibility to pick it up as anyone else’s ““ maybe even more so. After all, I live in this neighborhood and drive past this particular corner at least four times a day, taking the kids to and from school. The street sweeper? He’s just passing through. And the homeowner? He’s just the unlucky guy who happens to get an unpleasant surprise when he goes out to get his newspaper that morning.

And I also remembered Steve telling me that neighborhoods where people immediately clean up litter and graffiti prevents them from becoming targets for more serious types of illegal activity. My single act could be saving West Petaluma from urban blight!

So all the clichés of good karma, random acts of kindness, pay it forward, and good deed for the day kept rolling through my head as we headed back to the scene of the crime. Not surprisingly, the trash was still there. Xena happily licked out a nacho cheese container while I gingerly gathered up cups and wrappers, thankful that the perpetrators had tossed out the bag too so I had something to put it all in.

We walked back to the elementary school where I knew there are trash cans so I could throw it all away. And since I’m out there for the exercise, adding a little extra mileage to my walk just made it that much better. Along the way, I picked up a Skittles wrapper and a flattened Capri Sun drink, but I admit it, I just couldn’t bring myself to scoop other people’s dog poop. I tossed the bag in the trash can and headed home.

Now when we walk past that corner, it will forever in my mind be the place where I did something that really made me feel good.

I arrived home flushed with the glow that when I get to Heaven, I would have no problem accounting for my actions at 7:15 am on Saturday, February 23, 2007.

 

So Happy Together

Sunday, February 18th, 2007

When I tell friends that my husband and I work together from a home office, it’s not unusual for them to comment, “I don’t know how you do it.”

I know they’re not talking about the challenges I might face in doing the “work,” or even the disruption of my domain caused by having a “home office.” No, it’s the “together” part of my statement ““ the concept of spending all-day every-day with your husband ““ that they think would require an almost impossible amount of patience. I think they imagine that it’s like always being with a demanding toddler, except that when it’s your husband, you can’t send him for a time-out when you don’t like the way he behaves.

On the other side of the coin, I’m sure there are equally as many times that Steve tells someone that he and his wife are business partners and he gets the same “I don’t know how you do it” response. I think they imagine that it’s like always being with a premenstrual teenage girl, except that when it’s your wife, you can’t send her to her room for a good cry.

Although there are certainly days when Steve can be somewhat urgent in his demands (“Is it ok if I wait to send the Fed Ex package until after I’m out of the shower?”) and my pre-menopausal moodiness makes me more than a little snappy (“The damn package will go out today”¦honey.”) all in all, we are both grateful to be working with each other.

No one is more surprised than I am, that I can spend every waking and sleeping hour with anyone, no matter who it is, and not break out in a rash. In college, I’d start getting pretty prickly after about a day with my best friend. But for most of every day, I am less than two feet apart from Steve. And not only do I manage to tolerate it, I truly enjoy it.

Even though there is the occasional chafing. “Do you have to sneeze so loudly?” I know that we are able to overlook those inevitable irritations because we have pledged to love and honor one another.

So, my statement for most people who spend eight hours a say with somebody who just happens to be in the same profession as them is: “I don’t know how you do it.”

 

Say Goodbye to June and Ward

Sunday, February 11th, 2007

Maybe it was a result of watching too many “Leave It to Beaver” reruns after school, but as a young girl I wanted my married life to look a lot like June and Ward Cleaver, minus June’s pearls and Ward’s pipe. The clearly defined roles of the parents made their lives looked so neat and ordered.

In that world, Dad leaves at 8:00 am to do some kind of important work in a mysterious place called “The Office” and returns at 5:30 with his white shirt as crisp as when he left. For all we knew, during the day Ward could have been selling secrets to the Soviets, but when he arrived home, he had left the problems of the Cold War back at the office and was ready for roast beef and mashed potatoes and a rousing game of checkers with the Beav ““ at least I guess that’s what people did at night before there was Taco Bell and DVDs.

And while Ward was at work, June was at home ““ queen of her domain. I’m sure she kept busy with PTA meetings, mending Wally’s favorite flannel shirt, and baking cookies to have waiting for the boys after school. And if June ate as much cookie dough as she baked, no one was the wiser.

For many years, our married life certainly had some of the same characteristics. Even though Steve worked for himself, for 20 years he drove off in the morning to an office and returned home ““ sometimes 12 hours later particularly if it was a Friday and he was driving north out of San Francisco. He worked hard to bring home paychecks and to leave the stress of the business in the city. And while he was gone, the house and the kids were mine with only the cats and dog to answer to.

Then about 3½ years ago, after much discussion with me, Steve reinvented his business. For the first time, I was a going to be a partner in it (not bad, considering my resume has some big gaps in it, but then again, I did sleep with the owner). And instead of finding office space somewhere, we were going to set up shop in what was formerly our formal dining room.

That’s when my life got less rigid”¦and a lot better.

Now that we work for ourselves out of our home, the distinct separation between what Steve does and what I do is more flexible. It’s not just Dad goes to work and Mom stays home. Now, what we’re able to build in our business ““ and in our family ““ is a shared effort.

Of course, in the business context, Steve’s the one with 30 years of experience and the gift for marketing, so the lion’s share of the responsibility falls to him. But now, I can take on some the burden. He tells me that even something as simple as me answering the phone really helps. It gives him a little bit of a buffer and a few seconds to collect his thoughts before he takes a call from a cranky client.

And no one is more surprised than me, that I am evolving into the “biz dev” part of the team. Even though I still have to gird my loins before I start making cold calls, when I succeed in getting us an appointment with a potential client that then turns into real business that puts a few more dollars into the checking account so I can write us a check at the end of the month, I definitely feel the rewards of ownership.

And on the household front, when Steve offers to pick up one of the kids, I’m starting to gladly accept his help and relinquish a bit of my control. I realize I don’t have to carry the full load of mom chores and contribute to the business. And when I’m more flexible about who does what, everyone is happier. I’m not drained from 16 chauffeuring trips and Steve’s gotten a much needed break from the computer.

However, there are times when it just doesn’t make sense for us to trade tasks. For instance, Steve has offered to scrub toilets on a Saturday morning. While I appreciate it and I’m sure he’d do a great job, his skills are put to better use writing a marketing proposal than squirting Lysol on porcelain. And besides, cleaning bathrooms is where my skill set really shines.

Unlike the Cleaver’s, our kids experience firsthand the kind of work that Dad and Mom do during the day. They hear Steve fielding a difficult phone call from a client about the cost of their website and hear me struggling through my telemarketing list. There’s not much that insulates them from the realities of running a business. They see the rough days, like when a client’s business cards and letterhead are delivered from the printing company and the colors are drastically different that what they approved (“Mom, why is Dad hyperventilating?”) or when the cash flow is down to a trickle (“Dad, why is Mom weeping at the QuickBooks screen?”).

But they know that it buys them iPods and gymnastics classes.

June and Ward lived a stiff but very tidy life. Our’s is messier but undeniably real. Steve and I often wonder how living with the ups and downs of running our own business will affect our kids’ future careers. Will they vow to only work for big companies that promise regular paychecks and two weeks paid vacation or will they follow in our footsteps and create their own way to make a living?
 

Leader of the Pack

Sunday, February 4th, 2007

I don’t think it’s true that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. For as long has we have had her, our eight year old German shepherd, Xena, has jumped at the sliding glass door when she wanted to be let in or out. But in a matter of a few days, she has learned to sit and wait before we give her the signal to move. No more gritty paw prints on the glass? That does the trick for me.

Xena’s new and improved behavior is a result of watching the “Dog Whisperer.” On the show, Cesar Millan helps dog owners understand their role as pack leader with his mantra of “rules, boundaries, limitations.” The part of the show that amazes me the most is that once he shows the owner how to project an attitude of confidence, the dogs instinctively follow.

I learned by watching Cesar that when I was unhappy with the way Xena behaved, I had the power to change it. All in all, there really weren’t a lot of bad habits that we needed to undo ““ we hoped the incident with the UPS guy was just an aberration. But she was always jumping at the door to be let in and pushing ahead of me to go out. I had gotten lax in asserting myself as leader of the pack. Something Steve reminds me I need to do with the kids too.

So after absorbing a few episodes of “Dog Whisperer”, I decided it was time to put Cesar’s approach into action in our house. The next morning, I reminded myself that she’s a dog and I’m not and I don’t have to put up with the same “like, whatever” attitude with Xena that I get from my teenage daughter. I thought to myself, “Xena, before I let you out of your crate, I want you to know, there’s a new sheriff in town, and I don’t got to show you no stinkin’ badges!”

Then instead of letting her launch out of her crate, I squared my shoulders, channeled Marshal Dillon and told her to sit and wait. I had to repeat myself to her a few times but eventually she did it. Then I calmly opened the door, waited a second until she became calm and submissive and then signaled that she could come out. She slinked out. It was obvious she knew that I was in charge because instead of her huge, pointy ears being straight up, she had them pinned so tight to her head that she looked bald. Once again, Cesar was right.

The best part about reclaiming my role as her master (or is it mistress?), is that it I enjoy Xena more. When I take her for a walk, I really feel proud to have her walking right by my side instead of being annoyed because she’s pulling on the leash. Like any relationship, good things happen when you put energy into it.

And when a new situation with Xena arises, like last week when she started barking to be let out at 5:30 in the morning, we continue to use Cesar as our guide for how to respond. In fact, I’m thinking of having bracelets made with “WWCD?” imprinted on them.