Archive for March, 2007

My Calling

Sunday, March 25th, 2007

There have been times when I have envied people who work for large corporations. They can count on getting a regular paycheck ““ that is until the CEO acts irresponsibly causing the company to fail. Then I think of all the hard working, dedicated employees who are left without a job and I don’t feel so envious. Even if they knew the ship was sinking, there is nothing they could do about it. They had absolutely no control over their future.

But I am in a very different situation”¦and thankful for it. In our business, what I do today directly affects the success of our business tomorrow.

It’s taken me a while to appreciate this. For the first three and half years since we started our business, I sporadically made new business calls, but I dreaded doing it. I saw it as a distasteful event and that once I made it through the new prospect list I wouldn’t have to do it again (“thank goodness that’s over”) until Steve carved out the time to design another promotional mailing which probably wouldn’t happen for another six months.

Mostly, I spent a lot of my time staring at QuickBooks on the computer. Particularly if we had a slow month and I was stressed out about paying the bills, I would get so focused on the numbers that I would almost be paralyzed in front of the screen. I’d open the “Company” file in QuickBooks, then I’d open the “Household” file, then I’d go back to the “Company” file hoping the numbers would be different. I’d repeat this five or six more times until I could barely remember what business we were in. Of course, obsessing didn’t add one more dollar to the balance in the either checking account.

Then something changed. I don’t really know what to attribute it to, maybe it’s a combination of turning 50, divine intervention, and some guidance from Steve, but my attitude about calling is different. I realized that calling is positive action that I can do that counteracts my stress about our finances. I have accepted that getting new business is my job and it’s going to be an ongoing effort. And like anything else, whether it’s lifting weights at the gym or picking up the phone to make calls, the more I do it, the easier it gets.

Plus, there’s nothing like success to serve as motivation. It’s taken about three months since I started our latest concentrated telemarketing effort, but it is literally paying off. We’re getting meetings with potential clients, responding with proposals, and seeing some of those turn into business. And now that I’m on a roll, “It’s get out of my way, I’ve got calls to make!”

It’s also nice not to be starting from scratch. There are people on the list who didn’t have need for our services the first time I called, but they were receptive, and said to check back with them. It really makes the job a lot easier to know that unless the person I’m calling is really having a bad day, I won’t get a “go away and die” response.

I wish I could say that I’m completely broken of the habit of switching back and forth between QuickBooks screens in the hope that the red ink heals and turns black. But I now know that’s not what makes me valuable to our business. Steve tells me I have found a calling”¦in calling.

Buns of Steel

Sunday, March 18th, 2007

For several years, my daughter, Valerie, has competed in rhythmic gymnastics. Most people have seen an “artistic” gymnastics competition on TV where several gymnasts are performing on different apparatus (such as balance beam, floor, and vault) all at once. This keeps the event moving at an even pace.

However, rhythmic gymnastics meets run differently…and a lot slower. Each competitor, sometimes as many as 30, performs one-at-a-time in four different events. In addition to the actual competition, there is at least an hour and a half warm-up period, plus time for the judges to calculate the scores and present awards for several levels and ages of competitors. The end result is that a rhythmic gymnastics meet is a marathon of gluteal stamina for devoted parents like me.

A day at a rhythmic gymnastics meet always leaves me feeling like I’ve been in a time warp; when it’s over and I call Steve on the drive home, I feel the need to ask, “Who’s president now?”

Part of the disorienting nature of the meets is because they are typically held in high school gymnasiums. I find my mind wandering as I take in the banners that decorate the gym, such as “Cougars: 1988 NorCal Badminton Champions.” But it’s the seating arrangement that has the greatest impact on me. I find that after about an hour, my bottom goes numb, then I lose feeling in my legs, and by the end of the meet, I truly have buns of steel because my butt has fused to the metal bleachers.

I’m sure someone is missing out on a great money making enterprise at these events.
Instead of selling t-shirts, what would really bring in the cash is a posterior version of the Footsie Wootsie”¦maybe a Buttsie Wuttsie. 

However, as a defensive measure I have taken up knitting. Not only does it pass the time and keep my mind off all the chores that I should be doing at home, I have come to discover that even a half-completed sweater makes a great seat cushion.

Spelling Queen Bee

Tuesday, March 13th, 2007

It was a long road to the city-wide Spelling Bee for my fifth grade daughter, Jennifer. And like any competitive event, in the wide world of spelling, there are a lot of factors that determine whether the competitors experience the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat: training, performance under pressure, toughness of the competitors…and a lot of luck.

The entire process began just after the New Year, when Jennifer brought home the same list of six hundred words that was given to every fourth through sixth grade student in the County. In order to move on to the city spelling bee, she would have to first win the spelling bee at her school. She had about six weeks to study the list.

Helping her get ready for the spelling bee was going to take some balance on my part. I wanted her to feel confident. “There’s nothing like knowing you’re well prepared to make you feel less nervous,” I told her in my “mother knows best” tone. But I also had to resist my tendency to get overly zealous about the task at hand. “Ve vill drill until you know these vords forvards und backvards, ja!”

As I started quizzing her, I was surprised by some of the words that were on the list. When does an elementary age student need to know how to spell words like “sacerdotal,” “sauterne,” and “struthious?” And if Jennifer is writing a report about chickens and their “rasorial” method for finding food, she’ll use spell check like everybody else. This made me start to wonder, if spelling bees celebrate a skill that technology has made obsolete, why don’t they have Long Division Bees?

Then I realized that the point of a spelling bee isn’t to learn how to spell archaic words ““ as evidenced by the fact that “struthious” and “rasorial” are not in the spell check dictionary. It’s really a character building exercise. The important part for Jennifer wouldn’t be memorizing how to spell discipline; it’s learning the principle of discipline. She would need to practice a little every day, handle the stress of the competition, and then gracefully accept winning or losing.

By the time the school spelling bee arrived, she had made it through every word on the list once, and if she didn’t get “narcissistic” as her first word, I was pretty sure she would do fine. She surprised herself by spelling “rejuvenate” correctly and then she made it through three more rounds before getting “bougainvillea.” Thankfully, by that time there were only two spellers left, which meant that that both got to advance to the city competition.

The good news for Jennifer was that she had accomplished something that neither of her older siblings could lay claim to, but the bad news was that she (and I) would have to keep studying the list for three more weeks. The next day, I bought a big bag of Jelly Bellys to use as motivation during the nightly ritual of spelling and respelling. Jennifer would have been fine without any treats, but I knew I was going to need the “spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down” technique if I was going to make it through the same 600 words again.

On the day of the city-wide spelling bee, Jennifer had two wishes: first, that she not get eliminated during the first round, and second, that she would have to spell “bougainvillea.” She had vowed that this word wouldn’t take her down a second time.

When we arrived at the spelling bee, the room was buzzing with the energy 52 over-achieving spelling competitors and their parents. Jennifer immediately spotted five trophies on the table. Never mind making it through one round, she now has her heart set on being in the money.

Whether it’s soccer or spelling, there are always some parents who take the whole thing much too seriously. I overhear one mom giving her daughter a last minute quiz, and when she misspells the word, the Mom comments huffily, “Well, we’ll be out of here early!”

The room quiets down as the judge reads the rules. “Words will not be limited to those on the list, but any word the judge deems appropriate.” I know that most the kids in the room can spell all the words on the list in their sleep, but since they can be asked to spell any word in Websters, all bets are off.

The order of the spellers has been randomly assigned. Jennifer was lucky and got number 38 which means that in theory, the 37 kids before her could miss their words, and be eliminated before they even get to her. She makes it through four rounds, correctly spelling “plunder,” “punish,” “liverwurst,” and “reiterate.” However, on round five, the kids ahead of her are dropping like flies with difficult words that were not on the list, such as “corollary,” “synchronize,” and “plethora.” Now only Jennifer and five other kids are left. If she makes it through this round, she knows one of the trophies is her’s.

“Jennifer, your word is “˜succumb.'” Oh, man, I don’t think she has ever even seen that word in print. I’d be squirming in my plastic chair if I wasn’t sweating so much that I was sticking to it. She starts spelling: “s-y-c-o-m-e.” “Good try, but I’m sorry that’s incorrect.”

She makes her way back to where I am sitting, tears welling up in her eyes. We make a dash for the closest exit and the car so she can express her disappointment in private. “Mom, I was one away from winning.” Right now, all the “You did great!” comments in the world won’t make her feel any better. “Let’s go home”¦it’s been a long day.”

After a bath and something to eat, we talk about how she really did her school proud. Yes, if one more speller before her had missed their word, she would have come home with a trophy. But on the other hand, she also could have gotten “carafe” during the first round and not have made it this far.

That night as Jennifer and I say our prayers, I thank God for her perseverance”¦p-e-r-s-e-v-e-r-a-n-c-e. At least I can get her laughing now. “Mom, save it “˜til next year,” she says.

No Longer a Gourmet

Sunday, March 4th, 2007

The latest issue of Gourmet magazine has sat untouched on our kitchen table for the past two weeks. Even though I have been a Gourmet subscriber for more than 20 years, in recent months, I have realized that I really don’t look forward to reading it.

It’s not just because I have no interest in most of the recipes ““ I really don’t see myself whipping up Merlot-braised Lamb Shanks with Saffron and Rose Water for us and the kids. I drop it like a hot potato because the photographs and writing are so smug that I do a slow burn every time I start reading it.

This certainly wasn’t always the case. I used to savor every issue of Gourmet ““ delaying opening its plastic wrapper until I knew I could have a few minutes of uninterrupted time to scan the articles and read the editorial page. Then once I got into it, I loved discovering little tidbits that I had previously overlooked in the nooks and crannies of each issue. I would even highlight recipes in the index that I thought I might make. I rarely got around to it, but just thinking about it was diverting.

So is the reason I no longer enjoy reading it because the magazine has changed or I have changed? I think it’s both.

I began subscribing to Gourmet shortly after I got married. Back then I imagined I would regularly host dinner parties and serve meals that would elicit ooohs and awwws from the stylish guests who attended ““ much like the images in the magazine today. I was so invested in this fantasy that I registered two china and silver patterns (expensive every day stuff and outrageously expensive good stuff) only at Gump’s in San Francisco.

Fast forward through a couple of decades”¦I have long since turned over the few pieces of “good” china I received as wedding presents to a consignment store, and the only times we “entertain” are at Thanksgiving and Christmas which are much more like a down-home church potluck than an extravagantly staged dinner party.

It would seem that I could still enjoy the magazine as an art form much like a fashion magazine. No one ever imagines that they’re going to dress like the models in Vogue, but it’s still fun to look at.

However, changes in the magazine make it difficult to just appreciate the food. Flipping through an issue from 1992 (I have saved it because it has the biscotti recipe that I make every year for Christmas gifts), it strikes me that the magazine used to be more about food than lifestyle. Back then, there were never people pictured around the lavish table settings; the food was photographed in isolation from anyone consuming it.

But now, models have been added to the table scenes and their expressions, clothing, and “I’m so cool” attitude dominate the photos. However, it’s the declarative statements that accompany the pictures that really get my goat”¦cheese. Admonitions like, “For extra drama, take turns beating the egg whites by hand. At most dinner parties, guests miss the spectacle of a soufflé fresh from the oven.” They are so right, not only have my guests missed the soufflé fresh from the oven spectacle, they have missed the souffl锦 and the entire dinner party.

Or how about this description: “A lobster gelee shimmers, and the room becomes electric with the energy of a most festive feast.” You know, even without the lobster gelee, I find that a family of five with three cats and a large dog makes a room electric with energy.

Obviously, the editors at Gourmet are not talking to me. I must be the anomaly in their household income demographics because I’m not in the market for a Porsche, Mont Blanc watch (especially if Nicholas Cage is modeling it), or trinket from Tiffany’s. However, I guess the need for cat litter cuts across all economic lines ““ judging by the Scoop Away ad, even rich people have to deal with cat poop. Finally, something I could relate to.

So will Gourmet miss me when I don’t renew my subscription? I’m sure they won’t ““ they have much bigger poisson to fris.