Archive for June, 2007

Room for Improvement

Monday, June 25th, 2007

As the school year progresses, I watch the kids’ rooms get more and more overgrown with piles of homework papers, art projects, mementos, and empty Altoid tins”¦so that by June, I practically have to swing a machete to clear a path to the bed. I do pretty well tolerating the chaos until about Memorial Day ““ the bright spot is that since there isn’t any exposed floor space it really cuts down on the vacuuming time ““ but by the last week of school, every time I walk past each of their rooms I find myself uttering a little chant of “I can’t wait until school is out.” Then I walk past the next room, “I can’t wait until school is out.” And so on down the hall.

That’s because once school is out and I’ve given the kids a week-long grace period to decompress from the school year”¦ just to prove that I’m not totally a compulsive organizer”¦we launch into the annual room purge.

Usually it’s me dragging the kids into the process, but this year, Jennifer was as motivated as I was because she knew that once we had clear-cut the room of all the extraneous paper and plastic, she could experiment with rearranging the furniture and pick out a new comforter that didn’t have cartoon characters on it.

Her inspiration for changing the look of her room came from studying a Pottery Barn Teen catalog. I love that Target knocks off the Pottery Barn designs and sells comforters and lamps that look pretty close to the stuff in the PB catalogue for about a third of the price. Every time I walk into Target and see the same styles and colors that I just saw in the Pottery Barn catalogue, I can’t help but wonder if they’re conducting lie detector tests at PB headquarters to uncover who the Target spy is”¦

But back to Jennifer’s room”¦armed with a stack of Trader Joe bags so we can sort the “immediately into the trash” pile from the “give-away” pile from the “pack-up but keep” pile, we start at the doorway and work our way across every surface, drawer, and shelf. On the desk, I can’t help but ask, “Why are you keeping this empty soda bottle? Her reply, “I liked the label.” “I understand, but we can go to Petaluma Market and get you another one.” Into the trash it goes.

The roles are reversed when I come upon a little stuffed doll that we gave her for Christmas one year and Jennifer immediately tells me I can toss it. I remembered the anxiety I had over making sure we had gotten just the right outfit for it and would it arrive from Amazon in time. “Are you sure you don’t want to keep the Angelina doll?” “Mom, you’re the one who wants me to clean out stuff I don’t use anymore.” “You’re right, but I think she’s got a little more life in her, let’s add her to the “˜give-away’ pile.”

We must have thrown away a grocery sack full of the remains of goodie bags from birthday parties: glow-in-the dark sticks, jacks, leis, bouncy balls, markers, and on and on. Since Jennifer’s birthday is only a couple of weeks away, I mention to Jennifer that we should skip the goodie bags and just give everybody a five dollar bill. Think of all the moms I’ll be helping out by not adding to the junk in their daughter’s room.

It takes us almost the entire day, six trips to the trash can, a couple of Swiffers and a new vacuum bag, but when Jennifer surveys the results, her response it that, “I love it! It looks so clean!” At the grocery store that evening, I reward our hard work by buying a tin of Jelly Bellies. As we’re sharing our treat in the car on the way home, Jennifer comments, “I really like this container. I’m going to save it.”Â 

Creative Muscle Bound

Sunday, June 17th, 2007

Even though the past week has been a full one dealing with the transition into summer for me, the kids, and our home-based business, I was struggling with what to write about. I couldn’t seem to get enough distance from any of the major topics in the household to write about them with any objectivity. And as Steve reminded me, my blog is the Disparate Housewife, not the Neurotic Housewife.

But when I started the blog six months ago, I made a commitment to myself to post one every week for a year. Sure, I harbored hopes of being discovered as the Erma Bombeck of my generation, but I also saw it as an opportunity to develop a side of me ““ my creative side ““ that I really hadn’t paid much attention to. And given the painstakingly slow way I write, and if I could do it for a year, that would be a victory in itself.

But this week, I felt like someone who has faithfully been following an exercise program but gets to a point where they plateau and it doesn’t seem like they’re making any progress. In spite of the creative muscles I’ve developed by writing 28 blogs, I just didn’t think I had another rep”¦or in my case, blog in me.

I put off sitting down at the computer as long as I could”¦I did several loads of wash, I vacuumed, I helped my daughter pack for an upcoming trip. I considered going to the gym; physical challenges are easy for me, creative challenges”¦not so much.

Feeling pretty discouraged, I finally asked Steve, “It would be alright wouldn’t it, if I skipped writing my blog this week?”Â 

Steve answered, “You know that Edison quote about genius being 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration? It doesn’t need to be the best thing you’ve ever written, but the important thing is that you write it.”

That’s not what I wanted to hear. What I wanted him to say was, “Sure, it’s been kind of a rough week for you, why don’t you skip writing the blog.” I was really looking for permission to cave in to my feelings of defeat.

That might have felt good for that afternoon. But if I truly want to develop my creativity it’s going to mean sticking with it and writing even when I don’t feel like it. It’s at times like this that I’m so grateful to have a partner like Steve; he knows the value of perseverance.

So I’ve got one more blog under my belt. Good, bad, or so-so, I did it. So what if the keyboard is a little sweaty?


The Summer of My Discontent

Sunday, June 10th, 2007

Yesterday, my ten year old daughter, Jennifer, asked me a question that surprised me”¦and no, it wasn’t about sex. School had just let out the day before, and what she wanted to know was if we could go to a movie on Monday.

“Doesn’t she realize that although I don’t leave the house to go to an office that I am a working mom nonetheless? I have a job to do! How did she get the impression that I can just take off and go to a movie on a workday?”

I really didn’t need to get defensive at her question. Her perspective just reflects my accessibility, which is one of the best benefits of working at home. Because our office is in what used to be our dining room, there’s never a time when I’m unavailable to any of the kids. That is unless I tell Jennifer to quit reporting on Nigel the cat’s antics and leave me alone for a half hour so I can finish my blog”¦

Back to Jennifer’s question: the truth is that because we have our own business, I could actually take her to a movie on any day. But I never would during the workweek. It’s taken a couple of years to get in this frame of mind, but now I feel a great deal of responsibility to our business. I know the only way it’s going to grow is if I’m a fully committed partner in it.

Which brings me to the challenge that summer holds: how to balance work, family, and the household? It’s not a problem when the school is in session because I have a chunk of time to devote to the business. But during the summer, I begin to feel guilty if Jennifer has spent a beautifully sunny day perfecting her fine motor skills on her Nintendo DS or asking the rhetorical question, “˜What DVD should I put in now?”

And the kids have their own agendas for the summer, most of which require my involvement like moving furniture in their rooms or chauffering them and their friends to the swimming pool.

Plus, my personal goal for the summer is to rid the garage of client files from defunct companies and deflated footballs and go on a Swiffer binge”¦the cats are starting to sneeze from the cobwebs in their whiskers.

Maybe I can get creative and kill a couple of birds with one stone ““ so to speak. Instead of sending them off to expensive camps why not devise my own?

I’m thinking of “CSI Petaluma.” While I’m working, my kids get to spend two weeks dusting all the blinds in the house for fingerprints. Or maybe “Kitchen Archeology. In this hands-on workshop, they’ll dig through cupboards for fossilized Macaroni and Cheese.” And last but not least, I’ll sign them up for “Exploring Entomology. The Web comes to life as young scientists encounter the amazing world living beneath the workbench in the garage. Material fee includes broom, dustpan, and rubber gloves.”

Does This Car Make Me Look Fat?

Sunday, June 3rd, 2007

Last week, I wrote about how I was puzzled that there are hardly any women who have made a career selling used cars. I thought that once I had gotten that off my chest I could move onto the next issue I wanted to vent about. But during the week, this particular bee was still buzzing in my bonnet, until it really struck me as to why I think women would be such good used car salespeople.

Here’s the reason: nowadays everyone assumes that the car they buy is going to run dependably so the decision about which car to purchase isn’t based on mechanics, but on style”¦whether it will fit their lifestyle and image of themselves. Cars are really just the biggest accessory of our appearance. We “wear” a car as much as we drive it.

Shopping for cars is much more akin to shopping for clothes than machinery. There shouldn’t be used car salesman; there should be used car “stylists.” If dealerships saw it this way, I believe it would change the car buying experience for the better.

Why couldn’t walking onto a used car lot be more like walking into Nordstrom’s? That store personifies service. Sure, I know that the salesperson is going to make a commission on whatever I buy, so it’s in her best interest to sell me something, but there is also the sense that she wants to see me wear something that fits, flatters, and is comfortable. And a really good salesperson brings out lots of good options. Then it’s just a matter of trying stuff on until I find the perfect outfit.

I would love shopping for a car in the same way, where the salesperson, preferably a woman, understands what would suit me, instead of feeling like one of the vampires hanging by the front door will sell me anything with wheels.

When it came time to replace my 10 year old minivan, what I really wanted was a car makeover, a concept a woman understands. I always pictured the way the Caravan looked from the rear and all those rounded lines made me feel very wide. I wanted something that was slimmed down. I test drove at least five different cars before I found one that I literally said, “This fits me. It’s comfortable; I have room to move in it, it matches my image of myself. And I like the way I look in this car.”

Maybe there’s a reality show in the future; instead of “What Not to Wear,” it’s “What Not to Drive.” For instance on one of the episodes, stylists Stacy and Clinton visit a mom who no longer has young kids but is stuck in the past driving a frumpy minivan with juice stains and Goldfish crumbs ground into the upholstery. Because the show is sponsored by Toyota, she gets a check for $30,000 to trade in her old car and guidelines and help her shop for a Toyota that is more suited to her current lifestyle.

She’s interested in a Toyota FJ until Stacy and Clinton show up and point out that is really isn’t a good fit because she still has kids to chauffer around, and the suicide doors are impractical for her needs. There are scenes of Stacy and Clinton riding in the various cars that she test drives, “This Rav4 could work, but I think maybe we should go up a size.” In the end, the mom finds a Highlander that fits her perfectly. She has a new outlook on life and vows never to go back to her old ways.