I Always Feel Like... Somebody's Watching Me!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

They're called Personal Problems for a reason

What do you think is good policy for discussing personal problems at work? Do you wait a few weeks before you start revealing info about your family? Is it considered unprofessional to show pictures of your kids to people the first time you meet? Is it ever okay to share it with actual customers?

I might be more reserved than most with sharing personal problems - it's not that I want to be secretive, it's more that I'm worried that other people just might not care. It takes me awhile to really open up with people, especially co-workers, because I hate to mix drama with my work life. Okay, I hate to mix drama with anything. But especially in the place I make my money. But recently, I have met so many people that are totally willing to divulge their worst moments and scary family secrets with not only me, but my (and their) bosses.

I'm not talking about, "Gee, this economy is really tough and I'm just looking to make extra money to catch up on bills." That's honest - that's a good motivator to come to work. I'm talking about, "I need this job because I'm in the middle of a raging custody battle and my first kid is a result of roofies."

That's weird, right?

I once interviewed a woman at an upscale hotel to work in the room service department. She was friendly and cute and I was about to offer her the job. Then she blew it by asking if we checked her credit for employment. (We didn't). She then started ranting about, "My damn ex-husband. He maxed out all of my credit cards and that bastard ruined my credit!" This went on for 10 minutes. First of all, I didn't even mention a credit check. Second, keep it to yourself! Tell a friend, not your interviewer!

Is this just the restaurant industry? Or does anyone have to share an office with a person who talks loudly during personal calls so everyone can hear (and subsequently ask about) all of their problems? I've had co-workers cry to tables about their debts, as if that would increase the tip. I've known other co-workers to tell elaborate sexual stories about cheating on their spouses. It's so uncomfortable for everyone.

Yes, people do these things. And no one has a perfect life. I'm not saying we should work side-by-side and act like robots. I like to vent every now and then about how tired I am or a little family drama. I've cried at work over frustration (with the job itself and life in general) and cried with other people over their own. But could we just ease into it a little? Wait until you know that I'm actually interested. Wait until you can trust me with the story of a miscarriage or divorce. I'll listen and I'll probably be a better friend to you.

The sad thing is, where the hell does this kind of behavior start? Do they not have anyone else to share it with? Or are they just looking for attention and sympathy? I know several people who so strongly identify with their problems - it's ALL they can talk about. They'll tell anyone within 5 minutes the time line of the last decade. "First, this happened to me and then this tragedy struck.. and voila! That's why I'm a disaster!" But I think even those people know to keep their mouths shut when starting a new job. Do your problems make you look competent and motivated?

Am I being mean? I don't judge anyone for their actual problems. God knows I wouldn't like to be judged by my own family's mistakes. But it's the way they're dealing with it - blabbing about it all day long at work. Restaurant not does equal therapist office. If anyone out there agrees with me, what's the worst thing you've ever heard from a coworker?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Another season in the garden

It seems that last weekend was probably my final opportunity to finish up all of my planting projects for the year. As soon as spring allows, I start mentally preparing the vegetable, fruit and herb layout of our small garden. And as I get the okay from Gregory to tear up yet another portion of our yard, I am outside pulling out grass and salivating over new broccoli seedlings or tulip bulbs. I treat these plants like children - and while they are rooting, I stand defensively guarding them from my real children as they play. I love being outside in the dirt, digging and seeing the instant gratification when every morning, all my little green friends have grown - even if it's just one new leaf. So I'm sad as the cold finally sets in, that I'll have to wait until spring to plant, and then pick, fresh foods from my backyard.

We've lived in this house for three summers now. Our home improvements are well-timed with the seasons. In winter, we focus on painting or building shelves or moving our couches yet again to find the best arrangement. During the warmer parts of the year (and I can't say spring or summer because Pittsburgh is so ridiculously unpredictable), we abandon the inside and focus on the ongoing outdoor beautification project.

The first summer was my first experience with my own garden - I totally overcrowded the space, had vegetables nearly strangling each other for sunshine, but I felt so damn proud the first time I spotted a zucchini! I also transplanted some hostas and my favorite lily-of-the-valley from my mother's house.
We also planted a tree for Ayla - shortly after her first birthday. I was relieved in spring when it bloomed and we knew it had survived the winter!
A mystery garden helper, who could it be?

The second year I got a little bit smarter and sprouted seeds indoors before planting outside. However, I certainly over-planted again. No one needs more than one or two zucchini plants. I obsessed over painting the lower brick (see above picture for it's previous ugliness) wall a more appealing blue. I hovered over the garden 8 months pregnant- trying to get everything planted before Jackson was born. I did a pretty good job, especially since the little boy waited until the day before his due date to arrive. His frequent newborn naps were also helpful in giving me time to weed and harvest!

I would post pictures of the garden with Ayla - but she's butt-naked in all of them!

And this past year, I finally started to benefit from the perennial growth of rosemary, chives, parsley, tomatoes, strawberries, clematis, etc. We added a hydrangea in the front yard and many, many bulbs that we'll hopefully see next year. (Thanks to Gregory for tackling that project with both children running around). I learned to put birdwire over the strawberries - and we finally got to eat some of them. Every time I had found a berry last year, I would turn it over to find it half-eaten.

I planted new herbs in the garden (duh, plant them in the ground so they grow back instead of in pots every year!) - it took me three years to figure that one out. Erin hooked me up with her ridiculous supply of mint from her yard. And our friend Amy was always dropping off excess plants from her job - thank you!!! We now have a handsome fir ornamenting the corner of the herb garden and many, many pretty plants that I can't remember the names of!

In May, when it looks like I've properly spaced...

And in July, when it's so obvious that I have not...

And finally, I had grand plans to plant another tree in honor of Jackson's first birthday... but that never happened. Gregory set up trellises (is that the plural?) along our neighbor's ugly fence to hide their ugly house, and planted grapevines. We ate just a handful this year, but I've decided that we'll dedicate the vines to Jackson instead of a tree.

Until next year, it's inside gardening projects for me.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Potty Training and the F Bomb

Would you ever place those two completely random events together? Well, Ayla would! Both happened today. We've been trying to get Ayla to use the potty at night instead of diapers. She's been trained during the day for over a year, and it was time to conquer the other half of the day. The first couple of weeks were wet and stinky. We did A LOT of laundry. But she's been gradually improving and I'm hopeful to say we've done it! It has been four nights and counting that she hasn't wet at all.

We bought a light switch extension for the bathroom, which makes it easy for her to independently use the bathroom at night. I highly recommend them for all over the house!

But, with maturity, comes the use of the F bomb! I have no one to blame but myself - there comes a time during the day (usually at 9 pm when I'm trying to clean up) that frustration gets the best of me. I don't know why I haven't learned my lesson yet: the house will not be in order and my kids will definitely not stop finding new ways to get in trouble. Duh. But I can't help hoping and therefore do a little swearing myself when I get overwhelmed. And for everyone judging me for being a bad parent, well, keep it to yourself. There are bigger issues to worry about.

Ayla definitely used it in the right context. We were having a Mom says no, Ayla says yes battle. I wanted her to eat lunch after coming back from the grocery store. She wanted gum. I started to ignore her as I was putting things away in the refrigerator when she said,

"Mom, give me my f*&^ing gum."

I'm laughing as I write this, but I know it really isn't funny. At least outside of our house. It's rude and disrespectful (but so is kicking, and she does that too!). I got down on my knees, looked her in the face and said it wasn't a nice word. I'm guessing that I didn't solve the problem, but I had to address it, right? The harder part will be learning to censor myself better.

So every day is a little step forward: in good and bad ways. Ayla doesn't need diapers anymore AND she thoroughly understands language enough to get her point across about gum! It's the same with Jackson. The more he communicates, the more insight into his grouchy side. He'll greet us with a cute, "Hiiiiiiii!!!!" and wave, but also try to bite and scowl when he doesn't get his way. He's great at getting up and down the stairs; he's also great at slipping and bumping his head.

And this brings me back to balance. Not all new developments are going to be cute and cuddly. But this is a part of their developing selves. They grow and learn, often with mistakes, and that's the most frustrating part as a parent. You want to keep them safe from hurt, but you also don't want the kids who can't handle anything on their own.

If Ayla can stay dry all night - I guess I can accept that she's going to know about the F* bomb.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

1990 Telephone vs. 2009 Telephone

Our bedtime story tonight was The Berenstain Bears and the Slumber Party. I remember reading this book, among the other forty BB classics we owned, when I was young. But reading Stan & Jan Berenstain in 2009 has revealed some really dated technology. This particular book was written in 1990, not too ancient, but on the first page, it reads:

"One of the most interesting things about a telephone is that when it rings you don't know who's calling until you answer it."

Oh yeah? Ayla and Jackson will, in fact, never know that feeling. Caller ID isn't the new, updated technology I experienced in junior high, it's always right there on the cellphone. The most interesting thing about answering the phone is not answering it when someone dreaded calls. (I have to say though, readers, that if I've ever missed your call, don't assume that I ignored it. I'm just really bad at being near my phone and answering it). We don't even have a land line in our house, so my kids are weirded out when they do hear a normal phone ring.

Also, there's a part in the story when Too-Tall Grizzly (Ayla calls him the "idiot man") crashes the party and he brings his "boom box". Awesome.

But my point: it's so crazy to read my childhood books again and realize how much has changed. I am really going to turn into one of those old ladies telling tall tales about when I was young, we didn't even know who was on the phone! Gasp!?!

I have to admit, though, that I'd be pretty freaked out if I didn't have caller ID anymore. I am not exactly a fan of talking on the phone at all. It makes me nervous. I say stupid things, stutter, get flustered - it's completely ridiculous.

And this is why: I had a traumatizing phone experience right around 1990. My father lived in Florida for approximately a year when I was in the elementary school. He would call on the phone every night, and sometimes pretend to be someone else. "Hi! Pizza Roma - I'm waiting outside with your pizza!" Stuff like that. I came to expect that every time a grown man called the house, it was my Dad joking around. And then one night, probably after reading my Berenstain Bear books, the plumber called. He wanted to talk to my mom and I kept insisting, "Dad! I know it's you!" He said, "No, I'm really not..." And the conversation continued in circles until he finally hung up on me. I was mortified and that feeling still sticks with me today.

So thank you, Caller ID, for appeasing my phone anxiety. Forget text messages, picture messages, blue-tooth, whatever- I'm still really pleased with the basics.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Oh yeah, Halloween

How could I be lagging on a Halloween post? In five minutes, it will be 10 days into November - so I better get to it before the next holiday is already past.

In Leetsdale & Sewickley, the night of Trick or Treating has always fallen on the Thursday before the actual 31st. We are NOT free to roam the streets on the weekend. I personally never cared - it means that the holiday can be spread out and celebrated over several events. Halloween parties are always on the weekend regardless, so why not get to trick-or-treating on a weeknight?

This is the first year that Ayla has conceptualized T&T and looked forward to it. Both she and Jackson's first Halloween's were an opportunity for us to parade them around as extra cute babies: as a pumpkin and M&M. Last year, Ayla didn't understand where all of this candy was supposed to go - so a lot of it was handed back to the people that gave it to her. But this year, she was involved in choosing her "character" and talking about candy for the week leading up to the event.

Ayla chose to be Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz after seeing a ready-made costume in Target. Since that option was $30, we splurged for the red sequin shoes and I picked up a blue/white checkered fabric from Jo-Ann Fabrics. White shirt, pigtails, red shoes, home-made checkered apron - that sounds pretty good. Oh wait, don't forget Jackson as the Cowardly Lion sidekick.

We had a great night walking up and down our street, while Jackson lounged in the stroller. We just wheeled him up to the baskets of candy and if he could reach, he got a piece. Ayla fully embraced saying, "Trick or Treat" and properly said thank you (after a parental reminder). My friend Merrin brought her son Donovan over to join us - so it was fun watching him waddle around in a Nemo costume.

My mother and Matthew helped hand out candy at our house so we could all walk together. Which brings me to discuss a few etiquette practice of Halloween. This is truly one of the most social holidays - everyone in any given neighborhood is subject to trick-or-treating. There are a few unspoken social rules. First of all, find out when trick or treat occurs and either be prepared with candy or turn off your porch lights and stay inside. My neighbor across the street - for two years in a row - has not been home for the Thursday evening festivities. (And she's lived here for a long time, so she has to know). However, she leaves her porch light on and we spend the night watching kids hike up the steep steps in front of her house, knock on the door and stand there bewildered. It's a waste of everyone's time. Secondly, I think it's fair to say that if you partake in the candy-taking, you should partake in the candy-giving. One other neighbor walked the entire neighborhood with her kids but didn't leave a single piece of candy at her house, not even when she was there. But she's blatantly unfriendly most of the time anyways....

I love Halloween and I love this time of year. Hopefully, my kids will feel the same way. You always end up with an awesome stash of candy, could it get any better?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Only 5 years with Waffle

I feel like a really bad pet owner.

Take Waffle to the vet when he isn't feeling good - check.
Get Waffle medicine to cure infection - check.
Feed Waffle, get fresh water, give him a heating pad - check.

But we still lost Waffle today. I came downstairs into the basement to check on the poor guy, and he was lying there a little too stiffly. And in vain hope that he was just sleeping soundly, I got closer and pet our kitty. Nope, he was cold. I always seem to be in this position with pets; although I've only had one other animal die - finding two out of two dead animals is a bad track record.

He's been sick for about a week with an infection - a bladder infection that got too serious. The problem with boy kitties is that they have disproportionately small urethras (i.e. penises). If there is any kind of irritation, it can easily get blocked or infected. The warning signs are peeing often in strange places - which someone had been doing in our house, but with four cats it was hard to find the culprit. But we had finally caught Waffle in the act, and last week he retreated behind the couch and wouldn't move for an entire day.

He had both a shot of steroids AND antibiotics at the vet and Gregory had been feeding him his pills. He was eating, drinking and somewhat controlling his pee. He was meowing in his cage yesterday for the first time - like he was finally getting bored. A sign of improvement! But we should have known better. His father had the same problem and needed a drastic sex-changing operation to fix the blockage. Mr. (now Mrs.) Chin made a full recovery.

Gregory was stuck with the awful job of finding a final resting place for our fat, loveable, always hungry kitty. We picked a corner of the yard with enough room to plant flowers for him in the spring. The hole was dug, and Waffle was placed inside on a bed of leaves. We all stood in the backyard watching the dirt fill the hole and seeing that orange and white fur for the last time.

Of course, Ayla had tons of questions and we tried to be as honest as possible. Just like when Mr. Hooper died on Sesame Street, we didn't say anything about sleep or resting or floating away to heaven - we said that Waffle had died. (Reference the Michael Jackson post, we've discussed this before). It's going to take awhile for this to sink in because at bedtime tonight, Ayla was looking out the window at the backyard and asking, "Why can't I see Waffle? Why is he in the dirt?" Heart-breaking.

Waffle was one of our four amazing, and admittedly frustrating, cats. Gregory and I watched him being born on July 5th, 2004 - just a few weeks before our wedding. Waffle's mom, Orangina, and his father, Mr/Mrs Chin had been rescued by Rachel when she lived in Syracuse. Waffle's mother was then tragically hit by a car and Waffle came to live with us when he was big enough to leave his siblings.

When he was a kitten, he would jump enthusiastically at any toy we put in front of him, without paying attention to surrounding objects. He would crash into walls or doors or furniture. Once, Gregory, Matthew and I were watching tv and Waffle started to look at the light-changing switches that hang from a ceiling fan. He started to do that kitty head-circle watch and all of sudden, he jumped straight up into the air to try to catch the chains. Of course, he hadn't thought out the descent and came crashing down onto the coffee table - spilling all of our drinks.

He moved with us from our smallest apartment, into a bigger apartment and finally, our first house. He also grew with each move - becoming our largest cat with a swinging stomach that almost hit the floor. We had to ration food or Waffle would just eat and eat until he threw up somewhere. And ever since that decision, Waffle would sit on our bed and stare at Gregory every morning until we got up to feed him. But every once in awhile, our fat kitty would find a catnip mouse and want to play - he still had a little energy to run around.

And now Waffle will always rest at this house. We only had 5 years with our sweet cat. He loved people and would show almost inappropriate affection when any person came into our house. I'm sorry I didn't help you more, we'll always love you. Ayla and I said a prayer for Waffle tonight, and at the end she said, "I'll share my little fuzzy with Waffle." And that means a lot.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

It Pays to Complain

That's my life motto, at least when it comes to contacting customer service departments....

It has happened now and again that I've been dissatisfied with some of my favorite products. If we find a toothpaste or cheese or cracker that we love - we habitually buy it, as I'm sure this is the case with most of you. We love our Tom's of Maine toothpaste and haven't used conventional brands for quite awhile (the synthetic stuff really tastes harsh once you've gone the "natural" route). I buy a lot of Full Circle organic products because they are relatively inexpensive in that particular market. However, 1 out of 10 times, something goes wrong. And that's when it pays to get on the computer and send an email complaint.

Here are a few examples of the great responses I've gotten in the past couple of years.

1. Babybel Cheese: it's a luxury item for us at the grocery store. I usually have to rush past that part of the dairy section so Ayla doesn't hunt it down and start yelling, "I want circle cheese!" It's delicious, but a little pricey. Each little wheel of cheese is encased in a wax cover, which makes this a very exciting snack in our household. But once I opened my Babybel cheese in tasty anticipation, only to find it was moldy and rotten inside. Really gross. A quick email was sent to their complaint department and lo! and behold, some coupons were sent for a free replacement and $1.00 off for future purchases. Needless to say, we're still enjoying Babybel cheese... a lot.

2. Tribe Hummus: this time the product was moldy within one day of opening the package. They responded with coupons, which was the most that I expected. Only this company sent me a t-shirt too! It says something like, "This ain't your momma's dip." This happened maybe 3 years ago and I'm still using the leftover coupons.

3. Full Circle Raspberry Spread: same problem, moldy almost immediately. I know it's an organic product without preservatives - but I buy enough organic to know this is not normal. When I'm paying double for a product, I would like it to last more than a few days. Especially with jelly... I don't know anyone who goes through jelly that fast. I sent an email, but didn't get a response until a month later when coupons showed up in the mail. I received multiple $2 free of any Full Circle product. Sweet! Although I'm not risking it with that jelly again.

4. Wendy's: this time Gregory suffered to get us some coupons. One night at the drive-thru, he was literally verbally assaulted by the staff when he drove around the building. They were all sitting outside taking a smoke break (classy!) and yelled, "F--- you!" when he pulled into the drive-thru lane. This was at least an hour before closing time. An email was sent and a few weeks later, our coupons for free items arrived. I chose to use a different Wendy's to redeem my free salad - at least 5 hours before closing time. :)

5. Tom's of Maine Toothpaste: Ayla, with her infinite ability to hurt herself, cut her little hands on the aluminum packaging while trying to brush her teeth "all by herself". We spend typically about $5 for each tube of toothpaste because it's all-natural and free of scary chemicals. The problem with this packaging is that it almost always breaks or obviously develops sharp edges. But Ayla loves her mango toothpaste! Plus their gingermint flavor is my favorite.

Their website is the best - useful FAQ's and information about ingredients. The aluminum packaging is necessary because of the natural oils AND it is completely recyclable. Tom's promptly sent us a new kid's toothpaste and a toothpaste roller. I remember using this growing up, but had completely forgotten about it. I have to say, problem solved!

I'm not a complainer by nature, but when it comes to my money spent and especially when I am a very loyal customer - it really pays to contact customer service. I'm always impressed that companies still respond. And every time they've sent coupons, in my mind, all is forgiven. It may only be two dollars lost here and there, but the principle is that I like these products and don't really want to change.