Monday, November 30, 2009

Christmas Traditions 1 - The Advent Calendar

I've noticed a pattern: blogging comes easier if I have a theme. So over the course of the next few weeks, I plan to share some of my favorite Christmas traditions. Most of these activities and items are free or inexpensive and have been part of my life since my first Christmas. They aren't meant to be a checklist for you to add to your holidays, but maybe they will give you new ideas to try or inspire you to continue your own traditions.

For me, the Christmas season officially begins when I receive an Advent calendar from my mother. She fell in love with Advent calendars as a child and made a promise that her children would always have one. And she has stayed true to her word.

For those who are unfamiliar with Advent calendars, the calendars count down the coming of the Christ child and have hidden "doors" with numbers on them from 1 to 24. Each day during the month of December, one door is opened. What is behind each door varies based on the type of calendar; it could have a picture of a Christmas scene, a Bible verse, an ornament, or a piece of chocolate.

My Advent calendar for this year is a three-dimensional Nativity with the numbered doors hidden throughout the scene. I look forward to seeing what's behind the first door tomorrow, proving that Advent calendars have no age limits!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Celebrating Thanksgiving

I don't want to start the Christmas season before taking time to reflect on Thanksgiving 2009. Throughout this holiday, I have been thankful:

For the health of my family;

For friends who provided transportation to work, to the train station, and from the train station home;

For a friend who watched my dog while I was gone;

For a job that doesn't require me to work on holidays and provides the money to go home;

For getting to spend time with my mom and have a relaxed, simple celebration; and

For God from whom all these blessings flow.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Simplify Your Time

I'm continuing to slowly wade through my reading stack and finally made my way to a book I purchased a couple of years ago entitled Simplify Your Time by Marcia Ramsland. This lady speaks my love language: lists. And she possesses organizational skills that I had never even dreamed of.

The book is divided into thirty short chapters, allowing the reader to change one thing each day and hopefully end up more organized and efficient in a month's time. The book provides charts and over 100 time-saving tips to help the reader put into practice the suggestions in each chapter.

The focus of the book is not to run yourself ragged by filling your calendar but rather to make the best use of your time, including allowing for some downtime each day and incorporating things you wish you were doing into your weekly schedule. My favorite aspect of the book was the concept of the five-year calendar to plan goals for the four seasons over the next five years. As much of a planner as I am, I've never even considered doing this.

With the holidays quickly approaching, Ms. Ramsland has some great advice, "Being overwhelmed can be a positive opportunity to get down to the basics of what's really important and rebuild your life from there." (p.134) So if you want to get a jump-start on your time and improve your efficiency before the holidays hit, I highly recommend Simplify Your Time.

[Disclosure: I did not receive anything in exchange for reviewing or recommending this book.]

Sunday, November 8, 2009


Over the weekend, a friend sent me a link to a blog about a family who adopted two children from Ethiopia in June. In two of her recent posts, here and here, the Mom writes about how her life has changed from being childless to mothering two little ones. Her "new normal" has come with lots of little interruptions in the form of "one-more-big cuddle hug." And she loves it.

I had just read those two posts yesterday and had them on my mind when my pastor made this statement in his sermon today: "Pursuing Christ disrupts our lives if we are doing it right." He then went on to talk about how we have to realize that the disruptions are worth it.

Disruptions occur in my life on a daily basis: a traffic light that is blinking red in all directions and delaying the flow of traffic to a phone call coming in during the middle of a project to a letter in the mail that requires me to take additional actions. I didn't wake up knowing that any of those things would intersect my day. Yet, I tend to greet each of those items differently depending on how they benefit me. It's as if there's an intuitive "weighing process" that occurs instantaneously that I'm not really conscious of. For instance, sometimes the traffic lights flashing red give me time to search through my purse and put on lipstick, but other times, they just make me late to work. The phone call, depending on who it is from and the time it arrives, also gets different responses. Same with the mail.

Yet, with any of the disruptions, I could choose to respond positively if I set out to do that. But it's as if I need to be more aware of the intuitive process.

That goes along with our pastor's challenge to think critically about why something is bad or good. In my examples above, that might mean looking deeper to see why some of those disruptions create a negative reaction. Is it because I didn't plan well and was going to be late anyway? Is it because I hold out my time as more important than others'? That's when it starts to not look so easy or so pretty.

But the real question is whether I will allow Christ to disrupt my life. Maybe the traffic light was a disruption for a purpose. Or maybe the phone call that I want to ignore is an opportunity to pray for someone. And I might miss it. Especially if I am in the mindset that MY time is king and no one will get a piece of it because it is already earmarked for MY purposes. Oh how I don't want that to be my mindset.

Lord, help me respond with an open heart when disruptions come my way. Help me to recognize that some disruptions have greater purposes than I will ever see or know and that Your disruptions are worthy of my time.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Customer Service, Where Art Thou?

The electric bill arrived in the mail with a note that said I needed to call for a meter reading schedule because they could no longer estimate my electricity usage. I postponed making the call as long as I could because I knew it wouldn't be easy, but I had no idea what I was in for.

Call #1 (after following the automated prompts and receiving a live person):
Me: Hi, I need a meter reading schedule.
Customer Service Rep: Huh? (said with a foreign accent)
Me: I need a meter reading schedule (said louder and with more enunciation).
CSR: Huh?
CSR: (no audible response)
Me: (hanging up the phone)

Call #2 - 1 week later
Me: Hi, I need a meter reading schedule.
CSR: Ok. What your address?
Me: (giving address while pondering why that is not listed anywhere in my account)
CSR: So that's V-L-O?
Me: (wondering whether there is any street in the English language that begins with that combination of letters, but spelling my street name again)
CSR: Okay, so your address is . . . (transposing the numbers)
Me: (giving correct numbers again)
CSR: Okay. I mail you meter schedule for rest of year. Then you call back in January for another one.
Me: How about if you put a note in my account that says, "Customer requests that a 2010 meter reading schedule be mailed when it is ready."
CSR: Ohhh. You hold while I type that.

So when I found an envelope from the electric company in my mailbox the following Saturday, I thought I could check that task off my to-do list. Until I opened the envelope and found my payment history. For the last 3 years. Clearly, that sounds exactly like a "meter reading schedule."

Call #3 (becoming accustomed to calling electric company on my lunch hour)
Me: (interrupting recorded prompts) Supervisor!
Electric Co's robotic prompt: I understand tha tyou want to talk to a live person, but please answer some additional questions, so I can direct you to the right person.
Me: (playing along)
Live CSR: How can I help you?
Me: I need to speak to a supervisor.
CSR: I'm sorry, I can't do that until you give me some information.
[There is a 5-minute conversation during which I get pretty ugly because none of my reasons, including my I-have-a-problem-with-my-bill excuse, meet this gatekeeper's expectations. I don't recall the magic words that got me placed on hold for exactly 5 minutes before a manager picked up.]
Me: I have a simple problem that you can resolve.
Manager: Okay.
Me: I need a meter reading schedule, but my 2 previous phone calls have not resulted in that.
Manager: I see that we sent you one on Oct. 19.
Me: No, unfortunately, you sent me a payment history.
Manager: Oh.
Me: So if you'd put a meter reading schedule in the mail, I'd appreciate it.
Manager: Okay. I just need to place you on hold for 4-5 minutes.
Me: You have my request and you have my address, so please just put the schedule in the mail.
Manager: We understand that it is an inconvenience to place you on hold, but company policy says that we can't make any changes to your account without your being on the phone.
Me: But, I am on the phone with you right now, and you are in my account. What do you need from me after the hold time?
Manager: Nothing.

It wasn't pretty after that folks. I tried to explain how that was the definition of insanity; he played the "policy" card again and told me I wouldn't get a schedule if I hung up; and I hung up on principle. I felt like I'd logged my share of hold time.

To say that I was angry after I got off the phone with the electric company would be putting it mildly. I felt played. I have a simple request; I'm not even arguing over my bill (yet). But for whatever reason, I'm not being heard or understood.

I think that the frustration that surfaced as a result of those calls was really the culmination of feeling unheard in other areas of my life. Like feeling unheard by God. I know that's not true. But it feels that way sometimes. And in the midst of that, I can scream and pout and ignore Him, or I can continue to put my requests before Him and wait expectantly for an answer, knowing that He always hears and sometimes chooses to say "no" or "not now."

Just like the electric company with the meter reading schedule. Speaking of which, it looks like I'm due to put in another request. Wish me luck on that.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Stumbling Block Not Writer's Block

This is the post that's been rumbling around in my head and my heart for the past couple of weeks. It's the one that I wrote and then was tempted not to post. I kept trying to tell myself that it's not a big deal; it's not worth posting. But really, it is a big deal to me, whether I like it or not. So from that standpoint, I've persuaded myself to go ahead and post what I wrote during my birthday week.


I've been dreading this week for a while. For some reason, turning thirty-five has a powerful hold on me. But it's not the number. It's the number combined with life circumstances. And I wish there was some way to convey that without sounding like poor pitiful me because I know that I am very blessed. I put forth the following because to type anything less would be to dishonor the feelings in my heart and because I hope that this will provide insight on how not to respond to others in similar circumstances.

My birthday has come up in several conversations lately with people I don't really know, and the conversations generally went something like this:

Lady in passing: Did you say that your birthday is this week?

Me: Yes. It's the first one that I've actually dreaded.

Lady in passing: Really? Which one is it?

Me: 35.

Lady in passing: Oh, well I turned [insert age higher than 35] recently. Thirty-five is nothing.

Me: (Trying to smile outwardly and grimacing inwardly because Lady is married and has children. She has no idea what it is like to come home on her birthday to no one, except a Golden Retriever. Yet, there's no way to explain all that is going on in my heart in a passing conversation with someone I don't really know.)

It's not that I never thought I'd turn thirty-five; it's that I never dreamed I'd turn thirty-five and not have a husband and family to share that day with.

Two years ago, I told my friends that if I was still single at thirty-five, I was going to plan a big party for my thirty-fifth birthday because I wanted the benefit of having everyone together like when family and friends gather for a wedding and wedding reception. But in order to plan that big get-together, I had to commit to the fact that I would be single. And I just couldn't bring myself to admit that. Needless to say, the big party never occurred.

But my sweet friends--both married and single--helped me celebrate my birthday and got me through it. It's been their (your) encouragement that has carried me through some lonely nights. So thanks for understanding and for loving me well.