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Archive for November, 2011|Monthly archive page

I Just Called To Say…I Did The Dishes

In behavior, family, love, women on November 30, 2011 at 4:04 am
Dirty Dishes

Image by elston via Flickr

Which is your “love language” — words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, quality time or physical touch?

Interesting piece in The New York Times about The Five Love Languages, a best-selling book that’s sold 7.2 million copies in North America and been translated into 40 languages:

“Each of us has a primary love language,” Dr. Chapman said, and often secondary or tertiary ones. To help identify your language, he recommended focusing on the way you most frequently express love. What you give is often what you crave. Challenges in relationships arise because people tend to be attracted to their opposites, he said. “In a marriage, almost never do a husband and wife have the same language. The key is we have to learn to speak the language of the other person.”

I read this book a while ago and think it’s an interesting argument. My husband grew up in a family whose behaviors were profoundly different from mine — and in many ways much healthier and happier. The only son, and the youngest, of a Hispanic family, a surprise baby who arrived to a 49-year-old mother and a preacher father, he grew up secure in their love.

My mother, who has suffered bi-polar illness for decades, sent me to boarding school and summer camp when I was 8, places that offered physical and emotional security, (all good) but which left me wondering why she didn’t want me around. In our family, love showed up as stuff: great clothes, jewelry, material objects. No one was, or still is, very good at saying “I love you” or hugging. Entire years have gone by between visits to either one of my parents and acts of service? Hah!

So it’s been an interesting experience being with a man who is (thank you!) extremely generous with gifts, but whose primary love language is verbal, words of affirmation. Not a day goes by without him saying “I love you” several times, for which I’m deeply grateful.

Because I still can’t say it easily, and rarely do.

But he knows I love him deeply.

Because…I clean house. I detail the car. I buy groceries and cook delicious meals. I make our home as lovely as I possibly can so that when he walks in the door after a 12-hour absence he feels welcomed and valued.

My primary “love language” is different from his. Given my own emotional matrix and upbringing, and ongoing ways of relating to my parents, it’s tough to completely shift gears in this respect. My father is not a huggy, verbal guy when it comes to showing affection, but does come to visit us whenever he can and that helps. He recently spent two days with us and we finally talked about some stuff we’ve never even discussed, a bold and scary step for both of us.

This difference in emotional style is very common amongst married and committed couples — and a frequent cause of conflict — but knowing it and talking about it openly can make a real difference. It has for us, certainly.

How does this play out in your relationships or marriage?

When Do You Plan (Hope?) To Stop Working?

In aging, behavior, business, life, Money, work on November 28, 2011 at 2:02 am
Obadiah Sedgwick (1600?-1658), puritan clergyman

A Puritan clergyman. Do you really need to follow his lead? Image via Wikipedia

Now here’s a seriously depressing idea, working into your 80s.

A recent New York Times op-ed argues this is not only likely necessary for millions of Americans but — seriously? -- a terrific new development:

Retirement seems out of the question for increasing numbers of Americans who are saddled with debt and whose savings evaporated during the recent bust. Today’s workers should expect to labor longer, and companies should expect to employ more older workers.

The numbers supply a vivid picture of America’s graying work force. Between 2007 and 2010, the number of working Americans over 65 years old jumped 16 percent; the number of under-65’s in the labor force shrank. The trend started before the current downturn: the number of Americans over 65 in the labor force increased from 10.8 percent in 1985 to 12.1 percent in 1995 to 15.1 percent in 2005 to 17.4 percent in 2010. Until 2001, most workers age 65 and older had part-time jobs; since 2001, full-time work has been far more common….

Nearly 40 percent of 55- to 64-year-old Americans don’t have retirement accounts. Less than a quarter of this group owns a single stock or savings bond. The median net worth of 55- to 64-year-old Americans has declined during the last years and is now $254,000 (including housing), down from $273,000 just three years ago. American households saved less than 4 percent of their incomes for every year between 1999 and 2008; during this time, thrifty Germans were saving about one-tenth of their earnings. A nation that prefers spending to saving is going to find it difficult to enjoy a comfortable retirement.

Call me lazy, unmotivated, un-American. The thought of working into my 80s — instead of (I hope) being able to wind this thing down in the next decade or so, in my mid 60s — is appalling. I’ve been working for pay since I was 14 and started life-guarding.

Enough already!

Here’s a wild notion: Live low(er). Save more. Focus your goals not on the next set of paychecks, but when and how to extricate yourself from the hamster wheel of working for pay.

Read this powerful book on the “value” of income versus time.


Unlike some other nations, for whom the endless drama of “work-life balance” is less difficult to achieve (paid maternity leave for months, for example), Americans are heavily socialized and rewarded (no paid sick leave, short vacations) for working all the time.

Those who seriously value other non-work -related activities — quiet time alone, traveling, volunteer work, spending time with our loved ones or pets, learning or perfecting new skills for the pure pleasure of it — are derided as bohemians or, worse, hippies. Time spent un-tethered to commercial production is considered deeply suspicious.

Don’t you want to workworkworkworkworkwork?!

Don’t you want to keep buying more/bigger/faster/newer stuff?

Jose and I are fortunate, still working steadily in fields we enjoy, to be earning enough for our needs. We save and invest  and keep a careful eye on those funds. We have retirement savings, (40 percent of people in our age group have none),  and are also lucky enough to likely (just) to be able to collect Social Security payments and a company pension.

Nor do we have children, grandchildren or parents whose financial needs compete with ours, as so many people do.

But I disagree that:

1) paid work is the best use of our very limited time on this earth;

2) saving money is too hard.

I’ve had years, plural and sequential, in which all I was able to do was pay my bills and do almost nothing else, hanging onto my home (which I own) with a white-knuckled death grip. I know it’s terrifying to not have a lot of (or any) spare cash. I’ve dipped into my IRAs more than once.

But I have IRAs because I deliberately save money every year, usually 10-25% of my income. Anything less makes me feel ill. Nothing is worth not having savings accumulating. Nothing I could own, see, do, listen to, eat, hear, wear or otherwise consume, is worth that to me.

In lean years, I buy little, and it’s from consignment shops or only on sale. I use and wear items that are 10, 15 even 20 years old, well-cared for, that don’t look it. Our one car is 11 years old. We have every form of insurance possible to protect what we’ve worked hard to accumulate.

It’s a choice.

Do you want to keep working that long?

Will you have to?

What compromises are you willing, or able, to make to avoid this?

Twelve Shopping Tips From A Mall Insider

In behavior, blogging, books, business, women on November 25, 2011 at 3:54 am
– Say please and thank you to associates and managers. They’re working long hours with fewer breaks and are trying their best.
First 4 digits of a credit card

It's not a license to kill! Image via Wikipedia

– If you can’t find what you need, don’t punish the staff or manager by yelling or being rude. They didn’t choose the store’s inventory nor do they control the amount of goods available.

– If you’re eating and drinking as you shop, please do NOT leave your food and drink bottles or cups on tables, shelves or the floor — where they will spill, make a mess, be dangerous and ruin the merchandise. Ask an associate, nicely, to throw it away for you, which they will (or should) gladly do.

– If an associate helps you, ask their name so you can be sure they are credited with that sale. Each one typically must meet a sales quota per shift; without those sales credits, their managers have less proof they’re productive, (and won’t be inclined to offer them post-holiday jobs.)

– If you don’t see what you want, ask if there’s more in the stockroom — but if the wait is a long one, don’t wander off. During the holidays, the stock room can be pure chaos so even the hardest-working associate can’t help you as fast as they would like.

– When an associate asks you if you want a store credit card, don’t bite their head off. Management insists they do so. It’s not because they want to!

– Don’t assume that an associate is on commission, (most are not) and is trying to sell you something to earn more. Most do have a daily sales goal to meet, and it can reach four figures.

– If an associate tries to sell you more than one item — even if you didn’t ask for it – it’s also because they’re required to by company policy.  Each associate is measured by this standard, called UPTs.

– While you’re shopping, stay hydrated and fed. The more exhausted you, and your kids, are the less pleasant shopping is for everyone. Take breaks! Sit down. Bring a bottle of cold water and some granola bars to keep your energy level up.

PLEASE keep a close eye on your children. Stores are not designed or meant to be a combination of a garbage can and a playground. They’re dirty and full of ways for a child to get hurt, from smashing into a metal pole to grabbing a fistful of dirt while playing peek-a-boo beneath a row of coats. Associates have neither the time nor the energy to play babysitter.

– Don’t assume the store, or associates or managers, have as much access to web-based information, even about their own products, as you do. Even though it’s logical to expect, many retailers are not investing in this.

– When an associate or manager is helping you, on the sales floor or as they are completing your sale at the register, look them in the eye and listen. They need your full attention to make sure they are properly meeting your needs – and the many demands from senior management. If you’re talking on your phone or texting, you’re selfishly slowing business down for everyone else.

Caitlin Kelly is a 27-month veteran of working part-time for The North Face in White Plains, NY and author of “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail.”

Read an excerpt at malledthebook.com.

And for those who find the idea of shopping Black Friday horrifying...here’s my op-ed at Reuters.com

Originally published at The Stir at Cafe Mom.

Grateful For…

In behavior, blogging, books, life on November 24, 2011 at 2:03 am
Hudson River

The Hudson River...right outside our windows. Image by Randy OHC via Flickr

A home I’ve enjoyed — in safety and silence — for 22 years, shared for the past 11 years with my sweetie-turned-husband

Our unimpeded and unchanging view, looking northwest, of the Hudson River

Clean, fresh running water available 24/7

The same access to electricity and heat

A life free of violence or threat

Being able to earn a living in my own home in peace and quiet

My lovely husband, Jose

A perfect fall wedding this year in Toronto, surrounded by dear friends and close family

Savings

Our good health

His staff job, (and its benefits), which he still enjoys

My Dad’s good health and vigor, still racing around in his black sports car at 82

His partner, who is gentle, loving and smart

Her kids, who we’ve gotten to know a bit, even though they live far away in Seattle and Hong Kong

Good neighbors

Strong and lasting friendships, some going back to childhood

Work that I enjoy and clients who appreciate my skills

Quick and easy access to an excellent hospital, 10 minutes up the road

Good physicians (and health insurance)

Terrific physical therapists who have helped me rehab from three surgeries, so far, with the biggest soon to come

The health, strength and means to travel

The wisdom, advice and comfort of colleagues who also write or freelance for a living

Living in a town so pretty and charming it’s been used as the backdrop to a number of films, including The Good Shepherd, Mona Lisa Smile, The Preacher’s Wife and Purple Rose of Cairo

A hard-working agent

The fact my new book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail”, is in development as a possible sitcom for CBS

Invitations to address retail executives at three conferences, so far, offering my thoughts on how best to hire and manage  low-wage workers — a chance for a bully pulpit

Editors who value what I offer them, both my ideas and how I shape them

Smart, fun readers like you who (yay!) come by to visit and chat from all over the world, whether Scotland, France, Canada or Australia.

Thank you for making Broadside a part of your life!

What are you giving thanks for this Thanksgiving?

When Family = Stress

In behavior, children, domestic life, family, life, love, parenting on November 23, 2011 at 1:11 am
A mother plays the guitar while her two daught...

If only it was really this calm! Image via Wikipedia

No matter how much we look forward to visiting our distant family members, (and many of us do), there’s often a whole pile ‘o unexploded ordnance lying beneath that linen-covered holiday table: resentment, envy, insecurity, fear, doubt.

No matter how much we’d love to ignore them, they often blow up when you least expect them, or want them to. Here are some of the old standbys:

When are you getting married?

You still don’t have a boyfriend/girlfriend?

How’s that “freelancing” thing working out for you?

We had such a great time in Paris — how was your summer?

You’re still ABD?

Billy just got a promotion, and a bonus. Did you find a job yet?

It’s so great they’re making plus-size clothes in such pretty colors these days. Love your dress!

Having just survived the latest “helpful” advice from one family member — which left us both shouting in rage (nice) — I know all too well the joys of spending time with relatives who have firm and fixed ideas about how much more effectively or wisely one might behave.

It takes a soul of steel, (not to mention duct tape), to not let old patterns re-emerge, snitty comments get under your skin or ancient feuds simmer to a boil with the addition of alcohol, overeating and too much time in a small space with people you never got along with in the first place, shared genes be damned.

Right now, my mother isn’t speaking to me (I’m her only child); my half-brother insists it’s him or me at Christmas and none of my husband’s relatives (all two of them) could bother attending our recent wedding.

Family, schmamily.

What are you most looking forward to when you gather for Thanksgiving?

What are you dreading?

Where In The World Have You Been?

In behavior, cities, life, travel on November 21, 2011 at 1:36 am
North America - Satellite image - PlanetObserver

And yet, despite my loathing of turbulence, I live to travel.

This calendar year, so far, I’ve been to Victoria, Vancouver and Kamloops, B.C., Banff, Alberta, Toronto, D.C., Minneapolis, Peterborough (Ontario) and Chicago. In January I’ll be in Tucson and thereabouts for two weeks (while my husband teaches a photo workshop there), then go to New Orleans on the 25th to speak at a retailers’ conference.

Spoiled by years of international — i.e. off the North American continent — travel, I still have a huge jones to go somewhere, soon, they don’t speak English as a first language.

I’ve been, so far, to 37 countries, from Fiji to Turkey, Thailand to New Zealand. In 1982, I won an eight-month journalism fellowship that required (heaven!) funded solo travel on 10-day reporting trips all over Europe. I went to Denmark, England and Sicily and did an eight-day trip in a truck from Perpignan to Istanbul with a French trucker who spoke not a word of English.

Some favorites, so far, include:

the Coromandel coast of New Zealand

Melbourne

Paris

Corsica (nice piece in a recent New York Times travel section; here’s my fun piece about it from The Wall Street Journal)

Mexico — Oaxaca, Cuernavaca, Patzcuaro, Acapulco, Taxco, Merida, Queretaro

Ko Phi Phi and Mae Hong Son, Thailand

Galway

Savannah, Georgia

The Banff Springs Hotel in Banff, Alberta.

High on the list of places I’m eager to visit:

Argentina, Morocco, Laos, Berlin, northern Brazil, the Hebrides, Jordan, Lebanon, Mongolia. And repeat visits to Paris, London, Italy, Corsica and many others…

Where are you dying to go, and why?

What have been your favorite trips, and why?

Here’s a gorgeous blog written by a woman as enamored of world travel (and a fellow New Yorker) as I.

Weeping In Seat 6D

In behavior, life, travel on November 19, 2011 at 1:16 am
you are an airplane II

Image by sternenrauschen via Flickr

Oh, my. I am so not fond of turbulence. Is anyone?

Came home this week to New York after a fantastic five days exploring Chicago, flying on small regional jet over the Great Lakes, a 90 minute journey. My flight there was easy and comfortable.

Not the return.

We were warned before takeoff it would be a rough flight, not just for some of it, but all of it. Gulp. When it’s that rough, whatever alcoholic consolation I might have chosen would have probably bathed me at some point. So I desisted and did a lot of deep breathing. I read every single word of the New York Times Book Review (even the kids’ books) to keep myself distracted.

Then I just lost it and started weeping, feeling like the biggest damn baby in the world. Some guy was snoring through it. The poor man in front of me turned around to see what was happening and I apologized. The steward asked if there was anything he could do. I apologized to him but said, truthfully, no.

The plane bucked like a bronco. There’s nothing you can do, so a control freak like me is not happy at such moments. I also know, thanks to a friend who’s a commercial pilot, that they almost always — domestically — have two or more choices of altitude to move into to avoid or at least minimize the chaos. But we didn’t, as the pilot regretfully informed us when we landed.

I was the last off, trying to gather my wits and get my pulse rate down. It was the second-worst experience I’ve had in the air — the longest I’d felt such turbulence was a 10-hour flight from Taipei to San Francisco in 1994. At hour five, the lane shook like mad for about an hour. Flight attendants were told to stay in their seats and not move.

That left me really rattled, which is tough given how much I love to travel to places very far away. All I can do when the plane starts shimmying is try to stay calm and know that pilots really are doing their very best to keep us all safe.

How about you?

Are you a brave bunny in the face of turbulence?

Or (cringes in embarrassment) a blubbering one?

Wise Words From 1913: Nothing Changes

In books, business, politics, US on November 18, 2011 at 3:39 pm
The corner of Wall Street and Broadway, showin...

Image via Wikipedia

“Oh, we’ve only just begun. We’re waking up to a sense of our responsibilities, out here, and we ain’t afraid, neither. You fellows back there must be a tame lot. If you had any nerve you’d get together and march down to Wall St. and blow it up. Dynamite it, I mean.”

“That would be a waste of powder. The same business would go on in another street. The street doesn’t matter.”

I just read these prophetic words; hint, it’s a classic novel many Americans read in their schoolwork but I just read for the first time.

Who wrote them, and in which book?

I’m Fabulous, Dammit!

In behavior, business, journalism, women, work on November 17, 2011 at 2:55 am
Chelsea Clinton in Philadelphia

Yeah, I'll take an extra $300,000 a year, thanks! Image via Wikipedia

Women have a terrible time self-promoting. It’s considered unseemly, pushy, rude, entitled.

Who — they hiss, chicken-necking and hand-flapping in the corner — does she think she is anyway?

Great recent column by a New York Times editor (I’m biased; she ran this column of mine, which turned into my new book, “Malled”). But still:

Last year, women held about 14 percent of senior executive positions at Fortune 500 companies, according to the nonprofit group Catalyst, which focuses on women in the workplace. That number has barely budged since 2005, after 10 years of slow but steady increases.

So what’s the holdup? Ilene H. Lang, president and chief executive of Catalyst, says one factor can be traced to an “entrenched sexism” that is no less harmful for being largely unconscious.

“I don’t want to blame this on men,” Ms. Lang said. Rather she cites “social norms that are so gendered and so stereotyped that even though we think we’ve gone past them, we really haven’t.”

She describes a corporate environment that offers much more latitude to men and where the bar is much higher for women. In her view, men tend to be promoted based on their promise, whereas women need to prove themselves multiple times.

She maintains that unintentional bias is built into performance review systems. Words like “aggressive” may be used to describe ideal candidates — a label that a man can wear much more comfortably than a woman.

Other factors apply, like the dearth of women and men willing to use their accumulated social capital to help smart and talented women get ahead, seriously ahead — joining the same corporate boards, for example, as Chelsea Clinton just did, which will pay her a staggering $300,000 a year.

This year I had a terrific opportunity, precisely because a man I had never before met, living in another country, felt I was doing a good job describing retail work from its lowest levels, the front line associates. Thanks to his enthusiasm, I was asked to be the closing keynote at a major retail conference, paid to address senior executives from companies like Target, Best Buy and Macy’s.

We all need people with power and influence to step up and out on our behalf, no matter how much talent, hard work, experience or credentials we bring on our own. (Which — dammit! — should be enough.)

Has anyone helped you professionally in a significant way?

Have you helped a woman in this manner?

How did it turn out?

Are You Good Enough? Really? You Sure?

In behavior, domestic life, life, women on November 15, 2011 at 5:37 am
Elizabeth I of England, unknown artist

Queen Elizabeth I. She really had it rough! Image via Wikipedia

Such an American obsession, this fetish for self-improvement!

Nice piece about it in The New York Times:

“There’s a tendency to seek and seek and seek and never find,” said Kristen Moeller, creator of the Web site selfhelpjunkie.com. (The motto? “Stop Waiting. Start Living.”) “It becomes one more addiction.”

It’s not that trying to find ways to improve ourselves is a bad thing — not at all. “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp,” the poet Robert Browning wrote. But when we’re constantly reaching rather than occasionally being satisfied with what we have in front of us, that’s a recipe for perpetual dissatisfaction.

“We grew up with the idea that we can do anything,” said Hollee Schwartz Temple, a professor of law at West Virginia University and co-author of “Good Enough Is the New Perfect” (Harlequin, 2011). “But we took that to mean that we have to do everything. And many women took it as you have to do everything perfectly.”

I admit it, I’ve read some self-help books I’ve found useful, from Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit to an oldie-but-goodie, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I’m OK with this, because, especially as a self-employed person, I have no boss to guide or mentor me and only online colleagues, often very far away, to give me advice or feedback.

But there’s a limit to how “perfect” anyone can — or should try to — be. And “perfect” in whose eyes? I know there are many ways I could improve myself: lose weight (20 to 30 pounds, ugh); be much more tidy (papers and magazines everywhere); manage my investments better (a 15 percent drop this summer. Ugh indeed!)

But you know, we’re all works in progress. I keep a clean, organized home with fresh food in the fridge. I organized Jose’s closet the other day (feeling a little guilty for being so invasive). I write real thank-you notes on carefully-chosen stationery.

I’m reading, very slowly, a great biography of Elizabeth I — I think my life is complicated? Between wars and treaties and endless suitors and a bossy Cabinet and gossipy court and religious battles and the challenge of maintaining order — she had two men’s right hands cut off once to prove her point — my 21st century life is a bloody picnic, even without castles or a crown.

What do you need to improve on?

Really?

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