02 September 2016

Customer Service - What's That?

Customer Service -- I'm not sure I understand what that means anymore. I'll share three encounters that have made me question what that means in today's world.

Here's the actual definition found on "Dr Google" with a quick search: the assistance and advice provided by a company to those people who buy or use its products or services.

Encounter #1 - The automobile service shop
I take my dogmobile in to get new tires and have service / repair work done on it so I can keep the dogs on the road safely. In the span of about 3-weeks we spent about $3,000 with this shop on two cars getting them all prepped up for safety. As we are doing the paperwork for my car, the service writer sees my hyphenated last name and takes that moment to share how he wouldn't let his wife do that... I know, I should have kept my mouth shut and just moved on. Yes, that is how I always respond when men act like idjits... oh wait, no it isn't! Instead of taking that road, I asked him if his wife's chain had enough range to go from the bed to the kitchen and laundry.

Encounter #2 - The pizza shop
We have been visiting a local pizza shop since moving to our current community and although we weren't weekly regulars, we did shop enough to make joining their "club" worthwhile for the occasional coupons and specials. Knowing we would have a run of really HOT, HUMID days and both of our schedules would be jam packed we ordered 2 large pizzas for pick up. We headed over to pick up $40 worth of pizzas (yes, I like cold pizza in the morning) and brought them home. We each grabbed a slice and bit into them and it was disgusting! The box would have tasted better and perhaps we should have eaten those. I called the store right away and got the owner. I thought that would be a good deal since he would have authority to correct the problem and would train the employees. After much dinking around we got no replacement (although the thought of that is actually daunting when thinking about reprimanded employees and how awful the first purchase was) there was no refund of the $40. Hmmm... What we did get was a 50% off coupon for future purchases. Let's see, I've wasted $40 on food that was thrown away and you want me to spend more money? My shadow will never darken their door again.

Encounter #3 - The package delivery man
Admittedly I have been having some issues getting packages delivered to my house. A lot of my neighbors get them and eventually they bring them to me, usually after being opened, but they still get here. I think my favorite was the business cards that went to a neighbor and the timing was right for his wife's birthday. Imagine her joy at getting business cards for someone else, her husband no doubt spared no expense in ordering those! Anywho, the driver shows up at my house yesterday and says he delivered the box to my house. I disagreed since there was no dog food in the house. He then grumbled and carried on about how he thinks I am not telling the truth about the box. I remind him that he has delivered packages to the wrong house over and over and he grumbles about how I'm trying to get products from free... yes, I get the product in exchange for writing about it so it's already free. Listen cranky brown pants, I get lots of deliveries and your needing to have me sign for them now because you can't figure out where to deliver them is a pain in my ass. We wouldn't be here if you had done your job correctly in the first place.

06 June 2016

Don't feel badly, it's only a dog . . .

Please don't say "Don't feel badly, it was only a dog" (or cat, horse, bird, snake, or any other pet). This is wrong in so many ways. Let's start with telling someone how to feel, and not only that, telling them not to feel naturally occurring feelings. You've lost a companion and feeling bad or sad is a normal and natural response to emotional loss. It also implies that there is something wrong with you for feeling sad about losing your pet.

Don't feel badly reduces the loving relationship you had with your pet by using the word "only" which if you've heard that comment after your companion is gone, you know how hurtful that feels. Is it any wonder that people are afraid to share their true feelings? It's no wonder they stuff their feelings down and avoid talking about their loss, who isn't afraid to hear hurtful things.

Another comment that is brutal is "Don't feel badly, you can get another dog." (variation on that is "Don't feel badly, you can replace your dog with a new one." Again, someone is presuming to tell you how you should feel and like we talked about above, minimizes your grieving and normal feelings. When you hear that it makes it feel like the person thinks your relationship had no emotional ties and it's no different than buying toilet paper.

Imagine how cruel these statements would sound if you were speaking of someone's parent or child. "Don't feel badly, you can have another child." "Don't feel badly it was only your mother." It sounds pretty horrible and absurd when you put it in a new light. The unfortunate thing is those comments often come from people that mean well, but the impact is awful.

10 Worst Things to Say to Someone in Grief (From Grief.com)

1. At least she lived a long life 
2. He's in a better place
3. Everything happens for a reason
5. Aren’t you over him yet, he's been dead for awhile now
6. You can replace him
7. She was such a good dog God wanted her in heaven
8. I know how you feel
9. She did what she came here to do and it was her time to go
10. Be strong

01 June 2016

Who knew ordering dog food could make me cry

Well that was the hardest bag of dog food I have ever selected. I was part way through the selection process and realized that I would be removing one dog from the images. What was Minnow and Beej's formula has now become Minnow and Fluffy's formula.

We lost our girl Beej earlier this year to a brief but fatal illness. It surprises me what tears open the pain and it is never consistent so there is really no preparing for it. This time it was changing the name of the blend and changing the image. A few weeks ago it was moving her travel collar out of the vehicle.

I think I'll write some posts about pet loss and coping with grief in hope that it helps me and maybe some of you too. Here's a shot of Beej with my husband, she was his heart dog.

24 May 2016

Downsizing - I'm itching to move, or am I?

We talk about moving to somewhere other than Minnesota, and that hasn't changed in years. I'm not a native Minnesotan, my husband is. Neither of us wants to deal with living in harsh winters too much longer.

Why do I live where I live? Would somewhere else serve me better? When I think about things that we complain about it makes it simpler to know that winter wonderlands like Minnesota are not my favorite place. Mostly we talk about snow and ice and below zero temps. Those are things that would go away if we went away from here. If the things you complain about would go away, that's a good thing. If they won't change you may want to consider if moving is the best option.

Jobs. My family came to Minnesota as a job transfer, and like the Hotel California you can never leave. Now is the time to consider if work that will satisfy you is available in other places. Perhaps you have a job that lets you work from anywhere, what a perk that is!

Weigh Your Options. Look at some objective evidence about the area you are interested in. You'll find various options on locating somewhere to live by looking through the Field Guide to the Best Places to Live.

Visit. If you've found somewhere you like be sure to visit, and then visit again at different times of the year.

Get out and search the Interwebs. A great way to compare places is by looking at local real estate. Check out Realtor.com to learn about prices in various cities.

13 May 2016

Double Nickels

55 -- I can't tell you how surprising that is. Not because I'm ill or anything is threatening me (as far as I know anyway) but because I never thought I would make it this far. If I had, I might have been less abusive to my physical shell on the front end of this life!

I was thinking about my grandparents, and I only knew one of the four, my maternal grandmother. My paternal grandfather died at 54 so I've made it past that. My maternal grandfather died at 62 and my maternal grandmother at 63 so there are those goals to surpass. If we go by averages, it would be 64.5 -- I better get going on the important stuff!

This year my birthday falls on Friday the 13th, and it is weird to see how many people make a BIG deal about things happening on Friday the 13th. A local retailer is calling it "Black Friday" and not in the traditional sense of the day after Thanksgiving when retailers traditional started turning a profit. No, this store is trying to make it a bad day... Maybe I should go see what free things I can get there all while I feign mental anguish.

Part of the fun of various days is seeing what other people share the day with you. One of my favorite 13s is Stephen Colbert, and the one I learned today (or maybe had been repressing until this morning is Dennis Rodman. Not only do Dennis and I share the day, he and I were born in the same year too. There are lots of quotes from people born on the 13th and you may see some of them here. If you don't want to click away, here are two from Rodman.
"My feet are like gnarled old tree branches." ~Dennis Rodman
"This life is like a swimming pool. You dive into the water, but you can't see how deep it is. ~Dennis Rodman 
Yes, yes, Dennis Rodman is amusing, but where are the FREE birthday things!
  • If only there were a Medieval Times near me! I keep picturing Cable Guy, but I'm guessing that isn't how that freebie works...   
  • Dunkin Donuts has free coffee, but there are only two stores in Minnesota and both are at opposite end of the state so no chance there. (Caribou and Starbucks do that too so I could get all zipped up on coffee to start the day out right.) 
  • How about some AMF Bowling? I don't bowl, but now that it is free... Okay, not even for free. 
What are birthdays about? For me, they have become an opportunity to reflect on where I've been and where I might like to be going with my life. Now to wax philosophical, we'll see what happens here...

“I’d rather regret doing something than regret not doing something.” ~James Hetfield

  • Don't overthink.  
  • Life isn't fair, move on.  
  • Figure out what you don't want so you can move on to what you do want. 
  • Deeds - do them, even the small ones. 
  • Find comfort in being uncomfortable. If you are too comfortable you aren't growing. 
  • Show and tell. Don't just talk about something, do it.  
  • Curiosity is a huge asset. 
  • Street-smart equal resourcefulness. 
  • Be Grateful, Always Give, Keep Growing. 
  • Trust your gut. 
  • Learn how to have difficult discussions. 
  • If you have a complaint/issue/problem, start thinking of a solution before bringing it up. 
  • It will be okay. 
  • Actually listen to people. 
  • Be authentic and realize that we are all vulnerable. (Superiority isn't all it's cracked up to be.)
  • Genuinely take an interest in people and care about their success. 
  • Do your best to reach your full potential and purpose. 
  • Know your superpower and accept your strengths. Build your success around that. 
  • Write your eulogy and then live your life to create that end story. You control your pen.
  • Internal happiness comes with self-acceptance, self-confidence and self-love. 
  • Share your happiness and success with others. 
  • Reduce your expectations of others. 

12 May 2016

Downsizing - why don't we stage our homes when we're in them?

Staging a house seems to happen when we are moving and never when we are living in them. Why is that? I think we get busy living life and the house becomes an afterthought. I wonder if I can stage this house so it is like that while we are in it?

We've been working at having less "stuff" and keeping only those things that have versatility and purpose and a few things we truly love. It is definitely a work in progress! From what I've read and been told by Realtors, to make a house looked great (aka staged) you should get rid of about one-third of your things (How you do that is totally up to you, but try not to put it in a storage unit, just move it on to a new life.) Having less stuff really will make your house more calm and inviting, you'll just have to trust me on this one.

Do you have flat surface disease? It's a real thing, and lots of us have it. Are you seeing things sitting on lots of counters, tables, chairs, anything that will catch them? How about things that are always being used in one area and left there? Maybe those should have a home near the usage space instead of storing it where you never return it.

Are your cabinets and drawers bursting forth? It may be time to look through and see what you need and what could actually move on. I had a well-stocked kitchen and then when my parents were gone I got much of their well-stocked kitchen too. I could start a food business and probably wouldn't need too much to make it a full professional kitchen. Some of that stuff needs a new home.

Decorate with things you love. Remember we are staging for living, not selling. I decided a number of moves ago that I didn't need things that weren't originals. For example, all those Franklin Mint collectibles you've gathered over the years, they aren't worth what you think they are. Same goes for most art prints (yes, even the signed and numbered ones), Lots of what you have isn't worth much at all -- sad but true fact. Our home has original art and photography hanging in it and I love that much more than the prints and collectibles.

Bathrooms and Kitchens are always the place buyers look so in our staging for living project those should be clean. Remodeling a kitchen and/or bathroom is not in our budget at this point in time, but we can clean them and keep them decluttered until projects can be taken on. If you've got major repairs, now is the time to take care of those too as long as you can afford it, you'll have to fix them when you sell so might as well get the benefit out of it now.

Curb Appeal is another biggie in the selling game and should be in our staging life too. We are in the process of making the front of our place native plantings and it is a real chore! Plus the people my sister bought from were the most prolific users of rocks I've ever seen. We thought we were turning soil to plant the wild flowers and grasses and we turned over about one-ton of buried pointy gray rocks. I think we could build an additional home just out of the rocks we have on this property! The house has been painted, there are some flowers, the invasive have been taken out and we are now onto the enhancement of the front yard and entrance.

Clean and Repair continually. Keeping things clean will just make you feel better about your space. Do it yourself, or hire someone to do it, either way the end result will make you happy. Jot down the things that need repairs and get them done. I've got a running list on a notepad, today I added fix the toaster cord and fix the squeaky drawer. Lots of the fixes can be found with a simple Internet search and YouTube often has handy dandy tutorials on how to make things right again,

11 May 2016

Downsizing - is it time to move?

While I was driving to meet a client, I saw a sign on a building that suggested we "Sell Your House, Live Your Life!" What a grand idea, and it made me think about how our homes are really there to support our lives, not the other way around. At this point in my life, I want to simplify my life. For me, that means reducing possessions and creating memories rather than acquiring more stuff.

When we were younger, we fell into the consumerism trap, buy the first house and buy all kinds of things to go into that space. Sell that house and buy a bigger one that needs even more stuff, and so on and so on and so on... Since we lost everything that defined that lifestyle, it has become simpler to decide what we need and love versus falling into the trap of the The Great American Dream... or for us, "The Great American Deception."

We've been in transition mode since 2011, and if we include my parent's dying we can move back to 2006. It is challenging and rewarding and has allowed me to look at things I have or contemplate purchasing with a new mindset - is it versatile. I continually go thorough things in hopes of getting to a place where everything serves a purpose, even if that is just a piece I love and that is the purpose. The trick to the "love" objects is to not have too many of them. If things aren't versatile, I don't want them in my world.

Did you know your brain is out to get you? Yes, it really is! Your mind is trying to convince you that status quo is where it's at, don't change a thing, stay right where you are, do nothing different. I can almost hear your collective minds rationalizing everything to keep you right where you are at! Now is the time to be brave, you can do this! Things to consider, is your house supporting you or is it like the movie The Money Pit? Do you need a big house or could you live better in a smaller space? Is you house more cost effective to stay in than moving would be? Don't let you feelings get in the way of letting go of your house. When we sold the family home I was surprised at home many extended family members were impacted. We absolutely made the right choices about moving, and we're happier, sometimes it is challenging to see that is happening when you are in the middle of it.

What are you afraid of? Are you living a life that makes you happy? Did you just get a rush of feelings and excuses that keep you right where you are? Don't worry, that's completely normal. Channel some Eleanor Roosevelt and do one thing every day that frightens you -- your life will be better for it. Take that leap of faith and expect that you'll fly, the parachute will open, you'll land on your feet, what ever makes you comfortable giving it a go, get going!

10 May 2016

Downsizing - best ways to keep your treasures

Edit everything you have and then edit again and probably another edit would be good too. Then you'll be ready to start preserving your favorite things.

Be aware of things that can and will destroy your treasures. What things can destroy your goodies? Heat, bugs, vermin, leaky plumbing, light and dirt. Add to those, fire and flood and you've got all the heirloom killers.

When you are getting ready to store your treasures clean them up first. Also take off pins, staples, tape, Post-it Notes, and any other things that might stain your treasures. Find a place to store you things, but not in the attic (too hot) or in the garage (rodents and temperature extremes) not in the basement unless you like mildew.

Containers - I've got some of my things stored in plastic tubs, opaque (not see through) rather than clear. Wipe them out with rubbing alcohol and allow to dry. Get some dry-activated charcoal (you'll be able to find them in a pet supply store that sells fish items) to absorb odors and pollutants and create a chemically controlled micro-climate.

Archival - Look for storage items that say archival right one them. Archival means that your treasures will be protected from the ravages of time. When you take the extra steps to protect your goods, they will last longer. Acid is not your friend in the storage game and that's why you want to use archival materials and techniques as much as possible. Yes, it can be a bit more pricey, but in the long run you'll be happy you made the effort.

Wash your hands! This one applies to all parts of life, but especially when you are preserving treasures. Don't handle items if you have lotions or perfumes on your body. One stop gap method is to wear gloves when handling the treasures.

Create your own museum - it should contain paperwork like birth certificates, marriage certificates, house titles, wills, and other legal documents that will have value to future family historians. Add to that items that show off your passions.

09 May 2016

Downsizing - move that stuff on

I've moved a lot all through my life, and my husband and I moved 5 times in 2 years -- I wouldn't suggest it, but it is a good way to decide what is important and what isn't.

Once you start this process you'll notice it takes a fair amount of emotional, mental and physical effort and that's okay. I'm getting better at it, but it's important to keep that sort and purge going.

I've really worked hard at creating a habit of sorting, purging and editing my things and my life. My goal is to create a home filled only with things I use and love. I'm planning on keeping some of the good stories and displaying them -- now the trick is deciding which ones are the keepers.

If you've been here reading these posts, or if you've talked with me, you know I am always encouraging the life edits. Of course I am still holding on to things that could easily be let go, and who knows if that will ever improve. Right now I am in the process of creating a simple, free, clean, clear life. I want things that I enjoy and support me in my current life, and I know there are things that will need to move on.

Books - My next boxes to look through contain books, lots and lots of books. My plan is to hold each one, acknowledge if it has been read, decide if I will read them again, and if not, they move on.

Calendars - Wow have I kept a lot of those for years and years. Who needs that many paper calendars? I'm sure it isn't me, but we'll see how it goes.

Jewelry - I wore lots of jewelry for a long time, but lately it hasn't been something that has been important to me. I have some pieces that I still love and will keep, but the pieces that aren't being worn could probably be moved on for someone else to enjoy.

Those are the next boxes and I still am putting off the photos...

08 May 2016

Downsizing - the family house

Clearing out the family house was one of the most challenging things to accomplish after our parents died. They were married 50 years and the house was like a familial time capsule.

One thing to be aware of is the emotional toll this kind of sorting can bring to the surface. You'll likely argue, maybe not about things, but because there is a ton of stress involved. Keep in mind that people don't think or process things the same way -- that will buy you lots of goodwill when working through the sort. Everyone had different agendas and different processes too.

As we sorted (and I am still sorting) things, I always think about how wonderful it would have been to go through the things when my parents were still around. If you can work through the sort while your folks are around it will make it much simpler down the road. I'm sure your folks don't want you stressing out over all their stuff, and they probably would have had no interest in you fighting with your siblings. Having as much as possible in liquid form (think about the saying "Cash is King" mentality) will help you in the long run.

If you aren't up for sorting through everything, you could do an estate liquidation sale or auction. Ideally you'll find a company that can help you move things on quickly while getting you the best price for them. Here are few sites to get you started.

How quickly you want to get through a house depdns on a lot of things. If you are paying a mortgage and taxes, and insurance you may want to move it faster than if the mortgage is paid off. 

07 May 2016

Downsizing - more photos, some memorabilia and military medals

I'm a photographer, and sorting photos has been one of my hardest tasks through this entire process. There is just something in me that says photos should be kept and treasured.

There is HUGE power and importance associated with images, and tossing them seems so wrong... Plus, as you sort through them you may feel like you are watching life passing before your eyes at a breakneck pace. I'm lucky that we had movies and photos, rather than that and lots of slides. I'm not sure I could sort slides as effectively as the movies and prints.

Best tip? Pull out your best and most favorite images and throw the rest out. (My heart just skipped a beat on typing that!) I've got a decent scanner so I've been scanning images as I go and hope to share them with the family in a combo genealogy photo book. Yes, BIG visions! Here are some places to look at for scanning, printing, preserving your images. I'm sure there are plenty of others out there too, but this will get you started.

The goal with images is to preserve memories, and having piles and piles and piles of images, slides and movies isn't the best way to curate your family's history. One of the life editing books I read had a great tip on images. Throw away all the landscapes and then pick three with people in them from each holiday or vacation. (Yes, I cringed a little there too, but I have a commercial client that I shoot landscape photos for that go into a calendar... unless you have that, the tip is still awesome.) 

I've got a shadow box that keeps some memorabilia in it, and those things were edited down to make more sense. Keep some treasures and let the rest of the items go. When you make those items important and loved and showcase them in your space it is worthwhile. If they are sitting in a box, a closet, or in a pile of stuff, how important is it to you? 

My father served in the Marines, and his medals are something that I want to keep and display. He was really proud of his service and that has stuck with us over the years. Eventually I may incorporate the flag that draped his casket into a shadow box, or perhaps we will donate it to Fort Snelling National Cemetery to fly there. 

06 May 2016

Downsizing - Memorabilia is hard to let go of

I've moved on a lot of things from our parents house and ours too. In fact, boxes of goods went out today with a charity pick up and the next batch is scheduled for May 21st. Some things are really easy to let go, and as you progress through everything you've kept, you may find some challenges when you come to photographs, military items, letters and other historical artifacts that you will definitely come across.

One of the challenges I kept coming up against is how these are pieces indicating the end of an era. My father has been gone since 2006 and my mother since 2009, and yet it is still difficult to close out everything from their lives.

If you haven't gone through this experience, you'll notice how weird it feels to see your family "treasures" (okay, they may not be treasures) heading off with strangers. All of that becomes simpler and then you'll see all the tough stuff -- I've got some boxes that I've sorted through a number of times and just can't seem to get it accomplished. Those are on my goals and I hope to get going on them in the next few weeks. (Maybe it is something about arriving at "Double Nickels" that is prompting me to be more dedicated to finishing that project.)

How do you decide what is and what isn't important? I think back to our ancestors and how they didn't keep every piece of everything, it's a good system. They didn't need storage lockers, they didn't need every chipped, cracked, dinged item that ever crossed a threshold. Keep only the most treasured items and let the rest go. When you do that, your "keepers" will be even more valuable to you. The challenging piece for me is separating the memories from the physical items.

I'm going to try the "Need, Use, Love" method and then try and check my emotions and sentiments while I work through it.

05 May 2016

Downsizing - where should I sell my things

When you are liquidating everything, an estate sale is a great option, You can find estate sales and auctions, and list your own, on the Estate Sales site. They have an app for your iPhone and Google Play too.

What else should you consider for moving things on to new homes?

  • Garage / Yard sales. Great for items under $100. CASH only. Picture it as a way to move things you wouldn't take the time to list on Craiglist or similar. 
  • Craigslist.  I've certainly moved a lot of things on via Craigslist. Really good for large items that are lower cost and still in good condition and available for local buyers. You'll want to create an account, create an accurate (read honest) description and then put up images. I try to include measurements because I've found people really appreciate that. Items prices right move quickly. Only sell to people that will pick up the items. CASH only. For smaller items, meet the buyer in a public place, bring your cellular phone and another person too. I try to avoid having people come into the house. Have a high value item? Meet the buyer at your local police station. 
  • eBay. Worldwide exposure for your items. You'll need to set up an account. Create a descriptive and accurate ad for your item. Take lots of good quality images to showcase your item. I like PayPal and you and the buyer are both protected by using that system. eBay takes a percentage and it could be as much as 13%. Always require a signature when shipping items. 
  • Resale shop. This is an alternative to donating your items. Figure you'll pay about 25% of the sale price to the shop. If I am looking at this as an option, I often end up donating the items and taking a tax deduction. 
  • Consignment Shops. You'll be splitting the sale price with the shop. If they are generous, it will likely be 40% for you and 60% for them, more likely the split will be 30/70. Make sure you know the rules ahead of time. How long do they keep the item? Will they continue to discount the price until the item sells? If you don't pick up the piece after a specified amount of time does the store get to keep the item? 
  • Family Jewels. Try not to be surprised when the glittery stuff fails to sell for what you think it is worth. Don't waste your time shipping gold off to an "as seen on TV" store, you won't necessarily get the best price for it that way. Follow gold pricing for a few days to see what it is selling for.  
  • Auctions. These are best for high-end (really high end, not just high-end in your mind) items. Figure on 10-15% of your sale price going to the auction house. 
  • Collectors. This is more for reselling rare books and collectible coins, For the most part, your Franklin Mint and similar collectibles, art prints (yes, even the signed and numbers ones) are  not likely to be valuable for resale. Do some research to find out where collectors of your type of items go and then go there too.  
  • Pawn Shops. Avoid on the selling side, but you may find some deals if you are buying,,, but this isn't about adding items! Pawn shops pay about 10-cents on the dollar so you're not likely to be rolling in cash using this method. 

04 May 2016

Downsizing - How to sort through things

There are some tips to help you get started on the sort and I've found them to be pretty helpful in my projects.

Do I Love It? Do I Need It? Will I Use It? If you don't have one "yes" in this group of questions, the item should go. Work really hard to not keep things because "it will come in handy someday" trust me, someday never comes.

One thing at a time. Instead of looking at the entire house, take one small segment at a time. Yes, even one drawer is an accomplishment. One drawer, one closet, one dresser, one room. You get the idea.

Choose what you are keeping. I know! Revolutionary idea! If you consciously decide what stays it makes it easier. When I recently sorted my closet, I took everything out and then put back the things I love. So much simpler!

I'll do it tomorrow. You know better than that! Do it now! Sort frequently and your life will be better for it. Resist the temptation on consumerism.

Talk through it. Sometimes it's hard to let things go and talking about what the challenges are makes it simpler. You feel guilty about letting something go. Don't let this keep you from moving things on. Just because something worked great in your parent's house doesn't mean you need to keep it forever. Someday never comes so let those things go so you are living in the now. Sentimental value can be wonderful but not if it control everything in your life. Keep the memories, not all the material goods.

Life is worth living in the present. You'll be able to have a much better time living in the present if you keep sorting, selling and clearing out things on a regular basis. Less really is more.

03 May 2016

Downsizing - facing your mortality

I had no idea when I started sorting through things how much impact that would have on me. It was the weirdest combination of things including staring right at mortality, mine and other peoples. What things I've loved in life and things I regret, the regrets are mostly things I didn't do rather than things I did... although there are a few choices I might make differently.

What makes it so hard? For me it is the basics of love, loss, family and friends, growing up, Then factor in the memories attached to every item -- some of them clearly no longer useful, but the image of their role in childhood is deeply ingrained in them. I'm not sure if I was fearful that moving them on would remove the memory too. Foolish I know, but nonetheless it was lurking in the sorting process. Sorting was cathartic, like becoming a grownup in a painful and sometimes traumatic way.

I noticed as we were sorting things there was a shift from things to emotional attachments to the things. The emotional piece was really strong since both our parents were gone and that was unexpected. The fragility of life was painfully obvious as the sorting began. We knew the things weren't the people, but sometimes it is hard to see that as you are working through the goods.

Biggest tip? Remind yourself that letting something go does not diminish how you felt about the person it belonged to. This might be hard initially, but it will get simpler as you keep practicing.

Thanks for stopping past, more to come in future posts.

02 May 2016

Small House Living - Keep, Sell, Donate, or Trash

What are we going to do with all this stuff? I can't tell you how many times we have said that in the past 10-years. My big tip right now is get rid of as much as possible now so your family and friends don't have to do it once you are dead.

When you are standing and looking at all the goods, it often seems like you are looking into a museum of your family's history. Sure, some of the stuff is complete junk, but all of it is likely laden with memories, and those have the potential to be really powerful.

We live in an age of consumerism, and I'm hoping that you won't have to deal with too much craptastic items when you are faced with the sort. P.S. if you think we aren't in the age of consumerism, do a quick Internet search on Declutter or Self-Storage and see what you find.

Don't kid yourself that everything you see is just stuff. It will take on a life of its own, so be prepared for that and you'll do a better job of handling the experience. Yes, memories have lots of impact on the experience, but you will make it through.

One of the hardest things for me was keeping the focus on clearing out and liquidating at our parent's home. Frankly I am still working on it although the goods are not located in that house anymore. I'm working on my own house too and seeing the liquidation as potential cash makes it a little simpler. I'm not trashing memories, I'm giving us more money to live on.

Not wanting to overwhelm you so will continue this in the next post. Thanks for stopping past!

29 April 2016

Downsizing - what to do with photographs

What should you do with all those photographs? The easiest thing to do is keep only the very best ones. Any photos that are out of focus, too dark, too light, or are not making you happy should go. (This applies to printed photos as well as your digital images.)

If you're wondering what are the best images, keep in mind that they may not be the posed portrait images. You may have favorites that show people living their lives. For us, it often involves dogs, horses, funny faces, sticking our head through themed cut outs. You'll know the ones that make you feel good.

Share your images with people! Family and friends appreciate getting images, and I've been known to send old photos off with notes that instruct people to keep them.

Make you life, and those of people you love, easier. Label all your images on the back with names, dates, locations and other important information if you know it. There are specially made pencils for writing on the back of photographs, or use a soft lead (#2) pencil. Family Tree Magazine has some additional tips at their site too.

When you are writing people's names on the back of images, be sure to use their actual names. Grandpa may make sense to you, but down the road that won't be helpful to other people. List them by first and last name and if you want to make genealogy folks happy, list women by First Name (Maiden Last Name) Married Last Name.

Boxes of Photos - I love this for family members, and children in particular. Toss your best labeled images into an archival box and mark the outside with the person's name and the date range of the images. Simpler than keeping up on photo albums and easily transported when your child moves to their own place.

Movies - okay, not really a photo, but you will want to take your old film and get it updated to a more modern alternative. Right now that is DVDs, and it will provably change, but having backups is a good plan.

What are your favorite tips for preserving your photos?

25 April 2016

Downsizing - Trash or Treasure

We sorted through our first house (pictured above), subsequent houses and my parents house and there was so much in those to try and decide what was trash or treasure. (You'll want to hire an appraiser to help you on some items, it really is worth it.)

OT, or Obvious Trash. Spoiled food in the fridge, medicines that are beyond date, burned out bulbs, badly chipped or cracked plates and glasses, those are all trash. That being said, don't get overzealous about throwing things away, you'll want to sort and then consult with family (or friends) on what to do with things.

Are you planning a sale or auction? Have some professionals come to your place and look at the estate before you start tossing things out or having them hauled away. Having professionals come help you will let you know if things you think are "worthless" are really valuable to someone else.

Some things I found to be worth more than anticipated included

  • Some of my husband's old cereal boxes 
  • Rag rugs - and some of those were really ratty looking
  • Old textiles and linens (oh how I wish I had the set up to use some of those I kept)
  • Empty (you read that correctly) perfume bottles
  • Vintage clothing (ask your pros what decades are most popular) 
  • Postcards, even the ones that have writing on them 
From the clean out of the Ohio house, we learned how important it is to look through books, papers, "empty" envelopes, old purses, pockets of clothing, inside the walls of bathrooms, behind the wall of the bathtub, in the walls of the garage, buried in the yard. So many options!

Before you throw out Christmas cards, maps, manuals and sales receipts, check to see if they are of interest to your local historical society. I've sent plenty of things on to local and national historical societies and it feels good to do that too. 

23 April 2016

Minnesota Horse Expo 2016: Has the show lost its focus?

Another year and another Minnesota Horse Expo. This time, like last time, it was bigger than ever. More people were wandering around more booths than ever eyeing items in spectacular abundance.  

  • Wear comfortable shoes and clothing 
  • Drink plenty of water 
  • Get to the event early 
  • If you freak out when you step in manure, look where you are walking
  • Baby strollers 
    • These are NOT battering rams so please stop running into other visitors
    • If you are not horse / dog savvy, you'll want to pay attention to where your stroller is in relation to dog's heads and horse's legs
  • Plan which seminars / demos you want to attend so you see what you want
  • Attend on a weekday rather than a weekend day for smaller crowds (Gloomy / rainy days are also lighter attended) 
  • Visit speakers / clinicians at their booth. These folks are generally approachable and like to meet with people. Stop past and ask questions. 
  • Bring cash for admission and food. Vendors will likely take credit cards, but some food stands do not. 

This year it didn't feel like there were any great new standout items. No next best thing that defined a category and got everyone talking.  

This year, the Expo seemed much less focused on horses and horse-related products. There were some new trucks and trailers, some new colors and styles in tack and togs, and every building felt like the last one with the style of vendors. 

As we walked the show, it felt like we were at the Minnesota State Fair in the Grandstand building with all the hucksters. We noticed a lot of repeat businesses, not the same company but a lot that do or offer the same things. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I don't need any more moisturizers or warming packs. 

This is a great venue to see unusual breeds that you may not encounter elsewhere. They offer a brief parade of breeds in the Lee and Rose Warner Coliseum (always the Hippodrome to me) and that is a good chance to see the breeds and hear a little about them. If you don't care to walk the entire event, there are horse drawn wagons to take you from one end to the other end. 

Depending on what you want to learn, there are some good chances to see speakers and clinicians. Some of these are definitely better than others. I cringed when the gaited horse clinician was talking about how a demo horse was trotting and it was actually pacing, but perhaps most people don't know the difference or don't care. We watched a little musical dressage too, and it was being performed well, but it may be a little too dull for people that aren't dedicated to that part of the horse world or don't know much about horses. 

There are lots of options for food at the expo. We went with the sausage booth outside the horse barn and got 3 Italian Sausages on steamed Italian bread for $27. They came with onions and sauerkraut for the price and were really tasty. The sausages came from Brother's Meat and Seafood in Maple Grove in case you want to replicate something at home. 

Best tip here is get to the show early. I prefer to dedicate my walking while being at the event rather than walking from a parking lot that feels like it is in a different county. We were there early enough to park and then have some great fun people watching as sales reps, horsemen and other vendors wandered past. 

19 April 2016

Laid off at 59.5, now what?

It's always challenging to have a change in job situations, and it gets worse and worse as you get older. If you are over 40, the feds recognize that you are at risk for age discrimination. Now imagine how that looks when you are nudging 60. Based on some of the human resources folks I have talked to, you may be in the discrimination bracket at 35 -- that's fairly discouraging.

An interesting twist is when you get laid off and you're too young to collect retirement benefits and too old to be considered viable by many employers. Welcome to limbo, it is an unpleasant place.

Things to consider as you are encountering life changes from some of the folks I consider experts.

  • FINANCES - how are you doing money-wise? Are you able to collect unemployment? How long are you able to go without a check before you run out of money? Do you really need to make as much money as you were making? As my favorite financial expert shared, "You can retire anytime, it's just a matter of how well."
  • RESET / REVAMP - Have you been toiling away at a job you don't like? (Yes, there are actually people out there that love what they do!) This might be a great opportunity to figure out what you really want to do when you grown up. This is the time to figure out what you really want to do and what will make you happy.
  • START YOUR OWN BUSINESS - if you have skills that work well for hanging out your own shingle or doing some consulting, that might be a great place to get started. Take advantage of the help from experts at SCORE, a national nonprofit affiliated with the Small Business Administration 

If you decide that finding another job is best for your situation and you are 62 or older, be ready to make about 36% less than you were making before. More in my age range? Those 50-61 see an average pay cut of 20%. (It's all sunshine and lollipops out there!) If you think you'll hold out for a wage that matches what you were making, you're probably making a mistake. Find ways to fill in the gaps with benefits, perks or other ways to add money to the offer. 

Want some more great news -- where is sarcastic font when I need it? You may need to take a job for the health benefits and it won't matter what the salary amount is. A little reality shock in our world, when my husband was laid off our health insurance costs are now more than our monthly rent. Health coverage for the two of us is $1,500 per month with a $6,000 deductible for each person - that means we pay the monthly premiums and all of  the medical expenses up to a total of $12,000 for the two of us. Any Rx is out of pocket too. I'm just happy the insurance companies aren't suffering.... (Oops, almost jumped on the soapbox, but that is for a different day.)

Have you taken time to rethink how long you will be working? I believe that our situation from 2008 onward (recession my arse) indicates that we will work until the day we die in the traces while someone beats us in the street in hopes that we will get up and keep pulling that cart. 

Do you have the fear that you won't find a job and won't make it 62 for collecting social security? Join the club, all the people in this boat are afraid of that. Lots of things factor in on when to start collecting. Are you in decent shape? You may be able to wait. Currently waiting until 67 to collect gives you the best pay out, or even better wait until you are 70 if you can afford it. Can't wait until 67 or 70? You can start collecting at 62. You'll be able to find out your Social Security estimate with their online estimator tool You may want to find a financial adviser to help you too. Make sure they are a fiduciary so you aren't paying more than your fair share to get assistance. 

Good luck! 

17 April 2016

Who owns whom MARS Petcare and Blue Pearl Veterinary and Banfield Pet Hospital

BluePearl joins Mars Petcare, owner of Banfield Pet Hospitals

Mars Petcare likes the DVM business, and why wouldn't they? Adding Blue Pearl to their current DVM business, Banfield Pet Hospital* making Mars the largest pet nutrition and veterinary care provider in the world. 
BluePearl CEO Darryl Shaw said,“We will continue to operate as a separate, distinct business unit maintaining our absolute commitment to serving the primary care veterinary communities where we operate hospitals because we know these relationships provide the necessary foundation for the best possible care for our patients,” he says. “We will also continue our commitment to offer high-quality referral specialty and emergency care and, consistent with our historical model, we will not offer primary care services.” 

Mars is no stranger to the pet industry with more than 70 years in the marketplace and 38 pet-related brands. It is the largest, fastest growing segment of the Mars business. Mars has more than 37,000 employees in 60 countries. Mars Petcare purchased the IAMS, Eukanuba and Natura brands from Procter and Gamble in 2014 for $2.9 Billion. 

Banfield Pet Hospital was acquired in 2007 and now has over 900 hospitals in the United States and Puerto Rico with over 3,200 veterinarians. 

BluePearl started in 1996 when Darryl Shaw and his brother Dr Neil Shaw started a private practice in Tampa, Florida. Their company merged with Veterinary Specialty and Emergency of Kansas City to create BluePearl Veterinary Partners in 2008. They now have 53 locations and over over 3,000 employees, a little over 600 of those are veterinarians. 

14 April 2016

Neighbor barking dog letter

Welcome to passive-aggressive Maple Grove, Minnesota! Thankfully this is not my neighbor, but I feel badly for anyone living in this neighborhood.

I saw this note (which is redacted and has two underlines in red that I added, one for a weird word and one suggesting people call 911) on Easter Sunday while at friends for dinner. "Sincerely Your Neighbor" did not share their address, used a generic "Dear Neighbor" and mailed it from the main Minneapolis post office to keep themselves anonymous.

The gutless sender references a dog barking ordinance which has much more particulars than dog barks and you should speed dial the local police via 911, but don't let those details get in the way of bitching about your neighbor's dog.

Are these neighbors sure that is where the dog barking is coming from? They certainly had not contacted the people in the house before sending their neighborly letter out to folks. Did only the folks in the neighborhood with dogs get the letter or was it blanketed to everyone? Makes me wonder if "Sincerely Your Neighbor" is just full of crap hot air.

What should you try if you have a barking dog, crazy party, never ending leaf blowers? How about starting with politely asking them to keep it down?  If that doesn't work you could send out a letter, but you might actually want to sign it and own your work. (I know, that really goes against the "Minnesota Nice" passive-aggressive method, but hey, give it a go. If it is really bad you could contact the local police, but this is NOT a 911 issue. I know Maple Grove is a fairly safe community, but random barking dog is NOT an emergency.

Bottom line? Put you big girl (or big boy) panties on and try communicating with your neighbors first. In case "Sincerely Your Neighbor" reads this, I did check with your local police and they do NOT recommend calling 911 for a barking dog.

17 March 2016

The Periodic Table of SEO Success

This summarizes what I use when working with clients. Search Engine Land has done a wonderful job of putting together an easy infographic for sharing.

Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

22 February 2016

Parker's Lake Cemetery Plymouth, Hennepin County, Minnesota

Some headstones from Parker's Lake Cemetery Plymouth, Hennepin County, Minnesota. These are not my family, but if they are someone that fits yours, feel free to use the images.