Personal ponderings from a natural night-owl!

Archive for January, 2009

Email Etiquette

Email is NOT new. Email as we know it has been around for at least 25 years. If email were a person, (s)he would be well past drinking age and probably married with kids by now.

I apologize if you’re the choir and I’m preaching, but I need to get this out of my system.  (In my defense, I lasted almost a year and a half longer than John at Taste of Tech before blogging this.  He has particular problems with #7 and #9 ).

DEBBIE’S TOP 10 EMAIL DO’S AND DON’TS

1.  DON’T forward ANY email that says, “Forward this to all your friends.”  Ever. Period.  You know the old question, “If you friends all jumped off a bridge…”  Expect a terse email back if you send these types of emails regularly to me.

2.  DON’T forward every “funny” email you receive, and especially don’t forward them to me.  I’ve probably already seen them.  MAYBE send me the occasional REALLY GOOD ONE if you truly think I’d enjoy it.  Only my dad can get away with sending every dumb email “joke” email he gets – and even HE is going to get reprimanded one of these days!

3.  DO use the “bcc” – blind carbon copy – line and not the “to” line if you insist on forwarding the types of emails listed in #1 and #2.  If you don’t use BCC, you have just potentially sent my email address to thousands of people without my permission.  That makes me grumpy.

4.  DO check SNOPES.COM before sending me a “warning” you received via email.  I know you are well-intentioned, but the thing against which you are warning me is most likely bogus, wrong, or outdated.

5.  DON’T send an email that says only, “Thanks.”  And especially don’t “reply all” with a “thanks” email!

6.  DON’T TYPE EVERYTHING IN CAPITAL LETTERS.  IT MAKES YOU SEEM LIKE YOU ARE SHOUTING AND IT IS RUDE!

7.  DO use “Reply All” if you answer via email a question I emailed you with other people copied in.  Otherwise, I just have to forward your message to the other people, which wastes my time.

8.  DON’T click on any links in email.  Copy the link location and paste it into your browser.  Just because your friend sent the email to you doesn’t mean your friend checked it for viruses OR didn’t pick up a virus from another “friend.”

9.  DON’T send an email with a blank subject line.  It only takes a few seconds to title your email.  If it’s important enough to send, it’s important enough to title.  I know people who won’t answer or even acknowledge emails with blank subject lines.

10. DO keep all emails you send for at least a year, if not longer, and DO create a folder filing system for your incoming emails.  It’s simple, it’s fast, and it saves me from having to re-send something you should already have.

So there you go.  I feel so much better!

Before I posted this, I did an informal survey of my Plurk friends.  Their most annoying pet peeves were #1, #2, and #9.  It’s nice to know I am not alone!

So do me a favor and email the link to this blog post to anyone you know who is still email illiterate.  And if a friend sent you to this blog post, don’t be mad, be grateful!  For every one friend who tells you that you are annoying, there are probably 10 who are thinking it and letting you stay that way.

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Simple Solutions

Sometimes, the simple solution staring us in the face still eludes us.

I’ve had a mini-van for over 7 years, and for at least 5 of those years, the placement of the plastic garbage cans has caused me a problem: they get in the way of my sliding door.  I have long, unsightly white scratches on my van door from frequent collision with the cans.  Until today, it was a problem without a solution.

old-way

There’s simply no better place for the garbage cans than where they are.  Slimmer cans are not to be found.  My van won’t fit on the other side of the garage without MAJOR rearranging, and there are sliding doors on both sides anyhow.

But this morning, I came home knowing I would be leaving twice more.  I usually crawl through the front seats from/to the passenger side to get in and out, but in the winter THAT becomes a major pain with drippy, heavy boot on my feet.  So I decided to back into the garage for today. That’s when I noticed that when I’m backed in, the garbage cans are not in the way at all!

My front door clears the pole, the sliding doors are obstruction free, and the problem is solved!

new-way

I know why I had never considered this solution before.  Somewhere along the way, I picked up the impression that backing into the garage wasn’t as safe as pulling in forward because exhaust fumes get trapped in the front part of the garage instead of being vented out the large open door in the back.  It probably does increase the amount of trapped fumes, but cars today emit a lot less exhaust.  I don’t ever idle my car in the garage so I bet the “increased risk” is minimal, if measurable at all.

Just to be safe, I posted over in NPR’s Car Talk forum to see what others had to say.  But at this point, I’m pretty sure the increased blood pressure I experience every time my car door hits the garbage can is a larger health risk than the exhaust fumes.

From now on, I’m backing in.  Problem solved!

Living History

It’s been 12 momentous hours.  More words have and will be written about this day than one person could read in a lifetime.  People far more qualified an insightful than I will dissect every aspect of this day.

There’s no doubt that President Obama is an outstanding orator and an inspiring leader.

“We will extend a hand, if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

“Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met.”

“Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed.”

“We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.”

“We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and nonbelievers.”

Wow.  And yes.  To it all.

Let me add just a few personal, and uncharacteristically non-sentimental observations on the day.

1.  President Obama spoke thousands of words today.  Many were well-crafted, profound, thought-provoking.  But these words, spoken near the beginning of his remarks at the Congressional luncheon after the swearing-in ceremony, stopped me in my tracks:

“I want to think the devoted staff and volunteers, including our wait staff here today who were putting up with me wandering through the tables.  It’s always hazardous duty serving in a room full of politicians, but I thank all of you for just an incredible, incredible event.”

In the midst of his 12 hour marathon academy acceptance speech, he thanked the luncheon wait staff.  Complete class.

2.  President Obama is left handed like me.  I didn’t know that until I saw him sign his first official documents, then I noticed immediately.  He is only the 8th left-handed president in history.  (I love the internet!)  Here’s the list.  This is also a cute article that discusses his lefty-ness.

3.  The watch President Obama wore to the inaugural balls was ugly!  A big clunky, chunky black thing – ugh.  But it’s interesting that he wears a watch.  So though he’s young, he’s not quite young enough to be of the “let me check my cell phone for the time” generation.  The 39 your old me likes that, because I am still a watch person myself.

4.  He’s been in office just over 12 hours and he’s already starting to fulfill campaign promises. Within the last hour, he suspended for 120 days proceedings involving prisoners at Guantanamo.  And there’s this from the new, improved, and completely redesigned www.whitehouse.gov website that went online at 12 noon:

“One significant addition to WhiteHouse.gov reflects a campaign promise from the President: we will publish all non-emergency legislation to the website for five days, and allow the public to review and comment before the President signs it.”

What?  We get to SEE and COMMENT ON legislation pending signature? Yes.  And wow.  (Go sign up for the White House blog RSS feed – and if you don’t know how to do it or what “RSS” even means, I challenge you to go find out and learn something new!)

History’s been made.  The future awaits.

If I Can, You Can, Too!

I was going to blog about something totally different today, then I found this article in my Google reader.  Apparently, cosmetics manufacturers and retailers were caught colluding to fix prices.  Their “punishment” is a requirement to give away product for free.  And no, this is NOT a hoax!

If you puchased a cosmetic item in the last 10 years, you should read this document closely because starting THIS TUESDAY, January 20th, 2009 you might be eligible to receive one free cosmetic item.

Now, I don’t wear makeup very much.  I probably buy makeup once every 5 or 6 year, in flagrent disregard of all the warnings that you should replace your makeup every 6 months.  But even I do legitimately qualify for a freebie under the terms of this settlement.

No receipt or proof of purchase is needed, but this is a “first come, first served, while it lasts” offer, so I suggest getting to the store bright and early on Tuesday.  And I am printing a copy of the settlement and the Snopes.com page in the very likely event that I run into a clueless store employee.

Happy freebie shopping, everyone!

Yak Razors

With the internet, it is easy to learn something new everyday.  Now, whether what I learn is particularly USEFUL is a different matter altogether!  Take the concept of “yak-shaving.”

What I’ve learned from SkyDaddy and Seth Godin is that “yak-shaving” is the term given to first thing you have to do to accomplish what you really want to accomplish.  A comprehensive example is given here on Seth’s blog, but here’s a personal example that popped into my mind.

Let’s say I want to wash a particular load of laundry, but I find that there is already a load in the washer.  I need to dry that load, but there’s a load in the dryer already.  THAT load needs to get upstairs, but there are no laundry baskets – they are all full of clean kid clothes.  I need to put the kids’ clean clothes away, but the weather has turned colder and there is no room in their drawers for winter clothes.  I need to make room by removing the summer clothes, but I have no more storage tubs.  So in order to do the laundry, I have to go to the store and buy some storage tubs OR clean out existing tubs and take clothes to Goodwill.  Yak-shaving!

Now, according to SkyDaddy, a yak-shaving razor is a tip or tidbit of information that helps you shave the yak faster or helps you avoid shaving the yak altogether.  This lengthy introduction-cum-explanation (whew!) is leading to my five yak razors:  tidbits of information I know which others may not.  I aspire to be a Renaissance woman, a Jill-of-All-Trades, if you will, so my tips cover a variety of subjects!

#1.  Cooking: If you are out of eggs and in the middle of a recipe that calls for some, you can substitute mayonnaise. Use 3 to 5 tablespoons of mayo in place of each egg.  This usually makes your recipe much more rich, so don’t try it in anything that’s supposed to be low fat!

#2.  Sports: Good downhill skiing happens from the waist down. Your upper body is basically along for the ride, centered over your skis.  Once you feel what it’s like to put this into practice, you will float over the snow!

#3.  Relationships:  Keeping secrets from your spouse is the same as lying, which undermines your relationship. If you’re buying a Christmas present, planning a surprise party, or arranging a romantic weekend away, then secret-keeping is temporary and fine.  Otherwise, you are laying the groundwork for marital problems.  I am always amazed and saddened by people who admit to keeping secrets like their shopping habits, sexual fantasies, and life dreams from their spouses.  If you can’t talk about these things with your spouse, with whom CAN you talk about them?!

Corollary:  Anyone who asks you not to tell your spouse something is asking you to lie.  I always refuse.  If you tell me, you’d better assume John will know it, too!

#4.  Organizing:  It’s much harder to change your habits than to change how you deal with your habits. Example A:  if you’ve always thrown your clothes in a pile by your bed, put a laundry basket there and fold/put away when the basket gets full. Example B:  If your mail accumulates in a particular spot, put some paper bins there so you can sort the mail immediately. Example C: Put a hook in the wall where you always throw your keys.  (Learned from Julie Morgenstern’s book “Organizing from the Inside Out” which truly changed my life!)

#5. There is NOTHING you cannot learn if you really want to! Sure, some things take more effort and time to learn than others.  Along the way, you may discover you don’t want to make the effort (that was my conclusion about learning to play the guitar, even though I love the sound of it!), but that doesn’t mean you CAN’T learn.

So there you have my 5 yak razors.  Bravo if you got this far in my lengthy post!

I’m not sure this topic really works as a meme since it requires so much explanation, but if you have nuggests of information you’d like to share, and no one interested in hearing them, consider yourself tagged!  Feel free to leave your razors as comments or blog about them yourself and leave a link back to your site in the comments.

SMART Goals

I haven’t felt the need for resolutions this New Years, perhaps because the last seven months have been a time of focused change for me. But I know lots of other people are making goals, some for the first time in their lives. This post is for them.

As with everything, there are no hard and fast rules for setting goals, but there ARE some tricks and tips that could help you set goals that last beyond January 15th! One of my favorites, that I have used for years and taught to many other, revolves around the acronym SMART.

I mentioned SMART goals in a past post, but I really didn’t elaborate aside from linking to this summary website, which is an excellent resource! A SMART goal has these five characteristics:

* It is Specific.
* It is Measurable.
* It is Attainable or Achievable.
* It is Realistic or Relevant.
* It is Time-Bound or Tangible.

SPECIFIC – What do you REALLY want to do? Lets say your goal is to lose 50 pounds. That’s a great start! But WHEN do you want to do this? A specific goal has a much greater chance of being accomplished than a vague one.

Make sure you can answer the 5 W’s: who (you), what (lose 50 pounds), when (by 12/31/2009), where (from my body!), why (hmmm…) Sometimes the “why” ‘s the hardest, but most critical one to answer! When you hit the wall and feel like giving up on the goal, remembering your “why” can get you back on track.

MEASURABLE – How will you know when you’ve reached your goal? How will you measure success? When you measure your progress, you stay on track, reach your target dates, and experience the exhilaration of achievement that spurs you on to continue the effort required to reach your goal.

Some goals are inherently more concrete than others (“lose 505 pounds” versus “learn to ski” for example). But all goals can be measured in one way or another. “Learn to ski” might mean being good enough to make it down a certain run in control without falling or it might mean completing 5 ski lessons.

ATTAINABLE or ACHIEVABLE – When you tap into your true inner goals, the things you truly most want to accomplish, you find ways to make them happen. Your desire to accomplish creates your ability to accomplish. You start to discover the means to achieve your goals.

In other words, attainability or achievability is largely determined by your true inner perception. Change the little voice inside your head that tells you that you can’t, believe that you are not only able, but deserve to accomplish your goal, and you can accomplish anything!

REALISTIC OR RELEVANT – In general, goal attainment doesn’t just happen by chance. You have to be both willing and able to work toward it. This takes motivation and focus.

Why do most New Years resolutions fade away after a few weeks? Our motivation, which was strong when we were on vacation and feeling the clean slate of a new year, fades when we lose focus within life’s daily distractions.

Don’t plan to do things if you are unlikely to follow through. Better to plan only a few things and be successful rather than many things and be unsuccessful. Start small, with what you can do, experience the joys of meeting your goal, and only then gradually increase the amount of work that you ask of yourself. Setting goals in which every minute of your day or every penny of your money are accounted for is unrealistic; unplanned events will crop up and wreak havoc with your schedule. Give yourself some flexibility so that you continue to experience success through unpredictable change (this is hardest but probably most critical for us type-A perfectionists who want ti done perfectly or not at all!).

TIME BOUND or TANGIBLE – Setting a time-frame for a goal, as discussed under “specific” up above, is so critical that it deserves to be re-iterated here. I have heard it stated that a goal is a dream with a time-frame! The time-frame can also impact the attainability and realism of a goal. Trying to lose 50 pounds in 50 weeks is a far different and more achievable goal than trying to lose 50 pounds in 5 days.

But a good goal should also be tangible, meaning able to be experienced with one of your 5 senses (taste, touch, hearing, smell, or sight). When you lose 50 pounds, you will FEEL your clothes fit better and SEE a healthier person in the mirror. A tangible goal is more likely to specific and measurable, which means a greater likelihood of attainability.

So – what are your SMART goals right now? I can’t wait to hear how you are achieving them!!

Clothes Closet Clean Out

If you are like me, the years seem to be rolling by at an ever dizzying pace. Didn’t it *just* turn to 2008?  Heck even 2000 seems like it was just a few short years ago!  And if you’re even more like me, you have items in your closet that have seen more than one decade.

Most of the items from high school are long gone.  I will admit to having and occasionally wearing (with slimming undergarments) the knit dress I wore for confirmation in 8th grade, which used to blouse and tie at the waist back then but is a nice slim, straight dress with no tie now!  And I probably look better now then I did then in the strapless dress I wore under my gown for college graduation.  Though the plastic stays leave marks around my middle now and the elastic back is certainly stretched more than it was, my cleavage has greatly improved!

But the point is, I keep clothes for a  l-o-n-g   t-i-m-e.  I don’t consider this a bad thing.  I’m not a clothes horse or fashionista, so I buy for durability and versatility, not current fashion.  Actually, my definition of current fashion is “what I feel like wearing today.”   I *like* most of my clothes and I do prune out what no longer flatters my figure.  But it started to annoy me to have to push aside items I never wear to get to the items I like.

So in December of 2007, when I read a blog post suggesting an easy way to keep track of what in your closet does – or does not – get worn over the course of a year, I thought, “I can do that – and it will be fun!”  So I did, and you can, too.  Here’s how:

1.  Turn every one of your closet hangers backward.

2.  Wear what you want, when you want, for the next year, but when you hang something back up, hang the hanger the right way – forward.

3.  In one year, you will know which clothes you HAVEN’T worn because the hangers will still be backward in your closet!

Isn’t that easy?  Hardly any work at all, really.  Just the kind of organizational system I like.imgp9176

So today was closet clean-out day 2009.  Some of the items surprised me.  (What do you MEAN I haven’t worn my favorite suit in a year?  There’s no way I’m getting rid of it!  It fits well and looks good!)  In that case, I wrapped a white twist-tie around the top of the hanger and put it back in the closet.  Same with a few skirts and one blouse.  I’ll have to think hard about keeping them next year if they’ve gone a second year without wear.

But most of the items I hadn’t worn in a year got folded up for donation to charity:  hand-me-downs from my sister-in-law that didn’t match anything else I had, shirts I’d had since college, and dresses from my mom’s storage unit that made me look 60 years old.  It felt great to get them OUT of my closet.  I have more hangers, more room, and things in my closet that I love!

And when I’m out shopping for new ski pants this week to replace the ones I’ve had since high school that no longer stay snapped when I breathe (I’m sure it’s bad hardware causing that problem and not my leftover baby belly!), I might even be tempted to take a glance in the women’s section for some bargain clearance items.

Now I’m off to tackle my pants drawer.  I think there are 5 or 6 pairs of old stirrup pants that need to join the items from the closet…

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