Sunday, November 20, 2011

Weekend Wisdom

This weekend I've decided to participate in Hot Coco's Weekend Wisdom Blog Hop. Participants are to answer one of three questions.  I am choosing:

What did you learn this week that made a difference in your life, and could make a difference in someone else's?

I have to admit I’ve been a having a difficult time lately. I wake up at odd hours like 4:00 a.m. and am unable to fall back to sleep. I'm irritable. I wrote about losing my cool here. Then this week I got uncharacteristically upset when management announced a new training program based on the book Who Moved My Cheese? Unable to control my emotion, I expressed what a colossal waste of time and money this would be. Even my boss who usually backs me up couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t let this one go. I find myself unable to control how my brain works. On Friday, I had two difficult meetings along with an important project due. By the end of the day I was asking questions that didn’t make sense, began addressing co-workers by the wrong names and even told a salesman a co-worker was absent when she was clearly sitting at her desk.*

When my husband (who can tell my mood by looking into my eyes) asked what is wrong and that I seem so edgy lately, I realized I've had enough. Similar to the smoker who wakes up one morning and realizes they’ve had enough and its time to quit, I realized I no longer want to be like this. I am tired of being angry all the time. I let little annoyances fester into obsessions; the girl at the gym who never stops talking and invades my space, the manager who discounts all ideas that are not his or the one who boasts about how smart he is. Plus, I'm not feeling up to all the cooking and cleaning that comes with hosting Thanksgiving.

I told a friend my New Year’s resolution was going to be working on not getting so upset over trivial things. In 2012 I turn 50. I don’t want to be this angry middle-aged woman. Surprisingly she answered with:
That is so weird. I just told another friend that my New Year’s resolution is to relax and not get worked up about things that don’t really matter. Mellow out and take things slower. Stop killing myself for my ungrateful kids and start doing more for myself. I want more out of life. We were talking about all the ailments we have as we get older and I told her what your doctor told you that time “embrace the new you”. I still think that is sadly hilarious and true.**
Then it hit me, I along with my friends are experiencing the symptoms of menopause. During this crazy time, when I can’t control what is going on with my body I am going to need the support of friends or possibly a good therapist more than ever. I have always taken great pride in my ability to control my emotions and was able to work uninterrupted for many hours. A healthy diet and exercise program is not going to be enough. Perhaps recognizing that I have a problem and committing to change will make a difference.

* The appearance of fine lines on my face along with my perpetually chapped lips is not helping my mood.

**This was my doctor’s response when I asked her what I could do about my belly fat.

If you would like to learn more about my thoughts on business books see my post Can reading a book transform you or your business from good to great?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Be informed about Social Security

Both of my parents were eligible for a mere pittance in Social Security benefits at age 65 despite working together on the family farm 31 years before they divorced. My dad worked exclusively on the farm his entire life except for a brief stint with the army reserves. I found this hard to believe. I remember the farm not generating much income when I was small, but I thought it did fairly well once my younger siblings were in high school. How could this be?

Filing a Federal Income Tax return has nothing to do with Social Security:
My family's farm was owned by my grandparents. My father received a monthly allowance which my parents recorded as income when they filed their joint income tax return. The problem is filing an income tax return has nothing to do with the assignment of Social Security. The Social Security portion of a self-employment tax return is filed on a form called Schedule SE. So first my grandfather's name and Social Security number were listed on the Schedule SE and after his death my grandmothers. This meant all of the farm earnings and credits were posted to my grandparent’s accounts and none to my parents. This is an important lesson for anyone jointly running a family business, if you plan on one day collecting Social Security benefits make sure your portion of the business profits are filed on a separate Schedule SE with your name and social security number.

You need to remain married ten years in order to collect on your ex-spouse's Social Security account:
A marriage must last ten years before a divorced person may be eligible for an ex’s Social Security benefit. So if you’ve been married 9 years and ten months hold on for another two months if you want to one day tap into your spouse’s Social Security account. Note you will need to be unmarried to collect these benefits and at least 62 years old.

Read the obituaries:
If you were married to your ex for more than ten years make sure you read the obituaries. Once an ex-spouse has died you are eligible for a divorced survivor benefit. This benefit will be 100% of the deceased ex-spouse's benefit. If you remarry after age 60, you can still receive the survivor benefit.

My dad may be eligible for a spousal benefit:
My Mother, who worked before she was married, returned to work after her divorce and is still working at age 74. Her Social Security benefits continue to increase, as she makes additional contributions. Plus on a side note, her Social Security benefit was no longer subject to income tax once she turned 70 years old. It just occurred to me that my dad could probably collect a higher Social Security benefit if he applied for spousal benefits. He is eligible for 50% of her benefit which is probably more than he receives now. He could also be eligible for free Medicare Part A benefits based on her earnings record, since I doubt he has accumulated enough Social Security credits to be eligible for Medicare on his own. If she were to die before him he would be eligible for the higher deceased ex-spouse benefit.

He was such a jerk towards her throughout their marriage and divorce proceedings though I don’t think I can bring myself to tell him this.

See also:
Do you review your Social Security statements?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

SWG Coffee Social: The Weekly Roundup Post

Welcome to the 2nd week of The SWG Coffee Social.  This week I want to talk about how to meet other bloggers. Since I blog on a variety of topics; work, finance, books or whatever happens to be on my mind when I write my weekly post, I typically avoid blog carnivals. A blog carnival is a compilation of blog links usually centered around a previously determined topic posted on the carnival organizer's site. Many carnivals have a new host each week. Carnivals are an excellent way to promote your blog and to meet other bloggers in your niche.

I have found the next best thing to a blog carnival for discovering other bloggers are weekly roundup posts. I have found many of my favorite bloggers through these types of posts. Here are four bloggers I read who post weekly roundups guaranteed to provide stimulating reading:

Trent Hamm, a personal finance writer, posts a weekly roundup edition on his blog The Simple Dollar.

Nicole and Maggie who work in academia and also write about personal finance provide a Link Love post each week on their blog Grumpy Rumblings of the Untenured.

Rhea a 50-something blogger who examines mid-life crisis and ennui in America posts a Friday Links Variety Show on her blog The Boomer Chronicles.

Delia Lloyd of Real Delia who writes about finding yourself in adulthood writes a Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend.

Speaking of weekly lists, Nicole Abdou of Destination Unknown writes a weekly list of Things I Have Learned This Week. Her lessons are inspirational and insightful.  I met Nicole through the LBS tea party and she has written a guest post for this site. You can read her post I've lost my job. Now What? here.

How do you meet other bloggers? Do you participate in carnivals? Do you read weekly roundups? What blogs do you recommend reading this week?

Enjoy your Saturday and Happy Reading.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Lisa Bloom Preaches to the Choir

I hadn't planned on reading Lisa Bloom’s book Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World when I picked up a copy from the library. I was only interested in perusing the recommended reading list Alyssa of Socra Teas mentioned in her review of the book. I wasn’t familiar with Lisa Bloom and based on the photo-shopped picture of her printed on the book’s cover I didn’t think she’d have anything to say I didn’t already know.

So I was pleasantly surprised to learn how smart and accomplished Lisa Bloom actually is. She is an award-winning journalist, legal analyst, and trial attorney, a graduate of Yale Law School and a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of UCLA. Once I started reading I couldn’t put the book down.

The book is divided into two sections.

The first half explains the problem:
In just one generation women have made huge strides in education (girls now outperform boys in elementary, middle, and high schools; we graduate from college, professional, and graduate schools in greater numbers than males), while our brains have become devalued.

Twenty-five percent of young American women would rather win America's Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize.

Twenty-three percent would rather lose their ability to read than their figures.

We spend our time watching reality TV, reading tabloids and getting the latest beauty treatments including plastic surgery. Even our news is filled with fluffy pieces; Lindsey Lohan’s latest arrest gets prime time coverage right along with the war in Afghanistan.

Americans know more about Angelina Jolie’s baby bump and her relationship with Brad Pitt than about her humanitarian work. Bloom includes four pages detailing Jolie’s charity work most of which has never been covered by the American media.

She included interesting facts such as:
The United States has a higher ratio of maternal deaths than at least forty other countries even though we spend more money per capita for maternity care than any other country. Yet 38 percent of Americans believe that our health care system is “above average” or “the best in the world.” (Pg. 36)

We imprison far more of our population than any other country in the world. We incarcerate more of our own population, in raw numbers, than China, a notoriously punitive country with more than four times our population. (Pg. 42)

According to the National Endowment for the Arts in its comprehensive 2004 study, To Read or Not to Read, one-third of high-school graduates never read another book for the rest of his life. (Pg. 48)

In the second half of the book she offers solutions:

READ - 80% of the American population didn’t read a book last year

Set aside the tabloids and read books, books that challenge you. If you can’t name three amazing books you’ve read in the past year, you’re not reading enough. Every now and then pick up a book that argues against your point of view, or a novel you wouldn't normally read. You might find your mind changes, or you might find your position more firm than it was before, but either way, you're exercising your mind.

She recommends reading the NY Times plus your hometown paper daily.

Final Thoughts:
Although I wholeheartedly agree with Bloom’s message I feel she was preaching to the choir. If you currently are not a book reader, you are not going to read THIS book and suddenly give up reality TV and celebrity web-surfing in favor of book reading. That is even if you adopt her recommendation to hire someone to clean your house so you have more free time.*

If you have an interest in the dumbing-down of America or are wondering how to find more time to read you may enjoy this book. Another caveat Bloom did write this book from a liberal viewpoint if that bothers you, you probably will not enjoy this book.

*I found it amusing Mary Kay Ash also recommends hiring a cleaning person in her book Mary Kay.

If you enjoyed this post you may also like:
Ten Nonfiction Books That Help Us Understand the World

Saturday, November 05, 2011

SWG Coffee Social: An Introduction

For the past several months I have spent every Saturday participating in The Lady Blogger Society Social Tea Party. The tea party was a blog hop designed to gain exposure for your blog and to meet other bloggers. I enjoyed this particular blog hop because it was professional, took place on Saturdays (I work during the week), and didn’t require that I answer questions or create a blog post.

Now that The Lady Blogger Society has new owners who, for the time being, have decided not to continue the tea party. Saturdays are no longer the same and I have been struggling with how to fill this void. I have come up with the:

SWG Coffee Social

I realized what I missed most about the tea party was meeting all the great bloggers. The SWG Coffee Social isn’t going to be a blog hop or a meme, I am going to use these Saturday posts to introduce some of my favorite bloggers and hope that in return you will introduce me to some of yours by providing a link in the comments.

This week I want to introduce three of my former tea party participants:

Monica of Monica's Tangled Web:
Monica is an incredible writer who keeps me enthralled with her tangled webs especially The Road Not Taken - A Book In Progress. Monica and I are similar in that we are close in age, book lovers and dog owners. She is creative so be prepared to be inspired and entertained.

Bella of One Sister's Rant:
For Bella, blogging is her humble attempt to find answers to life’s confusing, irritating, frustrating and what she is convinced, are rhetorical questions. If that isn’t enough to entice you to stop in, she is also quite funny check out her post The Return Of The Speedo?  She has a partner in crime - her dog named Roxy Lee.

I also want to point out a blogger who was inspired into action by the documentary Miss Representation:
Heidi Rettig in her post Miss Representation Documentary: How Women are Portrayed in the Media tells us how she now responds to tweets that under represent women:
Each one I see I re-tweet and then respond to the author asking them if they have seen the film and suggesting a more gender neutral headline that is respectful to the accomplishments of the person in focus – woman or man.

As theatre people, writers, artists, filmmakers, it is within our control to influence how others see and understand women’s roles in society. What conversations have you had about this issue when making your own work?
Thanks for taking action Heidi.

Now I am going to sit back drink my coffee and read all the great blog posts built up in my reader.  Don't forget to let me know what blogs you are reading today...

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

My boss doesn’t listen to my ideas

Dancing Bear left the following comment on my post a personal attack at work:
The line between a personal attack and a very critical conversation is unclear to me. My boss, who claims it is never personal, sometimes does not listen at all and then makes a strong declaration that an idea or opinion I have expressed is not valid, while the accuracy of his perception is "obvious". To me using ridicule is a personal attack in disguise. In response I recently responded with the question "don't you listen" as part of my response and I was told this was completely inappropriate, that it was a personal attack. I am distraught!

It appears to me you and your boss are caught in a finger pointing contest, “That was a personal attack,” “No it wasn’t you don’t listen.” So, lets forget about that aspect of your comment altogether. Here are the facts as I see them:

Out of frustration you blurted “Don’t you listen?” to your boss after he criticized one of your ideas. Your frustration is a result of his continuously dismissing your ideas to the point of ridicule.

First, you told your boss he doesn’t listen. That probably wasn’t the best thing to say. No manager likes to be openly criticized especially an arrogant one. Managers prefer employees that make them feel good about themselves. (You probably should apologize for your comment or at least mumble something like I didn't really mean that. You do still have to work for this guy)

I can’t determine from your scenario if your boss is a bad manager or if you are being a nuisance.

Here are some questions I want you to consider:

How does your manager treat your co-workers?
Does he reject their ideas and ridicule them as well? If yes, he is most likely the problem. If not, it could be you.

How long have you been with the company?
Sometimes new employees come into a company too strong. They try to implement all of their great ideas before they understand how things are really done stepping on toes in the process.

How long has your manager been with the company?
If he has been with the company for years he may not be open to change or new ideas.

Before you present your next idea ask yourself the following questions:
Do I have a solution?
Bosses notoriously tune out employees that come to them with a problem and don’t offer a solution. Make sure the solution is viable. My department has come up with several great solutions that don’t involve them. Who should clean the office? The owner’s wife. Who should pick up the slack? Monica in our Minneapolis store.

Is your idea a priority? Is the timing right?
My department has had several great ideas over the past couple of years, but currently our company’s main focus is making money and keeping the business afloat. I’ve heard our owner say more than once, “Yes, that would be nice, but not right now.”

Is your idea important to anyone other than you?
We once had a receptionist full of ideas to make her job easier. One was to buy a mail cart. She would place a folder with our mail in the cart and we could retrieve it ourselves throughout the day. Her idea was great for her, but the President of our company does not the time or the desire to track down his own mail.

Two suggestions to make sure your idea was heard:
Repeat your idea and your manager’s response at the end of the meeting:
“If I understand correctly you agree I need a new computer, but I have to wait until the budget is finished in December.”

Follow up with an email:
To summarize our 10:00 meeting we will not be ordering new computers due to budget constraints. We will revisit next year.

Did I interpret Dancing Bear’s problem correctly or did I miss the boat entirely? Let me know what you think?