Sunday, December 30, 2012

Continuing to Struggle with Work-Life Balance in 2012

While reflecting on 2012, I reviewed my post What Worked in 2011: Learning to Slow Down and Take Care of Myself and was surprised by my final paragraph:

I want to continue discovering who I am. Hey I turn 50 this year it is about time. I had another bad week at work then was strongly encouraged to go in on Saturday (its year-end). While sitting in my office feeling miserable, I decided it is time I get serious about figuring out what I want to do with the rest of my life.
I had a similar experience this year. I am losing three vacation days I never got around to using, my boss expected me to work yesterday (Saturday), and told me I would work on Christmas Eve day (a company holiday) if he told me to do so. My co-worker who overheard this conversation thought my boss had been joking, but it left me feeling disgruntled and guilty for not working more. When I stumbled upon my post from last year I realized nothing has changed in a year and my work-life balance may actually be a little worse.

Here are a few of the work struggles I faced this year:

Making a "Big Mistake" at Work

SWG Coffee Social: Job Disillusionment

How not to Lose Your Cool While Your Manager Screams at You

I'm 50 Years Old and Still Can't Think on My Feet

I did have a couple of positive experiences:

How to Be More Confident at Work

Want to Motivate Your Employees? Appreciate them

And I attempted to make improvements:

Joining Classy Career Girl's Networking Challenge

"Be Strong!" Challenge

Why I am Cleaning My Desk

Be Strong Challenge: September Update

Unfortunately all of my challenges ended in failure:

Networking Challenge:
I gave up on the Networking Challenge after I was stood up for an interview and received a couple of rejections.  I am bringing this one back in 2013 with a new focus. 
Push-up challenge:
I have tendinitis in my elbow and had to stop doing push-ups.  I am now experiencing so much pain I can barely lift a coffee pot.  It is disappointing to accept the fact I will never have a strong upper body, but after hurting myself for the 4th time I think I have finally learnt my lesson.  For 2013 I will listen to my body and stick with exercise routines my body can handle - Zumba and Turbo Kick.

Cleaning my desk:
Fail.  I had a clean desk until I went on vacation in October. I came back to a mess and it has remained that way ever since.  I have started a new routine - going in early which has helped.  It is nice to be in before others are there to bother me and I am not nearly as tired as when I work late.

Stopping the snacking:
This is a fail.  Once I am tired and under stress I lose all self-control and have actually gained five pounds since I went on vacation in October.  All I can do is start eating better again in January.

In 2012 I did say no more often, but the things I said no to - spending time with friends, going to the gym and volunteering - are all things I enjoy and help contribute to my work-life balance.

What should I do?
Working too many hours has been my company's culture for over 50 years.  My predecessor who retired after 35 years used to work both Saturdays and Sundays.  She was widowed at a young age and needed to support her family of five. (She was also incredibly underpaid.)  My boss has always worked too many hours and never uses all of his vacation time, so he expects his employees to do the same. 

I was "networking" with a colleague who started her own business ten years ago.  She feels her biggest career mistake was staying at a company too long.  Once you earn a reputation with a company it is almost impossible to break out of it without leaving and starting over somewhere else.  She earned the reputation (single with no children) as the employee who was available to travel and spent the majority of her time on the road.  By starting her business she can now set her own schedule and choose the clients she wants to work for.  She wishes she would have had the courage to start her business two years earlier than she did.  She suggests I start over at a new company that has a culture more in tuned to work-life balance.

I am still not too keen on continuing to work in accounting, but for the time being it does pay the bills.  I do know I will be bringing back my "Be Strong!" Challenge in 2013 with a vengeance. Other than that I am pretty sure I will still be working too many hours at my current company next year at this time.

How do you maintain a work-life balance? Do you have any suggestions for me?

If you like this post you may also like:
Accountants are required to work 45+ hours per week
How does your pay stack up against the salary guides?
My career as a tax accountant

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Three Amazing Books I Read in 2012 Along with Lisa Bloom’s Favorites

Last year in my post Three Amazing Books I Read in 2011, I included this quote from Lisa Bloom's book Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World:
"If you can't name three amazing books you've read in the last year, you're not reading enough."
In looking back at the books I read in 2012, I did not have as easy a time choosing three amazing books as I did last year. Most of the books I read in 2012 were not that memorable, but here goes:

The book that was the most eye-opening:
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick.  I read this book shortly after Kim Jong-il's death.  It follows the lives of six North Korean defectors while giving us an insiders look into what life is really like in North Korea.  I referred to this book in my post Making a Big Mistake at Work

The book that touched me the most:
Special Exits by Joyce Farmer.  This is a graphic novel based on Farmer's experience taking care of her elderly father and stepmother.  This book stayed with me for weeks.

A good story:
Holes by Louis Sacher.  I don't read a lot of fiction, but every now and then I crave a really good story.  This book was perfect.

I found it interesting that two of my three amazing 2012 reads came from Lisa Bloom's book recommendations she listed in her book Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World. For fun I tweeted @LisaBloom asking what were her three amazing reads for 2012. To my surprise and delight she responded. 

Here are Lisa Bloom's 2012 favorite reads from her twitter feed @LisaBloom:

My favorite counter intuitive-but-geez-she's-so-right book I read in 2012: Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry) by Lenore Skenazy.

My favorite fiction of 2012: The Fault in Our Stars by John Greene. Everyone I've recommended this to has come to me with tears of gratitude.

My favorite international classic I read in 2012: Independent People by Halldor Laxness.* It is a must read if you visit Iceland. Which you should.

My favorite guilty pleasure page turner of 2012: Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. It is worth losing sleep, missing appointments over. Which you will.

My favorite book title of 2012: I Suck at Girls, by Justin Halpern. The book itself is giggle inducing too.

My favorite vegan fiction of 2012 (let's make this a genre!): The Adventures of Vivian Sharpe, Vegan Superhero, by Marla Rose. Fun YA.

My favorite history book of 2012: The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt. Sumptuous escape

My favorite parenting/ social commentary book of 2012: The Mama's Boy Myth: Why Keeping Our Sons Close Makes Them Stronger by Kate Lombardi

My favorite autobiography I read in 2012: Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela . A must read for all world citizens.

Most surprisingly useful book I read in 2012: Mama Gena's Owner's and Operator's Guide to Men. She's got them figured out. Thx @MamaGena

My favorite cookbook of 2012 (by a mile): Chloe's Kitchen: 125 Easy, Delicious Recipes for Making the Food You Love the Vegan Way, by @ChloeCoscarelli Every recipe ridiculously easy and delicious.

My favorite health book of 2012 (by a mile): The Complete Idiot's Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition by Julieanna Hever.

My favorite re-read of 2012: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. Even better the second time and I rarely re-read.

My favorite should-be-a-classic I read in 2012: Walls and Bars: Prisons and Prison Life In The "Land Of The Free". Searing prison manifesto of Eugene Debs, imprisoned for opposing WW1.

Best writing book I read in 2012: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by, Anne Lamott. If you have a book in you, grab this now. Bonus points for being hilarious.

In case you are curious Lisa also tweeted her three favorite 2012 movies: The Sessions, Argo, and Silver Linings Playbook.

A huge thank you to Lisa Bloom.  I can now look forward to reading several amazing books in 2013. In addition to Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World, Lisa Bloom is the author of Swagger: 10 Urgent Rules for Raising Boys in an Era of Failing Schools, Mass Joblessness, and Thug Culture.

*For those of you participating in the Around the World in 80 Books Challenge you may want to pencil this one in for Iceland.

If you liked this post you may also like:
"Light Reading"
Making Women Count - Ending the Year on a Low Note
Anne Lamott's "Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life" and Jealousy
Special Exits - A must read for those caring for aging loved ones

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Why I love Caitlin Moran’s book ‘How to be a Woman’

I was looking over a woman's shoulder as the following photo of Hillary Clinton appeared on her computer screen:

Kevin Lamarque / AFP - Getty Images
This particular woman who rarely utters a bad word about anyone and refuses to discuss politics even when probed turned to me, pointed at Hillary’s photo and said:
"She is so ugly."
I was dumbfounded. Not, “I hate her politics” or “She was the worst first lady we’ve ever had or even “She sucks as Secretary of State,” but, “She is ugly.” Seriously! I hesitated a bit before saying, “I think she's been traveling a lot and is probably tired” and quickly changed the subject.

To make matters worse this was the article featured with the photo: 'It pains me': Clinton decries plight of women in male-dominated countries It relayed Hillary’s emotional speech warning there will be "many sacrifices and losses" before daughters were "valued as sons" across the world and included this quote from Hillary:
We are on the right side of history in this struggle, but there will be many sacrifices and losses until we finally reach a point where daughters are valued as sons, where girls are as educated as boys, where women are encouraged and permitted to make their contributions to their families, to their societies just as the men are.
This episode occurred the day after I read Black Girl in Maine’s post Dear retailers, you will not steal my kid's innocence about her difficulties shopping for an affordable age appropriate dress for her seven year old daughter’s upcoming holiday concert. Instead of finding a cute dress appropriate for a seven year old she could only find dresses that were sexualized, designed to show off non-existent curves and inappropriate as hell.

As the afternoon progressed, I couldn’t get these incidents out of my head; how our society continues to value and promote appearance over accomplishments, how women continue to struggle to be seen as equal to men and how being taken seriously in the workplace is still a common topic of conversation amongst professional women in my social circle. 

This brings me to the book I am currently reading: Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman which consists of a series of personal essays all promoting a stand against sexism. Unfortunately for me the book has become unreadable. When Moran mentioned she has of course tasted her own menstrual blood I realized I couldn’t go on. The book is just too crass and vulgar for my tastes.    
Then it occurred to me why I love this book - I am not Caitlin Moran’s target audience. Her audience is the 20 to 30 year old woman who doesn’t believe she needs to be concerned with feminism. If they can find humor is Moran’s writing and actually read her book Moran just might be able to convince them feminism means being equal to boys, having the right to make the same amount of money, the same access to education, to have sexual harassment be a crime and to believe they deserve to be valued for more than just their appearance. If so, then this is a wonderful book. I don’t want this generation of women to become middle-aged and like the woman above be unable to see past a bad hair day to recognize the extraordinary accomplishments of a woman like Hillary Clinton.

Have you read Caitlin Moran’s book How to Be a Woman? What were your thoughts?

If you enjoyed this post you may also like:
Making Women Count: Ending the Year on a Low Note
Getting a Clue About Feminism
The Feminine Mystique


Sunday, December 09, 2012

Be careful using free photos on your blog; you may not have authorization

This week I received the following email:
Hi, I see you have one of my photographs on your site. Please could you either remove it, or link it back to the original page. Thanks in advance. Otherwise I will be obliged to report its use to Google - who will remove your page from their index. Regards
It was only recently I began including photos on my blog posts. As I became more active on social media sites like Pinterest and Google+ I realized my posts had to include a photo if I wanted them to receive recognition or with Pinterest even to be able to participate. Since my personal photo collection consists almost entirely of pictures of my dogs, a topic I don’t normally write about, I resorted to using photos I found on the web. Initially I used Microsoft's Images, but as my photo needs became more specific I ventured out looking for more original pictures and discovered Google Images.

I was in a hurry when I choose the photo in question - which was a good one - and is probably the reason my blog stats topped the charts in the days that followed. It hadn’t occurred to me that despite the photo being free and posted on Google Images, I wasn’t authorized to use it.

After receiving the email, I immediately removed the photo from my post (being at work I couldn’t easily figure out how to link the photo back to the original poster) and sent him an apology.

I still see this photo everywhere and none of them are linked back to the poster who emailed me.  More confused than ever  I reached out to professional blogger Kimberly Gauthier for guidelines on how to find authorized photos or images to use on my blog in the future. Kimberly has created blogs about both photography and blogging, so who better to ask. Her latest blog is Keep the Tail Wagging, an online magazine for dog lovers. Here is Kimberly’s response:

OMG – thank you so much for asking me! That has got to be a heart stopper Not everyone understands the rules. So, to avoid something similar happening to me, I do one of four things…

1. I take my own pictures – but, to be honest, with all that we have on our plate, how many people outside of photography bloggers have time to take their own pictures?

2. I use the Wordpress plugin Photodropper ( – it searches Flickr for images with the right Creative Commons licenses that are for commercial use (we should do it this way even if our blogs aren’t monetized just in case we decide to monetize down the line).

3. Sometimes I just go directly to Flickr( and search for images myself. Again, I’m looking for images that can be used on commercial sites.

4. I create my own images that are text based. These are great for Pinterest, because it shows people exactly what the pin is about and we have an opportunity to really draw them in, sort of like with our blog titles. Here’s a link to today’s post on my site that has a text based image that I created in Word:

If you would like to learn more about Kimberly Gauthier please visit her site Keep the Tail Wagging (

A couple of days later, I received another email from the original poster. He wrote:
Thanks for your prompt response. I don't usually mind, but lately Google have been displaying sites with my photos above my own, and therefore I'm losing visitors.
I still feel just awful. One of the premises of my blog is to promote honesty and integrity through my writing and I here I go steal an image from a fellow blogger. I’ve certainly learned a lesson and will be very careful when posting photos and images in the future.

The golden retriever photo in this post is from my personal collection.

Does anyone have any other guidelines or recommendations I should use when searching for photos and images in the future?

If you liked this post you may also like:
Journey of a Professional Blogger: Kimberly Gauthier BBC Feature Interview
SWG Coffee Social: The Weekly Roundup Post

Sunday, December 02, 2012

How not to be a victim of a scam or crime

Fraudsters, scammers and thieves seem to be out in full force this time of year.   Here are a few I came across this week along with  preventative tips:

Nicole of The Budgeting Babe was pickpursed (similar to being pickpocketed only her wallet was removed from her purse instead of her pocket) See My Wallet Was Stolen Last Night:
As Nicole dined at a Chicago restaurant two men came in and without waiting to be seated sat at the table directly behind her.  At one point the man behind her got uncomfortably close. Then five minutes later they both got up and left the restaurant without ordering anything. It wasn't until an hour later when Nicole searching for her wallet to pay her bill noticed it was missing.   In the meantime, the thieves had used her credit cards to charge items at a nearby Target.

This story comes a few weeks after this article appeared in our local paper. Elderly women were the target of purse thieves while shopping.  Two men distract a woman by asking her questions, while another man takes the wallet from her purse. 
The article recommends shoppers protect themselves by paying attention to where they keep their valuables.

Don’t walk away from carts with your purse in it and don’t leave valuables on the seats of your car in parking lots. You are a target.

If Nicole could turn back the clock I am sure she wouldn’t hang her purse on the back of her chair hidden behind her coat - she has been doing this for years and feeling falsely protected.  Nicole’s thieves seem to have been only interested in her credit cards and cash, but she can’t be completely certain they will not sell or use her personal information.  In her post Wallet Status, she provides preventative tips that would have helped minimize her loss:
- Clean her wallet after running errands.
- Keep only the credit cards she needs on a daily basis in her wallet. I would also remove checkbooks, medical cards and other IDs such as social security cards.

- Keep her wallet in a zipped compartment.
- Don’t take her full wallet with her when she goes out.  Just take the basics.

Stephanie of Graduated Learning was falsely accused of denting a car:
This is a weird one.  Earlier this week Stephanie tweeted, “Someone at work left a note on my windshield telling me I caused $1k in damage to their car citing dents I’ve had on my car for several years.” 
Initially, I thought this was a random scammer looking to harass and intimidate Stephanie until she gave him money or personal information to make him go away.  This is what professional con artists do – they search for an easy target (a female driving a car with dents) then harass them until they get what they want.  In this case Stephanie’s note guy ended up working at her company, though she didn’t know him personally.  After receiving a second note and leaving him a voicemail letting him know it wasn’t her, he texted her saying he would follow up the next day to better understand the fresh looking damage on her passenger fender and bumper that matched the damage on his car.

Tweeters concerned about Stephanie’s safety advised her not to meet or talk to this guy alone. They recommended she go straight to her company’s HR department and report the incident. She followed their advice and HR/Security ended up telling the guy to stop bothering her.  Hopefully he doesn't contact her again, but what an exhausting experience for Stephanie.
If someone you don’t know falsely accuses or harasses you, don’t hesitate to report them to authorities.  You do not need take this.

Mileage odometer on used car was rolled back:
An acquaintance recently traded-in his Pontiac Bonneville for a vehicle he purchased from an out-of-state dealership he found on Craigslist.  A few days later he spotted his former Bonneville (identified by a scratch he recognized on the advertisement's photo) also listed for sale on Craigslist.  There was just one little problem, his vehicle had had 175,000 miles on it.  This vehicle was advertised as having only 69,000 miles. He was sure it was his former vehicle.  The ad was from a dealership a few miles from the one he had worked with.   
He did not report the illegal odometer reading to Craigslist out of fear of retaliation. He also didn't think the odometer on the vehicle he purchased had been tampered with since he had verified the mileage on free CARFAX Odometer Check.  

The Carfax website provides the following tips to help used car buyers detect odometer fraud:
  • Ask to see the title and compare the mileage listed on the title with the vehicle's odometer. Examine the title closely if the mileage notation seems obscured or is hard to read.
  • Compare the mileage on the odometer with the mileage indicated on the vehicle's maintenance or inspection records. You may also want to examine the mileage listed on oil-change and maintenance stickers. You may find these stickers on windows or door frames, in the glove box, or under the hood.
  • Get a free CARFAX Odometer Check to help uncover potential odometer rollback.
  • If the vehicle has a traditional mechanical odometer, check that the numbers on the odometer gauge are aligned correctly. If the gauge's numbers are crooked, contain gaps, or jiggle when you hit the dash with your hand, the vehicle may have been involved in odometer tampering.
  • Examine the tires. If the odometer reads 20,000 or less miles, the vehicle should have the original tires.
  • Look at the wear and tear on the vehicle – especially the gas, brake and clutch pedals – to see if the wear seems consistent with and appropriate for the number of miles displayed on the odometer.
A company is charged $2500 in late fees and interest on credit card payments made prior to the due date two months in a row:
This company mailed the credit card payments seven days prior to the due date, but their checks did not clear the bank until the day after the due date.  The first month the credit card company refused to reverse the charges and as a consolation offered a higher rebate on future purchases for the next two months. According to the company's next statement this additional rebate had not been put in place and the company was again charged $2,500 in interest and fees.  The company complained and the customer service rep again refused to reverse fees and offered an additional rebate.  Emails threatening to cancel the corporate account have been ignored. 

I came across this informative post from a former customer service rep with a leading national credit card company. The rep provides the following secret to getting fees waived:
If all else fails, RAISE HELL!! Customer service reps are NOT ALLOWED to disconnect (we were diligently & secretly monitored and scored on our performance) a call unless the customer is being verbally abusive and using lots of profanity. So get mad and go on-and-on, the rep will just get sick of hearing you that they'll waive the fee just to shut you up!! Keep in mind that I got 200 calls a day with approx. 80% of them being IRRATE customers. I was starved for satisfied customers that didn't yell or get aggressive.
Tomorrow I am informing the employee in charge of company credit cards to call the credit card company one more time, to be courteous yet persistent. This employee should go on and on and on about how much the company purchases from the credit card company's gas stations each month, how the payments are always made at least seven days prior to the due dates.  She should list every payment made this year giving amounts, due dates and payment dates.  She should inform the rep how upset the company’s owners are and that they want her to cancel the account and most importantly she should talk about the additional rebate the company never received.  All the while repeatedly asking for the fees to be reversed, for $5,000 it is worth a try.

If the company continues to use this credit card company, all future payments should be made on-line.

Have you been the victim of a scam or crime similar to those I've listed above? Do you have any additional preventative tips?

If you enjoyed this post you may also like:
How to Avoid Business Scams
Exposing Unethical Marketing Tactics
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