If you don’t respect yourself, who will?

Like most mothers, mine taught me a variety of lessons, some of them contradictory, many she didn’t follow herself. But one message that she was consistent with is “Don’t worry so much about what other people think. Speak your mind. Be yourself.”

While I agree that it is often necessary to bite your tongue rather than saying something spiteful (you should hear some of the things I DON”T say!), I also agree with my mom that, when asked your opinion, you should give your HONEST opinon.

We all know people who think it’s rude to tell you anything negative. I would rather someone tell me the truth instead of telling me to my face, “Oh, I love what you did there!” and then whispering to everyone else that it was the dumbest thing you’ve ever seen.

“Gosh let’s not tell her what we really think! That would be rude! Let’s talk about her behind her back instead!”

It may be that you don’t like x, y, or z about me, and that’s OK. We’re not clones. If I know what it is that you disagree with, I might be able to explain to you why I have a different opinion. Or we can avoid those topics that we know we’ll never agree on. We don’t have to agree to understand each other’s viewpoints. Or you could just explain why you are superior to me. Given the proper argument, I might actually agree with you.

When my sons, Alex and Jacob, were about 8 and 3 years old, Alex, the oldest, came to me crying. I mean really, really sobbing, as if he’d skinned a knee or something. When I asked him what was wrong, he said, “Jacob hurt my feelings!” I had never, ever, said anything to them about hurting each other’s feelings. I said, shocked, “Are you kidding me? You’re crying because he “hurt your feelings”?! What kind of crap is that? Who taught you that?” He said that Jacob called him stupid, “and the teacher said not to call people stupid because you’ll hurt their feelings.”
I asked him, “Do you think you’re stupid?”
He said, “No!”
“Do you think Jacob calling you stupid will MAKE you stupid?”
He yelled, “NO!”
“Then how exactly did he hurt you?”
He couldn’t answer that one.

Now I know there is a difference between deliberatly bullying someone, and some little kid saying, “That’s stupid.” In this case, it was just a little brother getting picked on and lashing out at his big brother in the one way that he knew would hurt him: by calling him stupid. Alex needed to learn to not let things like that get to him. When I had a little brother, I learned that when I stopped letting his comments get to me, he stopped making them.

Another thing my mother told me: there will always be someone who is prettier/ uglier, smarter/dumber, taller/shorter, fatter/thinner, better dressed/ sloppier, wealthier/poorer, better/worse husband, better/worse house, better/worse car, better/worse job … you get the idea. So just be the best you that you want to be and stop comparing yourself to people who you think are better than you.

It really is not important what anyone but you thinks of you. If the people who love you think you could use improvement in some areas, it wouldn’t hurt to listen to their suggestions. Or if they say “we love you just the way you are,” but you want to make some changes, then make the changes. If you’re not happy with yourself, then work on that. But don’t do it just because someone else says you need to or to attain some arbitrary measuring point set by society. Even if your little brother thinks you’re stupid.


Have Your Keurig and Save Money, Too

If you don’t need a big pot of coffee in the morning, the Keurig Brewer is a great idea. You make just one cup at a time, and you can make a variety of flavored coffees, tea, and even hot cocoa. Unfortunately, those “Keurig K-cups” (usually) cost more than a 12 oz. bag of ground coffee.* In this article, I’m going to show you how you can have your Keurig and save money, too!

My husband and I are not big coffee drinkers. I started drinking coffee when I was in college to stay alert in class and stay awake while studying for exams. I’m addicted to caffeine; if I don’t have any caffeine before noon, I have that nasty caffeine-withdrawal headache by 2pm. And if I drink caffeine after noon, I have a problem getting to sleep that night. Now and then I’ll wean myself off of caffeine, but all it takes is some iced tea at lunch to get me addicted again (and get that nasty headache the next day). So I try to maintain with just one cup a day to keep the headache at bay. (Coffee is also an antioxidant, slightly increases metabolism, and has other benefits: http://www.energyfiend.com/top-10-caffeine-health-benefits.)

I was a member of Gevalia for a while, so I have several 8 oz. bags of coffee that we haven’t used, simply because we don’t use the 12-cup brewer any more. The Keurig brewer comes with a disposable filter so that you can use up your ground coffee, and that works great. However, I like to compost the coffee grounds and they make a mess in my little compost bucket in the kitchen. (Also not a good idea to wash them down the drain. Just ask my husband who has had to snake out our drain several times.)

Instead, I like to use EZ-Cup Filter Papers by Perfect Pod. I get 50 of them on amazon.com for $8.49. Every couple of weeks, I fill around 20 of the EZ-Cup filters with ground coffee and put them in a resealable plastic container. Each filter has a paper “lid” on it, so you don’t have to worry about getting coffee grounds on the bottom of the filter when you set it on top of another filter full of coffee grounds. I usually take the paper lid off when I brew it so that the water hits the grounds, but you can leave it on.

Preparing the EZ cups

Preparing the EZ cup filters

Then we can quickly and easily make a cup of coffee using one of the filters full of ground coffee and the reusable filter that came with the brewer. After the coffee is brewed, we toss the used filter into the compost bucket (to be taken outside to the compost bin later).

After brewing

After brewing, just toss the used paper filter full of wet coffee grounds into the compost bucket (or trash if you don’t compost).
The little brown container on the left is the filter holder that comes with the EZ-Cup filters.

It does take a little effort–you have to open the bag of coffee, scoop coffee into the filter, and put the filter into the filter holder. (Whew, I’m tired just reading that!–she said sarcastically.)  There are many other “systems” available for making your own K-cups. I’ve used the filter holder that came with the EZ-cup filters, but I like the Keurig reusable filter better. We still buy K-cups from amazon.com or at the store, usually when they’re on sale.

Do you use a Keurig Brewer? Do you use K-cups or or do you make your own? What methods do you use? Let me know in the comments!

OH, by the way, we purchased our brewer at Costco. The pump in the first one died after a few months. We took it back to Costco and they gave us our money back, no questions asked! (And we’d already used up all of the K-cups that came with it.) We used a small 4-cup pot for a while, and then decided to go back to the Keurig–which we bought at Costco. This one hasn’t given us any problems. We only turn it on when we’re about to use it; it only takes a few minutes to heat up. We run vinegar through it once a month or so, even though we use filtered water when we make coffee. I think our hard water is what killed the first one.

*From amazon.com: Folgers Caramel Drizzle $28 for 24 K-cups ($1.17/cup); Folgers Caramel Drizzle ground coffee, $9.98 for 12 oz. (~$0.30/cup). I made 22 EZ-Cups with an 8 oz. bag of coffee, so you can make about 33 cups with a 12 oz. bag. The EZ-Cup filters work out to about $0.17 each. A bag of coffee for $9.98/33 = $0.30 per cup, plus the 17 cents for the filter comes out to $0.47 per cup (plus the cost of the plastic container and scoop, of course). If you use more or less coffee per cup, your mileage may vary. And even the K-cups are cheaper than Star Bucks!

The Birth Order Book

Are you the first born child in your family? The mysterious middle child? The entertaining baby of the family? A Lonely Only? Or perhaps the ultimate in birth order: The First Born Son?

Years ago, my mom sent me a book about birth order. The section about three daughters and then a son exactly mirrored our family dynamic. Recently, while perusing Kindle books, I found a new version of the Kevin Leman book, The Birth Order Book.

Apparently, we form our personalities by the time we’re six years old and there’s not much we can do about it. It’s not as cut and dry as “if you’re the first born, you’re a leader” or “if you’re a middle child, you’re the black sheep.” There are other dynamics, which Leman calls variables, that affect personality, regardless of birth order.

For example, my parents had three daughters and then a son. Because my brother is the first-born son/only son, he exhibits personality traits of a first-born child. My second oldest sister is the classic middle child, because she is between my sister and me. She takes a laid-back approach to life. I’m the third daughter of parents who wanted a son, so I might have youngest-child traits or I might have middle-child traits. A middle child can be friendly and outgoing, like my sister, or an introverted book worm, like me. Because I am the last daughter, I was always the baby girl (“Little Karla”), but when anything went wrong with my brother and I, I was often told I “should know better” because I’m older. Contradictions like that, as well as being constantly reminded that you were the third daughter born to parents who wanted a son, can really mess you up.

Dr. Leman describes my family exactly: “This family has two last borns, a last-born boy and a last-born girl. This almost always guarantees friction between the two last borns. It is very common for alliances to form. The way this usually happens in this particular sequence is that the oldest girl forms an alliance with the youngest girl, and the second-oldest girl forms an alliance with the boy.”

Dr. Leman describes “the setup” as a particular skill of the last born that involves bugging an older sibling until he or she lashes out in anger; then the baby of the family runs screaming to Mommy for protection. Anyone who is not the youngest of their siblings is all too familiar with “the setup.” My brother was quite skilled at this. He would pick and pick and pick and pick until I could finally no longer stand it, and then I’d get into trouble because “I should know better.” I eventually learned that if I ignored him, he would get bored and leave me alone.

My husband is the baby of his family. He exhibits classic baby-of-the-family traits (including picking at me until I explode), but also there are several years between his older brother and him. Having five or more years between sons can make the younger son exhibit some of the traits of a first-born child. In his case, he is obsessed with doing everything “right”; he can plan a project for days and weeks without ever actually following through for fear of not doing it “right.” Probably because he’s a baby/first-born mix, some things he’s very picky and precise about and other things he couldn’t care less about.

We have two sons. My oldest son is the same as his dad as far as procrastinating because he doesn’t think he can do something the right way. He started out as a classic first born: very much into knowing and following the rules, an A student, took advanced placement classes in high school, and started college with enough credits to be a sophomore. But once confronted with how much harder college is than high school, he just gave up. He made steadily declining grades and then just stopped going to classes, got an “administrative failure,” and was put on suspension. He moved back home and hasn’t moved on yet. Five years later, he’s still unemployed, and doesn’t have many opportunities to get employed without a college education.

My youngest son is a classic baby of the family: active, entertaining, likes to have lots of friends, and likes attention. But there are four and half years between him and his brother, so he exhibits some first-born/only traits as far as ambition, achievement, wanting to do things perfectly, and so on.

Knowing how birth order affects personality and behavior can help us to understand each other, to work around each of our little quirks. Dr. Leman offers tips for parenting first borns, middle borns, last borns, and everything in between, including blended families with step children. He, a trained counselor and parenting advisor, also tells stories of when he screwed up.

I’m not sure how knowing this helps just yet, though, and it’s too late for my dearly departed parents. My own kids are grown, but I’ll still keep reading to see where I went wrong. Maybe it’s not too late for you.

Telecommuting anyone?

In 1975, we had our first Earth Day. Back then, we talked about air pollution, water pollution, excessive consumption, and litter. These things are still problems, but they’ve been pushed aside by the global warming/global cooling cults. Now that some hacked climate-scientist emails “debunked” global warming, it’s OK to pollute the air, throw trash out the car window, and dump toxic waste into the ocean? Why does that make it OK?

I drive a Prius. Go ahead, say it. Tree hugger! (But i REALLY want a Tesla!)

A while back, a coworker commented, “I bet you’re loving that Prius now that gas prices have started going back up.”

I said, “Yeah, and it spits out fewer emissions, too.”

He said, “You know the Earth is actually cooling, right?”

He totally misses the point! Does anyone remember air pollution??

The World Heath Organization reports that the air we breathe is laced with cancer-causing substances and is carcinogenic to humans, THE AIR WE BREATHE!

I used to live in Southern California. I know what air pollution tastes like, smells like, and looks like. It’s gross. And it’s mostly caused by the millions of cars spewing exhaust into the atmosphere all day, every day. It wasn’t until AFTER the problem got so bad—with no going back—that they starting investing in public transportation and bike lanes. From my back yard in the Paradise Hills neighborhood of San Diego, I could see the San Diego Bay—on a clear day, which was only a few days per year. And that was more than 20 years ago. I’m sure today even with the Santa Ana winds, seeing the coast would be difficult from my old back yard.

Here in San Antonio, we have our occasional “air quality alert” days, but we have the benefit of the jet stream and Gulf breezes to clear the air. Most of our air quality alert days happen when Mexico is doing their annual burning of their fields. With more than a million cars, though, we do have air pollution.

If companies want to do their part to curb air pollution, save wear and tear on the highways, reduce insurance costs, save electricity, and take part in many any other “green initiatives,” they need to set up a telecommuting program. I’m a writer, and spend my entire day at my computer. I rarely have meetings to attend, and usually the only time I see coworkers is when I go down the hall to the bathroom. Most of my interaction with coworkers is via email, instant message, and phone. Occasionally, a coworker will stop by to chat, or to answer a question that I emailed him, but usually it’s just email. I can do that just as easily from the comfort of my own home. Not only would I not have to drive my car to work, wasting an hour or more of my day, but I also wouldn’t have to take up office space, or use the company’s electricity, heating, cooling, water, etc.

I don’t have small children to distract me while I work at home, and I have dedicated office space (which I share with my husband). There are many people with distracting children or spouses at home during the day, or who lack the discipline to work unsupervised at home. But given the opportunity, most people who work at a computer can be more efficient at home, and not be tied to the 8am to 7 pm hours. Some of my most creative thoughts come at 3 am. My only distraction is the dirty house screaming to be cleaned; a cat who likes to walk in front of my monitor, pausing just long enough to get a reaction; and my son’s Labrador. When I work at home, there are no coworkers to stop by and chat (but if I wanted to do that, I could do so with Skype, Go To Meeting, etc.), no car problems or accidents to make me late for work, no worries about dress codes (unless you do video conferencing), and back to my original premise—no air pollution!

OK, we’d still have air pollution, but less of it. I’d still have to drive my car to the grocery store. You’d still have to run errands, go to the movies, take the kids to karate practice, whatever. But what if all of the people who live on the west side who drive to the east side to go to work every day, and all of the people who live on the east side who drive to the west side to go work every day, and all of the people who live on the far north side who drive downtown every day stayed home?? Think of what traffic is like in the morning during Christmas week when most people stay home from work. If most of us could telecommute to work, just imagine what traffic would be like, how many fewer traffic accidents there would be, how much less wear and tear on the roads and highways, how much lower your car insurance would be, and so on?

(updated 10-19-2013)


“The idea that we have undergraduates who don’t read books distresses me. Of course, I know that they do read. …  They read in print and electronically. They read articles. They read blog posts. They exchange these items on Facebook and elsewhere. But reading a book, even a popular novel, requires some measure of sustained attention, and reading a serious book requires concentration and intellectual effort to comprehend and absorb the material.”  from http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/2012/01/send_me_a_man_who_reads.html

We aren’t born knowing how to read, but we are born knowing how to speak. Babies learn their local language, including grammar, syntax, and even word choice by listening to people around them talk. If you “goo-goo” and “gaa-gaa” to your baby, that’s the language he’ll learn. If you speak to him in proper sentences using “grown up” words, those are the words he’ll learn to use. But that doesn’t mean he’s literate. Literacy requires the ability to read.

It wasn’t until mass-produced books became available that literacy became important. Gutenberg starting printing on his press in 1436, but printing didn’t really go mainstream until the 1800s when iron presses were operated with steam power. At first, illustrations were a large part of the book (because the average person was not literate), and group reading out loud was the norm. You didn’t read a Bible passage and interpret it using your own view of the world; a priest told you what you should believe.

Unfortunately, many people in the US today, still, are only functionally literate. That means they can read just enough to get by. For example, immigrants and children of immigrants in the US are often considered functionally illiterate because of language barriers. They speak their native language at home, and then are expected to speak English in school and at work. My father quit school after the 8th grade so that he could work to help take care of his family. He was a hard worker and a talented artist, but I rarely saw him reading anything, not even the newspaper. Most parents expect the public school system to teach their children to read. I’m shocked when I hear people say, for example, their child is in first grade and still can’t read! Reading to your children early and often, and letting them “catch” you reading, is the best way to teach your child to read.

Give your kids a good reason to learn how to read, and they will. When my oldest son, Alex, was between 2 and 3 years old, my husband worked as a field service rep. He was home about 1 week out of every 4. He liked to play a computer game called “King’s Quest” that required the player to read something on the screen, then type a response or make his avatar do what the text said to do. Alex loved to play that game with his dad, and when his dad was out of town, he wanted me to play. I was working full time, going to school part time, and raising a 2 year old basically on my own, so I often told him he would have to play by himself. (Besides, I had no idea how to play the game.) He would cry and beg me to play, and I would often read to him what the screen said, but then I would tell him, “If you want to play that game when Daddy isn’t here, you’ll have to learn how to read.” And that’s exactly what he did! Before Alex was 4, he could read on his own. One night we were at the airport waiting for his dad and there was a newspaper on the seat next to me. Alex stood facing the seat, leaning on it with his arms folded, reading the paper. A man nearby chuckled and said, “That’s so cute; it looks like he’s actually reading it.” I was so offended that he would think my child couldn’t read! I didn’t realize at the time that reading at such a young age was not the norm.

But why is it not the norm? My youngest son, Jake, didn’t learn to read nearly as early, but certainly was reading by Kindergarten. He had three people helping him, so he never had a reason to learn to read (or walk) as early as Alex did. There is a term in psychology called “Learned Helplessness,” which is a perceived absence of control over the outcome of a situation. If someone is always doing things for you, you never learn to do it on your own. For example, suppose you ask your son to put away his toys, but he takes longer than you want or doesn’t do it as well as you want, so you do it yourself. Or you see that he’s struggling to read the cereal box before pouring himself a bowl, so you grab the box out of his hand and pour the cereal for him, because you’re in a hurry. Eventually he learns that no matter what he does, it’s not good enough for you, so why should he even try? And that carries over to his school work and, eventually, his adult life—unless he figures out that it’s not his problem, it’s yours. (The problem is that you’re not patient.)

Patience can be very difficult, especially when you’re watching your child struggle to learn something. When I would read to my kids at bedtime, I would point to a word and they would read the word instead of me. At first, it was words like “and” “if” “cat” and so on, eventually working up to the entire sentence, and then the whole story. You have to be patient, though, and let your child struggle with sounding it out and making mistakes, waiting for them to figure it out. (Meanwhile, you want to rush through the story and put him to bed, so you can have “me” time.) Of course, you have to also provide him with the tools to figure things out on his own, but if you always take over, he’ll never figure it out. Give him small achievements, eventually building up to bigger achievements, so that he knows he can do it without your help.

Knowing how to do a thing and wanting to do it don’t always go hand in hand. If your child hates to read, find out why that is. Maybe the problem isn’t that he can’t read, but that he’d rather be outside playing soccer than inside reading. Perhaps if he reads a chapter of a book on soccer skills tonight, he can go outside and practice those skills tomorrow. Maybe there is a movie that he wants to go see. Give him the book of that movie to read. Maybe what he’s reading is way too easy or way too hard for his skill level. Don’t just hand him a book to read. Sit with him and have him read it to you—you’ll see then if it’s too hard or too easy. And ask questions about the book to strengthen his reading comprehension skills.

Whatever the reason, work together to find the solution. Reading is not instinctive, it’s a skill. Like any skill your children learn, it takes time (yours and theirs!) and lots of practice and patience. Don’t just expect the public school system to raise your child for you—you might not like the results!

‎We also have a problem of technical illiteracy in the US, for which technology itself is partially to blame. (More of that “learned helplessness” I mentioned earlier.) But that’s a topic for another article.

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” — Alvin Toffler. (Alvin didn’t consider the part of learning that requires you to be able to read.)

Surviving College Past the Second Year

This was a “Note” I posted on Facebook but decided to move it here so that my blog looks less sparse.
Update, June 4, 2011

He survived his second year–yay! Home for the summer and working/going to summer school. Good to have at least one motivated child!

My son is in his second year of college at A&M. The second year seems to be the most challenging–that’s when Son#1 gave up and came back home. A lot of people that age are going through the same thing, so I thought I would write about my “college experience” (20 years in the making!). (This is the condensed version. I could write a novel series about it!)

I know you hate to hear “when I was a kid” but here it is anyway. When I was in high school, I wanted to be a translator at the UN. I did very well in Spanish (although you wouldn’t know it now) and thought it would be fun (except for the living in NYC part). My parents refused to pay for my college–girls who grew up in the 70s were supposed to get married and have babies, not careers!–so I joined the Air Force. In my senior year of high school, I worked as a janitor in one of the buildings downtown, and I cleaned the computer floor. At that time, computers were big behemoths (“main frames”) with keypunch cards, mag tape units, teletype machines, and huge hard drives called “RapidAccess Disk” or RAD, as big as a stove! (RAM was cabinets and cabinets full of cards with wire-wrapped magnets!) I often talked to the computer people on the floor who always worked late, so when I talked to the AF recruiter and he asked me what I wanted to do, I said, “Something with computers.” So I went to AF tech school to be a “digital flight simulator specialist” which is basically an electronic technician. I worked on the FB-111A simulator which was controlled by a 3 mainframe computers. Very fun job to have, because I also got to “fly” the simulator. I had to fly it to replicate whatever problem the pilot had written up. (e.g., if he said, “The BDHI sticks at flight level 3000 when I turn to heading 230,” I had to “take off,” go to 30,000 feet, and then turn to heading 230. Then fix whatever I thought the problem was, and try it again.) When I got out of the Air Force, I got a job at Hughes Aircraft working on a Navy system installed on aircraft carriers–which is how I met Bill. He worked on the same system. (They called us when the sailors couldn’t fix it–HA HA!) So, naturally, when I went to college, I thought getting a degree in Electrical Engineering or Computer Science would make sense, right? Every semester while I was in the AF, I was also in college, taking a class here and a class there–and letting them pay for 80% of the tuition. I got my general AA degree from UNH and an AAS in Training Devices (electronics and flight systems) from CCAF. But getting a BSEE meant a lot of math–PAST Calculus 3, etc. I had no problem with electronic circuits, binary/octal/hex, computer stuff, and doing the math if I had the formula written down, but I did have a problem remembering the formulas. I gave up and switched majors from BSEE, to BSCS, to BS Chemistry (I thought Environmental Engineering would be awesome), back to BSEE, then finally BA Communication. (BA, because I no longer needed math or science.) I also no longer needed any electives, because I had twice the credits I needed for my degree.

So what I’m saying is that MANY people change majors more than once. You just have to take the undergrad classes that can apply to about any degree, and hopefully during that time something will pop out at you that you’d really like to do for a career. For me it was writing–and I’m still doing “something with computers”!!