All posts by astonenorton

Ode to IT

As I contemplated becoming a small business owner, I knew—before I hit that submit button—that I would be responsible for all aspects of the business: product development, public relations, marketing, fundraising, accounting, human resources, contract negotiation, etc. While I wasn’t proficient in these areas of business, I knew enough to manage and felt confident in my abilities to learn.

Well … in all areas except one—Information Technology (IT).

For decades I have described myself as ‘technologically challenged.’ While this label probably contributed to my IT deficiencies, I stuck with it because I always had an IT department to back me up. While I anxiously paced back and forth behind my desk, an IT team member would patiently assure me that everything would be alright. Sean, Mike and Sara excelled at keeping me calm when I lost a file or couldn’t synch my office calendar to my phone. Using melodic voices, they would hypnotize me into a quiet state while they solved my problem—they were the IT whisperers.

Oh, how I missed the gurus of technology as I struggled to create webpages, blogs and all the other ‘techy’ stuff I needed. I tried to read books on the subjects, but they only frustrated me. I attempted to follow directions on-line, but they lacked detail. I even called the website company and they informed me they were only a host—whatever that meant—and I was on my own. I had to work in isolation, even from my family, fearing my five-year old might learn some new colorful metaphor and take it to school for show and tell.

Over the past few weeks, I immersed myself in a technological hell, drinking too much coffee and eating way too much fast food. I struggled to learn a new language filled with widgets and abused my computer’s backspace key, screaming “Why is there a rice bowl with chopsticks on my webpage? I’m not a restaurant! DELETE! DELETE! DELETE!”

Eventually, I hit enough buttons to rid my page of that bowl of rice, and I am excited to announce the arrival of www.amandastonenorton.com.

By the way, if you happen to notice problems with the site, then feel free to NOT contact my IT department, as it is on permanent vacation!

Time to Find the Boom Bands

“All you have to do is click ‘Submit Here’ and it’s done,” I said to myself, staring at the computer screen. Letting out a deep sigh, I pushed back my chair from the desk, rose from my seat and walked out of the room. Unable to click the button on my computer, I chose instead to push the one on my Keurig. The last thing I needed was more caffeine, but it was a good distraction. Listening to the water heat up, I reflected on the last two year of my life and how I had come to this moment.

I had quit my job to be a stay-at-home mom and pursue children’s book writing. While I enjoyed balancing my time between creative writing and spending quality time with my daughter, feeling thankful Matt’s position allowed for such luxuries, I had begun to miss the working world and longed for a professional adventure. Not yet wanting another 9-5 job, as I wanted to continue volunteering for my daughter’s Pre-K class, I considered upping the ante with my writing by starting my own literary business. I had been told I had a talent for writing and editing, and wondered how I could turn these skills into a viable career.

For months, I waffled—researching ideas, outlining business plans and tossing them in the recycling bin. I poured over my ten-page curriculum vitae, looking for transferable skills from the only business I have ever really known, Higher Education. When I had entered Higher ed, I knew exactly what I wanted to be, but now I was starting all over again, entering uncharted waters. I was swimming through ideas with absolutely no direction, drowning in possibilities.

One day, at my weekly writers’ meeting, one of the members shared his success with school visits. School visits? I had no idea writers could get paid for presenting workshops AND receive help from the school selling their books.

The ‘AH-HA’ moment happened on my way home and the epiphany was so powerful I pulled into a Walgreen’s parking lot. “You have two degrees in Education, Amanda,” I said aloud, shaking with excitement. “You’ve got 15 years of workshop facilitation experience. …” I looked at myself in the review mirror. “Your book is the perfect combo of what you love to teach: science and multiculturalism. This is it—your golden ticket!” I grabbed a scrap of paper off the floor of my car and wrote my business plan right there in the parking lot.

Two days later, there I was, staring at a coffee maker, avoiding the flashing ‘Submit Here’ button that would seal my parking lot plans. Hitting those neon green words, permanently transferring my $500 to Legalzoom, would commit me to a contrivance I had written on the back of a discarded grocery receipt.

“Just breathe, girl.” I stirred some cream into my coffee. “You can do this.”

Back in my make-shift office, formerly a storage room for a treadmill, I took a sip of my coffee and looked at the icon, still blinking, waiting for my move. My mind wandered to the book I had read to my daughter the previous night, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

I was stuck in what Dr. Seuss called “The Waiting Place.” Waiting for someone to make a decision. Waiting for the winning lottery ticket that would pay for my dream. Waiting for someone to write a book on how this is done. Just waiting in the waiting place, drinking way too much coffee.

Somehow you’ll escape

All that waiting and staying.

You’ll find the bright places

Where Boom Bands are playing.

–Dr. Seuss

“No more worrying and wondering,” I said to the blinking icon, rebuking it with my wagging finger. “No more planning and revising. No more what if-ing. No more waiting!”

 

You’ll Get Hemorrhoids

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I despised my clothes when I was a child. While all the other kids in my class wore cool ripped jeans, neon stripes, Jams, and parachute pants, I was forced to wear pretty corduroy jumpers, plaid kilts, and monogrammed sweaters. I was a target: the dorky kid with the weird clothes. But, did I complain to my Mom about her purchasing choices?  Nope! I just thought it was my lot in life. I wore what she gave me, never sharing my misery.

I can’t fault my mom. She didn’t know. As a substitute teacher at my schools, she fraternized with all my teachers, only hearing how adorable I looked in my Animal Cracker tailored outfits with matching ribbons in my hair. In high school I finally mustered the courage to tell her the truth, and she was mortified to hear about my experiences and bewildered that I never confessed my feelings.

Thirty plus years later, I am now the mom buying clothes for my little girl. But, unlike me, my daughter has no problem telling me exactly what she thinks about my purchasing choices for her.  Here’s a great example from this week.

“Today is picture day at school, Madeleine Stone. I laid out your new dress on your bed.” A few minutes later, she walked into my bathroom wearing the dress along with the most despicable face. Her lips were puckered together, as if she had just sucked on a lemon. The scowl spread across her eyes was augmented by her tightly crossed arms in front of her body and the guttural “uhhhh!” of disgust she uttered from her vocal chords.

“I don’t like it!” she said.

“Oh, you look adorable,” I responded. “Just wait until you see it with the matching beret.”

“No!” she said stomping her foot and shaking her head in disgust.

Okay, I thought. Remember how you felt wearing something you hated to school? Don’t do this to your daughter. ..But, she’s out of her mind…This dress oozes with style. …not to mention I paid an arm and a leg for it.

As complacent of a child as I was, my daughter is equally obstinate. When she doesn’t like something, you know it, it’s almost impossible to change her mind. I’ll talk her into it, I thought, she’s only four.  And that’s when I started selling my pitch!

“When I showed it to you the other day, Squirt, you said you loved it.”

“Not anymore. It’s got black in it, and I don’t’ like black.”

“But look at this adorable beret”

“I want to wear a barrette, not a beret”

“Barrette, beret; they’re almost the same. “

“No, they’re not.”

I ran to her room to get her globe. “Look here, Squirt.” Pointing to Europe, “This beret came all the way from France. It traveled across the Atlantic Ocean just so you could wear it.” Putting my right index finger on France and my left index finger on Texas, “It traveled so far. How cool is that…to get to wear something from so far away?” 

Just a little white lie, I thought.She was starting to cave, I could see the curiosity building up in her eyes.

“No!”

Dang, I thought, I almost had her.  

It was time to bring out the big guns. “Madeleine Stone, you told me that you liked it, and that’s why I pulled the tags off. This dress and beret were not cheap. And if you’re not going to wear it, then you owe me some money.”

“How much?”

“It will cost you your allowance for an entire year.” (She gets $1 a week for spending.)

Snap, I got her!

“Fine. I’ll wear it, but only once.”

“Three times,” I bartered.

“Two times,” she countered.

“Two times plus when you go and see Santa.” Tricky tricky.

“I’m not wearing this for Santa Clause. He’d hate it too.”

“Okay, then three times, but you don’t have to wear it when you see Santa.”

“Deal.”

“Alright, then! Now, go get in the car.”

But she wasn’t happy about it. Wearing her Probably-Not-From-France beret and dress, she mumbled and grumbled all the way to school.

“What did you say, Squirt?” I asked, eyeing her in my rear view mirror.

“I said I’m going to sit on the toilet all day so nobody sees me.”

“Well, then you’ll get hemorrhoids.” Did I really just say that to my four-year old?

“Whatsa Hemoroy?”

“Something you don’t want.”

“Why not?”“Cuz they hurt.”

“Where?”

“Your bottom.”

“NOOOOOO!!!!”

Oh, boy. Time to change the subject.

“Will you please smile for your pictures, today?”

“I’ll try, but it’ll be hard wearing this dress.”

That’s all I ask, Squirt, just try.”

“Fine.”

We bantered on and on all the way to school. Luckily, she was so hyper-focused on the outfit that she forgot all about the hemorrhoids. I pulled into the school’s driveway, but she refused to get out of the car. Oh, what have I done?

Her teacher walked up to my car, opened the door, and exclaimed, “Well, don’t you look beautiful in your new dress, Madeleine Stone.” Madeleine Stone scrunched up her face in disagreement, but took her teacher’s hand and exited the vehicle.

“Love ya, Squirt” I hollered from my lowered passenger window, but she kept walking. My heart ached. All this over a stupid dress.

Before closing the classroom door behind her, Madeleine Stone’s teacher turned around to say, “Great outfit, Amanda, I love it!” Of course you do, so did my teachers. …Oh, my poor baby—never again! 

[Fast forward to the end of the day]

“Okay, Squirt, you can take off that dress now,” I informed Madeleine Stone as we walked into the house.

“I don’t want to!”

“What? Why not?”

“Cuz I like it.”

“Since when?”

“Since now. It looks like a bee costume. Can I wear it for Halloween?” With that she buzzed around the room, happy as a bumble bee in a flower patch.

Are you kidding me?

So, there it is: a tale of two daughters. One daughter, quietly tenacious, while the other boisterously fickle.I wasted precious hours worrying about the emotional trauma I had inflicted on my daughter, projecting my past onto her, when, all the while, she was buzzing around like a busy bee wearing her new favorite dress.  

 Originally posted on 10/26/2013

Apple … we have a problem. It’s you!

Phantom Vibration Syndrome? What is that? I thought. According to Dr. Larry Rosen, a guest on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, phantom vibration is a recent phenomenon associated with an individual believing her phone is vibrating when, in reality, it is not. The confused soul reaches into her purse to find that she had been deceived—not by her phone; rather, by her mind. Sound familiar?

Well, it sure did to me. I experience phantom vibrations all the time. Evidently, I’m not alone because it happens so often to so many people that legitimate research is being conducted on the occurrence.   As I listened to the program, I began to worry. Dr. Rosen compared it to obsessive behavioral disorders, “How is constantly picking up your phone any different than washing your hands over and over again?” he asked. (I’m paraphrasing here.)

Me? Obsessive compulsive? No way! … Well, Hmmmmm.

Dr. Rosen really got me thinking about my own habits, could I be addicted to my smart phone? I decided to try a little experiment of my own.

  1. How often do I think about using my smart phone?
  2. How do I feel physically and mentally when I reach for my phone?

Every time I thought about picking up my phone or actually did pick up my phone, I marked it on a sheet of paper and then wrote down how I felt at that moment.   Tracking occurred for one day, beginning as soon as i woke up and ending at 6:30pm when my husband, Matt, caught me in the act. We were sitting in the kitchen talking about our day when I interrupted his story.

“Damn,” I said, and got up from the table to get my notebook out of my purse. Matt watched me curiously as I made a mark on a sheet of paper and wrote down a few notes. When I returned to the table, he asked, “What’s wrong?”

“I thought about my phone again.”

“What are you talking about?” he asked. That’s when I told him about my experiment.

“Well, how many times have you reached for your phone today?” he questioned.

“I don’t know. I haven’t done the math yet.”

“Go get it, and let’s find out,” he encouraged, laughing.

Adding up all the little check marks I quickly realized, Apple, we have a problem…and it’s you. I had reached for my iPhone sixty-seven times that day. No wonder I can’t get anything done! I told Matt the figure, and his eyes widened with shock.

“Do you think that’s a lot?” I asked.

“Yeah, that’s a lot. You use your phone more than I do, and I use mine for work.”

I reviewed my observations about how I felt at the moment I wanted to use my phone, and most of the comments indicated signs of anxiety. But the following notation cleared away any doubt I had about my predicament, “I looked at my hand, and saw that I was holding my phone, not knowing how it got there.”

While I’m no psychologist, I have enough lay-person training to say that I have a problem. Obviously I need to redefine the parameters of my relationship with my smart phone, and I’d love to hear some of your techniques for keeping a healthy rapport with your technical devices. I’ll keep you updated on my recovery; I just won’t use my smart phone to do it.

To hear the original story that inspired this blog, please visit:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2013/09/30/226820044/phantom-phone-vibrations-so-common-they-ve-changed-our-brains

Originally posted on 10/18/2013 on blogspot.com

Go Climb a Tree

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Nature is a dominant theme in my writing, and I think it is so because it has been my most constant companion. Wherever I go, I can find it:

In the city or in the country,
in the sky or on the ground,
look, listen, and feel—
Nature is all around.

And when I do find it, even if it’s only a few blades of grass sticking through a crack in a concrete sidewalk, it brings me peace.

I think that’s because I grew up in the outdoors. As a child, I was deeply connected to nature—in tune with the environment around me. I played outside so often that I could tell it was dinnertime just by seeing the shape of the shadows from the sun. Who needed a watch when you had Mother Nature? She ran better than any old Timex.

When I climbed a tree as a kid, the only thing I thought about was getting up the tree. If I grab that branch with this hand and pull up, then my foot can go right there.

My mind had a singular focus, clear of all other distractions. I wasn’t thinking about the pile of homework waiting for me in my room or why my softball coach moved me down in the batting order. My focus was simple—get up that tree.

I don’t climb as many trees as I use to, but nature still has that effect on me. Nature reminds me to take a few breaths and calm my mind of all the extraneous worries keeping me from accomplishing the task at hand.

When I find that I’m overwhelmed by the to-do list running through my head, I leave my cell phone on the table and step outside. Five minutes, that’s all it takes (well, maybe ten if it’s a particularly difficult day).  My technique is simple: I find one natural element and give it my full attention:

An ant crawling up the wall,
birds flying up high,
a leaf about to fall,
or a cloud slowly passing by.

When my mind stops racing
and I can describe
the way ants are marching
in one long line,

I count to three
now knowing,
just breath …
breath …
breath.

I’m ready to go inside.

Originally posted on 9/13/2013 on blogspot.com