Archive | July, 2011

Google+: stop the innovation I can’t keep up

27 Jul

Note to Reader: The first time I posted this I left off the conclusion. ooops. Here’s the complete version. Hey, I never said technology was my thing!

When the news hit a few weeks ago about Google’s new social networking site, Google+, I thought “No, please no, not something else for me to figure out. Can innovation just slow down and let me catch up?”  After four years on Facebook, I still don’t understand how all of the features work, so why do I want to tackle learning a new social network? Also I have hundreds of “friends” on FB.  By this point, if folks aren’t on Facebook, they probably aren’t interested in social media at all. Will Google+ simply allow me to connect with the same people on a different site? Will it attract the next generation of social media users and leave us geezers on Facebook? Or will it cause Facebook to go, let’s say, the way of My Space. (Yes, I know My Space still has millions of users, but really do you know a single person on My Space?) I know, I know, Google+ has lots of cool features like posting information for certain circles to see,and video chat,  and I don’t know what all. When I went to the Google+ site to check it out, it looks like 10 million people already think it’s a good idea … and 10 million is Google’s idea of a “limited” roll out.

I am not an early adopter of anything technological. Some of the reason for that is I’m lazy, and I really don’t like to have to learn new things related to gadgets or machines – sad but true. More of the reason for this is my age. Gen Xers like me grew up on the brink of technological innovations, but computer technology did not become part of our daily lives until we were adults. As kids and teens we talked on phones that plugged into the wall, we wrote notes in class, and we had pen pals from camp. One of my work colleagues explained it perfectly – our generation went to college with typewriters and left with computers. So we grew up connecting in a very different way. I didn’t even have access to email at home until 2004 when I got married and my husband had a desk top computer. Lots of Gen Xers really enjoy using social media – I have to admit that I do – but I could live without it. I did live without it – for a long time – so being able to connect easily with someone who sat behind me in 8th grade algebra is fun, but not necessary. (Take away my smart phone and that’s another story.)

For the Love of Facebook

I ended up on Facebook almost by accident. A friend who is the sort of person who only uses her mobile phone for emergencies and never emails photos of her children, sent me a friend request with a message that she had posted pictures of her family. I was intrigued that this person who was even more in the technology dark ages than me was on Facebook — and I was eager to see her children. So I thought, let me take five minutes and check out Facebook … and with that, the love affair began. I reconnected with my third grade teacher, joined a fan club for my old neighborhood, and discovered former work pals and a distant cousin. For weeks, friend requests poured in, and I was giddy about what goodies waited for me on Facebook. At that time, I felt like everyone I knew was getting on Facebook. I would go to my wine club, and we’d talk about Facebook; I would call friends from my hometown, and we’d talk about Facebook; I would have lunch with my mother, and I would tell her about Facebook.  But after about three months, the Facebook flurry slowed down, and the romance began to go a little stale. My relationship with Facebook took a lot of work. Perhaps this affair wasn’t the best use of my time. I took a step back.

Four years later, I have a more mature relationship with Facebook. It’s not head-over-heels honeymoon experience anymore, but it’s still fun and has proved to be useful too. For example, Facebook was the best way to locate classmates for my 20th high school reunion last summer. I also have had success promoting this blog on Facebook. I enjoy seeing status updates from friends, and Facebook makes sharing photos from events really easy. Every time I have considered saying sayonara to Facebook I stop myself – not only because I don’t want to spend the time figuring out how to deactivate – but because I have built a really large network, and that’s got to be good for something.

Testing Twitter & Locked out of LinkedIn

I have dipped my toe in other social media waters too. To promote this blog, I joined twitter, and I have 19 loyal followers, including a local grocery store chain, an auto parts store and a company that sells kids’ cameras – I am sure those tweety birds are waiting anxiously for each new 40countdown post. I get a little thrill when I receive an email that someone new is following me on twitter – I feel sort of famous like Ivanka Trump — only to become deflated when I learn it’s a child psychiatrist’s office or plaintiff’s attorney. (Really, how did they find me and why are the following me?)

I have two LinkedIn accounts – one connected to a personal email, and the other connected to an old work email that I can’t check. My husband – who is generally not a fan of social media – thinks LinkedIn is a great tool for referrals and marketing, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what people do with other than invite more folks to join their network.

To Google+ or Not to Google+

So will I join Google+? In the end, probably so. With social media it seems that the old adage “change is the only constant” truly applies. No, I don’t need or even want another online social network. No, I don’t want something else to check (in addition to social media sites, two email accounts, two voicemail boxes, and snail mail). No I don’t want to learn all of the Google+ functions and features. But I feel like missing a major step in the social media evolution is like missing a month of calculus – you can never catch up. And on my long lists of “I don’t wants,” the one that’s at the top is: I don’t want to be left behind.

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About 40countdown

22 Jul

Note to the reader: I have had some questions about my inspiration for the blog. This is an excerpt from my first post that explains it pretty well.

I turned 39 in June, and for the next year I am counting down to my 40th birthday by blogging. Turning 40 means different things to different people, but I think that most will agree that by age 40 one is – at least chronologically – an adult.

But what does it mean to be a grown up? Becoming a responsible adult is not like hitting puberty. It’s not something that happens to you, and when it’s over – like it or not – you are different. It’s more like college graduation. You can arrive at commencement after four years of study and growth ready for the real world, or you can show up hung over and relieved a 2.5 is good enough to earn a diploma. Either way, you are graduating, but it doesn’t mean you are ready for what’s next.

So, for the next year, I am going to take a look at what it means to be in this phase of life (dare I say middle age). The accomplishments, the contentment, the struggles, the self awareness and the hopes for what the next 40 or 50 years will bring.

Being 39 makes me realize there are some things I will never accomplish – like being an Olympic gymnast or going to medical school. On a smaller scale, I know that I will never get up a 5 a.m. to work out or give up cheese for Lent. I am not such a strong woman. On the flip side, I have surprised myself with the amazing amount of multi-tasking I can do as a parent, that I really can get up every night at 4 a.m. for nearly a year to comfort or feed a small child, and that I have had several really fascinating careers. My resume – personal and professional – is beyond needing padding, and it will never fit on one page again.

I hope you will find ideas that you identify with, stories that make you laugh, opinions that make you think and positions that make you mad, but I don’t really ever want to make people mad because I am a pleaser. Join me as I count down to 40.

Marriage: are we in for the long haul?

21 Jul

Four years ago, my husband and I went to Phoenix, AZ for his 20th high school reunion. I walked away surprised and disheartened about how many of his classmates were divorced. Our life as a couple was really just beginning – we had only been married three years, and we had a six-month-old baby. It was hard for me to believe that other people – only a few years older than me – had divorced, and in some cases already remarried. My experience at the reunion made me wonder if our generation was doomed to repeat the mistakes of our parents’ generation. I had hoped we would do better.

These are the issues that Susan Gregory Thomas grapples with in her new book, In Spite of Everything: A Memoir. I mentioned in last week’s post that I rarely find time to read a whole book these days, but I was lucky enough to run across an excerpt from In Spite of Everything in a national newspaper. Thomas is a child of a harrowing divorce, and in her book she examines how split families impacted our generation (Gen X). As the book title implies, she also struggles with the end of her own marriage, despite her best intentions “not to imbed my children in the torture of a split family.”

I am one of the lucky ones — my parents are still together after more than 40 years of marriage. I am thankful not to have lived through a family meltdown, and I am thankful to have witnessed what a solid and successful marriage looks like. However, I don’t think any of us growing up in the 80s escaped the shadow divorce cast over our youth. We all knew – at least second-hand – that the most important institution in our lives, our family, was fragile.

According to statistics from the National Marriage Project (cited in Thomas’s book), American divorces peaked in 1980. That was the year I was in the third grade, and I remember the constant stream of news about classmates’ parents splitting up. I remember the angry boy who threw his desk across the room, the girl who came back to school in the fourth grade with a new last name, and the sullen kid who went to live with his grandparents because “dad was gone.” Despite having only seen my parents fight once in my life, I remember asking my mom repeatedly if Dad was going to leave. (I don’t think it occurred to me that mommies leave too.)

By the time I was in high school, my peer group’s parents lived up to the national statistic that half of all marriages end in divorce. But the landscape I remember is not as bleak as what Thomas described in her book. She writes: “Growing up, my brother and I were often left to our own devices, members of the giant flock of latchkey kids in the 1970s and 80s. Our suburb was littered with sad-eyed, bruised nomads, who wandered back and forth between used-record shops to the sheds behind the train station where they got high ….” She also cites a 2004 marketing study about generational differences that reports that our generation “went through its all-important formative years as the least parented, least nurtured generations in U.S. history.” Fortunately my friends all had at least one supportive, involved parent to keep them from completely derailing during adolescence, but that’s not to say everyone did, it may just have been the kids I knew.

Because of the divorce epidemic, I was in no rush to get to the altar. I knew I needed to figure out who I was before I merged my life with someone else’s. I also figured I should enjoy the freedom of not having to answer to parents or compromise with a spouse for at least a few years. I remember sitting down with my two best friends our senior year of high school and prognosticating about when we would all get married. I said that I couldn’t imagine marrying before 29. I was right, I married at 31.

In my early 20s, I was truly shocked when friends’ announced their engagements. Didn’t they have more things they wanted to do on their own? Weren’t we all going to stay single and hang out like the cast of Friends? Were they really mature enough to commit to spend the rest of their lives together? Did they know what they were in for? And didn’t they know getting married at 24 was, like, so 1960? I also remember thinking that I was – in a way – thankful for divorce. I knew some of these “just-out-of-college unions” wouldn’t last, and that the victims would need to reboot their lives. I also appreciated the insurance of knowing I could press the eject button and legally and acceptably end a marriage if it took a tragic turn.

According to Thomas’ book, our generation is doing better than our parents’. She points to statistics from the National Marriage Project that divorce rates in 2009 (the most recent data available) were the lowest since 1970. We are marrying later in life, which one would hope means we are more mature and ready to handle the responsibility of a lifelong commitment, and most of us had a few years after college to grow into adulthood.

It will be years before we can write the headline on Gen Xers and marriage. It is unlikely our marriages will have the longevity of our grandparents’ generation, but hopefully our families will be more stable than the baby boomers. I will report back after the 30th high school reunion.

InStyle v. MyStyle

12 Jul

Yesterday I sat down and flipped through the July issue of InStyle, and I decided I would adjust the headlines to fit MyStyle. Here’s what I came up with … (Please note, these are actual headlines from this month’s InStyle):

InStyle: Rocker v. surfer … both are totally cool, but they appeal to very different personalities

MyStyle: Mom jeans v. jeggings … both are totally hideous, but appeal to very different personalities

 

InStyle: What would you snack on during an opera?

MyStyle: What would you snack on from your kid’s plate?

 

InStyle: Let there be neon

MyStyle: Only if it isn’t on my lower half

 

InStyle: (What to wear to a) wedding reception

MyStyle: (what to wear to a) playground in 95 degree weather and 100 percent humidity

 

InStyle: (What to wear to a) Sunday picnic

MyStyle: (what to wear to a) Sunday laundry marathon

 

InStyle: You can do the new prep

MyStyle: Why would I want to? I did the old prep

 

Instyle: Look cute at concerts

MyStyle: Look cute at “Day Out With Thomas”

 

InStyle: Supernatural style

MyStyle: Au Nat-ur-ale Style: How to go four days without washing your hair

 

InStyle: Show some skin … one time you’ll be happy to you have a hole in your shirt

MyStyle: I have a hole in my shirt? I never noticed

 

InStyle: Dream Weavers … wicker and raffia go far beyond the humble picnic basket

MyStyle: Picnic … won’t a used Target bag do?

 

InStyle: (Clothes for) Day into evening …

MyStyle: (Clothes for) Night into day … how to sleep in your clothes and then wear them for carpool

My Stuff Doesn’t Lie, But I Wish It Would

11 Jul

I’ve always enjoyed magazine and newspaper profiles of influential people that include really personal stuff like, “what’s on your nightstand?” or “what’s in your handbag?”

I am not influential (other than with my two small children) so no one has ever asked me those questions. But like most people, my nightstand and handbag say a lot about the phase of life I am in.

Let’s rewind 15 years. It’s 1996 and I am 24 – two years out of college. If someone had looked on my nightstand, they would have been sooo impressed. They would have found copies of The New Yorker, the local paper, a fashion magazine or two, the Sunday New York Times and whatever novel I was currently reading. Oh, and there may have been some historical or nonfiction works that I knew I should read, but probably wouldn’t.

Now for the purse. My handbag would not have had a cell phone (I was a late adopter), but was likely to contain a small, tidy, makeup bag with new cosmetics, a few reporters’ notebooks, my wallet, some tissues and breath mints in a shiny tin.

Today, the scene is different. My nightstand screams “middle aged lady with limited interests.” I confess, I subscribe to Good Housekeeping, Red Book (hey, it was only $5 for a whole year) and the modern middle aged lady magazine, Real Simple (it has cool photography, and masquerades as a hip publication, but is really Good Housekeeping 2.0). There are stacks of InStyle, but most haven’t been opened. (I keep subscribing to it to impress my stylish babysitters … and someday I might want to know what to wear to a garden wedding or a beach club). The glossies I am most likely to read are Parents and Parenting, although I can’t imagine there is anything left for me to learn about the terrible twos, potty training and getting picky eaters to like vegetables.

I remember being at a friend’s house a few years ago and seeing a copy of Ladies Home Journal on her coffee table. I said: “You mean they still print that? And you actually read it?” I couldn’t really imagine a time in my life that I would be interested in a magazine with articles on the best ways to slice melons and fold fitted sheets. Now I want that information much more than “Get the look: Selena Gomez – Her Signature Side Pony(tail).” (Seriously, what grown woman wears a side ponytail … oh yeah, Selena is not a grown woman … but that was a headline in July’s In Style).

Don’t expect me to blog about the best picks for book clubs or beach reads. Material written in bullet-point format is what works best for my bedtime reading now (and the end of the day is the only time I have the luxury of reading). Of course it wasn’t always that way. Reading fiction was for many years my favorite and most constant hobby, and I never understood people who would rather watch TV than read. About five years ago – before my first son was born – a friend of mine with two small children said that she had given up reading. She thought she would start again when her youngest was 10. She was half joking, but evens so, I couldn’t imagine not reading. Even after my first son was born I continued to read – burning through Eat, Love Pray while pumping breast milk (the logistics were challenging, but it was worth it.) Then the second child came along, and by my bedtime, the best I could do was skim the headlines of the Wall Street Journal and then drift off to sleep until the nightly 3 a.m. wake up howl from the nursery. I got out of the habit of reading. Now I don’t even have a list of things I want to read. Sadly, the last book I read was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (which was AWFUL in my opinion) while bedridden with strep throat at a friend’s wedding in Colorado last September .. the book belonged to a friend I was staying with … I didn’t even bring a book on the trip.  But there’s hope, my husband bought me a used copy of the Guseppe di Lampedusa’s classic, The Leopard, which is taking up real estate on the night stand, but hasn’t been read … at least it’s there.

My handbag does not reveal a life of glamour, power and intellectual pursuits. For that matter, it doesn’t even reveal of lifestyle of order and cleanliness. It reveals a frenzied life where many items disappear into the dark void of my handbag, not to see the light of day until September when I purge the summer purse and transfer stuff to the cold weather bag.

Two nights ago I dumped out my bag  on the guest bed (which resulted in needing to pull out the dust buster to suck up all of the Scooby Snacks crumbs that spilled out) to see what stuff I was carrying around with me.

So here are the contents: My faux skin wallet from Target. Sadly this wallet replaced a half moon shaped Fendi wallet that I bought in Rome on a family vacation. (That wallet met a sad end when I dumped it off of my tray and into a garbage can at a fast food restaurant while stumbling through the day in a post-second baby, sleep-deprived haze. Yes, my credit cards, debit card, driver’s license, health insurance cards, grocery store rewards card and cash were all inside.)

Other items in my bag: a plastic rocket ship; a toy car (a supporting character from Cars, I don’t know his name); a pair of my athletic socks; a pair of children’s socks; a pouch with two diapers; two elastic hair bands, one blue and one brown; a pack of Wet Ones; a piece of purple candy in a clear wrapper; a peppermint not in a wrapper with hair stuck to it; my hair brush with enough hair to make a wig for a cancer patient; my makeup bag; two pads of Post-it notes, one blue and one pink; a few pens and mechanical pencils; a business card for a financial planner I met with 18 months ago (although the bag is only three months old … hmmmm?); a pack of tissues and a few crumpled used tissues; two packs of Welch’s fruit snacks; one pack of Cars fruit snacks, a whole apple; pack of crushed Saltines; and a Ziploc freezer bag that once contained all of the food. During the day my bag would contain my Blackberry, but at home I carry it with me from room-to-room like a Linus blanket.

So how would one sum up what’s on my bedside table and in my bag:

Nightstand:

In search of .. solving the mysteries of child rearing and domestic science?

I robbed the waiting room at my OB/Gyn’s?

Handbag:

Always prepared, but never organized?

A hoarder on the go?

Planning to flee the country on a long flight while wearing sandals and after skipping lunch?

My stuff tells the truth about me. I may want you to think I am a have-it-all mom, organizing play dates via my smart phone, feeding my kids organic snacks, and reading Reckless Endangerment, but my stuff tells you otherwise. And I can embrace the truth. So excuse me while I go slice melons and put them in a Ziploc for my purse. (Cross your fingers that the bag doesn’t leak.)

The Freedom to Say Yes

7 Jul

One thing about getting older is your perspective on things changes. I certainly thought about this over the July 4th weekend in relation to freedom of speech issues. As a former print and television journalist, my livelihood depended on the First Amendment. But last week’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court striking down California’s ban on the sale of extremely violent video games to children is a win for no one but the gaming industry. It supports video game makers’ freedom while enabling young people to virtually participate in unimaginable brutality. I don’t know constitutional law, but I know that this is not what our Founding Fathers’ had in mind with the First Amendment. Seriously, the idea that this kind of expression needs constitutional protection is laughable.

The common argument to support the Supreme Court’s decision is: it’s a parent’s job to control what a child is exposed to. That’s the argument I would have made before I had kids. And I still believe it, to a degree. But as a parent I wish I had a little more help from the world at large.

Let’s face it, we are shaped by what we consume. What we read. What we see. What we eat. What we hear. Why else would parents play Mozart to babies and take toddlers to art museums? Exposure. Children take it all in – the good, the bad and the ugly.

Most of us have a moment from childhood when we saw something that disturbed us, and that image has stuck with us. For my husband it was the movie The Exorcist that he saw at a friend’s house. He had nightmares for years. For me it was a scene in a black and white movie of a woman drowning in a tank of water while others look on and didn’t help her. The movie was made before Technicolor®. How bad could it be? But that image still haunts me. We each had these experiences when our parents weren’t around – my husband was at a friend’s and I was at my grandmother’s house. And that’s the point. Parents aren’t always there to monitor what kids see and hear.

I already have to say “no” to so many things my four-year-old son would like to do. Cars 2 is the most recent example of that. Our house is full of Cars stuff – toys, tissue boxes, books and sippy cups. We loved the first movie, and we were ready for another visit with our friends in Radiator Springs. But the silly explosions and pointless shoot ‘em up violence in the Cars 2 trailer are enough for me to wait a year or two to let my oldest child see it. Unlike uber-violent video games, this is a movie that’s made for children and families, and it has a G rating. I wish I didn’t have to be circumspect about something approved for General Audiences.

Even if I think the First Amendment has been stretched completely out of shape, I am still thankful for the right of freedom of speech. Having said that, I wish popular culture gave parents the freedom to be less diligent in monitoring everything their kids see. I also wish I had the freedom to say “yes” a little more often.

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