Sunday, July 24, 2016

Make Better Decisions: Know When Satisfice is Good Enough

We've lived in our new house for a year without a couch. We weren't entirely couch-less, there is a couch and a love seat in our living room. But, our family room, one of the most used rooms in our house, has been without adequate seating since we moved in. 

There were a number of reasons for that: the room is oddly proportioned (long but not deep), which made trying to find a sectional tricky; the room adjoins the kitchen, which is first on our To Be Renovated Some Day list; and lastly, when it comes to "big" items, we only like to buy investment pieces. 

Ultimately though, the thing that kept us from buying a couch was my decision paralysis. I didn't feel comfortable sinking my Benjamins into a piece of furniture when I couldn't envision it working for longer than the foreseeable future. But, at the same time, our awkward (or no) seating was undesirable and was keeping us from fully enjoying our home. We needed a couch.  

So we bought one - at Ikea, which is admittedly not the first place that springs to mind when one thinks investment pieces. Here's how that happened. I did a bunch of online couch hunting and found a sectional I liked. We went to the furniture store and put our buns to work testing it out and we got the dimensions. Then we came home and realized that said sectional would engulf the entire room. So we went to another store and tried out couches. But still I dithered.

Then the clouds parted in the form of my husband who said, "Why don't we buy a cheap couch now and when the kids are older buy a much nicer one?" Eureka! The next day we were at Ikea getting a couch (and ice cream cones). Done and done. 

But it wasn't until I read about satisfice that I realized what my issue had been all along: I'd been maximizing the heck out of couch buying. 

Satisficing (a mixture of the word satisfy and suffice) is a decision-making strategy where you search through the available alternatives until an acceptability threshold is met. Maximizing on the other is when you sift through many - or all - available options until you find The Best possible option. 

Once I learned about this concept, a light bulb went on. Most people are a mix of satisficers and maximizers. I tend to be a satisficer about much of daily life, having never been able to understand the person who spends more than say 5 minutes picking out lamp shades (It's a lamp shade, people!). However, when it comes to big decisions, like sizeable purchases and travel, I'm a maximizer to the core. 

Being a maximizer can be to my detriment, causing me to agonize over decisions in the name of being "prudent" and "considered" when I was really being anal and exhausting. 

When we needed to find a preschool for our youngest, the last school he and I toured was the one closest to our house. It's the school I ultimately chose, not just for convenience's sake but also because it was the best fit for our son. I now realize that I deliberately visited it last because I wanted to make sure that I explored every conceivable option before I selected a school, yet he and I both knew it was the right place almost from the moment we walked in the door. 

Another place I'm a maximizer, much to my detriment, is my writing. I will fiddle with words long past editing for clarity or conciseness. I've always thought that this kind of attention to detail was me honing my craft, but, let's face it, Hemingway probably didn't spend as much time as I do trying to decide between "said" and "uttered" (and I'm no Hemingway). 

Being a satisficer isn't about compromising or settling, it's about setting criteria, even discriminating criteria, and then being satisfied once that criteria is met. If you have a decision you're struggling with, ask yourself if you're satisficing or maximizing. Or perhaps, in the words of The Gambler, you should ask yourself if you: "know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, and know when to run." This is, after all, the secret to surviving. 

Find the satisficer/maximizer quiz here

Monday, July 11, 2016

Freelance Writing Resources and I Don't Want A Platform

I Don't Want A Platform - on Beyond Your Blog

When I started freelance writing, I began searching for freelance writing resources. The blog, Beyond Your Blog, was hands-down the best resource I found. It's comprehensive, well-written and provides relate-able content. It's been a tremendous tool for me in my writing. 

The blog's owner, Susan, has recently decided that's she no longer going to be actively writing on the blog, much to many a dismayed heart. Nonetheless, the blog's content and her podcast are going to remain available, at least for now. 

If you're interested in writing or think you may become interested in freelance writing, you need to peruse this site and listen to her accompanying podcast. I'm thrilled to be on the site today with a post that was originally on this site (but with a different title), I Don't Want a Platform

If you read all the way to through that post to the bio, you'll read a mention of a nearly completed e-book. It's true. I bit the bullet and wrote an e-book, which will release next month. More details coming soon!

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Best (Financial) Book You've Never Read

Do you have a budget? Almost anyone who gives financial advice (which is almost everyone) touts the benefit of having a budget.

Over the years, I've tried several money tracking programs but have never been able to stick with one. I have a general idea of where my money goes monthly but couldn't tell you down to the last penny or even many dollars. It's one of those things that I've always felt kind of guilty about. I've always believed that financially responsible people budget their money. It's one those things that you "should" do, like praying or reading your Bible daily (also not axiomatic mandates by the way). 

Then the skies parted. 

I recently started reading Personal Finances for Dummies, after seeing a recommendation of it in another book. 

It's one of the best books I've ever read, on any topic. Seriously. 

In the book, the author talks about analyzing your spending. He says mentions that it's beneficial to analyze your spending in 3 circumstances; 
  • If you aren't saving enough to meet your financial goals. 
  • If you think your spending is out of control or you don't really know where your money goes. 
  • You're anticipating a significant life change (like a marriage, becoming self employed, having kids, retiring, etc...)
But he points out, if you're already a saver, then there's really no need to anally track every dollar. If you already have good savings habits, then there's no real value in tracking your spending. The good habit is saving, not tracking the money. He points out that for some people, tracking where their money is going is a kind of compulsion. 

This was such a liberating idea for me and runs counter to literally everything I've ever heard about personal finances. 

The book strongly advocates understanding your relationship with money and living within your means as well as being satisfied with what you have, not what you want. 

If you want to know more about investing or money management then this is the book for you, irrespective of age or income. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Money Doesn't Matter As Much As You Think It Does But Your Beliefs About Scarcity and Abundance Do

Money, we are told constantly, can't buy happiness. What we aren't told is that money - while it can't guarantee these things - can often buy security, peace of mind, convenience and fun. 

Or at least the right amount of money can. Money, like most things in life, has a sweet spot. Too much and it can become a mill stone, too little and it can be a significant impediment. 

How much is enough?
This article about four men and their four different incomes and life styles was all the buzz for some time. People reached different conclusions about what it meant, or should mean. Given that the piece is anecdotal not empirical, I don't think that the article necessarily offers take-aways of any magnitude. This is, after all, a look at four different personalities, four different temperaments and four different financial upbringings, all of which tend to factor into our views about money. (While it still would be anecdotal, I wish someone would do a piece on women in these income brackets.)

Fighting for precious little
This piece about refugees living in Jordan and Iraq is both interesting and enlightening. The article is a compilation of many women, not just one particular woman's story and I think the mash-up, while more dramatic, does a disservice to these women's stories. Nonetheless, it does provide insight into the daily lives of refugees and those living with the barest of necessities. You have to wonder what they would have said if asked whether or not money (and how much) could improve their situations. 

Money's Sweet Spot
Money's sweet spot has little to do with dollars and cents. It has more to do with our beliefs about scarcity and abundance. 

Recently I made a few purchases in the $100 range. Each of these (a few items to refresh a bedroom and a cleaning for my camera) brought me satisfaction, so much so that I was asking myself why I hadn't done it before. 

It would be easy to reach the conclusion that, therefore, in each of these circumstances, $100 was my sweet spot. But that would be inaccurate. While $100 in each instance was the total amount spent, the real value was that these things contributed to my overall feeling of abundance, enhancing what was already existing. 

If, for example, I had spent my last $100 on these items, I doubt they would have brought me even the most fleeting of satisfaction given that they aren't needed for survival. 

The real question isn't how much money can we spend, or accumulate for that matter, the question is what can we do to contribute to our feelings of abundance or alleviate our beliefs about scarcity, both true beliefs and faulty ones. 

Photo: When you look at the picture above, do you see scarcity or abundance?

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Parenting Wisdom of Marilla Cuthbert

I haven't been doing much in the way of writing, but I have been doing a considerable amount of reading lately. In particular, I've rekindled my love of Anne of Green Gables. 

It's been many years since I read the books, and I had either forgotten or hadn't realized that as timeless as the Anne-girl is that the time period the books are set in is dated. The callous manner in which orphans were once treated and discussed is shocking. Legalities aside, the fact that people used to once "take in" children to serve as farmhands or household help certainly makes you cringe. Then there's the book's open mistrust of "outsiders," with the characters going so far as to spell out which ethnic groups one should be suspicious of. The books are obviously fiction but they are nonetheless a reflection of the social consciousness of the time.

Today, it is common to hear people mourn the depths to which modern society has fallen. What people seem to forget is that we didn't have far to fall from! These are just two examples of how the world has changed, for the better. (And our world really is in so many ways a better place.)

But all of that was a tangent. One of the real joys for me in re-reading the books is Marilla Cuthbert. Matthew may have been one of Anne's kindred spirits, but Marilla takes the cake. She may have been a sarcastically-inclined "spinster" (thank goodness we no longer say that either) who believed that overt displays of affection would spoil a person, but, man, is Marilla wonderful. 

Here are just a few choice Marilla bits: 

After Anne's outburst to Rachel Lynne, Marilla tells Anne she must apologize. Anne retorts that she'd rather be locked in a dark, damp dungeon: "We're not in the habit of shutting people up in dark, damp dungeons," said Marilla dryly, "especially as they're rather scare in Avonlea."

Anne goes to church alone and when asked about the minister's sermon reports that it was "awfully long" and "without imagination": Marilla felt helplessly that all this should be sternly reproved, but she was hampered by the undeniable fact that some of the things Anne had said, especially about the minister's sermons and Mr. Bell's prayers were what she herself had really thought deep down in her heart for years but had never given expression to. It almost seemed to her that those secret, unuttered, critical thoughts had suddenly taken visible and accusing shape and form in the person of this outspoken morsel of neglected humanity. 
Gilbert Blythe calls Anne "Carrots" at school and she breaks her slate over his head in response. Anne goes home and tells Marilla that she's not going back to school given that magnitude of the insult. 

"Insulted fiddlesticks! You'll go to school tomorrow as usual." 

(Anne responds that she will not.)

Marilla saw something remarkably like unyielding stubbornness looking out of Anne's small face. She understood that she would have trouble in overcoming it; but she resolved wisely to say nothing more just then.

Anne tells Marilla that " I do not believe that God Himself can do very much with such an obstinate person as Mrs. Barry.": "Anne, you shouldn't say such things" rebuked Marilla, striving to overcome that unholy tendency to laughter which she was dismayed to find growing upon her.

Anne worries that she'll fail as the school teacher in Avonlea: "You'll hardly fail completely in one day and there's plenty more days coming," said Marilla. 


Anne tells about the trouble she's had at school with student Anthony Pye: When the tale was ended [Marilla] said, briskly, "Well never mind. This day's done and there's a new one coming tomorrow, with no mistakes in it yet, as you yourself used to say. Just come downstairs and have your supper. You'll see if a good cup of tea and those plum puffs I made today don't hearten you up."

(Finally and perhaps best of all) "Anneyou do beat all!"

Monday, June 6, 2016

House of Hope: Caring for China's Critically-Ill Children

There are people who see acts of service as a kind of project, the sort of thing you do on occasional weekends and then there are the people whose acts of service are simply a way of life. 

Dr. Joyce and Robin Hill embody people who live out acts of service. They are the founders of New Hope Foundation, a facility in Beijing, China for sick babies and babies who need intensive surgical care. They describe their work as providing palliative care and medical treatment for orphaned children in China. New Hope Foundation seeks: "To comfort always, to relieve often and to save sometimes."

The work they do is very, very hard. They see children in all forms of distress and need. The Hills started New Hope Foundation in 2000. They had been in China for several years doing private work in their respective fields and at the end of their tenure there, instead of returning to Australia, they were prompted to start a foster home. 

The work the Hills and New Hope Foundation do is very personal for me. My youngest son lived there. It is because of the work on New Hope and a partner organization, Love Without Boundaries, that he is alive and well. 

I was not able to visit House of Hope due to procedural rules at the time of my son's adoption, but I have "met" online and in real life several of the people who volunteer there. There are lovely, lovely people. Because of the work they do, it's easy for people to see them as "special," and these are indeed skilled, qualified and hard-working individuals. But their primary qualification is that were willing. 

They were willing to say "yes" to something audacious, scary and unknown. Many of the people who volunteer at New Hope are college students, some have never been out of the country. Most are not experienced in caring for children, certainly not critically ill children. These are simply people with willing hearts and ready hands. 

New Hope sends out a monthly newsletter and I received mine this weekend. In that newsletter, they give updates about the children in care at House of Hope, and their linked care facilities in other cities. This month's update informed that they had: 2 admissions, 11 hospitalizations and surgeries, and 8 adoptions. It went on to say that, "For the first time in our memory, we have had a month where no babies in our care have passed away. We are very grateful."

These people have been running a foster home for 16 years. It's the first month they can remember with no deaths. That means that there were 191 other months where a child in their care passed away. 

Can you imagine? Because I can't. 

191 other months where they lost a child. 

That's years of discouragement, defeat, doubt, and literally, death. 

And yet. 

And yet, they keep on. Because they keep on, other children live and thrive and go on to grow up and become sisters and brothers and sons and daughters. They go on to have families and become families. 

Can you imagine? Because I can't. 

Whatever seemingly thankless task you're doing today, whatever downtrodden-ness you face, whatever belly of the beast you might be in - don't stop, don't quit, don't wave that white flag. 

You stand up and you fight. The work that you are doing matters. It is of consequence and significance. It has lasting value, even if you can't see the fruit it will bear now. 

Thank you Dr. Joyce and Robin. Thank you staff and volunteers of New Hope. Thank you for  your sacrifice and steadfastness. Thank you for never giving up the fight. 

Interested in finding out more about New Hope Foundation? This video explains why they have a $4mil operating budget for their 5 care facilities and special care units. 

This video explains what prospective nurses coming to work at New Hope or other facilities might expect day-to-day. 

Friday, June 3, 2016

Summer Survival: Audio Books

summer survival
The number of school days has dwindled into the single digits. I know this because my 7-year-old's teacher keeps count in class and this exciting bit of information gets passed on to me daily.

Last summer was our summer of the chapter book. The kids and I read: The Trumpet of the Swan, Owls in the Family and 8 Class Pets + 1 Squirrel ÷ 1 Dog = Chaos. I really loved our read-aloud time and can't wait to do it again this year.

This year in addition to our read-alouds I'm also going to be relying on audio books a good bit, especially while I try to work. The only real parental involvement needed for audio books is the downloading (We use the library's free Overdrive App but you can just as easily use Audible) and being called in to mediate disputes about certain people talking when others want to listen.

Even though school isn't quite out, we've already gotten a head start on our summer reading thanks to a little me and them road trip. Over the long weekend, we listened to Mr. Poppers Penguins and The Box Car Children.

While I enjoyed the audio version of Mr. Popper's Penguins, I don't think I'll bother with the movie.  I had read The Box Car Children as a child and had very fond memories of the books and was looking forward to listening to them but have to say they were much better the first time around. Listening to Jesse trill, "It's so good to eat with spoons" is, well, annoying as all get-out but the book was well-received by both the 6 and 7 year old. (The 4 year old gets bored with anything of long length.) I also had Frindle cued up and ready to go, but we haven't listened to that one yet.

The other benefit of audio books is that they're hands-free. I can listen to audio books while I drive, cook and fold laundry. The kids can listen to them while they color, play Legos or line up dominoes. They listened to Because of Winn Dixie earlier in the month and I really enjoyed the bits I heard. And Sparkle Stories are always a favorite at our house.

Still not convinced that audio books are the way to go for kids? Check out this article on 8 reasons audio books are great for kids. Also, here is a list of 40 great audio books for kids.