Wednesday, May 28, 2008

It's a Free Country....

Just this past week, everyone has made a stink about the Subway contest which excludes Homeschoolers by name. Yeah, well, as they say, "It's a free country". Subway can do whatever it wants to do with it's own company and their promos and contests, just like I can do whatever I please with Joyful Momma's Contests and Promos (er...if I ever get it together and plan some contents...)

The thing is, when we get our feathers ruffled over things like this we are missing the big picture, which includes,

1. How the World perceives Christians in General....
Before I got saved, I thought Christians were a bunch of knee jerk reactionists who looked hard for things to be offended over. Sadly that is true of some Christians, but it definitely lies to a lost and dying world about what Christianity is all about. This sort of thing kept me from understanding what the gospel is all about for a long while.

2. A Double Standard about how we want to be treated...
We get angry when one of "our groups" gets excluded from something...and we say that this is a free country, and we have the right to not be excluded, etc....true...but part of being in a free country is not being forced to associate with those you don't want to associate with. Subway for some reason decided to make the contest just for conventionally schooled kids. That's their right. I don't even think it means they "hate" homeschoolers. They are just putting this on for a certain group.

On the flip side, say someone came along and said, "I think that HSLDA should have their contests open to public schoolers!" We would say, "We have the right to exclude them. It's a free country." Right? Hmmm? We don't want any outside forces dictating to homeschooling organizations, churches, para-church organizations, or other Christian organizations about who we can and cannot associate with, and include. We don't want an external body telling us that we need to allow, for example, gay marriage on our property so as to be "fair" and "inclusive". Private businesses and organizations have the right to decide this for least for now they do. What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, my friends. The rights we demand are the same rights we need to give to others. If we demand inclusion, we need to expect others that maybe we disagree with to demand the same.

3. Is it really hurting anyone?
Come on, is anyone really hurt by the fact that one contest out of hundreds excludes homeschoolers? Is this the only contest you can take part in? There are many contests out there that exclude public schoolers and private schoolers, and are open exclusively to homeschooled students. For a whole listing of contests, see this list.

Ultimately, though, it's up to you if you boycott them or not. After all, it's a free country.

Friday, May 23, 2008

But, there are also benefits to inefficiency, too....

A few days ago, I answered a blog question about efficiency and being efficient in mothering and home business management...not that I consider myself all that efficient. I'm growing in grace in this area, let's say.

But...sometimes there are benefits to being inefficient too.

there's emotional benefits....

Sometimes, it's more worth your time to hang out in a fort with your kids, eating crackers and peanutbutter, telling round robin stories.

Sometimes, it's more worth your time to spend a few hours cuddling a child who isn't feeling well, or sitting by the sidelines cheering them on even though you detest sports and it's cold and raining, or listening to them tell you some amazing tale about what happened in their Sunday School class, or about the dream they had.

There's spiritual benefits...
like when the service goes extra long....don't be looking at your watch wondering when you can get home and tackle the next thing on your to-do list.

Sometimes it's more worth your while to spend an extra bit of time in prayer and in the Word, than diving into the days' tasks.

And finally, there's physical benefits....
Sometimes (most of the time?) it's more worth your while to skip the elevator and take the stairs. Skip the closest parking spot, and take the furthest. Leave your car, and walk. Hang your laundry outside.

As a European friend of mine often points out...Americans drive to each individual store in a mini mall, take elevators and escalators, park as close as possible to the door, use all manner of time saving devices, and then have to join a gym when the sorry effects off all of that efficiency shows up on their behinds.

Too true. I speak as one who has been getting my body back from obesity not by "dieting" but by eating sanely, and making choices like parking as far from the door as possible. 62 lbs, folks. JUST from "wasting some time". ;)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Monday's at TEACH

On Monday's for the last few weeks, I am pinch hitting (or is it pinch writing?) on Lorrie Flem's Blog over at Teach Magazine. Check it out.

TEACHMagazine Publisher's Blog

Friday, May 16, 2008

Kroger Deals

Until three weeks ago, I rarely graced the doors of my local Kroger Grocery store. Normally, I get most of my groceries at Meijers or Walmart, with many bulk foods from a local bulk food store, and meats from a meat market near my husband's work. But, a friend told me of a great deal that Kroger has started, and I wanted to pass this along.

If you have a Kroger with a gas station, and you spend at least $200 in groceries from Kroger each month, you get $0.10 cents off per gallon. The discount goes up based on how much you spend on groceries each month. You have to have a Kroger Plus card (they're free).

I've been getting Kroger circulars in the mail each week, and the last few weeks they've had several 10 for $10 deals on things that normally cost much more...including red peppers (normally $2.49+ each), salad dressings, bags of tortilla chips, bottles of shampoo, bags of frozen vegetables, ice cream, and so on. Overall, I've saved quite a bit of money the last couple of weeks at Kroger, while restocking my pantry. I still shopped elsewhere for other necessities that I could get for less at other places, but overall, the groceries, toiletries, and gas has been a huge savings.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Reading Dangerously

Boys. For the most part, it doesn't take much of anything to get my girls into some sort of activity that doesn't involve computers or TVs, but my son...he has a hard time just coming up with things to do on his own (constructive things)...

About a month ago, while at the library, our dear librarian suggested to me that I may want to get this book out for my was called the Dangerous Book for Boys. I had honestly never heard of it before. We checked it out, and after I perused it briefly I passed it along to him...and he was in love. I don't know where to even many good, useful, mostly inexpensive or free projects (the treehouse...well, don't we all wish to build one like that?)...and hours where he isn't feeling bored.

I don't agree with everything in the book and there are some thing that some families may choose to limit (there are, for example, instructions on playing poker...though grandma has already taught my kids to play--with m & m's!!!--to my dismay), but most of it is good clean fun. Their You Tube commercial is a hoot. I'm not so keen on the music they used but the video is very humorous.

As for the companion book, the Daring Book for Girls, well....there were more things in that which I was not pleased about (palm reading, levitation and other sleep over things, and some other occultish things), but after purchasing our own copy used on Amazon, I promptly took it upon myself to either glue certain pages together, or paint selections over with white out to avoid any temptations. Again...after the intro you may want to turn down the volume because the music is a little on the wild side.


Have you ever read the book, "Cheaper by the Dozen", the true story of a family with 12 children, and parents who were employed as efficiency experts in the early 20th century? Well, sometimes that is what I think of when I think "efficiency". I think of the Gilbreth's trying to calculate how to do something with the least amount of unnecessary movements, both in industry and in their home. The book is definitely a humorous read.

But, I usually don't think of myself as being efficient, maybe because I never do get around to doing all of the dozens of things on my mind that I want to do or plan to do. Who does?

Still, I got this email question recently,
You seem to be very efficient, and so I was wondering if you could post a little bit on your blog about time management, especially for work at home moms. I just started a home business but I am finding time management, with the business and two children , to be very difficult.

I showed it to my husband, saying, "Me? Write about time management?" (LOL) You must understand, while dealing with an urgent problem one of our web design clients had this week, I burned dinner. I have never done that before, since my first year of marriage, so that was quite a blow to my domestic ego.

My husband however had a different thought.

"Well, you have come a long way in that area. When we first got married, and especially when we first had kids, you were a disorganized mess. Sorry, but you were. But, you've become super duper efficient with your time in running a business with the kids, while still being spontaneous to the needs of the kids and I. So, I'd say you are efficient in all the right ways."

(snicker) "I'm efficient?"

"Write the blog post! That's an order!" he said with mock authority.

Aye, aye.

Well, as I pondered how I do what I do with the efficiency he apparently sees in me that I fail to see in myself, Sitepoint Books' eNewsletter pinged into my inbox, and with a blog post on just such a topic. Ok, so it's not written specifically for Work at Home Moms, but the princeples are great.

You can read "Three Golden Rules for Working at Home" by Toby Somerville by clicking here.. For the record, I enjoy pretty much any and all Computer and Tech books from Site Point, and their newsletter is wonderful.

But, specifically for a mom, here are some tips, which certainly vary with the ages of your children.

1. Keep your paperwork straight.
With me, I not only have the bookstore (which pretty much runs itself), but as a family we do website design. I say as a family because my older two children (teens) do some of the less-technical work for me, enabling them to earn some cash while learning a skill.

With this job of web design comes Clients, and to keep them straight I have a super sized binder with A-Z dividers. I never thought I'd need that big of a binder, but I do. In it are all the passwords and pertinent information. When I get an email from them, I print it out, put it in my binder, and highlight the information as I change it on the site, and keep track of all correspondence. This works better, I have found, than simply writing down notes on my hand or on a napkin or the back of a Walmart Reciept. I've done that too, and it really is a bad idea.

With my bookstore, I have a super efficient shopping cart installed. Granted I am a web designer and so I can do shopping carts without paying someone to do so, but a shopping cart allows me to export all of my transactions on my website into QuickBooks, and other transactions are manually entered in by my lovely 15 year old daughter who enjoys making money.

What does this have to do with time management? The less time you spend trying to figure out where you were when you got interrupted, the more efficient you will be. If you have to dig through a pile of papers to figure that out, you are wasting time.

2. Make the Price Right

I am really bad at this, but getting better.

I used to look at pricing in a very relative way. I would look at it and say, "Would I be willing to pay that?" and if the answer is no, then I lower the price. Well, that is a bad idea, because I am very cheap LOL, and will usually find a way to do "extra" things like web design cheaper. One of the ways I started designing websites was because I was too cheap to pay someone to do mine.

What does this have to do with time management?

If you are charging a fair price, then you are making it worth your while to do what you are doing. If you are not charging enough, then you are working for less than minimum wage, and might as well go down to McDonalds to sling fries.

As a web designer, there are some jobs I have done where I definately didn't get paid enough, sometimes because I didn't foresee some problems (most recently I didn't realize that I'd have complications relating to my client's web service, and spent my weekend trying to figure it out), and other times, I try to estimate how long something will take, and it takes far less time, which is a blessing. Sometimes if I've never done something but want to learn, I'll not charge as much as I probably should, and just consider it to be like getting paid to go to school. If they're willing for it to take a little longer and be done by an amateur in exchange for a lower than average price, we both win, and I can add it to my portfolio.

If you are doing this to bring in some extra money, make it worth your time. Don't overcharge of course, but be realistic. What is your time worth to you?

3. That brings me to my #3, which is also covered in the article I linked to. Establish some good Work/Family/Home Boundaries

I love ecommerce because I don't have to answer phones. I loathe doing business by phone because I feel like I am at the mercy of the ringer. I had a client last year who lived in the area, and would come to my house whenever a thought about the website hit, and this client would expect me to drop everything, pull out my laptop, and do it. Not a good situation. With email, I can deal with issues on my own time frame, and I can have it in writing so that I don't mistakenly zone out and miss something (that happens too easily to me on the phone).

Lately, I've had more clients that use the phone primarily, and so I've actually had to invest in a hands free device thingy because my neck hurts if I try to hold my phone in my shoulder and type. I actually have found that I love my speaker phone. I still prefer email...not only because I find it more time effecient, but also because it helps me pre-screen clients. If they can't figure out email, a website is not going to do too much for them.

1. When the phone rings you don't have to answer it.
2. It's ok to tell a client that you are in the middle of helping someone else right now (or "Busy" right now), and you'll get back to them. that's what people in the business world do all the time. Find out when a good tiem is to call them back, and do so at a time good for both of you.
3. Your business doesn't mean you are the 24/7 support hot-line for whatever your field is, as nice as it is to be needed. (likewise be considerate of other friends whose skills you value....don't be a pest)
4. I'm sure there's more but you get the point.

The main point here though is to decide what your priorities are when deciding how to manage these situations. I have some priorities that I don't lay aside unless it is a serious emergency...the Lord comes first, Family is second, and everyone else is third. Having dinner together is a priority. Some unchangeable schedule issues are inked in like soccer and piano...that still leaves lots of time, of course, but it also helps me set some hours of when I will do work things, and when I won't do work things.

I think for most work at home moms, the main point here is to be home with children, not sitting at your desk at home with a phone growing out of your ear, and not sleeping for weeks at a time. that means learning to just say no sometimes.

....stay tuned for more tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Please Release Me, Let Me Go...

What is it with companies being unwilling to let go?

Back in February, I got a notice from my Merchant Account (Which allowed me to accept credit cards on my website), letting me know my fees were going to nearly double because I wasn't doing enough business. Of course, one would think that if you are not doing enough business, you probably can't afford to pay extra fees...but i digress. For a few months there, I paid more in merchant account fees than I actually earned with my website, which is certainly not good. I finally called them up to cancel my account.

Well, with my account was also a payment gateway (that enabled me to not see anyone's credit card numbers when they bought something, and overall made my storefront a bit more secure), costing x amount of dollars per month...and the merchant account people assured me, when I asked, that they would also contact the payment gateway and let them know that I am no longer in their services.

the next month came, and went, and I was again charged some crazy amount for both of these services. I called them both, complained to both, and was told by each of them that it was the last payment. In April the SAME THING happened, and I decided to put a stop payment on them withdrawing any more money from my account. In May I was turned over to some collections agency for non payment, even though each time I call them they assure me that this is for sure the last payment I'd make and that it only ahppens to be because of the day of the month I canceled and probably something to do with a full moon and which way the wind was blowing I would imagine...and that my account is now, for sure, canceled.

I called the payment gateway, after once more getting another threatening letter telling me I had to pay, only to be on hold for 20 minutes, followed by the following conversation:

ME: I am calling because you are again sending me bills.

Customer Service Rep (CSR): Yes, you are in collections, so will that be Visa, MasterCharge, or EFT?

ME: None of the above. I called last month and was told my account was closed.

CSR: We can reopen it for you for a $25 fee, plus the amount you are delinquent...

ME: No, see, I want it closed. I closed it on purpose to avoid further charges.

CSR then repeats the exact same line I heard last time that due to the day of the month the notice to cancel was received, my account is still active, and therefore I was charged, blah, blah, blah.

ME: Look, when I spoke to Steven last month he gave me the same song and dance. I want to cancel, and I want confirmation that I have canceled, and I don't want to be charged money I don't actually have ever again for a service I haven't used since February, plus some weird service charge for who knows what.

CSR: yes, well the surcharge was due to inactivity...

ME: ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGH *I* *CANCELED* *MY* *ACCOUNT*!!!!!!! THAT Is why it is inactive. I spoke to a Steven on April 11th...

CSR: I'm sorry, Ma'am, we don't have a Steven working in our call center, and we have no record of you calling...

ME: WHAT?!?! (keep in mind, I write down this stuff all the time...I took notes from the call)

The next few minutes are spent trying to convince him that I really did call, and really did talk to someone whose name is either Steven or something similar that I didn't quite get.

I finally had to call my merchant account to tell them to fax notice of when I called to originally cancel my account (Back in Feb). This they did, but only after I had to convince them that I did in fact want it to remain cancelled, and that my calling today was in no way an indicator that I wanted them to withdraw another arbitrary amount from my account. LOL

Stay tuned....will they charge me next month? Will the loan sharks come to boot my van for the $30 I owe them for a service I canceled four months ago? Will I ever be able to cancel my merchant account? Tune in next month for another exciting adventure...

Monday, May 12, 2008

In not Of

It's one of those areas that are extremely complicated to figure out...being in the world but not of the world.

I love reading history, and Church History is particularly interesting to me. I was reading in a church history book recently about the rise of monastatism in the early post-apostolic church, and the attempts early Christians made at living a holy life by escaping from the world. I could relate. Some days I wish I could do that, you know?

On Sunday, we had a lesson in our Sunday school class, and this topic was among those discussed, and an interesting point was made, and this is it: we can try to seclude ourselves away from the "evil" of this present world through isolating ourselves, but we can never really flee from sin, since we are all sinners, and sin in in our hearts. Our hungering and thirsting after righteousness (Matthew 5:6) is supposed to be about seeking God not running from life....and just a few verses later (v. 13-14) Jesus reminds us that we are the salt of the earth and light of the world.

Living in the world but not of the world can be even more complicated when you have children. I never would have imagined that "momma grizzly bear" response that would rise up in me when I felt my babies were in danger! Maybe that is the thing that took me most by surprise about being a mom...the overwhelming feeling that I'd do anything to protect my children. As a Christian mom, part of that is protecting them from bad influences in their formative years, and I think that topic has been done to death....but the other part is wisely teaching them how to be in not of too, as they navigate the world around them.

The thing is, there is no other way to really learn or teach that other than being on our knees and in the Word. God didn't issue us some sort of neat checklist (in bulleted format), but He put His Spirit in us, and gave us His Word to search out His principles....bringing us back to hungering and thirsting after His righteousness, and being filled. (Matthew 5:6)