Beady Eyes

Every since my first encounter with Office Depot, I’ve been in love with all things organization. Now that I’m a bit older and have something of an aesthetic sense (I still wear mismatched socks, so don’t be too impressed), my passion for post-its has grown to include pretty key holders and paper stackers and things called “Catch-Alls” which is the 7258472prettiest way of saying “Junk Drawer.”

Our apartment came furnished. This meant my husband and I were able to move across the country for under $300 (including gas) and walk into a lovely little studio apartment with more lamps and bookshelves than we could ever need. And stuffed pheasants. And silky curtains. And doilies and some kind of branchy bathroom decor and fake plants and mismatched floral prints and did I mentioned the stuffed pheasants? These aren’t complaints, because this apartment is quite possibly the best thing that has ever happened to us, but I’m not winning any decor awards anytime soon.

And that’s okay. Because this is where our best and worst moments live; often simultaneously.

I hear our landlords’ TV and dogs through our thin connecting wall. I can choose to hear the disruptive sounds of yet another made-for-TV movie or I can hear the hospitality of a generous couple that shares their life with us.

I see the gross sticky remains of spilled hot chocolate in my Tupperware drawer. Or I can see mercy personified in my husband as he patiently cleaned up my spill and then offered me his own warm cocoa.

I groan about dirty dishes that will always exist forever or I can remember that these are ghosts of meals prepared with laughter and dinners eaten in good company.

I see dead stuffed pheasants watching me with their beady black eyes as they perch atop my closet or I can see dead stuffed pheasants. No romanticizing my way out of that one.

So much of life is perspective. And it doesn’t have to be Pinterest perfect to be beautiful.

The Power of Habit

Disclaimer: This is not a review or promotion of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg although it has made my semester reading wish list.

I believe in Habit.  I believe in having habits just for the sake of having habits.  

I like going to the gym.  Not because I really enjoy straining and sweating on grimy machines to an odd mixture of Christmas country songs and ESPN but every morning that I drag myself out of the bed, is a day when I strengthen my habit of staying healthy.

Ritual, the second-cousin of Habit, also needs a seat at our table.  In my experience, modern technology and the speed of life has stripped us of the humanizing rituals that used to mark individual existence.  Everything must be new, exciting, and efficient in order to hold onto our shrinking attention spans for a nanosecond.

I’ve been studying Ellul this semester (to a very undergraduate and unimpressive degree) and his accusation that modernity has turned efficiency from a means to the highest ends and good struck a cord.

Because I’m all about efficiency.

I’ve mastered the three minute prep routine.  I can read, grade, and sort tests while listening to a podcast.  I flashcard while I elliptical and I eat while I walk while I talk.

I want my humanity back.

Five Rituals For My Life
I will make my coffee with a french press and not a one-press machine.
I will write with a pencil that needs sharpening and a pen that needs dipping.
I will talk with those around me and not those on the other side of a screen.
I will walk whenever possible.
I will make meals from scratch, not boxes.  I will heat my food in a pan, not plastic.

What changes would you like to main to create humanizing rituals in your life?

Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast

When asked if working hard is very important to them, 80% of Americans said yes.  Yet when that same sample was asked if they were working hard at their jobs, the vast majority (84%) said no.

That makes no sense.  We want to work hard, but don’t.  Where’s the disconnect?

It turns out, that the corporate culture and management style makes a word of a difference. As they say at my internship, culture eats strategy for breakfast.  You can set quotas and crack the whip all day, but if your employees hate you, no good work will get done.

I’ve had the unique vantage point of working for two different companies in entirely different industries.

At one, small milestones are celebrated.  The employees are given the tools and resources they need to succeed and the company takes care to match work with skill sets so that the days are satisfying and the quality is top-notch.

The other refuses to believe that Employee Relationship Management (ERM) is just as important as the more well-known acrononym CRM (Customer Relationship Management).  They are under-staffed and refuse to break out the checkbook to ensure that there are enough employees so they can work where they are best suited. The employees leave frustrated and company loyalty is tied directly to a bi-monthly paycheck and very little else.

As I start this absurd adventure of starting my own company, these are lessons I never want to forget.

 Treating employees as well as customers.
 Celebrating small successes.
Providing work that fulfills.
Viewing people holistically instead of as cogs.

Red Tape

When I was 4 years old, too young to be left unsupervised ( I was the child who had to learn not to touch burners the hard way ), my mom would take me downstairs with her to the laundry room.  One of my favorite activities during these monotonous times of sort, wash, and folding was button sorting.

We had a delightful jar of mismatched buttons collected through the years.  I’d grab an old tin pan, dump all the buttons out and then sort to my heart’s delight.  Red, maroon, circular, star-shaped, old, new, thread-less, blue, green.  Each button had a pile to call its home.  Then, I’d throw them back into the jar and start all over again.

My dad is a handyman. I’ve never encountered a problem he couldn’t fix.  Sometimes, though, his solutions required multiple trips to the local hardware store.  I loved accompanying him on these voyages.  While he searched for the perfect gauge of wire, I was magically drawn to the screw and nail aisle.  Beautiful blue bins with nice, clean labels on the front, telling the astute observer what contents were within.  Yet, more often then not, a quick glance inside  revealed that the screws and nails were all mixed up!  I made it my personal responsibility to right this great wrong.

I created my first spreadsheet at age 10.   I used it to schedule out my day, broken into 15 minute increments.  Each time slot had an activity or category.  If just a category was listed, an additional spreadsheet was utilized that listed out possible options under said category.  I haven’t the slightest idea what first possessed me to budget my time so meticulously but if you know me now, it was the beginning of a life-long love affair with Excel.

Sometimes, however, I wonder if I’m stuck in a toxic relationship with my plethora of time-management tools.  I make sticky notes to create to-do lists to draft a spreadsheet with a Master Task List.  Every step and breath I take is color-coded and duly recorded.  It is a wonderfully predictable existence, but a dangerous one.  What if Outlook malfunctions? Or I accidentally delete a sticky note?  Am I left wandering aimlessly, incapable of eating or sleeping without being told to do so through a preprogrammed project management system?

Not yet.  But one day, I’m afraid I will wake up to find myself thoroughly entangled in red tape of my own design.


My sixth meeting of the day found me in a professor’s office as he went over the specifics of a group project.  As my professor droned, I was quickly attempting to create a mental spreadsheet and time chart to accomplish the goal at hand.  Until he interrupted my flying thoughts with a simple statement:

“The way we are going to do this will be a lot more fun, but its a lot less structured.”

I couldn’t wrap my mind around it at first.  Less structure means more chaos and variables, not more fun.  Fun comes only when there is organization to channel it and make sure it meets all the specifications for enjoyment.  As soon as I thought that, I knew I had lost sight of something very important in life.

There is not pattern to follow.  Life is not defined by chores being accomplished.  It can’t be quantified, thus comparison to others is pointless.  The parts of life that I enjoy most aren’t the things that I completely understand, but rather, the ones that I have to work to figure out.

Heavy Backpacks

My backpack got progressively heavier and heavier throughout the school year.  I’m sure it had nothing to do with my tendency to accumulate unseemly amounts of flashcards.  Every night/early morning when I’d get back to my dorm I had the opportunity to experience one of the best feelings of relief: taking off the 40 pound weight that I had trudged along with me up and down the stairs to my classes, meals, and dorm.  No matter how many ribbons I put on it, that backpack was the bane of my college existence.

Yet I couldn’t go anywhere without it.  Without my backpack, I lost my immediate access to study materials and homework.  Without this access, I could potentially be in a situation where I was not being productive.  Without productivity, I felt purposeless.  Tasks and to-do lists gave me the feeling of meaning that, while ultimately hollow, kept me motivated to keep moving and learning and making more to-do lists.

The problem of the heavy backpack lies in me grasping tightly onto an identity that was built on empty definitions of accomplishment.  I don’t carry around a backpack during the summer, yet I still have multiple cross-referencing task lists to perpetuate this unfounded identity.

The paradox of the heavy backpack is that the thing that I couldn’t let go of  was the very thing that was dragging me down.  A never-satisfied need to be productive is what could make and destroy me simultaneously.

Sometimes other people’s backpacks aren’t as easily seen as mine.  Maybe they aren’t tangible at all.  I think it would be safe to suppose that almost everyone carries their own burdens that they both need and despise.

Let’s try lightening the load a bit.

Last Check

Once Upon A Time I came home from college for Christmas break.  And by “A Time” I mean 4 weeks ago.  The sudden halt of activity and interactions jarred my sense of stability but there was Christmas to be celebrated, God to be worshipped, presents to be exchanged, and food (and food and food) to be eaten.  Just before the “Christmas Thud” overtook me, I was rescued by my to-do list.

A mere sticky note could not contain this masterpiece.
I listed people to visit with and projects to master, new skills to learn, habits to begin, books to read.
While I thoroughly enjoyed seeing my friends and repainting my bathroom and running every day, I was still resting.  For me, true rest is not in social interaction or sleeping or laying on the couch reading.  I enjoy all of those things but true rest is in God.

I began feeling frustrated that my intellectual and spiritual growth were slowing down just because I was slowing down.  However, with some good conversation with friends and God I realized this didn’t have to be the case.  I’ve learned different things here at home, but I am still learning and still in awe of all that I don’t know and get to discover.

Now, this computer is the only thing I haven’t packed yet.  My to-do list is completed and instead of feeling relieved, it makes me a bit sad.  Sad because I don’t have things to accomplish and sad also because having things to accomplish has become so important to my sense of stability.  Still a work in progress with that one.

I feel empty and I don’t know if it is just the angst of transition or sadness about leaving such a lovely home or trepidation for what the future holds and confused because all of these feelings are rather foreign to me.  I have so much to learn.


If you were looking for a semi-somber, mostly introspective, and completely philosophical post, look elsewhere.  Today I am going to write about Office Depot.
Once upon a time a girl was traveling around the territories of Clarkston in her ’97 Mali-mobile.  One brightly lit neon sign caught her attention.  Office Depot  Those gleaming words attracted her.  Not like one enchanted; instead, she felt as if guided by an invisible hand through those glass double doors.  Here is where the happy violin music in the background stops.  For this was an abandoned, lonely Office Depot.  The employees gathered in small clumps and lit up at the sight of the newcomer.

“Do you need any assistance?”
“Can I help you?”
“What are you looking for today?”
“How can I be of assistance to you?”

The questions flew at the girl at 100 miles per hour and nearly knocked her off her feet, and worse, her mission.  She gathered her wits however and with a smile and “no thank you” she pointed her feet towards her destination.  It was a magical journey.

Walking past the brightly covered thumbtacks, she glanced longingly back yet continued on.  The planners were even a harder temptation.   Harder still, the graphic organizers made her stumble a moment as she stopped to examine the new arrivals.  Finally, she found her sought after item.  A pack of beautiful, pre-sharpened Ticonderoga pencils.  The packaging advertised that they were the best in the world. “How true that is,” she thought.  The way back was equally enthralling.  Mountains of brightly stacked post-it notes filled her heart with joy.  A rainbow of sharpies unfolded around her.  Her face was filled with wide-eyed wonder as she skipped through the aisle of paper.  College-ruled, neon colors, journals, notebooks, wide-ruled, hole-punched and red-lined.  All seemed to call out to her.  The only thing that dampened this glorious journey was the pack of desperate employees that seemed to be around every turn, eager to be of assistance.  She found it particular that no other consumers seemed to be enjoying this beautiful land of office supplies.

Five hours later, she made it out of this wonderland and back to the desolate parking lot.  Her trip was over, life must go on. yet she forever stored those images of organization and color-coded goodness in her mind and heart.

The End.

All right, I had my fun.  I clearly avoided anything deep or revealing.  Give me this then, just one new year’s resolution.  My resolution is to be less organized.  I’m too likely to compartmentalize my time and my relationships.  I believe I am in danger of requesting my friends to wear certain colors so I can color code them more easily.  I have a tendency to live by my to do list, which really isn’t living at all.  Even computers can obey a program.  My desire to is live with less lists and less spreadsheets.  Please try to hold me to it.  I promise I won’t brand you with my sharpies.