Soapbox Time – Gender Discrimination is Real

I am still amazed at stories I hear about women not being hired because they have kids. A writer friend of mine who has decided to return to the workforce posted this on Facebook today:

Advice I have learned over the past year of job hunting: stay at home parents, never be honest that you were a stay at home parent. I was turned down for three jobs because of basically this. I know it because I wanted to be honest! And open! And on my third interviews, I was saying, “I am so good at juggling lots of things at once because of my SAHP skills!” and they were like, “Will you really be dedicated? You have kids! We have other applicants who don’t have kids.” Now when I go on an interview, I won’t even admit to having friends. “I’m a workaholic virgin with an ant farm I keep for company, but with no ants, because their care gets in the way of my work,” is the line I’m going with.

In case you’ve forgotten, potential employers aren’t supposed to ask about children, about child-rearing plans, about the potential of future children, or whether you plan to have children, or any permutation of that. They can ask about attendance requirements, or physical ability to meet the job requirements, but not about children at home, or spouses, or anything too personal.

So those of you who think we’re past gender discrimination in this country, we’re not, and this makes me very sad. Meanwhile, in other news, I also ran across this article in the New York Times, “Why US Women are Leaving Jobs Behind.” Reasons cited in the article, in addition to a soft economy, are lack of flexibility on the part of employers, and lack of inexpensive childcare options. Most other developed countries have a year of family leave available, a good bit of which is paid.

We’re the worst. Corporate profits are at an all-time high, and yet we still struggle to provide basic benefits to our employees. Such basic amenities as a private location for pumping breast milk are unavailable for most moms, who end up weaning early because pumping breast milk isn’t an option.

I stayed at home with our two children from September 2001 until September 2004, and it took me a while to find a professional position that would be worth it with the cost of two in childcare. Now I’m blessed to have an employer who provides generous annual and sick leave, including up to ten days per year of family sick leave. That means if one of the kids has strep throat, I can stay home and make sure they get proper fluids and rest without worrying about my job. Yes, I’m in a professional position, and I can do some work from home, but it gives me incredible peace of mind knowing my boss understands and works with me when life happens.

What are your thoughts? How can we get more women to return to work?

College Football – 10 Types of Fans in the Stadium

Clemson Game 11-29-2014

They used to say cotton was king in the South, but now it’s football. With rivalry Saturday, college football is ending its regular season today. I attended the Clemson game, where they played their arch rival, the University of South Carolina. Every game I attend, I see the same ten types of fans. I’ve you’ve been to a college football game, you have seen them too.

  1. Fans represent. Fans who wear team colors, either for your team or the team playing your team. Most fans fall into this category.
  2. Neutrals. I’m not sure why these people are here. They don’t wear any type of team colors. Although I shouldn’t generalize, a good many of these people are women, young and old.
  3. Misfits. Someone wearing a team jersey or T-shirt of a team who is not playing. For example, wearing an Auburn sweatshirt to a Clemson ballgame where they are playing the University of South Carolina.
  4. New Parents. They who bring their baby in arms, or a toddler they are carrying in a backpack structure large enough to hike the Appalachian Trail. I always wondered about these people. The baby’s clearly not enjoying it, and  I don’t see how the parents are enjoying it either. It’s the worst possible option, especially in the heat.
  5. Radioheads. People who listen to their radio headsets and then tell you everything they are hearing. (They don’t realize that if you wanted to hear the radio announcer you would have brought your own radio)
  6. App Addicts. Smartphone people who spend the entire game playing with their smartphone. I don’t see how they have any battery. The stadium sucks my battery life like a drunk throws back beer. (And if you get a call in the stadium, don’t be surprised if you can’t hear. It’s loud)
  7. Tailgaters. People who tailgate but don’t go into the game, or they leave at halftime and never go back in. (Yes, I think our stadium should eliminate the right to pass out and come back in, but I doubt that will change any time soon.)
  8. Walkers. People who walk the aisles up and down and never actually sit to enjoy the game. This includes girlfriends who don’t want to watch the game, but send their boyfriend (who does want to watch the game) to get them food. (I saw this one today)
  9. Drunks. We saw a guy kicked out earlier this year who was just standing in the stands with a beer bottle in his hand. Like the police won’t find out about that one. We also had someone kicked out last year and the girl had a whole pint in her purse. Perhaps they could have gotten away with it if they hadn’t been shouting obscenities, irritating the family beside them who had small children at the game. The police talked to her, and surprisingly enough, saw the pint in her purse. They left the game.
  10. Screamers. Yes, you guessed it, the ones who never, ever shut up. If no one else is screaming, perhaps you should give your voice a rest so you can join in with everyone to make the stadium loud.

You never know what you will see. Today, one of the guys who has season tickets near us told my husband that he had proposed to his girlfriend after five years. Then he said that if he had known it would change the outcome of the Clemson-South Carolina rivalry, he would have asked her sooner. There you have it. Dude, I think she’s a keeper.

I’ve heard of fans going to other venues and getting spit on, or having beer bottles thrown at them. I’ve not seen that at Clemson, and on our side of the stadium, I usually don’t see a lot of drunks either. Other than a few obnoxious fans, it’s a pleasant experience.

Does Anybody Know What Time it is?

First Daylight Savings Time

Time fell back an hour today as most states in the East gained an hour as we returned to Eastern Standard Time.  Now it will be lighter when we get up in the morning, and darker in the evening compared to last week. For a week we’ll listen to everyone complain, ask why we still switch time back and forth, and fuss that they are tired.

I like Daylight Savings Time. I like getting home when it’s still daylight in the summer, even if the first few weeks in the early spring are brutal.

Now we have clocks that set themselves. The cable box, if you still have cable, automatically fixes its time twice a year.  We have an atomic clock, which relies on a radio signal from the “official clock people”.  It also sets itself. My phone automatically changes its time. My computer changes its time. I can flip a switch on our alarm clocks and automatically switch back and forth an hour. (Yes, we still have alarm clocks.)

Usually when the time changes, I have issues with food. Today it didn’t bother me, although my husband pointed out that we were eating lunch an hour later than normal. Maybe I didn’t have an issue with it because we ate a larger than usual breakfast. (Of course, maybe the Halloween candy helped.)

The last time I went out of town for business I went to Destin, Florida, which is in the panhandle and in the Central Time Zone. I never did convert, but there was a reason. I kept getting mixed signals. My phone switched to Central time when we crossed the Georgia/Alabama border. The conference and meals were on Central time, but when I turned on my computer, it stayed on Eastern Time. Since I don’t wear a watch any longer, when I would glance at the computer time, I would accept that time. Then I would glance at my phone and lose an hour. This would go back and forth several times.

Watching television confused me even more, since prime-time shows on Central Time start an hour earlier than Eastern Time. From Saturday when we arrived, to Tuesday when we left, I kept fluctuating back and forth an hour, depending on which device I was looking at. Then I got home late Tuesday night and in terms of time, it was like I had never left.

Nothing reminds us more that time is relative than the twice a year that we mess with it, and nothing reminds more that time is absolute than distance. Try as hard as you may, when you are driving, you can only cover so much distance in any given time.

Today I had no problem with gaining that hour. I’m off work tomorrow and Tuesday for fall break, so maybe that will help me adjust to the new time. Or Wednesday may come and hit me like a ton of bricks. Only time will tell.

 

How are you doing with the time change this cycle? Liking it? Hating it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Doughnut Receipts and Book Reviews

 

Doughnut

By Angeldm (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

What do receipts and book reviews have in common?
First, remember the comedy bit about the doughnut receipt?

I bought a doughnut and they gave me a receipt for the doughnut. I don’t need a receipt for the doughnut. I’ll just give you the money, and you give me the doughnut, end of transaction. We don’t need to bring ink and paper into this. I just can’t imagine a scenario where I would have to prove that I bought a doughnut. Some skeptical friend: “Don’t even act like I didn’t get that doughnut! I got the documentation right here…oh, wait it’s at home…in the file…under “D”, for “doughnut.”    Mitch Hedberg (1968 – 2005)

This is how I feel some days about the paperwork at my house. I have too many doughnut receipts, things that I don’t need to save. I’m getting ready to do a big purge.

Have you heard? The spirit of Mitch Hedberg lives on in the receipts of a doughnut shop. His joke involving donuts and receipts is printed right on the receipts. So have a doughnut and a laugh, and remember a comedian  who .

 

Second, I don’t want to do a survey every time I go somewhere.

My grocery store’s receipts always have a survey code at the bottom. As I’m leaving, the employees practically beg me to go complete the survey and give them all fives.

Are we really this desperate for feedback? Let’s think about this again. Self-selection bias. The people more likely to do the survey are the ones who are unhappy, even with a promised entry into a drawing for some gift card. Taking ten or fifteen minutes to go online and do a survey isn’t worth my time. Why bother?

What is the grocery store going to do? Use the results to either encourage or browbeat their employees. My guess is the latter. Because only the irritated customers are going to bother. Hoping results from a biased survey will improve is a pipe dream.

 

So why should you do a review on Amazon?

Having said that, if you really enjoy an indie author’s books, go out and give them a review on Amazon. Reward their efforts with a 4* or 5*. Just write a few words sharing what you liked about the characters, or the setting. Let others know what kept you interested in the book.

Why? What’s in it for you? I firmly believe that in this new world of digital publishing, the good authors will rise to the top if enough readers speak out. If you encourage authors who are publishing things you like, then hopefully they will find the audience that will enable them to continue. While it’s free to publish on Amazon, book covers and editors are not free.

If you pick up a book for free or a cheap 99 cents, think about why that author would sell his or her work so cheaply. They are hoping that, if you like the book, you will buy their next one, and add give them a positive review. Share the love. Tell your friends.

 

Kindle Unlimited Readers beware

There are authors on Amazon who are releasing thousands of books of nothing but garbage. Short novels with 25 pages. Look at author Sam Enrico on Amazon and his “How to” series. Last I checked, he has 11,000 books listed in Kindle Unlimited. I’m hoping that Amazon catches his scam soon, but if someone downloads his books for free and looks at the first 10%, which in his case is usually two or three pages, he gets paid by Amazon around $1.50 a book at last check. Pay attention to the length when you are downloading books. If you don’t want to waste one of your free reads on a short story, don’t. Most of the time Amazon will tell you how long it is. He has probably made thousands because people click on the downloads and don’t even realize it. Be careful out there.

Art Imitating Life

Every writer gets asked this question from time to time, and it comes in different forms. How do you come up with all those stories? Where do you get your ideas?

For my embezzlement plot arc, I studied different cases online, looking at some of the techniques and Ponzi schemes that have been prosecuted lately. I’ve worked in offices for most of my adult life, and some of that is drawn from events I’ve seen.

Some of book three is taking place in Venezuela, and there were actually some big international crime rings busted from Venezuela, so I’m looking at some of that for inspiration.

There is one scene in No Strings Attached that was ripped from the headlines of my life, and that’s when an employee is let go near the end of the book. This particular employee is eating a muffin while she is being terminated, and its’ sticky, and she doesn’t know what to do with her hands. Awkward. I thought so.

Chocolate.jpg

“Chocolate” by André Karwath aka Aka – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

Because it happened to me. I was in a terrible job, looking for another one, but nothing was panning out yet. I went to work every day telling my husband that I might quit soon. The kids were young, 3 and 4, and if I pulled them out of their preschool they would lose their slots. If I wasn’t working I couldn’t pay the preschool tuition. It was a Catch-22, so I had held on, looking but not ready to let go of the job that I had.

Right before Christmas, my boss’s boss called me into his office.  I had been there almost three months, and it was a bad fit. I knew it. They knew it. No one had made a move.

We had been working on a document all morning, and I thought he had more changes. I walked in his office carrying a gourmet chocolate bar imported from Greece that one of the drivers had given everyone in the office. The bar was a milk chocolate bar that was firm enough to eat, but still left chocolate all over everything. He proceeded to let me go – gently – right before Christmas. I had the presence of mind to ask for severance and got paid through the end of February. I had a new job by then, and all was right in the world. Seven years later, I’m still in the same job, and still love it, but I will never forget that moment of shock. My husband had tried to warn me, but I thought they didn’t have the guts to do it.

So, there you have it. I don’t usually use things that happen to me in my fiction, but in this case, I couldn’t pass it up.

Sometimes things happen in real life that are way too strange for fiction.

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Talking About Birthdays Today

2013-08-15 21.29.24This picture is from last year, about this time.

I was thinking about birthdays this morning, and how often where you are in life is a feature of how you feel about birthdays.

Generally, I’ve not been one of those people upset about growing older. In fact, half the time, because my birthday is in August, when I do the math throughout the year to determine my age, I think I’m older than I am anyway. In my mind, I’ve been 46 for half the year already, so what’s another day?

But, having said that, the year I turned 29 was a miserable year. At 29, not only was I not dating, I had no immediate prospects of dating. That all changed a few short months later when I started dating the man that I would eventually marry. In 1997, turning 29, I couldn’t see that on the horizon. By 1998, mid-year, I was engaged, and, by April 1999, I got married. (Somewhere along the way I left Athens, GA and moved to Greenville, SC, but that’s another journey for another day)

If I could talk to my 29-year old self, I would tell her to be patient. I still remember her frustration and disappointment, but I would tell her that love will come, and when it does, it will leave her breathless.

 

My Husband Brought Home Watermelon

I know he loves me. He brought home a watermelon from the store. I texted my sister (who almost loves watermelon as much as I do) and she asked what my husband and kids would eat. In my defense, I did (grudgingly) share it.

Quick Tips for Picking a Watermelon — You don’t want one that is shiny. You want a flat spot, and you want the flat spot to be dark yellow. Symmetrical shaped melons are better. If two are the same size, choose the heavier one. Seeded ones usually are sweeter than non-seeded.

Watermelon

Watermelon

I love watermelon. I admit it. It’s a summer obsession. My family went to a bbq party last weekend, and the dessert table held an oversized bowl of red temptation. Red velvet cake you say? No. Watermelon. And not just any watermelon. Watermelon that had been cut and seeded already. (insert longing sigh)

My love for watermelon goes back to late summer days growing up when my grandpa would bring in a watermelon from the garden. My sister and cousins had epic seed fights, and it seems like our hands and faces were always sticky with watermelon juice. We didn’t have air conditioning, and nothing cooled us off more on a hot summer afternoon than … well, you’ve got the picture.

Sometimes we would even eat it warm. I know, that may not sound appetizing to you, but to this day it doesn’t really bother me if watermelon isn’t ice cold. Watermelon that’s been heated with the sun’s kiss has it’s own uniqueness.

Since I’ve grown up and no longer live in a house that has its own amazing watermelon patch, watermelon has become more of a treat for summer and less of an everyday occurrence.  That first watermelon of the summer is always extra special and tonight’s was no exception.

My husband and I talked about watermelon at dinner. He said that watermelon is unlike other fruit, in that it’s so inconsistent. With a banana, ripeness can vary, but you usually can expect a consistent taste. Once you choose a variety of apple, generally within that variety they are consistent. The entire melon family can range from tasting like plywood to being sweeter than the sweetest honey.

My husband won’t even look at a cantaloupe unless I give him the thumbs-up sign, which means that I have tasted it and am willing to verify that it’s on the overly sweet end of the spectrum. He does not like an average cantaloupe. I have to guarantee that it will be the best cantaloupe of the season before he will try it. Sometimes you will stumble across a sweet honeydew, and those can be good. (The bland ones on the salad bar, not so much)

You might have to cut a lot of average watermelon to find perfection, but when you do, here’s what it looks like. When you start the knife in the rind, you cut just a little, and you hear the rind pop, then you know it’s swollen with flavor. If you can split the watermelon without cutting it, and a large part stays intact in the middle, that’s the heart. If you find the heart and it separates in the center, that’s when you know you’ve got a watermelon of mythical proportions. And that is when my heart sings.

Now I have to go eat some more of that watermelon.

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10 Reasons We Don’t Need Homework

Homework is a horrible thing. Yes I said it. And here’s why.

I’m taking a break from talking about publishing, indie books, and writing today to talk about one of my pet peeves–HOMEWORK!!

It doesn’t help academically.

  1. Most of it is busy work. Kids who need the extra practice need help understanding why they aren’t getting it. Parents can’t always provide that help.
  2. Parents shouldn’t be correcting homework for their child. How else will the teacher know that the student is having trouble with subject-verb agreement if the parent corrects it?

Don’t get me started about projects.

  1. Projects stink. They should be done at school from a pool of materials, not at home where the parent provides the materials. Elementary children can’t use hot glue guns. So who does part of it? Mom and dad.
  2. Projects should be based on what the kids can do, not what the parents who already have advanced degrees can do. The fifth grade geographical cities project at our school comes to mind. The children of architects had elaborate cities with intricate banners and signage. I’m sure those kids did that. (That was in a sarcasm font)
  3. Projects for a mandatory competition don’t get us excited. Whether it’s the invention convention, or a science fair, or whatever, no, we’re not excited. So stop sending us materials that say “We know you’re excited”. No, we’re not. Our kids wouldn’t be doing this if it weren’t mandatory. Because see number 3. Projects stink.

It doesn’t lead to a well-rounded life.

  1. Life shouldn’t be all work and no play. In our school district, elementary kids are in school from around 8:00 until 2:30, middle school students until 3:30, and high school students until 4:00. Homework often takes hours each night, especially for middle and high school students. After you work all day, do you really want to take home things to work on? Certainly on an occasional basis I’ll do it, but every single day?
  2. The obesity epidemic keeps growing. Schools have cut PE and recess. Now kids get home and they are expected to spend another hour or two doing work, whether it’s in front of a computer screen, table, or more traditional paper based homework, it’s not involving movement.
  3. Kids lead complicated lives that at times require logistics and flow-chart scheduling, and this isn’t necessarily bad. We limit our children to one or two activities at a time, and it’s still difficult to schedule, and we just have two kids. Dance class, piano lessons, soccer teams, baseball teams, basketball teams, karate lessons, girl scouts, boy scouts, church volunteerism and religious education – all of these activities help our children become well-rounded adults and grow as a whole child. School work should just be part of a child’s life, not all of it.
  4. Kids need to learn life skills, such as how to cook, how to clean, how to wash their own clothes. My husband asked me the other night why I didn’t have my middle school child do his own laundry, since he had started doing that last summer. My answer was that he doesn’t have time with all of his homework. At times, it’s like an adult having a second job.
  5. And the number one reason why kids shouldn’t have homework is I don’t want to fool with it. After working all day, the last thing I want to deal with is homework. I’d like to spend time talking to my kids about their day, letting them learn how to cook, playing games as a family, or going on walks. Not talking about their homework assignment.

My suggestions:

Teachers, think about how you communicate with parents: include key dates (big assignments due, dates field trip money is due, key event dates, etc.) in a corner of your weekly newsletter. This would help parents, as we tend to lose track of stuff. We’re all human, right?

I’m not beating up on teachers. I know they have administrative requirements that they deal with. But I also know that teachers vary widely in the amount of homework they assign or expect, and sometimes it’s just bad luck who you get stuck with your child gets.

I know I can’t single-handedly get rid of homework, but here is what I would like teachers to do:

  • Decide at the beginning of the week what homework there will be, and make it due Friday. We have one fifth grade teacher who did that this year, and that worked well. That way the child will have all week and can fit in in with their schedule. The child can also balance it out between teachers.
  • Teachers should make sure assignments are posted on the website when you say they will, and deadlines and expectations are clear. (I say this after my son had to text friends last night trying to find a science assignment that the teacher failed to post on her website as she said she would. One friend took a pic, but my son expected to find it on the web so he did not. Other moms were texting me with the same issue, so I know it wasn’t just my son missing something.)
  • For older kids: For major milestone grades (big research paper, book reports, etc.), provide intermediate turn-in steps to keep students on track.
  • Stop assigning homework during testing weeks to keep the kids’ morale high, or at least keep the load light.

What do you think about homework? Is it one of the solutions to our education woes or part of the problem?

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Easy Homemade Strawberry Shortcake

2014-04-08 20.26.45

2014-04-08 20.26.45 2014-04-08 20.16.15It’s coming on strawberry season here in South Carolina, and one of our favorite desserts is strawberry shortcake.

Last year I started making the cake part of strawberry shortcake from Bisquick, and it’s a quick and easy dessert that even a non-baker like me can do.

(Now, don’t be a Bisquick snob. You can wave your hand over this flour mixture and the most fabulous things happen! Our joke is that if you are using Bisquick, you have to tell it what you are making, and it will magically adjust.)

You can find the directions on the back of the Bisquick box, but I change it up a little bit.

Heat oven to 425.

Mix 2 1/3 cups Bisquick mix, 2/3 cup milk, 3 tbsp sugar, 3 tbsp butter or margarine melted

Mix these ingredients together until a wet dough forms. I add a splash more sugar, enough so that the top of the batter is covered.  It’s maybe 1/2 cup of sugar total.

Drop the dough in biscuit sized bits onto a baking sheet or stone (I use a stone), and cook for 12-15 minutes.  The ingredients above make about 6 little cakes. You may want to experiment with the sugar levels. The first time we thought the basic recipe wasn’t sweet enough, hence our additions.

For the strawberries, cut them up and sprinkle with a bit of sugar or honey. For the topping, we use Cool Whip Lite, but you can also whip your own cream if you have time on your hands. If you’re a busy working mom throw a dollop of Cool Whip or ice cream on the top and mission accomplished.

Share your favorite spring desserts in the comments.

 

How to Make it Snow

Snow on BushThose of you who live in the Northern states don’t understand us.  We all run around like crazy chickens when there’s the least hint of snow in the air. We get excited because it happens so rarely. All the schools and some businesses shut down. Not because they are scared, but because we don’t have the road equipment to clear the roads like the Northern states do.

Kids pray for snow. All kids, even the children of atheists, pray for snow. It’s a chance to get out of school, but it’s also a chance to see some of the white stuff, which we see here in the Upstate about once every three years. Kids at our local elementary school have a sure-fire method to bring on the white stuff. A friend posted this morning that his son had

put 6 white crayons in the freezer and just flushed 3 ice cubes down the toilet. Earlier today he did a “snow dance” at school. He’s now “flipping the silverware.” Tonight he plans to wear his pajamas inside out. If all performed correctly, we will have another snow day tomorrow.

At work, where we do a lot of statistical analysis, one of my colleagues asked me if my children wore their pajamas on inside-out last night, and I told her they did not. Therefore, it’s proven. Since my kids didn’t do the magical snow-bringing steps, we got no snow. That’s what we refer to in the statistics field as direct causation.

I have another friend who claims that if the weather-vane above the church in her hometown is pointing a certain direction, and the precipitation is moving in, and it’s cold enough, there will be snow. Again, these are statistically proven.

Snow on GroundWe’ve got a little on the ground. It’s not enough to do anything with, but the kids are outside dancing under the snowflakes.I promised my daughter hot chocolate when she comes in.

I’ve got to run out and get my bread and milk.