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Gin Schaffer is a former higher education administrator and works part-time at MWHC's Regional Cancer Center as the Coordinator of Integrative Medicine. She lives in downtown Fredericksburg and enjoys walking and biking with her husband and 2 kids (especially if coffee is involved).



Pillow Talk

How "OK, Google" Entered My Life

My husband loves keeping up to date with the latest tech gadgets, the ones that are supposed to make your life easier. He has been an Amazon Prime user since its inception (he hates shopping, so getting his socks and underwear delivered to our door is right up his alley). Steve also keeps tabs on the various Android operating systems and gadgets - for example, I'm writing this blog on a Chromebook. Apple is not part of our life which is odd for me because I grew up in a house full of Apples (my mom helped get the first generation of Apple computers adopted in Arlington County schools). But, that's o.k. because people who know me well, know my relationship with technology is a roller coaster of "I wish I knew how that worked" with teenage ambivalence thrown in.

I shouldn't be the one making any decisions when it comes to technology.  I'm that person who walks in the room and all systems shut down. A common question of Steve's, while looking at one of our phones, computers, or televisions is "How did you make this happen? It's just not possible." Or my other favorite is his amazement at how little I use the programs and apps that my phone has to offer. So, I've come to appreciate Steve's "techie" interests because, well, I'd be lost without it and honestly, it's one less thing to think about. But, I think I might just be warming up to this stuff.

I came home one day to find we had a new member of our household - Google Home. If you aren't familiar with Google Home (or Amazon Echo/Echo Dot, affectionately called Alexa), these are small desktop/countertop devices that are voice-activated assistants that can help you with a variety of questions and tasks. Steve selected the Google Home assistant because of its integration with our Google accounts. However, I like how you can order from the Amazon Echo (however, it's clear from a recent story about a 6-year old ordering a dollhouse, that you must set up some firewalls!). The first couple of nights with our new Google Home, Steve and the kids were relentless asking her (the voice is feminine) questions. I, on the other hand, was kind of losing my mind, as she was the catalyst to a yelling match of "OK, Google" - the kids were just so excited to ask her questions. While was thinking, "You've already outstayed your welcome, Missy."

Over the past few weeks, I've come to appreciate Google Home's presence. I paid attention to how Steve was using this new gadget and I can now say I've embraced her presence in my life. In the spirit of Dave Letterman, I thought about the list of things we're doing differently since she came in our lives. Here's my Top 10 Signs You've Allowed "OK, Google" To Join Your Family:

10)    You ask someone a question, they don't know the answer, and you both simultaneously say, "OK, Google..."

9)    You set a 1-minute "Time Out" timer because counting to 60 has just become too hard.

8)    You love asking her for a corny joke each day like "How do you get rid of butterflies in your stomach?...Stop eating caterpillars."

7)    You like to annoy your children (and husband) by having almost every Bee Gees song at your fingertips.

6)    You have started baking again because you can ask Google Home how to substitute the nothingness in your kitchen to something.

5)    You ask her to join in on singing "Happy Birthday."

4)    You keep trying to ask her questions even after she tells you she doesn't know what you are talking about. Parents of teenagers certainly know this.

3)    You ask her if places like Carl's Ice Cream are open - even though you've known for 25 years if they are or not.

2)    You can look outside and see the weather, but you ask her anyway.

1)    And, because when your children are yelling at a stadium-level decibel, she tries to help. Well, actually, she says, "Sorry, I can't help you with that."

For me, the best part of having this new member of the family is that I can play just about any music I want (the playlists are great for dance parties and Karaoke) and by having Google Home live in the kitchen, she's become my Foodie sidekick. Check out the video - Google Home to see how it works and all the tasks it can help with; I still have a lot to learn and I'm actually going to try this time around!

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The Blessing and The Curse of a New Year

2017 is here; I know I was glad to see 2016 become a chapter in the history books. For the most part, I enjoy ringing in the new year - it gives my family and me time to reflect on the past and express our hopes for the future. However, I also dread the mixed emotions I feel with the clean slate a new year brings. It's overwhelming to think of all the possibilities ahead - how does something as simple as a clock changing to 12:00AM hold such power?

All throughout my childhood, I watched my father head out and work many a New Year's Eve gig with his band. I learned from my dad that working on New Year's Eve can be a fun way to celebrate the night. I also think working minimized the grandiose expectations we often put on the final night of the year. Who wouldn't want a New Year's Eve night a la When Harry Met Sally? My dad knew he was bound to have fun no matter what because he loved playing his drums and singing with his bandmates. He had passion for his craft and was dedicated to giving people a good show.

I learned pretty quickly that I am my father's daughter. Throughout my high school and early college years, I had a babysitting job on New Year's Eve. It was great money and I liked having the title of "neighborhood nanny." As I got older, I waited tables and bartended at restaurants and hotels on the special night. Working New Year's Eve was simple and uncomplicated; I pretty much knew what the night had in store for me. Looking back, I can see that I protected myself from feeling left out at parties or being disappointed that I had no one to kiss at midnight. I was so defensive, so protective of my heart.

At some point, you have to open your heart to possibilities and meeting Steve helped me to embrace the risks and rewards of life. Over the years, I've been fortunate to celebrate new year's eves up and down the east coast with Steve. I, like you, wear many hats - mom, wife, co-worker, sister, friend, daughter - the list goes on and on. It's so easy to feel overwhelmed, wondering if I have done enough or if I've done the right things. But, just getting through the daily grind, wearing all these hats is enough. It's more than enough.

I've been trying to shift my thinking to understanding what my priorities are, hoping that this will help me recognize where I should place my energy. My energy is a precious resource that can waver at any moment, and I can only drink so much coffee!

Recently, I was reminded about how, after surgery, you aren't supposed to make any important life decisions. Well, I think the excitement of a new year, a new beginning can lead us to make quick, rash decisions about what changes we think we should make. I really like this article on tinybuddha.com - it is a good self-reflection exercise that can help you focus in on what you really want to do. I'm working really hard on being honest with myself about my priorities; not what I think I should do and not what others think I should do.

As Oscar Wilde said, "Be yourself; everyone else is already taken."

 

 

 

 

 

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Tradition...Tradition!

I remember quite vividly watching my sister perform in our high school's version of "Fiddler on the Roof." Her classmate who played Tevye was really good; his singing of the song "Tradition" was so memorable that my sister and I often sing it to one another, especially around the holidays. Much as I love that memory, I think one of the things that stresses us out so much during this time of year is our relentless pursuit to follow traditions of yesteryear as well as make new annual rituals for the next generation.

I have to remind myself to take a deep breath and know that if I didn't make the Christmas parade this year or forgot to get the photo with Santa, it's o.k. because at the heart of these traditions is spending time with my family and friends.  I try to focus on the moments we are together and not so much about having the perfect holiday card or outfit for that photo with Santa. Some of the greatest memories are made when perfection isn't achieved - such as an entire table of food collapsing when Steve and I hosted our first New Year's Eve party. These are the cherished moments we laugh about - and cry a little about too...I miss that Blue Willow serving platter!

I have come to realize that it's o.k. for traditions to come and go - that's part of discovering new ways to celebrate together. My mom was and still is a "hostess with the mostess." She, along with some close family friends, hosted a large holiday party every year during my childhood and young adulthood. Over the years, we had ornament and small gift exchanges and the food served had its own traditional requirements too.  There would be a revolt if Uncle John didn't make his famous wings or my mom's pierogies were nowhere to be found. I have all the recipes for these holiday culinary delights, but I know that I'll never be able to truly re-create the tastes of those yummy creations.

As time passed, sadly some of our family friends died, the kids got older and started our own families; a few of us moved pretty far away. We weren't able to sustain the annual party anymore. Sure, I miss having that party, but it was hard for the second generation to carry it forward. Since my birthday is December 28th, I was able to get people together for my 40th birthday a few years ago, it was fun to revive the tradition. I think that's what made it extra special, to share memories of the past. Who knows, maybe we'll do it again for my 50th!

Then, there are the traditions that just endure (whether we were fully on board with it or not). My sister's husband must have tacos and orange Jell-O on Christmas Eve (it was the only way his mom could calm him and his brother down and head to bed when they were kids). Over the years, my sister has come to appreciate the tradition and now their kids demand the same. Me, well, I have to tolerate this plastic Santa that gets premiere billing right in the heart of our TV room. Does it match the holiday decorating aesthetic I strive for? No. But, this old Santa gives Steve so much joy year after year and now, he's passed the joke along to his kids. And hearing that laughter is the best tradition of them all. 

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Tis The Season (for our friends to sell us stuff)

Before our social media accounts were filling up with post-election reactions, I think there was another trend brewing. Have you noticed an increase in posts from your friends advertising products for sale? With the holidays fast approaching (yeah, I said it), I’ve certainly noticed more invites to follow a friend’s sales page and to attend parties (in person and on-line). Seeing this increase made me wonder what my network of friends thought about direct sales. So, I posted a quick survey to gauge opinions. I thought I’d be lucky if I heard from about 10 friends, but I got 54 responses and in this post I'm going to share some of that feedback.

Of the 54 people that completed my survey, 9 were currently working as a consultant or sales representative for a direct sales company. Within the group of 45 respondents that were not currently working in direct sales, 9 had participated in such a venture before. I proceeded to ask people what companies they had worked for and/or bought products from as well as asked them to share their experiences with direct sales. Of the 54 people who took the survey, 37 provided their opinions on the topic.

In order to ask people about the companies they worked for and/or bought products from, I researched the Direct Selling Association (DSA) and their membership directory. There are currently 158 companies that are DSA members; it's important to keep in mind that not every direct sales company is a member of the DSA. It wasn’t feasible to ask if people were familiar with all these companies, so I filtered the membership directory to focus on products in the categories of health/beauty, jewelry, clothes, and items for the home. Since that only narrowed the list down to roughly 100 companies, I decided to focus on 20 companies that I had heard of, seen on Facebook, Instagram, etc. and then gave respondents an opportunity to add in others. Approximately 20 more companies were listed by the respondents.

Before I discuss what experiences were shared on the survey, I want to disclose that I tried being a direct sales consultant once. I realized that with my health issues, I didn’t have the stamina for it nor did I have a social network with enough discretionary income to keep purchasing the products I was selling. I don’t know if I would ever try being a consultant again, however, I do have a few companies that I like to purchase from once in awhile.

Of the 37 respondents who provided comments about the direct sales industry, 9 responses were positive, 13 were a mix of positive and negative, and 15 were negative.

The positive comments highlighted the convenience of shopping different products, having social time with friends at parties, and supporting friends with their business ventures. Additionally, people reported that the job as a consultant offers flexibility with work hours, various incentives in addition to the income earned and an opportunity to meet new people who are also consultants.

“It's a legitimate business model. It's a great way to make money, once you've recruited a downline. Getting from here to there is one of the most tedious periods for your friends to endure.”

I was fascinated by the last part of this comment because just about all the negative comments about direct sales revolved around the awkward nature of being asked by a friend to buy something and/or host a party (and it’s not for a fundraising/charity purpose). And in case you didn’t know, the definition of downline according to wordwebonline.com is “In multi-level marketing, refers to the members you have recruited or who have joined the program after you did and whose sales or referrals also generate income for you.” This concept of downline clearly made respondents nervous - the term pyramid scheme was mentioned a few times as well. The following quote is a good summation of the negative comments regarding friendship and direct sales:

"I always feel like "friends" that are direct sales consultants only want to see you so they can sell you a product or make you partner."

Individuals reported having hard time being bombarded on social media and worried that unneccesary purchases are made out of guilt (I know I can attest to this). Furthermore, there was a genuine concern for the consultants themselves in that they have to meet minimum requirements and that pressure carries over to friendship and the wallet. Some previous consultants discussed having accrued debt (one disclosed they ended up in thousands of dollars in debt). Lastly, a couple of respondents asked, "How much of this stuff can I keep buying?"

This was a tiny little quest on my part to learn more about direct sales - I'm really glad I asked the questions because I learned quite a bit. I would recommend doing your own research before buying or becoming a direct sales consultant. Earlier this summer, a rather detailed article was written about Rodan & Fields - I don't share this as a means to advertise the company, but I offer it as a thorough view that can provide some food for thought prior to going into direct sales, for any company.

Regardless of how you do your holiday shopping this year, I wish you a stress-free experience!

 

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Confessions from the Halloween Mom

As I sit here waiting for kids to come and ask for candy at our door, I am scrolling through Instagram and Facebook to see everyone's costumes. I am always impressed, even jealous, at the creativity people have around All Hallows Eve. Halloween and I have never really gotten along and it took me a little while to figure out why. I think it was around the time when I was attending parties in college that I realized I don't like people hidden behind masks/make-up (clowns and I have had to come to an understanding). I also think that I have some long-time resentment toward the holiday because when I was younger, I was allergic to chocolate, red food coloring and nuts, so by the time my candy was picked over by my older sister, I was left with very little to call my own. Pretty sure that's why I buy candy that just about any trick-or-treater can eat and have some non-edible treats too like pencils, yo-yos, and bubbles.

As a mom, I've come to appreciate the creepy, goofy festivities of Halloween through my children's eyes. Kind of the same way that I've come to appreciate animated movies - I know, it's silly, who doesn't like animated movies? "Inside Out" really turned my opinion around. Now, does that mean I dress up for Halloween? No, I wouldn't go that far, but at least I've found the ability to appreciate the holiday.

Steve and I have a good thing going where he goes out trick-or-treating with the kids and I stay home to pass out the candy. I think it works for him because he can take a walk (have some candy), talk with the other parents (have some wine), and not have to do the work of passing out candy (but, then returns home to eat some more candy). I like to stay at home because, well, I get to stay home, feeling oddly secure while I, you guessed it, have some candy and maybe some witch's brew too.

With each Halloween, I like that my kids have a fearless quality about them in that they want to dress up; it's fun to hear them discuss their ideas for costumes with their friends, and I also think they like the anticipation of being scared, and of course, getting all that candy! It also doesn't hurt that I have years of their older cousins' costumes that they can try on - it makes for fun wardrobe changes as they go to different Halloween events, parties and trick-or-treating. Anna supported her brother by being a cheerleader to her brother's Zombie Football Player during this weekend's celebrations, then she transformed into a butterfly for Halloween night.

     

Parenting is learning to open yourself up to doing the things you may not like (watching soccer on a cold Saturday morning takes a lot of love). If I didn't try, I would miss out on seeing Jack and Anna's priceless reactions to new experiences or hearing them say, "Mom, remember when...?" I also limit myself from learning new things if I don't put myself out there. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better."

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