Spring is New Year’s, Take Two

Leave the first quarter behind. Implement your New Year’s plans now, in this second quarter.

Words of wisdom from a radio broadcast. The commentator was talking about businesses, who have, on paper, lost so much time in this new year thanks to our horrendous winter. Her advice was not to dwell on the lost opportunities of the first few months of the year, but rather to take your plans and start afresh, today, April 1st.

That’s good advice for everyone, including those individuals (like me) who have not had much of an opportunity to translate plans from paper to reality.

Our weather in the Philadelphia area has been horrendous this year — the second snowiest winter on record, and unlike previous years, we didn’t get a few large storms of 18+ inches, but a steady, near-constant snowfall. Drop in the ice storms (including one that knocked out power for over a week), road closures thanks to potholes masquerading as car-swallowing craters, frigid temperatures that were more appropriate for the Arctic regions, then stir in business/school/activity cancellations even when there wasn’t a storm, and that adds up to a lot of lost time. Instead of networking through LinkedIn, working out, cleaning house, I spent twice, and sometimes more, time just commuting back and forth to work. Getting to the gym? An impossibility when the roads are coated in half an inch of ice every night. And the power played a little game called ‘let’s see how long I stay on today’, making it a risk to keep electronics like a computer and router up and running.

Combine that with my usual project workload, and it meant I had little time to move on those plans of mine. Then my computer agreed to acquire another company, which left me wondering where I will/might fit into the new group. And I remembered — I was going to pay attention to myself, not put my needs behind everyone else’s desires.

Which brings me back to here, to you and to my plans. Before I wrote this, I went to LinkedIn and updated my profile with my latest accomplishments. I did half an hour of yoga. And I cleaned out some bookshelves. In keeping with my project to declutter, I’m listing a large number of Star Wars hardbacks onto Craigslist. I intend to list something on Craigslist at least three times a week, so my no-longer-needed belongings can go off to a good home elsewhere.

Here comes New Year’s — again.

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New Year’s Decisions

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. I do New Year’s lifestyles.

Resolutions, as all the news feeds tell us, are ‘doomed to failure.’ They imply that you are adding, or deleting, something from your existence. That a state that already is a part of your lifestyle is going to change. And we all know change is hard.

I learned, from many attempts over the years, that if you pretend that the change you want is already a part of your life, you don’t have to think. No “I’m not going to eat that donut” or “I’ll remember not to curse this time.” Just — I don’t eat donuts. If it’s already a part of your life, you don’t have to actually change anything about yourself.

In other words fake it till you make it.

End of the year is always a hectic time in my job. Without exception, for the last ten years there’s been project, or a deal, or a contract, that absolutely, positively, has to be finished by December 31st. That kind of schedule essentially requires me to work 12-hour plus days, leaving little time to plan for the next year. And so, instead of getting to New Year’s Eve and making some on-the-fly announcement about the next year, I decided to take the first month of the year and do a “state of my life” analysis.

Some parts are great, or getting there. I’m getting back in shape. I’m certainly eating much healthier. I’ve been paying more attention to my career. I got some of my outstanding craft and knitting projects completed. And I began making progress in paying off my student loans and the accompanying credit card (grad school is seriously way too expensive!).

Other areas, not so good. I literally haven’t written more than 5,000 words in the last year. My nails are a mess. I still have more clearing to do in my home. And while I paid more attention to my career, I lacked definitive focus when it came to knowing where I want to go next job and career-wise.

And so I came to Chinese New Year. Having looked at things objectively, having tested out some ideas, I have incorporated these things into my life for 2014:

1. I am open to career exploration and change. There’s no reason why I can’t look for a relocation to Los Angeles and employment in a different field, or at Disney, if the right opportunity presents itself.

2. It’s time for me to redecorate. My apartment needs some changes and possibly a new color scheme. I love blue, and this seems to be the year of blue-hued home décor. So I’ve started spring cleaning before spring, and the money I make from selling off the excess will go into some new home décor.

3. I write. Every day. I joined an online group with a pledge to write 250,000 words this year. Considering I have been known in the past to write a 10,000 word fan fiction in just under 24 hours, I see no reason why I can’t rewrite that NaNo novel from two years ago, and self-publish it on Amazon for kindle.

4. I have the time to do little things for myself. Like regular manicures. I have a (now not) secret love for nail polish, and it’s time I started regularly applying it to my nails. So what if they get chipped within two days of the manicure (thanks to the filing cabinets at work). That just means I get to try out a new color on the next manicure!

And on that note, regular posting will now resume. As a teaser? I think I love the Old Republic.

The aftermath of Target’s hacking

Anyone else out there rethinking their provision of personal information in the wake of the Target hacking?

Because I am not only rethinking it, I am actively removing my information from a number of sites.

I am one of the 70-110 million people whose personal data held by Target was stolen in December — although Target didn’t see fit to email me to confirm that fact until last week.  I might, just might, have been less upset about the situation, had I not just gone through this mess with Adobe, and can now anticipate the same thing with Neiman Marcus.

My Adobe account was hacked in August; fortunately, the card also expired in August, and I had already replaced it.

But in the case of Target, they not only got my credit card numbers, they got my debit card and pin, my name, address, email, phone number and possibly my driver’s license number as well.  Pennsylvania law requires you to present your driver’s license for scanning when you buy cold medicine; no one has yet satisfactorily explained to me whether that information is stored, and was included in the hacking.  The annoyance with the debit card is that, not only do I have to change the card, I have to change the number on every membership that charges that card. I just did it in August; now I have to do it again.

And then, on top of it all, I made some purchases at Neiman’s, and they’ve announced that they were hacked as well.

It’s enough to drive me back to cash-only purchasing.  Especially since the news sources are reporting that several other major retailers were also hacked — and haven’t yet announced it.

It started me thinking about all the places that have my personal information.  The stores that send me a receipt by email.  The shops, hotels and airlines that enrolled me in rewards programs.  The places, online and in the mall, that signed me up to receive my catalogs by email.  The simple fact that Amazon, eBay and Paypal store my credit and bank account information.  Yes, their having my information is incredibly convenient.  But now, I realize that it’s also incredibly dangerous.  Not only if one of these companies should be hacked — but also in how they might be using that information and to whom they could be selling it.  Literally, we have no control once we agree to provide that data to them.

I’ve been toying with the idea of simply unsubscribing from some of these sites, and sending them the required letter to demand they delete my information from their databases.  But now, now I am actually doing it.

The impetus? The realization that they are getting so much more information than they need for their stated purposes.  That fact hit me in the face when I went to register a holiday gift.  For some bizarre reason, to register my cookware warranty on Cuisinart, they need to know my birthdate, gender and a mess of other personal data.

Actually, no they don’t.  They need to know my name, my address, what products I purchased.  I’ve filled out a lot of warranty cards in the past, and none of them asked me for such personal data.  And in light of the hacking of so many stores, there is no way in hell that I will provide that information willingly again to someone who doesn’t need it for a legitimate purpose.  And the registration of a warranty is most definitely not a legitimate purpose.

So I’ve made a list, of every website, store and travel service that I’ve ever enrolled in, subscribed to or done business with.  I’ve started clicking through the emails, hitting the unsubscribe button, then going to the website and pulling up the privacy policy to get the address to which I can send a deletion notice. Realistically, I won’t be able to pull back information from everyone.  Some sites have probably already sold my information to other companies.  I know that I’ll have to be vigilant, unsubscribing to everything I receive, sending deletion notices, watching my bank account and my card statements and my credit report.  But I can do what I can to minimize the danger that my information will be spread further than I desire.

It’s the ultimate nightmare scenario for retailers and marketers.  What happens if everyone just pulls back their data?  I’ve seen stories that claim stores, companies, entire industries could suffer economic damage.  And maybe they will.  But as someone who has already gone through the theft of her personal data once, a decade ago, and now has to deal with it again, as someone who will have to spend extra time guarding her finances and dealing with the inevitable misuse of her name by thieves, whose credit rating has been damaged once and probably will again, I find it hard to feel any sympathy for them.

You want us to give you our personal data? Learn how to be a responsible guardian of that information. And stop blocking the implementation of better technology to protect that data. Implement chip-and-pin card technology. Screen your third-party service providers better. Stand up and take responsibility for your actions.

Until then, though, I’m doing most of my shopping with cash.  And removing my information from everyone who no longer can be trusted with it.

And I’m calling Cuisinart tomorrow, to register my cookware.  Without any of this nonsense about providing my personal data.

And we’re back

Been awhile — real life got freakishly interesting there, between family, friends and work. Had time to draft out posts — but deadlines kept knocking out my posting time. But I’m back and playing catchup.

It’s nine weeks till yearend, so let’s see what I can get accomplished between now and the new year. Which, I’m told, should be an interesting day. Seems the new year falls on a new moon, and the new moon kicks in at almost the same time as sunrise. Which fascinates me, but then I’ve loved watching the skies ever since I took that astronomy class in college and they let us play with the really, really big telescope.

And here we go.

I went, I saw, I cried!

I did go to the Sunnybank Gathering last weekend.

It was wonderful. And inspiring.

I’ll post a much longer entry, probably tomorrow, once I finish editing my pictures. What I will say right now is this:

I went to Sunnybank largely because it was someplace I’d wanted to go since I read Albert Payson Terhune’s books as a child. And while I was there, I found myself more relaxed than I’d been in a long time, happy, a bit sad (for a good reason) and above all, inspired.

The setting:

While the house is no longer there, having fallen into disrepair and then been torn down, there is enough left of ‘The Place’ to connect you to the books. You still drive down the narrow, winding driveway, where Wolf herded the harum-scarum puppies out of the path of early automobiles. There is now a parking lot where the house once stood, but if you can ignore that fact, exercise your imagination, you can look around and picture how it must have been to sit on the veranda of Sunnybank or walk its grounds.

The root cellar remains, you can see foundation stones from the barn peeking through the grass, and a replica of a puppy house has been installed where the original once stood. The pond has been filled in, but its foundations have been retained and now a stone frog leaps from a cluster of lovely grasses. The line of larch trees still marches down to the landing on the lake, and while I was there, no speedboats were cruising by — you could close your eyes, listen to the silence, and imagine yourself back at the turn of the Twentieth Century.

Or rather, you could listen to the barking of collies and think yourself back to Terhune’s time. So many collies (and shelties), in so many colors — sable and mahogany, tricolor, white, different permutations of merle, black and white — and all of them friendly and welcoming, even to total strangers like me. As if they were saying, welcome back to the place that made our breed famous! Along with collies, I saw borzoi, a chihuahua, a couple of other toy breeds, a staffordshire terrier (I think) and a corgi, who sported a bow for a tail.

I went to Sunnybank, uncertain what to expect. I got out of the car, said hello to the lovely ladies from Ohio getting out of the next car, and promptly was made to feel welcome. They gave great advice to this newbie on what to do first, outlined the whole day for me — and any hesitation I felt just melted away.

I did feel a bit sad (alright, I teared up!), when we went to the gravesites of the Sunnybank dogs. Yes, their graves have been preserved, at least those that could be identified a hundred years later. The kennel dogs are buried in one spot, along with two of the Township’s K-9 officers. The champions — known through many of the stories — are buried by Champion Rock, including one of my personal favorites, blind Fair Ellen. Bruce and Jean are buried elsewhere, and then, there is the patriarch, the dog who started it all, Sunnybank Lad. I’ll admit, when I saw that stone, “Lad, Thoroughbred in Body and Soul”, I wanted to cry.

But more than anything, I was inspired by my visit. Why? Because, this park, this preservation, was not undertaken by government. It was driven by people who love these books, love the dogs in them, love collies — and therefore entered into years of organizing, fund-raising, lobbying and politicking, all to save this little slice of American history. Not the usual ‘grand’ history of war or politics, but a personal, beloved history for so many people who grew up with these stories as part of their childhood. Ordinary people who took on a task of saving something personally important to them, and who continue to fight to save it, against the encroachment of time and ongoing vandalism.

A lesson to be remembered by us all. When it’s important to you, you can, and should, stand up and fight for it.