Thursday, January 31, 2013

Cold, Hard, January

People in my business hate January. There are W2s and 1099s to get out, with people already chomping at the bit to get them on January 2. (and don't let anyone tell you otherwise, 1099s are a nightmare to get right). There are quarter-end forms and annual filings. Every year, it seems, one more grantor decides it's a good idea to move an annual report filing or grant deadline to January — and they are always the complicated ones (I'm looking at you, Minnesota State Arts Board). Inevitably, board meetings and other deadlines creep in, plus just everyday work.

Then there are the other Life Decisions. This year, St. Paul Public Schools changed its application deadline to February 15. In January we have toured six potential schools for Beatrix, averaging 3 hours each between arranging the tour, getting to the school, and taking the tours. (plus extra time in frantic analysis of test scores).

Add to that work on the Winter Street house, the fact that Beatrix and I both got really sick, keeping her out of school (and with thus no childcare) for over a week and me in bed as much as I could plus with a bad cough that still lingers, and add to it severe sleep deprivation (Beatrix has been having bad dreams and waking up, my mother-in-law has been having problems sleeping, even the animals seem especially nocturnally active — so we've been woken up 6+ times a night after working late).

That's why you haven't really seen me this month. February can't be here soon enough!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Totally Nude*

I was incredibly lucky to grown up in the Twin Cities during the heydey of the "Minneapolis sound" of the 1980s. From early Prince (and *everyone* here has a Prince story) to thrashing Husker Du, from Trip Shakespeare to the Mats, it was a golden time of music that formed the core of what I listen to today.

But nothing, nothing was bigger to me at that time than The Wallets. I must have seen them hundreds of times. Usually outside during Movies and Music in the Park or something like that, occasionally in a club when the door staff understood that we were there to see the music and wouldn't f*ck it up by trying to order a drink ("all ages shows" were yet to be A Thing), I danced away to the punk polka sounds of those talented men.

When I saw Steve Kramer at a get-together this summer, I was surprised by how frail he looked. But as soon as we got to talking there was not an ounce of weakness in him — he was the same smart, thoughtful, creative man I had known-but-not-known decades earlier. And I felt lucky that he was still out there creating.

Steve Kramer died in his sleep last night, and the world is a much less rich place without him.

And for me, I think that is my very last piece of high school officially gone.

(*just look up the song, would 'ya? Here you go: http://www.twintonedigital.com/mp3/88154-01.mp3)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Groupon Cleaners - You're Doing It Wrong

I, like everyone else, love Groupons (and their related ilk). Who doesn't like getting a great deal on something you want, or even contemplating those pole-dancing fitness classes?

My friend Kate, an adamant supporter of local small business, hates Groupons. In general, she has a point — bringing up data that shows that, with the steep discount that the provider takes, it ends up anti-supporting small businesses.

I have kind of a "Groupon code of ethics" that I follow for myself. I won't use them for massages, for example; I like my massage therapist a A LOT, and a strong relationship that I can trust is worth paying for. I generally won't use them for restaurants I already have a relationship with, unless it's going to inspire me to try something truly new there. But what I will use them for is to "audition" something I want an ongoing relationship with, whether that's a restaurant, a nail salon, or in particular, a cleaning service.

You see, I keep on being told that having cleaners will make my life *so* much better. The 21st-century version of Downton Abbey help, they will allow us to be better at what we do by taking care of that chore so we can focus on work, and still have a livable environment.

Except, I have in the past, cleaned as a job. Sure, it was part-time during high school and college, but my weekly cleaning gig in London, for example, literally allowed me to eat. I know what cleaning a house involves, and I know how long it takes to clean our house and what makes it "clean." (not that you might always know that by observing our domicile...thus the desire for cleaners).

So, I've now booked several cleaners under Groupons. Each time, I have explicitly told them "I am doing this because I want to develop a long-term relationship with a cleaner. If you do this right, you will have a client for life." And each time, they fail. They are difficult to schedule. They show up late or not at all. They moan about how "big" our house is and get only part-way through. They spend the entire cleaning time with one hand on a mop and the other hand holding their iPhone to their ear. And the house never, ever seems all that much cleaner.

The cleaner we tried yesterday (Distinctive Cleaners, if you must know), hit all these points. Was 8 weeks out in scheduling when I called. Told me they could tell me a day they would come, but not a time until the night before, so I had to leave the whole day open (kind of negates the idea of convenience, right?). The first time I booked them, they did not call with a time the day before, and by the time I reached them the day of, it was too late and we had to cancel. We rescheduled for yesterday, when they emailed me a time; I arranged for my mother-in-law to be home, and they simply did not show. When Patrick called them to complain they first told him we were on a schedule for a different time, and then when faced with an email that disproved that, hung up on me. I called back, and they could not provide a good solution, and said they would call back later. Still waiting for that.

I understand that, if you are a small business, Groupons are a PITA. They set you up with a flood of new customers, and are a scheduling hassle. You don't make much, if any money off of them. They create a difficult obligation that is not easy to schedule. And, as Kate points out, many of them do not come back.

But I humbly remind business owners that you made a marketing decision to participate in the deal. You (hopefully) factored all of that in, and looked at the expense the same way you look at an up-front expense like a print ad or other marketing campaign. I posit that there are a lot of people like me, who look at this as an entry-level way to develop a longer relationship. Don't treat these people like an unwelcome burden — treat them like the invited guests they are. Make their experience easy and rewarding, so that they can't wait to come back. I guarantee you that kind of approach will garner new customers and make the experience worthwhile.

Meanwhile, if you need a list of cleaners *not* to use, let me know....

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Date Night!

Our joint New Year's resolution, which I forgot to include on my earlier list, was to go on at least one true "Date Night" a month. A true date, where we enjoy each others' company and do something fun, not just a professional obligation or even a party.

We were supposed to start last week, but Beatrix was too sick, so we took an impromptu "date event" and left Beatrix at home with Tisch while we went to Soup Night in the neighborhood. Which was really fun, but not a true "date" by the above definition. Luckily, our awesome new babysitter, Grace, was able to reschedule for tonight. Beatrix was so excited to see Grace tonight that it was practically "Don't let the door hit you in the butt on the way out, mom!"

Timing was a little tight, so we grabbed a quick bite at World Street Kitchen, which we had been wanting to try. We've been on an unofficial search for the best Minnesota shrimp po'boy, and WSK might have a contender here. Delicious! The bread was the just right — sturdy, not too flavorful, just a useful container, the shrimp cooked to the tender point but not at all rubbery, the slaw tangy and unusually spicy. It's nowhere near as good as chowing down in Patrice's kitchen, but it will do.

IFP is showing the Spirit Awards films free to members (see, another reason to join) all month, and we decided that that didn't really count as a work event, per se. So we saw Sound of My Voice, which was extremely compelling, and gives a lot to think about. As we walked in through the cold, I mentioned to Patrick that, near the end of my first marriage, we had gone to film screening that turned out to be about  coal miners dying in China. Indicative, huh?

My first comment on the way out — "Well, it was no coal miner story."

Great date night.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Resolved

As I commented to a friend yesterday, after Wellstone's death, it's always been the even years that were the hardest. Yet they also have offered plenty to celebrate, including my marriage (2006) and the birth of my daughter (2008).

2012 offered some of the biggest, as-of-yet unresolved challenges to both my personal and professional life yet. Still, there were lots of high points: time with friends, pool parties, Mardi Gras, spending every day with an awesome preschooler and a wonderful husband.

I was pretty much a fail on my 2012 New Year's resolutions, which included things like writing 100 letters and learning to knit. But I achieved two of the life-changing ones, which were to pay more attention to the communities in which I live and work, and to actively promote my family and friends. So I am going to declare them a qualified win.

I futzed around with a lot of ideas this year. I read 72 books in 2012 — why not aim for 100 in 2013? But that's kind of an arbitrary goal, and I will read anyway. Finish house projects? Well maybe a given and maybe no. More socialization? Needed, but not necessarily resolved.

In that vein, here are my 2013 resolutions:

1)  Eat better, exercise more. This is a perennial resolution, and I need to suss how to make it mean enough to actually do it.
2)  Find a dentist. For me and Beatrix. This is a silly phobia that needs to stop.
3)  Gain professional certification by becoming QuickBooks Pro certified.
4)  Build a successful and thriving business with my husband; our new joint endeavor, Gladhill Rhone LLC, starts today!
5)  Work less and create more. This is a scary one, because we are really dependent on my income. But I am feeling pretty fried.