Insomniacs… Anyone? Anyone?

I’ve been a lifelong insomniac.

I’ve sought help through countless books and articles. I’ve tried all kinds of sleep aids: ¬†OTC ones like Melatonin or Unisom, and all kinds of natural solutions… ¬†turkey, herbal tea, peanut butter, warm milk, cheese, forcing myself to get up earlier so I’ll feel sleep sooner… I’ve tried it all.

It’s hard for people who can flip the “brain-off” switch (like my wife) to understand how frustrating it is to go to bed and have your brain kick into overdrive. It’s like my pillow is a thought accelerant. Almost nothing is as aggravating as looking at the clock, seeing a bright red 4:00 AM, and knowing you have to get up in a couple of hours. And aggravation isn’t exactly tryptophan.

In High School, I actually researched sleeping and relaxation techniques–not exactly a book selection I shared with my peers. I learned to exercise selective disclosure after telling a buddy during football practice that I had recently read “How To Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. ¬†The “influence” provoked a healthy round of mockery. ¬†So yeah, I wasn’t about to tell them I was reading about self hypnosis and relaxation.

During the times in my life when I actually DID master the early morning wake-up, ¬†I can’t deny I felt like a million bucks–exercising and studying at 7 AM. I was getting my day started off the right way, and nothing was gonna “break my stride”, a la¬†Matthew Wilder. Would I prefer that? Of course. ¬†Sans the massive mustache of course.

But those times were the exception, not the norm… and I’ve recently embraced my Night Owl-ness. Instead of trying to fall asleep to episodes of Psych or Monk (They work as well as anything. Not intense or gory, but are captivating enough so I don’t think about anything that is truly worrying me–perfect combo for an insomniac) I blog, conduct research, exercise, etc. Then I feel I’m not wasting time–because after-all, those bright eyed bushy-tailed morning people are doing the same thing, ¬†right? But I struggle to view it positively, due to the social stigma associated with having a hard time waking up early.

Sometimes, though, I just have no desire to go to sleep. It’s like I’m 9 again, and I just got sent to bed..and more than anything, I wish I could be up laughing and playing games with my older siblings. ¬†Except, there is no laughter, no party, just some no-deadline time to read, blog, research, etc.

This hits harder Sunday nights. I dread the thought that my weekend, the “my time” portion of the week is over. If I go to sleep, the next thing I know, my alarm is ringing, and I am hitting the snooze button–and I’m off to work where my time isn’t really my own.

So I drag out being awake as long as possible. Like now, here it is at midnight, and I have no desire to call it quits on the weekend. So I’ll finish this post, then read “Term Limits” by Vince Flynn until my eyes start descending like a garage door whose motor has died.

Do any of you have insomnia? Or are you one of “those people” who say they can’t ever sleep past 7 am? ¬†Does your brain click off when your head hits the pillow, or do you start running through your lists and deadline?

And what do you think…should I just embrace being a “night owl”? Or should I try to alter my internal clock so I can feel like I have a more productive morning?

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My favorite parenting advice

Just like everyone else, I have received a lot of parenting advice. Some of it was solicited, some wasn’t. Some of it is good, some I’ll probably never follow.

Here are a few things shared with us:

“Always be consistent in ¬†your punishment. That’s the biggest thing. Consistency.”

“Never correct a child when they try to talk, that will make them afraid of making mistakes. But don’t mimic their incorrect speech. Just speak correctly, and they will learn to speak correctly over time.”

“Remember that the greatest thing you can show your child is how much you love your wife.”

“Make sure when you have more than one child, that you take time with each one individually. Respect and love their differences.”

And I don’t know of this counts as advice, but one item I have most appreciated hearing from seasoned professional parents is simply: “Yeah, that’s totally normal.”

My absolute favorite advice came from, Johnny–a good friend of mine. We were catching up on g-mail chat, and he simply said ¬†something like:

“You know, I don’t do everything right as a dad, but one thing I’m happy that I have done is create email addresses for each of my sons, and every Sunday I take a few minutes to write them to tell them what it is like raising them. During the week I try to think of things I can tell them, then jump on the computer and write it out… I include attachments, pictures, etc. Then one day, I’ll turn the passwords over to them, and they can read through their emails and see what they were like growing up.”

What an amazing idea. I have often wondered what it was like for my parents to raise me during different stages of my life. What was I like as an infant? A 1 or 2 year old? What was I like in kindergarten? I have pictures, but what kinds of things did I say, do?  At what point did I show signs of what I would be in the future?  What were things that I did that provided feelings of pride to my parents? What things were heartbreaking?

Then a couple of months after I got started emailing my son, I happened to see this video from Google:

BTW, my conversation with Johnny was on 4/14/2011… This video was posted 5/2/11. So apparently, Google DOES monitor those g-chats. ūüôā

But seriously… this has been the advice that has been the most fun to follow. I send my son pictures, video, and long letters of what he’s like to raise. I try to detail every major development. I’m not perfect about writing him every week, but I do my best. One day, maybe I’ll share his email address with some family members–maybe on his first or second birthday–and ask them to send him an email as well.

I envision one day when he’ll appreciate it, maybe when he’s about to become a dad of his own, I’ll turn over the password and let him read through his gradual progression as a son, and me as a dad.

I hope he likes reading them as much as I have liked writing them.

Book or music suggestions anyone?

Within the past few 6 weeks, my habits for passing the time have gone through a dramatic upheaval. As you can tell from my post on new TV shows, there was a stretch there where I was getting far into watching TV. And it wasn’t anything educational or helpful in any way…just a mind-numbing, stupifying escape. One day my wife described me as “couchy”, which I didn’t like…but didn’t necessarily set out to change right away…

Without any kind of resolution or goal setting, all of the sudden I’ve reached my satiation point with TV, and have been hitting the books. But not just crime-thrillers, which I have gobbled up in the past and honestly can’t remember one from the other, ¬†I’ve been trying to sink my teeth into quality books.

The first I tackled was “Pillars of the Earth”

This is a book that most of my reader friends had recommended at one time or another. I’m not going to give a full book review, it’s been done ad nauseum. But I will say this, I was blown away by Follett’s ability to weave so many characters together, with their own changes, feuds, jealousies, passions, love, and revenge. ¬†When I write my little stories, I can barely keep track of my own character development, let alone about a dozen. Overall, a great book.

Next, I decided to tackle “The Glass Castle”, a memoir by Jeannette Walls.

I actually bought this book for my wife for Christmas, after her friend strongly recommended it. After Pillars, I decided to pick it up. I don’t often read memoirs. After reading Walls’, I may have to change that. This book gripped me from beginning to end, as it told the story of the upbringing of Jeannette Walls and her 3 siblings, carted from town to town by her care-free, irresponsible and artistic mother, and her alcoholic but brilliant father. All I can say is this: Any complaint you have ever made about feeling poor is nothing. Do you have more than one pair of shoes? Do you have a TV? Do you have electricity? Do you have at least one meal a day without digging through trash barrels? If you answered yes to these questions, ¬†then you don’t know poverty like the Walls kids. Holy crap. I will do my darndest to never complain again.

But the story isn’t about poverty as it is about the triumph of the human spirit, and the strength we gain through adversity, and through bonds we have with others.

The other thing to change has been my choice of music.

Almost overnight, I got sick of my playlist and went searching for something more inspiring. I started loving classical music. So I borrowed a bunch of my dad’s CDs, and have started tackling them one by one, most recently listening to Yo-Yo Ma’s cello solos of Bach’s music. For some reason Suite 1, which has been played a bazillian times in movies, commercials, and probably ring-tones, puts me at ease and calms my soul after a stressful day of work. If you don’t know it by name, I’m positive you’ll recognize the sound. Here’s a youtube clip:

I’m also looking for other artists that are just different… ¬†On Spotify, I’m listening to M83 right now (so obviously, I don’t ALWAYS listen to classical) who might be old to most of you, but I’ve never listened to them. Good stuff so far. Also, I’ve been listening to that song “Sail” by Awolnation…which I KNOW has been overplayed, but because it’s unique sound, and the fact that my barely crawling son loves it when I play it because he loves how we “dance” to it, I’ve been playing it endlessly.

 

So I’m on the search, for great books and unique music. ¬†Any recommendations?

Parental Quiz

This morning, it was my turn to take the little one to his baby-sitter. I also had to get myself ready to work. So I carefully assembled his favorite toys, play-pad, and set them up for him. He can barely army-crawl (more like army-drag) so I wanted to make them easily reachable so he could keep himself occupied  while I showered, brushed my teeth, and got dressed.

So here’s the set-up:

 

Now, here is my question to you other young parents out there.

Reflecting on your own parenting experiences, what do you think my little guy will do with a convenient set-up like this? Which item in this picture do you think an almost-crawling, 8-9 month old would focus on first?

Perhaps the beautiful, colorful, and multi-lingual piano, complete with multiple instrument options, a spinning plastic cage of multi-colored marbles, and varying volume levels? Would this keep your child busy?

 

Or maybe this thing, whatever it is, which lights up, plays songs, and sounds like you are shaking a bean bag? Would this help your little one pass the time?

 

Or perhaps your child will go for the keys which are “supposed to be like daddy’s keys–but they are¬†ridiculously¬†colored, and we don’t run around the house growling from frustration when we can’t find them?”

 

Or maybe just one of the hanging, psychodelic, A.D.D. inducing items hanging from the play-pad? Some of them even make noises. Would your child zone in on these? Maybe a combination of all 4 of these listed items?

 

 

I practically have Disneyland in this little hallway, right? Enough for my child to be entertained for hours…..right?

 

Wrong.

This is what he went to first:

 

 

He exerted every muscle in his body to claw, scratch, and drag himself past all of the toys to grab that towel hook, then banged it on the tile for the entire time I was in the shower, all while chomping on that installation manual. I’m just glad I didn’t leave the sheetrock screws lying on the ground.

Seriously. Why do I buy toys?

 

A word on customer loyalty

“Good evening, Mr. Christiansen,” the electronic voice said.¬†

“This is an automated call from T-Mobile’s customer care center. After reviewing your phone’s internet usage, we have noticed that you use between 100 to 135 megabytes of data per month. You are currently on the 5 GB plan, which is approximately 40 times your average monthly data usage. By downgrading to our new 200 megabyte plan, you will save $20 per month. Press 1 to make this change, press 9 to remain on the 5 Gigabyte plan, and thank you for using T-Mobile”

I was blown away. I’d never had a company inform me of a less expensive option that would be a better fit. And since every bit of cash I can save counts, I pressed 1.

“Thank you Mr Christiansen. Your plan has been modified. Press 1 if you would like to speak to a representative.”

I pressed 1, asked the representative to renew my contract. They had a loyal customer for life.

Impressed?

I would be too.

But this never happened. Here’s what actually happened:

I have been having unreliable data coverage from T-Mobile--but dreading the half hour troubleshooting experience, I procrastinated calling customer service. After about a month, I finally called and told them to cancel my data plan so I could just save the 30 bucks a month until my plan expired in 3 months when I was planning on switching to Verizon anyway.

The rep said that I HAD to have a data plan (like a lot of smart phones) ¬†but also informed me there was a 200 MB plan for 10 bucks a month, compared to the the 5 GB plan I was on for $30/month. He said I never went over 135 MB. ¬†Also, my wife’s line has been on the same 5 GB plan, and her data usage was about the same as mine.

When I realized this meant we’ve been overpaying for completely unused data, the tech support agent said quickly that the “data plans change all the time”. ¬†The new $10 plan was about a year old, so I guess I’ve only overpaid about $400 for the past year for the two lines. Whew.

My fault? Absolutely. I could have done a better job vigilantly checking T-Mobile.com for new ever-changing data plans, and could have monitored my data usage. But like most people, I signed up for the service, set the bill on auto-pay, and thought all along I was on the best plan possible.

Oh well, live and learn. It certainly wasn’t the first time I have overpaid for a service. And for this, I take full responsibility. But in a competitive market, I’m baffled with how readily some companies are to idly sit by, while the customer so obviously overpays for unused services and features.

So my question is… why? Why not keep a protective eye out for customers, guiding them into the best plan for them? Why leave them in a situation where they are paying extra, completely wasting their money?

I guess I can understand from a purely financial perspective–more profits for the company, shareholders, blah blah blah… but what about creating that ever-elusive “customer LOYALTY?”

Traditional customer loyalty doesn’t seem to exist as much anymore. People like me will gladly invest 15 minutes to find cheaper auto insurance–even if my parents have been with State Farm for 50 years.

But too many companies act like this is the new permanent behavior of the customer–and act like they as the company need to go¬†for the quick buck, instead of going after the long term value of the customer.

They talk like “the customer comes first,” but their efforts are misdirected. ¬†Acting¬†kind and pleasant during my phone call doesn’t earn my loyalty.¬†Decreasing my hold time before I talk to someone doesn’t earn my loyalty. Caring about me as a customer does.

And if I feel like I am cared about, like they TRULY are there to help me find the best plan, I’ll stick with that company…even if they are a more than their competitor. And in a world where every bit of cash I can save counts, that’s saying a lot.

What companies have earned your customer loyalty?

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