Monday, December 28, 2009

New Year's Blues

I hate New Year's resolutions. To me, they take on the same level of seriousness as tarot cards or fad diets. Now goals, that's something I can get my head around. Here's why.

We don't take New Year's resolutions seriously. Who's still talking about their resolutions in July? Its simple. Resolutions have none of the hallmarks of a goal. They're not specific, they're rarely attainable, and they're hardly ever time bound.

So this year, I'm setting aside a few hours before Jan. 1 to do my quarterly goals review. I'll write New Year's goals, but you won't find me making any resolutions.

Here's a preview of my 2010 goals:

I will take better care of myself by doing at least three things for myself every day. At least one of these things will be health related, another will be family related, and the third will be related to my career goals. For example, today I will paint my toenails, plan a special activity with my husband, and set aside an hour of writing time.

What are your New Year's goals?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Learning to share

As the Jolly Old Elf is preparing to make an appearance at our house, I'm immersed in the time honored tradition of sorting through old toys to determine what we'll donate or throw away to make room for the new.

Every mother knows this is a task that's much easier to perform when the kids aren't looking. But that kind of defeats the purpose, doesn't it? I'm hoping my son learns about sharing in this process. My goal is that he'll choose some toys to give away to the needy--nice ones, still in good condition.

After all, isn't sharing the most important lesson we can teach during the holidays?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Better you than me

I hate when I think that way. I wish to be a better person, one who is both understanding and truly caring of her fellow beings. But when someone's kid is shrieking in the middle of Target...this thought does flit through my head. It's not that my kids are perfect - far, far from it! In fact, there are days when I wonder if the little monsters will ever behave like respectable human beings. And what I'm doing so wrong.

I recently received a picture from a family member whose toddler was sitting in the toilet. Not on. In. Again, I thought, "Oh, I'm glad that wasn't MY kid."

Do you ever have those type of thoughts?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Get a job

Someone said this to me recently. I was joking about how I'd like an intern to help me with my housework so I could have more time to play with my kids and write. I laughed it off at the time, but I shouldn't have.

The correct response: I already have one. Or two. Or three. Just as it's not cool to let a racist comment slide unnoticed, we shouldn't just accept sexism.

I've seen both sides of the mother story. I was a working mom when I had just one child and chose to stay home as our family grew. And at the time I chose to work, I had people make the comment, "Be a mother." This is exactly the opposite of the comment made to me recently, and it illustrates a glaring fact:

Women, we're damned if we do, damned if we don't. And society thinks it's OK to judge us in a way they'd never consider judging fathers. (They unfairly judge fathers in other ways, like "he shouldn't stay at home with the kids or be a Brownies leader.")

So, just to make me feel better, here's my snarky response to my former male co-worker who thinks I need a job to justify having help around the house:

The minute you can nurse my infant, feed and dress my children, start a load of laundry, interview sources, write an article, take the kids to the doctor, visit Santa, drop off my husband's dry cleaning, cook dinner, play trains, attend a play date, and get everyone bathed and to bed in a timely fashion, feel free to come over and judge my schedule. Until then, I'll be doing the best I can.

And I still think I could use an intern. So there.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The art of regifting

It's tacky. It's a sit-com joke, right? Perhaps sometimes. But every once in a while, regifting isn't so bad.

This Christmas, my dad wants a digital SLR camera. And he's in luck, because I upgraded this year. While it's hard to say goodbye to my first baby, my Nikon D50, it's a shame that she spends so much time collecting dust while I take her older sister out for spins around town.

So this Christmas, my dad's gonna unwrap the same present I did three years ago. And I think he'll be thrilled. It's a much bigger ticket item than we'd normally spend, and I can verify it's been lovingly cared for.

Plus, it's in the truest Christmas spirit: I love this camera still, but I want to share the love. That counts, right?

What do you think? Tasteful or tacky?

My overindulgence

I found out there is indeed a point where I've consumed too much dark chocolate almond bark. You'll be glad to know it takes significant effort to get there.

Here's a quick recipe for anyone interested:

1 cup very dark chocolate (over 70%) chopped into small pieces
1/2 c raw almonds
pinch large flake sea salt

Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Sprinkle chocolate onto parchment. Place in oven. Turn on to 325F. Wait 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven and smooth chocolate with spatula. Sprinkle with almonds, pressing down lightly to ensure they stick in the chocolate. Sprinkle with sea salt and cool slightly. Place in fridge to cool completely. Cut into SMALL pieces (that way you can eat more of them).

Monday, December 14, 2009

Food Insecurity

Now there's a political term for you. What does it even mean? I had to look it up. Apparently, being food insecure means you are either currently hungry, are on the cusp of becoming hungry or just really worried that you might not be able to buy enough food to feed your family.

That's a wide range. No wonder there's such a large number of Americans that fall into that range. Over 49 million.

At the same time, we - as a nation - are on track to have about 43% of our population fall into the obese category by 2018.

Local food pantries are completely bare. School programs have seen a rise in the number of children needing free lunches and breakfasts. Food stamp programs are seeing many additional (and highly educated) requests.

We have truly become the land of the haves and have-nots.

My daughter's school is hosting its annual holiday food drive. This is the third time in four months that we've donated nonperishables. I wish I could do more. I truly - deeply- wish the 22 million food insecure children had enough to eat each day. Hunger - especially in one of the wealthiest nations ever to exist on this planet - seems ridiculous. I wonder if there's more I can do.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Don't get sick, mom!

We've been a sick house for the last week, and no one was safe. And this time it was bad, the worst we've ever been through as a family.

We've all heard the stories from fellow parents, co-workers, and friends. The one that starts with, "One time everyone was sick, and I was standing around in my underwear cleaning up (fill in yucky mess here)."

I had plenty of those moments this week, and you're in luck, cause I really, really want to whine about them right now.

Because there's a simple rule when the family gets sick, and it's the same rule that applies the other 51 weeks of the year: Mommy is the caretaker.

It doesn't help that my husband's under a work crunch and has two cases due in court.

Now, I could detail the agonies of the last week with late nights, early mornings, a sudden deluge of laundry, and a water heater that chose a choice moment to die. Or I could get down to my point:

I'm a big believer the idea women need to find time to offer themselves the same care they offer others. But sometimes, you need to get others to take care of you.

You can bet that's factoring into my weekend plans right now.

The Waiting Game

My three-year-old best exemplifies what most of the rest of us are thinking. Her body will start to quiver and she'll shout, "But I REALLY want it!"

The wait for something truly important always seems horrendously long. Five minutes, three days, a month...dragging out a much-anticipated present, promotion or even interview makes for such harrowing thoughts. And I have to admit, there is a part of me that wants to shout just as much as my preschooler. But, I have learned that wanting does not mean I will actually get something. And my drive to accomplish a goal has been tempered - out of necessity - by some tiny fleck of patience.

I just hope I have enough (patience that is) for this next go-round of "I want!" Because this time there are real consequences to not achieving my goal.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Isn't that what life really is? A list of priorities. What will I do first - or what is most important to me today?

Everyone has theirs. And each list is individual. But I think there are some universals that tend to climb to the top. Those include family, friends, lifestyle and health.

I would love to hear how you juggle these priorities. Sometimes it's relatively easy. But - for me, at least - there are days when I can barely squeeze in half of what I know I should be doing.

How do you manage your list of priorities?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Poor sleep, poor decisions

There is now scientific evidence that proves it. When you don't sleep well, you struggle to make sound decisions. Any new mom could tell you that. I remember the time I thought it would be a good idea to eat a sandwich while nursing. Let's just say the dog and the living room floor ended up with most of the food.

The best defense against illness, weight gain and doing something completely stupid is getting enough sleep.

I hope to give myself the gift of eight glorious hours tonight. What will you do for yourself today?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Affordable health care

What makes health care affordable? Is it lower monthly premiums? A lower deductible? What about co-pays?

There are many fees even for those with health insurance. I want to know what Congress, big Pharma, doctors and health insurance companies are doing to mitigate costs and help you and I get the coverage we need.

What changes would you like to see come out of this health care reform session?

I want to know I can truly afford good, quality coverage.

Breastfeeding ... still

My 15 month old still loves breastfeeding. I get comments, funny looks, but hey, did I mention she likes it? But this article from USA Today makes me wonder, is breastfeeding a young toddler really such a bad thing?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


I had one of those moments two weeks ago. I was late. Three days late.

This would not be the ideal time for me to get pregnant. Which, I have to point out, is exactly why it would happen. I woke up each morning, torn between joy and hyperventilation associated with the mere thought of another child. Don't get me wrong, I love babies. Especially my own. But I've given away all my infant paraphernalia. And I need a bigger bar. Where would we put the baby? Would I stay home with this new child as I had my others?

These thoughts were the last I thought each night and the first I awakened to each morning. Until, on day four, I started my period.

I was disappointed.

I was relieved.

Have you had a similar experience? I hope you'll share your feelings with us.

How does it happen?

Babies have a lot to learn. And as they grow, it seems like the list of "need to knows" grows with them. Frankly, sometimes I feel a little overwhelmed by the responsibility. From the ABCs and counting to labeling body parts or wiping their own bottoms, the items range from "good to know" to "have to know before they go to school."

Miraculously, with attention and good habits, most of this stuff just ... happens. Now I'm not saying moms and dads don't put an incredible amount of work into this, but we don't have to build mini classrooms for our kids. We just need to adopt a teaching role and help them become good learners. After all, they're born with a natural curiosity.

Statistics show habits such as reading to your child help better prepare them for a lifetime of learning. In addition, we have countless teachable moments every day. For instance, my 4 year old helps cook sometimes, learning about how to follow directions. My toddler learns fine motor skills when we color together. And even picking up can be a teaching experience. Not only does it create a sense of self-discipline and responsibility, you can discuss letters, numbers, and colors as you do it. For example, "Can you hand be the red block next to the coffee table? And now can you pick up the book with the B on it?"

I've often said I'm not worried about whether my children are first—or last—to read, walk, or even become potty trained. I think children will help guide you down the right learning path for them as long as you're aware and prepared to teach. So keep watching for those teachable moments. You never know which ones will become the memories they remember for a lifetime.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Job search

Can I just say searching for a job is NOT fun? The worst part is that my degree is in marketing. Yeah, I get how to promote something (in this case me), but I do not enjoy it. I think in a lot of ways, selling oneself is the hardest part of the equation.

Reality is stalking my checkbook, so I better get my act together and do some more selling.

Monday, November 23, 2009


I've often fancied myself a writer/editor type who jumped at the career change to freelance to be able to spend more time with my two young children. But this premise leaves me with a few life balance quandaries.

In the abstract, the hierarchy is simple: family, freelance work, housework. But the reality is a little different for a couple of reasons.

The first, quite simply, is that the housework interferes. Taking care of the kids and he spouse requires a fair amount of maintenance housework—at the very least, daily kitchen duties and laundry. And the dining room table needs to be cleaned to make a space for board games and crafts. And how can we possibly make a train track if the carpet hasn't been cleared and vacuumed?

Add to that my natural aversion to working amongst a mess—something I've had to simply overcome, because the alternative means I'll never get anything done.

My writing life can be just as big a mess as my house. First off, I'm a split personality, craving the money producing freelance work and the time to enjoy writing and editing my fiction. I need the freelance work, because there's something properly fulfilling about getting paid for something I like to do. But I also believe that achieving success in the fiction market requires keeping regular hours as a fiction writer. In essence, writing and editing daily. Treating fiction as my business.

That can be a real leap for me, because I often feel I'm stealing time for a "hobby" (god, I hate that word) because I'm unpublished. And wouldn't it be more productive to be cleaning house right now?

Well, I'll admit this is all mostly rambling because my core plan remains the same. I will still opt for writing over laundry often enough to keep me balanced and hope my spouse can forgive me when my absentminded approach to chores means I've accidentally stained his favorite college t-shirt (yes, really. Sorry, honey!)

What are you balancing in your life?

Having a good time?

Between you and me, the holidays can get a little tricky around our house. A few reasons, but mostly it amounts to high expectations.

Every year we have a minimum of two Thanksgivings and three Christmases, followed directly by me and my husband's wedding anniversary and our (shared) birthday. Yup, same birthday. What were our parents thinking?

But in the midst of all of this revelry, what really gets us down are the expectations—our own and others. I want the house perfect. I want to make everyone happy and try to see as many relatives as possible over the holidays. I want to cook a fabulous meal served at a beautiful table with the perfect table setting. Makes me tired just thinking about it.

But it doesn't have to be that way. Who says you can't serve up a good old fashioned bowl of chili for Christmas? Didn't God invent paper plates for a reason? And maybe it's OK if the house isn't dusted and the baseboards don't get washed, just this once.

I mean, after all, this is supposed to be fun, right?

Not feeling it

It's one of those days. You know what I'm talking about. Everything's a little off. Too little sleep, too much to do....Yes, yes, I know it's the story of most of our lives seemingly into perpetuity. But there are days when the lists and needy people become overwhelming, which is why we started this site.

So here are the three things I plan to do for myself today:

1. Work on my novel edit. It will only get done if I keep up the momentum
2. Take the dog for a walk
3. Go to bed - and hopefully sleep! - early

What are you doing for yourself today?

Friday, November 20, 2009

My thank you list

Portia wrote recently about items for which she's thankful. As my freelance work picks up again, there are a few items that this work-from-home mom is extremely glad to have on hand.

  • Our play structure
  • Baseballs and a bat
  • Soccer ball
  • Chalk
  • Window clings
  • Play-Dough
  • Random small lizards and dinosaurs
  • Beads and string
  • PBS Kids
  • Crayons, scissors, construction paper and glue sticks

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A red letter day

For the past year, there have been rumors that the United States Postal Service may cancel its Saturday service. I know, I'm not sure I can cope with this type of change either.

We all know the USPS is strapped for cash. They've been competing not only with package delivery firms like FedEx and UPS, they also have to deal with e-mail and digital media. So the once-proud mail service has been marginalized.

Or has it?

Have you stopped to think what the mail service actually does every day? This much-maligned institution collects my from your house. For the price of one stamp (which has definitely become more expensive in recent years), postal workers take it to a nearby location, sort it, put it on airplanes and then deliver it to the addressee within three days. That's amazing. My daughter and I read the Little House on the Prairie series recently. In The Long Hard Winter, the Ingalls received mail once all winter long. For those of you who have forgotten, that winter lasted seven months. And we complain about three days.

I think there are times we forget just how much we have to be thankful for. So in the spirit of the holidays, I wanted to say thank you to the USPS. They may not do the job as efficiently as we'd always like, but they still do a pretty darn good job.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What matters most

Warning: Rant in progress

When I was a kid, there was a family down the block from us with children close to my age. They seemed like the perfect family: two parents, two kids, a girl and a boy. My brother and I used to play with the kids, although I can't recall their names anymore. They're one of the many things that have vanished from my mind with the passage of time.

One thing I do remember, though, is how their family fell apart.

This seemingly normal family collapsed so suddenly it was shocking. The mother decided she'd married and had children to young, and left to "find herself."

First off, I feel like there was a period in the late 80's where this happened a lot. I'm not sure if that's just an impression I hold because of this family or whether it was a trend to leave your family.

But as an adult, I can't help finding myself condemning that woman. If she needed to leave her marriage, then I support her. But to leave your children—in my opinion, unconscionable. Because those children didn't ask for their mother to have children before she was ready. They weren't clambering at her conscious before—or apparently, even after—their birth.

Dads often get the bad rap for ditching a family. Worse is when they leave their families and start new ones, abandoning their children as if they were the leftover sofa that no one wanted to claim after the divorce. But woman can be just as guilty of this.

No one could ever know what they're getting into when they have children. The lifelong commitment, the love, the responsibility. And anyone who enters into the state too lightly deserves a good old fashioned wake-up call: It's not about you anymore.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bad role models

There are quite a few people that fall into this category, unfortunately. I do not want my girls cavorting like Paris Hilton or breeding fighting dogs like Michael Vick. Those people have made some truly unfortunate public choices. The list is long, and it concerns me deeply that children are so intimately involved in others' missteps. Still, the worst overall category is politicians.

Let me be clear: the idea of public services is one of the best you can bestow upon your kids. By far. Who doesn't want kids that give of their time and self to make the world a better place? Good citizenship is something the school system and parents should be teaching every day.

But the pandering, sidestepping and doublespeak that actually go along with holding - and keeping - office is disgusting. I said it. It's disgusting. Neither side has a lily white rap sheet; in fact, they seem determined to lob the blame - and bad deeds - back and forth. Case in point: Republicans are now reneging on a promise they made under the Bush administration to not filibuster judicial nominees. The reasoning? Sen. Jeff Sessions (R - Alabama) said he no longer feels obligated by that agreement. What I heard in that remark is I don't want to play by the rules I set when I'm not winning.

I don't let me kids act that way. Do you?

Monday, November 16, 2009

The stash

My kids found it, much to my chagrin. My stash of "extras." Maybe you have one, too. I'm talking about the place you store items that you don't use all the time. It could be your chocolate horde or possible kettle corn (as it was in my case). Whatever it is you choose to squirrel away, there'll come a time someone will find it. This raises a dilemma: do you share or do you simply move it when no one's looking?

Giving thanks

In the spirit of the season, I've decided to follow the trend and write a list of what I'm thankful for. These are not in any particular order.

• Toilet seat covers in public restrooms
• The delete button
• Preschool games on my iPod
• Taco Bell Fire Sauce, because, let's face it, the hot was never hot enough
• Caffeine
• Cereal malt beverages
• A democratic executive and legislative branch
• Baby gates
• Disposable diapers
• Air travel

Feel free to add your own in the comments section.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Read the labels—it will scare you

When I got pregnant with my oldest, my husband became a label reader. No nitrates, no nitrites, no MSG or a host of other ingredients we'd researched. We started buying free range eggs (have you ever noticed the shells are thicker? Happier chickens, I think) and milk without the growth hormones. It was all on a mission to be more aware of what we were eating. Because labels lie.

Let me repeat that. Labels lie.

It happens all the time. The front of the label says something vague, like, "less sodium." You might grab that, thinking you've done due diligence and you're consuming less salt. But that might not even be true if you haven't read the chart on the back of the label.

Those daily value percentages are important. Just the other day I was tricked into buying something because I didn't read the chart on the back. I got it home and groaned. Why would I consume a chicken broth with 25 percent of my daily value of sodium when there's one that only contains three percent? How can the 25 percent one really call itself less sodium? Since none of us probably eat chicken broth straight, it's likely an ingredient in another dish.

Let's take chicken tacos, for example. There's likely salt in your chicken broth, your cheese, your taco shells, and even your taco sauce. Put it all together and one taco might give you all the salt you're supposed to have for an entire day. Yikes! Add a side dish, like beans or rice, and your Mexican feast just became high blood pressure waiting to happen.

Bottom line: This stuff is confusing. And it can be darned hard to find the healthy in the lying aisles of the supermarket. But what better gift can you give yourself than being a little more discriminating about what you put into your one and only body?

Friday, November 13, 2009

How much TV is too much?

According to my daughter's teacher, a mere six-and-a-half hours of screen time each week starts to have a detrimental impact on children's social skills. I, of course, had to research this on my computer. I did not verify that statistic, but I found something even more disturbing: A Nature Conservancy report found many children spend 6.5 hours a day face-planted in Facebook, Xbox, television, a text-tablet or some other device.

Is it any wonder one-third of American children are overweight or obese? I don't know how it works in your school system. In mine, the kids still get PE. Once a week. That's simply not enough. We need kids who are moving more and eating better. I'm not saying this is easy to change, but I know it must be done.

We know some kids who have been banned from their Nintendo Wii for two months. They are doing things like playing outside, reading more and spending time with classmates. Yes, it can be more challenging for their parents, but on a whole, the entire family is happier and healthier.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thank you, veterans

When I think of veterans, I always think of my grandpa. He served in World War II, and the stories of his experiences in the war are more urban legend than fact, garbled misinformation and half truths passed around the family because my grandpa never spoke of the more exotic rumors. Here are some of my favorites:

1. Grandpa was a fighter pilot.

2. Grandpa was a spy for the underground in France.

3. While he was a spy for the underground in France, he got a nun named Suzanne pregnant. Two interesting side notes: When my grandfather came back to the United States and my mother was born, he named my mother Suzanne. Also, the French Suzanne did exist—I saw a letter she wrote my grandpa after the war.

These stories may be entirely false or hold small grains of truth about grandpa's service overseas. But he did once tell me a story, the only one I know to be true. When he finished telling it, he was crying, and I never had the nerve to ask about other stories. It goes like this:

When grandpa was stationed in England, he was a truck driver who drove those huge transport trucks with Army supplies on them. He stopped one night at a pub to eat. His truck was outside. A fight broke out in the bar, and my grandfather ignored it and continued eating—until the bartender accidentally clubbed my grandfather on the head.

So grandpa was arrested, and somehow in this mess he ended up in front of General Eisenhower, who sent my grandpa back for his truck. He drove General Eisenhower's military car that appears in the Presidential Library in Abilene, KS.

The next time he met General Eisenhower, he said, was several months later. General Eisenhower asked where the rest of my grandfather's squad was, and my grandfather had to tell him they were all dead.

Whether my grandfather was in England, France, or Timbuktu during the war, whether he really met Eisenhower or flew as a fighter pilot or was merely a truck driver, he, like countless veterans will be remembered today.

Thank you.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Romeo was a bad friend

Who did you call after your first kiss? When you met Mr. Right or when you got engaged? Was that person a good friend? Do you know her still?

Being a friend is a lifelong job, and some people are better at it than others. Take good ole Romeo, for instance. Self-absorbed, always talking about his girlfriends ... Sometimes these behaviors are merely annoying, but some have the power to fracture even the strongest friendships. Here's a quick list of friendship faux pas:

1. Always talking about yourself. We all go through rough patches where we need support. And in those times it's natural to lean more heavily on our friends—as long as we're around for their rough patches too. And provided our rough patches are just that—patches. Not a unhealthy habit of nagging or whining.

2. Getting competitive. I'm fairly goal-oriented, but I quickly learned it's much healthier and more productive to compete against your own personal best than to turn a friend into a competitor. It's hard to brag about your accomplishments when you've just trod on your friends to get there.

To me, this also means celebrating your friends' successes and victories with a sincere and joyful spirit—the same spirit you want them to have when your big say comes.

3. Failing to follow up or follow through. Some friendships languish simply because no one reaches out to keep the friendship strong. I've been guilty of this. Getting absorbed in solitary projects and waking up to an empty room and no plans on the social calendar. Sometimes we need to make the effort—take the risk—and reach out.

As a side note, I recently watched a bromance that highlights some of the funnier aspects of finding—and keeping—friends. Watch it with a friend.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Part of your world

As I mentioned last week, I've been participating in the insanity that is NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month. And as I've been reaching for that daily word count goal—and the bigger goal of finishing a book—I've learned an important lesson about writing: It's a lot easier when you immerse yourself in the world you've created. Here's how I've been doing it:

1. I keep my laptop in the room I'm in, open, plugged in, and ready. And if the children suddenly become involved in a project, I can slip in a good five or 10 minutes of writing.

2. I think about my characters all day. I try to imagine how I'm going to solve the knots I created.

3. I write sentences in my head and try to jot them down on paper or on the computer as soon as I think of them.

It's fun to become involved in someone else's life, a place where you have total control. It's the chance to forget all of your problems and create ones for others. And here's nothing more satisfying then successfully solving the incredible messes your mind conjures.

Communication break down

Also known as an argument. Or worse, a fight.

My husband and I were there recently. We were both tired, there was too much left to do and we were not talking to each other. You know, when you get that sinking feeling that occurs before one of you blurts something out, something you probably wouldn't say if the circumstances were just slightly different (read: sane).

Couples are going to argue; the key is how you do it. I think we all mess it up at least some of the time. What's your strategy for such tenses times? Have a story that showcases your missteps? How about your triumphant ability to overcome little - or big - squabbles?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Entertaining Aussie style

Back in the mid 90s I spent nearly seven months in Australia. Those were good times.

One of the best lessons I learned is how easy a get-together can be. Granted, most of the people knew their neighbors - that's completely unthinkable in many American suburbs - and they'd simply call over the fence, "Wanna have a barbie?" No one cared what the house looked like or what was in the fridge. The neighbors would bring over a few beers, maybe a bottle of wine (which I appreciated, never having learned to like beer) and something for the grill.

It's a lesson I've taken to heart. Most of us have too much to do. Most of us do not have a tidy house. But most of us do not see our friends often enough.

Which matters more? A clean house or your friends? What you eat or that you eat with people you love?

We try to have friends over often. This does not always work. But I will say the more spontaneous the invitation, the better time we have.

Presents in your presence

I'm working on a theory here I think you'll appreciate. It goes something like this:

We're so focused on the next chore we forget to say to ourselves, "Well done."

And it's something we should say more often. Not just for the big stuff: reaching a weight loss goal, completing a work project, or planning the perfect party for your little one's birthday. I think we should give ourselves many well dones every day. For doing that load of laundry when we really wanted to sit down and have a few moments of silence and a cup of tea. For driving to the further away grocery store to find the lower sodium canned tomatoes. And for making that nutritious meal for our family at the end of a long day when we really just wanted to pull through the drive through.

So I say, well done to all of us. Imagine me patting your back and I'll imagine you're patting mine too.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Mulch much?

I've got a compost in the back yard, and I don't use it as much as I like. It feels good to take the kitchen and yard waste—coffee grounds, Halloween pumpkins, and leaves—and put them back into the earth. It also makes an awesome science demonstration for my son, who likes to peek in and watch his Jack-o-lantern wither and shrivel as it makes a slow transformation back into dust.

It seems to me we'd all be better off if we could mulch in our minds, too. All of those bad thoughts, the worries, the stresses, the unkind words and thoughts that overwhelm us—what if we had a space we could put them and they would shrivel away too, only to become energy later for more positive pursuits?

Wouldn't that be something?

Overcoming self doubt

I have a question. Who really cares if I don't meet a goal? Me. Who else? No one. So why don't I just promote myself better and stop worrying? Because failure is scary.

Do you feel like that sometimes, too? I'm not good at failing. Making mistakes is sometimes the only way one actually learns a lesson. I don't berate my kids when they trip and fall. So why am I not willing to give myself the same leeway?

I'd love to hear your strategies for overcoming doubts and fears. We all have them. But some of us are better at facing those fears than others.

Forgive my sleep obsession ...

But in light of daylight saving time (and how it's effected the sleeping schedules around our house!) Here's a gentle reminder about why we need more snooze time:

The fast and the furious

Instead of several small daily gifts to myself this month, I've chosen a single, larger prize: several hours each day of writing time. And the ultimate goal: a book at the end of a month.

If it sounds crazy, it is. But enter 100,000 of my closest friends, and you'll see I'm not the only one giving myself this gift this month. November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and in my humble opinion it's the most fun you'll ever have working your ass off.

This is my second year participating, and the experience has taught me a few things.

1. Writing faster comes with practice. I started training for my writing goals a few months ago to get my brain in shape.

2. Writing is a gift to yourself. Because it's about expressing the thoughts and feelings we don't get a chance to express every day.

3. NaNoWriMo encourages good writing habits. 10 p.m. at night? Doesn't matter, you haven't met your writing goal. Tired? You can sleep in December, when you've finished your first draft. The point: I know lots of published authors who still have day jobs. And they do get up at 5:30 to write before work or pick up their pens at the end of the day.

So, if you're game, head on over to NaNoWriMo. And don't worry too much about your word count. Just remember, signing up is your promise to do something for yourself every day.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Life before kids

Did you have one?

I know I did. I just don't remember it. Somewhere between the time I graduated from college and took my first job, I had a lifetime of fun before the baby bug bit. Hard.

When I decided I was ready for a baby I was insatiable. I bugged my spouse mercilessly. Admittedly, we'd been married already for six years, but I'm like a dog with a bone. Determined.

Looking back, I can't remember what I did after work. I remember thinking how weird it was that I didn't have to study. I even remember late nights at the office and bringing work home. One memorial day I was even called into the office to proof something.

But frankly, it's scary, I hope I remember more about my years at home with the kids then I do about the years before they came.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I am not your broom

I don't expect the babysitter to clean my house, but I expect my house to be clean for the babysitter.

Our job assignment is the same: Take care of the kids. But the reality is a little different.

OK, back to mopping.

Paper magic

My kids love paper. Line, unlined, heavy card stock or (usually) stolen from my printer -- this medium is cut, colored, scribbled, folded, taped and glued into an array of wonderful new items. Currently my kitchen table is littered with a beautifully designed paper bag (the two sides taped together) and two ink drawings: a monster and a woman are placed haphazardly near one chair.

I love that my children are following their muse and making items that show their creativity. It's fabulous to watch their minds work through problems and develop individual solutions.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Work and Kids

How do you handle this often combustible combination? I choose to work from home. Usually - especially when both children are at school - the choice is fabulous. But when I get a big project that overwhelms my few hours of kid-free time....Well, that's when I dream of an office.

I've been at home with my children for nearly seven years. Sounds like forever when I write it down here. For the past year and a half, there have been days when I dreamed of re-creating my professional life: stepping into those killer heels and striding confidently out the door for a full day of delegating and Excel spreadsheets. But when the reality of actually leaving my children - all day, five days a week - hit, I sat down in my bathroom and cried.

I felt like the umbilicus was being cut for a final time. Not only would someone else do most of the raising of my children, I would be so busy doing laundry, errands and dinner, I'd miss even more of their days. My favorite quote (paraphrased here) about being a parent is that the days are long and the years are short. Already, my oldest is in school full days and moving quickly toward her tween years. My youngest child has left babyhood far behind as she runs to keep up with her sister. In a few more years, neither child will actively seek out my company.

There are days perspective is difficult, if not impossible. Kids can be intractable, annoying and dead-set on keeping you from completing a task. Still, for me, the best option is to remain at home with my girls. The one regret I will not have is spending enough time with them while they were young.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The first few words

I've never met a person who doesn't want to write a book. Anyone who's ever tried knows the agony of sitting down and facing that blank, empty page and waiting for inspiration to come.

Between you and me, I find it's the first words that are the hardest. In fact, when I was primarily writing magazine articles I used to dump all of my best quotes onto the page before I ever started writing just to have that sense of having something on the page.

Here's the truth. If you can get the first 100 words down, you'll probably find yourself so caught up in the story you can't help but finish.

I'm very aware of this when I write. Sometimes I watch my word count and tick off milestones in my head. But eventually, the story takes over, and I look up in surprise and find that hundreds of words have passed me by while I stepped into another world.

It's a good feeling, and I recommend it next time you're stuck.

What gets you over the hump?

Thursday, October 29, 2009


It's October. At least I think it is until I look outside. Then it might as well be December or January. Or February, March or April. Yes, I live in a place where winter can grip hard. But usually not this early.

When I looked out the window just after noon today snow was falling lightly. The large, fat flakes drifted lazily and looked lovely. An hour later, I was no longer enjoying the view: swirls of thick snow fell in angry heaps over my drooping, brown landscaping. The temperature tonight is supposed to be in the teens. Did I mention it's still October?

So I admit it, I like the idea of winter more than the actuality of it. I'm not ready to pull out the flannel sheets and buy another cord of wood. But apparently Mother Nature has other ideas.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

10 things men do that drive women nuts

OK, I write this list with hesitation because the tables can be turned—too easily—but there are a few funny things men do that drive us, pardon the phrase, batshit crazy (like it's a far trip for me!) So for your entertainment here's a tongue-in-cheek look at a few nutty behaviors our menfolk sometimes exhibit:

1. Leave the laundry on top of the hamper—even when it's empty.

2. Tools must stay out until the completion of the project ... three months from now.

3. Must have remote/iPod/Blackberry/cell phone in hand and be fiddling with it during any conversation and insist they're listening ... then ask you to repeat yourself when you ask their opinion

4. Adjust the seat/steering wheel/mirror in the family car so you can't reach the peddles. A sister behavior to this is always tuning the car radio to sports. My blood pressure rises every time I start the car.

5. Can go to bed mad in the middle of a fight and wake up perfectly happy and wondering why you're upset the next morning. (Actually, shouldn't complain about this one. That's pretty easygoing, and a little pouting elicits a nice apology.)

6. Uses every pan in the house when they're cooking. Then becomes distracted by something on the TV or computer after dinner and forgets to clean up.

7. Clothes—his, the kid's—end up where ever they were taken off. If you're lucky enough that they decide to take them to the hamper, see No. 1.

8. Are always about 15 minutes later than they said they'd be. Then watch you impatiently if you've wisely waited to start dinner until they've actually arrived home.

9. Kibitz in the kitchen. I don't care how you like to do it. I'm cooking. Probably halfheartedly, but hey, it's on. There's still enough older sibling in me to get snarky if you offer advice.

10. Never smell a poopy diaper. Feces could be leaking down the child's leg, and they will swear you have a super sniffer and they never caught a whiff. On the plus side, a little prodding usually elicits an offer to change said poopy diaper.

Of course, all of these trespasses are highly exaggerated. As I like to say, you marry someone because the most annoying thing they do really doesn't bother you that much.

Now it's your turn. What about men—or women!—drive you nuts? All comments welcome.

To know or not to know - personally - your kids' pediatrician

Depending on the size of your city, this may not be possible. I don't live in a hugely populated area. We have a few pediatric practices, and I know more medical professionals now than I did when we lived in Dallas-Fort Worth.

When your child is sick, I mean really sick, is it beneficial to know your child's doctor socially? I do. But I worry about taking advantage of that relationship. When is it OK to call his or her home number? How sick does your child need to be?

This etiquette was not taught. I don't have a good answer. But if my child doesn't improve markedly soon, I may just see how friendly the doc is when he gets an early morning phone call.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Messing around

Have you ever seen how a 4 year old cleans his room? It's a little work punctuated between long pauses of play. It would be amusing if you weren't on a mission to clean the house.

Most of the time when I'm cleaning the children are already asleep or they're making messes in another part of the house. And we all know there's a hearty amount of work that accumulates without anyone making any messes: dishes, laundry, dust, mold. We're household warriors, striking against the evil invaders that seek to make our homes cluttered and unwelcoming.

My gift to myself today is to ignore the clutter. I've got another mission—literary. The dishes can soak, the laundry can linger, and I'll be fighting other battles.

Live to fight another day, I say.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Stress over finances leads to more domestic violence

I know. It's not really surprising. But it is really sad.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) states that 54% of its callers said they had a negative change in their household finances in the last year. Bills pile up. No money is coming in to pay them. Where do you turn?

Stress comes in a variety of forms. While Harvard professor Dodson once said some stress is good, too much will hamper focus and productivity...and lead to more angry outbursts. If you need help, ask for it. Here's the NDVH's number: 1−800−799−SAFE (7233).

Great expectations

It can be healthy to have high expectations for yourself if you treat it like a goal and it energizes you. But it can be a real problem when you hold others to your high standard.

For example, we were recently on a three-and-a-half hour flight with our 4 year old and our 14 month old. I frankly expected disaster. My experience is that ages 1 to 2 are the most difficult flying time because they don't get what's going on and they can't sit still.

It actually went fine. But I suspect it was more my low expectations than anything else.

The worst thing we can do is to build up experiences we have no control over—large family vacations, plans with others that we make even years in advance. Then when things don't go according to plan, the fallout can feel devestating—wasn't this supposed to be the experience of a lifetime?

I don't know about you, but I'm always much happier when things are more fun, more pleasant, more exciting than I expected. So I'm gonna focus on keeping reasonable expectations where others are involved and save the really great ones for myself.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The face of the flu

With so much flu-steria going around, I thought I'd mention we have it. Well, my kids have it. High fever, headache, chills, little appetite and a general miserable feeling. According to the doctor, this is a relatively light case.

This is our fifth day and it's not pleasant, but I have to admit I was fearful of much worse. As the pediatrician pointed out, this bug's highly contagious: many, many people have it. More people have this strain than get the regular flu. So, he said, it's not surprising the higher number of complications resulting from the illness. Yes, that makes me feel a bit better -- my kids are healthy, we take our daily vitamins and amped up on immune-boosting supplements, but I still worry. Who wouldn't? Children don't have full developed immune systems. But the old prescription of rest and fluids is still the best way to fight this virus.

Anyone up for a popscicle and a movie?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Life 3.0

There's an oft misquoted and unconfirmed statistic that claims most people will have five or more careers in their lifetimes. I've always found that interesting for a number of reasons: First, because for most of my professional life I worked for the same company (and I still do freelance work for them). Also, because I've always had a dream to parlay my freelance writing and editing career into a novel-writing career.

With the current state of the economy, I wonder if the real number of jobs a person has in his or her lifetime will climb. Several of my friends have shifted their career goals, leaving the magazine industry for other (hopefully more stable) careers.

Just as manufacturing jobs have moved overseas and certain careers have disappeared (what do you think former typesetters are doing now?), I wonder if the world of print is bracing for a similar exodus. Some of us will go on to related fields, writing for Web sites, iPhone applications, and the like. Others will go back to school and seek their next career life in a more stable profession, like law or accounting.

Think I'm wrong? Could be. But I know in the last year I made 75 percent of my freelance income off of projects that will never appear in print.

When the limelight fades

Did Falcon Heene really pretend to be in a balloon for publicity? I am really hoping it isn't so. And if the family did make a point of wasting resources and causing the public to fear for a small child, well....I can't say what I really think about that here. What I will say is have care with your wishes.

I'm pretty sure Jon and Kate didn't intend for their marriage to implode so publicly. I'm pretty sure they didn't expect the smear campaign in the many tabloids that continue to drive their notoriety.

Fame has an underbelly people rarely consider. But they should. We as a country seem to love to build people up and then tear them - piece by piece - off the pedestal we made. The path to legend status is strewn with multitudes looking for their 15 minutes. I wonder, if you asked now, how many would say the limelight was worth it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Daily constitutional

That's what people used to call a walk. People have known for centuries that walking keeps you fit, healthy and helps you sleep at night. But for many Americans, in our suburban-sprawl, get-on-the-highway-to-go-to-work lifestyles, walking is no longer an easy and accessible activity. I say it should be.

Even 10 minutes a day improves circulation. A quick walk can improve your mood, too. Yes, I know how jam-packed days are. I know there simply isn't time. But I say make the time. It's for your health and mental well-being.

So my gift to myself today is a walk. I hope to do 30 minutes. That's ambitious. But it'll also keep me fit. And that's worth a lot.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


I'm sick, and it's not the flu. Well it is, in a sense. I'm sick of hearing about the flu.

Before I had kids, I got a flu shot when they were available. If they were out, I didn't worry. I'm young. I'm healthy.

Once I had children, the recommendation changed. It was more important to get the shot, and I've conscientiously done that every year.

Except this year. The world is in a panic. That milder, less of a threat flu that no one was prepared for last year, has turned into the germ equivalent of Armageddon. There's nary a flu shot to be had in Kansas, which leaves my toddler one shot shy of the two recommended doses for children under two.

Fine. We're careful, we keep our kids home when they're sick, and the other kids at the preschool stay home when they're sick too. We're washing our hands more often, but it doesn't produce panic in my heart the way it does for some.

To answer a few questions that have been posed to me from those experiencing heart palpitations over this, consider this your open-ended response:

• No, I'm not going to hole up in your house if there's an outbreak. I think my house is just as safe as yours.

• No, I haven't called the pediatrician today to see if they have the swine flu yet. I'll get it when it's available, and I'll know they have it because IT WILL SAY SO ON THEIR WEB SITE.

• Yes, I've heard some people are getting sick this year and they don't know what it is. I can tell you conclusively almost every time my kids have been sick I haven't been sure exactly what they had, because the symptoms are so generic: fever, vomiting, coughing, etc. Most of the time it doesn't need a physician's intervention so I don't worry about it.

Bottom line: If you're freaking out, I'm not joining your hysteria hour. I'd rather have a glass of wine. But really, knock yourself out.

OK, grumpiness over. Feel free to resume your normal programming, and sorry for the rant.

Reading Votes for Women

This former managing editor targets exactly how it feels to want a career and home life.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Growing up - just not now

Extended adolescence. Seriously, it has a name. Kids today stay kids for longer. They jump from job to job, go on long, exotic vacations, live at home after college. This is the new norm for twenty-somethings.

According to a USA Today article, "Recent findings published by the American Sociological Association and based on U.S. Census data show a sharp decline in the percentage of young adults who have finished school, left home, gotten married, had a child and reached financial independence, considered typical standards of adulthood. In 2000, 46% of women and 31% of men had reached those markers by age 30, vs. 77% of women and 65% of men at the same age in 1960."

The big question I want answered is whether this is healthy. The jury is still out. But with life expectancy of 100 for a child born in the year 2000, I'm not sure delaying your responsible years is all bad. After all, experiences - of all sorts - do shape a long at he or she does grow up. Eventually.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Babying the baby

When your kids start fighting, do you have a tendency to blame the oldest?

Yeah, it's my instinct too. But I grew up as the older child, and I'm well acquainted with the tricks and tools the youngest will use to work their wiles on parental units.

Even so, I sometimes catch myself babying my baby. It's not good for her. My son always rises to the occasion when I set appropriate expectations. But it's more of a struggle with her.

She's the baby, the girl, and the stubborn one. So she needs more structure—not less.

Have you noticed we have a forgotten generation of kids out there? Ones who never learned to make their own decisions or move out of mom and dad's basement?

I believe it starts here.

A little babying is OK once in a while--both kids enjoy an extra dose of mommying still. But, as is oft said, their smiles of achievement always come when we offer them roots and wings.

The great pumpkin (patch)

Cool breezes, leaves on the ground, and big, orange pumpkins growing on the vine. Yes, it's the day we go to the pumpkin patch. Our admission pays for a hayride, a pumpkin to take home with us (carving is in our near future), a huge "fun" slide, corn maze and petting zoo. The petting zoo consists of goats - they do not smell good.

This is an event my kids look forward to all year. It's one of those activities that my oldest is about to outgrow, which makes it even more special to go together this one last year. The hardest part of watching my child go is the blase way she treats many of the outings that once brought her so much joy and wonder. And I want to ask her to keep some of her opinions to herself: her younger sib still finds the utmost joy in running through the dirty rows, looking for just the right gourd to bring home. Like most everything else in my life, I'm finding this, too, is a balancing act. I must let my oldest explore her growing identity - which is completely separate from me - while still nurturing (and loving) those moments with my younger child.

Whoever said parenting was easy?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Balloons and a glowdeo

This year, we've made a commit: Tonight is the night we finally go to the Albuquerque International Balloon Festival. What, you ask? The Balloon Fiesta. Hundreds - if not thousands - of hot air balloons fill the skies with amazing shapes and colors. This is the big time.

Tonight is a kid favorite: the glowdeo. Hot air is shot into the balloons. But this isn't just any old hot air. It's colored, and it makes the balloons - you guessed it - glow. And bonus (did you need a bonus?): fireworks. My kids are still young enough to find the entire event fascinating. And what is more fun than spending an evening with your rapturous kids?

The backpack is packed; the snacks, drinks, changes of clothes and coats are all waiting. Tonight is girls' night. And we're going to the glowdeo.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Goals—and upping the ante

It's that time. I've gotta review my goals again. I admit, I like having something on my calendar that says I'm gonna do something—even if it never happens. Because I'm oh so into the plan. Just ask my husband. If I don't have an itinerary, I'm a little adrift in the day.

For me, the hard part of goal setting is balance. How can you hit the goal that will both challenge and excite? What I mean is, it can't be too easy. If they're too accomplishable, I find myself doing just enough to satisfy the plan and quitting.

If I make my goals too lofty, they're impossible to achieve and they have the worst effect. They provoke guilt, shame, and frustration.

That's why days like these are so important. I can look at the goals I didn't meet and renegotiate with myself to find the right time and the right level of effort to inspire. Then I can look forward to the moment I can check the item off my to-do list.

What are your goals?

The Daily Log

Any time something's out of whack with my kids, I start a daily log. Are you sleeping less? Eating something you shouldn't? What has changed that makes you so cranky, unhappy (fill in the appropriate adjective for your child here).

I don't enjoy it; in fact, I'm a pretty poor logbook keeper. But the exercise typically does help me find something to work with. Which is why I keep coming back to it.

We used the log a year-and-a-half ago to help pinpoint what was causing my daughter's eczema (cow's milk). Now we're using it to try to understand why my daughter is so prone to melt downs. According to a psychologist friend, something as small as a shorter free play time can wreak havoc with a small child's psyche.

The part I find most mystifying is that the solution is typically right there, within my grasp - within my day - if I'd only been paying enough attention in the first place. And that's what the log does; I have to pay very close attention to my children. Very close.

The point is: shouldn't I have been doing so all along?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Screening screen time

When I had my older daughter nearly seven years ago, I simply knew we'd spend hours together reading, doing puzzles and other educational activities and visiting friends. TV - and videos - were not something to worry about.

Then I had the second. This child is a couch potato. She is happiest when the TV is on. A distant second is climbing in a tree. Or making mud pies (an absolute favorite activity of mine at her age).

My concern now is how to limit the time she watches TV. I work more than I ever did when her sister was this age. She is in preschool - all 12 hours - for enrichment and socialization. But it's the time when I'm on deadline that truly worries me. How did this happen? My goal is to come up with strategies that are as fun as TV (my daughter's laughing at me as I write this, I'm sure).

Here are a few of our best activities:
1.Beading - while I hate the tiny plastic colors that end up whirring through my vacuum, this is a great fine motor skill and we have lovely bracelets and necklaces
2. Baking - bread, pies, cakes. I love that my girls are learning math AND learning to feed themselves.
3. Painting - I admit it. I hate paints of any kind. Oh, the mess! But my kids love them. And I do end up with some smashing masterpieces.
4. Gak and slime - it's gooey and gross. What more do I really need to say?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Big boys do cry

My son is 4, and he is sensitive. It's a trait I love and admire in my husband, a skill that makes him gentle with animals and children. But I haven't learned yet to be the mom of a crier.

Because, let's admit it, our society is not very accepting of boys who cry. And it bothers me. Why should my daughter be able to express her feelings but not my son?

I've fumbled about with this for a while. When a boy from Donovan's class pushed him in the swimming pool at a birthday party, I let the boy's mother con my son out of crying with a string of banter that distracted him from the intentional injury her son inflicted. And I regretted it later, wishing I knew how to better soothe my son and offer his support to calm himself without reinforcing the behavior.

This is one of the toughest tasks I've tackled so far. Because the crying can be, frankly, annoying. This morning at the community center he cried because he was sword fighting with his balloon tiger and the tiger became separated from his leash. Donovan was so distressed we removed to the bathroom and then, when he couldn't calm himself, to the car to head for home. There's a special sinking feeling as you do that walk of shame out of a building. "What did I do wrong?" you think to yourself.

I'm a book person, so my first step is to head to the bookstore to learn the right coping methods to help my sensitive child thrive. I need the tools to feel in control. But I also want to act responsibly and remember, there's nothing wrong with my child. He just needs my help to deal with the high stimulation of the world around him.

Retail maven

I don't know if you have this person in your family: the one (usually) female who buys stuff. Constantly. Because it's on sale.

Now I'm not talking about items you might want or need. I'm talking about sale stuff. Purchased simply because it's under a 75% off sign. As my husband says, "There's a reason it's so discounted!"

Don't get me wrong, I love a bargain. Bargains, in fact, make me giddy. But with two small children - who seem to outgrow shoes faster than I can buy them - and a budget, I tend to be a minimalist shopper. By that I mean I do some online sleuthing and then go to the one store that has what I need. Still I have to give myself a stern talking-to about how I do not need the four really cute soup bowls that are deeply discounted.

In part, I want to say thanks to this retail maven, who is working with single-handed determination to keep our economic structure alive. But a small part of me really wants to ask what do you do with all that junk?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Out of focus

I do everything in two to three minute movements, so I rarely feel focused on one task. I'm often working to a symphony of, "Mommy, can I have a glass of water?" and the primitive grunts and leg tugging of my one year old.

So things don't always get done the way they should. The water bill gets missed in the stack of junk mail and I sheepishly discover it a few days later when I'm stacking the magazines I subscribe to but never get a chance to read. The laundry gets stacked but I don't notice the stack of folded socks until I sit on them. And if it doesn't make it on the calendar, it doesn't happen.

I like to blame it on constant distractions from my two little whirling dervishes. And I sometimes remember with great fondness the long stretches of quiet thinking time I used to enjoy at work when I shut my office door.

Still, I'd rather be getting some done with my two little distractions than checking off everything on my list while someone else gets cuddles from my babies.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Where do you find the time ... ?

I hate this question, because it's a loaded one. Answer one way, and you're bragging. Another, and you're blowing them off.

"Where do you find the time to do freelance work? Write a book? Paint the bedroom?" And the unasked question, "What didn't you do so you could work/write/paint?" This immediately conjures images of laundry piles ignored and children wandering listlessly around the house, dirty and bored.

We all instinctively know what's possible during a day. And you'll never meet another person whose priorities are perfectly matched to your own. The real question is, does the family work? Is the dynamic working for everyone?

Things are easier for me this year than last. Last year, I had a newborn and a three year old who went to school two times a week. This year, my one year old naps while why four year old goes to school three afternoons a week. And I have a babysitter who comes by for a couple hours once a week so I can run the errands and do the tasks that are less kid friendly (who wants to stand at the DMV with children?)

There's been a stiff learning curve, but I'm feeling like we're finally managing to strike a healthy balance that gives me some adult time. And the trips we take to the zoo and the playground together are much more fun when I'm refreshed.

So I'm riding a high of welcome personal time and hoping it continues. And if I do laundry one less time each week to finish a chapter, everyone in my household seems to understand.

Mired in sickville

Yup. Still the sick house. Now I have the bug. But I don't get it for the same reasons as my children. I, like every other mom I know, fall ill because we're trying so hard to make those around us well.

A friend of mine told me a story of how she passed out - with just her two preschool daughters at home - from pneumonia. Why? The girls had a virus and she was taking care of them. A couple of weeks ago, a young mother succumbed to the H1N1 virus because she'd run herself ragged taking care of her two sick little ones.

What it boils down to is the need to take care of ourselves, too. Why are we so bad at that? I know, I know. Worry about your kids and spouse - who will get Jimmy his medicine in the middle of the night or hold Sally as she coughs so hard it makes her cry. Yes, as moms, this tends to be our job, no, our calling. But you know what? When we fall down (hopefully into bed), the world does not stop suddenly. Somehow, whether it's friends, relatives or a spouse, the kids get fed and the dog gets walked.

The bottom line is to take care of yourself, too. Take a warm bath, go to bed early. Just make sure you stay healthy.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Are you too competitive?

One of the persistent ideas that has stuck with me from my Bible study days was the concept that some of our biggest flaws are really just gifts we’ve carried too far.

On of these gifts, I believe, is a competitive spirit. Many successful women are blessed with it, and it helps them achieve their biggest goals.

It can also make them miserable, lonely, and isolated. It’s simple. If we get too competitive, there’s no friend who wants to stick around. No colleague who wants to lend a helping hand. No relative who wants to hear about how they’re doing it wrong if only they’d follow your advice.

So I’ve always been competitive. And I have to reign myself in occasionally. But I think we can find a higher level of happiness if we direct some of our drive toward beating our own personal best. For me, this could be writing more than the day before. Learning a new jewelry making skill. Or exercising that one extra time a week when I really wanted to sit and read instead.

So if you have a competitive nature like me, I say embrace your driven spirit. But don’t let it hold you back.

Supporting deployed spouses

Portia's posts yesterday made me think about all the single military parents out there. I can't imagine the stress of spending each day - for at least a year - with a loved one in Iraq or Afghanistan. These parents, who are at home to handle the day-to-day needs of their children, certainly deserve our respect. They also deserve our gratitude and help.

I looked up the numbers on how many American families have been split during the two wars, and I found the totals staggering.

Nearly 2 million Americans have been deployed since 9/11. Of those, over 875,000 are parents. But here's the kicker: 245,000 of those parents have been deployed twice; 91,000 have been sent overseas three times while nearly 50,000 have been away from their families four times.

Next time I want to whine about a late night dealing with my two kids, I'm going to think about all those military families struggling to maintain some sense of normalcy in a difficult world. You humble me.

And I thank you - deeply - for your willingness to support our country.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Lift each other up

As I was thinking about the post, "Surround Yourself With Supporters," I couldn't help remembering it's more than making sure you surround yourself with those who care about you and support you. It's about being that person to others.

That's been one of my primary goals for this blog: to create a place for women to support each other. Because we're all perfectionists. We're all doing too much, taking on one thing too many, and picturing everyone else doing it so much better.

So I'm going to make an effort to remember the special women in my life every day.

These are the women in my family, who share their love and concern about my marriage and my family; the women in my book club, who are friends, colleagues, and fellow readers; the women in my writer's group, who are writers, wives, and mothers; and the mothers of my children's friends, who work to be teachers and supporters every day.

Today, my goal is to be the woman others want in their lives.

Surround yourself with supporters

Not everyone you meet is good for you.

And some people start out good but have a wasting effect on your self-esteem, your goals, and your morale. Sometimes they're hard to identify. I've worked with people who make great friends but horrible partners. Here's a simple test to identify your unhealthy influences:

1. Do you feel better or worse after seeing or talking to that person?

2. Do you trust her to be supportive and truthful?

3. Do you feel you can share openly with your friend or does she demand the spotlight?

4. Would you go out of your way to see this person, or do you duck her in the supermarket?

I think we spend too much time caring about what other people think. But when we choose to care, shouldn't we value the opinions of the people we like and respect most?

The reluctant bookclubber

It took my friends more than two years to coax me into book club.

It's not that I don't enjoy books, wine, and company. I just don't like someone else telling me what to read.

Well, after about six months of honest bookclubbing, I have to admit it's not so bad. No, I don't always get to read my top picks, but I've read some pretty interesting stuff.

And aren't we always telling our children to try new things?

My three gifts to myself today:
1. Start my book club book
2. Take some writing time
3. Introduce my children to something new

Waiting by the phone

Over the past couple of weeks, I made a real push as a freelancer. I've sent out at least a dozen pitches to new, existing and previous clients, trying to entice them to run an article on my ideas. There's a high that comes with a well-turned phrase; the hope - shimmying up my spine - that soon, soon the editor will call.

Then reality sets in.

It's turnover week. Magazine's have slashed their budgets in the hope of holding on to the "recovery" scheduled for 2010. There are more freelancers and less staffer; more freelancers and less outlets. This is not the ideal time to be looking for new clients.

So I work on the projects I have and find myself checking my email way, way too often. Like I did when I was 16 and I hoped a certain boy would ask me to prom. That didn't happen. I was crushed. And I did not like the boy who ended up as my prom date.

I just hope I have better luck with the editors.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ill x 2 = BIG headache

In less than a week, I've had three sick days. Ouch. Today they are both home with some new bug. My kids' immune systems are on the fritz and I'm getting less and less done on...well, anything. This is one of the joys of school-age kids. They need to build up immunity to all the viruses, bacteria and other nasty too-small-to-be-seen parasites that live in their schools. I get that. I do.

But I never got that I was going to have to get a second degree in medicine to raise kids. I feel like I'm a trauma nurse who only ever took basic biology. Talk about a major handicap. Sore throat? No, well, I think that's good...Fever, yes, that's OK as long as it's not too high.... And then there are the persistent coughs and off-and-on tummy aches. When does that require more than bed rest and fluids?

Monday, September 28, 2009

What are they learning?

My son loves school. And he's lucky to go to a great preschool with the best record in our area. It's close to our house, affordable, and his teachers are often elementary school teachers who choose to work part time to be around for their own children.

What I'm not so crazy about: the culture. When my son attended day care full time at the federal building where my husband works, he had friends from almost every culture and economic background. At his current school, it's so homogenous most the parents live within blocks of each other and even own the same brand of minivan.

Another reminder came today in the mail: an invitation to a designer birthday party. For a five year old. It's all a little crazy. And I worry about the other signs he'll see from these peers in the future. What will he say when we ask him to share a clunker car with his sister while his friends drive newer, fancier cars? Will he expect a cell phone and other status symbols?

I'm proud of the modest upbringing my parents provided. And certainly I had many more advantages than my own parents did growing up. My husband and I feel lucky to pass on even better opportunities to our children. But when's enough, enough?

Health care woes

Protecting our families. This is what we all want out of health care. Someone gets sick, injured or worse, it's OK because we have insurance. Right? Not so fast.

The current way our health care system is set up, an insurance company has to get the claim before it decides whether or not to pay it. Got a kid who needs two well visits in a year so that you can discuss some growth issues with the pediatrician? Too bad, insurance only covers one. Flouride treatments for your teeth -- well, we only cover one per year according to our new policy that you can find online at this obscure web address. Then the companies seem so surprised that we're frustrated, that we're demanding improvements.

From their standpoint, things are pretty rosy. Aetna made over $1 billion in profit last year. Profit, not revenue. But you and I are paying ever-higher insurance premiums - doesn't that mean we should have coverage since we're paying into the system every month? - that cover less and less.

We need reform. Period. We pay more for health insurance and have more uninsured people than any other Western country. That's embarrassing, but worse, that will eventually bankrupt our country much more quickly than making some changes now.

Friday, September 25, 2009

When friendships end...and the boss/employee relationships start

These difficult economic times have made for some strange bedfellows. A good friend of mine owns a yoga studio in our neighborhood. She and the gym owner are looking for ways to collaborate on classes so that they both keep their clients' happy. In good economic times, these two were bitter rivals.

What happens to friendships when two people begin working together? For the most part - if you are a conscientious person - this relationship can work well. But for those of you contemplating hiring a friend who's out of work...well, make sure your relationship can withstand any disagreements. They are bound to happen.

If you plan to work with or for someone you lunch with, I think there are a few ground rules to work out beforehand.

1. Talk over all aspects of the arrangement. This includes asking how many hours and what exactly do you expect me to accomplish?
2. Realize that one of you is the boss in the relationship -- and make sure both parties agree. I know, seems like a no-brainer, but it's important to have firm ground rules.
3. Be realistic about your friend's strengths...and her weaknesses. People aren't perfect. You'll annoy each other from time to time. So go in knowing what will bother you about the other person. Realistic expectations will make the entire process easier.

Guest what?

Being a host is hard. But there are certain challenges in being the guest too.

For myself, I'm never comfortable in someone else's place. There's always some awkwardness. Where is the toilet paper kept, and are the towels on the towel bar strictly for decoration? What about meals? If you're the first up, do you start the coffee pot?

We've all played both roles at some point, and house rules change depending on the people you're staying with. But I do believe there are some universal courtesies a guest should observe.

1. Keep your space reasonably neat: making your bed, tucking dirty clothes into a corner of your suitcase, and so on. This is doubly important if your bed is in a public space, like a family room.

2. Always offer assistance—with meal prep, cleanup, or other mealtime tasks that arise. You'll likely be turned down, but you could be the hero.

3. Thank the host. Your length of stay will determine how often you show appreciation and your effusiveness.

4. If you're a relative, still follow these rules. Sure, your family has to have you back, but your name won't raise their blood pressure if you're a good guest.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The dreaded sick day

Already, not even a month into school, I have a sick kid. This does not bode well for the year. How do families where both parents work full time cope with such regular to disruptions their schedules? I have some flexibility to my day as long as I meet deadlines, but for parents with big meetings or out-of-town trips....Well, I just don't see how it's possible.

Luckily, this is my older child who can already read. So, I'm able to place a stack of books by the bed and let her enjoy those between snoozes. I wonder how long this will be enough.

For now, I'm taking advantage of the quiet moments to complete some work and see to the myriad of household chores that seem to grow in scope each day. Especially with a sick child.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The hated budget

I wrote it. Budget. Who wants to think about how much they spend? Wasn't it nicer when we could simply whip out a credit card and pretend that we had unlimited funds? Well, actually, no.

I'm the worrier in our household. I'm also the most Type A, which means I need to know where our funds are going and why. I know the Fed is now claiming the economy is on the mend, but it sure doesn't feel like it from right here. In fact, there's quite a bit that feels uncomfortable. A friend of ours is out of work - and just had his first child. Another friend's income is off 50% from last year. We've taken a few cuts ourselves. Which is why it's so much more important to budget.

I like to think of a budget not so much of what I cannot spend but as what I can. Clearly, mortgages, insurance and water bills must all be paid. But do I really want those new shoes or another cute rain coat for my daughter? Maybe not so much when I realize it'll mean I run short on groceries. Budgets are simply line items - like buckets of cash. Some items are fixed and others are flexible. The key is to never put too much in any one bucket. I'm not saying I do this well most of the time. I'm just saying it's nice to know that I can be in control of my finances if I want to be. And right now, I don't just want to. I need to.

So I'm dusting off my old budget and relearning how to be a more responsible spender. Maybe my kids will notice.

Got a minute?

For yourself, that is?

I'm generally a tense ball of mess. My friends will tell you I'm anxious. A worrywart. So it doesn't take a lot to get me really worked up.

But I get there a lot faster when I forget what's keeping me going. For me, that's writing time. Me time. It doesn't have to be much. But I've got all of these ideas rambling around in my head. And if I don't take a bit of time to let them out, I just plain explode.

It isn't pretty.

Now, it's not really a big fireworks event. But I get a little snippy, a little less patient with the kids. I find it hard to concentrate or sit still.

So instead of doing that one more thing before I have my me time, I'm going to schedule it right into my day. If it's right there on my to-do list, I can't skip it, right?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

My dog has better manners than your child

We have a big dog. By big I mean almost 100 pounds. He needs to be trained - we're still working on that - so that he's always under control. Through weeks of positive reinforcement, our pup is learning more than a simple sit; he's learning to listen to everything we say.

That cannot be said for some of the children I've seen recently. When did it become acceptable to have kids yell at their parents and other adults? I mean SCREAM really horrible accusations at them. Over and over. And the parents just shrugged it off.

My theory is that some people expect more out a dog than a child. I do not think this is a good thing. Dogs are wonderful companions and you're legally allowed to kennel them. Children need the same level of committed training. Without the kenneling, of course.

Monday, September 21, 2009

What relatives and fish have in common

My father in law has a saying. (Stop me if you've heard this one.) Relatives are like fish. After a day, they start to stink. And my husband and I jokingly refer to our longstanding 24 hour rule. It's simply this: We always have more fun if we keep our visits to a day's length.

You get all the fun of seeing your fam with none of the baggage.


The first time you serve that elaborate meal or pick up the wet towels in the bathroom, you're still filled with that warm glow that comes from serving others. "They're family," you think. "And don't they just think I'm the best hostess ever?"

Three days later you're doing well if everyone's on speaking terms.

Now every family's different, it's true. I just think we have problems when we put all this pressure and all of these expectations on family events. Then when they fall apart, disaster.

That's why it's more important than ever to focus on rewarding yourself as you serve others. I might be hosting family this week, but I'm still making time for my three gifts to myself:

1. writing time
2. restoration time (painting toenails, doing my hair and makeup, etc.)
3. reading time

Family visits are much more fun when you respect your own needs.

Guilty Pleasures

Those foods or drinks we know we shouldn't consume...but still do so in large quantities. My friend's big one is Cracker Jacks. My main one - I have many - is root beer. I know, I know. The sugar content is truly disgusting. 43 grams in Hansen's - that's almost 11 teaspoons. But I really like root beer. My compromise is to drink it rarely. That way it's truly a treat.

Here's the deal: there are only so many years in my life. I spent an hour at yoga this morning and then walked the dog for another 40 minutes. I'm tired - kids and dogs have conspired to ensure I do not get more than two consecutive hours of sleep at least three nights a week. I needed a pick me up. Who doesn't from time to time? I believe the problem isn't so much will power as trying to get results too quickly. Cutting back on sugar takes time. I know this firsthand because when we went sugar-free for a year, my oldest child went into detox. I didn't know it was possible until I lived through three days of absolute hell. Now, we all enjoy a treat, just not as often. (OK, so maybe it's because I don't ever want to go back through detox.)

My plan - which works some of the time - is to simply be aware of what I put into my family's bodies. Whole foods - ones still in the form they started in - are the products we consume the most. But from time to time, a box of Cracker Jacks and a root beer is pretty tasty.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Dinner for a crowd

This year, we're spending the holidays with my husband's family. Ten adults and seven kids - from nine to one year - will be crammed into my in-laws' house. That part seems easy now that I've been told I'm going to have to come up with at least one day of meals for the crew. While I love to cook, I'm less than excited about putting together meals for the variety of diets: two kids are dairy-free, an adult is on the South Beach Diet, two others don't eat pork and another few don't do seafood. Then there are the quirky particularities of each family (i.e., my kids will eat grilled broccoli but will not touch it when its steamed). Yeah, it's gonna be fun. My plan is to plug all the preferences into a variety of recipe searches such as Epicurious, Food Network and Recipezaar to see if any recipe meets everyone's restrictions. I'll keep you posted on my progress...feel free to send suggestions.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Random acts of kindness

A few days ago we were eating at a restaurant. As I watched out the window, I noticed a large truck pull next to mine. It parked close. Really close.

A family of five hopped out. I saw the mother and older son in close conversation. They scooted out a small slit in the door and then kept peering into my car.

When they entered the restaurant, the mother kept watching me, noting the children next to me. After a minute, she ran back out to the car and moved it.

The car was two days old, and I'm nervous. I've had some bad experiences with new cars in restaurant parking lots. So I ran out to check.

The car was pristine.

But when I reentered the restaurant, the mother made a beeline for me. I ducked my head, nervous of a confrontation. But she pressed forward, following me back to the table.

"I saw you looking at your car," she said. "We didn't hit it or anything. We saw you had car seats and thought you'd need room for the kids."

"I appreciate it," I said, smiling. But inside I was wilting. She'd been so kind, and I was so skeptical.

It's too bad when our minds trend to the negative. And I promised myself I'm going to spend more time looking for the good in people.

Embrace the chaos

Life is busy. No, I mean B_U_S_Y. Two kids, two schools, jobs, and freelance work on top of that. It gets crazy around here. I feel like I spend a great portion of my time trying to streamline activities, make time for homework, that kind of thing. It helps, sort of. And I have about six really quick meals in my arsenal to speed up dinner prep.

The bottom line is these are busy years. While we do limit the number of activities for each child to two, that means we're going three or four days a week from the time we wake up until dinner. These years are also fleeting. In 10 more, my oldest will be sending out college applications. Day-to-day, when you're in the trenches, 10 seems like forever. Heck, getting through the week looks like it's impossible. Yet, in the scheme of our lives, it's but a blink, really. That's why I plan to embrace these years. As I watched my children sleep last night, it occurred to me that one can never, ever fully comprehend just how wonderous the precious moments are in a well-loved child's life.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Nap rules

My youngest child is three. Think Tasmanian devil. The child never stops going. So when it was time to sign up for preschool this year, I made a really tough decision. We were continuing naps. The school doesn't have any nappers this year - most of the children are older - so my kiddo comes home at noon to snooze for a couple of hours before we pick up my first-grader. This is not a convenient schedule. Basically, I have time to walk the dog and do a load of laundry before it's pick-up time. But, my baby is getting the precious sleep she needs. And that makes bed time bearable.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I am not your maid

We're all blessed with special talents. I'd like to think mine includes a way with words, the gift of compassion, and a creative spirit. If I'm sometimes a little bit of a klutz or a little bit of an organization freak, my friends mostly look past it.

But I have no special talent for toilet cleaning. My dishes are not shinier than yours, and my floors aren't polished. So I have a hard time justifying spending so much time on the chores I don't adore.

Now, on the other hand, as I mentioned before, I am an organization freak. My out of control craft cubby sends low level vibrations of anxiety through me every day. I hate my too full linen closet. And I find it difficult to write if I'm surrounded by mess.

It's a Catch-22. It's with a little bit of resentment I recognize that even if I were working full time outside of the house, the bulk of the housework would fall on me. A good part of it is that I care more. My lovable husband isn't sexist--he just has different standards. (He calls me driven and a perfectionist. And I will admit I can be a little pushy. And maybe a teensey bit anal.)

But with two miniature mess makers in training (read: children), I'm feeling a little ganged up on. I want the kids to recognize their own messes and take responsibility for cleaning them up.

As my mom used to say, "I'm not your maid, and I'm not a short order cook."

God bless you, mom. I finally get it.

Grief's grip

In this world of medical innovation, children are not supposed to die. Infant mortality is way down in this country, true, but that is no comfort to the parents with infants born with special needs. In the last few months, we've prayed for two families - high school and college friends, respectively - with newborns who may never get out of NICU. As a mother, I can't think of anything more scary than the daily hope and daily fear of my child losing her battle before her life really had a chance to begin.

This morning, we learned one of the babies wasn't been able to continue the fight. Just a few precious days with her parents and now she's gone. A heart problem that was more than the doctors could repair.

Another dear friend lost a son a few years ago. She says there is absolutely nothing - nothing - that can prepare you for the grief that cascades over and through you. Drowning you in what should have been. Yet, she says, you go on breathing, living for the family you do have. In her case, a very bewildered three-year-old and husband.

It's moments like these when I want to hold my own children and never, ever let them go. Ever. My frustration about a misunderstanding or a naughty moment are feelings these other parents would give so much to share with their child. So today, I want to remember my blessings. They are many. I want to find a quiet place and pray for my fellow mothers who have been forced to live on without a child. And I want everyone of us to remember just how precious each breath is.

What do you have to be thankful for today?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Smoke signals

When you're a year old, sometimes it's hard to get your message across. Your verbal capacity is limited by your still developing mouth, but your thoughts and needs have advanced past the eat, cry, sleep stage.

We've used baby sign language with both of our little ones. It helps alleviate some of their frustration and makes them feel involved in the conversation.

But there are some messages are a little more difficult. Especially with situations like eating and nursing. Moira is slow to take up the fork, so to speak. She prefers a liquid diet freshly squeezed—by her—and the occasional cracker or stray cheerio to supplement.

I've talked to all of the experts: pediatrician, lactation consultants, and other moms. Bottom line: She's perfectly healthy and she'll get there if we continue to offer a variety of eating options.

But the last few days something has changed. She's been nibbling more off our plates—at the pediatrician's advice. She likes the portability of a cup of milk, and I'm feeling a little, well, full. My body went from nursing at 80 MPH to about 40. And I'm struggling to catch up emotionally. My little "I'm gonna nurse until you kick me off" child has suddenly shown a more independent streak than I suspected.

It's our job as parents to try to keep up with our kids. To offer them choices to help ease their transitions and encourage them to learn to make good decisions for themselves. And I'll be pulling out and dusting off my favorite books for Moira's next stages:

1. Sign with your Baby - Baby Sign Language (ASL) Learning Kit - Includes Book, VHS Video & Quick Reference Guide

2. The Happiest Toddler on the Block: How to Eliminate Tantrums and Raise a Patient, Respectful, and Cooperative One- to Four-Year-Old: Revised Edition

3. Parenting with Love and Logic

Friday, September 11, 2009

Calendar clutter

I'm trying to get more organized. I know I'm wasting precious writing moments because I don't have my days scheduled well enough. So I sat down with my calendar. And I realized we are busy. I'm not sure how it happened, exactly, but the days are packed from 6:30 a.m. to bed time three days a week. That doesn't even get into soccer games and family activities on the weekend.

This is exactly what I didn't want to have happen. A few years ago, I read a few enlightening books on stressed out, overachieving kids. My main concern was giving my kids enough free play time to internalize everything they'd seen, done and felt that day. Oh, and ensuring they get enough sleep to feel good and focus the next day.

But how do you balance activities your kids really want to do with homework, play and bed time? In an effort to make our days more sane, I plan to:
1. Limit each child's activities to no more than two per week. My little one only needs one.
2. Structure my work as efficiently as possible so it doesn't spill into after school time.
3. Plan fast, healthy dinners so that I can spend that precious evening hour helping my kids with homework or driving home from an activity.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Gut check

I'll admit it: I'm a political junkie. It's one of those special three things I do for myself every day: A cup of chai, a talking heads show on MSNBC, and a little time to read and write.

So the last few days have been almost like Christmas. A day after the President's healthcare address to a joint session of Congress, I'm still mulling over how I feel. My take: To the people who voted for him, the president said, "I'm still the same person and working on the same goals." To those who support other views, he says, "I'm a good listener and I'd like to hear your ideas."

And other than that, there's really no news to report. So maybe tonight instead of indulging in my nightly political wonking, I might just take the night off and paint my toe nails.

Two incomes just to pay for preschoolers' actitivies?!

Seriously, that's ridiculous. I live in a pretty expensive place. Coming from cheap ol' Texas, the cost of everything from groceries to dance class was shocking. I mean, blow my mind shocking.

It's no wonder most families need dual incomes. How can you afford $500- plus per month on preschool? Oh, and that's just until 1 p.m., thank you very much. Back in Texas, my daughter was in a three-day program, 8:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., with an additional dance class for $180 a month. That was affordable. Parents knew their children were in a safe, wholesome environment, learning social skills while mom (or dad) could grocery shop and go to the doctor before pick-up time. The schools here are all fabulous (so the literature says). But I understand why more parents are opting for the school-run 3-hour, four-day-a-week option. That's free and it's worth the hassle of running through the grocery store when you can save thousands of dollars per year. Just forget any mom-only time. That luxury is too expensive. And what about those parents who work as garbage collectors or janitors? We need those services desperately. Yet, we don't pay many of those workers a wage high enough to afford one extracurricular for their kids. Talk about a gap between the haves and have-nots.

My sister-in-law just moved from - you guessed it- Texas to Washington state. Her son's preschool is hundreds of dollars a month for two-and-a-half hours twice a week. What happened to Mother's Day Out? You remember that from when you were a kid? Your mom dropped you off for a few hours with a bunch of snotty, mean-spirited kids so that she could run to the bank, get a hair cut, try to exercise and all those other adult things without a whiny kid clinging to her leg? What happened to that option?

Unless you've already mapped out little Jimmy's course from that exclusive preschool to (insert Ivy League school name here), you don't want to go into debt for socializing out kids. Or quit putting money into a retirement fund. Can't there be an option in the middle?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Car buyin blues

I never thought I'd drive a minivan. I have two kids, so my car seems plenty big. Except it's not.

It's silly little stuff. Going to dinner with our parents. Taking Grandma to dinner. Watching a friend's kid for a day.

Too often I feel like people are living super-sized. Everyone has the 8-seater minivan, the five-bedroom three-bath McMansion, and the Suburban on the side for weekends at the lake. And I wonder: How did our parents all manage with regular cars and regular houses? You know, the little three-bedroom ranches with only two bathrooms? Heck, most of the time when I was growing up we only had one.

So I'm reluctantly treading the line. I'm looking at a six-seat crossover that's friendlier on the environment.

But I still wonder. Do I really need it?