Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Email etiquette

How many of you have sent an email - perhaps one that was even requested - and never gotten a response? I'm not talking a pitch letter or a query. I'm talking about a valid request for more information from a company or colleague? How many of us are guilty of not replying to a friend or coworker?

Yes, we're all busy. No doubt, email is a boon to speedy communication, but that ability to ignore messages is not professional.

In the early part of this decade, I worked for a web firm. One of the most telling pieces of data I remember is Jupiter Research's statement that people expect an answer via email within four hours. When you have hundred - or more - messages waiting for you each morning, it's simply impossible to respond to each message in such a timely fashion. I don't know what's in your inbox, but about half of my messages are some form of spam. And only a small percentage of the remaining messages actively seek a response. It's these few requests that deserve prompt attention. Whether it's an easy answer or a more involved response, the other person does deserve something from you. If you forget this, so will others. And who wants to be that annoying person who never responds?

It isn't just that you respond to a message, it also matters how you respond. Email is a form of written communication. That means it deserves to be spell-checked at the very least. Better yet, re-read the message before you send it. How many times has a message been misconstrued on the other end? This happens because we don't take the time to read before we hit send.

Finally, make sure you really want to reply to all. I've gotten many private messages that were sent to an entire group. It is up to each of us to police our messages. These relatively small steps go a long way to showcase your professionalism as well as your ability to write English properly.

From now on, I plan to:

1. Respond to requests as promptly as possible. If I am waiting for further information, I will follow up and let the other party know.

2. Spell check every message. Even the ones to my mom.

3. Never use ALL CAPS in an email. Not only is it hard to read, it's the equivalent of shouting and just as rude.

What will you do for yourself today?

Listen up!

My 3-year-old is not a good listener. it often takes two or three statements to elicit any response. And it can be frustrating. Partly it's his age, but we're also aware of the importance of teaching him to be a good listener. Because it's more than just manners. It's a life skill.

I know, that sounds terribly cheesy. But think how frustrated you get in the doctor's office when you see three or four different people--the receptionist, the nurse's assistant, the nurse, and the doctor--and they all ask you the same questions? Does it make you doubt their credibility? Do you wonder how they're ever going to get the diagnosis right if they can't even communicate why you're visiting?

Many of the attorneys I've interviewed on malpractice suits will tell you poor communication is one of the most frequent reasons doctors get sued. It's true. You can screw up big time, but the reason your clients will hang you out to dry is because you didn't communicate well. And step one of any good communication system is, you guessed it, listening up.

In Kay Lindahl's book, "Practicing the Sacred Art of Listening," she offers up some statistics to mull over. She writes, " Most of us spend about 45 percent of our waking hours listening, yet we are distracted, preoccupied, or forgetful about 75 percent% of that time."


Communication is critical in any number of jobs. And it's also a vital skill for healthy relationships--from marriage to workplace. How often have you asked a question, only to realize you never listened for the answer? Did you ever walk out of a meeting wondering what was decided--or what you were supposed to do next?

This also applies to e-mail communications. Ever send an e-mail to a business associate with a couple questions and receive the answer to only one of the queries you posed?

Bottom line: We all hate it when we have to repeat ourselves. So I vow today to be a better listener. My three things I'll do for myself today:

1. Practice engaged listening, including making eye contact, nodding, and smiling
2. Wait for others to finish before I start. (In fact, the best tip I've read is to pause for a few seconds to demonstrate you're considering what the other person said.)
3. Concentrate on what the other person is saying instead of formulating my response when they speak.

What will you do for yourself today?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Flush out fatigue

Do you ever wake up feeling blah? This morning, I really didn't want to get out of bed. Luckily, the coffee was already in the pot. I nearly groaned with pleasure at that first wonderful sip. But some new studies have shown that its better to start your day with a glass of water than a cup of coffee. I remember hearing on talk show host claim you can get as much pep from two cups of water, drunk immediately upon wakening, as from a cup of coffee. I need more science and research before I'm willing to try it.

But here's the deal: if you're dragging during the day, your body may be telling you to drink more water. Even slight dehydration can cause tiredness and slow down your metabolism. That's a double whammy for those of us with hectic schedules.

One way to ensure enough water is to drink half your body weight (i.e., if you weigh 120 pounds, drink 60 ounces of water each day). Two good - and easy - measures of proper hydration are moist mouth and pale yellow urine (no darker than lemonade). Another possible sign is headache (that could be from the annoying co-worker or naughty child, though).

To keep myself going, I will:

1. Drink at least 1 cup of water each morning - before my coffee.
2. Stick to water throughout the day to ensure I get enough fluids.
3. Raid my garden for my daily dose of 5-9 fruits and veggies. My garden offers additional water and vitamins in the form of yummy, nutritious berries and greens.

What will you do for yourself today?

Seize the moment

I'm almost embarrassed by the number of pens I found in my couch yesterday. It's just one more sign of my addiction to the written word. I feel naked without a pen on me, and the office supply store is a virtual nirvana of products that tickle my fancy.

I often carry a pen and notebook with me to capture stray thoughts, record shopping lists, and preserve the ideas that won't survive in my overfull brain until I get home. I've even been known to use the backs of old grocery store receipts and other odds and ends. Because when you've got to write something down, the urgency is akin to drinking a gallon of Kool-aid with no bathroom in sight. It's that bad.

The pens in my couch are also a symbol of something else. With so few minutes in the day, I find I have to keep my pens handy so I can catch a five-minute writing opportunity or 15 minutes of editing a freelance assignment while the kids contentedly play with toys on the family room floor.

I used to be preoccupied with the idea of getting these large blocks of time to work. To me, that seemed the only way to really accomplish anything meaningful. Until I realized I'd be an empty nester before those moments ever miraculously materialize. Sure, it's important to make time. The hubby gets that I need planned time to work--usually in blocks of time of at least two hours--and God Bless the babysitter. BUT those five and 10 minute blocks during the day can also add up, and I feel a lot more productive when I'm using them.

It was the same principle I practiced when I was working in the office full time. I'd steal that 15 minutes before the office opened or the 45 minutes over lunch to write, edit, and generally get creative.

So today, I'm going to seize my opportunities. I'm going to:

1. Keep my pen and notebook handy
2. Plan some solo time for freelance work
3. Keep the chocolate handy for inspiration (I personally love Lindt truffles, Dove chocolates, and the Hershey's Symphony bars with toffee and almonds)

What will you do for yourself today?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Dining In

This morning, my husband and I discussed our budget. No, it's not necessarily fun. However, there is satisfaction in knowing where our money is going. What does this have to do with eating at home? Quite a lot actually. One of the largest expenditures of any budget is that great American past time known as eating out.

Don't get me wrong - I love to go out to dinner. Having someone else prepare and clean up my meal is sheer bliss after a busy, stressful day. But here's the deal: Eating out is not budget-friendly. Unfortunately, it's also not a necessary expense. The sad reality is I can cook more often -- for a lot less money. The up side to any meal I prepare is that I know exactly what I'm I'm eating. The down side is the time it takes to make the meal as well as clean it up. That doesn't even take into account planning the dinner and shopping for the ingredients. Cooking can be a pain.

I have a confession: I love to cook. No, I mean I really enjoy the entire prep process. And with so many cookbooks and free recipe web sites, it's a snap to find some great, fast dinners. Two of my favorite are epicurious.com and wholefoods.com. And it seems every "women's magazine" offers a few tips to make dinner easier - along with the occasional yummy recipe.

The problem, then, isn't access to the food or the information to prepare it into something tasty. The issue stems from time. I don't have enough of it to cook every night. I'm guessing most of you don't either. Whether it's a late night at the office or a child's baseball game, life is not designed for an hour-long evening meal.

One compromise I've made is to use a service like Super Suppers (supersuppers.com). Most of the food can be prepared quickly with minimal effort. As a bonus, you can make multiple meals and freeze the excess. Another option is doubling or even tripling a recipe I make and freezing the leftovers (think spaghetti sauce, soups and roast beef). This works better for some foods than others. Trust me, pasta is not as good once its been frozen and reheated. Another option is to keep fresh veggies and some pre-cooked chicken (or meat of your choice) on hand in the fridge for fast salads or stirfrys. And choose whole grains that cook quickly: Quinoa cooks in 15 minutes while whole wheat couscous cooks in about 5.

Whatever your cooking method, keep in mind your fattening up your wallet and trimming your waistline. Eating in - healthily - can make a huge difference for both. Just remember it doesn't have to be a chore.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Working at home rules

You see the signs everywhere. Plastered along the roadside, taped to light poles, and even on cars. "Work at home." Sounds great, doesn't it? Perhaps.

It's definitely a great opportunity if you can find something you love doing and do it from home ... if it helps you create a better life balance. As a freelancer, I have more control over the assignments I take, and I choose my own work hours. But there is a downside. A big one.

First, consider you're never really out of the office. I haven't taken a vacation in a year where I wasn't working on something for a client in from some exotic locale. This means I'm breaking even with my office position, because I was never able to completely separate myself from the business, even when I was away.

You're also subject to the whim of fate. Clients fall on rough times. Advertising dollars drop. People stop buying the widgets you're paid to develop. In the corporate world, you might end up laid off. In the freelance business, the phone stops ringing.

But I think one of the biggest challenges is simply creating the structure to make your at-home business work. Do you need to keep regular, if shortened, business hours by the phone? Have to planned a certain amount of time each week that will be your work time without outside responsibilities (watching kids, cleaning house, etc.)? Is there someone else in the family who brings in a steady paycheck (and health insurance) to keep the finances steady? (This isn't necessary, but it does offer more stability.)

I think you have to be more organized, more dedicated, and possess a spirit of planning to make working at home work for you. After all, there are a lot more distractions when you're working from your nest. And there are many advantages that make it worthwhile if you can commit yourself. On the good days, I think there's nothing else in life I'd rather be doing.

One final note: I know some people who work for a company from home on one or more days a week. This is also a great opportunity, but I still think you must follow the rules and keep a separate work space from the hubbub of the household.

Today, I'm going to offer myself these three gifts:
1. Create a dedicated work space
2. Work in some "me" time
3. Plan 30 minutes to evaluate my business goals

What will you do for yourself today?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Spa at home

One of my favorite stress relievers as a young professional was a facial. Or a pedicure. There's just something about looking good. Then I had kids.

When I decided to stay at home, I knew my half days at the spa were at end. The lack of time was only superceded by lack of funds. Infants do not make pampering easy.

Then I realized most of what I enjoyed about the spa was available right at home. Homemade facials can be simple, and it's sheer luxury to soak my feet and sip on a glass of wine - even while folding laundry. As with most everything else in my life, I simply needed to restructure my time. And little to multi-task better.

After a busy day at the office or running after kids, few of us are looking for another chore. But pampering can be simple. Here are a few quick, easy options:

1. After washing your face, rub the inside of an organic grape over your face and neck. Rinse after 15 minutes. The sugar is the grape has natural alpha hydroxy acid, which helps to improve cell turnover for fresher, younger-looking skin.
2. Fill a large pot or foot bath with warm water and epsom salts. Slip your feet in and let the stress melt away.
3. Make yourself a sugar body scrub: Place a cup of plain, white sugar in an air-tight container. Add enough jojoba, grape seed or even olive oil to saturate the sugar. I like to add two or three drops of lavender essential oil for a soothing effect. Then, hop in the shower to moisten your skin. Gently scrub the sugar mixture over your body, paying special attention to heels and elbows. Rinse off - carefully as the tub can get slippery - and pat your glowing, soft skin dry.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Required reading

For the last few years, my friends have been pressuring me to join a book club. And I've consistently resisted, not because I don't enjoy books—or the company of my friends. But the idea that I would have the free time to read and keep up with the club seemed somehow laughable, as I had a full-time job, a young son, and was expecting a second child.

This is a great irony for me, as I've always been a voracious reader. Have you ever watched the TV show Intervention? If I ever required one it would definitely be for reading books. In junior high, I had a book-a-day habit. Not surprisingly, my reading time has significantly fallen off since having kids. What's a girl to do?

Enter technology. I can now read a book on my iPod ... Or even have one read to me. I've fallen hard for the audio book. I listen all the time. While I'm doing dishes, folding laundry, or even driving. And this makes me a much happier person.

It's these simple solutions that can totally change our perspective. Having time to read—and a chance to celebrate it with friends—definitely makes me a better wife and mom. And maybe even a better friend!

Do you have tips or tricks to find time to enjoy your favorite hobbies? We'd love to hear them!

Fuel for the day

The sun rises at 5:45 a.m. these days. While I think that's early, my kids' eyes pop open at the first hint of sunshine. Long summer days are here, and a good breakfast is the only way we can make it all the way to snack time.

I don't like breakfast. I've never been interested in pancakes, waffles or omelets. I'd much prefer to sip a cup of coffee until a reasonable hour - say, 9:30 or 10:00 a.m. - before considering food. My kids do not share this predilection. And research has proven, many times, that a sustaining breakfast not only makes the mind sharper, eating early can promote weight loss. Eating to lose wight is something I can support.

In my effort to ward off extra pounds and the "I'm hungry" morning whine, I've come up with a few simple, healthful breakfast options to rotate:

1. Steel cut oats with apple sauce and a handful of sliced almonds. This one is my favorite. All that fiber and protein in one bowl gives me enough energy to chase my preschooler through the park. Trader Joe's carries an eight-minute version, which speeds up busy mornings. Tip: Make double and put the extra in the fridge. For an quick morning meal later in the week, simply add a tablespoon of water and zap in the microwave.
2. Food for Life's 100% Flourless Sprouted Whole Grain English muffins with almond butter or a whole fruit, low sugar jam. The almond butter is packed with protein. The jam offers a sweeter option with some vitamins. Either way, my kids love the muffin's crunch.
3. Scrambled eggs and toast. Current research says a few eggs a week may actually be good for you. A filling and nutritious breakfast, eggs are great for those really busy mornings.

What's your go-to breakfast?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Kiss and makeup

Our house is a little busy right now. My infant is mobile and my 3 year old never slows down. so it can be difficult to find time for a potty break, let alone a moment for things like doing my hair and makeup.

My solution? It's silly, but I do most of my grooming sitting in the living room floor. My daughter loves to play with my soft makeup brushes, and my son is intrigued by the sponge I use to remove my makeup. (He calls it SpongeBob.)

It's these little things that make our day run more smoothly. I'm no parenting expert, but there's one thing I find that consistently works. It's the get closer principle. My kids don't always need my full attention, although I try to give it often. But sometimes it's enough just to be right there. Sitting next to the baby when she plays with toys. Editing at the table while my son creates with Play Doh. Reading next to the tub as they splash each other in the bath.

Sometimes it's enough to just be present and available. I miss fewer special moments this way, but it also gives me a chance to do things for myself. And I can always jump in their games when their cuteness sucks me in.

What's for dinner?

For the past six years, I've struggled to find a delicious, nutritious answer to this question. Meal planning is not my forte. I like to cook - or I did before it became the nightly chore smack in the middle of the fussiest, whiniest time of my day. Without fail, 4 p.m. is the call to arms. The contest of wills that ensues is set in its choreography. My kids stomp over to me, faces set in the end-of-day sourness and demand, "What's for dinner?"

Most days I don't have a clue. I defrosted some chicken. I have a pizza crust and some sauce. There's pasta in the pantry. Somehow, each night, a meal makes its way to the table. But each night I think there must be an easier way. That's why I'm making a commitment to simplify those difficult meal time hours.

This week I will:
1. Plan seven days worth of meals... and stick to it
2. Use my crockpot at least once to free up the neediest hour of the day
3. Make at least one meal I truly enjoy - and not worry about small children's unsophisticated palates (and the complaining that will no doubt ensue)

What will you do for yourself today?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Rescue me

Sometimes we all need a little help. Recently, we've been working on sleep training our infant. The combination of a few rocky nights, an active 3 year old, and a hearty round of freelance assignments have been enough to slay me.

I sent out a distress call. My husband answered. After a couple hours of rest, the world was a different place. Thanks, honey.

I'm slow to ask for help. My friends and family have often describe me as independent and driven. These aren't bad things, but they must be tempered with the ability to accept help when we need it.

I remember once reading that many of our flaws are good attributes taken too far. I believe this. That's why today I'm going to give myself these gifts:

1. Ask for help
2. Ignore my to-do list
3. Slow down

What will you do for yourself today?

-- Post From My iPhone

It's in the water

Seriously, your drinking water may be harming you. A recent study in Acta P├Ždiatrica confirmed that pesticides were found in over half of the ground water samples with the highest concentrations of pesticides and nitrates between typically from April to July. The peak months are May and June.

Why does this matter? Because women conceiving during these months deliver babies (born between January and April) with higher levels of birth defects. The researchers looked at the data of over 30 million births between 1996 and 2002 to which "a statistically significant increased risk was found for any birth defect and for spina bifida, circulatory, tracheal, gastrointestinal, urogenital, musculoskeletal anomalies, cleft lip, adactyly, clubfoot and Down's syndrome in women with LMPs between April and July in the United Sates."

As the green movement grows across this country, I hope produce and grain producers realize the benefits of pesticide-free practices. For now, I plan to purchase as much organic and pesticide-free produce, grain and meat as possible. If we as a group demand clean, chemical-free foods, farmers and ranchers will grow it. Cleaning up our water supply isn't really a choice; our future depends on it.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Jon and Kate plus hate

If you've been out in the world at all the last few months, you've heard all of the lurid details of a couple's marriage after having twins and sextuplets. I've only caught an episode or two of their show, John and Kate Plus Eight, but the tension on the marriage has been apparent for a while to any casual observer of human nature.

The news broke tonight that the couple is separating. OK, fine. But, to quote basketball legend Roy Williams, it's really all about the kids.

A solid, happy marriage makes it much easier to parent--whether you have two kids or twenty. Marriages end for a number of reasons, but my heart hurts for Jon, Kate, and their eight children who now have the addition of even more challenges facing them.

No one can judge their personal lives, although the grisley headlines have certainly called into question every lurid detail of this couple's motives and decisions. But, in my novice perspective, I see at least one reason the couple struggled so.

Please don't take me at my word. Only Jon and Kate and really identify the reason their marriage failed. But I can say, from personal experience, a marriage needs attention to continue to thrive. Your love needs to be fed, and the best diet is love and affection. So if there's any gift you can give yourself, make sure it includes time to focus on yourself and your spouse. The greatest gift you can bestow upon your children is a happy, stable home life, whether you achieve that through marriage or separation. And I believe both are possible, if they're done in love.

Pain in the...back?

A few years ago, just after the birth of my second child, I discovered I had an extra vertebrae in my lower spine. The diagnosis explained my constant back pain and my difficulties carrying my preschooler. Over the past few years - with the help of many sessions of physical therapy - I've learned how to adjust my rather lack-luster exercise regime to ensure my back is pain-free. And what a difference it has made! My kids and I now romp for hours. Or at least what seems like hours.

A recent study showed that grapes may help protect lumbar discs, the area associated with lower back pain. Because grapes are so refreshing and sweet, it's a treat to munch a bunch throughout the day. And because researchers believe that vital compound reservatrol may be the back-protector, I now have another reason to enjoy a glass of Zinfandel.

Here are my three gifts to myself today:
1. Eat a handful of red grapes
2. Spend 15 minutes strengthening my core muscles
3. Drink a cup of a tea, preferably while reading a book

What will you do for yourself today?

Day breaks

There's something beautiful about the short trip. I'm a homebody by nature, and I'm perfectly content to take most of my trips curled up on the couch as I read a book. But every now and then, a day trip is in order.

It doesn't have to be elaborate. I get just as much joy out of a jaunt to the bookstore and a drop by the coffee shop. But it does wonders for my perspective.

My gifts to myself today:
1. A day trip with my kids
2. A chance to daydream on the patio with a glass of wine
3. A pedicure

What three things will you do for yourself today?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Hooray for dads!

He soothes the baby back to sleep. He groggily makes cereal for our oldest when he pads out of bed at his early riser wake up time. He changes diapers, comforts, disciplines, and gives great hugs.

Being a dad is hard work.

So today, I'm giving three gifts to my husband.

1. A chance to sleep in
2. Some time for him
3. A quiet dinner for two after the kids go to bed

What are your gifts today?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The ugly mail pile

Today when we arrived home, I walked in to a mountain of mail. I do not exaggerate; my table was piled with mail. True, we've been traveling but even taking our trip into account, the sheer volume of paper was overwhelming.

I have a confession: I can't stand clutter. The mere thought of messy stacks makes me edgy. Typically, I deal with the mail as soon as I pull it out of the mailbox. This technique saves me time and eliminates potential crankiness. The evening's wasted hour and a half has solidified my commitment to a few important clutter-busting habits.

1. I will open and handle the mail as it comes in each day.
2. The mail will go directly to its designated spots, keeping my kitchen table and counters pile-free.
3. I'll sign up for e-delivery to reduce my paper consumption.

What will you do to organize your life today?

Rejection protection

Does anyone handle it well? I can be pretty stoic in public, but the truth is, I'm pretty sensitive in my private life. I like to think that this trait makes me more sensitive to others' feelings.

What's the secret to getting past rejection .. in relationships, work, family? I don't know. But I always feel a little better when I take the angst of the moment and put it toward something productive. For me, the outlet is writing.

Next time I face rejection, I'm going to be easier on myself. Sure, it hurts. But I'm going to try to pick myself up faster and move on.

My three gifts to myself today:
1. Time with family
2. Time for self
3. Time to re-examine my goals

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Crabby thoughts

One of my not-so-secret favorite things is the crab fisherman show, Deadliest Catch. Those guys have guts. And they have something else I envy: They're very structured.

On a recent episode, one of the boats was offloading crabs at the cannery. Usually at least one of the fisherman watches as they unload the crab to make sure they're not cheated. But one boat forgot to delegate the task. The result: The cannery swindled them out of $6,000 worth of crab. You can bet that captain was mad.

It's a path that leads to frustration. We don't assign tasks—around the house or the office—and we're upset when they don't happen. Guess what? If you don't ask others to help you, you're gonna end up doing it all yourself. And resenting it.

So starting today, I'm gonna be more structured. For me, that means assigning chores to everyone in the house. Even the hubby. It sounds goofy, but I can get past the silliness of it if it helps teach my three-year-old son the importance of picking up after himself.

My three gifts to myself today:
1. A babysitter for some ME time
2. A coffee drink
3. A little grace with the household chores

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The sign says drive friendly

For the past 10 days, I've been visiting extended family. The drive has taken us deep into Texas, known for its huge mosquitoes and balmy summer nights. As we crossed the state line, I read the ubiquitous sign, "Drive Friendly."

I won't wax nostalgic for the days of customer service with a smile, when men tipped their hats and held open doors. No, instead, I want to ask what can I do to make my day more friendly. I plan to:

1. Smile more
2. Remember to say "please" and "thank you"
3. Ask someone about their day

Remember, little moments add up, and small gestures can make an enormous difference in someone else's day. What will you do for yourself today?

Girly girl

I didn't need a Facebook quiz to confirm it. I've always known that I'm a girly girl. I love dresses. I've always worn my hair long. And I cringe at the thought of leaving the house without any makeup on.

As a girly girl, one of my favorite things in the world is to get flowers. And, predictably, my favorite flowers are roses. Red ones. I don't mind the cliche. The flowers speak to me.

I was lucky enough to inherit a yard with plenty of established rose bushes in all colors. And I've added more. The result: Somewhere in the yard there are usually a few blooms somewhere. Some are the kind you might find in a vase at the supermarket. Others have a cottage in the woods feel. And a few have the most amazing scent.

It's a simple thing to pick a few flowers from the yard and re-create the feeling of having flowers delivered. And it's hard not to smile just looking at these sunny blossoms in my dining room.

My three gifts to myself today:
1. Play in my garden
2. Watch a show I want to watch (read: not cartoons)
3. Make time to write

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Night fears

As we've traveled to various locations these last few days, my children have struggled to settle for the night. Night fears - specifically fear of the unknown - have turned bed time into a struggle.

My kids aren't alone. I find my mind racing many nights as I snuggle into my bed at last. I think of everything that could have gone wrong that day (most of which did), and I worry about how I'll help my children navigate tomorrow's struggles. Will I be patient enough to teach them properly? Will I be smart enough to know the answers asked? Will I be strong enough to overcome each emotional obstacle?

I think a better question is why I handle my failures. Some days they are many. What I have to remember is that's normal. These hard lessons make me stronger, deepen my character and resolve. We've all failed to meet a goal; failure is a necessary test of resilience. So tonight, I plan to work on how I handle my setbacks.

1. I will value my sense of humor.
2. I will learn to make better choices.
3. I will improve my outlook.

What will you do for yourself today?

Dear angry movie theater lady ...

This weekend my husband and I went to the movies. As we were buying tickets, we watched a woman storm up to the ticket window and berate the young woman working at the counter because the youth had forgotten to give the angry woman her ticket stubs.

"Can't you get anything right? It's not that hard," she screamed in front of an audience of waiting patrons.

My first thought was, "Wow, what a mean person." But I know that's not right. The woman—we'll call her Short Stack—behaved badly. And yes, she acted mean. But there's no way she was that mad because the youth working the counter forgot to hand her the ticket stubs.

So what was bothering her? I don't know. But I've heard similar stories before. A co-worker who is always short tempered later reveals she's suffering through marital problems or experiencing a difficult pregnancy. A boss who's so distracted he can't seem to remember his own name confesses he's trying to plan hospice care for a dying parent.

Perhaps Short Stack was going to the movies to forget something painful she's dealing with in her own life. Does that make her behavior acceptable? Absolutely not. But in the midst of doing something for herself—taking a time out to go to the movies—she forgot why she was there. To take care of herself. And that's all good, just as long as you don't trod on others in the process.

To quote Short Stack, "It's not that hard." So what gifts are you going to give yourself today? Here are mine:

1. Girl talk with a girlfriend
2. A special dinner with my spouse
3. Time to write

Berry blues

Last weekend, we picked four pounds of plump, organic blueberries. One of my favorite tastes from summer are berries full of sunshine and bursting with luscious flavor.

As winter melts into spring, I begin to crave those plump blue and red fruits. I can think of a million recipes: smoothies, crisps, jams, pies, cobblers, tossed in salads and turned into syrup for pancakes. We take raspberries to the park and zoo for a quick snack. No matter where we go, berries are as integral to a summer day as sunscreen.

One of the best gifts you can give yourself is a quality diet of whole foods. Berries are packed with fiber, water and phytonutrients that keep you fueled up and ready to go. Hmmm, I think it's time for a snack. Smoothie, anyone?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Cuppa luv

A little secret about coffee lovers: It's not about the caffeine. Bean addicts, like addicts of all varieties, are as much into the ritual of drinking coffee as the consumption.

It's a social activity for some—hence coffee shops. It's a morning ritual, intrinsically linked with morning just like a hot shower or other grooming activities. It's also an experience that engages the senses. The hot coffee mug, the grinding of the beans, the smell of the brew, and that first bitter sip. A true coffee fiend craves the experience for comfort in times of stress and as a relaxation technique.

Whether you're a bean junkie or not, you probably have some special beverage—or ritual—that you use to unwind. Perhaps it's a cold beer after mowing the lawn or a glass of wine as you fix dinner. Maybe you enjoy a cup of tea after lunch.

Whatever your beverage of choice, toast yourself tonight for all that you do.

Why my kids benefit from a little less attention

Portia wrote a great post last week about taking a few moments for herself - in the form of a mocha. Personal time is necessary for continued sanity, especially if you're juggling a hectic schedule, and what mom isn't? But there's another area where kids benefit from a little less attention: parents' taking time to spend together as a couple.

Over the past five years, my husband and I have watched couple after couple collapse under the weight of their responsibilities: Work, kids' activities, housework, family obligations, exercising, and creating healthful meals all seem to trump couple time. The problem is a marriage is a complex relationship, and like any relationship, it needs to be nurtured. Every couple needs moments of connection, those small seemingly insignificant seconds of togetherness that keep the threads of a relationship tightly knit. Current research also shows that children benefit from parents whose relationships are happy. While that may seem like a no brainer, it's important for us to realize that taking a few minutes away from our kids may benefit them more in the long run.

My gifts to my marriage today are:
1. Take an hour to spend with only my husband.
2. Talk about something besides our kids and tomorrow's obligations.
3. Relax and enjoy the moment.

I heart CE

From photography to underwater basket weaving, there's probably not a class I wouldn't enjoy. I just think it's fun to learn stuff, and continuing education is one of the quickest ways to get smarter.

I'm not picky about the format. I love books, online courses, webinars and even—gasp!—conferences. You know, that place you used to go to network, listen to speakers, and eat a plated lunch with a table full of strangers before the Web took over?

Now it's so simple—and inexpensive—to learn anything you like. The problem with CE is that we've grown used to thinking it's just for our jobs, especially if you work in a career that requires you to log a certain number of CE hours every year to maintain a license. I understand why we want our medical and legal professionals to continue learning, but it's a little harder to mandate interest and attention.

No, I think CE should really be more about your desire to learn. Feeding the hungry learner within you. I don't care who you are, there's something you're passionate about. Fishing, crocheting—even underwater basket weaving. I've taken three CE courses this year: an online class, a webinar, and an honest-to-god conference. None of them were directly related to my work.

And it was fabulous. Learning for learning's sake. When's the last time you did that? My challenge to you. Find some CE you're passionate about and feed your mind. It's a great way to reward yourself.

My three gifts I'm giving myself today:

1. Time to read

2. Time to write

3. Time to exercise

What are you doing for yourself today?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Traveling with Kids

The family vacation. Better yet, a family road trip. It's iconic. You have to do at least one as a parent, and this year my husband and I are traveling about 2,000 miles with our young children.

No, we didn't intend to torture ourselves. Our plan was to show our kids some of the real Americana that we don't see day-to-day from our suburban home in New Mexico. And we have. Tucumcari, NM has an incredible gas station store full of any type of airbrushed T-shirt (in XXL sizes) you can imagine. The town no longer gets USA Today - we're not sure if the two correlate but it was an interesting observation. We've hit Glen Rose, TX's Dinosaur World, which was a big hit with our first-grader-to-be. And we've stopped for lunch in towns like Amarillo and Centerville.

So, here are my three things to do today:

1. Pick an activity we'll all enjoy
2. Remember my kids are this little only once!
3. Photo document today's activities

What will you do today?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Write 'em down—no, really

Words are more powerful when we put them in ink (or pixels). When you take that moment each day to write down the three things you will do for yourself, you're making a promise.

When I put my three things on my to-do list, I'm more likely to follow through.

20 winks

When is the last time you got 8 hours of sleep? What about 10? I think a full night's sleep is one of the nicest gifts we can give ourselves. But how many of us really do it?

I'm guilty. Guilty of staying up late to watch one more show or read one more chapter. I tell myself I need the adult time after the kids go to bed. I need to focus on me for a few minutes. And that's true.

Enter thunderstorms. Or nightmares. Or a teething baby. It's a formula for midnight wakeups and hourly disturbances that keep your sleep fitful all night long.

Admittedly, there are some events you don't control. If you're traveling, if you have a sleep disorder, or if there's a newborn in the house, you're probably not choosing to lose sleep.

But what about the rest of us? Are we expecting too much? Are we trying to do just one more thing, or have we overcommitted ourselves so much we've sacrificed our restful hours?

There are lots of studies on sleep. Some say your memory is better after a full night's rest. Other studies show your immune system is weakened when you don't get enough sleep. I see the physical proof in the mirror every morning. When I log a solid eight snoozing, my skin looks healthier. My eyes are brighter. I don't just look better. I feel better.

So why are we denying ourselves this simple gift?

My three gifts to myself today:

1. An early bedtime

2. 10 quiet minutes of restful thought

3. 20 minutes of yoga

What are yours?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Pantie problems

Is your life like your underwear drawer?

My bra and pantie cubby is overflowing. Some of it doesn't fit anymore. There are a few items that have been hanging around since 1997. And I can't seem to let any of it go.

The problem is, I expect a lot from two little articles of clothing. And I hold onto my favorites way too long. Sometimes I need my underwear to be comfortable. Sometimes I want it to match. And sometimes I just want it to be invisible. (Have you ever noticed how the really cute bras and panties aren't comfortable?) So some are for wearing, some are for sharing, and there are pairs I'll only wear as long as no one ever sees me in them.

Here's my problem. I haven't taken the time to get organized. And I suspect if I spent a little time I could find more sets that meet both needs—cute and comfortable. Until I get organized I'm always going to be pulling out mismatched sets that disappoint.

Do you have similar underwear woes or other other areas of disorganization in your life? I'd love to hear your stories.

My three things I'm going to do for myself today:

1. Give myself at least 15 minutes to read.

2. Give myself at least 45 minutes to write.

3. Give myself a facial.

What are you doing for yourself today?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The busy woman's mocha latte

I've already mentioned my insatiable love of coffee drinks. To say I'm a coffee purist would be a lie. I used to be until my love of coffee was soiled by the extras the coffee shops push on you—chocolate, milk, whipped cream ... syrup.

So now that I've ruined my taste for the bean as it was meant to be consumed, it's harder to satisfy my craving. I'm a little embarrassed by the number of times I do manage to make it to the coffee shop each week. But here's a quick cheat for the morning where that doesn't happen.

I take a bottle of Starbucks frapuccino (mocha flavored)—the kind that's meant to be consumed cold—and nuke the heck out of it. (I'm not so far down the road that I can enjoy cold coffee, whether or not you dress it up with fancy labels, like "iced.") Then I add whipped cream and chocolate sauce.

It ain't fancy, but it works.

And, voila! First thing for me I've done today.

How are you doing on your list?

Airing my dirty laundry

Yes, I hide my laundry. And if you've ever been to my house, you're part of the conspiracy. I graciously tuck all of my unmentionables out of sight and you pretend not to notice the cobwebs, the bulging doors, and the hastily stacked mail on the end table.

The problem is, I'm not willing to give up one of my projects to do housework.

When I first imagined staying home with the kids, it was going to be so much easier. Sure, we'd always have fresh laundry because I'd be home to do it. I didn't count on an active three year old and an infant who spends so much time on my hip she thinks she's attached. (Pause to pick something out of the baby's mouth.)

So OK. I resolve today to stop worrying about it. And if you don't mind my mess, I won't mind yours either.

My three things I'm going to do for myself today:

1. Lunch with a friend

2. A coffee drink

3. 10 quiet minutes to daydream

What about you? Do you have any resolutions? And what three things will you do for yourself today?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The cable guy

Have you ever been in such a hurry after you jumped out of the shower that you didn't stop to cover up? Yeah, me too. Usually this works out OK for me but the other day the cable guy forgot to mention he'd be in the backyard ... I hate it when they don't knock!

I did three things for me today. Did you?

For fun

Here are three things you can do for yourself with your kids:

- Paint your toenails. If you have a boy, try clear nail polish. He'll enjoy being included and it protects his toenails from cracking, especially in summer sandal weather.

- Facials. Opt for the peel off kind. Your kids will have fun peeling off your "skin."

- Bubble bath. If your tub's big enough everyone can hop in. On a smaller scale, you can all soak your feet.

What do you do to reward yourself?

-- Post From My iPhone

Three things for you

I've got a fierce mocha latte habit. Every morning, the craving starts as soon as the light filters through the blinds in my bedroom. In fact, sometimes the scheming begins the night before. What errands can I rearrange to swing by the coffee shop?

Yes, I've been a sucker for stopping by certain grocery stores because they feature coffee bars. My husband will tell you it's an addiction to the bean. But it's really much more, though it took me while to realize it. Sometimes that swing by the coffee shop is the one thing I do for myself all day.

In between diapers, feedings, cooking, cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, and freelance gigs, it's easy to lose yourself. That's when the resentment creeps in. Not far behind is a sense of hopelessness. And finally, anger. Yes. Anger.

Why are the kids so demanding? Why can't the spouse get home earlier, and why doesn't he understand I need him to take over the kids so I can finish the 16 chores I started in the midst of all of the chaos of the day? There's a simple answer. Too often we don't ask. And we get so busy giving, we don't give to ourselves.

Ladies, let's face it. Whether you work inside or outside the home, work doesn't stop at 5 p.m. And there's always one more thing.

Today, make sure that one more thing you do is for YOU. That's why I'm making a commitment to three for me. That's three things I'll do every day just for me.

My daily three for me:

1. Paint my toenails.

2. Enjoy a cup of tea.

3. Read for 15 minutes.

Will you take the three for me pledge?