Friday, July 31, 2009

Just say no

I dislike saying no to a project. As a freelancer, my work comes sporadically; I can have a week or two so intense I barely sleep. These peaks are typically followed by valleys of near thumb twiddling. I so fear the slow weeks, I tend to over-commit. Oh, you've done that too?

Why do we feel like we need to take on so much? I know my limitations, but I tend to turn a blind eye to them. I always - won't I ever learn? - paint a much rosier picture than reality turns out to be. So, my goal is to be choosier. I will do less, which means I'll make less. But more importantly, I'll sleep more and spend time with my family. Hmm, maybe that's what they mean by discriminating taste.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Lunchbox losers

Did you know some lunchboxes have lead in them? Other problem toxins are phthalates and BPA. In your child's lunchbox.

So what's a parent to do? Find web sites that offer chemical-free options. Here are four options: (type in lead free lunch box) (type in lead free lunch box) (currently offering free shipping)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

It wasn't me

I have two kids. I expect them to take responsibility for their actions. This is central to my ideals both as a parent and as a responsible adult: Everyone makes mistakes but those who are willing to own up - and claim the mishap as their own - win my loyalty. It's not easy to admit failure. My Type A personality doesn't like being wrong. Ever. But I am, and I have to admit it - to myself and to whomever else is involved - if I'm going to make things right. Or at least better.

Apology Nation made me think about how few of our public figures are willing to take responsibility when they make a mistake. Can you name three? OK, how about just one person willing to say it's my fault?

No. What you hear instead is bickering, fighting not for a stand but for who to blame when something isn't going well. Take the health care "debate." There isn't any debating going on, but there sure is a lot of finger pointing.

I have one very important question: How am I supposed to teach my kids to take ownership of a situation if all they see adults doing is passing the blame?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Apology nation

So sorry. Two little words, a phrase we probably all learned before we turned 2. They can be hard words to say, but so often they're tossed around in a fashion that obscures their meaning. The lady at the grocery store who nudges you out of the way and says it carelessly over her shoulder. The kid who pushes her brother off the slide and throws out a sorry to avoid the stern lecture from her anxious eyed parent.

I think if we said it a little less often we'd all feel it had greater meaning. But it seems our culture is moving more quickly into a world that takes quick offense. And it makes it much harder to teach lessons about humility, respect, and forgiveness to our children.

I tend to worry too much about what others think. I'm constantly censoring myself because I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. And when I do speak out, I spend a lot of time worrying about what others think about me—and my opinion.

So here's my call today—let's all spend a little less time judging, a little more time extending that benefit of the doubt, and try to respect others' feelings and opinions. There's much more beauty in a world filled with a variety of opinions, even if they don't match our own ideas and values. Because, without it, how else do we learn?

Potting training gone awry

What to do when a child decides she's not interested in using the toilet? Did I mention she's been able to use the potty for over a year? When she wants to, of course.

Control. What's more heady to a preschooler? What can your three-your-old (or four-year-old) say no to today? It's a learning process. For both of us. Let's just hope the thrill of being a big kid soon outweighs the need to be the boss.

Fight or flight

I've got a buzz going and it's not from coffee this morning. I haven't had a drop ... yet. It's that extra boost of energy you get when your plate is so full there's no time for anything else.

Have you ever had that tingly sensation and been stymied? You have a ton to do but the stars don't align? In my case, I'm praying for good kiddie karma today. Long naps, happy play next to me while I'm working on projects. Then, as soon as I'm finished, some fantastically fun adventure. Got any suggestions?

But first, about that coffee ...

Monday, July 27, 2009

Queen of the house

"Who's Mess" started me thinking ... A man's house is his castle, right? So that makes his wife the ... housekeeper?

Wait, that's not how the fairytale goes. But ask yourself this: When you notice a ring around the bathtub at a friend's house, do you automatically think, 'Wow, her husband's a bad housekeeper?'

Why not?

My husband will tackle any household task, from scrubbing toilets to laundry or cooking. But sometimes life gets busy. And I admit I'm a reluctant housekeeper. I'd much rather be going to the swimming pool and the zoo, writing and editing, eating lunch with friends. But a clean space is the most zen thing. It feels great to slip between clean sheets.

Between me and my husband, we can make an agreement that sometimes the dishes will wait. And I just can't control it if company drops by and thinks, 'Wow, she must be really lazy.' But I can resolve to never be so judgmental of my own friends.

Today, I promise to:
• Fold laundry only if I feel like it
• Do dishes if it strikes my fancy
• Cook if I feel hungry

Who's mess?

Last week, we spent the entire day cleaning. The house looked worse than when we started.

My children seem most comfortable with a certain level of clothes and toys covering their floor. I never considered myself a neat freak - hey, messes happen - but I'm quickly re-evaluating that opinion. I feel like I'm constantly telling one of them to pick up. Shoes, construction paper, dishes, books, Play-Dough. It's all spread evenly throughout my house. And I have neither the time nor inclination to stand behind them, ensuring the job is done.

That's why the house looks the way it does. And I'm so tense. My long term goal hasn't changed: my kids will learn how to pick up after themselves. But when company's on the way, I may have to change tactics. Who wants to play outside?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Lap rules

I love when my husband accompanies me to the pool. I get to swim laps while he watches both kids for about 15 minutes. But today I got scolded out of the lap lane.

I was a swim instructor and coach for years - paid my way through high school and college. My point is I thought I knew something about swim etiquette. You swim in a circular pattern, starting on your right. At least that's what I thought. I was told today that there could only be two simmers at a time (read: older women who don't like to swim with splashing children) because they each had half the lane. When I suggested we could all use the space if we swam in the circular pattern, I got blank stares. Then I was told no, they couldn't possibly do that.

I wonder sometimes if this is how my kids feel. Adults barely listening because they've already made a decision. My job is to listen and process what they tell me before I blindly decree.

And if you're wondering, my pool does have a circular lap rule.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The longest days

Sometimes a day seems much longer than it should. We had one of those today with a whirlwind out of trip to see family. We pulled out of the driveway with the kids fresh out of their pajamas and pulled back in again when it was 15 minutes past bedtime. Sometimes there's no help for it. Schedules must be broken.

But home seems like a special haven tonight.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Work and kids; the new oil and water

It's really hard to get any freelance work done when you're watching a couple of little ones. And, in theory, I'd really rather not. What I mean is, I want it all. Great playtime with the kids, a compartmentalized work time, and adult time with my husband.

Life's a little bit messier than that.

So here are a few tips to get stuff done when you can't keep all of the elements of your life so separate.

1. Play Doh. My almost four year old loves to create while he sits next to me at the dining room table. My infant cruises around us and plays with various toys in her orbit while my computer stays safely out of reach.

2. Indoor play areas. My favorite is the one at McDonald's, because I can get a coffee while he's running. My baby sits in the high chair and nibbles on munchies or in my baby sling, and I can edit on paper.

3. Tall furniture. In a pinch, I'll place my computer on the DVD shelf in the family room and compute while my kids play toys around me.

The nice part of all of this is that it avoids extra TV time or computer time, and the kids still feel like I'm present, even when they don't have my full attention.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Work it out

My kids started the day as they do most every other: with a fight.

I have a sibling and we bickered. We also knew we were in charge of working through our disagreement. Being able to sort out who gets the blue-handled scissors is first - and for how long - is no small feat in this household. But my rule is if I have to intervene, the object of the fight is mine. Works pretty well to maintain squabbles.

My goal isn't to end up with 15 or 20 odd toys tucked onto the top shelf of my closet by day's end. I want my kids to understand how to work through their own problems. I'm hoping they learn to work it out before my shelf breaks.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Not your grandfather's water

Water is water - or is it? The Environmental Working Group gave most bottle water company's failing grades because the companies were not forthcoming with where the water came from and how it was filtered. Fertilizer and medication were found in some of the bottles. I don't know about you, but I expect my water to be contaminate-free.

Like most people I know, I no longer drink soda. Except when we travel and end up at a McDonald's. Hey, they have a play structure where my kids can burn off some energy. And I like root beer. But I digress....water is my drink of choice, at least until the kids are in bed and I can pour the glass of red wine I've been wishing for since 4 o'clock when the first major pre-dinner meltdown started. So I drink a lot of it, every single day. And I want it to be just water. Without anything else in it.

Good magazine's most recent issue focused on how we - that's right, you and me - are screwing up our kids' chances of drinking clean water. For years, I assumed water would always just be there. And it will, just not in a drinkable state. (If you don't get it, Good is pretty, well, good.)

So here's my challenge. Can you make three changes tomorrow that will help improve our chances for clean, potable water? I'll promise if you do.

Monday, July 20, 2009

That's what she said

"What's this? And where did you put it?" These are the words I overheard my husband speaking to one of our children this evening while I was in the kitchen cooking. I had to chuckle, realizing how often I speak the same words every day. I can't tell you what it was or where they put it, but we can figure the answer out together with a simple multiple choice quiz.

1. What's this?
a. A clump of dog or cat fur
b. A kernel of puppy chow
c. Something flammable
d. Something with a cutting edge

2. Where did you put it?
a. In the couch
b. In the toilet
c. In your mouth
d. In an alternate body cavity (nostril, ear, etc.)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

When he wants you

I was 17 when my 27-year-old boss asked me on a date. Well, he didn't ask me directly. He asked the assistant manager to ask me. I politely declined. But that didn't end it. For the next several weeks my work experience alternated between awkward silences when the boss (who owned the store) was present and listening to him regale me and my fellow co-worker with stories of his latest affair with a married woman. In full, sexually explicit detail.

When I finally confessed to my parents, they refused to allow me to return. A policeman escorted me to collect my last paycheck.

It was one of a few brushes I've had in my adult life with sexual harassment. But it left a lifelong impression.

Recently I learned an article I wrote on sexual harassment received an award. Reading back over the stories women shared about their experiences with harassment, I'm struck again by the idea that so many women who still face uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous situations in the workplace.

Have you ever experienced sexual harassment? How did you handle it? And what advice would you give your mother, sister, or daughter?

The network

I've spent the last couple of days at the Taos Summer Writer's Conference. A great event in a lovely, if touristy, town. Writers, poets and publishers ascended the 8,000-foot terrain to mix, mingle and meet.

That's what writing is about: who you know.

Every writer I've ever spoken to says the same thing. Thankfully, it's not about dropping names (this may help at times, I suppose). One of the keys to networking is to meet people for who they are and not what they might possibly - some day - get you. I've met wordsmiths I never knew; now I'll read their work and learn from them.

I have a very jaded acquaintance who likes to point out all the pitfalls in the business. No doubt, there are many. And that philosophy can be overlaid to just about any industry. Instead of dwelling on what can't be changed, why not meet others who know the ropes, can tell you of the perils of the climb?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

What the bookstore knows ... and the library doesn't

My son can always find at least five books he wants to take home with him every time we go to the bookstore. Chip off the old block, and I'm proud. I never get out of the bookstore myself without dropping at least $50.

So why doesn't the library elicit the same reaction? Same product, right, only it's free and you can return it as soon as the new wears off?

It's simple. The bookstore is smarter. Our library is very kid friendly. It's got places for kids to color, story times, toy dinosaurs, and puzzles. They put the emphasis everywhere BUT the books. So the result: The kids go there and play. And don't crack a book.

Our bookstore is so different. The books are displayed in splashy, colorful glory. On racks where the kids can reach. With turn styles, on tables, and brilliantly sectioned by age and interest. It's easy to find Dr. Suess or a new book on whales.

Sorry, Dewey Decimal system. You're just not that kid friendly.

The bookstore has to be smarter. Otherwise kids won't sample the crack they're selling. The word stew will never be sampled, and they'll miss out on a lifelong customer.

Wish my library could figure that out.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Slow cooking

Ever had a day where everyone needs you NOW? Yeah, I know, I look forward to those days, too.

The only way I can slog through the seemingly endless demands is with the help of a list. And a crock pot. I'm serious. My crock pot is my favorite kitchen tool. By far. Sorry, mandolin and fancy blender, you don't make meals while I'm running around trying to fix everyone else's problems.

The crock pot is the one item I can count on to give me what I need: A healthy meal when my family is ready to eat. If my to-do list has more than three items on it at the start of the day, I get out the crock pot. Why three? Because no day ever stays that sane. And we don't even have a pet. At the moment. I've been told Santa plans to correct this. He should have conference called me.

Today, as I deal with juggling another writing assignment, childcare and professional development, the one thing I'm not worrying about is what's for dinner. The crock pot has it covered.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Do it yourself

I got another add from a company that wants to clean my house today. Sometimes the idea appeals to me. I adore clean work and living spaces, but it's almost impossible to achieve unless I'm constantly running behind my two little mess-making cyclones (read: children).

So what's a girl to do?

Well, there's nothing wrong with cleaning your own toilet. I think it keeps you humble ... in a good way. Do you think Mark Sanford would have had time to run around with his Argentine hottie if he was busy cleaning up his own messes? It's a funny idea.

But on a serious note, my real resistance to hiring a cleaning service—beyond cost—is guilt. A few years ago, I read Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich. The premise is fantastic. Barbara takes a series of minimum wage jobs to demonstrate how people can't survive on minimum wage. One of the jobs she took was with a cleaning service.

And we should all be ashamed. These (mostly) women are hardly more than slaves, just so everyone in America can afford to have someone else wash their floors and wipe their windowsills.

So I say, "No thanks." I'd rather scrub my own floors. It's character building, right? That's what I tell myself. At the very least, it keeps me humble.

Grasshoppers in the garden

I am all for nature. My kids and I spend more time watching the animals out our picture windows than we do watching TV. This, I hope, is a good thing. But I have a caveat about my love of the outdoors: all the little beings must stay out of my garden and house. When they don't, it's a call to action.

Last week, thousands of grasshoppers started popping up through the grass. More jumped into my garden, their mandibles munching busily on my tomatoes and baby spinach leaves. Like Laura, Mary, Ma and Pa (from the Little House on the Prairie series), I watched, helpless, while the pests chewed through my tender crops. And my hopes for fresh produce dwindled.

Worries are like those little grasshoppers; concerns about money and schedules find fertile ground in my head. The niggling thoughts scurry through my head, crawling over my well-laid plans, eating at the corners. Soon, not much is left but the slim stalk of hope.

But the grasshoppers don't have to win. I have knowledge. I have the Internet.

I make a list of positive events each day, nurturing my felicity as one does a seedling just pushing through the dark moist soil. Over time, the worries prey less and my blessings grow until they bloom, rich and heavy with fruit. And I continue to watch, taking stock daily. Inattention allows the pests of doubt to return, consuming my thoughts as surely as they eat my carrots.

Thank you to my family for their love and support. It's the nourishment I need.

And those grasshoppers don't stand a chance. Armed with my Neem oil, I sprayed them off the rest of my tomatoes.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The multitasking myth

I once had an employee who had behaviors that very closely resembled a dog my husband owned growing up. The dog, Benji, could get his chain hung up on the tiniest stick in the yard. Once he was hooked, he was helpless. My little assistant was the same way. She just couldn't see how to work to get her tasks finished. If she got stuck on one chore, she might spend the rest of the day howling about it. The end result: She was always running behind and never understood why she failed.

It's not about multitasking. I've never agreed with the premise that you can do several things at once and be awesome at all of them. Think of it this way: How would you feel if you were in the phone with your mom and she was typing an e-mail, cooking dinner, and watching TV while you're trying to explain what you really want to do with your life?

No, I don't think anyone really multitasks effectively. That said, in my effort to organize this month I have been reflecting on simul-tasking. You know, working on several things in a row. Same as multitasking, right? Wrong.

Here's the difference. Working most effectively for me means being able to prioritize tasks on several projects. Mothers everywhere know this drill. Start the water boiling for pasta. Put the baby in her high chair. Thaw the meat. Get a drink for the oldest. Fill the baby's tray with finger foods. Add the pasta. Somewhere in there, you manage to feed two kids and prepare a dinner (probably while doing six or seven other tasks). It's just a matter of taking little steps on each project every day to make it work.

So before I let myself become consumed by any of my tasks, I try to focus on moving all of my projects forward every day. That way I feel like I'm making progress on all fronts—and I don't let my world fall apart anytime a stick crosses my path.

The purge

Summer's the best time: Hot weather should mean lazy days by the pool. With school out and kids to entertain, this is the season when my business slows down. That's my promise to my kids. Summer is ours.

We hike, we swim, we read and we play. Hard. Laundry piles amass while the dishes sit in the sink until lunch. Cleaning comes at the end of the day, when those long, orange rays of sun barely push through the windows.

This is my favorite time of year. I purge the chores and clients and to-do lists. I only take on what I have to; the other nine-and-a-half months of the year offer plenty of time for ambition and stringent schedules. Right now, I'm playing with my kids. And that's better than any assignment.

Who will you make memories with today?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Making the list

Lists are a very important part of my life. When I was little, my mom would carefully print a chores list every Saturday morning. This was our blueprint for the day. And when we were finished ... freedom.

It's a habit I've carried over through my professional and home life. I like seeing everything spelled out in neat print. Somehow it isn't real to me until I've written it down.

What doesn't always make the list, though, is the stuff for me. I forget to write "enjoy a cup of coffee on the patio" next to "drop off the dry cleaning." The grocery shopping makes the list, but reading a good book doesn't.

So sometimes it's fun to go AWOL. Like today. I consumed a book. Read it all. It was delicious. And I didn't touch my list. Time for that tomorrow, right?


I'm sure some of you are with me on this. You love the taste of chocolate. In fact, you crave it.

If you're eating really dark chocolate - over 70% cocoa - you're craving may actually be good for you. Wait! Don't consume the entire bar. That is definitely not healthy.

Chocolate has both fat and calories, both of which will add pounds to your waistline. A better choice is to nibble a small piece, about one square, a day. The high levels of flavanols in the dark chocolate can ease blood vessels and reduce cholesterol. The most important part to remember is small dosages. Yes, it can be satisfying. Here are a few of my favorite chocolate pick-me-ups:

1. Three dark-chocolate-covered almonds. This is my absolute favorite because I'm giving my heart a double helping of health.
2. A one-ounce square of dark chocolate with a handful of dried cherries. Just try it.
3. A teaspoon of high quality (non-alkalized) cocoa powder in my morning coffee. Ever heard of a mocha? This is better for you.

What will you do for yourself today?

Friday, July 10, 2009


I've never really enjoyed jigsaw puzzles. There have always been other, most exciting activities I could pursue. Like organizing my cookbooks by genre and author.

One of my kids is a puzzle fanatic. So I've learned to like puzzles. Actually, I think puzzles are a great toy - and not just for kids. Puzzles teach geometry, spacial reasoning and (what I think is the most important of all) patience. Even if it's a small puzzle, say 100 pieces, it still takes a while to sit down and put it together. Bigger puzzles - and the 3-D versions - can take days or weeks. I think this deferred gratification is fabulous. With so much knowledge digitized and available in real-time, it's an important lesson to realize you can't have everything now.

Patience is one of those key skills that few people have and most of us have to cultivate. I am not a patient person by nature. Having kids has forced me to re-evaluate my get-it-done-this-second mentality. I've learned to slow down, take deep breaths and focus on my kids, not the task of raising them. Deferring gratification is also necessary for building wealth: When it comes to investing, you have to take a long-term view. Day-trading isn't going to grow my portfolio, but picking some good stocks to hold for years will.

If this is a skill you need to hone, buy or pull out a 500-piece puzzle. The time spent is relaxing and the result - whenever it comes - is worth the work.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Move over Aunt Flo, the Sandman’s in town

Feel like you can’t be a grump EVER without someone making a sexist comment about how your period is to blame? Yeah, in the words of Michael Jackson, it’s so ignorant.

Often this comment comes from some male jackass who immediately brays afterward. (Ever think laughing at your own jokes shows a lack of intelligence?) The best part is, some studies show that men have cycles too—so perhaps next time your uncle or brother is out-of-sorts, you can chuckle affectionately and place a condescending hand on his arm.

But the truth is, 99 percent of the time if I’m grumpy, it’s a lack of sleep that’s to blame. Adults should optimally get seven to nine hours of snooze time every night. But who’s really doing that?

I am.

Sleeping makes me a pleasant, smarter, healthier person.

Oh, I know, it’s not something you can do every night. But it’s one of the most important things you can do for yourself.

Anyone who’s ever read the sleep advice books for kids knows that healthy sleep habits are one of the greatest gifts we can give our kids.

So why aren’t we doing it for ourselves too?

Fewer toxins in my cosmetics, please

This is one of my biggest pet peeves. Why, oh why, is there lead in lipstick? Formaldehyde in baby shampoo? Petrolatum (a petroleum derivative) in my moisturizer?

As the body's largest organ and first defense against the atmospheric gunk, the skin has a pretty touch job. I don't think we're helping it much to literally pour, slather and soak in chemicals. Yes, they can and do permeate the skin. That, my friends, is not a good thing.

I want you to do something. Take action. Stand up and fight against unnecessary chemicals and toxins. Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is a watchdog group made up of environmental groups (including the Clean Water Fund and Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition) that have said "no more" to toxic cosmetics. The site offers a nifty Skin Deep Database that will give you a "hazard score" for your makeup, skin care, hair care, baby products, nail polish, fragrance and toothpaste. I was disappointed to find my all-mineral makeup still scored a 3, which is borderline bad. I'll be surfing the site for a better option.

Be beautiful, be natural and be safe.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Oh, you'll do it for me?

I'm naughty, and I've occasionally been known to play the helpless little girl role in stores to get what I want. (Does this come with any discounts? *Twirling my hair, sheepish grin*) In my search to get organized I made a wonderful discovery—the Internet makes this all possible without the hair twirling.

Case in point: The freelance project I'm working on has been slaughtering toner cartridges. It's insane. Thousands of pages. And it ran out yesterday, mid-project. The thought of loading the kids in the car and driving around to six different office supply stores to find the right fit nearly unhinged me.

Guess what? I found my cartridge online. And a $20 discount. And they'll deliver it. And so $86 becomes $66 dollars that shows up at my home the next day without all the hassle.

And I just worked a little smarter. (And I can save that helpless little girl role for the next time I want my husband to hang a picture.)

Positive reinforcement

At a play date the other day, one of the moms said, "We've been focusing on the negative." By this she meant she was telling her daughter what not to do and forgetting to praise the behaviors she wanted. I've known the family for some time, and this is mom is usually spot-on when it comes to positive reinforcement. I've often wished I was as upbeat a parent.

It happens to us all: the pile of chores and responsibilities stack precariously high as we try to keep it all balanced. I can't think of anyone who likes the stress associated with being pulled in so many directions. Still, we have priorities for a reason. Family, close friends and certain bosses take precedence over the multitude of tasks and people yammering for our attention. Right? OK, so not always. Maybe that's the problem.

Then how do I keep the people I love front and center on my list? How do you manage to find the time and patience for those closest to you?

Here are some coping methods to help you handle the stress:

1. Journal. This allows you to put those nebulous thoughts into words, which should help crystallize your emotions. For some, this helps to calm both the mind and body.
2. Take a walk. If you have kids at home, get them to come with you. Thirty minutes of exercise and talking about each other's activities can have a major calming effect. Plus, it's bonding time.
3. Take time out of your busy schedule to do something nice for someone you love. Leave your significant other a note telling him or her just how much they mean to you. Cut your child's PB&J sandwich into a heart. It doesn't have to be anything expensive; showing you care is as simple as a hug.

How do you keep your family front-and-center in your life?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Get it together, Part 1

One of the most difficult elements of a home business for me is getting organized. I really LOVE to put my folders together, to label them carefully with assignments, and print out my notes. For me, it's an inescapable part of the process.

I've written before about the importance of a separate work space. It's an idea I'm committed to, but I haven't yet managed to completely follow through. So, for me at least, this July is my "Get Organized" month. With five projects in the works right now--and the promise of more any day--it's really crunch time. No way I'm gonna survive if I don't do this, like, now.

Here's what I'm doing to get started:

1. Planning regular babysitting time for 2-3 hours at least once a week.
2. Setting daily goals--just as I did when I worked in an office full-time.
3. Recycling the leftovers from completed assignments to star fresh.

Want to try it with me?

Breaking a sweat

I'm great about hitting professional deadlines. I pencil in a couple of hours - at least - each day to play games, read books and basically enjoy my kids. I make nutritious meals and watch the sun set with my husband. All these are necessary for my relationships. But there's one thing I don't make enough time for: exercise.

I'm not a morning person. Never have been. Getting up at dawn to run isn't going to work. I've tried. I last about a week before I'm absolutely too exhausted to get out of bed. I know some of you have been there with me. The best of intentions and all that. And the evenings are a rush to get kids fed, bathed, read to and in bed for a major melt down. How's a girl to find time for something as mundane as exercise?

Part of the answer for me was to sneak it in bit by bit during the day. While my kids are playing quietly, I may do sit up or squats. We take nature walks (very low intensity compared to the four to five miles I prefer, but it's something). I tread water when I'm in the pool. This all helps, but it doesn't add up to a good heart-pumping workout. That's why I finally joined the local yoga studio.

For me, I have to feel obligated to add more to my daily routine. Now that I've written the check, I want to get my money's worth. That means on the days I have a babysitter, I make a beeline for whatever class is available. I'm teaming up with two other friends to keep the kids for an hour once a week. This give each of us the opportunity to take an extra couple of classes.

Here is what I'm doing for my health today:

1. Eating more veggies. Maybe a huge salad for lunch.
2. Spending an hour in a high-level cardio dance class. Nothing like sweating to a pulsing beat!
3. Scheduling in next week's classes now. That way there's no excuse.

What will you do for your health today?

Monday, July 6, 2009

My Space

When we first bought our house, it seemed like an incredible amount of space for us and our two kitties. Enter dog. And kids. No surprise I've been feeling a little cramped lately.

If there's one thing I miss, it's my office. I foolishly thought because I so must of my work on the laptop I just didn't need office space. I didn't account for the tools of my trade: books, folders, photography equipment, digital recorders, notebooks, pens ... the list goes on and on. So I do most of my work at the dining room table with my stack of goods next to me.

But a little personal space is pretty critical. I never felt the need more than this last year, after the birth of my daughter. Not only did we lose a bedroom to our new addition, she took over ours. With a co-sleeper attached to the bed, she was firmly entrenched as a partial owner of my space.

The good news: She sleeps through the night now. In her own bed. And taking the co-sleeper down prompted another action: a spiff up of the bedroom, complete with paint, new bedding, drapes ... the works. No more an alternative feeding space. Goodbye burp cloths, binkies, and the like. This is serious adult space.

I love my kids ... and I love having my space, too.

Today, I promise to:

1. Spend at least 30 minutes relaxing in my space
2. Find a quiet time to write
3. Read

What will you do for yourself today?

Casual affairs

What's happened to the sanctity of marriage? In the past two weeks, we've been bombarded with headlines of philandering husbands and behind-the-scenes wives. Worse, the media hasn't considered the kids' feelings as new lascivious tidbits are released.

And then we tell our children to get and stay married. With 50 percent of marriages failing and an increase in "starter marriages," what are we really showing our kids? Remember the old adage, "Actions speak louder than words." If we want a country where people stay together - for better and for worse - we're going to have to rethink whether it's worth sensationalizing extra-marital affairs.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Independence Day

This is one of my favorite holidays. When else can you eat hot dogs, watermelon, snow cones and then watch fireworks in a dazed, overfull stupor? OK, so that's not the point of the holiday. So let's talk about what is.

1. Community: We need days like today to interact with friends, neighbors and even complete strangers. Life is about connections and relationships; take the day to remember why you moved to a certain neighborhood, town or city.
2. A bit of nationalism: We're Americans. We're proud to be "free and independent" as Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote. Notice I said a bit. No reason to go overboard and piss off your non-native co-workers at the company picnic.
3. History: In our 233 years as a nation, we've done some things very well and others poorly. Let's acknowledge both and learn how to make the future stronger, safer and brighter.

Happy 4th of July!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Hot weather, cool tempers

When my husband was growing up, he had a couple of longtime neighbors that always planned a huge 4th of July extravaganza in their backyard. Think grilling, horse shoes, all the American family pastimes.

Along with all the food and fun, this family—we'll call them the Flops--fought. A little too much beer, a little too much sun, and the afternoons always entailed a boxing match. It was a joke around my husband's house: "The Flops are at it again."

Every year, the Flops set out with the expectation of a fun-filled family event. And every year it ended with a rumble through the azaleas.

Our own holidays tend to be a little, ahem ... quieter. But I do wonder if the hot temperatures can have an inflaming effect on tempers that are naturally inclined to run a little hot.

As I enjoy a cool drink on the patio this weekend, I'll think of the Flops ... and hope they're celebrating this hot weather with cooler tempers.

Happy 4th!

Summer rains

I live in the high desert. To many that means hot temperatures and little, if any, vegetation. And drought is a constant.

While it is true we don't get a lot of water, July is typically the wet season. Temperatures drop by 15 degrees and the ground is saturated as moisture weeps from the sky. The dry, brittle grasses of June flourish again and the cactus bloom in a profusion of reds, pinks and even yellows. Hollyhock blossoms burst from their stalks and birds, chipmunks, and even snakes flit about. July brings renewed life.

Today, as the gray clouds linger and water trickles slowly down my window panes, I find myself thinking about second chances. Everyone has goals; thy are akin to hope and purpose. Or at least offer a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

So here they are, some of my goals:

1. Spend more quality time with my family
2. Exercise with more frequency - unfortunately, the walk to the mailbox doesn't really count as a workout
3. Write for at least an hour

What will you do for yourself today?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Seize the moment

Laughter, little secrets, a renewed connection - these are just some of the benefits of making time with friends. Last night, I met up with four other women for cocktails. Our cocktail hour ran a little long; five hours later, I was pulling into the driveway. But you know something, that's the way it should be: Losing track of time may be just as important as always being prompt. It means you're having fun, you're connecting.

Girl time is more than just having fun. When we talk and interact with others, we're happier and less stressed. There's even research documenting our girl-friend phenomenon. Yeah, there's always something else we probably should be doing: Kids, husbands, house cleaning, that one last assignment and even laundry take precedence over fun. But it's shared moments like last night - with the fruity drinks and the hours of laughter - I'm going to remember a lot longer than whether my floors were mopped.

Regina Brett of The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio once wrote a column titled 45 Lessons Life Taught Me. Here are her top four:

1. Life isn't fair, but it's still good.
2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.
3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone...
4. Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your friends and parents will. Stay in touch.

What will you do for yourself today?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Breast friends

I woke up this morning with a couple of cantelopes strapped to my chest. At least, that's what it felt like. No, I'm not some post-op breast enhancement victim. I'm just lactating. A lot.

Moo. That's what I feel like sometimes. A glorified cow. Worse yet, because I pump extra milk for donation and for nights out, if I don't keep up a regular pumping schedule, I end up with the chest of a less-than-sensible exotic dancer.

To me, that's the funniest part. I know some guys go gaga over the "enhanced" look, but do they really realize what it is they find so attractive? One word: lactators! Those big, fake boobs are merely mimicking the look of breasts engorged with milk.

Then there's the fact I leak. Like a faucet. As if the achy engorged feeling weren't bad enough, I sport a couple of wet spots on my chest and my scent can best be described as au lait. If the look of engorged breasts is so attractive, is the smell of breast milk some sort of fertility pheromone?

Our bodies do some pretty darned strange things. But they're pretty amazing too.

Let the sun shine in!

Sun shine, birds twittering. Yes, it's finally summer. I admit it, I'm a sun junkie. My house has walls of windows and skylights. After a full day of clouds, I get mopey. I rarely turn on a light switch during the day. I spend hours outdoors.

Sun helps to make Vitamin D. Last October,
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) doubled the recommended amount of vitamin D for infants, children and adolescents from 200 IU to 400 IU a day. This May, some researchers suggested increasing doses of Vitamin D to a whopping 2,000 IUs a day. Note that the AAP does not recommend children getting more than 2,000 IUs per day.

Here are some good sources of Vitamin D:

  • Fatty fish. Think salmon, tuna or sardines

  • Milk, specifically cow

  • Certain cereals

  • Fortified juices

  • Sunlight, if it's between 10 and 20 minutes a day on bare skin (Because UV rays are known to cause cancer, I'm not running around without my sun screen.)

Vitamin D is fat soluble, which means the vitamin may need some fat or oil to be absorbed properly. That makes cow's milk and salmon great sun alternatives. However you choose to get it, make sure you pay attention to your Vitamin D intake. It's not just for strong bones - though who doesn't want those?

The grudge report

Please don't tell anyone, bit I kind of hold grudges. Part of it is because I don't do a good job of expressing my likes and dislikes. I get too worried about hurting people's feelings.

If you've ever answered "I don't care" when someone asked where you wanted to go to dinner--and fretted later because the person didn't read your mind--you're guilty. Sometimes the nicest thing you can do is just be a little more straightforward.

That's why I'm going to practice these steps for healthier communication:

1. Be honest with myself and others about my likes and dislikes.
2. Speak from the heart.
3. Let go of little problems and hurts.

One final note: my personal pet peeve is when people use honesty as permission to say anything. (You know, stuff like this: "Yes, grandma, we're using the dishes you gave us ... as planters." Or, "Sure boss, that's a great idea, and if you could just find someone else to do it right ...") So for me, I'll focus on a happier balance of truth with compassion.

What will you do for yourself today?
-- Post From My iPhone