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?

What is my role?

Do any of you wonder that from time to time? How are you, the mother, wife or professional women supposed to interact with your family? I've been thinking about this quite a bit over the past few months.

If you have children, your career choice may be more muddled. Bills for groceries, mortgages, insurance, dance, soccer, piano lessons or gymnastics must be paid. Therefore, money must be earned. Yet, at the same time, someone must be available to pick up children at prescribed times, make dinner, walk the dog. If your part of a two-partner system, it's easier to divvy up the work. If you're single, you get sole ownership. I did this for two months when my husband took a new job. I have complete and utter respect for single parents.

While talking to other moms, the most common thread in our discussions is our ability to do nothing well. I think we are much too hard on ourselves. It's not easy to work and be the primary caregiver to our kids. More fathers are stepping into this main parenting role, which may teach moms how to relax enough to enjoy moments as it comes. Too often, though, I see women (yes, including me) who want to do it all -- have the successful career, spend hours of quality, educational time with our kids, cook from scratch every night and have a loving, supportive relationship with our spouse. Martha Stewart couldn't do it. So why should I put that much pressure on myself?

I've a new plan to ease some of my supermom angst. Each day I will:
1. Write down three things I accomplished.
2. Spend at least two hours with my kids. Focused on their needs.
3. Talk to my husband or a friend about concerns so they don't become overwhelming.

How will you take care of yourself today?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Salt it up

Convenience foods. Sounds friendly, doesn't it?

Boy have I had an education.

When I was preggers, I was a big label reader. No MSG, nitrates, nitrites. My friends still tease me about it. "We always know when you're pregnant, because you give up coffee."

I thought I was pretty good, until I decided it was time to regulate the sodium in our diet. And found salt, well, everywhere.

The fact: Salt is what they add to everything to give it flavor. Forget those "fancy" ingredients, like onions, garlic, and oregano. Just add more salt.

Is it any wonder that more than half of Americans consume more than the recommended daily allowance?

At least I know our kids won't grow up with the same salt addiction. Here at the kitchen of stately Stewart manor, it's made fresh daily, no preservatives, thank you very much.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Break ins

As the economy has worsened, I hear reports of increased burglaries in my area. Petty theft is fueled in part by desperation - people need to eat, after all - and by opportunity. Here's what you need to know about break ins.

Most burglaries take place during the day. Think about it. Who's home to stop someone from coming in and helping themselves to your electronics, jewelry, cash and whatever else is easy to nab. That's why so many people have home security systems. But, on average, it takes five minutes for police to respond to an alarm. It takes burglars about three minutes to clear you out. A dog that stays out in the backyard may not be much help either because the majority of criminals use your front door or first story window.

One of the best defenses is joining your neighborhood watch. Having someone in your community - preferably in sight of your house - keeping an eye on the comings and goings is a great deterrent to any would-be criminal. Always keep your doors and windows locked. That sounds so ridiculously obvious, but some people never bother with locks. If you have a dog that's well enough behaved, you may want to leave them in the house or with the option to come in and out through a doggy door. According to the local police department, dogs were a major deterrent because of their unpredictability.

I know most of you won't ever have a problem with a break in, but considering burglaries account for nearly 2/3 of all U.S. crimes, this is one time its definitely worth taking some precautions.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What is normal?

We've all seen it. The fit. Nearly every child in the world has pitched at least one. My oldest child still has them from time to time. The last one was Monday during school. The teacher and other students were taken aback and I was both embarrassed and disappointed. No one wants to be the parent of the naughty kid. But what do you do when your child cannot remain in control?

This is an issue I've struggled with for the past five years. My child is amazingly smart. In kindergarten, she read on a fourth-grade level and could skip-count by 17s (something she came up with to entertain herself in the car). But emotionally, she is not as advanced. She may even be behind. She's also extremely sensitive. And the results are occasionally painful. For both of us.

I've learned to discuss this problem with her teachers, coaches and friends' parents immediately. I've started a list of coping mechanisms that work - at least some of the time. But these managing techniques don't allow me to help her overcome this shortcoming.

Life's already hard, but dealing with one's child - one's possibly not "normal" child - is so much more difficult. I hope you'll share your stories. This is something we can work on and through together, as a community. Because no one's "normal" all the time. Just ask a statistician.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A writing moment

I haven't been doing enough for myself recently. Family funeral, birthdays, sick kid, and we're all running a little ragged. So in the quiet times I've been picking up some popular books to try to bottle the elements that make them successful.

My theory: If it's published, there must be something you can learn from it. Some of my current reading choices in fiction include The Time Traveler's Wife and Wuthering Heights. So beautifully written it's stunning. I'm also reading a bestselling young adult series out of curiosity.

Confession time. I've seen interviews with this author ... we'll call her Jane. Jane's written four books in a bestselling series. And she irritated me from the first moment I saw her on TV. "I had a really vivid dream and spent the next three months writing my story," she said. After a mere 15 queries, she was represented. Now her series has garnered movie rights, merchandising. Complete saturation. She was portrayed as your average housewife who just got a good idea and wrote it down. Really? That easy?

Not quite true. In reality, Jane has a degree in English Literature. So, at the very least, we know she's well read. And she's probably done a fair amount of writing, too.

Now I don't want to be a hater. But I will admit, I haven't found the stories to be well written. They break a lot of rules ... and not in a way that makes them better stories. Dream sequences, waking to alarms, pages of dullness as the main character does homework and chores. Large spaces of time where nothing happens.

But these are bestsellers, man! And the answer is in what Jane does well. Accessibility. First, her young readers want an easy read with characters they can relate to. Check. The main character is your average girl ... just like them. Check. And in between her normal teenage problems she has amazing adventures with an absolutely perfect boyfriend.

Writers write because they dream. So Jane is right. Sometimes our more primitive dreams make the best stories. So I'm going to finish reading these books in the spirit they were written. Not to admire the language and the craft, but to be immersed in the dream.