Monday, November 30, 2009

Job search

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

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

Monday, November 23, 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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can be a real leap for me, because I often feel I'm stealing time for a "hobby" (god, I hate that word) because I'm unpublished.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

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

What are you balancing in your life?

Having a good time?

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

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

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

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

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

Not feeling it

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

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

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

What are you doing for yourself today?

Friday, November 20, 2009

My thank you list

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

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

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A red letter day

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

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

Or has it?

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

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What matters most

Warning: Rant in progress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bad role models

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 16, 2009

The stash

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

Giving thanks

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

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

Feel free to add your own in the comments section.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Read the labels—it will scare you

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

Let me repeat that. Labels lie.

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 13, 2009

How much TV is too much?

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thank you, veterans

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

1. Grandpa was a fighter pilot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Romeo was a bad friend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 9, 2009

Part of your world

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

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

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

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

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

Communication break down

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

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

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

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Entertaining Aussie style

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

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

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

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

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

Presents in your presence

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Mulch much?

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

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

Wouldn't that be something?

Overcoming self doubt

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

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

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

Forgive my sleep obsession ...

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

The fast and the furious

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Life before kids

Did you have one?

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I am not your broom

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

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

OK, back to mopping.

Paper magic

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

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

Monday, November 2, 2009

Work and Kids

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

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

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

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