Friday, May 30, 2008

How Much Does Your Commute Cost?

I recently discovered that we pay more money each month for gas than we do for food -- that seems all sorts of wrong, but there it is. And I'm not the only one. Over at The 36-Hour Day, we're talking about how working moms are looking at their commutes in terms of dollars instead of minutes, and how teleworking may be the most fiscally and environmentally sound way to go.

Once I stopped hyperventilating and could bear to look at my budget once more, I did the math again. And again. With gas hovering around $4 a gallon, my 80-mile round-trip commute costs me about $15 a day. My husband makes the same trip (at different times), which means that we pay about $150 a week just for gas for both of us to get to work. Our food budget, for our family of sometimes-seven, is about $100 a week. When it's just the four of us, our food budget drops to about $60 a week.

Insert expletive here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Did You Chang Your Name When You Got Married?

I didn't.

There are many reasons: I was in my 30s by the time I walked down the aisle, I already had a career in my own name, with a reputation and bylines and even a book. I owned my home and car and other things outright, and changing my name on all of those legal documents was a hassle.

But, most of all, I kept my name because it was my name -- I was used to it, and replacing it with my husband's made me feel like I was faking it, somehow.

When we were filling out the forms, in our tiny town hall in liberal Massachusetts, I teased my husband, telling him, "This is your last chance to keep your name, you know." The sweet, older lady behind the counter looked like she might keel over from shock, and I felt like I had written "brazen hussy" in the "name after marriage" spot on the application.

About 90 percent of women take their husband's name when they marry, and that's more than before, according to a Harvard University study -- in spite of the fact that the societal trends that led to women keeping their names in the past (delayed marriage, higher levels of education, and increased presence in the workforce) are the same.

So, why the change? Are working women, do we feel that's a way to underscore our femininity? A way to bond with our mates? Or a way to highlight our link to our family histories -- or to our children and our futures?

I kept my name anyway. For the record: My husband kept his, too, but I still think it's hilarious whenever telemarketer's call and ask for "Mr. Alphonse."

Did you keep your name when you married? Why or why not? (Be sure to check out the comments on the original post over at The 36-Hour Day. With 68 comments and counting,t he discussion has gotten pretty lively!)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Real-Life Working Moms Need Real-Life Advice

One of my biggest issues with online support sites and self-improvement books and articles is that they all make it seem so easy when, really, most of the time, it's not. The solution may be simple (tired? Sleep more!) but that doesn't necessarily equal "easy" -- or even feasible. After a while, the advice becomes downright silly:

Summer is just around the corner, and that's when my work-life juggle really ramps up. My body is telling me that I need more sleep (it lets me know by giving me lovely hints like a double ear infection and an inability to string three words together after midnight, which is usually one of my most-productive times of day -- er, night). We've got some great things happening here at Work It, Mom!, and I want to spend plenty of time on them. My day job slows down in some ways -- there's rarely a ton of summertime news for a newspaper -- but my department handles longer feature stories and summer is THE time for those. And our big kids are with us for nine or 10 weeks, so meals are bigger, groceries need to be purchased more frequently, and there are seven schedules to coordinate instead of the usual four.

But the advice that's out there -- especially advice for working moms -- is so one-size-fits-all and obvious and, well, next to impossible for any working mom to actually do that I feel like it's all a big joke, or maybe a spin-off of that old Monty Python sketch, "How to Rid the World of All Known Diseases":

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Shine On: Working Step Moms

This week, my featured article at Shine is about how Working Step Moms are sometimes perceived as something other than working parents:

Interestingly enough, life as a Working Step Mom was different than life as a Working Mom, for me. After all, they were somebody else’s children, right? Wouldn’t their “real parent” handle all of the rough stuff, leaving me ample time in which to work?

Well, when you’re parenting, step or not, you’re a parent. That’s really all there is to it. Unfortunately, I've had bosses and co-workers who didn't understand that at all. ... [More]

Read the rest here, browse my archive at Shine here, and see what else is up at the Work + Money channel!

My Preschooler Is a Working Mom in Training

Aside from maternity leave -- during which I was still churning out freelance stories -- my kids have never known me to be an at-home-only mom. So it really wasn't much of a surprise when my 3-year-old started trying to use "I have to work" as an excuse to avoid bedtime. What was a surprise, to me, was how it made me feel -- at least initially:

The first few times she said this, my heart broke. Do I say it that often? Does she think that I use work as an excuse to rush out of her bedroom? Do the big kids think that, too? Am I putting my career ahead of my family? ... [More]
Read the rest here, and be sure to share what your kids think you do!

A Comfortable, Comforting Carry-On

This adorable, teddy bear-emblazoned backpack is really a huge, cozy blanket in disguise:

May 18, 2008
Comforting carry-on worth the toting
By Lylah M. Alphonse

This adorable (and washable) blanket can be folded and stuffed into its own pocket, making a pillow that's kid-sized and perfect for travel. Tie the attached straps together and the pillow can be worn backpack style -- one less thing for you to carry down the concourse. The oversize blankets are soft and cozy and, in backpack mode, there's plenty of room for your child to carry a few extra things for the trip. They cost $39.95 online at [More]

Got Chaos? It Makes for Great Blog Fodder

With two kids in the house all the time, and three more in the house much of the time, the chaos level in our household can reach some pretty impressive highs. If you're a blogger, you can turn the brouhaha into blog posts:

When I’ve got several articles to write and even more to edit and traffic was ridiculous and the baby is screaming and the big kids are arguing and dinner’s not ready yet and there’s a bill from the orthodontist waiting at home with more than two zeros before the decimal point, I look at the chaos and think, “Man, this might make for a good story.” ... [More]

Read the rest here, and then take a break from whatever is going on around you and see what else Work It, Mom! has to offer!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Shine on: Donna Novitsky, CEO of Big Tent

I sat down with Donna Novitsky, the CEO of Big Tent, some time ago (at our respective computers, of course), for a chat about entrepreneurship, running a company, and balancing work and family. The Q&A ran on Work It, Mom! last week, and this week it's been picked up by Shine, for the Work + Money section. Here's an excerpt:

Donna Novitsky has gone from a career in Industrial Engineering to honing her marketing skills at an enterprise software startup that she helped build from nothing to $100 million in revenue. From there, she joined the venture world before becoming an entrepreneur and the CEO of Big Tent, a company that provides free online technology and facilitates the organization of real-world communities.

Novitsky lives in the San Francisco area with her husband and their two children, ages 9 and 10. In addition to her work with Big Tent, she teaches at the School of Engineering at Stanford University, is a former board member of the Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose, and volunteers extensively at her children's school. So, how does she do it all? She credits her husband, John. "He is my huge support system." ... [More]

If you have an itch to start your own company, Donna's advice to new small business owners is a must-read. If you're already in the corporate world, you'll want to check out how she manages to juggle her job and her family. Read the rest at Shine!

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Best Mother's Day Gift a Working Mom Could Get

Time, of course, is high on the wish list for any working mother: time for herself, time to sleep, time to work uninterrupted, time to play with her kids, time to get it all done. But since you can't really gift-wrap time, my husband found the next best thing to give me this year: a chance to find balance.

My home office is tucked into a little alcove near our master bedroom, a gap between my closet and my husband’s, just wide enough for a small desk pushed up against the window. My dinosaur of a computer takes up most of the space under the desk (seriously, the computer is older than three out of our five children — my Palm Pilot has more memory), and my behemoth of a monitor eats up most of the desk top. When I need to scan or print something, I have to rearrange components and put the printer on the floor.

Revamping Your Resume

Last week was an interesting one for me. I had a couple of resume requests -- and realized that my resume was waaaaay out of date, not in terms of my current skills, projects, or achievements, but in terms of what I'm trying to do with my career. Turned out I didn't need to update it so much as I needed to revamp it.

What did I do? Well, you can click on the link in the sidebar, of course. Or you can surf over to The 36-Hour Day and read last Thursday's tips, which included this:

2.) Make it email-friendly. Nowadays, companies don’t necessarily want to wait for the postal service. Paper is proper, of course, but make sure you have your resume ready in an easy-to-email format as well. It’s not hard to do: Eliminate the graphic elements that look so good in print and stick with plain text, in a clear font, and use 12-point type. (Also, some people shy away from opening attachments, so copy and paste the text into the body of your email.) ... [More]
Read the rest over at The 36-Hour Day, and take some time to network at Work It, Mom!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Gossip Goes Too Far

An email from the co-founder brought this gossip site to my attention, and made me wonder why, if even the New York Times says that gossip can be good, this site seems so very, very bad to me. Is it because I'm a parent, and the thought of having one of my kids targeted by on the site is horrifying? Is it because the site (and the co-founder) assume no responsibility for the content, legally or morally? Or is it because the site is for kids and young adults, and kids just don't need another excuse to be cruel?

We’re all part of the office grapevine, whether we participate or not. I work at a large newspaper and I’ve always felt that, if my co-workers couldn’t figure out what was going on around the office, they weren’t worth spit as reporters. Also: When you work for a newspaper, you tend to assume that everything is on the record. So, I try to be careful about what say and do.

Our kids are not as circumspect. Of course, we don’t really expect them to be. But we try to encourage them to be respectful and to treat others as they’d like to be treated themselves. Right?

And then there’s Gossip Report. ... [More]

I'm not linking to the site because, after exploring it and reading a lot of the content there, I just can't support it. As a journalist, I can appreciate the freedom-of-speech issue raised by GossipReport. As someone with an interest in online media, I'm intrigued by the whole platform-vs.-publisher issue the co-founder and I discussed in an email exchange. But as a parent? I think it's irresponsible and reprehensible to enourage teenagers to prey on one another.

What do you think? Join the discussion at The 36-Hour Day.

Gearing Up is Back!

It's been a while since I've written about travel and gear, thanks to a redesign at the Boston Globe's Travel Section, but the redesign is done (and looks great) and my column is up and running. It's now called "Gearing Up," and the focus is on gear and gadgets for traveling with kids.

May 4, 2008
Pack, lug, ride in style

By Lylah M. Alphonse

Children love having their own suitcases, but they rarely love carrying them, so parents end up toting the kids and the kid stuff. With the Trunki, when your tot is too tired to drag the bag around she can sit on it and ride. The hard-sided, wheeled carry-on is made for 3- to 6-year-olds. It holds riders up to 110 pounds and has a five-gallon capacity, plenty for everything a child needs in-flight. About $40 at Magic Beans (312 Harvard St., Brookline, 617-264-2326) and online at and is also featuring a cool gallery of photos and info about my top 10 family travel gadgets -- check it out!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Mother's Day Gift Guides for Working Moms

I put together a couple of Mother's Day Gift Guides for Work It, Mom! this week: one is a wish-list of gifts for working mothers, and the other offers craft ideas for kids to make for their moms.

Also at Work It, Mom!, my "In Focus" feature for May puts the spotlight on healthy indulgences, but the suggestions there make perfect Mother's Day gifts as well...

What would I pick for myself? I'm a sucker for great jewelry, as my family already knows, but this year I think I'd be most happy with something sappy -- a drawing from each of my kids, signed and framed. Awwww....

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Gearing up for the Second Shift

When I worked days and my husband worked nights and we switched off with the kids in the middle, I often felt like I was going from one full-time job to another. Over at The 36 Hour Day, I share a few of the things that kept me going through my "second shift." Here are some of the things that helped me cope:
1.) Consider your commute your “me” time. This is harder when you have kids in the car, of course, but at least part of your commute can be all yours. Catch up on the news, listen to books on tape, learn a new language — or just turn off the tunes and enjoy the silence.

2.) Carry portable stress relief with you. Dot some soothing Peace of Mind (from Origin’s Sensory Therapy line) on your temples and feel the tension drain away. Stash a portable back massager in the car (or in your desk at work) to keep the stress from building up in your body; Life Fitness offers a lightweight, battery-operated one that you can strap around your back (you can find it at most CVS stores).

3.) Keep a snack in the car. I mean something healthy that can give you lasting energy -- a fruit-and-nut mix, granola bars, an apple, a protein bar. Avoid energy drinks and anything high in refined sugars -- you might enjoy a rush of energy for a little while, but the crash that comes afterward will just make your “second shift” more difficult.

4.) Change your clothes as soon as you get home. It’ll help you separate work from home, and may remind you to keep your office issues from creeping into your time with the kids.

5.) Have dinner already ready. Cook in advance and freeze an extra meal or two, or prep everything and have it ready to assemble when you get home after work. Your stress levels will drop dramatically if you don’t have to worry about what to cook for your ravenous crew the instant you get home.