Monday, June 23, 2008

Mahem in the Morning: What's Your Routine Like?

Camp started for our oldest three kids today, and that brings my morning juggle to a whole new level...

My morning routine is usually pretty easy. I try to get up before my toddler and preschooler, fail to do so about 95 percent of the time and, instead, wake up to whining and crying, get them washed and dressed, get myself washed and dressed before they destroy my room and/or OD on Dora the Explorer, feed them while chugging coffee and packing up their two lunches and their bag-o’-stuff-for-school, and load them into the car for drop off at preschool and daycare before heading into the office.

OK, that doesn’t sound very easy, but really, it is. Comparatively speaking.
Summers are trickier. Five kids instead of two. Extra curricular activities to coordinate. New parents to meet before agreeing to sleepovers with new friends. Camp, karate, and horseback riding drop offs and pick ups in addition to preschool and daycare. More errands. More housework. Way more laundry. And less time in which to do it all, because I’m more than willing to stay up late watching “Camp Rock” with my big kids when I should be doing my freelance work instead. (Hey, they’re only young once. And life is short. Got to have priorities, right?)

So last night, after I finished coaxing my 12-year-old’s tight curls into a zillion sleek, two-strand twists, after The Jonas Brothers struck their last chord and I cajoled the big kids into bed, after the toddler woke up for no good reason and was soothed back to sleep, I started trying to get ahead of my morning juggle.

Fives sets of clothes laid out and ready to wear. (I didn’t get around to doing mine yet). Six lunches packed. (Five for the kids, one for me. My husband is on his own with the lunches, since he keeps forgetting to bring them to work.) Seven loads of laundry washed, sorted, folded and put away. Bag-o-stuff-to-take-to-school packed and by the door.

All organized and neat and ready to go, and yet… I am dreading the morning.
I’m cranky first thing in the morning, but that’s nothing compared to five kids who don’t want to look at sunlight at 7 a.m., let alone venture out into it. I just remembered that I didn’t remind the big kids to pack their bathing suits and towels and whatnot into their camp bags — another thing to while pressed for time. And I’m sure that’s not the only thing I’ve forgotten.

Working moms, how do you handle morning mayhem? Share your experiences at The 36-Hour Day, and take a moment to see what helpful advice (and support) other working moms have to offer at Work It, Mom!

Looking to Save Money? 10 Tips for Working Moms

Recent posts at Yahoo's Shine and at The 36-Hour Day, about realizing that I spend more on gas than I do on food, generated some great questions and discussions about grocery budgets. Riffing off of those, and off of a fantastic money-saving discussion at Work It, Mom!, I wrote a post offering 10 ways working moms can save money right now. Here are a couple of them.

On cutting my grocery bill:

1.) We use our big freezer. We have a huge freezer in the basement. I love my freezer. I buy meat and divide it into meal-size packages and freeze it. I buy extra bread when it’s on sale and freeze it. I cook extra meals and freeze them. I roast tomatoes from our garden and freeze them. I make homemade dairy-free ice cream and freeze it. On hot days, I fantasize about standing over my open freezer and gazing lovingly into its icy depths for long, cool hours at a time, but I restrain myself.

On ways to save $100 next month:

4.) Ditch the juice boxes. Last summer, I was packing seven juice boxes A DAY into my kids’ lunchboxes. That’s 35 juice boxes a week. That’s crazy. This year, everyone is getting a screw-top Nalgene bottle filled with homemade lemonade, and I’m saving at least $10 a week, maybe more. ... [More]

Read the rest at The 36-Hour Day, leave a comment, peruse the blog's archives, or join the discussion at Work It, Mom!

Getting More Sleep Is Not an Option

Last week on Shine, I revisited and updated my sleep deprivation situation, and asked readers to offer up their own coping strategies, since the one provided by numerous "experts" don't seem to jibe with the lives of actual working moms:

For instance, let’s take my first need: More sleep. The standard advice ranges from “Sleep when the baby is sleeping” (which does not offer tips on how to explain to my boss why I’m snoozing at my desk or how to get my freelance work done if I go to bed at 8 p.m. with the wee ones) to something along the lines of “Avoid alcohol consumption at night, stop all emotionally or intellectually strenuous activity at least an hour before going to sleep, and try to go to bed earlier” (Hahahahahahaha. Riiiiight. **Sips bourbon, resumes working on article, vows to be in bed before 2 a.m. if possible**).... [More]

So, what works for you? Read the rest at Shine, and be sure to leave your tips in the comments!

Got (Nintendo) Game?

If you have a kid who has a hand-held video game player, you've probably experienced the trauma of losing one of those crazy-expensive cartridges while you're traveling. Or discovering it in the bottom of your child's backpack, mangled and covered in crushed potato chips. Or something.

The Game Chamber is genius. It holds up to eight game cartridges and locks them safely in an easy to find carrier that then dispenses them one at a time:

June 15, 2008
Gearing Up
The Boston Globe

By Lylah M. Alphonse

It's a great idea to pack your child's Nintendo DS so he can amuse himself during family travels. It's not so great when those tiny, expensive game cartridges scatter in his bag and he can't find them while you're en route. Keep them contained (and safe from damage) with the Game Chamber. This easy-to-use organizer is compatible with cartridges for Nintendo DS and DS Lite systems; it holds eight games and dispenses them one at a time, so a child can easily find what he's looking for. The Game Chamber costs about $15 and is available online at,, and

Gearing Up appears weekly in the Globe's Travel Section, and my reviews of kid-friendly travel products appears there every other week.

A Little Local Globetrotting

From time to time, I write short posts for the Boston Globe's travel blog, Globetrotting. Most recently, I've focused on "staycationing" and day trips close to home to save on stress, money, and gas. There are plenty of options in New England, from organized trips offered by REI to AAA's Drive Vacation deals to the Vermont Culinary Classic in Stowe, Vermont.

More to come!

When Will They Invent an "Unsend" Button for Email?

About a month ago, I read a great post on the New York Times's Freakonomics blog about the worst email mistakes people have made. Seriously, haven't you ever hit "send" and immediately wished you could take it back, for whatever reason?
Maybe you saw a typo in the split second that the email system was processing. Maybe you wrote the missive in a fit of anger, and belatedly realized that it needed a re-write or several in order to be considered anywhere near diplomatic. Or maybe, in that moment the email was still on your screen, before it flew out into the ether, you saw that you had addressed it to the person you were writing about instead of the person you were writing to... [More]

Want to know about some of the ones that made me long for an "unsend" button? Read the rest at The 36-Hour Day, and be sure to share your own email mistakes (and your tips for avoiding them) in the comments!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Mama Drama: It's Like Kryptonite for SuperMoms

Even though my kids are used to the fact that I have freelance work to do after they've gone to bed, that doesn't mean they always like it. And, even though they're asleep and it doesn't interfere with our time together, they find other ways to make their displeasure known. The most-effective way is by indulging in a bit of Mama Drama. It doesn't change anything -- work must be done, bills must be paid -- but it does feed the Working Mother guilt-monster.

My preschooler has been having a bit of Mama Drama lately, usually right before bed (when she knows I have to log on and work from home once she’s asleep) or when I drop her off at school (when she knows I’m leaving so I can go to the office). It starts with a long sad look, shoulders drooping, glancing sideways to see if I’ve noticed. If I seem not to have, she adds a snuffle and a sniffle, sometimes wiping her (dry) eyes for dramatic effect.

You know the effect Kryptonite had on Superman? Well, for this SuperMom, Mama Drama does the same thing. It kills me.

If I don’t seem sufficiently killed, though, she takes it to the next level: lip trembles, sniffles increase, and her huge brown eyes overflow while she looks like she’s heroically trying to hold back the tears. And then she starts explaining it all away — “I’m just tired,” “I feel shy,” “I was afraid you were going away.” At this point, my Fortress of Solitude is wrecked and I just want to fall apart myself, even though she doesn’t know it.

Today, it started at school, while I was taking my toddler to his daycare classroom in the same building. She came over to the door between the two classrooms, and I must not have been paying attention, what with holding a squirming 19-month-old on my hip and trying to talk to the teachers and put everything in his cubby and all, because she was already at the tears-welling-over stage and was moving into the full-on Mama Drama stage: the explanations.
“Mama?” she quavered. “I just feel too shy for school today.”

I wanted to tell her to buck up; she loves school! She loves her friends! She adores her teachers! We do the same drop-off five days a week and she’s always been fine with it! I can understand not wanting to go to bed but, hey, come on, this here place is fun!

I handed my toddler off to his teacher and turned to my little girl, but one of her teachers had gotten to her first. As I was about to explain that this was just Mama Drama — she’s fine, she’s not sick, she slept well, she scarfed down her breakfast, blah blah blah — he knelt down and looked her in the eye and gently asked her what was wrong.

“I’m just… shy… today,” she sobbed, turning away from me. I could have left then, I suppose, since she wasn’t focused on me anymore, but I was too busy being killed.

“But you were a little shy yesterday, right? And you got better, right?” he asked her, his voice all soothing and rational, speaking quietly so she had to stop crying in order to hear him. My quip about Mama Drama got stuck in my throat.

“Right?” he asked again. She agreed.

“So you’ll be all better today too, right?”

She agreed again. And gave him a hug and skipped off to play.

He got up, winked at me, and went back to the kids in his classroom. And I left for work, feeling like the least patient, least compassionate, worst mother in the world, but grateful that my daughter has such caring, calm, and kind teachers (who, thankfully, are immune to Kryptonite).

Be sure to surf over to The 36-Hour Day and weigh in with other moms in the comments -- there's quite a heated discussion going on.

A Truly Sweet Treat

Some of our kids have food allergies and intolerances, so I was very excited to find out about these great candies by Pure Fun. They are all natural, all organic, and every single kind I've tried has been delicious. So, I just had to tell the world about them (via a piece in The Boston Globe Magazine):

(Photograph by Joel Benjamin; styling by Maureen Dahill)

June 8, 2008

Simple Sugar
Candy doesn't have to be complicated. Try organic, all-natural sweets instead.

By Lylah M. Alphonse

Sweets full of unpronounceable chemicals are no treat at all. Pure Fun Confections Inc. offers a delectable alternative. Their candies – certified organic, vegan, GMO-, pesticide-, synthetic color-, artificial flavor- and gluten-free – cost about $4 per 3½-ounce bag and come in such tempting flavors as Goji berry, pomegranate, and root beer with vanilla, as well as the more traditional lime, tangerine, and lemon (pictured). Made with brown-rice syrup, evaporated cane juice, and colored naturally with beets, turmeric, and the like, the candies taste bright and clean. With so many wholesome ingredients, they just might be good for you. [More]

Monday, June 9, 2008

Beating the Heat by Going to Work

Its hot, hot, hot here in New England, where spring is officially over once the temperature shoots up from 62 degrees to 96 degrees in less than 24 hours. We don't have air conditioning at home, but there's plenty of the cold stuff at the office, and I found myself daydreaming of beating the heat by heading to work and wondering when I turned into such a wimp about the weather...

I feel like a wimp at other times, too, longing for the office when the temperatures are closer to tolerable but my energy and/or patience levels are not. At those times, my commute feels like “me” time, and I get to work and gaze at the pictures of my gorgeous children and forget that sometimes my little angels can quickly morph into hellions. I sip green tea at my desk and blast through my to-do list, feeling productive and in charge, and that wimpy, “why can’t I handle this?” feeling dissipates. ... [More]

Do you every escape to the office? Commiserate over at The 36-Hour Day, and see what other working moms are up against at Work It, Mom!

Butterfly Watching with the Kids

I took the wee ones to The Butterfly Place in Westford, Mass., recently, as research for a piece for the Boston Globe's new column, "Bring the Family." Our older kids had enjoyed the habitat there when they were younger, and I thought that our preschooler and toddler might be interested. Turned out that neither of them wanted to leave... ever.

June 7, 2008
Bring the Family: Where the butterflies roam

WHO: Globe Magazine staff member Lylah M. Alphonse and her five kids, ages 1 to 14.
WHAT: Indoor butterfly watching
WHERE: The Butterfly Place, 120 Tyngsboro Road, Westford. 978-392-0955.

We walked into the darkness of the small "airlock" and then into the bright sunlight filtering through the flowers and trees in the 3,100-square-foot glass atrium. My 19-month-old's mouth dropped open in awe. My 3-year-old, hopped up on Go, Diego, Go!, eyed the moving sparks of color and pointed: "Look, Mama! A Blue Morpho butterfly!" (Apparently the graphic artists for the Nick Jr. cartoon she loves are spot-on, because she was right.)

The Butterfly Place opened in 1990, only the fourth butterfly habitat in the country at the time. Older kids with an entomology bent will learn plenty in the observation area, which is set up for a self-guided tour of cocoon- and larvae-filled display cases and a 15-minute video of the life cycle of a butterfly, but the real attraction is the live butterfly habitat, where, if you stand still enough, a fluttering specimen might even land on you. The habitat is kept at about 80 degrees (optimal for butterfly flight), and during our most recent visit a few newly hatched quail chicks roamed the place like a band of tiny, animated Peeps. With as many as 500 examples of about 50 types of butterflies from around the world, the Butterfly Place is especially appealing to fairy-princess fanatics -- we even saw a guest in full princess regalia, complete with iridescent pink wings. (Photo by Bob Wilson) [More]

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Work-Life Balance? What's That?

A few months ago, one of our older children emailed me in the middle of the work day: When are you coming home? I miss you. Instantly, two things happened: My heart swelled with happiness because I'd gotten a lovey email from one of my kids, and my heart broke into a zillion pieces because I was at the office, and wasn't going to be able to scoot out of there any time soon.
Has that every happened to you? You’re secure in your choice and/or need to work — more than that, really, you are happy about working outside of the home — except when, suddenly, you’re not.

What do you do?

I’d like to say that I shut down my computer, announced to my boss and coworkers that I was needed elsewhere, and jetted home to my kids immediately. But I didn’t. I emailed her back — something loving and supportive that included a link to I Can Haz Cheeseburger or something funny like that — and got back to work.

And now, months later, I’m still wishing I had just shut everything off and gone home.

Working mothers, have you ever had this happen to you? How did you handle it?

Journalists and Their Love/Hate Relationship with the News

This article by Robert Niles caught my eye... who would think that a journalist could hate journalism?

Personally speaking, I don't hate journalism, but I do dislike what it's become: puffy infotainment, advertising-driven news stories, reports that are filled with blatant propoganda or pandering, slideshows about celebrities who are older/younger/fatter/smarter/richer than you think they are. Apparently, Niles's students feel the that way, too, especially when it comes to TV news:
My students complained about the titillation -- fear-mongering crime reports, salacious coverage of the entertainment industries, reporters and anchor people
glammed up to look like models. And when TV reports covered more serious issues,
including politics, they result as little more than propaganda -- talking points served up from two sides, with no analysis testing the claims, beyond petty insults.

Not surprisingly, his students look to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and the Colbert Report for clues as to how to handle the news, mainly because those two fake-news outlets are the only ones who seem to be providing real insights.
For my students, it's Jon Stewart, et al. - people who are willing to challenge sources aggressively, to use video evidence to point out when sources are lying (QuickTime clip) and, through satire, to try to reveal a truth, rather than leave two sides simply to shout at one another. As one student said, "I want my work to say something."
Is there a news source you really believe in? What makes it better than the rest?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The New "Affordable Luxuries" Blog is Live!

Yesterday, we launched our newest blog over at Work It, Mom!: Affordable Luxuries, the Busy Working Mother's Personal Shopper.

Every day, we'll be featuring great items for your home, travel, kid gear, organization, health and beauty, techonolgy, cooking, gift ideas, fashion, and treating yourself right. I'll be handling products for the home, cooking, kid gear, travel gear, and gift ideas, so if you have a favorite item that fits into any of those categories, let me know!

So far this week, we've featured some cool, retro juice glasses from Pier 1, a pair of Yoga-Paws mitts that replace your yoga mat when you travel, a digital crossword-puzzle solver, and a sweet leaf canopy for a child's bed. The selection changes daily... go on over and browse to see what we're looking at now!

Shine On: Should Working Women Keep Their Names When They Get Married?

This week on Shine, I talk about why most women still take their husband's name after marriage -- and why I chose not to:

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 increase? As working women, do we feel that taking our husbands' name is 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? ... [More]
There is a great discussion going on in the comments right now -- check it out at Shine.

An Interview with Author Joni B. Cole

Ever wonder what anyone else -- or everyone else -- was doing on a particular day and at a particular time? Joni B. Cole did, and her curiosity led her to create the "This Day in the Life" book series. Cole asked participants to keep "day diaries" chronicling a single day in their hectic lives. Her most recent book -- Water Cooler Diaries: Women across America Share Their Day at Work (Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2008) -- is the third in the series, and focuses on women in their workplaces.

We sat down for an interview (at our respective computers, of course!) for Work It, Mom!, where she shared tips on dealing with her own work-life juggle (for her, it involves figuring out "what do I love to do, what's going to bring in enough money, and what I need to say no to -- there's only so many hours in the day.") Read the rest at Work It, Mom!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Making Up for Lost "Me" Time

Over Memorial Day weekend, I actually took a day off. I mean that I didn't think about or do anything about anything work related for an entire day (and, if you know me, you know that's a very rare thing), and wrote about it in today's post at The 36-Hour Day:

So, as I was rubbing my eyes and trying to write about how I spend my “me” time, I realized that, recently, in my daily work-life-career-parenting juggle, the “me” ball seems to have rolled under the couch and gotten lost among the dust bunnies.

I considered writing that vacuuming the family room floor was something I do “just for me” because the fact that it has actual visible debris seems to bother no one else. But that just seemed pitiful, so I didn’t. Instead, I turned off my computer, tucked my cell phone in my bag, and walked away — for the entire weekend. ... [More]

I'm sure plenty of parents can relate; stop by The 36-Hour Day, share your stories in the comments, and browse around at Work It, Mom! to hear from other people who understand what you're up against!

Great City Guides for Kids

This company has been on my radar for a long time now, so I'm very pleased that I was finally able to feature them in yesterday's "Gearing Up" column! The ABC Travel Guides for Kids are part guidebook, part picture book, and just perfect for smaller kids.

June 1, 2008
City guides that kids (and parents) can love
Lylah M. Alphonse

It's a big world out there -- especially if you're little. With so much travel information geared for grown-ups, the ABC Travel Guides for Kids series stands out. The short, simplified guidebooks are filled with facts and photos of landmarks and must-see locations in a child-friendly format. Plus, the detailed index and a map on the back make it easy for parents to find the sights. There are six cities available -- Atlantic City, Baltimore, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and San Diego -- and the guides cost $7.95 each online at,, and For more information, go to [More]