Friday, October 31, 2008
Here are the links:
10 tips for preventing identity theft
5 ways to do more with your money (without investing it)
Working moms: How to save $100 next month
Looking for ways to save money? 5 tips for trimming your grocery bill
Got some great money-saving ideas to share? I'm all ears -- I mean, eyes. Drop me a line!
But in addition to being the Queen of Procrastination, I am also the Duchess of
Lazy Perfectionism. Because not only do I want to do things perfectly, I want to
do them as quickly as possible and I don’t want to have to waste any time having
to do things over. ... [More]
Got extra rice? You can make fried rice, use it up in a rice crust for quiche, thicken a soup or stew, make jambalaya, or give your kids a breakfast treat by offering them a decadent (but easy to make) rice pudding.
Want extra heat? Seal up those windows, consider which rooms you need to warm up, bulk up the beds, don't use the fireplace, and do use the fans.
Visit me over at Work It, Mom! for more ways to do more with less.
I’ve just come back from a too-quick trip to my parents’ house, where we celebrated a slew of birthdays — my youngest niece turned 1, my daughter turned 4, and my son is about to turn 2. There was plenty of cake, though all of the kids mostly feasted on icing and then worked the resulting sugar high off by going ballistic in the bounce house, and the grownups cast their diets to the wind and indulged.
We were also indulging in something else, something that only people with far-flung families can truly understand: A chance to reconnect with the people closest to us.
Distance, I think, may be relative. The 300 or so miles between my home and my parents’ isn’t much to me, though I know plenty of people who can’t imagine living less than a 15-minute drive from their mom and dad’s places. My own parents left their homes as very young adults — my dad came to the US from Haiti at the tender age of 17 to go to college, and my mom came here from India as a 22-year-old gunning for a second master’s degree (The child prodigy gene skipped me and went to my brothers and my children, I’m quite certain) so my living a few states away isn’t that big a deal.
Did I say the distance between my place and my parents’ isn’t much to me? What I meant to say is that it doesn’t seem like a great distance — I don’t have to change flights in Europe and again in Mumbai in order for my kids to spend a little time with Grammie and Papa, like my mom did when I was a child. A five-hour drive doesn’t seem far at all until, you know, I start trying to finagle time off from work and arrange a place for the dog and hold the mail and settle things with my kids’ teachers and call their karate coach and pack all the bags and then load everyone in the car.
I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t make that relatively short trip as often as I probably should.
But this weekend, while visiting with my uncle (who is more like an older brother to me), getting reacquainted with my nieces, watching bad TV late at night with my mom, and talking politics with my Dad, I felt like I was missing out by having been away for so long. Or, more to the point, that my reluctance to juggle work and life even more in order to bridge that distance more often meant that, maybe, my kids were missing out on a closer relationship with their grandparents, their uncle and aunt, their cousins.
While I was loading up the car so we could head back home, my toddler stuffed his impossibly tiny hands into the sides of his overalls, trying to imitate my dad (who had his hands in his pockets), and gravely walked the perimeter of the property with his grandfather. From where I stood on the driveway, it looked like someone had cloned my dad. Another “life is short” moment.
The weekend was full of moments like that: My youngest brother — who, ironically, lives relatively near me but whom I end up seeing more often several states away when we’re both at my parents’ house — delighting the kids by leaving each of them notes from “a secret admirer” on the front door, ringing the bell and then hiding; my 4-year-old daughter, who looks exactly as I did at that age, jumping on my mom’s bed exactly the way I used to (and getting caught, exactly the way I used to); my brother feeding my daughter candy corn at breakfast while my father blocked my view of the kitchen table.
Forget all of the other truisms you’ve heard; this is what family is for: Reminding you of who you were before you became who you currently are. Reminding you about what’s important in life. Reminding you that you need to work to live, not live to work.
And even though 300 miles can seem like several plane trips away when you’re juggling work and life, suddenly, it’s definitely worth the trip.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
I was on Facebook the other night, scanning through my friends' status updates. I've declared my love of Facebook here before -- sometimes, it's the easiest way for me to reconnect with friends and extended family, and reading the Twitter-like mini-posts and shared news (or non-news) articles makes me feel a little more in-touch with the far-flung people in my life.
I generally try to keep Facebook for my friends and family and use LinkedIn for professional networking but, just as in real life, those two worlds collide from time to time.
I'm not superwoman -- I have more than my fair share of unmotivated moments. And I am a champion procrastinator. (I'm a journalist! We work best on deadline!)
But when my stress levels are highest, my productivity skyrockets.... [More]
Do you work better under pressure?
I was watching my kids interact today, and it occurred to me that they’re like a bunch of magnets, shaken up in one of those cups you use in Vegas to roll the dice and spilled out onto the table. Sometimes, they’re all glommed together, five wildly different kids at five wildly different ages, somehow forming a cohesive unit. Other times, it’s as if they’re all negatively charged, scattering throughout the house, caroming against and away from one another.
Call me idealistic, but I’m pretty sure the latter happens because of their ages and developmental stages — we’ve got a teenager, a pre-teen, a tween, a preschooler, and a toddler right now — and not because only two of them were born to me.
As a step parent, the step kids vs. bio kids idea is something that’s always simmering away on the back burner. It comes up in day-to-day life, to some degree, all the time.
A few weeks ago, Kristin’s great post about five best tidbits of single-parenting advice got me thinking about the subject some more. I was nodding along, agreeing with everything she wrote, until I read this:
4. Realize that no partner you’ll ever meet will ever love your child like the father of your child.
My first thought: Well, their bio mom and I are two pretty different people, of course we love them in different ways. My second thought: Hmmm… I’m both a bio mom and a step mom; are those two different types of love? My third thought: Has my relationship with my step kids changed now that my youngest two are here?
As I’ve said before, I was a step mom for years before I gave birth to my youngest children. I’m of mixed ethnicity, and so are my step kids, so we look related, all caramel-colored skin and dark, curly hair. None of us particularly like the label or the baggage that comes with being a “step,” but it requires the least amount of explanation (and, oddly, the people who question us are always adults. Children don’t seem to have a problem dealing with how I’m related to all of my kids). When someone — an adult, of course — asks how our big kids like having half-siblings, the kids say “they’re too little to understand fractions, we’re just brothers and sisters.”
I remember picking up our now 10-year-old boy at camp one summer day. He was about 5 at the time. The councilor watched as he raced up to me and threw his arms around me in a huge bear hug. “Tell Mommy what you did today!” she enthused. Our boy looked around, puzzled. Mommy is here, too?
I pointed out that I was actually his step mom, and there was this very long, very awkward pause as my excited little guy wrapped himself around my leg. I put my arm around his skinny shoulders, automatically (and, in hindsight, maybe unconsciously trying to shield him from the inevitable change in attitude). “Well,” she finally said, flatly, “he certainly seems to like you.”
So, on the one hand, I see where the person who gave Kristin that tidbit of advice is coming from; society, for the most part, tends to assume that no one who comes along later could possibly love a child the way the biological parent must, that a genetic link is required in order to be a “real” parent. On the other hand, I think it might be a case of semantics… just because the love isn’t the same doesn’t mean the feelings and the level of commitment isn’t as deep.
And I do think that my relationship with my step kids has changed. It’s grown deeper and more complex, richer and more intense, and not because I’ve experienced childbirth or had “children of my own.” It’s changed because we’ve all grown — together. I’m more mature and experienced, and they’re older and more independent now than we were when I first started parenting them nine years ago.
But do I love them differently than I do my youngest two? I don’t think so. Do I love them differently than their biological mom does? Probably. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
What did I conclude? I think it comes down to semantics: Loving a child "differently" than his or her bio parent doesn't mean your feelings are less intense or your committment not as deep.
October 19, 2008
For Airborne Babies
By Lylah M. Alphonse
My preschooler is too old for it, so the "give your baby a bottle during takeoffs and landings" plan no longer works. And sucking a lollipop does little to minimize her discomfort as the cabin pressure changes. A better bet: EarPlanes. These disposable, earplugs help to stabilize pressure in the ears. They're made of silicone and come in two sizes, cost about $2 a pair, and are safe for use in children as young as one year. Most drugstores sell them and they are also available in the Magellan's catalog (800-962-4943) and at earplanes.com. [More]
Thursday, October 16, 2008
If I were single and childless, I would happily eliminate all sorts of things that have become semi-necessities for us. Cable. Land-line phones. New clothes. Going out. But while I’m content to restrict my own spending, I’m reluctant to stop spending money on things for my kids.... [More]
She's much better now -- even though doctors still aren't quite sure what caused the swelling -- and while my husband was sleeping on a pull-out bed in her hospital room and I was home with our sleeping toddler, I discovered a new type of working mom guilt: Feeling guilty that I was able to get my work done, when I would have gladly chucked my workload in the trash and spent the night at the hospital instead.
You can read all about it over at The 36-Hour Day. And then go and hug your children tight.
The official kickoff came this week, with a post about five hearty breakfasts that you can make in five minutes or less. (Really, it is possible!). Options include egg-in-a-hole, awesome oatmeal, real French toast, fruit salad, and smoothies. Get the details at The 36-Hour Day, and drop by every Wednesday for more frugal tips!
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
But not at my house:
I feel like I should make the effort to festoon the house with ghouls and goblins -- or at least pumpkins and bales of hay.
Oh sure, as we get closer to Halloween, I'll scoop the brains out of a pumpkin or two, carve eye holes and a crooked mouth, and set a tealight inside and call it good, and there will be plenty of candy for little trick-or-treaters, but don't count on any splendid decorations, because, truth be told, I don't have the time. But, also, I don't have the inclination. Forgive me, Martha Stewart, for I have sinned: I don't decorate.
That's not quite true: I happily hang ornaments on a spruce tree for Christmas, and I set single (electric) candles at each of the windows post Thanksgiving and hang stockings for each child by the fireplace on Christmas Eve, but that's more for the sake of tradition than anything else. In general, I don't decorate. I don't have an eye for it, or the patience, or, frankly, the budget to hire someone else to do it for me.
This goes beyond changing the look of the house with the seasons. Picking paint colors paralyzes me; I would be quite happy to paint every room in the house some shade of white and then hang art everywhere, except that I don't end up hanging art anywhere. I'm serious; we moved into our current home in 2001 and I only got around to repainting the kids' bedrooms last year and haven't hung a thing on the master bedroom walls. Luckily for us (and for our neighbors), my can-do-anything husband picked up some mad styling skilz somewhere along the road; it is thanks to him that there are big puffs of mums on the front porch and pictures hanging in the living room and a centerpiece on the table at Thanksgiving.
I see shows on TV and read articles in family- or women-oriented magazines about decorating on a dime and cool color schemes and fantastic holiday knick-knacks, and I understand that I'm supposed to love to decorate. I'm supposed to get tired of the same-old look and long for something new, something trendy; I'm supposed to wonder how to make my family room pretty yet practical. I know people who routinely repaint walls or move furniture or even, shockingly, redesign entire rooms on a whim -- you walk into their homes and it never looks the same way twice.
I don't really understand this.
So, when the topic turns to redoing one's living room because August has morphed into September, or searching for special china for a single meal, or decorating one's mailbox for each holiday? I REALLY don't understand this.
Someone explain it to me... do you redecorate with the seasons? Why or why not?
Chew on this, baby
By Lylah M. Alphonse, Globe Staff
Anyone who has ever traveled with a teething tot knows that, short of handing noise-canceling headphones out to everyone around you, there isn't much you can do to keep things quiet in flight. Consider these stylish necklaces another weapon in your baby-gear arsenal. Teething Bling pendants, keychains, and bangles by Smart Mom look like expensive jade, onyx, or coral, but are made from a food-safe silicone that's free of phthalates, lead, and other toxins (they're dishwasher-safe, too) and they can be chewed on. The pendants are about $19 at Hip Baby Gear (80 Washington St., Marblehead, 781-631-5556) and online through the many sites listed at smartmomjewelry.com. [More]
Why Use an Algorithm as a Design Element? Tidor uses computer modeling to understand, analyze, predict, and design things in biology (like the structure of molecules in proteins). "I had a lot of ideas about how I wanted the space to be interactive and contemplative," he says, and hoped to bring a theme of mathematics and computer modeling into the office somehow. Somerville architect Paul Lukez stealthily worked the Fibonacci numbers into the design. "There was this huge wall," Lukez says. "How do you give it some sense of scale? How do you make it lyrical in some way? We wanted to create a pattern that could evolve and be integrated into the composition of the wall." ... [More]
According to a new poll by the Pew Research Center, 43 percent of respondents said that the woman makes the decisions in more of four key areas — household finances,
weekend activities, big purchases for the home, and who controls the TV remote —
than men. The guys have the upper hand in about 26 percent of all couples, and 31 percent said that they split decision-making responsibilities — even though that answer wasn’t one of the options given in the poll. ... But here’s the real news, buried in the poll results: In dual-income couples, it is the woman who has more say, regardless of whether she earns more or less than her partner.
So, while money doesn’t necessarily equal power in most American households, working does. ... [More]
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
At the beach, I watch my husband and preschooler bury our toddler in sand up to his chest (it was the only way to keep him in one place for more than 15 seconds, and he was delighted) and a corner of my mind wonders if I should jot down a few notes for a short article on traveling with children. Bobbing in the waves with our teenage daughter, enjoying each other’s company in smiling
silence, I bite my lip to avoid crowding the moment with unnecessary words.
After an afternoon at a park with the youngest kids, I put our toddler down for
a nap and feel guilty about contemplating taking a short one myself, not because
my other kids will be back with my husband at any minute, but because I feel like I’ll be “lazy” if I catch up on sleep instead of work. While watching the debates on Friday, surrounded by our older kids, I fought the urge to flip open my laptop — of course I brought it — and check my email, or Facebook, or maybe get caught up on a blog post or two. ... [More]
Where: Bobby's Ranch, behind Nagog Park, Route
119/2A, Acton. 978-263-7165. bobbysranch.com
Our 12-year-old daughter Athena (above) loves horses so much that she claims she would rather muck out a stable than tidy her bedroom -- and I believe her. She still has to clean her room, though. To stave off a case of severe equine withdrawal, we decided to spend a little time on horseback recently, and the folks at Bobby's Ranch in Acton provided both horses and picture-perfect scenery.
We were greeted by Bobby himself, who built the enormous barn and founded the ranch in 1972; the family-owned business is open year-round every day except Tuesdays, with guided trail rides leaving every hour from 9 a.m. until dusk. The trail rides cost $30 per person during the week, $35 on weekends and holidays; Bobby suggests you call first so he can make sure he has enough horses at the ready.
The rides are geared toward those who have little experience and/or just want to meander over some truly beautiful trails -- galloping and racing are not allowed, and customers must be at least 4 feet tall to ride. The height restriction left our two youngest children out, or so we thought until we arrived at the ranch and discovered more horses (the ranch is home to about 60, Bobby says), ponies, chickens, friendly dogs, Gwendolyn the buffalo, and preening peacocks that provided plenty of entertainment while we waited for the big kids to complete their hourlong ride. And by "plenty of entertainment" I mean "our toddler actually refused to leave." [More]>
Yes, that's her in the picture, happy and sweaty, post-trail ride. We'll be going back soon, I'm sure!
No time to head to the toy store, or Target, or a chic boutique. But there’s a cool Asian grocery store near my office. Aside from great produce and dirt-cheap-but-delicious tea, they have a kitchenware section (with a lot of melamine bowls and bamboo steamers, yes, but also a few pretty pieces of pottery and china). I zipped on over.
Ten minutes and $10 later, I walked out with a tea set fit for an empress-in-training. A gorgeous deep-blue teapot. Six matching cups. Six white-and-blue flowered plates. Plus a serving platter for her cucumber sandwiches. It was prettier than the sets I’ve seen at the big box toy stores, sturdy enough to last for a while, and, since it was an actual working tea set, large enough to actually be used.
Sometimes, the perfect present is available at an unexpected place. ... [More]
September 21, 2008
Music to the ears
By Lylah M. Alphonse
SanDisk offers a cool little MP3 player, the Sansa Fuze, that one-ups the iPod Nano in a few big ways: It has a built-in digital FM radio; it plays all sorts of audio formats, not just those from iTunes; and it costs less than the Apple device. It has a 1.9-inch color screen that's remarkably clear, has a built-in voice recorder, comes with earbuds, and is perfect for distracting your
kid while you wait at the gate. The 8-gigabyte model, which costs about $120 at RadioShack and Best Buy stores, holds up to 2,000 songs and has a battery that will let you play music for a day or video for five hours. Colorful 2GB ($80) and 4GB ($100) models are also available. For more information, visit go.shopsansa.com. [More]