Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Thanksgiving on a budget

The Thanksgiving extravaganza continues! Today's "Do more with less" column is about ways to trim your Thanksgiving budget. Go on over and add your 2 cents. Or pinch them.

What expenses are off limits in this economy?

The economic downturn has hit home for me in a big way, and over in the Work + Money section at Yahoo's Shine I'm wondering which expenses are off limits when you're trying to trim your budget.

Would you change your childcare situation? How about your work schedule? Institute a spending freeze, or just shop more frugally? It all depends on your family's financial situation -- no judgement here, only speculation -- and the current crisis has really made me examine my budget and try to figure out what's essential.

A tiny bit of balance for a busy mom

Every once in a while, I'm overwhelmed by life but, instead of taking a break, I reluctantly tackle one last item on my to-do list and there it is -- balance. It happened to me the other night, when I made myself take my brother's dog on a quick walk before settling down to do more freelance work:

The wind was high, whipping through the leafless trees. The grass was sopping from the downpour, but light was spilling out of the houses on our little street and the lawns seemed to sparkle. The sky was a solid mass of clouds, and they reflected the light from town with a dim, otherworldly glow. It was 66 degrees outside. In mid-November. In New England. At night.

I had spent the day cooking and baking and cleaning and doing laundry and running errands with a tired preschooler and a cranky toddler in tow. My to-do list had spilled over from the night before and was running multiple pages. There were six loads of clean clothes waiting to be folded and put away. I was missing the big kids terribly, and feeling resentful about things I could not control. But at that moment, standing in the warm night and listening to the wild wind, I felt like my life was perfect and I had found balance. ... [

Has that every happened to you? Share your story with the rest of us -- we sure could use a little more balance! -- here or over at The 36-Hour Day.

So, it IS possible to nap on a plane

I have eleventy billion so-called "travel pillows," and most of them are heaped in a pile in my kids' bedrooms, because they certainly don't seem to do much for me on a plane. This one by TravelRest, though... it's a keeper. Here's why:

November 16, 2008
Gearing Up
A Nice Way to Nap

By Lylah M. Alphonse, Globe Staff

We brought the TravelRest pillow with us on our last trip, and it lived up to its name. Most inflatable travel pillows are bouncy and uncomfortable; who can sleep sitting straight up in a chair with a horse collar around her neck anyway? TravelRest inflates easily and attaches to the back of your seat (no chance of it slipping off mid-nap); it lies under your cheek and drapes across your body, so you can nestle into it and rest in a more natural position. It comes in one size, works well for children and adults, and costs $26.95 at ... [More]

Bring the family on an overnight adventure

With so many kids, we usually "staycation" during the summer; this year, we actually packed our bags and went on a little road trip to the Glen, New Hampshire, area. Of course, I ended up writing about it for The Boston Globe...

November 15, 2008
A Wildly Imaginative Stay
Looking for adventure with the kids

WHO: Globe Magazine staff member Lylah M. Alphonse, her husband, and their five kids, ages 1 to 14
WHAT: A family adventure in New Hampshire
WHERE: Adventure Suites, 3440 White Mountain Highway, North Conway, N.H., 888-626-6929

We were planning a little road trip and needed a place to stay. A place that our older kids would enjoy and our younger kids couldn't wreck immediately. A place with plenty to do close by. Adventure Suites in North Conway, N.H., fit the bill; each of the 16 suites has a different theme - a love shack, a dragon's lair, a New York penthouse, nd hog heaven, where guests can park their motorcycles right in the room, to name ust a few. ... [More]

We stayed in the treehouse suite (pictured here), and all our kids were in awe when they saw it. The wood-paneled main room was decorated with cute forest critters and contained an actual working swing hanging from an actual tree branch. A large Jacuzzi stood on a fake front porch in a corner of the room; a one-person tent was set up for our oldest daughter in another corner, and a set of stairs led up to a well-appointed sleeping loft with a king-size bed and a separate, padded "Nut Hut" big enough to sleep three more kids (it also had a PlayStation unit in it, so "sleep" may be inaccurate).

While we were up there, we visited Storyland (which is closed for the season now, so you'll have to wait until the spring for my review) and slid down a snowless ski slope at Attitash. The kids were talking about going back before we had even left the place!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Guide to a low-stress Thanksgiving

I happen to love Thanksgiving, but for many people that particular holiday is an incredible source of stress: The cooking. The guests. The traveling. The carving of the bird. The cleanup.

Over at Work It, Mom!, I've been writing like crazy, as myself and as "The Work It, Mom! Team," to create a Thanksgiving Guide that actually works for busy parents. You know, the ones who don't have a month and a half to plan the guest list and go out and purchase special, Thanksgiving-themed plates.

If you're looking for inspiration -- or just looking for a sane plan to handle the holiday -- here's a cheat sheet for you:

Have a happy -- and stress-free -- Thanksgiving: The key is to plan ahead; plus tips to make things easier whether you're the guest or the host.

Thanksgiving recipes and tips online: A round-up of great websites.

Quick and easy Thanksgiving side dishes: These 10 sides can be prepped or even made ahead of time, come together quickly, and taste great.

Day-by-day Thankgiving planner
: Planning not your strong suit? We've done the dirty work for you; here's a step-by-step guide for what to do during the 10 days leading up to Thanksgiving.

10 great cookbooks for busy moms: No matter your skill level or cooking style, we've got a cookbook for you.

The Work It, Mom! Essentials guide to recipes and cooking: Links to articles, discussions, blog posts, quick tips, checklists, slide shows and more.

Now, get cooking!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The only ones not getting bailout money directly are the taxpayers

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson announced yesterday that the original bailout plan -- to use $700 billion in taxpayer money to buy troubled mortgage-backed securities -- has been changed. Now, he says, the government should buy more stock in banks and other, non-bank lenders. Among those non-bank lenders? Credit card giant American Express.

This just strikes me as wrong, and I talk about why over at The 36-Hour Day:

Along with regulatory mistakes that made a monster out of the financial industry and some crazily complex securities, one of the big reasons our economy is tanking right now is that, for years, Americans have been living way beyond their means — buying homes they can’t afford using subprime mortgages, for example. Giving taxpayer money to a company that’s suffering because taxpayers aren’t using it to rack up more debt doesn’t make sense. ... [More]
So, if the government gives American Express and Capital One some bailout money to keep them afloat, what's next? High-end department stores asking the government for help because people aren't buying as many designer duds? Weigh in (or sound off) at Work It, Mom!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Do more with less: Polishing your home and your look

The two latest installments of my new series at The 36-Hour Day, Do More With Less, offers 5 great uses for that ubiquitous box of baking soda and 5 ways to polish up your look without investing in a new wardrobe.

Want to know more? Well, in a nutshell:

You can use baking soda to unclog a drain, make a great facial scrub, scour your tub, freshen your carpets, and make shiny things shinier.

You can boost your look on the cheap by polishing your shoes (not with baking soda! Try Dr. Marten’s Neutral Shoe Polish instead), rotate or repurpose your jewelry, tie on a scarf, get a few cheap-and-colorful Ts, and buy a new lipgloss.

Have tips to share, or a suggestion for another "Do more with less" topic? Drop me a line!

That nap wasn't penciled in to my schedule

A little while ago, I fell asleep while putting our youngest daughter to bed, and woke up three hours later, totally useless. It wrecked my deadline, threw my carefully crafted work schedule for a loop, doubled my to-do list the next day ... and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Over at Yahoo's Shine, I share the crazy schedule that lets me keep some semblance of sanity, if not actual work-life balance. Take a look and commisserate (or sound off) in the comments! Seriously, go ahead -- I've already gotten a little of both.

Have you let yourself go?

As working moms, do we have a worse body image than the average woman because we’re being scrutinized at work as well as at home and by society in general? Or is ours better than average, because we simply don’t have the time to deal with the details? At The 36-Hour Day, I talk about how I've realised that I've let myself go a bit, but I'm not sure what I can realistically do about it:

The physical part is probably the easiest to remedy, and that’s hard enough. Emotionally and mentally, it’s been so long since putting myself first was second nature to me that, I have to admit, I’m both envious and a little resentful of the people who seem to do it so effortlessly. ... [More]
Read the rest at The 36-Hour Day and share your thoughts in the comments: Have you let yourself go? Is it harder to stay in shape as a working parent?

Wrap it up

I used to be more of a wrap-the-present-up-in-whatever-you-have-handy kind of girl, until I did the research for this little feature for the Boston Globe Magazine and saw the gorgeous papers and gift bags out there. But the biggest surprise was that they aren't all that expensive (Target has a great selection in their stores, and you can buy wrapping paper from high-end paper stores Papyrus and Paper Source online, too).

Click to enlarge, or read it online at

Friday, November 7, 2008

Flu shot? Thanks, but no thanks

I've written before about why we delay vaccinations with our kids, but there is one vaccine we avoid completely: the flu shot. Even though it's given away for free at my office and it's available for the asking from our family's doctor, even though cold and flu season is definitely upon us, even though I'm currently feverish and hacking up a lung, I'm not going to be rolling up my sleeve -- or my kids' sleeves -- for this one. Here's why:

Aside from the whole Thimerosal issue (the flu vaccine is one of the few that still uses the mercury-laced preservative), the real reason I’m avoiding the flu vaccine is that it doesn’t work for about 85 percent of people who exhibit flu-like symptoms. ... [More]
Not enough of a reason? Here's another:

Even if I did happen to fall among the less-than-15-percent of people who have a form of the flu that the vaccine can prevent, it takes as long as two weeks for your body to start producing antibodies once you’ve gotten the shot. Which means that you can end up with a sore arm AND a raging case of the flu. Which, coincidentally, is exactly what happened to me the first and only time I got a flu shot, years and years ago. ... [More]
Do you get, or have your kids get, an annual flu shot? Post your two cents over at The 36-Hour Day.

Politics, but not as usual

I'm contracturally obligated not to endorse, campaign for, or even eyeball one political candidate or issue over another, but anyone who knows me can pretty much guess where I stand -- even when I'm trying hard to keep my mouth shut and appear neutral.

I rarely talk politics at work, even though it’s generally a safe bet for me, what with my being a card-carrying member of the Liberal Elite Media and all (not all of whom are Liberals, I might add). There are plenty of people who are pretty outspoken about where they stand, and I’m about as opinionated as they come, but still, while I’m likely to chime in to a discussion in progress, I try to view politics as more of a spectator sport.

I do the same thing at home, too, because we’re a politically blended family, but with a twist: My husband and I are on the same page when it comes to fiscal, social, and international politics; it’s our older kids who are on the other side of the aisle. ... [More]

How do we handle that delicate parenting dance? Read the rest at The 36-Hour Day.

Doing away with the overstuffed diaper bag

My youngest kids are old enough that I can get away without hauling around a massive diaper bag, but I wish I had known about this great little invention while they were still tiny. The Over Tote System by Ellie Bags was created by a mom who -- like many of us -- was tired of having to juggle her baby and all of his stuff at the same time.

Gearing Up
November 2, 2008
A Piggyback Tote

By Lylah M. Alphonse, Globe Staff

The Over Tote System by Ellie Bags holds all of your baby's diapering essentials, and instead of taking up room inside your handbag, it simply slips over the top of it. It comes with a changing pad, wipes pouch, bottle or sippy cup holder, carrying strap, and a backup bag that you fill with all of those bulky baby things you can't do without. It's easier than hauling a huge diaper bag around. The Over Tote comes in several colors and attaches and detaches easily; it need not be a permanent addition to your purse. It is on sale for $57 at (or call 716-629-3340). [More]