Monday, August 31, 2009

Easing the back-to-school blues

Whether your child is changing schools, starting school for the first time, or returning to the same school they went to last year, the transition from summer to school year can bring on the back-to-school blues -- for you as well as your child. At Work It, Mom!, I'm offering up a few tips for easing the transition; read the whole list there, or look below for the highlights:

“Parents need to begin transitioning children into the back-to-school routine early enough so they have time to adjust — mentally and physically,” says Laura Olson, vice president of education for Kiddie Academy, a national child care education franchisor.

Get children excited. Talk about all the great things they'll be learning this school year, and all of the new things they'll be able to do now that they're another year older.

Let kids be involved in back-to-school shopping. Sure, it's easier -- and faster -- if you pick up all the school supplies by yourself, but letting kids cross off items from their lists as they fill the cart will keep them involved and excited about the process.

Play school. Set up a study station at home, and play school with your children -- but let them be the teacher, while you play the role of the student. As they "teach" you a thing or two, ask them how they feel about starting school, and find out what concerns they may have. Answering questions from a position of authority -- even if it's just pretend -- may make children more confident about voicing their fears.

Practice new routines at home. Will kids be going to be earlier once school starts? Don't wait until the night before to start the new bedtime routine. (Remember: Young kids need their sleep in order to function in the classroom.).

Establish a routine for yourself. It's better to discover that you need more time in the mornings before you actually need more time in the mornings.

Make sure kids understand their new schedules. That goes for at school and at home! Older kids may find a day planner useful for keeping track of classes and homework assignments; younger kids may need a little more assistance. Try a visual aid or a school-related version of a chore chart to make things more manageable.

Attend back-to-school activities. They're a great way to familiarize kids with their schools and teachers, and for you to get a better feel for what they'll be doing in the classroom.

Ward off after-school meltdowns. Stock up on healthy snacks -- a tired kid with low blood sugar is an explosion waiting to happen. Schedule some down time, so kids can blow off steam before settling down to do homework.

Learn how to handle homework. Breaking the nightly assignments down into manageable steps can help your child avoid feeling overwhelmed.

Do you have tips for easing the back-to-school transition? Readers whose children are already back to school, what worked well for you this year? Please share your advice in the comments!

What advice -- career or otherwise -- would you give your 25-year-old self?

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately, mostly about my career. I started working as a journalist when I was 16 -- I mean working for pay, as opposed to on the school paper or something -- and I pursued my career goals with a single-mindedness that surprises me today, in retrospect.

I didn't really have a mentor, 15 or 20 years ago. I could have used one -- as a young woman, as a woman of color, as a journalist, as a professional. I could have used a primer on office politics (who couldn't?), some guidance on setting goals, a reminder that work-life balance is important even when the only think on the "life" side of the equation is yourself.

At Yahoo!'s Shine, I'm talking with readers on the fantastic Manage Your Life channel about hindsight, and what advice I'd give my younger self. Here are a few things I wish I could go back in time and tell a 25-year-old Lylah:

Travel more. Not just on vacation -- though I would definitely advise my 25-year-old self to do that, too, before she saddled herself with a mortgage. Travel for conferences, volunteer for off-site assignments, just get out of the building and see what else is out there. I haven't spent my entire life in one state, or even one country. But I definitely wish I had seen more of the world instead of spending so much time in the office.

Network more. Hanging out with the music critics was fun, but attending meetings for various journalistic associations would have been fun -- and smart, too.

Don't work during your downtime. I rarely took all of the vacation time to which I was entitled. I should have. The office runs just fine when I'm not there.

Set new goals constantly. They don't have to be work-related, either.

Don't be so afraid of failure. Sure, there's a price to pay for not doing things perfectly right off the bat. But it can be one of the best way to learn something, to push your boundaries, to set new goals.

Wear the bikini. Believe me, you look fantastic. Don't be so self-conscious about it.

Dump that guy. I know you love him, but he's like a broken vase: gorgeous to look at, and utterly non-functional. Also: He's going to break up with you anyway in a few more months.

You are worth it. It's OK to splurge on yourself every once in a while. Go spend the money on a pedicure. It won't matter in the long run, and 10 years from now, you'll want to but not have the time to.

The ideas are overflowing in the comments on my post at Shine, but I'd love to read your pearls of rear-view wisdom! What advice -- career or otherwise -- would you give to your younger self?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The complex bond between mothers and daughters

My review of Because I Love Her, an excellent collection of essays written by authors including Rachel Sarah (of Single Mom Seeking), Joyce Maynard, and Tara Bray Smith, and edited by Andrea Richesin, came out today. Read the review, and then check out the book -- it's a wonderful prism of perspectives on the journeys women take in life, and the complex relationships they craft along the way. Here's an excerpt from my review:
August 29, 2009

All about the tie binding mothers and daughters

By Lylah M. Alphonse, Globe Staff

Mothers always tell their daughters to wait until they have kids of their own - then, they’ll really understand family dynamics. In “Because I Love Her,’’ 34 writers share their understanding as they explore and explain the complex bonds between mothers and daughters. Edited by Andrea N. Richesin, the essays are deeply personal, powerful, and poignant. They cover such a wide range of situations and raw emotions, readers are bound to find several that speak directly to their hearts.

“I love all of my children, of course,’’ Catherine Crawford remembers her mother saying in her essay, “A Well-Earned Soak,’’ “but I am just so thankful to have my girls.’’ For some, motherhood manifests itself like a hidden talent, blooming even before a baby is born. For others, though, it’s a struggle. The stories in this book illustrate both, and more. ...

Read the rest in The Boston Globe or online at

Friday, August 28, 2009

10 questions to ask the person who is interviewing you

That's right. You're the one in the hot seat, but that doesn't mean you're only allowed to answer questions. Here are 10 things to ask your the person who is interviewing you for that job.

  1. What are you looking for in an employee?
  2. What's your vision for this department/company/project?
  3. Are you seeking someone who will maintain the status quo, or take the company or project in a new direction?
  4. What do you think should be the biggest priority for someone in this particular position?
  5. Is there room for advancement?
  6. Are you looking for a team player, an independent worker, or for someone to lead the team?
  7. What do you like most about this company?
  8. Can you tell me for how long the last person held this position?
  9. What's the biggest challenge facing the person who gets this job?
  10. What are you hoping this hire will accomplish for you?

For a printable checklist of these and other questions, head on over to Work It, Mom! If you're searching for a new job right now, take a look at these 10 tips to help you handle the hunt as well as the stress. Got some questions of your own? Please add them in the comments!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Searching for a job in a sluggish economy

Each person's situation is different, but the basic rules of the job hunt are still the same, whether you're out of work, looking to return to the workforce, or trying to change your career. Over at Work It, Mom!, I'm offering up quick tips on how to hunt for a job in a sluggish economy. You can click through for all the nitty-gritty, or read on for the quick list:

Evaluate your current situation. What are your skills? What do you most want to do? What is most important to you, and what will you settle for?

Take a look at what's out there. Chances are, a lot has changed since your last job search. What do other people earn for doing similar work? If you can, talk to people who are already doing your dream job, so you can get an inside look at what it's really like.

Network, network, network. Now, more than ever, who you know is just as important as what you know.

Revamp your resume. Don't just update it with information about your current (or most recent) job, tailor your resume to fit the new job for which you are applying. (Need ideas? Check out my tips on revamping your resume.)

Craft your elevator speech. Here's a great Work It, mom! article on what it is and how to do it.

Learn from other people's mistakes. WomenCo offers up a great list of nine interview mistakes -- and how to avoid them. They also have a great article with the 15 toughest interview questions and how to answer them well -- check it out.

Be prepared. You're online right now -- put the internet to good use. Before your interview, find out everything you can, not only about the company, but about the person who will be interviewing you.

Interview your interviewer. Use the chance to glean as much information as you can about the job, of course, but also about what they're looking for in a candidate -- then put that information to use in your cover letter, proposals, resume, and conversation.

Stay positive, and don't take rejection personally. No matter how good you are at what you do, or how long you have been doing it, you are not your job. A rejection isn't a personal attack. Salvage the moment and search for the positive by asking for feedback: What do you need to work on in order to be considered a good candidate in the future?

Don't burn bridges. A thank you note is in order, even if you didn't get the job. Why? Because if you establish a good rapport with the interviewer, then you may have created a valuable networking contact.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Even moms of many get asked if they'll have more kids

Even though we definitely have a full house at home, I still get asked whether I'm planning to have any more. I'm talking about how to deal with the question, "When are you going to have another child" at's Child Caring column.

I was so late with my Christmas cards last year that they turned into New Year's cards, and a few of them became Valentine's Day cards, and then I just gave up. But far-flung relatives, with whom I stay in touch via Facebook rather than phone calls, peek at the posted photos of my kids and ask the inevitable: When are you going to have another child?
Yes, it's true. Moms of only children aren't the only ones who get this.

Here's the thing: The people who ask this know that my husband and I have five children, but that I only birthed the last two. Which means, in their minds, I've only got two kids. So... when am I going to go for "Number Three" seems perfectly valid, to them.

Except "Number Three" would actually be "Number Six" and that's a freaking lot of college tuition to plan for. Especially given the fact that our oldest will be entering college the same year that our youngest starts kindergarten.

I always wanted a large family, and I'm deliriously happy with the one I've got, when I'm not busy being delirious in general, that is. My hat is off to moms of multiples and parents who are raising more kids than we are -- there are plenty of them out there, and my family is small in comparison to some of them -- but my work-life juggling act would be impossible, for me, I think, if my family were any bigger.

So, moms and dads... do you still get asked when you are going to have more children? How do you respond?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Does a newborn really need that?

I have a confession, and I hope my brother and sister-in-law aren't reading this post: I have no idea what to give them for their baby shower.

They are expecting their first child in just a few weeks, and the baby gear-buying madness is well underway. As an experienced parent and older sister, you'd think that I'd know exactly what to get for my little nephew-on-the-way and his about-to-be parents -- but you'd be wrong.
I'm stumped. There's just so much out there -- and so much of it seems totally unnecessary. How much stuff does a new baby really need?

My oldest kids weren't babies when I started parenting them, but my youngest two are "from scratch," so to speak. And I remember feeling overwhelmed with products and gear and gadgets back when they were born. (Wipe warmers? Why?) But there were a few things that made those first several weeks easier, and there were a few gifts -- other than clothes -- that I was grateful for, time and again.

The best gifts by far were the most practical ones. Baby gowns that were open at the bottom, to make midnight (and 2 a.m., and 4 a.m., and 6 a.m.) diaper changes easier. A baby "sleep sack" that zipped up like a roomy sleeping bag with sleeves. A softly glowing nightlight that clipped onto the crib and turned on or off with a tap.

One friend gave us a pretty wicker basket filled with the kind of things new parents don't usually think to get until they already need them. Allergen-free laundry detergent. A large package of newborn-size diapers. Wipes. Teensie nail clippers (newborn nails are like adorable, barely visible, rapidly growing talons). Infant Tylenol. A digital thermometer. She topped it off with a kit to make a framed print of my baby's tiny foot, something I never would have thought to buy on my own. Now, with my Amazonian 4-1/2-year old outgrowing size 6X clothing, I look at her and marvel that she was ever small enough to make the 3-inch footprint that hangs on her bedroom wall.

So I threw the question out to the community, via my Child Caring column there. Experienced parents, help a couple of newbies out. What baby items did you think were completely unnecessary? And, perhaps just as important: Which ones were essential when your first child came along?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The gluten-free lunchbox: Fresh spring rolls

Fresh spring rolls are a quick, easy, and economical sandwich subsitute. It takes a couple of tries to get the hang of handling the delicate rice-paper wrappers, but once you get going, you'll be able to roll a stack of these in just a few minutes. You can find rice-paper wrappers and other specialized ingredients at most Whole Food Markets and asian grocery stores (like Super 88 in Boston). Subsitute about 10 ounces of shredded leftover roast pork or chicken for the shrimp, if you prefer.

Fresh Spring Rolls

Makes 8 rolls

  • 16 dried rice-paper spring roll wrappers
  • 16 large cooked shrimp, split in half lengthwise
  • 1 large carrot, shredded or sliced into ribbons with a vegetable peeler
  • 4 radishes, sliced thin
  • 4 large leaves of green-leaf or butter lettuce, shredded
  • 8 large fresh basil or mint leaves, sliced thinly
  • 3 ounces cellophane (dried bean thread) noodles
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  1. Whisk rice vinegar, fish sauce, lime juice, and honey together in a medium-size bowl. Set aside.
  2. Cook the cellophane noodles in boiling water for about one minute, until softened. Drain. Transfer the noodles to the bowl with the rice vinegar sauce, toss gently, and allow to sit until sauce is absorbed (about 5 minutes)
  3. Fill a large shallow bowl 1/2 way with hot water. Layer two rice-paper wrappers together with the textured sides touching, and slide them into the water. Let them soak for 30 to 45 seconds, or until softened all over. Remove them from the water, and lay them out flat, one on top of the other, on a clean, dry cutting board.
  4. Place a small amount of the noodle mixture in the middle of the wrapper, leaving about an inch of space on the right and left sides. Layer on a small amount of lettuce, a bit of the shredded carrot, two or three slices of shrimp, a few slices of radish, and a bit of the basil or mint.
  5. Fold the bottom portion of the wrapper up and over the filling, keeping it as snug as possible without letting the filling slide upward. Fold the right and left sides of the wrapper over the filling, and then roll the spring roll slowly, away from you, to create a log.
  6. Repeat with remaining ingredients.
The trick is to keep the softened wrapper snug without a.) tearing it or b.) slopping the filling out of it. Tip: You need less filling than you think! Since you've soaked the cellophane noodles in the sauce, you don't need to pack sauce on the side, which makes this a great lunch box meal.

(Image is from

Friday, August 21, 2009

Tune in!

On Sunday, Aug. 23, I'll be talking to the folks at WERS-FM's public affairs program, "You Are Here," talking about whether religion should be taught in public schools. The conversation was sparked by a post about Texas public schools teaching the Bible this year; you can read an expanded version of the post here -- it's worth the time to check out the comments on -- and then tune in to 88.9 FM at 7 a.m. on Sunday or listen to it live online at

When other work gets in the way of working from home

What I was doing the other day: Working from home because our oldest daughter was sick.

What I should have been doing: Working from home.

What I actually did: Fed breakfast to 4 children, fed the dog, dressed 2 children, made 4 lunches, packed 3 backpacks, did 2 children’s hair, dropped 1 child at camp and 2 children at preschool, bought groceries, bought cold and flu medication at the drug store, put away the groceries, edited 2 articles, emptied the dishwasher, reloaded the dishwasher, went to the craft store after finding out (when I dropped 1 child at camp) that tomorrow the group will be doing tie-dye, and I had no articles of white anything, worked a little more, scrubbed the kitchen floor, prepped dinner, picked up 3 children from various location, took 1 sick teenager to the doctor (diagnosis: pneumonia, and boy is she pissed), made dinner.

What I felt like I should’ve been doing, since I was at home anyway: laundry, cleaning the bathrooms, vacuuming the rest of the house, stripping the sheets, remaking the beds, cleaning off the kitchen counters, putting away the mountain of shoes in the entry way, picking up the toys from the floor of the family room, taking the clothes I culled out of the kids’ closets months ago to the Salvation Army, donating the old toys, and feeling guilty because 1 child complained that “it’s sooooooo *dirty* in here!”

What didn’t get done: Enough work.

When you work from home, how much work do you actually get done before your other work -- the house work, the home work, the life work -- gets in the way?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

10 tips for organizing your family photos

I am a photo hog. There are few family photos of me, because I'm usually on the other side of the camera, squinting into the view finder. I used to keep reams of photographs in shoeboxes under my bed, or shoved haphazardly into albums, swearing that I'll organize them all probably "when I have the time." Going digital didn't really help with the organization: I used to have a lovely little website for friends and family, but that crashed and burned, taking all of my carefully crafted captions with it and leaving me too overwhelmed to even consider starting over.

But, as I write over at Work It, Mom!, it’s hard to take a walk down memory lane if your family photographs are out of reach. If your organization system consists of several large envelopes on a shelf somewhere, read on!

1.) Do it slowly. Five years’ worth of photos can be intimidating, but you can breeze through an envelope-full in next to no time.

2.) Keep everything digital. If you plan to share photos exclusively online -- but don’t want other people to be able to download, imbed, or copy your snaps -- consider Smug Mug. Power- and Pro-level subscribers can customize their displays, flash slideshows can be made any size, and the Google Maps feature (which allows you to display exactly where your shot was taken) is really cool. Are you an artist? Smug Mug can make a poster-size print mounted on canvas for you.

3.) Upload them and make prints of only the ones you really want. Kodak Gallery offers an easy way to store your photographs online. You can sync your account with your computer using their free software, share your albums with friends, or create slideshows, and since your photos are stored at full resolution, there’s no loss of quality. Prints are only 15 cents each, and new members get 20 of them for free.

4.) Upgrade your print storage system. Replace those ratty shoeboxes with fun and funky designs, or organize events by assigning each a color. The Container Store sells photo boxes by Semikolon (pictured, above) in several soft colors for $9 to $12 each. A small window lets you display your favorite print, and the boxes are pretty enough to stay in plain sight.

5.) Make a bunch of brag books. Every adventure in your family’s life is worth bragging about. Make each one into it’s own 5-by-7 brag book at Shutterfly. A 20-page soft-cover book takes minutes to make and costs just $12.99.

6.) Make a hard-cover book. At Blurb, you can have your photos printed, with your own text, in a professional-looking hard- or soft-cover book. A 40 page, 8-inch by 12-inch hardcover with dustjacket costs $29.95, and there are many other options from which to choose. Create a customized love story with your own photos for a fabulous wedding gift. (Looking for a way to archive your kids' artwork? Artimus Art can make it into a gorgeous book -- and they do all the work, you just choose the art and mail it in.)

7.) Share an online scrapbook. No time to cut and paste and decorate? Do it online at Scrapblog. Pick a customizable kit, upload your photos, drag and drop them into place, and add digital stickers before sharing each page with friends and family.

8.) Burn them to CD. If you’re still developing film and taking prints home, order a CD of your prints at the same time. Most Walgreens stores will do this for about $7 a disc.

9.) Create a 3-D collage -- or several. Make a three-dimensional collage of your favorite prints with pre-assembled frames from Michael’s or other craft stores. Swap out the photos as you see fit, or group the collections together for a stunning display.

10.) Don’t be afraid to throw prints away. I did this recently with a bunch of old outtakes from the disposible cameras we handed out at our wedding and I have to admit it felt wonderful. Take a look at your photos -- a good look. Do you have duplicates? Seven shots of the same birthday cake? A handful of photos of the same subject, taken at the same time, but from slightly different angles? Choose your favorites and pitch the rest. It’s OK. We won’t tell.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

An Interview with Coupon Queen Kathy Spencer

My "First Person" feature with coupon guru Kathy Spencer was published in this week's Boston Globe Magazine... click on the picture (or the link) to take a closer look.

Of course, space being the way it is in a print publication, the long interview was cut back to a smaller Q&A. Wondering how this mom from Boxford, Massachusetts, manages to feed a family of four (plus pets!) for pennies a day? Here's the longer version of our chat:

When and why did you start couponing? Does it really make a difference?
I started using coupons as sa child, But no it doesnt make a difference when you start , you just need to start! Once you start you willl be amazed at how much you can get for free if you put in a little time and effort.

Please tell us a bit about "How to Shop for Free." How many members do you have, what's the best part about it, what's the most important thing you've learned from it?
I started How to Shop for Free on Yahoo July 3, 2007. I started the group because I was always being asked where the deals were that I was getting and how did I do it. So I started HTSFF thinking it would be a easy way for me to keep all the info in one place so my friends family and online friends could see what and how I did what I did. I thought the group would average 10 to 20 of us, but it soon grew too large for Yahoo, with 3,873 current members and growing by the day.

Last year I opened How to Shop for Free on Big Tent because it was a much more organized place to set up topics and keep everything neat and organized. [Note from Lylah: You can read my interview with Big Tent founder and CEO Donna Novitsky at Work It, Mom!] Currently I think we have about 1,500 members on Big Tent, which is also growing by the day. We decided to charge a $1 annual fee to join that group mainly to keep out spammers and people that arent really interested and so far it has worked out great.

The best part about the group is the friendships that have formed online and off. Its really a great group of caring people. The majority of the group donated to food pantries, neighbors, churches family and friends. We just get too much for free and have to give it away! It has been amazing how many people have been helped just through coupons. It just seems to snowball, the more people I helped the more they help and it goes on and on. No one should have to go hungry or have to choose heat versus food.

We have had members go from spending $300 a week on food down to $40 in a matter of weeks. The trick is stockpiling, when its free or almost free I say, "Stockpile it!" Look at the expiration and figure out how much you think you will need between that time frame and stock up!

There are all different levels of coupon shoppers in the group. Some get it really fast and others need more help. The group is very helpful and kind to newbies and we all work together to answer questions and help each other out.

I have learned alot from having the group. Mainly that there are alot of really nice people out there that need a little help and coupons have made a huge difference in there life. I never thought (or wanted to) I would make real friends online ... especially considering that what we teach our kids not to do! But I have met the greatest people from having this group and I am so greatful that I have. The group as a whole is very generous always eager to donate there proudly stacked stockpiles. It has also passed down to there children and taught the little ones to be smart shoppers and donate. Its really great! My children love to donate and especially love the Staples penny sales where they can buy a bag full of stuff for under a quater and donate it to the local Community Giving Tree where it goes to help less forunate children have school supplies.

A lot of couple fight over money. Take the $200- to $300-a-week grocery bill out of that and how much happier could that make you?

What led you to think of saving money as a source of income?
A few yeas ago my husband became very sick unexpectedly. At that time he was up for a promotion at work, which would have given him a bigger paycheck but would have caused him to be at work a lot more and have a lot less family time. At the time, we thought the added pay was what we should to to help us financially, but once he became sick it made me realize how much he actually did around the house and how much time he had to spend quality time with us. That made me think if the promotion, was really worth it?

Financially, yes, it was, but was that what we really wanted for our family? In between trips to the doctors, I ran into the store to get some juice that was on sale for $1. I had three $1-off coupons and that made it free. That's when I started thinking... what if I had 10 coupons? What about 20? How many bottles of juice would I buy in a year? Basically that one trip at that one moment in my life made me really rethink the whole coupon thing. I started thinking of how much extra money would hemake if he got the promotion versus how much money could I save us if I figured this all out.

I quickly taught myself to stockpile and stockpile coupons. I started pairing sales with coupons and getting whatever worked out free and as much as it as I could. I went from buying the cheap laundry soap to getting stockpiles of free Tide and All. Instead of generic tootpaste I was getting Crest and Colgate and all the newest and best lines of health and beauty items. In no time at all, we were stocked. I had the scheduale down of what season everything went on sale and how much I will need till the next sale. I also learned that CVS offered a $25 gift card coupon for new prescriptions. Unfortunately my husband was very sick ,but when he got better he was happy to here we made $150 in free gift cards for all the different perscriptions they had him on. We had a $5 copay at the time, so that made us $120 profit.

Needless to say he did not end up with the promotion and we are doing fine financially thanks to my coupon addiction. We are much happier as a family having him home with us and not working 24/7. Besides, if he did, who would watch the kids while I shopped?

Where do you get all of your coupons? Do you subscribe to multiple papers?
I get them from newspapers, grocery stores, manufacturers websites, printables, and even buy some on eBay. Coupons are everywhere, you just need to train your eyes to spot them.

With so many coupons out there for processed junk food, how do you keep a healthy diet and still save money?
There actually are lots of coupons for healthy food. Most organic food companys have coupons, too. I also can make money at the grocery store by rolling a deal and that will give me store money that I can use to buy fresh friuits and vegetables for free

Do you teach any classes or seminars about couponing, outside of your online groups?
Yes, I have done seminars for non profit groups and small groups of friends that just want to plan a get together, I also do one on one shopping trips as well as group shopping trips for those that need hands on help to "get it."

How much do you spend on groceries each week?
I spend under $10 a week. My average bill is $4 and occasionally I even go negative and have to add in a candy bar. There are six of us in my house -- I am married with four children, aged 3 to 18. I also have a dog, two cats, and a bunny, and they eat for free, too!

How much time do you spend clipping coupons and scanning circulars?
Not as much time as you would think. I keep my coupons unclipped in the inserts they came in and filed by date they came out. When I need a coupon I just pull it from the file and cut them at once. I would guess that I spend two to three hours tops searching ads and online deals a week. the best part about being in a groupon group is that if you miss a deal theres always someone that will post a great deal that you missed.

Do you think there's such a thing as a free lunch?
Absolutely!!! You can get free breakfast and supper too, as well as many other things! I just got my two free park-and ride-tickets in the mail for Yorks Wild Animal Kingdom. I got them for free from a Shaws supermarket promotion that if you bought 10 items they sent you two tickets. I got the 10 items, used coupons so the 10 items were completely free, and that got me the tickets for free!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Should public schools teach children about the Bible?

Starting this year, Public high schools in Texas will be required to teach students about the Bible.
Texas House Bill 1287, which passed in September 2007 but was not enforced because of problems with training and funding, stipulates that the Bible must be taught in an objective way and "would neither promote nor disparage any religion." The goal, according to bill, is to "teach students knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture," as well as familiarize students with the contents, history, literary style, and structure of the Old and New Testaments.

Even though the courses are elective, not mandatory, and are supposed to focus on how Christianity has influenced American history and society, some parents are furious.

"I don't want anybody teaching their religious beliefs to my child unless they want to send their child to my house and let me teach them my religious views," one parent told Texas news station KLTV. "There is no difference."

I'll admit it: That was my immediate reaction, too. But then I thought it over, and wondered: Does one have to be -- or become -- a believer in order to study the Bible?

USA Today columnist William R. Mattox says no. "You can't effectively explore American history without teaching about the Rev. King," he points out, "and... you can't teach about the civil rights leader without helping students understand the meaning and power of his frequent references to 'the Promised Land' and other scriptural metaphors, verses and concepts."

I agree. My Dad is Roman Catholic, but my brothers and I were raised in my Mom's faith, which is Zoroastrianism. Even so, one of my favorite books to read at bedtime was a children's version of the Bible -- especially the stories, David and Goliath, Samson and Delilah, Joseph and his coat. As a college student, a friend of mine inspired me to read the Bible cover to cover -- not for salvation, but as literature. (Well, he may have been gunning my salvation, but what I got out of it was a better understanding of society in general and how contradictory it can be).

Think of all of the cultural references that one simply can't understand without a working knowledge of the Bible. Shakespeare. Milton. Stephen Colbert's "Colbert Report." The lyrics to The Stone Roses' "Love Spreads." Jim Carrey in "Bruce Almighty." Madeline L'Engle's "Many Waters" and other young adult classics. The Indiana Jones movies -- or, at least the first and third ones, about the lost Ark and the Holy Grail.

The problem, I'd argue, is when instruction steps over the line into indoctrination. While the bill sets up some stark parameters to prevent that from happening, the curriculum will be left up to individual teachers, and a precedent has already been set: A review of Bible courses currently taught in 25 Texas school districts found that most of the courses were "explicitly devotional" and taught by people with no academic training in biblical or religious studies and who were not familiar with the issues of separation of church and state.

"Some classes promote creation science. Some classes denigrate Judaism. Some classes explicitly encourage students to convert to Christianity or to adopt Christian devotional practices," Mark Chancey, associate professor in religious studies at Southern Methodist University, told The Associated Press. "This is all well documented, and the board knows it."

One commenter at my Child Caring blog asked something along these lines, and it really stuck with me: Americans tend to consider madrassas,those Muslim schools that focus on a fundamentalist religious education, as hotbeds of terrorism. If they were teaching the Bible instead of the Koran, would we still feel the same way?

I think it's fair to say that American history, politics, and even pop culture has been informed by Christianity and the Bible. But in today's multi-cultural, global society, where's the push to teach students about other religions? As a commenter at wrote: "I look forward to Texas schools offering classes on the Talmud, Q'uran, Tao Te Ching, LaVey's Satanic Bible, Dianetics, Eastern Orthodox Bible, Wicca, and Atheist/Agnostic texts as well. Wait, they're not doing that? Hmm."

That might be pushing it a bit, but still: Isn't it equally important that high school students in Texas have an understanding of how other religions have shaped the rest of the world?

Edited to add: A shorter version of this post is one of the most popular this week on Yahoo!'s Shine, and the discussion going on at is really roaring. Click through to check them out!

Monday, August 17, 2009

What makes a city good for working moms?

Forbes magazine has figured out the best cities for working moms, and New York City -- also known as the most expensive city in the country, where $60,000 buys you about as much as a $26,000 annual salary in Atlanta -- comes out on top, followed by Austin, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Milwaukee, and Portland, Oregon.

So, what do those five cities have in common, and what makes them great for working moms in particular? A high concentration of moms who work outside of the home? Family-friendly companies? Spectacular, affordable childcare? Jobs with flexible hours?

Don't know. Forbes didn't focus on those things.

Instead, Forbes calculated the rankings by taking the 50 largest cities in the US and evaluating them in 11 categories: income, unemployment, living cost, health care, pediatricians, school quality, spending per pupil, child care, violent crimes, property crimes, and parks. All of which are important, yes, but none of which are specific to working moms or the challenges they face, as I point out over at The 36-Hour Day.

The reasoning behind the large number of categories makes sense: Different moms have different needs. But since all of the categories were weighed equally -- the number of pediatricians in an area meant as much in the rankings as cost of living, job opportunities, and availability of childcare -- the end result doesn't make much sense. Which is how you end up with New York City -- a place with high unemployment and an even higher cost of living -- in the number one spot. Which is odd, because Forbes declared it one of the worst cities for families just a few months ago. Austin -- a city whose best traits, according to Forbes, are a low unemployment rate and a high number of parks -- is in the number two spot. (You can see the complete list here.)

Going just by availability of childcare, Houston was the number one city for working moms, followed by Chicago and Miami/Fort Lauderdale; if your most important criterion is the ability to earn a lot of money, your best bets were the Washington, D.C./Alexandria area, San Jose, and San Francisco/Oakland. School quality your number one priority? Go with Minneapolis/St. Paul, Milwaukee, or San Francisco.

Also wondering: How many working moms live in the cities themselves, vs. in the suburbs? I live near Boston, not in it, but I'm able to take advantage of some of the great things -- like amazing health care and job opportunities -- Boston has to offer. For the record, Boston was right in the middle of the Forbes rankings; though it was in the top five for income, number of pediatricians, and spending per pupil, it's score was pulled down by its results in the cost of living, health care (too many specialists, not enough primary care doctors), and availability of childcare categories. But do I think it's a good city for working moms? Yes, I do.

What's my point? It's that even spread out among 11 categories, it's difficult to gauge what makes a city great for working moms in particular.

What do you think makes your city (or town) good for working moms? If you were in charge, what would you improve?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Should Elizabeth Edwards accept her husband's illegitimate child?

According to North Carolina TV station WRAL, Senator John Edwards is set to admit that he actually is the father of his former mistress's 18-month-old daughter.

I heard the news on the radio this morning, and immediately wondered what the Edwards family would do. The senator's wife, Elizabeth, is faced with yet another terrible choice: Accept her children's newly acknowledged half sister, or punish the toddler for being the product of an affair, something over which the child had no control.

Senator Edwards acknowledged the affair with Rielle Hunter last year (a federal grand jury is reportedly investigating whether he illegally used his campaign funds to pay Hunter to keep quiet about it). But he has consistently denied being the father of her baby, insisting that the affair ended in 2006, before the baby was conceived. In fact, he told Bob Woodruff on ABC news last year that he would welcome the chance to take a paternity test to prove his innocence. "I know that it's not possible that this child could be mine because of the timing of events, so I know it's not possible. Happy to take a paternity test, and would love to see it happen."

Apparently, he took that test in secret recently -- and the results weren't quite what he expected. The National Enquirer, which initially broke the news of the affair, reported that the results of a paternity test prove Edwards is the toddler's dad. A positive result on a paternity test is usually 99.99 percent accurate. That means that the chances of someone else being the dad are slim-to-none. WRAL, citing anonymous sources, says that Edwards will confirm that he's the father at some point before the federal grand jury finishes its investigation.

There's bound to be some pretty severe fall out over the flip-flop, though I don't see how things could get any worse for Edwards than it already have, politically speaking, at least. When news of the affair broke, his supporters -- including his wife and children -- rallied around him, and a former aide, Andrew Young, claimed to be the child's father. (Hunter later agreed with the claim, though the birth certificate does not list a name for the father.) But now that Edwards seems poised to admit that 18-month-old Frances is really his own, what will his family do?

All married couples deal with the blending of families, to an extent. Stepparents deal with it most, having to knit together relationships between existing children. But when the new family member is the product of an affair, there are many other issues to contend with.

The Globe Magazine recently ran a great article, about being the child of a six-year affair, written by the now-adult child himself. In "The Son Who Wasn't," Stefan Hogan describes what it was like growing up in the shadow of his father's "real" family. "I am my father’s sixth child," he writes, "and none of his other children knew until this past December that I existed."

Little Frances doesn't face the same fate, if only because her parents' affair and its aftermath have played out in public. So, now what? Should Elizabeth Edwards accept little Frances while continuing to shun Rielle Hunter? Allow her own young children to meet their newly acknowledged half sister, and let her older kids decide for themselves? Is it fair to keep a child away from her siblings because of something her parents did?

It's a damned-if-you do, damned-if-you-don't situation, don't you think? What would you do? The discussions are going on at Yahoo's Shine (where the focus seems to be on the affair) and at Child Caring (where the focus seems to be on the child).

Friday, August 14, 2009

Getting kids to do their chores (including homework!) on time

This morning, I wished I had done a better job teaching my kids to get ready on their own. I had to keep reminding my tween boy to put on his socks and shoes. My 4-year-old skipped downstairs and nearly went out the door wearing peach plaid shorts a size too small, which she paired with a magenta tie-dyed shirt. My oldest girl wasn't feeling well, and my youngest was full of energy -- given that he's 2-years-old, that meant he was harder to wrangle, not easier.

But even if you have only one child to check up on, and even if your mornings are a piece of cake, there's still homework, projects, extra curricular activities, household chores, and bedtime to consider.

Ideally, you want your kids to eventually take responsibility for these things themselves, but until then, I'm asking my readers at Child Caring: How do you stay on top of it all?

There are many products and systems out there to help parents keep their kids organized, which is great, because no single system will work for every child. Case in point: My oldest girls are pretty independent when it comes to homework and chores; my 11-year-old, who has Asperger's, used to need a reminder for nearly every step of every routine; my youngest kids, who are 4 and 2, need to have their routines modified so that they can focus only on the parts they're capable of doing themselves.

The goal isn't just to have a bunch of tasks completed each day; you want the work to get done, of course, but you want to foster good habits and encourage independence and self-reliance at the same time.

So, what motivates kids to get their chores done? In the long run, nagging doesn't work -- kids just learn to tune you out, or get the job done as quickly as possible in order to get you to stop talking. Rewards are great motivators, but it's too easy for them to devolve into bribes, or for kids to demand bigger rewards for less work. Treats are fine until you notice that your child has set the dinner table but is too full of Gummi Bears to eat dinner. (Not that I'd know anything about that. Really.)

Here are a few options: a gadget, a free download, and a do-it-yourself system.

On Task On Time for Kids helps children with their daily routines -- morning, noon, and night -- by turning boring, repetitive tasks into a fun, beat-the-clock-type game. Completing the daily chores becomes a source of self-esteem, instead of a battle of wills, and the easy-to-use system works well for even very young children, since you can adjust the amount of time allotted for each task.

Moschel Kadokura, CEO of Timely Matters, created On Task On Time when her triplets were 5 years old and she realized she needed help getting the off to school in the mornings. Her system is made up of a large, color-coded timer (it's big enough that it won't get lost, and kids can carry it from task to task if they need to) with a built-in dry erase board for notes, a reward chart, and several customizable disks. Reusable stickers are placed at intervals along the disks, designating each task and the amount of time in which to complete it. The stickers are illustrated, with labels and icons for everything from brushing teeth to picking up toys to doing homework, and there are several blank stickers so you can assign whatever chores or tasks are needed in your household. The goal is to get each task done, of course. The bonus is that kids learn good habits and gain a sense of independence and self-sufficiency along the way.

HandiPoints uses specialized charts to help kids stay on track with things like homework, housework, and hygiene; kids earn points for completing tasks and doing worksheets, and the points can be used to buy rewards and play games at HandiPoint's virtual world online. Parents are also able to assign consequences for not finishing a given task, and can designate rewards beyond the point system as well. The charts are free and easily customizable, and the site also offers a great resource in their MommyPoints blog, written Chris Jordan, a mom of seven who really knows her stuff (she also blogs at Ordering Disorder and Notes from the Trenches, among other places).

Chore Pockets. This is more of a crafty, do-it-yourself proposition, but it's very flexible, infinitely adaptable, and works well for younger kids. The idea comes from Diann Jeppson’s Chore Pocket system, which is described in A Thomas Jefferson Education Home Companion, and my favorite example of it comes from Jessica at Balancing Everything. The basic idea is this: You create separate pockets for each area in your home, plus a pocket for each member of the family. (No sewing skills? Use envelopes for the pockets). Write up (or print out) small cards describing each chore that needs to be done in each area, and file them in the appropriate areas' pockets.

Decide which chores need to be done daily, weekly, or intermittently, and start divvying up the cards; chores that don't need to be done right away stay in their area's pocket. Assign chores by slipping cards into each family member's pocket -- think of it as an inbox. When the chore is completed, you move the card back to the pocket for the area in which it belongs. You can let kids choose their own chores, if you like, and you can assign different values to the chores so that kids earn rewards (or praise) more quickly by doing harder tasks.

How do you deal with chores and homework in your household?

Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Octomom Nadya Suleman: Back in the spotlight (did she ever really leave it?)

The comments are flying over at Yahoo's Shine! where I'm talking about the latest reality TV deal for Octomom Nadya Suleman (below, in an AP photo), who will be the focus of a Fox-TV special next week.

The ink is barely dry on the multi-year reality TV deal Nadya Suleman inked with U.K. company Eyeworks last month. Now, Fox TV has announced that it will air a two-hour special on the single mom of 14 as soon as next week.

Why do we keep extending her 15 minutes of fame?

The program -- called "Octomom: The Incredible Unseen Footage" -- will use footage originally shot by Radar Online, which was reportedly cited by the California Labor Commission recently for having violated child labor laws by failing to get the proper permits and by videotaping Suleman’s infant octuplets for too long. Fox says its Aug. 19 special will be made up of “never-before-seen” footage, some from as far back as the octuplet’s birth in January.

I’m no fan of reality TV shows -- especially ones involving kids -- but this seems even worse to me, somehow. At least there’s some kind of scripting, some sort of lesson, no matter how flimsy, when it comes to most so-called reality TV. This is just a clips reel of outtakes that weren’t fit for consumption when they were shot by a website months ago. Aside from the train-wreck curious, voyeuristic aspect of it, what’s the point?

When news broke of her reality deal in July, I felt sorry for her. Of course she needs to earn money to take care of her kids, and how many ways are there, really, for a single mom of 14 kids to do that? Her kids will earn about $250,000 altogether from the Eyeworks agreement (no word on how much Suleman herself will get from the deal) and Fox says they will “set aside a six-figure sum for Suleman's children” for this two-hour production, even though they’re not legally obligated to pay them. That's better than using food stamps and state aid, or providing for her children with money from her student loans, right? Her kids will earn about $250,000 altogether from the Eyeworks agreement (no word on how much Suleman herself will get from the deal) and Fox says they will “set aside a six-figure sum for Suleman's children” for this two-hour production, even though they’re not legally obligated to pay them.

Still... I get the feeling that this isn't just about the money, anymore. It's about celebrity. And I'm not sure who's most to blame. Suleman, for selling out her kids? Fox TV, for ordering the special? The media, for writing about and promoting it? Or the rest of us, for wanting to watch?
Huffington Post has a preview clip of the Fox special, and I'm back to feeling sorry for Suleman again -- but not for the difficulties she has to deal with. I feel sorry that she's so willing to open her life up to public scrutiny like this -- that she's making an already tough situation worse, not just for herself, but for her kids.

What do you think? Will you watch the special?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Would you buy your daughter a doll that breastfeeds?

When my youngest child was born, my then 2-year-old daughter would watch me nurse him and then run off to grab her favorite stuffed bunny, so she could nurse it at the same time. She'd hold her stuffed animal to her little chest and rock it and coo to it, looking up from time to time to see what I was doing with her baby brother, adjusting her behavior to match mine.

She didn't need a specialized doll in order to mimic what she saw me doing. In fact, she didn't need any sort of structured plaything at all -- toy cars, soft pillows, and even her blanket got to nurse whenever the baby did. The only thing she didn't run for when she saw me picking up the baby, in fact, was her baby doll.

Which makes the newest controversial doll on the market, Spanish company Berjuan's "Bebe Gloton," all the more disconcerting. Since kids will play with whatever's on hand, do they really need a doll whose specific purpose is to promote breastfeeding?

At's Child Caring blog, I'm also wondering about something else: With negative reactions ranging "It's promote teenage pregnancy" to "It'll encourage girls to become sexually active sooner," why are we so worried about this doll and yet so willing to buy our daughters Bratz?

I think it's the interactivity of Bebe Golon that's making some people -- myself included -- squeamish. In order to play with the doll, the child has to put on a special, sports-bra like halter top, with flowers in the nipple area. When the baby is brought to the breast, sensors in the flowers cause it to make suckling sounds and motions, and it stops crying. No need for imagination when your child is getting such detailed feedback from her doll.

Click over to read "Breastfeeding dolls: "Yay" or "No Way"? at Child Caring, and give me your two cents in the comments: Would you buy a special breastfeeding doll for your child? Or is a desire to nuture -- plus a little imagination -- all she really needs?

Updated to add: has named this post one of the best opinions on the breastfeeding baby doll, Bebe Gloton. Click here to read their roundup!

Kids and cell phones: How young is too young?

When I was a kid, we didn't have cell phones. But there were pay phones on nearly every corner, a call cost only a dime, and we always kept a little spare change in our book bags, just in case we needed to call Mom or Dad.

At home, with three teenagers, the phones really got a workout. But they weren't cordless, so in order to gab with our friends for hours, my brothers and I had to fight over the phone in the kitchen, stretching its curly cord as far as it could reach in order to have a semi-private conversation. We were thrilled when we each got an extension in our own bedrooms for our 16th birthdays -- the line was shared, yes, but we respected one another's privacy, and rarely snooped on our siblings when "the kids' phone" line rang.

Fast-forward 20 years. My oldest children each got a cell phone right around their 10th birthdays. They travel back and forth between their mom's house and ours, and it made sense to make sure they had a way to reach all of their parents, any time they needed to.

Our oldest daughter didn't really use her cell phone very much until she'd had it for a couple of years. Our second-oldest daughter likes to text, and started using her cell phone right away. Our oldest son had his cell phone confiscated by his Mom a few months after he got it; he quickly racked up a $300 bill with text-message spam and ringtone downloads. So, while 10 years old was about right for our now-teenage girls, it was too soon for our tween boy.

At's Child Caring blog, I'm discussing kids and cell phones and wondering: How young is too young for a kid to have his own phone?

Some experts say children are ready to handle a cell phone around age 10 or 11, because they are becoming more independent and starting to do things -- like go to the library, or wait for the school bus with friends -- without an adult present.

"Increasingly, kids in sixth and seventh grade have cell phones, and your child might, depending on your community, be in the minority not to have one," Diane Debrovner, health and psychology editor of Parents magazine, tells The Houston Chronicle.

Frankly, I don't think "everyone else already has one" is a good enough reason to give your child a cell phone. But if your kid flies by himself to visit his other set of parents, or has to walk home after school or sports, or spends time alone at home until you get home from work, giving him a cell phone seems like a smart precautionary measure.

I'm not saying you need to run out and buy your tween an iPhone (though there are plenty of cool, free apps out there to keep your kids occupied for a few minutes on yours). But if you're running late to pick your kids up from school, a pre-paid GoPhone is an inexpensive way to provide peace of mind -- to you and your child.

Of course, a GoPhone wouldn't have prevented our tween from receiving spam text messages from friends of friends, and probably wouldn't have stopped him from trying to download random ring tones. But my kid isn't your kid -- parents have to take their own child's maturity level and experiences into consideration. Dory Devlin at Yahoo! Tech offers a few guidelines for trying to decide whether to let your child go mobile:

1.) How and when will they use the phones? Are the phones for emergency use only or for socializing?

2.) Should they be able to send and receive text messages? To and from whom?

3.) What is the entire monthly cost, including fees, text messaging, photos, ringtone and music downloads?

4.) Will your child pay for all or part of the plan? Will the money come out of her allowance, or is she a teenager with a summer job and a small income?

Does your child have a cell phone? How old is old enough to be responsible for one?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Back-to-school bargains for all kinds of kids

The new school year is just around the corner, an idea that's either delightful or dreadful, depending on whether you're a parent or a student. Regardless, you've got some stocking up to do. Over at Work It, Mom!, I've pulled together a slideshow of my favorite back-to-school bargains. Click on any of the pictures below for more information, or surf on over to Work It, Mom! to watch the whole thing.

Monday, August 10, 2009

My life is nothing like those commercials

If I drop anything consistently in my constant work-life juggle, it's cleaning. I hate to vacuum. I tend to clutter. I can ignore stuff that I think is temporary, like plastic toys and board books. My husband goes into "cleaning tantrums" and I feel like he's cleaning at me. So it should come as no surprise that commercials for cleaning products manage to be both eye-catching and irritating, to me. One reader at The 36-Hour Day pointed out that she doesn't have self-esteem issues because of the models in magazines, but because of those wildly unrealistic images of moms in cleaning commercials, and that's exactly how I feel, too!
I try to watch what my kids watch, which means that the commercials I sit through are geared mostly either to kids (Toys! Games! Candy!) or to moms (Body wash! Convenience foods! Cleaning products!). Or, I should say, "moms," because really, a commercial pitched to directly me, and most of the working moms I know, would involve wine and sleep.

The commercials for cleaning products bug me the most, because they just seem completely unrealistic. I mean, really -- who takes time away from their work-life juggle to wipe down an already pristine living room? I'm looking at you, makers of a
certain multi-surface cleaner, the commercial for which caught my eye this morning. A woman, in a glass cage filled with already-clean kitchen appliances and cabinets, quips that she doesn't have time to clean because she has to go pick up her kids, but is able to wipe up a few smudges and smears without having to use several different cleaners. After she's done, the place looks exactly the same, but she looks tired and relieved.

I don't know about you, but my housework workload would not be significantly reduced by not having to switch cleaning products while dusting my bookshelves. For one thing, my bookshelves are too cluttered for me to see the actual shelving and, for another, who's going to scrutinize my bookshelves besides my mom, who gave up on my cleaning decades ago?

I guess I just don't relate to these commercials. Who are these women? I do not have snow-white carpets throughout my home and, if I did, I would not smile and sigh ruefully when my child spills a glass of grape juice upon it, because who lets their preschoolers wander through the house with open, breakable glasses of anything, let alone something that stains?

I do not vacuum a perfect pattern into my carpets -- I vacuum to stop dog-hair
tumbleweeds from forming, and to pick up crumbs that are so big my toddler would
try to snack on them if I didn't get to them first. My bathroom is not bigger than my living room; it is not filled with matching accessories. I do not gracefully traipse down the stairs, in a cute little dress with matching purse and jewelry, to go walk the dog. I never stop on my way out the door to inhale the perfumed air of my home. Here's my reality: My dog gets pushed out the partway open door so that my neighbors don't catch a glimpse of me looking the way I do in the morning, while I sniff the air to make sure I've gotten him out into the yard on time.

If you want me to buy your products, you're going to need to come up with a commercial that shows me how they really work. Take a harried mom -- I'd prefer you use a dad, but I'm not completely unrealistic; with certain wonderful exceptions, women still do the bulk of the housework. So take a busy working mom who can't afford a cleaning service, and show me how your amazing product will make the kitchen full of dirty dishes, the mountain of laundry, the crunchy carpeting, the pile of mismatched shoes in the entry way, and the smudged windows all be magically clean by the time she gets home in the evening.

That's a commercial I'd be happy to watch.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Judge Sotomayor's confirmation: Inspiring or discouraging for kids?

I'm over at Yahoo's Shine! today, writing about Saturday's confirmation hearing for Judge Sonia Sotomayor and wondering if this historic milestone is inspiring or discouraging for our daughters:

My oldest daughter is nearly 16 years old. She’s whip-smart and politically conservative. She wants to be a lawyer. I don’t know if she has her heart set on a seat at the Supreme Court, but I look at all the lauding of Sotomayor’s historic confirmation and wonder: Are we teaching our children that great achievements by women of color are the exception, not the rule?

Read the rest -- and tell me what you think -- at Shine's Parenting Channel.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Queen of Procrastination learns about time management

Long ago, I dubbed myself the Queen of Procrastination. I took to my throne at The 36-Hour Day to share a little lesson I learned recently, about time management for those who think they are too tired:

The other night, I was faced with a kitchen-full of dirty dishes. And pots. And pans. At midnight.

I was already tired. I had been up late working, and I'd gotten up early, too, thanks to my 2 1/2-year-old alarm clock of a son who wakes at 5:30 a.m. (and who obviously didn't read my post about how
I prefer to stay up late rather than get up early). But the kitchen was a wreck, it's hot and humid outside and, as such, bug season, and call me crazy, but I cannot stand having anything with more than two legs in the kitchen, and that includes the dog.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

When is a child ready for Kindergarten?

I was chatting with my 4 1/2-year-old's teacher today, just after I dropped my daughter off at school. My daughter spent last week at a local camp with her older siblings, and really missed her Pre-K teachers and classmates while she was gone, opting to return to school instead of spending a second week playing sports and making crafts at camp. Her teacher wasn't surprised. My little girl, she said, smiling, "just loves her books and puzzles. And she still seems to need that rest time in the middle of the day. This fall, depending on which Kindergarten class she's in, she won't get that, so you'll need to transition her before September."

Except my daughter won't be going to Kindergarten in September. Her birthday nearly two months after the Sept. 1 cutoff date in our town.

Earlier this week, at The Boston Globe's Child Caring blog, I wrote about cutoff dates and Kindergarten readiness:

My 4 1/2-year-old daughter was ready for preschool long before I was ready to send her. She's always been more comfortable playing with kids who are slightly older than she is, and is easily hitting all of their milestones right now. Her teachers tell me she's ready for kindergarten, and she's eagar to attend, except for one small problem: Her birthday is several weeks past our town's Sept. 1 cut-off date. Which means that, even if she's ready, she can't go.

According to, it's a pretty common situation. "The problem is that this kindergarten age cut off, out of necessity, is arbitrary and does not take into account developmental milestones achieved or academic skills developed by individual children."

So, why have a cut off at all? Andrea Evans writes: "Because of increased pressures around standardized testing in the second and third grades, kindergarten has become much more 'academic' in nature." In order to give their kids an edge, some parents have decided to "redshirt" their 5-year-olds in the hope that, by enrolling them in Kindergarten when they're a full year older, they'll be better able to handle the academic and social challenges that come with starting school.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that about 9 percent of
children entering kindergarten are redshirted each year; the number is higher among boys and in more affluent areas (where, presumably, paying for childcare isn't as much of a problem).

Experts are on the fence as to whether redshirting really gives youngesters an advantage. A report in Science Daily says that any academic edge the child gains is short-lived: Older kindergarten students scored 24 percentage points higher than their younger peers during the first few months, but the lead narrowed to just 4 percentage points by the time the students were in the eighth grade.

But what about parents in my predicament, with children who seem ready at too-early an age?

Turns out we have a few options. Children who attend private kindergarted can often go right into first grade when they're done (at least in my town). We could continue with preschool for another year, supplementing with plenty of trips to the library and more challenging work at home, if she seems bored. Some people choose to homeschool, and find that learning at home works best for their kids. I'm thinking that we'll stick with her current preschool, and see whether she seems happy or bored this time next year.

Trying to figure out if your child is ready for kindergarten? Here are a few things to consider:

1.) Check the test scores. Ask your neighborhood kindergarten about the criteria
teachers there use to determine readiness. How would your child fare?

2.) Ask your child's preschool teachers. There's more to kindergarten readiness than an ability to read or write. Does your child make friends easily? Can he follow directions? Does she seem bored or challenged by the work she's currently doing?

3.) How big are the kindergarten classes like in your area? The larger the class, the more difficult it is for teachers to focus on the needs of any single child. If your child needs more one-on-one attention, diving in too early could be detrimental.
4.) What do the kindergarten teachers expect from their students? Do students need to be able to count to 100? Read small words, or just recognize them? Write their name?

5.) How is the kindergarten structured? Full-day or half-day? Naps or no naps? Structured work and play times, or a more informal setting?

How will you -- or how did you -- handle the Kindergarten issue with your child? Weigh in below or at Child Caring, and be sure to check out the discussion going on in the comments.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Fun, free iPhone apps to keep your kids occupied.

Now, I do not think you should run out and buy your kid an iPhone or an iPod Touch of his very own. But if you download a few of these free apps to yours, you'll be able to keep him occupied in a pinch -- and that's a sanity saver, indeed. All of these apps are available at the app store at See the whole slideshow at Work It, Mom!, or log on to iTunes and search for these titles:
  1. Tap Tap Revenge. Think "Guitar Hero" for your index finger. Tap the bubbles in time to the music to gain points (and rock out).

  2. USA Factbook. All 50 US states plus basic maps, facts, and descriptions. Perfect for a long car ride!

  3. Sketch Pad. Love to doodle? This easy-to-us, free sketch pad lets your jot down notes or draw little pictures in four colors. You can even select different widths for the lines, which appear as if by magic when you touch the screen.

Tic Tac Toe. Even a preschooler can handle this easy strategy game.

Google Earth. Amazing satellite images and maps let you travel the world without leaving your iPhone or iPod Touch.

Bubble Wrap. Instant stress relief with a satisfying popping sound, but no mess. Bonus kid-attention-grabber: The bubbles regenerate automatically!

FingerPiano Lite. Touch the keys, follow the cues, make music. Easy and fun for everyone.
Stars. This application requires the updated operating system, but it's well worth the free download to have 88 constellations and the night sky in the palm of your hand.