Monday, November 30, 2009

Taking every opportunity I can find

I recently decided that I was going to consider every single career opportunity that came my way. Even the ones that I knew I couldn't manage would get a closer look, just in case it turned out that there was some way for me to glean some good out of it.

I don't know if it's a case of The Law of Attraction or what, but now that my eyes are open, the opportunities are everywhere.

Granted, they're not all fabulous. In fact, some of them are awfully close to working for free. But each one reminds me that there's more than one way to achieve a goal, more than one path to success, more than just the one shape I thought my career would or should take.

At The 36-Hour Day, I'm sharing what I've learned about looking for opportunities.

I get a lot of pitches from PR people. It was tempting to look at the emails and field the phone calls and think, "I'm too busy to deal with this right now." When I stopped doing that, I started noticing that some of those interruptions were opportunities in disguise.

I talk a lot about the importance of networking, and I decided that I needed to make sure I was walking the walk, too. So I brushed up my LinkedIn profile and sent out some requests for recommendations and made sure I had different versions of my resume ready for targeting different clients. And you know what? It turns out that who you know really does matter as much as (or more than) what you know.

I stopped expecting instant gratification -- at home and at work. It was making me feel unsatisfied and resentful, and I need to be inspired and motivated. I had been thinking, "That'll take too long, it's not worth starting at all." But as one of my favorite bloggers, Mary Alice, points out, perserverence pays off. If you keep reaching, you'll get where you want to go but if you don't, then you definitely won't.

Will Rogers was right: Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there.

*Knock Knock*

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A pre-k take on the meaning of Thanksgiving

My youngest kids' have been learning about Thanksgiving at preschool all week, and today was the main event: pajama day and a party, with a traditional Thanksgiving "dinner."

When we arrived this morning, bearing stuffing and rolled-up slices of turkey from the deli (much easier to serve in a classroom!), I noticed a list on the wall near the cubbies. Every line was a different color, and it was topped with bright orange letters: "I Am Thankful For..."

I expected a rundown of toys and TV shows, but it seems that my daughter's pre-k classmates have taken the literal meaning of Thanksgiving to heart. Almost all of them said they were thankful for their family -- mom and dad, siblings and pets. My little girl said that she's thankful for "my big sisters and brother," which makes me feel like we might be doing OK with this blended-family thing.

The meal was provided by the parents, of course. Because if we followed the "instructions" written up by our pre-kindergarteners, we'd be laughing too hard to eat. Here's their take on how to make Thanksgiving dinner (thanks to their teachers for letting me share it!):

First, you'll need to go to the farmer's market to get a turkey. Once you've picked a fat one, bring it home and put it in the oven. Turn the dial up to 10 and leave the turkey in the oven for 8 minutes.

You'll also need to make a pumpkin pie to go with the turkey. To make pie, get the can with the slice of pie and and cream on the front. You can find it at Market Basket. Mix the can with powder, sugar, and baking soda. Put the mixture in a pie dish and put it in the oven with the turkey, for the same amount of time (8 minutes).

While you're at Market Basket, buy corn, beans, squash, mashed potatoes, cranberries, and stuffing. Put the stuffing in a bowl or on the turkey.

While the turkey and pie are cooking, set the table with silverware, plates, napkins, and cups.

If you have time, you might want to make some turkey decorations with paper and paint to put on the table. Take your time and do one load at a time. If you get confused, just look on the fron or the back for directions.

Enjoy. Happy Thanksgiving!

Sounds delicious to me. Happy Thanksgiving! What are you and your kids thankful for this year?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Just in time for Thanksgiving...

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, no question about it. All the togetherness -- and all of the food -- and nothing to wrap (or unwrap) but leftovers.

Big gatherings are a major source of stress for many people, though, and for busy people who already have plenty on their plates, cooking a 20-pound turkey and dealing with guests from out-of-town is enough to bring on the agita.

Relax. Take a deep breath. Here are a few tips for a low-stress -- maybe even "stress-free"? -- Thanksgiving, whether you're the guest or the host.

If you're spending the holiday elsewhere:

1.) Ask your host or hostess what you can bring. If they say, "Oh, nothing. Just yourselves!" ignore them and bring something anyway -- just make sure it's easy to consume, so it doesn't end up gathering dust (and adding stress). A bottle or two of wine (The Wine Trials can help you choose), something for brunch the next day (even if you won't be staying the night), or an easy-to-serve hors d'oeuvre are good choices.

2.) Keep the kids entertained. There are plenty of travel toys to keep tots happy, and all of them work just as well indoors as they do in the car. Worst case scenario: Bring your kids' favorite DVDs and a portable DVD player.

3.) Offer to help. Your hostess may not need an extra set of hands in the kitchen beforehand, but chances are there'll be plenty to do once the dishes have been cleared.

If you're hosting Thanksgiving at your place:

1.) Know thyself. Are you the kind of cook who goes for the tried-and-true when company comes? Or do you pick up a cookbook and try something new? Either way, figure out what you want to serve well before the big day, so that you have plenty of time to shop and don't have to deal with the added stress of crowds at the store.

2.) Outsource the bird. Many high-end grocery stores offer ready-made Thanksgiving dinners with all the fixings; make the fixings yourself, but consider having them do the turkey. It may take up a bit of space in your fridge, but it'll free up the oven on Thanksgiving Day, and you'll be grateful to have one less thing to juggle.

3.) Freeze the baked goods. Breakfast goodies (pumpkin bread), dinner staples (rolls), and traditional desserts (apple pies, cakes, and pecan pies) freeze well, so if you're inclined to bake, you can do so days or even weeks before the big event. Don't freeze your pumpkin pie, though; the filling gets watery, which makes the crust gummy, which isn't a stress reducer at all.

4.) Do as much as you can in advance. There are many, many wonderful side dishes for which you can do most of the cutting and chopping and measuring ahead of time.

5.) Don't sweat the decor. I'm sure I'm not the only one with no time to decorate. You can create a lovely tablescape with a scattering of small pumpkins or gourds, a big bowlful of shiny red apples, a cluster of tapered candles, or even a vase of brightly colored (fake) fall foliage.

6.) Keep it simple. If you're feeding a large group of people, consider having a buffet rather than a traditional sit-down dinner. Don't knock yourself out with complicated appetizers; a plate of great cheeses and different types of crackers, bowls of spiced nuts and salty olives, or slices of a savory bread are just as good.

Need more information or ideas? Here's a round-up of Thanksgiving-related articles I've written for Work It, Mom!, just in time for Turkey Day!

Quick and easy Thanksgiving side dishes

A round-up of Thanksgiving guides online

A day-by-day Thankgiving planner (Bookmark it for next year!)

Thanksgiving on a budget: Do more with less

More than just turkey: Make the most of those Thanksgiving leftovers

Black Friday: Tips for scoring the best deals

Do you have the energy to manage your stress?

I usually gripe about not having the wherewithal to exercise, to sleep, to make time for myself. Turns out I'm not alone. The same survey by the American Psychological Association that took a look at teen stress levels shows that 75 percent of adults reported experiencing "moderate to high levels of stress" in the past month, and 42 percent said that their stress levels have increased in the past year. And more and more people don't feel like they have the energy to deal with it.

According to the study:

47 percent of respondents report that they have lain awake at night
45 percent report irritability or anger
43 percent report fatigue
40 percent report lack of interest, motivation or energy

Nearly a third of respondents report headaches, feelings of depression, and sadness; 27 percent blame stress for their upset stomachs and indisgtestion.

Though more of us are experiencing stress, fewer of us are willing to do much about it, the survey found. Some -- as many as 44 percent -- reported exercising or walking to relieve stress, but more people listen to music, read, watch TV or movies, or play video games to relax.

At The Wall Street Journal's The Juggle, Helen L. Coons, a clinical psychologist and a fellow of the APA, suggests that one reason people don't tackle the long-term job of managing their stress is that they feel they don't have enough time to do so. "We need to “reframe ‘self care’ as something that is not selfish,” she said.

When you were a kid did you ever over-wind your watch or your wind-up toy, to the point where you jammed the gears and the darn thing didn't work anymore? (I'm totally going to assume here that you are about my age, and your first watch was not digital.) Well, that's what we're doing to ourselves now: We're so used to running full-tilt into walls, working and living and trying to juggle our careers and our families, that the idea of taking time to take care of ourselves seems selfish or unimportant.

It's more than just "me" time. It's "me" management.

I'd ask you if you're stressed, but that just seems silly -- of course you are, some days more so than others. Instead, I want to know how you manage your stress. Do you do something active, like exercise? Do you do something passive, like eat? How do you unwind after a long and stressful day?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Do kids have the right to peacefully protest?

A 10-year-old Arkansas boy is refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance at school until our country does a better job of living up to its ideals.

“I've always tried to analyze things because I want to be lawyer,” Will told The Arkansas Times. “I really don't feel that there's currently liberty and justice for all.”

You know what? I think he's got a great point.

Most of us grew up reciting the Pledge of Allegiance automatically every morning at school. But how many kids take the time to think about what it really means?

The Pledge of Allegiance has been an American tradition since September 8, 1892, when a Boston-based magazine called The Youth's Companion published the recitation, originally called "The Pledge to the Flag," and suggested it be read as part of the next month's Columbus Day celebrations. It read: "I pledge allegiance to my Flag, and to the Republic for which it stands: one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all."

The Pledge was published anonymously and was not copyrighted; it is thought to have been written by Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister who was forced to leave his church because of his Socialist sermons. The beginning of the Pledge was changed in 1924 to "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America," and the controversial "under God" was added in 1954.

Arkansas News columnist John Brummett points out that forcing kids to recite the Pledge of Allegiance "is, in fact, kind of antithetical to our very principle of constitutionally guaranteed liberty.... a mass forced pledging of nationalistic allegiance is, when you really think about it, a perversion of the greater notion that we love and support our country by our own choice and for the very freedoms it grants us."

In October, after analyzing the text and asking his parents whether he was legally obligated to participate (he's not), Will decided to remain seated and silent when his class recited the Pledge of Allegiance. The substitute teacher asked him to stand; he respectfully refused. This went on for four days, until the teacher got angry with him; Will told her "With all due respect, ma'am, you can go jump off a bridge." He was sent to the principal's office.

Will's peaceful protest has drawn ire from some pretty predictable sources. Other kids, of course -- classmates focused on the fact that he thinks gays should have the right to marry say he's "a gaywad." But he's also been slammed by more than a few adults for being disrespectful, disobedient, and unpatriotic. The comments on The Arkansas Times piece are mostly supportive, but among them are quite a few that were surprisingly vitriolic. "I remember this type of disrespect being in vogue among the lower class black kids at my high school, but I never expected to see it from a middle-class white kid," a commenter named "Ray" wrote. (Click on the "Your Comments" tab to read them.) "If you don't stand for the flag and the Republic for which it stands, you don't deserve freedom of speech," writes "Wayne." "To the parents I say 'United States of America, Love It Or Leave It, and take your little brat with you', " commenter "Monroe" added.

There's the irony, as far as I'm concerned: Exercising one's right to freedom of speech in order to insult a child for exercising his. Insisting that a kid shouldn't be free to disagree because doing so is disrespectful of the flag and everything it represents -- including freedom.

"Just because he's 10 years old doesn't mean he doesn't have opinions," Will's father, Jay Phillips, told CNN recently. "It doesn't mean he doesn't have rights and doesn't mean that he can't make a difference."

Parents, what do you think? Is civil disobedience a tool to be used by adults only, or do children have the right to peacefully protest? Where's the line when it comes to freedom?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

"Little Lady"? That's a big problem

When I was looking to buy my first car, nearly 15 years ago, I was just a year out of college and thought I knew everything. I especially thought I was on firm footing when it came to cars, since I had just spent two years editing automotive stories in upstate New York. I did my research, took several test drives, knew what I wanted, knew how much the car -- a sleek Nissan Altima -- had cost the local dealer, knew how much it should cost me.

Even though I'm a feminist by default, on some level I must also have known that it would be a struggle to be taken seriously, because I brought a male friend along with me. He did not know anything about cars, aside from the fact that you put gas in and they go. He had never bought a car before, and wasn't interested in buying one. He agreed to come with me mostly because he had nothing else to do that day.

I'm sure you can guess what happened.

The dealer zeroed right in on my friend, and ignored me. Even when my friend tried to redirect the attention, the dealer pitched the car to the man who wasn't buying it, and brushed off the young woman who was. I'd ask about gas mileage, and he pointed out the vanity mirror. I asked about testing, and he walked me over to a wall of paint chips. I asked a question about the engine, and he told me that I shouldn't "worry your pretty head about things like that, Little Lady."

Still, I wanted that car. So I sat down at the table with the guy and made my offer.

He countered with a number that even my friend, who hadn't done any research, could tell was way too high.

I pulled out my printouts. I politely told him that I'd done my research, and knew what the car cost, and my offer had been very fair.

He put one large hand on top of my papers, leaned over the table until he was in my personal space, and said, "Little ladies who study too much miss the party."

I told him that arrogant salespeople who condescend too much miss the sale, and walked out of the dealership.

Fast-forward 15 years.

While my "Little Lady" experiences are less frequent now -- possibly because I a.) have more gray hair and b.) less patience -- they still happen. And I'm not alone. The words themselves don't actually get spoken, but the attitude is the same. A mortgage rep who insisted that he wouldn't process my refi application because my husband doesn't own our home (I bought on my own it before we were married). The husband of an extended family member who told me he had a tip for "the man who pays the bills" (I do, I'm the breadwinner). The cable guy who insisted on hooking up the DVD player for me, because I'm "a girl" (he did it wrong). The bartenders who push my neat scotch over to my brother and hand me his jack-and-ginger instead.

It's infuriating. If you're both aggressive and competent then you're a bitch, but if you're polite and considerate -- and insistent -- you're a Little Lady who gets brushed off or taken for granted.

Do you still get the "Little Lady" attitude in this day and age?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Working mom + older kids = rediscovered social life

Earlier this year, I dove back in to the Mommy Dating Pool via a playdate with my youngest daughter's best friend and her mom. It's been really good, but lately we've decided to see other people. A lot of other people. And all at the same time.

Our daughters have entered the age of birthday parties. And, ye Gods, it is busy.

Since all of the kids in her class have birthdays right around the same time, my girl has had one or two parties nearly every weekend since mid-September, and my 3-year-old son has had his fair share, too. Which means that I've been socializing with the same group of grownups on a regular basis for the first time in years. And, in spite of the present buying and the ubiquitous pizza, I've been enjoying it.

While our kids play and stuff themselves with cake, we parents have gotten a chance to advance past the potty-training and milestone-marking stories, sharing instead the ups and downs of working motherhood. (Though a few of party-circuit regulars are dads, it's mostly the moms who are ferrying the kids around on the weekends.) It's difficult to take time for ourselves, as many of my readers over at Work It, Mom! will attest, so why not take advantage of the time we spend together by default?

It was my turn to host about a month ago. Back in April, I was wondering how to handle the birthday party dilemma; I ended up inviting my daughter's entire class to her 5th birthday party. And I did it again just two weeks later, inviting my 3-year-old's entire class to a pre-trick-or-treating birthday party on Halloween.

It was chaotic, and I was stressed about cleaning the house, but oddly enough, that was the only thing I was stressed about. My children had fun, their friends had fun, and I finally felt able to reciprocate for all of the parties and play dates my kids have gone to lately. But it was also an opportunity to host my new friends and introduce them to the rest of my family.

And it was great. I finally feel like I have a social network again, and I like it.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Do parents of biracial kids face special challenges?

When social scientist Marion Kilson's children were born, in the 1960s, she assumed that they would identify as African American, like their father, not European American like herself. "I was still in graduate school," she remembers. "I wrote my term paper on slave revolts. I assumed my children would be identified as African American, and I wanted them to know that not all African Americans had been gospel about their slave status."

Her friend and fellow social scientist Florence Ladd, on the other hand, says that she didn't have expectations about her child's race in his early years; it was her stepson, who is white, who "made me think about his future and racial identification in infancy."

In their book, Is That Your Child? Mothers Talk About Rearing Biracial Children, Kilson and Ladd discuss the challenges facing parents in a multicultural world; the two hosted an open-to-the-public discussion about the race and identity this morning (Nov. 19) at The Advent School in Boston.

"It's not just about the issues, really, it's about the relationships," Nancy Harris Frohlich, head of The Advent School, says of the discussion. Founded in 1961 on a social justice platform, about a third of the students at the school are people of color. "All learning and dialouge is built upon understanding one another and relationships."

"We want to help people to feel comfortable with diversity," Kilson told me. She and Ladd see the event as "a way of heightening awareness for people who are not necessarily biracial or multiracial, but are interested in preparing their children to be engaged and live comfortably in a multicultural world."

Kilson, who is European American, and Ladd, who is African American, had known each other for 40 years but had never really talked about their experiences parenting biracial children before, Kilson says. They talked to about 25 Boston-area parents while working on Is That Your Child?, and they kicked off their research by interviewing each other.

Kilson and Ladd focused on mothers rather than fathers ("We just felt that was really that a man would do better than we could," Kilson says) and decided not to touch on racial issues faced by adoptive parents. The parents they spoke with were from different generations, but most were upper middle class and all were from the United States. "Growing up in this society, we have a different take on race," Kilson says.

"Americans have a hard time seeing relationships when their skin color is different," she continues, talking about the times when her daughter, whose husband is Scottish, has been asked if she's the nanny of her lighter-skinned child. (Though I've never thought of myself as belonging to one race or another, I can't even count the number of times people have asked, "So, what are you?" or asked if my kids all have the same father.)

Older generations tend to be more focused on the racial differences between a parent and a child, Kilson points out, even if they don't intend to be negative. She doesn't think it's possible to raise a truly color-blind child in American society -- I agree -- but younger people, who are more comfortable with race and diversity, navigate this multicultural world with ease. It's all they've ever known.

"I perceive that, for our children, they didn't have a public choice about racial identity, whereas for our children's generation, their children have a choice about affirming all of their identities," Kilson points out.

And the possibilities are endless. "When children see themselves in public figures as well as teachers -- that hope flows through them as well," Frohlich says. "We do expect children to value one another as individuals, regardless of ethnicity."

Do you think parents of biracial kids face special challenges in today's society? How would you handle it if someone questioned your relationship or asked if you're the nanny simply because your skin color is darker or lighter than your child's?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Study: Teens are stressed, but parents don't seem to notice

A new survey by the American Psychological Association says that teenagers are more stressed out than ever before. But their parents, for the most part, haven't noticed.

According to the survey, which was released Nov. 3, pressure at school and financial problems at home have had a greater impact on high school-age kids than parents believe.

Forty-four percent of teens said they under pressure to do well at school, but just 34 percent of parents think their kids feel that way, the survey showed. Thirty percent of teenagers surveyed said they were worried about their family's financial situation, while only 18 percent of parents thought that their kids were stressed about it.

Teens were also more likely than their parents to report that their stress levels had increased in the past year; 45 percent of teens age 13 to 17 said that they worried more this year, while only 28 percent of their parents said that they thought their teens were feeling more stress. Parents who were surveyed also tended to downplay the severity of their teenagers' stress, with less than 5 percent rating their child's stress as extreme, compared to 28 percent of teens who felt they were severely stressed.

And, as it does with adults, stress seems to be taking a physical toll on our teens. They report having headaches, difficulty sleeping, and changes in appetite -- which seems to come as a surprise to their parents. While 49 percent of teens said they find it hard to sleep because of stress, only 13 percent of parents observed it in their kids.

The APA’s executive director for professional practice, Katherine C. Nordal, PhD, says “It’s clear that parents do not fully appreciate the impact that stress is having on their kids" and that parents' reactions to their kids' stress levels are in line with earlier research about parental perceptions of teen behavior. "Parents often under report drug use, depression and sexual activity in their children. Now it appears the same may be true for stress.”

Over at's Child Caring blog, I'm wondering how much of the disparity is because we, as parents, are so consumed by our own stress that we forget how it felt to be a teen. You couldn't pay me enough to go through adolescence again; as far as I'm concerned, those were not my salad days. Sure, the pressure to fit in at school may seem small now, but if you think about it, how much time and energy and money do we spend following trends and wooing friends as adults? To a teen, acing a test is as stressful as facing an in-depth performance evaluation at the office. And, as for the economy... of course they notice what we're up against. While we're stressing about how we'll manage with less money, or kids are worrying about the same thing.

Parents of older children, please weigh in: Are your teens and tweens stressed out? Do you think our stress is rubbing off on our kids?

Monday, November 16, 2009

How often do you work for free?

My husband regularly works long hours and even pulls all-nighters in order to clear his plate at the office. I do, too -- but not as often as I used to. A pay cut made me take a second look at how much my time was worth, and what I was willing to spend it on.

Sure, hard work always pays off, as the saying goes. It just seems like sometimes it pays a lot less than it used to. When the work piles up and I can't get it done during the work day, I find myself calculating the dwindling dollars and cents of my hourly wage and figuring out how much I'm willing to take home to do for free (or, really, at my family's expense).

To be honest, I was a little reluctant to write that last sentence there. It just smacks of having a bad attitude, doesn't it? I don't mean it that way -- I'm not trying to "stick it to the man" or anything. No... my point is that I've noticed that the more I'm willing to do for less, the more I'm expected to do for less. It's a vicious cycle, and my readers at The 36-Hour Day seem to agree.

My work-for-free dilemma also plays into a topic that Mir tackled at The Cornered Office a couple of years ago (on the post that first brought me to Work It, Mom!, as a matter of fact): "You deserve a decent wage for your work, and settling for less makes it harder for every working writer out there to get it."

So, is it ever OK to work for free? In spite of my griping, and in spite of Mir's great point, I have to say... yes. Sometimes, it is.

I recently took on a project that turned out to be a major time commitment -- much more of one than I thought it would be. It was voluntary, and I wasn't getting paid, and it got complicated, but you know what? It was worth it, because it allowed me to give back to a community that I've wished I could do more for over the years. So... working for free is fine when it's your way of donating something to a community or company you value.

Getting paid for your time and effort doesn’t always have to involve money. Flex time, comp time, or experience that bolsters a weak part of your resume are all forms of compensation worth considering. I also think the few minutes spent readying your workstation for the next employee, tying up the loose end of a project, filling in a colleague by memo, or even prepping yourself for the next day are all examples of extra, unpaid time well spent.

But what about when your unpaid work eats into the time you normally spend with your kids? Where do you draw the line?

I'm a journalist, and I know that writing and editing are strange beasts in the working world. And I’m on salary -- I think it would be different if I had to punch a time card every day. So I'm curious... in your profession, whatever it is, do you ever work for free? Why or why not?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

On freelancing, branding, and the media

Dan Schawbel, the bestselling author of Me 2.0 and the publisher of Personal Branding Magazine, interviewed me today for his award-winning Personal Branding Blog. He asked some great questions about freelancing, branding, and how to pitch the media -- no wonder he was dubbed "the personal branding guru" by the New York Times! The interview is live now; please click here to read it!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

10 ways to liven up your lunch box (or your kids'!)

Over at Work It, Mom! I've pulled together 10 easy and interesting ways to liven up your kids' lunchboxes (or yours). Check it out!

10 Easy Lunchbox Ideas

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pumpkin Spice Bread (or What are you going to do with your Halloween pumpkins?)

If you're the type to butcher your pumpkins after Halloween and now have a ton of fresh pumpkin puree on your hands, you can whip up several loves of this delicious pumpkin bread with very little effort. The extra loves freeze well (or make fantastic hostess gifts). And though you'd never know it, they're actually surprisingly healthy.

Pumpkin Spice Bread
(makes 3 loaves, 12 slices per loaf)
4 cups fresh pumpkin puree
1/2 cup olive oil
5 large eggs
3/4 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon allspice or cloves
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups King Arthur's "White Whole Wheat" flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray three loaf pans with a little non-stick spray.

Combine wet ingredients, vanilla, and spices; stir well.

In a separate bowl, sift together dry ingredients (including sugar). Add to wet ingredients and stir until just incorporated.

Pour into prepared pans and bake for 55 minutes.

Nutritional info per 74-gram slice: 157 calories, 4 grams total fat, 27 grams carbohydrate, 1.5 grams fiber, 3.4 grams protein.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Should your boyfriend discipline your child?

Rachel Sarah at Single Mom Seeking brings up the issue, now that her boyfriend is becoming more of a fixture in her and her daughter's lives.

"I’m honest about this: Discipline has not been my strengths, and I work hard at setting boundaries," she confesses. But, "my daughter is feeling so comfortable with the boyfriend that she’s starting to push limits."

This is something I face constantly as a step parent. It happened a decade ago, when we were just starting to try to find our blended-family footing, and still happens now that our oldest girls are teenagers. Should your significant other, who is not your child's parent, be allowed or encouraged to discipline your child? What do you do when a child you love, a child you're raising -- but a child who isn't "yours" -- is pushing limits?

As I told my readers at's Child Caring blog recently: I think the answer depends on how you define "discipline."

In my case, I was (and am) comfortable with sending the big kids to their rooms. I'll correct manners, enforce our household rules, separate squabbling siblings, set time outs, revoke privileges, confiscate toys. But spanking? Personally, I've never felt comfortable about spanking my step kids (or even yelling at them). I'm not shirking my parental duties, and I am certainly no surrendered wife, but if harsher punishment needs to be meted out when my step kids with us, it seems like that should be up to their dad because, well, he's their dad. I'll back him up, I'll support his decision, but the decision is still his, not mine.

I also think the answer may differ depending on whether the significant other is male or female. Step dads are often lauded as heros for "saving" the single mom in distress and "taking on" her kids; few people blink if a step dad has to lay down the law. Step moms, though? Our authority is always in question, if not by the kids, then by other adults. I think there are far fewer single dads out there wondering if their girlfriends should have a hand in disciplining the kids.

So what do you think, parents? Is it ever appropriate for your significant other to discipline your child? And how do you define "discipline"?

P.S. -- Sarah's followed up her original one with another great thought-provoker:

As LG spends more time with us, our love does grow. When the three of us are
together, I feel like we’re making space for all of us. As my love gets bigger, so does my daughter’s — and so does his. It is possible that this is just going to get bigger and bigger?

Click over there to read her whole post and comment. As for me, I have to say: Absolutely, yes, love grows!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Procrastinating my way to productivity

I noticed recently that when there's something on my to-do list that I really want to avoid, I start searching for something else -- anything else -- to do instead. Sometimes that means I end up baking banana bread at 2 in the morning. Sometimes I discover an awesome new blog. Sometimes I end up surfing my favorite time-wasters on the web. But most of the time, that search for a distraction brings me right back to my to-do list, and I end up knocking tons of little line items off and being productive in spite of myself.

Case in point: I needed to re-read a book that I'm reviewing, because I loved it but I read it so long ago that can't figure out how to describe it in 500 words without completely giving away the plot. So what I did I do instead? Wrote a month's worth of product reviews, cleaned out my work bag -- twice -- and sorted coupons. (Yes, Kathy Spencer inspired me, too!)

Another example: the post that appeared last week at The 36-Hour Day. I should have written it days earlier, but I've been soloparenting while my husband is away and after I got home from work I hung out with my kids and fed them dinner and put them to bed and stumbled downstairs and looked at my computer and thought, "Um. Anything I type is not going to be coherent. It might not even contain actual words. Don't I have a book to reread for that review?"

Which meant that, when the piece was actually due, I was running out of items with which to procrastinate. If you've been procrastinating for a while, eventually you come to the big thing on your to-do list, the one you were trying to avoid to begin with. And there's nothing left to do but tackle that item head-on.

That post was not that item. The thing I'm really trying to avoid is cleaning my house in advance of my youngest child's 3rd birthday party, which is taking place this weekend. Which means that I've suddenly discovered a few other things I can get done before I can't procrastinate about the cleaning any longer.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Mini and Maxi Kick Scooters: Fast and fun, no training wheels required

My youngest kids have a need for speed. Alas, they also have a need for training wheels. The Maxi Kick Scooter and it's smaller sibling, the Mini, were perfect bike substitute on a recent, rare, sunny New England day.

Unlike almost everything else my kids have, these scooters can be assembled quickly and easily; the drive shaft simply snaps into place, and you're good to go (you can take them apart just as quickly, with the push of a hidden button). Made by Mirco-Mobility, both scooters have a sturdy, skateboard-like deck and a wonderfully responsive steering system that allows kids to zoom happily and easily on three wheels. They can swerve gently simply by leaning on the handlebar -- I was really impressed by how easy it was for my 3- and 5-year-olds to maintain control while riding.

The Swiss-designed scooters come in two sizes, Mini (for 3- to 5-year-olds, $84.99, with traditional T-bar handles) and Maxi (6- to 10-year-olds, $149.99, with a cool, joystick-like handle) and in a range of bright colors. They're lightweight but sturdy, and were able to handle every type of surface my kids and their friends tried to ride (gravel, wet leaves, puddles, steep driveways, grass -- they left no terrain untested).

If you're looking to go green, they're an easy way to start. If you're tired of strapping several bicycles to the back of your car, these scooters make an excellent alternative. You can find them at Henry's Bear Park, Stellabella Toys, Magic Beans, and Learning Express stores in the Boston area (or click through to find a retailer near you). For the month of November, WriteEditRepeat readers can get 20 percent off a scooter when the order at -- just use coupon code WriteEditRepeat at checkout!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tricks for using up those Halloween treats

Now that Halloween is over, I want to get rid of the metric ton of candy that's still sitting in my house. I could bring it in to the office, but if I can't resist the siren's song of the fun-size Snickers bar in my pantry, how can I turn my back on it when it's sitting there, in plain sight, next to my desk? Besides, my coworkers already filled our corner of the office with tiny bars of every candy ever invented earlier in the week. To bring in more would be overkill.

But not if I've magically transformed them into something else first.

Here are five tricks for using up all of those Halloween treats:

1.) Hot fudge sauce. Measure out two cups of nut-free and krispie-free chocolates from the stash and put them in a microwave-safe glass container, preferably something with a handle and a pouring spout, like a large Pyrex measuring cup. Add about 1/2 cup of heavy cream. Microwave the cream and chocolate at 80-percent power in 20 second bursts, or until the chocolate melts. Remove it (carefully!), stir (carefully!) and then pour it (carefully!) over ice cream -- or, ideally, into several sanitized glass jelly jars, so you can give them away to someone else.

2.) Candy Pizza. Press your favorite cookie dough into a pie tin, then cover with a thick pool of melted chocolate candies. Top with whatever chocolate goodies you have left -- Raisinets, Reeces Pieces, M&Ms, shattered Heath Bars, crumbled Butterfingers -- drizzle with melted Milk Duds, dot with mini marshallows, and bake. Cut into wedges to serve.

3.) Surprise brownies. Chocolate and peanut butter are a perfect match; so is chocolate and mint. Whip up a batch of your favorite brownies, pour half the batter in the pan, and then scatter on a layer of whole peanut-butter cups or Peppermint Patties. Top with the remaining batter and bake.

4.) Fruity Popcorn Balls. OK, I haven't made these -- one of my kids is a fiend for all things fruity, so the Skittles and Starburst disappeared almost immediately. But if you have leftover chewy, fruit-flavored, taffy-like candies lying around, you can try this recipe from In a saucepan, combine 1/4 cup of light corn syrup, 2 tablespoons water, and 8 ounces of candy fruit chews. Melt over low heat, stirring until smooth, then bring to a boil for five minutes. Cool slightly, pour over 8 cups of already-popped popcorn, spray your hands with non-stick spray, and shape the gooey mixture into balls. My teeth hurt just typing this.

5.) Hard candy "stained glass" cookies. Make (or buy) your favorite sugar cookie dough (or follow this recipe). Roll it out to 1/4-inch thick, and cut out shapes with floured cookie cutters. Trace a smaller version of each shape from each cookie, leaving a 3/4-inch border; cut out the smaller shape. Fill the hole with crushed hard candies -- using one color per cookie will result in a neater treat. The candy will melt as the cookie bakes (cool completely before handling)

If all else fails, you can always send the stuff elsewhere. Halloween Candy Buy Back will pay $1 a pound for your kids candy; they ship the sweets to soldiers overseas. Go to and plug in your zip code to see if a dentist in your area is participating in the program. You can also ship it directly to by mailing it, no later than Dec. 5, to Operation Gratitude/California Army National Guard, 17330 Victory Blvd., Van Nuys, CA 91406, Attn: Charlie Othold.

What are you doing with your leftover Halloween candy this year?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Of course Sarah Palin's on LinkedIn. You should be, too

The Huffington Post reported last week that former vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin has posted her resume on LinkedIn.

I have to admit, I don't really see the point in the snark about this. For all I disagree with her politics, the former governor is super savvy when it comes to social networking. And smart women know the importance of social networking.

I've been trying to use Facebook solely for socializing, and LinkedIn solely for business, but I have to admit that it's become really difficult to keep things separate. For one thing, the line between work and the rest of your life gets blurry when you're friendly with your former colleagues. How can you refuse to ask your boss to be friends with you on Facebook when you're Facebook friends with your former supervisor -- who used to be his boss?

(I don't use MySpace at all. If LinkedIn is to Facebook as your business card is to a scrap of paper with your name and phone number scrawled on it, then MySpace is akin to writing your nickname on someone's arm with a magic marker. I don't really know yet where Twitter falls on the networking spectrum, but I use it and I like it -- for marketing, for meeting new contacts, for finding out what's going on.)

Regardless of which site you choose to use for networking, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1.) Don't post anything you wouldn't want to be asked about -- or held against you -- in an interview.

2.) Toot your own horn. It's not like a paper resume, where you're encouraged to keep the information to a single page. Take the opportunity to detail as much as you can, and go as far back into the past as is relevant -- you're not limited to your most-current experiences. Keep the language professional, but feel free to add your awards, accolades, and additional skills -- this is your chance to shine.

3.) Gather recommendations. On LinkedIn, recommendations are like those references you're supposed to provide upon request -- except that they've visible for all to see, all the time. On Facebook, create a fan page for your work, and ask your friends to join. You'd be surprised at how many people know -- and like -- what you do.

4.) If you have a professional blog, link to it. Think of it as a chance to show off your online portfolio. If you don't have a professional blog, link to examples of your work instead. Linking to your current company's website is fine, especially if it showcases some of your accomplishments. Linking to your family's online photo album is not.

5.) Direct people to your LinkedIn profile or Facebook page. Don't just use the default URL that came with your profile -- change it to something easily recognizable, like your name, and use it along with your signature at the bottom of emails.

What social networking sites to you use and why?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The baby's coming -- and the internet is invited

Plenty of first-time parents have questions about what really goes on in the delivery room. And plenty of mommy bloggers document every detail of their pregnancies on their blogs. But Lynsee, a 23-year-old teacher in Minneapolis, is taking things further by sharing her entire first pregnancy -- including the birth of her daughter -- with the internet via Moms Like Me.

“We wanted to document the pregnancy and create a one-of-a-kind memento for our baby to have forever,” Lynsee told KARE-TV 11, which is partnered with Moms Like Me and is also covering her pregnancy. "You'll be at some of the doctor's appointments... You'll be there in the delivery room, tastefully, but you will be there.’’

About 900 Moms Like Me members are following Lynsee's journey to motherhood via a discussion group called "Watch Lynsee Grow!", which will have a live feed from the hospital when the time comes. (Only members will be able to leave comments, but the feed is open to anyone who wants to watch.)

Of course, you can't log off when you're the one in labor. And you certainly can't script a birth. Viewers won’t see any graphic details -- an experienced camera crew will be at the helm, Twin Cities Moms Like Me site manager Cindy Chapman says, and a team of people will be monitoring the shoot as well as the online chat. Chapman, who will be at the hospital with Lynsee, adds that there is a "massive crisis plan" in place, just in case.

In October, asked their members for their thoughts on the couple's decision. About 60 percent of moms said that they do not want anyone besides their significant other in the delivery room but, in another poll, the same percentage responded that they would be interested in watching a broadcast of a live birth. "You never know when you start projects like this, how they’re going to go,” Chapman says. "The response has been overwhelming, very supportive, very positive for Lynsee."

Thinking back to my own first pregnancy (and the 30+ hours of labor leading up to an emergency C-section) -- I can't imagine having a camera crew in the room at that time. I can see why some people would be glued to the screen, though. Is it compelling? Yes. But coming off of the Balloon Boy saga, one may wonder whether this is just another example of society's obsession with reality TV-type programing.

Moms Like Me representatives insist that Lynsee and her 24-year-old husband, Anders (who have requested that I not publish their last name, for privacy reasons) aren't in it for fame or fortune. Though there are a few corporate sponsors on board and KARE-TV helped throw her a baby shower/promotional event at the famed Mall of America, all gifts were donated to charity and Lynsee is not being compensated for her participation in the project, according Chapman.

With her due date rapidly approaching, Lynsee took the time to answer a few of my questions:

Some of your early posts in the "Watch Lynsee Grow!" group mention your being exhausted at work. What type of work do you do, and do you plan to return to it (or stay home, or switch jobs) after your baby is born?

I’m a teacher, I teach Family and Consumer Science and so I’m on my feet a lot. I do plan on going back to teaching next fall, but I do want to have some time with the baby first.

When is your due-date?

November 19th

Are you planning a home birth, a birthing center/midwife birth, or a hospital birth? Did you have to get any special permission to set up the webcam in the delivery room?

I’m using a mid-wife and will have a hospital birth. Yes, we got special permission from the hospital but since they’d worked with’s partner KARE11 so many times in the past they were comfortable with them and had no problems signing the release.

As the big day approaches, are you having any second thoughts about broadcasting the labor and delivery live?

No – it’s the final part of the journey. It’s the one big moment and the special part and it’s what I’m looking forward to sharing with everyone the most.

I know a lot of women want their moms in the delivery room with them, and some want their best friends and siblings too, but there are lots of people who can't imagine having anyone besides their husbands in the room while they're in labor. Do you think it would feel different having several people in the room, as opposed to having people watching via webcam?

I honestly don’t think I’m even going to realize it. I think with the support of my mom, husband and mid-wife I’m going to be able to focus on my delivery and not even pay attention to the cameras there.

Where did the idea for "Watch Lynsee Grow" come from? Did you approach Moms Like Me, or did they approach you?

Cindy Chapman (the site manager for put up a post on the site asking if anyone was pregnant. I emailed her right away and she filled me in on the project, I talked with my husband and we were excited about it!

How is showing the birth live on the internet a memento for the baby (as opposed to video taping the event but keeping it private)?

It will be special because it will be broadcast live… something that’s never done before. I will also have all the support from the mom’s on the site while I’m having the baby. Just knowing they are there during labor means a lot to me.

What do you hope viewers get out of watching your experience?

Just the sense of how special this is – even though millions of women give birth every day. It’s so miraculous and special because each birth is different. If I were in a classroom, I would be teaching about childhood development, so I feel that I’m using myself as a textbook to teach others about pregnancy and delivery and those on the site are my classroom.

Have you ever attended a birth?

I have not – I’ve seen plenty in movies – but I have never attended a live birth!