Sunday, January 31, 2010

The business of mommy blogging

I was honored to be part of The Publicity Club of New England's "Meet the Bloggers" panel in Boston last week, where I joined a few well-known New England bloggers to talk about marketing, public relations, and how people in those fields can fine-tune their messages for bloggers. Specifically, Mommy Bloggers.

I was in some amazing company: Marketing guru Susan Getgood, one of the cofounders of Blog with Integrity, was the moderator, and the other panelists were Jodi Grundig of Multitasking Mommy, Audrey McClelland of Mom Generations, and Christy Matte of Quirky Fusion and More than Mommy. (Jennifer Leal of Savor the Thyme was slated to join us, but was thwarted by traffic and weather.)

The main things we had in common were that we were all moms and bloggers, but our reasons for blogging and our goals are vastly different.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Parenting tips: What have you learned along the way?

At Working (on) Motherhood, Leah mentioned her favorite happy parenting accidents -- you know, the kind of parenting lifesavers you discover when you were trying to do something else. Which led me to start sifting through my own arsenal of tips and tricks learned along the way, and wondering what other parents have learned thanks to their kids.

I have my own lists going, of course. There's my list of things I never thought I'd say as a parent. And my list of things I never thought I'd do as a parent. But far more practical is this list right here: things I've learned as a parent:

Mr. Clean Magic Erasers (and their generic counterparts) remove crayon from walls.

Carefully applied brown crayon can mask pen marks on coffee tables.

A couple of coats of Kilz paint can actually cover up permanent marker, even black marker.

Shaving cream can help get ink from a ball-point pen off your upholstery. (How does it work? The ink is soluble in alcohol, and shaving cream -- not gel -- contains alcohol.)

Avoid creating a juice-box fountain by lifting up the corners at the top of the box, and have your child hold the container by the "wings."

Ziti and a length of string make an excellent last-second beading distraction so you can finish cooking dinner. Or writing a blog post, as the case may be.

For more, click over to Boston.com's Child Caring blog! But first, please add to my parenting tool box: What tips have saved your sanity?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Thoughts on the new "disposable" workforce

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says that the economy is on the mend, but it sure doesn't feel that way to most of us. No wonder: A recent report by The Conference Board found that only 45 percent of US employees say they're satisfied with their jobs, down from 61.1 percent in 1987 (when they first started conducting the survey). The dissatisfaction stretched across all ages and income brackets surveyed, the report says.

Right now, honestly, I'm not thinking about job satisfaction as much as I'm just grateful to still have one. But there are plenty of days when I marvel at how the work I do seems to be essential and insignificant at the same time. Over at The 36-Hour Day, we're talking about what may be the newest workplace trend, according to BusinessWeek: many companies cutting costs by keeping a permanently temporary workforce.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

New at Allvoices: Teens and sex -- abstinence isn't working, so now what?

My latest piece for Allvoices.com went live today, off of yesterday's announcement that pregnancy and abortion rates for teensagers in the United States rose for the first time in a decade. Here's an excerpt:


The number of pregnant teenagers is on the rise in the U.S. for the first time in a decade, according to a report released yesterday. And researchers are blunt in laying blame: the Bush-era emphasis on abstinence-only education is behind the uptick. ...

While some teens are responsible and willing to weigh the risks of early sexual activity, plenty of others -- including many of those discussing "The Pregnancy Pact" online -- seem more focused on finding love by having a baby. Which begs the question: If you knew your child was sexually active, would you buy him or her birth control? Where do you draw the line between protecting your kids vs. facilitating their actions? [More]


Click through to read the entire article and related news.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Why are more teens getting pregnant? Researchers blame Bush-era education

I'm over at Boston.com's Child Caring blog, writing about the newest numbers out of Washington:

The pregnancy rate among teenagers in the United States rose for the first time in 10 years, the Washington, D.C.-based Guttmacher Institute reported Tuesday.

The United States has higher rates of teenage pregnancies, births, and abortions than other other Western industrialized countries, but teen pregnancy rates had declined steeply here in the early 1990s and plateaued through the late 1990s and early 2000s. The latest numbers show that in 2006, the teen pregnancy rate went up by 3 percent, reflecting a 4 percent increase in births and a 1 percent increase in abortions.

"After more than a decade of progress, this reversal is deeply troubling," Heather Boonstra, Guttmacher Institute senior public policy associate, said in a statement.

Why the sudden uptick?

Friday, January 22, 2010

It's not selfish: Making time to exercise

My youngest kids stared at the sword in awe. Finally, my 3-year-old piped up: "Mama? Did you used to be a pirate?"

No, but way back when, I used to be a fencer, and I've always missed the sport. Every couple of years I'd look up the number for the local fencing club, but I never got around to calling. It seemed impossible to carve out that time for myself. It seemed irresponsible to spend money on the membership fee. How could I go off, at bedtime no less, and do something each week that didn't involve or benefit the rest of the family? It seemed so... selfish.

My husband didn't see it that way, but I am a bit... how do you say... um... stubborn. Like a mule. While I clung to my excuses, he dug up my old foil, handed it to me, and told me that practice started up right after New Year's. And that he had signed me up already.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Do we have a legal obligation to help others? How about a moral one?

Last week at The 36-Hour Day, I wrote about my own connection to Haiti and wondered how much more difficult this tragedy would have been before we were so tightly linked to one another online.

Unlike me, my cousins have two Haitian parents, and some of them even grew up on the tiny island nation, coming to the US and Canada in their teens. The impact of the earthquake hit them even here. The broken buildings that make me cringe cut them more deeply; they searched the dust and soot-covered faces on the news, hoping to recognize someone, hoping not to recognize someone. Days later, my cousin is still posting updates about people who are texting from pockets deep in the rubble. People in another nation read and respond, making their way to addresses she posts, trying to dig people out.

How much worse would this have been 10, 15 years ago for those of us who are far away, waiting for word from our families? At least with Twitter we were getting updates, some from the scene of the devestation. At least with Facebook, I could reach out and comfort my cousin, who was grieving the potential loss of family and friends who she remembered from her childhood in Haiti. Word trickles in via text message, via photos taken with cell phones, via a tenuous satellite connection that cuts off too quickly.


The post got picked up at Yahoo!'s Shine, and the discussion really took off. I was surprised, though, to find so many readers felt that they weren't obligated to help others at all, even in the face of such devestation. The very first comment, in fact, was this: "Sorry, but I disagree. I'm not "obligated" to help anyone."

Monday, January 18, 2010

How to cope with new air-travel restrictions

My latest report is live at Allvoices.com, on the ways airline travel has changed since the December "underwear bomber" incident and how you can cope with the new rules and regulations. Here's the lede:
With airlines adding or raising fees for checked baggage, it makes sense to try to limit yourself to your carry-on allotment. But after the latest terrorism attempt in December, during which a man allegedly attempted to ignite a bomb hidden in his underwear during Northwest Airlines flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit, rules for what is permitted on board airplanes in, to, and from the United States have become both more strict and more random, leading to confusion and frustration among travelers. ... So how do you manage to get to your destination with your wallet minimally scathed and your sanity mostly intact? [More]
Click through to Allvoices.com to read the rest (and the related news reports).

How many things do you assume you can't do?

Our big kids received custom-made snuggies for Christmas this year, as did my 5-year-old daughter. My 3-year-old son did not but, after seeing his older siblings wrapped in yards of fleece with sleeves, asked me where his was. Requesting one for him seemed awkward and, well, inappropriate, given the chaos of Christmas. But there was my little guy, looking at his big sisters and brother, wide-eyed, and turning to me. "My mama will make me one," he told his older sister, all confidence and barely-out-of-toddlerhood innocence. "Is my snuggie ready yet, Mama?"

I can't sew. I can mend things -- hem a pair of pants, re-attach a button, take in a waistband, darn a sock -- but I can't actually sew something from scratch. At least, I was sure I couldn't.

My little guy, though, was certain that I could. So I go to work.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Tylenol, Motrin, other OTC kids medicines recalled

Parents, go take a look in your medicine cabinets right now: McNeil Consumer Healthcare has announced a recall of many popular over-the-counter medications for kids, including some versions of Motrin, St. Joseph's baby aspirin, and Tylenol.

According to the press release, consumers had noticed "an unusual moldy, musty, or mildew-like odor" that caused temporary nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. All of the reactions were non-life threatening; the FDA has posted a complete list of recalled medications here.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the problem was caused by "the presence of trace amounts of a chemical called 2,4,6-tribromoanisole (TBA)" caused by the breaking down of a chemical used to treat the wood pallets used to store and transport the medicine's packing material.

Spokesman Marc Boston said that the chemical is linked to the packing material and not to the medications themselves. The recall, which is voluntary, does not affect generic medications, he confirmed.

This PDF has the lot numbers and UPC codes of the medicines affected by the recall, but the products include Children's Motrin caplets and chewables, Children's Tylenol meltaways, Extra-Strength Tylenol caplets and EZ tabs, Rolaids chewables, Benadryl tablets, and St. Joseph's aspirin chewables and tablets.

Check your labels, parents, and if you have any with codes that match the ones on the list, stop using the product and contact McNeil Consumer Healthcare for a refund or replacement (log on to http://www.mcneilproductrecall.com/ or call 1-888-222-6036 Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern Time, and Saturday-Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern Time). Be patient... it might take a while to get through.

Cross-posted from Child Caring.

Tips and tricks for having fun on a roadtrip

I blogged a few weeks ago about how worried I was about the 1,500-mile roadtrip we had planned just after Christmas, driving from the Boston area allll the way to where our big kids are when they're not with us.

Turns out, I need not have been so worried about driving out of my comfort zone. The drive was fine. Fun, even.

Before we left, I asked my readers at The 36-Hour Day to share some of their best tips and tricks for having fun while on the road with the kids. I also culled through our archives at Work It, Mom!, searching for more wisdom to take with us. Here's what I came up with:

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Everything counts: Help for Haiti

My aunt, uncle, and extended family live in Haiti, in the Turgeau area, which was hit by a 7.0 earthquake yesterday. The destruction has been massive, the death toll high, and while I'm waiting and hoping and praying to hear from my family, all I can do is gather information and pass it along.

Here's a short list groups raising aid for of ways people can help those affected by the 7.0 earthquake that hit the Carribean island yesterday. They've made it easy for you to help them help others; you can send a donation via text message (SMS) or online. Even the smallest amount counts: The $5 you were going to drop at Starbucks later today can make a big difference to the people in this devestated country right now.

1.) Grassroots International, a progressive organization that funds social justice organizations in Haiti, has set up a page to help raise funds for emergency relief. Click here to make a secure donation through them.

2.) Yele Haiti, a group established by musician Wyclef Jean of the Fugees, inspires change in Haiti via education, sports, and the arts. Using your cell phone, text Yele to 501501 to donate $5 to the relief effort; the donation will show up on your cell phone bill.

3.) The Lambi Fund of Haiti supports sustainable development and democracy in the tiny island nation. You can donate to them via this secure donation page or via Paypal mobile by texting send $20 to give@lambifund.org to PAYPAL (729725) on your cell phone. The Lambi Fund is also posting information about specific people who are trapped in the rubble, in order to help rescuers find them.

4.) The Red Cross pledged an initial $200,000 yesterday and made available all of the supplies in it's Panama warehouse to help responders in Haiti. These supplies will provide basic needs for about 5,000 families, but the need is much, much greater for so many people. They are also accepting donations via text message; text Haiti to 90999 to send $10. Please note that if you would like to help in person, the organization is not accepting volunteers to travel to Haiti, but is asking that people contact their local chapter for more information on ways to help.

5.) Doctors Without Borders (Medicins sans Frontieres) has set up clinics to help treat earthquake victims; hospitals and other facilities have been damaged beyond repair. Donations made today will immediately be directed to their Haiti Earthquake Reponse team; you can make a one-time donation using your credit or debit card here.

Thanks to social media and the internet, there's a flood of information out there; CNN has a page devoted to the latest updates and a great list of other organizations that are trying to help Haiti specifically. Please keep the victims and their families in your thoughts, and do what you can to help responders help those in need. Remember: No amount is too small. Right now, everything counts.

Friday, January 8, 2010

I've been nominated! Vote for The 36-Hour Day

I just found out that my Work It, Mom! blog about juggling work and family -- The 36-Hour Day -- has been nominated as a favorite blog at Babble.com! Take a minute to scroll through the list of excellent nominees over at Babble -- I'm in some awe-inspiring company -- and please give a thumbs up to The 36-Hour Day there!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Book review: Cleaving by Julie Powell

When I'm not chasing children, freelancing, at the office, or at Work It, Mom!, I can usually be found in my kitchen. Cooking is my therapy; one of my old housemates likes to say that, when we were in college, he could tell what kind of a day I'd had based on what I was doing in the kitchen when he got home late at night. Baking cookies? Happy Lylah. Making a quick snack? Busy, with plenty of homework left to do. Making whipped cream by hand with a fork? Stay away.

My other favorite past time is reading. So when I was asked to review Julie Powell's latest memoir, "Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obession," for The Boston Globe, I jumped at the chance. A book by a blogger about cooking? Yes, please! Here's my review:

December 13, 2009
Close to the bone
Unabashedly confessional, Powell’s latest embraces her obsession with butchering and another man

By Lylah M. Alphonse, Globe Staff

There’s nothing rational about obsession, and Julie Powell knows that she is a slave to hers - the man she’s having an affair with, D.

“I’m familiar with the landscape of addiction,’’ she writes in her new memoir, “Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession.’’ “I recognize that I’ve built up a habit for him, no less real and physical than my habit for booze.’’ Married to her childhood sweetheart, Eric, she binges on D, becomes dependent, and goes into withdrawal when he cuts her off. She casts about for a distraction, fixates on butchering, and starts going door to door, asking butchers whether they’ll hire her as an apprentice. Fleisher’s, a small shop in the Catskills, takes her on, and she finds as much peace in the physically demanding work as she does in the camaraderie of the staff.

Of course, it’s not enough. It never is. That’s the thing about obsession.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A new resolution-free decade

When I was a kid, every Dec. 31st I'd resolve to exercise more, be nicer to my brothers, keep my room clean, practice my violin more often, and pull my grades up. And every year, every one of those mild resolutions would drop by the wayside within a month -- sometimes sooner.

When I hit college, I dropped the resolution about the grades from my list. And you know what? I made the Dean's List every semester.

It took me a while to catch on, but now that I'm staring down 40, I've finally figured out that the quickest way for me to fail at something is to make it a New Year's resolution.