Monday, February 28, 2011

The last launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery

I've always been fascinated by space. I remember cobbling together my own "newspaper" about Jupiter's moons while I was still in elementary school -- at the time, Io was acting a bit like a prehistoric Earth -- and I used to love peering through my Dad's telescope into the nighttime sky, trying to comprehend how far away those dazzling stars really were. My fascination with space and everything in it carried over into middle school and even high school, where I wrote term papers on "Celestial Phenomena in Mythology" and short plays about Halley's Comet and spent more time than I should probably admit lying in fields or front lawns, looking up at the stars.  Witnessing the launch of the Space Shuttle was on my bucket list for years and now, sadly, I'm going to have to cross it off, un-achieved: The Space Shuttle program is being shuttered this year.

Last week, the Space Shuttle Discovery lifted off on its 39th and final mission, carrying supplies and a robotic assistant named Robonaut 2 to the International Space Station. Hundreds of thousands of people (including my brother-in-law and niece, the lucky things) flocked to the area around the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, to watch history in the making. I let the space geek in me take over on this post at Yahoo!'s Shine, so I thought I'd share the videos here as well.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Should paid parental leave be a perk, or a requirement?

I wrote about the idea of paid parental leave in 2008, when the New Jersey State Senate approved legislation that would grant employees paid maternity or dependent-care leave, making my home state one of just two in the country to mandate paid maternity leave. (California is the other; both states fund the program through small payroll deductions.)

Since then, not only has the situation not gotten better, it's actually gotten worse. That's what we're talking about right now over at The 36-Hour Day.

In a 2005 survey of 168 developed countries, the United States was one of just five that didn't mandate paid maternity leave. Yesterday, a Human Rights Watch report; showed that, out of 190 countries studied, just three offered no legal guarantee of paid maternity leave: Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and the United States. (Nine countries were unclear about their policy on paid leave for new mothers, and 178 guaranteed paid maternity leave.)

"Being an outlier is nothing to be proud of in a case like this," Janet Walsh, deputy women's rights director of Human Rights Watch and the author of the report, told Reuters. "Countries that have these programs show productivity gains, reduced turnover costs, and health care savings. We can't afford not to guarantee paid family leave under law -- especially in these tough economic times."

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Setting limits (with myself) while working from home

Once upon a time, I had a proper home office, with a door that closed and everything.

It turned into a nursery.

My next home office later became my oldest stepdaughter's bedroom. My next one was a nook in the master bedroom, with a desk that could barely hold the massive computer monitor from 1998 (it pre-dated three of our five kids) and where I hated to work at night because it was so far away from the hub of the house.

I started roaming around after that, thanks to my best Mother's Day Present ever, and thanks to the fact that I only worked from home a day or so a week. But now I'm working from home 99.9 percent of the time, and even though it's only been a few months, it's cold and flu season, and my pediatrician tells me that the strain winding its way through our local schools isn't one of the ones covered by the vaccine. Which means that it's only a (short) matter of time until I'm working from home with a sick kid or two in tow. And also: I need to find a way to set a few limits.

Not with work -- the team I'm part of has been wonderful. Not with my husband -- he's been nothing but supportive. Not with the kids -- yet. Turns out, the person I really need to set limits with is... myself.

I'm the only one wondering why dinner isn't on the table at 6. And why the laundry is heaped in the bedroom, in piles taller than my kids. The house hasn't been decorated for Christmas, but that's OK, because I don't decorate. But the dog hasn't been brushed (or, for that matter, fed), the floors haven't been vacuumed, and the fridge has not been stocked. And while everyone else is willing to cut me some slack, I'm stressing over the way I haven't seamlessly transitioned into this chapter of my career.

I know I need to create a proper home office with a door that shuts, but that's easier said than done: Even though two out of three of our big kids are teenagers now and rarely spend weeks at a time with us, I'm reluctant to repurpose their old bedrooms. While I'm struggling with that unique step-parenting issue, though, I know I need to tackle my own expectations for myself. I didn't expect that I'd be able to stay caught up on housework all week long while I was commuting, why do I think I should be able to when my commute has disappeared but my workload has increased?

How do you manage your expectations when you're working from home?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Do female journalists belong in war zones?

After the horrific attack on veteran CBS foreign correspondent Lara Logan, last week, network executives met to discuss the possibility ofpulling their female journalists out of Egypt. Over at Yahoo!'s Shine, I talked to several longtime war correspondents -- all of whom happen to be female -- and asked them what they thought. Click here for the whole story, or keep reading for excerpts from our phone and email conversations:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Not head over heels for Pearson's "I Think I Love You"

We all remember what it's like to fall in love for the first time, not with a peer, but with someone out of reach, a celebrity or a superhero. In her second novel, I Think I Love You, author Allison Pearson does a great job capturing the giddiness of a 13-year-old girl's crush on pop icon David Cassidy -- probably because The Partridge Family star was her own first crush -- but stumbles when it comes to fleshing out the other characters and weaving together the storyline.

I reviewed I Think I Love You this week for The Boston Globe, and while I could identify with some of what the 13-year-old main character, Petra, was going through as she navigated adolescence, Pearson lost me about halfway through, when she jumped forward 25 years. I felt like I was reading two books: A charming story about an innocent crush and a clunky but still charming story about a woman approaching mid-life. But together? I didn't fall in love.

Here's the review that appeared in Sunday's Boston Globe:

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The laws of work-life balance (with apologies to Mr. Murphy)

Some time ago, I wrote a post about the Laws of Working Moms. Well, I'm still a working mom, and not much has changed on that front. But, since I write a lot about work-life balance -- and since my friends like to tease me that I write about work-life balance when I actually have none -- over at The 36-Hour Day I took a few moments to observe how Murphy's law affects my not-at-the-office life.

Read on...

Thursday, February 10, 2011

How much TV do your kids watch?

After a series of snowstorms that left our driveway too icy to drive on and our yard filled with snowdrifts that are deeper than my youngest kids are tall, we've been dealing with snow days, too-cold-to-venture-out days, and how-did-it-get-so-dark-out-already days. Which means that my kids have been spending more time in front of the TV than the American Academy of Pediatrics would like.

And that's just TV. Add in the time spent playing Wii (it counts as exercise if it's too cold and/or snowy go outside, right?), the time in the car with their Leapsters, and the time I'm on deadline and I hand them my iPhone and, well, that's a lot of time spent staring at a screen.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Viewers say kids are meaner. I say they just have more ways to be mean

On Friday night, Fox 25 News in Boston asked their 6 p.m. viewers whether kids are meaner now than they were before; most viewers said yes. But I came on at 10 to say that I think kids aren't necessarily meaner in this day and age, but they do have more opportunities to be mean, and in much more public ways, than they had just a few decades a go. Take a look:

As I wrote the other day at Yahoo!'s Shine, it's easy to chalk bullying up to a lack of basic values and inattentive parents -- too easy, I think. With today's technology, a person can bully someone they've never even met -- the backlash over 11-year-old Jessie Slaughter's videos are just one example -- and the psychological bullying engaged in by girls relies on having a good grasp of social norms, not an inability to understand them.

What do you think? Watch the clip above and weigh in: Are kids today meaner than the ones you encountered when you were a kid?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Are kids more cruel today than ever before?

I'll be appearing on Fox 25 News tonight (Friday, Feb. 4) at 10 p.m. to discuss whether kids are more mean now than they were in the past. (Check back here for the clip, once it's up.) (Edited to add: Click here for the clip!) In the meantime, you can find my take on the subject over at Yahoo! Shine. Here's the top of the story:

Have Kids Become More Cruel?
By Lylah M. Alphonse, Shine Staff

A New Hampshire Family Life and Family Policy specialist who is an expert on bullying says that kids today are meaner than ever before—and inattentive parents coupled with a lack of certain values may be to blame.

"This generation that's coming up, the generation in school right now ... they are the meanest generation of kids that we've ever had, and they have more ways to be mean to each other than any other generation," Malcolm Smith, a member of the New Hampshire Legislative Task Force on Work and Family and an associate professor at the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, told a crowd at Portsmouth High School recently.

Kids who bully repeatedly are missing certain basic values, The Portsmouth Herald quotes him as saying. Things like manners, civility, and kindness. And the problem has been fostered, Smith said, by a lack of parental supervision.

"It's about supervising and being around. As a parent, that's really important," he said, telling parents that they can help fight bullying by teaching values like respect, compassion, and generosity, and encouraging kids to have realistic expectations of other people.

But is it really that simple? I don't think so....

Read the rest at Shine.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

When the president shows up unannounced...

When the President of the United States of America just shows up at the summit you're attending, you try not to act too surprised. You pretend to take notes, you try not to grin too broadly, because no matter where you stand politically, meeting the President of the United States is pretty cool.

President Barack Obama drops by the Women’s Online Summit in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Jan. 31, 2011. 
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Click on the photo to enlarge it. That's me, fourth from the right, mid-blink. I'm not allowed to quote what he said, but I can tell you that it was validating and inspirational and exactly the reason why I love what I do for a living.

Along with about 25 others, I had braved the snowstorms to attend an Online Women's Summit hosted by the White House, to discuss policy, plans, and initiatives that affect women and girls. Things like the economy and education and health and business -- things that affect all of us, really, but can affect women in ways we don't normally consider. I am so grateful to have a job that gives me opportunities like this.

We were able to tour the East Wing of the White House by special appointment, and our guide was very, very patient as we scrambled to take pictures of one another. Yes, Mom, I saw Mr. Lincoln's portrait, too:

The views were amazing. I was awed and inspired. Even though I've been to Washington plenty of times, I've never taken a tour of the White House.

But the highlight was shaking hands with POTUS. I was amazed that he took the time to talk to each one of us, ask us our names and what we do, looked us each in the eye and shook each of our hands.

(Hint: I'm the short one. Photo by Jessica McGranahan of Burst Media. Thanks, Jessica!)

Stay tuned for the stories -- if you haven't already bookmarked my section at Yahoo's Shine, you can click here and do so. That's where they'll be.

(In the Green Room. Photo taken by Laurie Berger of Thanks, Laurie!)

I came away from the summit with a slew of story ideas I can't wait to tackle, a stack of business cards from whip-smart people with whom to network and collaborate, and the distinct feeling that the stereotype of fluffy "women's pages" was being kicked to the curb. And I'm excited for what comes next.