Getting into the Christmas spirits

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You read that right.

If you are someone who loves the holidays, you’re probably enjoying these last few days in the run up to Christmas. If you are someone who just worked 30 hours over a weekend you’re thinking they are incredibly poorly timed.

The Christmas theme at my house this year is: The Who’s house after the Grinch ransacked it, only the Grinch never came back. There is no tree. No wreath. No wrapped gifts. A few sad holiday cards, sent by dear souls who haven’t fallen into the black hole of capitalist chaos, sit on a table in my empty living room. (That’s right. The Grinch even took the furniture.)

The reminders are everywhere that I am behind. My email is full of messages screaming “last chance” and “ends today.” Too which I respond, “Delete you.”

As I walk through the beautifully adorned downtown skyways on my way to work, the Muzak reminds me that Santa’s on his way. “You say that like it’s a good thing,” I mutter.

And when I enter the post office and see the “We appreciate your business” sign on the door, I think, “No. No, you do not. If you did there wouldn’t be 20 people holding large boxes in this line, and you would not be chatting up the person you’re serving with news of your grandkids.”

Today I’m taking a day off to see if I can actually make this holiday thing work out this year. (Which explains why I’m spending time blogging, right?) I have a list as long as my arm and will burn a tank of gas driving from here to there. As of 8:00 a.m., I had already hit the “who are you kidding” stage of my day, and mentally removed a few items.

It’s beginning to feel a lot like another memorable year where I served spaghetti and meatballs for Christmas dinner. (Tip to readers: if you have to decide at the last minute between going to the liquor store before it closes and going to the grocery store before it closes, choose the liquor store. I guarantee your guests will not notice what you serve them for dinner.)

But I must away. The malls await me. I go armed with 60% off coupons for this and that. (It seems the only people more desperate than me this time of year are the retailers.)

Wish me luck.

A Monday morning

smallkindnessWhen your daughter borrows your expensive earrings without asking, and your hair is a wavy mess, and you get a project dumped on you before you’ve even left the house, and one son almost misses the bus, and the other son generates an email from school for being habitually late to science class, and your parking ramp is full so you have to walk an extra three blocks with something in your shoe, and you can’t find your security badge, and you realize you’ve forgotten to plug in the slow-cooker so dinner is not underway as planned…

And then your dad sends you a note about how much he enjoyed your last blog post and how talented you are and how proud he is.

And all things in the universe around you breathe a collective sigh of relief and the day settles back into place.

Small kindnesses matter.

Puzzling words together

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To me, writing something – anything – is like putting together a 1000-piece puzzle. Without the picture on the box.

I start with a table full of tiny images, in a jumble. When I dump them on the table, they don’t look like anything but a pile of individual pieces. It’s not clear how they fit together. And the task looks impossible.

My first step is to scatter them all over so I can see each one. Pick apart the pile. Then I start to sort them. Like color with like color. Like pattern with like pattern. Even though they still don’t look like anything, I start to see images emerging. I start to feel how they might go together.

My second step is obvious: build the framework. It’s easier to find the pieces that fit along the edges, the ones that will house all the others. An outline. A structure for everything else to fall within.

And then I start to assemble the pieces. Individual words become phrases. Phrases become sentences. Sentences become paragraphs. The paragraphs begin to fit together and a picture starts to emerge. After a while, it starts to become more obvious where the loose, individual pieces should go. It starts to look like a whole.

The more you assemble, the more evident the picture is. And eventually, the clarity and beauty of the whole will emerge.

The only difference I can see between putting together a puzzle and putting together a piece of writing is that the writing is never done. Admit it, writers: if you could, you’d just keep taking out a few of those pieces and swapping them around to change the picture. Forever. Even if every piece was in the box and each fit into place.

It’s probably how that original artist felt, too, before someone carved the picture into a 1000 pieces and put it in the box to taunt the rest of us.

Didn’t mean to take an off ramp

IMG_0017A few years back, I worked on a project for a large, local corporation on why women “off ramp” from their careers – leave a promising job despite the fact that they’ve educated themselves and fought their way up the ladder. In this particular workforce, we found two reasons:

  • They were leaving to care for young children – these women tended to be in their early 30’s and most intended to re-enter the workforce
  • They were leaving because they were deeply dissatisfied with their careers – these women tended to be 40 or older and many left for self-employment or consulting work

It was a little frightening to see myself in the profiles we developed for that project. I left for both reasons. I had my children late in life, and I hit both of these crossroads simultaneously. I had progressed in my job about as far as I could go, and the other jobs that were available to me were just more of the same. And I had no time to care for my kids, put a decent meal on the table.

I wanted to start a new phase of my career, not exit. I threw myself into my work seeking a different kind of success.

I loved consulting, for a while. But I was surprised to find myself, ten years later, again deeply dissatisfied – this time with the isolation of my work, my home office, the time I spent with my now teenaged kids who didn’t really need me for more than transportation and basic supervision.

It was time to make a change again. So I did.

The good news is that much has changed in the ten years I was on my own. I found a job easily, despite the horror stories you hear about how hard it is to find a job when you are a) not early in your career; b) have been self-employed; c) need a little flexibility to manage family. Granted, it’s contract work – but I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to pick up where I left off and contribute in a positive way.

But my mind keeps going back to those young women we talked to and their stories. How hard it was to get anyone to take them seriously when they were ready to go back to work. How they were offered less money than they were making before kids because they had “taken a break”. How they endured comments like “We aren’t sure you’ll be able to multi-task.” Really? Who multi-tasks better than a stay-at-home mom?

See, the thing is, I didn’t think I was taking an “off ramp”. I thought I was just taking the alternate route. And I’m guessing many of them thought so too.

This post is part of the SITS Girls Stop the Summer Slump writing challenge.

 

Z is for Zzzzzz

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It seems reasonable that coming on the heels of my last post I would be thinking, talking and writing about sleep.

Oh, blessed sleep.

But I’m not going to talk about my own need for sleep tonight. I’m going to talk about kids’ need for sleep. My kids “check in” their phones at night – they must be in the kitchen where I can easily find them. But based on the constant buzzing those phones emit throughout the late evening hours, there are a lot of kids who barely sleep at all.

Here’s a typical text string to my 12-year-old son (coming two hours after he’s hit the hay – and from a girl).

Hi.

Hello, are u there?

Where r u?

Why don’t u answer?

Now I’m depressed.

Where r u!! Pick up please!!

I can’t sleep, where r u?

And it goes on. Good grief, girl. Get some self-esteem. And by the way, you can’t sleep because you’re GLUED TO YOUR PHONE.

My kids were good sleepers as young kids, and we’ve kept that discipline in their tweens and teens. My teens catch a very early bus and it’s a challenge to get to the bus stop even for the well-rested.

And something good has come from all that firm insistence that they go to bed at a decent time – they like (and protect) their sleep. They’re up later on the weekends, but weekdays they all turn in at a reasonable hour. Makes for easier mornings (and evenings) when your kids love to sleep.

So one of the best tips I can give you, as your kids grow, is demonstrate the value of a good night’s sleep – for yourself, and for them.

Good night, everyone…it’s time to put the A to Z Challenge to bed. Thanks for reading.

Read the series at A is for About

Y is for Yawn

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That’s it – I’m tapped out. With two days to go in the A to Z Challenge I’ve hit the wall.

It is Wednesday. So far this week our family schedule has included:

  • 1 lacrosse game
  • 3 lacrosse practices
  • 2 baseball games
  • 2 baseball practices
  • 2 dance classes
  • 2 dance team practices
  • 1 haircut
  • Two band concerts
  • 1 batting practice
  • 3 workouts
  • 1 field crew shift
  • And last, but by no means least, 1 trip to urgent care (which believe me, is a blog post in and of itself)

We didn’t get to all this stuff. But we got to most of it. Oh, and work. I went to work.

But the real kicker is the announcement from my 11-year-old, as he headed off to bed (late) this evening, that he volunteered to bring corn bread to school tomorrow for his challenge reading class.

So after only a little fussing, I made corn bread. Why, you ask, would a challenge reading class require corn bread? I really couldn’t say. And why, you ask, would I bow to such an unreasonable request? Because I was too tired to resist, of course. I am dog tired.

So I’m headed to bed, without a tip for working parents other than this:

You see that list above? Yeah, don’t do that.

Tomorrow….Z is for Zzzzzzz

Read the series at A is for About

X is for Xtra

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Cheap, I know, but I’ve left out one of my favorite tips and I need to find a spot for it. So the spot is here. It’s a tip for the easiest, fastest, most gratifying dinner ever.

Are you ready?

It starts with a slow cooker, a pork roast and a cup or two of leftover coffee. Really. If you’re wondering how I discovered this amazing combo, it’s easy. One day, I just threw  the leftover coffee over the pork as a marinade because it happened to be sitting there. This was a true stroke of spontaneous genius.

To finish the meal, set the slow cooker on low as you leave for work, and shred the pork when you return. Done.

Of course, you’ll probably want to throw a few additional items over that pork, so here are three tested ideas:

  1. Sprinkle the pork with a TBSP of cocoa, and pour over it half a jar of whatever salsa you have in the refrigerator.
  2. Rub the the pork with garlic and ginger – powdered if you must, but fresh is better. Pour in 1/4 cup soy sauce (I like mine low salt) and a TBSP of something sweet – maple syrup, agave syrup, brown sugar, honey – whatever you want.
  3. Pour a good dose of your favorite BBQ sauce in. It really requires nothing more if you’re using the coffee.

Depending on the mood, we eat the pork on buns, toast, baked potatoes, noodles, tortillas…The best part – it makes a ton so it’s good for doubling up as tonight’s dinner-after-the-baseball-game will attest: leftover pulled pork on corn tortillas with sour cream, avocado slices, cilantro, salsa, and a little shredded cheese.

The meal practically makes itself. And you don’t have to throw out OR drink that last cup of coffee.

Read the series at A is for About

W is for What Was I Thinking

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The A to Z Challenge is drawing to a close and I am darn near out of ideas. It doesn’t help that the end of the challenge corresponds to those ridiculous letters that so few people use – X, Y and Z. Go ahead, defend them if you must. I will not be convinced.

I was so psyched out by the terrible trio that I forgot poor old W, which is not a bad letter. It’s serviceable in its way. So I’m just going to wing out a few tips that include a W. Sorry, it’s the best I can do:

  • When you fold the wash, sort it as you fold according to the room it goes in. This takes a lot of space, but a fraction of the time to put it all away.
  • When you can, dust with a slightly wet wipe to keep all that crap from floating around in the air.
  • Whistle while you work. Sorry, lame.
  • When you have a dozen half-drunk water bottles around, use them to water your plants. It very slightly reduces the guilt of putting all that plastic in the waste stream.
  • When you pull weeds, pull all  weeds of the same type until they are gone – a particularly helpful tip if you have a clueless kid or two weeding with you. P.S. Start with the tallest weed.
  • When you’re asked to bring a snack or dessert to a kids’ party, bring cubed up watermelon. It’s cheap, it’s fast to prepare, it’s hydrating, and it will be gone in minutes. Seriously, you cannot bring enough of the stuff.
  • If you’re stuck waiting during kids’ sports practice, go for a walk. I do this all summer when my kids are at  lacrosse practice and it’s a wonderful way to end the day.

That is all. I’m going to go off to meditate on X, Y and Z.

Read the series at A is for About

V is for Vitamins (especially D)

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Every working parent (OK, every parent) dreads the SICK DAY(S) that throw you off your schedule. At best, you’re juggling work calls from home while heating up some soothing chicken broth. At worst, you spend the whole day doing laundry while covered in unmentionable substances.

While we eat a reasonably nutritious diet, there are a few vitamin supplements I encourage my kids to take on a regular basis. And I’ve got to tell you, sick days are a rarity at our house. Each of my kids takes an age-appropriate multi-vitamin, and these two additional supplements I insist on:

  • Vitamin D because we live in a northern climate where something like 120% of the population is vitamin D deficient. While only my daughter has actually been tested (and found to be D-ficient) I have the whole family take it as an immune- and energy- booster.)
  • Acidophilus, for digestive (well, intestinal) health. No details, please, but this is a good one – and was recommended to me for teens battling acne, too.

What are the go-to supplements at your house? Am I missing anything?

Read the series at A is for About

U is for Underwear

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I learned this trick from a resourceful college roommate – if you have 30 pairs of underwear, you need only do your laundry once a month.

Well, I don’t take it quite that far, but having a good two week’s worth in the drawer can make life a lot easier. After all, if a kid is looking for a pair of jeans to wear to school, you can always respond, “Take one out of the dirty laundry.” But you’d have to be pretty desperate to do the same thing if they’re hunting for clean underwear.

I stock up on socks for the same reason. I think the socks in our house would disintegrate if they had to endure two consecutive days of wear. We generate some pretty disheartening laundry at our place. I’ve often compared it to toxic waste.

(And one more laundry-reducing trick, for the more devious among you – you know those towels that get thrown in the wash after one use? Pull ’em out, let them dry, fold them, and return them to the bathroom. No one will ever know the difference.)

Read the series at A is for About