Author Archives: Chief Executive Housewife

Another One of Those Life Stages

IMG_3494This has not been an easy past twelve months. At the beginning of summer last year, my father was hospitalized with leukemia. He went into remission in the fall but had a relapse in the winter. He was back in the hospital in March and while receiving chemotherapy, he got an infection and passed away on March 12. He was exactly 79 1/2.  It’s interesting in how many ways the passing of a parent can affect you.  I’ve always felt like a twenty-something at heart, and yet with one funeral, I became middle-aged.  When you experience, for the first time, a person close to you, actually having a life that is finite, the passing of time becomes real.  The idea, that you have all the time in the world to accomplish your dreams, is proven to be false.  For those of us struggling with the fear of leaving an underwhelming legacy, all of a sudden facing the reality of time having an end can almost be paralyzing.  Most goals and dreams can not be met over night. They take time to achieve. But now, what if there is not enough time? Are they worth still striving for or are you just being foolish to even try? It’s especially hard when you’re on your second set of goals.  I had twenty years, starting from college, to build an impressive career.  But now that career is over, so I have had to start form scratch to come up with my next goal, but time is no longer on my side. Or so it seems.

Luckily, sometimes inspiration comes from the most unlikely places.  I happened to TiVo a movie staring Bruce Willis, called The Kid. It’s always good to have a mindless movie on hand to watch while working out if you’ve run through all the shows you usually see. I didn’t know what it was about, but anything with Bruce Willis in it will at least be mildly interesting enough to get me through an hour on the treadmill.  It turns out that he’s 40 years old and meets a kid who is actually himself at the age of 8.  The kid has come into his life to remind him of what his goals and dreams had been as a child, to help him realize why he may have taken a different path away from those goals, and to ultimately help get him back on track.  At the end of the movie, he meets himself as a seventy-something-year-old man, with a dog and a family, flying his own plane.  The 40 year-old “Bruce Willis” turns to the 8 year-old “Bruce Willis” and high-fives him.  They had done it.  So, he knew that even though he wasn’t where he needed to be right then and there at 40, that by 75, he had accomplished what he wanted to. So, maybe there is still time.

I may suddenly feel middle-aged now, but I need to remember that “middle” means that there can be an equal amount of time in your future as has already gone passed. And I did get a lot accomplished in my first 45 years, so why should I not think that my next 45 will be just as fulfilling.  And maybe, now that my father has passed and I have been forced to become an adult, perhaps wisdom will come along with that responsibility. And that my new-found maturity will either help me to become even more dedicated to achieving my new set of goals or to perhaps find the serenity to let my legacy play out as it will.

And the beat goes on. La de da de de, La de da de da….

WTF?

curse words bubbleMy youngest son is seven-years-old and he has made it his mission this year to find out what all those “bad” words are that he’s not supposed to say. When my daughter came to me last year and asked me about them, I knew she was just expressing her curiosity and was mature enough to take in the information and not then go out and use it. My son, on the other hand, would not think twice about immediately putting those words to use if he thought the other boys would think he was funny for using them. So, the approach I have taken with my son on this topic has been very different than the one I took with my daughter.

At least once a week, my son will come home and try to guess at what he’s determined one of those “bad” words to be. And I have decided to agree with him if he comes up with a word that is at least not as bad as what the actual word is. It typically goes like this: “I know what the “s” word is, mommy.” “Really, honey, what is it?” “It’s “stupid”.” “You’re right that’s the “s” word. Now I don’t like to hear you using that word.” Then he promptly dances around the house repeating it with glee, “Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid.” After awhile, all of a sudden, he will stop and look at me and say, “That’s not really the “s” word is it?” “No, honey, it’s not, but it’s still not a nice word to say.” The day he decided the word was “sex”, and started singing, “sexy, sexy, sex”, I started questioning what the real “s” word was. Because the idea of him singing his new song on the bus to his friends, seemed to be just as bad as him writing the actual “s” word in marker on the back of a bus seat – like my peers used to do, way back when I was in school.

I have found when he comes upon a word that is not cringe-worthy, my first instinct is to drive it home, “Yes, that’s it. That’s definitely the word.” Which was the case when he decided the “f” word was “Fix”. I’m not sure where he got that from, but I was happy for him to go with that. That is until during the recent past holidays, when we were standing in line to get the kids photo taken with Santa and I tried to pat down my son’s hair before his close-up. My son fidgeted away and said, “Mommy, what are you doing?” I replied, “I’m just trying to fix your hair, sweetie.” With that, his mouth dropped open and his eyes got wide as he said in a whisper, “Mommy, you just said the “f” word in front of Santa.”

So, my son still doesn’t know what the “f” word and the “s” word are, and thank goodness he doesn’t even know to ask what the “c” word is, but I’m thinking the mature thing to do, on my part, is to sit him down and have a truthful conversation about what those words really are and why it’s not appropriate to then go and chant them on the bus. So, that’s what I’m thinking, doesn’t mean I’ve found the courage to do it yet though. But I better do it quick, cause I have a feeling if I don’t, one of his peers will beat me to it – and if that happens the song he comes up with might make “sexy, sexy, sex” sound like a nursery rhyme by comparison.

My Legacy – Apparently Up For Interpretation

legacyI was known as “the smart one” in my family. I was accepted early admission into Wellesley College, which was arguably more prestigious than the other schools my two brothers and four sisters went to. I went on to have a successful career in investment banking. So, you could say for the first three and a half decades of my life, my legacy was defined by my family’s title for me “the smart one”.

But then, when I was pregnant with my third child, I “retired”.  With three children, one with special needs, it made the most sense to stay “retired”, and devote my full time to raising them.  Though one would argue, it does take some intelligence to raise three children, I knew my legacy would no longer point to my being “the smart one”.  There are many more mothers in the world than successful businesswomen, so to carve out a unique legacy going forward was going to be a little more difficult.   The only upside is that the pool of people, who you are trying to impress with your legacy, is greatly diminished.  In reality for the majority of us, once you’re a mother, the only people we really want to look back and have admire us, thirty, forty years from now, are our kids.

I believe it’s never too early to work on one’s legacy. When my kids look at me, whether today or in the future, I want them to be able to point to things I accomplished and to be proud they had me as their mother. Hopefully it’s a given that they see me as a good mom but, I would like them to have more to point to.  The eldest were too young to remember me when I was a New York City career woman, so you can throw those 15 odd years out. There was the possibility that maybe they could have still viewed me as “the smart one”, that is until the schools decided to adopt what they call “new math”, which means I can’t even help them add three-digit numbers correctly. So, I needed to build up other areas of “greatness”. Creativity has always been a strong point of mine, so I decided to push forward in that direction.

To that end, here’s how I thought my legacy was shaping up. Let’s start off with I’m a good mother. But I also have created my own web blogs – the experience I share with my kids. I play the piano and the saxophone, filling the house with music, and even write original songs that I dedicate to my children. I throw the most imaginative home-grown birthday parties for them. I fill their weekends with innovative games to play that I create. I am a creative writer and have put photo ficitional-storybooks together  for them. I turn the house into a wonderland at holiday times. I am also involved in their schools and have a large group of social friends. I try to stay active and involve the kids in my workouts. I’m thinking, for someone who can’t easily just point to a business role for my kids to define me by, I’m doing a good job in trying to be creative and unique in things my kids can point to that can be thought of as my legacy.

When my daughter came home the other day and told me they were doing a project at school on family and that they had to come up with one thing for each family member that they felt most defined each of them, I was excited to hear what she picked for me from the many things I just listed above. For dad, she listed where he worked. For her brothers, she listed the past times that they liked the most. “So, honey, what did you put down for me? My web blogs? My creative parties? Music?”

“Mommy, for you, I put down that you like watching the soap opera “Days of Our Lives“.

What?

That’s my legacy? I like to watch a soap opera. That’s what she chose to share with her class and her teacher and one day perhaps with my grandchildren? My mom, the soap opera watcher. Wow. The scary part is, one of the things I remember my mom the most for – is watching the soap opera “Days of Our Lives“.  But my mom didn’t have 1000 channels to choose from like we do now. I watch other things. If the legacy I have been so hard at work on, was going to be debased into just “t.v. watching”, then how about the news, or even an innovative musical show like “Smash”? But a soap opera? Have I come no further, from the generation before me, than that?

Apparently, I have been too subtle with the building of my legacy and have left it up for any willy-nilly interpretation.  Perhaps I should put a newsletter together for my family updating them on my current projects. Or put up posters around the house with my picture and the caption “Song Writer” underneath. I could even hand out business cards at dinner with the occupation “party planner” when their birthdays are coming up.  And I am not beneath having a neon-lighted sign commissioned that I can hang on the door that blinks “Web Blogger Lives Here”.

But obviously the biggest change must be to eradicate this ridiculous notion that I’m just a soap opera watcher.  To that end, the only solution is, I can no longer TIVO my soap opera and watch it in the evening – I’m going to need to watch that show real time – while the kids are at school. No need to leave anything up to needless interpretation…

Choosing a Path

forkintheroadWhen I started this blog, I was at that metaphorical “fork in the road”. My kids were in school full time, I knew I wanted to do something that would flex my creative and intellectual mind, but what was that elusive perfect pathway. I didn’t want to go back to work full-time, my kids are still relatively young, but I needed to give myself something that I could say I was accomplishing. So, what do you do when you come upon that fork? You know you want to go in some direction but you’re not sure which one.

My theory is to hang out in the intersection for a little while. You don’t want to idle there, though. You need to be active, keep revving your engines, get a feel for the road, an understanding of your options.  If you don’t have a clear idea of what you want to do, make a list of all the things you are interested in, then throw them out there and see what sticks. That’s what I did with this blog.

I liked the idea of designing a blog. I liked writing. I liked the psychological journey of self-discovery. I liked creating self-help workbooks. I liked using humor. I liked writing about the creative things I do with my kids. So, I put all of those things together within this blog.  I then spent the last few months getting feedback on what resonated with my readers and tuning into what parts of this blog I liked doing the most and which area I thought I could turn into a viable pathway for myself. And that has turned out to be sharing my thoughts on how to raise a more creative child.

So, it’s always good to hang out in the intersection for awhile, but at some point, if you want to move forward, you need to narrow your road ahead and choose a path. You may find that once you’re down the road, the path you have selected isn’t quite right for you. That’s o.k., just turn around, go back to the intersection and choose something different, but you need to keep making active decisions and taking actions that keep moving you forward.

I will keep working on this blog because it is here where I will be able to share my business ideas as I move down my selected path, and I always have to have somewhere to share my daily-life rambles. However, I have also started on a new journey, my chosen path to help raise awareness on how important it is to help your child build their creative mind. In 2010, Kyung Hee Kim at the College of William & Mary shared the results of her study of 300,000 Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT) scores of children and adults. She found that over the last two decades, as we’ve entered this new electronic age, the measure of creativity in our children has been spiraling downward. Kim says, “It’s very clear, and the decrease is very significant.  It is the scores of younger children in America – from kindergarten through sixth grade – for whom the decline is most serious.”

blogpicThe good news is that all children are born with some degree of creativity. When parents become educated about creativity, they can help their children preserve their natural inclination to it. Research has shown that creativity can be nourished and taught and that creativity training can have a strong effect. Real improvement doesn’t happen overnight, but when creativity is fostered through a child’s everyday process of home or school, brain function improves.  It is to this end, that I created a new blog called “www.RAISECREATIVEKIDZ.com”.  In that space, I will share more research on creativity in general, and supply ideas and activities to help you nourish your own children’s creativity.

This is the path I have chosen to explore. I hope you will visit me there, as well as, keep on coming here to this blog for my perspective on being a mom in general – the good, the bad, the funny, the sad – and maybe pick up a tip here or there to help you choose your own path.

http://www.raisecreativekidz.com  Research shows children’s creativity is declining at an alarming rate. Luckily, as parents, there is much we can do.

Addicted to HGTV

IMG_2970I know I’m getting older.  I don’t know when it happened, but at some point I stopped watching MTV’s Real World and started watching HGTV (Home and Garden Television).  I became less interested in a show about a group of people living together in a house, and much more fascinated by the house itself.   Maybe it has something to do with the fact that we are in the process of a few renovations ourselves.  We’re adding a sunroom, a more substantial front porch, and a pool. We’ve been working with an architect and we just sent the project out to builders for bids.  The problem with watching HGTV is that the more I watch it, the more things I add to our own project.  I saw an episode of “Million Dollar Rooms” that showed a pool with one side that was all plexiglass so you could see through it.  When I asked our architect to see about incorporating that into our pool plans, he just shook his head and said it was out of our budget. I guess the show is called “Million Dollar Rooms” for a reason.  And then I chose railings that I saw in a special they ran on Newport Mansions. Again, not just any mansions – Newport Mansions.  So, needless to say, I guess I couldn’t be that surprised when the architect recently came back to us to say that the bids he was getting in, were over the highest range he projected.

So, I don’t know that my addiction is a good thing.  I have even found myself referring to HGTV designers and contractors when I talk to our architect and potential builders. I referred to an episode of one of the shows where even the “famous designer” had trouble having his contractors show up on time and so if it could happen to him, how could we be assured that it wouldn’t happen to us.  I actually saw them roll their eyes at that. And we haven’t even gotten started on the actual construction.  I see whole houses being renovated over the course of a sixty minute show. I’m afraid I’m in for a rude awakening with the actual time this project is really going to take.

The construction phase will probably start in about four to six weeks. Will living my own renovation reality show curb my addiction to HGTV or will it just make it worse?  Will I be happy with the finished project or are my t.v. expectations too high? Well, our next meeting with our architect is next week to review the contractor bids and decide where we need to cut back to bring the budget back in-line. But on HGTV when a family has to get realistic and cut some things out of their budget, usually at the end of the project, the designer on the show gives them a new couch or flat screen t.v. and that makes them feel better.  Does that not happen in real life?

Well, either way, a couple of months living with a construction crew for eight hours a day, should be an interesting experience. I just hope they don’t have to cut for too many commercial breaks…

“Hey, I Saw That Look, Santa.”

Every year, we take our children to a local Junior League fundraiser called “The Enchanted Forest”. They get the same Santa Clause to come each year and the kids always prepare what one thing they are going to ask Santa for when they see him. Usually Santa smiles and tells them if they are good he will try really hard to get them what they want, as long as they promise not to be disappointed if he’s not able to get them that particular gift. But this year, it didn’t quite flow like that. There was a moment. It was right after my daughter said she would like an iPad Mini. Santa shot me a look – frankly, a very judgmental look. Did I just see that? I was busy videotaping so maybe I was mistaken. But this morning, as I downloaded the video onto my computer, I watched it and waited… Sure enough, right after the iPad Mini wish, there it was… the look. I took a picture of the video on my screen. Do you see it? That is at the exact moment.  If that isn’t a “what type of spoiled children have you raised” type of look, I don’t know what is.  And this coming from Santa. He then proceeded to ask her, “And what would you do with an iPad Mini?” Really, Santa? That’s the most extravagant request you’ve ever received? I know little girls since the dawn of time have been asking you for ponies. Do you know how much a pony costs to buy and house and maintain? A lot more than an iPad Mini, I would hazard a guess.

What’s more, considering you see all the children when they’re sleeping and when they’re awake, and you know when they’ve been bad or good, so how is it possible you missed the conversation I had with my daughter when that particular gift-wish idea came up? Were the elves misbehaving? Did they get into the egg nog a month too early? Or were you busy playing on your own iPad, updating your Facebook Page Status: “Counting down the days ’til Christmas. Busy up here in the North Pole. Always stressful this time of year, even more so with that last round of elf lay-offs.”

Well, whatever you were busy with, let me take a moment to explain what really went down since you apparently missed it. My boys were excitedly getting dressed, talking to each other about what they were going to ask you for, but my daughter was looking forlorn and not joining in. I asked her if she was excited about seeing you and she said that she really wasn’t. She is almost nine, so I thought maybe your magic was wearing off a little for her. So, I asked her to explain what she was feeling. She then said that she was having trouble thinking of what to ask for, because she felt she had everything. Does that sound like a spoiled little girl who believes she deserves the latest and greatest? Huh, Santa? Does it? No, it doesn’t. She is grateful for what she has and is thankful anytime she receives anything. This is someone who, perhaps, despite my best efforts to spoil her, for some reason, manages to stay grounded.  So, I suggested to her, having already thought about what I would like to see on her list, that she ask Santa for an iPad Mini. My idea. Not hers. She even questioned me, thinking it might be a little too much to ask Santa for. Perhaps she knows you, Santa, better than I. Even as she stood in line waiting to go up to see you, she told me later that she was feeling uneasy about asking you for that. So, no, Santa, I don’t think I’ve raised spoiled children.

So, when you squeeze down that chimney this year, and expectantly go in search of that plateful of Sugar Cookies we always leave for you, don’t be surprised to see Oatmeal Raisin instead.  Maybe then you’ll be more careful with your looks and try harder not to judge a child by their wish list. Good thing I didn’t tell you what’s on mine – believe me, you would rather be bringing me a pony.

I See the Light – The Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy

You may have been wondering where I have been for the last two weeks. Well, I’ve been in the dark. Hurricane Sandy wiped out so many huge trees and utility poles that it has taken just shy of two weeks to have my power restored. And I have to say, it nearly broke me. I know others lost their entire homes, or even loved ones, in the storm so I really can’t complain – but I’m going to be a little self-indulgent for a moment.

We have a small generator but due to the electrical configuration of our house, we weren’t able to just hook it up to our electric box. So, we had to pick and choose small things to plug directly into it. We could only plug in one small space heater so we had to pick which room we were going to live out of. Our master bedroom is on the first floor so we chose that one. All five of us and a fish, one bedroom, wall-to-wall mattresses, for thirteen days. We slept in that room. We ate in that room. We played in that room. We did crafts in that room. We got ready for school in that room. The kids watched mommy slowly unravel in that room.

It wasn’t even so much the inconvenience of it all. It was more that one moment we were planning for Halloween and the next moment we’re about a week away from Thanksgiving. I feel like I was in a time warp. One that I couldn’t control. And the way our electric company handled things, there was no communication. No matter how many phone calls you made, it made no difference. And the hard part for me is I don’t like when I’m not in control and I have no plan. If at the outset, someone told me that I was going to be without power for two weeks and that the kids would be out of school for a week but back to school the second week, then I could have had a plan. Maybe we would have left the house and gone to stay with someone. But from the moment the power went out, each day we questioned what the next would bring. Maybe we’ll get power back tomorrow, maybe mid-week, maybe by the weekend, maybe by the following Wednesday at eleven o’clock at night like the automated ConEd service said, or maybe not until the end of the second weekend. There’s no way to plan for that or even to wrap your head around it.

Between the hours of midnight and six in the morning, we would turn the generator off in order to conserve gas. There really wasn’t much sleeping on my part. I had to worry about my eldest son who I usually don’t like him even having a blanket at night because he has trouble with sleep apnea anyway and then he finds a way of wrapping his head in the blanket and I’m terrified he’s not going to be able to breathe. So, I was on constant blanket patrol – making sure the kids didn’t kick the blankets off and freeze, while at the same time not have them burrow too far underneath them. And then if anyone woke up with a need to use the bathroom, I had to be ready with a flashlight, as well as to warm up the toilet seat with layers of paper because it was freezing in there and my eldest son has an aversion to things that feel too cold.  A few nights into it, my son got sick and I had to wake up my husband to hurry and turn the generator back on because I couldn’t see anything and I needed to take care of him. So, to say the least, I was on edge, on edge for thirteen days.

There were two highlights for me though. One, was how, once again, my children showed me how resilient they are. As mommy was becoming a shivering mess, shaking my head, and mumbling to myself, my kids were having a great time with their camp-out/sleep over, where they didn’t have to take showers, and got to eat take-out everyday.  The other highlight was a local community parent networking site on Facebook. It really was what saved me from going over the edge. Where no real information was forthcoming from our electrical company or our town officials, this network of parents was like being part of a stake-out. “Con-Ed crew spotted on Hardscrabble.”  “Copy that. In pursuit of crew.” “Hey, Momma Smith, this is Papa Jones what’s the 10-20 on the crew up on 133?” “No sight of them. Think they saw the mess and cleared straight out. We’re keeping the area under surveillance, though.” “You have the donuts, just in case?” “Roger that, donuts and hot coffee. We’ll deliver the package as soon as we see them set up shop.” “Wait a second. Crew in site. I repeat, crew in site. All moms in vicinity please ready yourselves. We need a round-the-clock onslaught of food delivery. Coffee and donuts are covered, but we’ll need a delivery of pizza at noon, and cookies and hot cider to follow. We can not let this crew get away. This is go-time people.  Keep that food coming.”

Somehow, what a town, whose residents include New York’s Governor Cuomo and former President of the United States Bill Clinton, couldn’t do for me, a band of rogue parents did. This group of moms and dads made me feel empowered. They were literally my lifeline. I knew which streets were still without power. I knew where the crews were working. I knew what gas stations still had gas. I knew what delis were open where I could find food for my kids to eat. I knew which laundromats to go to. I knew that I needed to tell my husband to add oil to the generator. I knew what roads were impassable. And most importantly, I knew I wasn’t in this myself and I knew I wasn’t the only one losing my mind and I knew I wasn’t powerless – I was part of a rabble-rousing group, who tried to break into meetings at the town hall, and made phone calls to the CEO of ConEdison and our State’s Representatives. There was even talk about taking the funds raised for the high school turf field, and suggesting to use it to bury our electric wires so that we didn’t go through this Armageddon again – yes, turf field funds – I know, kick-ass stuff.

And I would be remiss not to mention the out-of-state Pike electrical crews. The one that worked on our road was from Central Florida. They were sleeping in a semi-trailer, as the hotel ConEd wanted to put them up in was two hours away. They were also ill-prepared for our snowstorm and many didn’t have gloves or boots, so neighbors supplemented their supplies where they could. They had traveled many hours to get here to help out, missing out on Halloween with their own kids. And though it must have gotten old after awhile, they were always very appreciative when they received yet another box of donuts from residents.

So, now that my lights are finally back on, I still feel like I’m walking around in shock. What just happened? The town is still a mess with huge trees down all over people’s properties, including my own. My house is a wreck, which I’m still confused about since we only spent time in one room but with freezers to clean out and dishes in the sink and piles of batteries and random blankets and flashlights and the toy box that got dumped out, and then of course the boxes and closets that were strewn about in search of winter clothes I wasn’t prepared for because of the Nor’easter that came through, there’s still a lot of clean up to do. But with Thanksgiving on the horizon, for once I’ll have room in the refrigerator for all the food for the feast since we had to throw everything else out, and I will certainly be ready with my list of what I’m thankful for: for lights, for heat, for hot water, for a sound roof over my head, for the safety and love of my family, for every neighbor that offered me a hot shower (did my hair look that bad?), and for a community, which I’m still relatively new to, that helped me in more ways than they can imagine. And as I drove around the town today doing my usual errands, I saw one lonely orange utility safety cone by the side of the road, with “Pike” written on the side in black marker. It must have been left behind. Those out-of-state workers may be gone but they will never be forgotten. I had half a mind to pick it up and use it as the center piece for my Thanksgiving table this year with a candle stuck in it – it would be very fitting, and it doesn’t hurt that it would go with the color scheme of my holiday decor.

Bracing For Hurricane Sandy

In case we end up being without power for a number of days, as they are predicting, I just wanted to get a quick post in. They’ve already canceled school for Monday and Tuesday. So, besides making sure we are equipped with emergency supplies and enough food and water for a few days, I’m also being diligent about making sure I have things to keep the kids busy. I always like to have a toy or two hidden in my closest to take out for a rainy day – and I think Hurricane Sandy qualifies for that. Currently those items consist of a new board game and video. The new stuff will be my go-to if the kids get scared during the storm, that always works to get their mind off things. I’m also collecting books, other games, and kid-size flashlights. We may be without power for awhile so I’m also making sure all their hand-held video games and my iPad are fully charged.

They are already getting excited for the “sleep-over” we will have, as I like everyone to sleep in the same room during a big storm – otherwise I’m up all night anyway, checking on them all. I’ve put my youngest son in charge of the compass, in order to calculate which part of the house is in the pathway of the wind direction so that we can determine which room we should occupy, as all our rooms in our house have very large windows. It’s never easy getting through a storm with three young kids but thinking ahead and making sure you add to your preparedness plan some diversionary items in case they get scared and some back-to-basics games, books, and toys to keep them from getting bored, cooped up in a house without electricity for a few days, will be well worth your time now.

To all those in the affected area, stay safe!

Good Packaging Isn’t Just For Products

Last night I received an email from a past co-worker’s wife, Cherry. She is a fascinating woman, as a former US Army Aviation Officer and now a mother of three, she has capitalized on her unique background to become an aspiring political thriller author, having written her first manuscript and started on her second. To that end, she has put together a blog in an effort to draw some attention to her novel. As I was giving her marketing advice on the contents of her blog, it got me thinking about everyone’s favorite topic, or maybe just mine – thematic marketing.

Most of my corporate background has been in packaging and presentation, so, now it’s kind of the way I view everything. Companies spend millions of dollars coming up with the right way to display their products in an effort to be attractive to the consumer. And it’s not just about how good something looks, it has to make the consumer think about the product, relate to the product, and ultimately want the product. I used to tell this story when I worked for JPMorgan: When Folgers Coffee was coming up with a new marketing campaign back in the eighties, they hired a firm to do research on consumers to uncover what it was that got people thinking and wanting coffee. They discovered it was the smell of coffee that made people think of family, comfort, home, holidays. So, they changed their advertising theme from “Folgers Crystals…coffee rich enough to be served in America’s finest restaurants”, to  a student returning home from college, and the smell of freshly brewed coffee awakening his parents and alerting them to their son’s arrival – “The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup.”

Advertising has evolved over the years to take advantage of what we know about how the human brain really works, and companies use that to capitalize on the consumers innate desires. Everything associated with a product, the commercial, the jingle, the packaging, the spokesperson, where’s it’s placed in the store, every decision is made around the central goal of what emotional, physical, psychological reaction the company is trying to extract from the consumer upon any interaction with that product.   It’s all tied together.

Consumers are bombarded all day with all sorts of stimuli from all sorts of products throughout their day – the Hallmark commercial that makes you cry, the magazine ad that makes you actually feel “the sensation you get when you bite into a York Peppermint Patty”, or the smell of freshly-brewed coffee.  So, if you are looking to be portrayed as more than just a mom, what marketing techniques are you using to package yourself? Pop stars do it, actors do it, CEOs do it. They decide on an image that they want others to have about them and they package themselves in a way that will evoke that image when others think of them. They do it by the way they dress, where they are seen socially, what causes they volunteer for, what extra-curricular activities they participate in, what products they endorse.  Just like companies do with consumer products, it’s all tied together.

So, how can you do a better job at packaging yourself to influence how you want others to perceive you, or your new hobby or your new business endeavor? First, it starts with how do you want to see yourself. For everyone it’s different, for me, I want to always show that there’s more to me than the part that is a mother. So, at 7:15 in the morning, when I am down at the bus stop with my son and the only people I run into are the four other middle-schoolers at the bus-stop and the female bus driver, I still make sure I’ve taken the five minutes to throw on a pair of jeans, brush my hair, and apply some lipstick. I do it for myself. As rushed and almost out-of-control the mornings seem to be, just by demanding those few minutes for myself, I feel more in control and that I haven’t let the chaos of the situation change who I am.

When it comes to my new endeavor with this blog, I have put a lot of thought into how I wanted to package it as a reflection of the image I want portrayed of myself. I want to be seen as a business-minded woman, who is creative, intelligent, funny, empathetic, intuitive and fun. When I talk about the struggles of being a stay-at-home mom, I make sure to keep those thoughts light and humorous and not whiny. That’s not to say that I haven’t gone “whiny” with friends after  a few cocktails in the game of whose life sucks more, but that’s not who I am, nor who I want to portray myself to be. In the year I took to put the idea of this blog together, I redesigned its structure a dozen times. I kept asking myself, will the reader get what I’m trying to do here, did I lay it out in a way that defines my passion and draws people in, and I would tweak it as I tried to ultimately come up with the design that would give the reader the experience that I wanted to invoke.

Going back to my friend Cherry, the former Army Officer, my advice to her was that she has a great marketing story in her self with her background, which leads right into the product she has created based on that, so, she needs to capitalize on that to its fullest extent within her “packaging”.  Everything in her blog should be written with the intent that she is hoping to get people to want to read her story. Her story is a political thriller about a tough, skilled, yet sexy, former black-ops, now stay-at-home mom who finds herself having to prevent a terrorist attack.  The main character embodies many of Cherry’s own traits. As a novelist, not only are you selling your book, but you’re also selling yourself as the author. So, as I keep saying, everything needs to tie together. In marketing, we call it “touch points”. Every interaction a reader or potential publicist has with Cherry as an author, should be making them think of the product she has written, because with her background, she is her best marketing tool. Every time I write a post, I think to myself, did I tie my “story” back to the theme of my blog in some way, and I advised her to do the same.

I am throwing a “launch party” for my blog in a few weeks. Mostly because I’m always looking for a reason to have a party, but because I’m trying to build back my image of being a creative, business-minded, inspirational woman, I am using this party as another “touch point” in enhancing “my packaging”. Instead of it just being another girls’ cocktail party, I decided to invite a life coach to do a mini-interactive session. I also invited a few “expert guests” to stimulate interesting cocktail conversation, including a fashion stylist, a lifestyle nutritionist, and even a gynecologist who is an author. To me, it’s all about the packaging, and having my guests come away feeling that it was more than just a fun party, it was “an experience”.

So, good packaging isn’t just for products, it’s for people, too. As you continue on your journey of self-rediscovery, think about who you want to be, and how you want to portray yourself.  Then think of all the touch-points that you have at your disposal where you can actively influence not only other people’s perception but also your self-perception of that image you are trying to build or rebuild. It could be as simple as what you wear to the bus stop, or conversation topics for the next cocktail party you attend, or putting a business card together for your new project, or even what PTA committee you want to be a part of, or do you want to lead it.  If a company can reduce you to tears by showing you a make-believe story about a family member reading a mother’s day card, you certainly have the ability, using the same techniques, to sway public opinion about your own image or product. Many of my blog readers don’t know me personally, but just from stories I’ve told, the pictures I’ve posted, the feelings I have stirred in you, as well as the stories I haven’t shared, all tied together, have painted you a picture of the image I want you to see. Everyone has an idea of who they would like to be, who they believe they are and wish others could see, you just need to bring that out in yourself, package it up, and present it.  What’s your marketing plan for your new re-discovered sense-of-self?

For those of you who are interested, you can check out the first few chapters of Cherry’s novel, Smoke – Operation Black Diamond, at her blog www.cherrylaska.com.

What’s Your Recovery Plan?

I think we can all agree that the most important role we have as parents is raising our children, as they are tomorrow’s resources for the world.  But if you are like me, and are saying that’s great and I love that part of my life, but I do have other talents beyond helping with homework, and devising strategies for dealing with peer behaviors on the playground, then hopefully, at some point, you will find the breathing room, to go back to spending some time on your other talents as well. This is all about our journey of trying to recover our sense of self beyond parenthood. The first steps on the journey are to discover what you’re passionate about and then mold that passion into something more concrete. Those steps can be taken in my series of posts under the HUMAN RESOURCES DEPARTMENT – THE ROAD TO SELF-REDISCOVERY. But once you discover your passion, uncover how to be creative in defining that passion within the scope of a job, hobby, or philanthropic effort, it’s time to build the action plan that will lead you toward your recovery. So, whether it’s a goal on your bucket list, a hobby you want to enhance, or a small business idea you’ve been kicking around, building a “Business Plan” can help you move closer to turning your idea into a reality. This positive momentum can help you recover your sense-of-self by allowing you to put some focus on something you are passionate about.

As a former marketing executive, I believe the most important thing you need to establish, to move any idea forward, is your “business” plan. I like to have a plan for everything. We’re taking the kids to the zoo? What’s our plan? It’s a gorgeous weekend day out so we want to have a family outing? What’s our plan? I have to get the house clean before company arrives? What’s my plan? I am a true believer in the adage “those who fail to plan, plan to fail”.  Having a plan, will also help make you more confident in your ability to achieve a successful outcome. Your idea doesn’t have to be something that’s going to make you money in order for you to build a “business plan” around it. It can be a hobby. It can be a volunteer effort. It can be a bucket list.  The steps I’ve taken in the past to create a successful corporate business plan, are the same ones that I am using to build on writing this blog, and the same ones you can use to help build your plan to help recover your sense-of-self. You basically want a plan to help you take your idea, dissect it, and then build up each aspect of it, so you can turn it into a reality. Here are four basic steps to help you build yourself a good “Business Plan” for your Recovery:

YOUR EXECUTIVE SUMMARY – You want to take all the work you did in my HUMAN RESOURCES DEPARTMENT, and write out a Mission Statement. You want to state what your main goal/purpose/idea is. You want to include your talents, experience, background, and decisions that led you to want to start this endeavour. You want to discuss how you plan to make this idea go from a passive idea to an active one. For example: It’s not just that I like to write. I would include the experience I have had in writing, as well as summarize my idea of writing within a blog format, and discuss the theme of the blog. You also want to include a brief Market Analysis here. Why is there a need for your idea and where would it fit in. That could be within your family, or your friends, or your community, or even on a larger scale. And then you want to finish this section with what your Future Plans are. This is where you would briefly detail where you see your idea going. You want to describe how you see your idea growing within the context of the ultimate vision of your goal.

YOUR STRATEGIC FOCUS – If your idea lends itself to a Target Market, this is where you want to really flesh out what that market looks like. You want to delve into their distinguishing characteristics, their demographics, and their needs. Most of my career has been based on Target Marketing, so I am a huge believer in coming up with a niche and building that into a real strength. For me, I’m thinking about who I want to target as readers for my blog. If your idea is to become a dog-sitter, then your target market would be the type of families who travel a lot and don’t like the idea of kennels. If your idea is to go mountain climbing, your target market could be looking for adventure groups with members within a similar demographic as you.  So, how does your idea fit into a group, what does that group look like, and where are the places you would you find that group.  Under your Strategic Focus, you will want to include your Market Research. You don’t want to reinvent the wheel for two reasons. If there are ways that other people have found to take a similar idea and put it into action, then  you should familiarize yourself with those ways. Also, you want to make the “wheel” you’re inventing have characteristics that you like in similar “wheels” but you also want to make sure you know the competition and ensure, if need be, that your “wheel” is distinct and different than others that are out there. If your idea is to join a volunteer organization, here is where you want to discuss the organizations you have looked at, the pros and cons of each, perhaps the feedback you have received, all leading up to why you have decided on your ultimate choice.

YOUR IMPLEMENTATION STRATEGY– Here’s where you take your mission statement, and apply your Target Market and Market Research to it, in order to come up with Actionable Steps. You want to outline the  steps you are taking to turn your passive idea of a goal into a reality. Through step one and step two, you have really dissected your idea and taken a look at all the angles, and now with a full-picture of it in your head, you can outline your plan. You also might want to include a general time-line, making it flexible enough to take into account all your other day-to-day responsibilities that will continue to be on-going.

YOUR MARKETING STRATEGY – So, you’ve put your idea into action, but it doesn’t fully take on the purpose of helping you recover your sense-of-self, if you don’t communicate out this new side of yourself. For many people that’s when you really feel the change. For example, it’s great that I’ve finally started my blog and made it public, but a marketing strategy will bring more readers and turn my idea into something even more substantial that I can feel good about. So, depending on what your idea is, will determine how substantial your Marketing Strategy should be. It could include a strategy on further penetrating your target market. It could include your strategy on how you plan on growing your audience.  It could also include a strategy on how you plan on distributing or diseminating your idea, getting it out there. You then want to outline your Communication Strategy. This could be as simple as posting on Facebook, your plan to achieve one of your goals on your bucket list. It could be a plan to post flyers at your local library letting people know the new service you can provide. It could be your plan to have a family meeting and talk to the kids about doing more around the house so that you can spend more time on your painting that you plan on submitting to a local art show at the end of the year. Or it could be as involved as a strategy that involves promotions, advertising, public relations, personal selling, and getting your idea to come up on google searches.

Now that you have your Business Plan, you need to keep it somewhere handy so that you can refer back to it and make sure you’re keeping yourself on track. It’s your set of instructions on how to go about your own recovery plan. By putting it in black and white, it makes it doable. When you find yourself becoming doubtful or overwhelmed, go back to it and remember you designed your plan with the ultimate vision that it would be successful, so have faith in it and, in turn, faith in yourself.

It’s time to get out of your head and all the wishful thinking and all the frustrations and make your move forward. Scientifically momentum is mass times velocity. The more substantial or thought-out your idea is, combined with how fast and in what direction you are making that idea a reality, the more momentum towards success your idea will have. What is your Recovery Plan going to look like?