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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…

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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.

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?

How “Phat” Are You?

I started off this morning writing a blog about having a business plan for success. But I ending up going on such a tangent that I thought it best to let this be a post in itself. Now, if you’ve read most of my other posts, you’ll see how important the titles of my blog posts are to me – that’s my marketing side coming out. If possible, I like to come up with my title first and that gives me an idea about where I want to go with my idea. My first title doesn’t always stick, but at least, it gives me a starting point.  For instance, for the post I started to write, I thought I would do a play off of the urban slang word “business”. With there being no place less “urban” than Westchester County, I like to consult the urban dictionary – the true experts – just to make sure I’m using the word correctly. Good thing I did, because what I hadn’t realized is that the urban slang for “business” is actually what us mommy’s like to call “going number two”.  Now, after having three children, I can probably tell you more about “going number two”, than most people. When my 8 year-old-daughter was a baby, if you didn’t get her out of her crib fast enough when she woke up, you would be greeted by a smiling baby girl, standing up holding onto the rails with her diaper half pulled off and “number two” smeared all over her crib. She was always very proud of her creation, not surprisingly she is growing up to be quite the artist.  However, since that wasn’t supposed to be the focus of the post I was trying to write, I thought I would go with a different title there.

What it did tell me was that I better be doing some serious reading of my urban dictionary before my kids get to high school, because apparently I’m a lot less “cool” than I thought – and I don’t even think they use the word “cool” anymore. In fact, in an effort to appear more hip, I thought maybe I would use the word “phat” – even though a “mature” mother of three doesn’t like to be called “phat” no matter how you spell it – but I thought I better look it up first. Ahh, I’m not that out of touch, the first definition to the word “phat” is “cool”. I knew it. But wait, here’s something i didn’t know. Did you know that “phat” actually stands for “pretty hot and tempting”? I never knew that. After reading that, I’m thinking, I guess if anyone would, per chance, want to call me “phat”, I suppose I could live with it sounding like that “other” word. At 7:30 in the morning, in my long, wrap-around Ralph Lauren sweater, fuzzy Ugg slippers, cup of Cinnamon Dolce coffee, and bowl of oatmeal, I’m starting to feel more urban than ever, as I take pride in the fact that I am indeed down with the kids’ slang.

But then I read definition number two, which I will reproduce verbatim here from my handy Urban Dictionary.  It states, “The problem with “phat” is that it is no longer in really. It has kind of phased out and is mostly used by wannabes, lowerclassmen in high school, or middle schoolers. It is now considered a slang faux pas. I wouldn’t use it if I was you.” It goes on to say that “phat” got “old” in the late 90s. What? The slang I was already too old to be using, was already “out” over a decade ago? Can you imagine ten years from now when my kids are in high school, how totally lame/uncool/not phat I’m going to be to them then? What a rude awakening I am having this early on a Sunday morning – I’m going to need more coffee.

But just as I am having a complete middle-aged moment, I decide to see what my urban “bible” would say if I looked up my original word “cool”.  Perhaps it would give me insight into what ridiculous acronym I’m supposed to be using.  And here’s what it said, “The word “cool” is the best way to say something is neat-o, awesome, or swell. The phrase “cool” is very relaxed, never goes out of style, and people will never laugh at you for using it.”  Well, thank goodness for that. Nothing to worry about here, folks.  You can all go about your business (and to be clear, I don’t mean the aforementioned slang word for business). I am happy to state, that I guess I am still pretty “cool” after all… for shizzle.

Field Trippin

Being a stay-at-home mom means you have more opportunities to go on field trips with your children’s classes. That can be a blessing and a curse. I just went to a local working farm today with my youngest son’s second-grade class. We were to meet in the classroom before boarding the bus. As I walked in, I immediately questioned my decision to wake up early to curl my hair, looking around at the group of seven-year-olds and wondering if half of them had even brushed their hair that morning. Apparently they weren’t seeing this trip as the social event that I was – they perhaps get out of the house more than I do. The teacher asked us to all put name tags on our coats – which was fine, but then they didn’t stick, so I had to scotch tape it onto my quilted jacket. It took four pieces of tape, let me tell you, it wasn’t an attractive look.

Next, all the kids had to pair up with a bus partner. My son’s choice had picked someone else. I took one look at him and I knew he was upset. So, I jumped in and said that I would like him to sit with me. Little did I know, that meant sitting where my son wanted us to sit, all the way in the back of the bus. I don’t know when the last time you sat in the back of a school bus was, but what might have seemed fun thirty years ago, is just a miserable experience now. I have to believe there are no shock absorbers back there, then you get thrown around, the noise is deafening, and all-in-all, you just feel completely car sick – how old do I sound? Half-way there, I see it has started to rain – so much for the hair. We finally get off the bus and it is now cold and rainy. Perfect day for a trip to the farm, because who doesn’t love mud – oh, that’s right, I don’t.

As a chaperone, you play a fine line – trying to keep the kids from misbehaving while not embarrassing your own child. So, the trick is, you talk sternly to the errant student, saying “Tommy (names here have been changed to protect the innocent or not so innocent), don’t try to pull that feather out of the chicken,” but then when “Tommy” turns and looks at you like “who do you think you are, you’re neither my mother, nor my teacher”, the key is just to smile. That way, you confuse him – did she really just yell at me or was I just imagining it – and while this thought process is going on in his head, I have successfully distracted him from the feather pulling, while not having my son think I’m being mean to his friend.

As I’m wondering if the teacher thinks I’m just doing a fabulous job as chaperone, though I’m pretty sure she hasn’t even noticed how great I am at it, one of those moments happen that you’re hoping actually goes unnoticed. We were in a barn, listening to our guide, Vicky, who, by the way, got annoyed when the kids asked questions – what’s that about – but anyway, that’s when the moment happened. I am standing next to my son and one of his little girl classmates, when all of a sudden a barn swallow flies right at my head. All I hear is the rapid fluttering of the wings. Now, I’m sorry, but to me when you hear something like that, you just go into survival mode.  Being a mother, luckily you never lose your inherent instinct to keep your child safe, even when your own safety is in jeopardy, but apparently that doesn’t hold true with someone else’s kid.  Feeling that bird descend on me, I immediately panicked, stepped in front of my child while grabbing the other student, pulling her towards me, as I attempted to use her as a human shield. The threat passed almost as quickly as it appeared, and no harm was done to either myself or to the little girl who I hid behind, but she whipped around and glared at me like what the heck was I doing. Once again, I thought it best to use my diversionary tactic and smiled back at her. She just shook her head – so much for thinking I was going to go down as one of the best chaperones ever.

My feet are now freezing, my scotch-taped name tag has fallen off, I believe my mascara has run a little in the rain, and let’s not even talk about the state of my hair.  Just as I think about my working-mom friends who are warmly sitting at their office desks, hair neatly coifed, my son comes up to me and puts his hand in mine, as he excitedly wants to show me the piglets. This is the blessing part. A blessing, even as I have to watch the other boys think it’s cool to purposely step in a big pile of fresh cow manure. The same boys, on the return trip to school,  I will have to sit next to in the back of the bus. And by the way, as soon as the trip was over and the bus pulled into the school yard, of course, the sun came out.

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Building Courage From Encouragement

I don’t know about you, I can talk a good game but when it comes down to it, it’s easy to get in my own way.  I come up with an idea. I expand it and then I stuff it with more. Then, I proudly declare my intentions and seek out feedback. But all the while, I’m expecting the feedback I receive will really just prove that my subconscious doubts are actually justified. Whatever my aspirations, I’m inherently waiting to be talked out of it. Why? Because it’s that age-old, if you don’t try, you don’t fail. You sort of lose sight of the fact, if you don’t try, you never succeed either. It’s the constant struggle of wanting to be strong, wanting to believe in yourself and your ideas, but then constantly worrying if you have the courage to go through with it, and risk not being good enough. Like the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of OZ:

Cowardly Lion: “All right, I’ll go in there for Dorothy. Wicked Witch or no Wicked Witch, guards or no guards, I’ll tear them apart. I may not come out alive, but I’m going in there. There’s only one thing I want you fellows to do.”
Tin WoodsmanScarecrow: “What’s that?”
Cowardly Lion: “Talk me out of it!”

Over the last few years, I’ve started a few novels, written a few songs, come up with a few product ideas. Through all my start-up initiatives, instead of building on the momentum of the encouragement I received, I would drop the idea for the first person who wanted to talk me out of it. I sat on the idea for this blog for a year, only sharing my thoughts with a select few. One day I would be full of confidence, but then the next I would start to doubt myself and want to quit. But then, one afternoon, I was talking about my blog to a  random acquaintance and she was very encouraging. Maybe it was because I felt she wasn’t obligated to be nice, or maybe I was finally ready to accept it, but things changed for me that day. I started building courage from encouragement, instead of dismissing it.

Not all of us our courageous innately. For instance, one morning I spent a good hour on top of the center island counter in our kitchen having a stare down with a mouse who kept peeking his head out of the pantry – neither one of us willing to make the first move. So, where do we get our courage from when we aren’t feeling brave enough to believe in our own talents? The Wizard of Oz didn’t give the Cowardly Lion a magic potion to drink, he gave him a medal. He gave him a symbol of encouragement. He was saying that he believed the lion had it in him. And instead of the Lion questioning why getting a medal on the end of a ribbon would all of a sudden make him have courage, he chose to accept that the Wizard really saw him as being brave.

So, on your journey of rediscovering your self and your inner passions, you have to open yourself up to building your courage from the encouragement you receive from your friends, family and peers. Hear the words when someone is complimenting you or what you’re doing, and instead of seeking out the naysayer, tune them out.  Allow your friends to help build you up, but then you need to believe that “medal of courage” means you really are “brave”. The Cowardly Lion didn’t need the Wizard to remind him every day in his belief in him. He took the Wizard’s encouragement and built it into a belief in himself. So now, I bestow on you, you’re own medal of courage.  And I repeat the words the Wizard of Oz proclaimed to the Cowardly Lion, “You are now a member of the legion of courage”. Now build on that and go out and become your own “king of the forest – not queen, not duke, not prince.”

(Image and quotes from Warner Bros. Pictures)

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People Pleaser Pitfalls

© Jacekplacek1977 | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos, http://www.stockfreeimages.com/

I have to say I’ve always been a people pleaser. Perhaps it was growing up as one of seven kids and my parents drilling into us “if you can’t play together, you’ll work together”.  So, in an effort to avoid weeding the garden, I always made that extra effort to get along with my siblings. But whether you were brought up that way or not, becoming a people pleaser just comes with the territory when you become a mother.  You get so used to feeding someone else, bathing them, changing them, walking them up and down the hallway in the middle of the night, just to get them to stop crying. Do that for a couple of years, combined with what’s probably in a woman’s DNA, and you get used to wanting to help others, wanting to make others happy. However,  there are pitfalls to being too much of a people pleaser. I know at times, I’m guilty of pushing it to the extreme and that’s when it can become a bit of a problem.

I’ve always been the type of person who wants to come across as a very engaged listener. People like to be heard. People like to be agreed with. It pleases them. If the discussion is about a topic that requires an opinion, and I have a strong one, then I will usually voice my side whether it makes the other person happy or not. But, if the discussion is just about day to day things, then I become a head nodder. I just like to agree. Cold out? Sure. Getting late? You bet.  As a people pleaser, I like to head nod even when I don’t really hear what the person has said which can lead to a classic pitfall.

I ran into an acquaintance at the gym about a year ago. It was a little noisy, she was talking about something, I was nodding. Then she asked me, “You’re ___ like me, right?” I couldn’t make out one of the words she said, but I went along with it and said, “Yup. Yeah, I am.” But then, you know when you walk away from a conversation and that’s when it comes to you, you’re able to fill in the blank. Well, as I walked out of the gym, I thought to myself, “I think I just agreed that I was Jewish.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I’m not an overly religious person either way, but if you’ve seen my post on how I decorate for the holidays, you would see that I am Catholic. I didn’t think much of it, I don’t run into this woman all that much anyway. But shortly thereafter, I saw her in a department store, and it happened to be the day before a Jewish holiday. I can barely keep my own holy days straight, so I wasn’t sure what this particular day represented in the Jewish faith. I panicked. I tried to skip the aisles she was in, avoid eye contact at all costs, make her think I didn’t see her. Because it just would have been an awkward conversation, ” No, I’m actually not going to temple tomorrow because even though when you asked me if I was Jewish and I said I was, I’m really not.” If I had only asked her to repeat herself when we first had the conversation, she wouldn’t have cared one way or the other what my response was, but now to fix the situation it would just be messy all the way around.

I successfully avoided her that time, but then a few months later, I ran into her again, in December of all months. Turned a corner, face to face, no chance of avoidance. The store, dripping with holiday decor, pretty much insured that there would be no way something wasn’t going to be mentioned. And sure enough… She talked about how she had just moved a town away and how over-the-top the Christmas decorations on everyone’s lawns were and how it was just annoying – she said, “You know how annoying it can be.” So, here’s my chance to set the record straight. Clear up the miscommunication once and for all. Secretly knowing, I myself had a giant blow-up Santa on my front porch, complete with eight, tiny reindeer. But, once again, I found myself nodding in agreement. We wished each other a Happy Chanukah and went on our way.

So, though it’s a nice attribute to want to make others happy or comfortable, there has to be limits. There has to be limits with our kids and there has to be limits with our peers. I have essentially converted religions for a mere acquaintance, albeit, it’s just for a fleeting few moments when I run into her a couple times a year, but still. Now, I try to be less quick with my head nods and ask people to repeat themselves before I respond if I’ve missed something that they said. It’s much better if you try to be true to yourself and not worry so much about pleasing others because you just end up digging yourself deeper and deeper into a hole. We’ve all had those moments where we are over-scheduled but someone asks you for a favor so you automatically say yes, without thinking about whether you’ll be able to get your own stuff done. I’m not saying don’t be helpful, we all want to treat people the way we would like to be treated ourselves, but you just have to make sure you don’t do it to a fault. Your friend will understand if you have to pass every once in awhile. As mothers, in order to avoid those people pleaser pitfalls, we just need to take a step back from automatically saying yes all the time, and actually think before answering. If we can do that, we can still please people, while hopefully staying true to ourselves.

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Beware of “The Year of No”

While I was out last night with some friends, another mutual friend came up to us and when we asked her what she had been up to, she proclaimed that she was just coming off “a year of no”.  No volunteering. No PTA. No tennis groups. “Can you?” No. “Would you?” No. “Just one?” No. Having gone through a year of no myself, I have to say it can be really quite liberating. You hear that word so often from your children and so rarely have the opportunity to use it yourself, when it comes as an answer to a task request. Our kids are great at it: “Can you clean your room?” No. “Can you take out the garbage?” No. “Can you finish your homework?” No. “Can you turn off the t.v.?” No. But when we’re asked, “Can you make me something to eat?’ “Can you wash my favorite pants?” “Can you drive me to soccer practice?”, though we would like to say “no”, our answer usually is the obligatory “yes”. And when that overflows to volunteer activities, many times we get sucked into the same mode. “Can you help out at the book fair?” “Can you run the carpool?” “Can you head up the coat drive?” At first, you appreciate having something to do while the kids are at school. But pretty soon, if you’re not careful, when you say “yes” too often, you find yourself spending your time doing things that you’re not passionate about, albeit they’re all good causes.  Even if you wanted to try to come up with a way to discover what your inner passion would be, you have no time to explore it. Sometimes, when you go too far to the left with “Yes”, then you find yourself wanting to go far right with “No”, and that’s when you can find yourself experiencing the sabbatical called “The Year of No”.

If you’re the type of person who has trouble saying no, then perhaps the only way you can make yourself say it is to draw a firm line in the sand and just make “no” your blanket statement. That way you don’t even have to think about your answer, start to feel guilty and then perhaps change your mind. Usually when you have something personal on your plate that you know you have to spend time on, you get terrified of over-committing yourself. So then, you feel the only way to ensure you don’t say yes to too much is to go with “no” across the board. This is what happened to me a few years ago when we moved houses. I knew packing and unpacking and decorating and getting the kids assimilated into a new school, would take up much of my time, so that is when I entered my “year of no”.

Having time off from outside obligations and being able to just concentrate on your family, can be a good thing at times. But what no one tells you, which is what I want to tell you today, is that when you say “no” too often, after a while people stop asking. And initially you think that’s a good thing because it takes the pressure off, but the problem happens when you find yourself wanting to be finished with your “year of no”.  That’s when you may find out that maybe no one is around anymore. And that can be a lonely place to be. After my “year of no”, my friends stopped asking me to go out places, because they had come to expect my answer was going to be no. I didn’t get the emails to help out at the book fair. The coat drive ran fine without me.  The friend I was speaking with last night was going through the same thing coming off her “year of no”. She said, “Now that I’m ready to get back in the mix, no one is calling me anymore. I find that I’m having a hard time even finding someone to play tennis with.”

So, the moral of this story is though it’s perfectly o.k. and good for your state-of-mind to find a way to feel as comfortable saying “no” as you do to saying “yes”, be careful of making blanket statements of “no” for such a length of time that would make people start expecting that as your answer. You never want to pigeon-hole yourself in a way that it is hard to break back in when you’re ready to come back. So, mix it up a little. Pick one or two things within each of your social groups (friends, school community, town community), that you think you can fit into your schedule during your “hiatus”, and start off the year knowing that when those things come up, you will say “yes” to them. Schedule in time to check in with your friends, even if it is to comment on their Facebook page, or send a quick text, “Still trying to get my head above water, but looking forward to getting together next month.” Keep the lines of communication open and don’t let people forget about you. If you need a “Year of No” once in awhile, just turn it into a “Year of No, But With Some Specifically Designated and Well-thought Out Times of Yes”.  That way, when the pressure has eased, and you’re ready to jump back in, you don’t find the pool closed and have to struggle to reopen it again.

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A Homespun Labor Day Carnival

It’s 7:00a.m., Labor Day morning, and the kids come running downstairs excited for the holiday. Now, what I would find exciting is being able to sleep in on such a holiday. But from what I hear, that doesn’t come until the kids are much older. The questions abound, “What even is Labor Day, mommy?” “How are we going to celebrate it, Mommy?” Mustering up all of my energy having just been woken up I respond, “Labor Day celebrates people who work and it gives them the day off.” “Oh, like Daddy,” responds my youngest. And here we go again. “Well, Mommy works, too, honey,” I say with a forced smile on my face. “You do?” they all chime in with disbelief. “Doing laundry, and making meals, and cleaning up after the three of you, isn’t exactly playtime, now is it, little ones,” I say in a voice that sounds unusually like Johnny Dep’s psychologically depraved depiction of Willy Wonka. Now realization shows on their face. They’ve heard this before and it’s a road they are smart enough to know they don’t want to travel down again, so they quickly move onto their second question. “So, what are we going to do?” “Well, if we had a house in the Hamptons, I guess we would be celebrating it with a barbeque on the beach and watching the fireworks, but since this is not the case, I guess I’ll come up with something else.” As the kids get older, every holiday is a crapshoot. You never know what’s in vogue now until it comes upon you. Who knew this year would bring about such a keen interest in celebrating Labor Day. God knows what next year’s Groundhog Day may bring.

But, not wanting to disappoint my children, I climb out of bed and quickly get to work. And as always, I’m a theme thinker. Come up with a theme and everything else will fall into place. What can I pull together in a few hours that will be deemed big enough to celebrate the fact that daddy has off from work. I don’t remember Labor Day being any big deal when I schlepped into the city, working long days only to come home to crying babies – but I digress…

Let’s get back to the first step:  THEME. O.K. Labor Day makes you think of hometowns and parades, which makes you think of community get-togethers and American symbols like Apple Pie. When I think about Apple Pie and childhood fun, I think of pie-eating contests. Where can you find a pie-eating contest? At a carnival. Bingo. I have my theme. Now everything falls into place.

The next step is ACTIVITIES. I start to make a list of all the activities I can imagine at a carnival while I’m thinking of the items we have around the house that we can utilize for these activities.So, I know we have miniature golf, I know we have horse-shoes and lawn darts, I know we have ladder-ball. Then I hunt around in the basement, garage and playroom for items that can generate ideas for additional activities. I find Toss Across.  I find a magnetic fishing game.  A life-size, card-board, character cut-out for photo ops. I add those to the list of activities. Then I come across water balloons. What could we do with that. I guess in celebration of the fact that daddy “works” and mommy doesn’t, we could blindfold daddy and let the kids throw water balloons at him. That makes me smile. This is getting fun.

Now, I move onto AMBIANCE. What else could make this feel like a real carnival. Face painting. Tattoos.  A kissing booth. Tickets. Prizes.  I make a list of things to quickly run out and buy at the party store down the street. And I always like to have theme music for my parties. So, I download Carnival music onto my iPod. You also can’t forget thematic food. Ice Cream. Popcorn. Hot Dogs.

Once I have the party plan worked out, now it’s time to get the kids involved. I go over the plan with them and they all choose activities they want to help with. My daughter wants to do the face painting, as she is the artist in the family. My youngest son wants to be in charge of handing out the ice cream – which I didn’t realize, and good thing he pointed it out to me, would require us to add a mustache to the list of items to purchase, as ice cream vendors at carnivals always have mustaches, apparently. And my eldest son would run the kissing booth, but he would be allowed to determine if he wanted to give out a kiss or a high-five depending on who the ticket holder was, his mommy or his brother for example.  He was also very keen on helping with the water balloons to throw at daddy. But he smartly thought it best for us to keep that activity a surprise until it was time for it to happen. I love surprises.

We did our shopping, collected all of our items and then set up the activities around the back yard. With mustaches on, tickets in hand, and the sound of the carnival organ playing loudly on the sound system, our Homespun Labor Day Carnival was about to begin. The kids had a great time. They said it felt just like a real carnival. And the water balloon surprise activity was a big hit. The kids and I could have done that one all day. Luckily, daddy was a good sport about it.

You can turn any holiday into a last minute party. All you need is a theme, some imagination, and kids who just want to have fun.

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House Party – the Real Housewive’s way

When NBC started airing the “Real Housewives” reruns in the afternoon, right during the time I’m usually at the gym looking for something to watch – I got hooked. Not because of the drama. Not because of the entertainment value. But for two reasons only. One, being a housewife myself, I love to watch a show that denotes a “real housewife” whose important duties have nothing to do with cooking, cleaning, or rearing children. How great is that? And my second reason is for the fabulous parties they throw. Which brings me to today’s blog.

In October of last year we moved into a new house. Just about nine months later, we have finally sold our old house. In this housing market, no longer having to carry two houses, well, that calls for a party. And not just any party. I want to throw a party fit for a “Real Housewife”.  So, I am going to bring you on that journey with me.

Step One: The Germination Phase.

The seed must be planted from which the party blooms. The seed can be a theme, a venue, or it can be the entertainment. For me, I found my seed when I went into the city to see the Black Eyed Peas perform a benefit concert in Central Park. The concert was canceled due to weather conditions, so I found myself at the Prohibition Bar on Columbus Ave. The bar band consisted of two brothers, one on the electric guitar and one playing a drum-like box.  They were so good, so versatile, so charming, as they tried to fake a few Black Eyed Peas songs just so we didn’t go home empty handed. I had found my seed. A hip, eclectic duo direct from a NYC club – yeah, I can build a party around that.

The most important thing during the germination phase, in order to make your party unique, is to think outside the box and not be afraid to think big. When I saw The Doyle Brothers play, they had just announced that they had won a contest to go to England to perform in a concert as the opening act for Sir Paul McCartney. Others may have shied away from asking them to then come out to “the country” and play at a house party, but I remembered someone once told me that it never hurts to ask (which it actually does, by the way, when the response is no), but luckily, they said “yes”!

Step Two: The Nurturing Phase. I had the entertainment, now I had to supply all the things necessary for the party to grow. To do this, I looked at 3 things: Gregarious Guests,  Palate Pleasers, and Amazing Ambience.

Gregarious Guests were easy. I had two towns of people to pick from. I had a lot of friends from my old town that I knew would come just because the invitation said “party” on it. And they did not disappoint, turning beer bottle bands into fashionable bracelets for themselves. My new town was a little bit more difficult. I didn’t know a lot of my new neighbors yet. So, I turned to one of the more popular neighbors on the block and asked her for a list of people she deemed fun enough for me to invite to my party. She really helped me out, though she drew the line at my recon mission of  trying to obtain a list of  potential “the band is too loud” 9-1-1 callers to invite as a preemptory strike.

Palate Pleasers came in the form of a professional catering service, as I have never pretended in any way that I know how to function in what I believe some people call a kitchen – for me it’s a place to store and warm up pre-cooked meals. Two things to remember when it comes to caterers: use one that a friend recommends and has used before and has been happy with (limits your worries), and secondly, make sure that the food selections you make all can be eaten delicately without ruining your lipstick, getting in your teeth, or dripping on your outfit.  Make sure those “Pleasures” stay in the middle range of your palate – don’t go too downtown with pigs in a blanket, nor too uptown with truffles. You don’t want food that would be served at a bad wedding, nor food that your guests can’t pronounce or identify.

That just leaves me with Amazing Ambience. Seems simple enough, I already had the music so, just turn down the lights. But alas, if only it were that easy. A party is nothing without lights, color, or the combination: colored lighting.  Somehow I needed to turn my country colonial home into a New York City nightclub. I began to think I had gone slightly overboard with this idea as I forced my sister to climb on the roof of our house to change out our flood lights to blue. I would have sent my husband up there, but our extension ladder had been purchased at a tag sale and was not quite stable. As close as I am to my sister, if the ladder were to give way, leaving my children without an aunt was slightly preferable over leaving them without a father. Luckily, with a few minor scares, she was able to revamp the lighting and climb down safely, all the while vowing never to offer her assistance in my “over-the-top”, “ridiculous party ideas”, again. Though I’m not really sure where she was coming from with that. I did get my husband up on a slightly smaller ladder, in order to change out all

our lights to pink in our twenty-foot, living-room ceiling. I then had a great idea to do colored uplighting under glass tables to give a real nightclub feel. Since it  was an indoor/outdoor summer party, I had our outdoor glass dining table aglow in a soft blue hue. I figured we would  have our stationary hors d’oeuvres set out there in the middle of the party. Note to self: when you have a lighted table with food on it, at night, the bugs that it attracts is horrifying, So, that particular, incredibly awesome idea, turned into an empty table glowing in the middle of our backyard. But still, a nice affect….

And because my background is in marketing and putting together pretty packaging, the devil is definitely in the details. A signature drink was a must and it had to coordinate with the overall ambience. So, it was light pink with glowing, light-up mixing sticks.

Step Three: The Bloom. Then you just have to let things unfold, and flourish under the weeks and weeks of planning that you put into an evening that lasts just four hours. Of course, it turned out we had a heat wave that day so everyone was dripping with sweat, and I forgot that when you’re the hostess, you don’t actually hear the music that the band is playing, or get to taste much of the food, or remember to take pictures of the actual event, because you’re making sure everyone else is enjoying themselves. Just all of a sudden, the party is over.  So, was it a party that rivaled the soirees of the Real Housewives? I’m not sure about that, but it was definitely a night to be remembered, that is, if I could remember all of it…

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