Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Who Needs New Year's Resolutions?

Tired of never quite fulfilling that list of New Year's resolutions you made a year ago today? Me
too. I can safely say that I very rarely achieve any of my New Year's resolutions. I am the queen of partial achievement. Last year I resolved to not be late, ever. That did not work out so well given that I am always running at least 5 minutes late.

However, I did manage to consistently not be late for my staff and team meetings at work for an entire year. For me that is a major accomplishment and a baby step on the way to running 5 minutes early.

This year resolutions are passe. It's all about goals. Goals are more realistic and much more achievable. Plus with goals, if you don't quite reach the full goal you have at least made great progress toward your final goal. Resolutions can be an endless list. Goals, however, have limits and can be quite broad. I'm limiting myself to three goals this year:
  1. Running the annual Brian Kraft 5K race in under 30 minutes.
  2. Cutting back on my sugar intake.
  3. Expanding my vegetable garden to grow a few more herbs and vegetables this summer (if summer ever arrives).
See how easy that is?! Three spacious, achievable, and good-for-you goals for 2013. 

If I did have a resolution this year it would be to escape the 30 below zero cold and move to Puerto Rico. Again proving that my resolutions are unattainable. Just think goals, not resolutions this year and perhaps you will have obtainable goals instead of unrealistic resolutions. 

I wish you a few doable goals and a very happy night ringing in 2014. 
Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Top 2013 Chic Mom Blog Posts

Despite having statistical data devices on this blog, I remain incredibly bad at using statistics. I've given up trying to figure out the top "most viewed" blog posts for 2013. Instead, you get a quick rundown of my favorite 2013 blog posts.

Although some of these posts may not have received a bunch of comments, I did receive lots of feedback from you my readers on these posts via email and Facebook. Enjoy!

  1. At last, the final chapter of my year-long washing machine saga. Naive Washing Machine Owner or Lazy Repairman? 
  2. I still do not understand why teenage boys in Minnesota will not wear a coat during the winter months. Too Cool for Sub-Zero
  3. The recipe that I will never again attempt. My (Disgusting) Sunday Diversion
  4. A tribute to three legends: The Legacy of Three Iconic Ladies
  5. Nothing like adding a little controversy into the mix. Egg Freezing: Not Really Stopping the Clock
  6. What did I do with all of that time?  Or What I Miss About My Former Life as a Housewife
  7. Minnesota Target stores now have swimsuits on the racks in late December. Rushing yet another season? Back to School in July?
  8. This controversy continues in Saudi Arabia. Look for more posts on this subject in 2014. Saudi Women Defy Driving Ban
  9. Boys and their footballs, Beats headphones, gaming stations, and looms. Coming to a Kitchen Table Near You
  10. Creativity is always good thing. Why Art Matters

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Christmas Carols: The Classics and the Duds

As ubiquitous as twinkle lights and candy canes, Christmas carols permeate the subconscious. I feel like I've listened to different variations of the same dozen Christmas songs over and over again. Last night, while driving around in yet another snow squall on slippery streets, and listening to yet another vocal rendition of Sleigh Ride, the kids asked why no one has come out with a fresh, new and lasting Christmas carol in decades, and why the old "stand-by" Christmas tunes have become classics? Good questions. 

Does anybody have an answer?

Here's my short list of some popular, favorite Christmas songs that have been played for as long as I can remember:
  • Bing Crosby. White Christmas (1954)
  • Brenda Lee. Rockn' Around the Christmas Tree (1958)
  • Andy Williams. It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (1963)
  • Gene Autry. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1949)
  • Bobby Helms. Jingle Bell Rock (1957)
  • Nat King Cole. The Christmas Song or Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire (1946)
  • Leroy Anderson and the Boston Pops Orchestra. Sleigh Ride (1946) Written during a heat wave!
  • Eartha Kitt. Santa Baby (1953)
  • All the Christmas tunes from Charles Schultz. Peanuts Christmas Special (1965)
What do all of these Christmas songs have in common? All I can come up with is that they are older than me (1946-1965), and they were sung by people with really interesting first names. How many Eartha's, Nat's or Bing's do you know? Maybe it's just that they have that old finesse.

Post 1965 Christmas music has only brought us Jose Feliciano's Feliz Navidad, Wham's Last Christmas, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, the electronic compositions of Mannheim Steamroller, many popular artists (and not-so-popular artists like Aaron Neville) singing their own versions of these Christmas classics, oddly the "Sound of Music" show tune A Few of My Favorite Things, and a particularly horrible and sad song titled The Christmas Shoes by a Christian rock group NewSong. (Do not listen to this song unless you want to become immediately and incredibly depressed.) At least The Christmas Shoes hasn't been heard on the Minneapolis-St. Paul airwaves yet this year.

Whether you listen to Christmas tunes or not this holiday season, I Wish You a Merry Christmas (and not the soulful rendition sung by Aaron Neville).

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Stress-Free Plan for the Holidays

Now that my entire family and extended family has survived a nasty bout of the Thanksgiving Day stomach flu, I feel it is safe to move onto the next holiday on the docket—Christmas. This year Christmas has snuck up on me and has a completely different feel. Perhaps because this is the first Christmas in many years that I cannot devote entire days to baking or decorating or Christmas shopping. Instead my days are consumed by the best gift I received last year, my job!

Working during the day, commuting to and from work in the snow on icy streets, and shuttling kids around in the evenings does not leave much time in the day for Decking the Halls. Since I'm so limited on time and would rather not be completely stressed out, this year I've devised a new plan of attack on the Christmas rush. I've asked my family to help me. And they are now happily assisting with the holiday chores. In addition to selecting a fresh tree and bringing it the house for decorating this evening, the kids and my husband are actively helping decorate the house. The kids and I have plans to bake the Christmas cookies after work and school activities have subsided each evening this week. What an idea! Why didn't I think of this years ago?

Our family has decided to give more meaningful (less expensive and fewer) gifts this season, including taking a ski trip to Minnesota's North Shore instead of buying the usual haul of presents. Creating memories, not credit card debt. The remaining presents will be purchased online instead of joining the masses as the mall. I feel my holiday stress level dropping as I write these words.

Just don't be surprised if you receive a New Years card from my family instead of the traditional Christmas card. It's all part of the plan. Sixteen days and counting . . . despite my helper elves I still have my work cut out for me.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Can You Hear Me Now?

Just when you thought flying on US airlines couldn't get much worse add the cell phone into the mix. Cell phones being used at 35,000 feet may be a realty. This week the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) considered allowing cell phone usage on American flights by lifting a ban on talking on cell phones in flight. Airlines would make the call on whether or not to allow passengers to make calls from their seats during a flight.

Surprisingly Delta Airlines is the only major American airline that claims it will not allow passengers to chat on their cell phones even if the FCC opens the door for phone usage. The largest flight attendant union also opposes cell phone calls in the air due to the problems cell phones could create in the cabin. Passengers are already crowded into shrinking coach class seats, given a tiny package of peanuts for free or the option to buy an overpriced sandwich, paying for checked baggage, and paying extra fees to sit in certain seats.

What next? Will airlines establish a "quiet zone" and charge customers extra for sitting in the "no cell phone" section of the plane?

In the end this will be a business decision for the airlines. The FCC has already determined that in flight calls are safe and do not disrupt any mechanisms of the plane; the current ban on cell phones remains a courtesy to travelers. For the moment . . . as soon as the FCC officially lifts this ban numerous airlines will no doubt rush to allow in air cell service.

I actually like the current ban on cell phones and welcome a respite from people around me talking constantly on their phones. Wi-fi is already available on most US flights, so an immediate connection to those on the ground is possible. People already get angry and violent over crying babies and seat backs reclined all the way. A loud, chatty passenger on their cell phone for hours may open the door to more in flight mayhem by annoyed passengers. And you know that type of person I'm talking about! I'll just be sure to pack my iPod and earbuds.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Coming to a Kitchen Table Near You

When my son Jack asked me to take him to a craft store to buy a loom to weave bracelets, I had to do a double-take...is this my son? Mr. Football, Mine Craft, Call of Duty boy begging to spend his leaf raking money on a loom? If you know any kid between the ages of 9 and 13, you may well be caught up in this weaving sensation.

A few years back it was Silly Bands, last year Kendamas were all the rage, this year enter The Rainbow Loom that is taking over the free time of my 5th grade boy and all of his friends. Yes packs of 5th grade boys (and girls too) are weaving away like mad, hanging out in each other's basements for some quality weaving time, and taking an occasional break from their looms to head outside for some tackle football.

This kit comes with an actual plastic loom, a hook, and hundreds of tiny colored rubber bands. The boys learn the best weaving techniques from each other and from You Tube videos. But we have our share of frustrations when attempting to weave a wide bracelet didn't work out quite like the You Tube video tutorial that was shot by a 10-year old.

I have no complaints about this new fad other than a few stray rubber bands left scattered on the carpet. What's not to love? It's creative,  nonviolent, great for hand-eye coordination, and has rapidly increased my bracelet collection! (And yes, you must wear the bracelets.)

Jack is well on his way to supporting me far into my retirement through his rubber band weaving technique. I foresee a promising career as an orthodontist in his future.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Why Art Matters

Hundreds of artworks on display
at the Centerville Elementary school library
As the United States moves away from an arts and humanities-based college curriculum and moves toward science, math, and career-driven majors, some countries in Europe and Asia embrace the liberal arts perspective that has previously shaped many American colleges. In elementary and middle schools across the nation, art courses are being cut and replaced with technology classes. Technology is important, but so is art.

In my own suburban Twin Cities school district art was cut from the elementary school years ago. Students are taught to perform well on their math and reading aptitude test, leaving teachers and parent volunteers to fill in the art education gap.

After volunteering to teach art for the past couple of years, I am convinced that art does matter. Kids crave something different, and not everyone is cut out for a career as a math teacher or computer programmer. Art stimulates a different part kid's brains--that creative side. Clay, paint, colored paper, blank canvases, chalk, textiles, and tissue paper are all mediums of the amateur art teacher. We art volunteers use whatever we can find left behind in the art closet; remnants of days when the school employed an art teacher.

Most kids (as not everyone is a budding Picasso) become immersed in their art projects. Past students chat about their experiences working an art project and share how it inspired them to seek out an art class or visit an art gallery.

Art is more than just coloring a picture to kill time between aptitude tests. Art in the classroom is additive sculpture built together by every child in the class; clay bowls adorned with beads, paint, and sequins; a paper vase that depicts a story; and a drawing of an imaginary animal that comes to life on paper. Art transports kids away from the ordinary and invites them to look at their world in a different way. Art shapes and fulfills our kids in ways that math and science cannot. Art does matter.
Geriatric Superheros exhibit
Mori Art Gallery, Tokyo Japan

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

The always popular vomiting pumpkin
Halloween Eve 2013 is passing by in a blur of mini-chocolate bars, a flurry of empty Skittles wrappers, and flaming pumpkins. My pumpkins have a tendency to ignite, but lucky I caught this one before it presented a hazard to the trick or treaters on the front porch.

The costume trends of the night: lots of Centennial football players, ladybugs, a pack of 6th grade 80s girls, and a couple of chickens. Even a creative Mad Hatter! For the first time in many years, no Harry Potters or Jack Sparrows at the door.

Kind of missing the days of the
Thomas the Tank Engine costume
As the thermometer drops into the 30s and the mist turns into rain, I'm nearly out of candy so one last lucky group of kids is going to get the dregs of the candy bowl.

Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Saudi Women Defy Driving Ban

Yesterday dozens of women brave enough to defy the Saudi Arabian government's ban on women driving took to the roads. Why didn't thousands of women take to the road instead of dozens? Probably because of a warning from the Saudi Arabian Interior Ministry claiming that the government would "fully and firmly" enforce the driving ban for women only. Women caught driving would be punished.

I still find this whole ban on allowing women to drive baffling despite this lack of freedom for women being completely ingrained into their culture tethered to religion. Influential and powerful clerics in this country warn that allowing women to drive will lead to increased freedom of movement for women and obviously (to these clerics) result in increase promiscuity and premarital sex. One prominent cleric even cited medical studies and proclaimed that women's ovaries are harmed by driving a car. Given the amount of driving that I've done my ovaries should have been destroyed decades ago.

Welcome to the 21st Century Saudi Arabian clerics! In a country that is promoting economic development and friendly ties to the West, most Westerners would be offended by this driving ban imposed on women.

Could you imagine living in a society where you could not drive a car because of your sex? You could not pick up your kids from school. You could not run errands. You could not hop in your car and meet friends for lunch. You could not drive yourself to work. Even if you are a man, imagine this. 

Realizing that they are up against a major religious and cultural change, I support empowering Saudi Arabian women to drive and hope these brave women continue their campaign.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Ready, Set . . . MEA Weekend Approaching

If you live in Minnesota you know what MEA weekend is. And it is coming up this weekend. If you don't know the meaning of the Minnesota acronym, let me enlighten you—Minnesota Education Association. This is a teacher's conference that always falls the third week of October so most all of the public and private schools in Minnesota are off on Thursday and Friday, allowing teachers to attend the conference in St. Paul.

MEA weekend is sacred in Minnesota. Hockey and football coaches actually cancel practices and no games are scheduled over MEA. People talk about it for months before it happens. They make serious plans to spend a few last nice days up at the cabin, take a vacation, or explore the Twin Cities. I usually fall in the exploring Twin Cities category. However my neighborhood completely clears out over MEA weekend. Friends and neighbors have taken jaunts to Mexico, spent the extended weekend at Disneyworld, hopped down to Chicago, hit a few college tours, or flown out to Washington, DC. Unfortunately DC may not be the best MEA vacation destination this year given the government shut-down of many traditional tourist DC sights. Maybe Congress and the White House will get their act together before MEA weekend hits. If you don't leave town, there's always the Mall of America (MOA), joining the masses at the MOA Waterpark, or a road trip to Duluth.

Knowing that so many people leave town for MEA weekend, I've always wondered how many teachers actually attend this conference. I will get to find out if Minnesota teachers really attend as I'm assisting with a presentation through my work at one of the Thursday sessions for educators. I'll not name any names, but some teachers who may or may not be close relatives have been known to skip out on all sessions. But maybe the rules are different in Wisconsin!

And, for those of you who actually do care enough to point this out to me, I've beaten you to it! MEA changed their name and the official name is the Educate Minnesota Conference. The Educate Minnesota people must take offense to the old name of MEA because they specifically point it out front and center on their website. NOT MEA! Too bad for them; MEA weekend it is.

Anyway Happy MEA week and safe travels!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Washington at Play with Pricey Toys

Back when my kids were much smaller, I was sometimes forced to employ a tactic similar to that currently on display in Washington, DC. When the kids would leave their favorite toys scattered all over the floor and not pick up after themselves— despite many pleas, threats, and warnings—the big black trash bag would come out. These highly visible and very popular toys were deemed unessential because they were left lying about in heaps on the floor and no one cared enough to put them away. They were placed very carefully into the black trash bag and taken out to the garage in a show of parental control and force. Perhaps not the best leadership scheme, but a stunning tactic that captured everyone's attention.

Of course none of these toys were ever thrown out (at least not in the heat of the moment). The beloved toys in the big, black trash bag were now my leveraging tool. The kids could promise me the moon, cry up a storm, throw a tempter tantrum, and then finally calm down. With a clear mind and calm demeanor, we negotiated.

WWII veterans enter the WWII Memorial
on the National Mall despite barriers
Does this sound at all familiar? Despite many red flags, warning signs, empty threats, and generally ignoring what is best for the country, Congress and the President could not agree, forcing a government shut down. Everyone's favorite toys—the Smithsonian museums, the National Parks, the Lincoln Memorial—are shuttered and gated. Essentially disappearing into that big, black trash bag for political theatrics and then splashed all over the TV networks and front pages of US newspapers.

Last week Washington saw plenty of finger-pointing, name calling, and even a few temper tantrums. Those of us ordinary Americans rolled our eyes and wondered what in the world Washington was up to next? Guess what folks, we elected them! Maybe next time think about your vote and if you really want to send your Member of Congress back to DC.

It is time for those who got us into this mess to take a deep breath, pause, pull on your big boy/big girl pants, and do what you were elected to do. Lead this great nation. President Obama needs to be a leader, not dig his heels in until Congress gives in. Congress must negotiate with the Oval Office. Both parties must be realistic; not everyone gets what they want. Simply put, compromise.

Make this work. Compromise so you can pull those toys back out of that trash bag. If my kids can successfully negotiate, certainly the leaders of the Executive and Legislative branches of the US government can figure this out and reopen the US government.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Recipe For Your Next Strategic (and Stressful) Dinner Party

While waiting out my daughter's orchestra rehearsal last night, I brought along my stack of magazines to catch up on. The new issue of Bon Appetit was on the top. Now don't get any ideas about nightly gourmet meals being concocted in my kitchen. Bon Appetit is just my favorite food fantasy magazine.
One article in particular proved pure folly.

Just the title suggests a long process: "Thank God It's Friday Night! The no-stress, plan-ahead, you-can-do-it, strategic, genius, totally delicious guide to throwing a dinner party" by Amanda Hesser. Is this for real? That title tipped me off that Ms. Hesser was perhaps promoting the impossible. As I delved in, I realized that, even in my former life as a Mom who worked from home, I would have difficulty pulling off this suggested dinner party.

The article recommends throwing a dinner party for 8 guests on a Friday night to kick off the weekend. I agree with that. But her idea of a dinner party is not a potluck and does not involve ordering pizza. Ms. Hesser goes into great detail, providing recipes, tips on inviting guests, and setting up ipod playlists. Best of all, she handily provides a Monday thru Friday evening timeline of all you must do to prep for your Friday night fete.

This timeline is unachievable for anyone who happens to work, volunteer, chase kids, and have any evening activities. Here are a few of the tidbits from the timeline for your dinner party:

  • Monday: Make the ginger syrup ??? Choose your outfit. (I can probably handle that one.)
  • Tuesday is my favorite day of  unattainable  tasks: Purchase all but the last minute farmer's market ingredients. (The author implies that you actually have access to a farmer's market on a daily basis.) Iron your table linens—HA! Good one!
  • Wednesday: Cook short ribs, order wine, and make seating plan for guests.
  • Thursday: Make that final farmer's market run, set dinner table, stock guest bathroom with towels and toilet paper.
  • Friday: Arrive home two hours before your guests arrive. Prep/cook main course, set out hors d'oeuvres, clean up kitchen. (Each one of these tasks could probably take me two hours.)

Perhaps these successful, stress-free, dinner party guidelines are achievable if you have a cook who lives in your house instead of children, a dog, and a husband.

I will still manage to pull off a Friday night dinner party without all the time-sucking, weekday prep leading up to the event. I love that my guests ask me what they can bring over to include in the Friday night dinner party. Good friends, great food, no fuss, and no Thursday night trips to that farmer's market. Bon appetit!

Amanda Hesser's stressful tips are in the October 2013 issue of Bon Appetit. The link to her article is not up yet, but I will post it when it is available.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

One Chic Mom Says No!

My son Jack is 10-years old, and he hasn't known a day in his entire life that America was not at war. I'm referring to the current War on Terror. Can you imagine that? I'm sure he thinks nothing of it. But for those of you of my generation who grew up in a relatively war-free America, a lifetime of war is daunting.

Today Syria is everywhere. Inescapable and most people have a strong opinion on US military involvement. I've tried to leave politics out of this blog, but not today. Today I say no. The US should not get involved in Syria unless Washington can come up with some really good reasons and a logical plan of action.

I see it as a battle between the head and the heart. The head says: "of course we should strike Syria." The US must show our credibility and bomb Syria. Assad should not go unchecked for using chemical weapons against his own people. Unfortunately thousands of innocent Syrians had to die or flee their country before Assad pulled out the chemical weapons and joined the ranks of Hitler, Mussolini, and Hussein.

Then there is the heart. "If the US strikes, thousands more innocent lives will be lost on all sides. American lives as well." And for what gain? Involving the US in yet another mid-east crisis? No thanks. Americans are war weary and want success in the War on Terror, not air strikes that will accomplish little except a meagre show of force.

As I see it, neither side is a clear winner for the US to back, and we would be choosing the lesser of two evils neither of which we could control. Indecision and taking sides is playing out not only in Washington, but on the world stage.

I'm not remotely a foreign policy expert, but I'm following my heart on this one. I'll join the 80% of Americans (Reuters-Ipsos poll) who oppose military action in Syria. I'll go one step further and let my Congresswoman know. I can see no good that can come out of it, especially since no clear plan of action has emerged from Washington. Bombing for the sake of bombing is a waste.

I want my son to know a day without war. Maybe other chic moms out there will also say no.

To contact your member of Congress, visit: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

Monday, September 2, 2013

Even Tinier Airplane Toilets Arriving Soon

Just when you thought that bathrooms on airplanes couldn't possibly get any smaller, the bathroom designers at Delta Airlines prove you wrong. Isn't 3' x 3' tiny enough?

While traveling home from San Francisco aboard a Delta flight, I was reading through the New York Times Magazine from September 1. A black and white drawing caught my eye, and I was immediately shocked at just how far the airlines will go to carve out a few more seats in Economy.

Yes, you're seeing that correctly. Squatty potty now takes on a new meaning. From the looks of this picture passengers will have to double over just to get into the loo. Hopefully all passengers are limber enough to squeeze into this little space. Delta claims the new design saves cabin space, creating four new seats in Economy. These new bathrooms will be introduced in the Economy class of Delta's new Boeing 737-900 jets.

The masses of customers flying in coach will have a choice: either cram your body into this loo or hold it for a few hours. At 5'2" I can probably squash myself into this space, but can a 6'3" male wedge himself into this space-saving toilet. Doubtful.

Is Delta trying to make customers stop flying its airline? It sure seems that way.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Another Reason Not to See the Minnesota Vikings Play at the Dome

As if the rising ticket costs, parking fees, and high prices of food and drinks at the Minneapolis
Metrodome were not enough, now fans have the "purse ban" to deal with. Minnesota Vikings fans may only bring in a clear plastic bag or a palm-sized clutch purse for their personal belongs.

I'm immediately ruling out the clutch purse because you could not fit anything vital into a purse the size of your palm. And who owns such a tiny purse? Then there is the clear plastic purse. I really don't want all of the pared-down contents of my purse on display for all to see. What if I need to stash some very personal products in there? I doubt any woman wants to publicly announce that it is her time of the month. This also effectively eliminates bringing in a water bottle.

The purse ban was adopted by the NFL following the Boston Marathon bombing this spring and applies to every major league football team. I find this new "clear plastic bag" policy quite backwards and reactive. What was wrong with security guards taking a peek into my purse and asking people wearing backpacks to check them at the gate?

I realize that the NFL is attempting to thwart any horrible repeat of the Boston Marathon bombings. However if someone really wanted to detonate a bomb in front of the Metrodome in Minneapolis during halftime of the Vikings game, I doubt that the clear plastic purse rule would stop them.

Note to the NFL: If terrorists want to drive a truck bomb outside of a stadium or stash a bomb on or inside of a suicide bomber, they will do it despite banning purses. They are terrorists after all! Women carrying purses are not the problem.

Again this is yet another backward American security policy that does little to stop terror, but goes a long way toward irritating the general public and law abiding citizens.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Kudos to Kate

Finally a brand new mum in the public spotlight who can step out with her postnatal tummy in a natural state. Best of all she doesn't really seem to care as she is so enamoured with her new Prince George of Cambridge. I do see Diana similarities here. The polka dotted dress, the sweet baby boy all bundled up, the same London hospital (St. Mary's), and the Diana sapphire ring adorning her finger.

What a refreshing change!  Kate looks awesome and was strong and healthy enough to leave the hospital within 24 hours of giving birth. I wish I had that kind of luck! She gives a great example to new mothers everywhere that your body will be far from perfect for weeks, months, and even years after childbirth. I wish that more celebrity moms would follow her lead and stop striving for a perfect body within weeks of giving birth.

Once again Kate proves that she is far more normal than most who live their lives under the glare of the media. Well done Kate!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Back to School in July?

Has Target missed the mark or are other retailers selling back-to-school supplies as well? At my local Target, the school supplies went up right before the 4th of July and the aisles remain fully stocked and ready for all of the kids. Problem is, it is still summer! Who really wants to buy pencils, notebooks, and folders when it's hot and sunny outside? Judging from the lack of shoppers in the backpack aisle today, not many people are ready to push this season and get a jump on the back-to-school buying frenzy.

I could imagine lots of better ways to spend a glorious Sunday afternoon rather than stocking up on folders and crayons. Although I will admit that I was surprised to see one woman who actually had a school supply list and pen in hand, checking off items as she loaded up her cart. But it was just her and not her kids. Hopefully her kids were out tubing on the lake or hanging out at the beach.

Target must think this rush on the school season is a good idea because they are backing it up with a barrage of witty school supply TV commercials and colorful Sunday flyers. If any of my readers work for Target, please enlighten me about this marketing tactic and if it actually works.

Does a July back-to-school binge shopping trip mean that all of the supplies will be in short supply when I return in early August from vacation? Maybe when I'm actually ready to buy school supplies in the end of August, Target will have cleared them away to make room for the Halloween costumes and candy. I think retailers should let kids (and their parents) actually savor the school-free summer months instead of urging shoppers to stock up on school supplies nearly two months before school even begins.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Off to Camp Wapo

Jack and his friend in their cabin
Camp Wapo . . . it sounds like a camp out of a Chevy Chase movie. But this is a real camp on a real lake in northern Wisconsin, and my 10-year old son boarded a school bus with his buddy, bound for a week at camp. The house is quieter without Jack and his gang of friends running around the house and annoying his older brother.

In a way, Jack is creating his own path being the first of my kids to brave a week away from home and venture off to camp. His older brother and sister never had a camp desire or never had a close friend to bunk with at camp. They flatly refused any attempt to sign them up for camp. Jack was game and happily left with his bag of snacks and camping gear.

Farewell to Mom for a week
I'm hoping Jack has a better camp experience than I did. The Girl Scout camps I attended were tolerable, but church camp at Imago Dei was the worst. (It should have been called Imago Diablos.) A very old mosquito infested camp nestled in the woods along the banks of the Wolf River in central Wisconsin. I remember falling out of the canoe in the middle of the river, swarms of mosquitos and black flies, mean middle school girl campers, and attempting to sleep while completely zipped up in my sleeping bag to avoid the bugs that came in through the holes in the walls.

Jack's camp is luxurious compared to Imago Dei. His cabins are clean without open slats between the wall boards, air conditioned rooms, and hopefully minimal bugs to squash during the night. The food is probably better than your standard camp-fare, and he is with one of his best friends.

He is nearly 18 hours into the Camp Wapo experience, and I have not yet received a phone call to retrieve him. Maybe I'm jinxing myself by writing this post. Only five more days to go!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Summer—Not Quite the Same From an Office

Grand Teton National Park,
Now that summer has finally reached the Upper Midwest, I feel like I've been missing out on my most favorite season—Summer! This longing for the summer experience comes from being at home with my kids and working from home for the past 15 years. Those days are gone. Now I work in an office and gaze out my window at these glorious summer days.

Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan
I'm not complaining though! I love my job and going to work each morning. But I think everyone must secretly wish to have the summer off. Especially with small children, being home was ideal. When they were really little, long stroller walks along the Potomac River, trips to the National Zoo, strawberry picking, and hours spent playing at the local parks. As the kids grew up: sunny afternoons spent at the pool, hanging out with friends and family at one of Minnesota's many lakes, bike rides to the beach park, a long weekend spent with friends at the water parks of Wisconsin Dells, and far too many trips to the local Dairy Queen for ice cream.
The Kalahari, Wisconsin Dells

EPCOT at Disney World
 All of that time to work in the garden on a Wednesday morning, take the kids for a 10-day trip to see their grandparents, taking road trips out West to Yellowstone, down South to Florida, or out East to Washington, DC, and visits to Japan to climb Mt. Fuji.

I do miss being outdoors in the summer and enjoying the free time that summer offers. It is all sort of a juggle isn't it? Time can be stretched to include many of these same activities, but now I have to learn to live with limits. No more jaunts to Japan or a spur of the moment run to the pool for the afternoon.

National Gallery of American Art,
Washington DC
Nearly at the top
Mt. Fuji, Japan
It is okay though. There was a time for all of that, and I do feel lucky that I had those 15 carefree summers to spend with my kids from when they were babies into their teen (and nearly teen) years. I realize that everything in life has a season. With those fond memories, I can survive another week of summer days in my office.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

What I Miss Most About My Former Life as a Housewife—Time

A Facebook post: June 19 near Saint Paul via mobile 2 mile run outside, dog walked, drove weight training carpool, dashed into Caribou coffee, Target run, and in my office by 9 am. Whew! Time to start my day! Comment: I'm tired just reading your status update.

Does this sound like the start of your day? Yes! Then I'm glad I'm not alone. As I approach the end my sixth month on the job, I realize what I'm missing most about returning to work is time. I have no time! What did I do with all of that time when I was a stay-at-home Mom?

With babies, toddlers, and preschoolers under my charge for at least 10 of the last 15 years, I know where that time went. All into care and maintenance of growing children, preparing them to leave the nest and enter Kindergarten. But where did those last 5 years disappear?

I now realize what an incredible gift I was given to spent all of those years at home with my kids. Those last five years were for them, but also for me. Five years of blogging, training for races, hours spent in the gardens, growing a graphic design business, and far too much time wandering around Target. Home-cooked meals for nearly every dinner, book club, volunteering at the elementary school, hours spent watching kids compete in their various ballgames, waiting out evening orchestra rehearsals at Starbucks, and thousands of miles logged driving kids around. Let's not forget those years spent searching for a job and finally landing in a perfect fit.

Simply put:  staying home with the kids is far from easy. It's quite exhausting, but very fulfilling. I wouldn't trade those years for anything!

I do miss the time that I had for all of my activities from my previous life. Since I returned to working out of the house, I've had a crash course in time management. Prioritize tasks, combine errands, organize carpools, and use time wisely. Life is short, and so is our time. Count yourself lucky if you can spend time doing something you love and surrounded by those you love.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Celebration of Fathers

Today we celebrate our fathers and grandfathers. The gifts they have given us, life lessons taught, and knowledge passed down. It is quite impossible to thank them for all they've done for us on just this one Sunday in June. Use today to cherish your father, remember your grandfathers, and encourage our own children to draw inspiration from their fathers and grandfathers.

My own father turned 70 this year. Luckily for my own kids he has a close relationship with them and all three have gotten to really know their grandfather. He continues to inspire me as he teaches me to grow into my adult self.

What a legacy he has created!

To my dad, my husband, and all you fathers out there who continue to inspire me, Happy Father's Day!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Aveda's Annoying Abandonment

Corporate Aveda seems to have an uncanny knack for discontinuing my favorite items on a stealthy, yet regular schedule. It seems whenever I run out of a favorite product and head over to an Aveda salon to refill, guess what? "Sorry that's just been discontinued."

While in my favorite Aveda salon this afternoon to cash in a coupon for a "personal blends product for free," i.e., my back-up perfume, I discover that the base used to create my "Christianna" blend has been discontinued. This now discontinued Key Element Aroma #3 Fire Nature is vanishing quickly. The receptionist at the salon who mixes up the personal perfumes had a quick consultation with her counterpart at the front desk, and she dashed out of the door to the supply room. The receptionist/aroma mixer explained that she kept a hidden cache of Fire Nature #3 in the back room because she personally loved it and used it for her customers. A spark of hope. Sadly my hopes were dashed. Seems that someone else discovered the secret stash of #3 and used it all up. I'm adding Fire Nature #3 to my growing list of favorite discontinued Aveda products.

I absolutely love the Aveda uruku eye accent line that was abruptly cut off. My stash of these eye accents is quickly diminishing. Despite the stamp on the tube stating a 6 month shelf life, I've managed to sustain mine for quite a bit longer than 6 months without a trace of an eye infection. Again I'm wondering why expiration labels exist other than to make us run out and buy more product to replace the "expired" eye accent.

My biggest disappointment that eventually turned into joy was when Aveda discontinued their All Sensitive line. No more silky and perfect All Sensitive moisturizer available for my incredibly sensitive skin. I had a stash of tiny plastic bottles that I abducted from numerous hotel stays. Little did I know that all those tiny bottles would tide me over until Aveda corporate returned to their senses and reinstated the All Sensitive line.

The list goes on: Chamomile shampoo, the amazing lip tints with SPF that could easily make it through a steamy round of 18-holes on the golf course, and the much missed Sap Moss shampoo and conditioner. All vanished without any fanfare.

Meanwhile the search continues. I'm still holding out hope that I can track down a bottle of Fire Nature #3 to mix my back-up scent. The Aveda corporate office and factory is near my house and one would think Aveda might have a couple of extra bottles lying around somewhere. If not, there's always that $90 bottle on e-Bay from the back of someones dusty medicine cabinet. (Not quite that desperate, thank you.) Perhaps other Aveda fans out there also wish that Aveda would abolish the trend of discontinuing these popular items or at least let their customer's know their favorite items disappearing so we can stock up.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Striking a Balance

I'm learning about striking a balance between work, family, and myself the only way I know. Jumping in with everything I've got and living, working, entertaining, driving, cooking, walking the dog, etc, until I collapse into bed every night. I have a feeling I'm not alone.

As I start on my sixth month as someone else's employee, I continue on in my life roles as Mom, wife, Communications, Director, and volunteer. This is where life gets sticky. I have learned what really matters to me and what I'm not willing to give up. My new life priorities? Family and all of their activities, consistent exercising, maintaining a healthy diet for my family, keeping the laundry in control, digging around in my gardens, and my writing projects. So I must apologize that writing frequently on my blog has slipped due to the time crunch. I promise to post once a week, but three times a week is just not possible anymore. 

I believe realizing your limitations is really important for Moms who want to balance their lives. Do what is most important and let the rest go. A very difficult lesson for me to learn!

Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” is intriguing me given that now I'm a woman who works and certainly has the will to lead. The themes that urge women to lean in and take a seat at the table certainly are appropriate. I am ambitious, willing to lead, and have the drive to succeed. The problem is that I also have a family that takes up the bulk of any free time I might find. Here lies the challenge—succeeding at work while keeping the home front happy and healthy. Some days this goals seems quite unattainable. Maybe Sandberg offers some helpful advice. I'll let you know.

For now the sprint to the end of the weekend continues on as I try to balance it all. Running shoe shopping (exercise commitment) tossed in after my daughter's French Horn audition for orchestra (family commitment). That is an equal balance for me. Still the most amazing part is that I was given a chance to return to the office, given a position in my field after a nearly 15-year hiatus, and now I'm thriving in my new role. The family seems is somehow surviving life with Mom at work.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day 2013

To all you Mom's out there, Happy Mother's Day! In my timezone, it is still technically Mother's Day for another 90 minutes.

This year's Mother's Day mimicked a real day in the life of a Mom, not a holiday. Even though the calendar said today is Mother's Day, being Mom doesn't stop just because the calendar (or Hallmark) gave Moms their "day."

Don't get me wrong, I had a terrific Mother's Day! Rolling over at 5:30 am and ignoring my alarm clock was heavenly. Along with a great workout, followed by my latte from Caribou Coffee. Then the marathon began. Let's just say that who ever planned the finale orchestra concert that consumed most of the afternoon of Mother's Day was not a mother. Again an incredible concert and always a joy to watch my daughter perform. But would I rather have been outside in the sunshine on a cloudless May afternoon digging in my garden and planting out my window boxes? Perhaps.

To all of you Moms out there who cooked brunch for your entire extended family, volunteered your time at the local resale shop, ran a 5K race with your kids, or attended your son's Little League baseball game, thank you for being there. Being a Mom really is all about giving your all, even on Mother's Day.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Egg Freezing: Not Really Stopping the Clock

Don't stories of women who give birth well past the traditional child-bearing years always amaze you? A 45-year old actress or a random 60+ French woman. I always wonder why?

Naturally yesterday's Wall Street Journal Review article captivated me: "Why I Froze My Eggs (And You Should Too)". The author of the article, who is heavily into her own career, decided to have her eggs frozen when she was 36. The eggs have been in a frozen vault awaiting fertilization at a future, more convenient time in her life. This is known as "social freezing." Years down the road when she has time to take a pause from her career and when the right partner presents himself she will have the eggs thawed, inseminated, and have a healthy baby. The author is now 42 and hopes to give birth to her first child by the time she is 44 and a second at age 46.

She makes it sound so easy and convenient and sterile. Having a child is none of these. Social freezing does not sit right with me for a number of reasons. I started my communications career when I was 21. My first child was born when I was 28, and my second when I was 30. At that time I made the conscious choice to put my career on hold to stay at home and raise my kids. Not a choice every woman would make, but my choice. My third child was born when I was 34. 

Let me tell you. There is a world of difference between having a baby when you're 28 and when you're 34. I felt like I was about 74, not 34! There is a reason that women are biologically designed to have babies when they are younger. At 28, having a baby is physically much easier on your body, you have more energy, and you can survive months (if not years) in a sleep-deprived state. Speaking from experience here. Honestly, I could not imagine having a baby at my current age of 44.

Here are a few truths that get lost in the excitement about "social freezing":
  • A woman can decide on the best time to have a baby. Let's be honest, there is just never a good time to have a baby. Babies disrupt life in so many ways, both good and bad. Life rarely presents that optimal time to have a baby.
  • A woman can have a baby when she is 44, 50, or in her 60s? True, but why? Why would you want to have a child when you are 44, 50, or older? Social fertilization does give a woman that flexibility. But have you done the math? If you have a child at 46, you will be pushing 65 when that child graduates from high school and that child may be pushing you around in a wheelchair for their college graduation. 
  • Social freezing frees a woman from career penalties associated with a baby. The "Mommy Penalty" is inescapable. This career woman, who is at the top of her game, will still have to take time off of work to deal with pregnancy, birth, and raising a baby. Her employer may not reserve her stellar position she is while out on maternity leave. She may not maintain her marathon work schedule with a baby in her life. There is just no escaping being a mommy unless you are so rich that you can afford to have a surrogate mother birth your child, have a nanny to raise the child, and have a housekeeper to cook for and clean up after the child. If that is the case, why are you having a baby after all?
Social freezing blazes a new path for women and might be a great choice for women who must delay childbirth until much later in their lives. But it can also be seen as a selfish choice for a woman who is trying to have it all, stopping her own fertility clock and literally buying time. A couple rounds of egg harvesting and freezing (not necessarily including costs of banking the eggs for years) can cost upwards of $50,000. Still there is no guarantee she will give birth to a healthy, normal baby.

For some it might be worth waiting for a baby until you are past your youthful prime. It is quite remarkable that a woman can now control when she will conceive. All "social freezing" aside,  time still staggers on.

For more information on "social fertilization" please view:

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Mad World

We all know that Suspect #2 was captured while hiding out in a boat last night in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His capture followed the most massive manhunt I've ever witnessed and was quite astonished at the sheer volume of police, SWAT, FBI, and other law enforcement officers who effectively shut down Boston on Friday. I did find it quite curious that the suspect was found by a private citizen outside of the isolation boundary after the mayor declared that people could leave their homes. Kudos to the observant home owner who noticed blood on a shed door and peeked under the boat tarp to find Suspect #2.

Somehow these brothers thought they were invincible and dragged thousands of innocent lives into their game of terror. They belong to a sad, evil, and cowardly lot of humanity. That is all I'm saying about the suspects.

However the news media cannot stop delving into the lives of the suspects, their family, circle of friends, their social media practices, and every other aspect of our lives. It is kind of creepy how so much information is out there on these two men and is now plastered all over the every type of media.

What is lost in this story? The people who were killed, maimed, and hurt both physically and emotionally by this ordeal. Hundreds of lives were altered and four young lives senselessly snuffed out. I realize it is too much to ask that we all just get along. That is impossible. When talking to my kids about the Boston incident I must remind them that there are many more good than evil people in this world. The evil ones just garner all of the attention.

Do your share to spread the good. Bolster up this mad world with a touch of humanity.

Today send your thoughts, positive energy, or prayers to the families of the victims of this tragedy:  Sean Collier, Lu Lingzi, Martin Richard, and Krystle Campbell.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

10 Reasons Why Minnesota's Winter Must End

if it was December
Throw out the Kyoto Protocol. Tell Al Gore he was completely wrong about global warming. Scrutinize those scientific facts that point ominously toward global warming. On a day like today those facts seem skewed and this is why Minnesota's infinite winter must end.

  1. The winter is endless. Today is April 18—a good 3 weeks into spring—and it is snowing heavily outside. The six inches on the ground expected to easily double overnight.
  2. The sun was out for one day out of the last 12. On that balmy 40° day every kid in the neighborhood was outside playing in the streets and wearing shorts and T-shirts. Sun + 40° = shorts weather, despite the yards covered in snow.
  3. My dog is depressed and getting fat. He cannot run around the yard, chasing after trash trucks, other dogs, annoying teenagers on bikes, and kids riding Big Wheels. He gets out of his dog bed in the morning, stretches, looks around, and goes back to bed.
  4. I'm getting depressed. There is no sun, no green grass, no flowers, no impromptu neighborhood gatherings for a glass of wine in the driveway, no herb garden with fresh mint and basil. There's only the snow that's been covering the ground since November.
  5. I'm tired of talking about the cold weather. The weather is all that any Minnesotan talks 
    My deck,
    where my grill lies buried in snow
    about. How tired we are of shoveling snow, driving in snow, slipping and falling in snow. Ask any Minnesotan about global warming on a day like today and they will give you an earful.
  6. It's been cold here since October. I want to put away my electric blanket, my long underwear, my heavy boots, and all of my winter clothes. I'm talking about the weather again. See it seeps into everything!
  7. Any outdoor liquid surface is still frozen. Not frozen solid like you could drive on it or even walk on it, but those Canadian geese are walking on it.
  8. The birds that have migrated here from Florida must be really confused.
  9. I've been inspired to write a blog post criticizing something I cannot ever change. That is really sad, but it feels really good to complain about it.
  10. Did I mention that it is technically spring? It should be 60° not 30° and that brilliant orb in the sky should be present. Approaching late April and being blanketed in a foot of snow is just wrong!
 So why do I still live here? The summers are absolutely glorious and make me forget about the horrible ceaseless winters.