Sunday, November 30, 2014

Reflections

It's the final day of National Blog Posting month, or #NaBloPoMo as it's often called on Twitter or Facebook. I am glad I gave it a try. Thanks to the exercise of writing regularly, I think that my ideas generated other ideas. I also felt a bit freer than usual to write a post about a small moment or idea than I have previously. My idea of what was worthy of a blog post certainly changed.

It was a worthwhile experiment that I hope has made me a better blogger and writer. It was also less stressful than I feared, since I had several drafts and scheduled posts to help me through busy work weeks. For any current or want-to-be bloggers out there, I think a month of writing daily is worth trying.

I definitely plan to post more frequently, though I don't think it will be anywhere near the frequency of November. I am even more in awe of local daily blogger Casey of Life With Roozle, who inspired me to give NaBloPoMo on a whim after reading her tips. Casey has blogged daily for 2 years!

As I reflect on my blogging experience this past month, please enjoy this reflection I captured on our holiday weekend trip to New Hampshire.


The first snowfall is so beautiful. There's no snow in Boston yet, but it will be here soon enough.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Easy, healthy frozen dessert idea

Mmm, Thanksgiving dinner. So much turkey, stuffing, gravy, and desserts.


Between that and holiday goodies at the myriad events this time of year, I try to eat healthy food even more often than usual this time of year to offset the holiday indulgences.

Here's a quick and easy treat that is so delicious. I make mine in the NutriBullet, but you could use any blender you like.

Thanks to Katie in my healthy Facebook group for recently suggesting this! I have heard the idea before, but her post inspired me to try it.
Start with a frozen banana, the riper the better. Blend this with milk, cinnamon, and a bit of vanilla extract. Add a drizzle of honey.

                                           

Voila! Bon appetit.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Picking up the pieces

It happened suddenly. A careless move, an unbalanced box set free from an overstuffed closet. Then the tingling sound of glass shattering into 1,000 pieces.

Glass ornaments, a craft project for the long holiday weekend. All over my basement floor.

 

"Don't worry, mommy. I've got my Wishing Star."


The wishing star. The gift she got from Cinderella during our summer trip to Disney.


My heart melted. Did she really think that she could make the glass whole, unbroken simply by wishing it so?

Was I ever that hopeful?

I didn't think so.

Because some things can't be put back together.


Should I tell her? Or keep her faith alive?

3 ornaments survived the fall, so I salvaged those and brought them to her grandparents' house.

I showed them to her, proud of my sleight of hand, and she looked on, unimpressed. She focused on her plans for decorating the ceramic star in the same package.

"But Lu, aren't you surprised that your wish came true?" I asked.

"No," she replied, "Cinderella told me that it would."

Belief. It's a beautiful thing to watch. I'm thankful for her gift of conviction. It makes the holidays even more magical.

Preparing for Christmas

It's (nearly) the most wonderful time of the year. And the most packed. We kicked off our pre-Thanksgiving holiday week with a visit to the Wang Theater for their holiday showcase.

We waited in a very long line to get her face painted.


We posted for photos next to festive decorations.


When the holiday stress rears its ugly head, I'm going to take a deep breath and remember this look of wonder in Lu's eyes.


At the event, they ran out of Rudolph antlers, and she was disappointed. The balloon guy made her a dog instead of a flower, and she was bummed again. 

It was a great teachable moment. 

"Life isn't fair, honey." I told her as we walked to the parking garage.

"That's what my teacher said," she replied.

My husband and I took her shopping that day too. She wanted to own all of the Frozen stuff. Instead, we directed her to buy half of the Frozen stuff for the child in foster care whom we are sponsoring this holiday. We photographed a few items for Santa's list.

An older man in the A.C. Moore noticed, and told us we were doing a great job parenting her. I so appreciated that comment. Parenting is hard. It's awesome to feel like sometimes you are doing something right. Please, when you see a caregiver trying, let them know it. 

And remember, please do not pet the giant Rudolph.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

My to do lists

I've been accused of being a very, even hyper-, organized person. Guilty as charged.


As a consequence, I have a system for everything.

Take my to-do list.

My systems all stem from Peter Bregman's system 18 Minutes. I choose 5 areas of annual focus. I might adjust or modify a few of these based on my job-related goals, but they are generally focused around 3 work projects, education, and family.

My version looks like this.


Then, I have 3 ways to track action items or other tasks to be done, to make sure I am completing the items in my 5 areas of focus.

1. Track in notebook 

In my work spiral notebook (yes, actual paper!), I write a minus sign next to each item that is actionable. I take notes in meetings and conversations related to work that will need to get done. After I finish or schedule the item, I cross it off to turn it into a plus sign. Every week or so I look through my notebook to ensure that I don't have any minuses left to take care of.

2. Schedule in calendar

For a short project, something I can complete in a couple of hours or fewer, I block time off as an appointment through my calendar, Microsoft Outlook. I integrate both personal and professional commitments in one calendar for my sanity's sake.

3. Phone task list

For something routine that needs to get done, such as an oil change, I add this as a reminder or task in my phone's task list. If I am feeling particularly busy I will even add reminders like catching up with friends here, so I don't forget to check in.

What systems work best for you to manage your time? Leave me a comment!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Equal Exchange: Best FUNdraiser going

Lu's dad and I weren't sure what to expect entering the Boston Public School system. We entered optimistically, having heard both positive and negative reviews, and have been very pleased by the rich education it offers and the kind faculty and students she has met. The staff, parents, and students have been pleasant, interesting, understanding, and kind. We have experienced a whole new sense of community here.


However, one thing that goes along with the territory for most parents is lots of school fundraising. Due to state- and city-wide budget cuts, the days of the PTA holding a couple of bake sales and claiming success are a fond memory. The school's parent council must raise thousands of dollars just to meet the school's basic needs for art, music, supplies, educational electronic equipment, and field trips.



Fortunately, Lu's school has partnered with local company Equal Exchange. Check out their gift catalog for an amazing school fundraising idea. A whopping 40% of purchases from the orders go directly to the school! Equal Exchange offers a variety of delicious, organic chocolates, teas, as well as handmade gifts that make excellent presents. 


This fundraiser put the fun back in fundraising! Lu and I took advantage of the beautiful weather over the weekend to go door to door asking our neighbors if they wanted to participate. Thanks to the generosity of local friends, family, and businesses such as Ellen and Janis Real Estate, Tony Williams Dance Studio, as well as the purchases from friends and family both locally and over the country, we have raised over $1,400 in product sales, so $560 will go back to the school.

I was so happy to participate in such a win-win of a fundraiser. It gave me the opportunity to teach Lu that her field trips must be paid for, and to teach her the value of asking for help and taking steps to help improve her school. She was so excited when her neighbors and friends agreed to buy items from the catalog. After she made each sale, the look on her face was priceless. She really felt, I think perhaps for the first time, that she can truly make a difference. Even at 5.

She's a little early to learn the ABCs of sales, always be closing, but one step at a time.



And, if you got that ABC reference and since it's that time of year, here's Glengarry Glen Christmas.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Poll Everywhere

I used a really fun, free, interactive tool called Poll Everywhere in my recent presentation. It was surprisingly easy to use, though I highly suggest a few trial runs prior to using it in a live polling session. You can see it used in my presentation in the clip below.

video

The tool is free to use, and creating an account only takes a minute. There are several types of poll options, such as open ended, multiple choice, or Yes/No. For a fee, you can get easy to use responses (e.g., text Yes to 22-333) instead of numerical options (e.g., 12653291).

There's a plug-in to PowerPoint that allows you to present right from your slideshow.

I had a lot of fun presenting with this tool. Let me know if you give it a shot!


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Babysitting options

As we have 2 full-time working parents in our household, we have come up with some creative options to ensure that our daughter is well cared for all of the time. For full-time care, we've employed a nanny share (a nanny who watches 2 kids at the same time), as well as an amazing family daycare and preschool. Now that our daughter is in kindergarten, we sometimes make use of the elementary school's before school program, and almost always send her to after school.

Still, there are times that we need additional childcare outside of the standard daytime arrangements. All 4 grandparents and 2 uncles live out of state, so that is generally not an option. Here is a list of other types of sitters we have used.

A mother's helper is a person, generally a female college student, who helps with childcare, dishes, laundry, cleaning, or similar tasks as needed. I have met some lovely people using this form of help, and my daughter really enjoys spending time with them. On an ideal evening, like last Thursday, my mother's helper will come at 3, start the laundry, clean the kitchen and clutter, then take a break to feed and hang out with Lu so my husband and I go on a date. After Lu goes to bed, my helper resumes cleaning so that the longer the date lasts, the cleaner my house gets. I can think of few win-win situations that are more attractive than that.

Babysitting co-ops are the next option I want to mention. I wrote part of this post while on a play date with Lu and 2 kids who have become friends with Lu through the co-op. I just fed and played dress up with all 3 kids, and now they're relaxing and watching a movie. Yesterday, the same family watched Lu overnight so that my husband and I could go on a date.


Co-ops are groups of parents who are part of an exchange in which they trade childcare. We joke that it's like the mafia, you have to be vouched in so that the other parents know you are trustworthy. Points are exchanged for time spent sitting, and the balances maintained via Google forms. There are 12 or so active families in our swap, and we meet every month or so to have brunch together. Just because you sit for one family does not obligate them to sit for you next time; sitting requests go to all active families. You put the request out on our Big Tent website, and any families who can sit for you will email. Then the family looking for the sitter can pick the best arrangement, maybe based on how close one family lives or another convenience factor.

Swaps are similar to the babysitting co-op, but less formal, one-off arrangements between classmates or friends of your child for a few hours of childcare. They are generally reciprocal arrangements within a close time window.

A Sleepover is the best type of childcare swap. You drop your child or children off at another family's house, and then you can go back to your house, or visit a bed and breakfast if you are feeling fancy. The reason why this type of childcare wins is because you, the parents, get to sleep in the next morning.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Thanksgiving potluck

Yesterday, the kindergarten class at my daughter's school held a Thanksgiving-style potluck. The parents and grandparents signed up to make various dishes, even a turkey. I tried my hand at my mother-in-law's sausage stuffing recipe, as well as an apple and walnut version.


Sharing a meal is an excellent way to catch up with classmates of your child, and other parents, guardians, and teachers. It was also quite a reminder how much work it is to feed dozens of 3, 4, 5, and 6 year olds! I don't think the adults ate a bite until 30 minutes in, after countless trips for juice boxes, napkins, seconds, and dessert.


Thanksgiving is an awesome reminder to appreciate the people in our lives who make us feel welcome and happy. I am so very blessed.

Friday, November 21, 2014

More Inbox help

Battling the deluge of emails that one receives daily poses an extreme challenge for most people. As if work email wasn't enough, marketers are constantly spamming the masses at their private email addresses. My husband's marketing email got so frequent that he ended up setting up a new address just for that category of correspondence, complete with "junk" in the name.


I've embraced a slightly different email management tactic that's working well for me. I wanted to share two tips to manage your mail: the coupon label and Unroll.Me.

It's easy to filter the marketing messages I want to receive, like CVS 20% off coupons and offers from Loft and The Vintage Pearl, into a folder that I can check on my own terms. When the offending email enters my Gmail inbox, I set up a filter.


Then I redirect this message into a folder (I know, Gmail calls it a label, it's a glorified folder).


Now I can search or check my coupons on my own terms without them landing in my inbox.

Another cool email management system is Unroll.Me. This tool scans your inbox for mailings that you might want to read (for instance, newsletters from The Brookline Booksmith, Goodreads, or Bella Luna) but not want to read every day. You can also include LinkedIn and Facebook notifications. You'll get a digest of all of this content once a day, which you can also check any time at Unroll.Me.

Did any of this tips get you to the elusive Inbox 0? Let me know in the comments!



Thursday, November 20, 2014

How to survive and thrive through the quarterlife crisis

A week ago today, I gave a presentation about work/life balance at my company. It's my version of a TED talk, though it ran a bit longer than your average TED talk and surely won't get as many views. I positioned the talk as the quarterlife crisis, because I felt it was critical to establish with my audience my past history of having my work-life balance out of whack.


I am so relieved that the talk went flawlessly! Even the interactive polls and the WebEx behaved. The best part was that after, dozens of coworkers took the time to thank, congratulate, and tell me how my tips would help them to integrate their life into their work.

Please feel free to check out my presentation.

video

This is my slide deck.

Here's a list of tips for reducing stress throughout your workday.

And, finally, here's to a better work-life balance for all!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Google Voice explained

One of my previous employers offered an excellent perk, a phone and data plan. While I often used the smartphone for business, I decided to also have the phone double as my personal phone. I did not make this decision lightly, but keeping track of 2 phones, 2 chargers, 2 calendars, etc. convinced me to integrate my work and personal identities, so to speak.


Unfortunately, I made a rookie mistake that I hope I can help you avoid. I transferred my personal mobile phone number to this company. Luckily, my SVP at the time generously signed the paperwork to transfer it back to my personal use when I left the company. However, if I had known about Google Voice, I could have avoided this.

For just $20, you can transfer your personal phone number to Google Voice. This service allows, among many other features, call forwarding. I recommend getting a new mobile number through your employer's phone plan and letting Google Voice call that number. This way, you don't have to re-circulate a new phone number. It also allows you to differentiate between personal and work calls.

You can send unlimited text messages via email or the Google Voice web site and make free calls via Gmail to any North American number. There is even a setting that allows you to send calls to your number to an office phone during weekdays and a mobile or home phone during other time windows.

A tangent on switching employers. "But I love my company, so I don't need to worry about the mobile number release," you might say. You may love your employer, but turnover is so common that you should be protected, even if a future move is unlikely. What if your spouse gets a job across the country, for instance? Also, Forbes ran an article recently showing that salaries tend to remain stagnant if you stay at the same company. I have not found this to be the case universally, but it's important to know the research and your market value. Make sure to check out my post on compensation equity.




Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Happy birthday to Margaret Atwood

Happy, happy birthday to my all-time favorite author Margaret Atwood! This lovely, talented, intelligent author is turning 75 years old today.


I had the pleasure of meeting Margaret this spring. I blogged all about it back in May.


Goodreads, my favorite online literature reviewer, recently interviewed Margaret about her illustrious career and the plans for a TV series based on her work. She also did a cool project where she wrote an essay to the future that will be opened in 100 years.

If you're new to Margaret Atwood, might I highly recommend 2 of her books that are my personal favorites? The Handmaid's Tale is her most famous, classic novel. I also suggest The Robber Bride, which coincidentally has a character named Charis, though she pronounces it differently than I do. Her latest is Stone Mattress, a collection of short stories that I currently have on hold from the Boston Public Library.


Monday, November 17, 2014

On the recent developments in compensation equity for women

Last month, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella spoke at the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) of Women in Computing. I didn't see it live, because my plans to attend the conference were thwarted by a company-wide travel ban. But since the GHC conference completely changed my career aspirations when I attended in 2010, I follow it annually whether I'm there in person or not. GHC has an amazing wiki that offers all sorts of amazing resources, from PowerPoint presentations to session notes. You can follow the whole thing on Twitter and it's the next best thing to being there. #ghcmanwatch was was an exciting hashtag to follow this year, complete with a male ally buzzword bingo game.


At the GHC 2014 conference, Nadella commented that women should trust the system, and karma, regarding compensation. Here is a recap of the controversy. He eventually backtracked on his comments and apologized. Compensation equity for women is a complex, tricky, taboo, subject, and it's easy to get oneself in hot water when discussing it. Personally, I applaud Nadella for showing up to GHC, and also for his later comments recognizing the bias inherent in his original statements. While #ghcmanwatch was entertaining, I yearn for a time when we can transcend the counterproductive shaming and name calling. The fact is that women absolutely need male allies if we are going to shatter the glass ceiling.

So where does this leave the cause of pay equity for women? I think each woman owes it to herself to educate herself on effective negotiating behaviors and be her own advocate.

One place to start is the book Women Don't Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation and Positive Strategies for Change.

Conveniently, my colleague Pat Katepoo is giving away three copies of this book. To enter, all you need to do is like her on Facebookcomment on the giveaway post, and take a brief survey (2 minutes, tops) to share your feelings about asking for a raise and contribute to research in how to address the gender pay gap.

Do it now; it only takes 5 minutes to complete all 3, and the giveaway ends November 20.

If you're serious about understanding and getting your market value as an employee, you owe it to yourself to find out more about Pat's Pay Raise Prep School for Women.

P.S.: When you are looking for ways to improve your satisfaction at work, visit Pat's WorkOptions.com site. She offers strategies for getting approval for telecommuting, job sharing, flexible workweeks, and longer maternity leaves, and other flexible work arrangements, that are effective in even the most rigid workplace.

This post contains affiliate links. For more information, visit my disclosure policy

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sunday is for

Sunday is for sleeping in.


Sunday is for easing into your day.

Sunday is for getting ready slowly, unhurried. No rush.

Sunday is for yoga.



Sunday is for brunch.


Sunday is for making plans.

Sunday is for catching up.

Sunday is for naps.

Sunday is for resting, relaxing.

Sunday is for rehearsing.

Sunday is for football.

Sunday is for feeling grateful.

Sunday is for repose.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Dress rental made easy

I was familiar with clothing rental websites like Rent the Runway and StitchFix, but had never tried them. In fact, I've heard mixed reviews about Stitch Fix, like that the first shipment was fine, but then the options went way downhill. But when I had a big presentation last week and felt like I had nothing to wear, I figured I'd give it a try. I started using Gwynnie Bee, a site that mails you clothing. It focuses on sizes 10-32, but many reviews of the site say that most of its best clothing falls in the lower to middle of this size range. You can either rent it or if you love it, buy the item at a discount. I received many compliments on the 4 dresses I've received. I have purchased 2 of the dresses so far, and they were both under $50, so it seems pretty affordable. Here is the first one I bought:



and I got this one that I ended up giving my presentation in:



And I didn't purchase it, but really liked this one for date night:



It's $10 to rent clothing for your first month, and goes up after that. Shipping is free both ways via USPS and prepaid envelopes.

I'm wearing the dress below today with knee-high brown boots. It worked well both for giving tours of my daughter's elementary school to prospective parents, and for an afternoon coffee with a friend, and a birthday dinner out with a colleague.


Happy shopping!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Blowout


I gave an important presentation at work this weekend and wanted to look my best. So I took a suggestion from a colleague and a local mom friend, who both recommended a blowout.

A blowout in my mom dictionary means something very different. But it turns out a blowout is a thing you can do to get your hair washed, dried and styled, not cut or colored. So I decided to give it a try yesterday.

What do you think?


I really liked the result. But given that it's expensive, $40 plus tip, and time consuming, I think I'll save it for special occasions.

I went to Drybar in Chestnut Hill. There's also one on Newbury St. Be Styled is another blowout chain, also in Chestnut Hill, as is Blo. Finally, Hairo on Newbury seems popular.

Happy styling!


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Run a WebEx meeting like a super ninja

In a small, intimate conference call, you might not mind an alert when colleagues join your line so you know when it's time to begin. However, when meetings exceed 5-6 participants, all coming from their previous meeting at different times, you might want to disable this setting so that the speaker is not interrupted by latecomers.

You can configure this setting using the WebEx plug-in to Outlook. Just select the No Tone option on the drop-down for meetings.


As a best practice, I use this if my meeting exceeds half a dozen participants.

Unfortunately, this method is not foolproof. If you are in a meeting with the announcements option enabled and you need to shut it off in real time, try pressing *2. Note that you can likely only do this when you are dialed in as the leader of the call. *6 can mute all of your conference participants' phones. You can find a full list of commands on Cisco's page.

I hope that these tips will help your conference calls to run a little more smoothly!


Keep in mind that sometimes, things to not go as planned, and you need to call in the big guns. This happened in a conference call today, in which I was presenting a talk to a large (70+) audience about work/life balance. Luckily, my colleague and I had the foresight to dial in 30 minutes prior to the start of the meeting. This is always an excellent idea in a big meeting!

We noticed that despite adjusting the No Tone setting, we were still getting the "Now Joining" alert for a new participant. At this point, we called Cisco's WebEx customer service line at (866) 229-3239. We were able to change the setting for the conference going forward, but not the meeting we were in. So to avoid sending a revised meeting to everyone, we called the operator at *0, who was able to change this setting. Remember this option for your next big conference call!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Another conference call tip

Back in August I blogged about saving conference call numbers in your phone. This is an excellent way to use frequently dialed conference calls from your phone.

Today, I want to let you in on a work etiquette tip so that your colleagues can easily access your meetings from the go. The best news is that it's super easy to do.

In Outlook or from your meeting on your iPhone, use the location field to hyperlink your conference call.


Type the conference call dial-in number, and then add either a pause, which displays as a comma, or wait, which displays as a semicolon. According to this blog, a pause stops the dialing for 2 seconds, and the wait does not proceed until you enter more numbers. They both seem to work, but I use pause. After the pause, type the PIN or attendee ID of the conference call number. Then add the pound sign and save. It should look like this.


Now your meeting attendees can easily open your meeting on their phone. They click on the hyperlink in the field and the phone does the rest. Just hope that your colleagues return your courtesy and record their names so that everyone else can stop listening to the dreaded "BEEP ... Name Not Recorded" message. Tomorrow's conference call tip will explain how you can avoid that in your meetings going forward.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Art of Asking

Tonight, I am going to Amanda Palmer's book party.


I've loved Amanda Palmer's music since a coworker several jobs ago made me a copy of her band The Dresden Dolls self-titled album. The music really grew on me, and I went to several of her live shows, including this one at the Middle East and The Onion Cellar. She seems to attract controversy wherever she goes, like with a poem for Dzhokhar she published soon after the Boston Marathon bombings and a Kickstarter campaign that put off many of the musicians who performed with her. I don't pay much attention to the drama, and enjoy her music nonetheless.

I'll post later with updates, hopefully photos, and a review. In the meantime, here are some critics' takes on Amanda's new book:

WBUR

Boston Herald review

SheKnows.com


Updated: So the show was amazing. Amanda only played a few songs, but the ones she played: The Bed Song, Runs in the Family, Delilah, and Play Your Ukulele, were fantastic. Amanda's husband Neil was there, reading from her book.

 The Royale is a beautiful venue.



And I met Amy Cuddy, who gave one of my favorite TED talks about body language! I blogged about her in my career tips post. She is awesome and beautifully sang along to Delilah this evening. Way to go, Amy and Amanda!