Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The price of admission

I recently re-watched the amazing "This Is Water" commencement speech by the late David Foster Wallace expertly put to video. Definitely check it out if you haven't seen it.

This is some of the most useful advice a young adult can receive. It's hard to realize at 21, but so much of life is spent in the throes of monotonous routine: commute, dishes, responding to an unceasing deluge of electronic correspondence. It's enough to make you want to unplug for a while.

Of course, this drudgery multiplies when you join your life with someone, and again if you decide to have a child, or 2. More everything: laundry, dishes, cooking, stuff to worry about, school, activities, the list is nearly endless. And this translates directly into less time for yourself to pursue your interests, or just relax.

What about delegation? you might ask. Surely, successful people outsource a lot of the drudgery of human existence. You can bet Sheryl Sandberg doesn't do her own laundry. Yet, as much as I outsource, and it's a lot, there is still the in-between cleaning, clutter management, and housework that piles up daily and consumes a lot of my time.

As I was putting away yet another load of laundry, it hit me. This, putting away laundry on Christmas Eve, is the price of admission. For unlimited access to my daughter's amazing smiles, and her looks of pure delight.

What I paid for this privilege was less time to explore my own interests and to run around rushed on Christmas Eve. The late nights of wrapping, and waking up early, or staying home when she was ill.

When viewed through this lens, it makes my daily activities feel a lot less menial and a lot more meaningful. As Life Is Good founder John Jacobs put it at the Massachusetts Conference for Women, replace "I have to" with "I get to." I get to pay the bills, I get to wrap these presents, I get to put away this laundry. Sounds like a mantra worth repeating.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Where was I going?

'Tis the season for reflection. So, not surprisingly, my mind drifted to my year last week as I was swimming laps in the company pool. Maybe it had something to do with the kick board I was using, Dory from Finding Nemo pondering, "Where was I going?"

Fortunately, I have a slightly better memory than Dory. I recalled my 4 career goals of 2014:
  1. Find a new job that involves design thinking
  2. Get a raise
  3. Speak at an event
  4. Blog 50 times
Research shows that you achieve better results by writing down your goals each year. Therefore, I pick a very few personal goals and a few career-related goals each year. 

So, how'd I do?
  1. I started a new job at my company in April on a team heavily invested in market research and thoroughly understanding customers. I participated in a persona research project.
  2. Not only did I receive a raise exceeding my goal, I also was promoted.
  3. I conceived, pitched, wrote and presented the Quarterlife Crisis in November. It was so well received that I'm planning to present to new groups of colleagues.
  4. Mainly thanks to National Blog Posting Month in November, this is my 64th blog post. I've received well over twice the amount of views I expected for an inaugural year of blogging, and the direction and goals of my blog have evolved. I aim to share tidbits of wisdom and things I've found to enrich my life in the hopes that my readers will benefit.
I still have so much to learn about life. Like how not to wake up at 3:30 am to bake Christmas cookies for today's holiday party at work. My daughter is so much like me (just like the Ben Folds song) that she was up at 5 am helping to decorate. 

Maybe that will be my 2015 goal, to try to relax more and enjoy each moment. That certainly will be a challenge.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Hour of Code

Last year was my first year participating in the Hour of Code. I went to my daughter's preschool class and taught the kids basic programming via an iPad game called My Robot Friend. We had a blast freeze dancing and coding!

If your child enjoys this type of game, then check out the coding board game Robot Turtles, which is based on a similar concept.

This year, I wanted to try something different. Then I stumbled upon this USA Today article mentioning a new coding game using the characters from Frozen. The code is an easy, intuitive drag-and-drop user interface called Blockly. It's similar to the MIT-developed Scratch GUI. I figured that my daughter's kindergarten class would love that, so I emailed her science teacher to see if we could give it a try. She was game, and I was excited! The game itself is so fun that I continued playing long after my daughter went to bed.

The kids had so much fun! We began with a quick demo on the SmartBoard.

Then, we let them try it individually on their iPads. They mastered several levels in a matter of minutes, and ended the session with a freeze dance game to Let It Go.

My company, EMC, thought this was so cool that they profiled my volunteer efforts in a video for International Women's Day 2015! More here:

I'm so grateful to my company for giving us 3 volunteer days off so that I can spend time in my community working on fun projects like this.

It's not too late to bring the Hour of Code to your school! Check it out online at Hour of Code.

Here are some additional photos from the Philbrick 3rd grade's hour of code.

Edited to add additional photos from the Philbrick 4th grade's hour of code.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

MA conference for women

I attended the 10th annual MA conference for women today at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. It was so beautiful out on the walk over.

EMC's excellent EVP of HR, ML Krakauer, kicked off the morning's keynotes.

John Jacobs, founder of Life Is Good, introduced his 2 year old daughter Lucy. He explained that he does not look at things like paying taxes as "I have to do this." Rather, he reframes it as "I get to do this." I love that sentiment and will remember to reframe my first-world problems as such.

I attended an excellent talk by Shelia Heen, who wrote one of my favorite business books Difficult Conversations. Her actionable tips on receiving feedback gracefully will definitely improve my ability to listen and process advice. I plan to read her book on this topic Thanks for the Feedback.

Katrina Alcorn was on the next panel about work-life balance. Last year, I read her book Maxed Out: Working Moms on the Brink, which really resonated with me. I felt grateful to have a cautionary tale to help me avoid many of the struggles she faced. I posted the photo below on Twitter and she favorited it!

After an inspiring, heartfelt speech from actress Lupita N'yong, it was time for the main event, Hillary Clinton.

I've seen her speak twice, here and at the Simmons Conference for Women in Leadership. She is an articulate, polished, passionate speaker. I related to her story about when Chelsea was 2 and sick with a fever, Bill was out of town, and she needed to be at work. Her guilt about calling in a favor to a friend to watch her daughter was palpable as she told her story. It made her so real. I never figured a former Secretary of State would have childcare issues!

Sunday, November 30, 2014


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.

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.