Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Debunking BlogHer Myths

Like any good analyst, I read quite a lot about BlogHer before I attended the conference this past weekend. In fact, I've been reading pre- and post-conference posts for a number of years, and I've seen many, many advice posts. Here's a list of what I now know, since having experienced it this one time only makes me truly an expert. ;)
  • You will meet a lot of people in the lobby of the hotel: TRUE! I was positively stunned to meet Colleen in the lobby approximately 14 seconds after picking up my conference registration. I've been following her for years, from when I first complained about missing BlogHer back in 2009. She joined Kimberly and me for lunch, and finding her was an excellent way to start our trip. After lunch Kimberly and I spent even more time in the lobby, meeting Casey and many more in the process. The lobby rocks.
  • You will see the same people over and over again: TRUE! I realize now that some of this is due to "like choosing like"--that people who gravitated towards one type of session might also show up at a similar session (hi Danielle and Tabatha!). But I met Lea looking for the shuttle back to the hotel and saw her a million times, and we met Ashley at the very start of a day and saw her again at the very end. We checked out the Serenity Suite early in the conference and met the amazing Kelli, Sarah, Heather, Ellie and Stacey there, and basically ended the conference in the same place, with the same women. Real relationships happened.
  • You need to bring lots of snacks and a surge protector: In the words of the MythBusters, BUSTED. I did this and just ended up with sore shoulders and a heavy suitcase. I never opened my surge protector, despite using someone's at some point each day, and was able to find a close outlet whenever I needed one. I thought there were plenty of snacks available too, and announced to the entire Storytelling session that I had brought a giant bag of Skittles with me that I did not want back. And I was even more thrilled when Jenni and Vikki then wove the topic of Skittles in to the session.
  • You should dress in layers and wear comfortable shoes: TRUE! Yes, yes, lots of people say this, but it's absolutely true and I listened. I never ended up removing any of my layers (denim blazer one day, sweater cardigan the next), and my feet never hurt (sparkly Toms and Naots to thank for that). 
  • Voices of the Year and the Fashion Show are amazing: TRUE ISN'T A GOOD ENOUGH WORD. Yes, it's awesome to be in the same room as Queen Latifah and Wendi McLendon-Covey but I assure you that they spent those evenings feeling more like sideshows than the main event. The bloggers showcased in these programs were truly phenomenal. For once I gave arm-straining claps and standing ovations, not just "likes" and tweets. You can see the full list of those honored and a glimpse in to the fashion show.

In a future post, I'll be sharing some of what I learned from the sessions and keynote speakers, and talking about the big brand question...once I do a little more soul searching on that part. There has been a lot of quick-to-pounce criticism floating around about the event this year, particularly by people who chose not to attend. I'm here to tell you that I have very little to say about BlogHer that isn't overwhelmingly positive. I took exactly what I wanted from the experience, and sailed through it on pure adrenaline and a love for what I was doing. And I already can't wait for next year.

Friday, July 26, 2013

I Need to Remember This.

I am supposed to be trying to sleep, or perhaps I should be out at a party, but what I most wanted to do is curl up in my bed with my laptop. I am a blogger, after all, and the last 48 hours have proved that to me beyond measure.

I've said it before, but bloggers are my people. Some of you are bloggers too, so you get it. Or maybe you're a Red Sox fan, or a cyclist, or in to certain type of music, or art. My tribe is bloggers. I am in my element here. I don't feel scared to introduce myself. I am good, I think, at being nice to people, making small talk, complimenting your outfit. I may not be the best writer I can be yet, but I am figuring it out and I know that meeting more of my tribe is only going to encourage me to elevate my game.

Today, I got to meet Lisa Belkin, most recently of The Huffington Post, whose career I have followed since her article on the "Opt Out Revolution" was published during the second trimester of my pregnancy with Hannah. I schmoozed on the Expo floor and realized I have a lot more feelings to explore on that. I sought out favorite bloggers who I knew mostly by their avatars. I learned about how to refine my writing for pitching it elsewhere, and what it's like to speak out on injustice and the tough situations that can follow such bravery. And yesterday was all about meeting people randomly, in the lobby and the serenity suite and in line at a party.

Tonight I got selected from a pot to read a blog post at the open mike session after BlogHer's main event, Voices of the Year. I read in front of maybe a hundred or so people (very dark room, VERY bright lights). People laughed when they were supposed to laugh, and they clapped at the end. I could barely feel my legs as I walked away from the podium.

I knew I needed this experience--I just didn't realize how much. More to come on all of it, but for tonight, I need to capture some of this magic in a bottle, so I can come back here the next time I'm feeling like maybe this writing into the abyss is a waste of time. For too many years, I watched the magic happen from home, on the sidelines. No more of that.

If this woman had a face, you'd see that it's me. Taken by Kimberly of
Red Shutters, my faithful buddy in this amazing experience.

The Having It All Project: Rachel Dranoff

I'm so happy to feature my sister-in-law, Rachel, on The Having It All Project today (and to have the opportunity to kvell over how cute my niece and nephew are in that picture!). I've had the privilege of getting to watch Rachel's life unfold, and am proud of the great mom (and aunt!) she is. Here's how Rachel is having it all.

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique. 
My life is a combination of convention and iconoclasm. I am the stay-at-home Mom of two amazing 4-year-olds and wife to an incredible guy. I am also a native New Englander raising a Jewish family in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Although I have invested a lot in my formal education, earning a J.D. in 2006, I am happy with my decision to be a full-time homemaker. My husband, Jon, is a physician and nine years older than I am. When we met I has half way through law school, and Jon was an assistant medical professor at an elite university. As I was starting my career, Jon was beginning to reap the rewards of years of dues paying. In 2010 Jon was offered an amazing position at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. The best decision for our family was for me to modify my career goals and move from New England to Little Rock, Arkansas, to support Jon’s advancement in his career.

Fortunately, we love Little Rock! Our move here has allowed me to explore aspects of myself that I neglected during my pursuit of a legal career. In addition to finding enjoyment in domesticity, I also spend a lot of time volunteering in Arkansas’ small but active Jewish community, and I have a new found passion for creative arts.

What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos? 

I’ve recently learned to be able to go with the flow and not get too attached to my plans. After my son’s  recent two week stomach virus, I have accepted that it’s inevitable that 30-50% of our weekend plans will get canceled because one of my children has thrown up.

I also remind myself of a regular basis that taking care of children is doing something. Taking care of young children is not something that is done best passively while working on other tasks or projects. So at the end of a long day with both kids when I begin thinking about the loads of laundry I didn’t do and the volunteer activity I committed to but haven’t finished, I remind myself that the kids are fed, clean, safe and happy. I remember that I did do something. I took care of the physical, emotional and development needs of two people who are not yet capable taking care of themselves.

Please share a moment where it all broke down, and how you got through it. 

Disney World.  Jon had a conference in Orlando this past May. Like many other conference attendees we decided that since we had a hotel room paid for, it would be a great time for a Disney/Universal vacation. Having just turned 4 we knew all the theme parks would be a lot for the kids, but we planned everything out and my mother-in-law came to help.

Overall we had a great time and both kids loved the Dumbo ride, lunch at Cinderella’s castle and the safari at the Animal Kingdom. However, many of the rides at Disney consist of small compartments in which you sit moving, spinning and jerking on tracks through darkened tunnels with illuminated scenes from Disney movies. Noises blare as you travel through and larger than life-size villains pop out at you from the darkness. Fun for some, terrifying for my 4-yearold daughter, Evie. After going on one of these rides, she let out horrific screams at every other ride we tried. We managed to wrangle her kicking and screaming on to the Little Mermaid ride, but had no luck convincing her that both It’s a Small World and the riverboat cruise that departs from Main Street USA would not be scary.

On the second day, when I had to take her out of the live Finding Nemo show, I broke down. Disney, which is supposed to be fun, was making my daughter (and me) miserable. Overheated and thinking about the expensive entrance passes, I found myself trying to convince my daughter that something that was terrifying her was actually fun. She wasn’t buying it and neither was I.

Standing outside the Nemo theater and at a near mental break down, I surrendered. I surrendered to my circumstances and stopped trying to force a commercial-like image of an ideal family vacation onto my real life. I decided that from then on Evie would enjoy DisneyWorld at Evie speed. She happily spent the rest of our theme park time taking in the view from the stroller while one or more of the rest of us went on rides and explored the parks. Lesson learned. No matter how far you travel, how much money you’ve spent or how overheated in the Florida sun you are, your child may not enjoy, and actually be terrified of, what is supposed to be “fun.”

Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn't work for you? 

My role models are my parents. They ran a dual career household without the generation before them to use as role models. Although Jon and I do not have a dual career household, my parents are my role models because they did what worked best for them in their circumstances. Sometimes their life and career decisions were made in part to fulfill personal ambitions; other times they were made out of sheer practicality. 

The one thing that would not work for me is trying to follow anyone else’s path. My life is a function of my own unique personality traits and my own unique experiences and circumstances. I can’t judge myself by the achievements of those who have lived completely different lives.

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then? 
TWINS! I never imagined I would be the mother of twins. I also don’t think I could have imagined being as confident as I am now. I was quite shy and introverted as a teenager and I don’t think I could have imagined developing the contentment and self-assuredness I feel now.

Relate to what Rachel is saying? Leave her some love in the comments. Read other posts from The Having It All Project here. Want to participate? Send me an email at havingitallproject@gmail.com!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

"Show Me Your Face" BlogHer13 Meme

Okay, I will play along. Here, BlogHer13 participants (and beyond), is my face.

Well, you already had my face from two years ago in tiny avatar form, but here's what I looked like more recently, on the first non-humid morning we'd had in Boston after a very long stretch of wretched mornings. This is the "as good as it gets" face, the hair that isn't totally triangulated yet face, the still wearing make up face, the taken from a flattering angle and good outdoor lighting face. And my front yard and the corner of my red house.

Chances are, you won't end up seeing this girl unless you find yourself waiting for the elevator immediately after leaving your hotel room at the same time as me, because she tends to disappear rather quickly. She's sometimes replaced by the pony tail-wearing face, or the concealer can't hide the bags under my eyes face, or more strands of grey in her hair than I realized face. But those girls are usually nice, so I hope you'll get to know them too.

Looking forward to meeting more of you than I can count.

Monday, July 22, 2013

General Busy-ness: June and July 2013

So I'm fairly certain that I wrote the June edition of General Busy-ness in my head, but it appears I never actually did the whole typing, uploading and hitting publish part of the process, which doesn't help you all in the least. I did write some things in June though. I told you about my unbalanced week, which kicked off the month. I told you about preschool graduation. I told you it was my anniversary. I haven't kept you completely in the dark. Here's what I didn't tell you.
Hannah had her piano recital, and we've decided to put piano lessons on hold until she gets acclimated to a new instrument during her school program in the fall. This year she played "Starships" by Nicki Minaj, and did a great job with it. We also went to her third grade recorder concert and classroom portfolio party. She had another great school year, and can't wait for Max to be at school with her in the fall. She also got to attend a *lot* of parties in the last few weeks of school. I kind of wish I had her social calendar. She left school a day early to start her second summer at Camp Yavneh, and we picked her up yesterday. Again, she had a fantastic time and can't wait to go back next summer. I missed her terribly, but I think I handled it better this time around.

And yes, it was nice to get some alone time in with Max, and to spend time on the things he's most interested in. After we dropped Hannah at camp, we took him to tour a submarine and a tiny science museum in New Hampshire. He got to spend a few days with his grandparents, who took him to the beach and Chuck E. Cheese. We also took him to the New England Aquarium on the Fourth of July, and to see Disney Channel's Choo Choo Soul at a free outdoor music festival in Boston. But most importantly, Max went to camp for the first time at some place other than the JCC. He spent a few weeks at a Newton Parks & Recreation camp, and he loved it. He learned to play dodge ball, and asked me to pick him up late so he could spend more time playing chess. I'm so thrilled he had a great experience there.
Marc and I got to have one night out while both kids were away, doing the traditional dinner and a movie thing, but it was really nice. The following day we both got to do some things on our own, which for me meant getting a haircut, doing some shopping for BlogHer, and going to the Darren Criss concert at the House of Blues. The show was great--I'm not as familiar with his solo music, but of course his performance of "Teenage Dream" was spectacular. I've been really happy with how much time we've spent in Boston this summer - four outings in the city since Memorial Day weekend has to be a record for us.

Work is as busy as ever, but going well. Exercise still seems to be a struggle--I get to Zumba when I can, but not as often as I should. But I have been writing more, including some pieces that I haven't posted here, but that hopefully you'll be able to see somewhere, some day. And I leave for BlogHer in about two days, a trip that has consumed much more thought and planning than I ever thought possible, but I'm ready for it.

So what's your summer been like so far?

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Having It All Project: Allison Andrews, PsyD

Another Twitter find, possibly through Having It All Project participant Carla, Allison is a mother, a writer and a psychologist who works to support the parents and families of quirky kids. You can see her website, read her latest blog post, or follow her on Twitter. Here's how Allison is having it all.
Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique.
I am not sure that my life is particularly unique. I am raising two amazing children and trying to juggling work, parenting, relationship stuff and all the chaos that entails. If I were to pick something it would be that I was raised in a family with a special needs sibling and I am raising my own quirky complicated kid, and professionally I work to support the parents of special needs and quirky kids. I think that professionally this does give me a particularly unique perspective on the challenges parents and families with special needs children face. I am in it too--up to my eyeballs--and I have been since I was a kid. Personally, as a parent it means that I have lots of thoughts and feelings about my family's experience when I was a kid, what went well and what did not go so well. I bring all of that into my role as a mom. I think a lot about how to make my own family a place where everyone gets what they need. Professionally when I talk to parents, I think a lot about how the whole family is doing, especially the parents and I think about what kinds of supports are needed so that everyone can thrive.

What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos?
I am a big proponent of letting go and simplifying. I am not particularly good at letting go so I figure the universe is bringing me the challenges I need to grow as a person. In the past couple of years when things have been hard in our family life I have tried to put that philosophy into action. I have let go of a lot of outside non-work related commitments and I am learning to say no and not feel guilty. I try to keep things simple with my kids and create routines and clear expectations and let go of stuff that is less important.

I think that when things are really chaotic I try to slow things down and really focus on the present moment. This is a flavor of in the moment mindfulness that I find very helpful. I try to practice being where I am instead of ten steps or ten years ahead of myself. I think parents of children with special needs (including me) tend to spin out of control with their worries. Generally, as a group, we can make ourselves a little bit crazy. All parents do this, of course, but when your child is struggling, or not hitting developmental milestones that other children get to pretty easily, it can bring anxiety up to a whole different level.

As someone prone to worrying and anxiety, I find being mindful to be an incredibly powerful way to ground myself. Of course, it is easier to say than to actually do, especially when the present moment is a hard moment. But they are lots of wonderful moments too. I do not want to miss them because I am stressed out.

I think it helps to be married to a guy who knows it is in the interest of our entire family for me to get some amount of self care. He encourages me to go to the gym because I am just a much nicer person when I do that for myself a few times a week. Even though sometimes because of work schedules he cannot always be around, I know that he gets its and he gets me and I know I do not have to be alone with the stress and worry. That helps a lot when things are tough. Also I am really lucky to have a couple of friends who I can call up and complain to about some of the more absurd parts of life.

And when things are really hectic I am a big fan of cereal and pancakes for dinner. The kids are always on board with this and it is not a lot of work for me. Everyone is happy.
Please share a moment where it all broke down, and how you got through it.
I think every day brings its own little breakdown moments. Each day I try to pick and choose my battles. I try to stay consistent and I try not to let myself get overwhelmed.

I think the hardest time for us was when my daughter was in preschool and kindergarten. She was struggling on every level and we hadn't yet figured out what exactly was going on in terms of her sensory and learning issues. There were a lot of meltdowns and all my buttons were being pushed. At times, I was digging in my heels in ways that was making life harder for everyone. I was not letting go. I had ideas about what it meant to be a "good" parent. But I had to really let go of some of that in order to be the parent my 5 year old daughter needed right at that moment.

Food was a big issue for me and a place where I was stuck for a little while. It is a really good example for me of letting go of conflict in the moment but not letting go of a bigger vision or hope for the future. I really wanted to be really strict parent and insist that she at least try her veggies and only eat what we made for the whole family. But as I learned more and more about sensory issues and my daughter's needs I just let it be and backed off. We had a long period of time where she only ate off-white food or would have cheerios (that was always our back up food) when the rest of us had something else. But I also made it a priority to engage her with food in a different way. So we did things like plant a garden, and I kept offering a variety of foods but took away expectation that she try them. Slowly over time she has really expanded her palate to include fruits, veggies, fish, and a whole lot of other things that I would have never thought possible. Though she still has our off-white food days. She still eats a lot of cheerios.

Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn't work for you?
I admire so many of the moms and dads that I see around me. People are juggling so much. I am especially in awe of some of my friends who are raising quirky, high need children. It is a lot of work. While I think that all parents struggle and all children present a myriad number of challenges, there is a particular type of anxiety and stress that comes from parenting a child that is out of sync in some way. Parents of quirky kids get reminded all the time how their kid does not fit in. It can be an emotional and a logistical roller coaster. Also, since I have become a parent I also have a lot more empathy and understanding for my own parents. Particularly for my mom who I think bore the brunt of raising a very challenging child (my sister) in a time with far fewer supports.

I have also come to realize that even though I want to "have it all," I have to do that on my terms. I cannot "lean in" and have the power job, at least not right now in my life. But the solution for me isn't not working or not being in the game but trying to create a model of work that make sense for the reality of my life. I really admire people who are doing work they love but on their own terms.

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then?
I do not think I had a very good sense of who I was at age 18 or what I wanted in life. I think the 18 year old me would be surprised at how happy I am being married and being a parent. I was not, like many of my friends, someone who was absolutely positive that I would have this type of life and that I would have children, though now it is hard to imagine it any other way. This is the path I was meant to be on and I am grateful everyday that I get to be a mom to my two children, and I am so grateful that I can do work that I love in a way that allows me to be very involved with my children.
Relate to what Allison is saying? Leave her some love in the comments. Read other posts from The Having It All Project here. Want to participate? Send me an email at havingitallproject@gmail.com!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Public Mourning (RIP Cory Monteith)

So this is a really lousy post to have to write, but apparently I'm not going to stop thinking about it until I do, so here goes.

I am devastated that "Glee's" Cory Monteith died of a drug overdose this past weekend. That really, really sucks.

I have been a fan of "Glee" since its promotional campaign began--even before the pilot aired, I knew I would love it and its cast of relative unknowns and underdogs. And while maybe I was never quite as much of a misfit as the characters on the show, they sang Streisand songs to express their feelings, and I did that in high school, too. While I never would have declared Finn Hudson to be my favorite character, his romance with Rachel Berry was the core of the show, and what I would come back to regardless of whatever crazy plot line the writers tried to pull off each week.

Interestingly enough, and correct me if I'm wrong here, but drug abuse has actually never been the "big" story on "Glee." Instead, they've tackled things like school shootings, sexual abuse, teen suicide, texting while driving - but never hardcore drug use. There were some references to marijuana, mostly in the first season, and actually involving the Finn character having it planted on him, but it was never given the full "Glee" treatment that some of the other topics have gotten. Drug use was more of a punchline. Cory Monteith had already been in and out of rehab by that point, and I can't help but wonder about those scenes and what he must have been thinking. (I wonder, too, if those around him feel any guilt about that.) He'd recently been in and out of rehab again, and from all appearances seemed to be doing better. (This video is from the last episode Cory was featured in this season, featuring a callback to the pilot.)

So my heart broke a little on Sunday morning, and I turned to Twitter and Facebook to state how I felt about his death, and to look for consolation in other fans. This is a relatively new phenomenon for all of us, this public expression of mourning. It's not an entirely new feeling, mourning someone we've never met. I remember when Jim Henson, the creator of The Muppets, died when I was in middle school, and how sad I felt thinking that a part of my childhood had died then too. With the passing of both Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston, I was shocked and sad. But the difference this time is that "Glee" is still happening. I hear Cory Monteith's voice pretty much daily on my iTunes playlist. They just took the promotional photos for the coming season. With the others I've mentioned, they occuppied a place in my mind, but a place in the past. "Glee" represents now.

I pulled up the version of Journey's "Faithfully" from Season 2 and listened to it a lot on Sunday. It's always been my favorite song from the show, and I thought it was a fitting tribute. Then on the way home today, "We've Got Tonight" came on, and I teared up all over again. I'm sad that the show needs to find a way to move on without his character, and I'm sad that I will never get to see the resolution where Finn and Rachel get to ride off into the sunset together (and where Lea Michele and Cory, a couple outside the show as well, get to do the same). I don't like this ending. It's not the kind of Streisand song I want to hear.

While I know there's so much worse that happens in the world, stresses of my own that I should probably focus on instead, I needed to take a moment to mourn the loss of this source of joy and fun in my life. I'm glad I got to watch, and I'll keep singing along.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Making Shabbat Dinner Happen

At 8:41 pm on a Friday night, the Shabbat candles have melted down to one inch nubs, and I'm wringing out the sponge after I've finished washing the dishes, pots and pans from Shabbat dinner. After working and parenting all week, I'm officially exhausted. Same with my husband. Our two kids, usually fairly well-mannered children, are not at their best either.

Both Marc and I work full-time, and making Shabbat dinner happen at the end of the week is not easy. I’m usually home by 5:45 after leaving work and picking up both kids from after-school-care at opposite ends of town. But with traffic, and sometimes a last-minute stop at the grocery store, Marc is home an hour later. Since he does the cooking in our family, and likes to cook something more formal for Shabbat, we end up eating kind of late.

Sometimes, with the late start, the kids have too many snacks and not enough dinner. Sometimes, we don’t have our favorite challah if there wasn't time for a trip to the little bakery. Sometimes, there’s no challah at all, if the grocery store has also run out. And if we’re really being honest, sometimes it's pizza on the living room floor if one too many colds or deadlines has ripped through our family that week. But most often, we make the effort to greet Shabbat with lit candles, grape juice and prayer. What was once a conscious choice to take part in the rituals is now an expectation.

Growing up at a Reform synagogue, I was still the most “religious” Jew I knew. I thought I celebrated all the holidays, memorized all the prayers, loved going to religious school when the rest of my friends seemed to hate going there. Nonetheless, Friday nights were more about watching ABC’s lineup of sitcoms than watching the candles burn down. As I got a bit older, and I realized just how much I didn’t know about Judaism, I knew that I wanted it to be a bigger part of my everyday life. Celebrating Shabbat would be part of that.

When I went off to college, it was easy to add Shabbat dinners to my weekly routine, and they became the highlight of my social agenda.  My roommates and I hosted groups of our friends in our tiny apartment, crafting Kosher menus and hoping not to give anyone food poisoning. But those years ended all too quickly; I blinked and suddenly just a few years and two kids later, well, it’s not how I always imagined my family Shabbat dinner would be. Thrown food, spilled grape juice and complaints about “yucky” meals were the standard activities that accompanied the evening. Usually, since the kids are exhausted from their weeks, too, there’s no sparkling conversation, much less other guests at our table.

Is it worth it? I’ve asked myself that over many weeks when I thought about eating a bowl of cereal and calling it a day. But when my nine year old daughter enthusiastically joins in on Kiddush, yes, it’s worth it. When my five year old son dances like a meshuganah during Birkat Hamazon, absolutely. Perhaps most of all, it’s worth it when during the blessing of the children, both kids squeeze my hands extra tightly, my own mother’s traditional way of saying "I love you," passed down to a new generation. Knowing that they will have memories of these dinners when they’re older, and the hope that someday they’ll invite their own friends to dine with us, recreating that social scene I had myself? Unequivocally yes, it’s all worth it.

When I was a little kid, I always wondered who those families were that we learned about in religious school, that lit candles and sang songs around the dining room table. Now I know - it's my family.

(Thanks to Marc, Rebecca and Carla for their guidance on this piece.)

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Having it All Project: T.J. Pope

I'm honored to have my former high school locker buddy (our lockers were assigned alphabetically, and my last name was Pollock back then) here on The Having It All Project today. T.J. was ahead of his time--captain of the football team and a member of our school's show choir at a high school in Ohio. Today, that's a cast member on Glee. But seriously, it was always clear that T.J. was destined for great things, and he's lived up to that. Here's how T.J. is having it all.

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique. 
After serving for almost 10 years as an active-duty Army Officer and UH-60 Blackhawk Pilot, I decided (while my wife was pregnant with our first child no less) to leave the job security of frequent deployments overseas and frequent family moves to the chaos of an MBA program and life in corporate America during a down economy.  I pursued my M.B.A. at the University of Chicago and took a job with a large Midwestern company. We now live in Indiana, and have our first home and a second child.  Not only do I work as a Sr. Strategy Manager for my company, but also decided to continue my military aviation career as the Deputy Commander of the UH-60 Blackhawk Battalion for the Indiana Army National Guard.

What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos?

  • Don’t sweat the small stuff.  There are too many things in our daily lives that cause stress if we let them, but are truly not worth worrying about.  I have an ‘@$$ on fire’ test I use to check and see if I should get spun up on an issue or not – as a helicopter pilot on a tour in Baghdad, Iraq, I was once on fire while flying over the worst part of the city.  I had to shut one engine down and fly back to the northern suburbs and a US airbase at a very slow rate of speed which left me vulnerable to further damage.  This event defines “stressful” for me so if I look back and my @$$ is not on fire, then I can remind myself of that day and know I have no reason to get worked up over normal life issues. 
  • Digital Connectivity – everyone in our household has a digital calendar and they are all synched to be viewed on one master calendar.  The boys are young now, but this will be crucial as they get older and have more things going on
  • Make time for friends and family – very important sanity check and great way to re-charge your batteries 
  • Health and fitness – I’m by no means in prime shape, but when I feel myself dragging I know it’s more important than normal to skip the donut at breakfast and hit the office gym at lunch time.
  • ‘It gets better’ – even on the days where things go horribly wrong and you do feel like you’re on fire, know that it is only temporary and as quickly as trouble came, it will pass. We lean on our faith in both the good times and the bad and know that we live this life one day at a time.

Please share a moment when it all broke down, and how you got through it.

I was recently in a minor car accident during a time where there was a lot going on at my day job, I had to fly some high profile missions for my Army job, and my wife was trying to do some networking and interviewing in preparation to re-enter the workforce after being a stay at home mom.  We had competing priorities, plus a need to make trips to the repair shop, carpool to work, set up alternate transportation for our oldest son to his various lessons, and manage other daily activities.  To top it off, our home was being used in a commercial that will soon air nationwide.

I avoided getting a rental car even though it is included in my insurance policy because I thought it was an unneeded hassle.  Soon things fell apart and we were making stress out of a situation that needed not be stressful.  Sure things weren’t going according to plan and we had some extra requirements thrown on an already precariously full plate, but there was no reason to stress over it.

I handled this by eating the proverbial elephant one bite at a time – get a rental car, re-scheduled anything that has flexibility, breathe, relax, and move on.  Minus the rental car, I think that is the barebones formula for any situation.

Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn’t work for you?

I actually had the opportunity to intern for Gen (ret.) Colin Powell while I was a Cadet at the United States Military Academy.  This man is truly the epitome of balance and is an excellent example of how to serve your country, run a business, be a strong husband/father for your family, and change lives in the local community all without breaking a sweat! Although I know I lack some of the tenacity and incredible presence he has and which allows him to influence situations much more easily than the rest of us, I do my best to emulate his behavior every day.

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then?

At 18, I quite honestly lacked the vision to see out to 35.  I would’ve assumed that I would stay in the Active Army until I was an old man and they rolled me off of the base in my wheel chair never to return.  Other than that I’m honestly not sure how it compares.  I do know that I have to thank God every day because the reality of this life is better than anything I could have imagined had I tried to do so!

Relate to what T.J. is saying? Leave him some love in the comments. Read other posts from The Having It All Project here. Want to participate? Send me an email at havingitallproject@gmail.com!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Is Longevity Key to Flexibility?

Okay, I don't which of you lurking readers out there works for the New York Times, but you've really got to stop leaking them all of my best ideas. Because articles like this one keep coming out, and I'm nowhere to be mentioned; in fact, my comment didn't even make it through their gatekeepers! There are always things to quibble with in articles like these (dads do more than "help," single parents have it worse, etc, etc), but in general, I'm happy to see any piece published that shows anyone can capably work and be an asset to their employers, even if some flexibility is required. I think it's great to further that part of the agenda.

The part that made me laugh in self-recognition was that I *just* posted about the need to keep asking for flexibility only a few weeks ago. Like the woman in the Times piece, it took years to establish myself at my firm before I was allowed to work from home on a regular basis. I've attributed that fact to technological advancements that have made it easier, and the changing times in general that made it more acceptable, but I also think the third fact, that I'd been working there for so long, was also a key part of the argument. I'd built and established trust with my employers, and had a proven track record of delivering good results. Without that, would I have gotten what I wanted?

I've only worked for two companies in my 13.5 year career, which I think is somewhat of an anomaly these days (check out that awesome "for over five years of service" award that I just dug out of my basement to photograph). I've been fortunate to enjoy career advancement without having to move companies all that often, and I like to think that I play an indispensable role. Truth be told, I know I'm not irreplaceable, but it doesn't hurt when I can pull up meeting notes from 2011 and further along a relationship today.

When Hannah was born, I was able to adjust my schedule to work 8 to 4 without any complaints. Of course, for that job I often logged back on the computer as soon as I got home to handle anything that might have come up, but this was before Blackberries became industry standard. And the other side to that truth is that I loved my job, and wanted to do well, so of course I went back to do more work after Hannah and I arrived home. But a schedule adjustment is somewhat easier to tolerate than working from home seems to be.

If I switched companies now, I think I'd want to be upfront about my need for flexibility. I know I'd be unhappy working somewhere that ended up making my home life more complicated. But I also know that I have a sense of loyalty to my current employer for making my work-life balance less challenging. Regardless, I'd hate to think I'd have to start from scratch and work to build up my reputation all over again were I to make a switch.

So what do you think? Is flexibility becoming more of a standard thing, or do you need to have built up some equity first? Recent job changers, what has your experience been?

Friday, July 5, 2013

Work/Life Balance Blog Hop, Hosted by Fresh Stitches and While She Naps

A rare double post today at Busy Since Birth, but I'm honored to join a blog hop hosted by Stacey of Fresh Stitches and my friend Abby of While She Naps, and to welcome their readers and those of the other blogging participants here.

I hope those of you visiting from elsewhere aren't immediately let down by the fact that I'm not a craft blogger. Unless you count killer landyard making skills from my summers at overnight camp, I don't have a crafty impulse in my body. But like the others in this blog hop, I'm trying to figure out how to balance work, life, and the extra business of blogging (though in a completely money-free way - I have yet to make a dime from anything blog-related). I'm actually fairly obsessed with the concept of "having it all" and all that goes with that - so much so that I run "The Having It All Project" here on my blog, with guest posts appearing each Friday. My personal belief is that while it may not be easy, we actually have a lot of "all" going on in our lives, if we just choose to see it that way. So each week I share a new perspective on the issue, and hopefully create a supportive environment where people can share what "all" means for them, and how they're achieving it.

So what about me? Well, as the sidebar says, I'm a married mother of two, living outside Boston and working full-time as a product analyst at an investment firm. I work in my office four days a week, commuting about an hour each way taking two trains that I catch about a quarter mile from my house. The fifth day of the week (actually Tuesdays) I work at home because of my daughter's schedule - a child care gap from about 12:45 to 3:45 pm each week due to school early release followed by religious school later in the day. The days I'm downtown, I work from 8-4 so that I can get home in time for pick up. For the last six months or so, I've been waking at 5:45 am and starting my day, and then get home with the kids around 5:45 pm. Then I'd begin what many refer to as "the second shift" of being a wife, mom and managing the house alongside my husband. Marc and I are fairly closely divided when it comes to childcare and domestic stuff, though all of that equality doesn't usually happen on the same day. Sometimes I work late, sometimes he goes to work early, some days there's laundry (me), some days there's yard work (him).

Just like many of you who may have home businesses, because it's still so easy to work from home, it can be hard for me to turn it off too. I work with a lot of international clients, and when they email me during the evenings (their mornings), it's often hard for me not to respond. I do spend too much time on my phone and computer, but I think I can put it aside too. I think. ;) But I'm very grateful for the accessibility that technology has brought us - I'm happy to work a bit more in the evenings because it also allows me to work from home that one day a week too.

I've learned that it's not finding the balance in each day that matters, because there can be some extreme days and weeks even, but the longer-term balance is most important. I love writing here, but as it's not my paying gig, it can get pushed to a lower priority than I'd like. But if it gets too low on the list, I realize how much I crave and need to write, so I have to elevate its priority in the list again, often at the expense of something else. The same thing is true with making time for friends. I *wish* I felt the same way about exercise. :)

My favorite resource on figuring out how to manage it all? It doesn't exist yet, but it's the book I've written here on the blog, in the Notes app on my iPhone, and in my memories of the last ten years spent in pregnancy and parenthood.  Maybe it'll exist in print some day, and I can send you the link to buy it on Amazon. But in the meantime, look to others for help. Find ways to connect to other people, in real life or online, who are going through something similar to your life, or something completely different even, and talk it out. Spending an hour or two over good conversation always seems to do wonders for me (sorry, but I'm not one to recommend yoga and meditation - I don't think I've ever been able to quiet my mind for more than a fleeting moment!).

So that's my life in a nutshell. What about you? If you'd like to explore the topic further, take a look at the Having It All Project page, and let me know if you'd like to have your story featured here too. Please check out the rest of the fabulous bloggers in the hop, and, for me, take a moment today to acknowledge all of the "all" you're having every day. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you'll be back.

The Having It All Project: Gina Sampaio

Gina was led here by Having It All Project participant Kimberly Hensle Lowrance (my soon to be BFF after we conquer BlogHer together). Gina's a new blogger with a great story to tell, so I hope you'll check her out. Here's how Gina is having it all.

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique. 
On paper I think my life probably sounds pretty boring: I’m a crafty, cooking-from-scratch kind of stay at home mom married to someone I went to high school with and we live within ten minutes of each of our parents.  

Yawn. That’s the kind of person I make fun of, isn’t it?

But I guess that’s also part of what makes me unique. I’ve always wanted to be a home-cooking mama but I never wanted anyone to tell me that was all I was allowed to be. And now I am a fierce feminist that spends most of my time in the kitchen and busy with my five children while constantly challenging what being a SAHM means.  I write a blog that, yes, has to do with parenting and baking, but even more has to do with the challenges of attempting to navigate an open adoption after foster care as well as having a transracial family in a predominately white area.  Another topic I write about is surviving sexual assault in college and how that continues to affect me. Last year I was fortunate enough to get involved with the Meta Theatre Company, a troupe whose goal is to not only entertain but to educate and further social justice causes. With Meta I use my personal survival story as a vehicle to not only talk about resilience and survival but also racism and white privilege. I am so happy to be able to combine my loves of acting and activism. 

What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos? 
I hide.
Well, only sometimes. When you’ve stopped counting how many whiny breakdowns you’ve heard in one day and you hear the drone coming at you again, quick! Go jump behind the shower curtain! If they sound freaked at being unable to find you, give a quick little, “you can’t find me” and suddenly a game of hide-and-seek has been started and the whiny complaint has been forgotten.

Bigger picture? Prioritize and lower my standards: I realized I won’t give up making bread or granola bars for my family but I can live with only having a clean floor or laundry put away once a week.  I have learned to say no to commitments that I technically could handle but would give me just one more thing to juggle. If I have any guilt about it, I help in a smaller way (for example, NOT volunteering to be class mom but agreeing to help with one party or event during the school year.) I have no shame about calling on my village to help me and in turn I try to play the part of villager to other people’s broods. 

Please share a moment where it all broke down, and how you got through it. 
Clearly the worst time of my life had to be surviving the break-in/sexual assault. But even when I was feeling like I didn’t care if I died, I knew deep down that there was a spark inside me that would guide me to surviving and thriving. One of my three sisters even admitted that it was good in a way that happened to me and not to one of them, because I seemed more likely to get through it.
As far as it all breaking down for me as a parent . . . would you believe me if I told you there hasn’t been a time like that? We’ve certainly had tough times to get through together. Top in my mind is all the times we had worries about our foster children, when we didn’t know if they would stay or go, when we worried about their birth parents’ safety, when the state was making us jump hoops with ridiculous demands. Then there have been all the regular crazy times: too much going on, too many kids, bouts of extended family drama. But when I reflect back on it, I would never say there was a time it all broke down and I am sure that’s a direct result of my marriage being as strong as it is.
Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn't work for you? 
I can’t say that I do. I feel like I’m forging my own path on this one. 

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then? 
 When I turned 18 I just wanted to get away from my hometown already. I think I knew I hadn’t yet figured out exactly who I was and I had no clear image of that person but I was ready to find her.
Now I often remark that I had no idea what my dream life looked like, but I’m somehow lucky enough to be living it anyway.

Relate to what Gina is saying? Leave her some love in the comments. Read other posts from The Having It All Project here. Want to participate? Send me an email at havingitallproject@gmail.com!