Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Santa Situation

"Mom, I must have been really bad this year," my nine year old said.

"Why is that?" I asked.

"Because Santa brought my friend a bike and all I got was little stuff. Santa must not like me much," she said.

The terrible, horrible, no good Santa Situation aka the Big Dilemma aka the rough moment and what is a mom to do?

Let me back up a bit.

My husband and I decided a while ago to be very conscientious about how we handled the Santa situation and Christmas gift giving. We planned with an eye to the long-term.

Here are key factors we considered:
  • Both kids have birthdays in December, making it a massive gifting and receiving month, with the rest of the year pretty bone dry.
  • Santa is a very special part of the holiday, but we didn't want the holiday to revolve around Santa or what Santa brings.
  • Santa is a great morality tale/myth potential that's gotten way too diluted. The original concept of Saint Nicholas giving to needy and building out a concrete embodiment to help children grasp a truly complex, gnostic and esoteric philosophy makes sense. Until it becomes more of a commercial for consumerism. Which it has.
  • We both personally believe in Christmas as being a time to reflect on deeper meanings and reasons, a time for ceremony to provide a framework for faith.
  • So while we want to incorporate the magic of Christmas, Santa, the wonderful myths, the beautiful poetry and songs, touching movies and books and all that so our children have fun and fond memories, we want to do so in a thoughtful and balanced way.
We began with initial requests to limit gift-giving. That failed. And I understand -- family loves to gift little kids with cute stuff. It's just that stuff piles up.

Eventually my husband and I decided a lot of things that could be boiled down to a single concept: spread it out and plan ahead.

Kids are going to want and need new things with each season. So why not anticipate that and allow for that possibility?

We know we can't control how others give gifts, so we made choices that we'd put a cap on spending and quantity. We (mom and dad) would give gifts and Santa would fill stockings.

You'd be amazed how this can simplify things. No need for wrapping paper stress, remembering whether you or Santa was the giver, and so forth. We give one "big" toy (something fun but over budget of what we'd normally spend) and a combination of special, want and need. It worked out this year to about six packages per child to open. Each girl got a special necklace, a keepsake tree ornament, some clothing, the big fun toy (scooters), and a fun educational toy (from Discovery). For my own sanity, I also got them long range walkie talkies. This is so I can have one at home base, they can take one out in the neighborhood, and I can check in. This is the compromise my husband and I reached since we still aren't too keen on cell phones for the kids. Yet.

Santa did a pretty good job, too. Each child got a personalized mailbox filled with candy and a stuffed Santa toy, a personalized water bottle, a name sign, Zhu Zhu pets babies, colored chalk for the new chalkboard, hair accessories, and so forth. Most importantly, he left a personal letter for each child, talking about things he liked and found special about her.

When the wrapping paper cleared, the kids were pretty happy! Within an hour, the walkie talkies were in use as the kids scooted around the neighborhood, and we all dealt with the sound of grinding rocks in the nine year old's new rock tumbler.

Earlier the kids had gotten wonderful gifts from their extended family that hit their main interests. All in all, a nice haul.

I was feeling pretty happy, as well, that we managed to spread out family visits across a week so we got nice quality time in a low-stress way. We incorporated enough thoughtfulness, such as giving to a need (donations) and actively participating in church activities, as well as talking about meaning.

All was well until December 27. When kids started comparing notes.

In our family, we talk about "need-based" giving, and my kids have, until now, accepted that Santa knows which families need more. Our kids are fortunate and get lots from family, so they only "need" stockings filled. Other families need more from Santa. It's also helped explain differences among religious and nonreligious beliefs. Why would Santa visit my kids at their house with gifts but skip their Jewish cousins? Santa respects differences, I said, and he knows that families believe and give differently. It opens up a cool learning opportunity, too, about different beliefs (and nonbeliefs) and true meaning versus overfocus on gifts.

I was stymied to explain, then, how a friend of similar means and beliefs ended up with a big, shiny, new bike.

So I fell back on myth. Santa is a mystery. Something that baffles understanding and cannot be explained. An enigma.

Which might be the truest statement ever made about Santa.

But I did reassure my daughter that it had nothing to do with her naughty or nice status, or being liked less than a friend.

And then I cursed the "bogeyman" Santa side of the myth and my susceptibility to it this year, for the first time, out of impatience with constantly bickering children who have been in rampant boundary (and patience) testing mode lately.

But maybe it's not that bad for her to ponder her behavior, just a bit, in this context...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Last Minute Awesome Gift (and Stocking Stuffer) Ideas: The Hit Parade

Note: Read all the way to the bottom for the MUST WATCH kids' Christmas show, which will air on Christmas Day.

Okay so here are the things I got this year for gifting that I actually thought were awesome. They meet my "I'd really give this to someone and feel great about it" criteria. Some were things I might never have thought of, but got offered as review. I admit I used a good deal of selectivity in agreeing to receive certain products to review, so there was always a good chance I'd like them, but let's just say some were hits and some were misses. There are also a few things I risked buying online and have since received, whereupon I discovered they were as awesome as I'd hoped. I'll distinguish what I found from what was sent for review.

Here are the hits:

My find -- Lillian Vernon

I used to buy from Lillian Vernon frequently on gift-giving occasions. I'm not sure why I veered away. They have good stuff, you can personalize most of it, it includes things I might not think to buy, and did I mention you can personalize things? I've always been happy with the quality and prices.

So when I was worrying about stocking stuffers for the kids -- so did not want to go the crappy dollar row and candy route -- I turned to Lillian Vernon and found these:

My kids are a little more sophisticated but still kids, and love things with their names on it.

I also give them each a disposable camera so they can take their own holiday photos. A while back I got them their own photo albums and they have fun adding to that.

However, stuffing my husband's stocking is harder. It's funny to joke about a lump of coal or sack of rocks but he seriously wants the sack of rocks. He's in the middle of paving the area around the pond in the backyard. That's not going to fit into a stocking.

So when I was contacted about reviewing a set of Husky miniature tools, I was game. He's always complaining that he can't find the tool he needs. I got the Husky 48 Piece Tri-Grip Screwdriver Set, which is under $10 and packed neatly, with a lot of pieces. I like how it closes and has a spot for each piece, and it really will fit in the stocking, and be something he'll be glad to get.

Perfect! In fact, when I looked at the Husky site, it was full of cool tools at good deals, mostly under $10. The 45-piece stubby work set looked like another winner.

I believe I've shared stories about how much my youngest likes to draw on walls. I bought a little wall "chalkboard" Princess version from Home Depot. Big miss. Although it attached well to the wall (one of those easy peel and stick that don't mess up paint), it was very small and we ended up with a lot of bleed. It was tough to get clean, too. Frustrated, my daughter went back to doing big art on the regular wall, and I was left with chalk mess on the carpet and wall. (Magic Eraser worked.)

I haven't given up on the idea, though. I did try butcher block paper, but it's hard to attach.

So when WallCandy Arts contacted me about trying their new big peel and stick chalkboard cupcake, I thought maybe this is the one.

It's big. As in, big enough. It's cute, and the theme gives a lot of fun inspiration. The quality of it better so I haven't got the chalk dust as badly as the last one. Also, because of the size, I haven't had the bleed onto the wall issue. I confess I gave it for birthday, but since that's practically the same time...

So I like using it as a tool for to-do and schedule, too. It's in our main hall upstairs, outside the kids' bedrooms. I can make notes and have them check them. It helps the not having to say it 45,000 times. They feel compelled to add notes, too, as well as draw.

Big win.

My find -- Landau Jewelry

I always struggle with what to get the mothers (mother, stepmother, mother-in-law) and this year, while in New York, I whiled away some time (okay, you got me, like a crow, I'm always attracted to shiny objects) in this store, with a coupon and gift card in hand. I got some great gifts (which I will not feature here before giving them on the chance my parents actually read my blog) (I feel safe on the husband and kids front -- they never do).

However, this is top feature there and looks pretty great to me:

It's mostly "fashion" which is code for "costume" in large part but when I asked a lot of questions, it's pretty well-made, and the bracelet I got for myself has held up really well. I personally prefer to get "fashion" jewelry because I'm most likely to change that often.

My find -- Marshalls

I lucked into Marshalls when it was bursting with good buys. My favorite? The beautiful dresses with matching doll dresses (that fit both American Girl doll and bitty twins) for UNDER $30!!!!

My girls are way into the whole American Girl experience and cute as it is, man, the price tags. So I really appreciate good quality off brands.

BONUS: BEST Christmas program for kids -- Curious George: A Very Monkey Christmas

Recalling my youngest is nicknamed Monkey, we're big fans of Curious George (in fact, that's her lovey).

I wasn't sure how it would go for my older daughter.

However, both kids LOVED it, and I admit I did too.

It was entertaining, both kids liked the songs. It was funny, the usual George scrapes and fun. And it had a nice message about how gift giving is really about caring, and the best gift is just being together. Very gently delivered. It's a Christmas we can all relate to: imperfectly perfect!

I'm going to rate it up there with Peanuts.

Here's the synopsis:

A Very Monkey Christmas
Airs Christmas Day, Sat. 12/25 on PBS KIDS! (Check local listings)

A Very Monkey Christmas finds George and The Man with the Yellow Hat preparing for Christmas, when they encounter a dilemma—neither can figure out what to give the other for a present! The Man finds George’s wish list filled with geometric shapes, and George doesn’t have a clue what to get The Man who has everything. The Man suggests that George surprise him with a homemade gift, but George isn’t quite sure what a monkey can make for a man. The suspense builds as Christmas approaches. George and The Man with the Yellow Hat follow each other around town, hoping to discover a clue as to what the other would like to find under the Christmas tree. They enlist the help of Hundley, the Pisghettis, Gnocchi, Bill, Betsy, Steven, and even Professor Wiseman and her computers!

Then The Man has a dream in which he sees what life would be like for George without him; contained in the dream is the answer to George’s Christmas wish list riddle. While The Man is dreaming, George begins his homemade gift — a colossal art project that poignantly explains why getting ready for Christmas is so much fun. In the end, both gift-giving predicaments are simply and beautifully resolved revealing the true spirit of the holidays, and everybody has a very monkey Christmas!

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Slacker Cook Triumphs Once Again With Crock Pot Cooking

It finally got cool here. I know, highs of 62 barely qualify as cool but there you have it: our average winter low here. It feels like early fall to me, and so that means I am whipping out the crock pot (and anyone who knows me knows how I love my crock pot: it's mass amount cooking, everything and the spice cabinet, tasty, aromatic, slacker cooking -- in other words, all my favorite ways to cook rolled in to one!).

When I pull out the crock pot, I tend to also pull out a vintage cookbook.

My stepmother gave this cookbook to me in 1989 when I moved into my first apartment -- solo living, like a real grownup, with rent, utilities, and everything.

It's like feeling that taste of independence, doing it my way, anew. All while getting old-fashioned comfort cooking.

You know what I mean?

So, of course, my first foray for crock pot hot meal cool weather cooking is...chili.

Hey. It's Texas.

And of course I use a recipe straight out of this cookbook called Chili Con Carne.

Except I don't use it straight because, well, to tell the truth recipes sort of make my eyes cross. I skim them to get the gist and then I wing it. Seriously. I have a pretty good sense of ingredients and how to put them together, and I also have a habit of cooking on the fly which means substitutions. To complicate things further, I often don't like some ingredients called for, so I'll eliminate or substitute. Plus, I prefer lower fat choices. And of course, I'm a Slacker Cook so everything has to be simplified, steps eliminated, corners cut, and so forth. Also, key? LESS DISHES. Means less cleaning up to do.

So how does the Slacker Cook modify an already pretty easy recipe and make it healthier? Here we go:

Substitute: turkey for beef
Substitute: all that complicated and messy dicing and chopping with already diced and seasoned tomatoes and onions
Substitute: green pepper with red pepper, add in a splash of tabasco, and dump in grape tomatoes sliced in half, then about five minutes before serving, blanch some fresh spinach in there
Substitute: kidney beans with black beans
Substitute: all that cooking and browning in another pan with cooking the turkey in the crockpot, prewarmed on high, with some delicious chili sauce

Then dump in everything and cook.

I like to serve it with cornbread. My husband is pure native and puts his chili over Fritos.

Either way, YUM. And easy. And a good chunk of the week is DONE.

Now here's the thing: this is healthy.
  • Turkey is lower fat and for many of us more easily digested. Also, often cheaper.
  • Spinach is really good for you, as are black beans. Both of which blend in to the overall dish so the kids hardly even know they are getting this fabulous nutrition.
  • My kids notice the red pepper a lot less mixed in with the tomatoes than the green pepper, which they tend to pick out.
  • And tomatoes are really good for you; they bring fiber, Vitamin C and the antioxidant lycopene into your diet. In fact, before you get too worried about me using canned tomatoes, allow me, the Slacker Cook, to reassure you that according to a study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, lycopene absorption is 2-3 times greater in canned tomato products than raw tomatoes. And because I am a label reader with a PhD in Google, I know that Hunt's tomatoes are flash-steamed to help them keep their backyard-garden-fresh taste, are 100 percent natural and contain no artificial preservatives or ingredients. So...my heart thanks me.
You know where I stand on making healthy choices -- I do it for me. I do it to be there for my family, for my kids. To set a good example of healthy eating, even if you are a Slacker Cook like I am.

So...once again, the Slacker Cook, with an eye and heart toward healthy eating, triumphs once again with crock pot cooking.

This post brought to you by ConAgra Foods, specifically Hunt's, who asked people to share recipes they make using their products, namely tomatoes. The recipe is from my own cookbook, the modifications and opinions are my own, and are all true. I really am a Slacker Cook, I really made this dish exactly as described (using Hunt's Tomatoes which I bought on my own and already happened to have on hand in my pantry when themotherhood.com asked me to join in this recipe parade, and my family really is eating it for dinner tonight. You can see other recipes here.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The art of friending (and unfriending)

Not too long ago, I was reading a New York Times article about why people unfriend other people on Facebook and it got me thinking about a lot of things, truly.
  • What does Friend mean, anyway? (And when did it get to be a Proper Verb? When did Verbs get Proper, anyway?)
  • Don't you Friend people you like, and thereby, de facto, accept as they are?
  • Who are you to deem someone else uninteresting?

Okay let's start at the end.

"The rules of Internet friendship seem to differ in other ways from their earthbound equivalents. There is a bluntness to unfriending that would hardly fly in real life: “As soon as you have a baby, you become uninteresting,” noted one survey respondent."
Really? You think maybe, possibly, it could be that it's a case of the other person hasn't become uninteresting but, in fact, developed a new life focus that is just worlds away from your own, and that doesn't make either of you bad...it just means you don't fit the same way together? Could it? Sometimes you can overcome that, and sometimes, not so much. Definitely not at all if you act like an ass and accuse the other person of being a bore and thus unworthy of your friendship.

But you know? I can guarantee that nearly every parent can name or guess at a few or more friends they lost after becoming parents. It's one of those mitigating life changes that not every friendship can weather. Usually, though, it's one of those cases where the friendship fades away.

But most curiously to me the study's author asserts that it's unique to Facebook to have a person decide to unfriend you and you just never know what happened:
“One of the interesting things about unfriending is that most real-world friendships either blow up or fade away,” said Christopher Sibona, who wrote the study with his adviser, Steven Walczak, an associate professor of information systems management. “But on Facebook, users actively make the decision to unfriend, and people often don’t know why or what’s happened in the relationship.”
Really, Christopher Sibona, you have a satisfying known case for the end of every one of your friendships?

I don't.

Do you?

It's true that usually friendships fade away. We get busy, paths no longer cross, and new people and things fill well-enough any void we might notice that it's not a pain point, just an occasional mild twinge of nostalgic missing and hoping the other person is doing well.

Rarely, there will be some mitigating factor. Like a blow-up.

But usually there is just no good reason although you can probably think of a hundred excuses.

Sometimes, though, you just get unfriended, in real life. Not just on Facebook.

I think my most mysteriously lost friend was Bridget, someone I met in my 30s. I met Bridget in a mom's group and I immediately thought she was my kind of people. We had a lot in common and did seem to click. We got together, chatted, had playdates with our babies (and really, when they can't even sit up yet, we all know who that time is for, am I right?). We even discussed nanny-sharing, but couldn't get that quite connected.

One day we had a scheduled playdate at a local baby gym -- by then the babies were mobile. And she didn't show. And she never returned my calls or emails, got in touch, replied, or ever showed up anywhere again.

To this day I don't know why.

She just...unfriended me.

That happens a lot in Facebook, and while a lot of times we might not notice, a lot of friends are like Bridget: people we've invested in and we notice when they vanish.

At least, though, Bridget knew why I wanted to be friends with her -- something she might not have if I'd just sent a friend request to her in Facebook.

I admit I have more than a couple of friendship requests sitting in queue, awaiting response from me. Unfortunately, at this time, I can only accept or ignore.

I wish I could instead have a conversation -- who are you, and why did you want to friend me in Facebook?

Here's what I think:

1. Don't ever send a blank friend request unless you are absolutely positive the person knows who you are, and even then, it's best to include a brief message about why you want to be Facebook friends.

2. Don't hate on people for what they post. Instead, let it expand your horizons, even if only for a laugh (ahem FARMVILLE ahem) or to cause you to think through your own closely held beliefs or political positions. (By the same token, don't post hate. You don't need hate to be critical in your thinking.)

3. Don't hate on someone's status. Unless someone specifically opens a discussion, clearly, and invites debate and disagreement, think about it: posting something hypercritical or worse on someone's wall is walking into their party and dissing them loudly, publicly. I can take discussion and even disagreement as well as the next person, or even better (since I sort of thrive on it) but the time someone posted "COWARD, you're a horrid mom" in reply to one of my blog links was not a good moment. I know it said more about her than about me, but still, I was left with this ugly mean thing in my space, on my wall. It was a quandary: be a big girl and leave it or delete it? I've even been the bad guy. I posted something I intended to be funny and instead it offended. My friend deleted the entire thread, but notified me via private message. It was very civil, and I think a fair enough act. I appreciated being notified, took the chance to apologize, and vowed to be more cautious and thoughtful going forward. You don't have to be a yes man or agreeable at all times, but try disagreeing diplomatically, which might mean privately. And never be afraid to ask: is this open for discussion, even if it includes disagreeing?

4. If someone puts up a new profile photo feel free to tell that person how great they look. Take any opportunity to send some love to people.

5. Let friendships, real ones, and even lightweight Facebook ones, be the measure of your commitment to relating to others. If you make the decision to unfriend, that's an action -- it's not a case of a blow up or fade away. The worst hurts I've ever seen from anyone is when they get dumped by someone they care about and don't know why. Have the courtesy to let the other person know, in a kind way, if you think they'll notice your departure. Don't leave someone hanging at the play gym looking for you for two hours. If you've been a silent lurker, maybe fading away is best. But if it's someone you've interacted with and something causes you to decide to unfriend, talk to the other person first. Maybe it can be salvaged. Maybe not. Either way, you won't just POOF! vanish.

Real friends might last a sprint or a marathon's length of time. The real mark of a friend, though, is someone who make communicating with you something valuable and important.

Monday, November 01, 2010

RIP Ted Sorensen (If You Can)

After a stroke today, incomparable JFK speechwriter Ted Sorensen died.

He was 82.

Sorensen might be the most quoted speechwriter. He is certainly the man behind JFK's best lines. Sorensen, though, always attributed the famous lines -- such as "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country" -- to Kennedy.

In an interview with the BBC about a decade ago, Ted Sorensen tried to explain why he and John F Kennedy got along. I think, in fact, it was his way of trying to explain why he always said JFK came up with the best lines, rather than taking the credit.

It's something writers can understand, I think; in essence, to paraphrase, he said he channeled JFK when writing -- he knew him so well, knew what he'd want to say and simply formed the lines that he knew his friend would want.

As someone who has ghostwritten and extensively "developmental edited" books, I know what he means. As someone who has written lines for politicians to say, I never thought of those words as my own. In fact, one day, while cleaning out a file cabinet, I came across a folder with old typewritten copies of the brief radio addresses I had written for a candidate who ran for president. I read the words with a sort of shock -- it still did not seem as if I had written it. Perhaps that's why it remained in a file folder rather than in my portfolio. It hardly seemed my own work.

Of course, I'm no Sorensen.

Sorensen compared himself to Kennedy in that old BBC interview, or rather, he contrasted himself. Kennedy was privileged and Ivy League educated, while Sorensen was a middle class mid-westerner with a state school degree. All totally respectable, but we know cache.

That was all superficial, though, he explained, because they had in common what really mattered: core values and ethics, and at heart both valued public service highly.

It's that factor that made the speeches -- his speeches -- great. "Speeches are great when they reflect great decisions," Sorensen famously said.

What did Sorensen think of modern day speeches.

I know what I think.

I think modern speeches are not great.

I think that's why Barack Obama so captured American attention: his speeches were great. They were great because, in general, they reflected great ideas. The tricky wicket is, of course, the execution of those ideas. That hasn't been so great. It rarely is. But I almost think faith is even more important, and let's be honest: we're missing a lot of faith.

Faith that our leaders are great.

Losing Sorensen the day before Election Day feels a little portentous.

I don't think the time for great speeches is past; and I think anyone who makes great speeches into a negative is perversely mistaken. You know who I mean.

Speeches now focus more on what someone brings and how the other person is defective, less on great ideas. Speeches now are either attacking, defensive, or downright offensive.

Speeches now talk a lot about The People, but oddly enough, I rarely recognize any people in the actual speech. That means it's probably hyperbole, and definitely a personal agenda.

People have now come so far from great that they mistake demagoguery for emotionally compelling and thus great. That's tragic. To me, anyway, Sorensen took a different view -- he was more optimistic, I guess you could say.

Sorensen actually addressed that in his 2008 book, Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History (from the History News Network interview):
"...[the book] reflects his idealism and hope for the future. The book recounts Sorensen’s childhood nurtured by a progressive and idealistic family in Lincoln, Nebraska; his historic JFK years as a senatorial aide and then as special counsel to president with challenges such as the cold war, the civil rights struggle, and the space race; and his subsequent law career advising governments, multinational organizations, and corporations, and meeting with world leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Anwar Sadat, and Fidel Castro."
HNN's Robin Lindley interviewed Sorensen, and I think these two questions and answers explain it all, really (bolding mine):
RL: Both legendary Sen. Henry M. Jackson of Washington State and Sen. John F. Kennedy offered you jobs at about the same time in 1952. How did you decide to serve with Sen. Kennedy rather than Sen. Jackson, whose office later became a breeding ground for neoconservatives?

TS: At the time, I knew nothing of Jackson’s hawkish inclinations or even that he would later be known as “The Senator from Boeing.” Instead, I chose Kennedy because [he asked me] to work on a legislative program to revive the sagging New England economy where unemployment was high and new investment was low. Sen. Jackson said I had a good reputation as a lawyer and he needed somebody like that to get his name in the papers. He also said he liked my Scandinavian name because that would go over big back in Seattle. And I chose Kennedy without much difficulty.

RL: It must have been reassuring to find a job with a humane senator who read books and knew a lot about history.

TS: That’s Jack Kennedy. That’s exactly right. Despite all our surface differences—he was a millionaire’s son, a Roman Catholic, a war hero, a Harvard graduate—and I was at the opposite end of almost all of those. Nevertheless, we found that we wanted this to be a better country, we both believed in public service, we both were interested in public policy, and we both wanted to see a peaceful world.
(You might be interested in reading the rest of the interview -- it's a good one.)

Sorensen chose Kennedy because of his values: revive a sagging economy, make this a better country, believe in public service.

He didn't want to work for Jackson as a "good lawyer who could get his name in the papers."

As a result, Sorensen wrote great speeches (and that was the least of it). Because he had great ideas and worked with someone who had great ideas.

No demagoguery required.

Just a lot of heart.

Monday, October 25, 2010

She Used to be My Girl

In a time of white wicker, macrame, and ferns...when the pointed collars of polyester shirts brushed the tops of short-sleeved sweaters that bloused gracefully over flat fronted jeans with bottoms like bells...and the most popular Halloween costume included fluffy felt skirts with a black poodle applique and bobby sox...

Sunday nights were devoted to the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys Mystery Hour -- our one television program we got each day -- but Saturday mornings, those were reserved for Casey Kasem.

His smooth, familiar voice announced the country's most popular songs each week, and I listened patiently through the countdown, measuring my favorites against what my fellow countrymen preferred. I adored the inside scoop about the rock stars, such as the story about the guitarist from Jefferson Starship who loved to skateboard. I thought of my own blue board, and felt a kinship.

I also felt a kinship to listeners around the nation, as Casey sang out their radio station's call numbers and town names...KMEN in San Bernardino California...places like me in music but unlike me in so many other ways. I'd wonder about the people there.

Did they, like me, lay on a yellow floral canopy bed listening to their AM/FM radios? Did they see gold cars on the roads to match gold appliances in the kitchen? Did they tune out the mellow hum of suburban lawnmowers, fathers in high dark socks and shorts keeping the well-maintained look of a master planned community?

Or was their life exotically different?

I'd listen to the long distance dedications, new that year of gold and yellow and white wicker, and wonder about the people behind the stories spilled so emotionally in the letter, shared with all of us by our mutual friend, Casey.

What letter might I write? I imagined, each week in my head what I might say to Casey and which song he might match my letter to, or which song I might request.

Thirty-two years ago I lay under broad splashes of bright flowers on a canopy and waited anxiously as Casey counted down the top songs. Back then, there was no choice but to wait. We listened to radio live, had to make time, and watched television when it aired. You answered the phone if you were home, but otherwise people had to be patient, wait, and try again later.

On a hot summer day in 1978, I heard a blur of styles in the top half: classic R&B from the O'Jays, still hot disco from Donna Summer, rock Runaway from Jefferson Starship, hot-blooded hard rock from Foreigner, and finally...finally, the still number one hit from your very, very favorite, poster-on-the-wall spend-allowance-on-Tiger-Beat-magazine-because-he-was-on-the-cover (and usually it was Shaun or Leif) most loved favorite Andy Gibb, and his song Shadow Dancing.

I hid in my bedroom, knowing friends lay outside the door and on the other end of the phone and I listened, singing along quietly. After, if I wanted, and I usually did, I could put the record on the player and listen again...and again.

There was plenty of time, then, to sit and listen. Plenty of time. Plenty of space and chance and possibilities. Plenty of hope to get to see some of those cities Casey mentioned, clothes in a battered avocado and turquoise floral small suitcase.

Going somewhere. Then, it was all a countdown leading somewhere. But it took time. Now, I think all I can do is run after time, hoping to catch it and grab a few minutes.

Because somehow in a bright blinding flash it is not me on that floral bed but my own daughters, listening to iPods and music on demand, with no idea of other music other people like and who those people are or what their lives entail.

It's funny to me, how in a time when the world is smaller than ever, we are more unaware of what lays outside our closed doors.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Restaurant Trauma in Texas: How eating out prompted a really uncomfortable lesson about culture

WARNING: This is NOT a family-friendly post, aka the warning I WISH I'd gotten yesterday before I walked in.

Yesterday was a Holiday. I hope you heard the scare quotes around that. Yeah, when you are an adult here is how holidays work: you, same workload as always, kids WOO HOO NO SCHOOL FREEDOM. Do the equation. The result is the day I had yesterday.

If math isn't your strong suit I'm pretty sure you can still add that up but just in case let's say the highlight of the afternoon included me dumping out the mismatched sock basket and telling the children to have at it, in a way very reminiscent of Miss Hannigan of Annie.

Anyway luckily I've taught my kids that Chores are Fun! and they had a good time.

Later, I cranked up the fun-o-meter on a bank errand by dropping in the Halloween store to check out costumes, and upped the ante on "Mom needs new running shoes" by tacking on a "Hey let's eat out at a restaurant!"

My husband was able to join us and we decided to try out one of the new restaurants near the store. My elder objected irrationally to Chuy's and so we settled on Twin Peaks, which looked like a pub-style burger place, and reminded us of a restaurant we'd liked near Boston.

Until we walked in -- me, my husband, my nearly 9 and nearly 6 year old and saw this, except with lovely olive skin, dark hair and black eyes:

We all literally froze in our tracks, gaping. My husband took a step back. The kids swiveled to look at me, as if I had a clue.

The picture does not do it justice. We are, unfortunately, somewhat vaccinated against reactions to provocative photos of scantily clad young women. To be in person with this...it's an entirely different, more visceral, experience. It was nearly unbearable, and simply reinforced my objection to this entire practice -- photo and in person -- completely.

What should we have done? Well I've been Monday morning quarterbacking all day.

Here's what I did do and why...

The hostess looked at me quizzically and said, "Hello? Did you want a table? Are you here to eat?"

I looked at this girl -- yes, girl because if she was 20 I'll eat my hat -- and saw a person, a person stuck in a horrific costume that objectified her body in a terribly uncomfortable way and I'll eat my hat again if she felt all right with it, if any of them did.

And I could not do it to her. I could not turn on my heel and march out, no matter how much I wanted to.

I could not shame her.

So I walked up, smiled, said as friendly as I could, "Hello! How are you! Yes, we'd like a table, we're just trying to figure out about inside or out."

I looked her in the eye, mostly because to look anywhere else felt like visual rape and deeply uncomfortable to me, but also because she was a person who deserved the respect of being looked at in the eye. Even if she was still so young she was dewy and ended every sentence with a question mark.

"Well," she said, "There's people smoking outside? Maybe with the kids? You'd rather inside?"

The kids rushed to two tables and started bickering over which.

"It's okay?" the young hostess said, "They can sit anywhere?"

"Thanks," I told her, "We'll work it out!"

When we settled on a table, she handed us menus, including crayons for the kids and told us our waitress would be right over.

Our waitress looked just like the image above. Although her name tag read, "Bambi in Training," she introduced herself as Heather. She was as friendly and sweet as could be...really good with the kids. Like a babysitter. A teenaged babysitter. Dressed like that photo above.

My husband stared at his menu. He'll have to tell you in his own words how he felt, but I can say I felt his discomfort. I can also say he looked at me and said, sotto voce, "I think I get the restaurant name and description about great views now. I thought it was just, you know, some Colorado pub import."

"Me too," I said, "I'd wondered about the view thing, I mean, from here all I can see if the bypass and freeway, but I thought maybe it referenced Mount St. Helens or Colorado."

The kids kept gaping and staring. Finally my older daughter said, "Why are they dressed like that?" My younger said, "I can't stop looking!" Both were dismayed.

It's clear to me that our reactions were clear: we were all pretty horrified to be in this situation, very dismayed, unsure what to do.

So I reminded the children about our Number One Rule: be kind and respectful. And I asked them to not stare or point.

They colored on their menus a bit, and I checked out the rest of the clientele.

"My God, it's like a seedy dive bar sort of place," I whispered to my husband. The clientele were largely male, with poor personal hygiene and a clear love of fatty fried foods and aversion to exercise. A solid mix of middle-aged and early 20s, with not much in between or outside of those age brackets. The restaurant itself was nice, open, airy, neat lodge-like decor.

We happened to be seated at the table closest to the hostess station and front door, so I saw each group of people who entered. A middle-aged couple entered, the woman in front of the man and she stopped short, he slammed in to her, she executed a fast turn and walked back out, the man trailing her sheepishly, with a shrug to the hostess.

Quite a few pairs of young men entered, too. Some looked old enough to drive and that's about it. A few were old enough to be skipping out early from work, and they wore the tell tale uniform of NASA. I imagined a Honda hybrid parked next to the "snowmobile" spots. The young ones were shameless. They walked in, gawked at the waitresses and their brains obviously melted straight to Beavis and Butthead heh heh land. Some even requested the "blonde" or "brunette" section. To them, the waitresses were Girls! Girls! Girls! not actual human beings. That was only made worse when that actual song came on, followed by Warrant's "Cherry Pie."

I groaned out loud. My every notion about this type of "scantily clad waitress" restaurant proved.

"Mom," my youngest said, "Mom you know how we had to clean out our closets and get rid of the clothes that were too small? Maybe these girls need their moms to help them with that."

I died 234 deaths right then. Her innocence. These young women. Their innocence. The fact that they are somebody's daughters. How my baby wanted to help them, wanted someone to help them. How she knew something was wrong but couldn't put her finger on it. How she needed to fix it.

"Honey. Oh honey, that's their waitress outfit and they need to wear it here at work," I said as neutrally as I could.

"Oh," she said.

Then, a minute later, she added, "Well you know sometimes you tell me to put a t-shirt on top of or under something...maybe they could put on a t-shirt."

"What a nice idea," I told her.

My older daughter had been listening with interest. Enough older to get somewhere near it, even if not fully comprehending it, she thought it through a little longer and said, "I don't think they should show so much of their bodies. All those men are staring."

Then I died 546 deaths.

For the record.

My husband, I think, was even worse off.

A couple more men entered, adults. Traffic was picking up. They walked in and transformed from Professional to Heh Heh Dude in under 5 seconds. As they started to trail the waitress, ogling her attributes, one looked up and met my eyes. I must have been one cold bucket of water to his fantasy because the smile slid from his face and he averted his eyes, staring at the floor.

We felt shamed because it was shameful.

Our waitress was super sweet, stopping to chat with us, talking to the kids, getting them -- my reluctant ones -- to talk back to her. I wanted to run to my car, grab a jacket, and bundle her away to work where she'd be respected.

Then it happened -- it got worse. My husband and I worked hard to keep the kids' attention at our table, or on safe objects on the walls (and even that was hard as the walls were decorated with dead and stuffed animals, which further distressed the kids) while we waited for our food. I swear it took eight hours for that food to come.

In the meantime, a middle-aged man walked in with his teenaged son and the son's teenaged friend. I would put them at approximately 17. The man looked like the kind of guy central casting would book for the "creepy pervy middle aged guy" part in a CSI show. The boys looked like extras from High School Musical.

They were seated at the table near to us, practically right next to us, actually, and my Spidey Senses went on full alert with the man. He kept shifting around, acting creepy. He was, for lack of a better word, excited. Clearly. Then he got up with his phone and stood across from the hostess station, acting like he was checking texts...in mid-air. Sneaking photos of the cluster of waitresses there, I figured. He was practically trembling in excitement, and I was shaking with rage and disgust. Then he skipped over to the station, and giggled out a request. The young women hovered for a second, then a couple started to walk over to his table. He shook his head and pointed to two others. There was a pause, as one was clearly reluctant. One of the first girls grabbed one of the second girls and started to walk, but he said something. The first girl dropped the second girl's arm. The second girl took the arm of the reluctant girl and, whispering, they walked over to the man's table, where the teenaged boys were sipping sodas.

The second girl said loudly, "We can sit here," and she and the reluctant girl climbed into the empty chairs across from the boys. Clearly, creating distance. Clearly, knowing he wanted them draped on the boys.

Creepy man asked them to lean in and the girl said again loudly, "Here, like this, go ahead, take the photo."

And I lost my appetite, completely.

What a horrid, horrid creepy man. The boys laughed, like they knew they were supposed to, but I could tell they were a little uncomfortable, too. The young women left the table as fast as possible, and returned to the safety of the hostess station.

What a horrid father. What a horrid example. What a horrid lesson. What a disgusting moment.

All right behind the backs of my little girls.

My husband burst out in a shaky voice, "Girls, you will never, ever work in a place like this. Never. In fact, no waitressing. Ever."

They giggled uncertainly, their eyes round. I changed the subject to how my husband once worked as a waiter and he told them stories. He tried to redirect to my one experience in a restaurant, but I shook my head and changed the subject to why I worked (to earn money to backpack through Europe one summer with friends).

Right then, our food arrived. Served by Heather, forced to go by Bambi, and wear less than a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader. Forced to work as a sex object, doing one of the harder jobs there is (waitressing) while clientele took the suggestive outfits at their word and subjected these young women to shameful disrespect.

I don't care if the girls chose to work in this place. It's wrong. I don't care if they feel hot. I don't care if they are hot. They're on display, badly. It's wrong.

I am disgusted that this is my culture. I'm disgusted by this restaurant. I'm disgusted that these young women either think they must or can go through this.

I admire them for doing it and with professionalism.

But I hate it. I can't even mince words. I hate it.

I hate that I walked into it inadvertently, and with my kids (the worst part). I hate that I sat in it.

I sat, my food in front of me, my fists clenched, and my husband put his hand over mine, "Please don't," he said, reading the martial look in my eyes as I glared at the back of Creepy Man. Somehow, he read my intent to pick up my big red bag and whack the man upside the back of his head with it.

"I wouldn't really," I assured him.

"I know," he said, "But you know that would just make it worse for everyone."

"I know," I said, "That makes me even sicker."

I picked at my food, eating it, eventually. It was good. That just pissed me off worse.

When Heather gave us our bill she said, "This is your first time here, isn't it."

"Yes," I said.

"How did you hear about it?"

"Oh, we haven't, we just needed to go across the way to buy me new running shoes so it was this or Chuy's and someone refused any Tex-Mex. So it was here. But we hadn't heard anything about it," I admitted.

"I thought it was probably your first time in," she said, and I thought rather sadly. She didn't ask how we found out, or whether we liked it. We didn't discuss the food, the weather, or anything like that. Instead, she said, wistfully, "Your kids are so sweet, I just love kids."

And I had to fight down the urge to beg her to quit, to tell her I have a friend who needs a nanny and as much as kids beat down your esteem they do love you and respect you more than any of those girls will find in that job.

Maybe it shows me up badly. Maybe I sound unenlightened. Judgy. I don't care.

It was horrific. Really, really awful.

And I did not even know how to explain it to my kids. They seemed to understand, anyway. So we left it at that. And redirected our attention to the athletic store where we got things for exercise, to care for our bodies. To respect our bodies.

Here is what I know -- the VERY instant any of those women were "on break" they instantly pulled on a large t-shirt, much like dancers might wear, over the uniform. They walked in to work wearing baggy clothes over the top of the uniform. They were ogled, and surely grabbed, by patrons. No doubt they were bugged, too, and subjected to inappropriate comments. All while at work, doing their jobs. They were in a position and outfit that begged for it, unfortunately. And I not for one second thought any of them deserved it. Much less asked for it. Despite the workplace and outfit.

The manager and male employees were allowed to be fully dressed. The manager wore blue jeans and a button down Oxford, his only nod to the workplace was a pink cap with the restaurant name on it. He referred to his employees as girls, and was very specific to them about how and where to stand. They were merchandise.

Maybe it's hyperbole to someone else, but it felt one step from human trafficking to me.

I wanted to make this humorous. My husband assured me I'd find some humor, and could do my usual treatment of the scenario with a light-hearted hand. My hand nor my heart are light, in fact they are heavy, even today. I'm still a seething mass of emotion.

I've never eaten at a Hooters or a Hooters-like restaurant on principle, but that's all it was until now: theoretical principle.

Now? It's knowledge, experience, and personal horror.

From my husband's lips to God's ears: may my girls never know the like of that.

May we do better by our young women.

I feel rambly, not eloquent. And this is a clear sign of how distressing this entire thing was, is.

Heed my warning: Twin Peaks is not a family-friendly restaurant. It's no place for men, women or children.

I stayed, whether it was right or wrong, because it felt worse to walk out. I let my family sit down, order food and eat because it felt worse to walk out. I looked my waitress in the eye, treated her with my best courtesy and respect, and left her a huge tip. I ignored the costumes and addressed the human beings. But I was so very uncomfortable. And appalled.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

They Get What They Deserve: Lessons I hope we're learning through social media tragedy

The other day I listened to one of the most brilliant modern satirists, David Sedaris, talk about his new transition into fictional stories, where the main characters are animals (David Sedaris, Anatomizing Us In 'Squirrel' Tales). These aren't fables nor are they for children. They are instead modern Grimm's Fairy Tales of a sort -- although Sedaris claims they have no moral to them (I think they do, in fact -- any satire of a culture includes a lesson, if you think on it).

Sedaris said:
"Fables have morals, and not all of these do," he tells NPR's Steve Inskeep. "So I wound up calling it a bestiary, which is just a book in which animals do things that people do."

In contrast to classic animal fables like Aesop's "The Tortoise and the Hare," there are few identifiably good characters in Sedaris' stories.

"I don't think our world is as black and white now," says Sedaris, who consciously avoided Aesop and La Fontaine as he put together the new collection. "Sometimes in these stories, you'd kind of be hard-pressed to try to sort of figure out who's the worst."
Has our moral and ethical line become horrifically blurry and dynamic, to the point that we --even those who self-identify as "good people" -- can't tell when we've crossed a boundary into harm?

The article shared an example of a tale that hit particularly close to home for me:
Several of Sedaris' tales were inspired by the unbecoming behavior of others. In "The Sick Rat and the Healthy Rat," a healthy lab rat belittles her dying neighbor by claiming that he brought the illness on himself with his "hatefulness and negative energy."

The inspiration? People Sedaris knew, suggesting that certain sick people deserved what they got.

"I would hear them talking like that, and I would think, 'When did you get crazy like that?' " he says. "So I sort of found pleasure in writing about it in a fictional way. Instead of doing what I would normally do. Which is just condemn them."
It's childlike, this immature concept that people deserve what they get and if they aren't doing well it's a personal failing. It's unevolved, this concept that if I can see you then what you are doing is "public" and I can use it as I will.

From the moment I first logged on to the Internet and began harnessing its power, back in the mid-90s, I've struggled with the proper boundaries. My first foray into social media included reading some of the very first bloggers, but eventually I joined the online conversation at Web sites with chat boards. I was astounded by, and frequently profoundly grateful for, the power and influence social networking carried.

I'll be the first to admit that the Web has changed me. I hope, though, it has never changed my core ethics, including the ones I hold very dear about respecting other people's dignity and humanity.

That's why I am so shocked to see my beloved tools and mediums used for evil, rather than good. That's why I don't understand sites that secretly photograph or film people and hold them up for public mockery.

In shock after hearing about the tragic suicide of Tyler Clementi, and the vicious and abhorrent actions of his roommate that precipitated it, I asked people on Facebook and Twitter what they thought. I got some really intriguing replies.

One, I thought, illuminated a crucial point about the value system that enables people to be cyberbullied and harassed online. Michael Thomas said, "If I end up on the People of Walmart buying a case of beer with my butt crack exposed, and everyone thinks that's really funny, whose fault is that?"

Hmm. Whose fault is it? Excellent question!

Do we really...really?...blame people for ending up in a situation that makes them look silly?

Do we really...really?...think they get what they deserve, deserve what they get?

Is there a fault here? Other than someone disrespecting your dignity by photographing this moment and mocking you online for thousands to see?

My husband answered the question this way, "You are responsible for the way you present yourself in public, but you're not at fault for times when the public uses this for their personal gain. And that's what this really is: stepping on people to get attention, to get perverted traffic, the big numbers."

Maybe I should write my own bestiary. Initially I thought it would be neat to play off the Adam and Eve story, with chipmunks entranced by a snake named Social Media. But then I thought, it's not the tools, it's us.

Maybe my new bumper sticker should read: "Social Media doesn't hurt people; People hurt people."

But then I thought, you know, I'm not of the Tech Native generation, so I asked someone who is. And he verified that people of Gen Y and younger think of social boundaries and privacy very differently, especially for online, than we, the elders who came to this technology as formed adults, do.

"We constantly involve our peers in our decision making, both important or trivial; and we're AWARE of what our peers are doing. I think that we share more both about ourselves and others. It's not anarchy- we still have sense of decency. Just less private," said Bradley Bowen.

On Facebook, my friend Tracee said, "My personal boundaries are that I won't do it if my friends or family don't want me to. With strangers, I try to factor whether they'd be embarrassed and whether they would be identifiable. That said, just the other day I posted a camping trip to FB thinking it would be the simplest way to share photos with the friends I went with, but I didn't think to ask first. It was just automatic. Took me 3 days to think, "Oh, they might not like that. I should ask them."

My friend Andrea combined the two points of view, and I inferred from what she said that it had more to do with generational differences (Tech Native generation versus older) than with age and maturity, although these are clearly factors, "I don't think they (and by "they," I do not refer to all teens any more than I would suggest all teens in my high school were bullies) have any sense that there are public/private issues at stake in posting embarrassing photos. For them, these technologies seem to be a part of their everyday lives to such an extent that they see them as simply "normal" and not related to questions of privacy in the slightest. That, I think, is where the real potential for harm lies."

My generation were instrumental in developing and furthering the Internet and social networks -- as with any user, we formed it, and while it formed us back, too, it was more of an informing versus an ethical shaping. Subsequent generations are being formed by it.

And what does that mean?

I think it means the concept of "just because you can do it doesn't mean you should" is getting lost. In my youth, we could not do it. Now, not only can youths do it, but they are encouraged at every turn to use the tools and their potential to the max, all the time.

Commercials demonstrate how iPads can be your everything, for example. Our world is full of Web sites that make fun of people, very, very popular Web sites. Crotchety bloggers get book, TV and movie deals, and a recent survey found that more kids (42%) today want to be a celebrity's assistant than the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, a president of a college, or a Navy Seal. That stunned me.

Jake Halpern, who cited the study and its results in his book Fame Junkies, said, "That was twice as much as [the percentage who wanted to be] president of Harvard or Yale, three times as much as a U.S. senator, four times as much as the CEO of a Fortune 500 company."

Now I grant not everybody wants to be an academic, a politician, or a CEO. In fact, I doubt any of those would have appealed to me. But in essence, when asked would they rather be powerful, rich and successful or somebody's gofer, the kids chose not even fame itself but proximity to fame, instead. When did our aspirations get so low or askew?

I think it's part and parcel with this strive and drive for attention. And what better way to get attention than to post something that goes viral on the Internet? And what better way to go viral than to post something vulgar, intrusive and/or opprobrious, especially if it entails something easily mocked, and thus, entertaining and humorous.

Adrian Grenier, a truly interesting person, is branching again from acting to producing, with his new documentary Teenage Papparazzo. Grenier launched the project after an experience with a teenage papparazzo, his role on Entourage, and his experiences at the side of Paris Hilton. He thinks the celebrity culture reflects a shift in values.

"For a long time in our culture, there was an emphasis put on working hard [and] contributing to your society," he says. "Now it's not about that anymore. It's about the bling and how quickly you can get it without working."

The Internet, social media, and modern technology allow us all to become papparazzi. Cell phones with cameras and videos let us capture any moment, anywhere, anytime, and instantly upload it to the Web for anyone to see.

How do we know when that's okay and not? It seems quite clear to members of my generation who replied to me on Facebook and Twitter, when I asked.

Candace said, "I don't think it is ethical to photograph portraits of ordinary people without consent and then use those pictures for profit or mockery."

Josette said, "I would never upload photos of other people's kids. I don't know the comfort level of other parents nor their family situations. For instance, I'd feel horrible if I clued-in some crazed non-custodial parent as to a child's whereabouts. And it's not up to me to make decisions or judgments on other people's comfort level."

Josette's final sentence hits the nail on the head, I think, at least when it comes to my core code. And that's the very same code I want to teach my kids. I don't want them growing up thinking it's okay to choose other people's level of public sharing for them. I'm not comfortable with younger people's level of privacy (or what I perceive as lack thereof).

On Twitter I asked, "Are Gen X and older parents out of touch with how they need to teach their kids respect and boundaries within social and new technology media?"

Other than one friend saying she felt she had a good handle on it (she will hopefully share her secret) most said they were intrigued with what I'd learn from this question; in short, it seems we think our kids are more sophisticated with the tools and we're not sure if we're able to counteract the peer and societal messages.

I wonder what lessons and boundaries Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei's parents taught. Or didn't. And why the lessons didn't take on such a tragic level. I don't ask this judgmentally, but in a "is there any thing I can learn from this, do I have any hope of doing any better?" I know good parents raise good kids who do bad things sometimes. Frontal lobe. Science. Bill Cosby's "Brain Damage" comedy sketch.

Supporters and friends of this couple say they are nice, and friends can't believe they'd mean any harm. How can they -- and Dharun and Molly, and their defenders -- not see, not have anticipated, the harm in stealing and sharing such a private moment?

As social media shifts boundaries, and values shift too -- possibly as a result -- we have a tougher job as parents and society ensuring that we teach kids to respect others and always value the humanity in each of us.

More importantly, we have to teach them to take responsibility for their actions, and lay fault where it belongs: on their shoulders for their choices.

Not on their victim, simply for being accessible.

Entertainment, jokes, and fame are not justifiable ends for means that harm another this severely.

I hope David Sedaris does write about this. Maybe it's the very mirror we need.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

How the Tooth Fairy Got His Groove Back

Okay...how many times have I written about the Great Tooth Fairy Conundrum?

Frankly, my husband and I sort of stink at Special and On the Ball. Someone once told me how they have stockpiles of Tooth Fairy prizes, at the ready, just in case. Someone else once said they have gold dollars that come from the Tooth Fairy. Another person has a special treasure chest for teeth. Our Tooth Fairy gets frantic texts messages, "OMG get off tollway NOW!! LOST TOOTH!! Must have WEBKIN, preference PINK and CUTE, nothing from OCEAN!!!!!!!!!!"

Then said Tooth Fairy has Webkin in hand (do not EVEN ask how the Webkin precedent got set, suffice it to say...LESSON LEARNED!) and said Tooth Fairy and his ahem colleague, aka the Assistant Tooth Fairy, are tired from a long day of tooth business and tend to sort of collapse right around Tooth Fairy time.

Then around 2 a.m. the Assistant Tooth Fairy tends to wake up in the middle of a heart attack, pokes the Tooth Fairy hard and hisses, "WE FORGOT! You must CREEP QUIETLY and DO NOT WAKE THE CHILD and GET THAT TOOTH and somehow with God on our side you'll be able to get the Webkin in WITH NO WAKING!"

The Tooth Fairy moans and grunts and hauls himself out of bed by swinging his legs off so the momentum carries the rest of him up and off too. He reaches down, gets the bag with the prize in it, and rustles it out.

The Assistant Tooth Fairy hisses again, "SHHHHHHHHH!!!!! Our next door neighbors can hear you that was so loud!"

The Tooth Fairy grunts, and, with Webkin in hand, slinks down the hallway in an erratic pattern to avoid the creaky spots. The Assistant Tooth Fairy helps by hanging on the door frame and hissing directions with frantic hand signals.

Assistant Tooth Fairy: hand slash across throat

Tooth Fairy, "Wha...?"

Assistant Tooth Fairy, "Shhhhh!!!" slash hand up, curve over to the right

Tooth Fairy, "Wha...?"

Assistant Tooth Fairy, "SHHHHHHHH!!!!" left hand yanks on tooth in mouth, sets fingers into palm of right hand, closes right hand, left hand with big face gestures to indicate lifting something, right hand pokes hard at air under whatever left hand is holding up, big gestures back and right

Tooth Fairy, "Seriously Jules, what the heck?"

Assistant Tooth Fairy, "She tucked it into a tissue and put it way back at the back under the pillow on the right side!!"

Tooth Fairy, "Where her HEAD is?"

Assistant Tooth Fairy: Frantic nodding

Tooth Fairy, "Oh for cra..."

Assistant Tooth Fairy cuts in, "Shhhh, language!"

Tooth Fairy, "She's asleep!"

Assistant Tooth Fairy, "For now!"

Tooth Fairy, "Who came up with this harebrained scheme of sticking teeth under a pillow? I'd like to stick something..."

Assistant Tooth Fairy, "I mean it! Kvetch LATER!"

With a delicacy and patience the Assistant Tooth Fairy envies mightily, the Tooth Fairy gently lifts the corner of the pillow, finds the tooth, and lays the prize in place.

The two skulk back down the hall.

Assistant Tooth Fairy, "This is why you earn the big bucks, Tooth Fairy. Once again! Master of tooth extraction and prize placement."

The Tooth Fairy waves to the cheering crowd.

Tooth Fairy, "But seriously, we have got to remember better next time. I'll never get back to sleep and I have to be up in an hour and a half anyway. Work is going to stink tomorrow."

Assistant Tooth Fairy, "Tell me about it. I'm sure my adrenaline rush will deflate right about kid waking time."

And now? Now we have TWO CHILDREN at Tooth Fairy stage.

And now? I can tell you how I know it's true that Jesus loves me.

Right about the same time my almost six year old tells me her lower front tooth is getting loose and will I please tell the Tooth Fairy she'd prefer the moose (or whatever), I get an email about Tooth Fairy pillows from this lady representing Sorrisi Decor.

Would I be interested in a sample of a tooth fairy pillow? Oh yes I would!

Hey, also, by the way, 50% of the profits go to Medical Teams International to send teams of dental professionals sent to areas around the world in great need (currently Liberia and Mali) to provide better health through dental care.

The Tooth Fairy likes it! Lots and lots.

Okay the pillows are adorable, I mean a.d.o.r.a.b.l.e! I love them, the kids love them, they are rally great quality, and there are styles for every personality (personalizing with names is an option too!). My friend who has a kids' boutique saw them and wants them for her shop. My dentist saw them and wants them for his patients. It's not a matter of are they awesome. They are. It's a matter of how they improve the Tooth Fairy's existence.

The Tooth Fairy and his assistant are altering the whole "tooth under the pillow" scheme. Now, the tooth will go in the pillow's pouch, the pillow will sit outside the bedroom door (visual reminder) and the prize will go in the pillow's pocket.

Life is good. And so are the tooth fairy pillows. See?

A lovely nature one for my nature girl Patience and a sassy Diva one for my little princess Persistence:

You know me, I'm in communications with a heavy emphasis on promotion and so I have all of these standards, ethics, and complex rules I follow about doing promotion and review posts. I usually say "thanks but no thanks" to like 99.8% of pitches I receive. I have to be emotionally fascinated. It has to be good, do good, add good. This product hit that criteria for me. I did receive a free sample of the product (which I require before reviewing) but was under no obligation to write about it or hoof my way around the town, online or offline, rave reviewing this product. All of this is voluntary, and my own words and opinions. All 100% true.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Texas Women's Conference Winner!

Every single one of you who stopped to post and discuss where you are in your career really, really moved me. There is so much I want for each of you...and I'm working on that.

In the interim, if you can attend the conference or a networking group or jump into a Twitter chat within your field, I encourage that. Austin has some great entrepreneur groups and a wonderful conference that's pay-as-you-can and Houston has a number of women's business and networking groups above and beyond professional organizations.

And...I entered everyone's name who wanted to win a ticket (some commenters opted out) into Random.org randomizer and the results were:

List Randomizer

There were 15 items in your list. Here they are in random order:

  1. christina 52
There were several Christinas so I had to assign numbers. I contacted this Christina who is able to attend the conference and is very excited!

Congratulations, Christina, and thank you to everyone who commented.

Check back--let's see what we can all do.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

One huge kick start to my career and how you can have it too

Right now, my career is going well. It has been a pretty good run but that's 95% nose to the grindstone and 5% luck. Or thereabouts. I do what I do and have what I have because I've made and seized opportunities, taken risks, sucked it up for a lot of years, and worked hard.

When I moved to Texas five years ago I had to transition my career a bit. Not a huge demand for managing editors at major publishers here, unless you happen to be in educational publishing, which I wasn't (for good reason). So I had to parlay my skills into actual work, and it has been a five year journey.

I hit a point of frustration not too long ago when I'd get some opportunities, but...without the concept of pay attached. For some reason, these people would schedule meetings with me and assume I'd do all this work and promotion for them just have content for my blog. What a joke. Like other bloggers, I do not lack for content on my blog. I lack for time to write up and publish all the content ideas I have, and I lack for money to pay the very real bills that expect US dollars as payment, not a write up on my blog.

It annoyed me mightily. I have a twenty(ish) year career behind me and had never ever hit this mindset of "will work for...nothing." I've freelanced plenty and always, always, both parties understood that one was compensated with pay for work. On rare occasions, I've exchanged or donated services when it was something I was passionate about, such as a cause I cared deeply about or a close friend who I was happy to help. I never donated my expertise to a for profit company.

Why should I?

Was the person asking me to donate my services working for the joy of it? Or was there a regular paycheck attached? I don't care how awesome your product or service is, if you want the benefit of my expertise, it costs. I'd never ask you to work for free.

I began starting business query conversations that I was interested in with a very clear professional, work-for-fee statement. It could vary but in general it was along the lines of, "That sounds like a cool opportunity. I'd definitely be interested in talking with you in more detail to scope the project and determine my fee. I know I'd enjoy working on this."

I thought this was brilliant, a great strategy. Set the professional tone and expectations for pay upfront.

I was shocked with the responses I received. Most were surprised, "Oh, I thought, you know, that you would just, you know, enjoy doing this..." Some were offended, "Oh, but, this is such a great product, and I don't really have a budget..." A few were offensive and retaliated with slurs on my worth and ability. One actually wrote something so rude about my completely reasonable expectation of pay for work that I replied by saying that it was clear we'd never be a good working fit and have a nice life.

I stepped back and took stock. On paper, I thought I was doing it all right. But it wasn't working. Therefore, I needed a new strategy. But what? Should I stick to this self-employed notion? Get a job in an office? Compromise? Or stick to my guns?

I decided to stick to my guns, and also decided to find a way to make that work. I was motivated. And willing to change how I did things. But not willing to work for free.

Plenty of people have written about the corporate expectation that anyone who could be identified as a blogger will work for free. Plenty have advocated for both sides of the story. So I won't rehash.

My profession, however, is communications. It's what I do and have done for a living, and expecting to earn a living from it now is totally reasonable.

So what in the world did I need to do differently in order to achieve that?

Around the time of my peak frustration and maximum motivation, I ran across an advertisement for the Texas Conference for Women.

Why not, I thought. Anyway, the keynote speaker was Isabel Allende! The cost was reasonable, it was only one day, and it promised a lot of career development, including free (included) one-on-one sessions with career advisors.

I carefully selected sessions, and tentatively walked in to the first one. It was hosted by this incredible, dynamic, successful woman in media and she made us practice frame of mind and framing speech to be successful. It felt enlightening, and empowering.

I left her session thinking, I can do this. I skipped the next session in order to take advantage of the one-on-one coaching. I met with a career coach who carefully listened to my dilemma about pay for work.

"You're used to dealing with businesses, have primarily worked with corporations," she said.

"That's right," I said.

"Now you're dealing with individuals, and representatives of businesses. They work differently," she told me.

We discussed who I needed to focus my attentions on -- more businesses -- and how to refine my pitch and responses to these smaller businesses. She also told me to not make it personal.

All of this seemed obvious, but honestly, being able to sit and plan with a coach makes a huge difference. It made me frame out and write down the problem in a very coherent and logical way, problem solve, and write down the solution. I set a goal, and a plan of action. Then I began developing. And since then, I've been working pretty consistently, for pay.

The other sessions were great, too, and at the end of the day I was tired, but inspired and ready to get to work. I gained some great insight and tactics from successful women, networked with local professional women, and most importantly, learned from successful women how to be a successful woman. Not how to do it the man's way, but how to do it my way.

I plan to return this year, too. It's November 10, and is here in Houston, at the George R Brown.

Again, this year there will be a career fair and the mentor sessions. In addition to a great line-up of speakers and timely career-focused sessions. By no means do I think I know it all so I am looking forward to learning more and expanding my skills and knowledge of how to build success.

I was really honored to hear from the conference this year, who asked me to be a part of letting women know, any way I'd like. They also offered me not one but two complimentary tickets.

I'm going to use one -- you bet! -- but I'll happily give away one, too. Just comment here, let me know your career dilemma or goal that you'd like help achieving and I'll select a winner.

For more information about the conference, check out the Web site to see about speakers and sessions.