Monday, September 08, 2008

What’s the Difference Between a Hockey Mom and a Rocket Mom?

Mascara. Rocket Moms have always worn lipstick.

By now, the whole world has heard the line about the only thing separating a hockey mom from a pit bull being lipstick. Sarah Palin, the woman everyone knows about after being thrown into the national spotlight seemingly overnight, personifies feminine spunk that you just gotta love. Regardless of your politics, regardless of your stance on the working-versus-stay-at-home debate, regardless of your judgment on the teenage pregnancy thing. You just gotta hand it to her.

And if you’ve been reading my ROCKET MOM! Newsletters for the past four years, you know that I’ve always advocated wearing two things…if nothing else. Lipstick and mascara. So here we have it: hockey moms. Rocket Moms. ALL decent moms. Fighting to be the best they can be. And wanting to hear more of this woman we hardly know.

And now with Labor Day behind us, and my promise to once again renew the weekly dollop of “joie” via these email Newsletters, just how do we discuss what’s been on my mind these past ten days in light of the fact that some of my readers are faithful because they like a weekly mommy-motivator, while some of you are with me because you are part of the design-chef-francophile crowd following the release of Country French Kitchens? An interesting mix, to be sure. But let’s face it: we’re all in need of nurturing both hearth and home, be it via parenting tips or marriage notes or simply advice on how to get dinner to the table. So if this is not your cup of tea, please forgive me. Delete this newsletter and wait until next week. Because I feel the need to talk about this with you.

This time of year finds me re-thinking my A-game. How to effectively go into fall with personal and family game plan in hand. Charting football schedules against volleyball games, out-of-state visits to our two college kids against client dinners. PTA involvement with board meetings. Figuring out an exercise and grooming schedule.

Now here’s where Palin fits in. She’s not just a hockey mom. She’s a rocket mom of the nth degree. And she gives us plenty of tips on just how to get our A-game on the docket now that Labor Day and beach excursions are behind us.

What I’m learning from Sarah:

She’s got the multi-tasking thing down pat. Sarah usually has her Blackberry in one hand and something of her child’s in the other. Be it a ponytail she’s shifting into a ribbon or homework needing a quick check, she does it with her mind ready to jump to the next task at hand. One might find contradiction to the idea of “being in the moment” or of being into the thing you’re into. But Sarah seems to have figured out how to immerse herself into what she needs to and get her mind…and hands…prepared for what will inevitably come next, be it an executive meeting, a kid’s play-date, dinner preparations or a conference call.

She’s figured out that the best stress-reliever is physical exercise. Sweating at the gym or during a midnight jog is how Sarah best gets rid of the stresses that go with the job. Rocket moms have known this for years. We’re into strength training and aerobic activity to tone lumpy thighs and keep arms and abs strong. Sarah kept her fifth pregnancy a secret not because she necessarily wanted to, but because her abs were so tight (after four babies!) that she was able to.

She’s perky despite obstacles. Thrown into controversy both from her years as governor as well as parent to teenagers, she knows all too well that some things are beyond one’s control and spin outside of one’s reach or influence. In spite of it all, she stays cool under pressure and maintains a charming, can-do attitude even when the odds are stacked against her.

She’s kept her priorities straight. Husband and kids first. Everything else falls into place once these priorities are set. As much as she loves her role as governor, she loves being a wife and mom most of all. (Love that.)

She’s committed to service. Those who challenge her ability to be wife, mom and veep need to remember that she didn’t choose to run for the vice presidency. She was chosen. Opportunities come to those who are prepared. Be it in your professional or personal life, your role at your church or house of worship, or the corner of the world in which you roam, opportunities to increase your reach will come your way if you do your homework and work your tail off. Embrace them. Your territory for influence will expand exponentially. Guaranteed.

She’s intellectually and morally strong. I love strong people. Strong personalities. Can’t help it. Always been attracted to strength. Sarah sticks to her convictions unapologetically. If she believes in a cause or a point of view, stemming from conviction based on faith or experience or pure world view, she does not let others deter her from meeting her goal.

She’s embraced her femininity. Wears attractive clothing, an attractive hairstyle and obviously utilizes a fabulous skincare regimen because her complexion is flawless. Excellent personal grooming is a hallmark of all rocket moms, and while you might not prefer pink nail polish on your toenails (as do both Sarah and I…check out OPI’s “Calypso” for one last hot pink late-summer fling ), you certainly keep them in good shape. And, I know you are already wearing lipstick and mascara….

There’s more to learn over the next couple of months about this fascinating woman, Sarah Palin. I will be on the lookout for details, as I am always interested in reading about those women who might be role models for me. If you get any tidbits that you’d like to share, feel free to email me.

Until then, let me leave you with one last thought. My minister shared a true story about an itinerant preacher, Jesse Lee, who is the namesake for the church where my family and I worship in our own small town. Unqualified, without credentials or pedigree, he simply rode—horseback—from village to village talking with others about the Gospel. He held up an apple to one of these crowds in one of these towns and noted that we can all count the number of seeds inside an apple…but only God knows how many apples will grow from the seeds.

As you strive to go into the fall with your A-Game, contemplate the number of apples that might grow from your seeds. Your seeds of energy. Of wisdom. Of compassion. Of conviction.

All blessings,


Monday, December 17, 2007

I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas

It’s exactly one week until Christmas, and I am not ready. My heart is prepared. Hands are not. There are still gifts to purchase, wrap and ship. Pies to bake and deliver. Cookies to package for the neighbors.

My kitchen table is serving triple duty as a storage facility, wrapping island and veritable nerve center for the preparations still un-done. Tissue paper and ribbons and tape and scissors and markers and boxes stand ready to be put into service. But long days at the office and after-work board meetings and parenting responsibilities keep me from moving at the pace to which I had, for years, become accustomed.

These last three years have practically forced me to adopt a simpler approach to the Holidays. I have weeded out the frivolous from the essentials; trimmed my gift list; abandoned some earlier-treasured rituals; and adopted a “green” approach to help me accomplish all of the above while simultaneously helping preserve our planet.

That said: this week’s Newsletter is short, sweet and “green.” But first, if you are not keeping long lists each Christmas of what you purchased and for whom, and what you received and from whom, start doing this now. My own lists go back almost twenty years and have “green-ed” me up by saving our family’s three most precious resources: time, energy and money. Not having to re-invent the wheel every year saves one tons of pre-Christmas anxiety, too. I group families together as I do friends and business colleagues. If you are visually sensitive as I am, you will start “seeing” your Christmas list in your head, and every time you are out and about, you can start thinking of what you should buy for those you most love all year long. That said:

• Hand craft, bake or cook as many gifts as possible. They’ll be more appreciated by the recipient, save you money and prevent yet more stuff from accumulating in areas where that’s the last thing needed. Stick to your favorites and make them again and again. I make my favorite Kentucky pecan pie every Christmas for a half-dozen folks on my list and pick up stoneware pie plates whenever and wherever I can find them throughout the year.

• Buy antiques and gently-used stuff. It moves recycling one step further, the gifts will inevitably be more unique than those bought from department stores or catalogs, and the recipient will value the time you spent shopping for something extra-special for him or her. I picked up some gorgeous antique jewelry on my last trip into New York for a few people on my list; I know I’ll never see such wonderful stuff again. One of my best friends got something from a local antique store when I found them early this year. Know what your friends collect and keep your eyes open for it throughout the year. (Roosters anyone?)

• Make your lists concise and build around themes. You’ll be able to conserve shopping trips, visiting only a few stores rather then a dozen or more. We all need to do our part in conserving gas, and this one will add a few good measures to that end. I stock up at Trader Joe’s on all sorts of organic soups, chocolates, teas and coffees and give out healthier goodie bags than what I could purchase elsewhere, all at decent prices.

• Don’t go nuts on wrapping. Use brown paper bags and boxes wherever possible. If you get a box filled with Styrofoam peanuts, re-use it on another gift rather than dumping it; this stuff will last for years. Consider plain newspaper or popcorn for fillers instead. Go simple on gift tags and ribbons, too. Recycle old favorites and come up with your own style that is timeless yet festive. For years, I used manila hang tags tied to old-fashioned twine; now I use white round metal-lined mailing tags which already come with a ring, easily slipped through a silk ribbon and large enough to write a tiny inscription.

• Consider re-stringing your tree with LED lights. More expensive in the short run, they’ll outlast the old ones in the long run. And of course, they’re better for Mother Earth.

• The true “greenies” will tell you to buy a real tree, or better yet, to dig one up and re-plant it after Christmas has passed. We have allergies to the real thing, so we have an artificial tree. Nothing wrong with that either as it’s used again and again and again.

• Go through all of those paper shopping bags you have laying around (I did that this weekend and was aghast at how many we’d collected; I spent a good half-hour sorting and re-folding). I was also pleasantly surprised at how many of them could be used a second or even third time as most bags these days are quite beautiful. If you keep this kind of stuff, make sure they’re handy and in good shape so that you can do your part in recycling them for further good.

• Use recycled paper for your annual Christmas letter, if you still send one. Recycled cards, too. Our family’s list gets longer each year, and we’re happy about having an ever-expanding circle. I shop for cards the day after Christmas in order to buy them at half-price for the next year. Again, it’s all about planning.

• Lastly, consider throwing one big party where you allow Holiday cheer to pervade your home, family and friends. Spreading joy to those in your circles in this way allows you to touch dozens of folks at one time and keeps efficiencies of time, energy and money at bay. Splurge for one morning or one night knowing that you’ve filled lots of people with the Christmas spirit.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Spinning Your Holiday Web

If you’re in the same part of the Holiday preparation cycle as I am, you spent a good portion of this weekend shopping, standing in lines and fighting traffic. Making your list. And checking it twice. I was so crazed for a couple hours out that I actually did some shopping without first making my list…only to find once home that I should have doubled or tripled or even quadrupled some of the goodies discovered along the way. Nothing like hyperventilating for some shopping time sans kids or spouse without a little mental preparation first……

I faced the weekend wonderfully exhausted, returning about 1 AM Friday (after weather delays into La Guardia stalled my flight into the wee hours of the night) from a four day trip to Art Basel Miami Beach (organized by a man genius in the art world but for crying out loud, certainly not a rocket mom! I mean, who in their right mind would organize an international art fair during the month of December? Does he not have shopping-wrapping-shipping responsibilities?!?)

Anywho, I came back with my new friend with whom I attended the fair. Spectacular! And she wound up spending the night with me before heading back home. With about one hundred friends coming for brunch that morning, she went into over-drive to help me get my act together! Making ham party sandwiches, putting desserts on platters, lighting candles. She was a dream! And a brand new person spun into my web.

The doorbell rang all Friday morning, with friends popping in for coffee, cheer and chats. Holiday hugs were freely exchanged. It was a delightful way for my husband and I to kick off the holidays in our own little corner of the world.

And so as I watched each person come and go, I couldn’t help but think about how many of these friends have been in my web for less than a year. Many were professional associates, met in the normal course of business in my day job; others were friends of friends or spouses of friends. And some have been friends since we moved to Connecticut the first time, a little over seven years ago.

So when I finally took the time to do the preparation for that making-a-list-and-checking-it-twice-drill, I was struck by how, over the years, friends come and friends go. How they seem to be there for a season of our lives…and then quietly disappear as we enter another one. How they come in and spend a lot of quality time there and we assume that they’ll always be this intertwined in the daily activities of our lives, only to wake up to the realization that they will undoubtedly move on. And that others will fill that space that formerly held their reservations. And that it will happen without fanfare. And that one day you’ll realize as you look at your Holiday list, that some of your closest friends from last year do not even share a space in your life anymore.

And that it’s okay.

Because I tend to be like a golden retriever—holding on to people and rarely ever letting go—this sad little fact of life always used to put a lump in my throat. I hated how friends from past homes and cities around the country are simply no longer in my life, since the “exiter” was almost always not me, but the other party. He or she had simply dropped out. Moved on. Not meaning to be mean or hurtful or rude. But just because others now met needs once met by me.

Perhaps it’s called maturity. Or maybe it’s just waking up to some un-desired facts of life. But friends will not always be friends, except in a very few rare instances. And I am blessed beyond measure by those few precious gems. For webs get spun. And then they blow away and need to be spun yet again. With different threads. Different patterns. One not more beautiful than another necessarily. Just different.

One of the lessons of this Holiday for me has been the sharp realization that some of my friends will be with me forever and some will not. Some have come into my life and I into theirs because we are supposed to be bound forever and others have come into my life and I into theirs because we needed each other but for a season.

As you make your list and check it twice, give yourself—and others—the freedom to move on as needed. The separation might hurt for a little bit. For a day or a month. But others will silently move in to fill the void. And you will meet each other exactly where you need to.

Enjoy the Holidays with those whom you really love. Really enjoy your in-your-web friends. Don’t take this season of these friendships for granted. Meet them exactly where they are and enjoy them for all they are meant to be.

Until next week, many blessings….


Monday, November 26, 2007

An Enchanted Holiday

My fifteen-year-old daughter and I have a Sunday afternoon tradition of catching a matinee. Our favorite thing to do is drive downtown to our local playhouse, bumping into neighbors and friends in the process, but as it only ever has one offering, we usually wind up going to the nearest town which has an enormous complex with a huge variety from which to choose. Oftentimes, the movie line-up is so intellectually or emotionally barren that it’s simply not worth our time or gas money. But every once in a while, a little jewel comes along that practically demands that we scatter our cares to the winds and devote an afternoon to cinematic magic.

Ahh! Such is the case right now with Enchanted. It has received such rave reviews from both real live professional critics and us general folks alike that we knew we had to go and see what all the fuss was about.

And what a delight it is! With terrific talent, a happy-go-lucky musical score that found us singing it all night long, and a classic fairytale storyline, one will find it nearly impossible to wipe the persistent movie-smile off one’s face when the movie is long over. Every single minute found us giggling, laughing wildly out loud, tapping our feet and grinning ear to ear.

Wishing I was still in the theater yet finding myself at work first thing this morning, I couldn’t help but reflect on the many less-than-enchanted issues of our day. Given my job and the necessary constant contact I have with the public, I hear stories virtually all day long ranging from health struggles to over-indebtedness to marital woes to wayward teens. Let’s face it: these are interesting times, to say the least. The markets are in turmoil, wars are still raging, and homelessness and joblessness and helplessness abound.

As we enter into the Holy season, perhaps we can be especially mindful that adding a little enchantment to our days would be a very good thing. While most of us will not whistle while we work, or break into song while we vacuum or scrub the toilets—as do Giselle and her animal friends in the movie—doing either one certainly couldn’t hurt…and just might make our day seem brighter. Dressing into gowns for our breakfast of OJ and coffee isn’t exactly what we do these days either…but choosing to dress in red for the holidays rather than the stale brown or black outfit worn every other day might prove to be just the mood-lifter you’ve been looking for.

And for that persistent smile stuck on my face yesterday during Enchanted? Well, I know that others will be happier if I choose to wear it more often than not these next few weeks ahead. For the holidays can be stressful. Shopping lines can be long and credit lines can be depleted. The weather can be downright dreary. Every single person I know, regardless of job status or age or economic privilege or educational attainment, can stand to be enchanted.

So do yourself a favor. Take a little break out of your week, no matter how busy or grumpy you might find yourself. Grab your spouse or your kid or your girlfriend or your colleague. And go see Enchanted. And vow to bring even a tiny piece of the movie back with you for those who move in and out of your life.

At least through the holidays.



Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Juicy Fruit

This week found my husband and me in Spain visiting our oldest son, Nick, who is studying in Salamanca for his junior year of college. Since he left at the end of August, frequent emails and skyping and phone calls have kept us in close touch. But we needed to see him, hug him, squeeze him and spend time with him. We yearned to experience, first hand, his new life there. To meet his friends and his Spanish madre. Visit his classroom. Check out his bedroom. Shop where he shops and walk down the streets where he takes his daily walks to and from school. Eat in his favorite restaurants. See what his Spanish adventure is all about. Top to bottom.

As a writer, I’m supposed to have words to match emotions. Supposed to have the ability to paint word pictures. Word smith my way through the past five days. And yet I can’t. It was too much of an emotional high. It hit my gut and my heart much more than it hit my head. Hit my throat and my eyes in ways completely unexpected. Caught me “confounded by glory” (as my new friend Hattie describes me.) with frequent lumps in my throat and drops at the edges of my eyes.

Seeing your kid grow up nearing completion is one of the best fruits of the labor. It takes years—two decades really—of planting seed in the most fertile of soils. Applying daily doses of sunlight and water. And rich fertilizer. Soaked with oodles of time. Sprinkled with diligent prayer. And nourished by the passing of time, some of which is barely endured by silence or absence or distance or illness…or all of the above.

And then to wake up one day and see fruit! Not just hardly-ripe fruit. Fruit too hard to squeeze or of pale color or less than succulent aroma. But juicy fruit! Fruit that, when you grasp it, moves in your hands. Holds a delectable scent. And oozes out a few drops of liquid. It’s so ripe that it’s downright juicy!

That’s how I felt about our visit with our son. He has grown into a man of character and generosity. Of breadth and depth. Of balance. Concern and consideration for others. I know that, over the past three years, you have received “Nick Notes” on his continued progress. On his health. And his well-being. And I know that it will probably do your heart good to hear that he has grown into a person who I am happy to report is not only doing beautifully physically; he has grown into a man who I am delighted to call my son. He has born fruit. Wonderful, ripe, fragrant, squeezable fruit. Juicy. One of life’s most precious gifts.

It is my hope and prayer that as you journey though parenting that you, too, shall find juicy fruit awaiting you. If even in a couple of decades. It is so worth it. This labor that we call parenting—love—will take us to heights previously unimaginable. And Oh! What a ride!

I pray showers of blessings on this Thanksgiving to you and yours! Love the ones you’re with.

All my very best,


Monday, November 05, 2007

Whacked on the Head by Beauty

Robust reds. Brilliant golds. Burnt oranges. Crystal-clear blue skies. This scene—trees on fire set against gorgeous cerulean—blesses me every day when I drive up my hill towards home.

Outside, leaves rustle underneath my feet. Musty smoke cackles in my fireplace. Cold, fresh air fills my lungs. Window lights glow at our windows. The furnace kicks on inside.

Woolen sweaters have replaced our t-shirts. Cowboy boots our Crocs.

Hearty stews brew inside heavy Le Creuset casseroles. Football games consume Friday nights. Perfumed Seda France candles emanate from the downstairs foyer.

Oh how I adore fall!

One of my favorite things about living in New England is the generous changing of the seasons. There’s nothing subtle about living in Connecticut. We notice when fall strikes. Or when winter has officially arrived. Can’t help it. It hits our streets and our skies. Our skin and our heads. I sat—frozen—at our son’s football game this weekend, unprepared for the sudden drop in temperature. Dressed for a “casual Friday” at the office when I left early that morning and going straight to the stadium, I was ridiculously outfitted for the brissling cold outside; my twin sweater set, jeans and open-heeled mules were no match for it. I wrapped bright orange towels (given to us to promote both school spirit and our school color) over my nearly frostbit toes until I could stand it no longer and drove home for a quick exchange of lambswool-lined Uggs.

This lack of subtlety continued all weekend, and thankfully so. A quick peek into a new garden store revealed gorgeous fall arrangements, with silk turkeys, roosters and owls frolicking on the shelves with pumpkins and gourds. Freeze-dried artichokes accented centerpieces and terra cotta earthenware lined tabletops. What a fabulous ten-minute eye-candy break from my usual Saturday afternoon errand-hopping and grocery-shopping?

Sometimes, the beauty of the earth, the raw, unadulterated perfection of God’s creation just whacks me on the head. It jerks me out of my work-filled thoughts on my long drive home; the leaves literally demand that you stop doing what you’re doing or stop thinking what you’re thinking and give them your attention! The colors and patterns and flow of this season cannot be replicated by mankind.

If you do not live in a part of the world where you experience this beauty, I hope that you get the opportunity to visit someone who does. That you get the chance to take a long drive in the country, visit a pumpkin patch, pick apples in an orchard. Sit on a back patio and breathe in crisp air until it practically hurts your lungs. Allow yourself the dizzying awakening of being whacked on the head by beauty.

For winter shall soon be upon us. And the colors and patterns and flow will once again change. We’ll find, no matter where we live, that the rhythm of the winter dance will keep us moving at a tempo that would find us yearning for these lazier—glorious!—days of fall.

Monday, October 29, 2007

One Tiny Stamp

This weekend found me once again working with our town symphony orchestra’s Family Concert. It is a full-scale professional production that delights, if but once a year, the little tyke set in this picture-perfect New England town of ours. Year after year, we fly in the best talent who, along with our professional symphony, present top-rated performances to ensure that the rich heritage of classical music infiltrates the spirits of our favorite little citizens.

It is a precious gem of a thing, bringing a classical music concert to our toddlers and young people. One gift of which I am most proud to be a small part of. Art and music education is my personal soapbox, so I want to make sure that I do everything in my lifetime to ensure that the power of the arts continue for the generations to follow. That by planting a shade tree under which I will never sit, others will have the opportunities to feast upon the same joy that I was gifted as a child. That a love of fine music—and great art—will become a part of them, just as it has me all of these many years later.

But service—volunteerism—comes with a price. In my own case, I had spent the entire previous week out-of-state on a business trip. I returned home Friday night exhausted, without my bearings, to an (almost) finished kitchen renovation that still left a couple dozen unpacked boxes of kitchen stuff on my living room floor. Suitcases to unpack, books to organize, and four loads of laundry to sift though and deal with. On top of that, three of my husband’s longtime friends (and some of my favorite people in the world) were flying in for a weekend reunion. Both of our sons had away football games; our daughter had tennis practice. And my role in the Family Concert required an all-day commitment to everyone who was making this wonderful gift possible. Life felt insanely busy this weekend.

I went into overdrive. I had no choice. Needed walking space for houseguests. Clean towels and underwear. Food. Transportation for our own kids.

Service comes with a price. Sacrifices to families and to jobs. To spouses and to personal exercise routines. We need to acknowledge the sacrifices, knowing full well that when we volunteer to work in areas in which we feel passion, we feel that the sacrifices are worth it. We place a priority on those areas in which we feel led to serve. We know that we are helping others, and that without our efforts, the job may not get done at all, let alone get done well. And these things are, indeed, necessary for communities to function at their best.

But we need to be sure, as we simultaneously raise this next generation of sons and daughters for excellence, that our passion for service is appropriately placed. That as we’re all doing stuff outside of hearth and home that we’re ignited from within. Do a soul check. You know what I mean. Your gut matches your head. For as you enter into the whirlwind of everything that’s required for service, you need to feel that this is exactly where you’re supposed to be in this place and time of your life.

I felt that way this weekend, even though I am exhausted by it tonight. It wasn’t just enjoying the glorious music of Vivaldi, or seeing the dozens of little ones up on stage afterwards at our annual “petting zoo” meeting the musicians and touching their instruments. It was that inner exhilaration that made me believe that I left a tiny stamp in the footprint of my life that I stand for something larger than myself. That art and music will live on in at least a few children long after I die, because I invested in them when I could.

I hope you feel inspired to do something large. But that if you believe this isn’t the time in your life, that you will feel conviction to instead spend that time with your spouse and kids. That your tiny stamp will be done right inside the four walls of your home. And that, one day, you’ll have more time to go outside those walls. If even just a little bit.