Monday, December 11, 2006

5 Fast Gift Ideas for the Holidays

You undoubtedly have five minutes to spare these days, period… time to read a lengthy newsletter (and no time at this end to write one!)

So here goes: five fast gift ideas for the Holidays:
1)Give away whatever your local school or orchestra or sports team is selling. They’re most likely raising funds for something significant. Our youth symphony is selling specialty coffee to raise money for our trip to Vienna in the spring. Nuf said.
2)Give soap. Everyone needs it. If it’s difficult to find (as is pure olive oil soap), your friend will love it all the more.
3)Give gift cards. Rather than just sending hard cash, gift cards read “I have given thought to something you might like.”
4)Give home-baked cookies, pies or cakes. I recently baked a few pecan pies and took them to dinner parties. Wow! They were such hits. Simple.
5)Give your time. Offer to spend an afternoon with a friend or with her toddler. Read a book to a nursing home patient. Sit with someone in the hospital.

Spinning off last week’s Newsletter (Simplify Simplify Simplify), this is my M.O. for the Holidays. Based on the dozens of email responses of the week, it appears that I’ve struck a chord.

Keep it simple. Easy. Fast.

Next week: a wrap up on the year…as well as the highlights of our upcoming Quinceañera!



Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Simplify Simplify Simplify

Quick Rocket Mom Newsletter. Too many cookies-to-bake-gifts-to buy-photos-to-take-cards-to-address-parties-to-host. Did I mention laundry?!? Behind in that, too…

Busy month. OK. So let’s get serious. And get real. For the first year EVER, I am sticking to my guns to follow the motto I have never been able to live by. You guessed it: “Simplify Simplify Simplify.”

Officially gone are the shipments of eighty out-of-state Christmas packages, endless lines at the post office and department store cash registers, toys for tots I hardly know and expensive gifts for friends who need not. I have resolved to spend my time, energy and money, instead, on those friends and relatives in my inner circle who have cared enough about my family during these past few years…and who have stayed in touch through thick and thin. Call it (almost) reaching fifty (and finally reaching maturity.) Call it getting a reality grip (of sorts.)

I have decided this Christmas to help those who need help and put “on hold” those who do not.

So I will spend time in the hospital with my friend whose daughter is fighting the ugly disease of leukemia and I will sit on that park bench whether I like it or not because that is the bench that has been put in my earthly path. I will bake cookies with a six-year-old because she wants me to spend some time with her at Christmastime (yes, Heather, that would be Rachel). I will have coffee with aching friends experiencing loneliness and isolation. And I will host a party for my closest friends and neighbors because when life got really icky for us, these folks came through with shining colors.

This Simplify Simplify Simplify thing might sound harsh…but life seems quite short to me these days. So I have officially changed course and I am giving you official license to do the same. I have decided to honor charities that hit an inner nerve of mine but not those which don’t; laugh and cry with those who have done both with us over these past few years but not spend my time with those who have no clue at to what we’ve been through; and love deeply those who have remained in our family funnel through thick and thin but filter out those who have blown us off. Sounds harsh, huh? Nope. It’s a reality check. And, truth be told, Christmas is a time when the rubber hits the road. When you truly get what happened in the little town of Bethlehem a couple thousand or so years ago and you have chosen to celebrate it ecstatically. I totally get that. And I want to share that joy with you. But what I don’t get…and I will no longer let myself get sucked in to…are those things that have no relation to the message of Christmas. Things that look great on the surface but that don’t really count.

So I will love my neighbor and love the sick. Help the hurting and help the little ones come to Him.

The rest of it? Almost all of it over the top. Out of season.

So when I run out of time, out of energy, out of steam and out of conviction…which I have already done (and it’s only the first week in December!?!).... well…it’s just going to have to wait. Until January.

That’s what that month is for. Right?!?

I send you all my best at Christmas. And to my house for a long cup of coffee and to celebrate the season. And friendship. And the gift of Christmas. And the things that really matter. You know who you are. Why you’re in my life. Just show up. On Thursday morning, the 21st. 9:30. Come and break bread with me around my table. Laugh and cry with me. Share with me, truly, in the real message of Christmas.

All blessings to you and yours,


Monday, November 27, 2006

Writing Your Way through the Holidays

A pleasant surprise awaited me today when I opened my first red-and-green Rubbermaid Christmas box during our annual decorating ritual: written instructions as to what went where. I had completely forgotten that I had stapled instructions as to where to place holiday decorations the year before; when I opened up each box, I didn’t need to scratch my head wondering what I did with the snowman, Father Christmas, angel or feather tree in years past. I just followed—lazily, I might add—my own prescriptive for how to do things in the status quo. That the angel went in the kitchen and the snowman went in the family room; the Father Christmas went on the tea table in the living room and the garland went on top of the dining room welsh dresser.

Now, this may not seem like a big deal. “So what,” you probably ask. OK. Well, here’s the deal: as we get older, life gets more complicated. It’s not filled anymore with just carpool and homework drills, or job-juggling and dinner preparation. It’s filled with bigger kids, bigger appetites, bigger shopping trips and bigger laundry loads. College applications. Tuition. More travel. Harder violin concertos. Life just gets busier. Hectic-er.

And so having someone or something tell me what to do—even if it’s just a silly index card stapled to an artificial ivy skewer with directions on where to put the thing—it helps my already overloaded brain. And it will yours, too.

So here’s my big Holiday tip: write stuff down. Everything. Journal everything. Gifts you need to buy for whom to ship where. Menus you need to plan. Trips to which stores you need to shop. Parties you need to squeeze in when and where. Obligations you need to fulfill to whom.

Let’s face it: the holidays can be stressful times. We all feel over-stretched, over-extended and over-worked. It doesn’t really matter where we find ourselves. At home or at work, we are committed to the max. School parties and neighborhood dinners and business lunches spread their dates across our collective calendars and keep us on our toes. Wiped out physically, emotionally and even financially, we collapse into bed each night wondering how we’re going to get through the next four weeks or so. Gift buying and wrapping and shipping and lines and credit card swipes get us completely whigged out just thinking about them!

These next weeks ahead call for nerves—and buns!—of steel. So go into them with the organizational finesse typically reserved for the pro’s. Planning a party? Write down the menu and the guest list and stick it in your Filofax or your Blackberry. Record menus in your recipe box and refer to them year after year. Write down every gift you purchase for whom. Check your list so that each year, when you prepare for the upcoming Holiday shopping trips, you’ll have a record of every single person on your list. And also record who gave you what. It’ll help jog your memory when you do this year’s gift buying.

Make a plan. Stick to your plan. And write write write. Trust me: when next year comes, you’ll breeze through these days with extra energy and extra time on your hands so that you can truly enjoy this month.

The month of December should be amongst the best of your year. Friends and family gatherings should be the happiest celebrations you could plan and attend. But you need to be prepared. Organized and fortified.

So go get ‘em. Go to the end–of-year concerts and recitals and block parties. Bake those cookies and decorate the gingerbread men. Indulge in gorgeous gift wrap and put the curlicues on the cards.

And if you figure out how to do all that each one of us rocket moms needs and wants to do AND get dinner on the table: please send me an email with exact instructions. It remains the most elusive of my daily responsibilities. And if you can get it on an index card and staple it somewhere….well, you’ll move to the head of the class.

Blessings on your week!


Monday, November 13, 2006

Celebrating Traditions—or Why Hosting a Quinceañera is a Grand Thing

Several years ago, while we were living in Miami, our son, Nick, took part on the court of a Quinceañera party (a “Sweet Fifteen” for Latin girls) of a gal who was a friend, to be sure, although not necessarily a “best friend.” Never having encountered a “Quince” before, we had not the foggiest idea of what was involved.

Turned out, this was ”the event.” Private dance lessons were on tap for everyone involved—everyone being the Quince princess, the seven fifteen-year-old girls on her court (think homecoming) and the accompanying seven fifteen-year-old boys. And not once, but twice, a private dance instructor gave them all private dance lessons so they would all dance perfectly when the appropriate time came (as in private dance instructor came to their house and gave private dance lessons for a couple hours each time…you do the math.) Girls wore floor-length gowns, coordinated to the white Cinderella-esque wedding style gown of the Quince girl; boys wore rented tuxedos. Nearly three hundred guests were invited to a sit-down dinner and professional photographers, cake makers, dance instructors, set designers, make-up artists and hair stylists all played their own distinct roles.

Now, my husband and I attended, invited as we were by virtue of the fact that our son was on the court. But our other children were not; they were simply told of the event after it occurred.

Fast forward five years. Our daughter vividly remembers every single detail of that Quince…lock, stock and barrel…and, now fifteen-years old, wants a complete and total re-enactment of the whole Cinderella bit.

Given that our pockets are not that deep, that we have no intention of doing the whole pumpkin-turns-into-a stagecoach thing on a revolving platform (no, I am not making this up), we have told her that, yes, she may have a Quince and yes, it can even have a Cinderella theme (she is our only princess, after all) but that the line needs to be drawn in the proverbial sand by mom and dad with clearly-delineated markings.

Well, “clearly-delineated,” “pockets-not-that-deep,” and “Cinderelle-esque” are all relative concepts.

To live in Miami, which, let’s face it, has a clear majority of Latinos from all Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries of the world, one embraces Quince parties because they occur each and every weekend in each and every year. To attend a Quince there at some point in your life is like, well, living in South America and celebrating “sweet fifteen” as a fact of life. Like breathing. To live in Fairfield County, Connecticut and host a Quince party is like living in the North Pole and hosting a luau. There ain’t none.

So when our daughter announced that she was having a Quince, to all non-Spanish- taking high school freshman, they had no idea what in the world she was talking about. But to those who took Spanish in middle school, they had some inkling of the impending brouhaha. But as these girls had never lived in South America—or heck, even Miami—they truly had no clue.

OK. So she chooses her court. Seven girls. Seven guys. (Can you imagine what that was like?) We order the gown, and it is, indeed, a wedding gown. It’s very Cinderella-y. Billowy. Lots of tulle. We order the dresses for her court (with the tearful note that her dearest friend from Miami who was to hold center court cannot make it up here for the event as she’s in the middle of exams. A sad late note for both girls.) We order the shoes (yes, they have a glass-like heel). We order the invitations. (An ordeal in and of itself. Have you noticed the cost of stationary lately?!?) Order the jewelry for each girl on the court. Ditto on the venue, the food, the DJ, and yes, if you can believe it, the dance instructors.

And then we start looking at tiaras. Now, I’m not Latin. (Nope. Pure-blooded Hungarian.) But even I know that Quince girls wear tiaras. And they are like, very expensive. And I’m saying: “Cristina, can’t we just go to the mall and get you a cheap one at Claire’s?” You’d think I had committed heresy.

So we look at every friggin’ tiara on the display shelf at David’s bridal shop. They make these things from Swarovski crystal, you know! And I just had to draw the line. I mean, this thing was getting out of hand. So I start pacing back and forth and back and forth on the floor of the bridal shop, turning over and over in my mind what I’m teaching my daughter about money and budgets and celebrations and indulgence and EVERYTHING is now all of a sudden riding on a stupid tiara.

She volunteers to pay for the difference between the one she really wants which is way out of my budget and the proposed one from Claire’s (which had an imaginary value anyway) and I coalesce and buy her the tiara.

And when I talk to one of the court-gal’s mom the next day, we kibitz about these girls and teenage-hood and money and rites of passage. Having hosted two bat mitzvahs herself, she had perspective. And then she said what would hit me like a ton of bricks: “You’re not just having a Quince. You’re preserving a whole cultural tradition.”

And I stopped and thought about how these traditions come and stay. About how generations of children have celebrated religious heritages with bar/bat mitzvahs and christenings and baptism parties; about how American girls have Sweet Sixteen’s and how Latin girls have Quince’s. About weddings. And how these events occur just once in a lifetime. Once or twice in a family.

And I decided that making a big deal about a life event is a grand thing. That it thrills me to no end to have a daughter, and a precious, beautiful one at that. That few of us take enough time out to celebrate life. To enjoy laughter and fellowship and good food and good cake.

We’re getting ready to celebrate Thanksgiving next week here in America. Embrace it. And those you love. With good cheer.

For celebrations—Quinceañera’s--are grand things.

Blessings on your week,


Monday, November 06, 2006

The Pluck Factor

Plucky (pluk’e) adj. Brave and spirited; courageous.

Have you ever noticed how few people possess radiating energy? How eyes lack sparkle and how few real smiles there are out there? How almost no one looks you in the eyes when you talk or how few people have truly gracious social skills? One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the lack of charisma or magnetism or exuberance among people everywhere!

So when I met Lorraine and Cam, I was immediately drawn to their energy. To their lit-up eyes, frequent laughter and bubbly personalities. Now they’re not particularly bubbly as in “effervescent.” No, they are actually more on the subdued side. But when one talks to them, their eyes twinkle. They smile when they talk. They maintain fabulous eye contact. Good upbringing? Perhaps. I’ve met both of their parents, even though one set lives in Scotland and the other in England (and we live up here in Connecticut in New England) and they are, indeed, darling people.

It’s even more amazing that we were drawn to each other with laughter and happy-talk considering the common thread that brought us together in the first place: leukemia. Their sixteen-month-old daughter, Katie, was diagnosed just before our seventeen-year-old son, Nick, was. Both children are treated by the same team of doctors. We met, for the first time, in the west wing of Yale’s Children’s Hospital. All of us were scared and admittedly, in a rather sad state.

Yet we continued, throughout treatments for our kids, to help each other get through them. I chased Katie around the chemo clinic when Lorraine and Cam were simply too worn out to do so, or held her when she needed a finger-stick and kicked the nurses too hard to get it done; we read stories together and sometimes she let me rock her to sleep. We colored, watched Dora the Explorer and played with puzzles. Cam engaged Nick in talk or made coffee and bagel runs for all of us. Lorraine kept me company and together, we helped keep each other’s spirits high.

They are back at the hospital, this time at Sloan Kettering, as Katie has undergone a bone marrow transplant this past week. It required weeks of pre-transplant consultations, tests, radiation and chemo. It also required Lorraine and Cam to temporarily set up house in New York City, in a rental apartment a couple blocks from Katie’s hospital room.

Some of us might complain about the difficulty of this situation. About lack of personal time, poor hospital food for weeks on end. Of watching our own children endure rigorous testing and annoying, seemingly endless blood work. Of the unfairness of the circumstances.

But not Lorraine and Cam. They maintain a positive attitude and continue to deal with every little detail with spunky, feisty attitude. They possess an enormously high “Pluck Factor.” They have a “to-heck-with-you-attitude” when people get in their way. They trudge through their days with laughter and verve. Hospital food the pits? No worries. Lorraine brings to Katie’s hospital room a crock pot along with bags full of groceries. When nurses wander in from the aroma of a slow-cooking roast and firmly let her know that she’s breaking all the rules, she tells them that she’s not dealing with the crummy food they’re trying to serve her. When little Katie does something adorable, Lorraine sends out an email blast for all of us to enjoy the moment. During the actual transplant, a video was made and we all got to witness closely (albeit from a distance) what it was really like. The video clips were amazing…..And afterwards? She and Cam celebrated with champagne and scrumptious food at a local French bistro.

Forget sad faces and going along with the ho-hum motions that most people simply accept as part of the circumstances. Lorraine and Cam have decided to maintain a spirit of resolve and a completely positive mental attitude in order to get through these days with grace. They let no one, and nothing, stand in their way. Katie’s well-being is their over-riding concern, and all of their efforts are directed to that end.

Strong-minded people serve as tremendous inspirations for me. When life throws you a curve ball, a U-turn, a disappointment or an unpleasant surprise, the outcome will oftentimes be greatly dependent on the way in which you handle yourself during those times. It takes practically no strength of character to be charming and adorable when everything is going your way. It’s when things get dicey that your true character reveals itself. And that’s when you need a high Pluck Factor. When you need to be courageous, to turn the ordeal into a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. To show your true colors, and your grit and the stuff of which you are made.

Many readers of this Newsletter are going through ordeals at this very moment. I know so because you write and tell me of them, and my heart goes out to each and every one of you. I hope this letter finds you determined to increase the Pluck Factor by just a little bit. To hold your head up high and courageously get through these days as have my dear friends Lorraine and Cam. You will serve as wonderful role models for someone else who, one day, will need to exhibit a high dose of pluck, too.

Please continue to keep me in your loop. Your concerns become my concerns and I will keep your needs closely guarded in my heart and in my prayers. I wish all of you—and especially those many dear readers who have written to me this week—all blessings as you go through these next weeks with as much strength, and pluck, as you can muster.



Monday, October 30, 2006

Minding Your Manners

This weekend found me in New York City and in Philadelphia, working on my book and catching up with my oldest friend and on some window shopping, too. A good walk down Madison Avenue in the fall is always a good thing. As is a good book store browse, a slow coffee-brownie indulgence in a side street café, and a peek inside an antique shop or two. We did all of the above in spades.

There are few things that bring me more pleasure while in the city than shopping. Not real shopping, as in buying, but leisure shopping, as in looking and touching. I need not, so I am rarely tempted. And certainly not at Madison Avenue prices. But the enormity of selection, the newness of collections and the entertainment value of people-watching is just too wonderful to ignore.

And so it was with great fun that we ventured into and around the flagship Ralph Lauren store on 72nd and Madison (a must-stop on anyone’s agenda. No kidding.) It evokes awe. Masterfully designed, with gilded-framed oil paintings lining every wall, densely-piled carpeting lining every step and attentive sales assistants lining every aisle, one certainly glides through the store as if on cushioned ballet shoes. It would be difficult to escape without feeling better for having had the experience. For having tasted “Ralph’s” genius.

And so, as I walked down the heavily-cushioned staircase on my way out, I couldn’t help but feel as if I had experienced civility at its New York best. That attention to detail and to good manners was contained, if nowhere else, within four large walls on one city block in my favorite city on the face of the earth.

My visit wasn’t long and it became time for me to retrieve my car from a soon-to-expire meter on Lexington Avenue. I walked quickly toward the exit and as I leaned against the heavy glass door onto the sidewalk, a gentleman (and he was, indeed, a gentle man), called out to the two ladies who were entering at the exact time that I was exiting.

“M’am. M’am,” he called, shoving what looked like a ten-dollar bill towards them, as they looked back over their shoulders, puzzled. “One of you dropped this on the sidewalk.”

I could hardly believe it. I said, rather softly to him, “Now there’s a real gentleman,” but he either didn’t hear me, or he ignored me, as if to suggest that chasing ladies who had dropped money out of their wallets was a perfectly normal everyday thing to do and that there could simply be no other alternative.

Picking up pennies on city sidewalks is a silly thing to do. But giving them away to the first child to cross one’s path makes it a worthwhile adventure. But picking up a ten-dollar bill and chasing down a complete stranger to give it back is hardly a common occurrence in a big city. And it caught me completely off guard. It gave me renewed faith in mankind. In young men in general. I smiled thinking of the mother who, some time, somewhere, had—over the years—taught her son well.

Holding doors open for people, shaking hands firmly, smiling while talking and expressing genuine thankfulness, are all wonderful gestures of civilized people everywhere. I vow to work on that this week with my own brood. To make sure that my boys know how to treat young ladies and that my daughter knows how to treat young men. And to remind them of the rules. That they say thank you for treats and for gifts. Always. And remember to write notes by hand. That they speak clearly to adults. And look them in their eyes when they talk. That they always answer the phone or the front door cheerfully.

Little things count. And minding one’s manners—one of those littlest things of all—is one of those little things that counts the most. I trust you feel this way, too!

Blessings on your week,


Monday, October 23, 2006

7 Must-Do’s for Fall

These past few weeks have found me busier than ever: my new job has kept me with a textbook in my hands every day for the past four and a half months as I became re-licensed and certified in virtually every area of the financial services industry; working on a new book has kept me traveling throughout the northeast, interviewing homeowners and photographing magnificent interior design; and spending these past two weeks out of town in back-to-back meetings, leaving the hotel before sunrise and returning at dusk, has prevented me from reveling in the majesty of Fall. How awful it is to be unable to enjoy these glorious colors to the fullest!

Perhaps it has been, as some well-intentioned friends have suggested, a need to return to a very full life after dealing with childhood cancer and care-giving for two solid years. Point made and well-taken. I think there’s some truth in that. Perhaps it’s the need to finish out a career I started twenty-plus years ago. Or perhaps it’s my way of simply helping out with four college tuition bills (they come whether we’re ready for them or not, y’know!)

But along with that busyness comes much-needed respite. For time to take a simple yet meaningful pause. I’m hearing from lots of moms that it’s just that time of year again. When the rush of back-to-school has taken a backseat but when other stuff hits: parent-teacher conferences, Fall recitals, and soccer and football practices every other day. We’re anxious to regain equilibrium. To get perspective before the anxiety-provoking Holiday rush. To catch your breath, delight your senses and enjoy the company of family and friends in the beauty of this season we’re finding ourselves in.

Here, then, are seven must-do’s for celebrating this fabulous season:

1) Go for a drive in the countryside. Last weekend, to celebrate our son’s birthday, we attended a college football game; the timing couldn’t have worked out more perfectly as the stadium was located within twenty minutes of the hotel where I was staying out-of-town for those two weeks on business. Afterwards, we drove to a charming Connecticut village to have dinner with the photographers who are collaborating with me on our upcoming book. The roads to their home were winding and narrow, but oh!!! The colors of the New England countryside were beyond description! Red competed with gold, along with orange and violet, in some of the most beautiful foliage I’ve ever seen. As wood smoke mingled with crisp air, we became intoxicated by the sensual delights of the area. (For all of you old friends in Florida, a trip up East within the next couple weeks is a must-do!) Please try to carve out some time in your everyday busyness to spend some time out in the country.

2) Visit a pumpkin patch. Hopefully by now you’ve already picked out the best of the best and plunked it down on your front stoop. Smaller gourds and miniature pumpkins, arranged on tabletops and windowsills throughout your home, make for charming displays. Don’t let too much time get between you and fall decorating, or the Christmas tree will be up before you know it.

3) Make a big pot of homemade soup. While admitting to buying commercial stock for the boys (fewer things fill them up faster after long, hard football practices in the crisp fall air up here in New England), I have not had time—nor been home—to make the stuff from scratch. But now it’s on my list! Chicken noodle, beef stew and cream of tomato are our family’s personal favorites. Settling back into the routine (oh, those good ‘ole days!) of always having a large stock pot of soup simmering on the stove sounds like a good thing to me. The days ahead will only be getting colder after all.

4) Bake a pie. I admit to skimping on time in the kitchen. Somehow, baking has not yet made it onto my short list. Too much to write, too little time. If you’re feeling like I am, how about at least trying to bake one easy pie this Fall? Pumpkin is a no-brainer. Sweet potato and apple both work perfectly, too. Or how about a cobbler or crisp?

5) Rake leaves with the kids. What a great way to get your blood moving! Fall yard work is especially invigorating. And just think: within the next few weeks (if you live in the north anyway), your lawn may be covered in snow.

6) Set out fall flowers. Ornamental kale, mums and pansies look splendid against the deep colors of fall foliage. Cluster flowers together for fuller impact. And while you’re at it, make time for planting bulbs. The ground will be completely hardened in but a few short weeks.

7) Take a hike in the woods. And if you don’t live near one, shy of coming to visit me, get out of the city for awhile and dive into nature. My husband’s favorite daily ritual is a solitary walk in the woods surrounding our home. Being alone for an hour is nourishment for one’s soul. Fewer things could provide more glorious time for personal reflection. With leaves crunching underfoot, babbling brooks singing their own songs and foliage screaming for one last look, meditative woodland walks rank as absolute necessities.

Enjoy these next few days before the leaves fall completely off the trees. Go for a few last bike rides. Play with the kids outside. Walk. Breathe deeply. Fall is upon us so briefly.

Blessings on your week,


Monday, October 16, 2006

On Spread

I’ve been giving much thought lately to “spread,” or to the impact I’m having on those around me. Most days find me frustrated that I don’t have very much of it, feeling that once I’m gone, my legacy won’t be large enough, that enough lives won’t have been positively affected by my having been here, and that I won’t have had the effect that I always hoped I would have had.

Our society is celebrity-driven and success-oriented, so oftentimes I feel that unless I’m doing something that’s truly in the limelight, nothing I can say or write will have enough impact to much matter. I suffer from the “little ole’ me” syndrome, which is rather unfortunate, as I feel quite certain that little folks and little words generally matter more for all eternity than most of the great “success” stories alive today.

I realize all too well the impact of small acts of kindness. Of gentle words spoken to a neighbor, funny lines imparted to a weary colleague, or the impact of taking time out of a busy schedule to visit wounded, frightened or sickened loved ones.

I realize, especially as I get older, that serendipity happens, and that we need to rejoice in it. That people come into our lives for but a short time and that each one plays a distinct role. That circumstances are oftentimes orchestrated by our Creator. That His mysteries should be embraced, reveled in with joy and wonder, and celebrated for what they are.

I’ve also made the conscious decision to divest out of activities that take me away from my passions. I realize more than ever how my time is limited and that I need to invest it where I feel called to impart the largest spread. Teaching our church’s cherub choir of three, four and five-years olds is one of the highlights of my week. I have the distinct sense that serving these little ones is where I need to be one day a week. As I reflect back on my own childhood and on those dear souls who had significant spread during those years, I can count them on two hands. One of them was my Sunday School teacher who, forty-five years ago, had such a strong impact on me that all these years later, she always bubbles to the top of my list.

I’m still out-of-town on a business trip. I’m meeting new people daily and wondering where in the world my place is in all of this. Wondering why I’m supposed to be here, away from my own family. What I’m supposed to be learning and imparting. Whose life will cross mine. Who needs a kind word. A laugh. Encouragement. Trying to find out if I’ll spread.

How about you? Where are you? Are you supposed to walk alongside someone this week? Are you supposed to spread? And if you feel too spent by motherhood, by your spouse, or by your daily four loads of laundry, will you recognize those moments when you’re supposed to spread? Or those people put into your path who you are supposed to impact? We’re all on the journey together, that much I know. It’s figuring out the important stuff that keeps me up at night…..

Blessings on your week,


Monday, October 02, 2006

What’s Your Story?

The unfortunate and surprising news this week of a friend’s sudden passing has caused me pause. Healthy fortysomethings are expected to live long enough to take full care of their young. Deaths at this age are termed “untimely,” and they always knock the wind out of our sails. And while I don’t use the particular phrase of “untimely death” often, as it generally cuts across my own religious beliefs about life and death and the role of the Creator in both, I do admit to feeling at ease with the thought that indeed, one’s death at this age seems to be out of the natural order of things.

Combined with the uncanny timing of my re-taking (some twenty-plus years after taking it the first time) the licensing exam for life insurance, I’ve given more thought than usual to my epitaph. I’ve been thinking about what my husband would write about me. About which handful of words he’d engrave into stone which would preserve my memory for all those who will come after me. Perhaps I’ve been studying the rules and regulations too hard; perhaps it’s getting to me. Perhaps I’ve spoken with one too many associates this week. Been forced to be too “net” when describing someone, or when describing myself, for that matter. At a business dinner on Tuesday, I had to stand up and give my own “elevator speech,” those two minutes which were supposed to shed light on just exactly who I am to a roomful of complete strangers.

And at our Society meeting this week, we discussed how to “get our groove back.” We talked about how we choose to participate in activities and how we de-select out of others. How the bottom line to involvement is passion. How we need to direct energy and time into those things that define us according to our natural gifts and talents and interest. And pass on those that don’t.

When I think about those things that will shape my own story, I know that certainly those organizations in which I’ve chosen to be involved will add texture. That how I’ve chosen to spend my time has shaped the person that I’m becoming. That the people I’ve surrounded myself with will add chapters. That they’ll color it or highlight it or punctuate it. With spice or laughter or compassion, as they have been placed into my life to add accordingly. That my children will further develop me. That my life work will help others construct measurable boundaries in attempts to describe me.

What’s your story? If someone had to work on your epitaph, what would they write? If you sat twenty of your closest friends and associates around a table to distill your story into a handful of words, what would they be? Do your everyday activities reflect the real you? Do your friendships help you to become the person you feel destined to become? Is your work life representative of your life work? If you had to choose just one word to define you, would you be able to come up with one?

I’m not thinking about my epitaph in a morbid way. I believe that each one of us needs to reflect on our own story at one time or another…or at many different times throughout our lives.

For me, it’s not even the “live life one day at a time” thing…although I appreciate now more than ever the gift of each day. For me, it’s the going through the motions of each day, the tough driving-through-traffic-eating-your-lunch-at-your-desk days and the getting-kids-ready-for-school-while-trying-to-catch-up-on-laundry days that give me the most food for thought.

For I don’t believe that it’s necessarily the mountaintop experiences that provide the most food for the soul. I believe it’s how you live the day-in-day-out that means the most. That makes people notice. That provides teachable moments. Mentoring opportunities.

Fodder for your epitaph.

Blessings on your week,


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Monday, September 25, 2006

Something to Wake Up For

Driving to work one morning last week, I was stopped at a light behind a large SUV, the woman driver scurrying madly through rush-hour traffic. Her vehicle proudly displayed two college decals, one from Harvard and the other from Dartmouth.

“Wow!” I thought. This mom’s got a couple of really smart cookies on her hands.

The light changed to green and as she got a little further ahead of me, I noticed a bumper sticker at the bottom of her SUV which read: “I have no idea where I’m going.”

What a contrast! This mom who raised two kids smart enough to gain entry into two of the toughest schools in the world…and she has no idea where she’s going?!? (“B-I-M-B-O” crossed the synapses of my brain…)

If you wake up in the morning without a plan, with no idea of where you’re going, how in the heck are you going to get anywhere worthwhile? How are you going to enjoy the dizzying liberation that naturally flows out of living a life with purpose? With no roadmap, no idea of where you’re going, the prospect of waking up to the same old same old, the humdrum, the mundane responsibilities that face all of us: getting breakfast ready for the family, separating the reds from the whites, driving carpool, fetching groceries, answering old emails…you’re likely not “zoo-ed” up to even get your tired little feet out of bed!

I’m not dismissing the role of motherhood, or its everyday oftentimes mundane realities. Hardly. I’ve been doing its drills for twenty years, quite happily thankyouverymuch. And children or no children, we all face everyday tasks that are capable of draining the lifeblood out of the most enthusiastic amongst us. Let’s face it: few people face those proverbial four daily loads of laundry or paying overdue emails with unabashed gusto!

But there’s more available. And it’s well within reach.

This weekend found me in Washington, D.C. for an annual conference of like-minded men and women across the country. It offered leadership training of the highest caliber. Having attended this forum regularly for the past ten years, I always look forward to reconnecting with old friends and to making new ones during the September conference ritual. I hung out, as usual, with three of my favorite women on the planet; Alyse and LaNeil are each eighty-two years old and Shirley is sixty-five. They each possess vitality rarely seen in people half their age. Their faces glow. Their eyes twinkle. They are warm and wonderful, healthy and vibrant, curious and generous.

They devote their time to causes which they enthusiastically embrace. They are passionate. They work diligently. Without pay, they serve as foot soldiers for the critical issues of our time. They have something to wake up for. They have a following; people depend on their leadership. Young people rely on their mentoring. Still others seek their wisdom and knowledge of the issues in an effort to become better equipped to deliver the same message with vigor to listeners entangled in their own network of friends and associates.

One of the secrets of discovering your significance is to find that for which you were created. I can assure you: we were not created to live in isolation. Nor in self-serving, self-indulgent behaviors that bring immediate but short-lived satisfaction. We were created for community. For service. For expanding our little corner of the universe for the benefit of others. To take on missions larger than self with far-reaching implications for the generations to follow.

If you are looking for a secret to living with exuberant vitality, find a cause. Join a mission. Seek to connect your inner passion with the vision of someone who has come before you. With one who is working in the center of the universe to effect massive change.

Want glowing skin? Sparkling eyes? A youthful bounce to your step? Longevity? Vitality? Find something to wake up for. Be it your own kids or your spouse, your neighborhood or your elected officials, worldwide hunger or inexcusable illiteracy: get involved! It’ll help you put that foot on the floor every morning and encourage you to truly get up and at ‘em.

Onward and upward!


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Monday, September 18, 2006


Reconnecting through the hurdles of distance and time is never easy. It involves travel. Interruptions to busy schedules, alterations in the normal routines of family life and unforeseeable frustrations as things, along the way, go awry.

Such was the case this weekend when my husband and I made a quick trip to Miami for a fundraising gala supporting one of our favorite organizations. The invitation had been on our calendars for weeks, but as the date approached, we wondered how in the heck we were going to be able to logistically re-shuffle an already-bewildering matrix of work; football games; an out-of-state orchestra retreat for one of our kids; and dog care, lawn care and child care. Add to the equation delayed flights both there and back (weather problems on the way and mechanical trouble on the way back), and one stands amazed that anyone can pull off reconnecting at all.

But oh my, few things beat reconnecting with old friends! My drive from the airport to the hotel was made easier by a phone call to an old Miami friend; breakfast was a celebration with my cousin and her husband; and the gala itself was one huge reunion with friends we hadn’t seen since our move three years ago back to New England. The complete change in countenance on our fearless leader’s face when he saw my husband and I enter the ballroom made the entire travel ritual worth it. Arms extended wide, warm kisses to both cheeks and long reconnecting conversation was all I really needed. I could have left at that point, without even eating the scrumptious awaiting spread; his embrace alone did it for me.

Many of us do not enjoy the indulgence of one home base, surrounded by family and friends of decades-long journeys shared. We bounce around counties and countries, in and out of homes and neighborhoods and friendships at dizzying paces. Gone are the days of one employer, one school district and one set of girlfriends. We settle down one year only to uproot the next, ushering kids and spouses into strange communities with perplexing new realities—and strange people—to match. Keeping up relationships, once formed, is logistically arduous. But once committed to the idea, making the effort to reconnect becomes an inspired process. Ensuring that the logistical details will take you safely there become worth every ounce of the struggle.

Children grow and reconnections to their life-shaping forces and faces must be re-kindled. How’s your daughter doing? Where is she applying to college? When’s the new baby due? What’s going on in your business? How’s your mom? Did you get through that awful physical therapy? Have you recovered from your surgery? We share common struggles, questions and dilemmas. Three sets of parents waiting for cars outside the valet area all shared in the common experience of raising fourteen-year-old daughters. Two other moms and I commiserated about the college application process. Complaining about the real estate market and where we might settle in retirement were other common topics of conversation.

Keeping relationships alive provides nourishment for our souls. Refreshment for our spirits. Continuation of ideals. Succession of friendships.

I’ve been blessed these past few weeks by more than my share of wonderful reconnections: with my sister and her family in North Carolina for a quick lunch en route to vacation; with my oldest friend and her family in Pennsylvania while working on my book; next weekend will take me to D.C. to a conference where I’ll reconnect with friends made over the past decade of almost-yearly attendance.

Especially as we struggle to just get through the daily responsibilities of motherhood, with toddler’s needs matched by those of busy spouses, with home and work demands matched by those of community service, it’s important to factor in reconnecting—at an intimate level or on one less complicated—to ensure that the cycles of life will be shared with those whom we love. That rituals will continue for our lifetimes and perhaps even for those of our children. That connecting—and reconnecting—will carry us on into the unspoken joys that bring beauty and meaning into everyday life.

Happy week!


A Quick Note

To read a full account of my life-changing trip to Panama with Alfalit, the organization which our family fully embraces, copy and paste this link into your browser window:

More info can be found at

A Rocket Mom Society Note

Reminder: Our fall kick-off meeting will be held at the Mother Ship next Wednesday at 7:30. We’ll figure out how to “Get our Grove Back.” Please bring a fellow rocket mom and plan on having an evening filled with fun, food, fascinating discussion and fabulous new friends!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Monday, September 11, 2006

If the Devil Wears Prada, Can a Rocket Mom Wear Jimmy Choo's?

Anyone who laughed through this summer’s hit movie, “The Devil Wears Prada,” knows that clothes can, indeed, the woman make. If Andy Sachs’ transformation from journalist neophyte into couture fashionista was not enough, surely the svelte fiftysomething profile of Miranda Priestly (played by Meryl Streep) along with her perfectly coiffed white hair, beautifully-shaped eyebrows and colored matching stockings got your attention.

Throughout the movie, I found myself asking questions about appropriateness. For while Andy’s cheap, mass-produced sweaters from the Gap were certainly appropriate for her college years, they seemed grossly out of order in her new role at the fashion magazine empire which employed her. Far more appropriate were her Aubrey-Hepburn-style hat and swing coat ensembles, knee-length Prada boots and Chanel skirts; the fact that they were borrowed from the excess stash made no difference. She needed them to look right in her job. Fashion was her job. (Well, sort of.)

Women have always had an interest in fashion. For good or for bad, we’re judged (by men and by other women) by our looks and by our fashion sense. And let’s face it: we’ve been playing the dress-up game since toddlerhood.

That said, the question of appropriateness remains. Would Andy’s wardrobe be appropriate if she held the position of elementary school teacher? Of landscape designer? Nuclear physicist?

Now that I’m back in the ranks of corporate America, I am ever-conscious of the way in which fellow working women dress for the workforce. Frankly, I am shocked by how casual my colleagues have become. Almost gone are perfectly matching jacket-and-skirt suits, closed-toe pumps and buttoned blouses. Shoulders, cleavage and toes are de rigueur and have received more exposure (no pun intended) than ever. (I was, frankly, shocked, to see three women legal analysts on Fox News espouse commentary with breasts falling out of tank tops; I can hardly find a women in my office building with covered shoulders; toes…and painted toenails…are definitely in the “no worries” zone. Personally, I find it yucky even thinking about my manager knowing what my toes look like.)

So what’s the story? I mean, if the devil wears Prada, can a Rocket Mom wear Jimmy Choo’s? Can she—no, should she—wear Kate Spade to pick up the kids from the bus-stop, Ralph to the grocery store and Lilly for supper on the terrace? Can a Rocket Mom facing four college tuitions allow herself the indulgence of thousand-dollar Manolo’s?!?

As you swim through the ebb and flows of the cycles of motherhood, consider the role of fashion in your everyday workaday world. At-home moms with baby burble on their shoulders look ridiculous in silk; anyone would think you had lost your marbles in the grand push of childbirth if you even attempted the combination. And yet older moms sharing Abercrombie with their pre-pubescent daughters deal with the ridiculous factor in yet another way. Should fifty-year-old moms (with badge-of-motherhood poochy-bellies to prove it) really be squeezing into low-rise bell-bottoms? Should the start of menopause be the start of more serious wardrobe expenditures and serious attention to personal hygiene? (I watched “Extreme Makeover” this weekend. Words cannot describe…) Or is that the time (for crying out loud!?!) to say enough obsessing already!!!

As you move on with your week, standing as I know you do in front of your clothes inside your closet, staring hazily at clothing both old and brand-new, with that “What do I wear today?” look on your face (will this make me look too fat, this make me look too pale, this make my butt look too wide…) ask yourself what will make you look the most appropriate…and move forward with the assurance that hey, if you could get through all of the trials and tribulations of motherhood, you can figure out a few ensembles to get you through these next seven days.

Happy week!


A Quick Note

The Rocket Mom weekly Newsletter has resumed after its traditional summer hiatus. It’s been busy, busy, busy (!!!) back here at the Mother Ship. I started full-time “outside the home employment”—after nearly twenty years out—re-entering into the exact same position that I left way back when. I’m working as a Financial Advisor in a large office about forty-five minutes from home. Four days before I received the official job offer, I was offered a (fabulous) book contract for a project which takes me traveling most weekends. The ubiquitous work-life-family balancing act facing all moms working both inside and outside of home fronts has not escaped our family, either. We’re reinventing the equation weekly as variables (one son decides to play football at the last minute, one daughter decides to up the ante in tennis lessons, etc.) act like moving targets, rotating on a near-daily basis. As a result of all of this wonderful change, this blog will not appear before Tuesday (all must run through a compliance check as per my new job).

A Nick Note

Nick has settled back into Wake Forest University, but not without a few frustrating inconveniences. He got a case of shingles, which is apparently very painful, and wound up being briefly hospitalized to get that under control. Three difficult weeks later, he is feeling totally back to normal. He should continue maintenance chemo throughout the school year and will hopefully be finished with treatment in the spring

A Rocket Mom Society Note

Our Fall kick-off meeting :”Getting Back Your Groove” will be held at the Mother Ship on Wednesday night, September 27, at our usual time of 7:30 PM. Please note that the time has stayed the same, but the night has changed. We will discuss a permanent meeting night for the 2006/2007 school year at this meeting. Current members, please bring a friend! State chapters have formed over the course of the summer. Interested in joining? Visit:

Contact Info

FourQ Press, PO Box 569, Ridgefield, CT 06877 POSTAL

203.438.7164 OFFICE


ISBN 0-9744187-1-4

Copyright (c) 2006 by Carolina Fernandez. All Rights Reserved

Monday, May 29, 2006

Ordinary Souls. Extraordinary Acts

Their silent wounds have speech
More eloquent than men;
Their tones can deeper reach
Than human voice or pen.
~William Woodman

While I stand on the sidewalk during our town’s Memorial Day parade, I will fix my thoughts on the extraordinary acts performed by ordinary men and women on my behalf. I stand in awe at their bravery and wonder how they were able to stir up such courage in order to put their lives on the line for the ideals which they held so dear. They did it for me. They did it for you. William Woodman said it well: “their tones reach deeper than human voice or pen.” Words cannot convey —nor can the mind fully comprehend—the generosity and unadulterated self-sacrifice bestowed on us by ordinary people throughout the ages.

I urge you to pray for the men and women in our Armed Forces who are this day putting their lives on the line in far corners around the globe in order to protect our personal freedoms and to defend the liberties which we hold so dear. Pray for the families who are fervently praying and awaiting their loved ones’ safe returns.
Blessings on Memorial Day to you and yours.

“Are they dead that yet speak louder than we can speak, and a more universal language? Are they dead that yet act? Are they dead that yet move upon society and inspire the people with nobler motives and more heroic patriotism?” ~Henry Ward Beecher

A Quick Note

FourQ Press will close for the summer, starting today, Memorial Day, through Labor Day. I will officially re-enter corporate America next Monday. My new job, along with a new writing project, the Rocket Mom Society, our four kids and my husband (and dog and guinea pig and house) will occupy my summer days—and you will undoubtedly be too busy to read my Newsletters anyway! Please feel free to email any time! I’d love to hear from you. My weekly ROCKET MOM! Newsletters will resume the Monday after Labor Day. Until then, enjoy everything that the summer has to offer.

A Rocket Mom Society Note

The final society meeting of the school year will be held on Tuesday night, June 27 at 7:30 PM here at the Mother Ship. Our guest speaker will be Sherry Artemenko of Play on Words. LLC. She’ll teach us how to use games and fun, playful activities with our young children in an effort to increase language development.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Monday, May 22, 2006

Going the Distance

Without a doubt, the last few weeks of school are amongst the busiest in the calendar year. Graduations, recitals, concerts, sporting competitions and final exams all exert undue influence over the time and energy of students and parents alike. Most days find me traveling across the county shuffling kids to one event or another; May and June find me barely able to navigate the logistical gymnastics required for all of the above.

This weekend was no different. Batting clinics, lacrosse games and a year-end orchestra concert in which three of our kids played, took up most of our time. Thankfully, a quick visit (and fun May ritual) from my oldest friend from out-of-town provided just the fresh spark I needed to keep my enthusiasm level high throughout. It was a happy, happy weekend, filled with family, friends and fun.

Anecdotes throughout the weekend presented a resounding theme: going the distance is worth it. It’s worth the time. It’s worth the energy. It’s worth the driving around. It’s worth the work.

A visit to an antiques shop in Connecticut—and a wonderfully long chat with the owner—convinced me of the need to counter our “fixed in a flash” modus operandi with a longer term perspective on life. The antiques dealer winced at the notion that young people today desire their homes to be instantly furnished and decorated, using a few clicks of the mouse on eBay to supply them with everything from linens to lamps to dining room tables. Few young people today are willing to take the time and energy to wisely shop for their homes anymore. To scour antiques shops in faraway towns. To put in the time for adventure. To find thrill in “the hunt.” The pursuit, which used to take center stage, has been replaced in these bustling days of ours with “the catch.” We become satisfied with second-rate, because hunting for “wonderful” is just too cumbersome.

Friendships, too, take years and years to develop. They blossom eventually, through years of coffees and lunches, movies and trips, phone calls and postcards. They start as budding relationships, and grow and grow and grow if well-watered. Surviving a few inevitable bumps in the middle, like acne on our teens’ faces, they eventually develop into beautiful models of faith and trust and love. Like our children, friendships require years of nurturing. Of time and energy and good old-fashioned hard work.

Some of the most talented kids in our town performed in the end-of-year concert for the youth orchestra this weekend. My husband and I got lumps in our throats watching our own children play a Beethoven symphony in its entirety. No “fixed in a flash” model there. Obtainable only through years of lessons. Of weekly practices. Of discipline. Persistence. Vision. Determination.

I know that this month—heck, this week!—may find you physically exhausted. Parenting rarely finds a busier time of year. Class parties and field trips exert unusually high demands on our time. Our kids—and their teachers and coaches and conductors—tend to simply wear us out right about now. I hope that as you travel down the home stretch in these days and weeks ahead, that you’ll find renewed optimism in the knowledge that your energy invested in your kids now will find enormous rewards a few years down the road. It can be so difficult to see this through bloodshot eyes. But keep the course. Maintain the energy. Stay focused on the vision. For as parenting is wonderfully relentless, its fruits are wonderfully delicious. And you need to go the distance so that you’re guaranteed to taste them.

Blessings on your week!


A Rocket Mom Society Note

Join us this Tuesday for our monthly meeting at Chico’s on Main Street at Bailey Avenue, Ridgefield, CT, at 7:30 PM for a “Shopping and Sipping Soiree.” Chico’s has generously offered a 10% discount on all purchase made by members (and their guests) that night! Members, please bring a friend or two so they can see what we’ve been talking about. Guests will be welcomed at the door. Questions?

Monday, May 15, 2006

this is an audio post - click to play
Infusing Heart into the Hearth of the Home

"There is no reason, either in prose or in rhyme, why a whole house should not be a poem." Ella Church Rodman

With any luck, your Mother’s Day weekend was as wonderful as was mine. As one day cannot hold the full celebration, the “holiday” has been elevated—in my family anyway—to the entire weekend. It starts on Thursday night and extends ‘til midnight on Sunday. Extra lounging in an excusable indulgence, as is extra chocolate, extra newspaper perusing, and extra sleep.

And if that’s not quite enough, in this section of Connecticut where we make our home, kitchen tours have been perfectly calibrated to Mother’s Day “weekend,” and so I became happily transplanted to two different towns…with a third this coming week…all in the name of “Happy Mother’s Day.” Call it wonderful coincidence or perfect event planning: celebrating the hearth gets to us mothers’ hearts whether we like it or not.

These tours, quite spectacular in every imaginable way, go beyond the familiar house tour offered by many historical societies or trusts for historic preservation in cities across the country. They zoom in specifically on the most honored room in the house: the kitchen. Architects and kitchen designers stand for the duration of the tour, beaming with pride over the perfectly appointed rooms they have created for their clients. As they should. Most of the work is exquisite and deserves recognition.

And recognize we patrons did in full force. Attended by hundreds of would-be renovators scourging the tour for ideas, curiosity seekers anxious to see what the next-door neighbor has been up to, professionals simply checking out the competition, and HGTV and Food Network junkies by the truckloads, the kitchens on tour scratch our collective itch.

As a wannabe kitchen renovator (my oven is falling apart, my fridge door hardly stays shut and my stove is on its last leg), I had a strong desire to see what folks are doing in kitchens around my neck of the woods. Granted, Fairfield County, Connecticut can be a rather daunting neck to grasp; the most difficult part is simply getting my brain wrapped around the scope of the kitchens on tour. For we’re not talking merely ripping up vinyl flooring and replacing it with hardwood here. We’re talking six burner professional ranges, imported marble countertops, double Sub Zero’s, handmade tile backsplashes and handpainted friezes. Copper countertops and double-wide limestone farm sinks. Trips to Europe—with interior designer in tow—in search of that perfect armoire. Or vacations spent trolling through the Paris flea market for the grandest chandelier. One of the homes undertook a four-year renovation; granted, its 10,000 square foot size required a committed team of experts in order to eventually pull it off. But its final result—impressive, certainly—boggled my mind.

Now, there’s certainly nothing wrong with any of these indulgences. We can call it “protecting our investment” or “infusing our home with beauty” or “doing careful research.” The kitchens on tour were, with few exceptions, veritable works of art.
And as a visual artist, I appreciate the need for transformative beauty as much, if not more than, the next person. Indeed, my need to fill my kitchen with things that I love, things that I find beautiful, is a highly motivating adventure for me. Ever in search of wonderful roosters or lamps or linens or candles: I’m almost always on the hunt.

But as I tromped through house after house, I remained inspired most by understatement, as always. By the antique and smallish house that didn’t scream “Look at me!” Which spoke to me through its quietly unassuming authenticity. Of wonderful proportions, clean color and organic materials. Of beautiful, yet simple, fabrics. I like things that are gorgeous. But I like them to come at me in the same way that nature does. “The earth laughs in flowers,” Emerson wrote, and certainly their beauty is inescapable for those willing to slow down long enough to fully appreciate it. But flowers don’t scream. They softly persuade. They whisper “Come hither.”

As I go about the initial steps towards a complete kitchen re-do, I hope I can translate my need for organic beauty to the designer with whom I will eventually work side-by-side. I hope my desire for open shelving, a rather common solution in kitchens across Europe, overrides designer’s dreams of expansive (and expensive) full-scale cabinetry. I hope that my desire for a glass-doored refrigerator, one which I’ve held for more than two decades, is not met with skepticism by well-intentioned planners who worry that children’s fingerprints and messy living habits will intrude on the assumptive need for impeccable order and cleanliness. I hope that my desire to impart my own stamp, through my collections formed over nearly a quarter century of marriage, will not be met with a “professional’s” desire for something less artsy. Or for something that appeals to his or her aesthetic, rather than to mine.

For the one thing I had hoped to see more of in these wonderfully designed kitchens was the owner’s handprint. Or that of their children. I would have loved to have seen a crumb or two. Or some suggestion that the owners actually cooked there. That dough was, on some days, actually rolled out on the marble countertop and that vegetables were stir-fried on one of those six burners. Indeed, the phrase “working kitchen” has evolved in order to distinguish between those kitchens which are designed to be merely beautiful versus those in which homeowners actually cook.

I’d like to think that some kitchens stand—from decades of use or from recent renovation—where roasts are basted and hearts are repaired. Where bills are paid and where lunchboxes are packed. Where we value the notion of nurturing: through meals and through conversation. With preparation along with presentation.

Few things tug at our heartstrings as do our kitchens. We have long recognized them as the hearth of the home. Let’s just hope that in the real estate frenzy—as well as in the overly-consumptive age in which we find ourselves—that we keep the heart in the hearth of our homes. And that we are able to translate it aesthetically so that our loved ones can benefit. Via fabulous aromas or soothing patterns and color. Through folk art collections or through hand-crafted dinner plates. Through pottery or placemats.

For therein lies the challenge. As always. Infusing the hearth with heart.

May you find beauty in your week.


A Quick Note

My wish for a new digital camera and photo printer was happily met by my husband and kids. They understood quickly—and precisely—my specs for an idiot-proof system, and we found one. Send me an email if you’re on a similar hunt, and I’ll tell you what we wound up with:

A Rocket Mom Society Note

Please join us at 7:30 PM on Tuesday night, May 23, for an evening of shopping at Chico’s. They are paying special homage to our Society by extending a generous discount on all purchases made that night. Bring a friend. You need not be a member to come. You just need to know one (that would be moi!)

Monday, May 08, 2006

this is an audio post - click to play

What Mom Really Wants for Mother's Day

When I told my fourteen-year-old daughter that what I really wanted for Mother’s Day was to hear her perform the Bach A-minor concerto onstage in Woolsey Hall at Yale University, she rolled her eyeballs and said in that teenage girl voice that only bona fide teenage girls can do: “That’s not what I had in mind, Mooooom.”

“But it’s what I really want,” I replied.

My completely earnest request was met with more eye ball rolling, swooshing of the hair over the neck, arms crossed under the chest and complete silence for most of the hour-long drive to New Haven.

We wound up going, my daughter and I, and, as far as I’m concerned, I got what I really wanted for Mother’s Day. She played beautifully and the afternoon concert more than filled my cup. So I don’t want the flowers. Don’t want the chocolate (okay, so maybe if it’s extra dark, I’ll cave in). And certainly don’t want the plush animal (seriously, who are the teddy bear companies kidding?!?)

My daughter had “in mind” a mani/pedi, my favorite indulgence on the planet…and maybe even in the entire galaxy. Give me freshly sculpted fingernails and fiercely loofahed feet and I’m one smiling mom. So I felt confident that, with the “what I really wanted concert” behind me and a possible mani/pedi ahead of me, that the week leading up to Mother’s Day would be smooth sailing.

And then a flyer poked out of the newspaper and a gadget caught my eye. Well, not really a gadget per se. It was a digital camera. Well, it was a digital camera attached to a photo printer, if you want to be exact about it. And it looked so, well, easy. It was small and slick and adorable all at the same time. And, most importantly, it looked like it was idiot-proof. It appealed—strongly—to me, the resident technology idiot.

Now, I’m not pretending to be an idiot. Not wanting to sound humbly self-effacing or anything of that nature. No. I’m a rather smart cookie and I’m proud of that. But technology? Well, you see, the tech craze just happened to coincide with my rearing of that fourth kid as well as the premature onset of menopause, and, while not using either as the perfect excuse for being technologically-retarded, given that the final push of childbirth (and the mere experience of pregnancy) depletes brain cells and that menopause in and of itself has been scientifically proven to cause severe lapses in mental prowess, heck: if it’s good enough for the American Medical Association, it’s good enough for me. Childbirth and premature menopause cause technological retardation, OK?

So spying an ad for an idiot-proof digital camera really sparked my interest. And I thought, “Now that’s what I really want for Mother’s Day.” I am dreadfully and hopelessly behind in organizing my “memories” (does anyone even use the word “photos” anymore?) and the whole conversion of film to disc to online storage to email ordering thing has really gotten me down. Just when I got the whole take-the-photos-to-the-drugstore (now there’s an archaic word for you)-to-get-developed ritual down pat, along came digital photography. (I think I was in childbirth #4 around that time). With fewer brain cells with which to figure this one out, I turned the photography division of labor over to hubby. He got a kick out of it, and about four digital cameras later, has a multitude of files stored on my laptop, which I can never quite find when I need them. But he’s convinced me that they are in there somewhere.

Now lest you think I have completely lost my mind, let me assure you that there is a whole segment of women in the universe who are in exactly the same age group/life stage/hormonal imbalance level who understand EXACTLY what I’m saying: we got caught between the proverbial rock and technology hard place because we failed to time life perfectly. We’re bright, highly educated women who desire more than anything to have perfectly preserved memories of our children’s happy childhoods—but we now have no clear idea how to do it. The lady I met at the “drugstore” a few weeks ago confirmed my observation: we struck up a quick friendship while scanning photos into the machine and kibitzing about the technology rock-hard-place thing. We commiserated with each other about the inherent difficulty of it all (and while we were at it, swapped cell phone data entry horror stories, too) and we shared ideas of how we did—or did not—do the new technology photo/memory bit.

What I really want for Mother’s Day is a new digital camera and a matching photo printer. I do not want the manual nor do I want to read anything; I want my husband to sit down with me for a half hour and tell me exactly how to do it. I do not want to know all the tricks of this new trade; I just want him to sit down at my laptop and tell me how to retrieve all of the files he created for me which I cannot find. And then I want him to tell me how to print them out so that I can organize them into the beautiful books I bought after childbirth #2 when I merely glued those suckers in and wrote captions out long hand. No stickers. No brads and studs. No countless, colored versions of the alphabet printed on plastic-coated sheets. Just tell me—or show me—how to take a picture, print it out and get it into an album. Show me how to go from the push of the camera’s button to the computer. Show me how to plug a very short cord into something so that by the count of “three” I have a photo not just in my hand, but archivally preserved into my album!

I figure that there are at least ten million of us moms out here (if I’m doing the math correctly) who will find ourselves in this predicament on Mother’s Day. We’re haplessly watching the technological world swirl by, fazed by our lack of familiarity with it and by our inability to tackle it, yet unfazed by whippersnapper moms who already have all of this figured out (for we have the luxury of recounting wonderful successes, albeit technologically un-savvy ones, accomplished over the past ten to twenty years that techie-guru moms strongly desire, even if they haven’t yet verbalized or consciously realized it yet).

What we mothers really want for Mother’s Day is a husband or a teen—or heck, even a toddler—to show us how to do this stuff. To move us, slowly and tenderly, out of the place in which we have so lovingly settled, and into the fast-moving technological world which frightens and confuses and amazes us.

And if I can’t get all of the above, what I really want for Mother’s Day is just a few great pictures of my family. You could throw in the mani/pedi just in case—and dark chocolate never hurts—but some pictures taken, printed and gosh, maybe even organized onto a page in my album, and I’d say that Mother’s Day would be just swell.

Happy, happy Mother’s Day!


Monday, May 01, 2006

this is an audio post - click to play

Keeping the Train on Track

“Talent is 99 percent perspiration and 1 percent inspiration.” Thomas Edison

I experienced the privilege and joy of sitting back and watching my daughter perform in a Suzuki Festival this weekend at Yale University. In its glorious Woolsey Hall, oversized, magnificent gilded pipes for the front-and-center organ stared us parents (and more-than-proud grandparents) in our faces while we watched a couple hundred musicians balance pint-sized violins, maneuver mini-cellos and stroke lightweight guitars on stage. Classical and folk music filled the air, starting with Copland’s invigorating “Hoedown” and ending with the Suzuki signature “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” which we parents have enjoyed (or endured) anywhere from a hundred to a zillion times, depending on our length in the Suzuki program. But we sat there, all of us, mesmerized and busting with pride. To think that our kids could have multiple books of music permanently ingrained in their brains; that their thin little fingers could glide over the strings at lightning speed; and that they could produce such beautiful music with complete strangers in perfect harmony, their only bond being the study of the same music under the same pedagogical training, was almost too much to comprehend. It was nothing short of splendid.

It was a sadly striking observation—especially given the glory of the occasion—to note the high rate of “de-selection” out of the system as kids grew older. While dozens upon dozens of little ones proudly played “Twinkle,” only a handful of teens took to the stage for the advanced pieces.

Now, this could be said of practically anything. How many toddler girls enjoy all of that pink tulle for those first few years of ballet, after all, only to drop out right before going on to pointe? Or enthusiastically embrace early morning lap swimming with the neighborhood gang, only to drop out when the coach asks them to swim five hours a day? How many unused drum sets, guitars, easels and athletic equipment are collecting dust in garages across the globe as overly-ambitious pursuits—quick shots out of the blocks each one of them—fizzle to a grinding halt once the realization of all of that hard work sets into our youngsters’ collective consciousnesses?

Let’s face it: it’s a lot more difficult to stick with something than it is to get something started. Drumming up enthusiasm for a new project, be it taking up the oboe or taking up oil painting, is no harder for most of us than getting our fannies up and off the sofa. We order the new gear, new art supplies or new instruments, practically salivating at the vision. We enthusiastically walk into our new lessons, proudly toting new stuff, bubbling over with excitement and energy for the newness of it all. Like staring into a new baby’s eyes and understanding that this life holds such promise, we zealously embrace new projects, and realize, all too slowly, the terrific sacrifices demanded for growth.

One of the most difficult challenges of parenting is discerning how long we require our children to stick with something…keeping the train on the track…and knowing when it’s okay to let them jump off.

Do we decide at the point when the frustration level becomes unbearable that “now is the time”? Or do we grit our teeth and understand that this is all just part of the process? When our kids slam the door, stomp their feet and scream “I hate this!” do we take that as a sign that we should stop now? Or do we simply acknowledge that as a good time for a strong cup of coffee, a bit of dark chocolate and a time-out?

I have remained amazed—over these past almost twenty years—of the number of parents who throw in the towel too soon, as well as the ones who manage to hold on through their children’s mastery. I have taken my own fair share of well-intentioned yet unsolicited advice from honest parents who simply see things differently than I do. There is a great deal of difference here and it’s a tough one to sort out. And it was particularly glaring today.

As there are, of course, vast personal differences among children and families; in constraints on time, energy and financial resources; and in personality variances of pure persistence (or of pure stubbornness), one can’t devise blanket generalizations for keeping—or moving—the train on track. There are just too many variables in the equation. Regardless, one bottom line is true virtually across the board: children despise hard work, and anything requiring mastery demands hard work! As parents, we need to figure out when to chalk up something unpleasant—violin practice or spelling drills or swimming regimens or frustrated painting sessions—to hard work, pure and simple—or to “it’s time to get the train off the track.” There are few things couples argue more over, few questions moms ask me more frequently, and few things that cause me greater personal angst, than this issue.

I wish I had the answer. I wish every situation had a pat solution. I wish it was as easy as encouraging every parent to stick with it ‘til the bitter end! To battle it out until the final victory is achieved! ‘Til you hear “the” recital, witness the home run or hang the blue ribbon you’ve been waiting for. That you won’t let him quit until he finishes that tenth book of violin music or makes it all the way through the majors in Little League. That she has to take Spanish all the way through high school. Or must enroll in art school until she uses up all of her expensive supplies.

But it’s never that easy. Nope. Parenting is always full of surprises. Our kids can out-smart us, out-maneuver us and out-last us…and they will. Just when we think we’ve got this parenting thing figured out, we face another trick or challenge or dilemma and we feel like we’re back at square one. Or we realize that what worked for the first kid has no power over the second. Oh geez.

One thing I know for sure: mastery commands respect. As does consistency. Perseverance. Persistence. Stick-to-it-ive-ness. We reward singers who make it all the way on American Idol and athletes who make it to the Olympics. We love stories of persevering against all odds and of sticking it out even when it hurts. And so while that certainly doesn’t mean that it’s never okay to let the train jump off the tracks—because some times that truly is the right thing to do—make sure that you don’t trade common everyday impatience for quick fix solutions. For increased peace and quiet in the home. Or increased harmony. For less fighting or foot stomping or door slamming.

Remember, always, the dirty little secret of parenting: it takes far more nurturing, far more patience and far more energy than anyone ever warned you about. That it takes years of hard work and practice. That practice is hard work and that hard work is just practice. And that it will all be worth it when you receive the joy—as I did today—as you simply sit back, smile, and think: “We done good.”

Blessings on your week,


Monday, April 24, 2006

this is an audio post - click to play

Very Talented

Ahhh. Travel. One of my favorite things about going away is meeting up with old—and new—friends and seeing how the other half of the world lives. And of how different spots in the world look! I am well aware that my own little place on top of this Connecticut ridge of ours would be unimaginable to much of the world, particularly if one were not familiar with the topography of New England…or with much of America for that matter. When I traveled to Florida last week for spring break, I felt somewhat out of my element; indeed, had it not been for the two years we spent living in Miami, I would have felt like I landed on another planet. Its juxtaposition to the northeast could not have been sharper. What with the dreary weather we’ve experienced for gadzooks, what seems like an eternity and the complete void of greenery and pops of fresh sprouts, waking up to sunshine, warmth and brightly-colored flowers was nothing short of glorious. It didn’t hurt, either, that my “second mom” (with whom I stayed) spoiled me half-rotten, with al fresco lunches on her patio, extravagant treats at local eateries, dinners at candlelit tables overlooking the bay, late night chats over dark chocolate, and late morning coffee, served piping hot on that proverbial silver platter.

While in Naples, I had the wonderful fortune of sharing lunch one afternoon with my “mom’s” best friends…and the delightful luck of being seated next to one of my favorite people in the world. Artist extraordinaire, world traveler and the author of three books, Very California, Very Charleston and Very New Orleans, she is, needless to say, Very Talented.

I first met Diana Gessler about five years ago when her first book debuted and she did a signing at a private home in Naples. A good friend of my second mom, I became instantly attracted to her. She radiates warmth, sincerity and, of course, talent out the whazoo. We toured the gallery which represents her work and talked about her book project, which propelled her to super-stardom seemingly over night.

But we know that overnight sensations are illusions. And Diana is no exception. Her story is quite remarkable and, as it is loaded with some great life lessons, I feel especially inclined to share it with you.

Her parents recognized her artistic talents very early on, and they promptly equipped her by providing her with the best instruction that they could both find and afford. She studied intensely for years, working both in the fine and in the graphic arts. She is now best-known for her watercolor landscapes and renderings of historic or architecturally-interesting homes and buildings, all of which command truly respectable rates. She also paints gorgeous florals and still lifes. Anyway, she has always “paint-journaled” her various world travels, choosing to capture scenes, people and experiences in watercolor renderings rather than through photographs or words (as the rest of us mere mortals do). Twenty-five years later, she has a huge collection of travel journals, all hand-painted and hand-lettered.

If I have the story properly recollected, it was shortly after she returned from a lengthy trip to California when she visited a publisher (on short notice) and inquired as to whether or not they might find some commercial value of her handpainted travel journal of her trip criss-crossing the state. A short interview there was generously concluded with a book contract, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I met Diana when Very California was hot off the press. I “got” her work…and its long-term potential…in a nanosecond. “Diana, you’ve got a real concept here. There’s not a city in the world you couldn’t do.” Sure enough, that first book was followed by Very Charleston and the recent Very New Orleans, which was, coincidentally, being printed as New Orleans was literally sinking in the flood of the century. Thankfully, Diana’s book preserves the city perfectly.

Diana and her work have taught me a lot about life in general, and about being an artist in particular. But they’ve also shed light on the process of parenthood. They have taught me, first of all, the value of recognizing innate giftedness early in a child’s life. And of fostering genius when it is first glimpsed. Diana’s parents get gold stars for doing that so generously. We all need to be on the lookout for flashes of genius in our own kids. And be willing to bring it to an honorable conclusion so that the rest of the world may benefit.

Secondly, I learned that it usually really does take a couple decades—at least—to bring out true talent. That practice, practice, practice gets you to Carnegie Hall. And that it takes dozens of journaled trips to get you to publisher’s attention and best-seller status. There is really hardly ever flash-in-the-pan success that’s worth writing—or reading—about. So don’t let your kids moan and groan about drills and workouts and practice….in whatever area in which they are currently working or struggling. It takes more years than we care to think about to finally “arrive.”

Thirdly, serendipity happens. Diana confessed that she wasn’t thinking about publishing her journals into books at the time she was actually painting them. It wasn’t until much later that the inspiration struck her. The important thing was that she kept practicing her talent so that when the opportunity presented itself, she was ready to accept it and go for it. How many times have you seen the same thing happen with others who have faced similar good fortune? As they say, there is no such thing as good luck; it’s just preparation meeting opportunity.

Lastly, seeing Diana again reinforced how much I appreciate mingling with a humble spirit. Diana is Very Talented. But she is extremely humble about it. Hasn’t gone to her head. Or to her attitude. She’s quietly unassuming about it all…which is particularly refreshing in these days of obnoxious, celebrity-driven headline news about trivial baloney. (Do we really need to know day-by-day accounts of baby Suri Cruise?!?) It’s wonderful seeing someone of Diana’s talent and stature maintaining a low profile and an accurate sense of self.

You may have a similar story of parental nurturing. Of grown-up success. Of being Very Talented. If so, I hope you take some of these observations to heart. Or perhaps you’ll use them as encouragement in addressing your own children’s needs. Of being attentive to flashes of brilliance. Or of unusual giftedness. Of extremes in the senses. Great visual acuity. Great kinesthetic awareness. Great sense of taste. Or of touch. Gifts that can all be cultivated. That can be boosted with time or energy or money or teaching or mentoring.

For we can all aspire to be Very Talented. And Very Wonderful, too. Just like Diana.

Happy week,


A Quick Note

Diana Gessler’s web site provides some of the best eye candy on earth. Go to: Her books of course have special appeal if you have any connections to California, Charleston or New Orleans. They make perfect gifts!

She also provides free tips and tricks of the journaling trade at:

Monday, April 10, 2006

this is an audio post - click to play

It's Not About the Bunnies

Just when we thought spring had finally arrived, we got blasted with snow flurries and wretched weather all day Saturday. Rain mixed with snow and sleet…and spring spirits dashed right along with hopes of getting anything done outside in the garden…or of simply catching a whiff of fresh spring air. Because my calendar tells me that spring has officially arrived—we’re ten days into it for crying out loud and chocolate bunnies, eggs and marshmallow chicks line rack upon rack of grocery store shelves after all—yet my eyes tell me that winter is indeed, still in our midst—we cannot leave our homes without bulky overcoats and sweaters—I’m caught between the desire for celebrating spring’s freshness and vitality with the inescapable resignation that winter, at least up here in New England, is still here.

Such is Holy Week. We want so badly to celebrate the Resurrection at Easter, but we feel overcome with the passion and trial of the days leading from Palm Sunday through Good Friday. This season signals—around the world—time for reflection. During Holy Week, we move—day by day—from sadness to enthusiasm. From the valley of darkness to the tunnel of light. And that entails conflict.

Many of us feel conflicted these days. Overall, general “conflictedness.” The war in Iraq might be bogging us down in one way or another; college acceptance and rejection letters might be cause for overall malaise or even panic; and figuring out the calendar for summer activities for your kids in light of your own schedule might be more than you can emotionally handle.

I’ve been unusually conflicted lately. I’ll most likely be re-entering the official workforce in the next few weeks or months, and I’ve been interviewing, taking tests and talking with lots of different folks from varied areas of the work-world in an effort to nail down what I should be doing with myself, professionally, for the next oh, twenty years or so. A huge decision. We’re trying to figure out how to transition from having a mom in the home to having one gone during the day; how to shuffle kids to various activities without a mom-chauffeur yet with a new teen driver on our roster; and yet how to deal with the financial reality of multiple college tuition bills for most of the foreseeable future which, in and of itself is enough to cause discomfort. Perhaps my family just has too many balls in the air. Too many unanswered questions. Too many variables in the equation.

Yet as I look around, I see so many others facing conflict and discomfort. I cannot go one week without receiving an email or a phone call from a reader whose family member is struggling with one problem or another. Financial problems, health concerns, relationship issues. Most of us hate being uncomfortable. We hate conflict. Hate uncertainty. Hate dealing with the struggle in order to celebrate the victory. And yet that’s the real lesson of Holy Week.

However tempting it is to focus your thoughts and energies this week on the celebration of Easter—on resurrection and renewal—I hope that you allow yourself some quiet time to sort out the conflicts and discomforts of Maundy Thursday and of Good Friday. To focus on the sacrifice. For as you grow more fully aware of the sacrifice that Christ made on your behalf, you will gain immeasurable joy at the power of the Resurrection.

And if you are of another faith, please be sensitive to the fact that this week brings with it introspection for millions of people around the world. Passover will be celebrated by Jews and they will have rituals and holy remembrances, too.

So as tempting as it is when you’re in discomfort, confused…or just in a funk…to focus on spring’s lightheartedness and brightness, on chicks and on chocolate, remember that for a few days anyway, it’s not about that. It’s not about the bunnies. Even though, I admit, they’re taking up inordinate amounts of windowsill and tabletop real estate in my own home these days, and as much as they emotionally lift me out of the doldrums of winter, out of my own confusion and state of disequilibrium and into the sublime celebration of spring, they have little to do with the days ahead of us this week.

Go ahead and splurge on chocolate and on baskets. On flowers for your home or in a new outfit or on travel. This is a time for celebration, to be sure, come Easter Day. But allow yourself in the next few days, to internalize the conflict of Holy Week. It is one time of year when your internal struggle should be palpable. For we cannot get to Easter, to victory, without coming to grips with the sacrifice of Good Friday. Throughout life, we cannot get to true celebration without coming to grips with life’s struggle.

Until next week,


A Quick Note

Thank you to rocket mom, Serena, who emailed me with these fun statistics after reading last week’s Newsletter.

• If shop mannequins were real women, they'd be too thin to menstruate.
• There are 3 billion women who don't look like supermodels and only eight who do.
• Marilyn Monroe wore a size 14.
• If Barbie was a real woman, she'd have to walk on all fours due to her proportions.
• The average American woman weighs 144 lbs. and wears between a size 12 and 14.
• One out of every four college aged women has an eating disorder.
• The models in the magazines are airbrushed-they're not perfect!!
• A psychological study in 1995 found that three minutes spent looking at models in a fashion magazine caused 70% of women to feel depressed, guilty, and shameful.
• Models twenty years ago weighed 8% less than the average woman, today they weigh 23% less.

• Body image, Date of access: 13 Jul. 2005
• Hartline, Christine MA. Dying to Fit In- Literally! Learning to Love Our Bodies and Ourselves Date of access: 13 Jul. 2005. .
• Lightstone, Judy. Improving Body Image Date of access: 13 Jul. 2005. .
• Maynard, Cindy MS, RD. Body Image Date of access: 13 Jul. 2005. .
• Surprising Stats and Facts Date of access: 13 Jul. 2005. .
• Size and Self-Acceptance for Achieving Healthy Weight Date of Access: 11 Jul. 2005..
• Weight and Body Image: A Problem for Boys and Girls of All Races Date of access: 11 Jul. 2005 .
• Women’s Body Image Date of access: 13 Jul. 2005.

A Rocket Mom Society Note

The next meeting is a spring Make-n-Take here at the Mother Ship. We’ll be planting bulbs in decorative containers for beautiful tabletop centerpieces. Start going through your favorite containers and come ready for a night of fellowship, food and fun. Bring a friend! Please RSVP so that I can get an accurate head count.

Rocket Mom in the News

Do you struggle with self-sabotaging habits that you’ve tried to break over and over again only to find yourself fighting them well, over and over again? Pick up a copy of this month’s (April) Redbook magazine and read Charlotte Latvala’s article in which my advice is given to readers. Her article, “Make over your bad habits!” deals with everything from impatience to sleeping late. See how yours truly struggles with these issues, too.