Guilt: Not a Way to Start the Weekend

I always feel guilty.   Last night, after a long week home with the kids home for school vacation, and feeling pain in my shoulder and neck once again from carrying a 32 pound toddler, I scheduled a massage.  I felt guilty because my husband was rushing home from work so I quickly cleaned the house, made the bed, scrubbed the toilets and added some bleach to our kitchen sinks for good measure.  I made him a spinach, lentil and walnut salad and threw some organic chicken nuggets in the oven for the kids.  He came home at 5:05, clearly flustered that he left work earlier than he should have.  So, I felt guilty. 

My massage appointment was at 5:15.  I was 10 minutes late.  I am always 10 minutes late and always feel guilty about it.  My Haitian massage therapist said, “we were just about to call you, what happened?” so I groused about my husband and how he wasn’t home as early as he should have been, which was kind of a lie.  I felt guilty about that.  But then I felt even more guilty when she started the massage and I asked her if she was married and she said “I was” and then I find out that her husband dropped dead of a heart attack. So then I felt guilty and started this whole conversation about husbands dying young, how were her kids, etc.  Then we start talking about Haiti and how poor of a country it is and how wasteful we are in America.  I start to feel guilty about wasting food, buying new sneakers for my son and getting a massage.  But I press on.  Ask her what her 18 year old will do after college. Turns out, he is autistic. High functioning, but autistic, oh- and so is her middle daughter.

I turn over and shut myself up and try to start relaxing, but I think of the things I am feeling guilty about.  Complaining about my husband.  Not eating heart healthy.  Being late to daycare pickup on Thursday and having the owner look at the clock and show her disapproval.   Not writing enough.  Not blogging enough.  Spending money at Whole Foods.  Spending money at Nordstrom Rack.  Not paying attention to my kids.  Being messy. 

This morning I went to yoga and tried to clear my head and felt guilty about not clearing my head, not working to my true potential and being hard on myself. 

One thing I don’t feel guilty about but probably should: watching Bravo.  Maybe Lisa Vanderpump will make me feel better.  And I can start fresh on Monday.

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Decorating with The Things That Matter

My Nate Berkus-inspired mantel

My Nate Berkus-inspired mantel

The Things That Matter, is a part coffee table book, part memoir and part biography of Nate Berkus and some of his close friends and interesting clients (many who he met through Oprah). I borrowed it from the library after a binge of ordering Bobbi Brown’s latest how to put on makeup book: Pretty Powerful, Pippa Middleton’s party planning Celebrate tome (it is big!) and the gift I bought everyone but myself at Christmas: The Smitten Kitchen cookbook. I am not sure what made me reach for Nate’s book during the snowstorm that left the Boston area housebound. Maybe I felt like decorating more than I felt like cooking, planning a party or putting on makeup.

Nate described how he developed his love for decorating (his mom was an interior designer), his struggles with coming out to his family, most of his career path, finding love, and the details of how he survived the Tsunami of 2004 but lost his partner and love, Fernando. We see beautiful pictures of the objects Nate describes in his stories. Each vignette follows this pattern: a story with descriptions of important possessions of everyone from the formerly homeless man behind the movie, The Pursuit of Happyness to architects, socialites and even Dr Ruth. Just like when Nate was on Oprah and now his own talk show, he drills down to the objects that matter and finds ways to make them part of the heart and soul of the home.

A collector of things like Nate, and someone who loves the thrill of the hunt, whether at TJ Maxx or the side of the road or a thrift shop, I could relate to the stories. I’ve already taken some tips from Nate, like framing my baby footprint for my mom, placing a bird’s nest and glass jars of seashells and smooth rocks on my mantel. His book made me think about the things that don’t matter to me and the things that do. I am already thinking about moving my treasured letters from my grandmother to a big enameled box. Now I just need to find one.

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Day 11 of 2013: Broken New Year’s Resolutions & the ones that are sticking

On January 5th, I broke New Year’s Resolution #9.  I let my gas tank go way past empty (on a cold winter day with kids in the car).

I compromised on my resolution to see more movies in the movie theater by watching Bill Cunningham New York while I took down the Christmas tree.   I loved the behind the scenes of my favorite section of the New York Times: the Styles section.    The film stoked my creativity: bringing me back to why I love great journalism, great art, great fashion.  And I love the gritty and glamorous world of New York.  One takeaway from the film that made me think about my career: at one point Cunningham worked for Details and Details was sold to Conde Nast.  Bill Cunningham refused to cash checks from Conde Nast: quipping: “Money is the cheapest thing, liberty is the most expensive.”  Lately I’ve been wishing I had more exciting work and more money, but the freedom to create my own hours to spend time with my family is priceless.  Bill Cunningham inspired me.  See the movie.  I should have seen it in the theater when it came out last year.

I broke my no swearing in front of the kids rule today by telling the 2 year old to “stop busting my balls”.    This was after he removed cables from the back of the TV so I couldn’t watch Bravo, stuck stickers on the Whole Foods shopping cart, slept on the way home from Whole Foods, was so sleepy didn’t wake up when I changed his diaper and removed his winter coat but woke up once I was settled in my bed with my laptop and Bravo on the upstairs TV.  Then when I gave up, took him out of his crib and started picking up toys from the floor, he jumped on my back.  Have I mentioned I have been seeing a chiropractor for back pain?   Doesn’t he sound like a ball buster?

On the creative front, I put together a stunning mantel display with a winter beach theme. One day at a time.  Running on Empty

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Why does it bother me so much when people don’t watch the TV shows I love? (Like Downton Abbey)

I can’t wait for January 6, 2013, as we all know is the season premiere of Downton Abbey.  Like everyone who loves a TV show, I think everyone should be as excited as me (well, every woman and gay or sensitive man, I suppose).  I know my best friend who lives in Denver, would love Downton Abbey– she loves period British movies, she likes drama with a tinge of soap opera and has been known to watch a Lifetime Movie.  I want to shake her until her teeth rattle and tell her: “YOU MUST WATCH DOWNTON ABBEY!  IT’S OKAY IF YOU TUNE INTO SEASON 3.  YOU CAN CATCH UP.  I WATCHED SEASON 2 BEFORE SEASON 1 AND I DID JUST FINE, IN FACT, I THINK IT WAS BETTER THAT WAY!” 


I know people want to shake me until my teeth rattle when they mention some storyline from Modern Family and I am like, “meh.”  I’ve tried Modern Family, and it is too sitcom-y and dare I say, trite, for me.   I am not in love with the characters like everyone else seems to be.  I sometimes say, “ok, I’ll try again.”   But I won’t.  I won’t try again.


Then, there’s Homeland.  I watched the first episode of the first season of Homeland.  Claire Danes all beautiful and crazy eyed, I just didn’t believe she was in the CIA.  And I was tense the entire time I watched it, but not in a good Sopranos kind of tense.


And, HBO’s Girls.  I have one word for Girls: Gross.  Those girls on Girls are gross.   But the girls from Juniper Creek on Big Love are not gross.


What do I like, you may ask? The TV snob that I seem to be?  I watch all things Bravo, I love every single Housewives show.  I like me some Pattie Stanger here and there (Millionaire Matchmaker) and Top Chef.  I know it’s all trash.  But it is still keeps me more entertained than Modern Family.  And I can sleep after Million Dollar Decorators but can’t sleep after watching the guy from Malcolm in the Middle shoot someone outside of his meth lab.


I will watch a sitcom: I used to like The Office and 30 Rock.  I love Nurse Jackie and can believe Carm is a nurse/junkie who endears herself to every down-on-their-luck patient.    I like Aaron Sorkin’s Newsroom which reminds me of Sports Nite and Studio 60, what with their rapid fire dialogue (both cancelled too soon) but I never got into West Wing.   I am Leon from Curb Your Enthusiasm’s number one fan.   And I quote lines from Seinfeld and Arrested Development on a regular basis.


Which TV show do you love that you can’t believe not everyone is watching?




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New Year’s Resolutions that Don’t Involve Losing Ten Pounds

2013 New Year’s Resolutions

ImageNo weight loss or exercise or budgeting New Year’s Resolutions for me this year.  Some of the resolutions I came up with that will benefit me and everyone around me:


1.  Listen more, preach less.  I like to talk and I like to give unsolicited advice.  In 2013, I am going to try to actively listen.  But those around me may be sorry that they will miss out on my great ideas and tips.  They’ll need to wait until 2014.


2.  Have the kids help more around the house.  Sometimes it’s harder to nag, cajole and argue with the kids to do a task then empty the dishwasher myself.  I am going to expect more out of them, and get more out of them: putting away groceries, switching the laundry, and emptying the dishwasher. 


3.  Carry around a notebook and write stuff down: to do lists, writing ideas, whatever is in my head.  I have a dozen journals and notebooks of all sizes: hardback, spiral bound, from Bob Slate, from CVS, from fancy paper stores.  If I use them more, I will feel less anxious about what I have to do and will have less of a chance to be mad at myself for forgetting.


4.  Speaking of fancy paper stores I am going to take a line from Paper Source and “Do something creative every day”.  On Christmas Eve, I made my mom a terrarium out of moss from my yard, a mushroom Christmas ornament and some birch bark.  It was so fun to make and I had such a sense of satisfaction: take that expensive South End of Boston shop: I made my own terrarium and didn’t have to pay 150 bucks to have someone else make it! 


5.  Curse less around the kids.  Swearing is not becoming on a 41-year-old woman, it certainly isn’t cute when a 2 year old parrots, “Shit”.  I’ve been swearing in front of kids since 1994, when the toddler I was a nanny for mimicked, “Jesus” while we were swimming in her grandparents’ pool in Hobe Sound.  I’m going to try my damnedness.


6.  Buy a copy of Harriet Lerner’s “Marriage Rules” and take little chestnuts from the book like: (I’m paraphrasing): don’t be a bitch to your husband, don’t disparage his mother, put out, etc.


7. Don’t say no to volunteering, but don’t say yes right away.   This will allow me to make time that I don’t have for the causes and events I care about the most, or that need me the most.


8.  Go see more movies in the theater.  See #4.  Watching movies in a theater feeds my soul and so does movie theater popcorn in certain indie theaters.


9.  Fill up the car with gas and don’t let it get to empty.  I’ve been better with this but you’d think running out of gas on a major highway at Midnight 8 years ago would have taught me something.  It didn’t, and neither did put-putting on fumes and miraculously making it to my destination. I continually find myself calculating how late I’ll be by stopping at the gas station or how far I can get with the tank on empty.  More gas in the tank=less stress later.


10. Find a way to get to Paris or Venice.  I haven’t wanted to leave the kids to go to Europe and I certainly can’t afford to bring the whole lot of them.  But I have a serious jones to get back to Europe.  Putting it out into the universe now, a la The Secret. 

 What are some of your New Year’s Resolutions that don’t involve losing 10 pounds?


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The Night I Got Engaged

Twelve years ago tonight my husband asked me to marry him while we were decorating his Christmas tree.  It wasn’t as I’d imagined: I was wearing a Sunny Delight long sleeved tee with swordfish juice stains  (I’d changed from work clothes into one of his shirts and he made swordfish for dinner).  It wasn’t as I’d imagined, but it was heartfelt, it was private (no big show at Fenway Park or hiding my ring in a dessert for the whole restaurant to see).  I didn’t imagine getting engaged in a Sunny Delight t-shirt in South Boston, but I also didn’t think I’d ever meet “the one”.  

I was so anxious about not getting married before age 30, I’d talk about it with my girlfriends, and when I was drunk I’d cry to guy friends who wanted to be more than friends.  I’d get moody at weddings.  Seeking answers on “when?”: I asked palm readers and psychics and read my horoscope in reputable places like Town and Country and Elle.  I even passed my wedding file to a friend for safekeeping because I thought it was jinxing me.

I worried so much about getting married that I hung on to the biggest jerk of a boyfriend for three years who all of my friends and family (oh, and my boss) pretty much hated, for good reasons.  

Luckily, I managed to have some fun in the meantime and didn’t waste my twenties completely: in fact, nearly every one of my friends who got married after college got divorced a few years later and turns out I knew the ropes on the singles scene.  I shared beach houses in Fire Island, Martha’s Vineyard and Newport.  I was chosen be a plus one on a work trip to Italy and France because I was single and my friend was going through a divorce.  I spent a lot of time alone, took classes like magazine writing, went to parties, hosted lots of parties, watched a lot of Lifetime and even lived by myself for a year.

But the day I moved into my own place was around the time I started dating “the one”.  We walked around the cobbled streets of the Back Bay in Boston, holding hands.  We met each other’s friends and family.  We traveled together.  It felt right.

It felt right then, and it feels right now, 11 years married, 13 years together and 3 children later.  And I was married at age 29, right under the wire.  Why did I worry so much?

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The First School Day after the Sandy Hook Elementary Shooting

This morning when I woke up, I thought about the Newtown, Connecticut parents who woke up remembering that their kindergartener was killed on Friday.  That this wouldn’t be an ordinary school week.  

As I prepared lunch for my first grader, I thought about his sweet classmates and his maternal, kind teacher who sings her way through the day.  What must she be feeling? 

As I hugged my fourth grader goodbye I thought about what she will be hearing from her classmates at recess or in the cafeteria.  I learned yesterday that many of her friends were told about the shootings over the weekend, so my husband told her what happened last night so she would hear about the terrible news from us, in a way that would somehow protect her.

I sent the kids to the bus stop alone, something I’ve been doing for most of the year, and thought about the mothers I know who worry about their children riding the bus and choose to drive them to school.   The mothers who are anxious and have a hard time letting go. 

As I got my toddler ready for daycare, I thought about the mothers and fathers who will be sending their first children to kindergarten next year.  The leap of faith and trust in sending your first or second or third child to kindergarten is such a tough adjustment. I worried about my daughter not being able to open her lunch containers.  I worried about my son’s uncontrollable itching from the eczema on his hands, especially when he was nervous.  I didn’t worry about a gunman entering their elementary school. 

All weekend, I thought about the gunman, who may have a form of autism.  I thought about my friends who have sons on the autism spectrum.  Will others look at their sons differently?

I thought about the gun control debate: President Obama’s speech, the number of messages I’ve seen posted on Facebook and Twitter.  I’ve seen how many people who are passionate about their right to bear arms.  I have plenty of cousins who hunt and possess guns and thought about them- they deserve to enjoy their hunting rifle but why would anyone need an assault rifle?  I don’t have the energy to debate this issue with people who believe everyone should be armed or teachers should be armed or “people kill people, guns don’t kill people.”

Most of all, I’ve thought about how grateful I am to have the gift of my children and their little friends and my nieces and nephews. They are precious, every one of them. 

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Don’t Judge a Pregnant Woman with a Glass of Wine in her Hand

Boston Magazine’s cover stopped me in my tracks in line at Whole Foods: a very pregnant woman with a glass of wine: Pregnant Pause?: Should Women Drink Alcohol While Pregnant?   Wow, at last, I thought- someone has the guts to take on this topic.   I feel that it is okay to have a glass of wine or a beer here and there while pregnant (I have 3 healthy kids).  As someone with morning sickness throughout most of my pregnancy, I didn’t usually crave a drink, but I also knew a glass of wine wouldn’t give my baby fetal alcohol syndrome.   Come on!

My role model was a relaxed mom of four whose South Shore Boston based OB told her it was okay to have a glass of red wine while pregnant now and then.  Her oldest is now a teenager, so this was awhile ago, but I could never pin down my doctors to give me the green light.  Why? The same reason no doctor would go on record in Boston Magazine’s article: liability.  The medical establishment needs to talk to the lowest common denominator.   If they say it’s okay to have a drink now and then, they have to assume someone could take this too far.  You could argue the same for soft cheeses: every Nervous Nellie mother-to-be I knew wouldn’t touch feta or fresh mozzarella or goat cheese, when in reality 99 percent of these cheeses from the supermarket are pasteurized, and pasteurized soft cheese is not likely to harbor Listeria.

I was excited about this article, that it might make some moms to be and those who judge them (many admonishing husbands included) relax.  Instead, the journalist obviously felt drinking was wrong and wanted to tie it into our “narcissistic” culture of mothers.  Let’s blame mothers again.  Let’s say mothers who have a glass of wine with a nice French dinner don’t love their babies and are self-centered.    What to Expect When You’re Expecting puts enough pressure and guilt on mothers-to-be.  (I didn’t eat the Best Odds Diet, for most of my first trimester, I ate carbs and ice cream and anything else that wouldn’t make me throw up while pregnant).  We are hard enough on ourselves throughout motherhood.  If you want to do yoga and not let anything non-organic touch your lips, go ahead.  I’m not a bad mom because I had swigged Coca Cola with my drive thru Happy Meal while pregnant.   In fact, like the mom in the Boston Magazine article who was brave enough to admit to drinking while pregnant, I constantly get compliments on how well behaved my kids are.

Happy babies are relaxed babies with relaxed mommies.  To the women who judge other pregnant women for a drink now and then (including, I daresay, the journalist who wrote this article), I say, relax.

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Small Business Saturday: How to Keep Customers Coming Back

I supported American Express Small Business Saturday by shopping at children’s bookstore and toy store that has helped to revitalize a downtown nearby.   I always thought supporting small businesses meant keeping the character and community of a town intact.  I never thought about how shopping online or in other towns could take away the sales tax and revenue to my own region (which I realize is short sighted).  Aside from taxes, our local businesses contribute money or goods to schools and town-wide events, too- another reason to support them.  But how can they make us want to support them?

Say hello.  As the daughter of a small town florist, I was taught how important it is to greet your customers.   When I walk into businesses that don’t greet me or offer help, I usually walk right out, unless there is something I HAVE to have inside.  (And it goes both ways, as a customer it is polite to at least call out “thank you” when walking out the door, even if you don’t buy anything). 

Make each purchase seem like a gift.  In Paris, just about anything you buy is wrapped like a gift.  If Massachusetts were like Paris life would be perfect.  Since we don’t live in Paris, I appreciate any small shop that has quality handled paper bags or a clever way of packaging purchases.   Better yet, offer gift wrapping:  as a busy mother, I’d rather go to a local toy store that gift wraps instead of saving a few bucks from Amazon and wrapping gifts myself.  Even if you are dealing with a limited budget and only offer grocery store plastic bags, pack everything with care.

Reward loyaltyIf a customer frequents your small business, offer some sort of reward- whether it is a promotion on Foursquare, a punch card or simpler yet- by remembering their name, what they like to order/drink/buy and maybe throwing in a free cookie or a little discount once in awhile.  This week, I visited a children’s consignment store and the owner let me know that the Zutano outfit I was buying for my 2 year old would be going on sale in a few days.  She decided to give me the sale price early.  I’ll be sure to go back to buy more, and in fact- I promoted her business to my network on Facebook that day.

Offer goodies or samples.  My kids would rather go to our local drycleaner that gives them lollipops than a large chain that would pick up and deliver my cleaning from my house.  I would rather buy wine from a wine store that offers tastings and maybe some cheese.   

Provide personal customer service.  Our local supermarket offers assistance with groceries to our cars- a godsend for moms with young kids (I load the baby into the car seat while my groceries are being packed and I don’t have to worry about leaving the cart in the parking lot and my kids alone in the car).   A family-owned shoe store two towns over takes time to measure my kids’ feet and make sure their shoes fit.   This type of service makes me pay a little more because the services are worth the price.

Take time to refresh.  A tailor shop in town has had the same green sport jacket in the window since I moved here ten years ago.  The florist shop looks less modern than my mom’s did in the 1980s.  These signs tell me that the owners don’t care (even though they may be the best tailors or florists around).  Change that window display.  Check out how your competitors are doing things.  Switch up the menu just a bit to incorporate something new.

As customers, we can return the favor by being loyal, acting polite, not grabbing all of the samples or letting our children knock over the displays and spreading the good word about all that our favorite small businesses have to offer. 

What do you love about your local small business?


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Children’s Literature and Old School Picture Books to Read to the iPad Generation

If I weren’t in PR, I would be a Children’s Librarian.  I love discovering new authors and old favorite books to read to my kids.  The best is when I discover old books which I never read when I was little, like:

Mousekin’s Golden House by Edna Miller.   It’s a story that’s perfect for this time of year.  A woodland mouse discovers a discarded jack o lantern in the woods and makes it his home.  The illustrations are beautiful and the story is well-told.  If I were a children’s book publisher, I would reissue this book because the story is timeless and it is out of print.  You’ll have to get this one from the library unless you want to pay 100 dollars for it on Ebay.   (ages 5-9)

Tucker’s Countryside  by George Selden.  I read The Cricket in Times Square and Harry Cat’s Pet Puppy when I was a kid, but somehow missed Tucker’s Countryside.   It’s all about Chester the Cricket’s home in Connecticut.  Lots of cute critters with a great storyline and wonderful descriptions of country life.  (I read this to my daughter when she was in Kindergarten or first grade, but it is a chapter book older kids can discover on their own).

Books I just rediscovered with my kids:

The Frances series by Russell Hoban.   The illustrations of Frances the Badger and her family are so sweet I framed a page from “Bedtime for Frances” for my firstborn’s nursery.   I remember taking these books out of the library while my mom did laundry at the laundromat in town.  I listened to the cassette tape version with the beeps to turn the pages of the books.  I tried to get my daughter to read these when she was first in elementary school but it wasn’t until I tried reading the books to her little brother that she became interested.   For a few weeks this fall, we laughed at Frances and her friend Albert’s adventures especially the funny names (Ida, Gloria) and pastimes (collecting frogs on “outings”) and terms like “no backsies”.   (K-3, but my 4th grader got a good chuckle out of A Bargain for Frances).

And, of course,  my very favorite of all time The Boxcar Children.  Ah, to live in a boxcar with no parents.

What are some of your favorite books that are more vintage than classic?

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