Archives for June 2012

Podcast: Trisha Miltimore on Motherhood, Inspiration and Balance

Trisha Miltimore Strocel.com PodcastI’ve said it a few times before: one of the best parts of having a podcast is that it gives you a ready-made excuse to talk to cool people. When I met Trisha Miltimore at a networking event for entrepreneurial moms, I knew right away that she was one of those people. This mom of three is a self-described national speaker, radio broadcaster and mompreneur, and she’s full of energy and inspiration. Or, at least, she comes across that way to me. I would imagine that sometimes she dreams of getting eight hours of sleep in a row like all parents do, but you wouldn’t know it speaking to her. I immediately asked her to be on my podcast.

During our conversation Trisha and I talked about the work she does on the radio, because as podcaster I harbour radio dreams. We also discussed the work she does inspiring others, and what led her to pursue that path (hint: this lady has chutzpah!). We talked about how she balances her work and her family life. I also got Trisha’s tips on following your dreams, and gathered her insights on what we do to sabotage ourselves. I also got the inside scoop on what’s coming up next for her. If you’re a mom who’s doing something cool, you’ll want to tune in, because Trisha’s starting a project you may want to take part in.

Strocel.com Podcast Trisha Miltimore

Whether you’re looking to start a new chapter in your life, you have dreams of radio broadcasting like I do, you need a little inspiration, or you could just use a laugh, you’ll want to listen to my podcast with Trisha Miltimore:

Over the summer I’ve decided to move onto the slow track with the Strocel.com podcast. I’ll be sharing a few new interviews that I already have lined up, and re-running some of my old favourites. For next week I’m hoping to have something really cool and a little bit spicy, but I’m still hammering out the details so I can’t guarantee it will be ready. Whatever I run, though, I can promise that it will be worth tuning it for. Subscribe to the Strocel.com podcast in iTunes, and you won’t miss a minute!

Trying Eco-Friendly Crafts for the Non-Crafty

At the risk of being overly general, I think that there are two kinds of parents when it comes to kids and crafts. On the one hand, there are those parents who plan out crafts to do with their kids. They have drawers and cupboards filled with supplies and they read Martha Stewart Living to get ideas. They totally rock. On the other hand, you have parents like me. What distinguishes us isn’t our own abilities (because we may actually be crafty in our own right), it’s the fact that we just can’t ever seem to get it together to do crafts with our children. When we have scrap paper, we recycle it. And when we pin clever kids’ craft ideas on Pinterest, we know in our hearts we’re never going to do them.

My own shortcomings when it comes to kids and crafts actually pre-date my job as a parent. For five years before my daughter Hannah was born I was a Brownie leader. Each week I led a meeting with a dozen or so seven and eight year old girls. Other leaders dutifully planned craft projects. I asked my girls to draw a picture about whatever the topic of the week happened to be. Some of the girls complained about having to draw yet another picture. I pointed out how awesome I was in other ways, and then handed them a piece of paper and a marker.

green kid crafts
Mail order craft kit saves my crafting bacon

Given my lack of motivation in the areas of kids and crafts, I was delighted when someone offered me the chance to try some craft project kits with my children. Green Kid Crafts sent me a box with three craft kits to try out, and I was enchanted. The kits have all of the crafty goodness, and none of the work on my part. Plus, they have an environmental conscience, since they’re filled with plant-based and recycled materials rather than plastic and fun foam. You don’t have to produce a bunch of waste to get your craft on, and their business is even carbon neutral. Total score!

Hannah gets her craft on
Hannah gets her craft on

Our box contained three projects: a scrap book, wind chimes and a pirate costume. My daughter Hannah, who is seven, was all over it. Ever the little artist, she let her creative juices fly free. I reserved the pirate costume kit for my three-year-old son Jacob, and I found that I had to do much of the heavy lifting on the project for him. He’s not quite old enough to cut along the dotted line, for example. While the Green Kid Crafts website says that the projects are designed for kids aged three to eight, I would say that you’re going to be doing a lot of the work if your kids are under age five or so.

Hannah shows off her windchimes
Hannah shows off her wind chimes

The idea behind Green Kid Crafts is that you pay a monthly subscription fee and receive one of these craft-filled boxes each month. If you like the idea of doing crafts with your kids, but you struggle when it comes to coming up with ideas and assembling materials, this may be a good solution for you. But you do have to consider your kids, as well – if they’re not into crafts, that’s probably not going to change just because you paid a subscription fee. As I said, this would be a great fit for my daughter, but not such a great fit for my son.

Avast ye, me hearties
Jacob shows off the pirate craft I assembled for him

The other thing I just noticed in looking at the Green Kid Crafts website is that they seem to only ship to US addresses. To be honest, if I had realized this in advance I probably wouldn’t have accepted the craft box, which is a lesson to me to do my homework. However, if you live in the US, unlike me, this will not be an issue for you. Once again, being Canadian has its downsides when you want to do some online shopping. We’ll just have to console ourselves by visiting the doctor for free.

Now, I’d like to hear from you. Are you a craft star or craft dud? How do you get ideas for crafts to do with your kids? Do you try to be green when it comes to choosing craft projects? And how do you keep your supplies organized and contained? I’d love to hear!

My Daughter on the Last Day of Grade One

Today is the last (full) day of school for my daughter Hannah. Tomorrow she will go for just a few hours in the morning, pick up her report card, and finish up her time in grade one. I’m reflecting on how very far she’s come since her first day back in September, and who my daughter is right now.

My Daughter on the Last Day of School

My Daughter on the Last Day of School

Today, Hannah is:

… seven years old.
… an inch and a half taller than she was when she started grade one.
… obsessed by all things Star Wars.
… long and gangly, all skinny legs, knees and elbows.
… performing for the whole school in the year-end talent show (she’ll be singing “Tomorrow” from Annie).
… able to read simple books and getting better at spelling all the time.
… cautious for the first few minutes in a new situation, and then exuberantly outgoing.
… getting very good at riding her bike without training wheels.
… creating amazing artwork that blows my mind.
… planning to be a scientist when she grows up.
… writing and sending a letter to her friend.
… able to prepare basic meals on her own.
… loving her new shorter haircut.
… sometimes still in need of a big hug from her mom.
… pushing me to let her walk to school by herself.
… excited about her theatre day camp starting soon.

It’s kind of amazing to see how very much herself Hannah has become. Her talents are not my talents. Her knowledge and interests are not my knowledge and interests. She still needs me – sometimes even intensely so – but every day it’s less and less. She’s growing, and growing up, in front of my very eyes.

That first baby is always something of a science experiment. You learn as you go, and I’m still learning. When Hannah does something for the first time, it’s always my first time, too. My first time with a child who can read. My first time with a child who can place her own phone calls and write her own letters. My first time with a child performing in the talent show in front of the whole school. She’s the trailblazer, and we’re trying to figure it out together. We don’t always get it right, but we do pretty well on the whole.

Today, my little science experiment is finishing grade one. And I’m waxing nostalgic, and trying to memorize this moment before it, too, slips away, like so many other moments before it.

What are your children like right now?

How to Podcast: Podcasting Tips and Tools

I started the Strocel.com podcast almost a year and a half ago now, which makes me something of a veteran in the podcasting world. In spite of my tongue-in-cheek post last week about how to mess up a podcast, I’ve actually learned a few things in my time as a podcaster. If you’re wondering how to podcast, or how podcasting works, you’ll want to read on because today I’m sharing some tips and tools to get you started with your own podcast.

How to Podcast

Tip One: Use Skype

Many of us tried Skype a few years ago, found it kind of flaky, and gave up on it. I’m here to tell you that Skype is way better than it used to be. In fact, the sound quality of Skype-to-Skype calls is outstanding. Plus, it’s free, and many people have it. So download it, or update it, and get familiar with it. Plus, you can easily call phones with Skype for a couple of cents a minute, and you can also easily set up audio conference calls.

Tip Two: Skype MP3 Recorder

You’ve got Skype up and running you’re ready to make calls, but you still need a way to record those calls if you actually want a podcast. This is the biggest question I get in terms of how to podcast – what do I record my calls with? I use a free tool called MP3 Skype Recorder. Once someone is on the line and ready to go, I start the recorder and we have our conversation, then I stop it when we’re done the recording and we can have a quick de-brief. This tool is also really handy if I’m interviewing anyone for any other reason, as well, because it allows me to refer back to our conversation later and saves me having to type furiously.

Tip Three: Get a Headset

A headset is going to improve your call quality considerably. Plus, it’s going to allow you to move around without losing audio. I’ve gone through a couple of headsets – my current is this one. It was bought on sale, not after an exhaustive search, but I like it. It’s a USB headset, which is better than the non-USB set I had previously. We went with a gaming headset, because according to my husband the gadget guru, they’re cheaper and offer the same quality. If you can’t afford a headset right away, I recommend at least wearing headphones, which will eliminate any audio feedback on your end.

How to Podcast Headset

Tip Four: Get a Podcasting Plugin for your Blog

I use podPress for WordPress to publish podcasts to my blog. This allows me to set up a custom podcast feed (which is important when you’re submitting your podcast to iTunes, which I’ll discuss next), and makes it easy to embed audio files in posts. I’m sure there are other ways to do all of this, but this tool allows me to avoid a lot of the technical nitty-gritty involved in setting up a podcast on my blog, which is why I use it.

Tip Five: Set Yourself up on iTunes

It’s free to list your podcast on iTunes, and that’s the main place people go in search of podcasts, so it’s worth your while to set it up. Apple has detailed online instructions for how to podcast through iTunes. It can be a bit fiddly but once it’s running you don’t need to do anything. Now I just make sure that I set the category correctly on my podcast posts and they automatically show up in iTunes within 24 hours.

Tip Six: Invite Guests

A podcast isn’t much of a podcast if you don’t have someone to talk to. I’m pretty good at filling up time, but who would want to listen to me rattle on for 30 minutes by myself each week? Probably not many people. Spend some time thinking about who you’d like to speak with, and invite them on. Be bold – I’ve been surprised by who has agreed to be on my podcast. Not everyone will say yes, of course, but you need to issue the invitation to find out. I usually say something like, “I think you’re cool, I’d love to chat, if this sounds like your thing let’s set something up.” And I mean it when I say it – my guests are cool!

Tip Seven: Plan Your Podcast

We’ve covered the basics on how to podcast from a technical point of view, but now it’s time to actually record something. There are three tips I use to make things easier. First, I plan my introduction and write out my questions in advance. Sometimes interviewees request questions in advance, but even if they don’t writing them out helps me to stay on track and avoids awkward silences while I try to think about what to ask next. Second, I make sure to ask the interviewee if there’s anything they’d like to highlight, so I don’t miss anything. Third, I try to schedule podcasts for a time when my kids are out, or at least occupied and happy, and I’ve learned not to do more than one in a day for the sake of everyone’s sanity.

Tip Eight: Edit Your Podcast

I’m a dedicated PC user, mostly because I was a programmer for years, and programmers use PCs like artists use Macs. However, when it comes to podcasting, a Mac really is better, and luckily I’m married to someone who owns one. I use Garage Band to edit my podcasts. I don’t do a lot of editing, but I do remove obvious mistakes and add music at the beginning and end. It keeps things reasonably polished without investing too much time and effort.

There you have it – eight of my tips and tricks for how to podcast. Is there anything you want to know that I didn’t cover? Leave me a question and let me know!

At Home Parenting, and the Hardness of Being Alone with Small Children

I may be a “work at home” mom, but I actually don’t spend that much time at home alone with my kids. My daughter Hannah is in school all day (at least until this Wednesday), and my son Jacob goes to preschool/daycare three days a week so that I can get some work done. On Tuesdays Jacob and I tend to run errands together, and on Thursdays we were attending a mothers’ group that I volunteered with. However, recently I stepped down from my volunteer role, and suddenly Jacob and I have Thursdays to ourselves. I was excited – a day with my son and no plans!

Running home from dropping his big sister off at school
Jacob runs home after coming with me to drop Hannah off at school in the morning

Here’s the thing I hadn’t accounted for: spending a day at home alone with a small child is hard. If the weather is bad and that child doesn’t nap, it’s even harder. If I think back on times when I spent most of my time at home alone with a baby or toddler, I remember that I was often frazzled. I found myself counting down the time until my husband got home, when I would finally have another adult to speak with, and to make sure that my child was safe while I took a quick shower. But as you leave one parenting stage and head into the next, you forget. I hadn’t spent a rainy day at home alone with a three-year-old in a while, so I had glossed over the hard bits in my mind.

Me and my boy
Me and my boy

I love my children more than words can say. I adore spending time with my children. I find that I enjoy that time more when I have other adults around for backup, or we’re out doing something that is fun for both of us. This is why playdates and library storytime and playgrounds and preschool open gym time were all invented. After your child has watched as much TV as you can justify and you’ve spent three or four hours fetching snacks, wiping up messes, playing Evil Emperor Zurg to your son’s Buzz Lightyear, and being accompanied on every bathroom visit, you’re kind of done. You’re ready for a break. But kids never need a break, and hence the hardness arises.

Buzz Lightyear at the grocery store
Buzz Lightyear at the grocery store

I’m really very glad that I have the freedom to spend weekdays with my son – and my daughter, too, when she’s not in school. Working from home provides a high degree of flexibility, and allows me to be there for field trips and playgroups and all of that great stuff. I really am tremendously appreciative of the privileges this lifestyle affords. But being an “at home mom” doesn’t have to mean never leaving the house, which is something I’ve recently been reminded of. Getting out is good for everyone’s sanity – especially the adult who’s spending the day with only a small child for company.

How do you keep everyone happy and entertained when you’re at home alone for the day with your kids? I’m going to need some tips if I’m going to keep my sanity now that my Thursday gig is over!

Podcast: Beth Terry on her Plastic-Free Life

Strocel.com Podcast Beth Terry My Plastic Free LifeBeth Terry is on a quest to live a plastic-free life, and she blogs about it at MyPlasticFreeLife.com. Just recently, she also published her first book on the subject, called Plastic Free. It’s a how-to guide about ditching plastic, that draws heavily on her own journey and experiences. I was thrilled when Beth agreed to set up a time to chat with me for the Strocel.com podcast.

I’ll say this right off the top: I’m a Beth Terry fan. I had the chance to meet her at BlogHer in San Diego, and she was lovely and charming. She inspired me to keep and wash my disposable plastic plate throughout the conference, rather than take a new one at each meal and snack. It actually wasn’t that hard, and while that plate still made its way into the trash in the end, several others didn’t. The experience reinforced a message that Beth shares on her blog and in her book, which is that as individuals we actually can make a difference. Maybe we can’t solve all the world’s problems, but we can have an impact, and we shouldn’t underestimate that.

Strocel.com Podcast Beth Terry My Plastic Free LifeThe truth is that my own life is far from plastic-free. While I do take many steps to reduce my plastic consumption there are many things I buy regularly that come in plastic, not all of it recyclable. The reality is that in modern life it’s almost impossible to completely avoid plastic. Even Beth herself consumes some plastic, as she chronicles on her blog each month. Beth’s mission isn’t to make anyone feel bad about their plastic consumption, it’s to encourage us all to be more mindful. I think more mindfulness is pretty much always a good thing.

If you’d like to hear how Beth get started on her journey towards plastic-free living, you’d like some tips for reducing your own plastic consumption, or you’d like to see how one person really can make a difference, you’ll want to listen to the podcast:

Next week on the Strocel.com podcast I’ll be sharing an interview with Trisha Miltimore, national speaker, radio broadcaster and mompreneur. I heard her speak at a local networking event, and I was smitten. Plus, since I’ve started podcasting I have my own radio dreams, so I wanted to hear about her radio work. If you’d like to gather some inspiration and ideas for balancing work, family and yourself, you’ll want to tune in. Subscribe to the Strocel.com podcast in iTunes, and you won’t miss a minute!



Environmentalism and Etiquette

It’s Enviro-Mama Thursday here at Strocel.com, and today I’m thinking about environmentalism and etiquette, and how the two collide and inform each other.

Human beings are social creatures, there’s no two ways about it. As social creatures, we spend a lot of time and energy working to get along with each other. We do things like wait our turn at the bank, bite our tongues when casual acquaintances express political views we disagree with, and say please and thank you. Those of us who are parents spend a lot of time trying to teach our children good manners. I’ve been known to say, for example, “I’m okay with you having a cookie, but I need to hear you ask nicely, because it makes me feel better about the whole thing.”

When it comes to displaying good etiquette ourselves, environmentalism can cut both ways. On the one hand, as many green choices become not only respected but expected, our desire to get along with others reinforces green options. An example of this would be recycling. Where I live recycling is just an accepted part of everyday life. If you saw someone throwing a recyclable container into a trash can, you’d probably shoot them the same sort of dirty look you’d shoot someone who littered or failed to clean up after their dog. There are many other examples of green living that are becoming a normal part of modern life, like carrying reusable bags to the grocery store or not leaving your car idling in a long line-up.

On the other hand, there are many situations when our desire to get along and our desire to make more sustainable choices can collide. Let’s say, for instance, that you feel strongly about reducing your exposure to pesticides. What do you do when your neighbour’s out spraying weeds in her driveway? And what do you do when you’re on a playdate and someone serves you (and your kids) conventionally-grown apples, even though you know they have the highest pesticide residues of any fruit or veggies? How do you make the best choices for yourself, without becoming preachy or imposing your values on others?

I don’t think there are easy answers on this one. To be perfectly frank, this is something I constantly wrestle with. I’m not likely to sweat the conventionally-grown apples, but I do run into many situations where my desire to live as sustainably as possible collides with my desire to get along with others. And this doesn’t only happen outside of my own home – I live with other people. While I would say that everyone in my family holds sustainability as a value, we differ on what matters most to us, and where we’re willing to draw the line between convenience and the planet. No one’s the “good guy” and no one’s the “bad guy”, but that doesn’t mean we always see eye-to-eye.

As more and more people make more and more sustainable choices, the balance between good manners and green living shifts. I think that’s a good thing. But I don’t think it will ever be super-easy. Change almost never is. And so I try to respect my personal values that say values like kindness, generosity and consideration are important. I also try to respect my values that say I want to live lightly on the earth. And sometimes, I think, I maybe even get it right.

What about you? Do you ever struggle with balancing your own environmental choices with your desire to get along with others? And does pushback from the people around you ever make it harder for you to live sustainably? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

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