Archives for March 2013

Podcast: Talking Work at Home and More with Jennifer Forest

strocel.com podcast work women want jennifer forestI’ve become a little more choosy, recently, when it comes to inviting guests to be on my podcast. I’m 80 episodes in, now, and I suspect that I’m feeling a little more confident than I was two years ago when I started. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed each and every interview I’ve done, and I’ve learned something by doing each one. However, in the beginning I was so thrilled that anyone would speak to me that I jumped on every opportunity without asking too many questions. Now I’m getting more pitches, and I’m taking more time to consider each one. When I recently got the opportunity to interview Jennifer Forest, the author of the new book Work Women Want, I knew that was one worth jumping for.

strocel.com podcast work women want jennifer forestJennifer’s book is a guide to women who want more family-friendly work arrangements. If you’ve ever thought you’d like to work from home, work part-time, or work in a different field so that you can have better work-life balance and spend more time with your kids, Jennifer wrote this book for you. She’s not promising that if you read her book you’ll become a millionaire overnight, and she’s also not promising that it will be easy. Rather, she is sharing practical tips from real moms who have been there, done that, and found ways to make living incomes from home, or on reduced work schedules.

During our podcast Jennifer shares her own story, and discusses what inspired her to write the book. She shares tips for starting a business, talks about negotiating a part-time schedule, and covers some of the nitty-gritty details you’ll encounter if you decide to start a business while you have small children. If you’d like to shift the way you work, you’ll want to take the time to listen to the podcast:

I’m still deciding what I’ll be sharing next week on the podcast, but I can promise you that you’ll want to tune in. Subscribe to the Strocel.com podcast in iTunes, and you won’t miss a minute! Also, if you have a podcast idea, please share it with me. I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Living the Dream

living the dream disneyland perspective

One day last week at Disneyland I found myself squished into a bathroom stall with my four-year-old son Jacob, waiting for him to finish. As I stood there, thinking about all the fun I was missing, a phrase passed through my head: living the dream.

Now, it’s true that you won’t find parenting on a list of glamourous (or well-compensated) jobs. And it’s also true that even in parenting terms, waiting in a public bathroom for a four-year-old to finish up isn’t exactly the most exciting way to spend your time. All the same, when that phrase passed through my head, two things happened. First, the more cynical and sarcastic part of me gave a little chuckle. But then a second part of me spoke up and reminded me that I was with my child, on a family vacation to Disneyland. It’s a place that many people would really love to be. I really was living the dream.

It’s easy to focus on the drudgery in life. It’s even easier to focus on the drudgery in parenting. The sleepless nights, the messes, the noise, the bodily fluids – they can all wear you down. You may miss the life you had before kids, which now seems so much easier in retrospect. You may long for the ability to visit the bathroom by yourself, or read more than one paragraph in a book at a time. No one could blame you if sometimes you just long for a break.

Travel has many downsides, as well. Many of them are similar to parenting – sleepless nights, noise, and sometimes even bodily fluids. No one will tell you that being away from home is all sunshine and roses. It’s normal to wonder why you signed up for this, anyway, when your whole family is tired and cranky and hot and you’re standing in yet another line-up.

On the other hand, the truth is that many of us dreamed of one day having children. I certainly did. And most of us don’t plan family vacations in the anticipation that we’ll have a terrible time. There are tedious and annoying parts of life, no matter how you slice it. But if you spend all your time and energy thinking about those, you can miss the fabulous and amazing parts of life that are happening around you. The parts that you’ve been imagining for years, since you were six years old yourself and thought, “If I ever have kids, I’m going to take them to Disneyland, and we’ll go on all the rides, and it will be lots of fun, and I’ll be so much nicer than my own parents.”

Once I had my little revelation standing in that bathroom stall, I was once again able to see the forest for the trees. I remembered that, in fact, I was doing something my whole family had been looking forward to for ages. And while every moment may not have been sheer bliss, on the whole I was very lucky and I was enjoying myself quite a lot. That attitude re-adjustment really did make all the difference.

How do you re-focus yourself when you start complaining about petty problems? I’d love to hear!

Parenting: It’s Crappy … and Funny

Last September I shared what is still my most popular podcast to date: an interview with Amber Dusick of the hilarious blog Parenting, Illustrated with Crappy Pictures. Well guess what? She’s also written a book, which just happens to be called Parenting: Illustrated with Crappy Pictures. And when I got back from my trip to Disneyland I was thrilled to find a review copy waiting for me.

parenting illustrated with crappy pictures book review amber dusickIf you’ve ever read Amber Dusick’s blog, the style of the book will be familiar to you. It’s illustrated with her signature crappy pictures, and features herself, her husband (Crappy Papa), and her children (Crappy Boy and Crappy Baby). While it’s familiar, though, it isn’t repetitive. The majority of the content is new, so if you are a loyal fan you won’t be paying for something that you’ve already read.

The book is a quick read – I got through it in a little under 24 hours. I laughed out loud frequently, prompting my eight-year-old to ask what was so funny. I responded in the only way I could, by saying that it was only funny for grown-ups. She insisted on reading some of the word bubbles on the photos, but the humour passed her by. This is as it should be. If you haven’t lived parenting, you probably won’t really appreciate the humour. If you have lived parenting, few books will be much funnier.

As you may know, I really enjoy sharing the love. Since the publisher sent me this book for free, I’d like to pass it along so that someone else can enjoy it. To make that happen I’ve decided to run a giveaway.

If you’d like my copy of Amber Dusick’s book, leave a reply on this post before 9:00pm PST on April 1, 2013. I’ll draw one name at random and pop the book in the mail, no fooling. If you could be so kind as to leave one comment only, it will make my life much easier. And good luck!

*UPDATE – The contest is now closed. Thanks for reading!

Things you Learn While Picking up Coins

When you have kids, there’s a moment that becomes very familiar to you. It’s that moment when you go from blissfully enjoying whatever it was you’re doing to full-on high alert, caused by a loud sound. In that moment, you inhabit both states for a split second, and you almost think that if you concentrate hard enough, you can step backward into bliss. But you cannot, because the noise has happened and now you have to deal with it.

I experienced this moment last Saturday, when my son Jacob spilled our coin bucket all over the entryway. In this case, there was no mistaking what the loud noise was. The sound of hundreds (or maybe even thousands) of coins falling on laminate flooring is very distinctive. And just as the noise was clear, the next course of action was also clear. The coins needed to be removed from the floor somehow. And as much as I would have liked to lay that job at my four-year-old son’s feet, since he made the mess, the truth is that he just wasn’t up to the task.

I did my best to swallow my anger, because what was done was done. Jacob knew that spilling the coins all over the floor wasn’t exactly a stellar idea. The look of concern on his face made that all too clear. Lecturing a preschooler does not make the floor cleaner, even if it is a little bit satisfying to vent in the culprit’s direction. So I did some deep breathing and set to work. As I cleared the floor, I learned a few things.

picking coins off the floor

  1. Coins are very hard to pick up. Given how flat they are, and given how heavy they are all put together, it’s hard to really get a good handful. Pretty soon it became clear to me that I needed a better solution than just using my hands. I reasoned that coins are magnetic, so I fetched the biggest magnet I could off my fridge. This led to my next lesson.
  2. Not all coins are magnetic. Based on my experience it seems that most Canadian nickels, dimes and quarters are magnetic, but most Canadian pennies are not. And most of the American change that was hiding in my change bucket was not magnetic at all. The Royal Canadian Mint may be phasing out the penny, but we still had plenty of them in our change bucket, so I had to switch my approach again. Once again, I learned something.
  3. Coins are very hard to sweep up. Once again their flatness and heaviness conspired against me. They don’t pile up on top of each other easily, and they like to slip underneath the lip of the dust pan as you try to sweep them up. This was a little more effective than my previous two methods, but not by much. And it was made even more difficult by my son, which led to yet another lesson.
  4. Four-year-old ‘helpers’ just aren’t that helpful. Little kids lose interest easily. They also lack the manual dexterity and physical strength of adults. Of course, when they make a mess, I insist that they pitch in. But when they focus on trying to decide which penny is the shiniest, picking them out of the pile you’ve managed to actually get back in the change bucket and discarding them on the floor when they decide another is shinier, you may have second thoughts about insisting they help.

I’m happy to report that eventually all the coins did get picked up. I’m also happy to report that the change bucket is now in a more secure location. This is no guarantee against future spills – but it’s something. And right now I’ll do whatever little thing I can to avoid spending another morning picking coins off the floor.

The Disney Retrospective

We returned home from our Disneyland trip on Friday. Having taken the weekend to recover, I’m now ready to share the highlights and the lowlights of the trip. Here’s how it went.

The Good

  • Our hotel was awesome. We stayed at the Howard Johnson Anaheim, in a kids suite. The children had their own room with a bunk bed, which they adored. The hotel was close to Disneyland, affordable, and had a fabulous water park. Our room also had a microwave and fridge, so that we could keep snacks and breakfast food on hand.
  • The flight was totally fine. We had one thirty minute flight and one two and a half hour flight, with just one connection. Other than having to run to make our connection on the way home, the airplane trips were largely uneventful. I would totally take my kids on a plane again – although I don’t know if I’m ready to brave a longer flight yet.
  • The food at Disneyland was way better than I expected. Yes, it was expensive – we paid around $40 for lunch. However, for that we got pretty good food, including lots of fruits and veggies. The restaurants mostly used real dishes and cutlery, as well. And since we dined cafeteria-style, there were no waits to speak of. Plus, there were lots of great kids’ options.
  • We bought the PhotoPass+, and got lots of great photos, including many shots of our whole family. The photographers were friendly and good with the kids. We didn’t get it together to buy it two weeks before our trip, so we had to buy it on-site, but I feel that it was worth the $100.
  • My kids had a fabulous time – especially my daughter Hannah. At eight years old, she was the perfect age to really get into all the parades and rides and shows. Jacob was a little bit young for some of the stuff, but he still really enjoyed himself for the most part. They were both really sad when it was time to come home.

The Bad

  • As I said, my son Jacob was a little bit too young. Disneyland doesn’t go halfway on pretty much anything. The over-the-top experience was too much for a four-year-old who can’t really distinguish between reality and fantasy yet. He was completely terrified when Darth Vader and Darth Maul appeared during the Jedi Training Academy show, and he sobbed his way through the Finding Nemo submarine ride.
  • The character line-ups were tedious and boring, and I had a hard time justifying standing in line for up to 45 minutes to meet a princess. My kids, on the other hand, wanted to stand in every line to meet every character. I can understand why meeting Tinkerbell was a big deal for them, but this was definitely not my favourite part of the trip.
  • There were so many people, it was just plain overwhelming. Yes, it’s to be expected, and yes, I expected it. But it still doesn’t make it fun to battle throngs of people in order to find a spot on the sidewalk to watch a parade. I was on high alert pretty much the whole trip, trying to keep tabs on my kids. Luckily we didn’t lose anyone, but it could easily happen with all those people.
  • The over-the-top commercialism is excessive. You’re constantly confronted with opportunities to buy something, whether it’s food or balloons or gift shops that you have to walk through at the end of a ride. We let our kids each buy one souvenir, but we still spent lots of time wandering around stores as they debated on what item to bring home with them. Disneyland is all about spending money.

In the end, we did our best to take our time, and we didn’t try to see everything when we were at Disneyland. We enjoyed both parks – Disney California Adventure is pretty cool – and tried to stick with what we knew our kids would enjoy. Sometimes we guessed wrong, as with Finding Nemo, but on the whole it went pretty well. I would even consider going back again – but not for a few years, at least. Next time I go I’d like my kids to be a little older. That way we can go on some of the rides that I like. Plus, hopefully the whole experience won’t be as overwhelming for them.

Really, though, what’s a vacation post without photos? Here are some of the shots from our trip:

Repost: Podcast with Katherine Stone of Postpartum Progress

Today I’m re-sharing my interview with the fabulous Katherine Stone, talking about postpartum depression and reproductive mental illness. This is an important one, and it’s definitely worth a listen – or, for that matter, a re-listen.

Seven years ago right now I had a two-and-a-half week old baby, and I was depressed. I cried for long periods of time, often for no specific reason. I was convinced that I was a terrible mother, and that I had made a terrible mistake. I did all of the things that I was supposed to do for my baby, but I really wasn’t myself, and I didn’t feel the way that I had expected to feel. To complicate matters, I didn’t really see my own depression for what it was. The people around me did – and I thank my lucky stars for that – but I wasn’t really able to acknowledge what was going on.

It’s taking all of my personal strength to not delete that paragraph, by the way. The shame surrounding depression is strong, and I think that when we’re talking about postpartum depression it only ups the ante. When you have a new baby, life is supposed to be blissful. You’re supposed to be overwhelmed with love, and just spend your days gazing at your new little bundle of joy in wonder. Only, it’s not like that for everyone. And it doesn’t make us bad mothers, it makes us human beings who are suffering from a disease that is categorically not our fault.

Strocel.com Podcast Katherine Stone Postpartum Progress Postpartum DepressionIn my case, my depression was reasonably short-lived. By the time my baby was a couple of months old – and sleeping longer stretches at night – I was through the worst of it. I didn’t suffer in isolation for months, as some women do. My healthcare providers didn’t dismiss me, and no one suggested to me that I was in any way to blame, even if I sometimes felt that way myself. In many ways, I got off easy. All the same, I carry the weight of that time with me every day, and it colours my memory of my first child’s arrival in a profound way. I know that I am hardly alone, and I strongly believe that we need to fight the stigma of mental illness related to pregnancy and childbirth. So I decided to speak with Katherine Stone, Founder and Editor of Postpartum Progress, the most-widely read blog on postpartum depression and reproductive mental illness.

I heard Katherine speak at BlogHer, and I knew that she was passionate and committed to creating positive change. That passion came through during our conversation. She’s working hard to help mothers find the help they need, and to break down societal and cultural barriers to accessing that help. I find her inspiring, and I’m so glad that she’s created the resource that she has for mothers. I wish I had known about it myself as a new mom. Listen to what Katherine had to say about postpartum depression and other reproductive mental illnesses:

I’m still deciding what I’ll be sharing next week on the podcast, but I can promise you that you’ll want to tune in. Subscribe to the Strocel.com podcast in iTunes, and you won’t miss a minute! Also, if you have a podcast idea, please share it with me. I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Twas the Night Before Disney

With apologies to Clement C. Moore, this is what I was inspired to write Saturday evening as we prepared to depart for Disneyland.

DCF 1.0

‘Twas the night before Disney, when all through the house
every creature was stirring (though hopefully no mouse).
The suitcases were flung wide open everywhere,
As we frantically searched out clean socks and underwear.

The children refused to remain in their beds,
while visions of Mickey Mouse danced in their heads.
And Jon in his old T-shirt and I in my nightdress,
were wondering just how we’d got into this mess.

Toilets needed scrubbing, and bedsheets needed changing,
bathing suits needed washing, and carry-ons rearranging.
Around the whole house I flew like a flash
searching desperately for my American cash.

The electric lights in the house, each and every one on,
made it bright as midday, though it was hours before dawn.
The lists that I’d written of what I should pack
lay abandoned beneath piles of random bric-a-brac.

“Now Jacob! Now Hannah!
Now Husband, I say!
Pick up all the stuff,
and put it away!
From the top of the house!
To the last fireplace!
Now dash away!
Put it all in a suitcase!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
when they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky
so all around the house our family flew,
with armfuls of stuff, and worried looks, too.

It was later than late, three hours past nine,
and I was thinking of opening a bottle of wine.
The fog in my eye and the twitch in my head
were letting me know that I should be in bed.

Who knew that vacations could be so much work?
And why’d I volunteer, like an uninformed jerk?
Rubbing my temples and blowing my nose,
I carefully stepped over the pile of clothes.

I put my kids to bed, and tucked them in soundly –
while they tried to resist, they were soon snoring roundly.
Then my husband exclaimed, before turning out the light,
“Happy vacation to all, I give up for the night!”

While I’m away, I won’t be publishing regularly here. I hope that you all have a fabulous week, and that your vacations are blissfully stress-free.

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