What To Do About #Ferguson

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I don’t know where to start about the news from Ferguson, Missouri that the grand jury decided not to indict Office Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown. I’m still processing the news. But, the truth is, I am not surprised with the outcome—which may make me cynical, or just a sad realist.

What am I doing is reading – reading the compelling words of those who are angry, devastated, passionate, realistic, and important. Here are some for you to consider…

Where We Go From Here… #Ferguson | Napkin Hoarder

Dear White Moms | Bon Bon Break

Why the Lack of Indictment for Mike Brown is a Devastating Blow | Rage Against the Minivan

Here’s ALL the Ways to Respond to Ferguson on Facebook | Emotionally Slutty

Amplify | Up Popped A Fox

“Hatred, which could destroy so much, never failed to destroy the main who hated,
and this was an immutable law.”
~James Baldwin

Photo credit: PictureNewYork LG via photopin cc

Focus

This is my busiest time of year at work. My colleagues and I have a large deadline—our largest!—next week, and everyone is working extra hours and pitching in. I’m always humbled by the generosity of my coworkers; they are a great bunch. I am lucky to work with them.

No matter how hard everyone works, though, big deadlines and intense workloads are stressful. And, no matter how much you enjoy what you are doing, when the days are jam-packed and whiz by too quickly (how is it 4 PM already?), everything can start to be overwhelming.

In an effort to help manage some of that oh-my-I-have-too-much-to-do feeling, we brought in a wellness expert for a mindfulness session today. I felt a little bad scheduling the session amid chaos, but when would we find a better time to work on stress management than in the middle of stress? Plus, we brought in lunch, too, and free food can cure a lot of ills.

During the session, we did an exercise to consider the pros and cons of multitasking (The verdict? It’s not good for you), participated in guided meditation (I wish someone would come to the office every day to lead a guided meditation!), and worked on our ability to focus. And, that’s what I want to tell you about.

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One of the exercises my coworkers and I did to strengthen our focus involved a feather. We each were given a delicate white feather that was about two feet long. The tips of mine were tinged purple and blue, giving it the impression of the plumage of proud peacock. Our assignment was to balance our feathers on our palms, keeping them standing straight. We were not to lean against the wall, cup our hands around the ends, or blow on the feathers to keep them aloft. We had a practice run, during which time most of us laughed at the odd task before us. Then we got serious and started balancing.

One by one, our feathers fell, and we sat back down at the table to watch the others at work. I wasn’t the first person in my seat, but I did go down earlier enough to be able to watch my coworkers who lasted longer than I did try to prevent their feathers from falling. Some of them danced back and forth around our conference room, allowing their bodies to sway with the feather’s awkward attempt to stand at attention. Others glanced around the room, checking out the competition. Distracted, their feathers fell. The two left at the end took a different approach: they stood still, moving only slightly, with their eyes firmly locked onto their feathers. Their gazes didn’t waver, and neither did their commitment to keeping those feathers upright. By being quiet and centered, they succeeded where the rest of us—those of us who trying to do too much at once, for example—failed. It was a great reminder of the need to slow down and give something—one thing—your all. It doesn’t matter if it’s a busy season at work or in life; the reminder from today’s mindfulness session was an important one.

So was I relaxed and stress-free after the session? Well, for about ten minutes, I was! Then, I remembered my to do list.

Photo credit: Simon & His Camera via photopin cc

I Love Weekends (and Some Good Reading)

I love weekends. It’s not every Sunday night where I can wax enthusiastically about the weekend (usually it’s just too busy), but today is definitely one of those I-so-wish-the-weekend-wasn’t-over days.

We left most of the weekend wide open for family time. We scaled down our commitments, saying yes to only one kid’s birthday party, one dance class, church, and Sunday school. My daughter and I baked brownies. We finally screened “Return of the Jedi” for the kids, a rite of passage that is absolutely one of the fun parts of parenting. We ordered take out pizza and let the kids have a picnic in front of the television—on a towel, of course, though that did not dissuade them from jumping up and down on their pizza doing the big scenes between Luke, Darth Vader, and the Emperor. We read more of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” saying goodbye to Violet Beauregarde and the gum behind her left ear.

We took pictures for our holiday card. This one didn't make the cut.

We took pictures for our holiday card. This one didn’t make the cut.

We also made some progress on our long list of to dos in anticipation of the arrival of out-of-town family and friends for the Thanksgiving holiday. My husband finished a yeoman’s task of clearing the ridiculous amount of leaves from our yard. The kids identified two bags of toys they’ve outgrown, getting them ready to donate. We turned a messy closet into usable storage (more on that to follow) for an ever-expanding Lego collection, finding 20 deodorants, six bottles of half-used suntan lotion, and four sleeping bags (all of which now have a new place in our house). Call me crazy, but spending some time organizing my home helps me feel I might just have everything under control

We continued the getting-ready-for-the-holidays theme by having a babysitter come by this afternoon to spend time with the kids while my husband and I tackled our basement, which had been overrun by sports equipment, toys, and the assorted detritus that seems to migrate to basements. I donated a truck full of toys at a Cradles for Crayons drop-off location.  I pulled together a bag of clothes for Goodwill, including coats we no longer wear. We threw away three bags of trash.

I went for a run, and the kids played outside. We held onto autumn for a bit longer.

I also got in some reading time this weekend, and here are few pieces to share:

Wishing you a week of family, friends, and lots of pie!

Red Shutters in India Roundup

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One of my favorite pictures from the Taj Mahal, Agra, India

For the past few weeks, I have been writing about the trip I took last month to India. Primarily for business, I was able to add some personal travel to my journey, and I shared the highlights here on Red Shutters. In case you missed my posts, here they are:

While India had always been a place I wanted to visit, it was not in my top three destinations (they, for the record, are 1) Australia, 2) Antarctica, and 3) Mauritius). I was very, very lucky to get to India, however. I’m not sure—with the demands of parenting and a location more than 7,000 miles from home—if I ever would have gotten there—or at least I would not have gotten there for a very long time.

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A family that approached me at Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi, India, asking me to take “one image” of them

A colleague told me that, despite being very interested in India and its culture, she wasn’t sure she could ever travel there. She cited the poverty and prevalence of street children as her reasons for preventing her from buying an airplane ticket. I understood her concerns. As a parent—well, as a human being—it’s so hard—heartbreaking, really—to see so many children begging. I knew I would see this when I committed to go to India, but I was still shocked by it. Having small kids—kids the same age as my own—stand by my window, while I sat in a clean, air-conditioned car, asking for money or food was deeply disturbing. And yet it happens all the time.

According to UNICEF http://www.unicef.org/sowc06/profiles/street.php, tens of million of children worldwide live and work on the streets. India is home to many of them. I think I will forever carry with me the experience of having street kids in Delhi and Mumbai approach me for help. Some of those requests may have legitimate calls for help, but many asks are orchestrated by adults who use the children as tools in their own criminal activities. It’s impossible for a visitor like me to know when a request will make an important difference in a child’s life or when the money will go into someone else’s pocket. Thankfully, street children, often seen as “invisible” in most cultures, are getting a higher profile of late, including in India where Kailash Satyarthi, an children’s activist, won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.

Despite this tragedy, I’d love to go back. There’s so much I didn’t get to see—Goa, Jaipur, Chennai, and the Himalayas. Perhaps another visit for business is in my future, or perhaps a trip when my kids are older so they can learn more our world—both the amazing and the heartbreaking.

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At Gandhi Smriti in Delhi, India

Look for #redshuttersinindia on Twitter and Instagram to see more from my trip! 

My Morning Routine

Yesterday, my friend, Phyllis of Napkin Hoarder, shared a post about her morning routine, inspired by a recent article on Forbes.com about the morning routines of highly successful women. Phyllis wrote about her routine in order to show what the morning routines of regular (i.e., non-CEOs, non-Hollywood-types, etc.) look like. Her inspiration caught on, and my friends Danielle of Another Version of Mother and Lisa of Squared Mommy shared their morning routines, too.  I love this idea and their posts, so I am adding mine to the mix. Consider our morning routines yet another way the lives of women are vastly different. One routine, one approach to the morning is not better than another; we all ease into our days differently, though we all share a race against the clock.

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6:00 AM – My husband’s iPhone alarm goes off. He gets up and showers. Some mornings, if I go to sleep on time (say at 10 PM) the night before, I get up before him to write, read, or catch up on email. For the past few months, I’ve been stuck in a habit of going to bed too late, and consequently need every single minute of sleep. I’m a morning person, but if I don’t get enough sleep, I’m not good at all.

6:15 AM – I wake up, as my husband gets out of the shower and goes back and forth across our room to get dressed. I wake up via my alarm (which I let snooze at least once) or because I hear him moving around.

6:20-6:30 AM – I get in the shower to kick off my morning. Then, I get dressed.

6:30-7:00 AM – The kids wake up. They migrate into our bedroom, one at a time, climbing into our bed as we finish getting ready. They are each 100% ready to go when they come in, though sometimes, there’s a bit of snuggling. My husband leaves for work during this time, sometimes getting one of our early risers breakfast.

7:00 AM – The kids and I go into the kitchen. I’m dressed; they are still in pajamas. We all eat breakfast. The kids have cereal, milk, and vitamins. Sometimes, they have yogurt; sometimes, oatmeal. Their food choices go in phases. Lately, I have been eating a gluten-free English muffin with peanut butter and banana or egg and cheese. And tea—multiple cups of tea. The kids, R especially, typically ask for a second breakfast of fruit or more cereal. (That kid is in the midst of a crazy growth spurt.) While we eat, I empty the dishwasher, put snacks and lunches (packed the night before) in backpacks, make sure homework/library books/notes to teachers are in the backpacks, and place the packs by the front door.

7:30 AM (on a good day) – I cajole, threaten, or bribe the kids to get dressed. If I have been really organized, G’s clothes have been picked out and are hanging by day in her closet. But, that rarely happens, so it’s more likely that I am picking out an outfit for her that she will reject. I pick out another. She rejects that one. Exasperated, I give up and go into R’s room to select his clothes. He wears whatever I pick out—if I can get him to stop reading to pay attention to me. Eventually, after much frustration on my part, the kids will get dressed, brush their teeth and hair, and make their beds. (For R, this means placing his comforter on top of his stuffed animals. Lumpy, yes, but he’s trying.)

8:00 AM – “Put on your shoes. Put on your shoes. Put on your shoes.”

8:05 AM – “Put on your shoes. Put on your shoes. Put on your shoes.”

8:10-8:15 AM – We leave for school. Sometimes, we walk with neighborhood kids—it depends on the weather.

8:20-8:25 AM – We arrive at school. The kids hang out with their friends on the playground.

8:30 AM – The bell rings and school day begins. I try to say good-bye at the door, but the kids always want me to come inside. I walk them to their lockers, give hugs, and say good-byes. I say hello to their teachers, and sometimes, get a chance to catch up with G’s teacher.

8:45 AM – I arrive back home. I grab another cup of tea and head to the office.

9:45 AM – After a 15 mile commute, which takes about an hour (it could be worse!), I arrive at work.*

*Generally, three days a week, I go into the office, working a 10 AM-6 PM+ day. One day a week I work from home, which means no commute; I’m at my kitchen table, working, by 9 AM. And one day (the day the kids get out of school at 12:15 PM), I don’t (normally) work, so my morning routine includes (hopefully!) exercise after dropping the kids at school.

Everyone’s morning is different, right? The trick, for me, is to do as much as possible the night before. It’s been my saving grace since the kids were small.

What about you? What’s your morning routine?

Photo credit: Nomadic Lass via photopin cc

A Room Update with Wayfair

Thanks to the folks at Wayfair for sponsoring this room update post!

When we moved in our home three years ago, we were in the midst of renovations. It was exciting to see the changes in our house—updates to bathrooms and the kitchen, new wallpaper and paint, new windows, and much more—but it left me with little time, energy, or money to decorate. So, I did what any resourceful homeowner would do: I reused almost everything from our previous house.

In some rooms, this worked great; it other rooms, it was just OK. I knew I wanted to make changes. Specifically, I wanted to update our den. The red pillows and accessories in that room worked in our old house, a 1930s colonial, where red had been an accent color throughout the main living space. Our current (and last, I like to say) house is a mid-century modern ranch with an open floor plan. Blue and turquoise have replaced the red in our main area, making our den look out of date and disconnected to the other rooms. Yet, like everything else on my crazy long to do list, updating my den was something I was going to “get to”—someday.

Enter the wizards at Wayfair!

[Read more…]

Delhi, India

Another in a series of posts about my trip to India last month…

On my last day in India, I spent my free hours exploring Delhi. Capital of this land of more than 1.2 billion people, Delhi is more than 570 square miles and was established in 736 AD, though some of its relics date the city back to circa 300 BC.

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Diwali flowers, Delhi, India

After having spent the day before with a tour guide, who, while instructive, was a bit exhausting, I elected to lead my own explorations. It’s possible to safely get about Delhi via taxi, subway, and auto rickshaw, but I splurged and hired a driver from my hotel for my journeys. The driver, a knowledgeable man from the Punjab region named Inder Pal, cost about $68 plus tip for four-and-a-half hours. It was money well-spent, as Inder Pal was a great driver, whizzing me around with efficiency, waiting for me while I explored various spots in the city, and surprising me with cold water and cool towels to counter the oppressive heat.

The first part of my trip about town had me buzzing about a neighborhood of furniture and interior design shops, looking for a mirror for my daughter’s bedroom. I eventually found it—in another neighborhood, at the end of the end of the day. I enjoyed seeing a bit of a non-touristy area, especially the many flower sellers who lined the streets, selling Diwali decorations.

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Lotus Temple, Delhi, India

Next, I headed to the Lotus Temple, a famous Baha’i House of Worship that is shaped like—you got it—an enormous lotus flower. The Temple’s shape is striking. I appreciated the flower inspiration, but part of me expected the Temple to launch into outer space, like a sci fi movie! I wandered around the grounds and walked up close to the Temple, electing not to go inside for the tour. The space is basically one large room that you can see from the outside, through the glass walls; I wanted to see more of Delhi—plus there was a line of people waiting to get in.

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Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi, India

We braved Delhi’s traffic to head next to Humayun’s Tomb, where the second Mughal emperor is buried. The Tomb is an inspiration for the Taj Mahal and was built in 1565. The Tomb is the resting place of Emperor Humayun as well as his wives, scholars, and even his favorite barber. A stop at the Tomb had been recommended to me by someone I follow on Twitter who used to live in Delhi, and it was well-worth it. I was a bit of an anomaly exploring the grounds on my own, but I didn’t mind. I found the Tomb oddly peaceful and quite beautiful.

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Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi, India

A visit to Gandhi Smriti, a museum dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi, was my next stop. Here Gandhi spent the last 144 days of his life before being assassinated in 1948. The site focuses on the injustices forced upon Indians during the British Occupation, the resulting revolts, and Gandhi’s leadership and inspirational life.

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Crafts Museum and Gandhi Smriti, Delhi, India

Afterward, I had my driver drop off at the Crafts Museum. My guidebook said that the gift shop here was worth visiting, and it was right—though the prices were higher than the spots in the market and there was no negotiation (by this time, I was into the negotiations!). The Museum was hosting a textile exhibit while I was there, with works from all over India on display; there was gorgeous embroidery, scarves, saris, and more. The Museum also has a robust array of saris in its permanent collection and a traditional Indian home on display.

Afterward, at the suggestion of one of the attendants in the Museum’s gift shop, I headed to Sunder Nagar, a nearby neighborhood, for a bit of shopping and to finally find that mirror for my daughter’s bedroom. I passed Purana Qila and the Zoo on the way there. I picked up some gifts for family members in Sunder Nagar, spending the late afternoon wandering about. I also saw crowds of people heading into a bakery to purchase Diwali treats. You could feel the excitement!

An auto rickshaw brought me back to my hotel to pack and get ready for my departure home early the next morning. I had a busy day exploring Delhi, and I left knowing there was much I did not get a chance to see. Next time, I hope!

You can learn more about my trip to India here on Red Shutters and via social media (Twitter and Instagram). Look for #redshuttersinindia for updates from my trip!

Pie in the Sky

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I have to tell you about one of my favorite nonprofits – consider this a Thanksgiving PSA!

Community Servings is a food and nutrition program in Boston that provides services throughout Massachusetts to individuals and families living with critical and chronic illnesses. Community Servings gives its clients, their dependent families, and caregivers appealing, nutritious meals, and sends the message to those in greatest need that someone cares.

Delivering nearly 500,000 meals each year to people who are too sick to care for themselves, Community Servings also provides nutrition counseling, job training, and technical assistance. It’s such a great mission, and this organization does important, life changing work. I’ve been proud to support them.

Since 1993, every November, Community Servings has run what might be my all time favorite charitable fundraisers: Pie in the Sky.

More than 150 Boston chefs donate their time to bake 18,000 pies, which Community Servings then sells for $28 each—the cost of a week’s worth of nutritious meals for its clients. Volunteers help package and distribute the pies, the proceeds of which help underwrite Community Servings’ programs. In 2013 alone, they earned $630,000 from Pie in the Sky!

Oh, and the pies are delicious.

For the past several years, my family has celebrated Thanksgiving with pies purchased through the Pie in Sky fundraiser. It’s super easy to order them online, and pickup locations can be found all over the Boston area. This year, I’ve ordered three pies: pecan, pumpkin, and apple. (Yum.) If they are anything like the pies we’re received the past few years, I know they’ll be no leftovers.

If you’re in the Boston area, I encourage you to check out Pie in the Sky!

Musings on Friendship

Today, a few blogging friends and I are writing about friendship. Check out posts from my fabulous tribe of lovely women: DanielleCheryl, Lisa, Melissa, and Phyllis!

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The Playdate

I have fully embraced my life as a working parent, but every once in a while I am reminded of the challenges my decision has on my kids. Sometimes, it’s small things—like a missed school performance—while other times, it’s big things—such as sad kids who want more of me. Lately, one of those small-turning-into-big things is perplexing me.

My kids spend so much time with their peer group: school, after school, dance, soccer, ballet, Tiger Scouts, Sunday School, and birthday parties. They have lots of time to connect with their friends and reach out to new kids they’d like to get to know better. But I know that the real way kids cultivate friendships is through the playdate, as that one-on-one time solidifies new relationships and helps the kids understand one another independent of other kids.

But the playdate is hard to manage when you are a working parent. Do you take off an afternoon off to pick your kid and his friend up from school? Do you squeeze playdates into the only precious weekend hours you have for your family to be together? Do you say, “Sorry, love” and try to make it up to your kid another way?

I’m working on shaking off the mommy guilt, fitting in playdates where I can, and realizing it’s a good challenge for me that my kids have friends!

In fact, a few weeks ago, my son went on an epic playdate: one mom hosted four or five kids at her house for a playdate that was so much fun (think water guns and empty cardboard boxes to make into forts), my son fell asleep at 5 PM when he got home. He is still talking about it.

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Greeting Friends

My daughter went to a birthday party this weekend that was populated largely by kindergarten girls. A few brave boys were there but the girls dominated. My daughter was the first guest to arrive. She and the birthday girl ran around the play space before the other friends arrived, hyping themselves up for the celebration. When the other girls showed up, it was as if a bomb of kindergarten cute exploded in the room. Squealing. Hugging. Shrieks of “You look so cute!” and “I’m so excited you’re here!” And more hugging. And lots of pink. I found myself wishing for empty cardboard boxes and water guns.

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Just as Important as Sleep

I recently shared messages with another working mom on the subject of “having it all.” She was asking how I balanced career, family, life, and still found time for blogging. My answer was something like, “Well, I don’t sleep enough. I don’t exercise enough. And, I definitely don’t have enough time for my friends.” It wasn’t the work-life balance question that stayed with me: it was the fact that I defined friendship as important as sleep and exercise. It is, after all. For all of us.

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Photo credit: Creativity+ Timothy K Hamilton via photopin cc

3 Things I’m Doing This Holiday Season

Yesterday, as we were driving through our town, we passed a number of houses that were already decorated for the holiday season. Big, beautiful wreaths graced their front doors, and sparkling, white light trimmed their homes. They looked lovely. I felt stressed.

“People are decorating for Christmas already!” I announced, exasperated. “It’s so early! We should get on that.

holidaysMy husband laughed. “They probably hired people to do it for them,” he replied, which reminded me of the neighborhood my brother and sister-in-law live in Salt Lake City. There, most people hire out their holiday decorations, an expensive undertaking, but the houses do look festive and attractive. (My brother and sister-in-law hang their own decorations and their house looks wonderful.) Back here in Massachusetts, we (okay, my husband) decorate the exterior of our house, too, but usually not until after Thanksgiving, and not nearly as extensively as the homes in my brother’s neighborhood or the ones we saw last night in our town.

That brief flash of oh-we-have-to-do-that-too shook me a bit. I don’t want that kind of a holiday season: no keeping up with others for us. Instead, I want a holiday season focused on tradition, shared rituals, and meaning. To that end, I’m vowing to do three things differently this holiday season:

  1. Scaling Back. I have my son to thank for this one. On one of our walks to school last week, as the kids were talking about writing to Santa, R said, “Sometimes, Christmas is too much.” Further discussion helped me understand his comment: previous years’ celebrations—with all of the presents—overwhelmed him, and he’d like a different kind of Christmas this year. Surprised that a seven-year-old could come up with such an observation, I was also pleased (I’m counting it as a successful parenting moment), as that is just what I had in mind this year. So fewer presents will be under our tree this year—though explaining to my daughter that Santa will not be able to bring her a live unicorn, a real baby bear, and a dog might be tricky. The presents that will be there will be more significant, and, I hope, now that my kids are getting older, more appreciated.
  1. Slowing Down. The kids are off from school for two weeks, and my husband and I are taking off about the same amount of time from work. We saved vacation for this purpose, and plan to spend the weeks together as a family, decompressing from a hectic year and getting ready for 2015.
  1. Staying Focused. We’ve started several important holiday traditions over the years, and we’ll be sure to continue them this season. We’ll decorate our Christmas tree with ornaments we’ve gathered over the years, and we’ll hang the stockings made for us by beloved family friends. We’ll make a gingerbread house, we’ll go see the Boston Pops Holiday Show, and the kids will be in the Christmas Eve pageant at church. Our Elf on the Shelf, Charlie, will reappear Thanksgiving weekend, and we’ll celebrate the people we love even though we’ll be apart from cousins, aunts, and uncles this holiday (a scheduling quirk). We’ll focus more of the beauty of Christmas and much, much less on the wrappings.

I like these vows! Will we stick with them? Or, will we get caught up in sparkle and temptation? My instinct is that we’ll carry it through—especially since the kids are on board (well, except for that live unicorn request). I’ll be sure to report back.

What about you? What are your holiday plans?

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Photo credit: D1v1d via photopin cc