Tomorrow night, the City of Annapolis (my hometown) will vote whether to allow residents to keep chickens (hens only – no roosters) in backyard coops. My husband and I are huge supporters of this proposed ordinance and would love to be able to legally keep chickens in our backyard. What’s been interesting to us is the debate surrounding this proposed change. So much of the opposition is based on factually INCORRECT information. For example, people are worried about roosters and the noise they make (but the ordinance prohibits roosters), they’re concerned that chickens will be running loose around the neighborhood (would-be chicken keepers would be required to build a coop that meets city requirements), etc.

Attendance at neighborhood meetings is usually low and the people who turn out for these things tend to be the same small group of older adults who either have no kids or whose kids are now in college or older, and this audience is, by and large,  opposed to chickens. While I respect their opinions, I find it incredibly frustrating that my generation (I’m 41, so we’re not that young!) has been noticeably absent and silent with regards to this and other discussions impacting our neighborhood. Whether its keeping chickens, moving a playground, raising taxes, or providing funding for a fire station, I find it hard to accept that only residents aged 60 and over are influencing our Aldermen.

A better solution – and a more engaged citizenry – is required. I won’t be offended if you don’t want chickens, but please, people, show up and make your opinions heard on this and other issues. Otherwise the City will be governed by a small cadre of retired professionals with a lot of time on their hands. We didn’t elect them, but make no mistake, they’re in charge. And if the rest of us don’t show up, it serves us right.

Regardless of where you stand on the issues, it’s time to plan ahead for childcare and make sure that at least one person in your household shows up when our Aldermen hold community meetings. This is where the decisions are made that will impact you and your family for years to come.

Enough said! Get out and get vocal!

(and if you DO happen to support the notion of residential chickens (or if you don’t care), do me a favor and send this email to your Alderman. Every email counts!)


Dear ____________:

I am writing today to express my support for the revision of draft City Ordinance 8.04.010 (Maintaining Animals) to allow chickens to be kept on residential properties within the City of Annapolis.

Chickens are legal in Baltimore, New York City and many other cities around the US and the world. I strongly believe that residents of the City of Annapolis should have the choice to keep chickens, whether as pets or for eggs, just as they do dogs, cats, ferrets, guinea pigs, snakes and other animals.

People who don’t want to have chickens won’t be forced to get them, nor will they be forced to be neighbors with them. But for those who do want them, have the required yard space, have agreeable neighbors, and understand the cost and time required to care for them, this ordinance would provide them a choice. I personally don’t want to keep a snake, guinea pig or ferret in my house, but do not feel that it is my place, or the city’s, to tell other residents that they should not be allowed to keep them.

While the original bill did not address many of the concerns that people have regarding noise, cleanliness, etc., the new, revised bill contains sufficient safeguards including a provision that would require residents to obtain the approval of their neighbors in order to keep chickens. Concerns regarding the health and safety of keeping chickens are overstated and have been proven to be non-issues for small flocks such as discussed by this bill, especially considering the precautions required by this ordinance. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC): “There is no need at present to remove a (family) flock of chickens because of concerns regarding avian flu.” Additionally, conventionally processed eggs are much more likely to contain communicable pathogens, such as salmonella, than home-grown eggs.

The fact is, much of the opposition regarding this ordinance is based on ignorance and false information (for example, roosters – which produce the most noise – would not be allowed). Home chicken flocks are beneficial to our neighborhood – they help reduce the amount of trash going to the landfill (food scraps are fed to the chicken); they reduce the amount of pesticides needed (chickens consume large amounts of the bothersome insects in our yards such as mosquitoes, ticks and fleas); they reduce the amount of herbicide and fertilizer runoff (they clear unwanted vegetation and produce natural compost); they create a home-grown, low-carbon footprint protein source; and they educate our children about where food really comes from.

Dr. David Waltner-Toews, veterinarian, epidemiologist, and professor at the University of Guelph, has written that he knows of “no evidence linking human illness with keeping small urban flocks.”  Further, he believes that “if we do not make room for these urban entrepreneurs, we risk losing a set of very important food-rearing skills that will enable us to better navigate the economic, climatic and environmental instability our society will face in the coming decades.”

It is my hope that, as my representative on the City Council, you will cast your vote in favor of this Ordinance on the basis of factual information that has proven that keeping residential chickens in an urban setting is a viable option so that people such as myself will be able to join millions of other city dwellers around our country in choosing for ourselves whether chickens are right for us.

Should you need any further information in order to respond to constituent concerns, please visit the following sites. They explain clearly why chicken keeping is not only safe, but beneficial for our community.


Your Name

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January is almost over and the talk of New Years resolutions seems to have died down. Nonetheless, that is just what this blog is about … New Years resolutions. I’ve been meaning to write it for several weeks but haven’t found the time. Better late than never, right?

My resolution for 2012 came to me when I was writing the annual family letter that we insert with our Christmas cards. Each year, I write a paragraph on each one of our four kids, one on the pets, a paragraph on my husband and myself, one on our family business, and another on any vacations we took or other special events. The whole letter usually totals one double-sided page. It’s a great way to keep in touch with a long list of people with whom we otherwise would have lost contact.

This year, there was a lot to write about, from kids getting  drivers licenses and going off to boarding school, to my husband adding four chickens to our menagerie of pets and a great camping trip we took over the summer. The only problem was the paragraph about me. It read “Kathleen is running a lot less this year. To stay in touch with her, read her blog at” That’s it. Pretty sad, huh?

Last year, my paragraph described how I had run my first marathon at age 40 and that I was doing volunteer work in our community. This year, I’m “running less.” I have no hobbies or special projects, and I had stopped spending my free time running with a friend. What do I do all day? Take care of my family, clean the house, and work – a lot.  It’s no wonder my blood pressure is, for the first time ever, showing signs of being high!

New Years ResolutionsAs soon as I wrote the letter, I knew that a big change was needed. I spend so much time working and taking care of others that I was not taking care of myself. I was exhausted, stressed out, and overweight. And when I realized it, I got kind of depressed.

So this year’s resolution is to take more time for myself. It’s not as easy as it sounds (New Year’s resolutions never are, are they?!). I quickly realized that in order to make the time, I would need to ask for it. My husband is a pretty great guy and he usually bends over backwards to accommodate me when I need something, but for whatever reason, I rarely ask. That was the first thing that needed to change.

The second thing I needed to change was my tendency to be everyone’s caretaker.  A typical morning in our house involves me getting up, feeding the doges, and unloading the dishwasher or making coffee while my husband takes a shower. Then, while he’s getting dressed, I’m making kids’ school lunches, getting their breakfast, and generally keeping them on track to get out the door by 8:00 am. As they are packing up their backpacks and putting their shoes and coats on, my husband throws together something to eat and they all leave together for school. At this point, I am still in my pajamas, the house is a mess, and I haven’t eaten a thing. The funny thing is that when I’m travelling or otherwise occupied, they all manage to bathe, feed, and dress themselves, and everyone seems to get off to school on time.

All of this just goes to show that I am a victim of my own choices. It is no one’s fault – except my own – that I haven’t pursued a hobby or made time for myself. Heck, I haven’t even written a blog in 2 months! So the change needed to begin within me.

Fast forward a few weeks and the resolution is going pretty well. I just finished a two week boot camp at my gym. From January 1 through 15, I got up at 5:15 every morning and went to work out. I spent two hours there doing the requisite 45 minutes of cardio and taking my boot camp class. I got home at around 7:45 am every morning – just in time to say good morning to the kids before they left for school. In addition to the exercise, I followed the boot camp’s strict diet. It wasn’t easy, but the payoff was more than worth it. In two weeks, I lost 7 pounds (actually I lost 14 pounds of body fat and gained 7 pounds of muscle), several inches, and got back into my jeans! Goodbye, muffin top!

The best part of doing the boot camp wasn’t so much what I lost, but rather what I gained. At the end of those two weeks I felt energized, healthy, confident and much, much happier. And it wasn’t just because I lost weight – it was that wonderful feeling that comes when you do something just for yourself. I worked hard and accomplished a lot and it was all for me. Oh by the way, my husband and kids did just fine without me in the mornings too!

Boot camp was a great kick start for the New Year, but it is just the beginning. My challenge now is to continue doing things that make me feel good, whether it be exercising, carving out more time to spend with friends, getting back into volunteer work, or finding and pursuing that elusive hobby. I know myself well enough to realize that I’m going to have to treat this like work and schedule “me time” into the calendar just as if it were a meeting. If I don’t, it will be too easy to let work and my home life take precedence. If that happens, another year will go by and I’ll have nothing to say in the Christmas letter!

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It seems only appropriate as we head into Thanksgiving to turn my attention to the things in my life for which I feel thankful. I’m not rich, I don’t have a fancy car, and I don’t go on lavish vacations or own designer clothing, so if material goods are what define a complete existence, then I am somewhat lacking. But what I lack in great “stuff”, I more than make up for in the things that matter most. And in that sense, I am rich beyond my wildest dreams.

I am thankful for my husband. You might think that your spouse is great, but I go to sleep at night knowing I married the most wonderful man in the world (wink). It’s a cliché, but my husband really is my best friend. I can tell him absolutely anything and he never judges me. The more honest we are with each other, the better it gets. Don’t get me wrong, we do our fair share of arguing and getting on each other’s nerves, but we also know how to talk through our differences and recognize that, sometimes, it’s okay not to agree with each other. Plus, my husband is really good at saying “I’m sorry. I was wrong.” It’s a trait I’m hoping my children will inherit! In addition to being my best friend, he is also my business partner and, incredibly enough, we work really well together and have for the past 6 years. It helps that my best friend and business partner is a tall, good looking, blond with blue eyes and an infectious laugh, too!

I am thankful for my children. And when I say children, I mean both my son and my three stepchildren. If you told me 10 years ago when I was single and hanging out in bars in Washington DC that in less than a decade I’d be married, living in the suburbs, and raising four children (not to mention driving a minivan!), I would have thought you were crazy. The truth is, I could not be happier and my kids make life so much more complete. My stepkids are fantastic and made me feel welcome in their family from the very beginning. I met them when they were 8, 6 and 4 years old, and now they are 17, 14 and 12. They’ve taught me a lot about being a parent and I am so grateful to have them in my life. After becoming an “instant parent” to my stepchildren, I had my son and discovered new dimensions of motherhood that only babies can reveal. The truth about how hard it is to be a mother slowly revealed itself to me, but the overwhelmingly wonderful reality of the love I have for my son hit me fast and hard.

I am thankful for my home. It’s not very big and sometimes it feels really crowded, but I would not trade our little saltbox in Eastport for the world. Ours is a house brimming with activity and full of love and laughter (and, if I’m honest, lots of sibling rivalry and bickering, too!). Somehow, without deliberately planning it (or even discussing it), my husband and I have created a home where the door is always open and there is always an extra place set at the table. Our kids often ask “who is coming for dinner?” because it is not uncommon for neighbors to pop by and join us for a meal. We also sponsor several Midshipmen (and women) from the U.S. Naval Academy and they can often be found hanging out here on weekends. It’s often chaotic, but somehow we squeeze everyone comfortably in to our little house and for that, I am grateful.

I am thankful for my dogs. Really, I am! I work from home, so I’m in my house a lot, and our two black labs are my constant companions. They give us their unconditional love and affection, and I don’t think our family would feel complete without them.

I am thankful for my extended family. I grew up in a house with two parents and one brother. Now that I’m married, I have three in-laws, four kids, two sisters-(and brothers-) in-law, and five nieces and nephews to add to the mix. They are all wonderful people and we are fortunate to see and spend time with them on a regular basis.

I am thankful to have a job I love. My husband and I own a small marketing agency and I love that I look forward to going to work every day. I work with smart, kind, funny people who I deeply respect. My clients are local businesses so I have the profound satisfaction of seeing and experiencing the product of my work on a daily basis right here where I live. I work in a field that is constantly evolving and I spend at least an hour every day reading and learning. Best of all, I have the flexibility to work when I want, where I want, and with who I want. It is really, truly, awesome!

I am thankful for the health of everyone mentioned above. Really, when it comes down to it, nothing in life matters more than your health. I could be living in a car with my husband and kids, and so long as they were healthy, we would get by. There is nothing – just nothing – scarier than thinking about the possibility of losing one of them to illness or an accident. Enough said.

It is fitting that this Thanksgiving, we will be surrounded by family and friends. There will be lots of kids, dogs, relatives, neighbors, friends, and even some strangers (future friends!). There will be lots of food, too, but Thanksgiving really isn’t about the meal, it’s about the people you break bread with, both on the holiday and throughout the year. Be thankful for them!

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My 14 year old stepdaughter started her first year of boarding school earlier this fall and I have a feeling our home life will never be the same again. You see, our family is comprised of my husband and myself, our four children (my three stepkids – 17 year old Jake, 14 year old Grace, and 12 year old Grady – and our son Wyatt who is 5), and two dogs. When we’re all home, it feels a bit like the Brady Bunch with kids coming and going all over the place. Now that Grace is gone, the dynamic is decidedly different.

Grace’s absence is notable for more than just the smaller number of family members at home. Without her, there is a distinct lack of “femaleness” in the house. I miss having another girl to commiserate with when the boys get in an argument and begin wrestling on the couch, or when one of them burps or farts to the delight of the other two. There is no one here with whom to share my excitement over the purchase of a new pair of shoes, or to watch the fashions on the Oscars red carpet. And when I cook a beautiful French stew for Sunday dinner, the boys tend to look at me with a glare that says “why couldn’t this be spaghetti and meatballs?”, whereas Grace would have been thrilled at the effort and the opportunity to try something new.

When it comes right down to it, the house seems incomplete without Grace. I miss her. I even miss having her raid my closet for a cute shirt to wear, and having to go digging through her things to find my favorite necklace. I miss seeing her knit while watching “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” and helping her straighten her hair or put it in a French braid.

Grace’s absence is incredibly bittersweet. While I miss her terribly, I am also unbelievably proud of the woman she is becoming. It was a big leap for her to choose to make the move to boarding school for 9th grade. Having gone to the same small private school since Kindergarten, she would not just be starting a new school – she would be travelling into the unknown to a place where she would have to start from scratch and make new friends. At the same time, she would be learning to live on her own and master the self-discipline required to keep her room clean, get her homework done, and eat right – all life skills that took me until well into my 20’s to master!

When she left for boarding school, Grace was unsure that it was the right path for her. She told us, “I’ll try it for a year and see how it goes.” I knew all along that as soon as she walked out our door for her new school, she would never be back. It came as absolutely no surprise that she made the transition to boarding school life flawlessly and is on the Honor Roll in her first semester. She is smart, mature, and wise beyond her years, and while we might not be ready for her to go out into the world, she definitely is!

Still, I get teary even as I write this. Grace did not come into my life until she was 6 years old, and now – just 8 short years later – she is already gone. I wasn’t ready for it. I’m not sure I ever would be. But, as the saying goes, “the train has left the station.” A new chapter has begun in her life and in ours, and I cannot wait to see where her life will take her. I’m sure she will read this (she is the only one in our family who regularly reads my blogs), and when she does, she’ll probably be embarrassed by it. But I hope she knows how much I love her and how profoundly proud I am to be a part of her life.

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Hurricane IreneHurricane Irene is heading up the East Coast and is expected to make landfall 50 miles East of us in Ocean City sometime late tonight. It has been interesting to see how differently people respond to the prospect of a hurricane. Some panic and stockpile food and water as though the end of days were coming, while others get a cold six pack of beer and sit back to await the fun.

Here in our house my husband John and I fall in different camps. I’m a big believer that it doesn’t cost much to be prepared, but the price you pay for doing nothing can be enormous if the worst occurs. John thinks the press and forecasters have blown the storm out of proportion and we’ll be fine. I’d be lying if I said this hasn’t caused the teensiest bit of tension in our house the last few days.

I started getting ready on Thursday by reviewing NOAA’s hurricane preparedness guides and buying groceries and bottled water at Sam’s Club. Yesterday, I filled up the gas tank of my car and took about $200 cash out of the ATM. Last night, I mowed the lawn (that has nothing to do with the hurricane – I just can’t stand when the lawn looks bad and with all the rain we have coming, if it doesn’t get done now, it’ll be at least a week before we cut it) and turned the refrigerator temperature to its coldest setting. After work, I asked him to help me secure our outdoor furniture and put away some random objects in our yard (lanterns, buckets, patio furniture cushions) that might blow around if we get high winds. He did, but we wound up having a little argument over whether he had done enough. In the end, everything got done and we’ll be prepared (at least to my standards), but it did reveal a real difference in how the two of us approach these situations.

Here’s the deal. Neither one of us is right or wrong. If the storm turns out to be a non-event, I’ll admit that I’ll feel a little silly for having spent so much time getting us ready. If it’s a big deal, I’m pretty sure he’ll thank me for taking care of everything.

I have a theory about why we react so differently. I think my reaction has to do with my natural instinct, as a mother, to nurture and protect. If big, bad Irene comes knocking on our door, I want my family to be warm, dry, well fed, and safe here in our house. I want to wake up the next day and see that there has been no damage to our belongings. Most of all, I want to be sure that my husband and kids come through unscathed.

It’s not that I don’t think my husband cares about all of this. Instead, I think he knows deep down that I’ve got all that covered and that we’ll be relying on him to jump in if and when things get ugly. He’s the guy that will have to go outside in the pouring rain and high winds and climb a ladder to clean our gutters if there is a problem. He’ll also be the one to figure out how to hook our submergible pump up to a marine battery so we can pump water out of our basement if the power goes out. In short, he gets the dirty jobs and he knows that I’m his “advance team.”

I realize that our division of responsibilities puts us squarely within our gender stereotypes, and I’m okay with that. I really don’t want to do the stuff he does, and he doesn’t want to do what I do, so it all works out in the end.

That explains the differing reactions in our house, but I wonder about everyone else. Why do some people go into emergency mode at the threat of a storm while others look at it as a reason to party? How do YOU react?

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My almost 17 year old stepson got his driver’s license this spring and over the course of the summer, I’ve barely seen him. He keeps busy during the day in a summer sailing program and spends some of his free time on his part time lawn mowing job. The rest of his free time is filled with social engagements. From barbecues to crab feasts, golf outings, and windsurfing, there always seems to be a festivity of some sort in which he is invited to participate. Inevitably, the barbecue leads to a sleepover and, before we know it, days go by without us seeing him.

My stepdaughter is also busy – in her case, with a packed babysitting schedule. She has done a great job of lining up two or three families that, together, have employed her on a nearly full time basis this summer. She loves her job and is very good at it, but the best part (especially for a 14 year old girl who likes to shop) is that it pays well.

In principle, I have no problem with my kids’ summer schedule, but the reality is that when you combine all the time spent on camps, summer jobs, and fun with friends with the time they spend over at their mother’s house, there has been little to no time for us to spend together as a family. Case in point – in late July, I purchased tickets for all six of us to go to a local waterpark and, believe it or not, it’s looking very likely that there will not be a single day before summer ends and the park closes that we can all go spend the day there together.

The rational side of me knows that I need to just let it go. My stepdaughter leaves for boarding school this fall and in about two years, my stepson will be starting college and we’ll see even less of him. In the interim, it’s natural for teenaged girls and boys to break away and establish their independence.
The mom side of me thinks that’s a bunch of baloney and feels like, at some point, family time has to take precedence over everything else.

I have no idea which – my rational side or my mom side – is right, but the reality is that it really doesn’t matter. You can force teenagers to give up friend time in favor of family time, but when you do, family time is no fun. They have a pretty incredible talent for digging their heels in and making things fairly unpleasant when you make them do something they don’t want to.

What I’ve begun to realize is that this is the beginning of the end. The end of their childhood, that is. As they make the transition to adulthood, the challenge for us – their parents (and stepparents) – is to find a “new normal” in which we can all spend time together. My guess is that it won’t be nearly as much time as it used to be, but that is okay as long as we make the time we DO have count.

Recognizing this is one thing, but letting go is another. My kids are more than ready for their independence. Me? Not so much (and I’m just the stepmom – I can’t imagine how hard it is for their mom!). But this is really what parenting is all about, isn’t it? You teach your little birds to fly and, when they actually leave the nest, you are inevitably calling for them to come back.


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John in his garden

John in his garden

I married a really great guy. My husband John is smart, funny, handsome, and a fantastic husband and father. He is also my business partner and a gifted salesperson. On top of all this, he has a bunch of hobbies which, taken together, make him the ideal “Frontier Wife.”

It all started when we moved in together. I came from an apartment in Washington, DC with a burning desire to plant a garden and grow tomatoes and herbs. He came from a rented house in suburbia wanting to plant the backyard garden of his dreams. In very short order, we removed the pine trees that took up half of our backyard and, in their place, built four raised beds that would eventually become our kitchen garden. His passion for planting soon overwhelmed mine and now the garden is his domain.

Today, our garden takes up 420 square feet and yields asparagus, lettuce, spinach, green beans, edamame, cucumbers, squash, eggplants, herbs, tomatoes, peppers, brussel sprouts, blueberries, collard greens, carrots, shallots and swiss chard. Each year, he also picks one “fun” thing to grow. Over the past few years, we’ve had peanuts, tobacco, and cotton, to name a few. There is even a small bed in which he has planted a wildflower garden to attract butterflies. It’s incredible what he has been able to do in a small space!

We both enjoy cooking and ever since John planted the garden, it has inspired him to come up with new and interesting ways to cook the things he grows. Last year, he made infused vodka with hot peppers. It makes a great base for Bloody Mary’s and a very nice homemade holiday gift. This summer, he has taken up canning and preserving. His first foray into canning took place in June when we picked fresh raspberries and blackberries and he made jam. Today, he is planning to make peach chutney with the peppers he grew and the peaches from a local peach festival. Next up? Pickles!

My husband is good not just in the kitchen, but also on the hunt. He has always been an avid fisherman and a talented marksman. Usually, he shoots clay pigeons, but last year, over Thanksgiving, he went hunting and learned how to breast pheasant (courtesy of a friend who he calls “Captain Jack”). That pheasant meat later became pheasant gumbo thanks to his aforementioned cooking skills.

He can hunt, he can garden, and he can cook. He is also solidly in touch with his inner Martha Stewart (his nickname around the house is “Marty Stewart”) and has shown a burgeoning talent for flower arranging. Last year, he made a beautiful and very artistic arrangement using branches from the cotton plants he grew (with the bloomed cotton on them!) and dried chilies from his garden. Over the holidays, he puts cranberries in a glass vase with water and then adds flowers for a festive centerpiece on our table.

As if all of this wasn’t impressive enough, his new obsessions include beekeeping and raising chickens. I think I have successfully discouraged the beekeeping (he is allergic to bees and our four kids are terrified of them), but I have a feeling that, come next summer, we’ll have a few chickens out back and fresh eggs here in the house.

In the event that we are somehow magically transported back to the 1800’s and Annapolis becomes like the frontier, our family with flourish. In the meantime, it’s been pretty fun to sit back and enjoy the fruits of John’s labors. Today, that will include slow cooked beef brisket with a fresh tomato tart for dinner, followed by homemade peach ice cream – all served on a table set with a beautiful wildflower arrangement straight from the garden.

Mmmmm… how I love my Frontier Wife!

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I am fortunate to have a wonderful and supportive group of female friends in my life. They are a diverse bunch including lifelong pals that I grew up with in New Hampshire, neighbors here in Annapolis, college and grad school friends who now live far and wide, colleagues from my professional life, and fellow members of my moms and dads group. This network has grown and expanded over the past 40 years and my relationships with everyone in it have evolved as well. Gone are the days of getting dressed up and going dancing until the wee hours of the morning. My “new normal” involves sharing a glass of wine on my neighbor’s back porch while my kids play in the yard.

I love the new dynamic, and I’ve come to appreciate the perspective that these women give me. Being a mom isn’t easy, and neither is being a working mom. Thank goodness I have certain women in my life to act as a support network and provide me inspiration. This blog is a tribute to them.

I have to start with Gretchen. When I was pregnant, a certain friend told me that, as a mother, I would get lots of advice on how to parent my children. HER advice was to identify someone who has kids that I would like my children to be like, and to only take that person’s advice. For me, that person was Gretchen. She has three beautiful boys, all of whom are kind, polite, happy and healthy, and all of whom clearly adore their mother. Because I had a little boy, I turned to Gretchen for support in the early days of motherhood when I needed to get my then 3 month old son on a nap schedule.

I’ll never forget when she came over. Gretchen took one look at Wyatt rubbing his eyes in his vibrating chair and stated, “This child is tired.” She then informed me that we were going to put him in his crib and the two of us were going to go sit on my back porch and chat. I was not to re-enter the house for at least an hour, even if I heard lots of crying. And, yes, there was lots of crying! But the great part was that the crying eventually stopped and Wyatt had his first nap in his crib.

The most beautiful gift that Gretchen gave me – and I still think about it almost every day – was to release me from my guilt as a mother and let me know that it was okay if my baby cried. I now use that same gift when I’m in the grocery store and Wyatt (now almost 5) wants candy. He can produce tears like a master thespian, but I know (thanks to Gretchen) that those tears don’t make me a bad mom and its okay to say “no.”

As Wyatt got older, I discovered other moms within my circle of friends who inspired me in different ways. One of the first women I connected with as a mom was my friend Julie. We shared a background in consulting and discovered that our two boys clicked well on play dates.

Julie has always blown me away by her ability to juggle. When I met her, she was raising her then two year old son and volunteering as the Treasurer of our local Junior League. Over the course of the next few years, she would expand her volunteering to include service on the Board of our community association, helping to found an anti-crime group in Annapolis, acting as the Treasurer of a local non-profit, serving as the PTA President at her son’s school, and working on the campaign of a State Delegate. Where she found the time (not to mention the energy), I will never know!

If Julie is my multi-tasking role model, then Kelly is my Slacker Mom partner in crime. Kelly and I have boys around the same age and we share a very laid back attitude towards parenting, as well as an appreciation for wine. In the Fall, Winter and Spring, Kelly hosts a happy hour play group at her house that I regularly attend. Every Monday, five or six moms descend on her back porch and share snacks, drinks and conversation while the kids play in her fenced-in yard. Inevitably, the group of moms falls into two categories – those (like me) who sit at the table chatting while their kids run around, and those who never sit down because they are running after their children.

I confess – I’m a slacker mom. My attitude has always been “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” This means if you eat a little dirt, you’ll be okay. If you drink out of someone else’s cup, it’s not the end of the world, and if another child pushes you, it’s not a big deal unless someone is bleeding. My mantra when the kids fight? “Work it out!”

Not surprisingly, there are many moms who don’t share my approach. Then there is Kelly. She and I are solidly on the same page about mothering and she makes me feel better about my Slacker Mom-dom. Her boys are great and I think my son is pretty fantastic as well (I know, I am really, really biased!). And while I kid around about being a slacker, I believe that what Kelly and I really share is the belief that kids need the freedom to explore, experiment, make mistakes, and pick themselves back up again. We both believe that by giving our boys a long leash, we’re building stronger, more independent men.

Another mom that I’ve always been blown away by is Phebe. She seems to have discovered the secret to that elusive balance for which I’m always searching. Phebe is married and has three children. She has a busy schedule, but always finds (or maybe I should say “makes”) the time for exercise and is a pretty competitive triathlete and runner. She also has regular date nights with her husband and always seems to be planning fun getaways with the family. She shuttles her kids to school and activities, but also makes the time to spend with each of them one-on-one. Throughout all of this, she is also one of the calmest, most peaceful people I know!

In the last two months, Phebe was diagnosed with a form of brain cancer and now, in addition to being the most balanced mom I know, she is setting the standard for dealing with health challenges. With her incredible attitude, endless energy, and unmatched strength, I know she will beat cancer. In the process, she will teach us all a lesson about living life to the fullest every day.

This brings me to Andi, my friend and neighbor who is due to give birth to her first child in the next few weeks. As I think about my experience as a mother, my advice to her is to form her own network of moms who inspire her. There is no one “right” way to mother and no one person can possibly be the perfect mom. Instead, the beauty of motherhood lies in finding the right approach for you and your child and then surrounding yourself with women who, as a group, can provide you the support and inspiration to stay the course and enjoy the journey!

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Flip Flops

My gnarly, flip-flopped feet!

It’s Memorial Day Weekend, a time to celebrate those who have served our country, spend time with family, barbeque, and hit the pool for the first time. For me, it has always marked the beginning of summer. Although I’m now 40 years old and the working mother of 4, I still get a thrill at this time of year.

School isn’t out for the summer for me and my work schedule will remain unchanged, but I do feel like life gets a little less structured for the next few months. I’ll get a break from having to keep a rigid daily calendar chronicling my kids’ school activities, I won’t have to make school lunches or schedule time to help with homework in the evenings, most of our meals will be cooked on the grill and not on the stove, I’ll spend most days wearing flip flops rather than shoes, and odds are, we will feed and bathe our kids at our swim club so that when we come home, the littlest ones are already in their PJ’s and ready for bed. What’s that saying? “It’s summertime and the living is easy…”!

There is a lot to love about summer, but there are also a few things of which I am not so fond.

I do NOT love having three teenaged kids lying around the house watching TV all day. When I was their age, we spent our summers at the pool, riding bikes, or playing kick the can with the kids in our neighborhood. I don’t even remember watching television that time of year. Now, with cable TV, DVR, and on-demand, their favorite shows seem to be on 24-7 and their bottoms are firmly planted on the couch!

I also do NOT love the fact that while my kids have all this free time I do not. This time of year, I am more than a little jealous of my friends who are stay-at-home moms. While I’m glued to my computer in my air conditioned house, they go to the gym and then bring their kids to the pool for long, lazy days of sun, swimming, and playtime. The perfect world for me would be to work a half day and then bring my kids to the pool to join in the fun, but that is definitely not in the cards for me any time soon!

If this year is like every other, summer will pass in a flash. Looking ahead, I hope that I can find the time to enjoy the best parts of summer, and I wish for my kids that they will recognize what a special time this is in their lives. All too soon, they’ll be grown up and in the working world and like me, the lazy summers of their past will have live on in their memories.

Now that you’re all grown up, what are your favorite childhood memories of summertime?

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Today, I had a revelation about my own experience with motherhood. My husband is out of town on business for four days and I have all four of my kids with me and a business to run. In addition to client meetings, deliverables to complete, and a new employee to train (she started today!), I had school pick-ups and drop-offs, one child who had a tutoring session a half hour away, and a grocery run thrown in there for good measure.

As I reviewed the day in my head, I realized that I do a pretty good job of running a tight family ship despite our crazy schedule. My kids even commented on how smoothly things went today – they got to school a bit early, a home-cooked dinner was on the table at a reasonable hour, the laundry (three loads!) all got done, homework is finished, and the house is clean. After I finished giving myself a mental pat on the back, I started thinking about why I was able to pull it together so easily when on many nights, the situation is much more chaotic.

The answer? Motherhood is like project management and I work better under pressure.

I come from a management consulting background and in any consulting field, project management is a critical skill to master. To carry a project successfully from start to finish, you’ve got multiple balls to juggle:

  • A clear set of expectations for what will be accomplished;
  • A good plan with all the major tasks identified, responsibility for their completion assigned, and clear deadlines and accountability;
  • The ability to manage your client (ie. Keeping them happy while making sure they are giving you what you need, when you need it);
  • Consistent communication with your client and team members;
  • Strong leadership skills and the ability to work well with a team;
  • A solid work ethic; and
  • The ability to work well under pressure and manage people and tasks during a crisis.

Motherhood is no different. It’s all about balancing the mundane (checking things off the “to do” list) with the sublime (giving each child some individual attention and love) while not losing sight of the master plan. To do this successfully, you’ve got to apply the same concepts employed by the Critical Path Method, namely:

  • Compile a list of all activities required to complete the project (day);
  • Determine the time that each activity will take to complete; and
  • Understand the interdependency of the various activities.

In my case, this plays out something like the following. The tasks included me getting a shower and looking presentable for work, everyone getting breakfast and taking their various vitamins/medicines, packing lunches for school, dropping kids off at school, conducting an orientation for a new employee, taking said new employee to a weekly marketing meeting with a client, completing a deliverable, checking and answering emails, preparing dinner for the kids, picking the kids up from school, getting my stepson to and from math tutoring, buying groceries, picking my other son up from daycare, feeding all children dinner, washing and folding several loads of laundry, taking the garbage out, cleaning the house, and touching base with my husband (on the business trip) and my parents. Whew!

In order to get all of the above done, several important things needed to happen. These included getting the coffee pot ready to brew the night before, having my breakfast made the night before, waking up 45 minutes before my kids to shower and get dressed, laying out everyone’s vitamins and medicines and lunchboxes so nothing would be forgotten in the morning rush, preparing dinner the day before, and combining the grocery run with the tutoring pick-up/drop-offs.

In addition to these tasks, I needed the cooperation of the kids. This means having plenty of patience while I ask my stepson for the 5th time to clean up his dinner dishes, not getting too upset when I return home to find popcorn kernels all over the kitchen floor (the result of an ambitious afternoon snack project), and having to delay by one day seeing my stepdaughter clean her room. But while I take some credit for keeping the kids on track by picking my battles, I also recognize that they were fantastic today all on their own. They seem to sense when I need them to pull it together and help out – like when my stepdaughter offered to clean up the dinner dishes and my stepson helped me to take the garbage out. Have I mentioned how great my kids are??

The point is, there was a lot to get done and plenty of interdependency. In order to get started with work on time, I had to take care of a lot of the morning activities (coffee making, breakfast prep, etc.) the night before. To get the kids fed on time at dinner, the meal needed to be made ahead of time so we could simply “heat and eat” after tutoring. To find any time to buy groceries, I needed to take advantage of the half hour window while my stepson was at tutoring.

Our busy schedule really plays to my strengths. I work well under pressure and love it when I figure out ways to meet seemingly impossible deadlines. Don’t get me wrong – I am in no way saying I want every day to be like today, but I have learned to appreciate the times I’m able to rise to the challenges of motherhood. After all, let’s face it – there are so many times when we don’t live up to our own expectations as mothers and the guilt can be crushing!

I think what I love so much about today is it underscored why, for me, being a working mother is making me a better mother. I’m a big believer that everyone has to choose the best path for themselves and that there is no one “right” way to be a mother, but I still fall victim to the occasional bout of self-doubt on days that my stay-at-home mom friends are taking their children on field trips to museums or spending the day at the pumpkin patch. Getting back into the professional world has awoken my inner project manager and on days like today, she is ready to take charge! Knowing that my time at work is in some ways making me a better mother makes me feel better about the things I’m sacrificing and – I hope – teaching my kids about the importance of good planning, hard work, and patience. Yay me!

Now it’s time to do it all again tomorrow…. Sigh.

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