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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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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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Busy Mom

A few weeks ago, I read a thought provoking Harvard Business Review blog by Sylvia Ann Hewlett of the Center for Work-Life Policy. The title – “Does Female Ambition Require Sacrifice?” – was enough to grab my attention. As I read the blog, I was taken aback by some of the data cited, beginning with 2010 research from the Center for Work-Life Policy indicating that approximately 1/3 of women who begin their careers wanting to climb the corporate ladder no longer have that same ambition when they reach their 40’s. Even more surprising to me was that 41% of women who achieve executive-level positions do so without an “intimate partner” and 40% do not have children.

I’ve had a hard time getting this blog post – and the fundamental question it poses – out of my mind, and recently, I decided to do a bit more digging to try and form my own answer. This digging (and plenty of Google searching), led me to a New York Times article on “Marriage and Women Over 40” which details an interesting trend regarding marriage and college-educated women. As it turns out, women with a college degree have historically been the least likely to marry, but over time, the gap in marriage rates between college-educated and non-college-educated women is closing.

Interestingly, at the same time that marriage rates for college educated women are increasing, data indicates that so are the number of men who are marrying wealthier and more well-educated women. This seems in stark contrast to the stereotype of women looking for their “sugar daddies” and trying to snag an older, wealthier man for marriage. Now, more and more men are looking for a “sugar mama.”

So what does all this mean? And how does it help answer the question of whether female ambition requires sacrifice? To cut to the chase, I’m not sure there is an answer to the question. As a self-described feminist, I have a hard time thinking of women as victims of their circumstances, but I also recognize that as women, we’re forced to make tough choices and often difficult trade-offs to have the lives we want. If I’m honest, I’ll admit that I simply don’t WANT it to be true that success requires sacrifice – especially in this day and age. Too many women have fought and worked too hard and for too long for that still to be the case.

When I consider the data cited above – on marriage and career ambition over 40, and on the trends regarding men marrying wealthier women – I find myself hoping that the answer to Hewlett’s question is “yes – but that is changing.”

I do believe that for women of my mother’s generation, it was much harder than it is today to achieve an executive-level position and do so while married and raising children. Note that I said “harder”, not “impossible.” There are certainly examples of women who have managed to have it all (at least from outside appearances!), including former Ebay CEO Meg Whitman (married with two adult sons), CEO of international media conglomerate Pearson and former CEO of the Economist Group Marjorie Scardino (married with children), and Xerox Corporation Chairman and CEO Anne Mulcahy (married with two children). But the list of these women is not very long. While women make up over half of our country’s workforce, only 12 Fortune 500 companies and 25 Fortune 1000 companies have female Presidents or CEOs.

I think – or at least I hope – that in 10 years’ time we’ll see a different picture as women of my generation reach that point in their careers where an executive-level position is an attainable goal. Thanks to the work of our mothers and grandmothers, we were raised with the expectation that we can – and should – have it all.

I’m trying to have it all right now as the mother of 4 and the Owner of my own company. It’s hard work, and exhausting, but if I thought it wasn’t possible I wouldn’t be putting this much energy into it. And if you told me today that I would have to sacrifice my marriage or family to have a stellar career, I’d give the career up in a heartbeat. But that’s just me. One of the beautiful things about being a woman today is that we can all make our own choices and lead the lives that make us happy and fulfilled. If that choice involves career success but not a husband or children, that’s fine. But so is choosing not to work if that is what makes you happy.

Thank goodness having it all is still an option too, and for those of you out there who, like me, are trying to have it all while losing sleep and gaining a few more gray hairs, I say “Bravo!!!!” (and feel free to email or IM me at 1 am, when I will surely be up working and folding laundry!).

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Sometime this morning, my husband and I will sit down at our kitchen table with two copies of our Microsoft Outlook calendars and hold a strategic planning session. Although we work together in our business, we will not be talking about client meetings, project reviews, or our business plan – we’ll be planning out who will do what (and when and where we’ll do it) over the weekend.

Over the course of the last year, we’ve developed a very business-like approach to our personal lives. I print out the calendars for Saturday and Sunday, we each make a list of all the things we want to get done over the weekend, and we make sure that any obligations (kids’ sports practices, lessons, birthday parties, etc.) are recorded. Then, we begin the process of filling in all the empty time. My husband swims as part of a masters team every Saturday morning, so that usually gets added first. I run with a friend on Sunday mornings, so that is next. There are usually a variety of projects around the house, like repairing a broken closet door or weeding in the garden, that inevitably need to be included. Last come our personal lists – the things we each want to do for ourselves, but are not necessities. For me, it might be a trip to the outlet mall to look for new jeans, whereas my husband usually wants to spend time with our neighbor selecting the seeds they are going to order for their gardens this summer. Everything that we add to the calendar gets color-coded so that it is very clear who is responsible for each activity.

What we are left with at the end of this process is a pretty full line-up of events, activities, tasks, and obligations – and very little white space. It is typically at this point that we try and figure out a way for the two of us to spend time together. I’ll admit – there are many weekends when we don’t actually do that. Sunday night will roll around and we’ll climb into bed and my first reaction is to turn to my husband and say something along the lines of “Hello stranger! Nice to see you. What have you been doing all weekend?” I know that he often feels the same way.

With four children (three of whom are with us only part of the time), our own business, and a tight budget, we have found that at this point in our lives, there is very little free time for us to spend together and not a lot of money to spend on babysitters, date nights, or weekend getaways. We are both big believers that it’s important to invest in your marriage, but we are not always so great at following through on that when the days get busy. This being said, the important thing is that we’re working on it. We talk often about the need to spend more time together and we’re always looking for ways to do it that are both practical and affordable. And one of these days, I’m pretty sure we’ll figure it out!

So my question to you is – how do YOU make time for each other in your marriage? I’m sure we’re not the only couple facing this challenge and I’d love to know how other people manage to juggle family, work and time with their significant other.

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Hello audience (or lack thereof!). It’s been a long time since I’ve written to you. You see, my job has kept me very busy and when I’m not working, I’m trying really hard to hold it together as a wife and mom and at least appear to the outside world as though I’m on top of my game. Yes, life is busy…and then came the holidays and it got even busier. Christmas card writing, present buying (and wrapping! and hiding!), party hosting, party going, baking, drinking too much, eating too much….yikes! So much to do – so little time.

When I first started this blog, my intention was to post once, maybe twice, per week. I imagined it would be like my online diary – the place I got to rant and rave about all the mundane things that none of my real life friends want to hear me talk about over a great glass of wine at happy hour (see previous posts on how often I shower, my Sam’s Club shopping, and how I parent my dog). This part came true. I have definitely used this blog as an outlet for what I’m convinced no sane person would find interesting (after all, it’s much cheaper than hiring a therapist!). The part about posting once or twice a week? Not so much.

It turns out that making the time to blog requires discipline – the kind of discipline that the authors of novels have. My college roommate is a famous novelist who churns out one very successful commercial fiction novel after another on a yearly basis. I once asked her how she does it and her answer was basically, “discipline.” She sets aside a specific number of hours every day for writing. It’s her job, and even though she doesn’t go to an office building to do it, she treats it seriously.

The irony of the situation is that my real job – the one I do from 9 to 5 (and beyond) – includes blogging. My company provides outsourced social marketing services to businesses large and small and I spend almost every day writing blogs, not just for my company, but for my 8 clients. That is work. This blog – the one I think of as my online diary – is supposed to be something I do for fun.

When I thought about this, the big question that popped into my head was “why are we so disciplined about making the time for our work but not for the things that give us pleasure in life?” I’m not just talking about blogging – the same lack of discipline holds true for exercise, quality time with my husband, reading great books, and gardening. And I’d like to think I’m not alone here. Most of my friends – men and women – say the same thing. They get so wrapped up in work that they fail to prioritize the things that they enjoy.

I’ve always been a firm believer that you work so that you can have a great life – not the other way around. In this spirit, my New Years resolution for 2011 is to make the time for the things that make me happy, blogging included.

What about you? Do you make the time for yourself?

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