If you happen to be visiting me today because of the award dear Tish gave me via her blog A Femme d’un Certain Age, thank you for the drop-in! I’ll have to do a better job of earning the title.
More soon. Promise.
If you happen to be visiting me today because of the award dear Tish gave me via her blog A Femme d’un Certain Age, thank you for the drop-in! I’ll have to do a better job of earning the title.
More soon. Promise.
We’ve got things growing in the garden … so, now what?
That’s one of the vexing challenges of a school garden: finding ways for kids to “cook” the food they’ve grown. A lucky few schools, such as Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, where Alice Waters started her first famous Edible Schoolyard, have built a dedicated kid-friendly kitchen. The rest of us muddle through.
At George Watts, we’re only in our first year of gardening, so we’re winging it. My plan of attack, so far, has been this: Grow (mostly) food we can harvest and eat without necessarily cooking it. Secure a water source for cleaning. Set up permanent work stations outside.
Our first harvest event with the kids was “Salad Days,” and it’s definitely worth repeating. Our nutritionist, Becca Wright, and I led classrooms through harvesting lettuce, radishes and herbs, then creating a tasting menu. Tasting plate were piled with salad, radish salsa and dipping sauces. We supplemented the food we’d grown with tortilla chips and store-bought carrots (because the carrots we’d hoped to use weren’t mature enough yet to harvest).
Kids split into groups to harvest the lettuce and radishes, pick and chop the herbs, mix the herb dip, concoct a salad dressing, and make the radish salsa.
Tip: Invest in kid-friendly knives. Becca brought these fantastic green plastic ones so no one would lose a finger.
Not only did the kids get a mini-nutrition lesson, they flexed their math muscles (measuring ingredients) and made a connection between the plants they’d been growing and the food they eat.
The pre-K through 5th grade students had a blast being outside (what kid wouldn’t?), teachers loved it — one said it was the best thing she’d ever done at the school — and it felt great to finally eat something after months of getting the garden up and running.
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup light cream cheese
2 tbs chopped chives
1 tsp chopped thyme
1 tsp chopped sage
(Note: We used chives, thyme and sage, because they’re growing in our garden. Use whatever you have.)
1. Measure yogurt and cream cheese and put them in a large bowl. Mix well.
2. Chop fresh herbs. Add them to bowl. Stir.
We grew radishes and cilantro in our school garden this fall, among other things. This next recipe came from Isaac Dickson Elementary School in Asheville, N.C. (Thanks, Kate!) The original recipe called for poblano or jalapeno peppers, but we left them out and added tomatoes instead.
6 large radishes
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 tsp freshly squeezed lime
1 tsp olive oil
2 large tomatoes chopped
1. Half, pit and peel the avocados and cut into chunks.
2. Clean radishes and tomatoes and cut into small chunks.
3. In a bowl, stir together avocado, tomatoes and radishes.
4. Chop 1/4 cup fresh cilantro and add to avocado mixture.
5. Stir in 2 tsp lime juice and 1 tsp olive oil.
6. Stir together lightly and enjoy with tortilla chips.
A year or so ago, I decided to start an edible garden at my daughters’ elementary school. I had a number of good reasons for wanting to do it.
First, I’d been introduced to Alice Waters’ amazing Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley. Second, I’d just finished reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and realized that my kids had zero connection with growing seasons (though they maintain an intimate relationship with mac ‘n’ cheese). Third, have you seen cafeteria lunches lately?
Little did I know it would become such a massive project. A year later, after many hours of planning, designing, fundraising, educating, coaxing and shoveling, I have something to show. What I did this summer:
Only three more weeks until my daughters go back to school and my work schedule returns to normal. Maybe then I’ll finally get back to blogging with regularity.
It’s not exactly a walk in the park
A play date between 4 year olds is like a stroll through a booby-trapped park. The two could be skipping along, all unicorns and rainbows, when suddenly they take a sharp turn into troublesome territory because one of them isn’t sharing, or someone’s feelings are hurt, or someone is suddenly in the mood to be alone for no apparent reason.
It shouldn’t be surprising, really. Even adults sometimes have trouble getting along, hurt each other’s feelings, or need solitude. Only we’re not as blunt as 4 year olds.
Yesterday was a perfect example. For days, my 4-year-old daughter Phoebe had been looking forward to a playdate with one of her favorite friends, Renn. Shortly after arriving at the park, the girls began a pretend game involving two girl pirates and a bear. Within moments, Phoebe and Renn ran smack-dab into conflict.
Pirate Phoebe wanted the pretend bear to be the sort of bear who can’t climb. She was tired, and wanted to scale the play structure to be safe from the bear. Pirate Renn, on the other hand, wanted the bear to scramble up after them, so the girls would have to keep climbing and outfox the furry beast. Neither would budge.
Words were exchanged. Feelings were hurt. And the game came to a standstill.
With lips quivering, all that my tired and sweaty daughter could say was, “I’m feeling a little homesick. I want to go home.” What had started as a long-awaited play date came to an abrupt end.
Learning to work it out
Working out a problem can be tough for anyone, but especially for young children who have less experience. Conflict resolution takes two — two kids willing to listen, share, cooperate, or do whatever it takes to resolve the problem, and at least one adult encouraging their problem solving.
Yesterday morning, Phoebe wasn’t willing to do what it took. I could tell she was overtired and wounded. So, rather than put on my mediator hat, I opted to haul my exhausted daughter home. I fell over myself apologizing to the Renn’s mom, promising we’d try to do it again, all the while wondering whether I came across as a wimpy, indulgent parent and whether the girls’ friendship may have lost some of its sheen.
Later, I asked Phoebe some questions about what had happened at the park: “How do you think you might have solved the problem with Renn?” “What could you say to Renn next time you can’t agree on how to play a game?”
Then I boosted her confidence: “Do you remember when you were little (like, last year) and you didn’t even know how to share toys with your friends? And look at you now — you know all about taking turns. That’s because you’re growing up, and you understand more about how to be a good friend.”
Phoebe perked up and said, “Maybe next time I could say, ‘Let’s work it out! How about we play pirates and zebra instead? I’ll be the zebra.’”
Her face lit up into a big smile. It was the perfect solution.
Through thick and thin
Later that night, feeling bad about the problem left unfixed at the park, I decided to check in with Renn’s mom. After leaving the park, they had gone home and talked about the incident over some macaroni and cheese.
She reported that Renn was sad, but not just because she and Phoebe had argued. The incident had triggered deeper worries in her daughter, about the next school year and whether her new friends would want to play the same kind of games she likes to play.
As for her friendship with Phoebe, it was as sparkly and untarnished as ever. As Renn said, “I just don’t think Phoebe and I were in the same place today. But we’re still very good friends.”
Twitter is a genius tool for building your personal brand.
The downside, it seems, is that a whole mess of people can’t figure out what to say on it, which leads to a never-ending stream of articles on how to use the tool — which are then posted on Twitter.
Twitter users struggle with what sort of comment is OK (“Do I mention that my cat barfed on the sofa this morning? Or will that tarnish my professional image?”), how to get their tweets retweeted, how to manage a swelling Twitter feed, what to say, what not to say, and on and on.
A lot of the answers have their roots in the Rules of Real-Life Conversation. Just ask manners doyenne Letitia Baldrige.
I doubt Tish even knows what Twitter is, but recently she and I were having lunch at Four Seasons and talking about how to be gracious in real life, and we kept circling back to the fact that, ultimately, it’s mostly about connecting with your community. (And isn’t that what Twitter is about?)
A little background: Letitia is best known as Jackie Kennedy’s social secretary and chief of staff during the White House years. But she has also been a lot of other things, such as the first female executive at Tiffany & Co. and a special assistant to Ambassador Clare Boothe Luce in Rome.
So, what can we learn about using Twitter from someone who grew up during the Depression? As it turns out, plenty.
Here’s how to be conversationally gracious, whether you’re doing it on Twitter or IRL (in real life):
Invite someone over. On Twitter, it looks like this: Right now Kirtsy is inviting folks to come to their deliciously free Hands On Kirtsy sessions across the U.S. And Pamela Slim, author of Escape From Cubicle Nation is tweeting about a free coaching call she’s offering today.
In real life, obviously, you can simply invite someone to your home. “We don’t entertain enough,” Tish says. “Just having somebody over for a hamburger is a gift.
“I lived in a home where my parents had people over all the time — even in the ’30s when my father was a flat-broke, young lawyer, being paid in eggs and chickens.”
Give a compliment. Retweeting is an easy way to make someone feel fascinating. You also see Twitter users giving shout-outs to one another for great blog posts or other achievements.
In real life, Tish says, we should deliver unexpected, uplifting messages. And she realizes that most of us are going to do this via email, rather than in person. She suggests this as an example: “You didn’t see me, but I saw you on the street today. I’ve never seen anyone bounce back from an operation so beautifully. You looked terrific!”
“Those kind of messages — unexpected, undemanded — just make life worthwhile,” she says.
Make newcomers feel welcome. You see this all the time in Twitterland. “Welcome my friend @johndoe! He’s new to Twitter.”
Tish believes people used to be better at this in her day (the ’30s and ’40s). Her theory: Parents have gotten lax about teaching and enforcing manners. When she was a child, her parents made Tish and her two siblings sit in the room with the grownups who came over for cocktails, and to chit-chat with them for 30 minutes.
“In the beginning it was tiresome and horrible, and then we started to really look forward to it. Except for having to get dressed up properly.
“That’s graciousness. It’s the way of saying hello to people, the way of greeting them, the way of picking out of the room the person who’s alone and having a tough time, who is obviously shy and just hating every minute, and going over and saying a couple of sentences. That person will be able to get through the whole party because of that little gesture on the part of the person who feels secure at that moment.”
Listen. “We’ve got to start listening,” says Tish, and at this point she’s ranting over our salads at the Four Seasons. “Not to our iPods and our BlackBerrys and our Raspberrys and Blueberrys. But to each other. Be interested in something other than yourself.”
Social media should be two-way. Too many times, it sounds like a bunch of people shouting from their desktops. But gracious Twitter conversation is about taking time to weigh in, when someone asks a question or needs help, or simply commiserating with someone who’s having a tough day.
Here’s one of Tish’s “back in the day” stories that resonated with me:
“During World War II, I remember there was a widow in northwest Washington, who had two stars on the flag hanging in her front window. That means you’ve lost two children. Then one day there were three stars on the flag. And people noticed it, and they went up and rang the doorbell. I remember that time. This was just a lady in northwest Washington, a nobody in a row house. But the flag. They noticed the flag, the people who walked to work every day. So they went up to pay their condolences to an absolute stranger.
“That’s the way we were.”
[P.S. For the record, I just heard from a mutual friend that Tish does, in fact, know what Twitter is.]
I write for a publication geared toward staff that isn’t calling the shots — the administrative assistants of the world. Recently I covered a workplace conundrum that many other workers have likely confronted at some point: the suspicion that no one’s listening to you.
Maybe you’re not invited to a meeting. Or you’re invited to the meeting, but then everyone turns glassy-eyed when you offer your opinion. Or you’re not asked for your input, even when a decision will impact you. What do you do?
To many assistants, it feels like a power issue — if they had power, this wouldn’t be happening, and people would care about what they think.
“Unfortunately, those feelings are nothing new within the administrative field,” says Jennifer Webb, a consultant, trainer and coach.
Reasonable enough. But I think it’s also about how you good you are at getting your ideas across, regardless of how much power you have. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether you’re an assistant or a team leader or an executive. You still need to know how to talk, listen, persuade and rally support for your ideas up and down the ladder.
Advice for making your voice heard:
For example, pick a smart time to approach your manager and say: “I know you didn’t realize it, but I felt overlooked when you didn’t include my thoughts on XYZ. In the future, I’d like to share my thoughts, because I have a unique perspective on this. What do you think?”
For example, instead of saying, “I felt disappointed that I wasn’t included in the discussion,” say “You forgot to include me, but here’s why I need to be included next time: I have information about XYZ that others don’t, and I want our team to be as effective as possible.”
[Note: You can find the original article and more at www.businessmanagementdaily.com.]
My husband, Matt, spent 5 1/2 hours on Saturday working on the grounds of our daughter’s school. He and a robust group of about 15 parents moved an insane amount of mulch, installed bike racks and put in new plantings.
The next morning, clipped to our mailbox, we found a sweet handwritten thank-you note from our friend Sabrina, who chairs the Grounds Committee for the school. Written on hefty card stock, with an impeccable hand, her note came as a welcome surprise. Who writes thank-you notes anymore? On actual note cards? And hand delivers them to your home? Within 24 hours of the thankable deed?
Matt volunteered his time because, to a certain extent, it’s his job as a parent to pitch in where he can. And the gratification came from knowing he’d made a difference to the school; we feel better about a place when it looks good. So he certainly didn’t expect or need an official thank you from the committee chair. Yet Sabrina’s gesture was so thoughtful and — frankly — uncommon in the age of email that you can bet Matt will sign up to help next time Sabrina asks for it.
Imagine that same scenario at the office. How many people get a handwritten “thank you” for doing the workplace equivalent of five hours of sweaty labor they didn’t have to do?
It’s high time we returned to the art of the handwritten note. Why?
I’m not sure I agree with her on that last part, but overall, I’d say she’s still completely right.
If you fear you don’t know how to pen a thank-you note, get a book, because concocting a good one does require a tiny bit of skill and effort. I have one called “On a Personal Note” that guides you through writing any kind of note you could possibly need. It’s like having a cheat sheet, since the authors even give you phrasing.
And invest in some decent cards. You can’t whip up a cake if you don’t have flour in the pantry, and you can’t send out a timely note if you don’t have cards. Pick out cards that are “you,” unless “you” is a photo of a kitten hanging from a branch.
Here’s further incentive: I just noticed that if you order cards from the so stylish Red Stamp, they send you free stationery with your order.
No need to send a thank-you note.
My 4-year-old daughter Phoebe came home from her kiddie-gymnastics class yesterday with body language that was screaming “exhaustion.” She practically stumbled into the house, eyelids heavy as frying pans.
If she were still taking midday naps, now would have been the perfect time for one. Except that she doesn’t nap anymore. Instead, Phoebe just keeps going, even when she’s worn out and frazzled. And when she’s particularly tired, as she was yesterday, she only wants one thing: her pacifier (aka “boppy”).
I’m embarrassed to tell you about this. I never imagined myself as a parent who would allow her 4 year old to use a pacifier. But here I am, finding it nearly impossible to take away my daughter’s most beloved possession.
Part of me believes it’s long overdue. She’s not a toddler anymore, and all of her peers who once had pacifiers have long given them up. Some of Phoebe’s preschool friends have shifted their attachment away from a pacifier to a new beloved object. One kid we know gave up his pacifier but now wears a cape everywhere.
Another part of me still isn’t ready to take away my daughter’s self-soother, because it does an amazing job when she’s sad or needs to collect herself. I just keep hoping that she’ll gradually lose interest. I once read that kids with an unwanted behavior, like pacifier-sucking habit, usually give it up on their own by age 5, even if you do nothing.
So far, Phoebe hasn’t lost even a smidge of interest in boppy. She loves, I mean, really loves it. Sometimes I think that if her pacifier could warm up macaroni and cheese in the microwave, Phoebe would have no use for me at all.
I may be dragging my feet on eliminating the pacifier, but it’s certainly not for lack of suggested tactics. My wise mom friends have lots of ideas and strategies.
Here are five of their cold-turkey tactics:
In the meantime, my husband and I have done what our dentist advises us to do: begin weaning Phoebe off her “boppy.” (Our dentist tells us that Phoebe’s bone structure makes her a prime candidate for braces, regardless of how long she sucks on her pacifier. Is that good news or bad news? I’m not sure.)
So we’ve laid down a rule at home: We’ve told Phoebe that she’s only to have her bop at bedtime. She’s allowed to get it once she’s wearing her pajamas. Before we made the rule, Phoebe would pop her boppy in her mouth throughout the day.
And I’m looking at the calendar to set a date for giving up the bop. I want things to go as smoothly as possible, so I’m aiming for a perfectly ordinary week, when no one has the flu or a new schedule. Mid-summer is looking good.
I’m ready. But is Phoebe? Doubtful.
(Note: This is something I wrote for Sesame Street’s parenting newsletter, which comes out today. I’ve deleted some paragraphs and made a few embellishments. Sign up for the Sesame Street newsletter here.)
This gloomy economy has me feeling scattered. My ability to prioritize has flown right out the window because everything feels important, like it needs to be done today, right now.
My daily thought process sounds something like this: “What should I work on now — the stories due Friday? new story pitches? catch-up reading? my blog, so I can build my personal brand? something else that every other freelancer is doing but that I haven’t figured out yet?”
Today my thoughts were in a whirl, when I saw that one of my interviews had gone up on a client’s site. It was an interview with Steve Owens, who runs a training program for elite, Tour de France-level athletes. The topic was overcoming barriers.
Reading it again made me realize that I’m hitting a barrier now. My vision and thinking are both stuck. I’m so worried about being a freelance writer in this economy that it’s getting in the way of prioritizing or rethinking what I’m doing, which requires stepping back and seeing the big picture.
But here’s what I think I can learn from Steve or any good coach: There’s always a way to overcome a barrier or become unstuck. Steve doesn’t believe in barriers. And it’s easy to see why — he’s constantly helping people break through them. The trick is in finding creative approaches to clearing the hurdles.
Steve does it with the help of sophisticated tools and one-on-one conversation. His elite clientele fly in to Colorado to use his training facility’s test bed, which is a stationery bike inside a wind tunnel. Three cameras film the cyclist from different perspectives as Steve is running the test, all the while capturing and measuring body angles — at the hip, knee, etc.
The more information he can collect on the athlete, the better. He can look at what an athlete’s drag is at any particular point of the ride, then help the athlete refine that baseline position to improve his speed. In the case of cycling, it’s all about overcoming wind resistance.
Here’s what I learned from Steve about overcoming any obstacles:
Exploring new ways of doing things requires confirming which things don’t work. Steve might ask a cyclist to hold his neck differently to see if that reduces wind resistance, or he might try a different stem for the bike. He’s constantly figuring out what doesn’t work.
I’ve tried some things lately that haven’t worked. For example, I thought that Elance.com and Guru.com would be a goldmine for freelance work. But after investing time in establishing my profile and clips on the sites, the results have been disappointing — too many low bids from the international market.
For a while, I allowed myself to wallow in that mini-failure. But it was just one experiment, and it didn’t work. Time to move on.
Let go of assumptions. Allow yourself to be surprised. For example, Steve says, “We train a guy who’s a world champion in the time trial. He puts his elbows pretty far apart on the handlebars, which is actually very counterintuitive. You’d think that would be slower. But we took the measurements, and it actually works for him. That’s just how his body is shaped. We can make assumptions about things, but they’re not always correct.”
Sometimes we assume we have to do things a certain way. If a world-class coach can assume wrong, it’s entirely possible that some of my assumptions are wrong too. That’s why exploring — bullet #1 — is important. Rigid assumptions are like shackles when you’re trying to find a new way of thinking or working.
To come up with groundbreaking ideas, you have to forget about the rules. If you’re a cyclist — and I’m not — you probably know there are a lot of rules dictating what you can’t do within the sport. Steve says it’s important that his team not feel so confined by the rules that they’re unable create new ideas. A good way to do that is to bring in someone who doesn’t even know the rules. In the past, Steve has brought in the U.S. National Ski Team to work on a solution.
Your emotions are going to get in the way. They just are. In the middle of a brutal exam week, you’re going to feel the mental stress getting to you physically. It’s the same thing with cycling or writing. If you don’t factor in emotions, you’re going to expect too much from yourself. Steve asks his athletes to score their mental and emotional stress, to make sure the intensity of their training is a good fit. He may shorten a bike ride, if someone is feeling rough emotionally.
If you’re still running into barriers, you either have unfair expectations or you need to take a break. Here’s where I could use a good coach, like Steve, or a mentor. As a freelancer, I don’t have a boss or trusted co-worker, so there’s no one for me to do a temperature check with. Do I have unfair expectations or need a break?
Steve says that often people don’t have good, realistic goals. You want to run a marathon? It’s going to take some time to reach that goal, so set up some smaller goals along the way. He also says that when a person says she’s hit a barrier or a plateau, nine times out of 10 that person needs a rest. Lately, I’ve been resting. I stopped using Twitter (mostly) and avoided my blog for a month. And I feel much better now, thank you.