Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Wishful Thinking - By Laura Houston

It was time to write something light and funny, so I started out last week’s blog with a story about my son Wyatt and his peculiar antics on the playground. Then I received a phone call about my father, and I did not finish my writing. It seems my Dad took a turn for the worst. He has Parkinson’s disease, and he is still living with my mother who is challenged as a caregiver. If he is sleeping, she takes it as a chance to get stuff done. Without thinking about it, she has left him in bed without food or water for more than 14 hours at a go, assuming that if all is quiet, all is well.

Times like this call for compassion and understanding. It’s an opportunity to practice patience, grace, detachment and balance, but for someone like me, that’s not easy because I have little of those four things. Fortunately, along with the pain that comes with family issues centered on the end of life, so also come a few meaningful, life-changing insights. As I watched my family dynamic unfold from 1,000 miles away, I recognized something in my sister that was disquieting for me to acknowledge. After years of pooh-poohing her outrage over what was fair and what wasn’t, I had an epiphany: Julie has been right all along.

I have not always gotten along with my younger sister Julie. We were exceptionally close in elementary school, but by the time junior high and high school rolled around, we seemed to be at odds most of the time. Julie was the “justice officer” in our family. She pointed out when my younger brother was getting away with things, and she gave my mother a tongue lashing for ignoring it. She vocalized our mother’s failures and neglect, and she protested loudly as she witnessed things that were dysfunctional, dishonest, inequitable and unjust.

As a teenager, I thought she was a goody-goody. A nark. A nag. A plague upon my devious endeavors. Julie thwarted my efforts to have fun, called out my lies to my mother, and wouldn’t allow me access to her closet full of cool clothes without first asking. My brothers and I had a free pass from my mother to go through our teens without any accountability, and we tried to make the most of it. I would have taken full advantage of it, too, if it weren’t for that pesky sister of mine.

But now here we are trying to get my Dad help, and I find myself extremely appreciative of my sister and her ability to exercise control over an unjust situation. Julie goes to my dad’s doctor appointments so she can take notes and gain understanding of what needs to happen for my father in order for him to feel comfortable in the state he is in. She writes up action item lists for family members so that we can all participate in getting him and my mother help. She’s bossy. She’s vocal. She carps. She does what she did in high school only now she does it with greater effect. And to my father’s benefit.

Through all of this, she continues to put up with the sharp criticism and resistance she endured as a teenager. She sees an injustice. She wants everyone to take action to obliterate it. But it’s hard to break out of family roles. It’s hard to be seen differently. But thanks to my friend Kate who pointed out to me this situation was not benefiting my sister in anyway other than to ensure my father’s well being, I had that big epiphany, and I saw my sister in a different light. Julie is making what is left of my dad’s life a little better. She’s honoring her family. She’s taking care of her people, and she’s doing with the same persistence that got her straight As in high school. And this is a good thing. She’s doing what she does best, and it’s time she gets some acknowledgement and appreciation for it. Especially from me.

There’s something very comforting and calming about having an epiphany in the middle of a crisis. Feelings that have been holding on to our hearts for years can finally relax, release their grip, open up their hands to the sky, and go floating down the river ready for something new. It leaves a free place in the soul where new things can attach. Good things. Good things such as understanding, patience and wisdom.

As we grow older, so many times we lose the tools that allow us to fix our unhappiness. We love to hold on to hurt and anger from the past far more tightly than we need to. And to be fair, they have their place in our lives. They are important. They protect us. Unfortunately, they also have the ability to eventually grip us so tightly that they squeeze the joy and lightness from our lives and our relationships. They cloud what is important.

So amid the sorrow and frustrations of trying to work through family issues to get my dad some help, I got a little relief along the way. And now I hope my sister does, too. Because valuing justice, honesty, accountability and family is a noble thing. And whereas graceful execution is important, nothing should mask the strength of character one has to possess such ideals. For my father I wish comfort, happiness, dignity, contentment and an easy exit from this world. For my sister I wish nothing. She already has everything a soul needs to live and leave a good life.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Friends, Far and Wide -- by Jamie

Last week, I was living a relatively-stress-free life with my daughter and my parents at a resort in sunny Florida. This week, I’m spending cloudier days back at college, immersed in speech and hearing science classes while studying for the GREs and taking care of Jayda, who won’t be starting school for another two weeks. Life’s a lot more complicated now. But one thing that makes both vacation and reality easier for me to handle is good friends. And, fortunately, Jayda and I have quite a few of them.

While vacationing in Florida, Jayda and I both acquired a number of new pals at the hotel pool—including a lovely family from upstate New York whom we plan to visit this fall—and since we’re both happier when we have contemporaries to chat and play with, these people helped make our vacation days even more enjoyable. In addition, I was reunited with several old friends, who are now Floridians—and whom I haven’t seen in many, many years. Several important people from my past made the effort to travel to our resort to spend time with us, and each of these encounters proved to me that good friendships can survive time, distance, and space; true friends are enduring. I left Florida feeling fulfilled and supported by many people whom I don’t interact with every day.

Fortunately, when I arrived back in New York—to more stressful times—I returned to other important friends; the ones who are with me on a daily—or at least weekly—basis, who help make my not-so-simple life seem less complicated. While I was in Florida, one of my friends and I discussed the plight of a mother we both know who wants to leave her husband, but doesn't think she can take care of her family on her own, and we both remarked simultaneously that “you need to have friends you can lean on.” I think that’s true for all kinds of mothers—but especially for single moms.

I realize that I’m especially fortunate to have parents around who can usually help me out in a clinch—but I still need to have back-up support in an emergency, and that’s where reliable friends come in handy. And just as importantly, I need friends to lean on who are good sounding boards when I’m angry or distressed, ones who will give me a reality check when I need it, and especially, friends who can make me laugh when I’m so overwhelmed that all I want to do is cry; I have many of those. I also cherish my friends who will “escape” with me for a drink on occasion (though those occasions are far too rare), friends who turn play dates for my daughter into fun play dates for me, too, and simply, friends who understand me. I love all of my friends—and I’m so grateful for each and every one of them.

After our plane landed back in New York, I asked Jayda if she’d had a good trip. She responded, “I had a great ‘cation,” paused for a moment, and continued, “but I’m excited to be home!” She then went on to talk about all the play dates I had lined up for her in the weeks ahead—and the friends she wanted to see. I understand her enthusiasm—she’s made quite a few lovely little friends. Somehow, it always seems that the girls and boys my daughter gravitates towards have parents whom I really like, too—and the women I befriend always seem to have children that Jayda enjoys spending time with as well. I like to think it’s because nice parents create nice kids; it’s a built-in package deal. But maybe we’re just lucky. And maybe things will change in the future. However, one thing I hope never changes is the fact that Jayda values her friendships as much as I do. Because in good times and bad—we certainly need them!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Wash, yoga, and other daily signs by Cyma

I, and so many others, have been struck with the sincerity of and the messages sent by author and Zen Master Karen Maezen Miller. Her latest (book) incarnation: hand wash cold (care instructions for an ordinary life) has been publicized throughout the country and is stretching across the world. The message is simple: that everyday chores and routines can provide opportunities for self-examination; teach us about relationships and free us from our ego-driven lives. I like her words; I like this book. I like the simplicity of the message and the essence of it source.

Awhile back I wrote a blog about yoga, and how my daily, early-morning practice often provides me with clues to how my day might unfold. I’d like to examine this further, since I think that we always get clues to everything, all day long – if we take the time to just look. Did we neatly fold the day’s wash, or did we throw it on the floor? Did the nearby driver honk the horn at us for a good reason, or does this just reflect his state of mind? When we made dinner, did we just do that - that is, make dinner and not think about what we would do next or before or tomorrow, or later tonight? Did we have ‘words’ with our friends, family, neighbors which weren’t necessary? Everything reflects our framework and our present state of mind, if only we pay attention and look.

As I often write about being in the moment, many of the greatest teachings and most popular quotes revolve around just that: to be in the moment. Consider these quotes: “The more I give myself permission to live in the moment and enjoy it without feeling guilty, the better I feel about the quality of my work” - Wayne Dyer. “…the foundation for greatness is honoring the small things of the present moment, instead of pursuing the idea of greatness” – Eckert Tolle. The Koran, Bible, Torah and teachings of Buddha all speak about the power of now. It is at the heart of all Zen writings.

Whether it’s the Serenity Prayer, or any number of other written passages that catch your attention, consider posting them in highly visible areas around your home or your workplace. You might even put them on the dashboard of your car. Pay attention to things that you do or that happen to you. Is there a pattern here? A message that can be heard? Do we need to just stop and breathe?

At various times, I post various messages, signs or symbols around my house – all dedicated to getting my attention and helping me get it. I hope that this blog helps you slow down and get it, too.

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Friday, August 27, 2010

GUEST BLOG POST: Create a Bully-proofing Plan - by Michelle Anthony, MA, PhD

My fifth-grade daughter is fretting about how hard the science fair project will be this year. You’ve done a project every year and really enjoyed it, I remind her. I know, she concedes, but this year we actually get graded on it. I can hear the worry in her voice. You’ve always done well on your assignments I offer. No, this is different, she insists. This year it will be really hard.

Ahhh...now I get it. It might seem like we’re talking about science fair projects, but really we’re having another discussion all together. I put my arm around her. I can see you’re really nervous about the start of school, I open. The tension leaves her face. We snuggle on the couch and talk about the real issue—her worry over friends. I ask questions and listen, and by the end of our conversation, she looks and acts happier than she has for days.

It wasn’t always so simple to figure out the undercurrent of what she was feeling. At six, she became entangled in a yo-yo friendship with her best friend. Confused and alone, she hid what she was experiencing for months. When she reached out to her teacher, she was told to toughen up. So she suffered in silence for longer. After all, she was not being physically attacked. She was not being threatened. These were just “normal” girl things that happen all the time...at least that’s what she’d been told—and believed. It wasn’t until I found a crumpled note between her bed and desk that I began to uncover what she was going through.

It took a long time for my daughter to understand that what she was experiencing, as “normal” as it may have been, was not ok. During that time, as I reached out to numerous other parents and professionals, I discovered how many young girls were struggling with similar issues—friendship riffs, group oustings, defriendings, etc.—“regular” social struggles that were leaving girls lonely, confused, and distracted in school. In elementary school! There were no resources to help little girls approach these big issues.

We wrote Little Girls Can Be Mean: Four Steps to Bully-proof Girls in the Early Grades to help parents and other caring adults understand how and why meanness happens, and have a plan for what to do about it. With the Four Steps, you know what to do next in almost any situation, in the window of time when parents can best influence and guide girls, before the teen years when peer influence takes over and pushes caring adults away.

I know what a difference it’s made in my own life with my own children—each so very different than the other. But each needing to learn to face the joys and sorrows of friendships won, lost, and betrayed. And each deserving a knowledge supportive guide to help her steer and let her know she is not alone as she learns to navigate the rocky waters of growing up female.

Dr. Michelle Anthony has always been passionate about her work with families and children. After graduating with honors in Educational Studies from Brown University, she received a Master’s in Child Studies and Teacher’s Certificate from Tufts University. She taught for five years, and then got her PhD in Developmental Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. Since this time, Michelle has continued to work as a learning specialist with both typical and developmentally-delayed preschool and elementary-aged students. She has taught graduate-level classes as well, and has been a speaker at international conferences on issues related to education and development. Michelle is also a columnist and writes feature articles for Scholastic’s Parent and Child Magazine. She is mother to three children, two girls and a boy, all under the age of 10.

As a result of her own daughter becoming involved in a series of “Mean Girl” interactions in first grade, Michelle’s interest in this topic was personalized. She has since spent almost four years interacting with counselors, social workers, school psychologists, teachers, principals, administrators, parents, and others around this topic. She and her family live outside of Denver, CO.  Visit http://www.littlegirlscanbemean.com/.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Whole Plan (aka Week 11) by Liimu

One more week to go and I'm out of the first trimester. I have to say, I have never freaked out as much in early pregnancy as I did this time around. I still was not successful in waiting until the end of the first trimester to tell people (obviously, as I'm telling the entire world a la this blog), but that doesn't mean I wasn't nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs for the first few weeks I knew.

The amazing thing is that I got comfort from the most unexpected places. Friends I thought would have been at least happy for me, at most supportive and comforting, added to my anxiety by asking questions like, "Are you sure you can afford this?" and "Aren't you overwhelmed already? How will you manage a fourth child?" My response to that question was, "Look - we didn't push the issue of getting pregnant again. We left it in God's hands. God doesn't usually come up with half a plan." I'm not an overly religious person, but I do believe in a Power greater than myself. My husband and I had agreed that if it wasn't meant to be for us to have a fourth child, that would be fine with us. If it was, God was going to just have to make it happen (which He/She did). I have a feeling that's the way all the rest of it will work out. It just will.

One of the places I got the most comfort, which I never would have expected, was from my mother. My mother always gave me the impression that she didn't want more than two children. (I'm number five, so you can imagine how that sat with me upon first knowledge.) When I got pregnant with number three, I distinctly remember her response as being fairly underwhelmed. So, I was very nervous about telling her about this fourth blessing. I talked to my sister, Claudia, about it - my best friend - and she encouraged me to give her a chance, to give a little warning, but assume she could rise to the challenge. That's exactly what I did.

Not only did she rise to the challenge, but when I shared with her my fears of miscarrying, she put them all to rest by reminding me that I had to stop thinking of the worst case scenario and remember that I had already had three healthy, uneventful pregnancies. "Your body knows how to do this," she reminded me, "and stressing about it is about the only thing you could do at this point to confuse it."

My midwife was equally unconcerned, though perhaps not as directly reassuring. I don't know that she knew how freaked out I was, that I checked the paper every time I went to the bathroom (I still do, actually - sorry if that's TMI). I combed the Internet for any information I could find on miscarriage symptoms or statistics and didn't stop until I saw the one that said that once you've had multiple healthy pregnancies, your chances go down to less than 4%. And once you've seen the heartbeat (which we have) they go down to less than 1%. And as much as I can't stand the weight gain, nausea, dry heaves, sore boobs, acne and fatigue, I still welcome each symptom as a sign of a healthy, developing baby inside.

But the bottom line is that I need to remember my own words to my friend: God has the whole plan. And that means that if the plan is for this child to be born into our happy, welcoming, loving family, it will. And that's up to God, who...last time I checked...I am not.

Until next week!

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Saddest Day - by Cara

I made probably the most difficult decision of my entire life recently. To end my marriage. Making this decision was so difficult that the only situation I can compare it to would be having a loved one in the hospital and having to be the one to make the decision to have them taken off life support. This decision was immensely heart wrenching, but it had to be done.

My husband is looking for the least expensive way to end our marriage and provide support. Because I have to look out for the needs of both my son as well as myself, I couldn’t afford to go the least expensive route. I chose to go through the much more grueling, difficult way. But it had to be done for the sake of my son and myself.

I also had to do it because my husband and I don’t have any semblance of life together anymore. And I grieve and hurt over this just about every single day. I have tried so hard to keep our family intact. My husband, however, keeps pulling farther and farther away. He has absolutely no interest in rectifying our marriage or family.
My own health has deteriorated significantly as well. I’ve lost 60 pounds due to stress induced irritable bowel syndrome. I can hardly eat liquids at this point and keep them in my digestive tract. My doctors have had to increase my anti-anxiety meds to a point where I think my brain is going to implode. I am weak, often dehydrated, often dizzy, and almost always nauseous. My body cannot afford to go on like this. Especially crying myself to sleep every night. I had to “pull the plug.” For the sake of my own health.
My biggest fear, besides my health, is my son. He will be devastated. And I am sure that this will impact his schooling. Since my husband is hardly around anyway, I constantly reassure my son that I will always be here for him. And I will never leave him, no matter what. He will forever be my number one priority. As it is now, we have established our own comfortable routine together. At least that will remain consistent for him.

The most difficult part of all will be telling our son that Mommy and Daddy will no longer be living together. I’ve been reading up on how to tell a young child that his parents will be divorcing. The most important emphasis from everything I’ve read is that both parents need to remain calm and unemotional when discussing a divorce with a child. I absolutely don’t think I can do it. I get teary-eyed just thinking of telling our son. But I want to hear what my husband says to our son, so I have to be present. I’m just going to have to take a few xanaxes before we sit down with him and try to hold back the tears. I honestly don’t know how I am going to get through it.

My husband and I had a child because we wanted to share the love we had for each other exponentially towards our child. The love for our child hasn’t changed, but I still continue to wonder where the love my husband and I had for each other went. And I still don’t understand how you can know a person intimately for 20 years and be married for 15 years, and have that love dissipate practically overnight. I guess I never will know the answer.

All I ever wanted was a happy little family who enjoyed spending time with one another and enjoying life’s experiences together. From last week’s blog, you could tell that I experienced my son’s first camping trip second hand, through texts and photos sent from my husband. And when my son and I leave for the Bahamas tomorrow, my husband will have to live our cruise experience, along with a stop at Disney on the way back, through scattered phone calls and shared photos. It is so utterly sad.

When my husband received the divorce letter, he was visibly shaken and shocked. Since then, however, he has failed to discuss it. All he said about the letter was, “I don’t know what to say.” I thought to myself, “For an intelligent man, you don’t seem to know much about anything concerning our relationship.” He is acting more and more like a bachelor, is giving up more and more time that he could be spending with his son, instead choosing to spend it with his friends or doing a physical activity. It is beyond sad. For my birthday, he gave me a gift, “from my son,” which was completely self-serving and did not take my son nor I into consideration at all. He had a bike race to go to this past Saturday with a barbecue to go to afterwards. He gave me tickets to go to see the play, The Lion King, at a theater in New York City. He specifically chose the day of his bike race as the date for the tickets, so that my son and I would be occupied. Firstly, my son hates the Lion King movie. I have offered to watch it with him over the years, and as soon as it starts, my son starts screaming, “Turn it off! Turn it off!” Why would I take my son to a play when he won’t even watch the movie it is based on!! Secondly, knowing my son would not like the play; he would be asking to leave every 15 minutes. And with his ADD, he would not be able to sit for that length of time anyway. It would be a horrible, aggravating, miserable experience for both of us. So I gave the tickets away. And my son and I spent a quiet, relaxing, productive day at home. I think we both much preferred that.
My husband’s attorney has up to 60 days to respond to my letter, so we shall see how long he puts off responding to it. In the meantime, I am learning a crash course in how to be a single parent, taking care of a high maintenance child and two high maintenance dogs. I’m not doing the greatest job, so far. But as they say, with practice makes perfect, which I don’t expect to aspire to! I think “staying afloat” is a much more reasonable goal for right now! Time will only tell...

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Monday, August 23, 2010

JAMIE’S SHOW REVIEW: Wiggly Circus Live!

After spending a semester of my junior year in college abroad in Sydney, Australia, I developed a lifelong fondness for Aussie men. And it appears that my daughter—as well as millions of other kids her age—shares a similar love for the “Fab Four from Down Under.” On Wednesday, August 18th, Jayda and I spent an enjoyable afternoon watching the Wiggles—the world’s #1 preschool entertainers—perform live at Nassau Coliseum in their “Wiggly Circus Live!” tour.

Set amidst a big-top background, with plenty of props for acrobatics, along with some musical instruments on the side, the stage was set to bring all the excitement of the big top—with a wiggly twist—to hundreds of adoring fans. But the show opened with the surprising news that Murray (the red Wiggle) would not be performing because he had unexpectedly returned to Australia due to “family commitments." We were then introduced to a substitute Wiggle—Ringo—who, fortunately, did a good job of fitting in with the regular Wiggles: Sam, Jeff, and Anthony.

Throughout the show, the Wiggles were joined by all their friends—Dorothy the Dinosaur, Wags the Dog, Henry the Octopus, and Captain Feathersword, as well as Fifi, a circus ringmaster, and a few energetic Wiggly Dancers who helped perform a variety of acrobatics. Many songs had a circus component—especially “Hot Poppin’ Popcorn” which featured three life-sized boxes of popcorn performing impressive somersaults in the air. And in the usual Wiggles-fashion, jokes abounded, including one “he wants to be a colonel” reference to the popcorn, which amused several of the adults in the audience.

Song performances included many favorites such as “Big Red Car” (featuring an appearance by that very same car on the stage), “Getting Strong,” “Quack Quack Cock-A-Doodle Do,” and “Fruit Salad,” as well as a few strange, new selections like “Yellow Bird” and a Japanese song featuring kimono-clad women. Jayda (and most of the audience) seemed to prefer the old classics—and clapped along and cheered to the familiar tunes—while quieting down for the new ones.

As is typical for the Wiggles, at one point, Jeff fell asleep and the entire Coliseum shouted “Wake up, Jeff!” We later learned that this Wiggle is 57 years old—so, I for one, couldn't blame him for being tired!

As most Wiggles fans know, Dorothy the Dinosaur loves roses more than anything, and many audience members were bearing roses—as well as other gifts—for the Wiggles; Sam, Jeff, and Anthony acknowledged this by sauntering out into the audience (even up to the second level) to personally collect handfuls of roses and other items, and to thank their fans. They ventured out to the audience again, later in the show, to get closer to all the hand-made signs fans were holding up—and even read dozens of the messages into their microphones, expressing gratitude along the way. The Wiggles showed a genuine appreciation for their fans, and this really impressed me.

One of Jayda’s favorite parts of the show was at the end when the Wiggles sang “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” after turning down the lights and encouraging the audience members to hold up their cell phones and other lights to make the Coliseum twinkle. And a rousing “Hot Potato” finale got everyone—including my now-tired daughter—to their feet. The 90-minute show was, at times, disjointed, and a little bit too long for Jayda who was "wiggling" in my arms towards the end. But, for the most part, it was an entertaining afternoon; the Wiggles have performed over 350 shows to more than 1.5 million fans since 2005 in the United States alone, and Jayda and I are happy to have been a part of those growing numbers.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

CYMA CHATS with Candi Wingate, Nanny Expert and Founder of Nannies4Hire.com

What compelled you to be a nanny and then start a nanny services bureau?
I started my career as a nanny, working for a family with five children.  I quickly learned what families need, and applied those real-life lessons to my business.  Plus, I’m a wife and mother of two young boys, so I know first-hand what it’s like to balance work and a family.

What is the difference between a nanny and a babysitter?
Nanny: a committed childcare provider, employed by a family to provide supervision and a nurturing environment for the family’s children, without direct parental supervision. A nanny may live in or out of a family’s primary residence and is focused on the needs of the child. The well-being, education and development of the child on a day-to-day basis is the primary responsibility of the nanny. Duties that are required for the care of a child such as bathing, meal preparation, laundry, housekeeping, homework supervision, errands, exercise, and transportation are part of a nanny’s responsibility. Formal education is not required if the nanny has suitable experience with children. It is recommended that all nannies and childcare providers be certified in infant and child CPR.

Babysitter: A temporary childcare provider who provides care of children, without direct parental supervision, in the family home. A babysitter works for short periods of time, and the primary responsibility is the care and entertainment of children when the parents are not at home. A babysitter’s responsibility will change from situation to situation depending on the need of the child during the span of time that the babysitter is to provide care.

What type of people choose to be a nanny? Are there "career" nannies?
All types of people choose to be nannies.  It can be a male or a female, they can be straight out of high school or have a college degree.  The majority of the time a nanny responsibilities include childcare, light housekeeping, laundry, meal preparation, transporting children, errands, etc.  They can either live-in or live-out.  The role of a nanny is to bond with your child.  It is a natural process, your child will become attached to your nanny.  You should feel threatened by this relationship.  You will always be the parent and your child's strongest bond will be with you.  

What screening process do you use? What qualities do you look for in a nanny? Can a nanny be a man?
Although it can be tempting to immediately hire the first nanny you come across who meets all the qualifications you’re looking for, it is definitely a smart decision to do a background check. Though in many cases, you won’t find anything that should deter you from hiring a nanny candidate, it’s always better to err on the side of caution. The nanny background check can reveal information you wouldn’t otherwise be privy to. We recommend checking references, criminal histories, driving history (if the nanny will be transporting the children), social security # trace.  It is also important to sit down and sign a contract -prior to employment - to detail the job - so there are no questions once employment starts.  You can always refer back to the contract if there are questions.  
Many families hire male nannies (mannies).  Here is a partial list of reasons why:
“I hired a manny because I have all boys.”
“I’m a single mom and want a male figure for my children.”
“My husband travels a lot for work, so we hired a manny who can take our son camping and do a lot of boy-things with him.”
 “We interviewed a lot of wonderful nannies and mannies.  We simply hired the best qualified candidate and that happened to be a manny.”

When you're hiring a live-out nanny, one all-important part of the interview process is watching how he/she interacts with your child.  Ideally your live-out nanny should exhibit certain qualities during the interview process.  They should show a level of warmth.  When he/she interacts with your child, he/she should show a genuine interest in your child.  The nanny should behave professionally.  This means he/she should respect your role as the parent as well as engage with your child in an appropriate manner.  The nanny should be knowledgeable about the stage of your child.  This means he/she should understand the needs and issues concerned with your 2 year old versus your 6 month old.

A common conception is that utilizing nannies can be an expensive proposition. How do you answer that?
In these tough economic times, we’re all being cautious with our spending.  Parents may be worried about hiring a nanny, thinking it’s too “luxurious” in light of the current downturn.  What you may not know is that hiring a nanny can actually save families money over other childcare options.

Many parents debate the merits of hiring a nanny versus putting their children in daycare.  If you have two or more children, it’s often more cost-effective to hire a nanny, as daycares charge per child and will be more expensive than paying a nanny to come to your home.
With a nanny, parents don’t have to leave work - potentially missing a day’s pay - when their child is sick, like they would with day care. Your nanny can stay home with your children while you work.  As an added benefit, you may have healthier children if you keep them out of daycare and away from other kids’ germs.

The economic downturn has everyone looking to cut costs whenever possible, so the concept of “nanny sharing” has grown in popularity this year.  There are several “nanny sharing” scenarios, including having one nanny watch kids from several families simultaneously or having one nanny work part-time for two different families, spending a few days with each family.  These options help reduce costs, while still providing the benefits of having a nanny.

Must a nanny reside in the house where they work? Can nannies be part or full time?
A nanny can be full-time, part-time, summer, temporary, live-in or live-out depending on the need of the family.  
How can new older mothers benefit from using a nanny?
In today’s society, there are many benefits of hiring a nanny:
1.  COST.  If you have two or more children, it may be cost effective for you to hire a nanny as many daycare centers can cost you more.  Also, many families are using “nanny share”.  This is an arrangement in which two families share one nanny.  This cuts down on costs but you still experience the benefits of having a nanny.
2.  HEALTH OF THE CHILDREN.  You may have healthier children by keeping them away from the large groups of children typically found in daycare.  
3.  WORKPLACE PRODUCTIVITY.  If your children are sick, many daycare centers will not accept your children.  However, if you have a nanny, you can still go to work as the nanny will stay home with the children.  Further, if you have an attentive nanny at home with your children, you will be less likely to feel like you just can’t concentrate at work due to concern for your children.  By staying focused at work, your workplace productivity remains high.
4.  HOME WORKLOAD DELEGATION.  A nanny can help you maintain work/life balance.  For example, a nanny can be an extra pair of hands helping with household duties such as laundry, errands, transporting children, and starting the evening meal.  This allows for more quality family time when the parents arrive home.  No need to rush in the morning to get the kids out the door for daycare or school: a nanny is an extra pair of hands in the morning.
5.  MARITAL BONDING.  Many parents become so over-committed with the tasks of working full-time on top of parenting, household maintenance, and a host of other daily responsibilities, that tending the marital bond simply isn’t on their radar screen.  Years later, it may be too late when the couple realizes that they have grown apart.  A nanny can help prevent that.  Nannies can watch children in the evenings (which many daycare centers will not do), thus allowing parents an opportunity for a romantic evening out, or maybe just some private just-the-two-of-us time.  
6.  PEACE OF MIND.   Daycare centers have staff turnover.  Parents are not typically involved in the staff recruitment and selection process at their children’s daycare center.  Therefore, you never know, on a day-to-day basis, who may be watching your children in a daycare setting.  If you hire a nanny, however, you know in whose care your children are.  You interviewed the nanny, performed background checks on her, and hired her yourself.
7.  CONTINUITY OF CARE.  Children usually bond with their caregivers.  This is healthy.  However, it is hard for children to address separation from caregivers, such as when a caregiver resigns his/her employment.  Nanny turnover is much lower than typical daycare center staff, so children with nannies tend to experience less frequently the grief and anxiety associated with caregiver turnover.
8.  CAREGIVER-TO-CHILD RATIO.  Daycare centers in most states are required to comply with legal guidelines on caregiver-to-child ratios.  In an effort to maximize profits, daycare centers will seek to have as many children as possible without exceeding the legally proscribed limits.  If you hire a nanny, you can be assured that your caregiver is focused solely on your children.
9.  ALL THE COMFORTS OF HOME.  For children, this last one is a big one.  When a nanny is caregiving for your children, they can play with their own toys, nap in their own beds, and stay in the familiar environment of their own home throughout their day.  If there is inclement weather outside, it’s no problem: the children do not need to go outside to go to daycare as their nanny comes to their home to care for them.

As both a 'caretaker' and a businesswoman, do you feel you've combined the best of both worlds?
Yes; I feel I have combined the best of both worlds.  I have a job that I love and I have a nanny that is part of our family that my children have grown to love.

You had your first child at 35. As a new older mother, what does that experience bring to your profession, and visa versa?
After becoming a mom, I feel like I totally relate to other families searching for a nanny.  I have a nanny and understand the process a family goes through to hiring a nanny. 

Candi Wingate is a national child care expert with over 20 years experience in the industry. She is the founder of Nannies4Hire.com and Care4Hire.com, and author of 100 Tips for Nannies & Families and The Nanny Factor: A Parent’s Guide to Finding the Right Nanny for Your Family (available October 1st). URL:                   http://www.nannies4hire.com/index.asp

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Friday, August 20, 2010

GUEST BLOG POST: The Year of the Dog by Deb Amlen

When my kids finally get around to choosing my nursing home – I fully intend to live long enough to be a burden on them -- I am confident that they’ll be kind. She might not have been the cookie-baking type of Mom they’ll say, but she always had our backs against the naysayers. And then they will go ahead and reserve the room with the garden view and the working “Call” button and the muscular attendant named Thor, because as I’ve taught them, one hand washes the other. Cookies come and go, but emotional indebtedness lasts forever.

Intellectually, at least, I understand the importance of fitting into a society that values conformity. A round peg fits nicely into a round hole and makes life a lot easier for school administrators. But what if you give birth to a hexagon and the local nursery school says, “I’m sorry, but the only nap mats we have are round. You’ll have to take your little hexagon somewhere else”? Sometimes you have to just look at the whole hexagon and say, those points may be a bit rough now, but I can help smooth them just enough for my kid to fit in. And eventually, what’s left will be seen as a positive character trait. What’s left will be her strength and will get her through the rough spots in life.

If I’d had my kids earlier, it might not have worked out that way. It takes a certain amount of confidence to face off against people who tell you they have a lot more experience with children than you, but you know what those people ultimately taught me? No one knows my kids better than I do.

If anyone had told me that my daughter, who has grown into one of the loveliest, most well-adjusted young women I know, would spend the entire third year of her life walking on all fours and barking like a dog, I would have suggested that they up their doses of medication. But that’s exactly what she did. This included wanting to drink from a bowl on the floor (occasionally indulged) and pooping outside with our real dogs (not so much tolerated.) I knew why she was doing it; she was raised around dogs and was developing a compassion for animals that would eventually lead her to become a vegetarian.

It wasn’t always apparent to those who crossed her path that she knew she wasn’t really a dog. I had signed her up for a tots’ acting class, seeing as how she loved indulging her creative side. The teacher pulled me aside one day and suggested that perhaps my daughter would benefit from a psychiatric evaluation. My first reaction was to try to suppress the urge to vomit, because nothing makes you feel more insecure as a parent than to think that an objective adult with a graduate degree thinks there is something seriously wrong with your child.

“She thinks she’s a dog,” the teacher said. “I tried to tell her that she’s not a dog, but all she did was lift her leg on me. That’s bad.”

“Well, she shouldn’t try to mark you,” I agreed, the queasiness starting to subside. “But she knows she’s not a dog. C, are you really a dog?”

“Woof,” my little hexagon replied, wistfully shaking her head. If only, she was probably thinking.

“You see? She doesn’t think she’s a dog. She’s pretending that she’s a dog.” I added a genial smile and laugh to show her that C and I were not, in fact, clinically insane. I took my child and left without pointing out the irony that pretending was exactly what she and her graduate degree had been charged with teaching a group of kids to do.

Occasionally, we lucked out. This was around the same time that C. started pre-school, and that year she had a teacher armed with a graduate degree and a developed sense of humor. At the end of the year, this wonderful woman took me aside and congratulated me. C had spent her year in pre-school slowly convincing the unconverted that being a dog was much more fun than being human. Once the teacher was able to convince the litter that speaking was more acceptable than barking, they became quite the obedient class. Oh, and when they covered color identification, C. had gone around stumping for her personal favorite until the entire class believed that their favorite color was purple, too. She has a brilliant future ahead of her, the teacher said. Yes, I agreed, apparently as a politician. Or a cult leader.

It’s a good thing she dropped the drinking-from-a-bowl-on-the-floor thing. That would not go over well on the campaign trail.

Deb Amlen is the author of “It’s Not PMS, It’s You” (Sterling, 2010). Visit her home on the web at http://www.debamlen.com/

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

My Big News...by Liimu

So, I’ve been given the green light to tell you guys my BIG news. It’s sort of ironic, since I just joined MotherhoodLater as a regular blogger a few months ago. Maybe it’s easier if I tell you the story from the moment it began for me.

July 13, 2010...

Two days late for my period. Not all together odd for me, so honestly I’m not all that concerned. Not to mention the fact that even if by some strange miracle we are pregnant after four-plus years of not preventing, I know my husband will be thrilled. When I asked him if we were done (I kind of felt like I was, after having three children in 8 years), his response was, “I don’t know…I sort of have the feeling that someone is missing from our family.” I can hear you guys now… “Awwwww….” This reaction had me vacillating between a response of “Whatever, dude…let me know when you figure out how to get pregnant…” and buying an ovulation kit, set on trying to welcome that sixth person into our family. Hence, the fancy ClearBlue digital combo pack (ovulation predictor kit/pregnancy test) that just happened to be in my bathroom closet on this particular day.

I have been late for my period many, many times. I’m old enough now (just turned 40) to have somewhat irregular cycles. I’ve had friends even suggest this might be a sign of perimenopause. Early on after the birth of my third child, I would react to lateness with terror, then curiosity, then secret anticipation followed by mild let down at each negative test. So, by this very ordinary summer morning, I had become quite jaded to the whole experience and just wanted my negative result so I could go about my business, stop wondering and feel justified in wearing a bulky, uncomfortable pad all day for seemingly no reason that I would end up changing only because it felt grody not to after a long, sweaty day. I didn’t even time it. I just checked my e-mails on my BlackBerry, responded to a couple texts, and got set to weigh myself before starting the day. When I looked over at the sink, I don’t know that I’ve ever been more surprised than I was that moment I realized what the word was that was glaring back at me from the fancy digital pee stick: “Pregnant.” I literally said out loud, a la Tru Jackson: “You say WHAT NOW?”

After the initial shock wore off, it was time to tell my husband. I went upstairs, unconcerned about the early hour (it was 5:45 am) and pushed the door open and entered the darkness. “We have a situation,” I told him. I don’t know what he thought I meant. Most likely, he wondered if there was a leak in the kitchen or a large bug infestation in the laundry room, not that either of those things had happened before. This situation was more familiar, and yet I’m sure he hadn’t guessed. I went to show him the test, and of course, he had to reach for his reading glasses to verify the significance (though by this point the fact that I was holding out a pee stick at all had to have tipped him off – he was probably in the beginning stages of denial). His face broke into a grin, and for close to an hour we just lay there and let the information sink in. I’d given away all my maternity clothes and all our baby clothes. We had just finished potty training our youngest child, and she was only a year away from starting kindergarten. What would become of our music career, which hadn’t even yet gotten off the ground? I had just gotten within shouting distance of my goal weight – would I be able to run the half marathon in September? Could we afford this? When would the baby come? What if it’s a boy, finally, after three girls? What if it’s another girl? We giggled in the darkness like a couple of teenagers, sharing a sweet, somewhat scary secret. And so the journey began.

I’ve been given the green light to chronicle this pregnancy week by week. I hope you’ll enjoy reading firsthand what it’s like to be a 40-year old mom of three girls (7, 6 and 3) now pregnant with a fourth child. I’ll be sure to be honest about all of it – the joys of finding out the gender and telling our daughters about the new baby, and the misery of morning sickness and the unbelievable fatigue that comes with trying to chase after three girls while another baby is brewing.

Be sure to read next week’s blog….”The Psychic Sister,” in which I’ll share some pretty wild psychic moments my 7 year old had before she even found out we were pregnant.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

My Little Camper! - by Cara

My son went camping for the first time this past weekend. His father bought a spacious tent and invited one of my son’s friends and his father to join them. As told to me by my husband, my son, who was quite trepadatious at first, ended up having a terrific time!

The day before they left, I presented to my son some cute camping items I thought he might like to take with him. I bought him a children’s lantern which also had a base that served as a night light, emitting a soft, orange glow. He received a bug catching container for his birthday, so I packed that so that he could catch fireflies. And the most exciting item was a shark patterned, child’s sleeping bag (my son loves sharks!) to sleep in! My son took one look at the sleeping bag and pronounced that he had to take ALL (and I do mean ALL) of his stuffed animals to help him feel less scared.

The next day, my son was up and dressed at the crack of dawn! With ALL of his stuffed animals in the sleeping bag! I thought his father would object, but my son was so insistent, that the “animal sleeping bag” went camping along with everyone else!

Once at the campsite, everyone set up the tent. 

Then the boys found frogs (yes, boys love frogs), 

and even had a ride on the camp fire truck!

The campsite happened to be family friendly, so the boys got to swim in the pool and play games that were available! My son made more friends to play tag around the campground with! He also showed his new “friends” how to use the bug catcher container once the fireflies appeared at dusk!

Once it was dark, my son helped build a fire for roasting marshmallows and began roasting marshmallows for everyone since he does like roasting marshmallows but doesn’t like to eat them! 

After the marshmallow roast at the campfire, the camp had Disco Night! It is hard to believe that these kids had the energy to “do the hustle,” but hustle they did!

The day finally came to an end. My son crawled into his sleeping bag with ALL of the stuffed animals and put on his lantern night light until he fell asleep.

The next morning, my son was still tucked inside his sleeping bag, but the animals seemed to have “escaped.”

Once everyone was awake, the campsite set out a “Camper’s Breakfast” of pancakes and other assorted items. Then it was back to the tent to pack up and spend a day at Splish Splash water park!

For a boy who was so afraid to go camping and sleep outside (and have to bring ALL of his stuffed animals!), it seems that he fared very well! He said that he would go camping again...but that he STILL might need to bring SOME of his stuffed animals!

Let’s hope he doesn’t need to bring all of these animals on our cruise!!

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Resolve and Compassion -- By Laura Houston

I’m testing my resolve as I type this. We have decided it’s time to have the boys sleep in their own cribs. Up until recently, my husband and I have been fans of co-sleeping. It served our family well. Our boys are deeply bonded to us, and we are to them. We attribute their easy going natures, self assuredness, and happy dispositions to co-sleeping, and we also found that it helped reduce our stress level as well because if they woke up in the middle of the night, we could easily get them back to sleep. It’s pretty much a win/win situation. However, there are two downsides to co-sleeping: when we are ready to end it and when the child is not.

So right now my husband is attending to Lyle who is wailing away in his crib. Lyle is the twin who wants to sleep with us the most. He insists on it. Wyatt, however, is pretty mellow. He figured out how to self-soothe a few months ago, and he has been sleeping just fine on his own ever since. The only reason he sleeps with us now is because we feel guilty – all of us in one bed – Wyatt all alone in his.

The crying has been going on for 45 minutes. Dave and I have been alternating “compassion duty” every five or ten minutes. This is when one of us stands over Lyle’s crib and pats and soothes him and tries to reassure him everything is OK. We are using a few different techniques suggested by other parents, as well as a popular sleep manual sold on Amazon.com. The book says not to pick the child up. Don’t look him in the eye. Just be sweet. Sing softly. I went through a few rounds of four different lullabies before I could feel my resolve weaken, so I left the soothing to my husband. I know it’s hard for him. I can hear him in there whispering to his son. I know he wants to pick him up and hold him more than anything.

This method we are trying is a little too close to the Cry-It-Out Method used by many American moms. It is not at all popular in Europe. I am not a fan of the Cry-It-Out Method for babies. I cannot believe it is an emotionally healthy thing to do to an infant or small child. Quite frankly, there is not an animal on the planet that lets their babies cry it out except for the two-legged ones. I don’t believe in letting a human being cry alone in the dark, waiting and wanting for someone to come help. Especially when that someone is me, and I have the power and the ability to do something about it. I believe it is my responsibility as a parent to help my child learn to soothe himself and others by offering him kindness and compassion when he needs it or when he asks for it.

I know people practice Cry-It-Out in order to change a behavior such as getting the child to sleep through the night. Or eliminating a 2am feeding. I understand people do it because they have jobs, and they need sleep, and they want the child to learn to do it for the good of the family. I get that. I get how tiring it all is. I just can’t do it. I know it would forever break the deep, natural trust between my child and me.

I think it is time for me to go back in and practice another round of standing over the crib until my back and arms are screaming with aches, so my husband can find relief. But just when I hit “save” and got up from the desk, the crying stopped. My husband came out of the room with a heavy heart and a sorrowful face. He did it. He helped Lyle find his way into a deep sleep, but I think it cracked my husband’s soul a little.

Tomorrow it will be my turn. I will have to go in there a little more prepared. Maybe a CD of lullabies. Maybe a different light, a fresh blanket, or warm milk. But right now for the first time in a long time, I am going to go into our childfree living room, curl up on the couch next to the man I am crazy about, and watch a movie we have been trying to watch now for two weeks. And we will watch without interruption. And without a child between us. We have to take this time to just be. Together. It's important for our marriage and our friendship. But it feels selfish. Picking a movie over our son. Yeah. I'm going to have to sit with that. But we both agree it is time. Our kids are shoving us out of our own beds and out of our precious intimacy. And intimacy between parents we believe is the best gift we can give our kids. So here we go.

Sure. We’ll both feel guilty and slightly distracted as we listen for the sound of sobbing, but one of us will ease Lyle back into his dreams if he cries. And in turn our son will forever know that no matter what happens he can count on his parents to always, always come for him. I wish for the entire human race that very feeling.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

So Long, Summer! -- by Jamie

Technically, we’re only at the mid-way point of August, but in my eyes, it’s nearly time to say “goodbye” to summer. On Thursday, Jayda and I are flying down to Florida for a week, and the day after we return marks the start of my fall classes. Of course Jayda is still technically “on vacation” for several weeks before she starts nursery school, and we’ll still have a little time together for some end-of-summer activities when I get back from my morning classes, but to me, the start of school is a sign of summer’s end.

I love the summer, and I’m especially sad to see this one conclude, as I know this fall is going to be an especially stressful season for me. I’ll be taking three challenging classes that I’m determined to ace, as well as freelancing as much as possible; and in the midst of all of my writing and studying, I’ll be filling out grad school applications and stacks of financial aid paperwork. And, of course, as always, there are tons of mommy-responsibilities I must attend to. Hello, stress!

Of course this summer hasn’t exactly been stress-free for me. Along with slogging through my usual freelancing duties, I had to work hard for an “A” in a demanding month-long Child Development course, and also suffered through a seven-week GRE-test-prep class. And throughout it all, I had Jayda home with me four days a week. I love my daughter dearly, but I wasn’t meant to be a stay-at-home mom. For better or worse, my daughter is as social as I am, and she’s not content with spending a day at home. In addition, most of the time when we’re out together at a kid-friendly venue, she wants more than her mommy’s company—she wants a contemporary to play with (and will relentlessly tell me so). So, in addition to being Jayda’s mom, I’ve been a busy social coordinator for my daughter this summer, too. For the most part, all of our Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays have involved some sort of outing with friends: beach dates, pool dates, playing at friends’ houses—or having them over to join Jayda on her bouncer and run through our sprinkler, berry picking out East, afternoons spent at indoor bouncer places on days that were just too hot to be outside, and more. We’ve been very busy this summer—and both of us have spent a lot of mornings and afternoons socializing with good friends.

That said, I’ve spent a lot of quality time with Jayda this summer—and I’ve also crammed a lot of work into my evenings and the few days a week when Jayda was at school. But there’s still so much I haven’t yet accomplished: I have tons of packed boxes I still need to sort through and remove from my parents’ garage, a new play room for Jayda that I need to set up and organize, and several short trips I wanted to make to visit old friends that I won’t have time to take now that fall is quickly approaching. I had also hoped to make more money than I did from my freelance work this summer, and wanted to secure some volunteer opportunities to put on my grad school applications, but I never found the time for either. I never got to go to any movies, or read more than a couple of books. I only went into the city once—with Jayda by my side—and I never had the chance to go out to lunch with any of my stay-at-home-mom friends. Summer—like my life in general these days—flew by more quickly than I ever imagined it would. I can’t believe it’s almost over. And yet, I don’t know how I could have crammed anything more into it than I did.

As Jayda’s last few days at school are winding down, she can’t stop talking about starting her new “big girl” school in September—as well as asking about Halloween and announcing her latest costume choice. She’s also been reminiscing about last year’s apple picking trip and asking when we can go to the orchard again. So, I guess I need to take her lead and start looking forward to the fall. I have no choice, because ready or not—it’s coming!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

GUEST BLOG POST: Getting Crafty by Alex Hiam, author, Business Innovation for Dummies

Think arts & crafts are child's play? Think again.

Five Summer projects to unleash your kids’ creativity – and yours too!

Arts and crafts are, like anything else, more or less creative depending on the approach you take. To use art as a way to strengthen your imagination and boost your innovativeness, make sure you avoid the normal follow-the-instructions activities. Most of the published arts and crafts arts activities you can do with your kids are based on templates and cut-outs, or have specific end-goals in mind such as an example of what you're supposed to create. These activities, sadly, work against your and your kids' creativity, not for it! Instead, try very open-ended artistic challenges, such as:

1. Gather small objects and see what you can make out of them -- the wilder the idea or the crazier the design, the better! Turning a large soda bottle, some popsicle sticks, and the cut-off tops of some smaller soda bottles into a space-ship of your own design is a great exercise in innovative thinking. Building a model of the Space Shuttle from a kit is not.

2. Experiment with multiple techniques. For example, challenge your kids, and yourself, to draw five different pictures of your house using five completely different methods or materials. You can draw it with a pencil, cut out a profile of it with scissors (which become your drawing tool), lay out the floor plan on a computer, photograph parts of it and collage them into a bigger picture, or draw an ant's eye "map" of the house. Then put up an art show to display the many different ways you and your child came up with to show your house through art. The lesson is that there are always many ways to approach a task.

3. Redesign famous works of art. Find a cheap poster of the Mona Lisa or download and print an image of it, and let your child cut it up and make a new picture from it. What would she look like if she had a kitten on her lap? If she were wearing a top hat? This activity encourages you and your child to reconsider established ideas and designs -- an essential behavior of successful innovators.

4. Make a home movie documenting wild and crazy ideas and inventions in your community. With an inexpensive flip-video camera or a video cell phone, sally forth to find and comment on creative efforts and ideas around you. Visit the school, the town hall, a neighbor who has added solar panels to her house, or a dance studio where someone is choreographing a new performance. Capture brief interviews and live commentaries, then work with your child to edit them into your very own film on creativity. This activity exercises the ability to recognize innovations and the use of creative judgment and editorial decision-making.

5. Make musical instruments with your kids out of found objects, such as containers from the recycling bin and rubber bands. To bump up the activity to another level of challenge, you could also try to tune your instruments to a standard scale. This activity presents two sets of challenges -- first building the instruments, and then coming up with fun compositions that you can perform on them. It is a great exercise in the creative use of limited resources.

And all of these creative projects bring your and your child through a creative process that is very open-ended at the beginning -- it could go anywhere, and no two families will produce the same end result. By persisting, you and your child bring create structure to what you've imagined, and in the end, produce something concrete that you can both be proud of. The best way to strengthen your innovation muscles is to actually do something innovative and see it through to successful completion!

Alex Hiam (http://www.alexhiam.com/) is the author of more than 20 popular books on business, including Business Innovation for Dummies (June 2010), Marketing For Dummies and Marketing Kit For Dummies. A lecturer at the business school at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, he has consulted with many Fortune 500 firms and large U.S. government agencies including the Coast Guard. Also a widely exhibited painter and photographer, his award-winning artwork is on display in galleries from New York to Rome. He resides in Amherst, Mass., with his wife and five children.

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