Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Farewell to an American original

I just heard about Molly Ivins' death. I had read that she was gravely ill, back in the hospital, but I was hoping we wouldn't lose her yet. As a writer she was one of my idols, a truly original voice. She cut against the grain for so long that she finally wore a groove in her own direction. I love that a journalist who failed to fit in at the New York Times could so brilliantly create her own path elsewhere.

You can read about her passing in her home paper, The Texas Observer,, the New York Times, and thousands of other places if you care to do a google search.

I had the pleasure of hearing Molly speak in Greensboro, North Carolina in August of 2004. In a benefit for the ACLU, she told long storied about the Texas legistlature, and a lobbyist named Jack Abramoff and a scandal involving Tom Delay. With her Texas perspective, she promised that this had better become big news sooner or later. I'd never heard of Jack Abramoff before that day, but I took her word for it that she was onto something. Good call, Molly.

After a long talk and Q&A, when the questions started to get sentimental, she stayed true to her pithy self. She was asked how it felt to be on the brink of turning 60, and what wisdom she had learned in her six decades.

She looked thougthful for a second, said, "I have learned: Never plant bamboo." With that inscrutable yet inarguable closing thought, she left the stage, and graciously stayed around to sign books and pose for fan photos.

Molly was a true American original. She can never be imitated, but rather serves as inspiration for every eccentric, opinionated writer trying to find her own voice.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Must "Vote for Mom" = soft and domestic?

The New York Times political memo stating Women Feeling Freer to Suggest 'Vote for Mom' sets up the age-old stereotype of domestic softie vs. qualified leader.

"For a long time women seeking high office, particularly executive office, were advised to play down their softer, domestic side, and play up their strength and qualifications. Focus groups often found voters questioning whether women were strong enough, tough enough, to lead."

The Times suggests that the latest generation of voters is able to overcome reluctance about electing women, but I still feel that the piece reinforces the limited notion of motherhood as a sentimental, soft cushion of domesticity.

The American Prospect Online goes all out to bash female politicians for using motherhood as a qualification for leadership in The Mommy Mantra: What female politicians lose when they brand themselves as mothers.

Dana Goldstein criticizes Hillary Clinton's appearance on The View by saying, "It was a new articulation of the mommy mantra -- the idea that what qualifies women for politics isn't their intelligence, their experience, their policy proposals, or even their character, but rather their inherent identities as feminine caretakers."

I realize that when we try to bring motherhood into the political sphere, we are going up against age-old gender roles and stereotypes such as the Victorian "Angel in the House." But let's not be content to stop there. Let's insist on rewriting these images. I believe that the experience of motherhood is valid life and leadership experience that will inform public policy, that shapes character, in a very legitimate way.

I want leaders who have done the down and dirty work of family management and caretaking. Not studied as a white paper, but lived with all the complexity of family life, budgeting, and prioritizing. I would argue for a much higher diversity of experience in our government. What do we lose if our representation is overwhelmingly drawn from the legal profession? What would we gain if we had more doctors, farmers, teachers, nonprofit leaders, or pastors who went into public service at some point in their lives. And yes, MOTHERS, fathers, and primary caretakers.

Even if it's an urban legend that former President George H. W. Bush was amazed when he was shown a supermarket scanner in 1988, you can be sure it's been a long time, if ever, that any of our Presidents have bought their own groceries and cooked a meal. I would love to see more leaders emerge from families who have had to stretch to buy enough groceries to last until the next paycheck, to navigate the maze of insurance carriers in a health crisis. Military families who have children serving in the armed forces. Families for whom the stakes are high.

Nancy Pelosi has raised five children. She entered Congress in 1987 when her youngest was a teenager. So even though it's been a few years since she's run a household, and even though she was from a financially secure family, I believe her experiences as a mother inform her leadership in a profound way.

Motherhood is a sentimental idea in our culture, but it is not a sentimental day-to-day existence. The Women Hold Up Half the Sky image in this blog posting is from the page of facts about Women at Risk, from the Rehydration Project. The illustration of a day's work for most poor women is an important reminder of the resources that most American women have access to.

For me, motherhood has been the most politicizing force in my life, as I wrote about recently on Literary Mama and the final chapter of Mojo Mom. This issue also recalls for me the first blog posting I ever wrote, What Does A Mojo Mom Look Like? back in September 2003 that described my search for an image that would illustrate the new concept of a Mojo Mom.

In my world of ideas, VOTE FOR MOM can = "Vote for experience, intelligence, power, and competence." We just need the right translator.

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Oprah of my dreams

All authors wish they could get on Oprah (Jonathan Franzen notwithstanding) but I literally dream about it.

Last week's show My Baby or My Job: Why Elizabeth Vargas Stepped Down really got my brain fired up. First I wrote two long blog posts about the show and the ideas it stirred up. This sent me into a near-manic midnight writing session that left me depleted for the rest of the week. I had to make a conscious decision to chill out just so I could sleep.

Oprah found a way around even that defense! Last night I had another in a series recurring Oprah dreams. I have dreamed several times that I was invited to her office or the show--and I might glimpse her from afar, but I never had the chance to talk to her. Well, in last night's episode I actually got to sit down with her and Dr. Oz to discuss the show we'd be doing. This was a major step forward and it honestly felt very cool, even in dreamland. (Is that really embarrassing? Too bad, because it's true. Don't you ever feel like there are lines in dreams you'll just never cross, like being able to fly at will, or looking down at the brilliant novel you've written in your dream and actually be able to read and remember what's on the page? That's what it felt like to talk to Oprah.)

There were a number of comical complications that still cast an air of doubt over whether I'd get to the show on time--such as the fact that we'd brought our dog with us and couldn't leave him in the hotel room alone. I figued that Dr. Oz could hook us up with a local kennel....

I have had recurring dream series my whole life. At first they were just scary, but over the years they've evolved into something I listen to. My first recurring dream was tornadoes, my childhood anxiety dream. The second was rivers, which still show up when I face a decision point in life. When I finished graduate school I was considering many career options, from patent law to teaching. I knew in my heart I wanted to teach, but I decided to test that decision by investigating other jobs. After visiting a swanky, corporate law office in a San Francisco skyscraper, I dreamed about several kinds of artificial waterways: sailing a boat in a cement-lined canal, and getting hung up on a water slide without enough water in it, where I had to drag myself along with a lot of effort.

Message received: I chose teaching.

So what about Oprah? She's been on my mind because she really needs to learn more about and have them on as a follow-up to the Elizabeth Vargas show. And I have been very impressed with Oprah's new school in South Africa. She's going to make a big difference in educating a new generation of leaders, critics be hushed. If I did have a chance to sit down with Oprah, I'd recommend that she read The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson. First published in 1995, this science-fiction adventure, set in neo-Victorian Shanghai, imagined an incredibly prescient high-tech future, where an interactive laptop is designed only for the rich. One copy falls into the hands of a street urchin named Nell, and another is bootlegged and copied into a device to educate millions of forgotten girls.

Perhaps Stephenson's book is a tenuous link to Oprah's Leadership Academy, but I bet she'd get a kick out of this story that proposes a technological vision that may come to life in the near future. The One Laptop Per Child initiative aims to invent a $100 laptop and make it available to children throught the developing world. Instead of giving children one set of books, they can be given the world of literature and communication through a laptop that has internet connectivity and doubles as an e-book reader. They're just getting started with this exciting idea. My husband has an opportunity to be part of this project--he took the working prototype to a retreat over New Year's and everybody wanted to see it.

So, Oprah, just to wrap up, keep talking about motherhood on your show, and if ever you want to do a feature on Mojo Moms, you know where to find me!

To the rest of my blog readers, if you had a chance to sit down one-on-one with Oprah over a cup of coffee, what would you want to talk to her about?

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The biggest mistake Moms can make

The biggest mistake Moms can make is to look at motherhood as "the most important job in the world."

Here's the #1 lesson I have learned through my work as Mojo Mom:
Motherhood is not a job, it is a relationship.

Let that sink in for a minute while I thank Judy Stadtman Tucker, founder of The Mothers Movement Online, for introducing me to this revelatory wisdom. Motherood is not a job, it is a relationship. protest, I work so hard at motherhood. I used to be an employed professional. I have all these skills, talents, and I am applying them to motherhood, so why can't we all view that as my profession?

I know that feeling. I have been there myself as a professional-turned-SAHM. You are obviously free to think that way and you'll find support for this idea from authors like Darla Shine. The now-defunct magazine Total 180! "from briefcase to diaper bag" was founded on the premise of Mom finding fulfillment in her new role as a Chief Household Officer.

The problem is that if you look at motherhood as a professional outlet, you will start to expect motherhood to deliver the same rewards that a career does. Measurable achievement, results, advancement. A sense of identity as you live your life through that role. Motherhood can deliver some of these feelings on a short-term basis, but it will ultimately disappoint you if that's what you are expecting from it. You can start living through your children as your "product," as their achievements become the justification and proof of your hard work. A headlong collision with disappointment and resentment is nearly inevitable, because ultimately that is expecting something that motherhood shouldn't have to deliver. Your professional mojo needs another outlet.

Look at it this way--what if we substitute "wife" for "mother" in this scenario. Imagine saying, "My husband is my top priority. I quit my job so that I can give him 100% of my attention. I feel guilty any time I am not there for him. Hey, I have lots of professional skills and now I put them into this job. Being 'Michael's wife' is the most important job I'll ever have."

That sounds blessedly unimaginable to most of us. It was the pressure to think like that that led to the birth of feminism in the 1960's!

The bottom line is, it is not fair to our spouses or children to expect them to fulfill us and form the basis of our identity. No one can deliver that, and it is wrong to ask. We need to be able to be with our children, and away from them, managing that delicate balance of connection without suffocation. Too close and we stifle each other. Too far away and we lose our connection.

To be sure, I think that being a stay-at-home Mom is a completely valid option. I did it myself for 3 years. But staying at home is not a one-way street into a cul-de-sac that must define the rest of your life. While you are staying at home you absolutely need an outlet for your professional and creative mojo; something to keep those embers alive to rekindle later. Even if you are absoutely in love with being at home with little ones, please don't burn your bridges to the rest of the world. Maintain your professinal skills and contacts. You never know when you will need, or want, to go back to work. In the meantime, I urge you to commit to enjoying and cherishing the relationships with your family, but resist the temptation to lose yourself in them.

I appreciate the wisdom of Kahlil Gibran's thoughts from The Prophet "On Marriage" which speaks of the separateness we need to maintain in all healthy relationships:

"But let there be spaces in your togetherness,

And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another but make not a bond of love:

Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls."

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Today's Oprah discussion on Motherhood has my head spinning

Today's Oprah spent the whole hour talking about motherhood--shades of the "What Your Mother Never Told You About Motherhood"/"What Mothers Honestly Think About Motherhood" episodes Naomi Wolf in 2002 that were part of the impetus for writing Mojo Mom!

There is so much to consider that it's making my head spin, so I will try to keep this to a few brief thoughts for this post:

• Elizabeth Vargas talked about leaving the ABC News Anchor post after having her second child. She is still at 20/20, which is good to know. In her own 20/20 segment about "Can Working Mothers Have It All?" she reported about people not hiring women with children. Oprah said that is illegal, and Vargas didn't correct her. Unfortunately, employment discrimination through maternal profiling is LEGAL in 28 states. is educating people on this issue and working for change. We are really at the beginning of a motherhood movement because the public really doesn't know yet what a bind working families are in. I highly recommend that you watch the documentary film. It is extremely informative and well-produced. MomsRising will be throwing a national online house party on March 8 to discuss the film--check back here for details as they develop.

• Throughout the show there was too much emphasis on individual choice and not enough discussion about structural issues. I am frustrated that the mandatory nature of many women's employement is swept aside in these discussions. I have grown in this area myself--I wish I had tackled this issue more thoroughly when I wrote my book, but that's this blog is for!

• The poll found that over half of all Moms feel like they are failing or cheating themselves. Yet the show threw them all together in a room to judge each other--ouch! I am tired of this set up. It's time to stop pointing fingers at ourselves and each other and start asking our leaders for accountability on motherhood issues such as a national parental leave policy.

Dr. Robin Smith was the guest expert and I just love her. She made the wise point that we shouldn't get caught in either/or decisions. The most important thing is to be attuned to our children. She said, "Pay attention to what makes you feel awake, and alive, and vital." That's a fantastic definition of Mojo! I've always wanted to connect with Robin Smith and I think this show is giving me the motivation I needed to send her my book. We'll see if I can get through to her.

• One stay-at-home Mom went into the argument that we Moms should channel our energy into doing motherhood as a profession. I think this is the #1 mistake mothers make, and I will tell you why in a separate blog posting.

Over all, a very provocative show that calls for a follow up with MomsRising to paint a more complete picture of the economic challenges and double-binds that too many families face.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

No comment

I don't think I even need to comment on my sadness over this idea:

Wife induces labor so husband can go to Bears game.

Birthdays Without Pressure?

In my morning paper there was a feature about a new group called Birthdays Without Pressure, formed by St. Paul, Minnesota parents who aim to break the cycle of one-upsmanship that drives parents to throw extravagant birthday parties. I agree with their basic idea, but I am ambivalent about the need to form an acutal advocacy group to call for this change. What do you think: are out-of-control birthday parties such a prevalent social scourge that we need to form groups to combat it? Or can families opt-out on an individual basis?

I can see the need for a group to create counter-support to break the peer pressure feeling that it's necessary to throw a big party, but I worry that to "combat" it, we will need to spend even more time and energy on this issue than is really necessary.

After throwing a major party for our daughter's 5th birthday, since then we've asked her to choose one friend each year to do something special with her on her day. We'll see what happens next year. She is suddenly fixated on ear-piercing for her 8th birthday present, which is not my first choice for her (my baby!), but there is room for negotiation.

Being creative helps revive a party. My daughter went to an Egyptian-themed birthday party this weekend, which I thought was a really cool idea. I didn't attend, but our family had a great time figuring out how to come up with an Egyptian outfit using what we already had in the house. It actually turned into one of those fun and genuine "raid the closet and put on Mommy's eyeshadow" moments.

Birthdays Without Pressure has many ideas for birthday party alternatives, including:

• Bringing a gift to share with someone; everyone gets one gift

• Simple activities (such as a walk around a lake, a treasure hunt)

• Planning and preparing for the party with the birthday child

• Family-only birthday parties

• No gifts bags

• Doing community service in lieu of a party

• For every gift “in,” give something away

But I did not like their "Rate Your Community's Pressure" quiz, which only included negative choices about parties. There was no opportunity to rate the rewarding aspects of birthday celebrations. My "score" of 8 on a scale of 0-20 caused the website to rate my town as a "High pressure community. You probably live in a land of hyper-parenting. Find allies and start a local Birthdays Without Pressure group."

They had me on their side with the helpful suggestions but pissed me off when they judged my community so narrowly and told me that now I should start my own local group!!!

Friday, January 19, 2007

How tasting dog food made me a better cook

"How tasting dog food made me a better cook." That idea has been playing in my mind all morning long. No, I haven't been reduced to stealing my dog's kibble. Read on to find out what the heck all this has do to with Mojo Mom.

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know that I am crazy about motherhood, politics, writing, and radio. There is a current that runs under all of these themes--storytelling. I have become fascinated with communication. How can we get our messages across to our kids, spouses, blogosphere, electorate, or President? How can we craft ideas that pierce through our listerners' emotional armor, or find a small piece of clear desktop in their cluttered mindspaces?

It comes down to crafting sticky messages, unraveling mysteries for our audiences, and telling good stories. Moms are in a good position to do this--we have real live audiences who ask us night after night, "Mommy, tell me a story." I feel that in many ways we are better positioned to deliver direct, effective, and interesting communication than people who have been locked in a corporate bubble or an ivory tower. My podcast co-host Sheryl Grant is a wonderful writer an interesting person. As she heads back into academia, where she is assigned to give PowerPoint presentations (not assigned to give an effective presentation, but a PowerPoint presentation) I worry about the forces of academic conformity and jargon-creep corrupting my friend's brain.

Case in point: I wanted to learn more about the feminist movement of the 1970's, so I picked up the book Yours In Sisterhood: Ms. Magazine and the Promise of Popular Feminism which just happened to be published by The University of North Carolina Press. The ingredients of a great story are present, ready to be brewed into an intriguing tale. Who would effect more cultural change, the independent newsletter publishers who refused to cooperate with the mass media, or the founders of Ms. Magazine who risked working in a commercial setting, cooperating with the media, while trying not to lose their integrity. The media created a "star system" that anointed spokespeople like Gloria Steinem, Kate Millett, and Betty Friedan. I believe this story could be told with academic accuracy and spellbinding reader interest. Unfortunately, as ususal, the academic treatment drains all the life out of this dramatic story and I have to work to drag my attention beyond page 27.

What's going on here? In my favorite new book, Made to Stick authors talk about "the curse of knowledge," which is the mental block that experts develop that makes it impossible to imagine a story from a beginner's perspecitve, leading to ineffective communication. Good old fashioned, detailed storytelling is on of the antidotes to break this curse. As a nonfiction writer, I find that it is easy to get wrapped up living in my head in a world of ideas all day long. I have to consciously unplug from my imagination from time to time to reconnect with the sensory world, regrounding myself in reality. (For Myers-Briggs fans, as a natural ENFJ I find this even more of a challenge.)

This morning I got a lesson in storytelling from an unexpected source when The Story interviewed Pat Patterson, who in her role as a professional "sensory analyst" is hired to smell and taste just about anything you could dream up. Imagine a day at work where you eat dry dog food and rate how meaty it is, and describe the smell of used cat litter. Pat has traveled to New Jersey to feel men's faces after shaving, and flown to Indonesia to taste fresh fruit. Her immersion in the sensory world has its benefits. She says that as a result of her work, she has become a better cook, leading her to place more emphasis on flavor and trying new spices. I thought that the concept of "How tasting dog food made me a better cook" was one of the stickiest story ideas ever.

Clear-headed mindfulness, showing up and paying attention and being in the moment are precious commodities today. I am guilty of multitasking and living with my head in the clouds on a regular basis. Once in a while a word from my daughter, Zen writing, Yoda (we just watched the whole Star Wars trilogy over the holidays) or someone like Pat Patterson brings me back to the here and now. I'll take my teachers wherever I can find them. I know that connecting with the senses and stories of life will make me a more effective writer and a more connected Mom.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

It's just been one of those weeks...

Here's how a 4-day workweek turns into a 1-day workweek:

Monday: Martin Luther King Jr. holiday

Tuesday: Stomach flu for me, respiratory virus for my daughter.

Wednesday: I'm still sick. My daughter is getting better but she's still at home.

Thursday: Dear daughter is healthy enough to go back to school, but 1 snowflake falls and you know what that means in North Carolina--Snow Day! It's 8:20 am and the roads are clear, black and dry from where I sit, and yet they cancelled the whole day of school in just about every school district in the Triangle.

Midwesterners, New Englanders, and Canadians: Yes, I hear you laughing.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Mojo at Every Age and Stage of Life

This is going to be a quick posting, one I'd like to write more about, but this week I have been waylaid by a stomach bug and my better instincts are saying "go to bed early while you can."

I am usually annoyed by Newsweek's section on The Boomer Files, mostly because I think the whole magazine could be considered to be The Boomer Files, but this week, following the three pages of pointless soundbites on "Celeb Boomers: 3 Things to Do Before Death" we finally come on a substantial gem, a preview of Sara Davidson's upcoming book Leap! What Will We Do With the Rest of Our Lives?

Though she was a best-selling author, journalist and screenwriter, Davidson found that at age 57, she was at home with no kids and no work. Unable to get hired to write in Hollywood, she entered a phase that she called "the narrows," "the rough passage to the next part of life. In the narrows, you're in the dark, stripped of what you you thought was your identity." That resonated strongly with my perception of the early days of motherhood. Life offers many transitions that call for a mojo recharge! Davidson gathered the courage and energy journey to reinvent herself. As she tried new things, she gave up her expectations of what she thought this phase of life would be like, and embraced the unknown. Some paths were dead-ends, and some hoped-for opportunities were closed off. Finally, she felt the courage and commitment needed to write her new book.

What strikes me most about Davidson's story is that she had to work her way through many discouraging situations before she could find her new path. Even as she was turned down for writing jobs, she created a writing opportunity for herself. Even when others were telling her "You can't," she did it anyway. If she had given up sooner, her story might have sounded like failure. But she kept moving until she found a way forward.

Davidson says that everyone goes through the narrows. In Leap! she interviews over 150 people about this transition. Each person's journey will be different, but Davidson offers hope to her fellow travelers. She says, "I can tell you that there's sunlight and air on the other side. What became clear for me may be utterly different than for you....Expectancy is in the air. The country ahead, from the scouting I've done, is not arid but rich and unpredictable, and I've come to be half in love with uncertainty."

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Preserve MLK's legacy: Remember, learn, and teach history

As the 1960's recede into the past, it is vital that each American finds a way to remember, learn, or teach the history of the civil rights era. It seems that on Martin Luther King Day, those who remember Dr. King often forget how many younger people (including 38-year-olds like me, who were born after he was assassinated) need schooling. In church yesterday, we sang the hymn Lift Every Voice and Sing but there was no mention of the history of this song or the fact that it came to be known as the black national anthem. A few years ago, attending our church in California, our pastor led us in a hymn without passing out any music, saying it was to the tune of We Shall Overcome, as though we had all been marching alongside him in 1968.

I did a quick Census bureau search, and by my rough estimates, more than 65% of our current population is under age 45 and too young to remember Dr. King at all. I hope that teachers, pastors and leaders will keep sharing his story. The 14-part documentary series Eyes on the Prize provides a comprehensive, newsreel-based primer on the entire Civil Rights movement of the 60's. I saw the series in college and a decade later I still feel its power. Unfortunately, due to a copyright dispute, this series is currently available only in limited VHS-only distribution, but there is hope that a new infusion of grant money will clear up this situation soon and enable wider distribution. If you have TiVO, this is one to put on your recording wish list in the event that it is rebroadcast on PBS.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Chapel Hill rally and lessons from Vietnam

I took my whole family to an anti-war rally in Chapel Hill last night. My 7-year old was tired since it was the end of a long day, but she was pretty game. This morning she spotted my husband in a group photo of the rally in the newspaper and she was proud of him. It was a good opportunity for discussion.

Our little family of 4 encompassed three generations, since my Mom joined us. As the new war makes me think back to the Vietnam era, I just can't get over the fact that my parents picked up from Cleveland Heights, Ohio and moved 7600 miles to the tiny Pacific island of Guam in the spring of 1968, for a two-year stay. This was considered a very good assignment since my Dad would be safe, working in hospital administration, and my pregnant Mom could accompany him.

As a child, "being born on Guam" was just part of our family's story. Now that I see it within the context of motherhood and war, it means something much more to me. To be honest, it's a sacrifice I can hardly imagine making. Yet for my parents, it's their gratitude for a combat-support position that really shines through. The Naval Hospital on Guam was the destination for wounded soldiers who were likely to survive, so it was an important place to be. At the rally last night, I looked at my Mom and realized that the Vietnam war was hardly an academic exercise for her, and I was glad that she wanted to raise her voice to protest the current war.

One of the protest signs last night read, "To get out of a hole, stop digging!" and that pretty much sums up my perspective. One of the most informative pieces I have seen lately was our local Independent Weekly's excerpt of the August 9, 1966 issue of Look magazine, that asked five experts "What should we do now?" about Vietnam. Several experts advocated escalation, but one spoke out against increasing the war effort:

(Look Magazine, 8/9/66) Hans Morgenthau, political science professor at the University of Chicago and consultant to the Department of Defense: Winning would take a million troops and destruction of the country that risked Chinese or Soviet intervention. Instead, "The aim of our policy must be to avoid getting more deeply involved in it and to extricate ourselves from it while minimizing our losses.... The Saigon government is hardly worthy of the name; and the great mass of the people of South Vietnam prefer an end to the war rather than a fight to the finish with the Vietcong."

The Independent Weekly's present-day reaction was: "About 7,000 U.S. forces had been killed in action in Vietnam by the end of 1966. Another 40,000 would die after that as the U.S. fought, negotiated and finally withdrew in 1973. The Vietcong were victorious in 1975. The question is: What would have happened if Lyndon Johnson had taken Hans Morgenthau's advice?"

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Radio stories to make you laugh, cry, and think

The Mojo Mom Podcast will return with our first show of the New Year next Friday. Co-host Sheryl Grant started graduate school this week--go Sheryl!--and I am still getting back into the swing of work after the holidays, so we need one more week to our first show produced.

I heard three brilliant hours of radio this week, which you can listen to thanks to the magic of podcasting. All 3 are available free from the iTunes podcast directory, and I am also linking here to the shows' individual sites.

The Story, "There for the Birth"
January 9, 2007, WUNC North Carolina Public Radio

Dick Gordon talked to a woman who was a teenage mother herself who now serves as a doula (birth assistant and mentor) to help at-risk, low income teen moms cope before, during and after the birth of their babies.

The State of Things, "The South in Black and White"
January 9, 2007, WUNC North Carolina Public Radio

A new class offered to students at UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke and N.C. Central, as well as to community members, explores the history, politics, art and music of the South. This fascinating interview shows what all of us, everywhere across the country, can learn about race and history by studying ths South. Most interesting to me was the idea that even the "losing" groups whose history was not recorded in textbooks found ways to keep their stories alive through culture and religion. Some of those lost histories, such as the Wilmington Race Riots of 1898, are finally being discovered and understood by the dominant community. Proponents of "minority" movements everywhere, including the women's movement, have a great deal to learn from this examination of how history is created.

This American Life, "The Super"
January 5, 2007, WBEZ Chicago Public Radio

I read the episode description and wondered how a whole show about building superintendents could possibly be interesting.
But, this is "This American Life," so I knew it must be good. It did not disappoint. Two of the three stories in this episode are just about the best I've heard in 10 years of listening. The third act was so funny that I was walking down the street wearing headphones, laughing my butt off and not caring whether I looked crazy. Trust me on this one.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Resolution for 2007: Be a VERB

I want to send out a quick welcome to new Mojo Mom blog visitors. Today I was a featured expert in the article Baby Makes 3: How Kids Rattle Friendships by Sue Kidd, which has brought a lot of new traffic to my site. So if this is your first time reading my blog, welcome. I had a great interview with Sue for the article and I recommend it to all my blog readers.

I'd like to propose a New Year's Resolution for all Moms, which is to resolve to take action in our lives. Growig up from a girl to a woman, we are socialized in so many ways to be passive rather than active. We wait, we hope, we dream. Then one day we wake up and wonder why we have been waiting for life to come to us rather than going out to get it. We might think we came up with this idea on our own and blame ourselves for being so passive. If we're lucky, we realize that we were taught to be this way and that we can also come to a new understanding of ourselves as actors in our lives.

I saw actress Helen Mirren on 60 Minutes last Sunday, and at age 61, she is as thoughtful, courageous and well-spoken as anyone could be. She told the story of growing up in a working-class seaside town, sitting on a park bench looking pretty, hoping a producer would walk by and discover her.

But now, years later, she is in the driver's seat of her life. She is still growing into herself. I remember seeing Mirren win her Emmy last summer, and during the award show the original Charlie's Angels actresses also made a reunion appearance. Remarkably, the "Angels" are almost the same age as Dame Helen. But while Kate, Farrah and Jaclyn were trying desperately to look like they were frozen in time in their 1977 beauty, Helen was saucy, sexy and gorgeous--silver hair, eye-smile lines and all. She's the one I who inspires me when I think about being 60.

So let's all resolve to live as VERBS this year. What can we do to take charge of life, to find our voices, and make ourselves heard? What important changes do we want to make happen in the world?

Are you looking for inspiration? Right now I am working on a "curriculum for life" for Class of 2007 college graduates, and I've been thinking about 5 books I'd wished I'd had in college...but are never too late to discover. These are books that you most likely won't find on a college syllabus but will give you vital information that will help you in life:

The Motherhood Manifestso: What America's Moms Want--and What To Do About It by Joan Blades and Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner

How to Avoid the Mommy Trap: A Roadmap for Sharing Parenting and Making it Work by Julie Shields

The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence by Gavin de Becker

Negotiating Your Salary: How to Make $1000 a Minute by Jack Chapman

The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron

Feel free to post your resolution in the comments section. Sharing your goals with the world makes them real!

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The difference between Apple and Microsoft

I have been a Macintosh fanatic since the first time I saw one, my senior year of high school. My first day of college in August 1986, my parents were kind enough to buy me a Macintosh 512K enhanced from the Brown bookstore. That computer didn't even have a hard drive but it did get me through four years of college just fine. In addition to wordprocessing, thankfully it did have the computing power to play Tetris--ye olde original Russian version. We were convinced it was a Communist plot to stunt the intellectual growth of American college students, but we happily became addicts anyway.

This week two high-tech announcements continued to demonstrate why I have such admiration and consumer loyalty for Apple that has endured for 20 years.

On Monday Bill Gates came out with an announcement that was uninsipiring and (IMHO) vaguely Orwellian, telling us what he's planning to do to our homes. All I remember is that he wants us to have a 24-hour a day connected experience, which terrifies me, to be honest. I am distracted enough. I don't want my refrigerator talking to me or providing stock updates and the CNN crawl. Gates' message came across to me as "Here is what I want you to do, whether it is what you want or not."

Then on Tuesday Steve Jobs announced the new iPhone. I didn't hear Jobs' keynote speech, but I went to the Apple website to check out the new product, and I immediately dissolved into a puddle of consumer-geek desire. From a design standpont, this product speaks for itself. The website demonstrates the phone, photo, browsing, iPod music & video features. Bonus points for using a Jim-centric clip from The Office to illustrate the video iPod feature!

Now I am skeptical about the touch-screen keyboard on the iPhone, and I'd like to try it out in person, but there is no question that Apple has created an instantly revolutionary device. Apple bounded out of the gate showing me something I really want. They presented the iPhone in a way that feels like the connected experience is in my control, rather than something being imposed on me.

I have become a student of ideas. For fans of my new favorite book, Made to Stick, the contrast of the Apple announcement versus the Microsoft announcement provides an excellent example of a sticky annoucement versus an unsticky idea.

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Cutting through Blogjam

I hate that I've been neglecting my blog this week. My mind is filled with ideas but I am overwhelmed. Blogjam! Today I will do my best to cut through the fog and get something intelligent down.

I have to admit I haven't done my Artist's Way morning pages since Christmas. I have a feeling I need to get back on track. The morning pages provide an outlet for the first thoughts of the day that aren't necessarily worth sharing with the whole world! It's like pouring the scum off a cup of hot chocolate to get at the warm yummy goodness below.

I am not naturally a morning person (not a before-7-am-person anyway) and I have to get up by 6:40 to to the morning pages. But I do believe it's a worthwhile investment in my writing.

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Friday, January 05, 2007

Mojo Mom's Bookshelf: Right-hand column

Blogger wanted me to break up my book list into 2 postings. Here is the right-hand side of our current stack of "books in play." The photo is with the previous post.

A Monk's Alphabet by Jeremy Driscoll

Go It Alone! by Bruce Judson

What Women Really Want by Celinda Lake and Kellyanne Conway with Catherine Whitney

The Motherhood Manifesto by Joan Blades and Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner

Negotiating Your Salary: How to Make $1000 a Minute by Jack Chapman

Political Control of the Economy by Edward Tufte

Babyproofing Your Marriage by Stacie Cockrell, Cathy O'Neill, and Julia Stone

Stage Fright on a Summer Night by Mary Pope Osborne

The Millionth Circle by Jean Shinoda Bolen

Bad President by R. D. Rosen, Hary Pritchett, Rob Battles, and James Friedman

Lunch Lessons by Ann Cooper and Lisa M. Holmes

The Family That Couldn't Sleep: A Medical Mystery by D. T. Max

Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain

Momfidence by Paula Spencer

The Keep by Jennifer Egan

The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud

This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel J. Levitin

The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama

On Mojo Mom's bookshelf

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When life gives you housework....make a blog posting out of it!

This morning I spent a couple of hours getting our house back to "normal" after the holidays. This means that the kitchen is clean, the dining rooom table is one-third cleared off, and my office, well, it's still a mess but that's a project for another day.

As I moved through the house, I picked up the books that were lying around everywhere. As I looked at the stack I thought it made an interesting collection, a snapshot of what is "in play" at the Tiemann household.

It's hard to keep up with all my reading and reviewing, so I am going to list the books and link to them. Most of the books are mine, some are review copies, some are my husband or daughter's. A few are Christmas presents. I will let you guess which are which!

Looks like I will have to break this into 2 parts. Here's the left-hand stack:

Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit by Daniel Quinn

Thinking Points by George Lakoff

Optical Illusions by Al Seckel

The Other Side of War by Zainab Salbi

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

Saving Graces by Elizabeth Edwards

Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius by Angeline Stoll Lillard

Never Check Email in the Morning by Julie Morgenstern

The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron

Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder

Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel

The Female Thing by Laura Kipnis

The Opt-Out Revolt by Lisa Maniero and Sherry Sullivan

Here's to our Run-The-House Mom!

Nancy Pelosi has traveled quite a path in her life, from "Staying at Home" to "Running the House (of Representatives)."

I found myself tearing up as I watched her voted in as Speaker of the House yesterday. How great was it that so many people brought their families on the opening day of the new session? I loved seeing male legislators carrying their baby grandchildren around. I'd hope they carry some of that energy with them as they work to determine our futures.

I want to thank MojoMom blog reader Adena for pointing me to Ellen Goodman's new column about Pelosi's historic moment. Ellen Goodman and Anna Quindlen are my journalistic idols, role models right up there with leaders like Nancy Pelosi in my book.

Adena has just started a new blog, Jewish/Mother/Writer/Researcher/Artist/Etc. She sounds like a mojo mom after my own heart!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Book reviews: "Made to Stick" and "Go It Alone!"

All of us Moms have ideas we need to put forward. I want to recommend that you read Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. This is an unusually readable, entertaining and useful business book that has relevance to many fields.

If you are going to write a guide about crafting sticky ideas, your book had better embody your principles. What I love about "Made to Stick" is that it is not merely entertaining (though it is), it provides practical, tangible strategies for creating sticky ideas. Once you understand their ideas, you can boil them down to a set of touchstone points to evaluate your own work. This sets "Made to Stick" apart from the work of Malcolm Gladwell, whom the Heath brothers openly admire. I enjoyed Gladwell's books but could not necessarily apply his ideas to my own work.

My review copy of "Made to Stick" is covered with highlighter. I am reading the book once through for pure pleasure, and then I am going back again to apply the ideas to evaluate the messages coming from a non-profit organization I am working for. "Made to Stick" challenges you to distill the essence of your message, to get back to core principles and to communicate them in a memorable way. Chip and Dan point out that as we become experts, we tend to use abstraction to define our ideas, and we lose our ability to communicate with novices. They teach us how to bridge that gap so that our ideas are once again accessible by everyone.

"Made to Stick" gives you the tools you need to revamp your own messages. It provides "do it yourself" conuslting in book form, which will be appreciated by activists, entrepreneurs, and businesses of all sizes.


On a related note, for all of you who are solo entrepreneurs or who have ever thought of starting your own business, Bruce Judson's book Go It Alone! will teach you his business model to "do what you do best, and outsource the rest." This strategy can work particularly well for parents who are interested in re-entering the workforce on their own terms.

Bruce provides practical guidance and explains distinctions such as the difference between being a "go-it-alone enterpreneur" and a "free agent." Being a free agent is great in theory but subject to boom-and-bust employment cycles. If you are an underemployed freelancer, he can help guide you toward a more sustainable, expandable business model.

Bruce is a fan of innovative publishing models and he has made the full content of Go It Alone! free on his website,

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

What was your moment of truth?

Cross-posted from the group blog. If this is your kind of conversation I encourage you to sign up for today!

Who ever decided that motherhood and politics should be kept separate? I find this very frustrating in Moms' groups. Many groups have stated policies that political views and discussions are not welcome within the confines of the organization. The mandate to be "nice" is holding us back. There seems to be a fear that it's more important to "all get along" than to allow an open dialogue.

Mothers aren't going to get political power unless we act like we want it, and in fact demand it. That is why I am so drawn to MomsRising and the founders' book The Motherhood Manifesto. The facts are aired and the stage is been set for real discussion. Sure, we won't all agree, but as mothers there is a whole lot of common ground we can cover together.

I encourage you to challenge the limits of the Moms' groups you belong to. Political doesn't have to mean partisan. How about if candidates from all parties are invited to speak to your group before the next election? Even more important than helping you to decide who you'll vote for, inviting representatives and challengers shows that Moms care about the policies that leaders are enacting on our behalf. We're smart, we're paying attention, and we vote.

Motherhood is inherently political for me. As a woman who had the privilege of a professional education, gender equality was a near-reality for me before I became a Mom. Then adding a baby to our family brought gender roles to the forefront. I was lucky to be able to afford self-financed maternity leave, and I have health insurance for my husband, but I am all too aware that many women are lacking these basic support systems.

I love that motherhood burst my little bubble and revved up my political engines. The motherhood movement faces many challenges, but we have fantastic resources to draw on if we all work together.

How did motherhood change your political views and involvement? Did you have a lightning-strike moment of truth, or a slowly dawning awareness? I'd love to hear your stories.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Mommy explains Constitutional law

Moms are put on the spot to answer all of the Great Questions sooner or later. My daughter is 7 years old and I have already been asked, "Is Jesus real?" "Where do babies come from?" and "When you are eating a chicken leg, are you eating a CHICKEN'S LEG?"

Today I was thrust into a discussion that required me to explain our Constitution. Like many great conversations, this one took place in the car. We had picked up our dog from his vacation stay at the kennel and were driving home, when we got on the topic of groups of kids not wanting to play with each other. Neither she or I remembers exactly how we got started on this, but we ended up talking about the fact that white children and black children used to be segregated in different schools. I pointed out that things had been this way here in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and if we had lived here 60 years ago we would have had to work toward making the system more fair.

She asked: "Would you have given money to the black schools to make them better?"

I replied that I would have put my money and effort into getting the system changed.

I told her that after a lot of work from brave people, the law was finally changed to require children to attend school together.

She asked, "Did people vote to change it?" This was an amazing question because it required me to explain that no, if they had had a vote, most people probably would have voted to keep schools separate. But the way our government is set up, we have a Constitution whose principles are even more powerful than a vote. When the Supreme Court decided that the law keeping children in segregated schools was unconstitutional, the law had to be changed, no matter how people voted.

It's easy to be cyncical about our government today, but explaining the system to my child, I was pretty darn proud of our core principles. I think we have a wonderful government structure, if we will just insist that the separation of powers be honored and the Constitution be strictly and vigorously upheld.

Age 7 has its challenges but it is also magical and inspiring to be able to engage in real dialogue with my daughter. The questions she asks really get me thinking and our conversations are learning opportunities for both of us. I grew up in the North, where segregation is more book history than local history, and the fight for civil rights always seemed distant, like a grainy black-and-white documentary newsreel. The fact of segregation hit me in a new way, explaining to my girl that there had been separate schools right here in the only home town she has ever known.

I'd be interested in your thoughts on what was the most challenging question your child has ever asked you, and how old was your child when he or she posed it?

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Monday, January 01, 2007

New Year's redeems holidays

Pssst, don't tell marketers, but there is one holiday I love--New Year's Eve. It marks the end of the Thanksgiving-Christmas holiday season and heralds a new start for all of us. No presents to buy or new decorations to put up, just a festive party to welcome 2007 with a fresh start for all of us.

My husband Michael and I went away together for the weekend which was fabulous. We spent time with a dynamic group of friends who charged our brains up with enough ideas to last through the whole New Year.

This feels like a good time to thank all of my Mojo Mom readers. The blog has blossomed in the past year, becoming something very important to me, and I hope I have created a place you like to come back to again and again.

Instead of a New Year's resolution, I have one New Year's wish for you, which is that you will find the sweet spot that theologian Frederick Buechner describes as "the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet." If you hold that idea in your mind, and focus your actions in that direction, you will never go wrong.

Blessings for a happy, peaceful 2007.