Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Mojo Mom Podcast is back with "Body Drama"

I've just posted a new episode of The Mojo Mom Podcast, featuring my interview with Nancy Amanda Redd, author of the bestselling book, Body Drama, a frank, honest, realistic photographic guide to the female body.

Listen to the podcast now:

I want to tell all of our show's listeners that the the podcast is back, and we will be producing new episodes throughout the summer. Our production process had been stuck in a rut through a very busy spring, but I have taken the important step in hiring a new producer. The show will show up more regularly throughout June, July and August.

Ironically, perhaps fittingly, in this episode, my co-host Sheryl Grant and I talk about how to set priorities and meet goals. I know it's a never-ending challenge for Moms, who are responsible for so much. Sheryl and I debate the The New York Times article based on psychologist Dan Ariely's work, The Advantages of Closing a Few Doors, and I try to convince her that sometimes you do have to give up desirable activities in order to focus on your core goals.

In real life, as we were recording this episode, I was struggling with the demand to write a daily parenting and technology blog for CNET. I finally decided that I had to let that platform go, if I was going to get back to moving Mojo Mom forward, including the podcast. This was a difficult choice because writing for CNET was interesting and meaningful--but it was also stressful, time consuming, and underpaid for the amount of effort it required me to invest.

So after much deliberation, I did pare down my activities. In Mojo Mom, I talk about thoughtfully choosing activities that are "fun, meaningful, or absolutely necessary." Now, as my work expands, I am developing the idea of core priorities. If an opportunity takes me away from my core, rather than advancing it, it's probably a task I should decline.

I have become good at Saying No to things I don't want to do. Now my challenge is to Say No to opportunities that are worthwhile, but pull me too far away from my central priorities. I know this is a good problem to have, because it means that my career as a writer is progressing, but it is something I need to be conscious of managing on a daily basis.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

'Indiana Jones' review: How scary is it?

My 8-year-old is intrigued but scared by Indiana Jones. She is away on a school trip this week, and helpfully suggested that I go see it by myself while she's gone, and report back on how scary it is. Being a longtime Harrison Ford fan myself, I did just that last night.

I have to say I was left cold by Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It wasn't awful, like Temple of Doom, but it wasn't great. The actors were in fine form--yes, Harrison Ford still has "it" as Indy, it was great to see Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood, and I even liked Shia LaBeouf. But the plot was an absolute mess. 1950's Russians, crystal skulls in Peru, aliens. It was like a Mad-Lib combination of Indiana Jones mashed up with Chris Carter's X-Files.

The complicated plot is all an excuse for action and chases, I get that. But the overuse of CGI special effects takes the human element out of it. Many of the great moments in Raiders of the Lost Ark were low-tech: Indy taking the gold idol and replacing it with a bag of sand--that set off a chase, but the first suspenseful moment was seeing whether he could get away with it. Marion saying "Indiana Jones! I always knew some day you'd come walking back through my door."

If your favorite part of Raiders was the Nazi villain's head melting, then this one will blow your mind.

One of my pet peeves about movie reviews is that they rarely spell out the scary elements of a film so that parents can decide whether it's appropriate for their kids, so I'm going to try to fill in the blanks for you.

Crystal Skull is a solid PG-13, medium-to-spicy haunted house scary, but I predict it will affect individual kids very differently. Like many summer blockbusters today, Crystal Skull often feels like watching someone else play a video game, which I find extremely boring. Kids who have seen a lot of intense movies and video games will probably think it's cool. My sensitive 8-year-old would not like the movie. Man-eating ants, scorpions, shadowy figures who follow Indy in Peru--it's all a bit too much. There is relatively little blood shown, though in the beginning of the film, people open machine gun fire and kill several soldiers.

One scene was cinematically effective but really creepy. Indy is escaping from a military base in New Mexico and he walks into what looks like an idyllic suburb with TVs blaring, but finds it's populated by mannequins. Then he realizes it's a nuclear test site that is about to be graphically blown up into a mushroom cloud. Indy survives by climbing into a lead-lined refrigerator, which is a dangerous action to model for kids. (Yes, I know the whole movie is one big danger-fest but this example stood out to me as a strange dramatic choice involving something kids might encounter in real life.)

One final observation, I happened to hear an NPR interview with children's author Mo Willems yesterday, and he was asked what he'd learned about writing by working for Sesame Street. He said kids are smart but the one difference is that they don't yet understand cultural references. He gave the example of the Eiffel Tower--to communicate to kids you have to be more literal and say "big thing." In Crystal Skull it's clear who the "good" and "bad" guys are, but the story also has a level of cultural abstraction that will go over the heads of younger kids: do they know about Area 51, the Cold War, the 1950's, aliens, etc? I kept thinking that if I were a kid I'd be pretty confused by the story.

So you'll have to integrate these factors and decide what's best for your family. For me personally, it was good to see the old gang together again but in the final analysis the movie came off as sound and fury signifying very little, indeed.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

My own mini "Eat, Pray, Love" experience

Since March, I have been ping-ponging back and forth between North Carolina, New York, and California. I've never gone back and forth quite this way, and it definitely highlights the contrasts between these very different locales. I'm almost developing my own mini-version of Eat, Pray, Love out of these travels. Here's what I have learned:

California: Breathe In, Breathe Out

Southern California has to put up with a lot of stereotypes, but some of them are rooted in wonderful reality. Last week my family traveled to San Diego for my cousin's wedding. We had some free time to explore, and after spending half a day playing in the surf by the little town of Del Mar, I was dreaming of renting a beach house for a month.

I have been wound up pretty tightly lately, and the hypnotic rhythm of the surf broke through my chattering mind and gave me a few hours of real peace and relaxation. My daughter was happy to play in the sand, without any toys or tools, just exploring with her hands. She made friends with another girl and they dug all kinds of canals as they tried to build pools that would capture the sea.

The morning at the beach, plus a meal of fish tacos, fresh avocados, artichokes, and Mexican beer reminded me of some of what I love about California.

New York: Mind Your Own Business

On the opposite pole of existence, I've been spending time in Manhattan. My mother-in-law lives there, and it's the center of the publishing and media universe, so between family and business ties I've been up twice this spring. I've lived most of my life in a small town or suburbs, so Manhattan has always been rather intimidating. It's probably taken me a dozen trips to feel really comfortable there, but I have broken through. I can now plug into the energy of the city and enjoy myself.

I have come to respect the way that New Yorkers protect their personal space. When you travel in an extremely crowded environment, you need to be able to emotionally keep your distance even when jammed up close to other strangers. You don't want or need to acknowledge every person you pass on the street. I remember that when I was in college, I'd pass the same people on the way to class every day, and wonder how many times in one day I had to say hello to someone when our paths crossed on campus. Two times, three, or every time I saw them? And if I said hi to one person I knew, did that mean I had to say hi to every single one?

In New York, those obligations are minimized. It's really okay to "mind your own business." This is a useful exercise for me, because I tend to lean forward, reach out, and connect, even when it's not necessary or useful to do so. Living in a small town like Chapel Hill reinforces this tendency. This can pull me off center and causes problems when I take on other people's responsibilities or requests when I don't really have time to do so. This is a classic issue for many mothers, wanting to be helpful and people-pleasing to the point that we neglect our own priorities. I encourage you to get in touch with your own "inner New Yorker" and learn what it feels like to set clear boundaries when necessary.

And here's a secret I have learned about New York: most people are actually pretty nice, and are willing to help you, or at least point you in the right direction, if you have a specific question or problem.

North Carolina: Home

Finally, coming back to North Carolina does feel like home. We've been here for seven years, the longest I've ever lived in one house. My daughter is growing up here, and we are putting down strong roots. For the first time in my life, I feel like if we moved away, the community as a whole would actually miss us. You'd have to be a pretty "big fish" to feel like that in New York or San Francisco, but in Chapel Hill, we actually have the chance to get to know each other.

If travel has taught you important lessons, especially relating to life as a Mom, I'd love to hear your comments.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Mojo Mom on the CBS Early Show and The Today Show

From my Mother's Day 2008 appearance on the CBS Early Show:

Employers are tapping into the pool of talented "SWAT Moms" -- Smart Women with Available Time -- to get professional results for short term projects. Mojo Mom author Amy Tiemann tells moms how to stay competitive in the workforce as they move their careers in a new direction.

And for good measure, here is my 2007 Mother's Day appearance on The Today Show. I still feel good that I held my own during a contentious panel discussion with Leslie Bennetts, Lisa Belkin, and Gail Saltz:

I wonder where I'll be next Mother's Day!

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

CBS Early Show; Flexible employment resources

I felt very fortunate to be on CBS Early Show this morning, and now I am back home in time for Mother's Day.

You can read about the segment and I'll post video as soon as I get it.

I loved the taped piece that led off the discussion of SWAT Moms, which is the concept of hiring mothers for highly-skilled, short-term projects. I knew everyone in the piece and I was so proud of my friends!

When it came time for my studio appearance, the segment was shortened at the last minute to fit the live TV schedule. I did my best to get my points across in the brief time we had to work with.

The web sites I referred to on-air were some of those recommended by Sue Shellenbarger in her Wall Street Journal article:

MomCorps is another well-known staffing firm

And I want to give an additional shout-out to two partnerships that I know and admire:

In the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill Triangle, we have staffing firm Balancing Professionals, led by the dynamic duo of Kella Hatcher and Maryanne Perrin. They are fantastic colleagues who have taught me a great deal about these issues.

Nationally, CultureRx provides the expertise and framework to help companies develop ROWE, the "results-only work environment." The idea is that it doesn't matter when or were you get your work done. You can set your own schedule and work process. Goodbye to worrying about putting in "face time" in the office. Your completed work speaks for itself.

CultureRx has created a ROWE Launch Kit for managers, and CultreRx founders Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson have a new book coming out at the end of May: Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It. The title is irreverent but we can count on Cali and Jody to deliver the serious goods as well. I am eager to get my hands on an advance copy and I'll tell you more about the book by the publishing date. I am crossing my fingers that I'll be able to get Jody and Cali as guests on my podcast.

It is important to support these efforts because let's face it, we're still in the pioneering phase of getting flexible employment to be widely offered. Even though the culture is beginning to shift, many flexible arrangements are still seen as special deals, and bosses may even ask the employee to keep the arrangement quiet. Thus, these individual cases may not make the systemic impact we need.

Here's my prediction: as the Baby Boomers retire, their demand for phased retirement will push flexible employment over the tipping point, in a big way. When the bosses decide they want it for themselves, then we'll all get it.

For those of us who are juggling work and family NOW, we can't wait for a demographic wave to sweep us forward. We need to push, pull, negotiate, and speak up. So I am particularly grateful to those firms who are going out on the leading edge to make it happen for us.

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Friday, May 09, 2008

Watch Mojo Mom on the CBS Early Show, Saturday May 10

Mother's Day is a great time to be Mojo Mom. Last year I appeared on The Today Show, and tomorrow I am scheduled to be on the CBS Early Show.

The segment was inspired by the Moms as Executive SWAT Team members project I participated in. UNC's Kenan-Flagler business school hired local moms to come in as "Managerial role players" to give MBA students a taste of real-world work challenges. Thus the acronym SWAT, for "Smart Women with Available Time" who could jump in on a short-term, highly skilled project.

I had the chance to be one of the role players, AND this project was a total validation of the reinvention strategies I write about in Mojo Mom, so it was a wonderful experience for me.

A question has come up in a few discussion groups, namely, why is it okay that the business school only payed us $21 an hour when we were clearly filling an important, valuable role?

I am glad that the question was asked, because we should be thinking about money. But it is not the only consideration, as this case illustrates very well.

The Kenan-Flagler project was a win-win-win situation for the MBA Students, the business school, and the managerial assessor SWAT team. We were paid for the hours we spent in training, which was a valuable experience in itself. We had the chance to step in to an executive role that reminded us that we still have our business chops, even if we have stepped off the path of traditional full-time employment. And we had a chance to work with our friends, which was really fun, especially since we were displaying a totally different side of our personalities than we usually do.

I would definitely list this experience on my resume, and could possibly get a recommendation out of it. I could sign up to do it again in the future if I needed a job, and I felt that $21 an hour was a worthwhile rate for a periodic project that developed important skills.

Want to learn more? Watch the SWAT team segment on CBS Early Show tomorrow.


My big week

I opened up my blog and couldn't believe I hadn't written since last Saturday. It's been a huge week.

On Tuesday, the election excitement in North Carolina got so intense that I felt like the kid who gets so worked up that she throws up on Christmas Eve. I had many friends report similar feelings that we were ready for the vote to actually happen.

Then we Obama supporters celebrated his massive victory. When the news reports percentage points, we can lose sight of acutal actual numbers involved: Obama won by more than 236,000 votes in our state. Clinton won Indiana by about 18,500 votes. I was really proud of the Obama volunteers throughout our North Carolina who helped deliver such decisive support as this primary comes down to the wire.

I was at the Tuesday night rally in Raleigh and I may post photos later. I got home late that evening and then up early the next morning to fly to New York to have a several meetings exploring the future of Mojo's all good so far.

I used to be intimidated by New York but now that I've finally spent time here over the past several years, I am really starting to enjoy it. I also have a big appearance coming up tomorrow that I'll write about in a separate blog post.

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Saturday, May 03, 2008

Read Ellen Goodman's column on the Fair Pay Act

The last week was a busy one for me as I had an intense training in California.

The night I landed in San Jose, the Senate blocked the advancement of the Fair Pay Act, aka the Lily Ledbetter Act.

I had emailed and talked to MomsRising friends about it, and I just now realized that I hadn't blogged about it!

I highly recommend that you read Ellen Goodman's new column, "The backward plight of the working woman." As much as I already knew about this bill, Goodman put it into perspective in a way that inflamed true outrage in me.

[Lily Ledbetter] was just 26 when Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed to enforce equality in the workplace. The old stalwart - equal pay for equal work - is so universally accepted that we choose to believe it's not just a law but a fact of life.

Our gal Ledbetter, however, worked for two decades in the not-so-female-friendly ranks of Goodyear. Only when she neared retirement did an anonymous tipster slip her a reality check about her paycheck. It turned out that as a female supervisor, she was earning less than her male counterparts. She was paid on average 79 cents for every male dollar, a figure suspiciously close to the national wage gap.

Ledbetter sued Goodyear and won. But Goodyear appealed the case to the Supreme Court, which decided 5-4 that she had to have sued within six months of her first unequal pay. That basically means that if employers can hide unequal pay for six months, they are scot free.

Goodman continues, An unequal paycheck is a thief that keeps on taking. Even in retirement, Ledbetter is still, in her own words, "a second-class worker" with a pension and Social Security check that carry Goodyear's bite marks.

The House of Representatives passed the Fair Pay Act to rectify this situation, stating that an employee could sue up to 180 days after the latest unequal paycheck.

Then last week the Senate failed to advance the bill. It received a majority of votes, 56 to 42 but needed 60 votes to clear a Republican procedural hurdle and move forward.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both voted for the bill. John McCain did not return to Washington to vote, which meant he effectively voted against it.

Here is a complete roll call that can tell you how your Senators voted. Please let your Senators know how you feel about this important piece of legislation. has a petition you can sign in support of the Equal Pay Act.

I've been in a number of interesting discussions with other feminists lately, and the Ledbetter Act is an important example of how many actions we have that we can all work on together. All women risk receiving unequal pay based on gender discrimination, and we need to flex our collective muscle to get this crucial law passed.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Mojo Mom on the Executive SWAT team

I'd be blogging about Sue Shellenbarger's Wall Street Journal article "How Stay-at-Home Moms Are Filling an Executive Niche" even if I wasn't personally involved. But I am proud to say that I am the "Stanford University Ph.D. in neuroscience" in Shellenbarger's piece.

Last year worked for an experimental project at UNC's Kenan-Flagler business school. I was one member of a team of about a dozen management role-players and assessors. We were trained to play two roles, a manager and a subordinate, and we'd run scenarios with the MBA students. The scenarios were quite realistic, as if the students were prepping for a meeting and trying to reach a specific goal while interacting with a difficult co-worker. These scenarios gave the students a realistic experience that went beyond book learning.

This project was valuable on several levels. Kenan-Flagler was able to assemble an incredibly talented for a low cost. One of my co-trainers, Donnabeth Leffler, named us the SWAT team, for "smart women with available time." The simulations only take place a few weeks a year, so Kenan-Flagler needed executive-level talent that could assemble at a moment's notice to work on an intense but brief project.

MBA program associate director Meghan Kelley-Gosk (whom you may remember from her profile in Mojo Mom) recruited the team of assessors from her local contacts, which included several women from our neighborhood.

Stepping into the executive role was a revelation for each of us. When we practiced role-playing with each other, I saw a whole new side to my friends. In real life I knew them as patient, kind mothers, yet they convincingly adopted the persona of an assertive and deliberately difficult executive.

This project was not going to provide a steady job for anyone, but it was the kind of opportunity I dreamed of women having when I wrote Mojo Mom. I got such a confidence boost by getting trained for this new job and then doing it well. When you think of "stay-at-home Mom" versus "MBA student," a stereotypical image might be minnows swimming with sharks. It was good to confront that image because when it came right down to it, I actually felt more like the shark. Because the MBA students are very smart, we might forget that most of them have not been in the working world for more than a few years. Compared to a twentysomething, I have come to appreciate the life experience I have accumulated through every work and family challenge I have faced.

So whatever you are doing in life, I hope your path includes opportunities that teach you new skills, and remind you how smart and talented you really are. With all the work-life challenges we face, I really feel that the tide is beginning to turn, and that employers are starting to see parents for as the workplace asset that we really can be.

The project I participated in was so successful that Kenan-Flagler expanded it this year and made it mandatory for their leadership training.

Need help in your office? Think about calling in the SWAT team.

(For more information, check out Balancing Professionals, CultureRx and MomCorps.)

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