Monday, September 29, 2008

A coherent explanation of our financial meltdown

It's just an atrocious day on Wall Street and the close of trading can't come soon enough.

The US House has failed to pass the bailout bill and the Dow is down over 600 points as I type.

I realized I do have something constructive to contribute to this situation. I can recommend that you listen to the This American Life episode called The Giant Pool of Money. This show was produced in conjunction with NPR News last May. It is the most coherent explanation I've heard of the origins of the bubbles that are now popping.

Even if you have never downloaded a show before, you can just listen to it through your computer--no iPod or CD burner necessary. It is definitely worth 55 minutes of your time and attention.

I am so angry at this situation. Unlike an earthquake or tornado, this was a completely predictable disaster given that the core of our financial systems were rotting from the inside out for years.

It is definitely a Mojo Mom topic because we and our children will be paying the consequences for years, one way or the other.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Things that are bugging me right now

Now that I am in recuperation mode, I feel like writing more frequent, but shorter blog posts. Maybe I just have a blogjam in my brain right now because I've been away for a few days. But here goes--two things that are really bugging me (superficial ones, not major ones like the country going to hell in a handbasket):

First, I am just about ready to stop browsing the internet because I'll scream if I have to see that horrible animated ad for the new movie Choke again. The one where the guy is eating an woman. Choking on her, get it, with her legs dangling out of his mouth. Funny--not! And it's everywhere, the New York Times, Huffington Post--can't I opt out of this one somehow now that I've seen it like 1000 times? The movie sounds absolutely horrible. EW gave it a B+ but it sounds like a movie that only guys could possibly appreciate (the kind of guy I never want to know).

Second, Meredith Grey on Grey's Anatomy. Could she be any more self-involved and annoying? Are we really supposed to keep liking her when her level of narcissism knows no bounds? Christina is lying on a stretcher with an icicle impaling her chest and Meredith still wants to talk about her "issues." She's got her relationship offer on the table, either take a leap of faith, or bail, but stop complaining about it. No one gets a promise of "happy ever after," but a real imperfect relationship is still worth a whole heck of a lot. There are no guarantees, Meredith!

So that's what's bugging me today, one ubiquitous, misogynistic movie and one incessantly whiny surgeon with the maturity of a high-school sophomore.


Mojo Mom on the mend

It's been a crazy week all over, hasn't it? My personal plans got derailed Tuesday evening when I wasn't feeling well...I went to the local ER because my stomach hurt a lot and I couldn't get comfortable. To make a long story short, I ended up getting my appendix out on Wednesday morning. Abdominal surgery was definitely not in my dayplanner this week.

I did think of a Mojo Mom principle throughout all this: at 3:00 am I had a "Who's on your speed dial?" moment, making a list of people for my husband and mother to call the next day, both to cancel appointments and to ask my friends for help. I felt lucky to have a deep pool of connections--a resource you need to develop before the crisis hits.

So I am on the mend, feeling pretty tired, and a little antsy and frustrated that I just have to rest. This wasn't the break I was hoping for, but I thank goodness for health insurance and good medical care. I wish we could be spending some of the 700 billion dollars to provide health care for every person in the country right now.

The good doctors at UNC Hospitals said that they've seen a lot of appendicitis lately. I have noticed that all the Democrats I know in Chapel Hill are really stressing out about the election--what a roller coaster, even before the economic meltdown! So I can't help but wonder if there is a mind-body-stress-appendix connection. (I couldn't find any medical confirmation of that but I still have to think all that stress can't be helpful.)

I actually started taking a Mindfulness-based stress reduction class on Tuesday, but not soon enough, I guess. But it did help me pay attention to what was going on in my body.

Take home message--take care of yourself!

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

"Where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet"

I've had a day filled with synchronicity. It feels like every day has an interesting nugget of meaning to be discerned if we are paying attention. But some days the puzzle pieces stand out more bodly than others!

Yesterday I was thinking a lot about the country's financial meltdown and proposed government bailout. I heard enough discussion (including an excellent panel on The Diane Rehm Show)to form the opinion that a bailout is probably necessary, but very dangerous in its own way. It's a recipe for corruption, and oversight is absolutely essential, but oversight was specifically excluded from Henry Paulson's proposal. With all the recent talk about pork-barrel politics, $700 billion makes the rest of the pork pie look like a crumb in comparison!

But this post isn't really about the bailout, it's about the feeling I had that my skill set just didn't apply to this crucial situation. Here's this huge crisis, and I don't know why I felt drawn to this one when there are so many others, but it really made me think that I wished I had some ability to be helpful. I don't think too many people do, as even Congress seems flabbergasted by the magnitude of the meltdown.

That train of thought reminded me of a quote by theologian Frederick Buechner. It's one of my favorite quotes but I had almost completely forgotten about it. With the help of Google I was able to call it up, his definition of vocation from his book, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker's ABC:

"There are different kinds of voices calling you to different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of Society say, or the Superego, or Self-Interest. By and large a good rule for finding out is this. The kind of work God usually calls you to do is work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world needs most to have done. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet."

The financial markets have nothing to do with my deep gladness, no matter how deeply the country hungers for solutions is right now. I will have to trust that others will step up to fill that need.

I would have blogged about this even if that had been the end of the story, just to share the Buechner quote, but this morning I came across two separate stories that spoke to me about the career path I had left, neuroscience.

First a little background for those whole don't know that part of my story. I majored in Neuroscience in college and loved it. I worked in a research lab and got into graduate school at Stanford. I thought I had landed where I was "supposed" to be, but to make a long story short, I realized about two years in that the research path was ultimately not for me. It was sort of like the difference between enjoying playing tennis on the weekend, and committing to training for the Olympics. I learned that I was a generalist at heart, climbing a ladder that was ever more specialized. I stuck it out, got my Ph.D., and changed gears to teach science instead. Through a series of welcome twists and turns, that path eventually led me to the place I am today.

I rarely think of the research road not taken, but then today I saw the list of new Macarthur "Genius Grant" recipients, and a researcher named Sally Temple won one. She is doing research in the precise area I had studied. It's not every day I even hear about this specific research, much less associated with a Macarthur grant. I watched Dr. Temple's video talking about her work, and I felt a pang of admiration mixed with a little jealousy. Not because of the money, but I envied her passion. She clearly has that spark that means that she is doing exactly what she should be doing. And frankly, when I was on that very same path, I not only lacked that spark, but after a couple of years I felt my energy being sucked out of me on a daily basis. So it was a blessing that I found the courage to make a change.

The coolest thing about the $500,000 Macarthur Genius Grants is that you can't apply for one. The Macarthur Foundation runs a nomination process finds the people who are already doing amazing, groundbreaking work that might not get recognized through traditional channels. It's a high-powered Mojo detector!

This post could end there, but as I was driving this morning, I turned on NPR and heard my very own undergraduate mentor, Dr. Mark Bear, being interviewed on Morning Edition. It was surreal to hear his voice, especially when I had just been thinking about neuroscience. Mark is a basic scientist at heart, and he's followed his passion for figuring out how the brain wires itself together during development. Along the way, his research into how synapses work became connected to the Fragile X mutation, which is related to a human disorder, Fragile X syndrome, that causes mental retardation and autism.

Mark was able to pursue his scientific hunches about Fragile X through a grant given by FRAXA, a research foundation started in the 1990's by parents, Katie Clapp and her husband Michael Tranfaglia, as a way to help their son Andy who has Fragile X Syndrome. Now it appears that a beneficial drug treatment may come out of the Bear lab's research.

This has turned into a long post but I wanted to get the whole story down. It came together in so many ways for me, ultimately affirming that I am where I need to be. Economics is a path not taken for me, and neuroscience was one that I took as far as my passion would carry me. It made no sense to try to force myself into the next level when my heart, soul and mind were telling me No. I celebrate the successes of those who have succeeded, like Sally Temple and Mark Bear, and I am grateful that I have found my true passions, writing and teaching, and applying those to motherhood.

Parenthood opens our eyes to what is important in life, and that can help us find our passion. Look at how Katie Clapp and Michael Tranfaglia's lives have intersected with Mark Bear's. The family's response to their son's challenges created the catalyst that funded the research that could find a treatment to help Andy and thousands of other people.

We are all connected, and we all have vitally important contributions to make, in ways we may not even be aware of yet. But the surest way to find it is to keep following the essential path to the place where "your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet."

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Getting my mojo back; Podcast will return

Phew, this has been a long week. I didn't mean to neglect my blog, but I've had to give my wrists a rest. I had to work overdrive to get my manuscript in, and even thought my brain knew that it was interesting to write, my arms just wanted me to stop.

The rest of the week was either ON or OFF--I spent Wednesday listening to talks by Pam Stone, and I got to meet with her yesterday. Her research into the reasons why Moms really leave the workforce has been an essential resource for my continuing work as Mojo Mom, and it was really a pleasure to meet her in person.

I snagged an autographed copy of Pam's book, Opting Out? Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home to give away to one of my loyal blog readers. I will randomly choose a winner among all the people who leave a comment on the Mojo Mom blog between now and noon (ET) on Monday the 22nd. Just add a comment to any post on my blog and I will pick a winner on Monday.

Here we were at the talk Pam gave at UNC's Kenan-Flagler Business School: MBA program associate directors (and Mojo Circle members) Anna Millar and Meghan Gosk (on either end), Pam, me, and our good friend Katherine Asaro.

Other than those engaging hours, I've felt like I've been swimming through molasses. I have enjoyed time with my family but I am definitely experiencing en energy lull. The good news is that after revving my brain up so fast that I could practically feel steam coming out of my ears, I am back to catching up on lost sleep, urging my daughter to go to bed early because I am not far behind her. I know from my previous experiences with sleep deprivation that the sleep debt does literally need to be paid off. (One of the few debts that is getting retired by the original borrower this week!)

So the blog will pick up, and we'll have a new podcast in two weeks, but I am going to give myself another week to focus on getting my life back to least until my editor catches up to me with her revision requests!

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Monday, September 15, 2008

I turned in my manuscript!

I hit the "send" button about an hour ago to turn in my new Mojo Mom manuscript.

It feels good to be done (for now!) and I am absolutely exhausted. The past four days were a long push to the finish.

I need to rest my tingling typing hands and my fried neural circuits, but first I will say that I think the new version of Mojo Mom is going to be really good. It contains a ton of brand-new material and my hope is that it will feel like a new book--while retaining the qualities that made the original book special.

Thank you for your support along the way!


The Amazing Tina Fey and Amy Poehler

It remains to be seen what the 2008 will mean for women in politics, but it's been a boon for women in political comedy. Everyone agrees that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler created an instant classic on the season premiere of Saturday Night Live, appearing together as Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton.

I am so glad this dynamic duo got to do this scene before Amy Poehler had her baby! She hid her 8-months-pregnant belly behind the podium. (Of course, if Poehler were Sarah Palin, she'd deliver the baby and be back at work the next Saturday.)

Will the Fey-as-Palin storyline make it onto her show 30 Rock? Wouldn't Liz Lemon's ultra-conservative boss Jack Donaghy become irresistibly attracted to her because she's a dead-ringer for Palin? His ex-girlfriend is Condoleezza Rice, for gosh sakes. Here's how I see it: one day Liz wakes up and hastily puts her hair up in a scrunchie when she's on the subway, late for work, accidentally creating a mini-beehive look...and the rest is workplace-harassment comedy history.

Final thought, to the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, I love you guys, but it's really time to get some women on your show! Samantha Bee is great, but such a "token girl" in your roster.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

I have the greatest job in the world!

This weekend I am finishing up my Mojo Mom manuscript, getting ready to send my publisher a complete draft of the new edition. Woo hoo! A few days ago I felt like one of those people who collapse at mile 24 of a marathon run. You think, they made it that far, how could they possibly collapse so close to the finish line? But I have really pushed myself to the edge of what I can get done over the past few months. I do notice that 40 is very different from 20 when it comes to just ain't gonna happen very often. The good news is that I work in advance much better now than I used to.

So today to psych myself up for writing, I gathered all my the books I read while writing Mojo Momand collected them onto one set of bookshelves. Doing so made me realized that I have managed to land the best job in the world, for me. I love books. My definition of success is being able to order any book that I am interested in reading, and I managed to create a job that allows me to do just that.

I love ideas but I also love the books themselves, the colorful covers, the feeling of holding one in my hand. I like to carry them, to remember where I was when I read one. I've experimented with an e-book, thinking it might do for reading what the iPod has done for my music and radio listening, but so far the Kindle just doesn't give me the same relationship with the information I get when I have the physical form to relate to.

So in honor of my excellent vocation, here is a photo of my Mojo Mom bibliography shelves, in progress:

And here is a closeup of part of one shelf, rotated so that you can read the titles, with book links after the photo:

The 7 Stages of Motherhood
by Ann Pleshette Murphy
The Millionth Circle by Jean Shinoda Bolen
The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work by John Gottman and Nan Silver
The Motherhood Manifesto by Joan Blades and Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner
The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
Momma Zen by Karen Maezen Miller
Sisterhood, Interrupted by Deborah Siegel
The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars by Miriam Peskowitz
When Partners Become Parents by Carolyn Pape Cowan and Philip Cowan
Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson
Opting Out? Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home by Pamela Stone
It's Not the Glass Ceiling, It's the Sticky Floor by Karen Engberg
Momfidence, by Paula Spencer
The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander
The Millionth Circle by Jean Shinoda Bolen
I Don't Know How She Does It by Allison Pearson

I know that when it comes right down to it, I need to trust my own voice and perspective as a writer, but it was important to me that Mojo Mom was much more than my own personal opinion. So I did a lot of research over the years, and I have enjoyed immersing myself in the ongoing conversation that has continued to evolve since I first published my book. As a matter of fact, of the sixteen titles I just listed, only five of them were in the first edition of Mojo Mom. The others have either been published after 2005 or become known to me since then. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to update my work, stay immersed in the literature, and bring you the best new resources that I have discovered.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Peace be with you

Today is a day that demanded solitude and rest.

I hadn't planned on offering up solitude and rest today, but my mind, body and spirit all got together to tell me that it was necessary. I felt drained from the normal ebb and flow of an intense week of writing, and thoughts of 9/11 kept coming to me, making me wonder how wounded and vulnerable we still are, in our spirits.

It's important to be aware of that inner vulnerability, because when people make big decisions in the midst of crisis, no one is operating at their best. I worry that our wounded spirits are making about our country's future that will not serve us well. Can we be brave enough to operate from love rather than fear?

I believe in healing, and I believe that each day almost always gives you what you need, if you are willing to pay attention and listen.

Today I tried a new feature on my iPod that created a new "Genius" playlist from songs in my library. I pushed play, and my headphones filled with a gorgeous song I didn't even know I had, one that filled my heart with a soothing balance of melancholy and love.

The song was Patty Griffin's Heavenly Day. It's one of those songs that is what it is and also contains its opposite, evoking a bittersweet love felt by someone who also knows heartbreak. Her Heavenly Day sounds like it could be the happiest or saddest day of her life. My thought about 9/11 as it relates to the song is that 9/11 was the saddest day, but we have to remember that as wounded as we still feel, we are fortunate that most of us in the United States have the privilege of living in relative safety and security. As we remember the past, let's prepare for the future. As we feel the hurt, let's continue with our healing. We can both honor those who were lost and move forward.

I hope that whatever you needed to get through this day has found its way into your life.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Mojo Mom Podcast: 'Opting Out?' author Pamela Stone

We posted our Mojo Mom Podcast episode a little early this week to give you time to listen to Professor Pamela Stone and register for next Wednesday's Carolina Parent Women@Work breakfast, where she will be the keynote speaker. The registration deadline is this Friday, September 12.

Last week's podcast guest, Kella Hatcher of Balancing Professionals, will also be offering a satellite symposium later that day, a Career On-Ramping workshop. If you are thinking about work but don't know where to start, both halves of the Women@Work event could be inspirational, rewarding, and a great opportunity to network.

Listen to the podcast now:

Here's the podcast episode description:

Amy and Sheryl are in a giddy mood this week, which is a nice change of pace!

They are happy because Pamela Stone, author Opting Out? Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home, is the guest on the podcast, and she'll be speaking in Durham, NC in person next week.

So if you are in the area, we hope you'll register for the Carolina Parent Women@Work Breakfast on September 17, and join us to form a Mojo table!

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Susan Douglas on 'Pit Bull Feminism'

Susan Douglas reported masterfully about the hypocrisy of the Republican Party and the rise of Sarah Palin, Feminism without Feminism.

Choice quote from this must-read piece:

Pit Bull Feminism is about looking stylish and pretty so you can get away with attacking the accomplishments of those who have actually fought for women’s issues, like authoring the Violence against Women Act, as Joe Biden did. It is about using your status as a “hockey mom” (and now they’re better than other mothers?) to immunize you and your party against charges that you are, in fact, deeply anti-family when it comes to public policies.

But most of all, Pit Bull Feminism is about exploiting 40 years of activism, lawsuits, legislative changes, and consciousness-raising—all of which you have benefited from—in the hopes of then undoing them all if you manage to get into office.

Susan Douglas is the author of Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media and co-author, with Meredith Michaels, of The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined All Women.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Mojo Moms don't have to be macho

People have been asking me why I haven't written more about Sarah Palin and part of the answer is that I'll never get my book done in time if I allow myself to become obsessed with her. But here I go....

I am proud of the blog post I wrote last week analyzing the content of her convention speech, and yes, her personal storyline is a little like Mojo Mom on steroids, in terms of a mother reaching the highest levels of leadership. But I don't think her life story is at all realistic, and I am worried about what would happen if we were all expected to be like her. I hate that she has to act so macho and invincible. I cringe at the stories of her hiding her pregnancy and returning to work days after giving birth. From the New York Times, "Fusing Politics and Motherhood in a New Way":

Before her son was born, Ms. Palin went to extraordinary lengths to ensure that his arrival would not compromise her work. She hid the pregnancy. She traveled to Texas a month before her due date to give an important speech, delivering it even though her amniotic fluid was leaking. Three days after giving birth, she returned to work

Maybe she could get out of bed and go back to work competently three days later, but that seems incredibly unrealistic and actually inhumane to me. I would never encourage any woman to aspire follow that example. My current activism is focused on efforts to make sure that mothers get the family leave they need to care for themselves and their families during important life transitions and health care crises.

Journalists Katty Kay (mother of four) and Claire Shipman take on these issues in today's Wall Street Journal, "Let's Talk About Palin's Family Challenges." These successful professional Moms argue that the future trend is toward life sanity, not insanity like Palin's:

Fed up with 50- and 60-hour weeks and a career ladder we didn't build and don't want to climb, women are looking for jobs that demand fewer and freer hours. We want to work but we also want quantity time, as well as quality time, with our children. Most of us no longer buy the onwards-and-upwards drive to the corner office (or in Mrs. Palin's case, the West Wing) at the cost of a fragmented family life. More and more, women are choosing a tapestry of family and work in which we define our own success in reasonable terms -- even if we sacrifice some "prestige."

And by the way, in Gen X and Y, men are more willing to choose that path as well. If we play our cards right we could get a workplace revolution that benefits all of us.

Palin's Superwoman image is a Republican fantasy come true. She might as well get "Rugged American Individualism" tattooed on her forehead. She can shoot the moose and cook up the mooseburgers; she'll tell you that her teenage daughter's unplanned pregnancy is a blessing, not a burden, as is the arrival of her special-needs child; and by the way, she'll birth her baby and then be back to run the state after a weekend's worth of rest.

I don't know about you, but I don't want to live in a country run by people who make public policies based on that unrealistic, unsustainable storyline.

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Mojo Mom Podcast with Balancing Professionals

We have a new podcast up and I think it's a good one.

Listen to the podcast now:

Amy and Sheryl discuss the successes of their Mojo Circle, a group of ten women who have met monthly for two years now. The group has a shared background as mothers, but when we meet we talk primarily about entrepreneurship, and serve as a sounding board for each other.

Amy and Sheryl talk about the keys to success in forming a group, and you can also find resources in the free Mojo Mom Party Kit on

Then Amy talks to Kella Hatcher, co-founder of Balancing Professionals and expert on alternative work arrangements (flex-time, telecommuting--the strategies that allow people to get their work done and have a life, too!).

Balancing Professionals will be presenting a Career On-Ramping workshop in conjunction with the Carolina Parent Women@Work event in Durham, North Carolina on September 17, 2008.

A few more details about the Carolina Parent Women@Work event on the 17th. The event has two parts, the morning breakfast featuring a keynote talk by one of my favorite authors, Pamela Stone, the sociologist who wrote Opting Out? Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home. Her book is one of the most important motherhood books in recent years, because she did actual research investigating why women leave the workforce. She delves into the complicated mix of pushes and pulls that send mothers home. Pamela is a compassionate, mercifully polemic-free writer and speaker. We really needed a true sociologist to help us cut through the media static that clouded discussions about "Mommy Wars" and "Opting Out" storylines.

The morning event also covers the presentation of Carolina Parent magazine's Family Friendly Company Awards to local businesses, nominated by our readers and selected in partnership with UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.

Then, at 11 am, Balancing Professionals will begin their lunchtime Career On-Ramping workshop at the convention center just a few blocks away. If you are thinking of returning to work but are not sure of the steps along the journey back, this is the event for you.

A separate registration is required for each event which can be accomplished on the Carolina Parent website. I am very excited because this is basically my dream day of events, and I didn't have to lift a finger to make it happen.

I'll definitely be at the breakfast, so if you see me, sit down and we'll get a Mojo Table going!

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Friday, September 05, 2008

'Speed Dating' for Moms and babysitters

We all know that finding a babysitter can be a challenge, especially developing a deep enough roster to fill last-minute needs. I just heard about a new business called MommyMixer. They set up in-person networking events attended by parents who need babysitters and babysitter candidates. You can meet potential babysitters in person and also take home a notebook full of their resumes with skills and availability.

What a great business idea, I wish I'd thought of it! Here I am living in a college town but up until now, I haven't had an easy way to meet potential sitters who are nearby but wrapped up in campus life.

MommyMixer offers events in about fifty cities across the U. S. and a couple in Canada. I am going to go to their event in Chapel Hill on September 28.

Join me in Chapel Hill on September 28 and save half off the entrance fee.

It usually costs $100 to attend but you can come for $50 if you put "Mojo Mom" in the event field when registering. Think they'll extend this discount to the first 20 people who register for this specific event on September 28 in Chapel Hill. So if you care to join me, sign up soon.

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Was McCain punk'd by the mansion slide?

I am watching McCain's acceptance speech on TiVO. Quasi-live, about 12 minutes behind real time. When he first came out, the huge background video screen had the image of a stately mansion with a green lawn. On the close-ups all you could see was the green, but the house looked like a random mansion, not anything I recognized. Elsewhere I saw it identified as the White House, but I don't think so.

My question: was McCain punk'd? Did someone slip the slide in to revive the "How many houses do you own?" controversy. Either way, worked for me. (I bet it was, because now the screen is blank blue.)

Earlier today I saw reports that Cindy McCain wore an outfit that could cost $300,000 if her three-carat diamond earrings are real. Quote of the day from Vanity Fair's reporting, "Wow! No wonder McCain has so many houses: his wife has the price of a Scottsdale split-level hanging from her ears."

Then come the anti-war protesters, and McCain shooes them off saying, "Please don't be diverted by the ground noise and the static."

That is an instant classic quote. Wow, maybe the title of Noam Chomsky or Gore Vidal's next book?

All right, signing off...I am not going to blog the whole speech. It seems disjointed, like Republican Mad-Libs. But then again my attention is divided. If anyone hears about the mansion screen please leave a comment.


Why I left teaching

As I write the new edition of Mojo Mom, it has been rewarding to find that I am having new insights into old issues.

This morning I was thinking about why I left my teaching job after I became a Mom. I had originally thought I'd go back after a semester or a year, but then I didn't. It was an Opt-Out/Pushed-Out situation where there was not necessarily a ton of flexibility. Our family's life was complicated by the fact that we moved to North Carolina when our daughter was one year old. But even that could have been temporary. We were originally planning to move back to California after six months, but we liked it here so much that we decided to stay.

Here is the additional kernel of truth that I was thinking about today: the problem with teaching high school was that I never did make that job truly sustainable, even before I had a child. It was the kind of job that demanded 110%, which we all know is impossible to keep up over the long run. My first year I was up at 5:30 am every morning and frequently stayed up past midnight. After that first crazy year it got better, since I was more prepared, but there were always going to be papers to grade and classroom plans to be fine tuned.

And teaching at an independent school is the kind of job that extends tentacles, grabbing your time in many ways that are not listed on the job description or discussed during salary negotiations. In addition to teaching five classes, three sections of Brain and Behavior and two sections of Chemistry, additional expectations were: running an advising group, being on many committees, co-authoring the school's accreditation report, attending some student groups, chaperoning dances on the weekend, attending student performances, leading an "intersession" activity during several days before Spring Break, and making personal financial donations to the school to get 100% staff participation.

I remember one fall an eager new teacher came in to ask me to enroll in the blood drive and I thought NOW YOU WANT MY BLOOD, TOO?

There were two important things going on: first, the school would demand all it could of us (sort of like a family, hmmmmm?) and second, I willingly dove in headfirst. Both my husband and I were really job-focused at that time, and it all seemed to work at the time.

However, without really realizing it, I was laying the groundwork for a tough choice after we became parents. Had I shaped my job down into something manageable, maybe I could have continued teaching. I could have set up more realistic expectations for myself, and the others around me. I had a great time during my three years of teaching but did veer into burnout my final year, I can now see looking back. There was no handle I could grab on to envision a way to jump back into the fray at that school (which was also a 38-mile commute from my house, another complicating factor would have worked against any sustainable childcare arrangement). In the long run, it may work really well for some parents to create a job that can be done while parenting. If you can do that, and get some seniority so that you have some leverage in your work situation, your job may be sustainable, and your bosses may also be willing to accommodate you to keep you.

I didn't see any way to make that particular teaching situation work, so I looked for a teaching job elsewhere and almost took a position teaching at Stanford after we returned from North Carolina. But then we moved, I fell in love with the Triangle, and I got the new textbook to review during our "temporary" stay. I took one look at the Behavioral Neurobiology text and realized that my heart just wasn't in it. It was a reminder that I had left neuroscience for a reason, because I had learned that I was a Generalist who was becoming trapped in a Specialist's world, and once I got to that Specialist level, I really didn't care about the questions we were asking. There was nothing wrong with me or the field, but it just wasn't the right match over the long run. If I was going to go back into teaching, and work for someone else rather than myself, I wanted to be something I would enjoy and be good at.

So, in North Carolina I settled into motherhood, still needing to learn lessons about sustainability and burnout (ie sleep deprivation over two years is NOT a good thing). I thought about what was next for me, and reconnected with my passion for writing. I had started a young adult novel years before, as procrastination when I was supposed to be writing my Ph. D. thesis! That project had fallen during the wayside when I taught, even though I could have worked on my novel during the summers. So now, reinventing myself in North Carolina, I decided that I would commit to taking my writing seriously. I managed to finish High Water, wrote a screenplay, and then had the inspiration for Mojo Mom.

So you can see why I believe that life is not a ladder to climb, but rather a path to explore. My own career journey has had loops, side tracks, pauses, and days stuck in the wilderness. But when it comes down to it, I love where I am now, and I think that opportunity is open to many of us, if we give ourselves permission to explore and not beat ourselves up because we're not doing it the way we're "supposed to."

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Give me a Constitutional law prof any day

Sarah Palin sure knows how to deliver a speech, but are we willing to look at the content embedded in her rousing delivery?

Palin may be no Dick Cheney in that she's less likely to be a behind-the-scenes puppetmaster than he has been for the past eight years, but Palin does pull McCain toward the dark side in several ways.

I focused in on two things Palin said. First, she mocked Barack Obama for wanting to read terror detainees their rights. She had quite a lighthearted take on the fact that Bush-Cheney have been willing to make an unconstitutional grab for power, and have wanted to deny detainees basic legal rights including habeas corpus, a foundation of English Common Law even older than the U. S. Constitution. Palin may be eager to dehumanize detainees, but what would she say to the more than 400 men who were released from Guantanamo without being charged, often after years of detention?

Habeas corpus may sound like an arcane legal principle, but I encourage you to listen to the award-winning episode of This American Life, "Habeas Schmabeas 2007," that explains it really skillfully--what it is and why it matters to all of us.

Palin's attitude in her speech last night ties in with disturbing recent development of McCain voting in favor of waterboarding, the interrogation procedure that most people agree is torture. McCain was the last person most people thought would approve the use of torture, but it looks like we can't count on that.

(Another show to listen to: the Fresh Air interview with investigative journalist Jane Mayer, author of The Dark Side who explains that the U. S. harsh interrogation techniques were derived from outdated tortuous interrogation methods originally designed primarily to extract FALSE confessions from prisoners.)

Second, Palin slammed Obama for not using the word "victory" when talking about the Iraq War. You know who else doesn't use the word victory when talking about the war? General David Petraus, who is in charge of the whole U. S. military action. Personally, I respect Petraeus, whom I believe is doing his best to find resolution to the tragic, incredibly complex situation that has resulted from the U. S. invasion of Iraq. Steve Coll discusses "The General's Dilemma" in his profile of Petraus in the September 8 issue of The New Yorker.

I would hope that most thinking people would realize by now that ending the conflict in Iraq is not about declaring victory. You can't win an occupation.

I happen to think that Barack Obama is an extraordinary candidate, but even if he was just okay, I'd support him because of his expertise as a Constitutional Law professor. After the past eight years, it would be a welcome relief to have a President who respects the Constitution, rather than constantly trying to find ways to undermine it.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

NY Times on Mommy Wars: Special Campaign Edition

I went away for the weekend for a much-needed break with a group of girlfriends. Even if we had traveled over the summer, for most of us, this was our first time in a long time to have two or three days to put down our daily responsibilities and truly unwind.

And in those three days the news went wild! Sarah Palin was chosen by McCain, and the campaign storyline continued to sound more and more like an episode of Desperate Housewives (and yes, John Edwards, I am talking about you, too). And then came hurricane Gustav, too. It was all too much -- if this were a screenplay they'd say there was way too much crammed into one act.

Thankfully the hurricane appears to have been somewhat manageable for the residents of the Gulf Coast.

I have many thoughts about Sarah Palin swirling in my head, but I am behind the curve on a lot of my own Mojo Mom writing. So as I collect my thoughts, I will refer you to two thought-provoking articles:

The New York Times has "A New Twist in the Long-Running Debate on Mothers." Can Sarah Palin juggle 5 kids including an infant with special needs, a daughter becoming a new Mom herself, and joining a national campaign/possibly servicng as Vice President/potentially stepping into the Presidency? Strangely enough, it's conservatives who are saying Yes while some working Moms say No.

Also check out Rebecca Traister's piece "Palin, pregnancy and the presidency" on Salon's Broadsheet blog. She details the way that Palin/McCain are actually using the language of choice to describe their views on family situations. I don't want to see Sarah Palin's daughter's private life dragged into the campaign, but it is valid to examine the consistency of the public policies that McCain/Palin advocate and their thought processes about their personal situations. For example, what does it say about abstinence-only education if the curriculum does not even work for the Governor's high-school aged child?

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