the home office


All moms need an office.     I have two part time jobs, neither of which cost me more time and brain space than parenting, and neither of which gives me an office, or even a desk, and  I would really like one.  A place of my own, where the treadmill to my right isn’t reminding me that my exercise regimen is pathetic,  or a place where the laundry room door isn’t staring me straight in the face saying “You! Come here! There’s work to be done in here!”   How am I supposed to be effective working from home with all these distractions!

Everybody in my family has a place to go and a door to close. They alone command everything inside their room.   If I had my own room, just for me, I imagine it would be glorious.   Nobody would just walk in demanding I help find a missing shoe.  The door, my barrier, would limit my availability to the rest of them.  I’d have office hours. Inside, there would be actual living houseplants for an abundance of oxygen, and I would use aromatherapy and  playlists to set the mood I choose.  All just for me.

Outside, on the door I’d keep a “problem box” with instructions:

  • Please fill out a form and state your problem, all complaints will be read on Friday between 4 & 5 pm.
  • Feel free to offer a solution to the problem for extra allowance.  
  • Forms submitted without a viable solution will be charged a small processing fee in advance of any response from the management.    
  • The turnaround time is about a week.  

I imagine that my office has a beverage container from Crate & Barrel, filled with spring ice water and pretty slices of fruit.   The drinking glasses are so clean that the sun  bounces off of their shine and fills sparkles of light fill the room.  And there is no dog, cat, rabbit, or guinea pig fur whatsoever.

As I come out of the dream scene I just described it becomes clear that I do not have my own room, or a beverage container from Crate & Barrel.    I have a desk in a cluttered room and one glass pitcher from Ikea.  As for the sparkling clean glasses and the absence of pet fur?  (enter laughter here)

So, for now I’ll just appreciate the roof and four walls that I call home.  I could paint the laundry room door a pretty color and put more things on the treadmill to disguise it but maybe, what I should do, is set out to prove what I tell my kids all the time.  It’s not what you think you need that really matters, it’s what you do with what you already have.

Whenever I complained to my own mother she’d always point out the more disadvantaged.   “Be happy you have shoes at all,” she’d say when I wanted really expensive converse sneakers that weren’t in the budget.   Or, “there are children suffering all over the world that would love to have the asparagus on your plate!”

I know. I really do have everything I need but gee, wouldn’t it be nice if I just had an office.    I can hear my mother now,  “be happy you have a place to live and food on your plate,” and I am happy for all of that .  But I wouldn’t mind if I were also happy for an office.


A Plethora Of Planners

hallmark date book 2-17

We’re currently in the seventh week of 2107 and I still haven’t settled on a planner. It used to be that for me,  executing a plan was more of a problem than making one, but now I’m stuck at selecting which planner to use in the first place!

Over the last several years personal planners have become a big deal.  I could  spend a ton of money and time with any one of the planner styles, even though the large refrigerator calendar(that I regularly update and nobody checks) would still be sufficient.

The planner I buy annually, (for 10 years now), is from Blue Sky.  It’s a good size for me and it’s sturdy, but my favorite part is that the dates go from June 2016 to July 2017.   It does the planner job quite well but I still look around, because each time I try some new way to keep track of things, it makes me think:  more is possible, I could be better at getting things done, and then I’ll do more.  Who wouldn’t like more?

One of the popular styles of planning is in something called a Bullet Journal.  This a great way (they say) for the creative person to combine planning, doodling, and record keeping.  I tried it, but I got lost in the process.   I know plenty of people who claim to love it, but I spent more time  finding you tube videos about how to use a bullet journal then anything else.   Maybe I didn’t try hard enough.

The Passion Planner is also supposed to be great for the “creatives”.  I got one when they first came out several years ago.  I might even have contributed $7.00 to the Kickstarter. You put your hopes and dreams ( and more doodles ) on the pages as well as your wants and needs.   But it turns out that my hopes and dreams cannot coexist with my wants, needs, and grocery lists.   Perhaps it’s just an uneven balance of passion but they just didn’t get along.  So I moved on.

Martha Stewart has a mix and match set up for your pocket calendar  so you can  customize  one.   Mine was very nice but it was so pretty, I didn’t write in it. is another line with planner components, and now I have  tons of little tabs and stickers and even a tiny rubber stamps that says “good job!”  If you are bad at impulse control, stay away from the planner section at Staples.

So, even with all of the options out there, I keep coming back to my Blue Sky June to July 5’X8″ planner.    I spiced it up a little this year with colored pens and vinyl coated paper clips.   I’ve also begun to fall in love with Washi tape which comes in way too many colors and patterns to make it simple, but I like still to try.

Fo now I think I must come to terms with my regular old planner. I did start a project called a creative goal journaling which isn’t a date book but is more of a record keeper for your goals. That’s not going very well either.  I keep forgetting about  tracking my progress in it and I haven’t really had much success in making my goals recently   so it’s just a vicious cycle anyway.

Sometimes I think I should just go back to the days when allI had was that one free datebook from Hallmark.  These were given out every year “until supplies last.”   I remember my Aunt getting all excited about the new one every year.  Maybe I’ll stop into the closest store and see if they have any left even though in the seventh week of the year it isn’t likely.  But who knows?   If nothing else I’ll have a browse at the cards and wrapping paper.  Hmmm…. I wonder if Hallmark has a planner section.  After all, It can’t hurt to look.

My Daughter Wants To be Vegetarian

From Your Teen for Parents Magazine, September 2016  –  (subscribe to the print edition of the magazine, you won’t regret it.  Subscribe)

Mom, I Want to Be a Vegetarian! Becoming a Vegetarian-Friendly Family

becoming a vegetarian

By Helen Chibnik

It’s late on Sunday afternoon. The chores are done, dinner is sizzling in the oven, and you finally have some time for yourself. But just as you finish No. 2 across in the Sunday crossword puzzle, your 16-year-old daughter appears before you to say, “I’ve decided not to eat meat anymore, or chicken, or fish. I’m becoming a vegetarian.”

You peer at her over the top of your glasses and without taking a breath, you point toward the kitchen and say, “Well then I don’t know what you’re going to eat for dinner because do you smell that? It’s a stuffed roaster, with gravy!”

This was the scene in my home about a month ago.

Because teenagers are filled with mini-rebellions against pretty much everything, I wasn’t sure if her announcement was a well-thought-out lifestyle change, or a temporary insurgence against beef. But when she didn’t leave the room I added, “I guess you’ll have to learn to cook.”

Becoming a Vegetarian

We want our tweens to be assertive, to maintain their values, and to live their best lives, don’t we? Of course we do. But I have three tweens and a job and no time or desire to learn new recipes or change the way our family eats.

I outlined why becoming a vegetarian wouldn’t work for her:

1.  You’re an athlete, and you won’t get enough protein.

2.  Nobody in our family likes tofu.

3.  I don’t know how to cook without chicken stock.

She still didn’t leave or get upset with me, so I folded the newspaper and gave her my undivided attention.

“Okay, why?” I asked.

“Things have changed, Mom,” she began. “We don’t need to eat like cave people any more.” She pointed to our family dog. “Would you eat Lucky?” she asked.

“Of course not,” I answered. “He’s our pet.”

“Some people have chickens for pets. And you know what else? Consuming meat like we do is a problem. It’s hurting the planet, and I don’t want to be part of the problem. You’re always telling us, ‘Don’t be part of the problem.’”

So there it was. She was using my advice against me. Damn her for being so incisive!

For dinner she had a plain baked potato and steamed carrots. As I ate the crispy skin from my chicken thigh, I started to dislike her for her healthy choices. What was my problem?

The next day at her request, we went shopping. I had to fight my herding instincts to let her go down the health food aisle but I managed. Staring at us were cellophane bags of things like almond meal and spelt. “What is spelt?” I asked, in a way that might have been a little snarky. She shrugged and looked at the bag. “I don’t know. Maybe they have recipes online. Let’s look at the package.”

All of a sudden I was disarmed. This wasn’t the 16-year-old “I know everything” adventure I was expecting. I calmly explained that this was new to all of us and our whole family couldn’t change overnight.

“I know,” she said. “I don’t expect you to change, I just want to change myself.”

She was asserting herself and asking for help. That’s what I want, isn’t it?

So, I had it all wrong. She was happy to be the vegetarian member of a carnivorous family and I was the one being immature. She wasn’t judging us. She was asserting herself and asking for help. That’s what I want, isn’t it?

With the pressure off, I made a few vegetarian dishes with surprisingly little resistance from her two younger sisters. I haven’t gotten to the point where I serve the entire family chickpeas and almond loaf for Sunday dinner, but I have learned that understanding and acceptance are more important than what cooks in the oven.

Our foray into vegetarianism scared me at first. But given the chance to hear one another out, we learned how to talk about it and to see things from each other’s point of view, in a new and more mature way. She didn’t know it, but she was also teaching me how to be a better parent.

For my daughter, becoming a vegetarian had more to do with her growing independence than anything else. So as much as I will miss our trips to our favorite burger place, I would rather eat with her at Earth Foods then eat without her somewhere else. And I’m happy to say that I still serve burgers. My daughter doesn’t complain when we eat them, and I don’t mind that she doesn’t partake.

Now, when we sit down to Sunday dinner, we offer each other a healthy portion of agreeing to disagree because as it turns out, family harmony is the best dish of all.

What Attention Span?

IMG_6030 This morning I did a few of the regular morning things that many people do.  I made coffee, let the dog outside in the yard, decided not to rid the kitchen sink of the dirty dishes and went to my desk.  

Because we’re still on summer break there is zero structure, extremely flexible plans and  due dates that move along the calendar line two to three days at a time.  There’s no rush to do much unless company’s coming.  At least that’s the vibe in my house right now.   

This is the point at which, (beginning next week)  I  set a timer to read my email and then to peruse Facebook in the morning.    But  I’m on summer vacation right?   I don’t have to worry about the time space continuum making me late for work or the kids needing a 7AM last minute thing for school.   I am currently unencumbered by 20 minute intervals. 

After a few minutes of sorting through email messages I noticed one about an upcoming convention I’ve been looking for.   That message reminded me about a seminar I’m waitlisted on so  I hopped over to that page to see if there was any news but when it loaded, all kinds of information beckoned my attention!   Yes, kid in a candy store kind of stimuli.   One speaker’s bio in particular interested me but clicking on her bio took me right to Amazon and her new book.   It was no surprise that the sidebar of the Amazon page featured small printers for college dorms which was the one thing we forgot to send with our oldest  when she left for school earlier this week.   The price was appealing but I always check Shopzilla when buying online and that led me to the sale at Target.  I put the printer in my cart and got myself more coffee because I wasn’t sure if we still needed the printer.   It was then, back in the kitchen getting coffee that I made the only true decision of the morning.  I decided once again NOT to empty the kitchen sink.  

So funny story – I went back to my computer where my planner, the family calendar, a stack of bills to pay and some postage stamps reminded me that I haven’t done a single thing to make my to do list smaller and somehow I’ve been up for over two hours already.   I figured I may as well write about it since that’s the one thing I might actually finish, and at least I won’t be 100% ineffectual this morning.    As soon as I press the  ‘post’ button for this blog entry I’m going to have at that stuff in the kitchen sink, but it’s such a nice day, maybe I should take a walk first, clear my head and exercise before getting the day underway. 

The Fancy Dress


I wrote this piece several months ago, but it seemed timely now that prom season is in full swing.

I recently attended the NJ All Shore Chorus’ 53rd Annual Recital. My daughter was awarded a music scholarship from All Shore this year and when she texted me from the auditions to say she had the scholarship, the first thing I thought about (after yay!) was, what will she wear?  There really isn’t any pomp and circumstance to choir wardrobes. Although she’s needed clothes for every kind of choir you can imagine, from high school to a touring A Capella group, outfitting her has always been the same. “Mom, I need a black dress.”  (It’s amazing how many different kinds of black dresses one girl can own.)   But now were were shopping for a soloist gown that might be  red, or teal, or peach, with beads, or sequins!  I was giddy.

When I was in high school I had just one gown, when we, as seniors, we were encouraged to dress formally for our final spring music recital. I remember the day when my mother bought me a fancy dress for that occasion.” Don’t tell your father how much we spent,” she said. “Just hang it up in your room.  He probably won’t even notice.”  The dress she bought me was over budget, but “for some things we make exceptions,” she said. Now it felt like my time to pay it forward.

Busy schedules sent us shopping after 8pm on three separate occasions, until finally we found the perfect dress which unfortunately did not have the perfect price tag.   But how could I not buy this for her?   How many times will an event like this happen? I could hear mother’s voice in my mind,  “She looks so beautiful in that gown.  She feels beautiful. So, you’ll have to turn the thermostat down for a month and skip all the takeout until Spring. Do it. You will regret it if you don’t.”   And then a saleslady named Anu came into the fitting room and sighed with me. “You have to get this one,” she said in an Indian accent.

“It’s really more than I was planning on spending.” I said.

“Don’t worry about the price mommy.” she said, “I fix it for you.”

And she did. Bless that saleslady who with the swipe of two coupons knocked the price of that dress down by 40%. Anu has daughters too she told me, who are all grown now. “When they feel and look that beautiful?  There is not a price for that. You’re a good mom,” she said. “We moms have to stick together.”  She smiled and zipped up the garment bag.   “Now you carry it,” she said to my daughter.  “Mom did enough hard work today.”

When she stood on the stage that night and sang for us it was perfect. It was all worth it, every penny. And after the concert, and then our small after party,  I was thinking that I hope one day my own daughters will have the chance to buy their own girls a  dream dress. And if not that, then maybe like Anu did, they can help in some other way.

There are so many things our kids want to do that require money and time we’d rather spend elsewhere. But we spend it on them for whatever the important reasons are at the time. For me, this was one of those times.

It’s true, if it can make them look and feel like a million bucks, there really is no price for that. And to my own mom and to Anu I  am grateful to be reminded that you can’t buy happiness, but once in a while you can buy a really great dress.

Tyrone Zone

I’m trying to get in shape.  For me, that sentence conjures up an image of the blobby GAK product from a decade ago.  You could mold it into any shape you wanted, but, eventually it turned into a blobby slab and there was really nothing you could do about it.


I need to think more like kinetic sand.  That stuff is amazing.  It looks like regular sand but you can mold or sculpt it into any shape and it stays put.  images

So in an effort to transform my GAK self into Kinetic Sand, I went to LA Fitness to take whatever ‘the next available class was’ last Sunday afternoon.   It was a cycle class, also called spinning.   There was one beginning in fifteen minutes and the current one was about to end.  I watched through the glass doors as the nice looking young girl hollered things to the cyclers in the room, motivating them to work harder.  I rehearsed what I would say.  “Hi my name is Helen, and I’ve never done this before.”  She would say, “Great! Newcomers are always welcome.  I’m Nancy, I’ll show you what to do.”

What happened instead was that Nancy left and the next instructor showed up.  His name was named Tyrone.   Have you seen The Rock?


Okay he wasn’t The Rock but he may as well have been.  So  at this point I’m not at all happy now about bringing my GAK body over to The Rock and explaining that I was new.

“Are you the teacher?”

“I am the instructor.”



“I was going to take this class.”


“I’m new.”



“Pick a bike,”

“Are they all the same?”


“This one?”

“No, you better use this one here, right in front of me.”


“I’ll show you how to adjust it.  What’s your name?”


“Where are you from?”


“Okay Middletown, hop on.”

Well… how did it end?   After 50 minutes of cycle time, I had a sore butt and a burning sense of victory.   I thanked Tyrone when it was over, and despite my embarrassment, when over the loud pulsing music I heard Tyrone call out “How you doing Middletown?!”  I have conquered the spinning class.

Yesterday, after my sore “bike butt” was feeling better I showed up again.  But this time there was no Tyrone.   I know I didn’t imagine it because on the class list that is taped on the door of the spinning room,  in the space where it should say Nancy, Cyclezone 2pm.   It says, TyroneZone and nothing more.   He’s not listed as a regular teacher anywhere on the schedule.  I know that I could ask at the front desk, but for now I’m just going to think of him as my guardian exercise angel because I really could use a little magic if I’m going to make  Kinetic Sand out of GAK.

Family Meetings


Ah… the family meeting.  Have you ever tried to have one?  In our house we all gather around to discuss things like curfews, allowance, chores and bad behavior.  I know I could speak to them all separately about this stuff, but I’ve leaned that it’s much better to have a  witnesses because inevitably, somebody will fail at what’s expected and offer the excuse , “But mom, you never said that.”

But indeed, I did.

What annoys me the most about these family meetings is how everybody nods their heads and says exactly what I want to hear at the exact moment I want to hear it.    Do they know in advance that they’re not going to do one single thing we talked about?   Should I remain hopeful that when they look at me and nod that finally, they actually “get me?”

Let’s face it, they don’t.

Throughout the years I’ve called these family meetings and said things like this:   “I’m shutting of the internet at night;  if you want to borrow something from me you may, but only if you give me something valuable as a deposit,” and “please put things away after you’re done with them.”   You might recognize these results.


The internet

Me.  “No internet after 10pm because none of you are getting enough sleep.” 

Them: ” You’re right mom.  We understand.”

                           One night after I put my policy into place

Husband:  “I haven’t gotten to where I can shut down the internet by each device yet, so just leave it on.”


Them:  “Mom, where are the scissors?”

Me:   “I will let you have them for a dollar deposit.”

                          The next day.  

Me:  “Where are my scissors?”

Them:  “I thought I’d just keep them.  It’s only like, a buck, right?”

Cleaning Up

Them:   “Where’s the honey?”

Me:   “It’s in the shed in the back of the yard.”

Them:  “Why?  Because I didn’t put it away?”

Me:  “Yes.”

Them:  “That’s okay, I’ll just use sugar.”

I thought she couldn’t live without honey in her tea.   Seems she can.  The honey bear is still sitting it the shed in the back yard.  

I’ll get it in the spring. 




Because I Said So

Theater Faces

Theater Faces

Parenting takes courage. We summon it from amazing places after our children are born.   Questions about bowel movements don’t embarrass us, interrogating babysitters becomes rote, facing off with teachers and other parents, making choices, suffering consequences, getting up and doing it over and over again.

Sometimes I’m motivated to do things because  my children are watching.  I want to lead by example because I think it’s the right thing to do.  And  because  I hated it when my mother said things to me like “Because I said so!” Of course when that happened, I immediately stopped doing, or started doing whatever it was I was supposed to, but really, is because I said so a reason?   Sometimes I wanted to say, “why don’t YOU do it?”  But that’s never a good thing to say to your mom.

So this leads me to the day I wanted my little girl to audition for a community theater show.   I wouldn’t do it, I have stage fright.   But I told her she should.   The disagreement followed and I won, but only “because I said so.”

As the years went by I remembered how I never tried out for my school plays, or auditioned for any of the solo parts in choir.  Was it fair for me to thrust them onto a stage when I never could find the courage to do that? I really had no idea what it was like to stand alone on a stage.  Why was I so scared?  More importantly, how could I get over it?

One day purely by chance I met a woman who was trying to put together an adult acting class, “a friendly atmosphere” with no auditions required. I thought okay, this may be the very thing I need. Surprisingly I didn’t hate it. But while I gained confidence, my classmates dropped out until I was the only one left in the class. But fate stepped in another door opened, but this time with real actors and a real goal – to complete an audition for a community theater production.  Egad.  I explained to this new group of experienced actors that I was doing this merely for self improvement and that I wasn’t sure about the whole audition thing.

Twelve weeks later I was literally a new me.  I was ready, monologue prepared, lights on, center stage – me. I found the courage to stand there alone, say my lines and deliver. I think I actually grew taller as the weight of that my burden departed.  I even got a tiny part in a tiny play.

Being strong for the kids is easy but being strong for myself took a little work. Even though there are no outward signs of my victory, I know I’m a better parent. I’m a better person.  Shaking off those school day inhibitions took a long time and I know it’s  cliché to say it but if I can do it, anybody can.   And frankly, I’d rather say that to my kids than say because I said so.

It’s Snow Wonder We’re Related


It’s become a tradition that my daughter Emily & I make snow people in the winter.  Her sisters take the hot cocoa and indoor heat route to handle snow storms which is also attractive to me,  but I really need to build a snowman first.  Usually Em & I make one per snowfall or two if the snow is really cooperative.  A few years we ago we started naming them like winter storms.   So far we’ve had Alice, Brenda, Carlos, Dug, Elsa (of course), Floyd, George, Howard, and Irene. But the last time it snowed Emily insisted we name our snow gal Ophelia, in honor of her pineapple hair.   I’m not certain I get the association but but what’s the point in arguing a snowman’s name, really.  We’ll pick up the alphabetical order soon, maybe.

What I’ve learned from all the psychology books and classes and sessions, is that we either love or hate the way our own childhood went.  As a result we sometimes we go in some insane direction with our own childhood issues to love or hate the same things. I guess I loved making snowmen.   This year, with Ophelia still standing and more snow expected tonight, I hope we can give her some company but you never know with the weather where we live, so my fingers are crossed.


Another thing that Emily & I share every time it snows is cleaning off the cars.   This year we found a new way to clean off the tops.   As you can see, Emily really likes it.

People say that Emily & I look alike.   Whether you agree or not, we like a lot of the same things, especially when it comes to snow.


The Blizzard of 2003


We’re waiting for a blizzard tonight.  If it arrives like the weather channel is predicting we will have plenty of snow to rock a good snowman/woman/person/ball by morning.

Almost 13 years ago, in February 2003,  my brother paid us a visit.  He brought 3 beautiful Micky Mouse Costumes for my daughters who were 2,2, & 4 at the time.  He said they were ridiculously cheap Halloween leftovers from the Disney store and the girls could wear them next year.   My first thought was that I didn’t need to store 3 beautiful Mickey Mouse Halloween Costumes that won’t fit by  Halloween.  My second thought was thanks.   I overreacted, my trademark.   I hated them, the kids loved them.

His plan was to spend the day at our house and stay for supper, but he said the forecast was calling for a major snow and he wanted to leave in time to beat the storm.   Again, I overreacted telling him that he was crazy, I’d heard nothing about snow and he should not worry.  But okay,  “Go if you feel you must.” And so he did.  May I add another bit about stay at home mom burnout?  I never heard the news,  I watched Barney on TV and Elmo music in the car.   To learn the weather, I woke up and looked out the window.

So after he left, I forged outside with the girls to get ready for the snow, just in case my brother was right about the weather.   First stop was the craft store. I was not going to be without glue, paint, or play-do and be stuck in the house.  Food could wait.   I bundled up the kids and off we went just as the snow began to fall. I don’t remember exactly what we bought in Michaels but I do remember that by the time I got out of the store there was 3″ of snow on my car.  I put the kids in the car, brushed of the windshield and thought maybe I should stop at the A&P before going home, just in case.

In and out of the car with three preschoolers in a snow storm, I must have been crazy, or determined, or desperate.  I remember seeing the manager in the crowded store and suggesting he close since he was pretty much out of food,  but all we needed was a couple of boxes of captain crunch, some boxed milk, and we were good to go.

That afternoon and the night that followed we got almost two feet of snow.  I was wrong about the snow and I was wrong about the Mickey Mouse costumes.  The girls put them on and refused to take them off for two days.   They wore them to play, to nap, to eat, and to bed.   I was right however about Halloween, the costumes didn’t fit them by then.  But who cares.

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