Tuesday, May 29, 2012

5 Signs of Work/Life Imbalance

As my family's breadwinner, I seem to be locked into a perpetual balancing act, darting from one obligation to the next, frantically trying to keep all of my plates aloft. And on a good day, I do just that - even though many are a tad wobbly. If I can keep that up for a week at a time, I'm a happy camper.

Last week was not one of those weeks.

My time and attention got eaten up by one plate (and you know which one you are). As a result, several others teetered on the brink of breaking into bits.

Oddly enough, I didn't even realize it until after the fact. 

While the unkempt house, empty fridge and multiple messages left in my cell phone's voicemail inbox should've tipped me off to the fact that I had been neglecting my friends and family, it took my son's high school graduation, a Memorial Day parade and not one, not two, but three picnics to get me to realize just how off balance I had become. 

How can you tell if your work/life balance is off kilter? Here are five things to watch for:

1. You address your boss with a term of endearment normally reserved for your spouse.

2. You've downloaded your office's conference call "Hold" music to your iPod.

3. You expect gifts from your children on Boss's Day.

4. You know the night-time security guard at your office by name, as well as the names of his spouse, siblings, grand children and third grade teacher.

5. Before you consider filling your children's request for an allowance increase, you conduct a performance review that assesses their activities and achievements against their prior year's goals, then weigh the result against your household's operating budget and offer them stock options instead.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Nursing a Chocolate Hangover

Yesterday, the day after Mother's Day, I was nursing one nasty chocolate-induced hangover.

But it was so worth it.

Chocolate is just about the only currency I'll accept in exchange for each load of laundry cleaned, meal prepared and paycheck earned since last Mother's Day.

My men know me so well...

It wasn't until I opened the second box of Fanny May delectables that I heard a little voice inside my head whisper, "Be careful what you wish for."

I ignored it and tore open the packaging, slapping away any groping fingers intent on raiding my loot. Selfish? Hardly. I figured there were just enough pieces to account for each and every concert attended, practice session chauffeured, scout patch affixed and sock paired.

And what did I get for my brazen display chocolate gluttony?

Two extra pounds, a dull, nagging headache and a bad case of "fog brain".  Not good for a busy Monday morning in my house.

As such, I shouldn't have been surprised to find a gym uniform laying forgotten in the dryer, a text book left behind on a bedroom desk and a half-packed lunch sitting abandoned in the refrigerator.

After a strong cup of coffee and a "hair of the dog", I started fielding phone calls from the three school to which I would end up making urgent deliveries.

And, so it goes, I'm well on my way to earning next year's stash...

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Last-Minute Gift Ideas for Mom

In the midst of all of your daily spinning, have you paused long enough to realize that Mother's Day is tomorrow?

If you're like me, you've waited until the last minute and are now scrambling to find a way to honor your Mom in a manner which she truly deserves.

Other plate spinners may simply be looking forward to a long-awaited day of pampering.

And still other plate spinners - yes, those of the male persuasion, may be in full-tilt panic mode. These poor souls are easy to spot. They're the ones making frantic calls to the local florist, sweat beading on their upper lip, hoping that the special Mother's Day bouquet is still in stock.

If you fall into this category, calm yourself. I am here to help.

First, before you grab just anything off of the greeting card display rack, think long and hard about why the maternal figure in your life is special to you.

Maybe it was the way she stayed up with you late one night to help you with a big paper or project that you waited until the last minute to complete.

Perhaps it was because she always somehow knows to make your favorite dinner when you've had a particularly bad day.

Or, maybe it's because she took the time to teach you how to cook for yourself or do your own laundry. (For this special Mom, you had best walk right passed that greeting card display and into the nearest jewelry store.)

Expenses tight? Not to worry. There are plenty of gift options that don't require a withdrawal from your 401k. Here is my annual Plate Spinner's Top Five Mother's Day Gift List:

#5: What better way to show Mom you appreciate everything she does for you than by making sure her alarm clock goes off at the exact same time it always does. If she's like me, there's nothing more unnerving than waking up late. It throws off my whole day.

#4: Make breakfast for her. If pouring corn flakes into a bowl is a bit of a stretch for you, a trip to the donut store may be in order.

#3: Give her something sparkly. Clean everything until it glistens, including but not limited to: dishes, windows and your teeth.

#2: Declare a 24-hour truce with whomever you have a gripe, grudge or complaint. It won't cost you a cent and the maternal super hero in your life will be eternally grateful if she doesn't have to hear any bickering on her special day.

#1: Chocolate. (Seriously, did you really think I'd put anything else in the top gift spot?) Again, for the budget-conscious, you don't have to go overboard, but when it comes to chocolate, think quality over quantity. Personally, I'd treasure on Lindt chocolate truffle over an entire bad of M&M's, but that's just me.

And there you have it.

Now, if I could just figure out a way to get a copy in front of my guys, all will be well.

Happy Mother's Day to all and to all a well-deserved break!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Soothing Scent of Pancakes

In the week since my last post, besides working full-time, I made 21 PBJs, readied my son for his senior prom, baked three dozen chocolate chips cookies, ate at least a dozen of said cookies and finished 37 drafts of my agent-requested synopsis, but submitted only one. Finally. Last night.

Many thanks to my family and friends who proofed it for me and provided feedback. If it receives a  favorable response, I'm sending flowers to you all. If it lands me a contract, new cars all around. ; )

The automated response I received from the agent said it may take 6 - 8 weeks for him to get back to me. Plenty of time to save up for some new wheels...

In the meantime, to celebrate this auspicious occasion, I got up early this morning to make banana walnut pancakes for my boys before my first meeting started. It's not that I had a taste for them. I just wanted the house to smell all breakfast-y when they woke up. It makes the morning far less jarring.

I suppose a scented candle would suffice, but by actually making the pancakes, I already have breakfast ready for them. A win-win.

If only every day started as efficiently....

Usually, it's a mad rush just get showered, clothed, fed, packed up and out the door. And then there's the kids.

I'm counting the days until summer break. I know I say that every year, but it's true. And, when my house is crawling with bored boys, I'm sure I'll be counting down the days until the start of the new school year.

In any event, if I do, just tell me to light a candle. A pancake-scented one.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Perfect Pitch

Last Saturday, I took a leap of faith and pitched my book to a renowned literary agent. To prep for this 10-minute face-to-face stress test, I spent the better part of Friday polishing my pitch.

What's a pitch, you ask? Good question. It's a sixty word (give or take) description of an entire book designed to knock the socks off of a potential agent or editor. If they like it and think it's a story they can sell, they'll ask for more. If not, you'll have a lot of time to kill before your 10 minutes are up so bring a deck of cards, just in case.

While I had a draft of mine rattling around in my brain for days, I hadn't actually committed it to paper until I attended an aptly named "Preparing Your Pitch" session the day before. When the moderator invited the writers in attendance to anonymously submit their pitches so she could quickly critique each and every one, I jumped on the opportunity. About thirty minutes later, it was my turn.

"Not bad," she said. "I don't like the word 'transformed'. It's too vague." And, with that, she moved onto the next one.

Not bad...? She may as well have come down off the podium, walked over to me, kissed the top of my head and said, "Well done, dear."

I was elated that my first effort was not bad.

But, I quickly learned that this was just one person's opinion.

When I had first arrived at the conference, I made the acquaintance of another writer, very nice and very funny, who sat next to me in the session. Later that day, she asked me to describe my book to her in detail. As I did, I tried to imagine that she was the renowned literary agent to whom I would be pitching the very next day.

By the time I finished, I knew what she was going to say.

She held up my pitch, waved it in front of me and said, "That wasn't this."

She was right. My pitch lacked punch, zip and charisma. I needed words that would reach out and grab the agent by the throat and say, "If you don't snatch up this book right now, you'll be making the biggest mistake of your career."

At that point, all my pitch seemed capable of conveying was, "Excuse me, but I think I might have a story that might be of interest to you maybe, but I'm not sure, so if you're busy, never mind."

Later that day, after a glass of merlot and some lovely chocolate dipped strawberries, my critique partner and I took another stab at it. She grabbed my copy, covered in my neat, tiny 4th grade print and started covering a new sheet in her flowing, flowery cursive. She used words like "snarky", "blackballed" and "disgruntled".

I was so inspired, I skipped that day's last workshop, retreated to my room, put on my jammies, hopped onto the center of the luxurious king-sized bed, opened my laptop, spread out my notes and got to work.

At breakfast the next morning, I met up with my friend and handed her a note card containing the latest rendition of my pitch. When she finished, she exclaimed, "That's perfect!"

That was all I needed to hear. By the time 11am rolled around, I was ready. I entered the conference room, shook hands with my potential future agent and sat in the chair to which he directed me.

Clearing my throat, I pulled my note card in front of me and was about to begin reading when he interrupted me, saying, "Put that away. I want you to speak to me, not read to me."

Well, okay then...

Certain that I had read it enough times to have it mostly memorized, I did my best to knock his socks off.

He listened intently, asked me a couple of questions about character motivation, then instructed me to send him a 3-5 page synopsis.

I did my best to contain my excitement.

The night before, at an agent panel discussion, one of the agents mentioned that if you're asked to submit something, be sure to follow through. I thought to myself who in their right mind would go through the trouble of pitching their book, then not provide the material requested by the agent?

After surviving my first pitch, I think I know the answer to that question. For some, maybe it's enough to be asked to provide more. For others, maybe they're afraid of being rejected.

But, for me, neither applies.

So, if you'll excuse my absence for a few days while I dust off and buff up my synopsis. I have an agent to entice...