Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Pasta Night: creating family where there was none

I was a single mother of three boys ages five and under, living in New England with no family nearby.

Actually, my brother was kind of nearby, but he lived a bachelor lifestyle, never married with no kids. My mother had recently moved back to her childhood home in California to spend time with her aunts, uncle, and cousins – distant relatives I had met once or twice or only knew about from family stories. My father had passed away nearly 20 years previously. Any relatives from his side of the family were many states away and somewhat estranged, as my parents had divorced when I was six and we were basically cast out. My mother’s younger sister and brother were also distant: We had a holiday-and-special-occasion relationship, which had been dictated by my mother up until the time she abdicated her matriarchal role and took off for the opposite coast.

So, there I was alone with my small family. I had a full-time job and had very little time to do anything besides take care of my kids and work. It was kind of scary to be on my own like that. The daycare told me they really needed someone to list as an emergency contact that didn’t live 3,000 miles away. Who could I ask? (Ultimately I asked the pastor at the church I had started attending when my youngest son was three months old.)

I knew I wasn’t truly alone, because God is everywhere, but the emergency contact quandary highlighted the fact that the kids and I needed some companionship. I had an idea. I’d host a “Ladies’ Night” at my house where other single moms could come and bring their kids! I’d serve dinner and maybe have an activity for the kids so the moms could socialize. I didn’t get out much, except for church on Sunday, and to be honest, one of the reasons I ended up in the church I did was because they had a nursery and Sunday School and other people would take care of the baby and his older brothers while I did something else like Bible Study for a whole hour before actual church. I could leave the baby in the nursery during church but the older boys could come to the sanctuary with me, which they did.

They were noisy and messy at times and we learned to sit in the front so I didn’t have to see people turning around to look at us. There were many times that having a four and five-year-old in church made me wonder why I even went to church. But as hard as it was, I was sure it the right thing to do for the boys. We had been churchgoers since they were babies – it’s just that I’d had to find a new church when I became a single mom and after home churching for a period of time, knew I needed to find a church home.

My first Ladies’ Night was a Mardi Gras party, because it was right before Lent. I made a king cake and put a plastic baby under each piece so everyone would be a winner. I had gold, green, and purple Mardi Gras beads and matching cups and napkins. I don’t recall what else I served. Only one friend showed up with her daughter, but it was a “party!” I learned that everything is more fun if you call it a party – even folding laundry.

The next time I hosted Ladies’ Night, two women came. They both had daughters so I wound up getting out all of my childhood books out that I knew the boys would never read anyway. I had a ton of horse books and Little House on the Prairie books. Many of them went home with the girls that night.

“Ladies’ Night” became “Pasta Night” because the boys pointed out that it didn’t make sense to call it that because they were not ladies. And of course, it wasn’t just about me – they needed friends, too! I held Pasta Night every Wednesday, whether anyone came over or not. More often than not, though, we had guests, even when the weather was bad.

My first regular was another single mom from our daycare. Then there was a mom from church and her two kids, a woman I met at the hairdresser and her two kids, and my neighbor, who sometimes just sent her kids over. It was mostly single women until married women from church who I’d become friends with started attending. Men were welcome after another neighbor broke the ice with her boyfriend, but for the most part it was women and children who came every week for crudités, pasta, meatballs, sauce, bread, and juiceboxes, or some variation thereof.

I initiated themes and activities. There was Costume Pasta Night at Halloween and I gave out prizes for “spookiest,” “most original,” and “funniest” costumes as well as any other superlative I could think of so long as everyone got an award. Gratitude Pasta night was at Thanksgiving time. One year we made cards for people in homeless shelters; another year we made leaves on which blessings were written and then hung on our Gratitude Tree. We had Gingerbread House making Pasta Night where the eating was an afterthought because I needed the dining room table for the construction site. We had Valentine’s Pasta Night where we made valentines for the homeless shelter, and Egg Coloring Pasta Night at Easter time. We also celebrated birthdays and special occasions. One time when one of my son’s baseball games was rescheduled to Wednesday night, we had Baseball Pasta Night and brought our get together to the field and then back to our house for dessert.

It rarely crossed my mind that we lived in an older and somewhat dilapidated house, and had kind of a shabby dining room table with mismatched chairs, plates, and silverware. None of that mattered. What was important was being together with our Pasta Night family. One of my sons had to do a heritage project at school and he chose to research and present our Scottish heritage, but he wanted to include a section about Pasta Night. Even though it has nothing at all to do with being Scottish, it was an important tradition to him. Past Night also provided stability and consistency, which I felt were important to my kids. During my own childhood, I lived in 12 different houses between the ages of two and 18, and remember being acutely aware of and embarrassed by our poverty.

My mother moved back from California and began attending Pasta Night. She brought one of her friends along who has since become very good friends with one of my friends, so Pasta Night became a networking opportunity as well as a community. It also became a support group when nearly a year after my mother’s return, she fell ill with a short-lived and mysterious illness, fell into a coma, and passed away three days later – ever so suddenly and unexpectedly. It was my Pasta Night family, along with my church family, who were there to help me through that very difficult time, which was a week before Thanksgiving that year.

The Pasta Night Era ended when our kids got older and began playing more sports and being involved in activities like Boy Scouts or Chess Club. It just became harder and harder to find a conflict-free night to get together regularly. My boys, now ages 17, 15, and 11, are on good paths today: we still go to the same church when we can, mostly depending on sports or my youngest’s hockey schedule. (Fortunately, God is everywhere, even at the hockey rink.) All three attend a Christian camp every summer and retreats throughout the year – the older two have been there for 11 years (and worked there last summer) and my youngest for seven.

Being a mom is a hard job, and it’s really scary when you have no one to list as an emergency contact at daycare. I can’t stress enough how important it is to create a family if there is none, not only for your children but also for yourself. We moms are all in this together!

This story originally appeared in "The Mom Village."

Monday, February 20, 2017

How to turn resentment into gratitude

How to turn resentment into gratitudeImagine if instead of saying “I have to,” you said, “I get to.” How would your attitude change?

Think how quickly you could turn resentment into gratitude.

I am sure this isn’t a new concept and it’s quite possible I’ve heard it somewhere before – I’m just not sure where. It’s very likely it’s from my late mom.

She often pursued and shared ideas for positive thinking. She had given me books by Norman Vincent Peale about the power of positive thinking. Additionally, I remember when we all wore the purple “Complaint Free World” bracelets and switched wrists every time we caught ourselves complaining. (We switched a lot: People are surprisingly negative.)

This idea just popped into my head as if spoken to me the other day. Right when I was feeling all draggy and drudge-y, I had the lightbulb moment. It was Saturday and I put off getting up because I had a lot of chores on the list and I’d just had a LOOOooooooong work week and didn’t want to do anything.

I decided that since it was Saturday, what’s the rush? So my husband and I had coffee in bed. I read some of a book I’ve been eager to get back to (It's Always by My Side, by Edward Grinnan). Then the idea came: I don’t have to get up; I get to get up. I get to clean the kitchen, go to the supermarket, clean the toilet and so on.

So, today is a typical Monday. Instead of being all cranky that it’s Monday, I’m going to turn resentment into gratitude with the “I get to” mindset.

(Reminder: this is the day that the Lord has made. We can rejoice and be glad in every day – not just Friday!)

[bctt tweet="Swap “I have to” for “I get to” and turn resentment into gratitude." username="carolineposer"]

Check this out.

Typical Monday: Ughhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Monday! Hit snooze a bunch of times until...

♦ I have get to get up.

I am lucky I can get up. Some people are bedridden. My son works at a Pediatric Care center where the residents cannot get up by themselves.

♦ I have get to shower.

I appreciate our warm and clean running water, which is something that 783 million people in the world do not have.

♦ I have get to get dressed.

How fortunate I am to have clean, seasonally appropriate clothes to wear! I might not wear brand-name styles, but that’s not so important to me.

♦ I have get to fix food for my family.

We have food in the cabinets! We don’t need to worry about where our next meal is coming from. At one time we were patrons of our local food pantry. The food pantry is generous so we never experienced food insecurity, unlike the 42.2 million Americans who do.

♦ I have get to unload the dishwasher.

I’m glad that we have a dishwasher. That has not always been the case: All my life growing up we did not have one. In our old house, the dishwasher was broken for a year before I managed to get someone over to fix it.

♦ I have get to go to work.

Thank God I have work. I was laid off in 2014 but never missed a day of work since then.

♦ I have get to pay bills.

I’m grateful we can afford to pay our bills, as well as for the fact that I work at home and can take care of household things intermittently throughout the day, such as throw a load of clothes in the wash.

♦ I have get to walk the dogs.

I need the exercise. Getting out is good for all of us!

♦ I have get to take someone to piano / hockey / basketball.

I’m blessed to be able to afford enrichment activities for my kids.

♦ I have get to go to the gym.

By the end of the day I usually don’t want to do this, but I’ve never regretted a trip to the gym and they’ve got massage chairs there!

♦ I have get to work on that side gig.

I’m thankful I have a side gig. It’s how I pay for private school tuition.

♦ I have get to throw in a load of clothes before bed.

I’m so happy I don’t have to hang my clothes anymore – or go to the laundromat!

See how easy it is to turn resentment into gratitude?

Happy Monday everyone!

xoxox, Carlie

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Let love rule

Here's a story about love that I wrote in 2009. Today seemed like a good day to share it again, though the message of love is timeless (and needed more than ever in today's social climate.)

I made a holiday card faux pas this year and sent a Jewish friend a card that said something about the peace of Christ on the inside. The picture on the cover of the card was of a Christmas tree – harmless, in my opinion, because of its secularization, though I am aware that more politically correct people would disagree – decorated with the word “Peace” in various languages.

When I apologized to him via email, he replied, “I'm one of those people who basically believes that all religions can be distilled down to the same message, which is about love. So whether it's in the words of Jesus or Buddha or Mohammed, words of love and peace are always welcome.”

His comments touched me deeply, because it had not been long since my mother passed away after a brief illness, where I had witnessed God’s children come together for a common purpose. It didn’t matter what religious denomination they were or whether they were affiliated with any church at all, they allowed God’s love to pour through them to my family and me, and each other, as we tried to come to terms with a sudden and unexpected loss.

About a week prior to my mom’s passing, she had written on her to-do list, “Send love to everyone you see or think about.” The day before she fell ill, she wrote “Acknowledge your loving light every moment.” Both items were checked off. This didn’t surprise me, given that in her obituary, she was referred to as “a beloved advisor and mentor to many, a ‘Spiritual Giant,’ a ‘shining star’ and ‘an inspiration.’”

In “The Mastery of Love,” a talk given by Reverend Jim Lee of the Sacramento Christ Unity Church, he talks about the concept of loving not just your neighbor as yourself, but also loving your enemies, as Jesus taught. Reverend Lee tells us that we don’t have to love them up close and personal, but we can still wish them all the happiness and joy we hope for ourselves. This is also what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. meant by “agape” love, which he described as “understanding and creative, redemptive goodwill for all men.”

I’m not mad at God that we didn’t get the specific miracle that we all prayed for during my mother’s illness. Sometimes God says no, because He is God and I don’t need to know the reason right now. Just like sometimes Mommy says no, because I am Mommy and I said so, that’s-why-end-of-story.

Indeed, having my first son is how I began to understand the true love of God. I love my children no matter what, just like I know God loves me, even when I do foolish and errant things. With renewed gratitude, I could reflect upon times in my life when I had turned my back on God and realized that He always had and always will believe in me.

Having my second and third sons made it obvious that love is not divided, but multiplied, when there are more people to love. Love is miraculous: the more you give away, the more you end up with!

Reverend Lee also states in his talk that “peace is love at rest, joy is love singing, patience is love enduring,” and to that list I’ll add that service is love in action. When we act lovingly towards other people, we are serving God. It’s all about love.

“Love transcends all space and time,” as Lenny Kravitz sings. “Its time to take a stand; brothers and sisters join hands. We got to let love rule.”

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” ~John 13:34-35New International Version (NIV)

Monday, February 6, 2017

How I became a full-time writer, part two

This is the rest of the story that started about becoming a full-time writer when I walked out of a job I hated.

This is how I became a full-time writer, and you can, too!

If you are mainly interested in becoming a full-time writer, click here.

I am a full-time writer. People think it’s super glamorous and Steven-Kingy or J.K.-Rowlingesque, but it’s not that kind of writing. I ghost-write blog posts for technology thought leaders and have a couple of other writing projects on the side. The thought leaders’ stories are usually really interesting: The topics are cloud computing and artificial intelligence. My other work is more personal.

Detour along my path

However, before I got back to where I am today, I had a little detour back into sales for two years, and marketing for another 10, but I never gave up writing. (If you want to be a writer, you must write. All the time, even if no one reads your work.) I had four books published during that time. Let me share something with you about publishing books, though. You will not get rich doing that unless you are like Steven King or J.K. Rowling. Most authors who publish books either have a passion for the stories they’re telling (me) or use their books to position themselves as industry pundits or launch their public speaking career. Most authors will not even make a profit from their books, if you consider all the blood, sweat, and tears that go into writing a book. There’s a detailed discussion on that here. I have made more money as a columnist and contributor to anthologies than I have off my own book sales. (Note that my books are compilations of my columns and stories from the anthologies because I only sell first rights, so in a way I did already get paid to write the books.)

This is a picture of some of my books and anthologies from a recent author fair.

During the time I was working in technology marketing, a large part of my role was to publish customer testimonials. While I mostly had other people doing the writing, I made sure to keep my hand in the craft by writing and publishing a corporate newsletter.

How I came full circle

I got laid off. It wasn’t anything personal; it was just my time. The company I worked for had rolling layoffs and it was either me or someone else on the team. (She got laid off the following year.) I was offered a position as a contractor (where I could continue telecommuting), and some other severance benefits, which included career counseling.

During career counseling, I took a bunch of self-assessments and participated in workshops and talked with a career counselor. She helped me get my LinkedIn profile and resume interview ready and I began talking with prospective employers.

“Where do you see yourself in five years?” Thankfully, it was a phone interview so I could roll my eyes. I had been pacing around my family room, because I learned in sales that your voice sounds better a) when you’re smiling and b) when you’re standing up, but I stopped in my tracks.

I realized that I wanted to be more closely involved with the creative process. I didn’t want to be managing customer reference opportunities. I didn’t want to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire of another enormous global technology company.

I reported back to my career counselor who told me, “You’ve reached the point in your career where you can afford to be selfish.” I thought, “Well, if making money doing what you like to do is selfish then sign me up.” I pretty much gave up climbing the corporate ladder when I had kids. Now I am more than grateful to make a good living without having to leave the house.

I took the contract position and worked as a project manager for a year and a half before making the move to full-time writer. In between, I took some online classes (part of my severance benefits) and worked for some content mills. (I’m not proud – this was a seriously good experience for seriously horrible pay.) I’m back where I was 15 years ago, except the pay is better.

Getting started as a full-time writer

A lot of times when I tell people I’m a full-time writer, they tell me about the book they’ve always wanted to write. I love talking to people about the books they are writing, if they are actually writing them. Usually, we can relate about genre, publishing, or how do you find time to write? If they are in the someday-I’ll-write-it camp and don’t actually blog or journal, I simply tell them, “that sounds like an awesome story that I’d like to read someday.”

Sometimes people tell me about the book they think I should ghost write about their friend or relative and I have to explain I am not that kind of ghost writer. I remember being on vacation once years ago and telling someone I was a writer. Initially, she was all intrigued to hear all about my books (I didn’t have any published at the time), but when she found out I wrote datasheets and brochures, I could tell by her vacuous smiling and nodding that she’d checked out.

I imagine if you are reading this, you are not that “someday” person. You are likely interested in becoming a freelance writer.

First of all, you need samples

This is a conundrum because how can you get samples if you have never worked as a writer? Some people will tell you that you should start a blog and start writing about the topics that interest you. I agree with starting a blog, but it is a commitment to learn how to do it and to keep up with regular posting and develop it to a point where you’d want to show it off to prospective clients.

Alternately, work for a content mill for a little while so you can earn while you learn. A content mill is basically a company that hires a bunch of freelance writers to churn out content for its clients. I absolutely do not recommend content mills as a long-term strategy. They will suck the life out of you and crush your soul.

I have worked for both CrowdSource.com (which is now known as OneSpace.com) and WordAgents.com and scoped out many, many more of these sites, some of which only pay $0.009 a word. Yes, that is less than a penny! I have done projects for as little as $0.02 a word, which is highly undesirable. I used to charge $1 per word in the late 90’s for technical white papers. However, I’m comparing apples to oranges here. The low-paying content mill work does not require that I leave my house to attend meetings, make any phone calls, manage review cycles, or work at any particular time of day.

The benefit of working for content mills is that there are specific guidelines for writing that will ultimately make you a better writer. I learned about style guides, keywords/SEO, grammar, and how many sentences to put in paragraphs, and how many words to put in sentences. You can take assessments and earn certifications. I am not ashamed of having worked for content mills. I did so after I got laid off and to fill in some earnings gaps. Ultimately my confidence was buoyed.

You can read about some other writers’ real world experiences with Content Mills here.

Note: I have never joined a site where I have to pay to join – except flexjobs.com, at the recommendation of my career counselor (this site had plenty of writing jobs last time I looked and offers skills assessments). I have also never joined a site where I would be competing against other writers by underbidding them. That just seems wrong to me.

Then you need to pitch clients

Where do you find these clients? I regularly check Freelance Writing Gigs, and Pro Blogger or Blogging Pro are good sites for potential blog post jobs. You'll get a sense of the going rate or you can check this out for a lengthy discussion about how to set rates.

I wouldn’t recommend quitting your day job to become a freelance writer unless you have a cushion in your bank account. The highs and lows make it too risky.

Note that while I am a full-time writer, with some freelance projects on the side, I am not a full-time freelance writer.

If you have any questions about getting started or want to share your own writing experience, please comment or contact me.

xoxox, Carlie

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Football squares for kids: a Super Bowl tradition

Football squares for kids is a fun Super Bowl tradition"I'm going to do football squares, too, when I have kids!" my youngest said.

We were picking numbers for our Super Bowl squares. I've done football squares for kids as long as I can remember, at least since 2004-5 when The Bigs would have first been interested in football (and especially since the Patriots were playing in those Super Bowls).

I learned about football squares a long time ago at one of my jobs. We had a football pool every week during the regular season where we ponied up (maybe $10, I forget) and picked the winners of games. I only vaguely remembered how that worked and I may have won once or twice during the four years that I worked at that company. I always looked forward to the Super Bowl because that was when we did "squares."

For the two weeks between the playoff games and the Super Bowl, we'd recruit people to buy a square for $5.00.

The (grown-up) way it works is like this.

  1. Draw a 10x10 grid of 100 squares.

  2. Write the name of one team along the x axis and the other on the y axis.

  3. Sell each square for $5.00, for a total of $500.

  4. When the grid is filled in with names or initials, pick numbers. Write them along the axes, assigning a numbered pair to each square.

  5. Watch the game and award cash prizes at the end of each quarter based on the score. For example, if the score is 13 to 7 at the end of the quarter, the person who has the square with 3,7 coordinates wins the prize. Award $100 at the quarters and $150 at the half and final.

If you want more detailed instructions, other options, or to play online, go here.

Adapting football squares for kids

Football squares for kids is exactly the same as the grown-up version but no one pays to play. I divide up the squares evenly and let everyone write their names in a certain number of squares, depending on the number of people. But that is the end of fairness. More about that later.

Football squares for kids: These are the prizes for our Super Bowl squares.Because no one is paying to play, the prizes are not money! (No gambling is involved here.) Instead, we give out age appropriate trinkets and candy. One year when we were feeling a little flush we gave out iTunes gift cards. Another year we gave out a small prize every time the score changed.


My son helped me finish the grid. I'd pulled cards out of a deck -- ace through ten -- and held them face down. (We have chosen numbers out of a hat in the past, but doing it with cards means I don't have to sacrifice 10 sticky notes or rip paper into scraps.) He picked cards at a time and wrote the numbers along the axes on the grid of 100 squares. We picked for the Patriots first, then the Falcons.

There will be 11 of us at our Super Bowl party, so we each got nine squares and there's on left over.

The reason you choose numbers after the names in the grid are filled in is so everyone has an equal chance to get "good" numbers. Good numbers are related to likely football scores. Having 5,5 is not so good. Having 7,0 is good.

The prizes

Prizes for football squares for kidsWhen I first started football squares for kids, I let everyone see what the prizes were. Now I make mystery grab bags. I have let the kids choose which bag they want for each quarter, but for the past few  years I have assigned the bags to the quarters because I make the half and final bags more deluxe, the same way it would be done if the prize was money.

So, while everyone has an equal chance to win before the numbers are picked, there have been some years where people have been bitterly disappointed by the numbers they ended up with. They've become inconsolable with a last-minute score change. It's "just not fair" if someone wins two quarters and someone else doesn't with any. Some people can't handle it that the prizes are different. They can't watch because they can't stand the suspense.

At dinner last night we talked about they mystery square (4,9) that doesn't have anyone's initials. We thought if "?" wins a quarter we'd decide collectively what to do with the prize.

A learning opportunity

On one hand, football squares for kids can cause conflict. Typically if I win a quarter I give my prize to the kid who is thrashing about the unfairness of it all or likely to be. Sometimes one of the other kids does that. This year, two of my kids were with me when we bought the prizes so there is not so much tension related to the unknown. (What they don't know is I have subsequently augmented the bags.)

On the other hand, football squares for kids is a fun way to learn that life isn't always fair, that you win some and you lose some, that sometimes you need to share with those who are less fortunate than you, that your brothers are kind of generous after all, that it's only a game, and so on.

Why not give it a try?

What are some of your Super Bowl traditions?

xoxox, Carlie





Go Patriots!

But no one will see it

I set up the nativity in the back yard again this year. In the past it has been out front near the fire hydrant that is on our property, and...