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Now that all five of our kids are in school, our family schedule resembles a MetroNorth timetable; there’s always someone inbound and someone outbound.  In and out, back and forth.  Someone needs a ride, a haircut, a gift for a party, a visit to the dentist.  A friend recently asked how I keep track of it all.  The answer, as with most questions I get is, “sometimes better than others!”  With so many balls in the air and kids on the go, some are bound to drop. Balls, not kids, that is.  But, I’ve become a fairly good juggler and on most days, keep most balls up in the air and most kids firmly grounded.  Here’s how:

  • Write it down. Right away.  Whether it’s a class conference, first day of little league or last day of school, put it on your calendar pronto. As in immediately, when the details are hot off the presses and before that piece of paper with all the critical details gets lost in the clutter, put out with the recycling or perhaps even burned in the fireplace. I speak from experience in all three scenarios and can attest that the best way to keep your family’s future plans from going up in smoke is to put them on your calendar the first chance you get.
  • RSVP.  Right away.  I used to have a file labeled “Remember Me”.  I filled it with birthday invitations I feared would fall off the fridge and baby shower invitations I didn’t want to lose.  Well, I didn’t lose them.  They are all still right there in that “Remember Me” file, completely forgotten!  When you get an invite — be it online or in the mailbox, don’t file it. Don’t stick it on the fridge or in a basket.  Respond. Right way.  The day you receive it.  And if you say yes, put the date and all critical details on your calendar.  As a bonus, add a calendar reminder to buy a gift the week before so you won’t be scrambling on the way to the soiree.
  • Share your calendar. With your husband. Your sitter.  Even with your kids if they’re old enough. I recently made the mistake of sharing mine with my boss, which I don’t recommend but, at least he now has an appreciation for all I am juggling!  Our family has a monthly calendar so we can all see the big picture and then I print a calendar each week that includes not only the details of the theater class, play dates and baseball registration but also our weeknight dinner plans. This helps us all to better manage the flow of inbound and outbound traffic while eliminating the panic (mine) and whining (theirs) of what’s for dinner.  And that my friends, will be my post for next week!

 

When I was growing up, we went to Cape Cod every summer.  As a grown up, I’ve continued to go to Cape Cod every summer.  College weekends. Girl’s weekends. Couples weekends.  The weekend I got engaged.

Cape Cod was the first place we took our firstborn.  And second. And our triplets, who came along next.  We’ve frequently made the trek to the Cape with a car loaded to the gills with strollers, pack & plays, high chairs and even the family dog.

Except for last year; last year, we didn’t go.  We were selling our house and our future was uncertain so we skipped our annual pilgrimage and visited friends and family in other places instead.  We had a super summer but it just wasn’t the same.

To get to the Cape, you have to cross a bridge.  I’ve always said that when I cross that bridge, I feel as though my troubles are left behind.  Blue skies and clear water lie ahead. Literally.  The stress and chaos of our hectic lives are replaced by days that flow freely from the beach to the ice cream parlor, from mini-golf to the candy store.  Worries fade as memories are made.  To do lists are simplified:  apply sunscreen, dry beach towels. Repeat.  That’s pretty much it.

The cottage we rented this year didn’t have wireless.  This, as it turns out, was a great gift.  Instead of catching up on work email or posting to my blog, I unplugged.  I had no choice.  I even left my Facebook friends behind for a week.  I read a book. I turned off the light at a decent hour and I slept.  A good, deep sleep.  The kind that comes after long, sun-drenched days on the beach, when your legs are tired from long walks collecting seashells and your skin still feels a little salty.

So, what did I learn on my summer vacation?  I learned that, as suspected, there is truly no place like Cape Cod.  I learned that I need more sleep.  I learned that I still need to wear sunblock on cloudy days.  And that beach towels don’t dry outside overnight as the cool Cape mist settles in.  Perhaps best of all, I learned that a vacation home without wireless is nothing to fret about; it is permission to unplug… and isn’t that what vacations are for?

NOTE: This post originally appeared on Moonfrye.

Finnegan: a very happy dog whose day was SO GOOD thanks to IAMS

This week I was treated to a unique experience, a trip to the city with my four-legged friend Finnegan, courtesy of IAMS.

En route to the IAMS SO GOOD event

On our way to the IAMS SO GOOD event in NY

For the first time in years, I spent my morning with our dog rather than at my desk or with our kids… although, I kind of think of Finnegan as our sixth kid… or perhaps more aptly put, as our first child.  We LOVE this dog.  He is a released golden retriever/lab mix from the Guiding Eyes for the Blind and he is amazing.  Always so happy to see us, so gentle with our kids, and so eager to love.  And…

Really really itchy!

There have been nights — rare nights — that all five of our kids are sound asleep.  ”At last!”, we think to ourselves, we are ALL going to sleep through the night!  And then it begins. Finnegan scratch, scratch, scratches, with his collar jingle, jingle, jingling and there we lie, wide awake, tossing and turning.  Something is keeping him up.  And that something is keeping us up.  And that’s no good at all. Believing that “something” is very likely found in his food, I was game to give the new IAMS SO GOOD! brand a try — I’ll give anything a try if it will help me (and Finn!) sleep through the night!

Our family is a firm believer that “you are what you eat.”  We do our best to eat locally-sourced foods and splurge on organic fruits and veggies when we can; we belong to a CSA and enjoy family trips to our farmers market on Wednesday evenings.  My husband is a hater of high-fructose corn syrup and we try to stay away from processed foods.  Don’t get me wrong – we’re not health nuts.  We do enjoy the occasional Doritos, Oreos and other “junk” food.  But we try to avoid it.  And, as it turns out, perhaps Finn should too.

While at this IAMS event, my eyes were opened to just how much “junk” is really in some dog food.  Added sugars, dyes and artificial preservatives. It kinda makes me itchy just thinking about it!

 

Ew. These nasty things could be in your dog's bowl. And Finn's too!

The new SO GOOD! dog food leaves out that bad stuff and fills the bowl with good stuff — natural stuff like chicken, veggies and fruit.

IAMS SO GOOD only has wholesome ingredients, like these

They even had Oprah’s former chef, Art Smith on board, talking about the value of wholesome foods.  As he put it earlier this week, “the more wholesome, the better.”  I couldn’t agree more.  For people and for pets too.

 

Finnegan: a very happy dog whose day was SO GOOD thanks to IAMS

NOTE: This is a sponsored post for IAMS.

Time to go!

It’s a universal challenge:  getting out of the house in the morning on time — ideally with your children in tow, snacks packed, shoes tied, coats on, teeth brushed and hair combed.  It was hard when we had one tiny tot. It was harder when we had two.  Now that we have five, well, it’s not easy but, we’ve learned from our mistakes and, in the spirit of sharing, hopefully you can too!

  • Wake up earlier.  It’s painful but trust me, it works.  We made two mistakes in this category. First, we often hit snooze until a baby cried and demanded our attention; at that point, it is too late. You’re already behind the 8-ball.  An early rise is critical to the success of our morning mission.  It allows us to literally be one step ahead of the little people — which is where you need to be if you’re going to drag them out the door on time.  The second mistake we made was letting them sleep in; after years of being told “never wake a sleeping baby”, it seems counter-intuitive to do just that but, you must.  They need time that transition time from the land of nod to the day ahead and the more time you allow them, the less hustling and bustling and screaming and yelling there will be. Trust me on this!
  • Prep the night before.  Make the lunches. Pack those snacks. Put out the clothes. Pack the backpacks. Sign the forms.  Write the notes.  Set the shoes by the door. Locate the gloves, hats and mittens.  It’s not fun but it’s a lot less fun to tackle these tasks with whining tots and as tempers rise and the time ticks away in the morning.  And, whatever you do, don’t forget to set the coffee maker!  What the heck – you may even want to pick out an outfit and pack lunch for yourself!
  • Let them “do it self!“  Kids love to help. So, put them to work!  A toddler can find his shoes and put them by the door.  A kindergartener can pop a snack into her backpack.  And a third-grader can and should be responsible for neatly packing up his homework and picking out clothes for the next day.  So, let them.  It will ease the burden on you, make them feel great and teach an important lesson about responsibility along the way.

I suppose last but not least, allow room for error.  You know what they say about the best-laid plans right?   Well, the morning routine is no exception and sometimes you just need to roll with it.  Sometimes you are going to be late.  And that’s ok.  That’s when it’s good to remember one of my mantras, for better or worse, better late than never!


One of the first things I thought upon discovering I was pregnant with triplets was, “OMG! What will we drive?!”  At the time, we had a one and three year old and I just couldn’t envision a vehicle that would accomodate their two car seats plus three more unless it looked like this:

When the triplets were born, we had an Acura MDX — the nicest car I will ever own.  That car was a decision we toiled over for months before we bid adieu to our beloved Jetta and bonjour to Bebe #2 so, saying good-bye was a bit traumatic.  But, six brutal weeks of putting our toddlers in through the trunk while our triplets were jammed into a too-tight second row and our strollers were left on the curb forced our hand.  Bon voyage lovely Acura and bonjour… what? What would we drive?  How would we transport our brood from Point A to Point B with five car seats safely anchored and enough room in the trunk for a double and triple stroller… not to mention the other stuff that often filled our trunk — the pack and plays, portable high chairs, diaper bags, blankies and other assorted necessities of those first few years?

(more…)

I’m not much for making resolutions, mostly because I’m not one for keeping resolutions.  With that said, one thing I’d like to do more of in 2013 is spend individual time with each of our children.  It used to be as easy as a walk around the block or even a trip to the pediatrician — there’s nothing like an ear infection to encourage a bit of bonding when you have five tiny tykes!  As they get older though (they are now 8, 6 4, 4 and 4!), quality time together is tougher to come by.  And let’s face it, a trip to the pediatrician is not the stuff memories are made of!  Memories, I think, are forged through shared experiences and, if they happen to be new experiences, all the better!

I was lucky to have one such experience with my little lady in December.  We took a break from the basketball games, cookie baking and Christmas shopping to spend a Sunday in the city at the Broadway Edge Annie workshop.  From the look on her face, I think it’s fair to say she really liked it…

 

All smiles at the Broadway Edge Annie Workshop

 

Ciara happens to be our only daughter.  She also happens to be a bit of a drama queen… who wouldn’t with four brothers to fend off on a daily basis?!  We don’t get a lot of “girl time” but our afternoon at Broadway Edge was a day I hope to repeat for a few reasons, none of which have to do with her theatrical ambitions or, truth be told, lack thereof!   While our little lady is full of drama at home, when offered the chance to channel that drama in front of an audience, she became timid and shy, as many of the children in attendance did.  But, they were quickly drawn out of their shells by the pros at Broadway Edge, who literally got down on their level to instill comfort and confidence.

 

Broadway Edge: on level with kids but treating them like adults = success!

 

In just a few hours, a somewhat timid group of kids — including Ciara — was transformed into a confident group of “orphans”, singing and dancing to “It’s a hard knock life.” Were they perfect? No. Do I envision her on a Broadway stage? No.  But what she – and the rest of the group – discovered that day were enduring life skills:

  • Confidence: if these kids can sing and dance in public, public speaking later in life will be a piece of cake!
  • Camaraderie:  they arrived strangers and left with a new-found sense of empathy and teamwork.
  • Gratitude:  they all realized just how lucky they are that they don’t scrub the floors at home… yet!

What did I learn?  That nothing beats a day with my girl.  That she can tackle anything she sets her mind to.  And, that I love the music from Annie as much today as I did when I was six!

So, with 2013 just kicking off, my goal is to have another such day with my lady and to share a similar cultural experience with each of my sons.  As I recently told a friend, we used to have a cleaning lady and now we don’t so, every time I scrub a toilet, floor, shower or tub, I am going to pay myself.  And I am going to use that money to fund our excursions, expand our horizons and create memories that I hope will last a lifetime.  For the record, I do see the irony in scrubbing floors to get back to Broadway (it’s a hard knock life!) but, I think the effort to give our kids an edge — a cultural edge — will be well worth it!

If you’d like to check out Broadway Edge for your budding brood, the next weekend audition intensive will be March 2nd-3rd, and right now, they are offering a special discount code.  Sign up by February 4th and enjoy $50 off using code MBLOG.

October is a busy month in our house.  So busy, in fact, that I am glad it is over! Four of our five children have birthdays crammed into one frenzied week.  That week also includes our anniversary – which means that all the residents of our “Lyons Den” (including the dog, who recently celebrated his 9th birthday) have something to celebrate in October.  All except one. Our firstborn fella, Liam.  That’s why when I was offered the chance to have a “date night” with the oldest of my little men, I leapt at the opportunity.

I have always wanted to take our family to The New Victory Theater but for one reason or another (I recycled the mailer; the triplets were too young; we couldn’t get a sitter; we couldn’t afford to take them all; I missed the date for the show we wanted to see and so on!), we just never made it. Until now.  On October 13th, I had the pleasure of my virgin voyage to The New Victory Theater and the thrill of seeing Times Square and an action-packed performance through the eyes of my almost-eight year old. Eyes that had spent the prior week ogling his siblings birthday gifts and occasionally filling with tears as they stole the limelight and he was left in the shadows.  Well, on this night, the night we saw Urban (which I described to friends as Cirque du Soleil meets hip-hop), those eyes were literally lit up like Times Square. They were so bright, so fascinated, so engaged.  And so was I.

The show was great.  Gravity-defying. Captivating. Age appropriate.  It even included a moral tale in the midst of the fast-paced action. The performers, all trained members of Circo Para Todos, come from the streets.  They are the displaced, disadvantaged youth of Colombia.  And the circus is their ticket out.  Onward and upward.  But the path from poor to prosperous can be paved with greed — such was the cautionary tale seamlessly woven into the aerial feats and acrobatics.

For Liam and I, it was a night to remember and one we hope to repeat. We had time to talk, uninterrupted, as we drove into the city.  We learned something new together (juggling!) during the family workshop we participated in before the show.  And, we had the chance to truly connect and share a new experience together.  Given our busy lives and busier weekends (soccer, basketball, birthday parties, etc!), I know we won’t go back to the The New Victory Theater as often as I’d like.  But I do know we will go back.  Hopefully soon!

If you’re interested in learning more, here is the schedule of upcoming productions — all of which sound great to me!

LyonsDenMom on the “Red Carpet”

My hair was done.  My makeup was done.  I was wearing a brand new dress with beautiful shoes and fancy jewels borrowed from my sister.  Why?  To attend the movie premiere of The Lucky Onebased on the novel by Nicholas Sparks.  With a woman I never met before.

Her name is Julia Rose and it was work that brought us together.  I work for  House Party, a social media marketing company that drives consumer recommendations to build brands and drive sales.  In this case, the “brand” was Nicholas Sparks and the conversations and recommendations that our social media campaigns generate will result in movie ticket and book sales.
Julia is one of House Party’s most passionate brand advocates.  She created a six minute music video to demonstrate her enthusiastic adoration of all things Nicholas Sparks.  She wrote a catchy tune that weaves together the romantic twists and turns of all seventeen Sparks novels and her sister, Deborah Crawford, captured it all on film.  The House Party team rewarded their efforts by ensuring Julia Rose was one of the 1,000 lucky consumers (from a pool of tens of thousands applicants) selected to host a Nicholas Sparks Potluck House Party.
When the Sparks team at Grand Central Publishing (Nick’s publisher) and Warner Brothers (which produced the movie) heard the word, they did us one better.  They gave Julia two tickets to the premiere.  House Party responded in kind by providing airfare and hotel.  And that is how I ended up on the red carpet (to be accurate, it was a faux green lawn!) next to Julia Rose at a big-time Hollywood movie premiere. 

I didn’t know what to expect of Julia, who hails from the Dallas-Fort Worth area and is known around town as one half of the busking duo Gladys and Maybelle.  The other half is her sister Deb, who joined us on the red carpet/green lawn. “Would they be weird?  Would we get along? Were they crazed Nicholas Sparks stalkers?” I wondered as I travelled to LA and pondered my 24 hours with Julia Rose and her sister Deb.
 
Julia and Deb (aka Gladys & Maybelle) at The Lucky One Premiere with Nicholas Sparks
As I returned to New York, I knew the answers were “No. Yes. Absolutely not.”  As it turns out, I have more in common than I would have thought with these two lovely Texan blondes.  As we got to know each other, I shared stories of the five feisty children and one semi-frazzled husband I left behind; this is one of my constant struggles as a working mom – leaving my family behind.  Not between the usual hours of 9 to 5 but when work spills over into family time, as business travel occasionally necessitates, I really struggle with the juggle.
I want to be a good mom. A present mom.  A mom who rules the roost but inspires her children to follow their dreams, know their limits and be true to themselves.  Well, as it turns out, Julia and Deb, a.k.a. Gladys and Maybelle, share my sentiments.  As it turns out, they named their band Gladys and Maybelle for Gladys Presley (perhaps you’ve heard of her son, Elvis?) and Mother Maybelle, the maternal in-law powerhouse behind a certain Johnny Cash.  These two women who joined me in a fairy tale evening of Hollywood glam were actually a lot like me.  We share dreams for our children; we were dazzled by the stars; and we shared a true Cinderella moment as the light bulbs flashed, the theater lights dimmed, and the story of The Lucky One swept us away.
Now that the proverbial clock has struck midnight, it’s back to reality.  My sleekly styled hair has returned to its typically curly locks.  The dress is in the closet and the sexy heels have been replaced by my signature flats. The kids are screaming, my inbox is overflowing and my to-do list is growing.  But I am content.  I am home. 
I will forever cherish the memory of the night I walked the green grass carpet with two amazing women who reminded me of the power of a great Mom and inspired me to try harder to be one each and every day.  Thank you Gladys and Maybelle.  Thank you for reminding me that every day I return home to five smiling (and potentially snot-nosed) kids and one sweet, patient husband, I am “the lucky one.”

I am leaving my husband and five children (aged seven and under!) behind for five days; five days and nights that will combine work and pleasure as I combine a business trip to LA with a visit to my sister and her family in San Francisco.  I am nervous about leaving my family behind.  And that fact that I’m leaving on Friday the 13th isn’t helping matters!

As I drove to the airport, I thought about the weekend ahead – the weekend at home, not the weekend that awaited me in San Francisco.  I thought about the responsibilities I was leaving behind — dinner times, bath times, soccer practice, baseball practice, birthday parties — all the weekend activities you’d expect from a busy family with five kids, topped off by several showings of our house, which is on the market.
Our weekends provide little down-time and are virtually devoid of R&R; if anything, I relish the return to work on Monday mornings because it gives me a chance to sit down!  So, as I embark on the flight that will take me 3,000 miles away from the mayhem of a typical weekend at home, I can’t help but think about the dear man I am leaving behind and wonder how he will do it.  It is the question I am constantly asked “How do you do it?! “ And my answer often relies heavily on “my other half” — the supportive, funny, level-headed fella who is now home alone with five feisty tykes.
He’s been fretting my pending departure for weeks, telling neighbors, family, friends and pretty much anyone who will listen that I’m leaving him — that I’m leaving him “all alone” with our five kids for five full days.  Honestly, his stress was seriously stressing me out.  So, I did what any Type A, aspirational SuperMom suffering from a bad case of guilt would do, I offered up a slew of solutions.  “I’ll create a daily meal plan.  I’ll organize rides for the birthday parties and car pools for soccer practice.  I’ll tell the realtor we can’t show the house while I’m away.  I’ll pre-pack the backpacks and lunches for Monday and Tuesday. “ And so on.  Initially, he was all for my organizational gusto.  “Yep, let’s not show the house while you’re away, it will be a mess,” he admitted.  “And a meal plan sounds great,” he concurred. 
And then, in the 48 hours leading up to my departure, something incredible happened.  My stressed out other half turned into an uber-confident SuperDad.  I, for one, always knew he had it in him but even so, was shocked when he said something to effect of “Screw the meal plan! I can feed our kids.  And if they’re hungry, they can just have a glass of milk!”  He went on to say, “And, let’s show the house.  I may not make the beds like you, but I can make a bed. I’ll even plant some pansies to increase the ‘curb appeal’.”  What?  Pansies?  Really?  Wow!
As I write this, I am hovering at 30,000 feet, barreling toward the West Coast and the adventures that await.  It was hard to say good-bye to the sweet, smiling faces that slobbered me with wet, snotty kisses; for the record, they came from my children, not my husband.  His kiss was sweeter, and seemed to linger longer than the usual perfunctory peck.  As hard as it was for me to leave, I know it will be much harder for him over the next few days.  And, I am reminded once again that I am one lucky gal — which seems especially fitting given that the work portion of my trip will include a walk on the red carpet for the premiere of the movie  The Lucky One. I am very lucky indeed. 
As for the kids, well, if all they get is milk for the next few days, they may not be quite so lucky.  But, I have a feeling that Dad is going to pull this off with flying colors when he does, I will be the first in line to ask how he did it.
“How was your Palm Sunday?” asked good friends we had dinner with last night.  Truth be told, it was not so great.  Not that Palm Sunday is a historically a great day anyway, but their question was motivated, I think, by a curiosity about how we juggle five children under seven during mass — especially mass on Palm Sunday which, by my estimation, is the longest mass ever. 
We take our children to church every Sunday.  We always have.  I was raised Catholic and even attended Catholic school for several years  (until an unfortunate incident involving a certain Sister Mary Lynch made me go public!).  I went to church every Sunday until I was 18 and then took about a decade off, spending Sunday mornings either sleeping off the effects of the night before or running a race in Central Park.  I suppose I’ve always been a gal of extremes; it was either up for a healthy morning run or down and out after a few too many the night before; up and out for mass or a decade of religious abstinence.
Then I met Des, who is now my husband.  I was stunned that a cute, fun, single guy actually went to church every Sunday.  And, since I was instantly madly in love, I started to go with him.  We got married, had children and I accepted Des’ proclamation that they “will be Catholic and Yankee fans.”  To this day, I still wonder about the equal weight of this mandate of religion and sports fanaticism, but frankly, I’ve got bigger fish to fry so, I just go along with it.
As our children arrived, we took one, then two, then five children to church every Sunday.  What a sight we were just a few years ago as we rolled in ten minutes late with five tiny tots strapped into a double and triple stroller.  Even today, we joke that the 10:30 mass is really the 10:45.  We may be late, we may be slightly more sloppy than I’d like but, we show up.  Every Sunday.  Including Palm Sunday, which, in addition to being one of the longest masses ever, is also the only day in the liturgical year that everyone is given a slight, wispy weapon upon entry to church. You guessed it:  palms!
Imagine if you will, what one seven year old, one five year old and three three-year olds can do with a fistful of palms.  If sword fights, fishing, tickling, tackling and tug-of-war come to mind, then you guessed it right. It’s hard enough for us to control our clan at church on any given Sunday but on Palm Sunday, it is downright impossible. It’s no easy task to try to listen to the gospel while intermediating the increasingly violent escapades of the palms of our pew.  It’s not easy to keep our cool in the front row (yes, we sit in the front row!) while the kids are clobbering each other, climbing over us and creating weapons from a religious symbol.  At one point yesterday, I took a palm to the eyeball and could have sworn I tore my retina.  Thankfully, I didn’t.  Although, I’m pretty sure I did swear under my breath. 

So, in considering the question “How was your Palm Sunday?” I can only recall the power struggle in our pew as the palms waved and the kids whined.  And, I think about how I prayed for peace. And patience.  This is my wish for Easter, for my family and for all of you.  Peace and patience and perhaps even a pretty palm or two to adorn our home until next Palm Sunday — when the battle of the palms will almost surely start anew!