Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Camp - Part 1: Let the Packing Begin!

For many, Memorial Day means the unofficial start of summer – going to the beach, pool openings, cleaning the grill and bringing out the white pants. For me, it means all those things, but it also means something else: time to start packing the kids up for camp.

For the past few summers, my two older kids have looked forward to the four weeks in June & July when they get to go off with their friends, away from all parental control, to overnight camp. I would be lying if I said I didn’t look forward to it as well. Four weeks without laundry, preparing meals, and attitude. But most importantly, it is four weeks where I know my kids are having the most amazing time of their lives.

What I don’t look forward to, however, is the pre-camp packing. In fact, there is only one thing worse than pre-camp packing and that would be post-camp unpacking; when everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) returns with a damp camp stank. However, before I can complain about that (and trust me, I will), I first have to get the kids packed to go.

First step - plastic three drawer dressers, under bed bins, sleeping bags and duffle bags all have to be retrieved from the attic. Last year I got smart and put everything together right by the doorway. Once that is done, it is time to start attacking the list that the camp provides, shorts, shirts, bathing suits, underwear, bedding, towels, toiletries, shoes, sandals, raingear, sleepwear, etc, etc, etc.

Then there is the process of going through everything to figure out what I have and what I need. Some items on the list I might not truly need (Do I really need to send twenty pairs of underwear for my 13 year old when they do laundry every week?) And some things I may have, but need replacing (Is it fair to make my almost 11 year old sleep on the Hannah Montana sheets she had to have three summers ago?)

Once that gets figured out, it’s time to prepare the lists, hit the stores, do the laundry and get labeling. Since I don’t sew or iron, I prefer the black sharpie method – others will disagree, but for me it works. The process is tedious, but necessary if I want most of the items to return home. Then I neatly organize everything into their drawers, bins and bags - yes I am aware that once they get to camp, everything just gets tossed around & shoved wherever – but that’s okay – it’s just part of what Mom’s do for their kids.

Stay tuned for "Camp - Part 2: The Drop Off"

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Friday Five - 5/27/11

Hi everyone – hope it has been a great week. For me – busy as usual. Here’s what’s been on my mind:

1. MAC! After much anticipation, my MacBook Pro arrived!! I’m in love! I can’t believe how easy it was to set up (thank you hubby!) I had my software loaded and was already using it within minutes. The thing I love most is how quickly it starts up and loads programs. The old computer took forever. In the morning, I would have to turn it on – go make coffee – then come back click the icon to login – fix breakfast – then come back & click the firefox icon – go pour my coffee – and maybe then it would be ready. I also love the back lit keyboard & the fact that I didn’t have to wait for it to search for drivers when I plugged my printer into it for the first time. I just started printing (imagine that!) I did have to get used to the smaller screen (I went from a 15” to a 13”) but it is so easy to zoom with just a finger swipe, that I don’t even miss it anymore. I do have some keyboard complaints though – if anyone knows a solution, I will be forever grateful:
-First – how do you delete forward? On my PC, there were two options – the 'backspace' key deleted backwards & the ‘delete’ key deleted forwards. The Mac only has a ‘delete’ key & it deletes backwards only. Totally keeps messing me up!
-Second – how do you select a block of files? On my PC you clicked on the first file, then clicked+shift on the last file & all the files in between were selected. Cannot figure this out on the Mac.
I will say, that my two complaints are not deal breakers – definitely much happier with my Mac. Now if it lasts more than 2 years, I will be thrilled!

2. Waiting I feel like I wasted a lot of time this week waiting aound. Waiting at the dentist (again), waiting at the pediatrician’s office, waiting at my doctor’s office, waiting at the pharmacy... do you see a trend here? Well, just so you don’t think I have it out for the health profession, I also spent time waiting for the roofer to come, but I refuse to speak poorly about him since he promised to make it stop raining in my house.

3. Cats I have two & they are both old (17 & 18). The 18 year old (my little black kitty), is not doing well. She has thyroid issues and when I took her to the vet, her heart and kidneys were not healthy. She was emaciated at only 4lbs. We decided to try some medication. After just two weeks, I am so happy to announce that she has gained .6 of a lb, and her heart rate and kidney levels are back to normal. I realize that she is at the end of her lifespan, but it is just so hard letting go. I have had her since she was 4 weeks old. She was abandoned and I had to bottle feed her until she was big enough to eat food. We have been through a lot together. She goes back in two weeks for another checkup.

4. Book Update Another exciting week. My cover designer presented me with some rough comps based on the drawings that I had done myself (old cover). All I can say is WOW – she really nailed it. While my picture was cute, it definitely looked amateurish. We had a great conference call and things are moving along as scheduled for a July release date. Thank you Deana at BookStarter for bringing my vision to life (& no you cannot see the drafts....)

5. Having a Teen I have written a lot on this subject over the past few weeks. Somehow, with the blink of an eye, my first-born became a teen; leaving me - the mom who always felt somewhat confident about how to parent my young children, without a clue. Suddenly there were attitudes, cellphones, needs for independence & girlfriends (yikes!). Last night, in my attempt to adjust to having a teen, I let him walk (with a friend) to a carnival after dinner to meet some other friends (including above mentioned *gulp* girlfriend.) The carnival wasn’t far, but it was on a main road and it was at night. He had his phone, some money and his friends. I told him to be home by 8:30, as I did not want him walking home in the dark. It turned out all his other friends were allowed to stay out until 9:00. I was expecting an argument, but instead he just said, “OK.” He followed instructions and came home safely exactly at 8:30. Maybe this won’t be so difficult after all... yeah right!

One other thing I've been thinking about - the storms and tornadoes. Please keep all those affected in your thoughts and hearts. If you are able to help, The Red Cross is one of many organizations collecting donations. Thanks!

Hope everyone has a great weekend – see you next week (& hopefully sooner!)


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Is There Such A Thing As 'Laundry Closure'?

I should be folding laundry, but I decided to write about it instead.

Last week, I wrote a blog post about my son’s room and how I was happy that he had removed all of his clothing off of the floor, even if he did just throw them in the hamper instead of putting them away. Well I take that back. Silly me, I thought the clothing he had thrown in the hamper were clothes he had actually worn. I didn’t realize that these clothes were in fact, last week’s clean and folded laundry that never made it onto hangers to begin with – clever teen – I’m on to you now!

My first thought was to put them all back in his room and have him put them back away – properly. Except now they have been sitting in the hamper amongst 13-year-old boy dirty socks and underwear for several days. Even I’m not that mean. So I washed everything – again. And this got me thinking about laundry.

Let’s assume for a moment, that my kids only put their dirty clothes into the hamper ...

...sorry about that, I got lost in a little fantasy there. Anyway, back to reality:

Would that really change anything? There are five of us in this house. Between work, sports, the gym, sleep clothes, wanting to get comfortable after school/work, and other activities requiring uniforms or other types of outfit changes; there are at least two wardrobe changes per person, per day; and many times more. Let’s say only 50% of those clothes mentioned actually need to go into the hamper. That's still is a lot of laundry!

On any given day, if you walk into my house, you can be guaranteed of at least one or more of the following things - there will be:

-clothes in piles waiting to be washed,
-clothes in the washer,
-clothes in the dryer, and/or
-clothes in need of folding

(notice I don’t list clothes needing ironing. That is because I don’t iron. Let’s move on.)

So my question today: Is there such a thing as laundry closure? After doing laundry for the past 20+ years, I sadly have to say: No! Even if I were to get all of the clothes washed, dried and folded the moment they were ready; it would only be a matter of seconds before something else would get thrown into the hamper.

It is sort of ironic, You spend the first two or three years trying to get your kids into underwear, the next six years trying to convince them they need to change it everyday, and the next several years complaining about washing it.

So what ever happened to all that extra laundry I had to do as a result of my oldest’s attempt to *clean* his room? Oh I did his laundry, but I showed him how. AND now that I know he is capable of doing his own laundry, guess what his new chore is? Mom wins...for now.



Friday, May 20, 2011

The Friday Five - 5/20/11

Wow this week really flew by! I hope everyone had a great week. While sitting here trying to narrow down my week into five topics, I realized that a few of the things going on are continuations of last’s weeks Friday Five. I guess that makes sense in a way, since not everything ends on Fridays (in fact many believe everything will end this Saturday.) I was hoping to continue my Mac Obsessed post, but it is not here yet, so stay tuned for that next week.

So let’s get right to it:

1. Dance Competition Mom’s bragging rights for a moment – my daughter and all of the dancers in her studio ROCKED. Many of the high score awards went to them. Way to end competition season & most importantly we had an awesome time! Thank you to my friend Julie for driving.

2. Blogger troubles – this is actually from last week, but I wanted to address it. Last week, Blogger had all kinds of trouble. In order to fix whatever wasn’t working, they had to delete everyone’s posts from last week. They have since retored them, but not the comments that went along. I bring this up because I had some great comments from you all on my Social Networking post that are now gone. I didn’t want you to think I deleted them! I appreciate all your comments & hope you will continue to leave them. Hopefully Blogger is still working to restore everything.

3. Nate Rocks the World - D-O-N-E! Well sort of. I received the manuscript back from my awesome editor Lyn Worthen from Camden Park Press . (Thank you Lyn!) I am three-quarters of the way into making all the changes (which are 95% grammatical/punctuation… blushing in corner while I apologize to my English teachers…) Next stop for my manuscript is to my designer Deana Riddle from BookStarter who is busy working on the cover art. (I tried really I did, but I decided to leave it to a pro) I am now actively looking for reviewers! Contact me if interested.

4. New Book! At the advice of my editor, I started working on another book – a sequel that I am calling NATE ROCKS THE BOAT. Very rough draft of chapter 1 is complete! I also am hoping to publish my “grownup” book INVISIBLE at some point before the end of next year… still working on finding time to refine that one.

5. AquaNotes A few weeks ago I had a blog post called Scenes From My Shower where I talk about how I come up with so many great ideas in the shower, but have no where to write them down. Well the other day I stumbled upon this product called AquaNotes. At just $6.99 for a pad of 40 sheets I couldn’t resist. Delivery was quick and I had a chance to test it out this morning. The pad and pencil easily stick to the wall with suction cups. All I can say is THANK YOU AquaNotes. I jotted down so many notes for this blog post while in the shower today (which unfortunately you can't see since the camera on my phone was not cooperating this morning). The only problem will be my increased water bill since now there is no reason for me to rush to get out.

Thanks for checking in… see you next Friday (& hopefully sooner) ….


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Where is That Teen Manual?

The request to my 13 year old was simple: “clean your room.” Let me back up for a moment, as this actually happened last week (and the week before and the week before….)

My son used to keep his room relatively neat. Clothes were generally picked up. True, they did not always make it to a hanger, but half-folded in a drawer was pretty darned close. Books were either at or near where they belonged on the bookshelves; and toys, while completely unorganized, were at least tossed in bins. Miraculously, he even managed to pull the comforter over his bed on most days.

But something happened as my son passed into this great unknown I call “teendom.” He suddenly forgot where everything belonged. He seemed to believe that his closet permanently relocated to the middle of his floor. He also seemed to have forgotten the location of the clothes hamper or that his comforter even belonged on the bed. He certainly seemed to have no recollection of ever having storage bins or shelves for of all his 'stuff.'

So after my request, my son went upstairs to get to work. I could hear him walking around from above, making sounds that one could (loosely) translate as picking things up off the floor. Thirty minutes passed before he greeted me in the kitchen with an, “I’m done.” At this point, any parent of a teen out there is no doubt shaking their head. You know what I was about to find as I entered the abyss.

Sigh. Okay, the clothes were all off the floor. Granted, he balled them up, whether dirty or clean, and threw them into the hamper (yes he remembered where it was!), but at least they were off the floor. However, the floor was still covered with books, papers, shoes, baseball caps, wires, and (gasp) food wrappers (how many times have I told you no eating in your room!!) It appeared that my teen thought that pushing everything from the center of the floor to the edges of the floor constituted cleaning.

I tried to stay calm as I firmly told my teen, “This room is not yet clean.” What I really wanted to say was, “ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?,” but my four-year-old sponge (I mean son) was standing next to me. The last thing I needed was for him to repeat that to his pre-school teacher the next day.

My teen's room, as my mother used to say, “looked like a pig-sty!”

How do I know that my mother used to say this? Well, it seems that as a teen, I was not exactly the neatest person! (Sshh – don’t tell my kids.) The thing is - I never really thought I kept my room that messy, and gathering by the look that my son was giving me, he was feeling the same way. So what is it about teens? Since my son is only 13 years old, I have a feeling I will be asking myself this question many, many, MANY times. The real question is, will I have it figured out by the time my four-year-old is a teen? Doubtful.

PS – My son did get his room ‘mom-approved’ clean on the second try.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The First Official Friday Five - 5/13/11

Several times this week, I tried to sit down to write a blog post. The truth is, this week has been NUTS. So many things were going on that I could have written fifty blog posts. Unfortunately, with a crazy week also comes the lack of free time to write. Therefore, I thought I would start a new regular blog article called “The Friday Five.” In addition to my regular blog posts, I will now pick five topics of interest (to me at least) to talk about every Friday.

So let’s get started with the first official “The Friday Five” on this Friday the 13th :

1. Chicks! Last Friday, my son’s preschool class received an incubator with several eggs from a local farm. After much anticipation and care, the eggs hatched on Monday! Everyone was so excited to see the adorable fluffy chicks. My son was disappointed to learn he would not be bringing them home. His teacher was just glad that they were “a-l-i-v-e.” I learned that brown chicks are male. Talk about cute!!! Sadly, the chicks returned to the farm yesterday.

2. Editors and Designers, Oh My After many MANY rounds of self-editing, I decided it was time to get serious with NATE ROCKS THE WORLD. So I asked, researched, surfed, did everything possible to find both an editor and cover designer who understood my goals, style, personality & most importantly – budget. Very exciting!!

3. Mac Obsessed! Many of you have seen my rants on Facebook lately about my laptop. To make a long story short, I am on my 2nd laptop in 4 years and it is misbehaving terribly. It seemed like everywhere I turned, people were telling me to get a Mac. After many weeks of deliberations and drooling, my husband surprised me on Mother’s Day, by telling me it was time to go to the other side. I am now waiting for it to arrive. If anyone is interested in hearing about where I got an amazing deal, leave me a comment. Bye-bye disposable computers.

4. The Dentist Look, I have nothing against dentists, I just would prefer they finish the work they scheduled me for before they go and sell their practice! One root canal down and one crown waiting, I get the call that my dentist is no more. I still have to finish this crown; plus go for one more root canal, 3 more crowns and an extraction. Luckily, the new person takes my dental insurance, but that is all I know about him/her. Oh & for those who are wondering, I do take good care of my teeth! I’m just on RA meds that work against my efforts (and my pocketbook).

5. Dance competitions Tonight, my daughter and I leave for her fourth & final dance competition of the year. It is a few hours away so we will be staying overnight. Her first performance is scheduled for 8:30 in the morning on Saturday (Ouch!) Did our parents do all this running around for us? Regardless, I am one proud mama to my uber talented daughter. Here’s wishing her and all the dancers from her studio good luck tomorrow!!!

Thanks for checking in… see you next Friday (& hopefully sooner) ….


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Adventures in Social Networking

I am a shy person. I don’t like to be outside of my comfort zone and I don’t do well in big crowds. So when it was suggested to me that the only way I could promote a self-published book was to get my name “out there,” I could feel myself breaking out in a cold sweat.

I use Facebook a lot, but I had always felt a little uncomfortable talking about my book. Instead, I set up this blog last year, with the intention of spreading the word, yet somehow I always seem to find other topics to fill up my page. I then set up a Twitter account but did not know the first thing about what I was supposed to do with it - I had twenty followers, half of them spam. A friend suggested I set up a Facebook “fan” page. I thought it was ridiculous – why would anybody “like” me? I am nobody. "Everyone starts as nobody," she reminded me. I set up my page, but did not do anything with it. I also set up a website, which is sort of functioning, but mostly ‘under-construction.' There – I had done some social networking. Time to work on publishing my book.

Just about two weeks ago, a “tweet” of someone I followed, caught my eye. I had made the decision to self-publish and this tweet had a link talking about pricing your e-book. I clicked on it to discover an amazing blog called “Self Publishing Central.” I hit the jackpot! I spent the next hour or two reading every post, taking pages of notes and absorbing a wealth of tips and information. I then did something I do not think I have ever done before. I emailed the writer of the blog, John Betcher, a complete stranger, (who, by the way, has a new book coming out next month called THE COVERT ELEMENT) to thank him for writing this blog. He replied right away, asking if he could post my note on his Facebook page and offering to answer any of my questions. He also suggested I join his LinkedIn Group – Definitive Serious Writers Group. In addition, he tweeted that he was following me and suggested that others do the same. Within minutes, I had doubled my followers.

I took John’s advice and joined LinkedIn. I also joined the writer’s group he recommended. I instantly learned something: Authors like helping other authors! In fact, they insist on it. We traded contacts, websites, blogs, Twitter IDs and Facebook pages. They told their friends, who told their friends, and so on. I then joined several other LinkedIn groups. Some of the groups are geared toward writers, some are geared more toward my target audience (or in my case, their parents.)

Two weeks later, the traffic to my blog has tripled. I have steady traffic to my website and have even had people I do not know, use the form on my site to contact me. Also – my Facebook fan page which I only actively started talking about a few days ago is only 4 people away from 100 likes (again, mostly from people I do not know.) As for Twitter, I now have over 120 spam-free followers. Maybe not astonishing to those of you who have thousands of followers – I know I have a long way to go. But I am proud of my efforts none the less. I am proof that there is something to this social networking thing - even for us shy people!

I have learned three things:

(1) Branding oneself is hard work and often uncomfortable,
(2) Social networking is very time-consuming, and
(3) Regardless of whether my marketing efforts work, I have met some incredibly nice and talented writers who I hope to be able to showcase or invite as guest bloggers in the near future.

Okay, since we are talking about social networking, I suppose I should pass along all my info:

Twitter: @karentoz
LinkedIn: Karen Pokras Toz
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/karenptoz
Website :www.karentoz.com

Pass it on!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Mother's Day Letter to My Children

Dear J, S and C,

Today all around the world, families are celebrating Mother’s Day. But today, I want to celebrate you, my children. Without you, I would not be a Mother. Without you, I would not have three beautiful and strong children to raise, love and cherish.

I have written a lot over the past year about the things you do that make me crazy (and make me laugh.) I want you to know that for every moment of insanity (and there are plenty) there are a hundred more moments of joy.

Each one of you brightens up my day with your smile, your hugs and your love. You are each so special, talented and unique. I am incredibly proud to watch you grow up (although way too fast) before my eyes.

While I may have gotten a few more wrinkles and grey hairs over the last 13 years, I would not trade my life with you for anything. Continue to be strong, compassionate, and humble. Work hard at everything you do and help others whenever possible. Dream big and know that I will always support you.

I love you more than words can say.

Love forever,

PS – Now go clean your rooms– it’s Mother’s Day for goodness sake!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Is it Monday Yet?

I know most people will wake up this morning and say TGIF. But more and more, I find myself counting the hours until it is Monday again. As the weekend approaches, I look to my calendar and am faced with a familiar dilemma: how in the world will I get my kids to all of their activities and events, manage to get the grocery shopping done, do the laundry, get the house presentable enough for our company, and have a relaxing weekend?

My calendar looks something like this:


-Child#1 has a Bat Mitzvah to attend – needs to be there by 9:30am

-Child #1 needs to be picked up at 11:30am

-Child #2 has dance from noon to 1:00pm

Sounds easy enough right? However, my Saturday, will most likely end up something like this:

I drop #1 off at 9:30. I come home, jump in the shower, make a shopping list, wake #2 up, get child #3 dressed, straighten up the house a little and generally feel calm that I have everything under control.

I take #2 with me at 11:15 to pick up #1. I figure I can drop #2 at dance on my way back and I feel a sense of accomplishment that I can pick up/drop off on one trip. I plan on going to the grocery store in between drop off and pick up from dance. Child #1 will just have to come with me. I mentally prepare myself for teenage attitude.

Half way into the drive, #1 texts me to say the Bat Mitzvah service is running late and can I come in twenty minutes instead? (Of course he uses all abbreviations and I have to pull over and spend the next five minutes deciphering his text.) I drop #2 off at dance and head over to the synagogue to wait and strategize as to when I can go grocery shopping for my company, who should be arriving at my house at any moment.

I wait in the parking lot of the synagogue another fifteen minutes before #1 comes out. There is definitely no time to shop, nor is their time to go home. We drive over to dance where we wait another 10 minutes for #2 to come out. It is now 1:00.

At this point you may be asking: "well where is your husband?" Don’t worry, he is not at home lounging about. He is taking care of child #3, cleaning the house and probably doing some laundry. Yes, I said cleaning and laundry. He uses our vacuum much more than I do. I am a lucky girl.

After successfully gathering #1 and #2, I race to the grocery store with two hungry children in tow and manage to get everything on my list while fighting off several attempts at “can we get this?”

We head home. My company (aka my parents who live out of state and just drove 3.5 hours) have arrived. They look hungry. I quickly unload the groceries and throw together some lunch. Nothing fancy, but food none the less.

By the time we finish eating and cleaning up, it is nearly 3:30. Normally, #1 and #2 would have asked if they could go over someone’s house or get a ride to the park or the mall by now, but because Nana and Papa are here, I know that my car and I can get a little break. But not for long.

My husband has tickets to a baseball game and leaves between 4:30 and 5:00. (It’s all good, I learned many years ago not to come between my husband and The Phillies) At 5 o’clock, I need to drive #2 over to her friend’s house for a birthday party/sleepover. At 6:o’clock I need to drive #1 and some other kids over to the party from the morning Bat Mitzvah. The party is a half hour away. I get lost. (Luckily, one of the other kid’s parents is driving everyone home). I am grateful my parents are over, otherwise I would have had to take #3 along for all these rides.

I finally make it back home and collapse on the couch, unable to form complete sentences with my company. The next day will most likely be more of the same.

I am thankful my husband decided #3 was too young to play T-ball this season and wondering exactly how I can squeeze a taxi service into our budget – oh wait, that’s me….

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What is this "New Math"?

**WARNING** The following blog post involves a discussion about math homework. Proceed with caution!

I am a numbers person. Yes, I enjoy writing. I write a blog and have two fiction manuscripts under my belt. But, when it comes down to it, numbers are more my thing. In college, I took Derivative Equations… as an elective... enough said.

So why am I having so much trouble helping my kids with their math homework? True, they are in accelerated math classes, but that has nothing to do with my ineptness.

Let me start out by saying that I do not blame the teachers. I can honestly say that for the most part, my kids have had and continue to have AWESOME teachers. But, for some odd reason, the powers that be who created the curriculum, decided all of the tried and true math problem solving skills which have proven successful for the last fifty years (and probably longer, really) were no longer valid.

Here are my issues:

-Why is multiplication now done in some odd looking grid? By the time the kids get done drawing all the lines, I could have figured the problem out five times. (Or in my head, since I had to memorize my times tables back in second grade, something else my kids never had to do).

-Why is long division even longer? For example – for the problem 83 divided by 7: instead of subtracting the 7 from the 8 and then bringing down the next number, my children must subtract 7 from 83, then subtract 7 again and again, 11 times until they get to the remainder. (Once again, because they have not memorized their times tables, I suspect.)

-Forget about how they would solve 83 divided by 17! It has something to do with pulling out the 10's that I still cannot figure out. (Don’t worry if you did not follow that – you are not alone!)

-As long as we are talking about division, why is short division not even taught?

-Why is it that my 7th grader still looks at me with glazed eyes when I talk about percentages?

I have more issues, but you get the idea.

The other night, my daughter was just starting to learn Algebra. The homework problem was:

7 - x = 14

On her paper, there were half-erased scribbled out numbers, but no real “work” showing how she got the answer (which she had incorrectly written as 21). I showed her how to isolate the ‘-x’ by subtracting 7 from both sides. I then showed her how when you have a negative in front of the “x” you have to multiply both sides by “-1” to make the “x” a positive number. The answer then is x = -7.

When I was done explaining, my daughter looked at me and stated, “That is so easy, why didn’t my teacher show us that way?”

Good question.

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