Friday, January 22, 2010

Real Momentum: Q&A with Retail Superstar (and Mom!) Kate Viall Stottlemyer

II1I first met Kate Viall Stottlemyer in my Randolph-Macon College days. A class year behind me, our paths often crossed in our small Business and Economics Department. We were reacquainted several years ago when I was in town to run a race and a fellow RMC alum took me by her fabulous store. Impressed with a successful retail operation and growing family, I wanted to know how Kate made it work. As the mother of two and Director of Operations and Store Manage for Tweed, Kate tells us how.

Q: Tell me about your family. (kids, spouse, animals, etc.)
A:I am married to Robb Stottlemyer, and he is the reason I can do all I do. We have two beautiful sons, John (3 ½ years) and Thomas (2 years), and a wonderfully sweet, high-strung, Brittany Spaniel, named Lucy.

Q: How on earth are you running a home specialty store in the middle of the worst recession in our lifetime?
A: Tweed opened in Richmond in 2004, when there was no recession in site. We were fortunate to have four solid years of growth before the recession hit, and we were able to build a loyal customer base during that time. It has been a tough time to be in the retail business, and one key to our survival has been making the appropriate adjustments to our inventory and basic business strategies to stay ahead of the economy. It has also been a great time for us to continue making connections in our community, and to become more involved in different networks.

Q: What is the hardest part of your day? The best?
A: The hardest part of my day is dropping my boys off at daycare. Fortunately, that only happens three days a week, and they are home with me the other two days. As for the best part of my day, I can honestly say I usually love almost every part of my day. Two of the best moments are: Arriving at work, after dropping off the boys, and having the entire day ahead of me to work and be productive; and arriving home to Robb and the boys. Nothing beats the genuine excitement and love from my sons after I’ve been away from them all day.

Q: What's your best home organization trick? Office organization solution? Do you use anything to tie them together?
A: Lists! It is very elementary, but if I don’t have a list, I’m useless! I write down everything that I need to do in a day, both personal and professionally. If it’s not on my list, it most likely will not get done. I also keep a list of ideas to which I am constantly adding. It helps me brainstorm and come up with new ideas for work and life improvements.

Q:How do you divvy up household work with your partner; what makes you a team?
A: I am very fortunate to have a husband who helps with everything! Household work and responsibilities with the boys are evenly divided, which is so important and necessary for my work schedule. I’m probably more likely to be caught putting my feet up at the end of the day before all the daily chores are done, and Robb doesn’t stop until everything is completed on the list. We complement each other well, and somehow, between both of us, everything gets done!

Q:What special things do you do with your kids to stay connected?
A: My time with my kids is just time with my kids. I am always connected to the store with my blackberry, however, the boys always come first. I stay connected to them by simply getting down on the floor with them, and playing what they want to play. I try to save laundry and daily chores for times that they are sleeping or engaged in individual play. I also make sure to schedule one on one time with them. Whether it’s a trip to the Children’s Museum, or a simple trip to Home Depot or the grocery store, it’s fun to take any activity and make it special and engaging.

Q: Who are your mentors? How did you find them and what do they do to help you?
A:I don’t have formal mentors. Tweed is a family business, and I rely on my Mom and Dad as well as my husband for advice and guidance. My Mom has 25 years of retail experience, along with the experience of raising a family with a retail business, so I have learned, and continue to learn a lot from her experiences.

Q: What specifically can working mothers do to stay on their career track after kids?
A: My recommendation to mothers who want to stay on their career track after having children would be to network, remain engaged, maintain contacts, and to not “disappear”. It is a challenge to have a family and a career, and it’s important to be proud of yourself, do your best, and be a role model for your children.

Our Table: Ham, Collard Greens & Harvest Grains

We've had some great blog profiles and case studies over the last month or so but I'm taking a short break from work-related topics to introduce a new feature to help solve every parents daily drame: Our Table. I have really strict guidelines for what constitutes a great meal for us. It has to be healthy, prepared in less than half hour or made ahead in a crock pot, affordable (I aim for less than $12/meal for our family of five) and make my boys smile. Some meals work better than others, but as I roadtest new meals I'll share what works with you.

Ham, Collard Greens, Harvest Grains and Sliced Apples
Cured Ham (4lbs, $3.98 at Shoppers Food Warehouse, not organic, but it was on sale!)
Glory Fresh Collard Greens ($2.99 for 24 oz. at Shoppers Food Warehouse)
Trader Joe's Harvest Grains ($1.99 read a review here)
Organic Pink Lady Apples ($2.65 for 2 at Shoppers Food Warehouse)

Preheat oven to 350. Cube 2 pieces of bacon and dice half an onion, toss into the stock pot. In a smaller stock pot, cook Harvest Grains according to direction (basically bring water to a boil and let simmer for 7 minutes). Put ham in the oven to warm, it's fully cooked, drizzle a bit of orange juice on top for a "glaze." Add collard greens to stock pot with a half cup of water, close lid and watch them cook way, way down. Slice up pink lady apples while the greens cook and ham warms, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle cooked greens with red wine vinegar or hot sauce.

Review: The ham was universally liked, particularly when paired with a horseradish mustard our babysitter gave us for Christmas. While the adults loved the greens, the kids took a "thank you" bit to get dessert but moved onto the Harvest Grains (sort of a cross between couscous and rice) and apple slices. With moderate portion sizes, we had plenty of ham leftovers to pair with biscuits for breakfast and for lunches the rest of the week.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Real Momentum: Q&A with Stephanie Leger, Lobbying Supermom

I was introduced to Stephanie Leger through two different friends, both extremely impressed with her ability to manage life with two active little boys and a fast-paced career as the head of Government Relations for Securing America's Future Energy. Lobbying Congress by day and being lobbied by her sons for more playground and PBS Sprout time by evening, how does she juggle it all?

Q:Tell me about your family (kids, spouse, animals, extra people who depend on you)?
A: My family consists of my 2 year old, Cooper, my almost 4 year old, Seth, my husband, Toby, my mother (she lives with us), Barbara aka Nana and our cat Jackson

Q: What do you do for work? How did your career path lead you here?
A:I am a lobbyist for an energy security non-profit. I actually came to Washington, D.C. from Lafayette, Louisiana, in March of 1995 for a 3 month temporary job in my Senator’s office. It was supposed to be a breather for me before I started law school at LSU. That turned into a 6 ½ year job! I received my law degree while working for him and in 2001, I left the Hill for the private sector. My husband and I were married in 2002. I have also worked for my Governor, another Senator from my home state and finally am where I am now. My career path took a huge turn in 1995 and I’ve never looked back.

Q:What is the hardest part of your day? The best?
A: The hardest part for me is the window right before I have to leave work. Usually my boss is around and needs information, etc. to wrap up the day but if I am not out of here on time, I cannot make dinner or dinner is late and dinner time is the one thing I refuse to sacrifice to work. I made that clear when I interviewed for my job. 5:00 pm – 8:30 pm is my family time. The best part of the day is first thing in the morning. My kids have a routine of coming into our bedroom at around 5:00-5:30 for the last little bit of sleep we all get. When the alarm goes off at 6:00, I usually have one under one arm and the other snuggled between me and my husband. Then we all kind of wake up together. They are usually very happy and smiley and ready to start their day. They love to snuggle and it’s just a really sweet way to get started.

Q: What's your best home organization trick? Office organization solution? Do you use anything to tie them together?
A: Best home organization trick is menu planning and shopping based on that menu on Sundays. I have a routine where I go through my cookbooks to see what I want to make or try and then I get my list together and hit the grocery store while the boys nap. Then I spend a chunk of time cooking on Sunday to get as much done for the week as possible. We also have a calendar up in the kitchen with the ongoing schedule for all of us. The dinner menu is up next to it so if by chance I am late, my husband or mother know what to do. I live by my Outlook calendar and putting EVERYTHING in it (things for school, doctor’s appointments, times my husband has to work late or attend events, and my Junior League meetings, Book Club and Dinner Club nights)

Q:How do you divvy up household work with your partner; what makes you a team?
A:I am very lucky that my husband is 100% my partner. For us, the mornings are key. I am up first and while I am in the bathroom in the shower, my husband pretty much gets the boys dressed. I try to lay out their clothes and get milk ready for them before I get in the shower. Then while he showers and I finish getting ready, I am back and forth finishing them up, getting things together for school and then we all leave the house at the same time. We have a lady come once a week to do a thorough cleaning of the house. We both do clean-up and pick-up duty throughout the week and weekend as well. He does the manly stuff: trash, mowing, etc. and I do the groceries and any shopping we need for the house and boys. I do home organization stuff and he does the handyman stuff. It all balances out.

Q: What special things do you do with your kids to stay connected?
A: Dinner time until bedtime is pretty much our family connection time. We all sit at the table and talk about what they did at school that day. We talk about things coming up or going on or really, whatever they want to talk about. In the mornings, I have one of them with me (we alternate kids but we each have to have one with us to take HOV into the city or our commute is doubled!) and we sing and talk about silly stuff. It’s also sort of “mommy and me” time even though it’s just in the car. On the weekends, it varies. Friday night is take-out night and the boys adore sushi. Lately we get a splat mat and eat it in front of the fireplace then we roast marshmallows. We try to not be so structured on the weekends since our week is so structured so weekends can simply be hanging out at home together or it’s a special run to Target to get new underwear. We just take what we need to do on the weekends and try to make it something fun for them too.

Q:Who are your mentors? How did you find them and what do they do to help you?
A: More than mentors, I am very lucky to have a group of friends who all have children about the same age. We all work and we all are there for each other when things get to be a bit nutty in our lives, even if it’s just a phone call that says “I know you are stressed, what can I do?” Or just listen. I think we are all capable of working our time problems or work problems or family problems out but it is great knowing I have about 5 women I can call on at any given time and they’ll walk me back from my ledge. I don’t know what I’d do without them and even though I don’t talk or see them nearly as much as I would like, just knowing they are there is comforting for me.

Q:I call that my "momtourage!" But specifically can working mothers do to stay on their career track after kids?
A:Stay on track even if it’s not at the trajectory you think you should be on. A little bit up or even sideways is not a failure if you are able to get flexibility to be with your family. In 20 years I don’t think I am going to look back and say, “Wow, when my kids were young and had all the time for me in the world, I wish I would have worked more!” I think that if you can find a balance where you can work and feel ok with it – maybe not moving mountains or writing a Pulitzer book or being the CEO- but knowing you were still in the work force and therefore still on “track” but you can leave every day at 5:00 or you can leave at the drop of a hat when you son has to be picked up from school with a fever or if you can be with them if school is closed, then you are succeeding. It’s not easy to be in DC where people are so driven and things can get to be so hectic to take a step back for several years to be a working mother. But it can be done and if you can let the guilt go of leaving early and you can let the competitive nature of most offices go and be ok with where you are, then you can succeed. It doesn’t make you a slacker and that can sometimes be a hard thing to realize.

All Things at Once

Last night I was fortunate to hear Mika Brzezinksi, co-host of MSNBC's Morning Joe and mother of two, talk about her new book, All Things at Once. After hearing her banter with co-host Joe Scarborough, the two things I took away from her talk as keys to her success are humor and humility.

First of all, the banter, the eye rolls, the interruptions that you see on TV every morning, they're real. But most of all, she's funny. It didn't matter that she'd been up since 3:30AM, is in the middle of book tour that required nightly commitments across the country and probably hadn't seen her family in a day or two, she was smiling, cracking jokes and genuinely enjoying the very hard work she was doing.

Secondly, this is one of the most honest voices I've heard in the work-life balance world. She freely admits that it's hard, that she doesn't have all the answers and that she's made many, many mistakes. Rather than a "How To" succeed in your career while having a family or a Manual for Work-Life Balance, Mika simply tells her story. And what a story it is! Growing up with her father in the White House with two rowdy brothers and a very strong artist-cum-political wife of a mother, it's no wonder Mika is the way she is. But she is unapologetic, honest and shows for all the world to see how she gets it done every day.

And I can't think of a better way to introduce an upcoming series on the Blog, Real Momentum. Frustrated by only seeing major media coverage on how CEOs and Politicos "do it all," we wanted to highlight people we see every day doing the daily dance that is working motherhood. We want to hear tips, successes, even the funny and not-so-funny disasters from moms who are making it work every day. Don't get me wrong, we do want to see how the amazing women who reach the C-suite and floor of Congress do it, but we also want to see how everyday women achieve the same without a staff.

Know someone you'd like to nominate for Real Momentum? Email me at Keep reading, learning and laughing.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Be Careful What you Wish For

An article in this week's Newsweek revisits a centuries old mantra: be careful what you wish for. In Nancy Cook's Article, How Much Are you Willing to Work,? she interviews Timothy Ferriss, made famous for his economic boom-era book The 4-Hour WorkWeek, Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich. When unemployment in America tops 10%, does this even matter?

Ferriss argues that his principles (skip meetings and calls, check email once a day, generate automated revenue to maintain a baseline income and do what you love) is even more important in a recession. He believes you can use his principles to get more output out of fewer hours, whether that means working 4 hours per week or working 40 (not 80) hours per week.

Although I'm a compulsive iPhone email checker, allowing me to be both reachable to clients and preschool teachers while out interviewing candidates and sneaking in a quick gym workout, I wonder if I consolidated that email work (a huge component of my time) into one slot if that would make me more productive. I think I'd need a 12 Step Program to lose my digital leash!

But what's important here is that one person's negative (part-time employment) is another person's dream job. The unemployment numbers released Monday show a staggering rate of underemployment, defined as those seeking full-time work but only working part-time. I would argue that this is a very difficult, subjective number to quantify. Whereas many employees need and are legitimately seeking full-time work, there are just as many that want reduced hours to accommodate child or elder care, a passion, hobby or travel, as Ferris describes.

We're seeing these two components converge, and we're busier than ever! For the last two weeks our phones have been ringing off the hooks with employers finally looking to hire again, but this time, at 24-32 hours per week, or on contract, just to see how things are going to play out. While this is bad news to employees looking for full-time secure employment, this is great news to the stressed out working mom who's been working 80 hours per week to remain "indispensable" amid a flurry of pink slips. And really, is there such thing as "secure, long-term employment" anymore? Only time will tell.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Tips for Moms Returning to Work

Many mothers are making good on a new year's resolution and are kicking up their job searches on the path to return to the working-for-a-paycheck world. I ran across an interesting article in Mom Logic on the Top Tips for Moms Returning to Work. I agree with all of the author's top tips:
  • Confidence! You are part of a highly sought-after market segment
  • Social Media: highlight your knowledge of Twitter, FaceBook and LinkedIn
  • Emphasize skills acquired while at home (multi-tasking, patience, scheduling)
However, I think the most important thing, particularly in a very crowded job market like we're facing now, is to be able to answer the question, "how have you been able to stay on top of a rapidly changing field like technology/contract law/accounting while out of the job force for XX years?"

Have a good answer ready, and a good answer might look like:
  • I've been keeping up with my Continuing Education credits required for my profession/certification and have focused my education on ____________
  • I've been an active member of the local chapter of my professional organization (SHRM, ASHA, AICPA) and have heard some exciting speakers on the topic of ____________
  • I volunteered my time for a non-profit organization and was able to ______________
Don't apologize for taking time out of the workforce, but be prepared to calmly and confidently answer a completely legitimate question on the part of the hiring manager. And smile.

Monday, January 4, 2010

New Year, New Way to Look at Balance

Today we kick off the new year and by all accounts, it's going to be a busy one. As I embark on my first full work week in nearly three (thank you, December Blizzard, you fit right into my year-end plans) I keep thinking about an article on work-life balance I read in, of all places, the American Medical News. The article, "Achieving Work-Life Balance: More Than Just a Juggling Act" aims to inform doctors on the fine art of balancing their lives and careers. Doctors...really? The men and women who work 48 hours on straight? How is this even a hot topic in this profession?

But the article is intriguing and has several points that apply to all of us, even if we don't pull overnight shifts.
  1. Balance can be achieved, even with long hours. As long as you're spending your time the way you want to spend it, the hours themselves don't necessarily matter. Stop thinking of "balance" as leaving the office at 5 PM.
  2. The Balance Shifts. Almost daily, your work and home life demand different things. Make changes, and even the small ones count, to keep everything in line.
  3. But balance is the wrong term. Balance implies a neat, compartmentalized dichotomy where you can divide your life 50-50. That's not true for most women, particularly working mothers. I prefer the term "integration," particularly as I wrap up my 5-7AM early work hours to pause, feed the kids a hot breakfast and send them to school and the sitters, before I head back to work.
  4. So Trade Off! Particularly for working mothers, I'm fond of the phrase "you can have it all, but not at the same time." Figure out what's most important, prioritize, and forgive yourself for letting go of the rest.