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Working From Home? Get Up and Get Out!

Home-based shouldn't mean housebound. Here, the best ways to fight isolation.

By Laura Koss-Feder

Are you a ClubMom member yet?When Trish Cetrone, the president of a home-based public-relations-and-marketing firm in Orinda, California, first started her business, she avoided out-of-the-office meetings like the plague. "I was really focused on billable hours. I didn't want to waste work time fighting the crazy Bay-area traffic," she recalls. But after a few clients insisted on some face-to-face sessions, she realized that "efficiency isn't everything," and she began to welcome the break. "When you work from home, you have to force yourself to get out regularly," says Cetrone, who now makes sure to plan meetings with colleagues and clients at least once a month.

According to the National Association for the Self-Employed, an organization based in Washington, D.C., the nation has 17 million home-based entrepreneurs like Cetrone, many of whom are constantly faced with the isolation that comes from being a one-person operation. The same goes for full-time telecommuters, especially long-distance ones. While most home-based workers relish their situations, spending the majority of your workday solo is inevitably draining; virtual contact via email or phone can only go so far. The adjustment is often especially difficult if you've just made the transition from the busy, bustling corporate world to the quiet of your home.

Finding creative ways to beat this loneliness is important if you're going to succeed long-term. "You have to create the right kind of environment and schedule from the beginning," says Rudy Lewis, the president of the National Association of Home Based Businesses. "If you're alone too much, feelings of isolation can worsen as you grow your business."

The only way to beat isolation is to get out and make human contact. But if you're trying to build a business—or please a faraway boss—it may be a struggle for you to walk away from your desk, even for an hour. "It's okay to give yourself permission to be out of your office," assures Ellen Parlapiano, the coauthor of Mompreneurs: A Mother's Practical Step-by-Step Guide to Work-at-Home Success (Perigee). You may also find it difficult to escape if one of your goals in working at home is to spend more time with your children. "Even though you may be paying for child care, you should still take a break and see others during the day—just as you would if you were working in a big company and went out to lunch with a coworker," says Cetrone, who has two daughters, a six-month-old and a three-year-old.

Time-out Strategies

Replace your chained-to-the-desk habits with these new ones:

  • Get involved with local chapters of professional associations in your industry and/or your chamber of commerce.
    This has the added bonus of allowing you to network. "Going to business-related events is constructive for your career and can keep you from burning out," says Deborah Arron, a Seattle career consultant. Most organizations have monthly meetings and various committees and boards that you can join. To give yourself extra incentive to participate, offer to chair a committee or organize a special event.

  • Pay in advance to attend events.
    That way, you'll feel almost forced to go, advises Arron. Knowing up front that you have a function to attend will allow you to better budget your time while you work.

  • Start your own group.
    Joining professional organizations is a good way to meet other mothers in your field. Use this as a stepping stone to form a small circle of such moms who meet on a regular basis, recommends Parlapiano. She founded a group of her own eight years ago.

  • Consider combining time away from the office with an outing with your child.
    New York City career consultant Eva Wisnik has taken her six-year-old son, David, with her to clients' offices to drop off holiday gifts. These brief meetings—five to ten minutes each—allowed her clients to get to know her on a more personal basis, plus they gave her son a taste of the business world. But, she cautions, "I wouldn't do this with an infant. Take a child who is old enough to understand the concept of a 'client,' and keep meetings brief."

Laura Koss-Feder is a business writer based in Oceanside, New York.

Copyright © 1999-2000 ClubMom, Inc. All rights reserved.

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When Dad's Away

One mom finds that when her husband travels, life gets just a little easier.

By Jennifer Moses

Are you a ClubMom member yet?I really dread it when my husband travels. The idea of him packing up his two favorite ties and his container of Johnson & Johnson waxed dental floss throws me into a tizzy of anxiety. First off, he's getting into an airplane—which, as everyone knows, will be held together by Band-Aids. But mainly, I dread the idea that he is leaving me, albeit temporarily, alone with the kids.

The problem is that there are two more of them than there are of me. Among the three of them, they have eight million after-school activities—a logistical nightmare for one woman to tackle alone. And at a certain point in the day, I begin to thirst for conversation that doesn't revolve around, for example, farts. I rely on my husband to be a beacon of intelligent conversation at the end of a long, trying day during which I've morphed from a hopeful and even pleasant person (who looks way, way younger than 40) to a harassed and nasty witch. So maybe we don't always talk about the decline of American letters or the state of the Middle East. So maybe, sometimes, we just sit there in total, exhausted silence—but at least no one's talking about farts.

Luckily for me, I married a man who does not, in fact, travel much on business. But when he did go on a trip recently, I felt slightly ill for a full week beforehand. Then...he left. And I realized that, just for starters, for the next three days no one would ask me where we keep the flashlight batteries. Maybe, I thought, this won't be so bad. It also dawned on me that my household routine was drastically simplified. Usually I have to cook one meal for the kids—say, macaroni and cheese and chocolate milk—and an entirely different, more sophisticated meal (perhaps spaghetti and chocolate milk) for the grown-ups to eat later. That means that I typically don't finish washing the dishes and cleaning up the kitchen until around 8:30 at the earliest. Then I haul myself upstairs to fold the laundry that's still in the dryer, do my requisite nighttime channel surfing and kvetching, and get into bed around 10—which is way too late for this cowgirl. But even then, it's not over: My husband inevitably stands before me, holding up a white shirt in one hand and a pink one in the other, asking, "Which one of these do you think goes best with this jacket?"

But during my husband's recent absence, I didn't have to deal with making two dinners, cleaning up two sets of messes, or helping him choose a shirt. In fact (and I feel kind of guilty for even thinking this), I didn't have to be bothered with any of his personal needs or issues—his ego, his work-related boo-boos, his laundry, the sound of his snoring.

I don't want to brag, but here's what the kids and I ate: pizza the first night, pizza the second night, and pizza the third night. On Friday night, after the kids were in bed, I watched You've Got Mail, a movie my husband swore he'd never see. I went to bed early. Amazingly, the kids weren't all that horrible, either. They seemed to know that, with their dad out of town, they'd better be nice to their mom. They must have realized that if they set me off, they wouldn't have some other, nicer parent to run to.

"Oh, I know just what you mean," an acquaintance remarked when I told her that I was going solo for a few days. "Absence makes the heart grow fonder!" Only that's not what I'd said at all. What I'd said was something along the lines of, "You know, I really don't miss my husband one bit." Not that I'd want to make a steady diet of it, but as a once-a-year, short-term event, being the sole voice of authority just isn't all that bad. And Domino's delivers.

Jennifer Moses is a mother of three and the author of Food and Whine: Confessions of a New Millennium Mom (Fireside).

Copyright © 1999-2000 ClubMom, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Ready, Set, Go Wild

If white-water rafting, camping, and hiking float your family's boat, try one of these rockin' adventure vacations.

By Alison Ashton

Are you a ClubMom member yet?When Terry Stroman plans her family's summer vacation, she never hears a chorus of "Been there, done that" from her sons, ages 11 and 13. That's because the Stroman clan is hooked on taking outdoor-adventure trips - a growing travel trend during the last ten years, according to the Travel Industry Association of America (202-408-8422; So far, the Stromans have visited Yellowstone National Park, the jungles of Belize, and Utah's Desolation Canyon. Next summer, the family is planning a five-day, multisport-adventure trip to Colorado.

Adventure travel covers a huge range of activities, from cushy inn-to-inn cycling trips to hard-core, high-altitude treks. "Soft" adventure, with activities that offer excitement without too much exertion or danger, is big with families, according to Dave Wiggins, a vice-president of GORP Travel, Inc. (877-440-4677; "Camping, hiking, biking, horseback riding, and canoeing are among the most popular ways to experience the great outdoors as a family," says Wiggins.

What to Consider Before You Go

  • The age of your kids. Most trips have a minimum age for kids, which is determined by the type of activities involved. Generally speaking, adventure travel is a better choice for families with older kids-ages seven and up. For trips that involve rafting, some companies require that youngsters be at least ten years old.

  • The type of activities. For first-time adventurers, Wiggins recommends a ranch- or lodge-based trip that offers plenty of activities for families with young children or a variety of ages. Some adventure-travel groups offer half- and full-day activities, another good option for families new to the experience.

  • Family-focused or family-friendly? Be sure you understand how the kids will fit in. Family-focused trips are designed with young adventurers in mind, down to the range of activities, level of difficulty, and quality of food. But don't automatically disregard trips that aren't marketed especially for parents and children. The Stromans' trip to Belize wasn't specifically for families, but the kids loved it nonetheless.

  • Will other kids be on the trip? Meeting another family with kids the same gender and age as yours can be the difference between a good trip and a great one.

  • The roughing-it factor. Some families enjoy the camping experience; others prefer the comforts of a condo or a lodge. Ask specific questions about the accommodations.

  • What do the fees cover? Trips like these can be expensive, but moms agree that you get lots of fun for the money. Stroman says her trips' all-inclusive rates provided convenience and comfort. Make sure you understand what the fees cover (lodging, activities, equipment, meals, transportation) and ask about discounts for kids. If you're flexible, you can trim costs, perhaps by scaling down accommodations (for example, taking a one- instead of a two-bedroom condo) or by opting for more self-guided activities.

  • Don't forget tips. Tips for the guides—for example, $50 to $100 per guide on a rafting trip—generally aren't included in the price. The outfitter can offer guidance on appropriate tipping.

  • Kid-friendly guides. Make sure that the trip operator has plenty of experience working with kids, says Wiggins.

  • Gear up. Although outfitters typically provide most of the equipment, ask for a suggested packing list. Don't forget such items as hats and high-SPF sunscreen. If you need serious gear, such as outdoor sleeping bags or tents, you can rent the equipment affordably from a sporting-goods store.

  • Consider less expensive options. If an adventure vacation organized by an outfitter doesn't fit in your budget, check out alternatives closer to home. Rangers at county, state, and national parks often lead kid-oriented nature hikes and other programs. Check with local sporting-goods stores for affordable day and weekend adventures in your area or visit outdoor outfitters such as REI ( and Adventure 16 ( for gear and travel tips.

Top Family Adventure-Tour Outfitters

  • GORP Travel, Inc. (877-440-4677; Offers family-focused lodge- and ranch-based vacations, rafting excursions, and other adventures. As with all outfitters, fees vary based on the trip.

  • Backroads (800-462-2848; offers family trips to destinations in North America, Latin America, and Europe. Choose from walking, biking, and multisport adventures. Sample adventure: A six-day camping trip in Washington's Puget Sound is $948 per adult. Kids' discounts range from 75 percent off for tykes 2 and under to 10 percent off for kids 11 to 16.

  • Kids Go Too Travel (800-638-3215; Customizes adventures in Colorado and Wyoming with activities ranging from covered-wagon trips and rafting to horseback riding, gold-mine visits, and dinosaur-fossil digs.

  • The World Outside (800-488-8483; Families are welcome on any trip, but the company also offers special family multisport adventures in the Grand Tetons/Yellowstone National Park, the Colorado Rocky Mountains, and Colorado's Four Corners region.

  • Thomson Family Adventures (800-262-6255; Trips to Africa, Nepal, Turkey, Costa Rica, Australia, Egypt, the Galápagos Islands, and Ecuador will appeal to families with a taste for the exotic. Thomson's 13-day "Affordable Tanzania Safari" offers tremendous value for the money. Cost: $2,990 per adult, including round-trip airfare from the East Coast, with a $500 discount for kids 11 and under.

  • Wilderness Inquiry (800-728-0719; Offers very affordable family canoeing, hiking, swimming, and fishing trips in the summer; cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and dogsledding in the winter.

Alison Ashton is a San Diego–based freelance writer and the coauthor of Romantic Days and Nights in San Diego (Globe Pequot Press).

Copyright © 1999-2000 ClubMom, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Pregnancy No-Nos

Pregnant? You already know to steer clear of alcohol and cigarettes. Here are other hazards to avoid.

By Leah Hennen

Are you a ClubMom member yet?When I was expecting my first child, threats to my baby's health seemed to lurk everywhere. I knew, of course, that alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs of any kind were off-limits. But what about those lattes I'd chugged before I knew I was pregnant? Did I need to get rid of my beloved cats? What sort of environmental hazards was I unwittingly exposing my fetus to? Nine months of caffeine withdrawal, cat avoidance, and breath-holding-around-noxious-odors later, my strapping baby boy arrived.

Unlike me, you don't have to be paranoid when you're pregnant. "You can't put yourself in a glass bottle during pregnancy—all you can do is avoid known risks," says Dr. Robert Resnik, a professor of reproductive medicine at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine. Since some women, such as those with high blood pressure or gestational diabetes, need to take extra precautions, talk to your doctor about special circumstances that relate to you. Also steer clear of the following:

Too Much Caffeine
For java junkies like me, the research on caffeine during pregnancy has been maddeningly contradictory. Some studies point to problems such as miscarriage and low birth weight, while others show no such relationship. The latest consensus is that only excessive amounts of caffeine (more than 300 milligrams a day) are likely to cause these problems, says Dr. Kathleen Bradley, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist and assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the UCLA School of Medicine. The caffeine content of different brews varies, but you should be able to stay under the 300-milligram mark by limiting your daily quaffing to one or two 5-ounce cups of coffee or tea or a few 12-ounce cans of soda. (Since even non-colas can pack quite a caffeine punch, check the label before you imbibe.) And while chocolate does contain caffeine, it typically has much less—1 to 35 milligrams per one ounce—than coffee.

Cat Litter
Cat feces may play host to a parasite that causes toxoplasmosis. The symptoms (fever, fatigue, and sore throat) are similar to those of a garden-variety flu, but the results (miscarriage, preterm labor, or serious health problems in the newborn) can be devastating. Even so, having a baby on board doesn't mean you need to send your puss packing, says Marion McCartney, a certified nurse-midwife and the director of professional services at the American College of Nurse-Midwives in Washington, D.C. It simply means you should put your mate on litter-box duty for the nine-month duration. It's also a good idea to wash your hands after heavy petting sessions with the cat and after handling raw meat. Don't feed yourself or the cat undercooked meat (which can harbor the parasite). Wear gloves when you're gardening and avoid children's sandboxes. (Roaming cats may use these as litter boxes.)

Certain Foods
Beware, foodies: Uncooked, soft cheeses (such as feta, Camembert, Brie, and blue-veined varieties), unpasteurized milk and the foods made from it, and raw or undercooked meats, fish, and poultry may contain listeria bacteria. During pregnancy, listeriosis (symptoms include fever, chills, diarrhea, and nausea) can cause miscarriage, preterm labor, or stillbirth. Some seafood may also contain high levels of mercury, PCBs, and other toxins. If these foods are consumed during pregnancy, the baby is put at risk for developmental delays. (Your local health department may be able to tell you which fish to avoid.) Experts recommend that expecting mothers limit their servings of shark and swordfish—which contain higher levels of mercury than other fish—to one three-ounce serving a month. Finally, lab tests have linked heavy consumption of saccharine to cancer. Though you're not likely to swill enough of the artificial sweetener to equal several times your body weight, you may still want to forgo those little pink packets for now. Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal) appears to be a safe sugar substitute.

Herbal Remedies
You know that many prescription drugs are off-limits during pregnancy, but the natural remedies you can pick up at health-food stores are okay, aren't they? Guess again: Herbal remedies can have a potent effect on your body—and your baby's—cautions McCartney. Don't take anything without running it by your health-care provider first. She'll most likely tell you not to use any during your first trimester. Throughout your pregnancy, steer clear of goldenseal, mugwort, and pennyroyal, all of which have been associated with uterine contractions (which could possibly lead to miscarriage or preterm labor); Asian ginseng (which interferes with metabolism); and feverfew (though popular for migraine headaches, it has unpredictable effects on pregnant women). It's also wise to avoid herbal teas that purport to have medicinal benefits.

Home Hazards
If you haven't been gripped by that famous pregnancy cleaning-and-nesting frenzy, chances are you will be soon. Safety tips for those 3 a.m. floor-scrubbing and nursery-decorating sessions: Read labels carefully. Wear gloves and work in well-ventilated areas. And avoid aerosols (which disperse more chemicals into the air than pump bottles do), oven cleaners, paint fumes, solvents, and furniture strippers. Although frequent, heavy exposure to chemicals in the workplace (home workshops count, too) has been linked to birth defects, Bradley explains, home use of most products is more likely to make you feel faint or nauseous—not a great proposition when you're nine months pregnant and perched high on a ladder or wedged behind the toilet.

Soaking in the hot tub or relaxing in a sauna may seem like the perfect way to pamper your pregnant body, but raising your core temperature—especially during the first trimester—may boost the odds of birth defects. It's safe to soak in a lukewarm bath, though. Just make sure that the temperature is not above 100 degrees and that you get out after about ten minutes, Resnik advises. Sustained exercise in very hot, humid weather can also raise your core temperature. When you do exercise, be sure to drink liquids before, during, and after, and if you find that you're heating up, take a five- or ten-minute breather.

Lead exposure has been linked to miscarriage, preterm labor, low birth weight, and mental and behavioral problems in children. Residue from the toxic metal can lurk in places you might not suspect: houses built before 1978 (the year lead paint was banned), tap water, even calcium supplements. A few precautions will reduce the amount of lead you come into contact with: Call in a lead-abatement specialist if you live in an older home with chipping or peeling paint. (Whatever you do, don't try to sand or scrape it off yourself.) Filtering your water may help, or have your tap water tested. (Call the Environmental Protection Agency's Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791 for a testing lab in your area.) Finally, if you take a calcium supplement, ask your doctor to recommend one that's low in lead, such as Tums 500 Calcium Supplement.

Oral Sex
Don't worry, you needn't swear off oral gratification entirely. (After all, when you hit that physically awkward last trimester, there may not be much else you can do between the sheets.) But when he's pleasuring you, your mate should be careful not to blow air into your vagina, if that's something that's part of his, uh, repertoire. Why? Your blood vessels are dilated during pregnancy, and, though the chances of this happening are very rare, a fatal air bubble could potentially enter your bloodstream, McCartney explains.

Certain Over-the-Counter Drugs
Your back is aching, your heart is burning, and your stomach is roiling—do you have to forgo all pharmaceutical relief? Not necessarily, says Bradley. But since even benign-seeming remedies, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and certain cold preparations, can cause problems for your baby, don't pop any pill without your doctor's approval. If one medication is off-limits, she can suggest an alternative. Acetaminophen (Tylenol), for instance, is fine.

Secondhand Smoke
You may have given up cigarettes, but if your mate's still puffing away, your baby's getting hefty doses of the 43 cancer-causing chemicals in cigarette smoke. In fact, exposure to secondhand smoke during pregnancy raises the risk of low birth weight, sudden infant death syndrome, and other health problems. So ask your partner to quit or to cut down—if not for his own health, then for yours and your baby's. And tell anyone who lights up around you to kindly take it outside.

Every time you look down, your growing belly reminds you of just how much your life will change once your baby is born. Exciting, yes. Stressful? You bet. Even so, try to take it easy. Stress causes the release of hormones that reduce blood flow to the placenta and triggers contractions, and it has been linked to miscarriage, preterm birth, and low birth weight, Bradley explains. If you hold a high-pressure job, do what you can to scale back. If you're feeling the heat in your personal life, practice relaxation techniques, surround yourself with supportive people, and seek counseling if need be.

Vitamin A
As is the case with its chemical relative Accutane (a prescription acne drug), high doses of vitamin A during pregnancy can cause heart and facial defects, says Resnik. How much is too much? Some studies have indicated that problems can occur when pregnant women take more than 10,000 international units (IU) a day, while others list 25,000 IUs and even 50,000 IUs as the threshold. You get a fair amount of vitamin A from the food you eat, and though the dose in your prenatal vitamin should be fine, your doctor can tell you whether it's an excessive amount.

Leah Hennen is a writer and editor in San Francisco and the mother of two, ages four and one.

Copyright © 1999-2000 ClubMom, Inc. All rights reserved.