A Holiday Worth Taking Time For

By Rebeldad Brian Reid

Of all of the ginned up holidays, next Tuesday is one of my favorites. It's Take Back Your Time Day, and if you haven't heard about it, it's probably because the folks at Hallmark haven't figured out how to make card for it yet.

The underlying rationale is simple: We're working way too much and need some perspective. While the folks behind Take Back Your Time Day have a bunch of smart policy suggestions (more vacation, guaranteed sick time, paid family leave), that's not what sets them apart. What I really like is their call to step back and reflect on the craziness that is daily life:

The main goal of TAKE BACK YOUR TIME DAY is to call attention to the problem and begin the public conversation about what to do about it. Some of the solutions will be personal, each in our own lives. Others will be cultural, as we evolve new norms about life balance. Still others will involve voluntary changes in the workplace and children's activity programs, or changes through collective bargaining agreements.

The timeday.org Web site is a trove of interesting things (I'm particularly enamored with the "Adult Playground Rules" poster), but the element of the campaign that I intend to take to heart is the "Four Windows of Time" movement. Here's how it works: You commit to blocking off four time periods between now and the end of the year "for slow, quiet, life-renewing activities, as an individual or with your family."

My first reaction, of course, was that I am sure to fall into at least four empty time periods over the next 10 weeks in which I can slow down, and I certainly don't need a Take Back Your Time Day to make it happen. But the more I think about it, there's a lot of wisdom in setting aside the time now. Because my days are never as empty as they ought to be, and even lazy days have a way of filling up.

Brian Reid writes about parenting and work-family balance. You can read his blog at rebeldad.com.

By Brian Reid |  October 19, 2006; 7:30 AM ET  | Category:  Flexibility
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Yesterday's topic and today's remind me of a passage I read at the beginning of Tich Nhat Hahn's "The Miracle of Mindfulness"--the author, a Buddhist monk is attempting to have a conversation with a father who has his young child with him. The child makes it impossible to hold any sort of conversation. When the father is asked about how he likes both fatherhood and married life, he says that at first, it was very stressful, because he thought of his time compartmentally (time devoted to his son, time devoted to his wife, and then whatever time was leftover, he considered his "own" time--needless to say there was very little time leftover). But then he started thinking of time with his son or family as his own--time he was choosing to spend with them and he made an attempt to be fully present in those moments and try to see himself through those shared experiences. Suddenly, all of it was his own time.

Although I do think people do need alone time to themselves or time to reflect, I thought the change in perspective in the story above was very interesting (and it also hit very close to home--ever do something for a friend, spouse, or child and think of it exclusively as time spent on them and not you?).

I think if reflection or time to yourself does not come naturally, it is very important to block out time or schedule it. I tend too often to operate under the myth that once I check X number of items off my to-do list, a huge window of time will open up--it doesn't and it won't unless you make it. Sometimes that's a matter of scheduling and sometimes it's a change in perspective.

Anybody else get stuck in this way of thinking?

Posted by: marc | October 19, 2006 7:56 AM

Too much homework! Not enough recess!

If the manner in which the educational school systems are treating our children is any indication on what is to be expected from future employees, things are doomed to get much, much worse.

It's all academic!

Posted by: Father of 4 | October 19, 2006 8:07 AM

For years and years I subscribed to the belief that time off from work was only for particular vacations that were scheduled well in advance. As I got older (and gained more and more leave time), I came to realize there was nothing wrong with taking time off for myself as long as it didn't impact my work schedules. Now I rarely work a full two weeks without taking some time off.

Similarly, I used to break time down as "time for me, time with my wife, etc". Then I found I enjoyed making furniture and toys out of wood, so now the time I take off isn't so well defined. This kind of time I used to think of as "chore time", but now it is "time I get to do neat things" such as a coffee table, bookshelves, toyboxes, or even a set of wooden alphabet blocks.

Problem is, I still have excess leave time (policy at work is anything over 30 days' leave time at the end of the year turns into sick leave), so I need to get out there and use it up!

Posted by: John | October 19, 2006 8:08 AM

One thing I have finally learned to do (or NOT to do) is answer the phone every time it rings. Thank goodness for called ID and voice mail. If I am in the middle of a good book, dinner, entertaining guests that it MY time. I just check to make sure it isn't my mother then let it ring. Usually between 5 and 8 pm it is telemarketers anyhow. Such a little thing but it helps.

Posted by: Silver Spring | October 19, 2006 8:17 AM

As soon as I read this blog, I started thinking of all the posters who will chime in with "isn't that SO nice that you are wealthy enough to take time to yourself. You know, there are tons of people out there who have to work for a living..."

But I'll try not to be negative.

I agree with Father of 4 that the idea of constantly filling your time with chores and work is instilled at a very young age. Just think of all the posters who are aghast at the thought of SAHMs sitting around watching TV all day! It's a fine line between taking a much needed break and being lazy and selfish.

I personally fall into the trap of filling all my free time with housework, caring for the dogs, and volunteering. When I do take time for myself, I'm often worrying about what should be getting done.

The difference is that I try to see things the way the first poster suggested. Maybe I'm self-centered, but I consider volunteering something I do for myself. After all, it makes me feel good! And the walks with the dogs is exercise for me! And cleaning, well, everyone will see how nice my house is! So I think, to some degree, it is a matter of perspective.

Posted by: Meesh | October 19, 2006 8:24 AM

marc, I'd never heard of that story but I'd adopted that viewpoint before my first child was even born. I treasure every minute that I get to spend with them. It's absolute gold.

I hope the Take Back Your Time folks keep the concept of telecommuting close to the surface. The worst kind of wasted time is time spent commuting to an office to work at a PC that's not even as powerful as the one sitting back at home.

Posted by: Rufus | October 19, 2006 8:26 AM

"If the manner in which the educational school systems are treating our children is any indication on what is to be expected from future employees, things are doomed to get much, much worse"

Agreed. And this does somewhat worry me. We'll be a country full of mental breakdowns (and someone I live with is very much like this and as much as I like them, a nation full of this person scares the poo out of me).

Posted by: Anonymous | October 19, 2006 8:59 AM

The mindfulness story in the first post is a wonderful reminder of the power of attitude and of taking responsibility for our own happiness. In my best moments, I try to live like this too - stay in the present wherever I am, work or home, and whatever I'm doing, and be grateful. Not that I'm always successful....

And I agree with other posters that recreation time is defined only within our own hearts. For example, I really really like to make my kids' Hallowe'en costumes. And I swear this is not because I want to show up anyone who buys theirs, but rather because it is a guaranteed fun craft project and puzzle I get to figure out each year - how to concoct cute, warm, durable costumes for minimal money. And making the costumes brings back the best of my childhood memories because my mom, an artist, did this for me. This easily could be considered an onerous chore of an overachieving show-off mommy. But it is my idea of fun. I also like vacuuming. My husband loves to build stuff around the house. What other seemingly-not-me-time things do people totally enjoy doing?

Posted by: equal | October 19, 2006 9:00 AM

I like to back homemade sugar cookies with homemade icing and decorate them. I also read way to many rag magazines. I think I took the Pitt/Aniston break up worse than Jennifer did. It gives me a break away from the everyday.

Equal what are your kids going as this year?

Posted by: scarry | October 19, 2006 9:12 AM


I was thinking about the housework thing and sometimes we've been successful at doing this as family time--most kids like to sweep, mop, dust, etc. We got a kid vacumn cleaner for $2 at a yard sale and our son will frequently use his when we use the big one. Most kids love to use the hose or play with water, so anything like washing the car or the sink or something can easily be converted into "play" time, although you have to be a more patient about the process. Your post just made me think of these things.

Posted by: marc | October 19, 2006 9:21 AM

I like sitting around and doing nothing, but only to a point. I find that "Time on your hands; yourself on your mind" applies very strenuously to me, so I'm more likely to feel better about myself if I'm doing something. Making bread; cleaning out a closet; walking the dogs; washing the floors. My job involves monitoring a lot of long-term trends that can take weeks or months to add up to anything meaningful and I enjoy doing things that produce short-term, tangible results.

Posted by: Lizzie | October 19, 2006 9:22 AM

Ooh--I am equally nerdy! I LIKE ironing, cooking, organizing the pantry. It is total instant gratification. Take something in one state (wrinkled, disorganized, raw) and transform it into crisp, organized and a delicious meal! I think I may also be addicted to the scent of spray starch. This is not an invitation to any of you to drop your ironing off at my house. I have quite enough, thank you. I bought my kids' costumes, however.

Silver Spring--I am with you on the blessings of caller ID. And with my cell phone, I have programmed the important numbers (i.e. husband, kids, parents, school) with their own specific ringtone. Did you know that you can download "High School Musical" ringtones?

John-- my husband has your very same schedule! It's very annoying to the rest of us. We are jealous.

My sister and I have come to the conclusion that you MUST schedule your renewing time. She does this every Wednesday for two hours--she has a standing appointment with a friend to scrapbook. They talk, don't talk, work on their project at hand. In addition, every year we get together for a 3 day weekend somewhere away from our families to talk, plot, gripe, drink, read, write and shop. I really believe that you have to identify what you like to do and plan it in to your schedule. When I was single, it was easy to call up other single friends and do something spontaneously. Now I have to plan it weeks in advance, since we all have kids, jobs, etc. Luckily, I like to cook, so I get some renewing time every day! Too bad I don't enjoy dishes or laundry. I get those done as fast as possible.

"But what if you don't have any friends? Or hobbies? Or a sister? Or can't afford to go away? Or food? Or an iron?" Too bad for you. I was talking about ME!

Posted by: To equal | October 19, 2006 9:29 AM

to equal--that was from me.

Posted by: parttimer | October 19, 2006 9:31 AM

Just got the beatdown from my boss at work yesterday. The reason? I asked to take some unpaid days off in December (I've already taken all but one of my alotted paid vacation days). I guessed the answer might be 'no', but I figured it didn't hurt to ask. Apparently, it does hurt to ask: I was informed that by asking I was sending the message that I wasn't dedicated to the job. She said taking off extra days would send a bad message to everyone in the office. I was also told (4 months after the fact) that taking off two weeks in a row in June had also sent a bad message. News to me-- thanks for the feedback.

Notice the reason wasn't that 'we have tons of work to do and we really need all hands on deck'. That's not the reason because I actually don't have that much work to do here-- my boss barely delegates. She runs around like a crazy person while I work at *maybe* 50% capacity. And yes, I have asked for more projects/responsibility so many times it's embarrassing-- or at least I did the first 6 months on the job, before I got utterly demoralized. All the underlings here are in the same boat to varying degrees (there are too many of us and not enough to do, although the senior people have mountains of work on their desks).

The modern work ethic of putting in long hours and taking little vacation regardless of whether it's actually necessary or efficient is crazy-making. But in my role, there is little I can do to actually take back my time from work (short of finding some place else with a different culture to work).

Sorry to moan and whine. Still smarting from my smackdown yesterday. But it wasn't totally a bad day-- my ultrasound yesterday morning showed we're having a boy (due in March). We didn't care if it was a boy or girl, it's just so exciting just to know one way or the other-- and to know that so far the baby is healthy. Makes my impending parenthood seem all the more tangible. Guess when this baby arrives, I'll have extra motivation to get out of time-wasting situations!

Posted by: JKR | October 19, 2006 9:40 AM

JKR I feel your pain. I was once told that, even though I had enough leave built up, I couldn't take a vacation longer than 2 weeks. The reason? My boss' boss felt that, if they could do without someone for 3 weeks, why couldn't they do without him/her permanently. Some bosses are just idjits about this. Sorry yours is one of them!

Posted by: Anonymous | October 19, 2006 9:48 AM

JKR, congratulations on your news! It seems to me that your boss, by telling you that taking time off sends the wrong message to everyone else, is projecting her own workaholic attitude on the entire office. There's plenty of studies out there that show that workers who take time off to "decompress" turn out to be less stressed out and more productive than those that hoard their leave time.

I forgot; since my wife works later than I do, I inherited the dinner making duties (unless I want to eat at 8:30 pm or later; no thanks). Turns out I like to cook (cleaning up not so much though), and also enjoy baking cookies and other goodies. I find it fun to watch the chemical reactions take place and turn sugar/eggs/flour/etc into food!

Neither my wife nor I eat a lot of sweets though, so I take the cookies over to my friend (the single mom) and her coworkers at the restaurant she works at. I'm a popular guy there!

Posted by: John | October 19, 2006 9:49 AM

I love this topic! First, I think the movement to take back some of our time is an incredibly good idea. I have been trying to do this for the last 6 months and our family is making progress. The kids are not so overscheduled and the activities they have are the ones they love. We've made an effort to leave weekends open for family activities like hiking and it's given us time to connect and talk with the children.

Add me to the nerd list too - I really like mowing the lawn. Instant gratification! As more of our jobs entail sitting in front of a computer all day (mine does), I've wondered if the trend towards renewed interest in hobbies like sewing, cooking, woodcrafts, scrapbooking and the like satisfies a need to create something tangile - or at least more tangible than printing a document at the end of the day.

Halloween costumes are one of our favorite things to make too. The kids get involved and appreciate the effort that goes into them. And I bake holiday themed stuff - sugar cookies, pumpkin cake, cupcakes with skeletons. Maybe a little too "Martha" but where's the harm? About a year ago I started quilting and it's my release. An hour of sewing time leaves me renewed and I like having something useful to show for the efforts. It's reassuring to know there are others out there like this too

Posted by: SS | October 19, 2006 9:59 AM

I don't feel like I get enough downtime or "me" time. I do like playing with my kids and my husband, but I find myself missing time to putter and do projects. How did others cope with finding new hobbies when their old ones weren't compatible with kids? I used to sew, but I don't have a room I can leave set up, so it's almost 1/2 hour to set up, and 1/2 hour to take down so my daughters don't eat needles or pins and I really don't get blocks of more than an hour to myself. Those of you who sew, how do you do it? Do you have a room you can close off? Older kids who obey the "don't touch" rule?

Also, with my first child, she's a night owl and so is my husband, so I would get up and recharge in the morning by having cocoa and reading the paper. Now I have a morning lark and a night owl and I regret ever complaning about the night owl! Two on different internal clocks is way harder .

Posted by: inBoston | October 19, 2006 10:11 AM

What a nice change from the standard snarkfest on this blog. Mental health days are good for everybody, and I work for lawyers who need help dressing themselves in the morning so I am playing mother to big babies with law degrees.

Being single ALL the care and maintenance of the house falls on me. By the time I get home from work I'm pretty much whipped and leave most chores for the weekend. Last weekend I stacked a cord of firewood, took trash to the dump (we don't have trash pick-up where I live), vacuumed and cleaned the house, did a load of laundry, practiced piano and had a lesson, wrote checks to pay bills, drove 114 miles round trip for a bodhran lesson. However, weeknights find me in front of the fireplace with a glass of wine, watching a favorite DVD and knitting. I also take piano lessons and thoroughly enjoy practicing and picking out tunes on the keyboard. I've also won blue ribbons at the County Fair for my baked goods and knitted items.

BTW -- would the monitor of this blog please delete the unsigned posts?

Posted by: Childless by Choice | October 19, 2006 10:16 AM

SS--mmmm...pumkin cake. Pumpkin soup. Pumpkin bread. Pumpkin pie. Pumpkin lattes. Even just boiled pumpkin (ever have that? it is so good).

My friends make fun of me because not only do I drive a minivan, it is a goal of mine to be as able as Martha (I didn't say it was doable)! I know she gets dissed a lot, but I have learned boat loads from that woman. And thanks to whomever made knitting cool. I learned last year and it is fairly easy to learn and tons of fun. My daughter even joined a knitting club at school! We have also taken up indoor gardening. We have various herbs and veggies growing in the sunny spots of our house. I wish I could say that twas always thus, but it's a recent thing. I never knew how fun it was to grow plants! I used to kill them.

Posted by: parttimer | October 19, 2006 10:19 AM

I always felt guilty complaining about not having downtime because I don't have children, so I am glad another childless person posted! I am working full-time AND going back to school, so I also have to carve out some time for myself. It is sometimes tiring to be the only one who takes care of household chores...how in the world can one person and a couple cats make such a mess???? Trying to teach the little guys to vaccuum, but no luck so far....
JKR - congrats!

Posted by: Missicat | October 19, 2006 10:22 AM

inBoston - I know what you mean by not having space for sewing. I used the dining room but hated to get everything out and then put away each time. I found enough space in our master bedroom closet for a worktable. I use one set of shelves for supplies and an armoir outside the closet for the rest. I can close the door when I am not sewing and leave everything set up for my next free 1/2 hour or hour. I keep a card table nearby that I can set up so the kids can play a game, color, or do a craft project of their own if they want to be near me (happens less and less as they get older though). Recently my 10 year old son asked if I could teach him to sew (we're making pajama pants together for him) and I think this will be a way to spend some time with just him (middle child). It didn't take much space but it's made a huge difference to have my "nook."

Posted by: SS | October 19, 2006 10:24 AM

Whew! JKR that really stinks. What amazes me is how different managers can be about the leave issue EVEN in the same company. My boss is very flexible and agreeable to my requests but others are very inflexible with their staff. It seems to boil down to a manager's personal views rather than company policy.

We also do not answer the phone unless we want to....people can always be called back. My mother used to keep my siblings and I out of school on our birthday's for a special day with mom. We don't do that, I suppose because of all of the homework my kids have we are afraid they will fall behind and they get so stressed out about it. I regret it and may make a change there!

Posted by: working mom of two | October 19, 2006 10:28 AM

I don't think it is fair to delete the all the unsigned posts. Some people post anonymously so people won't be able to keep track from blog to blog what they said because we have crazy people. Just because something is anonymous doesn't mean it isn't a valuable part of the discussion.

Posted by: Anonymous on purpose | October 19, 2006 10:28 AM

I wish I had more time to be a Martha, but since I don't, I TiVo her show every day and watch it late at night while either folding laundry or lying in bed. I love late nights in my house. My kids are sleeping, my significant other (I'm divorced but my boyfriend lives with us) is sleeping, and I have a calm quiet house to myself. I can read, watch Martha or whatever other TV show I have TiVo'd, and relax. TiVo was a great invention --- I so rarely watch TV when it's actually on anymore. As for me, I also get an hour on the train each morning and each evening while commuting --- sure it has hassles, but overall I love it. I crank up the iPod, read the NYT in the morning and usually a book or the rest of the NYT in the evening, or do a crossword. That's MY time.

Posted by: amnesiac | October 19, 2006 10:31 AM

One more thing -- I mowed the lawn over the weekend. I'll be glad for winter only because I don't have to do yard work, just inside housework. My one cat and I can make a mess sometimes but more often than not it's a pretty tidy house. Don't be ashamed of downtime.

When I was in high school, I spent a summer as a 'mother's helper' for an aunt who had 5 kids under school age. The summer she had her last one, the oldest wasn't in school yet. She had the newborn and twin girls in diapers at the same time. Her day involved getting the kids fed, cleaned up, changing diapers, feeding them again, trying to potty train the twins. Her husband took the car to work, so we were house-bound all day long. No social interaction with anybody but the kids. We took sponge baths because the tub was always full of diapers soaking. I think THAT was the summer I had an epiphany. No kids for me. Heaven to me is living alone, knitting in front of the fireplace, practicing piano, and sleeping late.

Posted by: Childless by Choice | October 19, 2006 10:34 AM

I love Martha! I like her Easter show and the neat stuff she does on holidays. I wish I had more time to decorate the house like she does though. I do not like semi-homemade cooking, although I do love watching the food net work.

Posted by: scarry | October 19, 2006 10:36 AM

down time with the kids-I used to love to read to them, but now we watch Netflix movies. We are working our way through the original Star Trek tv series. The PBS Pride and Prejudice series was fun to watch too. Old movies are great for family fun!

Posted by: experienced mom | October 19, 2006 10:47 AM

My son love, love, LOVES to read, probably more than any other activity - so often we spend huge chunks of time lounging around on the weekends, him reading his book and me reading mine. We haven't been that overscheduled since moving here, mostly because I didn't know anyone and my circle of friends hasn't really grown very much, so it is still just the two of us. I worry more about having too MUCH downtime and my son not having enough groups of people outside of school to interact with.

Posted by: TakomaMom | October 19, 2006 10:53 AM

My "me" time is puttering in the kitchen (on a weekend, not during the rush-rush-rush week). I started in law school -- basically, really really wanted an excuse to watch football all day Sunday, but when you're in law school, you feel like you can't take 6 solid hrs just for yourself. So I justified it by figuring if I cooked all my week's meals on the weekend, I'd really be saving at least that much time during the week (yes, my rationalization skills are excellent). :-)

Now, sadly, life is usually too busy on a weekend to allow 6 hrs of football (if I get one quarter over lunch at a sports bar, I'm happy), or hours puttering in the kitchen. But when I can grab that time (baby napping, husband has taken daughter out somewhere), it's some of my happiest time. Because I can have stress-free time to myself, but I am actually doing something that is useful to my family, so I don't have to feel guilty about it. And like someone else said, it's very satisfying to work with my hands and actually have something to show for it beyond words on a screen.

Ironically, today happens to be an unplanned "down" day here -- my 5-yr-old is out of school recovering from a fever, but seems to be feeling fine, so there's none of the cranky-not-feeling-good stuff. So she watched a cartoon while I did a conference call; now she's happily coloring next to me; later we'll go for a walk if the weather allows, and then maybe I'll teach her how to make bread or something, before my afternoon conference call. I feel like a kid again playing hooky! And boy, it feels good. :-)

Posted by: Laura | October 19, 2006 10:56 AM

experienced mom - great suggestions for family movies. We're watching the original StarTreks too. More nerd admissions but we like the PBS reality shows too, like Prairie House and Frontier House. We try to do family movie night once a week but it's hard to come up with things that are entertaining/appropriate for the 12 year old *and* the 4 year old. We've been watching our childhood favorites which the kids think are lame with respect to special effects but they still laugh and enjoy them. Another cost effective option for our family of five is going to high school musicals and plays. We recently took the kids to see a high school version of Schoolhouse Rock which was surprisingly good.

Posted by: SS | October 19, 2006 10:58 AM

Thanks to all for the congrats and commiseration. In any case, my blessings far outweigh my woes-- and I'm working toward changing my work situation anyway.

I totally hear those of you who dig domestic downtime. When I'm in a lull at work waiting for feedback before continuing on a project (micromanagement is another problem here :-) I always think "I could be knitting right now! Or home re-organizing my closet!" I love it when I have time on the weekends to spend a few hours cooking a big meal or baking. My friends find it thoroughly amusing that I am so domestic (and always have been-- I cooked a traditional German Christmas dinner for 25 in the international dorm in college) especially since we live in NYC where you either never cook or only cook gourmet meals involving foam and truffles-- sometimes I think I'm the only person in the city making regular old homemade chili and corn bread on a Tuesday night. The upside of this is that you can impress the hell out of sophisticated New Yorkers with simple stuff like biscuits and roast chicken-- restaurant food here is awesome, but few people seem to get any home cooking and are amazingly refreshed and grateful for it when they do.

Right now my husband works from home (100% telecommuting for a company in another city in a position that would not normally be considered an 'at home' job), though, so whereas I look forward to being cozy at home on the weekends, he can't wait to spend all weekend out and about! His bosses push him really hard (just because he telecommutes doesn't mean he works less-- last night he was on the computer working 'til 8 pm) but working from home means he can pop around the corner to the museum or a stroll in the park for 45 minutes at lunch before putting his nose back to the grindstone. If he worked in an office, he'd have to work the same hours but without the benefit of being able to work on the roof deck (w/ wi-fi) or run out for five minutes in the afternoon to grab a cappucino. Understandably, though he misses daily interaction with colleagues, he wouldn't mind if he never worked full time in the office again. Of course, he's disciplined enough to be productive at home-- if it were me, I'd spend the day getting distracted by domestic projects!

Posted by: JKR | October 19, 2006 11:00 AM

All -- Thanks for the thoughtful and productive dialogue today (what's gotten into you all?) There's plenty of food for thought here, and it sounds like I'll have plenty of company for my Time Day observances.

Posted by: Brian Reid | October 19, 2006 11:02 AM

Homemade biscuits? yummm..Mind sharing the recipes?

Posted by: Missicat | October 19, 2006 11:05 AM

I like to watch DVD and play with my daughter. I have also always loved to take walks and just think. I heard this really good sermon on reclaiming the Sabbath. If your not a religious person, you can interpret to mean reclaiming down time. It was really good. More people should consider doing it. We try our best to run errands and do family and friend visiting on Saturdays. Then Sunday we go to church, cook, and spend the day at home. I love it. Although going to church often feels a little like work (getting the kid dressed and out the door), I do find the 1 hour service very relaxing and refreshing. I think we need to reclaim weekends. I hate this constant run to activities, run to socialize with others.

Posted by: foamgnome | October 19, 2006 11:10 AM

Yeah - I am not the only wannabe Martha ;-) I find I fill my time in two polar opposite ways - running and craft/cooking/Martha type things. (Hey you have to move a bit so you can indulge in what you bake!)

JKR might have her own biscuit secrets but Alton Brown's recipe is pretty unbeatable.

Posted by: Product of a Working Mother | October 19, 2006 11:17 AM

Missicat --

I can't speak for JKR, but the best recipe I've found is a variant of a Shirley Corriher recipe -- the key is the dough is really wet (more liquid = more steam = lighter biscuit); use White Lily or another southern flour if you can get it (soft wheat = less gluten = more tender biscuit; avoid bread flour). Recipe: 2 c flour, 1 1/2 t. baking powder, 1/4 t. baking soda, 1/2 t. salt, 2 T. sugar, 1/4 c. shortening, 2/3 c. milk, 1 c. buttermilk. Mix dry ingredients; cut in shortening; stir in liquid ingredients until just mixed -- the dough will look like cottage cheese. Grease an 8" or 9" cake pan; put another cup or so of flour in a second cake pan. Drop spoonfuls of batter in the flour, roll them around to coat, shake off the excess, and place them in the greased pan (they should be nestled right next to each other -- helps them rise up instead of just spread out). Bake at 425 for @20 min.

Posted by: Laura | October 19, 2006 11:17 AM

I've never had a problem taking time for myself or overscheduling my life. I'm not stressed and harried or too "busy" for things that I want to do. I honestly don't know why so many people give up their one life and spend so much time doing things they don't want to do and over-extending themselves. Think about it! Don't let other people and their crazy schedules con or guilt you into thinking that's the best way to live. Usually those people are either very unhappy or running from their own thoughts or both.

Posted by: Karen P. | October 19, 2006 11:19 AM

Laura - thanks! They sound like the ones my mother would make when we were growing up.
Just bought a new stove, need to break it in....

Posted by: Missicat | October 19, 2006 11:20 AM

Sorry for hijacking the blog for purposes of recipe exchange-- ignore if you're not a biscuit lover. Here you go Missicat:

Though it is perhaps a betrayal of my southern roots, I don't like to use shortening in my biscuits, what with the trans-fat and all (southern cooks will tell you nothing else makes a biscuit as flaky and light). I do, however, believe buttermilk is critical and White Lily flour does indeed make a superior biscuit if you can find it (I bring back 5 lb. bags in my suitcase whenever I visit my mom-- she always asks "Don't they have flour in New York?").

Instead of a shortening based recipe, I use a recipe I found in Laurie Colwin's book _Home Cooking_ (she was a novelist and a homebody, a "plain old cook" not a fancy chef). It uses butter instead of shortening and the results are pretty good. You may need to vary the cooking time depending on how thick you pat out your biscuit dough. You can put grated cheese in these biscuits, too, if you feel like it, though they are good plain.

2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 stick butter
3/4 C buttermilk

Rub the butter into the flour and baking powder. Stir in the buttermilk. Tip the dough onto a floured board, knead a bit, roll out, then either slice with a knife or cut it with cookie cutters or a glass. Bake for fifteen minutes at 400 degrees.

Happy baking!

Posted by: JKR | October 19, 2006 11:21 AM

To Scarry,
My kids are going as a butterfly (my 4 year old daughter) and a caterpillar (my 17 month old son). So cute!

Posted by: equal | October 19, 2006 11:21 AM

To Scarry,
My kids are going as a butterfly (my 4 year old daughter) and a caterpillar (my 17 month old son). So cute!

Posted by: equal | October 19, 2006 11:22 AM

*Off-track alert*

JKR, totally agree on the shortening -- I tend to substitute butter in the recipe, and it works great (not sure I'm actually improving anything on the health front, but I figure if it's gonna be bad for me, might as well be the real thing!).

Missicat, I am SO jealous of your new stove! We're in the middle of a kitchen remodel right now (great 1885 house with exceedingly crappy 1970s kitchen tucked into teeny dark back porch!), so I am currently listening to saws and hammers, fantasizing about a functional kitchen. . . . :-)

And now, back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Posted by: Laura | October 19, 2006 11:26 AM

That is way cute. My daughter is going as a princess fairy, yes a princess fairy, I think it is the result of the fairly odd parents and all the barbies they show on TV. I wanted her to be a pumpkin, but she said no way jose.

Posted by: scarry | October 19, 2006 11:26 AM

I sew and though I don't have kids, I do have roommates so I put everything away after I do a bit. My set up and take down time is short (5 min I think). The fabric is in a shopping bag that contains only the one project, I have a cool little plastic sewing box that has compartments for everything, and those things and the machine live behind the couch. When I want to sew it gets pulled out and put on the coffee table. When it's over it gets shoved back there.

Cutting patterns requires a bit more planning since it needs the dining room table.

Posted by: running | October 19, 2006 11:28 AM

I sew and though I don't have kids, I do have roommates so I put everything away after I do a bit. My set up and take down time is short (5 min I think). The fabric is in a shopping bag that contains only the one project, I have a cool little plastic sewing box that has compartments for everything, and those things and the machine live behind the couch. When I want to sew it gets pulled out and put on the coffee table. When it's over it gets shoved back there.

Cutting patterns requires a bit more planning since it needs the dining room table.

Posted by: running | October 19, 2006 11:30 AM

When I make biscuits, I confess to cheating. I use the recipe on the back of the Bisquick box, and I don't find much difference tastewise between them and my mom's scratch made "cat head drop biscuits"!

Posted by: John | October 19, 2006 11:30 AM

Sorry, but some of us don't have long and horrible commutes (mine is quite pleasant and sets up/winds down my day) and not everyone thinks that working at home/telecommuting is something to hope for.

I hate working at or from home and have not taken work home in 10 years, nor do I check messages or e-mail from home or while on vacation. Work is work and home is home, and I have no desire to let work encroach on my free time.

Posted by: Christine | October 19, 2006 11:31 AM

John - "cat head biscuits"??

Posted by: Missicat | October 19, 2006 11:34 AM

OOH what a great day and a good topic.

I also love mowing the lawn now that we have an old-fashioned push mower - no motor so it is quiet and no stinky exhaust, so it's instant gratification combined with contemplative feeling - I love it. We're also starting to do some home improvement and gardening stuff, which is fun.

I'm also learning to sew and my very first project is my son's halloween costume - a skunk! I'm very excited. My mother is an expert (she made my wedding dress!) and is showing me the ropes. I just set up a table in the basement family room so I can work a bit while my son plays. inBoston, you didn't mention how old your kids were but mine is approaching two and this is just starting to become workable. My mom suggested I should get a tackle box to keep all the odds and ends in, so I'm going to try that.

Along the lines of marc's post, I've had to really remind myself since I started working to think more along those lines. One thing that has been really nice is that my son has decided that he likes it when I read while he's nursing (I think because I'll let him nurse longer if I'm distracted) - he usually wants to nurse right when I get home from work, so when I come out of my office he runs around looking for my book and then climbs into my lap, so it's a nice combination of being with him but also decompressing with my book, which is something I really love.

Posted by: Megan | October 19, 2006 11:38 AM

*still off track*

Oh, and another thing about baking biscuits. I like to nestle the cut biscuits close together in a glass pie pan-- it makes them more tender and prevents them from getting a hard crust on the outside. You may need to increase baking time if you do this-- and obviously, this doesn't work for drop biscuits, only for cut biscuits. Brushing some milk or butter on top before they go in the oven is also a nice touch.

As Laurie Colwin says, biscuits are a snap. And I am not so much of a baker-- more of a cook: I don't mind tackling a 4 course dinner for 12, but pie crust always makes me cry (I tend to over handle it and have to put it back in the fridge 5 times before I roll it out right) and my cakes turn out fine, but I'm always in a state of nerves about it. So believe me when I say, aside from corn bread (made in a cast-iron skillet with no sugar please), biscuits are hands down the easiest thing to bake from scratch-- but your guests and family don't know that and will all be terribly impressed and grateful.

Posted by: JKR | October 19, 2006 11:39 AM

Missicat and John, my husband and his family call them cat head biscuits too. I cracked up the first time I heard that.

Posted by: Megan | October 19, 2006 11:40 AM

Hey, there is such a thing as cat head biscuits-- John's not making it up!

Posted by: JKR | October 19, 2006 11:41 AM

Have you all tried the biscuit recipe in the magazine Cooks Illustrated? It's excellent. Also, I have a great recipe for sweet potato biscuits that I can share if anyone is interested.

Posted by: Megan | October 19, 2006 11:44 AM

Sorry so lengthy....

Isn't it weird how Halloween is now a time for people to dress like fairy princesses instead of ghouls? Isnt Halloween supposed to be about ghosts and spirits and er... kinda... making light of... death? You'd think I had the wrong holiday from the looks I got when I suggested my DD go as the ghost of a dead soccer player!

original prose ends.

Abridged report from http://wilstar.com/holidays/hallown.htm

The word itself, "Halloween," actually has its origins in the Catholic Church. It comes from a contracted corruption of All Hallows Eve. November 1, "All Hollows Day" (or "All Saints Day"), is a Catholic day of observance in honor of saints. But, in the 5th century BC, in Celtic Ireland, summer officially ended on October 31. The holiday was called Samhain (sow-en), the Celtic New year.

One story says that, on that day, the disembodied spirits of all those who had died throughout the preceding year would come back in search of living bodies to possess for the next year. It was believed to be their only hope for the afterlife. The Celts believed all laws of space and time were suspended during this time, allowing the spirit world to intermingle with the living.

Naturally, the still-living did not want to be possessed. So on the night of October 31, villagers would extinguish the fires in their homes, to make them cold and undesirable. They would then dress up in all manner of ghoulish costumes and noisily paraded around the neighborhood, being as destructive as possible in order to frighten away spirits looking for bodies to possess.

The custom of Halloween was brought to America in the 1840's by Irish immigrants fleeing their country's potato famine. At that time, the favorite pranks in New England included tipping over outhouses and unhinging fence gates.

Trick or Treating

The custom of trick-or-treating is thought to have originated not with the Irish Celts, but with a ninth-century European custom called souling. On November 2, All Souls Day, early Christians would walk from village to village begging for "soul cakes," made out of square pieces of bread with currants. The more soul cakes the beggars would receive, the more prayers they would promise to say on behalf of the dead relatives of the donors. At the time, it was believed that the dead remained in limbo for a time after death, and that prayer, even by strangers, could expedite a soul's passage to heaven.

Jack-o-Lantern - in a turnip?

The Jack-o-lantern custom probably comes from Irish folklore. As the tale is told, a man named Jack, who was notorious as a drunkard and trickster, tricked Satan into climbing a tree. Jack then carved an image of a cross in the tree's trunk, trapping the devil up the tree. Jack made a deal with the devil that, if he would never tempt him again, he would promise to let him down the tree.

According to the folk tale, after Jack died, he was denied entrance to Heaven because of his evil ways, but he was also denied access to Hell because he had tricked the devil. Instead, the devil gave him a single ember to light his way through the frigid darkness. The ember was placed inside a hollowed-out turnip to keep it glowing longer.

The Irish used turnips as their "Jack's lanterns" originally. But when the immigrants came to America, they found that pumpkins were far more plentiful than turnips. So the Jack-O-Lantern in America was a hollowed-out pumpkin, lit with an ember.

So, although some cults may have adopted Halloween as their favorite "holiday," the day itself did not grow out of evil practices. It grew out of the rituals of Celts celebrating a new year, and out of Medieval prayer rituals of Europeans. And today, even many churches have Halloween parties or pumpkin carving events for the kids. After all, the day itself is only as evil as one cares to make it.

Posted by: Fo3 | October 19, 2006 11:45 AM

Re: cat head biscuits

My mom called them that because when she dropped them on the baking sheet, they turned out to be "about the size of a cat's head".

The part I remember most fondly about them was that, being drop biscuits, when they baked there were points on top that were crunchier than the rest of the biscuit. Split them in half with your fork, spoon some gravy over both halves, and eat! Now that was a meal that stuck to your ribs!

Posted by: John | October 19, 2006 11:48 AM

John, I use the same recipe!

The best Bisquick recipe: Mixed berry cobbler

1. Get a glass baking dish, fill half way with frozen mixed berries, and cover with sugar.
2. Mix up the shortcake recipe on the back of the Bisquick box and place spoonfulls on top of the berry mixture.
3. Bake for around 20 min on 400 and it's done!

Posted by: Meesh | October 19, 2006 11:48 AM

I think I spend half my time navigating around stuff in my house, and the other half cleaning up after stuff. (DD and partner moved from a large house to a small one before I came into the picture, and I have yeat to claim anything more than one tiny corner of the master bedroom for myself).

Time for simplicity, I think. I've been slowly giving things to Freecycle - I may have to stay in this weekend and CLEAN.

Posted by: Rebecca in AR | October 19, 2006 11:50 AM

a Few years ago, my wife made a princess costume for my favorite daughter. When she showed it to me, it felt more like a dress that a girl would wear to go to the Chapel and walk down the aisle rather than go out trick or treating in.

Unless DW completely exhausts herself in a project, she feels like she didn't put in enough effort. Maybe it's a good thing.

Posted by: Father of 4 | October 19, 2006 11:56 AM

John, this talk of biscuits and gravy is enough to make a displaced pregnant southerner stranded in New York City weep tears of hunger and nostalgia. If I were in the south I could go out and get biscuits for lunch. Now I have to plot biscuit and gravy making for dinner tonight.

What were we talking about today? All I know is I'm hungry now.

Posted by: JKR | October 19, 2006 11:59 AM

"If the manner in which the educational school systems are treating our children is any indication on what is to be expected from future employees, things are doomed to get much, much worse"

It does carry over to the workplace, and every year that goes by is another year that someone brought up under stressful conditions gets to move into a position of leadership and add to the stressful situation. The thing is, though, is any of the BS they/we go through really what it actually seems? Thinking back to days in school, were things really that taxing, or were you just kind of lazy and more drawn to the TV instead? Was all of that homework you got busywork or did it really require a lot of application? Even for your children today, is it really as challenging as it's made out to be? I'm not very far removed from school myself, and I know that many students in school now will tell you that many of their classes (with the exception of a ball-busting teacher here or there) are a joke if they're being honest with you. You want to see students that are really taxed, look in Asia, because they start competing for entry into school after the 5th grade. And yes, I realize they have societal problems that manifest themselves in entirely different ways, but I'll leave that out of this discussion.

Now, that's not to say that things aren't getting more challenging, because they are-- but in what was is the challenge affecting us? There are a lot of little geniuses popping out of school now-a-days... at least on paper. Colleges require a full resume of accomplishments that grows in size every year, students try to tack on 50 after school activities with the hopes of getting into a high ranking institution... but is value really added for everyone? According to studies, the state of our education system is lagging compared to other countries. According to parents, all of their children are quite accomplished and ready to lead the free world. Does little Johnny take the AP history class for a challenge, or does he take it because colleges want to see "AP" on paper, and he knows that the history teacher is a pushover or that it's virtually the same class as regular history?

The thing is, the environment that children are being brough up in, real or imagined, is creating the illusion that you need to always be pedal-to-the-metal 100% of the time, that the perception of you working actually supercedes the efficiency and quality of the work you actually do, whether or not it contributes to your education. So when you are brought up in an environment where busy-work is prevalent, and you have been fighting to prove that you are good enough in the eyes of someone else so you can be accepted (company, college, etc.) it contributes to the inflexible attitudes and wasted effort if you work for a company.

Do you really need to be at your desk 8 hours a day? Is there anything that you cannot accomplish at home using your laptop, fax machine, or phone? If your company told you that you only needed to be in the office for the hours when you actually had work to do, would your days still remain 8 hour days or would they become 3 or 4 hour days? JKR, your boss is a perfect example of this... hurry up and wait, doesn't matter that you dont actually have to be there... perception is much more important than efficiency even if it stands in the way of you living your life.

Posted by: Five | October 19, 2006 11:59 AM

Definitely stopping by the store for that flour, if I can find it...
Would love the hear a sweet potato biscuit recipe.
Will have to measure my biscuits against my cats....

Posted by: Missicat | October 19, 2006 12:03 PM

Actually, since the Irish started the Halloween tradition I think it is acceptable for kids to dress up as fairy princesses since fairies and princesses are prevalent in Irish legend, history and myth. :) My kid got the idea from the fairly odd parents since, at the age of three, she isn't too interested in Irish myth, legend or history yet. Although she does yell rather loudly to my husband that she is Irish! I think a dead soccer player is a lovely idea if your daughter wants to wear it.

As far as what happened to Jack goes, my aunt said he roams the earth looking for a place to sleep because he was denied access to either heaven or hell. However, when he left the gates of hell the devil through a hot coal at him, which landed in his turnip that is wear the jack o lantern came from. Or so it is told through oral history.

Posted by: scarry | October 19, 2006 12:08 PM

"If the manner in which the educational school systems are treating our children is any indication on what is to be expected from future employees, things are doomed to get much, much worse"

Father of 4 and Five, I heard a really interesting speaker on this subject several years ago. She linked the fact that schools are progressively cutting out art, music, performaing arts and other such programs to the fact that in recent surveys, most Americans could not name a leisure activity that they enjoyed other than watching television and shopping. All other leisure activities were statistically insignificant. She pointed out that we are educating our children to be worker bees with no concept of other ways to spend their time, thus sending them out to work, watch television and buy the things they see on television, and then need to work more to pay for them. She was much more eloquent than I am, but it does seem related to me. I really hope that with our son we can engage in sports and music and gardening and other things so that he doesn't end up in that particular trap.

Posted by: Megan | October 19, 2006 12:10 PM

Fo3, thanks for the history of Halloween and trick or treating. Of my 3 kids in 3 schools, only one is having a Halloween celebration (private, elementary). The preschool forbids costumes and/or celebrating halloween (JCC preschool). I'm waiting for admonishement for letting DD wear a dress yesterday with a a jack-o-lantern print. Third school (public, middle) will not permit costumes or the wearing of orange and black but does have a school wide "Fall Festival" in the afternoon. When did Halloween go from a fun, dress up, get candy from the neighbors while they admire your costume event to a politically incorrect and anti-religious event that schools cannot recognize? I just don't see the harm in the school letting the kiddos wear a costume if that costume conforms to rules such as "no gore" or "no violent themes." Am I missing something?

Posted by: SS | October 19, 2006 12:12 PM


It's sad, isn't it? Add that to a story that I read yesterday in which a school outside of Boston recently banned "chasing activities" at recess/in gym, because students may get hurt and sue. Chasing activities include tag, possibly racing, flag football... So take out the recess and athletic activities, then take out the arts and music due to budgetary concerns, and what do you have? Granted, the whole limiting gym thing this time is due to a problem in our legal system where the fear of lawsuits governs our routines, but in recent years other things like kickball and jumping rope have been banned for much stupider reasons too.

Posted by: Five | October 19, 2006 12:15 PM

You bring up an excellent point, and it demonstrates why taking downtime with kids is important. If you don't listen to music together, do crafts together, etc. they're not going to get to do it anywhere else--surely not in school! My mom taught me how to knit, crochet, sew, and garden. My dad taught me how to handle horses and how not to fix cars ;) Where else would I learn that stuff?

Posted by: toMegan | October 19, 2006 12:16 PM

I think some people are making it a seperation of church or state thing. At least that is what I was told at my daughter's daycare. Pretty soon the kids won't be able to celebrate anything or learn about anyone's cultures in school.

Posted by: scarry | October 19, 2006 12:17 PM

"I think I may also be addicted to the scent of spray starch. "

This is the funniest thing I've read all day! :-)

Posted by: Dad of kids from A-Z | October 19, 2006 12:19 PM

I haven't taken the time to read through all the comments, so please don't flame me if this has already been mentioned, but a delightful book that takes about this very subject is the Tao of Pooh. The book is more about the importance of empty time in our life and how that is a positive, instead of a negative. Its also just a plain fun thing to read, I highly recommend it.

Posted by: jhmil2 | October 19, 2006 12:20 PM

to toMegan, that's great! I wish I had taken more time to learn craft skills from my mom when I was younger - I am so lucky that we now live close by so I get a second chance

Five, I can't believe that about recess, it's so sad. I taught for a brief while at a (horribly run) preschool which also provided after care for elementary students. One day I was with the kids outside, and some of the older girls (5-8) were collecting twigs and leaves and having a mock party of some kinds using them. The owner came by and was furious at me for letting them pick these things up because it was ostensibly dangerous. I'm not talking big sticks, I'm talking tiny little twigs, hardly bigger than leaf stems. It really made me sad for kids today, there were so many ways that creativity and exploration were squelched there, and I don't get the sense that this is unusual.

Posted by: Megan | October 19, 2006 12:23 PM

JKR, I've sent friends and relatives of mine living up-north bags of grits (my brother was very glad to see them), "Best Minute of Your Life Cookies" (yes there's a story behind that title), and jalapeno peppers (fresh grown from my garden).

If there was a way to send you warm
just-baked biscuits up north I'd do it!

Posted by: John | October 19, 2006 12:25 PM

My DD goes to a Christian day care and they have a Harvest party. I always thought the term Harvest is pretty. What is the Harvest in Springfield, VA? When the produce truck arrives at Giant. But they can wear costumes but nothing scary. I have been told for the earlier grades, some costumes scare the kids and we all know why they ban violent or obscene costumes. My friend's kids go to public school and they still have a Halloween parade with kids in costume. But I know a lot of churces are against Halloween altogether. My church allows Halloween and even hosts a Halloween party for the kids. But my very religious friends says, "Halloween is a party for Satan and she belongs to Jesus." You can't say anything after a statement like that:)

Posted by: foamgnome | October 19, 2006 12:26 PM

I think for those WOH time with your kids is gold. But when you spend 24 hours of every day with them, time alone is gold. I don't think it's justified to criticise those who long for a minute or two without their kids.

Posted by: m | October 19, 2006 12:30 PM

Sweet Potato Biscuits (these are amazing, I only have a photocopy of the recipe so I can't tell you what cookbook its from)

1 medium (9 oz) sweet potato, unpeeled
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg, beaten
1 1/4 cups cake flour
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

1. In a medium saucepan, cook the whole sweet potato in boiling, unsalted water until tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, about 20 minutes. Let the sweet potato cool, then pare it and mash until smooth. You should have about 1 cup mashed sweet potato.

2. Position a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat to 425.

3. In a medium saucepan, stir the mashed sweet potato with the melted butter until smooth. Transfer the misture to a medium bowl. Stire in the milk, sugar, and egg. Sift the cake and all purpose flours, baking power, and salt into a medium bowl, and then stire into the liquids and combine. Knead briefly in the bowl to form a soft dough.

4. On a floured work surface, roll out the dough to 3/4 inch thickness. Using a 2 1/2 inch round cookie cutter, cut out biscuits. Gather up the scraps, reroll, and repeat the procedure until 12 buscuits are cut out. Transfer the biscuits to an ungreased baking sheet.

5. Bake the biscuits until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes.

The recipe has a note to be sure to boil the sweet potato whole and unpeeled, not cut up, or it will become waterlogged and throw off the recipe, and to not use an electric mixer for mashing because it will turn into a "gluey mess"

Posted by: Megan | October 19, 2006 12:31 PM

m - I do not read any of today's posts to criticize anyone for spending time with ones children or by oneself. I think that was yesterday's blog....

Posted by: SS | October 19, 2006 12:33 PM

Megan, I am so going to try the sweet potato biscuits! Thanks for sharing. We're planning Thanksgiving on the slopes in CO, so do you know if these travel/keep well if made a day or two in advance?

Posted by: SS | October 19, 2006 12:35 PM

Megan - thanks! They sound perfect for Thanksgiving. Of course will have to try and sample a few batches first :-)

Posted by: Missicat | October 19, 2006 12:37 PM

SS, no problem! I have half a mind to play hookey this morning and make a batch!

I personally think they are delicious anytime, but the woman who shared this recipe with me feels strongly that they should be eaten within 2 days of making. I guess it depends on how picky you are about your baked good! They are fragile though, so you'd want to pack them carefully in tupperware.

Where are you headed in CO? You can stop by and make them at my house on your way to the mountains ;)

Posted by: Megan | October 19, 2006 12:39 PM

I make the mistake of taking home the drama at work, especially after a beatdown. But someone wise pulled me aside at work and told me that I shouldn't waste my time deciphering the meaning behind it all and that in the bigger picture all of it would be insignificant. I get so afraid sometimes that all this worrying will come to mean nothing, and as I'm speeding through life, I'm losing out in what's really important, like my family, friends, and any real life contributions.

Posted by: momtobe | October 19, 2006 12:45 PM

I actually have a golden opportunity to get more downtime, but I'm not sure if I'm going to take it or not. My company is offering some people a 4-day week in exchange for a 20% reduction in pay. (These would be regular 8 hour days, not extended days. I don't want to do long days, even if I could keep my full pay, because then I wouldn't see my kids at all those days.)

I would love to have a 3-day weekend every week, and we could get by on the reduced salary, but the retirement and college savings funds would DEFINITELY take a hit. And it would significantly push back the day we hope to be able to buy a home of our own.

Do I go for it, or not? The kicker is, like JKR, I'm not working at full capacity now. So even if I only worked four days, I'd still be able to do the same amount of total work, just for less pay.

Posted by: Dilemma | October 19, 2006 12:47 PM

Food for thought (instead of a recipe!) on why we should encourage free time. I heard this piece on overstressed teens on NPR and was really saddened.


Posted by: Product of a Working Mother | October 19, 2006 12:47 PM

Megan, we like Wolf Creek (targeted to open 10/27). Less expensive, less crowded and good lessons for the kids. It's also a 4 hour drive which makes it a weekend trip. Where are you?

Posted by: SS | October 19, 2006 12:50 PM

Dilemma - do you work in a field that would allow you to use the 5th day to build a freelance business?

Posted by: Product of a Working Mother | October 19, 2006 12:54 PM

SS, I'm in Littleton, where are you? I didn't realize you were in CO too! Though I was going to respond to your post about Halloween and say that it sounded like you live in a similar area to mine, that's really funny!

Posted by: Megan | October 19, 2006 12:55 PM

"When did Halloween go from a fun, dress up, get candy from the neighbors while they admire your costume event to a politically incorrect and anti-religious event that schools cannot recognize? I just don't see the harm in the school letting the kiddos wear a costume if that costume conforms to rules such as "no gore" or "no violent themes." Am I missing something?"

Very good points SS, by enforcing petty rules ostensibly to protect the feelings of diverse cultures, we dilute our own sense of American culture. Unfortunately when in comes to administrators and rule making reasonable voices dont prevail. The complainers and law suit mongers get their way - speaky wheels get more grease.

Anybody see the article in the NYT regarding the over-sexing of Halloween costumes? Weird how spooks, ghouls etc are offensive but sexy "Halloween" costumes are sellin' like hotcakes, and the "bad girl" imagery is deemed liberatin' for the fairer sex. Just dont carry a weapon indeed.

Posted by: Fo3 | October 19, 2006 1:04 PM

As a labor & employment lawyer who drafts vacation, paid leave, unpaid leave, etc. policies every day, I feel that people perhaps don't have a great sense of the time they have to take off and the way their time can be used.

If your manager/boss denies your vacation request--how familiar are you with your employee manual? People complain about their companys' respect (or lack thereof) for their time, but most employees are equipped with a manual and policies to aid them in being proactive in getting the time off they need/want. If your manager denies your request, what's the up-the- ladder procedure? Usually, it's spelled out in that book they gave you when you were hired that you have never looked at again.

In addition, many states have paid/unpaid time laws that may obligate an employer to give time off to visit a child's school or attend school activities (I am thinking of California, for one). There are so many opportunities to go out and take the time that you want, but you need to be well-educated and proactive about finding it--not just in terms of finding the hours in the day, but finding the policies and enforcement mechanisms to back up your requests. It doesn't have to be a confrontational or litigious situation...just go into a meeting, or make a request having educated yourself well on what the employer's policy really says--NOT going on what your manager told you, or what you heard from other employees. Chances are, you'll be surprised at what you're entitled to.

Posted by: MSL | October 19, 2006 1:15 PM

Our elementary school disallowed dodgeball last year because the kids can be hurt. We also cannot have a Halloween or Christmas party. I think it is BS.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 19, 2006 1:19 PM

MSL, I'm the person that was told I couldn't take a 3-week vacation. Absolutely I checked the employee handbook AND with my HR rep. There was no written policy forbidding >2 week vacations. However, having heard my 2nd level boss say that people who can take 3 weeks may not be needed at all made my decision for me! This is employment at will, and while I may not have been terminated, life after the vaca would have been decidedly unpleasant!

Posted by: Anonymous | October 19, 2006 1:24 PM

MSL thanks for your post. RE: "there are so many opportunities to go out and take the time that you want, but you need to be well-educated and proactive about finding it" I think you may also need to be prepared to buck the corporate culture to do this - in one office I worked in, there was a guy who was very proactive in taking the time off that he was entitled to, and unfortunately it meant he was labelled as a slacker and eventually shunted sideways and out, even though he was as productive as the people who didn't take their time off. But there is a happy ending, he found a career he enjoys much more and has the time he wants for his family, so perhaps it was all for the best.

Dilemna, that does sound like a tough choice. Do you think there might be any savings associated with having the extra time - will you be able make any changes with day care or other expenses with the extra time? I guess one day a week may not be enough to allow that...

Posted by: Megan | October 19, 2006 1:27 PM

we still have halloween at our school, but children are not allowed to play any team sports at recess unless there is an adult referee.


Posted by: crazy | October 19, 2006 1:29 PM

I agree with everyone about recess and holidays. I have no problem if someone wanted to introduce my child to a new tradition from their country, especially if it involved costumes and candy. I don't understand why some people are so wound up about class parties. Also, isn't our country in the midst of an obesity crisis? As long as kids aren't getting picked on or hurt, what does it hurt that they run around and play. Are we turning in to a bunch is sissies?

Posted by: scarry | October 19, 2006 1:35 PM


Totally agree, but stooges that need to be prodded into compliance aren't always willing to admit their mistakes. As Megan said, you might have to be prepared to accept those consequences (though there shouldn't be any) for taking a proactive stance there. You might be put on crap assignments, be looked over for promotion, or be pushed aside. That's where it all comes back to perception. Results and output from your daily work? Meaningless, don't have time for that crap. Some people would be happier just seeing you in the office to know you're there for the sake of being there.

Posted by: Five | October 19, 2006 1:40 PM

With regard to my option of taking a 20% pay cut in exchange for a 4 day week, it is sort of related to some of the posts from yesterday's OnBalance blog, in that I feel it is important to be financially responsible and prepared to help my family weather any financial "bumps" in the future. Is taking a big pay cut and compromising your savings "responsible"? On the other hand, today's blog makes you realize how important it is to have free time for yourself and your family. So it is "responsible" to continue working 5 days when I could cut back to 4?

PS Sadly, no, a four day week wouldn't save me any money on child care. It's full time for them or nothing.

Posted by: Dilemma | October 19, 2006 1:41 PM

It's hard...I recognize that there are limits to taking time. Sometimes, even when the policy allows for more time off, it's a scheduling issue, or an image issue. I get frustrated, though, when people blame their employers for wanting the business to keep running and not being able to accommodate 3+ week vacations. If you want to take that much time, you ultimately need to know yourself, know where your priorities lie, and if need be, know to find a more flexible job.

Maybe I'm just different. I love being a lawyer. I find time to do all the things
I need to do because I manage my work-day so that even working at a huge law firm, and even working grueling hours, I can still do the things that are most important to me. I've taken maybe three days off since I've worked at my current job. But I still get to yoga most of the time; I can still make sure I have dinner with my sister-in-law on her birthday when she really needs a friend--even with a huge motion looming.

For me, having a routine, having a schedule, having a way of doing things means that I don't have to "find" time, or "take" time...it's already there.

Posted by: MSL | October 19, 2006 1:47 PM

I have no problem with holiday parties (even if they are called "Xmas party", "Valentines Party", etc. What I do find VERY irritating is that my boss basically REQUIRES full attendance. I'm an Orthodox Jew -- don't eat the (nonkosher) food, don't want to participate, would be happy to stay at my desk and answer the phone while everyone else partakes -- but my boss thinks that looks bad. Any ideas from the employment lawyer?

Posted by: Not Scrooge, not Christian either | October 19, 2006 1:49 PM


You only mention a 20% cut in pay, but what about your benefits? Will you be considered part time at 80%? As far as I know, benefits are usually only given to full time employees. So, the question in my mind becomes, can you afford to give up 20% in pay, plus no health insurance and no vacation/sick leave? For me, this would not be a viable alternative. However, I would seriously consider taking a 20% cut in pay if I could have a 4 day work week and keep all of my benefits and the same job.

Posted by: MAY | October 19, 2006 1:54 PM

Amazing that the traditions of Kwanzaa and Hannukah are taught, and the agnostic Xmas of Santa Claus embraced by the diverificators, but the historical record, story and impact of the Christ story taboo. One would think teaching the impact Ramadan next on the diversity curriculum, may as well test a segment on world religions inthe NCBL curriculum no?

America was founded on the right to practice religion freely, NOT a legal separation of church and state.

Happy Kwanzaa!

Posted by: Fo3 | October 19, 2006 1:54 PM

To Not Scrooge...sounds like these parties are "morale boosters" gone terribly awry. Have you told your boss why you don't want to participate? Would having edible food help? Maybe just opening up the dialogue would help the situation...instead of "I don't want to participate," maybe saying "I would be much more willing to participate in these parties IF..." and list your concerns. I don't know what your relationship with your boss is like, but maybe that will help.

Posted by: MSL | October 19, 2006 1:55 PM


Do they teach about Kwanzaa and Hannukah in public schools?

Posted by: scarry | October 19, 2006 1:58 PM

Not Scrooge-

Not knowing the details makes it tough to give specific advice, but while you can't be forced to attend non work related events and could stand on your guns, it's just good sense to go to work related social occasions like annual parties.

I'm the type of person who would much rather just go home and take a nap than pretend for 4 hours to "mingle" with co-workers who don't really know me (I live a very alt lifestyle and keep my social life very separate from work). But I understand the game of office dynamics and sacrificing the few hours to make nice and be a "team player" makes my life much easier in the end.

Best option would be to get on the party planning committee and make sure it's a secular party with food and drink for everyone. If there's no committee, then respond to the announcement or invitation by asking if there will be non kosher food provided. You should definitely be able to gnosh through your suffering.

Posted by: Liz D | October 19, 2006 2:00 PM

Thank you, MSL,for some good insights.

Fo3, even I know that Santa Claus is not agnostic but a popularization of an ancient bishop, Saint Nicholas. Your attitude of trying to foist your beliefs on everyone else makes me wonder whether you are really secure in them.

We non-Christians aren't trying to make you observe our beliefs -- we just want to be allowed not to participate in them if they violate ours.

Posted by: not Scrooge | October 19, 2006 2:00 PM

Public schools. Dr. Maulana Karenga and the seven principles are ok, but the ten commandments are not.

Posted by: Fo3 | October 19, 2006 2:01 PM

Not Scrooge, do any of your coworkers know how you feel? It might get better results if one of them brings it up to your boss instead of you directly. "You know, Boss, I don't think N.S. is really comfortable with the Xmas party. Maybe you should mention to him/her that it's completely optional." Perhaps boss would get the hint then?

Posted by: to Not Scrooge | October 19, 2006 2:01 PM

How is it taught - hey this is a different culture - some people observe these holidays and these are the stories? Christmas isn't taught because hey does anyone not know what the celebration of Christmas is about, or at least should be about? In our society I think you would be hard pressed. As for the ten commandments I don't think that a public school should be teaching "I am the Lord your God" (1st commandment), "You shall have no other gods beside me" (2nd commandment) - this sounds like religion to me. If you want to teach ethics (don't steal, don't murder, don't bare false witness) fine, but that is different.

Posted by: to fo3 | October 19, 2006 2:08 PM

Nooo....no religious talk!!...we were all getting along soooo welllll..:-0

Posted by: Missicat | October 19, 2006 2:11 PM

Here is a tenet of Dr. Maulana Karenga. Everyone is not African American so their children should not be taught to believe in the "struggle" if they do not believe in it. This sounds like a religion to me too and it should not be in public schools. What is fair for one is fair for the other.

"Imani (Faith)
To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle."

Posted by: to to fo3 | October 19, 2006 2:12 PM

Let's look at not a scrooge's dilemma in another way -- it could be phrased to the boss and co-workers as his gift of time to others - covering the phones, etc so they may partake. It's all how you spin it ;-)

Posted by: Product of a Working Mother | October 19, 2006 2:20 PM

There is a very large, and very important, distinction between teaching the history of religion or teaching about different religions and teaching religion. The first is fine in public schools, the second is not. Fo3, if your public schools teach about the history of other religions then there should be no problem teaching about the history of christianity to. But if you want the schools to teach the children to be christian, you're out of luck.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 19, 2006 2:29 PM

sorry, the first TWO are fine, the third is not. Added the second one in and forgot to correct the next sentence.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 19, 2006 2:31 PM

"Amazing that the traditions of Kwanzaa and Hannukah are taught, and the agnostic Xmas of Santa Claus embraced by the diverificators, but the historical record, story and impact of the Christ story taboo. One would think teaching the impact Ramadan next on the diversity curriculum, may as well test a segment on world religions inthe NCBL curriculum no?

America was founded on the right to practice religion freely, NOT a legal separation of church and state."

1) There is no historical record that Jesus Christ was born on December 25. Period. The Christian church picked the day to counter the pagan celebaration of Saturnalia -total debauchery- which was always the week near December 25.

2)Our country was founded partially on religious tolerance, you are correct. But, the founders very clearly wanted a separation of church and state. Thomas Jefferson, in fact, was deemed an atheist by many b/c of how strongly he supported the idea. Even John Adams, who was devoutly religious (albeit ill-tempered) believed that religion had no place in "the state". Those are just two examples.

Posted by: JS | October 19, 2006 2:31 PM

Work life balance is a key issue in today's society. It knows no boundaries, from gender, age, or career. As a nation, we are working longer hours, bringing more work home on nights/weekends, and are available 24/7 via technological advancements.

Work has crossed the line into our personal lives, and as a result, we may sacrifice any extra time we may have. Both our personal and professional lives begin to suffer from stress, being overworked, and not enough time to do the things we want to do, vs. the things we have to do.

It is not an easy task to balance our lives, but it is paramount to our lifestyle management and dreams. Seeking employers who support your work/life balance is extrememly important. They can offer many types of benefits that help you to better manage all aspects of your life.

One option for you is to partner with an errand and concierge company, who is able to simplify your life, free up your time, and reduce your stress, all by tackling your To Do list.

Your time is a precious commodity - learn to delegate and gain a few more hours in your day.

Thank you,

Ace Concierge - enhancing your life, one task at a time. www.aceconcierge.net

Posted by: Ace Concierge | October 19, 2006 2:35 PM

Can you explain to me why Hannukah is okay and Christmas is not.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 19, 2006 2:35 PM

2:35, what are you talking about?

Posted by: Anonymous | October 19, 2006 2:38 PM

Wait wasn't Hannukah made up so the little Jewish children wouldn't feel bad about Christmas? If so, why should my kid learn about a made up holiday in public schools?

Posted by: Anonymous | October 19, 2006 2:39 PM

sorry, the first TWO are fine, the third is not. Added the second one in and forgot to correct the next sentence.

Posted by: to to 02:38 PM | October 19, 2006 2:40 PM

There is a lot of liberal bias on this board.
Any relgion except Christanity is okay to talk about in schools. Don't you see a problem with that?

Posted by: Anonymous | October 19, 2006 2:45 PM

2:29 anon...um, Hanukah has been around for quite a while...it commemerates the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem by
Judas Maccabbee in 165 BC...

Posted by: Missicat | October 19, 2006 2:45 PM

this is to the anonymous poster at 2:39 (I am using my previous alias even though this isn't to Fo3) Hannukah was always a holiday - it is the story of the macabees. Actually ties into historical events - the miracle (the religous aspect) of course is or is not historical depending on your beliefs. Yes it has been blown out of proportion to counter balance the commercialization of Christmas but it is not a MADE UP HOLIDAY and your children should learn about it in public school so they wont insult other religions by saying that their holy days are made up for commercial reasons.

Posted by: to F03 | October 19, 2006 2:49 PM

Wow, things sure took a turn during lunch. I think the distinction between teaching religion and teaching history is a good one - when I was a kid in public school we had a sort of comparative approach - they taught the history and beliefs underlying the holidays of the major religions, or different nations, as part of social studies.

MSL, I thought your second post was very insightful again. It reminded me of a piece of advice I was given in a totally different context, the gist of which was if you feel strongly about something being a particular way, you need to go where that is the norm and not the exception. I think there's a lot of validity to that in many situations. Although I think there are times when advocating for change from the inside is good, sometimes you have to cut the line and hope that in its own way will create change in the long term.

Posted by: Megan | October 19, 2006 2:51 PM

So my kids should learn about Jewish people's holy days, but Jewish kids and others shouldn't have to learn about my children's holy days. That doesn't make sense to me. And you are really biased.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 19, 2006 2:53 PM

"Any relgion except Christanity is okay to talk about in schools. Don't you see a problem with that?"

If it were actually a problem, yeah. When I was in school, though, and at the schools where my husband, sister, best friend, and husband's best friend all teach, though, they talk about all religions, including Christianity. This is in four different states, one of which is scary liberal Godless Massachusetts, so I don't think that the Christian-marginalizing is such a problem.

Posted by: Lizzie | October 19, 2006 2:54 PM

I was fortunate enough to attend a very diverse school, so we had representatives of many countries/cultures/religions, etc. I remember in elementary, many of the students gave reports on their major holidays and brought in food, symbols, etc. It was many many years ago, but I still remember it as being very interesting.

Posted by: Missicat | October 19, 2006 2:54 PM

Kwanzaa is a made up holiday, no?

Posted by: Anonymous | October 19, 2006 2:55 PM

2:53 (I assume you are also 2:45) who said that, exactly? Fo3 is the one griping about his kids being taught other religions, I don't see any other post saying that Christianity should be excluded in a discussion of various holidays.

Posted by: Megan | October 19, 2006 2:56 PM

No, the only made up holiday is Christmas. All other holidays must be taught and learned as fact.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 19, 2006 2:57 PM

Is this poster not saying Kwanzaa and Hanukah are okay and Christmas is not?

sorry, the first TWO are fine, the third is not. Added the second one in and forgot to correct the next sentence.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 19, 2006 3:00 PM

Hanukkah is not a made up holiday. I don't know where some of these posters get their information. I don't know enough about Kwanza to say anything about it. But Hanukkah has existed and commerates an historical event. Now the gifts and trappings were really boosted up to compete with the over commercialism of Christmas. BTW, gifts at Christmas have nothing to do with the gifts given by the wise men to the baby Jesus (popular myth) or the money and goods that St. Nicholas gave to the poor (mind you it was to the poor-not to children in particular). So the whole commercialism bit has nothing to do with the actual religion and I am Christian by the way. But people need to be a little more sensitive to the diverse cultures that exist in this country. And maybe schools should go back to teaching a little more religion in historical and cultural contexts. At least you would have posters claiming made up holidays. Geez!

Posted by: foamgnome | October 19, 2006 3:00 PM

Anyone got a good kugel recipe?

Posted by: Missicat | October 19, 2006 3:04 PM

"But Hanukkah has existed and commerates an historical event."

And it's actually not that big a deal on the Jewish calendar. Certainly nowhere as big a deal as the fall High Holy Days.

Posted by: Lizzie | October 19, 2006 3:04 PM

Megan wrote: MSL, I thought your second post was very insightful again. It reminded me of a piece of advice I was given in a totally different context, the gist of which was if you feel strongly about something being a particular way, you need to go where that is the norm and not the exception. I think there's a lot of validity to that in many situations. Although I think there are times when advocating for change from the inside is good, sometimes you have to cut the line and hope that in its own way will create change in the long term

Megan, sorry, but I don't think I should have to go where others with the same beliefs are the "norm" in order to remain employed. That flies in the face of all our employment laws.

To those of you who want religion taught in schools -- that's fine, then send your kids to religious schools, like I do with my kids. As for teaching about religion, my children have learned (in their Jewish day school) about the basic beliefs of Christians, Muslims, Native Americans, Hindus, and Buddhists. That's different from expecting people to PARTICIPATE in your festivals and ceremonies.

Posted by: not Scrooge | October 19, 2006 3:06 PM

Is this poster not saying Kwanzaa and Hanukah are okay and Christmas is not?

sorry, the first TWO are fine, the third is not. Added the second one in and forgot to correct the next sentence.

Posted by: | October 19, 2006 03:00 PM

No, that was a correction to my 2:29 post that said, "There is a very large, and very important, distinction between teaching the history of religion or teaching about different religions and teaching religion." I meant to clarify that in public schools teaching history and teaching about religion (as in a comparative religions class) is fine, teaching religion (as in, this one faith is the true faith) is in violation of the First Amendment. I don't know why the correction posted a second time. Sorry for the confusion.

Posted by: confuser | October 19, 2006 3:07 PM

I don't mind the typical holiday parties. I do mind the expectation that I am Christian(or Jewish) and have to know all the details of practice and worship, when I find the majority incurious about my religion and not accepting of the needs of my religion. "Why are days off in Sept/Oct important for you?" Well, the same reason I always work on 12/25, so you can be off...That said the limitations in school are being a little too much.

Posted by: NonChristian | October 19, 2006 3:09 PM

The fact that the poster even thought that Hannukah was made up so kids wouldn't felt left out supports the point that the majority celebration is so persusive that maybe its existence and what it is about doesn't have to be taught.
Megan is right there is a big distinction between learning about a religion and learning a religion. As long as the public schools stick with the teaching about, as opposed to it doesn't matter which religion is talked about.

Posted by: Divorced mom of 1 | October 19, 2006 3:09 PM

oh, okay that was why I was upset. I misunderstood you. I actually had a Jewish person tell me one time that Hanukah was being made into a big deal so the kids wouldn't feel bad about Christmas.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 19, 2006 3:09 PM

"Megan, sorry, but I don't think I should have to go where others with the same beliefs are the "norm" in order to remain employed. That flies in the face of all our employment laws."

Not Scrooge, I'm so sorry, that wasn't what I meant at all, I should have clarified given the change in topics. I was responding more to MSL's point that if taking long vacations and having flexibility is highly important to someone, they may need to find an employer that supports that rather than expecting a very traditional employer to make big allowances for them. For example, my friend at a previous job wanted flex time and long unpaid leaves, and it just wasn't considered acceptable where we are. He ended up leaving (not really voluntarily) but has landed in position where long vacations are part of the package (teaching!) and is much happier. Even though the way it happened was crappy, it's probably a better situation for him in the long run.

I think your situation sounds really difficult and I sympathize - it sounds like other people have already given some very good advice.

Posted by: Megan | October 19, 2006 3:12 PM

For that matter, Thanksgiving could be classified as a 'religious' holiday because the original Pilgrims who landed in Plymouth were escaping religious persecution in England. That event is a very big part of early American history.

I don't see anything wrong with celebrating your own religious holidays, but the Christian holidays were set on the calendar years ago. What would be the purpose of changing them now? BTW -- the Jewish people at my office were out for Yom Kippur and they get Christmas off, too. What's the gripe? I always make homemade baked goods for my Jewish bosses (I've had more than a few) at work for Chanukah and they seem to enjoy it.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 19, 2006 3:13 PM

On the topic of taking time off from work, I thought I'd vent here a little since it is at least tangentially related to one of today's threads.

I work for a federal contractor on-site at a federal agency facility. In July, our very large contract just turned over to another contractor and I went en masse with the 95% of the contract that chose to continue with the contract under the new contract company rather than stay with our old contrac company on a different contract doing different work.

So, the old company just processed the bonus for the last six months of the old contract and in their infinite wisdom, they decided that since so many of us bailed ship for the new company to stay with our jobs, they did not give everyone a share of the bonus. They said that those of us on the contract used a much higher amount of sick leave in the last period and those who used too much sick leave without "sufficient justification" were not eligible for the bonus. The only issue is that my sick leave usage was pre-approved by my supervisor for me to take time off to take my visually impaired wife to her various doctor's appointments (we have three doctors in the local DC-area and our surgeon that we visit in Cincinnati every 8-10 weeks). I was told by my supervisor that this was appropriate. I talked with my supervisor (who also came to the new company) and he said they never consulted with him or he would have confirmed this.

But the old company was well known for shafting employees. They have some very draconian HR policies. The sad thing is that they think they are very employee friendly. Unfortunately, their employees don't agree.

Basically, time off for personal health is taken at your own risk (employment-wise).

Posted by: DadWannaBe | October 19, 2006 3:14 PM

Take the four-day week. You can have some time to yourself AND get errands, cleaning, or other chores done. I used to have a compressed work schedule and I still miss those Fridays off. If you can afford a 20 percent paycut, I think you will be amazed at how much the TIME is actually worth to you. And look for areas where you can save a bit of money to make up for some of the loss.

Posted by: restonmom | October 19, 2006 3:16 PM

"the original Pilgrims who landed in Plymouth were escaping religious persecution in England."

GAH. This drives me NUTS. No, they weren't escaping religious persecution in England; they were coming to a place where they could freely persecute all those who didn't adhere to their own beliefs. They were kicked out of England because they were a bunch of religious wackos who refused to stop bothering others who wanted to be mainline Church of England or whatever. England wasn't Godly enough for them.

Posted by: Lizzie | October 19, 2006 3:18 PM

to the anonymous 3:13 poster (why can't people just make up aliases you can change them daily but it does make dialogue easier) I bet the Jewish people in your office had to use their leave (or comp time) for their holy days. Your office obviously isn't a 24/7 operation - go into a hospital on Christmas and the proportion of the staff that is non-Christian is higher than normal

Posted by: Divorced mom of 1 | October 19, 2006 3:20 PM

My usual weekly schedule is four 9 hour workdays and then four hours on Friday. Since I earn so much leave time every pay period (bi-weekly), however, I tend to take off a lot of those 4 hour Fridays. I agree that having a long three day weekend allows me to get a lot more done than a usual two day one. Even having the afternoon free on Friday (for the times when I actually do work in the morning) are a blessing to get things done!

If you've got the chance to only work 4 days and can afford the drop in pay, I'd say do it.

Posted by: John | October 19, 2006 3:26 PM

I used to work 4 tens and get Mondays off every week. It was nice but tiring.

Posted by: scarry | October 19, 2006 3:29 PM

I didnt do any belief foisting, but if I did I would focus more on right and wrong, marriage before you have kids etc - I only noted that I considered it strange that Kwanzaa gets foisted on my kids at school when it is a fully concocted farce of a holiday.

Posted by: Fo3 | October 19, 2006 3:34 PM

I tried to organize a local 'Take back your time' pow wow a couple years ago here in Montclair, New Jersey and it generated little interest but maybe I should try again this year.


Posted by: Serge Lescouarnec | October 19, 2006 3:49 PM

To FO3: You seem to assume you have a monopoly on "right and wrong, marriage before you have kids etc".

a) you're mistaken, and
b) what is inconsistent about moral values and learning about others' cultures?

My in-laws are holocaust survivors, and maybe things would not have come to such a pass in Europe if in the early 20th century children had been taught in European schools that Jews DON'T use the blood of christians for our matzahs, and all the other nonsensical beliefs held dear by anti-semites.

Posted by: not Scrooge | October 19, 2006 3:49 PM

@ Lizzie

It must REALLY be driving you nuts then that you never heard about the Act of Uniformity that would fine people for not attending Sunday mass for the Church of England, and that prior to their departure from England the Separatists, among other dissenters, were removed from positions of power or imprisoned.

They did not decide to make the trek over here to persecute others, even if that is your feeling on the point of their religion.

Posted by: Five | October 19, 2006 3:51 PM

Did you ever think that some of the bloogers are sitting in his or her home, reading our postings, looking for the little item that they can use to turn the conversation from a pleasant experience to an acrimonious one(e.g., religious holidays)?

Not being paranoid here, just an obeservation as I have seen some anonymous postings turn this blog from a very informative forum into a nasty slime-fest.

Something to be said about sugar and spice and everything nice. Ignore the jerks, life is too short.

Posted by: Soon to be Mom | October 19, 2006 3:59 PM

Lizzie, you are hilarious, have you ever considered a career in stand up comedy?

Posted by: wowowow | October 19, 2006 4:03 PM

Christmas as most of us in the U.S. know it was a creation of the post-WWII years. The first Christmas after the war ended was a big homecoming for the soldiers, and the prosperity of the following years and the 1950s allowed Christmas to grow into the one that we all think has existed "forever". Sure, Christmas has been celebrated for a long time, but most people over 65 remember childhood Christmases as being far less commercial (not so much focus on gifts) and more about religion and family.

Posted by: Terri | October 19, 2006 4:17 PM

Megan - this sure went a different direction over lunch. We're in NM, not CO, but my company has an office in Englewood so I'm there fairly often. Born in Denver too so there are lots of CO ties. Returning somewhat to the earlier discussion, there's a quilt store in Littleton that I'm anxious to visit next time. And a ritual family trip to the Tattered Cover!

I'm not sure how the conversation evolved into the religious discussion but I did like the point made by an earlier poster about focusing on the/a sabbath and finding down time on that day. A one day per weekend of family and personal time rather than errands and chores would do wonders for our family harmony and stress levels.

Posted by: SS | October 19, 2006 4:17 PM

the pilgrim & puritans were 2 very different groups.
thanksgiving was pretty much a made up holiday designed as an attempt to unify the country before the civil war. as a matter of fact thankgiving was not celebrated in the south until after the first world war because it was seen as a "yankee holiday imposed on a subjected people by outsiders."

Posted by: quark | October 19, 2006 4:18 PM

Soon to be Mom, I see what you mean.

Back on the original topic, the experience of so many people with being punished for taking time off that they are entitled to reminded me of a study a year or so ago that found that the biggest factor in determining how much time people get with their families is government policy - the authors speculated that it is simply too difficult for individuals to negotiate time off effectively, and therefore government policy pretty much sets the bar. It definitely seems to hold true for the experiences people are talking about here.

Posted by: Megan | October 19, 2006 4:21 PM

STBM, I've thought the same thing, except in my mind, they're goofing off in an office building somewhere. Probably because I work from home (should be working, having a brain freeze, so lurking instead). Congrats and the very best wishes for an easy pregnancy/delivery and happy/healthy child.

Posted by: Pacifist | October 19, 2006 4:22 PM

Dudes, what happened while I was away? Everyone was playing so nice this morning.

Oh well, guess I'll jump into the fray.

**somewhat off topic**

"Christmas as most of us in the U.S. know it was a creation of the post-WWII years."

Yes, and I read a fascinating piece about the re-invention of Christmas in America as a 'family holidy' in the 1800's. Medieval Christmases were more related to Satururnalia and Yule festivals than pious celebratin of Christ's birth. The Puritans tried to suppress the celebration of Christmas in New England as it was a corrupted and papist holidy. By the 1800's, in the big cities, Christmas became an excuse to go out to the bar and get trashed. But during the 1820's and 1830's the modern American myth of Santa Claus was invented and the idea of Christmas as a time to be indoors with the family was aggressively promoted by the New York upper middle class. Of course, all of us have seen Christmas become progressively overblown during our lifetimes as well.

Anyway all this is neither here nor there.

Posted by: JKR | October 19, 2006 4:33 PM

All holidays were "made up" at some time. Some were made up longer ago than others. What happens on those days changes over time, too. This doesn't mean they're not meaningful to the people who celebrate them.

Posted by: Celebrates "made-up" holidays | October 19, 2006 4:33 PM

"I only noted that I considered it strange that Kwanzaa gets foisted on my kids at school when it is a fully concocted farce of a holiday."

So, Fo3, are you saying that Christianity is excluded from the discussion of holidays (which is what your first post possibly implied), or are you just upset that your kids are learning about something you apparently don't like?

And if your objection to Kwanzaa is that it's "made up," do you have the same objection to Thanksgiving (since we all know that the "thanksgiving story" is basically made up)?

Posted by: Anonymous | October 19, 2006 4:34 PM

pious celebratin of Christ's birth.

Yes all Christians are self righteous.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 19, 2006 4:35 PM

I am so glad that JKR knows what pious means.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 19, 2006 4:37 PM

To the person who is considering a 4-day week with a 20% pay cut: Is it possible for you to do things with the extra time that could help save money, like

-cook from scratch rather than eating ready-made or eating out
-keep track of which stores are having sales on which products, then buy as cheaply as you can
-buy from thrift shops or discount stores (you can find good stuff but sometimes it takes longer, as they tend not to be as well-organized as regular stores)
-mend old clothes, or even make your own(!)
-hang out laundry to dry
-walk, bike, or take public transportation rather than drive

For more ideas, look for the books "Your Money or Your Life", or "The Tightwad Gazette" series. Lots of ideas for saving money are out there on the Web, too. As an added plus, many of these activities are healthier and/or better for the environment. I do a few now, but did more in my "starving-student" days.

I also recommend killing your TV, or at least the cable. I did that almost by default (just didn't sign up for it after a couple of moves), and after a while realized that I really didn't miss it much. Frees up both money and time. OTOH, I think I might find it harder to do without my home Internet. If you'd rather keep the cable and ditch the Net, that might help too.

Posted by: "Made up" holidays, again | October 19, 2006 4:48 PM

"the authors speculated that it is simply too difficult for individuals to negotiate time off effectively, and therefore government policy pretty much sets the bar."

Ya think? As someone else mentioned, regardless of HR policy, you don't earn a lot of points with your boss by going over their heads to HR to get your leave approved. In a small organization, with no chance of moving to another department, the only realistic way to deal with a boss whose stingy with the leave is to suck it up or find another place to work. Of course, if you can't afford to vote with your feet, you're left with just sucking it up, which is what most workers do. You can try to argue your point once or twice, but after that you're just digging yourself a hole if you push back.

Having government guarantees for leave (as suggested by the Take Back Your Time policy agenda) would make the whole thing a lot easier. But I'm sure someone wants to write in about how liberals always want to destroy american business with their nanny-state policies and if leave-time is such an issue than the market will eliminate firms who don't provide it (because the market rightly and equitibly resolves all such issues based on utility maximization and willingness-to-pay-- the market cannot be wrong!). *sigh* Aside from our national work obsession, I think our market triumpalism/"if business doesn't like it we can't legislate it" attitude makes the likelihood of government mandated minimum leaves unlikely.

Posted by: JKR | October 19, 2006 4:50 PM

Sorry, I forgot to sign my 4:34 post.

SS, I was just looking up where Wolf Creek is, I didn't realize it was so far south. We used to always ski at Monarch growing up in Colorado Springs, I miss the more low-key aspect of that area compared to the places closer to Denver.

I don't know the quilting store but MAN am I glad to be back near the Tattered Cover. My two year old knows it on site, when we pull up he says, "Book store!" That's my boy!

Posted by: Megan | October 19, 2006 4:56 PM

To 'Celebrates made-up holidays':

Couldn't agree more! I know my ideas of Christmas and Thanksgiving are modern constructs fueled by our consumer culture-- but, as I said in my post, that's neither here nor there (though it's interesting to me personally to learn about the history of these things). I still love 'em, and they are meaningful to me. Bring on the turkey and green bean casserole, I say.

To 4:35 and 4:37 :


Posted by: JKR | October 19, 2006 4:57 PM

"and if leave-time is such an issue than the market will eliminate firms who don't provide it"

I think that's the point of the study JKR, to show that the market isn't working. Seems obvious to all of us, but sometimes data helps.

Posted by: Megan | October 19, 2006 4:57 PM

To Megan:

Agreed-- but how often does data convince partisans to do the right thing? I have a master's degree in public policy, where you learn a lot about doing cost-benefit analysis and applying economic principals to policy decision making... and often the analysis and the data show that society as a whole would be better off with X or Y policy. But another thing you learn in policy school is that the actual policy makers often toss the analysts' data out the window and cut an expedient deal based on political realities.

Sorry-- don't know why I am so grumpy this afternoon. Still must be upset over my beatdown... and not getting biscuits for lunch.

Posted by: JKR | October 19, 2006 5:02 PM

I think public schools should have a course on the history of religion, or at least incorporate that into social studies. Religion is such an integral part of our culture. Leaving all references to religion out of the school curriculum is a disservice to kids, because like it or not, religion has played a huge role in our society. So I am for teaching about all of it: Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc -- of course, the material should not be advocating a particular religion, but it should show how these beliefs and cultures affect our lives and history.

Posted by: Emily | October 19, 2006 5:03 PM

"but how often does data convince partisans to do the right thing?"

Well, one reason you might be grumpy is if you spend a lot of time trying to convince partisans to do the right thing ;). I would never think that any study would do any good there (and I don't even have a masters degree!), but I have to hold onto the belief that there are moderates in the world who do try to do their best, otherwise I'd be very depressed all the time.

Posted by: Megan | October 19, 2006 5:10 PM

I is very partyish. And I defy you to show me datas differently.

Chrissmas is so made up. I likes to ware Revlon on that day.

They had take back the night at teh Com College here. Dont no bout take back you day.

Posted by: Mom of 14 | October 19, 2006 5:17 PM

Back in the 1970's we did have a literature of religion course that was supposed to be taught in an unbiased fashion. Unfortunately, the teacher was a born-again Christian who imposed her own beliefs on the class. Although she was one of my favorite teachers for other reasons, her proselytizing manner really turned me off that course. I got a B because I wouldn't "toe the line" in the course and disagreed with her bent on the topic. If anything she and her evangelical teaching turned me away from many of the Christian denominations.

Although I applaud the idea of teaching about all religions, I would be skeptical until I actually knew more about the instructor's impartiality. In something as important to most people as religion, you can easily touch off amazingly explosive fireworks in the board of education meetings from outraged parents who felt that their religion was being denigrated by the teaching style.

Posted by: DadWannaBe | October 19, 2006 5:21 PM

Yes, I see the problem in teaching the history of religion if the teacher can't teach in a neutral way. But it is so sad that kids are denied a well-rounded education because of this problem. Taking religion out of school does not take it out of our culture. And not teaching about it and how it has affected leaves our kids with a void in their education. It is not necessary to believe that Christ is our saviour, for example, but knowing how Christianity has affected western civilization (history, art, music, literature, and even science) is really important. Leaving this out of our education system is a terrible omission.

Posted by: Emily | October 19, 2006 5:28 PM

We've heard from a lot of people who feel good about calling family-time "my time", and also from people who feel good about calling chores "my time". I might be in a minority, but for me, work is "my time". It's not that my job is perfect but I enjoy every day and really believe in what I do. And while I do work very long hours and would love to have more time to chill out, it's a lot easier to explain time at the office than it is to explain the other (unproductive) things I prefer to do with "my time".

I love my family, I love my DH and I love my friends. But I'm just not a very social person. What I find really fulfilling is all done alone: reading, writing, working out. I adore having my demanding job as an excuse to get out of some of the family events and friend get-togethers. Everyone says "Too bad you have to work" but I'm secretly glad that I have to work.

There's nothing wrong with my family--they're all really nice, including my inlaws. (We have no kids.) I guess it's partly that I don't feel like I'm contributing anything--they'll have a big happy group with or without me. And I don't get much from them either. I leave these events feeling tired, irritated, and frustrated that I've just spent hours doing "nothing". I know, I should feel loved and warmed. I should feel like this is what's most important. But I don't. And that makes it all the more frustrating because I then feel like a jerk.

Anyone else in this boat?

Posted by: worker bee | October 19, 2006 5:35 PM

"It must REALLY be driving you nuts then that you never heard about the Act of Uniformity that would fine people for not attending Sunday mass for the Church of England,"

Elizabeth I passed the Act of Uniformity in 1549, well before the Pilgrims came to the US, and given that her sister Mary used to burn Protestants at the stake for not attending the Catholic Mass, a fine was hardly something that would have struck Elizabeth's subjects as a harsh penalty. Moreover, Elizabeth was far more concerned with outward conformity to the outward trappings of the state religion than she was with what people actually believed. If you've heard of the Act of Uniformity, then I presume you have also read her statement to the effect that she had no wish to make windows into men's souls, and that you are aware of the fact that she had Catholic ministers at Court and considered marrying a Catholic for quite a while (the Duke of Alcenon).

The Pilgrims came to America during the reign of James I. A very different religious climate existed in England by then, given that the Church of England was by then well-established, it was a given that England was a Protestant state, and the extremities of Mary Tudor had largely faded from memory. Indeed, so much religious dissent was tolerated that the Puritans were later able to muster to such a degree that they were able to capture control of the state.

The Pilgrims were not persecuted. They were not given all kinds of "let me help you" support, but they were perfectly free to practice their nutty extremist version of Protestantism in England. They thought that England was too sinful to be abided, and so they left.

Posted by: Lizzie | October 19, 2006 5:37 PM

actually, in fairfax county public schools, the history of the Christian religion is taught in 5th grade, along with the history of other religious traditions. In my daughter's class, the Christian students were giggling, saying they felt like they were at sunday school, then the Jewish and Muslim students said they learn the same stuff, and a good time was had by all. The kids around here accept diversity, which I think is great.
And I've never know a kid to complain about having a fall party or a winter party, instead of Halloween and Christmas. They get the same food and games!

Posted by: experienced mom | October 19, 2006 5:42 PM

Lizzie, I did not know that. I find this kind of information fascinating. Maybe I'll take a history course for fun. It sounds like you know a lot about history. Any books you can recommend?

Posted by: Emily | October 19, 2006 5:49 PM

Lizzie, wasn't there a famous speach about the new society being a "city upon a hill," setting an example of how to live by the word of God? I seem to remember that was also the justification for kicking Roger Williams out, he was essentially messing up the experiment, but my history is not as good as yours.

Sorry if this posts twice, it seems to have gotten eaten. I guess I'm over my quota!

Posted by: Megan | October 19, 2006 5:51 PM

Emily, that particular piece of unspeakable pedantry drew heavily from Anne Somerset's biography of Elizabeth I. David Starkey's recent (well, 2003-ish) biography covers the first 25 years or so of her life and is very well-written. I know a lot of people who like Alison Weir's work on the Tudors, although I thought she was at her best when writing about Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Posted by: Lizzie | October 19, 2006 5:53 PM

Megan, John Winthrop, then Governor of Massachusetts, made the city on a hill speech. I think Roger Williams was more of a general rabble rouser (saying that the King of England wasn't Christian; that the Church of England was apostate; et al) and was requested to leave because of that.

A descendant of John Winthrop now lives in a fancy co-op on Beacon Hill. The Boston Globe had an article this week about how he's mounting a campaign to keep this one guy out of the building. The guy is new money and Winthrop apparently thinks that's just appalling.

Posted by: Lizzie | October 19, 2006 5:57 PM

Lizzie, that's a great story about Winthrop's descendant and the co-op. Thanks for the additional information.

Posted by: Megan | October 19, 2006 6:04 PM

In my rural Georgia high school, we had a 'religions of the world' unit during 10th grade world history. I actually had a great history teacher and he presented a very balanced view, inviting a rabbi, catholic priest, orthodox priest, female methodist minister, etc. to come present to our class on the basic tenets of their religions (as well as having us read plenty about religions for which we didn't have a local representative in our town). I also had to a read a good chunk of the Bible as summer reading for an English class (so that we would be able to get the many biblical allusions in the English classics). That was all good-- I didn't mind it at all and in fact enjoyed learning about various religions and their history quite a lot.

What I didn't enjoy was the Baptist church youth group that was allowed to hand out flyers for their events in our cafeteria at lunch; or a minister reciting the Lord's Prayer over the PA before football games; or the local youth minister (again from the Baptist church) who seemed to be at the school every other day, ostensibly advising the Fellowship of Christian Athletes club, but finding plenty of time to walk the halls and speak to members of his youth group. The whole atmosphere made me feel like the odd man out since my family wasn't religious and didn't go to church. Kids from more religious families felt pressure to conform even at school-- the 'I promise to stay a virgin' pinkie ring became a social clique thing at school, even though many of the wearers did "everything but" and sometimes more (there was no jewelry given for not being a hypocrite). I wrote this dynamic and the religious pressure at our school in an editorial in my school paper, and also said I thought the Baptist/Methodist majority might feel differently if a sudden influx of Catholics, or Muslims or members of the Church of the Yellow Bus moved into town and started dominating school traditions. That editorial got the school paper was permanently shut down. Many of us for separation of church and state aren't against teaching about religion in a cultural, historical or literary context-- what we seek to avoid is that any kid (particularly in the younger grades, when they're much more sensitive to being left out) is made to feel like the weirdo for practicing or not practicing a particular religion. Kids have enough social pressure to deal with without school officials giving tacit endorsement to one religion or another-- school should be neutral territory. Unfortunately this continues to be lost on many who just think kids not part of the dominant group should suck it up.

Posted by: JKR | October 19, 2006 6:08 PM

I thought Thanksgiving was the commemoration on the meal that was shared by the Indians and the --lets just say 'newcomers', cause only about a third were here for religious reasons, and after a few years some of them broke off and formed Rhode Island. 2/3's were here for economic improvement. But more to my point--aren't ALL holidays made up?

Thanks for the biscuit recipe. Have you tried the microwaveable sweet potatos?

I teach at a religious school, and maybe we are the exception, but those kids learn about many different religions, at least from an historical p.o.v. And most of them are historical!

Posted by: parttimer | October 19, 2006 6:08 PM

I went to both public and private high schools (back in the dark ages) and had comparative religion classes only at the private (religious) school. College though, I took many comparative religion classes in order to get my IR degree.
One day, my middle child started to tell me about Yom Kippur, and when I asked where she learned this stuff (I was impressed) she told me Rug Rats. Who'd a thunk it? Ya never know where they're going to pick stuff up.

Posted by: Pacifist | October 19, 2006 6:20 PM

JKR, great post about religion in schools. Good for you for writing that editorial, even if it got the paper shut down.

Parttimer, I haven't tried the microwavable sweet potatoes in the biscuit recipe, though I do sometimes microwave them in waxed paper for other purposes. I would think it would work, if anything they might be a little dry and you might need to add some extra moisture to the dough. Worth a shot, saves a lot of time!

Also, my comment on the Thanksgiving story was too harsh - it's not totally made up, but there is a lot of contention as to how that meal actually happened and what it meant, and your average elementary school reenactment likely reflects the values we want to see today rather than historic reality - which makes it subject in my mind at least to the same criticisms Fo3 was raising about Kwanzaa. That said, it's my favorite holiday because I love the idea of giving thanks and the lack of commercialism, and of course all the food!

Posted by: Megan | October 19, 2006 6:41 PM

Don't forget that 20% less salary also means fewer taxes, some deductions, etc. If you keep your benefits, could be a good deal!

I just took a week of non-paid time off, and was pleased to discover that with the tax savings, only about 1/2 of what I was expecting to miss was actually missing.

And it was totally worth it.

Posted by: to Dilemma | October 19, 2006 8:52 PM

OMG! I LOVE E of A! She is my favorite Queen! She kicks all other Queens to the curb. I am going to read that book. Thanks for the reference--parttimer.

JKR--do you have a copy of that editorial? How about an excerpt?

Posted by: to Lizzie | October 19, 2006 10:21 PM

JKR has a right to ask for whatever requests make sense to her given her workload; however, I am surprised that no one has noted that she'd used up all of her earned days this year and she's expecting in March, e.g., she's going to be out for some period of time within a few weeks of the unearned days she wants off in December. I agree the manager could have spun his/her denial of unpaid leave better, but perhaps he was just darned surprised that someone who had exhausted all her vacation days for the year earlier, and soon to be taking maternity leave would be asking for extra, unearned days off. jus' saying.

Posted by: anon | October 23, 2006 2:57 PM

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