A date night trick

A date night trick | RISING*SHINING

When Chris and I have a date night planned I find the time leading up to the date night a tiny bit stressful. We're trying to get the house tidy, prep the boys' dinner, get pajamas out, and get ready ourselves. On top of that the boys started getting clingy and emotional when we would leave them with a babysitter. A crying child is not the ideal way to start a fun and relaxing date night.

Enter: the snack pack. Based on the logic that a little treat can go a long way with toddlers and preschoolers, we started putting together little cups of fun snacks for babysitter nights. I randomly put two snack cups together one night before a babysitter came and we must have had cookies or graham crackers on hand, which we don't normally buy. I told the boys that I had "snack packs" for them but only when we were leaving the house. Instead of crying children we were able to leave our babysitter with delighted and engaged children. It was amazing. Now when we tell the boys we're having a babysitter they ask, "Do we get a snack pack?" Yes you do.

A snack pack doesn't have to be overly indulgent or unhealthy. The two key components are to have variety (at least three different kinds of snacks) and novelty. A few things the boys have found in their snack packs include a fruit leather bar, a granola bar, goldfish crackers, graham crackers, a few chocolate chips, peanut butter Puffins cereal, or small cookies (like the Trader Joe's dark chocolate mint stars in the photo above - one of my seasonal favorites!).

They always did great with a babysitter even when there were tearful goodbyes but they would seem to dread the evening. Now they are excited to have a babysitter and we love having a happy transition while we leave the house. Hooray date night!

Tips for an awesome book club

Tips for an awesome book club | RISING*SHINING

When I moved to Arizona eight years ago this month (!) I was just out of graduate school and eager to read novels instead of textbooks. I had always loved the idea of belonging to a book club and as I put together my post-school adult life I set out to find one.

The first book club I came across on Meet Up was the East Valley Casual Women's Book Club which described exactly what I was looking for and it turned out to be a perfect fit. Just as I suspected I love having a book club in my life. 

There is no one magical formula to creating a lasting book club; I think it's a combination of book club structure and member personalities and what works for one book club might not work for another. But I do think there are several things that have helped to make our book club sustainable and a place where I've found dear friends. I'd love to share some of the things that make our book club work well for us:

On membership...

Our fearless leader Becky founded the book club in 2007 by creating a group on Meet Up (I joined in October of 2008). This resulted in a group of women who didn't necessarily know each other but lived in the same next of the woods (the Phoenix Valley is a BIG place) and had the common interests of books and meeting new people. When book clubs are made up of friends who already know each other it's easy to fall into talking about the things you always talk about when you get together and not the book. This isn't a bad thing, but just something to keep in mind. 

There are two important considerations for the right number of book club members. One number is how many people generally show up for a book club. We've found that a group of 5 - 8 is great; there are enough people for a lively discussion but no one has to wait too long for their turn to give a review of the book. For 5 - 8 people to show up for each meeting there will likely need to be 10 - 15 members of the book club, but of course this will depend on each group.

Through the years our membership has swelled (once we had to have two separate tables to hold a discussion!) and waned. Over time a group of committed members emerged and we decided to close membership to the general public and moved our online page to a secret Facebook group. Now new members join our group by invitation. A couple years ago membership had dwindled and in the new year we each invited one new person. 

Choosing books...

Our book club is democratic but with an executive leadership branch (aka our founder Becky) and it works great for us. Becky sets up each book club meeting as a Facebook event and chooses the book although we can always suggest books and occasionally we'll have a Facebook poll to choose a book. I appreciate having someone else make decisions about books and I've read - and enjoyed - many books that I never would have considered this way.

We don't have a specific book genre although we tend to stick to contemporary fiction but do occasionally read non-fiction and classics. The only rule might be no straight chick lit.

Having a casual but committed group...

We have the following membership rules for our casual group:

+ after a few no-shows to book clubs for which you RSVPed you'll be removed from the group (with fair warning)

+ at minimum be active on our Facebook page if you aren't attending meetings; no activity in four months says you're no longer interested and you'll be removed from the group

+ you don't have to finish the book or even start it to come to book club as long as you don't mind hearing spoilers. There are definitely months when I haven't finished the book or didn't have interest in the book and I still go to book club just to hear what everyone else thought and to socialize.

Meeting at a consistent, neutral location...

By neutral I mean "not someone's house." While I love my book club friends I love not going to their houses for book club. Here's why: meeting at someone's house means that someone has to host and will inevitably worry about cleaning, and about having drinks or snacks. I get a bit stressed when I host so that would make an aspect of book club stressful for me. Plus it would be hard to do dinner/bedtime with my young kids and successfully host bookclub. It's also hard to breeze in and out of someone's home. You enter and are greeted, there is chit chat. When you want to leave you say thank you and make chit chat about how lovely it was. At our book club you can arrive late and leave early if you need to and can do so easily, I love that.

My book club meets at a neighborhood Irish pub (some of us get drinks or food, some people don't and the restaurant is fine with that) and for years before that we met in the cafe of a Barnes and Noble (with their blessing). We ended up getting a bit boisterous (ahem, language) for the book store and so moved to a bar conveniently just a couple doors down. I love that I know exactly how long it will take me to get to book club each time and I know exactly how to get there, no looking up directions or having to trek across town one evening. The exception is that our December book club is held at Becky's house for holiday-ish get-together. 

We also always meet on a consistent day: the second Wednesday of every month. There will always be someone who can't make it to book club and scheduling is easier if scheduling isn't a question.

Meeting structure...

Our book club meets at 7 PM and we start our official meeting a few minutes after 7. We go around and each have at turn to give our thoughts on the book and each give the book a letter grade, A+ down to F. While someone is speaking someone else might make a comment here or there but generally we try to let each person have the floor for their review. After we've gone all the way around the circle then we have open discussion. 


That's about it! I would love to know what works well for your book club. Or if you've been wanting to join or start a book club DO IT, I will definitely be your cheerleader!

P.S. Everyone is welcome in The Girl Next Door Podcast Book Club!

P.P.S. Keep up with what I'm reading on Instagram, I'm using the hashtag #kelseyreadinglately

Four years ago


Yesterday I was too nervous and distracted by the election to post anything. But now we're breathing a big sigh of relief; I feel excited and hopeful for the next four years. There's lots of work to be done but I think we're heading in the right direction. I'm especially encouraged by the turning tide of gay marriage. My hope is that by the time our baby is old enough to vote marriage equality won't need to be on the ballots any more because it's accepted and recognized across our country.

Four years ago Chris and I woke up early and biked to a local school to vote. Even though we arrived by 6:30 AM there was already a line from the school, through the parking lot and out to the sidewalk along the street. We waited for about two hours to vote but we did so with excitement. We knew that we were voting in an historic election and I remember thinking, "We'll tell our kids about this." 

That evening we hosted an election party!



We served mavericky chili, yes-we-can cornbread and red state/blue state cupcakes. Oh, and our friend dressed up as "the crazy lady from the McCain rallies", I'd forgotten about her! And that makes me remember the days of Sarah Palin and Tina Fey. That was amazing political comedy.

I love voting on election day so we didn't take advantage of early voting. I get sentimental thinking of how lucky we are to be living in a place where we have the right to vote and where everyone is entitled to their opinion, even though some of those opinions are frustrating to me! I love it when everyone across the nation takes part in the same thing - like voting on election day and celebrating Thanksgiving (things we do regardless of religious beliefs) and I was thinking of all types of people voting in big cities, in rural areas and in suburban neighborhoods, like us, across the country.

Yesterday, we got the the polls 30 minutes before they opened. I even dropped Chris off to grab a spot in line (we were third!) and went to get us coffee since it was a chilly morning. We waited excitedly again this year.

In the evening we had a quiet (nail biting) evening at home watching returns. I was so so sleepy but am so glad I stayed awake (...or that Chris woke me up) to hear President Obama speak. We are bummed about some of the state and local elections here in Arizona but there are exciting wins for women and gay marriage across the country and I'm excited for us to put the campaigns behind us and get back to work, there's certainly lots to be done.

Ready as Ever


I said that in going through all my old posts I could not believe that some were from a year ago, they felt much older. One of those was definitely this one where I talked about our thoughts on having a baby. Obviously, so much has changed since then! Our tentative plan was to have a baby sometime after Chris’s tenure in the spring of 2014. Here's what changed our timeline and made us feel ready to have a baby a little sooner:

Chris got baby fever. He said that when he was out to lunch with colleagues in the spring there was a woman in the group who was very pregnant. At one point she described how she could feel the baby move. Chris said that for some reason that made pregnancy seem more real and suddenly he felt so excited about us going through that soon. Isn’t that funny? But I love it.

I found a job I love. This is sort of a funny one because I mentioned wanting to potentially stay home for awhile when we had a baby. So why would I want to find a great job? When I was working at jobs that I didn't like I felt bored and restless; I felt that I wasn't contributing to the world in the ways that I had envisioned for myself and wasn't making use of the undergraduate and graduate degrees that I worked hard to get. I didn't like the idea of quitting a professional job without ever being on a career track in the first place.

Being at my previous job I knew that I wouldn't want to leave a baby to spend my days doing something so unfulfilling. I felt that our baby would benefit more from me staying home than I would benefit from going to work (if we could afford it). But now I have a job that I love. It's challenging and engaging and I have supportive co-workers who are also working moms. At my new job I had this feeling come over me that "everything will be fine" if Chris and I both continue to work full time and have a baby. I felt very optimistic about it. Previously I just couldn't see how that equation would work out.

In my current job we feel that the benefit I'll get from continuing to work is greater than the benefit our baby would get from me staying home full time. I also see benefits in enrolling our child in a high-quality day care where s/he will get to interact with other children and be taken care of by people who have chosen to work with children as a profession. This is a deeply personal decision of course and I can only say what is best for our family. If I've learned anything by reading the number of parenting blogs and books that I have it's that there's no one way to be a loving parent, it all depends on your situation and values. And who knows - I haven't had a baby and returned to work yet. I feel that it's 99% likely that I'll continue to work but maybe the scales will tip the other way after I meet our little one! I also realize that parenting will be a constant lesson in flexibility!

I think so often we want to see things in black and white, right and wrong, but I already see that parenting isn't like that in many situations. We can learn so much from each other and it's so important to respect all the parents out there who are making the best decisions for their families based on their situation.

So, this brought us to the beginning of the summer and we figured we were as ready as ever! We were so so surprised when just two months later we got a positive pregnancy test! I had been convinced that it would take at least a year because my cycle had been so erratic in the past. In hindsight I think it might have been stress from my old job! I recognize how incredibly lucky we are to have been able to conceive so quickly and we continue to feel so thankful.

We got a positive pregnancy test result the weekend before we went to Montana! As you can imagine, it made the trip all the more special because we had so much to daydream and talk about. It was also so fun to call my parents to share the news from the porch of our bed and breakfast in Missoula. I was sitting with Chris, looking at the river, and able to get them both on speaker phone to let them know they'll be grandparents. It was awesome!

More to share next week; have a lovely weekend!

How to Prepare for a Phone Interview


It seems that everyone can agree - phone interviews are no fun. Interviews are nerve-wracking already but it’s even harder when you can’t see the person interviewing you. But if you're applying for a job phone interviews are nearly unavoidable. I've had several over the years, starting when I applied to internships and graduate programs in college and as I've applied for jobs since graduate school. Despite having gone through the process several times I still don't look forward to phone interviews. BUT I do know how to prepare for them. I'd love to share my process and tips in case you find yourself preparing for a phone interview!

  • Read through the job description thoroughly and highlight or make note of the important skills that a candidate should have (whether stated or implied). These might be managing a team of people, working under deadlines, completing tasks without supervision, etc. This gives you clues about what you should highlight about yourself to show that you are a great fit for the job.
  • Go to the company's website and read all you can about the type of work they do and current projects, if the information is available. If you know the name of the person you'll be interviewing with, do a Google search for their name. The more I know the better I feel.
  • Write (or type) out typical interview questions and write your answer. This is how I liked to study in college too. Writing out an answer helps me remember it and then I can re-read the questions and answers several times. In my responses I try to work in examples of the key skills I identified by reading the job description and researching the company. 
  • If you didn't include them in the step above, write out the really hard interview questions - these are the ones you're hoping won't be asked. Don't shy away from them - prepare! Here are some interview questions that I consider "difficult"; some of these I was asked during my recent interviews! 

- Tell me something that's not on your resume.

- What do you avoid at the workplace?

- If you're researching a topic, how do you know when to stop?

- Tell me about a time when something at work didn't work out the way you planned and what you did.

- What are your weaknesses?

- What are three words a former colleague would use to describe you?

- What is your proudest accomplishment at work?

- What do you do with down time at work?

- Tell me about a time when you had to work with a difficult colleague. How did you handle the situation?

I get a bit stressed just writing those! But if you face them head-on before they're asked you have time to come up with a well-crafted answer and having a strong answer to a tough question will be impressive. When I was interviewing for an internship in college I was waiting before the interview and spontaneously I thought, "Oh, I should think of three words to describe myself in case they ask." And wouldn't you know, they totally asked that question! I felt like a million bucks because they said, "We know it's a tough question so you can take a minute to think about it." But I was able to answer right away and I ended up getting the internship.

  • List a few of your work accomplishments and make a note of what skills were used - managing a team, meeting a tight deadline, adapting to a changing situation, etc. This is kind of like answering the questions above in reverse, like Jeopardy! I like to do it though because so many interview questions are situational questions, "Tell me about a time when..." and having a handful of experiences to quickly call upon is so so helpful. So for example, I rehearsed providing details about a project that I worked on last year that was an update of a technical manual. I practiced providing an overview of the project and then gave examples of how I coordinated a team of people, dealt with a changing schedule, had to learn lots of new materials quickly, and worked extra hours to meet deadlines. When I was asked, "Can you tell me about a time when you worked in a team?" I was able to easily provide this example as well as highlight some other skills.
  • Before the interview, decide where to take the call. For my most recent phone interview, I took time off from work so that I could take the call at home. I didn't feel comfortable taking the call anywhere at work since it was such an open space and the alternative was going out to my car to take the call. I didn't think I'd feel very comfortable or confident in that scenario and that could translate to a bad interview. In hindsight I'm really glad I took the time off. Even though I was still really nervous before (and during!) the call, being at home helped me to be as relaxed as possible.

Before the call, set up your phone interview landscape. Mine included:

  • My resume to remind me of relevant work experience as needed.
  • The pages of written/typed questions and answers that I had been reviewing.
  • The job description, to remind me of the key skills and experiences required for the job.
  • A computer with different tabs showing the company/organization website, any other important webpages associated with the company/organization, and a webpage that included a short bio and picture of the person interviewing me. I read that it can make you feel more at ease if you are able to look at a photo of the person you're talking with and I thought it turned out to be a good tip.
  • Paper and a pen to take notes.
  • A glass of water.
  • Your phone! (I turned off the call waiting on mine. That way, if I got a call during the interview I wouldn’t be distracted by the beeping.)

My good friend Jamie gave me two great tips before my phone interview and they helped a lot. They are:

Keep your answers to the point, if they want to know more, they'll ask. This is such a great tip! On the phone, when you can't read someone's facial cues and when there are silences the tendency might be to ramble on. Then it's easy to lose your train of thought and suddenly, "Why am I talking about my summer vacation plans???" The best way to do this is to practice saying your (succinct) answers out loud.

This is related to the first but: Silences are OK, don't rush to fill them. The interviewer will be taking notes so there will likely be silences after you speak because they're writing something. This really helped me to not feel that a silence was awkward, I just reminded myself that the interviewer was writing notes. It helped to keep the pace of our conversation natural and it gives the interviewer time to write down your impressive answers!

Best of luck!!