Ask Mary Beth
Mom, entrepreneur, and formerly Kayla Brady Johnson on the NBC daytime drama Days of Our Lives, Mary Beth Evans is our newest columnist. Each week in her column, Ask Mary Beth, she will answer your questions about work, play, and living.
Question: Mary Beth – your skin always looks amazing! What do you do to take care of it? I’m usually so exhausted at the end of the day, I’m lucky if I get to wash my face so any tips on a quick and easy beauty routine would be great!
MB: First off, as difficult as it is, I always take my make up off and wash my face before I go to bed. I just force myself. Especially take my eye make-up off!! I have tried expensive products and have found what works the best for me is keeping it simple. I wash my face with Cetaphil liquid face wash that I by at the grocery store. I then use a moisturizer, usually samples I’ve gotten from department stores. I also try to drink a lot of water.
Question: My husband lost his job a few months ago so when the company I was working for part-time offered me a full time position I felt I had to take it. We have two small children (ages 2 & 4) so we made the decision that he would stay home for the time being so we wouldn’t have the expense of daycare. I thought I was ok with this decision but I have noticed that the children are becoming more attached to my husband and do not seem to need me like they did before. I am missing the time I had during the day to spend alone with them. Now when I get home from work, daddy is still there and they tend to go to him first for everything. I know I have to continue working and I feel selfish even having these feelings. Any suggestions?
MB: Guilt, I swear that is the curse of motherhood! Don’t feel selfish about your feelings of loss. I know this is a difficult transition time for you. Try to think how lucky your children are to have a caring, loving father that they will feel close to. Most children don’t get that opportunity. When you are with them, try to really “be there” – enjoy them, snuggle and kiss them all over. Wait on household responsibilities until later and really try to connect with them. Who knows, your situation may flip back to your husband working more than you and this will be a nice foundation laid. Hang in there and don’t be too hard on yourself. Remember you are also setting a good example.
Question: Mary Beth – I recently read that you have been married for over 20 years – congratulations! I am married just 4 years and we have one 2 year old. Between work, the baby, family obligations and everything else, I feel like the husband/wife relationship is the one to suffer. What are your secrets to a successful marriage?
MB: I can’t believe we have been married for 23 1/2 years…it’s crazy! I will tell you honestly, it hasn’t always been pretty. There have been some tough years, but we have worked hard and I would say we are extremely happy. One thing we have always tried to do is get a babysitter on a Friday or Saturday night and get out! Go to dinner or a movie, whatever, just have some couple time. Hold hands, sit on the same side of the booth and be kind to each other. Reconnect and remember why you fell in love with each other. Keep it light and stay away from hot topics for a few blissful hours.
Question: I am hosting a small “reunion” with some friends from my college days. We haven’t seen each other in years so I want to make it a great evening but I typically do not do a lot of entertaining. There are 6 of us all together but I am not quite sure of everyone’s tastes for food/wine/music anymore. I was really excited about this gathering but as it draws near I am getting stressed because I want everyone to have a great time. Any tips?
MB: The best gift you can give yourself, is prep early and relax and enjoy the company. Here is what I would do if I were you. Make my favorite pasta ahead of time. I call this my peasant dinner. I have had friends over for a casual Sunday evening and this has always been a big hit! You can even make the sauce weeks ahead and freeze it in zip locks. Here’s what you do:
· Take 3 spicy and 3 mild Italian sausages (could be Turkey) remove from casing and brown. Remove from pan and drain on paper toweled plate. Chop one medium onion and brown in the same pan as the sausages. Fairly thinly slice 4 zucchinis and add to the browned onions, until tender and browned also. Return meat to the pan and add 2 large cans of stewed tomatoes with the liquid.(I squeeze them through my fingers to break them up, but you can rough chop them if you like). Salt and freshly ground pepper. Simmer for 30-60 minutes for flavors to meld.
· Make a box of Penne pasta, following directions on the box. Drain and put ½ in with the sauce and add more a little at a time. You want it to stay juicy. Reheat before serving.
· Buy ready washed torn Romaine lettuce, sprinkle shredded Parmesan cheese, cracked pepper over the top and add croutons. Buy a higher end Cesar dressing.
· Have a couple loaves of fresh Baggett French bread, warmed. Let your guest rip off their own pieces. Make this casual and informal and it will make everyone feel at ease. Maybe sit in the living room or outside and skip the whole table setting stress.
Don’t forget SEVERAL bottles of a good red wine and you are ready to rock!
Question: I’ve been dying to change up some of the rooms in my house to spruce it up a bit but I don’t have a lot of cash to do it with. My first priority is the living room where the family spends most of our time. I’ve read that you like to help your friends redecorate with bargain prices. What are the most important changes you can make to a room to change it up and not pay a fortune?
MB: I like color on my walls. I don’t think there is one white wall in my house. The right color will warm up your room and I always feel like I don’t need so much “stuff” on the walls when there is color. I would rather have nothing than something bad. I have painted many walls myself, it’s not that hard. A great resource is http://www.farrow-ball.com. Have them send you their free color brochure. Every color is beautiful and there aren’t so many to choose from. Their paint is pricey, but you can get some good ideas and find something similar.
Next I would do some editing. Here is an example….my friend Angela had a bookshelf in her living room that had everything from brass baby shoes, old yearbooks to misc. vases and beer stines. When I looked around her house I found an entire collection of white milk glass. We got rid of everything and put just this collection of similar items. Not too much either. Think less is best! We bought $7.00/yard natural linen and slip covered her loud blue floral couches. We bought pretty linen floral and striped remnants and had pillows made, all in the same color family. What a transformation for next to nothing. This is just a start but makes a big difference….good luck
Question: Hi Mary Beth! I love reading all of your columns and think you have great ideas for recipes. My son’s class is having a bake-off and each parent has to bring in a batch of something homemade. It can be store bought cookie dough but I’d really like to bring in something different that everyone will love (but is not too difficult since I am no Betty Crocker)! Do you have any good recipes to share?
MB: Try my modified tollhouse cookie recipe…this is double batch:
Cream together in electric mixer:
2cups packed brown sugar
4 sticks softened unsalted butter (I microwave mine for about 45 seconds)
Add 4 eggs & 2 tsp vanilla extract
Beat on med-high for a couple of minutes
4 ½ cups all purpose flour
2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
Slowly add to sugar, butter mixture
Add 4 cups of chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375 and position racks in middle of oven. Line baking sheets with parchment. Using 2 tablespoons scoop out 12 loose balls of cookie dough evenly spaced. Bake for 10 minutes. They should be flat and brown. I cannot keep these in my house!
Question: My teenage daughter is coming home from college in a few weeks. I’d like to plan a mother/daughter weekend for the two of us since she has been away for so long. Any fun ideas?
MB: My daughter is coming home from college next week too. She has worked so hard. Now that she is a young woman, I thought I would splurge and take her to a spa. It seems so grown up and just us gals, although I know her two brothers will be jealous! The other thing we plan to do this summer is take some cooking classes together. We have some in our town, but it would be so much fun to go away for a weekend somewhere and take the classes, hike and dine together. It is such sweet time with each other. I personally can’t wait! Any time together doing something you can both enjoy is precious, especially as they get older and are away from home so much.
Question: From everything you’ve written so far, and from what I’ve read about you previously, it’s clear that you’re an on the go, busy person. Like you, I enjoy being busy…having lots of things to do, people to see, new projects to tackle, etc. Sometimes, however, I find that I’ve left little time for me. So, with all that you do — between your work and your family — how do you find time to unwind/relax? And, other than all of the running around from activity to activity, do you do anything special to stay in shape?
MB: Weekdays are generally pretty crazy and I try to make dinner for my family Monday- Thursday. It’s usually a simple grilled meat or fish, but it still adds to the running around. I look forward to the weekend. Ever since my children were little my husband and I have made it a point to go out on a “date” Friday or Saturday night, pretty close to every weekend. That is such needed time. We started with a teenage neighbor that we had a standing reservation with. Being able to reconnect with your mate and be an adult with a small break from your children and responsibilities is incredibly rejuvenating!
Once in a blue moon, like every year on my birthday, I’ll go get a facial or a massage. An amazing treat! As far as staying in shape, I have 3 really close friends and we try to walk 6 miles, 3X a week. It is time consuming, but the health benefits are great and my tush is actually getting smaller. A nice added benefit is the camaraderie. We solve all the problems of the world!
Question: What are your top 3 tips on balancing your work life with your mom life? You were born for this gig and I’ll be looking forward to your advice on my above question.
(1) When I am with my children, I try to really give them my attention. I try to make appointments and such while they are in school and be home as often as I can when they walk in the door. I do the extra things, like have homemade cookies in the cookie jar (I always make a double batch and keep them in the freezer) extra things that maybe they will remember. Their friends sure do.
(2) I try to compartmentalize. When I’m at work I really want to give my best and not worry about what’s going on at home. I make sure I feel confident with whom I have left my children with and know a friend or family member will pick up the slack if something unexpected comes up.
(3) I try to pursue things that make me feel good about myself. If I’m happy, the whole family is happier.
If you have a question about balancing work and parenting, Mary Beth would love to hear from you. Please send your question to Allison Rubin at email@example.com
Question: Mary Beth, you are truly an inspiration. It seems like you always ‘have it together’. How do you handle/deal with stress in your life (what are your outlets…any advice)?
MB: I sometimes push it to the limit. But like I have said, I am happiest being productive. My hobbies of gardening, baking, cooking, helping my friends with their decorating, all bring me a level of peace. Truly, one of my favorite ways to unwind is to take a hot bath infused with some fragrant essential oils or bubble bath. I go in with my book or magazines and close the door for 20 minutes. If you have little guys you will most likely have to wait until they are snoozing in their beds.
Question: I saw you did a garden recently and my husband has been wanting to do one as well. Do you have any advice on that? California maybe a little different than PA but any advice would help. Keep up the great work!
MB: Yes, our “zones” are very different. I went to Barnes and Noble and chose a book called The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Edward C. Smith. It’s for all zones. I dug the trenches he talks about and added the organic supplements. I am telling you it really works. My garden is so lush and hardy. Every year I planted my vegetable bed but this year I did it right and what a difference! I like to check out my vegetable garden in the morning with my coffee in hand. I feel such a sense of pride at how all the digging, planning, and planting has really paid off. In the evening I usually take one more visit to collect some fresh beets, lettuce or bok choy for dinner. I can’t wait until the warm weather crops start producing.
My garden — before and after.
Question: Mary Beth, you’re a busy lady. I guess you always have been. Over the years, you’ve juggled work, marriage, and kids. A few years ago, you added a business on the side to what must’ve been an already hectic schedule.
How did you pull it all off? What did you find most challenging about each different thing? In the wee small hours of the morning, did you ever think you’d taken on too much or were you always confident that you could make everything work? Do you have a specific schedule you really stick to or are you a “fly by the seat of your pants” kind of woman?
MB: It’s funny; my sister-in-law is a Harvard MBA graduate. She always says I have a triage approach to things and I think she put it perfectly. I get it all done but with no set plan. I am happiest when I am busy and challenged. I believe I am a creative person who needs outlets. If it’s not acting, it’s decorating my friends houses, planting an organic vegetable garden, even moving things around in my house to give it a new look. My oldest son Danny asked me to please find a hobby that didn’t require him lifting heavy furniture. When my pie business was still in my kitchen and got bigger than I anticipated, I recruited my kids to help. My son who was 12 at the time was a mad apple peeler. My daughter could roll out a mean crust. It was really a fun, somewhat chaotic time. They were a part of the beginning and it has given them a sense of pride at how far it has come.
Question: Budgeting time is a great concern for working moms like you. How do you determine priorities?
MB: Ultimately my family always comes first. It is my absolute number one priority. But we all know that the demands of work can sometime take precedence. A good support system is crucial. My two best friends from high school live very close to me. We all pick up the slack for each other, no questions asked. Maybe it is a family member or two. But having close people in your life that can really help you out in a pinch makes all the difference in the word! I always find ways to trade a favor back.
Question: I have a 6 year old son and a 4 year old daughter that are both in activities – t-ball, swimming, gymnastics. My husband works night shift (11p-7a) and I work a few nights during the week 3-7. I feel like I am spending more time AWAY from my children than I do with them on some occasions and starting to feel very guilty. How do I make the most of our free time together?
MB: When we decided to start a family my husband and I both had full time jobs, I knew they were coming into a busy life with us. I often felt like entering my house was like hopping on the merry go round. If you didn’t jump on, all the horses would hit you in the face. When I am with my children I really try to give them my undivided attention, full eye contact. I try to listen intently, even to the most detailed, long-winded stories. The laundry can wait. I am also a person that needs to be under their skin. If we watch TV together, I sit so close I am practically on their lap. I’ll fling a leg over theirs and hold their hand – major snuggling; connecting. My other small advice is start family rituals. Eat dinner as a family as often as you can. Tell stories, have conversations, laugh – connect. If your schedules are too different, how about ice cream together at night before dad leaves for work? As my children have gotten older and everyone’s going in different directions, we reserve Sunday night as “family” night. Everyone knows you can make no plans. We all look forward to it.
Question: Not only are you an inspiration, you are a role model as well. I am currently thinking of stepping out with my own venture, though it doesn’t involve cooking. What I would like to know is when did you realize it was time to take your talents at pie making from a ‘hobby at home’ to a ‘business at large’? I am struggling with taking my hobby a step further, and am not sure how to tell if the leap would be a wise one. Any advice would be appreciated!
MB: My journey to become an entrepreneur was sparked by a comment from my husband. He was reading an article in the Wall Street Journal about mail order apple pies and he said “you should do that with your pie.” I said “right…and what if someone ordered one?” He said, “That would be a good problem.” I decided to go forth and see if I actually could turn it into something. I had a friend make a mailing list from several school directories in my area. I made 50 pies and put them in a box freezer, sent out cute post cards and sold 100 right off the bat. I put a blurb in a soap magazine and sent 150 all over the country, learning as I went. Then I took it to a Fancy Food Show, to see if it was a lark or really a good product. By the third day people came up to me and said “everyone said find the pie lady.” I just chipped away, moving forward. It has unfolded in front of me. I’m sure there are better business models but this worked for me, mainly because I had no idea what I was doing! It was a leap of faith and I have figured it out as I went along. I guess the main thing is don’t be afraid to try.
Question: I am thinking of starting my own business but have very little start up cash. Aside from getting my product produced, what would you say would be the wisest things to spend my money on would be (website, brochures, advertising, etc.)?
MB: I think it depends on what your business is. I started very small with sending out a postcard locally. If you are trying to go big, the web seems to be the real way to go. If you know someone who knows the ins and outs, you can get the word out very inexpensively, even free. Someone once gave me great advice, that I followed and got great results. Look on line for a university in your area. Look up the business school professors and see if you can be a case study for one of their classes in their MBA program. The students researched the possibilities for my company and gave me their findings. It was very helpful. Plus they were so young, enthusiastic and know all the latest technologies.
Question: I’m a work from home Mom with a 3 year old and a 1 year old. My husband is the stay at home Dad, so we’re all in the same house all day. I love to see my kids throughout the day, but my schedule is variable. My problem is that when I am able to ‘leave my office’ for a few minutes to see my kids, it sets a precedent where my job loses respect and the lines are blurred. Do you have any suggestions on how I can retain respect (from others) for my job, but also take advantage of the benefits of working from home? Or should I try to set more boundaries both for myself and others in order to keep work time and family time separate?
MB: I never thought I could work at home because I don’t have the discipline. Before you know it I’d be watering my plants or baking a cake.
So I tip my hat to you. I think you need to create a schedule with planned breaks. Maybe you have your children help you make the “I am working” sign that will hang on the door of your home office when you are putting in your work time. Everyone (including you) needs to respect this as serious, focused, uninterrupted time. Perhaps there is some type of penalty if these rules are broken, (especially for your husband) just kidding. Plan a little something fun for break time that everyone can look forward too. Good luck, I’ll be rooting for you.