Ask Southern: Birthday Parties

Dear Southern,

My child attends day care and we have been part of the whole class invite to their birthday party.  If we have to attend all 20 kids parties and buy gifts, I am afraid that is a little much and time consuming.  How do you handle this?

Birthday Overwhelmed


Dear Birthday,

I can totally relate.  We follow a simple rule, we ask our child to name the children he considers his friends and we ask the teacher to verify the children he really plays with.  If the child doesn’t fall in that category, we politely decline the invitation.  This allows us to go to 4 or 5 parties versus 20; and these are the children we invite to his party.  In terms of gifts, I shop the bargain section at Target and keep a couple of things in my “gift box” in a storage closet. (Examples: bubbles, super hero and princess playing cards, coloring books with crayons, bouncy balls, etc…) I use these little items as rewards for my kids and combine a few as presents for others.  I also keep a shoe box with a mixture of cards for birthdays, get well, condolences, etc… to have on hand for last minute needs.


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The First Day of School Fears: What I learned from years of “First days”

I am the product of many big first days of school.  I had the privilege of moving with my family quite a few times as a child, so I can remember almost every first day. I am hoping all this “personal growth” as a child has paid off as I prepare to send my first child off to kindergarten. Here is my advice to him that could be helpful to you and your child as you buy that new backpack and prepare to pack the first lunch:

  1. Being scared is normal.
    1. “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”–Eleanor Roosevelt
    2. They are scared, too. It is everyone’s first day when you start Kindergarten, so you know everyone is in the same boat. Look for people who want to paddle with you in that boat, and you will likely find at least one person to call a “friend” for the year.
  2. Some of these strangers will be your friends in a few days/weeks
    1. The best way to make new friends is to be a good friend. This is just like your little sister trying new things – if he/she looks scared, say something kind and you will get off to a great start.
    2. As you learn your new friends names learn what they like and dislike and tell them what you like and dislike to find common interests. Chances are they like the same book, food or game you do.
  3. Ask if you can join kids playing
    1. Most of the time they will say, “yes.”
    2. If they say, “no” – there is a whole class of other friends to play with, look for the person who may also be standing without a group. Remember the “ask what they like” idea, and see what you both like to do when the class gets to go outside.
  4. Smile and Make Eye Contact. It makes people feel good when they feel like they can talk to you.
  5. We all have a bad day, so if someone isn’t nice they might just be having a bad day. Changes are always hard on the first day, but soon it will become routine for you and that person who likely is just trying to tackle first day jitters.
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Confessions: Working Mom and Sick Kids

We had a summer virus make it’s way through our house last week, and it inspired my confession this week. Sick kids create stress and guilt both at home and work. Other moms and I talk about this and try to find ways to survive the sweeping sicknesses in our house. Here are some tips to help weather the storm of sickness:

Work Out a System with Your Spouse   – Mr. Southern and I do our best to take turns.  We established this on a date night (a night when we were both rested and relaxed to have an open dialogue without accusations of who was doing more).  We came up with the understanding that sometimes we have things at work we can’t miss regardless of whose turn it is.  In this case, it was actually my turn to take the first day – but I was in a meeting and couldn’t leave to pick up Little Southern, so he covered and I worked from home the next day.

Develop a Support System – Sometimes you have to ask for help.  We have a wonderful neighbor that if I am really in a pinch will come watch the baby while I do a conference call or run to the store.  We also have other working-parent friends whose children go to school with ours and are willing to pick up and drop off when we need the help.  Finally, our back-up plan is our very kind family who will make the trip in a pinch to help us out.

Communicate with Work – Mr. Southern and I are always up front with our leadership at work that we both have management jobs and that we have to pitch in when something like this happens. I find that setting this expectation makes it easier when it happens. However, if you tell them you are going to be working from home, give them tangible results. For instance, I always try to return to work with some tangible product or task completed, like actively participating in a conference call.

See if you can Bring Them With You – I have a private office, and it is okay if I bring the oldest one with me for a few hours to make a meeting.  I give him a tablet with a movie and headphones or I bring crayons and coloring books, and snacks.  This is great for those 24 hours windows where they are almost fever free but can not go back to school until the time has expired. This is also super for those times when they are actually better after a good night’s rest or if they have been sick most of the week and you hate to ruin it by taking them back on a Friday.

Work When You are Under the Weather – This is the one area as a manager that I appreciate.  If I am going to miss work for my kids, I am going to avoid calling out for myself.  Essentially, if I can get up and get dressed and won’t infect my team, I am going in to the office. I may not make it all day, but I make the effort.  I assure you leadership appreciates the fact that I minimize my time out as much as possible.

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Weekend Manager Style: Do You Dress for the Job You Want?

As I start to write this article, Erin Brockovich comes on the TV and I have to laugh … she dresses in what she likes and I really do love that.  I think your clothes should reflect your personality, and you should feel good in them.  However, I do think as a manager you need to consider how out of office attire reflects you.  Here are the two questions I ask myself when I consider wardrobe choices?

  1. How would I feel if my boss wore that?
  2. Would I promote someone wearing that?

The cliché “Dress for the job you want,” is a good thing to keep In mind as you make those critical wardrobe choices. Here are some of my weekend outfit ideas.  Don’t forget my Pinterest page is full of my favorite seasonal style guides here.

Spouse’s Company Picnic (Summer) – I usually opt for a sundress with a summer weight cardigan.  That way, I am covered on the top, but not so hot.  I pair with some cute, comfortable sandals and twist my hair back in a loose chignon for an easy but polished look.

State Fair (Fall) – I love comfy jeans and I think distressed jeans are fine out on the weekend.  I pair my distressed jeans with cowboy boots, a cotton jacket, and a long sleeve t-shirt.  I find a jacket raises the level of the outfit.

Christmas Parade (Winter)  – You should be warm and comfortable, but you can still do it in something that you are okay meeting your boss’s wife wearing.  I have a really fun raspberry colored wool wrap coat that I add a navy and cream scarf around my neck, add jeans (either lined or get some cuddle duds underneath), add brown leather gloves and brown boots, and a cream turtleneck sweater.

Night Baseball Game (Spring) – I know it is a ball game, but if you are in town then you have a good chance of running into coworkers.  I like a stretch skinny cropped pant, flats, a tunic, and a layering cami.  I think the outfit has a little more polish, but is still comfortable.

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Ask Southern: Busy Working Mom Dinners

I have received several requests for ideas for weeknight dinners and what we do.  So – here you go.  Also, all of these and more are on my Pinterest page.

  1. Sunday Night Prep Chicken – While I am cooking Sunday dinner I take 2 lbs of chicken (breasts, tenders, whatever floats your boat) and I put them in my 9×13 Pyrex dish that came with a lid and I either add some chicken stock to the bottom with some seasoning or I dump whatever salad dressing floats my boat on it and I bake them at 350 for 20 to 45 minutes depending on thickness. I then let them cool while we eat and put the lid on and Voila – chicken for Monday, Wednesday and maybe Thursday
    1. Boxed mixed Green Salad – I add fruit nuts and some cheese with the chicken
    2. Roast vegetables – our current favorite is roasting halved grape tomatoes with broccoli, then add feta and a dash of Italian vinaigrette
    3. Leftover sweet potatoes mashed and warmed with a drizzle of maple syrup
  2. Rotisserie chicken (I do this for the Sundays I didn’t have time to cook) – this makes great wraps
    1. I chop and mix with black beans,corn, rotel – you can use the mixture in tortillas on salads or on chips
    2. I also do the fruit lettuce wraps.
  3. Southwestern Turkey Burgers on the stove top. I add diced jalapeno and a dash of Worcestershire for some kick and cook with the lid on and serve on whole wheat buns with avocado and pepper jack cheese.
    1. I buy Alexia sweet potato fries and bake while I am prepping and cooking
  4. Ground turkey Asian Lettuce Wraps are also a huge hit. I double the recipe so we can have it twice and have lunch leftovers for Mr. Style.
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Because We Love You: Teaching Your Children a Work Ethic

Mr. Style and I had a discussion about how our parents instilled our work ethic.  His dad used to say, “I am doing this because I love you.”  And as much as my children are going to hate this, here are the things that we are going to do … because we love them:

  1. You will have chores. You will be expected to not only pick up after you eat, keep your room and play areas clean, but you will help clean your bathroom, and help with cleaning the house. (secretly, I am hoping cleaning the toilet will teach my son to have much better aim)  This will teach you that there is no magic fairy and if you make a mess, you own it.
  2. When you are old enough, you will baby sit or volunteer working with young children. You need to appreciate what it is like to take care of another human being.
  3. We will volunteer as a family. We are blessed in so many ways, and I want you to appreciate what we have. I also want you to work in a setting outside our home to see how mom and dad give 100% to each thing they do.
  4. You will have an allowance, and a savings account. We want you to learn what money is and how it works.
  5. You will have a job for school breaks. I don’t care that your friends are spending their summer sleeping in, and going to the pool.  Your daddy and I both worked, and I promise you will thank us one day.
  6. You will not be allowed to quit a team or activity mid-year. I am sorry you don’t like the coach or teacher or some of your peers, but guess what … one day you will probably have a boss or work peers you don’t like.  I do promise to listen to your frustrations, and to give you some tools for dealing with it.
  7. I also promise that every moment you are miserable in any of these activities that it will break my heart. However, I promise that one day, you will realize we did this because “we love you to the moon and back”
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Improving the Suit: Maternity Style

I have received several Ask Southern questions about Maternity Wear in a Professional setting and post-baby clothing.

First, congratulations for all of you moms to be.  I loved being pregnant, but I also remember the tearful mornings of your pants not fitting and it is still the first trimester.  Yes, you are going to have to invest in some clothes.  However, I am going to talk you through both pre and post clothing and try to help you get good pieces that will get you through both and more than one baby.  Also, I have posted some of my favorites on my Pinterest site.

  • Bottoms – Can I wear my existing pants/skirt?
    1. Yes, if they will accommodate your widening hips. My pants that had some lycra in them worked, but they then became part of my maternity wardrobe and I had to retire them after I rediscovered my post baby hips. (My NYDJ black ponte pant was a favorite both pre and post baby)
    2. To keep wearing them invest in a belly band (They sell them at Target) or my favorite the Blanqi maternity tank (both allow you to wear your bottoms unfastened).  Yes, this means untucked tops
    3. I would still invest in at least two good pairs of pants in the next size up
      1. This will be your post-baby go to. And you will celebrate the day that they were too big.  (I had a pair of black and white check wide leg White House Black Market side zip pants that were designed to be a little loose and they were my favorite – They were comfortable and dressy)
      2. Budget Saver: Go to a consignment store to get great deals on nice clothes or shop ThredUp
    4. G yourself at least two pair of maternity pants.
  •  Blazers
    1. Wear them unbuttoned while pregnant – I did not see the use in buying a stretchy tent like jacket
    2. My favorite outfit was my NYDJ ponte knit pants with a black v neck ruched top and my cropped black and white blazer with colored heels and a great statement necklace
  • Tops
    1. What about my dress shirts?
      1. Let it Go (Save them for post baby and if breast-feeding – post that)
    2. What can I wear
      1. Knit Tops – but know that you are going to stretch them out. I like a cowl neck top that can go in the wash while pregnant and post baby and doesn’t need to be tucked in.  Look for ruched pieces as well to use early in pregnancy and post baby.  Again, go up a size in regular tops.  I found they fit better than maternity and give you post-baby options.
      2. Maternity Tops – Go for flattering empire waist tops. I liked things I could add a belt to.
  • Dresses
    1. Dresses are your new BFF (at least they were mine) – Look for empire waist pieces to use early on and post baby. Wrap Dresses can get you through all stages if you go up a size (I bought a black Old Navy wrap dress one size up).  I bought a black and white print empire waist dress at Kohl’s one size up in a stretchy fabric (I used a black cardigan belt over the elastic empire waist to dress it up and would pair with a long colored Ann Taylor cardigan to give it some interest and a pearl statement necklace)
    2. I did buy Maternity Dresses – Gap had and empire waist shirt dress that was a favorite, I bought a black knit dress
  • Post Baby Needs
    1. Belly Bandit (I wore this after both religiously for six weeks and only took it off to shower) – I got my hips back
    2. SPANX – or whatever similar brand you like – to help fit back in your clothes. I wore 2 at a time, because I always wear one
    3. If breast-feeding
      1. Pack a towel in your pump bag to avoid mess
      2. Pack wipes for cleaning up
    4. Keep a change of bra and top (in case a meeting happens)
    5. Scarves are your friends – they hide a multitude of sins
    6. All new moms – keep a spare outfit at work, I have found myself with snot of my sleeve or a yogurt handprint on my pants and Tide To Go is also a good thing to keep
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How Does a Working Mom Stop Rushing Her Children in the Morning?

First, since this is in confessions …. I am a Type A mom who happens to have a demanding job and I struggle with rushing my children.

So here are my tips on how I try to reduce the morning push / pull in my house.

  1. Sleep is Key. This means be realistic about bedtime.
    1. Kids: For the baby this is 11 hours before I need her to get up. For my son this is a ½ hour less.  Nap time for both of them effects this time as well.  For my son (if he took a nap, he can stay up a little later).  I know this is hard, because you feel so limited in your evening time with them.
    2. Me: This also means for you. I shoot for 7 hours, and know that I will probably get 6, and yes that means one more load of laundry doesn’t get done and that the baseboards in my house are just going to be dusty and I didn’t really want clean windows.  And sometimes it means that
  2. Wake Up Time Should Include Some Me Time for Everyone
    1. Kids: Both my children want time to wake up slowly and they both want time to run and be silly for about 5 to 10 minutes before they eat breakfast. I wake them up 45 minutes before we have to leave.   While they are waking up, I put away their laundry that I did after they went to bed.
    2. Me: I find that I do best if I have time to work out. It helps me wake up and puts me in the right mind-set.  I do chores for the day while I cool down before showering. (Putting the cold lunch stuff in the coolers, and add to the backpacks, I load my car, and I put away dishes that washed the night before)  This is my protected time.  Style will take care of any kid issues during this time.
  3. Give Yourself Time for the Unexpected. For example, they day the baby has a blowout when you are putting her in the car seat and you have to go back in and change her and set clothing to soak.  (Confession: That was this morning, and I found myself being angry with the baby, but it wasn’t her fault … it was my fault, I hadn’t allowed enough time.  As soon as that thought hit me, she stopped crying and we had fun as we laughed about her need for new clothes and “stinky, stinky pants” which she seems to find incredibly funny as she waves her hand in front of her nose.)
  4. Prepare the Night/Weekend Before
    1. Weekend: On the weekends, I make my mason jar salads and overnight oats for the week. I start the bento boxes for the kids for the week – the meat and cheese can be packed early.  The fruit and veggies are the night before items.  I also pack up for the baby’s sitter for the week. I plan everyone’s outfits for the week (including mine)
    2. Night: I finish the bento boxes for the kids by adding the fruit and veggies, Backpacks are laid out by the door with shoes and coats, Clothes are laid out (which is easy – since I planned at the beginning of the week)
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Improving the Suit: How to Dress Appropriately for the Heat

This time of year presents a huge dressing challenge.  You need a suit that works for both chilly conference rooms and for surviving an outdoor walk around your campus in the Southern summer heat.

Fabric – I choose a lightweight fabric.  Linen can be your friend if you buy a linen blend, and I always have it lined.  The combination of lining it and the blend reduces the wrinkling.  Another option is cotton sateen, which is just a dressier cotton that doesn’t wrinkle as easily as regular cotton.  Again, you want to get a lined pant or skirt.  A third fabric is a lightweight wool (some stores call this a summer wool or seasonless wool).  I still find this fabric to be a little hot and really feel it is better suited for days you will not be outside long or if a cool front came through.

Top – Sleeveless is your friend.  I always wear sleeveless.  Ann Taylor offers their perfect shirt online in sleeveless.  They also have some cute shell options.  I love a cowl neck shell as another option this time of year.

Skirt or Pants – The day you are hiking around campus, I recommend a skirt or dress.  However, I am old school Southern, and that means sheers on your legs.  The long day in a chilly board room is definitely a pants day.  (I also keep a pair of trouser socks and different shoes in my bag for those occasions)

Dress – I like the option of a dress – it somehow makes me feel cooler psychologically to only have a dress and a blazer.  This also gives you the option to wear a lighter fabric and the choice of something with a little more movement.

Things I Keep in My Bag to Refresh: Boogie Wipes (I like to consolidate – so these little guys are great for removing sweat and for cleaning up little monkeys), Travel deodorant, Aquage Travel Dry Shampoo (I turn my head upside down and spray a little to reboost my style and it smells great), Touch Up Make Up with Oil Absorbing Papers

 Don’t forget to check out my Pinterest page for outfit ideas!

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How to Manage Physicians: Set Them Up for Success

I had a friend ask me the other day, when I was going to tackle managing physicians.  And she held up her fists and told me to “Go Get ‘Em”.  I am afraid she is going to be disappointed

Though I have “managed” physicians that act like petulant children and even had the occasional Dictaphone thrown in the vicinity of my head, I think a discussion of managing physicians is better addressed by talking about how your team as a whole sets up physicians for success.

Let’s get some basic foundations established to understand the pieces of the puzzle and how they fit together:

  1. Healthcare is the business of Treating Patients.
  2. Physicians are Revenue Generators.
  3. Managers are Expenses.

Our job as managers is to clear the path so that our Revenue Generators can do just that.  My job at its heart is simple:

Make seeing patients as efficient as possible for my provider

This means having the clinical staff (CMAs, LPNs, RNs) take real ownership of each patient and getting the providers everything they need before they enter the room – not taking vitals and letting the patient just wait in the room with no other assistance. This means:

In addition to taking vitals, the team can administer questionnaires, draw standing order labs, and look to see if any preventative care is needed at this visit (like a flu shot or mammogram order). They can also update medications.

I encourage practices to train their clinical staff in motivational interviewing to help focus the patient on the 2-3 items they want discussed in that visit.  The staff should be partners in the patient’s care, so the handoff to the physician during the visit is seamless.

GOALS: Save time, save money, increase volume and maintain quality of care.

Schedule visits for the right amount of time, and actively manage the schedule

If you have a handful of patients who always need your longer appointment slot, then keep a list for your schedulers and make sure they are scheduled appropriately.

This also means making sure patients are confirmed for their appointments.  I have found e-mail or text messages work best.  Very few people take the time to call to cancel or confirm, but they can easily reply to an e-mail or text.  Note: Most practices I work with have less than 10% of their patients that require a phone call, but keeping a tight schedule on schedule is worth the effort.

In our practice I have found that new patients and physicals take about 10 minutes to prepare for the provider.  I book these patients in the first slots after breaks and I double book with a 10 minute phone or web visit. The staff don’t have to prep a phone or web visit and the provider just saw 2 patients in the same slot (this will help overcome the challenges below).

Ensure patient satisfaction so I maintain return customers.

At the end of the day, healthcare on the front lines is like any other business – and patients are like any other service industry client. Treat them with respect and you will keep their business and gain referrals.

Value your customers time! Patients waiting 30+ minutes to be seen (including time in your back office) is unacceptable. Period. Goal: patients don’t wait more than 5 minutes. If your physician needs 30 minutes for return visits, give them 30 minutes.  They can bill to cover the time they are spending and you will have a much better quality review from patients and are more likely to get the word of mouth referrals that are priceless.

Get feedback and give it to EVERYONE (including your docs).

Remember, your doctors are scientists at heart, and they need data to support the feedback you give them. Patient data can be gathered a number of ways., by using a free survey site and e-mail just a few days every few months or in-person post card-sized surveys at checkout are usable raw data to help you offer constructive suggestions.

How do you fix the hard stuff? Real world training.

Example: If you have a bedside manner problem, let them know.  Then find them training.

  • Toastmasters is a great way help improve their communication skills
  • Motivational Interviewing helps them find a new way to engage the patient

Remember – Nobody wakes up and says “I want to do a crummy job at work today”, including doctors, and this is a team sport. It takes ALL of us to make patient care pleasant for patients, doctors and clinical staff.

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