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Giving working moms relief, perspective

LEWISTON -- No one knows how to stretch time like working moms, but even they need a break. And they'll get one at the "Work. Life. Me! Balancing Retreat for Working Mothers," created by two working moms: Karen Renzi, 34, of Beyondus Design & Marketing in Youngstown, and life coach Denuelle Meyer, 38, of A Balancing Act Coaching in Pendleton.

This getaway respite, paired with informative workshops, takes place Saturday and next Sunday in the Center of Renewal Retreat & Conference Center at Stella Niagara in Lewiston.

The center and the Niagara Falls chapter of the American Business Women's Association are co-sponsors.

"This retreat acknowledges the juggling act working mothers live out each day -- and the extreme difficulty many have with feeling deserving of time and money investment in themselves," Meyer said. "Your kids may be young and under foot, running you ragged as chauffeur to all their activities -- or you may be left with an empty nest.
"Either way: You are a mother, and you are working. The demands are real. Often you are left feeling, 'If only I could balance it all!' "

Workshops will offer participants techniques they can apply immediately toward more balance in their lives. There will be an introduction to the "Law of Attraction," "Organization 101," "Kicking Super Mom Syndrome to the Curb," "Eating for Mind Body Balance," and "Finance for Women."

Presenters are not only experts in their fields, but working moms who bring real-life understanding to the table. Optional extras including massage, indoor pool and reflexology.

Both women talked with Niagara Weekend Q&A, with Renzi going first:

>What's it like to be a working mom?

For one thing, every mom is a working mom. I think most moms would call themselves "Chief Family Officers" or "Chief Household Officers." In my case, I'm also a work-at-home mom entrepreneur. I own Beyondus Design & Marketing together with my husband, Alessandro Renzi, and believe me, working with your husband adds a whole other dimension to the balancing act. Life never slows down, and there are multiple to-do lists on my master to-do list. It takes constant practice to figure out on a daily basis what's really important versus those tasks posing as urgent. I'm still working on that.

>What's your typical daily routine?

I wake up with my 6-year-old first-grader, Isabella, get her ready for school, lunch packed, hear my 2-year-old, Sofia, calling me and get her up. I wait for the bus with Isabella, and my husband brings Sofia to day care or my mother-in-law.

Hopefully I can grab a cup of coffee and breakfast before jumping on my computer to check e-mail, voicemail, Facebook messages.

I spend the workday on a myriad of tasks from administration-accounting, to creative marketing work, to client meetings, phone calls, e-mail management, teaching workshops.

Isabella gets home at 3:40, so I have to hit the pause button and check in with her on homework, her day, snacks. I work until 5:15, when Sofia comes home -- maybe squeeze in an extra half-hour before dinner rush.

I then settle the kids in with some activities, snacks, while cooking dinner -- family dinner, which is important to us. We try to eat together as often as we can.

Evenings also are often taken up by networking meetings, committee meetings, volunteer activities for both me and my husband. Then there's cleanup in the kitchen, final check of homework, making sure there are clean clothes for the next day. Bedtime routine for both girls follows. By this time, bed is looking good to me, too. By 9, 9:30, things are a little quieter, and I try to take a little time for myself.

>Whew! What are your priorities?

My family first, both my kids and husband. The business has to rank, because it's the livelihood that supports the family, and I love what I do, so it brings personal fulfillment. Being involved in the community is also very important to both me and my husband -- we don't like to sit on the sidelines, so we're involved in lots of business associations, and I make an effort to volunteer.

I just finished teaching my first Junior Achievement class at Niagara Falls High School. Personal spirituality is also important, so I try my best to get to church at Youngstown Presbyterian, and of course bring the girls, in addition to reading-study on my own.

>What falls to the bottom of the list?

Cleaning the house, going out with friends, taking personal time. This "Work. Life. Me! Retreat" came about in large part because we need to put ourselves on the list, as Denuelle says. Taking time for ourselves to recharge is the one thing that can help us be better in every area of our lives. Ironically, it's often the one thing we push to the side.

>Who influences you?

Not only my mom, from early on, but also women's business groups like ABWA Niagara and the Women's Business Center at Canisius. Women's business groups offer a different kind of support than regular networking, because many of the women come from the same experience of juggling everything -- too much -- and the overlap of our personal and professional lives. I've met many women through these groups whom I value so much as mentors. Since time is the thing always at a premium, I also find connections online. I follow several sites and blogs focused on women/moms in business. It's reassuring to find that all of these successful women face the same day-to-day struggles and concerns as I do -- plus I pick up a lot of tips and inspiration as well.

>What would you say to other women?

If I could say just one thing to that mom out there who's feeling overwhelmed, inadequate, and guilty for not "doing it all" to meet their own high standards -- it's this: We all feel the same. You're never going to be in the flow every day, and it's OK. You are worth it -- you are worth taking time for and investing in, and once we all start to realize that, I think we'll find everything gets just a little bit easier. I work on it, consciously, every day. Both for myself and for my girls, because I'm their role model. And I hope I can make a difference in someone else's life, too -- just as many working moms have in mine.

>OK now, Denuelle Meyer -- what's it like being a working mom for you?

Being a "working mom" really defines all mothers. Whether they stay at home full-time while raising their family, have a career outside their home or own their own small business, like I do -- we are all working. For me, and my situation, it's multitasking like I never could have imagined. My husband, Don, also owns his own business, and we own rental properties, so our "typical day" is never quite typical, and my role is continually shifting.

>So what's your daily routine?

Wake up at 6:30 a.m., have coffee and read something inspirational for half an hour, visit with my husband. At 7:15, 7:30, begin waking up the kids for school -- Colton, 12, Amber, 9, and Trevor, 6. From 7:30 to 8:30 -- make lunches, pack backpacks, fix breakfast, help the little one pick out clothes, sign agendas, field-trip slips, book orders. My husband has already left by now, and at 8:30 the kids get on the bus. From 8:45 to 9:30, I try and walk-exercise during this time, at least four to five times a week. At 9:30, breakfast for me and shower.

From 10 to 3:30, return e-mails and phone calls for my business, assist with my husband's paperwork, meet with coaching clients -- each day is different -- writing and professional development.

From 3:30 to 5:30, kids get home from school, unless someone stays late for an extracurricular activity. I help with homework, chat about their day, head to school to pick up whomever stayed late, back home, make dinner, check e-mails. From 6:30 to 8:30 -- evenings get tricky, because my husband works long hours and often into the evening.

Several nights a week, we have Boy Scouts, soccer, baseball, horseback-riding lessons and/or swimming. I may have a client or two as well. From 7:30 to 9:30, bedtime for my little one begins. We try and read with him each night for at least 30 minutes. By then, my older ones are getting home from their events, and I attend to whatever they need, and it's bedtime for them, laundry. At 9:30 to 10:30, I attend to e-mail again -- and any work-related issues that cannot wait until morning. I also try and squeeze in a half-hour sitcom -- "Seinfeld" reruns -- before going to bed. I usually end my day with reading.

>And your priorities?

My husband, children and extended family. Being an active part in all of their lives is very important to me. My faith and religion is also top priority. It's very important that we attend weekly Mass at St. Pius X Church [in Getzville] and religion classes. Dinner together at night is also very important, no TV, no phone calls. We talk and connect as a family.

Regarding my children, priorities shift as they change and grow. Right now my youngest is learning how to read, so to keep the momentum going, the priority is a half-hour of reading each night no matter what.

Volunteering in my children's school and being involved in the community is also a priority, so I try to be in the schools and/or attend meetings several times a month. Lastly, keeping myself "On the List" is of utmost importance to me. I'm a firm believer in taking time out for myself, connecting with my girlfriends and getting away periodically -- date nights with Don. I really do try and practice what I preach as far as self-care.

>How about your childhood?

I grew up in a large busy household, where you always felt supported and loved. Don't misunderstand me -- there were difficulties, but there was an undercurrent of unconditional love. This set the stage for me to believe in myself and be confident to try new things. I always enjoyed reading and writing, and whenever I had the chance, I was pursuing that.

>Who influenced you?

My mom, Rene Batt; her mom, Milly Cragg, and all of the women who came before them, to pave the way for me to be able to be a mom and own my own business. My mother and father, Greg Batt, are amazing, resilient people who have taught me not only right from wrong, but how, if you want something bad enough, don't stop until you get it.

Years ago, while teaching parenting classes long before I had children of my own, I was feeling unsure of myself and my abilities, a colleague of mine said something I've never forgotten -- "Ya know, Denuelle? you do not need to put your hand in a fire to know it's hot." That statement had a huge influence on me, and still does to this day. It taught me that, more often than not, we aren't going to have the exact same experience as someone else, but that doesn't mean that we can't empathize with them, teach them, learn from them, and find common ground. Lastly, I also love reading inspirational and self-help books. Authors such as Dr. Wayne Dyer, Stephen Covey and Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, just to name a few, have had a huge impact on me.

The cost of the full retreat is $159, including four meals and overnight stay. The "commuter rate" is $99 just for Saturday, including breakfast and lunch. Door prizes will be donated by both local and national businesses. For more information and to register, call 304-1925, Ext. 101.

Have an idea about for a question-and-answer subject? Write to: Louise Continelli, Q&A, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240 or e-mail lcontinelli@buffnews.com

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