Christine Koh

Hello!

I'm Christine Koh, a music and brain neuroscientist turned multimedia creative. I'm the founder + editor of Boston Mamas, co-author of Minimalist Parenting, co-host of the Edit Your Life podcast, and creative director at Women Online. Drop me a line; I'd love to chat about how we can work together!

Featured Mama: Heather Kempskie

kempskie1.jpgWelcome to the 5th installment of Boston Mamas Rock! – where we’re giving a voice to fabulous local mamas, whether they be entrepreneurs, avid volunteers, stay at home moms, moms who have closet talents, authors, media professionals, politicians, professors, etc. Read on for today’s interview with Heather Kempskie, editor of P&K magazine and first time book author. Then go ahead and nominate yourself or a friend!

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Heather Kempskie, Editor, P&K magazine & book author

Christine: Tell us a little bit about your background Heather. My understanding is that you started off right after college in journalism, then left for the world of PR, and now you’re back to journalism. What inspired the changes from journalism to PR and back?

Heather: I landed my first real-life reporting job straight out of college covering Holliston for The TAB Newspapers. I got my feet wet covering small town government but soon desired a corporate PR job and all the perks that came with it (like a decent salary!). I quickly learned that I was most happy when I was promoting a service I truly believed in and really enjoyed my roles as a spokesperson for the American Red Cross as well as North Shore Medical Center in Salem. Bottom line, I was always jealous of the reporters I worked with. I wanted to be the one writing the stories, not pitching them. I was lucky to be hired as the editor of P&K. Nearly 13 years after beginning my career, I’m back in the same newspaper office I started in (but with a way cooler title!)

Christine: Editorships often times can be strictly managerial but you do a lot of writing at P&K (and elsewhere, which we’ll get to in a minute). Do you have any tips on how you effectively compartmentalize your different roles?

Heather: Writing is my passion. You couldn’t keep me away from it if you tried. I also love meeting new people and conveying their story, challenges and triumphs through the printed word. It helps me stay connected to the communities and people I serve. As editor, I certainly “manage” the process by assigning stories and editing copy but I also work closely with my freelancers – we talk about concepts, explore the angles and hopefully arrive with an end product that makes our readers feel empowered and inspired. To me the two roles of editor and writer blend naturally.

Christine: And do you feel like your parenting experience has informed the way you manage your staff at P&K? What are your favorite and least favorite parts of the job?

Heather: Becoming a parent prepares you for just about anything in life. I thought I could multi-task before but now I’ve entered turbo-mode. I guess the most important skill is the ability to work well with other parents – my “staff” is actually comprised of freelancers – moms and dads who have a passion for parenting topics and a background in communications. There is a profound (yet unspoken) understanding of our daily demands. I laugh whenever any one of them call and actually apologize because their child is making noise in the background. If I don’t get that, nobody will!

My favorite part? I’m not lying when I say I love just about everything! I get the biggest thrill when I’m on deadline and we start putting together the pages of the publication. It’s incredible to see the combined work of freelancers, myself, the design and art departments come together in a product that will be available to hundreds of families throughout greater Boston.

Least favorite? Man, that’s a tough one. I’d say that some mornings are tougher than others when it comes to heading to work for the day and saying goodbye to my children. I’m lucky, though, because my job comes with a lot of flexibility. The other night I attended the opening reception for the BIG BUGS event at Garden in the Woods in Framingham, and like most events relevant to P&K, it was for the whole family. I was working but I got to enjoy the night with my kids too!

Christine: You have two adorable kids -- where were you at professionally when your children arrived? I’m always interested in hearing how people decide on length of maternity leave, balancing child care when returning to work, etc. Can you tell us about your working mom journey?

Heather: When my son was born five years ago, I had almost every intention of returning to work but after a difficulty recovery - including surgery - I decided to stay at home with my son and loved every minute of it. I took on some freelancing work including writing for P&K magazine. Two years later, my daughter joined the family. I was eager to continue freelancing but a few of the jobs I had fell through. I remember sitting in our basement when a message arrived in my inbox. The editor of P&K was leaving. I applied for the job that day! I wasn’t quite ready to be back in an office 40 hours a week so I thankfully was able to negotiate flexible hours. I always tell other moms re-entering the workforce to be creative and resourceful. Women have an innate ability to make schedules work. I’m hoping that we continue to see more employers supporting working moms to find that work/life balance.

kempskie2.jpgChristine: You have an identical twin with whom you co-authored a new book, The Siblings' Busy Book. First, congrats on publishing your first book! How was it working with your sister on this project?

Heather: Lisa and I have always had an uncanny ability to balance each other off. Where she is relaxed, I’m a bit neurotic. Where she is creative, I’m practical. Once we had the idea for this book, we easily took on the tasks that suited our different skills and passions. Lisa, who has a Masters in Creative Education, began writing activities and I started putting together our book proposal and marketing plan. We had plenty of late night sessions editing each activity. We laughed a lot. Never fought. And always recognized how fortunate we were that some publisher had given us a shot at a lifelong dream.

Christine: I’m really impressed by the way your book takes each of 200 activity ideas and includes variations for baby, toddler, preschooler, and school age kids to illustrate how siblings can engage in the same themed activities in different ways. This must have been a huge amount of work! How long did it take for you and your sister to put these ideas to paper? And to your knowledge, is this the first book of its kind on the market?

Heather: From concept to publication, it was a three-year journey. We took advantage of naptimes and weekends when our husbands were around to watch the kids. Lisa and I live next door to each other so we saved time on travel! Originally our idea was to create an activity book for babies and toddler siblings. Meadowbrook Press asked us to expand it to include preschoolers and school-age children. We relied on Lisa’s experience as a teacher, our fellow parents and even our own kids for ideas. We also held several sibling workshops with local parents and their children so that we could test our activities. The activities in the book are all kid-approved! We’ve always joked that we really wrote 600 activities because we had to write instructions for four different age groups for each activity! And yes, we’re proud of the fact that this is the first book of its kind.

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L to R: Lisa, Jake (in lap), Noah, Brooke, Heather & Kyle (in lap)

Christine: You have dedicated enormous effort to the topic of siblings, are a parent of two kids two years apart, and are an identical twin. I’m curious about where you stand on the having kids close vs. having them far apart debate.

Heather: Listen, I’m a firm believer in realizing that in many cases you don’t get a say of how far your children will be born apart. But if we could all plan it to our liking, I would say that little of sibling relationships has to do with how close or far apart in age they are. It depends on your children’s personalities and your parenting style. My favorite book is Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. In it, they conclude that parents can set the stage for sibling harmony simply on how they react to sibling behavior and squabbles. In the first 10 pages, they give practical tips you can apply right away in your own family. As close as Lisa and I are, we definitely went through stages of, well let’s say, discord. It’s natural. Siblings are the longest relationship anyone of us will ever have. Longer than our parents and longer than our spouse. We learn how to compromise, share, negotiate and express ourselves. Our book is based on the concept that siblings who play together and create happy memories build bonds that last a lifetime.

Christine: I understand that some of your favorite pastimes are reading and hiking. What’s your favorite book pick this summer, and do you have any favorite family-friendly local hiking spots to recommend?

Heather: During a recent vacation to the Cape, I picked up a book from the resort library Where Are You Now? by Mary Higgins Clark. It’s an interesting family mystery that doesn’t require too much thought. In my opinion, it’s the perfect summer pick.

My husband I love being outdoors. Before kids, you’d find us hiking or biking every weekend. The kids have warmed up to this ritual but last year we found the ticket to get the kids excited about the experience. Letterboxing! It’s a popular family activity where participants search for hidden stamps and ink pads contained in small weatherproof plastic boxes within public places such as a park or hiking trail. You go to a Web site like www.letterboxing.org to get clues on where to search for Letterboxes in your area (there are more than 30,000 of these hidden nationwide). You can track which ones you’ve found and some even contain small prizes. My kids are more than motivated if there’s a prize at the end of the hike.

Christine: It’s also my understanding that you appeared in a McDonald’s commercial when you were a kid. How did that come about? Did they give you free Happy Meals after the shoot?

Heather: My dad worked on the corporate side of McDonald’s when we were kids. We were very cool kids because of that. When we were younger, he’d bring home buckets of happy meal toys. When we were in college, we’d always have tons of gift cards from there and treat our college buddies to a Big Mac or whatever. I remember we got a crisp dollar bill for our efforts but unfortunately, no movie deal offers!

Christine: And finally, what’s your favorite thing about being a Boston mama?

Heather: Oh, my gosh, what is there not to love? We have the best of all possible worlds. A gorgeous city full of classic family excursions such as the Swan Boats or the Children’s Museum plus some more current hip stuff like Baby Loves Disco (swank Boston night clubs opening during the day for toddlers to dance and parents to socialize) and the Institute of Contemporary Art. Then we’ve got the greater Boston area with each town brimming full of their own parks, playgrounds and kid-friendly seasonal activities. I love bringing my kids to the same places I enjoyed with my family, such as Capron Park Zoo or the Aquarium. As far as BostonMamas.com – it’s hip and fun and reminds us women that we’re always cool at heart! Thanks for all you do!

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For more from Heather & Lisa, visit their site.

Know a fabulous local mama? Nominate yourself or someone else to be featured!


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