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Five Summer Kitchen Time Savers for Busy Moms

Categories: Making Time, The Juggle, cooking

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We are deep in the midst of summer. Nate spent last week at home with me while his daycare provider took a week off, and it was pretty great to be home, just the two of us, together every day. It was also challenging in some ways.

Because I work from home and Nate goes to daycare during the day, I am usually able to get all of the various errands, housework and other domestic tasks done that need to get done, as well as the work that I need to accomplish. Having a busy three and a half-year old at home last week made this juggle a bit tricky. I’m not sure I finished any task from start to finish. The kitchen remained a disaster area for a full week! It seemed like every time I finished cleaning up after one meal, it was time to mess the kitchen up with another.

I got to thinking about some of the ways I could save time in the kitchen during the summer months, and I’ve come up with this list of five of my favorite summer kitchen time savers for busy moms.

1. Put together a snack basket to keep in the pantry. A friend of mine recommended this idea several months ago and I’ve decided to implement it. Use baggies to put together a bunch of different kid-friendly snacks such as trail mix, goldfish crackers, raisins or cookies. Keep the snacks in the cupboard at a height the kids can reach. When they ask for a snack, instead of struggling to find something appropriate in the pantry, allow the kids to choose one of the snacks from the basket.

2. Keep vegetables cut up in the fridge. They can be used as a side dish with some meals, ingredients for a salad, a snack for kids or in our case, or for taking a packed lunch to work.

3. Keep a box of wine in the fridge. I’m totally serious. It takes up less space because it’s tall and you don’t have to worry about using a cork screw to open wine at dinnertime. Pouring a glass of wine takes only a few seconds when the box is ready to go in the fridge, and it’s always on hand for summertime guests who pop over.

4. Take an hour on a Sunday afternoon to plan out the week’s meals. Shop accordingly.

Deli for Dinner

5. When the weather is hot, forget about turning on the stove. Plan a deli night. Pick up some crusty buns, deli meats, potato salad and dill pickles. Everyone can make his or her own sandwich and fill up on a cool dinner that is just perfect for summer.

What are some of the ways you save time in the kitchen during the summertime, when the kids are underfoot?

Five Must-haves for a Functional and Beautiful Home Office

Categories: The Juggle

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My home office is not something I would ever consider beautiful. I guess that’s why I love to imagine a beautiful and organized place for me to work in at home. I do hope to remedy this situation soon, giving my home office a bit of a face lift this summer.

Because we only have one child, our three-bedroom home has a room that is devoted to work. Unfortunately, that room is also devoted to piles of…stuff. As I write, there is a pile of books on the floor that is destined for either donation or the trash. There is a box of newly-delivered business supplies in the other corner, and my recycling bin is overflowing. The vacuum cleaner has also mysteriously appeared against one wall.

I do make efforts to keep the home office organized. I have a filing cabinet, a book case, and a pair of shelves on the wall above my desk with bins and baskets for pens, post-it notes and other office supplies, but the arrangement of them is far from pretty.

Office Cat

Not exactly the look and feel of a dream home office around here…

Like recipes, I also collect photographs of beautiful home offices. And like all social media junkies, the place I turn to for inspiration is Pinterest. I have a board on Pinterest called Home Office Inspiration where I’ve gathered photos of some prettily organized home office spaces from which to draw inspiration for fixing up my home office space.

I looked at my Home Office Inspiration collection to figure out what I like best about these home offices and what needs to be done to bring mine up to snuff.

1. Natural light. My office does have a big window that faces northeast. The light in the morning is particularly lovely. All I need to do to fix up the window in the home office is to put up some curtains or another pretty window dressing.

2. Open shelving for office supplies, books and files. I do have open shelving already so they just need to be fixed up and more efficiently organized.

3. Decorative accessories and artwork. This is an area I am lacking in. My home office is functional but not stylish.

4. A soothing color on the walls. Yikes. The walls in this room are a shade of yellow called “corn muffin” or something similar. It is not a soothing color. So it seems like my first step in fixing up the home office should be to paint.

5. A simple desk surface on which to work. I’ve got a large, simple surface to work on…we picked up this IKEA desk years ago and it has worked really well ever since. I don’t need to buy any new furniture.

Is your home office setup working well for you? Is it a place you enjoy working in?

Work Flexibility and the Sick Kiddo

Categories: Career, Parenting, The Juggle

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The morning started off like many others. Nate wandered into our bedroom in the grey light of morning and climbed into bed with me. We snuggled together for half an hour or so before we decided it was time to go downstairs and settle in on the couch for coffee and cartoons.

He felt a little bit warm to me, but we had just been in bed where I had found it to be a bit warm under the weight of the duvet with Nate’s little body snuggled up with mine. He didn’t seem hungry and because he wasn’t acting himself, I avoided giving him milk, opting for a bit of water, instead.

“Take little sips,” I told him.

I waited.

He seemed okay, in good spirits and talking.

Later on, I took him to the bathroom to use the potty and get dressed, and as I was taking his shirt off, he looked…off.

“What’s the matter, buddy?” I asked him.

Then he made that face…you know, the face kids make when they’re about to puke.

By some miracle, I managed to whirl him around to face the toilet and he was sick in the bowl. I was glad I hadn’t let him have any milk.

Poor guy…it had been a long time since he was sick to his stomach. The last time he had a stomach flu he was just 14 months old. We still refer to that illness in our household as “The Great Stomach Flu of 2011” and Graham and I had both had to miss work that week to care for our very sick boy and recover from the sleep deprivation that followed.

After he was sick, I sent a text to Nate’s daycare provider to tell her we’d be staying home that day and I got him settled back on the couch with a blanket, a bowl and a movie. I rolled up the area rug and put it away for the day, the result of a lesson learned during that awful flu two years ago.

I then checked my calendar to see what I had scheduled for the day. Fortunately I had no appointments, sales calls or important errands scheduled but I had been planning to continue a freelance editing job I’ve been working on. It was very easy to put that off for the day and instead focus on taking care of Nate.

That day is the day I really understood the biggest benefit to being a self-employed parent. There was no manager or supervisor to call, no office I had to phone to notify I’d be off, no lost wages and no guilt. I could simply put aside work activities until Nate’s nap, later that evening, or the next day, even.

The real reason I now run a home-based business.

At that moment I knew for sure that the decisions I’ve been making for my family and my work have been the right ones for us!

How to be “Even Steven”

Categories: The Juggle

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Do you remember that Seinfeld episode in which Jerry calls himself Even Steven? He loses a girlfriend and meets someone the next day. He loses a stand-up gig and five minutes later another gig is offered to him. He throws twenty bucks out the window, only to find a twenty dollar bill in a jacket pocket a few minutes later.

That’s me, Even Steven.

I have often felt as though Graham and I have a guardian angel looking after our financial matters. Every time we experience a job loss, another opportunity seems to come through for us, sometimes seemingly out of nowhere.

A few weeks ago I had to make a choice between teaching in the classroom and teaching online. Sure, I’d lose some income but I figured I’d also have fewer expenses to go out of pocket for; lunch, gas, and parking fees would all disappear with the elimination of classroom teaching.

Then last week I received a text message from a former colleague at the publishing company where I used to work. “You interested in doing any freelance work?” she asked. I couldn’t believe my luck.

When I texted Graham to tell him about this, he responded with an “LOL.”

I was Even Steven again.

It has become a bit of a private joke between us that somehow, something will come through. I’m not sure if it’s just that we have good karma or that we’ve both just had so many jobs between us and work so hard at networking that some job, some source of income, some opportunity comes along at just the right time.

Whatever the reason, there are a few really easy and important ways to make sure that your name is the first one that comes up whenever an opportunity for work arises. Here are my three favourite strategies for being Even Steven:

1. Network. Join a networking group, whether it is a Facebook group of writers, a LinkedIn group or an in-person group of like-minded people. For example, I recently joined a brand new networking group for women in business in the area where I live, which I discovered through a post in an online classifieds site. The point of the group is to refer business to one another and also to learn about how to run a small business effectively. Oh, and to drink a little wine together, which I’m always a fan of.

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2. Keep your eyes peeled. Watch your social media streams for opportunities. Follow companies and websites that post the positions they have available so that opportunity falls into your social media feeds effortlessly. Then when something comes up that you’re interested in, pounce.

3. Never burn a bridge. Leave everyone you work with feeling as though they received their money’s worth by working with you or employing your services. You never know when your name might come up as the next talented individual the company wants to hire again.

Do you have good luck with jobs? What’s your best advice for people who want to be “Even Steven”?

Tips for Work-at-Home Moms to Stay Productive

Categories: Career, The Juggle, Working? Living?

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Now that my husband Graham is back to work following a layoff, it seems as though my days are even longer and more quiet than usual. I love that my professional time is increasingly mine these days to manage, but sometimes it’s hard to stay focused on building my business and staying in touch with my customers when what I really feel like doing is eating brownies and watching episode after episode of the Wonder Years on Netflix.

I remind myself that we are not paying for daycare so that I can watch television all day, and try hard to stay focused. There are a few things I do to help keep myself on track work-wise so I can be productive when Nate and Graham are both out of the house. Here are my top three pieces of advice for work-at-home moms who need to stay focused on work during the day while the kids are at school or daycare.

1. Make lists. I noticed a couple of months ago that I was waking up really early in the morning and was unable to fall back to sleep. As soon as I woke up, a switch in my brain would flip on, and I’d start running through all of the things I needed to accomplish later that day. I described this to a friend of mine, who recommended I start keeping a notebook for my ideas and lists of tasks. This was great advice, and now I keep not only a daily list, but a weekly list of appointments and tasks that I can fit in and around my appointments and errands. Now, if I wake up early, I just think of that list and I can go back to sleep, secure in the knowledge I have everything written down.

2. Shut down. When I really need to focus, I close all of the program windows and browser tabs on my computer that aren’t in use for the task I’m tackling right then. I switch my iPhone over to silent mode and flip it over so I won’t be distracted by any visual notifications. When I need to stay focused, social media can be a real distraction for me, so I eliminate it from my surroundings until I’m ready to take a break.

3. Prioritize. When the list of items gets too long to accomplish in one day, I start moving things up and down the list. For example, I can send out product samples another day in order to meet a deadline today. I do the tasks that require my undivided attention during the day, and save housework and other jobs that require less focus for the evenings. Laura Watt, owner of Cubits Organic Living agrees.

“Do not do laundry when kids are out! You can do that with them or with your partner or have [him or her] do it.”

Smart advice, Laura!

Do you work at home or run a home-based business? What’s the best method you’ve come across for staying focused?

Considering Marissa Mayers’ Memo

Categories: Career, The Juggle

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This week the major topic of conversation in my Twitter stream is CEO Marissa Mayer’s assertion that employees at Yahoo! would no longer be welcome to work remotely due to the fact that the practice is bad for productivity. The general consensus among those I follow ranges from outrage to disappointment.

As a person who once worked a full-time permanent position as a Content Editor from the comfort of my own home office, I have an opinion about Ms. Mayer’s decision: I think it’s silly. It’s silly to say that employees who are often more productive at home should now spend money out of pocket on travel expenses to get to work. It’s silly to assume that being present in a cubicle will make an employee more productive. And it’s silly to assume that an employee will be more engaged in his or her work simply due to physical proximity to colleagues and management.

I’d argue that working from home makes employees more engaged with their work. Photo credit: Monster College.

For the past two and a half years I’ve been teaching communications classes online while teaching various general education credits during the day in the classroom on campus. The debate over the merits of work-at-home employment arrangements was a timely one for me because I was presented last week with a choice: I would have to choose between teaching classes in person, on campus and teaching online. This, due to a rule that is still foggy to me, and is never very clearly explained by my employer.

In any event, I had to weigh up the choice. Would it be best for me to continue to drive to the college at my expense for gas, parking and commuting time, or would it be better to stay in the comfort of home, where I could schedule my time to interact with my students according to my own schedule? I think Marissa Mayers would say, without hesitation, that I should choose the option that would take me on campus regularly, where my students would benefit from the “speed and quality” of my presence at school. I think my online students would argue with her; I’m in contact with them on a daily basis and thanks to technology, as constantly available to them during business hours as I am to the students I meet in person.

In the end, I decided that I prefer my online teaching job. It allows me to do my work without spending any extra money to go to work, and I can really put my professional strengths such as communication, technology and time management to good use. There will be no more need to rush home from campus in another city in time to pick Nate up from daycare. There will be no more need to wake Nate up and get him to daycare early in the morning on those days I have an early class. The ability to juggle my home and family life with my professional aspirations makes me more appreciative, more engaged with the work I do from home.

I wonder what Marissa Mayers would say to that?

Do you agree or disagree with Ms. Mayers’ decision that employees are more productive when they work in the office? If you worked from home at Yahoo!, would you find a new work arrangement that would allow you to continue to work remotely, or would you head back to office life in a cubicle?

Shift Work for Beginners

Categories: Career, The Juggle

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When Graham and I had only been married for a few years, I took a job at a brand new arena in a city about a half hour away from our home. The arena was just opening up and my job was to be the Assistant Manager of Suites and Catering. If you’ve been part of any brand new enterprise, you’ll know that opening a venue like an arena for the first time is no small feat; getting all of the private boxes or suites ready for the guests who were paying top dollar to occupy them during concerts or hockey games was a hefty job.

Doing that job required some long, late hours at work. Graham was very understanding when I would text him at midnight telling him to go to bed, that I wouldn’t be home for a few hours. I distinctly recall arriving home after a particularly long night at the site around four o’clock in the morning. I was barely in bed and asleep before it was time for Graham to get up for the day and head to work.

Several years, many jobs and one kid later, we are now experiencing the phenomenon of the night shift once again. Graham was offered some work during the night shift at his job site and decided to give it a try, since it would be for short term and also because the pay would include a premium.


Image source: Alday Consulting Services

Last night was the first night we ventured into the world of shift work. Nate went to bed around 8:00 and that left me wondering what to do with myself when the usual time for my bedtime came along.
I tweeted, “It’s throwing me off completely! Shift starts midnight. Do I just go to bed? Do I wait up? What’s the etiquette?

While it may seem ridiculous to consider etiquette when it comes to one’s spouse’s work schedule, I was baffled. It felt rude to just go to bed but I didn’t want to stay up until he left the house after 11:00. In the end, I watched old episodes of Beverly Hills 90210 until I dozed off and he came to kiss me good night and left for the night. I slept horribly…waking up repeatedly to check and see that yes, he was not asleep beside me (although it was certainly a more quiet night than I was used to).

The whole experience got me thinking about families who deal with shift work. I put the word out this morning, asking my Twitter followers to tell me what their favourite thing is about shift work, and asking what their least favourite thing about shift work is, too.

Some of the responses I received included:

@theanykey:

“Favorite part? Maybe the bed to myself.”

“He definitely doesn’t sleep well because of the transition, and it is difficult to let him sleep well because the kids are noisy.”

@minderella:

“Fav is that during the days he’s home (even though he’s sleeping) I could put a toddler down for a nap and leave with the older kid if I wanted to.”

“Least is that he doesn’t get proper sleep.”

I didn’t hear from any women who actually work night shifts, but I’d love to hear from them and how this affects their family life.

Do you deal with shift work in your family? What is your favourite thing about working at night? What is your least favourite aspect of working shift work?

Three Awesome Apps for Busy Working Moms

Categories: Career, The Juggle, Working? Living?

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Is there a working mother alive who doesn’t feel like something is missing if her smart phone isn’t nearby? If there is, I’d like to meet her, and ask her how she manages to stay connected to her job and her family without the use of the technical tools I’ve come to rely on so much to do business and be available to my family. Of course, I realize that it’s physically possible to get through the day without my iPhone at my side, without Facebook to connect me to my network of colleagues and customers, but it would be a challenge!

I use my phone not only to make calls, but to make sure that my daycare provider is able to get in touch if necessary if something happens with my son. I use my phone to answer e-mails from students and clients who get in touch with me throughout the day. Judging from the responses of other working moms I’ve talked to about smart phone use, this is pretty much par for the course.

There are some other apps, though, that I’ve come to rely on almost every day for staying organized and running a business and household.

Motivated Moms. Motivated Moms is “a yearly chore calendar”, and it has been a lifesaver for me on occasion. When the house is just too cluttered, too dusty, too messy, I start using this app to help me get the house back on track. Every day there is check list of household chores that need to be done and I just check them off as I go. After about a week of using the app, I’ve made my way through the house and feel much better about things. If I had the time, I’d love to use this 365 days a year but a mom has to sleep, right? Motivated Moms isn’t a free app, but it’s one I feel is worth buying.

Track My Mileage. Now that I run my own small business, it’s important to keep track of the mileage on my truck to make sure that I can claim the right amount for our taxes next year. I started doing this task in a notebook but I was really bad at it. I forgot all the time in the beginning, until I got an app installed on my phone to take care of this. The best part is, you can e-mail yourself the tracked data as an Excel document for business bookkeeping purposes. I’m using the free version of this app.

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ArtKive. Once in a while, Nate brings home something special that he’s made at daycare. I’m totally the kind of mom who would keep every piece of artwork he creates throughout his entire school career. The collection has started and he’s not even in school yet! Then I discovered ArtKive. According to the Apple App Store, “Never again feel guilty about throwing away artwork your kids bring home. Get rid of the clutter and start to enjoy your child’s work.” This description gets it just right…all I have to do is take a picture of Nate’s creation and I have a copy saved for good! I can also send the picture to a select network of family members if I want to.

What are the apps you can’t live without as you go about the business of working and caring for your family?

In Defense of Daycare

Categories: Career, Parenting, The Juggle

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Most weekday mornings Nate and I have our regular routine…he eats his cereal bar or toast with honey and watches his cartoons while I inhale coffee and read my Twitter and Facebook streams. When he asks what I’m doing, I tell him I’m reading my news. Among the “headlines” I encountered earlier this week was a tweet written by a woman I follow on Twitter. She wrote there about how badly she is suffering now that all of her kids are in school full-time. She is a full-time stay-at-home-mom who is feeling lost at this point in her children’s lives and doesn’t know quite what to do with herself.

I could not relate to this at all.

Whenever I hear other mothers talk about how much they would love to quit their jobs and stay at home full-time, I become uneasy. It’s not that I don’t support their wishes and goals; it’s just that their wishes and goals are so vastly different from mine at times.

I’m a very happy work-at-home (and some days outside of the home) mom. I would not be a happy stay-at-home mom. This is a notion I feel responsible for justifying all the time. For example, I mentioned to an acquaintance at the end of the last school year that I would only be working at the college one day a week this year. Her response congratulated me on the fact that I’d be able to save a lot of money on daycare since I’d be home with Nate the other four days a week. I sheepishly informed her that we’d be keeping him in daycare full-time.

“He’ll be going to school next September anyway, so we want to keep his routine going,” I said.

“I’ll still be working from home some days with my school work and I still teach those online courses,” I went on.

“He loves going to daycare…he has so much more fun there with the other kids than he’d have at home with me,” I concluded.

Nate goes to daycare

Nate goes off to daycare with his buddies.

I felt the need to explain myself because mothers are supposed to want to be home all the time with their kids, aren’t they? Activities like creating homemade craft projects and healthy lunches together and peaceful, productive outings with our children are supposed to be the epitome of mothering small children, aren’t they? Well, Pinterest lies. Life with kids at home isn’t like that.

It doesn’t matter how I try to describe the reasons why I don’t want to be a stay-at-home mom, they always come out wrong. At first, my defensive nature kicks in and my justifications for continuing to send Nate to daycare full-time while I work from home always rouse my own inferiority complex about the kind of mother I am.

Then I take a breath, tell myself to relax, and remind myself that it doesn’t matter what my reasons are…having Nate in a great daycare arrangement is what works best for all of the members of our family, even on the days when I’m at home by myself.

Five Favourite Easy Meals for Working Moms

Categories: The Juggle, cooking

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It’s my job to make sure supper is made for my family seven days a week. On occasion my husband will help out by barbecuing something for supper, but even then, the planning of that meal and figuring out what side dishes will go with the barbecued portion of the meal usually falls to me.

Most days I work from home, so the planning and execution of dinner isn’t too difficult to manage. It’s those days when I’m working at the college, heading out the classroom door at 4:00 on my way to pick up my son from daycare by 4:30, and hoping to have dinner on the table by 5:30 when my husband gets home from work that are the real challenge. Phew. It tired me out just writing that sentence!

Fortunately, I have a few tricks up my sleeve in the dinner department. There are a few meals that I like to have ready to go for those hectic days when it seems like everything has to be done and ready all at once. I rely on my crock pot a lot on the really busy days, but it’s not always necessary to use the slow cooker to make a good, quick, meal that will satisfy a carpenter’s appetite.

Here are five meals that are my favorite to cook when I know I’m going to be pressed for time to make dinner for my family.

Chili: My son Nate is a picky eater, but one food that he has always loved is chili. This baffles me, but I don’t question it because chili is one of few dishes that all three of us can sit down and eat together. My crock post chili recipe is very easy and can be put into the crock pot in the evening and turned on first thing in the morning before heading out the door. There are so many chili variations out there. Pick one, practice it on the weekend, and make it work for you through the week.

Chili Ingredients

Spaghetti and Meatballs: Is there any family who does not rely on spaghetti and meatballs once in awhile when in a pinch? I buy large jars of sauce and leave frozen meatballs to simmer in that sauce in the crock pot during the day. Then all I have to do when I get home is cook the spaghetti noodles and open the wine.

“Clean out the Fridge” Chopped Salad: For this meal, a little bit of planning is needed. The night before a busy day, I comb through the contents of my fridge for any tidbits that would make a garden salad into a deluxe, dinner-sized salad. I chop lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, celery and any other vegetable I find and store this in the fridge in a sealed container. Leftover roasted chicken, pork tenderloin or even cubes of leftover steak are wonderful additions that tend to please the meat-eater of the house (my husband). I also like to add things ingredients such as chick peas, black beans, dried cranberries or small chunks of cheese. When I get home from work, all I have to do is toss everything together and choose a dressing.

Chunky Chef Salad

Buffalo Chicken Sandwiches: Because we have a preschooler at home, we eat chicken fingers fairly often. Graham and I don’t care for them plain, so we toss ours in Buffalo wing sauce and throw them on a crusty bun with a slice of tomato, lettuce and a squirt of Caesar salad dressing. Sometimes I’ll serve it with raw veggies and dip, but sometimes I’ll just serve it with fries. The prep time on this meal is low and the enjoyment factor is high.

Pulled Pork, Burrito-Style: This combination of foods is a new one to me, as my cousin’s wife just shared it with me last week. She told me to throw some pork chops or pork tenderloin in the crock pot with a pouch of taco seasoning, a jar of salsa, a can of black beans, an onion, some garlic powder and any other ingredient I’d like such as chopped green peppers or corn, then cook on low for at least eight hours. Then I shred the pork and stir everything all together, then serve on warm tortillas. I tried out her recommendation the day after she suggested it and the meal immediately became a new favourite of ours.

What is your go-to meal for busy weeknights when you’re on the clock?

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