Postpartum time warp

It’s amazing how fast time goes when you have a new little baby. The first weeks is measured in days with doctors doing tests based on hours of life and then all of a sudden on day 7 you have that first milestone, 1 week old. So bittersweet. I’m lucky to be able to take a long Maternity leave and to enjoy every moment with our precious new baby but I know so many moms who can’t.

In a culture where we hear more and more about violence and people speculating what causes this to happen I wonder in the middle of the night when I’m up feeding the baby how much different the world would be if our priorities aligned with family rather than money. If our culture idolized mothers and family units over athletes, rock stars and gossip columns. Where would we be as a collective group if we supported and recognized the amazing gift that mothers of all kinds (birth mothers, adoptive mothers, fostering mothers) bring to the table.

Around the world maternity leave is treated very differently and here in the US there’s no guarantee of any amount of time you’ll have to spend at home with your new little one.

I took a hodge podge of short term disability, paid time off, FMLA for job protection, and vacation, as well as, a phased back to work plan and I’m lucky and grateful that my company allows me to do that. As I sit here cuddling my 1 week old doodle bug my heart goes out to the women who don’t have the chance to take a break and enjoy the moment when a new baby arrives. As a country we need to do something about this. We need to recognize that 5 or 6 weeks is not enough time. Most babies are not sleeping through the night, meaning mothers going back to work at this point are stressed,  tired and unhappy. Breastfeeding moms encounter numerous hurdles to return to work at this point, often leading to a conversion to formula and more financial stress. Most babies aren’t ready to be out of their mothers care at that age and most a  moms are heartbroken to turn thier care over to another at this age, and yet most families can’t financially afford to take off extended leave unpaid even if the job is protected by FMLA.

Maybe its the postpartum hormones but this issue weighs on me and needs a public outcry.

Happy Easter!

This morning was a gorgeous experience for us! We celebrate Easter with Church services, family time and talks about the meaning of Easter. My kiddos each got one cute little stuffed animal with a note about how much we love them and the rest of the morning was spent together creatively decorating eggs.

We tried out the Volcano Eggs and the Wax Crayon eggs this year! The kids loved the more artsy feel and I loved how much fun they had being creative!

20140420-100955.jpgCheck out Volcano Eggs here!

I hope everyone has a wonderful Easter!!! He Has Risen!!!

Telecommuting Perk…Pregnancy Exhaustion Safety Net

Pregnancy funny

I’m roughly 24 weeks along with Baby #3 and never have I been more excited to be a telecommuter. I haven’t had the easiest pregnancy, though I am by no means throwing my name in the hat with those suffering 24 hour, 40 week morning sickness but the mythical 2nd trimester energy burst is still eluding me. I find that anything approaching a full day wears me out completely, forget about actually preparing dinner.

Working from home has definitely been a blessing this pregnancy in so many ways.

  1. Morning Sickness, All Day Sickness, the mad dash to the nearest bathroom, all of these have escaped the eagle eye of my co-workers who either chuckled or shook their heads in sympathy when it happened 8 years ago with Baby #1 in an office setting.
  2. Healthy food snacks are right around the corner as opposed to the never ending supply of office snacks that were tasty but definitely not healthy.
  3. Fat ankles never have to see the inside of dress shoes.
  4. Yoga pants are my work uniform and I am not upset by this!
  5. Prenatal yoga is only a 20 second commute to the room next door when I start feeling achy.
  6. Making up time for Dr. appointments has never been easier. I either drag myself out of bed a little earlier or work a smidge later.
  7. Pregnancy hormones be damned, if I don’t want to wear make up to cover up the crazy breakouts I don’t have to.
  8. The couch is just as convinient to work from as my desk is!
  9. My Keurig and I have come to a tenative agreement that if I don’t bail on my one solitary 6 oz cup a day it won’t taunt me all day long (much harder to ignore the stream of co-workers with aromatic cups all around me).
  10. The magical, wonderful, can not be overlooked extra hour of sleep given to me in lieu of commute time!

All in all I can’t imagine how rough hiding a cantankerous pregancy in the office would have been. Props to all the ladies who managed it and I thank my stars every morning that I can chill in my yoga pants, pony tail and no make-up getup and save the world from my couch!

Working from home in chaotic conditions

Some days are harder than others to work from home. Take it from me on a crazy Friday with a busy schedule, a dog who is ready to run off with the squirrel outside, and a toddler who is not quite sick enough to still be home, but not quite well enough to go back to school …I’m ready to run for the hills or at least the nearest Starbucks where I can work in peace and quiet with a steady supply of caffeine.

Here’s a little glimpse into my morning!

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I realize now I should have taken a video so you could have heard my little shih-tzu Sabrina whining at the squirrel outside taunting her from the magnolia tree you can just barely see. Time to put on the headphones crank up Pandora and get something done. TGIF!

An Organized Home makes for a Happy Telecommuter


Working and living in the same square footage is a surefire way to ensure my house is kept organized. I’m sure everyone is different, but when I worked in an office I spent the first 20 minutes of the day making my coffee, checking my messages and clearing my desk. I routinely clean out my inbox and file papers, it’s the one are of my adult life that I have always been a bit of a neat freak. When I transitioned to telecommuting this need for order followed me home.

To avoid distractions during the work day I have to make sure my office and anything else in my visual line of sight is clean. To do this I pick up each night and do a sweep each morning before sitting down to work. No matter how much I clean it seems like the morning school rush leaves a wide swath of debris throughout the house. When I get bogged down on a project or need a break it’s way to easy to start on the dishes in the sink or picking up toys. I keep my focus better when my break is spent on a quick five minute walk outside, brewing a second, third or fourth cup of coffee (yes I freely admit I’m a caffiene junkie, enabled by my trusty Keurig).

A few years ago I turned our little used formal dining room into a cozy office that I love! This transition made me appreciate how wonderful it is to have order and places for everything. Rember this redesign…

Before

Before

and

After (minus the countertop that matches the floors)

After (minus the countertop that matches the floors)

Over the last few months I have begun working on plans for my kids rooms to create this same feeling of cozy, well ordered personal space. My oldest is now in school and needs some desk space, but he’s also still a young boy and needs plenty of lego building, displaying and storage space.  For some reason this has been far more difficult than planning my daughters room. I spent some time on Pinterest locating room designs and decor that would fit my son’s style and am now trying to hunt relevant pieces of furniture down.

An organized home makes for a happy telecommuter! Have you redesigned any other areas of your home to benefit your telecommuting work situation?

 

Crafty Creations!

I have been a crafty momma lately and wanted to share! Prepare for photo overload!

Toddler princesses mounted on foam core as decorations for my daughters Princess Party.

Princess inspired tutu good bags for the party attendees! Bags from the dollar store and tulle and sequins from one of my favorite affordable online shops.

The kids loved playing in our 10 minute castle! One large cardboard box, one large sponge to sponge on the stones, a few minutes with a hot knife to cut out the windows and it was ready to roll!

A Princess party needs a Princess Dress. My daughter wanted to be Ariel but didn’t like the tight costume. So…

I hunted down some matching fabric and spliced it in to make a more traditional Princess skirt. I also added a few eye hooks to raise the mermaid tail while she was running around.

It made for a very happy girl both at her party and on a trip to Disney this year!

Summer camp brought a Pinocchia play. So we made fun facemasks for the cast!

and masks for our theatrical reading of Where the Wild Things Are!

Did you know that you can spray paint dollar store plastic table cloths for great backdrop scenes? This was a great setting for our Where the WIld Things Are reading…only thing missing is Max’s boat…

So we made that too out of a great box donated by The Mattress Firm! Grand total for everything for the two plays was under $5.

We also turned a dollar store hat into our sea monster with some cardboard horns and feathers.

Have you been crafty lately?
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I Telecommute and therefore I have more time to Volunteer!

…or do I?

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Sometimes telecommuting gives me the flexibility to commit to activities that I normally would pass up. It’s the same for the moms that telecommute and homeschool or telecommute and are active church volunteers. This year my oldest started at a brand new charter school. Everything is fresh and new, including the PTO. I have found myself quite involved in helping set up the structure, providing ideas and serving as a sounding board as we are getting things kicked off and started.

Being a brand new school and PTO we are having PTO elections in September and then jumping in feet first to get things going. I thought it might be helpful for others to see how we are making this work quickly and to provide a few tips and tricks on how to be a rockstar volunteer and a working mom.

Elections

With elections in our near future, and doing them on such a short time frame I fell back on how I had previously run them at another school. We used a process that embraced new technology to ensure fast results. We used an online survey site called www.addpoll.com to set up our elections. Each position was listed on it’s own page with bios and pictures of the candidate as well as a description of the position they were running for. This made it very easy for parents to vote online and to be familiar with the candidates if they hadn’t met them in person before.
In order to vote you had to be a paid PTO member. All paid PTO members were sent an email invite to vote but the results themselves were anonymous. We also did a paper ballot at the meeting where candidates were introduced for any parents that did not have an email address.
We also had to determine what all positions we were going to have on our board and announce them for candidacy.
PTO Board and Committee set up
After some research and from my own past experience I came up with the list of positions below. I know the VP set up is unusual, but while researching I found that there are some very successful PTOs recommending this set up to ensure that no one burns out, and each VP has plenty of time to focus on their “season”. So each VP would be in charge of 1 major event and 1-2 social events. It helps divide the labor up and focus efforts allowing them to truly oversee 1 – 2 committees instead of 10.  The position of Publicity chair is someone in charge of managing promotion for all aspects of the PTO. This is a position that came from the work I did at our previous school. I am active in social media and these days that is one of the best ways to promote events, coordinate parents and ensure our message is out. The Publicity chair would coordinate pictures from volunteers, submit information/pictures to the paper to promote the school/PTO and make sure that all membership events, promotions, notices, etc get to Facebook, twitter, the PTO website and school send home notices as needed. Committees would be created for each event or need and would report to the appropriate board member.
  1. President
  2. Vice President (focus on fundraising and overseeing seasonal VPs)
  3. VP Fall
  4. VP Winter
  5. VP Spring
  6. Treasurer
  7. Volunteer Chair
  8. Secretary
  9. Historian
  10. Publicity Chair
  11. Membership Chair

PTO Today has some great templates and I used one of their nomination forms to quickly update and have ready for our first PTO meeting.

I am also a big fan of creating a PowerPoint show for all meetings. Not only does it help everyone stick to an agenda but it’s great to post on the website later to help catch up those who couldn’t attend. I used a basic Google Doc template and did the whole thing collaboratively online.

Managing information for PTO purposes

Setting up and running a PTO with 11 board members, countless committee members and hopefully an army of volunteers can be a bit mind boggling. I like to set up a gmail account and use google docs to store all documents, budgets, committee reports etc for the PTO. You could organize them in any fashion, but we are setting up our files by position, committee, and event in the hopes that it will be super easy to pass the baton from year to year since all files are stored in a central location.
Another benefit of using an online storage system like Google Docs is that the documents can be worked on by more than one person at a time. So if the Treasurer calls the President and during the discussion both have the budget open in front of them, the Treasurer can make real time updates that the President can see. This can make it a very effective coordination tool for chairs and committees to meet by phone versus always having to meet in person.
Balancing Work and Volunteer Efforts
Be organized! This is one tip I promote over and over to ensure time for both work and volunteer efforts. Knowing how much time you have available and being organized in your volunteer efforts will ensure that you don’t over commit and that you don’t end up burning the midnight oil.
Plan up front. I know this sounds like a simple concept and that you might say you already do this, but I’m talking about a 1-2 hour, nit picky, devil’s advocate, worst case scenario kind of planning session.  You need to think through what you want to do, need to do, can afford to do and what you have the staffing to do. I set up an online form on our PTO website (again powered by Google Docs) to collect the following information for every event or promotion. There were multiple benefits to this including, we ensured that events were well planned and thought out, our publicity chair had the information necessary to promote the events and we had a running spreadsheet of every event and every step we took to promote it. This was invaluable the following year when we wanted to see what improvements were needed.

    • Name
    • Type of Communication
    • Title of Event or Subject line for email and posts
    • Who all should this communication go out to
    • When should this communication go out? (if multiple emails are needed, please list out dates in the additional information below)
    • Charge for this event?
    • Budget needed for this event?
    • Staff needed for this event
    • Event description for posts, emails, and eventbrite page
    • Additional Information
    • Will a flyer, graphic or picture accompany this communication?
    • Registration needed for this event?

Recruit! Spread the word, get some enthusiasm going and recruit others to help. Having a plan first will help you put people in roles they will enjoy and be good at.

Have fun! Probably the single most important tip. Put on good music, meet at a coffee shop, have a happy hour to get the team together and break the ice for those that don’t know each other, whatever it takes.
Thanks for reading and as always I would love to hear your thoughts! Drop a comment below!
Thanks!
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Measuring Success as a Telecommuting Mom

A long time friend of mine came up for a short visit this weekend. In the space of 24 hours we talked about old times, the future, and our families. We also talked about parenting strategies and work and how to balance paying the bills and raising strong families. We headed out for a farewell brunch this morning and over smoked salmon omelets and lemon poppyseed french toast we talked about the difference between doing work that pays the bills and doing work that feeds your soul.

We are both working moms, we both work from home offices and we both enjoy what we do. She’s busy taking the family company to the next level of success and I spend my days trying to make the world a greener, better place, but we both acknowledged that there is a need for creativity that often isn’t fulfilled at work.

I am such a strong advocate for telecommuters to set or track their hours and officially shut down or sign off at the end of a work day. Following that strategy is one of the few ways that I am able to build in time for creative endeavors that recharge me. I spend time most evenings sewing, painting crafting or creating. In a world where so many of us work jam-packed stressful hours creating an intangible products, creative endeavors give me a sense of pride and allow me the creative outlet that I love.

Does your job satisfy your need to create? Do you spend your off-work hours engaging in other relaxing hobbies like gardening or building?

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Telecommuting Tyrant Shop Coming Soon

bulldog wearing eyeglasses sleeping over a good novelOver the years I have gotten busier and busier balancing a work at home lifestyle, parenting, school activities for my growing kids, and the crafts and hobbies that feed my creative soul.

Many times over the years I have been asked what exactly makes this balance work for me. Everyone from co-workers  to contractors who come through my home want to know how to operate a business cost-effectively and what some of my favorite resources are that make my balancing act work.

After sharing that information over and over and seeing a growing need for this informaiton on a larger scale, I have spent time over the last few months boiling the best information I have to offer down into a single ebook for my readers. The most recent update to the Telecommuting Tyrant website will feature e-commerce plug-ins that will allow you instant access to purchase The Telecommuting Tyrant’s Handbook. This handbook covers advice on setting up and creating an enjoyable office environment for work, going paperless, affordable office supplies, and even a section on apps and software that will simplify your workload and increase your productivity.

In the future I hope to offer additional resources for telecommuters, inspiration and guidance for working moms, and even some of the party planning inspiration guides that have I have created for clients in the past. Stay tuned…good things are in store!

Making it work ~ Telecommuting with a Spouse

Couple Working Together at Home Just before 2012 went out in style (and escaped the dreaded Mayan end of the world apocolypse) my husband took a new job. We were both very happy with this move. It was very rewarding professional, looked like a great fit both travel wise and financially, and it was a home based position when we wasn’t on the road.
When I began to mention to people that he would be working from home alongside me now I received a lot of split reviews. There were the “Oh no” group who gasped wondering how we were going to get anything done for our respective positions. There was the “that’s awesome, now he can take the kids to school” group who, like me, immediately saw how our parenting workload might shift. And there was the “I’d never get anything done” group, who probably aren’t cut out to be telecommuters anyway.
From the start it’s been great, but there were definitely a few things that were key to our success in both working from home.

1. We new we would each need our own space. Several months back we remade our dining room over into my office (in a way that still allowed the room to serve its purpose during entertaining events). Check out the design and before and after pictures! Since my space was located downstairs we quickly determined that his “office” was going to have to fit into either the upstairs family room or our bedroom. Since my husband travels a good deal I wanted his office to be able to dissappear when he was on the road.

A few quick Pinterest searches later and I was on the hunt for one of these Armoire Style desks. I would be able to shut the doors and it would by bye bye office, hello bedroom every day at 5.

Isn't this awesome?

Isn’t this awesome?

I happened to be in our super nice Salvation Army about three days later and couldn’t believe it when there one sat!  It was in good shape, even had an L-table drop down for extra office space. I was good and waited semi-patiently until Hubs returned from that weeks travel and then promptly drug him to the store. Bada bing, bada bam…Hubs had a new office. Now I’ll be the first to admit my spacious spread and his awesome armoire are not equal but it works. We each have our own space, own office supplies, own phone lines, own printers, etc.

2. Office hours are a must. I learned this one the hard way years ago when I first became a telecommuter. I needed to shut the computer, switch off the work cellphone and walk away from work just as I had in physcially leaving an office. It is way to easy to walk by a computer, see mail sitting in your inbox and lose an hour on something that would have just as easily been tackled the next morning.  I’m a minority in my company since I still haven’t synced up my phone with the email servers and don’t work on weekends and vacations, but it helps me keep the balance between work and life.  This is something that Hubs, who is new to telecommuting is working on. I’ll occasionally search the house for him and find him hiding in his armoire checking email.

3. Find a routine that works for you. I work early in the morning, take a break to get the kids ready and off to school and then finish up by the time to pick them up. Fitting in daily exercise is something I need to work hard on this year but my routine allows me to focus on where I truly want to be, when I want to be there, in my case available for my kids after school hours. With Hubs joining me in telecommuting we’ve been able to improve on our routine, splitting up who takes and picks up each kid to allow both of us to spend some one on one time with each kid each day.

4. keepcalmandgotostarbucksA coffee frother, the gym, and Pandora…yeah I know these don’t make a lick of sense in the same sentence, but they are all vital to making telecommuting work for me. I’m a coffee fanatic and a loyal Starbucks customer through and through. Only problem is now it would mean a special trip out of the house, just for coffee to get my morning fix. I stumbled on a coffee frother at Bed Bath and Beyond one day and haven’t looked back! Each morning I mix up my own latte at home and Starbucks has become more of a treat than a daily vice.  The gym is Hubs escape. At the end of a day working from home, eating at home and not leaving other than to pick up the kids, he escapes to the neighborhood gym for a workout and some socialization.  Last but not lease, Pandora = Productivity for me. A good jamming playlist, a quiet house and a long to do list that gets knocked out quickly is a daily ritual for me.

5. Calendar blocks are also essential. When I have tasks to do that are not meetings with others or travel, I schedule them as meetings on my calendar. For instance if I need to do expense reports, work on my to do list, send a block of emails or draft a powerpoint, I make a point to put a block of time on my calendar, marked as busy to work on those objectives. The hardest part for my peers when I moved to working from home was not having the visual that I was busy. I ended up with a lot of random, last minute requests that kept me from completing my tasks. Scheduling my tasks on my calendar gave them back that visual and kept me from being overloaded with last minute piddly items.

I could go on and on but these are some of the key items that made telecommuting work for me and that I’ve shared to help Hubs be successful in his new endeavor.