Category Archives: Mommyland

How to be creative — Tip #1

Luke runs toward the shallow waves of the Gulf of Mexico

Don’t grow up too quickly, lest you forget how much you love the beach. — Michelle Held

I don’t know about you, but I find it all too easy to fall into what I call the “routine rut.”  Routines are great, especially when you have kids, because it keeps you on track and there are (hopefully) fewer meltdowns.  But routines can also lead to boredom.  For me, a creative, that can lead to all sorts of problems — everything from anxiety to lack of inspiration.

It’s just tough to feel creative when you’re slogging through each day, just putting one foot down in front of the next.

How do you get back that creative spark?

Cindy’s Tip #1: Get outta town

For the first time in years, the family and I took a road trip.  Since Luke was born, the farthest we’ve ventured from Austin has been San Antonio.  It was time to get away.  So we packed up the kids and headed out.  Along the way, we stopped at the beach for a few hours.  It was the first time either of my kids had been to the beach, and that’s why we initially decided to stop, but it turned out to be just as important for me as for them.

Hanging at the beach relaxed me.  It reminded me how much fun it is to be splashed by a wave, feel sand between my toes, have tiny fish brush and nibble at my legs.  Time sped up and slowed down all at the same time.

By the time we drove away, I was already refreshed.  And I was excited about returning to work, because I had had time to reflect on my projects in my downtime and I had new ideas I wanted to try.

A change of scenery can do the opposite of what you might expect.  It can inspire you and spark creative ideas.  In essence — it can help you be more productive.  And it’s not just good for you — it’s good for everyone around you.  I had time to reconnect with my kids and husband during our trip.  That’s something that’s tough to do when you’re putting in long hours during the week and rushing around on the weekends trying to run errands.

Yep, a road trip (and specifically the beach) was definitely good for my creativity.  How about you?  What do you do to find inspiration?  Have you traveled anywhere that has changed your mood?

 

The curse of South Mopac

I wonder how many kids still hear the old superstitions.  You know — “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.” or “Step on a line, you have to pay a fine.” I was never one for paying too close attention to superstitions (I love black cats), but I remember walking home from the bus stop many days and carefully avoiding any lines or cracks in the sidewalk.

I’ve read about lawyers who hold tight to superstitions during a trial, out of worry that any change in the routine could jinx the case.

In my house, we hold reason and science above all else.  But there is one thing that gives us pause.

Mopac and the curse of the crying baby.

Nearly every time we drive Mopac — north or south — between LaCrosse (Wildflower Center) and 2222, my daughter cries.  Hard.

We have often ventured south to visit friends off Slaughter Lane, and many times on the way home, Mads has wailed — loudly.  Luke and I do our best to soothe her by singing our favorite tunes.  Sometimes it works.  Sometimes it doesn’t.

It’s become something of a joke now.  “Uh-oh.  We have to go south.  Will Mads cry?”

Until she actually starts crying.  Because it’s not fun being in an enclosed space with an unhappy baby.

Kermit the Fros plays his banjog and sings The Rainbow ConnectionWhat do we sing?  I’m pretty proud of my repertoire, which has grown by leaps and bounds since Luke was a wee babe.  My go-to hits are “The Rainbow Connection” and “Moving Right Along” from the Muppet Movie.  I also know quite a few Laurie Berkner tunes and “Bushel and  a Peck.”

Why not just put on soothing music for babies?  Well, it’s doesn’t really work for Mads.  She quiets down much more quickly when a real person sings to her.  And since I don’t mind singing in public or being goofy, it works for me.

I wonder what people think when they hear me singing  a Kermit the Frog song? It can’t be any worse than the curse of South Mopac.

Identity crisis: Me and my blog

“Blogging is hard.”

I went to a presentation at the Statesman for work this past week.  It was all about multimedia and mobile and online — geared for businesses in health care.  Since I now work for a health clinic, I was invited and decided to check it out.

A sales guy for the Statesman threw a lot of numbers at us about how people use the internet and what they’re searching for.  It was interesting.

There was also a discussion about social media.  The social media editor for the Statesman got up to talk about how the newspaper takes advantage of Twitter and Facebook to cultivate readers and develop a community.  Someone asked about blogging and whether businesses should have blogs.  The response: Blogging is hard.

It’s true.  Blogging IS hard.  Especially when you don’t have a clear focus.  Just look at this blog.  It’s been 2 months since I’ve written in it.  I just don’t know what to say, what to share.

Do people really want to know about the nitty gritty details of my life?  Do they really care about my business?  Will I come off as a naive idiot?  Will they laugh at my ignorance?

I really do worry about these things.  I worry about my online persona.  How real do I want to be?

Tirades used to be a lot more personal.  Then it kind of became a pseudo work blog.  And I spent more time on my other blogs.  Tirades has been withering.

We’re in the middle of an identity crisis, me and my blog.

I guess it was inevitable, since I’m going through such a crazy transition right now.  Motherhood.  Career changes.

And I worry about how much I can talk about my life without turning off potential clients or current employers.

Here’s what I need to remember, though.  This blog can be whatever I need it to be.  You know what?.. I could give a flying crap whether anyone reads my blog.  I started it 7 or 8 years ago as my first online voice.  We’re still marching along.  I’m changing.  No… evolving.

And so dear reader, if you even exist, I’m going to stop worrying about trying to present myself in the most positive light.  This blog is no fun as a strictly business blog.  My career is a huge part of my life, no doubt, but Tirades is not going to give you advice on how to design web pages.  Tirades is not going to try to sell you on my skills.

No, Tirades is going to be about stories.  I’m going back to my roots.  I used to write stories.  I spent hours writing stories when I was a kid.  I love to write.  Sometimes my stories will be about my work.  But I bet most of the time they’ll be about those funny instances that stand out.  Like the time I was driving when Andy told a joke and I nearly ran off the road.  Or when I wandered around the Statesman parking lot searching for my car while talking loudly on my phone about the fact that I couldn’t find my car.

I will blog every other day.  I will share my stories, whether through words or pictures.

Yeah.  Life.  I just want to be real.

What’s a nursing mom to do?

Cindy holds Madeline right after her birthWould you eat dinner that was cooked in a public bathroom?

How about a fried egg after someone just flushed a toilet? Or maybe a sandwich?

Most people would give a resounding “NO” to that question. It’s gross, right? And yet that’s what people expect babies to put up with when it’s chow time and their mom doesn’t feel like hiking up her shirt in front of thousands of people.

In Texas, nursing moms are legally allowed to feed their babies in any public place.

Unfortunately for me when I attended SXSWi, I did not have my baby with me.  It probably would have been easier had she been with me.  Then I might not have dealt with what I did.

I took my breast pump with me to the conference each day (I live in Austin), and when I arrived on day 1, I asked at the info booth if there was a room where I could sit and pump — not a bathroom, because that’s gross.  Using a breast pump is not very discreet, and it sounds like a milking machine.  I did not want to be out in a hallway.

They were very nice, asked a lot of people, then sent me to another info booth when they couldn’t find the answer.  Same thing at the next info booth — very nice and understanding, and told me a room was available beginning on Saturday at noon.  They even told me where it would be — Mezzanine 2 in the Convention Center.

Cool.  I was jazzed.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t true.  On Saturday at noon, I trooped up to Mezzanine 2 to find a door that said it was under “lockdown,” and watched a staffer walk in.  I glanced inside for a moment to see several people staring at computer screens.  Dumbfounded, I searched out an info desk again to ask.

Again, the volunteers were very nice, but they couldn’t find the answer.  One even offered to walk with me back up to the room to ask what was going on.  Inside, we found a very busy SXSW production room with staffers who had no idea what I was asking about.  One staffer offered to find out.  He called and then ran down to find someone who could answer my question — was there a room where I could pump in private?

The answer: No.  Apparently there had been a room in 2010, but not this year.  And then the staffer told me he knew of a one-room handicapped bathroom where I could pump.

“Is that OK?” he asked.

“Do I have a choice?” I replied.

I was angry.  I was annoyed.  I had wasted so much time and missed a panel session in search of this phantom room.  I tweeted my frustration:

Dear #sxswi: really? No room for nursing moms? I have to use a bathroom? You suck. Really. Thanks.

Then, after fighting through a crowd to find the bathroom, I discovered it was locked:

So the “single” bathroom I was directed to is locked and no sound inside. Hmmm… Stall or car? #thissucks #sxswi

And that’s when I went to my car.

My friends tweeted about my experience, and I even talked to a SXSW staffer at the Digital Moms Meetup who seemed very sympathetic to my predicament.  The next day I got this response:

@cindybrummer Not sure who you talked to, but we very much support breastfeeding in public here at SXSW. (Many (cont) http://tl.gd/98qhie

I felt embarrassed when I saw it.  Had I really thought they were keeping me from doing my thing?  I just wanted to crawl in a hole.  But then, later that day, as I made the trek to my car — in the heat — to pump, I started to wonder whether SXSWi misunderstood what I was asking for.  So I sent a direct message — since that seemed to be the only way to get a response.

sxsw: So, is there going to be a room available for me to use my breast pump? I’d like to not use my car mon and tues…

Crickets.

I heard nothing.  I took it as a huge no, and I quietly went about my business.  I made it work in my car, trying not to feel entitled to a precious room, but still feeling the sting that some mother last year was allowed privacy to nurse or pump in air conditioning.

I tried to be positive — at least I was parked close by.  And at least I only had to miss two panels a day.  And at least I didn’t have to lug around my pump.  Still, I can’t imagine what I would have done if I had taken the MetroRail instead of driven.  I guess I would have used a bathroom stall.

Gross.

Should I have made a bigger fuss?  That’s not really me.  I didn’t want to go to bat over a breast pump.  And I don’t want people to think I felt like SXSWi should have set aside a giant room just for me.  But it steams me the amount of conflicting information I received and how much time I wasted trying to seek out that information.  If I had learned on Friday that there would be no room, I would have been disappointed and moved on, rather than spending so much time getting to the bottom of it.  And yes, it sucks that last year there was a room, but not this year.

It won’t be a problem for me for SXSWi 2012.  I don’t plan on breastfeeding that long, but if you’re a nursing mom who’s planning to go — be aware!  If you’re like me and you like being discreet, it might be easier for you to just bring your baby.

How to manage the baby-work balance

I’ve been easing back into a regular routine for the past three months, ever since the birth of my daughter.

I’m finding it exceedingly difficult.

Here’s my question: Can there be a balance between working from home and taking care of a baby?

I wish I knew the answer.

I have found that baby care threatens to overshadow working at home.  Try as I might to find balance during the day, the fact remains that I am her primary caregiver and her needs must be met.

But just because there’s no 50-50 balance doesn’t mean it’s impossible.  It IS possible to do both if you finagle things just a bit.  Here’s what I’m trying to do:

  1. Ask for help
    I used to find this really hard, but over time I’ve grown up.  A LOT.  And I’ve realized that everyone needs help now and then, even those of us who have a strong urge to go it alone.  I need help getting everything done, and I’m really fortunate that I have a supportive family and friends.  So I lean on that support network for watching baby when I have meetings or deadlines to hit.
  2. Rethink working hours
    I would absolutely LOVE to put in my work hours between 9 and 5, but that just isn’t going to happen at this stage in baby’s life.  I can do some, but not all.  So I try to think creatively.  When the kids are awake and active — household chores!  But I work on projects at night, early in the morning and on the weekends when the kids are asleep or otherwise occupied with Dad.   It’s quiet.  It lets me think.  Yes, I do lose out on a little sleep, but not so much that I suffer.
  3. Email is a mom’s best friend
    I try to do most of my communication via email, when it doesn’t matter if you answer at 2am.  Also, clients can’t hear the baby crying through email.  It’s awesome!   If I have to take calls, I try to schedule them when there’s little chance the baby will wake and start crying.

It’s not easy having a baby and trying to run a business, let alone work.  But I’m managing.  In the end, I love both of my jobs (mom and business owner), and I can’t imagine giving up either.

Reflections on 2010

2010.  Oh my… what a year!

Every year — in the week between Christmas and New Year’s — I find myself in that thoughtful place of transition between the current year and the one to come.   I find myself eagerly anticipating the new year, as if a slate is to be wiped clean and the possibilities of dreams I have not yet realized are closer.  All too often, I forget what amazing things I’ve already succeeding in accomplishing.

It’s easy to brush aside the past year as we set new goals, but I think it’s also important — if not necessary — to look back.  Sometimes I can be a bit hard on myself when I think of what I haven’t done, and assessing the past year is a good way to appreciate all that I HAVE accomplished.

Here’s what I did in 2010:

  1. Left KVUE to pursue web design business full time
    This was a major goal in 2010, and I’m proud that I finally had the courage to take this step.
  2. Secured 3 clients — 1 of them new
    It’s not as much as I aimed for, but it’s a start.
  3. Had a baby
    The birth of my daughter was so momentous.  It’s tremendously difficult maintaining that balance between work and family, but I’m so glad I’m able to work from home and be there for my kids.
  4. Learned to use Quickbooks
    OK — I’m still struggling with this, but I know enough to get by for the time being and aim for hiring a bookkeeper in 2011.
  5. Went to SXSWi
    South by Southwest Interactive was an amazing experience for me.  I learned so much about technology, trends, the industry and the business of the industry that I was able to venture out on my own with a bit more confidence than I otherwise might have had.
  6. Continued my education
    It’s imperative for people in my chosen profession to stay in the know, and I did my best to advance my knowledge.  I started learning as much as I could about PHP and how to design and develop with Joomla, Drupal and WordPress
  7. Connected with other small business owners
    Through the City of Austin Small Business Development Program, I started meeting other people who could potentially help me or hire me in the future.

Now that I’ve looked at my 2010 accomplishments, I can get down to business making goals for 2011, and those goals can be specific and build upon the foundation I’ve already laid.

Happy goal-making!

Holiday gifts

I love this time of year.  So many houses are covered in sparkling lights; light posts and columns are covered in greenery and bows; everyone seems to be telling inspirational stories; and the excitement is builing among kids who know that Santa is on his way.

Speaking of Santa, my kids got to see him last night as part of KVUE’s Santa special.  I feel very grateful that I was invited to attend this year, even though I no longer work there.

Luke’s like to call him “his” Santa, because he’s seen him every year since he was a baby.

I’m not sure he asked Santa for anything this year.  He was too happy with the candy cane he received with a small ornament to mark the occasion.

I’ve read various posts lately by people decrying the commercialism of Christmas.  I no longer watch TV (except some clips online here and there), so this is the first year I’m not bombarded by the constant pelting of Christmas advertisements.  I have to say — it’s really nice.  But I understand the frustration that Christmas buying has gotten a bit out-of-hand — overshadowing Christmas GIVING.

Heck — getting presents is Luke’s favorite part of Christmas.

But I’ve been trying to be sneaky and emphasizing all of the other parts of Christmas that I enjoy — the music, the decorating, the feasting and the giving.  And this year, we’re making a lot of things ourselves in order to slow down and spend extra time together.

For example — I just bought a plaster of Paris kit to make handprint ornaments with the kids.  It should be a lot of fun!  And we’ve invited over another family to make gingerbread houses.  And I won’t be using a kit!  I’m going to make gingerbread and royal icing myself and everything.

And we’re also making some of the gifts we’re giving.  Earlier this year I made blackberry and strawberry jam.  We also just had a huge bounty from the persimmon tree, and yesterday, I made spiced persimmon butter with the kids. (Check out the gallery below!)

While making gifts does take more of en effort that picking up something from the grocery store or mall, it is not only cheaper, but also more special many times.  I love the handmade touch.  And I hope the people who receive my handmade gifts understand how much care and attention went into creating them.  But even if they don’t — just thinking that they’ll enjoy them is enough for me.  After all — we remember life’s experiences, right?  That’s what it’s all about.

On a hiatus

So, there hasn’t been much activity here in the past few months, but I’ve had a very good reason — the birth of my daughter.

Starting around the 9th month of pregnancy and up until now, I haven’t had much interest in even sitting down at the computer, much less updating a blog.

It’s not like I have an amazing amount of free time now, but it’s time to settle back into a regular schedule again — as much as is possible with a newborn.

Working from home will continue to be a challenge — even more so now with two children — but I’m learning when I can have a few hours during the day to work uninterrupted.  Fortunately, my 4-year-old is in school most of the day, so it’s easier to find those moments — as fleeting as they may be.

What helps is my body’s need to sit and relax.  If I didn’t need to heal, I would be running around trying to take care of endless chores, housework and errands.  As much as I hate having to rest and the associated pain that is causing that need, I’m choosing to view it as a good thing.  Not only am I figuring out when I can work, but drastically slowing down has allowed me to catch up on reading, both professionally and for fun.  It’s been a long time since I actually read a book in its entirety that wasn’t for my son.  In the past couple of weeks I’ve read 5 books.

I have a feeling I’ll be headed to a bookstore soon… or maybe I should get one of those Kindle’s — Andy, my mom and many friends say they love them.

Work-home efficiency tips

Rosie the RiveterEven though we no longer have a nanny and I am now the primary caregiver for my nearly 4-year-old and soon-to-arrive daughter, leaving my full-time job in May does not mean I am a stay-at-home-mom or find it easier to balance the home-work life.

The challenges of working from home are even tougher.  There’s no way to escape some days.  And some days I put in even longer hours just to make sure I can get it all done.

So when a friend/fellow working mamma wrote a blog post about tips she gathered to help with that balance I eagerly read it:

Top 10 Efficiency Tips to Simplify the Mamma Juggling Act

Honestly, I was hoping there would be something there I haven’t already tried.  But I guess I’ve been doing this so long — although not at this level of intensity — that I’m an old hat at balancing this stuff.  But there are some good suggestions in there for moms new to this world.

Not every tip works for every household, but some of the general concepts are important.  If you have a spouse, being a team is SOOOOOOOO important.  Andy and I have our challenges, but in essence, we function as a team.

I don’t have the patience to keep a giant calendar that I actually have to physically write on. That seems really inefficient, too.  I have a master calendar on my computer that I sync to my iPod and Google Calendar.  Andy and I share our Google calendars so we know what we’re doing.  It’s not a perfect system, but it works for us.

Communication is the key, though, and if that breaks down, the teamwork and the calendar break down.  Since I’m usually on a computer, I use instant messaging to talk to Andy when I need to let him know about schedule changes or ask a question.  And I’m not afraid to call, text or email the people I need to when I need help.

So my top efficiency tip is:  Communication.  And not just about schedules.  Everything.  You can head off misunderstandings, duplicated efforts, and craziness just by communicating.

Laughing now: ‘Crappy’ morning

As a mom, I’m used to those quirky moments, funny explanations and little mishaps.  But when those big mishaps happen that make you want to cry at the time — well, those are hard to be prepared for.

Bennie sits innocently on her bedDoesn’t she look innocent?  Meet Bennie, our quirky, loud and lovable Treeing Walker Coonhound.  Rescued from the Nashville Humane Association more that 8 years ago, we’ve learned to embrace her strong personality.  She is quite vocal and has a different bugle depending on the situation.  The bellow sounds different when she’s demanding food, a walk, sees another dog, sees a cat, hears a noise… you name it.

For such a tough dog, she’s a big baby.  She doesn’t like to get her feet wet, and sits daintily on her bed looking sad when she wants attention.

She also HATES visiting the vet.

So when I made the poor decision to let her sit in the backseat next to Luke on the way to her yearly checkup Friday morning, we all suffered the consequences.

About halfway to the vet, while sitting at a light, my nose twitched.

“What’s that smell?”

“Bennie pooped!!!!!!” Luke yelled back.

“Bennie!!!!!!!  Gross!!!!!”  Oh no… what do I do????”

But it only got better from there.

“Ahhhhhhh!!!! She’s peeing, Cindy!!!!” Luke screamed.

“Nooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Bennie, what is wrong with you??????!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Luke was screaming, because the dog was trying to climb on him to get away from the poop and pee.  I was screaming at Bennie to get off him.  Fortunately, our ride to the vet ended soon, and we stumbled in, grateful for the fresh air.

The office workers chuckled as they got us into a room and handed me a stack of paper towels to clean up the mess.  I collected the solids in a plastic bag, because the vet wanted a sample anyway, and mopped up what I could.  Fortunately, I always carrying an old towel in the car, and I could cover up the mess.

The good news continued… the vet spotted a couple of fleas on Bennie (Grrrr!!!), and she grilled us about whether we were giving her Frontline monthly.

SIGH.

Exhausted, we arrived home to a mountain of cleaning.  I did my best in the car, had a meltdown on the phone with Andy, washed the dogs, gathered up small one and made a trip to PetsMart for Nature’s Miracle and new dog beds.

By the time Luke’s playdate showed up for a trip to the pool, I was spent.  I was also relieved to see Andy when he arrived home for lunch and decided to work from home through the afternoon.

There’s just something about being around your best friend that helps you get past a “crappy” morning.  And yes, I am laughing now.