Category Archives: Living

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.


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.

Balancing work and family

Some of the blogs I’ve been following touch on the work-family balance of a freelancer/worker-at-home every once in a while.  Most of the “how-to” suggestions are pretty much the same.  But that doesn’t make it any easier, as I’ve discovered.

I know I’ve touched on work-family balance in this blog, too.  As I grow more accustomed to working at home, I’ve found the transition to working at home has become smoother, and I don’t have to rely so heavily on scheduling every little bit of my day.  But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a monkey wrench thrown in here and there.

This week has been one of the toughest of my new work-at-home life.  The reason?


Yes, folks.  Summer camp has been my secret to working at home thus far this summer, but the young one had a week off in between camps, and we’re in it.

Save me.

The work doesn’t stop, but regular hours working as a freelancer sure do.  I’m working much earlier, much later, and staying more active during the day just trying to keep up with my son, who will turn 4 in a couple of weeks.

I knew this was coming, so I planned to spend much of the daytime hours doing activities — the zoo, the library, Children’s Day Art Park, etc….  My hope was that he would tire and nap in the afternoon so I could work.

No go.

There has been no napping this week, and my husband has come home to find me curled up on the couch each evening, trying to sneak in my own nap.

Lucky the Elephant at the San Antonio Zoo(That’s not me — that’s Lucky the Elephant at the San Antonio Zoo.  But she looks comfy :))

Fortunately, the tough week will come to an end, and I have some time starting Friday afternoon that will allow me to catch up.  Camp begins, and I am anxiously awaiting the start to school — the most wonderful time in a working parent’s life.

It helps to know I’m not alone in my struggles.  If you’re interested in learning about balancing work and family life, check out these resources:

Blackberry jam

Luke and I returned to Sweetberry Farms in early June to pick blackberries.  We were joined by some friends, and I forgot my camera, so there are no pictures of the picking.

Needless to day, picking blackberries is significantly tougher than strawberries.  In case you have no idea how they grow, blackberries grow on canes, covered in thorns.  While you don’t necessarily have to stoop down as much to pick them, you do have to contend with the relentless thorns, big and small, that never fail to prick you.

I brought home four large boxes of blackberries, and I was covered in cuts, scratches and a sunburn.  I paid dearly for those blackberries!  But friend, it was well worth the effort.

The day after picking, Andy, Luke and I spent the bulk of the afternoon preparing, washing, and prepping the blackberries so they could be frozen, eaten raw, and turned into various concoctions, including frozen yogurt, sorbet and salad toppings.

There was one box left when we were done.  The next day, I turned it into JAM.  No, it’s not paleo in the least, but it’s sometimes nice to reach into the past and borrow a few tricks from our grandmothers’ cupboards.

The recipe was really easy to throw together — it was the actual cooking that was hard!

9 cups blackberries
6 cups sugar

I didn’t realize you shouldn’t double batches.  It took FOREVER to cook and set.  I think I sat next to that stove, stirring frequently for over an HOUR.  The boys left and came back from the pool, and I was only just beginning to ladle it into the jars for processing.

Despite the hard work to prepare the food, I’m getting faster at it, and it’s really cool to know exactly what the ingredients are in a jar on the pantry shelf — because I created it!!

Visiting the San Antonio Zoo

Luke and Andy in front of elephant

Elephants, giraffes, kangaroos… all of these animals are missing from Austin’s Zoo.

Don’t get me wrong — I love the Austin Zoo and admire what it stands for (taking in exotic animals that were once kept as pets or abandoned).  But it’s not a REAL zoo — not like what most people think of when you say “zoo.”

San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston all have larger zoos, and Andy and I figured it was time to take Luke to one.  San Antonio is the closest and we have never been there, so we looked up directions and headed out on a hazy Memorial Day morning.

We made the mistake of printing out directions from Google instead of from the zoo itself, and Google took us to the wrong part of town.  We circled around looking for the zoo and/or visitor’s center so we could actually find it.  While we were there, we stopped and took our picture in front of the Alamo, just to prove we saw it.  We didn’t linger — it was all about the zoo, dang it!

The San Antonio Zoo is really nice.  I’ve been to large zoos, and this one, even though it’s not huge, has some really nice areas. I figured it would get really crowded, and it did — but not overwhelmingly so.  There was still room to maneuver the stroller and plenty of shady areas to stay out of the blazing Texas sun.

We didn’ t even make it everywhere, there was so much to see.

Luke had a BLAST.  We liked it so much, we bought a membership while we were there, figuring we would be back enough over the next year to make it pay for itself. Now that’s what I call family fun.

San Antonio Zoo, May 2010

Luke, Andy and Cindy visited the San Antonio Zoo on Memorial Day, 2010.

Saying goodbye

“If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.” — Gail Sheehy

I left my workplace tonight for the last time as an employee.  And it was hard to say goodbye.

I resigned a month ago from my position so I could pursue my dream of running my own web design business, working from home and setting my own schedule.  It was a very hard decision to make, for as much as I had outgrown the position, I really enjoyed the people and the company itself.  I had also grown very comfortable — I’d been there nearly 5 years.

But the time has come to take a risk, shake things up, and get moving on my life.  My priorities have changed, my goals have changed, and it’s time to make adjustments.

I will always be a journalist.  Once a journalist, always a journalist.  And I will always be a producer.  I’ll just be producing for different kinds of websites.

Death and life

A great commotion was going on outside just after a got home from work this evening.

I had let the dogs out, and only one had come in when I sat down at my desk to work.  I got up briefly to put a dish away when I heard it — a bird chattering its head off.  And I saw it.  Bennie playing with something on the back porch.

A rat?  That’s what I was hoping.  Wow!  Bennie doesn’t usually catch rats!  But when I walked closer to the door, I realized I was wrong.

It was a bird.  Probably a baby bird from the nest perched above our porch. It was probably learning to fly when Bennie caught it.  That was probably its mom screaming.

I felt so much disappointment.  It’s not that I don’t understand the cycle of life and laws of nature.  I frequently talk to my own son about life and death.  Everything that lives must one day die, I tell him.  We do our best to celebrate and protect life, but death is essential for all creatures.  It’s just part of the Earth.

But my disappointment stems from the mom in me.  I instantly felt a connection to that poor baby’s mother, screaming for her child.  All  loving mothers  do everything they can to protect and nurture their children so that they can survive and thrive.  This mother bird was just about to finish up her duties.  She’s spent the past several months feeding it, protecting it.  Her last job was teaching it to fly.  And now — it’s gone.

I can’t be upset with Bennie.  She was just being a dog.  It would be unnatural to ask anything more or less of her.  I did bring her inside.  It didn’t feel right to allow her to rip the thing apart right there on the deck.

It felt better — for the time being — to let that mother bird mourn her child.  That mamma is still in a tree nearby.  Her shrieks have diminished, but she is close.

I hope I never have to go through what she’s going through.

Have you hugged your mom today?

On this Mother’s Day, I hope everyone is thinking happy thoughts about the woman who raised them — be it their biological mom, stepmom, adopted mom, grandmom, mother figure… whomever.

I know there are a lot of people out there who have effed up relationships with their parents, and I know there are people out there who do cruel things to their parents and/or children.  But let’s forget about all of that right now.

My mom is one of my best friends.  We’ve had our share of turbulence.  I think every girl goes through that rebellious phase at some point.  Mine hit at age 12.  But it wore off, and today, I appreciate my mom more than I ever did when I was living with her.

Cindy and her mom, Susan, at the Botanical Gardens in Atlanta in 2004She’s the first person I call when Luke is sick (she’s a nurse — she has the answers).  I still want to call her up and tell her every time something really great happens to me.  And, yes, I’ve spent the past several years trying to convince her to move to Austin so that I can see her more often.

Susan decorates the Christmas tree, 2009She still sends cards on every holiday.  (I haven’t been so good about that.)  She still makes apple pies as gifts at Christmas, a tradition she began when my brother and I were in school and needed to take presents for the teachers.  She still grows one hell of a garden, complete with herbs, gorgeous flowers and vegetables — the envy of her neighbors!

The way I run my household is in many ways similar to the way she ran hers when I was growing up.   It’s OK to have clutter, as long as it’s clean.  You better have a fever to stay home from work or school.  The TV does NOT need to be on all the time.  Education is THE most important thing.  Hugs are always available.

Cindy and Luke go ice skating, 2009On this Mother’s Day, I’m striving to be as good a mom to my son as my mom was to me.  And now that I have a daughter on the way… well, I know my relationship with her will likely differ from the one I have with my mom, but that’s just fine.

I’ll do anything for my kids, just like my mom did everything she could for me and my brother.  Happy Mother’s Day, ya’ll!

Throwing caution to the wind

Have you ever dreamed about something, but have been too cautious to actually go after it?

I tend to be like that.  I weigh major decisions in my life with great care and diligence.  I discuss them endlessly with a trusted few.  Many times I choose the path that is least risky.

But everyone needs change, transition and risk.  These are qualities in life that don’t necessarily always go together, but can make life much more interesting and personally fulfilling.  I found a quote from Mark Twain yesterday that sums it up perfectly.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

So I’m taking an opportunity that came my way to take a risk and see where life leads.  I’m going to work on my business, House on Payne web design, full-time.

There isn’t going to be a better time to pursue this.  It’s scary and exciting and full of emotions I can’t yet interpret.  This has been my dream.  It may not work out.  But then again — it just might.

Stay tuned.