Parent Your Biz goes back to work

AtoZ 2015

Last year, on a whim, I joined the 2014 A to Z Challenge and wrote the work-at-home alphabet to describe the ups and downs of working from a home office.

Oh, what a difference a year makes.

Recently, after a decade of self-employment, I’ve returned to the full-time workplace. My family and friends were largely supportive. My sister’s words capture the feeling best: “I’m somewhere between ‘Congrats’ and ‘You crazy fool’,” she said.

Yes, well.

Self-employment is definitely one of those “grass is greener” scenarios. Those who aren’t self-employed long for what they rightly perceive as the benefits – flexibility, autonomy, freedom to choose what to do and what not to do.

What they don’t see is the downside – the challenge of balancing weeks of more work than you can reasonably do with the weeks where even the sound of crickets would be a welcome change. The temptation to paint the bedroom instead of finishing that proposal. The snow days. The interruptions in income. The relentless business development. The loneliness.

It was the loneliness that finally got me.

With my kids aging out of the mommy league, and my decision a few years ago to focus my professional life on writing – a beloved, but solitary pursuit – I was spending way too much time staring at the walls. I needed peers. I needed a place to go every day. I needed to feel like part of a team. So I found myself a job.

But the transition back to work has had its challenges. During April, I’ll be cataloging my survival tips for working parents. Some are useful, and some are downright silly, but they work for me.

Oh, and if you have something to contribute (especially if it is later in the alphabet and/or starts with a problematic letter like X) feel free to comment.

See you April 1st.

One pork chop

food chart snapI’ve hit upon an ingenious way to use that last pork chop – I shall explain.

We are a family of five. Most cuts of pork these days come packaged in threes. I have always been greatly disturbed by this. It means each time I serve my family pork chops I end up with a leftover.

This sad leftover sits in the refrigerator until it is beyond hope and I throw it away, because no one in my house really likes leftover pork. Even I, a general advocate for leftovers, will usually opt for something a little more interesting like the beef stew or the black-eyed-pea salad, and skip the lone pork chop. But it bugs me to throw it out.

Then I hit on an idea. Many times, when I serve my family a meal, one child opts out. My kids have vastly different tastes. One eats nothing spicy. One won’t eat fish. The third won’t eat anything that resembles sausage.

So now I freeze that sixth pork chop – tuck it in its own little bag and store it for the meal one kid won’t eat. I thaw that baby, season it, throw on two teaspoons of cider vinegar and two teaspoons of maple syrup and twenty minutes later I have a back up meal. Voila!

Works with that sixth chicken breast, too.


Fifty shades of oatmeal

IMG_0624We’re still experiencing some mighty cold mornings around here. Today it’s a cool 3 below, cold for March. We should be well on our way to spring by now, don’t you think?

On these blustery days, I take my solace in a steaming bowl of oatmeal. I’m partial to hot cereals and grains of all kinds, but my favorite is still reliable, old oatmeal.

I happen to think it’s the world’s most versatile food. It is the little black sweater of breakfast foods. You can dress it up in all kinds of ways.

To prove my point, I thought I’d share 50 ways to eat oatmeal. The list could darn near get you through a whole Minnesota winter! If these combinations aren’t sweet enough for you, just add a little maple syrup.

  1. Walnuts and homemade strawberry jam
  2. Strawberry jam and flax seed
  3. Strawberries, butter, and maple syrup
  4. Almonds, shredded coconut, and pineapple
  5. Pineapple, almonds, and banana
  6. Banana, walnuts, and maple syrup
  7. Bananas, diced apples, and walnuts
  8. Diced apples and sugared (or spiced) pecans
  9. Diced apples and brown sugar
  10. Diced apples and chia seed
  11. Diced apples and pomegranate seeds
  12. Sunflower seeds, bananas and maple syrup
  13. Pineapple, coconut milk, and almonds
  14. Pineapple and blueberries
  15. Blueberries and maple syrup
  16. Blueberries, raspberries, and fresh cherries
  17. Fresh cherries and walnuts
  18. Fresh cherries and a little cream cheese
  19. Flax seed, raspberries, and maple syrup
  20. Blackberries, raspberries, and maple syrup
  21. Almonds, pomegranate seeds and maple syrup
  22. Pecans, cinnamon and brown sugar
  23. Pecans and sliced peaches
  24. Pecans and diced apples
  25. Sliced peaches and brown sugar
  26. Sliced peaches and sliced cherries
  27. Walnuts and flax milk
  28. Trail mix and flax milk
  29. Cocoa powder, walnuts, and maple syrup
  30. Cocoa powder, coconut milk, and almonds
  31. Raisins, walnuts, and maple syrup
  32. Dried cherries, walnuts, and maple syrup
  33. Dried cherries and raisins
  34. Pomegranate seeds and mango slices
  35. Sliced pear and a few crumbles of gorgonzola
  36. Sliced pear and walnuts
  37. Diced, dried mango, dried cherries and walnuts
  38. Fresh mango slices, shredded coconut, and maple syrup
  39. Fresh mango slices and almond milk
  40. Crumbled bacon and maple syrup
  41. Crumbled bacon and chopped dates
  42. Blueberries, pecans, and flax seed
  43. Butter and brown sugar
  44. Fig preserves and pecans
  45. Fig preserves and banana
  46. Diced dried mangos, raisins, and chopped walnuts
  47. Peanuts and a spoonful of blackberry jam
  48. Sliced breakfast sausage and maple syrup
  49. Sliced breakfast sausage and diced, red pepper
  50. …and of course, milk, raisins, and brown sugar – the old standard

I don’t think I doubled up any of these, but I’m sure I missed someone’s favorite combination. Anyway, these should get you started on the road to oatmeal nirvana.

Have a great breakfast!

A little Albuterol for my friend, here…

IMG_0094Did you know cats can have asthma? And did you know that you treat a cat with asthma much the same way you treat a human with asthma, inhaler and all?

And while we’re at it, did you know that diagnosing a cat with asthma can cost as much as putting a child in braces?

I knew none of these things. Until Thursday.

Cats have an almost legendary habit of not being ill until they are seriously ill, of lapsing from seemingly perfect health into death throes. To say this is alarming is the understatement of the year. To say that it causes you to drop everything you’re doing, cram the cat into a carrier, and race to the vet without a coat, your purse or your phone would be a little more accurate.

Our cat-astrophe occurred not only as I was leaving for a job interview, but also at a time when our veterinary office was closed for a staff meeting, ultimately resulting in two (2) emergency visits to two (2) veterinary clinics. (Did I mention this all cost more than my first car? Granted, it wasn’t much to look at, but it did get me and my sister around for a good, long time.)

Of course, the dizzying amount of money was worth it to avoid having the little darling die in my arms, to avoid having to tell my children about his sudden, alarming denouement. Of course it was! *weeps silently for a moment*

Now the patient is home, oxygen-infused, in seemingly perfect health, with his prescription for Prednisone and a new hatred of me, sharpened like his tiny, destructive claws, during his overnight stay in the “hospital”. It is clear he is unforgiving. Isn’t that typical? I save his life, and all he remembers is that he had to have a bandage on his leg, and boy, was that annoying.

In time, he will forget this trauma, and so will I. We will once again sit together on the couch on a Sunday morning, content. I will watch him for signs of a cough and treat him as needed. He will pick on the furniture and try to get into the food.

All I can say is it’s a good thing the veterinary clinic had oxygen at hand when they presented me with the bill.

Why I’m making tiny capes today


Although I believe Valentine’s Day to be one in a long line of commercially exploited holidays, this evening will find me at the dining room table cutting out tiny capes (and swearing) in an attempt to inject a little joy into my young son’s school celebration.

I do this not because I am Mom of the Year (last time I checked, I was ranked a distant 7,383,458) but because I am nostalgic for the days when holidays in school really meant something. Say what you will, there were some things the 70’s really had going for them.

I do it because this is the only holiday kids still celebrate in our public schools. And I think it’s sad. I understand why we secularize the schools, and at a foundational level I approve, but it still feels joyless. Gone are the days when school children learned Christmas carols at school, or discussed, with reverence, the first Thanksgiving, a particularly polarizing event where we live.

Even Halloween, with its costumed parade and party, is gone. (Although why it is deemed more threatening than a holiday named after St. Valentine I do not know. I think it has more to do with enforcing the dress code and the zero-tolerance weapons policy.)

When I was a kid, valentines were something to see. They were actual cards that opened and closed, and they were delivered in envelopes with your name carefully printed on the front. And giving the valentines was as fun as getting them. Each card in the box was different, and we spent hours matching each card to the appropriate recipient. (Although, come to think of it, there was always one dog you ended up giving to the kid who sat behind you during science and threw wadded-up paper into your hair.)

But I’m honoring the good times, so tiny capes it is, soon to be affixed to 30 gluten-free, peanut-free, cherry suckers. Bring on the scissors. And maybe a glass of wine or two.

While there will be no trophy, my effort did earn me some faint praise from my son. As he put it, “Regular moms just buy valentines at the store, but you do a lot of work. You’re an irregular mom.”

Oh, and by the way – should you desire to make the little capes yourselves, here is a link to the pattern from Zakka Life. Surely you didn’t think I made this one up on my own? If yes, you clearly are not a regular reader.

Superhero Valentine

Picture and project credit:

Have a good one, commercial exploitation and all.


Let me take a selfie

IMG_0480If you take a photo of yourself in the forest, and no one is there to see it, did it really happen?

I am baffled by the selfie. There’s something disturbing about capturing every moment of your life in a still. Especially when some of them make you look…well, unattractive.

My kids take selfies constantly. Most of them are cute and charming. (It helps to be a 90-pound teen with clear skin and only one chin.) But they’ll also willingly post pictures of themselves at their least attractive moments, where everyone they know will see them. And they don’t even care!

Well I, myself, care. I have spent the better part of my adult life trying to destroy unattractive photos of myself. This is no small effort in the days where everyone has a camera and is not afraid to use it.

I come from a long line of unphotogenic women. (I don’t think I’m saying anything my familial readers don’t know, but I apologize anyway for airing our genetic laundry.) We are camera-shy. There are so few pictures of us you’d think we’d descended from an all-male line.

My kids, fortunately, take after their father. He is annoyingly photogenic. You can shoot a picture of him after he’s spent a 90-degree day clearing brush, and he won’t even look shiny. For a while, his Facebook profile showed him shortly after a rugby injury. He looked handsome, healthy, and rugged – even though he’s bleeding from the eye. The nerve.

Selfies require skill I don’t have. Maybe my arms aren’t long enough. My selfies all look like they were taken by an ear, nose, and throat doctor. I’m trapped in a vicious circle – it takes some practice to take a good selfie, but I don’t want to practice. I don’t want to look at pictures of myself. If I were being interrogated, I would tell you anything to make you stop showing me unattractive pictures of myself. And they wouldn’t be very hard to come by.

On a recent vacation, while attempting to take a photo of my daughter on her phone, I took a selfie of my nether-regions. “Nice crotch shot, mama,” she said lovingly when she came across it. Snarky, but at least she didn’t post it anywhere.

Sadly, it was one of my better selfies. I actually considered saving it.

Writing humor – when you don’t feel funny


I took this photo from the deck the other morning – doesn’t it look mournful, this January sky?

It captured my mood that morning. While there is a promise of something beautiful, January days come with a price – cold, dark, discomfort, and hassle. There is something ominous in the beauty.

I’ve always tried to blog (and write) with a humorous intent. It is my firm belief that even in the most stressful times, you can find something to laugh about. But these days, the only posts I seem to be able to write are about why I’m not writing, and why I can’t hit the writing goals I’ve set for myself. How do you write humor when you don’t feel funny?

It’s not exactly writer’s block. I could write, just not the way I want to do it. Is it like exercise where you work through the block, “no pain, no gain”? Or do you rest yourself, until the moment when laughter comes more easily? Or do you change it up, and write something completely different? Or all of the above?

Beats me.

I’d love to hear from other writers, writing humor or not, as to how they shake off the gloom and get back to work. How you use writing to work through the stresses and strains, rather than let them block you.

This post is a start, right? At least I’m writing something.

A commitment etched in stone

stonesThe other day as I dusted the desk of one of my children, I found something that made me pause, made me think. Raised a lump in my throat. It didn’t look like much, just a small, smooth stone with some writing on it, in pencil.

But the message startled me. It said, “I will never stop trying.”

It startled me, because this is a kid who sometimes doesn’t seem to be trying that hard, who doesn’t seem to care. For whom heated questions are often met with a shrug and an “I don’t know.”

But in those words I saw a spark, the ambition to do something bigger.

On the other side, I saw my child’s carefully penciled initials. A commitment, etched in stone. It gave me hope. It gave me a glimpse of a child I don’t usually see, one with a determined attitude, in pursuit of something great.

I dusted that little stone and replaced it where I found it. It’s just a small, nondescript thing. But now it’s inspiring two of us.


A writer with no thumb

IMG_0094Well, I have a thumb, two actually. One of them isn’t working well, however, and it happens to be the one I need the most.

I write with this thumb. Do everything with it, in fact – open jars, open doors, fold laundry, brush my teeth, chop onions. I never realized how inconvenient a sore thumb could be. It reinforces my belief that if our cats had opposable thumbs, they would be much naughtier. All sorts of bad behavior would be suddenly within their reach.

(And you thought the cat picture was just pandering. See how I worked it in?)

I’m resting my thumb, where I can, although I feel a little foolish asking my hulking 12-year-old son to unscrew lids and carry heavy grocery bags. It makes me feel feeble, despite the fact that I likely injured this thumb weight training or doing a handstand in my yoga class.

My chiropractor is hastening my recovery by prodding, taping, and manipulating my thumb in all sorts of unnatural ways. (She tells me it could be the start of arthritis, not just an overstretched tendon, which I refuse to believe.)

And blessedly, it is better. I can now type without pain. Although since it’s improving, I need to come up with another reason as to why I haven’t been writing.

I’ll probably default to the excuse we all tend to use in this part of the world – the cold, snowy, depressing winter weather.

Home remedies for thumb injuries are welcome – already using lavender oil and turmeric. Any other suggestions?