New York Times bestselling author, slow cooking expert and mommy blogger next door
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Totally Together

Working From Home With Small Children in the House

September 24, 2012 by · 10 Comments 

I’ve been working from home, for myself, for the past 4 years.

When I first began working from home, I had a contract for Bay Area Parent magazine and BlogHerads. This meant I had set hours and a set list of tasks I needed to accomplish on a daily basis in order to get paid.

Now I work solely for myself — I run the websites and I write books. I LOVE what I do, but because I don’t really have a “boss” I find that I spend more time procrastinating and fiddling around online or pacing the house thinking about work than I actually do working.

This hasn’t been too much of a problem for me; I’ve never missed a deadline, and so far (knock wood) I feel happy with the ebb and flow of our days, even if there isn’t an actual set schedule.

Sometimes feel like a kindergartener doing an adult’s job.

And when I’m asked by readers how I go about organizing my work day, I sometimes don’t have a very clear answer.

and that’s not good.

So I’ve decided to pay attention to what I do when I’m on a deadline — because as we all know, deadlines are really the only way to get things done. Here are the tips and tricks I use when I need to ACTUALLY GET THINGS DONE.

(but on the days I don’t need to actually get things done? I procrastinate. It’s human nature, and I’ve found it’s best to just not fight it, but instead embrace it, and move on to the next day. We can’t always be on task 24/7.

This is real life, not a how-to book or magazine article.



1) Print out a 5am to 9pm daily schedule

2) Fill it out —- fill out every slot, if you can. Write in waking the kids up, making breakfast, lunches, getting them out the door, etc. If you have little ones at home with you, schedule in outdoor play time and wear them out so you can then (hopefully) count on nap time so you can get some work done

3) Schedule business calls during nap time.  If this isn’t possible, schedule them during times where you know the littles will be happy and can be occupied with a movie/favorite TV show. Try to let unscheduled calls go to voice mail — your clients will quickly learn that you need them scheduled.

Working when kids are always around:

4) When on calls with kids awake, have a full-on snack prepared, sippy cups filled; etc. I usually do microwave popcorn and apple slices, and a juice-box. My kids don’t get juice boxes very often, so they are a treat. I start the TV show right before getting on the call, or press “play” right as I’m dialing the phone

5) Take phone calls out of sight from the kids — in a closed bedroom, or the backyard or the garage. Usually with kids over the age of 2.5 or so, they are safe watching TV and if mom is out of sight, she’s out of mind (of course use your best judgment, etc. etc.; you know your kids best).

6) Always inform whomever you’re on the phone with that you are working from home today with small children and you’ll need to keep the call under 20 minutes (or whatever).

Sometimes a Mom’s Gotta Do What a Mom’s Gotta Do.

7) If you have to write a report or have quiet “thinking time,” I suggest working when you can be fully off-duty as a parent. If you have childcare help, or the kids are at school, use that time. If not, I suggest using the early morning or late night hours, depending on your own personal biological clock.

for me, I’m much more focused early in the morning. When I’ve got a deadline for a writing assignment, I set an alarm and get up at 4 or 4:30 am. It’s just me and the coffee pot, and I can crank out a good amount of work before Adam’s alarm goes off at 6am. When I wrote for Bay Area Parent, I regularly worked what I called “the split-shift.” I went to bed at 8pm with the kids, then set an alarm and worked from 12-4am; then went back to bed until 7am when the kids got up. It may not be a long-term solution, but it definitely works if you’re in a pinch.

and let’s face it. You’re working from home. You’re in a much better position than many, many working people, and there’s no need to complain. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.

Life is good.

8 ) There is no End to the work day. I don’t care how many work-from-home books there are that tout putting away the computer or the phone or the book at 6pm to fully “unplug” and be present with your family. It just doesn’t exist when you work from home and are also in charge of the family. There will always be more to do — and there’s no need to make yourself feel guilty for checking email while you walk through the living room, or stop to answer a call if it rings during Jeopardy. You are home. You are lucky. Don’t make arbitrary rules for yourself that you have no intention of keeping.

That said, don’t be obnoxious.

Don’t be the person on her iPhone during the Saturday morning soccer games or text during church. Don’t put the phone next to your dinner plate, or use it in a restaurant. If the kids are talking to you, close the laptop and pay attention. Yes, you’re “always on” but you’re not a neurosurgeon. Get over yourself.

Accept Help Graciously

9) Enlist help. One of the cool things about working from home is that I can pop in a load of laundry in between tasks, and go outside and weed during a conference call. I love that I have this flexibility, but there are times when I just can’t do anything more than put out fires online, or over the phone. I expect my kids to do their chores, and I expect that my husband help out, too. We follow the Daily 7 as a family, we have regular Family Meetings, and the kids each have a chore chart. If this isn’t an option for you, then hire help.

Don’t try to do every last thing yourself. Not only is it not healthy for you, you’re not being a good role model for your kids.

I feel incredibly fortunate that I have this opportunity to provide an income for our family while being the full-time caregiver to our children. It’s not something I planned — but I couldn’t be happier.

10 Business-y Type Books Everyone Should Read

June 29, 2012 by · 6 Comments 

I’m always shocked when I take a step back and realize that I own a business. I don’t feel very business-like, considering I spend most of my day wiping boogers from the walls and typing away at the kitchen table while wearing fuzzy slippers. But my tax lady assures me, that yes: I own a small business.

and I couldn’t be happier.

I have spent the past 12 years reading almost all non-fiction— and I seem to be drawn towards books aimed for entrepreneurs. When I first started reading them, I had no idea the path my life would take, but I found the idea of a kitchen-table business quite alluring, and kept checking the same books or audio disks out from the library. Over and over again.

I’ve read an awful lot of how-to and inspirational books, but the ones on this list are the ones that truly changed the way that I think, and helped me have the guts and determination to succeed, even when I really wanted to just curl up in a ball and hide.

I hope you enjoy them.

Rich Dad, Poor Dad: What The Rich Teach Their Kids About Money that the Poor and Middle Class Do Not!,  by Robert Kiyosaki

This was actually the very first book I ever ordered off of, and I did so after watching Kiyosaki on Oprah. He certainly was a convincing salesman! I’ve read this book a good dozen times and keep going back to it when I need a pick-me-up. Kiyosaki is to blame (thank?) for my entrepreneurial drive. In this book he describes the difference between a “job” and a “business.” Jobs pay the bills, but businesses accumulate wealth, and they aren’t necessarily the same thing. It’s okay to have a job, but start a side business— whether that’s real estate investing (his personal choice), or consulting, mentoring, writing, etc. Kiyosaki is not without his critics; there’s an awful lot of people who hold him responsible for the housing crash, and although this book is written as non-fiction, it’s actually a parable— Frey wasn’t the only person to pull the wool over Oprah’s eyes!

The Richest Man in Babylon, by George S. Clason

Speaking of parables… this is a quick, fun read written for all ages. In fact, I’ll make sure the kids read this book before they start a summer job. Written in hit-you-over-the-head logic, this book uses short, witty, and inspirational stories to help readers understand the value of money and why you should always, always live beneath your means.

Manifest Your Destiny, by Dr. Wayne Dyer

I read this book in the early 2000s before Dyer was plastered all over every PBS station. My view of him now is more of a salesman than a spiritual leader, but that’s not really a fair judgement of the book. The book is good. I’ve read Dyer’s other books, but like this one the best, although I’d probably recommend listening to the audio since it can get a bit rambly. There are definitely spiritual and religious elements in this book — don’t read it if you’re easily offended by such things. This book, along with Napoleon Hill’s, Think and Grow Rich first introduced me to the principles of The Law of Attraction as outlined in The Secret. (here’s more of what I think about that…)

21 Success Secrets of Self-Made Millionaires, by Brian Tracy

I actually listened to this on audio cassettes, and then checked the book out from the library because I couldn’t keep up with all of the note-taking I did while listening the the audio! If I had to pick one book/audio recording from this list, I’d probably go with this one. Brian Tracy is an accomplished motivational speaker, author, and an amazing salesman. I still run one of the quotes from this list of 21 through my head almost daily to keep my on track with my daily/weekly/monthly goals: The Difference Between Successful People and Unsuccessful People is that the Successful People DO what the Unsuccessful Will Not.

Awaken The Giant Within, by Tony Robbins

Save your Tony Robbins criticism. I’ve heard it all, and have probably spent too many hours reading message board criticism of the guy. The fact is, he’s a fantastic motivator. I don’t think he is ground-breaking or revolutionary in the slightest, but boy, can he tell a good story and get you pumped up. Put the audio on in the background while you’re folding laundry or doing mindless housework and let the positive energy penetrate your psyche. One of the most valuable things I learned from this book/audio was to live my life as if I was being watched. Don’t do things you’d be embarrassed by if caught on film, or if caught by a higher power. Powerful idea.

How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie

15 million people can’t be wrong, right? This little book was first released in 1937, and I’m pretty sure every person with a business degree was forced to read it. You should, too. I was raised with the notion that “you should never, ever, ever trust a salesperson. Sales people are slimy, and will get you to do things you don’t want to do.” Maybe not bad advice for me to pass along to my three daughters… But guess what? We are ALL in sales. You’re either selling a product, or you’re selling yourself, and you should understand the psychology of the sale — regardless of your views. There are free copies of this book floating around the internet; a simple google search will find you a PDF.

The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy, by Thomas Stanley

We hear a lot about the 1%, and most of us have visions of people living large: yachts, lavish vacations, live-in help, and gold-plated bathtubs. Oh wait, maybe that’s MTV Cribs. I am fortunate to have read Stanley’s book as a newlywed and it opened my eyes to the fact that although many of my neighbors appeared to have money, they probably didn’t, and were instead living beyond their means. Stanley shares research and personal stories of millionaires— many of whom you’ve never heard of, who are not flashy, but actually quite frugal. And that’s how they became millionaires!

The 4-Hour Work Week, by Tim Ferris

Tim Ferris is a blogger, so I was drawn to his book. This is the most recent book that I’ve read that I feel comfortable recommending, and the most up-to-date in regards to online businesses and social media. I agree with much of what he’s written, although I’d argue that in the beginning few years of starting something online you must “feed it” regularly or it’ll die. Once you’re established, you can slack off, but only then. This is a valuable investment solely for the list of resources— it’s a great crash course on internet and direct sales marketing. P.S.: not a fan of the 4-hour body.

The Martha Rules: 10 Essentials for Achieving Success as You Start, Build, or Manage a Business, by Martha Stewart

This is a super quick read— I read it in the backyard while the kids were in the wading pool. It’s pretty basic, and consists of a lot of personal anecdotes. Stewart wrote it while in jail, and she also taught this information to the other inmates while fulfilling her sentence. No one can argue that she’s a powerhouse, and that she has found a way to climb every ladder pushed in her way. I look forward to hearing her speak at BlogHer 2012 in August.

Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write, by Elizabeth Lyon

I can’t count how many times I’ve recommended this book. I’ve read dozens of “how to get published” books, and prefer this to any others— it’s clear, it has examples, and it works. I used this book to write my first query letter, and to write all of my book proposals. It lines out how to hook your agent/editor quickly, and how to outline your book idea and clearly define your target audience. Because it’s an older book, she doesn’t go into the importance of having an online and social media presence, but there are many free resources online that will help build that part of your platform.


So there you go! Get to work! :-)

any favorites you’d add to this list?



Take All the Time You Need

April 27, 2011 by · 10 Comments 

"there will always, always be MORE to do. It's okay to just BE and enjoy yourself and your family."

“there will always, always be MORE to do. It’s okay to just BE and enjoy yourself and your family.”

Good Morning! I spent the first few hours of the day outside today while the baby (almost sixteen months already!) frolicked in the grass completely naked. Frolicked sounds like such a frivolous word—but that’s truly what she did. She was thrilled to run without a diaper, and skampered about with pure delight.

It was wonderful.

even though her mom made an executive decision to not put sunscreen on her shoulders and figured 15 minutes of under-seventy degree weather was fine and now she has her very first sunburn.


How are things with you? Are you remembering to slow down and soak things in? Are you remembering that life is a journey to be enjoyed and not a race to the finish line?

I forgot this a few weeks ago. I let myself feel other people’s stress. I allowed myself to get sucked into DRAMA that had nothing to do with me. I allowed myself to absorb the tension in others instead of letting it wash over me and then down the drain.

Take the Time to Enjoy the Small Stuff in Life

My wise friend Shirley told me last week that life truly is like a roller coaster—you can fight this fact, or you (universal you, although I let her speak directly to me :-) ) can go with the flow and enjoy the ride.

This morning I enjoyed the ride, and I challenge you to do the same. There will always, always, always be something that you “should” be doing. But usually the shoulds just don’t matter.

they really don’t.

I have received the proofs yesterday for the Totally Together journal. This has been an over-eight-years-in-the-making project, and it’s finally going to print. I was told “no” dozens of times. It took me two years to find a literary agent and then another two years to secure publication, just for it to disappear due to the economic downturn.

Each time I was told “no,” I was upset. It bothered me that agents or publishers couldn’t see my vision. It annoyed me that I allowed myself to become upset. I figured if I was a stronger person, I could take disappointment with grace and not let it weigh me down. I felt guilty for wanting this book to come alive since I had succeeded with the crockpot site/books. I felt guilty for wanting more. I felt like I wasn’t supporting the “brand” of a slow-cooking expert, whatever that means.

I still feel that way at times.

The fact that it’s finally coming out makes my heart swell with pride in such a different way than I felt with the crockpot books. This was something I worked at—and while the crockpot thing was work, it was a different kind of work. I think this was the book/tool I was supposed to produce.

I’ve got a lot of ideas that I want to implement in the next little while to help tie this site to the crockpot site. It’s going to take time, effort, and work. But this time, I’m not going to fight it—-instead, I’m going to trust that the twisty obstacle course is meant to happen. Shirley is right.

I’m going to enjoy the ride.

"there will always, always be MORE to do. It's okay to just BE and enjoy yourself and your family."

I found this today under the play structure–the kids drew it where it can’t be washed away by either rain or the sprinklers. I loved finding it out of the blue.

Even if you’re having an otherwise-icky day, find a rainbow. It’s there, somewhere.

I hope your day is filled with lots and lots and lots of love.

Wednesday, clobber the cobwebs and other things

September 29, 2010 by · 2 Comments 


I finished a deadline last night that was hanging over my head. I was practically-but-n0t-actually late but it’s done and over and I feel SO MUCH BETTER. I know I’ve written about this before, but I am a really bad procrastinator when it comes to writing deadlines. I like writing, so when I’m “told” I have to write about this or that by a certain time, all creativity seems to fly out the window and I push it to the absolute last minute.

This is kind of problematic when you’re trying to make a living as a writer. The year I did the crockpot challenge, I also was in charge of the local parenting magazine’s event calendar. The job was pitched as 10-15 hours a week, and my deadline would be the 6th of each month for the following month. I was supposed to process the press releases as they came in and write the blurbs on the corresponding calendar date. Easy.

I only did it this way once. After January was complete, and the editor wrote back that she was thrilled with the work, I began to push the envelope. I’d start working a week before my deadline. Then three days before. When December was due, I did it all in one sitting and pulled an all-nighter. It kind of felt exhilarating, like I was back in college BSing my way through Shakespeare class.

I’m learning that I can’t do this anymore because it isn’t fair to the family to be glued to the computer for an entire day (or more), grumbling about “being on a deadline.” The baby HATES the laptop with a firey passion, and whines as soon as I pull it out of it’s hiding place in the armoire.

or maybe I just need to be more creative. I don’t see me tackling work as soon as it’s assigned–it’s just not me.



daily 7

sweep, mop, dust, vacuum

begin ordering Holiday gifts (don’t get mad! :-) )

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