When Life Lessons Slap You In The Face

image

In case you missed it, I work from home. After I birthed the tornado commonly known as Bean, I painstakingly developed my writing/editing business that, while it certainly doesn’t produce a full-time income, it fills in the cracks and lessens some of the month-to-month budgetary pressures.

But here’s the thing about freelance work–if you can’t advocate for yourself, you’re SOL because no one else will. After four years, I’ve learned many good but also many harsh lessons, including that some clients will never be happy, I need to own up to mistakes and do everything in my power to correct them, and that working from home means that you actually have to, you know, work.

This past week, however, introduced me to a situation that I finally realized is all to common for many women, and I believed I was better than. It also helped me see that I have a long way to go before I can be the kind of role model that my daughter needs.

So, let’s set the stage: I have a great client. This was one of my first clients, and we’ve had an incredible, long-term business relationship. Great client merges with larger company and that’s when the trouble starts. Great client is still my boss and the work is still the same. But new company now handles billing/payments/taxes. Soon, payments become sporadic, and no matter what I do, I can’t seem to get new company to pay me in a consistent manner. Now, a logical person would have put her foot down months ago, but my inner-need to be a people-pleaser prompted me to keep working and let months go by with no payments. In fact, I’ve never been paid without having to ask (as in “could you please pay that two-month old invoice…pretty please?”).

Finally, this week, I essentially went on strike. I told great client that we’ve reached the breaking point, and that I wasn’t working anymore until I received payment and my long overdue tax documents. Right now, you’re thinking “good”…but let’s back up and see what the heck is wrong with this picture:

  1. Why in the world did I let this situation drag on for 10…yes, 10 months?
  2. Even worse, when I did go on strike, why did I feel the need to send an apology-laden, meekly-composed email that was basically a sugar-coated crap fest?

It only took me a few days to wake up (as well as some strong words from the hubs), and to realize that I was playing into every stupid stereotype we have about women in the workplace. As I waited and agonized, he repeated the same phrase over and over, “It’s business! The only person that’s making this personal is YOU!” Why was I fretting over a perfectly reasonably request? Why was I shying away from standing up for myself? But most importantly, why did I feel the need to apologize for asking that my client fulfill the most basic element of a contract?

What’s really pathetic is that, even with all my fancy (and expensive) education, and a plethora of strong female role models, I still approach advocating for myself with apologies, disclaimers, and deep, inner panic. Hubs is right in that I need to eject the emotion and treat business like business, and I need some serious self-awareness when it comes to this issue. I can teach my daughter to have determination, but how can I teach her to be her own advocate if she sees me apologizing my way through life as I ask for fairness?

So, I’m still on strike, and while I don’t want to lose my best client, I’m reminding myself that you teach people how to treat you. If I teach them that this is acceptable by not standing up, then I am giving them my permission to continue.

 

Finished Knits–“Molly” Hat and “Exploration Station” Shawl

I finished up a couple of knits recently, just in time for the end of the pathetic winter we had. It’s already unseasonably warm here, which make me anticipate summer with abject fear, If it’s nearly 90 degrees in March, what the hell will July look like? Time to switch knitting gears and decide what’s next.

image

Pattern: Molly (Available for free on Ravelry)

Yarn: Berroco  Comfort Worsted in Burgundy colorway

Needles: US 4 and US 6, both circulars and DPNs for the decreases

Notes: Molly is a great, well-written pattern for a slouchy-fit hat. This is the second time I’ve knit it, and I just used leftover yarn from the Antler Mittens I made in December. Great pattern for advanced beginners.

ES 1ES 2Pattern: Exploration Station by Stephen West (Available for purchase via Ravelry)

Yarn: MadelineTosh Tosh Merino Light in El Greco, Betty Draper’s Blues, Black Currant, and Moonstone colorways

Needles: US 6  circular

Notes: I’m not a big shawl person, but something about this pattern kept me coming back for a second look. Stephen’s patterns are always an interesting combination of techniques, and some are more like artwork than what I would consider wearable accessories. This shawl, however, had so many interesting components I finally just had to knit it. It combines short row shaping, brioche, slip stitch rows and more. I learned a lot during this project (including that brioche knitting is not for me), and I’m happy with the final results after blocking. Overall, this was a really well-written pattern, and Stephen even put up a couple of tutorials on YouTube, which made it well worth the 6 bucks I paid for it.

Tasty Tuesday–Mom’s Pound Cake, a Good Book, and a Reworking of Priorities

cake

After two straight months of working myself crazy, I decided last week that enough is enough. While I’m blessed that I’m able to earn extra money while working from home, I’ve always sucked at that whole balance thing. When you add the post-holiday budget strain, I felt this maddening need to cram as much work into my days as I feasibly could, which was in direct contrast to my pesky resolution to not do that anymore. It’s so easy to slip into survival mode, and let your days fall into a continuous series of necessary tasks. Where’s the joy in that? None, I can tell ya.

So, rather than let my clients’ needs become my life, I’m enforcing a daily limit on my worktime so I can also focus on my home, my kids, and things I actually enjoy doing. That includes getting back in the kitchen.

So, it’s Tasty Tuesday, and since I’ve been felled by a cold/allergies that are slowly sucking the life out of me, I decided to stick with classic comfort. My Mom’s Pound Cake is oh-so-easy, and also a simple staple that was almost always on hand when we were growing up. It’s a basic, effortless recipe that everyone should have in their back pockets, and it can be repurposed in so many ways. For example, it can serve as the base for strawberry shortcake in a pinch, or you can go all Bobby Flay and throw it on the grill.

ingredients

Remember that, unless a recipe specifies differently, you should shoot for room temperature butter and eggs when baking. It helps your batters mix up and bake evenly, and is one of those baking tricks that separate the boys from the men. (not really, but if you’re gonna dirty up some dishes, why not hedge your bets for the best outcome?)

cale 2

Mom’s Pound Cake

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 sticks butter (preferably room temperature)
  • 6 eggs (preferably room temperature)
  • 1 Tbs. pure vanilla extract (seriously, dude)

Procedure

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a standard Bundt pan and set aside.
  2. Place all the ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed for 30 seconds, or until you’re sure it’s not going to fly all over the place. Increase speed to medium and mix for 10 minutes, stopping once halfway through to scrape down the sides.
  3. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until done.
  4. Remove pan from oven and place on cooling rack for 10 minutes. Invert cake onto cake plate and let cool completely.

___________________________________________________________________________________

Finished Read

book

Speaking of cake, I just finished reading The Cake Therapist, which is the debut novel from cookbook author Judith Fertig. I picked this one up because, not only was the cover attention-grabbing, but the summary reminded me of Sarah Addison Allen novels, which I love. I truly enjoyed this book, and was impressed by her descriptive prose. The plotline resolutions could have been a little more satisfying, but overall, I’d definitely recommend it. Unless you’re on a diet, that is.

 

A Finished Knit…or Three, New Year’s, and Fun with Kitchen Appliances

We made it through Christmas, and despite the lingering sadness that permeated the season, we ended up with a simple yet wonderful celebration. Good food, good family and friends, and new memories. Even with the pared down festivities, I still ended up running around like a madwoman, and left too many tasks until the last minute. When I wasn’t working, I cranked out a few more knitted gifts:

mittenPattern: Antler Mittens by Tin Can Knits (Available both on their site and through Ravelry). I selected the adult medium size.

Yarn: Berroco Comfort Worsted in Burgundy Red

Needles: US Size 6 and 8 DPN’s

Notes: This was a super easy and fast project, though the decrease sections were a pain in the rear. Otherwise, great project that was a gift for the neighbor.

slippers

Pattern: Non-Felted Slippers (available on Ravelry).

Yarn: Loops & Threads Cozy Wool in Moss and Pewter.

Needle: US Size 9

Notes: The original pattern is about a US women’s size 7. I researched plenty of other Ravelry members’ project notes and upsized them to a men’s size 13 for the husband. Quick knit but it’s a tight gauge, making those decreases a little challenging.

headbandPattern: Blue Leaf Headband (available on Ravelry).

Yarn: Lionbrand Woodspun in purple colorway.

Needles: US 10-1/2

Notes: Well-written, fast pattern. I made it in less than a few hours. I followed the buttonhole option for finishing, rather than adding icord ties.

__________________________________________________________

As for me, I received the spirializer attachment for my KitchenAid, which came just in time for much-needed New Year’s resolutions. Since Mom passed, my gym time has been sadly lacking and the scale informed me this morning that something’s got to give. The fact that my jeans feel like they are cutting me in half should have clued me in sooner. I played with it last night and made spicy butternut squash fries with maple-yogurt dipping sauce. I passed on the rice and ate that with my chicken instead, then made it to the gym bright and early this morning. Baby steps indeed:

squashI’m jumpstarting this New Year with a good attitude and a list of goals a mile long. After all, as Adam Duritz once wrote: “It’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe that maybe this year will be better than the last.” I certainly hope so.

Finished Knit–Snappy Hat Version 2.0

Back in the day, I made Bean this hat, which her melon head quickly outgrew:

So, for Christmas, I decided to whip up a larger version, especially since this pattern takes no time at all. Normally, I refuse to use variegated yarns on patterns with cables because they end up looking too busy. But, alas, Bean is often a too-busy hot mess who marches to her own drum anyway:

Pattern: Snappy Hat (available on Ravelry and it’s free). This is the medium size, while the first pic/hat was the child’s size.

Yarn: Premier Yarns Deborah Norville Serenity Chunky Prints in DN 6005-15 colorway.

Needle: Both circular and DPN’s, size 10.5

Notes: After making this again, I think something about the decreases at the crown give this hat a tendency to pull back off the head. That’s not a good trait in a kids’ hat as she keeps having to pull it back down to stay on. However, it is a cute, fast hat, and ensures that all the Heathen’s get something handmade from mom this year. Let’s call that a win, even if it looks like unicorn…never mind.

Advent Traditions–Motivating the Heathens to Be a Little Less Heathen-ish

adventWhen the kids were much younger, I started an Advent tradition for our family that I hoped would bring some sanity to dinnertime. Each night at dinner, as we light the Advent candles, we take turns reading a small reflection and prayer. It helps everyone get a small daily reminder about the meaning of the season, and also helps the kids keep at least some focus away from gift fever. Last year, as I was struggling with my own inner-apathy, I added a new component to this routine.

I place a Mason jar in the center of the wreath, and next to it, I add a small container with blank slips of paper and a pen. Each day, everyone writes either a good deed that they did that day, or something for which they are grateful. They fold up the slips and place them in the jar. On Christmas morning, after the bustle gifts, we sit down to a big breakfast. While we are eating, we pass around the jar and each person takes out and reads a slip. It’s amazing to hear all of the wonderful things the Heathens did or thought, and drives home how blessed we are. The unexpected side effect is that this really motivates the Heathens to do good deeds so that they will have something meaningful to add to the jar.

This year, as we continue to grieve and heal, I hope those good deeds help bring some holiday spirit to others. In the meantime, that whole dinnertime sanity thing is still pretty much a pipe dream…

Post-Thanksgiving Rest

towelWelp, I survived a Thanksgiving marathon like no other. To be honest, we had a great holiday, and despite hosting 20 of our family and friends, things proceeded smoothly and happily. As I was giving my dad the event recap, he asked in exasperation, “Who even has 20 chairs?!?” This girl, Dad…this girl.

During the days of preparation, my neighbor’s daughter stopped by and handed me this kitchen towel as a sweet pre-holiday gift. That 11 year old was on to something. I accepted ahead of time that big holidays can be chaotic, and that if something went wrong, it really would be ok. I’m  so over the pressure for picture-perfect gatherings, and I realized that once you have that mentality, you certainly enjoy them a lot more. I enjoyed the preparations, and approached the whole she-bang with very uncharacteristic calm. We ended up with a wonderful meal, a bucket of leftovers, and happy memories. We even got to spend unexpected extra time with my husband’s great uncle, which resulted in days of happy stories and tree trimming.

As I talked about in this recent post, we made a special effort this year make the most of our leftovers and to stretch them into as many meals as possible. We did the traditional next-day paninis with everything  on them:

 

panini.JPGWe also made and froze several casseroles of turkey tetrazzini, several quarts of turkey soup, and ham pot pies.

Now, it’s time to slow down a bit, catch up on work, and enjoy the first bit of sunshine we’ve seen. Not to mention my pressing need to pick up the pace on those last-minute knitted gifts! We won’t even get into the mess that has overtaken my house. Or the laundry pile…Dear God, the laundry pile…

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving as well! I’ll just be over here, closing the laundry room door.

Finished Knit–“Starshower”

 

cowl finished 2.JPGHalloween was a very busy time for us, but now that the carnival has passed, I’m ready to focus on all the fun of holiday planning. That is, when I’m not working my tail off to earn more dinero for the holiday budget. In the meantime, I finished up my Starshower cowl, which I absolutely love. Now, I’m diving into the Christmas gift knitting…in mid-November. Nothing like procrastination to make it exciting. cowl finished

Pattern: “Starshower” (available for purchase through Ravelry)

Yarn: Madelinetosh Merino Light in El Greco colorway.

Needles: Size 6 circulars with 24-inch cable

Notes: Used Jeny’s Surprisingly Stretchy Bind-Off method. Blocking per instructions left a crease that required additional wetting and shaping to remove. Overall, great easy pattern and resulted in a very wearable accessory.

Holiday Budget Planning–Commonsense Tips to Keep Your Wallet from Hemorrhaging to Death

IMG_3923

With Halloween over, retail land has official declared it to be the Christmas season. While I hold fast to the “no decorations until after Thanksgiving,” now really is the time to think ahead in order to keep your holiday budget under control. Unless you are sitting on piles of cash, the expenses will start adding up before you know it.

  1. Spread out your decorations expenses starting this week. Inevitability, I will need to replace several strands of outdoor lights, or invest in a new extension cord. So, rather than face $100 or more in extra expenses right after Thanksgiving, I will be buying a string of lights each week. I’ll also watch the sales and gradually pick up any other decorations supplies that I know I will need. This will also save time and frustration during decorating time, as I won’t have to stop and run to the hardware store.
  2. Ditto on the stocking stuffers. The more you spread these expenses out over the next two months, the less impact it will have on your  budget later.
  3. Start guiding your kid’s expectations. If your child is clamoring for something that is either out of your budget or you won’t let into the house, you can slowly and subtly help reframe their expectations. Additionally, start making lists of things you know they want/need so that you are prepared for when a relative asks. I usually suck at this, and am always like, “Ummm…..no clue,” so I am starting this today.
  4. Plan now for all of those expenses we often forget about. Wrapping paper, the Christmas tree, holiday meals, teacher gifts, gas for travel, holiday outfits. These are the things that sneak up on you, and when you are head-scratching about where all your money went, these little extras are usually what nickeled and dimed your budget away.
  5. Stock up on non-perishables and frozen food during November. Most major grocery chains have their best mega sales this month on food and pantry staples, and when you take the time to clip a few coupons, you can take the pressure off of December.
  6. Make a list this week of gift ideas for everyone you plan to buy for, as well as a per-person money limit. When you have specific ideas as well as guideline for spending, you can take advantage of a sudden sale, clearance, or other opportunity.
  7. Understand that Black Friday is not the end-all, be-all. I do not shop on Black Friday at all, because no amount of money is worth watching people battle like gladiators over stupid stuff. Not to mention the hours wasted standing in line or sitting in horrific traffic. I think the smarter strategy is to be vigilant throughout these two months and spread expenses out.
  8. Check for deals or coupons before you walk into a store. I do this everywhere. A quick Google search on my smartphone while I am still in the parking lot takes about 20 seconds, and can save big time. Likewise, download the apps for the stores you shop at the most. Target, for example, will have one toy at 50% off every day between now and Christmas and you can find it in the Cartwheel app. Michaels’ app has great, unadvertised coupons, and Walmart’s savings catcher give you the difference if there is a lower, advertised price.

While I’m no fan of the way retailers starting cramming Christmas at us even before Halloween, I also know that most of us probably don’t like financial stress either. Start now, plan ahead, and use an extended time frame to keep your holiday budget under control.

Tasty Tuesday–Pumpkin Bread

bread 2After three months of no rain, magic water fell from the sky this weekend, finally allowing temperatures to drop below 80 degrees. We procured Halloween costumes for the Heathens, put in more work on planning the school Halloween carnival, and celebrated the return of the braised pork and roasted butternut squash pizza from our favorite restaurant. This week is shaping up to be busy beyond belief with carnival preparations, but I decided to hit the pause button yesterday and whip up that pumpkin bread I’ve been longing for. This recipe is super easy, an since it makes two loaves, you can surprise someone special who also needs a little autumn pick-me-up.

Pumpkin Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 3 cups white sugar
  • 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1-1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • ½ tsp ground cloves
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger

Procedure

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two standard size loaf pans.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water and sugar until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended. Pour into the prepared pans.
  3. Bake for about 50 to 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

This bread tastes better the next day. Serve warm with a little softened butter and bask in the flavors of fall!

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 65 other followers

%d bloggers like this: