little red jottings

when a little red pen wanders off the page

Tag: working from home

Slow day

The Rabbit is home with a sore tummy, and I am trying to slow down. I’m pretty shit at it, to be honest. I started the day by writing a mega list of all the things I wanted to get done, then I cleaned the bathroom, made the beds, looked at some work stuff, got dressed, let the chooks out, made morning tea, and finally, finally sat down with my boy.

“I want to draw a picture with you,” he said.

“I have this big list — wouldn’t it be fun to look at it together and work out what we’re going to do next?” I said.

“I want you to put ‘draw a picture with Rabbit’ on your list,” he said.

“Okay, I get it now,” I said.

20160616_111948We decided to draw a rabbit, and he had a wee freeze about being able to draw, which is such a sad thing, children suddenly being unsure of their abilities. We talked about being able to try things and rub them out, and about how I like kids to start drawings because I have ways I’m used to doing things and it’s always interesting to see how a child would draw something before they get stuck on copying an adult’s picture. He liked the rubber idea, and once I’d put the ears in, he was off, with only a few worries about how to do eyes and whether rabbits have whiskers.

20160616_113213I like so much about this picture. I like the fur and the heart. I like the brown tail and the detailed caption Rabbit dictated to me. I like the note to the Rabbit-on-the-picture. And I like the dedication, for which I had to close my eyes because it was a surprise. Most of all, I like the time it took, the concentration and the conversations it generated. I like the reminder about what matters.

Thanks, Rabbit.


Update: While I was making lunch, Rabbit was very busy. Then he brought me this. A rainbow rabbit! Exactly what I needed.

Mysterious happenings

20160507_152131_resizedI came outside the other day and found the Rabbit tying the watering can onto himself. He said he was sorting out a system so he could take the watering can to the tap and fill it. It was a pretty complex arrangement, but he seemed happy so I left him to it.

A bit later, he wasn’t wearing the watering can any more, but he was going back and forth from the kitchen sink with a cup of water. I threw him a towel and left him to it again.

Later still, I came out and found him looking very pleased with himself. The kitchen floor was dry, and he had something to show me. “What have you been doing, kid?” I asked. “I planted a broad bean,” he said. “I made a hole in the vege patch and put the bean in it and watered it.”

20160507_152246_resizedHe took me by the hand and showed me. Nice stuff, wee one.


While I was cooking dinner, the Rabbit came into the kitchen and collected a pair of scissors. He made some modifications to his hut, then I lost track of what he was doing. I caught sight of several bits of paper and the stapler, and I told him how to spell “home” and “work”.

After a good 15–20 minutes, he came in looking upset. “I’ve stuffed it up”, he said. He’d made a book and written “Rabbit’s homework” on the cover, but he had done it so that either the text was upside-down or the staple was at the bottom.

Trying to be helpful, I suggested several solutions: using the book with the staple at the bottom, changing the name to “Rabbit’s upside-down homework”, etc — overly complicated ideas which Rabbit swiftly let me know would NOT DO AT ALL.

Tapping into my Better Self (International Women’s Day at work again), I stopped what I was doing and got down to his level. “Well,” I said, “let’s look at all the things you’ve achieved. You found some paper, you stapled it together and you wrote a cover. I’m sure you can solve this problem.”

His face brightened immediately and he said, “Of course! I’ll just take the staple out and put it in the other end.”

Sometimes it’s the smallest things.

Taking stock

The holidays are over, and I’m ready for this new year. The boys have one more week of holidays: the Cat is at soccer camp for four days and the Rabbit is hanging with Ian in his last week before he turns five and starts school. I’ve booked a Mama–Rabbit day for Friday, so have four days to get myself organised for the year and start working out the patterns and routines that will carry me through. And I should tidy my office. And get things for two birthdays. And weed the garden.

I haven’t figured it all out yet, but I’ve got a fair idea of what the building blocks need to be and mostly need to work out how to fit them all together.

Slightly odd choice for my number one concern, but one of my big lessons of 2015 was that regular exercise makes a big difference to my mood and ability to cope with shit. By shit, I don’t mean big stuff like deaths and discord and disaster, but more the mundane things like cooking dinner, folding the laundry and getting the kids to bed.

I had a break after Christmas and was a bit nervous about going back this morning, but I survived. We did lots of walking with hills and steps over the holidays, which probably saved me, but it will be ‘interesting’ to see how I go with resistance work tomorrow. I reckon I need to go three or four times a week and I don’t know when to fit that in. My favourite times are in the morning after breakfast, around 4pm, and in the evening. The morning is probably the most practical option most days, but needs to be early enough that it doesn’t cut into my work day too much. Am open to suggestions from people with experience in juggling all the things, but please don’t suggest early early morning or any time before I’ve had something to eat. That ain’t gonna happen.

I guess the other thing to do more of would be walking to pick the boys up from school and more family adventure outings at weekends. Oh, and we’re hoping to walk the Rakiura Track in a year or two, so we’ll need to practice with longer day walks and some overnighting in huts.

A few changes this year. I’m done with Critic, so it’s back to building up the business and keeping a wee eye out for a dream job. I’m pretty excited about having more time when Rabbit starts school, although not really ready to lose all those extra hours with my baby. But one lot of pick-ups and five clear days a week will be AMAZING. My main aims are learning how to be more productive and focused, running more workshops, finding a few more key clients, doing most of my work during ‘work hours’ and not in evenings or weekends, and honing my editorial chops.

I kind of wonder whether I might start reading in my thesis area again. I was doing a PhD taking a postcolonial look at contemporary settler writing from Australia and New Zealand when I had the Cat and gave it up to find something that fitted better with family life, but there are days when I miss it bad.

Yes, well. A bit like the exercise, I’m aiming for regularity here and for gradually building up my skills and capacity. One focused hour a day is my goal, and I guess we’ll just have to see how that goes. Sometimes it’ll be the blog and sometimes … other stuff.

Look, this one is always the same. I want to be calmer, less grumpy, better at resolving arguments between the boys and to have more time to play, listen and understand. I’m also on a ‘reclaim the evening’ mission, and it would be great if everyone cleared their dishes and kept their clothes in order.

And that’s me. What about you?

Checking in

In a group I’m part of, we start and end meetings by checking in. We’re chatty, self-reflective types and also good listeners, so this process can take quite some time, but it’s always worth it. Sometimes it’s hard to see what’s happening in your life, and having a good ramble about it can reveal surprising patterns and responses.

I think this check in is going to focus on birds.

We put the birdfeeder up a few weeks ago, and the birds started coming to it last week. I can see the feeder from the kitchen window and from my office; typing or washing dishes while keeping an eye on a green-flecked bunch of birds flickering around the feeder is quite a few steps up from typing or washing the dishes without the birds.

So far, the customers have mostly been waxeyes, with chaffinches, blackbirds and thrushes patrolling the ground below. But I think a tui did a fly-by a few minutes ago, so maybe she’ll come back soon.

It’s all very happy, except for the washing line situation. As mentioned in my previous post, the birds like to perch on the washing line while they psych themselves up for feeder negotiations. Then they poo on the washing and I have to re-wash it. This is sort of doubly frustrating because I already have trouble reaching half the washing line, so I’m already pretty grumpy about laundry duties.

Anyway, I guess we’ll move the line because I’m enjoying the birds too much to move them.

In other news, a youth group in the Valley is fundraising for a ski trip and I got them to dig over the vege patch yesterday. It was hilarious and wonderful in all the ways you might expect when you ask a group of teens to dig your vege patch. Two left after ten minutes when they realised the job was going to involve strenuous exercise and coordinated effort. The path is considerably muddier than it was before they started, but the patch is clean and fresh looking. They broke a pane in the glasshouse and left behind three shoes and a bucket. Some of them worked diligently and hard; some did flying leaps off the bank into the garden. The youngest and the skinniest and the biggest were the best workers. No-one stabbed anyone else, but it looked close a few times. A clump of lilies disappeared, but I wasn’t that fond of them. Maybe they’ll bloom in the compost heap. One boy did a beautiful job tidying the glasshouse and washing it down. The trays in it are neatly stacked and the mint has room to breathe.

I kept a quiet eye on the kids from my office as I worked on a copyedit, and I have to say, my feelings about them were almost identical to my feelings about the waxeyes. I loved them, but it was a rueful, charmed kind of love.

Strangely, while I was writing this, a bird flew past the window and I could swear it was a heron. I’ve never seen such a thing in suburban Dunedin, but it had a very heronesque bodyline and  it sure as shit wasn’t a seagull. It circled down towards the Gardens; maybe it’s gone to catch a fish.

Summer of the little red pen, Part 1

P1070964The story of my summer could be told by rendering the tables I worked at. I had a proofreading job, a biography dense with carefully harvested details, a picking up of the surface of a man’s life, fragment after fragment after fragment, to slowly reveal the soul beneath. I was irritated a lot of the time, sometimes amused, glancingly charmed. There was a quote at the end so lovely and apt I cried and forgave all.

A man! A competent man! was the subject’s frequent cry. Find a man and he can sort everything out, untangle, organise, catalogue, guide. The irony bit deep — look around the publishing team and you’ll see mostly women cranking this thing into shape, chipping, shaping, squaring and burnishing until the light refracts in lean, arrowed lines. I snarked, moved on.

P1070930I started in Wellington, in a small apartment at the top of a villa on the edge of a terrace. Every day we climbed up and down the hillside, dropping into town for outings and supplies, goat-tripping back up when it was time to go home.

We kept the windows open, and the boys made a hut in the living room every morning. We battled over the tv and ate gelati and found our way to the water.

It was almost Greek, but not — too grey, humid, careworn. The wind was always there, ruffling, blustering, making me grumpy. Clearly I still have feelings to work through where Wellington is concerned. I had a revelation about this last weekend, as it turns out. The water is the wrong colour, too much rock, not enough mud. Does it need to be said that all this is just my shit and I fully tautoko all you Wellington lovers?

Anyway… Ian worked early every morning — in the studio at 5, on the air at 7 — and every second evening. I worked when he came home, sitting at a desk on the landing, a tall window to my left, or at the kitchen table, with the buildings and the harbour and the hills to my right.

The Cat remastered the transport system and the Rabbit went a little wild. We ate Japanese, and I got my hair cut. The fruit was dire. I missed the light, the gentle, still warmth, the dark stone of home. Near the end, I softened a little; the bush and the absolutely positivity won me round. We saw old friends, heard each other’s stories. Our hearts were open, and full.

IMGP4909We had a couple of nights at home, then a long day’s travel to Adelaide. It was an extended family thing, Ian’s side, three generations in two houses near the beach, children scattering and knotting in small, shifting clusters. I spent long days in a dark room at the back of the house, a makeshift table, a lamp on the paper. I drifted in and out of the kitchen, grazed on fruit, cuddled my boys in brief, distracted moments. In the evenings we ate together, drank wine. We slept well on firm single beds, the boys peaceful in the quiet and the dark.

IMGP4927There was something of the monastic about it all, and on the last day the tumbling joy of the sea. The Cat and I took boogie boards out together, launched ourselves into waves, grinned and egged each other on, sun hot on our skin. When I got into the shower, my body was covered with leaves and seaweed. I washed it away, but the happiness stayed.

We came home, and our house felt like an old friend. The Rabbit went back to day care, and the Cat did a soccer holiday programme. I worked in every gap, through a sleepover and a birthday and too much of too many nights. I used every table in the house — in my office, the bedroom, commandeering in the end half the kitchen table. Ian parented around me, keeping the wheels turning as I wrestled this bastard job to the ground. I got lost in my head, tunnelled deep among the words and the people and the referencing intricacies of the book. I’m not sure how I did; it feels too close. I liked it though, the brain work, the focus.P1070970

I couldn’t work like that all the time, not without more childcare, but it was a good summer and I’m drawn to it, this editing gig. If I have a vocation, it’s here.

IMGP4899 IMGP4897 IMGP4877 IMGP4872 P1070941

Pomodoro joy

P1070645This little dude is saving my arse. One of the downsides of the home-officing, freelancing work situation is that procrastinationary time is not paid for. If I want to be paid for an hour, I have to work that hour, and I have to do so in an environment that offers all manner of distractions: housework, the internet, bookshelves in every room, a garden, a valley to run down, a kitchen and a coffeepot, and a heating system that relies on old-fashioned wood-lugging and match-striking.

But this, my friends, is a pomodoro (tomato timer, more prosaically) and it’s both cute and an ingenious time management device. Basically, you set the timer for 25 minutes, work those 25 minutes without distraction, then take a 5-minute break, then set it for another 25 minutes. After four rounds, you get a longer break — perhaps half an hour or so. You can find online apps that count down the time for you, but I like the ticking, bright red, kitschy version.

P1070644This is only my second day on pomodoro time, so I’ve yet to fully master the 5-minute break, ahem right now, but I find the 25 minutes very manageable, especially if I stick some music on as well. It’s also worked for monitoring the kids’ screen time and keeping track of kitchen timing.

And on a day of worry and tiredness and scattered thoughts, I’m glad of a bit of simple, shiny, useful good cheer.

Yum yum yum

Which is also the title of a cute book of Andy Warhol pictures we bought years ago in Melbournetown. Man, did he like sugar.

Anyway, this isn’t about that book; it’s about tarts. Ian made (proper butter) pastry last night, we baked it blind, and I filled it with:

  • onions and garlic, caramelised with balsamic vinegar and a mix of ordinary and lemon thyme
  • halved kalamata olives
  • sliced tomatoes
  • feta cheese

Goodness, it was delicious. I ate most of it last night like a right little piggy, turning it into a full meal with green salad and a glass of white wine, but I managed to save enough for lunch. Even better the next day!

Perhaps my life needs more pastry.

A nothing sort of day

This is the second day in a row I’ve sat by the fire and spent too much time on the internet and a bit of time writing. It’s NOT IDEAL. I’d prefer to lose myself in some mildly tricky but non-essential and yet well-paid work like restructuring a document or proof-reading or, I don’t know, entering data in a table. I should be preparing for August workshops or doing my business plan or making things for Nona’s baby or going for a walk or gardening, and, failing that, I should be doing more of the writing and less of the internetting. Still, here we are.

Partly, it’s the cold. I’m in the warmest patch of the house, and if I move more than two metres, I’ll be cold again. That’s not very motivating. Operation Convince Ian That We Need A Supplementary Heating System got some momentum over the weekend when we realised that the wood supply was about to run out and all the suppliers in town are too busy to deliver and don’t have dry wood anyway so we need to gather and chop all the fuel we need from Dad’s place, which is reasonably straightforward, but not as reasonably straightforward as paying someone to dump a load of dry timber in useable sizes on our driveway. Anyway, we’ve got wood for the week and we’ll get more over the coming weekend and then it will be almost August and that’s SPRING, right? Relatedly, the sky is a dense white grey and snow is forecast and none of the bulbs have stuck their pretty green shoots out yet. Also, if you ring a wood supplier and they hem and haw and say that the wood is only 70% dry, what does that even mean? Will it burn? Will it dry out if we stack it for a few weeks? How do they measure it? Yes, so there’s the cold.

There’s also the introversion thing. I’m pretty comfortable acknowledging that I’m an introvert, even if I do have conversations like this:

Colleague: How do you find working on your own?

Me: Fine. I mean, I’m an introvert, and all.

Colleague (total shock): Are you? Really? You don’t seem like one.

Me (confused and quickly doing a self-check of identity): Yes, yes, I really am.

Colleague: Well, you’re a very high-functioning one!

I’m not sure what introversion means in this conversation, and it’s true that sometimes I am capable of carrying out a coherent and meaningful conversation with another person, although the chances are higher if

  1. I know them
  2. I like them
  3. there’s only one of them

but for me what it really comes down to is that I get scatty and tired engaging with other people for long stretches of time and need some time to myself to recharge before getting back in the middle of it all. Sort of like this. And this scatty−recharging dynamic exists even in close relationships, like with my partner and children, which always takes me a while to recognise and admit because, EMBARRASSING, no? Getting worn out by people that I love and have either chosen to spend my life with or have actually given birth to and nurtured from sweet babyhood into long-legged, ball-kicking, book-reading boydom.

Anyway, eight years into this parenting gig, I’ve started to learn how to read the signs, which is why towards the end of a ten-day holiday I had to say things like, “I’m getting a bit peopled-out now” and also why I now find myself sitting very quietly, letting my mind run off in various directions without trying to corral or even follow it very much. I’m just refilling the bucket, is all.

However. I’m also approaching mid-life, if not a mid-life crisis, and I’m a bit bored. I need more work, less daily grind, more crazy projects with the kids, more focused writing time, less Facebook, more reading, more resolution of wider family bullshit, more exercise, less cheese, less coffee, more water, less scatter, more patience, more drive. Watch this space.


It’s not all beer and skittles

Ooops, I didn’t mean to abandon this blog for quite so long. Blame it on the rain… or maybe just the holidays, the new house, the visitors, the pondering of new directions, the month of birthdays, anniversaries, rememberings and celebrations. Nah, blame it on the rain.

People often ask me what it’s like working from home. On the whole, I can recommend it. But more specifically:

Pros of working from home

  1. My light comes in the window, the fire keeps me warm.
  2. I can make my own coffee and my own food.
  3. I’m sitting on the sofa, wearing my slippers. Right now.
  4. I can play whatever music I like at whatever volume suits me.
  5. Or I can listen to the wind in the trees.
  6. There are no meetings, no-one saunters to my desk or waylays me in the lobby.
  7. When it’s warm, I take a break in the garden.
  8. I don’t have to frock up.
  9. I can lose myself in thought, hit absorption point on a task.
  10. I can put big bits of paper ALL over the floor.


Cons of working from home

  1. I have to wilfully ignore the toys on the floor, the dishes in the sink, the need to buy groceries.
  2. If I play Hay Day for half an hour, that’s half-an-hour I don’t get paid for.
  3. Likewise, the time I spend organising contracts, meeting new clients, gaining new skills, exploring editing philosophies, sorting finances, and tidying my office.
  4. When my kids are sick or off school, the childcare defaults to me. My partner steps up pretty often, but it’s a more deliberate move for him.
  5. Little Rabbit steals my stapler.
  6. Big Cat hacks my email.
  7. There’s no-one to chat to in the kitchen, at my desk, in the lobby. What am I talking about? There’s no lobby. Not that I want a lobby.
  8. I don’t have colleagues, people to bounce ideas off, flick a document to when it needs another pair of eyes, a different brain.
  9. The toys are on the floor.
  10. The dishes are in the sink.
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