little red jottings

when a little red pen wanders off the page

Tag: work/life balance

Harvest and lists

20170219_122613You probably won’t be startled to learn that I’m a list maker. Some lists bring me joy (condiments, books, Christmas shopping), some give me a sense of order (chores, morning and evening tasks, cheap family meals), others either stem or generate a rising sense of panic depending on how long they are, their timeframe and my general state of mind (things to do, people to get in touch with, jobs to be done in the house or garden, groceries).

20170219_210119I usually list vertically, then scatter extra items around the page as I run out of room, but sometimes I mind map. I did that for parenting tricks, and it’s the list I like best on a fridge covered in the damn things. I used Wunderlist when I was running a business and I keep a task list at work, although it’s out of date within minutes and so long I have no hope of ever completing it. I usually cross things out as I complete them, but the other day I tried a line of Twink (the ribbon sort that runs out in a smooth white line), and that was more satisfying than I expected.

I’ve got a week of leave (well, with a day of work in the middle and an edit that has to be done in the first couple of days) starting tomorrow, and I thought a list might save me from the scurry of things in my head. I thought I could have a short, elegant list of things to do each day — exercise, eat something from the garden, read, write — but then it grew (see people, garden, do chores, prep for dinner) and then I added on random household chores I haven’t done for a year and for some reason thought I would enjoy packing into four short days of leave (wash the windows, organise the pantry) and then it didn’t really feel like a holiday any more.

20170219_210137So, I stuck that list on the fridge and wrote a short one for tomorrow, cleaned out the chook house, did the washing, wrote a grocery list, mended some clothes, lost my nut a few times, watered the glasshouse and drank too much coffee.

But another thread ran through the day, and I’m trying desperately to hang on to it because it felt calmer, more life-giving, better for body and soul. The Cat and I spent a happy hour this morning harvesting. We picked tomatoes, mint and broad beans, kale, zucchini and lettuce, and an armful of sweetpeas and roses — a gorgeous heap of colour and potential. The Cat was enthusiastic and excited, I was quietly smug, the kitchen smelled delicious.

I stuck the flowers in a jar and cooked the vegetables through the day. Lunch was tomato salad with mint and the last crumbs of a taut sheep’s feta, a lettuce salad* softened with pear and apple cider vinegar dressing, broad beans blanched and double-podded, then fried with bacon, some scraps of bread, a little leftover chicken. For dinner, I made a gratin with slices of zucchini in stock and a layer of oiled breadcrumbs on top. In a bowl with rice, it was a garden-storecupboard marriage of surprising grace and charm.

So, the lists did their thing, but the harvest helped more. Spontaneity within bounds, and all that.

  • One of the lettuces was a Venetian heirloom number, curiously strong-leaved, verging on tough, and with a slightly bitter edge. The other was some leafy thing I let go in the glasshouse.

Hitting my stride

I’m not sure what the deal is with exercise and plateaus and progress and all that, but it’s been a hard slog for the last month or two and then this week I think I turned the corner. I’ve been fighting low-level colds and a sinus infection for weeks, off and on, sometimes winning, sometimes feeling like shit.

I kept going to the gym and barre class during that time, but more sporadically and with variable energy levels. I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere, was struggling with everything and getting cross with myself. Rest felt more urgent, something needed rebuilding.

At the same time (and probably relatedly), I hit a work, identity and relationship jag. The details don’t matter too much — what am I doing with my life? what happened to my creativity? why the fuck am I logisticising everything around my partner’s work again? when do I get to throw myself into work? do I really have to spend another afternoon doing chores and cooking dinner while being a rubbish mother? will my brain ever work at full stretch again? blah, blah, blah — but the feeling was the same: stasis, frustration, emptiness.

But, you know, little by little, things shift. I started to nail chin-ups, took my cardio right back to a manageable level then built from there, kept warm, walked lots, cried a bit, gave it my best shot, did some thinking, had another look, a gentler look, at my partner and kids.

And this week I went to the gym four days in a row, kept my temper, firmed up some boundaries, let myself play, wrote a bit. It was better. Maybe I’m on the up. I hope so.

Sorry, kid

Ian took Rabbit to the dump yesterday. Rabbit saw the very big digger and promptly had an existential crisis:

“But I already want to be a linesman on the weekends and a pilot and aeroplane engineer during the week and now I want to drive that digger as well … and there’s simply not time to do four things!”

Hits us all that way at some stage, kiddo.

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.

Exercise
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.

Work
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.

Writing
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.

Family
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?

Best testimonial ever

This one actually made me cry. Just a little bit.

Am at the tail end of Friday night wine and pizza, so it’s possible I’ve made a typo in transcribing this. That would be ironic.

Mary, when nothing made sense, you made it all make sense. Every single week, I could count on you to save us from embarrassing mistakes and contradictory headlines.
Josie Cochrane, Critic editor 2015

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.

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Finding balance

This seems like self help that’s actually, y’know, helpful.

Work/life balance quadrant

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.

Getting out of the kitchen

IMAG4086We had a little revolution in the kitchen this week. First of all, the boys worked out a menu for the week, which meant that I didn’t face the daily trauma of figuring out what to cook, what to buy, what to use up, etc.

Ideally I would saunter down to my local shops of an afternoon, basket in hand, select the freshest and most delicious vegetables, fish, meat, breads on offer, then whip up an elegant little feast in my calm and orderly kitchen. Unfortunately, very few of those adjectives apply round here, I can’t afford the nouns, and the verbs aren’t really how I roll. So the menu was helpful, decorative, and came in at budget.

Hooray for you, my boys.

Then, last night, the boys offered to cook bruschetta. We had a rocky start, with both children pushing past their screen-time limit and then demanding hallway soccer before cooking started. I sliced and oiled the bread, which would have been easy if it hadn’t been frozen — cutting frozen bread makes me crankier than a bear in a beehive. The boys started well, washing their hands, putting on aprons, getting out toppings. But it all fell apart at cutlery, with separate disagreements over forks, knives and spoons. The Cat stormed off, the Rabbit asserted moral superiority, and I started thinking about beer.

My next move, however, was a rare and delicious moment of parenting genius. I offered to get out of the kitchen and leave them to it. And, behold, that was all they needed. I sat in my office and finished my book, and the boys put out all the toppings, cut up carrot without losing any fingers, made a pot of hot water (covered with a tea cosy), set the table, and called me in time to toast the bread and help open cans.

And I guess it was a reminder to get out of the way more often. To step back from the refereeing and the negotiation and see what they can do. To let their relationship find its own ground, its own workings. A reminder to trust and a reminder to make space. And a reminder to tend to myself too, to read, to complete, to breathe.

The office

The sun has returned to our wee patch, and it is DELIGHTFUL.

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The support crew is pretty awesome too…

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