When I posted last week, I mentioned that a lot has happened in my life recently. One of those things? I was laid off from my job as Managing Editor for VancouverMom.ca. There are big changes happening on the site, most specifically the imminent launch of the JellyBeen app. As a result there was some re-shuffling, and my role was eliminated.

This is not my first experience with losing my job. I was laid off in 2009, when I got news during my maternity leave that I wouldn’t have a job to return to. Having been through this before actually does make it a little bit easier. However, there are still bumps, at least in part because this lay-off has been quite a lot different.

Last time, I had already been away from my job for eight months, since I was on maternity leave. I had a four-year-old and a baby. Also, before my mat leave I was working in an office, in a position I’d held for a decade. I received a hefty severance package, and took it as an opportunity to re-examine my life. Now that I was a mom of two, I had to chart a new course, and it took a lot of time and false starts to get there.

laid off unemployed endings forgivenessThis time, while I was the editor for three and a half years, the first year and three quarters was as a freelancer. My time as an actual employee was much shorter. Also, I did the job part-time from home, with only occasional meetings with the rest of my team. This means no hefty severance, and I’m not really leaving my workplace behind. Plus, this time I already have a plan for what I’m doing next – I’m hoping to start teacher training this fall. This lay-off has simply moved up the time frame of leaving this job to pursue the next thing. I will be okay. I know where I’m going next and how I’m going to get there.

That doesn’t mean that being laid off is fun. Being laid off is never fun. I was hoping to stay in this job for eight more months, to save up some money for when I return to university. And while I totally understand and respect my former employer’s decision, and I truly do wish her all the success in the world, getting that phone call is not a good time for anyone. No matter how many times I hear that this isn’t my fault, that I didn’t do anything wrong, that these things happen, it stings. It just does. Saying good-bye is hard.

I’m going to miss VancouverMom.ca. It was my online home for more than three years. I learned a lot in the job, and made a lot of friends and connections. I’m not the same person I was when I started. In fact, it was a press release that I received while I was working there that inspired me to seriously pursue teaching. If I hadn’t been in a role where people contacted me to tell me about the cool things they’re doing, I may not have gotten the idea to do this cool thing myself. I owe a lot to the site, and I’m sad to leave.

Like I said, I’m going to be okay. My last working day was December 19, so just over a week ago. Right now I’m spending my time hanging out with my kids, polishing off my teaching application and thinking of blog posts in my head. I have more space, suddenly, which is both scary and liberating. There are more budgetary constraints, and fewer time constraints. Upsides and downsides. Life is like that.

I’m sure that when I look back on this in years to come I will see how it all worked out, or something like that. At this moment, I’m still processing the loss. I think that’s normal. This too shall pass, and in the meantime I’m doing my best to just accept it all as it comes, good and bad, happy and not-so-happy, freeing and frightening. It feels fitting that this is how I would finish 2014, given that my word this year is forgiveness. I have one more chance to let it all go. Wish me luck.

Podcast: Katrina Alcorn Says Moms Need a Break

strocel.com podcast maxed out katrina alcornThe title of Katrina Alcorn‘s book – Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink – resonated with me instantly. While I’m not American, I am a mom. I know how it feels to have a (more than) full plate, with no end in sight. I immediately arranged to speak with her, and I’m thrilled to share our conversation with you on today’s podcast.

The book is sort of an unconventional memoir, following Katrina’s own life, and how she dealt with feeling maxed out. It incorporates research about women and work, and presents suggestions for how we can make things better.

At a time when we’re all being encouraged to lean in, and when the world is micro-managing Marissa Mayer’s maternity leave, Katrina’s book provides a welcome perspective. Of course we want to encourage women and young girls to go after what they want. However, many workplaces could also benefit from an overhaul to provide a better work-life balance for everyone. That balance is what Maxed Out addresses.

strocel.com podcast katrina alcorn maxed outDuring our conversation Katrina shared part of her story. She talked about why she wrote her book specifically for moms, and presented some research she uncovered. We also discussed alternative work arrangements, like the results-only work environment and telecommuting. If you’ve ever felt maxed out yourself, and you could use a break, I encourage you to listen to this podcast:

If you enjoyed my conversation with the amazing Katrina Alcorn, subscribe to the Strocel.com podcast in iTunes, and you won’t miss a minute of my future broadcasts. Next week I’ll be sharing an interview with Maggie Oman Shannon, minister, mother and author of six books including Crafting Calm: Projects and Practices for Creativity and Contemplation. You won’t want to miss it! Also, if you have a podcast idea, please share it with me. I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Podcast: Talking Work at Home and More with Jennifer Forest

strocel.com podcast work women want jennifer forestI’ve become a little more choosy, recently, when it comes to inviting guests to be on my podcast. I’m 80 episodes in, now, and I suspect that I’m feeling a little more confident than I was two years ago when I started. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed each and every interview I’ve done, and I’ve learned something by doing each one. However, in the beginning I was so thrilled that anyone would speak to me that I jumped on every opportunity without asking too many questions. Now I’m getting more pitches, and I’m taking more time to consider each one. When I recently got the opportunity to interview Jennifer Forest, the author of the new book Work Women Want, I knew that was one worth jumping for.

strocel.com podcast work women want jennifer forestJennifer’s book is a guide to women who want more family-friendly work arrangements. If you’ve ever thought you’d like to work from home, work part-time, or work in a different field so that you can have better work-life balance and spend more time with your kids, Jennifer wrote this book for you. She’s not promising that if you read her book you’ll become a millionaire overnight, and she’s also not promising that it will be easy. Rather, she is sharing practical tips from real moms who have been there, done that, and found ways to make living incomes from home, or on reduced work schedules.

During our podcast Jennifer shares her own story, and discusses what inspired her to write the book. She shares tips for starting a business, talks about negotiating a part-time schedule, and covers some of the nitty-gritty details you’ll encounter if you decide to start a business while you have small children. If you’d like to shift the way you work, you’ll want to take the time to listen to the podcast:

I’m still deciding what I’ll be sharing next week on the podcast, but I can promise you that you’ll want to tune in. Subscribe to the Strocel.com podcast in iTunes, and you won’t miss a minute! Also, if you have a podcast idea, please share it with me. I’d love to hear your suggestions!

A Space of My Own

Virginia Woolf famously said, “A woman must have … a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” While I don’t write fiction, I do write. Sadly, however, I don’t have a room of my own. I live in a split-level three bedroom house, which is roomier than some of my friends’ homes, but does not afford me a room for writing. When I was pregnant with my son Jacob my husband and I lost our office to the cause of our kids each having their own room. The computer moved downstairs to a corner of the family room, which is otherwise filled mostly with toys.

It was a full year or more after the computer moved that I got the call that I had been laid off from my job. I didn’t realize it yet at the time, but that day marked my transition from part-time work outside the home mom to full-time work at home mom. I soon discovered that trying to be productive from the corner of my family room was much more challenging than trying to be productive from my cubicle in an office. Any sort of separation between family and career was erased. I’m not complaining – there are many upsides to this. I have much more flexibility when it comes to being with my kids, for instance, which is a big plus for me. I’m glad I made the switch.

At the same time, I often long for a room of my own. A room that I can close the door on when the work day is done. A room I can retreat to when the noise in the rest of the house is too much. A space that isn’t filled with toys and discarded apple cores and so on. My husband and I frequently talk about this conundrum, of lacking any type of home office. We haven’t found any great solutions. However, recently it occurred to me that I could at least make a few changes to my workspace, to make it a little more functional.

For the past couple of months I’ve been on a quest. The first step was moving the printer off of my desk. We accomplished that in October, when we got a working wifi printer, which now lives on the top shelf of a closet. That cleared off my desk. Step two was getting rid of my clunky old desktop computer, and moving on to my laptop. (You’ll be glad to know I kept disco mouse, though.) We did that in November, which cleared more space in my desk area. Step three was clearing out my old bookshelf, which hasn’t actually contained books for ages, and making space for my sewing supplies and sewing machine. We did that in December.

The job was finished this weekend. We made the pilgrimage to IKEA for a new floor mat, chair and doors for my bookcase. The result is a corner of a room that is totally mine, filled with my work and crafting supplies. My sewing machine is no longer hidden in a cupboard when it’s not in use, and sharing space on my dining room table when it is. My fabric is no longer stuffed into an overflowing shelf in my buffet. My desk is no longer covered with things I don’t need, want or use. And I finally have a chair I actually like, rather than one that my husband bought himself 15 years ago for his bachelor apartment.

A work and craft space of my own
My completed space

I’m hoping that Virginia Woolf was only half-right, and that a space of my own will suffice. For now, I have to say, I’m very happy with it. It may not be perfect, but it’s mine. My own little corner of the world. It is sweet, indeed.

On Wasting Time

It’s Thursday, so I’m Crafting my Life! I invite you to join in the fun. If you would like to share a story from your own journey, please drop me a line. If you’d like to find out more about my online class on living with intention and my upcoming e-book, visit craftingmylife.com.

It’s been over a week now since Hannah started grade one. With her out of the house for six hours every weekday, and Jacob going to daycare part-time, I have more time to myself now than I’ve had in years – probably since before I had kids. It feels incredibly decadent, really, and I love having dedicated kid-free time to work in. It’s really increasing my productivity.

I’ve started using SlimTimer to track my time, and I’m spending more time on work-related tasks than I thought. I’m spending an especially large amount of time on email, which isn’t great, but that’s another story. What’s pertinent for this story is that I am spending all of my kid-free time and a whole lot more on work. And by “work” I mean the things I do to earn a living. I’m not counting obligations like cooking, cleaning and running errands.

I’ve given you a lot of back story, but in truth the bottom line is simple: I’m a parent, so I’m busy. There is never any shortage of stuff for me to do. If you’re a parent, the odds are good that you feel the same way. So what do we do? We become efficient. There’s no time to waste, so we do everything as quickly as possible. We eat quickly, we clean quickly, we shower quickly and we brush our teeth quickly. It’s all about getting as much done as you can as quickly as you can. Productivity is key, and there’s no room for dallying.

I especially feel the pressure to be productive during the time that my kids are out of the house. I’m paying for daycare, so it feels wasteful to use it on tasks that don’t generate revenue. I need to bring in enough income to cover the costs of childcare and then some. I can’t afford to use my free time watching funny cat videos or playing around on Pinterest.

While I feel that I should use my available time productively, in reality I don’t always live up to that ideal. There are two competing forces at work inside my head at any time. One of them is telling me to buckle down and get things done, and the other one would really prefer to hang out on the couch eating salt and vinegar chips while watching old Law and Order reruns. The laziness is strong in me, and it’s especially vocal when it realizes there’s no one else around to hog the remote or steal my chips.

Is it so wrong to want to just put your feet up and relax once in a while? Probably not. I learned something a long time ago, and it’s that I’m at my most productive when I give myself periodic mental breaks. Maybe sometimes you need to waste time, so that you can be ready to go later. If you ignore that need, and keep pushing through, you’ll start making mistakes and cutting corners because your mental alertness and focus are diminished. After all, the goal isn’t just to churn out work, it’s to do good work.

Where’s the balance, though? How do you tell when it’s time to buckle down, and when it’s time to take 20 minutes out of your day to have a snack and go for a quick walk? I think the answer comes down to knowing how you work best and setting priorities. If you work best in the morning, then that’s the time to buckle down and get things done. If you’ve been staring at the same screen and getting nowhere for the past three hours, then maybe this is the time to switch things up and play around on YouTube for a while. On top of that, if you have a good handle on what has to happen when, then you can make the best possible decisions on how to use your time.

It’s great to be efficient and productive. But it’s also important to give yourself a little time and space to recharge your batteries. If you can figure out how to balance those needs (it’s not easy!) then you’re really set.

How do you balance the need for downtime against the constant onslaught of work that comes with parenting? I’d love to hear!

My Freedom Day

Today is my freedom day. As of today I have one child in school all day, another child in daycare three days a week and 18 hours to myself every week. For a work-at-home mom, this is pure, unbridled luxury. Just imagine it – 18! Hours! No! Interruptions!

I have been eagerly anticipating this day for quite some time. I love my children, and I really love the flexibility that working from home brings me, but the truth is that kids and work don’t go together all that well. When you’re trying to take care of your kids and work at the same time, someone is always getting short-changed. In fact, I would take that one step further and say that everyone is getting short-changed – your clients, your kids and most of all yourself. It’s just not possible to complete a task that requires real concentration and attend to your children at the same time.

For the longest time I have been compensating for my lack of consistent childcare by staying up late at night. It’s far from ideal. When I stay up late at night working I don’t get any downtime, I don’t get enough sleep and I’m kind of unpleasant to be around. I had few other options, though, especially since I’m not willing to park my kids in front of the TV for four or five or seven hours a day. So I put my head down and pulled through. It’s what parents do, right? We accomplish whatever we can in, around and in spite of our families, and we understand that compromises will need to be made.

Now my freedom day has arrived, and things are about to change. I am about to have much more space to work in. It’s not a lot of space, exactly, but it’s more than I’ve had since I last worked outside of the home more than three years ago. I feel almost giddy, and I have a near-irresistible urge to fill up the space with stuff. I want to take a class, go for coffee with friends and business contacts, re-organize the play room and work in my garden. I want to sew and knit and bake and can. All of this time is calling out to me.

I am fighting my urge to fill my new-found space. I know that 18 hours a week to work in is really not all that much. I also know that, all too often, I will lose work time to sick kids and professional development days and holidays. This time is precious, and I need to guard against squandering it. I also need to guard against over-committing myself in my excitement. So, as I celebrate my freedom day, my plans are very limited. I don’t know yet how much I will actually accomplish. I don’t know yet exactly what I will do with it. But I can tell you that the possibilities are terribly exciting to me.

Just imagine it. 18 hours. My freedom day is here!

Do you have time to yourself while your kids are at school or in childcare? How do you use it? Does it go faster than you expected, or are you able to cram a lot in? I’d love to hear all about it!

Talking Motherhood, Career and Feminism with Marcy

I first met my friend Marcy at church almost 10 years ago. In face we once delivered a sermon together in honour of International Women’s Day (if you listen to the recording at the end of the post you can hear Jacob screaming as Jon carries him out of the service). I was trying to remember the first time we actually had a conversation, and I couldn’t, so I’ll have to apologize to her. But regardless of when or how that auspicious first meeting happened, what I do remember clearly was serving on a committee together with her. And I remember how much I sincerely enjoyed working with her.

What I love about Marcy is how warm and open she is. I also love how readily she shares from her own experiences. If you have been a regular visitor to my comments section, you will already be familiar with her wise and well thought-out responses. In fact, I have come to think of her as something of a mentor – someone who has been right where I am now, and come through it all with flying colours.

I decided to ask Marcy to be on my podcast, first of all because I consider her a friend and a role model. But more than that, I knew that she had a lot to share. She started her career as a school teacher, and became an at-home mother while her children were small. She was a feminist, and when her children got a little older she returned to school, helped to found the local women’s resource society and an emergency shelter for women facing domestic abuse. She became an employment counselor, and worked as a consultant, eventually moving into full-time work. Her story gives me hope that I can build something great as a mother of young children.

I encourage you to listen to Marcy’s interview. It’s full of inspiration, humour, and warmth, just like Marcy herself. And then I encourage you to talk to your own role models, and let them know what they’ve meant for you.

I’m working on a very exciting interview for next week. I can’t wait to share it with you! In the meantime, subscribe to the Strocel.com podcast, and you’ll be sure not to miss a minute of it!

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