Blogging from bed

view of Arizona backyard
View from my bed.

We’ve had thunder and lightening and down pouring rain since 10 p.m. last night. I’m sitting in bed watching the storm. I’ve decided this is a perfect day to blog from bed.

Right now there is a break in the rain, so I might venture out for a walk. But with all the thunder and lightning, I’m not sure it’s safe or the smartest idea. So here I sit, listening to the birds who are beginning to venture out.

It was quite a spectacular show last night — and the night before. The biggest issue is Olive who normally doesn’t meow. She was crying loudly this morning. When she got scared or nervous in the past — due to a pug named Waffles who likes to chase her — she ended up with a UTI. She’s hiding under the guest bed currently and I’m leaving her alone.

I’m enjoying my first monsoon season and blogging from bed!

Monsoon in Arizona
The water is pooling around the house.

Have you ever blogged from bed and for what reasons?

My quirky habits with books

I’ve always loved to read. That’s why I wanted to be a writer beginning when I was a young girl reading all the Anne books over and over. My mom used to take me to a used book store at the “U District” in Seattle — that’s the area surrounding the University of Washington. I loved hanging out with the musty smells of thousands of aging books. I’d always find a treasure like “Little Women” or a book called “Liz” written by Jean MacGibbon. copyright 1966.

Anne of Green Gables book cover Classic

Back then, I treated the books and characters like old friends. I loved C.S. Lewis series, Anne, Harriet the Spy, and Ellen Tebbits by Beverly Cleary. My parents thought it was odd that I could read a book more than a dozen times. I hung on to many of my favorites from my childhood. They have a sacred place on my bookshelf.

Liz book cover by Jean MacGibbon

Today, I rarely read books more than once. But here’s my new quirk. If I really like a book, I have trouble finishing it. I’m reading “The Dutch House” by Ann Patchett. I love the characters, the story, the setting. The house that’s a central character in the book. I have less than 20 pages left. But it has sat on my nightstand for the past two nights untouched. I don’t want to finish the book and leave it.

Cover art of The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

I had the same trouble two weeks ago with “Next Year in Havana” by Chanel Cleeton. The characters and setting, along with the story about a family’s life in Cuba during Batista’s years and their escape to Miami under Fidel Castro was fascinating. So was the jump forward to the granddaughter’s life when she visits Cuba for the first time and tries to discover pieces of her grandmother’s life. It was a good story because the author had characters on every side of the issues. There are revolutionaries, debutantes, sugar cane millionaires. You get to view Cuba’s history through many points of view. Many Cubans who stayed resented those who moved to America and flourished. Definitely worth a read. But it took me so long to finish those final chapters. The good news is there another book about the same family in the works.

Next Year in Havana book cover

What are some of the good books you’ve enjoyed lately? What are your favorite books from your childhood? What are some of your quirks reading books? Do you have certain genres you read? Who are your favorite authors?

Can you work from home with kids?

newborn baby being held by toddler brother
My newborn daughter with big brother.

I wrote this post July 2019. It’s interesting to look back on after COVID forced many parents to work from home while raising kids in 2020.

When I started my Public Relations business, it was June. By July, I discovered I was pregnant. I did pretty good balancing work and life until my firstborn became mobile. Once he was crawling and spitting up on my keyboard, work became challenging.

I saw an article in the Citizen Times, a USA network paper in North Carolina, called “Making it all work: Balancing parenting and working from home” by Marla Hardee Milling. She interviewed several families and asked how they worked from home with kids. I enjoyed reading their stories, because I had plenty of my own!

If you are a parent, working from home can rank as a blessing and a curse.

First up — the pros: creating a business at home allows you a flexible schedule. You don’t have to worry about a commute. You don’t have to keep a well-stocked wardrobe for daily appearances at an office (this means you can work in pajamas if you want to), and you may well find that you are more productive when you are working for yourself. 

But there are pitfalls. 

Interruptions can be aggravating. Neighbors and friends may think they can call at any moment because you’re at home. Kids often have the uncanny ability to need something right in the middle of a business call. And you may be surrounded by nagging reminders of things that need to be done at home — the stacked dishes, the pile of laundry, the accumulating clutter. 

So how do you strike a balance between being efficient running a home business and keeping your sanity? 

Juggling life and work

Stephanie Carol of Asheville works part-time from home, writing a sewing blog and a travel blog.

“I juggle work at home life with family life imperfectly,” she admits. “My biggest challenge is that I would prefer to work in long stretches of time, but with kids, it’s more like bits and pieces. The two solutions I’ve come up with or used in the past include one, swapping child care with friends so we each get a full or half day to ourselves while the other watches all of our kids, and two: trying to break down my tasks into small chunks so I can dive right back in and out of my list and stay organized.” 

It can be even more complicated when both parents telecommute from home. That’s the current lifestyle for Amy and John Saunders who live in Waynesville with their 3-year-old son. Amy’s parents own a highway construction company — A&P Services LLC in Brevard  and she serves as the vice president of operations. John is a software architect who works for a company in Chicago. 

John’s job is structured in a way that he is required to be at his computer from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays. But his home office doesn’t have a door, so Amy has to be creative about keeping their son quiet.

“We leave every morning around 9 or 9:30 and then come home for lunch,” she explained. In the afternoon, she fits in work as she can while her son has some quiet playtime. Once her husband is off work, they have a family dinner at 6, go through the bedtime routine and then Amy can hammer out details of her job that she couldn’t get to during the day.  

“As the VP of operations, I do all the scheduling, billing, general project management — I handle everything except estimating and HR stuff,” she said. “As long as the work gets done, it doesn’t matter when it gets done.” 

When I worked from home I had two major problems: how to turn off work and how to get clients to understand that I couldn’t run over for a meeting at the drop of a hat. It was all about boundaries. I had clients who didn’t respect the hours I tried to set and would give me a project at 5 or 6 p.m. and expect it to be delivered the next morning, because “I worked from home.” When I was pregnant, I could make it to any meeting at any time. Once I had a child, it was a different story. I tried babysitters and nannies and would make set hours when I was available for meetings and appointments. Invariably, I worked on projects at home while the babysitter was there. As soon as she left, I’d get a call from a client to come over immediately.

Here’s how other families deal with childcare:

What can I put off?

Without close neighbors to rely on for babysitting, Amy and John care for their son almost 24/7 except for rare moments when the grandparents can step in. It’s a challenging schedule and can be stressful, but she says, “I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

What she is trying to change is her mindset that every work detail needs to be handled immediately. “If I get an email, I feel like I have to take care of it right away,” she said. “I’m learning that if I put something off until tomorrow, it’s probably going to be fine. Some things are time sensitive, but the majority of my job is not. I’m trying to find a balance.” 

Altamont Inspections is the business of Eddie and Angela Roberts, of Hendersonville. While Eddie is out making the inspections, Angela works from her home office to carry out all the details of running the business: scheduling, billing, troubleshooting, and setting priorities.

“I have a designated office space, so office work stays in the office,” Angela said. “I have set times to devote to work and I make a checklist each morning of the most important things to do.”

Having that list is crucial since they have two very active daughters — teens Anna and Emma — who are involved in band, gymnastics and other activities. “I always put family first,” she said. “If someone wants an inspection time that conflicts with my daughter’s band concert, I’ll offer them another day or time.”

She’s found it easier to keep separate email addresses and phone numbers for work and personal use, and she checks social media during her personal time. Angela also has learned to say “no” when she runs out of time.

“The PTO can find someone else to help with the dance decorations this time, but I’m happy to bring pre-packaged snacks,” she said as an example.  

Outside help

Her daughters are older now and more self-sufficient, but she also realizes the value of getting outside help to keep her household and business running smoothly.

“I hire help like a bi-weekly housekeeper, a lawn maintenance crew, and a caregiver to pick up the kids from school and help them with homework a couple of days a week,” she said. “I will also order groceries online and pick them up or have them delivered through Mother Earth Foods. A family dinner doesn’t have to be home cooked every night. I like to support local restaurants and order to-go or make a list of grocery stores that have weekly specials, like The Fresh Market changes their $20 ‘Little Big Meals’ that feed four each Tuesday and some Ingle’s delis have Friday steak nights.” 

With planning, dedication, and creative strategies, working from home can be a fruitful endeavor. And just think about all that traffic you don’t have to sit in day after day.

The final straw in my working from home was after I hired a full-time nanny. I watched as she raised my child. They splashed in the pool and walked to the park to play. Meanwhile, I sat at my desk jealous beyond belief. I quit the PR business and changed my work. Instead or writing press releases and newsletters, I began writing for magazines, newspapers and drafting novels and children’s stories. I squeezed my work in between raising my kids. I made way less money, but I have no regrets.

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Now there’s just me, my husband and the cat working from home.

Have you tried working from home? How do you juggle parenting with your job?

Remembering Ray Bradbury

In honor of the great Ray Bradbury who died in June 2012, I’m reposting this story about what I learned from him.

I was looking through my book shelves for summer reading. I picked up Ray Bradbury’s Zen and the Art of Writing: Release the Creative Genius Within You. It’s a small paperback book that has sat on my shelf, unread. I opened the cover and on page one the autograph of the author and the date May 1996 stared me in the face.

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That’s the first time I heard Ray Bradbury speak — and the first time I asked him to sign a book. My daughter, who graduated high school last week, was three months old, and my son, a junior in college, was three years old. That’s a lot of years to have this book sitting on my bookshelf.

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Yes, I’m now reading this collection of essays and remembering how inspiring his talk was. Earlier that same day in May 1996, I recognized Ray Bradbury at Las Casuelas the Original, a small Mexican restaurant a few blocks away from the Riviera Hotel, where he was speaking later. I introduced myself to him, as he ate alone, and I said I couldn’t wait to hear his talk.

It was one of the first writer’s conferences I had attended, and I was kind of in a fog, having a newborn child and little sleep.

Ray Bradbury was amazing. He reminded me of a young child, finding wonder in the world. He had the ability to stay young at heart and observe the world as though seeing little things for the first time. I loved his story of how he wrote Fahrenheit 451 in the basement of the UCLA library at a rental typewriter for 10 cents for a half hour. He said he was literally a “dime novelist.” It gave me courage and the belief that we can do anything — if you want it badly enough.

“Garbage in, garbage out,” he said. He advised us to turn off the TV. Don’t watch the news. He said they were selling soap and there was little or no good news and it would rot our minds. Instead, “Read the Bible, a poem and an essay every day.”

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How I’d wish I’d listened more carefully and followed that advice 18 years ago. How different would my life be today? The good news is, it’s not too late to start. And I’m proud to say, I started down that path yesterday.

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My all time favorite Ray Bradbury book is Fahrenheit 451. My son Robert loves this book, too. I took my son to meet Ray Bradbury during another local speaking engagement years later. Robert has a signed copy of Farenheit 451 that he treasures. Ray Bradbury was a very accessible and kind man, willing to share with all of us enjoying his gift and genius — and striving to be 1/100th the writer that he was. 

“What do you love most in the world? The big and little things, I mean. A trolley car, a pair of tennis shoes? These, at one time when we were children, were invested with magic for us.” — Zen and the Art of Writing

Living on “The Edge”

I finished reading “The Edge” yesterday. The book brought back memories of growing up in my rural Pacific Northwest hometown. It’s a book written by “Clark Douglas” who in real life is one of my childhood best friend’s little brothers. Dougie, as we called him when we were big junior high girls, followed us around whenever I hung out at their home. I’m not sure how much younger he was, but he was a little kid and I enjoyed his company because of his personality and brain power.

I have tons of memories at their home. My brother’s good friend was Christy’s oldest sibling Larry. Christy’s sister Cathy was in my brother’s class. They had about 10 acres with a tennis court, cows, a barn with a loft and bales of hay — and a lake with a tiny island that Christy and I attempted to camp out on one summer. Christy’s room had a steep roof and gable. We could climb out the window and sit on the rooftop. Their mom left us alone and my only memories of their dad was pushing a lawn mower. Often we’d be the ones tagging along our big brothers on the golf course. Christy and I were the only girls on the boy’s golf team.

Although “The Edge” takes place in Montana, it could easily be our hometown with the high school football games being the star attraction in town and the athletes our local heroes. Douglas creates quirky characters that are entertaining and reminded me of my neighbors in Snohomish, where everyone knew everyone’s business. The story follows the life of Will Powers, the younger brother of local football heroes, through his early childhood being provoked by his siblings through his college years, marriage in California, to his return to his hometown. I admire how Doug created such depth of characters and intertwined their lives in unexpected ways.

The beautiful cover is painted by the author’s talented oldest sister Cathy and captures the PNW beautifully. Christy was editor and proofreader. With my history with this family, of course I whole heartedly recommend the book, but it was a good read, too.

From Amazon:

Prior to the turn of the century, life in western Montana provided all the elements of harmony and simplicity. William Powers had that life, and struggles to get back to it. William never accepts defeat, though. Battling through life’s hurdles, he ultimately must return to the person he once was in order to attain it. Pete Campbell, however, has to make a decision–do what is right, or do what the law says. As a deputy sheriff in a rural community, this may be up to his interpretation. Armed with knowledge of the people and the history of his community, Pete may choose to answer to a different standard. Pete tells us the whole story behind Will’s life. Though Will appears to be just an average person, nothing normal could be said about him. Fueled by love, anger, justice, and determination beyond measure, Will searches for his peace. Will’s story carries the reader back to a time and place that by today’s standard can only be imagined and desired. A delightful mix of comedy, conflict, romance, drama, and suspense are all rolled up into one tale. This easy read will captivate the mind, building story upon story until it all surfaces at The Edge.

Will the PRO Act destroy the 1099 life?

I wrote this when the disaster and arbitrary bill AB 5 passed in California. It was aimed at Uber and Lyft drivers but hit a bunch of other people as well including freelance writers and musicians. A fix was signed into law by the governor called AB 2257. My opinion is if you have to “carve out” 75 exceptions why not junk the bill and start over?

Now there is a new bill that passed the US House called the PRO Act. It’s a pro union bill that has the side effect of threatening to end freelancers. There may be benefits to the bill, but the unintended consequences are that it’s going to make it difficult for freelancers to continue running their small businesses. Here’s an article from The Hill that talks about the ABC test that defines if you’re an independent contractor or should be classified as an employee.

Here’s the post I wrote about AB 5:

beautiful view from window
The view from my freelance writer’s life in our old Palm Springs home.

I am a freelance writer. Obviously, I’m not writing to get rich. I’m doing it because I love it. I don’t need the state of California to dictate who I submit articles to nor how often. But in a new bill, AB 5 that will be law in January, they are destroying the freelance writing business.

In an article by Katie Kilkenny in The Hollywood Reporter called “Everybody Is Freaking Out”: Freelance Writers Scramble to Make Sense of New California Law, she spells out some of the confusion and frustration over AB 5. The real intent of AB 5 was to get rid of the gig economy — in particular Lyft and Uber drivers — and force people to join unions. That’s the bottom line.

A new bill that caps freelance submissions may make writing financially unsustainable for many workers even though the legislator behind the law insists that the goal is “to create new good jobs and a livable, sustainable wage job.”

California-based freelance writer Arianna Jeret recently learned about Assembly Bill 5 and is now concerned she and her colleagues in CA may soon be speaking about their jobs in the past tense.

Jeret, who contributes to relationship websites YourTango.com and The Good Men Project, says freelance writing has helped support her two children and handle their different school schedules. Her current gigs — covering mental health, lifestyle and entertainment — allow her to work from home, from the office and even from her children’s various appointments. “There were just all of these benefits for my ability to still be an active parent in my kids’ lives and also support us financially that I just couldn’t find anywhere in a steady job with anybody,” she says.

Jeret is now coming to terms with how her lifestyle will change come Jan. 1, when AB 5, California legislation aimed directly at the gig economy that was signed into law Sept. 18, will go into effect.

The bill, which cracks down on companies — like ride-sharing giants Lyft and Uber — that misclassify would-be employees as independent contractors, has been percolating through the California legislative system for nearly a year. It codifies the 2018 Dynamex decision by the State Supreme Court while carving out some exemptions for specific professions.

I worked at jobs with benefits for years before deciding to stay home and work as a contract employee. I did this when I became a mother. My husband had benefits from his job, so I no longer had to worry about health insurance, etc. I had the freedom to stay home and write. I’ve written for PR firms, magazines, newspapers, blogs, and worked on non fiction and fiction manuscripts. I’ve had enormous freedom in my writing career to juggle it with motherhood and volunteering. Sometimes writing took a back seat. And that’s okay. It was all my choice. 

Freelancers have different reasons for not being full-time or part-time employees. They know what the benefits are as well as the drawbacks. Why doesn’t the state want us to decide what fits our lives best? Why do they think they know better?

AB 5 came up with a number of 35 submissions to a single publication, or you’re considered an employee. And you have to join the union, too. So how did the State of CA come up with that number?

As for how lawmakers settled on the 35-submission figure, Gonzalez says that she and her team decided that a weekly columnist sounded like a part-time worker and so halved that worker’s yearly submissions. After protest from some freelancers, the number was bumped up to 35. “Was it a little arbitrary? Yeah. Writing bills with numbers like that are a little bit arbitrary,” she says.

Still, labor experts and freelancers alike are skeptical that the desired outcome of AB 5 — that newsrooms will hire California-based freelancers as part-time or full-time employees — will be achieved in the short term, especially as the news media continues to face major challenges to its business (in September, Business Insider estimated that 7,200 workers have lost their media jobs so far this year). Many publications that employ California freelancers aren’t based in the state and it’s not clear how AB 5 will affect them. Still, some are choosing to opt out entirely. Indeed, several freelance writers who spoke to THR say that various out-of-state employers — some with offices in California — have already told them they’re cutting ties with California freelancers.

What’s especially disheartening about this bill is that is was written by someone who doesn’t understand the industry at all. They have no idea how their law is going to affect the media industry.

Here are my thoughts today:

What’s even scarier is this may be the law of the land. 1099 part-time work may become a thing of the past. I remember when I decided to start my own PR business back in 1992. I was excited, scared to be on my own. But I quickly landed two big clients that paid the bills. I followed the footsteps of three other young women who were graphic designers I had worked with for years. They struck out on their own and were loving the independence and working their own hours. I felt like we were a group of independent, strong women — working for ourselves and no longer for our male bosses. It was an exciting time. The good old days.

I’d love to hear from other freelancers about their thoughts on AB 5 and the new Pro Act.

Needs, Wants and Writing

I wrote this one year ago after struggling with character development in a manuscript. After reading this, I’ll dust off the file and dive in again.

baby peeking out behind the door

My writing expert a few years ago.

When my kids were in Catholic elementary school, a teacher explained the difference between needs and wants to them. I remember being impressed with how the teacher brought this lesson down to their age level and it was something that I hadn’t explained to my kids. Yet, it’s such a crucial life lesson. When you’re raising kids, they often have a lot of things they “need.” They want to fit in with their peers and when one friend gets the latest whatever, they feel they need it, too.

When my kids told me they “needed” a colorful iPod mini or a deck of Pokemon cards I could answer smugly, “Is this something you need—or something you want?”

I pretty much think they believed it was something they needed.

I had a conversation with my son two years ago about needs and wants. I was telling him how I was struggling with a rewrite of a mid-grade novel but was beginning to have a break-through. I hired an editor to review my manuscript and the main thread of advice was to add depth to my main characters. I have a “good” protagonist and an “evil” antagonist. It’s a book about friendships and growth in character, yet my characters are pretty shallow. My son—brilliant person that he is—suggested I look at their “needs” and “wants.”

Seriously? The child who “needed” so many material things is now lecturing me on “needs and wants?” Yes, he is and in literature, he explained, needs and wants take on a subtle but different meaning. I found a good article “What your character wants versus what they need” from the Novel Factory. Here’s an excerpt:

What your character wants
We all want something. Some of us crave power, others long for heaps of cash, others want five minutes of fame. Some of us dream of having a baby, or a picture perfect wedding. Then of course there are more specific goals, like to win Countdown, to meet David Attenborough or to bake the perfect flan.

At the outset of your novel, you need to establish what it is your character wants – what it is that they are pursuing? What do they believe will give them a feeling of satisfaction?

What your character needs
However, there is something else under the surface, and that is what your character needs.

There are very few things human beings actually need, in order to be happy, and most of the things we fixate on wanting only obscure the really important things.

The things we need can usually be distilled to one thing: love.

This bit of advice from my son was eye-opening. I truly love my kids and his interest and expertise as a Lit major has helped me.

mom and baby sitting on the beach

Back when needs and wants were simple.

Have you explained to your kids about needs and wants? If you’re a writer, how do you use needs and wants to enrich your characters?