When a Crock’s Not a Crock

Over the years I’ve had a few consulting firms as clients. Thus I’ve been exposed to a lot of theory about lost time and whatnot, which is why I can be so “efficiency” minded — even if I’m sometimes poor at practicing what I preach to myself.

But since Maggie came into our lives 11 months ago, efficiency has become a means of survival. She is a great kid for a work-from-home parent, nearly always happy and proficiently self-entertaining. Even so, sharing space with a baby consumes a few hours of each of my workdays.

Diaper changes, wardrobe changes, toy clean-ups, toy re-clean-ups, and rescuing her from every dangerous situation she can find — all of that pinches the minutes available for work. Nowadays the last thing I want to do at 5 p.m. is get off the computer so I can get on the stove. I don’t want to lose that hour.

That’s why the crock pot has become such a standard in our domestic repertoire. My mom gave my wife one for Christmas, and it’s made our culinary life easier to live. I love cooking (I’m the one who does most of the non-microwave food prep in the house), but on most days now I just want to not worry about it.

The crock pot gives me two huge conveniences:

  1. Cooking is actually faster. The food isn’t ready to eat until forever, but my role in compiling it is brief. Most slow-cooker recipes involve just cutting and measuring (and the latter is barely necessary), followed by dumping everything in the pot and pressing the power button.
  2. One crock-pot session gives us three or four meals’ worth of food. We can eat until at least Wednesday on Monday’s bounty. Two days of cooking can feed us for a week. We sometimes don’t have enough Pyrex containers to contain it all.

On cooking day I spend all afternoon hungry, because I can smell the food simmering for hours upon hours. I keep peeking at it to see if it looks as good as it smells. Then my wife loves walking in the house and smelling the brew.

We haven’t ventured far down this culinary road yet, and the short distance we have traveled has included just the usual stops, such as beef stew, pulled chicken and chicken soup that was supposed to be chicken stew.

I recently posted a request for crock-pot ideas on Facebook and received a generous portion of recipes from friends and family, ranging from pulled-porks to puddings to soufflés to casseroles to enough oatmeal to feed the cast of Oliver!

We will likely try it all, which should give me more time to write. Bring on the paper. Bring on the Pyrex.

I Done It

Perhaps the biggest challenge of working from home is discipline. Without being visible to other human beings, you can avoid work and get away with it. You can take a three-hour lunch or a two-hour coffee break and use the cumulative hours to catch up on watching the Lost series for the fourth time. Lost hours can become lost days, which can become lost weeks — in more ways than one.

Unless you come from a military background or are just a freak of nature, maintaining a disciplined work schedule without second-party oversight is usually more challenging than finding new business.

The trick, then, is to be accountable to yourself. air yeezy 2 femmes And a good trick to that is to be accountable to an extended version of yourself.

Many people do this already, in the form of making task lists. The list essentially becomes your virtual manager. If you write ten things you need to accomplish but you complete only five, then just looking at the unchecked tasks forces you to be accountable to the earlier version of you who assigned them. It’s like having a virtual manager, except the manager is really you.

But for some reason that could probably be explained by only a psychologist, lists don’t work well with me. And I’ve tried just about every list trick available. But there’s a reverse strategy that does work. Instead of recording a queue of what I should get around to doing, at the end of the day I create a record of what I actually did.

A handy tool helps me with this: an online app called iDoneThis. It’s very simple, yet brilliant in its simplicity.

Every day (or week, or whatever interval you set), iDoneThis sends you an email asking what you’ve accomplished. You reply with your answer, and the website maintains a calendar of your productivity. You can edit or delete anything, anytime, and you can add items by just replying again.

Perhaps to-do lists work for you. Everyone is different, and even for me a list can be functional, such as for keeping a large number of tasks organized. But for everyday work stuff, I find that I’m much more motivated by marking accomplishments than by making demands. The presence of a to-do list feels self-nagging. roshe run hyp femmes However, I never want to end a day without a hefty report to return to iDoneThis.

The solo version of the service is free, but companies, organizations or teams can use a group version for only $5 per person. It’s a great way to track progress and to follow up on projects.

Dodging Trains

The bedroom of our new apartment overlooks the house’s modest backyard, followed by a small municipal parking lot, then by the elevated platform for the N/Q subway line. Trains come and go about every two minutes or so, all day. Seven-month-old Maggie is riveted.

This presents a challenge: We change her diaper on our bed, which is about four feet from the window. When Maggie hears a train coming, she immediately transitions from normal squirmy to championship-caliber squirmy, flipping over and around to see the shiny trains rumbling in to the station. Suddenly every step of wiping and diapering is free run 3.0 v4 interspersed with having to twist her tiny body back to face-up.

Trains triple not only the time needed to change her, but also the chances of spreading a mess.

Thus, changing diapers has become a task of opportunity. If Maggie is not upset about the secretion she’s sitting in, I am behooved by waiting for the station to be trainless. Once the tracks are quiet, I rush her into the bedroom and try to swap diapers before the next arrival. It’s a race against the New York City transit system that I rarely win.

So I’ve learned to change diapers faster. This helps not just with my train dodging, but when I’m busy with work, too.

My process:

  • I calmly explain that Daddy will win almost all of these little battles, so she may as well cooperate. She smiles at me and giggles.
  • I keep the essentials on the bed throughout the day. This would drive my wife nuts, as she prefers household items to be properly stowed at all times; she’d be great on a sailboat. However, having the diapers, wipes and A&D on the bed and ready to be used saves me precious seconds.
  • I give Maggie a job. Her hands are like kittens, roshe run curious and impossible to herd. If left to find her own interests, she would grab everything she can, including the dirty diaper and a handful of vitamins in goop form. So I give her a toy. Or I hand her a diaper with a request that she hold it (“Can you help Daddy?”). With her attention (i.e., her hands and mouth) briefly focused,  I can work faster. And I can work cleaner, which translates into working even faster than faster.
  • I withdraw the required number of wipes before opening the dirty diaper. This helps expedite the cleaning when the mess is exposed, reducing the odds that she gets a hand or foot in it.
  • Rather than placing a new diaper to the side, I open it and slide it under Maggie before removing the old one. That means that once she’s clean, the replacement is already in place. Also, if Maggie decides she’s not done doing whatever she did, the bed is protected. Again, any measure for cleanliness potentially saves time.
  • If Maggie is particularly squirmy, I can throw a light blanket or T-shirt over her face for a faux game of peek-a-boo, which usually buys a few seconds of stillness. This also works on alligators.

Usually before this is all over a train has arrived anyway, and despite my best and quickest efforts, Maggie is rolling over to observe it.

But sometimes I succeed.  Then we can just calmly watch the train together, as daddy and daughter.

Bigger and Better Places

Well, we’re moving. We’re staying in New York City, but moving clear across the avenue, away from 33rd Street and over to 32nd.

Yep, we’re relocating to one block away.

Of course, traversing a block in NYC can put a few thousand people between your old place and your new. Moving a few blocks away can put you in a different world.

From the outside, city dwellers can appear a bit odd in their moving habits. We move a quarter mile in one direction, or a half mile in another, and talk about how different our new life is. We’re not exaggerating.

In NYC, everyone’s interpretation of their neighborhood is the only-somewhat imaginary boundary that contains their needs: pizza parlor, Mexican restaurant, sushi bar, good coffee, grocery, decent produce market, dry cleaner, hardware store, laundromat, hair salon, etc. Aside from work, there isn’t much need to travel outside that small circle (or rectangle — or it could be a trapezoid if you live near Broadway). So migrating a few blocks puts you into a thoroughly new mix of services, and thus people.

However, none of that is our impetus for moving, or we’d be going four blocks farther. Our pertinent issue is space. For three years my wife and I have shared 350 square feet. To those accustomed to roshe run flywire the country or the ’burbs (as I was until 2010), that sounds intolerably claustrophobic. But there’s a saying here — in NYC, your apartment is your bedroom, the city your living room. The sentiment behind that is accurate; you spend so much time outside your abode that a small living space doesn’t feel so confining.

Still, we are welcoming the opportunity to upgrade from 350 to 550. Now we’ll have room for a toilet.

Really, we won’t be adding much stuff. To our additional 200 square feet we’ll be bringing only 16 square feet of new furniture. One of those items is a dresser, the other a crib. Both will serve to more comfortably accommodate the one person who was not in our equation when we cohabited our current place: 6-month-old Maggie.

So what are our plans for the other 184 new square feet? For one, my wife and I will be able to do household things without bumping into each other. I mean that literally. We cannot cook meals and wash dishes simultaneously, due simply to the laws of physics. As for Maggie, she will be able to roll longer distances, and she can learn to walk in more than 3-step increments.

Additionally, we will have an actual kitchen, rather than a living-room-infringing kitchenette. I will not need to cook, eat, work and relax in the same room. I will not need to move my desk chair to open the refrigerator, nor move the microwave to open my cabinet.

My wife will be able to fall asleep in a bedroom that is down the hall from the living room (as opposed to being essentially attached to it) while insulated from the noise of me clacking on the computer when working late, or from the sound of the TV while I watch the end of an extra-innings ballgame. Moreover, the larger bedroom can house a real crib, zx 630 allowing Maggie to graduate from sleeping in a Pack’N’Play.

Part of this, I know, is absurd. Before I lived with Molly I was the sole inhabitant of 1,200 square feet in Connecticut. Now I’m excited about sharing less than half of that with a child and another adult.

It’s all about perspective. And I should have more of that when I can’t view my entire living space from one chair. I should have 184 more square feet of perspective — or, rather, 61.3 when we divide it.

Brief Hiatus

Just a quick note that due to the beginning of high-school football season (Jeremy) and having to cover the US Open (Chris), there will likely be no new posts here for just a few weeks. Looking forward to getting back to working from home very soon…

Coo Calling

Have you ever tried to play a piano with a kitten in the house? Or type? Either way, clanging or clacking on the keys is a sure way to lure the feline. You can’t get through a stanza or a paragraph before the cat is stepping between your fingers, composing its own gift to the world.

That’s what it’s like making phone calls with a baby in the house.

Part of my job is reporting, which means I need to ask people for information to report. I’m not a rush-down-to-the-police-capt’n-for-the-scoop kind of reporter, because I don’t work in newspapers, air jordan 12 femmes and I don’t work in the 1920s. I’m primarily a magazine and public relations writer, which means I collect most of my information from polite, neatly scheduled phone conversations that involve a lot of “please make that sound better when you write the article” requests.

So I spend some time on the phone. And, lately, that’s when Maggie starts hootin’ and howlin’.

During family time, my wife and I have been habitually responding to Maggie’s cooing (along with her newly added skills of squealing and whooping). Doing so is reputedly a way to encourage a baby to learn the concept of conversation. So perhaps when she hears me speaking on the phone, she thinks it’s talk time. She can’t see anyone else in the room, so Daddy must be speaking to her, right?

Alas, the last five phone interviews I’ve done — five! — have at some point included tangent phrases such as, “How old is your baby?”, “Sounds like someone needs Dada” and “Uh oh, is it diaper time?”

In every instance, I felt as if the interruption shredded any semblance of professionalism. I suppose my fear is that one day I’ll be talking to some super-serious, self-important source who doesn’t have the time to be patient with a writer who’s being background-vocaled by a baby, and he or she will blow me off, leaving me stranded on a story with an impending deadline.

Like most fears, though, the reality is likely far different. And so far, it has been.

Each time Maggie joined my phone interviews, it resulted in some off-the-topic chitchat about babies and kids and the joys of parenthood and such. Anyone with experience interviewing knows how roshe run hyp important rapport is, and Maggie’s background banter has donated oodles of it to my calls.

So I suppose instead of shushing her (which, yeah, works great on a five-month-old), I should be thanking her.

Still, there’s a challenge found in this arena. In an upcoming write-up, I’ll discuss some strategies for making phone calls with a baby in the room. In the meantime, any suggestions are welcome.

Look Ma, Two Hands

Several years ago, on a summer evening, I sat writing. My girlfriend at the time approached from behind and put her hands over my eyes, Guess-Who style. Her intent was playful but purposeful: The message was that I should stop working and spend time with her.

My playful response was to continue typing with my eyes obstructed, word after word, sentence after sentence, all mistake-free. How? Because I can type. I can type “correctly,” as in eight fingers on the home keys, adidas neo both thumbs over the space bar, eyes never on the keyboard, and so on. Why? Because I’m a writer, and that’s the efficient way to go about my business, of course.

My blind typing trick impressed her pants off — literally, I think (though that did me no good because I had a deadline, so kept writing all night).

I do have a point, even if it takes me 150 words to get around to relaying it: Despite the multi-tasking afforded by my one-handed-bottle-feeding trick (see “One Hand Left”), some tasks are still best performed with two hands. I can write an email while feeding the baby; I cannot write a chapter.

This led me to a recent epiphany that, when viewed in hindsight, should have been obvious. A key to better organizing my work-at-home-dad workday is that when I need to multitask, I should focus on tasks that actually are, by nature, better compatible with multitasking. Moreover (and this is the important part), I should save those tasks when I actually need to multitask.

An example is photo editing. (Yep, I’m also a photographer.) Culling a batch of images from a shoot can require considerable time, but in the digital world it’s really just a one-handed job. That’s a task I can work on while feeding the baby.

Another example is reading — emails, articles, et al. That, too, is a task I can complete while feeding the baby.

To edit photos or read while my daughter is sleeping or quietly entertaining herself with a bib is, in efficiency vernacular, a waste of time. During two-hands-available time, I should tackle tasks that require two hands: writing, researching, packing camera bags, cleaning lenses. During one-hand-available time, I should be photo editing, updating software, nike cortez conducting phone interviews, catching up on social marketing.

(During no-hands-available time — such as when changing diapers — I can think, which is a huge step in the writing process. Seriously. A majority of my writing time is spent just pondering possibilities. But during no-hands-available time, usually I just exchange laughs and smiles with my daughter— that’s a far more important way to multitask.)

This compartmentalizing of tasks has been kind of a “duh” moment for me. But at least the moment came, and now I have more time to type things like “duh” — which, when done with sound technique, requires two hands.

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

I’m easy. Change seldom ruffles me. Even with this new parenting job, the dire “your life is no longer yours” warnings mostly have rung unwarranted. I don’t miss much about my pre-fathering days, mostly because I don’t view my new responsibilities as anchors so much as I see them as different sails.

However, one thing I do miss is the mid-day power nap. air jordan 13 Slipping a bit of sleep into my schedule isn’t as easy as it was before.

I didn’t used to nap every afternoon (despite what my wife thought).  Sometimes, though — whether because of a bad night of sleep, or amid some work that was particularly mentally challenging, or “just cuz” — I would lay down for 15 to 20 afternoon minutes in order to recharge. The benefits of power-napping are well researched and reported, and I was somewhat a master of capitalizing on them.

But that’s not so easy while sharing the day with a baby.

One obstacle is that when Maggie is asleep, that’s the most opportune time for me to be productive. I can get much more done when my brain isn’t persistently aware that she could interrupt me at any second with a need that only the nearest adult can fulfill. When she sleeps, I can focus. Maggie’s naps are the marrow of my workday.

Moreover — and maybe this is just a first-time-parent thing — the usually unflappable me is disquieted by the notion of sleeping while Maggie is awake. The caveat to that fear, of course, nike kobe 9 is that it exists only during the day. I don’t know how often Maggie wakes during the night, while my wife and I sleep, and lies there for minutes or hours drooling and watching shadows on the ceiling. I’m sure it happens, but I don’t lose sleep over it.

During the day, however, if I try to nap while Maggie does not, then I can’t close my eyes for more than 20 seconds without being jolted by a deep-seeded paranoia that I am leaving her defenseless from the terrors of daylight.

I have researched this a bit and found a plethora of polarized opinions. Some parents and experts claim that sleeping while the baby is awake is reckless; others say that as long as the baby is secured (such as in a hazard-free playpen) then my midday napping is just as safe as through-the-night slumber.

I’ll do more research, and I’m open to hearing advice. In the meantime, I’m pouring another cup of coffee.

One Hand Left

Though it may seem contradictory compared with my recent post “Formula for Success,” a repeating delay in my workday has been having to feed Maggie.

I don’t mind feeding her, of course. I understand that it’s necessary — if she didn’t eat, she wouldn’t poop, and then what would we do with the closet full of diapers? I’ve also heard that eating is related to growing, so I suppose that’s a benefit to be aware of.

And I certainly enjoy the benefit of bonding. air jordan 12 She has a need, I fill it, her trust in me is reinforced, and she looks into my eyes for 15 minutes as if I were the most useful person ever. (She knows nothing about how much I’ll ruin her life when she’s 13.)

However, another reality exists: Sometimes Maggie needs to eat at a time that isn’t convenient for me. Perhaps she’ll be hungry when I’m writing, or researching, or doing a phone interview, or preparing an estimate that needs to be delivered immediately lest I lose a chance at securing a new client. In life overall, Maggie and anything she needs are my priority, but minute-to-minute, sometimes I just need to get something else done.

Throughout my 41 years I’ve learned that occasionally my mind knows a solution exists even when I can’t identify that solution. In this case, I knew there had to be some trick for me to feed Maggie a bottle and hold her with just one hand, leaving the other hand available for me to be somewhat productive.

Yet nothing I tried worked. For a few days I laid her on my lap and held the bottle with one hand, but that quickly led to rapid reflux and increased spit-up problems, resulting in the laundry bin filling at an alarming rate. I faced the same problem with laying her in the bouncy seat. She can’t sit up yet, so any other seat would also not suffice.

One morning Maggie was outright wailing to be fed, but a work deadline was about to slip away. She was so upset that I wouldn’t be able to focus on my work even if I did choose to ignore the crying (which I wouldn’t do anyway, but that’s another conversation). That’s when the epiphany came: What do parents of twins do? In order to double-feed, they have to be able to feed and hold with one hand, right?

So I searched for a twins-raising website, and found the answer. The solution, which seems obvious now, is to sit Maggie on my lap with my arm wrapped around her torso, and with that hand hold the bottle to her mouth. free run 5.0 +3 femmes For parents of twins, that allows them to feed both babies at once; for a work-from-home dad, that leaves him with one hand to type.

I’m sure other oOne-Handed Feedingne-hand feeding techniques exist, and I’d love to hear about them in the Comments section below. Until Maggie is capable of reliably holding her own bottle, I’ll surely be able to use the further advice.

The Singing Fool

I am a world-class bad singer. Any accurate note I hit is accidental. My rhythm isn’t bad and my sense of timing is nearly impeccable, but my singing voice sounds like a palm rubbing against a wet chalkboard, though more pitchy. I could probably, with just a little effort, become the first professional non-singer — I could surely get listeners to pay me to just be quiet.

However, one person in this world loves to hear me croon a tune. That person is, naturally, my 4-month-old daughter Maggie.

In defense of Maggie’s taste, please remember that air jordan 10 she doesn’t have a significant baseline to place me on. I am, really, only the second best singer she’s ever heard live. (Her mom, a former professional musical-theatre actress, would win a vocal competition against a choir of angels.)

So I embrace this time when my baby is so young and so inexperienced, before she roams the world to hear the seven billion voices better than mine. Right now, my singing can instantly make her smile or giggle or lull her to sleep.

I find this a valuable resource at least a few times a day. I first began singing to Maggie when changing her diaper, a hygiene experience she hated in her first weeks of life. The songs were my way of distracting her a bit from her disdain of nakedness (a preference I hoped she’d hold onto throughout her teenage years).

Then the singing became a way to soothe her in the cranky moments before sleep. Like many babies, Maggie gets upset about growing tired, and she’d rather cry for half an hour than close her eyes. Though she’s normally collected and cool, when tired, she can wail with the noisiest newborns. She’s a high-soprano crier, which can make it hard for me to focus on work — or hard to focus on anything at all.

But if I sing a song or two, she smiles, quiets, puts her head on my shoulder, and drifts to dreamland. “Wonderful World” and John Denver’s “All of My Memories” are surefire inducers of calm, as is her free run 4.0 v3 femmes newfound favorite relaxant, Journey’s “Open Arms.”

The benefit for me is that I can get back to work faster, and get back to tranquility for a little while, too. All I have to do is take a ten-minute break and stretch my crackly vocal chords.

But don’t let my work face fool you — the benefits stretch much further than that.