The Art of Working From Home

This past year has been a productive one for me. I’ve produced three completed first draft novels for grown-ups (sorry, I can’t say “adult novel” without thinking 50 Shades of Completely Inappropriate) and three first drafts of children’s books. Working at home does present challenges, and I wanted to share my formula for success.

I am currently working on a couple of short stories, one with a deadline that looms closer every day. I work well under pressure. Here’s how the magic happens.

7am – Send the Padawan off to school

8am – Take Girl-child and Squish to their respective schools.

8:30 – Drop by Chic-fil-a for a biscuit and some wi-fi.

10:30 - Two large sodas and 47 emails later, it’s time to go to the bathroom home.

10:45 – Sit down at writing station, swearing loudly and on Twitter that I will not get up again until I have written 1000 words.

11:30 - Count stinkbugs on the windowsill. Forty-seven. Oh, did I mention I checked ALL the windowsills? For inspiration.

12:00 – Time for lunch. Word count > my age. Barely. Count it as a win.

12:30 – Let’s hammer out some words!

12:31 – Discover amazing Youtube video of cat that can say “NO!” Oh, my gosh! It’s a cat! And it can say “NO!”

1:45: Time to get some words written! Look at my own cat fast asleep on my Harry Potter blanket (don’t hate!). So cute! Have to blow some raspberries on her fuzzy little tummy.

5:15 – The doctor says the stitches can come out in two weeks and shouldn’t leave a scar. Time to pick up kids.

6:00- It’s dinner time. These ungrateful kids! I just fed them LAST night. Why do they need to eat every day? I could be writing right now. I should have stuck to snakes. Mammals are high maintenance. I wanted to get 3000 words in, and I’ve only written 100. I will never do this!

6:30 - Back at my writing station. It’s happening now!

6:35 – I’m stuck on a plot point. Distract myself by playing a game. How many Game of Thrones characters start with the letter “B?”

7:00- Give up and read a couple of chapters in Game of Thrones. Wow. The answer to my question seems to be “all of them.”

8:00- Husband wants what he wants every night. Downton Abbey. Fine. Whatever.

9:30 – My eyes are getting heavy, but I’m going to do this. I am. I’m a writer, by gum! A writer! And a writer writes!

9:45 – Bored. Resort to feeding cat stinkbugs.

10:00- Write a blog post on how to work from home.

Come a little closer...

Come a little closer…

It’s All In How You Look At It

I’ve been in a terrible mood.

A to-do list looms over my shoulder that contains such minor tasks as learning a new computer operating system well enough to teach it to others. The job I was hoping for has been shelved for a few months. I spent ungodly amounts of money yesterday registering Squish for preschool and buying kids’ clothes for fall and two pairs of glasses, one for me and one for Girl-child. (Oh, yeah. I also learned I need bifocals. I was hoping my vision issues were just because my arms were too short.) After wrangling a Squish through a consignment sale, two vision appointments, and a grocery trip, we went to the car to discover our tire was flat. Two more hours of Squish-wrangling and another large chunk of change, and I was feeling kind of sorry for myself.

I did have a delightful dinner with the most wonderful person. It was the bright spot of my day. But when I returned home after 9:30pm, I discovered my kid who has a 7 o’clock bedtime was still wide awake. Daddy had let him stay up for a bit in the hopes he would sleep in. When does he ever sleep in?

When the kid’s feet hit the floor at 7:15 this morning, I was ready to run for the trees.  But then.

Breakfast_buddy

It’s funny how a perspective can shift when looking into those blue eyes.

I bet I was the only one in the world who got to have breakfast with Captain America.

 

Squish is ever the problem-solver. He was ready to fix the tire with some duct tape. That’s my boy.

A Cautionary Tale

This wasn’t the post I intended to write today, but it’s the one that spoke to my heart. It’s my two-year blogging anniversary, and I was going to regale you with some stats and search terms and other things that are mildly amusing, but I won’t. Not today.

Yes, I got all excited and screencapped it right that very moment. If you have followed me for a while, you already know that I am a dweeb.

Yes, I got all excited and screencapped it right that very moment. If you have followed me for a while, you already know that I am a dweeb.

When we start blogging, many of us have long-term goals. I had hoped by the two-year mark, I would be a published author with six best-sellers to my credit (one obviously ghost-written by my cat), and I’d be wealthy and retiring to the French Riviera. I happy to say I have met those goals. In the last two years, I have produced four first-draft manuscripts. I am now wealthy enough that I can buy almost anything in the free-bin at my local used bookstore, and I am about to retire to the French Riviera if by that you mean looking for a job at McDonald’s. Life is pretty sweet.

Anyway, pondering this post got me thinking about stories I have alluded to in the comment section of other people’s blogs but have never fully explained. I think now is the time. 

Some of you may know I used to work for Giant-Soulless-Discount-Chain-Mart. Some of you may even know why I left. Here’s the full story.

I took the job because my husband and I were looking to get out of debt. I worked at home during the day, and adding an 8pm-4am shift at Soulless-Mart three days a week seemed like a good idea at the time. I lasted four months. I could have persevered for another year or two, but I did not. It wasn’t the money. The pay wasn’t half-bad. I didn’t feel poorly treated, either. My supervisor was a little brusque, as we all are at 2am, but she taught me what I needed to know and cut me some slack when necessary. I left over a discrepancy in policy.

New trainees are subjected to endless hours of training before beginning their career, and even more after. Most of the training modules cover policies and procedures, endless hours of them, at which the employee sits slack-jawed before a computer screen and learns such things as “Selling Liquor to Minors Is a No-No.”

No:

No beer for you, kid. Those glasses ain't foolin' no one. / Photo credit "D Sharon Pruitt"

No beer for you, kid. Those glasses ain’t foolin’ no one. //Photo credit “D Sharon Pruitt”

Probably:

This guy's probably okay. As long as he has ID and his cheque doesn't bounce.

This guy’s probably old enough. It’s okay to sell as long as he has ID and his cheque doesn’t bounce. // Photo credit Scott Beale/Laughing Squid

Policy training is crucial when a company has enough money to buy their own planet be a target for law-suits. And there’s a policy for everything.

Those of us who have ever worked in low-paying jobs know that we’re always looking for a win, some bit of evidence that we have not wasted our lives what we do matters. We dream of that golden moment where the 40 hours of computer training finally pays off and we save a life using the price checker as a defibrillator. Or can at least tell a customer where to find the Cheez-Whiz without having to make a left-hand turn. When you make barely more than minimum wage, the little things matter. It was so for me, and when my moment came, I was in for a surprise.

I clocked in as usual that fateful night shortly after Christmas, scheduled to report to my register in five minutes. I was cruising through electronics when I spotted it. A puddle in the floor.  There’s a policy for that, of course, because people spill things all the time. I was to stand guard over the spilled liquid until maintenance could clean it up.

Here was my moment to shine! I could protect all the shoppers from slipping and risking injury, and I could protect my employers from a lawsuit in one fell swoop! I was a super-hero. I didn’t even need a cape!

There were a couple of problems with the policy, however, starting with the fact that Maintenance knocked off at 6, and ending with the complete lack of supervisors to notify. Leaving the puddle to report it was forbidden. Some money-hungry idiot might stage a fall in the 3.2 seconds it would take to find someone. So I stood there.

The first time my name was called over the loudspeaker asking me to report to my register, I began a frantic dance, leaping and waving, hoping that someone in electronics would notice. No such luck. After two calls, I finally saw a customer service manager and reported my dilemma, begging them to let my supervisor know I was on the job. The CSM assured me I was doing the right thing, promised to find someone to take care of it, and ordered me not to move.

It was at that moment I noticed what I was guarding. This was no grocery spill, friends. I was risking my job to watch over a puddle of pee.

Using my mad forensic skills, I speculate that some parent was perusing $5 DVDs while their unattended offspring dropped trou and hosed down a support post. A carpeted support post.

Ten minutes and three more calls over the loudspeaker later, and I was still standing guard to a pool of human excrement. The royal baby hasn’t been watched as closely. Said CSM walked by again, having forgotten I was there at all, and wandered off with vague promises to find someone to take care of it and to notify my supervisor. He did neither.

Finally, a second CSM strolled by. She took charge of that puddle and relieved me (Get it? Pee joke. See, I can still laugh about it.) to return to my register. My supervisor was in a giant huff, and proceeded to chew me out, demanding to know why I didn’t just leave the pee and report for duty.

It was at that moment I know I couldn’t work at Soulless-Mart anymore. How can I work for a business whose managers are not on the same page about how to handle a puddle of pee? How does anybody? That’s why I prefer the zoo.

There May Be Worse Jobs Than Yours

Because I think I’ve found one.

A friend and I took our kids to a municipal pool this summer. It’s the pool in the little town I grew up in. When I was a kid, I thought it was as big as an entire ocean. As adults, sometimes we find that the giants of our childhood have shrunk. Not this pool. It’s just as big now as it was to my child’s eye. Maybe bigger, since I’m now responsible for keeping three kids above the water’s surface. Big job, right?

Oh, speaking of big jobs. Some kid did one. I mean, I hope it was a kid. We were all paddling happily about, when suddenly the lifeguards were rushing us out of the water like someone had spotted Jaws. Code brown, people! This is not a drill!  As per health code, we were beached for sixty minutes, which was annoying. But it could have been worse.

My friend and I were not responsible for finding the floater. Which sadly for the lifeguard involved, turned out to be a sinker. Imagine it. One minute you’re all Baywatch with your rescue board and some mad CPR skills, the next you’re the chump with a haz-mat suit and a fishnet. And it’s a big pool.

Seriously. Hazmat suit. Not kidding. I’d want one, too.

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If that’s not you in the picture, go hug your boss.

The Post Where I Think I Failed a Drug Screen

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I’m branching out a little from stay-at-home motherhood. I got a fun little part time job a couple of weeks ago, and last week I got another. One small hurdle. The second job requires a drug screen.

I didn’t bat an eyelash when I was told I’d need to trip off down the road to go pee in a cup. I don’t do illicit drugs, and I drink a lot of water, so I was good to go all around. Should have been a piece of cake, right? Wrong.

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a drug screen. Let me just say that criminals have gotten sneakier. The last time I jumped through this particular hoop, they handed me a container, I went in the bathroom, took care of business, passed (pardon the expression) the cup through a little door, and went on my merry way. Let’s just say that a great deal has changed.

I was told to put my personal effects in a drawer and empty my pockets, which was understandable. You never know when someone might sneak in a vial of urine in their purse. Movie theatres have this trouble all the time. Or maybe that’s just with candy. I forget. I dutifully tucked all my stuff away. I am now surprised that they didn’t check under my skirt to make sure I wasn’t hiding a small pee donor. Then the nice urine lady said “Now wash your hands with that soap.” That soap. There was only one kind of soap available, but it’s nice to feel like maybe I had options and was choosing the right one. It’s a test, after all, and I like passing tests.

While I pondered the significance of that particular soap, Nice Urine Lady disappeared. And then reappeared. And handed me a cup. “Fill it above the line and bring it back to me. Don’t flush the toilet. You have four minutes.” I hate working on a deadline, but I soldiered on to fill the cup.

The first thing that I noticed was the pretty blue water in the toilet. I wouldn’t mind having a car that color. The second thing I noticed was that the bathroom had no sink. At all. What kind of fun house bathroom was this? How’s a body to wash their hands before exiting the restroom if there’s no sink? I finished my duty (duty, people. Not doody. Just not.), and all I could think of was how much I did not want to touch that door handle. And that’s when I failed my drug screen. By flushing the toilet.

I challenge anyone in a public restroom who was not born in a barn to consciously walk away from their work and see how difficult it is. (Just make sure you walk back, though. To take care of things.) But Nice Urine Lady had told me not to flush. I remembered that as my foot came down on the flushy thing, but it was too late. In the split second that followed, I racked my brain for a way to bring it all back. I was unsuccessful. Everyone in the waiting room was treated to a “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” To catch the full impact, it must be read aloud with Doppler effect. Or just click this:

Cup in hand, I did the walk of shame back to Nice Urine Lady. “I guess you know what I did,” I muttered, shamefaced. She nodded. “Don’t worry. It happens all the time,” she said in a tone that implied that it never happens. Let me just say that being asked to pour my own pee-pee down a sink was not one of my finer moments. I picked up my purse and told her I’d be back next week. She shook her head. “If you leave now, we have to count that as a refusal to test.” Refusal to test. Awesome. So now Nice Urine Lady thinks I’ve got something to hide. I took a deep breath and resolved to see this thing through.

I may be limited in many regards, but by golly, I can pee in a cup. Nice Urine Lady gave me three hours to get the job done. Thirty minutes and a glass of water later, I was ready to try again. What can I say? I’m an overachiever.  “Are you sure?” NUL asked. “Because if you can’t fill it past the sticker, you have to start over…” But sometimes you just have to believe in yourself.

In that 30 minutes, though, I learned some things. First off, the water was blue because Nice Urine Lady made it that way when she disappeared. I still don’t know why, other than it was to indicate if I poured something naughty into it. I have no idea what that substance would have been. Second, the rules say there can be no running water in the room, which explains the lack of sink. Again, I don’t know why. Because it interferes with magical energies? Third, there are some seriously sneaky people in this world if this many rules are needed.

It’s a crazy world we live in, people. A crazy world.

 

All-Purpose, Handy Excuse #457

Why I was late for work:

What could I do, considering the circumstances?  I’m sure you understand.

 

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There was this snake, see.

This excuse is 87% guaranteed to get you out of trouble, provided that you have an 8-foot boa constrictor to begin with. If you don’t have one, get one, or plan to be on time for the rest of your career.

disclaimer: It’s only guaranteed 87% because at least 13% of the population isn’t afraid of snakes. And that’s a number I totally pulled out of thin air. I can pull other things out of thin air, too. Mostly excuses.

 

Jobs I Would Never Want

As Squish gets older, I find myself contemplating what my next career move will be. Will I be a full-time writer? That actually gets paid regularly? Do I pursue something at the zoo for fun? I’m not sure yet. But I do know that there are some jobs I hope I’m never forced into.

1) Barista at Starbucks – I once took my coffee cup Edward to Starbucks. As I handed him over, the guy behind the counter looked inside and said with heartbreaking sincerity “Thank you so much for bringing it in clean!” I don’t want to know what he was expecting to see.

2) Children’s hair stylist – I don’t know how they do it. It takes me four days to get from this:

A little shaggy, yes?

To this:

Blame the caffeine in my bloodstream or the bounciness of a three-year-old boy, but every time, he ends up nearly losing an ear. It’s bad enough when it’s my own kid. I can’t imagine gouging a stranger’s child. Because I would still expect a tip.

3) Any kind of costume character - especially the ones that stand on the street corner and wave to people. There’s a business who does tax prep in my area that has someone on the corner dressed as the Statue of Liberty. Rain or shine. Because nothing says America like being squeezed for your hard-earned bucks by the IRS? The worst I ever saw was a poor guy dressed like a mattress. I am sure there have been a few misunderstandings.

 4) Janitor at Wal-mart – I have been in lots of soulless big-box stores, and I’m not sure what makes Wally-world so very special in this way, but on any given day, I’ll tip the doorman if any of the toilets are flushed. Raised in a barn? Go do your dirty business at Wal-mart.

5) Taster in a fast-food test kitchen – because if a taco with a shell made entirely of Doritos actually made it to market,  I really don’t want to know about the stuff that didn’t.  I’m pretty sure it’s nothing I’d want to eat.  Although if Marble Slab Creamery needs a taste-tester, they need only ask.

6) Electronics store employee – on Black Friday. I hope they provide decent life-insurance policies. I think I would rather poke rabid squirrels with sticks than deal with bargain-maddened shoppers.

7) Party host at Chuck E. Cheese – Unrestrained kids on a caffeine/sugar buzz. That I’m sort of responsible for. Where do I sign up?

It’s Good Work If You Can Get It

I am the queen of creative employment. I’ve have managed to turn some pretty unique hobbies into (legal and moral) employment opportunities. And now I’ve got hit the big one. I’ve discovered my calling in answering nature’s call. That’s right. I’m going to be a restroom critique.

Don’t laugh. It’s a worthy and under appreciated profession. Google the words “restroom critic,” and you’ll come up with nothing. Well, not nothing. It’s Google, after all. If you’re looking for critique of some fantasy football (yeah, THAT’S useful), you’re all set. But if you’re looking for someone to tell you if your business’ sandbox is,shall we say, up to scratch, you’re out of luck. Until now.

If you want your establishment to be voted #1 for #2, here’s what I’m looking for:

Size: When it comes to public restrooms, size does matter. I don’t want one of those one-stall wonders. Privacy is great and all, but a line for the ladies room can grow faster than bacteria on a toilet seat, meaning you’ve got to get your job done fast or risk ticking off a bunch of people. I don’t need that kind of pressure. I prefer at least five stalls. Ten is an even better number. Anything to increase the odds that there is someone slower than I am.

Toilet paper: Have enough to get the paperwork done. Invest in those fancy dispensers that contain more than one roll if you don’t get the chance to do a potty check often. I don’t like to do my business and then be left high and dry. Or not so dry, as the case may be. And forget the dispensers that stack the rolls one on top of the other. They have a serious design flaw. Even if you provide the good paper (and big, fat bonus points if you do), the weight of the top roll impedes the spin of the bottom roll, allowing it to dispense your paper one square at a time. One single, solitary square at a time. Are you getting me here?

No air toilets: I am all about being environmentally friendly, but air toilets are loud enough to make any toilet trainee swear off indoor plumbing for life.

Auto-flush: You gain big points if I don’t have to touch anything with my hands when my work is done. You will lose points if it refuses to flush until I am out the stall door. My business is my business, after all. Nor do I want it to flush as I enter the stall as if in greeting. I cannot do what I am about to do if the toilet is making small-talk.

Paper towels: Again, I try to be environmentally friendly, but there is nothing like a good paper towel with which to wipe my hands. And if I realize that my kid has a big booger hanging out of his face as we are washing hands, I don’t have to dash into a stall ahead of someone to get a paper product with which to remove it. Cutting lines in the ladies room can get you killed. And I have yet to meet an electric dryer that actually gets the job done. It’s why I have taken to wearing patterned skirts.

Cleanliness: It should go without saying, which is why I’m saying it. Please check your facility often enough that it stays sanitary. An occasional spritz of strawberry air freshener doesn’t cut it.

Proper Layout: If sinks are between the hand-drying opportunities and the door, you’re going to have a traffic flow problem. Proper flow should be your aim in a restroom. And everyone’s aim should be proper.

No urinals: It’s a ladies room, you know. Urinals are a bit awkward for gals to use.

I think that sums it up for now. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to the movies and ordering the biggest soda I can find. It’s time for some market research.