Thursday, August 20, 2015

Work-at-Home Mom ... Blessed or Cursed?

My son at three, helping me to wash and organize my clay stamps. He has never broken one.

Imagine: working as a server at a restaurant with a toddler tugging on your apron as you presented the wine samples, sticking their fingers into customers' desserts, needing to go potty just as you start to cash out somebody's check.

Imagine: working in an office with your child yelling, "MOMMY! MOMMY! MOMMY! I GOTTA GO POTTY!" in the background while you're on the phone with a business supplier or major customer. And finding dribbles of jam and crayon drawings all over a vital contract.

These scenarios are completely bizarre and horrible. They feature often in movies and sitcoms because it's a parent's worst nightmare to have these things going on while they are trying to maintain a mature and professional demeanor at work.

I live with this every day as I work from home. Whenever I sit down to answer customer emails, my son is yanking at my arm begging me to get off the computer. He pulls my office chair so that I will turn to look at him instead of the computer, and ever since he turned four he has the strength to physically pull my chair away from my desk with me in it.

When I call my clay supplier or the company that sells slip molds, my kid is in the background; my being on the phone doesn't deter him, all it does is make the volume go up higher.

I've come back to my desk once or twice to find that hours of work has been squished and destroyed by curious and experimental little fingers.

Mind you, my son is not a badly behaved child in general. He's intelligent, curious, energetic, and extroverted. He loves people and he loves me, and since I'm the one home with him he wants my attention 97% of the time. Something about my focus being elsewhere flips a switch in his head and makes him go nuts trying to get it back. 

Of course (of course!) I don't arrange for child care, because I'm home. The fact that I'm working and that my work takes at least the same amount of focus as other jobs I had before I was a mother who ran a home business does not register with me ... or with society. If I qualified for state preschool, I would be ineligible working at home, because child care is not perceived as a "need" if you are able to be at home while you earn money.

When my son was seven months old I attempted to start my Etsy business for the first time. I found that it was not possible for me to sit for hours and work while also caring for a small baby, and my shop never made it off the ground. My second try started when my son was nearly three, and since then I have cobbled together a steady supplemental income out of dizzy late night shipping episodes, weekend clay messes, and often guiltily letting my son watch more than an hour a day of Netflix cartoons (Educational! Educational! as a sop to my conscience).

The other day I was working, feeling guilty, as usual, trying to tune out Curious George, when suddenly I had a vision of my husband working in his office, where he is project manager to an executive, with the Man in the Yellow Hat teaching George a valuable lesson in the background. I pictured him describing a business development project to his boss with my loudly expressive son constantly posturing for attention. The picture in my head was so funny that I laughed out loud ... but it was kind of horrible at the same time because I often face a similar situation and nobody questions that I should be able to do it. I've even been told that I have it easy.

First I thought, "This is the hardest thing I've ever done."

Then I thought, "But raising my kid is the most important thing I've ever done."

And finally I realized, "I'm not put upon. I'm not taken advantage of. I'm the fortunate one. I do get the hardest stuff but I also get all the best stuff."

In the mornings, every single day, my son wakes up and crawls under the covers with me to cuddle and talk about his dreams, and his thoughts, and what he wants to do today. We play every morning for at least half an hour before we do anything else. And I can take that time to play Spider Fingers and Hungry Monsters with my kid because I make my own schedule.

After that, we race to see who can get dressed the fastest. It's a game to keep him from running around for an hour wearing nothing but his left sock, not a desperate attempt to be at work on time. We go for a walk around the neighborhood and on the way back we pretend that evil fighter jets are chasing us and we shriek and run and scare the neighbor's Rottweiler out of his tiny mind.

One of my first projects on my own was to make a little set
of slab-built sandwich plates stamped with animals and
letters. He uses them at every meal. 

I make breakfast while he often "helps" and we sit down to eat eggs and toast, or oatmeal, or sometimes we have egg tacos which my son likes with extra spicy salsa.  Every day he saves the last bite for the friendly cat from next door, who is "our" cat in the daytime because her family is gone all day. After breakfast he plays with the cat, digs for bugs, or works on his "construction" projects. And I can go to see what he's doing and hug and kiss him anytime I want to even in the middle of working because I'm home.

Sometimes I ask him, "What should I make today?"
The answer is always different.
But it's always some kind of animal with teeth or spikes. 

Around noon some days we head out into my pottery studio where he has a set of toys he only plays with there. Occasionally he will make clay snakes or play on the wheel, and after a while he usually plays Angry Birds or watches the Magic School Bus for awhile, often bringing me the tablet to replay an exciting moment (usually featuring a scary animal with teeth or spikes). If I worked in an office, it wouldn't be an option to have my little boy play in the corner as I filed papers. Sometimes the constant stops for snacks, potty, boo-boos and inspection of everything he finds interesting is frustrating; but how much would I miss it if I worked alone all the time in my silent and empty studio? And honestly, how much did I hate every job I had that involved filing paperwork? (Answer: a lot.)

His presence in my life and in my work has also changed what I make and how I make it. For one thing, I've discovered that I absolutely love making special little things for children. For another, I don't have the luxury of uninterrupted days to work so I carefully schedule any focused work (like wheel throwing) to fit in the few hours of kid-free studio time I have two nights a week when my husband takes care of bedtime. Even then, I often sneak back in to read him a bedtime story if I'm not too covered in clay.

Working with my son may be a challenge, but my business would not exist if I hadn't been searching for a way to make an income while staying home with him. I would have kept my safe, stable job, and nobody would be tugging on me right now, asking me to please help them find the spider they lost in my bed.

Inline image 1
" R O A R !"
When I showed this to him and told
him what it said, first he roared very loudly as well.
Then he asked, "Is it for me?"
(It is.)
Inline image 2

Friday, April 18, 2014

A Writer Writes

I remember telling my mom when I was about ten years old that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I wanted to be lots of other things too, including an Academy Award-winning character actress, a famous ballroom dancer, a singer, and a preschool teacher. But I remember writing my first story before I turned five and on all my reports from elementary school my teachers would comment on my creative writing ability.

I wrote sometimes excruciating poetry and attempts at novels as a teenager. I had ideas all the time. I carried a notebook everywhere with me and I saved my best poems in a special notebook. I very rarely let anybody read anything because I would feel like I was going to pass out. If they liked it, I instantly felt like they were just being nice, and if they didn't like it, I was crushed.

When I was eighteen I got a job as a nanny and moved away from my parents' house. With that job and the maturity that came with being financially responsible for myself, I dropped everything creative I had once done. I stopped sewing, drawing, crafting of all kinds.

And I stopped writing. Everything I re-read seemed silly now, and I rolled my eyes at every overblown phrase, every Thesaurus-laden sentence. I even burned some of my old poems and stories because they were just so ... bad.

After a few years, I tried to take it back up and I found that my endless well of exciting ideas had dried up. I never had flashes of inspiration for stories or poems any more and when I tried the attempts were far worse than anything I'd ever written as a sentimental teenager. And that was it for me. I gave up. I had an old binder of stories and a notebook of poems that had survived and every once in awhile I would look them over and smile when I remembered what it felt like to write with the next lines popping into my head faster than I could write them down. Somehow I felt like the poems and stories I wrote that way weren't "mine", that since they were so effortless I couldn't claim any credit for them. Those were the few that I didn't mind showing people.

I told myself that if only I had "learned" to write "properly" I could maybe write a novel, or a book of short stories. Too bad that I'd missed out on that opportunity at a young age. Too bad.

In the last year or two I've been making changes and taking risks. Nothing as easy as bungee-jumping off the Grand Canyon, either. Oh, no. I've done things like freely admitting mistakes, and starting my own business, and making huge changes in the way I look at my life. And I've started writing again.

It started at first as little anecdotes about my little boy to post on Facebook. I found myself carefully writing the brief paragraphs and ruthlessly cutting out unnecessary phrases, selecting the word that perfectly communicated what I was trying to say. As a teenager, I would go through a sentence with the Thesaurus until it was unrecognizable and ponderous; as an adult I find great pleasure in communicating the same information in one sentence as I originally had in three.

This blog is a step toward boldness, for me. I'm not normally a shy person but the idea that I'm presenting my writing to a potentially vast audience is completely terrifying. I have eight unpublished blog posts and I'm sure I'll be adding to that collection too. But I'll keep writing. Because, as Billy Crystal said, "A writer writes." Whether or not anybody reads the words I write, the act alone brings me great enjoyment. And that makes it worthwhile.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Gluten-Free Chocolate Coconut Cake with Molten Lava Salted Chocolate Caramel Sauce

Oh, yeah. This is happening.

First of all, I want to recommend Pamela's Baking and Pancake Mix.

It is wheat-free, gluten-free, whole grain, no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. I haven't yet figured out my own gluten-free baking blend so this is what enables us to have pancakes on Saturday morning. On the back are recipes for basic pancakes, waffles, muffins, scones, breading, several kinds of cake, biscuits, and even cookies using the mix. It's about $20 for 7 lbs at Target, and believe me, it's worth it.

The other night, my husband and I were sitting around, each on our own computer. I happened to look over to find him staring at a photo of a doughnut.

"Ohhh," I said wistfully. "I want a doughnut."
"Yeah," said my husband.
We sat in depressed silence for a moment. Then I brightened.
"I could make a cake!" I announced. "A chocolate cake!"

This idea was so popular that he actually came in the kitchen and helped me make it, and let me order him around like a lowly sous chef. I used the basic recipe for Sour Cream Coffee Cake that's on the back of the bag of Pamela's mix, but I heavily modified it.

Ooh, one last thing: I like to dump my spices in without measuring, I like to eyeball it, modify recipes, add extra ingredients, etc. This means two things. The first is: if you're a finicky or a hesitant cook, this recipe is going to drive you crazy. The second thing is: if I give a very precise direction, I recommend you follow it. That means that I have done it the wrong way before and doing it the right way really does matter. For instance, sifting the cocoa = important. Trust me.


2 cups Pamela's Pancake Mix
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup coconut oil, slightly softened but NOT melted
2 large eggs
1 6 oz. container Liberte' coconut Mediterranean yogurt (Yes, you must. They have it at Ralph's. Buy it to use in this recipe, and buy some of the lemon too, just for eating. You're going to thank me.)
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/3 cup sifted cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 350. I used a stoneware baking dish, though, so I don't turn the oven on until I put the cake in, and it turned out just beautifully.

Stir coconut oil in mixing bowl till it's all creamy and soft. Add sugar and cream together. Add eggs one at a time, stirring in between. Next, stir in the pancake mix, cocoa powder, shredded coconut, and finally the yogurt. Stir until thoroughly mixed. (If it doesn't seem chocolatey enough, sift in some more cocoa powder. I didn't measure it, I dumped, so 1/3 cup is just an estimate.) It should be kind of thick and more doughlike than cake batter-y. Grease a 9x9 baking dish and pour/spread the batter in. I recommend setting the timer for 20 minutes and then checking on the cake every five minutes or so after that until a toothpick poked near the middle comes out clean.

Make the sauce while you're waiting for the cake to bake, because this is a cake that you eat warm.

1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/3 c. sifted cocoa powder
2/3 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. half and half
sea salt (to taste)

In a small saucepan, melt the butter on low heat. If it starts to brown or smoke, turn the heat down more. When it's melted, dump in the brown sugar and sift in the cocoa powder. It should seem a bit thick. Stir constantly. (I made my husband stir) Add the half and half. If the sauce seems thin after you've added the half and half, dump in a few teaspoons more of brown sugar. If it still seems too thick, add a couple tablespoons more of half and half. (I warned you!)

Keep stirring. You don't want it to stick and burn. When the sauce feels slightly thick and sticky, take a spoon and dip it in. When it smoothly coats the spoon with no visible sugar grains, it's time to turn it off. If you feel it needs more chocolate, sift a few more tablespoons of cocoa powder in. Now is also the time to sprinkle in some sea salt to taste.

When the cake is done, if there's any sauce left, cut a hot slice of cake. We didn't have any ice cream, but don't let that stop you. I recommend that you put a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side and drizzle it all with sauce.

To. Die. For.
You're welcome.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Hello from Otis! (and me)

This is Otis. He's very friendly, and I'm just gonna let you know, he's also sensitive, and he's waving his trunk, so you'd better wave back. 

My son asked for a "penny" bank, and this is who came out of the clay.

I'm fairly new to pottery. I started pottering around in my friend Christine's studio at the beginning of 2012. I took a long time to actually start making things. Even now, most of what I make is stamps rather than finished items. 

Back in high school we had a "pottery experience" enrichment class and I made a frog toothbrush holder for one of my best friends as a housewarming gift for her new apartment. And once I visited a paint-your-own-pottery studio downtown and glazed a plate. I learned from this experience that nothing ever comes out quite the way you picture it in your head.

I don't know if it's because I'm older, or wiser, or more relaxed, but Otis actually came out pretty much exactly the way that I wanted. His coin slot is the perfect size: just a hair too small for quarters. This I planned so there will be no question of my son keeping the quarters. What? Don't judge me! He's three! He doesn't need to go to the car wash or pay for parking! Why should I let the quarters be squandered on Matchbox cars? 


For Otis, I used two techniques: pinching and coiling. The pinching I used to make little cups that I then stuck together to make a ball. I also made his feet the same way, like little suction cups that I then stuck on after scoring the clay and wetting it. His eyes are little balls, his ears are rolled and pinched balls, and his trunk and tail are coils. His trunk came out so long that it looked like a vacuum hose, so I decided to give him a little nose job while the clay was still pretty wet. 

Fabulous Otis ... I added little dots to his eyes later,
it really made his face have more expression.
Rear view. If you have small children
you may want to cover their eyes .. 
Note the cheeky little lift to his back foot ...
that was actually an accident but we went with it.
I've had catastrophes happen to pottery items I really cared about before, so I let him dry for a looooooooong time before I put him in the queue to be fired. And he came out okay! I wanted him to coordinate with my son's sock monkey bedspread, so I chose a medium blue underglaze. Wax resist on his big toenails and his eyes ... simple glaze job ... and ... voila!

This is a good view of the suction
cup-style feet .... 
Aaaah! Cover your eyes! So cheeky.

 And that is the story of Otis. Of course, now I have to find a cork that fits ... but that's a story for another day, I think. Plus, Otis wants to watch New Girl with me. So. 

See you next time! 

In case you're interested, here is my Etsy shop where I sell handmade clay stamps:

And my friend Christine's shop, where I work off and on in her studio: