Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Work From Home Mom

“Yeah, but you don’t have to sit in traffic, so it doesn’t count.”

“You must love spending all of that time with your children.”

“It must be nice to have such a flexible schedule.”

“It must be nice to be in your pajamas all day.”

These are just a few of the comments I have heard over the years when I tell people that I work from home.  While some of the above comments may have a bit of truth to them, depending on the job you have as a work-at-home parent, they are still a bit insulting.  All four of those comments completely diminish how hard I work at my job.  It’s almost as if the person saying them is saying, “Yeah, I know you work really hard.  Wink, wink.”  Call me a work dork, but I am proud of what I accomplish at work.  So, passive aggressive comments that insinuate that I don’t work that hard because I’m not physically in an office are actually pretty offensive.  There are tons of mommy wars between stay-at-home moms and working moms, and I don’t really want to be a part of those wars, but what about the work- at-home mom? 

Don’t get me wrong-there are some really wonderful benefits to working from home, such as being able to start dinner immediately after work, rather than making a meal after sitting in an hour’s worth of traffic.  There is also the awesome ability to drop my girls off at their nightly activities like gymnastics or theatre, rather than constantly missing things like that because I get home from work too late.  There is also the fabulousness of living in Florida, rather than in the Northeast where our home office is.  Looking out my windows and seeing sunshine and palm trees each day does wonders for my mood if I’m having a stressful moment.  Having access to food in my kitchen, rather than on-the-go meals makes having healthier breakfasts or lunches a possibility.  Having peace and quiet also plays a huge role in my productivity.  I don’t have anyone standing over my shoulder waiting for me to finish up on what I’m doing so that they can be next in line to ask me to do something else (yes…this really happens in an office environment).  I also don’t have any office chatter going on all around me, or various smells of random lunches being heated in the microwave (don’t you hate when people bring fish into the office?).  So, yes, there is an ample amount of reasons why working from home is great.  This blog post is not meant as a place to complain about working from home.  I simply want to inform people that my job isn’t fluff.  It’s hard, and the work I do matters just as much as if I were in a physical office. 

Usually upon learning that I work from home, most people assume that I have a sales or consultant-like type of job where I make my own schedule.  This is completely not the case.  I don’t have scheduled hours, but I typically work from 8am to around 5, 6 or 7pm.  Sometimes, I stop working at 5pm, only to go back a few hours later.  My schedule depends on what is needed at work, and I am on call pretty much all of the time.  Just as people who physically go into the office every day, I don’t work around my life.  My life works around my job.  And I don’t say that in a negative way.  I am just trying to explain to those who think my life is easy peasy, that working from home has the same requirements as working in the office.  And if you are neurotic like I am, it can sometimes be even worse.

While working from home definitely has its benefits, one of the biggest pitfalls, in my opinion, is my fear of not being readily available when someone needs me, which makes me feel guilty about taking breaks.  Over the last year, I have forced myself to start taking breaks, but that is a whole different topic (hmm…maybe even something to consider for my next blog post).  Another pitfall is getting lost in the weeds.  Working from home makes networking and reaching out to team members, business partners or clients essential.  You need to remind them that you are there because you aren’t a physical presence in the office.  Because I worked in the office prior to telecommuting, I’ve never had a huge issue with this because most people know who I am.  But it’s still important, especially when dealing with new faces, to introduce yourself via phone call and explain what it is that you do and how your role can benefit them.  It is also really important to speak up during conference calls, because experience has shown me that if you aren’t in the room, people almost always forget that you’re there.

Working from home also requires a ton of discipline. If you aren’t paranoid like me, then sure, throwing a load of laundry in the wash at lunchtime isn’t a terrible thing.  But if you don’t have much self-control, or if you are a social media junkie, or if you are susceptible to ADHD-like behaviors, you might want to nix the idea of working from home. Staying focused is imperative and distractions can be more amplified when you are alone in your own home.

A note to those who think I sit around watching movies with my children all day, this is also not the case.  My children have never known a life where I went to work in an office.  I have worked from home since my oldest daughter was about two years old.  So, if they are home while I am still working, they know that they are never to enter my room.  They also know that they aren’t allowed to yell or scream.  The term “inside voices” has a completely different meaning in my home during my work hours.  From the time they get home from school, they are aware that they need to do their homework, make themselves a snack and fend for themselves until I open my door.  Granted, I have really amazing children who have never caused me a moment of stress when it comes to working while they are in the house.  I am never worried that they are going to barge in while I am on a conference all, or that they will start playing the tambourine while I am in the middle of doing something that requires my complete attention.  But I also attribute that to the fact that this lifestyle and my expectations of their behavior while I am “at work” have been ingrained in them from a very young age.  They truly don’t know anything else. 

Having said all of that, the point of this blog post is this- the next time someone tells you that they work from home, don’t automatically assume that it is luxurious or that they have it easy.  Flippant comments that might not mean any harm may actually wind up coming off as hurtful.  I promise you that we work just as hard as those who commute to an office, we truly value our work, and for the record, we don’t sit around all day in our pajamas eating bon-bons.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Universal Studios, Orlando Florida

Two weekends ago, our family went on our first mini-vacation of the year.  We spent three spectacular days at the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida.  First off, the hotel is gorgeous and a huge bonus is that it is a pet-friendly hotel, so we were able to bring our 70 pound lab along with us.  In that regard, they have a very nice section for dogs, and the check-in attendant gave us a room on the first floor that was right around the corner from the dog walking area. 

We didn’t hit the parks on the first day.  Instead, we explored the hotel and we grabbed dinner at The Kitchen, which is a restaurant in the Hard Rock Hotel.  The food was fair and a bit overpriced, but that is to be expected when dining onsite.  The waiter was very friendly and gave us complimentary soup, as well as complimentary cookies for the girls. 

Since staying at the hotel also qualifies guests to receive free Express Pass tickets for Universal, we decided to collect our tickets after dinner.  The kiosks for the passes are located in the main lobby and only take a few minutes to process.  The passes really did make a difference with regards to the amount of time we would have spent waiting in lines the entire weekend, so I definitely recommend getting them.  The only downer is that for some of the best rides and attractions at Universal and Islands of Adventure, the Express Passes aren’t valid.  Just be sure to check for the Express Pass icons on the guide map prior to entering the parks so that you are aware of which rides participate in the Express Pass program.

The next day, armed with our tickets, we woke early and headed to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  We are all avid Harry Potter fans, so it was hard to contain our excitement.  The Harry Potter World in Islands of Adventure opened early to guests of the hotel, so we took advantage of that time by exploring Hogsmeade, riding the Hippogriff coaster…twice, and taking a visit to Hogwarts.  The small details of the Harry Potter sections were extremely impressive.  The Hogwarts Express train was an amazing experience!  At one point, the dementors came aboard the train, and the air got colder.  It was a very small detail, but also a very important one for those who really love the Harry Potter series.  Also, in the bathrooms, you can hear Moaning Murtle!  We also got to try Harry, Ron & Hermione’s favorite drink -Butter Beer, which tasted like a mix between cream soda and butterscotch candy. 

Our hotel stay also included a breakfast at the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley.  Due to the small size of the restaurant, I would strongly recommend reservations.  The food was fair, but the experience is really what you pay for.  The décor was similar to that in the movie and my girls really loved it. 
Exiting the Leaky Cauldron leads you back into Diagon Alley, where every 15-20 minutes, the dragon sitting atop Gringotts Bank spews fire out into the crowd.  It was one of the most amazing features of Diagon Alley. We went on Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, which is a fabulous 3D coaster ride that puts you face to face with Voldemort and Bellatrix.  My youngest, who is seven and about four feet tall, absolutely loved this ride! 

Once the ride was finished, we went to Olivanders wand shop.  We saw the wand show, where a member of the audience gets to try out some wands.   The show only lasts about 10 minutes, so if you have time and the line is short, go check it out!  Olivanders sells the wands of each character in the Harry Potter series.  Although they are expensive, they also sell interactive wands that are really a great feature to offer for the kids.  I bought each of my girls a wand, and they were able to cast spells that really worked just as long as they were in either Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley. 

In addition to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, we also were able to get back to the hotel each afternoon for some relaxation.  The pool at the Hard Rock Hotel was heated, which was welcoming due to a “cold front” that had moved into Florida over that weekend.  A really cool feature of the pool is that they have speakers under the water, so you can hear the music while swimming.  The music isn’t all that clear unless you are near one of the underwater speakers, but it really made my girls happy.  There is also a sand beach around the pool as well.  And surprisingly, the pool was very clean and seemed sand free.  There is a water slide for the kids, as well as some water fountain areas and a toddler pool for smaller children.  Sunday was quiet, but on Friday and Saturday, there was some sort of entertainment for both children and adults at the pool throughout the day.  They also have movies at the pool after dinner.  If I have to complain about anything, it is that the hot tub was always crowded with unsupervised children.  At one point, some of the kids were playing a game and trying to jump into the hot tub from certain distances.  This went on for quite a while and there were no parents or lifeguards around to stop them.  Other than that, the hotel was perfect, and I would definitely stay there again.

On Saturday night, we braved City Walk for dinner.  Let me just say that City Walk at dinnertime was more crowded than either of the parks were throughout the entire time we were there.  It was almost impossible to stay together.  And to be honest, I don’t understand the draw.  It’s just restaurants and shopping.  But I just wanted to put it out there that it was a nightmare to navigate through, especially after a long day at the parks.   So, just a tip based on my experience, if you have a family with young ones who are cranky from walking all day long, I would definitely recommend grabbing dinner somewhere else.

We spent the next day exploring the parks outside of the Harry Potter areas.  We went to the Dr. Seuss area, the Jurassic Park area, and we also got to experience some of the amazing attractions such as Minion Mayhem, The Mummy, Transformers and Disaster.  We also got to see the Shrek 4D movie, as well as the Animal Actors on Location show.   Even though I am more of a Disney person, Universal really has done an incredible job with their parks.  There are some pitfalls that everyone going to the Universal parks should be aware of (listed below), but I don’t think any of these should be reasons to disregard Universal.  In fact, I really can’t wait to return when my youngest (the daredevil of the family) gets a little bit taller so that she can ride all of the great coasters!

Here are some of the pitfalls:

1.        Some attractions in the park aren’t opened at the same time that the park opens.  For example, the park opened at 9am each day, but the Jurassic Park Discovery Center didn’t open until 10am.  I find this a bit odd, especially if you happen to have done all of the rides in that area.  You are then stuck waiting for something to open, or you have to just skip it.
2.       Because of the early admission offered by the hotel, you need to show proof at the entrance that you are, in fact, staying at one of the participating hotels.  This wasn’t an issue.  However, once we got in the park, we were again asked to show our room keys to get on the rides.  It was cumbersome to continually have to get out our room keys, especially when we already showed them at the front gate in order to get access to the park. 
3.       Staying at the Hard Rock, Loews Portofino Bay, or Loews Royal Pacific resorts includes early admission to the parks.  However, the only part of the park that is opened for early admission is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in the Island of Adventure.
4.       As I stated earlier, not all rides accept the Express Pass, so plan accordingly.

Overall, this was a great vacation to start our year off.  If I had to do it again, I would purchase an extra day at the parks, as we only had the 2-day multi-park passes.  Even though we saw everything we wanted to see, and even got to do some things twice, I really wish we could have seen a few more shows, tried a few other rides and just got a chance to leisurely explore the park a little bit more.  Having said that, our first mini vacation was a huge success!  We really did have a lot of fun, and the girls’ smiles throughout the entire trip made it all worth it!  And to make it even better, even though two weeks have passed, the girls are still talking about it! This is definitely something I think we will all remember for a very long time.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Back to Basics

I used to have a pure love for running.  After a knee injury, I attempted road cycling, and by my standards, I failed miserably.   I wanted to love cycling in the same way that I cherished running.  I wanted cycling to be my stress relief, my “me time”, my escape.  But it wasn’t. Very recently, I purchased a gorgeous 2015 Cannondale carbon fiber road bike in hopes that it would make my journey easier.  It did the exact opposite.  It made me more competitive with myself and more frustrated by the fact that I haven’t yet aced the sport.  Due to my fear of clipless pedals, cycling became the most stressful part of my day.  Not only was I comparing it to running, I also kept dwelling on the negatives like how fast I was going, how unsafe it was, how cars don’t care about running cyclists off the road, how small the bike lanes are, how to clip in and out of my pedals faster, how to not crash into the runner who decided to use the bike lanes.  I thought about the injuries that most cyclists come across at one time or another and how those injuries could possibly affect other things that I enjoy in my life.   The negativity in my head won.  To say I am disappointed in myself as a cyclist is an understatement.  I wanted so badly to be a bad ass biker chick-and not the Harley kind where the motor does the work for you.  Even though I completed a half century ride (50 miles) on a MOUNTAIN bike, it wasn’t good enough.  I still wanted to be the chick that rides a full century and doesn’t sweat it.  And that’s when I realized something.  I have been putting way too much pressure on myself to be this bike star.  And then I realized that this is a pattern, because I also did the same thing with running. 

I’ve been running for roughly seven years.  Prior to that, I was an on-again/off-again runner.  When I moved to Florida, I became more serious about it.  And by serious, I mean that it became a part of my daily routine.  About a year after I moved here, I started looking for other ladies I could possibly run with because it got lonely sometimes.  I decided to join MRTT (shout out to MRTT Sebastian chapter).  Moms Run This Town is a local organization of amazing, supportive women who enjoyed running just as much as I did. 

Now, before I go any further, when I first joined, I knew nothing about running terminology.  I literally had a 2nd generation IPod shuffle and an old pair of running sneakers.  When I ran, it was just me, my music and the road.  I remember meeting the MRTT ladies for the first time at the 4th of July 5K race in town.  It felt so good to show up and to be a part of something.  When the race was finished, I remember the group leader asking me what my finishing time was.  I just shrugged my shoulders because I really had no clue, and said that I was a pretty slow runner.  I didn’t pay attention to the clock and I didn’t have any gear to let me know anything.  She mentioned something about a “PR”, and I felt like an idiot because I had to ask her what it meant.  I was obviously a running novice, but the group was so supportive and didn’t make me feel bad about my lack of knowledge (or lack of tech gear for that matter).  Over time, the group unintentionally introduced me to a whole new world of running.  I got new shoes that were lighter and a smartphone app that would track my time.  I started paying attention to how fast I could run each mile.  I started pushing myself to run longer, harder, faster.  And with the encouragement from this wonderful group of women, I signed up and completed my first half marathon.  My time was 2:22, which I was and still am very proud of. 

After a few months of not racing, I decided to start training to run 26.2 miles.  Now, I didn’t say marathon because I didn’t sign up for a race.  I just decided that I was going to run the 26.2 locally by myself.  There would be no medals or fanfare at the end of it all.  I was doing it for the challenge.  I trained for a few weeks, up until I got to my Sunday eight mile long run, and that’s when my knee gave out.  The pain was excruciating, but I tried to run through it.  When I couldn’t, and when I realized that even walking was painful, I knew it was serious enough to put my 26.2 goal on hold.  I was devastated mostly because I wasn’t sure if I would ever be able to complete my goal.  But that’s the issue- rather than being disappointed about my inability to run, I was more disappointed about not reaching my goal.  The love I had for running, all of those years ago when all I had was my little clip on IPod shuffle, had seemed to be replaced by something else.  I was more concerned with my times, my distances and being able to tell the world that I had completed a marathon.  Running, but not the love of it, consumed me.  I have a wonderful fiancé and two awesome daughters, yet during that time, running was the first thing I thought about when I woke up in the morning.  And I would keep thinking about it until I completed my run.  And even after I got my daily run in, I would think about how I could have done better.  I didn’t think rest days were necessary.   I worried about where I could fit my training into my already busy schedule.  I longed for the most expensive Garmin running watch and the most expensive Brooks sneakers money could buy.  I was obsessed.  And the sad part is that I started losing the feeling I had at the very beginning, when I didn’t know what a PR was, and when I would sing along with my music at the top of my lungs as I ran because it was so much fun.  I zapped the enjoyment out of it because, as I discovered recently with cycling, I was being too hard on myself.  I was expecting the best, but missing the point.  My truth is that I will never be an Olympic runner.  I also will never ride in the Tour de France.  So, why not just sit back and enjoy it?  Why all of the pressure?  Why not celebrate the simple fact that I’m outside doing something active?  Goals and challenges are great to a certain extent.  But for me, it’s just not worth it if my entire focus is on the wrong things. 

I have just recently started dabbling back into the running arena, only two miles at a time.  I am nervous to go any further than that because, for some reason, the two mile marker is usually when my knee starts hurting.  So, I’ve decided that running “only two miles” at a much slower pace than I used to run is still pretty damn fantastic.  My intention is to upload some new tunes on my old IPod shuffle and to forget about the clock, my splits, running apps and the distances that I was once capable of running.  My intention is to stop beating myself up and to bring back the fun that made me start running in the first place.  Maybe one day, I will even be able to run the 26.2 miles.  Or maybe one day, I will clip into those bike pedals and ride a century with the big boys.  And if I do, I truly hope that all I will need is a great playlist in my ears and a smile on my face.

As for now, I will get back to the basics and do what I can, as long as my true love of the sport isn’t compromised.  And, just in case you were wondering, I am happy to say that my family has replaced running as the first thing I think about every morning.