I'm trying to keep my business, my triplets, and my waistline under control. I excel at one of those, fail at another one of those, and one is a work in progress. Which is which is day dependant.

Friday, September 30, 2011

So You Want To Be Famous?

The business is growing, and along with that business is coming an interesting array of dilemmas I never thought I'd need to worry about. One of these is the prickly-sticky-landmine world of public relations. In specific, if the business as a whole - and me as an individual - should engage the (very expensive) services of a (very capable superstar) PR company.

On the one hand, having worked so damn hard for so damn long, it seems like some sort of crime to not be shouting from the rooftops that the company exists. It's not like our name is not gaining recognition, it's not like our reputation is not a great one, it's not like we are not acquiring plenty of 'friends' (of the real and facebook variety.) A lot of the growth is happening, but if we were to go the PR route, it would happen a LOT faster and in a lot BIGGER way.

Every PR company I've spoken to believes that it's *me* who needs to be the selling point of this company. On the surface of it, I agree with that. I know I'm a good story, shit, I know I'm a GREAT story - and that the triplet angle helps, the story about the whole school/work thing helps, and I've got heaps of sound byte material just in my mad crazy everyday life. I get that part of it, and I have no objection to it, either. Actually, I'm kinda embracing that idea - more than I ever thought I would, actually.

I recently had a (very) brief chat with Biz Guy about this very topic because on occasion, Biz Guy seems to know me better than I know myself (which is a story for another day) and I knew he'd have an opinion. He's been on the receiving end of texts which say things like, "I would rather shove jalapeno-tipped red hot pokers in my eyes than go to this networking event," and "If I need to spend another minute making small talk and drinking watered down Diet Coke I shall start to internally combust and it won't be pretty," and "Please? Please don't make me to go this event! I'll shine your shoes for like, an eternity, or something. PLEASE?!" and "Me? Give a speech to other entrepreneurs? HAVE YOU LOST YOUR FUCKING MIND?"  So suffice it to say he harbours a few ... concerns... about this whole PR thing, more specifically how she-who-hates-networking would cope with all the attention it has the potential to bring.

He has a point there, he really does (and this is why we pay him the not-so-big money)...but in this case, I disagree with him. I *love* this idea of getting out there and talking about the business - because it forces me to go out there and do *exactly* the very thing I want to do - which is to inspire people. I want other women to know that you can have a career you love, a family which is loving, and a life which is your own. I want people to know that EVERYTHING is possible, even those things which seem so far away and so out of reach. I want people to dream big and think big and just ACT big until they ARE big.

I need my life to be about more than just making cake. Yes, in a way, it's already about more than that, because every day of my (working) life I make people happy - and that in itself is a blessing beyond all measure.

But, you know, it's really not enough.

There is much, much more for me to do here. My life, my story, needs to be the proverbial stone thrown into the pond.

Maybe that's selfish of me, to want more out of this life than just a life. I want to influence. Encourage. Help. Mentor. Inspire. Cheer up. I want to colour other people's lives. I want others to do amazing things because they just needed someone to tell them they could. I want others to do amazing things just because they saw that *I* did it, and "if she can, I can."

And yes, I know PR is about generating sales and making a million dollars and having people hate you as much as they love you. But if having to accept the not-so-happy side of PR means I can potentially spread the "you can do it!" message far and wide...well, I'm willing to accept all of that. Ultimately, I'm a businesswoman who needs to make a living so her family can eat. And that comes first, of course it does. But if along the way I can somehow convince others of their own strength...well, you know, that's just about the biggest silver lining EVER.

The only itty bitty teeny tiny fly in the ointment here is that along with PR comes things like media training, and make-up and whatever not...and that freaks me out just the tiniest, tiniest bit. Let's face it, the frizzy haired, curse-word-loving, jeans-and-t-shirt wearing, rough-around-the-edges tomboy hasn't done too badly for herself. If along the way I had to lose her in order to get the bigger message across...and I suddenly had smooth hair and perfect speech and clothes which require actual ironing and I looked - gasp! - polished...well, I'm not sure the message would be the same.

I'm not entirely sure 'polished' is a word I'd like associated with me. Perhaps 'iced' works better? 

This all requires more thinking.

Miracles Great and Small

Eleven years ago, I had to leave temple in the middle of Rosh Hashana services so the doctor could implant my three "perfect quality" embryos. Religiously speaking, I am on the spectrum of enjoying a healthy dose of scepticism mixed with tradition. I'm not all that convinced about the efficacy of the praying business but then I firmly fall into the "well, it can't hurt!" camp as well. That morning I sat in temple and prayed my not-so-little ass off that the Big Man Upstairs would look after me and my embies which I was about to go and pick up.

Jews are jews, though, so somewhere in those prayers was a, "And listen, I'm *really* sorry but I've got to duck out of this whole praying thing a little early so I make it to my appointment on time. I know, I know, the sermon is the boring bit anyway, but you know, the poor rabbi only gets a decent audience once a year and then I'm going to go and kinda heckle him by leaving right before he starts yammering..." So I asked for peace, and for protection, and for life for my children, and for forgiveness from the rabbi since I was leaving right before his big speaking gig.

The non-religious part of me believes that the embies were good quality and all the scientific bits lined up all like they needed to in order to result in a pregnancy and live birth...and the religious one in me believes that on that morning, my embryos were written into the Book of Life just like I asked them to be. After all, it's the first day of the Jewish New Year that it is meant to be decided who shall live, and who shall die...and blah blah etc etc etc, very long paragaph about the haves and the have nots.  "Ask and ye shall receive," has never been more true for me than on that fateful Rosh Hashana morning.

As a result, every year on Rosh Hashana, I am reminded that my kids are living, breathing proof that miracles do actually happen.

If that's not a good enough reason to believe that there are forces at work in our lives beyond what we can see and touch and hear and feel...well, I don't know what is.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Baking, A Love Story

It's nearly 10pm on a Sunday night, and I am at work baking a cake full of love - my husband's birthday cake. I'm using a recipe I've never tried before, in a kitchen I've not baked in for a long while (because these days, I am fortunate enough to have a baker who does this for me, commercially speaking), surrounded by a bunch of beautiful equipment which is wonderful when one needs to bake 20 cakes at a time...but is useless if all you are making is one cake for a loved one.

I won't sugar coat this (pun very much intended) - I was a little scared when I started my little project tonight. I'm in an unfamiliar setting, using an unfamiliar recipe, and really wanting it to turn out perfectly for the person I love more than anyone else on the planet. But baking...baking is in my very bones. I relied entirely on instinct to begin. I rolled up my sleeves. I read the recipe all the way through, and the dance began. I turned on the oven, then gathered up the various bowls and measuring cups I would need to complete this cake (which by the way is a layered buttermilk and white chocolate cake filled and covered with a white chocolate and passionfruit icing).

I had my tools, started to measure out the ingredients, and while I was working, I found my heart rate slowed considerably, my breathing became much more even, my shoulders relaxed down, and I found myself singing along to the radio which was quietly playing in the background. I thought to myself, "I really LOVE baking. Really LOVE it," and let out a happy sigh and thought about all the reasons why I love to bake.

Most cooks and chefs I know (both amateurs and professionals) either love to bake or hate it. There is no real grey area - the cooking world is split into bakers and non-bakers, those who love it and those who are a little afraid of it. I believe bakers are born, not made- so in your nature is either a baking soul or there isn't. I know some brilliant chefs who need only look at a sponge recipe in order for it to fail. Similarly I know plenty of bakers who cannot manage to season a plain pasta dish. Sure, there are exceptions - but even those who are capable in both arenas find themselves inexplicably drawn very much to one area or another. "Real" chefs look down on pastry chefs, and pastry chefs just laugh because they know the 'real' chefs are just totally intimidated by the magic the pastry chefs can create.

So the world has bakers, and non-bakers.

Me, I'm a baker - and here's why:

I love that baking is firmly a scientific pursuit, and yet there are so many baking recipes out there which totally defy all logic and common sense. I love sense of comfort and peace I get from the careful measuring, the weighing, the considering, the mathematics, the formulaic nature of baking. I love that if you mess something up, either you'll end up with a complete disaster or an entirely new invention which is probably better than the one you were trying to achieve. I love the slippery, slidey greasiness of butter, the bright orangey yellow wetness of egg yolks, the powdery grainy yet smooth softness of flour, the chink-chink-chink noise that chocolate buttons make as they fall into a metal bowl from a great height. In my heart of hearts I just know when a baking recipe will work or not - and I love that every time I think, "this will never work," what results is one of the nicest, most delicious, gorgeously soft and moist delicious cakes ever made by my own hands. I love that baking recipes force you to rely on some sort of magic happening in that oven when you're not looking. I love the euphoria of sliding a hot, heaven-scented cake pan out of the oven just as much as I love the soul destroying, crushing realisation that your cake is burned or looks like it was sat upon by a very large elephant. I love that baking is based on formulas and certainty and measurement and exactness - and yet you really don't have any idea if it's worked until you lift the fork to your mouth. I love that, in baking, a synonym for 'total disaster' is 'complete genius.' I love that you can try a recipe which seems ridiculous (like the whole wheat zucchini chocolate chip bread I baked this week) and suddenly find your thoughts turning to creating an entire upside down meal whereby the vegetables are in the dessert and the sugar and chocolate is in the main course.

I love that baking radiates good intention.

I love that there are dozens of kinds of sugar and each of them act in entirely different ways in a recipe, and each have their own colour, texture, smell, and sweetness - and yet they all come from the same fields of sugar cane. I love the wrinkly squishy pointy vanilla pod - which has the power to entice lovers, affect global trade, and be a thing of great wonder and joy once you split it open. I love the muscle fatigue I feel in my arms after I've kneaded a dough for a while, or creamed some butter and sugar by hand to create a bowl full of white, fluffy, deliciously sweet peaks. I love meringue for it's fickle nature and its ability to make me laugh, cry and beg for mercy.  I even love the tools of baking - the satisfying 'thunk!' of an ice cream scoop spring releasing every time you fill a cupcake paper, the sssccrrraaapppeee of the metal dough scraper as you gather up the bits of shaggy dough off the bench, the swoop of the spatula as it gathers the last scraps of ganache in the bowl, the whomp-whomp-whomp of the dough hook as it slaps your brioche dough against the sides of the bowl.

Baking is a beautiful art which engages ALL of the senses and forces you to use most of them at once. When a cake slides out of the oven, you need to use your eyes, nose and sense of touch to work out if it's cooked or not. Your sense of taste tells you if the effort was worth it, the sound of the collective "mmmm" of your friends is music to your ears when you've achieved something truly amazing. I love that baking might be scientific, but it's also inherently intuitive - it's not just about reading the recipe and following it exactly. When something I've made comes out of the oven. I love that I can just know when it's done, or could benefit from another minute or two or ten. I love that baking is a complete bastard; when I've touched it, tested it, checked it, look at it..and declared it done, only to turn it out and have the middle still be molten cake batter. I love that moment when the shaggy mess of dough in front of you suddenly, right before your very eyes, in a blink-and-you-missed-it moment turns into a bouncy, silken, smooth dough which carries in it's very core hundreds of possibilities.

I love that baking something for someone can express an entire lifetime of emotions. I love you. I'm sorry. Things will get better. Or maybe things won't get better, but right here in this very moment, you are loved. He's a lying, cheating bastard. She didn't deserve you anyway. Forgive me? I've been thinking about you. I respect your opinion. I think you need some cheering up. I need your help. You are important to me. I didn't mean it. I meant every word of it. I'll try harder next time.  I listen when you talk. We will be okay.


I love you.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


This past week I took an order from a client who asked me how I came up with the name for my business. I told her, and she let out a huge dramatic sigh and said, "Great. Now I feel *really* inadequate." I just laughed it off and told her that not everyone needs to have as many screws loose as I do.  She then went on to tell me she has only one child, and does not own a business...and cannot for the life of her understand how one might fit in kids and a business and just, you know, life.

So - when you've got kids (regardless of quantity) AND you're an entrepreneur, how on earth do you manage it all?

The truth is, you don't. Or rather, you DO, but to a level of chaos you are comfortable with. You make different choices, make compromises, learn to prioritise, learn to multi-task, rely on the kindness of family, friends, and sometimes strangers...and you just muddle along like the rest of the world does.

The biggest struggle for parents in business seems to be devoting enough quality time to their business AND enough quality time to their kids. It's hard to feel as though you are giving either of those things 100% when you are so tired you can barely muster the energy to brush your teeth. It's hard to feel like you are a good parent when you are only half-listening to your little darlings prattle on while you're checking your email on your smartphone. It's hard to feel like you are a good business owner when your energy bill has a hastily-scribbled supermarket list on the back of it...and that bill was due two weeks ago. Make no mistake, there is NOTHING which is easy or simple about being a business owner and a parent. I'd even say that you are in many ways running TWO businesses - each with their own financial and emotional demands, each with challenges, daily changes which need managing, and each which need more time than you actually have to give.

I really struggled with this whole work/life thing for a very long time and I've chronicled it here many, many times.  I've written about various ways I've found to cope, but I've also read myriad articles and blog posts about 'how to have it all,' 'how to be supermom,' 'why the supermom is a myth,' 'how to outsource your life and be a better parent' and so on and so forth. There is no 'one size fits all' answer to this dilemma because each family dynamic is different, each business is different, and each person has their own internal list of things which are important to them.

For me the solution to the age old question of the family/work life balance is a two step process. Depending on your personality, one or the other of these will be damn hard to do. Actually, if you're like me, they are BOTH a lot of hard work.

Step 1) Accept that you'll never be all things to all people. The sooner you accept this, the easier the balance will be. You're going to lose some clients because you are not available 24/7, you're going to upset your kids if you can't sit through all 4 hours of their recital, you're going to annoy your partner by not being a vixen in bed every night, you're going to have a messy house, you're going to probably still need to lose those 10 kilos you've been carrying around. Shit happens. Best to realise that now.

Step 2) Make a decision about what things are not negotiable, and live to that decision. In EVERYTHING you do as it relates to your family and your business. So if for you the 'not negotiable' item is being able to pick up your kids at school every day, then your business hours officially end at 3pm, Mon-Fri. Not negotiable. Maybe it's getting to the gym 3 mornings a week - so your business hours on those days don't start till 9am. Messy house not an option? Either build time into your diary specifically for cleaning, or hire a cleaner. Homemade dinner on the table every night? Learn to cook and freeze. Making millions by the time you're 25? The kids' recitals will just have to be recorded. There is NO shame in choosing you or your business time over time with your kids - but OWN that decision, and live to it. This step requires an enormous amount of discipline, but since in Step One you already know you're going to screw it up sometimes, well...maybe that's not so daunting any more. Decide on the important stuff and then make that important stuff actually HAPPEN.

Of course nothing at all in life is as black and white as the above paragraph would have you believe. All I am really saying is - if you spend a bit of time to decide what's *really* important to you, and then take steps to make sure that at minimum those things are taken care of - well, anything above and beyond that is just a bonus. If you're going to spend all your time worrying about the little stuff, and getting everything only half done...well, all you're going to end up is frustrated, guilt ridden and burnt out. Decide on what's truly essential to your happiness, make those things actually HAPPEN, and suddenly you'll find yourself just that little bit calmer. Have you ever heard that expression, "If you want something done, ask a busy person"? That pretty much encapsulates my philosophy of the work/life balance. We ask the busy people to do things because it's the busy people who have things organised in such a way as to make MOST of what they want to achieve happen. The busy people have time - or can carve out time - because they know their time is precious and limited and therefore needs to be managed well in order for them to succeed at it.

I know you're thinking this all sounds terribly simplistic, right?

(insert wry grin and sarcastic laugh)

Let me share with you a little bit about my life. Mondays in particular.

Monday - first I have to get out of bed (I hate that bit.) Usually one or more kids has begged me one or more times to get up before I actually DO get up. In the morning I do my usual morning stuff (teeth, whatever) - I'll also do DD2's hair, try to make sure my kids have all done their morning ablutions and have all their stuff sorted out, get them out the door and eventually I get to the gym. I come home from the gym, and on my way to the shower will throw in a load of laundry, put away dishes, etc. I then make my way to work and do work-stuff for most of the day (you know, all that romantic entrepreneurial stuff.) I'm also highly likely to pay household bills, make some household related phone calls, try not to eat too much chocolate, and berate myself a bit for not getting more done (because I still struggle with this.) Come 4:20pm, I look up in shock and horror that it's that time already, so I quickly shove all my crap into my bag, and fly out the door to the bus stop to get the kids. Between 4:20-5:19, I make 3 lunches, clean up the kitchen, put the wet laundry into the dryer, make a decent start on dinner, remind the kids to do their chores, help with homework, and whizz around like a crazy lady. At 5:20 I take DS and DD1 out - DD1 gets dropped at Girl Scouts, then I drive DS to basketball. He and I shoot hoops for about 5-10 mins, then I sit and watch him practice. I have to leave practice 10 minutes before it ends to drive back and get DD1. She and I then drive back to basketball to pick up DS. We then all make it home, where we finish the dinner making, greet my friend who comes over for dinner every Monday, and try to get ourselves organised for the evening. So that means sorting out the rest of homework help if needed, finishing any unfinished jobs, starting a new load of laundry, washing dishes which need washing, getting the dog fed and so on and so forth. We all have a nice night together, sort out any crises of the "I have no clean uniforms" variety, and eventually the kids go to bed and my friend leaves. At which point I'll answer work emails, talk to DH a bit, facebook a bit, or clean up some more (post dinner dishes, random crap strewn about the place, etc.) At some point I will decide I need to get to bed and will get there around 11-ish - where I pretend to read (but really I'm asleep with my eyes open) and fall asleep with my bedside lamp on and my book falling out of my hand - only to wake up (or be nudged to wake up) about 7 hours later. 

I'm exhausted just writing all that, and I'm sure I've forgotten some bits - but it's all  done with a very helpful and supportive DH and kids who actually help out around the house a fair bit. If you think that the other days of the week are any different, let me assure you that they're not - with the notable exception that Mondays are generally the quietest day of the week for me  You might also be reading that and thinking, "I don't get it. That kinda looks like she *is* doing it all. Which bits has she prioritised there? Which bits are non-negotiable?" 

For me, there is only ONE bit which is not negotiable - and that's the quality of my life. As soon as doing any or all of the things I do mean that my general happiness and satisfaction with my life are compromised - ALL of them would fly right out the window. The ONLY not negotiable thing for me - as selfish as it might sound - is my happiness, and by extension, the happiness of my family. Once I figured that out, I worked out the actual day-to-day things which make me happy, and those include my health (eg the gym going), my kids' enjoyment (eg the activities I take them to), food (eg a home cooked meal every single night) and so on.

It's chaotic, it's busy, and sometimes it's exhausting - but I'm grateful every single day for the happiness my life brings me, and for now anyway it seems to be working for me. Basically, if Mama's not happy, NOBODY is happy.

If you got this far and you're still not sure what I'm trying to say, here is the Cliff Notes version: You can absolutely "have it all" - as long as you're willing to take the time to figure out what undeniably essential things are required to make your life work for you.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Independence Day

I have a love/hate relationship with my children's growing independence. On the one hand, it makes my life much easier that the 3 of them can walk home from the bus stop, let themselves into the house, and get themselves showered and fed and organised (mostly) before I get home from work. On the other hand, that they can do all of this without me is bittersweet, and there are times when I find myself wishing they were not quite as independent as they are. As a result of my internal struggle with this, I find myself doing all sorts of strange things on either side of the independence coin. So - for example - today at the mall, I went and did the supermarket shopping while the four of them (my kids plus an older friend) went and had a look round at the shops which attract pre-teens (eg those which stock stationary and/or really crappy costume jewellery.) It's the first time I've let them be on their own in the mall - and it was in a group, they were phone-contactable, the entire elapsed time was about 45 minutes, and they got a whole lecture about sticking together - but still. Off they went, happy as clams - and I got an earful of whining when it was time to leave because they were having a grand old time. I was so proud of them (and a little bit scared for them) for having their very first 'on their own in a shopping megalith' experience.

And yet - I am certain that I will sit and cry bucket loads of tears the day DD2 does NOT burst into my room of a morning, complaining bitterly that I am not up yet to help her do her hair for her (she has yet to learn to self-braid her hair, and she wears braids nearly every day.) I love that my not-so-little girl still wants her Mum to do her hair. I love that she HAS such long hair to play with in the first place (something my own Mom never allowed) and I love that it's something we do together every single day. I'm secretly hoping that when she's 21 she will still let me braid her hair for her once in a while (and then as now she will complain that I'm pulling too hard, that it's too lumpy or uneven, and that I didn't get up in time.)

Interestingly for me, as time goes on I am reminded that DH and I are actually quite liberal in our thoughts about independence. I have often used the expression, "We give our children two gifts in life - we give them roots, and we give them wings," to explain our parenting philosophy as it comes to independence - but I've recently come across examples of how other parents do things which reminds me that we do not necessarily have it either right or wrong.

I'm in no way saying our way is better or worse, I'm not sitting in judgement here - I'm just saying that it's interesting to see how others do things. To whit:

We recently had dinner with friends at their home- and their 17 year old son insisted that his Mum serve him his vegetables because he "didn't know how much to take." The boy got increasingly insistent about it - pretty much wheedled and whined at her - and god bless her, but his Mum stood up from her spot, went over to him, and served him his vegetables. Me being me, I had to open my big fat mouth and ask WHY he needed his Mum's help. Was it because he could not gauge his own hunger? Because he was not sure what the polite thing to do was? Because...?? His answer was that he "...just never knows how much to serve himself and she does." I have to say, that one left me kinda speechless.

This child is one lucky kid to be as loved as he is - because if I'd pulled that stunt on my parents, I never would have survived my childhood.. As for my own kids - I would understand it if my kids asked (as they often do), "How much may I have? Is there enough for me to have 2 or 3 bits?" but to need to be served like a baby? ....at 17, not knowing how much to serve oneself seems a tad ridiculous. I truly think this boy is blessed to be as well looked after as he is - and there is something to be said for a Mum who will go so far for her kids. I found it quite amazing.

Then I met another couple - who live out in country Victoria, 3 1/2  hours outside of Melbourne - who for the last 4 days have let their 15 year old son and 13 year old daughter look after themselves entirely while their parents were working in the city. These kids had to get themselves to/from school, out to social events, cook for themselves, etc - on Saturday night they went to a footy game which was 80km  away from home, on Friday the son had to get himself home via two trains and a bus, etc. Now admittedly, we are talking about country kids - where independence is a much more common thing from a much younger age and in a small town where everyone knows everyone (and therefore the kids were being looked after even if they were not being "looked after").

I spoke to the Mum about this at length - and she simply said, "Well, they need to learn how to look after themselves. I've got a phone, they've got a phone, they know what to do in an emergency, they can always resort to cereal for dinner if need be, and that's pretty much it." She was so nonchalant about it all - I asked he if she ever felt sad that they were so capable and independent. "Not really," she said, "Because I grew up like that, too. If I made it home for dinner in time, nobody asked any questions about where I had been or what I'd been doing...and if I was up to no good, my Mum would hear about it eventually from one of the neighbours, so there was no point in getting up to no good!"

Fascinating, fascinating stuff in BOTH of those situations. City kids versus country kids, coddling versus setting free, cultural differences, generational differences, socially acceptable 'rules' and so on - so MANY factors go into our parenting decisions. The old 'different strokes for different folks' saying is so true in the parenting arena. We each just do what we are comfortable with, and ultimately hope our kids grow up into decent and responsible human beings.

For my money, though, I want my kids to be able to serve themselves but need Mum to do their braids every morning until the day they die. Surely that's not being unrealistic?