Sunday, December 30, 2012

A year on blog

So, tomorrow is the last day of 2012. It's been some year for me and mine - a really different year than the past few in more ways than one.

I'm hoping to do a reflective post tomorrow, a summary of the year that was - my extended family and overseas friends always enjoy those, and it substitutes for the Christmas / New Year letter that I'm too lazy and disorganised to write :-) But I thought today I'd do what I did last year, and have a look at how this blog fared in 2012. I always find it an interesting, and occasionally startling, exercise, as I don't stats-watch through the year (one of the upsides of not monetising - I don't actually have to care about eyeballs per se, and no one asks me for the numbers).

So, I had a looky at Google Analytics, and was firstly mildly astonished to find that this has been a much bigger year (in terms of unique pvs) than the first two years of this blog's life, or any of the 6 years on my old decommissioned blog, Zucchinis in Bikinis.

Why this should be, I have no real idea. Post numbers were virtually the same as in 2011, with the same bulge pattern in November (for NaBloPoMo) and January (when I blog more because I'm not working). My comment numbers were, if anything, a little down on 2011 - a phenomenon that is, I think, common in the blogosphere at the moment. But despite all this, the blog is getting read, and by more people (or, shall we say, unique entities?) than it was last year.

It probably speaks to my lack of marketing nous that I can't really fathom this, or work out how to nurture it, should I want to. It's still a bit gratifying though - after all, I write on the Internet to share ideas and be read, so it's rather pleasant to think that some people, somewhere, are reading what I put up here.

The "10 most read posts of the year" part of my stats checking was both surprising and not. I expected the Dorothy the Dinosaur gluten free cake how-to to rank highly, and it took #1 easily, with view numbers well into five digits across the year. (How-tos always attract page views, in my experience). Likewise, the Back to the Future picture post on the DeLorean was linked on a number of Facebook pages, while the Black Ruby restaurant review was linked on a couple of websites, so I wasn't surprised to see them high in the list. I suspected my professional services contractor post would get good traction, and it did, and I knew people would read the 2-post profile on Nicole of Planning With Kids, especially as she linked to the posts (and they did!)

You could've knocked me over with a feather, though, at the placement of the book review of The Language of Flowers. Book reviews always attract a gentle but consistent readership here, and they do grow steadily over time, as people Google titles. But this innocuous little review had a monumental surge in October this year - why, I do not know - and was the third-most-viewed post of the year. Go figure, huh?

Likewise, my post on a little acrostic poem my daughter wrote, and my thoughts about it (Mother-Worker), was very widely read, and my musings on the whole "activated almonds" snafu got a lot of pvs. Both of these were a bit surprising, although I guess the topicality of the almonds post lent it some fuel. I was very pleased that my post explaining Coeliac Disease got read; I saw this one as an educative post, and I'm really happy it was seen.

So here's the list:

1. Dorothy the Dinosaur cake (February)
2. Back to the Future in the DeLorean (January)
3. Reading Notes: The Language of Flowers (January)
4. Black Ruby restaurant review (April)
5. On being a professional services contractor (November)
6. Mother-Worker: An acrostic poem about me(April)

(All six of these posts are in my top 10 all-time posts, too, and the Dorothy cake post is currently my number 1 hit post ever).

7. Self-employed and working at home with kids profile: Nicole Avery (Pt 1) (November)
8. Self-employed and working at home with kids profile: Nicole Avery (Pt 2) (November)
9. Activated almonds (November)
10. Coeliac Awareness Week: What is Coeliac Disease? (March)

So what makes a difference to the level of traffic a post gets?

Well, I don't really know. However, a few factors I can identfy as having an impact are:

- Twitter - I tweet links to most of my posts, but not all. If I tweet the link, that will double the pvs. If it gets RTed by someone else, that triples it.
- Linking - Any post that got put up on Facebook or Google +, mentioned in someone else's blog or website, or linked in an online discussion does well.
- SEO (when I accidentally do it :-) - Apparently some combinations of phrases are good at attracting Google hits, how about that! Sometimes I accidentally call a post something that matches to a common search string on Google or Yahoo, and then I get lots of hits.
- Black magic:Then there are the times that I *just don't know* why the heck people read it or where they come from. The Language of Flowers is one of those.

I took the blog in a slightly more literary / thinky direction this year; while I still did plenty of slice-of-life posts, I did more than twice as many book reviews, twice as many poems, and more opinion pieces, than in 2011. For me, personally, this worked well; I was happy with the tone and emphasis of the blog and will probably continue in the same vein in 2013.

I was a little surprised and heartened to see that my poems, traditionally a weak performer in terms of pvs, did quite well at being read this year. I love to write poetry and I write much more of it than ever appears on the blog. It's nice to share your work sometimes and I get more of a kick out of comments on poems than on any other kind of post.

The three most read poems this year were:
Who are you? (June)
Running (November)
Love, actually (August)

I'd have to say that my biggest personal blog highlight of 2012 came in a post in February, which was a review of the stage show of Yes, Prime Minister. Not only was I happy with that post, but I got a comment from the wonderful Jonathan Lynn, author of the play (and the TV series and books), indicating that he liked the review and felt I'd captured the essence of the satiric message it conveyed. I was giddily delighted by this interaction, and held it up for the rest of the year whenever any of my non-blogging friends asked me why I bothered :-) (Of course there are other reasons, but that one's pretty compelling, right?)

So that was 2012 on Play, Eat, Learn, Live. I am comfortable here; this is my online sandbox, to write and discuss and inform and share and be silly and be serious and feel connected. I am content to be un-monetised (or is it non-monentised?) - I feel I've made the right decision for me in seeking my income elsewhere, through my professional writing business, and keeping this amateurish little space just a treasured hobby and record rather than an income source.

In 2013, I'm going to do the Australian Women Writer's Challenge (I've signed up to review at least 4 books), and will do the Booker Longlist read-review again too. I plan to publish more poetry, more photos, and more work-life / working tips posts. I'm sure I will also opine about many things, at great and no doubt tedious length, as issue arise. I also will continue to blog in support of Good Return, one of the main charities I support, and on gluten free food issues, including recipes.

I hope to see some of my readers back for the new year, and that the year was good to you all, on-blog and offline too!

Thursday, December 27, 2012


Hubs and I went to see The Hobbit yesterday with friends. I really enjoyed it, but I also fell asleep in the car on the way back to my parents' house to get the kids ... at 7:15pm no less. What this has underlined is a central truth about my state of being at the moment: I am so tired. Deeply, bone achingly fatigued.

I have been running and running at full pelt since May, with very little downtime and very few weekends. That was immediately preceded by a month of being quite sick with heart problems in April, and two months of intensive work before that from late January to late March. Barring a week without work in early November, I have been working at least 30 hours and sometimes as much as 50 each week since May, with a 3 year old still at home except for 2 days a week at creche (one of which is short day of 6 hours).

I have still had community / volunteering commitments, too, although I did ease them back mid-year. But there are some things I couldn't, and didn't want to, avoid; things that were important to my kids and me. Like helping in the school kitchen during the 9 year old's cooking classes, or helping with the school's night market and the church's Christmas festival. I also continued to teach Sunday School monthly, because I felt it was putting too much pressure on others to pull out.

Volunteering and work and family life aside, the amount of energy and effort that goes into kids' extracurricular activities can't be underestimated. Gymnastics, swimming, ballet and music involves commitment from me and hubs as well as from the participating children, and its overall time impact on the week is at least 12 hours all up if everything goes to plan (considerably more when comps, exams and performances are coming up).

Of course, injuring my back in October, and getting flu in December, has not helped my cause greatly when it comes to maintaining health and energy levels :-(

Top that lot off with hosting our traditional last-day-of-school party for the kids' friends, and family Christmas Day at our house, and the highly strung pace has not had a chance to slacken even for a moment. We're also having a NYE BBQ this year, just because it seemed like a good idea at the time, so I am busily prepping for that.

So, in short - I am TIRED. Really, crashingly, exhausted. I need a sustained rest, and I am going to do what I need to do in January to make sure I get one, and to make life as stress-free as possible.

I've ruled off my job book from 31 December and am not available for work again until 4 February. The kids and I will have a lot of home days. I'm sending the younger two to my Mum's overnight mid-month so I can take my eldest to a specialist appointment solo and have a day in the city with her. My Mum is also taking the three together for a Friday night late in the month so hubs and I can go out to eat and SLEEP IN!!

There will be cricket, books and poetry writing. There will be painting, crafts and swimming at the beach. The big kids and I will indulge in an Ace of Cakes marathon. I will take them to the movies, the Zoo and the Museum. We are doing summer old skool this year and I am so, so ready. Bring on Tuesday!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Christmas Card (Poem)

to those who are awakened before dawn by thrilling, trilling children,
those who woke with the sun to journey, there and back again,
and those who stretch out, like cats in the sun, in long morning sleep;

to those who saved and shopped strategically to have things to wrap, to give,
those whose difficulty was finding a gap in the over-abundance for a gift to fit;
and those for whom giving is only of the heart, with no coins to spare.

to those who will delight in a golden cacophony of love in top gear,
those for whom love is complicated, and this day more dread than delight;
and those who will pass it alone or nearly so, accompanied only by screen people.

to those who will eat the time-honoured feast, and eat too much,
those who will eat creatively, making traditions new with prawns and beets;
and those who may not eat at all, unless the kindness of strangers extends a hand.

to those who remember the birth of a probable child in a possible stable,
those whose attachment is sentimental, to a red-coated man and candy canes
and those who remember the Solsticing sun and celebrate its rebirth.

to all of these.

may there be sweetness here,
gentleness, a little rest
maybe peace. that would be nice.
joy to the world, and peace to all who walk her
a wistful, naive, hopeful seasonal wish
to you all
every one.

- Kathy, 25/12/12

Saturday, December 22, 2012

First day of the holidays: A post in pictures

8:15am: Watching cartoons.

9:45am: Making paper chains for the Christmas tree.

10:30am: Hanging laundry.

11:15am: Reading to Miss 7.

12:30pm: Kids - outdoor play. Me - sipping tea on the outdoor chair :-)

1:45pm: Last minute gift shopping with Miss 9.

2:35pm: Bubbles in the backyard!

3:20pm: Afternoon treat - raspberries, blueberries & strawberries with cream and a spoonful of nutella.

4pm: Kids scooting and bike riding on the street, while hubs and I chat to neighbours as they garden in their yards.

5:15pm: Watching a little Curious George as I read on my tablet.

6:10pm: Roast chook and veg for dinner!

7:30pm: Starting work on a new short story, while the kids dance to bluegrass music.

8:45pm: Off on our Christmas lights and decorated houses run!

9:25pm: The pride of the fleet, locally - the best house in the suburb for lights.

Now it's 10:40 and everyone but me and hubs is soundly asleep ... and I intend to correct that for myself very shortly indeed!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Last minute Christmas shopping: The pain! The paaiiiiin!

I don't really like Christmas shopping much, so I try to spread it out across the year (helps with balancing things financially, too).

I'd already got most of the kids' stuff by last week, which was predominantly books and clothes, with one bigger item apiece - an ebook reader for Miss 7 and an iPod for Miss 9. Miss 3's bigger item, which was to be a scooter, I had not yet procured, and I needed to get my mother, brother and father their gifts, which I planned to be a book or calendar and a gift card apiece.

So I nipped into the local shopping centre after school and creche drop off, intending to be there 20 minutes max and expecting to spend around $300, give or take, on the scooter, books / calendars and gift cards. I'd seen the scooter I wanted for $70 in a catalogue, and I do buy sizeable gift vouchers for the 'rents and brother - they are always very generous to my kids and I like to reciprocate.


The shops were busy but not ridiculously so, but Christmas marketing is in full, aggressive swing all right. Someone has put a damn lot of thought into product placement, because, as well as the items I intended to buy, I also got:
- nail polish manicure kits for the big girls (come on, $8 a pop! a good stocking stuffer)
- DVDs for the kids and hubs (perfectly placed to catch my eye)
- a pair of crocs for me
- MOAR BOOKS for the kids and me both. So many, so many
- a pair of earrings for the big girl
- a soap gift pack for a friend

So the $300-ish I was expecting to spend turned into (cough cough mumble) around $450 by the end, and the time expended blew out from 20 minutes to 50.


Then I get home, do a bitta work, and lay out all the presents to be wrapped on my bed - that's this afternoon's job - only to discover that I have unaccountably failed to get anything for my MIL. Whoooooops ... Glad I picked that up today!

Given my lack of impulse control, I think I'll task hubs with choosing something for his mum when he and the 9 year old go out Saturday morning to do the Christmas Day food shopping. It's best if I don't go near the shops again before the day, really. Looking at the teetering book mountains on my bed, waiting to be wrapped for three eager readers, I don't need any further opportunities to go OTT with the gift buying...

Monday, December 17, 2012

Writing lives that aren't yours

Everyone seems to be talking about this piece at the Huff Post today. Opinions and emotions are running high, which isn't surprising, given both the subject matter and the timing. Originally posted on her own blog, The Anarchist Soccer Mom, this is Liza Long's story of her teenage son, his problems, his violence, and her fears - for him, and of him. At the Huff Post, the piece is entited "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother."

There is so much that can be unpicked (or, as is so often the case with our beloved Interweb, picked upon) with this story, and I've already read impassioned defences of Long, scandalised takedowns, and really unsettlingly detailed forensic examinations of every blog post she has ever published - in quest of what exactly, I'm not sure, unless it's 'evidence' that Long is a) A Bad Mother, or b) A Liar. Neither of which characterisations are exactly novel when it comes to women writing on the Internet, let's be honest.

The thing that struck me the most forcibly about the whole business, though, was how sharply it illuminated the dilemma of writing life online, when your life involves (as everyone's must) other people. Long was making a powerful, albeit incomplete, point about the consequences of mental health care inadequacy, and offering the counterpointing of Adam Lanza, actual murderer, and her violent son, who she (possibly unjustly, and certainly pejoratively) invites us to see as a murderer-in-potential. I think the point itself would be hard to argue with - although it does rather beg a question, as Lanza's mental state has not been and may never be established with any accuracy. Nonetheless, the lens through which she presents it, her teenage son's rage and violence, and her fear of that, is at once profoundly compelling and profoundly disrespectful of her son's privacy as a human being who has not yet, and hopefully will never, committed an act of severe violence, let alone killed people.

It made me think of how this tangled knot can ever be unwound in life writing (that's what personal and parenting blogs are, really - streams of life, flowing on the screen, sometimes cloudy, often choppy, occasionally dangerous, and carrying sunlight too). When you write your life, it's not like you write everything - you select, you self-censor, you recast, you shape your stories.

The thing is, other people are part of your life - in the case of your children, a critical, consuming part - so to write your own life, your own experience, means writing about them and of them, at least sometimes and in some ways. And sharing what's difficult and scary can be a potent way to both garner a community of support - online communities can be incredibly important to many people - and to release the anxiety in a tangible way. I think this is something that people who don't blog in the parenting / personal space don't perhaps quite see or understand; that, for bloggers like Long (and like me), life writing comes to both inform and infuse how you both perceive and represent your own relationship to the big questions of the world and the hard struggles in your own life. It becomes natural to have those conversations on blog. And it's your life, it's your choice.

Except, of course, when it isn't.

I think, at the end of the day, that what I can't reconcile in Long's piece is not that she's written about her son and his struggles as such, but that she's done so immediately after the tragedy at Sandy Hook, and has explicitly tied her son and her fears of / for him to that horror. I think that, in trying to make a doubtless passionately felt and valid point about mental health, she has fallen into a storyteller's trap of using a person as a cipher, of inviting readers (strongly) to see a before / after cautionary tale at work. To say that the notoriety this is attracting will do him (and ultimately her) no favours is a massive understatement.

Even when the case is not so extreme, it's a dilemma we all have to face. What can I, ethically, write about another person? What should be the limits? Are they different when I write about children? How does or can consent work in this space? And if I don't write about others in ways that shed light on my own experience, how does this limit my life on screen?

I don't have great answers to these questions, but I ask them, every time I write here. (This may be why I am writing a lot about books, politics and baking, aka Less Personal Stuff, right now :-)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Having one of those boring Luddite revulsions

Every so often I have what I refer to as a Luddite revulsion. This is usually after or near the end of an excessively busy period in my work and family life, and often after an illness of some kind. I've also noticed it's more likely to occur in the warmer months than in winter.

My Luddite revulsions can be comprehensive (NO TECHNOLOGY! NONE OF IT! IN FACT YOU MIGHT AS WELL SWITCH THE ELECTRICITY OFF, BUSTER!) or selective, like the one I'm having now. At the present time, I am quite attracted to the idea of a little TV some evenings, and am happily using my tablet to write and polish poems (I haven't reverted to handwriting in a notebook yet!) I am also listening to lots of music and reading ebooks. Of course, with two work contracts still live, I'm using my desktop computer daily to write, edit and research the documents I'm working on, and that includes lots of email communication and using many online resources. All good with that.

What I am fatigued with right now is the social and entertainment Internet. I have no desire at all to visit blogs, forums and websites I normally enjoy. I am disinterested to the point of ennui in Twitter. I don't really want to blog, although I do have a mild interest in doing a "Christmassy" post soon because my kids really enjoy those and we like having the family record (I've done one every year since 2004, on this blog or my old one). I am not on Facebook, but if were, I have no doubt it would be in the crosshairs too. I don't even want to read the news online, let alone get drawn into discussions of it (very unusual for me).

I have had these revulsions before, and they always pass, sometimes in a few days or a week, occasionally longer than that. I think my lengthiest stretch was about 4 weeks, from memory. I don't see them as a bad thing; I actually think it's a healthy response, for my mind to sometimes prise me away from things that can be exciting and rewarding but also move very fast and frenetically. I don't mistake this temporary lapse in interest for a permanent change and nor would I want it to be. It's just my psyche trying to hit the reset button on a rather frazzled brain, and really, I think that my subsconscious's ability to do that is one of the things that keeps me from really breaking down during and after tough times. (My subconscious is ever so much smarter than my ego, which would keep whippping along until dropping dead and never realise there was a problem).

So I think I will be very sporadic on the blog until the New Year (definitely at least one Christmas post, but anything else will be mood dependent). As for Twitter, right now, I just don't want to, so I won't. I'll feel like it again soon enough, I'm sure.

Do I think anyone cares in the least that I will be living mostly offline for a bit? No, I don't - but I also wanted to write about this Luddite revulsion thing, because I haven't really before, and I've always wondered if other people get it too.

Anyway, I hope you have a great run-up to Christmas over the next two weeks. I hope the day itself is beautiful in whatever way works for you, and that the New Year is shiny and bright.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Gotcha, kiddo

9 year old is in a Mood. Who knows why. The moon may be in the third quarter of the passage of Venus or something.

I call out to her, "Is your room tidied yet?" Silence. I'm about to repeat my question when I realise she's standing next to me as I fold laundry, a handwritten sign held out in front of her.

It reads, "No further communication will be entered into."

I look at her. "You've decided to stop talking?" She nods, vigorously.

"Huh," I say, handing her a pile of her folded clothes. "Why?"

"Well, it's because I -" she begins, then stops. "You tricked me!" she wails.

"By asking a question?" I laugh. She frowns mightily then scribbles frantically. The new note that she turns to me reads:

"Mean because you laughed even though it was funny!!!"

Some you win... No, there's no second part to it this time. Some you WIN.

(She is talking - and laughing - again now, in case you are wondering).

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Self-employed and working at home with kids: A blog mini series - Profile 3: Tony of Between Coffees Web Design (Part 2)

(This is part 2 of Tony's reflections on life as an at-home worker and primary caregiver for kids).

The boundary is also blurred in that because I am at home it often falls upon me to organize (not necessarily cook) what’s for dinner, do the shopping that may need to be done, do and hang out the washing, try and get the kitchen clean, floors swept etc. I sometimes resent the totally unfounded assumption that just because I’m at home my work can be put on hold to do this, but this is generally only on bad days. It’s common sense. I’m here, the jobs need to be done. It’s a matter of making things fit.

I’ll still do some work on the weekend if I have to, my wife will often take the kids out for the morning or afternoon to give me peace and quiet. This is one way I manage peak workloads. I have also found that outsourcing some of the basic work is an option for me. It takes a few tries to find contractors of a suitable quality but they have come in handy. Apart from this it really is a matter of trying to manufacture time; emails or calls can be responded to while waiting for the school pick up, plans for the next day are made the night before, accepting the house will look like a bomb site for another day.

Even with these measures there are times when work butts up against family demands, especially now with the two eldest involved in out of school work or activities. It’s a mix of which demand wins. P has to be at work to start on time and there’s no way there but via car. However sometimes I’ve missed afternoon coffees with friends or outings with the family because a client has a deadline that cannot be moved. I would love to be able to say family always comes first but any working parent will tell you this just isn’t possible. I believe though that working from home has given me far greater opportunity to be involved with the kids and that so far I have to accept I’ve done the best I can with juggling work/family demands.

I’ve mentioned before that my partner helps a lot on the weekend if I need more work time but as she works office hours during the week it really is up to me when it comes to child activity tasks during the week. Anything from dropping off forgotten lunches to making sure P is at work at time. I know she would like to be more involved and she envies me to a certain extent. I also know that whenever I need her help it’s there, all I have to do is ask. I don’t think I could run my business without her support, not unless the kids could be locked in a cupboard when not at school.

We don’t have much family close, mine is in the country and my partner has just her mum and brother nearby. That being said, my mother in law has been a godsend. Not only does her Thursday help give me a free day to work she has stepped in at other times when I couldn’t plan meetings or trips around other care. I don’t like to ask her for help, she has a busy enough life as it is, but knowing there is that back up in case of emergencies makes work so much easier. I don’t use any community resources as such, although I am looking at building a network of workers who work from home so that may change in the near future.

The biggest advantages from working at home when you have children for me is undoubtedly the time I have been able to spend with them. I’ve been able to watch them grow up, able to be there on their first day of school, been able to take them on trips to the zoo, got to know that H doesn’t like fish and K takes an eternity to eat lunch and that A won’t, for love or money, eat green apples put in his lunch box. This is priceless and I can now see why my old boss told me he envied what I was going to do.

Disadvantages though are the restrictions on time. This, hopefully, won’t be such an issue with all kids at school next year but the constant juggling of work and kids demands can be draining. Understanding clients will, in the end, only understand so far and being self-employed you can’t afford to disappoint clients. I should make it clear I’ve never resented having the kids at home, just some days it would have been a lot happier for everyone if Mary Poppins had have blown in on the hot northerlies that hit our back door.

The kids have never directly expressed frustration at me having to work, I’d like to think it’s because I’ve explained to them in ways they can understand that dad has to work sometimes. I think it’s more likely that we have three who are happy to play together and that twins have someone else to play with when A is at school. I’ve seen disappointment in their eyes when I tell them I’ll look at their latest Lego creation, or come shop at their toy store, and it hits hard. I always try to make sure I follow up when I say ‘in a minute’, I just hope that in the future they remember I did turn up. If I’m not flat out I will stop and have a chat, look at what they have to show me and I can see they love this.

If you’re considering working at home with kids what would I suggest? Well, the following have worked for me.
  • Make sure you have a space that can be shut off from the world. You’ll need it.
  •  If you can, set up a regular time where you won’t need to be looking after the kids. You will need to make long calls, go see people, or just concentrate like mad. The expense of paying for someone to help is worth it in the end.
  • Talk to your clients. Let them know you have kids, let them know if you won’t be available at school pick up time. If they don’t understand then you probably don’t want to work with them.
  • Talk to your wife/husband/partner when you need help. Kathy has pointed out every self-employed person will get snowed under at times and you will need someone’s support.
  • If you can, try and switch off after a given time. I’d love to be able to do this but, for me, it just doesn’t work.
  • Get a separate phone for business. Every freelancer will have a story of the phone going off at stupid o’clock.
  • For me the ages of 2-4 were the toughest, but it was only two years. I kept my biggest clients happy and held on. So far, so good.
  • Above all don’t hesitate to ask for help when you need it. It will be better for you and for your kids.

Thank you so much, Tony, for sharing your wisdom! Next week, the final profile in this series - I'm interrogating my own self this time :-)

Monday, December 3, 2012

Self-employed and working at home with kids: A blog mini series - Profile 3: Tony from Between Coffees Web Design (Part 1)

Welcome to the third profile on my mini series on people who are managing the working at home while being a primary caregiver juggle. Today I'm featuring web designer Tony, who can also be found at his own blog, Between Coffees.

Today is part 1 of Tony's reflections on combining these roles; part 2 will be published tomorrow. So without further ado ... introducing Tony Malloy, web designer, dad and all-round good guy.


I guess it's best to start with the reason I work from home. I'm a dad of four. There's P, our teenager, A our seven year old and the twins (K and H) who are five. When A came along we managed my working away from home thanks to a lucky combination of long service entitlements and my wife’s convenient work based child care. However, by the time the twins came along we had to make a decision. Work to pay for child care or one of us stay home.

I am a web developer so thankfully I have skills that translate well to working from home. I had also been slowly working up my business in my own time for a few years so I wouldn't have to start from scratch. I still had some long service leave left so after taking that I officially stopped working for The Man and started out on my own. No more calling clients on my lunch hour and racing home to deal with any problems.

I work 99.9% of my time for home. Leaving paid work conincided with building our own house and one of the items on the must-have list was an office for me. I now spend most of the day in my office, overlooking the comings and goings in our street. Any meetings, and they are rare as most of my contact is via email then to a lesser extent phone or Skype, are held in cafes dotted around town. When I first started out this was viewed as a novelty but I don't think anyone has commented on meeting for a coffee to do work for years now.

One of the changes we made to the plan of our house was to include doors on what was an open office. You can't work if the kids can wander in and out, it's simply impossible. The kids know that if dad's door is shut he's working and not to be disturbed, although this doesn't work all the time. Sometimes I just have to be told about the Lego construction underway, or that K called A a pea-brain.

I have a nanny come in two days a week (two different nannies, both named Rita, so one is Old Rita who has been with us for five years, the other new Rita who has been with us three) for four hours each so I can sit down and get work done in uninterrupted blocks. This has been in place since I started working. The other saviour has been Nana who hail, rain or shine has taken the kids on a Thursday since they were babies which has given me a whole day to arrange meetings or work.

Up until this year this meant I had two full days with K and H, Mr A being at school. I look back on these days and wonder if I could have managed my time better. Some days work would have to be done and they wouldn't get my full attention which always left me flustered. To this day I still feel bad when I hear one of the say "no, dad has to work so he won't be coming". Now the twins are in kinder and heading off to school next year this won’t be so much of a problem, I will have five days a week from 9 to 3 that I will be able to plan out.

I never considered putting the kids in to child care outside of the home. Cost was a major factor but I always liked the idea of having them here with me and paying someone to care for them here was my first preference.

As the kids have grown older I have found it easier to work with them around. They are reasonably self-sufficient and the three younger ones form a tight unit that can generally find some way to fill their time. They’ve learned that when dad says he’s making a phone call they need to be quiet and that sometimes they will have to wait a couple of minutes if I’m finishing something off. When they were younger it was much more of a struggle – we all know you can’t reason with kids. I found that letting my clients know I worked from home and had small children helped. Not one client ever made an issue of it and just this week one apologised for forgetting it was school pick up. Communication is the key here.

The trouble I have is working when other adults may be visiting. This doesn’t happen very often but I feel I’m being a poor host if I have to excuse myself to go and work. The better I know the visitor the easier it is though. Attitudes to working at home seem to have changed over the years and it’s no longer regarded as ‘being at home with a bit of work done every now and then’. Most understand I am working, it’s just I don’t have to commute to my office.

My biggest struggle though is drawing a boundary between work and family life. I am a workalholic and have the fear that every business owner/freelancer has that this job may be the last I ever get so I work hard to deliver. I find it hard to switch off, my mind is constantly thinking of solutions to problems or prioritising projects. Recently I tried to turn off my computer at 5.30 but this didn’t work for me. I find an extra hour or so in the evening makes me feel better, but it means that’s an hour I’m not spending time with the kids or my partner.

I don’t know a solution for this; how does one overcome ones built in drives? If anyone as the answers…. In the meantime I have made one concession and no longer answer work calls on the weekend or in the evening. One hint to those starting out working from home is to get a second phone number. I made the mistake of using my personal mobile when starting out. A rookie mistake, but a big one.

Tomorrow - part 2 of Tony's insights on how to manage the juggle.