Balancing Act. (Or, Bringing This Full House Home With Me. Sort Of.)

For the past three and a half weeks, I’ve been attempting to make some minor tweaks in how I operate during the day around here. It all started when I was in New Jersey with Liz last month. I did a lot of thinking about how relaxed and happy I am when I’m there, even though it was part vacation/part work week. Obviously a lot of the major endorphin spike I experience in New Jersey is purely caused just by being there with her and her family, who I positively adore, but there’s something else.


I mean, you can’t expect a family of six (ahem, SEVEN when I’m there) to operate without certain routines in place, right? Before this visit, my “routine” consisted of two things: go do my workout, then come home and work work work work without looking up. Or moving.

There were two distinct routines going on in that house the week I was there that inspired me—immensely—to make some changes once I got home so I could work smarter, not harder.

Routine #1: The Early Morning Machine
One of my very favorite things about hanging with Liz’s family is what I refer to (mostly in my own mind but now, here) is the Early Morning Machine. I am a light sleeper, an early riser, and a morning person so the fact that the Thompsons begin their day around 5:30 a.m. doesn’t bother me in the slightest. In fact, I love sitting on the couch and listening to everything happen around me. Remember Madonna’s “Ray of Light” video, in which she is mostly moving at something close to a normal speed with all of that cool time lapse videography (moving “at the speed of light”) behind her? That’s how I feel when I’m sitting on the sidelines of the Machine, every single morning. Not like Madonna. I mean…never mind.

Anyway, this is how the Machine goes:

Liz’s middle daughter’s (high school senior) alarm goes off first. Shortly after that, Garth (Not His Real Name) (and also a morning person) comes downstairs, says “Good morning, Melisa!”, puts on some music or talk radio and starts making lunches. Their son (high school freshman) gets up after a few minutes and goes to take a shower.

NOTE: I know that my optimal times for running in to brush my teeth, etcetera, are either right BEFORE the middle daughter gets up or right BEFORE the son gets up because after that I’m just in the way until about 8:00.

Garth (NHRN) lets the dog out and usually at that point, Liz comes downstairs and can be found in the kitchen, getting a cup of coffee and then heading to the bathroom (what? everyone goes, you know). Garth (NHRN) then leaves to drive middle daughter to her bus stop at the local high school (she catches a bus from there to another school about thirty minutes away) and while he’s gone, the son grabs some breakfast and comes into the living room to chat with me. Garth (NHRN) returns and somewhere in there Liz is making sure that their youngest daughter (sixth grader, also known as “Melisa’s daughter too”) is up. Oldest daughter, 20, is usually in bed and out of the way, until the dust clears. Youngest daughter is, like Liz, not really a morning person until she’s had some time to adjust to being awake and all. She always mutters “Good morning” but I then assess the situation to see if she’s receptive to conversation or if I just need to be silent while she eats her breakfast. (A good indicator is whether her eyes are completely open. If not, I just shhhh!) Son leaves for the day. Garth (NHRN) goes to shower and get ready for work. Youngest daughter, if it’s a day on which she’s super-tired, moves so slowly that she has to be verbally prodded by Liz, complete with reminders about folders and lunch and why no, she can’t stay home with us today. Youngest daughter sighs and leaves the house to go to the bus stop, after a couple reminders from Liz to “Hurry up! I’m not taking you to school today because I’m not sitting in that line!” She is awake by this time, smiles, and says “Bye!” and leaves for the day. (That is, unless Liz decides on that particular day to let her take her time, after which she takes her to school. Also, there’s about a 40% chance that she has forgotten a folder or her lunch.) Garth (NHRN) comes through to say goodbye and leaves for work. Suddenly, the house is almost totally quiet. Liz grabs us some breakfast and then we start our day while oldest daughter gets up and has the girls’ bathroom all to herself as she prepares for work.

Sitting on the couch as all of that goes on around me is, believe it or not, a highlight of my visit. There’s something comforting about it to me. In truth, it’s probably very similar to the routines of larger families everywhere, but being the mom of “only” two, an avid people watcher, and in this case a fly on the wall of sorts in a larger family’s home is just…fun for me. It’s a little like Groundhog Day with the occasional wrench thrown in, like that time Liz made her coffee upside-down
or the time someone (ahem, that would’ve been me) didn’t turn the stovetop off properly the night before and Garth (NHRN) got started on his morning a little late on account of having to check in on all the humans and animals in the house to make sure they didn’t die from the natural gas that was permeating the fresh air in the house all night.

(They didn’t. Everyone survived, thank goodness. And we can all laugh about that now, because I didn’t kill anyone. Well, we can sort of laugh. Really. We can. And it’s not just me. Oh, and I now know to double-check the stovetop when I’m done with it.)

But seriously, I love Liz and Garth’s (NHRN) style of morning teamwork to make sure those kids get up and out and on their way. They go out and get it, and bring it back every single day.

Routine #2: The Liz and Melisa Vacation Week Work Day
Working in social media requires, as you can imagine, LOTS of time on the computer (or at least connected to a device or two).

Sidenote: I had to laugh when Garth (NHRN) caught me using my phone, my iPad AND my laptop at the same time, but he’s married to a social media person just like me so although he let loose with some good-natured teasing about my being an addict (okay, I’m owning it but IT’S WORK, HONEST!) (Except for the farming game!), he gets it. I think.

Liz and I both work for BlogHer and both have to put in a certain amount of hours weekly. Often, depending on what’s going on in either one of our departments, you can expect to find us at our computers for the better part of the day. Or off and on. Or at weird hours. Arriving at her house just off of the BlogHer Food weekend in Miami, we were able to consolidate our hours a bit and work only in the mornings for that week. The routine of starting work right after the kids and Garth (NHRN) left the house and then closing up shop between noon and one was, for lack of a better word, glorious. Being on partial-vacation mode was so nice, and so needed. Getting our work out of the way in the morning meant that we had time to go sit on the beach for a couple of hours or spend time with the kids or go to the store or whatever we wanted to do. The balance of working for part of the day and truly shutting down (literally, shutting down the laptop) in order to relax for the other part of the day is exactly what I need to figure out for myself on a regular, at-home basis.

Long story short (see, I’ll get there eventually) is that I told Liz I needed to ditch my own tired, ineffective daily routines and make some changes according to what I learned by spending time in her house:

A. Get my stuff done even if little wrenches are tossed in my way sometimes
B. Genuinely RELAX (my brain, especially) more than I do now, which is “hardly at all”.

So. Since I came home, I have kept my laptop mostly closed on the weekends for the first time in forever, which is HUGE for me. I also set an alarm for every two hours or so when I’m working so that I get up and do a few things in the house to get myself moving, get a few things done, and then feel refreshed when I get back to work. I also try to start my workday as soon as I shower after my morning workout and then finish up by 4 or 5, leaving the evening laptop-free when possible. I can still do things from my phone or my iPad but it’s easier for me to put those away and not get dragged into anything like I do when my laptop is open.

It’s a challenge for me, for sure, and a work in progress. It will not happen overnight but I think I have a pretty good shot.

Of course, the other piece of my New Jersey-related happiness and relaxation is thinking about what I CAN’T bring home, these guys:

This Full House

The next time I get to see them and experience The Machine in action is in October. I can’t wait.

Now I just have to figure out how to bring six New Jersey natives home with me to Chicago and I’ll be all set. I love a challenge.


  • Liz

    It’s like I’m sitting right there with you, on my couch 🙂 The Early Morning Machine is missing you, but mostly your faux daughter is missing you more (me, too!) <3

  • Joan

    I grew up in a big household with lots of women (seven, including Mom), but I don’t ever think I’ve experienced teamwork like this! Even having a guest didn’t put a crimp in the machine. I’m impressed! Melisa, I can see why you miss being at Liz’s house and especially because of her kids!

  • Samantha

    I LOVE this. So what I needed to hear this morning. Sometimes, I find myself getting stuck in this place, on the computer, ALWAYS looking for the next thing to do, thinking of how totally behind I must be, but truly, if I worked more efficiently in shorter spurts, I’d be in much better condition!

    Love that you’ve learned from some of your favorites! xoxo <3

  • Tracey

    I hope you do this! I hope you schedule relaxation into your day and stick by it. It’s just as important, if not MORE important, for your well being as work is.