My "office" for the week

Pros and Cons of Freelance Life (P.S. It’s Worth It)

I want to quit my 9-to-5 job and do what you do. What advice can you give?

Above anything else, this is the question I see most in my inbox. I don’t know what it is people think I “do,” but I do work… I just work random hours and random days, and can just as easily sit in my home office, getting it done on the iMac, as I can lounge on a couch, tapping on an iPad. Sometimes I work when I’m supposed to be “on vacation” and sometimes I don’t work on Mondays.

My situation is unique in that I’ve been a freelancer ever since high school; I don’t even know what it’s like to be employed by someone else. I’ve made it work by cobbling together several part-time gigs and turning them into full-time income. I pay my own health insurance and put away for my own retirement. I take out my own taxes and pay much more for an accountant than any of my 9-to-5 friends do.

This lifestyle is not for everyone, and if you’re used to having vacation and sick days, employer-paid insurance or company 401K match (not to mention a steady paycheck), do think long and hard about whether it’s the right leap for you.

Most freelancers will tell you they work longer hours than any 9-to-5er (or even 8-to-6er) out there. While it’s true we can make our own schedule, we sometimes sacrifice our weekends when work calls or put in 12-hour days for weeks at a time. (That said, no one should ever have to slave over work. Deadlines come and go, but no amount of money is worth your mental and physical well-being.)

With an “outside” job, your work is done when you come home. But in our world, disconnecting from work is difficult because we’re usually working from home.

Despite all that, I feel the pros of freelance life far outweigh the cons, especially for someone who strives to live simply. As long as I have wifi, I have immeasurable freedom in where and how I work. (In fact, I’m writing this from a sunny deck outside my husband’s childhood home on Mount Tamalpais, where we’ve been spending the past week. Having two freelancers in the family means plenty of impromptu road trips.)

I love what I do, and would do the same thing even if I weren’t paid (of course, being paid is a perk and a necessity). I never fear being laid off or having my salary cut, and I’m used to (and prepared for) the ups and downs of my industry. I have the best job security there is because I’m good at what I do and I can always make it work. Being self-employed means you rely on no one but yourself, which I feel is very empowering — truly taking control of your own destiny.

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River Road
Outdoor Adventures, Road Trips

On the Central Valley Back Roads

If I had to list only one occupation on my resume, I might be inclined to list “professional road tripper.”

I am always down for a good road trip, whether it’s for the day or for the week. I love to explore the vastness of California’s highways and back roads, and even after 13-plus years of living in this state and taking off on road trips at least once a month, I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface. The hubs and I have even started pinning a giant map of California with places we’ve been (really been, not just driven through), and the entire region above I-80 is embarrassingly bare. (One day!)

One of our favorite things about living in Southern California — and having family and friends in Northern California — is the opportunity to take a different route every time we visit them. We live for the back roads of the Eastern Sierra and the Central Valley, and relish any drive that doesn’t take us past the odoriferous ranches of Highway 5.

Over the holidays, Will and I jetted up the 5 to visit family in Marin… over the 80 to spend New Year’s Eve in Tahoe… back across the state for a friend’s birthday bash in Salinas… and from there, we had the freedom to choose our own path home.

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Natural bourbon-chamomile cough syrup
Recipes, Sips & Syrups

Natural Bourbon-Chamomile Cough Syrup

Last week while I was on the road, I kept hearing from friends who caught the mystery bug that’s “been going around”… and apparently this bug gets around quite a bit, as it moved from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe to Monterey Bay and all the way down to Los Angeles.

Thankfully we never met, and I’ve been fortunate to not catch anything even remotely resembling a cold for the last nine years (knock on wood). But I feel for my friends. Being sick — especially in weather as balmy as ours right now, where daytime highs are in the 70s — is a drag.

I’ve never liked taking medicine and I especially never liked the Nyquil I saw my friends chugging as if it was life-giving elixir. My dear mother, who commiserated with my distaste for cough syrup, would instead send me to bed with a hot mug of tea made with Vietnamese preserved lemon and honey. The combination of salt (for relieving sore throat), lemon (for boosting immunity), honey (for fighting bacteria), and hot water (for easing congestion) is a natural powerhouse for combating a cold. I still make a mug of this concoction after a long period of travel or work when my body feels worn.

Salty and sour preserved lemons are somewhat of an acquired taste though, so this Vietnamese home remedy isn’t for everyone. But no one can say no to bourbon, right?

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Polar vortex in New York
Random Thoughts

Global Weirding in the Garden

When it comes to winter weather, most Southern Californians tend to be smug as they scroll through their Facebook feeds full of friends complaining about cold, rain and snow, while the west coast is boasting warmth, sun and surf.

Summer temperatures in winter in Los Angeles

In fact, it’s happening right now. I spent the warmest Christmas I’ve ever had in NorCal, where afternoons were a sunny 65°F, and six hours south in my SoCal neighborhood, the mercury rose to 85°F — on Christmas Day, and all week until New Year’s Day. It was warm — too warm, as even our summers only average in the 70s.

My house sitter could barely keep up with the watering as the garden was dry, dry, dry. What’s typically a once-a-week watering schedule in winter turned into an almost-daily task. Our last rains came in early December, at the same time a cold spell lingered for two weeks and brought us below-normal temps. At the end of that period, we went from 55°F to 85°F and have been enjoying our second summer ever since.

On the flip side, I’m hearing from friends in New York shivering in 5°F highs — never have I heard of such a thing, and I used to live in New York. (And let’s not get into the polar vortex craziness going on in the midwest, where I can’t even fathom negative double-digit highs… i.e., RealFeel® Freezing my cojones off.)

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Favorite tweets
Random Thoughts

Thanksgiving in the New Year

Every year, at the beginning or end of the year, I look back on all the emails I’ve saved from readers and all the tweets I’ve favorited from followers, and feel flush with inspiration to take me through the next year of blogging. They come from all over and even Down Under, from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to Bosnia and Herzegovina. (If I close my eyes and point my finger at a map, chances are, there’s a Garden Betty fan out there. Stunned, I tell ya. Stunned.)

Every note and message sent my way is read and appreciated, and though I’m sometimes a slacker in the reply department, please know that your little act of kindness made my day that day.

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2013 sunset over the beaches of Baja
Random Thoughts

Disconnected, but More Connected

Last year, I ended the first day of the new year with this stormy, dramatic sunset over the beaches of Baja.

This year, I ended the first day of the new year with this gorgeous, jewel-toned glow over a glassy Lake Tahoe…

2014 sunset over Lake Tahoe

… After I started the day doing this.

How I spent the first day of the new year

Not a bad way to spend January 1, my friends. Nature and sunshine is easily the best hangover remedy.

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Lucky number 13
Random Thoughts

The Number 13: A Year in Review

In American culture, the number 13 is considered unlucky.

But in Chinese culture, 13 is a very lucky number. When the numbers are spoken in Mandarin or Cantonese, they sound like the words for “growth” and “living” and signify a lifetime of prosperity. With all the awesome things that happened this year — the lucky 2013 — I’d have to say this is one superstition that sits well with me!

I honestly didn’t think 2013 could top 2012 (which I’d previously proclaimed to be the most amazing year, culminating in my Mexican beach wedding), but as I look back on the last 12 months, I’m shocked and excited to say… this is now the most amazing year! (I may have to find a new word soon, as I sometimes feel I overuse the word amazing… but I can’t help it, it really is the perfect word.)

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