Remote Work 101: Top 5 Tips

Dogs and comfortable chairs are necessities for me.

In the age of the open work space, studies consistently show that remote workers are happier and more productive than their office peers. The technology is in place that makes remote work possible but how do you get started and what is everyday life like for a remote worker? After you finish reading this article, check out this book for more ideas.

Find a remote job

"How did you find your remote job?" was the number one question I received when I started my current remote job. It depends what type of position you're looking for but,,,,, and have a variety of remote and/or flexible work options. Check with your friends who work remotely because they may be aware of additional resources or open positions in their network.

Create an office or dedicated work space

For the first week or two of working from home, I made the dining room table my work space. Big mistake: It's easy to get distracted when you're looking around at dirty dishes in the sink or a messy sofa, or maybe bills you need to pay. Instead, I created a home office, which is the smallest room in our house but has excellent light with its three windows and built-in bookshelves. It also has views of the Adirondacks, which always give me a creative boost. I have a comfortable armchair in the corner that I sit in for Skype video calls or to read documents. The most important tip for working from home is to have a dedicated work space. It doesn't have to be fancy and could even be a desk in the corner, but the trick is that when you leave the space, you leave work.

Stick to a routine

As a remote worker, you may have a typical 9-5 or you may design your own hours. Again, it'll depend on what you do. Either way, you'll probably have a bit more control over some aspects of your schedule because you aren't commuting but don't expect to suddenly find additional extra hours in your day. Time management is even more important when you're working remotely because you don't have someone looking over your shoulder. Even when I was consulting and could set my own hours, I still woke up early, made my coffee, and started working by 8 or 9. When I began my current role, that made the transition back to more normal workday hours a breeze. In order for me to stay motivated, a routine is vital. Know yourself and how you work best.

Be video-ready

Many people have the idea that remote workers work from their beds or sofas in their pajamas. While some people may, I don't recommend it (see #2). When you're working remotely, chances are you're relying on technology like Skype or Google Hangouts for conference calls. My rule of thumb is to always assume every call will be video, even though 95% of mine are not. I also feel like it' s the start of my work day when I've showered, dressed, had my coffee, and I'm ready for the day. 

Don't be a hermit, but also don't overdo it

When I first started working remotely, I was so worried I'd get lonely or feel isolated that I made plans almost every day or night of the week. I went to seminars, had lunches, coffee and walking dates, and people over for drinks in the evening. While it's important to see people, don't overdo it so you're constantly exhausted. I have much better balance now! And if you're worried you'll miss working with people? You'll be chatting and interacting with people every day even if you work from home, and for my position, I go to an office every six to eight weeks. There are also a number of co-working spaces that provide excellent networking and collaboration opportunities for remote workers, or you can always work from a local coffee shop.

Occasionally, I will post on remote life so check back for more updates and tips. The next installment will focus on remote working myths.

Book Review: The Scandinavian Home

Scandinavian design is about functionality, aesthetically-pleasing clean lines, and rich, cozy, natural textures like wool, wood, and linen. Scandinavians seem to possess an innate sense of interior design and the ability to make their homes both cozy yet original. Their homes are less about mass-produced objects and more about one-of-a-kind pieces of art and handmade goods. When daylight diminishes significantly in the winter and temperatures drop, meaning less time is spent outdoors, why wouldn't you want your home to be comfortable and beautiful? One side of my family is Norwegian and I definitely grew up with similar values about home and sustainability. Add to that a Vermont childhood without a TV,  filled with stacking wood, reading by the fire on cold Vermont evenings, and cooking vegetables grown in the backyard, and you'll see why the Scandinavian ideas of home really resonate with me. (Think Danish hygge.)

When I first picked up The Scandinavian Home: Interiors Inspired by Light by Niki Brantmark (Cico Books), I instantly knew I would love it. Its pages are filled with gorgeous inspiration with a mix of urban apartments, chic country homes, and rural cabins. The descriptions and quotes that complement the beautiful full-page photography spreads make it feel like you are getting personal tours of friends' houses. Readers get an intimate look into the homes and lives of Scandinavian people. With the homes' mix of artwork, iconic design elements, antiques, and homemade objects, reading this book inspires you to bring Scandinavian design into your own home. Get ready for your home to tell your own unique story!

Above: Images from Brantmark's beautiful book, The Scandinavian Home. Be sure to visit her blog.

First Time Buying a House?

Enjoying Sunday brunch in our dining room.
Three years ago, my husband and I were in the process of buying our first home. It was an exciting but stressful time, and I want to share a few tips and recommendations that helped us out. There are some basics, like always get a thorough home inspection, organize all your taxes and financial information, get both names on the mortgage (if you're buying a house with a partner), and ideally have a credit score higher than 700. Here are a few more ideas that will hopefully make the process that much smoother for you.

The bank will probably approve you for more than you may be comfortable.
The bank came back with a number for us that we knew was more than we'd be comfortable with. In fact, my husband Michael and I loosely based our "comfortable number" off of one income. This meant that last year I could walk away from a job that was making me miserable and start doing some freelance consulting. I wouldn't have had that flexibility if we were already maxed out. If you buy a house that is at the maximum of your budget, be prepared for some extra stress and a lack of flexibility in your life choices. A house is constantly a work in progress and you don't want to feel overwhelmed immediately. Break down the mortgage, taxes, and homeowners insurance and make sure you're fully comfortable with the final number.

Find a buyer's agent you can trust.
A friend recommended our buyer's agent to us, and we were so fortunate to work with her. The sellers ended up being extremely difficult, and we were glad to have a realtor to serve as a mediator. Our agent helped us look at houses differently, worked on our paperwork, and made the process much easier. As a buyer, you don't have to pay a buyer's agent, and they can serve an important role for you in the process. I would recommend that every person buying their first house should work with a buyer's agent.

Don't get emotionally invested in a house until after the closing.
This is something Michael and I were really good at! We were quite realistic and critical of houses throughout the process, which kept us level-headed throughout the process. It's important to be able to see yourself living in a house, but you don't want to have every room planned out immediately. Do not get emotionally invested in a house until the keys are in your hand.

Drive by the house at different times during the day.
The house may seem like it's really quiet and the road has hardly any traffic when you visit mid-morning. However, you may find that during rush hour, there are lines of honking cars right outside your door. Drive by on the weekend or evening and see if it still seems like an area you'd be interested in living. Remember, it's all about location.

Think about the resale value.
It may seem crazy to think about the resale value of a house before you even put in an offer, but it's a must. Does the house have a really steep driveway? Is it an unusual shape with hardly any yard? These will cut the value of the house and also make it that much harder to sell in the future. Michael and I looked at a couple houses that had been on the market for a very long time and our buyer's agent was able to point out several reasons why the resale would be difficult. 

If you can, put 20% down.
Besides the instant equity, you'll avoid expensive private mortgage insurance, which if you and your partner make more than $110,000 ($55,000 per person) you won't be able to deduct from your taxes (there are many more reasons why it's good to not have to deal with PMI, and click the above link to learn more). If you put 20% down, you can also avoid the requirement of a mortgage escrow account, which is when you pay your lender a specific amount monthly to cover your property taxes, homeowners insurance, and private mortgage insurance. Why is that a benefit? Think about your monthly bills: One month you may have more to put in savings, another month you may have an expensive car repair, an appliance breaks, or you have to travel to a family member's wedding. If you aren't required to use a mortgage escrow account, you can put money aside to pay your property taxes and homeowners insurance. If you're good with budgeting and like to be in control of your own money (with a mortgage escrow account, a third party would be holding your money), then this is definitely for you.

Have a financial cushion.
Don't spend all your money on the down payment. I've heard many people say, "It's a turn-key house so it doesn't need any repairs or work." Trust me, it will. Even the most beautiful houses need maintenance: something will need to be repaired, a toilet seal will leak, or an appliance will break. This article recommends setting aside about 1 to 3% of your home's purchase price for yearly maintenance alone. The bigger the house, the more funds you will need to set aside so bigger is not always better. Make sure that you are comfortable with your house, the bills, and that your budget will remain relatively similar to the lifestyle you've become accustomed to.

Enjoy the process and I hope you find the home of your dreams soon.

Four Friday Favorites: Natural Products

Whenever possible, I try to use natural and/or organic products. We use only natural dish soap, cleaning wipes, multi-surface sprays, toilet cleaner, sulfate-free hand soap, and organic toilet paper. My mom belonged to a coop when I was a child and we always had the very uncool crunchy peanut butter and whole grain bread (no white bread and Skippy in our house).

Still, when it came to beauty products I used to feel like I had to choose between conventional products that worked or all-natural alternatives. Now, natural beauty brands make products that are as effective as conventional ones but are far friendlier to my sensitive skin. I am now buying mainly natural skincare and makeup that are cruelty-free and free of these dirty chemicals. Below are four of my favorite beauty and personal care items, in no particular order.

1. Acure Moroccan Argan Oil is certified USDA Organic, and is rich in Vitamin E, essential fatty acids and proteins. My facial skin is on the drier, sensitive side and since I've started using this product, the texture of my skin has improved dramatically. I also rub it into my cuticles at night, and it can even be used on hair or dry elbows. It's a healing, multi-use oil that I never plan to be without again.

2. Tata Harper Clarifying Spot Solution is for blemish-prone skin, and it treats breakouts but doesn't dry out the skin. The first week that I tried this, my skin was in the middle of a bad hormonal breakout (full disclosure, I had switched birth control methods). I noticed right away that the painful, hormonal pimples along my jaw switched from being hard, to the kind that you can easily pop. The second quick change was a reduction in redness and inflammation, and pimples seemed to heal extra fast. The only breakout I've had since I started using this spot solution was when I forgot to apply it while PMSing. If you don't like the scent of juniper, you probably won't like this smell. Tata Harper products are quite expensive but when I use them, they make a drastic difference. They're also 100% non-toxic, and are created just a few miles from my house.

3. The Konjac Sponge Company 100% Natural Vegetable Fibre Face Sponge With Nourishing Mineral Rich Pink Clay for Tired or Devitalised Skin (whew!) is a hard sponge that becomes very soft and moisturizing when wet. The Konjac sponge was developed in Japan and is derived from the Konjac plant. I received this sponge in my Petit Vour beauty box last month, and use it after my face wash in the shower. It smooths my skin, refines my pores, and feels like a mini facial.

4. Organic Tampons (by Natracare and Seventh Generation, specifically) are free of fragrances, deodorants, chlorine processing, and pesticides. Cotton is one of the dirtiest crops when it comes to pesticides, and pesticide residue has been found to cause infertility, hormonal imbalance, and even cancer. Similarly, many conventional tampons come with plastic applicators that contain phthalates, which mimic human hormones and have been found to be endocrine disrupting compounds (they are also found in many conventional perfumes). I have used both Natracare and Seventh Generation for tampons, and the occasional pads, and love their products.

Favorite Independent Magazines

To read interviews, short essays, and long-form journalism celebrating art, style, work life, and Nordic home design, check out Kinfolk. Each issue has a different theme.

For beautiful photos, delicious recipes, and simple craft ideas, read seasonal Sweet Paul and get ready to drool.

If you're a proud feminist and love learning about women's history and popular culture, paired with recipes, craft ideas, sex advice, and book reviews, then BUST is for you. It's published bimonthly and can be found at indie bookstores and Barnes & Noble.

To savor gorgeous photos without re-touching, enjoy empowering interviews with strong women, and read a magazine that celebrates the "art of being a woman," check out Darling.

If you live to travel and eat good food, bi-annual Cereal magazine is for you. It's based in the UK.

Celebrate women and food with Cherry Bombe. It pairs beautiful design with interviews, fun features and recipes, and has its own podcast.

Are you an entrepreneur, freelancer, or daring creative? Read the uplifting interviews and tips in BUNCH.

For interior design inspiration, editors' picks, and entertaining ideas, flip through online Rue Magazine. It's free.

Recipe: Mango Avocado Lime Salsa

I have created some of my favorite recipes by simply tossing food together and hoping for the best. I developed this recipe to accompany the tostadas and saffron rice (pictured, recipes coming soon). Strawberries would also be a nice addition to this salsa.

You'll need
One ripe but firm avocado
One mango
Juice and zest from one lime
Agave nectar, to taste

Chop the avocado and mango into chunks and add to a medium bowl. Stir in lime zest and juice. Add agave nectar to taste. Mix and enjoy!

My Beauty Regimen

Several of my beloved skincare products
I love watching the YouTube videos when people share their favorite products and morning routines. I don't really like makeup that much but I am obsessed with skincare and body care products. My morning/nightly routine and weekly face masks are therapeutic, and while I tend to add products and samples regularly, below are the mainstays.

My skin tends to be quite dry, especially in the winter, so I am always looking to slough off dead skin cells and for hydrating products. I try to avoid parabens, phthalates, and sodium lauryl sulfate as much as I can.

I tend to shower in the morning because I'm not a morning person and it helps to wake me up. In the shower, I use Derma E Hydrating Scrub because it's a naturally-rich, creamy scrub with moisturizing Hyaluronic Acid. I have found that my face needs a form of Hyaluronic Acid, which aids in the skin's natural ability to hold water and thus plumps your skin. It helps your skin recover from sun/environmental damage and harsh skincare products. The Derma E Hydrating Scrub doesn't make my face feel tight; the dead skin is gone but my face feels soft after use. Every other day, after using the scrub, I follow up with Alba Botanica Good & Clean Pore Purifying Mini Peel. This one-minute mask contains 6% Alpha Hydroxy Acids powered by fruit extracts, and gives my pores a quick detox. If my skin has been especially dry or at least twice a week, I use Acure Brightening Facial Scrub. This sulfate-free, cruelty-free cleanser contains argan stem cell and chlorella, and has a satisfyingly gritty texture. It also has chamomile and calendula to calm your skin and french green clay to reduce the size of pores.

Once or twice a week, I use Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Glow Pads for Face. These subtle self-tanning wipes are travel-friendly and make a huge difference on my complexion. They wipe away dead skin cells while also adding a very light glow to my face. My secret weapon if I have hormonal breakouts or an extra dry patch of skin is to actually dab a tiny amount of hydrocortisone cream on my face. It calms any irritation or inflammation. My new favorite moisturizer is Andalou Naturals Ultra Sheer Daily Defense Lotion SPF 18, which I picked up at my local health food store. It is light, but not too light that I can't feel it on my skin. It's part of their age-defying line that has fruit stem cell complex and resveratrol CoQ10. Unlike a lot of other face lotions I've tried with SPF, this one doesn't make your skin look white or pasty. If my skin is extra parched (so every day in January and February), I add a couple drops of Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Liquid to my skin, which is a magic potion for dehydrated skin.

I hate foundation but I like how my skin looks when it's evened out a bit. Enter BB Cream! I discovered my all-time favorite, which I see myself using my whole life, is the Canadian Marcelle Golden Glow BB Cream. If I could only travel with one cosmetic, this would be my choice. This beauty balm is a lightweight tinted moisturizer that evens skin tone while also brightening your entire face with a slightly sun-kissed glow. My skin is olive with yellowy undertones and it blends perfectly. On good skin days, one light coat is all I need but you can also add a couple coats for more coverage. I add Tata Harper Very Sweet Lip & Cheek Tint on my lips, cheeks, and along my cheekbones for additional glow and that's it. I can't wear eye makeup (including mascara) because my eyes are extremely sensitive, although I will occasionally wear some on special occasions and try not to scratch my eyes out. I find that I have to use eye drops anytime I wear eye makeup, and eyeliner is the worst. Birchbox keeps sending me great-looking mascaras that I'll try but I have yet to find one that doesn't irritate my very light green eyes. (If you have light eyes with this problem and have found a mascara that works, please let me know.)

Throughout the day, if I need added hydration or a quick wake-up, I spritz on a hydrating mist. This is the 3:00 p.m. cup of coffee equivalent for your face. One of my new favorites is Eau Thermale Avรจne (Thermal Spring Water), which works well on hypersensitive, allergic, and irritated skin. It's especially awesome in the summertime.

At night, I wash with either the Derma E Hydrating Scrub or an oil cleanser (Josie Maran and Tata Harper Skincare make great ones). A couple times a week, I will use a face mask depending on skin concern. My favorites include the Origins Activated Charcoal Mask (especially effective to scare my husband when I walk back downstairs), or a soothing Tata Harper Honey Blossom or Resurfacing Mask. For deep hydration and to wake up with a glow, I use Weleda Skin Food, which smells amazing and is deeply hydrating.

Looking to try new products?

If you're like me and love trying new products, check out and for monthly beauty boxes. They're a great way to try skincare and hair care products without the commitment of a whole bottle and I love bringing my samples with me when I travel (I never check luggage). Petit Vour only features ethically-made and vegan luxury beauty products. Birchbox blends tried-and-true brands with natural and up-and-coming brands. I like these two more than other boxes that seem to focus on makeup but if you're looking just for makeup, it's probably best to look elsewhere (Ipsy, Sephora Play, etc.).
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