House Monkey Update – Donna

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Categories House Monkey, Household and Family Management, Marriage, Older Children, Parenting1 Comment

In this springtime update, entrepreneur Donna talks about the  constant give and take of raising a family, nurturing a marriage, and running a business.

This morning, it’s cold & raining outside. Clearly, it is still very chilly here in the northeast yet I’m sitting here (symbolically wearing my flip flops) thinking about Spring.

The most basic thing in nature is birth, and Spring is always filled with birth. This time around I don’t have a round belly full of babies, but rather a brain bursting at the seams with a vision and a desire to birth our House Monkey dream. Over the last two weeks, my nights have been filled with sketching out the House Monkey website. What should it look like? What information needs to be on the website now (while we are still developing House Monkey itself)?

The list of thoughts go on and on. I realized I needed to gear up and get that website up and running because our magnets (promised to our backers from KickStarter) have the URL address on it… yet the website isn’t up yet. Nightly STRESS!

My days have been spent bursting at the seams with a scientific-based technical project from our day job. Another “birthing” process, but for one of my favorite clients. The guy is smart and I respect him significantly. It has been a great experience: climbing challenging corporate-manufactured “hills” with him to customize this unique product Mike and I have developed together for his organization.

Every day that I work with this client, it helps me realize that people make all the difference in the world. I believe any experience can be viewed as good or bad. I read in a book not long ago that all experiences are like a train that rides on 2 tracks. The good parts of the experience are the right track and bad are on the left track.

Which track we look at from inside the train is up to us. I do believe in this concept but I’ve noticed over time that if I like and respect someone, it is easier to look at the right track all the time! I’m feeling blessed with our work projects right now, despite the stress. I know we worked hard over the last two years to be here, but I can’t help but feel that it is all a gift.

Currently, the work-life balance seems in check (and that does indeed vary from time to time) but 5pm until bedtime has been running smoothly the last two weeks (draining, but running smoothly).

If you read Mike’s last post, you also know we were forced to call a “family meeting” to address the “spring slide” (slide in grades, slide in chores etc.). Thank goodness it seems to have worked. Perhaps it’s why our last two weeks have been smoother! Maybe the kids had a “re-birth” of their own. Or want their iPads back.

The why doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Mike and I are very consciously sticking to our guns with this discipline. So not easy to do. Do you ever feel like you’re the one being punished when you have to discipline your kids? That’s how we feel. Sometimes it is so much easier to give in and let them watch TV.

On the last day of school before Spring Break, my eldest, who gets home an hour earlier than the others, is pitching in at the office. Before Spring re-birth comes Spring cleaning: make room for the new. He did his two weeks without the iPad and now I told him he’d earned back his electronics 2 days early with his efforts! Is that cheating? Am I not sticking to my guns? Or am I giving him the opportunity to make things right?

More importantly, how do handle 3 other little faces walking thru the door in a few minutes who haven’t had the same opportunity? Someone tell the basement that its floor may reappear in a couple of hours!!!! It just depends on how badly they want their stuff back!

So the work-family life balance is for the most part in check, but the work-life-marriage balance has definitely been rough lately.

Our work and family time constraints are draining our couple time. Folks make me laugh when they say, “You see him all day long”! Nothing could be further from the truth. Mike goes in the man cave basement office to work, while I am in my upstairs office. Sometimes we connect in passing in the kitchen when we go grab some grub, but we usually take lunch back to my office. (We’ve gotta stop doing that!) When we do see each other, it is scheduled meetings to discuss work content. Other employees are usually in attendance OR it’s to discuss the family or child “problem du jour”.

Mike already mentioned our trip planned for our 15 year anniversary. It cracks me up how casually he mentions it.

The last time we went away alone was our 10 year anniversary. My parents took the kids (the twins were only 2 at the time) and we went to Bermuda. What Mike seems to forget is how I panicked. It took a lawyer and new wills just to convince me to leave my babies. Who gets the kids was such a deep question I didn’t want to think about.

Then there was the plane ride. Know that even though I fly all the time for work, I hate it! Many years ago, I stood on 7th avenue in NYC and watched a plane crash into a building and it still bugs me. Add on 4 little kids that mean more than the world to me AND add on both of their parents on the same flight! It was awful for me. You know it’s bad when the flight attendant offers to buy you a drink! But we got there and spent 4 glorious days in the sun.

I remember thinking (very guiltily) I could use one more day. The plane ride home was easier – and those 4 days bought me at least a year of sane parenting and a renewed connection to my husband! So yes, I agreed to a 15 year anniversary trip for my parenting sanity and for the ability to reconnect with Mike. But that doesn’t mean I am not already feeling guilty about a trip that is months away.

How do you make time to connect with your spouse?

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House Monkey: Meet Mike, Entrepreneur and Dad of Twins Plus Two

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Categories Balance, Entrepreneurship, House Monkey, Meet the MoM, WorkingTags 4 Comments

My wife Donna and I are parents of twins plus two. In her first blog she mentioned we have full time jobs and we are building a business together to introduce our organizing solution (called “House Monkey”) to busy families. I might be one of a few males here in the HDYDI community, but I hope you find my side of the journey equally interesting.

Learn how Mike, a dad of four, is working with his wife to turn an idea into a business.

How House Monkey Emerged — Mike’s perspective

Even before we had children we were busy. We both had demanding careers. We were getting married and we had just moved into our home. As you know, the home has a life of its own. Things have to get done. Things have to be fixed and Donna’s favorite, things have to be put away. Translated: the pool has algae; the gate looks like crap; the shovels and hose need to be put away. Besides these recurring fire alarms are the scheduled priorities: vacuum the pool; change the air filter in the heater; shut off the water to the hoses outside. Once we had the children, the “simple” list became a book. Now with twin girls that can walk & talk, volumes!

We needed a tool to:

  • Keep track of things to be done,
  • Get help getting them done,
  • Make sure they were done,
  • Reward the “team players” on allowance day.

Multiple calendars, project planning software, and bingo markers weren’t keeping up as life moved away from our front door. We knew we needed something, but “something” was a black hole of thoughts.

One day the aha moment came. It was a simple thought. We’ve all had it: the “I wish I had that when I was growing up” moment. (Cup holders in the back of the car!) Luckily technology was advanced enough to help get it to where we need it to be. House Monkey became less of a concept and more of a “something”.

House Monkey Today

The last two weeks have been very busy as we have been working diligently towards a summer deliverable for this resource. Donna does the front end part of the business. It’s only appropriate my beautiful wife builds the components (the screens and the way you move around the app) which everyone will see. I work on the back end portions of the business, the stuff no one sees!

Over the last two weeks we have taken delivery of upgrades to our technology, specifically for House Monkey software to organize our development efforts, a server to build a test environment which will be the sandbox in which House Monkey will take shape.

Being so busy, and staying up so late on top of “everything else” has been a challenge recently. Sleep and sanity have definitely been traded in for long hours.

On top of taking delivery for all these technical components, the spring sports season is ramping up. My one daughter had her first horse show. I was very proud of her as she took second place in her first time riding without a spotter. The spring lacrosse season is also starting. My son, the weed, needs all new equipment. Not only a drain on time, as the only lacrosse store is 45 minutes away, but also a large drain on the wallet. With spring comes the beginning of the golf season with outdoor lessons, driving range time and (ugh) tee times.

The only sport winding down is my daughter’s swim season. She swims all year, but her last meet for the winter season was this past weekend. We still need to take her to the pool 3 times a week, but at least the weekends have been freed from long meets in HOT indoor pools. (Don’t tell her I said that, I try to be the dad that smiles… and silently sweats!)

Late winter and early spring have also introduced us to the mid-year slide with school work not getting the proper attention. Donna and I called a “family meeting” recently. We sat them down and explained that this is not ok. It’s their only job. (I think we went on and on a little about how we grew up and what we didn’t have blah blah.)

The hardest part about this time of year is motivating each one. One responds to straightforward discipline (take away TV and the iPad), another could care less about those usual tactics, and we have to take away activities. I find this more challenging because we also believe that when you make a commitment to a team, you need to be there. The third is easy: sit him down and have a “talking to” which will be followed by a “come to Jesus” discussion. The fourth… Oh boy the fourth, nothing seems to work! This is a parenting challenge. We think all of these things could work, but it just takes longer with the 4th. He’s definitely on his own schedule. The apathetic attitude is just frustrating.

The fun part of the last two weeks was St. Patrick’s Day. This is a national holiday in my book and we celebrate it. Irish pub songs start the day on the stereo for wake-up and breakfast. Donna gets the corned beef (60+ pounds this year) in the oven early and it cooks all day filling the house with the scent of St. Paddy’s Day. Friends start coming by around 5:00 pm even though we don’t serve until 6:00 pm…until people stop eating.

Of course there are several hops-based beverages available. The house runs like a diner with people coming and going all night. This year we had nearly 60 people come by with about 30 kids. Needless to say, St. Patrick’s Day is a lot of work but it is worth it because it has become a family tradition. It honors the memory of my father and all he stood for (beyond his Irish heritage). My dad placed a lot of value on family and friendships. He was always the last one to leave an event. We hope to pass down this appreciation of friends and family to our children.

The last two weeks (or years — whichever) have left Donna and I very little time to connect. It was bad, but lately it just seems harder. When the kids were younger and not so involved in everything, it seemed easier. We would book “dates” once a month, even if it were just something very simple when money was tight.

Now, it’s so much harder. Every weekend is filled with something. Swim meets, horse events, lacrosse games, golf games, football games, musical concerts, talent shows…. The list goes on, right? So we made a decision for something big. We booked a 6 day getaway for our 15 year anniversary.

We asked my in-laws to help out and that was it. We booked it!

So, leaving right after House Monkey launches this summer is something we will look forward to. It may take as much planning as the Normandy Invasion, but by God we need some time together that doesn’t include talking about work or the kids!

Can anyone relate?

Linked at

The Twinkle Diaries
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House Monkey: How Parents of Twins Plus Two Are Helping Families Get Organized

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Categories Balance, Entrepreneurship, House Monkey, How Do The Moms Do It5 Comments

My husband Mike and I are parents of twins plus two. We both have a full-time jobs as co-owners and division heads of a thriving scientific agency (where we service pharmaceutical clients). That might make it sound like our plates are full, but we’re also building up a business together to market our organizing solution (called “House Monkey”) to busy families. We were asked to join the HDYDI community to share the process of developing House Monkey as it happens. As a mom of 4 children aged 11, 10, 7, & 7, every day seems like an uphill battle (but we moms of multiples know that rewards on the top of that hill are sweeter).

Amazing story! Donna and Mike were inspired by their busy family to put their professional skills to work to create a fun app to help everyone in the family stay on top of household responsibilities.

Here is our story…

Our family (and the House Monkey idea) grew, starting in 2007

I have a dual BS in Biology and Chemistry and a Masters degree in Microbiology.  I worked in Pharmaceuticals from career inception and moved up through the ranks quickly.  Then I had my first child. When I held that little baby in my hands, I knew I couldn’t go back to my career life, which had me on a plane 3-4 times a week.  Instead, I started a consulting business.

I had another kid and my consulting business started growing. Then I got pregnant… with twins. We were about to have GIRL twins to add to our 2 boys.  I was nervous because I had issues with my previous pregnancies: I was diabetic with my first and second pregnancy involved 3 months of bed-rest for near pre-eclampsia.

This is the point where my story usually sounds different that that of other Moms of Multiples. I had my strongest and easiest pregnancy with the twins!  I “ran”, or rather jogged then down to a power walk, up through the last day.  At 40 weeks and 1 day, I delivered set of twins weighing in at a 7 and a 7.5 pound.

I breastfed my first 2 children for 12 months. I was gung ho that I could do that with twins… until I tried. It was a nightmare. Now I was managing a small business, had 2 toddlers (the 4 kids were born within 4 years), and was trying to breastfeed!  Both my husband and I were deeply sleep deprived.  I had to give in and ask him to feed with bottles in middle of the night.  I managed the day feeding for only 6 months.  I finally gave into the daily logistical difficulties and justified this to myself with “Donna Math” 6 months x 2 twins = 12 months!

Then all the house craziness happened. The dryer broke, and we couldn’t find the warranty, even though we knew it was under warranty. We had bought it right before the twins were born. Then the air conditioner broke!  It was one house-related nightmare after another… with twin baby girls and two toddlers.

That was 6 years ago!  We knew back then there had to be a better way, but didn’t have time or resources to even begin to think about a solution.  The first few years with the twins were all about survival!

The House Monkey idea lingered through 2011

When the twins were 4, life issues happened.  My husband was laid off.  He worked in technology (and had been running the IT for my business on the side).  It was at this point that the boys were starting to become active at school and sports.  Homework needed to be attended to, rides to practices… and the girls were still home needing attention.

So we made a huge decision: to put all our eggs in one basket and have him join my business so that we could better manage our kids.

It was a hard decision because our lifestyle was definitely going to change.  We had one thing in our lives that we would not even consider: selling our house.  Mike and I had built it from the ground up and loved it, but more importantly staying in our town was critical.  Our first son has a life-threatening airborne allergy to peanuts.  His allergy was so severe that one day went into a full anaphylaxis walking past a garbage can that had a bag of peanuts in it.  We had just finished establishing guidelines in our town to have him attend school in a safe manner. Leaving our town was non-negotiable.

Mike joined the business and played (and still plays) an extremely active role as a parent.  We struggled the first year to bring the technology (Mike’s area of expertise) to the pharma consulting work I was doing, but we had a couple of good ideas that helped the business grow marginally.  How our marriage survived that first year is amazing.  Admittedly there was much “loud talking” during that “work-life” merge.  I chalked marital survival up to a shared mutual dedication to our vows!

The big “C” hit in 2012

2012 came in with a bang.  I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.  I felt very blessed to find it so early.

I had started “dabbling” in triathlons.  Yes it sounds counter-intuitive when one is so busy, but honestly having a “reason” to go to the gym when the kids went down at night was a saving grace for me both mentally and physically after working and managing 4 kids all day long.

The last month of training before a race, I was working out 6 days a week and eating properly but put on 30 pounds!  Sparing you the intricate details, let me tell you: be your own healthcare advocate.  My blood levels were all normal, and doctors wanted me to wait.  I insisted on a biopsy for this lump in my throat which, it turned, was indeed cancerous.  I did well, but had to stay in the hospital for a week for a non-planned visit due to post-surgery side effects.

Most of my clients did not know I was sick so the business had to keep running.  The kids were upset.  We were very upfront and matter of fact with them.  My chances of full survival and healing were well over 90% (thyroid cancer is tiny pimple of the cancer world- highly curable) but still we weren’t having them visit me in a head and neck cancer floor.  It was too traumatic, my poor roommate didn’t have an eyeball!

Here was Mike running back and forth to a hospital 1.5 hours away to care for me and to go over the day-to-day tasks of the business.

The kids??? Well let’s just say I thank God for my parents. They stayed at my house during the week while the children went to school. The kids bounced from place to place on the weekends with my two besties LC and JD.  I can’t neglect my mother-in-law, who picked me up at discharge because my husband and parents had caught colds.

What do you think got de-prioritized in 2012? Yes, the house!  Upkeep and maintenance was non-existent again.

Building one idea in 2013

While House Monkey was still less a concept and more an idea that “someone should build something for house organization”, we remained focused on our existing business. The technology and science finally merged together into a beautiful product.  It was a rough year building our concept from the ground up.

On the family side, the kids were becoming really, really active.  The twins were 6 and in school full time. The boys were just into everything.  Between the business and the growing needs of the family, with little personalities jetting out from everywhere, our house was one big stress ball. This led to an extreme lack of organization for our house, always the lowest priority!

How House Monkey finally came to fruition in Fall 2014

While I was focused on our technology-based product for our pharma clients, Mike had decided to revisit the house disorganization problem we identified when the twins were born and had progressively become worse over the years.  He approached me with an idea to build this app, thinking it could be a way to manage an active house busy and full of life. I added on the organizational piece.

It became our night time job, filled with many white board sketches before the full concept of “House Monkey” was born!  We decided to put the House Monkey idea on Kickstarter and see what happened.  Not only was this a great way to fundraise to build House Monkey, but interest in Kickstarter would also show us if other busy houses needed something better too.

Don’t let anyone tell you running a crowd-funding campaign is easy!  It was tons of work and involved lots of follow up with people both online and offline.

In essence we were working full time with pharma clients during the day (a job I love with great clients!), caring for the kids when they got home from school until bedtime, and going back to idea stream and plan out House Monkey at night.

We are pleased to say we received a wonderful Christmas gift on December 24th, 2014: House Monkey was financed on Kickstarter!

How do we do it? Where do we find the time?

All this is no small challenge. My husband and I each have two full time jobs, all while balancing our 4 very active children. Their sports range from golf to football and they have several sports and activities in between. Did I mention that Mike is the president of the EMS squad in our town and rides on the ambulance 2-3 nights a week? I was a founder and now sit on the executive committee for the women’s group at our church.

So when a blog named How Do You Do It? contacted me and asked “how are you going to do it?” my answer was “I have no idea how I’m going to do it”! The flood gates are wide open for both our pharma-based business and the House Monkey idea all at once. Plus, we are committed to not letting the businesses get in the way of our family time!

Over the next few months, Mike and I will be sharing our progress and challenges in building this organizational solution for busy families.  We will be focused on 5 key topics:

  • House Monkey App Development: What are the updates, key challenges, and wins in building this resource
  • Parenting: Managing 4 kids with 4 different sets of priorities and interests
  • Marriage: Making it work at work, at home, and as a couple
  • Trade-offs: What stays and what goes at both work and home
  • “What the kids say”: How does running two separate businesses impact the kids?

Our intention is that progress will be reported once a month from each of us….. once from Mike’s perspective as a dad, husband, and business owner and once a month from my perspective as a mom, wife, and business owner.  We hope our intention comes to fruition, but if not, we hope you understand why!

We look forward to reporting on this journey and hope that as we try and find our way, you find some “golden nuggets” that apply to your journey and help you find a “way to do it” as well!

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