Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Back to School

My kids started school yesterday. Somehow, I am the mother of a first grader and a fourth grader. The first grader wanted me to wait next to her in line until the teacher led them off to their class, but she ignored me and talked to her friends. The fourth grader started ignoring me as soon as she kissed me good-bye and ran off to talk to her friends. They are both so big and grown up looking these days. The first grader still likes to snuggle, though, and the fourth grader still wants to tell me everything.

I am happy that they are happy to be in school. We still have a lot of summer left here, and I'm looking forward to some future beach trips.

I'm still struggling with focus. Maybe it is because it is still a bit too warm in my office most afternoons? I'm starting to suspect we'll need to install air conditioning in order for me to get through the hot flashes that are in my future. I hate this, but maybe we can also install solar panels and that will make me feel better about it.

But probably the heat isn't the cause of my lack of focus. I've started to think that I am in the period of entrepreneurship that is similar to the 3rd year slump I experienced in graduate school. I describe that slump as having been caused by being far enough into the tunnel that I couldn't see the light of where I'd come from but not far enough through the tunnel to see the light at the end. It isn't quite the same now, but maybe my problem is that I'm far enough into this little entrepreneurship experiment to know that I really, really want to make it work in the long term, but not far enough in yet to have solid evidence that it will work in the long term.

If this is correct, then I need to remind myself of how much I've figured out already, and maybe review and perhaps update my medium term plans for growing my business.

Or maybe I'm just tired. I've had some time off from parts of my responsibilities recently, but haven't taken a day to just do whatever I please for a long, long time. I used to at least take a half day to myself every few months. I'd thought that since my kids are older and less obviously demanding of my energy and since my work is less emotionally draining these days that I didn't need those half days. But maybe I do.

If this is correct, then I just need to take a day off work and not spend it with my kids.

Or maybe the tired goes deeper than that. The last few years have involved working through a lot of things. How I view myself and my goals and my place in this world have all changed, but maybe I haven't really gotten comfortable with where I am now. I'm acknowledging the way my career didn't go as planned, and acknowledging some of the varied reasons for that, and that is really uncomfortable, and is leaving some raw edges that I keep accidentally bumping up against, which then causes trivial little things to bother me more than they should. And that has made it hard to relax and enjoy where I'm at now.

If this is correct, I should probably figure out my insurance and find a therapist to help me get through this work as fast as I can. Or maybe I just need to take more long walks on the beach. Those help a lot, too.

Probably, I should do all of these things. But right now, I have to go make dinner. Surely, I can at least focus on that.

Tell me what you think I should do in the comments, if you want. I don't promise to take your advice, but I always like reading it.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Mixed Feelings

Clearly, I'm not posting my weekend links this week. They should be back next week. If you're suffering link reading withdrawl, I recommend Nicoleandmaggie's list. The McMansion one made me feel so much better about my small 1950s house with tiny closets and small bathrooms. Although, to be honest, I've been feeling a lot better about it since we added on an office and expanded the living room, making it not seem so small. It still has tiny closets and small bathrooms, though.

Anyhow, the main reason the links post didn't happen is time. I spent all day Friday hanging out with my kids. They'd gone to Sea World camp earlier in the summer, and that left them with "fun passes"- passes to return anytime for the rest of this year. So I bought one, too, and we spent the day at Sea World. It is not my favorite of our local attractions, and I have mixed feelings about it. But we went, and we had a lot of fun. Petunia loves the bat rays, and both kids love the water ride (Shipwreck Rapids). We started the day at the rays, and then rode the ride three times in a row, because it wasn't actually sunny yet so there was no line. We got soaked, of course, but the kids were happy to have shown me their favorite ride, and the sun was out by the time we'd finished our rides, so being soaked felt good. I let them mostly make the choices about what we did for the rest of the day, and it was a very good day.

But, when we got home a little after six, I was exhausted. I'd started some pizza dough (the Smitten Kitchen lazy option- thanks for the recommendation, Today Wendy!) so I had to make pizza. The crust was really good, but Pumpkin says she prefers Bobolis. She doesn't like change. I'll probably try the homemade dough one more time at least to see if she comes around. Or maybe I'll try one of the other recommendations I got for making dough.

By the time dinner was made and eaten it was time to get the kids' bedtime routines started, and by the time they were in bed I was done with the day.

Yesterday was almost as busy. We had gymnastics, back to school shopping, and then a birthday party at a roller skating rink. That lasted all afternoon, and in the end both of my kids really liked skating. Petunia, in particular, wants to go back ASAP. However, we got to Petunia loving skating by having me spend three solid hours skating slowly next to her and as you might guess, that is pretty tiring. Then we had dinner at some friends' house, and stopped to see the Sea World fireworks over the bay on the way home. We got home late and put the kids directly to bed and then I went to bed, too.

So, there wasn't a lot of time for blog post writing. Still, on other busy weekends, I have made some space to put up a quick links post. If I'm honest with myself, I was avoiding the internet Friday. Thursday night, someone I like to follow retweeted someone else who I usually like making a joke that implied blonde women are too stupid to do science. 

And that took me back to being 14 and listening to blonde jokes and other put downs from the boys in my classes. It was amazing how deflated I felt. I logged off and didn't really want to get back online the next day.

I know that blonde jokes do a tiny fraction of the damage that is done by the racist crap people of color get online. I don't consider blonde jokes to be on par with racism at all, and please do not interpret anything in this post as me equating blonde jokes with the structural racism that people of color must navigate in order to succeed in their careers. I didn't want to make a big deal out of it when I saw the tweet (I didn't reply) and I don't really want to now (this is why I'm not giving details). But I find it interesting how one offhand joke can essentially strip away all of my hard-earned confidence and turn me back into that awkward girl, unsure of her place in the world, wanting to be taken seriously but getting message after message that embracing the "dumb blonde" personna would be an easier and quicker way to feeling like I belonged. And I want to explore that a little bit.

I've been hearing dumb blonde jokes since I was in elementary school. I heard them all through my school years, from classmates and adults. Our local newspaper once printed a list and invited readers to send in their favorites. I heard them at college, and also was told by multiple people that I was only accepted because my picture was atttached to my application (an accusation that I've never felt attractive enough to warrant, and a "joke" that erased my high test scores, good grades, and other application materials). I heard them when I was visiting graduate schools. I heard them in grad school, both about me and and about one of the other blonde students in our program. She looked even more like the stereotypical SoCal blonde than I did, and our fellow students made a lot of jokes about how she didn't really belong in science. I don't know how many of those she heard, and how many were just things people would say behind her back. From what I could tell, she was a good scientist. She is no longer working in science. I didn't know her well enough to know why.

I heard blonde jokes through my early career days. Often, people would tell me a blonde joke within minutes of meeting me, even in professional situations. I don't hear them so often now, perhaps because my hair has darkened with age and while still blonde isn't strikingly so. Or perhaps people don't tell them as often now. I don't know, but I think I'll find out soon, because Pumpkin is almost the age when I started hearing those jokes, and she has blonde hair.

At some point, I decided the best option was to laugh along, and for awhile would reply to any blonde joke with a barrage of additional jokes. I never felt comfortable in the role those jokes ascribed to women like me, so I kept working to be taken seriously for my accomplishments. I kept working to learn to take myself seriously, too, something that I really struggled to do in college and in graduate school. I learned not to try to talk to other students about my feelings of inadequacy. If I did, I'd often get something like a blonde joke in return. I shouldn't worry about whether I would fit in when I went to grad school, a college acquaintance told me. I'd be popular because I had blonde hair. The guys I befriended when I first got to grad school didn't really like me, a classmate said. They just wanted to go out with me and—here she picked up the braid hanging down my back—my blonde hair. (Agonizingly, I eventually realized that this classmate was at least partly right.)

I am fairly certain that most people telling me blonde jokes just thought they were being funny. Obviously, they didn't really think blondes were stupid. I am fairly certain that the people telling me I got into college based on my looks thought they were paying me a compliment. I am fairly certain that the people telling me that the male scientists just wanted to talk to me because I was blonde thought they were doing me a favor. Maybe they were, given that experience eventually taught me not to trust that a man coming up to talk science with me at networking events was truly interested in my work. But Thursday night, I was reminded that all those years of jokes and off hand comments did some damage, and that I haven't really fixed that damage, just papered over it. I should work to really fix it before my daughter starts getting the same jokes and comments. Maybe I can help her figure out how to avoid being damaged by them. I now ironically joke about the blonde jokes with friends, so that's progress! I don't know how to help her skip to that stage, though. Perhaps it isn't possible.

(And yes, I've seen the recent study about the disproportionate number of blonde women in positions of power. I'll direct you to this article that looks at why that might be.)

So anyway, sorry for the lack of links. I was busy working through personal baggage I thought long since stored away. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016


The kids are back and settled back into their usual summer routine. I, on the other hand, am in a productivity slump. I'm meeting my deadlines and goals for my client work, but am struggling to motivate myself to do the other work I have planned. I'm not sure what is going on: none of the work is unpleasant, and I'm not over-clocked. Maybe it is just an end of summer slump?

Regardless, I've been using my "stay somewhat productive through a slump" tricks: breaking goals down into smaller tasks on my daily to do list (yesterday's list actually had specific emails I needed to send, not just the usual "catch up on email" item), setting myself short term goals and giving myself small rewards when I hit them (sort of a modified pomodoro method), and trying to pick tasks most appropriate for my mood. One of my goals for the week is to pick the stories for my next taster flight. It is going to be released in October, and has a spooky theme—ghost stories with kids in them. I have five stories picked, but a couple of them are quite short, so I'd like to find at least one more. Last night my time log told me I needed to do some more work, but the other items on the list didn't appeal. So I downloaded an old book from Project Gutenberg and started reading stories. I didn't find any that will work, but it was a nice way to spend the evening. And it lead me to read this wikipedia biography of Lafcadio Hearn, who had an interesting life, to say the least.

So, my productivity tricks are working, to an extent, but it still feels like a struggle. I don't like it when work feels like a struggle.

I'm taking tomorrow off for a long-promised end of summer play day with my kids. They go back to school on Monday. Maybe a day off to play will help!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sunday Morning Thoughts on Imperfection and Impatience

My kids are on their way home now. They should get here within the next couple of hours. I had thought I'd have my weekly grocery shopping done before they got here, so that we could spend the rest of the day just goofing off. That probably won't happen, because I'm stuck on the menu planning step.

This is unusual. I have a meal schedule I follow that usually makes menu planning pretty quick. The schedule is still essentially the same as the one I posted in 2013, except leftovers night has switched with pasta night, and sometimes I make something on leftovers night, either because I don't like the sound of any of the leftovers in our freezer or because we're out of leftovers.

But I've been trying to get back in shape, and part of living the healthiest life I'll enjoy is cooking with a little more care towards calories. So, I'm trying to figure out what to do for pasta night, and contemplating a salad with a little meat instead of the cheese and sausage laden leftover pasta dish we have in our freezer. (That dish started out as a Cooking Light dish, but my husband tends to double the cheese and meat in recipes, which then makes them not quite so light.) Also, I wonder if homemade pizza dough would be healthier than the Boboli crusts we usually use. It would definitely taste better. So I'm searching for a make-ahead dough recipe, while debating whether or not to use it.

Meanwhile, one of the things we did this week was take the opportunity provided by a long evening uninterrupted by kid bedtimes to do a full audit of our finances and talk about what we should perhaps do differently. We ran some "what if" calculations on our mortgage and debated whether we should put a little extra pre-payment on that so that our house might be paid off before we retire or whether we should focus on increasing my retirement savings again. We settled on the mushy middle, as we often do when we're not really sure which financial option is the best. I got a retirement plan set up for my company and have a plan for a schedule of contributions, and we'll increase our pre-payment a bit.

But... I can't help but think that maybe I should be a little more cost-conscious in my grocery shopping. A recent post over at the Grumpies made me realize that I no longer think about cost at all when I do the menu plan and grocery shopping and that maybe I should change that, both to help our bottom line right now and to start teaching my kids how to do that sort of thing.

Meanwhile, we want to get moving on a plan to do up our backyard. The home remodel finished more than nine months ago, and we miss having a backyard that makes us feel relaxed. So we've been talking about our long term plans, and how we might start in on them, and how much we should do ourselves vs. pay someone to do... and there's a lot to do there. Mr. Snarky is working on the first step in the plan (getting our retractable clothesline back up) right this minute, in fact.

Meanwhile, school starts a week from tomorrow, and I have no idea what, if anything, we need to buy for the kids. They'll probably want at least one new outfit whether they actually need it or not, and I remember the back to school jitters so I'm inclined to make that happen. When will we go shopping? I don't know.

So, there's a lot that I want to do, and the usual amount of time in which to do it. Plus, we're coming up on one of my favorite times of year here: September and early October, when it is still beach weather but the tourists have mostly gone home. I am looking forward to a less crowded sidewalk for my rollerblading excursions, and I want to get a least a couple of good beach trips in with the kids.

One of the things I'm really good at is making a realistic plan based on the available time. Perhaps it is my personality, perhaps it is the years of being a project manager. Probably, it is a combination of both. Either way, I can look at that list I typed above and recognize that something is going to have to give.

I keep coming back to the ideas in the Brene Brown book I read about imperfection. I am not a perfectionist, but I do tend to expect myself to do anything I set out to do as well as I possibly can. I am starting to think, though, that the secret to making this phase of my life work is to allow myself to aim for "good enough" instead of my best. I think that the "take the fuzzy middle" road we settled on in our financial discussion might be the best answer for the larger question, too. Do it all, but aim a little lower on all of it.

But I'm impatient. I want the yard done now, and I want to lose ten pounds now, and I want to see more progress toward our long term financial (and life!) goals now.

Life goal: more sunsets like this.
So really, I need to work on being patient as well as embracing imperfection. But first, I need to finish this damn menu plan.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Weekend Reading: The Week Goes Fast Edition

Our week without kids is almost over. It has been really nice, but I am looking forward to seeing my kids on Sunday. There have been many meals out without a single thought as to whether or not the restaurant has any menu items my children will eat, and that alone has been great. There was also some kayaking time and some lazy around the house time, and those were both great, too.

What was not so great was the visual migraine I got yesterday that screwed up my plans for the day, and made us decide to cancel the planned rollerblade today. Probably, the rollerblade would have been fine. Oh well.

Between the visual migraine (which makes it essentially impossible to look at a screen) and a general focus on spending time with Mr. Snarky, I don't have all that many links this week. But, as always, I think what I do have is good.

Here's an interesting but somewhat superficial piece about racism and mental health. I guess superficial is a bit unfair. It is good for what it is, but I wanted it to go deeper. I've long been curious about the impact of experiencing bias on mental health. I've also wondered if there are mental health providers out there who specialize in helping professionals who have cracked or are starting to crack under the pressure of bias.

Speaking of bias... this open letter to managers of women hits very, very close to home.

Think about bias as pollution... that will destroy your company.

I'm late to this one, but Michelle A'Court's open letter to Saatchi's Kevin Roberts is really good.

Sara Benincasa's answer to a reader who wrote to ask why she is fat is also really good. I think I should perhaps read her book.

This article from Emily Deruy about racism on campus is unusually good.  Here's the take home quote, which appears to be a paraphrase of something Tressie McMillan Cottom said when interviewed for the piece: "being safely uncomfortable in class is entirely different from being safely uncomfortable on campus."

I think that quote speaks to a lot of contexts away from higher ed, too.

Josh Marshall's thoughts on the ads and the demise of Gawker and the importance of independent media are really worth your time.

Timothy Lee manages to make the roomba vs. dog poo story about something more than schadenfreude.

Could we make affordable housing vouchers more like food stamps? And here's a look at the failure of Section 8 in San Diego.

This conversation between Dan Pink and Amy Herman about the art of observation was really interesting. Plus there are pictures of some cool art.

Ann Friedman on female olympians is very good. I have noticed that all of the people who are snarking about the story of the two runners who fell are men, and this is making me think that perhaps some men don't realize that there is more to sport than pure competition, or at least that there can be.  It has also given me some ideas about how to frame events that involve an aspect of competition for competition-adverse Pumpkin. If it is about something more than winning and losing, maybe that will help. My thoughts are still coalescing on this one.

I am absolutely going to try Smitten Kitchen's quick zucchini saute.

I don't have a funny to end on! But I do have this:


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