Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Trip Story: Wichita

We just got back from a brief visit to Wichita, Kansas. You're probably wondering "why in the world did they go there?"- at least, that's what everyone in Wichita asked us. We went because a good friend of ours was getting married there. Hubby was also excited to get to cross another state off his list (he wants to visit all 50 states, and he only gets to cross the state off his list if he stays the night).

Regardless of why we went, we had a surprisingly good trip. Surprising not so much because of the destination (although I'll be honest- Wichita was not exactly at the top of my "must visit" list), but because we were taking a short trip across two time zones with two young children- and there was no direct flight from San Diego. There were some rough patches, primarily around Pumpkin's continuing refusal to use the potty when she needs to and her on again, off again refusal to eat her meals. But then I gave in- we let her wear pull ups whenever she wanted, and I stopped caring whether she ate the chicken strips ("they have pepper!") or applesauce ("I don't like this applesauce") or any of the other foods we bought at restaurants because we she normally likes them, and just bought more of the healthy(ish) snack foods we knew she'd eat... and suddenly, we were having fun. Although Pumpkin did discover, to her horror, that it is possible to have an accident in pull ups if you don't let Mommy change them from time to time.

The observant reader will have noted that the rough patches weren't the flights- both girls did great on all four flights. As I tweeted yesterday, it seems that the universe is compensating me for my babies who won't sleep through the night by making both of my girls excellent travelers.  As usual, we brought lots of activities for the plane rides. And, as usual, we didn't need the majority of what we'd brought. Pumpkin mostly drew and colored- including this piece, which may be her first self portrait, done in a sadly impermanent medium:

Petunia spurned all of the toys we brought for her, and played primarily with the bag Pumpkin's travel harness came in and with the empty plastic cups from our drinks. (The travel harness worked great, by the way, as did the travel vest I bought for Petunia.)

Anyway, we had two days in Wichita. We started the first with a trip to the Sedgwick County Zoo, which is a great zoo. Don't get me wrong- I love our San Diego Zoo, but it is so big that even as a member who can come back as often as I want, there are some animals I haven't seen in years. The Sedgwick County Zoo is a more manageable size. I think that if my kids were a bit older, we would have seen most of the animals. As it was, we focused on the Children's Zoo, which is a cool collection of farm animals from different regions (Asia, the US, and Africa) and the North American exhibits (because there were buffalo and bald eagles and other animals that our zoo doesn't have), with a brief diversion to see the penguins.

There was a boat ride that looked like it would be nice, but Pumpkin didn't want to go on it, and we didn't see the point in forcing the issue. Really, the only bad thing I have to say about this zoo is that the service in the cafe was terribly disorganized. I think the closest thing we had to a meltdown all weekend was the mini-tantrum I threw, storming out of the cafe after waiting 15 minutes, finally getting to the counter, and having the woman behind the counter turn away to help someone else. Who was behind us in the line. The food did not look inspiring, I was 99.9% sure Pumpkin wouldn't eat anything we bought, and I was fed up- so I stormed out, with a perplexed Pumpkin ("where are you going Mommy?"), an exasperating Hubby, and an unconcerned Petunia trailing behind. We ended up eating at a Texas Roadhouse (the source of the spurned applesauce mentioned above- Pumpkin didn't like the cinnamon they put in it), where at least Hubby and I liked our food, and I was reminded that my job could be a lot worse. I don't have to stop what I'm doing whenever a particular song is played over the stereo and start line dancing.

By the time we finished lunch, it was past nap time. The girls napped in the car while we took a short driving tour of Wichita, and then we returned to our hotel to get ready for the wedding. That also went surprisingly well- Petunia had to go crawl around in the hallway outside the ceremony, but Pumpkin sat through the entire thing quietly. And they both did great at the reception. Pumpkin in particular had a great time. She is still talking about how she got to dance with the "wedding girl" and eat cake when it was dark outside. She also danced a lot with her Daddy, and charmed many strangers with her unique conversational style. The bride was beautiful, the cake was excellent, and it was an all around good night.

The next day, we started off with a trip to see the Keeper of the Plains, which was as striking as it sounded from the descriptions we had read.

Then we went in search of lunch. The restaurant I had chosen from Yelp was closed on Sundays, so we went to a restaurant we'd seen advertised on TV during the short time we had watched it- Spangles. This was a BIG win. Spangles is a fast food diner, complete with 50s music, yummy milkshakes, a retro highchair on wheels. Everyone had fun.

After lunch, we went to the Exploration Place, which is a science museum aimed primarily at kids. Pumpkin and Petunia both enjoyed the play area- but Pumpkin's favorite part was the exhibit called "Grossology", which was about snot, and farts, and other gross things about the body. It made us think that we really should take her to our local science museum and/or kid's museum sometime- we tend to think of her as too young for exhibits, but that is no longer the case.

We left the museum and took another driving tour for nap time. Then we played in our hotel pool for awhile, and went out to dinner. Pumpkin was again very well behaved, and Petunia slept through most of the meal. We went back to our hotel feeling very happy about our trip... until I realized that I'd lost my (sort of expensive) sunglasses. I'm sure that I took them in to the restaurant with us, but I didn't have them when I was repacking my purse at the hotel. We called the restaurant, but they couldn't find them. That was a bit of a downer to end the trip. But still, if the you can take a trip with two kids, four flights, and one wedding and have the biggest complaint be that you lost your sunglasses.... that's a pretty good trip!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Zenbit: Gorge in the Mist

I think that at this point, the Three Gorges Dam was at about 1/2 to 2/3 capacity. I wonder what this looks like now?

Location: Wu Gorge, Yangtze River, Sichuan, China
Date:March 24, 2006

Monday, August 23, 2010

Winning by Giving In

I gave up last night. And it was a big win.

We had been trying not to start co-sleeping with Petunia. Sure, we had coslept (for part of the night) with Pumpkin, but that started when she was a lot older than Petunia is now, and didn't really last that long.

But Petunia's been waking up a lot lately, and I suspected it was because she was lonely and wanted to make sure we were still around. If you think about it, a baby really should freak out a bit when she wakes up and there is no grown up around. For most of our evolutionary history, that would have been a very bad thing, indeed. So the baby would cry, and Mom would come running and everyone would be happy.

Whether or not it is a reasonable behavior from an evolutionary standpoint, this was driving me slowly insane. Try as I might, I couldn't figure out how to arrange the night so that I could get enough sleep- i.e., at least four hours of solid, uninterrupted sleep.

So, last night, I cracked. Hubby has been resisting my idea of bringing Petunia in to sleep with us after her first wake up. He was (and is) convinced that this will start a bad habit that we will really struggle to break. But last night, I was so tired my eyes itched. I had been grumpy, short-tempered, and frankly a bit weepy all day. The status quo had to change. I didn't (and don't) care about 6 months from now- I need sleep now! So I put my foot down and insisted that we try cosleeping. I went to bed early, and at about 12:30, Hubby brought Petunia in to me. I nursed her, and laid her down next to me. She sighed happily and went back to sleep. Hubby shrugged at this and got into bed, and was soon asleep, too. I fell asleep and we all slept soundly until 4:45, when Petunia woke up. Hubby slept through this, but I nursed her again, and we snuggled back in until 6:30, when Pumpkin came running in looking for her little sister.

We're definitely trying this again tonight. Even Hubby had to admit that it was the best sleep we'd gotten in awhile.

So now I'm wondering if I should give in on the other parenting problem we're struggling with right now- namely, Pumpkin's potty issues. She almost never has a poop accident, and if she does, it is a true accident and she is really upset by it. But she has pee accidents daily. She does fine at day care most days (although she has often just had an accident when I arrive), but she almost always has at least one accident after we get home, and weekends are just a disaster.

I'm at wit's end on this. I can't figure out why she is doing it (looking for attention? asserting her control? too caught up in what she's doing and doesn't want to stop?) and nothing we've tried seems to help. We've tried various rewards schemes (each one works for a day or two and then she stops caring). We've tried a timer (she never wants to go when the timer goes off). We've tried withholding treats (no Dora until you go potty just results in a "I don't WANT to watch Dora!") We've tried ignoring the potty thing altogether and letting her go when she wants (almost never).

I'm out of ideas. So I'm wondering, should I just give up for awhile? Should i just put her back in pull ups at home for a few weeks? Or should I just keep changing her clothes (and doing lots of laundry)? Opinions? Ideas?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Zenbit: Attractive

In addition to being pretty, these flowers are excellent butterfly attractants- we had three butterflies flitting around our yard for awhile this afternoon.
Location: My backyard, San Diego, CA, USA
Date: August 20, 2010

Friday, August 20, 2010

An Addition to the Routine

Pumpkin has settled into a really nice bedtime routine. After her bath, we read four stories. Hubby and I take turns reading the stories. The she turns on her music and turns off her light, and I climb into bed with her and listen to four songs. It is always the same four songs and it has to be me- Hubby is only allowed to substitute if I am out for the evening. When her songs are over, I get up and turn her CD off, turn on her air filter (a.k.a., the white noise), and get back in bed and snuggle while I tell her a story I made up for her, "the zebra story". She also snuggles her stuffed zebra for this. She likes to hold his tail, which is getting all worn from the love.

After her story is over, I get up, kiss her forehead, and tell her I love her and goodnight. She tells me bye-bye, and "go type in the guest room for a lot of minutes" (which is what I am doing now). Most nights, she falls asleep with no further fuss. However, if I try to go the other direction from her room, and go do chores in the kitchen, she notices, and invariably calls me back in. I guess she wants me to have time to blog.

Even when I do as I'm told and go type in the guest room, she sometimes calls me back in once or twice. Sometimes, I have to tell the zebra story one more time. I don't really mind- it is a short story. A few weeks ago, she kept calling me back in to tell me what numbers were on her clock, but that has mercifully stopped now. Sometimes, she has to go potty in the middle of the songs. We pause the CD, go potty, and come back. I don't worry about what she does during those four songs. Sometimes, she sings- other songs, not the songs on the CD. Sometimes she talks. Sometimes she asks for her water over and over. Whatever- she knows that she gets me for four songs and one story, and so I figure she can do whatever she wants during that time.

Lately, she has been adding a step to our routine. Once the songs are on and the light is off, she climbs into my lap, wraps her arms around my neck and rocks me side to side, while singing:

Rock-a-bye, grown up, in the tree top
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock
When the bough breaks, down will come grown up, cradle and all

These are sweet times. It is hard to believe that Pumpkin's bedtimes used to be a struggle.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Dinner during Dora: Carrot Cake Pancakes

It has been awhile since I did a Dinner during Dora post. The basic idea is to post a recipe that you can make during the time it takes for your kids to watch a Dora episode. If you want to play along, just post your own recipe, and then add a comment to my  first Dinner during Dora post. Some day, I may figure out how to get the trackback links working, too.

This dinner only comes together during Dora if you shred the carrots ahead of time- so unless I have some shredded carrots, this is a weekend dinner. On weekends, I can start dinner a little earlier and Hubby is around during the cooking to help entertain the kids. Of course, Hubby could also do the cooking, and often does.... so this meal doesn't get made all that often.

Carrot Cake Pancakes


1 1/4 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ginger
Dash cloves
Dash allspice
1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup buttermilk (I never have this- I sour milk with vinegar- 3/4 tsp vinegar, and fill the rest with milk)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups finely grated carrots (~4 medium sized carrots)


1. Grate the carrots, if you don't have some pregrated.  I try to pregrate and freeze. I double bag the grated carrots in sandwich bags, and have never had any trouble defrosting them and using them.

2. Start whatever you're going to use to cook the pancakes heating. I always forget to do this! I use an electric skillet, set to about 375 deg F.

3. Combine the flour through the allspice in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. You'll add the liquid to this bowl, so start with a big bowl.

4. Combine the brown sugar, buttermilk (or soured milk), and eggs in a bowl.

5. Add the liquid the the flour mix, stirring until just blended:

6. Add carrots:

7. Spoon ~1/4 cup of the batter per pancake into the preheated pan/skillet. Cook ~2 minutes, until the tops are covered with bubbles and the edges look cooked:

8. Flip and cook another minute or so. I usually flip them again and dither about whether they are done. I suspect that step can be skipped!

Here is what the finished product looks like:

The recipe makes about 12 pancakes. I serve this with a little bit of bacon and smoothies.

Source: I got this from Cooking Light. Here is the original recipe. I somehow missed that I was supposed to add oil, so I never have, and I don't miss it. I leave out the nuts because Pumpkin wouldn't eat them with nuts. I leave out the vanilla because Hubby has a weird aversion to vanilla. And I never bother with the honey butter. Hubby likes them with strawberry jam and I just put some butter and a little powdered sugar on them- but then, that is how I've eaten pancakes since I was a kid. I didn't like syrup growing up. (I know! How can someone not like pure sugar in liquid form? But I didn't.)

Who eats it: Hubby and I really like the recipe. Pumpkin is less thrilled with it, but with some prodding, she'll eat a bit:

We gave some to Petunia the last time we made it (she was just about 10 months old), and she smooshed it around a bit and then threw it on the floor.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Zenbit: Love Birds

Location: Acadia National Park, Maine, USA
Date: July 9, 2006

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sabotaged by Guilt?

Some of the comments on Moxie's post today have me thinking about work and home expectations, and thinking in particular about the extent to which we let our guilt about "wanting it all" sabotage us.

Now, to a certain extent, I agree that you can't "have it all"- but I also think a lot depends on how you define "it all". I don't think I am trying to have "it all" right now. I am trying to be a good mother, have a reasonably satisfying career, and have good relationships with the family and friends who matter to me. I am not trying to be super fit, or look as good as I could every day, or be a gourmet chef, or keep a spotlessly clean house, or grow all my own vegetables, or.... you get the idea. I absolutely agree that something has to give when you have kids, but I don't agree that the something that has to give is necessarily your career.

When I say this to women who don't have kids yet, I sometimes hear "but I can't imagine giving up my underwater basket weaving!" To which I reply: if underwater basket weaving is still important to you after you have kids, you won't give it up. Motherhood has been a strict filter on my life. It has shown me with stunning clarity what really matters to me and what doesn't. The things that matter get done. The things that don't really matter... well, they don't always get done. In fact, they just drop off my radar screen altogether.

This sounds so simple, but it ignores the big role that guilt can play in our lives as working moms. How often do we do things and work or at home because we feel guilty? It is fine to stay late at the office sometimes- but only do it  if it is what you want or need to do. Don't do it because your colleagues make you feel guilty about leaving at a reasonable hour. It is fine to decide that you'll make all of your baby's food from scratch- but again, only do it if that truly is a priority for you. Don't do it because some other mom has decided to do it for her baby and you feel guilty for buying little jars of puree at the grocery store.

I think sometimes we get caught in a terrible guilt feedback loop. We feel guilty about leaving "early" when colleagues are staying late. So we stay late. And then we feel guilty because we aren't home in time to make dinner for our kids. So we decide to throw an elaborate play date and make all the food from scratch. And then we feel guilty because we haven't called our best friend in ages. So we go out to lunch with her and are late for a meeting at work.... and then we're right back at the start.

I say we should just stop it. Stop feeling guilty about things that don't really matter to you. Take advantage of the clarity that motherhood provides about what matters- i.e., the things that you consistently make time to do. Ditch the other things without guilt.

I won't pretend that I have this all figured out, or that I go through life without ever feeling guilty. That isn't true at all. But I do try to stop and think about why I'm feeling guilty. If I'm feeling guilty because I am not doing something that really matters to me, then I will try to change things to fix that. If I'm feeling guilty because of other people's expectations, then I try to let it go.

Trust me, this gets easier with practice. I was talking to a colleague in the lunch room about Petunia's recent back to back to back illnesses, and another woman wandered up and expressed surprise- no, shock- that Petunia was already in day care at 10 months old. There was a time when that would have brought on a wave of mommy guilt. But this time I just laughed and said she actually started at 5 months old, and I thought that worked out great, because she got used to day care before she developed any real separation anxiety. I know that Pumpkin is thriving, and she started day care at the same time. I haven't seen any data to make me think that high quality day care is likely to have a negative impact on my girls' development. And I love Sarah Hrdy's hypothesis that humans have always been collective breeders. So I don't feel guilty about putting my girls in day care.

So much of the mommy guilt I see around me (and feel myself) is based on things that probably don't matter. I don't think our kids will look back on their childhoods and say "gee, I'm sure I would be healthier today if my mom had made the baby food from scratch" or "if only my mom had found time to do more art projects with me, I'm sure I would be more successful." I think what matters is that we love our kids, and do our best to meet their needs. And there are as many different ways to do that as there are families, so why should we feel guilty if some other mother is doing it differently than we are?

At work, I will absolutely try to rearrange my schedule to stay for a late meeting if I think there is a valid reason for it. If I think the meeting is being held late because someone is too lazy to find a better solution, I decline to attend. I will log on and work after the girls are in bed if I have work to do that I think is important. I won't do it for busy work that someone else thinks they need right away- particularly if they didn't give me much time to get it done. There is an old saying in IT: "Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part."

I think the key to making this approach succeed at work is to do it without apologies. Sure, I'll say I'm sorry that I can't make the meeting- but I won't offer to rearrange the child care situation unless the person convinces me that this meeting is important and really needs to happen after 5. The problem with guilt is that it makes you second guess yourself. And it makes you send the signal to other people that you think you are in the wrong. You aren't. You're allowed to have a life outside of work. Get your work done. Be professional, and try to help others get their work done when you can reasonably do so. And just assume that this is enough. Don't apologize or feel guilty for not doing more- if you do, other people will pick up on that guilt. And maybe they will start to think that you should be doing more.

I have definitely been very lucky in my bosses since becoming a mother. They have all judged me on my productivity and not my face time. But I have also had a total of five different bosses at two different companies in the time since Pumpkin was born. So maybe it is not all luck? Maybe part of the recipe for success* as a working mom is to let go of the guilt, and just assume that our best is good enough.

*To me, success is being happy in my life, and feeling like I am raising kids who have a good chance to go on and be happy in their lives. It is not necessarily all work-related success- but if I felt constantly thwarted at work, I doubt I'd be very happy. 

Also, I am not AT ALL judging anyone else's life decisions. We're all so different, living such different lives- what would I know about what is the right thing for someone else to do? I'm just putting this out there as an observation that I have made about the insidious effect of guilt.

Finally, yes, I really do know how lucky I have been. I know some people have terrible bosses, etc and all I can say there is that I hope you can find a way to find a better job. No one should have to put up with unrealistic expectations at work.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Zenbit: Beer

Read the label backwards.

Location: Shanghai, China
Date: March 26, 2006

Friday, August 06, 2010

A Bit of a Pointless Whine, Really

Even with the arrival of reinforcements, it has been a bruising couple of weeks. Petunia seems to be over her cold(s) and ear infection, but is still teething. It is all coming back to me now... molars take some time to come in. I'd forgotten (repressed?) that from Pumpkin's babyhood. Petunia's sleep, which was so-so before all this started, has gotten pretty bad. Early signs indicate that she might revert to a better pattern on her own, though. I hope so- I'm not sure I have the energy for any sort of sleep improvement campaign right now.

My new work responsibilities are still keeping me busy. I've gotten a little bit of my balance back, but I am still working more during the evenings and on weekends than I really like. I am at least back to something sustainable, though- I've known since grad school that I can't sustain extended work hours for long. I prefer to work productively and efficiently in more normal work hours, and relax and do other things outside of those hours. If I try to work long hours for more than a month or so, I start working less efficiently, and end up being no more productive than I would be working my usual 40-45 hour work week.

The new responsibilities are interesting and challenging, but also very frustrating and sometimes more than a little demoralizing. For the most part, scientists don't have a large amount of respect for project management, and some of my colleagues aren't exactly hiding this fact. I spend far too much of my newly jam-packed work time trying to cajole people into doing things that are really just part of their jobs. I'm having flashbacks to my earlier project management jobs at the large contractor/consulting company, in which I swore that 90% of my job was emailing and calling people to remind them to do their jobs. It is sort of sad to discover that it is the same in a small biotech. There have been some surprises, though- people I would have thought would be obstructive are turning out to be easy to work with. Sadly, the converse is also true. People I didn't expect to be difficult are turning out to be gigantic pains in the neck.

And it is not like people outside of work are impressed by my new role. Honestly, I can't think of any group of people that has a large amount of respect for project management. Maybe people who have suffered through projects with poor project management? I had a bit of a chuckle recently when I remembered a time during my first post-grad school job when I complained to my boss that I had responsibility without authority. I wanted him to give me authority. He told me that I needed to learn how to build consensus and get things done without formal authority. I fumed about that at the time, but he was right. Scientists aren't famous for respecting someone's authority just because of their title- you generally have to earn your authority. Anyway, here I am 10 years later, working in project management and middle management in biotech, which is sort of the pinnacle of having responsibility without authority.

I sometimes wonder how I ended up here, at this place in my career. I am certainly not doing what I thought I would be doing when I went to grad school, or even when I left grad school. I use my science knowledge and understanding of the research process every day, but I'm not really a scientist anymore, at least not in the traditional definition of a scientist as someone who does experiments to try to better understand the world. I am not really a techie, anymore, either, because I haven't actually coded anything more than a quick little script in ages. I am well and truly a manager. I made peace with that several years ago. But it sure does lack the cache that my previous job titles had.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Hurray for the Cavalry

Petunia is clearly reading this blog and didn't like all those comments suggesting that we nightwean her. Right after I wrote my last post, she decreased her milk intake and I'm actually a little ahead of her right now. Of course, she also got sick and I had to spend a day at home with her, and then she got an ear infection, so she probably wasn't wanting to eat much. Also, my supply jumped up a bit- possibly the fenugreek kicking in? Regardless, the big decision is postponed at least another week.

But, boy- the latest cold/ear infection really hit us hard. I was only sick for a day, but Petunia ranged from mildly cranky to screaming indignantly for several days. I was feeling sorry for myself, and started a whiny post called "The 10 Month Slump" about the back to back to back illnesses that hit around this time (when the baby starts crawling and can reach new germ-covered items to put in her mouth, I guess) and the supply drop and the just overall suckiness of it all. The last straw came on Monday night, when Petunia woke up at 10:30 and just outright refused to go back to sleep or stop scolding whichever parent was trying to hold her. I was so tired that I could barely form a sentence, let alone a plan for handling this development. Hubby was more coherent, so he took her for a long drive, and then slept with her on the sofa until 2 or so, at which point I nursed her and took over the "sleeping" with baby on sofa role. She'd seem to be completely asleep, but if so much as moved towards the bouncy chair I hoped to put her down in she would let out a high pitched, ear shattering squeal.

Tuesday morning, she had a fever of 101.5, so we called the doctor for an appointment and I called in the cavalry- my Mom.

The doctor confirmed the ear infection but said it was on the mend. She also discovered three (!) new teeth coming in- one we had seen towards the front and two more in the back. No wonder Petunia was mad at the world.

Mom flew in yesterday evening. She gave Pumpkin her bath and read her stories so that I could try to catch up on the work that had piled up on the day I was out. She tried to take the night shift with Petunia, but Petunia wouldn't have anything to do with that and demanded Daddy. I slept until my usual shift started at about 3. Then I was able to hand Petunia to my Mom at 5:30 this morning and get another 40 minutes of sleep (interrupted by Pumpkin's arrival in our bedroom to tell me that I had forgotten to bring the baby monitor with me).

I got to work early today, and powered through a large chunk of my to do list. I even had time to go to my yoga class.

I feel like a new woman. Hurray for cavalry!