Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Enjoying the Journey

One of the reasons I'm undertaking a life reorg right now is that being unhappy isn't just an unpleasant thing for me. It actually goes against my beliefs about the meaning of life. I think the purpose of life is to enjoy it.

I've thought this for a long time. I remember trying to articulate this world view as early as high school. Anytime I try to explain it, though, I end up coming across as a hedonist, which isn't true at all. I believe everyone in this world should have the same chance at happiness, and am willing to work quite hard to bring the world closer to that state. I delay gratification as well as anyone- in fact, probably better than most. I went to graduate school, after all. I take a long, inclusive view on being happy. Something that makes me happy now but makes me miserable later isn't really a good deal. Something that makes me happy but makes someone else miserable probably isn't a good idea, either. But I don't really believe in an afterlife, and despite my frequent invocation of karmic retribution on drivers who cut me off in rush hour traffic, I don't really believe in reincarnation, either. I believe that this life is all I have, so I should make the most of it.

I believe in goals, both long and short term. I love writing to do lists. But I think that the path to those goals can be- should be, even- enjoyable. I want to enjoy the journey. This makes my husband snicker a bit, since I am not really that good at enjoying actual journeys. I love to see new places, but I often struggle to enjoy the process of getting there. In my defense, sometimes the process isn't that much fun. I had no problem enjoying the ride down the river to Taman Negara National Park in Malaysia. It was a three hour ride in a longboat with hard wooden seats and it was awesome.

 Those are Hubby's hairy legs, not mine.

It was hard to find much to enjoy in the ride from Kanchanaburi to Bangkok in the back of an old minivan with malfunctioning air conditioning. (Mercifully, I don't have a picture of that.)

So maybe it should be no surprise to me that I sometimes struggle to enjoy the more metaphorical journeys in life, too. I look at my daughters and can't believe how big they are getting (Petunia will be one on Saturday!) but at the same time, find it hard to raise my eyes above the daily routine to really enjoy these years. An incident from earlier tonight illustrates this perfectly. Hubby was holding Petunia who was reaching out for me. I reached for her, and he ran away. She giggled. No, chortled. Pumpkin tried to chase him, but slipped and fell and started crying. So I picked Pumpkin up and chased them down the hall. Both girls (and Hubby) were laughing. I was annoyed because Hubby kept stepping on my toes. WTF? He was wearing flip flops- it didn't really hurt. I think I was actually bothered because there were dishes to do and bathes to give, and this wasn't going to get those things done. But  that scene in the hallway- it is the meaning of life.

I love my girls, my husband, my life. But I need to enjoy these things more. This is why we took the trip to Coronado on Sunday, and it is why I'm posting Zenbits every week again. Zenbits are photos that make me smile and make my shoulders relax. They remind me that it really is a wonderful world, and any journey through it is worth enjoying.

Tomorrow, we're going to pick the girls up from day care and head to a playground instead of driving home. Then we're going to go out to eat instead of doing the usual Dinner during Dora routine. My life isn't perfect, and I'll keep trying to make it better. It certainly isn't as carefree as it used to be. But overall, it is pretty darn good.  So it is time for me to enjoy the journey.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Some Good Things

Petunia may have learned how to say "cracker", which is her favorite food (she likes the graham variety). Today at the end of dinner, she got fussy and started looking over at the buffet next to our table, where we keep a tupperware container of graham crackers. We finally caught on and gave her a graham cracker, which made her smile. We said "cracker" and signed it. When she wanted another one (we give them to her one quarter at a time), she fussed and looked and got another cracker, prompting another big grin. Again, we said "cracker" and signed it. About halfway through her second cracker, she looked at us and said "daa-duh", took a bite of her cracker, and gave us a big grin. She repeated this three or four times. We'll see what she does tomorrow night when she wants a cracker!


Both of our girls tend to behave really well on vacation. We think it is because they are so busy seeing new things that they forget to be cranky. So yesterday, we decided to behave a bit like we were on vacation. After all, we live in a vacation spot! We picked up my sister and drove across to Coronado, and played for awhile at the playground mentioned in yesterday's Zenbit.

One of the things we noticed on our Oregon trip was that brewpubs make excellent family dining. They almost always have a kids menu, the general hubbub drowns out any noise the kids make, and the beers make the adults happy. So we went to the Coronado Brewing Company for lunch. The food was standard brewpub fare, done more than adequately. Hubby and my sister enjoyed their beers, and I enjoyed eating out.

We finished off our mini-excursion with a trip to the Hotel del Coronado. We had drinks on their sun deck (margaritas for the drinkers, lemonade for me and Pumpkin). Then Hubby and my sister took Pumpkin down to the beach to put her feet in the water and appreciate the glitter effect of the sand in the water. (For some reason, the sand at this beach looks like gold glitter when it is in the water. It is very pretty.)

I stayed up on the sidewalk with Petunia. She was a little annoyed at the wait and desperately wanted down to crawl around. Given the bike and foot traffic on the sidewalk, there was no way that was going to happen. So I gave her Pumpkin's Dora straw cup to play with. And she figured out how to drink out of the straw! I was impressed.

After the beach visit, we headed back to our car and went home. The girls napped, and Hubby and I congratulated ourselves on a great day out.


Finally, Hubby has found us more fun things on the internetz:

And we just wasted far too much time checking out some of their other covers. I so want to see these guys play sometime!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Zenbit: A Good Day

Bonus: this was the view from a playground.

Location: Coronado, San Diego, California, USA
Date: September 25, 2010

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Life Reorg Continued: Core Competencies

Earlier this week, I posted the results of a timetracking exercise I did as part of a "life reorg" I'm undertaking. I'm using some of the ideas from Laura Vanderkam's book 168 Hours. (Full disclosure: she sent me her book to read for free- but with no strings attached. I certainly didn't promise to do a series of posts on it, because at the time I accepted the book I wasn't yet aware that I was going to be doing a life reorg and all the bellybutton gazing that goes with that.)

My timetracking exercise showed me that I don't spend much time on hobbies. I'm trying to fix that- there has to be a way to get the amount of time I spend on chores down without breaking our budget or causing me too much environmentalist guilt. (For instance, we tried ordering our groceries online and getting them delivered- but the number of plastic bags that we received from that exercise was appalling. We made ourselves feel better by taking a bunch in to day care, to replace the ones that Pumpkin's wet clothes keep coming home in, but still... we're not sure that this is something we can live with as part of our usual routine.)

However, even if I reduce the amount of time I spend on chores, I doubt I'm going to have the time for a truly "big", rewarding hobby anytime soon. I have always considered my work time as part of my "me" time- I usually like what I do, and find it intellectually challenging and rewarding. Therefore, a big part of my reorg needs to be figuring out what has gone wrong with work.

One of the other exercises suggested in the book helped me understand part of the problem. This was an exercise to help you identify your "core competencies", which is a term borrowed from management-speak that just means "the things you do better than anyone else". One of the suggestions for how to identify your core competencies is to think about what you used to do as play as a kid, and think about whether any of those things correspond to things in your work life. This gave me quite an "a ha!" moment. When I was a kid, I would get really, really interested in things- like, for instance,  early Irish history, which soon expanded into the early history of Britain, Scotland, and Wales, too. I read lots of history books, and I took copious notes. If that isn't geeky enough, I then organized my notes into timelines and family trees and things like that.

This story highlights two things: (1) I have always been a bit of a geek, and (2) organizing information is a core competency. Once I realized this, it made perfect sense. I used to study for my exams in college by organizing the information from my lecture notes, textbook, and problem sets into detailed outlines. (By my fourth year, other students were requesting my study outlines to help them study, too, but it never occurred to me until much, much later that I probably could have sold them.) In graduate school, I started work on a protein engineering project, and found myself designing a web-based system to organize my notes on the family of proteins I was studying. I got really interested in databases, and my first job after graduate school involved designing databases to store scientific information. And so on and so on.

I am happiest at work when I get to spend at least some of my time organizing information. I don't spend much time on this at all right now. This is probably contributing to my current unhappiness at work. I think that I can fix this, at least to some extent, but the job as it is currently defined is never going to involve as much of this as I'd really like.

Luckily, I have a second core competency: getting stuff done. I don't have any geeky stories for childhood to support this one (but maybe my parents can dredge something up....) but I think it is still a core competency. Both at work and at home, I like to pick apart a problem and try to figure out how to make it go away so that what ever needs to get done can just get done, already. So at home, I created a chores schedule to try to ensure that both Hubby and I got some downtime. At work, I am known for systematically removing the roadblocks and/or excuses that stand in the way of a project, even if it means that I do some boring scut work myself because no one else will do it. This is great- to a point. I'm human, and I eventually get annoyed with the amount of B.S. I'm wading through just to get stuff done, and then I end up unhappy. This is probably also contributing to my unhappiness at work right now, and unfortunately, I have no idea if I can fix this. I think that in general, I have a pretty high B.S. tolerance and can deal with it as long as I see forward progress on the projects I'm working on. So maybe this problem will resolve itself on its own.

However, even if I can tweak my current job enough to make it more fun, there is a more fundamental issue: in the career path I'm on, I'm rarely, if ever, going to get to spend large amounts of time on organizing information, the core competency that actually makes me happiest at work. So the real question is: do I need to change my career path? I've been thinking a lot about this, in context of some career coaching I did a few years ago and with the next exercise from the book, which is to write a list of 100 dreams. I'll probably write a post about that at some point, too. In the meantime, I'm going to implement some tweaks at my current job, and see what that does to my happiness level.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dinner during Dora: Smoothies

It has been awhile since I did a Dinner during Dora post, so for anyone new to this series: these are recipes I use to make dinner during the time it takes for Pumpkin (and sometimes Petunia) to watch a Dora episode from the DVR- which is 22 minutes.

Today's recipe is one I use with a lot of other things to make a dinner- smoothies. I serve these with baked potatoes (did you know you can "bake" potatoes in about 10 minutes in the microwave?), carrot cake pancakes, egg and bacon burritos, and quesadillas. Just this week, I added these to frozen tacquitos (which Pumpkin told us she would like, but then didn't) and sweet potato fries (the most vegetable-like substance that Pumpkin will eat). In short, anytime I think a meal needs a little more, I add these.

This recipe is a little less precise than the others in this series. That's because it is very forgiving- you can throw almost any fruit in. The key things to include (in my opinion) are (1) strawberries- for color. They'll ensure the smoothie is an appetizing pink, and not a less appetizing beige color and (2) pineapple- for the nice tart taste. The other key thing that makes this an easy recipe is using a decent blender. I used a piece of junk for years, and the smoothies took ages to blend. I finally upgraded to a not expensive but nice blender (I think I have this model: Oster 6811 Core 12-Speed Blender with Glass Jar) this year, and now the smoothies take just a few minutes to blend.

Cloud's Easy Smoothies


1/2 frozen banana (I store these in plastic sandwich bags in the freezer. We always have some. Hubby has a half banana on his cereal every morning and sometimes I don't want the other half. Pumpkin asks for a banana and then eats three bites....)
Some frozen strawberries (maybe 1 cup?)
Some frozen pineapple (again, probably about a cup)
Other frozen fruit (usually a little less than the strawberries. I've used mango, peaches, cantaloupe, kiwifruit, and apples)
Any fresh fruit I have hanging around that is about to go bad (grapes and citrus don't work so well)
Juice - I use a mix of orange-tangerine and V8 Splash if I have it, because it adds some veggie-like substance to Pumpkin's diet (Berry Blend is my current favorite, but I've used the other flavors, too). The citrus juice is good for making the smoothie tart, not just sweet.
Water, as needed to make the right consistency.

If you like a creamier smoothie, you can freeze a tub of yogurt, and add that. We used to do this, but stopped back when Pumpkin was a baby and I couldn't have dairy. I found that the Horizon brand yogurt worked well for this.

Dump everything in the blender and blend!

You can definitely make a pretty good smoothie with just the banana, strawberries, and pineapple. This is what my basic mix of frozen fruit looks like:

And this is what it looks like with juice and water added. This time around, I only had orange-tangerine juice to add.

This is what the final smoothie looks like.

And here it is, ready to serve:

Source: I think I just made this one up after getting annoyed with the cost of Jamba Juice. I've been making it for so long that I can't really remember.

Who eats it: Everyone! As you can see from the last picture above, we serve this to both Pumpkin and Petunia. They both really like smoothies. Petunia likes them so much that she screams at us if we stop holding the cup up for her to drink. So basically, we have to hide her smoothie until she's had some of her other food for dinner.

Unrelated update: my work week is going better, but I still have some thinking to do about the work situation. Pumpkin has made it through three days now with no accidents at day care- so maybe the threat of being busted down a room was all she needed. And I finally went and answered your questions on the Better Living through Chemistry post. Sorry for the delay. Petunia's been sick. Again. She's better now!

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Results Are In!

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about how I thought my life needs a bit of a reorg. If working in biotech has taught me anything, it is that a reorg is rarely successful if it is not well planned, so I decided to do some analysis on my life, using the ideas in Laura Vanderkam's 168 Hours.

The first step was to do some timetracking, in which I would track how I spent all of my time for a week. I spent almost 5 years working as a consultant/contractor, so I am used to the idea of "charging my time" at work, and have even done similar timetracking exercises at my current job. I've never done something like this in my non-work hours, though. I dutifully tracked my time in 15 minute increments for a week (actually a week and a day- my baby got sick in the middle of this, and having a work day in which I sat on the sofa holding a whiny baby and watching bad daytime TV in the mix would definitely skew my results, so I swapped that day for a different work day.)

So, here are the results:

Personal Care4.250.610.251
Child Care24.253.4624.5
Playing/reading with kids8.751.2504
Food chores6.50.9302.25
Housecleaning chores1.750.2500.5
Organizational chores4.750.6801.5
Time with Hubby20.2900.5
Time w/friends and family50.7103.25

If you're really that curious about the minutiae of my life, you can see the full data set, too.

Since both Petunia and I were sick for a few days, there is more sleep and less work than most weeks probably have, but not by much. I think I probably average a 40 hour work week. Also, I counted any time I spent in bed with my eyes closed and no baby nursing as "sleep"- actual time asleep was probably a bit less than that. The commuting time is high, because several days I had to do both day care drop off and pick up (while Hubby was home with the sick baby), and also, traffic was bizarrely bad that week. There is also probably a little more child care and a little less playing with the kids than some weeks have, but not hugely so. Some blocks of time were hard to categorize, and some categories overlap (for instance, we have family dinner every night, which I marked as "eating", even though I was also spending time with both Hubby and the girls). Still, the data show the trends, and that is all I need it to do.

I learned several things:
  • I spend more time with my kids than I thought I did. I am not a particularly guilt-ridden working mother, but even so, it was nice to see that. The kids really are alright. Or at least they aren't neglected.
  •  I don't spend much time on hobbies. Showing Hubby the low number that I tallied for internet/blogging repaid the effort of this exercise on its own- I don't spend nearly as much time on the internet as he thinks I do. I think that demonstrates how you notice the things that are bothering you, and also demonstrates that he and I need to work out an agreement about time for hobbies for both of us. I was sad to see that I didn't manage to find anytime to read during those particular 168 hours, but I am a member of a monthly book club, so maybe that averages out over a longer time period.
  • I need to exercise more. But I guess I already knew that. My only exercise is my weekly yoga class and our "nap walks" on the weekends. In my defense, a nap walk involves me pushing ~50 lbs of kid around the hills of my neighborhood for about an hour. It is definitely exercise.
  • I was happy with the amount of time Hubby and I spend together, particularly since the "time with friends/family" category was mostly done as a couple (OK, actually as a family). Also, none of my TV hours were solo- I watched an Inspector Lewis with Hubby and two kids' programs.
  • The real eye-opened was the amount of time I spend on chores: it averages out to a total of 2 hours per day. A big chunk of that is on the weekend, but I still think it is too much. I'm not sure how I'm going to cut that down, though, since the biggest category of chores is the "organizational chores", and those typically fall to me in our division of labor. I'm trying to convince Hubby to do his own timetracking exercise so that we can look at this as a team, but I don't think he's going to do it. Clearly, I have some optimization to do in this area- you'll probably get a post or too about chores in the future!
  • The second big surprise was how fragmented my time is. If you look at the raw data in my logs, I have a lot of 15 minute tasks. I jump around from child care to eating to personal care to blogging. I need to find a way to get a larger chunk of time for my hobbies if I'm going to do anything meaningful in that area. I don't have any bright ideas about how to do that yet, either.
All in all, this was a worthwhile exercise for me. I'm determined to keep plugging away at the analysis to support my life reorg. Next up: determining my core competencies. I actually have this mostly done- I'll post on it soon, if I can, um, find the time.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Zenbit: Windswept

This beach is near Porangahau, which we were told means "mighty wind" in Maori. If that is true, it is a very well-named place.

Location: Herbertville Beach, New Zealand
Date: December 31, 2005

Friday, September 17, 2010

A Slight Delay to Have a Really S&#@$ Day

My timetracking results are in, and I learned some interesting things (e.g., my time is very fragmented) and confirmed some not so surprising things (e.g., it would be nice if Petunia would sleep through the night).

I plan to write a post showing you all how I spent that week, and discussing what I learned from the exercise... but not tonight. I had an unbelievably bad day today. So bad that I had a beer with dinner rather than wait until after the girls are in bed (I'll have another one soon). So bad that Pumpkin has asked me twice why I'm so sad. I don't have a good answer for her. Um, well, honey, sometimes adults behave like three year olds... no, wait... that's not what I mean....Three year olds are delightful!

And I can't even blog it out- the majority of the reason it was such a bad day has to do with work, and things that I can't write about here.

However, the icing on the bad day was arriving at day care to discover that Pumpkin had three accidents, and having the center's associate director tell me that they may have to move her back down a room because she's not potty trained. To which I said- well, we could have told you that if you'd asked us before you moved her. Of course, at the time, she wasn't having accidents at day care. So they asked her teachers, who said she was fine and ready to move up. Rationally, I know that it will be no big deal if she's busted down a room for a while. But she has been so excited about the new room, and she's just loving the writing practice they do there. (She came home the very first day already able to write her own name- we'd been working on it with her, but couldn't get her to do it. Little did we know that the key was introducing lower case letters. Her name has two letters that she can write as lowercase but can't write well as uppercase.) And all of her friends are in that room with her. I know she'll be sad to be moved down. Which may be exactly what we need to get the potty training done, I suppose.

People who know me in real life: don't worry. I'm OK. I'm not in danger of being fired or anything like that- far from it. And I'm not going to do anything drastic like make a big dramatic speech and storm out of my job never to return. But I might daydream about that this weekend!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Better Living Through Chemistry

My undergraduate degree is in chemistry (well, actually "biological chemistry", but at my university that was essentially a chemistry degree with a requirement to take the bio for majors sequence and some graduate level biochemistry classes). I may not be doing lab work anymore, but I still think of myself as a scientist, and the bad press chemistry and- gasp!- chemicals gets annoys me. (Which is not to say that the bad press is not sometimes deserved. I'm looking at you, American Chemistry Council.)

(Amusing aside: a friend of mine was once stopped by a sale clerk in the make up department of a department store. The clerk touted her brand of make up as being "chemical free". My friend couldn't stop herself. She told the sales clerk that she actually hoped there were some chemicals in those bottles, because otherwise she was selling bottles of nothing. Even pure water is a chemical. Scientists must be a marketer's worst nightmare.)

Anyway, I think we sometimes forget about all the wonderful things that chemistry, and science in general, has give us. So tonight, I'll tell you about two marvels of modern chemistry that make my life easier:

1. Enzymatic cleaners, specifically Bac-Out, made by Biokleen. OK, so maybe this is really "better living through biotechnology", but biotechnology is based on molecular biology, which is just chemistry with molecules made by cells. So there.

This product is probably the sole reason that my bathroom does not give off an overwhelming odor of urine, since on a bad day, I can have more than 5 pairs of rinsed out peed on pants and underwear hanging over my shower rod. But, wait! There's more! We originally discovered this product during Pumpkin's first year. Petunia runs a fever every time she gets a runny nose. Pumpkin threw up. And then there were the actual bouts of norovirus. Let's just say that we got good at cleaning up baby vomit and this stuff takes the smell out of the carpet and other things you can't load into the washer.

During Petunia's newborn-hood, we learned that this product also does a great job of cleaning up the projectile poopsplosions she was prone to. How did she know to time her gigantic poops for when her diaper was off? And why did this always happen in the middle of the night? I'll never know, but at least we got it all cleaned up.

In short, it is a miracle of modern science. What did people use for this sort of thing before biotechnology?

2. My tablecloth made from recycled plastic bottles. Yeah, I get to feel all smug about closing the loop on recycling. But the real reason I love this tablecloth is the fact that it feels like cloth and looks like cloth but water (or milk or whatever else Pumpkin spills on it) beads up on it, and can be wiped up as easily as it was on the old, sort of ugly vinyl tablecloth it replaced.

It is like magic!

(The ugly/tacky factor of the old tablecloth wasn't bothering me. It was replaced because there was a hole in it. How do you get a hole in a vinyl tablecloth? Your toddler bites it.)

Your turn. What marvels of modern science make your everyday life easier?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Good Day

Last night, Petunia's bedtime went so poorly that I literally had to come out and get Hubby to take over before I lost it. She just would not go to sleep.

Tonight, she was asleep 10 minutes after lights out.

The difference? I think she was tired tonight, and ready to sleep. She hadn't taken a long afternoon nap, and I turned lights out 15 minutes later than I did last night.

There is a lesson in there for me, but I'm not sure I'll be smart enough to learn it.  Petunia is not a baby who follows a schedule. We need to loosen up the routine a bit and follow her cues a bit more. I can't seem to get that through my head, probably because loosening up the routine was always a disaster when Pumpkin was a baby.

Speaking of Pumpkin, she went the entire day without any accidents. She is so proud of herself when she does that. So why doesn't she do it more often? Why does she fight us when we suggest she go to the potty? I have no insights there. So I'm just going to be happy that there are no peed on clothes soaking in my sink right now.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Zenbit: Pass out

I giggled for quite a while when I saw this sign- maybe because Hubby had spent so much time telling me about the lengths he and his friends would go to in order to sneak booze into cricket matches. Or maybe because I'm really immature.

Location: Melbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne, Australia
Date: January 5, 2006

Friday, September 10, 2010

Time and the Pursuit of Happiness

I had to take Petunia to the doctor today. She's had a fever all week, and I wanted to make sure it was nothing serious. It wasn't- just a cold that hit at an inconvenient time. Our usual back up day care (my Mom) is on vacation, so Hubby and I have each spent two days at home this week with a baby who is a bit mad at the world and makes a convincing argument against being put down (i.e., she whines/screams until you crack and pick her back up, at which point she whimpers, and snuggles in- and often, falls asleep). Since I am also sick, I guessed that her general grumpiness was caused by a sore throat. The doctor confirmed that.

Our pediatrician's office is one floor up from my ob/gyn's office. When I was on my way down after the visit, the elevator doors opened on the ob/gyn's floor, and I saw a hugely pregnant woman waiting to check in. I was struck by the realization that one year ago, that was me. I smiled, and went on my way, thinking that having an 11 month old- even a cranky, sick one who makes you take sick days you don't really have at work- is far, far better than being 9 months pregnant.

Since Petunia was reasonably happy, I decided to risk a stop at the big box store on my way home. She was drowsy, so I snapped her car seat in the frame and pushed her around the store- and I realized that this was probably the last time we'll use that frame. She's outgrown her infant seat. Her new carseats are in our garage, waiting to be installed. It is hard to believe that my little baby is already big enough to need a new carseat.

The store already has its  Halloween candy out, and I had another flashback to a year ago. A little over one year ago, I was seriously addicted to candy corn. I think that may be the only good thing about being 9 months pregnant- you can eat all the candy corn you want, and no one in their right mind is going to give you any grief about it. Hubby said something about my rampant sweet tooth once or twice, and I basically told him to shut up and that next time he was nine months pregnant he could show me the right way to do it.

All of these thoughts play in to my thinking about time lately. Petunia's illness has thrown a bit of a monkey wrench into my timetracking. This is certainly not a usual week. Of course, no week really is. But I wondered if this week would give me the data I want. At first I thought I'd have to start all over, but then I realized that all of my work days are pretty much the same, at least for my current timetracking purposes.  So I'll just swap next Wednesday in for today.

But what are my current timetracking purposes? As my thoughts earlier today reminded me, I have it pretty good right now. I have two smart, beautiful little girls (Pumpkin can write her own name! Petunia can put the stacking colored rings back on the stick!), a husband whom I love and who loves me, a decent job that pays well, and a nice house in a nice neighborhood (although our living is overrun by toys and I dream of adding on a play room). I have an extended family that brings joy, not stress, into my life. (Did I mention that my sister babysat both kids for 4 hours last Sunday while Hubby and I went to lunch and for a long walk, complete with a rest stop at a tiki bar? Mmmmm. Frozen slushy fruity drinks!) Despite the current illness, we're all pretty healthy. In short, I have nothing to complain about.

But I'm not really happy right now, and I suspect the reason lies in my use of time. And possibly also in my job. Since I truly believe that the purpose of life is to enjoy it, this bothers me. It is not in my nature to just put up with being unhappy- so I'm going to try to fix it.

Consider this fair warning that there will probably be more posts than anyone wants to read about time, how I'm using it, and how to be happy. You know, your basic "life, the universe, and everything" sort of navel-gazing that will probably be very helpful to write but not so interesting to read.

At least I already know the answer is 42.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Time for a Reorg

I've been in a bit of a funk lately. Some of this is hormonal- I realized when Pumpkin was a baby that I tend to have a hard time when the amount of nursing changes, and this pattern has held true with Petunia, as well. So my hardest time in early babyhood is when the baby is 6 weeks old- there is a massive growth spurt and a correspondingly massive surge in milk production, and I am a complete wreck (I'm sure the lack of sleep doesn't help- but Petunia actually slept fairly well at that point, so I can't blame it all on sleep deprivation). We're now at the start of the gradual weaning process. I've dropped one of my pumping sessions, and Petunia is nursing a little less on the weekends, and just like I remember from the similar time with Pumpkin, I'm a bit, umm... moody.

But I don't think hormones can explain all of my funk. The new job responsibilities aren't turning out quite as advertised (although things are going about as I expected they would, so I do wonder why I'm feeling put out by the fact that they aren't going as my boss said they would). I'm spending far more time on administrivia than I'd like, and I have yet to find a way to get that under control.

I'm having a hard time keeping up with things at home, too. My to do list is woefully out of date, which is never a good sign. I can handle a to do list that is so long that it is laughable, but it makes me positively twitchy to have things that need to get done that aren't written down. Yes, I know this is weird, and I know that the solution (i.e., to write them down) is well within my capabilities. But yet, here I sit, with a mental list that has more items than my physical one.

And then then there are the things I need to fit back in to my life in order to be happy- some more exercise, time to actually make progress on my to do list, time to tackle some of the non-work projects that pass for hobbies.

In short, things are just not working. In my industry, when the organization isn't getting things done or is showing signs of dysfunction, senior management often decides to reorganize. A reorg is sometimes painful, but if done well, it can really breathe new life into an organization. (If done poorly, it just saps the will to live from the organization, but let's not go there....) Yesterday it hit me: I need to reorg my life!

How lucky that Laura Vanderkam contacted me after reading some of my comments on The Mama Bee (and a post or two here, I think) and offered to send me a copy of her new book,  168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think. I accepted her offer, and last week, the book arrived in my mailbox. It is a well written book, full of interesting observations about how busy we are (or aren't) and ideas about how to make more time for the things that really matter to you. I encourage anyone who wonders how some people manage to have high power careers while working a 40-50 hour work week to check this book out. It might answer the question for you.

It feels like a bit of cosmic karma that this book arrived in my life at this exact time, because I normally feel like I have things fairly well sorted out in the "work-life balance" department. I would have read the book, and maybe even written a review here. But right now, things are out of whack, and the book has actually given me some insights into why and ideas about how I might try to fix things. So I've decided to do something I almost never do- I'm going to do the exercises the book suggests. OK, maybe I'll only do some of them. But I've also decided to post about them as I do them, because I figure that will keep me honest. Feel free to play along in the comments (or in posts on your own blogs)- I think it would be interesting to see other people's answers to these exercises. (But if you're really intrigued by this subject, I encourage you to get your hands on a copy of the book, because there is far more in it than I'm going to summarize here- and I probably will skip some exercises, because I'm lazy that way.)

The first exercise is to keep a time diary.  This is essentially a spreadsheet tracking how you spend your time in every hour of every day. I'm going to keep mine for a week, because I actually already have a pretty good idea of what I spend my time on (one of the reasons why this book might not have had as much of an impact on me if it had arrived at a different time in my life). I think this exercise will give me some more details, though. The book suggests that you just write down what you did and then go back and put things into categories later. I'm going to skip ahead a bit, and track my time by categories right now, because I already know what categories most of my time will fall into. I'll have an "other" category for surprises!

So instead of one spreadsheet per week as the book suggests, I'm going to have one spreadsheet per day with the time increments going down the rows, and my categories going across the columns. Here are the categories I'll use:
  • Sleep (which will include time I'm up in the middle of the night nursing Petunia, etc.)
  • Eating
  • Child care (feeding, dressing, bathing, etc)
  • Playing/reading with kids
  • Food chores
  • Housecleaning chores
  • Laundry
  • Organizational chores
  • Personal care (i.e., getting ready for work, getting ready for bed)
  • Commuting
  • Work - IT
  • Work - Informatics
  • Work - Project Management
  • Work - Other
  • Breaks at work
  • Exercise
  • Internet, blogging, etc
  • Reading
  • TV
  • Time with Hubby 
  • Time with friends/family
  • Other
I'll track my time in 15 minute increments (easy enough for me- I used to charge time in 15 minute increments when I was a contractor) and the last column in my spreadsheet will be "comments",  in which I can enter details. I'll start on Wednesday- I need time tomorrow to set up my spreadsheets. I'll post the results sometime after Wednesday next week. Those of you who know me in real life can start placing bets about how many hours will go in each category... I have my guesses, but all I really know is that the total will add up to 168!

Updated to add: I published the timetracking spreadsheet I'll be using, in case anyone wants to copy the format. I have to say, Google docs is pretty awesome.... I'll be able to edit this spreadsheet from home or work, so I won't have to spend any time transferring data around.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Zenbit: Fragile

I think these flowers are beautiful, but they don't last when cut.

Location: San Diego, CA, USA
Date: August 15, 2010

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Parenthood: Where My Beliefs Collide with Reality

One of the interesting things about becoming a parent has been the way it takes my abstract beliefs about what is right and fair in society and smashes them up against the biological imperative of wanting to give my children the best possible chance to succeed in life.

AskMoxie had a post on redshirting yesterday, which really highlighted this for me. For those who don't know, redshirting is the practice of delaying a child who is old enough and developmentally ready to start kindergarten. The idea is that the extra year will give the child an advantage in school and/or sports (yes, people really do this because of sports). To me, redshirting refers to kids who are five when the school year starts- I don't really think the term applies to kids with fall birthdays who would be starting school at 4 and turning 5- I guess I think that parents of those kids have always had to decide about when to start kindergarten. But now, parents of kids with summer- and even spring- birthdays are delaying their kids, too, so that they start kindergarten at the age of 6.

The practice is growing in popularity, and it makes me uncomfortable for a couple of reasons. First, it is usually boys who are "redshirted" and the reason given is that boys' motor skills and verbal skills and just plain ability to sit still develop later than girls, and that schools aren't set up to handle these differences and so the boys are at a disadvantage. I don't think the science supports this- as Lise Eliot argues convincingly in her book Pink Brain, Blue Brain, any innate, truly biological differences are small- basically, for all of these skills (including things like spatial reasoning that girls are supposed to be "bad" at), the evidence shows large, overlapping bell curves, with midpoints not far apart. Any individual child of one sex could be more or less advanced than an individual child of another sex. There are very few developmental differences that seem genuinely meaningful.

And even when the difference might be meaningful, it is far from clear that it is an inborn, biological difference. There is a lot of fascinating evidence that even parents who think they are treating children of different sexes the same treat them with subtle differences- and because of the plastic nature of brain development, these subtle differences in treatment and any small truly biological differences get amplified, as we notice "hey, my daughter likes stickers!" and give her more stickers, but not legos, or other toys that encourage spatial reasoning. And we say "hey, my son likes trucks", so he gets trucks, and not the toys like stickers that encourage fine motor control. And before we know it, we have common knowledge that girls can't read maps and boys aren't as good at writing.

I'll admit that this might bother me more than it should. I am a woman working in a male-dominated field, and Ihave received my share of jaw-droppingly sexist comments from colleagues over the years. I've been told that I am biologically inferior with respect to my chosen field, and if I'm not, I must be an outlier. These comments are hurtful and, particularly when directed at children, self-fulfilling. There is quite a bit of evidence that children tend to live up (or down) to our expectations. So why would we create expectations that our boys can't succeed in kindergarten, particularly when the science supporting these ideas is actually pretty inconclusive?

Of course, some kids really do develop more slowly- and it may even be true that this is more likely to be the case for boys than girls. So I don't judge parents who decide to hold their kids back a year (although the evidence Lise Eliot summarizes in her book indicates that the decision may be misguided in many cases). But I also don't think it has to be this way. I think we can set up our school systems to handle all but the most extreme outliers on the developmental spectrum. In fact, I think that morally, we must do that.

The reason I think that setting up our school systems to handle kids who develop more slowly is a moral imperative is closely related to the second reason redshirting makes me uncomfortable: redshirting is primarily an upper middle class phenomenon. It takes money to decide to keep your kid out of school for an extra year- you either have to pay for day care or have one parent stay out of the paid work force. Less affluent families don't really have this option for dealing with a kid who seems to be a bit slower to develop those key kindergarten-ready skills- or if they do, it is a far bigger challenge for them than it is for a richer family.

If we decide that the way to handle kids who are slower to learn how to sit still is to just keep them out of school for another year, then we are piling additional advantages on the kids who are already starting life with more advantages than many of their peers. The squirmy son of a wealthy family will stay out of school for an extra year, while the equally squirmy son of a working class family will be sent to kindergarten and set on a path to struggle in school. Surely we can do better as a society than that?

In this respect, my unease about redshirting is very similar to my ambiguous feelings about private schools. I don't really have a problem with them, and I think parents should have the right to send their kids to the school that is best for them. But I can't escape the fact that if private schools solve an educational problem, they solve it primarily for wealthy families, and I want to live in a society that is more fair than that. If we want to believe that anyone, from any background, can succeed in our society, then we have to do our best to level the playing field and give all kids the same educational opportunities. As things stand right now, a kid from a poor family who makes it in this country has usually worked far, far harder and overcome far more challenges than a kid from a wealthier family.

Here's where the collision with biology comes in: I truly believe all of this. However, I also know without any doubt that if Petunia, my October birthday girl, doesn't seem ready for kindergarten when it is time for her to go, I'll probably hold her back. And while I intend to send my kids to public school, I also know that if things don't seem to be working out for them there, I'll pull them out and put them in a private school. So I truly can't judge any parents who make these choices for their kids. All I can hope is that those of us who are lucky enough to be able to make these choices will remember that there are other parents, who love their kids just as much as we love ours, who have no choices, and we should work to fix our system so that it gives all kids the start in life that they deserve.