Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Wrap

Christmas was great this year. Pumpkin was excited to find the light pink bike with the bumblebee on the basket under the tree (good listening, Santa!) and Petunia was so taken with her wagon that she refused to get out of it for most of the morning.  Pumpkin was also thrilled with the train set we got her (good listening, Mommy!), with the little cupcake box her Nonna and Poppa sent her from New Zealand (a perfect place to store the Silly Bands that she got in her stocking- good listening again, Santa!) and the "wedding dress" (a floor length lavender dress with sparkles) that my Mom sewed for her and included in her gift of dress up clothes. I'm dying to see her in the cow girl outfit my Mom made, but she really only wants to wear the "wedding dress" so far. So I'm being patient. Petunia has enjoyed her new blocks from Mimi and Boppa, and she likes to sit on the Little People Farm that we bough her. We think that she thinks it is a ride on toy of some sort, and plan to take a good look at day care to see if we can tell what might be giving her that idea. The biggest hit for her, though, was the little toy baby bottle that came with the stuffed monkey from her Aunt. She sucked and sucked on that thing, and then stopped and grinned, and then sucked on it some more. It was pretty funny.

You can't really predict which toys/gifts will be favorites over the long term, and everything they got was pretty darn good. Pumpkin, in particular, was so happy opening her gifts, that it would have taken a very Scroogey person not to love Christmas right then.

The girls got some great books, including the latest (and one has to assume last) installment of the Knuffle Bunny books, Knuffle Bunny Free. I think it is my favorite of the Knuffle Bunny books, and I've liked them all. We also got some new books from New Zealand. I'd strongly recommend that anyone traveling there stock up on kid's books- they have some great ones that we can't get here.

And don't even get me started on all the wonderful new clothes the girls got. Those were really like gifts for me- sparing me from shopping for new clothes while also ensuring that my girls look really cute.

As for me... well, I love my new Crocs. My parents got me the Mammoth Clogs, which I wear as slippers. They are not all that attractive, but they are warm and comfy, and they keep my feet and legs from hurting if I spend a lot of time standing on our hard flooring. And I can run out the the garage to swap the laundry over without changing into shoes.

My sister brought us all great things from Nepal. My kids are going to look very wordly wearing their new t-shirts. And our new yak wool blanket is a perfect match for our living room. I plan to retire our less than perfectly matched afghan soon, but Pumpkin is resisting the change.

The biggest surprise was definitely NOT my gift for Hubby. I took Pumpkin shopping with me, and despite the long talk we had about it being a surprise and how we shouldn't tell Daddy what we bough, she came home and walked up to him and said "Daddy! We got you a watch!" Oh well. At least he likes it. He managed to completely surprise me, though, despite buying me the one thing I had specifically said I wanted- a Kindle. When I got laid off, he had said that he didn't think we should spend so much money on our gifts to each other this year, and I believed him. Sucker! I was completely surprised when I opened that box. So far, I'm really liking it- but I have the next two months' of book club books in the old-fashioned paper format, so I won't be giving it a really workout for awhile. I'll probably tell you all about it when I do.

My sister made the dinner this year, with some help from my Mom, and a tiny bit of potato peeling from me. It was delicious, and I loved that I didn't have to make it! I did make a pie, which tasted great even if it looked a little funny. Let's just say that next year, I need to ask for a 9 inch pie plate for Christmas. I have an 8 inch and a 10 inch, and the 10 inch was definitely too big for the chocolate custard filling I made. We topped it with mint whipped cream and crushed candy canes, which hid the vast expanses of bare crust fairly well. I was pretty proud of that idea, frankly. I wanted a chocolate pie so that Pumpkin would like it, since she's been asking about pies. But I wanted something Christmas-y, too. This worked perfectly.

The girls are out of day care for this entire week, and Hubby is back at work. My parents are staying at least through Thursday, because I have an informal lunch meeting that day with the hiring manager for one of the two jobs that are looking most promising. (I had an informal phone interview for the other one last week- so things are moving over the holidays, albeit slowly, which is nice.) Even with my parents here helping, today was exhausting. Trying to keep up with my kids all day positively wears me out. And once again, I chuckle a little (in the nicest possible way, of course) at the people who think that being a working mother is hard. As I've written before, I think the truth is that being a parent is hard, if you're doing it right. And I think that for me, being a working mom is what makes me happiest. Or at least, less exhausted.

I have to admit, though, that having me at home and the kids at day care has made things a little easier, although I'd like to point out that losing my job did not, in fact, make me suddenly like housework. I still hate it. So even if it were financially feasible to continue this set up over the long run (it is not), it would not be a good idea to do so. I think it would result in me either going insane or becoming a hopeless daytime TV addict. Or both. So let's all think good thoughts about the jobs I'm working on right now!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Why Christmas is More Fun with Kids

Merry Christmas!

I'd write more, but Petunia's woken up three times already. Hubby is grumpy because I told him that Santa only brings fully assembled toys.

But it is still a great night.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Mishmash

I have a "real" post about happiness and work and money and saving for retirement coming up soon, but I think I need to accept that it isn't going to get written today. I was too busy baking some cookies (pumpkin chocolate chip with a caramel glaze... surprisingly nice), finishing my last bits of Christmas shopping, and going to a meeting with my outplacement adviser to work on my resume (I have a lot of edits to make now).

So instead, I give you a mishmash of links and thoughts. The links are courtesy of my husband, who actually manages to be a very productive software engineer in the time he takes off from surfing the internet.

First of all, if you have somehow missed the muppet wedding proposal story, go watch the video and read the story. It will make you happy. No, really. Go watch it now. Hubby sent it to me last week, when I was having a very bad day. Stupidly, I did not watch it then. I should have- it would have made my day better!

Next, here is a story about the most awesome iPhone app I've ever seen: a Spanish-English (and vice versa) translator. It is almost enough to make me want an iPhone.

Finally, a thought about how people become part of you, even when they are no longer part of your life: It has been raining here lately, which is unusual, but given our prolonged drought, quite welcome. I've had to be out and about in the rain a bit, but luckily, it hasn't been raining hard at those times. Every time I step outside into a rain that is more like a mist, I find myself thinking "'tis a soft day, by God!" which is what my Irish ex-boyfriend (and, I suspect, a fair number of his countrymen and women) would say when greeted with similar weather.

Now, my Irish ex is ancient history. We broke up more than ten years ago now. I have well and truly moved on. But little bits of him remain, which is nice and weird at the same time. Realizing this made me stop and think about what parts of my husband have become part of me. There are the trivial: my use of the word "heaps" instead of "lots", the fact that I say "car park" instead of "parking lot" half of the time. And there are the more profound: the part of me that likes kayaking and hiking and other outdoors pursuits (I'd never really done those things before I met Hubby), the growing tendency to look at American political issues from the outside, apart from the usual partisan labels (which of course don't mean much in New Zealand).

More interestingly, what parts of me has he assimilated? I don't know. I wonder if he does?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Zenbit: Old School

This sign should set expectations appropriately. However, this motel is literally right on the boardwalk.

Location: Pacific Beach, San Diego, California, USA
Date: December 1, 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

On Intensity and Insecurity

Last night, I went to a networking event in my industry. When I wrote earlier about the effects of job insecurity on my life, I mentioned that keeping up with networking events was one of the (few!) career-related things that has suffered due to motherhood. It is just too hard to go out in the evening right now, particularly since most networking events fall right around dinner time.

I realized two things last night: how true this is and how soon it will get easier. The event started at 6 p.m. in a part of town that is a 15-20 minute drive away from our house.  The first hour of the event was set aside for informal networking. At 7 p.m., a speaker would give a presentation. I really wanted to see that presentation, but I needed to network, too. So I asked Hubby to try to get home early. If we had dinner at 5:45, I could probably leave our house by about 6:00 or 6:10 and get 30 minutes of networking in before the talk.

This worked perfectly.... but I could tell that Petunia was upset that I was leaving so soon. She is always so happy to see me at the end of the day. She holds out her arms for me to take her, and then she puts her little head down on my shoulder and gives me the sweetest hug. Eventually, she lifts her head up, gives me a big smile, and starts signing "more", which in this context means "give me my dinner now, please!" She was still eating her dinner when I got up from the table and kissed her and Pumpkin good-bye. Pumpkin waved bye-bye happily, content with my promise to be home before lights out (and I was). But Petunia looked confused. When I got home later, Hubby said that she wouldn't really take her bottle before bed, and that it had been hard to get her down for the night. She woke up earlier than usual in the middle of the night- this was probably due in part to the lingering effects of her cold. But she gave me another one of her big, sweet hugs when I went in and picked her up, instead of just starting to paw at my shirt to indicate that she wanted to nurse, which is what she usually does. I suspect she had missed me.

This particular event was worth the hassle, especially since I need to talk to as many people as I can right now as I look for my next job. But most events, I skip. It just messes with our bedtime routine too much, and that usually leads to consequences in the middle of the night. However, as I snuggled with Pumpkin before she went to sleep, I realized that it won't be long before Petunia will be able to handle my occasional absence as well as Pumpkin does. This period of time during which these "career maintenance" sorts of tasks are hard to accommodate is quite short- probably about five years, all told. I have been in the work force for more than ten years already, and I expect to be working for at least twenty-five more years. That is a long time. Five years of less than optimal career maintenance doesn't seem like a terrible thing when I look at it from the long view, even though right now, I am feeling a little bit stressed by the fact that my network could be better cared for. My stress is alleviated somewhat by the fact that despite the relative neglect to my network, I already have one very strong job lead from it, and I haven't even started working seriously on networking during this search.

All of this leads me to a new piece of advice I'd give a young woman (or man, really) starting out in her career, and wondering how best to balance a career and motherhood: invest the effort in building a good network early, before you have kids. Then you can maintain it with a minimal amount of effort during those five years or so when you have a baby at home who won't really understand why Mommy needs to go out before bedtime tonight, and still reap the benefits of being well networked. Yes, I know that older kids still need a lot of attention, and I'm aware of the people who argue that parenting gets harder as the kids get older. I am not discounting those views- I won't really know until I get there, right? But I do think that older kids can handle the substitution of one parent for another a little easier. At this age, when she still nurses before bed and is forming her strong attachment to her primary caregiver, it is hard for Petunia to accept Daddy instead of Mommy for some parts of her routine. Pumpkin, on the other hand, usually accepts it fairly well, particularly if I promise some special Mommy time later.

Kate, at One Tired Ema, has written about how her style of parenting really young children (under the age of three, I think? I can't remember her cut off age) is very intense. That is the perfect word to describe this age. Babies and toddlers need a lot of attention, and in my view, they deserve to get all of the attention you can stand to give them. I hope that the time and patience invested now, in stacking blocks on the floor, reading mind-numbingly dull books 10 times in a row (Petunia's current favorite is a bunch of pictures of babies, with one word describing their emotion underneath) and handling sleep issues gently will pay off in an older child who knows that her parents will always be there for her when she really needs them. I think I'm starting to see that in Pumpkin now. Maybe it would have turned out this way even if we'd parented differently- but any other method of parenting wouldn't have felt right to me.

So I will continue to give Petunia the intense parenting I think she deserves. My career will be OK over the long term, and over the long term is just how I think I need to look at things now that I'm a parent.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

On to Other Things

To expand on last night's quick update: Petunia had no fever at all last night or this morning, so she went to day care today. She was pretty happy while she was being strapped into her car seat. I think it really does make her sad to be left behind. She definitely now has a bit of a cough and a runny nose, which is different from the last round of fevers, which had no other symptoms at all (that we could see), so I'm feeling better about the "this is just a cold" hypothesis.

I talked to the managing director at the day care center, and they have indeed noticed that little "B" is developing into a bit of a "queen bee". But they are monitoring it, and they have a rule that the kids aren't allowed to tell another kid that  she can't join their game. "B" has gotten in trouble for that a few times- she gets sent to play on her own for awhile when they catch her. However, Pumpkin does have friends she plays with- in addition to "E", there is a little girl "K". We've had playdates with "E" (and are friends with her parents), but not "K". Her parents seem nice, too, so maybe we'll try to arrange a playdate with her. Anyway, now I have more information about what is actually going on and I can talk to Pumpkin about how to respond.

So, I can move on to other things. This is good, because I really need to work on my job talk. The job I have the strongest lead on reports in to the science organization, and therefore will have a traditional science interview. This is an all day affair. I'll talk to about 6 different people, and I'll give an approximately 45 minute talk, which will be open to everyone in the company. I haven't had to give a job talk in almost 10 years, so I need to create one! Luckily, I just gave a talk at a conference (the week after I was laid off- that was fun), so I have a starting place.

While procrastinating on the job talk, I put together a calendar using some of my favorite zenbit pictures. I was originally just going to order one for myself, but then I decided to publish it. Why not? The pictures are already public, since I've posted them here. Here it is:
It is fun to let my creative side have a little more free reign. But first, I'd better work on that job talk. I'd have to sell a lot of calendars to replace my salary!

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Quick Update Because I Know My Parents are Worrying, Too

Petunia's doctor could find nothing wrong with her, except for a slightly runny nose. So we're going with the hypothesis that this is a standard day care illness, that she just reacts to most illnesses by getting a high fever, and that it is nothing to worry about. If her fever isn't gone by Wednesday or if she gets sick again next weekend, we're probably going to go see an ear, nose, and throat specialist.

Pumpkin reported playing with her friend "E" and a little boy "A". She and "A" apparently dug in the sand with one of the littler kids, and "threw sand up in the air". That last bit is usually a big no-no at the school, so I'm guessing it was more vigorous digging than actual launching of sand into the air. But who knows. Hubby says it was a really rough drop off, though, because only "B" and another little girl were there. Pumpkin didn't want to let go of Daddy, and one of the teachers had to come hold her for awhile so he could leave. So a mixed day. No word yet from the managing director. If she doesn't answer my email tomorrow, I guess I'll just have to call. They had the Lions in today doing vision testing, so she was probably pretty swamped. (Pumpkin's vision is excellent, in case you're curious.)

Pumpkin was in a pretty good mood tonight, as was Petunia, so I'm off to bed feeling a little less worried. I'll share one last thing:

That is Santa in his sleigh, being pulled by his reindeer.


Petunia is sick again. She developed a fever on Friday night, and had a fever all weekend, except for when she was under the influence of acetaminophen and, inexplicably, for the few hours around the time I took her to the after pediatrics clinic. The doctor at after hours peds must have thought I was nuts- Petunia seemed fine and healthy there. Her fever spiked again in the afternoon, though, and went up to 103. She was pathetic and clearly miserable, and ended up going to bed at 7 p.m.

She seems to be feeling fine today. She's been happy, except when Pumpkin and Hubby drove off without her. She doesn't like being left at home when she's feeling well. She's playing with several cars that make noise right now. The girl loves a button she can push to make noise!

I probably wouldn't think anything of this illness, except she had a very similar illness last weekend. And I probably wouldn't think anything of that if she hadn't had a run of fevers earlier this year. So we're going to our regular doctor today. I don't expect to learn much, but maybe she can help me figure out when I should actually start to worry. I am, of course, worrying now.


Meanwhile Pumpkin told us this weekend that "no one" will play with her on the playground at day care. Closer questioning revealed that it is likely that the truth is that no one who is playing with the most popular girl in the class (let's call her "B") will play with Pumpkin. Her little friend "E" will always play with her, and "R" will play with her if she rides bikes,  and "M" will play with her "except if she's playing with B". Still, hearing her talk about it just about broke my heart. She's the child of two geeks- we expected to have to deal with something like this eventually. But we didn't expect it at the age of three.

Of course, she is only three, and while she's very verbal, she may not really be able to express what is happening. Or a rare occurrence may be getting amplified into something that happens all the time. I've sent an email to the center's managing director, asking for a time to call and talk about this, so that they can help us figure out what is really going on. And then we'll have to figure out how to respond.  In the meantime, I'm worrying.

Anyone want to try to convince me that Petunia doesn't have some weird, rare disease and/or that Pumpkin isn't doomed to the life of a social pariah? Or, you could just tell me a story or leave me a link to take my mind off all of this!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Zenbit: Sunset Surf

Location: Pacific Beach, San Diego, California, USA
Date:September 6, 2004

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Scenes from a Bath, the Baby Edition

Tuesday night was bath night for Petunia. She usually loves her bath (maybe the love of baths runs in the family), so I gladly volunteered to give her a bath rather than take out the trash. No brainer, right?

Well, this Tuesday, she did not want to get in her bath. She locked her little knees and screamed when I tried to put her in the tub. I don't know why, but when I took her out to let her calm down, I sat her on her sister's old potty. She was thrilled. She reached behind her and played with the lid. But mostly, she just wanted to sit on that seat and play with her shoes. I asked her if she was ready to get in her bath. She solemnly shook her head "no" and continued to play with her shoes. I waited awhile and asked her if she was ready to get off the potty. She shook her head "no", and when I reached my hands out to her, she clamped her arms by her side.

She was pretty cute sitting there, and I was curious to see what she'd do, so I sat there and watched her play with her shoes for awhile. Every once and awhile I asked her if she was ready to get in her bath, mostly because the round little "o" she sometimes makes with her mouth when shaking her head is so darn cute.

Then Hubby came in from taking the trash out, rolled his eyes at me, and took over her bath. She did scream when he put her in the tub, but not for long at all.

And then Pumpkin came and reminded him that he'd promised to build something with her, so I took over again. I asked Petunia if she was ready to get out of her bath. She solemnly shook her head "no", clamped her arms by her sides, and screamed when I lifted her out and wrapped her in her towel.

Kids are weird.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

True Mom Confessions: The DVD Edition

I was home yesterday with Petunia, who was recovering from some sort of illness. Maybe croup? It is hard to tell with her, since she doesn't get the telltale "cross between a barking seal and Darth Vader" cough. She gets a fever and a sore throat, and gets clingy and cuddly and just wants to hang out in some adult's arms and watch TV.

So that's what we did, because I was tired- she hasn't let me have a good night's sleep since last Thursday- and I hurt my foot on Saturday, possibly by serving as her human walker for one hour too many, so a long walk (another favorite of hers) was not an option.

Even when she's not sick, Petunia gets more screen time than Pumpkin did at her age. I could make a lot of excuses about not wanting to have Pumpkin associate her little sister with new restrictions on her TV viewing, but the truth is that I'm just a little more laid back about it. Hey, it is a cliche for a reason.

We don't really watch much actual TV. Pumpkin watches Dora (and so does Petunia, because she's there, too), and we occasionally watch some shows on PBS Kids- Sesame Street, Curious George, Sid the Science Kid, and the show with the weird gang of word nerds who go around fixing stories.  But mostly, we watch DVDs. Petunia's favorites are the Signing Time DVDs- both the original and the Baby Signing Time DVDs. So far, the only sign she knows is the one for "more", which she uses to mean "give me a cracker" as well as "more".

When she gets a little older, I suspect she'll be as enamored of the Noodlebug DVDs as her older sister was.

Pumpkin has moved on- she tolerates Signing Time and Noodlebug for her little sister, but when she gets to pick she chooses one of the Leap Frog DVDs (we have Letter Factory, Talking Words Factory, and Word Caper, and I swear they've taught her more about phonics than anything else has) or one of her Chinese DVDs. She is learning Chinese with a teacher, but we find the DVDs help reinforce the vocabulary, especially since we don't speak Chinese ourselves. We have most of the available Chinese DVDs at this point- I wish someone would make more that would teach some new words. Our favorites are the two Follow Jade DVDs and the The Adventures of Walker & Ping Ping DVD (we have the one with both the Great Wall and Chinese Market stories).

I used to feel a little guilty for our use of DVDs. We certainly know plenty of people who have sworn off TV altogether. But I'm over it. The DVDs and Dora help me get dinner on the table with a minimum amount of crying. They are a great non-food reward for Pumpkin. I truly believe that they have taught Pumpkin useful things- from sign language to how to sound out words to how to count to ten in Chinese. Presumably, they will teach Petunia useful things, too. And really, it would take a hard heart to deny her a snuggle and a show when she is sick. She points at the TV, and looks at you with her big, hopeful smile, then looks back at the TV, then back at you.  I should consider myself lucky that all she wants is a Signing Time DVD!

What about you? What are the favorite DVDs/shows at your house?

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Zenbit: Door in the Tree

Location: Angkor complex, Siam Reap, Cambodia
Date: March, 7 2006

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Thanksgiving Geekiness

My job search is going well. This week, I am getting a lot done and following up on leads. My plan is to have the most time-sensitive activities taken care of this week, so that I can relax a bit and start working on some of my other projects more in the coming weeks. Eventually, I'll probably settle into a schedule in which I do most of my job search work in the morning and then work on other things in the afternoon.

Last week was a different story, though. Petunia had to stay home from day care on Monday to finish recovering from her tummy bug. Hubby was sick but refusing to really take it easy at work, so pretty much a useless lump on the sofa at home. And I had a house to clean and a Thanksgiving dinner to get ready for! Also, I couldn't let Hubby touch any of the food, to minimize the risk that he might share our tummy bug with our guests.

So I did what any self-respecting project manager would do. I made a plan:

Maybe next year I'll type it up in some appropriate software and make a proper Gantt chart.