Sunday, July 31, 2011

Quotable: Stop Rehearsing

"We live each day as if it were merely a rehearsal for the next."

Muriel Barbery, translated by Alison Anderson in The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Weekend Reading: The Blame the Kids Issue

The Economist has an excellent obituary of Betty Ford this week. It was so good, that I want to go find a biography of Betty Ford so that I can learn more about her.

And it was a good thing that they had this obituary, because otherwise, I might have tossed our copy in the garbage. It also has a leader and an article discussing the European laws requiring a set percentage of company directors to be women. I am not hugely enamored with the quota method of achieving the goal of getting women in the boardroom, but I am even less enamored with these articles. They give a passing nod to other possible explanations for the lack of women at the top of companies, and then settle on the explanation that it must be that women choose to pursue different sorts of careers because of work-life balance issues.

Now, y'all know that I think companies have more to do on the work-life balance front. And I think that companies that refuse to accommodate the lives of their employees at all levels and companies in which sexism is a large, unresolved problem are probably mostly overlapping groups.

But as an excuse for the lack of women in a field, I think "work-life balance issues" sucks, because it lets all sorts of sexist behavior off the hook, and puts the persistent disparities between the numbers of men and women down to different "life choices". Nevermind that a lot of women never have children, so presumably are less encumbered by "work-life issues"- which is almost always code in these articles for "kids". Nevermind that a lot of men are taking on more of the household and childrearing work, so presumably are more encumbered by "work-life issues" than their fathers were. Nevermind that even a single man without so much as a houseplant depending on him for care might have interests and pursuits outside of work. Nevermind the demonstrable sexism that still exists in many companies, and the appalling active discrimination against mothers that has been found to occur. Nevermind all that, the reason women are underrepresented in some professions and all but absent at the top of many more is that they are choosing to do something else instead.

Even if that is the case- which I do not believe to be true- might we consider for a minute that some of the reasons for that choice might be the hostile environment women face in these professions, and not just the fact that women have babies?

For an example of the hostile environment, you can read the comments on the slashdot post that (along with TheMamaBee's twitter feed) led me to a post from the FogCreek folks about the up and down- and perhaps up again- history of women in software engineering. It is an interesting post from a good company, and worth a read. The comments on the slashdot post aren't worth a read, unless you have never seen evidence of the sort of nonsense that women in IT and software engineering have to face. However, I have to say- in real life, I haven't come across many men who will say the sorts of things that legions of slashdot readers are willing to type. Whether this is because of politeness, a fear of the wrath of human resources, or the fact that slashdot commenters are not a fair representation of the geek population, I can't say. But I have found my little corner of the IT world to be an excellent place in which to build a career, and I know a fair number of women in different IT fields who say the same thing. IT and software engineering are even great for people worried about "work-life issues", since so much of my work is thinking (which can be done while, say, rocking a baby to sleep) and most of the hands on work can be done remotely (i.e., at night after the kids are in bed, if you have to make up some hours lost to a doctor's appointment or whatnot)- facts, I'd like to point out, that my husband takes as much advantage of as I do. 

So, given that, and the increasing numbers referenced in the FogCreek article, the authors of the Economist's articles would have me believe that I just need sit back and wait 10 or 20 years, and the top rungs of software companies will be full of women. I'm skeptical. But, boy, would it be great to be wrong on that one.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Wish We Were Elsewhere

I have a friend who is planning a trip to the Cook Islands. Long time readers may remember that Hubby and I got married on Rarotonga and had part of our honeymoon on Aitutaki. The island of Aitutaki is perhaps my favorite place on earth. The island of Rarotonga is not far behind. The Cooks are beautiful islands whose people seem to be almost universally friendly and welcoming. I cannot recommend a visit strongly enough.

So, needless to say, I am extremely jealous of my friend.

It doesn't help that the Cloud household has been the Black Cloud household lately. Both girls are having sleep issues- Pumpkin is suddenly having a hard time falling asleep and Petunia is having a hard time falling asleep, staying asleep, and getting back to sleep after she wakes up.  Petunia is also even clingier than usual. She wants me, me, me. She's cluster nursing again- something she hasn't done in so long that I'd actually forgotten how annoying it is. It is not enough to be near me, she must be in my arms, preferably with her arm down my shirt. (And I thought Pumpkin's habit of wrapping her hands in my hair at this age was annoying!)

Hubby and I are short-tempered and sniping at each other over silly things. We managed to have another argument about chores, which in retrospect was even sillier than the last one.

I'd blame the heat, but I live and work in coastal San Diego. It hasn't actually been hot. It has been quite beautiful, really.

Whatever the reason for the general funk, I have found myself daydreaming about being back in Aitutaki, swimming in the warm and beautiful lagoon.

So I did what anyone who hasn't got enough time off for an international vacation and whose only free time occurs between the hours of 9:30 and whenever the baby decides to wake up for the first time would do... I dusted off the Zazzle store I set up to play with while I was laid off, and made a card that says what I'm thinking:

What? That's not what you'd do? Maybe that's because you've never been to Aitutaki. You should go. But don't tell me about it right now. I don't think I could take any more jealousy.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Looking for Lessons in All the Odd Places

I doubt any of you will be surprised to learn that soccer lessons are going well. Pumpkin is having a blast. So is Petunia- she loves playing at the playground while her big sister plays soccer. And actually, the grown ups are having fun, too. We're having beautiful weather (of course- its San Diego!) and it is nice to hang out outside for an hour or so after work, chatting with our fellow parents. After soccer is over, we head to the nearby strip mall for dinner with one of Pumpkin's classmates and her mother. We buy dinner from one of the restaurants, and sit outside by the fountain to eat. Then we drive home for bath time, and even though we're running a little late, no one seems to mind. And there are no dinner dishes.


When it was time to brush teeth tonight, Pumpkin started pouting. I asked her what was wrong.

"I'm worried about something, Mommy."

I asked her what. She said she was worried about her swim lessons when she was a big girl.

"I don't want to swim in the deep end without anyone holding me, Mommy."

I bit back a laugh, and told her that when it was time for her to do that, she'd be ready. And then I told her about a saying that applied to her- don't borrow trouble.

I think I'd do well to remember that one, too.


I'd let Pumpkin watch an episode of Yo Gabba Gabba before bed, so we only had time for two stories. She picked out one of her My Big Backyard magazines and a book called Parents in the Pigpen, Pigs in the Tub, by Amy Ehrlich.

The book is about a farm family whose animals decide to move into their house. When the chaos gets a bit too much, the family moves to the barn. And then when they all get bored, they move back- the animals go back to the barn, and the people go back to the house.

I think there is a lesson for me there, too. Sometimes, you just have to roll with what life hands you, and trust that it will all work out in the end. I have a saying for that, too:

Everything always works out well in the end. If things aren't going well, its not the end yet.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Weekend Reading: The Mothers Have Always Worked Edition

I've been thinking about work a lot lately, specifically the fact that I have a pretty cushy job. And this even started before a man working on clearing a fire break behind my office was attacked by a hive of bees. (He's OK, but seeing that sort of thing certainly puts the occupational hazards of my job in perspective.)

It all started when my book club read Willa Cather's My Antonia, followed by Half Broke Horses, by Jeannette Walls. In neither book is the back-breaking, never-ending nature of the labor of the female protagonists the main point, but it is an ever-constant companion to them, even after- or really, especially after- they have kids.

This ties into my thoughts about working mothers: i.e., that it is nothing new. Mothers have always worked at something other than mothering, and for most of history, women's work has been hard labor. As I like to say: have you ever read the instructions for making soap? Or churning butter? It doesn't sound like a lot of fun to me. I'm glad I live in a time in which I can go do something easier and (to me) more intellectually rewarding, get paid, and use that money to buy soap, and butter. And a dishwasher and washing machine. And- I know this bit is slightly more controversial- pay a cleaning service to do some of the cleaning chores.

Given my thoughts on this subject, it was interesting coming across a post about why, when a couple decides to go live "off the grid", it is usually the woman who calls it quits first. I found the post via Historiann's interesting post on the topic. The premise of both posts is that the women quit first not because they are wimpier, but because their role in the enterprise sucks more, because people tend to fall back into old gender roles, and women's work before electricity and modern appliances was never-ending, often invisible, and certainly hard. (Whereas men's work was at least visible, and involves discrete projects that actually end.)  Some of the commenters on Historiann's post point out the parallels to the KPBS reality shows where they'd drop modern people into a homestead or a colonial house, or something, and assign them historically accurate roles. Apparently it was the women who first came to the conclusion that the experiment was no fun whatsoever.

I wish more people would remember this. My work life isn't perfect- but it is a lot better than washing cloth diapers by hand, scrubbing floors on my hands and knees with soap I had to make myself, or even cooking over a wood-fired stove. I have it pretty good, and frankly, even people with a lot less money than I do probably have it better than a homesteader. And yet we keep romanticizing the past, as if there was more time for parenting then and life was somehow better. It doesn't seem either of those things are true to me, but I'm no historian, so maybe I'm wrong. But from what I read, it seems like childhood is better now- day care included!- and life is easier now, particularly for women.

Perhaps we romanticize the past in this way because "women's work"- i.e., housework and the like- is traditionally invisible and not counted as actual work.  Awhile back, Blue milk had a great guest post at PhD in Parenting on how society fails to value work inside the home, and how that impacts the rest of society.

Of course, none of this takes away the fact that it is hard to manage the competing needs of family and work, particularly since, as we discussed yesterday, finding work-life balance is still not a given. But it can be done (obviously, since so many of us are doing it). I came across a short post about how to actually do it. It didn't have anything new, really, and I think she is a bit unfair to women who choose to stay at home with their kids. Many of them find it rewarding, and if they do, then the rest of us have no business judging their lives. But the post makes some good points succinctly, and is worth a read.

And now, I suppose, it is time to start our weekend chores around here. Using our modern appliances, of course!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

My Work-Life Balance for Everyone Manifesto (Another Rant Posted Elsewhere)

Since it worked so well last time I posted a rant that I had written as a comment elsewhere, I thought I'd do it again. This time, the rant was in response to a comment on a post about how society is not set up for working moms, on Ginger's Its Hard Being Perfect blog, which I found via RambleGinger's twitter feed (a different Ginger, by the way). The commenter, Nikki (who was quite polite, and I'm sure is a lovely person), brought up the old criticism that any accommodation/flexibility companies grant to working parents is unfair to their child-free employees.
Here is what I said:
Nikki, I want to amplify on Ginger’s response about your friend who is pulling most of the afterschool duty. My perspective on this is two-fold: I am a working parent who has to manage the balance between work and home, and I am a manager who manages employees, some of whom are parents. I work in IT, so there are times when work has to be done during non-work hours.

I try to accommodate everyone’s schedule, and I expect my boss to do the same for me. We’re all professionals, and we can usually find a solution that gets the work done and works for everyone.

BTW, the scheduling issues I accommodate include the fact that I have one contractor who is an Orthodox Jew and therefore absolutely cannot work after sundown on Fridays. I mention this as an example of scheduling constraints that have nothing to do with kids.

BUT- I expect my employees to speak up for themselves. I try not to let anyone be a martyr, but in your friend’s situation- does her boss even know that she is unhappy with the situation? It is not exactly analagous, but I have some people who prefer to work odd hours.

I think a lot of the angst single people feel when they look at parents leaving “early” or what not is actually self-inflicted. No one handed me a “get out of work early” card when I had a baby. It is just that I now have other commitments that are important enough to make me speak up and say “no, I cannot stay for that 6 p.m. meeting. Sorry.”

It is not the parents’ fault that the child-free folks don’t feel as strongly about their spin class or whatever.

Now, if a boss is faced with two employees who both say they don’t want to accommodate an after hours meeting- and doesn’t find a way to rotate that duty or something, but instead always gives the parent the free pass? That is unfair. But I don’t think that is what is happening most of the time.


I thought about this some more during my weekly run by the bay today (look at that! Work-life balance in action!).  I'm actually hugely sympathetic to the desires of people without kids to have work-life balance, too. I had a supervisor once who would tell the married men to go home on time during crunch times, because "their wives will yell at them" and my god, did that make me (at the time, a single woman) angry. I eventually stopped staying late, too- I just said I couldn't stay. And you know what? Nothing bad ever happened from that. But it was a horrible thing for that supervisor to do.

Perhaps because of that experience, or perhaps because I am a sane person with a modicum of empathy, I try to accommodate everyone's scheduling needs. In addition to the Orthodox Jew I mentioned in the original comment, I have also accommodated in recent memory: a developer who takes time off every year to go to Comic-Con (this is non-negotiable with him, regardless of project timelines), a colleague whose cat had to have emergency surgery, leaving me to prepare slides for an important presentation with almost no notice, and more opening nights of big movies than I care to count (what can I say? I work with geeks.)

The one thing that is harder with parents is unpredictability: as a parent, I can't predict when my kid is going to get sick and have to go home from day care. I also cant' respond as nimbly to last minute work requests. To this I say: that's life. Everyone should just deal with it. And by everyone I mean that both family and work have to deal with some surprises. My husband and I take turns leaving work unexpectedly when day care calls, and that way neither of us is always disappearing without warning. But on the other hand, if a really important last minute meeting comes up at work, I will try to work something out with my husband to make it possible for me to attend. I will not, however, tolerate this sort of thing becoming a standard practice. If someone starts having weekly emergency meetings, I stop making as much effort to attend. I've never had this come back to bite me, either- mostly, people are happy that the parents on the team are pushing back on that, because no one really wants to stay until 6 p.m. for an emergency meeting once a week.
Anyway, I think I can boil down my opinion on this topic to the following bullet points:
  • If you are a child-free person who feels like your schedule needs are not being accommodated at work: speak up. Force the issue. As I said in my original comment, no one just grants these accommodations to parents. We take them because we think our committments to our children are more important than acquiescing to a scheduling need at work. 
  • If you are a parent who does not respect the scheduling needs of your child-free peers: cut it out. Your child-free colleague's need to come in late one day so that she can go to early morning yoga is just as valid as your need to leave early so that you can pick up your kids from day care.
  • If you are a parent who is always the one who has to leave work for the kids: talk to your partner and work out a more equitable split. (I know, I know... sometimes this isn't possible. But usually, it is. My manifesto doesn't cover the edge cases.)
  • Everyone: work together to resolve scheduling conflicts. We're all adults. We all presumably care about our jobs. We can work things out.
  • If you are a boss who is giving priority to the needs of the parents over the needs of non-parents: cut it out. That's not fair. If there is an off hours work need that no one wants to cover, set up a rotation or something. Don't just decide that Molly has to do it every time because she has no kids. 
  • If you are a boss or project manager in charge of organizing things: actually organize things, so that there aren't a bunch of last minute emergencies. It is amazing how many emergencies are really just poor planning allowed to run on unchecked. 
  • If you are someone who has power to set company policy: make sure your employees can work from home. We'll use that flexibility to make sure our work gets done.
I think that about covers it. What would you add or subtract?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Rant from the Deep Archives

I came across an old notebook recently. It was a small leather bound notebook, which I used to carry around in my work bag, during an earlier bout with my persistent "I should be a writer" daydream. I bought it to record ideas and observations. I never did anything with what I wrote... until now.

I was amused to come across an account of a conversation I had with a particularly annoying coworker. He was sure that my opinions on the topic would change once I had kids. In fact, they have not.  Here is what I wrote in my notebook, dated September 19, 2005 (so I was married, only recently promoted into management, and had no kids yet):


I've been thinking a lot in the last few days about taking responsibility for our choices. A coworker's argument that scientists can't make a decent living started me thinking about this. I was startled when he made this argument- I think I make an excellent living. I don't think his argument is based on faulty numbers, because he referred derisively to a salary of $125k, which is more than I make. Rather, I think the problem comes from expectations that are perhaps unrealistic. The coworker has four children, ranging from teenager to toddler. He lives near the Connecticut coast- perhaps one of the most expensive real estate markets in the country. He wants a house large enough for the kids to have rooms of their own and to have a backyard. He wants to live in a good school district. From his comments, I think he wants to do all of this on a single income. All of these are perfectly understandable and perhaps even admirable goals- but the combination is not realistic. He seemed to feel he had some sort of right to have all of these things, and of course, all of these things are hard to have on the "buck and a quarter" salary he correctly assumed mid-level scientist/managers make.

He argued that their was a problem attracting young people to be scientists and engineers because of this perceived mismatch. Perhaps, but I can't agree with his assumption that any professional career must be able to provide the extremely upper middle class lifestyle he wants. We all make choices and all decisions are tradeoffs. He has traded job satisfaction for all of those other things he wants, but it wasn't his only choice. No one forced him to have four children (and I couldn't help but wonder to myself what he says about poor families with four children). There is no requirement that he remain in coastal Connecticut. I know from personal experience and from that of many of my friends that a slightly worse school district will not destroy his kids' chance at happiness. And the list of options could go on and on.

We make choices. It would be nice if the tradeoffs were always easy, but that is not realistic. I am probably being unfair to my coworker, but I couldn't help but think- he needs to grow up. I hope that I will remember the fact that I will need to make similar choices when I have kids. In fact, I hope I can teach them about the need to accept that we can't always have everything we want, and that we need to analyze the tradeoffs, make our choices, and accept the results. The best way to teach this is by example.


As I said, I still agree with what I wrote back in 2005. I might be a little more sympathetic to my coworker now, though. I think that he ended up with four kids because the third pregnancy was twins, and those twins were toddlers at the time of the conversation. One toddler can drive me to the brink of insanity- or at least to whininess- so I imagine two could push a person even further. But I stand by my central point, that we make choices, choices have consequences, and living with those consequences is part of being a grown up.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Much Delayed Post about "Eating for Beginners"

I have had Eating for Beginners: An Education in the Pleasures of Food from Chefs, Farmers, and One Picky Kid, by Melanie Rehak, sitting on my desk for months now. A friend of mine recommended it to me when I was in my food book phase. Then she recommended it again when I was laughing at one of Pumpkin's (many) picky eating episodes. Finally, she just brought it to me and lent it to me. And I read it, and enjoyed it.

It is the story of a woman who responds to the potentially overwhelming food-related concerns that have taken root amongst the upper middle class- Should I prioritize local or organic? Is it OK to eat meat if it is ethically raised? What does that even mean? Etc., etc.- by taking a hands on approach to learning more about where her food comes from. She goes and works in the kitchen of a "local food" restaurant, and also works for a day on several farms that supply that restaurant. Along the way, she deals with her angst as a food-loving grown up who has given birth to a picky eating toddler.

Spoiler alert: by the end of the book, her kid isn't such a picky eater. Of course- because no one ever writes about the picky eating kid who stays that way. Given Pumpkin's genetic inheritance, I suspect that will be the narrative in our house. Maybe I should write a book about it....

Also not surprisingly, by the end of the book, Rehak no longer feels overwhelmed by her food choices, and has settled into a preference for local food, organic if possible, where she feels she can trust the food producers' methods and intentions. Because, again, no one ever writes a book where they set out to figure out the confusing mess of choices that confront us when we go to find something to eat, and then comes away from all of the research still confused and unsure about the "right" thing to eat.

Hmm, I think I could write that book, too.

I suspect that it sounds like I didn't like the book, which isn't true at all. I really enjoyed reading the book. I liked following Rehak's transformation into a knowing local foodie. But the book suffers a bit from the same problem I had with the (far preachier) Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life , by Barbara Kingsolver: the solution that she seems to be proposing isn't really generalizable. Rehak's "meet the farmers" approach works really well for people with the flexibility to go spend time finding and visiting local farms. I can't take her approach and fit it into my life. So, while I enjoyed watching her progress as she became more sure of her food choices, the book ultimately didn't help me with the food choices and problems I face.

But perhaps it is unfair of me to criticize the book for that- it never promised to tell me what I should eat, only to give me an example of one woman who solved the problem for herself. It is not her fault that my neighborhood in San Diego lacks a farmer's market, and that we haven't figured out how to make a car trip to a farmer's market a regular part of our weekend plans. My own food solution will have to take place in the supermarket aisles, and accommodate a picky eater who is unlikely to reform. Anyone know a good book for that?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Quotable: Advice for the Working Woman

"This is what I tell young women who ask me for career advice. People are going to try to trick you. To make you feel that you are in competition with one another.... Don't be fooled. You're not in competition with other women. You're in competition with everyone."

Tina Fey, in Bossypants.

I've been wanting to read Bossypants for a long time. I finally did. It isn't great literature, but it is definitely funny.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Weekend Reading: The Computer Edition

This week, I have a bunch of links related to computers for you. But wait! They're interesting, I promise!

First up, an interesting Wall Street Journal blog post about one researcher's theory about why some technologies (like the internet) cause moral panic amongst some segments of the population, while other technologies (like fountain pens), do not. She also points out that this panic is usually framed in terms of the impact of the technology on women and children.

Speaking of women and technology, here is a depressing story about an open source software package with an inappropriate name. The worst part of the story, in my opinion, is that one of the lead developers on this project was a woman who is not a native English speaker, and one of the male developers basically lied and told her that this was a good name. She is apparently fairly distressed by these events, and has decided to stop contributing to open source projects. Score one for the sexist pigs, I guess. Comments around the geek blogosphere are predictably up in arms over potential "censorship" and the "free speech rights" of the male developers. That is all poppycock, in my opinion, but I know better than to wade in and try to argue the point. However, I can say here, on my own blog, that this sort of nonsense contributes to the perception that the software/IT world is a male culture- and one that is stuck in the freshman year of college, to boot. This perception, of course, tends to make some women decide that they'll look elsewhere for careers.

This story about vacations in IT made me chuckle, particularly since I stumbled across it the day after I posted something that included a whine about my lack of vacation time. I actually agree with the argument that having people in IT/informatics take vacations is a good risk management practice. It certainly exposes the areas in which you are heavily dependent on one person.

Finally, Marion Nestle had a post about Google's food program. It is interesting to read about how Google tries to make its free food program healthy. I don't know if I'd like to work someplace with unlimited free (good food), because the cost of food is actually a useful reminder not to overeat.  As I discovered when I rather effortlessly lost some weight after being laid off from my last job- free candy is awfully easy to overindulge in.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Another One Bites the Dust

Like most people, I had a lot of ideas about how I'd parent before I had kids. And like most people, most of my ideas turned out to be wrong.

The latest idea to fall is the idea that I wouldn't sign my kids up for a lot of classes and activities. We started out well- Pumpkin hadn't been to so much as a Mommy and Me music class before she turned three. But then we decided we wanted Pumpkin to learn a foreign language, and the earlier you start that, the better, so she's taking Chinese lessons. And of course, you have to do swim lessons.  (And to be fair, they have been a huge help with getting Pumpkin comfortable in the water- and given where we live, I consider swimming to be a necessary life skill.)

Still, when one of the other parents at day care sent out an email about soccer lessons one day a week after day care, I thought "no way- we don't have time."

But, since I am a true co-parent, I forwarded the email to Hubby. Turns out, he's quite keen on the idea. He's worried- I kid you not- about her "ball skills". I pointed out that she's four. He pointed out that her baby sister is actually better at throwing and kicking than she is. I had to concede that point, but I think Petunia may just be unusually good in that regard. The kid can throw one handed and catch reliably already, and she is not yet two.

Regardless, Pumpkin is now signed up for seven weeks of soccer class. We've sort of figured out how to make that fit in our schedule. And I've resigned myself to the fact that we're going to be parents like all the other parents- swearing that we don't want to overschedule our kids while we somehow find their schedule filling up.

In other news, I have finally found a dinner that everyone in the family likes- gnocchi. The only problem is that it requires three different toppings: pesto for me and Hubby, cheese and nothing else for Pumpkin, and red sauce for Petunia. It is a good thing that I gave up on the idea that my kids wouldn't be picky eaters a long time ago.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Daydream Non-Believer

Anytime I get disillusioned with my job and daydream about what my "ideal" work life would look like, the picture I see in my head is of me as a writer. I see me spending my time researching cool and interesting topics, weaving together perspectives from multiple different disciplines, and then turning that research into beautifully crafted prose that my adoring fans would pay lots of money to read.

I suspect you can already spot the problem with this daydream: it is utterly unrealistic. I know that being a writer would be a lot harder than the daydream implies. I know that there would be parts of the writer's job that I would be good at (self-motivating, for instance) and parts that I would find quite challenging (having to call people as part of my research, for instance). I know that garnering adoring fans would be no sure thing- and believe me, I harbor no illusions about how easily I would produce beautifully crafted prose. I've been writing this blog for long enough to know that I rarely, if ever, hit that mark.

And yet... the work of a writer, at least of the type of writer I daydream about being, is actually consistent with what I like in a job: as I figured out during my life reorg, I am drawn to the chance to organize information. I do that now, figuring out how to corral the mess of information produced in drug discovery into databases and SharePoint sites and the like. And a good non-fiction writer organizes information, too, but with the added aspect that she needs to then explain that information (and the organizational scheme) to her readers. In that aforementioned beautifully crafted prose.

However, I think that what keeps drawing my daydreaming mind to the idea is that the lifestyle appeals to me. I like the idea of being able to arrange my work week however it suited me, and I like the idea of being judged by my output, and not the hours it took me to produce it. The most appealing aspect of the job may actually be the idea that being efficient could be rewarded in a way that it is not in corporate jobs. In my current line of work, efficiency is generally rewarded with more work. In my writing daydream, it is rewarded with the opportunity to work a little less. Perhaps this is an overly idealistic view of what writing would be like. OK, this is almost certainly an overly idealistic view of what writing would be like. I suspect that I would actually need to fight the urge to work longer hours, to make more money.

But maybe not. The one time I had the opportunity to choose a little more time over more money, I chose the time: I cut my hours to 35 per week for about a year after Pumpkin was born. I felt productive at work in 35 hours- as I alluded to in my post on my work limit, if I try to work too few hours, I don't feel productive. I spend all my work time getting my head back into the work, and not much time actually getting anything done. So I don't want a true part time job. I would just like to redefine full time a bit.

When I think it through, it is not even that I really to work fewer hours on a week by week basis. I don't want to work less. I just want to work different. I want more time to travel. Since both my husband and I have "paid time off" (PTO)  instead of vacation time and sick leave, a lot of our time off goes to caring for sick kids (or being sick ourselves with whatever illness the kids have passed on to us). We struggle to take real vacations. When was the last time we both two solid weeks off of work? I'm trying to remember, and I think it was right after Petunia was born- which hardly counts. I think the last time we came close to an actual two week vacation was our trip to Oregon, while I was pregnant with Petunia. And if I remember correctly, the I was only able to take that much time off at that point because I was allowed to take a couple of the days off without pay.

Even once my kids stop sucking all of my PTO into sick days, I suspect it will be hard to take the three week long vacations that Hubby and I took back when we were first together. People are shocked (and a bit horrified) when I say that I used to take a three week vacation every year- without a Blackberry. I don't know if this is a sign of my increased seniority (and responsibilities) or the fact that after years and years of downsizing and productivity increases, corporate America isn't really set up to have people disappear for three weeks. There is very little slack left for anyone to cover anyone else's work for more than a few days.  Of course, it can be done. I managed to take a three month maternity leave after the birth of each child. I worked extra hard before and after each leave, organizing things for my upcoming absence and then picking up threads that had gone loose while I was out. I'd be more than willing to do that again in exchange for a proper three week holiday. But everyone seems to think that our work is too important to put on hold for anything as trivial as a vacation.

I know that this is nonsense, but I work in a culture that has bought into the nonsense. I fight it to the extent that I can. I do still take vacations, and I limit the encroachment of work into those vacations. (I work in IT, so even I accept that some situations are better handled from vacation than allowed to fester until I return.) And I daydream about finding a way to define my own work culture. The only way I'm going to get to do that is to be the boss- and I'm not really in the line of work that leads to being the boss in biotech. I have zero interest in the business development side of drug discovery. Perhaps I might someday find myself as the chief operating officer of a small biotech, but I'm pretty sure I'll never be the CEO. I've toyed with the idea of striking out as an independent consultant/contractor in my field, and I may yet do that (I have more thoughts on this coming in a future post on what sort of retirement I may get). In the meantime, I daydream about throwing it all in, and writing.

Why don't I act on my daydream? Well, for one thing, I suspect I'd miss drug discovery. For all its ups and downs and craziness, it is a pretty cool thing to be doing. I've also gotten a bit attached to my paycheck, and we've set up a life that depends on me earning a fair amount of money. All of that could change, but I'm not sure that I want it to. When I layer the hard truths of reality onto my soft-focus daydream, it doesn't look so great anymore.  So I'll probably stay in my current field. But maybe, someday, when the kids are out of day care and our mortgage is a little smaller, I might decide to make some changes, and maybe, just maybe, I'll try out that daydream and see what its like.


What about you? What do you daydream about doing instead of your current job? Or are you doing the one and only thing that could ever make you happy?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Zenbit: Hong Kong Lights

Hong Kong is one of those places that you really haven't seen until you've seen it at night.

Location: Hong Kong, China
Date: April 4, 2006

Friday, July 08, 2011

Weekend Reading: The Smorgasbord Edition

Petunia's cuteness coupled with frustration inducement continues... she is feeling better, so tonight we all went for a walk after dinner. She insisted on bringing her Magna-doodle with her. And she used it. Every now and then, she would stop and scribble on it. Very cute, but that coupled with an intense interest in the rocks in one of the front yards we passed, made us get home long after Pumpkin and Hubby did.

Anyway, I have a veritable smorgasbord of links for you this week... as in there is no unifying theme whatsoever.

I came across this post in praise of "small art" via Cyd Harrell's twitter feed. She tweets a haiku pretty much every day- which is reason enough to follow her, in my opinion. She tweeted this link with a comment about the sentiments applying to her haikus. I wonder if it also applies to dilettantish blog posts?

Awhile back, One Tired Ema linked to the excellent Gravity Circus blog, written by an OB/Gyn, and I've been hooked ever since. It is a fascinating look at pregnancy and delivery from the doctor's side. She had a post this week about the importance of just getting things done as a doctor. I think her conclusion that 50% of success is just getting things done applies equally well to a lot of other jobs, too.

The MamaBee's twitter feed led me to a post about one of the unexpected benefits of being a working mom. It isn't a particularly deep post, but it does make a point that is worth remembering- there are some aspects of parenting that may actually be easier as a working parent.

My friend Jennywennycakes' twitter feed led me to a more depressing article about motherhood. The article made me so sad for the writer, mostly because none of the things that she feels she missed out on because of motherhood seem incompatible with motherhood to me. It reads more like an indictment of rigid class structures and/or poor advising that led the author to think that her only path after finishing secondary school was to get married and have kids. (But, having said that, I also readily admit that I gave something up when I chose to have kids- it is a trade off I was happy to make, but I do still miss some of the freedom and spontaneity of my pre-kids life, and that feeling- which I suspect is common amongst parents- doesn't get discussed openly all that often. So I can understand a bit of where she is coming from.)

And finally, a couple of more light-hearted things from Australia. First, blue milk has found some funny baby beanies on Etsy. I am generally not so "in your face" about breastfeeding in public, but perhaps that is because no one has ever given me a single bit of grief about it. Ah, the joys of living in Southern California, where women on the beach routinely expose more flesh than I do when I nurse my baby.

And my husband had been finding funny things on the internet again. This is an oldie but goodie (although I do find the fact that they had to give the entire history in the intro a bit depressing):

Thursday, July 07, 2011

(It Is a Good Thing) She's So Cute

Petunia may be at the peak of toddler cuteness. And- perhaps not coincidentally- she is also at or near the peak of the "its a good thing she's so cute" phase.

After two glorious nights in which she slept through the night in her own crib, we had two really bad nights. It wasn't her fault. She had a high fever and was clearly uncomfortable. But at about 1:45 a.m. on Tuesday night, having yet to get any real sleep because she was continually plucking at my shirt (even though she seemed to be asleep), I stormed out to the sofa, thinking I'd get some sleep out there. I did, but I woke up in the morning with a seriously tweaked back.

It remains seriously tweaked. Last night, I did some yoga with Pumpkin, which helped. (When I say "I did yoga with Pumpkin" what I mean is "I did yoga while Pumpkin played with my blocks and strap and talked to me, pausing every once in a while to demonstrate how much better she is at downward dog than I am.") So I thought I'd try some yoga stretches tonight. Well, as hard as it is to do yoga with Pumpkin around, doing yoga with Petunia around is about 500x harder. She thought I wanted to play and came and blew raspberries on my stomach while I was doing a reclined twist. She climbed on my back when I was doing child's pose. So I gave up. I'll try again once I'm sure Pumpkin is down for the night.

And then Petunia was difficult to get down tonight. She's clearly feeling better. She gave me one of her characteristic pout/frowns when I turned off the light after reading her stories, then laid her head on her hand, pointed at the door, and said "beh"- she wanted to go down in our bed. Fine, I thought. She's still getting over being sick. Whatever. But when I settled in next to her in bed, she just started kicking me, and giggling. So back into her room we went. In the end, Hubby had to take over because it was time for me to finish off Pumpkin's bedtime routine.

So, yeah. It is a good thing Petunia is so cute.

And she is cute. She is remarkably good at playing catch. She can throw (one armed!) and catch the little soft soccer ball we use. She is delighted with each throw and attempted catch, whether or not they are successful.

She is also remarkably opinionated about what she wears on her head and her feet. Clearly, she knows that shoes make the outfit, and if we try to put the wrong shoes on her, she protests and tries to hide her feet until we take her in and let her pick the right ones- whatever they are that day. She also insists on picking her own hat for the day. My mom sews us the cutest hats, so we have a plethora for her to choose from. She is always certain about which one she wants, and no other one will do. I cannot for the life of me figure out her system for choosing, but I think she looks cute in whatever she chooses.

On her way to more mischief, well accessorized.

Total aside: isn't it interesting how you can make any phrase look like an 80s song title by inserting some parentheses?

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Dinner during Dora: Carrot-Parmesan Risotto

It has been a long, long time since I posted a Dinner during Dora post. I've got several recipes cued up- some even with some pictures taken- but I just haven't found time to write the posts. In the meantime, I think I've picked up some new readers, so if you don't know what a Dinner during Dora post is, you can check out the rationale in the first one. But briefly, the idea is that these are recipes that I can make in the limited time I have between getting home from work and dinner time, i.e., about the length of an episode of Dora.

Tonight's recipe is a risotto. I'm a sucker for a good risotto. OK, I'm a sucker for even a halfway decent risotto. Let's just say that Pumpkin comes by her carb-loving ways naturally. I haven't been making risottos that much these days, because none of my favorite risotto recipes can be completed in anything close to the time I have allotted for weeknight dinner preparation. (You may wonder why I don't make them on the weekends, when there is more time for dinner prep- the answer is that weekend dinners are usually Hubby's problem.)

But then, I learned that you can make a risotto in the microwave. I won't lie- I've yet to produce a risotto that is as good as one made the old-fashioned way. But I've reliably produced some more than halfway decent risottos, and referring back to one of my favorite quotes of all time, I'm not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

This recipe is for my favorite microwave risotto (so far- I'm sure I'll try converting some more recipes). It only works in the Dora time slot if you pre-grate the carrots- I usually do them the night before and leave them in the fridge in a tupperware container. If I know I'll be home a little early, I don't bother- then the meal takes about 30 minutes total to assemble and cook.

Carrot-Parmesan Risotto


26 oz. chicken stock (I use stock, not broth, in this recipe- I think it makes a richer flavor)
2 tbs butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
6 medium carrots, grated (I use the fine grater)
1 1/4 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup white cooking wine
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (or Asiago- that gives the risotto more flavor. I use a mix, if I have both on hand)
salt and pepper to taste


1. Combine butter, onion, and carrots in a 2.5 quart microwave-safe dish. (I've used smaller and had it be OK, but I tend to make a mess when I try to stir, so I prefer the bigger dish.) Microwave on high for ~2 minutes, stir, and then microwave for another 2 minutes. (Obviously, you may need to tweak these cooking times for your microwave.)

2. Add rice, stir to coat, and microwave for 3 minutes.

3. Add broth and wine. Stir and microwave for 9 minutes. Then stir again and microwave for 6 minutes.

4. Remove from the microwave. It will still be quite watery:

5.  Let stand 5-9 minutes, stirring frequently, until liquid is largely absorbed. I am never patient enough at this step, and end up with risotto that is a bit on the runny side. It is usually perfect by the time I'm packing up leftovers....

6. Stir in the cheese and salt and pepper.

Here's the final product:

I often serve this with my picky eater's green beans, which makes an all-microwave meal. I can microwave the green beans while the risotto is resting. The all-microwave aspect of the meal leads to one of my favorite things about it: the all-dishwasher clean up:

Source: I modified this from a recipe I found online, at Martha Stewart's site, of all places. Petunia had shown an interest in rice, so I was looking for new recipes to try on her.

Who Eats It: Hubby, me and Petunia. Petunia really likes it. Pumpkin does not share her interest in rice (she prefers pasta), and is deeply suspicious of the carrots.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

You're Up One Day, The Next You're Down

So, Petunia's sick again.

It is her "usual"- a high fever, with no other symptoms, really. Hubby took her to the doctor today, who confirmed that there were no obvious symptoms other than the fever, but took a throat culture just in case. We're out of specialists to talk to, and are settling in to figuring out how to deal with the consensus medical opinion: that she's a basically happy, healthy little kid who happens to get a lot of fevers.

We worry and we debate about what to do, but I am also trying to remember that this consensus medical opinion isn't such a bad one to get. As much as I hate to see Petunia sick with these fevers- she gets so clingy and sad until the acetaminophen kicks in and brings the fever down- she is still managing to have a lot of fun. Tonight, after dinner, she wanted to go for a walk ("wok! wok!") so I took her out front, thinking we'd head out on foot, as is her preference these days. She managed to signal that she preferred a stroller walk, so I got her stroller out and got her in. Pumpkin came out to ride her bike, too. We had a friend over, and she wanted to show him how well she rides her bike now. We all took off down the sidewalk. Before too long, Petunia demanded that she be let out of the stroller, and she and I continued on and a slower pace, stopping to smell the flowers.

I mean literally stopping to smell the flowers. When Petunia sees a flower, she says flower ("wower"), does the sign for flower (pinched fingers by the nose, as if you're sniffing a flower), and then leans in and loudly sniffs the flower. I think the last bit is her own innovation, and it is adorable.

Petunia had a good run between illnesses this time. Even the final weekend was pretty good. She slept through the night in her own crib twice, which is unheard of, and, in retrospect was probably a sign that she was getting sick, since she does seem to sleep particularly well the night before her fever arrives. But ignorance is bliss, right? We were just happy to wake up two mornings in a row and realize that no one had woken us up in the middle of the night.

We went to the park a couple times, visited the Birch Aquarium, and managed to have a pretty good lunch out on Monday.  And, of course, we saw some fireworks. We watch them from a church parking lot in our neighborhood that has a good view of Sea World's show. We caught part of the show at the big bay and off Ocean Beach from the top of the slope in our backyard, but Pumpkin really wanted to go down and see the Sea World show with "everyone else" (not even close, kid- everyone else was down at the bay, which we had no interest in fighting our way in and out of that mess), so we went. Both kids enjoyed the show.

We also had a 45 minute tantrum from Pumpkin, sparked by my request that she help me clean up the crumbs she'd blow all over the table. And the second trip to the park ended in tears because Pumpkin, who is trying very hard to learn how to climb up and over some monkey bars at the park, slipped and fell, coming down straddling a bar. Serious ouch, which also caused some serious drama the next time she needed to go potty. She tried to be brave, but she ended up crying, saying that she wished there was a fairy who could come and wave her magic wand and make the boo-boo go away. Me, too, kid. And while she's at it, she could clean up some of the tail ends of my big project at work. That would be really nice. In general, there seems to be a real shortage of fairies with magic wands in our lives.

Pumpkin was all better today- although we weren't sure of that when she went to day care, so I had to have a rather awkward conversation with her teacher about the potential potty drama- and the memory of the tantrum has faded. So I look back on the weekend and remember the good things. Petunia finally figuring out how to get up to the toddler slide on her own at the park, and the proceeding to go down that slide roughly 500 times in a row, while I sat and watched and occasionally cheered for her. Pumpkin skipping home from our first (boo-boo free) outing to the park, with her braided pigtails swinging behind her, and me struck by the memory of trying (unsuccessfully) to teach her to skip about a year and a half ago. She's got it now. I asked her how she learned, and she said she just saw some of the bigger kids at day care doing it, and asked them what they were doing. They said skipping, and she watched them and figured out how to do it.

That's right. Just figure out how to do it. That's a good lesson for me, as I wonder how we're going to deal with our sweet, happy, basically healthy toddler who happens to frequently run fevers. We'll just figure out how to do it. And maybe I should listen to some more John Prine.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Quotable: Lost Landscape

"As I looked about me I felt the grass was the country, as the water is the sea. The red of the grass made all the great prairie the color of winestains, or of certain seaweeds when they are first washed up. And there was so much motion in it; the whole country seemed, somehow, to be running."

- Willa Cather, in My Antonia

We read this book for book club recently. I can't believe I had not read it before. It is wonderful. She evokes the daily life of the women on the prairie as well as she evokes the landscape. If you haven't read it yet, you should. If you only read it in high school because you had to- maybe you should reread it. It is free for the Kindle!

Saturday, July 02, 2011

On Monetization... and Switching Teams

I think I've mentioned before that I've been playing around with various ideas to "monetize" this blog. (And can I just pause right now and say that I hate that word? But it is indeed the right word to use.) I don't have the sort of readership statistics that would lead me to delusions of getting rich from this blog, but I have been curious to see if it could make me enough money to stop my husband from rolling his eyes at me when I sit down to blog rather than, say, file the stack of papers that is threatening to consume my desk. (Short answer: no, it can't. But hey, they're his eyes. He can roll them all he wants.)

Anyway, I've experimented with a range of things: Google Ads, setting up a Zazzle Store, making it possible to subscribe to my blog on the Kindle, and Amazon Associate links. I have some other ideas, too, but those require more time/effort than I want to commit right now. Of the things I've tried so far, the Amazon Associate links were by far the most profitable- which isn't saying much, trust me. And to be fair, I haven't invested much effort in any of the other things I've tried. Still, I liked the program.

But then, earlier this week Amazon booted me out of the program because my state has enacted some bill that they feel means that having California-based associates will expose them to sales tax requirements. Well, boo on them. I actually think we should be paying sales tax on our online purchases, and that the big online stores should get over themselves and set it up so that we do it at the point of sale. I've heard their technological arguments, and frankly, I don't buy them.

But my opinion doesn't really count in this particular argument, so I'll just wave good-bye to Amazon's associate program, and say hello to the Powell's Books partner program.

 Visit Scenic

It seems that Powell's doesn't care if I live in California, so I've signed myself up. (Or maybe they do care, and will boot me out shortly- we'll see.) I will slowly go back through my archives and change the links on the more "profitable" book referral pages, and all new links going forward will be to Powell's. Or you could just click on the pretty little graphic I've put on the left of my blog template. As with most affiliate programs, I get a percentage of any purchases you make after following one of my links. Powell's program has a twist, though- I also get a percentage of the amount they pay you if you choose to sell your used books to Powell's. They have some other cool things- like the possibility of setting up my own "bookshelf". I'll have to play with that. It sounds like an excellent way to spend some time thinking about my favorite books.

I'm feeling pretty happy about this switch. I love Powell's Books- no trip to Portland is complete without spending a significant chunk of time browsing their stacks. They have a nice website, and their affiliate program looks to be a better deal than Amazon's. So click on through and buy some books... do it for my husband. His eyes are getting tired from all that rolling.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Weekend Reading: The Mostly Video Edition

My break from work on Monday evening was really effective- I was then able to spend the rest of the week working hard. Like Caramama (and I suspect a lot of people), I can maintain a higher than normal work load for short periods- I have been working 50+ hours/week for the past few weeks. That should be done for awhile once this big migration/upgrade is over. Which should be sometime this weekend. Things did not go all that smoothly today, and I am actually still at work, watching database migration scripts tick over. Fun and exciting stuff, and obviously, I'd much rather be home eating dinner with my family. But this sort of thing doesn't happen that often in my life- I plan like crazy at work to avoid it except for big upgrades that have to be done when the users aren't online- so I'm mostly OK with things. In fact, I'm planning on taking a little comp time next week- Hubby has the week off (long and not very interesting story), so I might take an afternoon off. We can leave the kids in day care and go take a walk on the beach or something.

Anyway... I have been really busy with work, so I only have one thing for you to read: it is a post that links to a NY Times article with predictions for the impact of the internet... from 1982. I thought it was a fun read. I found it via Ginger at Ramble, Ramble's twitter feed.

I also have two things for you to watch- both courtesy of my husband.

First up, a rap about first world problems that is (1) hilarious and (2) a nice follow up to my recent rant about (among other things) privilege.

Next, a completely random thing that made me laugh, particularly given the amount of time I spend at merry-go-rounds these days:

Have a good weekend!