Sunday, October 30, 2011

Trip Story: Morro Bay

Morro Bay was probably the most chilled out stop on our California road trip. We arrived at about dinner time, and strolled down to the waterfront to find dinner with a view. We found a likely looking restaurant on the embrcadero, and had an adequate dinner coupled with a really quite good margarita (which I needed after driving the entire coast road south from Monterey- this kept me from getting carsick, but left me a little tense). After dinner, we strolled along the deserted embarcadero a bit and then spent the rest of the evening in our beautiful suite. We'd booked into the Beach Bungalow Inn and Suites, and were delighted to find a comfortable, nicely decorated suite. It only had one bed in the bedroom, though, so this was where Hubby came up with the idea of getting Pumpkin to sleep on the sofa while I got Petunia down, transferring her to the bed so he and I could hang out in the living room for awhile, and then transferring her back to the sofa for the rest of the night. It worked really well.

The next day, we had a truly wonderful breakfast (for us)/morning snack (for the girls) at Frankie and Lola's Front Street Cafe. Really yummy food, and just out the front door, a view of Morro Rock.

After we ate, we strolled along the embarcadero, eventually stopping park at the far end of it. It was a much simpler playground than the one we'd played at the day before in Monterey, but the kids still had fun. Petunia particularly liked the steering wheel on the wooden boat- she'd been enjoying steering wheels for the entire trip.

The kids played while the adults enjoyed the view of the harbor, which is peaceful and full of birds and the occasional seal. We eventually strolled back along the embarcadero and found a spot for lunch. We picked the spot because there was a flute/saxophone player playing nearby, and Petunia was intrigued. Unfortunately, he wasn't all that great. But Petunia liked the music, and at least we had a view of the harbor. I'd love to go back some day and explore it in a kayak.

We heard a lot of seals, but only occasionally caught sight of them. Pumpkin really enjoyed looking, though.

After lunch, we did a little shopping in the stores along the embarcadero, and then headed out. We drove to Solvang for morning snack. Solvang, if you don't know, is a Danish town in central California... sort of. It was actually founded by a group of Danish settlers who broke the Scandinavian tradition of settling in the Midwest, deciding that there was no need to keep the cold winters now that they were in the US. It is now a pleasant tourist trap with buildings done up in faux Danish style and full of bakeries offering yummy treats. I love butter cookies more than is healthy, so I couldn't let us get this close to Solvang without swinging through and eating a butter cookie or two. Petunia liked her cookie OK, but really wanted dry cereal instead. Pumpkin liked the chocolate and cream on the cookie she picked out, but wasn't too fond of the cookie. I loved my cookie, and somehow resisted the temptation to buy a bucket full. (I am not kidding: you really can buy buckets of butter cookies in Solvang.)

We strolled around just a bit after our snack, and Petunia found a fire hydrant to hug.

Then we drove on to the final stop on our trip: Santa Barbara.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Weekend Reading: The New Economy Edition

I've been thinking (and reading) a lot lately about "the new economy," or, since that term is a bit vague, about how changes in how we consume entertainment have brought changes to industries like publishing, journalism, and music.

This isn't a new thing for me to be thinking about, but it got bumped up my mental priority list recently when I read this Slate article about the troubles of the creative class. I think the article is a bit overwrought, but I can understand where its coming from- the rules by which creative types tried to make a living have all changed, and no one really knows what the new rules are. It seems that one group of middle men have been replaced by another, and if anything, it has gotten harder for the "content producers" (formerly known as artists, writers, and musicians) to figure out how to make a living.

The Economist has a less "woe is me" take on this, at least for the music industry, and there was also a recent Slashdot thread on the upheaval Amazon is causing by trying to sign authors directly.

I think all of these changes create both problems and opportunities for people who like to create things that can be digitized, like writing and music. It is almost certainly getting harder to land a standard full time job as a writer, and as the Economist article describes, it is getting harder to land a record deal. But opportunities to succeed without first winning over a gatekeeper (i.e., publisher or record company) are increasing, too- the problem is, no one can really tell you how to do that, so everyone is left to figure out a path on their own. There are some spectacular successes (i.e., Dooce), who have definitely worked hard for their success. But for every successful person, there are tens- probably hundreds or thousands- of people who tried to make a go of it in this "new economy" and failed. So there is a huge component of what we'd call "FM" at work- that stands for "f#@&ing magic", and at work it refers to systems whose workings we don't understand. FM is a scary and frustrating thing, because it leaves you feeling out of control.

Still, I find this fascinating. We are living in a time when entire industries are being restructured. We're watching the new rules get written, and in some cases helping to write them. So, even though I have never logged into Klout and have no interest in finding out what my Klout score is, I found Bon Stewart's discussion of the recent change in the Klout algorithm, and the problems with using something like Klout in the first place, interesting, particularly because we seem to be heading towards a model where we "pay" for things by watching/reading ads for other things.

Here's what I said over there (with a few typos fixed):


Anyway, what I wonder is- how much of this big businessification of social media is our own fault? We all expect all of our web activities to be free. We don’t pay for Facebook, the various things Google provides, Twitter, the blog posts we read… none of it. It is all free to us. But people are spending their time and effort creating not just the content but the platforms upon which that content is shared. And many (maybe even most) of those people will rightfully expect to be paid for the their efforts. If we, the consumers, won’t pay them- and we won’t- then they have to turn elsewhere, i.e., to businesses who see the value in using these things to increase their market share. Which will inevitably lead to people changing their products (be it blog posts, Klout algorithms, or Facebook privacy policies) to better serve the businesses, because they are the audience that is paying the bills.
And with so many people blocking ads, businesses are often going to want to do more than just buy ad space, so we see the growth of other creative ways to deliver their content to us or extract value from us (e.g., by aggregating and selling usage data).

Of course, it is tricky- if a platform or a blogger panders too much to business, they will lose the currency business cares about (i.e., user base/readers). But for many platform companies and, yes, many bloggers, those users or readers are just a path to the dollars from the businesses, and we’d do well to remember that.


There are problems with this "content is free" model. As I say in my comment, if we won't pay people for their work, they'll try to find a way to get paid, and, as a recent post from David Wescott describes, this can lead to fraud. (And of course, there have been many earlier kerfuffles about being paid to blog without disclosing it, selling your blog out for a few coupons, etc., etc. I'll leave the uncovering of the posts on those as an exercise for the reader... i.e., I'm too lazy to go find them.)

I am hopeful that we will find our way to a better model, that allows people to be paid for their work without quite so much risk of corruption. But that is in no way guaranteed, which is why one of the things I think hasn't received enough attention in all of the discussion about Steve Jobs and his legacy, is the fact that he came up with a model that made micropayments actually work. We will apparently pay $0.99 for a lot of things that we used to take for free- not just music, but also things that we used to get for free on the web, as we turn to specialized "apps" instead of websites.

I wonder what the next innovation that convinces us pay for the things we use will be. Or if we will actually figure out how to make advertizing work for the individual content producer and not just the big companies that sell the ads, like Google. To the extent that I play around with monetizing this blog, it is to explore some of these questions. I am experimenting, but not in a rigorous way, since I am both the subject and the observer, and not in a way that is likely to actually answer any of these questions, since my readership is so small.

But the questions are interesting to me, particularly from my safe spot where I can call this blog a hobby and make the money that actually helps support my family in other ways.

Then, Blue Milk linked to me in one of her link round up posts. I was quite honored by that- my little post about men writing about work-life balance is in some good company there- including a post from The Boxcar Kids. Reading that post brought this new economy stuff all back to stark reality. For some people, these aren't just interesting questions, but questions whose answers impact how well they can feed their kids. So, if you want to do something good today, turn off your ad block and click through to that blog (because Google ads do pay for page views, not just clicks). And maybe click on one of those ads (because Google pays more for a click). Or, if you're going to buy something on Amazon anyway, click through from that site (because Amazon referral fees make more money than Google ads, in my experience). And if you know of other blogs for which these questions about how to pay for the words we read are of concrete importance, leave a link in the comments section- I promise I'll go pay them a visit, too.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Trip Story: Monterey

Once we decided that we were going to do a California road trip for our vacation this year, I knew that we had to go to Monterey. I wanted to see the aquarium- I'd been through Monterey on my way home from a wedding in San Francisco in graduate school, but hadn't gone to the aquarium. And I wanted to show my husband the famous coastal drive south from Monterey.

We drove into Monterey at sunset, which was a good two hours later than I'd hoped. But we'd decided to stop for a playground break and afternoon snack in San Jose, which had taken longer than expected. Then we hit some traffic leaving San Jose... so the sun was setting as we drove past the marina and under the tunnel into the touristy section of Monterey. It was a beautiful sunset, and my husband still regrets that we didn't just stop and enjoy it. But we wanted to get to our hotel, which we thought was close, and get to dinner.

It turns out that our hotel was further than we thought- it was in Pacific Grove, not Monterey proper. We were led astray by a map in our guidebook. The hotel was nice, but I was bummed by its location and the fact that the suite I had carefully checked would be two rooms was not in fact two rooms- there was no door between the bedroom and living room. The lack of door meant that we ended up hanging out in the (really quite large) bathroom drinking beers after our kids were asleep. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

By the time we found the hotel, got checked in, got changed into some warmer clothes, and got back to the "main drag", it was quite late for dinner. We didn't look around much, and just went into the first likely looking place, The Loose Noodle. This was a much higher class of restaurant than we usually go to with the girls, but it worked out OK. In fact, it would have been awesome if we could have received out food as we sat down- our only complaint was that Petunia lost interest and decided she wanted to walk around, so we had to resort to tag team dining: one adult ate while the other walked around outside with her. But the staff were very welcoming of us, and Pumpkin really liked her tortellini. After a few bites, she looked at me with wide eyes and said "Mommy! These are even better than our home ones!" She was right, but to be fair, our home ones are just mass produced store bought tortellini from the refrigerator section of our grocery store.

We walked around Cannery Row a little bit after dinner, but soon headed back to the hotel to get the kids to bed and rest up for our big day at the aquarium.

We arrived at the aquarium in the morning, and we enjoyed the fish:

We stayed until lunch time, then headed to the Cannery Row Brewing Company for lunch. It was your standard brew pub fare with adequate but not exciting beers- but Hubby was impressed by his BLAT (Bacon, Lettuce, Avacado, and Tomato sandwich for those who don't know) and the fact that they gave him extra bacon on the side, so we had no complaints.

After lunch, we did the 17 mile drive, which provided the adults with something vaguely interesting to do while Petunia napped. The drive is through a gated community (Pebble Beach), and you pay for the privilege of appreciating the scenery and the fancy houses. It was nice, but I think the (free) drive through the waterfront portions of Carmel-by-the-Sea, which we did the following day, was nicer. We did see the Lone Cyprus, and get the requisite picture, though:

After nap, we headed back to the aquarium for some more exploring. Then, we went over to the marina and pier, hoping to catch a sunset as good as the one we'd glimpsed on the way into town the day before.

We were disappointed- but still had a good time strolling around. We had dinner on that side of town- it was another tag team affair, as Petunia discovered the joys of playing with newspaper boxes. There was a row of them outside the restaurant, and once she discovered those, there was no way we could entice her back to the table. This is one of the many things about our vacation that was annoying at the time, but is funny- charming, even- in retrospect!

The next day, we walked to the lighthouse near our hotel: the Point Pinos Lighthouse, the oldest continuously operated lighthouse on the West coast. It wasn't open for visitors, but the trip was not a waste, because on our way there (through the cemetery next to our hotel), we saw a deer. This was exciting for both girls, and apparently not that unusual for the deer, who didn't seem concerned by our presence at all.

We were almost ready to leave Monterey, but before we left, we stopped for some quality playground time at the Dennis the Menace playground in El Estero Park. If you are ever in Monterey with kids, you must go to this park. Really. It is an awesome park. I think it may actually have been the highlight of our stop in Monterey. There are several really cool slides, including these ones:

There are also some great climbing toys, that long bouncy bridge you can see in the picture above, a rock wall, and a real train engine that you can climb on.

We pried the kids away in time for a quick lunch, and then headed south along the coast road, detouring first through Carmel-by-the-Sea, which is as picturesque as you've heard. Petunia was already asleep, so Hubby and I took turns checking out the beach at the one stop we made in town. It was a nice beach.

It was fairly foggy, so our drive down the coast road was less spectacular than I'd hoped. Hubby was impressed with the engineering on the bridges, but not so impressed with the scenery, which he pointed out wasn't all that different from the scenery near Wellington or in the Marlborough sound in New Zealand. Spoil sport.

Maybe if we go back sometime and get some better weather he'll be more impressed, but I won't count on it. He has a valid point about the scenery in New Zealand. So here's a helpful hint: don't try to impress New Zealanders with coastal scenery. It is unlikely to work. Unless you have rows of palm trees. They seem to think those are cool, much like I thought the giant ferns in New Zealand were cool.

Hubby did allow that our snack stop at the Lucia Lodge was probably the most scenic snack ever, though, even with the fog.

And the seals at Point Piedras Blancas were pretty cool.

The seals were also a good warm up for our next stop, Morro Bay, which provided more seal sighting opportunities. More on that later!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Post Partum Productivity

A twitter conversation I had with @fishscientist got me thinking about how long it took me to find my groove as a working mother post partum. Being the complete and utter geek that I am, I decided to graph it:

(If you do not have super-bionic eyes: click on the graphic to get a bigger version so you can read the annotations.)

Of course, I got pregnant with Petunia when Pumpkin was about 21 months old. So my productivity took a nose dive again not long after this chart finishes. The chart the second time around looks pretty similar, but I think I got up to about 75% productivity faster, because I was more organized and already knew the drill with pumping and how to ensure productivity when sleep deprived (hint: it involves lists.)

I do really think that my productivity is close to what it was before I started this whole motherhood experiment- and based on my experience when Pumpkin started sleeping through the night, I expect it to jump up again soon. (Petunia is soooo close to sleeping through reliably, I just know it. I've got a bed for her on its way- I'm hoping that is the last piece we need. That and for me to grow a backbone and just wean her already. We are making progress on that front, too, though.)

What about you? Would your productivity curve look similar? What was the "breakthrough" for you to get your productivity back?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Small Time

My work is a bit crazy right now, for reasons that I can't blog about. (Of course. I can never blog about the work stuff.) My to do list is long and my days are full. The days whiz past in a flurry of activity. (Although I did find the time to go to lunch with my husband today. Priorities.)

Somehow, though, I always find myself sitting back in my chair roughly 15 minutes before I'm due to walk out the door and head to day care, with all the urgent things crossed off my day's to do list. The temptation to get up and leave a bit early is strong. No one would notice or care.

I don't leave early, though. I stay for those last few minutes. And I get a lot done. One of the things I learned from my years as a contractor, charging time in 15 minute increments, is how much you can get done in 15 minutes. It is enough time to write an agenda for the next day's meeting, which will make that meeting more productive and perhaps keep it from running overtime. It is enough time to check in on a project plan, and see how we are tracking to our projected timeline. It is enough time to fill out the paperwork and send the emails needed to get the process of hiring a contractor underway. It is enough time to do some of those little "quality of life" database maintenance tasks that inevitably pile up.

For me, they key to making good use of those last 15 minutes is to have these little tasks written on a to do list, so that when I finish a task, look at the clock on my computer, and realize that another day is almost over, I don't have to think to hard about what to do. I just take something small from my list and do it. Getting these little tasks done before they become urgent means that I can usually find some longer increments of time during the day in which to tackle my larger tasks. I've learned that if I let the little things slide, they inevitably pop up as emergencies when I can least afford the time to handle them.

Even when I look up and realize I only have a few minutes left before the end of my usual day, I usually don't leave early. I write my next day's to do list, or clean up some of the mess that always covers my desk.

At my previous job, one of the young guys who sat near me teased me about how he could set his watch by me- I got up and left at the exact same time every day. He was exaggerating. But not by much.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Trip Story: Sacramento

Sacramento was one of the biggest surprises of our recent car trip. As I mentioned in my post about Merced, Sacramento was added to our itinerary solely because Hubby wanted to see the capitol.

And we did see the capitol:

(That's me and Pumpkin heading up the stairs. If you look closely, you can see that she is positively bounding up them.)

Hubby didn't want to go in. He felt underdressed in his flip flops. (This cracked me up, since I have yet to find another occasion- not even our wedding- for which he thought flip flops were not appropriate attire.) But Pumpkin really wanted to go in, so in we went. It is a good thing we did, because, as I described in the trip wrap up post, Petunia roaring at the bear statue outside the governor's office was awesome.

The view from the capitol steps was also pretty nice.

We had walked to the capitol by way of old town (which was nice, in a tourist-trappy sort of way) and an outdoor mall. After we finished our capitol visit, we headed back to that mall for dinner- there was a little play area we thought would amuse the girls (it did), and there was the River City Brewing Company brew pub that provided us with a nice dinner accompanied by some good beers.

We walked back to our hotel by way of old town again. We were amazed that Pumpkin was still walking along with only the occasional protest- we had walked a lot and at home she complains if we try to make her walk the six or so blocks home from the park (granted, those are mostly uphill blocks). But that night in Sacramento, she not only walked home without protesting, she joined her sister for some dancing outside one of the riverfront restaurants, which I unfortunately can't show you because all of our pictures suck too much. You'll have to take my word for it- they were pretty cute.

The view that greeted us the next morning- and the precious minutes of distracted children that it provided- made me glad that I'd paid the extra $20 or so for a river view room. Pumpkin is still talking about the "gold bridge". Petunia seemed most enamored with the many birds flying over the river.

(We stayed at the Embassy Suites, if you're curious.)

After breakfast, we headed to the premier attraction for preschoolers in Sacramento: Fairytale Town! Both girls had fun, but Pumpkin was clearly right in their target age, and she had a blast. Seeing (and sitting in!) Cinderella's carriage may have been the highlight for her, but it is hard to say. She also loved pretending to be a pirate:

And a scarecrow:

And running along the Crooked Mile path and playing on the playground in Sherwood Forest.

Petunia liked those things, too, but she really loved the slides, especially this one:

We finished up at Fairytale Town a little later than I intended, and we got to lunch at the Rubicon Brewing Company a little past the optimal time: the girls were hungry, and tired, and lunch did not go as well as the beer deserved. But we still left Sacramento very happy that we had come- even if it meant we had a long drive in front of us to get to our next stop, in Monterey.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Weekend Reading: Amusing Things My Husband Sent Me Edition

It has been a bit of a bruiser of a week. Lots of meetings at work, a couple of them complete with tension. The cleaner was supposed to come yesterday, which was great, since we had guests coming today, but meant that Wednesday night was spent cleaning up toys, etc., so that the cleaner could actually clean things. Then she called in sick, so yesterday night was spent spot cleaning things so that our house wasn't filthy for the guests.... and so on and so on.

So, I haven't got the mental energy to write a thoughtful post around some of the links I had lined up. Instead, I give you... random funny/strange/vaguely amusing things that my husband found online and sent to me. (He subscribes to the "surf to cleanse your brain and/or let your brain find creative solutions to problems" school of thought, so tends to find a lot of stuff online. I agree with the theory- which is why I find the links I usually post. As you're about to see, my husband and I hang out in very different corners of the internet.)

Anyway, first up- he said this was the best attempt at making violins cool that he'd ever seen. (I, in case you didn't know, play the violin. Well, actually I play classical viola and I play Irish fiddle. Or I used to. I don't play much of anything these days, but I never played classical violin.)

Staying with the music theme, this just blew my mind. What an amazing, and sadly unprofitable, talent:

Moving on... my husband totally wants one of these throwable panorama cameras. I included this item for the two or three people reading this blog who know him, and know how fond he is of panoramas. He particularly likes to get panoramas where people appear multiple times. He has one from our stop at Slick Rock on our recent vacation in which the girls and I appear three or four times as we walk along the shore of the river. Unfortunately, I think our faces appear in one instance, so I can't post it.

And then, there are the Jedi Kittens:

I don't know where to go after Jedi Kittens, so I think I'll just stop. Happy weekend!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Would Guilt By Another Name Sting As Much?

Mom-101 had another beautifully written post about the push and pull of being a working mother, in which she has to send her kids to "take the kids to work day" with the nanny, because she has to be out of the office on a big project. The post got me thinking about a couple of things. The first was that my kids are getting seriously cheated out of any awesome "take your kids to work day" goodness. We don't go in for that stuff in the biotech industry, possibly out of fears about liability with having bunches of children wandering through the labs, and possibly because we aren't, for the most part, actually profitable companies, and venture capitalists expect us to use their money to make drugs, not provide cool things to the employees' kids.

The second was that there sure are a lot of people feeling guilty about doing the right thing.

Let me explain. The original post mentions feeling guilty, but the actual vibe I got from it wasn't of guilt- more of "boy, this sucked... but my kids actually made it all better." But then a lot of the comments talk about "working mom guilt." And that sort of bothered me, because why, exactly, are working moms feeling guilty? For making the money that helps feed and clothe their kids? For doing the thing that makes them happy, well-adjusted women (and mothers)?

I've written before about how I think mothers have always worked at something other than mothering, and I wrote a comment mentioning that. Mom-101 responded that she didn't feel guilty for working, but rather for disappointing her kids. Which is fair enough, but her kids didn't sound disappointed in that post. (Of course, I wasn't there, and actually have no idea whether her kids were disappointed.) She sounded disappointed, and who wouldn't be? It sounds like an awesome event and I would want to take my kids to it, too. But is that really guilt? And if it is guilt, why? She didn't do anything wrong. She had a work commitment that rightly had to take priority over a "nice to have" event for the kids, so she found another way for her kids to go and have fun at the event while she did the work she needed to do. This sounds like the absolute right thing to do to me.

This got me thinking about a comment Today Wendy left on an earlier post of mine, in which she said that she thought people often conflate guilt with other negative emotions, like frustration, possibly because it is more socially acceptable to express guilt.  Today Wendy's comment has been bouncing around in my head for a long time, and I've been meaning to write a post about it. So I took this idea and ran with it.... Here is what I said on Mom-101's post:

But is that really guilt?

I’ve been thinking about this off and on all day, and almost didn’t come back to leave this comment because of course I can’t say how you feel and only a complete jerk would try.

And now I’m going to be that complete jerk, because I kept thinking about another comment someone once left on a post of mine. (I get such smart comments… it is the best thing about blogging! Well, that and the chance to ramble on about whatever I want to.)

Anyway, the comment said that she thought people sometimes conflate guilt with other feelings that make us feel bad. So we say we’re feeling guilty, when really we’re sad, or just wish that things could be different. It seems like semantics, but I think it is important, because guilt implies we think we’re doing something wrong and that we should have done something differently. The rest of the world picks up on that and the idea that we ARE doing something wrong perpetuates, when of course we aren’t. We are just making the trade offs that come with life. We have done the right thing, it is just that the right thing isn’t the perfect thing.

So, I feel guilty if I have a hard day at work and therefore lose my cool at my kids and yell. Or, for that matter, when I have a hard day at home with them and therefore lose my cool and yell. But I don’t feel guilty when I have a late meeting and their father has to take them to soccer practice- then I feel a little sad that I’m missing something, but not guilty, because my family needs my income and I need my job to stay sane. Staying for that late meeting was the right thing to do, even if in a perfect world it would have been on a different night and I could have gone to BOTH the meeting and soccer practice.

FWIW, I read your original post and didn’t read guilt. I read “gee, this sucked but my kids are so awesome that they fixed it.” My comment about guilt was more in response to the guilt I read in other comments than what I read in your original post. Sorry, I failed to say that. And of course, only you know if you felt guilty or sad or something else altogether. I don’t mean to imply I know how you felt, or- worse!- that I know how anyone SHOULD feel. I’m just throwing something out there for us all to think about as we try to make happy lives as working mothers.


What do you think? Does it matter if we say we're feeling guilty when we're actually feeling something else, like sad, or frustrated? I don't feel a lot of honest-to-goodness working mom guilt. If you do, do you know why? What is that you think you're doing "wrong?" Or do you think guilt can come from something other than feeling like you are doing the "wrong" thing?

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Book Recommendation

I just finished reading Kindred, by Octavia Butler. I know- that's not what the sidebar says I'm reading. I'm reading The Rational Optimist, too. I can read a fiction and a non-fiction book at the same time. Kindred is the book my book club is reading this month. I've read it before- I picked it up at random during a visit to City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco many, many years ago, and read it then. I remember liking it, and recommending it to other people then. But now I have a blog, and can recommend it to more people! It is the sort of book that sticks with you, so I remembered the basic outline of the plot- a modern black woman finds herself repeatedly transported back to a Maryland plantation during slavery, and realizes that she is there to save her ancestor, who is the white son of the plantation owner- but the details were lost. So I figured I should read it again.

Once I picked it up again, I had a hard time putting it down. It is an absorbing, fascinating, disturbing story. I think every American should read this book to better understand the horror of slavery. But leaving that aside, you should read it because it is a well-told story that will teach you something about being human.

I think my book club picked it because it was on some list of top sci-fi books (I wasn't at that meeting, so I'm not sure). That classification surprises me, not because the book isn't wonderful, but because I wouldn't call it sci-fi. I'm not sure what I would call it- maybe magic realism. But why bother classifying it? Just read it. The Kindle version is only $4.95- that is an absolute bargain.

You may or may not have noticed that I've switched back to Amazon links. They reinstated their associates program in California after coming to a deal about the tax issue. It is a short term deal and I may get booted out again if they don't sort out a long term solution, so I considered not going back. I briefly felt guilty about leaving Powell's, whose program is pretty awesome- except no one bought anything from them using one of my links. So me staying with them wasn't going to do either of us any good. If I read the rules of the two programs right, I can stay a member of both, so I'll leave the Powell's link up in the corner, but switch back to Amazon for the in text links.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Trip Story: Merced

When I started planning our California road trip, my husband made only one request- he wanted to go to Sacramento. This may seem like an odd request, but he has a thing about visiting state capitols, and he was bothered by the fact that he hadn't seen ours. I agreed, even though Sacramento was quite a bit out of the way, given the rest of the itinerary I had in mind. The only place in the itinerary that it made any sense at all to go to Sacramento was between Sequoia and Monterey- but I also didn't really want to try to drive from Sequoia to Sacramento in one day. My goal on this road trip was to keep the driving to ~two hours per day- i.e., the length of Petunia's nap.

I pulled out my map, and looked for something that was approximately halfway between Three Rivers and Sacramento. Fresno wasn't far enough. Modesto was too far. But Merced- it was just right. So we decided that we'd stop in Merced for the night. The plan was to find a hotel with a decent looking pool, and spend the afternoon swimming. The problem was that none of the hotels on offer were particularly inspiring, so I dithered more on this hotel selection than any other on the trip, trying to decide which mediocre option was the best.

In the end, I went for room size- so we stayed in a place with two full bedrooms, which was nice. The pool was decent, but there was no spa. It turns out that my little girls are wimps and don't like to be cold when swimming (good luck to them when they decide they want to start swimming in the ocean!) so next time I pick a hotel solely for an afternoon's worth of swimming, I should make sure there is a spa.

But it all worked out OK, because the shorter than anticipated swim left us with time on our hands before dinner, and forced us to go out and explore the one place my pre-trip Google searching had identified as a sight to see in Merced: Applegate Park. It turned out to be worth the effort.

The drive to the park took us past the iconic theater that the literature in our room told us was in the process of being renovated.

But we didn't stop to explore Main Street. We headed straight to the park, which turned out to be a large, grassy expanse, shaded by mature trees. Petunia chased squirrels.

And the rest of us chased her. Then we all enjoyed a stroll along the really rather picturesque river.

Then the girls played on the good (but crowded) playground until it was time to go back to the hotel and get ready for dinner. We had dinner at Mi Casa Cafe, a Mexican restaurant across the street from our hotel. It was very good- my only complaint was that they didn't have margaritas, forcing me to "settle" for a Negro Modelo instead.

While I snuggled with Petunia that night, waiting for her to go to sleep, I thought about how Merced felt like a visit to an alternate universe, in which I had stayed strictly in science and gone for a tenure track job. I could see alternate universe me realizing at some point that she was unlikely to land at Harvard, or even a well known state school, and deciding to try for a position at a place like UC Merced, and (if I was lucky) landing it, and ending up living in a town like Merced. I don't think I would have been unhappy, although it is a far cry from San Diego in terms of things to do. But it would definitely have been a very different sort of life.

Then Petunia fell asleep, and I shook off thoughts of alternative life courses and headed into the second bedroom to have another beer with Hubby, and plan for the next day.

We needed something to do before lunch, and pretty much the only thing that was open and even moderately interesting to us was the Castle Air Museum. It is on a former air base, and has a large collection of planes, particularly from the WWII era. We thought there was a chance that Pumpkin might think it was sort of cool.

She didn't. But Hubby did- he ended up taking a lot of pictures, including this one, of a plane that made me glad that Pumpkin isn't really reading yet:

I'm not ready to explain the meaning of that airplane name to her.

If Pumpkin was unimpressed, Petunia was positively bored and annoyed. I ended up spending the majority of our visit sitting on a bench under the wings of the B-52, nursing her. And I got a mosquito bite on my back in the process, which annoyed me for the rest of the trip. Still, it was a cool place to sit and nurse.

Finally, as we were leaving, Pumpkin and Petunia found something they liked- some coin operated rides.

We hung out there while Hubby went over and looked at the stealth bomber.

We tried to explain its importance to Pumpkin, but failed miserably. I think it would have been easier to explain "Virgin's Delight."

We packed into the car and headed off in search of lunch. My pre-trip research had turned up some pizza places, but we weren't in the mood for that. We ended up at a Jamba Juice. Petunia loved her smoothie. Pumpkin said it wasn't as good as the ones I make, and wouldn't drink it. In retrospect, this was no big deal. One lunch of Pop Chips and Pirates Booty won't kill her. At the time, though, I was mightily annoyed with her.  Then Petunia started dancing in her chair to whatever top 40 music was playing. That was cute enough to break my bad mood, and we headed off towards Sacramento reasonably happy with our stop in the Merced area.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Weekend Reading: The Sexism is Everywhere Edition

I have lots of good links this week, all with a feminist slant.

First, an opinion piece on CNN about the popularity of the new "retro" shows, which show women in outdated roles- and how young women today see these as period pieces, much like we view Jane Austen novels. (I doubt the writing in these shows measures up to Austen, though!) Personally, I don't think the shows are worth getting worked up about, but I doubt they are just benign period pieces, either. I suspect there is a fair amount of male nostalgia been pandered to (and perhaps amplified) by these shows.

But I don't watch much TV, so I can't speak about these shows from personal experience.

Sticking with pop culture, here is a very funny piece in the New Yorker about the unrealistic nature of the female roles in Hollywood movies.  My favorite is the career woman stereotype:

"And since when does holding a job necessitate that a woman pull her hair back in a severe, tight bun? Do screenwriters think that loose hair makes it hard to concentrate?"

Of course, sexism is not just found on TV and in movies. @Rambleginger led me to an excellent funny-but-sad-because-its-true Jezebel post about the unwritten rules for women in America. I agree with the last line in the post- I read the post, recognized it was true, and was so sad for my little girls, who will largely have to navigate the same crap as I did. Someone please convince me that it is actually getting better...?

Oh well. Failing that, here is an awesome post that showed up on several blogs I read (including Nicoleandmaggie's) about the phrase " a girl" and so much more. Go read it. It is good.

I've also come across two pieces about research that tries to correct the myths about why there aren't more women at the top in business and why there aren't more women in tech. Hint: it isn't because we have babies or because we don't want these things.

I found that last link via a new Women in Tech blog, which I found because Anandi (who comments as ARC here) had a guest post up about how she negotiated her ideal work schedule. The same blog has a great post up from a Microsoft general manager about how she found work-life balance. The blog is off to a good start- I hope they keep it up.

The research pieces got me thinking about the conventional wisdom that tech is somehow a "bad" career for women, because of the sexism in the field. I certainly agree that there is sexism in the tech world, but I also believe (and have argued) that tech careers are great careers for women.

How do I square those two things? I guess I just don't think that the tech field is unusual for being sexist. That other research piece indicates that there women will face sexism in business careers, too, but I've never heard anyone argue that business careers are "bad" for women. I can't think of a single career that you can pursue and be untouched by sexism. You could argue that the female dominated fields are less sexist but (1) that isn't always true (often men are over-represented in the top ranks relative to their prevalence in the overall field) and (2) often, the field itself has been devalued and therefore suffers from low pay or low respect. Given the choice, I'd rather keep my high pay and respect, and just work through the sexism I encounter, particularly since my chosen career offers a lot of other benefits, such as the potential for a lot of flexibility in my work.

(Of course, some sexism is so egregious that you can't work through it. But again, I don't think the tech field has a monopoly on that.)

So I think we should continue to study the reasons why women are underrepresented in some fields, and we should work to fix those problems. But we should also remember that sexism extends beyond any one field or career path, and the solution does, too.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Now She's Just Messing With Me

Remember the post I wrote awhile back, about how Petunia wasn't going along with my plan for an after work run once a week, while her sister was at swim lesson with Hubby?

I eventually decided that I'd stop trying to go for a run, and come home and try to get some exercise in my backyard instead. I used to do Muay Thai kickboxing, and I still remember the moves for shadowboxing. I figured I could do a few rounds of shadowboxing, plus some jumping jacks and other similar things, while Petunia played happily with her backyard toys. I had a grand daydream about how this would eventually morph into me buying a heavy bag and getting to actually throw some punches and kicks.

Well, one thing after another kept me from implementing my plan. I got sick. Petunia got sick. A vendor meeting ran late. Etc., etc. But finally, today nothing was in my way. Except traffic- but even with bad traffic on the drive home, I was home in time to squeeze in a 30 minute workout before dinner.

I got changed while Petunia ate a snack, and then we went outside to "play". It all started out well enough. Petunia readily agreed to go "ai-ide" and insisted that I drag the plastic play gym out for her so she could slide.

I started some marching in place for a warm up. But then she didn't want to slide, she wanted her kitchen toys to play in her little house. So I marched into the garage and got them. She marched along with me, and thought that was pretty funny.

Then she wanted the timer I had brought out to time my rounds. So I gave it to her and went and got a clock to use.

And then she decided she wanted to go for a walk. I tried to ignore her and keep to my original plan, but shadowboxing around my yard while my toddler wailed at the garage door just didn't work for me. I caved, and let her in, expecting her to go find the umbrella stroller and ask for that. Instead, she went to the jogging stroller and asked to be put in.

So I went and got my house keys, and we set off for a run. My asthma has been bad these last two days since we have Santa Ana winds blowing a bunch of junk in from the desert (running is the hardest form of exercise for me when my asthma is acting up) and I felt a little silly running in my loose kickboxing shorts, but I figured I should just take what I could get.

But about 5 minutes in, Petunia announced that we should go back. When I said no and kept going, she actually figured out how to wriggle out of one of the shoulder straps in the stroller.

So I turned back, thinking that maybe I could get away with turning down one of the cross streets and going around the block. No dice. She screamed loudly when I did that.

I gave up and went home. We went inside and I tried to do some sit ups. Petunia helpfully added some resistance by sitting on my stomach.


All of this will no doubt be very funny to me some day. But right now, it is just frustrating. My weight has inched up since my last post about running, and I now need to loose 8-10 pounds to get back down to the healthy range. My pants are too tight. I didn't like how I looked in roughly 90% of the pictures from our vacation. It is definitely time to do something about this. It is not going to get any easier as I start getting serious about weaning Petunia.

I recently came across a body weight simulator from the NIH. It is a little Java applet that lets you put in your current weight and height, etc., and then put in a target weight. You get to choose how active you are now and how active you plan to be while you try to lose weight, and it tells you how much you need to restrict your calories. I'm sure there are flashier simulators out there on some commercial sites, but this one gets the job done.

I hate restricting my food intake. I figured that I could restrict it enough to stop the weight gain, but that losing any weight would require more exercise. I ran some simulations and decided I needed to add one hardish workout per week and two easy ones. For the two easy ones, I'll walk. I can usually get a 20-30 minute walk around lunch time on Fridays. My current location is nowhere near as nice for walking as my previous one was, but there is a reasonable "out and back" route I can take. I have also started taking Petunia for a walk during her naptime once per weekend. I miss my "quiet time" (really time during which Pumpkin watches shows and I try to do some work or read), but it is actually quite nice to walk around my neighborhood, so I don't mind the trade off.

But I'm still stuck for the more vigorous workout. I'll have to do some more thinking and see what I can come up with to try next. I'm desperate enough that I have even considered trying to stitch together a workout from kids songs with actions. Petunia loves those right now. But I'm not sure I could stomach that many repetitions of "The Noble Duke of York" and "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Trip Story: Sequoia National Park

The first real "destination" on our California road trip was Sequoia National Park. I can't really say why I picked this as something we had to see on this trip. I'd never seen it (although I have seen the redwoods). I thought my husband might like it, and hoped that Pumpkin would be impressed by the big trees. I figured Petunia would just be happy for a chance to take a spin in the hiking backpack- she loves that thing.

We stayed for two nights in the area, basing ourselves in Three Rivers. We had wonderful weather for our visit- we were even able to spend some time in the hotel's pool and spa, which delighted the girls.

But the main attraction was the big trees, so we headed to the park entrance fairly early on our first morning in town. The road into the park wound around quite a bit, so it took longer than we expected to get to the visitor's center, and Pumpkin had her first experience of feeling a little car sick. Thankfully, this was the one and only time she felt car sick on our trip- it was brought on, we think, by the fact that she was trying to color while we drove, so when we got to driving the coast road south from Monterey later in the vacation, we just told her not to color, and she didn't have any trouble. I, on the other hand, had to be the driver and drink a fizzy drink and eat pretzels almost continuously. So I guess the propensity towards carsickness is one bad trait of mine she doesn't seem to have inherited!

Anyway, back to the trees. They were tall.

I had picked out the "hike" to see the General Sherman Tree (really a stroll along an easy path) as our morning's activity. As predicted, Petunia liked riding in the hiking backpack. Pumpkin liked the walk down and was moderately impressed by the big trees.

We were all impressed by a sighting of a black bear.

Petunia said "rarrr" at it. Pumpkin was excited by the idea of telling her friends at day care about it. Hubby and I were glad that it was close enough to be impressive (despite the poor quality picture we managed to take) but not so close as to be scary.

The General Sherman tree is impressive more in thinking about how old and big it is than in the seeing of it, but it was still worth the trip. There was also a fallen tree with a tunnel through it nearby, which amused the girls.

The walk back up to our car required some quick parenting thinking- Pumpkin was whining that she was tired, and there was no way I wanted to carry her back up that hill. So I came up with the idea that we should count the stairs, and miraculously, that worked. I now know that there are 80 stairs on the path between the upper parking lot and the General Sherman tree.

We had thought that we might drive over to the other end of the park and have a picnic lunch, then take the scenic drive into King's Canyon for naptime, but given how long the drive into the park had taken, we decided that wasn't a good idea. (One of many examples on this trip where we decided to skip something because we couldn't realistically expect our girls to do well with the activity.)

So we drove down to the Giant Forest Museum and had out picnic lunch there. We walked around the museum a bit, then drove back into town while the girls napped. Our visit to Sequoia National Park had been fun, but woefully incomplete. We've mentally marked it as a place to return to when the girls are a bit older.

After nap, we played in the aforementioned pool, had a low key dinner at the local pizza place, and then went to bed early, happy with our day.

The next day, we drove to a nearby state recreation area, Slick Rock. There is easy access to the Kaweah River from the parking area, so we walked down and had our morning snack by the river. (Or is it already Lake Kaweah here? I can't tell from the maps I have.)

We admired some little frogs in a calm, shallow pool. Then we splashed out feet in the river water, watched the birds fly overhead, and just enjoyed the scenery and the nice day.

(I swear that Hubby didn't take a picture of the backs of our heads on purpose... but it is sort of convenient that he did, isn't it?)

Eventually, we decided it was time to climb back in the car, and we headed to a nearby town for another picnic lunch. We drove through farmland for awhile before connecting with CA-99 and heading north towards our next stop.

Monday, October 10, 2011

On Having Too Much to Do, Lists, and Stress Reduction

Ginger, over at Ramble Ramble, had a post up today asking for ideas for handling stress at work, and "switching off" when at home.

My husband can tell you that I still have some work to do in this regard, too. However, I've gotten a lot better at this over the years, and I do have some ideas about how to reduce stress caused by having to much to do, so I took some time on my lunch break to answer Ginger. Long time readers will not be surprised to find that my beloved lists feature in my answer. Here is what I said, expanded and edited to make it more clear, now that I have the time to do so:

For me, the only way to deal with "too much work to do" stress is to get the work organized and under control. I find that what stresses me out the most isn't a full to do list- it is the feeling that I might get surprised by some item on my to do list that needed to be done earlier than I thought. In other words, it is the feeling that I could open my email in the morning and find a five alarm fire. My method to minimize this stress is to make sure that I know what is actually urgent, and concentrate on that stuff first. If some other stuff comes up and I start to get distracted, I write that other stuff on my to do list, to worry about later. If I focus on the things that are actually urgent, I can usually clear them off my list and leave work for the day feeling free and clear. I don’t worry about the other things, because they are written down, so I won’t forget about them. I still have a full to do list, but I’m fairly confident that the things that had to get done are done. For this to work over the long term, though, the list of things that must get done can't just be set by external deadlines, but must also be set by the internal deadlines of my projects.

That is pretty wishy-washy, so I’ll try to explain. Right now, I’m revamping one of the key systems I manage. I have promised to deliver the updated system by the end of the month. I also have a complicated (but dull) tracking spreadsheet to complete for my boss, a report to write for my boss’s boss, an interview to schedule to allow me to hire some help, and a bunch of random little things that need doing.

I have a big list with all of these things on it, and more (I have a couple of other big projects running now, which I've left out for clarity). But I knew that TODAY I needed to finish that stupid spreadsheet (external deadline- the boss needs it tomorrow), complete some tasks and schedule some meetings to move my revamping project along (internal deadline- no one would notice if these slipped, but they'd put my project behind schedule), and get the interview scheduling process underway (another internal deadline- I just know that scheduling interviews takes a long time). I got all of those things done, so I walked out the door at my usual time, and have left the rest of the work in the office- mentally as well as physically.

The report needs to be written within a week, so it can wait until tomorrow or Wednesday. There are a lot of other tasks on my revamping project, but I know from my project plan that they aren’t gating anything, so they can wait, too.

The random little things on my to do list are the emails and in person requests from other people, trying to get their to do list items done. I have a two step process for deciding how to handle those. First, I ask myself: can I do this in less time than it takes to write it on my list? If the answer is yes, I do it. If the answer is no, I ask: is it more urgent than whatever I'm working on right now? If the answer is yes, I do it, if it is no, I write it on my list. Of course, the answer to this second question is sometimes hard to know- it depends not just on my priorities but also on the priorities of the other people at work. Sometimes I have to ask my boss for guidance, but this is also something that I've gotten better at gauging for myself as I've gotten more work experience. However, I do make a point of trying to help people out unless they are serial procrastinators who are always coming to me with requests that are urgent only because they failed to plan. If I can't get to their request immediately, I will at least tell them when I can do it, and will reconsider if that is going to make them miss a deadline. This is just the nice thing to do, and maybe it buys me some good deadline meeting karma.

I’m also pretty vicious with myself about procrastination. If I catch myself goofing off too much at work, I start writing daily to do lists, as I described in my post on working through a slump.

This system works really well for me, allowing me to switch off from work and focus on my family (and blog!) at home. This was true even at previous jobs that required me to carry a blackberry. I set boundaries about how often I'd check it, and told people that if something was really urgent, they should go ahead and call me at home. At first they don't believe me, but eventually, they realize that I'm serious. I'm not reading email, so if they truly need an answer right now, they had better call. I'm selective in who I give my home phone number to, so this has never led to a bunch of phone calls at night. People are far more willing to send emails during off hours than to make phone calls.

Of course, none of this helps if the stress is from general jerks playing politics, etc- then I find that yoga and beer help.

What about you? How do you keep work stress levels down and keep work out of your home time?

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Petunia Turns Two

A week ago today, Petunia celebrated her second birthday. I'm still a bit in shock that my baby is two. (Not to mention the fact that her big sister is so, well, big.) Petunia's language isn't as clearly enunciated as Pumpkin's was at this age, and- as I learned at her two year check up- she is on the short side (10th percentile). So it is easy for us to think of her as a baby. But all of the sudden, she is two.

She has lots of words, and almost every single one of them has a cute pronunciation, unique to her. Some of our favorites are:
  • ee-bye, for butterfly
  • rella, for Cinderella (which, thanks to her big sister, is one of her favorite shows. She likes the slapstick humor in it, though- she laughs out load when the mice splash milk in the cat's eye, for instance).
  • dee-dee, for empty or fishy. You tell the difference because she signs "fish" if she means fishy.
  • boppy, for potty (which was confusing at first, because "boppy" is what Pumpkin used to say when she wanted to nurse. Petunia says "nuh" and signs "more")
She loves to take her baby (or one of her stuffed animals) for a walk around the block in the doll stroller.  This delights the neighbors- it is very cute. It is an exercise in patience for the adult accompanying her, though, as we frequently change directions, occasionally cross the street, and stop and smell lots of flowers. We also stop to hug any fire hydrant we pass. For some reason, Petunia hugs fire hydrants when she sees them. We can't figure out why, beyond the fact the hydrants are about the same height as she is.

She loves to play "Ring around the Rosie", and when that gets dull (and dizzying), we can easily switch her to  "The Noble Duke of York", which, let me tell you, gets tiring on about the fifth repetition. But she's so cute when she signs "more" and says "muh", that I usually tell myself it is good exercise and do it again.

She's a bit of a mommy's girl, but she likes to dance with Daddy. Her favorite right now is "Rehab", by Amy Winehouse. She's started signing along to the "no, no, no" part. My husband is very proud. I'm fairly annoyed with him, but grateful it isn't something even less appropriate. I prefer her rendition of "Wheels on the Bus", which she likes to do, complete with actions.


Of course, we had a little party for Petunia. Two of her classmates came over, and my parents and sister were here. We had a jumpy. It arrived early in the morning, when we were still rushing around getting the house ready for the party.  Pumpkin and Petunia pestered us so much about going into the jumpy that we deflated it until we were ready. Petunia sat at the door and stared at it forlornly.

She had lots of fun in the jumpy when we reinflated it.

After we played for awhile, we had lunch, followed by cupcakes. I got them from Jennywennycakes again- I knew I wouldn't have the time to make them. They were both cute and yummy again, of course, even though Jenny was doing me a favor and squeezing us in last minute (with all the planning for the trip, I forgot to put in our order early). I had her do a bird theme because Petunia likes birds- "bird" was one of her first words and signs.

Pumpkin loved the cupcakes, and so did the adults. Petunia liked the frosting, and we got the requisite photos of her with frosting smeared all over her face.

Then it was naptime.

After nap, Petunia opened her gifts. One of the first cards she opened had some money in it for her. She clutched it to her chest and didn't want us to take it away from her. Once we got her piggybank out, though, she really got into putting the money into her bank. She'd finish putting in the money, and then look up and sign and say "more!"

She also got into opening the presents once she realized there were new things for her in those packages. She ripped paper off with abandon. She stopped to play with each new present- she's still young enough that the new toy in front of her is more tempting than the packages waiting to be opened.

This is in contrast to Pumpkin at her last birthday. Apparently at the age of four, the packages are more tempting.

With some coaching, though, she eventually got through all her gifts. We had a reprise of the cupcakes after dinner, and all agreed: it was a good day. Even if my little baby is now a big two year old toddler!

Friday, October 07, 2011

Weekend Reading: The Men Write about Work-Life Balance Edition

I've been reading a lot about work-life balance lately, and it has all been written by men.

It all started when I followed a link from my stats page to the search results that led someone to my Work-Life Manifesto post, and found, on the same results page, this post from a programmer and dad who is working fewer hours... and finding that his productivity hasn't really suffered. (Sound familiar?)

That led me to the Signal to Noise blog from 37signals. They have a lot to say about not working insane hours- here's a post I liked. I really like this quote:

"If you only have 32 hours this week to get something done, you’re not going to waste time."

A comment on one of their posts led me to this very inspirational interview with the CEO of Great Harvest Bread. I recommend reading the entire interview, but here's a quote that resonated with me:

"An important rule: never let anyone -- yourself included -- make you "pay" for taking a vacation. You work a bit harder before, but it's because you naturally feel like it. You work a bit harder when you get back, often, because you feel like it. But don't ever buy in to other people's myth that the work should stack up. It shouldn't, or something's broke."

And then someone's Twitter feed (probably @cydharrell) led me to the Study Hacks blog, which has recently "graduated" (sorry, couldn't resist) from writing only about how to have a decent life as a successful student to how to have a decent life as a successful working person. I'm finding a lot to think about in the series of posts about being a "career craftsman"- for instance this one about how following your passion may not lead to occupational bliss.

So why, exactly, have we let the work-life balance issue get framed as a "working mother's issue?"

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Trip Story: Pasadena and Bakersfield

I'm finally making time to write up the first day of our California Car Trip. I didn't intend for this post to be so long in coming, but I came back from vacation to immediately turn around and attend a local conference, then we had Petunia's two year birthday party and an out of town guest, and Hubby had a week long series of meetings at work, starting at 8 or 8:30 every day and ending no earlier than 5. (Seriously, who schedules something like this? I think they should send the partners of all the employees flowers, because this sort of thing upsets the delicate balance of things....) But now Petunia is home sick- a sore throat, from the looks of it, but nothing serious, and she's already on the mend- and that week long series of meetings at Hubby's work means that I'm taking the day off with her. So I am turning my attention from the string of DVDs she likes to watch when she's sick and writing a post.

Anyway, back to the trip... We left home after dinner and bath on Thursday night, and drove a couple of hours north and east to Pasadena. Petunia slept most of the way (it was pretty much her bedtime when we left). Pumpkin looked out the window, insisted on listening to her music, and asked us a seemingly endless stream of questions before she finally fell asleep, too. It was a good start to the trip.

I had booked us into a Howard Johnson near Pasadena City College- I figured there was no point being in the thick of the trendier part of Pasadena, since we were arriving late and leaving after breakfast to go to Kidspace, our first tourist stop on the trip. The hotel worked well for us, and was at least $100 cheaper than the option I had looked at in the more happening part of town, so that was at least one lodging win for the trip.

Kidspace is a pretty cool place. Unbelievably, I have not a single "failed" photo from this stop (i.e., a photo without one of my kids' faces in it), so I cannot provide photographic evidence- you'll just have to take my word for it. We started in the toddler room, which was a pretty standard play area for young toddlers. It was nice, but nothing special. We should have skipped it- but it did keep the kids entertained while we studied the map and figured out what we should go see. There was a splash fountain, and an indoor exhibit with some really well-done climbing features that Pumpkin decided looked to scary for her. They had a small bug exhibit. Pumpkin thought it was cool to see a tarantula, while Petunia preferred the butterflies. There was an outdoor garden with some great water play areas. But the highlight for our girls was definitely the tricycles- there was an area for preschoolers with marked lanes and traffic signs. Pumpkin absolutely loved stopping at the stop signs. We can only hope that this is foreshadowing for her qualities as a driver when she is older! There were also some smaller trikes in a less structured area for toddlers. Petunia was thrilled to have her own trike to ride. She is too little for the ones we have at home. She pushed the trike around with her feet with a big grin on her face, and screamed at us when we told her it was time to go.

We had lunch at the surprisingly decent Kidspace cafe, spent a little time on the good public playground outside the museum, drove by the Rose Bowl (it was literally right next door), and then headed out of town.

Our eventual destination was Three Rivers, which would serve as our base for a visit to Sequoia National Park. I didn't want to make the entire four hour drive in one go, though, so we stopped in Bakersfield. The drive to Bakersfield was surprisingly pretty- the freeway cuts through hills that in September are the color of browned butter, beautiful from a distance, but parched and scrubby looking up close. The hills are dotted with grey boulders and muted green trees that look perpetually windswept.

I had picked out the California Living Museum as a good stop in Bakersfield, and I was right. It is a small zoo, focused entirely on animals native to California. The size was perfect for a short stop,  and they have done a good job landscaping it to give you the feeling of space.

We spent a lot of time looking at the mountain lions and bobcats, saying "meow".

We also spent a fair amount of time looking at the bears, saying "rarrr".

And Petunia waved bye-bye every time we walked away from an animal, which was just as cute as it sounds.

All in all, it was a good stop. From there, we headed to the restaurant I'd picked out for dinner: a local brew pub called Lengthwise.

The food and beer were good, not great, but they had an old Ms. PacMan game in the corner, and we all got a kick out of that. Pumpkin and I both took turns playing, but Hubby was the real master. We eventually tore him away from the console and left. We stopped by a park to run some of the wiggles out, and then strapped everyone into our car and head off for our next stop.