Friday, November 30, 2012

Weekend Reading: Science and Tech Edition

We were supposed to go to a hay ride through a display of holiday lights tonight, but it was rained out. So we're having a "special night in" instead- a dinner picnic (with chocolate milk!) in the living room while we watch some Christmas shows via Amazon Prime... We're even skipping bath. That I came up with this idea is a bit of a miracle, given how beaten I've been feeling by work and parenting and just life in general this week. Of course, I did have a 45 minute drive from day care to Pumpkin's school in which to think about ideas....

So, given the aforementioned feeling of being beaten, it probably isn't surprising that I don't have many insightful comments to go with my links tonight. But I've gathered up some science and tech links for you over the last few weeks.

First up: the story of an epic hacking that is a cautionary tale about how intertwined our online accounts are, how much damage a determined hacker can do, and how scarily easy it is to put together the info a hacker needs to take over your online life. Also, the ultimate motivation for the hacking is a sad statement on the worst of human nature.

Next, Rands had an interesting post about how tech companies succeed and fail. There are some interesting perspectives in the comments, too.

Bad Mom, Good Mom wrote a really interesting summary of an important paper about ship tracks, with implications for the weather here in Southern California.

Finally, an article about the limits of automation in information organization.  I found this link via a site called With a tag line of "the economics of digital content," I suspect I might find a lot of interesting things on that site in the future- or at least interesting to me, with my odd interest in how people who create things online might make money from their efforts.

And now I need to go help Petunia say Good Night to the moon, and get her into bed. This weekend we're getting our tree, and starting our holiday shopping, and all that good stuff. I hope you have fun plans, too!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Makers vs. Haters

I finished off a writing project over Thanksgiving weekend. It was a small project, but it was definitely a project- as in, longer than a blog post. I have been working on it all year. Literally. (And yes, I am using that word correctly in this case- I started this project in January.) It feels great to be done with it (at least until I need to make revisions). It also feels great to have proved to myself that I can indeed get a non-work project of reasonable size done right now, even if it takes the better part of a year to do it. It gives me hope for the slightly more ambitious project I have in mind to try next. That one involves coding, and so will present different issues than a writing project, but still... I feel inordinately proud of myself for having managed to complete something.

So anyway, I finished a project. Yay me! And then, for some inexplicable reason I went and read some of the Amazon reviews on some of the other books published by Xist Publishing, the company that will be publishing my children's book. Most of the reviews were positive, or at least constructive (a good, constructive negative review is a useful thing!), but there were a few that just seemed mean-spirited. Obviously, I knew that people wrote mean reviews. Still, reading these was a reminder that not everyone will happily welcome my little projects when they head out into the world. I started to question the wisdom of opening myself up to another source of things that could make me feel crappy. Boo.

Then I remembered the recent Oatmeal cartoon about creating things. His bit at the end about destructive criticism is quite apt. We focus so much on being able to take criticism well and use it to learn and grow, and that is indeed a good thing. But we shouldn't forget that not all criticism can be used in that way. Some of it will just make us want to stop creating things, which is too bad. I may never create something as good as the average Oatmeal comic and I certainly will never create something as wonderful as the Mona Lisa, but I still might create something that has some value, and it would be a shame if I refused to let my creativity out just because some people are mean.

Cranky Internet Guy
As I pondered this, the meanest of the comments I had read started to amuse me. The guy was upset because the author had "gotten her husband to take some pictures" and then "written some captions for them" or something like that (I'm not even going to waste my time going back to get the direct quotes). Well, who does he think creates the illustrations in the books put out by the big publishing companies? Someone's wife or husband, probably. Or maybe not. Whoever it is, it is just a person, not some specially anointed creater of children's book illustrations. And the words he dismisses as mere "captions" form a story that my kids rather like and ask me to read. So he didn't like the book. My kids do like the book. Who's to say who is right? Certainly in my world, my kids' opinions matter more than those of some random cranky guy on the internet.

I can handle the cranky guys on the internet. If they don't like what I create, so what? It is unlikely that they will ever have paid more than a few dollars for whatever it is I made. It is not like I plan to set out to defraud anyone of large sums of money- I will create something and people will pay some small sum for it and they will like it or not. And if it succeeds, great. If it turns out that it sucks and it fails, well that's fine, too. I can try again on something else. I can embrace the suck. Not creating anything at all is worse than creating something that sucks.

And you know what is worse than that? Sitting around hating on the things that other people create.

The Randians have it all wrong. The conflict isn't between the Makers and the Takers. It is between the Makers and the Haters. I know which side I'd rather be on.

(Also, I've resolved to start writing more reviews on Amazon, particularly 3 and 4 star ones. Those are the ones I trust. The 5 star ones always seem suspicious- I know I don't love most things that much. And the 1 star ones are often cranky internet guys. But those 3 and 4 star reviews? I reckon they'll point you to the good stuff.)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Unmarketable Truths from the Life of One Working Mom

I came across the following list in my drafts folder. I'd written it in July, in the midst of the Anne-Marie Slaughter and Marissa Mayer brouhahas. I labeled it "dirty little secrets." The list is still true. The title seemed wrong, though. I think my new title of "unmarketable truths" is more accurate- these are the things about me that fall outside our standard cultural assumptions about the lives of mothers in the workforce, and hence screws up attempts by marketers to profit off my angst. 

1. Going back to work relatively early, and staying in touch with my work while I was out on my (3 month) maternity leave helped me adjust to becoming a mother and I think it helped keep me from tipping over the edge from "sleep deprived and more than a little overwhelmed" to "seriously depressed and in need of help".

2. My work life has gotten easier as I move up the food chain. Now, the work itself has gotten more challenging/stressful, but the actual experience of working has gotten much easier. I have far more control over my schedule and much more leeway to work from home from time to time. I also have more negotiating power when I want something like a few days off without pay (because I've exhausted my PTO and still want a vacation, for instance). I try to keep this in mind and flow the freedom down to the people who report to me, but I am sure I am not perfect at that, and a lot of bosses don't even try.

3. I don't care if there are toys strewn all over my house when company stops by. Not even one little bit. My husband still cares, which used to be an occasional source of tension. But we've settled on a nice compromise now, because I do care that the bathroom not be gross. So he picks up toys and I spot clean the bathroom.

4. I wasn't all that concerned about missing milestones that happened at day care. I figured seeing the third rollover was as cool as seeing the first one. As it happens, I think I say the first crawls for both kids (in both cases, towards my laptop...) and the first steps. If day care knows otherwise, they aren't saying.

5. I don't care if my nails are manicured. I don't care if my hair is a little bit past the optimal time for a trim. I didn't care about these things before I had kids, either. Whenever some other mother is speaking wistfully about how hard it is to get time for a manicure these days, I just smile and nod. But to be fair... I speak wistfully about how I can't find a martial arts class that fits my schedule. So, to each her own method of stress relief, I suppose.

Note that I am not saying that these are true for all women. Just for me. Do you have any unmarketable truths about your life that you want to share? They don't need to be related to being a mom, or working- just things that our culture assumes is true for "all" people like you, but that aren't actually true in your case. Leave your unmarketable truths in the comments, if you'd like.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

What the Kids Are Reading: First Edition

I think it is time that I admit that I'm never going to update Pumpkin and Petunia's book list again, and find a different way to periodically record the books we're enjoying. I love the idea of being able to look back and see what my girls were reading at various ages, but apparently, I don't love it enough to dig up that old post and add to it now and then.

Maybe I can instead just have an infrequent series of posts about what my kids are reading. This is the first one.

Petunia (who is 3) has a lot of really fun books right now. Her current favorite is an old one- Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown. I think it is a favorite because she loves the moon right now. She always points it out to us when she sees it, and she likes to go outside every night before bed and say good night to it.

My favorite of the books currently in heavy rotation are All the World, by Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla Frazee. The text is lyrical, and the pictures are delightful. Petunia pays close attention to the pictures, and notices different things on different nights. It was a birthday gift from one of her classmates, and that little girl's parents say she is also really drawn in by the pictures.

Another favorite is A Mammoth in the Fridge, by Michael Escoffier and Matthieu Maudet. This is a charming and funny book. It is a translation from the French, and judging from the Amazon page, it is not easily available in the US. That is a shame, because it is one that everyone in our family loves!

Pumpkin (who is 5.5) is still hooked on the Fancy Nancy series, by Jane O'Conner. She's currently reading Nancy Clancy, Super Sleuth to herself. I'm a bit amazed by that. I bought it for her right before school started, and at that time, it was just a little too hard for her to read easily on her own. Now, it is no problem.

Her absolute favorite book right now, though, is one we have home from the library, Everything I Know About Pirates, by Tom Lichtenheld. It is a funny book, but I was surprised by how much she's liking it. We've only had it a little over a week, and I've already read it enough to be sort of sick of it!

I've also been trying to retrain my kids to view my Kindle Fire as something that can be used to read books, rather than just to play games and watch shows. I'm having mixed success with that, not surprisingly. They both will always take me up on the offer to read Caterpillars Don't Check Email, by Calee Lee, though. I can't really say what it is that makes them like this book the best of all of our kids' ebooks- maybe it is the fact that the illustrations are actual pictures and there is a little girl in them. Or maybe it is the fact that the premise makes them laugh. (Full disclosure: I got this book when Calee was running a free promo giveaway, and it is published by the same company that will eventually publish my children's book. But my kids don't know that!)

What are your kids reading now?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Weekend Reading: The Parenting Edition

I revived this blog from near-dead a little over five years ago because I wanted a place to write about being a mom. My focus has evolved a bit over the years, and I don't write that many true "parenting blog" type posts anymore. I probably should- nowhere else will I record how Petunia and Pumpkin run down the hall to see the garbage truck when they hear it coming, with Petunia yelling "huwwy, huwwy!" But for whatever reasons, those posts don't compel me to sit down at my keyboard and type.

And yet, I still love the glimpse the blogosphere gives into other people's parenting lives. There is an honesty that is hard to get in real life, either because people are trying to present an image of being a "perfect" family or because they are worried abut talking to much about their kids. Since Thanksgiving to me is a holiday about family, I've decided to put up links to some of my favorite of the parenting posts I've read recently.

First up, Antropologa with some observations on language acquisition in different cultures. I love her son's Swenglish (is that a word?) construction of "bye da!" (Sorry, I am too lazy to get the proper character there- the unadorned a will have to do.)

Tragic Sandwich has a different take on toddler communication, and the troubles with it. It is a post that perfectly captures the uncertainty and difficult decisions of average, everyday parenting. She has a much funnier post, too, with her toddler's rules for life.

The always excellent Julie at A Little Pregnant has a very funny summation of the arguments against the age four.

Cara Mama's back! Hers was one of the first blogs I read, and it went silent for awhile. I'm thrilled to see her posting again. And I loved this story about her little boy and vanquishing a bad guy with kisses.

Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project blog is not really a parenting blog, but I loved her recent post about treating herself like a toddler. Cloud gets cranky if she doesn't have her meals on time, and often has trouble with crowds.

This last link is from CNN, so neither a parenting site nor a blog. And it has nothing to do with parenting, really, but is about family and it made me say "Awwwww...." so I'm including it. It is a story about how people are using Facebook to reunite photos they have found in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy with their proper owners.

I hope you all enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Thanksgiving Story

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I, like many other Americans, will be spending the day with my family, feeling very grateful for all that I have. I could easily write a long post detailing all of the things I am thankful for, but I don't want to do that tonight. Just accept as a given that I am aware of my great fortune and will be trying to give proper thanks tomorrow, and indeed, all days.
Tonight, instead I want to just tell a story.

Today, I checked my Twitter feed at my lunch break, and saw this tweet:


I replied back that I had figured out what to do with my postcard collection. (Here's the link in that tweet, in case you want to read it.)

Back a couple of jobs ago, I had an office with an unusual feature in it: a post. One day, I had the bright idea that I should decorate my post with postcards (what else?) and so I started buying a postcard every trip I took. I was a contractor, and I traveled a bit for work, so I picked up some postcards that way. I also liked to travel for fun, so I picked up a few more that way. And then my husband and I decided to go on our big trip around the Pacific and Asia, and that yielded quite a few more. All told, I have 29 postcards, from destinations as close to home as Arizona and as far flung as Auckland, Easter Island, and Cambodia.

I've kept my collection of postcards through two different jobs, but have never displayed them again. I have considered throwing them out, but that felt sad. So they have sat in a file folder marked "office decorations." And now, I will mail them to Nathan.

I thought I'd share this here, as well as Twitter, in case any of my readers want to join in.

Either way, Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 19, 2012

I Need to Make My Own Damn Cookies

Awhile back, Laura Vanderkam had a post about the "mother stays in the picture" post that was going around at the time. The comments section included an interesting discussion of "mothers as martyrs" that I read and basically agreed with it, but felt a little uneasy about. Something was bothering me about the topic. I couldn't put my finger on it until today, when I was looking something else up on my blog (yeah, I do that a lot- it is like an external hard drive for my memory) and happened across my old post about privilege. In that post, I tried to use a parenting analogy to explain how I don't think being relatively privileged means that you have an easy time in life. The post has nothing whatsoever to do with martyrdom, but it contains this line:

Mmmm. Cookies.
"I want someone to give me a cookie and tell me I'm doing a good job... and no one does, because my husband (the most likely source of cookies and praise) is also tired and finding things hard."

Something clicked for me. The thing that has been bothering me about the martyrdom discussion is that it doesn't really acknowledge the fact that most people like to feel like their work is appreciated. And yes, motherhood involves a lot of work, some of which is hard and dirty and not a lot of fun. Motherhood also involves sacrifice, which is another thing that people generally like to have appreciated.  Our culture can pretend all it wants that motherhood only adds to your life, but I disagree. I gained a lot from becoming a mother, but I lost a lot, too. Basically, a lot of parenting comes down to subjugating my own wants to my children's needs, in large ways and small. I call that sacrifice. You may not truly understand the sacrifices you're signing up for when you decide to have a child. I certainly didn't. But that's not the kid's fault, and most parents recognize that and try to do right by their child.

The thing is, sometimes that sacrifice comes easily and you don't really mind. But sometimes, it really stings. You suck it up and do whatever it is that needs doing anyway, because that is part of the job you signed up for, and you want to raise your child "right". Most of the benefit of that accrues to the child and to the parents, but a non-negligible part of the benefit accrues to the rest of society, too. Society has a stake in us parents doing a good job and raising our children to be good citizens.

I don't think that wanting to have that work and sacrifice acknowledged and appreciated is the same as being a martyr. But if we think about it, who is going to acknowledge it? I don't expect my kids to do so yet. In fact, I don't really want them to even know about some of the biggest sacrifices I make right now. Right now they are very young, and I want them to exist in their happy little world where parents always love their children and take good care of them, and where the happiness and love that they take for granted is every child's birthright. In short, I want them to live in the world I wish we had. There is time enough as they get older for me to explain how the world really is.

Don't get me wrong: my kids occasionally give me cookies- in fact, lately, Petunia has been literally giving me candy, as she empties out her Halloween bucket. She loves opening candies, but doesn't like eating any candy except gummy bears, so she gives the candy to me. Their awarding of cookies is mostly accidental, though. I get big hugs and genuine smiles. I get the second-hand pride in seeing them learn something new and I get the warm fuzzies when Pumpkin does something to help Petunia out or Petunia gives Pumpkin an unprompted hug- but that is not the same as appreciation. They don't have the context for that yet. To be honest, I don't think I really, truly appreciated all the things my parents did for me until I had my own kids. In fact, I may still have more to learn. I suspect the teenage years will be another revelation for me. (By the way, thanks, Mom and Dad!)

So maybe my husband should acknowledge my work and sacrifice? Sure. But I also need to acknowledge his, and neither of us has any energy to award the other cookies on a regular basis just for being parents.

What about the rest of the world? Well, fat chance. Honestly, I'm happy if I just get benign neglect from the rest of the world. More likely, I'll get told I'm doing this parenting thing all wrong- sort of the opposite of giving me a cookie. The rest of the world is Swiper, coming to swipe my cookies (Swiper! No Swiping!) I think that is wrong, and wish it would change, but in actual fact it isn't going to change, so I'd be smart to not let that get me down.

So do I just have to do without cookies? I thought about this some more while I was out walking today, and I realized that Gretchen Rubin has it right in her original Happiness Project book. If I want cookies, I need to make them for myself. (She frames it as gold stars, but while those are less fattening, cookies are yummier.) I can appreciate my own hard work and sacrifices. I can acknowledge to myself that this parenting thing is hard, and then give myself the cookies I want in payment.

I could go further. There are other things I do that involve work and/or sacrifice on my part, but which I do because I think they are the right thing to do or because I think that doing them will in some small way make the world a better place. No one else is likely to give me cookies for a lot of those things, either.  I may never even know if they do, in fact, make the world a better place. I can acknowledge the effort to myself, though, and that should be enough.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't appreciate other people's sacrifices and acknowledge that they are making the world better. In fact, this line of thought made me more conscious of the things that other people do for which I'm grateful but rarely acknowledge. Thank you, garbage men, for taking my stinky trash away. Sorry about the diaper smell. Thank you, roadworkers, for clearing the debris to the side of the road so that no one runs over it and has an accident. Thank you, office cleaners, for removing the dust that makes me sneeze. Thank you, police officers, for dealing with the ugliness in the world so that I can mostly ignore it. Thank you, admins at work, for handling all that crappy paperwork.

I'll be happier, though, if I can find a way to let go of my desire to have someone else appreciate the things I do, and just appreciate them myself. I need to make my own damn cookies.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Quotable: Time is the True Currency

"Time: that is the key. Forget dollars, cowrie shells or gold. The true measure of something's worth is the hours it takes to acquire it."

- Matt Ridley, in The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves

 This quote is from a section of the book in which he discusses how much more an hour's worth of work buys the average worker now than in pre-industrial times.

(I've written about the book before, in the context of my musings about the different types of success.)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Weekend Reading: Thinking About Work Edition

Hey, look! I have a theme to my weekend links again! My links this week are all about work in one way or another.

First up, Rands had an excellent post about a clash of cultures in the techie workplace. I'm definitely a stable. It is good for me to remember the value of the volatiles, too, although I don't work at a company that sells software, so we are less in need of their disruptive genius and more in need of just being able to deliver reliable tools that do what the other scientists in the company need them to do.

Sticking with the techie side of things, I have a new programmer blog I like reading, called The Endeavour, by John Cook (get it?) and he had a fun post about the life lessons to be gleaned from functional programming.

Speaking of life lessons, I found this excellent rant about the loss of perspective in a creative career via someone on Twitter, but I failed to note who.

And since we're now talking about work/life balance and the like... here is a thoroughly depressing summary of some recent research about what ambitious MBA students expect in that department:

"Gen Y women are more prepared and much more specific about how they would manage work versus family when they project 10 years out. They cited strategies such as using choosing workplaces known for good work-life policies, having kids later to be more stable financially, living close to family members, and managing flex-time effectively (longer weekdays with weekends off). Surprisingly, none of the women mentioned a scenario in which their spouse stayed home with the children.

Gen Y men, in contrast, had vague strategies for balancing work and family. They did not assume their partner would have a heavy workload, nor did they mention the possibility that their partner would be the breadwinner in the family. Most envisioned spouses who would work part time, work at home, or simply be at home. Most of the men assumed that their spouses would take care of the children when a work conflict arises. One single male student, for example, said, "I think I'd be completely comfortable--and I hope this doesn't sound sexist--if my spouse is taking more of an at-home mom role, and to allow for a balance of time in that respect.""

Ouch. So much for the idea that we can just wait for the dinosaurs to retire/die off and then we'll be in a gender equality nirvana.

I think this highlights a good reason to argue back against the "women can't have it all" mindset. A woman is indeed unlikely to be able to "have it all" if she's got a partner who thinks that balancing work and life is only her problem and not also his. And it will be harder for her to "have it all" if she has to compete in a work environment dominated by men with this attitude. When we as a culture just throw up our hands and say "women can't have it all!" but do not acknowledge that neither can men, we're just undervaluing the parts they tend to miss out on, we are surrendering to our patriarchal history. We can do better. This is why while I don't care what any one woman decides to do with her life- we all get only one chance to live and have to make compromises to find the arrangements that make us happiest in our far from perfect world-  I do care when that woman extrapolates from her life to all women and I do care when in doing so she casually lets men off the hook for the free pass on "work/life balance" that they have been getting all these years, and to a large extent continue to get.

Moving on... to other depressing "women at work" topics! Isis the Scientist completely nails the reason that so much sexual harassment goes unreported in the sciences. You may or may not be able to sink the harasser's career, but chances are in attempting to bring him to justice you'll sink your own career. Sad, but true, I think. So while I applaud the women who are brave enough to fight back, I refuse to judge the women who choose to just deal with the harassment and try to get on with their careers. But I am not completely impartial here. I have had to make a decision like this, back when I was a much younger scientist. I did not make a fuss about the harassment and my career continued. It is impossible to know what would have happened if I had made a fuss, but I am pretty sure that I would have faced some unpleasant repercussions. (Of course, I am old enough that at the time during which I was making my decision, the spectacle of the Anita Hill hearings was fresh in my memory... maybe things are better now. Sadly, I sort of doubt it.)

And one final depressing "women at work" article, about how women aren't held back by an ambition gap, they are just held back. Sigh.

I hate to end on such a downer. So watch this hilarious and eerily accurate spoof video about why MTV doesn't play music videos any more:

Thursday, November 15, 2012

An Update on the Cloud Household Logistics

Back when I first wrote my "Having it All: The Logistics" post (which I really wish I'd called "Having All of It That You Want: The Logistics," so much have I come to despise the phrase "having it all"), Alexicographer wondered how things would look once we no longer had both kids at the same day care. I said I'd come back and update once Pumpkin started Kindergarten. And then I forgot about it.

A couple of blog posts reminded me about it this week: AskMoxie had a post with a mother who is about to go back to work asking for advice and Laura Vanderkam had a post about that lawyer who quit with a dramatic exit email detailing how long/crappy her day was. I realized that our schedule has settled into a routine again, and decided that it was time to update my logistics post. I've cut and paste the old schedule in here, and modified it to reflect our new routine.

The Base Weekday Schedule

My husband still gets up at about 6:20 a.m., when the alarm goes off. I still get up earlier most days. I now set my alarm for 5:55 and try to get up for some "me" time. The plan is to go for a short run Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, do some writing on Tuesdays, and do yoga on Thursdays. But Petunia has a bad habit of waking up and messing up my plans. Or she'll have a bad night (or I'll be sick) and I won't want to get up. I recently had the bright idea of doing two of my 10-minute dance workouts, which actually worked as long as I let Petunia watch a show on my Kindle Fire. I prefer the run- the neighborhood is so quiet at that hour, and I enjoy the peace. But perfect isn't possible right now, so I'll take what I can get.

We all eat breakfast. I check my email and then shower, and do my hair. I also help get the kids dressed and ready. Petunia has started demanding that I get her ready, and in the interest of getting everyone out the door roughly on time, I have been doing this. Mr. Snarky has picked up an 8:45 meeting most days, so we need to get everyone out on time. Mr. Snarky makes Pumpkin's sandwich, which is a combination she invented- strawberry jam and cheese spread on a pita pocket. It used to be gouda cheese slices, but those fell out too much and annoyed her.

I now leave the house between 7:45 and 8:00 a.m., and so does everyone else. I kiss everyone good-bye. Most days, Mr. Snarky and I do some sort of dramatic silly good-bye kiss, because it makes the kids laugh, and when Pumpkin was still struggling with the Kindergarten adjustment, she needed a laugh. Now it is just fun to look into the car and see the kids laughing.

I drive to work, and get there between 8:15 and 8:30 a.m. Sadly, this is now usually closer to 8:30 than 8:15.

Mr. Snarky drops Pumpkin at the before care at her school (which is frustratingly as far from the only open gate as it is possible to be), drives Pumpkin to day care, and then drives to work, arriving between 8:30 and 9 a.m.

We both work all day. I don't take a long lunch break most days, although I do occasionally meet a friend for lunch. I go for a 20-30 minute walk at lunchtime if my meeting schedule allows. I actually find that the walk helps me think problems through, so it can be a very productive thing to do. I usually manage a walk at least twice a week. If I have a meeting too close to lunchtime and can't walk, I usually still take a short break, by goofing off online while I eat. (This is unchanged.)

I leave work between 4:30 and 4:45 p.m. and drive to day care. It takes roughly 10-15 minutes to get Petunia and her stuff gathered up and back in the car.

I drove to Pumpkin's school, which is a couple blocks from our house and Petunia and I walk across the entire campus to her after school care. I usually get to Pumpkin between 5:15 and 5:30. We walk back across campus and buckle everyone back into the car, which takes 5-10 minutes, depending on how many delays the kids create and if anyone melts down. We drive home from there, which takes a couple of minutes.

The kids watch TV or a DVD and eat a snack while I cook dinner. Mr. Snarky still leaves work between 5:15 and 5:30 and is home between 6 and 6:15 most nights, and then we have dinner. Traffic in the area in which we work has been bad lately, so he's been late a lot. Sometimes, dinnertime is only done a few minutes before bath.

If there is time, one adult plays with the kids while the other clears the table and puts away any leftovers, then comes and joins in the play.

We still take turns giving the kids a bath at 7 p.m. On Tuesdays, the other parent takes the garbage out. On Thursdays and Fridays, the other parent may start a load of laundry.

The kids have a snack at 7:30 p.m. For some reason, Mr. Snarky has stopped helping much with that, which may be something that I ask him to change. I think he got out of the habit when he had a big deadline and would have to do work during this time. I make my lunch, Pumpkin's lunch (except the sandwich, which would get soggy overnight), and Petunia's "lunch" (a plastic bowl with goldfish and pretzels that she calls her "runch" and will get very upset if we forget to give her in the morning. She eats it as soon as she gets to day care. I think she just wanted to be more like her big sister. She often insists on carrying her "pa-pack" to the car, too.)

Both kids now head to bed between 8:00 and 8:20. We still alternate nights for which parent gets which kid to bed. They both get 15-20 minutes of books before the lights go out. Pumpkin is usually too tired to read to us these days, but since her teacher tells us she's already reading in Spanish, we aren't too worried about that. Petunia still gets snuggled to sleep, and has started insisting that I come in and finish the deal, even on Mr. Snarky's nights. Pumpkin went through a phase like this, too, so we're just rolling with it. I am now starting to lay the groundwork for convincing her to go to sleep on her own, though. I'll probably get more serious about that after the holidays.

Since I am almost always in Petunia's room snuggling her to sleep, Mr. Snarky almost always does the dishes and sweeps up the kitchen.

Most nights, we're both done by 9:30. Then we work, do chores like paying bills, blog, watch TV, or do whatever else we want/need to do. This is also unchanged.

I try to go to bed between 10 and 10:30, but sometimes it is as late as 11. Mr. Snarky comes in later.

Petunia sleeps through the night more often now. When she doesn't, she usually comes and joins us in our bed. Lately, she's been sleeping through until 5:30 or so and then coming down the hall with an armful of stuffed animals and climbing into bed with us. Very cute. But she then proceeds to aggressively snuggle me (hand up my shirt sleeve, feet pushing into my hip, etc.) so I don't get much more sleep once she joins us.


On Mondays, Mr. Snarky picks up Pumpkin and takes her to swim lesson. I pick up Petunia and come home and make dinner. They don't get back from swim lesson until almost 6:30, so I've started making things that take longer than 20 minutes to cook on Mondays. A couple of weeks ago, I even made zucchini soup (from scratch- I just noticed that the source of my recipe is now offline. I'll have to post a Dinner during Dora recipe!) and pumpkin scones. That was sort of tiring, though, so I doubt I'll be that ambitious that often.

On Tuesdays, my husband picks up Petunia. I leave work at my usual time, and pick up Pumpkin. I get a ~30 minute workout (down from ~45 minutes before the advent of the double drop off), and then we have leftovers for dinner. Mr. Snarky doesn't pick up Pumpkin because he has been under a deadline. That is supposedly past, so we may renegotiate this. However, Pumpkin really likes getting picked up a bit early and getting a little time with me (even if she's just sitting in the garage reading while I work out), so we may just leave this how it is.

On Thursdays, my husband has an early teleconference, which he takes from home. I take both the kids in. We make a concerted effort to get me out the door by 7:50 a.m., and I get to work by about 8:45 a.m. I still pick both kids up, which can lead to sucky days like today when traffic was bad on both commutes and my total commute time for the day was a whopping 3 hours. This may also be up for negotiation now that Mr. Snarky's deadline has passed.

There is no soccer anymore. If Pumpkin wants to pick that back up, we can do it as an after school option on the campus of her school. She chose not to pick up any of the after school "classes" this fall, and we were fine with that. We figured she should just concentrate on settling in at school.

The routine when a kid gets sick is unchanged- one of us picks her up and takes her home and the other one finishes the day before picking up the other kid. We choose who has to leave work based on our work schedules- basically, who has a meeting that can't be missed or who has the deadline coming up first. We also roughly take turns. I call my Mom (who is retired), and if she can, she flies over from Phoenix to stay with the sick kid the next day or two. If she can't, Mr. Snarky and I take turns, or split the days (one works morning, the other works afternoon), and we try to work from home as much as the sick kid and the rest of our schedule will allow.


We still do Friday Night Beers, and plan out our weekend and either just talk or watch a show.

I try to sleep in (until the decadent hour of 7:30) on the weekends, to help compensate for the fact that I am the one who gets up in the night if a kid needs me, and because I generally need more sleep than Mr. Snarky, who is the genetic source of Pumpkin's lower than average sleep needs. We may start alternating. But I hope not....

On Saturdays, we do the laundry that we didn't do during the week. Petunia is potty-training right now, so we have even more laundry than before. Pumpkin has gymnastics lessons at 11 a.m.  I usually take her, because one of her friends is also in the class, and I'm friendly with her mom.

Every other Saturday, both kids have Chinese lesson after lunch. Mostly Mr. Snarky does these now, although I sometimes sit in with Petunia. Petunia goes down for a nap during Pumpkin's lesson, and that requires me if we don't want any screaming. Sometimes, I have to take her out for a walk, which I usually don't mind too much, as long as I wasn't hoping to nap, too.

Mr. Snarky still likes to go for a run on Sunday morning. I write the menu plan and grocery list, and then in the afternoon, one of us (usually me) goes to the grocery store. This is unchanged, although I am experimenting with writing the menu plan on Saturday morning so that we can go to the store whenever is convenient.

Mr. Snarky still cooks dinner on the weekends, and we still have the usual mix of play dates, birthday parties, family outings, trips to the park, visits with friends, and other fun things mixed in with the chores. Usually, both Mr. Snarky and I need to do a little work, too. The extra commute time due to the double drop off/pick up has pushed a little more work into our evenings and weekends. We try to plan one fun thing per weekend, so that we can be certain that we won't let chores swallow our weekends.


Based on this, and my experience of being a mom in the workforce for roughly five years now, I have some observations:

1. Adding in the second drop off and pick up hasn't been as bad as I feared, but it definitely has a impact on our schedule and the amount of free time we have. I remain nervous about what will happen to our schedule next year, when both of our companies move to new buildings. My husband doesn't know yet where his company is moving. I know where my company is moving, and it is further away from home and nowhere near our current day care. It took roughly two months for us to settle into this routine, so I've resolved to give myself a few months to settle into another new routine when my company moves. I'm really afraid it is going to turn out to be untenable, which will require either leaving a job I really like and that is giving me lots of growth opportunities or leaving a day care we love. But there is no point worrying about that now. A lot will change in the next year, and I can't predict what the routine will feel like.

2. I think Laura is right that a lot of how we experience our days is colored by the narrative we have in our mind. I have certainly had some very difficult days when I had work deadlines and a child who was up a lot at night, and my life has felt a little crappy. OK, a lot crappy. But in the narrative in my head about my life, the crappiness is due to the kid not sleeping, and my day would have been just as crappy if I was staying home with the kids all day. And the hassle of the double drop off and pick up is a short term added stress on me that is necessary to keep the life I want.  Not working is just not in my narrative, because for me, working is something I really want to do.

That is not to say that my narrative is the right one for all women- far from it. Just that my narrative is the true one for me, and I have to admit, I sort of resent how much my culture tries to pull me out of that narrative into a "women can't have it all" narrative or some such thing. But that is a rant for a different day.

3. Along those lines... I'd love to see a similar daily schedule for a stay at home mom. I suspect it would not be the unscheduled nirvana that some of the commenters without kids seem to think it will be. Certainly, my weekends aren't like that, even if I'm not trying to do any chores. My kids have natural schedules they need to follow, and they are still young enough that they need a fair amount of entertaining. Unless I want to just turn on the TV all day, I'm going to spend the majority of my day tending to their needs, which I find no more relaxing than most work days. In fact, sometimes my weekends are less peaceful than my work days!

I actually like the trade off of having family life to refresh me from the demands of my work and work to refresh me from the demands of my family life, although I will definitely admit that sometimes I would like a slower pace. Usually, I can think of ways to slow things down for awhile when I need to, but not always. Sometimes things just get crazy and all I can do is wait for calmer times.

I have also been keeping actual time logs since August, which is before Pumpkin started Kindergarten. I plan to pull the data from those logs together and analyze it soonish- I suspect there will be some interesting tidbits in there, and probably some things that I don't expect. But that will have to wait for another day, because I need to get to bed- I'm supposed to get up and go for a run tomorrow morning. Let's hope Petunia lets me!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Pick One Thing And Make It Better

I've been a little scarce around here of late. Some of that has been the general craziness caused by the collision of budget/goals time (at my work), a major release (at Mr. Snarky's work), potty-training (have I mentioned how much I suck at potty-training?) and the tougher than anticipated transition to Kindergarten (which is going sooo much better now). But I've also been feeling a little blocked. I finally figured out that the problem is that my emotions are unusually raw and at the surface. I'm not sure why, but recent news stories have hit harder than I'm used to, even post-motherhood. I was getting overwhelmed by all the bad things that happen in this world, and not really processing things well.

I can usually write my way through things like this, but this time, I didn't want to write about it. Any time I tried, it just made me feel worse. So I wrote about other things, or I didn't write at all.

Then, a few weeks ago, Mr. Snarky and I got to take a couple nights away from the kids. My parents came and watched the kids, and Mr. Snarky and I headed to LA, to see a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. (As an aside- if you've never seen a concert at the Hollywood Bowl and get the chance to fix that, take it. It is a truly special venue.) I was sitting there- in a box, because I thought that if we were going to do the Bowl, we should really do it- looking at the stars, enjoying the music, and thinking life is good. And it is. Life is terrible and good, all rolled up into a big mess. And you never know which bit of the mess you're going to get at any one time. It could be an undeniably awesome bit. It could be an unbelievably horrible bit. Most likely, it will be something in between.

And, trite as it is- and believe me, the rest of this post is going to be on the trite side- the answer just came to me. I realized two things:

1. The only hedge against the bad times is to enjoy the good times while you have them.

Me moping around feeling crappy wasn't going to make anyone else's life easier or make them happier. It wasn't going to fix any of the world's problems. It also wasn't going to protect me from getting one of the unbelievably terrible bits of the mess of life next time I stuck my hands in. So I should just let go of the bad stuff, and really enjoy the wonderful life I have right now.

Yes, this is obvious. But apparently, I'd forgotten it.

2. I should pick one thing, and make it better.

No, moping about wouldn't fix anything. But neither would throwing up my hands and declaring the world to be irredeemably screwed up and to have problems too big to solve. There are some really big problems. A lot of them. But I don't have to fix all of them to do some good. I can pick one thing. And I don't even have to completely fix it. I can just try to make it better.

It took me awhile to figure out what to do with that second insight. I mulled over several ideas, but ultimately rejected them as unrealistic given the parameters of my current life. But then I figured it out. I've got ads on this blog, and I do the Amazon Affiliate program. I do that because I am interested in how people might make money off of the content they produce on the internet. I'm interested in that partially because I think we're living in a time of great change for people who make content (and software) and I just want to try to understand the new rules in general, and partially because I have some ideas that I wouldn't mind monetizing at some point, if I could understand enough about the new rules to figure out how.

Therefore, I want to keep my ads and my affiliate links. I may even try some new things out. But they don't make me anywhere near enough money to really matter in our household budget, so I haven't been taking them very seriously. However, they don't make completely trifling amounts of money, either. The money could do some small amount of good in the right hands.

A bottom that never needed a diaper we didn't have
So I'm going to donate that money to the right hands. Since the majority of the money is in my Amazon account, the easiest and most cost effective thing to do with it is to use it to buy something on Amazon and send it to a charity. I've decided to send things to Home Start, a local charity that works with families who are at risk for child abuse or just having a hard time making it.  They get one of our "regular" charity donations, too, and run an adopt a family program we participate in each Christmas. (If you're a San Diegan- they also take donations of gently used kids' clothes and toys, and unlike many places, will take strollers and the like.)

I'm going to use my ad money to buy them supplies to be given to their client families. It will probably be diapers and wipes, because I think my "one thing" will be the fact that a lot of families can't afford the diapers they need, or are forced to make terrible choices between diapers and food. At my current rate of cash accumulation, I think I'll be able to send them a box of diapers or wipes once every couple of months. It isn't huge, but it isn't nothing, and I've almost got everything set up to send my first donation. I don't have to solve the problem, but I can make it better.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Weekend Reading: The Things I Liked Edition

OK, OK, so "things I liked" isn't really a category for a links post, but I ran out of ways to say "a mishmash of unrelated posts".

At first I thought I'd have a "parenting is hard" theme.  John Schwartz' Big Idea post on Whatever sounds interesting, both from the parenting perspective and from the perspective of someone who has an inner voice that isn't always kind.

And Julie at A Little Pregnant has another excellent post about her parenting challenges. This line is so true: "Sometimes I forget how the process of writing allows me arrive at my own real feelings."

But then I came across this video of Rachel Maddow saying things very much like I said in my rare political post, only much better:

And I thought I'd have this be the "Other People Say It Better" edition.

But then I came across two fun Disney-related things, and just gave up on categorization.

First, I followed a link on Nicoleandmaggie's blog to Little Professor's blog, and then I followed a link to her highly amusing list of new Disney films ideas.

And Mr. Snarky sent the link to this rendition of Princess Leia being welcomed into the Disney Princess fold. Personally, I wanted more snark, but it is still diverting:


Wednesday, November 07, 2012

An Object Lesson in the Problem with Most Career Advice

Several different people in my twitter feed posted a link to this recent C&E News article about the difficulties some laid off chemists are having finding new jobs. It is indeed sobering reading, and provides a good example of why I have a problem both with Cal Newport's advice to focus on getting really good at something and the "traditional" career advice to find something you love to do: sometimes the market for that something collapses.

I had an up close view of the wave of offshoring that occurred in software development, and then watched that wave crest and retreat as companies realized how tricky offshoring really is and started to bring more software development jobs back in house, or at least to local contractors with whom they could have frequent face-to-face meetings. And then, of course, mobile apps happened, and now suddenly software development- a career path that 10 years ago people were pronouncing dead in the US- is one of the hottest careers going, at least as evidenced by how hard it is to find good software developers to hire.

So perhaps something similar will happen to chemistry. Right now, companies are offshoring chemistry like crazy, and people are pronouncing chemistry to be a career that will disappear from the US. But maybe in 10 years, the wave will have reversed, and something will have happened to bring more chemistry jobs back to the US. For software, I think the tide turned due to a lot of big project failures as people tried to offshore projects using the same loose project management techniques that work for collocated projects and had them fail. I don't know what might turn the tide for the chemistry jobs. I have some friends who are convinced it will be the first big case of lost intellectual property, since in the small molecule drug discovery business the structures of lead compounds are closely guarded secrets. It could equally well be some other costly problem, such as an impurity that scuttles an expensive study. Or it could be the same communication and remote management problems that have led to a rethinking of the "offshore everything!" philosophy in software development. Or maybe I'm wrong, and the wave will never recede.

None of this offers much comfort to someone whose job is gone now, though, since even in my best cause scenario, it is close to a decade before the tide turns. It is easy to try to second guess the decisions of the people in the C&E News article, but that is ultimately pointless. The fact is that even chemists who have done everything "right" can find themselves struggling to find a chemistry job these days.

Instead of trying to convince ourselves that we'd never be in their shoes, we would be smart to read their stories and think about different strategies for dealing with industry-wide changes like they faced. This is why I think carefully about how best to build my career capital. I know that not all career capital is of equal value. This is also why retraining isn't as easy at is sounds- something Nicoleandmaggie referenced in the comments on my last post. For retraining to be successful it has to produce career capital that is recognized as having value in the target career, and all too often it fails to do that, or it fails to give the trainee enough capital to go out and find a job in their new field.

I think a better approach would be to explicitly acknowledge that the days of the secure job, or even of the secure career in a given field, are gone. For better or for worse, we all have to take a more active role in managing our career paths these days. We have to craft strategies, and we will live with the consequences if those strategies fail. My primary personal strategy is one of diversification. I like to grow skills and build capital in multiple areas, thinking that I can perhaps use the skills in the more general areas (i.e., technology and management) to find employment if the jobs in my more specialized area (i.e., the science) become too hard to find. But this approach is no guarantee, and it also has risks- for instance, perhaps if I specialized more I would be more competitive for a dwindling supply of jobs in my particular area.

This need to actively manage your career definitely has downsides- it is tiring, and frustrating, and scary, for instance. But there can be upsides, too. I find it energizing to think of the many possible things I could do next, and as a scanner/renaissance soul, I like the idea that I will do many different things over the course of my career, and I like that it is becoming more common to view that as a good thing. But then, I've been pretty lucky so far. I might not be so sanguine about this all if my luck takes a turn for the worse. Let's hope I don't find out.

What do you think? Have you witnessed any large industry-wide changes? How do you manage your career?

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

A Rare Political Post (No Gloating, I Promise)

I had planned to spend my evening drinking a beer or two and nervously watching the election returns. But I live in California, so in fact, the Presidential election was called before I even put my kids to bed. Therefore, I've decided to spend my evening drinking a beer or two and writing a rare political post- and nervously watching the election returns for my local and state elections and waiting to hear Obama's acceptance speech.

I won't lie- I'm happy with the result. As I explained to Pumpkin as we watched the election returns after dinner, Barack Obama was the candidate I voted for.

But I also explained to her that Mitt Romney is a good man, a lot of good people voted for him, and they, for the most part, had respectable reasons for doing so. (I exclude the Truthers and other closet- or not so closet- racists from that.)

And as I tweeted not long after the election was called for Obama, I'm actually disappointed that the Republican party is going the way it is.  I am moderate on most fiscal issues, leaning a little left or a little right issue by issue. Overall, I probably lean a little left. I am, however, quite liberal on the "social" issues- gay rights, women's rights, etc. And I am firmly in the "I believe in science" camp, wanting us to address climate change instead of arguing over whether it is happening, and just wanting us in general to use the available evidence to make policy decisions and not try to make up alternate realities when we don't like the one we've got.

On the fiscal issue and other core government policy issues, like immigration and health care (and yes, I think that is a core government policy), I'd like a credible opposition. I want people who come at these issues from different baseline beliefs about the role of government to bring their best ideas forward, and I want us to debate those ideas and find the best combination to solve the problems we face.

But none of that can happen if one party is more concerned with who I sleep with and what happens after that. It can't happen if one party is more concerned about how to keep certain groups of people from voting than with how to craft policies that will appeal to those groups. And frankly, it can't happen if we are stuck in this place where the partisan game and obstructing the opposition is more important than solving our country's problems. (Yes, I believe both parties have been guilty of that last one, and actually think we are in a negative feedback loop on that, similar to how people react to one car gridlocking with more gridlocking. But Republicans, you're the ones in opposition now, so it falls to you to stop this madness.)

So, while I'm happy that "my side" won this time, I hope that the other side takes a step back, regroups, and finds a way forward that doesn't require all of its nominees to pander to the furthest right wing. I hope it finds a way to be a credible option for me in the future, and doesn't instead double down on its current course.

I hope that because I think we have some big issues to solve in the near future, and I think that some of them are not ones that have an obvious partisan home. I'll make no secret of the fact that I'm thrilled that this election victory means that we keep our place on the path to reforming health care, not just because I think expanding health care coverage is the moral thing to do, but because I think that untethering health care from employment is the smart thing to do. I have written before about how I toy with the idea of going out on my own as a consultant and/or trying to start my own company. One of the things holding me back is the risk that presents, not to my income (which I could manage), but to my family's health care coverage. I do not think I am alone in making that calculation. Why is this not a job creation issue? If we reframe it in that way, could we get sharp minds on both sides of the political divide working on how to make it financially feasible to extend coverage to everyone, regardless of their employment status? Because that is what we need.

The other issue I'd like to see bipartisan brainstorming on is immigration. Again, this is both a moral and pragmatic, economic issue to me. On the moral side, I think that the situation we've created with undocumented immigrants on the low end of the wage scale is reprehensible. On the economic side, I think that the mess we have at the higher end of the wage scale is a competitive disadvantage for our country. We are turning away people who could be job creators, and there are other countries with great quality of life that are happy to welcome them. I do not pretend that finding a fair and lasting solution to these problems will be easy. That is why I want all sorts of people thinking about how to solve them.

And I think this bipartisan brainstorming should be applied to all issues. For instance, I understand and respect the deep and unwavering opposition to abortion that many "values voters" have. I, clearly, view that issue quite differently than they do. But we have common ground. I, too, would like to see the number of abortions in this country plummet. I don't know anyone who doesn't. Let's accept the reality that abortion will remain legal for the time being, and instead of trying to chip away at that work to make it irrelevant. There's research on what reduces abortions. We could work together to figure out how to use that to bring our abortion rate down.

In short, I want us recognize that we disagree on many things, but look for what we can agree on, and use that to find our way to solutions to the issues that matter to all of us. I want an opposition that is more about presenting opposing ideas than about just opposing the other side. I know that this is a pipe dream in our current environment. But it doesn't have to be. I really, truly, hope that the Republicans decide to be that opposition. Who knows- if they do that, in four years, I might find myself in the opposition. Or I might even find myself voting for a Republican. And that would be just fine with me.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Rebuilding Career Capital

When I wrote my review of Cal Newport's So Good They Can't Ignore You, one of the things I highlighted was his idea of "career capital" and how having a good store of it can help you get the type of life you want. I wrote about how I have been cashing in some of my career capital to get the flexibility and autonomy that makes it possible for me to combine work and motherhood in a way that makes me feel good about both, and how I think that it is time for me to start building career capital again.

That's the swamp of career failure on the left,
the pit of bad motherhood on the right
That part of the post resonated with a few commenters, and we had a nice little discussion in the comment section about it. Laura Vanderkam mentioned that she was interesting in hearing more about the topic, specifically about how one goes about rebuilding career capital after "emptying the pot."

This post gives some of the details, at least from my perspective.

Cashing In

First of all, I don't think of the cashing in I've done in the early years of motherhood as "emptying the pot" so much as "not building more capital." To abuse the metaphor a bit, I think I've been spending the interest on the capital I had built in my early career, not the principal. I suppose that if I kept going as I am now, I'd eventually be spending the principal, but I've only been in this "cash in" mode for about six years. As a rough guesstimate, I think it would take ten years in the "cash in" mode for me to burn down to the principal.

Being in a "cash in" phase doesn't mean that I haven't been meeting the expectations of my employers- in fact, if I believe my performance reviews, I've been exceeding those expectations most of the time. It also doesn't mean that I haven't been learning and expanding my skills- looking back over the past six years, I can identify multiple skills that I can list on my resume now that I couldn't have claimed before my daughters were born. And no, I don't mean things like my ability to change the diaper of a squirming, screaming toddler or negotiate snack time with a headstrong preschooler- I mean bona fide work-related skills, like building SharePoint sites or managing a chemistry cartridge in Oracle.

I have not, however, been doing things specifically to build my skill set and expand my career capital. Broadly speaking, I have not been reaching out beyond the core of my job. What this looks like will be different for different people, because different jobs have different things at their core. For me, it means that I have been to only one conference and a couple of user group meetings in the last six years, and all of those have been local. I have not been out looking for useful scientific and technical articles to read, although there are a few relevant blogs that I keep in my reader. I have not expanded my technical skill set much. Specifically, my programming skills are now so out of date as to be rather laughable. I have, however, kept up my core technical skills, and through my jobs, I have updated those.

The reason for this is fairly obvious to me, but it isn't the usual "there just aren't enough hours in the day" sort of reason. It is that I've been too exhausted to put in the effort required to build career capital. Don't get me wrong, there were some extra logistical issues due to having kids, particularly around the attending of conferences, and particularly when I still had a nursing baby. And yes, the day care drop off/pick up routine adds to my commute time, especially now that we have the dreaded double drop off with Pumpkin in Kindergarten and Petunia in day care at a different site. But I have quite flexible work hours, a fairly excellent support system, and the money to buy my way out of a lot of logistical problems. These things could have been overcome.

The thing that I couldn't overcome was that I was just too damn tired to stay awake after the kids were in bed, and if I could stay awake, I didn't have the energy for anything but the most urgent tasks. In fact, there were several time periods during which I was too tired during the day to do the intense work required to learn new skills. Cal Newport has some interesting things to say about the sort of effort it takes to actually get better at something, and I agree with him- learning new skills or pushing to expand your existing skills is some of the most tiring work there is in "knowledge work" careers like mine. I could muster the energy to do that work when it was explicitly required by the job I was doing right then, but I could not muster the energy to do extra.

I know that parents of school-aged kids often argue that the parenting demands actually ramp up, not down as the kids get older. I can see their point- the issues I deal with for my Kindergartener are more complex and emotionally draining than the issues I deal with for my 3 year old, or that I dealt with when the kids were babies. But I still find that the exhaustion factor has gotten much, much, much better as my kids have gotten older. I had two kids who did not sleep through the night until they were two. In fact, Petunia (who is now three) still isn't reliably sleeping through the night all the time, although she does it often enough and is usually non-disruptive enough when she doesn't sleep through that I consider the intense sleep-deprivation phase of parenting to be in my past. Bedtimes are slowly converting from endurance tests to enjoyable routines. Pumpkin is past the phase where she insists on having me take care of her. Petunia is slowing getting past that phase, but is still Mommy-preferring enough that even with a willing and supportive partner, I struggle to put together long chunks of time to work or do work or project related activities when both Petunia and I are at home.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that this experience is not universal. Some kids sleep well from quite early on. My husband and I have a parenting philosophy that requires a large amount of energy in these early years. But that is the point- to combine work with parenting and be happy with how I was doing both, I needed a fair amount of flexibility in my jobs, and the career capital I had stored up from my early career allowed me to get that.


So here I am, feeling like I once again have the energy to rebuild some career capital. How am I going to do that? In some ways, it is quite simple: I'm just going to change my focus at work slightly. Instead of focusing purely on what this particular job needs from me, I will expand my focus to include what I need from this job, i.e., what skills I want to build to get me to the next level in my career.

That simplicity is deceptive, though, because the correct answer to the critical question of which skills to build is far from obvious. I am currently thinking very hard about where to focus my growth efforts. There are three aspects of my job: science, technology, and management. I could decide to focus on any of the three, or any combination of them, and there are many different avenues for growth within each area. To make this decision, I'll have to think about the prospects for my particular field and for my overall industry, and also about the potential for making lateral moves- or heading in completely new directions. It will take me some time to sort through all of that, so I have decided to start making some changes now, even though the best strategy is far from clear. Here is my list:

1. I've started saying "yes" to more local seminars and networking events, particularly if they are during the work day. I'll still have to get my work done, so this leads to longer days, but is less intrusive and easier to organize logistically than the typical after work networking happy hour. (This actually leads me to an interesting side observation: if you want to network with more senior people, you should probably look for seminars and lunch time or even breakfast events, and not happy hours. I've noticed that few of my peers and even fewer of the people senior to me go to the happy hour events. This is not to say that happy hour events are useless- networking with peers and early career folks is a good thing. But if you want the senior people, you probably need to look elsewhere.)

2.  I've printed out a few journal articles that I want to read. My plan is to pick one day a week to designate as "paper reading day" and to read one paper with morning tea on that day. I made this plan just as budgeting and goal setting madness overtook my schedule. Next week, I may actually get to implement the plan, assuming I can unearth the papers from underneath the pile of budget spreadsheets on my desk.

I want to read the paper with my morning tea because I'm sharpest first thing in the morning, and reading and really understanding a journal article is hard work. Once again, my "regular" work will still need to get done, so this may lead to more work after the kids are in bed, but now that I can regularly stay awake for an hour (or more!) after they go to sleep, that is a possibility.

3. I'm taking note of unfamiliar technical concepts that I come across, and I plan to spend one lunchtime per week research the concepts I note down. I usually spend roughly 30 minutes eating lunch, and I usually work through at least half of that time. The other half I spend reading random stuff on the internet- this is where my weekend links posts come from, and is a very good brain cleansing break, so I think it would be foolish to jettison that practice altogether. But once a week, I can have slightly more direction to my internet searching. And of course, I can still take a walk after I finish eating, which is the other half of my lunch time rejuvenation scheme.

And that is it, at least for now. I may eventually decide to do something more drastic- I'm toying with the idea of assigning myself a non-work project that will force me to learn some more modern programming skills. But I don't think I'm ready for that quite yet. Bedtime still takes too long, and weekends are still too fragmented for me to feel up for that sort of project. Besides, it might cut into my writing time, and I find writing to be a very useful way to work through issues and ideas that might be distracting me, and also just to relax and refresh so that I'm ready to focus on work again the next day. And it is fun, so I'm not willing to give it up.

What about you? Have you ever come up with a plan to build career capital? Have you ever been in a period where you spent that capital- and how long did it last? Did you think you were spending interest or principal by the end of that time? I think this is a topic for which individual experiences will vary quite a bit, so I'd love to hear what you all think about it in the comments.