Saturday, December 31, 2011

My top four parenting-related Time Hacks

For the first year and half, my top Stressful Thing About Parenting was the lack of sleep (and that was with a relatively *good* sleeper - I shudder to think what it would have been like with a "bad" one...) I fantasized about checking into a hotel just for one night, BY MYSELF, to do nothing but SLEEP all night and most of the next day.

Now that T is sleeping solidly at night (knock on wood, salt over shoulder, etc etc), we've moved on to the next Stressful Thing About Parenting, which, for a couple of introvert parents, is not having enough time to be by ourselves quietly and do whatever it is we like to do, be it crafty things, reading non-parenting books, watching a sporting event, or Internetting.

Thanks to the holidays, my dear hubby has had  many days off, so I've gotten used to sleeping in. If I were charming and British, I'd say (in my kickass British accent), "I've been able to have a bit of a lie-in."  This extra time with him at home also made me realize we've been sharing the parenting load and trading off more, which lets each of us get that daily alone time.

Us in Nov 2011. (C) Mariah Gentry Photography
We'd totally use this for our holiday card if we sent out photo cards.

Here are four things we've done lately that help me "find" more time in my schedule.

1. Daycare Dropoff/Pickup Switch
This one has been AMAZING and I'm surprised we didn't come to it sooner.  When T started daycare, TJ dropped her off  because it was on his way to work, and it was more socially acceptable for him to come in later and stay late at work.   Bonus for me, because I did NOT want to face dropoff related tears because it made me feel like a horrible mother.  (Not that it didn't make TJ feel bad, but he is much more resilient about it.  I'm just a huge crybaby.) 

So the deal was that I'd get up early, and get myself to work post-haste while TJ would wait for Trillian to wake up, get her fed and dressed and drop her off between 8:30 and 9am. I picked her up around 5:15pm and TJ was free to work as late as he needed on those two days.  We wanted to minimize the length of her day, so that she wasn't spending 10+ hours in daycare regularly.

I'm NOT a morning person so it was a struggle for me to wake up earlier than 7, much less get to work by then as I had hoped, since I had to leave by 4:45pm to pick her up.  As I've mentioned before, the pickup round trip took twice as long at that time of day and we were racing the clock to get home and eat before bedtime (never mind "quality time").  Not to mention that T was especially tired on daycare days, so bedtime had to be earlier or else we'd all pay for it at night.

A few months ago, we had a day where we needed to swap the usual routine.  I think it was because TJ needed to go to work really early that day to make progress on something.  Something just clicked with the new routine and we kept it.  It worked so much better for us, personality wise - TJ is a super early riser and is sometimes out of the house before T or I wake up.  I'm happy to sleep in and use T as my alarm. 

I felt like I had been given a HUGE gift of time by having a couple of extra hours to work in the afternoon, rather than being constrained by daycare pickup and the resulting stress.  On a few occasions, I've been able to stay at work until 9 or 10pm to work on something uninterrupted.  I'm definitely a night owl and do better work at night, and TJ is just the opposite.

T does not cry at dropoff - in fact, her teachers have to remind her to say goodbye to me because as soon as she gets to "baby school" she gets engrossed in a book or toy and doesn't even notice I'm still there.  This totally changed our schedules and our stress levels.  The bonus of TJ going to work super early is that he can come home before T's (ridiculously early) bedtime.

2. Mundane Chores During Awake Time
This one is probably obvious to moms of older/multiple kids, but it took me a while to learn it.  My new mama guilt, conveniently installed at T's birth had me thinking if she was awake, we should be doing delightfully enriching things together constantly. After all, she's only awake for a short time, right?  I wanted to MAXIMIZE the time with her, and plan all sorts of fun and educational things for us to do.

Obviously, we do those things, but I found HUGE value in letting her play by herself (at first in her crib, then in our babyproofed living room) for the 30 minutes it takes me to shower and get ready.  Before that I'd get dressed while TJ was still home in the morning, and shower at night after T went to bed.  I changed this when she was about 8 months old, and then a few months later, it became our regular routine.  When she was a baby, I would shower quickly, always listening for her, and jumping out of the shower if she pitched a fit.  One day I listened to her cry, but gave her a little time and realized she worked it out.  I "peeked" at her from our bedroom and noticed she had gotten the toy she was reaching for and was happily playing with it. 

Now that she's a toddler, she's all over our living room, talking to her toy dinosaurs and teddy bear, making them "food" in her kitchen, etc.  I can not only shower and get ready at my leisure but can even put away the laundry while she plays happily.  I realized how little time she gets to play by herself each day - we're so busy with daycare, errands and planned activities, so there are whole days where she spends no time alone with her toys.  Judging from how engrossed she is with them when I shower, I think it's good for both of us.  I am especially happy that she's learning how to play by herself.
The other part of this came just a few months ago.  I started a chore "routine" to keep it a bit more predictable - unload/load/run the dishwasher every day, and do the laundry a few times a week rather than a HUGE pile on weekends.  This actually takes me less time, and is definitely less stressful, because it's not hanging over my head.  For the first couple of weeks, I'd "save" these chores, including a quick pass to pick up toys, for T's naptime or after she went to sleep.  But I realized they were eating into the precious alone time I have when she's asleep.

So now while she eats meals or a snack, I load or unload the dishwasher.  I ask her to play by herself for a bit while I collect and load the laundry, and sometimes she actually helps me sort the clean laundry (surprisingly, this is actually helpful!).  I discovered by accident that she LOVES to clean up her toys once she knows where everything goes, so she actually does this chore herself.

This lets me spend naptimes and evenings after she goes to bed, to craft, watch (non-kid-approved) TV with TJ, or get a little (office) work done.  I've "reclaimed" a LOT of time this way.  It's stunningly obvious to most experienced mamas, but took me a long time to figure it out.

3. Morning Bath
Nearly everyone I know and read about, bathes their kids at night, as part of the bedtime/cooling down routine.  I never liked that because by the end of the day, I'm often mentally fried, and end up rushing through everything just to get that "down" time after T's happily in bed.  That was shortchanging BabyT for what should be a nice, relaxing bedtime, so I started bathing her earlier in the day.  We didn't do baths on the days I worked, and somehow having a "random" bath time made it easier for us to forget (horrible parents, I know!). 

With winter approaching and T's sensitive skin needing extra care, I realized we needed to get into a routine, just like we do (religiously) for naps.  Bathtime is one of the "joys" I'd love to share with the hubby (aka, foist off on him occasionally) so moving it to first thing in the morning ensures two things:  that either of us can do it,  and that we are consistent since our early mornings are all the same.

At first it sounded like a HUGE hassle, and T was not happy about waiting for her morning soy milk.  But it's working well - she's gotten a bath every day like she needs to, it's faster since we need to change her anyway, and since we go into daycare relatively late on the days I work, we have plenty of time to add this into our schedule.  And of course the secret bonus is that on the days TJ is around when T gets up, he handles morning bath and food.  Hooray!  

4.  Big Meal Sunday
Feeding a toddler healthy food 5-6 times a day is a hassle, no doubt about it.  And obviously, it's not something I'd like to outsource (Lunchables? McDonald's? no thank you!).  I struggle with meal planning in general.  It's such a simple idea - plan what we're going to eat for the week, do all the shopping and prep when I have some time.  I just can't seem to get it together.  We're lucky that T still eats a lot of "toddler food", ie ingredients rather than elaborate meals, like fruit, soyogurt, pasta and sauce, BBQ chicken, oatmeal, edamame etc.  So a meal for her is usually just 3 or 4 different items from a small list of things she's likely to eat.

This doesn't really work for grownups, though, so I've taken to making ONE REALLY BIG pot of something on Sundays - Thai curry, chili, stew, etc.  We eat it for dinner on Sunday, and are usually able to get at least 2 more meals out of it for all of us.  This also helps for the days that one of us isn't home for dinner - there are leftovers in the fridge that comprise an actual, balanced, homecooked meal.  If it's something T really likes, she'll happily eat it for lunch and dinner, which gives me the peace of mind that she's eating healthy, real food with protein and vegetables, and not just subsisting on fruit leather and soymilk.

This alone has reduced the money (and health cost) of "desperation eating out", which is what happens when we look in the fridge/pantry, decide there's nothing to eat, and call the pizza guy or go out to some vaguely unsatisfying chain restaurant within 5 miles of our house.  I just finished reading The End of Overeating by David Kessler, and OMG was it eye-opening about the food industry.  So depressing but really motivated me to think about what I eat in a different light.

It also saves time, since meals are often quicker when we just stay home and eat something, rather than getting ready to go out, waiting for our food, vigilantly watching T to avoid a meltdown, and then heading home, *not* relaxed and only partially nourished.

It helps that I love to cook. I also have two favorite new cookbooks, Well Fed by Melissa Joulwan and America's Test Kitchen: Slow Cooker Revolution. So far everything I've made from either one has turned out great, which makes the initial time investment on a weekend afternoon *totally* worth it.

Those are the top things working for me these days, and keeping the beasts of stress and not enough 'me' time at bay. Got any tips for me? I'm a TOTAL time management junkie, so would love love LOVE to hear what works for you!!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The scars of your love remind me of us

When I was pregnant, and when BabyT was tiny, I spent A LOT of time reading about parenting. That's how I react when I'm freaked out about a situation - I read as much as I can get my hands on so I can gain some confidence and feel "prepared". And of course, anyone who has actual children knows, there's nothing you can read that will adequately prepare you.

We received the book Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood as a gift when T was born.  I started flipping through it, but it was clearly more for toddlers than babies. Their basic premise for babies was to reinforce trust by responding to their needs.  I figured I had read enough about that in tons of other places so I put the book back on the shelf to read when T was older.  Already annoyed by "experts" at that point, I was a little irritated by the patronizing tone in the book, but didn't think much more about it.

Around that time I posted my irritation on Facebook about why parenting books always claim that theirs is the One True Way (like hmm, what else, religion?), and seem to neglect the fact that kids are actually people with a high level of variability in the population. So instead of saying something like "here are some things you could try", they come out sounding like "I'm the expert, so this works and if you don't do it, your kid will be irrevocably damaged.  Also I have a PhD/MD/cryptic certification no one cares about so clearly I'm smarter than you." As you might imagine, this doesn't sit well with me.

About six months ago, my fabulous employer announced a free Love and Logic parenting series - the full meal deal, with 12+ monthly seminars taught by a certified instructor.  They were on Tuesdays during lunchtime, so it sounded perfect to me and I hurried to sign up before it filled up (and it did, in a matter of minutes).

But when I read the overview blurbs for each of the seminars, my mama-alarm started beeping, albeit quietly.  It sounded to me like it was teaching a "technique" to get compliance and good behavior, using some standard phrases that were variations of a script they provided.   You use "natural consequences" to make your point rather than punishment.  You stem arguments by saying stuff like "I love you too much to argue".

If you want the whole overview, check out the link to their site above, which is what I read to get more info about the class.  I also did a bit of Googling, and found both good and bad reviews on Amazon.   In the sea of "OMG this stuff is magic and works great" blog posts, I found a nicely written dis-recommendation by a mama in New York who put words to my vague unease about what I was reading.  Go read it - it's really good stuff.  (Thank you Nancy!)

I went home and pulled out the Love and Logic book we received and started flipping through it to the toddler sections, since T was nearly 2 and the advice was now more relevant.  And honestly, I just don't like it. 

Yes, some of it is good and universal parenting advice that is in line with my beliefs - give kids as much choice as you can so that they feel like they have some control over their day.  No spanking or putdowns. Teach them to make decisions for themselves rather than controlling them and telling them what to do.  Empathize when they are upset.  Use enforceable statements instead of warnings and threats.  Staying calm.  All goodness, right?

It's the "technique" part of this that bugs the heck out of me.  The scripted phrases you're supposed to use, like the aforementioned "I love you too much to argue." and the instruction to "go brain dead" when your kids are riled up.  The not-so-natural consequences presented in the examples in the book, like making kids do chores to earn back toys that weren't put away, or to replace the "energy drain" they caused by exhibiting "bad behavior" like making rude noises or calling someone a name. 

According to one of the Amazon reviews, a previous version of the book had an example where a kid forgot to feed the dog, and his mother decides since he can't handle the responsibility, they drop the dog off at a shelter.  The revised version of this "natural consequence" is that Mom says she can only feed two mouths at dinner, and now that the dog needs to eat, the kid doesn't get to.  Uh, WTH?

Other examples advocate for making other people part of your disciplinary strategy, like when Grandma is briefed in advance about bad behavior in the car on the way to her house.  When the kid gets there and looks for the treats Grandma always has for her, Grandma says she only gives treats to the nice kids.  When the preschool kid pitches a fit, Grandma says something sarcastic like "Nice tantrum, but I think you can do better." and then tells her to come and join the family when she can be calm.

The book says things like "you can use this technique when your kid is hassling you" and advocates making kids stay in their room until they're done with their tantrum/behaving appropriately, even if you need to remove the door handle, lock the door or keep sending them back in.

I could go on about the examples in the book, but don't want to violate copyright. The whole thing struck me as incredibly manipulative, the "empathy" disingenuous and just reinforces the whole authoritarian philosophy.   I don't doubt that it "works" if that means getting kids to be obedient and compliant.

I'm not saying that Love and Logic is bad, but articulating why it's not for us.  It doesn't foster the kind of relationship I want to have with my daughter, where I really, truly, empathize with her about how hard it is to be 2 (or 6 or 16!).  Where we work *together* to find solutions, and where she understands *why* we have certain ways of doing things.  (As a result, I wonder myself sometimes why I am enforcing x rule, and then decide it's not that important.  Feedback loop and all that.)

A couple of books I've been meaning to re-read are Faber and Mazlish's How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk and Kohn's Unconditional Parenting, which are more in line with the kind of parent I want to be. 

We have been blessed with an easygoing little girl, so we don't need "hardcore discipline techniques" just yet.  As long as we make sure she isn't tired or hungry, we get age-appropriate behavior.   We do not expect her to sit quietly through a 2.5 hour dinner at Canlis, or be quiet and still during a 75 minute church service.  Instead of disciplining her for these things, we either don't put her in the situation in the first place (dinner plans starting at her bedtime) or we remove ourselves from the situation (church service running past the expected hour).

Sometimes we'll be trapped during a meltdown (airplanes come to mind) but we prepare as well as we can and hope for the best.  We teach her how to use her words to describe what she's feeling, and we take a lot of deep breaths to keep our frustration in check (but of course sometimes we fail there, too.) 

I don't want to be an "impartial observer" like the Love and Logic folks advise, and let the "natural consequences" enforce the rules.  I want to understand my daughter better, have her know from an early age that I'm on her side (for real), and help her figure out how to live in this complicated world.  It'll likely be frustrating for both of us, but that's part of the deal, I think.

So I declined all the Love and Logic seminars.  And I feel good about it.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

And to all a good night

I started this with the intention of writing a whiny post about "doing too much" and the sheer exhaustion I feel after being in charge of Christmas magic. It's a weighty responsibility now that I've got a small person who's old enough to understand what's going on.

But I'm not going to do it.  Instead, let me share a few things I'm grateful for:
  • A husband who gets it
  • The one absolutely perfect present I selected for T
  • Her four loving, engaged grandparents
  • BabyT's 6:30pm bedtime

I'm looking forward to the start of a New Year, and closing out this one.  Cleaning house, both literally and figuratively.

Oh, and this is the last I'll mention it, but if you're still thinking about signing up for Mondo Beyondo, you can use the coupon code BRAVEYOU2012 to get $20 off.  And let me know if you use my link and I'll share any bonus I get with you.  10 people I know have signed up!  I can't wait to hear how it goes for them.

Kristi Lloyd Photography, (c) 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas presents for a 2-year-old: Harder Than I Thought

I was just going to pilfer (with credit, of course) a photo from Flickr tagged with "Christmas presents" but since LauraC was kind enough to give me a tip on how to get the 'bokeh' effect in photos, I figured I should make an honest effort to try and get one of my own.

And I'm so glad I did, not because the photo is anything special, but because it was the first fun "me" thing I've done in what seemed like a day full of errands.   I played around with the aperture and shutter speed settings on my Canon S90, something I never do because I don't know where to start, used the new tripod for the first time ever, and learned a little tiny bit in the process.

Aaanyway, back to Christmas.  We are not Christian, but we celebrate Christmas enthusiastically.  Or more accurately, *I* love Christmas, and I drag TJ along.  Trillian is pretty enthusiastic about everything, so we're a good match. 

This morning T and I rode the bus downtown, mostly just so we could ride the bus, but we were on a bit of a Christmas scavenger hunt.  I told T she needed to look out for: snowflakes, a snowman, a Santa Claus, and a Christmas tree.   She found everything, and giggle with pure joy when she saw a (pretty sketchy-looking) guy on the street dressed as Santa looking to make money in exchange for photos.  I declined the opportunity, of course, but T was SO HAPPY to see him.

Christmas, like most things, is WAY better with a 2 year old.

I struggled with what to buy her this year.  She has SO MUCH STUFF.  We get a lot of hand me downs from friends, I have pretty specific ideas of good toys for her developmentally that I buy through the year, and she does better with less stuff.   She already has a play kitchen (big hit!) and a dollhouse (comes and goes) and all the little bits and pieces for those.

I finally settled on a tricycle, and found someone at work selling a used Kettler in great shape.  (Which is good because I really couldn't rationalize paying full price for it.)   But I realized she'd also need some smaller gifts, especially to fill her stocking. 

I've previously blogged about my toy pickiness.  It's only getting worse, as she gets to the age where the deluge of princess crap is about to start.  For the most part I seek out toys that are non-electronic, non-licensed character, not overly gendered, interactive and open-ended.  The talking Barbie laptop?  Not an option.

I started squirrelling things away in October, on the occasional kid-free trip to Target (heaven!), or just ordering online and unpacking boxes while T was asleep.  When I pulled everything out today to wrap it, I realized there was way too much when I also looked at the presents sent by our family.  So I kept some of the "3+" age group toys and art supplies for later.

Since she doesn't read my blog, I can tell you what I bought for her.

Alex Toys Learn to Dress Monkey - T has pretty good fine motor skills, but is just now learning how to take off her shoes and jacket herself. (good for me from an efficiency point of view, but it would be nice for her to do some things for herself...)  This monkey is *awesome* - he's got 11 different "activities" like a button, snap, buckle, shoes and socks, velcro, etc.  He's also super-cute, and she digs monkeys, so I think he'll be a hit.  Also, she was with me when I bought him...  (I know, Bad Mama, but the party store near us was having a HUGE sale on really nice toys.  I was lucky to get out with just one item.)

Moon Dough - It supposedly doesn't dry out when you leave it out, so I'd love to have something like her beloved Play-Doh that I don't have to vigilantly make sure is shut tight when she's done. It has bad reviews on Amazon, so I'm glad I got it super-cheap at Target. We'll see how it goes.

Crayola Washable Window Markers - a BRILLIANT suggestion from my friend Adrianne, who also has a 2 year old.  T can use these to draw on the sliding glass doors and they are totally washable from other surfaces.  I think she'll love it, and I do think she's got the control/understanding to use them only on the glass.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?-  T pretty much has this memorized since she hears it at "baby school", and I've never read it.  I think she'll like having a copy at home.

Crayola Washable Watercolors -  I wasn't sure she was old enough/ready for watercolor paint, but she tried some at her friend A's house and looooved it. Yes, my girl is totally into the artsy stuff.  These will probably end up will all the colors mixed up together, but both T and I are ok with that.

IKEA Duktig Soft Fake Food Breakfast Set - this was on sale for $4 the last time we were at IKEA so I grabbed it on impulse.  I took it out of the packaging today, and was pleased to find it's really well made, and super cute.  There are 4 pancakes with jam, a cutting board and knife (soft), bacon, fried eggs, sausages, and a sandwich that completely comes apart, with all the fixin's stuck together with velcro.  Maybe she'll feed us more than oatmeal for pretend breakfasts now!

IKEA Lillabo Train Set -  I had been meaning to buy her some train tracks and little trains since she was so taken with the train tables we saw at a couple of toy stores.  I'm not sure if I got her the 20 piece or 12 piece set, so we may not have enough track to do anything useful.  I guess we'll find out soon enough!

Trader Joe's Assorted Jellybeans - We don't give her much junk food, but as a result of her dairy allergy, she pretty much can't eat any candy at all.  So when I saw these jellybeans at Trader Joe's, I thought they'd make a nice stocking stuffer, and we can ration them out over time.  The box is super-cheerful, makes a nice sound when you shake it, and has pictures of all the flavors on the back, so at least she can learn something while she's rotting her teeth...

It's still a lot of stuff, and I know she'll be overwhelmed by it.  She's still young enough that she wants to play with each thing as she unwraps it, rather than amassing the "pile o' loot".  So we'll probably let her open a couple of things tomorrow on Christmas Eve, and then maybe spread out the present opening through the day on Christmas Day.
So, Interwebs, what are you all doing for Christmas?  Buy anything exciting for yourself or the kiddos?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Empowering or Separate But Equal or Unfair Advantage?

Let me first say that this post is probably going to rub some people the wrong way.  I'm exploring my own thoughts, which are jumbled, and would love to get a discussion going on in the comments to help sort them out. 

When I was accepted to Caltech in 1991 (good lord, that was a long time ago), the offer of admission came with an extra surprise.  Not only was I invited to attend Prefrosh Weekend, which was a way for prospective students to figure out if the school was a good fit, but Caltech would PAY FOR ME to attend, simply because I was female.

First thought was "OMG, I got in?!".  Next thought was "Hooray, a trip to California!" since it can be cooold in Pittsburgh, even in April.  But having never thought about it before, I was puzzled by why they'd fly me out for free, since I had not expressed a need for financial aid.  Of course, I soon understood it was because of their 4 to 1 male:female ratio, and the fact that they wanted to increase their 'yield' of admitted female students accepting the offer.

I went to Caltech, I made lots of friends, both male and female, and it wasn't terribly hard for me to adjust to life in a skewed-ratio environment.  After being labeled as "The Nerd" and having the resulting typical American high school experience, it was really nice to be in an environment where one was not penalized for being smart, and as a bonus, where wearing makeup and clothes that matched generated a reasonable amount of interest from the opposite sex.  And in fact, I did find me a husband there, which seems only fair after all the blood, sweat and tears it took for me to get that degree.

While I was there, we had the occasional girls' night out, which was a bunch of my friends getting together for dinner. I joined the Society of Women Engineers (SWEeee!) and was even an officer for a while, before I decided to skip out on engineering in favor of chem and bio.  I didn't feel like being female was a disadvantage or that anyone was discriminating against me for it, so I never felt the need to seek the services of the Womens' Center or other women-only groups.   I had one professor make an asinine remark about women not being able to visualize 3-D space, but it was, thankfully, an isolated incident.

Despite having mediocre grades, I was able to get into my grad schools of choice because of all the lab research I had done and the excellent recommendations from my professors.  Grad school and my subsequent job at Deloitte Consulting were pretty much close to a "normal" ratio.

And then I came to my current company, a very tech-focused environment which seems to have the same male:female ratio (or worse) than Caltech, at least in the product engineering teams I've been on.  I'm frequently the only woman in a meeting, and in our last team meeting, I counted maybe 3 women in a room of 40. 

This is typical, but doesn't bother me.  I've never felt like people were treating me differently for being female.  Oh, except when guys apologize for using bad language in front of me - that actually drives me up the wall.  But I know they mean well, and I tell them I am fully capable of swearing like a sailor and then it's all good.

My company sponsors a Women's Conference, which is open to all, but typically it's 98% women who attend, and the topics are mostly focused on women in technology, how to navigate office politics, work-life balance, etc.  We have several active womens' groups at different levels of the company that sponsor training, social events, and meet regularly to work on various initiatives, like sponsoring STEM events for girls.  I'm guessing men aren't explicitly excluded from these events, but they don't attend.

And here's my dilemma.  I've taken advantage of the special training sessions and conferences offered by these groups, because they're really great opportunities that others pay $1000s for externally.  I like to go to the occasional social event to see former coworkers on other teams and meet new people.  But I feel guilty about this, because I don't feel like I *need* the help just because I'm female.  And I wonder if I'm somehow saying with my actions that we women "need this kind of help". 

And at the other end of the spectrum, to borrow a term from the Caltech Honor Code, sometimes it seems like I'm getting an "unfair advantage" by being offered these things, when most of my coworkers are not.

Some men in technology fields are socially awkward and not savvy about things like office politics and networking either. Or maybe they're from other countries and don't "get" the way things work in our American culture. I bet they could benefit from the same training opportunities as well.

And when I think back to the Prefrosh Weekend trip to Caltech, I know my parents would have sent me anyway, even if they had to pay for it.  There may have been guys who didn't go because their parents didn't want to spend the money.  I'm uncomfortable with the idea of my attendance being more valuable just because of my gender. 

And yes, I'm really, really lucky that I don't have to deal with overt sexism, and that I haven't felt that frustration.  I know it still exists, even in the land of technology where I'd like to believe it's all about intellect and efficiency.

So I'm not sure what to do with this.  Do I continue to take the opportunities offered to me?  Do I respectfully decline them because I don't feel like I'm at an inherent disadvantage and maybe someone else does?  Is it like going to church, where some people need that kind of community support more than others?  Am I naive and being discriminated against more than I realize?

Help me out here.  What's your thought on these sorts of things?  What do you do?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Battle in Seattle: A Tale of Two Phones

Welcome to the Battle in Seattle: Samsung Galaxy Nexus (Android Ice Cream Sandwich) vs HTC HD7 (Windows Phone 7.5 Mango).  After all those heavy philosophical posts, I figured it might be good to lighten up a little...
Galaxy Nexus
I'm a gadget person.  I love me some consumer electronics.  I'm not an early adopter, usually, but I like to get in on a v2 of something cool.  I bought an MP3 player (32 MB, baby!) long before Apple came out with the iPod.  I've had at least 6 MP3 players and 8-ish cell phones in the past 13 years.

Of course, with the advent of smartphones, I no longer need a standalone MP3 player.  So like my friend Judy and I used to plan for "the complete purse" in high school, where we tried to optimize for every possible thing we might need to carry with us, I'm always looking for that "perfect" smartphone that does everything I need it to.

Soon after we moved to Seattle, I got one of the first Windows Mobile phones, and loooooooved the fact that it synchronized with Outlook.  And really, once you have all your email, calendar and contacts on your cell, it's hard to go back.

For a brief time, I had an iPhone.  And I loved that thing.  But the monthly service cost was crazy and we were getting ready for the great unknown of BabyT by trying to eliminate all extraneous spending.  So it got the axe and I downgraded to a super cheap prepaid Verizon phone - no Exchange sync, no Web browsing, no calendar (unless you manually entered events). 

When an exec at work announced last year that we were all getting a free Windows Phone 7, I was stoked.  I could finally justify going back to a smartphone, because it was FREE, right?  TJ bought that argument and BabyT and I were right there in line for my free HTC HD7 phone last November when it was released.

Using it was a dream, after having a "dumb phone" for so long.  I had my calendars and work email on my phone!  It had a data plan and unlimited text messages so I could browse the web, run apps and text people to my heart's content instead of deciding whether it was worth the 10 cents to send someone a text.

It got even better when I got into an internal Beta program to try the Mango release before it shipped.   Lots of cool features to discover and make the phone even more indispensable.

But it was not perfect.  The camera on the HD7 is ridiculously slow.  It focuses on an image, freezes it when you press the shutter button, and then the picture that results is what happens a second later.  Fine for inanimate objects like the fancy dessert I'm about to eat, but not so much for kids or dogs who are constantly moving. 

In an entire year, I didn't get *one* decent photo of Trillian from that camera.  I wistfully looked at everyone's Instagram photos on Facebook and wished I could capture random moments with T with my own phone.

I couldn't justify buying another phone so soon, especially since I had broken my contract with T-Mobile to get a super cheap monthly no-contract plan.  This plan was so good that even paying the contract-breaking fee was totally worth it.  $30 for unlimited data, yo!

Lucky for me, TJ's very generous employer gave him a super-fancy unlocked, no-contract-required Galaxy Nexus phone as a gift yesterday.  I easily convinced him to give it to me, since he was still using the gift phone they got last year.  He's not a gadgety person.  He used the same Nokia monochrome screen candy bar phone for YEARS.  He's of the opinion that if it still works, why make a change?  I see his point, but that's just not as much fun, right?

I spent most of last evening and today playing with the new phone and learning how to use Android Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS).  This isn't a gadget blog so I'm not going to run through a bunch of specs and detailed tests, blah blah blah.  If you want that, please go read Engadget.

Here's my short and sweet review of what I liked and don't like about each phone. I'm still on the fence about which one to keep, but I suspect that the Galaxy Nexus will win, just because it's new and shiny, and has a camera that actually takes a decent photo.  And with that, I should say that these opinions are totally my own, and do not reflect my employer, etc. etc.

Now that I've used an iPhone and an Android phone, I see the genius in the Windows Phone 7 "Metro" user interface.  It's simple, pretty, unique and useful.  On my HD7, I had my home screen "tiles" set up with the most important stuff I used.  It was uncluttered.  The tiles for my email and SMS messages/chat would tell me how many unread items I had.  The calendar tile showed me my next appointment.  The cute little messaging icon showed me a sad face when there was a message failure.  I love that little guy.

I'm kind of "meh" about the Android UI.  It's fine.  It's reasonably flexible - you can have a bunch of different home screen pages, just like on the iPhone.  But I couldn't find a single widget that would show me the number of unread messages in my email.  Really?  All notifications show up at the top of the screen, with super tiny icons.  I spent a bunch of time trying to configure my home screen to look like my Windows Phone 7 home screen and couldn't find the widgets to do it.  So, if you're an Android developer, please make me an app that makes my UI look like Metro.  Thank you :)

The Galaxy Nexus camera wins, hands down.  It takes non-blurry photos of my child.  That's really all I was looking for.  In addition, it lets me adjust exposure, white balance and lets me decide what part of the image to focus on.  No such luck on the HD7.

The New York Times app is available for Android.  It was my lifeline on my iPod Touch when I was nursing BabyT (hours!), and I missed it on Windows Phone.  There's an Android app to update my Etsy shop and I can use my Square credit card reader with Android, but sadly not Windows Phone.  I love the native Google Plus app on Android, and of course, there isn't one for Windows Phone, though I keep looking for it. These things aren't a huge dealbreaker, and I got by just fine on the Windows Phone without them, but it's nice to have them back.  It definitely seems like companies make iPhone and Android apps a higher priority before building a Windows Phone app, which is a huge bummer.

But, some of the HUGE benefits of the Windows Phone are things I didn't even know I relied on, until finding out the Android doesn't have them:  OneNote + Windows Live SkyDrive, Facebook contact info merged in with the other contacts pretty seamlessly, super easy setup for Exchange sync.  I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out how to get Android to sync my work stuff and had to rely on some guy's comment in a TechRepublic article to finally get it to work, after much frustration. 

I also miss the ability to manually merge contacts into one record by "linking" them.  The Windows Phone has a brilliant way of doing this with all contacts from all your accounts - it matches them automagically by name, suggests others that might match and then lets you also pull them in yourself.  I haven't yet figured out how to make this happen on Android without updating the source accounts first to make sure all the names match and duplicates are removed.

In my ideal world, I'd have the Galaxy Nexus phone running Windows Phone 7.5 and then have the huge selection of apps available in the Android Market.  But since that's not likely to happen, I'm going to keep using the Galaxy Nexus for the next couple of weeks and then figure out what I want to do. First world problems, I know.  But a girl's gotta have her perfect phone, right?

Friday, December 16, 2011

My Not-So-Secret Mission - A Message from the Universe

yes, it's a fake tree.
I promised I'd write about one of the "Secret Missions" I did for Mondo Beyondo.   I posted earlier about the "affirmations" we were supposed to put in a place where we'd see them.  I'm still not so sure about the value of these things,  but it makes me happy to see the little circles I made.
Well, one of our assignments was to leave an affirmation for someone else to find.  It seemed to me like it was putting out good vibes to the universe, and then maybe some of that goodness would come back.  But not with that expectation, of course, because that would ruin the magic juju.  Hehe.  I'm not sure I believe in all that, but I did want to brighten a friend's day a little. 

Other folks in the class put up the affirmations on community bulletin boards, or in library books, for strangers to find.  But I wanted to focus my efforts on people I knew.  I struggled with how to do it.  I wanted to mail them, but knew the Redmond postmark would give me away to most people.  So I let this assignment sit while I did other things, and hoped that my brain would come up with some way to make it work.

Eventually, it came to me.  I decided to "secretly affirm" a few women that I worked with, and picked 5 people, a nice round (small) number.  This way I could also hand-deliver the circles to their offices in the dead of night.

Ok, not really the dead of night, more like 8pm, but that sounded more dramatic and secretive, right?

So I made up the circles using scraps of pretty patterned paper, tucked them into tiny little coin envelopes with some sequins (because who couldn't use a little more sparkle) and set off into the night to deliver them.

All went well. No one saw me drop off the little packages of mystery and it was all I could do to keep it to myself.

About a week later,  I received an email from my friend D, who asked if I knew anything about a little note she got in her office.  I'm not a person who likes to lie outright, even if it's for something innocuous and fun like this, so I admitted to it.  Apparently the craftiness of the item gave it away so she suspected me.

That same week, my friend J asked me if I knew anything about it, and I couldn't lie to her either.  She and her coworkers loved it - she said it was like "a message from the universe".  Which I thought was pretty awesome.

The other 3 folks haven't figured it out yet, and I don't think they read this blog so my secret might be safe.  Even if it's not, I had a really fun time plotting this adventure.  Maybe that was the point?

Did I mention the next session of Mondo Beyondo starts the first week of January?  Oh yeah, I did.  If you need some magic in your life, go sign up.  Really.

On a vaguely related note, I found out yesterday I was chosen for a workshop/training program at work.  It was something my friend J had done a few months ago and highly recommended.  It's about balancing work and life, finding happiness and focusing on your health.  Yeah, it's right up my alley.   I applied a few weeks ago, figuring that tons of other people would apply, and not really expecting to be chosen since I work part-time and I don't participate much in our 'Women's Leadership Council'.

So it was a pleasant surprise to find out they picked me!  There are 12 women in the class, and we'll have monthly 2 hour peer group sessions plus two all-day workshops.  The whole thing runs for 6 months.  Apparently the women who run this program are fantastic career/life coaches, and the folks who have gone through the program RAVE about it.  Some have even quit their jobs as a result ;)  So I'm looking forward to it starting next month.  I love working for a company that invests so heavily in training for its employees.  Watch this space as I learn how to hate group interactions a little less...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Envy and dreaming

envy pear
envy pear, by take_me_breathless on Flickr
I love searching for abstract concepts on Flickr and seeing the genius that comes out of it.  Today's post is brought to you by the deadly sin of Envy.

During Mondo Beyondo, we were invited to share our dream lists.  When I looked at some of the other folks' lists, I realized two things:

1.  I've already done (or have) many of those things.
2.  Wow, I *so* have no desire to do (or have) THAT.

I thought people would have similar lists, because I expected a sort of selection bias for people with a certain level of income, education and age given the cost, medium and content.

But, as it turns out, we're all different.  I know, so obvious, right? 

The exercise reminded me of one of my (many) previous efforts to lose weight.  Weight Watchers has a pretty active online community, and since it's focused on weight loss, they have an (optional) piece of your profile where you list your starting weight, current weight, and goal weight, ostensibly to keep people motivated. 

At first I was horrified by that, because I hate revealing "the number", but then I realized that everyone around me in that community was in the same boat.  Furthermore, my "starting weight" was actually some folks' goal weight.

It's kind of an interesting way to look at gratitude and progress, right?  I might not be happy with my weight, my financial situation, or my travel log.  But chances are, there's someone else who thinks where I am is exactly where they want to be.  And I'm not talking about being grateful about the crappy Hot Pockets I ate for dinner because of the starving children in {insert faraway place where starving children are purported to live}.  Though of course it's good to be grateful for things like food and shelter.

I'm talking more about managing the envy.  This post idea popped into my head last night when I was reaching for Cards magazine.  I had a flash of jealousy, thinking about all those paper crafters who got published in my dream magazine while I have not yet.  (Never mind that I haven't entered any of their challenges or sent anything in to them!)

Because I was in a contemplative mood, and because Mondo Beyondo is like the gift that keeps on giving (in a good way!), I processed that feeling for a moment.

Why was I envious? 
Because *I* want to see my name and my craft in that gorgeous magazine.

What can I do about it? 
Look up their submission deadlines and themes, and put the dates in my calendar. 
Make more cards, to figure out my personal "style" and get more practice.

What am I afraid of?
That I'd try to get in, several times, and fail every time. That people think my work is ugly. That I'd waste time on all those submissions and still not get in. That I suck?

This led to me thinking about envy in general, which is a feeling I'm unfortunately well-acquainted with.  As I thought about it some more, I realized something that made me feel a little bit better.

I'm envious of skills and accomplishments, not "stuff".

I'm so happy that I'm not jealous of my friends who have more expensive houses and cars than we do.  Or my friends who really, truly don't have to work (for whatever reason, be it high earning spouse, tech company payoff, etc.).

But oh the envy when I see people taking beautiful photos of their families.  Or have blogs that actually earn enough to buy more than the occasional Starbucks chai.  Or get published month after month in gorgeous crafty magazines.

And of course, those are *my* current dreams. 

I thought back a little more and remembered the envy pre-BabyT when I'd read other people's Facebook updates announcing their pregnancy, or reading mommyblogs where every pudgy baby detail was celebrated.  It took us a while to get to that particular "accomplishment", and of course I was impatient.  But once we took it seriously, and created a plan, everything came together.  Of course, there was some science and a lot of luck involved too.

And before that, when I first started my Etsy shop back in 2007, I averaged less than one sale a month for that first year.  I moped around, being envious of those who had better photos, made the Etsy front page, had 1000 sales. 

I took action by learning how to stage and photograph my work, the "tricks" of listing on Etsy, and kept improving my craft by taking classes and practicing.  Then I started making the stamped tags, and my shop TOOK OFF.  Like a freakin' rocket.  So much, that this holiday season, and most of this year, I decided not to take custom orders, because it's too stressful.  I never imagined I'd get to this point back in 2007 when I was fervently wishing someone not related to me would buy something.

So where am I going with this?  I'm trying not to be envious of other people.  It's hard.  But with a little more introspection, I can see that envy for what it really is:  a reflection of something I really want, right now.

So, your turn.  Are you envious, or do you just find others' success motivating?  Or discouraging?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I didn't poke my eye out with pins

I made a tree. Go look!

A Super-Easy Christmas Craft - Simple Paper Covered Tree

I used to be addicted to magazines.  I liked having reading material that was easy and fun, and showed up every month. I started in college with Glamour and Cosmo, then progressed to InStyle, Oprah and RealSimple. I think that's code for "I got old".

In recent years, I've been drawn to crafty magazines. But not Martha Stewart Living, for some reason.  It just doesn't inspire me.  I can't put my finger on exactly why. Maybe it's that her crafts and food are so time-consuming and scream "if you can't be perfect, why bother trying?". I don't need that kind of discouragement! 

I recently made an exception to my no-paper-subscriptions rule to buy a year's worth of Cards magazine, which is just LOVELY.  It's stunningly-photographed handmade cards, one per page.  It has a little bit of how-to content, but is mostly just a GREAT idea book. In addition, it's so inspiring and gorgeous that I'd love to get published there someday.  It's part of my Mondo Beyondo list.

Craft magazines are RIDICULOUSLY expensive when you buy single issues (if you can find them at all). I guess they have such small circulation, with a specialized audience that will pay. So I try not to indulge very often.

I picked up 'Paper Creations' last month because it had a really cool-looking paper Christmas tree on the front.  I had about 2 minutes to make my selection before Trillian started toddler-mauling all the nice magazines at Barnes and Noble.  So I grabbed it and we left.

It turns out the magazine is not really my style.  Lots of overly ornate cards and crafts, with a more vintagey, "busy" feel.  I'm more of a simple girl myself.  Also, the production quality isn't as nice as cards, but for $6 vs the $20 single issue price for Cards (!), I guess that's why.

All was not lost, though, because the Christmas crafts on the cover were neat-o and super-easy.  I loved the paper-covered tree on the front, and found a variation of it inside. 

So the next time we went to Jo-Ann Fabric & Crafts (a regular occurence when they send me xx% off your total purchase coupons!), I bought the (minimal) supplies needed.

And a couple of weekends ago, I got my craft on, while BabyT played nearby, and occasionally came by to ask "What Mama Doing?"

I had originally wanted to make the tree on the cover, with the looped bits of paper, but realized that would be hard to store after Christmas without crushing the loops.  So I chose to make a tree that was covered in flat paper instead.

Materials and Methods
  • Styrofoam cone shape (these appear at Christmas time), about 12" tall, but any size could work
  • Cool Christmas or winter-themed patterned paper, preferably not cardstock but lighter weight
  • Quilting pins with pearlized ball ends (longer is better, I chose 1.5")
  • Sequins or little beads (optional)
  • 1.25-1.5-inch circle cutter or automagic die-cutting machine like the Silhouette

1.  Cut out a TON of circles with your circle cutter or die cutting machine, no bigger than 1.5" diameter.  Cut out a lot, then cut some more.  Nope, more than that.  I needed about 100 to cover my 1 foot tall "tree".

2.  Get into your zen mind.

3.  Start pinning paper circles to the Styrofoam tree shape.  Start at the bottom, and stick the pins in the middle of the circles. Overlap them slightly so that you cover the Styrofoam.  You may have a few gaps which you can fill in later, but should be able to get pretty good coverage if you overlap them by about 1/3. 

4. When you've gone around the bottom, start another row and overlap the bottom row to achieve full coverage.  Do this some more, and then some more, until you've covered up the whole thing.

5. Fill in any small styrofoam gaps by pinning large sequins or beads onto the "tree".

6.  That's it!  You're done!  Join hands and dance around your cool little tree.  Or not.  Just kidding.

Tips and Tricks
  • Plan the rough order of circles in advance.  I had only one piece of the evergreen tree photo paper, so I interspersed it with a shiny red pattern to look like "ornaments" and then had to finish with some white glitter paper at the top to look like "snow".  Of course, you don't have to make it look like a tree - people will get the idea anyway.

  • Lighter weight paper will curve around the tree better.  The glitter cardstock I used at the top is pretty but shows more creases and was less forgiving, especially when pinned at the narrow top of the cone.

  • Remember that you're working with paper - make sure your hands are clean and dry and that you don't handle or reposition each piece of paper more than absolutely necessary.  It'll start looking grungy pretty quickly otherwise.  But you can move circles around if you're careful.

  • If you have a die-cutter, use it.  Punching all those circles by hand was NOT putting me in the Xmas spirit, that's for sure.  But I needed to do it where I could keep an eye on T so the die cutter wasn't an option.  Learn from my mistake :)

  • Older kids would probably dig this craft.  Younger ones will probably poke their eyes out with the pins.  Be safe, yo.

  • The volume of a cone is 1/3 times the area of the base times the height.  You don't need to know it for this particular craft, but it might come in handy some other time.
Um, if you're out there in Internet land, could you leave me a comment?  I'm just curious if anyone is reading :)  Extra credit if you make your own tree.  Super-duper extra credit if you post a link to a photo of your tree.  Minus points if you spam me.  :)

Friday, December 09, 2011

Mondo Beyondo Online Class Review and Wrap-Up - Handcrafted Life Plan, Part 6

It occurs to me that I never wrote about completing my Mondo Beyondo class.  If you've talked to me in person, you know that I'm all "OMG, life-changing!" about it, but I wanted to write up a summary here to help folks who might be on the fence about taking it.  I searched for reviews online before I took it, and while I found several dream lists, I didn't find much about the class itself.

So my first leap of faith was going on my friend LauraC's recommendation and what little I could dig up online, and signing up for it anyway.  That was the first of many times I was encouraged to put my natural skepticism aside and try something new.

First, let me tell you what it was not:
  • A time-management or to-do-list prioritizing scheme
  • New age, hippy-dippy, crystals/chakras/healing energy nonsense
  • Time consuming (lessons were short and sweet and totally self-paced)
  • Forced interaction with strangers (there was a community but you could do it all on your own)
  • Supply, tool, or technology-intensive (most lessons were simple reading or audio or journaling)
My quick take on what it was:
  • A structured set of lessons to help you discover your values and dreams
  • A safe, reassuring space/time dedicated to YOU (ie. not kid time, not errands, not work...)
  • Tools and skills that you can reuse as your life changes
  • Magic juju to get you motivated to make those dreams happen (seriously. weird, I know.)

How it worked:
The lessons arrived via email, usually in the morning.  Due to my work and mama schedules, I completed them in the evenings, so it was a nice little treat to look forward to all day.   On my busier days, I could skip the lesson and do a few together when time permitted.  Everything was also handily archived on their website, in case I misplaced an email.  There was also a separate site for class members to interact with each other, if they chose to, and this community lives on after the course session ended.

My thoughts:
What I loved about the lessons was their mix of "assignments".  Some were just thoughts and stories to read about and absorb.  Some were audio interviews with inspiring people.  Some were concrete assignments to make lists or write down thoughts about a specific subject.  For the free-writing ones, the instructions had a lot of encouragement and prompts to get us started, so I didn't ever feel like it was too hard.  The lessons that required the most courage (and abandoning of skepticism) were the "Secret Missions" to reach out to others.  I'll write more about one of them later (it ended up being a Not-So-Secret Mission when my friends figured it out.)

There was a definite progression in the lessons, so they eased us into the ideas before asking us to do the really detailed, introspective work.  While we were invited to share our insights with others in the class, we were never required (or even cajoled) into doing so, so it was definitely a "safe" space to dream really outrageous things.

My biggest fear was that I'd waste money on something that was super airy-fairy and just not that useful.  I'm trained as a scientist. I'm logical and practical.  I'm a project manager by trade, so I like lists, schedules and plans.  This course satisfied those parts of me as well.  The lessons were *useful* and the assignments were concrete and built upon each other.  I could see just enough of the roadmap to know we were going somewhere, but was pleasantly surprised as each lesson arrived and taught me something new about myself.

I'm not typically a "joiner" so I didn't participate much in the community with the other students, but I liked that it was there.  Others probably got a lot out of interacting with their classmates. 

It's now been a few months since the class ended, and I'm still seeing its positive effects.  I've signed up for a photography class to improve my skills in documenting the fun things we do as a family.  I'm making more time to be crafty. I blog more, and people read what I write.  I radically overhauled the way we eat.  I'm simplifying our "stuff".  I love my job now. 

Here's where it gets weird:
The course gave me both the insight into what I really want, *and* the motivation to go after it.  The strange thing is that I can't explain why this worked.  There's something sort of magical about figuring out your dreams and writing them down as concrete items - I've found that they just start *happening*, through no major effort of my own. I start to believe things might be possible, rather than dismissing them out of hand before they have a chance to form. And that's about as new-agey as I'll get here.

Mondo Beyondo Dream BigIf you're thinking about doing this yourself, I HIGHLY recommend it.  There's a new session starting in January, which I think would be the perfect way to start a new year.  If you click any of the links here to register, I'll get a small referral bonus which I'm happy to split with you if you email me.

Got questions?  Leave a comment.  Or if you know me in real life, buy me a coffee and I'll talk your ear off about it.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Shameful self-promotion/cry for attention/whatnot

So I've been trying to resuscitate my papercraft lab blog by posting more than once a quarter. So here I am, calling attention to the fact that there's a new post over there about last year's Christmas Sweatshop Craft project.  Go read it if you've got a couple of extra minutes.

If you're looking for extra credit, leave me a comment, too!  No one ever comments there :(

Was that sad and pathetic enough?

Christmas Sweatshop Craft 2010 - Paper Photo Ornament - Experiment 6

Now that it's December, I feel like it's ok to post Christmas-related projects.  I didn't want to be one of those people pushing Christmas before the turkey leftovers have been consumed.

Last year was when I started collecting papercrafting supplies, at first just to finish BabyT's baby book (which is *still* not done and she's 2 now). With all those supplies, I also wanted to make something little that I could slip into our holiday cards.  Since I love sending regular greeting cards rather than the one-panel photo cards everyone else sends, I figured this craft should include a small photo of us.

On the very excellent blog Christmased, someone commented about a family tradition to have a crafty project that they all participate in, to give out to others. Inevitably they'd end up working on it till the wee hours, hence the name "Christmas sweatshop craft". I love that, so I'm stealing it for my title. 

I decided to make small paper ornaments that people could hang on their Christmas trees.  Since it had to fit inside a card, it needed to be flat, so I decided on a round shape with a little cap to look like the top of an ornament ball.  I had to make at least 45 of these, to fit my Christmas card list.  Since I was so excited about this project, I started in early December, so I didn't go into panic mode during this project.  Hooray for being a project manager in real life.  Sometimes it does pay off in unexpected ways.

Paper photo Christmas ornament 2010
 This was pretty easy to make, and would have been even easier (and neater!) if I had used my Silhouette machine to cut out the ornament circles.  I just wasn't thinking about it at the time, since my machine was brand new!
  1. Using the Martha Stewart Circle Cuttermanual circle cutter, I cut approximately 3.5 inch diameter circles - for each ornament I cut one from holiday themed patterned paper and one in plain cardstock.
  2. I printed the photo I wanted using the Windows Photo Viewer.  I printed them wallet-sized on 8.5 x 11" photo paper and cut each one to about 2 inches square. 
  3. I used my Fiskars squeeze corner rounder punch to round the edges of each photo.  (This takes a while when you have 45+ photos!).
  4. I stuck the patterned paper circles to the cardstock circles using Mod Podge Decoupage Glue
  5. I used double stick tape to adhere the photo to the patterned paper side of the ornament (once the glue was dry on the ornaments, about a day later just to be sure!)
  6. I used the Silhouette machine's software to design the ornament top - it's just a rectangle welded to a circle, with another circle inside.  I then had it cut out all 45 of these, while I sat back and had a diet Coke.
  7. I covered both sides of each ornament top with some matte Mod Podge decoupage glue, to strengthen them.
  8. I stapled the ornament top to the ornament with a colored staple.  They were surprisingly hard to find, but I eventually tracked them down at Michael's.
  9. Using embroidery floss, I tied a small loop to each one so the recipients could attach an ornament hook.
  • Rather than decoupage glue, use a Xyron machine, or just strong double-stick tape to adhere everything
  • Use an electronic die-cutting system if you've got one to cut circles quickly and more accurately
  • Skip using Mod Podge to "strengthen" cardstock on simple projects like these.  Plain heavy cardstock should be fine, or use a clear page reinforcement if it's the right side.
  • Use Photoshop elements to place the photos in the *exact* size needed on the page, then you only need simple cutting and corner rounding.
  • Write your last name and year on the back so you and others can remember your cute project long into the future. (Assuming they don't immediately recycle it...)
  • Make at least one extra to keep for yourself!
  • Don't sweat the small mistakes - people will be charmed by the fact that you made them something.  Unless they're super-critical and mean.  In which case, they don't deserve one anyway.  So there.
  • When making a bunch of the same design, do it assembly-line style after making the first proof-of-concept: cut all circles, glue all, staple all, etc.

Do you know what I know? (2011 Creath Family Holiday "Letter")

Hi everyone, and welcome to this year's Creath Family Holiday Letter Thing.  I was going to write a summary of what we did by month, but I'm just not feeling it, so I'm aiming for short and sweet.

2011 has been a great year for us.  Trillian started walking in May, and is quite the chatterbox!  She reliably sleeps through the night and speaks in full, amusing sentences.  For example:

Mama: Trillian, would you like some broccoli?
Trillian:  No, I would NOT.

We had her second birthday party at home in September with my parents and a few of her/our friends.  Spike is now 11 and Peanut is 9, but they're both doing well, though they sleep a lot more than they used to. 

TJ and I are still working at Competing Large Software Companies nearby, and are happy to have short commutes that are unaffected by the WA-520 bridge tolling fiasco.  Trillian likes the daycare she attends twice a week and brings home random stories about her classmates, like who drinks cow's milk vs. rice milk, or who fell on the climber.

In March, we celebrated TJ's *mumble*th birthday at Canlis with a small group of friends.  Hint, it's 0x28 in hex.  :)

We didn't travel much, but did go to Iowa this summer for the burial service of TJ's grandparents.  Though a sad occasion, it was nice for Trillian to see her grandparents, great-Granny, and her Aunt Robin. 

We also drove down to the Bay Area to visit friends and for TJ to do some work at the Mothership.  It was super hot but we had a great time visiting with our little friends Nicolas, Arturo, Zephyr, Anisha and Jaya. 

Right after that trip, I started a new job on a new team.  It's still part-time, and the team has been great.  They also taught me about the Honey Badger.  (Note: he is not kid- or work-safe.)

In September, we had a visit from Trillian's friend Maya and her family.  For a couple of almost-2-year olds, they did some pretty good sharing.

My parents were here for the summer in their new place nearby, and TJ's family came to visit for Thanksgiving.  We cooked a somewhat non-traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Amidst all of that, we went to the zoo a couple of times, made lots of trips to the dog park and Trillian's favorite "rumble slide", and had swimming lessons and Little Gym classes.  We've been having fun!

We wish you joy, prosperity and health in 2012, and hope to see you in Seattle!

Anandi, TJ, Trillian, Peanut & Spike

Monday, November 28, 2011

Toddler toy storage - the bane of my existence

Before having a kid, we swore we'd never have a house teeming with toys all over the living space.  Toys would be minimal, and neatly confined to our future offspring's bedroom, or a small toy box in the living room.  Our house would look just like it did before we had kids.

HAHAHAHA.  As anyone who actually has real kids knows, this is a fantasy.  The toddlers I know don't really want to play in their bedrooms or fancy playrooms by themselves - they want to "be with mama in kitchen!"  Hence the bottom half of our fridge and our dishwasher have been given over to a plethora of letter and number magnets, and the adjoining living room has essentially become T's playroom.

Which isn't all bad, really.  We love this living room, but almost never *lived* in it before we had a baby.  It has no TV, so we only used it for parties or visitors.  I'm glad we spend so much time in there now, because the high ceilings and wall-o-windows makes it pretty nice, even with our ridiculous 9 months of grey each year. 

The tiny baby toys were no problem - we had just enough to fit in a medium sized Rubbermaid box, and would just rotate a few out to entertain BabyT for the 30 minutes she was awake between naps.  And we had a small box for board books so we could read to her.  We thought smugly that we had this toy thing under control.

And then BabyT became a toddler.  Well, let me rephrase - she turned 1, and didn't exactly toddle, but started crawling and became interested in getting her own toys.  At first, it was fine.  We had the box for books.  My interior decorating-talented and smart mama friend Lisa suggested this cheap but nice looking storage ottoman from Target:

That worked for a while - we managed to contain all the toys into this ottoman plus the book box.  But then, to encourage T to stand up more, her physical therapist recommended putting toys out on a table to entice her.  So then we had instant toy clutter on our coffee table and another bench.  I rotated the toys that were out and stuffed the rest into the ottoman.  She also recommended push toys to get her walking.  The IKEA walker wagon showed up, and you can't really put it away anywhere.

And then our not-toddling-toddler became more adventurous in her crawling, and eventually walking.  And that's when toy hell broke loose.  We'd leave her in the securely-gated living room to go take a shower and return to find all the books dumped out, and every toy in the ottoman removed.  Duplos were everywhere.  Pieces to the much loved tea set rolled under the couches regularly.

And when she became more interested in toys, so did we.  I bought her a play kitchen, intended for her 2nd birthday, but was so excited about it that I had to give it to her 5 months early.  And she was thrilled - it's one of her favorite items.  But so big!  And you can't put it away.

And of course, with play kitchen, comes play dishes, and play food, presents for her 2nd birthday.  It was not unusual to sit down on the couch and find a lovely wooden mushroom in the cushion.  Or underfoot.  Or being sniffed suspiciously by Spike, in case it was For Eating.

Now let's pause here for a chat about philosophy.  I'm definitely not a minimalist, but I am an unsentimental de-clutterer.  I read a book called Simplicity Parenting about simplifying kids' lives, and it resonated with me.  They addressed things like overexposure to media, too many scheduled activities, as well as toy clutter.  I've been using a lot of their practices, which is why T is only scheduled for one "class" per week, she doesn't really watch much TV, we're anal retentive about her naptimes and bedtime, and we've only got about 8-10 books out for her at any given time, which I rotate through her collection.   Honestly, she just does better when we work to avoid overstimulation.  She's always been this way, so I guess she takes after both of her introvert parents.

As she gets older, we have more toys with pieces - Little People, alphabet puzzles, cool wooden stacking/sorting/arranging toys. And there's the not-so-small matter of my love affair with Montessori materials. I bought some trays to create structured activities for her to choose. But I didn't really have a good place for these, so they all lived in my craft room and didn't come out as often as I'd like.

We corralled some of the clutter with small bins from IKEA, but then we had bins lying around on the floor or on our side tables. The homeschooling blogs I've come across, the home organization blogs I drool over, *and* the crafting blogs I read sing the praises of IKEA's Expedit shelving.  You've seen it - it looks like a giant grid, and is open at the back.

We bought a small 4-shelf one for T's room, and it helped the clutter in there significantly.  But we couldn't decide what we needed for the living room so didn't buy anything on that trip.  This weekend, with several days at home to stew over our clutter issue, I decided we *had* to do something, and the answer was the Expedit 4x2 shelf:
I'm using the top set of cubbies for her pseudo-Montessori activities, and will switch them out weekly, or when she seems to get bored with them.  There's one tray per cubby, with only one item on the tray so she doesn't get overwhelmed.  She knows to put away the tray and items before taking out the next one. (yay!)

The bottom row of cubbies is more traditional toy and book storage.  I filled one of the IKEA Skubb storage boxes with some board books from her collection.  I'll rotate those out weekly as well.  The other cubbies have one of the Kusiner bins, plus maybe one other larger toy or a small bin.  I wanted her to be able to take out one bin at a time, and not have to take out multiple things to get to something in the back. 
Now I feel so much better.  Everything has a place.  She is in that super-helpful toddler stage where she LOVES cleaning up, so I can tell her where everything goes now, and it actually looks nice when she's done!

I'd love to hear about what you guys are doing with toy clutter, especially as the toys come with more and more pieces.  Plus, I'm kind of freaky and I love home organization.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

20 Albums That Influenced My Life

I had a similar post on Facebook from Feb 2009 ( a lifetime ago!) but wanted to share it here.  I also updated it a bit to include 20 albums instead of the original 17.  It was one of those memes going around and I knew immediately I wanted to do it. Music is such a part of my life that I can instantly go back to certain time periods when hearing certain songs.  I love that kind of sensory memory.

Clearly this is going to reveal some terribly uncool stuff, but I was 8 when I started really listening to music, so I can't help it that I was influenced by what was on MTV and Top 40 radio at the time :)

Think of the albums that had such a profound effect on you they changed your life or the way you looked at it. Not your favorite albums now: the ones that sucked you in and took you over for days, weeks, months, years. These are the albums that you can use to identify time, places, people, emotions. These are the albums that no matter what they were thought of musically shaped your world. Albums you wore into the ground.

These aren't in any particular order. And I am too lazy to look up the release year, so you'll have to live with that.

Michael Jackson: Thriller
I was 8. Gimme a break. But listening to it again now, it really is a great album. And I only recently found out that Eddie Van Halen does the guitar solo on Beat It. So it *is* a little bit metal :)

Def Leppard: Hysteria
I was 13, and my mom drove my friend Judy and me to a different state so we could see my then-favorite band live. Someday, I'll do that for BabyT, because I too will understand just how important it is.

Queensryche: Operation: Mindcrime
I saw them open for Def Leppard at that show and was *hooked*. I have seen them at least 9 times since then. I still don't really understand the whole story behind this concept album. Something about a dude who had to kill people, and a priest and a nun? Good times. Plus it seems to be one of TJ's favorites, too, so that's how I know we are meant to be together :)

Death Cab for Cutie: Plans
This one snuck up on me. It's not my usual kind of music. But when I heard it, I couldn't stop listening to it. It reminds me of my favorite part of my career - when I ran the beta program for Microsoft Speech Server 2007. I spent a lot of time at work then, and this album kept me company.

Counting Crows: August & Everything After
College. 4:30am on a Tuesday, doing wretched Physics homework. Debating about what Adam Duritz really meant in the lyrics.

10,000 Maniacs: Our Time In Eden
I love her voice. It was the soundtrack to my first summer back home after starting college. Bonus points because she sings in a range where I can also hit most of the notes, so I sound less wretched than usual when singing along.

Indigo Girls: Indigo Girls
In the midst of all the metal in high school, I found this album and inexplicably fell in love with it. I've seen them live more than a few times and my friend Judy took me to Emily Salier's restaurant in Atlanta a few years ago.

Tori Amos: Little Earthquakes
Bad choices in college. Unreliable boys. Last time I "saw" her live, I took Peanut over to Marymoor park and camped out on a blanket across from the venue. Free concert. Woot.

Vienna Teng: Waking Hour
Saw her at the Tractor Tavern on a whim upon recommendation from someone at Microsoft. Was blown away. I've seen her at least 7? 8? times live.

Live: Mental Jewelry
Soundtrack to the summer after my senior year in high school, waiting to go to California for college. I still take it with me on every road trip. I have never seen them live, and don't really want to, since their first album is the only one I love.

Toad the Wet Sprocket: fear
Happy, cheerful soundtrack for most of college. I have seen Toad live at least 7 times, nearly always with my friends Chris and Jasmine.

Bon Jovi: Slippery When Wet
I was 10, and this started my glam/hair metal phase. I wasn't allowed to go to their concert, and didn't see them live until 1994 in LA at the venue formerly known as the Great Western Forum.  This is also the year I learned a lot of swear words from a friend who introduced me to this album. I remember being a little sad when those words entered my (mental) vocabulary - it was like a glowing neon sign saying "your childhood ends here".

Rush: Presto
Senior year in high school. Moping around waiting for it to be over. This album made me look forward instead of back. I know, it's the Rush album everyone else hates. Too bad.

Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs: Crooked Path
Reminds me of new friends, but also reminds me of the year I lived in Butte, MT against my will. I'm apparently a little bit country and a little bit rock n roll...

Pearl Jam: Ten
College, Ruddock House friends and a bad ski trip that turned out ok in the end. Made me want to visit Seattle someday. Here I am :)  I still have not seen these guys live, and I deeply regret missing my chance in 1994 because of some lame excuse like too much homework, not enough sleep, blah blah blah.

Guns 'n' Roses: Appetite For Destruction
I think I was 13 or 14 when I first heard it, and I was both horrified by it and loved it at the same time. It was so much *dirtier* than any of my other hair metal albums that I listened to at the time, but different and awesome. I saw these guys with my friend Uma at Three Rivers Stadium in 1992 (may it rest in peace), and they played with Metallica and Faith No More. It was amazing, just like when I met Uma and found another Indian-American girl who liked the same kind of music as I did.

Matchbox 20: Yourself Or Someone Like You
I found this used at my favorite CD store (RIP, Disc Go Round in the U-District). I was in grad school, and really felt like I shouldn't be there. I was in a relationship I really felt like I shouldn't be in, and to make matters even more complicated, was seriously crushin' on someone else who shall remain nameless but lives with me now :) I know it's cheesy and Top 40, but Rob Thomas can write a catchy pop song with tortured relationship lyrics like no one else. I saw them play in a high school auditorium before they hit it big, then saw them in Key Arena when Adam Duritz showed up out of nowhere to sing "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys". Swoon.

The Decemberists: The King Is Dead
Like Death Cab for Cutie, this is another band I thought only hipsters wearing skinny jeans liked and I did my best to ignore them.  But I couldn't.  The first time I heard "This is Why We Fight" on the radio, I knew I had to own it.  Something about this album reminds me of the 70s classic rock I grew up with on WDVE in Pittsburgh, the only radio station we had in the 80s that would play anything remotely "metal".  The whole album is great, and classic, and 1 year-old BabyT would request it.  That made it even more fun.  She still likes to listen to "'Cemberists".

Dave Matthews Band: Live At Red Rocks 8.15.95, Disc 1
This album got me skinny.  I was living in Seattle, and decided I needed to make some changes in my life.  I started walking on the Burke Gilman trail, miles and miles.  DMB kept me company.  This album was long enough that I never made it to side 2 on those walks.  Plus, it was before I had an MP3 player so I was listening to the actual CD and it's hard to carry extra CDs when you're out walking and running.
Dave Matthews Band: Under The Table And Dreaming
Caltech, senior year. Not sure how I discovered them since I was pretty much living in a media-free bubble, but it was hard to avoid DMB in the mid-90s.  It was so different from the metal and grunge I had been listening to, but this one was *always* in my CD player.  I listened to it when taking my very last final exam (Analytical Chemistry) and made a mental note to mark that occasion.  16 years later, I still remember sitting at my desk in my room, and feeling the utter relief tinged with a bit of sadness that I was almost done with college.  Even now listening to "Warehouse" makes my heart rate increase just a little, remembering that stress.

That's my 20.  Now I want to know yours!  Leave me a link in the comments.  Jenn, Shalini, hush, Cloud, caramama, LauraC, Di, and Shannon, I'm talking to you!  If you weren't listed here, I'm talking to you too!  Think of this as a homework assignment :)

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