Thursday, March 29, 2012

168 Hours: Time Management Book Review

I recently finished reading 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam, and I LOVED it.  It's the book I wish I had written, but also made me realize I probably will never be a serious author because I don't have the desire to spend THAT MUCH TIME researching and revising, which she clearly has done.  The writing is really good - tons of research, easy to read and flows smoothly.   I read this in a day, and I don't (can't) usually do this with nonfiction.

If you're into time management and productivity stuff, it's worth a read.  If you feel stressed out and like you never get to do the things you want, this book is for you.

The concept of a week being 168 hours isn't revolutionary, but I admit I never thought about it like that.  I've kept a few days' worth of time diaries, but never a whole week.  (I'll do this when we return from vacation.)

Her advice is to keep a time diary for a week, and then review it to see WHAT you're spending time on.  Likely there's a lot of low-priority stuff on there, and from that, you can make changes to mindfully spend time on what YOU think is important.

I love the reframing of "I'm too busy to do x" as "x is not a priority for me".  I don't think we use that enough in our daily lives.  We fill up our time with tasks that we *think* need to be done, but in the grand scheme of things, maybe not.  Or maybe not by us.

There are real-life examples of interesting (and relatable) people.  I will say that in many places it seems to target a certain upper middle class income range, which may be off-putting to some people.  But I liked that focus, because it spent a fair amount of time discussing how you can deploy your financial resources to help you "find" more time - sending out your laundry (which alas, I cannot find anyone to do in my town), hiring housecleaners or a personal chef, etc. 

One quibble I had with this book is the definite bias against parents who give up or significantly downshift their careers.   It came up in a few different places and made me a bit grumbly.  Yes, I totally agree with her when she says it's hard to have a capital-C Career if you work less than 30 hours a week. 

But she tends to brush off the idea that some people *want* that.  Her argument came across like she thinks the only reason people quit jobs or go part-time is because they want to spend more time with their kids, and then proceeds to point out that you can squeeze in 40-45 hours of work easily in a week and still have plenty of time for kids.

From a pure time perspective, yes, this is true.  But speaking from experience, there are other reasons people choose to reduce their career aspirations when they have kids.  In our case (and for many others I know) it's because we want to limit (or not use) hours of outside childcare.  I personally wanted to experience as much of my daughter's early years as I could- the good, the gross, and the boring.  I also wanted a life that *felt* more relaxed, hence my 2.5 day work week.  

Maybe this is turning into a bit of a "but what about me?" argument, but it bugged me repeatedly.  I've started reading her new book All the Money in the World, and I think there's a little more latitude there for people who might enjoy things like baking, keeping house, etc. as a pursuit in itself.

This is another book I'd like to keep around to get a 'refresher' when things feel like they're getting crazy or I'm losing sight of what's important.  I highly recommend it.  Go get it now!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Revisiting the List and the Awesomeness of the Universe

I've been meaning to revisit my Mondo Beyondo List of dreams to see what's happened since I wrote it up.  Also, I'm sure some of the things I wrote down are no longer things I'm interested in.  So here's a little progress update on the awesomeness of the Universe.

T holding a part of the Universe

  • Live in a nice house in Dublin (Ireland), with our dogs
Well, sort of.  We're going on vacation to Ireland for 3 weeks, sans dogs, unfortunately.  But we should see if we like it first, right?
  • Expand our house to have a separate room for Trillian to do school work, a bigger craft room for me, a luxurious soaking tub, a welding/torch space for me and TJ, enough storage for everything
I'll probably have to break this one down into parts, but after vacation we're going to call someone for an estimate on how we can expand our house to get the craft room, a guest room and some storage. 
  • Go through our house top to bottom and organize it. Get rid of everything we don't need or use or love.
In progress.  Anyone need an old XBOX/DDR pad?  How about a 20 year old subwoofer?
  • Organize *all* my email Inboxes and be able to keep up
After reading Laura Vanderkam's 168 Hours, I'm not sure this is a priority, except at work.  So GMail will likely be delightfully overflowing for a while.
  • Organize all of our photos. Make albums.
Making progress.  I'm about halfway through 2010 and 2011.  Sigh.  But getting there!
  • Have just a few really sharp high quality knives (instead of a ton of dull ones)
Done!!  We "donated" all of our extra knives and the knife block that was taking up space to my parents' place here which is an improvement for both of us.  Now we have about 6 knives that we use *all the time* on a magnetic wall rack.  I can't tell you how happy this makes me.  Weird, huh?

    Spend 3-4 weeks per year traveling somewhere interesting
In a week, we'll be leaving for Ireland.  Dream vacation, since I was a kid.  Woot!

  • Spend one weekend in a (local) fancy hotel all by myself.
Done, Mama Weekend Away was a big success in January!
  • Minimize commitments and stay home, but still have some time to myself during the week
Work in progress.  Writing this one down made me do better at looking at our calendar as a whole, so that I don't overcommit us.  Life has been a lot more chill.  I also stopped taking custom orders in my Etsy shop and stopped wasting time on Facebook and both of those has done wonders for my stress level and available time.

  • Make money on blogging, papercrafting, other projects @ home
Not much to speak of here, but I am making *tiny* money on my blog again.  Enough to pay for the domain name, and maybe a Starbucks chai or two.  That's progress though.
  • Stop having that panicky stressed feeling most of the time
Done.  Not sure exactly how, but we worked this out and life is good.
  • Stop focusing/worrying about money
Also done.  Much more zen about money, which is good since we're down to 0.65 of an income :)
  • Help people get what they want out of work-life balance. Be a great example.
Not sure if I'm achieving anything here but I've talked to several people at work interested in working part-time or on a flexible schedule.  I may also be interviewed (anonymously) for a work-life balance article in the next week (not sure of the publication).
  • Get cards or papercrafts published in a magazine
Well, not quite papercrafty, but my Hooray necklace is going to be featured in the June 2012 issue of Bead Trends magazine, also run by the Cards Magazine people.  It's a baby step, right?
  • Learn to take great photos and document our lives
I started Project Life this year and am nearly "caught up".  At least we're in the same month I left off.  I'm loving this exercise because not only does it "force" me to do a little craftiness every week, but it also reminds me to take pictures of us hanging out, even if we're not doing anything particularly special. 
  • Enjoy my marriage to the fullest
  • Stop keeping score
These are related, and again, a work in progress.  But life is good.
  • Send T to the best school for her, regardless of cost
The new preschool is working out well despite my propensity to worry about things that don't really matter.  She is so excited to go there, and her teachers are excited and happy to see her.  What more can I ask?

  • *Want* to live a healthy life and eat right, exercise etc. Not have it be a chore.
I wish I could check this off and say "Done!", but I can't.  However, my mindset is different.  It's not a chore.  Eating right is a gift to myself and when I'm mindful about it, it's easy.  But I still have to work hard at it.  I suspect I always will.

  • Speak fluent Spanish
We're nowhere near fluent, but T and I are enjoying our Spanish class together.  She got to practice at a local Mexican restaurant, where our waiter was thrilled to find out she knows a few words of Spanish.  She loved it too!
  • Have a quail parade of awesome kids
Maybe not quite a quail parade yet, but we're awaiting the arrival of Baby X' (read as Baby X Prime) in October.  Or, as T will tell you "my mama has a baby in her tummy!".  Woot!  Sometimes the Universe really does have its own plan!

Following our dreams

It appears that the Mondo Beyondo magic is rubbing off on our household.  (And of course this was my intention!)

My fabulous husband gave notice at his job, so his last day is Friday.  He doesn't have another offer lined up, or a detailed plan.  In his words, he's "borrowing 2 years of retirement". 

my two favorite people

I should be freaking out, right?  ZOMG, primary breadwinner quit his job.  How will I afford my Starbucks on my days of "leisure" that I'm not at my part-time job? 

But I'm not stressing.  In fact, I've been encouraging him to do it for a while.  I'm of the opinion that if you're not happy, then you need to make a change.  If you can't change your job to make you happy, then maybe you need a new one.  Or some time off. 

I don't subscribe to the "work until you're 62.5 and then sigh in relief when you retire" philosophy.   62.5 is a long way off, and that's a long time to toil in a job you dislike.   What about finding a career that you *like* and maybe doing it past the standard retirement age?  Or try out a few different career paths?  Life is all about exploration, yo.

Of course,  we'll be adjusting our lifestyle a bit.   Our next Canlis dinner may be a long time from now.  And I'll probably be making my iced soy chai at home, since it doesn't require any fancy equipment.   I increased *my* hours at work to 25, which isn't much of a stretch since T's now in preschool 3 days, and I have the option to go back full time as needed.

But dude, I am *so* looking forward to trips to the zoo mid-week.  And trading off toddler-care when it gets crazy up in here. And maybe restarting custom orders in my Etsy shop if I can convince the Mister to handle all the administrative stuff, so our throughput can be higher.

Hooray for being brave!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Eating like a grownup

TJ and I went to Canlis on Friday, and it was the perfect end to a rough week.  BabyT had been sick and both of us a little stir-crazy to be home.  I also got whatever ick she had, and I've gotten worse this weekend.  But I sure am glad we kept our dinner reservation.

We pretty much had an Early Bird Special reservation because that was all that was left for 2 weeks' notice.  A Canlis dinner is usually at least 3 hours for us, so it's not something we can attempt easily on a school night.  

Turns out the advantage of a before 6pm reservation is pretty great.  We got quite possibly the most awesome table in the entire place - right by the window, and we were facing each other, rather than sitting on the same side of the table which is typical for a lot of the 2 person tables.  It was a gorgeous clear day so we could look out over the city and also watch it get dark.   We weren't exhausted by the end of dinner (we've had a few 9pm reservations where we could barely stay awake by the end...).

I got the vegetarian tasting menu, which is always interesting.  This was a mango, avocado and cucumber salad.  With lime gel.  It reminded me of a Dr. Seuss drawing but it was YUMMY.

I'm much more willing to experiment with a veggie meal than a meat meal.  TJ got his usual favorites - the Canlis salad, and a couple more courses involving steak.  (What else?)

We didn't have to remind each other to use our "restaurant voice" or "sit facing forward please".  I didn't have to dig frantically for crayons to keep my dining partner amused until the food showed up.  It was blissful.  We decided we should do this more often. (We do every time, and then fail to keep the resolution of not eating crappy meals out at other places in order to keep Canlis money in the budget.)

And then we went back to our regularly scheduled normal life.

Something weird is going on with T's nap situation and if we weren't going on vacation to a completely different timezone in a week, I'd try to figure it out.  3 days this week (at home) she didn't nap at all.  But they say she does nap at preschool, though it's only about an hour or so.  It's probably related to being sick but I'm not sure.  On the nights she doesn't nap, we put her down for bed around 6 and she's out like a light until after 7 the next day, so clearly she still needs the sleep.  I guess the universe likes to keep us guessing.

I did get a giggle out of the fact that one non-napping day when I went in to get her after her not-so-Quiet-Time, she had taken off her socks and pants and was bouncing on the mattress.  Thankfully she did leave her diaper on. (Hooray for small blessings.)

Now I must leave you and get some sleep.  It's possible I'll fall asleep before BabyT, who is in her crib repeating the names of her preschool classmates.  I guess I should be glad she knows some of their names now, right?

Friday, March 23, 2012

We (heart) Google Calendar

Even before we had BabyT, we realized we had a need for a shared calendar so that we could add family birthdays, upcoming travel, concerts and sporting events for which we had tickets, and anything else we needed the other person to know about.  Like TJ's motorcycle track days/weekends, or my girls' nights out.

With the arrival of BabyT, that became even more important since we had to track all my prenatal doctors' appointments, and then the million appointments for BabyT in her first year, not to mention her physical therapy, allergist appointments, and all of those enrichment classes I signed her up for.

2011 calendar
Super cute calendar from milk and cookies on Flickr

After bouncing around a bunch of different solutions, we're using Google Calendar for shared family stuff.  We started with Windows Live Calendar when I had a Windows Phone, because it synced the best.  TJ had an Android phone app that would allow him to view our Windows Live Calendar.  That worked fine, but was a bit of a hassle for me to get to online since I rarely log into my Hotmail account.

I played with Cosi for a while, but it was more complicated than we needed.

But once I switched to my new fancy Android phone, I figured we should just switch over completely to Google Calendar.  TJ was using it for some of his own personal calendars, and I set one up for our Toddler Group.  I'm nearly always logged into my Gmail, which has a convenient "Calendar" link right at the top of the page. 

Functionally, the Windows Live and Google Calendars are pretty similar.  They let you set up a bunch of different calendars under the same account and you can hide/show them as needed.

I can display either of them in my Outlook calendar at work but keep the appointments separated.  Unfortunately, Outlook doesn't let me edit my Google calendar, which is a bummer, but I can live with editing online or on my phone. Interestingly, my Windows Phone let me edit my Google Calendar just fine, so props to them for making it interoperable.

We have a shared calendar for family stuff:  all of Trillian's appointments, social outings that involve one parent being out and thus another to cover, trips, our Seahawks football tickets, and concerts.  We have another one for family birthdays. 

I also have one for my "routine" tasks, like monthly housekeeping/errandy-type stuff, to remind me to do stuff like swap out my disposable contacts or process photos for the week.

Most of the appointments are set to send an email reminder. I set up text message reminders but it got too crazy.  I love that we can both access the calendar on our phones or on our computers.  We don't use a paper calendar at all.

TJ points out every now and then that we *do* actually have to talk about the items.  Sometimes I'll put something on the calendar, and expect him to see it and forget that we never actually discussed it.  In general, I guess it's good for married people to you know, actually TALK to each other.

It's not perfect, but it's working for us.  What do you use?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars: BlogHer Book Club Review

I read The Fault in Our Stars by John Greene in one night. I couldn't stop reading it even though I was desperately tired and I had to work the next day. 

From the description, it's not a book I would have thought to pick up, so I'm glad it came my way through BlogHer. After the first few pages, I was hooked.

*This* was a book where I dogeared pages to return to good quotes. This was one of less than five books that I've EVER read that made me cry. Not just a couple of tears, but ugly, snuffling sobs for several pages at the end.  BUT it also made me laugh out loud in parts, which also doesn't happen often.  I love the balance of humor and complete tragedy in this book - that is really what made it unique.

Greene's writing is simple and beautiful, and somehow he captures the spirit of Hazel, the teenage girl narrating the story.  He's great at describing the character's physical characteristics so you can picture them very vividly. The dialogue is witty, and reminds me a lot of the movie Juno.  The parents are somewhat one-dimensional, but that seems appropriate considering that the main story is between the teenagers, and isn't that how teenagers think of the adults around them (when they bother at all, that is). 

Go read this book.  It's amazing.  I am so lucky to have gotten the review copy for free - this is one I'll keep in my collection to reread.

I was compensated for this review by BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are totally my own.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Two and a half is challenging

Who am I kidding?  2.5 years old is kicking my butt.  I know this is one of those life-altering experiences, like training for a sporting event, and the hard parts are the inflection points where I'm learning and getting better.  But ouch.

The spitting.  The running away when I need her to come and do xyz.  The *look* that I get when she knows she is doing something she's not supposed to.  The screeching.  The whining.  The limp flopping on the floor when it's time to do something else.


I've NEVER been a patient person.  Dogs and a baby have helped, but Mother Teresa, I am not. 

And I know 2.5 lacks impulse control, is learning about boundaries and expressing its big feelings.  I *know* all these things, but in the heat of the moment, all I can feel is the yelling bubbling up and threatening to spill out.  My impatient self wants compliance, RIGHT NOW, even though that's NOT the way I want to parent.

It is so hard to back off and really think about whether what I'm asking is really that important.  Are we late because *I* didn't start the morning routine in time?  Am I being extra-picky about behavior because *I'm* hungry or tired or cranky myself?  Are we trying to do too much?

This is hard work, cultivating patience and respect for a tiny person who runs on her own timetable and has her own opinions now.  And more so because I've chosen a path that's NOT about obedience and fear, but my mind automatically snaps to those ideas. 

It would be so much faster if she would just DO IT.  It's so much work to approach it from a calm place, to come up with and present the 2 choices, to wait out whatever bout of toddler insanity is keeping her brain from focusing on what I'm asking.

But I have to do it.  It gets easier, right? 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tuesday Lovin': Parent Ed Toddler Group

I have a tendency to want to sign up T for more enrichment activities than our family schedule can really handle.  So far, of all the activities we've tried, there are only two I considered must-do's.  One of them was the Parent Education "Wobbler" class at Bellevue College.  Other areas probably have something similar.  (The other was The Little Gym, which I'll post about some other time.) 

We completed the class in May 2011 but I still miss it.  It was one thing I looked forward to every Monday morning, and I hated missing it when T was sick or we went out of town.

The class was 2 hours every week for the academic year.  They had evening sessions for working parents as well, though we had a few working parents who took a couple of hours off in the morning to attend our session. The kids were in a tight age range (birthdays within 3 months of each other) so we had a readymade "community" of parents with kids the same age.

The space was set up so *everything* was safe for toddlers.  In typical Seattle crunchy granola fashion, the toys were either homemade, or of natural materials, and did not light up/make noise.  I got tons of great ideas for new toys and activities for T in that class.  It was all about sensory exploration, and getting used to other kids.  Everyone kept an eye on everyone elses' kids, willingly, so if you had to go to the bathroom, or were in the other room listening to the parent topic, you knew your kid would be safe.

Each week there were two parent education topics - usually one was a nutrition topic with a Registered Dietitian, and the other one was a general parenting topic appropriate to the developmental stage of our kids.  They repeated the topics the following week so we had a chance to attend both over 2 weeks.

All of our instructors were fantastic, and loved toddlers.  There was a music "circle time", and tons of routine so the toddlers would be comfortable - take off shoes and coat, hello song, snack, always in the same order.  There were tons of books, in a cozy "reading corner".  There were interesting photos and tactile things on the walls.  Almost nothing was off-limits.

Every week there were new toys and activities, though they changed slowly so the toddlers could get comfortable with their environment.  So thoughtful!  It was all about treating them with respect and most of the topics were centered around raising them in a way that respected and was appropriate for their development.  They recommended all sorts of useful parenting books in line with this style.

We had a great group of parents in the class - mostly moms but there were several dads who attended.  Visitors were welcome, and my own parents came to observe a few times.  I've made a couple of friends there who continue to meet for nights out or the occasional playdate or birthday party.

It sounded expensive up front ($600+) but when I considered it across the whole school year, it wasn't as much per class.  And we could probably have skipped some of the other Gymboree, KinderMusik, and other classes we tried out instead.

As a bonus, one of the parents was a great photographer and she got tons of pictures of the kids, which we got on CD at the end of the session.  I was so happy about that (you know how I am about photographs!).  Here's just one of the great ones we got, with T and a little friend at the light table:

With T in daycare and preschool, I didn't *need* to have her socialize with other kids, but I could see how that would be useful for parents with kids not in childcare.

I don't hesitate to recommend this class - it was such a great source of support with other like-minded local parents, and the instructors were non-judgmental and super helpful. Not to mention, it was just FUN and there was no oversharing of personal details, another pet peeve of mine :)  Hooray for babies!

Friday, March 16, 2012

It's all about the hair

I got a haircut today.  We have family photos with the amazing Kristi Romain on Sunday.  And I forgot how much a good cut makes a difference.  I feel lighter and dare I say, a little happier.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
yes, it's a sketchy webcam pic

I added some clover for the upcoming holiday :) I just discovered Piknik photo editing on Smugmug, but it looks like it's going away after April 19 after being acquired by Google. Sad - it looks like a fun set of tools.

I get my hair cut at the swanky salon at work. Yes, my company has a hair salon on its premises. Crazy, I know. But it's so convenient, and not terribly expensive. I found a stylist I like.

And you know how important it is to have a hair stylist you like, right??

The woman that did my hair for our wedding and several months afterwards, until she moved to Boston (sniff!) was amazing.  She'd give me haircuts I didn't even know I wanted, that were sheer perfection.  She convinced me to get deep red highlights on a regular basis (and it was awesome, just more upkeep than I want to deal with now.)

After she moved, I was a little lost in the styling department.  I tried tons of different folks but didn't really click with any.  A lot of folks don't understand the texture of my hair - it's got a bit of waviness to it - just enough to keep it from lying flat, but not enough to do anything interesting.  It responds well to round brush straightening, except that I'm horrible at it.  (Until I discovered the flat iron!)  So people who want to use that texturizing razor thingy, DO NOT get near my hair.  It needs no additional texture, I promise you.

After pregnancy, weird things happened to my hair.  It got even more wavy, to the point that some of it is downright curly.  (Of course not all of it, so it just looks odd.)  And of course, since that time, I have even less time and inclination to put a lot of effort into it.

But my current hair stylist Kathryn gets it.  She's been cutting my hair for about 3 years now and I'm always pleased.  This time has been my favorite, maybe because it was such a mess when I went in.  Now it's cute and short and sleek.  Which won't last long, but I'll enjoy it for now.

The one thing I have gotten better at?  Not buying the recommended (overpriced) styling products.  Now that Target has fancy hair products, I can get what I need *when I need it* and not be pressured into buying at the salon.

So - do YOU have a hair stylist you love?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Second guessing

Last fall, we started looking at preschools for T, for this spring when she turns 2.5.  Where we live, if you want a preschool with more than a few half-days a week, you need to look early and "reserve" your spot.  There are a lot of working families here who are also looking for good preschools/daycares/etc.  (In fact, for infant daycare, you are recommended to get on lists *while you're still pregnant* even though my company offers 20 weeks of maternity leave.  Yikes.)

Her corporate daycare was great, but I felt like she would benefit from a little more structure and learning.  Not full-on academics, exactly, but just a little.  She knows all her letters and their sounds, can count to 20 in English and Spanish, and can count up to 5 objects on a page, without us "drilling" her on this stuff - she just likes it.  She asks a lot of questions and listens very carefully to explanations of things.  She loves to "read" her books and speaks in very detailed, grammatically correct sentences.

So back to preschool.  I like the Montessori style of learning - child-directed, learning advanced concepts while they play with the cool materials. OK, I freely admit, I looooove the materials.  Most Montessori programs encourage potty training and actively help in the process.  (Hooray!)

So we focused on Montessori preschools and looked at one "regular" preschool. 

One of the Montessori places was nice, but eerily silent despite being full of kids.  Apparently they were all about "quiet and orderly".  We ruled it out as soon as we saw two preschoolers who were enjoying a spontaneous hug and giggles, get told that was "not appropriate" and they needed to be quiet.  No Montessori Boot Camp for us.

Another one had great facilities, but we never met the director on the tour.  Parents at work had some pretty bad feedback on the management at this place - tons of teacher turnover, parents' concerns being ignored, etc.   So that one was out too.

The "regular" preschool was interesting.  It was more of a standard age grouping, rather than the Montessori mixed-age classes.  There were tons of toys, art projects on the wall, kids gathering at little tables to eat snacks.  But it felt a little chaotic (as a room full of preschoolers might) - our eyes didn't know where to rest.  There was *stuff* everywhere and it felt a little cramped.

The last Montessori school we visited was the one we chose.  It's not super-strict Montessori, but has the little activities on trays and "work periods" where kids choose their trays and work independently.  This school also does some more traditional learning, when the preschoolers are older, with workbooks and letters and writing.  It is accredited for Kindergarten so we can keep her there for several years if we like it.  It wasn't eerily quiet.  But what *was* interesting is that nearly every kid there is Indian or Asian.  Not entirely unexpected, giving where we live and its proximity to my workplace, but odd nonetheless, since I've only ever attended schools that very much were mostly white.

T has been at this school for not quite 2 weeks and here's what's been awesome:
  • She loves it.  One tiny bit of crying on the first day when she saw TJ through the window, but otherwise, she's adjusted well and talks about preschool excitedly on non-school days.
  • She has told her teacher on more than one occasion that she needs to go to the bathroom.  Like, before she goes.  Woot!
  • It's less than 10 minutes from our house, and for less than the cost of 2 daycare days, we get 3 preschool days (albeit shorter days).
  • One of the other teachers comes and speaks Spanish with her for fun.

But there are a few small things I'm second-guessing.  T doesn't know the names of any of her classmates but one (and she's usually pretty good with names).  Part of that is that she's a little slow to warm up to new people and situations, and she's also one of the youngest in the class.  Also, her class is huge - 30 kids or more (with 4 teachers) compared to 10-12 in her daycare.  But I'm not sure how much they are being encouraged to play and work together.

For the past few days, I've been coming across the message that "play-based preschool is best" from a lot of disparate sources:  the forums, Gluten-Free-Girl's blog, and random conversations with other moms.  It's got me wondering if we're inadvertently pushing T too hard.  She has been coloring worksheets with letters on them, and "practicing" writing numbers with help.  I feel like it's too soon for those things.

But I wonder if we should really worry about it, since she seems to be really enjoying her new school.  No crying at drop off, in fact, she's so absorbed in her "work" that I have to interrupt her to say goodbye.

So maybe it's fine.


Monday, March 12, 2012

Feeling a bit sensitive

Last night, as I was lying in bed trying to go to sleep, and really hungry but too tired to get up and contemplate making or eating anything, I decided I wanted to do a comparative survey of restaurant Macaroni N Cheese in the Seattle/Eastside area.  (Yes, I know, it's not Paleo.)

this is typically how restaurant meals go

So today I figured after our weekly Target run to pick up our Project Life photos (I'm trying to get caught up!), we'd head over to the Barking Frog in Woodinville to try their Bacon Mac N Cheese.

As long as BabyT isn't overly hungry or tired, she does well in restaurants.  Partly because of her mellow personality, and partly because we've been "practicing" since she was a baby.  We've only had to leave a restaurant due to behavior issues twice, and both were dangerously close to bedtime.  The last time we had to do that was nearly a year ago.

So I had no qualms about a Monday 11:30 lunch at a fairly nice restaurant.

It's been a rainy, miserable morning, so I was glad to finally get into the restaurant.  It was, as I expected, empty, 5 minutes after opening.  When I requested a table, the hostess told me they were all full for reservations and she suggested a different place down the street.

Let me repeat - the restaurant was EMPTY.   It's a Monday, in February, 11:30 am, in kind of an out-of-the-way location.

Maybe I'm being overly sensitive, but I felt like she was trying to bounce us out of there.  Part of my sensitivity is due to the fact that I've unsuccessfully tried to eat at this place a few times before. A couple of times, they had no reservations available (when I called).  Once, they hung up on me immediately after telling me they were full, though I was still talking.  They just seem a little... snotty.  And it's not that *fancy* a restaurant - it's a rural suburb of Seattle, and nothing here is formal.

So we made our way to the very excellent Purple Cafe down the street (which also, thankfully, has mac n cheese on the menu).  And our experience there made me wonder if the Barking Frog really did intend to keep us out.

Purple is running the same 3 courses for $25 promo that Barking Frog is (which is why BF claimed they were full), yet there were only about 6 or 7 full tables at Purple during our *entire* meal.  The food  and atmosphere are comparable.

Anyway, T and I had a delightful lunch.  She got to practice her "restaurant manners" and inhaled a GIANT plate of pasta.  I got my Lobster Mac N Cheese (more on that in a future post).  Our waitress complimented T on her language skills, and the hostess complimented her on her behavior (what mama doesn't love to hear that?!).  We got no dirty looks from other patrons.

But I think I'm done with trying to go to the Barking Frog.  Maybe it's inheriting Bad Juju from its next door neighbor, The Herbfarm.

What do you think?  Am I being overly sensitive?  I suppose it is possible that on Monday at 11:30 they were going to fill up with 100+ diners in the next few minutes...

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Our "magic" baby and toddler eczema solution

Eczema is one of those things I never gave a second thought to in my pre-kid life.  I knew it was some ooky skin thing, but otherwise had no idea.  Until BabyT showed up. 

Starting at a couple of weeks old, she had this weird patch of skin behind her ear that was raw and oozy and never seemed to heal.  We consulted the pediatrician many times and tried all sorts of ointments and lotions - antibiotic, OTC eczema creams, hydrocortisone, anti-fungal, stronger steroids.  The strong steroids worked, sort of, but as soon as we stopped using them, the patch came back.

As she got older she got a couple more of these spots - on her neck, under her arms, behind her legs, and worst, on her wrist - sometimes red and inflamed, other times just dry and itchy.  Nothing really worked, including a vist to a fancy local dermatologist who didn't seem all that comfortable with babies.  He just sent us on our way with another strong steroid, which helped temporarily.

We lived with this for about a year, and by that time we had to tape up BabyT's wrist with gauze and athletic tape so that she couldn't scratch it and make it worse.  Luckily her other spots were covered with clothing so she couldn't get to them.

The mystery of *why* this was happening was solved when we figured out that it was related to her dairy allergy, but the spots still wouldn't heal completely, even once I stopped nursing and we removed all traces of dairy from her diet.

Several people at work recommended Dr. Julie Francis, a pediatric dermatologist in Bellevue, WA.  They raved about her.  I made an appointment, despite the 3 month (!) wait.

And wow, was it totally worth it.  At that first appointment she laid out our "plan of attack":

1.  Bathe her every day.

Use Cetaphil Restoraderm Body Wash and California Baby Super Sensitive Shampoo and lukewarm water.  This floored me.  We were bathing her just a few times a week, figuring that getting wet was making her skin worse.  But it's better to keep everything clean and the Restoraderm actually helps the skin heal.  No bubble baths (sad) or bath oils.

Amazon seems to have the best price on the Restoraderm, though I can find it at Target for a few dollars more.  Target has the big bottle of California Baby, and after a year, we're only about halfway through it.

2.  Grease up 2x/day.

Morning and night, use Cetaphil Restoraderm Skin Restoring Moisturizer everywhere, including her face.  She also gave us a prescription ceramide cream called Neosalus to use on the spots more prone to eczema patches (behind knees, elbows, wrists).  She recommended plain Vaseline over Aquaphor for the dry patches - she said Aquaphor can be irritating to sensitive skin.  (Another surprising thing since all the eco-advice is to avoid Evil Vaseline.)  She stressed not using *anything* else on T's skin.

3.  Use special laundry detergent.

Dr. Francis recommends All Free & Clear or Seventh Generation.  She thought even Tide Free, which we had been using, was too harsh.  Do a double rinse on clothes to make sure all the detergent is out.  No fabric softener or dryer sheets, but if you must, use the Seventh Generation dryer sheets.

TJ has extremely sensitive skin as well, and the All Free & Clear works for him, too.

4.  Keep her covered up.

This is pretty easy in Seattle, where we rarely have days hot enough for a tank top and shorts.  Dr. Francis recommended loose cotton clothing (no synthetics and no wool touching the skin!).  BabyT nearly always wears long sleeves and leggings or long pants, just because of the weather.  This keeps her opportunities to scratch very limited and also keeps the sensitive areas covered up from dirt and environmental allergens.

5.  Limit pet exposure.

This was a hard one for us, since our dogs are part of the family and are nearly always indoors, wherever we are.  Dr. Francis suggested keeping the dogs out of T's bedroom and vacuuming it and changing her sheets regularly to keep the pet dander out.  This minimal effort seems to be working for us.

Armed with this plan, and a course of oral antibiotics to clear up an infection on one of her spots, we got to work.  It was a hassle to bathe her so frequently and grease her up twice a day.  But within a couple of weeks, we already saw VAST improvement.  Her spots healed up.  Within a month we didn't have to bandage her wrist anymore.  It was amazing how well these simple steps worked when literally nothing else I tried did.

We still bathe her every day but we've been able to scale back a bit on the lotion.  We definitely put it on after baths, but not twice a day anymore, unless I notice her skin looks a little dry.  If we miss a day of bathing, but put on a little lotion, we're usually ok, but missing two days in a row and no lotion leads to tiny dry patches reappearing, usually near her hands.  So we do need to stay on top of this.

But we almost never need the steroid cream to reduce the inflammation - I think we've used it maybe 3 times since we started this plan, and not anywhere close to the full week each time.  We haven't needed any more oral antibiotics.

I'm hopeful that she'll grow out of this sensitivity like she seems to be outgrowing her dairy allergy.  But 3 months after our first appointment with Dr. Francis, she told us we didn't need to come back unless things got worse.  Yippee!!

I've written this up in email for coworkers so many times I figured I should post it here and just point people to it. I hope it helps others, especially if you have a long wait to see a dermatologist. These steps are so simple that you can start right away.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Diary of a Mad Fat Girl: BlogHer Book Club Review

Stephanie McAfee's Diary of a Mad Fat Girl is the 3rd BlogHer Book Club book I've read, and it was OK.  Another easy read, I finished it in a couple of days, but I felt like it lacked substance.

But honestly, I think it's not *trying* to be a deep, meaningful read.  It's the kind of book you'd read on an airplane or on vacation while sipping a fruity drink with an umbrella in it.  If you read it with that expectation, you won't be disappointed.

The "good" characters were likeable.  The "bad" characters had no redeeming qualities and were pretty cartoonish.  The author does a good job of sprinkling in Southern flavor throughout, to the point where you can feel the sticky humidity and taste the (overly) sweet tea while reading.

There were a few spots where I laughed out loud - the dialog between some of the characters is downright hilarious.  The plot is simple but full of "You go, girl!". 

I didn't feel like the main character's romance was very realistic, or maybe I'm just too far from the drama of my 20s to understand why she'd leave the guy she was living with because she saw him talking to another woman, rather than asking him about it first.

I could empathize with Ace's struggle with her weight, but it seemed to only manifest itself when it was convenient, unlike for example, Bridget Jones's Diary, where it was an undercurrent through the whole book that drove the actions of the main character.

But overall, Diary of a Mad Fat Girl was enjoyable.  I didn't have to force myself to finish it, and I was genuinely curious about how it ended.  

I was compensated for this review by BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are totally my own.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Livin' the dream

Running with Airplane
this is why we do it

In honor of International Womens' Day, I'm contributing to the Blog Carnival hosted by feMOMhist on how I got the life I wanted.

I'm not sure if I've ever explicitly stated it, but I really am Living The Dream.  Not in a snarky, sarcastic way, but FOR REAL. I came to the realization only recently that it IS under my control.  It may not be easy, or the accepted "right" way to do things, but it's in my power to get what I want out of life.

For the first 24 years of my life, I did what was expected of me, for the most part.  Got good grades, went to fancypants Institute of Technology, set off to get a PhD in Molecular Biology.

Until one day I realized the path I was on was *not* what I wanted.

At that point, it took me only 2 months to get on a new train, the one that took me to my current destination.  I quit grad school, got a job in technology consulting despite having NO experience in the field, ditched the guy who was all wrong for me, and started a friendship with the man who is now my husband.

What can I say?  When I know what I want, I go after it, and quickly.

Four years of Traveling Consulting Job led to my seriously awesome job as a Program Manager at Microsoft.  The boyfriend (now husband) came to Seattle with me, and became the fiance, then finally (!) The Husband.  Somewhere in there, two dogs came to live with us and we bought a house together, despite (oh no!) not being married yet.

On a whim, I decided to take a Project Manager job at a local startup to see what life was like at a tiny company.  Turns out it wasn't for me - I missed Microsoft too much.  So I came back in 2008, and it was easy-peasy to get back in - a favorite previous manager had an open spot on his team.  I've been there ever since, and even managed to negotiate a sweet part-time gig after maternity leave with Miss Baby in 2010.

So that's where the big parts of the story fell into place.  The Blog Carnival is focusing on the day-to-day of How We Make It Work.  Honestly, for me that's the easy part.  Once I know *what* I want, I can usually figure out some way to get it.  I guess that's the Project Manager in me - the devil is in the details, but the details are easy for me to wrangle.

The Work Situation

As I mentioned before, I work part-time.  I work 20 hours a week, which is half-time.  I spend two days in the office, though it'll be closer to 2.5 now that Miss Baby is in preschool 3 days a week (and I'll likely increase my hours just a tiny bit).  This enables me to spend the other weekdays at home with BabyT.  When I'm at work, she's at preschool. 

I drop her off and TJ picks her up, so we stagger our schedules.  He goes into work ridiculously early (6am) so he can pick her up at 4pm.  He works a full time+ schedule at a tech company and his job is fairly demanding.

Our priority is for her not to spend too many hours away from home - she had been in daycare for 2 approx 8-hour days before preschool started this month.

If T is too sick to go to child care/school, we assess whose day will be disrupted least.  My work days are more "precious" since I'm not in the office much, so we try to protect those.  Sometimes we trade off - I'll go in for important meetings, and then TJ will go to work later in the day.

My parents are in town part of the year, about 15 min from where we live, so during those times, they're also happy to spend time with T if she's too sick for school, or I need to go in to work on an extra day.  They also just like it when she hangs out at their place, so I drop her off there about once a week when they're around.  It's very nice :)

The Home Situation

Our lifesaver is the woman who comes to clean our house every 2 weeks.  She spends only 2 hours cleaning, but gets all the stuff we don't want to do: bathrooms, primarily, but manages to vacuum and change sheets as well.  We do some interim vacuuming/kitchen cleaning ourselves.

Right now we're trying to cut expenses, so we ditched the Yard Guy.  It's winter, so not an issue now, but come Spring we'll need to reassess.  I HATE yard work/weeding with a passion and in this rainy climate we get a lot of weeds.

I handle chores like laundry and dishes most of the time, with occasional help from TJ.  He handles the finances and bills, and fixes stuff that breaks.  He also does most of the Dog Maintenance and vet visits, as I'm usually the one to take T to her various appointments on my days off (doctors, physical therapy, etc.)

I do a lot of the errandy stuff like Target runs and making appointments.  So far I've been packing T's lunches.  I do most of the grocery shopping, though TJ also does some.  He does a lot of Baby Maintenance in evenings (bedtime) and weekends (mornings when I can sleep in!!).  He's much better at just sitting on the floor playing with her than I am.  I guess I always feel like we need to be *doing* stuff, though I'm getting better about that.

Now that T has both Little Gym and Spanish on weekends, we split those up.  He takes her to Little Gym, and I take her to Spanish (and usually a restaurant for dinner afterwards).  This gives us each a little chunk of "alone time" in the house.

We use Google Calendar to track our home stuff (link will take you to my post about it.  We're fanatical about being home from wherever we are in time for T's naptime and bedtime (noon and 6:15pm, respectively) so for now that dictates our schedule.  It also makes it easy for one of us to slip out and do something fun in the evenings with friends - the person left at home gets a quiet house, and since T is normally a good sleeper, there's not much to do on the toddler front either.

We eat out more than we should, though it goes in spurts.  I try to cook something on weekends that'll last a few days.  Some weeks are better than others.  That's one area I'm still working on to try and get into a rhythm.  Thing is, I LIKE eating out, so I'm not sure it's something we'll ever fully eliminate.

And that's about it for our logistics.  If you read this far, congratulations :)  If you want to participate in the Blog Carnival, wander on over to FeMOMHist and look at the details.  Also, leave your link here because I want to be sure to read it :)

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Don't do this in an interview. No, really.

(I'm recycling this post from my now-defunct work blog, slightly updated.)

I've conducted a lot of interviews at my company for both full-time and contract positions. At my previous job, I was also involved in hiring and reviewed tons and tons of resumes from a Craigslist posting (an interesting experience in itself!). I've done lots of phone screens and in-person interviews, including the infamous Microsoft multi-person all day interview extravaganzas.

Of course, there are hundreds of blogs and sites giving out career advice, and none of this is new. But people still keep doing horrible, interview-tanking things. So I figure it's worth getting the message out there. If this helps one techie person, my mission is accomplished.
1. Don't lie, but also present your best self.

Your resume is like an online dating profile. It's a snapshot of your career. It's meant to get the attention of the recruiter so they will call you. Just like you shouldn't say that you're 6 foot 3 if you're 5 foot 6, don't tell me you were the project manager of a $10 million project if you were the assistant to the PM. People will find out, and it won't be pretty. The world is a lot smaller than you think.

Don't tell me your life story on your resume. If you have less than 5 years of work experience, I don't want to see more than one page. I'm cool with two pages if you have more than that. Don't be the dude with the 7 page boring resume in a teeny tiny font. I was afraid he might be as awful as his resume so I didn't call him.
Spellcheck. Seriously. F7, dude. And then ask your most grammarlicious friend to review it, too. 'Nuff said.

Also, if you're applying for a job as a software engineer, don't list your typing speed under your "top skills". It tells me you have no idea what's important.  Oh, and if you took one class 10 years ago in college in C++, but haven't used it since, don't say that you're an expert. This will come to light when you're asked to answer a gnarly code problem on the whiteboard, and at that point, you're going to wish you were somewhere VERY far away.

2. Don't be late. Or flaky.
This one is easy, and obvious, right? Your recruiter sets up a time for an interview. Be there, and be mentally present, without distractions.
It's amazing how many people just don't think about it. If you don't have someone to watch your crying baby, or you are in the middle of painting your house, don't choose those times for an interview. Oh, and I am a serious dog lover, but put your barky dog outside before your interview. He's going to distract both you and me, and I'll b e wondering why you can't sort out details like making sure your environment is ideal for the task at hand.
Before that interview, find out EVERYTHING. Is it by phone, LiveMeeting, or in-person? If you give out your mobile number for a phone interview, will you have reliable reception? What should you wear and where should you park? Don't be the gal who showed up at the office for a phone interview. Awkward and icky for both of us.  
Don't assume you'll sort it out when you get there, because it'll make you late, and possibly frazzled.

3. Don't be soul-suckingly negative.

Again, blindingly obvious, right? Don't spend whole minutes talking about how your last job sucked, or that your last boss was a tyrant, and can I believe what they made you do?? I'm not your best friend at happy hour, so save the sad story for her.
If you get asked why you left, come up with a simple answer that doesn't sound evasive. Something about how it wasn't a good fit for your career goals, or the company was downsizing and your whole department got cut. 

Be honest and to the point if you're asked if you were fired, let go, or left voluntarily. Don't dwell on it or give me the long painful backstory. If you start doing that, I'm rolling my eyes and trying to figure out how to end this interview as quickly as possible. Because no one wants to work with *that* guy who blames everything on everyone else.


4. Don't get all Paris Hilton on me and make it all about you.

I'm all for asking smart questions during the interview. I pay attention when someone asks me well-thought-out questions about the work environment, job duties, or team culture.

But, if on our first phone screen, you're asking me how much you're going to get paid, whether you'll have to work overtime, how many vacation days you'll get, and if you'll have your own office, it makes me think you're gonna be high maintenance. And it's way better not to hire the divas in the first place, than to get rid of divas later.
If you get an offer, you can ask all of those questions later. That's when you have more power anyway - the company obviously wants you, and you can negotiate what you need to.
Tangentially related to this one: Don't go on and on about how you're the best coder or project manager there is. Really? The best ever? In the whole wide world? If you're so great, why are you applying for a job? Shouldn't the perfect one just fall into your lap?
And don't cut other people or technologies down to make yourself look good. It just makes you seem arrogant.

What else would *you* add to this list? I'm sure folks out there have some good stories/tips on interviews gone wrong.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

On productivity and being kind to yourself

Grumpy Rumbings of the Untenured posted recently about why people whine about their lack of productivity.  It got me thinking, because I love discussions on productivity, tips and tricks, and anything related to time-management.

I'm in a slump.  I'm getting the bare minimum done around the house. I'm two weeks behind on Project Life (sad!), do laundry when we run out of something (it's usually TJ's socks) and lately our meals have been a lot of assembled leftovers and random fridge-pantry antipasti.  I call it that because it sounds better than "I found some freeze dried raspberries, deli ham and some nuts.  Let's eat those for lunch."

So right now, I'm not maximizing my productivity.  I'm keeping things running (just barely).  I've ditched any unnecessary tasks, because I just don't feel like doing them.  I've declined some play dates for T because our calendar is pretty full with 3 days of preschool, Little Gym, and Spanish class.

And instead of beating myself up about it, I'm ok with all of that. 

I don't think we as Americans, and maybe it's specific to women, cut ourselves enough slack.  It seems like there's some kind of reward or goal to being busy ALL THE TIME.  We talk about how much we're doing, how our schedules are packed, how we manage to balance work + home + hobbies + kids + marriage + exercise and fall into bed exhausted after our 18 hour days, only to wake up at 6am and start all over again.

Yes, it's a nice compliment when people say "I don't know how you do it."  But you know what else is nice?  Lounging on the couch with a book while your toddler plays quietly nearby.  No playdate, no planned enrichment activity, no frantically trying to complete chores while the kid is occupied.  Just quiet, and two people engrossed in something they like.

I've read 6 or 7 books in the last month which is more fiction than I read all of last year. 

I haven't organized our digital photos like I planned, or finished the 2011 photo book (or 2010 for that matter!).  Our pantry is still a disaster zone and the IKEA space saving shelves I bought are still in their original packaging, unassembled.

But you know what?  That's ok.  I don't feel like doing that stuff now.  My family isn't suffering because I didn't do it.  I'm being kind to myself, and true to my One Little Word, REDUCE, by not doing this extra credit work.

Today I sat down and made a necklace *for myself*.  I never make stuff for myself - nearly everything goes into the shop.  I know I could sell it, but I wanted an extra-long chunky necklace.  So this one is mine:

I do have one little tip for those who are feeling slumpy and sluggish.  Choose just one or two things you *must* get done (no more than two!).  Do those first, or as soon as you can get them out of the way.  Then be kind to yourself and allow yourself to do NOTHING the rest of the day.  You finished your must-dos, which is an accomplishment in itself.  Give yourself credit for that.

Be kind to yourselves, people.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Preschool Angst

BabyT started her new preschool this week.  It's awesome - Montessori-ish without being overly strict, *much* closer to home than her daycare, less expensive, and great feedback from other parents at work. 

Her first day went remarkably well - she came home with tales of doing a bear art project with "Man Teacher" - yes, one of her teachers is male, and she couldn't remember his name.  I was really amused when she insisted on calling him "Man Teacher." ;)

TJ bravely took drop-off and said it was hard.  One of the other kids pointed out that she wears glasses.  Not unkindly, just in that way kids have of classifying things.  (Someone else pointed out she's a girl.)  This gave us both pause, but I reminded myself that these kids are too little to tease each other.

She was fine at first, and he stayed to keep an eye on her during circle time.  She was unsure about the new songs and caught a glimpse of him through the window and started crying.  We're both sad about this story, but it seems that she rallied, eating her snack, doing her "work", and telling her teacher she had to go potty (!!!).  She didn't really want to come home when we went to pick her up at noon which I take as another good sign.

Today we let her stay for most of the day and picked her up 2 hours early.  She seemed happy, but hadn't napped there (no surprise!).  She ate well, though this packing lunch thing is getting old already (and it's only the second day!  Aaaghh.)

I was pleased when one of the teachers asked me if T knew any Spanish.  Apparently they discovered this by accident and one of the teachers was having fun trying to figure out all the words T knows.  This made me feel good- even though preschool has a higher ratio than daycare, she seems to be getting individual attention, despite being the youngest and newest student.

Thanks to @Jasmine for commenting about napping on the last post.  I'm trying to use "freeze your body" and some quiet patting to get T to fall asleep.  I *know* she still needs the nap, since she's a disaster by 4pm if she doesn't take one.  It worked yesterday (hooray!).

I'm sure I'll write more about preschool, especially on how we arrived at a decision on where to send her.   But so far, so good.  I'm very relieved.

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