Quest: successful!

Last saturday afternoon we decided to check out the KidsQuest Children’s Museum in the Factoria Mall.  It was a lot of fun, even for someone as young as our Kiddo.  While many of the exhibits are geared toward children ages 6 to 10, there are still plenty of things for smaller kids to do.

There’s a central play area called the Backyard that’s designed for children ages 0 to 3.  They have a big train table set up…

… and a slide shaped like a giant green plant.

Near the train table is a miniature kitchen.  Naturally, Kiddo gravitated toward the orange foods and dishes.

Then he went to another part of the Backyard and had fun flipping light switches on and off like he does at home.

We spent some time looking at–and through–the fish tank.  On the other side of the tank there’s a small area set up with stools, mirrors, and makeup for face painting.

After that we left the Backyard and headed to the Waterworks area.  We spent almost all of the rest of our time there playing in the Central Stream, in the Waterworks area.

He carried that orange ball around with him for the rest of the time that we were at KidsQuest, and wailed when I had to take it away.  Sorry Kiddo!  He also soaked his shirt, and I’d forgotten to bring an extra one along so I had to run out and buy him one.  I bet the OshKosh B’Gosh store across the walkway gets a lot of business from museum visitors.

It was a lot of fun, and something I plan to recommend to my local friends.  I’m sure we’ll be back many times.  I’m even mulling over the idea of having his next birthday party there–that central area for small children is a nice selling point, and there are other exhibits that would appeal to older kids as well.



Step 1: Make a list.

I’m just going to come out with it here.  I’ve found something that helps me cope with my hectic days and too-short weeks.  It’s becoming something I rely on–perhaps even depend on.  I’m lost without it.

Hi, I’m Jessica, and I’m a Listmaker.

Bah, you say.  Everyone makes lists.  Everyone knows that making a task list can help keep you on track.  I agree.  However, earlier this week I went a couple of days without making my standard to-do list, and felt totally at sea by the afternoon.  What was I doing just now?  It was so easy to get sidetracked.  Perhaps I’ve become addicted to my list board.

The list board is a small whiteboard on my desk at work.  It’s about the size of a standard piece of paper.  I’ve got a set of four whiteboard markers next to it, the same ones my whole company uses on the large wall whiteboards in conference rooms.  Every day before I leave the office, I erase the contents (writing them in a small notebook for posterity and to use in my weekly status reports) and then I make a new list of what I know I’ll need to do the next day.  I use the large markers because I’m not trying to summarize the task, just keep track of it, and if it takes me more than three or four words to capture it then perhaps it needs to be broken into smaller steps.  “Meet w/ George” “Test plan feedback” “Code review for E” were some of yesterday’s items–just a couple of words per item, enough to trigger my memory .  The whiteboard isn’t to document the details of the task.  It’s mainly a way to keep my work items in front of me throughout the day.  Its small size, combined with the thick-tipped markers, help keep my workload at a do-able level.  If I was able to write as small as I can on a pad of paper, it would be really easy to fill the board with a set of tasks that I couldn’t realistically complete in a day.  And on the rare day that I do finish everything on the whiteboard, there’s a “Future To-Do” list in the notebook with extra tasks to work on.

I also color-code my tasks.  Black ones are work-related ones, blue ones are personal ones like “Dentist appt.”  I check off the completed ones with green marker, and mark the ones that are blocked or postponed with red.  (Not coincidentally, these are the four colors available in the company office supply rooms.)  I tried crossing off items as I completed them, but that was getting the tip of my green marker all messy.  It also made the items hard to read at the end of the day.

I used to use a spiral notebook for tasks, and I’ve long been known to jot notes on whatever scrap of paper I can find when I need to remember something.  That worked, but the little whiteboard has been really helping me narrow my focus so that I can get through just today’s tasks without being overwhelmed or stressed out about the things I need to do next week.  Those items are documented in emails and on my calendar, so as long as I’m checking it regularly (or, um, obsessively) I don’t forget about them.  But one source of stress for me has been getting too focused on the big-picture glob of things to do, to the point where it’s hard for me to stay on track working on a single small piece of that glob.  The whiteboard has another advantage that paper lists don’t: at the end of the day, it’s so satisfying to literally wipe the slate clean and start anew.

Keeping the whiteboard list on my desk has helped me a lot over the past few weeks.  I haven’t yet carried the practice home for evening and weekend productivity, but that’s because I keep coming up with other things to do that are more important than fixing our whiteboard so that it hangs properly, or rounding up a set of markers.  One of these days I’ll remember to do those things.  Hey!  Maybe I should put them on a list!

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Yes sir, that’s my baby

I was dropping Kiddo off at daycare the other morning, carrying him across the parking lot before setting him down inside the lobby.  As we neared the door I heard another mom say to her child, “Look at the cute baby!”  I glanced around to see who she was talking about, and then realized she meant us.  I smiled and didn’t say anything out loud, but mentally grumbled a bit as we went downstairs to Kiddo’s classroom. Baby??

This kid is no baby.  He’s more than a year and a half old!  He’s walking, he feeds himself (sometimes even using the appropriate utensils!), he can tell us when something’s bothering him although, regrettably, he’s not so good at telling us exactly what that something is.  He plays with cars and stacks blocks.  He colors with crayons and only chews on them some of the time.  He’s lost the baby chubbiness from his cheeks and legs.  He’s even managed to grow some hair.

We have to change some of our habits now, because he’s tall enough to see what’s on the kitchen table or the bathroom counter, and he’s got enough of a reach to grab for the things he sees.  He knows about cell phones and laptops and what Mom and Dad do with them, and if he catches one of us attempting to do work when we should be playing with him, he’ll come over and shut the laptop with a firm “NO NO NO.”

When I pick him up in the morning, I’m not carrying the tiny little bundle who once was small enough to snuggle on my chest.  Instead I’ve got a monkey who wraps his arms and legs around me for a big hug, and hangs on to me as much as I hang on to him.  When we walk to the car in the morning, he asserts his independence by trying to take us through the outside door rather than the one leading to the garage.  Oh, he’s still got his clingy moments, like recently when we went to a friend’s new house for a Superbowl party, but it doesn’t take him long now to get comfortable with being in a new place, surrounded by people neither of us have met yet.

So, nope, this Kiddo isn’t a baby any more.  With all the things that he can do, he’s definitely a little boy now.  Every day it seems like we’re finding something new that he can get into.  The babyproofing we did is no longer adequate; it’s time to rearrange the contents of counters and drawers to move unsafe things to better locations.  He hasn’t started climbing on things just yet, but from what I’ve seen lately, it won’t be long now.  Nothing will be safe unless it’s locked down or stowed away.

I kind of miss the little baby snuggles.  But the little boy snuggles are great too.  And I stand by what I told him that first week when we brought him home: no matter how big he gets… he’ll always be my baby.

Kiddo plays next to the couch

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So smart, and shiny too!

Just before Christmas I got a new phone, the HTC HD7.  Every cell phone I’ve had before now has been a tool for making phone calls, sending and receiving text messages, and occasionally taking pictures.  I’d been content with this for years, and my iPod Touch filled the gap for when I needed a quick Sudoku game or email check.  But sometime last summer I started thinking that when my current phone wore out, it might be time to join the era of the smartphone.

I chose the HD7 for two reasons: my service provider (T-Mobile) carried it, and my workplace reimbursed its purchase.  I didn’t comparison-shop for the best plan or try out lots of different models, so I’m not the person to say whether this particular smartphone is definitively better than any other.  What I am is a brand new smartphone user, one who often doesn’t have both hands free to do things on the phone because I’m carrying multiple bags, or managing a small child, or driving to work.  (PSA: Washington State law prohibits driving while texting on a cell phone or talking without the use of a hands-free system.  So, y’know, don’t do that.)  I am merely someone switching from a “dumb” phone to a device that has the fancy bells and ringtones and requires a data plan.

So far? I’m loving it.

For the first couple of days I simply enjoyed the new-toy aspect of it.  But during our Christmas travels, I had a few “wow” moments that really drove home for me how a smartphone can make my life easier.

The first was just after we’d left the driveway.  My husband and I realized that we’d forgotten to call our hotel to reserve a crib reserved for that night.  We’d also forgotten to write down their phone number.  I launched Bing on my phone and typed in the hotel name.  I expected that I’d get a standard page of links, and that I’d have to scroll and click to find the phone number.  Instead, Bing popped up a contact card for the hotel, including a one-touch hotlink to dial the number directly from the contact page!  I was delighted.

Another neat moment happened on our return trip.  Kiddo was cranky after two days of car riding, and ripe for a diaper change.  I knew there was a rest area not too far ahead, but couldn’t remember whether it was twenty miles or forty.  With the Maps app I was able to pinpoint our position, search for “rest area” (it found three close by, including the one I was looking for) and check the distance from our current location.  Sure, our Garmin probably could have told us the same thing… if we could have remembered how to pull up that information on it without losing our current route data.

The ads for the Windows Phone 7 talk about how this OS was designed to make it easier to “glance and go,” so that you spend less time interacting with the device and more time interacting with the real world. While I can’t compare to the other smartphones they’re positioning themselves against, I have found that it’s much faster for me to triage new text messages and missed calls with this phone than it was with my old phone.  Dialing my frequent calls feels a little slower–I think it takes one click more than I’d like it to.  And I kept hanging up on people accidentally when I press the phone against my cheek, but that would be a hazard of any touchscreen phone.  Reviews and commentators have mentioned a few of the items this phone is missing, like the ability to view Flash websites (which I’m told is coming sometime this year) and basic cut-copy-paste functionality.  But in spite of those holes, I’ve found the HD7 to be extremely easy to use.  I don’t think I’ve looked at the manual or any how-to website since the day I bought it.

There’s plenty that I like about my new phone, but what I really love are the ways in which it brings useful things together like electronic chocolate and peanut butter.  Web search plus one-touch dialing.  GPS location plus directions lookup.  And my current favorite?  Well, that would be the one I had to use the other night.  We’d been out doing some evening errands, and on our way to pick up Kiddo from the babysitter I realized I’d misplaced my phone.  Crisis!  I revisited our stops after we collected the boy, but no one had seen it.  It might have been a miserable night, except that I’d added a Windows Live ID to the phone when I was setting up email accounts.  Once I got home I logged on to the Windows Phone website with that LiveID.  And sure enough…

Screenshot of Map it: See your phone's approximate location on a map

If only the rest of my life came with such guidance!