Geekamama


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Hot Sugar Action

It’s a new year! Time for the standard resolutions that will be dropped in a couple of months (eat better! exercise more! write in the darn blog more than once a month!). But it’s also a fine time to focus on a new hobby.

Lately I’ve been exploring the world of candymaking–or, as my husband and I joke, gettin’ some hot sugar action. A few months ago I picked up a book on it (Sweet Confections: Beautiful Candy to Make at Home), partly because I was interested in learning how to dip things in chocolate, but perhaps more because the cover looked good enough to nibble.

Reading it whetted my appetite for learning more. I’ve got lots of friends who are amazing bakers, but candymaking is an area where I don’t have many people’s brains to pick, so I’ve had to do online research and experimentation. The book’s recipe for saltwater taffy just gave us hard candy; success was found elsewhere. For Christmas I received another book: Candymaking. Both have been helpful in their own way: Candymaking has a lot more variety in each area, but Sweet Confections features a photo of every single recipe, which can be incredibly helpful.

It’s ironic that even though chocolate was my gateway temptation, it’s one area where I’ve done very little further work. For chocolate to stay stable at room temperature and not require refrigeration, it needs to be properly tempered. On top of that, I’ve found there are many different ideas on what’s the best way to dip chocolates, or at least the non-round ones. (For round ones, the consensus appears to be that hand-dipping is best–and yes, that means using your hands to coat the centers with chocolates.)

At any rate, I’m having a lot of fun with it, and will likely be writing more about my candymaking adventures in the future. I’ve got some favorites already, and some drool-worthy ideas of what to try next. I’ve also been compiling a mental list of equipment I’m going to need at some point. To my husband’s chagrin, one of those dream items is a new kitchen. I’ll just have to keep him plied with caramels, and maybe one day he’ll concede.

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Attn: Bureau of Weather Regulation

To Whom It May Concern,

I am writing to lodge a complaint against the current deliverables from your Seattle Metro Area regional department. My dissatisfaction extends back for most of the past six months, but what we have received lately has been especially undesirable.

As you are no doubt aware, normal November temperatures for our area are, on averge, a daytime high of 51 degrees (Fahrenheit) and a nighttime low of 41 degrees. Even on the colder nights, this is usually several degrees above the freezing point of 32 degrees. Fifty degrees might not be the sort of weather when one would walk around outside in shorts and a t-shirt, but it is generally warm enough that one would not need to bundle up in heavy winter coat, hat and scarf.

However, in the first three weeks of November this year (2011), we’ve had only a handful of days where the daytime temperature has exceeded 50 degrees. In addition, eleven of the 21 nights are on record as having lows of 35 or less. Please note that these temperatures are measured at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, and documented on both The Weather Channel’s website and on Beautiful Seattle’s Seattle Climate Data site. The airport is closer to Puget Sound and therefore slightly more moderate than the inland foothills, where I live.

Precipitation this month has also been lower than normal. I understand that the Seattle region may be working hard to correct this, but trying to make it all up over the past couple days is not, in my opinion, the way to do it. My preference would be for a more gradual increase, with the understanding that while the month may conclude with a below-average rainfall, it would at least be within an acceptable tolerance.

As I mentioned earlier, this general underperformance has been noted for at least the past six months, possibly longer. April 2011 marked a new record low for the region, and even that was warmer than what we’ve seen recently. This past “summer” it took until early June to achieve a daytime high above 70 degrees; one particular day didn’t even make above 60. Only four days in July were 80 degrees or warmer. In comparison, please refer back to July 2009, when July temperatures were into the low 90s by mid-month, prompting a heat emergency and a run on air conditioners.

While August and September did yield pleasant summer weather, the late delivery tainted the reception. Had these days and nights been released even a month earlier, customer saisfaction would have been markedly higher.

I urge you to take the necessary steps to rectify this situation. It should not be necessary for me to be wearing both a sweatshirt and a fleece in my office at work. We should not be seeing dustings of snow on our back porch this early in the winter. As reparation, I ask that you not only adjust the November temperatures and precipitation more toward normal, but also compensate us next summer (May-August 2012) for the inadequate weather we had this past summer.

Sincerely, Jessica
o/b/o many other Seattle-area residents

P.S. I would write more but my fingers are too cold.


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And now, the other side of the wall

Last week I talked about some of the puzzle events I play in. I also help run them, which includes creating the puzzles. And boy oh boy, you can pick up some really strange skills and knowledge when writing puzzles.

Over the past 10 years or so, I’ve had lots of exposure to some very commonly used ciphers: Morse code, Braille, semaphore, ASCII encodings,  binary representations of numbers that correspond to letters of the alphabet. These turn up frequently in puzzles, although these days there’s been a trend to at least disguise that it’s an encoding-based puzzle. But after a time, you get to recognizing at least some of the most common letters; perhaps even being able to read them off without needing to look them up on your pocket geek card.

I’ve also had cause to look up more obscure knowledge. Do you know which words in the English language don’t use any vowel other than Y? I did at one time (at least, all the ones in my electronic dictionary.) What do the number ranges in the Dewey Decimal cataloging system mean? I needed to know that too for a puzzle I was creating a couple of years ago. Convert numbers from base-3 to base-10 without using a calculator? Yeah, I’ve got that.

While I’ve never quite gotten the hang of anagramming words in my head or deciphering cryptic crossword clues, I have picked up the habit that many authors have of seeing something unusual and thinking, there’s a puzzle in there somewhere. My personal favorite that I created using environmental data is from couple of years ago. One night I noticed that every other pillar in one of the Microsoft garages had both a row/column designator, and an arrow pointing north. I turned that into a real-life Choose Your Own Adventure game with a secret message embedded in the only successful path.

Sometimes, what we authors think is elegance falls flat with the solvers. [Note: One near-universal technique in writing puzzles is indexing, where you’re given a phrase and a number, and you take the letter from the sentence that corresponds to the number.] One year I designed a puzzle with a set of clues and answers, where the first hidden message came from indexing by the length of the answer into the clue, and then a second message came from indexing by the length of the clue into the answer. I thought it was brilliant. Everyone else… not so much. I still believe the design itself was elegant, and that the failure was just in my implementation. Well, we all have our little delusions.

It’s simultaneously much easier and much harder now that most solvers have smartphones – literally the entire internet in their pockets, as long as they stay within their carrier’s coverage area. It only takes a moment to look up the track listing for a collection of CDs, or the intersection of two particular interstate highways. I suspect that the greater availability of wireless connectivity is fostering an increase of puzzle styles that depend less on knowing (or hunting) trivia, and more on insight. To me, those are the ones that require more work to develop, but give the solver more satisfaction when they finish it.

As an author, you walk a narrow line in creating these puzzles. You want the insight to be just hidden enough so that the solvers feel smart in finding it, but not so obscure that they lose interest in looking for it. One philosophy I’ve heard is that there should be an inverse correlation between the amount of time needed to catch the insight and the amount of time required to do the rest of the puzzle. If it takes a long time to figure out what you need to do, then actually doing that work should go more quickly, and vice versa.

There are probably as many theories about how to create puzzles as there are puzzle authors. Everyone’s got a different feel for what’s “too hard” or “too easy,” and that line is also influenced by the size of the event you’re creating. For a weekend-long event, a 45-minute puzzle is considered quick. For a five-hour walking event, that same puzzle is one of the long ones. In the end, though, the best thing to hear from someone who’s solved your puzzle isn’t “That was easy!” or “Wow, that was really hard,” but rather, “That was fun.” It’s a battle of wits between author and solver; one that in the end, the author intends to lose.


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Kitchen Confidence

Here I am, a day behind again. No worries; I’ll catch up by tomorrow.

I’m no chef, but I think I’m a more accomplished cook than I was five years ago. I owe a lot of this to my husband, who has not only introduced me to new tastes, but also helped me gain the confidence to go off-book (cookbook, that is). Plus a tip of the hat the Alton Brown, of course.

In my earlier culinary days, following a recipe was no big deal. I could follow a recipe. But I had no idea what flavors would blend well, which ones I needed to perk up a chili, what I might do if there was something I wanted to eat but I didn’t have any instructions. The cookbook was The Word when it came to making meals and desserts. My ex-husband considered himself a pretty cook, and prior to that I’d only lived at home or in the dorms. I remember one time when my ex was out of town, and I grilled a steak all by myself. I was very proud of myself.

That system worked for me for many years. Every now and then I’d pull out a recipe book and step-by-step whip up something that usually turned out tasty. But that all changed when I moved out on my own. Now I had to do my own cooking, or else eat baked potatoes every night. I do really, really like baked potatoes, but that probably would have been too much.

So now I was the primary cook in my kitchen, and still looking up recipes online and following them faithfully every night. I started dating my not-yet-husband, and while we dined out quite a bit, there were nights when we made our own dinner too. I started to notice a few things. For example, most of the time he didn’t use a cookbook. I was so impressed.

It took a while for me to gain more confidence in the kitchen. I watched a lot of Good Eats. I still followed recipes, but I was getting a lot better about efficient prepping and cooking, and timing it so that all the meal components were ready at about the same time. I learned that letting the pan heat up before adding the oil and saute ingredients keeps them from sticking as much as they do if you put them in a cold pan. That some knives are great for slicing but not so much for chopping (after all, if they were all interchangeable, why would professional chefs have a whole sleeve of differently shaped knives) That fruits and most root vegetables are better stored at room temperature–yes, this includes tomatoes–while other vegetables need to be stored in the fridge. (Tip: look at how a grocery store displays them, and follow suit at home.)

My first big advance was the day I decided I wanted real taqueria-style tacos for dinner one night, the kind you might find at a taco truck, only without the food safety violations. I had no recipe at all, but I’d eaten enough of them that I knew what ought to go in them. On my way home I picked up some skirt steak, pico de gallo, and cilantro, and pulled something together with no guidance other than my taste buds. This time it was my husband’s turn to be impressed.

These days I still often turn to recipes, but I’m not afraid to modify them as I see fit. I took Real Simple’s recipe for Fiery “Fried” Chicken and turned it into a chicken and pasta dish. With only a little guidance from the Whole Foods fishmonger, I turned out some lemon pepper Tilapia filets the other night. This past weekend I rescued a curry the night after I’d accidentally spilled way too much cinnamon into it. I’m getting really good at knowing which sides will complement a main dish.

Of course, I still have my mishaps. I was making an apple pie yesterday in an attempt to use up the apples on the table that had started to get past their prime. I needed six cups of apples. I ended up with eight. Instead of using six of the eight cups for the pie and figuring out something for the remainder, I decided to split it into two batches of four cups each. I didn’t even think to supplement with the additional apples I’d bought for that very purpose. And what I ended up with was this:

Oh well. They can’t all be winners. I bet it’s still going to taste good, even if it does leave us wanting more.


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Destructive myths, at work and away from it

A friend of mine on Twitter shared a link recently to an article by Tony Schwartz called Four Destructive Myths Most Companies Still Live By. It’s a really interesting read; go check it out when you get a chance.

The myths Schwartz lists are:

  • Multitasking is critical in a world of infinite demand.
  • A little bit of anxiety helps us perform better.
  • Creativity is genetically inherited, and it’s impossible to teach.
  • The best way to get more work done is to work longer hours.

These sound vaguely familiar.

 

I have this habit where I’ll be working on one task, and another task catches my attention briefly, and in that moment it seems like the second task more important than what I’m doing, or that it’s something that will take “only a minute” to complete. I drop my first task to work on the second, which inevitably ends up taking longer than I thought it would, and then when I return to my first task I spend too many minutes trying to remember where I left off and what I’d been planning to do.

 

Anxiety? Yeah, I spent the first quarter of this year getting up close and personal with anxiety. Guess how that affected my performance? (Hint: Poorly.) In contrast, I’ve found that I perform best when I’m riding a wave of success. The morale boost I get from doing a project well feeds my confidence, confirming that I really do have the skills to succeed in this area, and carries me into whatever I’m doing next. But when panic and pressure start looming, I fumble and fall into what my friend Michael calls analysis paralysis: when you spend so much time trying to research, analyze and choose the “right” approach to solving a problem that you end up with no time to actually solve the problem.

 

Oh, and those longer hours? HA. Ask my family members, ask my friends (if you can find any; they’re probably still at work), ask anyone who works in an engineering field. Schwartz describes it succintly:

No single myth is more destructive to employers and employees than this one. The reason is that we’re not designed to operate like computers — at high speeds, continuously, for long periods of time.

Not designed to operate like computers! No wonder this crops up so frequently in fields that spend a lot of time working with computers and software. The root of the issue is that there’s always more work to be done than there are time and resources to do it. But rather than acknowledging that people need downtime to rest and refresh* themselves, employees work late and take work home, because the expectations from above are that this project (and the three other ones you’ve been assigned) must be completed by the end of the month, come hell or high water. “Work smarter, not harder!” Uh-huh.

I fall victim to the longer-hours myth at home more than at work. I’ve been known to stay up until 2 a.m. working on a task that I feel has to be done before I go to bed or else it won’t get done before deadline. My husband urges me to go off and get some sleep. I resist, pointing out that he is still up doing work. I ignore the fact that I get up in the morning a good two hours before he does.

*Both figuratively and literally. Taking regular showers can do a lot for relations with your co-workers.

 

Obviously, these aren’t universal truths that apply to all companies. When I started at my current job, I was amazed that even though we were in crunch mode, most people actually went home at night. I tend to stick around in the office until 6:30 or 7 most nights. I’m often one of the last handful to head out. (I have an awesome job, and I can’t say enough about how happy I am that I got up the nerve to leave that last soul-sucking job and strike out on my own. But that could fill its own post; I’ll save that for a little later in the month.)

If these myths are destructive to companies, they’re also destructive to individuals who live by them. It’s often a difficult, slow process to change a company-wide attitude. But it might not be as difficult for an individual to change them in herself.


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Chill, baby

I’ve discovered an amazing fact that I’m sure will revolutionize the lives of parents everywhere. It’s so obvious that I’m surprised no one’s ever mentioned it before. And now, dear readers, I share it with you!

Kids, like some adults, get cold at night. When this happens, children often fuss until the situation has been remedied.

…what?

Yeah. I really, truly, forget that my son can get cold at night. I don’t know why he would. It’s not like we’re still putting him in summer-weight pajamas, or covering him with a small blanket that he kicks off every time he turns over. Except that it is.

For the past week or two, Kiddo was waking up whimpering between 5:30 and 6:30, which is about an hour before I want to wake up for the day. I’d get him settled, and then half an hour later we’d hear him again. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but at Way Too Early o’clock, I wasn’t awake enough to figure it out.

Then, a couple nights ago, we had a power outage. No electricity–and for us, that means no heat–for seven hours overnight. My husband and I huddled under our blankets. I had to go in and comfort Kiddo a few times, and I thought it was because he was bothered by the lack of night noises or that he didn’t like the makeshift nightlight I’d made out of a flashlight and cardboard box.

Around 7 a.m., when we got power back, I got up to take my shower. I heard Kiddo still fussing, so I brought him into our bed and tried to get him to fall asleep again next to my husband.

He slept soundly for two more hours. I had to wake him up to get ready for preschool. And something in my now-awake brain clicked: the poor boy was waking up because he was cold.

We’ve been putting him in toddler-size sleep sacks for the past few days, and he’s been sleeping more soundly. Last night, though, he was fussing again. This time I was aware enough to realize his bare feet were probably freezing. He keeps pulling off his sleep socks before I put him to bed, and I thought he just didn’t like them. Now, I think the reason he does it is because they’ve gotten too small. So tonight we’ll try putting him in regular socks just before bed. Maybe we’ll all finally get the sleep we need.

Astonishingly, this isn’t the first time I’ve done this. When Kiddo was about eight months old, my mom visited for a couple days. Kiddo had been fussy at night, which I figured was normal for an eight-month old. One day my mom said in passing, “He was fussing, so I put a blanket on him and that seemed to help.” While one part of my brain was saying Nooooooo all the books say we can’t put blankets in his crib! the other part was saying DUH, JESSICA. You’d think I’d have learned from that. Apparently not.

I think the reason I overlook such an obvious thing is because I’m cold all the time. Most mornings when I wake up, my temperature is somewhere near 97.5. A temp of 98.6, the commonly-accepted average human body temperature, is a low-grade fever for me. Infrared cameras that show most people’s faces as red and yellow, like this one, only show yellow and green for me. So I’ve gotten used to the fact that most people don’t need as many layers of clothing and blankets as I like. In Kiddo’s case, I may have assumed a little too much about his tolerance for cold nights.

At any rate, we think we’ve solved this problem. Stay tuned for more exciting tidbits that are totally obvious to everyone except me.


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An update

Six months ago, things got crazy in my life. They’ve gotten better. Actually, they’ve gotten a lot better.

I got away from the stressful job I was in, which made life a lot easier. I took some time off and remembered what it was like to hang around an empty house. I got a new job. We took some nice family vacations. I am now legally permitted to drive without restrictions.

Looking back at last spring with half a year’s distance, I find myself feeling things a little differently. The strongest emotion I feel now is not anger or depression, but gratitude, with a small side of regret.

I’m incredibly grateful for the help and support we got, both on the night of the seizure and over the next several months. My sister and my friend dropped everything they were doing and came to the hospital to sit with Kiddo. My sister took him home and stayed overnight when it turned out I’d be staying at Harborview overnight. I don’t know whether Kiddo will remember that night, but he’s become very attached to the stuffed dog that he got from the hospital social worker, so one day he might want to know the story of how he got it.

But I do regret the fear and worry that this event introduced (or re-introduced) to my family’s and friends’ lives. I know my husband worries about me now, especially when he thinks I’m being not quite my usual self. A very thoughtful friend texted me just as a recent puzzle event was getting started, concerned that some of the flashing-light effects might be a problem for me. I love my friends and family so much for looking out for me. I’m so sorry that there’s a need for them to do that.

Work-wise, I’m a lot happier now. I like my job; I like the product I’m working on so much that I come home and play with it in my spare time. I’ve been told that it’s a noticeable change, and that’s a good thing. I don’t think this job is going to wear on me the same way the last one did. But at the same time, I find myself holding back a bit from getting as emotionally invested in this one as I did in the last one. I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing or not.

I haven’t made significant changes to my habits. I still stay up too late and forget about taking care of myself as well as I should. I don’t call my family as much as they would like, and I don’t take sick time as often as I should. In other words, now that it’s a couple of months behind us, life has gone back to normal for me. The lurking demon is off my radar again, and that probably isn’t a good thing. The meds I take daily do keep me from forgetting about it entirely, so that’s better than nothing.

However, I did make one change specifically with the seizures in mind. I installed an ICE app on my phone, and one of these days I’ll get around to making an actual paper card as well. (The linked article is several years old; the ICE acronym has become much more widely known since then.) I hope the demon never strikes again, but if it does, I’m a little better prepared for it.


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Twenty Years After

How could it have been 20 years since high school? After all, it’s not like I graduated, went to college, went to grad school, got married, got a job, moved to Seattle, bought a house, went to my 10-year reunion, got divorced, bought a condo, got married again, sold a condo, had a kid, quit my job, and found another or anything.

I mean, I hadn’t even cured cancer yet or gotten my Nobel Prize, or, more importantly, lost the 20 extra pounds I’ve been carrying around since Kiddo came along.  I did remember to get my nails done and my eyebrows waxed, though. So that should have counted for something.

High school had its highs and lows for me. I got to develop my writing skills and was selected editor of the school paper for my senior year. I successfully auditioned for the chamber choir and the colorguard, even if I never realized my secret dream of being a cheerleader (yes, seriously) or had a date to Homecoming. I had friends in high school, but only one really close friend. I spent a lot of time convinced that the other girls were snickering at me behind my back, and maybe they were, or maybe I was just being paranoid.

But really the lows weren’t all that low; it’s just that when you’re a teenage girl living through them, it feels like your social standing is going to determine the rest of your life.  I was looking forward to the reunion in spite of, or maybe because of, those insecurities. Heck, I wanted to show everyone that I was no longer the nerd who couldn’t get a date. Yep, I’ve moved all the way up the social ladder to Software Geek. At least I had a hot date to parade around.

As the reunion got closer, though, I started getting nervous. What if no one remembered me? Worse, what if they remembered me, and didn’t want to talk to me? What if my clothes still weren’t cool enough? What if once again I tried too hard to get people to like me? I honestly did want to go, but I wanted to go as a success story.

The first part of the reunion was Friday evening family picnic. I shouldn’t have worried about not being remembered, because as soon as I walked in the door I was recognized. Someone even told me I looked just like I did in high school. I talked to a lot of people, but chickened out at approaching others. At the end of the evening, as Kiddo was starting to show signs that he’d had enough, I found myself looking forward to the next night’s adults-only dinner.

Undistracted by kids, we were able to talk to more people, and I learned a lot more about what others have done with the past 20 years. Many people still lived in our hometown, while a bunch of the rest of us had migrated west. Some people had put on weight, others had changed their hair color or lost it altogether. Some people still looked as amazing as they had back in high school.

No one had cured cancer, and there wasn’t a Nobel Prize winner among the lot of us. But there were successful business owners and employees, and happy parents and spouses, and people who’d traveled to interesting places, and people who were doing things we’d never expected twenty years ago. There were a lot of people who were happy with where they’d found themselves, and who were having a great time reconnecting with old friends.

Including me.

By the time the dinner and dancing ended, I was sorry that it was over. I wanted to talk to the Homecoming Queen and the cheerleading captain again. I wanted to make amends with a few people. I wanted to find out more about what everyone was doing, and where they had been.

Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one feeling that way. There seemed to be a lot of support for the idea of a 25th reunion, and one friend in the Seattle area has proposed a local mini-reunion.

Twenty years ago, I didn’t have a lot of close friends among my high school classmates. I came away from my reunion hoping to change that, before the next time.


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Back to geekland

On the last workday of April, I left my previous job. On the last workday of May, I was offered a new one. I’ve accepted it, and will start work next Monday, once again testing software, but at a different company than before.  I’m looking forward to getting back into the work world. Our house is in a wooded neighborhood a dozen miles from the nearest town, and can feel very isolated at times. On the other hand, there are a couple of things I think I’ll miss from this past month and a half.

Above all, I’ll miss being able to stay on top of the clutter. Before, when I was working, our evening routine went something like this: come home, make dinner, give Kiddo a bath if he needed it, put him to bed, and then collapse in front of the TV. It was hard to do a lot of cleaning up right after Kiddo’s gone to bed because his bedroom is close to the kitchen and living room, so loud noises like vacuuming or clattering pots being put away would keep him from falling asleep. Even harder was putting down the remote to do the chores once we’d been sucked into TV watching for the night. While at home these past weeks I’ve done what I could to get the house to a cleaner “base level” in the hopes it would make daily tidying less of a burden, but I don’t know how long we’ll be able to maintain it.

I’ll also miss having time to cook interesting dinners. We pick Kiddo up from daycare around 6:15 p.m. and our drive home from there usually takes half an hour or more. This means anything beyond quick-prep dinners pushed dinnertime (and consequently, bedtime) even later. It didn’t help that we often didn’t decide on that night’s dinner until right before leaving work. Whoever wasn’t on pickup duty was in charge of arranging for dinner, whether that meant shopping or just hitting the local Panera. But that also meant a delay in getting home and getting it started.

I’m a little bummed that I didn’t get to all the projects I wanted to do. I’ve found that I’m something of a structured procrastinator, so I have gotten a fair amount of other work done, but the basement is still a mess, the recipes never got organized, the software project I’d meant to work on with a friend hasn’t gotten further than the design stage. Writing a non-prioritized weekly to-do list helped a lot; the weekly deadline let me push things back a day without feeling like I’d failed to get everything done, and I could rearrange things as needed–for example, I couldn’t sweep the deck very well in the pouring rain, so that had to wait for a good-weather day.

So, I’ve been thinking a bit about how to keep some of my at-home work to continue into the summer and beyond. Planning meals and shopping on the weekends might save us a little time in the evenings, and perhaps we could do some prep for the next night’s dinner after the boy has gone to bed. Chopping onions isn’t as noisy as washing dishes, after all. We might also be able to streamline our getting-out-of-the-house routine in the morning, in the hopes that leaving for work earlier means coming home earlier as well.

Could we do some of the noisy chores like vacuuming right after getting home from work? Maybe, if Kiddo were a little older. Right now he loves being underfoot while we’re cooking, which often means whoever’s not cooking is on distraction detail. In the past, I’ve asked my husband to take care of the vacuuming before he left for work (he generally went in later than we did) but that would cut into his worktime, meaning he had to either stay later at the office, or bring work home. Maybe it’s time to dust off and empty out that Roomba — or just get a quieter vacuum cleaner.

Having the weekly list in a visible place could also be helpful. I’ve found that when I have a visual reminder of what needs to be done, it’s a little easier to find the time to do small chores, and I can budget time for big ones. And it will help my husband as well, who has reminded me countless times that his psychic powers are very weak. This way we’ll be in sync about what needs to get done that week.

I don’t know about those projects, though. The obvious time to do them would be on weekends, but during the summer we rarely have a weekend free. Perhaps they’ll just have to wait until this fall, when we might have to find a new way to fill Sunday afternoons.


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You can take the Mama out of the Geek world…

It’s been nearly twelve years that I’ve worked for my current employer, a software company that I suspect most of you are all too familiar with.  Earlier this month, spurred in part by the seizures and in part by a few personal factors, I decided it was time to leave.  I’m fortunate in many ways; I have the full support of my husband and family in doing this, and we have the means (and medical insurance) such that I can afford to take a couple weeks of down time before jumping back in to the workforce.  It was not an easy decision to make, but from the way I’ve been feeling since putting in my notice, I can’t help but be convinced that this was the right choice to make for now.

Many years ago, when my  previous husband and I were divorcing and I had to start breaking the news to people, I did so with expectations that people would be disappointed in me for not being able to make it work. Instead, I received almost unanimous support from family, friends and co-workers. I thought I was going to hear things like “Have you tried [something else]?” or be told that I was giving up, not trying as hard as I should have.  Instead, I heard things like “I’m so glad! You deserve to be happy,” and “Kudos for making a tough decision!”

This past week, as I’ve been telling my friends and co-workers that I’m ending my working relationship, I’ve realized that I had similar expectations about their reactions.  I worried that people would question my decision, or ask whether I had done everything I could to make things work out. And once again, I’ve realized that I haven’t been giving them enough credit.  Once again, I’m hearing nothing but supportive comments.  My friends and family know I’ve been unhappy here for quite a while, long enough that it’s worn me down physically and emotionally. They probably also know that I’ve stubborn and hate to admit defeat, so it’s not too surprising that it took something drastic to make me realize what was happening. Walking away from a decent salary and a prime slate of benefits seems a little crazy, especially in this economy.  Working here was right for me for many years, and it was through my job that I met many of those friends (one who later became my husband).  But even good relationships can go sour under certain circumstances.  Sometimes it’s possible to put things right.  Other times, the price of staying outweighs the benefits.

I’m an engineer at heart, so I have to analyze. In looking at the similarities between the two “breakups,” I’ve been trying to understand why my first instinct is to brace for criticism and disapproval.  The best I’ve come up with is that it’s the criticism and disapproval that I feel myself. Is this really the right decision? Could I have found a way to make it work if I’d just looked a little harder or put more effort into it?  Clearly I’ve failed somehow, and surely it must be my own fault.  After all, hundreds of other woman, mothers of young children, are able to pull off the necessary balance of effort needed to succeed in the workforce, and even in this high-intensity company.  If they can do it, there’s no reason I shouldn’t have been able to as well.

But frankly, if I’m going to send my Kiddo off to the care of someone else five days a week, it really should be so that I can do something I love and find fulfilling, rather than something that’s going to drag me down or even leave me in tears at the end of a too-long workday.  The people who care about me are able to see that, and I can certainly stand behind it when it applies to other people. I just don’t do as well acknowledging it for myself.

The support and love I’ve gotten from the people close to me as I’ve made this decision has been more than I expected.  As my husband loves to remind me, I am more than just my job title.  Yes, it’s been an integral part of my identity for a very long time, but just as I’m more than a mom, more than a wife, more than a puzzle solver or a blog writer, I’m also more than what’s on my business card. I’m greater than the sum of my many hats–and now, it’s time to try on a new one.