Friday, December 09, 2011

Decisions, Decisions

I've reached a difficult point in my career.  I have some big decisions to make.  All I feel like doing is curling up and hoping that it will all go away, but I know that won't work.  I have to be proactive and make sure I get what I want.

Forgive my silence this past month as I've been working on the future of my career.  I'll tell you what happened once I come out the other side!

Sunday, November 06, 2011

My Big Boy

It is hard to believe that my sweet little boy is 5 years old!  He turned 5 about a month ago, and we had a birthday dinner for him.  The presents included Boba Fett action figures of various sizes, and a fancy steering wheel setup for the Playstation 3 that included a gear shift and pedals.  But the biggest hit by far was an antique fan.  Jeff picked it up off of Ebay, from an estate sale.  It is 60 years old, but works beautifully still.

He still loves fans, and has amassed quite a collection.  One of his birthday presents, a joint gift from my boss and my admin and their families, was a fan shaped like a dog.  The actual fan part was located in the tummy of the dog.  He loved this fan, and played with it for hours -- just turning it on, and then back off, on, and off, on, and off...

He's taken a fan to school for show-and-tell at nearly every available opportunity.  And, speaking of school, he is doing really well at school.  The main issue is that he is 5 days too young to be an official kindergartner, but at his school they are letting him participate in the kindergarten classes and we are paying the kindergarten rate.  His teacher said his math skills are off the charts (gee, where did he get that, I wonder?) and his reading is at the 1st grade level.  She said he should really be promoted to first grade next year, because he will be bored out of his wits and cause trouble if he has to repeat kindergarten.  We have to start working now with figuring out how to get him tested and into first grade.

He has an amazing mastery of the English language.  He often surprises me with the things he knows!  I really love talking to him.

Friday, November 04, 2011

How to Get Yourself an Interview

Some people despair that in science, it is an old-boys' club, and nobody outside can get in.  While that is undoubtedly true in some areas, from my experience, computational science is a pretty open field.  Sure, it doesn't hurt that I went to an extremely prestigious school and had a very famous and well-respected adviser, but I have gotten multiple interviews and several job offers without his direct help.  I can give you some advice that has served me well:

  • Job-hunting is a lot like dating.  In addition to your qualifications, there has to be a certain chemistry there, otherwise it will not work out.  There have been jobs for which I was underqualified, but got offers nonetheless, because that chemistry was there.  Conversely, I have been well qualified for some jobs that I did not get.
  • Your application is an advertisement for the product known as you.  So make sure that it appeals to the people doing the hiring!  
    • Write a stellar cover letter, outlining the ways in which your qualifications and experience satisfy the job requirements, and the great things that you can bring to the position.  Be sure to include some indication of your personal enthusiasm for the position -- this goes a long way towards building the chemistry (or rapport) with the hiring manager.  They want you to like them and what they have to offer, not just be a robot who does the work.  Writing essays comes naturally to me, so I find it really easy to knock out a good cover letter quickly, but if you do not possess this gift, write a draft and get somebody who's a better writer than you to give you feedback.
    • Tailor your CV to the position.  If you are applying for a technical job, outline your technical skills.  If you are applying to work with me at a large HPC center, tell me how much experience you have with MPI, OpenMP, and other relevant libraries, tools, and programming languages, and tone down the irrelevant skills like your Microsoft Access training.  If you are applying for a managerial position, then outline your managerial skills.  Even if you don't directly supervise anyone, there are still relevant leadership skills and experiences that you may have.
    • Don't be scared to brag.  Sometimes people don't know how awesome you are, so you need to tell them.  If you are applying for a position in a different country, for example, they may not realize that your Ph.D. institution is ranked in the top 5 in the U.S., so this is something you need to tell them.  And things that you think everybody should know if they are applying for this job (e.g., MPI for one of the positions I've been hiring for) -- you would be amazed how many people don't actually have those skills.  So be sure to let us know you do have those skills!
  • Not getting a particular job is not the end of the world.  There are many paths to happiness in life, many ways a career can go, and being flexible improves your ability for happiness.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Applying Late for Jobs and My View from Both Perspectives

I was inspired to write this post after reading a question to Dr. Isis about applying for a job "too late" due to having had a baby, which interfered with the applicant's ability to apply in a timely manner.

I commented:
As a person who has been on both the job-searching and the hiring sides, deadlines are there for convenience but they are rarely hard deadlines. I once submitted an application 20 days after the deadline and still got an interview. As another datapoint, someone emailed me when I was wrapping up my decisions about who to interview for a job, and I told him to hurry up and apply. That candidate ended up being the best one, and just started the job yesterday!
It will take them two weeks before they really even start looking through the applications. Hiring is an extremely time-consuming process, but at the early stages it is easy to add in another application to be considered. So definitely apply.
I was once a wee beginning job applicant, afraid of annoying the powers that be by not following the rules.  But, having now been at the other end of the table, I have a much different perspective.  While there are some things that may disqualify you for a particular position, there are few acts so egregious that a hiring manager will remember your name and make sure that you never, ever get a job with anyone they know.  (This is a notable exception!)

For that job where I applied  20 days too late, I told them my reason why.  It wasn't even a very good reason -- I hadn't seen the job posting until that day, and it just seemed like something too good to pass up.  I did not have a good excuse like Dr. Isis' correspondent.  But my application was very strong and I got the interview.  So it can happen.  In the worst case, they don't interview you, which is the same result as if you had never applied.

Really though, unless they are a completely unreasonable person (in which case, you don't want that job anyhow!), there is no negative repercussion from applying a little late if you accidentally missed the application deadline.  Now, that is not me giving you permission to willfully ignore all deadlines -- I'm just saying that honest mistakes are easily forgiven.

Job applicants often have this myopic vision of the hiring process.  I was talking to one of the postdocs I'd hired and I complained about how hard it was to fill the position, how many times my offers were rejected, and how glad I was that they were there.  "Oh," said the postdoc. "I only thought of it from the applicant's perspective -- it never occurred to me that you would be disappointed by people rejecting your job offers!"

Yes, we are disappointed by people rejecting our job offers!  Just as much, if not more, than applicants are disappointed by not getting the job.  It is a huge investment of time to screen applications, talk to applicants, bring them in for interviews, collect and evaluate feedback, and extend offers.  I was so heartbroken the first time my offer was rejected.  I really thought I'd had that candidate in the bag!  But I had to get over it quickly and get the whole process started again.

Making a job offer is a lot like making a Jane Austen-era marriage proposal.  You tell the person you really like them, they are just what you've been looking for, and you want to spend 40 hours a week together with them.  You have these means to provide for them (a.k.a. a salary), and you hope to produce little hybrids of yourself and them (a.k.a. research papers), if only they find you as attractive as you find them.  Then you smile nervously and hope they will say yes.

They usually have to take some time to think about your offer, and you desperately hope that they will think you are Mr. Bingley and not Mr. Collins.  I've been Mr. Collins more often than I would like.  In fact, I once had one person reject my job offer so that they would be free to possibly interview elsewhere (the place of their dreams, but that had not yet contacted them with any interest).  I don't know if that puts me in the same league as Mr. Darcy with his first proposal to Elizabeth Bennet, but that was a pretty odd rejection to say the least.  But it was all good, I offered the job to the next person on the list, who verbally accepted it immediately, and I felt relief that the position was finally filled.

After experiencing both sides of the table, I understand the hiring process much more, and at this point I am unafraid of applying for jobs (if I were in a position that I needed to do so).  I know how the system works.  I would know how to make myself attractive to hiring managers because I have been in their shoes.  I will write another post on that topic.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Musical Memories

My Nissan Leaf came with 4 months of satellite radio for free, and I began listening to the classical music stations every day on my way to work and back.  I got to hear a number of pieces of music that I once loved but had forgotten about.  Because I was getting so much enjoyment out of it, I decided to purchase a subscription after the trial period expired.  I'm still enjoying the classical stations and what they have to play.  Here is a partial list of the music that I re-experienced:

  • On the Beautiful Blue Danube (thus the recent post)
  • Symphony #2 "Romantic" by Howard Hanson
  • Symphony #1 by Gustav Mahler
  • L'Arlesienne Suite by Georges Bizet
  • Enigma Variations by Edward Elgar
  • Overture to Tannhäuser by Richard Wagner
  • Symphony #5 by Dmitry Shostakovich
  • Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky
  • Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

On Patriotism and Criticism

When I was in the eighth grade, my family lived in England for a year.  It was an experience that was very influential in my life.

It was good to be exposed to another culture and another way of doing things, to learn that there is more than one way to be.  Yes, you can drive on the left side of the road and still have a functioning society.  You can go to an all-girls school and survive the experience, even if you have to wear a gray uniform every day.  And there are places where history goes much deeper than it does in this young country.  I learned quite a bit of tolerance from the experience.

But most importantly, it informed my understanding of what it is to be an American.  I returned to the United States with a deeper love and appreciation for my country.  But it was not a blind, unquestioning patriotism -- it was a love very much like the love I feel for my family and close friends.  I see this country's good points and I see its flaws, but most importantly, I can see its potential -- everything that these United States could be.  It would be unfair to turn a blind eye to these flaws, and approve unquestioningly of everything done in the name of the United States.  My loved ones deserve better!  It is my duty to use my perspective to indentify the problems, and help my country overcome its shortcomings.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Music I Enjoy: Traumerei

I played at some friends' wedding the weekend before last (these friends) -- and was asked to play Träumerei by Robert Schumann, a lyrical, reflective piece of music.

I had a recording of Joshua Bell (the violinist in the video above) playing the piece, and I listened and listened to him playing it, and even played along as practice.

But, Joshua Bell I am not!  I don't have nearly the skills that he does, mostly because I don't practice nearly as often as he does, and my fingers don't move the way I want them to all the time, because of my ulnar nerve damage.  Luckily, my friends were pleased with my performance (they got what they paid for and then some!).

I really like what Joshua Bell does with the piece though.  I think the flow of his interpretation is perfect.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Music I Enjoy: On the Beautiful Blue Danube

I hate to admit it, but all weekend, this has been going through my head:

That's bad enough, but what is even more shameful is that I've been enjoying it! Yes, it is overplayed. Yes, it is an earworm. But it is kind of fun. It makes me laugh. I love the beginning, preparing you for the imminent arrival of the waltz. It's like a sunrise, with the rays of sun just peeking above the horizon. You watch them get brighter and brighter, until the sun is up and the waltz begins in all earnestness. The ten minutes of music varies enough that it keeps you from getting too bored. There's even a brief minor section. It is definitely a waltz, and makes me want to dance around the house (ONE-two-three ONE-two-three) -- albeit without even a hundredth of the skill of the dancers in this video. Luckily since I am the only one at home I don't embarrass myself.

Monday, September 26, 2011

My Future Engineer

Vinny has always loved things that go round and round -- wheels, windmills, you name it.  He was terrified of the clothes washer for a while, because it went "boom boom boom" when the load was unbalanced and the noise scared him, but he has since overcome his fear and added washers to the list of fascinating things that go round and round.

He is so interested in washers that he has lately spent the majority of his computer time watching washer repair videos, which he can now quote word-for-word.  (If there's something wrong with your washer, ask him what to do before you call a repairperson!)  He always wants to help load and run the clothes washer, which is great except that while he is also excited to operate the dryer, he's much less interested in folding and putting away the clothes.

He also wants to play clothes washer.  How do you play clothes washer, you may be asking?  Well, he turns around and around, saying "ratta ratta ratta" as if he is the agitator in the center of the basket of a top-loading washer.

Yesterday he declared that he wanted to buy a washing machine and install it in the bathroom so that he can play with it.  If it weren't for the space problems, I would be happy to buy him a cheap used one to tinker with!  Instead, Jeff promised him that if we ever needed to get a new washer, he could help pick it out.

Another obsession of his is fans.  He has enjoyed watching videos of fans on YouTube for years and years.  There are people who have fan collections and post videos of them.  There are videos by kids and adults alike.  Vinny was especially inspired by the children with fan collections and began a collection of his own.  He spends the money he gets for good behavior on new fans.  And once, when he did something we were especially proud of, Jeff took him to Kmart and let him pick any toy he wanted.  What did he select?  A box fan, one with two knobs!

They have show and tell at his school every Monday and Friday, and every time, he has brought a different fan to share.  Some of the kids are not interested in his fans, but other ones have developed an interest in fans thanks to him.  In fact, we went to one of his classmates' birthday party a few weeks ago and the birthday girl had told her mother that Vinny had too many fans and should giver her one of his fans for her birthday.  We gave her a brand-new fan of her own and it was like the best gift ever.

For Vinny's birthday, Jeff found an antique desk fan on eBay.  We know he will love it.  If only there were a small washer that we could get him (beyond the small pink toy we bought to try to help him overcome his fear of washers).

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Computational Conversations

(based on actual conversations I have had with domain scientists...)

Solving a scientific problem?  I can help!

Is it a partial differential equation?  I know something about that.  I've solved Schrödinger's equation in many forms.  Advection and diffusion I know well.  Choose your finiteness: finite elements, finite differences, or finite volumes?  Each one has its own advantages and pitfalls.

Linear algebra?  Use an optimized BLAS library, not the reference library!  Our vendor has a group of applied mathematicians who developed these math libraries just for you.  Don't let all their effort go to waste!  Eigenvalues -- you don't need to orthogonalize at every step, just every so often.  Maybe it will require a few more iterations, but the iterations will be so much cheaper...

Optimization?  Yes!  Finally something I am an expert in!  Okay, so what type of problem are you solving?  Is it convex?  Is the objective function cheap to evaluate?  How many parameters?  Is it a mixed-integer program?  Actually, I think your problem could be reformulated as a combinatorial optimization problem and we could try an evolutionary algorithm...

Oh, you meant code optimization.  Yes, I can do that too.  See these loops?  Since it's Fortran, we need to reorder the loops so that the array is accessed by its first index in the innermost loop, not its second.  See, we just got a 4x performance boost just by swapping these indices.  Okay, let's change this array to a function, because it is easily calculated and the function can be inlined whereas that memory lookup can't.  And let's eliminate these "if" statements by dividing this loop into two parts.

Your job fails at 120,000 MPI processes, but not below that?  What happens when it fails?  How long does it take to get to the point of failure?  What is the code doing when it fails?  Does it always happen in the same place?  Let me ask my sysadmin colleague to look in the top-secret log files that only they can view...

Does this computation depend on that one, or can it be done in any order?  Is there any reason to keep this data after initialization?  What if we used this framework?  Asynchronously spawning new tasks would implicitly load balance this algorithm.  Your algorithm is not scalable.  The synchronizing you do will be a huge bottleneck as you scale up.  It may work okay now, but at the petascale or beyond there will be scalability issues coming out of the woodwork, things even beyond this synchronization issue.  Trust me, I have seen this happen even in my own codes.  Let my pain be your gain!

I may not be a scientist in your field, but I know a lot of things that can help you.  I've boosted the performance of codes by a factor of two with a single keystroke.  I may not have seen your problem before, but I've seen something like it.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Radio Silence

Hello world!

I have found that when I am under a lot of stress, I tend to just retreat inside myself.  I don't want to talk about the stress and I can't think of anything else to talk about, so I just get quiet.

The past two months have been that way for me.  There has been a lot of stress.  I have retreated and remained silent.

The stress is still there but I am trying to think about other things to talk about.  Please bear with me; my creative juices do not flow well under these circumstances.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Leaf Beliefs

My younger sister is a professor of religion, who focuses on environmental ethics, so she has been really interested in hearing what I am feeling about the ethical implications of owning and operating an electric car.  Since I have had it for a grand total of nine days, I of course feel inherently qualified to discuss all the ethical implications of the Nissan Leaf. (*grin*)

As I said before, I felt a strong ethical impulse to buy the car, and it went further than simple carbon footprint reduction.  I have enough disposable income that I can afford more than just the basic necessities, and I like to choose ethical ways in which to spend my money.  This is why I buy a share in a local farm -- I support the local economy and get tasty fruits and veggies to eat.  I also want to spend my money to encourage more good works, which is why I donate to good causes (e.g., GLBT equality).

I feel that buying a Nissan Leaf helped me to further both these goals.  It is ethical to avoid buying gasoline -- the instability in the Middle East is fueled by our insatiable appetite for petroleum.  (Of course there are ethical issues with the way that electric power is generated, but I think this is the lesser of two evils.)  By being one of the earliest adopters of the technology, I am monetarily encouraging a company that is taking a bold ethical step.

My sister also asked me whether I felt "less-polluting joy" every time I drove the car.  I told her that yes, I do feel a certain sense of joy every time I get into my coal-powered car.  (Most of our electricity comes from coal.)  Sometimes I just feel like, "Oh hey, I can drive anywhere I want!  I am not polluting at all!  I will never walk anywhere again!"

Except, yeah, I'm still polluting.  It's not coming out of my tailpipe.  It's coming out of a smokestack instead.  While it is less than what would come from a tailpipe, even if it's 100% coal powered, that doesn't mean you are absolved of responsibility for pollution.

But since it is hard to see those emissions, it is hard to feel guilty when you step on the pedal and accelerate a little more than you would have otherwise.  And it does accelerate so smoothly and so instantaneously...

Monday, July 11, 2011

More About Leaf

I have been enjoying the new car immensely.  Scarlet drives like a dream.  This weekend my dad came for a visit and I took him for a spin in it.  He was very interested in how it all worked.

I have discovered some more cool features on the owners' portal website.  First, you can plan routes, making sure that you have enough range to do the entire route, and then send those routes to the car's navigation system.  Tomorrow I have to go somewhere unfamiliar for work, so I availed myself of this feature.  I'll let you know how it turns out.

Second, you remember the little trees you can earn for driving efficiently?  Well, it turns out that it records the number of trees you earn and then rates your performance. I apparently drive okay but there is a lot of room for improvement.  I am ranked number eight-hundred-something out of all the drivers.  Number one gets nearly an order of magnitude more miles per kilowatt than I do.  I don't know what I'm doing wrong or they are doing right.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

All About Leaf

I am pleased to report that as of Tuesday afternoon, I am a proud owner of a Nissan Leaf! We named her Scarlet, because she is a beautiful red. The car is a she, because it is awesome, innovative, and pioneering.

I'm not usually one to just jump in and be an early adopter of technology. After all, I've had a text-enabled cellphone for less than a year. But I feel so strongly that electric vehicles are the only thing that will help our transportation-related carbon emissions to cease, that I wanted to support the effort.

I am fortunate enough that I have a good job that allows us to support ourselves comfortably and still afford this car. It is not cheap. There are some tax breaks (including a $7500 federal income tax rebate) but that only goes so far. The cost of charging up is a lot less than the corresponding cost of gasoline, but even then, since I drive so little (the Beetle just crossed the 35,000-mile threshold) this saves me maybe $40 per month. I anticipate that we will take this car on errands around town, instead of our other car, so we should save a little more than that. Still, less than $100 in savings.

Anyhow, onward to the car!

This is Scarlet, parked in our carport. You can see the home charging station installed by two electricians beginning at 7:30 am this past Tuesday. I had to get the charger installed before I was allowed to bring home the car.

Another view of the car.

Check out that headlight. It has a fin on it, for aerodynamics purposes I assume.

Another view, trying to show that fin.

I think the fin is pretty clear in this photo. Maybe the cars of the 1950's had something going for them!

A view from the driver's seat.  That little window between the side and the windshield doesn't buy you much.

Here's a view across to the other side.

Between the seats.  That is one tiny shifter as we will see later.

The console can show a cool map telling you how far you can go without running out of charge, and a bunch of other things.

To start the car, depress the brake pedal and push the power button!

Here's the view you get: On the left is the battery temperature. On the right is the battery charge and the number of miles it estimates I can go. At the top center is a gauge for how much power I am drawing (or regenerating). In the center it tells me how long it will take to recharge at various voltages, and the odometer.

At the top, above the steering wheel, you can see the speedometer in the center.  On the right is a clock and temperature gauge, and on the left is a gauge telling you how efficiently you are driving, and rewarding you for your efficient driving by generating little trees.  The more trees, the better.  Unfortunately, they all get reset every time you turn the car off.

Here I am shifting into reverse by moving the shifter to the left and forward.  You shift into drive by going left and backward.  Of course this all makes perfect sense!  I double check which gear I'm in every time before I release the brake because I am so confused.

When you put it in reverse, a rear-view camera comes up on the console.  This is handy because the rear window is tiny.  The stripes are not part of my driveway decor; they represent distance.

A little light reading that came with the car.  I've made it through one of those books so far!

So I made it to work now.  I am a cheapskate and since my workplace provides free charging, I am going to take advantage of it!  So, I pull the lever to open the charging compartment, located on the front of the car just under the place where you open the hood.

Here's what it looks like when it is open.  On the right is where you plug in the 240V charger, which is what we have at home and at work.  The one on the left is for the 480V charging stations, which do not actually exist yet, but when they do, I will be able to drive this car to see my Dad, with a short stop to recharge on the way there.

I opened the cover for the 240V socket, and this is what it looks like.

Here is the charging station, which looks almost exactly like what I have at home...

...except that, for this charger, you have to activate it with your magic card.  The electrons are free in exchange for tracking my usage information.

It's ready to go...

So I remove the plug from the dock...

...start plugging it in.

... and I push it in until I hear a click...

It's in!

We are charging!

A view of the trunk.  It is pretty big.  That black bag is a 120V trickle charger that you can plug into a regular wall outlet in a pinch.  There is no spare tire, but there is a tire repair kit in the left wheel well.

As you can see, I am not the only person with a Leaf at work.  The Head Honcho has a Red one like mine, and several other VIPs have them as well.  My car schmoozes with other cars belonging to important people!

Nissan has an owners' portal, where you can check the status of your car.  You can also program it to start the climate control while plugged in, saving your battery from doing all that work.  It's handy if you want your car to be comfortable just before you leave work, for example.

Here I set the timer to start cooling the car at 3:45 this afternoon...

...and it's set.

Huh?  There's a message on my cellphone!

It's from Scarlet, telling me that the vehicle's status has been updated.

It's 3:45 and the AC is on!  Nice of Scarlet to let me know!

Time to go home!  If you get in the car while it is still plugged in, you will see this warning on the dash.  It won't let you go anywhere while still plugged in, but as I found out this afternoon because I was too obsessed with snapping pictures to pay enough attention, it will let you go with the charging door still open.

I unplug the charger, and notice as I am putting it back on the dock that I have received a text message:

The climate control stopped when I unplugged it.

I hopped into the car and came home.  It is really a great car.  It has good acceleration and other than being so quiet, it really seems just like a regular car.  In fact, it is so quiet that at speeds of 19 mph or below, it generates noise so that pedestrians can hear it coming.  Another interesting thing is that because it is so quiet, you can hear a lot of noise coming from the other cars around you.  At stoplights I hear everyone else's music.

Anyhow, it is great and I am really enjoying the car.  I hope you enjoyed a vicarious taste of this awesome car!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Queen of Nerdingham

In case the Ph.D. in computer science was not enough of a giveaway on this, let me just say that I am a huge nerd.  I take pride in this fact, actually, but I have not always felt this way.

Growing up, I was made fun of a lot because I was a nerd.  I felt really bad about being a nerd, but there was nothing I could do about it -- I just love to think, learn new things, and exercise my brain.

I didn't have the perspective then that I have now.  I didn't see that knowledge, and the ability to analyze and sort through it, is power; that freedom lies between the ears; or that the strength of my mind and the determination of my will could save me from despair.

Today, I am grateful for my nerd traits.  My love of thinking and learning enables me to solve problems of all kinds.  It allows me to function well in the world.  And it helps me make a really good living and support my family.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

I'm a Winner!

Yesterday I found out that the project I worked on as a postdoc won a major honor.  It wasn't until someone emailed me a congratulatory note that I realized that my name had been included in the nomination as well!

I spent about an hour laughing about the unexpected honor.  A friend at work told me that I should be proud and I deserved the recognition.

I don't feel like I do, but that is mostly because I have not worked on that project for several years.  But when I think about it, I actually did make a substantial contribution: although they don't use the algorithms I developed, they do still use the framework I developed for them.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Fostering: Continuing Education

EcoGeoFemme asks:
Do you feel like the training/continuing ed is useful, or just red tape? Have you learned anything from it?

Good question!  In principle, the training and continuing education is a great idea.  I can tell you from my brief experience so far, we can use all the help we can get!  But I actually have not yet taken a class so I don't know yet whether it is useful.  But there is one scheduled for sometime next month so I will update you on what I think.

Have any questions about foster parenting?  Feel free to leave them in the comments, and I'll answer as best I can!

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Fostering: The Home Study

Ginger asked about the questions they ask during the home study.

The home study has two parts: first, examining your home to make sure that it is safe and has enough room for a child or children; and second, interviews with the family members. 

After she first arrived, I gave the social worker a tour of our house.  I took her to every room, told her how we used each room, and pointed out the room where the child would stay.  She made sure that we had sufficient smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, that all our medications were locked away, and the house and yard were safe in general.  There was a whole checklist of requirements, including things that did not apply to us (e.g., swimming pools must be fenced in).  We also had to have a bedroom that the child could sleep in -- they don't necessarily need a room to themselves, but it needs to be a bedroom and not a hallway or a shed(!).

Then, she interviewed me.  I was asked about my childhood and my general biographical history, my parents and siblings, how my parents disciplined me, the current status of my relationships with family members, my educational and employment history, my current job and how I feel about it, my religious beliefs and my openness to those with differing beliefs, how I handle anger, how I discipline Vinny, my relationship with Jeff.  I was also asked about any drug addicts or alcoholics in my immediate and extended families, and about Jeff's history with substances.  And at the end, I was asked what my goals were and what sort of foster care I would be interested in doing, and what types of children I would want to have.

On a second visit, Jeff was interviewed, and the questions were about the same.  The social worker interviewed Vinny, too, asking him what kinds of kids he would like to have stay with us.

After the interviews, the social worker wrote up a document about our house and about us, and sent it to us to revise and correct.  When we were satisfied that it was accurate, we signed a form to certify our approval and the home study process was complete!

In order to retain our license, we must have a home inspection annually, as well as stay current in CPR and First Aid certifications and receive 15 hours of continuing education each year.  Luckily the profiles of us will remain valid and we won't have to answer all those questions again unless we let the license expire!

Have any questions about foster parenting?  Feel free to leave them in the comments, and I'll answer as best I can!

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Fostering: Q&A

GMP asked: From what you wrote it seems that prospective foster parents are quite thoroughly checked. In contrast, there are all these horror stories about foster care abuse cases in the news and TV shows -- do you feel they are grossly exaggerated?

I think there are varying degrees of abuse and mistreatment that occur in the foster care system, and the worst ones get sensationalized by the media.  The reasons for abuse and mistreatment in the foster care system are many.

First, foster parents are human beings, just like everyone else.  We all make mistakes with our biological children, and it is even harder to do the right thing every time with a child you don't know very well.  Foster children, who are justifiably hurting and scared, can react in very unexpected ways and really try your patience.  So if you are not well prepared or having a particularly bad day, you might reach the end of your rope before you know what happened.

Second, a lot of the people who are attracted to becoming foster parents had bad childhoods themselves.  They want to make up for their own bad childhoods by providing an abused or neglected child with the care they themselves could have used as a child.  While this is certainly a noble motivation, the foster parent's own childhood issues can result in them having a limited skillset when it comes to rearing children.  Couple this limited skillset with children who test your mettle and you can really have an explosive environment.

Third, there are evil people who want to become foster parents for the purpose of exploiting children.  The successful ones do not have criminal records and they have sufficient social skills that they can pass the home study process without tipping anyone off to their psychopathology.  In our classes, our teacher told us about a case where a man who did not (yet) have a criminal record became a foster parent for the sole purpose of grooming teenage girls so he could sexually abuse them.  Luckily they caught him before he could do much damage.

On my flight out of Alaska, I was seated next to an Alaskan foster mom.  We talked quite a bit, and compared notes about the foster care systems in our states.  The Tennessee system seems quite a bit more generous than the Alaska system, despite Tennessee's relative poverty as a state.  We receive more money to take care of the kids (sad, considering the extremely high cost of living in Alaska), and they do not receive respite care.  Our kids receive an allowance of $1/day, money that belongs to them, whereas Alaska's kids do not receive an allowance.  Also, Tennessee will pay for college or vocational training for youngsters who age out of the foster system, but Alaska does not.

I think this illustrates pretty clearly how different each state's system is.  That's why it seems to me that in some states the rules are more lax than in others, and there is more abuse within the system.  Florida is a state that seems to have a notoriously bad foster care system.  I'm sure this is due to the fact that the social workers are overworked and lack the resources to give all the children in the system the care that they need, and some end up falling through the cracks.

But even in the best systems, there will be mistakes and people get licensed who should not be.  And being a foster parent is hard!  I can understand how the frustration of it can lead people to make bad parenting choices out of desperation.  It's not an excuse but it is an explanation.

Have any questions about foster parenting?  Feel free to leave them in the comments, and I'll answer as best I can!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Making History

This morning we left for Illinois, to join my sister and should-be sister-in-law in making history.  You see, today marks the beginning of civil unions in Illinois, and my sister and her better half are among the first to be joined in civil unity.

There's a big ceremony tomorrow morning in a Chicago park, in which couples from across the state will participate.  The governor and the mayor will both speak.  I am really excited to be a part of the festivities and I am also looking forward to the time we will spend together after the ceremony!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Alaskan Adventures

The thing I didn't mention in the previous post is that my business travel was to Alaska.  There was a conference up there and afterwards, I stayed for a few days extra.  My sister Rachel flew up from Vancouver to join me in exploring the Alaskan countryside.

We took a train from Fairbanks to Denali National Park, where we spent two days.  One morning we had a wilderness tour in the park, which consisted of riding along the road in a bus with a tour guide, periodically stopping for pictures, especially when wildlife crossed our field of vision.  We saw many animals, including moose, caribou, fox, and a lynx.

We also saw the dramatic Denali landscape,
and Mount McKinley.

I took so many pictures, my camera ran out of battery power and I had to stop.  I am not much of a picture-taking person, but I felt compelled to preserve the experience somehow.

For most of the rest of our time, we hiked around some trails at the entrance to the park, and admired the rushing glacial melt and the spectacular peaks around us.
I was fascinated by all the ice on the ground, still melting.

The sun essentially did not set the whole time we were there -- at best it was twilight for a few short hours before the day began anew, so we had to draw the curtains tightly if we were to get any sleep.

It was a really amazing experience that words cannot begin to describe -- and neither can pictures.  To be in a place so untouched by humans, so wild, so vast, so rugged -- it was a very emotional experience for me.  I pretty much could not wipe the goofy grin off my face.  I exclaimed at the amazing landscapes, the high mountain peaks, the wild animals.  I felt so connected to the natural world -- more connected than ever before.  I could see why people fall in love with Alaska and stay, despite the harsh conditions.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Business Travel

I am on business travel this week, at a conference.  Overall, I am having a lot of fun.  But there are moments that are not fun, especially for a woman business traveler in a male-dominated field.  Over the past four days, I have had the following experiences:

  • My supervisor's supervisor (hereafter referred to as Boss) and I were traveling on the same flights.  Upon boarding the plane, I saw Boss was already on, so I made a comment to him about the legroom of his seat on the plane.  His row-mate volunteered to trade seats with me in exchange for payment so I could sit next to Boss.  I suggested he take it up with Boss, since he is richer than I am. The guy discounted monetary wealth as unimportant and waxed rhapsodic about happiness and the quality of life.  At that point his words combined with the creepy vibes I'd been getting from him made me realize what type of payment he was thinking of, so I declined and disengaged from the conversation.  My suspicions about his motives were confirmed when Boss told me the guy had invited us to join him in the airport lounge.  (Hint: he was not interested in Boss's company.)
  • Upon checking in at the hotel, I was asked if Boss and I were together.  No, we are not.  Also, he has kids who are my age.
  • At a social event, I was mistaken for being married to another one of my colleagues.  At least this person realized that I worked in the same place as my would-be spouse.
  • Conference attendees get free breakfast at the hotel restaurant.  This morning, I was charged for my breakfast, because I was obviously the spouse of one of the men I was eating with.
These are small slights, but they all add up to make business travel a lot less enjoyable for me than it is for my male colleagues.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Child Logic

Vinny has a cough and a bit of a cold, so yesterday morning I gave him some children's cough syrup before school.  I went into the kitchen with the breakfast dishes and left him at the table to drink it down.  While I was rinsing them off in the sink, I heard him say something to the effect of, "I wonder if this would help my nose, too."

When I returned to the dining room, I saw that his nose was all red -- the same color as the cough syrup.  He had tried snorting some of it into his nose, I soon found out after he started screaming in pain!  He kept telling me it was an accident -- but I think it was only an accident in the sense that it unexpectedly hurt him.

I helped him blow his nose and get all the cough syrup out.  He was a little freaked out because he mistook the red dye in the cough syrup for blood -- probably because his nose was burning so badly.  He whimpered for a while but eventually the pain went away.  I stressed to him the importance of using medicines as they are supposed to be used.  My doctor prescribed me some nasal spray in an effort to help my sad sniffer -- and I explained to Vinny that if I swallowed the medicine meant to be sniffed, I would be in trouble.  Hopefully he understood, but even if he didn't, I suspect that this experience will warn him off of trying to snort any kind of illicit drugs!

Friday, May 06, 2011

Electric Car Update

I was supposed to get my Nissan Leaf this month.  Unfortunately, with the earthquake in Japan (where this year's Nissan Leafs are being manufactured -- if you buy one next year it will be made in Tennessee) that date got pushed off until July.  It is too bad because the last time I filled the tank of my Volkswagen Beetle it cost me more than $41 -- and that was with a $0.50/gallon discount.

But July is better than never, and really, there are so many worse things that earthquake did than delay the arrival of my car by two months, that I can't complain.  It's just that I'm really excited about getting it so it kind of stinks that I won't get it as soon as I had thought.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Fostering: Transitioning Children

The next step is to match us with a child to foster.  We are interested in adopting a child, so we are interested in finding a child whose parents rights have been terminated and is eligible for adoption.  We also have certain preferences about the child.  As I said earlier, we want a child who has a good chance of living on their own and being a contributing member of society with the help of our nurturing as they grow up.  We did not care about the child's race or ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity, and in fact I told the social worker that we would be a good family for a GLBT child.

She has found a child that may be a good fit for our family.  As I said, I can't say anything about the child due to privacy issues, but I can tell you how the process is going to work.

Resource parents (foster parents) get two weekends a month free from doing foster care.  During that time the child goes to another household for respite care.  So, first we will be the respite care providers for this child for a while.  Then, if that goes well, the child will transition to living with us as our foster child.  And if that goes well, then after six months we will be allowed to adopt the child (with the child's permission if the child is above a certain age).  Adoption will not be mentioned to the child until that last step, because we don't want to get the child's hopes up in case it doesn't work out.

There are other types of fostering that other foster parents do.  As I mentioned, there is respite care, where you care for different children on the weekend so the regular week resource parents can get a break.  There are also step-down resource families, who care for a child for a period of approximately six months, as the child transitions from a group home environment back to their family.  And then there are emergency care resource parents, who take in children who have just been removed from their homes and are in need of a place to stay immediately.  We considered doing the step-down program until an adoptable child came along, because the percentage of children in the foster care system who are adoptable is actually pretty low.  But it seems like there is currently a child who might be a good fit in our family, so we are going to pursue that child.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Fostering: Paperwork and Red Tape

Of course there is a lot of paperwork to be done in order to become foster parents.  You have to give them a lot of information about your own upbringing, your family members and friends, and your finances.  They send forms to family and friends of your choosing who assess your personality, stability, and ability to care for children.  You have to show documentation about your family finances to make sure that you are not using the foster care payments to support yourselves.  You have to have a full physical to establish your fitness to care for children.  And you have to be fingerprinted and get a background check performed.

They inspect your house to make sure it is a safe place for a child.  You have to be able to provide the foster child with a bedroom, and preferably a private room if possible.  All your medications have to be locked away so that children can't get into them, and there must be enough smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in your house.

They interview you about your life, including your childhood, what sort of discipline techniques your parents used, and what you use.  Spanking or physical punishment of foster children is prohibited, as are other abusive punishments such as withholding food or locking them up.  Luckily we don't spank (or abuse!) in this household anyhow, so nothing had to change in that department.  They ask why you want to be a foster parent, and what sort of children you would prefer or be most compatible with.  Each of us was interviewed separately, and also asked about any drug use or addiction issues in our immediate and extended families.

Then, the social worker writes up the home study, provides a copy for us to review and correct, and files it after incorporating our comments.  We are now licensed foster parents.  The next step is setting us up with a foster child.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Fostering: Four Weeks of Training

In order to adopt a child from the foster care system in Tennessee, you have to complete 30 hours of training, become certified in CPR and first aid, and complete a home study.  Then, you are eligible to be a foster parent.  You have to do ten hours of continuing education, keep your CPR and first aid certifications up to date, and have your home inspected every year in order to remain a licensed foster home.  If you want to adopt a child whose parents rights have been terminated, you have to foster that child for at least six months before you are eligible to adopt them.  Depending on the child's age, he or she must agree to be adopted.

We began our classes the first week of October.  The first night was quite emotionally intense.  We watched a video with a man who had grown up in the foster care system and had never been adopted.  The losses he had sustained were still with him today, even though he is a highly successful doctor.  Listening to him talk about how he felt growing up, and just seeing the grief on his face tugged at my heartstrings.

I have experienced a limited amount of loss, but nothing like him (or any kid in the foster system).  But I could empathize somewhat with him.  Still, it was really eye-opening.

There was homework after every class, mostly review questions on the material we'd learned.  A lot of what we discussed about the kids and how to handle them I already knew, but maybe not in words.  The take-home message for me was that the kids may do things that appear strange and dysfunctional to you, but that in their previous environment, those behaviors serve a good function.  For example, an older kid may wet the bed because it's a good way to keep their abuser away.  The trick to changing those behaviors is to help the child feel in control and no longer need to do those things.  (Of course, that is often easier said than done.)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fostering: the Origin of the Idea

When I was about ten, a woman from an international adoption agency came to our church and talked about international adoption.  It seemed like the most wonderful thing: we could essentially rescue a baby from a dead-end life and provide them with the unbounded opportunities that we have in this country.  A great way to save the world, one child at a time!  I was hooked.  I decided I would adopt a child when I grew up.

But as an adult, I began to see just how problematic international adoption is.  Wouldn't it be better to create opportunities for the child (and everyone else) in their home country instead of whisking one child out of there?  International adoption costs tens of thousands of dollars per child -- and that kind of money could go really far in an impoverished country towards satisfying the needs of many children.

Furthermore, there are many children right here at home who need families.  Why go halfway across the world when there are kids halfway across the city who could use your help?  I decided that adopting a local child would be best.

A lot of people prefer to adopt babies, which leaves a lot of older kids without a home.  This did not strike me as fair to those children.  I determined that I would want to adopt an older child.

That being said, I realized that I had some constraints.  I would want to adopt a child to provide him or her with opportunities that would enable the child to live independently and become a contributing member of society.  So I would be the most interested in adopting a child who had a high probability of being able to live independently and be successful.

Jeff was always aware that I wanted to adopt a child.  He wanted to have a biological child, which we did. After a lot of discussion and thinking it over, Jeff was ready to start down the adoption pathway with me.  So I looked at the state's website and tried to figure out how to be eligible to adopt a child from the child welfare system.  I made a couple of calls, trying to figure out what to do.  The state social worker suggested that I contact one of the private agencies that the state contracts with.  I looked at the websites of several local agencies, and finally connected with someone at an agency that I liked,* and signed us up for the classes.

* I was cautious about private agencies because most of them are religious-based (e.g., Catholic charities, Baptist adoption agencies, etc.), and I did not feel that they would be accepting of my reverse-traditional, nonreligious family.  But I found one that was secular so I went with them.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Our New Adventure

In October, Jeff and I embarked on a new adventure together.  It began with thirty hours of classes (plus homework, despite the promise I made to myself after graduating that I would never take another class again).

Lots of paperwork and elbow grease later, we are licensed foster parents (or, as we are called in Tennessee, resource parents).  Our first foster child arrives this next week, for 48 hours of respite care.

For privacy reasons, I can't tell you anything about the child, or even how the visit went after it is over.  But I can tell you about our journey: what made us decide to do it, and what we had to do to become licensed.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

House of (Poor) Health

This has been a month of sickness at Casa Rebecca.  It began on April 1, when we were supposed to go to Kentucky to see my sister, should-be sister-in-law, and nephew, who were at my parents' house.  Jeff was too under the weather to go along, so I took Vinny up there for a 24-hour visit, because I had to get back home to fly out early Sunday morning for a conference.  We were stopped on the interstate in the middle of nowhere because there had been an accident, when Vinny started screaming about his eyes hurting.  Two hours later, my bonus mom looked at his eyes and declared that he had pinkeye.

I felt like the world's best aunt: bringing my contagious child to expose my nephew to disease at the very beginning of an epic two-month cross-country trip.  But I took Vinny to an urgent treatment center on Saturday morning to get him medicated, and then we devised ways that the boys could play together without spreading infection.

Treating Vinny for the pinkeye was not so fun.  He was really scared of the drops and I would just hold him down and put them in, but I didn't know how Jeff was going to handle that after I was away.  But luckily, Jeff had a stroke of genius and let Vinny put allergy eyedrops into Jeff's eyes.  After it became a mutual eye-dropping process, there was no longer an issue.

On Sunday I traveled to San Francisco for a conference.  I was staying at a beautiful hotel at the top of Nob Hill.  On Monday I was abnormally tired -- beyond the usual fatigue of sleep deprivation, jet lag, etc.  Monday night I woke up with severe chills -- I suffered through them all night because I had not thought to pack any medicine.  In the morning, I had a choice: walk three blocks straight downhill to a pharmacy, and then try to hike the three blocks straight back up, or pay $10 for some gold-plated tylenol from the hotel.  I paid the $10.  They even delivered it to me.  I spent most of Tuesday lying around in my room.

I found out that a friend of mine was going to be on the same flights as me on the way home, and on Wednesday morning we left San Francisco.  For the connection I had requested assistance to get between the gates, so I got to ride one of those people movers for the first time, which was fun.  But the landings of my flights were incredibly painful to my ears, which were apparently congested (I had no idea until I flew).  I understand why babies cry when the plane is landing.  I was tugging at my ear lobes in the hopes that something would help.  When I got home, my ears were so clogged that the outside world sounded like it does when I wear earplugs.

The next morning, I went to the medical center at work, where they gave me some antibiotics for my ear infection, and then I stayed home for two days.  I was feeling enough improved to go to work on Monday, especially because I wanted to avoid the paperwork.*  But I did go to my regular doctor on Wednesday, because my ears were still incredibly painful.

I am a good and sharing wife, and I passed whatever I had over to Jeff.  I had blamed him for my illness, and it may be that he did give it to me and then I gave it back to him in mutated form (with earache).  So he went to the doctor this past Tuesday because he was feeling so lousy.

On Tuesday I hosted an interviewee.  Normally I am polite and shake people's hands, but I did not shake his because I had noticed that my eyes were feeling grainy and painful and were getting kind of pink.  The next day I went to the doctor and she confirmed that I had pinkeye.  And yesterday it seemed like Jeff was coming down with it too.  We have washed all the towels and sheets in hot water and are now using them only once before throwing them back in the wash again, until the infection subsides.  We are also watching Vinny's eyes to make sure that he doesn't get it again.  He has been dispensing the drops into my eyes for me, and takes the whole process, including hand-washing, very seriously.

We had invited my dad and bonus mom down for the weekend, but they uninvited themselves after finding out about all the germs in our household.  "We'll come another time," they said.  We've been sick for nearly 4 weeks in this household, but surely it's got to end!

* My workplace has a strange policy that if you are absent from work for more than 4 days in a row with the same condition, you are placed on short-term disability.  Weekends count against the number of days, probably to discourage people from using sick days for vacation.  This is not the first time I have dragged myself in to work in order to avoid the arduous paperwork process.  All you have to do is survive a half day and the counter gets reset.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Racing for a Cause

This May will be the third time that I have run in a 5K race benefitting a local CASA group.  A colleague of mine was the original organizer of this race and she is also a CASA volunteer.  For those who don't know, CASA stands for Court-Appointed Special Advocates, and these volunteers are there to represent the best interests of the child as they navigate through the family court and child welfare system.  I admire my colleague and her tireless efforts at bettering the lives of children.

I do what I can to support the cause.  Last year, I strong-armed a lot of friends into participating in the race.  This year, in conjunction with a wellness initiative at work encouraging people to walk more, I have started a walking group and invited the people in my department to participate, with the goal of training up to walk this 5K race in May.  And on Wednesday, we will hold a pizza party/informational meeting about the race, in an effort to encourage more people to sign up.

I don't think I could do what my friend does, at least not at this point in my life.  It's important work and I hope to contribute in my own way to bettering the lives of children in the foster care system.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Jim's Pancakes

This is a cool site my should-be sister-in-law tipped me off to: Jim's Pancakes.  Jim is much more talented than I could ever hope to be when it comes to making pancakes, and makes all kinds of interesting pancake sculptures for his daughters.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Happy Fair Pay Day!

What, you aren't having a big party?  Actually, neither am I.  Today is the day of the year that marks how many additional days it would take for the average woman to earn as much as the average man did in 2010.  Not exactly something to celebrate.  Female Computer Scientist has a good post about it, for your erudition!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Intelligence vs. Kindness

When I was young, I used to admire intelligent people; as I grow older, I admire kind people. -Abraham Joshua Heschel (via)
Intelligence is so over-hyped and over-rated!  As a child, my intelligence was honed sharply from birth.  All the music, the education, and the extracurricular activities were aimed at putting me at the top of the brightest and best.  My intelligence was to be used to change the world -- to fix all its problems, to make a difference.

While kindness was not optional, it was (ironically) enforced in a very unkind manner.  I was expected (based on my intelligence, I suppose) to be capable of age-inappropriate feats, such as being thoughtful at the age of four.*  And kindness to others was often motivated by our duty as privileged people, not as a natural consequence of being interconnected.

I have overcome a great deal of my elitist upbringing, although there is still much to do.  I attribute much of my success to my inner sense of justice, which has always been with me.**  My intelligence has also played a role, allowing me to think abstractly about others' hurtful behaviors, rather than being immediately insulted; broadening my outlook on the world around me; and giving me the ability to process stimuli in several ways before settling on a conclusion.

Kindness is my connection to humanity -- it is the love I feel for those I know and those I don't; those who are kind to me and those who are not; those who are hurting and facing injustice.

Becoming a mother has dramatically increased my kindness and sensitivity towards others, especially children.  Children are the most vulnerable human beings on earth, and I feel compelled to do what I can to help make their lives better.

While I know I cannot save the world (certainly not with my intelligence alone!), I can create a little ripple where I am that will propagate to those around me.  And perhaps if I make that wave, they will be inspired to create a wave of their own, and before long, the whole seascape has been redefined.

* As the mother of a four-year-old, I can tell you it is IMPOSSIBLE for them to be thoughtful.  It's just something their brains are lacking at this point in development.  The trick is to model the behavior you want them to eventually develop.

** My mom was once called out of the church service because in my Sunday School class we were playing Musical Chairs, which I found to be an unjust game because not everyone got to have a chair!  I threw a fit and they had to get her there to calm me down.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

A Tale of Two Blisters

Almost two years ago, my mean running coach was away for a while, so I was walking at lunchtime nearly every weekday with my friend "C."  She and I walked a 5K route that I had discovered.  Every day as we were headed out, we would see my friend "J" from upstairs, walking back towards our building.

My brain, although primarily occupied with math, does think about other things sometimes.  I had long ago realized that C and J had a lot in common, and would probably make a good couple.  But, at that time they were both getting over painful breakups, and neither felt that they were ready to date.  Still, I thought it would be a good idea to introduce them to each other in a non-dating, no-pressure environment.

"You know that guy I wave at every day?" I said to C.  "He's one of my colleagues from upstairs.  He has lost more than 50 pounds since the beginning of the year.  I bet he would love to see our walking route.  Would you mind if I invited him along sometime?"

Not at all, said C, always a good sport.  So I talked to J, really hyping up the awesomeness that was our walking route, and he agreed to try it out for a change of pace.

Alas, the day the three of us were supposed to go walking, I had developed two enormous blisters on the soles of my feet, and was unable to walk such a long distance.  My socks were not wicking the sweat away from my feet sufficiently, and the rubbing had caused these two big blisters to develop on the balls of my feet.

"I'm sorry," I said to J, "but I will be unable to walk today.  But I'm sure C would be happy to show you the route!"  J replied that since he didn't know her, he wasn't comfortable walking with her.  Despite my assurances that she did not bite, he could not be persuaded.  "Oookay," I said.  "I probably won't be better until next week, but we'll do it then."

C came over to my office later that morning, and I told her about my blisters and what J had said.  "Let's solve that problem!" she said, and we walked upstairs and she introduced herself to him: "Hello, my name is C, now you know me and we can go walking today."

They went walking that day, and every day for the rest of the week while my sad blisters healed.  In that time, they got a chance to talk and get to know each other, and they really hit it off.  After my blisters healed, I bought some expensive moisture-wicking socks and walked with them for a few days.  Then I was away for almost two weeks, and at one point soon after that they went on their first date.

Their relationship continued to blossom and I learned recently that they got engaged!  I have never felt such happiness about blisters as I did when they told me -- I could not have purposefully contrived such a perfect setup.

Still, I think I will keep wearing the expensive socks.  I'll figure out another way to help people fall in love.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Enjoying the Spring Weather

Today the three of us went on a hike together.  Our town has a lot of greenways, so we went on one where we got to see a lake in a former quarry and an old cemetery.  I don't know how long we were out walking -- probably 2 or 3 hours -- but Vinny did quite well until the end when he got tired.

The weather was beautiful -- sunny, but not too hot.  The trees don't have leaves on them yet, but they will soon.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

My Little Mathematician

Vinny loves numbers.  (I wonder where he got that from?)

He loves to count.  He will just start counting and keep going as high as he can, sometimes with humorous results (e.g., ninety-eight, ninety-nine, ninety-ten, ninety-eleven...).  He also loves to count people, or toys, or anything else he can figure to count.  When he is upset, I can take advantage of his proclivity for numbers, and calm him down by counting to 100 together.

He loves clocks and timers.  I was getting exasperated with him the other morning for wasting time when I was trying to get him ready for school, so I turned on the timer and he suddenly saw it as a challenge to beat the countdown.  He is really into telling time, and remarks on the passing of nearly every minute in the car on the way to school.  He's also fascinated by the thermometer in the car, and we have nearly daily conversations about the relative heat or cold of a range of temperatures.

His favorite book these days is 26 Letters and 99 Cents, (the 99 cents part, not the letters part).  It has pictures of coins (or, as he calls them, "coinks") that add up to the numbers 1 through 99 (skipping quite a few at the end, thank goodness!).  From this book he has learned to identify pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters, and how the coins add up to various numbers.  I swear I have read him this book a countably infinite number of times.

We play games with numbers.  We count together, alternating who says the next number, so that one is counting evens and one is counting odds.  We find cool number patterns and remark on how cool they are (e.g., "Mama, it's 12:34 -- one two three four!"  "Cool!  Good observation, buddy!").  He loves to type or lay out a string of digits, and make me say what number it is (e.g., 8537832104 is 8 billion, 537 million, 832 thousand, 104).

It is really fun to enjoy numbers together.  I look forward to teaching him how to play Sudoku and Kenken when he is older (games he already wants to play but lacks the skills at this point).  I hope he never loses his enthusiasm for math!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bunk Bed Update

As I alluded to in the previous post, Vinny's bunk bed finally came.  It has been working out great so far.

It is a little big in his very small bedroom.  Unfortunately the way the room is configured, the only place to put the bed is right by the door, but the door opens such that it does not interfere.  The thing I like about it though, is that even with his door open (as he insists on keeping it at night), he can't see out so that makes it easier to sneak past without disturbing him.

The bed also has a trundle underneath, meaning that there could potentially be room for three children.  (I have visions of two of his boy cousins* staying over for a sleepover someday.)  However, we have only one mattress at the moment -- he is sleeping on the lower bunk because he is much too young to sleep on the top as of yet.

He's enjoyed it so much that when we first got the bed, we had to pretend that it was nighttime and so he could pretend to sleep in it.  And he's been going to bed in his own bed without a fuss, and not even complaining when I don't sit beside his bed for five minutes.

Here's hoping I don't jinx it by saying this, but I am so glad we got the bunk bed for him, because it has made a world of difference at night!

* Either my sisters' sons, or Jeff's sister's sons.  Probably not both sets of cousins at the same time, though!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

My Poor Baby Boy

My sweet baby boy has been sick since Friday.  He's been running a fever for three days now.  He has also been suffering from diarrhea.  I got concerned this afternoon when his temperature was still above 100 F despite the fact that he was under the influence of acetaminophen.  So I have called the doctor's office and hopefully the nurse will get back to me soon.

But, on the bright side, he has been sleeping very consistently in his own bed, because he finally got his cool new bunk bed* on Tuesday and has been faithfully sleeping in it because it is so cool.  He hasn't even considered sleeping in the bed with us despite feeling so sick.

* Best investment EVAR!!!!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Taxing My Patience

I'm not trying to brag, but I make a lot of money.  Despite the fact that I am the only income earner in the household, we are very firmly in the top quintile of household incomes in the United States.

Commensurate with a large income is a large tax burden.  A larger percentage of my earnings are taken by income taxes and payroll taxes than were taken when I was a graduate student, for example.  But I don't mind -- it's part of my responsibility as a citizen.  I benefitted (and still continue to benefit) from others' tax outlays, so it's only fair that I do my part.

I do not understand those who seek to avoid paying their fair share of taxes through the extension of tax cuts and special exemptions for the wealthy.  Their avarice only serves to hurt the people around them, and ultimately themselves.  Why should programs like Head Start (proven to dramatically improve the future prospects of children in low-income families) be on the chopping block?  I am happy to fund programs like that, if for no other reason than that when I'm old, I'd much rather encounter these kids as my doctor or nurse rather than robbing my house for drug money.

It makes me sick to think that some people would prefer to have a larger number in their bank account instead of contributing to the general welfare of their country.  Paying taxes is patriotic, and helping those who are less fortunate is our duty.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Thoughts on a Rainy Saturday Afternoon

In the latest news:
  • I ordered some new chairs for the dining room.  The table is old but serviceable, the chairs -- not so much.  Somehow they got sent to Oregon.  I don't know how that happened.  But the customer service representative set me up with a new shipment.
  • We bought bunk beds for Vinny from a local furniture store, as a reward and incentive for sleeping in his own room.  Today, the delivery guys started putting it together only to discover that it was the wrong bed.  They had brought a double bed size bunk bed, not a twin size!  So, they had to take it back and reschedule us for delivery on Tuesday.  It was going to be a really cool bed, with bunks plus a trundle on the bottom.  Luckily, the trundle was the right one so they let us keep it and he is going to be sleeping on that for a few nights.  He is pretty excited about it, pretending that it was nighttime several times, so not all is lost.  I think he will be excited to stay in his own bed now (definitely a step up from a mattress on the floor).
  • The toilet in our hallway bathroom stopped working.  The tank stopped filling.  Jeff successfully replaced the apparatus inside the toilet.
  • Our kitchen sink faucet broke.  The stem unit inside the handle got bent up for some reason.  No problem, we could just get a new one, right?  Well, our faucet was relatively new, and the store doesn't carry the replacement parts for it.  So I ordered it online.  The total cost was $25, more than half of which was shipping.
  • It is raining.  A lot.  I will be interested to see what the structural engineers say next week about our foundation.  The evidence of water seepage will be fresh.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Is this Thing On?

Sorry, vast blogging audience, that I just up and left you hanging there.  February was a long month, even though it was only 28 days.  And, I didn't hardly even do anything remotely interesting or significant.  It just seemed to never stop.  But, here are a few things that have happened:

  • I found out that we will be getting our Nissan Leaf in May.  I am so excited about it!
  • I test drove a Nissan Leaf over the weekend.  I'll post a longer entry about the test drive, but the main thing I was concerned about was whether it had sufficient headroom for a long-torsoed driver such as myself.  The good news is, there was room to spare!  So I am all set!
  • The bad news is that we discovered that there is a big leak or crack in the foundation of our house.  We have a finished basement, but the leak is in a room that was just a storage room we rarely went into.  We did not realize the extent of the problem until we cleaned the house and emptied that room and saw all the nasty mold growing on the wall.  Jeff took out the drywall and a friend who is a home inspector came over to assess the damage.  It was nasty enough that we have two foundation experts coming next week to give us quotes.  Our friend will be there too.  It is likely that the estimates will be in the low five-figure range.  I am hoping (but seriously doubting) that our homeowner's insurance might pay for some of this.
  • We paid some people to come and give our house a good cleaning from top to bottom.  We were just sick of it being kind of grungy and grimy.  The house sparkles now (apart from the nasty part with the water damage).  We are going to try to keep it clean, and maybe even hire a maid service to come in regularly as well.
  • We are having bad luck with plumbing right now.  The tank on the back of one of our toilets decided to stop filling.  There's either a problem with the pipe that connects to the toilet or with the apparatus inside the toilet, because water just trickles into the tank.  Then, the stopper in the bathtub decided to get stuck and not come out.  And then, the handle for the cold water in the kitchen sink decided to not turn off fully.  It has been a little frustrating, to say the least.
  • I've been wiped out by some sort of nasty cold or flu bug.  I actually had a fever on Tuesday, so I went home from work early and then I stayed home yesterday and today.  I am feeling better now and plan to go back to work tomorrow, but I am still not fully recovered.
Well, hopefully I will have the time to write about the test drive.  It was a great experience!