Monday, June 29, 2009

Good Weekend

Not a bad weekend, all things considered. Not bad at all.

Friday night, after some panicking and running about and calling my parents to consult, I signed up to attend my 20th high school reunion next month. I'm actually really excited, despite the fact that probably 2/3 of the people there won't remember me. I'd wanted to go to my 10th reunion, but missed it because we were moving that weekend. (And how weird/cool is it that my journal is old enough that I can link to things from 10 years ago?)

Saturday morning we took the kids to Panera to meet up with Chuck and Anita and Heidi for breakfast. We sat around talking until Alex, hopped on on stickybun sugar, got too restless to stay in his seat, so we walked over to the Barnes and Noble and wandered there for a bit. The kids had a fantastic time looking at books and playing in the kids' section.

Both kids were really good, and we had a fantastic time. Definitely must do that again soon!

We were pretty slothful for the rest of the day (everyone except me wound up keeling over for a nap after lunch, actually, and I used the respite to curl up on the couch with a book). And then Matt had his monthly D&D game that night.

Sunday was mostly a bunch of chores and errand-running. But the whole family went out on most of the errands, and we took our time with them. Having Matt to keep an eye on the kids made the grocery shopping easier, and Penny got a huge kick out of stopping at the fresh vegetable stand. (I hesitate to call it a "farmer's market" when it's run out of the back of a pickup truck, but he did say he'd be there all summer, so that makes me happy -- fresh produce is one of the few things I actually like about summer.)

I did go out by myself to run up to Target to get some new clothes -- my shorts are all laughably too big for me, and so is the tank top I wear to bed. Just to see how much further I have to go, I took both XL and L into the fitting room, and I was... surprised. The size L PJ tops fit perfectly. A bit snug, but not uncomfortably so. And the L shorts, though they were uncomfortably tight, I could at least get on. In a few different styles, so it wasn't just a fluke. I ended up buying one pair, just on the thought that I might need them before the summer is out.

(What the hell is up with all the short-waisted, hip hugger pants, though? I am not interested in showing off my nasty ugly belly button, and I am particularly not interested in showing off my underwear. And underwear that rides low enough not to look utterly ridiculous sticking up out of the back of those stupid pants is hideously uncomfortable. It took me over an hour to find one style of shorts that actually came up to my waist. And those, naturally, didn't have pockets. UG. I hate hate hate shopping for clothes. Especially pants.)

Anyway, I made soup for dinner using fresh corn that I cut off the cob myself, and ham, and white beans. It was actually really good, so it may well become a part of my regular rotation. (At least for the summer. I'm not sure it would have been as good with frozen corn.)

So yay for nice weekends, with kids behaving well and new clothes with proof I'm shrinking and tasty food. Whoo!

And here comes July, where I've already got at least one major activity lined up every weekend... Time to get busy!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Rough Start

Not the smoothest morning ever.

Alex completely flipped out when I had the gall to walk away from him and leave him with Matt.

Penny selectively heard me tell her that she could watch TV, but missed the part where I said, "after you've got your shoes on and are all ready to go."

I zoned out (okay, I admit it; I was checking twitter and facebook) and got us moving ten or fifteen minutes later than usual.

Penny decided just as I was parking the car at daycare that she needed to read the menu breakdown on her lunch bag to find out what she was having for her meals today -- she's not the most proficient reader, yet, and abbreviations confuse her, so this takes longer than a few seconds.

I was almost run off the road by a dump truck on my way to the office.

Aaaand I just realized that I forgot to take the meat out of the freezer for tonight's dinner.

...It's got to get better, right?

Thursday, June 25, 2009


Draggingly tired this morning. Not really sure why; I was asleep before 11:30, no mid-night or early morning interruptions from kids or cat; stayed in bed until almost 6:30.

Not too much to talk about today, anyway. Penny had swim lessons last night and did pretty well, though she was more inclined to hold onto the swim bar and let the teacher just pull her around than to actually kick her legs. But the teacher was on the lookout for it, and she blew bubbles and dunked her head under the water like a champ. Also, she was twenty times better behaved that most of the other kids (though to be fair, there's a big difference in what you can expect from a kid who's almost six and one who's three or four).

Things are a little slow at work this week, and will only be slower next week, as half the office takes advantage of the holiday on Friday to take their summer vacations. I'm not complaining -- it's letting me catch up on all those little nitpicky tasks that seem to pile up when I'm not looking.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Yesterday it was Matt's turn to stay with Penny through her swimming lesson while I took Alex home for dinner.

I was making my sandwich and Alex was rushing around the kitchen pointing at things and babbling urgently, when he stopped, pointed up at the counter, and said, "Yee yos!"

I looked over at him, and followed the imperious line of his arm, and saw the box of Cheerios. "YEE YOS!" he said again, more urgently.

"Cheerios, yes!" I agreed. This is progress: a week ago, they were just "yos." Apparently, he's discovered the first syllable. "Do you want some Cheerios for dinner?"

Alex nodded vigorously. (When Alex nods, he doesn't do it with his head; it does it with his whole torso. It's quite funny. Sometimes, I ask him questions just to watch him nod.) So I got out a plastic bowl and poured a few Cheerios in it. As soon as I picked up the bowl, Alex marched over to his high-chair and started tugging at it.

I helped him up and set the Cheerios in front of him, and his cup of milk, then went back into the kitchen to get my own dinner (a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a bowl of cherries, and a handful of baby carrots). I pitted and sliced a few extra cherries for Alex and brought them to him on a paper napkin.

"Yee-yos!" he announced happily, fishing one out of the bowl and showing it to me.

"Cheerios!" I agreed.

He picked up a piece of cherry. "Babo."

"Cherry," I corrected.

Alex picked up his milk. "Ma!"

"Yes, that's your milk."

"Dabo!" He slapped his hand on the table.

"Table, yes! Very good!"

He pointed at my sandwich. "Babo!"

"Sandwich. This is Mommy's sandwich."

"Eh! Eh!" He held out an imploring hand. I pulled off a little crust and handed it to him, and he stuffed it in his mouth and held out his hand again.

"So... You really like peanut butter and jelly, eh?"

"Babo! Mine! Babo!" (For all the trouble he has with other words, his "mine" is pretty darned clear and distinct.)

The little weenie ate almost the entire crust off my sandwich. Plus half a carrot.

But it was fun, eating with him. He spent the whole meal pointing to things and trying to say them, and I would say the word to help him out, and he would say it again... He obviously wants to talk. It's exciting.

Later, as I was taking the dishes to the kitchen and starting to get stuff out to make today's meals, he pointed urgently into the fridge. "Tsees!"

"Yep, that's cheese." He looked at me expectantly. "You can't seriously be hungry, still."


"Really? You want some cheese?"

nod nod nod nod nod nod nod "Tsees!"

Boy, I'll be glad when he's off this steroid run. I got out a slice of cheese and unwrapped it. I was going to just give it to him and let him eat it standing, but he carried it straight over to his chair. Guess we've hammered that lesson home.

(Alex is a kid who takes comfort in his routines. Far from fighting bedtime, last night I read him exactly one book after he'd been changed into his pyjamas, and he slid down off my lap and announced, "Ni-ni!" and marched toward the stairs to go up to bed.)

It was a nice little interlude, really. I don't spend a lot of time with Alex when Penny and Matt aren't around. It was fun and kind of thrilling to watch him make progress.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


We started talking about getting swimming lessons for Penny last summer, and we finally got her signed up for the bare-basics "put your face in the water and blow bubbles" class at the YMCA.

Her first class was yesterday, and she was excited all to pieces about it. It's a half-hour class, four days a week for two weeks. By the end of it, they're supposed to be able to swim at least five feet by themselves.

(She's three and a half feet tall -- she can go five feet just by stretching out and kicking twice. But I guess they have to start somewhere.)

I was a little uncertain about how the schedule would work out: the class is from 5:45 to 6:15, and it's on the same side of town as the daycare where she and Alex are. The daycare closes at 6, so we can't leave Alex there until the swimming classes are over, and letting him run around the Y while she's in class isn't really a viable option. The Y's childcare also closes at 6. Also, if Alex doesn't get dinner by 6:15, he turns into a screaming bundle of fury. Matt gets off work at 4:30, but I usually work until 5:30, and it's a 20-minute drive from my office to the Y. Oh, and on bath nights, Penny needs to have her bath before she eats, or the warm water makes her insulin absorb too quickly and she ends up with a wicked low-and-then-high cycle.

Ug. I finally just conceded defeat: I'm leaving work half an hour early, and we're all having sandwiches for dinner. Matt picks the kids up, I meet them at the Y, and then one of us stays with Penny for her class and the other one takes Alex home. It means I'm spending a ridiculous amount of time driving back and forth to that side of town (once in the morning to drop the kids off, once for Penny's swim lessons, and once for either my allergy shot or my own time at the gym -- which cannot be combined with Penny's class, no matter how I try to juggle the schedule). But on the plus side, I'm not burning vacation time for it, since Penny being in daycare rather than regular school means I can be at work by 8 instead of 8:30.

And it's only for two weeks, and then we'll have a breather until I get her signed up for the next level class. It's an annoyance, but swimming is one of those things that I consider an non-optional life skill: she will get lessons until I've seen her swim one full standard length without having to touch bottom or hang onto anything for support. (I do not care about her form; this is solely a question of basic safety. If she wants to join the swim team and learn the perfect butterfly -- punishing and pointless as the stroke is -- that's up to her.)

Anyway, yesterday went more smoothly than I expected it to, despite my accidentally giving Penny's sandwich to Matt. There's some room for efficiency improvement, but I expect we'll get that worked out in short order. And it's worth it, after all. Like I said, she's excited all to pieces.

Monday, June 22, 2009

WoW, Didn't See That Coming

When I started playing World of Warcraft, about three years ago, it was because Matt had started playing while I was away on vacation, and it looked fascinating and fun, and because, honestly, if I was going to spend half my evening watching over his elbow, I might as well be actually playing the game.

It's a fantastic game. Three years later, my "main" is level 80, I have an alt at 72 and another at 67, not to mention half a dozen lower-level characters on four different servers that were started and abandoned... and there are still zones I haven't explored, professions I haven't tried, races and classes I haven't played. That doesn't even count content like dungeons and raids that are still way out of my league.

But after a while, the "shiny" wears off, and you get a feel for the rhythm of the thing. For the types of quests offered (kill X of those, collect Y of these, retrieve this, deliver that, confront the boss mob, Go Over There). For the terrain (oh god, not more effing mountains). For the lore (begat, besmirched, betrayed). And once you reach that point, it's mostly a really gorgeous video game with a social component.

The social component has been the primary draw for me for the last year or so. Once the MeadeHall stuttered to a halt, WoW was one of the few places I could congregate with my friends.

Only lately, that's been sort of crumbling, too. It's not the game's fault, or ours. It's just the nature of the beast. When you're chatting via game interface, then the conversations become jagged, as you pause for combat or to wade through city chatter. And they tend to become encrusted with in-game concerns: showing off the latest awesome loot; asking for advice or help; complaining about that guy who just wiped the raid or stole your node. Intellectual intercourse and heart-to-heart discussions doesn't fit into the pattern of things very well. Without hyperbole: I have more in-depth conversations in Twitter than I do in Warcraft.

I took the month of December off from the game, and though I missed it, I didn't really long for it. I missed it in the way you miss your fingernails when they've been freshly trimmed, or that lock of hair you play with when it's been cut: I missed the habit of it. When I came back to the game in January, I tried to keep it from being a habit again, but I've noticed lately that it's trending that way again. I click on that icon whenever I've got ten minutes to spare. Just to check on my auctions. Just to finish that last turn-in. Just to do a couple of dailies. Just... and suddenly an hour is gone. Two hours. More.

And let's be honest: I don't really have a spare 10-15 hours a week to dump into WoW anymore. As part of my losing-weight-and-getting-healthy plan, I'm trying to exercise more: that's typically three or four nights a week that I'm going to the gym or firing up the Wii Fit, and there's not much time left over, afterward, for WoW. I've got scrapbooks I want to put together, and even if it's a slightly cheesy hobby, it's my slightly cheesy hobby. And when I'm done, I've got something I can hold in my hands, something I can point to and say, "I made this," with at least a modicum of satisfaction. How much pride can I take in a handful of video game characters? I've got projects I want to do around the house; I'd love to set aside some time to start writing again; I've got stacks of books I'd like to read. There are people I could socialize with in the real world; and failing all that -- heck, I could go to bed early and actually get some sleep!

WoW is an amazing game, and it keeps getting better. I love it that there's always something to do. (Matt quit, in part, because he didn't have any clear-cut goals for his characters. That's not my issue -- I have very specific goals for each of my characters right now.) The social component is still a big lure.

My mind is not 100% made up yet, but it's about 90% of the way there. I'm paid up through mid-July, and there's at least one thing I'd like to do in the game that I'd regret leaving behind. But it's something I can do in just a few play sessions, and when it's done...? I strongly suspect that this chapter will be over.


So yeah, the scratchy throat turned into a Thing, and it was the kind of Thing where every time I spoke, people were backing away from me in alarm. (So naturally, Alex decided that he really would prefer me to be the one to read to him throughout all his waking hours...) Anyway, I went home early Wednesday, and worked from home Thursday morning. I went to the doctor Thursday afternoon, and he poked and prodded and "mm-hmm"ed at me, and said, "You're hitting all my favorite boxes on the Strep Checklist!"

So he stuck two huge q-tips down my throat and sent one off to the lab and put the other in a "quick strep test" kit, and while he was waiting for the quick test results, he called some antibiotics into my pharmacy, because even if I didn't have strep, I had something, and that something included an ear infection, so it was going to be antibiotics anyway.

The quick test came back negative, however -- much to my doctor's surprise, and he said he wasn't going to believe it until he'd gotten the results from the lab on Monday. And in the meantime, stay home, take it easy, blah blah blah. Antibiotics and cough syrup.

Friday, I was actually feeling almost human again. My voice was coming back -- still gravelly, but at least present. Still probably contagious, though, so I stayed home and worked from home for most of a full day. I got kind of tired and drained in the mid-afternoon, and gave up before I clocked a full 8 hours, but at least I didn't burn an entire vacation day on the whole mess. (I got so much done, too -- I really should work from home more often!)

It meant that Matt was the one to take Alex to see the Ear/Nose/Throat doctor Friday afternoon, though, since I didn't think I should spread my germs around. Not that there was a surprise: the doctor agreed that Alex's ears were a mess and gave us another round of antibiotics for him, plus some steroids to help him heal up faster, plus some ear drops. And he scheduled surgery to have tubes put in next month. (I like my ENT guy. He trusts his patients -- or their parents -- to know what's what. If we come in and say, "No, really, this calls for tubes," then he's not going to insist on messing around with another six months of antibiotics. I didn't think to ask if we should just get the adenoids at the same time and take care of it all in one fell swoop, though. Oh, well.)

Since Matt did that trip, I took Penny to her quarterly endocrinology checkup today. That went almost shockingly well -- she's a little taller than last time, sitting smack on the curve on the doctor's chart; her weight went up but only a little, so she's starting to level off a bit there; and her A1C came down from 7.9 to 7.8 (the recommended range for kids 6 and under is 7.5 to 8.5, so she's exactly where she should be). The doctor said she looked fine and fit and healthy, though since she's at a high risk for hypothyroidism, he wanted to do a blood check. Even that went spectacularly, though. I suggested that since she's a first grader now, she could be a big, brave girl, and she agreed, and so we went down to the lab and when they called us back, she sat on my lap and held my hand and didn't so much as wince when the nurse did the draw. I was so filled with pride that I did not protest even a little when she asked for the biggest toy in the prize basket (a teddy bear).

But that was today, and before today, there was the weekend. Which was quite good.

Saturday, our neighbors filled up Ray's inflatable pool, and Penny and Ray played for several hours. I brought Alex out after his nap, and though he was Very Reluctant to do anything but sit on my lap at first, Matt eventually coaxed him into the pool. (Let's go sit over here next to it... Hey, check it out, you can splash this water here, isn't that fun? Look, if you sit here you can dangle your feet in the water! Aaaand now we're wading around and pouring water on ourselves from a bucket!) Matt got completely drenched in the process, but Alex (and Penny and Ray) had a blast.

Sunday was Father's Day, of course, and that was good -- Penny made Matt breakfast on a tray (with some guidance from me) and gave him some cards and pictures she'd drawn, and then after Alex had his nap we went over to my parents' for dinner. I made dessert -- a recipe I adapted off the Weight Watchers website for individual-serving apple crumbles, and I'm sure I can shave another point off the recipe, because they were really too sweet. (And maybe even another point after that, though since cooking with sugar substitutes is tricky, that'll take some experimentation.) Anyway, my grandparents had a great time playing with the kids, and we got to visit with John some, which was nice since we hadn't seen him in person for a while.

So yeah. Sick, and then a pretty good weekend, and then a really excellent doctor's visit for Penny this morning. And that's why you haven't heard from me for a while.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Press-On Smile

Not having the best day.

I've been having minor shoulder pain for the last month or so, trying to ignore it in the hopes that it would heal on its own, but it doesn't seem to be working. Plus I attempted some squats during my Wii Fit workout Monday night (as an alternative to the exercise that makes my shoulder hurt the worst) and learned that I was completely, 100% right about my knee not being able to handle them yet, and despite only doing four of the damn things, made my knee much worse, just as it had been starting to improve a little. Now it hurts even when I'm not moving.

Penny starts daycare/summer camp today, but I forgot to put together menus and a worksheet for her yesterday at work, so I had to throw today's stuff together last night in a hurry, feeling like an idiot.

Then I realized that I'd forgotten to get the tortillas with which to make tonight's dinner of quesadillas, so now I'm not just an idiot, I'm a partial idiot. (i.e., not a complete idiot -- some parts are missing.)

I slept like crap. I've been having all kinds of fucked up dreams lately. Last night, I decided I had to fly back to San Antonio now, and I made Matt drive me to the airport and I was calling the airline on the way to the airport to try to find tickets that would get me there tonight and bring me back tomorrow at a reasonable hour and realizing that I had no clothes or food or money, and that though Penny was in the car, we'd left Alex sleeping in his crib, alone in the house... At least it wasn't the dream from the night before last, in which I was building a monument of some sort with people that I had to scoop their eye sockets out or saw holes in their heads. (I couldn't recall, when I woke up, whether these were real people, or merely statues -- but the fact that I had to wonder about it was disturbing enough.)

The scratchy throat I had all day yesterday is lingering today. I suspect it's not allergies after all, but a cold of the "too minor to justify staying home from work" variety.

Didn't lose any weight this past week, and I can't even point to any cheating or indulgence or laziness as the reason for it.

I had to set up a meeting for today to drag answers out of various people for a task that really shouldn't be mine to begin with (using the tool I didn't want), and I came in this morning to an email from the PM saying, "Give me a call this morning before the meeting, I would like you to lead the meeting and wanted to provide you my expectations." That's verbatim, and in toto. Awesome. Because I need a control freak manager to tell me how to run my own meeting and do the task that by all rights ought to be his.

So. My to-do list for before I leave work today includes two and a half hours' worth of meetings, my allergy shots, a software delivery, building Penny's worksheet and menus (has to be done at work so I can print it), and in my copious extra time, a stack of administrivia as high as my head. Before I go to bed, I also need to go to the grocery store, make dinner, take a shower, and do a Wii Fit workout. The only thing on that list that's optional is some of the administrivia, and even that can only be put off for so long.

Which is to say, I've used up all the spare time I have for grumpy hissyfits. Time to put on my Lee Press-On Smile and just get on with it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

K No More

Well, today is the last day of Penny's school year. After today, she's not a kindergartener anymore -- she's a first grader.

First grade sounds so much more official, though I can't say she didn't learn an astonishing amount in kindergarten. I mean, when one thinks of kindergarten, one thinks of colors and shapes and the ABCs, but Penny's actually a fairly good reader already, and not too bad at writing (even if her spelling is horrible, but that's okay).

She's very good at simple arithmetic. Yesterday while I was in a meeting, she amused herself by writing on the white board: 1 + 1 = 2. 2 + 2 = 4. 3 + 3 = 6. 6 + 6 = 12. 10 + 10 = 20. (Her math workbook came home with her yesterday. Matt and I both seized on it as an activity book for the summer, to help her stay in practice -- she writes and reads with minimal prompting, but that white board was the only time I've ever seen her voluntarily approach numbers.)

She's even starting to learn to tell time. Wanting to know when it would be snack time, and not having a clock she could see, Penny wrote me a note: "tel me At" and then a very credible picture of a clock with the hands correctly pointing to 3:30. (And having watched her draw it, I'm even more impressed -- she started with the 1 and drew them around the clock instead of putting the ordinal 3/6/9/12 down first as guidelines, but all the numbers still wound up in pretty much the correct spots. Her sense of spacing is better than mine was.)

First grader.


Friday, June 12, 2009

Sing Out Loud

I love to sing.

Love it. LOVE. Not just humming along to the radio, but full-throat, breathing all the way down to the diaphragm, put-your-heart-into-it singing.

I took Chorus as my elective all the way through middle school and high school, and I tried out every year for the audition-only Girls' Chorus. When I was in the seventh grade, I had a one-line solo in a play I was in with my gifted-and-talented group, and it was like a little slice of heaven. For weeks of rehearsals, I lived for those few seconds.

I belonged to the youth choir at my church. I went through baptism and confirmation almost entirely because that's what my friends in choir were doing. It was the most religious time of my life, to be honest. It didn't matter what the words were: Hallelujah chorus or sexy top-40 power ballad, God was in the music, and singing was not just an act of worship, but a moment of connection.

I'm not sure when, exactly, I realized that I'm really bad at it. I didn't have a single big moment of epiphany. No one took me aside and explained that enthusiasm and heart are no substitute for notes that miss the mark. But by the time I was in college, I had finally figured it out.

And I was, above all else, utterly humiliated.

Years -- years -- I had poured my heart and soul into my performances, and never realized I was being hidden amongst those with more talent. I'd begged for solos, rejoiced in each (church choir is nothing if not inclusive), and never noticed the audience wincing. How many people had I sung for, over the years, who smiled politely and wondered to themselves how I could not know that I sounded like a duck trying to mate with a frog.

How embarrassing.

Worse: I still love to sing. I've got whole playlists in iTunes devoted to songs that make me want to stand up and raise my voice, songs that never fail to improve my mood when I sing them, songs that let me vent when I'm feeling down.

But I hardly ever use them, because I can't sing in front of people anymore, so all my singing is pretty much confined to when I'm driving somewhere, alone.

Yeah, I know people who don't care how they sound. And I know most people don't even care that much how I sound (certain musically-gifted family members aside). Don't worry if you're not good enough / for anyone else to hear / Just sing... I wish I could not care, but I do. I used up all my store of not-caring, I guess, back when I thought I was actually good. Letting someone hear me sing is like letting them see me naked. Or worse, even, since at least there's a few things I don't hate about my body, and there's pretty much nothing to love in my voice.

So I think I can count on one hand the number of people that I trust enough to sing for. And even those people (except for Penny and Alex, who don't know any better) are likely to hear my pre-emptive apology about how tone deaf I am. Which is a lie; I can tell the difference between notes perfectly well. I just can't hear the difference between my voice and the note I'm trying to sing. But I have to say something, because the alternative is that they might tease me about it. Or lie about it. Or just smile politely and wonder if I'm aware that I sound like a duck trying to mate with a frog.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Share and Share Alike

I've talked before about how astonished I am at the lack of sibling rivalry between Penny and Alex. (Or at least, that it seems to be Alex who is most jealous of attention given to Penny, rather than the more expected other way around.) My brother and I were rivals and enemies pretty much from Day One, and we fought constantly, right up until I moved out of the house to go to college. Which is not to say we didn't also love each other, or ever stand together against larger things... but we definitely did drive our parents crazy with our sniping. As much improved as our adult relationship is, we still run into personality conflict if one of us is tired and already low in patience.

Penny and Alex are... not like that. Not even a little bit.

Penny adores her brother. Occasionally she runs into distress if he starts chewing on a toy that she's particularly attached to, or if he ruins something she's working on -- but she doesn't usually get mad at him, and she learned quickly that the best way to retrieve a toy from his grasp is to offer him something different to latch on to. And when this tactic fails, she's still usually pretty patient with him, long past the point where John and I would have devolved into tug-of-war and screaming.

Penny's happy to share her toys with Alex, actually. She thinks it's cute and funny when he follows her into the playroom and picks up one of her stuffed animals, hugs it, and wanders off with it (unless it's one she was playing with right at that moment, anyway). She loves to play with him, give him hugs and kisses, and tickle him. She occasionally gets too rough, but that's not aggression, it's just a perfectly normal five-year-old lack of judgment. She also frequently fails to understand Alex's signals that mean "I'm tired and want to be left alone," but once again, it's merely a lack of sophistication and nuance on her part and a lack of communication skills on his, both of which are remedied only by time and experience.

The other night, something happened that completely blew my mind.

We've recently cut Penny's dessert consumption back, in an effort to slow her weight gain. She only gets two "sugar" desserts a week, and two sugar-free Jellos. She can pick when she gets them, but once they're used up, they're gone until the next week.

Penny had chosen an ice-cream pop for her dessert -- it's a low-sugar/low-carb item, made palatable by a drizzle of chocolate shell over the ice cream.

Alex, who has learned the joy of ice cream, realized that's what she had. He charged straight up at her and started grunting and opening his mouth like a baby bird.

Ninety percent of the kids I've encountered in my life -- myself included -- would have turned around and said, "No! This is mine!"

Penny giggled at him. "Mommy, look, Alex wants ice cream! Can I give him some?"

Thud. That was the sound of my jaw hitting the floor. "Um, sure," I said, and completely abandoned all efforts to clean up the kitchen to watch this in action.

She picked off a little of the chocolate drizzle and fed it into Alex's eagerly gaping maw. No sooner had he swallowed it than his mouth was open again, and he bounced lightly on his knees, grunting his request. She fed him three or four more bits of chocolate between her own bites, and even let him take an actual bite of ice cream.

I sure hope that some day, Alex can appreciate what an awesome big sister he has.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Made Of Win

I was in a teleconference meeting yesterday for the project that we locally call the Beast (both because of its acronym and because it's a pain in the ass). The Beast's customer is a government agency that, because this is a public blog, I won't actually spell out for you, but let's just say its primary mission is security. Which has been highlighted for us repeatedly -- everyone on the project has had to apply for a Top Secret clearance.

So I'm in this meeting and the project manager says something that grabs my attention. It grabbed a few other peoples' attention, too, so we made him say it again. It turns out that quite a few people on the project had enabled the digital signature option on Outlook, so their emails include a signature attachment... and our customer has asked us to stop doing that, because their system doesn't like our certificate and they find it to be an annoyance.

...So our security-obsessed customer -- a customer responsible for a whole host of irritating, time-wasting, and questionably effective security measures across the country and the globe -- wants us to send less secure emails because they don't want to deal with the annoyance.

Irony, for the win!

(To be fair, their software doesn't like our certificate because my company issues its own certificates, which is a security no-no -- really, certs should be issued by a trusted third party. So my company's home-grown cert authority isn't on the customer's whitelist, and it shouldn't be, really. But I'm still amused by the notion.)

A few weeks ago, the same project manager (PM) asked me to set up a database for our risk management activities.

As a QA manager, I approve of the notion. Risks should be documented, analyzed, mitigated, and tracked until they're no longer worth worrying about, especially on a project of this size.

I disapprove of the specific database he wanted me to use, however. It's a little bigger than what we need, and he's never used it before and neither has anyone else in the project, so we're coming into it blind. Worse, it was an Access database home-grown by a couple of guys who work for the company about four years ago, and since they put it out on the company server for general consumption (I approve of reusable tools, generally), both of them have left the company and the company has pushed us into the next version of Microsoft Office (including Access).

I argued against using this database and offered up a spreadsheet that the projects within my office have been using for years with plenty of effectiveness.

Alas, the PM disdained my spreadsheet (our office is only about 1/3 of the Beast project, so the PM isn't based in our office). He wanted this database, because the database comes with reports and graphs and whiz-bang factor. I grumbled and muttered, but I set the damn thing up for him. (The two guys who wrote it, however many years ago, at least left it with moderately useful documentation.)

Yesterday afternoon, I got an email from the PM that more or less boiled down to, "Hey, Liz, you know that risk database you didn't like that I made you set up anyway? It doesn't work. I need you to fix it."

Yeah, that's full of win. Though it's not irony. Just a headache.

I did fix it, though. (There was a setting that I thought existed for the purpose of setting some defaults, and I didn't set it because the defaults I wanted were already in place, but it turns out the setting itself is actually used by some calculation or other... Which is bad programming -- if you're going to use something, you need to give it a default value in case your user doesn't feel like changing it.)

Gods, but I hate the Beast...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Don't Go To SLeep To Dream

I managed to get to bed slightly earlier last night, but then the effect was spoiled by spending half the night dreaming that Matt was interviewing me and the kids to decide if he was going to keep us, and he kept doing things that infuriated me and I wanted to kick him and say, "Look, if you don't want us, just say so, but quit being a dick about it!"

I've no idea at all what that was about.

But I'm beginning to think that coffee might not be the worst thing that ever happened to me, this morning.

Penny's school had "Field Day" yesterday. I remember Field Day from when I was a kid. I hated it, every year. Could not stand it. It was a chance for the kids who were athletic and coordinated to show off their abilities and for those of us who were not to be chosen last for every activity, mocked, and humiliated. And by the time I was in middle school, I had learned to hate being hot and sweaty, so even the prospect of getting to miss classes and spend time outside wasn't a lure.

But I was enthusiastic for Penny's sake. She enjoys athletics (P.E. is her favorite "resource" class) and she likes being outside, and we have enough trouble with her weight as it is, so I don't want to discourage her.

So she had fun. Came home slightly sunburned (just lightly, on the very tops of her cheeks) and tired. And with a ragingly high blood sugar -- seems that one of the activities involved bubblegum (not sugarless), and there were popcicles at the end. Also not sugarless. And her teacher did send her to the nurse for a blood sugar check after it was all over, but the nurse didn't give her any insulin, despite her blood sugar being high. I don't know what she was thinking, honestly. That all the activity and sun might make Penny drop again soon? That it was so close to the end of the day that she might as well save Penny the extra shot and let her get a correction with her afternoon snack? No idea.

They're having a "Beach Day" on Thursday. (Penny confused us for weeks by telling us that her class was going to the beach, when we knew they'd already had their two field trips for the year. Turns out that "Beach Day" is an at-school activity -- they bring in bags of sand and wading pools and have games and such.) I reiterated for both the teachers and the nurse this morning that we really do want her to participate in these things, and that it's fine if she has gum and popcicles with the other kids, but she really, really does need to have her carbs covered. It's a choice she's made time and time again: she's perfectly happy to get a shot if it means she gets to have treats. They don't bother her all that much.

(And I'm staring down the barrel of several months of Summer Camp/Daycare which involves at least two field trips a week, most of which are likely to involve food of some sort or other. Yay.)

Wow, I'm all over the map today. Tell ya what; I'll leave you with a cute picture of Alex doing The Lip (yes, it's out of focus; blame Braz) and go get some coffee.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Don't Blink

We had a pretty good weekend, but where the hell did it go?

We had Jenn and Brian and Braz over on Saturday -- the intent was dinner and then gaming after the kids went to bed.

I made Ginger-Lemon Chicken and lemon couscous with mixed vegetables, and Jenn brought some challah bread. It was a pretty good meal, if I do say so myself.

The gaming part of the evening didn't quite happen, though. Between people being tired and Matt and Braz's natural tendency to tell stories, we wound up just sitting around talking for most of the evening, then showing each other absurd things on YouTube, and then Matt remembered that Braz still hadn't seen Dr. Horrible, so we had to rectify that immediately.

Even though we didn't game, it was still a lot of fun, so that was good.

We didn't do much Sunday. Or I didn't, anyway -- I woke up with a crick in my neck or shoulder or something that made lifting my arm or turning my head painful, so I mostly did my best to not move any more than necessary.

We did go out for dinner to Olive Garden (If you're careful, Olive Garden is surprisingly forgiving for diets -- but you have to be really careful). That went mostly well, up until Alex kind of fell apart.

I tried to go to bed at a reasonable hour last night, but my neck and shoulder were bothering me so much that it took me forever to find a comfortable position. I think I finally got to sleep around midnight.

Now I just need to manage to keep my eyes open for the rest of today. Wish me luck.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Brain Melty

Penny flung herself into bed with me last night around 3am, claiming a bad dream. (She might have been faking it, but if so, she was doing a better job than usual.) I let her lay beside me until her breathing slowed and evened out and she was almost asleep, then nudged her awake again. "Time to go back to bed," I told her.

"But Mommy," she said, "I'm not sleepy!"

"Well, I am," I answered, "so I need you to be in your bed."

This morning, she appeared at my bedside promptly at 6. "Mommy. It's six."

"Great," I rasped. "Go get dressed."

She was back in a blink. "Mommy? Why are you still in bed?"

"Because I'm tired. You woke me up last night, so I didn't get enough sleep."

"But I had a bad dream!"

"I know. I'm not mad. But I'm still tired."

"I'm not tired."

I do remember being a kid who never felt sleepy, even when yawns were stretching my jaw until it popped, which is why I never argue the point with her -- it's futile. How old was I when I came to recognize the heavy, slightly fuzzy feeling that I now identify with sleepiness? I didn't get the hang of "sleeping in" or napping until I was in college, but I'd been setting my own bedtime at night for years before that.

In fact, I don't recall ever having a set bedtime at all. I'm sure I did, because I remember trying to hide the fact that I was reading in bed instead of sleeping when I was little. But I also vividly recall an evening when we still lived in Hampton (which means I was still in elementary school) when everyone in the house went to bed long before me, and I remember thinking that I didn't really like being the only one who was up and about. And I thought it with that sort of, "Oh, yes, I remember now" tone that means I'd done it before, if not very often.

Certainly by the time I was in high school, I was going upstairs at around nine or so (whenever TV stopped being interesting) and then putzing around in my room (mostly reading or talking to friends on the phone) until I felt ready to go to bed -- which was anywhere between 9:30 and 11, most nights. (I remember staying up until 2 one night, on the phone with a friend, having one of those conversations that can only take place in the dark.) And I was usually up a bit before 6 so I could shower and make it out to the bus stop in time to catch the "early" bus, which was quieter and less crowded than the regular bus, and most of the time, I was well-rested enough.

The "draconian" rules of my youth involved things like homework before television, and helping with the household chores, and not hitting my brother even if he was being really, really stupid. But not bedtimes.

I seem to have wandered off on a tangent. Which is the kind of thing that happens when I'm tired from having had my sleep interrupted.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


The big buzzword with the government right now, in terms of quality assurance and process, is Lean Six Sigma.

Which is actually two techniques that have been mooshed together.

Lean is a process by which you eliminate (or at least reduce) all the unnecessary parts of a process. It sounds obvious, but it can lead to some really unexpected results. A lot of things that you would think are necessary are, in point of fact, not -- even if they are needed. The famous example is a car assembly plant that Leaned its processes and discovered that every turn of a screw except the last one is unnecessary. So they shortened the bolts they were using, cutting down on both time needed to assemble the cars and cost of materials.

Six Sigma is a defect-reduction strategy originally conceived for parts manufacture that employs some really high-level statistical analysis to your data. (The name comes from that analysis -- a sigma is a measure of standard deviation; if you have six of them, then that means that you have a defect rate of less than one in a million.) Whether you actually want to achieve a level of six sigma depends on the process you're looking at: if you're talking about, say, pacemakers or airplane landing gear, then yes, you really do want a failure rate that low. Software that doesn't hold people's lives in the balance, however, should probably not strive for quite that level of perfection -- eliminating defects gets more and more expensive the further down that path you go, so there's a point at which improvement just isn't worth it.

Smooshed together as Lean Six Sigma, you get a system for improving (usually shrinking) processes by statistically analyzing their defects. It's a nice tool to have in the bag, but like all tools, it's not always the best one.

But the government, like large corporations, isn't really interested in fitting the right tool to the job. It's interested in being buzzword-compliant, and Lean Six Sigma is the current buzzword of choice in the quality community.

So I've been working, in my copious free time (hahaha!) over the last six months, on a project which will certify me in Lean Six Sigma. Both so that I can add this tool to my kit, and so that I have something to tack onto my resume and make me worth a little more to the company. The project is one of those where Lean Six Sigma doesn't really fit very well, but well, the problem we had was a nail, so this set of calipers begins to look awfully like a hammer. I made it work, if I do say so myself. I even managed to make our data look reasonable (we got our sigma from 2.3 to 2.8, which is about a 10% improvement in defects -- not bad, really).

My final presentation for the project is this morning, after which I'll have my certification and can update my resume. Go, me!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Traveler Returns

Well, that was hectic. And crowded -- every flight I was on was completely sold out. And of course, for both of my longer legs (between Atlanta and San Antonio) I was stuck in a middle seat. Bleh.

But I'm glad I went. Grandmom was thrilled to see me, and it gave Dad a bit of a break from trying to keep up a conversation with someone with no short-term memory.

She was both better and worse than I feared -- she was stronger than I'd been braced for, and she not only recognized me right away, but remembered my family's names without prompting. (Mostly. Yesterday morning, I think I caught her avoiding using Alex's name in the hope that I would say it for her.) I took my laptop, and she loved looking at my pictures.

She tired quickly, though -- Dad and I visited her in one-hour increments, and even those short visits wrung her dry. By the end of them, her speech was slurring and her eyes growing cloudy with exhaustion. She's on oxygen about 90% of the time, and she can't sit up or dress herself.

My dad and uncle are trying to figure out what to do. She's never going back to living by herself, but they'd like her to be able to have her own room, at least. The facility she's in now is top-notch, very high quality and excellent staff, but it's in Texas, which is pretty horribly inconvenient for both my dad and my uncle to get to. Right now, they're taking turns living in her apartment, but once they've officially turned her over to the assisted living facility, she won't have an apartment any more for them to stay at, which will make it pretty expensive for them to spend a lot of time with her.

My uncle's looking into the facilities in Atlanta, where he lives, but even if they find a place that will take on an assisted-living resident (and many places require that assisted-living residents start out as independent residents first) there's still the question of how to get Grandmom there. She's not strong enough for the drive, and even if she gets that strength back, she'll require medical attention along the way that my dad and uncle aren't qualified to provide.

There aren't any easy answers.

But I'm glad I went, painful as it was. The smile on her face as she skipped through my pictures of the kids was worth it.

I might try to make it a quarterly trip. We'll see what happens.