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small steps by Peg Kehret

I ran across an interesting book in my little free library.

Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio
by Peg Kehret

It's for young adults and I read it in 2-3 hours.

It's 1949 and Peg is 12 years old, a busy school girl looking forward to the homecoming parade that weekend. She feels twitches in her legs, and falls down in the hallway. When she gets home she feels achy and feverish, and starts getting extremely sick and can't even pick up objects. Her parents take her to the hospital and a spinal tap confirms she has polio, a terrifying diagnosis for a girl who's grown up seeing photos of people trapped in iron lungs and paralyzed for life.

She gets sicker, barely able to breath and fully paralyzed from the neck down. But then she starts getting better, eventually learning to walk again. All it takes is seven months of grueling heat treatments and physically therapy. The kids around her are not all so lucky. Peg really has the best possible circumstances - her parents brought her in quickly so treatments could start right away, they were extremely supportive and fought for her to get the best care, and we had learned about successful treatments by 1949 that we didn't have just a few years earlier.

In fact so many things about polio are luck of the draw. Peg probably got it from a carrier who showed very few symptoms and didn't know they had polio... who was that really lucky kid? But at least she wasn't from a giant family with too many kids who left her to be a ward of the state like one of her roommates.

And finally the real lucky ones, Peg's two children were born in an age where we just vaccinated them against polio. I was born after polio was eradicated in the US. My kids have probably never heard of polio. It's still on the vaccine schedule, so they got vaccinated without even thinking about it.

Nobody's ever heard of this book, and I certainly haven't heard stories of kids who got polio. What if we let them all fade into the past? This one girl's story of the darkest time in her life is really an important one to keep in the world.


someday we'll buy a new rug

my house is all hardwood floors so we have a lot of rugs.

the one in the main living room has had a HARD LIFE. It's cool - gray with a big modern leaf pattern - but now it's stained, worn, tired. so when we ripped out the basement carpet and finished the floor in there, the big leaf run moved downstairs. it's 9x12 ft or so.

we are going to replace it and I started looking online.

the e-commerce stalkers are SO EXCITED ABOUT ME and I don't care, I'm letting them come over me in waves. Every time I log into a social media site there's a new site showing me their rugs. sometimes it's the same site showing me new rugs, or a same site showing me the rug I saw the other day, ISN'T THIS THE PERFECT RUG? PLEASE COME BACK! PLEEEEEASE!

I'm picturing some kind of mission room someplace with all the algorithms and my face on screens next to rugs, "you guys... THIS LADY IS GOING TO BUY A RUG!" I bet they have all my history. my name, date of birth, salary, buying history... trying to recreate me like battlestar galactica. I can't do that to make my work more efficient but dammit, Shopper Me gets everything.

Millions and millions of dollars on data systems, to get my $600. This is big. Who do I pick? I don't even know! I'm in no hurry. We might buy a rug next month. In the meantime it's not bad, because all the ads I see are for rugs, and there are worse things to look at.

investment advice for the 2010s

As this decade slowly comes to a close I got to wondering what was the most 2010s post I could possibly make. Should I blog about my ongoing frustrations that my iphone 6se won't consistently sync with the bluetooth in my crappy ford fiesta? my husband's addiction to barely flavored seltzer water? something about tove lo? no, there is one ultimate question we're all asking ourselves:

should I cash out my bitcoin?

my friend gave me $5 bitcoin in 2014, probably as part of some account invite code. It is now worth $80 or so.

I also took $10-15 in etsy sales around that time, but that bit is gone, I used a wallet service that "retired" and claims to have given me plenty of advance notice before charging me a fee worth the account value, so fine, good-bye. but the $80 is pretending to be real money I could have to put towards a 10-speed bike for Josie.

So here we are nearly to Q4 2019, here is my question for my livejournal friends:

Should I cash out my bitcoin?

No dammit spacefem, you'll retire on this someday!
Yes because you'll lose track of it if you don't
Yes because it's fake currency that's definitely going to tank

escape books

This year the memorable books I read trend around refugees. Not really on purpose - I just like reading books about people in different parts of the world, stories not like mine, best sellers, and I do not like reading about petty first world problems, so where does that take me? tragic journeys.

The Girl With Seven Names is my favorite this year and I'd highly recommend it. It's non-fiction. The author is a well-known TED conference speaker who grew up in North Korea and escaped through China to South Korea. North Korea is a horribly oppressed place and reading the book you get a sense of how ingrained their system is and how impossible it would be to change it. China won't help anyone escape and none of the countries around South Korea are terribly helpful either. Her tale of fake identities and papers and bribes required to make it out is insane. She looks longingly at tourists with the birthright to go where they please.

I read "The Map of Salt and Stars" about girls escaping Syria through all of North Africa before sheer luck got them to relatives in Spain. "Fruit of the Drunken Tree" is about families on either end of the wealth spectrum in Colombia in the early 90s.

Everyone wants the same things: Food, water, safety, at some point truth... because your life can be saved by what you know, and when you get mixed information you can't make the right decisions about how to get to safety. In the books I read everyone gets to their destinations, but with scars and losses to show for it. Their enemies are rapists, bureaucracy, and greed. Every story makes me look around and realize how lucky I am and how quickly it can all go away, and then what does anyone have? Their luck and wits and maybe some connections in other parts of the world.


kid & ferret

First, we misgendered the ferret. Probably because we got her off a craigslist post looking to rehome "male ferrets", and it wasn't that important anyway so we just shrugged off and assumed, but we took her to the vet who looked crazy at marc and asked "Why are you calling it a he? It's obviously a SHE! LOOK!" and held underside of the ferret up to him for examination. Maybe our vet thought that marc really cared about this issue and had spent hours looking at our ferret's junk before he made the wrong call. That was not the case.

So frankie is a she - good thing we like gender neutral names! our dog judy is female. we're not sure about the fish, but marc might be the only male in the house now.

On previous episodes, Josie my nine year old became obsessed with ferrets for something like a full year until we got her Frankie, and now she is even more obsessed with ferrets. What is it about this age? I remember being young and childless and running into a kid about that age at a party who told me all about football games, especially the superbowl. he practically gave me a play by play of the superbowl complete with "and then remember when so-and-so threw that pass to so-and-so and he ALMOST got a touchdown but they'd been at the 27 yard line and they only made it 25 yards!" It was that level of detail. What is with kids?

Josie is there now. She spent three days at her aunt's house, she's a pretty quiet kid but on walks with my sister she'd get chatty and tell her all about life, but mostly about ferrets. She can tell you their history, how they fit into the weasel family, genus, species, the endangered wild black-footed ferret and efforts towards its conservation. She's read most ferret books from the library because they're not that long.

meanwhile our own ferret continues to annoy me rule the house. we keep finding weird stashes of her stuff in places. I bagged up some bathroom trash, tied the plastic grocery bag knot and threw it down our stairs to take out when I got down there, then minutes later I hear it MOVING because frankie was out and wanted to drag the whole thing under the bed in the guestroom. why frankie, why?

days later josie said she was so happy to have an "exotic pet" and I told her that term seemed weird. "Exotic" things are supposed to make you feel privileged and luxurious, that is not how frankie makes me feel, but she smiled and said frankie DEFINITELY makes her feel wonderful and frankie just licked her face. frankie does not lick anybody else's face. she sneaks out and bites toes.

ferrets really do well with other ferrets so we're thinking about getting another one, but people want stupid "rehoming" fees of $100 plus because ferrets are $250 from petstores. The humane society wants $70, that seems like a better rate. I don't want to pay $100, especially if I find out the owners haven't taken their ferret to the vet EVER so I'm going to have to shell out more money in the immediate weeks. So I'm lowball offering the craigslist ads. No luck yet, and no new ones at the humane society, so frankie is alone.


kids as guests

I like it when my kids have friends over but here's the problem... you get asked for a lot of stuff.

put it this way. when anyone is at your house, you get asked for stuff. when adults come over there are questions. they tend to be simple and predictable though. where's your ice? do you recycle? you seem to be running low on toilet paper in the downstairs bathroom where do you keep it? does this have gluten in it? everyone is used to their own world, but with some slight bits of information they can get along fine in yours. and sometimes they don't even need you, they look in your fridge before asking if you have mustard because they're used to doing things by themselves and know how to navigate social norms - it's okay to open somebody's fridge and take the condiment you need, it is not okay to open their medicine cabinet and read their prescription drugs.

kids, on the other hand, bring a whole new random spectrum range of questions, and some kids are MUCH worse than others. josie has sleepover friends who go with the flow and barely ask me for anything, but she's got others who are just so full of adorable ideas I don't know whether to embrace their cuteness or throw them out in the back yard. do you have elastic string? I don't like grape jelly do you have strawberry? why isn't there a nightlight in this room? help me find my sock? throw this plate away for me?

it makes you look at your own kid a lot more critically and wonder if you should stop coddling her eccentricities. Olive doesn't like butter melted on toast. she likes the toast to cool off, then we put butter on it, so she can see it. Josie seems to be incapable of hanging up a wet towel but we're working on it, I swear. When we have kid friends over and they weird out on me all I can picture is my kid telling another strange parent that they really need cornstarch to show the party how non-newtonian fluids work, and I know how that parent feels... kid, you do not need anything! you're warm, clothed, fed, living it up in the wealthiest industrial country in the world, deal with your life and let me read my book! play with our toys, or anything else you see in front of you, entertain the other kids with what you have, that is why you are here!

but you get to feeling bad or lazy so you don't say things like that, you just do your best. it's exhausting, that's all I can say. a kid's brain is yearning for so much, especially its at-home comfort zone, but also whatever the new idea of the moment has in store. you do not get to read your book.


my non-profit work

I am proud to say that I am no LONGER the president of my local makerspace! While it was darn fun, and I learned some things, I did not want a third year. I chose not to run. I could have had a third year, then one more on the board as "immediate past president" but instead I'm just going straight to my past president role right now.

It was tiring, there were a lot of things I could have been doing but I was always sucked into makerspace things. At the head of any crazy controversy, always the one trying to talk somebody else off the ledge when they felt like quitting. And I'm still not sure if that was all time well spent. When someone wants to resign or run away should you promise to change and help them more, or just say good riddance? I spent so much time hearing people out. Just listening. Being the one to nod and be polite, even in times when I totally disagreed with everything they were saying about how cruel we are.

We got accused a lot of putting too much on our volunteers until they were burnt out and exhausted. And the way it was brought to me, a lot of them said "Well spending all this time would be okay if only I was assisted/appreciated/paid/insert something else here." My response was always to encourage delegation. When's the last time you asked for help or looked back and told us honestly what you couldn't get to? What are you doing to set your own limits? When you need a break, can you just tell us sorry guys, this thing won't happen, I need a break, and see who else fills in? No, so many volunteers would bemoan the fact they were needed, tell me they were tired, tell me they didn't have time, but they would NOT divide off a chunk of their tasks to teach someone else how to do it. "it's just too hard I have to do it myself but I need three months to do it."

I talked about the need to find your own balance and find your own reasons for your work, but I didn't always feel heard. Then again I got the feeling that people never listened to me the first 50 times I said something. After 200 times it kinda started sinking in with a few. Consistency has to go on a list of important leadership traits. People respect it. And hell from a balance situation... people won't come to you as often if they can predict what you're going to say, what you will and won't care about, right?

anyway, whenever I was feeling sick of the place, I usually just had to go make something. it's a makerspace, after all. I needed to spend a couple hours cutting shapes on the laser cutter, making boxes from woodshop scraps, sewing a bag. Now this month I re-learned the vinyl cutter. There are a few tools I need to re-learn.

I was interviewed for someone's school project about how to be a good community leader. She asked about my strengths and weaknesses. I listed...

Strengths: Enthusiasm, presentation skills.

Weaknesses: Getting sucked into leadership roles.

Pretty much sums it up. I've had quite a two year run.


John Mulaney quote

I am 39 years old and this is the truest thing I've heard this year:

I can’t listen to any new songs. Because every new song is about how tonight is THE night and we only have tonight. That is such 19-year-old horseshit. I want to write songs for people in their 30s called “Tonight’s No Good. How About Wednesday? Oh, You’re in Dallas Wednesday? Let’s Not See Each Other for Eight Months and It Doesn’t Matter at All.”

fly the airplane

pilots have a saying. when you're flying an airplane a lot can go on, but one thing will always be your priority:

fly the airplane.

maybe something is distracting you in the plane, or in your mind, or out in the world. maybe you're out of fuel or lost or ate too much at lunch, or you missed a radio call or screwed up a radio call. whatever. fly the airplane. maybe you're not sure which airport you're over and worried about landing on the wrong runway... you'll probably figure it out. UNLESS you pitch up too far into an uncoordinated stall and and lose hundreds of feet of altitude because you weren't paying attention to which way the nose is pointed! then you're in trouble... so don't do that! fly the airplane.

it's good life advice, anyway. I think about it a lot on a stressful day when I'm not in any airplane, just have a lot to do. It's closely related to the Hitchhiker's Guide first rule: don't panic.

I bring this up because there was a great episode of Fresh Air last week to commemorate the 50th anniversary of our moon landing, where astronaut Chris Hadfield was talking about overcoming fear with training, procedures, routines, and keeping your head about you. his heartwarming quote I will commit to memory:

There's no problem so bad that you can't make it worse

This might not make you feel better in life, it's kind of scary! But it is a logical reason to keep your head about you and think calmly about your next step when a problem arises. Prioritize. ask for help. brainstorm next steps. take a break! but don't tune out or forget the basics.

see also: hoosiers. yeah, the basketball movie, where a determined coach teaches his frustrated players to act as a team and train the basics. and the tougher the situation, the MORE you depend on your basics. Always go back to them. It might seem like your boring passing drill, but you can do it and it will get you through this, that's why you practiced it so much.

Enough examples, they all say the same thing. It's harder than it sounds. Humans like to freeze up or freak out. We have to get around a lot of instincts to stay focused when the going gets tough. It takes drilling into your head. It's worth it.

florida trip

last week I took my family on a real vacation to the beach - we went to florida. to be pure tourists! olive had never ridden on a commercial flight before, only a cessna 172. she does not appreciate how wonderful that actually is. but whatever. she also didn't appreciate the ocean. at age 6, she doesn't see the world like you'd hope.

we went to destin florida because that is where allegiant air was advertising a low-cost direct flight. I got the whole family down there for like $800. Marc and I flew another low-cost carrier, Spirit, down to vegas last year and were met with a lot of crazy surprises so I did a little more research but not enough. I swear these carriers need to have an online game or calculator or something to help you figure out all the nickel and dime games you'll encounter on your journey.

allegiant charges the same price for a checked bag as they do a carry-on, so I thought I'd win by just paying for a checked bag, and of course using mobile boarding so I wouldn't have to go to the counter. but you have to check in bags through the counter. and they don't staff it or accept your bag until two hours before departure, not boarding. and the line to get through is actually worse than the TSA line.

I also learned I could have brought olive's booster seat for free, it doesn't count as anything. I paid the rental car agency $14 a day to use theirs.

no worries. we were going to the beach. olive loved the flight, loved looking out the window seeing the world as a playset, then she fell asleep.

I'd read about all the terrible things that would happen to us in destin: microscopic jellyfish called sea lice that swarm you with bites, flesh eating bacteria, a hurricane, miserable traffic.

the traffic was indeed miserable. but we didn't have enough gaping open wounds to be infected with flesh eating bacteria in the ocean, we might have gotten sea lice bites but the feeling went away, the hurricane was downgraded to a tropical storm and mostly aimed towards louisiana. We had cloudy days but not rain.

I went walking along the coast at 6am and saw dolphins breaking the surface of the water. then we'd get up and walk across the street to the beach. olive hated the waves and mostly played in the sand, josie loved the waves, marc and I loved watching josie get blindsided by them.

we were staying in a sort of condo village and our place was right by the pool so we did some swimming there too, which olive really preferred because she could latch on to other kids and make friends, go underwater and stand around without being lifted back on the beach by waves.

spent a lunchtime on the boardwalk eating nice seafood and josie got a ride on a zipline. spent another lunchtime divided up, marc and olive at the pool and josie and I going to antique malls. this is not a thing I'm super into but it was a way to not be in the beating sun at the most crowded time on the beach. even with sunscreen, my skin got pink in places.

we were there three nights, two full days. we ate out. the kids loved the beach. I don't think we're going every year or anything but if the flight deals line up, we'd do it again.


the great flood

last summer we really got in the habit of letting the kids have "sister sleepover" in the basement every night, lazing around down there until who knows what time with their toys and movies.

this summer we don't have that basement.

same house! but in late may a bad week of rain took out Wichita. I have never seen so much water. Nobody has. everything flooded. the paths along the rivers were underwater, people showed videos of canoeing down their streets.

our basement had a solid 1-2 inches of water throughout. we bailed, we squeegeed, we rented a Rug Doctor for the carpeted kid room and were up until midnight sucking up all the water we could. I took a half day off work, we sent back to it with a borrowed shop vac and hit it again. we got things to an okay state. the carpet was just damp. we would survive.

two days later the rain started again and it all flooded again.

we couldn't figure out how the water kept getting to the carpet, where was it coming from, there were these weird spongy spots not even by a wall, how does that work? marc pulled up a part of carpet and we saw a half inch hold in the concrete floor spouting water 2" into the air - a constant fountain! is that what we're fighting? is it work the fight? ahhh!

we knew when we moved in that the basement carpet was... an interesting decision. who puts carpet in an old house basement? doesn't it get wet and mildewy? oh well, maybe someday we'll pull it out.

well that day marc got a damn box knife and said IT'S TIME and I agreed with him. we cut it all up into pieces and lugged it upstairs. paid a guy off craigslist $60 to haul it off for us. he was terrible, we had to load his trailer ourselves.

guess what was under the carpet?

asbestos tile. coming up in crumbles. we had it tested. marc spent an afternoon in a tyvek suit wearing a respirator trying to DIY remove it... it was a mess, he got nowhere, we were paranoid, every feeling we'd google and webmd said we were giving ourselves cancer.

so now we're waiting for professionals to schedule us in. I want it out.

I want it out because I don't just want to cover it up like the last people did. I want the floor to be even with the other basement room so we can squeegee it out if it floods again. I want a nice floor, like a cool epoxy.

we want our basement back!

but it will not happen yet. patience. just a summer with the kids not having their downstairs room, is what it's turned out to be.

I have a friend who bought an old school building. he said rather than owner, he wanted to be called the "custodian". What's a custodian? someone who takes something into their custody, to care for it, the school has had 100 years of care and he continues that story for the next 100 years.

that is my old house, I tell myself. take care. tell the next people - you have a good floor. it can be easily dried in case of a flood, that only happens every 10 years so you're basically in good shape. it's good shelter. it's been in our custody.


june road trip

this past week was full of family adventures, I'm home sitting on my own couch finally and thrilled to be here! It was an awesome time though.

last saturday - drove six hours out to southeast missouri for our annual float trip around the merrimack river. we left too late. The week before I'd been drowning in a particular airplane and working too many hours, didn't get home until almost 8pm friday night. saturday morning we couldn't get hold of the family who was supposed to take our ferret for the week, and marc hadn't dropped the dog off at the kennel, so that all held our departure until "business hours" so to speak and we didn't arrive at camp until dinnertime. the kids missed afternoon swimming. it was a bummer.

sunday - forecast called for mega lightning/hailstorms so for the first time in the 20 years I've been going on this trip, they basically called off the rafting! We were told if we really wanted to go we could but a bus wouldn't be coming for our specific campsite because so few people wanted to go. We swam a little, but it really did rain hard all day, so we spent most of the time playing cards in the cabin. Then we did some scheduling and realized we could go rafting on monday and just depart afterwards.

monday - rafting! a beautiful, perfect day. got off the river by 2 because it was moving really fast this year, and drove to springfield mo. stayed the night with friends in springfield.

tuesday - saw the new springfield aquarium. friends helped us get in so we didn't have to buy the adult tickets that are $50 each (!) just the kids tickets - two kids were $36 after the AAA discount. it was huge, we were there for 2-3 hours and could have slowed down and taken four. I love jellyfish in tanks. drove to branson and stayed the night at the best western conference center.

wednesday - I give the branson best western a thumbs up, it was only $100 a night or something but had a great pool, free breakfast, shuttle to silver dollar city.

took the kids to silver dollar city. I've never been. they both went on their first roller coasters. Josie's first was the Time Traveler, a crazy idea where your cart spins around AS you speed across the track. she loved it but had to unglue her death grip hand to give marc a high five at the end. at 52" tall she could go on anything she wanted but was a little freaked out and chose to opt out of some scary stuff. olive was big enough to go on thundernation because she is 45" tall and you only have to be 42" to ride with a parent on that one. she freaked out and cried and took five minutes to calm down, and said she'd never go on a roller coaster again. then for days following she told everybody we met that she went on an awesome big roller coaster, transforming her story into braver versions every time. but we decided to support her playing it cool and not add any of our WE WERE THERE details.

they closed the big rides around 4pm due to lightning in the area. that sucked. we watched a juggler show, and later got to go on some little rides, but overall lost a ton of time. park closed at 7pm which is a real cock. we didn't get to go on the powderkeg or wildfire, when these kind of issues happen my cheap engineer brain starts doing the math on the $250 we spent on tickets and how much was lost due to weather.

I went on outlaw run with josie. it was fun but I don't love getting my brain shaken around in my head anymore and my neck gets sore.

wednesday night - stayed a second night at the hotel.

thursday - got up and hit the road. stopped at Big Brutus in mineral water, kansas. it is THE tourist attraction if you're ever in southeast kansas, people. one of the world's largest electrically-powered shovels, brought to the area in the late 60s for strip mining and left there forever for families to walk around in. tickets for the whole family: $26. arrived home.

friday - went to kansas city to spend the night with my parents so marc and I could see Jackie Kashian at the comedy club. she is one of my favorite podcast hosts and doesn't come to the midwest much so I refused to miss it!

saturday - back home. went to a birthday party. josie is spending the night. with her girl scout camp earlier this month and our travels, she's spent two nights at our house since father's day. that's a way to make the summer blow past.

schedule for this week is a lot of NOTHING and we're pretty excited.

stock market

Found out that my old scottrade account, now TD Ameritrade, was still open. I had $616.41 sitting in it.

I swore off stock trading when my shares of AMD plummeted and KIDBQ went bankrupt.

I thought about just getting the money back and putting it in my credit union where I can get 2% return on a CD, but figured hell... I put that money in the stock market, why not keep the gambling alive? I bought 3 shares of the NASDAQ index fund QQQ for 175.94 each. My goal is to forget about it for five years.

I would still warn any 25 year old that it is not a good idea to move a bunch of money into stock trading just to feel grown up.

I didn't do that bad. I put in $1500, had some winners and losers, at one point decided I hated it and asked for an $800 check back. So I should have $700 remaining. I do not - I officially lost $84 in this venture.

Unless you consider that if I'd put the $1500 in the 2% credit union CDs when I was 25, I'd have $2000 now.

eh what's money right? You can't take it with you.

things your supervisor should do

A mentor told me that when problems come up, sometimes the best thing I can do is NOT try to solve them. It's to engage the team. The best response is always the question: what can we do to solve this problem?

Which leads me to a short list I'm starting... things a good leader should vs. shouldn't do:

Your supervisor should:
1) Clear obstacles that keep you from improving your company and/or products
2) Plant the flag on the hill so everyone shares the same long term strategy that contributes to larger organizational goals
3) Contribute problem-solving ideas when you're stuck, just like everyone else on the team

Your supervisor should not:
1) Solve all your problems
2) Tell you what to do every day
3) Be the bottleneck that holds everyone up


meeting irl pro tip

I have a life advice.

I had a lady from a local group who wanted to meet me at the makerspace I lead to check the place out. I was happy to meet her, I said sure I'm not doing anything Wednesday, how about 7? Awesome! We email confirmed and all was well.

Wednesday I get off work and head there but check my makerspace email really quick to see if anything had changed, and OMG, I had a dozen emails from her because SHE THOUGHT I MEANT 7AM! Where are you, I'm here, it's cold and dark outside, there's no one to let me in, I guess we have to reschedule, etc etc etc.

Okay, I have two life advices. First, never assume the AM/PM thing.

Second, if you are meeting someone in the real world, be sure to exchange all best forms of contacting you directly? We can email all day, but it's time to exchange cell phone numbers! Anything can happen - cancellation, flat tire, confusion over the time (obvs). Under the context of "if anything comes up", give out your cell phone. Or some other form of contact that you know can really get your attention.

We were actually not able to reschedule. I think she was very unhappy.


Denver trip

My sister and I escaped our great state for Mother's Day this year. We'd talked about doing something fun together and that weekend just worked out, we joked that it was our mother's day gift to ourselves to leave our children behind! It was a good trip.

Drove from our perspective homes in Wichita/Topeka and met at the Salina airport, where we abandoned a car (free parking!) and combined resources to drive the rest of the way to Denver. Thanks, Salina!

Stayed downtown. Parking was hella expensive, $18 a day! and kind of questionable on processes (can I leave my car here all night or not?) but it worked out. I ended up paying the quoted prices. Cool.

We got tickets to see Wicked because it's my favorite musical ever, everything a musical should be, that's why Denver was our choice that weekend. But we could duplicate most of our other favorite activities at any city. Walking in parks, shopping and gallery districts. Eating pizza and sushi. Went to the art museum. Did not get to tour the denver mint, the tours booked up too early so that was a surprise, but it wasn't high enough on our priority list to REALLY try to go so we shrugged and didn't care too much about missing it.

I've heard that the drive across Kansas is awful but maybe I'm too much of a native here, I loved it. It was eight hours to talk with my sister and listen to podcasts while speeding past wind farms and stopping at tiny yelp-recommended diners in small but proud hipster towns. Hays actually seems really cool. Truck stops everywhere are so weird and great.

Bizarre road trip tradition: I've re-listened to the Last Podcast on the Left episodes about the Donner Party like three times now on long trips. It's funny every time, morbidly educational, and makes anything on your travels seem like absolutely no big deal at all.

We stayed three nights. Settle in night, musical night, and last night in town - I think it'd be fun to get comedy show tickets or something for the last night if we do that again, we kinda thought about little local theater but it was a monday night and there's not much going on. We had planned a lot of downtime to relax, read, sleep in, go hot tubbing and eat free huge breakfasts at our hotel, and that all got to happen! So overall, trip success.

a friendly note to myself about alcohol

dammit I am too old to drink, I guess. I hate feeling like crap the next day or making myself sick.

If I'm at a normal function where people are drinking, like out with coworkers or dinner with family, I can have one alcoholic beverage.

If I'm at an unusually fun event, like a big fun party with people hanging out chatting around campfires and I have a ride home, I can have two alcoholic beverages.

There is no reason to ever have three, okay! Three is no fun, and makes me lose track!

how to troubleshoot: discipline vs. knack

Troubleshooting is a beautiful art.

One professor in college said it "could not be taught", that you were either born with "the knack" or you weren't - there's a related dilbert cartoon. But once I started engineering I realized that there are definitely techniques that not only can be taught, but SHOULD and AREN'T, and if you think troubleshooting is something genetic you might be a STEM gatekeeper.

The other thing I've realized is that technical troubleshooting is closely related to the old fashioned Scientific Method we used to have on posters in our elementary school classroom. When did engineers decide we were "practical" and therefore not scientists? There are a few versions of the method, but most go along the lines of:

1) State the problem
2) Do your research
3) Hypothesize
4) Experiment
5) Analyze
6) Write down your results

In my engineering life, these translate really well to...

1) State the problem. Yes, that, you'd be surprised how often we don't get a good description of the problem, an airplane lands and the pilot gets off and says "this autopilot sucks". That is not a good problem statement. "We were flying along straight and level and suddenly the autopilot pitched us straight down at the ground, spun us into a barrel roll then disconnected and called us names" gives us something to work with.

2) Do your research. When I'm overwhelmed my favorite thing is just to start printing stuff out. Someone says there's an issue with a weird part I've never heard of? print the spec sheet. print the wire diagram and get out my colored pencils. History can be an extremely important part of research. When did this problem start happening? What changed? These are especially important when chasing down intermittent issues, the dreaded "could not duplicate" that keep us awake weeks after the event.

I have a silly step 2a during this phase and that's "stay hydrated". I realize this does not sound technical at all but really it only takes a second and the benefits of drinking water help with so many other things, you're dooming yourself if you can't channel the necessary mental energy into a task for some silly physical reason.

3) Hypothesize/experiment/analyze - these can go pretty quickly together in troubleshooting. Research gives you your hypothesis... you don't think about ways a system can work, you read the way the system SHALL work. Then you can experiment. My favorite metaphor is the joke artists make, that to carve an elephant you start with a big slab of marble and chip away everything that's not an elephant. In troubleshooting, you find little parts of the system that are working, and eventually get yourself to the bit that's not working.

Of course in engineering we do have some trusty go-to experiments:
3a) Make sure everything is plugged in
3b) Try turning it off and then back on again
3c) "Percussive maintenance"

4) WRITE YOUR SHIT DOWN OMG! Engineering schools and math classes try to get students to show their work but it's never enough. Write down the exact results! Not "the resistance was within tolerance" but EXACTLY what it was, in ohms, in a table, forever. Then I knew you checked it. A lot of troubleshooting is done in teams where we want to trust each other but we've all learned from experience to never trust anyone. "Believe half of what you see and nothing that you hear," said a favorite specialist I work with.

I'd like to add another important last step... accept your paths. Never beat yourself up. If an issue took four days to solve, be happy it didn't take eight. Even if it's a tiny "obvious" silly thing, and it frequently is, and those are the ones where we feel the worst. At the end of the day the important thing is whether you learned something new, stuck to the problem and found the answer.

I am convinced now that a "technical person" is not someone with the right genes, just perseverance. We find a starting point even if we've already found 500 starting points that didn't work. Our job is to never run out of ideas. We don't freeze up. When things go badly we can try another approach, take a break, or ask for help. The best "troubleshooters" do not have a divine power to lay their hands on a machine and heal it. They know a LOT, so they don't have to spend as much time doing research to understand expected results we should get from expected inputs, and that's great. Maybe they've got a bank in their head of past issues, and that's great too. But we can all get there.

Be thoughtful. Ask questions.

(Stay hydrated!)


josie's room

I don't remember when we re-arranged our house for the girls to have separate rooms but it was within the last year. Josie was sick of her little sister pestering her. I asked around a little, adults in the world who shared rooms with their siblings and how were your sweet bonding sister memories? But most people told me that sharing a room sucks. So off we went to move rooms. I gave up my sewing room so it could be a guest room and Josie moved out of Olive's room.

So now instead of the girls fighting over everything I just hear josie yelling OLIVE GET OUT OF MY ROOM. got that going for us.

well nah there's some harmony. and the other thing I have to say is I just love josie's room. it makes me happy just walking by it, all the cute little girl stuff. she tries to keep it relatively clean. there's a jewelry tree of hair bows. a book shelf full of colorful chapter books dominated by roald dahl and beverly cleary. her desk and colored pencils, a wall covered in her drawings, a unicorn box she colored herself, a box of carefully selected barbies, a million other little creations.

It made me think about when we first moved into the house that was the room we set up as a nursery. we filled it with glow in the dark stars and hung up space alien curtains, put up a little crib and had a rocking chair. I was worried about what motherhood would be like and trying not to get sucked into new baby gushiness, but no warm blooded human can walk by a sweet baby nursery and not feel a little warm smile come on.

then you have the baby, your life goes to hell, your world is spitrags and old milk and diaper blowouts and nine million products you'd never heard of. then the toddler trashes everything. the toys are everywhere. you love your sleeping child but their room always looks like something that an actual tornado would improve on. there is no sweet organized bookshelf.

nine years in, we are coming back around. it gets better, parents! josie cleans her own room when she has time. she puts her trash in the wastebasket. hangs up pictures on the wall with tape instead of using the tape to randomly cover an entire table surface because it's there. she drapes her cute hoodie on her purple chair and chooses 2-4 stuffed animals to set up on her bed. creates beautiful things. it's reminding me of my favorite things about my room when I was a kid, when everything was glowing and colorful and handmade, and it's so nice to walk by.

six years old

Little olive turns six this month. She's nuts. Sometimes when I'm having a hard day I remember well, at least I'm not a kindergarten teacher.

She loves to play games but can't play pictionary. She wants to play with us. One of us will read the card, then show it to her and whisper the word in case she isn't sure of it. Like, her word will be "fish". Then she'll start drawing grass, trees, houses, a whole picture, and the guessing person is stumped and the assistant reader is looking helpless. The timer runs out and we're like "Olive what the heck was your word?" She says "I forgot!" but is so proud of her picture we just shrug and move on to the next person.

I told Josie her school photos were nice this year, Olive piped up with "WAIT UNTIL YOU SEE MINE!"

She picked up the habit of saying "I'm good!" instead of no. I think this is from marc but she does it all the time. Olive, want to talk to grandma on the phone? Want to eat the rest of your lunch? Want to get dressed? "I'm good!"

Every evening she reads me a book, our favorites are Dr Seuss or Mo Willems. Then we "talk about our day" - she's a lot more of an external thinker than Josie. Sometimes she talks about school, recently they have caterpillars in the classroom turning into butterflies. They are named Flower, Shirley, and Bill.

She asks a lot of questions about how the world works. The other night we talked about my job, she asked how I found a job, do you go to work with your parents after you get done with school? I said no, I talked to lots of companies, places that build computers or power plants or phones. She amazed that I'd met people who make phones, those are real SCIENTISTS. She is fascinated by scientists. I showed her the new photo of the black hole, but have to keep explaining that we can't go to a black hole because we'd be squished. She just took that to mean she'd be a tiny version of herself, which sounded great, and started a whole new host of stories about what tiny Olive would accomplish.

She's awfully cute.

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