silent book club / american girls

so many books. my favorite thing these days is sitting on my back porch with a drink of coffee in the morning, wine after work, and just churning through all the reads.

Friend of mine started a "silent book club" last year, the idea is you bring what you're reading, we have a snack and all read together quietly for 45-60 minutes. Marc said this was the absolute worst idea ever, he view silent book club the same way I view those polar bear club divers who jump into icewater for charity.

Honestly though the best thing about it is just the introductory chat session, hearing from 5-7 other women what they're reading. After we took March off for obvious pandemic reasons, we started again on zoom and it's GREAT! We don't silently read anymore on zoom, just go around and talk about what we're reading, and I get so many great recommendations!

This month the topic of podcasts came up and a lady told me she was listening to an American Girl Podcast where two best of friends female historians go book by book on every American Girl book. I was OBSESSED with these as a kid so of course I said I'd check it out... and it. is. amazing. They're critical, they're chatty, they're well spoken (as a Toastmaster I can't listen to podcasts where the hosts say "um" too much). They compare themselves to every character, compare every storyline to a modern pop culture references, compare the American Revolution to the Fyre Festival (can we ever feel that sorry for the overprivileged?)

So after two episodes I ordered every Felicity book out of the library so I can re-read them all and go through this whole podcast starting with last year's episode 1, which I've never done before, and it's making my life very relaxed and funny.

I can't seem to get my kids into these books and I don't remember why I was so into them, but I was. Beautiful things, history, adventures, I just loved these books. Then the company would send us catalogs, I don't know how they even got our names, some kind of american girl satellites or something. I never ordered a single thing or even asked, I was about too old and already aware that they were too expensive to be justified. But the catalogs were pretty.

Today apparently the obsession can go on, with grown ass instragrammers decking their dolls out in all finery and taking them on historical trips? who understands instagrammers. but hey, I won't nerd shame. embrace your dorkdom!

I'll just get SUPER into this podcast and re-read every book. They're for kids so I can get through each one in under and hour. this is not all I'm reading of course but I've said enough for a whole lj entry so I'll talk about more books later.

single buttons that cycle through too many modes

I realize the world has much bigger problems right now, but let me take a break to mention that I hate today's flashlights.

I have too many lights... flashlights, bike lights, keychain lights, where somebody thought it'd be a good idea to use a single pushbutton to cycle through 87 different exciting modes of what a flashlight can do.

In the old days, you'd press a button and the light turned on. Then you'd press the button again and the light turned off.

Now, you press a button and the light turns on. But if you want to turn it off you're screwed.

You press the button and it goes to dim mode.
Press it again, it flashes.
Press it again, it turns on each LED sequentially like knight rider (this is a mode on my bike light, not kidding)
Press it again, thinking surely this will be OFF, but no then it's left side right side alternating...

With every press you hope you're near the end and you start pressing faster and faster, and that's when the worst thing happens, you get it OFF finally but you don't notice and press the button again and then you're right back around to ON because you MISSED IT and now you have to do it all again.

I have a cheap little flashlight from harbor freight that has a red glowy light on the back, so its modes are main white light on, then red light, then both, then flashing, then it calls for a pizza, then it sings the star spangled banner, then it asks for a glass of water... to this day I'm not sure how I left it or what it's doing.

I'm an electrical engineer so I SHOULD be thankful for LEDs and microchips and smart components, and usually I am, but someone used their power for evil. Some intern thought he'd get paid per flashlight mode or something, and just dreamed up a million. But he only had room for one button.

Who knows what it's going to do?

Friday 5: State Changes


What recently caused you to boil?
The president threatening to delay the election due to... oh let's face it his approval rating. Now he's subverting the democracy.

What often causes you to freeze?
Getting home from work when Marc has been setting the AC to whatever he'd like during the day. Yesterday it was at 74! We might as well be hosting penguins! I secretly kicked it to 78... then 76, because he's slightly less likely to notice.

When did something evaporate into thin air?
Mom got me a nice white short sleeve sweater for Christmas. I thought I put it in my summer clothes. I have since unpacked summer clothes, and can't find that sweater anywhere! I look every couple weeks... do a lap, look in likely places. Where is it? I want to wear it to work.

What recently caused you to melt?
We did some pet-sitting for our neighbors guinea pigs. I forgot how SOFT AND WONDERFUL they are! Here:

Among United States you haven’t visited, which would you most like to check out next?
Well this isn't exactly a travel year. But I'd like to go to Massachusetts someday. Or maybe Washington State, since I've hardly ever been to the Pacific Northwest, and it's lovely.

Pomona Lake Cabin

Last week we traveled. Finally a summer vacation, after a summer of not doing anything. We needed it. My kids looked alive swimming out in the lake while the sun set, vanishing underwater to find rocks and laughing at what they found, perfect sister harmony. Their eyes had been looking dead lately. Trapped in an inside world between the upstairs TV and downstairs TV, they had stopped even wanting to go on walks with me, didn't get the initiative to do their own arts and crafts unless dragged into it. Josie kept sleeping later and later. We drove them two hours away and renewed their spirits.

It was my sister's prompting that made it happen. we'd talked forever about renting a cabin at a state park together. So I searched around and found one. I'd never been to Pomona but I've been to lots of state parks. I knew we just needed a lake, a swimming beach, a nature trail, a place to sleep. She's not ready to do tents with her little kids, and for a real vacation a cabin is a lot more relaxing anyway, so that's what we did.

We arrived on a Thursday. Entered the cabin with chlorox wipes in hand to get any high-use surfaces first, then unpacked and went down to swim. We sat outside and my little nephew, almost three, kept wanting to drag us down this little rock trail through the trees towards the lake. We finally gave in and stumbled our way through it, maybe 100 feet of serious ankle-rolling danger for us, but great for him! It ended at a fantastic lake spot where we could sit on big rocks and watch the sunset. There were tiny wolf spiders who'd run away from us fast but kept running along other rocks, and later on we saw bats flying around in the dusk. Between them the mosquitoes were REALLY light, which is weird for Kansas this time of year. I was thankful to whoever was putting in that work.

Friday we woke up and my sister, my niece, Josie and I all went to find a nature trail. We saw a family of wild turkeys, an ornate box turtle, lots of butterflies. It was advertised to be a half mile. By the time we hit the end my niece was pretty done. I can't remember the exact schedule friday... maybe we swam twice, once in the afternoon while my nephew napped, and again in the evening so he could come down with us? We had fajitas for dinner, played some rounds of SEQUENCE, built a campfire outside and made s'mores.

Saturday morning I got ambitious, I'd been the first one awake the previous day, so this time I had running clothes sort of together where I could find them and I went for a run. I wanted to find the 1 mile trail. I didn't quite make it... after 20 minutes of running I knew I'd gone too far on the roads and I started to head back. At one point I saw an entry into the middle of the trail, saw where it split off to what might have been that west entry point I'd been trying to find, but I went east instead, following the trail back to its main entrance by the park gate. I should have just started there, find the easy obvious entry point instead of trying to arrange my jog in a nice loop that ends in a trail segment. Next time. I'd been gone for an hour and wanted to get back so nobody would think I was lost. It'd be hard to get lost in a Kansas state park, they're not huge. Even when we've felt lost on trails our joke is "you're never lost when you can still hear a lawnmower" - it's that kind of space.

Being the first in the morning to take a nature trail really puts you on spider duty, so I spent the better part of a mile dodging orb weavers and garden spiders and anybody else who'd decided to build a web at eye level across the mowed path. I knew these webs aren't built to last, so i'd carefully find a high attach point and break it when I had to cross. I think at least 2-3 times I didn't see it and just ran right through a web, so I had that spider webby feeling until I got back, but I was so sweaty the spider webs were just one more thing. The family was up and having breakfast just as I got back so I urged us all to have a morning swim. We got to the lake and I went under water. The girls wore their life jackets to see how far out they could go, there was a barrier where the swimmers were supposed to stop going out, and I went with them to see how deep it was out there. I never found the bottom so I'm not sure. But at least 30 feet of the beach was shallow enough that Olive could touch, so that's where they stayed most of the time, just splashing and doing flips, skipping rocks and picking up mud. Kansas lakes aren't clear at all. We don't care.

With that, it was time to head home. Three days, two nights. Maybe next year we'll extend.

Our cabin was split in thirds: a bedroom, a kitchen, and a kids bedroom with four bunk beds. Perfect for two families with four kids between them! Marc and I slept in on a foldout futon in the living area, and gave my sister and her husband the bedroom since their kids are younger and might end up in bed with them, but all the kids slept great.

The first day we'd walked to the lake but it was a bit of a hike for the little kids, so the other times we drove. My nephew loved being squeezed into the car with his sister and cousins, it's such a novelty for a two-year-old to NOT be 5-point strapped into a huge toddler seat, but we weren't even driving a mile so we didn't care. The last morning he got my attention and said "thank you for letting me ride in your car to the lake!" in his cutest little words that I could just barely decode... his pronunciation is rough, but his enthusiasm is genuine. during this moment he said nothing to his dad who'd spent two hours making him laugh while they skipped rocks together. the kid will be three in November and it was adorably surprising to see how many random words he knew. a year ago he was a BABY who could say, like... ball? mama? Now he tells us everything in phrases, like "one more time", or "I want a turn with the water squirter". We introduced him to cheese balls!

I'm a little sunburned. I didn't take many photos, because why stop for those?

Fireplace mantle

A few years ago I made an effort to have things on our mantle so it wouldn’t be a clutter trap. I mostly won... I clear off little things here and there but mostly I’m proud that it looks “decorated”.

Here's what's on there, from left to right:

- Teal wooden boxes on either side. I made these at the makerspace with the laser cutter, the designs inspired by talavera mexican tiles in our kitchen. We use them to collect cables, DVDs, pens and pencils... little stuff. Junk. The tall one has a "bottom" about 6" below the top rim, so it's not very deep. Just tall.

- Candlesticks I bought for my first apartment in 2002, from pottery barn. They are big and heavy and were a silver color. I jokingly used to say I bought them to beat down intruders, but I had a paranoia phase in that apartment so it might have been true. I loved brushed silver then, but it's not as stylish now, so the candlesticks drifted around different rooms of our house and almost got donated until I took on this fireplace project and spray painted them all with a metallic paint advertised to make everything look like oil rubbed bronze. They turned out great! In another 20 years when silver is back in style, I'll just paint them again!

- The family rock collection. I bought that huge glass globe off facebook marketplace for $10, and filled it with rocks the girls couldn't let go of, that they'd found and loved or mined from those "pretend you're a gold prospector" kinds of activities at theme parks. I had a few favorite rocks myself. Now whenever I travel, I pick up a rock and bring it back.

- Framed artwork in the background is from Josie's art class.

- Ornamental whale I bought a ton of years ago on a total whim, probably from Michael's, so I could go home and say MARC I GOT US THIS WHALE and he'd laugh. He still laughs.

- Plant I bought this year in an effort to have more houseplants in our lives. I don't know what it is. The tag said "tropical". My friend has a similar one that she waters once a week, so I'm going to do that.

- Felt flowers that I made as garland. I drilled those hooks in for Christmas stockings, and have decided to use them all year but change what we hang there as the seasons turn. Pride rainbows in June, patriotic bunting in July, flowers in August, bats for halloween. I'm not there yet but the concept is brewing and it'll be fun. To tell the truth, I made the flowers this year because I had to stop destroying my house while I was out of work. I needed a quiet activity I could do in my room with my scissors and material I had around the house, and that garland was it. I'm happy with it.

how to decide how many kids to have

birthday question from kyliejeanne: "How did you decide how many children you wanted to have?"

The google suggestions for this one were funny. Apparently a lot more people want help figuring out which size ipad to buy than how many kids to have. I guess it's not something we google. On this topic, everybody just gut feels it, and doesn't want to look at the advantage/disadvantage balance sheets.

I love my sister. I think siblings are very healthy. So if I was going to have any kids, I was going to have more than one.

I know other people in life who either had no siblings and loved it, or had siblings and hated them, so those people had one kid.

Deciding to have the first kid was definitely a bigger decision than deciding to have the second. Luckily I've been on livejournal for 100 years so I could just go back to the entries I made in 2009 to ask myself what I was thinking, like this one. I really wasn't sure if having a baby was a great idea. I think I really might have just listened to that one livejournal commenter who said it's like jumping off a cliff. you just go for it. I had a feeling marc and I would make an awesome baby. I guess that's what did it. I wanted to meet our kid.

Having a baby was actually a lot like getting hit by a truck, so three years later, I really had to take a deep breath before having another one, but I knew I wanted it. I told marc let's just get this little kid baby craziness over with, and he was excited. Maybe we'd talked about it before we got married? That's what they say to do. But it must have been such a non-issue I don't even remember it.

I briefly considered having a third. Even though the newborn forest was dark, I found pregnancy, childbirth, and nursing to be a fun adventure and I was sad I only got to do it twice. I thought our girls would love a third sibling in the mix. We'd have a tribe, a band of five. But Marc was not as interested. He said he already had three kids... counting his first daughter, who was always kept very far away from us. Even now that she's spent a few summers in Wichita, she is distant. She's 12 years older than Josie so they're never going to be as close as sisters who grow up together. She's a wonderful young woman who I love and am proud to know, but I haven't influenced anything about her.

As the guy home with the babies, Marc was REALLY ready to have the little kid time over it. I sighed and knew it was stressful. I also knew it didn't make much economic sense. A third kid means you've outnumbered yourself. Bad for the earth, right? A third kid means you need a bigger car, table of five at a restaurant, another airplane ticket for trips. I think one night I was genuinely sad about it.

Around that time though, just when we were talking about the third kid, my sister had her first baby and I became an aunt. Something about holding my dear little niece really closed a door for me. Other people will have babies, I realized. Even in my own family! I didn't have to have another baby, my sister had one. I LOVED the idea of being a cool aunt, almost more than I loved the idea of being a mom. Driving home from my sister's house after spending a few days with them in newborn isolation, marc and I just looked at each other and thanked our stars we were over all of that, and leaving! We took our girls out to a dinner someplace and ordered wine and were glad to be part of the world. Newborn families don't do that. They don't do anything.

Every year, my kids get cooler. I love their independence and the women they're becoming. Every year, I joke with marc that if we truly wanted another kid, I'd just adopt a __ year old, with __ being whatever age josie is.

what did I learn from my first leadership position?

Last week I had the pleasure of sitting on a (virtual) panel and representing my organization. The audience was our summer interns, and they could ask us questions. One engineer asked how we got into leadership, and I took that question, talked about networking and stopping points and approaching a former boss to let him know I'd be interested, and I became a group lead.

Then he asked, "What did you learn from that first role?"

What an interesting question. I was kind of stumped. It was eight years ago or something. To be honest, I gave some non-answer about the importance of thinking on my feet or being confident or developing people, I don't know.

Then five hours later the answer hit me. So I'm blogging about it to collect my thoughts. I'll probably never get this question again, but maybe I can tie it into something related. LJ is very helpful for that.

Before I had employees working for me I was an "individual contributor" for many years, and good at it. I was a self-motivated young engineer, I'd get crazy ideas and my bosses would just shrug and let me try anything. I remember one boss let me work with a whole other organization to complete this application idea I had. Later on when it was working great, he told me "You know, I thought they'd tell you no, I didn't think this would happen. But I also thought you're so new and naive you didn't KNOW they'd tell you no, so I should just let you go ahead and learn for yourself. And they said yes? Go figure, guess I was wrong!"

When I was promoted, I still came up with crazy ideas... but the vibe was different. Suddenly I didn't know if my team was using my tools and processes because they were good, or because I was the boss. They were less likely to collaborate on them, so the end products weren't as interesting. I didn't feel the buy-in. With this new found power that came with my position, I'd lost the ability to just throw out spaghetti to see what would stick. The stakes were higher. I found myself working to get other people to "own" projects, that I would support from behind the scenes. Anything I came up with was now a directive, not a fun grassroots idea. I'd given that up.

There is notoriety from coming from the grassroots. There is brilliance in the honesty that you get as a non-leader. It makes you powerful. And that's really what I learned. I learned it at work, and I learned at volunteer gigs. There were non-profits where I transitioned from being a member to being the president. Suddenly I wasn't someone impartial and exciting, I was The President, saddled with all the baggage and criticism and pressure to be everything to everybody.

I never knew how much power I had as an individual contributor.

I didn't learn about that until I was a leader.

Watson the weasel

This look says “See, I’m stopping. Innocently. Not destroying anything. Not stealing stuff around your house to hide under the dressers. You can trust me.”

But I never trust a ferret.

He did not respond to questioning so I let him go.


Ms. Monopoly

Back in March my ten year old daughter and I had a lot of fun playing a Monopoly game we'd borrowed from friends in a quarantine game swap, so I figured we might buy our own. I immediately noticed that there is now a MS MONOPOLY... a monopoly game celebrating women's achievements!

I also noticed that the reviews were absolutely terrible, and it was clearanced out everywhere. Hey that's good news for me, I can get monopoly for $10!

Unfortunately it really is terrible. That's coming from a hardcore feminist who loves women's achievements. I went searching for any information about the development of the game but couldn't find it. Who'd they run this past? Why didn't they throw the concept out to anybody, and let real life feminists talk about how they'd redesign the game?

Game changes for Ms. Monopoly:

- Properties are named after products invented by women. This was the idea I thought had the most potential, but there's no incentive to read the back of the cards to learn the backstory, so it misses the boat a little bit.

Metaphor alert: Since you need to see the rent costs on the front of the cards, the inspiring names and stories on the other side spend the whole game face down.

They are all European or American. The card for the Q Flex, presented on Shark Tank by a 13 year old girl in 2014, doesn't quite hold up to Maria Telkes' solar heating invention, but I get that they're trying to seem modern. maybe? "Modern Shapewear" is a card, with the back telling the story of Sara Blakely the founder of Spanx. With a heavy sigh, I had to explain to my ten year old what shapewear is. "Talk about a confidence boost!" adds the game.

- Female players get more money just for being female. They start the game with an extra $400 and earn $240 every time they pass go instead of just $200 if you're a male. That's the prime source of the bad reviews - instant and offensive inequality. After decades of feminists explaining that we are not asking for handouts but equal opportunities for girls and transparency for wage earners, it's pretty sad that somebody thinks feminism is still about women getting free stuff. That's usually a red flag that someone listened to what anti-feminists had to say about the movement, then blocked out everything else.

- There are game pieces like a white top hat because ladies have our own style, and a wristwatch "because it's time for a change!", and a barbell because we love hitting the gym to relax.

- There are no houses/hotels, instead just "headquarters" and you can only buy one per property. So it's dumbed down a little but this might be typical of other kid-targeted monopoly games.

- Community chest and chance cards are, um, girlier? But not educational. Things like "find yourself on an awkward date! advanced to FIRE ESCAPE" and "You see a new superhero movie with a female lead, collect $50!"

Darn. Monopoly is a fun game for us and a good lesson in how rich get richer, it's a shame they couldn't tie into more interesting ideas for kids.

Here's what I WOULD have done:

I would have made the community chest/chance cards feature women because those are moments in the game you actually spend reading.

Instead of inventors (which I think is always a loose word) I would have added women scientists, leaders, entrepreneurs like Madame CJ Walker.

I would have tied in history... when were women legally allowed to vote, earn property, run businesses? Bad luck cards shouldn't just be a money charge, but a "set back" like we've actually had. Lose a turn, or can't buy property until you pass go again.

the friday five: deadlines

from thefridayfive...

1. What's the difference between patience and procrastination?
The reason for the delay. Do you understand the consequences and risks of delaying your action, do the most affected people agree that those risks and consequences are acceptable? Do you have genuinely more important things to do? Then let's be patient.

Are you just delaying something because you don't want to do it, bigger picture be damned? That's procrastination.

2. Have you ever forgotten an important date or event?
Marc and I like to forget our wedding anniversary on a regular basis.

3. Do you become impatient when you have to wait in a long line?
Yes. Thank God for Pokemon Go. I'm 7305 9560 6931 btw.

4. Do you want to accomplish many things in your life or do you want to take it easy?
Accomplish many things.

5. Do you know someone who is always busy?
Me. That's why today's friday five questions are delayed :) but they're happening, because they make me happy, and I'll be glad they did them.

Everybody says they're busy. It doesn't matter. People do what they feel like doing. Most of the time if you ask someone for help and they say "sorry, I've just been so busy" it's an excuse. Really they just don't want to do it. But that's okay too. We all have priorities. I do, you do. What am I NOT doing for someone now, because I'm updating lj instead? Probably something. But this is mentally healthy for me, and that's important.