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annual reviews

There's all this news lately about big companies ditching their annual review systems because employees don't like being scored, it's demeaning.

We have an annual review system. We score people. Nobody likes it.

But I'm not sure how else to do it. Once a year, I am told what my raise budget is, I sit down and figure how how much everybody gets as a raise. I bet if I asked my employees, "Should you all just get the same percentage?" they would say no. Every year I have some people who really work their butts off, a crisis comes down to them and we depend on them and they save us. I want to give them a smidge more. Or maybe we get somebody transferring in from another department and I think that person doesn't make enough, so I want him to get more. Or maybe there's a new guy and he's awesome and I know we've been losing newer guys to other companies a lot lately (happens everywhere - it's easier for them to move) so I want to give him a little more so he knows he is valued, and a little more makes a big difference to him since he's new and not earning a ton.

Since I'm on a budget that means another guy has to get a little below average. The difference isn't even crazy, it's just not as much as somebody else. So what do I tell him? Here's your secret raise, we don't have annual reviews so I'm not going to tell you what you COULD do better to get more money next year, you're not allowed to talk salaries with your coworkers so you don't know it's low, we'll just let you coast until the economy turns down then we'll lay you off, isn't that nice of us?

Yes it's competitive. The world is competitive. We compete to have better products than anybody else - the fastest, safest, most reliable, better better better than the other guy. So for my employee to say "don't compare me to anyone, that's not nice!" well hell, sorry man. I can't help it.

Also, as an engineer I have worked for plenty of bosses who couldn't be bothered to help me improve. That annual review forced their hand. We had to talk about it, I had to ask questions. It was a drumbeat. Yeah maybe HR forced us into it, but I was happy.

So that's my debate. Whenever a raise happens, people want to know the thinking behind it. That happens once a year.

So I guess the next question is could I give out raises randomly thoughout the year whenever I thought of it? I still feel like I'd get to the end of the year, see what's left of my budget, see who didn't get as much, and do a "look at the whole year" thing. Sounds a lot like an annual review... except an annual review that I do in my own head without telling anybody about it. UGH.

What would be the perfect system? Really?

the newest

Dear world: If you have folders where you're storing files, either electronically or in real life, and sometimes there are new versions of those files, make an "archive" folder to keep the old files around.

Do NOT make a "new stuff" folder, or name a file "NEWEST".

It won't be the newest forever. It might not be the newest now! You never really know what's the newest.

You do know what the older or out of date items are. Once something is old, you know it's old, forever. Things that are old don't become new. You can safely label them old and not worry about your old label being out of date.

So label what's old because it's easy to label, then you'll be safe to assume that the items that are not old are new.

Labels that say "new" are not trustworthy. Don't use them.

experts

There's a deep and conflicting divide at my company on the topic of "versatility vs. expertise" that I am right in the middle of. Which side should we err towards? How do we strike balance? How do we respect each other?

I'm going to go ahead and say that in my career I've been a mover, but I frequently wish I was an expert. Here are the sides as I see them:

The experts:
- I've been doing this same job for 20 years
- I have memorized our product and every part number on it
- Your training manuals are already out of date, the only way to learn is through gradual experience
- I can give you answers really fast
- Hey new kid. Here's a manual to read, call me in six months and maybe you can start watching without getting in my way
- There's a new product? Have the guy who designed it answer the questions, not me

The movers:
- I've done a different job every six months
- Hey new kid, here's a crazy new thing we need designed, it's all yours sink or swim
- Can we write something down or develop a system so we don't have to memorize numbers?
- I need to ask for help all the freaking time
- I can get you an answer eventually using my network and resources
- Did we have this problem 15 years ago? Who knows, let's re-do the research and re-invent the wheel

True story: I joined a group with lots of experts once a few years ago. They'd hired an intern to draw things up in a new system. The intern knew the software, but the experienced people knew the products, so they'd print out the drawing, mark up what needed changed with red pen, and hand it to the intern. One day I got a call from the factory about an issue. I was new to the team, so I grabbed the intern to come with me to the floor. He'd been there for 18 months and said "This is cool, I've never gotten to visit the technicians!"

I was SHOCKED because I was raised differently. First, nobody ever marked up a drawing for me to correct. They'd keep it vague... "this terrain system needs two GPS sources" and let me figure out the details.

Second, I was told to practically live in the factory because that's where you learn. Never pass up an excuse to visit the floor. Any hint that a tech wants to talk with you, go, because they teach you things.

Third, I was upset that these experts didn't want to learn the new drawing system. My intern had to basically be their secretary, so he didn't have time to grow and learn and become a real engineer.

On the other hand I'm now in a different roll that's very customer facing and I'm getting asked questions about things I did not design and am trying to learn as fast as I can, and there are so many times I'm stumped. I am depending on my team members who've been in the same place for 20 years. Whenever a big crazy million dollar question or issue comes up, THEY'RE the ones who save our asses. And I worry that we can't grow our experts if all we have are movers.

We need versatility... somebody in the company has to have jumped around and worked on lots and lots of products, have lots of connections, and a toolbox that is wide instead of deep. But when crunch time comes up we need to trust the people who've focused and remember the evolution of specific products. We need to respect them. We also need to convince them to write something down every once in a while. We need to know when to urge them to learn a different thing or use their expertise on a new program, but also know when their old group needs them to stay because there's too many new guys in there making mistakes with no expert around to guide them.

There has to be a balance.

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Ah, the WBC. I've seen them in protests plenty of times when I was a gay rights activist and they had me just totally confused, then I started just shaking my head and adding them to the tally of statewide embarrassments that us Kansans wish would go away. A lot of us think they're a money-making scheme. They're lawyers, if you punch them they sue you, step 3 profit. And you really want to punch them.

There are plenty of former WBC members who've left the church, at least four of Fred Phelps' 13 children have left; Nathan Phelps is a well-known gay rights activist. Lauren Drain's book "Banished" was recommended to me and I was curious just HOW you get out of a nutball cult. Once I got into it I could not put it down. It's part material that you could do a comedy routine with because the church is so random in the things it hates... like Sweden, and haircuts, and every other church ever. They even started fights with other anti-gay churches. Religiously speaking they're calvinists, who believe God has chosen a few (very few) people who might get into heaven if they repent and spread his word, and his word is that he hates everyone else and they're going to hell. The purpose of the picketing isn't even to save people... they really just want everyone in America to know that God hates us and we're all going to hell. Just passing the information along, have a nice day.

Poor Lauren Drain was 14 years old when her father, who'd always been a bit confusing, controlling, over-confident and kind of weird, met the church doing documentary work and for some reason liked their ideas. I think he was attracted to the idea that they had all the answers. ALL OF THEM. Nobody questioned anything once Fred Phelps declared it. Lauren's father caught her talking to boys online and maybe having a boyfriend and was sure she was heading for a life of sin and hell, so after a trial period of strict rules and homeschool isolation, he moved the whole family to Topeka to join the Westboro Baptists.

Lauren wanted to fit in and get back in the good graces of her family so she studied the scriptures and joined the protests. She didn't want to go to hell. But no matter what she did it was never good enough, the church never really trusted her. She was the same age as some of the phelps grandkids, Megan Phelps' generation, but she had to dress a lot more modestly than them and ask fewer questions. Everything they did was loaded in hypocrisy and inconsistencies and it bugged Lauren. They were certain they knew exactly how and when the world would end, she'd find something in the bible contradictory, they'd say it was her lustful rebellious soul showing through again.

The reason the phelps grandkids existed was because the phelps children were allowed to marry outsiders who promised to join the church, but this was deemed unacceptable for the grandchildren's generation, they were told that marriage was unnecessary because the end of the world was just around the corner, and nobody outside was good enough for them. Lauren was well into her 20s, working as a nurse and corresponding with people who sent the church questions like she was supposed to do, and they decided she'd sent too many emails to a guy her age when they'd made it very clear she cannot ever get married or talk to boys, so they voted her out. She was extremely upset, begging to come back, had panic attacks thinking God was trying to kill her and send her to hell because the hottest part was for former church members. Other church members of the phelps family had kids out of wedlock, Lauren hadn't done anything but they were so suspicious and hateful that she had to go. Her family disowned her, took down all the photos and refused to speak to her, left her at a Topeka motel and said she'd made her choice. This was her father, mother, younger sister by a few years, and baby sister and brother who she'd helped raise.

That's when the story gets away from being a comedy and you realize it's just so sad. She had her teenage years stolen from her, and then her family. Then she lived for years thinking she was an awful whore (they called her that a lot) who was going to hell. Then she slowly, very slowly, started to realize they were very wrong about their biblical interpretations and she was going to be okay. She moved far away and survived. She apologized to the people she'd hurt by picketing, joined the NOH8 campaign, and wrote this book.

It reminds me a lot of what the no longer quivering blog calls spiritual abuse. Subjecting people to horrible situations and reminding them that God wants this so it can't be questioned. Women especially are told they don't deserve power in these fundamentalist churches, that they tempt men, that they must be silent, and after years of brainwashing they're so certain that leaving means eternal damnation that they can't leave. Some of them do leave and their stories come out, but we haven't figured out how to get the rest out, and whatever years and relationships are stolen from them can't ever be replaced.

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Many years ago I was certain that I was an introvert. I didn't have many friends, wasn't much into getting out and socializing, liked spending time alone. Being around my husband solidified the idea... Marc is definitely an extrovert. I've known him for almost 15 years now and he's never once said he needed "time to himself". if I take the kids to the park and he has the house to himself, he doesn't see that as any kind of treat.

But I work with engineers, and the bar is at a different place there. Compared to other engineers I am the butterfly cheerleader, running around talking to people all day, doing presentations, training, mentoring, and choosing a desk out in the open to work at because my manager-rank office is boring and makes me feel isolated. Teamwork gets us to the finish line, above all things, I'm always saying. I don't care if you can design the greatest airplane in your head, if you can't convince the FAA it's safe we'll never build it. So get yourself some people skills, collaborate and bring everyone along with you, always!

I read this book "Quiet" and it was an amazing look at the world and our personality types. The spectrum between introversion and extroversion has all kinds of people along it. The trait has a lot to do with how much stimulation a person needs. Every human on the planet is looking for a sweet spot where they're not bored, but not overwhelmed. The balance falls at different places for all of us. They've even tested babies, at four months the babies with strong negative reactions to stimulation grew into kids and adults who needed time away from the hectic social world to recharge.

It's only someone related to shyness, a fear-based trait. Barely related to our ability to switch "modes" based on what other people want... there are introverts who can put on a show, be amazing presenters, work a room, but you'll find them hiding in the bathroom exhausted when it's all said and done. I think I am like that. I change my communication a lot based on who I'm talking to. You talk fast, I talk fast. You're from the south, I can throw in a "y'all".

The differences are great but in recent years western culture has been under-appreciating the talents of introverts. Being an introvert, being comfortable working by yourself, is great if you want to be an expert on some topic. Musicians who practice alone can go right to the part they're personally struggling with to work on it, then re-join their symphony with their part down pat. But in our team-oriented, take-a-stance, speak up culture we miss that. If you took your kid to a busy summer bbq and she hid in a corner chair reading a book, you'd have people ask what's wrong with your kid, shouldn't she be running and yelling? In eastern cultures everybody would tell you she's the best kid ever, smart and hardworking. There are even parents in the US who seek to treat kids who are quiet and enjoy building models in their bedrooms for hours... but they're not broken. They're just introverts.

Our business schools tell us that great leaders take a stand, command the room, and speak up. Learning confidence is more important than learning to ask the right questions or take the time you need to make the right decision. We're told that negotiating is all about forcefully convincing someone you're right... even though in practice, silence and listening can go a very long way.

I've SAID to employees that there's no point in doing a critical analysis if you can't present to upper management on it. I've judged people who eat lunch alone. This book made me realize though that if I like giving presentations, I can do the report out on their analysis. Isn't that a better way to advocate for teamwork? And I need to treasure the introvert side of myself, still. When I was a kid I'd tunnel into my room for hours to work on my little projects, I still enjoy quiet hobbies and crafts, and this book reminded me how healthy those hours are.

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playgrounds

Josie is eight and now says she's bored by playgrounds. EIGHT, you guys! I know everybody told us when we had a baby that you blink and they're in college, but omg. I took the kids to a big new one they built about 15 minutes away, little Olive age 5 had a blast. Josie brought a book.

Part of it might be school, because she gets to play on the school playground every single day so it's less fun to wake up on a saturday morning and say "let's go to a playground!"

but for years, it was such a treat, it just makes me nostalgic.

I have two girls. Josie was a climber, before she could walk she was on everything. we got her a little play kitchen, found her perched on top of it that afternoon.

We took her to her first playground as an infant I'm sure, because we were bored. I see them now - parents with one baby on a playground, trying to hold them on a slide and get some reaction. I feel for them. You have a baby and they're so cute and you love them, but you secretly can't wait until they can do something. anything. new babies are nice, but not very fun.

After she could walk we learned how playgrounds "work" a little bit. low safe little kid slides usually have easy stairs with rails up to them. big steep scary slides are on top of cargo net kinds of climbing things that a little kid can't do. So I was like oh, got it... if my kid can get up to the slide, I can let her get down it! This is brilliant. I just let her do her thing.

It also lead to some over-adventuring from my little climber that scared other parents. I'd sit there and read a book, and hear someone yell "WHO'S BABY IS THIS?" and of course, it was my baby. I'd go over and "spot" to make the other parent relax but I also knew if my two year old fell off this ladder she'd be falling into sand, and she'd already fallen off worse at my house.

Olive would have none of it. She didn't even walk until she was past 14 months old or so (Josie was 10 months and change). We had to show her how to climb ladders on playgrounds! That was SO WEIRD. Now that she's five she's the perfect age for them and has a blast. Apparently this won't last long, I've just learned.

There are still fun things for Josie: trampoline parks, water slides, gymnastics class. She's not old YET.

life advice: pick a versatile degree?

When I was in high school my dad loved taking me to visit colleges. My parents were both first generation college students and wanted college to be a default choice for me rather than a major leap for them, they didn't want me to deal with the struggles along the way that they did. It was extremely helpful, to say the least. I saw myself going to college.

At each college we visited we'd get the shiny brochures, look over the list of majors and programs and see which ones might be a possibility for me. One university had an environmental sciences program. I liked the environment, taking care of the earth, making the world a better place, so we met with a professor during our visit.

I don't remember how all these visits went but on that one I remember Dad asking a lot of questions about where their graduates go... some continue on for post-graduate studies, a lot tried to work for national parks. On the way home he said "It sounds interesting but it sounds like they turn out a lot of park rangers, do you want to do that?" no, not really. If I did, it might make more sense to just get a general biology degree. I didn't really like biology, it was one of my least favorite sciences. So I guess that was that. I had talked myself out of environmental science.

I think back on this because we get these really strange posts sometimes in our engineering communities like "I'm graduating in May with my BS in acoustical sports engineering," (or some other things I have NEVER heard of) "what companies should I be applying to?"

I want to be supportive, but I'm also thinking uh... it is MARCH! Not only have you been working on this degree for three years, but even in your senior year you're just now thinking about this? The fall career fairs are over, the spring career fairs are targeting next year's graduates, you're just now asking random internet groups where you might find a job? Your campus career services hasn't worked much with industry on this weird new niche degree that your college offered up? You didn't ask, going into the program, what becomes of people who get your major?

Yes it's true that there are new and fascinating careers that spring up all the time that didn't exist ten years ago, but you know who gets those jobs? Not brand new college graduates! They're born from existing industries, all of them. It's a pretty well known fact (I think) that college teaches you great things about how to learn and run studies and read papers, but in whatever job you have you will have to learn a lot more weird specific things. So why spend time learning the weird specifics in school, especially so much time that they end up in the title of your major? You're limited.

If you're not sure of your path, keep your options open. Go big, go general! Pick the degree with the biggest spread of where people can go. I was stunned in college to go visit companies and learn about people's bizarre career paths... like the chemistry major who now designed NASA spacesuits. Get a degree that can get you into industry, then narrow in.

Anyway this is just one woman's advice here, maybe someone reading this majored in something really new/interesting/specific and it worked out great for you, but I think everyone else should plan for some flexibility.

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nagging people

I've spent a lot of my career in "support" roles - it was production support, now it's customer support, and the thing that sets us apart is that our bosses don't assign us work. the world does. our bosses don't make the schedule demands or tasks lists, the world does. my boss only gets a call if I let something fall off the map - so that's the art form. Don't let anything fall off the radar.

When I need something from anyone else I become the hockey goalie, sending this part out for a teardown analysis, this question out for another group to answer, this will be in the next maintenance manual revision which is coming out... when again? Get a status. Bug people. Make sure it doesn't fall off the map. Send reminders.

Yes, a script could do some of this work, but until then the world really depends on organized people not forgetting stuff and reminding others that a project needs moved along. We bug people, ask for commitment dates and predictions, bug them again when the date gets closer.

I am now very grateful whenever someone reminds me of something. There's this connotation that it's annoying, nobody likes to be "nagged". But if your shit's together, getting nagged is no big deal. "Why isn't that report released yet?" Because I'm only halfway done with it, but at the rate I'm going I can have it into review Friday, it will take a few days to get reviewed by the three people who have to sign it but they know it's coming and have already answered some questions I sent them about what they'd like to see. Thank you for reminding me that it's important though, I will tell those three people that you're really needing the report too, it might help with priority.

And really, I'm grateful that those people reminding me are taking on some of the mental load of remembering a thing. That's no small task.

I am still perfecting the art of remembering everything, keeping notes, going above a post-it note system. I will take all the help I can get.

frankie

we got a ferret. his name is frankie. He is very good at curling up and sleeping:



Josie got to be OBSESSED with ferrets last year... maybe more than last year? I can't remember. She'd draw ferrets, watch videos about them, check out books about them from the library.

All I knew was that they smelled funny and were kind of shaped like socks. I resisted this ferret idea for quite a while. but she kept at it, and I think marc was secretly into it too. he helped her make one of her ferret ideas into a screenprint to make t-shirts for a fundraiser. oh yes they did. she raised $60, which is what we'd told her an adoption fee runs for a ferret at the humane society. well once there was a community of people behind the idea it got harder to say no.

so I helped, I found a big cage on craigslist, found another family trying to rehome a ferret, and there you go, now we are a ferret family.

frankie has two modes... super bouncy, and sleeping. when he's running around being bouncy he looks like the back half and front half of his body don't really coordinate much. we block in the living room and just let him run, or josie carries him around the house. he's much easier to carry than a guinea pig. guinea pigs constantly want to jump to their death when you carry him. he is happier being carried, less interested in jumping off you, and significantly more likely to survive the fall unscathed if he does.

he spends the other times in his cage, folded in half sleeping. there's a litter box in there and he's pretty good about using it, and josie is pretty good about cleaning it.

I have lost track of whether our house smells like ferret. it probably does.

so our current pets: two molly fish both named juju, a pleco fish named mr. french fries, judy the dog, and frankie the ferret.

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astrophysics on audio

I switched away from podcasts on my commute to work and now listen to audiobooks on CD. I get them from the library. I drive a 2014 ford and the bluetooth sync doesn't work very well, I have to go through a series of buttons EVERY TIME I get in my car. I'm pretty bitter about it, because when I travel I get rental cars, sync up once and then for the rest of my trip every time I get in the car my phone syncs and my podcasts start where they left off. so obviously I know how to sync a phone to a car system. my car just sucks at it.

I've gotten pretty fast at the menu navigation to sync every time, but it's still a Thing To Do every time I get in the car and if I'm not driving very far it's barely worth it.

CDs may be 1990s technology but they remember their place and start right up when I start my car.

They're also a good way for me to read through science books that I had trouble focusing on in book form.

I've now listened to...

The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli
Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

The Glass Universe was tedious, I hate to say it, made me glad I did not become an astronomer. It's about women in the late 1800s/early 1900s employed by the Harvard Observatory to take photos of stars and evaluate their spectral properties. Really interesting stories and discoveries, but you get a sense that they were all like "Well there's a billion stars in the universe. Let's check them out. 1. 2. 3. [flash forward 12 years] 5,678. 5,679. 5,680."

The last chapter of the book finally ADMITTED IT, it's not that these women were being given repetitive grunt work. Astronomy was, and in many cases still is, repetitive grunt work. It is not terribly exciting. The sky is big. The work is long.

So on to modern science... Carlo Rovelli, Neil deGrasse Tyson... the sky is big. The explanations are shorter! We now know that the spiral shapes are galaxies - something that was quite a debate at the turn of the century. We've learned a lot. But the sky is still big, and there's a feeling that we're slogging through it.

Both of their books can't help but throw you into the excessive size of the universe, and that's where I have to find a new topic, because it's just depressing. The milky way is barely a blip in the universe. earth isn't even a blip in the milky way. We humans aren't even a blip on the earth! We've been around maybe 200,000 years, the earth is 4.5 billion years old... that is 0.004%. And we are not exactly lining ourselves up to make it a ton more years like the alligators, we're trying very hard to blow ourselves up rather than leave behind anything lasting or discoverable.

NDT says they size of the universe makes him feel just great. it's a comfort, he explains, kind of like when your toddler breaks a toy and you're there with your adult knowledge to say "kid, there are lots more toys, in the long run your problem really does not matter at all, once you see the grand scheme of things." we are all toddlers, and knowing about the universe is the best way to make the little earthly drama we have go away.

I'm not quite with him yet. I get to work after this reminder that nothing matters, and try to help people and think small in my very practical world. I'm glad I didn't pick a career where I'd have to reconcile with the whole of the universe every day. I need to move on to the next section at my library.

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kids at the SWE conference

I was kinda slacking on the blog this year but I was a speaker at this year's society of women engineers national conference, I haven't been and it's freaking HUGE now. It has changed a ton! Attendance is over 10,000 now, society membership has gone up like crazy, SWE is doing great.

The other thing that's changed is the babies. SWE offers childcare now... a little room, nothing huge and not great for bigger kids but if you have a little one, they're right at the conference center with you all day. If it's time to nurse or you've got a gathering where they wouldn't mind babies, you just go get yours. There were babies at keynote dinners, just being passed around, babies in the halls, babies at lunch.

When I first got pregnant I was nervous about telling my new boss, so I asked my SWE section for tips and all the older women had TOO MANY suggestions for ways to hide a pregnancy. It was like the switched into a new mode. Their generation bonded together in ways that mine was left out of, I felt it. After I had my baby I went into a hole, no activities, no overtime, I definitely wouldn't have gone to a SWE conference. It's not that I was sitting out wishing the conference would change. I just wrote off everything in my mind. I expected nothing.

Now it's only been a few years but I'm seeing a shift and the way the world could be different. It could be casual and accepting and easy, with lots of input from moms about how we could be included. We all get to hold more babies, new moms don't have to feel isolated. we'd have examples all around us of how to make it work. more cooperation and more finding easy ways to just deal with life.

it felt great.
You all know how my livejournal is a lot of judgmental ranting about stuff I hate, right? And who cares, because it's my lj, and sometimes some of my friends hate the same things and sometimes a random commenter comes around and calls me out and I still don't care.

I can't find where I blogged about it, but I realized something I hated at work... getting an email chain that's 500 emails long, discussion thread going back three years or something, and someone forwards it to me with the line, "Spacefem, what are your thoughts?" I guess they think I feel like reading the war & peace of email chains. I do not.

Well rather than fuming about it I've just started to reply back with a quick, "It looks like there's a lot to this discussion, can you summarize what you're needing from me or meet up to talk through where we're at today?"

Done!

The world needs people who are good at summaries, anyway. Especially in technical fields, the sciences... our history is one of years and years of tedious projects and research. The magic happens when someone takes the time to sum it all up for distribution. Then you can get more people involved.

Anyway this is all to say that sometimes negative ranting can lead to positive productivity, don't give up on it.

podcasts to sleep to

I've always liked to listen to something while drifting off to sleep. years ago it was loveline on the radio, I'd let dr. drew hear out troubled callers through the static describe their mostly minor first world problems in life, set the sleep timer for 50 minutes, and relax. it helps turn my mind off. these days it's podcasts on my phone.

I used to depend on the NPR podcasts for being the best, they were interesting enough to attract my attention and slow enough to coax it down. this american life, or fresh air. but these past two years the world's problems have gotten bigger and more concerning so when they're talking about politics or russia taking us over or whatever, I'm just not interested. I go look through fresh air's recent episodes and in a given week they'll usually have some actor or a non-fiction author that I want to hear for a bit, but not always, and most episodes are about news.

I tried the sleep with me podcast. that one is the hardcore option, it is made to put you to sleep, this very calm man talks slowly about nothing interesting at all. but it's so uninteresting that it doesn't always suit me either. I'd like to learn *something*, sometimes. he gets into a wikipedia article every so often, those are good.

It struck me that what I really wanted was for someone to read me educational or scientific stories, so then I found one called Read2Me Daily - it's the weirdest. They take Medium posts or new york time articles and a robot reads them to you. the robot is pretty good, but obviously a machine. you never hear a real human talk.

it suits its purpose for me, but also makes me concerned about all the things we're leaving up to robots these days. I think about the future of companionship and human interaction. could the robot write the articles too, I wonder, hearing it badly interpret a blogger's rant against autonomous cars without taking it the least bit personally or seeing any irony in the day's selection.

I'm always worried about how much website bandwidth I'm paying for that goes to robots, crawlers, indexers, spambots, and just automated processes. then here's this podcast where someone programmed a robot to read our stories, there aren't many reviews so who's even listening? the robot doesn't care, it will just keep going every day. I've made programs like that. everything auto-billed to my credit cards every month is also like that. A package of dog food shows up on our porch every 10 weeks like magic, we turn around and use it so we can have a real dog who actually loves us. I have real kids, they made real amazon wishlists this year for christmas, we transfer funds to their school lunch balances that alert us when they're low. everything in its place. I might not be real, I think for a second. I plan to write a livejournal entry on it, but I already wrote one today so obviously I'll write it then schedule it to post so it's spaced out a bit. let the robot post it, of course.

then I fall asleep.

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marie kondo's netflix show

A few years ago I read Marie Kondo's Tidying Up Book and really liked it so I was excited for her to come out with a show.

At first I thought it was a little boring. You don't get a lot of her philosophy, she's talking to people through a translator so she just doesn't say much. Translators are rough. You know what I think would be better... just keep her in Japan with her babies and Japanese people and subtitle it! I'd watch that, you'd get these huge conversations... and I work with people all over the world, every day, with accents and emails translated, but it's so hard. I love having bilingual people on my team at work, especially chatty bilingual people.

Or another good show concept would to have some american trainees live with her in japan for a while, become a bunch of tiny marie kondos, then she could come over here and grade them when they go to help real families or something. I though the Japanese loved game shows? She doesn't strike me as very competitive, that's the only thing.

So okay, I'm an elitist and going to do that thing and tell you to read the book.

It IS really good to see her help families, because in the book she's kind of like eh, clean your own stuff and your family will see your example and want to follow and maybe put their own crap away. Way easier said than done. These people obviously needed to go through their junk together, and they did. Parents and kids together.

My favorite episode was the one with the sweet husband from Guatemala who just had SO MUCH appreciation and gratitude for all the things in his life, but it was spilling over because he appreciated everything that entered the house. that one had some good moments, like when he wanted to keep the mailbox that originally came with their house even though they had a new one now, and Marie asked him which one was really important... you saw some ideas click with him. He started to realize that he really loved his future.

I try to be very good at getting rid of things. I've been working through my craft stuff since Josie moved into her own room this year and I don't have a craft room, I no longer have sewing set up to go all the time, I've slimmed down the fabric stash, a little. It's hard, but having scrap fabric and half-done projects was stressful too.

I've also developed a mental rule that if we order something online and it comes in a big box, I try to fill that box up with stuff to remove from our house. Before Christmas we got rid of a lot of toys. With fewer toys I found that my kids were MUCH more likely to tackle cleaning their rooms or the basement playroom.

My work wardrobe fits in my 3ft old house closet. In the winter I wear the same clothes, with an added layer underneath. It's very easy to get dressed every day because I only have about ten outfits to choose from. I no longer have an extensive collection of martini glasses. I only keep the books that I want to read over again or refer back to. It takes a lot to be a kept thing around my house. There's a lot of good reasons to declutter.

we're never going to disney world

About two years ago my parents brought up an idea of us all going to disney world.

In 2018 we did some test trips to see how little olive, age 5, did at all-day tourism experiences. We went to the science museum at Oklahoma City, it was incredible. We went to great wolf lodge in Kansas City. We extended an annual canoe trip we do in Missouri to spend two days in St. Louis going to City Museum and their science center.

All these trips were a blast! Hell, Marc and I get tired before our kids do... we spent a solid hour sitting on our butts chatting at City Museum while our kids ran around to God-Knows-Where through tunnels we couldn't even fit in. (They came out eventually!)

My parents started backing out of the idea of going with us to disney world. They are not adventurous. But they said you should still totally take the girls, remember when we took you when you were 12, it's the best place on earth, make sure you're saving money.

I have emergency savings in CDs, that's what I was going to cash out for this trip, I heard I'd need $5-$10,000 to do this right.

Theeeeeen I started thinking.

First, we have some credit card debt that I wrote about in another entry. It's payoff-able, but I'm not proud, I wrote about it elsewhere. We have not been able to save up much more these past few years.

Second, I loved our midwest adventures so much, but I knew if we did a disney trip this year we'd need to not do any more weekend trips. A year of no adventures, until the fall when we pull out of school and go to disney world so the lines aren't as awful, I've heard.

Olive asked when we'd go to great wolf lodge again. I told her it was expensive.

Josie asked when we were going to disney world. I told her we hoped for this year but we'd need to save a lot of money, because it was expensive.

She thought for a minute and said, "If we don't go to disney world, can we go to great wolf lodge?"

OMG YES.

Egads kid, for the price of disney world we could spend a WEEK at great wolf lodge. You could be sick of great wolf lodge!

Then I REALLY started thinking!

What's at disney world? My experience as a 12 year old wasn't life changing. I asked people what they liked about it. Great rides! Well my kids haven't even been to worlds of fun in Kansas City yet, it has great rides. You get to meet your favorite characters? My kids are shy, and afraid of people dressed up like characters!

One night I told Josie we had to have a talk.

I'd already told her about our financial situation, we've been talking about that a lot. I know it's a lot to put on an eight year old so I felt a little guilty about this. But should I? Or should more parents talk to their kids about how money works?

I told her I'd been reading up on disney world and was rethinking it. I talked about what we'd be sacrificing to get to disney world, vs. what she'd be getting out of it. Wait in lines. Eat overpriced food. Meet characters. Go on rides.

I told my husband that my coworkers described it as "designed to turn you upside down and shake every penny out of you".

Finally, I asked Josie if she'd rather meet disney characters, or have a vacation at a beach. Her eyes lit up. she didn't even have to think for a second about it.

I feel slightly bad about my engineer cheapness kicking in, but really? not THAT bad! the disney corporation will not miss my savings account.

We have shifted goals! I do want a vacation this year, but now our goal is to have the kids see the ocean. I have some ideas, would like to do more research and talk to friends, but I think we can have a blast. I feel less materialistic, less corporate.

There is a challenge here in that I'm a midwesterner and I've only been to the ocean 2-3 times myself. Houston would be a short flight, is that a good place? I don't know. But when I told people we might go to disney world I was offered everyone's "disney spreadsheet" and 1x1 guidance sessions and favorite strategy blogs, so it's obviously not that simple either!

I'll figure it out.

Right now I'm just really happy that I talked my family out of disney world, hopefully forever. I will stop thinking of it as some must-do life experience. There are better things to see.

Blue Valley Northwest Dance Team

Stomach-churning national news from my hometown has brought up... a lot. A lot, friends. I'm so furious.

Choreographed Racism: Did a high school dance coach, choreographer, educators and eventually other parents knowingly discriminate against a member of the Blue Valley Northwest dance team?

Kudos to the 435 magazine for launching up an investigative journalism, holy shit. I thought their biggest story was some plaza restaurant running out of cabernet, but they really broke this one, as well they should, this is messed up!

Camille Sturdivant was the one black girl on the dance team at a school that's got to be 99% white. The dance team coach kept her out of competitions, said her skin color clashed with the costumes, made her audition and re-audition, left her out of team dinners... finally she got a screenshot of the coach's phone, a text conversation complaining Camille made a competitive collegiate team and saying she only made it because she was black.

I graduated from Blue Valley High School in Overland Park Kansas in 1998 - same school district, just down the street from Northwest. There were 250 kids in my graduating class, I pulled out our yearbook again today, there were two black kids. I learned that other schools joked about us, when our school band would go visit other schools they had a game called "count the black kid" where they'd try to find ANY minority wearing one of the clean new band uniforms.

I thought about Ray from my junior english class. she left our school because she was sick of being the only black kid. I didn't get it, I kept asking her all these questions when she said she was leaving. She said something about her hair, we ran track together so I knew she got kicked out of a race because an official didn't like her hairstyle but that was just one time and she was furious but our coach calmed the situation and did she get to run after all? I can't remember. She was like it's not just that, it's shit every day. you can't understand. I was like sure I can! what are the other problems, I don't get it, be specific, you're running away! You're giving up! I remember talking at her, but not listening, then she was gone.

Fuck, now in my corporate world and diversity talking points, when you're struggling with diversity and one of your minority members leaves you circle up and have a HUGE discussion about what we could be doing differently, but we never talked about race at my high school. We read history books in english lit class sure but we never talked about what was happening in 1998. Nikki Giovanni came to talk to our school. I got to go to a special closed small group with her because of the poetry and creative writing clubs I was in. She was SO upset about Tupac Shakur, we'd barely heard of him. We were so isolated. And when I graduated I thought I knew all the answers, until I got out of Johnson County. Then I realized I had shit to unlearn. I learned about things you can't control, about people stuck in poverty, about cycles of abuse and no-win situations and how you have to LISTEN TO PEOPLE DIFFERENT FROM YOU if you ever want a halfway decent chance at being a good person. Am I a good person now?

Back to 2018, back to Blue Valley Northwest... after this piece of crap coach got fired for blatant racism, the dance team moms made ribbons with the coaches initials for the girls to wear in their group photos, at least every white girl.

Would I have been one of those white girls who wore the ribbon for the coach, taking the wrong side of history, accusing the black girl of being "dramatic"? Please say no, I'm telling myself?

I called my sister. Thank god for her, she said look... it was fucked up. You probably wouldn't have been that racist. But you know what? You sure as fuck aren't one of those dance moms who MADE THE RIBBON because you are not that parent! And you know that now!

If you think your dance team looks out of balance with one black girl looking different, take it as a sign you need more black girls. Recruit a little. Call it affirmative action, call it whatever you want, but give those girls a chance. Do everything you can to make sure they know they are part of the family, and not isolated and set up for failure, because they didn't choose the color of their skin and they're just like us and I thought we learned this in preschool, is it so hard?

I can't believe this is breaking on the long weekend for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I had flashbacks to 20 years ago, because nothing has changed.

I hope Camille all the success in the world and I hope she goes on to tell her story to everyone, and I hope everyone listens.

closed captioning

Well this hit a little close to home... Why Gen Z Loves Closed Captioning: Old technology finds a surprising new application

summary: Originally designed for the hearing impaired, closed captions are extremely popular among young people with focus problems who'd rather multitask than pay attention and listen to words people are saying.

As an 80s baby I don't know what gen Z is or whatever terms the kids these days are using, but I love closed captioning. I don't like the TV to be turned up very loud, it stresses me, so I kind of like it hard to hear. Then there's family/kids/dog/street noise that makes me miss things. With closed captioning I just don't have to worry about it.

I have to work very hard to listen to people. My mind wanders off. At work it's a challenge. So now I wonder if closed captioning is just one more thing training me to not listen?

I took a mindfulness course about a year ago, I don't remember. We practiced bringing our whole focus to one simple thing in the room. It helped, my mind felt very clear, but dang it the world has so many things to think about.

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weekends

I really soak in the weekends with the kids this year.

There was 2016 and 2017, when I was sucked into work projects that required my getting out of bed every day and driving away for something like nine months in a row, just no letting up. I liked my job, sometimes I'd have a Sunday off to snuggle with a kid on the couch while I had my coffee, then I'd jump up and try to organize the disaster of a house that I'd let go all week when I came home late and tired. Then there was 2018 when I moved jobs and suddenly got most weekends off but I was playing catch up everywhere.

Now suddenly I feel like I'm in a good place. Lots of time over the holiday to organize toys and gather up stuff we didn't need. We're trying to save money so we don't go anywhere. I dropped my Sunday night toastmasters club. I just hang out at home.

Marc was out of town last weekend. Saturday we woke up and did nothing until noon when we went to a birthday party at a bowling alley, then came home. Olive found her playdough toys and wanted playdough, I made her some because we have too much flour. 1 part salt in 2 parts boiling water, add some food coloring, a little vegetable oil, add 2 parts flour, mix it up. that occupied them for the afternoon. Josie had a friend sleep over. The girls baked a cake from scratch. I barely helped.

In the morning Josie made pancakes, her friend got picked up, I took the girls to the library. Then we went to the pool at the YMCA and swam for an hour. When we got home Marc was home from his trip. We had leftovers for dinner, read our books and that was it. I went to work Monday refreshed and looking forward to it.

How privileged is it to get two days off in a row, every week, I keep thinking. I was always feeling bad for yearning for it when I was working more, and it was pure accident that I escaped from it and got back into having weekends. Now should I feel bad for getting them? I was always thinking about soldiers overseas never seeing their families at all, and feeling bad that I wanted MORE time with them, when I already had several evenings a week. Or I'd think about people who worked two or three jobs, waking up early for incredibly long commutes and leaving their kids to fend for themselves. I appreciate my time a lot more than I ever did in years when it was routine to get both Saturday and Sunday off work.

voluntourism

Marc and I used to joke that the worst church service to ever accidentally attend was NOT the "we're asking you for money" or "we're talking about hell" like you'd think... it was the service where the high school youth group just got back from their summer mission trip and are passing the mic around up front to share their experiences with the congregation. exhausting, trite, repetitive, and full of cliches about how they went to give back to the world but "those people really gave back to ME!" because it was so eye opening and educational.

as more and more people are recognizing it, there's a great new word for meaningless travel: voluntourism. it's what happens when an affluent person with no special skills or experience goes on a trip and combines tourism with pre-packaged volunteer hours spent doing something that involves no thinking or organization on their part... painting a building, cleaning toys at a daycare, digging a trench. but they learn so much!

I can't throw too many rocks. I went on a high school mission trip. I was more concerned with what guy I'd get to sit next to on the van ride up than the long-term affects of what we'd accomplish that week. I did remember looking across Chicago and realizing we hadn't made any kind of dent in the problems facing the population. What drove so many people to the projects? Why didn't they finish their lunches at the soup kitchen? Why was one guy in our group bullied so harshly by the others, when we were on a mission trip trying to tell other people to step up and achieve great things? Lots of questions. But our week was up, and we drove back home.

Now that I'm thinking back on that trip and how ineffective it was, I see "mission trip" mentality around me all the time, people don't even really have to go on trips. It happens in every non-profit... you get someone who joins the group, volunteers for a role, then suddenly steps back because it's not going perfectly with a long resignation email about how they TRIED to change us but can't so it's not worth filling out their term but "thank you all for this experience, I learned so much!"

or the newbie who comes to one meeting and spouts out a million ideas for other people to do, (they say "we", they mean "everyone but me") and they're not going to handle the hard work of thinking/organizing/bugging people but we should really pre-package all of this for them, it's so SIMPLE, don't you see. They fly in like birds, eat a few bread crumbs, fly off, and arrive home thinking they really helped out.

your first week on any job, you are learning. the people training you are doing so with the hope that you'll contribute in the long term, train the next person, take over some of the mental work and thinking that they're doing now. if you're a student, paying a teacher, that's one thing... but you'd never leave school after a day of hearing lectures telling everyone you feel really good about your contributions. we do no pretending there.

Maybe that's how every high school mission trip should REALLY end, with a deep dive into the underlying causes and a long discussion about what it takes to run an organization that truly makes a difference. administrative costs, grant writing, licensed social workers. or a dive into the issues, what drives the cycle of poverty. or hear about what the last mission group did, and evaluate the long-term implications. if you're here to learn, well let's really learn. call it a class.

the kids would leave understanding that it takes more than a week to be a part of something, and you can't just descend down into it, and real change requires listening and slowing down and above all else - perseverance. we don't try to teach them to be readers, or mathematicians, or athletes in a week. they are disciplines that cannot be mindless or simple. why do we tell kids that improving the world is any different?

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early reading

Olive is midway through kindergarten and has really taken into reading lately. It is the most wonderful adorable thing to see and just melts my heart! It kind of caught me off guard when she started sounding out words, she started the year knowing her ABCs and writing her name and some letter sounds. Then she had her sight words that she was very excited about, telling us all about THE and AND and LIKE. Then I saw her sounding out words to write them. She made her dad a note that said "YUR SO OSOM" and he framed it.

So I combed through the house to find Josie's old BOB books and Olive and I had a perfect evening plowing through the stack, she treated them like little puzzles and loved sounding out the words and was so proud of herself that she could read real books. Grandma's house had more bob books. Then we went to the library and found the learning to read section and she read all about "Big Dog and Little Dog", and "I Like Bugs". She'd sometimes struggle and get frustrated with new words, but then she'd get them and the next night we'd read the same books again and they were already familiar and she'd breeze through them. So what does that mean? Back to the library! Again and again, and she's sounding out "Acrobat" by herself in the back seat of the car with her new books.

Everything kids do is zero to 60, and you never know when, and you try to keep up. Both my babies learned to walk the same way. Josie was barely 10 months old, Olive was 14 months, but it didn't matter, they both took 2-3 steps in a row and we were so excited, then we counted five steps in a row, then nine, then we lost count, then laps around the house, all within like a two week period. Something clicks and they're off. Josie rode her bike the same way. Anything you try to count, you soon can't. You catch them, encourage them, celebrate the milestone, then it's over.

This month made me think a lot about kids and books and privilege. I've read to Olive since she was an infant. I dropped everything when she started sounding out words to find those bob books I knew we had. already had a library card because I'm a reader, so we could immediately get a stack of books at just the right level, challenging but not too challenging. It made me think of the story of few years back of the mailman in utah who asked for books for the 12 year old boy on his route. he saw the boy reading the junk mail thrown out by his apartment mailboxes, and he asked the postman if there was more because he liked to read, didn't have books so he was just picking up advertisements. It makes me think of little girls in countries where girls don't go to school, or generations where literacy rates were down under 50%. Olive loves to read so much, and it's such a foundation for everything else to learn about in life.

Also, I just finished Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. It was beautiful, slow and fast at the same time, and it was about people following the path set out for them. Even if it's not a fair path, even if they're curious about other options in life, you just don't break out for whatever reason, it's too hard when you were never given freedom from the start. It was a beautiful story. Maybe I will buy a copy, I'm sure someday Olive will read it.

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