Friday, October 31, 2008


I didn't get photos of the boys, they were out of costume by the time they got here for a Halloween sleepover. But here are four of the seven deadly sins (Annie: Wrath? SO perfect.) Also some of the 'kins.

Yes, that pumpkin is barfing.

Yes, that gun does say, "This is FAKE!" My children have weird and wonderful senses of humor.

The guys will be playing Rock Band 'til all hours, but everyone is home, safe and sound and happy, so it's a good year.

Ready, Set...

My wonderful children (they were off from school today) did the following without my bidding:

  • walked the dog
  • helped me rake the leaves and trim back the hedges for the trick or treaters
  • decorated the front yard
  • baked cookies
  • prepped for carving pumpkins as soon as Rob walks in the door (any second now)

Yes, they really are fabulous people.

The tall one is a new addition 'round here. We're not really allowed to talk about it. But you can see by the smile on his face why he hangs around.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Robo Momming

Look up "Robo Surgery" and you'll see a perfectly sensible idea that has some people worried. The thinking (it's been brought up in several lectures at school) is that if the surgeon isn't actually doing the cutting (he's using a joystick and watching a video monitor), why does he even need to be in the same room? Couldn't he be in India while the patient is in Belgium? And is that a problem?

This week I have been Robo Momming. Most of my work as a parent has been done over the phone or via email. I've dealt with an incredibly rude admissions office employee at a private New York school that shall remain nameless, some school-related problems, a significant orthodontic crisis, planning a fund-raising event. A lot of it I handled by asking Rob to drive/show up/pick up, so I'd make five phone calls and send six emails, call him at work, ask him to drop everything and pick someone or something up, and then we'd do it again the next day.

So why, I asked myself about 8:00pm on Wednesday night, on the BART train, coming home from an 11 hour day at campus, am I doing this work and degree thing again?

After a while, I remembered. I have a child on the cusp of adulthood, someone who has the drive and smarts and stamina and discipline to do something amazing with her life, and I know that watching me fight my small battles will make it easier for her to believe she can fight her battles, big and small. I have another child who no longer takes it for granted that I will be at every game, every recital, every performance, every social function. Instead he really appreciates it when I am there, and even thanks me. Both have learned over the past year and a half to solve most of their own problems, and come to me (and Rob) for help with the heavy lifting.

[I'm leaving out the part about my just wanting to do it, because, frankly, that doesn't hold water in this time and place. Once you have a child you're not supposed to want anything but what they want.]

I've been on both sides of the stay at home/work outside the home parenting fence, and what it's taught me is that it isn't really a fence. It's a continuum (measured, I'm compelled to say, by a continuous variable, not a dichotomous one!), and most of us find ourselves along various parts of it during our parenting lives. If we're sensible, we get to the "I'll always be available if you need me, otherwise let's have lunch" end of the continuum by the time they hit adulthood, and if our life circumstances allow it, we get to spend some serious time on the "there every minute" end while our children are younger.

The stuff in between is messy, and I don't know anyone who feels like they get it done perfectly every day. Helicopter parent or negligent mom? Lack of boundaries or lack of clues? It depends on who sees you doing what, I suppose. I recently got a ration from someone at work about how over-involved I must have been with my children to homeschool them - from a parent who controls her children's every move whether they're with her or not in a way I never could have imagined doing.

In the end, as in the beginning, we just have to keep looking at the kids themselves to tell us if we're getting it right. And it's looking pretty good, here.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Me, Revisited

For some reason, maybe the crummy mindset having to do with the stomach bug, I was agonizing about career choices this week. The consulting company I am not excited about has asked me in for an in-person interview (actually, a lunch). This is very nice, as I just sort of punted on the phone interview last week...maybe polite indifference is the way to go in job hunting as in dating? But then I started stressing about what I really wanted to do.

I think what I really want to do is be queen of a small, well-run democratic monarchy. Everything else looks too complicated or doesn't pay well enough.

I also needed to make choices about what classes I'll be taking next semester (I register Tuesday), which was hard. This semester we were just told what to take. For next semester we have almost no guidance, which means we ought to have a clue about what it is we're trying to get out of the program, which means we ought to know what it is we're going to do when it's over, yes? Erm.

So I'm taking mostly techie classes, on the theory that the more skills I have, the more options I have, especially in what looks like it will be a tough market. Next semester is categorical stats, SAS (the statistical software most big companies use), geographical information systems (another software package that looks at data in relation to its's extremely cool, and I'm so glad it fits into my schedule) and then either a disaster epidemiology course or case studies in epi - both look interesting and fun (yeah, I *do* think disaster epi is fun...). It's either 14 or 15 units, which may be too much, we'll see.

Updates: The bug is gone, I ran (raced, even) today. I threw myself into cleaning both the stove hood and the bathroom cupboard in the kids' bathroom yesterday, which tells you I'm feeling better and avoiding studying. I start a new 18 week round of training tomorrow. The kids were both cast in A Christmas Carol (Annie is Scrooge's fiancee, Belle, and Joe is the rag seller and Peter Cratchit, and both are in the ensemble scenes), which will complicate our lives enormously through December 19, but which is huge fun for our Dickens-adoring family. The Dickens Faire will be extra fun this year, but everyone will be getting gift cards instead of homemade goodies in their stocking on Christmas morning.

Life, in short, is good.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Various T'ings

When my children were little, we were sick a lot, all of us. And it didn't matter how sick I was, for a good long while I had to be Mom even if I couldn't be Mom.

But now the kids are big and functional on their own, and we don't get sick near as much, and I find that I am an intolerable sick person. I believe with all my heart that the way I feel in the sick moment is the way I will feel forever more, and I become depressed and cranky and hopeless. I don't bathe, either. It's not a pretty picture. Fortunately, I'm left alone for the most part.

I took today off to hunker down and let the fever and gastro distress move on, and I seriously was considering dropping out of school and staying in bed forever by about 2:00pm. But a shower at 6:30pm and some lovingly provided chicken soup, and I'm starting to feel like it might be worth giving life a go again. I'm even half-contemplating a short run in the morning, something that was crazy talk 12 hours ago.

So does anyone else feel like we're in a weird holding pattern in the US? Like the markets can't really crash or recover, we can't make any policies or move forward or make plans until the election? I remember feeling that way in 2000, while we waited for Florida count. People keep saying, about almost everything, "maybe this'll get fixed soon..." or "we'll just have to root for our guy in November!"

I'm not as optimistic as many that we will become a magical fairy kingdom by late January, 2009, even if Mr. O does win. But perhaps he can balance the Supreme Court and do something about health insurance. I'd be pleased as punch with just that.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

On Cleaning Up

I honestly believed that once all of us were gone from the house all day 5 days a week, things would be different. My life on the home front would be a breeze. With no one home to make a mess, there would be no mess!

And, in a few small ways, that's true. There are no more homeschooling messes, projects that were started and abandoned but not quite. Papers and books and projects are pretty routinely collected and turned in and stored in binders or displayed at school, now. And we don't have toys, really, because the kiddies are bigger.

We also, I will say, have a lower heating bill, which is very nice. We keep the house at 55 during the week days, and that cuts a few hundred a year off the bill.

But everything else is at least as bad, or worse. The morning bathroom chaos has led to two disgusting bathrooms to be cleaned every Saturday, and the amount of laundry: O. M. G.

The worst, though, and most inexplicable, is the kitchen floor. Now, I'll admit here that I used to go more than a week between moppings. A few spots would show, sure, but nobody was coming over.

Now? It looks like a cadre of sugar spitting llamas hung out in the kitchen all day. It looks that way by Tuesday, even though I spent a half hour on the floor on Saturday. We recently had to throw out the relatively new kitchen rug because it was just too disgusting, despite weekly washing.

The only thing I can think is that now my children tend to get their own snacks (organic microwave popcorn - organic? really? - and Vitamin water), instead of me carefully buttering homemade wheat toast or slicing up organic soy cheese like I did when I was a good mom. Are they flinging popsicle drippings at each other in my absence? Sneezing on the floor? Drinking orange juice out of the carton by pouring it over their heads?

I'm stumped.

Friday, October 17, 2008

All Alone Again

It doesn't happen much, but I'm home alone for an hour or two this evening. So what am I doing with this "me" time? Er, reading all the Runner's Lounge Take it and Run Thursday posts. Postponing taking a shower after my after-work run. Postponing getting started on homework for the weekend.

In short, dillying, dallying and screwing around.

Hey, it was a good week on the long-term job front. I mentioned a few weeks back that I went to a recruiting fair for masters and PhD students. Kaiser was ready to hire me on the spot, which was a nice ego boost, except that I sorta want to get the degree first. I dropped my resume off at two small consulting firms, despite Laura's warnings. Both do very focused work and aren't known for the "consulting lifestyle". Both said they would consider me for a summer internship (we have to do a 12 week internship as part of the masters program, and about half of those internships turn into career positions for the interns, so we're all looking extremely carefully).

And both called this week! And I had to turn down interview times with both because of stuff at work, but they were fine rescheduling me. So I did my careful research on them, and found that one has taken on cases that would disturb me to have to work on, has been accused of faking results, and the CEO was a Bush appointee to a federal committee. Each one of those bits could be argued about as a deterrent to working there, but all together? Not a nice batch of stuff to read, and thank goodness for the internets. I will still interview just for the experience, but won't be working there.

The other company, though, I'm very excited about. They have done some really amazing projects, are expanding their epidemiology and clinical research work, appear to do a good deal of "good guy" work, hire very few business grads and almost exclusively science people, and make a big deal about not burning out their people (who are called "scientists" rather than "analysts" - subtle, but impressive). The bios on the people there average 7 to 9 years on staff, which is great. Plus, their offices are in Oakland at BART, which is incredibly wonderful, and they have offices in all my favorite US cities. Can't beat that. I'm very much hoping something will work out with them.

Both kids tried out for a local all-kids production of A Christmas Carol yesterday, and predictions are that Joe, at least, will get a part. Annie said he gave a phenomenal audition, which is amazing given that he had to be talked into trying out, and felt he needed advice on how to read a script, even. It's hard for me to imagine that she won't land a part, too, given her lovely stage presence. So I suspect that's how we'll be spending OUR late fall.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


This morning was a little magical at school. I had a very scary midterm in Biostatistics (the only closed book midterm or final I have this semester, and an unpredictable teacher without a clear focus in the class). It began at 8:00, which is a weird time for Berkeley. Classes start at 10 after the hour, and nothing happens anywhere before 8:10.

So I and my 199 Biostats classmates had the place to ourselves as we walked up the hill. Honestly, there was not a soul on the whole campus but us'n for the 10 minutes it took our cohort to get to class early. And on top of the eeriness on campus, the campanile was in full swing with something like a cross between Medieval fairy wind chimes and Disney Main Street music.

It was pretty cool.

Later in the day I realized that I no longer had to struggle to figure anything out daily. I know where every building that matters is, I know that I need to register for Spring next week and how, I know where the cheap salads are and where wifi works and where it doesn't. I know how to tell when the shuttle bus isn't coming, and where the ATMs are. I have the degree in getting a degree at Cal. Plus, I have friends, people whom I can ask for advice about spring schedule and people whom I can run into on campus and people who knew that the correct answer was "binomial" and not "discrete uniform".

And again, that's awfully nice.

[The midterm was fine, I got an A. It was nice to get the first midterm in 25 years out of the way.]

Friday, October 10, 2008

Is It Just Me?

Or is anybody else crossing the "panic" threshold?

Annie has two market college funds, one from my grandmother and one from my dad and stepmom. I called yesterday to cash out the one from my grandmomther to pay for Annie's SAT course and our college-hunting trip. It was worth $3,000 in early September. Yesterday morning it was worth $2,300. They said they would write the check at close of market price that day. The check was for just under $2,100. Ouch.

But I'm more worried about the bigger picture than about the markets, honestly. California is threatening to not pay its employees (Rob is one) on November 1. Our city just announced it is approximately 20% of its annual budget in the red for this year, and the state of California is already 1 billion in the hole since it passed its budget just a couple of weeks ago. Car dealerships are closing like crazy (cutting more revenue from our city and others around us), commercial construction sites are going dark. It's like a sci fi movie where you just watch everything freeze up.

Crazy times.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

And Then Suddenly...

For those who haven't known me through the whole thing, this was not an easy child. From her time in utero through about her thirteenth year, I pretty much had to give myself a good hard look in the mirror every morning, gird my loins, take a deep breath, and prepare for the coming day of mothering.

She's a spirited lass.

The last few years have been delightful, though, with just some few-month long difficult spots. But mostly watching her put the finishing touches on herself, rein in her anxieties, focus on her strengths and build up the weak spots.

And tonight I realized the wonderful and awful truth: stick a fork in her, she's done.

Tonight she stood up in front of crowds of parents of sixth graders, who only a few weeks before had been very nervous about sending their tiny tots on a teen-led three day camping trip. She got 40 wild children instantly quiet. With grace, humor and, yes, aplomb, she thanked all those parents, thanked the counselors she and her partner, Zane, had recruited, thanked the teachers who chaperoned, and then led the skits and songs.

She was a class act.

I once told her that once she could make popcorn and take a bus, she could go out and function in the real world. She can do those things. And with these new skills, she can conquer the real world.

The "awful" part of that truth, I realized as I watched tonight, is that soon, too soon, I'll lose not only her daily presence, but the regular presence of the many lovely children she has brought home through the years. And although, of course, I wouldn't have it any other way, I will miss them all terribly. That picture above of Simon (with the guitar) singing to teacher Carlton about his assigning too much homework? Yeah, I was crying.

It's going to be a long couple of years.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Old, Internet-less, and Outraged

I am feeling really old this week. I got my hair cut tonight, and somehow I was expecting to look 35 when it was done. I do not. I look like a 47 year old woman with shorter hair.

What's UP with that?

We've been without internet for three days, since some wind knocked it out, while our local cable company runs around in circles pointing fingers. I'm very cranky about this, and beginning to cop quite an attitude on the phone, which I know is not helpful. And yet...c'mon. FIX IT.

In the meantime, I'm stealing internet, with a booster. Yes, breaking some kind of law.

OK, I'm working myself into a fever here.

Today at work I read a memo from the NIH (that's your National Institutes of Health, formerly the most respected health research organization in the whole wide world) that so infuriated me, so represented our current administration, that like several other recipients I felt physically ill. I cannot go into it, it's not appropriate nor constructive, but we currently have an administration that is STILL denying death benefits to 9/11 firefighters who happened to be off-duty when they died saving lives. So you think they care about the health of people with sickle cell disease? Yeah, not so much. You think they would waste millions and millions of dollars of your money by pulling the plug on a huge, highly lauded by THEIR OWN EVALUATORS study when it's half way done? And do it for purely political reasons? Purely because they wanted to send money to some states and not others? Even though people with sickle live in the states they pulled the funding from?


Yes. Yes, they would. They would do that.

I am rooting very hard for Mr. Obama, but I honestly can't think that Mr. McCain could be as bad as the current fellow if he tried. This has been the most depressing eight years of my life, and I suspect most Americans'.

Yeah, I need a run. 5.5 miles tomorrow, and perhaps a better frame of mind.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Of Clean Bathrooms and Silly Teenage Boys

I love teenage boys.

OK, OK, that's enough, now. I have a *totally innocent place* in my heart for them, in the same way I have a place in my heart for puppies. In fact, teenage boys remind me a lot of puppies. They way they suddenly leap into full-on rough house play with each other, than drop just as suddenly into full-on naps (or, with the boys, TV viewing with snacks). The way their feet are always too big for their skinny legs.

This afternoon, three 6' tall puppies are tearing back and forth through my house playing hide and seek armed with Nerf guns. Annie is making cookies for them. It's like they all took a class in how to be stereotypes. Although I'm pretty sure something will get broken soon, it still makes me very, very happy.

Also, they say the people with the cleanest bathrooms are those who are on deadline. My bathrooms are spotless (although Rob did that), and I finally took the plunge and set up a separate running blog on Wordpress ('cause it really does look cooler there) so as to stop boring my non-running friends and family to tears. It gave me a break from the huge amount of reading and writing I was assigned this weekend.

I won't have a lot to SAY here to my non-running friends and family because I've become pretty one-dimensional, but still. I'll try. I'm seriously considering embroidering some tea towels as soon as midterms are over and maybe even picking up knitting needles in late December, and promise to try really hard to write more about my kids. Or, somebody's kids, at least.

Gazing Into My Crystal Ball...

...I see a nap in my future.

Today was my first ever 8 mile run, following on a 5 mile tempo in howling winds (well, strong breezes, anyway) yesterday. I picked a loop course today, cleverly assuring that when I hit the wall at 5 miles, I'd have to keep going. And keep going I did, although my pace was 11:30 by the last mile and I felt like I'd been hit by a train rather than running into a mere wall. Three waffles and a long lavender bath later, I'm at least upright and speaking in sentences.

Yesterday I was thinking to myself, "How hard, really, could a marathon BE? You just keep running." OK, Running Gods, I get it now.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Dog Tummies and Training

Cal is sick, and this took us all by surprise. Cal has never been sick, and we'd all come to take his doggie health for granted. When he suddenly became violently ill and ruined two carpets yesterday, I found myself in tears on the way to the vet for an emergency visit (and not just for the carpets). He's a great dog, and I knew that, I just never realized how much I liked having him around until I was faced with the thought that he might not come home from the vet's.

But he rallied, and they can't find anything wrong with him (although are treating him for bacterial gut infections), so he's home and sleeping lots and eating rice and broth. (Chicken soup for dogs!) Rob is taking some time off to stay home with him...which will be odd. Do you prop the dog up in Mom and Dad's bed and turn on Animal Planet for him?

Training for a 10K is harder than training for a 5K. Not sure why this would be a surprise, but my level of tiredness has been increasing at a steady pace for the past few weeks, and this morning I couldn't even fathom a tempo run at 5:00am. It was as if you'd asked me to fly to the moon. I started to feel badly about that, and then I remembered something: I'm doing this for *fun*. The very worst thing that'll happen if I slack is that I will run a 57:00 10K instead of a 55:00 10K. And life will go on.

So I snuggled up with the shivering dog and went back to sleep.