Beginning to Look Like Christmas

Benji saying “cheese” in front of our Christmas-y fire place. I still get a kick out of having an actual mantle to hang stockings on — I never had a fire place or mantle before we built ours!
Christmas 2016

Christmas Light Portrait

This year is the first year Ian ambitiously set out to hang up Christmas lights outside. I’m proud of this first effort! Here Benji and Ian are huddling outside briefly before dashing back inside to get out of the cold. That long stick to the left is our tree, which is pretty much one straight tall twig.

It’s supposed to freeze overnight and turn all that rain/slush that fell today into… a giant skating rink! Hooray! Just in time for us to attempt to get to school! I’m guessing that biking is out of the question; black ice abounds around here, and definitely is not a cyclist’s best friend.

Not Christmas, But…

Also speaking of not my best friend, and related to WiFi, my trusty Moto X phone, purchased a mere 2 years ago, seems to rapidly be giving up the ghost. It no longer even pretends to connect to WiFi, and only intermittently engages in the novelty of connecting to the cell network. It drops calls like hot potatoes and loads pages with slothlike speed. If the sloth was dead. Otherwise it works fine! The problem is that a phone that I can’t use for communication, alas, leaves me wondering whether it’s really a phone at that point.

I don’t WANT a new phone! I like my less-than-5″ screen phone. It’s small and light and comfy to hold and use as an actual phone, and it fits into my under-saddle bike bag. It isn’t the latest amazing device, but I would happily keep using it for many more years. Now I have been looking at new phones, and they all have humongous screens. Who wants a phone that enormous? I don’t have any pockets big enough for that, let alone a place to carry it while biking. Plus, do people really shell out more than $500 for a device that’s almost sure to be replaced within 2 years? That doesn’t seem like much of a deal!

Anyway, first world problems.

In unrelated news, this XKCD is remarkably apt for my current employment situation:

Back to Normal

Monday I handed in my resignation letter to my job. After all the emotional upheaval of that, I basically collapsed into a pool of good for a while.

Thankfully, we had a normal week: Benji with grandparents on Monday, at school half-days Tuesday through Thursday, and speech therapy/play day on Friday, with me working during those times. We even managed to ride our bike to school every day this week, even though we fought blustery winds on Wednesday (and let me say, cargo bikes + wind = exciting biking) and we had to bundle up very warmly on Thursday. Ian found ice on the car windshield Thursday morning, but fortunately the ground remained just wet. And, despite skepticism from other preschool moms, I used the cargo bike to transport a good-sized paper bag home.

Can't take it on a bike

Mom and Dad arrived back from their two-week trip to Italy, and we fed them “butternut” squash soup. Yes, the scare quotes intentional, because I actually made Sunshine Kabocha squash soup, which is similar but if anything a good bit sweeter than butternut. We helped my parents stay awake for a few hours in the evening, and Benji was delighted to see them.

Yesterday, we unpacked our Christmas decorations, and Benji helped me put out our nativity set. He also has embraced our advent calendar with great enthusiasm, since it has a chocolate for each day. This morning, Benji got up and I said, “Did you sleep well?” He said: “Yum.” Me: “Yum?” Benji: “Yum! Yum! Yummy yum yum!” –and he ran right to our advent calendar. How had I forgotten that for advent we’re starting each day with chocolate??

Overall, after a very long, very emotionally exhausting Thanksgiving week, this week of normalcy has proven a blessing and a balm. Benji acts much more pleasant when he’s not around us 24/7, and Ian and I parent more patiently when we have breaks. Clearly we’re not cut out for homeschooling. I am just appreciating this time we have and not worrying about what’s coming next — which is, I imagine, the best way to live anyway.

Resigning From My Job

“What I’m trying to do here is get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find your everyday human concerns are met.
Matthew 6:33-34 (Message)

“Breaking up is hard to do,” or so I’ve heard. I haven’t talked much about my job on this blog, because things said on the internet stay on the internet forever. I don’t intend to change that policy now, so this won’t be a long ranting post about all the reasons I’m leaving (it may be long, but not a rant, anyway). Suffice it to say that I’ve spent some substantial time considering my career path and existing opportunities, and after four years with my current job, it’s time to move on.

As many of you know, I never intended to get into the finance industry. I got a BS in Technical Writing, and my first job was writing lab reports at a preclinical testing facility. Some people object to the animal testing aspect, but I found the job to be quite up my alley. I probably would have continued doing that job quite happily for many more years, but alas, the company got into financial difficulties and laid pretty much all the technical writing staff off as expendable (“we can have the scientists do it in all their free time!” Uh, sure). That worked out fine for me because we were ready to move back from Massachusetts anyway.

Funny… that was six years ago this month.

Finance was never my passion. I’d not planned on rejoining the workforce for many years, expecting to remain exclusively a stay-at-home mom (won’t get into what a misnomer that phrase is!). When my boss offered me a super-flexible 10-hour-a-week job shortly after Benji’s birth, I thought, “Why not give it a try?” I had spent many hours biking with my boss before she hired me, and we certainly think alike in many ways. She knew I was a complete finance neophyte, and she was willing to take me on with the expectation of training me on the job.

All things considered, it’s gone amazingly well for the last four years. At first I worked maybe 10 hours a week, sometimes less, learning the business and my firm’s processes. Over time I’ve slowly taken on additional responsibility, until now I work closer to 80 to 100 hours a month, having absorbed tasks from a coworker who retired as well as taking on more of my own duties. I think I’ve gotten decently good at my job duties.

However, as my level of responsibility has grown, it’s become increasingly clear that my boss needs someone 40 hours a week to provide the support she needs. We’ve had frequent conversations about my boss’s concerns, but despite implementing several procedural changes to address the issue, frustration has remained. I remain constrained by the fact that I serve as Mommy first and Client Service Administrator second, and when wearing my Mommy hat, I stringently avoid working unless it’s an emergency.

I remember a few years ago, Ian and I had our couch cushions replaced. The upholstery place took our entire couch away, leaving us with a blank space in our living room. Time passed. By “time,” I mean a month. Then two. We’ll just suffice it to say that months went by, and I kept calling and asking about our couch. Finally, when they delivered the completed couch, they said, “We’re sorry it took so long. We had some clients with upholstery emergencies.”

WHAT THE HECK is a upholstery emergency?

I mention this because I know that sometimes emergencies are in the eye of the beholder. In the long run, however, I’ve come to realize that despite four years and two licenses in the finance industry, my passion remains with technical writing. I actually liked my first job, and I enjoyed best aspects of my finance job where I got to create documents or write or edit copy. That’s probably a good indicator that I need to look in that direction again.

To that end, I’m also applying for a technical writing job at a company called Tamarac. They write financial software, and I’ve worked with a fair bit at my finance job. This is a full-time job in downtown Seattle, so it’s a huge leap of faith to even apply. Ian and I don’t know what we’d do with Benji if I started a full-time job with that long of a commute. But I’m feeling really strongly that I’m meant to pursue this opportunity — much more strongly than I’ve felt about employment in years. So we’re going to take the leap and trust that God will provide if it’s meant to happen.

Time to go out on a limb. If nothing else, life will look very different in six months. If I could climb Mt. Haleakala, I can do this.

Top of Mt Haleakala, Feb 2016

The Longest Weekend

I remember back when the phrase long weekend meant good things to me. It meant a couple days of sleeping in, maybe going for a bike ride if the weather was nice, going for walks with Ian, reading books. Thanksgiving weekend meant a nice long day cooking, eating, and playing Rummy Royal or Scrabble. Such a relaxing break from the usual grind!

Now, little strikes fear into my heart like the phrase long weekend. Some people wish for 25 hours in a day, right? Well, I’d be happy to loan them our darling beloved child, because I swear days actually are longer with him. Alas, that comes with the caveat that you’ll get a negative amount done, because not only will no productive work happen, you’ll actually end up with more to do cleaning up at the end than when you started.

The remainder of this is a parental whine, which makes me wonder if whining is contagious. If so, I’m sure to catch it, because I had some serious exposure this weekend.

Continue reading “The Longest Weekend”

Christmas Basket Outreach

I’m not going to talk a lot more about the political nightmare currently unfolding in New York, as the President-Elect selects appointees who go beyond “unqualified” into “unmitigated disaster” territory. As days go by and hate speech increases and we hear about white supremacy groups (I will call them what they are, not some soft-and-fuzzy euphemism like “alt-right”) celebrating Trump’s election, I have felt increasingly disheartened.

This is not how we should start our Christmas season. This is a season to come together to celebrate joy, peace, and love, to be generous and open-hearted. We in our family start thinking about our annual donations, and helping those more needy than ourselves. All of us want to draw near to family, friends, and neighbors in relationships of generosity and selflessness.

That’s pretty tough when everyone is bitterly divided and hurting.

Which is why it’s the perfect year for us to restart the Christmas Basket tradition.

This is an annual tradition my parents started in their neighborhood, and I did one year when we first moved in. Since then, I’ve slacked off. But, as I said, this is the perfect year to do things that show generosity and encourage building connections rather than walls.

What Is the Christmas Basket?

As the name implies, it is a basket that we fill with holiday-related items, things like candy canes, candles, chocolate, holiday-themed cookie cutters, napkins, ornaments, etc. I give the basket to our neighbors, who take out things they want and put in more things to share. Then they pass it along to their neighbors, who do the same thing. Eventually, the basket makes it all the way back to our house, having passed through all the homes in our neighborhood.

I do make sure to include a sheet of instructions, along with a neighborhood map indicating all the houses the basket should go along to next.

This year I’ve also added something new: A small notebook in which to write a holiday greeting or encouraging note for neighbors to read and share. Often the basket just appears on a doorstep, without any actual interpersonal interaction, so it seemed to me like the notebook idea would let people share more directly with one another.

Christmas Basket

The last time I did this, I kept it confined to the 10 houses in our cul-de-sac, and we did get the basket back in the end. This year, however, I’m boldly including a map for our entire neighborhood of over 80 homes. It’s a lot, way more than my parents have ever done, so I have no idea if it will succeed or not. If I start the basket tomorrow, on Black Friday, it would have to go through about two houses a day to make it by Christmas.

Not likely; but we’ll just see what happens. I figure, worst case I’m out about $100 of miscellaneous Christmas goods. Even if the basket doesn’t make it far and we never see it again, it will certainly reach some of our neighbors. That’s reason enough to try. There’s always next year, to see if it gets a little farther.

I encourage you to think about doing your own Christmas Basket, or some other similar community-building thing, with your neighbors as we start thinking about ways to heal and grow after this tumultuous and divisive year. Please also share your ideas for how to reach out in tangible ways to overcome divisions and encourage healing. I’d love to hear some other ideas.

Lemonade

I had a six-hour-long meeting at work and didn’t leave until 3:30 pm. I was (rightly) concerned that I’d get caught commuting home in the dark, having brought only a small blinking front and rear light since I expected to leave the office about 2:00 pm. On the bright side, I got to see first a very pretty rainbow, and barely got sprinkled on.

Commute Rainbow

A little bit later, riding along the Sammamish slough, I got a nice view of the sunset happening as I rode along. That’s one good thing about these early sunset nights — we actually are awake to see them (when the sun isn’t entirely obscured by clouds). In the summer, when the sun sets at 10:00 pm, sometimes I go to bed before the sun does.

Anyway, as I rode along admiring the sunset, I thought, “Why don’t I stop and take pictures? I never stop, but why am I in such a hurry? Two minutes won’t make any difference.” So I found a few good spots to snap a couple pictures. It’s not like my phone is an amazing camera, but it’s nice to have something along because I am a total sucker for sunsets.

Commute Sunset 1

Commute Sunset 4

Everything looked so beautiful over the course of my ride (at least until the sun set at 4:25; that’s likely the last time we’ll see the sun for the next week or so, according to our forecast), thanks to the gorgeous light… and to my favorite bike glasses lenses, which are — you probably guessed it — rose-colored. Really. I keep going on rides and saying, “Wow, that tree’s colors are spectacular!” or “Those clouds are fabulous!” and everyone else in the group says, “Huh?” and that’s when I remember that my lenses are pink.

And you know what? I like it. I don’t think there’s any harm in seeing the world tinted a little more beautiful sometimes. There’s plenty of ugliness and darkness, and I know it’s there. I’ll still look at things and know there’s beauty there, too. All you need is a change of perspective.