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End of 2009

Nearly seven months have passed since the last entry. Changes continue to occur at their lively pace, in work, with the spouse, and as the children grow. Yet, as I read over the previous entry, it seems that most of this change has been incremental.

At work, my performance brought in a stellar review and a raise. I have moved from managing small projects to managing small and medium size projects at many stages. The responsibilities have snowballed, and I am enjoying the differences. My job description at present would dwarf the one I wrote at three months. Project management for a municipality really resonates with me.

However, my future in another six months, at the end of my contract, is less certain. Reductions in the tax base from lower property values has influenced the budget; every department has been asked to reduce spending for the next year. I haven't seen the places where my department plans to cut. This can be either good or bad; contract positions usually are the first cut unless they are essential. I won't know whether the contract will be extended until May of 2010.

My spouse runs out of unemployment at the end of December, 2009. Unable to find a local manufacturing position, he has teamed with a former colleague and opened up his own business. The first potential client has asked for him to return in mid January. The scope of work for the potential job is unknown. Although we can live solely on my income, it will be tighter for us. We are going to be very good at budgeting by the end of next year. I'm behind my spouse for 2010, but concerned for our financial future.

My children continue to be bright spots in my life. At one month older than four, my son can print his own name. He's learning to write the letters of the alphabet, and is as interested in lowercase letters as uppercase. He is also beginning to appreciate that each letter has its own sound, the basis for reading. The most startling change has been watching him do basic addition and subtraction in his head. I'm about to teach him the symbols for addition, and see if he takes off on his own. Since his birthday will not permit him to enter kindergarten until he is nearly six, I am considering homeschool for the first few grades.

Amusingly, my son has developed an imaginary set of friends. Unlike what I have read, his friends are not people; they are a family of frogs. I like to play along with his imagination, since I never know exactly where it will lead. He continues to show strong interest in animals of all types, although robots now capture his interest as well.

My daughter is turning out to be bright also, although with a different emphasis. She speaks clearly, in several word sentences, and will carry on a conversation when she has my attention. Potty training has reached a plateau; she will tell us about half the time when she needs to go potty, and the other half of the time after the fact. She can count to fifteen, knows most of her colors and shapes, and has little interest in demonstrating her knowledge. Instead she prefers to care for her dolls and stuffed animals, imitate me cooking, and diligently explore anything new or unusual. All her teeth except the second year molars have arrived. At two and a quarter, she seems to be growing by leaps and bounds.

Unlike myself, she has decided that pink is her favorite color. She prefers to pick her own clothes for the day, and loves to dress up for church and special occasions. I've seen her pay particular attention to pink tulle, and have a feeling that ballet lessons may be in her future.

The future of my family remains uncertain, but I have confidence that we will continue to figure out what is best for us. We don't know what the next six months will bring, but we'll accept whatever comes our way.

Six Month Review

Six months brings a lot of changes. During that time, my son has mastered potty training, my daughter has begun potty training, and I have landed a job. My husband is still unemployed.

When I left off, we were beginning nearly two weeks of inclement weather with nearly record snowfall for this area. Day care was generally unavailable during that time. Christmas was going to be marginal, and I had started a series of promising interviews for a contract position. An earlier successful interview had not led to a position; the company opted instead to try to wait out the economic downturn.

Christmas turned out brighter than anticipated. Old friends had sent presents for the kids, along with substantial support from relatives. I set the kids to work making a paper Christmas tree with paper ornaments and chains taped to the wall. Because the kids had taken part in the effort, I think they appreciated Christmas more. I know we did, as it removed some of the stress from the traditional holiday shopping.

Another bright spot came when the daycare sent my son's pull ups home with the comment that he didn't need them anymore. Two days after his third birthday, something just clicked. All of a sudden, my son could go pee on command. He was very pleased this new ability, and happy to show off for visitors as well as family members. Bowel control required nearly another six months to accomplish; he has only just mastered it. Apparently this sequence of events is unusual, occurring only in about 20% of children. One child in diapers is much easier than two.

My daughter will not wear diapers as long as my son. After weaning her at 17 months, both she and I slept longer at night. Teething became a larger concern for the months of February and March, and I started introducing her to the potty to capitalize on her interest at 19 months. I also hoped to reduce the severity of recurring diaper rash. Within three days, she would sit down and pee, better than 90% of the time. Within two weeks, she had insisted on using a potty seat on the toilet. Her little potty became a step stool. After six weeks of training, I think she is ready for pull ups - but not underwear yet.

She also has developed all of the lovable habits of toddlers: temper tantrums, insatiable curiosity, minimal appetite and an enormous amount of energy. Interestingly enough, she has the same interest in animals as her brother, although her focus is on furry creatures, not sea life. She wants to go outside at every opportunity. The two of them thoroughly enjoy the zoo, the pet store, and pointing out all moving creatures on daily walks.

January also brought with it the start of a long term (18 month) contract position. I moved from being a technically oriented person to project management, a new skill for me. I found myself enjoying the new focus after the first three shakedown months. I still have much to learn, but have found that this position suits me well. It requires strong organizational skills, people skills (one of my weaker points), good writing skills (a strong point) and the ability to prioritize. The technical side is still present. I have done well enough that I'm hearing I may find my contract renewed or go permanent at the end of the contract period, still a year away.

My husband has had more difficulty finding a suitable position. His skills were tied to manufacturing, an industry which is suffering. He will need to switch to a different industry and we may need to move for him to find a suitable position. A challenging real estate market also acts as a constraint. We could lose money by moving. Since we can manage on one income and unemployment at this point, I have leaned towards waiting. We'll see what several more months will bring.

Ready for Change

The last two weeks have been marked by slow but significant change. We've become used to the job hunting process, to the point that it has become relatively easy to make at least our three required contacts per week. The initial shock has long since worn off, and we have adjusted to living on less surprisingly well.

I've made significant accomplishments. We now have wills and living wills set up, and will notarize them next week. My 401(k) will transfer over to my IRA next week also. I've learned to plan meals, which I never did before, and to make out a monthly budget - not an issue when both of us had good incomes. We have medical insurance (catastrophic only) set up and paid through December. My husband is cutting down his coffee shop habit, and we both spend more time with the kids. I've had to assemble a spreadsheet to track the jobs and results of applications sent out. I'm also becoming better about maintaining relationships with former coworkers through e-mail.

Unemployment has become a blessing in disguise. It's much easier to stay focused on what needs to be done when fewer distractions exist. I actually have mixed feelings about returning to work, although I don't think it will happen until after the new year. Working will bring more money, but less time - and I will miss my kids more. Hopefully we can make our money work for us better than last time. We have considerable deferred maintenance to address on our house.

I'll see how I feel in another two weeks, after we have actually started living on unemployment income.

Continued Adjustments to the Economy

Two weeks ago, my husband's employer decided to eliminate his position. I found it shocking to have both of us unemployed. Our severance pay was sufficient to see us through November, but we knew we would have to make further adjustments during December. After making out a budget, it became apparent that we would need to reduce daycare and every discretionary expense to live on unemployment alone. I assembled a preliminary budget, and we are learning how to live on it.

I have mixed feelings about our situation. The positives include more time with my spouse and kids. I also find it pleasant to have an excuse to talk with people and apply for a variety of positions. When I was working, I had to focus on the job. Time to network seldom appeared, and continuing education was not considered a priority. My coworkers commonly ate lunch at their desks. Now I have the opportunity to take a walk, complete things that I never had time to do previously, and enjoy the slower pace of life.

The negatives involve dealing with a perceived lack of accomplishment, limited resources and concern about an unknown future. I apparently linked more of my identity to my job than I realized. It's hard to see sending out several cover letters and resumes as much of an accomplishment, even though each one is unique. The limited resources have become less of an issue since the family has started learning new habits (eat at home, look for low cost or free entertainment, and reduce the coffee shop purchases). However, the uncertainty about the future has continued to nag at me, since the length of unemployment benefits is limited and I do not have job prospects yet. It has helped that we are all sick with colds, with little inclination to travel.

Fortunately, my son's potty training took a great leap forward at the time my husband went through his layoff. My son now uses the potty routinely, and we have the prospect of being done with his diapers before us. The impact of not using diapers will be significant on our new budget. Otherwise, the kids are too young to have noticed a difference in lifestyle. That will change in December, when we will shift from three days each in daycare to two days for the youngest. January may bring additional changes if neither one of us has found a job.

I am reminded once again that each situation usually has positive aspects to it, even if these aspects are not immediately apparent.

Layoffs

On Friday, October 17, I finished jury duty. For the entire week, I had been both anxious and eager to find out if I would be called. Each night, I checked the hotline to find out if my number had come up. Although several groups were called, mine was not one of them. I felt both relief and indignation. I will not be on the county's list for another two years.

My concerns over jury duty were quickly set aside as, on Monday, October 20, I joined the ranks of the unemployed. My company had not won recent proposals, and my position was eliminated to reduce costs. It took an entire day for the shock to wear off. I had anticipated a layoff one month ago, when I was short on work for a three week period. However, I had since been assigned to a job that was expected to last the rest of the year. Apparently, my company thought that someone else would be equally competent. The company's third quarter results had been grim at the last presentation.

I spent the rest of the week selecting an appropriate plan for my family's health insurance with the help of an agent paid by the local health insurance companies. When employed, I had carried health insurance for the entire family while my husband worked on contract without benefits. The group policy was expensive, but not nearly as expensive as COBRA continuation. I also scheduled a round of routine exams and dental visits to minimize policy costs. The new policy covers catastrophic medical care, and we will replace it with a traditional plan in January.

Unemployment represents a new experience. In nearly twelve years, I have never needed to claim it. However, with a family, I didn't hesitate. The mortgage, groceries and clothing still have to be provided. We could live off of my husband's income if necessary, but it would be a life without any extras.

After two weeks of unemployment, I have successfully passed through an employment agency's screening interview and reference check. I expect to be scheduled for an interview with the employer this week. If that also proves a good match, I could be back to work with only three weeks of unemployment - and no benefits due to a good severance package from my previous employer. This would be a much appreciated event, since my husband was just laid off.

The prospect of both of us unemployed is not a pretty one. Two checks will barely keep us from dipping into our savings. The race is on for one of us to find a good job. If we are not successful by December, we will be cutting back on day care days and keeping the kids home more often, which will hamper the job search. I still consider us to be fortunate, as many people do not have savings available.

The employment situation has had a dampening effect on celebrating birthdays, although advance planning had already covered most of the costs. My husband will celebrate tomorrow, and our son will turn three on election day. Our son has decided that he wants to be like big people. He is making efforts to potty train, fix or obtain his own meals, and take his own clothes on and off. The independent streak could not come at a better time, as my daughter has figured out how to walk on her own initiative, at 13 months. We will be chasing after two toddlers for the next year. I love to watch the changes of children growing up, as each stage brings its own rewards. However, I have to admit that the next year will bring a number of challenges.

What will happen next, I wonder?

Busy Week

I served jury duty this week. Every evening I called a hotline to determine if my group number had been selected. My number never came up. I spent half of the week worrying about service, and the second half convinced I had nothing to worry about.

It seemed tame compared to an earlier experience. At eighteen, I was called for jury duty on Seattle Municipal Criminal Court. Every day, I would go to the jury room, and wait to hear if our group would be on a trial. The length of duty was two weeks, and I did serve on two trials (drunk driving and simple assault). I came out of the experience with some faith in the legal system. I think that in the majority of cases, it does work.

This week passed by quickly. I received the first update on my new nephew (now three weeks old). Born ten days early at a weight of 5 lbs 13 oz, he sounded awfully small. Apparently he developed jaundice that landed him in the hospital for a couple of days, and then on lights at home for a total of 11 days. Between her parents, a new baby, medical issues and the accompanying sleep deprivation, I don't think my brother has had much of a chance to respond to anything else. I'm hoping to send him an e-mail tomorrow, but don't know that I will find time. My father in law is in town, and will be staying until Tuesday.

The other change involves my son. We have switched him from pull-ups to underwear under the pull-ups at home and a combination plastic pants with flannel at day care. The idea is to encourage him to use the potty by making him less comfortable. He will be three in two weeks, and prefers to go in his pull-up if given a chance. So far, our efforts appear to be working, in that he wants to be changed when he is wet. We will need to be consistent to make this work; our son is smart and will test us to make sure we are going to keep doing this before he will change. We've failed to be consistent once before (ran through underwear too fast), and he isn't sure we will stick with it at this point.

The goal is to help him master potty training to allow him to move into preschool. He's already there mentally, but daycare won't move him until he masters the potty. I think he is probably ready. We'll see if this new approach works.

Success at my First Creative Writing Piece

The story I did for the artists' jam appears to be a success! My illustrator is proceeding to pencils, with the final entry to be done in color. I've had several questions this week, all of which have been resolved. He asked me for a diagram of the layout, which apparently confirmed what he had guessed from the written story (confirmation that I had provided a good description). I've answered his questions and have had no more in the last two days.

Since I will not benefit, I am not concerned about the artistic results. It will be enough to receive comments on the story line. I'm eager to see what is drawn, however. I would like to compare his pencils to my imagination.

To my surprise, I've started writing more at work, too. I've been selected to write content for a web site for one of our clients, and put together and received comments on a scope of work. My last project involved writing a preliminary drainage report for a client, a task of sufficient complexity to require 22 pages. I never thought I would write this much when I earned an engineering degree in college. Many of my peers don't write this much.

Working on a Dream

This week I started working to make a deferred dream come true. I agreed to deliver a story for an illustrator to enter in a Halloween contest. The story is part of an artists' jam, with my section a small piece of the work. My intent is to start the creative juices going with a public deadline. I will not benefit from any prize money; since my husband is running the contest, it would be a conflict of interest. However, I will receive good commentary on my writing, and the artist can keep any prize.

I want to write children's books as a sideline to my regular job. The idea first came to me about two years ago, after the birth of my son. I discovered that I liked some aspects of staying at home. It was not financially feasible for me to remain home, however, and I did miss my job. I started thinking about ways to earn money independently, without necessarily leaving my profession. I also liked the prospect of a means for earning passive income.

At work, I have received several positive comments on my technical writing skills. I thought that perhaps I would be able to turn this skill in a personally lucrative direction. Branching out into technical writing was a possible outlet, but it would pay less than my current position. Royalties are only possible with a published, creative work.

As I started to read to my son, I came across examples of good, bad, and really awful writing. Illustrations could either hurt or enhance the story, and were a crucial element in young children's books. I decided that I could offer something to this scene.

Unfortunately, I've only come up with one idea so far, and it would be based on my experience. It also would be targeted towards about a fifth grade audience. Toddler or preschool books would be shorter and presumably quicker. I'm still looking around for ideas that light my fire.

This weekend's effort has shown me that I can do the work. Next week, perhaps I will come up with an idea - or just start on the idea I already have.

Milestone

The last two weeks have brought a significant milestone. Three days after my last post, my daughter walked for the first time (11-1/2 months). Today she took off on her own and walked four steps to reach a new toy. Already she has transitioned into the next level of day care (12-18 months). She just turned one year old, and she is growing up faster than her older brother did.

My little girl has developed a remarkable ability to climb anything. She climbs into the stroller, stands on a children's rocking chair, goes up and down stairs, and will happily stand on the top step of her brother's stepstool to chin herself on the sink. She would go up a ladder or bookcases if I let her do it. Once she figures out how to climb something, she keeps repeating it.

We held two birthday celebrations for her. The first one took place on Sunday, September 21. This involved a visit with her aunt, uncle and 1 year old cousin. Her cousin was born just four days ahead of her. The two bear some resemblance physically, but are very different personalities. Her cousin likes to sit and watch what is going on. My daughter explores everything around her without rest. It is an effort to confine her to one room for any length of time. It will be fun to watch the two girls grow up together.

On Friday, we held a birthday celebration at home. We gave her a cupcake after dinner, and she took just a little bit of icing off it, in a dainty manner. What a contrast to my son on his first birthday! He tore apart and tried to eat 1/3 of a cake with both hands, and needed an immediate bath afterwards to remove cake smeared all over his face, hair, and clothing. My daughter seems to have a more deliberative and quieter personality.

We followed up with presents the next day, along with a visit from grandma. While my daughter was happy to see grandma, she doesn't yet understand gifts. Her brother was happy to help her tear off the wrapping and play with her new toys. I had to separate the two when they both wanted the same toy; it doesn't take long for sibling rivalry to appear. My son afterwards told me that he wants a big party with cupcakes too. I have about six weeks to arrange it.

Fall is my favorite, and busiest season. With the advent of our shared birthday (my daughter was born on my birthday), I begin the holiday season. In the next six weeks, we will celebrate our 18th anniversary, Halloween, and both my son's and my husband's birthdays. Three weeks later comes Thanksgiving. About five weeks after that, Christmas arrives. I really look forward to all the time with family that this season represents.

This year I will try to fit writing into the mix. Over the last two years, I have wanted to try my hand at writing children's stories. The birth of my daughter, with accompanying sleep deprivation, postponed any earlier attempts. Reading to my son has taught me that the market has plenty of room for good stories. I have read books to my son that were entertaining, whimsical and pragmatic - and I have also seen examples of bad writing and poor illustration. I am inclined to submit some of my ideas to a publisher, and see if they will sell. Perhaps I will see my name in print next year!

Welcome to My Blog

Welcome to the first post of my journal!

I am a spouse, mother and civil engineer. As a working mom, I struggle daily with the juggling act of managing career and family. I hope to use this journal as a means of recording the special moments in my growing family, developing practical methods to handle the daily round of chores, and expressing the hopes and dreams that sometimes seem to be lost or postponed.

Let me begin with an orientation. My spouse and I have been married nearly 18 years. We met in college, in our first class together, while dating other people. In our senior year, we began dating each other. Two years later, while planning to return to college for advanced degrees, we married. Two more degrees and three moves led us to our current employers and house. The many changes we have faced together have helped me develop a strong appreciation for the talents of my spouse. I love him more as I grow older.

I have a son and a daughter, ages almost 3 and almost 1, separated by 22 1/2 months. Both have the high energy levels typical of toddlers, along with a strong penchant for climbing any furniture in sight. My son loves animals of any type, and has a particularly strong interest in dogs and sea creatures. He knows the alphabet, shapes and colors, and can count to 20 without hesitation. My daughter is an busy explorer and ardent follower of her older brother, showing interest in anything that he does. She has been learning sign language. She prefers to be in the company of other people, and will crawl or cruise through the house to be around others should the rest of the family move. I am continually amazed at the rapid changes that accompany young children's development. My children are a highlight of my life.

From Monday through Thursday, I enjoy the break that my workplace represents. I design water, stormwater and sewer systems for public clients and assist with writing planning or permitting documents. Although mentally challenging, my job is in not physically demanding. I spend the majority of my time in front of a computer. I enjoy the recognition, benefits and sense of contributing to my community that work provides. However, when the work day ends, I must switch mental gears to adjust to an active at-home life with my family, in the space of about 15 minutes. I face the challenges of a working parent - and I wouldn't have it any other way.