Monthly Archives: September 2011

weekend recap: hiking, bowling, DWTS

Every weekend, we try to spend quality time, as a family, engaged in Wholesome Activities. We try to find educational activities he’ll enjoy, or physical activities we can do as a family. And usually, we can find a couple things to do each weekend that give us that quality family time; Mama, Dada, Ben. Our general goal is to (a) spend time together as a family and (b) wear that kid out so he will take a nap and go to sleep at night.

This Saturday, I woke up to find a marine layer over Southern California. I love misty days here, when it’s cooler, damper, and more like the climate I grew up with. Also, the San Gabriel Mountains look like the North Shore with low cloud cover. Immediately, I suggested to Paul that we go outside and enjoy this lovely weather by taking Ben hiking. Los Angeles is actually a really hiking-intense city, even more so than Vancouver, because of all the trails in the hills and mountain parks that surround the city. Unfortunately, everyone always seems to be trying to hike those trails at once, which means crowded trails, impossible parking, and a wilderness experience that feels more like a poorly kept city park. We usually try to avoid this by going out to the SGV, and going hiking in one of the parks that connects to the Angeles National Forest up there. Our favorite, by far, is Eaton Canyon Park, out in Altadena, past Pasadena – like everything else, a 30 minute drive away.

We’ve been to Eaton Canyon a few times now, and it meets all our criteria for Family Hiking. There’s a minimal incline in most parts of the park, which is great for someone’s short little legs. The trail is well-kept and clear, again, great for someone who’s used to paved streets and sidewalks. There’s tons of animal and birds to observe. And there’s even a well-kept, fairly extensive, nature center and botanical garden, where the local flora and fauna have been carefully curated and organized and labeled. This includes Ben’s favorite part of the park, the WALL’O’SNAKES…a wall of terrariums with local live snakes in them, including examples of the poisonous ones.

This Saturday, after some poking around in the Nature Center, and some wandering on the tiny trail of the Botanical Garden / Toddler Trail, we set off to hike across the dry wash and up the trail fork of “Moist Canyon”. We walked up the canyon for about twenty minutes, stopping to observe animals that neither Paul nor I could name, beyond “hey, look at all the birds!” or, “listen to the woodpecker”, or “look, a snake on a rock!” (small, non-venomous). Eventually though, Ben informed us his legs were tired and we decided to hike back down. By the time we walked the ten minutes back to the dry wash, Ben was insisting on being picked up:

And then, after all that hiking, he decided to take a nap on Paul’s shoulder. Did I mention the kid weighed in at 36 pounds last week?

After the hike, we came home to make one of Ben’s favorite foods: tofu tacos. Ben, being an LA baby, is used to being able to get food truck snacks. Since he loves tofu, one of his favorites is a tofu taco. Seriously, he’ll take tofu over anything else – chicken, beef, fish – as a taco filler. I just toss some tofu chunks in a mix of soy sauce and Sriacha, pan-sear them, and put them on a tortilla with some cheese and salsa. It’s toddler fusion food! But with all the hiking and lunch, Ben didn’t go down for his nap until after 3…and he didn’t wake up until almost 5, which left us in a zone of being Too Late for an afternoon activity, but too early to eat dinner. Quick, someone find a filler activity!

Then it occurred to me, why not watch Dancing with the Stars with my son? Seriously, even he can get the concept. Famous people learn to dance with professional dancers, and the worst person gets kicked off. Yay. Ben likes seeing dancing, he loves music – sure, it’s completely devoid of educational value, and is the entertainment equivalent of feeding my kid a Lunchable, but it was Saturday! So I checked with Paul to be sure it was OK, and then Ben and I watched an abbreviated version of the season premiere, where we fast-forwarded through everything except the practicing (“see? look how hard they’re working!”) and the actual dances (“look how much they practiced!”)

Sure enough, Ben freaking LOVED DWTS. Every time a couple started dancing, he would tell me, “Look, Mama! They’re dancing!” We would watch people’s feet to see how they were doing, and I tried to explain to Ben that the professionals had practiced for a LONG LONG TIME, but the famous people were just learning, and Why Practice Is Important. Then, for the Results Show, I skipped the first 40 minutes of it, and just ran the last three minutes where the decision was made. We talked about how Not Everyone Is Good At Everything, Including Dancing, So Someone Has To Get Kicked Off. Look, I’m trying to redeem myself as a mom here, letting my kid watch reality TV…but honestly, he likes choreography and he likes music and maybe it’s only the entertainment equivalent of one of those Lunchables with reduced sodium and a fruit cup?

And then we get to today, when Ben asked if he could watch TV. We agreed this was OK, and I asked him what he wanted to watch, expecting Thomas, or Dinosaur Train, or something. Nope. I got, “I want to watch Dancing With The Stars, Mama!”

“But Ben, we watched that show yesterday. We saw all the dances. There isn’t a new episode yet.”

“But I want to see who gets kicked off,” he told me.

I snorted with laughter, and went looking for a family movie instead. We ended up watching Free Willy, which I actually never saw…even though it’s probably partially inspired by the gong show that was Sealand of the Pacific, the marine park across the street from where I grew up. Hey, we saw Dolphin Tale Friday, why not a movie about another special Troubled Youth and Marine Mammal bond? Besides, movies are a Special Treat for Ben on the weekends – on weekdays, he’s limited to thirty minutes or less of educational programming. On weekends, we let him watch movies, which he loves, and we just try to curate to make sure there’s some sort of Discussion Topic we can get out of it. (I’m sure we’ll spend this week talking about dolphins and orcas, and doing Related Art Projects. I’ll have to find and print pictures of marine creatures tomorrow for a collage)

But earlier today, we took Ben bowling for the first time. I found a bowling alley up in Glendale that had bumpers. PROGRAMMABLE bumpers, even: they only showed up when it was Ben’s turn! Jewel City Bowl even had shoes IN BEN’S SIZE. Ben also got their special six-pound ball, which he had to roll, because his hands were too little to hold it. He absolutely LOVED it though, and cheered and grinned the whole game. I’ve got photos and videos we’ll have to put up this week, because a three year old bowling is freaking ADORABLE. It also gave us a new family activity, something Ben can do with us, and probably with our friends and extended family as well. Bowling is a super-social activity, and having Ben be able to play it gives him a new way to spend time with grown-ups. Next weekend, we’ll have to try mini-golf.

friday recap: meeting & movie date

I woke up Friday with actual work to do! I had a media presentation to take to a freelance client! And that’s exactly what I spent the morning doing: putting the finishing touches on a PowerPoint presentation for an 11am meeting. Sometimes, it feels good to have work to do, even if the challenge of being an Independent Consultant is bigger than I expected. (It isn’t the work. It’s the administration.)

In the afternoon though, I had a more important meeting: a movie date with Ben. I used a special offer on, and bought 2-for-1 tickets for us to see “Dolphin Tale” in the afternoon. Ben asked to see the movie when he saw a trailer for it at Winnie the Pooh this summer. Since he seems to love anything to do with marine mammals, I decided to take him. I know it’s a movie geared more towards bigger kids, but Ben will sit through anything on a moving screen. Even if he didn’t understand 100% of the narrative, he understood the plot from the trailer: the dolphin was hurt, and needed a new tail. And he was so happy about seeing it that when I picked him up, he announced it to every one of his teachers. “We’re going to see the dolphin movie!”, he said, each time we said goodbye to someone.

And for the most part, he seemed to really like the movie. I know he didn’t get the entire movie, because part of it is about the financial hardship of the marina, and the threat to Winter, the dolphin, as a result. And he didn’t get that the dolphin needed a tail specifically because she was trying to swim side to side, like an eel, after the tail amputation, and it was hurting her spinal column. But he DID get that the dolphin was hurt and needed a new tail. And he got that the little boy in the movie was bonding with the dolphin. And I explained to him that the dolphin was important because she was just like other kids that had lost their legs, who had to learn how to walk or play with new mechanical legs, just like the dolphin had to learn to swim with her new tail. I don’t know how much of that registered, or how much of the wounded war vet storyline sunk in, but he said it was a good movie, and for Ben, that’s all that matters.

Taking Ben to the movies is always a challenge. There’s only so many Pixar-type films a year, and I don’t like taking Ben to a movie just because it’s a cartoon. We’re trying to find him live action movies that are kid-friendly, but not completely retarded (like, say, the talking puppy movies that Disney runs trailers for on all Ben’s DVDs). Dolphin Tale was not only somewhat educational, but also far LESS hokey than I expected. It also opens up the Documentary World to us a bit more, to get Ben used to movies that don’t have talking animals, special effects, and aren’t the Lowest Common Denominator. And besides, I’m proud of Ben – not a lot of three year olds can sit through a whole movie, especially not one that isn’t Cars 2

But after all that excitement on Friday, I fell asleep at 9pm. Even unemployed, I’m still exhausted at the end of the day. Maybe it’s just a regenerating process, because I take naps, only work maybe three or four hours a day, and don’t really do that much to wear myself out. Maybe it’s just because I know, at 6:45, I will hear a series of little footsteps that end in our door opening, and a small boy climbing in bed with us for about two minutes until he asks if we’ll go play with him.

wednesday recap: freelancing, cooking, seasonal sponge painting, and interviews!

I spent yesterday right where I am now: on the couch in our living room, with my newly upgraded laptop (I upgraded the hard drive last week ). I have actual work to do again. Of course, it is not of the paying variety of work, because everything is in “pitch mode”, or “rampup mode”, or some sort of mode that will take a lot of work to earn a paycheck. But I still like having work to do, and being a consultant definitely gives me more creativity than I had before. I have a completely free range of motion I didn’t have at my last agency, and I can propose anything I want without being limited by red tape.

I also managed to get dinner on the table right when Paul and Ben walked in the door. Ben comes home and yells “Mama!” and gives me a big hug, every day. Then he tells me, “I’m hungry. My tummy’s empty”. Last night, I had the timing down perfectly, and I was able to hand him dinner immediately. When I cook, I plan for a meal for myself and Paul, and then deconstruct it and modify for Ben. Last night, Paul and I were having braised chicken with fennel, mushrooms and tomatoes, over whole grain bow tie pasta. For Ben, I modified the sauce by pureeing the vegetables with some spinach and extra bottled marinara, added ground turkey, and handed him his pasta right when he got in. The kid plowed through two bowls of the mixture. It was perfect – he was just hungry enough to eat, but not so hungry that he was too grumpy to eat. THAT is why he needs dinner exactly on time, because my kid, like his dada, has too little reserve fat on him to be able to skip meals.

After dinner, Paul and I were trying to entertain Ben with some sort of craft. I hit on the bright idea of sponge painting. For those of you who were never in elementary school, this is when you use squares of sponges and paint to dab colors on paper. The sponge makes a print, and you can mix colors for shading and effects. I dumped some of Ben’s paints onto a paper plate palette, cut up a sponge, and immediately showed him how to dab-dab-dab paint into a tree shape. Then we learned about what colors you get when you mix other colors. And then Ben smeared the paint everywhere to make a giant smudge. Oh well. We started over, did more trees, added a pumpkin, and called it a Fall Scene.

ME: “Look, Ben! [dabbing red and yellow on a tree] The leaves are changing colors! What season is it when leaves change colors?”

BEN: [blank look]

ME: Oh. Right. SoCal baby. Not so much with the changing leaves.

Paul and I, having grown up with seasons, are used to doing Seasonal Crafts in elementary school. We did the colored leaves in fall, cotton ball snow in winter, tissue paper blossoms in spring. But Ben has NO FREAKING IDEA what’s supposed to happen in seasons because we don’t have them here. He knows it gets hot in summer, and rains a bit more in winter, and that’s it. I know he thinks snow is a local phenomenon, not a seasonal thing, because he’s seen snow in May in California. The seasonal craft concept is just a concept to him, because seasons are something that only happen in books and on TV. To be fair, even when I was growing up, seasons weren’t like they were in books, because we had so many evergreen trees, and it rarely snowed in Victoria. But in Ben’s world, “winter” is something that only happens when we visit Pennsylania or Canada. When we move someplace that isn’t L.A., he will have a LOT of adjusting to do for actual weather.

But overall, Ben and I came up with a really nice fall scene:


And now, the good news: I have INTERVIEWS! One is with a full service agency in Pittsburgh, and the other is with a social media agency in NYC. Both are great opportunities that I’m super psyched about, focusing on social media, with a lot of room for growth and strategic thought. And both were flexible enough to arrange for me to have interviews with key personnel visiting the West Coast, instead of requiring me to fly to the East Coast for a day. The only problem is that their key people want interviews on the same day, next Thursday. No problem…except that one interview is in San Francisco. I’m asking to reschedule the L.A. interview to Friday, but I just love this. I love that I’m back at the in-person interview stage again, and that everything is moving forward once more towards gainful employment.

tuesday recap: routine building, couponing and panhandlers

I’m starting to settle into a slightly more productive routine on days when Ben is not home with me. I spend the mornings working on freelance projects, catching up on email, and applying to jobs online. I take a break mid-morning and spend an half hour or to an hour cleaning the house, usually doing dishes, laundry, and putting things away. I keep working until early afternoon, at which point, I take a shower and get dressed, and then go run errands before rush hour starts. I’m home by 5:30, at which time, I can start dinner and get ready for Paul and Ben to come home.

Unfortunately, I have a gimped-up left foot right now, so I haven’t been able to incorporate exercise into my routine yet. I rolled my ankle and hyper-extended my foot tendons in Vancouver last week, when I walked off my sister’s front step. It was getting better, and then I decided I would learn to jog last week, and screwed it up again. I was hoping swimming would be easier, because I wouldn’t have to carry weight on it, but it hurt to extend my feet and kick when I took Ben swimming on Monday. So I guess I’m stuck sitting around for a few days until it gets better.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as I’m re-building my schedule, one thing at a time, and re-cultivating work habits in a self-paced environment. And honestly, it’s hard to not sit around and watch back-episodes of Degrassi High all day (thank you, Hulu.) It’s hard to stay off the Wii, or keep from opening The Sims. But my days go by so fast, I know I will regret spending too much time on non-productive activities. There’s just always so much to do, in both my professional and personal spheres.

Besides, I only have a few more weeks until Ben is home with me more. We have to give thirty days notice to reduce Ben’s weekly daycare time. We haven’t given it yet, because we didn’t know how much child care we would need. Paul and I need to be able to take Ben to school if one of us has to travel for work or a job interview, and we would especially need daycare coverage if I have to start work in a new city and leave Paul as a single parent during the week until he can move with me. Besides, we learned this less in 2009, when I was laid off, and we dropped Ben’s coverage to two days a week. When I was re-hired, we kept having to hope, every trip, that there would be an empty slot somewhere for him to take as a drop-in baby. There is no guarantee that Ben could go to school on a Wednesday if he’s only a Tuesday/Thursday student, and so, we’ve been discussing how much we actually want to reduce his days, based on our new budget, my new workload, and Ben himself. We will probably drop Ben to two or three days a week, so I can manage all my own projects, and bond with my son…but we have yet to make the final decision. The one thing I do NOT want to do is to drop preschool entirely. Ben LOVES school, and he has lots of tiny friends, and is doing very well with the structured curriculum. He definitely needs to go to school, but we still need to figure out how much he needs to be there.

In the interim though, I like having the time by myself. I was even able to take some of yesterday afternoon to go grocery shopping and do what Paul calls “Moderate Couponing”. This is where I use the lists provided by the Grocery Game, and go stock up on non-perishables and staple groceries. I subscribe to lists for Vons, Ralphs and Whole Foods that tell me which coupons to stack on top of sales to get items for the lowest price possible. This does become a little time consuming, but it’s kind of a hobby for me. I watch reality TV and clip coupons, and just shut my brain off doing those menial tasks. Then I spend a few hours hitting the stores once a month, and have a pantry full of staples…and enough left over to take to the food bank.

But on my way out of Ralphs at the end of the day, I was approached by a man in his 20s. He came up to me, as I was loading groceries into my car. “Hey, Miss Lady? Miss Lady? I gotta ask you, I ain’t got no job, and I got two babies to take care of, and I was wondering, could you give me just two dollars?”

I looked him him. He was neat and clean, wearing cargo pants and a Burberry T-shirt OF COURSE it was probably knockoff, but it was still a new, label T-shirt. “I’m sorry,” I said, “I don’t have a job and I have one baby to take care of. I totally sympathize with you though.” And then, because I felt like both being nice AND testing his story, I said, “I have some extra cereal here. Would you like some cereal for your babies?”

“Uh, well,” he said, and I could see him scrambling for an excuse. “That’s real nice of you Miss Lady, but um, I’m walking around right now, and I can’t carry it. But maybe if you could give me just two dollars, Miss Lady, and I could go in and buy the milk, because, um, for the baby, it’s a new baby, Miss Lady, and needs the milk.”

I sighed internally. New babies don’t drink grocery store cow’s milk, and I wasn’t giving this guy cash under any circumstances. So, just because I felt like screwing with him, I kept going. “I’m sorry, I can’t give you money, but I just bought juice boxes. Would you like juice boxes for your babies?”

“Um, well, no, maybe next time. Thanks Miss Lady.”

Dear panhandlers: it would be advisable not to panhandle while wearing clothes nicer than those of the people you are begging from. I wanted to be able to tell this guy that there ARE people out there who are in a situation where they have children and no money. Oh, not me – I have a husband with a well paying job, and a well stocked rainy day fund. But I can see those mothers – and sometimes those fathers – every day at the bus stop on 3rd and Vermont, at the same Ralphs. And here’s this punk-ass guy, blatantly lying, wearing a designer T-shirt, coming up to people in a parking lot asking for cash. I have no problem giving hungry people food, or clothing, or grocery store vouchers or meal cards, but I’m not handing out cash, and just because I’m the only Caucasian woman shopping at a store doesn’t mean I have enough race/class guilt to make me completely stupid enough to do so.

Week Two of unemployment

As many of you know, I quit my job this summer. August 26th was my last day. Of course, I expected to have my next steps lined up by the time I quit, because all through August, I was interviewing for a job with a NYC agency that I thought I would get an offer for. But the agency decided to go with an internal candidate, and now, I’m back to Square One of Job Searching. Bother.

More importantly though, this means downtime in my employment schedule. Because I really had expected to be working in NYC by now, I wasn’t job searching for most of August. I will now need to take a few weeks to move back down the path towards interviews with new prospective employers. It takes anywhere from two weeks to a month to get from initial screening calls to in-person interviews for the kind of jobs I’m looking for, because so many people at an agency are involved. But I have two initial phone interviews with agencies back East tomorrow, so I can hope to move back down that path soon.

I’m still kind of lost in the interim though. The last time I was unemployed, I had Ben home with me three days a week. Now, because we want to keep him at school in case I have to travel, he is still there full time. So I have fifty-plus hours a week to fill, and absolutely no routine. I have things to do, of course, but on an anti-schedule that is very different than the narrow windows i had on either end of a workday. Suddenly, I can watch the sort of basic cable daytime TV that I’ve never seen before, like the Today Show, or The View. I can go to daytime exercise classes. I can run errands and grocery shop during the week. But it’s taken me most of this week to re-assess my goals, my projects, and what are the new priorities now that I don’t have a full time career job to put so much time and energy into.

First of all, I need to find a job, and job searching is a Major Project that also includes a lot of self promotion. Keeping up my professional image across every social media channel possible is important, and that means continuing to blog, tweet, post to Google+, and update LinkedIn. It also means constantly searching for jobs or potential employers in our target cities, writing cover letters, and sending in resumes. It is a LOT OF WORK that I am currently procrastinating by writing this post.

Second, I do have a few freelance projects to work on. Former colleagues and connections who now know I’m free have looped me in on some of their work. It keeps my media planning skills up, and keeps me challenged, especially when it’s for small businesses where every dollar in ROI counts. It’s mostly local planning, so I can really integrate the SoLoMo (social, local, mobile) tactics that make up a solid local strategy.

Third, I need to lose weight before I go back into the interview process. Overweight women are less likely to be hired than their slender counterparts. But now, I have the time and energy to really invest in diet and exercise. I found instructions online for a program that trains sedentary people like me into runners, with day by day details (today I walked for half an hour, with 30 second running intervals every five minutes). I claimed a free week of yoga at Yogaworks in Larchmont Village. I plan to take my bike, which has been in pieces in the closet for three years, and tune it up at the Bike Kitchen next Monday when they’re open during the day. Then I can ride my bike to the Echo Park pool and train in lap swimming. I have Pilates and spinning and Pop Physique classes to use. I have enough exercise options to transform me into a much healthier, stronger, more toned version of myself. And I can do a couple rounds on the Fat Flush diet once I get the exercise routine down, and really kickstart the process.

Fourth, I’d like to work on my writing skills again. I used to blog almost daily, and I fell out of that habit years ago. I’d like to be able to write better, whether it’s short magazine style articles, or maybe even a novel. Maybe, during this time, I can work a little more on my writing, and return that method of expression to my life.

And finally, of course, I have time to be a better wife and mother to Paul and Ben. I can have dinner ready when they get home, so Ben doesn’t get over-hungry waiting for me to cook (this usually results in a hunger related hissyfit when dinner is actually served). I can take some of the household chores, like cleaning and laundry, off Paul’s shoulders. Actually, I can even take traditionally male chores over, like managing all the household finances and learning to do some of the repair work I would usually ask Paul to handle. I can research and put together better activities for Ben that help him learn and let us spend more time together, like more crafts child friendly cooking, or finding activities and events we can do on the weekends. I will still have the energy at the end of the day to take Ben to the park or the library, and give Paul a break at home. And I can make sure the boys get high nutrition, home cooked meals, three meals a day, which is something I always TRIED to do, but couldn’t always find the energy to execute on.

Unfortunately, none of the above will result in any financial payment in the short term. But obviously, they’re all long term reward programs. Job searching and improving my image, both professional and physical, will result in better job opportunities for me. Freelance work and writing skills could bring in some extra cash down the line, and help me improve my core competencies while I’m working on them. And investing in my family is ALWAYS worthwhile, because I love them, and want to do the best things possible for my men. While I have this time, I may as well use it to set these programs in motion. Besides, I think I have just given myself a brand new fifty hour week schedule…even if I didn’t mean to.