Monday, January 1, 2024

Looking forward to 2024

I want this to be a less-is-more kind of year, like a life edit. I want to work less. I want to commit to less. I want to have less stuff.

In that vein, today I'm ending a hobby streak that I've cultivated over the last few years. I'm releasing myself from that commitment to make room for something else. 

I also stepped back my involvement in a volunteer role I've had for several years. I know it's the right decision for me this year.

In no particular order, here are some things I'm looking forward to:

  • Total solar eclipse on April 8. We saw the one in 2017 and it was spectacular. 
  • Family trips this spring & summer
  • Two weddings
  • Hiking every month with Adele (for real this time—it's scheduled)
  • A solo trip or two
  • Weekly family meetings (we're starting these this year)
  • Hiring new people to distribute some of my responsibilities at work
There are a couple of dark clouds looming for this year. I fear it may be the last for our darling 13 year old dog. She suddenly aged a lot in the last year, and we found out she has degenerative myelopathy, which is untreatable. She still seems happy and she's getting around (slowly), but I know it will get harder for her. 

The other looming cloud is the presidential election. I will feel better from taking some concrete actions with other people, like sending postcards to voters or something like that. I'm not sure yet what form that action will take.

I feel like I spend a fair amount of time inside my own head, even when I'm spending time with friends or family. I hope this year to do a better job of being present in the moment, instead of distracted by what's going on in my mind. 

Let's see what 2024 has in store.

Happy New Year!

Looking back on 2023

 I felt like I was running all the way until the last few hours of 2023. I was trying to cram in more work and more of my unbloggable hobby right up until the end with a lot of family gatherings and events in there too. As a result, I didn't write my reflection before the end of the year, like I try to.

2023 was a heck of a year. As predicted, it was a big one for my career. The Very Hard Thing is finished, my title changed to better reflect my role, I got a raise, and I am so proud of what I accomplished. I'm still kicking ass in my job and loving it, but I worked a lot. 

I probably worked too much.

In my time tracking of work, I recorded 2240 hours, but that's missing a couple of intense weeks of travel, so I estimate I need to add another ~100 hours. That averages out to nearly 47 hours/week across 50 weeks of the year. I swear I took some vacations and days off, but rarely did I have more than 2 days in a row where I didn't log any work hours, and I clearly compensated by working more on other days. 

That's not a healthy amount of work, and this year I really felt it in my body. The most stressful months for me were May, June, and July. I woke up almost every morning (and sometimes during the night) and my first thoughts filled me with anxious adrenaline. I wasn't sleeping well, and I could feel that my blood pressure was elevated. I regularly felt pain in my chest. I could feel the accumulated, chronic stress in my body from the Very Hard Thing and other challenges.

Around Memorial Day, Jon said to me, "You're still reacting to everything like it's existential, even if it's just annoying," and I immediately knew he was right. The most stressful threats had passed, but my body was stuck in fight or flight mode. I needed to do something.

I went to see my doctor about my blood pressure. She reassured me that I wasn't physically damaged and recommended I start seeing a counselor about my stress. It took a while to find someone, but in the meantime I started getting regular massages. During the peak stress times, I was going once a week for 90 minutes. I found it incredibly helpful for relaxing my body and am continuing to go every few weeks.

I've also been seeing a therapist nearly every week for the last 6 months. She has given me some techniques for lowering my stress level, and it has been useful to have dedicated time to talk through my struggles. I've made progress, but it's not linear. 

I haven't exercised much, but I have done a better job getting outside every day, especially for the last few months. 


I traveled quite a bit this year for both work and fun. We did a fun family trip for spring break, and then Adele and I went to the beach for a few days in the summer. I also did a solo retreat weekend again like I did in 2022. We traveled to see my extended family over Labor Day and again after Christmas. 


Adele picked up two new hobbies this year and I've enjoyed watching her learn and grow. We kept a regularly scheduled family game night along with some regular game nights with friends. I'm in a weekly book club with some of Jon's family (we read a few chapters at a time) which has been another great source of perspective on life and lively discussion. My favorite book we read this year was The Light We Carry by Michelle Obama. It reminded me that even the greatest among us are only human, and we need to choose how we spend and restore our energy. 

I am thankful that our family is overall pretty healthy. We all avoided covid this year but Jon did get quite sick in November and still isn't 100%. My continued attempts to avoid illness set me apart sometimes (e.g. I still mask in crowded public places) and have been a source of conflict for me and Jon. For most of the year I've been using Covixyl or Xlear nasal sprays as another layer of protection, and thankfully I've only had one brief cold. I honestly didn't feel like I could afford to get sick because it would put me so behind at work.

All in all, I'm glad to have 2023 behind me, and looking forward to the opportunity for a reset in 2024.

Friday, July 7, 2023

It is finished.

 After 18 months, the Very Hard Thing is finally finished.

I cried.

I've literally spent 1000 hours of my life in the last year and a half working towards this outcome. So many strategy meetings, books on negotiation, hours of lost sleep, and new gray hairs. I've started therapy because of the stress and anxiety. 

Looking back with hindsight, perhaps we could have avoided some quagmires. But in many ways, what we did was inherently difficult, and as hard as it was, so much had to fall into place to make it possible at all. So many people helped us, and I am immensely grateful.

I am relieved to close this chapter, but a little sad that we can't ever really talk about it, not in any deep way. It's this thing that has been both agonizing and fascinating as a high-stakes negotiation. But it's also hard to grasp from the outside why this would be so difficult (and in our perfect world, it wouldn't be!). 

So we'll move forward focused on the outcome, without ever telling the story of the process, because that's the way it has to be. Time to celebrate and move on, so now I can turn the 1/3 of my brain and time that has been occupied by this to other things. 

Cheers to finishing a Very Hard Thing! 

Monday, January 2, 2023

Looking ahead to 2023

I am excited about 2023. I have big expectations and goals for my career this year, and feeling some energy to tackle a few personal things too.

The number one thing that I anticipate for 2023 is some changes for my career. In short, it's time to reshape by role. One of the highest priorities for early this year is to clearly identify what I want, and then ask for it. It's exciting but also scary. I don't see many models for the path I'm on, so I feel like I need to talk to more people about the realm of possibilities for more ideas. But if I'm honest with myself, the part that I'm most anxious about is compensation—how to even decide what's fair and equitable. Once I have clarity for myself, I am less worried about making the ask. I would like to find peace this year with my compensation.

Monthly goals
I want to try this again. I'm not going to schedule them yet and I'm not going to commit to doing all of them, but I'm putting a list of ideas I had here so that I will hopefully do some of them.
- Weeding every day. Maybe this will help me feel better about the yard this year.
- Exercise every day.
- Unsubscribe from 30+ things.
- Buy nothing
- Healthcare/selfcare month where I prioritize some non-urgent things I've been putting off.
- Financial planning month where I prioritize more things I've been putting off.
And a different kind of monthly goals:
- One big hike per month with Adele
- One clear action each month towards the world I want to see.

Other goals
There are some things that I'd like to do this year, and mostly I want to write them down so I don't forget.
- Unbloggable hobby goals. Hope I remember what this means.
- Print this blog. I'd like to have it in actual book form since it has captured so much of my life since 2007 (!)
- Go on a solo weekend retreat. I did this last summer and had a great time.
- Keep trying to avoid covid. Maybe I can get the Novovax booster. 

What else this year?
I am less motivated to reflect on many of the other categories that I usually do, in part because I have goals above for some of them, but mostly because the Very Hard Thing for work is taking up quite a bit of headspace for me. We haven't planned any big trips (and hardly any small ones), but I think some opportunities may arise. Two of my cousins are getting married. We might be able to tack a vacation onto a work trip (or maybe even two?!). But the timing of the Very Hard Thing adds a lot of uncertainty to planning. 

With so much focus on my career this year, I need to be mindful not to let it dominate spaces it shouldn't. I am so lucky to love what I do, but I am more than my career. 

Cheers to anyone who actually reads this. May 2023 bring you more of what fills you up!

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Looking back on 2022

I started the year with a dark outlook on the world. Here's what I wrote in January but never posted because it felt too dark and I didn't know where to go from there: 

 I'm feeling less inspired to write this than I usually am. The world just feels so... dark. For most of my life, I've thought I was looking back on history from a better place, where there are still so many problems but objectively more peaceful and prosperous than the previous 100 years.

Now I don't feel such optimism about our current state or path ahead. I'm afraid that we're well on a trajectory towards measurably worse lives: lower life expectancy, more trauma, greater inequality. These last 5 years have been traumatizing for so many people in so many ways—illness, displacement, discrimination, disasters. 

The Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February epitomized that darkness. I feel like I was right, and the name for this is sentinel intelligence

But I am mentally in a better place because I've let go of the expectation that we are on this inevitable upward trajectory. Clearly, I can't take that for granted. 

It can be easy for me to get overwhelmed by the world (it's like my default state of being). I'm the kind of person who wants to do so much, to help so much. But overcommitting and trying to boil the ocean leads me to be both unhappy and ineffective. So, in the last couple of years I've gotten better at at least asking myself what is the most important thing that I need to do? It means letting go of a lot of things and being more realistic and gracious with myself about what is possible for one human to hold.

So with that macro-reflection on 2022, here's the micro-reflection on my most immediate sphere of influence.

Home & Gardening

The big thing since I wrote my goals in early February was finishing the kitchen, which was already 80% done. By the end of February, we got it to about 95% and did the last finishing touches in time to host Christmas with Jon's family. We're loving it! 

The basement renovation has some issues and the contractor is going to revisit them in January.

Unfortunately, I did not get my garden motivation back this year and it has mostly been a wreck that I feel guilty about. 


We did several small family trips and a big one. I saw all of my cousins this year for the first time in ages. Adele got to use her passport for the first time! We hosted a great Christmas meal. 

Adele is 9 now, in 4th grade, and so much fun. What a great little person. 

Unfortunately, one of my aunts passed away. An old family friend who was close with my sister also died from pulmonary embolisms, like my sister did. Both sad events.


After avoiding it for 2 years, it made it to our household. First Jon got it in the spring. A friend came over feeling a little under the weather but not thinking much of it. Adele and I didn't hang out with him, but Jon spent the whole evening playing a game with him and 2 other friends. The next day, the friend tested positive and thankfully told everyone. Jon was definitely going to get it. Thankfully, he started isolating in our room, we ran air filters, he wore a mask whenever he left the room, and he tested daily until it was negative. Neither Adele nor I got it from him, and he recovered in about 8 days. That one friend infected most people in Jon's friend group.

Then Adele came home from sleep away camp with it. Near the end of her session, we were notified of an outbreak. We had her test the night she came home, but I forgot to check it promptly. I looked at it an hour later and saw the faintest line. She tested again in the morning and it was more clearly positive. This was particularly stressful because I was about to travel for work and we were just a week away from our big family trip. Thankfully, Adele had a fairly mild case and tested negative the day before our trip, and I managed to avoid covid again thanks to filters, masks, ventilation, and isolation. 

We're all up to date on boosters and got them very soon after they were approved. Adele was boosted about 6 weeks before she got covid, and again this fall. We all got our flu shots, too. I continue to wear a mask indoors in public settings. We have eaten in restaurants several times now, which I don't love, but they mostly haven't been crowded and have been fairly well ventilated (see below). Jon isn't wearing a mask much anymore. Adele is wearing a mask sometimes at school, though often comments that few or no other kids are. The whole class is supposed to mask for the next week when someone in the class gets covid, but apparently that has been a bit lax. She likes these small KN-95 masks so I just try to make sure she always has one available. 

I also bought myself a few things for assessing and mitigating risk, especially while flying:
- Travel air purifier. I loop a rubber band around the handle and hang it from the arm of the airplane seat to point more filtered air towards my face.
- FloMask: I got this for wearing on the plane because it has a tight face seal (as long as I don't have to talk). 
- Aranet4 Carbon Dioxide Meter: This lets me easily get a sense of how well ventilated a space is because poorly ventilated spaces accumulate high levels of CO2. Turns out some of the most poorly ventilated spaces I was in this year were cars recirculating air. Use that outdoor air setting. 

I had quite a few "close calls" for covid exposure, even beyond Jon and Adele. There were several times when I hung out with someone who tested positive the next day. However, in most cases, people were testing in advance (i.e. they had tested negative earlier in the day even though they were positive the next day) and usually we were doing lower-risk activities like being outdoors or inside with masks (or at least I was wearing a mask).


After 0 flights in 2021, I ended up flying six times this year, and four of those were cross-country flights for work. By the fourth trip, the mask mandate was gone so I bought the FloMask and CO2 monitor to better protect myself. On that trip, I was seated next to an incredibly talkative unmasked woman who didn't pick up very well on my cues. I had my headphones in listening to an audiobook on negotiation with my eyes closed and I only occasionally opened them to take notes. She still wanted to talk to me. I said as little as I could. 

We drove quite a bit to visit family this year, and Jon & Adele did a train trip while I had a glorious long weekend alone.


In February I wrote:

I think it's going to be an intense year.

And indeed, my work this year has been dominated by a Very Hard Thing. What distinguished the intensity from other intense periods of work in my life was the sheer amount of strategy and tactics it required. For several months, I spent hours each week in conversation with my boss/colleague about our next steps. It's a special kind of exhausting to contemplate existential decisions for months on end and then navigate political landmines for months more in pursuit of this Very Hard Thing—all behind the scenes while also keeping up with the day-to-day.

Most of the pieces of fallen into place, some from luck and some from very careful effort and hard work. But we've made some missteps and miscalculations along the way, too. I should have read those negotiation books sooner. Trying to move quickly on some things might have backfired and cost us more time in the end. And we should have tried to even more in parallel rather than in series. But we'll never know how things might have gone differently.

As ever, one of the most frustrating parts of my job is when my boss/colleague and I aren't on the same page. In this high-stakes process, there has been a lot of that. We have agreement about the destination, but sometimes very different ideas about the best path to get us there. At our worst, we exhaust and frustrate each other going around in circles. But at our best, our different approaches and strengths are complimentary and we're a dynamic duo. 

What feels great is knowing I am making huge, positive contributions in my work, for my team, and in pursuit of our life-affirming mission. I was central to two particularly pivotal efforts in pursuit of the Very Hard Thing. First, I extensively researched and documented some numbers to make the case for the Very Hard Thing (and uncovered some dirt along the way). Then, I was able to confidently and calmly field most of the questions in a high-stakes meeting that unblocked a months-long stalemate. On top of that, I introduced a new organizing model that I think can scale with us as the team grows.

Frankly, I am kicking ass at my job. I've been here almost 5 years now and the metaphorical trees I planted and nurtured are fucking fruiting. 

While working on the Very Hard Thing behind the scenes, we've also had some clear successes this year. We finally added two people to the team! Unfortunately, neither of them is doing the kind of work that takes a load off of me, but I'm confident we'll get there next year. I did manage to minimize my effort in some areas that have required a lot of time but aren't the most important right now compare to the Very Hard Thing. I said no a lot, but in (I hope) relationship-affirming ways. 

Since I'm still keeping track of my working hours, I can quantifiably say I've worked hard. I logged 2084 working hours this year, which works out to 41.7 hours/week for 50 weeks of the year. That's 77 more hours than last year. Thankfully, it's nothing like the hours I worked in grad school. I'm working hard, but I also think I'm smarter about it. The Very Hard Thing took up 20% of my work time this year. 

In the process of playing catch-up on one part of my job that I somewhat neglected for most of the year, I realized that I find some of that work quite addicting. It means I'm really motivated to do it well (and I'm doing a great job), but I do have to be mindful of how that kind of work impacts my overall mental health and stress level. A less addicting companion to that work is data analysis. I don't get to spend a lot of time doing data analysis, but I do really love getting immersed in it and visualizing data. My foundational R skills from grad school are still useful. I had no idea I'd be using them like this! I just have to be mindful to stop at "good enough." I'm not publishing any papers, just looking for insights that will allow us to do things differently. 

Shaping the World I Want To See

Aside from my career, what else have I done this year to shape the future I want to see instead of just eating popcorn at the horror film? I should probably do a better job of tracking these things and be more strategic about it, but here's a few:

- Brought leftover meals from school to a local mutual aid group ("food rescue")
- Donated to a pro-choice mother running for office
- Donated to medical expenses for an international student
- Purchased items for a mutual aid group responding to the urgent needs of recent immigrants
- Submitted a statement against proposed anti-trans school policies
- Submitted a statement in support of creating a new hiking trail in a neighborhood with few trails
- Donated to local environmental organizations doing restoration and environmental justice work
- Helped with tree planting at Adele's school
- Volunteered with a habitat restoration project
- Donated to our local food pantry and nonviolence organizations

2022 overall

I really can't complain about our lot in life. We are financially secure, working satisfying jobs, loving school, spending time with friends and family, and reasonably healthy. More so than a year ago, I'm excited about the year ahead and I look forward to writing about it soon. Tonight we'll ring in the New Year with just the three of us hanging out and playing games. We are so fortunate.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, November 6, 2022

How to show appreciation for help with a Very Hard Thing

For most of the last year, I have been working on a Very Hard Thing at work. So very hard. So hard that it prompted me to read or listen to several books on negotiation. So hard that Jon and Adele can summarize it more succinctly than I can because I've spent hours talking with them about the ups and downs. So hard that I have at times exhausted the willing ears of my friends and family to hear about it.

This Very Hard Thing has a clear goal. I have been working on it very closely with one of my colleagues and a handful of other people who believe in this Very Hard Thing. 

At the beginning of the year, the idea for this Very Hard Thing existed, but it was just beginning to take shape as a real possibility, and we had no idea just how hard it would become. 

We are far from finished, but we did just have a major success. We're hopefully now at a point where we thought we'd be in June (laugh/sob). 

There are a few people in particular who have gone above and beyond for this Very Hard Thing. They have strained some of their own professional relationships and moved mountains in support of this. I am so, so grateful for their efforts. We've bonded through adversity. When I think about all they have done, I like to imagine how we might thank them at the end of this. I feel like I did during the hard parts of field work and my dissertation when I could visualize the destination and overflowed with gratitude for the people who made it possible in so many ways. This feels like that. My favorite part of my dissertation was the acknowledgments.

I imagine personally sending them enormous flower arrangements or boxes of chocolate and taking them out to dinner to celebrate the completion of this Very Hard Thing when it finally happens. There may be some opportunities to thank them more publicly, but mostly these are behind-the-scenes things that could never be fully acknowledged for political reasons. 

Flowers, chocolate, and dinner seem so generic; maybe I'll come up with a less conventional idea by the time this Very Hard Thing is finished. At the end of this difficult path, I just don't want to forget to celebrate everyone—generic or not. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Looking ahead to (the rest of) 2022

I started to write this in January but I was just feeling so dark about the state of the world that I didn't even want to post what I'd written. I guess I still feel dark, but I'm momentarily a little more inspired to write down some expectations and goals. I'm intentionally focusing most on the things over which I have most control.


Our basement renovation with the contractor just finished last week. It's a huge improvement. There are many smaller things that we plan to do ourselves over the next couple of months. We were able to refinance last month which helped consolidate the costs.

While things were still out of sorts anyways, we decided to renovate the kitchen ourselves. The kitchen had 20+ year old oddly configured low-end cabinets. Replacing those and changing to an under counter fridge with our existing fridge in the basement would give us a lot more useful space for a modest investment. It was only about a month from when we seriously discussed the idea to when we started the work. I hustled on planning and acquiring everything we needed, and we did most of the work in one very focused weekend so we already have a more functional kitchen space. However, the tiling turned out to be beyond our capacity to DIY so we're hiring someone to do that. We also took a risk on a craigslist fridge that turned out to be a total lemon so we've just ordered a new one. 

We have some other ideas for home improvement projects but I'm not sure we'll get to them this year. Finishing the basement and doing the kitchen is probably plenty. The kitchen so far has basically been my main hobby this year.


The basement renovation really messed up the backyard. I've got some serious repair to do there. It mostly makes me sad and overwhelmed to think about but I'm hoping that come spring I'll feel more inspired.


We've got a few fun family trips planned this year: Jon & Adele, me & Jon, me & Adele, all of us with Jon's family, and all of us with my parents & some extended family. It's been great to see family more often again in person. 


I think it's going to be an intense year. It's started off with some good and exciting events and in a lot of ways I feel like the seeds I planted years ago are coming to fruition, but it also feels like a fragile time. Things have finally come together to grow the team which should increase our resilience but there are key ways in which we remain very vulnerable. 

I read on Twitter at some point last year, "You accept the work/life balance you think you deserve." I've been thinking about that a lot and setting boundaries on my work hours. I got more strict about the speaking invitations I'll accept and I won't do more than one per month as a general rule. I might even need to be more strict than that, e.g. no more talks until September. I should probably finish a separate post I started about saying no to things and the questions I'm asking myself when I'm asked to do something.

I am trying to embrace the idea of experimentation when I spend time on something for work that doesn't pan out and I think we've got a pretty good culture of that now. I find it more liberating than beating myself up over "time wasted". 

The breadth of things I do for my job is kind of ridiculous. No one would ever advertise a job this way. It's like I have about 4 different jobs, so at any given time I am probably completely neglecting at least one part of it which doesn't feel great, but I think I've managed ok to focus on what's most important. I hope that some of this will change when we hire new staff. 

I wrote quite a bit about navigating "high conflict people" in 2019 in the context of emotional labor at work. Unfortunately, that continues to be a major obstacle. We're trying to be better at heading them off and setting boundaries and expectations. 


I've got a couple of work-related trips coming up that involve flying, which I still feel weird and anxious about but at least the omicron wave is subsiding. I haven't flown in 2 years. Then we've got a handful of family trips planned via planes, trains, and automobiles later this year. 


I'm glad that under 5s will hopefully be able to be vaccinated soon. My not particularly educated guesses on other things:

  • Our immediate family will continue to wear KN95 masks in indoor public spaces for the rest of the year
  • We'll generally continue to spend time unmasked indoors with friends and family who we know are up to date with their covid shots, as we have for the last few months. 
  • A second booster will be recommended at least for adults
  • Kids 5+ will get a booster too
  • There will be 1 or 2 more disruptive variants (like delta or omicron) and during those times we'll do more rapid testing and/or limit our indoor unmasked time outside our pod. 

Everything else

I hope I find some inspiration for some later in the year, but I don't have any monthly goals for the time being. I'm just going to wrap this up now before I think too hard and then don't post it for weeks or months. 

Here's hoping that 2022 ends brighter than it began.

Friday, December 31, 2021

Looking back on 2021

While reviewing my expectations for 2021 from January, I noticed that the things I speculated on generally turned out a little better. But there were some big things I didn't see coming.


 I look forward to the year that this won't get its own category. This is not the year. 2022 won't be either. 

I don't think we'll get the vaccine until the second half of 2021 at the earliest.

Based on how slowly the vaccine rollout is starting, I'll be surprised if we get it before September. If we do, it will be thanks to effective organization of our local government. 

Jon and I were both fully vaccinated by mid-May, so I was overly pessimistic about the vaccine rollout for adults. I was also wrong about the local government role in the speediness. Once we got our shots, I was feeling optimistic that kids 5+ would be able to get theirs by late summer or early fall, so I was a little discouraged that it took so much longer than for adults and teens. Adele was vaccinated shortly after she became eligible in November as an 8 year old, and Jon and I got boosted at the same time. 

All things considered, I think it's unlikely for either us or The Neighbors to pick up the covid.

None of us got covid. 

I am definitely concerned about our parents staying safe. I really hope that they are all able to be vaccinated soon. It will be a relief once they've all had two doses.

Thankfully, all of our parents are fully vaccinated on a timeline appropriate to their age. They're boosted now too.

For the entire pandemic, largely because of the people I follow on Twitter, I feel like I've been pretty consistently at least a week ahead of the latest concern wave or covid trend, and sometimes it's a lot more than that. Twitter has consistently given me the best window into what's coming around the bend on this nightmarish covid road. Like delta—how could you not expect that to be a disaster in the US if you followed what happened elsewhere in the world? I found out about rapid over-the-counter covid tests in June and we've been using them for months when they were barely part of public awareness. I started using a KN95 mask (rewearing them several times) in indoor public spaces months ago. On December 17, I saw the vertical line trends for covid cases in London and Norway driven by omicron and we stopped spending time unmasked indoors with even vaccinated friends unless we all rapid tested negative first. My highest priority was keeping us covid-free until Christmas so that Adele didn't miss another family gathering (she had the flu real bad in 2019 and would have been devastated to miss it again). Just like those other places, our area has also had a vertical line of new cases. Rapid tests aren't perfect, but used right before gathering, they are better than no information at all. We have enough disposable income that we can afford rapid tests, at least when we can find them. 

My point isn't at all about personal responsibility. That only gets us so far. I only share the above because it's so frustrating to me that these messages and warnings either never made it to the people in power or they never thought it important enough to share widely.  

For months now, we should have been at minimum:

  • Making better masks (non-counterfeit KN94s, KN95s, and N95s) more widely available (e.g. subsidizing the cost, distributing them at schools and indoor events), running campaigns about how to wear them appropriately and reuse them safely, and requiring them in certain circumstances (e.g. airplanes).
  • Making rapid tests widely available, more clearly communicating their value/strength relative to PCR testing, and requiring them in certain circumstances (as above). Furthermore, we should be making it easier for new kinds of rapid tests to be approved which would help with cost and availability. If you're interested in learning more about how we should be expanding our use of rapid tests, follow Dr. Michael Mina on Twitter
  • Aggressively supporting vaccination in other parts of the world (e.g. by sharing the vaccine "secrets" so they can be easily and quickly manufactured in other countries that have more limited vaccine access), further incentivizing and/or mandating vaccination in certain circumstances, and investing in the long, tedious effort of reaching and convincing those who are not yet vaccinated (especially pregnant women). 
Masks, tests, and vaccinations make everyone safer. We aren't safe until we're all protected, and there's far too many people left at risk (especially anyone ineligible for vaccination like kids under 5!). Framing this as largely about individual choice about vaccination is irresponsible, incomplete, and short-sighted.

Of course, there are some other big things that we should change too:
  • Universal healthcare not tied to your job. Just make it simple. 
  • Paid sick leave for all workers (including for vaccine side effects). 
  • Subsidize childcare. Appropriately compensate and protect childcare workers and educators for the valuable work they do. 
If a pandemic hasn't made clear the value of these things, what will? Our system of healthcare and work is so deeply broken. 

Ok, long covid rant/reflection over.


I don't think Adele will return to school in her building until the next school year. However, there's a possibility that they'll start a hybrid schedule in the spring. I'm not optimistic though. 

I do hope they can return in person in August/September.  

School resumed on a hybrid schedule with 2 days/week in person in the spring, with full time in person since the fall. No one in our pod had to isolate due to classroom exposure. The kids and staff are all masked and it sounds like everyone is pretty compliant. The school also often ate lunch outside, has good ventilation, and did some random testing (not nearly enough IMO, but apparently it did catch one case).

Thankfully we've got our shared arrangement with The Neighbors. [...] I'm not optimistic about summer camps being a viable option so we'll probably maintain the arrangement with The Neighbors for the next 8 months. 

Adele did attend a few weeks of day camp while The Neighbors went to see family for a month. I intentionally scheduled her camps for the beginning of the summer because I saw how the delta variant was spreading in India and southeast Asia and surmised that as summer went on the cases would grow rather than continue to decline even with many people being vaccinated. Later in the summer we shared childcare again with The Neighbors. This school year we take turns carpooling to school with them and sharing after school supervision (i.e. play time).


I hope that by the end of the year, I will have at least a couple of new colleagues because we've been able to grow the team.

NOPE. :::laugh/sob:::

However, that involves convincing my boss that it's a good idea (his idea) to grow the team. I've been trying unsuccessfully for almost 3 years, so this might be a fool's errand. 

I did manage to convince him, so now we're on to the other hurdles. Sigh.

I also hope my salary will at least be restored to its pre-pandemic cut level. 

Yes, thankfully.

If I travel for work, I'd be surprised if it happens before September. 

I did not travel for work.

Jon's work might have more changes this year [...] I think he'll work from home for all of 2021.

No major changes, except he got a big raise which was a wonderful surprise. For the last few months he's gone into the office just 1 or 2 days a week so he's still working mostly from home.

I kept tracking my hours again this year which totaled 2007. I have about 10 annual holidays so 2007 hours divided across 50 weeks is 40.1 hours/week. I did take some vacation time (didn't tally how much) here and there. I'm working hard but making sure that I set boundaries, and tracking hours really does help me with that.

I still love my job. Some of this year was a roller coaster, but more ups than downs. I'm beginning to see some fruits of a long campaign to get us thinking on a longer timescale. 


We've worked one biiiiig project this year:

We want to renovate the basement. For real. We've been talking about it for years. I think we can do it this year. 

The basement is almost done! We hoped it would have both started and finished earlier, but I'm told this is par for the course. 

We probably also have to find a separate shop space for Jon's tools. 

Shop space hasn't come together yet unfortunately.

We took out a personal loan for the basement project but are now (I hope) are very close to refinancing to lower our mortgage interest rate and pay off that loan with a cash out refinance. 


I am a little sad to end a 9 year commitment [...], but mostly I will feel relieved to be finished.

I wrote about this at length here. I intentionally haven't picked up any new commitments and I feel great about that.


2021 was a far better year for seeing family!

I hope to see my parents again by the end of summer, hopefully after they are fully vaccinated. 

We saw my parents four times this year which is way better than the zero times in 2020! 

Adele would love to go fishing with Jon's dad 

This didn't happen but I hope it will next year.

Hopefully we'll be able to host Thanksgiving this year for Jon's family! 

Yes! We were thrilled about this, especially Adele. Jon has a big family. Part of our motivation for trying to get the basement done this year was so that we'd have much more usable space for this gathering for almost 20 people. The basement wasn't finished in time, but it was finished enough that we ate down there at a big long table. Everyone did a rapid test earlier in the day before coming over and we did the same again at Christmas. Getting tests for everyone was a bit of a scramble, but we managed.


Vaccines made this a better year for friends!

I hope by the end of the year we'll be able to have friends over again (not just The Neighbors). 

One Jon and I had 2 shots plus 2 weeks, we started seeing friends indoors again unmasked if they were also vaccinated + 2 weeks. 

I also have a tiny glimmer of hope that we might be able to spend a few days with my good friend and her family at their family cabin this summer (we'd sleep separately in a tent and nearly all our time would be spent outdoors).

Adele and I did go to the cabin and it was lovely! I had my own space but she slept with their kids. We rapid tested before arriving and again midweek because by that time delta was spreading and we had visited a museum the previous week where we were the only people wearing masks. 

I won't be terribly surprised if we have another stretch of time where a friend lives with us again 

We had a friend (the one who almost lived with us in 2020) show up on short notice. We thought she might stay for weeks or months, but it was unfortunately just a few days. 

With the basement still under construction, guest space is more limited so we haven't had anyone stay until just yesterday when our friend who lived here last year came back to visit.

I plan to continue the monthly calls with college friends and grad school friends. 

The college friends one is sporadically attended but I'm still glad for it. The grad school friends one continues to be a great source of joy and friendly advice.

The World

I hesitate to speculate much, but I want to hope that the new administration will be well on the path of undoing what damage can be undone in a year. It's going to be a tough few years ahead.

Well, the January 6th insurrection didn't exactly set 2021 off on the right foot. That was terrifying and infuriating. 

We started this year in a deep hole, and we aren't as far out as I'd hoped. I have no regrets about supporting Biden since life choices in life are rarely about perfect and almost always about better, but I am especially disappointed that we aren't further out of the covid hole. Especially ever since omicron appeared, it's felt like we're at least two steps behind and the political excuses for our lack of preparedness have felt deeply irresponsible. You can't fight a pandemic with hope and vaccines alone, especially when so many people have essentially joined an anti-mask, anti-vax death cult. There's so much more we can still do rather than throw up our hands and say "how could we have predicted this?" But I wrote a lot more about that above.

Monthly goals

I didn't do the best job with these and unhelpfully didn't do a good job keeping track of what I did do. But here's my recollection.

January: Find a contractor for renovating our basement. We can't do much else until we do this.

We made progress in January, but the bids came in way higher than we'd hoped. After trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to get more (and more reasonable) bids and hemming and hawing for a few months about the cost, we decided to go for it with the contractor that had the second-highest bid but inspired confidence. Ultimately we asked ourselves, a year from now, are we doing to be happy we did this, or regret it? Although there have been many, many problematic and/or annoying things along the way and it's not over yet, we don't think we'll regret it. It's a huge improvement. So, I guess this was "done" but not in January.

February: Read about how other people organize memorabilia to come up with a sustainable system that I will start implementing.  

Um, I honestly can't remember if I made any progress on this in February. I just have so many sentimental things (papers especially) that I have a hard time parting with. We purged a lot while packing up the basement, but we'll need to do another round when unpacking from storage too. I did find that watching organization shows motivated me to get rid of more things, but not in February. But a system? Not really done.

September: buy nothing

I hadn't planned this one in advance, but I found myself over the summer doing a lot of online shopping as entertainment. Some of it was related to the basement renovation but none of it particularly necessary. This was just for me personally (not the household), and the goal intentionally wasn't spend nothing. So I could buy myself consumable treats and I got a massage, but the goal was not to buy any new stuff. It felt like a good mental reset.

I think there was a month that I unsubscribed from 30+ things again (maybe in March?) but I can't remember.

2021 overall

2021: better than 2020, I guess? It really took a nose dive in January, had some high points during the covid lows, and is ending the year on another low note.

I know there's probably just a few of you reading this blog, but I still enjoy writing it on these rare occasions. Thanks for being part of my life. 

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Reflections at the end a long-term commitment

 For almost a decade, I've been involved in a volunteer commitment, and for most of those years I've held committee leadership positions. Obviously, this is something that I care deeply about and the stars had to align in other ways for me to be able to keep it up. This is longer than I have held any one job. But now I am terming off, maxed out on my service time. I am overwhelmingly relieved, but a little sad.

During these many years, I've gone from being a pregnant grad student to a PhD mid-career mother. I've developed many of my leadership skills from working with these volunteer committees. Unexpectedly, the activities, conversations, and relationships also helped me through my different career transitions. When I felt stuck, either in my volunteer role or my professional one, lessons from one informed the other. 

It has been very emotional for me, and I've taken this commitment seriously. Maybe too seriously sometimes? In all those years, I never missed a meeting. Pre-covid, I traveled twice per year for in-person meetings, and have averaged 1-2 virtual meetings per month since covid. In the last year since I started tracking how I spend my work and volunteer time again, I've spent at least 80 hours on this commitment. Two whole working weeks! 

I was asked more than once to take on the overall leadership position. I struggled with the decision because there were many reasons I wanted to do it, but I also had some big concerns and fears. I hemmed and hawed, part of me really wanting to say yes but also terrified of the commitment, responsibility, and potential consequences of failure. Ultimately, I declined. I felt like I let some people down, but felt good for setting realistic expectations for myself. 

The last few years haven't been easy. The organization as a whole struggled with fraught leadership changes and this volunteer body was shaken and churned by it too. After the biggest incident, I was distraught just imagining how much more difficult it would be if I was in the biggest leadership role, and never more grateful to have declined something. 

The thing is, I wasn't so wild about the leadership we did have. However, they were willing when I was not. So I did my best to embrace them as the leaders they were, and support them as best I could because they were willing to do something that I wasn't. I did not agree with some of their actions in neither style nor substance, but I just tried to support as I was able and focus on what I could substantively influence.

These last few years I also struggled with feeling less effective as a leader in the position I did have. I feel a bit of failure in the functional collapse of the committee I previously led. I wish that I had been a more proactive mentor to the younger leaders who took it on, but I suspect they ended up leaving the commitment entirely due to larger issues that also frustrated me, rather than the specifics of the committee. 

It's generally important for me to feel that my time is productive and my efforts meaningful. As a volunteer body we struggled with all kinds of processes and decisions. I grew impatient with talk that didn't lead to action, and even less patient with talk that imagined work for others to do without lifting a finger to help. This has got to be my biggest volunteer pet peeve—all ideas and no action. I was constantly trying to steer my committee and the body as a whole to find the sweet spot of things that we could do that did not require extensive support from the overburdened staff. I did not always succeed.

Even as one of just a few people under 40, I became the most senior volunteer by my long tenure, since most people don't stay on for the maximum number of terms. At some point in different staff and leadership transitions, quite a few of the older documents were "lost" so I spent some time recently compiling everything I could find for posterity. 

I am so relieved to be free of this responsibility. I've been counting down for months, really the last year. I've been ticking off the "last this" and "last that" all year, so much so that Jon laughed when I told him tonight was the last call. It was slightly disorganized, somewhat poorly attended, and there was a brief mention and recognition of my last meeting. 

In the Before (covid) Times, when people termed off, there was a lovely recognition of them at an in-person dinner along with a card and gift. Maybe there is a card and gift yet to come in the mail, but I feel a little sad not to have something like that. It's ok though, because I didn't do this for a gift. I did it for the joy of sustaining something I care deeply about. I look forward to supporting the cause for the foreseeable future in a way that doesn't require any leadership or major time commitment on my part and I'm not jumping into any new volunteer commitments either. I'm planning to savor this new time and mental space while it lasts.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Looking ahead to 2021

Writing some expectations for 2021 feels both more difficult and more important than usual. I have some new categories that I couldn't have predicted a year ago. 


I don't think we'll get the vaccine until the second half of 2021 at the earliest. We're relatively young, without preexisting conditions, and have very low exposure risk. We are appropriately low on the vaccination list. Based on how slowly the vaccine rollout is starting, I'll be surprised if we get it before September. If we do, it will be thanks to effective organization of our local government.

Given our current circumstances, our risk of contracting the virus and developing covid-19 is low. Our low-risk points of possible exposure are carryout delivery, grocery or other store pickup, occasional (~1x/mo) and brief (<10 min) in-person grocery or other store trips, unlucky outdoor transmission from strangers while walking/hiking/running, outdoor transmission from friends while hiking and talking (masked) for up to 2 hours (up to 1x/mo), or extremely unlucky outdoor transmission from masked, distanced conversations with friends or family (~3x/mo, up to 30 min at a time). When it's nice enough outside to open all the windows for ventilation (for her protection and ours), I'll ask our housekeeper to return. She wears a mask and we close ourselves off in rooms that she doesn't enter. The Neighbors spend about an hour at a doctor's office once a month for a recurring treatment. Otherwise, their points of exposure are very similar to ours, with less carryout delivery and possibly more time in the grocery store. Right now I can't think of any other known exposure risks. If the kids return to school in person, that will unquestionably be the biggest exposure risk. If we can succeed in renovating the basement, workers in the basement would be another risk.

All things considered, I think it's unlikely for either us or The Neighbors to pick up the covid. But, if one of us gets it, probably all seven of us will get it. This is why we all take the bubble so seriously. 

I am definitely concerned about our parents staying safe. I really hope that they are all able to be vaccinated soon. It will be a relief once they've all had two doses.


I don't think Adele will return to school in her building until the next school year. However, there's a possibility that they'll start a hybrid schedule in the spring. I'm not optimistic though. Thankfully we've got our shared arrangement with The Neighbors. I do hope they can return in person in August/September. I'm not optimistic about summer camps being a viable option so we'll probably maintain the arrangement with The Neighbors for the next 8 months. 


I hope that by the end of the year, I will have at least a couple of new colleagues because we've been able to grow the team. Hopefully, that would mean a bit of change in my scope of work that would leave me slightly less stressed. However, that involves convincing my boss that it's a good idea (his idea) to grow the team. I've been trying unsuccessfully for almost 3 years, so this might be a fool's errand. I also hope my salary will at least be restored to its pre-pandemic cut level. 

If I travel for work, I'd be surprised if it happens before September. 

Jon's work might have more changes this year because he found out on Dec 31 that his boss (whom he loves) is leaving. At this point it's too early to tell. I think he'll work from home for all of 2021.


We want to renovate the basement. For real. We've been talking about it for years. I think we can do it this year. We probably also have to find a separate shop space for Jon's tools. 

I spent the first few days of 2021 organizing a lot of my stuff in our room. It was a mess. I don't think I had really tried to tackle it in a big way in over a year. I semi-organized a lot of papers into boxes that are still meant to be further organized (and more importantly, purged). So this isn't complete but rather a first step. But it's a big one that I feel good about. 


I normally travel 2x/year for my volunteer responsibility, but now it's all virtual through the end of my term. I am a little sad to end a 9 year commitment without seeing folks in person one last time, but mostly I will feel relieved to be finished. It's a very tough time for the organization and I will still be involved, but no longer in a leadership capacity. Because of changes over the last several years, I have the longest institutional memory in the group, and I also have copies of some documents that were otherwise lost. One of the boxes I need to go through is meeting documents from the last 9 years to decide what to share for the group's archival purposes. 

Regional travel

There are some neat parks within a couple hour's drive that we haven't visited recently or ever that I'd like to see in 2021. I also have a tiny glimmer of hope that we might be able to spend a few days with my good friend and her family at their family cabin this summer (we'd sleep separately in a tent and nearly all our time would be spent outdoors). We didn't do it last year, but I hope maybe we can this year. We went in 2018 and 2019 and it's magical. 


I hope to see my parents again by the end of summer, hopefully after they are fully vaccinated. Adele would love to go fishing with Jon's dad, once we're comfortable that's a mutually safe activity. Hopefully we'll be able to host Thanksgiving this year for Jon's family! 


I hope by the end of the year we'll be able to have friends over again (not just The Neighbors). I won't be terribly surprised if we have another stretch of time where a friend lives with us again, though at this point we don't know. I plan to continue the monthly calls with college friends and grad school friends. 

The World

I hesitate to speculate much, but I want to hope that the new administration will be well on the path of undoing what damage can be undone in a year. It's going to be a tough few years ahead.

Monthly goals

I want to try these again after having some success with them last year.


Find a contractor for renovating our basement. We can't do much else until we do this.


Read about how other people organize memorabilia to come up with a sustainable system that I will start implementing.  

Other ideas for future months:

  • Exercise every day (like last July)
  • Get better at ping pong (might be easier once the basement is renovated)
  • Stay on top of our finances on a weekly basis
  • Read a book (there's so many on my shelf and new ones coming out that I need to make some progress, other than the family book club)
  • Plan the big 2022 trip
  • Unsubscribe from 30 email things
Hopefully I'll post again in March or April with an update on monthly goals. I write that only half- expecting it to materialize. We'll see!

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Looking back on 2020

Well, this has been an unforgettable year.  I want to start with gratitude that we and all of our family members and close friends are alive and healthy. That is far from normal this year. We are lucky and privileged enough that we and most of our family and close friends have been able to isolate and/or protect ourselves. 

How did my expectations hold up? Let's see...

I don't think I'll have as much work travel this year as I did last year, and I'm ok with that. I probably already did my biggest trip of the year earlier this month.

More accurate than I could have possibly imagined! January was my only work trip. It was awesome though, and I'm glad it was scheduled early enough in the year that it happened! 

I think we'll do some fun family travel this year, but nothing all that long or expensive. We've got the beginnings of a plan for a big trip in 2021 that I'm excited about. This year we need to see some family and friends, and hopefully get Jon and Adele's passports in use somewhere. A couple of plans to combine work and family travel already fell through this year, so hopefully something will work out.

Not exactly. I went on a trip with Adele back to Big City in February, and in August she and I went to visit my parents for a couple of weeks after isolation and testing. No passport use for Jon & Adele. Jon had a fun trip planned in March with his best friend that was canceled. And that big trip in 2021 is seeming less likely, too (probably will be deferred to 2022 instead). 

As usual, because for some reason for the last decade April is my busiest month of the year, I expect April to be very, very hectic.

Honestly, I don't really remember April. There was so much chaos and uncertainty around everything. Almost everything that normally makes April stressful for me was canceled, which made the kind of stress I'd predicted diminish but it was replaced by the stress of grocery shopping, deciding if masks should be worn/what kind/how, and whether or not school might reopen. 

I hope to build some closer friendships this year.

Yes, but not at all how I'd expected! More on that below. 

I don't expect huge changes. As far as we can tell, we're all in very stable places (home, careers, school), so more happiness is a matter of maximizing our already wonderful circumstances to make more room for what's fulfilling and leave behind what isn't.

Baaahahhahahahahahahahaha! But I was thankfully right about the stability part in a big way. I feel like we climbed above the high water line of financial insecurity over the last few years which, combined with other privileges, has unquestionably protected us from the worst of the pandemic. 

Here's my expanded reflections on some key parts of life in 2020.


An enormous part of our sanity in 2020 came from decisions we made in April/May/June to expand our household and form a bubble with another family. First let's talk about The Neighbors. This family moved 3 doors down around June 2019. Their daughter is a grade behind Adele at the same school (not a given in the charter school landscape) and their younger son started preschool there that year. We saw them around a bit, but didn't really start to get to know them until I invited them over one weekend in December, then they had us over in January of the Before Time. We had a handful of other interactions before March, and then after school went online did some neighborly distanced chatting outside while trying to keep the kids a safe distance apart in the Time Before Masking. 

As Adele continued with first grade online in April and May, no one in our house was very happy. Adele was lonely and online school was miserable for all of us. She hated being assigned worksheets. Jon and I talked about the idea of bubbling up with The Neighbors to be able to share childcare responsibilities. We cautiously emailed them with the idea in late April, and we spent the next month corresponding about it to gauge each other's level of exposure and precautions. We were very much on the same page: only essential trips inside other buildings, no play dates, all working from home. So in late May, we started our arrangement: all 3 kids spend 9-5 together M-F. Monday & Tuesday at our house, Thursday & Friday at their house, and we alternate Wednesdays. Whichever house hosts the kids on Wednesday also hosts dinner for everyone. The Neighbors have been the only people outside our household who we've spent time with indoors since mid-March (with one family exception explained below). We all take the bubble seriously and discuss if anyone is considering higher risk activities. 

On top of the arrangement with The Neighbors, we also added someone to our household. Jon's best friend (of the canceled March trip) moved in with us in June, after isolating and testing. That idea was also discussed for weeks before it became a reality. For a variety of reasons, the safest thing for him to do was move in with us for 6 months, and turns out it was also the funnest. He and Jon have so much fun together, and it was great to have another adult in the house to help with chores (dishes!). It was nice to have him around because it took pressure off of me to be fun. I know that might sound weird, but I'm kind of a workaholic married to a lesiureaholic. In the Before Times, we (mostly Jon) had friends over 2-4 nights per week to play board games. So having his best friend here filled some of the fun he normally would have had with our other good friends. He left shortly before Christmas, which was bittersweet. For the first time in months it was just the 3 of us in the house again which made things more spacious, but we were all sad for him to go.

Having 2 or 3 uninterrupted work days per week plus four (!) other adults to interact with in person and friends for Adele has made 2020 manageable. I know we are incredibly fortunate that these arrangements worked out. We're committed to the arrangement with The Neighbors indefinitely, at this point. And depending how the chips shake out for our friend, he might be back again sometime in 2021.


We moved here, to Jon's Hometown, to be near his family. This year: so close, but so far away. We suspended weekly brunch with his brother in early March. We were just about to start weekly dinner with his mom. So, it's been a bummer not to be able to gather with them in person. For various reasons, none of them are in circumstances where it makes sense to add them to our bubble. We have had some outdoor conversations with them (with masks, at a distance). His family does have a weekly zoom gathering (which is much greater frequency than they all convened before) and more recently a weekly family book club. Jon's family has a rotation for hosting Thanksgiving and Christmas. This year was supposed to be our year for Thanksgiving, but it's been deferred until next year (I hope!). 

We usually see my parents a few times a year (roughly spring/summer, fall, Thanksgiving, and Christmas). When cases were relatively low towards the end of summer, Adele and I went to stay with them for two weeks while The Neighbors went to visit family (outdoors, masked, at a distance). They isolated more than usual in advance, and we all got tested. Usually we have shorter but more frequent visits, but this time we spent a year's worth of time together all in one go. Adele had so much fun with them and was so sad to go. I really enjoyed exploring the parks around their house while we were there. We also got to see my closest cousin (outdoors, masked, at a distance) who lives nearby. The cynical part of me (anticipating a fall surge in cases) thought it might be the only time we saw them in 2020, but the optimistic part of me wanted to hope for the possibility of safely gathering again for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Sadly, the fall surge made it unsafe to gather again.

In terms of who in our families has been infected, as far as I know it's just one sister in law; my aunt, uncle, & cousin (one household); and my cousin's husband. Several of my cousins/uncles are working high risk jobs in hospitals/long-term care facilities and are getting vaccinated already. We're very thankful that all of our parents are being careful and have stayed healthy. 


Oddly enough, I'm feeling better than I have in a while about my friendships. Maybe part of it is lowered expectations for socializing, but I definitely have grown closer to some friends.

Thankfully, The Neighbors are awesome. We've gotten to know them quite well over the last 7 months as the only other adults we see in person for any length of time. We've all heard so much about each other's friends and family that we're looking forward to meeting them when such things are safe. Adele has a ball with their kids. Especially as an only child, I think it's been great for her to have other kids to play with on a daily basis. They've started calling each other "corona cousins". 

I also had a great time hanging out more than ever with Jon's best friend. I've always considered him a good friend too (we all met in college half a lifetime ago), but there was no question that he and Jon were two peas in a pod from the time they were freshman year college roommates. I'm thankful this year to have become closer to him too.

I started a monthly call with my college housemates which has been great for being more connected with some of them who I haven't seen in ages and don't regularly call. For a hot minute there was also the possibility of a different college friend moving in with us as she contemplated leaving her longtime partner. I wouldn't rule that out in the future.

We did surprisingly manage to see one of my best friends in person outdoors for a couple of hours while visiting my parents. Her in-laws live an hour away and they were visiting them. The visit was painfully bittersweet. Our girls are the same age and usually spend at least a few entire days each year with each other. We did a year's worth of in-person conversation in a few hours. It was so sweet for the kids to see each other, and it turned into a painful reminder of what we've missed this year because of the pandemic. It filled my heart to see them, but it crushed my heart to leave.


Last year I wrote about feeling like the clutter around our house (particularly the clutter I create) is a manifestation of trying to do too much. Aside from the unsubscribe-fest I did in January, it hasn't really been much of a year for decluttering. Our bedroom has just accumulated more and more of my miscellaneous stuff and I'm working up the resolve and energy to tackle it. 

In February we replaced our 20 year old stove which was aggressively mediocre/slightly dysfunctional. Someday we'll properly renovate the kitchen, but thankfully we realized that we could (and long since should've) just replace the stove. Glad we got that one under the wire before covid really took hold.

For the past couple of years we've had the same woman come to clean once or twice a month. She came in early March and we fretted about the looming threat, then she didn't come again until late summer/fall when cases were relatively low and the doors and windows could be open while she cleaned and we stayed in rooms she didn't enter. I've kept paying her every 2-4 weeks whether she comes or not. 


I've spent the last 9 months working full time while caring for 1-3 kids ages 3-7 for at least one full day per week. In June, I started tracking my work hours (see below), so I know I'm still working 40+ hours per week. Tuesday is my day with the kids. When school is in session, I help make sure they all attend the appropriate video meeting at the right time. Pretty much every week I mess something up and someone misses something. But this is far, far better than the alternative of trying to help or entertain Adele ourselves every day, and less risky (and less expensive) than forming a learning pod with a tutor like some families have done. My heart goes out to all the parents who are still going at it with little support. We as a society should be able to do better in so many ways. 

My work remains fulfilling but often too expansive. I've done some great work and I've definitely let some people down. I've had some more conflicts with my boss, which remain confusing and disorienting. I have lots of vacation days saved up but I find it nearly impossible to actually use them because there's so much to do and our team is spread so thin. I have been unsuccessful in finding the path to grow our team so that I don't feel so threadbare. 

Jon and I both took pay cuts mid-year, but his was fairly soon restored, and then he got a large raise that more than offsets my cut. I don't think my salary will be restored until well into 2021. 


Jon has always enjoyed watching a lot of movies and tv shows, but this was probably a record viewing year for me given the relative lack of entertainment alternatives. Some of my favorites were Never Have I Ever (please binge watch it now) and The Queen's Gambit. We re-watched several older seasons of Survivor and Long Way Round. We're part way through Long Way Up now and I'm appreciating the vicarious adventure of it. 

I've written in the past about growing weary of a major volunteer commitment. The weariness continues. I've doubted my effectiveness as a leader and had some extremely frustrating experiences this year. It was a real roller coaster, and thankfully it was most recently at a good point, but yeesh. At one point I rage-read this book Strategic Doing because I was so frustrated that our attempts to be helpful kept getting blocked by unnecessary bureaucracy. I was thankful to be volunteering closely with someone else on the same page.  

The World

Remember November? Early November? Yikes, what a nail-biter of a time. I wrote letters to voters. I called people in swing states. I texted my friends to ask if they had a plan for voting. I gave a lot of my personal "entertainment" budget money to campaigns. And thank goodness we voted that monster out in a landslide (it turned out) and some of his supporters (though not nearly enough of them). It was a necessary (but not sufficient) step.

The self-inflicted devastation of the last four years has been agonizing to watch. Three years ago, I wrote

My immediate family is doing fine, but the world feels much less safe with the insanity of nuclear brinksmanship from two insecure leaders, no new gun control measures despite escalating casualties in mass shootings, and the mainstreaming of white supremacists. We continue to ignore the paths for action on climate change, despite suffering extensive damages from hurricanes, flooding, droughts, and fires exacerbated by our inaction. Measures making the dysfunctional health care system we have even worse and tax changes that will disproportionately benefit the incredibly wealthy and wreck the federal budget make me less optimistic for a thriving future of broadly shared prosperity in our country. I am sad for our country and the world.

These words are sadly still so timely. It's just missing the part about the devastatingly preventable pandemic and the aggressive and racist policing and systems that makes us all less safe. 

Monthly goals

January: wrote about unsubscribing from 31 things here

February: I came up with a process for managing my photos from both my phone and separate camera. I didn't completely deal with organization of past photos, but having a system in place for this year has really helped.

March, April, and May: Turns out the main goal was "don't get covid or lose your mind"

June: track my hours again. During grad school, I tracked my working hours and added them all up here. I wanted to do it again to get a sense for how much I was actually working. I told myself I'd do it for a month, but once I got in the habit I just kept doing it, so now I have 7 months of data. I just checked and I've worked 1238 hours over the last 31 weeks, or 39.9 hours per week. Considering that I took a pay cut, have "had" 10 days worth of holidays or vacation days during those 31 weeks, did at least 36 hours of volunteer work (more on that below), and spent at least one full day per week supervising 3 kids, I'd say that's plenty.

July: exercise every day. It's been ages since I had a regular exercise routine, so I decided July would be the month to do it. I did some kind of exercise each day, though sometimes it was pretty modest (i.e. going for a walk when I otherwise wouldn't have). Most days I was run/walking with a Couch to 5k app. When July was over I still ran occasionally but not as much. I'll probably try to do something like this again in 2021. A month is a manageable daily exercise commitment, and some of the habit persists. 

After this I think I stopped having monthly goals, so I'll call that a partial success with four out of twelve. Some of the ideas I had might be implemented in 2021.

I still love looking back on the year and reviewing my expectations, goals, and predictions. Especially in these strange and hectic times, I appreciate having a snapshot of my thoughts. I am cautiously optimistic about national and global improvements in the months ahead, though we have a long way to go. For my part, I will continue to do what I can to right this ship by protecting and supporting others.

Friday, July 3, 2020

...whoa, 2020

Now that we're halfway through the disastrous year of 2020, this is a good time to pause and reflect. On January 31, 2020, I wrote for my expectations of 2020:

I don't expect huge changes. 

 Um... 😳



I did not see this *gestures around in reference to the massive global disruption due to covid-19* coming on January 31, even though I was already following the news about the novel coronavirus at that time.

I was first warned about the then-unnamed disease spreading in China on Friday, January 3rd via email from a nurse responsible for advising me and my colleagues on travel happening later that month. I was warned again very seriously in person a few days later and told to cover my mouth and nose with "anything you have" if anyone around me coughed or sneezed. I listened but wasn't particularly worried.

But we did talk about it during the trip, and what it was like for people during SARS (1). Another person on the trip had been quarantined apart from his family for 10 days during that time due to a mysterious fever. That seemed like such a long time, and so serious. So exceptional.

As my trip was wrapping up, China was shutting down. People I collaborate with across Asia were taking it very seriously by early February. I came down with a cold in the middle of the month (about 3 weeks after returning) and was definitely paranoid that maybe I'd picked it up during my travels and it had just taken a much longer time to develop, but I wasn't that sick and from reading the news I was unconvinced that anyone would even test me because I didn't meet the criteria.

I spent a lot of the second half of February reading about it on Twitter, watching the science community react, and reading the news. I got more and more anxious with the lack of preparation and seriousness in the US. It was like watching the news of a hurricane leaving destruction in its wake and tracking this way, but every town and city in the path just planned to carry on.

Everything came to a head in March, of course. Jon was supposed to leave on March 14 for a much-anticipated week long trip with a friend. Based on everything I was reading, I did not think it was a good idea and we had several tense conversations leading up to the day when the shit actually hit the fan and everything was canceled, including his trip (much to my relief).

Adele's last day of school at school was Friday, March 13. I could see the writing on the wall and was sort of conflicted about even sending her the last couple of days that week, but it seemed like it would be a while before she went back so she went.

Do you remember those early days, when we had hope that it might be a month or two and then the kids would go back to school? Ha! Here we are, 3.5 months later with no school and no summer camp. I was so pleased with our proactive organization this year—we made all the camp plans and paid in February! So organized! So privileged to even be able to do that! Sigh.

We've taken the isolation seriously, and still are even as some things are opening up. We are incredibly fortunate to have our jobs (with pay cuts) and the ability to work from home, so we're doing the best we can. It sucks, but know it could be so, so much worse. I am thankful for everything we have during this wild 2020 ride.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Looking ahead to (the rest of) 2020

When I was in the home stretch of finishing grad school, pregnant, and working on my dissertation, I did a seriously aggressive purge of various subscriptions. My time and attention was so important that I needed as few distractions as possible. I thought I'd written about it at the time, but I couldn't find any mention of it around winter 2012-13. Anyways, I decided I'd start the year with a subscription cleanse.

January's goal: Unsubscribe from at least 31 things. The idea was kind of to do at least one per day, but I had a chunk of travel and knew that would throw things off, so I went with a numeric target for the month. I kept a list and just made it to 32 things tonight. I will continue unsubscribing from things, but this was a good start to the year.

I'm planning to do monthly goals this year to give me focus (and to release myself from the urge to try to do too much at once).

February's goal: a simpler photo organization system for all my digital photos
By the end of the month, I want to have a clear system for how I manage images from my phone and separate digital camera, as well as all my older photos which are spread across two laptops and possibly an external drive.

Right now I've got some photos duplicated on my current laptop but am not entirely sure which ones they are, I have a few different file naming systems, and I've got at least two different cloud backup systems in play but they aren't both including all the images. It's a mess, and my life would be easier if it wasn't.

Other expectations for 2020:
I don't think I'll have as much work travel this year as I did last year, and I'm ok with that. I probably already did my biggest trip of the year earlier this month. It was great, but the kind of work I did for that really isn't what I should normally be doing, so I hope it's an outlier in that regard.

I think we'll do some fun family travel this year, but nothing all that long or expensive. We've got the beginnings of a plan for a big trip in 2021 that I'm excited about. This year we need to see some family and friends, and hopefully get Jon and Adele's passports in use somewhere. A couple of plans to combine work and family travel already fell through this year, so hopefully something will work out.

As usual, because for some reason for the last decade April is my busiest month of the year, I expect April to be very, very hectic.

I hope to build some closer friendships this year.

I don't expect huge changes. As far as we can tell, we're all in very stable places (home, careers, school), so more happiness is a matter of maximizing our already wonderful circumstances to make more room for what's fulfilling and leave behind what isn't.

There's so much to be done in this broken world. I'm sorry I can't do all the things. I'm just trying to do what good I can in my little corners, and I hope you are able to do good in yours.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Looking back on 2019

Well, this is my only post for 2019, continuing the long, slow decline of frequency since the peak in... (checks blog)... 2008 with 204 posts! I didn't even write about my expectations and goals for 2019 like I intended. Why not?

I intended to have monthly goals, but I hadn't figured out what all of them were going to be yet. But I had the first two planned. January was going to be no backlog. My interpretation of that was something like "inbox zero" for new stuff where I'd deal with it each day. However, I promptly departed for a 2 week international work trip whereupon that plan went right out the window.


February's goal was going to be to buy our house... and we bought it in August instead. So that didn't exactly help me build momentum with the monthly goal thing. Those were bad goals. For 2020, my first goal is to have better goals.

So without a blueprint of ambitions and expectations laid out at the beginning of the year, I'll just muse on various aspects of my life in 2019.

Home & Family
The most noteworthy thing that happened this year is that we became homeowners! I'll spare everyone the boring complicated details, but we didn't move. It just took a long time to go from being renters to owners. Jon is still loving his work and doing a great job, so a couple of solid years with both of us earning respectable professional wages finally made that possible. We're so glad to have made that leap and thankful to everyone who played a role.

Adele continues her trajectory of awesomeness as a first grader. There have been some new struggles this year with friends, but all part of growing up. In the last year or so she has upped her game skills so we established a weekly family board game night. It's fascinating to recognize some of the odd affinities and hangups she has that I relate to from my childhood. I can tell that she gets worked up by the anticipation of uncomfortable things in a way that I did a lot as a child but Jon did not, e.g. taking medicine. She also shares my affinity for gnarly tree roots and making sets of M&Ms with one of each color.

This year I canceled a failing monthly event with neighborhood mom friends that I started about 5 years ago. I was bad at reminding people, but I also wasn't hearing from anyone despite the recurring calendar event. Sometimes no one showed up, which was kind of depressing for me. Jon is the kind of person who commits heavily to a small group of friends. He has about 5 close friends and at least any two of them are over at least 2 times per week to play games. I hang out with them too, but I also want my own group of close friends. The kind of sad truth for me is that I really don't have a close friend here. I know a lot of people and have a lot of friendly acquaintances who could potentially be closer friends, but I couldn't think of anyone I felt close enough to to invite to my birthday dinner. I work too much and volunteer too much and try to do too much around the house and don't do a good job prioritizing friendships. I skype monthly with my two best friends from grad school, I'm in close with a college friend who lives a few hours away, and I hike monthly with a few women, but sometimes I am sad that I don't have more regular hang out friends around here. It's not like there aren't cool people here. I need to do a better job in 2020.

I traveled for work in January, February, March, April, October, and November. Half the trips were international. For the first time since our honeymoon in 2009, we managed to combine a work trip with a family vacation. Considering how many trips I've done for work since then, that's kind of insane. It just either hasn't made sense logistically (especially with a kid), or been feasible financially. But this year, Jon and Adele joined me at the end of a work retreat and we made a long weekend of exploring a different part of the country.

Our biggest family trip this year was visiting Disney with my parents. Adele was such a fun age for it (almost 6). We also did a couple of shorter trips to visit friends and attend our college reunion.

I'm established enough in my position now that this year I've gotten the highest profile invitations of my career. I did a handful of interviews and gave a couple of prominent invited talks. For the biggest, it was an entirely new talk for which I spent at least 60 hours preparing, and I knocked it out of the park. I've never received so many compliments in my life. That felt good. Then I slept for 11 hours straight.

Stuff and Attention
I watched Marie Kondo's Tidying Up and parted with a lot of clothes and books. I have a growing realization that I'm trying to fit too much into my life (in terms of my time and commitments), and cluttered corners of the house are a reflection of the same phenomenon, but with physical things. Watching Tidying Up helped me think about what I can be grateful for but let go. I'm trying to do a better job of not trying to hold too much, physically or metaphorically. I still have a lot of papers and misc to go through to decide if they spark joy.

This year I also read How to Do Nothing by Jenny O'Dell (so did Obama, btw) which got me thinking even more about the attention economy and how to make conscious decisions about my attention. I've definitely spent less time on conventional social media this year, especially Facebook. I have some complicated thoughts about my role in the attention economy but I really enjoyed the book.

Work & Emotional Labor at Work
Last year I reflected on some of the growing pains from moving into my dream job. This year has overall been much smoother with my colleagues, but I'm definitely feeling the stress of being at the interface of internal and external expectations. There are a handful of difficult external people who I've had to deal with, and the amount of emotional labor and time it takes to interact with them is exhausting. It has been difficult to know the best way to proceed in many circumstances and definitely caused me to lose sleep.

One night I had a dream that I was near a forest fire. For some reason, I thought I could get closer and still get back out safely (I can't even remember why). But in my dream, the fire quickly got more intense, and I was trapped and had to be rescued. I realized I was a fool for going in because I had not only endangered myself, but the person who had to come rescue me.

I woke up from this dream with the realization that I needed to set clear boundaries with the difficult person I was dealing with at the time. I took it as a warning that if I didn't, I was putting my team and project at risk by proceeding. Essentially, this difficult person was an unpredictable forest fire capable of inflicting damage.

I love my job. I care about it so much that I have a hard time not working. I'm almost always trying to accomplish more than is realistically possible in a week. The team had many great successes this year, but I've also wasted a bit of time on some things that kind of flopped. We didn't lose anything but the time we put into it, but I feel a little self-conscious about those things. However, I've more than succeeded in many other areas, so it's just good for me to hone my sense of where to put my effort and attention. I also think I did a great job foreseeing a potentially disastrous collaboration and cutting it off, though it caused me a fair amount of anxiety for months before finally made the call. I probably should have done it sooner, but I kept hoping they'd get their act together.

I don't like saying no or letting people down, so I sometimes have trouble setting boundaries for work and prioritizing. I should be more strict about that in 2020, for my own sanity and health.

I've also done a lot of volunteering this year. One of the things I volunteer for has a strong interaction with my work, but it's not exactly part of my job. Over the last year it's been exciting to see how it has grown into a movement, and I'm not having to manage all of the mental responsibilities for it anymore.

I'm also nearing the end of a long-term volunteer commitment and find myself looking for the light at the end of the tunnel. It's been a bit more stressful than fun for the last 2 years. Perhaps I should write a longer reflection on it at some point.

I've organized a lot of events. Some for volunteering, some for work, and I have less and less patience for it. It falls into the category of something I'm pretty good at but don't enjoy. I hate all of the little decisions about the venue, the food, the budget, etc. I should have a personal limit for event organizing and stick to it.

I did a good job of committing to a particular ritual every day (~95% success). I plan to continue the ritual for the foreseeable future.

Last year I noted my weight had crept up more than I was comfortable with (i.e. my clothes weren't fitting), so I'm pleased I managed to lose about 10 pounds this year (though it went up first before it went down!). However, I have probably had higher blood pressure this year than ever before, thanks to these aforementioned difficult people and generally working too hard. I'm not really exercising though, so that's not great.

Just before leaving for 10 days of travel in October, I made a frantic dash out the door for something that was urgent but not really very important, and in my haste I fell down a few steps onto the sidewalk. I scraped myself up pretty badly and hit my cheek on the concrete. I ended up with a spectacularly awful black eye, but honestly I'm grateful that it wasn't worse because I easily could have broken something. It was a wake up call for me. I took it as a warning to make sure I don't try to do too much, get hasty, and break myself (or my work) in the process and ultimately make things unnecessarily more difficult.

All in all, it's been a great year and I can hardly complain. We're incredibly fortunate. Wishing all who read this a healthy, just, and peaceful 2020!

Monday, December 31, 2018

Life in 2018

I wrote a record-low two posts in 2018 before this one. I still enjoy this medium for self-reflection, though I use it rarely now.

I mentioned just a few things that I expected for 2018:

Make monthly resolutions
I completely failed at this. I think I'll try again in 2019, but with a better plan. I hope!

Start my dream job
Yes! It's been more of a roller coaster than I expected, though. More on that below.

New job for Jon
Yes! He ended up changing jobs right after I did, and it's been a complete 180 for him. It's a great company and an incredible fit for his personality and skills. It's a great reminder that if your job sucks and you're depressed about it, there's probably someplace out there where you can shine. I'm so glad he's found that in his new job.

Big family trip
Yes! We had an awesome time traveling with several nieces and nephews for a week over the summer. They are wonderful people.

Big gardening plans
Yes! We put in a rain garden and a lot more native plants. I love puttering in the garden.

Many things about this year were predictable, but they certainly weren't boring. I worked really hard. Probably too hard (Jon would say definitely too hard). For the first half of the year, I was also working on a carryover project from my last job. Seeing that through was a lot of extra work, and it was a relief to have it finished. However, I was pretty crushed by my new boss's response to it. He thought it was so... unimportant. I've learned that it's very difficult when he and I don't see eye to eye, and I had a few particularly stressful incidents with him. I hadn't anticipated this kind of conflict, and there were definitely several times when I regretted leaving my other job when I did because of the stress with my new boss. I spent 4 years working mostly for and with badass women who gave me just enough guidance and independence to flourish. There's a different dynamic with my new job and I have struggled at times to understand how I best fit into the team. I feel it's on the upswing now, but I expect there will be other rough patches. I've contemplated getting a therapist or a coach or both.

I spent part of the year feeling somewhat socially isolated and feeling like I needed more quality social time with friends. We decided to throw a holiday party for the first time since leaving Big City and that was a big success. Although that itself wasn't a time when I got to have lots of the kinds of conversations I was craving, it was helpful for encouraging some new friendships.

My weight has crept up slowly for the last couple of years, and I know I've been less active this year. I need to eat a little less and be more active (the recipe for almost every weight loss plan ever). Sigh.

I didn't travel nearly as much for work in 2018 as I did in 2017 and 2016. I had just 3 work trips, and only one was international. We did a fair number of weekend driving trips to see friends or family, and that one big family trip.

I got a holiday card out this year for the first time since 2014. In years past part of my hang up was having "the photo" for the card. We've never had a professional family portrait, but sometimes Jon takes one that we pose for. I decided last holiday season that this year I should just pick some photos and get something done rather than getting hung up on "the photo". I had the cards made pretty early, but since last sending cards in 2014, it seemed half our list had moved, died, or added new family members, so updating it took quite a while and we didn't get cards out until Christmas Eve. Next year should be easier!

Adele gets more and more awesome. She's in kindergarten this year (Montessori) and her math skills are exploding. She's doing some simple mental addition and subtraction with ease. She's starting to read a little, learned to ride a pedal bike, loves to play and invent games, and tells people she's a scientist.

All in all we've had a good year and cannot possibly complain about our lot in life. The country and world... oof. I'm really hoping for some improvement (modest, realistically) on a number of fronts in 2019 with a change in congress, but I know we're just halfway to 2020 and how much more important that will be for political change in the US.

As usual, I'll post my expectations for 2019 and some goals in January.

Happy New Year!