Monday, April 16, 2018

monday, monday

An incident occurred last week at school that quickly spiraled out of control. My documenting it here, is an opportunity to capture it for posterity.

The Facts As I Understood Them: A classmate who has been aggressive and confrontational towards several students in the class, turned his aggressions on William.  It was a brief moment where he called William a Very Bad Name, and then threw out a critical component of his lunch.

When William told me the story, after it had simmered in his mind for several hours, the scene had become much more ominous.  Rarely do I reach out to teachers regarding classmate issues - I think this is the first time (?) - but I reached out when I heard what William said, and Carolyn - who is also in the class - corroborated the story and this child's behavior who has consistently been 'mean'.  

I asked William several times, "You mean to tell me, he threw out your yogurt?!" and he insisted, "YES! HE DID!"  In my email to the teacher, I indicated our children were far from perfect, but if the tables were turned - I would absolutely want to know how my child was behaving at school and treating their peers. (And the favorite part of their lunches.)

The teacher immediately responded and said that our children were 'absolute angels' and it would be handled, but it was critical that both William and Carolyn removed themselves from any equation where this child was involved. That message was received and conveyed.

A few days later, Carolyn came home and indicated she'd been bullied by this same child when he approached a friend of hers and accused them of tattling and getting him in to trouble.  Carolyn said, "Leave them alone, they had nothing to do with it!" and the child turned on her.   Later that same day, Carolyn had to present a project in the class, and William observed that the child was whispering and pointing at his sister with his friends, and William conjured saying things that were unpleasant.

The unpleasant things that kids are saying in Junior High are really, really unpleasant.  Gone are the days of Elementary School where unpleasant is 'you're a booger nose!' 

Needless to say, William decided that he wasn't going to let this incident just 'go' so after class, he went up to the boy and said, "If you have something bad to say about my sister - you better say it to ME."  The boy just scoffed at William and walked off with his gang of friends, but William was absolutely certain he heard the boy say more derogatory things about his sister - which he told Carolyn about, and more dominoes fell. When Carolyn came home in tears, I again reached out to the teacher and said I'm just alerting her what is happening, and want to leave it to the school to handle this, but mama bear is coming out of hibernation if her cubs keep coming home mentally traumatized every day.   The teacher totally understood, was completely on board with what was happening, had reached out to the boys parents - and coaches since the offending student played sports - and was really escalating this because Really Bad Stuff. Unacceptable Stuff. 

On Friday, the teacher pulled our two children in to a discussion and for the first time, a conflicting story began to appear.  "He said, she said - wait a minute - didn't you tell me that he said this? Ruh-Roh..." 

The teacher reached out to me with concerns as to what exactly was going down, and for an hour on Friday night, William and Carolyn sat with me at a table and we got ALL THE DETAILS out, a la interrogation style when I sensed that they weren't going to say anything that would implicate they had in any way done something wrong.

What I Learned:  The boy has been aggressive in class, and called William a Very Bad Name and threatened to throw out a component of his lunch, but he didn't actually throw it out.  BIG Difference.  Nonetheless, William was mad, and things quickly went downhill.  The boy had approached Carolyn and her friend, and called Carolyn a Very Bad Name, and he did laugh and point at her in class. But was he talking about her? Not really sure. Some of the other names that William and Carolyn thought he heard him say? Not 100% certain.  

Elizabeth crashed the interrogation and said, "Oh! Oh! I know who that boy is! When I see him on Monday I'm going to….." And I cut her off and said, "OH NO YOU AREN'T GOING TO ANYTHING! YOU ARE GOING TO STAY OUT OF IT! LORD HAVE MERCY!" 

A cord of three strands is not easily broken, indeed.

And when they're all in Tae Kwon Do, WATCH OUT! 


I immediately relayed what I know to the teacher, and over the weekend we've been communicating every day. She has expressed to me that she isn't happy, because she based her response and actions on 'half truths.'  She completely trusted our children because of their 'stellar reputation' in her class - and ran this one up the flagpole, engaging parents and coaches - and was party to the issuance of some very stern warnings.

Likewise, I'm disappointed because they said all the right things that would set off my alarms (funny how they know EXACTLY what my triggers are!), I unequivocally believed them, and while a lot of what they said was true, they embellished details that may have resulted in a harsher punishment than what was warranted.  The teacher asked that I get them to school early today, so she can talk with them before any further action is taken.  All weekend, William and Carolyn have been literally worried sick about what lays in wait for them today, when they have to confess that they exaggerated, and speak the truth to a teacher that they greatly admire.

It's been hard to watch their pain and anguish, but I've explained to them that the best opportunities for growth, typically follow our most painful experiences. So they can either curl in a ball and be filled with dread, or they can own it, recognize that being human means making mistakes, rise up - and allow this situation to positively transform them.   To buoy themselves, Carolyn wrote an apology letter to the teacher, and William sat down with a pot of tea, and wrote down the definition to each word of the Boy Scout Law. Those that are the most relevant in this situation…  

A Scout is Trustworthy. A Scout tells the truth. He is honest, and he keeps his promises. People can depend on him.

A Scout is Kind.  A Scout knows there is strength in being gentle. He treats others as he wants to be treated. Without good reason, he does not harm or kill any living thing.

A Scout is Brave. A Scout can face danger although he is afraid. He has the courage to stand for what he thinks is right even if others laugh at him, or threaten him.


I've got some work to do, too.  First of which is to: 1) Breathe,  2) Make sure I've got all the details 100% correct; 3) Breathe some more while thinking about best way to respond.

As is most things in life, it can often be so much easier said than done.

Onward, Christian Soldiers!

Monday, April 09, 2018

come sail away with me

It started something like this.


We went to California for Spring Break - and to celebrate Charlie's dad's 90th birthday. While we were visiting the lovely town of Santa Barbara, where Charlie grew up, I took our children for a leisurely walk along the marina as we tried to settle on something fun to do. On the side of a little building, a sign caught my eye. It read: "LEARN TO SAIL HERE!"

"How about that!"  I exclaimed to the children. "I've always wanted to learn to sail!" They may have groaned, "Ohhhh no." It was either that or "Heave Ho."  I'm not really sure?

They walked, while I skipped down the ramp - across the dock - and in to a little marina office of the Santa Barbara sailing club.  A helpful young woman told me all about sailing classes, the introductory classes - and the more advanced classes, that could enable us to handle the much larger boats.  Unfortunately, we didn't have days to commit since we were leaving town the next morning. My dreams dashed, we instead opted to rent a surrey.


But that night at Alex's birthday party, as fate would have it, I sat next to some of Alex and Kathleen's good friends, John and Randi, and I told them how I'd inquired on sailing school, earlier in the day. John and Randi shared with me that they were sailors, and reminded me how they'd met Kathleen many years ago, while sailing in Mexico.  Back in the 70's they actually had started a sailing school in Santa Barbara, because they thought it was prudent people have basic sailing skills. They shared with me how wonderful of a sport sailing is, and how they know of people who have set off on incredible voyages with their family to explore the world.

This kind of free-living talk stirs something that was once deep in my soul, but is now right there on the surface, ready to ERUPT at any minute.  Charlie thinks it's a midlife crises, but I've been having it for YEARS and at this point, I'm probably shaving years off my life, if I don't do something about it.   So I shared with John and Randi how over the past two summers we'd visited nearly 20 National Parks across the US and Canada, camping the entire way, and I felt happier and more peaceful than I'd felt in …. ever?   While camping, we fished for our dinner, picked berries for our snacks, swam in rivers - hiked pristine meadows - gazed at stars - connected over campfires - collected sticks and stones and leaves and memories that will last us a lifetime.

We lived simply - and intentionally - and so, so richly.

As our children get older and closer to "launch" date, I explained to John and Randi, I know there's no way to slow down time which is flying past. But these adventures we share together as a family, are like speed bumps on the fast track road of life.  While time obviously isn't slowing down, when we're away from the daily grind, the days feel longer and sweeter, and the experiences of what we did are so unique - they are highlights, punctuated in our memory.

That simple living, is how I want to live every day. While we do have a great life - good careers, etc. it often feels like we're caught on a gerbil wheel where the weeks blend from one to the next, and we live for weekends, which are gone all too fast.  What I'd really like is to give our children a true educational experience and pull stakes for a couple years to really travel and experience the world.   I nodded to Charlie, who had joined us at the table, "We've done so much traveling by land - maybe now it's time to "sea" the world from a different perspective?!"

My husband shook his head and had a look of dread in his eyes.  I've gone off the tracks. Again.  A few months ago, I had in mind that we should buy a little cabin in northern Montana and open a coffee shop.  Last month, I was looking at RVs for sale. Lest we forget living on a farm in New England and raising sheep.

When we went whale watching a few days later, and watched dolphins jump through the wake our our boat, I had a spiritual experience of sorts.  Also, a realization that, "Hey, wait a minute! Houston is near the coast! I'll bet there are sailing schools near us!"


And that is how this past weekend, Charlie and I - and the children who are in a semi-slight panic that their parents are going to sell everything and move on to a sailboat for a couple years, took a two-day basic sailing classes in nearby Galveston, Texas.


On our first day of class, after our morning of classroom instruction, we set out on the water, where the temperatures were in the 50's, it was drizzling rain, and the wind gusts were 25-30 miles per hour.


Carolyn thought for sure she was going to flip the boat when it was her turn at the helm.  We were heeling so steeply that water was washing over the leeward side of the boat, and everyone - except our instructor, Captain Dave, was screaming.  We were quite a sight!


The next day, the temperatures were in the 40's and there was virtually no wind. Neither day were ideal conditions for beginner sailors - but we loved it, and appreciated that it was a totally awesome family / team building activity.


Everyone had an important job to do!


And best of all, we're now certified to sail boats up to 27 feet in length, through the American Sailing Association.


Over the next month, we will be taking trips back to the coast to hone our skills, before Charlie and I proceed with a more intensive sailing program that will allow us to handle the boats that are greater than 30 feet.  And then, who knows what?


The sayings are endless!

A boat in the harbor is safe… but that's not what boats are built for. 

A boat in the harbor is safe... but in time, it's bottom rots out. 

I'd rather be on a boat with a drink on the rocks, than in the drink with a boat on the rocks.

Wait - skip that one!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

spring break or bust (universal studios)

We returned last week from an awesome trip to California for Spring Break.  We left Houston on a Monday evening, and arrived in Los Angeles. Tuesday morning, we took the kids to Universal Studios, which was their first visit to a big theme park in several years.


While it was a fun experience, and the kids especially loved seeing Harry Potter World…


And taking a spin on all the rides, Charlie and I had much more fun watching them, take it all in. What visit to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter would be complete, without a quick stop for chocolate frogs at Honeydukes?


For the record: Charlie and I did ride this Jurassic Park waterslide with the kids, the first time they went on it. And after we were COMPLETELY DRENCHED, we decided to go get a hot beverage and let them do it again, by themselves, while we stood above and watched - sipping our tea and coffee.  If you think it looks like Henry is having a spiritual experience, he actually is … Jurassic Park is one of  his favorite book / movie / stories ever told.


Although he's also a big fan of Harry Potter and Butterbeer.


Oh, right. And he loves King Kong.


Funny story behind this picture. One of my children, who shall remain nameless, was driving me nuts because they were acting like an unprovoked moody teenager, which was quite flustering because we were on vacation - in this awesome place - that was costing an awesome penny - trying to have an awesome time - and attitude? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  So I might have actually pulled up military schools for girls while we were having lunch, and shortly thereafter, saw this sign and I said, "YES. THIS IS PRECISELY WHAT I NEED."  And someone, who might have been feeling like their mother was being a real piece of work, agreed and said, "YES! WHEN CAN I MOVE IN?"


Then we laughed, hugged, apologized for our snarkiness, and agreed that they would never, ever move out because they are my heart's delight.  (The majority of the time!) This was the sign over our booth at dinner, a few hours later.  Quite fitting - for both of us!


It really struck the kids, when we did the studio tour and were checking out the various sets, how so much of what we see in the movies is actually fake.  Mock streets and neighborhoods, fantastically constructed castles, building and house fronts, special effects for flash flooding - robotic sharks, dinosaurs, and timed explosions.


This is Hollywood Magic! 


You mean to tell me, if I was standing on the roof, I'd be taller than the turret?!


There's a lot of planning and engineering that goes in to making things appear so real and perfect: it's all designed specifically to pull us in and make us believe.

Interestingly enough, that led to a whole separate conversation about social media and airbrushed models within magazines and on television.  It was such a great discussion and learning experience - particularly at this formative age to see "behind the scenes" because it really put in perspective how what we see, isn't always the whole truth...




Sometimes, it's just shaded … ever so slightly.

And wow, the people who make it come alive? They're the real magicians!

Friday, March 23, 2018

environmental issues, politics ... and the act of a good turn

As I've written many times before, I'm a geologist by education.  By professional title, I'm an environmental engineer.  My career in the environmental industry began more than 25 years ago, and over the past two and a half decades, I've had the incredible opportunity to work in a chemistry lab, for the state of California as a regulator, and for private industry as a consultant. For the past 17 years, I've been a member of a technical team which manages a facet of environmental compliance, for the largest publicly traded oil company in the world.

I'm a Gen X'er, so in 1989 - my senior year in high school - I was a bright-eyed and ambitious, tree-hugging, Birkenstock wearing member of Amnesty International and the Sierra Club.  I was also on the Debate Team, parleying with my peers the criticality of having a city-wide recycling program, which to this day, and to my great dismay, still hasn't come to fruition in parts of Greenville, South Carolina.  Because I was so involved with the Model United Nations, I had the privilege of meeting various delegates of the United Nations, and separately - I met Ralph Nader (twice!), who convinced me that my career trajectory should unequivocally include some component of environmental and/or political activism.  Which lo and behold, it actually does.

In the spring of my graduating year,  I turned on the television and with the rest of the world, watched the horrific impact of the environmental disaster that was unfolding in Alaska when the Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound.  I'll never forget the beautiful seabirds and marine life, dripping in black.  The thick film of crude on the water - across the beaches - pooled on the rocks.  Scores of rescue workers - in yellow suits - tending to the incredibly overwhelming cleanup efforts that result when 10.8 million gallons of oil is catastrophically spilled in to a beautifully sensitive and fiercely wild habitat.  It was gut wrenching to see - and to remember.

Many people … to this day … steer clear of Exxon, because of the awful Valdez incident which happened 29 years ago tomorrow (March 24, 1989).  Of course some will argue - until the end of time - that ExxonMobil is still a threat to the earth and public good; but from my vantage point as an environmental professional that sits on the "inside" of this massive energy company, whilst still hugging trees and wearing Birkenstocks, ExxonMobil's corporate policy is one based upon integrity, we are actively developing new technologies and products, and where necessary: employing remedial strategies that are commensurate with risk, sustainable, and most importantly: protective of human health and the environment.

Now because I've got this goal of trying to keep my blogs to under 100,000 words, I won't wax too much poetic about how that singular event in Alaska nearly 30 years ago, completely transformed ExxonMobil in to the company it is, today.  They took a really bad incident - and used it to develop a really, really positive thing - which in my professional (and personal) opinion, has led to an outstandingly good company and corporate citizen.  In all of the various jobs that I've held in my professional career, I'm without a doubt, the proudest of my current role and my current employer.  Not because they are the largest in this industry, but because of the corporate philosophy which is built upon an unwavering ethos of doing good. With very rare exception, each day, I'm surrounded by a culture comprised of ethically solid people who have a strong moral compass to do the right thing. And up until 15 months ago, Rex Tillerson was my boss.

Or, more specifically … he was my boss' boss' boss' boss … boss.  He was quite a way up the food chain, but he was most definitely, the Top Dog of our company.  El Jefe. Big Wig.  Call it what you may, he was our highly respected leader.  And it actually came as very little surprise to me when he was tapped to be the US Secretary of State.  I'd discussed with a few of my colleagues, several months prior, how what the US Government really needed in Washington, was someone with solid business experience, a proven track record, that was straightforward, honorable, possessed great integrity - and would cut through the bunkum of DC politics and get things done.

Someone like … we had allowed ourselves to dream … someone like Rex Tillerson.

For a brief moment there, when Tillerson was first tapped, my view of things actually went up. See, I'd consider myself 'middle of the conservative-liberal continuum road' - and while I am very respectful of the office: I'm not a big fan of the man that is currently taking up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue … but I had to admit that maybe, just maybe, it wouldn't be so bad if he was surrounding himself with people as competent and morally strong as Rex Tillerson.

Because I also believed that Tillerson took the top diplomat job because he is a true patriot, and would do whatever he could to put his experience and talents to use for the service of America. He's certainly not out to make friends - further his reputation - or earn money. No, he took the job to serve God and his country because as a life-long Boy Scout (and former President of BSA), he is actually the living embodiment of the Boy Scout Oath.

Those very traits which made him - in my opinion - so ideal for a job in Washington, were also his downfall due to the unfathomable and incessant volatility of the current administration.  And mean-spiritedness of DC.  Yet despite the constant undercutting that he was subjected to in the political realm, he stuck it out, and all sources indicate he would have continued to stick it out to fulfill his oath, in service to America.  Alas, he was publicly shamed and dismissed in a public forum by one whose name I can't even write after what he did last Tuesday. On Twitter.


Yesterday afternoon, Charlie sent me a link to Rex's farewell speech to the State Department and I've got to admit, it made me cry.  These words … right here.  This is what life is all about:
Never lose sight of your most valuable asset that you possess: your personal integrity. Not one of you were gifted it. You were born with it. It belongs to you, and you alone. Only you can relinquish it, or allow it to be compromised. Once you've done so, it is very, very hard to regain it - so guard it as the most precious thing you possess.  I hope you'll continue to treat each other with respect. Regardless of the job title, station in life, or your role - everyone is important.  We're all just human beings, trying to do our part.  Please undertake one act of kindness, each day, toward another person. This can be a very mean-spirited town (I say, it can be a mean-spirited world!) but we don't have to chose to participate in that. Each of us get to chose the person we want to be, and the way we want to be treated - and the way we'll treat others.  God Bless you and your loved ones, and God Bless America. 
Amen.  And God Bless you, Rex Tillerson.


Because our family has been so involved in Scouts for the past several years (Girl, Cub, Boy), our kids (and several more from our troops) will be writing letters of sincere thanks to Mr. Tillerson for his "good turn" of service to our country.  I've also reached out to friends and family with children in scouts - from coast to coast - asking if they'd like to join in this effort. I'm currently trying to glean a Texas address to mail the letters to, to ensure he receives them expeditiously, and I'd be happy to share that address with anyone who is also interested in sending a letter to Rex, directly.   Just send me an email to: and I'll pass it on, as soon as I receive it.

After the particularly tumultuous year he's had, I think Rex deserves a really good turn.  He's a good man - a class act - with great integrity, and a role model for so many … myself included.  In the face of adversity and controversy, may we all handle ourselves with such dignity and grace.

Friday, February 23, 2018

remember the alamo (alternate title: this one hurts worse than a severely pulled hamstring)

(3/13/18 End of Term Update: After talking with her history teacher, he informed me that she could retake the test and raise that one major grade to 75 if she did well.  After a long weekend of studying and watching the movie The Alamo (Charlie liked it so much, he watched it twice), she retook the test - aced it - and got the maximum allowable points.  She's since made a 90 on another major history test and now has a passing average in the class.  For that matter, all of her grade averages have come up.  Of course I still feel like a hot piling heap of mama pancake for making her miss the track meet (which wound up being the last meet of the season?!) - and probably wouldn't make that exact same parenting choice again. But on the upside, she's embraced a new attitude toward her homework, is genuinely applying herself and realizing that when she does, she gets very positive results.  Come to think of it, that's kind of the way it works with just about every single thing in life...) 


Elizabeth is, and always has been, far and away, our most energetic child.  I'm convinced that in-utero she was Baby C, because she was the one that would most often flip, to the point that our ultrasound technician once measured four babies.  It's no surprise then that Elizabeth was the first child to roll-over, crawl, walk, run, climb, ride a bike - break a bone - and gallop on a horse.


Seventh grade is the first year that our children could join a sports team at school, and last year, Elizabeth tried out for - and made - the cross-country team.  This is a big deal, because their 7th grade class has around 1,300 students, so there truly are "spaces" on the team.  In order for her to make the team, she had to run two-miles in under 18 minutes.  When she tried out, she ran two-miles in under 16 minutes.  This was remarkable to me because although she's always on the move - she's never really trained to run.  Here in Texas, there were running camps all summer for kids that were interested in making the team, and we were strongly encouraged to send our interested athletes.   But we didn't send her to any of those camps because: 1. We were traveling a great deal this summer, and 2. Liz has a tendency to faint in hot and muggy weather, and there are few places hotter or muggier than Houston in the summer.

Even though she made the team, got the uniform and matching duffel bag, that didn't automatically qualify her to race in competitive meets. Because, again, due to the size of the team - athletes have to qualify to compete for the three spaces that are available for her school in each event.   Last semester, she ran every single day with her team, and her speed continued to improve, such that in no time flat, she was running two-miles in under 14 minutes, garnering her the nickname, "Lightening Lizzy."


But for whatever reason, her run time would decrease when it was time to qualify, and she couldn't make the cut to be in the top three runners for competitive meets.  Even though she didn't race in the "competitive meet", she would still race in the "open meet" and like clockwork, her speed would increase and she'd usually lead the herd.   More than once, she was the first place girl in a field of more than 100, which made Charlie and I think we needed to seek the advice of a sports psychologist to determine what was happening during the qualifiers that had her holding back?


In the spring, the kids run track. And as much as Elizabeth loved running cross-country in the fall, it turns out she loves track and field even more.  In the past six weeks, she has learned to pole vault, high jump, long jump, hurdle, and sprint.   Running has become a highlight of her life, and over the past couple of months, she has adorned her room in pictures of Usain Bolt, Jackie Joyner Kersee, and Florence Griffith Joyner, including this quote, which I love:


Last week, we learned that Elizabeth had - for the first time ever - qualified to run in the competitive track and field meet that was scheduled to happen yesterday at her school.  There are no words to describe the happiness, joy, and sheer excitement that has been flooding through her veins ever since.  While we are really happy about this too, we've also been worried about her school work. Elizabeth - when she applies herself, does really great at school.  But when she is distracted and dreaming about things like, being in the Olympics one day, school work takes a back seat and is something she tends to avoid like a steaming cow paddy in the middle of the long jump pit.

Earlier this week, the kids had a Texas history test. Yesterday, after Elizabeth had left for school, I received an alert that the grades were in and she had failed it.  Not just a little, but a lot.  As a result, her overall class average had tanked below a 70.  Our pact has been that the only way she can run on the team, is if all of her grades are above a 70.   We've granted her some leniency here and there, because sometimes we're not paying close attention - and sometimes we're soft.  Elizabeth was diagnosed years ago with dyslexia - and I know some of her subjects are more challenging for her. But I also know that she can soar when she applies herself; and lately - she hasn't been.  As a result, her grades have been slipping to the point that she's now got ALL of her mama's attention.  Which is really saying a lot because when you're outnumbered like Charlie and I - try as we might, kids tend to blend in, and sometimes slip under the radar.


Yesterday, I had Carolyn at a doctor's appointment and when I dropped her off at school, I told her that since she'd be seeing her sister, she needed to tell her that she had to come home directly from school and forego the meet.   In hindsight, I'm kicking myself, because I should have gone in to the school and told her myself. And, I also should have talked to the coach, directly.  Because when Carolyn didn't alert Elizabeth until 15 minutes before school dismissed, and Elizabeth alerted her coach - her coach told her she was really frustrated and needs "responsible" kids on the team.   Elizabeth had to hand in her uniform, and came home completely broken hearted.  Last night, she cried herself to sleep because she is so afraid that the coach will never give her a chance to run competitively again, and she's very concerned what her team will think.

I've since been communicating with the coach to let her know that it wasn't Elizabeth's decision not to run - it was my decision, based on her grades.   And while ultimately, school work is her responsibility and she needs to keep it as a top priority, it is my responsibility to ensure she does and I have to follow through with repercussions.   My heart broke in two as I told my weeping daughter last night that she needs to have this same feeling of devastation when she doesn't perform as well as she could have on a test.  And also, what her teacher thinks about her commitment, responsibility and performance is just as important as what her coach thinks. Charlie has been reassuring me we made the right decision, but it just feels so mean.

Interestingly enough, the Battle of the Alamo, which actually began 182 years ago today, was a turning point in the Texas Revolution. This was the battle in which Mexican troops, led under Santa Anna, killed all of the Texian defenders.  The cruelty displayed by Santa Anna during this battle, inspired many more Texians to rise up and fight … and ultimately, led to the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21st in which Texas won it's independence from Mexico.   I'm hopeful that this situation with Elizabeth will also be a turning point, because I know she's smart as a whip, has got the heart of a little warrior, and will do what ever she needs to do to run.


But wow, parenting can be so hard at times.

I'd suggest even harder than Texas history.

Monday, February 19, 2018

working from home

Today is President's Day.

In the United States of America, that means the bank, post office, and schools are all closed.  If you have children that are school-aged, they'll be home from school on vacation, today. And unless you work for the school, post office, or a bank, chances are, you won't be.


For the past year, my team at work has been developing a database that takes complex information from all over the globe, and puts it in to a format that is intended to be very easy to use and understand.  Data visualization is our future - and the more that we can take complicated topics and put them in to a bite size, easily digestible piece, the more we have succeeded.

For example, when you click on an app to see the weather, you want to see a sunshine, or rain cloud, in the exact location where you are searching; not only for that moment - but for the next 12 or 24 hours, or seven-day outlook. You're not interested in all the algorithms and development that goes in to pulling that information from some super cloud of multiple sources on to your phone, but I can tell you that teams of people - over several years - have made it so that understanding what the weather is like will be SO EASY for you, that you can glean everything you need to know in less than five seconds, and whether you should pack an umbrella for your upcoming trip to Dallas.

So that's kind of what my team is doing, but we're evaluating remediation systems which are machines that are engineered to remove contamination from soil and groundwater.  And, by the way, I'm a Geologist, not a software developer or computer programmer.  My ability to navigate things that  are computer related are slim, at best, which is why it's taken the better part of a year and team of experts to help with this initiative.

All this to say, four weeks ago, when I sent out an invitation for a telecom session to 120 people for our global roll-out of this database, today at 1:00 PM CST, I didn't realize that today was a US national holiday and our children would be home from school. And because Charlie and I are neither teachers, bankers, or postal workers - we'd be working.  For that matter, because I've been so busy with this database initiative rollout, it didn't even hit me until yesterday that the kids would be home TODAY.

Since I'm part-time, I'm not even supposed to be working on Mondays - but that's a different matter. Let's just say that because I was working today, my plan was to get to my office early.  My office is a 25-minute drive from the house without any traffic, and the distance from the parking garage to my desk is another 12 minutes, depending upon what kind of shoes I'm wearing.  So if I don't leave my house at least 40 minutes before my first meeting, the chances of me arriving in time are nil. 

Today: the plan was to go to the office. But I woke up to a child that had a bad dream, and a puppy that had a face that looked like a balloon. I don't know what happened to him - but he had some kind of allergic reaction that is now under control, but which completely flipped my morning schedule.  My first conference call was at 8:00 and when I was feeding Ollie Benadryl at 7:15 while still in my pajamas, I knew my window of opportunity for getting to the office had closed unless I wanted to show up in my 'Life Is Good' flannels and slippers.

After the 8:00 call, I had a 9:00 call … and then a 10:30 call, that wound up lasting for almost two hours.  The chance of getting in to the office for my big telecom was not looking so good.  One of the women from my team, who I consider to be my rock in this initiative, is located in Canada and we spoke this morning and walked through the presentation, together.

The plan was that I'd launch the meeting, and welcome everyone to the call.  I'd then give a quick spiel introducing her - and one of the global managers that would be on the call. Then I'd pull up the presentation on my computer, and give her control via our platform, Skype. I should mention that my phone is my computer, I no longer have an office phone.  So as long as I have internet connection, my "phone" works great.   During our dry-run this morning, it worked swell as it does 99.9% of the time.

After my call concluded at 12:30,  I took a quick lunch break to see the children and Charlie.  They were set up in our kitchen area, playing a game of Risk with neighborhood friends. It was a beautiful sight.  I told them that my BIG call was coming up and they needed to stay away from my office area of the house, so there would be no background noise.  Everyone agreed, totally understood, all was good.

At 12:45, I went back in to my home office, closed my sliding glass doors, and launched the meeting. My plan was that I'd log on a good 10 minutes ahead of time so I would have ample opportunity to open the presentation, and "greet" people who logged in to the rollout session.  There was peace in my soul: we were very ready to deliver this material and I was extremely happy with the progress our team had made with this complex effort.

That feeling of peace vanished when at approximately 12:56 my internet connection started to flicker and a pop-up showed that my system had lost signal.  Before it cut out, I thought it would be best to transfer the call to my cell phone, so I could at least keep talking with the people that logged in.  I tried trouble shooting the issue, and nothing was working.

At 12:58, my computer crashed and the whole screen went black. I'd just transferred the call to my cell phone and felt my blood pressure surge when I contemplated not having the ability to launch the presentation or share my screen with my colleague.   With my headphone still on, I yelled out to Charlie, "HELP ME CHARLIE! HELP, HELP, HELP, PLEASE COME RUNNING NOW!!!"

He's got a lot more technical savvy than me, so he was the obvious choice.  Even if he didn't know what to do, just his mere presence would surely help set things straight.

My husband barreled down the hallway with a look of panic on his face, "WHAT'S WRONG? JEN! ARE YOU HURT?" I was pointing at our wireless router in the hallway and yelling, "I NEED A CORD! QUICK I NEED A CORD!"  He didn't know what this meant.  I elaborated, "ACK! THE $%^&ING WIRELESS CONNECTION IS DOWN I NEED A CORD TO CONNECT DIRECTLY TO THE MODEM!"

At approximately 12:59, Charlie pointed out that we'd just moved the modem to the living room, so I hastily unplugged and grabbed my laptop with one hand, my cellphone in the other hand, and with my headset dangling, flew open the door to the office - and ran down the hallway to our living room.  The kids were sitting at the table in the middle of their board game of world domination and I'm gushing like an absolute maniac, "SORRY KIDS! I NEED A QUIET HOUSE WITH SILENCE …. EVERYONE GO OUTSIDE! OUT OUT OUT!"  I sat on the floor in the living room and desperately tried to plug in the modem line to my computer, and it still wouldn't work.  So in that moment, I yelled, "DAMN COMPUTER INTERNET YOU BITE SUCK MEAN!!"

Thankfully, I didn't say anything terribly bad because I looked down at my cell phone, and saw that the timer was ticking on, evidence I was still on the call, and it wasn't on mute.  I could only hope that when my computer crashed, so too did the transferred connection to my cell phone.  But I didn't even bother to ask, "Hello? Is anyone there?" I just hung up the phone and figured if anyone heard me, they'd tell me later.  

I sent an email to my co-presenting colleague which indicated, "Computer Froze!"  She immediately responded that she couldn't dial in either, and was having her own computer issues.  I pulled myself together to dial in to the session from another phone line, and was at least able to talk to the large crowd that had gathered, to let them know we were having technical difficulties.  Kind of like the time when I led a session with more than 100 participants and someone put the call on hold, and everyone got to listen to hold music a la The Carpenters, "Close to You" for a grueling ninety seconds before the offender came back on the line.    Global conference calls can be so hard, especially when you take the "RISK" to lead them from your home office!

(Have you ever seen this: Conference Call in Real Life? <<< This is my life.) 


In the end, by some divine technical miracle, everything worked out - our global manager said a few words - we launched the presentation - it was well received, and our initiative was successfully conveyed to the global organization.   After the call, when I dialed my colleague to convey what had happened, as I've conveyed countless similar "life" stories … she told me that she thinks I'm the incarnate of Erma Bombeck and need to write a book.  I don't see that happening.

But I do see it happening that tomorrow someone will tell me that they heard my maniacal rantings, and feel compelled to illuminate this is precisely why we should make every effort to come in to the office to lead technical presentations where we have a more reliable internet connection.  Assuming, of course, I have any better luck making it to the office, tomorrow.

My first call isn't until 9:00 AM so that's promising.

Friday, February 02, 2018

on the day of the super blue blood moon

So I went back to see my periodontist and she determined that the graft wasn't healing properly, was indeed infected, and she removed the entire thing.  Some of it had started to take, but because she was concerned there could be a more significant infection, she didn't want to take a risk and pulled it all out.  She then had to restitch my mangled gums to my teeth and after a dozen shots of Novocain and another dozen stitches holding my extremely fragile gingiva together - said she'd see me again at the end of this week.

Three hours after my surgery, Charlie left for a several day business trip to California.  Before he said goodbye, he cleaned the kitchen, did a grocery run, and made me a small batch of Jell-O.  He told me he loved me. He was very upset to be leaving me in this condition. He kissed the top of my head.  And then… poof!

He was gone.  

The kids hadn't come home from school yet, so it was just me and Ollie, who was frolicking around the sunny backyard, as puppies are known to do. When Ollie wandered back in to the house, the smell was the first thing to hit me.  It didn't immediately equate that the smell was tied to the dog, so I just walked around the house, drowsy like, with my still fat-feeling lip, looking high and low to see what it was.

And then I saw our puppy. 

He immediately dropped down on the floor and started to roll over, doing whatever he could not to make eye contact with me. I had no idea what was covering his head and body but it was something gross and gooey and my first thought was that he'd rolled in his own poop.  It was so obvious that he'd done something (of which I had no idea), but it stunk to high heaven and he clearly realized that it probably wouldn't bode too well with the lady who gives him cookies.   

I took a picture of him desperately diverting eye contact, which I sent to Charlie with the question, WHY in this moment - when my husband has just walked out the door for a cross-country business trip, and I am home alone, recovering from my second oral surgery in a week, does the dog decide to roll in something that would require a substantial bath?

In THIS moment?  


It struck me as very funny (odd) and funny (ha, ha!) because that's just how it goes. And to be frank it seems to happen a lot with us.  I really don't try to overly dramatize things, just capture the facts.   And I've found that when dealing with these life events - there's a very fine line between humor and hysteria and as much as possible - I try to fall to the side of humor.  Partly because it's better for you and the whole wide world, and at least this week, I can't open my mouth to yell or I'll rip out stitches.

A cyclone of starved kids hits our house between 4:00 and 4:30 every day.  Henry was the first one home from school and while I went to clean my mouth, he ate all the Jell-O.  The triplets were home next and they unloaded? exploded? their gear and set about making snacks and clearing out the cupboards as teenagers are known to do.

William provided great details about a big fight that had happened in school.  This was the second one in as many days.  Yesterday's brawl was between two girls who were fighting over a boy; today's brawl was between two boys who were fighting over, who knows what.  One of the kids on the bus had filmed it with his iPhone which he was passing around and sharing with his fellow riders. The video showed a larger boy, wailing on a smaller boy, who was curled in a ball with his hands pulling a hood up to cover his head.

William told me he didn't want to see the video and looked away after a few seconds. He said he couldn't stop thinking about how terrible the smaller kid must have felt.  Junior high school can be challenging enough as it is, without getting beat up in front of every one while kids are filming it.

"Mom, were you serious about buying land in northern Glacier and homeschooling us?" he asks.  Yes, I was serious. When it was July and we were in Montana.  Considering I responded to this most recent cold snap (IN TEXAS) like one of those poor frozen iguanas that were falling out of trees in Florida, I let William know I'm not so sure I could handle the Montana climate in the winter.

"OK, so what about a farm in Georgia?" he asked. "Hmm. That would be peachy," I replied.

Carolyn took the initiative to give the puppy a bath and while outside, identified that he'd been rolling around in one of our rotted out October pumpkins that the kids had been trying to germinate.  Considering he'd been laying on our breakfast nook rug, I'm so glad it wasn't poop.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth conveyed to me another situation that had happened at school. Her friend keeps using bad language. Really bad language. Elizabeth thinks its because she wants attention, but it's starting to wear on her.  She said that on this day - during lunch - she finally told the girl, "Listen, I think you're really great and smart, and when you use that bad language it's really not nice and it bums me out. You're so much better than that. Can you please just STOP with the bad talk?"  She said the girl put her head down and said, "I'll try."

"Wow, you really did that?" I asked.  She nodded her head, "Yep, I sure did."  I gave her a smile and said, "Well, I'm pretty f - f - f [just kidding!] impressed!"

"MOM!" she said, outraged.

"LIZ!" I countered, as outraged as a ventriloquist can be.

It's so hard being a kid and trying to figure out what's cool and what's not.  Just today, the PE coach sent home a letter asking parents to remind their children that although they don't think gym shorts are fashionable, it's not acceptable to wear shorts OVER their bluejeans and beginning next week, they'll lose points if they don't dress out appropriately.  I wrote to the coach and suggested that they take pictures of the kids and include them in the year book under a section entitled, "Fashion Statements."  Gym shorts over blue jeans?  That's solid gold material for the annals of time.

This day was a pretty average day of happenings, the only difference was that Charlie was out of town, and I was in recovery mode. So a dear friend brought over dinner, and checked in on us.  She is a doctor and insisted I stay on top of the pain, get adequate hydration, and plenty of rest.  As she was talking with us, one of my children who knows better but wasn't thinking, opened one of my sterile medicines that comes in a dropper, and stuck a ballpoint pen in the tip of it.   Because it was there. And … and…?

Reminded me of the time I was talking on the phone and playing with a letter opener when I sliced my finger open.  Since I was in my 30's, I knew better. I just …. wasn't thinking.  As humans are sometimes known to do.

We walked my friend outside to say goodbye and look at the moon. It was spectacular.   We walked back inside and heard the printer which had already printed out at least 50 sheets of paper - and was printing several more - of what we realized was a homework assignment printing mishap.  Paper had spilled out of the feeder and was everywhere.  There might have been a bad word and a slight drift in to the world of ventriloquy hysteria.

After dinner, William and Elizabeth were helping Henry with his homework, which wasn't going well.  I'd love to say they helped him, but the situation went from bad to worse.  When you're 10 and stuck on long division word problems, a pep talk and shoulder rub from your 13-year old siblings isn't particularly helpful.  Nay, it can be downright awful.


As I put away a few things in the kitchen, I found this note from Elizabeth that had been folded in Carolyn's lunchbox.  The awesomeness is the love between siblings which I know is real. So, too, is the teasing. It's a major point of contention that Carolyn, who is purportedly the youngest of the triplets, is a solid eight inches taller than her siblings.  It slays her and her much smaller sister knows.


The day concluded with my supplementary efforts at studying geometry with Carolyn and Elizabeth for a test the next day. The girls were highly complimentary that I could remember so much (from so, so, so, so long ago!) and help them work through their study guide.  We spent a solid two hours reviewing concepts and it got to the point, we could no longer remain vertical.  When Charlie called to say goodnight, I snapped off this picture of us cuddled up and adjacently working through a problem.  I am so acutely loving seventh grade math.  Not to sound obtuse, but from this angle, I wish I could say the same for my seventh graders!

Come on, am I right?


Ha! See, varying degrees of humor abound!