Thursday, April 19, 2012

All the World's a Stage...

Yesterday, our new bedroom furniture was delivered. I let my daughter into the room to see it, and she immediately climbed up on the platform bed and started dancing, stomping, tapping, and skipping around for much longer than her toddler attention span would normally last. When my husband got home from work, she treated him to an encore performance. (And after she went to bed, as we put the mattress in place and made the bed, I felt horribly guilty for depriving her of a dance stage just because of our selfish desire for a comfortable place to sleep.)

I captured a couple of great videos, which I shared with friends and family on Facebook. Everyone says that we should sign her up for tap dance lessons, but that's just a small part of what was going through my head as I watched her dance...


To my daughter:

Adoption involves so many unknowns. In the beginning, all those unknowns can be really hard and challenging. But today, as I watched you dance, I realized that the unknowns can be beautiful and magical too.

Because your Papa and I are both engineers, I tend to assume that your little brother is predestined to grow up to be an engineer, or something similar. My family's strong German pragmatism is almost inevitable.

But you are a Mystery. We know very little about your biological family-- just some names and a little bit of medical information-- so we have no idea what you might grow up to be or to do. Your DNA is your own secret, and since we don't know your history, we can't make assumptions about your future.

So I'm simply going to assume that you have artists, and actors, and athletes, and academics inside of you. I don't know what's in your "nature" so I just hope to nurture you in anything that sparks your interest, whether that includes dance lessons, or musical instruments, or art supplies, or soccer cleats, or cooking classes, or power tools... (And of course, I promise that you will always have plenty of opportunities to go skiing.)

We've been given a magical seed. As your parents, our job is to plant you in a loving home, provide you with the things you need to grow and develop, and protect and watch over you.

You are my beautiful, funny, clever, sweet daughter. You are already so much more than I ever imagined. And my heart is overflowing with happiness because I have the incredible privilege of watching you grow and blossom. You have been, and will always be, a wonderful surprise.

Friday, January 13, 2012

And now back to the good stuff...

So in my previous post, I probably under-emphasized the fact that, after a long run of bad luck, my life has gotten much, much better in the past year and a half.

Here are the highlights:

  • In June 2010, we adopted a beautiful baby girl, who brings sunshine into our lives every single day.


  • Last May, just as we were starting the process to adopt again, I was surprised to discover that I was pregnant. We had a few scary moments along the way, but our son was born in November, healthy and perfect. He was very small (3 lbs) at birth, but he has been making good progress at catching up to the size he ought to be!

  • (That's a standard-hospital-issue pacifier in his mouth, by the way. I realize it looks a little strange because he's so tiny!)

  • I still love my job-- I get to work from home, I have a flexible schedule, and I really enjoy what I do.

Depression is a Lying Bastard

So in case you haven't noticed, it's been awhile since I've written anything here.

I could say that life has been busy, but the truth is much more complicated than that. The reason why I stopped writing is because life got very, very hard for a long, long while. And then, even after things started to get better, I felt like somehow I wasn't entitled to just pick back up where I left off without giving some sort of explanation about where I'd been.

It feels dishonest to only write about good, happy, strong stuff, while sweeping sadness and weakness under the rug. And the honest truth is that I suffered from clinical depression for about a year. It makes me uncomfortable to admit to that, because I like to think of myself as a strong person, and there is absolutely nothing that feels weaker or more worthless than Depression.

In my head, I always think of it as Depression, because it really is totally different than the "I'm feeling depressed because I hate my job" sort of thing that everyone experiences. Depression means crying every single day. It means stumbling through life in a haze. It means not being able to focus on anything. Except, of course, when you're lying awake at night, tormented by horrible, evil thoughts.



I read something recently that challenged me to see my experience with Depression in a new way:

"When you come out of the grips of a depression there is an incredible relief, but not one you feel allowed to celebrate. Instead, the feeling of victory is replaced with anxiety that it will happen again, and with shame and vulnerability when you see how your illness affected your family, your work, everything left untouched while you struggled to survive. We come back to life thinner, paler, weaker…but as survivors. Survivors who don’t get pats on the back from coworkers who congratulate them on making it. Survivors who wake to more work than before because their friends and family are exhausted from helping them fight a battle they may not even understand."


This post made me realize that damaged relationships are a sort of comorbidity of Depression and that I won't be fully recovered until I repair the friendships that got injured along the way. I'm making this my New Year's Resolution.

I also need to take a moment to say that I will forever be grateful to my wonderful husband, who never, ever stopped fighting for me:

"I celebrate the fact that you may not understand the battle, but you pick up the baton dropped by someone you love until they can carry it again."




I want to believe that my Depression was an isolated event, a single episode, which only happened because I was absolutely battered by wave after wave of horrible, traumatic bad luck. I hope that's the case, because it would make me relatively lucky. Depression is more typically an illness that comes and goes throughout a person's life. And maybe mine is only in remission, and I'll experience it again someday.

I worry about that, especially in the past few months. I've been afraid that I might suffer from Postpartum Depression, and I became even more apprehensive after having an emergency c-section and delivering a tiny preemie who had to spend a couple of weeks in the NICU. When you combine physical trauma, emotional stress, hormonal fluctuations, and sleep deprivation, it creates really fertile ground for Depression to take root.

Fortunately, after several weeks spent "waiting for the other shoe to drop" I'm finally starting to breathe a little easier. It looks like I'm going to be OK.

I'm a survivor.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Love of Books

As I've mentioned before, I participate in a tutoring program at my church. This is my 5th year with the program, and my 4th year with the same student. J---- and I were paired up together when she entered the program as a 3rd grader, and now she's in 6th grade. Time flies!

Her birthday was on Sunday, so Monday night after tutoring, I took her out for dessert to celebrate. And Teller's managed to out-dessert the ultimate dessert-atarian! She was overwhelmed by the richness of their Molten Chocolate Cake with raspberry sorbet.

It was a Good Time.

I like to give books to J---- as birthday and Christmas gifts. Mostly I've been giving her the books that were my favorites when I was her age. First, I gave her the Chronicles of Narnia books, and last year, I gave her Anne of Green Gables. So this year, Anne of Avonlea was one of the books that I bought for her.

I also found a recommended reading guide, which was really helpful. Since J---- has read all of the new Nancy Drew books from her school's library, the guide book suggested Shakespeare's Secret by Elise Broach. I also picked out a jewelry-making instruction book / kit that looked fun.

(And because I think that it's really important to teach kids about money, I also bought Complete Idiot's Guide to Money for Teens. But that's a tutoring/mentoring aid, not a birthday gift. J---- usually finishes most of her homework before tutoring, and she doesn't really need to work on basic math or reading skills, so we're going to devote part of each tutoring session to reading this book and talking about money.)




This year, I decided to include a letter with J----'s gift. I thought I ought to share it here, in honor of all of the people who gave me books when I was a kid:
Dear J----,

I wanted to tell you a little bit about why I buy books for you as birthday gifts and Christmas presents. The first reason is that I’m your tutor, so I think it’s good to give you gifts that are at least somewhat educational. But that’s kind of a boring reason.

The other reason is because I love books. I have always loved to read, and that’s something that I want to share with you too. (When you love something, like reading or skiing, of course you want to share those activities with people that you care about!) Many of the books that I have given to you are books that were given to me by people who loved me.

My step-mother gave me the Chronicles of Narnia books when I was a little girl, because she also loved those books when she was younger. I’ve read them dozens of times, and I still re-read them every couple of years, because C.S. Lewis’ stories are more than just fairy tales. He was a very wise man who wrote some important books for adults, but adults can also learn from the stories that he wrote for little kids.

I bought you the Anne of Green Gables books because my grandmother bought those books for me. My grandparents used to go to Prince Edward Island for their vacation every year, and my grandmother bought the books for me while she was there. My grandmother loved history, especially the history of the United States and Canada, and I remember her house was filled with books. One of her hobbies was studying genealogy, and she discovered that she had an ancestor who fought in the Revolutionary War.

So these books are a sort of heritage that I want to pass on to you. In addition to being great stories, they remind me of people who loved me. And I hope that when you think about these books, you’ll also remember that I gave them to you with lots of love!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Who lets these people write for the New York Times?!?

How High Gas Prices Can Save the Car Industry offers this ridiculously naive proposal for bailing out the automotive industry:
"One way to do that would be to establish a price floor of $3.50 per gallon on gasoline. If the price drops below that, as it recently has, the federal government would impose a variable tax to bring the price up to $3.50. If the price goes above $3.50, then the tax disappears. The money raised by the variable tax would be used, at least in the short term, to provide loan guarantees to the auto companies. (To ease the burden of higher gasoline prices on low-income taxpayers, some of the revenue would be provided to them as tax credits or vouchers.)"

I don't need a degree in business or economics to know that this will never work. Gas stations compete on price. If you artificially prevent them from doing that, then why should they make any attempt to keep their prices down? If there's no competition from the gas stations across the street, then of course they're all going to set their prices at $3.50 a gallon, and the government will get nothing.

Let's assume for just a minute that the government has the authority to determine exactly how much profit that each company is permitted to take, as a percentage of their revenue. (We'll ignore for now all the reasons why this is a colossally bad idea.) Here's the problem: The government can't force a company to keep their overhead costs down. Only competition can do that.

And that's exactly what's happening to the automotive industry right now.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Big, Bad Bailouts Revisited

Another article on the bailout debate:
It is all a reminder that the biggest threat to a healthy economy is not the socialists of campaign lore. It’s C.E.O.’s. It’s politically powerful crony capitalists who use their influence to create a stagnant corporate welfare state.

If ever the market has rendered a just verdict, it is the one rendered on G.M. and Chrysler. These companies are not innocent victims of this crisis. To read the expert literature on these companies is to read a long litany of miscalculation. Some experts mention the management blunders, some the union contracts and the legacy costs, some the years of poor car design and some the entrenched corporate cultures.

There seems to be no one who believes the companies are viable without radical change. A federal cash infusion will not infuse wisdom into management. It will not reduce labor costs. It will not attract talented new employees. As Megan McArdle of The Atlantic wittily put it, “Working for the Big Three magically combines vast corporate bureaucracy and job insecurity in one completely unattractive package.”




Generation Y is excited about this election because their votes helped put Obama into the Oval Office. On one hand, this is a great thing, because now they're no longer feeling disenfranchised by the election process. Unfortunately, I'm afraid that what they're about to experience is disillusionment.

In my opinion, it doesn't really matter who's elected as President, and it doesn't really matter who's elected to Congress. At this point, they're all equally bad. The only thing that Republicans and Democrats work together on is spending money that this country doesn't have, and Obama isn't going to be able to turn things around overnight, even assuming that he wants to. Maybe that sounds horribly jaded, but let me explain where I'm going with this.

As I've said before, "People do what you pay them to do." And our politicians aren't getting paid to represent the best interests of our country. (Well, they are, but not really.) Instead, their re-election campaigns are financed by lobbyists for special interest groups like the automotive industry, the pharmaceutical industry, tobacco companies, and teachers unions.

Now I do think that lobbyists have the potential to serve a valuable purpose. They can do research, and gather facts, and present logical arguments for new legislature. I don't have a problem with companies paying lobbyists to present their case to Congress. But I strongly object to the fact that lobbyists spend millions and millions of dollars to buy the votes of Senators and Representatives. How can politicians possibly put the best interests of America over the special interests of industries when their careers are being funded by lobbyists?

So until we have real campaign finance reform, all we're going to get is more of the same-- Our government will continue to fork over money to the industries that provide the biggest kick-backs.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Big, Bad Bailouts

I just got home from another trip to the Rust Belt. Living in Cincinnati, I don't feel like we're experiencing a true recession. (For sure, the parking lot at the mall is crammed full on Saturdays.) But up in Saginaw, you get the feeling that the recession is firmly entrenched.

My company has several customers in the automotive industry-- Not the Big Three automakers, but their sub-tier suppliers. So in the past few months, I've had the privilege of meeting lots of intelligent, hard-working engineers who work for these companies. These are people who get excited about designing steering columns, seat adjustment mechanisms, and wiring harness connectors. And ultimately, all of their livelihoods are controlled by the "leadership" at GM, because when GM stumbles, every sub-tier supplier also takes a financial hit.

That's the tragedy of the latest bailout debate that is currently being discussed in Congress. In essence, it comes down to this: How many millions of people should lose their jobs because GM's management has been willfully stupid for the past 20+ years?
General Motors could make money only by selling big, gas-guzzling S.U.V.'s and trucks. Therefore, instead of focusing on making money by innovating around fuel efficiency, productivity and design, G.M. threw way too much energy into lobbying and maneuvering to protect its gas guzzlers.

(And here's another reason why I equate SUV's with being willfully stupid.)

I am NOT in favor of bailing out GM. Frankly, I think they probably deserve to go under. But I also believe that if that happens, thousands of hard-working engineers will lose their jobs, and it will be an enormous blow to our (already wounded) economy. I don't know what the right answer is.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Confessions of an Undecided Voter

I was one of the Undecided Voters. I went into voting booth on Tuesday still unsure about who I was going to vote for, so I skipped the first question and filled out the rest of my ballot. Then I came back to the big decision. I seriously considered voting for the Libertarian Party of Ohio. (But I didn't.)

I still don't know what I would do if someone came up to me today and said, "You are responsible for casting the deciding vote. You alone have the power to decide who becomes the next President of the United States." I'd be in trouble. I really don't know if I would decide for Obama/Biden or McCain/Palin. In fact, if I had the power to do it, I would probably go back to the old method of picking the top candidate from one party as President and picking the top candidate from the other party as Vice President. I'd actually feel pretty good about that, except that I'd have a hard time deciding which of them should be Thing One and Thing Two.

In the end, the matter was decidedly settled by many people who are clearly more decisive than I am. (Despite the fact that Time magazine just published an article about how the Cincinnati area is a Republican County, the vote went to Obama by more than 5 percentage points-- 52% to 47%.)



The point is of this blog posting is that I'm not an Undecided Voter because I haven't given it serious thought. In fact, I'm probably guilty of over-thinking the whole situation.

Here are some of the reasons for my quandary:

  • I'm mostly a Republican.

    I believe that "Government is the least-efficient way to do just about anything," so obviously I believe in minimizing government programs and reducing taxes. I believe that our healthcare system is broken, but I don't think that socialized medicine is the best fix. I'm generally anti-abortion, although I can also see that sometimes painful decisions have to be made between the lesser of two evils. I wish that the Republican party would focus more on environmental issues and stop pandering to lobbyists for big industries, but overall, I'm much more of a Republican than a Democrat.

  • The Republican Primaries

    Early in the primaries, I was pulling for McCain. I liked the fact that he was an advocate for immigration reform. I agreed with most of his decisions about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • The Democratic Primaries

    I really don't like Hillary Clinton, so I thought that the Democrats made a good choice when they (finally) picked Obama.

  • The Presidential Debates

    When I watched the debates, I thought that Obama had more poise than McCain, and his statements were more coherent, but when I thought it over later, I agreed with more of John McCain's positions on the issues.

  • Sarah Palin

    When they introduced her, I had doubts about her qualifications. Two years ago, Sarah Palin was mayor of a township the size of my hometown, which is actually a village, technically. But I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt. Then I watched the Vice Presidential debate, and I was appalled by her cutsey-ness.

    Ultimately, it comes down to this-- As a woman, I am offended by the fact that John McCain picked an under-qualified woman and expected us all to jump for joy over the blatent tokenism.

  • The McCain Campaign

    I grew increasingly cynical about McCain's campaign strategy, which seemed to consist exclusively of making up pseudo-facts about Obama's voting record. I think McCain has some good ideas, but I'm baffled as to why he never took the time to explain them in a rational manner.

  • The Phone Calls

    Because we live in a battle-ground state, we have been receiving 4-5 election-related phone calls every day for the past week. I work from home, so I was extremely annoyed by the constant distractions. By Monday, I was ready to scream, "I'M NOT VOTING FOR ANY OF YOU!!!" (But most of the calls were pre-recorded messages, so it wouldn't have done any good.)

  • The Dream

    I participate in a tutoring program for kids from Cincinnati Public Schools. On Monday night, all of the students were really excited about the election. It's so cool to be able to tell these kids, "You can grow up to be anything you want to be, if you're willing to work to make it happen." Barak Obama is exactly the kind of role model that these kids need to see, and I'm proud to live in a country where part of Martin Luther King's dream has finally come true:
    I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

    Even if Barak Obama were to accomplish nothing else in his career, that's a truly awesome legacy.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Thoughts from this week...



I spent most of this week at our company summit meeting at Lake Monomonac, in Winchendon, MA. (It's near Leominster, which is pronounced Lemon-ster.) We're a small "virtual" company-- a total of just 8 employees, and we all work from home. Up until now, I had only met 3 of my coworkers in person, so I got to meet the other 4 this week.

I started calling our meeting a retreat, because the cell phone reception was pretty sketchy, but I'm pretty sure that our retreat didn't cost $440,000 because we were staying at my boss' 3-BR / 2-Bath lake cottage and one of my coworkers brought his camper. (Wall Street should take business frugality lessons from us!)


The Tip of the Iceberg


I know that our software does some complicated engineering analysis, but this week I realized that the expression "tip of the iceberg" is a gross understatement. I would guess that probably 99% of the software is "underwater" or behind the curtain of the user interface.

Maybe that's true of every product to a certain extent. I'm sure that surgeons never stop to think about all of the analysis and testing that go into the development of the devices that they use, which is what I used to work on.

But this week I realized that now I'm on the other side, sneaking a peak at what's happening behind the curtain, and I'm feeling a little sheepish because I'm out of my element. I have written computer programs to crunch data through equations, but I am not a programmer.

My coworkers spent several hours talking about graph theory, Dinic algorithms, valency, and supernodes. They did their best to explain some of these concepts to me, but I still have only the foggiest clue of what those terms really mean.


Airport Aggravation


Am I the only one who feels bullied by airports that don't offer free WiFi access?

I mean it's bad enough that you're holding me hostage for hours with crummy overpriced food, uncomfortable seating, and noisy announcements repeated over-and-over-and-over again. (Most airports banned smoking decades ago. Do we still need announcements to remind people of this fact?!?) Couldn't you please just let me check my email and surf the internet for an hour for free, to help take my mind off of how tired and miserable I am?

I really don't feel like I'm being unreasonable here.

I suspect that most people are like me-- They boot up their computer to see if there is a free connection, but when they find out that they have to pay for access, they just shut everything down again. (I actually use my iPod touch to test the waters first, so I don't have to deal with the hassle of waiting for my computer to boot up.) Because it's not worth paying $8-10 just to get online for 45 minutes. And if the cost isn't really the issue, then there's the hassle of having to submit the credit card charges for reimbursement on an expense account.

I just wonder how much revenue is actually being generated by the exclusive partnerships between airports and the internet service providers for "pay by the hour" access?

On that note, I just have to say that Dayton is a nice little airport. Free WiFi access, reasonable parking, quick security lines, and much cheaper flights than Cincinnati. I just wish they were closer to my house. I had to get up at 2:45am on Monday morning so that I could leave my house at 4am, and I was still a little bit rushed catching my 6:10 flight. So my busy week got off to a very early start!


I'm a Mac


I love these commercials, and I think The Bean Counter is especially great.

Maybe it's just fun to cheer for the underdog, but seriously, Microsoft has made themselves such an easy target with Vista...

You know you've really screwed up when you have to disguise your product as something else (i.e. the "Mojave" commercials) in order to get people to even consider taking a look at it.

My coworkers (i.e. brilliant software developers) have struggled with serious problems installing Vista on their computers, so I have a hard time believing that Vista is ready for prime-time.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Quoi?

Tell me how this makes sense:
The government put itself four-square into the country's banking business Tuesday, resorting to what President Bush conceded was the unwelcome choice of a partial nationalization in order to loosen paralyzed channels of credit.

...

Nine major banks will participate initially including all of the country's largest institutions, he announced, in a move that sent stocks soaring on Wall Street.

Some of the nation's largest banks had to be pressured to participate by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who wanted healthy institutions that did not necessarily need capital from the government to go first as a way of removing any stigma that might be associated with banks getting bailouts.

...

Executives of the country's biggest banks were summoned to a remarkable meeting at the Treasury Department on Monday to be briefed on the plan. Paulson basically told the bank CEOs that they had to accept the government stock purchases for the good of the U.S. economy.

...

After the purchase of preferred stock in nine large banks, the new program is expected to be expanded to many others. Among the initial banks participating will be all of the country's largest institutions, including Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp. and Morgan Stanley, said one official, with each institution expected to receive billions of dollars in return for the sale to the government of preferred shares.

The advantage to the taxpayer is that if the rescue plan works, then the shares can be sold for more than the government initially paid, providing a profit on the transaction.


I just don't understand why we're buying shares in banks that aren't even in trouble. I really thought the whole point of a bailout was to rescue the financial institutions that are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, not to invest in a private industry for the fun of it.

These organizations systematically destroyed their own reputations and undermined our entire economy, and we're stuck bailing them out. And now they're going to divert extra money to "remove the stigma" from their failure?

Seriously?

And then there's that tiny little word "if" hidden in the last paragraph:
...if the rescue plan works...

And what if it doesn't?



Does anybody know where I can find Galt's Gulch? I'm ready to move!