When both W- and I can play with A-

Sometimes I try to get things done while W- plays with A-. I feel good about taking care of household chores or urgent and important tasks, but I feel weird about discretionary things like updating my journal or working on my computer. Even if I just hang out while they play in the same room, that feels more comfortable than taking advantage of the opportunity for focused time. I wonder why that’s the case, and if I need to tweak my perspective.

My priorities tend to go like this: if W- wants to spend time with A-, I’ll take care of household chores like cooking and cleaning. When that’s done, we’ll play together, unless there’s a big and important task taking up brainspace. If so, I’ll try to get that done before returning to play.

It’s useful to have some shared play time. I pick up ideas from the way W- and A- interact, and it’s a good time for us to reconnect. Sometimes we come up with new games when we’re all together. A- also sees us interact with each other, which is good.

It’s also useful for W- to have some one-on-one time with A-, and for me to have some discretionary time. I’d feel more comfortable about taking that discretionary time if I had a clear purpose for it, like an hour or two of consulting, or some business paperwork – especially things where I need to be focused and awake. If it’s something I can do just as well when A-‘s asleep, even with the interruptions, I often prefer to postpone it until then.

There aren’t a lot of tasks that I feel I need to do right away. Most things can be done when the opportunity arises, whether that’s when A- finally sleeps soundly enough for me to unlatch her and leave, or when she eventually goes to school. On the other hand, there’s a definite time bound on this shared playtime with W-, and even for solo playtime with A-. There are only so many hours I’ll get to enjoy like this. I think that might be one of the reasons why I prioritize spending time with them.

How can I make even better use of shared time with W- and A-? I want A- to focus on W-, so I support their play instead of competing for attention. Cameras distract her attention and disrupt the flow, so I’ll just have to settle for observing so that I can draw and tell stories later.

A- will eventually become more independent, especially when she reduces her nursing frequency. Then she and W- can establish father-daughter bonding time and their own rituals – maybe at least two hours a week, based on the guidelines I came across. I can save my daytime discretionary tasks for then. We’ll also have some shared family time, and a few chunks of discretionary time for W- so that he can explore hobbies such as woodworking.

This time is short, and it passes quickly. I’ve had plenty of practice examining that little urge to Get Things Done and deciding whether it actually makes sense. For now, I’ve got this rare opportunity to prioritize play.

What do I want to think through when writing on my phone?

My first priority is to get thoughts out of my head and into a form I can work with. This often becomes an explosion of lists and keywords, which can be handy for thinking and drawing, but not for my blog posts. It helps me clear my mind and be less distracted. It lets me make progress instead of covering the same ground. It also helps me make better decisions. I can see the costs and benefits more clearly when they’re written down. I can brainstorm options and compare them. I can review the decisions afterwards, too.

Prose makes things slower to capture and harder to read on my phone, but also a little easier to search or reflect on after a while, and possibly good for review or conversation when turned into a blog post.

And then there’s stuff I’d flesh out in writing anyway, like my weekly/monthly/yearly reviews. Those start off as sketches on my computer, then lists of keywords, and then paragraphs on my phone.

If my list is cluttered, it’s hard to pick one thought and follow it through. I end up adding little bits here and there, and I’m not sure how useful that is. Things below a couple of screens get ignored. It might be helpful to dedicate some time to processing. I can either flesh out the top idea on the stack, or move it to my inbox if it needs computer time.

I don’t have to worry too much about writing for other people’s benefit. That can come later, when I have more focused time. People can always choose what to read and what to skim or skip. What’s important is that I think things through and then capture them for later review.

So, how can I do this more effectively? Where are my gaps?

  • Motivating questions, not just a scratchpad of ideas: It’s useful to ask questions when I’m going to change something based on the answer. For example, I can describe the gaps and points of friction, then explore why those are so, and then come up with ideas and actions.
  • Reviews are less motivating, but I can get the ball rolling by focusing on tidbits rather than overviews. It’s hard to see context on a small screen.
  • I don’t have to spend a lot of time picking the best thing to write about. Practically everything will move me forward, even if the distances vary. I can write and write and write, and then reflect.
  • If I don’t feel like writing, I can always snuggle or sleep. No need to force it.

The best time to write is when I’m nursing A- and she’s drifting off to sleep, but is awake enough to root if I try to move away. Trade-offs / other things I could be doing during that time:

  • Sleeping: Good up to a certain point. It’s handy to use A-‘s first nap to catch up on sleep if needed, but I don’t want to sleep too much.
  • Browsing social media: Tempting time sink. Occasionally useful or interesting, but best in small doses.
  • Answering email: Nice thing to do, although expectations are low. Some things can only be answered when I’m at my computer.
  • Prioritizing my to-do list and adding items to it: Helps me hit the ground running during computer time.
  • Reading research and tech stuff: Gives me ideas to explore when I’m at my computer. Less efficient than reading when I’m on my laptop, but it’s okay to just index things for later exploration.
  • Reading e-books: sometimes useful, especially if I pick my questions and titles carefully.
  • Reading fiction: occasionally entertaining, although often bleh. Maybe I should try library recommendations.
  • Playing games: my interest comes and goes. Exercises problem-solving. Artificial sense of progress.

I think it makes sense to prioritize sleep, then writing, with maybe a notification-based pomodoro for social media during breaks. If I don’t feel like writing, I can use the time to learn more about tech or parenting. Let’s see if I can find a pomodoro app that’s compatible with a sleeping baby, or if I can make something using Tasker…

Getting coding back into my life

Now that I have a decent workflow for writing, coding would be the next good thing to reintegrate into my life.

I get about an hour or two of discretionary time a day, late at night once A-‘s asleep. It’s not a solid chunk, since A- often wants to nurse, but I can usually get back to what I was doing without losing too much context. Sometimes A- takes a while to settle down, or wakes up midway. Sometimes I’m too sleepy to do much after A- goes to sleep. Still, I usually get a little time to update my journal, do some consulting, or even play video games with my husband.

How does coding fit into the picture? It’s fun. I learn stuff. Sometimes I even build tools that make my life a little easier. It gives me non-baby things to talk about with W- and other people, too.

The time needs to come from somewhere. What are the trade-offs I might make?

  • Fewer drawings of non-journal thoughts, balanced by more writing time on phone. Can I figure out a good workflow for drawing on my phone? Not index cards, but maybe I can move my drawing practice to my phone for extra skill-building and mental variety.
  • Less consulting, but more personal benefits to code; might also use this to expand my comfortable range for consulting
  • Real-life kaizen vs virtual kaizen: shift by doing real-life kaizen while A- is awake
  • Other tasks: still do as needed

What could a good setup be like?

  • I spend some reading time going through documentation, Q&A, research, etc. This helps me improve my skills and work more efficiently.
  • I have a dev environment set up for risk-free experimentation.
  • I have a to-do list with prioritized ideas and notes.
  • I work on tasks that might be 15-30m in size, ideally with tests.

I think it’ll be worth learning how to properly set things up with Vagrant. Frequent rebuilds will force me to make sure all my dev environment assumptions are documented.

It’ll also be worth cleaning up my technical notes and writing more things down, so I can get back up to speed after months or even years away.

Then I’ll want to sort out my testing environment and get back to writing tests. I wonder if I can set things up so that I can even write tests on my phone. Maybe cucumber cases? It’ll be easier to write behaviour-driven tests than regular tests, since I don’t have to mess with punctuation.

Then I can code, one small chunk at a time. Maybe I can even write pseudo code on my phone.

I’d also like to get back to tweaking my environment and tools, since that pays off multiple ways for me: enjoyment, learning, efficiency, and notes to share.

I can start by sorting out my dev environment and notes. We’ll see how that goes, or if this is something that will be mostly on the back burner until A- grows a little more. =)

Encouraging physical activity

More physical activity would be good for all of us, especially A-. If she burns more energy, she’ll eat more, which means taking in more nutrients and broadening her tastes. She’ll build muscles and improve coordination, and she might even develop good habits. As for me, I want to be able to keep up with her and W-, and I want to improve my own health.

The more time she spends crawling, the better. When I take her to the Junction Family Resource Centre, the toys around the room give her reasons to crawl and explore. Bonus points for socialization and independent play, too. At home, she enjoys crawling after me when we play hide-and-seek, so I’ll make that part of our bedtime routine (and maybe our morning routine as well). We have floor beds in her room, so that lets her practice climbing up and down as well.

When she starts walking, she’ll have even more opportunities to be active. We can toddle around the house and in the neighbourhood centres. We’ll figure out how to walk around outside, too – the backyard, the sidewalk, the park, the playground. She can carry, push, and pull things to develop her arm strength.

Her microphthalmia means that she can’t use stereopsis for depth perception and she has to rely on other cues, so she may be a little more hesitant or clumsy. Because she wears a conformer, we’ll also need to periodically check if it’s still in her eye, search for it if it has fallen out, and plan for replacements due to growth or loss. None of these things should stop her from enjoying an active childhood, though.

Kids like imitating, so we can model that by being active ourselves. W- is great in that regard, and I’m working on it as well. I like walking, so she’ll get a lot of exposure to that. W- has been building a habit of daily stretches and I’d like to do that too. When that’s solid, I can add stuff for building strength and endurance. I’ve been enjoying babywearing as a form of exercise, too. Fortunately, A-‘s been growing gradually enough for me to keep up with her.

I’ve been thinking about classes and community resources that could be helpful. Since she likes somersaults so much, it might be nice to take her to toddler gymnastics. There’s a place within walking distance that has classes for babies who are at least 9 months old, so we’ll observe a session and think about signing up for the next course. It’s nice to have a well-padded place to practice tumbling and falling. There are also a number of well-equipped playgrounds close by, which will be good when she’s a little older.

There’ll also be time for her to work on other capabilities, like fine motor skills. Opportunities to do so tend to be abundant, so we’ll make more of a conscious effort to encourage gross motor skill development. We’ll go with what she’s interested in, and we’ll help influence her interests too.

Building A-‘s Duplo collection

W- and I are keen on Lego. (We actually met while judging a Lego contest for schoolkids.) Open-ended toys, high-quality plastic, what’s there not to like? Naturally, A-‘s going to start with a Duplo collection.

Her first set was the My First Truck one that we’d bought from the Lego store for G* and A*’s birthday present ($20 for 29 bricks, or $0.66 per brick). She liked it so much, we decided to keep that one and get another copy of the same set. (Besides, it’s generally polite not to give people pre-drooled-on gifts…) We kept the set in the kitchen and used it to entertain her whenever we were cooking. She got pretty good at separating the bricks, putting them into the container, and taking them out again.

Since buying second-hand is a great way to save money and Lego stands up well to use, W- checked Kijiji for people selling lots of used Lego. The first batch worked out to be about $0.30 per brick, but it was made up of odds and ends that the previous kid didn’t particularly care for. Some of the assemblies had missing pieces, like the police box that didn’t have all of its windows and doors. There was a roof piece in one style and another roof piece in a different style. Clearly, brick count wasn’t the only thing to go by (or even interesting brick to basic brick ratio)! Still, it got us more wheel bases than we might otherwise have accumulated over several purchases of new sets. We had fun finding out what some of the more mysterious bricks were, thanks to databases built by Lego enthusiasts and the pictures and part numbers that made identification possible. W- even contributed a picture of the red wings from the Cute Animals set.

The second batch W- got from Kijiji worked out a lot better. It was $30 for about 200 bricks, or $0.15 per brick. Well, a little more than that, actually, since we took out a few non-Lego pieces. W- washed the rest in the washing machine (cold water, gentle cycle) and laid them out on towels to dry. This collection was recognizably made up of a number of sets: alphabet blocks; some kind of medieval thing with a horse, a knight, and a treasure chest; a gas station. There’s probably another set in there, too. There were a few pieces missing from the alphabet and there were some other unmatched parts. The seller found some of the missing pieces and W- picked it up, so, yay!

What’s a 10-month-old to do with all that Duplo, anyway? Turns out, quite a lot.

  • She started by investigating shapes, and there are plenty of interesting shapes the collection.
  • She handed us stuff and we exercised our creativity by incorporating those bricks into whatever we were building.
  • She knew how to move wheeled toys back and forth, so she did that too.
  • She pulled bricks apart, and we challenged her by putting bricks together in different configurations.
  • She put bricks into containers, and she took them out again.
  • She opened doors and windows.
  • She opened doors and then put bricks through them.
  • She jumbles them up and enjoys the sound.
  • … and she’s coming up with more stuff to do with them every day. =)

She occasionally tries to connect bricks together, but she doesn’t quite have the coordination for that yet. Someday!

We’ll also eventually teach her how to sort bricks by type, which is good for sanity and easier building. A- puts bricks into whatever container is closest, which is totally fine – I just sort opportunistically.

W- and I also keep ourselves amused by building little things and showing them to each other. He’s good at it, and I’m slowly getting the hang of it. For example, he turned a bunch of curved bricks and a car spoiler into a whale. Much fun.

So, yeah, Duplo! Here we go.

2017-01-16 Emacs News

Links from reddit.com/r/emacs, /r/orgmode, /r/spacemacs, Hacker News, planet.emacsen.org, Youtube, the changes to the Emacs NEWS file, and emacs-devel.

Past Emacs News round-ups