Category Archives: life

Thoughts on getting a membership to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM)

I’ve been building up a small opportunity fund for A- so that it’s easy to take chances on memberships, classes, books, and other good things. After some consideration, I decided to use some of it for a membership to the Royal Ontario Museum. We’ve been working on animal names and sounds, so I figured it would be good to point to animals in addition to pictures in books, Duplo pieces, and small models at the early years centres.

The ROM turned out to be a nice quiet place to walk around and contemplate the vastness of history, A-‘s thirteen months of existence a blink contrasted with millennia. I picked up all sorts of tidbits as I tag along on tours, too, and I’m working on getting better at identifying animals myself. (I could probably spend a few years in the bird section!)

What do I want from the ROM?

  • I want to develop a deeper appreciation of our place in history and nature, and I want to be able to share that with A- as she grows.
  • I want to train my eye to recognize and differentiate various things.
  • I want to pick up more words and share them with A-.
  • I want to learn stories and tidbits that I can share with A- and W-.
  • I want a quiet, sheltered, spacious place to walk with A- or hang out with friends. I want to have interesting things to look at and chat about.
  • I want to expose A- to different sights, sounds, and textures. Sometimes they have smellable exhibits, too.
  • I want A- to feel at home in the museum instead of it being just a destination for school field trips.
  • I want to have something to offer to other parents and friends.
  • I want to support culture.

The benefits are mostly for me at the moment, but I hope this will pay off when A- starts asking questions about the world or learning about history. It might be handy for helping her increase her vocabulary and see how the world is connected. I’m still going to prioritize hands-on learning for her, since she needs to exercise all her senses, but I think the museum might add something useful to the mix. That means I should take notes (and perhaps photos) so that I can jog my memory, and I should slow down and point to things while naming them multiple times, paying special attention to exhibits at her eye level. I’d like to make it out to the museum at least once a week, ideally inviting other people along.

Now is a good time to bring A-, actually. It’s still a bit cold and rainy, so it’s better to be indoors than at a park or playground. She’s not walking independently yet, so she usually doesn’t mind hanging out in the carrier and nursing on the go. That gives me an opportunity to join tours or read labels, and then I can think about those things when she gets antsy and wants to walk around while I hold her hand. She toddled around the Ancient Egypt exhibit quite happily, and I could still hear some of the tour guide’s stories even though A- sometimes took me around corners. Come to think of it, A- seemed to warm up to the place faster than she usually does at the early years centres. Maybe she prefers to be more reserved when there are lots of active kids. She’s still a bit hesitant to touch strange things, but that might pass in time.

The math: The curator’s circle membership I signed up for lets me take three guests and four kids, includes free coat check, and costs $189. The social level of membership allows one guest and costs $149, so +$40 gets you free coat check and the ability to bring two additional guests and four children (4 <= age <= 17). Half of a two-year solo membership is $86, so +$63 gets you the ability to bring in one guest each time you come. An adult ticket is $20 (+$10 for the special exhibition), so the solo membership breaks even after one visit that includes the special exhibition plus three visits without. The premium for the social membership works after three guest visits including the special exhibition, and the premium for the curator’s circle membership works after two extra guests including the special exhibition, or lots of coat check use. (The member price of $1 per item would’ve added up quite a bit given all these coats and diaper bags!) Yay math! And now it’s a sunk cost, so I can just treat it as an investment in cultural knowledge and potential social interaction.

Among the things I learned this week:

  • Blue whales are huge! Standing next to the skeleton of one is a great way to realize how tiny you are.
  • Noise pollution is a challenge for whales.
  • Whales have really big poop flumes which can be seen from airplanes. The poop is bright orange because they eat krill, and krill is bright orange.
  • Bootlace worms are very long.
  • Researchers solve interesting puzzles with incomplete pieces. I liked how they pieced together the evolutionary history for whales with the help of Pakicetus. They also have to deal with weird one-off fossils like the Toronto subway deer – cool stuff!
  • You can differentiate between mastodon and mammoth skeletons by looking at the lower tusks, the curvature of the big tusks, at whether the teeth are cusp-shaped or smooth.
  • Cartonnage (linen and plaster) gave the Egyptians an alternative way to encase their mummies, since wood was scarce.
  • Chinese roof tiles could be quite elaborate and well-preserved. The designs were strictly regulated in some places and more free-form in others.

I’d like to go again on Tuesday and/or Friday, depending on A-. More to learn!

What did I learn from this experiment with semi-retirement?

I’m so glad I started this experiment! The timing worked out perfectly.

I was pretty happy with the corporate world, but I also wanted to learn about all sorts of things that don’t fit into the usual 9 to 5. I learned that I can have fun building very different kinds of businesses, and that people are wonderful to work with. Enterprise social business (prototyping, analysis, and consulting) was a natural extension of my master’s research and my work at IBM. I got the opportunity to work with my biggest client because a former mentor happened to read my blog when I was planning the experiment, so hooray for blogging. Rails development and Linux system administration let me help a friend out of a tough spot. Graphic facilitation, sketchnoting, and illustration helped me explore new areas and play with visual thinking. Answering people’s questions on Google’s short-lived Helpouts platform showed me ways I could help people learn more. Publishing pay-what-you-want resources opened up lots of conversations and exposed people’s generosity. And to top it all off, I found that I actually enjoyed the nitty-gritty details of running a business: updating my records, filing my taxes, forming agreements, specifying projects, delegating work, and even following up on late payments.

The most important thing I learned was how to have enough. I gradually shifted my balance away from work and toward leisure, freeing up roughly one day a week every year. I learned to trust the butterflies of my interest instead of being driven by the taskmaster of self-imposed deadlines. I learned how to sit in parks and have long conversations with friends, how to cook for crowds, and how to sew for myself. I learned how to get through fuzzy days and foggy days. I learned that I love the stillness and openness of quiet time.

The experiment helped me gain the confidence to take on the challenge of raising a tiny human. I’m not worried about a large gap in my career. That won’t matter if I can come up with a business that fills a need. I’m not worried about being starved for time or autonomy. I got to enjoy so much of it up front, and I can wait a few years for more. I’m not worried about my finances. I enjoy a frugal lifestyle and I manage the numbers well. We’ve got probably one of the best starting points for another experiment, and I’m looking forward to exploring that adventure.

Also, because I didn’t need to take parental leave, W- got to take all the paid leave, so A- got extra time with both of us! Awesome.

What’s next? Another long-term experiment, this time with a more conventional label. I’d like to see what it’s like for us to have at least one parent at home with A- during her preschool years. That will most likely be me, but it could be W- if circumstances require. Children become eligible for kindergarten in the year they turn 4, so we’re already a quarter of the way there. I’ve learned so much about human development in the past year, and I look forward to learning even more. I might even get to incorporate some of those ideas into whatever businesses I end up starting in the next phase of this experimental life.

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. =)

How can we prepare for W-‘s return to work?

The next shift in our household will be when W- returns to work in a little over a month. It’ll be just me and A- most of the day. What will change in our daily routines, and what do we want to do now to make that easier? I’ve been reading Reddit posts to get a sense of what to expect, what kinds of friction points might come up, and what helps. There are some things to watch out for, but I think it’ll be manageable.

  • I won’t be able to pass A- to him during the day. That means we should have leftovers or a quick meal ready for lunch, so I don’t have to try to cook something with A- underfoot. If there’s laundry to fold, we should probably take it upstairs the night before. A- will become more independent over time, so I’ll be able to do more and more things.
  • W- will need work lunches,too. We’ll free up some space in our chest freezer and go back to preparing individual portions. It might be good to prepare most of the week’s food as well, so that dinner is easier.
  • I might have to take A- to her medical appointments by myself. We can meet the cardiologist at North York instead of Scarborough. Going to the Sick Kids Hospital is a bit harder by myself (bringing gear, going to the bathroom, comforting A- when she needs to be sedated for an exam), so we might save W-‘s days off for that, or I can tough it out. We survived long-haul flights, and we can deal with this too.
  • W- can’t easily rescue us if we get sick or need a lift when we’re out and about, but that’s why I have a transportation budget. If necessary, I can call a cab. It probably needs to be a public taxi so that I can carry A- without a car seat – I’m not sure Uber qualifies for that exception.
  • We’ll keep nights flexible so that W- can work if he wants to or hang out with A- if he wants to. He can play with her while I do the evening routines. I’ll let W- decompress from work and settle in before passing her over.
  • I’ll try to get groceries and do other errands in the afternoon so that we can free up evening time. It’ll also be good to take A- to centres for socialization.
  • Weekends will be mostly the same as now, I think: laundry, cooking, cleanup, errands, play, and a bit of hobby time.
  • Many people find it difficult and isolating to go without adult conversation or external validation for long stretches. Based on my experience with hermit mode and with my 5-year experiment, I’ll probably be okay. Writing is a good opportunity to string words together and think about stuff, and I can do that during A-‘s nursing sessions and naps. My blog, my journal, consulting, and the Emacs community help with validation and a sense of accomplishment.
  • I have my own savings and I contribute to the household, so I don’t feel financially dependent. I can even invest for the long term.
  • It’s also good to make sure W- and I stay in sync even if we’re moving in different worlds. Cooking is an obvious touchpoint. Keeping up with tech helps me relate to his stories and interests, and observing A- will probably give me plenty of stories to share. I can use some of my late-night discretionary time to play video games with him, and I can read about woodworking and other DIY pursuits. Duplo would be good to explore, too – we can have fun with the build of the day. If I pay close attention, the minutiae of everyday life is actually quite fascinating, and I can share what I learn.

The next shift after this will probably be when A- starts walking around. I might need to keep a closer eye on her to make sure she doesn’t get into too much trouble, and we might also modify our routines so that she gets lots of practice. As she learns how to ask questions, we’ll add more field trips, too.

Okay. Let’s do this!

How do I want consulting to fit into my life?

I do a tiny bit of consulting to help a long-standing client with prototyping and data analysis. It lets them take advantage of the experience I’d built up with their tools and platform, and I get to keep my technical skills and professional network going.

Before we went on our trip, I was averaging about two hours a week, after A-‘s in bed. A- tends to nurse frequently at night, probably to make up for distractions during the day, and we’re okay with this. Sometimes I might be able to do an hour or two of uninterrupted work, and sometimes I clock in and out as I get interrupted by nursing. Fortunately, I built a pretty handy time tracking interface, so it takes only a few taps on my phone.

Because of my limited availability, I try to pick tasks that don’t require a lot of coordination with other people, that can bear with interruptions, and that aren’t risky when done with a fuzzy brain. So, no meetings, no big chunks of new things to learn, and no messing with write access to production data if I can help it. Despite this limited availability, I was able to prototype a few add-ons they wanted, yay!

IA- has been a bit more clingy lately (might be because of teething) so I’m not sure how much time I’ll have in the next little while. I’d like to have the brainspace to learn and build new things so that I can help out my main client, since he has moved up in terms of his role, but that can probably wait. In the meantime, we get decent ROI if I focus on quick answers and prototypes.

t’s important to me to manage expectations well and to turn over as much as I can. This means not committing to more than I can work on, and keeping people up to date on timelines and risks; making sure the team has access to my code and can take things over if they need to; and building in small steps so that I can deliver something of value as soon as possible. It’s fun to break an idea down into the minimum viable product, the intermediate steps to get there, and the incremental enhancements that would make it even better.

I’ve thought about expanding my available work time, but I chose not to. This is the last month and a half of W-‘s parental leave, but I’d rather spend the time enjoying parenting A- with him than squeezing in more computer things. He’s awesome with A- – better than I am. I’ve sometimes asked him to take care of her while I handled high-priority things that needed focused time (such as doing my business tax paperwork!), but I don’t want to commit more of that time than I need to.

At the moment, I’m not particularly keen on getting a babysitter after W- returns to work. I know the math could work out and that the socialization might even be an awesome thing for A-, but I’m curious about the things I might learn from going through this experience myself. I like the fun of problem-solving and the validation of helping a great team, but I can get that later, too. I also don’t quite trust my ability to pick a good person and build the kind of long-term relationship that would be good for A-, so there’s that too. In the meantime, I can learn from A- as she learns, and I can try to shape her world. We’ve got a rare opportunity to do this in a flexible way, and I want to take advantage of that.

So, how do I want consulting to fit into my life? I think the current arrangement is pretty good. I prioritize my self-care, A-, W-, and the general upkeep of the household; then my journal and Emacs News, since both are time-based; then more discretionary things, like consulting or personal coding. The clients seem happy. They’re not slowed down by me or kept hanging, and they get good value considering the time and money involved. I might be able to do more work if A-‘s sleep solidifies, but I’m in no rush. It might be that I’ll have limited work availability until she’s old enough for playdates or school, and that’s fine too.

I’ll think about this again after we settle into new routines, when W-‘s back at work. It’ll be interesting to see how things change.

Trip notes

We’re still jet-lagged from our trip to the Philippines to visit family and friends. Winter’s short, cold days have been making it difficult to use sunshine to help reset A-‘s circadian rhythm. Ah well! She’ll adapt eventually. We managed to get through a few daytime appointments that we had already scheduled, and now we have a more flexible schedule.

It was an excellent trip, easily my favourite of all our trips back. We stayed at Kathy’s house, acquainted ourselves with the local supermarkets, and took over her kitchen. W- discovered a nice pork bun recipe. I even managed to make a couple of lasagnas – my first time to make bechamel sauce. It was such a treat: plenty of people to eat experimental food, and other people doing all the cleanup. Also: no road trips, plenty of time to relax and take care of A-… We got to be homebodies while spending time with family. Whee! My kind of thing.

All of us were there, as my eldest sister Ching and her husband John also flew in from the US for a week. We got the requisite family photos done, of course. It was great seeing John and Kathy raise their family, and seeing my parents in their roles as grandparents, too. We got a sense of family life over there. Good stuff! A- got pretty comfortable with my parents and with John and Kathy, which was awesome. Yay!

I enjoyed playing with G* and A*, who were so excited about meeting their cousin A-. It was like a preview of life with toddlers and preschoolers. Lots of good practice in redirection, guidance, running commentaries, dispute resolution, word definition, explanation, and safety and sanity preservation. I think we’ll be okay.

The rhythm of the day worked out nicely. We were up at 7 or so because of jet lag. I had a relaxed breakfast, planned cooking, picked up groceries, had lunch, hung out with people / did paperwork, took care of A-, cooked dinner, and then retired back to our room for the evening routine.

I took care of some paperwork while I was there, and we exchanged our demonetized bills before the deadline. I also helped my parents with their Canada visa application. I learned a bit more about estate planning, too. There’s more to do, of course.

I caught up with my barkada, and it was good to get a sense of where they are today. It’s interesting to notice the aspects that have stayed the same and the aspects that have changed a lot.

Speaking of change, A- learned a lot. She’s now quite good at creeping around on her hands and knees, and has also been pulling herself up to stand with support. She likes walking when we’re holding her, too. She tried lots of food while we were in the Philippines, and she turned out to like green mangoes. As I mentioned, she’s gotten more comfortable with other people, although she still often wants me or W- in particular. She seems a lot chattier now, babbling and waving her arms excitedly. She also seems more flexible in terms of sleep. She’s slept in a small airplane bassinet and on recliners, although she usually still needs to nurse before she’s ready to drop off.

Time is double-edged, and my parents are both dealing with health issues. Still, I feel less anxious about my parents now. They have pretty good plans and coping mechanisms, and it’s all part of life. My sister is also dealing with her own challenges. We’re happy to help out however we can.

We picked Korean Air because of its reputation for baby-friendliness, and we were satisfied with the experience. The bassinet was roomy enough for A- to hang out in, and she even napped in it a few times. She wasn’t a fan of the baby meals, but then she’s not into commercial baby purees in general anyway. The child meal worked out well, though, since she could eat some of it and I didn’t mind eating the rest. The play areas and rest areas in Incheon were a pleasant places to spend a few hours waiting for connecting flights.

The only wrinkle was that we lost A-‘s ocular prosthesis during an otherwise awesome trip to Manila Ocean Park. No worries, that’s why we have an oops fund. We’ll try out the less expensive clear conformer first before considering replacing the painted shell, as she won’t be eligible for funding a replacement painted shell for another 1.5 years or so. If the clear conformer works out, it’ll be easier to let her go play and do stuff, since the impact of losing it will be smaller.

Other little notes:

  • Didn’t use my dress shoes or socks. I can leave them behind next time.
  • Should probably copy photos from people’s phones/cameras a day or two before leaving.
  • I wonder how Tim Ho Wan makes those buns…
  • W- is super awesome! The trip would have been very different without him.
  • It was nice to spend time with everyone.

Good trip, and good to be back.