Monday, June 27, 2016

Working Mom Edition #2

So now, the kiddo is about 9 months old, and I've been back to work for about 6 months. When I wrote the first Working Mom post, I'd only been back to work for about a month, so let's chat about everything I've learned in the last 6 months. 'Cuz....it's a LOT.

1.  Being a Working-Pumping-Mom is hard, but rewarding.  I wrote a whole post about pumping at work, so I won't delve too far into this, but essentially: if you decide to pump while working, you deserve a medal.  You probably won't get one, and your kid will never understand the sacrifices you made (especially if you have a boy like I do), but you still deserve it.  You are juggling work + new momhood + making food for another human.  You may feel isolated.  You will likely eat your lunch alone in a bathroom/pumping room. Things will go wrong.  Less than 1% of your coworkers will have the first-hand knowledge to understand what you're having to go through in order to make this happen.  It will suck.  You will eat a lot of chocolate, and listen to a lot of podcasts, and hopefully that will make it suck less.  You may want to quit, many times.  You may eventually decide to quit, and feel guilty about it, even if it's entirely out of your control. Or maybe you won't.  I don't want to make generalizations.  But if you do, you're not alone. And you're doing a great job.

2. You are Not the Same Worker You Were Pre-Baby.  Pre-baby, I was a super-star.  I was super-organized, everything was prioritized, I knew what needed to be done when and how much it would cost.  Throw a new project in the mix?  Sure!  I got this.  Emergency pops up and everything changes?  Not a problem.  Need me to work late to get this done?  Of course!  Last minute meeting with clients or trip out of town?  Sounds like fun!  I even led company-wide training events on time management and productivity. I wrote a post about prepping for maternity leave at Week 33.  I was answering work emails mid-contraction at the hospital, folks.

But post-baby and post-12 weeks of maternity leave?  When I first started back to work, I felt so off my game.  I was scrambling to stay focused, to get caught up, trying to figure out what was going on with my projects.  Staying organized was/is a challenge.  Throw something new into the mix?  I'd have to drop everything to focus on that and then forget what I'd been working on 30 minutes ago.  If I didn't write myself a note to do something, it probably wasn't going to get done until I suddenly remembered it 2 weeks later.  I was really questioning whether I would ever get back to my "old' self. 

Short answer?  Nope.  Because you're not your old self anymore.  You're a parent.  And part of your brain will always be thinking about your kid.  You should be focusing on writing that report, but instead you're wondering if you should call the pediatrician about that weird dry cough he has.  Every time your phone buzzes you think for a brief millisecond that it's going to be the daycare letting you know that he's sick or got bit (or bit someone).  I was feeling some imposter syndrome, like I wouldn't be able to cut it at my job anymore.  In retrospect I wonder if it's this phase that causes a lot of moms to decide to give up their jobs and become SAHMs.  I definitely felt the pull.  Maternity leave felt hard when I was in the middle of it, but once I was back at work, I had a few several days where I thought "maybe I should just go home and watch 'Family Feud' with my kid.  Getting him to nap isn't *that* hard."  (Lies. It is.)

3. You Will Eventually Be a Completely Different Type of Super-Star.  You thought you were efficient before...but get ready to kick it to the next level.  When you have a finite amount of time to accomplish your work, knowing that the kid has to be picked up by 5:30, fed by 7:30, and in bed by 8:30, and that you've got other stuff to do before that 5:30 pickup (grocery store, gym, errands, etc), you've now got to crunch the same amount of work into an even more compressed amount of time.

No more dilly-dallying on the interwebs.  No more "oh yeah sure, I'll remember that, I don't need to write it down".  You will (slowly) evolve into an efficiency expert, if you've decided to stick with the working mommy game.  Time to Get Sh*t Done and go home on time.  You will learn what really needs to be done by you, and what can be delegated to someone else.  You may consider dabbling with Amazon Pantry to cut out some of those shopping trips (note: I didn't, but that's because we like to save by doing a lot of price-matching and coupon-using and iBotta rebates.  But I know a lot of moms who LOOOOOOVE AP.).  Can I eat, take a walk, and go get my wedding ring inspected during my lunch hour?  Yes I can.  Can I limit checking Facebook to when I'm also doing something else (like waiting for the microwave or going to the bathroom)?  Yup.  Can I pound out this last minute proposal before I leave for the day? Yes I can.  It's not easy, but yes, yes I can.

For reference--I'm not 100% there YET.  I still get distracted, I still have days where I come home feeling like I didn't get anything done.  But I'm really TRYING, and I know that I will get there eventually.  I will be that Super-Star Ninja Mom who kicks @$$ for 8.5 hours and then goes home to play with her kid and feels absolutely no guilt about leaving work at 4:50pm so she can get to the south side of town before rush hour traffic hits.
Because playtime with this stylish kid is worth it.

4. It's Time for Someone Else to Be the Super-Star.   
We have quarterly meetings to talk about how the company is doing, look over revenue, and give props to people who really rocked it during the previous quarter. It's one of the things I really love about my company.  But after a couple of these meetings post-baby, I was starting to notice a trend:  I'm not one of those rock stars any more. While my bosses still refer to me as "one of their top producers" (which is really comforting),  I'm not the gal who got 15 reports out the door in one week.  I'm not the guy who worked 72 hours straight overseeing a major emergency response. I'm not the gal who brought in a quarter million in revenue in the previous quarter.  And that's okay.  

Because I HAVE been that person.  I've been doing this job for 11 years now, and I've been that rock star.  I've worked my butt off and discovered that it's not sustainable.  Like everything in life, it's a phase.  And right now, I'm transitioning from my Work Rock Star phase to my Mom Rock Star phase. That doesn't mean I'm not still going to work hard and do a good job and bring in revenue.  It just means that it's not my #1 priority.  Those gals who are killing it right now?  They're a reflection of where I was, not where I am.  They don't have a baby at home, and that's totally okay.  It's their time to shine, to be all-stars, and it's my job to encourage them, help them and be a team player.


It took me a while to come to terms with this...well, that and a conversation with my boss, who's been with this company for almost 15 years, and is a dad of five.  When I came to him with my concerns over not being one of those rock stars, he told me he had trouble making that transition too, when he started managing projects less and people more.  And that was sort of my "aha" moment--I'm not the first person to go through this.  It's totally normal.  I'm not going to be the person working 50-60+ hour weeks for a while.  But I can uplift and encourage and funnel work to the people who CAN and WANT to do that. I can sit in the back of the conference room, in the shadows, and cheer for the new rock stars, and not need public recognition for my role in making things happen.  If I know I'm kicking @$$ while I'm here, and my boss knows it, I'm good.

Life is cyclical.  Someday, my kid will be old news and maybe I can ramp back up on the work side again.  Or maybe he'll be involved in five-bajillion extra-curriculars and I'll be pulled all over the place.  And eventually, he'll be grown and out of the house and I'll still be working, so maybe there's another ramp-up 17 years down the road.  Or maybe there's another kid somewhere in that mix and the cycle starts all over.  Who knows?

5. You Are Still You.  Yes, I might now relate more with the chick in accounting who has a toddler boy, but it's still important to maintain friendships I have with my non-parent friend-workers (aka coworkers that are also friends).  You're friends with them for a reason, and it has nothing to do with kids.  Yeah, sometimes it's hard not to just spew out random factoids about your kid in conversation ("OMG, I know what you mean, last night, when the baby was working on his tummy time..."), but it doesn't have to be the ONLY thing you talk about.  

I [try to] take a daily walk with two of my coworkers who are non-moms.  And yeah, I do bring up the kid on occasion.  But most of the time, we talk about the same types of things we talked about before the kid existed:  news stories on NPR.  Podcasts we've been listening to.  Problem clients or tough projects.  Silly things our significant others did.  A new recipe we tried out and loved/hated.  Because I'm not JUST a mom.  I'm still someone who listens to NPR and podcasts and tries new recipes, and deals with annoying people (not referring to my spouse there).  My mom-ness is just another layer in the onion that is me. (Note:  I am a sweet Vidalia onion or a spicy red onion? Or a fancy shallot? Perhaps a wild roadside onion? The world may never know...)  

Sometimes this can be hard to balance with the Ninja Mom thing.  When you're cramming all that work into a shorter day, socializing seems like something you should just cut out to make more room for work.  But according to Charles Duhigg, author of "Smarter Faster Better", making time for one-on-one conversation with your coworkers, in particular your team members, is actually key to being more productive.  That pre-meeting banter that can feel like wasted time actually helps build a better team.  The buzz word for it is "psychological safety", but basically, talking with your coworkers (and bosses) is what makes people feel more like an important part of a greater whole, and less like a cog in a machine.  What you say matters, and people are actually listening. More respect for my teammates and bosses = more motivation to pull my own weight, and vice versa.

Also, while I am incredibly busy, I don't ever want my teammates to see me as unapproachable.  I serve a role here as a senior scientist and as a technical expert.  If people can't come to me for help, or feel like they'd be bothering me, I'm failing in those roles. If anything, being a new parent should probably make me MORE nurturing and a better mentor...but time will tell if that's the case. :)


In the words of Heroes Coffee:
(mmm...German Chocolate latte...)


6. Lower Your Standards. - Not for your quality of work (unless you're a perfectionist, in which case there's a training on productivity I could offer you)...for your appearance.  Maybe pre-baby you were always fashionably chic with  jewelry, hair done, high heels, and a dramatic-yet-work-appropriate smoky eye...  

Give yourself permission to take a break for a while.  Not forever, if you enjoy that side of work life, but for a while.   I'm inherently low maintenance, and even I have scaled back.  So long as you are clothed in something relatively appropriate for your work (preferably something that will hide a last minute baby spew stain), just roll with it.  Develop a "uniform" (or what's trendily called a "capsule wardrobe" these days) so you don't have to think about clothes in the morning.  My office is business casual so I could wear jeans and a logo'd polo shirt every day and no one cares. If I'm feelin' fancy, it's leggings, a light dress, and cardigan.   Ditch the heels--it's easier to manage an infant carrier/chase an newly mobile baby in flats.  Rocket Dogs are my JAM when it comes to super-cute, comfy, and affordable ballet flats.
If I showered that morning, my hair is still going to be damp when I get to work.  Blow drying/flat ironing cuts into valuable sleep/breakfast/baby play time.  Ponytails, a French twist a la hair clip, mom buns, and braids are my go-to for work. Find some quick & easy updo's on Pinterest (because if he hasn't already, your kid is going to learn to grab, and your hair is an easy target).  

Same goes for earrings--he's going to grab them, so save yourself some pain and skip them.  Or just keep a pair in your purse that you can throw on once you've dropped him at day care (and remember to take them back off before pick up). I've also pretty well stopped wearing necklaces for a while.  Most days my only accessories are my wedding ring and my FitBit (which has proven to be relatively slobber-proof).

My makeup routine is the bare minimum: moisturizer (if I remember), blush, eyeliner, ONE COLOR of eyeshadow (no shading/contouring--somebody's got time for that, but it ain't me).  Maybe a touch of mascara if we're going on a date after work or I have a client meeting.  Possibly some concealer if the kid (and I) didn't sleep well the night before.

Shower to dressed and hair/face done takes me on average about 20 minutes.  I save longer, more leisurely showers for the weekends, and more complicated hair/makeup/outfits for dates with my husband sans baby.

It's not forever...eventually I'll get the hang of this whole working mom thing and be an old pro and totally start flat ironing my hair again, and wearing jewelry and attempt to highlight my eyes.  But not right now.  Right now, the first 20 minutes of my morning are spent nursing my son, watching Doctor Who, and thanking God that I didn't have any nightmares about the weeping angels. *shudders*

Monday, June 20, 2016

Basil Kale Pesto & Italian Sausage Pasta

Last week I picked up some kale at the store...this bunch was MASSIVE.  Like, wouldn't even fit in the crisper drawer of our fridge massive.  I froze about half of it to use later on, made a batch of Zuppa Toscana with some, and then put most of the rest of it into this pesto. I've made a kale pesto before, but since I have basil in my garden this year, I figured it would be pretty tasty to use both together!  
This was a super-easy dinner to throw together after work.  I had the sausage cooking on one burner, the pasta water going on another, and then the pesto being blended in the food processor, so you can really work on all the elements at once.

INGREDIENTS: (makes 6 servings)
1 lb italian sausage, without casings
10 oz bowtie pasta
1 tsp salt
2 cloves garlic

pesto:
3-4 leaves fresh kale, stems removed
1 loose cup of fresh basil (~10-15 leaves)
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4-1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

DIRECTIONS:
In a large skillet, cook the sausage until fully browned.  Drain the fat.
At the same time, start a pot of water for the pasta, and season with the salt and garlic.  When it's up to a rolling boil, add your pasta and stir occasionally. Boil your pasta 'til al dente.

Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine the ingredients for the pesto and then blend until the kale & basil are finely minced and everything is combined into a big beautiful green mush. Should be a slightly thin paste.  Season to taste, as kale can be a little bitter--the lemon juice will help to offsite that.

When the pasta is finished cooking, drain the water, and then combine all ingredients (pasta, sausage, and pesto) in that pot.  
Garnish with extra parmesan, cracked black pepper and some basil chiffonade, if you're feelin' fancy.  Serve with a side of bread, or salad, or both if you're wild & crazy like that.  Enjoy!

NutriFacts: (per serving)
  • Calories485.3
  • Total Fat26.8 g
  • Saturated Fat10.5 g
  • Polyunsaturated Fat4.0 g
  • Monounsaturated Fat17.8 g
  • Cholesterol60.6 mg
  • Sodium1,153.6 mg
  • Potassium394.8 mg
  • Total Carbohydrate41.8 g
  • Dietary Fiber3.6 g
  • Sugars2.5 g
  • Protein20.1 g

Monday, June 13, 2016

Adventures in Parenting: Camping with a Baby

So as I mentioned last week, we had our first camping experience with Baby J recently.  I didn't go into much detail because I figured that experience warranted its own post.  

The Hubs & I really enjoy the outdoors, and used to go camping at least a few times each summer.  Like, "real" camping. In a tent.  Okay, so we had a fan and an air mattress in that tent.  But it was a TENT.  An awesome "instant" tent that you just literally throw in the air and BAM--there's a tent.  It was easy, it was cozy, and we were usually the first ones in our group to be done setting up camp.
But last year, I was all big and preggo and constantly hot during the summer, so we didn't do any tent camping.  And now...we have a baby.  I know there are a lot of people who manage tent camping with a baby just fine, but we weren't QUITE ready to attempt that.  For one--our magically awesome instant tent is perfect for two people, but a little TOO cozy for 2 + a baby.

So, we decided RV camping (or "glamping", if you prefer) with my parents would probably be the best way to introduce Lil' Man to the Great Outdoors.  After all--we've stayed in a hotel with him before, so RV-ing would be like one step removed from that.  We've got power, A/C, enough space for a pack 'n play...it would be perfect.

Let's just say....it wasn't perfect.  But nothing is with a baby.  But you live and learn, and adapt.

So my dad is handicapped, which means he gets to reserve the handicapped camp spots.  Which are pretty sweet, honestly.  For one, the site is paved, so you have a nice level "patio" outside your camper.  Next: they're generally REALLY close to the bath/shower house.  Total bonus.
My parents have a standing reservation every Memorial Weekend at this spot, so it's pretty nice.  It's well shaded (though my parents roll out the canopy and an EZ-Up over the picnic table to add a little more shade).  There's a bare grassy spot for playing yard games like LadderBall & washers, and space on the pavement for a hammock (my parents have a folding hammock & frame which is really convenient).

So we arrived at the campsite Sunday morning, unloaded our stuff, hung out for a bit, then handed Lil' Man off to my folks, and The Hubs & I went to a nearby outfitter to do a 5.5 mile float, since we hadn't been on the water in almost a year.  It took us about 3 hours, so it was a pretty nice little getaway.  
Meanwhile, Lil' Man hung out with Nana & PaPa and learned what a hammock was.  Unfortunately, as we heard when we got back, he also found out what falling out of a hammock feels like, and ended up with a little scrape on his knee (the first of many, I'm sure).  
Also, our little observer was having way too much fun taking in all of his new surroundings to be troubled with little things like "naps".  He did take a 20 minute nap in the hammock (pre-tumble), and another 20 minute nap later in the day, but given that his afternoon nap is usually about 2 hours, that's not quite enough rest.  Add on being warmer than usual since we were hanging out outside, and he was a bit crankier/clingier than usual.  
He was also too distracted to be bothered with things like, oh, eating.  He normally chows down about 12-16 oz of formula throughout the day (not including morning and bedtime nursing), but we were fighting to get him to eat 10 oz a day.  He'd eat for a bit, and then want to sit up and see everything.  He did a little better eating his dinner in his super cool new travel high chair, but still spent a lot of time leaning over the edges trying to grab at whatever was near him.  
He got pretty tired toward the end of our dinner and started crying hysterically when one of my dad's friends (who were camping nearby) tried to talk to him.  VERY unusual for our guy who is usually a charmer. (At 8 months I realize we may be getting into his "stranger danger" phase.)

Bedtime was a bit of an ordeal.  He usually goes to bed around 8:30p, but at 8pm we had just finished eating, and needed to wash up the dishes, and then move his pack 'n play inside and set up the bassinet inside it, and then make up the hide-a-bed (since we wouldn't want to be messing with that once he's already asleep inside).  Getting all that put together meant it was about 9pm before I could get him into his jammies and down to nurse.  After that point, everything went fine--he ate like normal, fell asleep like normal, and stayed asleep until about 4:30am.  Nursed him, then he went back to sleep until 7am.

Honestly, sleep-wise it was probably easier on him than it was on us.  There's not a huge difference between his crib and sleeping in the PNP.  Whereas there's a HUGE difference between our bed and a hide-a-bed.  If ANYONE reading this has ever found a pullout couch that is actually comfortable to sleep on, please share. I woke up with a pinch in my right shoulder and along my neck, which stuck around for a few days after.  
With the hide-a-bed pulled out, you can't get to the kitchen--the end of the bed touches the recliners (barely visible in lower left).

Monday morning (Memorial Day), The Hubs fed Lil' Man breakfast of banana & cereal while I helped my mom make our breakfast (breakfast burritos).  We moved his PNP back outside and put him in it with a pile of toys while we ate.  Afterward, he was starting to get fussy, so we decided to pop him in the stroller so he could take a nap while we got some exercise and walked the dogs.  This is usually a no-fail method.  

But of course, nothing goes to plan when you need it to.  Lil' Man stayed awake in the stroller for the first 30 minutes of the walk, sullenly glaring at me, and then only started to fall asleep once we got back to the campsite.  So...we continued to walk for 20 more minutes.  He woke up not long after we got back to the campsite.  But, he'd had his power nap so he was in a much better mood.  Still didn't want to take a bottle, but better mood nonetheless.

Around noon, he still hadn't taken more than a couple ounces off the bottle, so we fed him lunch of cereal and pears.  He eventually started fussing while eating, indicating it was time to try another nap.  Nana took him inside to rock him (another big bonus of RV camping--having rocking recliners), and then laid him down on their bed.  I went inside, and decided to nap as well...but thought I should nap on the couch instead of on the bed by him so I wouldn't wake him.
BIG mistake.  When he woke up 30 minutes later, he had no idea where he was and started SCREAMING.  Took about 5 minutes to get him calmed down.  

There was a lot of calming him down.  We tried laying him in the hammock by himself a couple times, but that first tumble out of it has stuck in his mind.  He would scream every time we tried to lay him in it by himself.  He toppled over a couple times inside the PNP, and would scream.  He was hungry but didn't want to lay back to eat his bottle--more fussing.  
"Mama's gonna hold me?  Okay, I'm cool."

We had originally planned on leaving around 3pm--but at 2:30p some storms started rolled in, and were on top of us by the time we'd finished helping my parents get everything pulled in where it would be safe.  Lil' Man was a fussy mess and would only take a few ounces of milk, so eventually I just rocked him to sleep while we waited 30 minutes for the rain to stop.  He took a little more milk when he woke up, but still just seemed fussier than usual.  Once the rain died down, we loaded up the car, said goodbye to Nana & Papa, and headed back home.  I was afraid he wouldn't sleep in the carseat because he'd pretty much just woken up from a 30 minute nap, but nope--we were in the car for all of about 15 minutes before he dozed off and slept the entire 2 hour drive back home.

When we got home, I sat him in his exersaucer while we unloaded the car...I've never seen him that happy to see his exersaucer toys. So I guess he missed home, and his usual routine.  He ate about 4 oz of formula and then chowed down his dinner.  After a bath, it was bedtime as usual and he slept through the night.

Practicing his standing (with supervision--it doesn't last long).

I can't say I have any great pearls of wisdom from the experience... the biggest challenge was probably the napping.  If we had a do-over, I might have brought his bouncer, but he's getting to a stage where sometimes that doesn't help get him to nap, and he often tries to lift himself out of it (even though he's strapped in).  If he hadn't fallen out of it, I think the hammock would have been a Godsend for naps.  By the next time we camp (likely Fourth of July or Labor Day weekend), he'll be in a totally different stage, probably self-feeding more, maybe using sippy cups, possibly crawling, so it'll be a different experience. But I think we're up to the challenge.
Might need to invest in one of these down the road...

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Thirsty Thursday: Candied Praline

I'm so glad to see the weather outside finally warming up so we can enjoy our porch!  Well...when it's not raining and soaking our chair cushions.  Apparently some of those April showers got delayed.  We can probably blame DFW airport--I always seem to get stuck there too. :)

I've been having a lot of fun coming up with things to use this Praline Liqueur  from New Orleans in.  So far, we've used it to sweeten up an Irish Channel coffee and add a nutty hint to pineapple upside down pancakes.  Then I whipped up this cocktail the other night to enjoy out on the porch after work.  The ginger ale helps to balance out the sweetness of the liqueur.  And for fun, I threw a little chiffonade of basil in there for the aromatics.

INGREDIENTS:
1 oz Praline Liqueur
4 oz ginger ale
Ice
basil chiffonade (optional)

DIRECTIONS:
Muddle basil with ice, and then add the liqueur and ginger ale.  Drink outside.  Enjoy!