Wednesday, February 26, 2014

(Working Women) - My Life as an SLP

It's only fair to start this "Working Women" series off with my own responses to my interview questions. And bear with, me, apparently I've got a lot to say about my current job, my career path, and personal-professional balance.

And for those of you who might also want to contribute, leave a comment, a Facebook post, or best yet, shoot me an email at, and I'll send the questions and instructions your way.

Bio info - who are you, how old are you, where are you from, where do you live, what's your living/family situation, what are your hobbies – essentially, what’s your story morning glory?

My name is Joanna and I’m the blogger here at Stuff Jo Knows. I am 31 years old; I live in SW Portland with my fabulous teacher husband, Alex, and our nearly-two-year-old adorable and funny daughter, Francine; and my idea for this “series” was inspired by a general enthusiasm to learn what other people’s lives are like.

I was born in San Francisco, but grew up in West Linn, a suburb of Portland (and graduated from the high school my husband is currently teaching at). My dad still lives in West Linn, about 20 minutes away. My brother, older by six years, is a chef and currently living in Telluride, CO, and my in-laws live in their beautiful Lake Tahoe home, with frequent visits to us (and their boat) here in PDX.

Pre-mama hobbies included travel and the outdoors. I still love to see new places and experience new things, but motherhood is currently meeting my adventure quota. These days I like to hike/walk, read/write, craft/sew/embroider, (re)decorate the house, cuddle and tickle my giggly girl, lay on our luxurious new couch and watch TV with my hubby, eat waffles on Saturday morning, browse the aisles of Target, or take walks to our neighborhood park to swing.

What is your current job/profession?

I am a speech-language pathologist, also called SLP or speech therapist. I currently work part-time at the Portland VA Medical Center, on-call at Legacy Meridian Park Hospital, and am in the early stages of running a private practice, Full Circle Speech, LLC, with my BFF Rachel.

At the VA, I work 20 hours per week as part of the Polytrauma team in the rehabilitation medicine department– we mostly serve veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with multiple issues, almost always including concussion/TBI and PTSD. My main role is addressing cognitive concerns such as difficulties with attention, memory, organizing, and academics – this is called “cognitive rehabilitation.” I like to joke that I’m really just a professional nag. I usually work one-on-one to administer assessments to determine deficit areas, teach compensatory attention and memory strategies, manage a direct attention training program, or teach study skills. I work only with outpatients, usually who are living on their own, with their families, or in an adult foster home. I work on a team, headed by the rehab MD, along with a rehab psychologist, social worker, clinical nurse manager, occupational and physical therapist. I spend part of my time on the Vancouver campus, where I have my own window-less office, and part of my time on “the hill” in Portland.

At Meridian Park Hospital, I work “on call,” which really is 1-2 Saturdays per month, in acute care. My main role there is assessment of swallow function. A doctor or nurse orders a consult with the SLP, and then it’s my job to determine whether someone is safe to eat or drink foods and liquids and take their pills, and I make recommendations to improve safety by altering food textures or changing positions. Typical referrals in this setting include patients who have had strokes, neck/back surgeries, are delirious or demented, or are otherwise neurologically compromised. If I were sum up my job here in a few quick words, I would say that I basically palpate old people’s necks and tell them to eat mushier foods and to take small bites and sips.

With regard to Full Circle Speech, LLC – we are a community-based clinic in West Linn. This means we see clients in their homes, offices, or schools. We are in the very early phases of having this practice up and running, as in, we just opened our business bank account last week. We are very much learning as we go. It’s just Rachel and me, she with her pediatric expertise and me with a focus on cognitive strategies and study skills. We’ve done very little by way of marketing, save for a meeting with the West Linn High School counselors, and a few emails here and there. I am working with one client right now, a sophomore girl, helping her establish systems for organizing her personal schoolwork (e.g. using a dayplanner), developing and practicing strategies to stay focused and improve concentration for class and homework, teaching reading comprehension strategies, and practicing skills to reduce test anxiety. The future of the private practice is somewhat unclear at this point, but I’ve been pretty motivated to get it up and going so that we have something of our “own.”

What path did you take to get there?

A circuitous one.

2000-2004: I was a student at U. of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA. I declared my major at the very latest opportunity – Psychology. I was a decent student, but not earning myself any sort of honors or anything. I didn’t know “what I wanted to be,” but I did know that I liked learning about people, observing human behavior, and was most interested in the social sciences.

2004-2006: I moved to Telluride, Colorado to live with my brother and best friend, Stacy. Here I worked a number of different jobs, mostly in the service industry. I made pretty great money waitressing, but really only worked about 8 months per year. I also got a few opportunities to write freelance for some local publications, which lit a nice little fire under my ass with aspirations of “being a writer.” Most of my time here revolved around the ski-bum-resort-town-twice-yearly-international-travel lifestyle. I worked hard (serving burgers and slinging beer or coffee for tips) and played harder (partying, skiing and hiking, and traveling).

2006-2007: I had dreams of “moving to LA to pursue work in publishing.” I had no idea what that meant. I still don’t know what that means. Regardless, I spent a month couch-surfing with one of my BFF’s, Erika, and was offered an opportunity to work an internship at Powder magazine. I declined the offer and decided, somewhat impulsively (after an hours-long midnight telephone conversation with my overseas Dad) to move to Lake Tahoe, where I had passed through on my roadtrip West. In Tahoe, I knew not a soul, and was fortunate to get hired at the local daily newspaper, where I met the man I would later call my best friend and husband. I loved working as a journalist, although it was a mighty steep learning curve. And in order to afford my lifestyle, I also had to waitress in the evenings. In hindsight, this was a very stressful time in my life – working 40+ hours per week learning to be a daily newspaper reporter, waiting table 15+ hours per week, exercising and playing outdoors, partying, and falling in love. I was a busy girl. And while I loved my time there, and I loved writing things that (some) people read, I knew I wasn’t in Tahoe for the long haul.

2007-2008: After well over a year working as a newspaper reporter for 12 bucks/hour, I questioned my professional future, potential earning power, and still had not fully satisfied the travel bug. Alex and I started saving money in a brown paper bag in the drawer that separated our desks, eventually quit our jobs, and spent nearly 6 months in South America. There we travelled extensively in Argentina, took Spanish courses, and blogged regularly about our (mis)adventures together.

2008: We moved back to Portland, where we had both grown up, and in with my dad to try and figure out our next career moves. I was interested in a few professional avenues – further pursuing journalism, work in PR or marketing, or work with non-profits. I eventually found myself working at the American Cancer Society as a “Quality of Life Manager,” where I developed and managed volunteer programs for cancer patients and survivors. I liked the job well enough at first, but quickly became bored, and started toying more seriously with the idea of returning to school. I explored my options – PsyD, PhD, MSW … and then I ‘discovered’ that I could just do what Rachel did – speech-language pathology. I registered for classes that fall.

2008-2009: I enrolled as a post-bacc student at Portland State University in the Speech and Hearing Sciences department, where I also worked as a research assistant and applied to graduate school. We were also planning our wedding then. This was one of the most balanced, fulfilling times of my life. I rode public transit for 1.5-2 hours and devoured library books by the week. I took only the courses required for graduate school, which was about 12 credits, and loved what I was studying. I worked very part-time with two professors helping them collect data about evidence-based practice. And I still had enough time and energy to regularly run and practice yoga.

2009-2011: Alex and I moved to Eugene for graduate school at University of Oregon – he for his Master of Arts in Education and me for my Master of Science inCommunication Disorders. It was here I met my mentor, Dr. McKay Sohlberg, and was inspired to pursue study and work in cognitive rehabilitation, particularly with the veteran population. I thrived in the academic setting and loved that learning was my job. I even won the state’s outstanding graduate student award and was awarded a paid internship position at the Portland VA. We had an on-campus clinic where I was exposed to a few different kinds of clients – a middle-schooler with an articulation disorder, a pre-schooler who stuttered, and a 40-something veteran struggling in school after returning from several tours in Iraq. I did one off-campus practicum at a skilled nursing facility and another at an elementary school specializing in working with kids with autism. I did both my externships in Portland, one at the VA working with veterans with acquired brain injuries (e.g. stroke, TBI, degenerative disease, etc.), and another at the Rehab Institute of Oregon, again working with people with traumatic brain injuries. I graduate in May and had a whole summer off with Alex.

2011-2012: After completing 2 years of fulltime graduate coursework, SLPs are required to complete a clinical fellowship year (CFY) in order to earn licensure. I was fortunate enough to be offered a fellowship to continue my training at the VA. This was a big accomplishment for me, and I was pleased I would get further experience working with Dr. Michael Sullivan serving veterans with brain injury. However, I became pregnant the summer before my fellowship began, my brother experienced a traumatic head injury of his own the weekend before I was set to start, and I struggled to adjust to the dynamic of being a fellow in the Audiology/Speech department while simultaneously growing and then sustaining the life of a little one. I finished out my CFY, was awarded my clinical certificate of competence, and was officially a licensed speech-language pathologist. Phew.

2013-Current: After completing my fellowship, I took a few months off from working entirely, staying home fulltime with the Bean, then got hired on-call at Meridian Park Hospital and worked sort of sporadically for a couple months, and was eventually offered the job I have now at the VA – the SLP with the Polytrauma team within the Rehab Medicine department.

What are the pros and cons of your current position?
At the VA:
Pros – I work in a team setting, getting to collaborate with other professionals to provide optimal services to veterans. I do my own scheduling. I work in a specialty area I am very passionate about. I work for the government, so I get all the good holidays and decent vacay/sick leave and a certain level of job security. I work part-time, as does everyone else on my team (and they all also have families). I have access to great continuing education opportunities and evidence-based resources. I like the people I work with. I have my own office. I don’t have to deal with insurance or billing.

Cons – I don’t make as much money as I would like. My caseload is a little on the light side, which is sometimes understimulating and causes me to be less efficient. My office has no windows but does have fluorescent lights. Sometimes I’m less of an SLP and more of a case manager. I’m not sure I’m making as much of a difference in these veteran’s lives as I’d like. I have a boss, and a boss’s boss, and a boss’s boss’s boss. In other words, I can’t just show up when I like or leave when I please. And the VA is so bureaucratically deep sometimes I need an oxygen tank to breathe.

At Meridian Park Hospital:
Pros – I get paid a slightly higher hourly wage because I work “on call” status. The money I make is sort of like “extra” money in that Alex and I don’t build this income into our budget. It keeps me up to speed on a lot of the clinical skills I don’t use at the VA. I work really independently. People in my department are nice. I work on Saturdays, so childcare isn’t an issue. I get to work with a wider variety of patients, e.g., women and the elderly.

Cons – Most of my role is with swallowing; in other words, I spend my time looking in the mouths of sick/old people, palpating their necks, and talking about eating/drinking and coughing/choking. I have to work weekends, which means fewer hours at home with my favorite people. Hospitals are gross. I’m not guaranteed any number of hours and thus any set earnings. I am expected to have a better understanding than I do of insurance and Medicare and billing, which presents parameters in assessing and treating patients.

Pros – Being my own boss! Working with my BFF. Flexibility. Higher earnings per patient. Focus on my clinical expertise. Opportunities to work with whatever client population I find interesting.

Cons – Marketing. PR. Finances/accounting. Only the fact that we don’t really know what the hell we’re doing yet. And that anything that happens with Full Circle is time and energy and work on top of our real jobs. Reduced access to other professionals. No safety net. No guaranteed earnings.

Walk us through a typical day, week, or month ...

At the VA my “tour” (they literally call it that) is from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays in Vancouver, and 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesdays in Portland. My caseload is pretty light right now, so on a good day I see about four follow-up veterans for treatment, on a super slow day I might have only one patient, and there’s only a 50% chance he shows. I really haven’t had a new evaluation in nearly 3 weeks.

For example, today I had 4 patients. My first one was a “frequent flyer,” who has a remote history of a TBI related to a seizure. He also has significant mental health issues and was recently diagnosed with conversion disorder. He’s been seeing speech on and off for a few years, without ever really making progress. My current goal with him is a trial of a direct attention training program in hopes of improving his perception of his “memory.”

My second patient is a newer one, referred to me for his adult-onset stuttering. His main complaints are related to his memory and cognitive function, but he also reports a sudden onset of stuttering about 1.5 years ago, with no notable neurological cause; we typically call this “psychogenic stuttering.” He has a history of several concussions, but no “major” TBI. He is also very heavily involved with mental health. There is talk, again, of a possible conversion disorder.

My next visit was with a 40-something male with a history of multiple blast exposures and pretty significant PTSD. He is currently involved in exposure therapy. He is very high functioning, and very pleasant to work with. He mostly just checks in with me about his attention and memory function on the job (one of my few veterans that is employed) and we discuss which compensatory skills are useful and I provide additional strategies, as needed.

My last patient was a kid in his early 20s who worked as an Army corpsman or combat medic, which, in my understanding, is like a paramedic in the field. When I Google it, Wiki says that combat medics are those “providing first aid and frontline trauma care.” My understanding is that they see all sorts of terrible stuff, and while they may or may not have been exposed to blasts or gunfire themselves, they certainly are working with those who have. This veteran was medically evacuated a couple years ago and has been in the wounded warrior battalion since then, essentially focusing on his recovery from blast injuries. His main complaints are related to apathy and depression, insomnia and nightmares, PTSD, reduced concentration, poor memory, and chronic pain. This is a pretty typical profile for most of the OIF/OEF veterans. As he’s already been a part of a “memory group” and all sorts of cognitive strategies support groups, I’m trialing the direct attention training program with him and helping him determine his goals, e.g. whether to take the N-CLEX and work as a nurse, or return to school to earn his degree in nurse practitioner to work in an ICU.

Other veterans on my caseload include a 30-something non-combat veteran who has had a series of unfortunate health issues (cardiac issues turned multiple large strokes) leaving him totally dependent, wheelchair-bound, and living in an adult foster home that his family can barely afford. Another veteran is 20-something man from Alaska, without a formal education, who sustained a lower leg amputation following burns from a blast injury. Another veteran was in a severe car accident while on base stateside. Another veteran was being seen by mental health for combat-related PTSD, and then a few months ago he was the victim of a “knockout” assault. Half his face is paralyzed, he’s still having some difficulty eating and drinking, his eyesight is now impaired, and because of his cognitive issues he hasn’t remembered to come to any of his scheduled appointments in several weeks.

I usually start my day by checking my Outlook email and calendar, and make my plan for the day. When my caseload is light, I try to fill my schedule with continuing education opportunities, or following up on tasks on my To Do list such as getting registered to provide telehealth services, managing our team’s TBI database, or calling patients on my list who need to be re-scheduled or who no-showed their appointment (which happens nearly 30% of my week). I spend a decent amount of time doing chart reviews in our electronic medical file database, review the paper files I keep in my office with information specific to speech/cog, and prep materials for the session, as needed. If I don’t write “treatment notes” right after a session, I usually spend the last part of my day or the first part of the next day doing so. On most days I have more downtime than I am comfortable admitting, however, I can’t exactly recruit more patients, as they must be referred to me from the Polytrauma doctor.

What is something about your job that other people might not know or expect?

Most people don’t even know what an SLP is. Or if they do, they think that my job is to help kids who mis-pronounce their “r” sounds. While that’s true, I can teach someone to say “rabbit” instead of “wabbit,” it’s really a small piece of the speech pathology pie. A speech-language pathologist specializes in any and all disorders of communication, across the lifespan, as well as with disorders of swallowing. We work in schools, hospitals, early intervention programs, skilled nursing facilities, rehabilitation programs, and outpatient clinics. Our scope of practice includes:

- cognitive aspects of communication including attention, memory and executive functions such as planning, organizing, problem solving
- speech and voice including articulation, fluency, phonation and resonance
- language, including phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and social communication/pragmatics, in both expression and comprehension of spoke and written modalities
- pre-literacy and language-based literacy skills
- feeding and swallowing disorders

What other jobs could you work with your education/training/experience?

An SLP is certified to work in all the aforementioned settings, which is one of the reasons I chose this profession. As I tend to become “bored” easily, I wanted a profession where I could shift population or setting or expertise without having to get any additional formal schooling.

How much do you make? (Too forward?!? Probably. But let's be real, a large part of the reason we work is to make money - give us some deets about your income, as much as you feel comfortable sharing, whether specific to your personal salary, or generally speaking, as in, What Would Google Say).

At the VA, my salary is $60,000 per year, so because I’m part-time, I earn $30K. According to my pay stubs, I get paid $811 every two weeks. Fifty percent of my take-home pay goes to childcare. At Legacy Meridian Park I make $33 per hour; my base pay is $30, plus a 10% differential for working “on call” and not having any benefits. At Full Circle Speech, LLC, we charge $100 per hour, estimating a net of about $50 per client session.

Bear in mind I am at the beginning of my career as an SLP, so I’m at the entry pay grade. According to the Interweb, the median SLP salary last year was about $70,000. Income in this profession totally depends on work setting. Those in early intervention make about $40K per year, while those in skilled nursing can make as much as $85K, and those in successful private practices can reach six figures. Speech-language pathology continues to make the “best jobs” lists for several years now, and one US Newsarticle reported the salary range as $44-$107K per year.

Do you anticipate making any career changes in the next 5 to 10 years?

Nothing major. I love working with the population I do at the VA, and I like my colleagues and my exposure to so much leading research, but it’s hard to think about having the same job for such a “long” period of time. In my dream world, I’d see clients privately focusing on post-concussive disorder, work fee-basis for the VA with Polytrauma patients, and write. I’d love to get paid to write more pop culture-type articles for national publications related to my field and my interests. Think, a New York Magazine article about veteran’s issues with the “silent epidemic” (TBI), or a Slate piece on the possible ramifications of juvenile sports concussions. You get the picture. I’m so passionate about cognition, the brain, mental health, and human behavior. Some days I think go back to school and get my PhD in a related field, I am really interested in clinical research. But I just can’t imagine doing anything of the sort while also raising small child(ren).

If you could have any other job in the world, what would it be?

Children’s book illustrator. Documentary filmmaker. Coffeeshop barista. Movie critic. Mail carrier. Grief counselor. Schoolbus driver. Photo/journalist team with my husband. Tenured professor. Oprah. Successful YA fiction writer. Career counselor.

But I think I’ll stick with speech-language pathologist. I like it pretty damned well.

If someone else was interested in your job, what piece of advice would you give them?

Informational interview. Job shadow. Research the profession. And I would ask them if they can afford the school loans that accompany a graduate level education.

How do you balance work life and home life?

Part-time employment. Seriously.

I worked fulltime for about 6 months when the Bean was a baby and I was MIS.ER.A.BLE. Since working part-time, I feel so satisfied with my quality of life. Of course there are things I’m still not getting to (I must come to terms with the fact that my house will never, ever be clean, unless I pay someone else to clean it), and times when I feel stressed by managing two jobs, a fledgling business, a husband, and a toddler – but ultimately I would describe my life as relatively balanced. Sure, I should exercise more, watch less TV, eat my greens, meditate daily, have more sex, clean the shower, eat less candy, floss more often, spend less money, put away my laundry after I fold it, play dolls every time the Bean asks – but if I had that all figured out already, I’d feel like I was done, and that would just be weird. Also, I have a husband who is an equal partner. We both work, we both do childcare, and we both do home-related responsibilities. We often succumb to the “I do more than you” attitude at times, but big picture, we make a pretty great partnership. And that balance in our family contributes to my overall balance of work/home.

Any final words to share about your work, yourself, or anything else of the sort?

Yes. I took today off. I woke up feeling congested and a bit fatigued as I have for the last 3-weeks (damn winter cold), exercised for 30 minutes on the elliptical, and decided to call in sick for work. But I still took the Bean to daycare. I felt guilty when she cried hysterically at drop-off (anyone know any magic solutions for separation anxiety?), but then napped for 2 hours, ate lunch alone and watched a show, made a list of crafts/projects for the next month or so (lots of birthdays coming up), started sewing a cute dress for a friend’s daughter, and then finished this blog up at the local coffee shop while listening to my Phantogram station on Pandora. My final words? Whatever your job, whether a passion, profession or simply a means to make ends meet, take breaks. “Me time” every so often feels so good, whether or not we deserve it.

Monday, February 24, 2014

23 months

Dearest Francine,

This month is best characterized by your gentle sweetness, toddler sass, and lingering sickness.

Sweetness. Gentleness. Kindness. Lovingness. Like the time I mentioned to Daddy that I was bummed we were missing a beach getaway with friends, you came to me, gave me pat-pats and said "hugs" and laid your head on my shoulder. Or how you want to hold hands with Daddy when you nurse in bed. Or hold hands in the car. Or while I pee. Or the fact that both Daddy and I have been fighting a nasty cold on and off the past few weeks and you give pat-pats and back rubs and cover us in blankets or offer water. You sometimes put yourself in a time-out, I think just so you can say "sowy, hugs" and come get us with open arms. You are (mostly) sweet to your dolls, still adore babies, and love nothing more than looking at pictures on the iPad or iPhone of people you know.

And then there's your sass. Your spice. Your sour. You, my dear, can be an opinionated handful. This reminds me that you're just weeks away from being a full-blown 2-year-old. You fight diaper changes like it's the most painful thing to have ever existed. You despise being put in your car seat. You're getting strong, and you know how to wiggle and writhe out of a seemingly solid grasp. You don't want to get dressed when we say it's time, and you won't sit at the table to eat dinner with us, instead insisting on being taken out of your highchair, then being put back in. On repeat. You have an opinion about what shoes you wear, what coat you'll sport, whether or not you'll drink from your water bottle or mine, whether you should indeed be allowed to drink my coffee or eat off porcelain plates. You are testing limits and trying patience, and while I find it somewhat frustrating, I am pleased that you are your own little person.

And then there's the sickness. Good thing February is a short month, because my tolerance for this loitering illness has run very, very low. Our house has been sick in some combination or permutiation for nearly 3 weeks. I had a cold that put me out for two days. You rocked a green snotty nose. Daddy had a cough. You barfed all over yourself in the car. Daddy's cough got worse. My cold returned. You got sent home from daycare with pinkeye. Turns out you had an ear infection too. Daddy has a sinus infection. Gross, gross and gross. Bleach bottles to the rescue.

Your speech, language and cognitive development continue to mesmerize us. Strangers will often tell us how "smart" you are, and although we agree, we are more inclined to be enthralled with the simple fact that you really do know more today than you did yesterday. Take the other day, when daddy locked the car (with the automatic locking device in his POCKET!) you said, "car. bark." about the chirping noise of the lock. You call school/daycare "goos." You still refer to yourself in the 3rd person as "Ceecee." You very politely use your manners to say "please" and "tankoo." You love being "nakie," and do a little naked dance both before and after bath time. You sometimes chant, "boobies, boobies, boobies" when you want "mik" because it makes me laugh. And when daddy changed from his PJs to clothes the other day you said, "hola, peepis." Again, we laughed. And boy are you pleased with yourself when you get us smiling or giggling. You think toast has something to do with your toes. You can differentiate between milks - cow, goat, or boobies. You still mostly speak in a string of one-word phrases, can rock the two-word phrases, and throw in three-word phrases throughout the day, e.g. "wake up, mama."

You know all your colors with great ease, you recognize some of the letters of the alphabet by their correct name (not just associating "m" with "mama"). You inconsistently can count to five with some assistance. And you blame everything on Ayana from school. If you have a scratch on your arm, maybe from dry skin, you point, say "hurt, Ayana did." You are aware of your own social reluctance - "shy. hold" you say, before we arrive at a friends house or at school, when Beebee comes over, or before FaceTiming Mimi.

If you're not overly tired or hungry or emotional, we can rationalize with you. You no longer cry when you wake up in the morning and instead shout, "Mama! Daddy! Ready! Yeah!" because we explained to you that no tears are necessary and we will respond to your words. We easily bribed you with a "treat" when we test drove our new car. And if we mention anything that sounds appealing to you, you won't let us forget it. Like the time I said you could color when we got home after grocery shopping, you reminded me the second we walked in the door.
When asked if you are a "baby" or "kid," you usually respond "kid," and I would agree - you are a toddler all the way. As we left the house today for daycare/work, you refused to wear socks, insisted you put on your rain boots by yourself, donned your butterfly-shaped sunglasses (although it was darkish and cloudy), and carried your purse and a play wallet over your shoulder to the car. You looked like a little girl with att-i-tude.

A typical commuter conversation between us goes a little something like this:
You: Daddy?
Me: Where is daddy today?
You: Work.
Me: Yup, he's at work today.
You: Mama new car.
Me: Yeah, we're driving my new car, do you like it?
You: Knees (I look back and see that your boots have been removed and flung to the other seat, and your pant legs are pulled up well above your knees). Goos (how you pronounce "school").
Me: Yeah, your knees are showing.
You: Kid ... horse ... baby ... goos. Shy. Is okay baby .... Hold. Hold.
Me: (thinking, trying to determine what she's talking about.) Ah, yes, that's a kid on that billboard, and you're right, it used to have a picture of a horse. We are headed to school. It's okay to feel shy. I can hold you for a minute, but then I'll have to leave for work. And we need to tell Dani how to do your eye medicine.
You: Memuh! (medicine). Bar .... bar. Daddy car. Mama hold. Bath. Yucky.
Me: (again, thinking, trying to determine the topic of this conversation). Oh! Yeah, you did barf, huh, in daddy's car, and then I gave you a bath so you could be all clean. But you're okay now, huh.
You: Gwoss.

This, all interspersed by coughing, demands for "water water water!," followed by a refusal to, in fact, keep the water bottle in your lap so I don't have to keep passing it back to you, and requests for our modified version of Wheels on the Bus. "Bus! Bus! Song. Song bus."

So without further adieu, for you, my love ...

The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round, the wheels on the bus go round and round, all around the town.

The Daddy on the bus goes "tickle tickle tickle," "tickle tickle tickle," "tickle tickle tickle," the Daddy on the bus goes "tickle tickle tickle," all around the town.

The Beebee on the bus goes "vroom vroom vroom" ...

The Mimi on the bus goes "pat-a-cake" ...

The Papa on the bus goes "strum strum strum" ...

The Bri-Bri on the bus goes "first class please" ...

The Jen on the bus goes "Detroit rocks" ...

The B on the bus goes "cook that pig" ...

The Francie on the bus goes "see me nakie" ...

The Mama on the bus goes "I love you" ...



Thursday, February 20, 2014

(#tbt) The Potty Wars - Joanna vs. Francie

Throwin' it back to potty training in 1984/2014. Thirty years apart and not much here looks different. Same white porcelain throne. Same short toddler hair. Same squinty eyes. Main difference? It looks like there's a carpeted bathroom floor ala 1984. Gross.

I don't have much room to reminisce with these pictures, as I have no recollection of learning to stop pissing myself. All I know is that I learned at an earlier age than Alex, by like a year or so. Duh. I definitely believe that gender is at play here. As I've said before, even now, if Alex and I were having a competition, I think he would long outlast me sitting in his own waste. He'd just distract himself with something shiny. I do have a picture of Alex sitting on the pot, too, but I think he might disown me if I posted it. He's grown, after all. So I'll settle for this lookalike combo of me and my daughter rockin the same pose.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Micro Mini

At 31, "micro mini" means something different than it did at 21.

A decade ago, "micro mini" referred to a kind of skirt - one that my husband accuses me of sporting at age 24 for my interview at the Sierra Sun/Tahoe World newspapers. I got the job, by the way. At 31, however, "micro mini" is the term used to describe my new car. MY NEW CAR!!!

This weekend Alex, Francie and I spent 5 long hours at the Mazda dealership to sign away $300 per month for the next 5 years. And now I am the proud new owner of a 2014 Mazda5, also known as a "micro minivan." The reason for this term is that the car is the size of a sedan/wagon, but has the inside structure of a van. It seats 4 in captain's chairs, and then has two additional jumpseats in the back. The exterior color is silver and the interior is black. There is ample cargo room for roadtrips. We got the sport model, which is the base, so it doesn't have anything fancy-pants like Bluetooth or a DVD player or anything else I generally consider obnoxious. And to me, this is about as fancy-pants as it gets - A NEW CAR!

After driving my 1991 Volvo for nearly 13 years, even a Dodge Neon or Geo Metro feels luxurious, if for nothing else than the CD player and USB connection. But my new car, the "3M" (Mazda micro mini), has automatic windows, a radio controller on the steering wheel, and KEYLESS ENTRY! Did you hear that? I can now unlock the doors (not that I ever locked them before) from the convenience of my pocket. No fishing for my keys while holding a wiggly toddler - all I have to do is push a button! And did I mention how many miles my new car has on it? Only 60. Of which 57 I've driven  myself. Contrastingly, the Volvo brags 229,999 miles. And the odometer stopped working more than 5 years ago.

Out of respect, I ought to sing the Volvo's praises. It was an amazing companion for me in college and throughout my 20s, it reliably (mostly) got me all over the country - to and from college at UPS; to and from Block Island, RI; to and from Telluride, CO; to and from Lake Tahoe; and many, many roadtrips, beer runs, and tow truck rides in between. I have many musical memories associated with that car, and will definitely miss my Led Zeppelin, OR, and Lake Tahoe stickers. But I'm on to a new chapter of my life, and while there's no risk of me posting those stick-family stickers on my car, I'm happy to drive something that wouldn't necessarily be described as "having character."

Alex and I did not come to the new car purchase conclusion easily. We've been debating not only the purchase of a car, but also the type of "needed" vehicle, for nearly a year. I've been raised in a home that boasts several used, busted cars, and have been taught (extensively) about the financial disadvantages that comes with driving a new car off the lot. But the mama in me wanted to leave behind the unreliable mechanics, head-bonking carseat entry, and reduced passenger space in favor of this. And I might have preemptively texted my dad to ward off any potentional comments post-purchase. And how did he respond? With nothing but love and support, of course. Daddy's Girl, anyone?!?

We have officially decided to get a new car. I know you disagree with the financial decision, and we thought long and hard and came to the difficult conclusion that we'd rather be consumers. Anyhow, we aren't relying on you to buy the Volvo, but it will soon me made available to you for purchase. And we will soon have a car with enough room to haul you around to all your old-man appointments, even when we have another kid. Which we also won't be able to afford :). Love ya and thanks for all your financial support, both fiscally and intellectually.

Exciting for new car. And happy to buy a nice Volvo anytime. And always happy to give counsel. Love ya.

So without further adieu, feast your eyes on the newest member of our family.

And if you are someone who cares about the car specs or about reviews (Dad), follow these links


Friday, February 14, 2014

From Valentine to Vomitfest

V-Day is for lovers? Or for vomiters.

My day started like this, with a nice visit to our Valentine at his work ...

Where the Bean got her first rose from an "older suitor" (one of Alex's students) and totally rocker her tutu for the second Vday in a row ...

And then the day turned into this ...

Toddler projectile vomit in a moving vehicle is no joke. There's no time to dwell on dormant barf-phobias when you're a mom. But I guess there's time for a photo?!?

And yes, before I got my child out of her puke covered carseat (eu du Greek yogurt + red velvet cupcake), I ran into the house to get a pair of disposable gloves and a towel to wrap her in and a piece of gum to distract me from the smell), I peeled off her clothes in the front yard (as she whined "code, code <cold>), and left them there until Alex's arrival home. I then got to change a poopy diaper, before dipping her in a steaming hot bath (scalding water has GOT to kill germs, right?) I called Alex to request his early departure from work, citing a state of emergency. But to no avail.

So I ate a Xanax. Apparently Francie did too.

She hasn't barfed since, but I'm waiting for my turn. And by waiting I mean dreading. And by dreading I mean still eating Xanax and pacing in my room and covering the couch in towels and washing my hands every 12 minutes. poundsignmomoftheyear.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

(#tbt) I Choo Choo Choose You

I've recently been looking back through old photos, in a disorganized and ambling fashion, in effort to organize the electronic files, and was recently struck by an idea. Don't worry, it didn't hurt. But in the spirit of all this #tbt (pound sign Throwback Thursday) business, and in light of being an obsessive archivist and a frequent-walker of Memory Lane, I've decided to embark on a new blog "series," taking Thursdays to reminisce about the past. And because tomorrow is the big V-Day, I thought I'd start there. With Alex and my first Valentine's Day together. Flashback to February 2007, when we lived in Tahoe, rocked bro-brah hair, and just moved in together.

This was taken on Alex's first night officially living with Stac and me in Rich's basement apartment. No, you're not supposed to know who Rich is, because we didn't really either. Just the guy whose name was on our monthly under-the-table rent checks. Note in the background that I have a photo of an ex-boyfriend hanging on the wall, a life-size Archie cardboard cutout, and plastic drawers as a side table. Also, we still have that coffee table. We are saving it for the "man cave" because I can't bare to part with one the more expensive pieces of furniture I'd purchased - $75 at Goodwill in Reno. It's Valentine's Day here, Alex gave me tulips. And we're eating dinner by "candlelight."

Some things never change. The hair, yes. The crows-free face, yes. But not the cooking. He's always cooked for me. Here - stir-fried frozen veggies. I have higher standards now.

And since this brief foray into the Winter of 2007 has got me all nostalgic for my blonder hair, thinner thighs, and ski bum/journalist lifestyle, let's check out some other fun times from the very first chapter of the Alex and Jo Show ...

We skiied.

We skated.

We sledded.

 We partied.

 And we were young.

And to think, this year we'll celebrate by reviewing our budget and making a spreadsheet about the pros and cons of buying that new "micro minivan" - the Mazda 5 - that I never imagined I'd one day covet. But like I said, I might not be cool, but I would choo choo choose this life all over again. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Working Women

Do you know what your friends do for work? Like, actually know what they do?

I don't, not really. In fact, one of my BFF's, Rachel, was a speech-language pathologist for a few years before it dawned on me to inquire further about her education and work, and here I am, several years later, following in her professional footsteps. I have a pretty decent understanding of what my friends do who are in health professions or in education, but I still don't know their day's play-by-play, what or who they are responsible for, or the stresses they either leave behind or bring home. And then there are those friends with jobs that I really don't get, like people in "marketing," "PR,"  or "sales," or people who "own a small business" or "work in the tech industry."

In another life, I would have thrived as a college or career counselor. I love thinking about and planning for the future - there are so many doors that open at points of transition, such as embarking on education, or changing jobs. I know some people view this as a time of great stress, but all I see is a time of tremendous opportunity, and I'm inspired. My husband would accuse me of being a "novelty whore," which is true even on the professional front. I could be a student forever, working toward these professions without ever having to actually work in them. I love to look for new jobs, and even start new jobs. Keeping said jobs? Not my strong suit. Which is why endurance and longevity is my challenge. I'm a sucker for those personality and job compatibility tests, asking me whether I want to work with people or on my own; whether I'd like to be outside or inside; if I'd rather use my hands or my brain. In fact, there is a Buzzfeed quiz that is practically viral on Facebook right now, and I might have succumbed to the Magic 8 Ball-like lure of the "What career should you actually have?" personality quiz, with the following results:

"You got: Writer.

You are a maker. Creative from the day you were born, you spend most of your time thinking about the world you live in. You are open to new ideas and value beauty and originality more than most. We both know you’re not really the office type, so give yourself some room to create. Other occupations: director, producer, advertiser."

Surprise, surprise. "Writer." Haven't quite figured out how people make a career out of writing, but at least I can claim to have been a paid writer at one point in my life, even if I hit the ceiling at 12 bucks an hour. Anyway, back to the topic at hand.

The thing is, I've never been one who can really imagine, like, truly understand, what other people do for work if they aren't a Doctor, Lawyer, Teacher, or Indian Chief. Sure, I understand the basic components, but I'm still curious about what people do all day. There are so many jobs in the world, and the fact we are ever expected to "know what we want to be when we grow up" is sort of beyond me. When I was really little, I wanted to be a gymnast, mother, or firefighter. Then sometime in grade school, I was all about going to the Air Force Academy and being a pilot or an astronaut. Sometime in high school I think I wanted to be a lawyer or judge, or maybe be Oprah or Dr. Phil, if those can be considered occupations. And then in college I loved social sciences, studied Psychology, and thought I'd make a badass prison psych, rehabbing those serial rapists and turning them into gentle kitten lovers. After college I wanted to be a writer, or a professional traveler. Neither of which really panned out for the long haul. And since then, while I mostly love my profession, I've entertained fantasies of being a buyer for a store like Paper Source, a writer for the Huffington Post, a grief counselor, a nurse anesthetist, a YA novelist, or a documentary filmmaker. And sometimes, when I want less responsibility or to be out of an office-like setting, I think about being a school bus driver or mail carrier.

Did you know the average American spends 90,000 hours at work in a lifetime? If you work about 40 hours/week for 49ish weeks a year, that's 1,960 hours right there. If you're 32, and have been working straight since college, you've already racked up 19,600 hours of work. That's a lot. That's 816 days. Or nearly 117 weeks. Or more than 2 solid non-stop years of work. And even someone like me, with a spotty resume and mostly schooling or part-time work, I've already clocked in some serious time on the job.

Let it be said, work is definitely not my everything. Nor should it be. Work is, well, work. I resent the idea that our jobs define us, as though we have to have paid employment to be something, that the only socially acceptable question at a cocktail party is "What do you do?", as if that's the only thing that makes us who we are. But let's be real, whatever it is that we "do" - whether in an office, in the field, or at home, whether paid, voluntary, or homemaking/child-rearing - how we spend our time is who we are, hobbies and extra-curriculars included. Work does indeed consume a good portion of my week. And I'm only half-time. I take pride in my profession; I spent (owe) tens of thousands of dollars and countless hours studying to get where I am today, after all. And I like talking about what I do for a living, because it most definitely is interesting to me, it's a part of who I am and what I stand for. So while I know work is not everything, it definitely is something.

Seriously, there are, like, a million jobs. And I want to know more about all of them. So that's where ya'll come in, telling me and the rest of the Interweb just what it is you do for work.

I was inspired by a fellow mommy blogger, Julia at My Life in Transition, who recently started a feature called Moms Make It Work, where fellow mommy bloggers share their "secrets" of motherhood. I really enjoy reading about other people's lives, learning their stories, both the exciting and the mundane. And while I love reading about moms and kids, I've been left wondering, "these women talk about their kids so much, when half of them spend just as much time on the job - I can tell you what size clothes their youngest is wearing, but I don't have a clue what they do for 8+ hours each day. Come to think of it, I barely know what my real-life friends do."

So here's where I'm headed - weekly guest posts from my Friends Who Blog Occasionally and non-blogger friends alike, answering prompts about what they actually do for work. Here's who I'm thinking might be interested/interesting ...

Liz - she's earning her PhD in English
Mari - I know she works something "legal"
Anna - she gets to travel internationally, as an HR-type, hiring employees for other companies
Amy - a PT and manager of a clinic, this one I know and understand
Libba - something about selling medical insurance to companies
Julia, who's not technically my friend, but whom I feel like I know, and she also works as a PT

And there's those who don't necessarily blog, but might be interested in writing me a little (or a lot) about their professional lives ...

Rach - fellow SLP
Katie - some kind of admin position with law firm, who thrives on organization and routine
Erika - a PT, but also an editor of sorts for an ultra-running magazine
Gretch - a PA, formerly in derm, and now I don't even know her specialty
Stac - a nurse practitioner on a stroke team
Anna PM - an MSW/licensed counselor
Laura - my cousin and an aspiring small business owner and dabbler in marketing/PR/sales/tech stuff
Lisa - our next door neighbor and an artist who runs her own company
Jenn - another neighbor and someone who does something for Apple from home
Steph - an acupuncturist and Burncycle instructor

See how little I know? These are my friends and family. It's embarassing. And I'm actually someone who asks questions about work and listens to the answers, but never get a good chance to downright interview my friends for the dirty deets. So here's my chance.

And maybe there are some peeps out there who don't blog or who aren't my friends - who have totally awesome jobs, whose jobs suck, or who are way bored by a seemingly cool job - maybe they, too, want to share their story?

Who's with me?!? Email me, comment here or on Facebook, and let me know if you find this interesting, as I do. If you're super lazy, you can just "like" this shit and that tells me a little something.

Potential Interview Questions:

Bio info - who are you, how old are you, where are you from, where do you live, what's your living/family situation, what are your hobbies, etc. Essentially, what's your background story?

What is your current job/profession? What path did you take to get there?

What are the pros and cons of your current position?

Walk us through a typical day/week/month ...

What is something about your job that other people might not know or expect?

How much do you make? (Too forward?!? Probably. But let's be real, a large part of the reason we work is to make money - give us some deets about your income, as much as you feel comfortable sharing, whether specific to your personal salary, or generally speaking, as in, What Would Google Say).

Do you anticipate making any career changes in the next 5 to 10 years?

If you could have any other job in the world, what would it be?

If someone else was interested in your job, what piece of advice would you give them?

How do you balance work life and home life?

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