Wednesday, April 30, 2014

(Working Women) - Jen, a Businesswoman from Detroit

Full disclosure - Jen is actually family, not just a friend. My sister-in-law, to be precise. Not that it matters in this context, but that's why the only photo with her in it actually has me in it, too. I met Jen back when Alex and I first started dating, in Tahoe, the summer of 2006. She had already been dating Alex's younger brother, Brian, for a few years. They had met in college at Carnegie Mellon (smartypantses), and were living back in Michigan, visiting Tahoe for the annual Close Family 4th of July BBQ.

The first thing I learned about Jen was really more about Michigan, generally, and Detroit specifically. This girl has an unabashed love for her state, her family, her home - her roots - like no one I've ever known. The next thing I learned was that Jen is a dedicated professional, someone whose job is also her hobby is also her job is also her hobby, etc. She's passionate about her company, her employees, and her job in general. She's basically a badass when it comes to work. And her third most defining characteristic is her loyalty. She's a very devoted family member, friend, and manager; this is someone you want on your team.

In some ways, Jen and I couldn't be more different. She wore a Detroit beanie out in the cold of one New Year's Eve in Tahoe, while I wondered if my hair looked blonde or I was dressed slutty enough. She introduced me to Siri and I barely even knew what an iPhone was. She loves real food, and I'm like "I don't care as long as it's sweet or salty and probably not good for me." She can drink multiple Wet Woodies, while I can barely finish one. She likes to work hard and play hard, and I'm more of a lazy barnacle. She maintains dozens of friends and family relations cross-country, and I hate to pick up the phone even when my brother calls. She works while on Christmas vacation without a single complaint, and I'm all, "Ugh, I can't believe it's almost time to go back to my part-time job." We might never have crossed paths, let alone become friends, if we hadn't fallen in love with these soccer-playing, family-loving, handsome Close boys. In other words, I'm sure glad we've become family.

Other things about Jen? She likes to take pictures (not be in them), and she takes them well (check out her gorgeous Americana style here). She loves travel. She's a foodie. She likes to drink. She knows everything there is to know about anything that I might consider technological - need a new app to manage your iPhone battery life? She's your gal. She loves her cats, and she even converted her formerly-dog-loving husband into a Cat Lady as well. She's smart and well-read and knowledgeable about all things science, technology and business - she's a perfect role model for those young girls interested in STEM careers - maybe someday she'll have her photo on this website. And now let's let her talk for herself ...

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 story?
I'm 31 years old. I was born and raised a Michigander, left for a brief time to live in Pittsburgh, then headed back to Michigan for a job with Ford Motor Company.

I live with my husband and our cats. Which makes me sound like a cat lady - I am not.

Besides work, I spend time taking photos and trying to improve my photography. I also enjoy watching movies and tv, shooting clay pigeons, and golfing when I can.

What is your current job/profession? What path did you take to get there? Any required schooling or training?
I currently have a few different responsibilities - I am the President of an IT Deployment company that installs technology nationwide, I oversee a collections company, and I sit on the Board of Directors for a railroad.

I have long been an "IT Person." Growing up I worked for various companies doing tech support type work and then eventually started my own business in college. When I went to work at Ford I also started in IT, though ended my career there working in Corporate Economics for the Chief Economist, a job that eventually changed the entire outlook of my career. It was at that point I realized that I didn't want to go back to IT as being the core of what I did. I found that I enjoyed the business end of things a lot more.

Ford has a rotational program for new hires from college, which meant I was heading back to IT after my job in Economics. Not something I was that excited about. About that time, my grandmother passed away, and my Dad told me that it was time for me to make a decision about what I was doing with my career - stay at Ford or come work with him in his companies.

I made the very hard decision to leave Ford. I started at the new company managing the IT Department. From there I worked throughout the company to build efficiencies and profits. Through this work I was able to build a lot of trust in the people I was working with, and through a pretty natural progression, I advanced in the company to the position I am today. It's now been nearly eight years since I made the decision to leave Ford, and I am very glad I did.

I think what has helped me most in these positions was the experiences I had prior. The people I met, watching great managers and mediocre ones, and trying to take the best of the best to be a good leader.

There is a lot I learned in my undergraduate and primary schooling that has helped me as well - especially the software side; hardware knowledge was acquired through experience.

What are the pros and cons of your current position?
Pros: Meeting and working with great people. Continued opportunities to always learn more. Ability to work from anywhere (example: home).

Cons: Sometimes the weight of knowing you need to be successful not only for yourself but also for all of the people who are working for you, as well as their families, is a lot to take. Basically, if I fail, I'm not just failing myself. Also, the ability to work from anywhere (example: vacation).

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

I don't get the honor of "typical" much anymore. Most months I travel at least once and usually 3-4 times. That can be for anywhere from 1-4 days. When I am in the office I catch up on meetings mostly (whether I like it or not). I have 1:1 meetings with all of my employees monthly to give them regular feedback and check on open items; these often have to be squeezed into when I am in town.

What is something about your job that other people might not know or expect?
I laugh a ton at work.

What other jobs could you work with your education/training/experience?
Software Engineering, Telecom Technician, Sales Manager, Director of IT. I guess the point is that with ambition, some good experience and motivation, you can do anything you set your mind to.

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).
Well, I would say I make enough to enjoy frills in life but not nearly what a lot of other people in my position would most likely make. Money is great, but I work for the fun of it, the people I am working with, and because I enjoy success.

Do you anticipate making any career changes in the next 5 to 10 years?
No. I am very focused on building my company.

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

If someone else was interested in your job, what piece of advice would you give them?
Don't give up.

How do you balance work life and home life?
I have an extremely understanding husband who also puts a lot of time into his job. I also have the ability to work at home when I need to, which means I don't have to go into the office on weekends.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Birthdays - 32 & 33

Here's what 32 looks like ...

And 33 ...

Cheers to many more birthdays together ...

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Potty Talk

If I were to write an instruction manual on potty-training, it might go a little something like this:

"Let your child potty-train his or herself. Don't forget to buy motivating undies. And take pictures of his or her progress. Because kids take way bigger shits than you're non-parent friends would ever believe. The end."

Seriously, though, one of my girlfriend's daughters, who is almost a year older than the Bean, was using the potty independently at her 2nd birthday party. I was impressed, even then. At the time, my 15-month-old wasn't even walking, and I thought potty training was still years off. I would have guessed that 3-4 years old was the magic age. She is so advanced, I thought. She does speak so well already, practically in full sentences, and now she's peeing on the potty alone. I hope the Bean isn't delayed or anything. I really need to read about the toddler years so I know what to expect and don't fuck it up too badly, my brain continued.

I asked my friend what her trick was, and she replied, "She really potty-trained herself. Plus it helps that she likes jelly beans."

This is one of my more dramatically-inclined friends, so I took her words with a grain. I figured she didn't want to take too much credit, or show off how smart her girl is, or something like that. Turns out, she's kind of right. Some kids really do just seem to "potty-train themselves." Case in point - Francine.

The Bean and I had been battling over diaper changes for quite some time. Sometimes we fought about removing her dirty diaper, but mostly went head to head about putting on a new clean one. We had developed an annoying and laborious routine of "It's time to change your diaper." "no." "We need to get you a clean diaper." "no." "I don't want your butt to hurt, let's change your diaper." "no." "Are you hungry? We can go have a snack after I change your diaper. First diaper, then cookie." "cookie." "Ready to change your diaper?" "no." "Okay, tell me when you're ready." Silence. "Are you ready?" "no." "Do you want a cookie?" "yeah! cookie!" "Diaper then cookie." "no."

You get the point.

And then a couple weeks ago, just after her second birthday, I folded. Throwing my hands up in defeat I said, "Fine, don't put on a diaper. We're not going anywhere this morning anyway." 

We had a;ready bought one of those Ikea potty seats. I forked over the 10 bucks when she first started showing interest in us using the toilet, maybe around 18 months or so. Then my dad bought us to a tiny toddler toilet seat, the kind that also have a regular toilet seat, to put in our main downstairs bathroom. She'd shown interest in the potties and all things pee, poop, and privates for several months. And she had been sitting on the potty at least nightly before bath, for many months, only putting pee in the potty a few times.

The day I declared that the Diaper Changing War was over, and named her the winner, I brought the Ikea potty seat downstairs and put it in the hallway next to the bathroom, just to be safe. While she ran around neked pushing her babies in the shopping cart, I went back upstairs to quickly change from glasses to contacts. And before I even had time to blink my lenses into place, our little nudist proudly announced, "Show mama! Show mama! Pee! In potty!"

She had, in fact, put pee in the potty. I might have been even more proud of her than she was of herself. I never would have guessed that another person's toilet habits would take center stage in my life. Then and only then did I really hear her. She had been trying to tell me - via repetitive diaper change refusals - that she was ready to conquer the next milestone. But I had it in my mind that we were going to potty-train over summer, with that potty-training bootcamp I heard about. It would be warm out, we'd spend most of our time outside, she'd be a bit older, both Alex and I would be around to watch her like a hawk and provide consistent reinforcement. It was a perfect, fail-proof plan.

But as with all kids, the Bean had her own agenda.

So I quickly switched gears, briefly researched potty-training on the Internet, and developed a very scientific, research-based behavior program - I taped a piece of printer paper to the bathroom door, and offered stickers for every time she put pee or poop in the potty. On top of that, every time she put poop in the potty, she would also get a tattoo of her choice.

"Stickers for Potty."

I kept a little journal of her potty habits, to get a better feeling for how often she needed to go. Over the course of that first long weekend (starting 4/4/2014, for the baby book), she was mostly naked and wore diapers to nap and overnight. She still woke up with very wet diapers, and the occasional nighttime poo. We made a special trip to the store for her to choose her own undies, and we also bought some pull-ups, unsure of how to handle daycare. She didn't have any pee accidents the first day, and peed in the potty about six times. We read that we shouldn't nag her or force her to use the potty, so we frequently checked in to ask if she was "still dry." She did have a poop accident, where she shat one turd on the wood floor, and put another one in the potty. Her first butterfly tattoo! She did have minorly wet undies periodically, but put pee in the potty nearly every time she tried. 

I was worried about how her progress might stall or regress at daycare, depending on their approach, her access to a potty, and the different environment. But they were fully supportive and open to following my lead and behavioral reward system. She wore undies that first day back to school, and pissed all over the floor as soon as we arrived for drop-off. I was not feeling so confident, but put her in a clean pair of undies anyway. Turns out she didn't have any additional accidents and pooped in the potty that first day back to school. Success!

Her first deliberate poop at home happened on Tuesday morning (4/8/2014). She kept complaining "butt hurts" and "tummy hurts" and got on and off the potty seat at least three dozen times. Once she finally sat still long enough to take a dump, she earned herself yet another tattoo. I, on the other hand, almost barfed in my mouth cleaning out her potty, skid marks and all. That shit is nasty, pun intended. This is why I favor the toddler toilet seat over the potty. Shitting in a bucket is just not how we do it here. It's even worse than how you're supposed to throw your TP in the garbage in Argentina.

Since then, she goes to the bathroom more often in the potty than anywhere else, but periodically has some minor accidents.  I don't know when you get to declare your kid "potty-trained", as in past tense, but I decided to say it the day we went to the zoo, she kept her undies dry, told me she needed to use the potty, and peed in a public bathroom.  I assume it's a process, but being that she wears undies during the day - with the occasional pull-up - I say she's reached this major milestone. I even put away all our cloth diapers. Great job, Bean! I never knew your poop would make me so proud.

Potty-training = neked coloring.

Big Girl undies!!!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

(Working Women) - Jenn, a Leadership Recruiter for a Leading Tech Company

A perfect example of why I'm lucky to live where I do, Jenn is a neighbor. I met her last Spring while I was pushing Francie in a stroller on our walk home from the park. Jenn and her adorable twin boys were outside playing in the sunshine, enjoying their new front yard. Being friendly, I said hi and asked if they were new to the neighborhood. She complimented my tattoo and invited Francie and me in for some wine and a pouch. And a friendship was born. Although I can't claim to know Jenn well, I do know that she's a doer. She's always involved in something, and it makes me envious to know that she does all this WHILE working fulltime. She's just that kind of gal. Mother, check. Wife, check. Volunteer, check. Singer in a band, check. Working on a YA novel, check. Barre3 devotee, check. Cookbook author, check. Master GF baker, check. Cancer survivor, check. Read on about her path to her current position as a leadership recruiter with a leading tech company.

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 story? AND, What is your current job/profession? What path did you take to get there? Any required schooling or training?

I’m Jenn. 34 years old. Born in a teeny little town in the SF area called Woodland, CA. My parents were hippy musicians in the 70s. It’s a miracle that my name isn’t Raincloud Pegasus or something. I grew up with an instrument in my hand and a love for music and people. Those traits were just a part of my nurture experience as a product of Robyn and Randy, my whimsical parents. When I started to come into my own as a woman, the nature part kicked in and I found myself to be a “Type A”, career-driven, ambitious gal with a ferocious appetite for knowledge. I had gotten a part-time job at Starbucks when I turned 16 and had been clambering up the ladder there. Meanwhile, I was trying to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up. I thought, how can I use this part of me that loves to create while still driving for results in my career? I was in Chicago visiting a friend when I found an article about Music Therapy. I was enthralled at the idea of helping others while doing something I loved AND making a great living. After researching schools, I enrolled in the BMT program at Marylhurst. By this point, I was 22 and a Store Manager for Starbucks. They’d given me some extra responsibility as a Community Lead and a trainer for incoming Store Manager and District Manager talent. I was opening new markets, diving into market research, joining Chambers of Commerce, and seeing wild success in new store openings. With a more than full-time job that I was loving and a full-time intensive undergrad program… well, to say it was a lot to handle was an understatement. I was also the front-person for a jazz/funk-sort-of-post-ska band in Portland called Grooveyard. We had amassed quite a following and were playing shows every weekend. (Grooveyard is on iTunes if you want to peek at my ghosts of music past). I was busy every minute but I loved it. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. 

That summer, I was diagnosed with aggressive cervical cancer. I was in for the fight of (and for) my life and I had some tough decisions to make. Starbucks had offered me another promotion that I had worked my ass of for and really wanted, and the band was in the studio making a new record. Very suddenly realizing my own mortality, I decided to defer school. Out of my three big commitments, it was the only thing I felt like could wait. Happily, I won the battle with cancer (IN YOUR FACE, cancer! SUCK IT). By the time my health was back in check, I was approaching my 10 year anniversary with Starbucks. I had started to realize that I had contributed all I wanted to there and found myself with a wandering eye. Of course, my degree being the only thing quite literally that I’d ever started and not finished in my life, I decided to go back. I called admissions and set a date to resume. 

That same week, I got a voicemail from a recruiter at a cutting edge technology company. They’d been given my name through a networking contact and had caught my interest. 

Long story short, curiosity… and the sort of magical timing of it all, brought me to my current company. They had just started opening retail stores and were looking for leaders to really drive the bus in terms of growth and strategy. I could not refuse the chance to lead with such a high level of autonomy after leaving a company that seemed to have built a process for everything. I advanced very quickly. I had an extremely high level of job satisfaction and was thriving. Sort of organically, I had become known for recruiting. As my husband put it, I had become one of those annoying people that would never shut up about my job. I wanted to bring everyone here. So, by 2007, I’d been here 2 years in Store Leadership when a position opened up on the recruitment team. My name came up and my employer called to offer me the chance to interview. I was flattered, but sort of terrified. Though I loved recruiting, I was in no way qualified to be a part of the HR team. Part of my role is benefits administration and you can’t just dabble in that because you like it. We’d all be sued!

They offered to train me. I moved down to the Bay Area where we are based and went through 90 days of HR bootcamp and recruitment training. From there, I moved to SoCal and was the Recruitment Manager overseeing 8 states in the US. I’ve now been in HR/Recruiting for 7 years and still love what I do and where I do it. It was a convoluted journey to be sure, but I’ve enjoyed the ride every single step of the way.

So, my current role is Sr. Leadership Recruiter.

Nothing has changed as far as my "Type A" tendencies. I’m mom to twin 3 year old boys. I married my high school sweetheart, albeit 13 years later. I sing in a band called The Heritage. I’m the committee chair for Marketing & Communications in the Junior League of Portland. I just finished the first draft of my first novel. Before you judge my crazy, remember that there was a time in my formative years when I thought I would not live this long. I don’t waste a single second nor do I put off to tomorrow what I could do today. I am keenly aware of the gift of each day we have in this life.

What are the pros and cons of your current position?

Pros: I meet some of the most amazing people and I get to help them find their dream job. I work from home when I’m not traveling which gives me the flexibly to follow my passions. I love career counseling and resume coaching. It’s deeply rewarding to help people articulate how they want to feel about their work life and then turn it into something tangible.

Cons: I travel more than I’d like to. Having to turn great people down in a competitive job market. Knowing people’s livelihood is in my hands. It’s a lot. I take it very seriously.

Walk us through a typical day, week, or month

In a month, I may fill 10 Leadership jobs, teach training workshops to our existing leadership teams on talent assessment, travel to support a new store opening, travel for a panel interview or seminar, phone interview about a million people, conference calls… etc. 

At night it’s JLP meetings or volunteer opportunities, Barre3 classes, baking gluten-free goodies with my kiddos, dance parties in our jammies, band practice, writing …

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

Just that it changes every minute! We move at such a fast pace, I had to stop and think about what my actual title is! Ambiguity is in our DNA.

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

Recruitment manager, HR manager, retail district manager, field trainer, instructional designer, career counselor, non-profit board member … backup dancer for JLO. 

Ok, maybe not the last one. 

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).

Right around 100k… though my CPA tells me I take home as much as someone who earns 70k. So, yeah. We’re in an exaggerated tax bracket.

Do you anticipate making any career changes in the next 5 to 10 years? 
I’m ready for the next thing at work, but I don’t plan to leave this company. Had my 9 year anniversary last week and look forward to the next 9.

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

If I wasn’t doing this… which I love so much… I would want to just be a novelist. Write when inspiration hits and volunteer the rest of the time… and travel. A lot.

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

Follow your heart. This work is so incredibly emotional. You have to be in it 100%. Authentically a connector, a lover of people, have an instinct for talent and talent matching, and be vulnerable. Confidence without ego. Pliable. Learning agile. Curious.

How do you balance work life and home/personal life?

Well, I work hard and play hard. I am very proud to show my kids that life doesn’t stop because you become a parent. I want them to know who I am as a woman, a professional, a musician, a civic leader, a creator…not just hear stories of things Mommy used to be. To me, that is the epitome of balance. Living a full and happy life and bringing them along for the ride.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

(25 Months) - 2 Years and 1 Month

A new year, and thus a new photo tradition. I had an idea to make a constant backdrop comprised of garlands of cute paper circles, taped up in her new playroom. Then I got said garlands all sorts of tangled and lost my patience trying to de-tangle. And thus the chalkboard wall was born. I've seen other people use a chalkboard backdrop, but it's hard to tell whether it's been real chalk or just a great job at Photoshop. This, for the record, is real chalk. I had painted the wall in our kitchen with chalkboard paint a couple of years ago, and since then we've mostly had frames with lists. But then for the Bean's 2nd birthday party, we transformed it into the "Burnside Bridge" so that the kids could color beneath it. And now, it'll serve as her photo backdrop, for at least during her 3rd year of life. Yup, I'm still going with these monthly updates. My only fear is that when baby #2 comes along I won't be as consistent as I have been for the Bean. The pressure is on. I kinda want to do these monthly photos until our kids are 18, and then make a video of all the pictures, like a flipbook. I'm sure the monthly summaries will ebb and flow, some months with lots of info, others with just the basics.

- Potty-training! I don't know when it is you can officially declare your child potty-trained, as in, all done, but the Bean regularly wears undies, pees in public potties, and sits her cute little butt on the potty to poop. But that's a whole different post, TBD.

- Counting alligators, aka "count agilators, pease." As in, me saying, "one alligator, two alligator, three alligator, four alligator, five alligator ..." This helps her to do things, as in, "I'm going to count 10 alligators and then leave for work." "I'll give you ten alligators worth of pat-pats and then I'm going downstairs." "I'm going to count three alligators and then you need to put your undies on."

- She's stopped crying at daycare drop-off for a combination of reasons, including counting alligators and her new obsession with friend Ella and teacher Delilah.

- Her vocab continues to grow. She's like a little parrot, repeating all sorts of phrases. Not excluding "lesbo,""tampon," "fuck!" and "get it."

- Her language, too, continues to explode. She still mostly speaks in strings of noun/verb words, but will range anywhere from 2-4 words, with 2-6 different components/ideas. As in, "Dani sing that song. School. Downstairs. Nap."

- Her motor skills continue to develop as well - she's becoming more of a big motor person, running circles around the house, jumping like a kangaroo/hopping like a rabbit, skipping, crawling, climbing, etc.

- She loves to sing. She loves when I sing. Lately it's been all about the duets:
"sun shine, pease"
"You are my ..."
"sun shine"
"My only ..."
"You make me ..."
"When skies are ..."
You get the point. She also likes to do this with Twinkle Twinkle and Wheels on the Bus.

- I'm still nursing her (I say this with a blush in my cheeks because most people who nurse toddlers don't read blogs. Which means anyone who is reading this blog likely believes that nursing should last at least 6 months and no longer than 1 year. Two years, MAX). But, she's not weaning, and I don't have a good reason to wean her. I don't feel good about doing something "just because that's what's normal." And clearly, given the fact that my barely-2-year-old practically potty-trained herself, there are likely no contraindications of nursing at this age. Plus, she only nurses before nap if I'm home, or before bedtime. She has, however, developed a distaste for me looking at my phone while she nurses. "No phone. Tension." = "No phone, pay attention to me please."
- She says and does some funnny grown-up-seeming things. She puts herself in time-outs, with a cute little punum, usually naked.
"Sowy mama."
"Ready. Happy now."
"Want it."

- I love the way she says dandelions and ukelale (ookalady).

- Whenever she spots something, like a very small plane in the sky, a bus, a bird on a billboard, I say "G double-O D E Y E, goodeye, goodeye." When she tries to copy me it sounds like "go die."
- She now calls herself "Feesee." From "ish," to "ceecee," to "feesee."
- She sweetly gives eskimo, butterfly, and regular kisses.
- I would still describe her as the kind of kid who goes around rather than over or through things.

- She likes to categorize, as in, "bof cute," "bof hats," "bof eating." Even if there are three of us, it's still both.

- She likes to assign mama, daddy, and feesee to things, as in "mama tree, daddy tree, feesee tree," or, "daddy rock, mama rock, feesee rock."
- She loves the Caspar Babypants "Run Baby Run" song.
- "Show mama." Ev.ery.thing.

- "Daddy. Soccer. Kick ball. Chase ball. Run fast."

- She's starting to have more reciprocal conversations with her friends.
Logan: are you going pee or poop?
Francie: pee!
Logan: hmm, popping is hard.
Francie: yeah.
Logan: pooping is hard for me.
Francie: yeah.

No Easter Here

The Bean is two years old and would probably really enjoy an egg hunt. But we (I) made a conscious decision this year to forgo the whole Easter extravaganza. On the one hand, holidays are fun, chocolate bunnies taste good, and it's always an excuse for quality family time. But on the other hand, Easter is a Christian holiday. And we aren't Christians. Some people call it a cultural holiday, but what is it we are supposed to be celebrating? The Easter Bunny? Hallmark or Cadbury? Springtime consumerism? I know I sound a bit like a stickinthemud, but it just feels so phony to recognize a holiday - one that essentially defines a religion - that I don't believe in, simply because everyone else is doing it.

And now I sound like Holden Caulfield.

The thing is, I made the decision relatively lightly. Like, "Hey, are we doing Easter?" "Um, I dunno, are we?" "Well, there's no real point. So no, let's not do Easter baskets or anything." But in some ways, it could be kind of a major decision. Now my kid's the one who doesn't know about Easter baskets or the crucifixion. I'm not anti-Easter, per se, but if I'm going to go around celebrating holidays I don't actually believe in, just because I want my family to be culturally competent, than shouldn't I also be celebrating Passover and Chinese New Year and Nowruz? (I had to Google celebrations from other faiths because the truth is, I'm not that culturally competent).

Once Easter Sunday actually rolled around, I was acutely aware of what a minority we were in. My Instagram and Facebook feeds were littered with photos of kids posing with the Easter Bunny, candy-inspired egg hunts, delicious looking brunch and dinner spreads, pastel colored dresses and button-ups, and smiling family portraits. I hadn't realized all these people were Christians. Or are they? Some of them I happen to know are not churchgoers, others might be "C&E Christians," whereas others might "not believe" but "celebrate anyway."

I guess I just don't get it.

Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Sure, there are some seasonal connotations in there, Spring being all about birth (or re-birth, as in the case with Mr. JC) and what not. If you're a Christian, you believe that Jesus Christ has a unique significance, that he is your Lord and Saviour, is the Son of God, and that he died for your sins. If you believe these things, than Easter is a pretty big deal. Like, the most important part of his story. So to the people who don't believe in these things, what are you doing? Why are you dressed fancy, looking for dyed-eggs, and eating brunch with your pastel-clad family? Why did you choose this day and only this day to attend church? Why do you care about being a Christian now?

Ironically, the only other family at the park on the afternoon of Easter Sunday was a Jewish neighbor. Her son is just a few months older than the Bean. She casually asked if we had any plans, and I informed her that we aren't Christians, so had no plans to recognize the holiday. I commented about how it made me feel a bit like a minority - yeah, I get that she's from an actual group that has been persecuted for their beliefs, whereas I just belong to a nongroup that has nonbeliefs and have never been persecuted - being that everyone else was all aboard the Easter parade. She went on to tell an amusing-but-horrifying story about her family's experience at a friendly play-date/egg-hunt. Her Saturday included a segregated section for the only Jewish toddler to hunt eggs on his own. This came about because she had mentioned that although they were interested in attending the social gathering, they would not participate in the egg-hunt. So the gracious hosts made a "special" egg hunt with "special" eggs labeled with "special" stickers in a "special" area. Away from the Christian kids. By himself. Seriously.

For the record, we're not total scrooges, Francie still got a few goodies in the mail from family, and I had a pair of bunny ears that I made her wear for a minute. And for the record, if we were invited to an egg hunt or had made plans with family in town, I wouldn't necessarily be opposed to joining - but I really don't want to set an example of just going through the motions. I'd be more interested in spending the holiday with people who actually believe in its significance. I'd like to teach my children about religion and culture, to teach them how to be appropriately curious and critical, and then teach them to follow their own beliefs. So if Easter someday becomes a part of our life, it will be for a reason other than "just because everyone else is doing it."

Monday, April 21, 2014

BFF Time

A weekend with these ladies can "best" be summed up in photos. Except that we didn't take that many good ones. At least, not of us. The camera phones were always aimed at the kiddos. Now there's a surprise. But we did have fun, even if I'm left totally unsatiated for more bestie time. Rach and I tried, yet again, to convince the Californians to re-locate back north, to no avail. Even though we all just turned 32 within the last month, we had a weekend more similar to that of a 12-year-old. Sleepovers. Junk food. Shopping. Gossiping. TV. And babysitting. Except with a couple mimosas and a bloody mary or two in the mix. I miss us already.

Maplewood coffee break for "hot milk."
These two.

And these three. Rockin' their matching fox hoodies for their 1st, 2nd, and 3rd birthdays. Man we have a lot of BFF birthdays in March/April.

Brunch @ Screendoor.

How many adults can you fit in a tiny bathroom? To watch our three cute kids bathe together?

Smartypants - Francine and Max.

Auntie E.
They are starting to converse like little adults.
Sounds a little bit like what Alex and I might talk about over dinner.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

(Working Women) - Libba, Insurance Broker

Libba and I have been friends since I moved to Oregon in 1990. I don't remember if we were in the same second grade class or not, but if I do have any accurate recall left, she was one of the lead/hippos in our class play, When the Hippos Crashed the Dance. So yeah, she's always been the It Girl. I have a picture from my 8th birthday party to prove it - Libba in her jean shorts and knotted tee, roller skating around that Oaks Park rink like she owned it. We then went on to middle and high school together, always running in the same crowd. Libba's most distinctive characteristic, aside from her crazy popularity with boys and her naturally bangin' bod (which every one of her friends envies, and she'd be mortified to be told so) - is her humor. That chick is funny. Like, Kristin Wiig funny (who I happen to know she admires). Also? Libba likes cake. She occasionally blogs at, and when she does, she'll make you laugh out loud. Even if you don't know her. But the other thing? She's smart. I cheated off her Organic Biochem tests when we were seniors, and she went on to college at UW, which we all know is for smartypants. Plus she played volleyball there. So yeah, she's an intelligent, beautiful, athletic woman with an excellent sense of humor. Jealous yet? If not, check out her hubby, Walker, and her son, Boone. Hotties, the both of them. Then I promise you'll want to be Libba's friend - or just be Libba. Most people want to do her or be her. Or both. But she'd never fess to that, it's part of her charm, that she legit doesn't realize what a 10 she is. Read on about her life as a working mom, rocking it at home and on-the-job.

Walker, Libba, and Boone (~10 months)
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 story?
First off – I want to thank Jo for doing this. Reading her other friends' interviews  (which you can check out here, here, here, and here, so far) has been fascinating. Smart/interesting women and jobs. This was a good little exercise in personal reflection!
My name is Elizabeth, but you can call me Libba – thank you, older sister. I am 31 years old, from West Linn, Oregon. I went to school at University of Washington in Seattle – Go Dawgs. I am married to Walker, he is an Architect (SERA Architects). We have an 11 month old, Boone. He likes to eat, put toys in his mouth, pet my parents' dog, and he absolutely loves it when we pick him up when he cries. My hobbies used to be running, reading books, reading home and fashion magazine/blogs, helping Walker flip houses, watching trash tv… but I don’t feel like I do much of anything besides work and play with Boone these days. Hoping that whole “balance” thing kicks in soon.

Libba, Walker, and Boone (5 weeks old)
What is your current job/profession? What path did you take to get there? Any required schooling or training?

Currently I am a consultant for USI Northwest. We are a nationally, privately held insurance brokerage. I am on the employee benefits side. Basically, I am the middle man in between your employer's benefits package (Medical, Dental, Vision, Life Insurance, Disability Insurance, Flexible Spending Accounts …) and the insurance carrier. I work closely with CEO’s, CFO’s, and HR teams of larger companies (50 employees and above) to place their benefits with the appropriate carrier. I have been there for 5 years now.
Believe me, I NEVER thought I would end up in insurance, I mean who does? During the spring of my senior year, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with life. I played volleyball for UW and that was over - it was a huge, time-consuming, amazing part of my life. Not having that commitment anymore was scary and freeing. I was a Business major, and one of my class assignments was to go to a career fair and drop off resumes. I remember being so annoyed at this assignment because it was the same night as one of my roommates' 21st bday, which was a big deal. But, I was a good student, so I went and dropped off my resume to a number of companies. And had some conversations with a few recruiters, but didn’t take it that serious because I had NO idea what I wanted to do, like, no idea. Over the next few days, to my surprise, I got a lot of call-backs for interviews. Most of the jobs were for a sales role, so the fact that I played vball put me to the top of the list I think (competitive female, watch yoself). And because I am Type A and practical, I thought it would be a good idea to get a job figured out so I could make money while I decided what I really wanted to be ….
I went on interviews with five or six different companies. Guardian was last on my list because it had insurance in the name. But throughout the process, they started to creep up. I really liked my potential boss, the training they provided, the earnings potential, and the philosophy of the company. And the fact that I wouldn’t be “cold calling,”  it felt less “salesy."  To my surprise, I ended up going with the mother G.
I started in the Seattle office and moved back down to Portland about 6 months later (I wanted to and they needed another rep). I was Reping/Selling Guardian Dental, Life and Disability to Consultants/Brokers, hoping that my rate and product and service would make the cut for them to pitch to their clients. Being a rep was awesome. Lots of flexibility, brokers needed to talk to me so getting in front of them wasn’t difficult, I only needed to know one product … however it is a grind. You start from 0 every year and you are at the mercy of these brokers. I wanted to be the one in front of the client to help make the final decision and the idea of building a book of business that could grow was more my fit. So I moved to USI (the broker side) after just under 5 years.

What are the pros and cons of your current position?
Pros: $$$ and flexibility. My boss doesn’t micro-manage. As long as you check in and are hitting your numbers, you are basically your own boss. I don’t have to be at the office at a certain time, I can leave whenever I want. I am supposed to be out and about seeing clients/prospects. I love not being chained to a desk. In fact, on Friday’s I am working from home so I can spend more time with Boone. Obviously, this takes discipline as well – which I had much more of pre-kid. A big part of my job is building and fostering relationships with people that I normally would probably never talk to, which is fun and I love. A pro and con is that this job is very analytical and my clients depend on me to help them with potentially very serious issues, e.g. consulting on million dollar spend in general, carriers not covering particular surgeries/drugs, employees forgetting to add their spouse on the plan and the spouse needing coverage yesterday, Health Care reform fees are redic – I am the one they count on to make sure their plan is compliant …
Con: I am 100% commission. Thank goodness my book is at a stable point, but getting there was hard. Emotionally, I bring work home. I don’t like to lose; when I do, it takes me a while to let it go. And when I do lose, it impacts my income. During hard times, I think about work 24/7, I hate not being able to leave it nights and weekends. Schmoozing/networking is not as easy as it sounds. It gets old. And now that I have Boone, I have to find other ways than dinners and Happy Hours to meet people. Healthcare costs are one of the only industries that consistently increase every year. So - I deliver bad news, a lot, which sucks. I see a different side to this industry than most people. Yes – everyone deserves insurance – but it is far from free – how are we going to pay for this? Health Care Reform, focused on access of care. It did not address the rising cost of care in America and the fact that most hospital systems are fee-for-service instead of quality of care. This is a huge problem. BUT If I knew the answer to this, I would be in a power suit everyday in D.C. – kicking ass. All.  Day. Long.

Walk us through a typical day, week, or month ...
Depending on how the boss Boone sleeps, I get up about 6 a.m. About once a week, trying for twice now, I go on a run. Then I feed Boone (still nursing).  I get him and me (and let's be honest, Walker) ready for the day. Drop Boone off at Nanny at around 7:45. Head into office or to an appointment. I am usually in and out of the office all day, on various client meetings, at networking events. About four days a week I have a lunch appointment (which gets old). Usually I can get out of work by 4 or 4:30 p.m. and head home to get Boone.  I come home, make or heat up dinner, eat, play with Boone, and then start his bedtime routine at 6:30 p.m. B is out by 7 p.m. I either get back on the computer to follow-up with work, watch some TV, or read. We are out by 10 p.m. at the very latest every night. This changes if I have a client meeting in the late afternoon or if, god forbid, we want to try and meet up with friends. Usually we try and save that for weekends. My travel is pretty local for the most part. Our headquarters are in NYC – I have only had to go once. I am in Seattle about four times per year. A perk of my job is that I don’t have a territory. I am trying hard to get clients in Bend and San Diego so I can have paid excuses to see my siblings.

What is something about your job that other people might not know or expect?
Technically this is a sales job, but like I mentioned above, it is very analytical and my industry is changing daily. Employee benefit costs are usually the second biggest line item (next to a company's payroll) as a whole. My larger clients are spending millions every year on this stuff. A big part of my job is not only analyzing data, but providing different funding mechanisms in order to try and curb the trend. I have all kinds of info/stats on how much chronic conditions like diabetes are effecting your premiums, how much a preemie baby can cost, how much profit margins the insurance carriers bake into your rate … you want to know everything about healthcare reform? Didn’t think so, but if you do, I am your girl.

What other jobs could you work with your education/training/experience?
I think most sales-type jobs. The most important part is getting the meeting and building relationships. You can learn the other stuff. I do think it is important to be passionate about it. I wouldn’t say that I am necessarily passionate about insurance, but I am passionate about learning and helping people. I actually used to be embarrassed by the fact that I am in “insurance;" it gets such a bad rap in the press, and usually the word “insurance” makes people eye’s glaze over … but I have learned to embrace it. And I am not the person who denied your claim – I don’t even work for a carrier. People get pretty fired up about this topic.

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).

This one is hard – I fear that if I tell you, you will want me to buy dinner next time we hang out ;) I will say, the money is a BIG draw. It has afforded my family a lot, including the opportunity for my husband to eventually go out on his own. I figure if I am working I might as well enjoy life. We are lucky to be able to go on vacations, get our house remodeled, buy new clothes if we want to … I am a planner. I don’t want to worry about college savings down the road, so we are working to build that now. I am no Gwen Paltrow, I know how extremely lucky we are to do all this.
To give a little idea of how it works. I make 40% new sales commission on revenue and 25% every year after. My clients range from $10K in revenue to $120K. Fun little fact – commissions in Oregon are actually one of the lowest in the country. If I lived in CA or TX, for example, I would really be making it rain… like diamonds and G wagons …

Do you anticipate making any career changes in the next 5 to 10 years?
Probably not. Maybe real estate? I love homes/architecture. 

If you could have any other job in the world, what would it be?
My dream job would be to stay home with the kids until they are, like, 4 and then go back to my job like I never left. I would blog and craft and take walks in my Lululemon yoga pants and UPPA Baby stroller and send the kids to daycare a few times a week so I could do Barre 3 and have lunches with friends where we drink white wine ... THEN, poof! – four years later I would pick up the same clients, not lose any of my technical skillz … you said dream! At this point, thinking of starting something new is exhausting and I don’t think I will find anything with the money and flexibility, at least in the short term.

If someone else was interested in your job, what piece of advice would you give them?
If you want to get into the industry, start on the carrier side. If you like it, stay on that side. If you do make the leap, go with a larger company that can afford to pay you while you work to build your book. USI has been amazing at letting me learn the biz. Also, my industry is changing a lot because of health care reform. I think a lot of the smaller brokerage firms are going to have a hard time competing with the state exchanges. And with the changing environment you need resources to help you navigate through.

How do you balance work life and home life?
I don’t think I do a very good job of it. Because I get like 1 to 2 hours with Boone at night before he goes to bed, I am SUPER selfish of my time with him. And – because he turns into an ass when he doesn’t sleep, I really try and not go off his sleep schedule too much. This makes finding time for friends or anything outside of our routine hard. Walker is much better with the balance. He is not as concerned about the whole schedule as I am. Which pushes us to see friends, be a little more spontaneous – go OUT to dinner on a week night? Are you for effing real right now!? I have the struggle every mom has. I don’t feel like I am giving 100% at either job, and it is frustrating. Sunday nights are the worst, especially at this stage. I feel like he learns something new every day! I hate thinking about being away from him all day. I swear I look at my camera roll of 1000 plus pictures and videos of him at least twice a day.

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