After Enjoli

Images of 1970's Idealized Salary Mom

At the start of the week, I read an Inc column by Suzanne Lucas listing 10 things every working mom needs. It made me want to write a post in response. Only now that I am writing it do I realize that she actually published the column in May 2016. So I will have to amend my first item on my list of 10 Things Every Salary Mom Needs.

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  1. Time to write own posts (and check the publication dates on other people’s before deciding to pen responses to them). I wish that time were something one could purchase as a Mother’s Day gift. If only I could put the rest of the world in suspended animation for a couple of hours at a time, just so as to get caught up or a little ahead of the game! It is just as well that I lack this power. I can see it degenerating quickly into me stopping the world to melt with, I don’t know, instructions for preparing digestive bitters or orthopedic shoe catalogs online. Pretty soon I would be pining for more time.
  2. Learn how to build Twitter threads. This thought first occurred to me from the point of view of time management – it’s probably more efficient to pop out ideas in a series of Tweets than to craft a narrative, even a listicle. In a broader view, I don’t want to forget how to chew my own food. New gadgets aren’t going to do me much good if I don’t know how to use them. It’s a short slide from not knowing how to take screenshots on my iPhone or thread tweets to forgetting how the cable remote works, then you’re the person at work who can’t remember how to use the digital sender and other people are silently fuming as they feed your 30 pages of stuff into the machine for you because it’s faster than explaining to you again how office machines work. On the day that I’m hollering down the hall asking some helpless subordinate how to get my e-mail to work again, I beg OPM to grant me immediate Discontinued Usefulness Retirement.
  3. Prepare for the zombie apocalypse – or retirement. For some reason I conflate these events when I imagine a future that doesn’t involve pivoting tables in Excel or crafting bureaucratic treatises. No, I’m not at all worried about the economy collapsing, why do you ask? Add retooling for a next career or taking off with the family for a week of survivalist camp to my Salary Mom wish list. I’ll pass on the electric wine bottle opener. (That Tile thing sounds like a good idea, though.)
  4. More labor-sharing from the other members of the household. Nothing against some of the labor-saving gadgets that Lucas lists. After almost two years with our dog, that Roomba is starting to look like a good idea. But what I really, really want is not to be the one thinking about what’s for dinner or whether the kids are doing their homework. Just because I said I could bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan does not mean that I agreed to be responsible for bacon-frying in perpetuity. (The title of this post comes from these funky poems I found when searching for a still version of the famous Enjoli ads of the 70’s and 80’s. Thanks, Jenn McCreary.) The more I have introduced labor-saving doodads into the domestic equation over the years, the more I have cemented my role as the family’s all-purpose Labor-Saving Device In Chief. I am told that there are marriages where the parties consciously decide how best to share domestic responsibilities – how nice! My best results in getting better labor-sharing have come from occasional acts of sabotage (like hiding game controllers and taking the cable modem to work in my purse, or changing account passwords) and feigned obliviousness to mounting piles of laundry.
  5. Wash and Fold Service. The year we lived in an apartment without our own washer and dryer, I dropped our laundry off at Duke’s Lavanderia three times a week and got it back the next day washed and folded. I felt good about using a family-owned business in my area and also about having neatly folded laundry.
  6. More Communal Services in General. What I love about laundromats, other than the aforementioned wash-and-fold, is that you can walk in and pay to use machines that work way faster and better than the ones in most homes. Using the laundromat en famille kind of sucks, though, so I’m waiting for someone to open a combination laundromat/fitness center/sauna or laundromat/coffee shop/indoor playground. (I once saw a laundromat/bowling alley in a dream, which would be a great business for a college town.) On the food front, my sister’s family found a place where they could pay to do all their meal prep for the week in a professional kitchen. Me, I would happily subscribe to a cafeteria meal plan for my family if I could. We’d probably waste a lot less and do a better job of accommodating our divergent tastes and nutrition needs. This is one for the Salary Mom Cosmic Wish List.
  7. Store pick-up and delivery options. I am personally sick of Amazon trying to shove Prime down my throat. Also – not that other delivery services are necessarily better – Amazon’s labor practices have a bad reputation. Plus there’s that whole “at home” part of getting things delivered. Peapod has good physical packaging for delivering perishable groceries when no one is home, but it seems like you have to order your stuff days in advance. So far my favorite is the online order and drive-through grocery pick-up at Harris Teeter. If they would combine that with dry cleaning drop-off and pick-up, it would be grand.
  8. More Walking. When I lived overseas 25 years ago, my local grocery store had a set-up where you could buy what you needed and then have your purchases delivered to your home later that day. The option of walking to the store gets a lot more practical and attractive when you don’t have to reckon with carrying all your groceries home. I could really use more options for integrating basic physical motion into my day.
  9. More Social Interaction Offline. Make me go see my friends and extended family or invite them over instead of forever screwing around online or stewing in my own despair. It’s good to have some human contact that doesn’t involve work or domestic logistics. I will complain that I am tired or burned out, but it’s for my own good.
  10. Flowing Jedi Robes. Could we please agree on this as a unisex professional wardrobe option? Alternately, I would accept professional clothing constructed and marketed like men’s business wear, especially if there were some improvements like adjustable waists and darts to accommodate size fluctuation. And pockets.
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Economies of Scale

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Alexandria City Public Library Central Branch, June 12, 2016. Line for Passport Acceptance services. Taken from the “three-hour wait to see Passport Agent” position in line, about 20 minutes before opening. Posted hours for Passport Acceptance on Sundays are 1-3 PM.

Mouse is going to summer camp in Canada during the first week of July. Since she has never traveled overseas before, she does not have a passport. As a minor child, she has to appear in person at a Passport Agency or a Passport Acceptance Facility along with one or both parents to be issued a passport. Alexandria City schools being in session until the end of next week (a week before her camp starts), I wanted to take her to one of the Passport Acceptance Facilities in our area to apply outside of school hours. These are post offices and libraries which see applicants in person, collect the necessary forms and fees, and forward them to the State Department for adjudication and issuance of passports.

Not complaining! I have nothing but love for passports, libraries, post offices, or the good people who sign my pay checks. Everyone is doing the best they can to meet increased demand for passports with limited resources. Everyone I have encountered so far in the effort to get my child a passport has been polite and given me accurate information. Unfortunately, it’s been hard to do so far. It’s summer, so more people are trying to travel abroad, and I didn’t plan ahead. I’ve gone to the library three times for Passport Acceptance hours; twice we came midway through the posted hours and were told the all the times for passport service that day were already full; Sunday we got there 20 minutes before opening and, after waiting in the line pictured above, learned that we could be seen three hours later if we stayed in line. When I called one of the local post offices that make appointments for passport services, I was offered an appointment in the third week of July. The others operated in a walk-in basis similar to the library. If I call the National Passport Information Center on Friday, I’ll be allowed to make an appointment at the Washington Passport Agency; that’s contingent on showing proof that our travel is scheduled to occur within the next two weeks (or four weeks if you also have to get a foreign visa).

Not complaining! But it occurred to me that maybe Social Security field offices should become Passport Acceptance Facilities. They’re set up to offer a mix of walk-in and scheduled appointments, much like Passport Agencies and U.S. consular sections overseas, and they have waiting areas and ticketing systems. Plus they are already set up to handle people’s original documents (birth certificates, marriage certificates, and so on). Just a thought. Maybe this can be my capstone project for an Executive Potential Program, should I ever rally to apply for one. I’ll put that on my to-do list, right after getting our passports.

Games People Play

I attended a Virtual Human Resources Training Conference last week that was offered by the Office of Personnel Management. I don’t currently work as an HR specialist, but I am trying to stay as looped in as possible so that I can eventually find my way back into the HR fold. This was a good investment of $95 In Ur Takses in so far as it provided me with at least two nuggets of information that I can use/share with colleagues – even non-HR ones – and one or two ideas I might be able to use later. The format was novel, at least for me as someone who rarely participates in web chats, and the networking was more robust than I expected for a virtual event. Thank you, OPM.

The last session I “attended” was one on gamification, featuring a case study from FEMA. I don’t know from Game Theory, but I have watched my kids play a lot of Fallout 3 and Assassin’s Creed, and I once played a couple of hours of Cards Against Humanity. I have also taken a lot of online training for my contracting warrant (two more in-person classes to go and I’ll finally be eligible!) and things HR. Friends, online training for office work can be deadly dull. Given the potential for procurement and HR matters to go horribly, horribly wrong, it seems like some game-based training for these disciplines could be reasonably entertaining as well as memorable and effective.

“Bureaucracies create games – they are just games that are in no sense fun.” (Andre Spicer paraphase of David Graeber)

If any attempt to dismantle bureaucracy creates more bureaucracy (Graeber again), and if big fixes create bigger unintended consequences and more fragility (as I understand my other brain hero Nicholas Nassim Taleb to be saying), then maybe the simple introduction of more play into the seriousness of bureaucratic games is the best chance we bureaucrats have of disrupting the system in a positive sense (making the rules of the game more transparent, helping our taxpaying customers “win”) short of simply throwing down our rule books and going off into the woods to live deliberately or whatever.

White Tennis Shoes

One of two things attributed to Ayn Rand that I don’t hate is her lecture on procrastination. (The other is Anthem.) The white tennis shoes in question belong to the former. Rand cleaned her white tennis shoes as an act of writerly procrastination; moi, I try to clean out the music on my iPod so that I can have non-distracting* music playing while I write, specifically while I write for the paying gig. Then I blog about not writing. An hour has passed** and no words have been added to the document, which I need to send out by lunchtime or so. Good job, self. Good job.

* Distracting music is apparently all music with words. Could someone please invent a tagging system in iTunes that allows me to sort songs into “distracting,” “non-distracting,” and “only suitable for staring wistfully into space”? The iTunes radio algorithm seems to work for this sort of, but that’s only helpful when I have wi-fi.

** A small part of that hour went into making oatmeal for Mouse, who woke me with a hug and “Oh, you’re so warm and you smell good!” I make no apologies for being distracted by flattery. Screwing with my iTunes library, on the other hand, is a sure path to Hell.

Common Things, Rare To Me

Dallas is full of these birds in certain areas. They are called Grackles. They fascinate me.

I couldn’t wind down to sleep last night when I finally went to bed at 2:30 AM. I was not partying hearty so I will count it as a rare instance of insomnia. It was followed by fitful sleep and strange dreams of librarians in camouflage attempting to rebuild literary society in a post-apocalyptic water world that was part swampy reading room, part a warren of Bronx apartments, and part an imaginary “edge of the world” locale that appeared to be an ancient system of locks for sea navigation. Twisty Faster was the keeper of the swampy reading room and she let me sit with her and a bunch of kittens even though she vaguely disapproved of my ecological mores.

This morning is not being kind to me. Has anyone invented an adrenalin version of the Epi-Pen or caffeinated shower mist? If not, can someone please get on that immediately?

Shotguns and Story Time

I read a really good book today and shot a shotgun 24 times. It was a good day.

(Oh, wait! Talking of books reminds me that Already Read Books in Alexandria is in danger of losing its lease. This would be awful news. I mean, it’s a well-stocked used bookstore with cats. And quirky owners. In a weird little house off of Duke Street. If you like weird, books, and cats, support this store now before it’s too late!)

Tweenbot and I went to the Bull Run Shooting Center this afternoon to learn how to shoot shotguns and check out the facility. We got shooting lessons for $35 each and then took another crack at shooting targets for an additional $22 (the gun rental was included in our training). The main takeaway for me from this experience was that, 29 years after getting smacked between the eyes by a softball I was trying to catch from a pitching machine, I still have the same depth perception and hand-eye coordination I did as a 14 year-old. I fired 24 shots and hit my target (a clay disc launched from a pitching machine) all of one time. Tweenbot, by contrast, appears to have inherited accurate aim from Pa Protosaur (aka my father) and/or Dino Spouse. He was hitting at the same rate as experienced shooters.

The other cool thing I did today was read During The Reign Of The Queen Of Persia, which proved to be unexpectedly awesome. I have been passing it up on the New Fiction shelves at Alexandria City Library for several weeks now but finally decided to give it a try on the strength of its imprint. New York Review Books Classics, how you satisfy my snobbish heart!