Real Time Off

As an HR manager and mom, people watch what I do for guidance at home and at work. I have to watch what I say around my 3-year-old, lest he become a foul-mouthed little angel, and I really have to watch what I do in front of staff at the wonderful organization where I work. Even if I really need to catch up, I avoid sending emails late at night in case the recipient thinks that means he needs to be working late too.  I often try to appear unavailable on days off, even if I'll just be hanging out and totally able to field a few questions.  I take long lunches on workout days and don't act overly concerned about my time away (even if I'm feeling the pressure).

Someday soon, I write a nice rant about how vacation isn't really vacation when you have little kids at home, but today I'm thinking about vacation time and all those dedicated coworkers of mine.  

Someday soon, I write a nice rant about how vacation isn't really vacation when you have little kids at home, but today I'm thinking about vacation time and all those dedicated coworkers of mine.  

Hattie Hill wrote a nice reminder about the benefit of truly taking time away when you're in a leadership position at work, timed perfectly for today.  (Today, I emailed work to say I wouldn't be in because I'm sick, but I've already spent at least 2 hours working this morning. Stop the madness.) Basically, even when not in management, our collective behavior helps to set the tone for the workplace.  If we don't take vacation seriously, it encourages others to work too hard; if we apologize for taking care of our health--including mental health--before taking care of the bottom line, that sets an unhealthy standard for the whole team.  

I'm going to keep all of that in mind this summer and, as I look forward to a lot of long weekends away this summer, I am going to try my hardest to:

  • Tell people I'm unavailable when I'm on vacation.

  • Remove my work email from my phone when I'm taking paid time off.

  • Broadcast my vacation plans to everyone I talk to at work, so they feel encouraged to take time off too.

  • Find ways to get everyone to take extra non-work time this summer--whether that's closing early on Fridays or mandating a long lunch on sunny days.

 

How about you, friends?  Do you truly unplug on vacation, or should we all work on this together?

Let's call it The Summer of Real Vacations.  (You know, unless you have little kids...)

 

Mother's Day and Mount St. Helens

Before having kids, Wife (whom I'm now going to call by her name, Liz, because we're all friends here, right?) and I used to hike, climb, camp, and generally explore the outdoors almost weekly.  Now that "exploring the outdoors" means "check out the worm on the sidewalk in front of the neighbor's house," an opportunity to spend a day on a mountain with friends is a beautiful and rare thing.

Liz and me on the summit of South Sister, before kids (and before good taste in summit beer, apparently).

Liz and me on the summit of South Sister, before kids (and before good taste in summit beer, apparently).

Call it reason #4,365 why my wife rules: A few weeks ago, she took the kids to the coast with her visiting mom so I could join the old climbing crew for the annual Mother's Day Weekend Mount St. Helens climb.  (I should mention here that Liz also let me do this last year, when she--pregnant--stayed home with our toddler so I could go.  Amazing.) 

Some fun facts about Mount St. Helens:

  • There is a tradition of climbing Mount St. Helens in a dress on Mother's Day Weekend.  I have no idea where it comes from, but it's pretty fun to see a bunch of climbing dudes in flowery dresses heading up the mountain.  
  • The "winter route" to the summit, which is the default route through at least late spring, is 12 miles round trip and about 5500 feet of climbing.  This year, it took about 5 hours to get to the summit and 3 hours to get back down.
  • Mount St. Helens erupted in a major way on May 18, 1980, but there have been many smaller eruptions since.  The weekend we climbed, there were several mini-earthquakes detected deep in the mountain, which were apparently linked to "magma activity."

Our wonderful friend Daniel organizes this trip for the dozen+ people who usually go, and I was lucky enough to score a bunk in one of the mini-cabins at the campground.  My friend K and I rolled into the campground by 4pm Friday, ready to yell "FIRST!" when we realized we'd been beaten by at least 10 people who had wisely skipped town early and started in on the beer by noon.  Well played, early birds.

After dinner by the campfire and an unofficial headcount--50+ people in our group?!--we headed to bed early in anticipation of the 3:15am wake-up call.  The weather was super-warm, which meant we needed to get an early start, and we hoped to be heading out on the trail by 5:00am. A smooth morning and mostly smooth caravan to the trailhead had us on the trail by 5:15, and we naturally split into more reasonably sized groups.

It was a beautiful day on the mountain and the breeze kept us cool enough to be comfortable, but the recent heatwave meant we were not fully hiking on snow until much higher up than usual.  Still, I felt great--probably due to the FOUR peanut butter sandwiches I ate on the hike--and it was an awesome day!  We did have an injury and a few folks who took longer than ideal to get back to the trailhead, but in the end, everyone was happily toasting each other around the campfire.  I'll let the pictures tell the rest of the story...

Heading up the trail with our goal in sight!

Heading up the trail with our goal in sight!

We were above the treeline before the sun had reached all the nooks and crannies of the mountain.  The temperature difference between sun and shade was huge!

We were above the treeline before the sun had reached all the nooks and crannies of the mountain.  The temperature difference between sun and shade was huge!

Me, checking out the view during a snack break in my lovely floral dress. (Photo credit: Josh)

Me, checking out the view during a snack break in my lovely floral dress. (Photo credit: Josh)

Mother's Day Weekend is one of the most popular times to climb, so it was crowded up there!  We found ourselves having to create new boot pack to scoot around some of the longer lines of climbers.

Mother's Day Weekend is one of the most popular times to climb, so it was crowded up there!  We found ourselves having to create new boot pack to scoot around some of the longer lines of climbers.

The summit celebration included frosty cold mimosas, photos for our moms, and showing a little leg.  We hung out on the summit for more than an hour before glissading (basically sledding on our butts) down several thousand feet.  Note: glissading is the most fun thing I've ever done.  Get thee up a mountain and try it!

The summit celebration included frosty cold mimosas, photos for our moms, and showing a little leg.  We hung out on the summit for more than an hour before glissading (basically sledding on our butts) down several thousand feet.  Note: glissading is the most fun thing I've ever done.  Get thee up a mountain and try it!

By the time we finished glissading and were hiking out, most of us were in tank tops and shorts.  What a great day!

By the time we finished glissading and were hiking out, most of us were in tank tops and shorts.  What a great day!

Of course, I missed my family like crazy, so I was happy to wake up early on Sunday (like I could sleep in if I tried) and head home to them.  That's the thing about having young kiddos--I fantasize about one night away from them for some adult conversation and a full night's sleep, but as soon as I get it, I wish they were there.  I assume this will change when they are teenagers.

The little things, and some corn tortillas

Evenings in my house are beyond exhausting.  With both of us working full-time and both kids in daycare/pre-school, the whole family stumbles into the house already weary from the long day, the hairy commute, some serious playing, and two demanding jobs. Sometimes it's all we can do to get the kids fed and in bed before we collapse into bed ourselves - and yes, there have been quite a few nights when I've fallen asleep in my 3-year-old's room while trying to read him a book at 7:30pm. 

Dinnertime often means a debate between takeout and cooking, simplicity and completeness, sitting down to eat whatever or cooking on our aching feet. Given all this, it's no wonder that any real creativity in the kitchen has been limited to weekends only - and even weekends often end up being too packed for cooking adventures.  

So: I'm learning to choose the little things, to embrace convenience where it won't ruin a meal, and to make the effort where it will really make a difference.

All that to say: I made my own corn tortillas from scratch, y'all!

Wife and I have been trying to make time to check out the Portland Mercado for months, and we finally made it there last weekend.  I spotted a big bag of corn masa - which just looks like a big bag of flour, but smells SO MUCH like corn - and snagged it.  Upon returning home, I promptly headed right back out to buy my first tortilla press.

After a bit of trial and error (noted: toddlers are not great at making really thin tortillas, parchment paper is less sticky than plastic wrap), I made one awesome batch.  Wife and I ate most of them in minutes with just some avocado and salt* - they were so much more delicious than the usual package of tortillas from TJ's.  The next time I made a batch, it was to make the BBQ tempeh tacos** pictured here.  The taco innards were easy as (store-bought) pie to put together, so the extra 20 minutes of tortilla-making was absolutely worth it.

*Note: during these days of parenting young children, hardly remembering what a full night's sleep felt like, and barely holding it together through the epic tantrums of The Threenager (oh, how I hate that annoying-yet-totally-accurate made-up word), a meal of tortillas and avocado - eaten standing up over the still-hot stovetop - qualifies as straight-up culinary elegance.

**Stay tuned for future posts on No Meat Athlete's new meal planning program - Meg and I are both trying it and plan on sharing results soon!

Now that I'm totally an expert and all...

Cait's Tortilla-Making Hints:

Follow the directions on your bag of masa, which you can get at most grocery stores.  Here are a few extra things I've learned:

  1. You want your dough to feel like Play-Doh.  The instructions on my bag of masa said to use 1.75 cups of water for every 2 cups of masa flour, and that ratio was basically perfect.
  2. Make your dough balls on the small side - they're less likely to fall apart when you pick them up to add them to the pan.
  3. If you've got a tortilla press, awesome - you'll have thinner tortillas - but if you don't, a heavy plate will do just fine.
  4. Get your pan really hot before you add the tortillas - like so hot you think it might start smoking.  It makes a huge difference to how well and quickly the tortillas cook.
  5. While still warm, top a tortilla with a few slices of ripe avocado and a sprinkle of salt.  So simple and seriously good.

How about you?  Where does a little effort make a big difference in your life / kitchen / work?  Perhaps more importantly, when and where is it totally worth it to choose convenience?

iPad Bouncy Seat: Too Much?

I just watched this video about a new iPad bouncy seat. On the one hand, I am surprised it took so long for someone to come up with this idea. On the other hand, I am pretty appalled by the fact that there is a market for this. These seats are inherently for children younger than 2, and yet research shows that TV has detrimental and lasting effects on this age group. Yes, I know tablets are not TV, but I consider them a close cousin. Unfortunately, research on  iPads and other electronic devices and their effects on children is scant.

To come off my pedestal a bit, I do occasionally (3-4 times a week) let Bob the Builder babysit my children while I cook dinner. Years ago, as a naive non-parent, letting my kids watch TV was one of the dozens of things I said I would never do--then, reality hit. Violating the child-rearing "rules" is just life as a parent--especially one who's expected to cook, clean, raise perfect children, and hold a full-time job outside the home.

What are your thoughts on exposing your young kids to media?