Saturday, August 22, 2020

Adventures in distance learning, teleworking, and more

Okay. School started last week so we got in our first full week and a couple extra bonus days. It's different, but it's not nearly as bad as last year. In fact, both Syd and Averson's teachers are doing some really cool, innovative things and both girls seem to be doing well. They're also getting at least some social interactions in class which I think is great. Thankfully my fears were unfounded and both teachers are capping their Zooms to 90 minutes. I stayed home for a few days to get a rhythm established and what I found is that Syd is almost entirely self-sufficient, including independently arranging a daily study session with two friends via Messenger Kids. The little one, on the other hand, takes a bit more energy. She does okay at first, but her attention span is...less than ideal. It's hard for C to wrangle her while simultaneously in his own classes and it's hard for my mom or Eli to wrangle her because she is A LOT. So that one is a work in progress. So far what helps is a glass of ice water and a fidget while she's on Zooms, frequent breaks with classwork, and a lot of double-checking to keep her on task. I ordered her a wobble seat and a trifold to try to help with her Zoom time so we're going to try that next week. My mom suggested letting her do her computer time from a little pop-up tent so we might also try that a couple days a week. It's hard to be little and without a dedicated "classroom" I totally get why she's struggling. But she's not frustrated and she's getting the work done eventually so I think it's more a matter of fine-tuning our approach. I'm still committed to making distance learning our bitch. 
First day of school pictures (2020 style)

Eli's independent study program got overwhelmed with students so he's starting a lot more slowly than the girls. I suspect he's in for a rude awakening when his classes actually start. It's still better than 6 separate Zooms every day though. 

Nothing makes you more cognizant of the clutter in your house than seeing the background of your kid's teleconference. Their accounts don't allow for virtual backgrounds and I'm legit considering buying a backdrop. I've also learned a lot about her classmates. Also also, on the first day one of her classmates put the webcam down his pants to show his underwear and she was SCANDALIZED. 
C worked on campus while I was home. He facetimed me one afternoon to show Averson that he had saved a bird that flew into a window at school. It took a lot of restraint for him not to bring it home and instead to tuck it safely into a bush to recover. 

I took a few days to telework while the kids got started, but also to see what that would look like if I was home more. It looks like this. Perched on a kitchen stool with multiple laptops, ready to kick dogs in or out of the house depending on where they're barking, with the biggest coffee mug that I own. I'm still going to try to stay home at least one day a week but wow, that's a lot of work to simultaneously proctor distance learning and work your own job at the same time. 

In other news: The girls are ALL IN with the baking lately. I love it, but OMG they make a ton of messes and I can literally feel my ass spread by the day. I finally told Syd that she needed to branch out before she gave me diabetes. So tonight we're having fried pickles. SMH. 

Teenagers are weird. He spent HOURS setting up an underwater photo shoot. I still haven't seen the final product but for his sake I hope it was worth it. He went to school to pick up text books the other day and he came home practically manic from seeing other kids. We haven't found any of his friends who have the same level of quarantine as we do so the poor kid has been more isolated than the rest of us and I think he's getting a bit desperate. 

C is replacing our death trap of a deck! It's so pretty and safe now! It's moving a bit more slowly than usual though because just as he got started, we got hit with a heat wave with multiple days of over 110. In case you're not familiar, that's real fucking hot and real, real miserable. Last weekend it was 85 degrees at 7:30 in the morning. 

Traffic heading south on I-80 to escape the wildfires slows to a crawl at Vacaville on Wednesday. The fire jumped the freeway and advanced to Fairfield.
This is a picture from the news of the highway I take to get to work. I am SO grateful that I avoided this. So many of our staff got evacuated or lost their homes. 

AND THEN, California caught fire. On Wednesday we nearly had to evacuate the prison because the fires got so close. I was lucky to leave on time because shortly after, the fire jumped the freeway and shut it down in both directions. I felt safe in the prison (concrete doesn't burn) but I definitely didn't want to be stuck there. The fire has moved away from the prison now, but the air quality is so bad. Like, thank goodness we all have a plethora of masks bad. On Thursday I just wore my regular cloth mask and by the end of the day I had a migraine and went to bed at 7:00, completely exhausted. Friday I wore a surgical mask all day and felt so much better. So now the deck project is stalled since we can't breathe outside. Hopefully the smoke clears out and the fires die down soon. 2020 has been such a clusterfuck that I don't even say "What's next?" anymore. I figure if the sea of blood comes we've got enough floaties. And TikTok cloud bread courtesy of Syd's bakery. 


Sunday, August 9, 2020


 OMG. You guys? C got his schedule and he’s committed to multiple classes NEARLY EVERY HOUR. We still have no idea what Syd’s class is going to look like. And we’re still waiting to hear from Eli’s independent study program but he won’t get text books until a week after school starts. Even with my mom helping, I think there’s a real good chance that the bulk of school work is going to have to be done in the evenings which on one hand is fine but on the other hand really sucks. It means that the kids will have all their leisure time while we’re working, and I’ll get to spend my evenings cooking, cleaning, and fighting with them. 

I know I’m being whiny. We’ll figure it out and we’ll be fine. I really would’ve preferred a simpler line-up though. 

We tie-dyed first day of school shirts today. Even if we have no idea what we’re doing and we might be slowly dying of anxiety on the inside, at least we can look a little zen on the outside. Also my grass is purple now. 

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Bits and pieces

99% of the recent pictures on my phone are of Taco, and while he really is the cutest thing ever and he met the mailwoman today in an absolutely precious exchange, I promise we've been doing some other stuff too. 

On Saturday mornings I like to wake up before everyone else (and before it gets hot) and read my book outside while I drink my coffee. My little shadow has been joining me lately and it's one of my favorite parts of the weekend. It's also the quietest that she is all day. C has started calling her the "Happy Handful" and it really fits. 

I'm also trying to get more "movement" (I started Noom and discovered that if I call it "exercise" there's too much pressure. Trying a new thing.) When I go, I like to bring Scout as much as I can so I'm not tempted to abandon her in the woods. I thought the pink inspirational tee was a nice contrast to the chain collar. She felt quite sassy, I could tell. 
She can ride! 
This has been my backyard for the last three weeks. I wish I had a better "before" but trust that the old deck was a death-trap. Or at least a broken-ankle-trap. We (I) got inspired and ripped up a bunch of boards. Then we (C) found out that apparently there's a lumber shortage. C finally got his delivery yesterday. It's going to be so pretty! And safe! And not rotten!

A couple weeks ago we went up into the foothills to see if we could see the NEOWISE comet. We maybe saw it? Or maybe we just really really wanted to? It was fun either way to snuggle up with this guy in the dark, masks and all. 
Gratuitous Taco shot
 We're doing pretty well on our hiking commitment. Last weekend I thought I was so clever putting my selfie stick in my daypack to elevate the family selfie. It was... not elevated. These are by far our worst hiking pictures ever. I threw out the selfie stick as soon as we got home. Unpictured is the gorgeous creek behind us and the fallen trees that made the best "Floor is Lava" training ground yet. Pictured is a terrible angle of my belly, far too much gray, and Averson's half-eaten sandwich. 

We have a few more days before distance learning starts. I was able to talk to Averson's teacher last week and she assured me that, at least the second grade, would not be on Zoom for 6 hours a day. It feels doable but since the teachers aren't actually back to work yet, we still have no idea what the schedules for C and the girls will be. I'm going to telework the first few days while we work out the rhythm. I have not set up a "classroom" which feels like Facebook-mom sacrilege, but we found last year that the kids did great at the kitchen table, with options to travel if they got antsy or needed some space. I'm packing their supplies into their backpacks which will, hopefully, keep them organized as well as provide some clear distinction of when school is over. I'm trying to think of something fun for the first day of school pictures. I didn't get the PJs I'd planned but honestly? My kids have been sleeping in their clothes anyway. No need to put on airs. 

Monday, August 3, 2020

Is the grass greener on the other side of the quarantine?

Throughout the pandemic, I have continued to go into work 99.99% of the time. Prison is one of those funny places that isn't super amenable to working from home (though I have several staff that do, and do it well.) At first, it felt very much like a noble calling. We were "Essential Workers!" braving the world to provide high quality treatment to our patients. Then it started to feel like this awesome little pocket of normalcy and I secretly reveled in the privilege as I merrily packed my lunch and headed out to work every day while the rest of the world lamented the on-going lock-downs. I HATED teleworking when I was doing it last year and that was when the world was relatively normal and not so apocolypty. Give me pants with a zipper over trying to take a conference call amongst the din any day. 

But now? I'm starting to feel jealous of all the people who have settled in to a routine in their cozy bubbles. Especially as we're facing down another adventure in distance learning. I talk to people who've created these routines of walking the dog, checking in with work, taking calls on their patios, and I look at my commute and my state-issued office and they don't seem so luxurious anymore.

Teleworking full time isn't an option for me. Despite the fact that I spend most of my time alone in my office, there is an intangible but glaring difference in how my program runs when I'm not here. Plus it seems like kind of an asshole move to make people come in when I don't. And the fact remains that I don't enjoy working from home. It's chaotic, and loud, and messy, and my dogs wrestle like they're dying, and my kids can only overhear so many prison/psych conversations before they're ruined from all age-appropriate social interactions forever. 

On the other hand, school starts next week and we still have no idea what that looks like. We've decided to do independant study with Eli, since the high school is requiring all teachers to take attendance translating to 4-5 scheduled zooms per day. He did phenomenally when he was left to his own devices during crisis schooling and we're really excited to see how he does as a self-directed student. The girls however are staying with Distance Learning. The district is mandating 240 minutes of synchronous learning for Syd and 230 minutes for Averson (I LOVE the ten minute adjustment for the Littles.) C is convinced that means that they'll be on video for 6 hours but I'm optimistic (delusional?) that it will be translated differently. But worst case, how the hell are we supposed to both work full-time AND manage 6 full hours of Zoom, especially for a 2nd grader? It's another reason we elected to do Independent Study for Eli. We're legit considering paying him to help proctor video appointments. Thank God my mom is here and is another set of hands. As I stare down this logistical black hole, I can't help but think that this is going to be just a teensy bit easier for parents who are working from home. 

What do you think? Have we reached the point in the pandemic where it just feels like no matter what,  the grass is greener? And I'd love to hear how you all are navigating all of this. We've committed to being positive and successful and I'm convinced that there are people out there who have some tips or tricks (besides day drinking). I'll start. We got Averson a kid-size yoga ball to sit on during Zoom meetings. Made her WAY less wiggly and able to focus. Some of the best $15 dollars we've spent so far.