2018: The Sky is the Limit

I must acknowledge at this point that this blog has been sorely neglected for the past 6 months. I had wonderful intentions to write about all the fun we had with our niece, Duong, last summer, but I failed to follow through and was not particularly inspired to write in the fall because I felt that my adventures were adequately documented through regular emails to my brother in Korea. I have now, however, finished up a lovely week of Christmas vacation with my family and am facing a new year of opportunity and feeling inspired to look back at the last year and make predictions for the year ahead.

Unfortunately, I have no 2017 predictions to review because I was in Vietnam and unable to write a blog post on New Year’s Day a year ago. Instead of reviewing my 2017 predictions, I will have to backtrack and review the 2016 predictions…

  1. Honestly, I think I’m due for a job change this year. I hope to become a drug safety specialist at my current company because the pay is a bit better than my current role and because then I would actually be using some of my pharmacy knowledge. My manager, however, would obviously prefer to keep me in the lab logistics group. He indicated that a lab coordinator position would be a reasonable next step for me, but honestly, I don’t think our group needs another lab coordinator anytime soon… we just increased the number of coordinators from 2 to 4 last summer. I was pretty spot on here. My promotion to lab logistics coordinator was approved in October 2016, at the same time that I was offered and accepted a position as a drug safety associate. Although hired at the associate level, I was soon given specialist level responsibilities, and my manager was a strong advocate for my promotion in 2017.
  2. No job change for Son. Turnover is not quite as fast at his company/position. Correct. Son is still with JM.
  3. Alina will be walking by March. A few weeks ago, I thought she would be walking by today, but she seems more inclined to ask to be carried than to walk on her own at this point. Yup. Alina started walking in February 2016 at 10, almost 11, months. She walked joyfully around Mystic Aquarium when we visited for her first birthday.
  4. Peter will weigh 39 lbs and measure 43 inches tall at his 6-year physical. Despite the recommendations to not transition to a booster seat before 40 pounds, I will get him booster seats because Alina will need his convertible seats. Yes, at his 6-year physical in October, he measured 43 inches tall and weighed 38 lbs.  He was up to 45 inches and 43 lbs at his 7-year physical.
  5. What to predict for Peter? I think he will be capable of reading from the “middle readers” section of the library a year from now, but I doubt he will want to. With the exception of Ricky Ricotta, he’s just not that excited about fiction. I don’t see him improving in reading or math that quickly nowadays because they are still working at a very basic level in kindergarten. To our amusement, he tells people that he’s in fourth grade because he wants to be in fourth grade. I think someone told him that fourth graders learn U.S. geography. Perhaps Peter should start studying for the National Geographic Bee in fourth grade?
    Yeah, he was reading Bad Kitty-type books a year ago. He start reading some longer books by the end of first grade, but his interest in fiction is still not strong enough to keep him perusing the chapter books in the library. We have had success with other Dav Pilkey series, i.e., Captain Undrepants and Dog Man. We did have fun reviewing GeoBee Challenge questions for the first few months of 2016.
  6. As for Alina, it’s exciting to think that she could be recognizing colors, shapes, and animals a year from now. She’s already playing with Peter’s toy cars by pushing them along the ground, so I think she will like things that go, too. Oh, gee… I’m not sure when the color and shape recognition took off for Alina. Maybe around the time she turned 2? Animals were recognized earlier; Alina is an animal lover at heart.
  7. Alina will weigh 21 lbs and measure 32 inches long at her 18-month check up. She measured 23 lbs and 32 inches at 18 months. She’s a very “normal” size. At her 2-year check-up, she measured 26 lbs, 3 oz (61 %ile) and 34.25 in (65 %ile). Her head was a bit on the big side at 19.25 in (89 %ile), but that’s nothing compared to her top-heavy brother.
  8. Peter will start an extracurricular activity in first grade. I will (fingers crossed!) work from home after 3 p.m. so that he doesn’t have to go to Kathie’s and so that I can take him to / pick him up from his extracurriculars. I’m hesitant to guess which extracurriculars he will take on, though. Boy scouts? Soccer? Gymnastics? Music? Maybe he will start a geography club….
    Yes! I have worked from home after 3 p.m. since fall 2016, and Peter started gymnastics that October. We tried a Boy Scouts meet, and it was a failure… too much chaos, many restless young boys. Peter was unable to stay on-task with multiple activities going on simultaneously, and he expressed no desire to continue with Boy Scouts. Peter did soccer in fall 2017 and has been taking karate since September 2017. The unexpected thing was that Alina demanded to take gymnastics starting in spring 2017. I was previously opposed to enrolling kids under 5 in extracurricular activities, but Alina won that battle. She is strong, flexible, competitive, tenacious, and good at following instructions, so I have a feeling that she will be a very good gymnast one day.
  9. I won’t be pumping at work a year from now, but I feel like Alina will still be nursing at bedtime. I’m hoping that she’s sleeping through the night by the end of 2016.
    Goodness! She is still nursing at bedtime, naptime, and meltdown time two years later.
  10. Alina will make her first trip to Vietnam. Peter will take more interest in learning Vietnamese.
    Yes, we left for Vietnam on Christmas Day, 2016. Sadly, though, Peter has not taken much interest in learning Vietnamese, and none of the native Vietnamese speakers in his life have put very much effort into teaching him the language. On the other hand, Son has done a good job working with Peter on supplemental academic work to help increase his focus and speed.

2017 brought me a bit of stress via Peter’s academics; in January, his school’s Student Intervention Team recommended that he undergo a full IEP evaluation. In February, his teacher completed the Light’s Retention Scale for Peter. In March, most of the IEP testing was completed, and at the end of April, we had the IEP meeting to assess the results, determine whether Peter qualified for an IEP, and set the framework for his IEP goals and interventions. I did a lot of reading on child psychology and parenting and twice exceptional students and attention and executive functioning issues and the challenges of being a young boy in a modern school setting. At this point, I am sufficiently removed from the IEP process to provide an executive summary:

  • Peter’s mother would not and will allow him to undergo grade retention unless the grade retention coincided with switching schools. Peter’s first grade teacher did not see the Light’s Retention Scale results as clear-cut, but they were pretty clear to me. You can’t coax a bright kid whose academic achievement is at grade level to become more engaged in school by having him repeat a grade.
  • Peter has slow processing speed and below average working memory. This literally slows him down in tasks which demand more complex executive functioning (e.g., writing) and in tests of (math) fluency. (Reading fluency is less of an issue because he is so advanced in his decoding skills.)
  • Peter has poor manual coordination.
  • Visual spatial cognition, fluid reasoning, and visual motor integration are areas where Peter excels. Surprisingly, Peter has above average fine motor skills; it appears that his strong visual motor skills bolster his inherently weak manual coordination.
  • Peter is a very good reader and speller.
  • Peter’s teacher really wanted him to qualify for an IEP because he requires too much prompting to stay on-task in school. As a result, he qualified for an IEP under the “developmental delay” disability category, a hedge category that can be used to justify special education services through age 9.
  • A special ed teacher is in Peter’s class in the mornings, he attends PT twice per week, and he works on social skills at a “lunch bunch” program with the speech therapist.
  • At last fall’s parent-teacher conferences, Peter’s second grade teacher was, like his first grade teacher, concerned by Peter’s difficulty “keeping up” with the pace of second grade. Some days are better than others. At the moment, I still don’t really think Peter fits the picture of a child with ADHD, but like children with ADHD, the biggest difficulty is keeping him on task to complete the required volume of classwork. Circling around to the top of my bullet list, it seems to be primarily an issue of processing speed.

Peter is an interesting kid. Very sweet and conciliatory and good at geography, so he might do well in the State Department. Or working as a computer programmer. He has been spending a lot of time playing and modifying games on Scratch, and he received a few coding-inspired games and toys for Christmas (e.g., an Ozobot and Laser maze).

Alina, as I’ve said before, is my firecracker, my crazy monkey. She won’t be a precocious reader, but she will do well when she starts school because she is an independent, exacting, executive skills ninja with great fine motor skills to boot.

My mom, dad, and sister visited over Christmas. The holiday vacation had a nearly catastrophic start when a large branch from our neighbor’s tree fell on the power lines across the street and thereby ripped the wires and goose neck cleanly off our house. Happily, the town electrical service was quick to send out an electrician when Son called 911 and informed the dispatcher that we had live wires and a large tree branch blocking the road. Sadly, the municipal electrician declined to repair the electrical line from the gable of our garage to the meter in the corner of our garage and living room extension, so we had to pay $1000 to have that repaired. Thankfully, the repairs were done, and power was restored at 11:20 p.m., an hour before my mom and sister landed at Logan airport the morning of Christmas Eve. Heat, lighting, and a working stove top are nice things to have when you plan to host Christmas dinner.

Christmas Eve was quiet, in part because everyone slept in after the excitement the night before. We made a trip to a local winery, returned home to oversee the repair of our internet service, made/ate gingerbread houses/trains, and generally ate and drank well. Presents were opened, reindeer were fed, and Christmas morning was very white, with a fresh 4.5-inch blanket of snow. Alina received ponies, a pony movie, apparel (including pony-themed apparel), and more ponies. Peter, as previously mentioned, received some pretty cool toys but still spent a lot of time playing on electronic devices. I received a cozy sweater, some shiny baking sheets, and a “pharmacy” pen. (You will have to trust me that the “pharmacy” pen is much cooler than it sounds.) Son received some metal chopsticks and very nice, hardcover works of fiction. There were also some generous gift cards and monetary gifts going around.

I had to work the day after Christmas, so unfortunately, I look back on it as an under-utilized day from the perspective of someone who wants to ensure her visitors are well-entertained. Wednesday was a bit of an adventure, though; we saw the holiday attractions at Jordan’s Furniture (yes, at a furniture store). Alina made delighted 2-year-old comments while watching the laser light show, and Peter pinpointed the Polar Express 4D show as the highlight of his day, topping even the ice cream and bunk beds at Ikea. Thursday brought us to the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, and Friday brought us to the JFK Library before we dropping my family off at the airport. Son kept us busy over the weekend with Vietnamese friends, and on New Year’s Day, I thought it would be good to get some exercise in spite of the sub-zero temperature outside, so we went to a trampoline park. I had fun, and I think the kids did, too.

Now for my 2018 predictions. Height/weight predictions are not as interesting as they used to be; Peter grows slowly and Alina grows typically, so I’ll skip those this year.

  1. I’m not expecting any great changes with my work this year. Could I switch employers for the purpose of exacting higher wages? Probably. Do I want to switch employers? Probably not. My current work schedule is pretty cushy, and my commute isn’t horrible.
  2. Although I’m not looking for a new employer this year, I’m still full of dreams and ambition. I’d like to be a pharmacovigilance scientist when I grow up, someone who goes beyond individual case processing to detect, evaluate and manage drug safety risks. Towards this goal, I’m toying with a few mini research project ideas pertaining to pharmacovigilance and signal detection methodology. Based on my past track record, the odds of me following through on these ideas are not high, so this is more of a naive New Year’s Resolution than a true prediction.
  3. Son, on the other hand, recently coauthored two full papers, positioning himself well to apply for new positions after he hits 3 years with JM in April. (His employer’s matched retirement contributions will be vested at that point.) I can’t claim full knowledge of Son’s career goals, but I would not be surprised if he took a new position this year or next year, given the high rate of turnover at his company.
  4. Admittedly, if I’m going to think about Son taking a new job, I also have to think about moving to a location more proximate to his future job, i.e., closer to Boston. Odds are that the next job offer Son gets will be inside I-95, perhaps smack in the middle of Cambridge. I’d like to hold off on buying a new house until my student loans are paid off, i.e., in about 2 years, but Son and I agree that neither of us can take a job in Boston/Cambridge unless we move much closer to the cities; the commute from Worcester-ish is too long. I have difficulty imagining moving in 2018, but if a new job for Son is possible, moving is, too.
  5. I do not foresee any astounding cognitive leaps for Alina in the next year, but watch out for that girl on the gymnastics mat. She makes up for Peter’s lack of competitiveness or physical prowess. We could carry on with fun and games at our neighborhood Little Gym, but part of me is inclined to let her try classes at a more competitive gym with better instruction at a cheaper hourly rate. (I can tolerate the gymnastics instruction at The Little Gym because I am not a gymnastics connoisseur, but the dance instruction makes me cringe to watch.)
  6. Peter, Peter, Peter. If we don’t lose him to online gaming, he will do good things with his life. Probably not great things; he is not driven enough to move mountains. But he will make people happy and contribute to society in creative ways. For the short term, I foresee a Pac-Man or Super Mario-themed birthday party in our future. I am sad that we probably won’t have any more geography-themed parties, but on the other hand, Peter can probably relate to his peers better through Minecraft/Mario/Pac-Man/Pokemon than though capitals of the Canadian provinces.
  7. Now that Alina is becoming less demanding, the thought has crossed my mind that we could try getting a cat once again. Alina loves animals, and Peter would love to have a cat, too. Would it make a good birthday present?
  8. My parents are planning to visit this summer before embarking of a cruise of the Saint Lawrence Seaway. Our vacation plans are still up in the air, but we should take at least a week off this summer while our new day care provider is closed for vacation. Maybe we’ll visit Canada? Maybe Hershey, PA? Maybe North Dakota? Maybe Washington, D.C.?
  9. My sister’s great triumph of 2017 was landing a nice job as an assistant for the college partnership program at the community college she once attended. It was wonderful to see her get a position that actually capitalized her past experiences and degree in human resource development. I’m predicting that she will continue to live (and work) happily ever after in her new position and apartment through 2018 and beyond.
  10. My brother’s future is less certain, though I do see teaching, a teaching credential, and scuba diving in it. Will he stay in Korea? Will he teach English in a different country? Or will he do something totally unexpected, like join the Peace Corps? I’ll take a wild guess and say that he will get a job teaching in Japan before 2018 closes.

Indeed, who knows what 2018 may bring? Because you are alive, everything is possible.

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A calling

Son and I celebrated our 9th wedding anniversary yesterday. It was a quiet little celebration at home; taking the kids out on a Wednesday school night is more masochistic than celebratory at this point in our lives. I got a bunch of sunflowers and an impressive chocolate brownie cake. Son got a linen shirt and bottle of limoncello. We had miso soup and leftovers for dinner. It was pretty much perfect. I marveled at what a lucky lady I am to have two healthy, happy kids – each with a unique set of strengths that will serve them well in the future; a cozy little house with a manageable little yard in a safe neighborhood; a job that delights and engages me while offering plenty of opportunities for professional growth; and a partner who has offered unfailing loyalty, good humor, gentle support, and (mostly) sound judgement throughout my adult life. What more could a woman ask for?

Looking back to a year ago, two years ago, and three years ago, it is remarkable how far I’ve come personally and professionally. Three years ago, I was on a long road to recovering from the shock of not achieving my goal of securing a post-PharmD training opportunity. Although I now have a good handle on the reasons the stars didn’t align for me in the spring of 2014, it still befuddles me a bit when I look back. Getting a scholarship to college, undergraduate awards, and a graduate research fellowship happened naturally, and I had assumed that post-PharmD training opportunities would fall in my lap just as easily, given how hard I worked and all that I achieved in pharmacy school. When no opportunity opened for me, I was at a loss as to how I could move forward to achieve my professional goals (and re-pay my pharmacy school student loans).

Two years ago, I had a new baby and a new job. The baby was pretty much perfect, aside from her baby acne. The job was not the dream job I had had in mind when I was in pharmacy school, but it was good enough for the time being, given my family obligations.

June of last year, if I may be honest, I was feeling under-utilized and somewhat discontent with my position. I had worked hard and spent a lot of money to gain clinical knowledge and experience, and it wasn’t needed for my job. That might have been acceptable if I had better work/life balance or a bigger pay check, but after an hour’s commute each morning and evening, it didn’t feel acceptable. Since things were slow at work, I kept myself engaged with birthday party planning and a few job applications.

This year, however, I’m infatuated with my job. It’s almost disorienting to recall that I had once been crushed to see my dreams of working as a hospital pharmacist elude me or that I had once considered PAREXEL a less-than-ideal place to work. In short, I’ve found a calling. I might even take it a step further and state that, despite the winding path and shifting personal and professional goals, I found MY calling. A special field of work that makes my heart sing. I had suspected that drug safety and pharmacovigilance would be a good career for me when I first started considering industry jobs as an alternative to hospital jobs. When I applied for post-PharmD fellowships, although I was too guarded to profess exclusive interest in a single type of fellowship, the pharmacovigilance fellowships were the ones that kept my dreams of a great career alive. My work in laboratory logistics wasn’t bad, but at this point, the best part of it was definitely the fact that it helped me enter the world of drug safety. I don’t really believe in destiny any longer, but I don’t have any regrets about abandoning my pursuit of a career in chemistry at this point, and although I still imagine that I might like to work as a hospital pharmacist someday, it’s mostly in the context of developing my drug safety career by gaining additional clinical experience.

My manager has been fantastically supportive and encouraging. She told me to let her know whenever I didn’t have billable work, and she quickly figured out that she could keep throwing more and more projects and responibilities at me. I’m currently assigned to 19 projects. Most of them are projects with minimal scope for pharmacovigilance, but I’ve definitely had days when I billed time to 8 different studies. My manager has indicated that I should (in her opinion) have been hired at a a higher level and that if I keep up my current pace, I should (in her opinion) be promoted two levels when the annual promotions happen in the fall. At this point, I don’t begrudge being hired at a lower level. Sure, my monetary compensation for 2017 will be less than it hypothetically could have been, but I’ve gained the respect of my peers and my department’s management, and that will prove much more valuable over the long haul than a year of under-compensation. And even more importantly, with every project and task I’ve been given this year has been a learning opportunity, a chance to gain skills and experience that will secure my future career. I’ve never been one to underestimate the value of postgraduate training.

As this whole world of career fulfillment has opened up to me, my single, almost paradoxical fear is how I will be able to keep up my current trajectory. Sure, I could be promoted to PV line management in 2-3 years if that’s a career path that interests me; at least my manager has intimated as much. But then what? I’m deeply loyal to PAREXEL at this point, but will this fascinating but limited world of clinical trial safety be enough for me to fully achieve my career goals? How can I gain experience with periodic safety report writing in a company where such work is contracted to the medical writing department? How can I learn about signal detection in a department that almost exclusively focuses on investigational drugs? Can I gain expertise in risk management without working for a drug marketing authorization holder? Don’t get me wrong; PAREXEL is contracted to perform literature searches, aggregate reporting, signal detection, and benefit-risk assessments, but my understanding is that those activities are currently isolated to the India pharmacovigilance team. The U.S. team specializes more in early phase and U.S.-based clinical trials, which is great for gaining study start-up experience and clinical trial case processing experience but provides less opportunities to gain skills needed to gain a leadership position in the broader fields of pharmacovigilance and pharmaceutical risk management.

On the other hand, given the multitude of recruiters who have wanted to connect with me on LinkedIn since my job title changed to drug safety associate, my fears are probably unfounded. One recruiter explicitly told me, “PV is HOT right now,” and I do have the advantage of a a relatively broad skill set and an employer with a large and diverse set of service offerings. The new PAREXEL Access department has embodied the push to support clients with observation research and other forms of data collection during the periapproval period; surely, there must be opportunities for me to contribute to those efforts at some point in the future if that’s the direction I want my career to grow.

Peter is finishing first grade next week, and my oldest niece is graduating from college. For me, though, the commencement speeches are hitting home more than ever before. I recently finished listening to Sonya Sotomayor’s memoir, My Beloved World, and although she and I are very different women, I felt my own ambition, focus, idealism, and determination reflected in her writing. How can I make a positive impact on the world? How can I achieve my childhood dreams? How can I follow my calling?

One major difference between myself and Sonja is that she is a single woman without children. I have a husband and two kiddos, and I of course do not want my relationship with them or their own personal development to be stunted for the sake of my career. I hope that as I grow personally and professionally, I will have more to offer them as a wife and mother, not less.

One thing that I have learned over the past couple years is to recognize strengths and weaknesses in myself and the people close to me. I hope that this recognition will help us all to find fulfilling paths through life.

Peter has been an interesting puzzle to make sense of. The Student Intervention Team at his school referred him for a full IEP evaluation mid-year. Most of the evaluations took place in March, and the IEP qualification meeting took place at the end of April. When I first received the evaluation results, I tried to figure what diagnosis or disability they might be pointing to. High-functioning autism? ADHD? Auditory processing disorder? A specific learning disability? Now that some time has passed, I think that for now, it’s fair to simply say that he’s a bright boy with a slow processing speed and mediocre working memory. Result: inconsistent and mediocre executive functioning skills coupled with beautiful thoughts that have finally materialized through Lego structures and drawings and graphic art as his fine motor skills have finally started to catch up to his ability visualize concepts. His 4-year-old passion for U.S. states and capitols and 5-year-old passion for flags is maturing into a 6-year-old determination to learn trivia about every country of the world. For example, “Mom, which continent is Cyprus part of?” (It was a trick question, as Peter explained that the Republic of Cyprus is considered part of Europe whilst the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is better considered part of Asia.) Over the past weeks, Peter described to me the faults he identified in his teacher’s classroom globe: Eritrea is missing and Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and Sudan appear as unified countries. Thankfully, Russia appears rather than the U.S.S.R., but I figured that the globe had to be at least 25 years old. So today, Peter proudly gifted his teacher a new, up-to-date classroom globe. Since Peter loves taking our family globe off its pedestal to better examine the southern corners of the Earth, I chose a free-mounted globe that future classes of first graders can chase around the classroom during “choice” time. Peter received a sweet thank-you note from his teacher that suggested she was just as excited about the globe as Peter, though I’m not sure that’s possible.

Peter did qualify for an IEP based on the vaguely-defined “developmental delay” disability category. The school is suppotring him through PT, speech pragmatics exercises, and special education support during writing periods to help Peter organize his thoughts and get them on paper. He certainly has many good thoughts, a gift for decoding, and a fantastic memory for trivia, especially trivia with a visual-spatial slant, but organizing and articulating thoughts in response to complex questions, prompts, or directions takes extra time and guidance. I’m sure Peter will do well in life as long as he pursues a career that places more value on how well you reason than how quickly you reason or how well you multitask.

Alina, on the other hand, is Peter’s foil in many respects, a quick-witted, strong-willed, passionate firecracker with naturally advanced fine motor skills. Her day care provider jokes that she never has to vacuum any longer because Alina picks all the lint out of her carpet, and it’s probably not much of an exaggeration. Alina indirectly persuaded her mother to sign her up for gymnastics classes last month because she would become so indignant that she was not allowed to join Peter’s lessons. Peter is in a grade school gymnastics class while Alina is in a parent-toddler class, but Peter probably needs the support of a parent redirecting him and encouraging him to listen to and follow the coach’s instructions than Alina does. Alina is always the first child to jump up and do whatever the coach asks. I doubt she will qualify for any extra help with motor skills or executive function skills when she is school aged…

And that’s the beautiful diversity of individuals that makes the world go ’round.

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Two years old

We celebrated Alina’s birthday with a blizzard. I.e., with a Nor’easter named Stella who dumped 14 inches of wet, heavy snow on central Massachusetts, prompting Johnson Matthey to make the unprecedented decision to close operations for the day despite the fact that a travel ban was not instated. PAREXEL stayed open, but my internet connection held out until the end of the work day, so I was able to work from home. Alina was happy to be home with family for the day; I enjoyed the extra hour of evening daylight for snow blowing and shoveling; and we all enjoyed the ice cream cake that Alina picked out. Son had recently developed shingles, so I think he appreciated the day off, too. Homebody Peter of course made himself comfortable as well. If it hadn’t been so windy, I would have sent him outside to make a snowman, but it was, technically, a blizzard, so the husband and kiddos stayed cozy inside.

Now we’ve reached the second anniversary of her due date. I just realized a few days ago that Alina’s due date coincided with the date of the fateful nuchal translucency scan where I learned that Peter was a beautiful, healthy fetus but his twin had left us several weeks beforehand. Don’t worry, though; the wistful mixture of joy and sadness from that day has receded for me. I just find it interesting to watch Peter wrap his head around the fact that he had a twin in utero. He often includes his twin in family pictures these days. Baby A is portrayed as a small brother named Columbus who plays in the clouds with our deceased cat. It’s quaint, but I’m glad that Peter has – like his father – an instinctual faith in heaven and afterlife.

Alina is still my little firecracker, but her language has really exploded since the fall. She speaks in full sentences and in typical 2-year-old fashion, does not hold back her feelings. “I don’t know what to do!” “I’m so hungry!” “That’s MY pig!” “I watch hippopotamus!” “Alina ride bicycle!” “I go see dragon!” “I sit on couch, drink Mama’s milk!” It doesn’t really stop until she passes out for her afternoon nap or until she agrees that we have read enough bedtime stories and can turn out the light. (She now demands to be allowed to do this herself since she recently figured out how to turn the lamp switch.) Honestly, though, I love it. Two really is an amazing age, a time when speech allows you to better understand your child’s preferences and strengths and weaknesses and personality. A time when they can throw a tantrum or say something tactless and no one will think worse of you as a parent. My main regret is that Alina thinks that she is now big enough to choose which seat she sits in during car rides. She may choose her brother’s seat, the front passenger seat, the rear seat without a car seat, or the driver’s seat; she usually only agrees to her own seat without a fight if you distract her with candy. This isn’t a problem for short trips, but as the weather gets warmer, we’re going to want to go on some summer excursions. Hopefully, they won’t be too painful. I suppose this really isn’t anything new, though; Alina started driving me crazy on car rides when driving to and from work with her at 4 months old.

Alina’s first trip to Vietnam was a success, all things considered. The extended Vietnamese family and friends and hotel staff and random people in the park all thought that she was adorable with her pigtails and mini áo dài and dimpled grin and insistence on wearing the most fashionable flip flops and demands that she be allowed to draw on Peter’s homework. Peter was a good sport throughout the trip, though it did take a lot of effort to get his homework completed, and we had an age-appropriate amount of whining when we had to leave an amusement center or turn off the smart phone. I did my best to be patient as well, but this trip was mostly about visiting (non-English-speaking) people, so I did tire of the social isolation by the end of two weeks. Thankfully, Alina and Peter had my (almost) undivided attention, and I benefited from their ability to speak English and entertain me. The digestive systems of me and Alina were more than ready to head home after two weeks as well; although it was delicious, we didn’t do very well with the Vietnamese food after the first week. On a plus note, though, the weather was fantastic, and we had very nice accommodations throughout the trip. I was anticipating highs in the 50s and 60s like when I was in Vietnam during the lunar New Year, but instead, we had highs in the 70s and low 80s and little rain. Our nieces were very nice playmates for Peter and Alina, and the aunts enjoyed spoiling them with gifts and treats. I’m glad we made the trip because it was good to see family and expose the kids to the Vietnamese culture, but I think I’ll need a year to recuperate before I can think of going back.

Alina received several fancy dresses from the Vietnamese relatives for her birthday, and that suited her quite well because she is a girly little girl who loves to wear dresses and would rather not wear anything bulky or unfashionable such as a winter jacket. Even when it was 10 degrees Fahrenheit outside the weekend before her birthday and I took her to Heifer farm to see the animals and eat pancakes and sausage, she declined to wear a coat. She doesn’t complain much about the cold, but I’m sure that she will be happy when spring finally arrives. On warmish days, she likes to ride the balance bike around the neighborhood with my help. I think that she may figure out how to use the bike independently by the end of summer. She’s quite good with gross and fine motor skills and recently has been quite jealous that she is not allowed to join Peter’s gymnastics classes. Happily, Alina was allowed to play on all the gymnastics equipment with the big kids today at her day care friend, Lili’s, birthday party. She particularly likes the balance beams and swinging from the rings. Part of me wants to sign her up for a toddler gymnastics class… they’re only young once! But the other part of me thinks that she should wait until age 5 for organized extracurricular activities, like Peter. She does, after all, get plenty of organized activities at day care. I did treat Alina on behalf of her grandmother yesterday and took her to the new Enchanted Passage book shop, where she picked out a book, a stuffed pig, and a set of glittery stickers. She’s not a deprived child, and she won’t ever be because she demands plenty of time ,love, and attention from her mother.

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The Chemist and the Alchemist

Last February, we saw an art exhibition inspired by a fairytale, The Painted Lady and the Glass Man. It’s a cute love story based on the relationship of the painter/glassblower couple, Tracy Levesque and Peter Zimmerman. The whimsical and other-worldly imagery made me wonder whether I could write such a fairytale based on the relationship of Son and me.

Here’s a shot:

Once upon a time, there was an ambitious young chemist. He worked long hours each day, impelled by an almost maniacal impulse to seek pleasures amongst smoke and vapors, poisons and poverty. He saw the elegant beauty of electron orbitals and high-yielding reactions and delighted in the challenge of harnessing the most unpredictable and unruly of species: transition-state molecules. He dreamed of using his power over the molecular world to solve problems and cure diseases in the human world.

In contrary to popular portrayal, the chemist did not work in a basement in solitude. Rather, he worked alongside colleagues and apprentices in a tower overlooking beautiful sunsets on the city skyline. These were his sources of inspiration and relief as he wrestled to unlock secrets at the molecular level.

The chemist had started from humble beginnings, having grown up in a declining post-war mill city in the Far East. He nonetheless developed a strong sense of nationalism and pride in his academic achievements. Through his fortitude and diligence, he gained a fellowship to study at the nation’s capital. Four years later, he graduated first in his class of young chemists. The chemist’s dreams had not stopped there, though, and in a quest for the highest knowledge and deepest truths, he traveled halfway around the world to an American university. The American university did offer state-of-the-art laboratories, groundbreaking science, and good friendships, but the chemist doubted whether these were enough to keep him an ocean away from his homeland.

One year, the chemist was assigned an apprentice who stood out from all others he had worked with. She was young and ambitious, smart and hardworking, as any good apprentice should be. She was also lovely and nimble, with long golden hair, chocolate brown eyes, and a dance in every step she took. She was observant and meticulous and could be quite stubborn at times. “Clever people are usually somewhat stubborn,” the chemist noted. He was unsure how to tutor an apprentice who was at once so enchanting and willful.

The apprentice learned quickly, and she accepted the chemist’s invitations to join him for hot cocoa or a walk on the lawn, though at times she looked eager to get back to her reaction flask. The chemist doubted whether a traditional scientist such as himself who had grown up half a world away could connect with a Western girl such as his apprentice. One summer afternoon, he invited her to venture farther from the laboratory for a stroll around nearby Lake Phalen, where East met West in a friendly competition of dragon boat races.

As they walked along the lakeside, the chemist asked the apprentice, “Are you the dawn or the dusk?” “Are you the bird or the plane?” “Are you the candle or the light bulb?” And through her replies, the chemist found that they were kindred spirits in their love for tradition, elegance, beauty, and simplicity. They were the type of scientists who concerned themselves with concise natural laws and succinct equations rather than best-fit models that required estimation of multiple parameters. At the end of the day, what mattered was the binary question of whether or not their chemistry produced the desired product.

“I do honestly love my work with you,” said the apprentice, “but I want to do more than just synthesize natural products. Those are challenges that have already been solved by evolution. Why must we work so hard just to create the poison of a dinoflagellate? We should be able to create more useful, valuable products out of the basest, cheapest starting materials. Sunlight, for instance. I want to capture golden sunlight and harness it as stored energy. Then I can truly make a difference through my work.”

“Do not underestimate such industrious microorganisms as dinoflagellates,” the chemist teased. “By replicating their work you learn the answers to questions you were not clever enough to even ask. Turning golden rays into electric current is a noble goal, but it seems more like alchemy than chemistry to me. But that’s not to say that you shouldn’t follow your heart. No matter what you want to do, I will support you.”

He gave her a gentle kiss on the forehead, and she nestled into his side. And at that moment, the chemist  knew that he no longer had an apprentice to train; he had an alchemist to mentor as she set out to tackle life’s most elusive goals.

The alchemist spent several months making dyes and star polymers and functionalized buckminsterfullerene to capture sunlight. Once she had captured the light, though, she was at a loss to know how she could conduct it and store it and use it. She traveled across the country to learn more about the electrodynamic properties of materials and decide how she might move her science forward. The alchemist and chemist were sorry to be separated to by so much distance but hung onto faith that science would bring them together again soon.

The alchemist soon learned about a new, intriguing, and somewhat elusive material with a powerful set of conductive, diamagnetic, and mechanical properties: graphene. Soot shaved into a single atomic sheet. The alchemist set out to produce graphene from soot on a large scale that would be useful for conducting the solar energy she had captured with her dyes. After several months, though, the chemist remained unsure whether the soot she that came out of her reaction flask contained graphene. And if it did contain graphene, how could it be isolated and harnessed to use in photovoltaic devices? Not knowing how to move forward, the alchemist withdrew from her chemistry and wished that the chemist would be near her again for guidance and support.

“I’m afraid that I have strayed too far from the practical chemistry you taught me,” she told the chemist. “Come join me in Massachusetts.We will marry and I will try once again to use the art of organic synthesis to create good for the world. I will create medicine, an elixir to cure all ailments.”

“I’m afraid that you are still an alchemist at heart, my dear,” said the chemist. “But I will of course join you as soon as I can find a laboratory in Massachusetts to work in.”

The chemist and the alchemist had a small, lovely wedding, and the chemist joined his wife in Massachusetts as promised. The alchemist, however, did not create an elixir. As she studied the work of others who had tried to create elixirs before her, however, she discovered the power and danger and elegant mechanisms of medicines already in use.

“I want to use medicine to heal the most fragile patients,” the alchemist now professed to her husband. The chemist supported this plan for it was, indeed, the most practical one she had yet set her heart to.

The alchemist studied pathophysiology and pharmacology and pharmacotherapeutics for three years and then sought out an institution that could make use of her newly honed skills. She visited prestigious hospitals in the city, humble hospitals in the countryside, and outpatient clinics in the suburb. She grew weary and sad as she failed to find a suitable place to carry on her vocation.

“I have so many dreams and so many plans but none seem to work out any longer,” the alchemist said wistfully, remembering her simpler days as an apprentice.

“Have faith and patience. Things will work out. Not the way you had imagined, and not as soon as you would like, but everything will fall into place in time.” The chemist presented her with a rectangular package wrapped in deep blue paper. The apprentice opened it gingerly, and inside was a clothbound journal. The fabric was an Oriental motif evoking images of cranes wading in a lotus-filled pond.

“I made it for you in the tradition of my father and ancestors,” said the chemist. It is a place for to put your hopes and fears, dreams and disappointments. It will help you find your place in the world.”

“Thank you,” the apprentice said simply. She stroked the spine and corners of the journal, appreciating the craftsmanship and love that went into making it. Then she clutched the book to her breast and gave the chemist a peck of the cheek.

Over the coming weeks, the apprentice filled the journal with anecdotes, observations, accounts of her travels, predictions, frustrations, and joys. She learned to put some distance between herself and her life, and through this she was for once able to recognize how far she had come. She hoped to also discover through her writings her path forward, a way to best use the experience, skills, and insight she had gained as an apprentice and as a vagabond alchemist.

One winter evening as she sat writing on the couch in front of a crackling fire, the apprentice reached last page of her journal. She felt no sense of satisfaction as one who had finished a novel. The journal contained many poignant observations about life and love, but there was no well-defined beginning to the story or conclusion.

“This is my problem,” thought the apprentice. “I’ve spent my whole life looking for meaning and purpose where there is none. I put hours into this journal, but in the end, it is nothing more than the ramblings of a lost girl.”

With that, she tossed the journal into the fire.

“Don’t underestimate the value of your ramblings.” The alchemist jumped at the sound of the chemist’s voice behind her. “Life is not about where you go or what you do. It’s about who you are. The family that you came from and the family that you create. Once you know who you are, everything else falls into place. You are a scientist, an alchemist, a pharmacist, a healer, and a loving person. You don’t need to try so hard to make a mark on the world. You will make your mark on the world just by being you, a person who can solve any problem thrown at her, a daughter devoted to her parents, a wife who will be faithful to her husband to the end of the world, a woman who will one day instill her children with wisdom, and a citizen who is generous… but only on her own terms. You strive for quality in all that you do. You change every institution that you pass through for the better. And that, dear lady, is the mark you will leave on the world.”

“Oh, I am so sorry, love. Look what I’ve done. I’ve taken your gift, put my heart and soul into it, and tossed it into the fire. You are right. I need to stop worrying about the destination. Living is in the journey.”

The chemist embraced her, and they fell asleep in each other’s arms before the hearth.

When she awoke, the apprentice lit a lamp and peered into the ashes on the hearth.Her eye caught the glimmer of gold, perking her curiosity. She took a poker and prodded through the ashes and coal, revealing the outline of her journal. Lifting it out of the hearth and dusting it off, she saw that it was, indeed her journal, but it had been transformed in the fire. The cover was now made of gold, and when she opened the book, the alchemist found that each page was a sheet of strong, flexible graphite with shining silver writing crossing each page. She sat down with the book to read it and found that although some of the pages told familiar stories that she could remember recording in the book recently, other pages told stories of her childhood and still others told stories of the children she would one day raise. She saw that her life to this point was, indeed, a good one, and she saw that the adventures ahead would bring both tears and joy but at the end of the day, they were also good. Finally, she saw her vocation as a scientist, alchemist, pharmacist, and healer fulfilled as a developer of new medicines, one who helped define the safety and efficacy of compounds that would bring hope to people now suffering and allow their physicians to make the best treatment decisions possible.

The alchemist closed the book and set it down. She looked at her husband still asleep. She was thankful for all that he had given her and resolved that she had a gift to bear for him as well. Quietly and gently, she nestled into his side once again and fell asleep with newfound peace and new life growing inside her.

 

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Six Years and The Ninth Leap (aka toddler power struggles)

I’m still not convinced that the Wonder Weeks account for Alina’s fussy periods as well as as teething and illnesses explain our most difficult weeks. However, the book’s description of the ninth mental leap into the World of Principles, starting around 14 months, perfectly accounts for Alina’s currently stubborn disposition. I love my little firecracker (I used to call her Sparkler, didn’t I?), but she is much less easygoing than Peter was at 15 months. I don’t remember Peter complaining much (if any) when I shut myself in the office to study for pharmacy exams, but if Alina knows that I’m home, she makes sure that I’m kept busy nursing her, carrying her, reading books to her, playing outside with her, eating food from her hand, or enabling whatever program she currently has in mind. I’ll admit that I did receive adequate warning: the lactation consultant at the hospital the day after Alina was born told me that she thought Alina would be the type of baby who had to have things “just a certain way.” At this point, I can say that that’s not entirely true; Alina does accept variations from her normal routine without fuss. The lactation consultant could have alternatively said that she thought Alina would be a type A, stubborn little girl who will stomp her feet and cry when she doesn’t immediately get her way, and that’s a very fair description. I also noted soon after  Alina was born that she has a double crown (two hair whorls), and old wives say that double-crowned individuals develop stubborn, hot tempered personalities. I’m not superstitious, but Miss Alina is definitely more fiery than Big Brother Peter.

Now that Alina has grown into a fully fledged toddler (who thinks she’s a preteen), her stubborn side shines in new ways as she pushes her brother off my lap, slaps me in the face for fun, insists that she be allowed to make watercolor paintings out of the ice water provided by a restaurant server, and refuses to take medicine unless she is allowed to draw it up into the syringe herself and self-administer the dose. She systematically removes food that she doesn’t want to eat from her plate and – if possible – feeds it to someone else. She enjoyed riding in the stroller for a couple months, but now she only wants to be held facing forward so that she can be the one pushing the stroller. Always one to keep up with the big folks, Alina never crawled down steps; she went straight from standing at the top of a staircase, unsure how to descend, to walking down steps like a grown up. (Thankfully, she is prudent enough to realize that she must slide off beds and couches on her belly to get down safely.)

The ninth leap has not been all temper tantrums, though. Alina is adorable when she tries to help me clean the floor or screw our new decking into place. She mows the lawn with our toy lawn mower and cooks with our toy dishes. Despite her stubborn streak, she is actually better at following directions than Peter was as a toddler. If I can’t read a book to her immediately, she usually complies with my suggestion to ask Son to read instead. And just as Peter’s love for symbols and trains emerged during toddlerhood, Alina is developing a zeal for animals. Although it’s annoying to watch her throw a temper tantrum when a strange dog does not stop to be greeted/examined/pet by Alina, it is nice to know that I can at least try to put her in a good mood by reading an animal book to her or pointing out a squirrel on a tree.

Things would be significantly easier for us if Alina had a greater vocabulary with which to explain her demands. As with Peter at this age, though, it appears that Alina is reaching her language explosion, so there is hope for the months ahead. She loves to wave hello or good bye to people. We also wave good bye to my toilet water when she follows me into the bathroom as toddlers are wont to do. Discuss animal sounds with varying degrees of accuracy, and though we are not generally interested in symbols the way Peter was, we have a special place in our heart for the letter “f” and coconuts in the book, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. Peter’s expressive language was easier to follow at this age because he used words with more precise context than Alina. Alina will call any round thing (and sometime any solid object) a “ball” just because she thinks it will make me happy. She jabbers and jargons constantly but primarily makes herself understood through gestures and directions. If she wants her diaper changed, she’ll take me over to get a diaper. If she wants me, she gets an article of my clothing and shows it to Son. She used to lift my shirt to indicate that she wants to nurse, but now she has become more polite and instead makes a lifting gesture with her palm opened upwards.

Like Peter, Alina has a great sense of humor. She rocks rocking horses with unadulterated joy. She arches her back while I’m holding her so that she can hang upside down. She screams for fun (but also to express her obstinance). She loves silly antics and she loves her friends at day care.

My little boy turned six today. They had a small celebration at the day care, and he received a Transformers toy that he currently adores. We had salmon, avocado, chips, watermelon, and globe cake at home. The cake was practice for Peter’s birthday party on the 23rd. It will be his first “real” party; he invited his whole kindergarten class (plus Gram). Our theme is The Amazing Race, and I made a globe cake as practice for the party. I an activity planned for each of the seven continents. Even if not every child is not interested in every activity, I hope that I’ve created enough variety to keep all the kids excited without creating chaos. I assume I’ll need the assistance of Son and my mom to keep the activities organized since Alina will presumably be clinging to me the entire time. Or perhaps I’ll be lucky and she will nap through it all??

six years old

Peter is as sweet as ever with hugs and compliments and affirmations that he loves me and his classmates and the staff at the amusement park. He still struggles with following directions, but he has made amazing progress in fine motor skills over the past year. I had always considered his fine motor skills to be mediocre for his age, but I sometimes am no longer convinced that that is true. In reality, I think that it is the strong visualization in his head of what he wants to create that makes his drawings so compelling these days.

I’m struggling a bit again to keep Peter engaged with reading. I feel that he is capable of spending much more time consuming non-fiction and beginner chapter books and even picture books, but he is usually not particularly interested when it is a coice between reading and watching a Youtube video. I suppose this is probably not terrible; I certainly watched my share of PBS and Disney animation when I was his age. But when Peter tells me that he is bored and I tell him to pick up a book, he would agree with me that this is a good solution to his problem. Perhaps I need to take up our “hobby” of completing GeoBee Challenge quizzes again. When I suggested to Peter that he needs a hobby, his idea of a hobby was to study the globe.

I’ll modify my work schedule starting in September so that I can get Peter off the bus and finish my work at home. This will allow him to start an extracurricular activity as he chooses. At this point, I think he’s planning on being a Boy Scout. But even if he just wants to have after-school play dates with someone other than his day care friends, I think we can consider this a healthy step forward in Peter’s life.

My cousin recently brought this article to my attention via social media: http://www.wsj.com/articles/a-manifesto-against-parenting-1467991745

It’s a welcome reminder to not worry so much about turning your child into a reader or a diplomat or a geography bee winner and instead, simply love him, provide a safe environment in which to grow, and allow him to take risks and go on adventures that will help him find his place in the world.

We have had a few adventures so far this summer. We visited the Berkshires for the first time over Memorial Day weekend, and crazy mother that I am, I made everyone go hiking for a couple hours at the top of Mount Greylock. (In my defense, it would not have taken so long if Peter had not been dragging his feet most of the way.) We also visited the Clark Art Institute and walked over a natural white marble bridge. We made our annual pilgrimage to Hartford’s Elizabeth Park rose garden on Father’s Day. We made our first ever trip to Edaville USA and were thoroughly impressed by Dino Land and the new Thomas Land. And Peter, my social butterfly, has participated in 3 birthdays so far with a fourth coming up this Saturday. We all enjoyed last weekend’s birthday party at the Discovery Museums; Alina was not a mobile baby the last time I took her, but now she can join in all the fun. I’m sorry to realize that we’re already halfway through summer… hopefully, we’ll cram in many more fun activities for the three weeks my mom will be visiting (starting next week)!

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Happy Birthday, Alina!

This post is coming two months late, but better late than never. Alina has come a long way since last year, and I do think that toddlerhood is one of the best phases of life. The fact remains, however, that when I’m not at work, Alina prefers to be attached to my hip (or breast), and this is not very conducive to composing blog posts. You may ask why I do not just set aside an hour or two while Alina is sleeping to do some typing. Unfortunately, her weekend naps often do not coincide with time that I am at home, and my daughter generally prefers to be attached to the aforementioned breast from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m., so typing doesn’t happen at night time except when I’m able to sneak away without her noticing (as I was able to do a few minutes ago). The good thing, though, is that Alina’s nighttime demands ensure that I get plenty of rest (even if it is sometimes broken by nighttime snacks), I get to continue nursing (without the obligation of pumping), and I get to continue my resistance weight training (as Alina gradually gets heavier and heavier).

Our house was stricken by a series of illnesses from Alina’s birthday through April, but now that flowers are blooming and the warm weather is upon us, we are mostly all recovered (with the exception of a persistent cough which has been irritating Son for at least a month). Diarrhea, vomitting, fever, rash, cough, strep throat, congestion, ear infection – one sign or symptom after the next. Alina and Peter took it all in stride, but Son was definitely unhappy to be dealing with unforgiving work deadlines, sick children, and personal aches and pains all in the same week. As for me, I.just accepted the string of illnesses as the cold/flu/RSV season purgatory that all families go through when a child starts day care for the first time.

Happily, Alina was well for her birthday, and she celebrated as all Pi Day babies should: with Funfetti cream pie. Unfortunately, I had to learn the hard way that almond milk will not make instant pudding set, so the pie was a bit more soup-like than intended, but Alina enjoyed herself nonetheless, and I will never make that mistake again.

We also celebrated by visiting Mystic Aquarium. Alina loved the jelly fish, I loved the beluga whales, Peter loved the topography map sand box, and we all loved petting the rays. Alina’s favorite, though, part was being able to walk around by herself. The temperature was around 60 degrees, making it her first real opportunity to walk outside. The warm weather didn’t last though, and we had enough snow to delay school at the end of March.

Between the town egg hunt, Easter activities at a local religious education center, meeting the Easter bunny at Kathie’s house, having friends (with kids) over for an afternoon, tracking down Easter eggs in our house, and indulging in gift baskets from Gram, Peter and Alina had plenty of Easter fun spread out over a span of a couple weeks.

At the end of April, we got to meet up with my mom and dad and my uncle Frank and Aunt Heidi in Boston. I took off one day with Alina to sightsee at the Boston Historical Society and MFA. Then I got to brush up on my pharmacy knowledge at the MPhA spring conference. Then we all went in to Boston on Saturday for sightseeing on the Freedom Trail and at the Boston Public Garden.

I am trying to revel in my daughter’s toddlerhood. She’s a controlling little creature who routinely demands to get her way. She can be dangerous with her 15 sharp milk teeth and flailing arms. But she also has a great sense of humor, an innate love for books, an intuitive urge to bop and sway and do arabesques when she hears music, and the graciousness to smile and wave when she sees a friend or family member. She loves the “No David” books by David Shannon, the classic, “Pat the Bunny,” and books with photos of animals. Her vocabulary is limited to “uh-oh”, “mama”, “dada”, “do(g)”, and a few gestures and almost-words, but she speaks with enough expression to make you doubt whether she is babbling or if you are not trying hard enough to understand her language. She loves pictures of herself and her family, and watching Peter’s bus stop in front of our house in the morning. She is always excited to watch a neighbor’s dog go for a walk, but it’s even more fun to go on a walk yourself and find a dog sitting outside in a neighbor’s yard.  She enjoys cheese, chicken nuggets, carbs, and select fruits (e.g., mangoes), but Mom’s breast is still important both for its nutritional value and for its use as a pacifier when Alina can’t get her way.

So in summary, Alina’s language skills are similar to Peter’s at this age, but she is a lot more controlling than he was. Perhaps, as Kathie suggested, the difference is due to the fact that Alina feels that she has to compete with Peter for my attention; Peter never had to do that as a toddler. But in Peter’s defense, he’s a very nice and non-demanding big brother, always willing to share with his sister or shut himself in his room. Alina, on the other hand, is quick to pull Peter’s hair and forcibly extricate him if he tries to sit in my lap. Gotta love that girl. As Son says, “You’re beautiful, but you need to be nice!” All in due time, I suppose. The golden rule is a bit above the cognitive, emotional, and social maturity level of a 1-year-old.

Domestic housework, on the other hand, are not above (or beneath) Alina. She likes to help me wipe the floor and takes great interest in mixing various forms of batter. Son and I still have high hopes that our Pi Day baby will one day be a great baker. She attempts to use spoons and forks, usually managing to scoop a bit of food with her utensil and then use her free hand to transfer the food from the utensil to her mouth. She is starting to figure out her shape sorter, can scribble reasonably well, stacks up to 4 or 5 blocks, and turns pages of books like no one’s business. The art of stepping down is still a mystery to Alina, but she did figure out how to safely get off beds by sliding on her belly feet-first.

I would share Alina’s weight, length, and head circumference stats from her 1-year physical as I traditionally did for Peter, but honestly, Alina is just a normal-size toddler – nothing remarkable. As a normal-size woman, I view this as a good thing.

Peter still seems small compared to his kindergarten peers, but he has grown a lot socially, emotionally, and in the areas of fine motor skills, behavior, and self-help skills this year. At his school conference last week, his teacher remarked that of her students, he is probably the student who has made the most progress this year.  He “has a lot going on up here,” she said, tapping her temple. He will certainly never have any issue memorizing facts, but his teacher encouraged us to work on thinking abstractly because Peter tends to try to change the subject when asked questions that don’t have a black-and-white, straight-from-the-text answer. I suspect that Peter is not yet comfortable with the possibility of giving a “wrong” answer to such open-ended questions. He is, after all, a fact-loving 5-year-old who believes that he has the capacity to master all of human knowledge (despite the messages conveyed in Dr. Seuss’ “On Beyond Zebra”, one of his favorite books).

My work is going well; I am not as crazy busy as I was last fall. May 11th marked one year since the return of my maternity leave. My manager has told me more or less indirectly that he has me in mind for promotion in November, should I be willing to step up to the challenge. I was just assigned to a study comparing traditional (animal-derived) pulmonary surfactant to a new synthetic surfactant for the treatment of respiratory distress syndrome in extremely premature infants. In some very round about way, I guess this marks the fulfillment of a personal goal: to use science to help my favorite patient population. I’m still undecided regarding whether laboratory logistics services is the right department for me long-term, but I do enjoy working on a variety of clinical trials and managing data.

Son saw his first compound produced in a kilogram laboratory this week, and he seemed to agree that it was a significant professional milestone for him. Despite the demanding culture of his workplace, he is a chemist who enjoys chemistry, and I think he will stick with his current employer for at least 3 years.

Overall, I have a lot to be thankful for these days: a cozy home, an interesting, flexible job, a sweet husband, two healthy kiddos, and much to look forward to in the years ahead. I am excited to see what interests and skills Alina will develop in the coming months and interested to see how Peter will put his mind to use in the coming years. As for me and Son, I’ve been reminded that the world is our oyster (still!). As we grow each day; I simply pray that we will become closer to each other, to God, to peace, and to fulfillment.

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Valentine’s Day 2016

This is not a food blog, but I developed a beetroot cupcake recipe today that I like enough to not want to forget, so I’ll share it here:

Valentine (Beetroot Chocolate Chip) Cupcakes

  • 2 large beets, boiled
  • 1/2 c applesauce
  • 1 box vanilla cake mix
  • 1/4 c cocoa
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 bag white chocolate chips
  • sprinkles
  1. Puree beets and applesauce in a blender or food processor.
  2. Mix puree, cake mix, cocoa, and eggs in a large bowl. Then mix in chocolate chips.
  3. Pour into 18 or so cupcake papers. Sprinkle some jimmies on top, and bake for 16 minutes at 350 degrees.

The sprinkles and chocolate chips make Peter happy, the amazing red violet color makes me happy, and the lack of frosting makes Son happy. I’m not going to market this as a healthy recipe, but it does allow me to sort of feel like a good mother because my son ate some vegetables with his lunch.

We have been busy as usual. Alina cut her 8th tooth on January 11th. We had a few glorious weeks where everyone was healthy (with the exception of a persistent cough and feigned illnesses by Peter), but the day care sniffles caught up with us last week, and Alina’s nose has been pretty gross. Overall, Alina has had fewer illnesses than I expected for her first winter in day care. It’s just a pity that Peter convinced his father and then the school nurse that he was sick when he was actually fine, resulting in the need for me to work from home twice in January.

Son and I managed to go on a second child-free date since Alina’s arrival: his company holiday party. The food was mediocre but the company was good and it was nice to just be a couple for a few hours. Alina, however, cried bloody murder when I left her with our sitter. Supposedly, she screamed for a few minutes then put her head on a pillow and napped for an hour. She was okay when she awoke.

Alina has been mastering some new tricks: she drinks from a sippy cup and a straw, blows bubbles in the bath water, and pretends to read books by pointing at pictures, babbling, and turning pages. She also finally started taking steps this past week; I counted 9 consecutive steps on Wednesday the 10th! I’m happy that Alina is now willing to take baths with her brother (instead of me) in the tub with her. I also am guilty of letting her watch baby videos so that I can get stuff done around the house. Finally, I’m glad that Alina leaves elastics in her hair; she looks much better with the hair out of her face.

Peter has been practicing his geography skills with me in the daily online GeoBee Challenge quiz. He took it upon himself to memorize national flags in January and now seems to know 80-90% of the world’s national and territorial flags. I bought him a 600-piece world map puzzle to further indulge his geography obsession. He needed parental help with the edge and oceans, but the parents were appreciative of Peter’s help with the countries.

Peter started taking art classes on Saturdays. The art teacher admires his “abstract” skills as he identifies country shapes in his artwork. His heart painting for Valentine’s Day included Mongolia and Montenegro… because what isn’t sweet about Mongolia and Montenegro? For his 100th day of school, Peter was assigned to arrange 100 items/objects in a creative way. Predictably, he wanted to make 100 countries out of construction paper. I vetoed that idea, and we instead agreed to make 6 national flags whose white stars total 100: United States, Brazil, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Singapore, and Samoa.

Son hadn’t been doing much book binding, but a recent trip to the fabric store inspired us to make more baby books. Son obviously enjoys this hobby, so I like to see him working on it. I would have liked to make Tet more special for him, but several snow storms made travel before and on Tet a bit challenging. We did, however, have a family that we know through Peter’s class over for playdate and dinner the weekend before Tet. I made fresh spring rolls, Son made fried rice, and we shared banh chung, banh dau xanh, mut tet, and dragon fruit. The kids had fun… I had fun… Son would have had more fun if the mother, Sue, had been better able to understand his English. Oh, well. We had Cuong over yesterday, and he and Son were able to have plenty of conversation in Vietnamese.

Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!

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