Year In Review

2017: Year in Review

As the year comes to an end, I tend to reflect on how the year went and to consider my aspirations for the coming year. Especially since having Sylvie, I’ve wanted to be better about recording my memories. Having started this blog recently, I figured it would be the perfect place for a “year in review” post.

Balancing parenting and career

Sylvie was born in March of 2016, and I spent the first few months at home with her, fumbling around in a sleep-deprived state and figuring out all of the things you’re supposed to do for a newborn. After five months, I realized that I really needed to get my head back into my other work.

We set Sylvie up with a nanny in the mornings so that I could have some structured time to work. It was absolutely the right decision for us, and I was happy and relieved to get back to more adult-focused activities. However, my productivity was subject to the vagaries of Sylvie’s sleep schedule.

In 2017, Sylvie started to sleep through the night more consistently, and I started to feel my career ambition return. We extended our nanny’s hours slightly, and I started taking on more work, including some new site build projects. 

It’s a continuous struggle for me to balance parenting with web development work, but I’m grateful for the flexibility that my job allows so that I can spend time with Sylvie every day while also keeping up with web work. And I’m totally guilty of mixing the two, as I often listen to work-related podcasts and audiobooks while spending time with Sylvie in the afternoons.

A momentous meetup

In August, Red Earth Design, Inc., the company that I work for, held its first in-person retreat. It was a landmark occasion for us since most of us had never met in person before. You can read my post about the retreat here. It was also the first time that I was away from Sylvie for longer than a few hours. I missed her, of course, but it was refreshing for me to step away from my parenting role for a few days.

The RED team enjoys a productive work session during our retreat.

My first GitHub project

As a web developer, it’s important to stay on top of the latest technologies and to continually learn and grow. One of my goals was to improve my JavaScript skills and learn React, a popular JavaScript framework.

I decided that I would put these skills into practice by building a WordPress plugin that calculates meeting times for users in various timezones. (I work with a team from across the entire world, so this was something that would be useful to us.) The problem was that I was having trouble finding time for my side projects.

Listening to a podcast around that time, I heard an interesting piece of advice:

“If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.”

As a perfectionist who often starts projects with way too much ambition, I took the advice to heart. The idea isn’t to try to do something badly, but rather to set aside unreasonable expectations and focus on just getting it done. I set a deadline for myself by which I wanted to complete a minimum viable product. The deadline helped me focus on what was most essential to get the plugin working, and the result was a functioning plugin and my first real GitHub project.

The user interface of my meeting time calculator tool. All of the headshots are stock photography models except for one. 😉

An exercise in empathy

One of my interests in web development is building accessible websites. Among the groups of people who should be considered when building accessible sites are screen reader users. A screen reader is software, typically used by visually impaired individuals, that reads aloud the content on the screen. 

One of the problems that web developers face when trying to build accessible sites is that many have never used a screen reader, and there’s a bit of a learning curve to become comfortable using them. With that in mind, I thought it would be a fun and useful project to force myself to use a screen reader for a week.

Since learning to use a screen reader requires a focused effort, I scheduled the project for the week that we were visiting Bill’s parents at Lake Michigan in September. I can’t say that I was totally successful in using a screen reader exclusively for the entire week, but I did make an honest effort to learn to use VoiceOver, the screen reader that is built into Macs.

Importantly, I reached a level of comfort using a screen reader that I feel capable of performing a cursory test of a site to see whether it’s generally accessible to screen reader users. I’m hoping to improve my screen reader skills in the coming year and possibly even build an accessible WordPress theme.

Getting involved and giving back

This year, I pushed myself to become involved with my local web development and WordPress communities. This had been a goal of mine for some time, but I found it difficult to fit meetups into my already busy schedule. 

I found a meetup group in Oakland that meets once a month on Sundays and started attending in August. I was particularly excited to attend their WordPress contributor day, which is an event geared towards helping people get started contributing to the WordPress project. You can read more about my experience at the contributor day here.

Our “WordPress Contributor Day” selfie

A related goal I had was to give a presentation at a meetup. It turns out that the East Bay WordPress meetup group holds a “Show Off Your WordPress Site” session at the end of each year, where participants are encouraged to share a project they worked on that year.

I was initially reluctant to volunteer since I was new to the group. However, with some encouragement from Bill, I decided to take the plunge. I presented my timezone calculator plugin (described above). My presentation was a little rough, but I’m glad I did it, and I’m eager to find new opportunities to speak in the coming year.

Simplifying

An unexpected development of 2017 was my effort to simplify. As mentioned above, I’m an avid podcast and audiobook listener, and I came across a book called “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. The basic idea behind Kondo’s organizational strategy is that you should go through all of your possessions by category and keep only those items that “spark joy.” 

While I was initially a little turned off by her intensity and all-or-nothing approach, I found myself inspired to purge my closets of things that I realistically was never going to use again. Bill willingly participated as well, which was a pleasant surprise.

I’m not sure that tidying has changed my life. (Granted, I didn’t follow her prescribed methods that closely.) But I do feel slightly lighter and happier. There’s something about holding onto things out of a feeling of guilt or obligation that kind of drags me down.

P.S. It is an unavoidable fact that nature abhors a vacuum, and Sylvie’s stuff rapidly filled the void that was left by Bill’s and my purging.

Keeping a new years resolution that wasn’t my own

Bill decided this year to reduce his consumption of refined sugar. Part of that was that we stopped buying ice cream. I was surprised at how easy it was to cut back on my consumption of sweets by simply not having them in the house.

This seems to relate to the theory that willpower is a limited resource, and the best way to conserve that resource is to avoid temptation when possible. I was by no means strict about avoiding sweets, but the simple change of not keeping ice cream and sweets in the house seemed to have a positive effect on my diet.

Visiting grandparents

Sylvie is the only grandchild on both sides, so Sylvie visits were a hot commodity among her grandparents. In August, Sylvie and I flew to Oregon to visit my parents and to participate in the yearly ritual of consuming copious amounts of blueberries. In the photos below, Sylvie demonstrates her 3-step blueberry eating technique. She found it easier to pick blueberries out of the bucket than to find them on the bushes.

In September, our whole family (minus Calico) flew to Chicago to see Sylvie’s other grandparents and to spend some time with them at Lake Michigan. She had a great time walking along the beach and playing in the sand.

An unexpected road trip

One of my fondest memories from 2017 was an impromptu trip up to Oregon in October. With fires raging to the north of us, the smoke became very noticeable in our neighborhood. We spent a miserable evening trying to entertain Sylvie and Calico while minimizing our exposure to the smoke. The next morning, we packed the whole family in the car and headed to my parents’ house in Oregon. 

Bill and I felt a little silly taking such a drastic measure, but we were also relieved to get out of the unhealthy air. Sylvie and Calico did much better than we expected on such a long car ride. We spent a few days in Oregon with my parents, and it was a really fun time – despite both Bill and Sylvie catching a cold. We took Sylvie to a pumpkin patch and a carousel, and my mom and I took her shopping at the factory outlets in Woodburn. It was her first shopping experience, and I think she enjoyed it a little too much. 🙂

It was also the first time that our whole family – including Calico – took a big trip together. We were encouraged by how well it went, and we felt emboldened by the success of this trip to plan some family road trips in the coming year.

A family photo in my parents’ backyard

Looking ahead to 2018

So what’s in store for 2018? Sylvie will turn two in March, and I’m looking forward to the new experiences she’ll have as she becomes more aware of the world around her. As I mentioned above, our family is eager to start taking some road trips. Who knows? Maybe she’ll see snow for the first time in 2018.

As Sylvie continues to gain independence and move into a more consistent sleep schedule, I’m feeling ready to lean into my career more this year. I’m currently working on a “plugin notes” plugin, which will be my first submission to the WordPress plugin repo. Additionally, there are a number of other projects in the queue that I hope will see the light of day in 2018. I’m also excited to see how Red Earth Design, Inc. evolves and grows in the coming year.

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