Sleep who needs it?

Normally I would be out running with my girlfriends this morning for our usual 10 km run but due to Hurricane Sandy we had to abort our plans last night due to high winds. In our area the wind was howling last night and causing the house to creak and moan as if it was a living, breathing organism fighting against the wind outside.  The forecast indicated that winds were expected to reach up to 90 km/hour but I couldn’t find anything this morning to say what it got up to. Either way, there was no wind damage this morning and we still had power so all good.  The newscasters say that whatever we are going through up here in southern Ontario is pale in comparison to what the US East coasters are going through. I do have an employee who works remotely in New Jersey and right now he has no power but at least he still has communications through his cell phone and is fine otherwise.

So in addition to listening to the howl of the wind and the moans of the house, it was my turn since I knew I wasn’t running to be on-call for Reilly in the night. Up until a few weeks ago she was in a good sleeping routine whereby she slept almost always throughout the night, unlike her sister London who would have one of us, usually me up once for a quick pee.   Unfortunately when Reilly gets up it rarely is brief. We have gone through many cycles of sleeplessness with her and this recent cycle is far by the best if I can say that.  This cycle can involve a handful of times where she wakes up and sometimes one of the wake-ups involves being up for her 30-60 minutes+ depending on the situation. Due to her condition it is not possible to have her cry it out like a normal child nor is it possible to rationalize with her given her cognitive skills. So as soon as we hear her stir, cry, or call out in her own way we immediately jump out of bed into hers and cuddle her as tightly as possible, hoping/praying that her neurological system will quickly respond and fall back to sleep. In this sleep disturbance cycle most times this works within minutes. If we don’t respond right away due to being in a sleeping stupor we increase the odds of her becoming wide awake and it taking a lot of patience to get her back down (sometimes even when we respond right away we end up in this mode anyway). Last night she awoke before midnight which is unusual so I crawled into bed with her and within minutes she was back to sleep. I decided I was just going to stay with her for the night for it was comfortable and I hoped that my presence near her would allow us both to sleep through the night from then on. Nope. Just after 1.00 am she woke again and this time she was up for a total duration of an hour. I don’t know what woke her up whether it was just this crazy on/off switch in her head or whether it was a seizure for she had two minor seizures about 15 minutes after we were both awake.   Our saving grace is that when Reilly is awake she does make noises but they are rarely screams of agony or fits of being possessed (been there, done that), instead they are squawks or non-verbal chatter that is irritating to the ear only because you would like to sleep but given what we have experienced in the past very tolerable.   Unfortunately though as innocent as they were they woke up my husband and he knew that we needed to resort to drugs based on the quality of chatter coming from her so we resorted to a small dose of Chlorahydrate with apple sauce. She gobbled it up and within 15 minutes (for a total of about an hour of being up), she was fast asleep.

We haven’t had to use this drug in months but my husband and I are so in tune to when we have passed the point of no return, knowing that if we don’t she could be up for the rest of the night or until 4 or 5 am which doesn’t work for anyone. So we respectively use this drug under the full approval of Reilly’s neurologist. And it has no apparent side effects for her when we have to get her up in the morning!!!!  Unfortunately it doesn’t do anything for the puffiness in my face or dark circles under my eyes but it does give me a fighting chance to get through the day along with a cup of coffee or two.  One of my girlfriend’s sent me an article recently saying that lack of sleep makes you sick and also keeps the pounds on, for she is going through a tough spell with her three young children.  I think I could have written that article, lol.

I sent my mom an SOS a couple of weeks ago asking her to help out this week for I knew this sleep business was taking its toll on us and she gladly obliged.  She has volunteered to be on night duty the next two nights which will be awesome but we will still have to be on alert if Reilly get into this ‘awake mode’ but any help on this front will be great.  My mom made an interesting comment this morning. She understands the challenges involved with our life and is quite supportive and wonders how we can continue at this rate. I told her that this sleep cycle will probably pass and hopefully sooner rather than later but what choice do we have? I know her comment was somewhat rhetorical but seriously what alternatives do we have? If we were to secure a night nurse I would not want them cuddling with Reilly for that is what works 90% of the time (the pressure is what works and also she knows that her parent is with her like any other kid). Can you imagine if your normal child is sick and you take them to a stranger for them to look after them. We have tried the nanny route and that didn’t go over well. So that leaves us with only one option that we can see right now. That is to share this night time responsibility with my husband, try to keep our sense of humor, dial back on certain activities and keep the hope alive that this phase will pass soon.


Black Swan Projects

I am going through a work notebook to make sure I have addressed past outstanding action items and came across some notes I wrote down about managing IT projects. Unfortunately I didn’t write down the author or title of the article but I do remember it was from the monthly Harvard Business Review magazines. In looking up a few  key words I did come across the article here.   It had some interesting stats and also introduces a new concept for me about Black Swan projects (something I am all too familiar with in practice).

In the projects the author and assumingly his team reviewed, the average overrun was 27%. This is not a surprising statistic based on what I see in my own company. Moreover, one is size projects become black swans where they experience a 200% overrun and delayed schedule of almost 70%.  I believe the term black swan refers to how IT projects can seriously hurt the viability of a company.  My notes indicate that the more successful projects adhered to the following:

1) Stuck to the schedule

2) Resisted changes to project scope

3) Broke the project into discrete modules

4) Assembled the right team

5) Prevented turnover

6) Framed the initiative as a business endeavor not a technical one

7) Focus on a single target – readiness to go live – measuring activity against it

They also introduce a Black Swan test:

1) Is the company strong enough to absorb the hit if its biggest technology project goes over budget by 400% and if only 25-50% of the projected benefits are realized?

2) Can the company take the hit if 15% of its medium sized technology projects exceed cost estimates by 200%

The biggest message I take from the article in question is to take break big projects down into ones of limited  size, complexity and duration, recognize and make contingency plans to deal with unavoidable risks. Also to be willing to terminate unsuccessful projects. This last one is so key and not many people are willing to do this.


4T Race Report

On Saturday afternoon my girlfriend phoned me to ask whether I would be interested in running in her place at a local race the next morning. She was scheduled to run the 10 mile event but unfortunately she came down with a terrible cold. I told her I would think about it and let her know shortly. I was not interested in running for it was cold, windy and rainy and this forecast was supposed to continue into Sunday (plus the rest of the week) but I did plan on getting in a 10-12k run in at some point anyways. If I did do it, it certainly would not be at race pace and instead I would treat it simply as a practice run. My husband was completely on board with me running it but it meant that I would miss London playing hockey which I really wanted to be a part of.  So I hummed and hawed and finally decided I was going to do it but internally I wasn’t happy with the decision. The next morning I was still at little unsettled when it dawned on me that they also offered a 5k event. I could switch to this event easily, get a run in although it wasn’t the desired distance and make it to London’s hockey. My husband thought I was settling a little bit on my training as I wasn’t getting my desired distance in but in the end it was the right decision and I had a great morning all around. I probably even got a better quality workout in just the 5k then I would have at the slower distance I would have gone for the 16k.

Quite a few of my friends were doing the 10 miler event and much to my delight I experienced no twinge of envy that they are doing this distance versus the 5k. It seems that once you do a marathon that the smaller distances are not weighted the same but that line of thought is for another conversation.  We all started from the same starting point and then less than 1k in we diverged along our respective routes.  This past training season I didn’t do any speed work due to a few different reasons and thought it was an accomplishment just to get out the door, so I didn’t know what to expect for this 5k. Normally it takes 5k just to warm up on many of my training runs. I was thinking that maybe 27 minutes would be a reasonable goal.  My PB is 23:44 (March 13, 2011).  I decided I would look at my Garmin at the 1k markers and then assess where I am at.  My first 2km were around 5:10/km so I thought okay I can live with just under 26 but by the 3k mark I set the goal of coming in right at 25 minutes. For most of the race I was trailing this young boy, who looked as young as 9 years old but could have been older.  Just before the 4k marker he started to lose his wind and as I caught up to him I told him that he is doing great and that I know he can beat me. With that friendly competitive remark he found some additional energy and stayed with me. When we saw the finish line 1/2 km away I told him it is his and off he went surging to the finish line probably with a smile on his face that at least he ‘beat me’ :-).  Eventually I crossed and my Garmin read 24:59. I was thrilled with this time given that I did no training.  The official results indicated though I did even better at 24:50.  I guess I will take the chip time!

Given that I wanted to watch London play hockey I immediately walked back to my car went home with time to spare to take a shower, get into some warm clothes and head out with the family for a fun time in watching 5-6 year olds playing hockey.

I have been grappling for awhile about the notion of doing another marathon. So far I have done 4 and although it is such an incredible and intense experience (training and race itself) I am at the point where I recognize that I don’t need to do another marathon at this point.  My life already is a marathon and I need to think about working smarter even in the fitness world.

Memory Lane

I was cleaning out a drawer and came across a note book that was used to communicate with Reilly’s preschool back  when she was 2.5 years of age. This school was a 5 minute walk from our house at the time . I remember this time period very vaguely for there were a lot of dark days and London was only a few months old.

Date: September 11, 2007

(first entry in the book – addressed to Reilly’s preschool staff)

Although we do not have a confirmed diagnosis yet for Reilly, we are confident she suffers from a serious genetic neurological condition (at this time my research pointed me to Rett Syndrome but was waiting for the doctors to catch up). As a result, Reilly experiences many developmental issues that include her ability to communicate, perception of time and space, sensory issues and cognitive impairment. It would not be feasible to describe all of Reilly’s issues but over the next few weeks I hope to provide you with tidbits as they can help with her integration into the preschool environment. Likewise,  if you can assist me in my efforts by quickly documenting a couple of things at the end of each morning (Today – as this time period was such a fog, I can’t even remember when Reilly went to this preschool – every morning or just a couple of times a week, don’t know).

Important:  Reilly was taken off her epilepsy medication Friday, September 7th due to a serious skin reaction. Prior to this she has only experienced absence seizures. If she appears to be experiencing a seizure pleas let me know. Seizures comes in many different forms so let me know if any “weird or unusual” behaviour (distant gazes, blank look for seconds, eye rolling, etc.) .

Wed Tips:

(1) During morning snack – seat Reilly last and once the food is ready. Or else Reilly will clearly show impatience. Being patient is not something that can be taught with children with this type of neurological disorder (Today – It is funny but I was at the beginning of this journey at this time and in reflecting back to these writings most of my initial learnings/thoughts still hold).

(2) When changing Reilly give her a toy/book to help distract her , anything Winnie the Pooh related will catch her attention. (Today – Five years later and she still LOVES Winnie the Pooh).

(3) If Reilly ever becomes distraught to the point of inconsolable give her anything Winnie the Pooh related. I believe Melinda has a toy in her office that might do the trick (Today- works to this day like a charm).

It is absolutely incredible to go back to this time through these notes. Although this was a dark, dark period for us we were still presented with hope in different forms to keep us going. One of them being this particular preschool. They opened their arms wide in taking Reilly into their program without any extra funding despite the one-on-one care required and gave us much needed respite a couple of hours a morning so I could attend to London. A little blessing.  Even though I gave them every indication that we were grateful back then it would be nice to send them a card again expressing such gratitude during this time. As I type this I will mentally add them to my Christmas card list for this purpose.

A shift is happening…

A London Creation

So today I am sporting a London Creation on my wrist. My husband has also been given one and he wore it proudly to work earlier this week. I didn’t ask him how soon upon arriving at work did he take it off and add it to his collection of artifacts from the girls, mainly London Creations.  This particular London Creation is made of pink pipe cleaner and a collection of assorted, colourful beads and a lot of love. It certainly makes me smile every time I look down at it.

Things are shifting and I love it, very exciting.

Commuting Times

This morning I left for  work at 7.15 am and didn’t arrive until 8.05 am – 55 minutes.  If you don’t live in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) you might think that the distance I am covering is pretty significant but it isn’t – 27.29 km to be exact, door to door. Plus, I only live 2 minutes from the major highway and my office is literally 2 minutes from this major highway, so it is should be pretty much a straight line from door to door and smooth sailing but it isn’t.  I have altered my drive times 1/2 hour + in either direction of this time and with no benefits, at least with this departure time I can see one child out the door onto her bus.   Since we have moved up to our suburban community north of  Toronto over seven years ago, the traffic congestion seems to have doubled.  Usually in the summer months (July/August) when the kids are off school, there is a considerable difference in traffic on the roads but this past summer I barely noticed an improvement in my commute time.  The crazy thing is my commute distance is shorter than most of my working friends which doesn’t say much and they have to endure a lot more.   A few friends also work right down town and are able to take the GO train and although taking the train has its benefits, it still eats up over hour of one’s time each way and that is under the assumption one’s office is literally near Union Station which is not always the case.

My husband (and I) have been very fortunate for the past seven years for he has been working under a telecommute arrangement where he goes in as needed, which works out to be an average of 2 times a week. Naturally this has given us great flexibility on the home front but this doesn’t mean he only puts in the standard 8 hours.  Given this flexibility though he finds it easier to give extra hours to the company as needed and it more often than not has become a win-win situation all around. Last week though, his company laid off almost 1/3 of the sales group and my husband’s boss was part of the cuts.  As a result, my husband and his colleague who are part of a team of 3 (or was) will be assimilated into the Finance department which expects all employees to work in the office and be present from 9 to 4 at a minimum (core coverage).  So no telecommute arrangements, no flexibility and also they expect you to work 24/7 as needed. Needless to say this isn’t going to go over well for many reasons, especially when the commute for him is now 1.5 to 2 hours on a good day.  The distance is only 40km and again his employer is just off this major highway, straight line into the city.  In my mind this constitutes constructive dismissal where his employer is unilaterally changing the terms of employment that has been implicitly agreed upon over the past 7 years.  Needless to say my husband will be working for alternate employment if they prove not to be flexible for the idea of spending upwards of 4 hours a day in a car to go 40km does not bode well on the sanity or family front.

A 2010 study was completed by Stats Canada which was published recently and according to the results, Canadian commuters took an average of 26 minutes to travel to work on a typical day in 2010, which includes all modes of transportation. I think most people in my network would give their left arm for that commute time.  In the Toronto area, more than one quarter of commuters have travel times of 45 minutes or more, and it is my understanding that Torontonians have the longest commute times across Canada. Moreover, I wouldn’t doubt that these stats only reflect Toronto participants and don’t include suburban commute times from outside the GTA where a considerable amount of the working professional population is coming from which would put the average commute time considerably higher.   But yet nothing is being done to address the issue!  Many employers are paying lip service to the notion of providing flexibility in the workplace, the government has tight purse strings and is not investing in the longer term infrastructure that was needed yesterday to accommodate the exploding populations in these bedroom communities, and local municipalities are continuing to grant permits for builders to build new sub divisions without the supporting infrastructure or sufficient local businesses to keep the working population at home.

I like to think there is a huge shift happening within my generation rebelling against the traditional notion of what it means to be successful and what we are willing to do to achieve this success. I know my husband and I are trying to redefine it and boy is it hard to not get caught up in what we should be aspiring to but I know that the current line of questioning we are going through is going to get us to a better place and one that we have a hand in defining.


Stats Canada Study: Commuting to work

Gobble, Gobble

Gobble, Gobble

As a  Canadian I had the pleasure of celebrating our Thanksgiving this past weekend. In our family, it is tradition to celebrate it at my parent’s place, one because my husband and I are amateurs when preparing such feasts and two, my parents have an amazing property on the water which gives us the feeling that we are on vacation.  The downfall is the length of drive which equates to about 4.5 hours each way which turns into a several hour exercise, when you add in the packing and unpacking time on each end. Oh did I mention there are two little kids involved with one of them asking for regular updates as to how close we are to our destination.  At this time of year though, the trees are absolutely stunning and they provided a nice distraction with all the different fall colour pallets in play. Despite it being a chillier weekend, lows of -4 degrees celsius over night to a high of low teens we spent quite a bit of time outdoors.

On Saturday, London, my mom and I prepared the garden for the winter. We picked the remaining vegetables, took out all the remaining vegetable plants and weeds that fight for time and space within the garden and turned over the soil. As soon there are sufficient leaves from the trees on the ground my mom plans to layer some leaves on the top putting it to sleep until spring time. This is our second year with the garden and each year we are learning more and more but admittedly we are not producing the bountiful harvest that I expected across all vegetables. For some reason beets won’t grow at all, the carrots are protesting growing thick and long and prefer to be short and skinny, and our peas and yellow beans failed to thrive this year.  What was very successful were radishes and wouldn’t you know it, I am not a fan of radishes. We also had success with cucumbers, zucchini, and lots of green and purple peppers.  Over the winter we are going to have to do some more research and see how we can improve upon it for next season. The most wonderful thing about the garden is getting London involved and giving her a chance to see full cycle the growth from seed to vegetable to the table, although she is not the best vegetable eater.  Hopefully one day in her teens or later in life she will reflect back on these early years with a fond memory of helping her mom and nana harvest the garden and influence her own choices whether it be what she chooses to eat, where it comes from or even creating her own little garden wherever she is at.

One of the chores we had to do some time this past weekend was to put in the dock and a chore that I dreaded the most. Not just because the water was chilly but more so due to the ‘leadership style’ exhibited by my dad. He is not the best communicator when it comes to giving instructions and not only does he expect you to understand what he is thinking but he is impatient and quick tempered which makes it a frustrating experience for all to endure. Before we knew it, he also volunteered us to help with the neighbour’s dock so now the chill factor from the water became a more paramount concern as it must not have been more than 12 degrees celsius out at the time.  Having said this, I did have the plan to test out my friend’s wetsuit sometime this weekend for I was hoping to get a sense of what it would be like to wear it in anticipation for training for a half ironman next year. I figured now was probably the best time to put it on and get the docks out and then get in the swim and be done with it.   Almost like it was an unnecessary evil to get through.  There is no question that stepping into the frigid lake was cold on the feet and ankles but every part that was covered by the wetsuit stayed toasty warm. Naturally I was elected to go into the deeper end to tend to the dock and carefully without posing any harm to the wetsuit,  we efficiently took out two docks. It was the least painful dock removal experience to date, and much of it has to do with the wet suit and the fact that my neighbour was present, so my dad was on his best behaviour.  Given that the wet suit was sleeveless I must admit that I did debate whether I was going to continue with the swim and started to come up with a million different excuses.  With pride in one hand and sanity in the other I took the plunge leading with pride and started to do lengths, alternating between the back stroke and front stroke.   I am not doing a good job in trying to describe the experience for I have rewritten what it was like numerous times over but everything flowed and each stroke was effortless, sure there was some buoyancy from the wetsuit and additional help from the flippers I wore but it went beyond that.   Maybe some of the experience was due to the fact that no one else was swimming in the lake and it was just me who was experiencing the peace and tranquility of it with the gorgeous backdrop of the colourful maples and oak trees.  Who knows but I can say for those few minutes it felt like a little peace of heaven.

A couple of other favourites from the weekend:

All photos except the Turkey are my husband’s.