A year in

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It’s the 1-year anniversary of our engagement, just so happening to fall on Father’s Day this year! We’ve made plans for the marriage, but not yet the wedding and it’s one big confusing set of circumstances. I’m putting off wedding planning as long as possible, but I probably should start since it’s going to be only a year away soon enough (less than two months from now). A year is a decent amount of time to plan, right? It’s not like we’re going all out crazy; I’d rather have a nice time celebrating and enjoy a more elaborate honeymoon. Actually, it looks like our “honeymoon” will be coming in three (or more) parts. A 7-day thing here, a 10-day thing there… and hey, why not make every vacation going forth part of our never-ending honeymoon?

Was it just a year ago that Panda was getting his Master’s and we got engaged? Hard to believe, with all that’s happened since! I relocated from California to Virginia, decided to rejoin the workforce as an employee rather than an entrepreneur of sorts, got a condo, adopted a cat, and pretty much experienced change in most parts of my life. I feel like we’ve grown up so much in this span of time and I look forward to all the adventures we’ll have together over the years. The next great adventure will be getting our marriage license and legally getting married, which seems so strange to do a year before the wedding ceremony. We’ve grown up associating the two, but they don’t have to be hand in hand. So, as I always seem to do in my life, I fall neither here nor there – the exception to the norm, the couple who’s married but not yet, sort of? How are we going to explain this to people?

Nevermind that, though. We’ll do things our way and enjoy it all along the way! I just learned that my dad is going to be around for the civil ceremony this year, which is super exciting since he’s usually only in the country a few weeks each year. It looks like our entire immediate families will be able to attend – both sets of parents, plus Panda’s brother (maybe even my cousin??). That’s all we need! I don’t want all the fanfare and formality and I hope they don’t expect it. Let’s just do the legal stuff and have a good meal together.

Our kind of weekend

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This weekend was the first in quite awhile that Panda wasn’t traveling or working shifts or volunteering (and neither was I). We planned to have no plans and it was lovely.

cat sticking head into small cat carrier

Smokey was quite curious about her new carrier from Target.

Friday night, we did start off with light plans – yoga for me and volunteering for him. That’s when I swung by Target and got some great products. Saturday we slept in and lounged around at home before sauntering off to the mall. Panda claimed a free coffee at Cinnabon and I got a free piece of chocolate from Godiva (watermelon-flavored!). I happily took advantage of the Yes To deal also mentioned in the Target post and wandered around the Body Shop deciding what to purchase. I have a Groupon for that store that I need to use by the 28th. When we passed by a Hot Topic, Panda wanted to take a look and I ended up getting some hilarious sunglasses! I’m sure you’ll see them featured in pictures in the future.

wearing new blue heart-shaped sunglasses seen in mirror of car

Great timing on the new sunglasses.

guys wearing similar clothes looking at potted plants

Yes, I made him stand there for photo proof of the resemblance.

On the way to dinner, we decided to stop by Merrifield so Panda could show me around. As we arrived, I found Panda’s doppleganger! Even being in the car next to him, I thought the guy browsing plants was him. We explored the plants and got some popcorn to enjoy as we walked around. I found my beloved Venus fly traps and will definitely get some at some point. We also came across a super cool PINK blueberry bush! If only I had a yard, I’d totally get something like that. Alas, for now I’m restricted to herbs, flowers, and other small plants. We sort of got full from the popcorn, but continued on to enjoy excessive amounts of sushi (using a Groupon deal where we needed to get $40 worth of food!).

At night, I decided to try out one of my Homegrown projects: the olive oil and herbs foot soak and scrub. Panda and I sat by the tub, soaking our feet in hot water steeped with rosemary and lemon peel. After a good long session, we scrubbed our feet with olive oil and sugar for super smooth, moisturized feet. I completely forgot about the pumice stone part, but my feet felt so soft it hardly mattered! It was a nice slow night with plenty of time to talk to each other and enjoy the weather.

 

succulent with orange flowers

What brilliant flowers!

trio of three types of carnivorous plants in dome

Looove carnivorous plants.

five types of sushi rolls on single platter

All these rolls plus two entrees for dinner!

blue dragonflies mating on grass

Came across these mating dragonflies!

On Sunday, we made sure to make it to the pool before the storm clouds rolled in. We were the first ones to show up and I swam around in sunglasses, which was a strange feeling. I’d never done that before, but it was so bright out that I really needed them. Sometimes it’s so liberating doing something different like that. I laid around enjoying the warmth of the sun before Panda and I made our way to the local Walgreens. I skated and he walked, sometimes pulling me so I didn’t have to kick. I wasn’t sure if they’d let me in without pants (see picture – I was in swimsuit loose top only), so I wrapped a towel around my waist before going in.

girl skating on skateboard with two jugs of drinks in handsOur goal was the Arizona green tea iced tea jugs; they’re one of my favorite sweetened tea drinks! We grabbed three one-gallon jugs and another of an Arnold Palmer flavor for Panda. Can you imagine us, a girl in a swimsuit on her skateboard and a boy with a giant beach bag, carrying these huge things home? It’s less than a mile I think, but quite the adventure. As we were turning in to my community, I scraped my big toe on the asphalt and next thing I knew, my foot was gushing blood. I’ll spare you the picture, but it’s surprising how much skin flapped around!

Back at home, I cleaned off my foot and hobbled around getting pictures of my latest Fabletics outfit and doing the other project from my latest Homegrown box: infusing olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I even got around to cleaning up some of the boxes I have lying around. And of course there was time spent enjoying Smokey’s company.

cat sitting with paw on wool ball

Quality time with Smokey.

For dinner, it was out to CPK for some new dishes I haven’t had before. Every time we go there, something seems to go wrong. The first time, Panda forgot his wallet. This time, he left his main credit card at home. Alas, it’s always troublesome! We had a good meal though and then made our way to Walmart to get Smokey a harness and leash. We’re going to train her to walk! Or least we shall try… she seemed ok with the harness, so now we’ll practice walking. And so concluded our oh so nice weekend that was stress-free and a wonderful bit of family time. These are just the types of slow-paced weekends I look forward to! We’re just homebodies who want a relaxing time.

cpk meat lovers thin crust pizza

So much meat! I could only eat one slice.

cpk strawberry shortcake with whipped cream and ice cream

Shopping success

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I am so absolutely pleased with my trip to Target yesterday (and then a visit to CVS today). You see, I’d been coveting a reed diffuser, but I kept putting it off, hoping for a good sale. By the time I finally decided to get the one I’d set my heart on, Target had apparently stopped carrying them. Just my luck. Still, much like the marinated mushrooms I can no longer find at Costco, I still check every time I’m in the store. Just in case.

philosophie by pure natural tangerine and olive reed diffuserAnd what do ya know? Just like those mushrooms, which took nearly a decade to resurface, the very reed diffuser I was searching for showed up on a shelf yesterday. Just one, and thankfully in a scent I was interested in. It was hidden off in the back of a shelf, not even grouped with the other reed diffusers. I immediately grabbed it, hardly daring to believe my stroke of luck. Then I went to scan the price, wondering if it was still the normal full price. I think it normally would have been $13.99 or so, but the scanner showed $4.48! I was so excited I called Panda immediately so he could swing by another Target on his way home and see if it had some too.

I had really given up hope on ever seeing these again and probably would have gotten one of the other brands eventually, had I not run into this one. What’s so special about this one? Well, I liked that it wasn’t just reed sticks, but they had a few that were bent and woven into leaf shapes. I don’t know why that was so important to me, but I just didn’t like the ones with nicer bottles or other reed styles (one had paper flower sort of things on a couple of the reeds). This was unique enough yet not too much flair. I think the scent is pretty special too, though I’m sure I could find a scent from the other brands that I’d enjoy as well. Now that I have this, I’ll be on the lookout for a cool bottle. Satisfy one craving and then go to the next, right?

I know, I’m crazy for making such a big deal out of such an unimportant item, but I can’t help it. I get attached and I want something, but not at full price, and then I end up missing the opportunity usually. To prevent that, I’ve started to get things I really want when I’ve waited it out for just a little bit. In fact, in this same shopping trip I got a bunch of other items that I didn’t want to regret not purchasing.

As for the CVS trip, it tapped into the Yes To facial wipes that I’ve had on my list but weren’t purchased because I know they won’t be phased out anytime soon and I can wait around for a deal. First thing I saw as I entered the store was a table with buy one get one 50% off on the Yes To products. I thought that was a decent deal, but what sold me was the set of $3 off $10 coupons that were also offered there. That helped bring down the price to nearly half off both products I’d get. I’m now the happy owner of two types of facial wipes from them. :) It’s these little wins that bring a smile to my face every time I see and use the products I got!

Adventures with a new neighbor

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This morning, I received a picture from Panda after he had left for work. It seemed like we had a snail chillin’ on our front door. I figured it was probably out after the rain last night, but then I found out what it really was… take a look for yourself here:

small wasp nest on door frame of front door

Could be a snail, right?

Well, turns out it was a wasp nest. This black, red, and yellow wasp was happily working away at its nest, not even caring that I was sticking a camera in its face. I didn’t have time to deal with it before going to work, so we just left it.

black and red wasp on wasp nest in doorway

Nasty fellow.

In the evening, Panda and I decided to take down the nest before that wasp got too comfortable and produced offspring or attracted other pests. I got a bag to capture it in and set to work. We tried spraying it a bit to scare it off, but that just seemed to get its wings wet and make it stay in place. We tried sticking a yard stick through the door cracked slightly open to shoo it off, but it just climbed on the yard stick! I then got gloves and put a plastic bag around it. The first attempt was awful and I did not capture it. Luckily, it wasn’t upset with me and just went back to its home. I had Panda bring me a chair to give me better leverage. This time we got it stuck in the plastic baggie and I managed to tear off the nest. I zipped it all up and cleaned off the residue on our door frame. I then took the wasp to the porch and opened the bag partway so it could find its way out. At first it flew to our railing and took a break, but eventually it moved on. I hope it doesn’t return! We’ll have to keep a close eye on our doors now.

catching wasp from Mary Qin on Vimeo.

Tabs for Ronald

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About two weeks ago, a coworker brought in a container (on behalf of his kids) to collect bottle tabs for the Ronald McDonald charity. I guess this is something the kids do around here? Who knew those little things would be valuable at all. I hadn’t heard of collecting them before, but it’s certainly easy enough, especially since the drinks at work are free. Why not pull off the tabs when I’m recycling a soda can? Well, one afternoon I decided to go ahead and pull the tabs off the cans in the recycle bin as well. After all, not everyone knew about the collection yet so I figured it was such a low-hanging fruit to just get the tabs from the cans that were being recycled anyway.

large plastic container for collecting aluminum can tabs for ronald mcdonald charityOne of my coworkers came across me doing this and was very curious why I was doing it. Because it’s nice? Because I want to help? Because I’m a good person? Because I care? None of these answers satisfied him and he kept pressing. What was motivating me to spend time digging through the recycle (I was hardly digging, really) to pick out cans and remove the tabs? Honestly, I don’t know. It just seemed like something I could do. Perhaps it was more of the contrast between me doing that and the others at the office not. He wondered if everyone else is “not a good person” then? Why did nobody else stop to take the time to pull the tabs? Um, I still don’t know. It’s not exactly something I think about. I do what I do and I don’t go around expecting others to do it too.

Why help? Well, when I considered it, why not? Why shouldn’t you take a few moments of your time to do something for others that costs you nothing more than a few seconds or minutes? It was such a strange line of questioning and I don’t know if I’ll ever have a satisfactory answer. I do those things because I can, because it’s easy enough, because it’s little risk with good rewards for an organization. I may not have answered his question, but that doesn’t change my own justifications and how I decide to act. I sure am confused though. Why question me so thoroughly about something others would just take for granted as a nice, helpful thing to do?

He asked my why I didn’t contribute to the shoe collection downstairs. Well, that’s not as easy to accomplish. I don’t just have shoes lying around I can donate, nor do I know people I can collect them from. It’s taking advantage of a situation that I can be useful in without changing much of my own patterns. If I had old shoes I didn’t want, I would bring them in. Similarly, I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy cans to drink to donate the tabs. But when they’re right in front of me, why take the easy way out and do nothing?? I mean, it’s not even something I felt I needed to justify… certainly nobody else questioned my actions!

What would you do in this situation? Would you put in your tabs and help with the others? Would you just put your own in? Would you forget to do it at all?

A moment

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How often do you take the time to enjoy a moment? People get way too caught up in the past and the future, even as they’re living out their lives. It’s not often they stop to enjoy right here, right now anymore. They walk right by gorgeous flowers, stare right past the breathtaking sunset, and tune out the music of their lives. They tend to forget to notice the little details, to take a deeper breath, to feel, to be present. Perhaps that’s why our society is filled with over-stressed, over-worked, overly-unhappy folks. How can you be joyful if you do not get to enjoy?

cat sitting on arm of couch with arms dangling in front off couch

Zen moments.

Being present and shutting out the rest of the world can be such a peaceful experience. I love just get lost in my thoughts of nothingness while staring into someone’s eyes, gazing across a stupendous landscape, or even driving around. It’s noticing the slight breeze that tickles my face or the brilliant colors splashed all around me that brings a smile to my face. Cats are exceptionally good at living the good life; I’m sure we could all learn from them. They know how to soak up the sun in bliss, sniff the breeze with mild curiosity, and then settle in for a spectacularly long nap (after which they get an oh-so-satisfying stretching session).

What I love about yoga and meditation is that it allows me to actively be in the present. I am aware of my body, aware of my mind, and able to relax and challenge both. It helps bring a lot of peace in my life, especially when I’m letting stress get the better of me. I don’t necessarily need either to appreciate the present though. I often take time to sit quietly and let the thoughts flow in and out. I can stare out at everything without really looking at anything. It’s soothing for me, like resetting my mind. I find the most effective way to enjoy those zone-out sessions is with some sort of nature nearby. I can listen to a waterfall or the rustle of leaves; I can smell the gentle perfume of flowers and feel the breeze bringing their wafting scents; I can watch birds hopping around as they chirp their little sounds; I can even turn my face to the sun and feel my body heat up. That’s why I like to eat lunch outdoors!

So the next time you’re feeling stressed, go take a stroll (or seat) outside and notice what you can. The humidity clinging in the air. The dull roar of conversations around you. The smell of wet pavement. Let it all come and go and take some deep breaths. It’s such a wonderful release. Or if you’re stuck indoors, trying meditating. Think about your breath, feeling it go in and out. When you get distracted, just go back to the breath. I almost always fall asleep when I do this, and isn’t that the ultimate relaxation? :)

Travel pains

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It’s 8:58 and my 8:50 flight still says departing on time. Obviously, something’s going on here. The day started off normally, with my mom and I heading off to LAX just past 5:30 am. We arrived an hour and a half later, plenty of time for me to check a bag (I decided I couldn’t be without my precious skateboard all summer so I sprang for the $25 checked baggage option).

I got through security and made it to my gate, noticing that my flight was one of the few delayed. It still gave me 35 minutes to get to my connection in Raleigh, which seemed fine. As the minutes ticked on and we got delayed with little buffer time left, I got anxious, but then we were on our way. On the flight, I suddenly realized I didn’t have my boarding pass for the next leg of the flight. Oops!

5 pm came and went as I wondered when we’d land. The captain came on to tell us that we were stuck in a holding pattern while we waited for a storm to move through. Luckily, that only lasted a few minutes and we were cleared to descend. I think we arrived around 5:40 and the instant we taxied off the runway, I turned on my phone to get my boarding pass. Thankfully, the gate I was going to was very close to the one I was arriving from and that next flight was delayed a bit too.

I had time for a restroom break and even enjoyed a free cupcake from a celebration of RDU flying to London for 20 years now on American Airlines. We boarded our flight, I settled in, and I was ready to be on our way.

Then it came.

A pop-up notification on my phone said my flight was cancelled. How could that be? We were boarded and so close to closing the door!! Alas, not two minutes later, as I was hoping it was a fluke, the captain came on to tell us the news. We all filed off and got in line to be rerouted. A few people got put on a 7:30 flight, but I was pushed to the 8:50 one. I thought about trying to get it changed, but I figured the earlier one might get cancelled.

I wandered round to get some food and settled in to wait. Lo and behold, the 7:30 one first got delayed, then cancelled. I kept checking the status of my flight, which remained “On Time” – whew! But as 8:50 crawled nearer, nothing happened. And the captain went to check, disappearing down some rabbit hole.

[It's now 12:40 and I'm waiting for my SuperShuttle ride home.]

Finally, not long after 9 we started to board! Everything went quite smoothly as we sat down and started the safety presentation. Oh, but little did we know what as in store for us now. Air traffic control wouldn’t let our plane up in the air for at least half an hour! So we sat there waiting with some other planes as the captain updated us that the delays continued. The flight attendant came around with water and snacks.

Eventually, the captain decided to turn off the engines to conserve power. Of course, just a few minutes later he was given the all clear so we revved back up and got up in the air within 5 minutes. I took the chance to take a nap and woke up just before descent. I’d totally forgotten I was going into DCA, so I eagerly tried to recognize the buildings below me until I realized this was not IAD.

As if the day wasn’t long enough as is, we had to wait for our gate for ages… I mean, my stomach was starting to hurt at this point from the exhaustion and stress and impatience. We all rushed to baggage claim and I was glad that went by pretty quickly. The SuperShuttle check in was right there and now we’ll see how packed mine is. Will I make it home by 2? How did one domestic trip become a 17-18 hour ordeal? Storms are no fun when I’m trying to travel, that’s for sure.

I must say I’d rather wait at the airport for a delay than get airborne and sent to land somewhere else or have to endure a shaky landing. Once the winds were so high that I was nauseous from the approach to landing and you could tell the pilot was struggling against the gusts.

So it’s 3 am and I just got home. Long story not even done being told, but I need rest! My tummy hurts bad.

It’s lonely at the top

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Or the edge or the outskirts, or whatever you want to call it. Anyone who’s an outlier can tell you how lonely and alienating it can be. No matter what sets you apart, if you are extraordinary, it’s hard to find others like you. Maybe you’re exceptionally talented at a skill. Maybe you’re super duper smart. Or maybe you’re gorgeous to most of the world. While on the surface these seem like great things, they can really take a toll on someone.

Take prodigies, for example. They rise to the top quickly and find themselves with few peers to understand them at their level. How do you connect with someone when your thought processes are so different from each other? When your interests don’t include pop culture and sports, but quantum physics or chess strategy? Or maybe you are interested in sports, but not in following this and that team because you are hardcore focused on training for your sport, be it diving or gymnastics. The best of the best often find themselves further and further from mainstream society.

Ever hear the song Lucky by Britney Spears? It kind of reminds me of that. People see some big star who “has it all” but behind closed doors, you’ve got a sad, lonely soul. Things are rarely as they seem, are they?

Even in attractiveness, being better than normal can be a bad thing. You’ll likely be victim to assumptions that aren’t true, or at the least be overshadowed by your own looks. You can use that to your advantage, but then the focus is more on you as a thing and not so much as a person. People lose sight of your personality, intelligence, work ethic… and just see you. Then they start ignoring you when your good looks fade.

I think my mom was right when she never wished for me to be exceptional beyond my peers (just among them). I mean, it’s good to be better, but when you’re surpassing everyone… you lose your chance at a normal life. And really, don’t most people just want to be “normal”? It’s so rewarding to have deep, true human connections. There are the few who will rise to the top, but for most of us, what greater happiness is there than a sense of belonging? It brings satisfaction, it creates valued relationships, and it boosts your self-confidence. It’s easy to get distracted chasing big dreams only to find that they don’t provide that same sense of satisfaction. That when the spotlight dims, the money is gone, and the looks fade, you’re left with nothing.

I’ve never truly wanted to be at the top. It’s a wonderful fantasy, but when it comes down to it, I value other things far more. It’s just too lonely up there.

8 ways my cat is like my fiancé

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Have you ever marveled at how similar a person and an animal have been? I often wonder if Smokey is just Panda (my fiancé) in feline form. They’re so similar in their personalities and preferences that they’re perfect for each other. So much for me getting a pet cat! More like them finding soul mates in each other. Curious what I mean? Here’s a round-up of ways “my” cat is like my fiancé…

1. They’re both kinda awkward. Panda’s an engineer who often fits that stereotype. He’s a bit gangly, not always socially appropriate, and just kind of off in his own world at times. Smokey can stare into space and get lost in her little head. She doesn’t always respond the way you’d expect and she runs kind of crooked. Both very silly, but totally adorable nonetheless.

2. They’re both bad communicators. I am always working with Panda on how he expresses himself (like how he used “veer” when he meant “leer”) and how he misinterprets the meaning of phrases. He doesn’t always use the English language to its full advantage. Meanwhile, Smokey will meow at us as if she wants something, but never follows through. My other cats make it clear when they meow if they want attention or food or something. Smokey just meows and then appears to have no purpose. I wonder if that’s because…

3. They both have poor memories. Panda never seems to remember things I bring up and Smokey seems to forget something happened as soon as she turns around. Perhaps their confusing communication efforts are due to these memory lapses?

4. They both eat and sleep a lot. You’d never know it looking at Panda, but he eats a ton (and never puts on weight). He can certainly chow down and Smokey does the same. She goes through bowls of food like nobody’s business! And when they’re done eating, they can both sleep up a storm. Whereas I usually wake up after 7 or 8 hours, they’ll go on for 10, 12 hours easily.

cat sleeping soundly against soft blanket and pillow

Big sleepers in this family.

5. They both love to play. Panda is always enjoying games and toys, like his little Lego people and even happy meal toys. Smokey will bat around anything she can find, from bottle caps to wads of paper. She’s a huge fan of chasing around a laser dot and playing with her squeaking mouse toy. Lucky for her, Panda is more than happy to play with her. :)

6. They both like to pet people. Panda will come around and pet my head like I’m a cat sometimes, which is a funny goofy thing he does. Little did I know that Smokey would like to “pet” us in her own way… by putting her paw on our faces (claws out, ouch!). Maybe they just like to put their hands on things.

7. They’re both scaredy cats. I’m the brave one in the family, staying calm for most things. Panda gets super nervous/worried/scared about things and stresses himself out. He gets startled whenever Smokey is feeling playful and decides to pounce on his feet. He’s intimidated by bugs. And Smokey? Every little noise or movement could cause her to jump alert and/or run off in fear.

8. They both stretch strangely. I often find Panda in a strange position on his side with his knee stretched up and his arm extending through his bent leg. Apparently he finds this comfortable. Smokey is more about stretching completely long, which I’ve never seen a cat do before!

cat laying on carpet with legs stretched out straight behind her

So you see, they were really made for each other. Wouldn’t you agree?

Would you rather: career vs. family

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I just watched the feature on Barbara Walters now that she’s retiring and something she said struck me – how people don’t look back and regret spending too much time at the office, but they do regret not spending enough time with their families. However, I don’t think it’s as simple as that. That’s coming from a career woman’s perspective, but what about the flip side? What about someone who spent their whole lives dedicated to their families? Do they have no regrets? My greatest fear of potentially deciding to stay at home and being a homemaker is that I’ll regret not living up to my potential in a career. So what’s worse – feeling like you wasted too much of your life working away and not being a good family member or feeling like you wasted too much of your time focusing on family and not contributing your skill sets to the labor force?

As it is, it’s tough enough staying home to take care of the family. But then people often think that the home life is just full of daytime strolls and shopping sprees and other fun things. They don’t seem to respect homemakers they way they probably would if they truly understood the challenges (not that I do, but I certainly have seen a glimpse of it and it’s not something I’m confident I can pull off). How would you feel if you worked your butt off for days on end only to have people think you’re lazy? Even worse than that for me is the thought of people thinking you’re somehow less intelligent because you’re not working on some career path. Just because you choose not to be employed doesn’t mean you’re unemployable and neither does it give any indication of your capabilities. Yet inevitably, it comes into question… Did you stay home because you’re not good enough? After all those years away from the workforce, are you somehow less intelligent or hardworking?

So I’ve got to say, at this stage, much as I want to not focus on work so much, I do because I’d rather look back and wish I had taken more time away than wish I had accomplished more in my life. I still grapple with the decision to stay in the workforce and how long I plan on being here. It feels wonderful to be good at a job, be productive, and contribute towards some greater goal. I don’t know if I’d feel as rewarded in terms of my self-esteem when it comes to family life. I can certainly see myself feeling great about raising good kids, helping Panda advance his own career with less stress because of my presence at home, and other less tangible results that have a less direct connection to my contributions. Ultimately, I think I’d want to settle on a part-time opportunity that would give me even greater flexibility in my schedule. For now, since home life is pretty simple without any kids, I’ll stay concentrated on my work.

Would you rather focus on your family if you could give up your job? Have you chosen that path? Or are you determined to pursue a long career?

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