Happy Homemaker, Ph.D.

A novice homemaker's attempts to use her engineering Ph.D. to serve her family

LEANing My House – The Revelation – Part 1

No, that’s not a typo.  I can’t really talk about cleaning my house.  At best, I’m a work-in-progress with that goal.  But, as an industrial engineer focusing on life at home with little ones, I can take the opportunity to search out ways to use my background to make things run more efficiently, and that’s what Lean Systems are all about.  I haven’t done a very good job of this in the past, but recently a new opportunity has presented itself.

A move.  A chance to start over and try again.

In the last few months, our family decided to move, packed up most of our things, left for vacation for a few weeks, packed some more, and moved to a new house in a new state.  It’s been nearly six years since our last move, and we’ve welcomed three children in that time, so I was not only out-of-practice with moving, but also, there were a lot more considerations this time.

The last time I faced a major down-sizing move was when I left my 2-bedroom loft apartment for an out-of-state move to share an apartment with a friend while we went to graduate school.  I was able to store a lot of the “stuff” that was dear to me but not particularly needed for school at my grandma’s house until I would return.  I was in the apartment for a year, then moved to a house with my new husband.  We moved again after a year and a half, back to my home state, where I could be reunited with those things I’d nearly forgotten about, at least to some extent.  We had a 2-bedroom house for a year, so most of the non-essential items remained boxed up in the basement.

Then, finally, we bought a house.  A five-bedroom house.  A house with enough room for all of my “stuff.”  We inherited furniture.  We bought furniture.  We were given some of my grandmothers’ dishes. (Which I cherish!)  We acquired all the “baby stuff” new parents need.  My parents gave me the things they’d kept for me from when I was young.

And, I, by nature, seem inclined to keep everything.

Over the summer, as we prepared for this move, I tried to pack the non-essential things when I had time.  (Have you packed with young children around?  The long-forgotten toy is suddenly whisked out of the box and cannot be parted with.  Or, I hear, “What’s that?” as little hands reach for a breakable gift from a dear friend.)  As time went on, I found I liked the extra space in the cabinets.  Sure, I missed my muffin tins a few times, but I didn’t have time to be baking much anyway.

When we arrived at our new home, we got the house fully operational fairly quickly – kitchen, bathrooms, beds, dressers were put together within a day or two.  The garage was still packed full of boxes, but I could prepare meals, the girls had some toys to entertain them, and we could sleep comfortably.

…To Be Continued…

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A New Groove

I’ve been away from blogging for a while… A long while. I remember thinking last June, “I’m tired (really tired), and Clara’s birthday is coming up. I’ll just take a few days off of writing so I can prepare for the party.”

I did. I was eight months pregnant at the time, and I easily justified that.

The only problem was that after the party, I was still too tired to spend time blogging at the end of the day instead of sleeping. My writing focus was spent completing an article from my dissertation work so my advisor and I could submit it for publication. That piece came together, but I was getting closer to my due date, and any extra energy needed to be applied to an attempt to clean the house. My little one’s due date came and went in mid-July. Ten days later, we met our third little girl, Charlotte.

July 10-August 2, 2013 112

Then, the days and nights became a blur of activity with three little ones under 38 months in my care. I hope I took enough pictures in those months because the memories are foggy, even now just a few months later. There was much to learn. Such as…

Where do we put another car seat? What was the optimum way to position the 3 car seats in our 6-passenger Ford Freestyle with all three girls needing complete help with the buckles? We chose the wrong way first. It involved opening the hatch, lifting the 16-month-old over the back of the far rear row of the car into a rear-facing car seat, gently (?) dropping her into her place, crawling onto the bumper, wedging my head and my arms into a position that would both hold myself up and enable me to buckle the straps. Yeah, that didn’t work out. My husband could do it well, but my arms are much shorter than his. We’ve got a manageable arrangement now with the younger two in the middle row and the 3-year-old in the far back. (It’s about time for our middle daughter to face forward which may shuffle things a bit again, but at least that problem doesn’t seem overwhelming anymore.)

How will I manage to get everyone in and out of the car multiple times a day? The first week of preschool was brutal; I won’t lie. Charlotte was about 6 weeks old, and our schedule that week included 4 trips to preschool, 3 to church, and probably a few more outings, such as grocery shopping.  That week, I thought homeschooling would be the best option for us simply because we wouldn’t have to spend an hour traveling back and forth and dealing with the stress of trying to make it somewhere on time. This has gotten easier, too, though the baby may still decide it’s time to eat right as we’re ready to grab our bags and head out the door or a dirty diaper is discovered as I push on a little shoe.

How can I get everything done? We were so blessed by our church family to have some meals brought to us the first few weeks after Charlotte’s birth. I hadn’t figured out the whole freezer meal thing beforehand, and we don’t have a lot of freezer space anyway, so this was such a blessing! I also remember delighting in God’s daily provision. On the days I didn’t have enough energy to keep going and I desperately needed a nap, the three girls miraculously slept at the same time! That may not be a big deal to families that have a structured schedule at their homes, but I couldn’t get my older girls to sleep at the same time (or my middle one to sleep for very long at all), so there was no doubt in my mind about Who was taking care of me.  I treasured that my God is the one who saw my efforts and needs when no one else could.

Honestly, though, I’m still trying to figure out the answer to this question. My house isn’t clean. The laundry is unfolded. I don’t have a meal plan for the week, and I didn’t make it to the grocery store on my regular day. The sink is full of dirty dishes, and the fridge is rather empty.

But I love on my little girls, and we have what we need for the day. Today, we put puzzles together – over and over again. I read a couple of chapters in “Little House in the Big Woods” aloud, to the 3-year-old’s delight.  (She asks to “play Laura” often.) I held my 3-year-old close and tossed her upside down and tickled her when she was upset that, “No one has time for me.”  I sang to my baby and danced with her in my arms.  I put the bow the 1-year-old requested in her thin hair, again and again.  I let my oldest crack the eggs and pour the scrambled mixture into the pan (and showed her how to clean up her spill).  We played hide and seek.  We watched some favorite videos on YouTube.  We shared hugs and kisses.

My baby is now six months old. The fatigue of those early weeks is finally subsiding, and I’m looking to find the rhythm of our new normal as a family of five. I’m dreaming of taming the chaos, but the reality is I will never really find the answer to that question of how to get everything accomplished.  The key will be to find what God has assigned me for each moment and to be faithful to obey – and to let the rest, all those things I think I am *supposed* to do go.

Jan1-18, 2014 018I’ve got a lot of growing to do to accomplish that task faithfully, but I’m trying to do a job worthy of my calling, be that finding a routine to keep the dishes washed to better honor my amazing husband or a groove that includes a celebratory dance down the hallway with three little girls following behind.

(And I’ll try to share our journey with you more often again.)

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What’s a STEM Woman (at Home) to Do? Part 2

Women can – even at home.

(This was really the post I meant to write last time, but I guess the 2 a.m. hunger call and late-pregnancy insomnia inspired my last post to go a different direction.  This post is more about how I’m using my STEM inclinations at home now.)

I’ll be honest.  I thought staying at home might would probably be boring.  In the months between turning in my resignation and leaving my job, I thought frantically of how I could best remain connected to my profession in some way.  Could I continue to research and publish?  Could I consult companies in the geographic area I’m in?  Could I teach community college or online courses as an adjunct faculty member?  Surely, I must need something, I thought.

I don’t recall ever being exposed to feminist rhetoric directly, but I somehow got the message as I was growing up that domestic duties were, well, boring and unchallenging.  This baffles me now, not because I currently find delight in washing dishes, but because my grandmother was a professional house keeper for others and found joy in that and because my mother stayed home, never complaining, patiently and diligently taking care of our home, meals, clothes, and well-beings.  My other grandmother delighted in cooking (and was EXCELLENT at this).  With such family examples, how was I misled?  I’m not sure.  I even remember, as a child, taking great pride in my work to make the bathroom sink shine and to pull all the crab grass from around Grandma’s iris plants.  But, by the time I reached junior high, my mind was firmly set that home economics classes in cooking and sewing were a waste of my time.  Anyone could cook, right?  And, when someone could choose a class like advanced biology, really, was there any contest?  Did people really major in that (home ec.) in college?  (I mean no disrespect now!  These are my thoughts as a teenager – pretty immature.)  A semester of wood shop and a semester of home economics were required our eighth grade year, though.  My pathetic pair of sweat pants I attempted to construct and the bad taste of our team’s Spanish rice should have told me that there was more to these pursuits than simply following directions.  Perhaps my failures in these areas discouraged me, too.  Besides, I got more attention for excelling in math and science.

Anyway, so it was with very little training and likely less skill (and probably not the best attitude other than a deep love for my children) that I chose full-time domestic life about 18 months ago.  But, God provides.  Without me wearing myself out trying to find ways outside of the home to use my training and interests in the sciences, He’s giving me opportunities.  I want to share these with you.  I believe that, whatever your field or background, there are applications of your skills at home that can keep you interested and occupied.

Science

  • I recently sent an inquiry to a home-school group in my town to see if my background could be useful to homeschooling parents and students as a tutor in STEM fields.  I connected with a woman who teaches high school biology and chemistry to 10-15 students a year.   She needed some help with grading biology lab reports next year, and it even pays a little bit!  This will allow her to take on a few more students without sacrificing as much of her family time, and it gives me a way to help without worrying about the preparation and testing that I know I won’t be up for with the new baby coming this summer.  I get to study biology again!  This is a subject that I loved my two years of study in high school but haven’t been able to return to studying or reviewing it since then due to other priorities (and a very rigid chemical engineering curriculum).
  • I get to see nature in a new, slower way as my almost-three-year-old daughter asks questions and notices things I don’t.  We talk about them.  We talk about how we could find the answers to her questions.  We read books.  I’m learning with her while getting to teach!

Technology

  • This is, admittedly, the area I struggle with the most, I think.  I miss working on the computer.  I am on my computer some, writing, checking Facebook, and checking e-mail, so I don’t mean just opening up the laptop.  I miss analyzing data in Minitab or creating a complex spreadsheet template to solve a problem for someone.  I do have an interesting dataset from my dissertation that I could play around with some more, but I haven’t made time for that.   As statistical software (even MS Office) products go through revisions over time, this is one area I fear losing my “edge” in, but that was happening a bit with my teaching job, too (being out of industry and not getting to use/apply those tools frequently).  
  • This is also an area where I see the most potential for learning as new online resources and tools are developed.  Any time I can learn something new, I’m happy.  🙂   Hey, if I can program in FORTRAN and use SLAM to create a simulation, surely I can learn some of these new tools and use them, as applicable, for my work at home. 

Engineering

  • “Engineers make things.  Industrial Engineers make things better,” is a slogan that I think was chosen by the Institute of Industrial Engineers.  (Now, for any hard-core electrical engineers out there, this might seem a little simplistic.  As a chemical engineering student, I joined the crowd that called IEs “imaginary engineers.”  Give me a chance, though.)  Every day at home, I get to work on continuous improvement in quality of both goods and services.  I am faced with the challenges of optimizing production processes.  Lots of processes.  
  • Optimization goes beyond finding “what works for me” in these processes.  There are actually mathematical formulas that can be created to help determine how many sets of clothes you may need (really need) for each child, how often you should do a load of laundry, and more.  (I plan to write more about these as I explore them myself.)  Perhaps I’ll even come up with some new formulas of my own.  (One of my favorite chemical engineering professors told us, “Never use a formula you can’t derive.”  That advice doesn’t seem so ridiculous to me now.)

Mathematics

  • Think beyond simple price comparisons at the grocery store.  At home, I get to consider the time value of money and think of how we can best try to optimize our savings and spending, balancing investments and debt.  This is an area I need to spend some time on, as it is available, because I think we can do better.
  • One of the greatest blessings of the last year was being able to tutor my friend, Staci, though the quantitative methods courses her Ph.D. in education requires.  These statistics discussions let me use my stats vocabulary (fun!), learn about different applications of various tools (hard sciences are different from behavioral or social sciences), and get some new research ideas.  
  • And, my dear mentor, Linda, suggested I could always practice my calculus during nap times.  🙂  (It’s been a while, so I could use the practice!)

Research

  • You may think being out of academia leaves a person without academic research possibilities.  I’m finding otherwise.  There are still a couple of papers from my dissertation I’m working on revising for submission to journals.  I get new ideas for research possibilities in applied statistics each time I attend the Fall Technical Conference.  
  • There are also classes in research methods being taught in the area, and I was able to help one of my husband’s friends through an accelerated class last fall.  This involvement was encouraging as it showed me some of the “holes” in what was being taught (at least at this particular college), helped me consider new teaching or tutoring possibilities, and affirmed that I know my stuff when it comes to researching and writing research papers.  I wonder if there will be opportunities to help other undergrads at my local university.
  • Also, being immersed in this new life at home, I’m developing other research interests, probably more qualitative in nature, that would explore the longitudinal effects of homeschooling, for example, so my research “pipeline” won’t be completely empty, should I decide to return to an academic position some day.    The only problem is funding.  I wonder if there are grants out there for independent researchers who need new software to explore their ideas…  

So, I encourage you, if you think staying at home with your family looks like career suicide or complete boredom, consider my story.  I was getting bored enough at my first engineering job within the first year or so,  that I applied to grad school to start taking classes again.  I haven’t felt that boredom at all yet.  Not even close.  I do wonder if my gap of outside-the-home work history, lack of continuous publications, or step away from computing software will impact my ability to get a job later in life, but I’m trusting God with that.  He’s building my resume in new ways, helping me develop skills that are oh-so-necessary, while being able to focus on the little lives He’s entrusted me with to care for and teach.

And I’ve never had work that is so rewarding!   

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What’s a STEM Woman (At Home) to Do? – Part 1

Women are encouraged like never before to enter the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), but is the message balanced?

(Image source)

A reader comment to my post on What I Missed In College got me to thinking about the push to encourage girls to explore and enter STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields.  This hit me even harder as I recently learned a five-year-old girl that I dearly love is headed to a STEM magnet school for kindergarten next year.

Don’t get me wrong.  I LOVE the STEM fields!  LOVE THEM!  I have studied them with excitement and vigor since at least 1991 and spent a combined ten years working as an engineer and teaching operations management (using math and problem solving in business applications).  I even found I loved applied statistics so much that I left my well-paying job and amazing friends to move to the desert to study for a Ph.D.!  So, why do I feel hesitation in embracing these programs for women?

I feel the message may be unbalanced.

That little five-year-old girl has been described most to me as a “little mother.”  She plays well with my oldest girl, but she adores and nurtures my youngest.  I think she’ll be beyond excited to hold my newest baby sometime this summer.  I can’t help but wonder if, in the midst of building projects with moving parts, getting excited about math, and performing hands-on experiments, she’ll also learn to ignore that part of her heart that loves to care for little children.  Will she, in a male-dominated field, lose her quiet, tender heart in an effort to achieve “success?”

Perhaps it’s my own story that gives me reservations for these girls.  There is no doubt in my mind that God has given me my interest in and aptitude for science, engineering, and statistics.  I cannot imagine pursuing a major other than Chemical Engineering as an undergrad even now, knowing I’d choose to switch to industrial engineering as a major in grad school, teach in a business college, and then stay home with my children.  I fully enjoyed, as a woman, being in the minority of the development engineering department I worked in.   I was able to support myself in the years before I was married.

During those years, I still had my focus that I had insisted on in college – that I wanted a job, not a career.  And I dreamed of being a stay-at-home mom, like my mom was, more than anything else.  Then, I went back to school full-time for my Ph.D., a path that I could not see ever going together with a family.  A year later, I married.

I’d love to say that marriage kept my aspirations grounded.  I now got to care for my husband, cooking meals, trying to keep house, and all of the domestic duties that I had mostly shoved aside for 29 years to make time for other pursuits.  Still, with being in a focused academic environment, I lost my vision.  I got distracted as I learned what I “should” be doing to be “successful” in the field of academia.  I learned what it took to be a tenure-track professor, and I learned how to do those things well.  Instead of just going through my classes and requirements, I sought out additional opportunities to gain experience in teaching, research, and service.  I started writing small grant proposals, presented my research at conferences, traveled to research meetings, gave several lectures to undergraduate students, and helped plan a research symposium on my campus.  I won awards for presentations.  I received the grant money.  I worked an intense internship and won the respect of my colleagues.  Before I graduated, I secured a teaching job at my alma mater, a dream come true for me.

Again, with “only” teaching required in this new position, I strove to keep the research and service parts of my vita full.  These efforts took away time and focus from my husband while providing additional stress as the teaching responsibilities were already more than I would consider “full-time” work.

By the time we discovered we were expecting our first child, I had been sucked in, and felt I couldn’t leave.  (Now, part of that was the calling to complete my dissertation work so I’d have my Ph.D., and I needed to stay with the university until that was complete.  That delay was my fault and a topic for another day.)  I was used to the income, the affirmation (Really?  Do I remember the days I’d read my TEVALs and cry?), the classroom, my own office on campus, and more.  I stayed a semester longer than I had to so I could try to teach a new course, an elective.    Looking back, it was probably an excuse.  I justified it many ways, and much of that last semester, I frantically searched for ways I could still remain engaged in the workforce or field part-time to keep my “foot in the door.”  I felt I needed an outlet for my well-developed skills.

And, then I came home to be that stay-at-home mom I had always dreamed of being.

In all my days of academic training, I don’t remember hearing anyone talk of how fulfilling that would be, save my mentor from my teaching internship during my doctoral program.  (I praise God for Linda!  I chose her for this reason.  I was trying to look for a family-friendly path.)

I can’t help but wonder, if I got distracted from what was really important – and what I really wanted – in a period of 5 years of academic immersion at ages 29-34, what will it be like for girls who are encouraged to enter STEM fields from much earlier ages?  Will their teachers also tell them how wonderful it will be to stay home and raise a family, should they be so blessed?

In my eighteen months at home, I haven’t missed being in the workforce.  I haven’t felt isolated.  I haven’t felt “unfulfilled” or unappreciated.  I have been full of the joy I hadn’t felt since before I started my Ph.D. studies!  I have treasured the moments with my young children.  I have savored the opportunities to pursue interests like cooking and writing that I didn’t have time for while working.  I have basked in the peace that comes from not having piles of papers to grade or the stress of hurrying between work and home, dropping a child off at day care, picking her up, and trying to fix a quick supper.  I have delighted in the pride my husband feels as I stay home to make our family a priority.  I’ve even enjoyed being on a smaller budget, being able to trust God in new ways again and seeing His faithfulness and provision.  I can’t imagine anything better than being right where I’m at, and I still get to engage in those STEM fields I love every day (see Part 2)!

So, for the girls and women out there with a passion for math or an excitement for science, I’m cheering for you, sisters!  But I’m also asking you to search your hearts and seek the Lord for what He has for you each season of your life.

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The Best Kind of Surprise

There have been two main reasons I haven’t been consistent in blogging since Melody was born last spring.  One reason is I’ve been prayerfully seeking how to best spend the limited discretionary time I have, and I wasn’t convinced that blogging was the priority.  The other reason is the fatigue I’ve been feeling the last year.  First, I was busy seeing to my newborn’s needs.   The fatigue didn’t leave me when Melody started sleeping through the night, though, and those necessary early bedtimes continued.  I thought it was because I was using so many calories nursing, and it likely was.  (That, and keeping up with my 2-year-old and sweet infant.)

It was nearly Christmas last year when I became suspicious enough of the strange way I’d been feeling that I took a pregnancy test.  We soon learned that my frequent night-time trips to the bathroom, ongoing exhaustion, and strong need for mid-morning protein were impacted by the new baby growing inside me.

Hello, World! See you soon!  (Our third child at 20 weeks)

Hello, World! See you soon! (Our third child at 20 weeks)

A baby that will be, Lord-willing, joining us at home in mid-July!

(I was nearly 12 weeks along when we found out.  Let me tell you, the first trimester goes very quickly when you don’t find out until after 11 weeks have passed!)

I admit, I was a little freaked out at first.  Clara will be 3 in June.  Melody turned 1 in March.  There will be just under 16 months between Melody and this baby.  That’s a lot of little people to care for!  I was intimidated by the timing.  I was excited, but also scared.  We had hoped for more children, but didn’t think we’d be blessed again so soon.

I knew I just needed to trust God.  This baby was a gift from Him, and I knew that.  My faith was (and is) strong.  Sometimes, it just takes my mind a while to catch up.

The prayer dialog in my head goes something like this:

“Less than sixteen months apart, God?  Really?  Doesn’t Mom say she had twins ‘the hard way’ with my sister and me being just fifteen months apart?  How is this going to work?  I’m often worn out from caring for our two little ones now.  How am I going to do that–while nursing a newborn and being sleep-deprived?”

Okay, so it wasn’t much of a dialog, but after my venting of my worries, I remembered again and again God’s faithfulness to me.  He’s never called me to a task and left me all alone.  He always has my best interest in mind – even if I don’t see it until later.  He’s loved me so obviously and abundantly that I don’t doubt that His will is best.

With just eight weeks to go until we meet Baby (We don’t know if it’s a girl or a boy.  Similar to our other pregnancies, we wanted to be surprised.), I don’t know how this is going to work.  I don’t know who we’ll be able to find to watch our girls while we’re at the hospital.  I don’t know how the birth and recovery will go.  I don’t know how I’ll survive when my dear husband has to return to work, leaving me with three little ones in my charge.  I don’t know if this baby will have colic, like Clara, or be a profoundly happy baby like Melody.  I don’t even know how I’ll be able to even get everyone in and out of the car seats…

But God knows.  He has it all planned out, and I know He’ll take care of me.


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What I Missed In College

This trip was not our usual adventure to the local public library to enjoy the “Move and Groove” or “Toddler Time” programs, check out books, and select new DVDs.  A few Sunday evenings back, after enjoying supper at a special restaurant with our neighbor, we stopped at Kansas State University’s Hale Library.

(Photo credit

We were on a bit of a mission and had our small children along, so we didn’t tarry much.   To get to the area where I expected us to find the equipment we were looking for, we passed many groups of students studying and working together.  Some were writing equations on dry erase boards, erasing them, and trying again.  The sight of equations and variables that I didn’t quite understand but knew I could – or did at some time at least – brought me tingles of excitement as we walked past, much in the same way that hearing engineering students talk about physics or chemistry or transport phenomena was a sweet elixir to me as I silently graded my business students’ papers (back in my teaching days) in the engineering building that is dear to me.  (I spent hours upon hours in this building as an undergrad.)

We were there to find out if a slide scanner was available to the public.  (It is!)  Once our task was completed, I felt we needed to check out a few special aspects of the library.  It was the first time my husband and neighbor had been inside, and it’s been long enough that I don’t think Clara remembers her prior visits (which were likely centered on me running my final exams through the scantron machine).

Of course, we had to see the elevator and go for a ride.  Clara is 2.  That was her choice.  🙂

Mine was to take the elevator to the third floor to show our group the Great Room.

(Photo credit)

(Why didn’t I study here in college?  This seems much better than the dining room tables at the cooperative living house where I resided for 4.5 years, but then, I don’t suppose I’d want to be on campus at 4 a.m. finishing the thermodynamics homework that was due that day when I could be in my pajamas sipping milk…)

There are large murals on the walls opposite the grand windows.  I had never really looked at them before, and it had been years since I had even been in this room.  One of the murals excited me by depicting science and technology, but another held my attention in a deeper way.

This one.

Hale Library mural

(photo credit)

This seemed the perfect, peaceful life to me.  This woman gently rocks the cradle while reading to her child.  She is there for her hard-working husband.  She sings and plays piano (like me).  She spins and sews, no doubt (unlike me).  I imagine her life being not easy, but fulfilling and blessed.

As an undergrad, I spent four and a half years working hard to try to understand calculus, solve physics problems, learn chemical reactions, and many other challenging endeavors to prepare myself for a job in chemical engineering.  I learned life lessons from my other activities, such as playing in the marching band, tutoring and teaching labs, living with 50+ other girls, promoting chemistry and engineering through Alpha Chi Sigma and Engineering Ambassadors, connecting Chemical Engineering students with mentors through AIChE, and a host of other involvements.  But I never remembering hearing the message of:

A woman can find everything she needs at home.

She can use and challenge her most highly-educated brain there.  She can nurture others through caring for her family and showing hospitality.  She can use the most refined musical talents there.  She can learn and develop new skills.  She can help build a marriage that will be infinitely more rewarding and secure than any pay check.

Now, honestly, I think I’m probably thankful I didn’t hear that message too much in college since I had many years to wait until God brought my amazing husband into my life.  By His grace, I was able to support myself financially, grow significantly in my walk with the Lord, become a leader in campus ministry at my church,  and live some very rich years before I married at age 29.  But, I also wish that there may have been a few women in my life who would have shared what this picture spoke to my heart when I saw it instead of hearing repeatedly how more women are needed in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields to balance the workforce.

Yes, study fields you are interested in, develop the talents you have, go into the workforce, pursue God and let Him use you…

…but, don’t cling to all of that so tightly that you aren’t willing to come home when He calls you.

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New Year – New Hat

As this new year begins, I think it’s time for me to wear a new hat.

I devoted last year, though not entirely intentionally, to learning about this new “industry” of full-time homemaking and mothering.  There was plenty to learn.  Just as I felt I was getting a feel for the job, we welcomed a newborn to our family in March.  Then, sleep deprivation became a bit of an excuse for me.  Perhaps it was valid.  Perhaps it was a way to hide my laziness in some areas.  Time passed – quickly – and the end of the year came with me just trying to get by, falling short in all kinds of areas of my new job, and feeling rather hopeless about getting things turned around.  I was still learning how to manage my duties with two little ones, and the youngest keeps changing the game as she grows and develops.  🙂

I’m not looking back at 2012 with a lot of guilt, but rather, a motivation to make things better.  I’m a process-improvement gal, anyway, right?  You know, a gal with a Ph.D. in industrial engineering focusing on quality.  Surely I can make things better – especially since I’m really the Chief Operations Officer around here.

When I  began work in industry, my manager told me to read books and go out “on the floor.”   The advice was good, though a little flawed since reading heavy books about rubber compounding could put me to sleep after a few hours, and I wasn’t sure where to start with my observations on the manufacturing floor.   Mix?  Calender?  Build?  Cure?  All of them?  I think the message I was supposed to get was how important it was to understand our processes, to see the challenges the operators faced, to grasp how our development changes in the materials may affect manufacturing.

When I worked in the semiconductor industry, I was in the clean room for a while every day.  I got to see how some of the test data were used in decision-making.  That helped me understand the purpose and need for the project I’d been assigned – and also gave me a better vision for the importance and application of my dissertation work.

So this year spent in observation hasn’t been a failure or a waste, but it’s time for something new.  It’s time for Dana to get out her Lean Six Sigma hat, roll up her sleeves, and start solving the problems that plague our home.

That’d be really simple if it wasn’t so deeply personal.  See, I’m the main source of the problems.  Bad habits.  Lack of planning.  Poor organization.  Lots of issues that have been hidden by a busy lifestyle for many years.  (I think the new hat should be a hard hat – so I don’t get hurt when I open the coat closet to try to declutter.)  🙂

So here’s to a new year.  A challenging year, no doubt.  But, hey, that’s one reason I went into engineering.  I like a challenge.

I hope you’ll join me on my journey!

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In His Time

It was the Fourth of July.  I came downstairs to send a quick e-mail to my band director explaining that I may not be able to make it to the evening municipal band concert due to our plans to visit family out of town.  As I scanned my inbox, I saw a familiar name from years ago, a fellow student of my advisor for my master’s degree.

He was writing to let me know the paper I wrote based on my thesis was accepted.  He’s been a coauthor that has done the hard work of submitting the paper to a few journals over the last few years with no success until now.

Great news, right?!  Publications seem to be what is most highly esteemed in many faculty positions.  They are required for tenure and promotion – not that those matter much to me right now while I work at home raising my girls.

I was excited, very surprised (The study was limited and includes a research method that most engineers may not understand – qualitative systematic grounded theory – simply because words (not numbers) are the data to be analyzed.), and then — stumped.  My colleague asked me to send a bio to be included with the article.

I’ve dreaded this, knowing it would come sometime, but not thinking it would be so soon.  Affiliation: __ (blank)__.  I wonder what it says to people to see my name listed as first author and no affiliation with a company or university.

I wonder what it says about me that I care.  

I wanted to make sure my qualifications gave credibility to the paper.  I wanted to sound professional.  I also wanted to make sure I could honestly and joyfully describe my current career choice.  Honestly, I wished I had started my own company – even if I didn’t accept any business – just to have a name to list, to say I was a consultant or something.   But, I haven’t started a company yet.  I don’t have a name picked out.

So, here goes:

Dana K. is a stay-at-home mother of two beautiful daughters.  She earned her Ph.D. in industrial engineering with an emphasis in quality and reliability engineering… She has taught classes in operations management and quality management at ____ University and has several years of industrial experience…  Her research interests include industrial statistics, quality engineering, Six Sigma, and service operations management.

That first sentence is not something you see in many journal article bios.  I’ve never seen it before, anyway.  I pray that it will be a testimony that shows professional women in industry and academia that they do have a choice if they want to change directions in their lives.  That choice is very hard to see sometimes, for a variety of reasons.

And my late-night pondering makes me wonder if the previous rejections of this paper and now its acceptance have a very special, strategic timing.  While I feel almost naked thinking about my name printed without an affiliation, I think God may see that front page differently.  He makes all things beautiful in His time.  And I think that blank will be beautiful to Him.

~Dana

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Jesus Loves Me

There is something amazing and so heartwarming as each night my toddler asks us to sing “Jesus Loves Me” to her before bed.   Lately, while my two-month-old daughter slumbers easily through the night, my two-year-old girl has been waking.  She doesn’t ask for water or a book or for me to hold her (most of the time).  She asks for me to sing to her.  “Jesus Loves Me,” she requests.  “More Jesus Loves Me,” she petitions if one verse and the chorus is not enough.

There is something even more heartwarming when she sings it.  During the Easter service at our church, I felt that every time the pastor said “Jesus,” she began her song again.  Sometimes she leans her head back a bit as she sings with her eyes tightly closed, making us think a little of Ray Charles.  Often, the “for the Bible tells me so” is accelerated and punctuated at the end with an accented, staccato “SO.”

When Clara first started singing this song, I shuddered to think of how I could have missed it had I been working.  I would have still been able to sing to her at night – if my mind wasn’t preoccupied with the stack of papers to grade or the next day’s teaching lesson.  (I was an instructor at a university until I resigned last December.)  I may have gotten to hear her sing if she shared her song in the evening or on the weekends.  IF

I praise the Lord that I have the chance to be home with my precious little girls right now, to teach them, to watch them, to learn about them, to train them, to encourage them, to serve them, to laugh with them, to read to them.

And, while Clara also sings “Happy An No” (If You’re Happy and You Know It), The Alphabet Song (kind of), “Twinkle Star,” and others, one of the greatest benefits of my new job at home is knowing that three little words bring her comfort and are a truth that seems to be staying in her curious, ever-learning mind.  Jesus loves me.

He loves you, too.

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Dish Discipline – Ugh

Developing new habits is not easy.

Two weeks ago, I mentioned that I’d bought Dana White’s e-book, 28 Days to Hope for Your Home.  You may remember my excitement as I shared the hope I was experiencing in just three days (One Step at a Time – Looking for Hope for My Homemaking)!   Even last week, I shared with a friend how much I was enjoying going through this book.  “I’m good with homework,” I told her, meaning that {usually} if I’m assigned a task from someone else, I am more committed to complete it.

It slipped my mind to tell her the frustration I felt over that first weekend when my selfish, lazy self was whining LOUDLY from inside, “I don’t WANT to do the dishes!”  I think that weekend, I won over that voice one day, and the other day, I gave in.

And, that’s okay.  Nony leaves some room for grace in the book.  She tells you where to pick up and get going again if you get off track.  She encourages me by speaking my language, by letting me know I’m not the only slob out there, by helping me believe I can change and make my home a more comfortable place for my family and guests, and by taking control of a part of my life that overwhelmed me.

Now, I’m on Day 17 of the 28.  I feel like I’m making some real, permanent changes to my, what Nony calls, “Slob Vision.”  I don’t think I like doing the dishes any more than I did a few weeks ago, but I’m more accepting of them.  They’re just something that must be done, like laundry (which has never offended me as much as the dishes).   And I must say, with all the getting up I’m doing at 36-weeks pregnant each night, I do feel refreshed each time I go into my clean kitchen for yet another drink of water.  In the mornings, I don’t start out feeling behind with yesterday’s mess yet to deal with!

Through the end of February, Nony is offering her book for half price ($4 instead of $8)!  Click here to view more details and to purchase the e-book!  I encourage you to give it a try if you, like me, struggle with some of the daily tasks that can quickly overwhelm us.

In the last three days, I’ve had two guests rather spontaneously stop by.  I’ve had the blessing of feeding them lunches I was proud of – in a home I wasn’t embarrassed of – with NO ADDED STRESS!  🙂  Granted, I’m rather shamelessly unembarrassed when my home is messy, but this is kind of a big deal.  Inviting people to stop by whenever, and meaning it, it really, really fun!

With just over 10 more days to go in this book, I’m still excited that I can make some life-changes that will make us all happier at home, just in time for things to be put to the test when Baby comes!  If that’s not enough motivation for me, did I tell you how many more kisses I was getting from my hubby that first week when I started focusing on having a cleaner kitchen?  ♥♥♥

~Dana

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