Tuesday, May 28, 2013

WIC and Nutritional Advice

<p>So, some followup. Grace finally found that Kroger had, in fact, ordered low-fat goat's milk, but no one got back to her to report that it had come in. She had gone to the store to check on it several times, but it had not been put on the shelf. She went back several times, and one morning found someone actually stocking shelves. She asked this person, who said "Oh! You're the one who ordered that goat's milk? It's been sitting in the back." So they get credit for actually ordering what we wanted, but pretty much a zero for customer service.</p>

<p>Grace took home 12 quarts, out of the 22 she was covered for that month (all that wouldn't fit in our refrigerator). And we started doing our best to figure out how to feed the kids a dozen quarts of low-fat goat's milk. We decided that making a batch of Cream of Wheat would use up a whole quart, so we did this several times. The kids ate that up. We had hoped that goat's milk wouldn't set off their milk allergies, but it did -- in fact, the seemed to react more than they did to cow's milk -- and so we had several sick kids, including a baby with an up-all-night ear infection. So we had to give up on the goat's milk. They won't cover the fortified almond or coconut milk that we normally drink.</p>

<p>Joshua is very small and so we took him to see a pediatric endocrinologist for evaluation. She does not seem to be concerned with the results of his blood tests and bone scan, although we are concerned, and we'll be looking for another opinion. He has a follow-up appointment set to find out why our two-year-old is almost as tall, and weighs more, than our four-year-old. Meawhile, the nutritionist in her office got back to us with some advice on how to deal with a child who does not seem to be eating an adequate number of calories. I'm looking at a handout entitled "How to Increase Calories." It starts out: "If your child is having eating problems, it's important to make every bite count. Getting in adequate calories can help your child maintain weight and continue to grow well."</p>

<p>It then goes on to list a number of different types of food to consider adding to your child's diet, including butter and margarine, whipped cream, and whole milk and cream. We already do some of this -- for example, we've been making him mashed sweet potatoes with butter and sour cream. He doesn't seem to have the milk allergies that his siblings have, but having a lot of milk in the house is problematic because they will demand what he is drinking.</p>

<p>We'll skip the margarine, to avoid soybean oil and hydrogenated fats. Sweetened whipped cream in the house leads to a feeding frenzy, but we might be able to use whipping cream unsweetened in Joshua's food. WIC won't cover whipped cream, butter, or whole milk of any kind. Cheese is covered, but in pretty limited quantites. We're definitely using all they will provide and then some.</p>

<p>The nutritionist also recommends cream cheese, sour cream (we already use it; not covered), salad dressing and mayonnaise (not covered -- but Grace makes deviled eggs for the kids pretty frequently, and tuna salad with mayo).</p>

<p>Next up are sweets. Honey, jam, and sugar, granola, and dried fruits. These are a little problematic for us since Joshua already has four stainless-steel crowns due to extensive tooth decay. He eats carbohydrates and especially simple carbs preferentially to anything else. But we will try to figure out more ways to use these as an ingredient. I carry around granola bars and Balance bars in the car just so if I happen to have him in the car, I can give him a bar then -- instead of keeping them in the house, where the other kids would find them and eat the whole box.</p>

<p>Our plan for getting more calories into the kid involves the following: sour cream with meals whenever we can figure out a way to work it in. Sour cream and honey for a daily snack. Three or more desserts a week, including a jello dish made with mayonnaise one night, cookies made with nut butter such as cashew butter, chocolate chips, and garbanzo beans one night, and rice pudding (we might want to make it with almond milk so the other kids can eat it without setting off their allergies). He (but not the other kids) can have half-and-half or even heavy cream in place of milk. WIC covers none of this.</p>

<p>Grace has a saying about bureaucracies -- they can serve average needs really well. But they are, pretty much by design, incapable of serving special needs. Joshua isn't going to miss out on anything we think he could benefit from because of this -- we will cover what he needs with our regular SNAP benefits, as much as we can, and we'll figure out how to cover the rest. But it is troubling that they can't accommodate food allergies and special nutritional recommendations for members of the group that the whole program is designed to help.</p>

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Situation (Day 78)

Happy Memorial Day!

I think my numbering got off-by-one a while back so I've gone through and adjusted the day numbers on some of these posts, assuming that day 1 was the Monday of my first full week of unemployment -- in other words, the first missed work day.

Yesterday my friend Bill visited us at our home here in Saginaw with his wife and their young child. I haven't seen Bill since... hmmm, I think it's been 4 years, since the last college reunion I attended? And then before that, it was much longer. He brought us some pies from Fuzzy's Diner, and we fed everyone baked beans we made from some of the pinto bean stash in our root cellar, flavored with maple and bacon and cooked overnight in a cast-iron dutch oven at 200 degrees. They were delicious. While our kids and his kid and some neighborhood kids ran around and got filthy, the best way to spend a sunny spring day, the grownups also got filthy -- we got through a bunch of garden work, which was very satisfying. Bill and I got to spend a little while playing music together -- he's a very talented guy. That was great. It was a little reminder that even in the midst of the stress and angst of The Situation, with stress over trying to find work, keeping our mortgage paid, collect benefits, and figure out what to do next, it is still late spring and the world is alive and beautiful and we are meant to be alive and enjoy it.

The Michigan unemployment office waits for no man (or woman), and MARVIN does not count holidays, so I certified online today. There is good news there. The online system says I will be paid for the previous two weeks. That will mean I've collected eight weeks of unemployment compensation out of the 20 I'm eligible for. No word, yet, on whether I will be paid anytime soon for the 3 calendar weeks that were withheld. If I'm never paid for those weeks, I think that it means I still have them in reserve, and could still collect them as calendar weeks 21-23 -- that would be the last week of July and the first couple of weeks of August.

Let's hope it doesn't come to that. If I'm not employed by then, though, we will be very low on cash, for things like water and electric bills and gasoline. Getting paid now for those missed weeks would really help with that.

Not getting paid now for them now could also mean that I could collect them later in the benefit year, if, G-d forbid, I wind up hired and laid off again. Let's hope that is really, really not necessary!

Please keep our family in your thoughts this week, as I have an interview tentatively scheduled for Thursday, and several employers I'm waiting to hear back from. I'll be off-line, devoting the rest of today to celebrating and remembering our lost loved ones.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Situation (Crisis, Opportunity, and Why I Am Not a Disabled Electrical Engineer)

Nothing will test you, baffle you, and frustrate you like a period of unemployment. It's definitely one of those crises-slash-opportunities. I've had this tendency to see (and write about) only the "crisis" part. But it's honestly just now really starting to dawn on me that there is an opportunity aspect of this. I mean, I've known this intellectually, but it's been hard to feel it. I think I'm finally starting to feel it. And that presents, oddly, another crisis.

Today is a gorgeous spring day. Our neighborhood is this quiet, walkable boulevard with friendly neighbors, filled with flowering trees. I'm in a gorgeous old house. But at the same time this place is an economic shithole, in the grip of a terrible recession. A mile from her is one of the highest-crime neighborhoods in the country. There are hundreds of houses standing empty with foreclosure notices on the doors. It's kind of a mind-fuck, really, the disjunction between the apparent wealth and beauty here and the poverty behind the facade -- which, right now, is starting to include my own. This place looks like an opportunity, but it's actually mostly a crisis.

We're thinking very hard about whether we will have to leave Saginaw. After 3 years here, the kids have settled in, and made friends, and we've started to establish a rhythm and pattern to life here. We've made improvements to our house. We've put money and love into our gardens.

I don't want to go. I want this to work out. We chose this place, to be close to family, to find affordable real estate and space for our children, and to do what things we could to try to reverse the decline, the flight from what was a major American city.

If we do have to leave, it will be under a dark cloud; we'll have lost everything we put into our home, most likely, and more. We'll be demoralized; the kids will lose the ties they've made here, the small roots they've put down. It will feel like a failure. I've never been one to be excited about the road more taken. And we'll be treading the path taken by fifty thousand people before us, over the last fifty years or so.

There is good news on the job search front. I've been able to have good discussions with some hiring managers who are willing to consider a work arrangement that would help us stay in our home. The details are yet to be determined, but it's encouraging to have a manager suggest that they might be willing to have me in the office part of the work week, and work from home for the rest of the week. One guy even asked me what kind of support I would want from the company to set up such an arrangement. That actually baffled me. I just sort of went "ummm, ummm, what?" It took me a while to even understand that he was suggesting his company might chip in to help cover accommodation, for staying overnight, or a mileage allowance to pay for gas. In other words, he seemed to want to make the job attractive to me -- by offering perks! Isn't that weird?

Michigan has been beaten down. I've been beaten down too. When I set up my arrangement to work at home for my last employer, I resolved that I would not ask for any special concessions, since I had asked for and gotten working from home as a special privilege. I bought the computers I would need for my home office myself, and paid for the network gear and high-speed internet and separate phone line and desk and oscilloscope and logic analyzer. When I did have to travel to the office, I didn't submit a reimbursement request for mileage. I endured the jokes -- like when I mentioned in a conference call that I would be on vacation, the snarky comment from a co-worker that he thought I was already on permanent vacation. (Um, when I'm on vacation, I don't actually spend eight hours a day writing C++. OK, well, Haskell, maybe, but not C++).

I've forgotten that I'm actually the one in charge of the job search and the job interview and that I should be asking for what I want at this stage, not bending over backwards to accept less -- off the bat. I didn't used to be this way. Michigan has beaten me down. Thirteen years of declining wages -- in terms of cost of living, my earnings peaked in 2000 and have been on a gradual downward trend ever since -- have beaten me down. I haven't even been asking for what I need to feel rewarded and to be secure, because all around me I've heard, year after year, "you should just feel fortunate to have a job." If one takes that at face value for long enough, one starts to believe it, and of course then suddenly not having a job feels like all crisis, and no opportunity.

In addition to managers, I am talking to several recruiters every day now -- so many that it's becoming kind of overwhelming, actually. This really started happening largely after posting my resume on Monster and CareerBuilder. I've gotten on some mailing lists, apparently. I don't have a lot of experience working with recruiters. Grace has advised me to give serious thought to every conceivable offer, and to let the other guy be the first ones to say "no, it's not a good match." I'm really unaccustomed to pursuing more than one job opening at a time, so I'm in alien territory here, but I think it's basically good advice.

One of those "no" answers happened today -- I was being solicited for a four-month contract development position with a large bank in New York City. I had initially told the recruiter I wasn't interested in moving to NYC, leaving my family here, for a short-term gig. But Grace, it turns out, has a friend who was willing to provide a place to stay. So I got back in touch with the recruiter and said "let's talk about it some more." So I had a basic phone screen about object-oriented programming and C++, and then I got the dreaded question about salary requirements. I was thinking I wanted $125 an hour, but what popped out of my mouth was that I wouldn't really consider an hourly, W-2 gig like this in New York for less than $75 an hour. He argued that I was asking too much and wanted me to lower my requested rate. Honestly, I really wasn't expecting that -- I thought the rate I was quoting was, if anything, very low. We sort of sputtered at each other for a while; he talked about how if this 4-month contract worked out well, they would be able to turn me around quickly into a new one. But his reaction to my rate was pretty clearly the "no" that my wife was talking about.

After that exchange I was curious as to just how hard he was trying to screw me, so I asked around a bit. I don't have detailed numbers, but from what I was able to tell, developers who do this type of hourly work in NYC typically average something like $90 an hour, but experienced developers can make more than that. Sometimes a lot more. They can often also get a per diem for this sort of work to help cover expenses. So it's pretty clear he was punking me; I think the organization in question is an intermediary, and they would collect $120 an hour or more for my services from the bank, and then pay me half that. Sorry, not interested. Actually I'm not sorry at all that I'm not interested. What I'm sorry for is that I wasted so much of my own time talking to a dickweed.

I'm also sorry that I was under-valuing myself, and by extension my peers. I've really got to stop doing that. I need to remind myself that the kind of work I do could be the keystone of a product or a service that could easily net a business a million dollars, or more, in a given year. I'm ready to support that product, to work late to add features requested at the last minute, to quickly turn around bug fixes. It isn't crazy to want a measure of financial security in exchange for that. The conversations with recruiters have had a tendency to break down when it gets to the "let's discuss compensation" stage. I'm really sick of hearing that the senior, great, plum, choice, wonderful job from the fabulous employer the are trying to sell me on couldn't possibly stretch to cover the salary I'd like. I'm also sick of hearing how they just flatly would never accommodate a telecommuter, or a part-time remote worker. It's funny how a lot of these companies are perfectly comfortable out-sourcing huge swaths of their software development work to workers in Bangalore, workers they rarely if ever meet in person, in a time zone nine and a half hours away. But ask them to let an experienced American worker build code from a home office 100 miles away and they get... distrustful. Just tell yourself "I'm just lucky to have a job," right?

The kind of work I get called back for these days, around here, is embedded development. I'm a good programmer, and an experienced programmer. (Those two things are actually orthogonal to each other; I've met plenty of experienced developers who don't seem interested in their craft and who churn out really ugly code). Embedded work is more typically done by people with EE degrees or Computer Engineering degrees, which combine some Computer Science and Electrical Engineering. I sort of fell into embedded work by accident, when a friend of a friend needed some assistance understanding low-level Macintosh programming, to get an audio PCI card working. Really, my interest in hardware goes way back -- to childhood, when I got Radio Shack 150-in-1 electronic kits as birthday gifts, or build-your-own-digital-computer kits, or took apart reel-to-reel tape decks, to using an FM receiver to hear music generated by the unshielded radio frequency interference from the circuitry of a TRS-80, to wiring AppleTalk networks in college, to fixing broken telephone answering machines with a soldering iron, and so on, and so on -- but I never learned electronics the way an Electrical Engineer learns electronics.

Anyway, back to that audio PCI card and its firmware, written in C and Motorola 56301 DSP assembly language. I was able to help get that working, and that's sort of the work I've been in since. When I talk to a recruiter I've had to make sure that I clarify that no, I don't have an EE degree, or a B.S. degree at all, because to some employers that's become a critical issue. Also, I've been asked to specify my college grade point average a lot, and even submit a college transcript. I feel I should point out that I have not actually had to submit a transcript or specify my G.P.A. to get a job since -- my first job after college? It's been a long time. I was not terribly focused on good grades. I learned the most in classes when I sometimes got quite terrible grades. But I have a B.A. from a liberal arts school. My major was English. I took a minor in Computer Science because I loved programming. If the recruiter seems to know anything about programming I might talk about how, as a practical matter, I've rarely needed math beyond algebra to solve programming problems, even ones that sound initially complicated, like smoothing sampled compass headings using a decay factor based on the natural log of the current velocity. Or I might talk about how useful it has been to be able to write good documentation.

A select few seem to get it. They grok the idea that someone can have general intelligence and a willingness to work hard and an aptitude for solving problems, and that this might make someone a valuable employee. They're willing to consider someone who isn't a perfectly square peg, and in fact someone who might help carve out a differently-shaped hole.

Over the last decade or so, in the years I've spent actually getting things done, it doesn't typically occur to me to think of myself as disabled hardware engineer or a failed computer scientist. I feel successful, in fact, for the most part. I've written a lot of code. A lot of it has shipped out in products. And you need only take a look at my bookshelves to know I love to learn about computer science and particularly programming languages, both current and historic. I've been known to read patents for fun. I don't have a Ph.D. in Computer Science, but I feel a great affinity for those folks -- particularly the ones that specialize in language design and implementation, and I've taught myself a few things over the years.

I admire what EEs can do. I can't design a power supply. Sometimes I wish I knew more electrical engineering; I'd relish the opportunity to be truly mentored by an EE, or take some classes to try to get my math background up to snuff, if I could do that part-time. At one point I had some idea how an adder was build out of logic gates, but that class was a long time ago. These days I understand hardware in terms of registers and bits and interrupts and clock cycles and byte lanes and cache and memory-mapped I/O, which are really abstractions on top of real hardware that can be incredibly reliable but often is flaky and requires reading a lot of the "oops, we goofed, here's the workaround" notices that are euphemistically called by chip makers "errata." I can get a lot of useful information out of data sheets, but there is extra information in them that is targeted at people with training and experience other than mine. I'd like to understand that world better. I'd like to be better at soldering.

The EE's I've worked with could help me determine that, yes, that peripheral on a board wasn't working because of an actual hardware problem. They could read schematics more easily than I could, and make use of their deeper knowledge of the hardware to help me what the code needed to do, to work around issues. I could write clean, functional, well-factored, well-commented C code to do what needed to be done. Good EEs often aren't good at that, and more importantly aren't necessarily that interested in becoming good at it; to them the elegance of the circuitry might be important, and the code an afterthought. I've tutored EE programmers in how pointers and classes work. I've learned a bit from them about pull-ups and pull-downs, RS-232, balanced and unbalanced circuits, noise and capacitance, clocking and PLLs and clock dividers, and the practical aspects of driving various peripherals.

To me it's often distressing what they don't know -- and how poorly many of them write, whether we're talking about code or comments or specs or even a business e-mail. To me those things are pretty much all of a piece. But I try not to judge. We have our little jokes. They talk about how important it is for English majors to learn to say useful phrases, like "do you want fries with that?" I talk about how you know an electrical engineer likes you, because when you are having a conversation, he stares at your shoes instead of his shoes. Ha-ha, only serious.

They have a different focus. To them it's probably often distressing what I don't know. Since I've been writing code since childhood, code is my element. Working with EEs has actually seemed like a pretty good symbiotic relationship to me. Code is a different thing, and software architecture and design is not hardware engineering. I don't come at writing code quite like an EE comes at designing a circuit. I need to remind myself that this has been a good thing, and I think a lot of teams that build embedded programs could benefit from at least one engineer who specializes in software architecture. I find that position "at the boundary" between code design and hardware a very interesting place to live and work, especially as I'm always trying to push my own boundaries -- to move towards using more expressive, higher-level languages and tools, to advance my understanding, to get more leverage, to get a competitive advantage. I just wish more managers and EEs could see someone with my skills as whole asset, a "resource" as they say, and complementary to them, and not a broken thing with a piece missing who has somehow managed to limp into a job. And it's not just them I have to keep convincing.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Situation (Day Who's Counting, Anyway?)

So, I made an error that might cost us dearly -- I neglected to certify online for unemployment benefits (with the MARVIN system) during the week ending May 11th. I certified the following Monday, the 13th, instead. I don't really have a good excuse; I was focused on other things, like job applications, and somehow thought that I didn't need to certify until the following week. I think some of my confusion is the perpetual conflict between monthly billing cycles and getting paid every second week, meaning that paydays drift in relation to bill due dates.

Anyway, the immediate upshot is that since you can only certify for the previous two business weeks, I was concerned I won't get a payment for the week ending April 27th; it's not a lot, but it's money we need to pay the mortgage. I put in a customer service request to the system to report a "missed appointment time" on May 13th, but I've received no response. And it appears there's another upshot. I usually get paid the next business day after certifying online. But I haven't been paid at all for the weeks ending the 4th and 11th. So it looks like I have to put time into sorting that out -- maybe I will go into the office today. If they have somehow decided that because of this mistake, or for some other reason, I'm not going to get any more unemployment compensation, our finances are going to hit the wall a lot earlier than we hoped they would.

So how is the job search going? Well, I had my first actual rejection letter, for a local position I interviewed for. That was demoralizing, but the experience interviewing there strongly suggested that I wasn't a good match for their office culture. Still, local jobs in my field are not... plentiful. And most of my applications seem to be going into a black hole, as far as I can tell from the response rate. I've been talking to recruiters a lot more than I've been talking to employers. I've been talking with three different recruiters by phone and e-mail this morning. Recruiters are a mixed bag -- some of them seem to understand what I actually do and what the jobs actually entail, but some don't. I do have a phone interview with a group that I think is a real employer, in the form of a tech out-placement firm, lined up for tomorrow. We'll see how that goes.

I've applied for a couple of jobs that I consider intriguing "long shots." For years now my hobbies have included audio production and live sound. I was a DJ and production manager at the College of Wooster's campus radio station, WCWS-FM. I've been recording podcasts and recording and producing my own music for some time now. I applied for a position at a state university, doing audio production. I've also applied for a radio producer position job, which is close to home, and sounds intriguing. But given the published pay grades, these jobs might pay so little that I couldn't afford to take them. They might support a single man without a mortgage. I think on that salary, we'd still be eligible for food stamps, but I'm not sure we'd be able to pay the mortgage, and we certainly wouldn't be able to pay our utilities. University pay scales have never been closely competitive with private industry, but it looks like in the last decade they've absolutely collapsed, while tuition soars. Still, I'd love to be able to get at least a phone interview for one of these jobs. Grace and I are carefully considering what we need to earn, collectively, to stay in our home -- and, of course, whether that is even a worthwhile goal. We're starting to look into whether she might be able to find work as well -- maybe we'd become a two-shift family, where she worked in the evenings. But of course we don't actually want to just barely survive -- with no disposable income to spend on repairs and fixing things up as they inevitably deteriorate. We didn't buy this house just to let our investment fall apart.

Oh, and I'm selling off some of my guitars. I originally considered some of these instruments to be part of a collection, and that they might appreciate in value, or at least hold value. That's certainly not the situation after only five years or so. The results have been very disappointing. But that's a story in itself. Maybe I'll write something up over on my Geek Versus Guitar blog.

We're still waiting for that lead testing. More phone calls...

UPDATE: I went to the Michigan Unemployment office (aka "the Happiest Place on Earth"), and after a wait of only one hour, I got to talk to a representative. For my mistake of being one business day late to certify online, 3 weeks of benefit payments are "in question." That's a mortgage payment plus a little more. I never did get any response to my online inquiry, sent May 13th, and I did not get any indication that I wasn't going to be paid for the weeks ending May 4th and 11th. I'm told that the state will send me a paper questionnaire, by mail, and that I will need to explain why I missed my "window" to certify, and send it back. Within four to six weeks I should have a judgment on whether I can get paid for those three weeks. Wow. What should I tell them? It was a mistake on my part. I screwed up. If I say that I'm very sorry, but I was distracted by phone conversations with recruiters and online applications, will they still pay me?

The representative claimed that I should still be able to certify next week, for this week and last week, and get paid for those weeks. I hope she's right.

UPDATE 2: the online system still shows no response to my inquiry submitted on the 13th, and I haven't received any paper mail or e-mail or calls, but I noticed that on the same page of links where I submitted the customer service inquiry there was a link, "Claimant Response to 1713 Separation Information Request," which took me to another page, that indicated I had an unanswered request, and allowed me to fill out an online form to answer it. I guess this is the response to my inquiry, or my visit to the office in person. So I filled that out. I wrote "I have been using MARVIN online to certify for weeks of unemployment. During the week ending 11 May I should have certified, but I became distracted by a number of phone interviews and conversations with recruiters and forgot. I certified online May 13th for the weeks ending May 4th and May 11th. The system looked like it accepted that but now I have not received payment for any of those 3 weeks." (elsewhere in the online form, I had indicated the week ending April 27th as well). I guess I'll see if that gets any response. This is quite confusing. Should I now cancel my "pending" customer service request? My guess is that I should mess with it as little as possible, especially because the same questionnaire might also be coming to me in paper form.

Meanwhile, I have continued to submit my weekly job search records, although the postings are few, and although the information I have is often thin -- sometimes a recruiter, not an employer, and sometimes not even a name for a recruiter -- something like "Unspecified Tier 1 Automotive Supplier via CareerBuilder." And here's how out-of-sync their online reporting system is with my job search reality: you can specify that you contacted an individual (who they want the name for) by telephone, paper mail, fax, or e-mail, but there is no good way to specify that you applied for a job online. Yet most of the jobs I have applied for, including two at colleges, only allow you to apply via their online systems -- and there really aren't any names I can put in the required "name" fields of the online forms.

Friday, May 03, 2013

The Situation (Day 55)

Wow, the days are piling up. I continue to apply for jobs every week.

Yesterday I had the first face-to-face interview I've been able to get (I've had a couple of phone interviews and quite a few phone conversations with recruiters). I applied for the job in question on March 14th, and it took until May 1st to have an interview. I guess that's not unusual; I've been in the position of doing the recruiting and interviewing and hiring, and I know it takes months. But from the other side it is painfully slow.

I thought the interview went reasonably well. I wore a blazer and tie and felt a bit over-dressed in the presence of my potential teammates. Apparently some automotive suppliers now allow jeans as part of "business casual." Automotive engineering is extremely process-heavy, with heavy emphasis on documentation and specifications and formal methods and code reviews. It's not that my recent work didn't have any of this going on -- we did -- but my group was not really heavy on collaboration between developers. I got the feeling they guys interviewing me might not have believed that I wrote the programs I was describing, as pretty much the sole developer. It sounded like they break down programs into much smaller pieces when dividing up work. So that might be a little culture clash. They want someone with CAN experience, and I don't really have that, although I learned a fair amount about MOST a number of years ago; I'm not sure whether that satisfied them or not. It was over two hours of talking with different people and groups. One of the developers that was supposed to be there, a guy I had an initial phone interview with, was not there, and that threw me a little. By the end, I think I was losing my focus. On an open ended "describe your dream job" question I rambled perhaps a little too honestly and perhaps too long about architecture and design and systems, things that are probably more high-level than the job at hand calls for. I also just find it hard, as an essentially introverted, at least slightly modest person, to spend a lot of time talking about myself and all my qualifications and qualities, without starting to feel like a blithering idiot.

I also asked a few questions that had embarrassing answers, such as "does your team have access to any windows or natural light?" (The answer was no -- they all work in interior cubes, under fluorescent lights), and "is this one of those cases where the company pays you a big salary, but then the only computer you can get your hands on to do your work is a Dell that cost $299 ten years ago?" (The answer was "Oh, did someone give you a tour of our work area?") But at least it got a laugh. I had some good code samples to show and, I thought, some good answers, and I can't imagine the Saginaw area is overflowing with more-qualified programmers, but I honestly have no clear idea of whether I should expect an offer. These are basic quality-of-work-environment issues that younger developers may not care much about, but when you have damaged, middle-aged eyes, being able to glance out a window now and then to relax your eye muscles becomes pretty important. Maybe this is when the alleged age discrimination in the software development field really starts to bite hard -- not that it is discrimination in hiring per se, but just that certain basics change priority, and _I_ do the discriminating. I don't know. And of course it could take a month or more before I hear anything. But it is what it is and I have to stay positive while at the same time continuing to look for other positions.

Grace has been trying to figure out how we can make use of WIC food items. We all got sick from trying to use cow's milk, even a minimal amount like buttermilk in baked goods. Our two-year-old developed a painful ear infection and kept us up all night. So we're going to have to skip the cow's milk altogether. They cover some soy milk, but several doctors have warned us against giving soy milk to the kids, so that won't really work. They simply will not cover the almond milk or coconut milk that we usually get. Grace's attempts to get any of the local grocery stores to order low-fat goat's milk have met with complete failure. So that's pretty much a bust. The processed cereals also resulted in immediate, dramatic behavioral problems with our kids. Basically, after feeding them things like brown rice and steel-cut oats, feeding them processed cereals like Cheerios instantly gave them the equivalent of ADD and hyperactivity. We couldn't believe how crazy the kids were acting, how much poor impulse control, how much screaming and crying was going on, compared to their normal behavior. It was absolutely surreal. So, no more Cheerios. We can't have peanut butter in the house, because of Veronica's allergies, and WIC won't cover any other nut butters. So we're going to just have to use WIC for the certain things what we can use -- brown rice, canned beans, some produce items, and canned tomato juice (we've been making a tomato soup with ground bison and black beans, and it's pretty good!)

We took Joshua down to Ann Arbor to see a Pediatric Endocrinologist. If you've been following me for a long time you might remember this podcast episode in which we speculate that Joshua might have some form of dwarfism. Well, although he's been growing since then, he's now four and his two-year-old brother has almost caught up to him, so we've brought this concern to his pediatrician, and he recently had a blood test showing abnormally high growth hormone levels -- we talk about that briefly in this podcast -- so we got him this appointment. They took more blood, to run some further, more sensitive tests for growth hormone and thyroid function, tested him for calcium and vitamin D, took some measurements, and x-rayed his hand to see what his bones were doing. The doctor we saw did not seem terribly concerned, and did not think he showed signs of Russell-Silver Syndrome or Hypochondroplasia, but we will see if the blood tests reveal anything. We're supposed to talk to a nutritionist about whether we can find some foods to get him to eat more. I'm not quite sure what to hope for. If they identify something that can be treated, it would seem more satisfying than "oh well, he's just short." We might know more when this new doctor gets his complete records and can see his growth over time. Even if they find nothing, we'll have a follow-up in the fall to see if he is making any progress -- or not. I am pretty sure that without any kind of treatment his then-to-be two-and-a-half year old brother will be taller, and maybe even heavier, than Joshua will be at five. I guess that's not unheard of, but it seems weird.

Oh, and we're still waiting on lead testing. Grace follows up with them every once in a while. Apparently we just have to wait. We're also supposed to have some sort of general home safety inspection next week. What would really help is if they would repair some windows, plumbing, and insulation, but I'm not sure that's part of the deal.

There is some good news. I continue to hear from recruiters that the job market in Michigan is improving, and developers have more leverage in requesting decent salaries, or options like telecommuting and compressed work weeks.

In addition, we finally got our "food stamps" (really, a debit card), about eight weeks after we first applied for food assistance. The debit card is a much bigger benefit, cash-value-wise, than WIC, and it actually came through retroactively -- the card had funds on it for covering part of March and all of April. This is great, because it means although I have had to spend our diminishing savings on food, when we got the card we could make a big grocery run, using the March and April money to re-stock the non-perishables in our basement storage room and pantry, as well as re-filling our refrigerator with fresh food. Our generally frugal approach to buying mostly-unprocessed foods means that our typical monthly grocery expenses are higher, but not dramatically higher, than what the card will cover for a family of seven. Compared to WIC, using the debit card is effortless -- it just covered every food item that we bought. Every single one. When WIC renews for May, in a few days, we will stock up again on some of the things WIC covers -- for example, more canned beans and brown rice. Between those two benefits, we should be able to spend very little cash on food in the immediate future. So together these benefits will be a big help.

That's about all the news, and I'm tired! Good night, all.