Sunday, December 28, 2008

Blanket Woes

Well, I think anyway. Gareth is very attached to a certain orange blanket. We'd once previously partially detached him from said blanket, getting him to leave it in his crib all day and only use it to lay his head on while sleeping (he will scream for 2 hours, possibly longer, without falling asleep if he doesn't have the blanket - we've tried before). After tears upon leaving the blanket behind in the crib a few times, it seemed to work. He didn't care that he no longer had it to carry around. And the couple of times we tried to soothe him with it, it didn't work.

Then he mysteriously re-attached to it, apparently stronger than ever. And I just haven't had the will or energy to force him to leave it in the crib (read: I haven't felt like dealing with his crying), so I've let him become re-attached. At least we don't have to take it out of the house with us usually.

But over the past week or two he's become very difficult. For instance, he no longer willingly helps pick up toys in the evening, something he used to love doing. All he wants to do is sit holding his blanket and sucking his thumb. Tonight we had many, many tears trying to get toys picked up. At one point he even wanted to carry his new xylophone to his room, BUT, to do that required both hands. Which meant that even though he was still carrying the blanket over his shoulder, he wasn't sucking his thumb! Disaster! He couldn't even make it from our living room down the hall to his room without bursting out in tears (I could only assume because he wasn't sucking his thumb). He wants his blanket on his lap while he eats. I hate to think what will happen when I throw it in the wash, which needs to happen soon.

So, my question for all of you is, will I be causing my son severe emotional trauma and psychologically damaging him forever more if I force him to not have his "blankey" during the day? Or is it not the blanket at all and he's just exhausted from the pre- and post-holiday bustle? Or perhaps he just needs an earlier bedtime and is too tired by the time I start our usual bedtime rituals? What would you do, if you were me?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Merry Christmas!

We hope everyone had a delightful Christmas!

At our house we took all day (and into the next morning) to open gifts. This will get a little shorter over the years, but is keeping with tradition on my side of the family. The Layton's always took turns opening gifts and took time with most gifts to discuss/explore the present before moving on, so even on the smallest of Christmases opening presents often went past noon. Gareth now gets pretty excited whenever we ask if he wants to open a present. We'll see if he remembers what that means when his birthday comes around.

We also enjoyed talking with both of our families, knowing that Ryan passed both of his classes this past semester, watching movies, and eating a delicious non-traditional holiday meal. Neither of us are big ham people and we'd just had turkey, so we decided to make chicken with asparagus in a white wine sauce (sans the white wine).

For Christmas pictures, go here.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Tree

We purchased our Christmas tree yesterday! We ended up getting a smaller one than we'd planned on because we just couldn't bring ourselves to go with the Scotch Pine (which apparently is native to the area and therefore cheaper). Scotch Pines are bushy with super long needles. Because they're so bushy they look even shorter than they already are. The ones at the farm also had a very pale green color that didn't appeal to me. And, every time I looked at one I heard Lina Lamont saying, "I can't make love to a bush!" So, yeah, that wasn't going to cut it. All the fir trees are more expensive, so hence why we had to get a shorter one. But that's okay since we don't even have enough ornaments to fill what we got!

Getting our first ever Christmas tree has also helped us realize that we don't have many decent tools. We didn't realize until after we'd got the tree in the stand and put water in that we were supposed to cut off some more of the trunk so that the tree would actually drink. We waited for several hours to see if it'd be okay anyway, but it didn't drink any water so we attempted to do what we'd forgotten to earlier. But we only had a really, really thin saw blade - the kind that are fairly flexible - ring a bell anyone? Definitely not what we needed for the job. Halfway through the trunk it snapped out of the handle and we were left with a twisted saw blade. All we could do for the other half was try to drill (with a hand-crank drill) away some of the base. We succeeded in making a few small dents on the second half of the trunk before we decided to give up. At least our tree is drinking, albeit rather small amounts. Thankfully it only has to last a week. I think we'll try to actually own a decent tree-trunk-cutting saw by this time next year.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hooray Grapefruit!

Every year growing up my Grandma would send our family a large box of grapefruit at Christmastime. Yes, grapefruit. And we all loved it. It has slowly become a favorite tradition that none of us can imagine foregoing. Ryan was introduced to it the first time he went to NJ for Christmas, and he fell in love with it as well (though he eats it with sugar, which I'm fairly certain none of us Laytons do). After we were married we spent our first Christmas in New Mexico, but we still found some grapefruit to buy because we couldn't have the holidays without it! Over the past few years we've made very certain that my parents promised to continue the grapefruit tradition, and sure enough, we just received our box of grapefruit. They even ordered us some "santa bowls" and grapefruit spoons along with the fruit. So over the next few days we'll be enjoying some delicious Texas grapefruit. Hooray!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Paramecium Poems?

On my way to teach a lesson yesterday I caught the tail end of this poem being recited on the radio (our NPR here has a poetry segment at that particular time every day). I think it might be the oddest poem I've ever come across. Even stranger than the one about fossilized fish.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Basking in the Holidays

I have been having so much fun getting into Christmas this year. It helps a lot that Gareth will actually be a little bit interested in what's happening rather than just chewing on the wrapping paper. And that we'll be on our own for Christmas for the first time. In past years it's been too easy to let the fact that we're going away become an excuse to not pull out our few decorations or to not do any holiday baking.

This year though, I'm on top of things. The few decorations we have that can be placed out of Gareth's reach are on display. The advent my mom sent is strung in garland fashion around our bookcases. I've baked gingerbread cookies, cranberry-orange pinwheel cookies, banana bread, and made fudge and toffee. (Our butter count so far is 2.5 pounds, but it'll soon be up to 3.5 once I make more toffee and gingerbread cookies!) If I were more poetic like my sister or sister-in-law, I'd write an ode to parchment paper, which has been much appreciated and adored during all this baking. All of the gifts are wrapped and ready to go under the tree or in the stockings on Christmas Eve. With the exception of a few hand deliveries, all of our Christmas cards have been sent out. We don't have a tree up yet, but I've purchased a stand and lights and materials to anchor the tree to the wall with (so Gareth can't pull it down) and we will go cut a tree down sometime this week (Ryan's in finals this week, so things have been a little busy for him). It's been years since I've been around for the tree cutting, so I'm extremely excited for this part. If we actually owned any holiday movies, I'm sure we'd be watching them (I'm shocked at this oversight in our movie collection!) And we've got plans to go to a friend's home for their Norwegian Christmas Eve.

We've also had the chance to participate in various community-related Christmas activities, which I think definitely contributes to my feelings of excitement and enjoyment. I've performed for our ward Christmas program and for a short Christmas program at a local assisted living community. And our ward was involved in a community Christmas Jubilee, which helps local families provide toys and a meal for their family for Christmas. I was able to help out when the families came to select their toys from the "toy shop", and it was one of the most fun service activities I've participated in in a long while. I was host to a girl whose son is about the same age as Gareth, so we had fun talking about our kids and her plans for the future.

So, I think we're shaping up to have a great Christmas. How about you? What are you doing that's bringing on the holiday spirit?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

One Down, Many To Go

After 8 years I've finally finished the baby quilt I started as a Laurel project. In my defense, many of those years were spent with school eating away most of my time. Behold the product of my years of (on and off) toil:

We can now have a baby girl.

And to end on another happy note, are these not the cutest things you have ever seen?

Saturday, December 6, 2008


The last time Gareth received a trim was early July, so he was getting pretty desperate for a haircut (for a "before" picture just check out any recent ones in our photo album of him) . I am not brave enough to cut his hair myself yet since he's so wiggly. He wasn't happy while the hairdresser was cutting his hair, but I think he's enjoying having it out of his eyes and ears now that it's all over.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Things to Come

How Mommy Dresses Gareth

How Gareth Dresses Gareth

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Home Decor

After saying that I needed to hang pictures and that I was about to hang pictures for the past four months, I've finally done it! Motivating factor: it was getting really annoying to try and read the microwave clock from the living room and hearing the ticking of the living room clock without being able to see it was getting on my nerves. Turns out my timing was good since the day after hanging all of this my watch battery died, so I have to rely solely on the wall clock now to tell when Gareth needs a nap. I've only done the living room so far, but that's the most important one since it's what other people see. Maybe I'll get around to hanging the rest of our stuff before we move...

Saturday, November 8, 2008

One Little Monkey

A few days ago I entered Gareth's bedroom after his nap to the sight of him jumping on his bed. Apparently he suddenly discovered that if he holds onto the sides of the crib he can get some good air and a great bounce. He thinks this new discovery is the most fun ever. Except when he occasionally bangs his head (just like in the nursery rhyme!) against the opposite crib rails. But it sure doesn't stop him from jumping some more.

I've taught Gareth how to give kisses. I'm attempting to get him to give kisses instead of biting (thankfully he only bites me and soft toys, but I wish he wouldn't bite at all). He seemed willing enough to give kisses while I was teaching him, but ever since the lesson he absolutely refuses to give kisses. If I ask for them he grins, shakes his head, and emphatically says, "No!". I knew the day would come when he would be "too old" for kisses, but I didn't think it would come quite so soon.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

Although this is technically not Gareth's first Halloween, it's the first he's celebrated. Last Halloween I was not on top of things and he got sick right before, so we decided to skip it. This year I also wasn't on top of things, but it came together better than I expected.

I had been thinking we'd make Gareth into some cute, furry animal, like a lion. But then I asked Ryan his opinion and learned that cute, furry animals were boring and not cool. Ryan wanted Gareth to be the Joker. Which is a great idea except for the fact that it's not possible to find such an outfit for an 18-month-old. At least not one month before Halloween. So I was stuck worrying Gareth would have to skip Halloween again until we received a hand-me-down red raincoat with black trim. Fireman! For a few dollars I was able to purchase a plastic fireman's helmet at Walmart and the costume was complete. Not as cool as the Joker, but better than a furry animal I guess.

We weren't ready in time to go out in the neighborhood, but we did make it to the multi-ward trunk-or-treat. It was very amusing to watch Gareth as I dragged him along to each car. We made it through half the cars (skipping many along the way) before he decided he'd had enough of the parking lot and wanted to run along the sidewalk instead. This was fun for a while until he tripped over another kid and scraped up his fingers. Aside from the fingers, which are now forgotten, I think he had a fun time. And, amazingly enough, he even kept his costume on the whole time we were there.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Winterizing Gareth

Gareth loves playing outside. In all weather. Knowing that winter was coming, a few weeks ago I purchased a nice, warm winter coat for him. Which he then refused to ever let me try on him. If he so much as saw the coat he ran away screaming.

Recently our temperatures have dropped drastically, causing me to pull out my winter coat today. Thinking that Gareth would take more kindly to his coat since it's so cold outside I tried once again to get it on him. With the same writhing and screaming results as previously. However, I finally tricked him into it by putting on his shoes and pointing outside to indicate that he could go out, but only if he put the coat on. Rather reluctantly he allowed me to envelop him in the coat. And outside we went.

It's been really windy here, so I instantly had to put his hood on as well. The result was a shocked Gareth, standing on our steps, wondering how on earth he was supposed to play in such a condition and what he had done to deserve such treatment. Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera on hand, but I later caught a slightly less surprised child:

All bundled up and toasty warm! The only difficulty (and understandable reason for his not enjoying the coat) is that he's so bulky he can't move well. And it makes him more top heavy. Trying to bend over and pick up pebbles or balls results in him falling onto his nose. I guess he can't move his arms well enough in the coat to prevent the fall in time. So now he has a scraped nose and a bruised forehead. But at least he's warm!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Test of Understanding

First of all, let me say that I try not to be judgmental of other people's parenting techniques/skills. And I think I generally succeed quite well in my efforts in that area. Except today.

Today we had stake conference. Not wanting to sit amongst hundreds of others in the cultural hall, we opted for the overflow area of the nursery. Ideal situation. They plan on that room being mostly parents and kids, so they don't set up too many chairs and, for the most part, the kids are entertaining themselves with toys so you can usually hear the speakers.

What tested me was the parent who would not control his 5-year-old child. This kid consistently talked loudly, wanted more toys from the closets, would not share, complained when other children didn't share, and got toys out and threw (not gently dropped or tossed, but threw) them to the floor because they weren't what he wanted. The parent would tell him not to get more toys out over and over, but never even tried to stop the child from opening the closets (our nursery closets don't stay completely shut unless they're locked). Never made any attempt to get the child to speak quietly. And didn't make much of an attempt to get the child to share with younger children (or any children for that matter), but rather would try to convince the almost-2-year-olds that they needed to let the older child play all by himself with whatever toy was in question. (Thankfully the younger kids usually didn't care.) When the child started throwing tantrums over not getting to play with something nothing was done about it. Most other parents I've come across just don't act this way. Especially not with a 5-year-old! It's not like the youngest nursery kids who don't always understand what you're telling them (and most parents I know won't let their 18-month-olds get away with such behavior).

Basically, the parents refuse to follow through with what they ask the child to do. And the child knows it. As for me, I'll hope I never have to teach a class with this child in it. My plea to all who are reading: if/when you have children, please don't parent in such a manner. Not if you don't want me irritated to the core with you, that is. End of rant. Thanks for listening.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Little Late

I'm starting to think Gareth was born a few decades too late. He thinks Carole King's Tapestry album is very groovy. And he loves dancing and banging on the washer and dryer to "Jungle Boogie" (you've gotta love those suits). He obviously really wanted to be born in the late 50s/early 60s so that he'd be a teen during all the great 70s music. He took pretty well to Miles Davis' Kind of Blue as well, so I guess coming of age in the late 50s would be his second choice.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Advantages of The Developers' Home

On Sunday morning I came out of our bedroom to be greeted by Ryan saying, "Is our heat supposed to work?"

"Umm, yeah? That's usually the idea, isn't it?"

We've been having a very mild fall (in the 80s until this past weekend), but Sunday morning was cold enough to warrant a desire for the heat running. Especially since Gareth had awoken with rather cold hands and feet. After a spring and summer of sleeping with no blankets, he is loath to have any bedtime coverings.

I promptly called The Landlord, despite it's being Sunday and knowing that his ward would be starting in an hour and a half. Thankfully he saw the necessity of us having working heat. After spending a few minutes fiddling with the central air unit, the thermostat, and the fuses, he was able to determine that there is no heating element in the central air unit. The Landlord figured there must be 6 individual heating elements throughout the house controlled by dials on the wall and that the central air unit was just supposed to act as a blower to move the air around. (He'd told us when we moved in that the dials on the wall were for electric baseboard heat and that they'd taken that out to put the central air in, so they didn't do anything. I'd assumed he was right since he'd known the couple who originally developed the property and lived in our unit.)

Gareth and I trotted off to church and arrived home 3 hours later to find the house exceedingly warm. But the air blowing out of the vents had never become warm. It had gotten warm outside, but not warm enough that it would make wearing a light sweater inside the house uncomfortable. I called The Landlord again to give him an update and he told me that he'd contacted the Furnace Man to come and take a look at it.

Furnace Man came today and apparently what we've got is electric radiant heating through the walls and ceiling (and possibly even the floor?). It's basically electric wires spaced out behind the walls, etc. and the dials on our walls turn those on and the heat seeps into the house. And we've got some really good insulation in our unit because we have this type of heating system. Furnace Man said that this type of heating is some of the best but most people don't get it because it's so expensive to install (but quite cost effective to run). Pretty cool, non? Apparently The Developers were wealthy and now we're reaping the benefits of their wealth. Other advantages of our home thanks to them? A garage, having 2/3-ish of the house rather than just 1/2, tons of storage space, and a nice, large kitchen with more cupboards than even I can use.

Friday, October 17, 2008

All He Wants For Christmas

Gareth has made what he wants for Christmas (or anytime before then that we buy him a toy) very clear:

Our neighbors have one of those scooter/ride-on toys (what are those things actually called??) and now he thinks everything with wheels is for his riding enjoyment. It sorta works with the little bus, but try picturing Gareth attempting to sit on a small wooden fire engine that's at least half the size of the bus lengthwise and widthwise. So now I'm on a quest for an inexpensive whatchamacallit. Until I find one he'll just have to make do with the bus.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

To PhD or not to PhD

That is the question.

Welcome to the Island of Phelps.

Not that the PhD question is the theme of the Island of Phelps or anything. It's just that I felt like blogging about that right about now. This blog is a continuation of the family blog that used to be at this address. I got tired of the slowness and finickiness of the shared hosting provider and the half baked blog software and so I decided that I'd sell all our souls to Google for the time being in exchange for reliability. I called it the 'Island of Phelps' because that was the only Phelps-related blogspot domain name left that wasn't stupid. All the good ones are taken by losers who created a blog a couple years ago and then forgot about it.

Now onward to the main topic.

There is no doubt that the conditions and work environment of the typical modern software engineer are a very sad state indeed for anyone who is intellectually curious and driven. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the blog post I am going to relate.

I've gone back and forth on the PhD question quite a bit now. Months before we came here I thought that a PhD would be rewarding. Right before we came here I thought a PhD was overkill and worthless. Most of the time I've been somewhere in the middle. I knew I'd be exposed to pressure in the PhD direction here because everyone and their pet hog is in a PhD program. Those who aren't getting a PhD are doing worse things like getting an MBA.

When I ask people what they want to do after getting their PhD, they respond with one of two words: 1) "industry" or 2) "academia". That's it folks. Once you get a PhD you've finally simplified your life into two options. All you have to do is decide left or right and your career is set in stone.

I also like to ask people what made them choose to do a PhD. A few do it for the same reasons that we go on LDS missions. It's an established, believed, and respected tradition. Dad did it. Sometimes Mom did it. Others give me more interesting responses. I asked one guy why he chose a PhD while I was up here visiting Purdue. He explained that he tried out a software engineering internship at some financial company and he used a strong word that I will not repeat here to describe the type of work that it was. While I sat back and reflected about how much that resonated with me, a father of one of the other visiting prospective students blurted out, "I worked there for 25 years!"

The question is, how bad is it really? Surely there are great software jobs out there. Some people I've heard of have them, and they don't have PhDs. But these people have had to demonstrate their worth first (and become famous enough for me to have heard of them), so the PhD issue is irrelevant. Everybody has to work their way into respect. Will a PhD accelerate or in some way ease this path?

Really a PhD is just a credential that meets minimum standards for certain types of organizations full of people who like to pontificate on obscure topics, and who don't want to be bothered with the task of figuring out if you fit their mold. They all had to do it so by golly they're gonna make the new kids do it too. Certainly there are ground-breaking companies out there who will give you a chance regardless of whether you've sold yourself into academic slavery for a few years, aren't there? Is it worth getting a PhD just so that I can satisfy people who wouldn't look at me twice without those three letters next to my name? There's the well-that's-the-way-the-world-goes-'round excuse. People think it's important, and therefore it becomes important. Just slog through and get it, kid. Once you have the paper in hand that's all that matters. You're in the club.

But the institutionizing on a large scale of any natural combination of need and motive always tends to run into technicality and to develop a tyrannical Machine with unforeseen powers of exclusion and corruption.

-William James, from The Ph.D. Octopus (Read the whole thing.)

It can't just be about satisfying society's lust for titles. I couldn't stand it if it were. Getting a PhD needs to be about the experience, not about the perceived importance. I'm more concerned about the substance of the thing. Are the learning experiences worthwhile? Spending 3-4 years working on a focused topic isn't going to pay off unless I truly believe that the topic deserves 3-4 years of my life. Nevertheless, most people see a PhD as merely a necessary gate to go through on your way to become a professor or a researcher. The title-granting, gate-keeping Machine has taken over.

Even if I got past that gate, would my opportunities be better despite being fewer? I remember a comment I read from someone online about getting a PhD (he's been in a PhD program for computational biology):

Want to know why American students don't enter PhD programs? Ask one: to get a PhD in this country, you must forgo five or more years of income and savings, live like a pauper, and lose many opportunities for early career development. Meanwhile, you get to watch your undergraduate classmates buy cars and houses, take authority roles in their companies, and accumulate significant retirement savings.

And what do you get in exchange? The obligation to work long hours for 3-5 more years, in a $40k/year post-doc (usually in an expensive city), with the long-shot possibility of finding a professorship somewhere (hopefully, somewhere near your spouse!) There, you'll work your *** off for six more years, in the hopes of not being permanently fired from the only job that you're qualified to do. And as an extra-special bonus, your job security rests largely on your ability to beg for money from the's hoping that the NIH/NSF/DOE/DOJ grant budgets don't decline!

Scary, huh? How can I even consider the possibility of putting myself through that? More importantly, how can I possibly consider delaying the purchase of my dream $12k drum set? How, I ask you! HOW CAN I DO THIS THING?!

Well I am considering it. Maybe it's the safest way that society allows me to avoid the cubicle dwelling code monkey slavery that I seem to have been pigeon-holed into with my CS degree. Maybe it guarantees at least a certain level of freedom. Maybe the experience will be rewarding, even. What if I took my master's degree and ran, found a job somewhere, realized it still wasn't what I wanted, and regretted not getting that PhD? What if I spent years on a PhD and then later realized that it's all a sham?

Yeah I know, life ain't a bed of roses. I'm a starry-eyed idealistic greenhorn, and if I'm not careful real life is gonna come and slap me in the back of the head while I'm searching for my dream career. I mean, seriously, I'm almost thirty years old. My life is practically over, and here I am agonizing over my future.

I don't mind if life slaps me in the back of the head, just as long as it doesn't batter my soul.