Saturday, July 19, 2008

Hanging with the kids on a lazy Saturday

Long time, no blog

Well, actually I've been blogging lots of other places, mostly related to my professional life. But I've neglected this blog for over a year, as you can see, since we returned from Cambridge to Oakland. But I've been thinking about cranking it back up. And I thought I'd start with an e-mail I recently sent to friends in Cambridge filling them in on our lives since we left last year:


This is how insane our lives have been over the past year since we left Cambridge: I started writing this e-mail back in January. Then I re-started it a couple of times since. And I'm just now finally -- Finally! -- finishing it off. But this seems like a good time to say "Howdy!" and give everyone a brief update on our lives since we returned to Oakland last summer.

It's shocking to me still to think it's been a whole year. Despite only being in Cambridge for one year, there are so many people and places that we really miss. If only I could magically transport Darwin's and the Full Moon Cafe out West...Not to mention all the great folks we met at the Kennedy School, Kids Coop, and Cambridge-Ellis.

So what have we been doing?

Our departure from Cambridge last summer was crazy. Jen graduated, we packed like mad, and then hopped on a plane. There was barely time to catch a breath and say a proper goodbye. But we were excited to get back to see friends in California we hadn't seen in a year. We opted not to visit California during our year in Cambridge, so it had been almost a year since we’d seen our friends back here. Our re-entry was slow, in part because we spent the first couple months trying to decide whether to move into a group home with some dear friends in Berkeley, or whether to stay in our home in Oakland. We spent those first few weeks in our Oakland house, but didn't actually unpack in case we decided to move out again. So there were several weeks of living out our suitcases, and agonizing over what to do.

Eventually, though, we decided to stay in our own place, and finally began to unpack and settle. Of course, then school started.

As many of you may know, Jen was accepted into a PhD program in the sociology department at the University of California at Berkeley. She plans to focus on examining the digital divide. Her program began last August and she just completed her first year (of what I hope is only six years, but tends to average 10 years! Gulp.) But the good news is that she loved the program. She landed a couple of prestigious fellowships in her first year. And she just finished her first year and has a little break during the summer, though not much. Her class is a good group of folks, though I think we might be the only married couple and, of course, the only people with kids in the bunch.

Liam retuned to his old pre-school in Berkeley. He really misses a lot of his friends from Cambridge-Ellis pre-school. He likes to look through his C-E yearbook and still occasionally pulls out his cushion to use as his pillow at night. At the same time, he was very excited to see his old friends at his Berkeley pre-school. We had planned to have him drop in once a week or so after we got back. But he begged to go just about every day last summer, mostly just to see his friends. It’s been a great year for him as he’s re-connected with his school friends, many of whom he’s known since birth. And last summer he learned to ride a bike, which was very exciting. Now he’s getting ready for Kindergarten in a few weeks, which is mind boggling to me. That’s also created new anxiety for us: We won a spot through a lottery in a very good local charter school. So now we’re trying to choose between that and our very good neighborhood school. It’s been three months and we still can’t make up our minds about where to send him!

Kalian really missed her Co-op friends terribly. She was only one when we left Oakland in 2006, and so hadn’t grown attached to other kids back here. She likes to flip through her little Co-op picture book and try to remember all the names of the kids. And she’s having fun in her new pre-school. Having just turned three, she’s embraced all things princess (sigh). And if possible, she’s become more precocious. She’s 3 going on 14. I keep waiting for her to ask to borrow the car. We found a sweet little home-based pre-school for her. And it’s been great to see her make her own set of friends, rather than just being dragged along to hang with her brother’s buddies.

With Jen in grad school, this year marked the first time we’d both been working outside the house full-time. Yes, I know that’s the reality for most folks. But it was still a big shift for us, learning to juggle two work schedules, crazy carpools, and sick days. We survived, but it certainly was a whole new level of stress!

Speaking of stress, I returned to work at The San Jose Mercury News outside the house after a year of being a stay-at-home dad. I was surprised at how little I missed work while I was back east. It was difficult timing, as we just had layoffs right before I got back. We’ve had two more rounds since then. Sadly, the industry I love is crumbling. I’ve managed to hang on so far and just started a new gig as a business columnist, which means I write twice each week about issues related to Silicon Valley, and have my goofy picture in the paper now. My column is here: ( and my blog is here: (

Just to make life even more insane, I received a grant just before I left Cambridge to research and design the “newsroom of the future” under a program run by the Knight Foundation. So on top of everything else going on in our lives, I was running this project on the side, which is formally called The Next Newsroom Project: ( That kept me up late almost every night, required a lot of extra travel, and even had me planning a conference. But thankfully, it’s just about over.

With all this craziness, life is finally – Finally! – starting to settle down a bit. We’re looking forward to a couple of nice vacations in August, including several days at Berkeley Family Camp. And we’re trying to just enjoy the chilly, Bay Area summer days and relax a bit before school cranks back up.

Okay, this was not such a short update. But there it is.

Please keep in touch, though I’ve been terrible about it myself. And do let us know if you're ever visiting the West Coast. You'll always have friends here to visit.

All the best,

Chris O'Brien
San Jose Mercury News
Twitter: sjcobrien