Friday, December 26, 2008

A Question

Are other people's children acting crazy today?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Cliff Diving and Sopaipillas

Anybody ever been to Casa Bonita in Denver? Waterfalls, cliff diving, caves, gunfights--which all make for a very memorable Christmas Eve.

P.S. Okay, so I'm here. I blogged. But it was short . . .

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Winter Wonderland

Have been disconnected, at a little cabin in the snow in Colorado. No TV. No Internet. Lots of snow.

It was awesome.

Now we're with GRANDMA! GRANDMA! in Denver for the next few days and a Happy Christmas, and I plan to relax and read instead of blogging. No offense.

P.S. Regarding The Shadow of the Wind. I'm not sure it should really be on the top ten list. But the problem may be that I had to read it in lots of small bits. It would really work better to read it in big chunks so that the various threads form a nice tapestry.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


No, my daughter was not the Sugar Plum Fairy with the New York City ballet. But she was a toy soldier in the local performance of the Nutcracker, and she was adorable and amazing and, of course, the best toy soldier on the stage (no offense to other toy soldiers or family members of said toy soldiers).

One would have thought, however, that it was the NYC ballet based on the camera jockeying going on up front by the stage.

Nevertheless, she was awesome and she was so excited and she was so proud. A star is born.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Top Ten Books

As the New York Times book review people prepare to post their top ten books in next week's Book Review (at least, I'm assuming that the list will be out next Sunday), I've been thinking of my top ten. Actually, I haven't read that many non-academic books--who has the time?--but I have a few more this year than in years past. So, here's my list. I'm probably forgetting something, and I reserve the right to revise. Also, keep in mind, unlike in the NYT* list, some of my books were published before 2008:


All the Way Home, David Giffels (2008)
The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh: A Woman in World History, Linda Colley (2007)
Little Heathens, Mildred Armstrong Kalish (2007)
The Monsters: Mary Shelley and the Curse of Frankenstein, Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler (2007)
A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains, Isabella Bird (1873)


The City of Thieves, David Benioff (2008)
The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon (2005)
Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates (1961)--did I read this in 2007 or 2008?

Okay, so that's only eight. I'm leaving the fiction slots open for another week or two since I've got a couple of books on deck that might be worthy of the slots, and I can't think of another I've read that is slot worthy (and I did read Edgar Sawtelle, but, for me, it's just not top tier). Then again, Robert Bolano's Night in Chile is certainly high quality and definitely worthy of my humble little list. But did I love it? Not sure. Perhaps I'll add it to the list. As you can see, I am a fence-sitter by nature.

And I have to say, I'm a bit more fond of my non-fiction list--as a whole--than my fiction list, but I really liked the Benioff, and I'm reading the Zafon right now and loving it. Revolutionary Road is wonderfully written, but I'm finding I like books that have good writing, drama, suspense, and wit--all of which can be found in the Benioff and in the Zafon. I guess I haven't read that much fiction this year . . .

I'm interested in your favorites, too. What are your ten favorite reads this year? And for those of you who also loved Benioff and Zafon, do you have any recommendations for me? Maybe I can get some reading done before the end of the year and complete my list.

*Are there others besides me who, when they type NYT, suddenly start singing Michael Jackson's PYT in their heads?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

National GeoGRAPHIC

So, the boy checked out a National Geographic video (and I do mean video a la VHS) about wolves from the library. It seems that the GRAPHIC part of the title should be in large font with bold and italics. Ever since first watching the video, all of his drawings show bloody-faced wolves standing over elk or coyote carcasses. I had to alert his kindergarten teacher to the origin of such artwork so that she wouldn't think he was turning into psycho boy.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Why My Day Sucked, And How I Gained Perspective on that Suckage

Like a good girl, I went to get my teeth cleaned today. Not long after I sat in THE CHAIR, the technician said to me, "We took an x-ray last time that shows decay under a crown, so we'll need to take another x-ray to check that."

I said, "Okay."

Then, I found out that I need two crowns. But my insurance only covers the equivalence of one crown per year. So. I must get one of them done before year's end.

Problem. We're supposed to leave town two weeks from yesterday, but it takes two weeks for the crown process.

Two things upset me about this. I have had PLENTY O' TIME in the past six months to get a crown done. Why did they not tell me about this six months ago? So now, I must interrupt my Christmas spirit with dental torture (they said that if I come in tomorrow for the prep and the temporary crown, they could rush the order on the permanent one. I'll get the permanent one seated the very morning we plan to leave on our trip).

Second, had I gotten the work done after the last visit, I doubt I would have had to pay for the second set of x-rays I had done today. Granted, the insurance paid for them, but, because of that charge, I won't have enough insurance money to cover the full crown expense, for which I will owe about $280 out of pocket.

Okay, that's the dental suckage. Then, when I picked my son up from school, he was non-compliant, and his non-compliance involved another kid that likes to get my kid in trouble. I was annoyed.

Then, when I was gathering my three-year-old from pre-school, another three-year-old came up to me, pointed at my stomach and said, "What's in there?" I said, "What?" And to clarify, she said, "Why are you fat?"

Now for the Perspective.

Later, when we were at the park, I saw someone pushing a severely disabled teenager in a wheelchair. Then, at the libary, I saw a kid with dwarfism.

Now, I don't want to assume that their lives are consumed with sadness, but I would guess that their problems are more complex and chronic than my dental woes, my slightly non-compliant son, my flabby belly, or even my static debt from expenses like dentists and veterinarians.

So, with that gift of perspective and a glass of wine with dinner, I'm trying to take it in stride. Wonder how I'll feel tomorrow at 8:45am with a drill in my mouth.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Post T-Day

Only a quick post because I MUST get to work.

Last week was full of fun craziness as my husband's sister and her family (two kids, 8 and 6) visited and stayed at our not-so-big-house for three days. The kids had a wonderful time and turned the house inside out (which included taking all items out of one of the closets to turn it into a "house" in which they could SURVIVE ON THEIR OWN).

We had a fabulous turkey dinner, and I've been eating leftover pie for days (pumpkin and strawberry-rhubarb). I LOVE PIE. Sidenote: My weight has not gone done during my sabbatical as I thought it would.

We attended a lovely wedding the day after T-Day. Charming. More good food.

This weekend we put up lights and a small fake tree. No big real tree this year since we'll be leaving home to head for snowy mountains in two weeks.

The other highlight: During a trip to the pet store, we got to see a ball python having it's bi-weekly meal of two white mice. The kids were transfixed. So far, no nightmares have resulted from the show.

Okay! Work time. I must write a lot for my supervisor before mid-January. Not so easy to to during the fun holiday season when I just want to stare at the tree, hang out with the family, watch old Christmas movies, read good novels, and drink egg nog.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Katy Sourface

My friend's daughter. I laughed so hard I cried.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A List

Here's a meme that I got from Outside Voice that she got from Faemom. I still need to do the list about books I'm supposed to like that I don't. See Outside Voice's unloved books list here.

1. WERE YOU NAMED AFTER ANYONE? Yes. Paternal and Maternal grandmothers.
2. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU CRIED? Two weeks ago when my son got an award at school for his interest in science (He's five, and I was so proud).
3. DO YOU LIKE YOUR HANDWRITING? I used to think about it a lot in high school. After so many years of grading, I hardly care.
4. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE LUNCH MEAT? Pastrami. But it's bad for me, so I'll say turkey.
5. DO YOU HAVE KIDS? Two awesome kiddie-poos.
6. IF YOU WERE ANOTHER PERSON WOULD YOU BE FRIENDS WITH YOU? Yes, but I would probably get annoyed at myself for not being more reliable.
9. WOULD YOU BUNGEE JUMP? No thank you.
10. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CEREAL? Now, hemp granola. As a kid, Apple Jacks!

12. DO YOU THINK YOU ARE STRONG? Physically? Less so since having kids. But I did give birth without meds. Twice. So I can't be too much of a puss.
13. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE ICE CREAM? Homemade vanilla.
14. WHAT IS THE FIRST THING YOU NOTICE ABOUT PEOPLE? Smile. Apparent intelligence.
15. RED OR PINK? Red. But for what? Can't wear it much because of the damn rosacea.
16. WHAT IS THE LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOURSELF? That would take another list.
17. WHO DO YOU MISS THE MOST? Grandmommy (paternal grandmother I'm named after).
18. DO YOU WANT EVERYONE TO SEND THIS BACK TO YOU? In comments? On blogs? Sure!
20. WHAT WAS THE LAST THING YOU ATE? Tea and wheat toast.
22. IF YOU WHERE A CRAYON, WHAT COLOR WOULD YOU BE? I'll have to study the box and get back to you (sorry for the Palinesque answer).
23. FAVORITE SMELLS? The kids in the morning when then wake up, especially after a good bath the night before.
27. HAIR COLOR? I think it's finally turned brown. Thus, I will get highlights soon.
28. EYE COLOR? Well, I would say bluish-grey, but these days, they just seem RED.
29. DO YOU WEAR CONTACTS? Too lazy. Glasses.
30. FAVORITE FOOD? Yellow tail sashimi, port and chocolate, homemade mac and cheese, sweet potato fries, strawberry-rhubarb pie . . . Shall I go on?

31. SCARY MOVIES OR HAPPY ENDINGS? Both! Or Happy Movies with Scary Endings? But mostly I love happy endings. I'm a sap.
32. LAST MOVIE YOU WATCHED? Get Smart--on the airplane, and it cut off before the ending, which I will assume was happy.
33. WHAT COLOR SHIRT ARE YOU WEARING? Tan and green T-Shirt from the 1994 International Women's Day, says "Women and War"

36. FAVORITE DESSERT? Port and Chocolate. Or pie.

37. MOST LIKELY TO RESPOND? Maybe GoodEnoughCousin? But no pressure.
39. WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING NOW? City of Thieves by David Benioff
40. WHAT IS ON YOUR MOUSE PAD? I don't have a mouse pad, so I'll leave Outside Voice's answer, which was cool: A blurry collage from Fight Club that says In Tyler We Trust and Use Soap
42. FAVORITE SOUND. Rain, thunder, ocean, my family laughing

45. DO YOU HAVE A SPECIAL TALENT? According to my son, it's using my legs to push on the side of the playpool to make big waves.
46. WHERE WERE YOU BORN? Sweet Home Alabama.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Home Again, Home Again

When travel goes smoothly, it is the niftiest thing around. As in, "Wow. I can't believe I was in London this morning, and now I'm in California, and it didn't take four months of a sea voyage and two months of cross-country travel in a wagon." It makes me want to travel more. It makes me say, "I love to travel."

Not only was my return from London smooth, but I had something totally new happen to me. My plane was supposed to leave Heathrow at 10:25am. We pushed back from the gate at 10:13, and we were WHEELS UP by 10:29. Wot?! We were at the gate in SF early. Unreal.

But my last trip (during which most of the flights were delayed and/or missed, and one plane had a lightning strike just off the wing) made me say, "I miss my kids. Maybe I don't like to travel. This sucks."

It was so wonderful to be able to enjoy this trip--to not have residual anxiety from stressful flights, etc. It's so much harder to be away from the children when that extra anxiety is there. This time, I missed them, but I was able to enjoy the work and the trip, especially my walk around London. I'm hoping that the next trip--which won't happen for a while--will be as smooth.

For now, I'm thrilled to be back in the family fold, and the family is glad to have me.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

London is Cool

Okay, yes, I'm still a Country Mouse, but I had a lovely time wandering the streets of Central London today--Leicester Square, Covent Gardens, Jubilee Footbridge, Trafalgar Square, and all of the GREAT bookstores up Charing Cross Road. I got to see all of this while just leisurely strolling along (although it was all much easier after I bought a map). And then I accidentally stumbled upon the Sherlock Holmes Restaurant and Bar where I had a good Chicken pie, some veggies, and a Coke (with ice!).

It was all wonderful, and I was thinking how much fun it would be if my husband were here so we could catch dinner and a show together. Someday . . .

So I think it's not that I take issue with cities, it's that I get uncomfortable when it's nighttime in a city, and I don't know where I am, and I'm walking alone. Understandable, I suppose.

But standing on the bridge, looking down at the Thames, watching the boats is amazing and makes me think of the history of the place.

What a day!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Lessons Learned Today

  1. Pate can be good-ish, at least when it's from a great charcuterie.
  2. Creme fraiche is pretty good with the proper kind of cake.
  3. One should not take trains into London at 8:00pm on a Saturday night.
  4. One should not plan to walk anywhere from Hatton Cross at night.
  5. One hears Bonnie Tyler's 'Total Eclipse of the Heart' a lot in the UK.
  6. One should bring a lot of good movies to watch on the laptop because British TV options, esp. late at night, can really suck.
Finally, I've learned that I am still a Country Mouse, or, at the most, a Mid-Sized Town Mouse. Definitely not a Large International City Mouse (note to GoodEnoughCousin: I should have brought my T-shirt!).

Tomorrow, I will probably learn more lessons as I explore Covent Gardens.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Lovely Week in Cymru

It's been a great week. I miss my family a ton, but it has been SO wonderful to be here in the UK, especially in my PhD town (which I will confess is in Wales) spending time attending some theory modules and also talking about my dissertation with my supervisors. I don't get too many chances to talk about my topic (my husband, a math/engineer guy, is tired of feigning interest, I think), and it's been ten years since I finished my MA, so it's fantastic to spend so much time talking about my topic and other ideas related to my field. Plus, my supervisors rock.

And I have to say, I just love Wales. Granted, this is only my second visit and I haven't seen a LOT of it, but it's a beautiful place, and I love listening to the language, which many people speak. It's a bilingual nation; everything (signs, menus, etc.) is in both English and Welsh. I do not speak Welsh, so I find myself in social situations during which I have no idea what people are saying, but that is an interesting experience in itself, disorienting in a good way (partly because one knows it's temporary). And the language sounds beautiful (even though on paper it looks absolutely impenetrable!).

Today, as I waited for the taxi that would take me from campus back to my hotel (it was raining and dark, so I didn't want to walk), I felt sad that I would not be back on campus for a while. Tomorrow, after I get an amazing lunch at my favorite charcuterie, I will take the train back to London. It is nice to feel a bit sad about leaving since during my previous visit, I had so much anxiety about being so far away from my children that I was unsettled and didn't thoroughly enjoy the trip. In fact, I felt very apprehensive about future trips. This trip, however, has been much different. I have missed the family but have not been in the grip of anxiety. I have enjoyed myself and the experiences in ways that allow me to look forward to (rather than dreading) the next visit. I imagine this feeling will persist as long as there are no severe hang ups on my journey back to the States.

Now, I just need to decide how I will spend Sunday in London (thanks for the suggestions!), and I'm sure I will start to get more and more excited about the reunion with my family, especially my amazing and adorable kids, at the airport. Shall we take bets on whether or not I will weep? If you'd like to improve your odds, I can tell you that last week I wept at my son's parent-teacher conference (because of my pride that he got high marks for how hard he works in kindergarten). I wept as I imagined his earnest little self cutting, drawing, and carefully writing letters as he holds his pencil gripped in his fist. It was very embarrassing.

Now it's time for me to enjoy my hotel room dinner, during my last evening in Wales. Perhaps I should be out on the town, but I don't want to spend more money, and I don't feel like going out alone on a cold night to a pub. But I have some leftover cheese, apples, and chutney purchased earlier in the week, and this afternoon I knicked some leftover bread from todays' lunch buffet. Add to that my Spanish wine and my dark chocolate? A feast.

Iechyd da!

P.S. Here is a clip of children singing the National Anthem of Wales (and the Welsh word for Wales is Cymru--pronounced sort of like "COOM-ree"), followed by the English translation.

The National Anthem in English
"Land of My Fathers"

The land of my fathers, the land of my choice,
The land in which poets and minstrels rejoice;
The land whose stern warriors were true to the core,
While bleeding for freedom of yore.


Wales! Wales! fav'rite land of Wales!
While sea her wall, may naught befall
To mar the old language of Wales.

Old mountainous Cambria, the Eden of bards,
Each hill and each valley, excite my regards;
To the ears of her patriots how charming still seems
The music that flows in her streams.

My country tho' crushed by a hostile array,
The language of Cambria lives out to this day;
The muse has eluded the traitors' foul knives,
The harp of my country survives

Thursday, November 13, 2008


These Brits sure are rowdy as they govern, aren't they? Grumbling, shouting, and so on. Good show.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Stretching the Apron Strings

My husband says that everything at home is great but that whenever the Girl gets sad about something, she says, "When is Mommy coming home?" (and I'm sure there is crying or near-crying involved). This gives me a great desire to snuggle with the children. I miss them terribly.

Times like this, it's hard to feel like a good enough mommy.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Top Reasons This Trip to London has Started Off Better Than the Last

  1. There was no storm with gale force winds at my hometown airport.
  2. There was no loss of power at my hometown airport.
  3. My first flight did not get canceled because of weather.
  4. I did not have to ask my husband to drive me to SF to catch a connection the next morning.
  5. I did not get re-booked onto a flight that went through Chicago. (Thus, I did not miss a connection in Chicago).
  6. My aircraft did not get struck by lightening.
  7. I did not have to walk through a tunnel at Heathrow that smelled like pee.
  8. My B & B room is not dingy, depressing, or unsafe.
  9. The breakfast area at my B & B is not in a hot basement with no windows.
  10. Because I have my computer, a few DVDs, and access to Netflix, I am not stuck with late night British TV when the jet lag kicks in.
In fact, my flights were on time (gasp!), smooth, and relaxing (I'm not kidding!). I even had podcasts of "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" on my i-Pod to give me laughs along the way.

Now, I'm in my B & B room, enjoying fresh air though my OPEN window that looks out over a small garden, taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi. I think I'll make some tea before heading out to check out the local eateries.

Too bad it's Sunday and the British Library (which is only two blocks away!) is closed (I think). Tomorrow morning, I take a train to PhD town, but do any of you, dear readers, have tips for what I should do next Sunday when I have a full day in London? I'm thinking maybe the British Museum or possibly the house of a famous writer.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Why is it so stressful to prepare to leave town?

Everytime I get ready to travel, I say, "This time I'm going to be organized and relaxed before I go on my trip." But here I am, stressed out, thinking of a million things I need to do and organize before I go (e.g., type out the childcare schedule for while I'm gone, pay bills, clean the house, request an exemption from jury duty, go to the bank, buy some film, get my hair cut, make sure my husband knows where The Girl's ballet and tap shoes are, print out my travel documents, pack, try to get all of my toiletries to fit into an absurdly small ziploc bag).

Years ago, I had a friend who said that preparing to go on a trip is like preparing to die. She had a point, except for the film and toiletries.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Today's To Do List

  1. Take the Boy to school.
  2. Take the Girl to school.
  3. Shower.
  4. Volunteer at the Boy's school.
  5. VOTE!
  6. Write this blog post.
  7. Find passport.
  8. Find power adapter for UK electrical outlets.
  9. Pay bills.
  10. Pick Boy up from school.
  11. Eat lunch with the Boy.
  12. Pick Girl up from school.
  13. Drop kids off at my mom's.
  14. Go to my actual office at my place of employment to upload info for online course for next semester (after locating FTP disk).
  15. Turn in book orders for spring (which are overdue).
  16. Go to travel agent to pick up train tix.
  17. Come home and clean (if there is time)
  18. Get kids.
  19. Make dinner, do bath, etc.
  20. Watch election returns!
  21. Celebrate!

No wonder I never get anything done.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Irregular Schedules

Not much time to post what with Grandma in town, short days at kindergarten for the boy (parent-teacher conference), and prep for the trip to PhD town in the UK. But I found out I'll have Wi-Fi in London and in PhD town. Woo-hoo!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween Costumes

The Girl went as Cinderella.
The Boy went as a Biologist (a.k.a. a Naturalist).

Thursday, October 30, 2008


This morning, The Girl's first words were, "Is Grandma here?"

We are, in fact, picking Grandma up at the airport this afternoon, which means that The Husband and I will be the equivalent of chopped liver for the next five days. Bully for us! We get to sleep in . . .

In other news, last night, for the first time, I joined in with the intermediate tap class at the dance studio. I made it through half the class until they started doing turns, which I haven't really done since I was 13. Typically, I've been in the "adult beginner" class, which is just the teacher and me. I tried to tell myself that since I'm 40 now, I didn't care what the cool teenagers in the class thought about me. That is easier said that done when you're doing cross-the-floor exercises and you're last in line, and the fat-free teenagers are staring at your 40-year old butt as it shuffle-ball-changes across the room.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Four Oh

This week, I'm just hanging out being forty. Had the b-day on Monday and am grateful for life and all that it holds, including, of course, all of the in-laws that are at my house throughout this week.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

In Your Satin Tights, Fighting For your Rights

Recently, The Girl asked if there was a Superwoman or Supergirl. I said yes, and then Wonder Woman came up.

Be it known that I used to watch Wonder Woman everyday after school when I was in the sixth grade. So I said to The Girl, "Yes, there's a Wonder Woman! I can show her to you!" So we went online and I found some clips on You Tube. Later, I found full episodes on, and The Girl has now seen two episodes (the pilot and the one about Baroness Von Gunther, the latter being her favorite). The downside to this new viewing habit is that Woman Woman has guns in it. Wonder Woman, herself, does not use guns, but the bad guys do, and there has been more gun-and-bomb talk in our house as a result.

The upside, however, is that The Girl now likes to dress up like Wonder Woman (in her American flag dress, accented with paper bracelets, a paper tiara, and a rope to serve as her "golden loosa") and says things like, "I'm so powerful! I can save people!" This is such a nice change from "I'm so beautiful! I'm going to marry a prince!" At this point, I'm feeling okay about the trade off.

All this aside, there is something else very interesting I've discovered by watching these old episodes. First, the patriotic and pseudo-feminist rhetoric is fascinating. Second, I think Lyle Waggoner has been lurking in my subconscious as my Platonic ideal of a man (despite the fact he is a bit bumbling, sort of like Red Crosse Knight who always needs Britomart to bail him out of trouble). Third, the theme song is hilarious, and it rocks. Here are the lyrics, and you can have a listen for yourself!

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman.
All the world's waiting for you,
and the power you possess.

In your satin tights,
Fighting for your rights
And the old Red, White and Blue. [oh no you d'int!]

Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman.
Now the world is ready for you,
and the wonders you can do.

Make a hawk a dove,
Stop a war with love,
Make a liar tell the truth. [patriotic AND peaceful!]

Wonder Woman,
Get us out from under, Wonder Woman.
All our hopes are pinned on you.
And the magic that you do.

Stop a bullet cold,
Make the Axis fold, [a lot of Nazis in the first season]
Change their minds, and change the world.

Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman.
You're a wonder, Wonder Woman.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Clutter and Cleaning (or Not)

Some of you have read my previous posts (which I still don't know how to link to) about the fact that I love my house and how I didn't even covet the mansion that I visited in Bel Air. But on Monday I went to a house that I now covet (Hi, J.N.!). It was clean and clutter free. It had a modern style with natural materials. The inside blended with the outside. It had simple lines, built-in bookshelves, and great details. It had a water view. I loved it. And when I came home, my house seemed small, dusty, dirty, cluttered, and kind of lame.

So now I'm dealing with this. A great step would be to de-clutter the house. I bought a book on clutter last spring, and it's a good one. But I just haven't gotten around to purging. When can I find the time?

Not only that, but it seems that I just do not know how to keep the house clean and tidy. With four people in this house, including two young kids, I just don't know how to do it. Perhaps some sort of system would help. In the "olden days," I think maybe people cleaned on Saturdays before doing anything else. Mopped. Beat the rugs. Etc. In fact, when I was single, I cleaned on Saturdays while listening to Morning Edition and NPR. By 1:00pm, I'd have a clean house in which to read and relax. Easy peasy.

But now? There is always crap everywhere. Cleaning takes much longer, and The Girl has dance class on Saturday mornings so that's out. Plus, if the Husband and I aren't dividing and conquering on the weekends in order to prep or grade papers/exams, then we like to play and go on outings with the kids. Not clean. Perhaps that's the problem?

The stuff, the stuff! I can't even deal with the mail, let alone the laundry and the dust. When did I last mop the floors? Do not ask. Why is the kitchen ALWAYS a mess even after I just cleaned it? I know it's entropy at work, but I do not know how to successfully fight this physical law.

So far, I am NOT a good enough housekeeper. Any tips, dear blogosphere?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Morning Surprises

This morning, The Boy awoke at about 5:10am. As for me, I had not set my book down and turned off my light until midnight, so I was tired, and I knew my husband was, too. The Boy started talking at 5:10, so I went in and told him that it wasn't morning yet, so he needed to go back to sleep. I went to the bathroom and heard him talking again, so I went back to his room. He wanted his blankets fixed. I fixed them. I got back and bed and heard (horror!) The Girl, who was now awake, start talking to The Boy. Okay, both kids are awake. Code red. I went back in, feeling a bit panicked.

Me: "You just can't get up yet. It's not morning. You need to be quiet."

The Boy: "But I want to talk to [The Girl]. I hardly ever have the time to do that."

The Girl: "But I'm awake!"

Me [ignoring the claim that The Boy never gets the chance to talk to his sister]: "Okay, but I'm going to have to turn off the monitor in our room*, and we haven't done that before, and we won't be able to hear you call for us. So when it's light out, you'll have to come wake us up, come knock on our bedroom door, and I don't want to hear you screaming and calling for us. You'll need to come get us."**

The Boy and The Girl [somewhat weepy]: "Okay."

So I headed back to bed, fully expecting that I would never fall back to sleep and that I would hear them start arguing or screaming for Mommy or Daddy within four minutes.

Wonders of all wonders, I fell back asleep and woke up at 6:45 when I heard them making happy noises and gently knocking on the walls outside our door. I was stunned. I mean, it's difficult to express how amazed I was. My husband got up with them and asked what they had been doing. The Boy said, "Trying to figure out a way to avoid this happening again." Apparently, his solution involved strings, doorknobs, and other various contraptions. I'm not sure which part of the scenario he was trying to avoid or subvert.

Nevertheless, I was so impressed with their early a.m. independence. I think they actually stayed in their beds the whole time. Probably talking and staring out the window until they saw sunlight. I wonder if we can pull this off again the next time they wake up earlier than we would like. I doubt it.

But maybe a lot of children get up in the morning and play independently while their parents snooze. Could this be true? If so, we need to push this agenda.

*We still use monitors because, despite the fact that our house is small, it's fairly solid, and we can't hear them very well if they call to us in the night.

**Our kids are not in the habit of coming to get us in the morning. Rather they call us to them, and then we all go to the living room. This has the added bonus that they never come into our room at night. In fact, I can't really remember a time that either of them has, independently, gotten out of bed and come to knock on our door (many of you probably think this seems weird, and I don't know why it's this way, but this is just how it's all evolved). So this morning's activities were totally new for everyone, and I wasn't sure how it would all transpire. I really imagined that a lot of crying and screaming would ensue.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


We, the FID (Family in Debt), are being crushed by the OFID (Other Family in Debt). As indicated in a previous post*, our FID and the OFID decided to try to spend money only on necessities (loosely defined) this month.

When the matriarch of the OFID called yesterday to guiltily confess that they had gone out to breakfast (gasp!), it became clear to me that our FID is failing miserably in comparison. The husband from the OFID, apparently, has not even been buying BEER! Whaa?

I, on the other hand, have purchased electric toothbrushes for the kids, new cups for the kids, and I bought a potted plant this weekend. We bought pumpkins. I'm sure I also bought some unnecessary groceries since I haven't quite figured out the difference between necessary food and luxurious food. And my husband spent last weekend partying in the city with his Rocky Mountain buddies buying who knows how much food and booze. And he bought something he's apparently ALWAYS wanted because he found the chance to get it at cost. That item? A helmet-cam that also works underwater--good for kayaking, dirt biking, motorcycles, whatever.

(We've got some great underwater footage of the kids acting out shark attacks in the tub. If I figure out how to do it, I can post it for you.) And I have had to spend at least $300 on the dog. The dog.

And next week I turn 40. And I think we'll go out on a date this weekend and spend some money on dinner and maybe a movie. And I want a present. Luxury? It's my 40th birthday, and I can just hear Suze Orman telling me to get real and honest and that if I want to truly be a grown up, I should celebrate my 40th birthday at home eating Ramen noodles watching a DVD I rented from the library. Like THAT'S going to happen.

So I think we'll have to have a "do over" next month. But, of course, next month I travel to PhD City in the U.K., which will NOT be cheap. At all. And I'll be lonely, so I'll want to spend money eating in nice restaurants rather than dank holes in the wall. I have a particular charcuterie in mind. I could eat there every day. Jars and jars of olives in the windows. Cheeses in open on the shelves, and a great in-house casual dining. Ah. Heaven. But, yes, a luxury.

But there are also things I have not been buying. I canceled my gym membership (finally). I've downloaded free yoga that I really like. I have avoided the local bakery. I have only been to my local coffee shop once (today). We have hardly eaten (or ordered) out at all. I clipped coupons and used them last weekend. I studied the grocery store sales for the week and went to two different stores in order to get the items I needed on sale (they are very close to each other, so I didn't have to use extra gas).

The upshot? I'm still in the red for the month. But the good news is that I've become much more aware of the various ways in which the money slips through my fingers. Now, the trick is to get a list of all of my husband's expenditures for the month, put them together with mine, get him on the same page with me, and try again. I'm sure we'll be sufficiently shamed and scolded when we compare notes with the OFID.

I welcome all tips for reducing my spending and increasing my (and my husband's) discipline.

*Can someone PLEASE tell me how to insert links to previous posts and how to label posts for hotlink archives? I have not been able to figure out how to implement these features.

Busy Mommying

I've been short on kidcare, so I haven't had time to post or work. But it's been great to have so much fun with the kiddie-poos. It will also be great to really dig back into my research in a few days.

This is the life: research and family. What a nice combo. It will get much more stressful when I add teaching (and actual dissertation writing) back into the mix.

But for now, life is a joy.

If only someone would keep my house clean. Deep down clean. And spotless. Then I would feel at peace.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Spice of Life

I have a headache. And a burst vessel in my eye, which is not so lovely (and which I did not know about until a friend saw me at the school Carnival and said, "Why is your eyeball bleeding?")

I don't know if I'm exploding vessels because of the difficulties I've had making my travel plans to PhD city in the UK, or if it's from trying to read so much, or if it's from trying to (in fifteen minutes) make both a whale and Wonder Woman accessories out of paper before rushing to my son's school Carnival.

As for PhD City, I had planned to take the trains to-and-from London (after flying to London) the Sundays that will bookend my week in said PhD City. Turns out the train schedules suck on Sundays, so I had to shave a day off each end of my week in PhD City, pinching my time there. So now I will have a full day in London, but it will be on Sunday, and the British Library is closed on Sundays I think.

As for the reading, I haven't done enough of that because I get distracted by blogs and politics, which also could my making my eyes bleed.

As for the Carnival, I volunteered at the Bear Pick Pocket game for my son's class. He liked the fishing pole game best. They closed the Bounce House line two kids in front of us (much to my Girl's--oh, I mean Wonder Woman's--dismay), and we ate cold spaghetti, brownies, lollipops, and popcorn.

And hubby is out of town, so, if I can manage to stay awake long enough, I plan to to watch a chick flick that I got from Netflix while I have my nightly dose port and chocolate.

Variety is, indeed, the spice of life.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I'm Not Sure How I Feel About These Results--Especially Since They Seem DEAD ON!

Your result for Are You a Jackie or a Marilyn? Or Someone Else? Mad Men-era Female Icon Quiz...

You Are a Joan!

You are a Joan -- "I need to succeed"

Joans are energetic, optimistic, self-assured, and goal oriented.

How to Get Along with Me

  • * Leave me alone when I am doing my work.

  • * Give me honest, but not unduly critical or judgmental, feedback.

  • * Help me keep my environment harmonious and peaceful.

  • * Don't burden me with negative emotions.

  • * Tell me you like being around me.

  • * Tell me when you're proud of me or my accomplishments.

What I Like About Being a Joan

  • * being optimistic, friendly, and upbeat

  • * providing well for my family

  • * being able to recover quickly from setbacks and to charge ahead to the next challenge

  • * staying informed, knowing what's going on

  • * being competent and able to get things to work efficiently

  • * being able to motivate people

What's Hard About Being a Joan

  • * having to put up with inefficiency and incompetence

  • * the fear on not being -- or of not being seen as -- successful

  • * comparing myself to people who do things better

  • * struggling to hang on to my success

  • * putting on facades in order to impress people

  • * always being "on." It's exhausting.

Joans as Children Often

  • * work hard to receive appreciation for their accomplishments

  • * are well liked by other children and by adults

  • * are among the most capable and responsible children in their class or school

  • * are active in school government and clubs or are quietly busy working on their own projects

Joans as Parents

  • * are consistent, dependable, and loyal

  • * struggle between wanting to spend time with their children and wanting to get more work done

  • * expect their children to be responsible and organized

Take Are You a Jackie or a Marilyn? Or Someone Else? Mad Men-era Female Icon Quiz at HelloQuizzy

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Grasshopper Abduction

I'm currently reading Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods, in which he suggests that today's kids are too distant from their natural world and that such detachment might affect them negatively in a number of ways. He makes a number of interesting observations and arguments. And he speculates a fair amount (but he admits to the speculative nature of some of his points).

One of the most interesting ideas I've come across so far is that we "criminalize" the ways our children play in nature. In essence, he suggests that we've become so PC about the environment that we don't really allow our kids to play in it (He doesn't use that exact language, and I'm conflating his points a bit, but that's the gist). For example, kids learn about rain forest depletion, and they learn about endangered species, and they learn about global warming. So, to them, the environment becomes this big, inevitable apocalypse that they learn about when they're reading books inside. Then, when we tell them to go outside, we "criminalize" their exploration. We say, "Don't climb that tree, you could break a branch." "Don't touch the butterfly, you'll kill it." "Don't walk on those plants; they could die." And so on.

On Sunday, I took the kids to a local nature preserve to have a picnic and check out the fauna (and flora, I suppose, but they are way more into fauna). I should preface this by saying that my son LOVES nature and the creatures that exist in nature. On Sunday, he even said, "Mommy, Why is nature so nice?" And his love of nature leads him to want to bring it all into the house, even the fauna. But when we go to this nature preserve, I always say, "You can't touch the frogs here. They are endangered. And we can't touch the turtles. Here, we just have to look." He begrudgingly accepts this and is very good about following the rules.

However, this Sunday, he did happen to find grasshoppers. And I let him chase and catch the grasshoppers. As he was doing so, along with his little sister, an older couple came along to picnic and do some bird watching. They were very friendly, but they suggested several times to my kids that they should not hold onto the grasshoppers. Well, my kids were each intent on bringing a grasshopper home (which would mean holding them in their hands for a mile ride in the stroller). The older woman told them they should leave the grasshoppers there with their families where they could be happy. I think she really wanted me to tell my kids that they could not take the grasshoppers home.

But here's my thing. They are grasshoppers. Locusts. My kids were going to bring two home. Is this a big deal? Louv points out that when John Muir was a kid, he used to shoot at seagulls. But that didn't mean he would turn out to be destructive in nature. And I doubt he upset the gull population in any radical way. In fact, Louv suggests that by really being IN nature--whether it's through hiking, fishing, or collecting bugs and reptiles--our kids will be more inclined to protect it when they become adults.

So I have decided that I will let my kids climb trees, and I won't fret too much about a broken branch or two (I mean, how many trees do people cut down to build their big houses with the nice views of nature? And then they don't want kids to accidentally "wound" part of their vista?). And I decided that my kids could bring grasshoppers home to feed and observe. And I let my son bring in a praying mantis that was about to be eaten by the neighbor's cat. And sometimes we let him bring home a few tadpoles to watch them turn into frogs (and then we release the frogs into their original habitats). I did these things when I was a kid. I can't imagine how many lightening bugs I trapped over the years. So I guess my kids are learning to love nature--the old fashioned way.

So what do you think? Are we criminals? Are we upsetting the balance of the planet?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Drunk Pumpkins

My Dog is Poisoned. Again.

A few weeks ago, the dog ate a Lyra wax crayon and had a scary reaction. He was running around like a mad creature, his face looked weird and scrunchy, he was panting, and he seemed to be having hallucinations. Just as we were about to take him to the emergency clinic, he started to get better. We induced vomiting (as per instructions on the Internet for what to do about crayon ingestion by a dog), and he settled down and seemed fine. Tip: Be sure your dog doesn't eat art crayons or paint ball pellets, which also contain polyethylene, the suspect ingredient. (BTW, did you know that if you call the poison hotline for animals that you have to maneuver through several automatic steps before finally being asked to pay $60 before you can talk to anyone?)

Then, yesterday (or possibly the night before), he snatched a closed bottle of Tylenol Meltaways off of the table. I'm sure he liked the rattle it made when he dropped it and/or shook it. Imagine his glee when, after chewing on it with his big doggie jaws, the top popped off and sweet, little tablets came out. Apparently, acetaminophen is very toxic for dogs (and cats, for that matter). At this point, we're giving him various treatments and hoping he doesn't have liver damage.

He's getting into things, I think, because he's a bit stir crazy since he had a splint on his leg for two-and-a-half weeks because of a pulled tendon, and we couldn't walk him or take him hiking. He has cabin fever.

Really, we are very good to our dog, and we don't have munchausen syndrome by proxy (dog version). We just have a spazzy, gluttonous puppy who twisted his paw during his puppy crazies and who keeps gobbling up whatever he can. And boy are his toots stinky.

In the past three weeks, we've had to pay about $650 for his medical bills (oh yeah, he had to be anesthetized so that some of his baby teeth could be pulled. His permanent incisors came in without the baby ones falling out). And we got him at the humane society, thinking he'd be cheap. I guess there is no such thing. . .

With these kind of bills, why am I even bothering giving up my ice-blended mochas and other coffee shop goodies?

Poor stinky butt.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Something is Wrong with Me

This morning I thought I'd get an early start on my reading and research. I'm a bit under the weather, so I skipped exercise and volunteering at my son's school (which he was very happy about because he doesn't like it when I visit his kindergarten class. He says that I distract him). But I did have to make a quick trip to the P.O. And, after that, did I come straight home and get to work? No, I picked today as the day to purchase a clothesline and drying rack so that I could go green (ish) in the laundry room. So, instead of working and not spending any money, I spend about $19-20 on green gear. And now, instead of reading, I'm blogging, drinking a smoothie*, and waiting for the wash cycle to finish so that I can, for the first time in this house (what took me so long?), put our clothes outside to dry. And it's a BEAUTIFUL day. This is the most excited I've been about laundry in quite a while.

Maybe on Thursday, I'll procrastinate by starting a composting system (because, no, I haven't done that yet either! But better late than never).

*BTW, the smoothie is homemade and quite yummy. It includes the organic strawberry juice leftover from yesterday, an organic apple, ginger root, organic spinach, a banana, some green powder (that is old and, I hope, still safe for consumption), and ice. Cheers!

Monday, October 6, 2008

I'm Off the Wagon Already

No luxuries? Ha!

I did quite well yesterday at a local festival at which The Girl danced in her first recital as a very cute pink cloud. In the midst of all of that Festival Food, all the kids wanted were Blow-pops (.25 each). Nice! Much cheaper than ice cream, etc. (and I had brought lunch for them). As for me, I passed on the Philly Cheesesteak and the bratwurst and the fish and chips and all of the other the things that smelled SO good (instead I ate an apple and some rice chips--no lie!). I did buy one churro that I split with the kiddie-poos. I also spent some money on bouncy house types of activities, which were a bit pricey. BUT the kids didn't ask for any of the chotchkes offered by the many vendors, and I was pleased about that. All and all, I made it out having only spent $16 for three people in four hours in the midst of a festival of consumption.

But at the farmer's market today, I went overboard. I bought organic golden raspberries that the kids love. I bought big cookies for the kids. Lots of figs (for The Boy). An organic cantaloupe (for The Girl). Lots of apples and tomatoes (but that seems okay). Some organic strawberry juice because the girl was crying that she was thirsty (should have taken a juice box with me).

Hmmm. And we're only six days into the month? This isn't going to be easy.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Neccesity or Luxury? You Call It.

Our family is going to start comparing financial expenditures with another family as we try to buy only necessities rather than luxuries (I will call us FID for Family in Debt. I will call them OFID for Other Family in Debt). I think we are defining "necessity" a bit loosely (beer is on the list), but we will cut out many of the expenses that are truly superfluous--all in an effort to reduce our debt and balance our budgets (since no one is going to bail US out). We are modeling ourselves (with much less rigor, I think) on the efforts of Judith Levine and her husband, as chronicled in Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping.

As a result of our efforts to improve our budgets and decrease our spending, I will occasionally post some of my expenditures in order to play a little game of "Necessity or Luxury: You Call It!"

Here's our first round:

  1. Three-ring binder and folder for all of the stuff that comes home from kindergarten with my son.
  2. Brand-name toothpaste.
  3. A new box of markers for my kids who draw A LOT.
  4. A new copy of my reading group book (couldn't find it used at my local store).
  5. Birthday gifts for my step-father.
  6. Dance classes for the month of October for my daughter (and myself).
  7. Karate class for October for my son.
  8. Two Tiger's Milk bars for the kids after dance class today.
  9. A loaf of really awesome bread from a local bakery (sliced for sandwiches).
  10. A spirulina smoothie for myself (medicinal expense since I have a cold?).
  11. Monthly subscription to NYT and local paper.
  12. Monthy subscription to Netflix (but we don't have cable . . . )
Other than utility bills, mortgage, and car insurance, these are the only expenditures so far. I know it's only been four days . . .

Oh, and I think my husband purchased lunch every day this week. We need to work on that. I'm not sure what else he has purchased . . .

Whaddya think? Necessity or luxury.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Ancients and the Moderns: Or Yo-Yo Ma and the Honkers

As I was doing some general reading yesterday about the writers and readers of the c18, I came across a passage (in J. Paul Hunter) describing the so-called "ancients" (Pope, Swift, Johnson) and the "moderns" (Defoe, Fielding, and other novelists that would certainly include Haywood), and I realized that if one were to insert "teacher" and "student" in the passage to substitute for "writer" and "reader," we'd get a pretty good description of the laments and concerns of contemporary English teachers. You know the how the complaint goes; it's the whole idea that students aren't good readers anymore, that they can't think (or write) in a complex, linear way. They only think (and write) in a fragmented webular way. The fear that good books and quality sources are disappearing from our students' repertoire and that all we'll have left will be Wikipedia and some falsely authoritative blogs.

Then, I saw Yo-Yo Ma on Tavis Smiley last night. Is he (Ma) not amazing or what? He is, indeed. And he is a great example of the ideal combination of the ancient and the modern--what most of us actually try to offer our students, I think. He knows and loves the classics, but he goes beyond them. He's interested in music played by bush men in Botswana. He plays Appalachian music with Edgar Meyer and Bela Fleck. He's got a new album that includes duets with people like Diana Krall and James Taylor (among others). I've seen the man pluck his cello with both hands--including thumbs!--for goodness sake.

I'm sure there are musical purists who criticize some of the ways in which he strays out of the classical box, but I love his passion. His lack of fear. Specifically, he doesn't seem to fear that a sacred tradition will be lost or polluted by his experimentation. Last night on Tavis, Ma said that he hadn't found any tradition in the world in any culture that wasn't invented. He was suggesting (if somewhat implicitly) that the inventedness of traditions means that they do not need to be absolutely static, unchanging, or sacred. He does not seem to believe that some traditions (of music or whatever) are better merely because they are old. He believes that traditions (and music) are valuable because they give us meaning, thus his appreciation of the musical traditions of the bush men--along with the musical traditions of the hills of Appalachia.

As I keep thinking about how I want to change my teaching methods and content (now that I've been doing it for over a decade), I will keep Yo-Yo Ma in mind. Because as much as I lament the fact that my students are not giving due respect to the literary canon and its traditions of greatness, the reality, if I look at it squarely, is that we don't go to the bookstore to pick up books written in heroic couplets (a la Pope). Rather, it was the novel, and all of its "modernity," that, in the c18, won the day (or century). It is true that my students have a difficult time thinking (and writing) in depth, and I do want them to know some of the valuable literary traditions, but Yo-yo Ma seems to offer a great example about how we might can, in many ways, reject the ancient/modern dichtomony, opting instead for harmony.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A More-Than-Good-Enough Man

Current Events

A list of weekend events:

  1. Began mourning Paul Newman's death.
  2. Took the kids to view the crab tank at the fish market.
  3. Got snacks at the health food store.
  4. Visited new baby niece at the hospital (mom and baby are well!).
  5. Visited turtle/reptile show at which son held many snakes and at which husband was bit by a corn snake.
  6. Went to mom-and-kids (i.e., no dads) potluck gathering at which I felt like a character on "Thirtysomething."
  7. Came home to conduct bath and bed time routine.
  8. Watched first episode of Mad Men.
  1. Got up early with kids.
  2. Watched a show about whales.
  3. Watched beginning of 101 Dalmations.
  4. Watched Meet the Press and Chris Matthews.
  5. Went pier fishing. Caught mackerel, crabs, and lots of seaweed.
  6. Watched kids play at park. Ate linguica while sitting on the grass.
  7. Drove home, back to the fog.
  8. Bathed children.
  9. Ate great pasta made by Husband.
  10. Conducted story time and other bedtime activities.
  11. Got on computer.
  12. Am now sitting next to Husband who is reading an article about Palin on his computer.
  13. Will then probably move onto something from Netflix with some port and chocolate.
A great weekend (except for the Paul Newman part). But conspicuously absent: Exercise and Dissertation Research.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Stressed Out Baboons

I know I'm overdue for a post, and I have several topics in mind, but tonight I'm just going to chill out and keep watching this PBS special about stress. It features a hippy researcher from Stanford named Robert Sapolsky who studies the effects of stress in baboons, and he's a pretty funny dude. A good show.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Things my Son Has Learned During His First Month at Kindergarten

I like to think that he's learning about the sounds of the letters, etc., but these are the things I know for sure that he has picked up:

1. That he has "nuts" and that its fun to talking about kicking people's "nuts" (although he wasn't quite sure where they were located).

2. the "Bow-Chicka-Bow-Bow" tune (a la porno)

3. the Pledge of Allegiance

4. how to use the word "freakin'" as in "I'm 'freakin' hungry."

Shall we start talking about home schooling yet?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bad Guy Ballet

Yesterday, The Girl and I put on our tap shoes to dance in the dining room. It was The Girl's first time in her tap shoes, and though she liked the tapping sounds, she maintained a commitment to the ballet vibe. At one point, I tried to show her what I'd learned at my dance class (I've just recently started tapping for the first time since I was eight years old).

As I showed her some steps she said, "That's not beautiful. That's not ballet. That's how Bad Guys do ballet."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Home Renovation and the Quixotic Pursuit of Perfection

Last Saturday, I spent the day at the beach with the kiddie-poos. My husband, on the other hand, spent the day, with his brother, painting the entire inside (including ceilings) of his friend's new house--which is actually a charming but really OLD house. While I am glad that the husband could be such great help to his friend, his day (especially compared to mine) served to remind me of the advantages of the Good Enough approach when it comes to life and, especially, houses.

I know many people who have taken on fixer-uppers, and a I thoroughly enjoyed reading about David Giffels's own Herculean (or Sisyphusian?) efforts recounted in his entertaining book All the Way Home: Building a Family in a Falling Down House. But Giffels is also honest about the ways in which his dedication (or obsession) with the house impacted his marriage and his family. Similarly, I think about my husband's friend working on this house everday after work and on weekends, when he could be relaxing with his fiancee in the romantic bliss of their engagement. Instead, they must live in the garage of the house and cook on a hot plate as they try to agree on every single appliance, fixture, and floor covering for their house which, though charming, needs pretty much everything except new sheetrock.

Perhaps this seems so daunting to me since one of my first arguments with my husband (when he was still my fiance) was when we went to Home Depot and tried to decide on new carpet for our house. We started to become conflicted about carpet texture and color, and then promptly left the Depot with no carpet. Five years later, we still have raspberry-colored carpet throughout the majority of our house (which was here when we moved in), and we have made very few decisions related to home improvement. Perhaps this is also why most of our walls are bare. But the marriage is strong, a claim I'm not sure I could make if we had begun our relationship under the ceiling of a falling down (or even slightly leaning) house.

Don't get me wrong, I respect and even admire those people who place high value on the aesthetics of their homes, and I know our friend's house will be stunning in the LONG run. But it all takes us back to the Good Enough Principle. When I visit friends or colleagues who have spent years--lifetimes--working to make their homes into works of art, I get tired just listening to the stories about how long it took them to gather the pre-used bricks for their garden wall or how carefully they laid the 594 hand-painted tiles for the mosaic on the shower floor. After visiting such a house, when I get back home, I arrive back at my own front door with a great sense of relief and comfort, glad that I've seen such beauty, but also glad that I do not care to spend hours, days, weekends, and a lifetime creating the perfect house.

Instead, we live in a house with raspberry carpet, cheap and comfy couches (which are not especially attractive but all sections recline into La-Z-Boy position, a feature with which I now cannot live without), and old shower stall that has been (very nicely, dear Husband) frequently patched with fiberglass.

But, as we relax in our house, we have peaceful, easy feelings and we do not have to debate about parquet vs. wood, tile vs. linoleum, cork vs. bamboo, or granite vs. corian. We keep what we have, and we spend our weekends playing at the beach. And that's not just good enough; it's great.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

R.I.P. d.f.w.

I'm feeling a little stunned by the suicide of David Foster Wallace. I have often wondered about the ways in which genius and madness (by which I mean both psychosis and neurosis) are sometimes connected in artists, writers, mathematicians, etc. Certainly, not all geniuses are mad, but sometimes I wonder if the gifts of sight, awareness, and unearthly intelligence come with downsides.

I must admit that I never finished Infinite Jest (I think I know only one person who did), but I did read every brilliant word in A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, in which the essays are true knockouts. His Harper's essay on grammar, "Tense Present," made me laugh-out-loud over pancakes at a cheap local diner. Yes, I laughed out loud while reading an essay on grammar, which is certainly a testament to his genius (as well as my geekiness).

I also just found out that he also wrote an essay about following John McCain during the 2000 campaign. I plan to rush out to get a hold of that one tomorrow.

A couple of years ago, The Husband and I went to see/hear Wallace do a reading. It was around the time that Everything and More: A History of Infinity came out (which was a great read for us since I'm a literature girl and The Husband is a math guy). I remember asking Wallace a question after the reading, and I could sense his impatience. He wasn't rude, but he seemed weary of the stageyness and feigned patience required by readings and book tours and interviews. Then I felt kind of stupid about my question. Not his fault, but his weariness made me realize that my question was kind of a silly timesuck.

My insights on this are incomplete since I'm just not sure what to say (or how much to say) about a suicide, so I will stop the words here, keep this post short and finite--as d.f.w. becomes infinite.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Marmie Moment

Today, I had a Marmie moment--or perhaps a Jo March moment or Louisa May Alcott moment. Either way, it felt great.

This morning, after we dropped The Boy at school, The Girl wanted to read Sleeping Beauty while lying on the floor in the playroom. So we did. Then, say said, "I want to play it." I correctly interpreted that she wanted to act it all out. Fortunately Husband/Dad showed up right about then to play Prince Phillip. I alternately played the good fairies (switching between Flora, Fauna, and Merriweather) and the evil fairy, Maleficent (which was really the most fun). The Girl, of course, played Sleeping Beauty (a.k.a. Aurora and Briar Rose).

Although she didn't have any lines, she was brilliant. She touched the spindle and collapsed into a limp heap on the carpet. She stayed limp and kept her eyes closed as I (being a good fairy) carried her to the futon. She did have a slight smile on her face, but otherwise, she was totally believable as a comatose beauty. And she was so committed to her sleep-like state that she didn't even open her eyes to watch the theatrics as Prince Phillip vanquished Maleficent.

When we finished the scene (after she received True Love's Kiss), she was overjoyed. The first time, she smiled and clapped her hands and said, "Let's do it again!" After the second time, she seemed so overwhelmed by her good luck (Mommy and Daddy totally focused on her and one of her favorite narratives) that she just stood there, smiling so big that she could not speak at all.

Granted, someday I will have to help her descontruct the gender identity she is developing from all of the princess stories (Snow White being one of the worst, I think, because of her ultimate passivity; Belle being one of the better ones if we overlook the fact that she falls in love with her captor, which is SO 16th-18th century), but today was high quality despite the Disneyfication of beauty and womanhood.

And as we acted our roles, and as I saw The Girl's absolute glee, I felt like a good mom. I felt like Alcott's Marmie as she supported and enjoyed the dramatic endeavors of her creative children who knew not Disney. Although I'm not sure even Marmie ever let out an evil cackle in a supporting role.

Monday, September 8, 2008

My Eyes Are Not Good Enough

A couple of days ago, something happened for the very first time. I was looking at label on some kind of jar or tube and I had to move it FARTHER away in order to see it. Do you know what this means? Bifocals--that's what it means. My near vision is going buh-bye.

But how can that be possible if I'm still nearsighted? It must be possible, because I think my mother and her sisters (and everyone else in my family) are nearsighted and still cannot read close up after a certain age. Everyone has reading glasses or bifocals or one contact in and one contact out. So I guess this means that I cannot see near, and I cannot see far. I think the Law of the Excluded Middle is somehow at play here.

So the big Four Oh is next month. Is this what happens when one turns 40? The eyes get old and weary and tell you to just shut of the computer and go to bed early because what's the point of being awake when you're so old? I've spent the past hour looking at other blogs, catching up on my reading so-to-speak, and now my eyes are too shot to stare at the screen while I write my own blog. When did my eyes start hurting from looking at the computer? Is it because I've been staring at the computer on dark evenings after the children have gone sleepy-leap?

My eyes are now telling me to turn of the computer, have some port and chocolate, and see if I can find anything good on one of my three channels (okay, I actually have about six or seven channels, but only three are in English). I can't even proofread this or my forehead will implode.

For help with your own computer/vision problems, click here. (Photo courtesy of Brian Basset and Microsoft Corporation--please don't sue me guys!)

Friday, September 5, 2008

So Knowledge is a Bad Thing?

I'm watching Washington Week, and a pundit just said, "Joe Biden will have to be careful in his debate with Palin. He doesn't want to show too much knowledge."


I've Come to Terms

Okay. I'm realizing that, thinking objectively, the fact that Sarah Palin has kids (regardless of number or nature) is irrelevant to her candidacy. Every mother has choice about how to be a mother.

I couldn't add such a high-intensity job to my life and feel "good enough" about my motherhood, but I realize that that's just me. And how I would do it shouldn't affect how I judge other moms. I mean that. The Republicans might be right (Whaaa?); the motherhood question, in all fairness, should be off the table.

Now onto other questions. "Is Palin qualified to step into the presidency?" for one.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Good Enough Vice-President?

Okay. So the whole point of this blog, or at least the inspiration for this blog, is to support the notion that women, especially mothers, shouldn't feel bad about trying to have it all, and that in order to have it all, we might not always do "it all" perfectly. Somestimes, we're (just barely) good enough. And that's . . . okay (to quote Stuart Smalley).

Now we have our poster case: Sarah Palin.

I must admit, I'm a bit thrown by the whole thing. Suddenly, I'm seeing Laura Ingraham and Rudy Giuliani wag their fingers at the double standards of those who ask, "Can she really handle family responsibilities along with being the veep or, dare we say it, the president?" It's strange and disorienting to see Republicans and even ultra-conservatives cheer the hockey mom with five kids who could be leader of the nation and commander in chief. Especially when, if I remember correctly, Hillary was attacked in 1992 (and thereafter) for being too much of a career woman. She had to write a book about children in order to (try to) shift that impression. This morning, I heard someone saying that we wouldn't be asking these questions if Palin were a Democrat. Are you KIDDING me? A Democratic mother of five would NEVER make it because conservatives would assume she's a terrible, neglectful mother instead of a kickass mother (the latter of which seems to be the take on Palin). I mean, aren't all Democrat or, worse, LIBERAL mothers bad mothers anyway? You know, since we don't have any family values.

I have heard pundits and regular people say that it's offensive for anyone to ask about Palin's family obligations when we wouldn't ask the same questions of a man. Okay, that might be true. But for me, as a mom who works, as a mom who often feels guilty when I have a busy week and am away from the kids more than usual, I just can't imagine.

I have two kids and I am a tenured instructor at a community college. My husband is a university lecturer. We are both full-time professionals, and sometimes, during the academic year, life just gets crazy. That's when I have to be satisfied with being "good enough" at all of my roles. But I do have the option of taking two extra days to get my students' papers back to them. Or I can go into a class a little underprepared and still hope to do well. I can even miss a day (or more) if I need to skip out and spend time with a sick child.

But, as I mentioned in my first post, there are some jobs for which "good enough" just isn't . . . enough. President of the United States--the office for which Sarah Palin must be ready--is one of those jobs. In order to be great at something, one must divert all resources (energy, time) into that role. One cannot put Putin on hold or wait until tomorrow to deal with the dangers of a hurrican.

I teach a Women's Studies course. I do scholarly work on feminist issues. But I still have questions about Sarah Palin as mother/veep. If I step back and think of it all very logically and objectively--sort of like Spock--I say, "Sure, why not. It's up to her. She can live her life how she chooses, and she can be veep and a parent--just like a man." And really I do believe that. But, as a mom, I just can't even begin to imagine being in her shoes.

And since her her balancing act could affect me, I just wonder.

I also wonder, if she gets to the White House, how many "good enough" moms around the country will have to hear, from hubbies or others, "Look at Sarah Palin. She does it all, and she has a more important job than you and more kids that you!" Will that be a step forward for women?

Most of the women I met in my postpartum mommy-and-me groups did not work full time, and most of them still don't. A lot of woman have realized that "haven't it all" is just too tough. That, in order to have it all, too many things have to give. Many women also realized that if they work out-of-the-home full time, they STILL do most of the work at home (as was confirmed in some recent studies). So many of those women have decided to be stay-at-home moms. Or they work out of the home just part-time in order to hold it all together. Unfortunately, this is where the supermom backlash starts. It's the notion that, "Oh, well if you're JUST going to stay home and not 'work,' then you better be a supermom. The house better look like a Pottery Barn set, and the children better be eating homemade organic food." As if perfect is the only equivlent of "good enough."

Somehow, Sarah Palin seems to fictionlize all of this. As if the woman from the "I can bring home the bacon" commercial of the 1980's just walked on to the presidential stage and said, "See? It's easy. I'm a good Christian, a good mother, and I can be President."

I can't go on. My head is spinning from the political and social whiplash that is smacking me around.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Maybe My Most Embarrassing Teaching Moment

Backstory: At home, all day long, my kids talk to me. Constantly, they talk. Often, I'm distracted or I don't hear them, so I find myself saying "What, Sweetie?" a bazillion times a day.

So, I'm in class on Monday, passing back papers. I'm looking at the names, sorting through them, while students are talking amongst themselves. A voice off to my right says something. And I respond:

"What, Sweetie?"

I realized my mistake in one second or less. That voice had come from a 20-ish young man in my class who was asking me a question. And I called him "Sweetie."

Color me mortified. And bright red.

Lots of giggles all around, with me trying to apologize and backtrack so that no one could press charges against me.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

From the Mouths of Babes

Tonight, we had hoped to get the kids in bed before Obama's convention speech. But just as we sat down for stories, the speech started, so we headed back out to the living room and told the kids they could play while Mommy and Daddy listened to the speech.

My husband was wearing an Obama T-shirt, and, at one point during the speech, the following exchange took place:

My husband (pointing at the TV): That's Obama! I have his T-shirt.

The Girl: Did you steal it?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

My House is Better Than Good Enough

The wedding in Bel Air was at what can safely, I think, be called a mansion. It had a movie screening room. It had a library. It had amazing artwork inside. There was topiary art outside. It was on top of hill surrounded by even bigger, unbelievably huge, estates. I have no idea how big it was because I only saw a small part of it. The pre-dinner cocktails were served on a balcony upstairs because the balcony was BIG ENOUGH for all of the guests.

Some of those guests were (clearly) extremely wealthy. Some of them were from the movie industry; some were from other industries. One woman--a beautiful blond in a stunning and glittery dress--looked slightly familiar (an actress, perhaps?), but I couldn't place her, so perhaps it was just my imagination. But what I also noticed about her was the similarity between her face and the faces of some of the other guests--a similarity of physiognomy that seemed to stem from plastic surgery.

L.A. is a strange place, and when I go there, I feel like a stranger in a strange land. When we arrived at our hotel, I heard the concierge talking to a thin, tan couple who said they were looking to have dinner at a stylish place with good food. I didn't hear the restaurants he recommended, but I did hear his suggestion that they walk down Rodeo Drive for some shopping and then have drinks at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.

A few minutes later, my husband and I asked the concierge for some dinner recommendations, maybe something close enough to walk to. He recommended the food court at the mall across the street.

Really? The food court? I know I still had my car clothes on, but did I look THAT bad? Panda Express was the best we could hope for? We probed a bit further, and got a great recommendation, but the food court suggestion stung a bit and reinforced my feelings of being a mere mortal in the City of Angels.

My husband and I ogled the Bel Air house and ahhhed at all of its features. But Sunday night, when we got home, put the kids to bed, and settled in to watch the Olympic closing ceremony, we realized that we would not trade our house for the Bel Air house. First, we wouldn't want to live in L.A. But beyond that, I think I might get lost in a house like that. Or I would feel too far away from family members who were thousands of square feet aware from me in another wing of the mansion. My house is 1300 square feet. My two kids love (at this point) sharing a room. If I had a bigger house, I'd just gather more crap. Okay, so maybe I'd love to have a little library/study of my own (or perhaps a sunroom), but I can't imagine family life in the Bel Air house.

My husband and I always talk about how much we like our house, but I was amazed and thrilled to realize that I would not trade it for a mansion in Bel Air. My house is not only good enough; it's great. And it's home. It's not big and beautiful, and I can't dash out for drinks at the Beverly Wilshire, but I'm happy enough to sit in my living room with a sandwich and a beer watching PBS on a 10-year old TV (no plasma or flat screen yet!), which gets its three channels through the antenna on top of the house. Ain't life grand?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

It Starts Early

I already see it in my children--the anxiety about perfection. My daughter will cry that her drawing doesn't look good--that her princess doesn't look like a princess or that the door to her castle isn't very good. That she can't draw as good as me.

My son is five years old and usually refuses to sing the alphabet song because says he doesn't know it well enough. He doesn't like to do anything until he thinks he can do it well--or perfectly. We have worked on this with him, letting him know that there is no harm in just giving it a try.

So, on a day like today, when my son keeps getting into trouble, I start to feel as if I'm telling him he's a failure. Granted, he simply may not hit the dog, he needs to behave reasonably well at the table, and if I tell him not to knock over the girl's project, he shouldn't knock it over. But my own anxiety begins to grow when I start to sense that he feels like he's failing. And I'm just not sure what to do about that. At bedtime tonight, he said, "I just want to be a grown up."

Certainly, I try to reinforce the positive. I will try to increase that since, clearly, he seems to be acting out in order to get some attention (whether he realizes it or not). But there must be some other, more specific strategies we could implement. He starts kindergarten next week, and that will have its challenges. He already knows that his teachers will be asking him to hold his pen differently. (He currently holds it in his closed fist, which, so far, has not impeded his drawing talent. He draws AWESOME pictures.)

We expect so much from kids these days. Last spring I read the book Overachievers by Alexandra Robbins, and I felt exhaustion just reading about the lives of such go-getter teenagers. I just want my kids to be happy. I don't care about the Ivy Leagues. But how I do I make sure they feel "good enough" when, so often, their behavior (or whatever) is being corrected by me or someone else?

I will be thinking about this as we head off to Bel Air for the wedding. I'm looking forward to the trip, but I'm sort of sad to leave the little guy behind right now. I'd like to give him some Mommy time. But on Monday, the girl goes to school, and he doesn't, so we can have a special day-before-kindergarten outing in order to have some quality time.

Back on Sunday!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Good Enough for Bel Air?

This weekend I will attend a wedding in Bel Air.

I have not spent much time in LA (except for on the freeways), and every time I go, I feel like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman when she goes into that store on Rodeo Drive. Not quite so hookerish, but certainly below standard. I am a casual, slouchy linen type of person, and I have been stressed about what to wear to the wedding.

My sister-in-law took me shopping and made me buy things, which is unusual (and uncomfortable) for me. I found a black and white dress I liked, but it didn't feel like my style. The fact that I had to buy shiny, black, strappy heels to go with the dress sort of brought the point home. So today I went shopping again and found a dress made of cotton--a mix of a pretty print and lace with earth tones. Kind of a cross between hippie and surf style. And I think it's also nice enough for an afternoon wedding. If not, at least I won't feel as if I'm trying (but failing) to look like a trendy LA hottie. I will instead feel like a beach shack girl in a pretty dress. A much better feeling (and look) for me, I think.

But I've been so consumed by this shopping problem that I was away from the kids all day, and, on top of that, got no work done and didn't exercise. But now that I have the dress and the shawl and necklace (which I bought) and the shoes and bag (which I already have), I feel more settled. I may get there and not look as good as the film industry hotties, but I think (I hope) I will look good enough for me.

Tomorrow I'll get back to the kids and Plato.

Monday, August 18, 2008

NASA and the Olympics

We are enjoying the Olympics. We like them (even though some parts are boring, and we wish they'd show more whitewater sports on primetime). My brother-in-law, on the other hand, has absolutely no interest. He also thinks NASA is pretty useless, and I think there is a connection.

NASA is about having a vision. It's about going where we haven't gone before or going somewhere again with better technology. It's about exploring the unexplored with the idea that we can learn more about our world and universe. But it's not purism; it's not just about space. Because of NASA, we have learned things, practical things, that have improved our life on Earth. Granted, I'd have to ask my husband what those things are--he's the aero engineer and NASA junkie--but I know they're out there.

The Olympics are similar. The sense of purism is there. You know, doing something just to do it. To push the boundaries. To see what can be done. Going where we haven't gone before. Breaking world records. But there is also the possibility of learning more about the human body, more about what all of us can do or hope for. There are the serendipitous, practical returns. But I guess the true legacy remains with the awe and inspiration. When I see the 38-year old mom win the marathon, I don't want to run a marathon. But it does make me think I might be able to get in a little better shape--that all is not lost in the fitness department.

On another note: I did not know that there was an Olympic trampoline event. When we heard that, we scoffed. But then we saw it. Man, props to the trampoline jumpers and some sick amplitude.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Family Fun Swim

I did not feel "good enough" this morning when I lazed around with the kids watching the Olympics and Beauty and the Beast. I did read the kids a few books. But after hubby got back from surfing, and after some peanut butter and honey sandwiches, we went to family fun swim at the community college where I teach. The water was warm and both kids were swimming like Olympic athletes. Well, maybe not. But they were both putting their heads in the water a LOT, which for my kids, is fantastic. The girl, who is three, was really swimming (so say I). And the boy, who is five, was even doing some flips! I am so proud. And they were SO tired.

Now everyone is asleep while I stay up late to see Michael Phelps swim for his eighth gold medal. Everyone I know is DRAGGING because of late nights watching these events. I stayed up until 1:00am the other night in order to see the gynmasts.

But next week is track and field. Not my area of interest, so I should be able to get more sleep.

Phelps in ten minutes. Time to pay attention so I can watch and wake up hubby so he can watch.

20 minutes later: Wow. He did it. I guess sometimes it's good to be better than good enough.

And what about Dara Torres? I am such a slouch.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Michael Phelps and the GEP

Clearly, the Olympic games, which I have been watching every night this week, demonstrate the antithesis to the Good Enough Principle. “Good Enough” is not gold. But the games also prove the wisdom of the GEP—at least for those of us who aren’t Olympians.

We’ve heard that all Phelps has time to do is sleep, eat, swim, repeat. We hear other Olympians talk about how they’ve been miserable but have tried to become more balanced to escape the misery that came, presumably, from a life narrowly focused on an adrenaline-producing, competitive life.

I have tremendous admiration for Olympians. Michael Phelps rocks. Misty May-Treanor blows me away. I remember watching Michael Johnson run in Atlanta, and his speed and beauty actually made me weep. It was then that I realized how amazing it was for a human being to explore what it meant to do his or her very best. Really, to be honest, few of us really do our very best. Or maybe it’s just me that doesn’t. Even though I have always valued high grades and accolades, I have almost always known that I could do more—that I could be or do better—regardless of whether I was writing a paper or parenting my kids. I’ve come close with a few things—like when I practiced for rifle-squad tryouts in high school, or when I gave birth to my children without pain meds—but really, with most things I have this niggling awareness that I could do, should do, more.

But the thing that the Olympics reiterate for me is that if we are to do (or be) our very, absolute best at something, we often don’t have time to do much else since the resources are all tied up in one venture. And what is our best? Do we ever get there? Many of the Olympic atheletes say that they always feel as if they could be doing better. Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor say that they are never satisfied with their performance, and they’ve won 104 matches in a row! Michael Phleps is always trying to be faster in the pool. Do any of us ever feel as if we have done enough?

A few nights ago, my kids were jumping around the living room, imitating (sort of) the gymnasts on TV, just as I did in 1976 when Nadia was my hero. After about 30 minutes of leaping off the couch and doing somersaults, my five-year-old son climbed into my lap and said, “I’m worn out. I don’t think I want to be in the Olympics, Mommy. It seems too hard.”

I am totally with him on that. I can’t imagine all of the parts of my life I would have to trade to be the best in the world at something. Olympians are amazing, and they have my honor and awe. But I’m a dabbler. I like a little of this and a little of that for a full life. Right now, I’d like a little port and chocolate while I watch Michael Phelps do what most of us never will. And that’s good enough.