If you see a whole thing - it seems that it's always beautiful. Planets, lives... But up close a world's all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. - Ursula K. LeGuin

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas 2009: A Photo Essay

I've been living up to my promise and taking time off this week. While this is good in many ways, it has put me way behind on blog posts. I figured I'd better complete the Christmas post before New Year's actually arrives.

No-Knead Bread

Christmas Eve Day at the House of Dirt and Rocks is all about the baking. I tried another loaf of the No-Knead Bread, this time on a pizza stone. There is still room for improvement but luckily Santa brought me The Book the next day.

I had to interrupt my normal baking schedule to go and meet Pumpkin in the middle of the day. Although she was coming over for Christmas dinner she wanted to give me my present early and privately. She told me it was something she had made by hand and that she was aiming to make me cry. She succeeded.

Activity Passport

Last year, when we did a community project for mothers and daughters, we had developed Activity Passports (coupons for activities mothers and daughters could do together) for our participants. Pumpkin designed the activity passports and made each one individually ('cause she's crafty that way). Each passport had approximately 10 coupon-sized activities and stickers for the participants to mark which ones they completed. Pumpkin's gift to me was a scrapbook-sized passport filled with activities we can do together even though she is moving 3 hours away. The passport needs to travel with me when I go and visit her.

The Rolling of The Cinnamon Buns

Note Delicious Shrimp Cocktail and Cheese Platter

More important than the bread is the baking of the cinnamon buns. This is an all day affair, as it takes a minimum of 8 hours. What you are seeing here is the end phase, which occurred at the same time b was serving appetizers.

Scallop Prep

Lobster Tail Prep

Seafood Grill

While I was busy baking, b was busy cooking up Christmas Eve dinner. We opted for surf & turf this year. Somehow we are sans pictures of the turf but the surf included grilled scallops and lobster tails. Quite yummy.

Mostly Empty Tree

Full Tree

In previous years I've been a stickler for not putting presents under the tree until right before bedtime. This rule was born of necessity since up until Angel turned 18, he had a difficult time containing himself in front of a tree full of presents. This year we let them pile up throughout the day.

Champagne Cocktail for b; Mimosas for Angel and I

Christmas morning starts with stockings in bed. No one was awake enough to think of photos. We quickly moved on to champagne and opening presents under the tree.

Angel's Lettered Chest

There were many fine presents this year. For Angel it was a bit of a Pi Kappa Phi Christmas, including two lettered shirts that I sewed myself. (Actually I must confess that Pumpkin came over to show me how and even sewed the tricky Phi). Angel got me this amazing book of dragon-related short stories. Not only is there one by Jane Yolen but I am discovering many new fantasy writers that I adore. I also got a new digital camera from b that will hopefully translate into more photos on the blog. b thought the hit of the day was a little laser cat toy. Much of the day was spent watching The Brute chase a red dot. b claims it is like having a remote-controlled cat.

After all the gifts were opened it was time for the unveiling of the cinnamon buns. They did not disappoint.
The Glory That Is Cinnamon Buns

The buns were just the beginning of the day's eating festivities. Pumpkin did come over to dinner, which was a huge hit, but unfortunately between the champagne and the wine and the general merriment, photos were once again forgotten.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Belated Blogiversary

It seems that as of yesterday, I've been blogging for two years. To celebrate I've posted the first line of the first post for each month in 2009. Where appropriate, I've included updates.

Fresh Start: I'm not a huge fan of New Year's Eve (although we had a lot of fun this year with Pumpkin and her friends) but I do enjoy New Year's Day.

Update: In this post I discuss my decision to delve further into vegetarianism. I made it almost the entire year and learned to cook many new dishes. However for the past week I've been experimenting with meats I haven't eaten in over a decade. I'm not sure where I'll ultimately end up but am enjoying the process.

Going Home: b and I went UpNorth this weekend to vist our HomeCity.

Update: The visit was made to continue a Superbowl tradition for b and his friends. It seems that was the last year for the tradition.

No Worries...: ...I'm not about to stop blogging just yet.

Update: It seems I didn't.

Twitter Attempts: I want to be able to twitter.

Update: I do have a twitter account but rarely update. Same with FB. I do follow a few of you but I'm just not good with brevity.

Coherent Blog Post: I haven't had a coherent blog post in a while.

Update: Being coherent is over-rated.

In The Interlude: Probably the most helpful lesson I've learned since coming to SouthLite is how to write in the interludes.

Update: I continue to write in the interludes but in the post I was trying to exercise there as well. That has not happened.

Great Pacific Northwest Vacation: Part I: We are back from the Great Pacific Northwest Vacation (GPNV) and I am very slowly immersing myself back into the regular world.

Update: I became completely immersed. This year we hope to go to Alaska.

Pumpkin Turns 21: Today is Pumpkin's birthday.

Update: Pumpkin is moving away next week. She gave me the most amazing Christmas gift to ensure that we stay close.

Random Observations....: ....from the second week into the semester.

Update: The semester ended. Nothing changed.

Survived Another Thursday: Thursdays are my killer days this semester.

Update: I live.

InaDWriMo 2009 Begins: InaDWriMo 2009 begins today and I haven't written a single word.

Update: I eventually managed to write but did not reach my word count goal. I did, however, finish my chapter on time.

The Bloggy-Blahs: I have momentarily lost my will to blog.

Update: Have recovered my will but am blogging very slowly.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Making Space

I wrote earlier that I was trying to slow down--from work and internet distractions--during this break. I want to give that other side of my brain a chance to emerge. Tapping into my creative mind takes a lot of mental space for me, space I don't normally allow myself. I am, by nature, pro-active and list-driven. I like to accomplish things simply for the sake of having accomplished them. It takes a fairly odious task to make me procrastinate. This trait has made me successful in any job I've had but, alas, creativity doesn't work on a timeline.

My more creative thoughts have come in the off moments and most of my creative writing has emerged either (a) on vacation or (b) under emotional duress (when I'm literally too upset to accomplish tasks). Once I spent several months waking up an hour early to write fiction. This worked well except it made it harder for me to accomplish my academic writing later in the day. I've always found it difficult reconciling what feels like my two writing brains.

So far I've managed to avoid most work-related tasks but find myself filling my days checking off lists of holiday preparation items. Today is devoted to baking, cleaning and wrapping presents. Tomorrow there will be more baking but also enjoying Angel and b's company. My daily lists are growing smaller and smaller as the week progresses and I'm trying to insert large blocks of unscheduled time.

I feel it shouldn't be this hard but for me it is. It seems I'm a doer who wants to be a dreamer.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

It's A Wonderful Date

b and I have an annual Christmas date. It involves pizza, red wine and one of our favorite holiday movies. In our early dating days, when we were still living in the City of Bagels and Pizza, we would order from our favorite corner pizzeria and eat in b's living room in front of his teeny tiny tv. Back in those days the date had to be carefully coordinated to coincide with the one or two times the movie was being shown on network tv. Back in those days I was still able to drink red wine.

Yesterday b got the brilliant idea of coordinating the date with an actual snowstorm that was threatening to hit SouthLite. Luckily I had already procured the movie through NetFlix and we were simply waiting for the right opportunity. b had to work, so I stayed home and made the pizza while watching the snow fall. b brought home his favorite red and my favorite white and we broke out the new wineglasses I had conveniently purchased last week (we are a little particular about our glassware).

It was a perfectly wonderful date.

One of my favorite scenes:

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Trying It Slow(er)

I'm trying to slow down for the holidays. I worked at such breakneck speed all semester that I'm ending it in pretty good shape. Classes are done and graded with nary a complaint from a student. I have 1 formal meeting tomorrow and then 2 informal meetings (with students over coffee) left for this week. I also have 2 article reviews to complete. However there is nothing but a doula-related meeting on the agenda for next week.

Holiday shopping is also just about done except for last minute stocking stuffers. b and I will, of course, have some extensive food shopping next week. The house is even relatively clean and the tree is up and decorated.

[Pupzilla did not appreciate her new Santa hat and tried to eat it several times throughout the tree-trimming].

My normal inclination would be to pick up a new research project or a paper that's been sitting on the back burner but I'm trying not to do that. I have picked back up a crocheting project that has been sitting undisturbed for over a year and doing a little bit each night before I go to sleep.

I haven't felt like reading much lately, which is very strange for me. I'm hoping that passes quickly. Part of trying to slow down has meant not having the computer open in front of me every waking moment. I'd like the slow down to results in my brain shifting gears and allowing more creative thoughts back in.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

RBOC: Update Edition

  • Work for the next two weeks will consist of nothing but meetings, reviews and grading. Ugh!
  • My department is beginning an assessment of our doctoral program. We have not yet reached the 5-year mark with the program but have noticed several ideas from our initial proposal have not panned out the way we expected. Mid-course corrections are important and good but it's getting hard to stay committed to the process as the semester rolls to a close.
  • The potential third piece of family bad news did not come to fruition. We are all relieved.
  • Unfortunately that doesn't take away from the crapification of the other pieces of news.
  • Most of the trouble has resolved around finances and employment. The majority of my family can be classified as the "hidden unemployed."
  • Hidden unemployment has been discussed as a indicator of the nation's financial health but I haven't found as much discussion on the lack of resources available to the individuals themselves. When an entire family is hit social capital is destroyed.
  • We had a wonderful time with Angel on his birthday.
  • Last night we bought our Christmas tree. It is a particularly lovely one this year. I'm hoping Angel can come up next week to help decorate.
  • Pumpkin has been accepted to graduate school for the spring semester. She'll be moving to a neighboring state on January 2nd. We are very excited for her.
  • While cleaning up some files I realized I have 12 manuscripts under review. This may be some kind of record for me.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Twenty Years Later

Today is Angel's birthday. b and I are driving down to his school to take him out to dinner. I know at his age it is next year--the coveted 21--that matters, but for me there is something poignant about reaching the two decade mark.

Here's a poem I wrote a very long time ago, when I was already feeling he was getting so grown and wanted to capture some of the moments of his earliest years.


I remember your first practical joke.
You told me to get up and then
you took my seat

and laughed.

I remember you fell out of your chair
I didn't strap you in.
You only fell a few inches
you hit your head and
the floor was wood and
you cried and
I felt so bad
I knew it was a bad idea.

But I did it anyway.

I remember the time
I told you to bring me the toy and you
went to the other room
and got it.

I remember the first time I took you on
the subway and you fell asleep and
the train felt
too loud and
too dirty and
too dangerous and
you were so small
and I was afraid.

I remember bringing you into bed and
you would curl up with your head
under my chin and
the rest of you
between my arms,
your feet tucked tight into my chest.

I'd smell your little bald head and
drift into sleep.
But I'd wake up with
the bed and
my shirt and
soaked through
with pee and
milk and
needed to be changed.

And then I'd do it again.

I remember walking into the living room
and seeing you sitting on the couch
by yourself
like it was your house and
your couch

and it was.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Year

I don't usually like to blame an entire year. I'm normally a fairly positive person and I'm not at all superstitious. My philosophical stance leans more to chaos than fate. However 2009 has NOT been a good year for my family and even I must admit there is something very suspicious going on in the karma department.

We are only a few days into the final month of this horrific year and I've just learned of 2 (potentially 3) additional pieces of bad news that affects my loved ones. By bad news I mean the difficult-to-breathe, keep-you-up-late-at-night-worrying kind of trouble as well as the kind of news that vaporizes all your dreams and aspirations and makes you realize everything you've worked so hard and so long for is nil.

Dare we dream for 2010?

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Bloggy-Blahs

I have momentarily lost my will to blog. I'm hoping the act of writing this post will get my bloggy juices flowing (yeah--that just doesn't sound right, does it?) again.

Its not that I don't have a ton of things to write. Quite the contrary, I have a back-log of blog posts on the usual topics: doula-training, end-of-semester shenanigans, InaDWriMo wrap-up, Angel, Pumpkin, and even one about a cool international food market we recently found.

I also can't claim that it is a lack of time that keeps me from posting. Although it is the end of the semester and everyone else is running around like a headless chicken, I'm actually sitting pretty.

No, unfortunately it is just a case of the old-fashioned bloggy-blahs. Like any other malady, it may just need to work it's way through my system.

Friday, November 27, 2009

After The After Party*

I spent this Black Friday cleaning the house. When I reached several hours in and was (almost) done with 2 rooms, I decided to call it quits for the day. Hopefully my enthusiasm for a clean house will continue tomorrow. If not, I'll live in these two rooms for the next few days.

b left early this morning to do a brief stint in a neighboring state. He works in retail and is always busy Black Friday but this year his efforts were needed elsewhere and he won't be home until Monday afternoon. Angel went back this afternoon. He works in hospitality so he worked on Thanksgiving (until 3 pm) and had a shift that started at 5 pm tonight. So I am alone in the house for three days and pretty much caught up at work. In addition to the cleaning and cooking that I have planned for the weekend, I can actually get a little ahead on my research and perhaps even begin pulling the syllabus together for my Spring class.

So yesterday was Turkey Day, for us and the rest of America. We kept up our tradition of a camping Thanksgiving. b, Pupzilla, and I headed to the campsite Wednesday evening and spent a quiet evening and morning by ourselves. I think that may be my favorite part--the calm before the storm and a little alone time with my hubby. Pumpkin and BB showed up at 11 am, as b was preparing us a late breakfast. We were joined this year by a friend of Pumpkin's who has become a favorite of ours: HungryGirl. HungryGirl is a rail-thin model, aspiring archeologist, and GRE tutor who is brilliant, beautiful and funny. She absolutely adores b's cobbler and is always hungry...hence the name.

As usual, b spent the entire day cooking and this year he added a new dish: mac & cheese. There was a lot of fire poking, a little bit of dancing and some card playing. At one point I left the crowd and took Pupzilla for a small hike around the park. The campground was quiet (except for us) and it was a lovely day.

Angel arrived around 5:30 just as dinner was ready. Fortunately/unfortunately his place of business fed the entire staff a huge (and yummy sounding) lunch so he wasn't hungry. The rest of us put a dent in the feast without him. Shortly after he arrived it began to rain. We were safe and dry under the tarp b had erected but it literally put a damper on the sitting around the fire with hot cocoa, cobbler and a reading of A Christmas Carol.

Pumpkin and BB had planned to spend the night but Pumpkin bailed because of the rain. HungryGirl is not a camper and had always intended on going home. Angel, for a number of boring but complicated reasons, had also decided to stay at our house instead of camp. Due to the rain, everyone left far sooner than we originally anticipated. b and I spent a warm, dry and comfy night in the tent (Pupzilla went home with Angel) hearing the rain patter. b read me a bit of Dickens and I fell asleep.

While it was a nice day, it was sad to have everyone break up so soon and it seemed wrong to spend so little time with Angel, especially since he had to go back today. If everything remains the same next year, I think I would prefer a more traditional Thanksgiving at home. Angel and I did have a nice breakfast this morning at our favorite diner and he hung out with me until the last possible moment, which was great.

Here are some highlights:

The Fire

Early Cooking

The Stuffing

The Three-Legged Turkey

Eating Buffet Style

*The title of a favorite song written by one of my favorite people

Saturday, November 21, 2009

It's All About The Writing

If last weekend was the Weekend Of Cooking, this is the Weekend Of Writing (or WOW). Next weekend (after The Big Day) may end up being WOW II. Now that my classes are just about a thing of the past and I have only 6 committee meeting scheduled until the end of the semester, I actually have some mental space to get serious writing accomplished.

As you can see from my little cartoon counter above, I've been very slowly plodding away at InaDWriMo. I have not been able to track my # of days spent in writing-related activities very well but my sense is, in spite of my Week Of Conferencing, I'm not that far off the mark.

Here's what I'm trying to accomplish before the semester ends and the holiday festivities begin:
  • Get 2 papers--that are currently completely drafted--polished, to co-authors, and out the door. One of these needs some serious editing to get it down to the 3500 word limit, which messes with my InaDWriMo word tracking system something fierce.
  • 1 article for a cool encyclopedia on a topic that interests me greatly but I know very little about. Article has a 1220 word limit but is due December 1st.
  • Revisions to Mmy NIH grant that needs to be submitted in February but my wonderful, excellent, oh-so-amazing grant writer editor wanted to see the next draft in December.
  • This paper that has been the bane of my writing existence for far too long now, has come back as a revise and resubmit. For those of you following along, it took a long time to come back from the last journal as a revise and resubmit but with comments from the Editor that (a) made no sense and (b) gave me reason to believe the Editor did not want it published regardless of reviewers. Revisions from the current journal are not that difficult but one reviewer wrote a 9-page review! It was mostly complimentary but will require some effort making sure all the suggestions are incorporated or explained.
If I can get all of the above accomplished it will leave me free to start and/or get back to analysis on 5 papers (that I have desperately been wanting to write for some time now) in the Spring semester (when I thankfully am teaching only 1 class). I also have 2 articles currently under review that I am anticipating major revisions. It will be nice to have these out of the way before those reviews come in.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

RBOC: Migraine Edition

  • Woke up this morning feeling really awful. I was convinced I'd finally caught whichever of the nasty bugs that are going around SouthLite: my body ached, my throat was scratchy, and my head was both foggy and hurting. I took some Vitamin C and Motrin and headed off to the office. About halfway through the day it occurred to me to take my migraine medication. It worked.
  • I have a bunch of posts that have been running through my head this week but with a migraine the best I can manage is this RBOC post.
  • One of the posts I've been thinking of involves my love of a certain tea. I drink this tea all winter long. I drink this tea whenever I'm on a diet. I drink this tea when I get migraines. It is currently rainy and yucky outside; I'm on a diet and I have a migraine but I have no tea.
  • I've been out of tea for almost a month. b has been valiantly checking our local natural food coop for the latest shipment every week. Two weeks ago he tried to order it online for me (I also take this tea with me when I travel and desperately wanted it for my conference trip) but no luck--distributer is all out.
  • I fear my tea is being discontinued.
  • My favorite bra was discontinued many years ago and I have not been the same since.
  • Pumpkin, b and I got into a conversation about being particular. I am convinced I am the most particular of the three of us. b agrees but Pumpkin does not.
  • Angel got negative feedback from both this classmates and his teacher on his poem. He has to revise it and both he and I disagree with the suggested revisions. While the poem can use revising, my feeling on the suggestions is that they show a lack of understanding of the poem.
  • One of the suggestions was to not label the man in the 4th stanza as "black" but to find another way to describe him. It was implied that to describe the man by his race was racist. I find it disturbing that college students do not understand the difference between racist statements and descriptions of racism.
  • Tomorrow is the last day in the semester that I actually have to teach my classes. I will still have another week and a half of class meetings but they will be spent listening to presentations. The thought of not having to prep another class until January is very comforting right now.
  • This entire week has been taken up with other people's needs. End of the semester is a very needy time and while I'm less busy then most (due to how I plan my classes) I don't want to spend the time I have on other people's agendas.
  • Pressure is growing on me to take on an administrative task in the department. I've effectively put it off until tenure is official but I'm seeing that it will be close to impossible to avoid it completely. Soon my strategy needs to turn towards negotiating compensation.
  • Having administrative talents does not equal wanting to do administrative work.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Weekend of Cooking

I told b today that when I slow down (as we both know I'll never actually retire) I think I'll spend my spare time cooking and baking. It is what relaxes me. However I think I'm going to need a ton of grandchildren to cook and bake for, as once I get going there is way to much food for either of us to consume. Right now my money is on Pumpkin producing the grandchildren, as Angel is having none of it.

I had a wonderful and stress-free weekend. I had three work items that absolutely needed to be done (class prep, journal review and student paper feedback) and I accomplished each one but did no other work at all. I then cooked the following:
  1. Indian-styled red beans
  2. Curried rice and chickpeas
  3. Curried potatoes
  4. Sauteed spicy cabbage
  5. Roasted veggies with garlic and balsamic vinegar
  6. Roasted eggplant, chickpea and feta cheese dip
I also baked my first No-Knead Bread.

The first three recipes come directly from Bittman's "How To Cook Everything Vegetarian." The cabbage and roasted veggies are regulars for me. The dip recipe actually came off of the yogurt container of my favorite greek yogurt.

I've been ignoring the No-Knead Bread for many years. My in-laws were the first to start (from a recipe in the New York Times), however I am a big fan of kneading (it's what makes baking bread fun in my book) so I didn't think I'd ever need (no pun intended) such a recipe. Then Macheesmo started several post about this method, the man who made it famous and his book. Finally my doctoral student has been baking this bread regularly and brought a loaf over at our Pumpkin Carving Soiree. The bread was delicious and the simplicity convinced me that I could have bread like this every week (SouthLite just doesn't "get" good bread). So I gave it a try. Here's the result:

Personally I think the recipe calls for a tad more salt but I'll be baking it again next week. The other thing I learned this weekend is that home-cooked beans are vastly different from canned. I know, I know....all of you who have learned this lesson years ago are laughing but I think beans and bread are going to be a weekly event at the House of Dirt and Rocks from now on.

The bigger problem I ran into this weekend was a lack of storage containers. I thought our house had an inordinate amount of tupperware but it seems I was mistaken. I either need to invite large quantities for students over for a feast or invest in more tupperware and a larger freezer.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Conference Life: Part II

I am finally home from my conference extravaganza and I'm just beginning to recover. The excitement was nonstop from start to finish. If you haven't guessed by now I'm pretty much a Straight-A Introvert and, while I had a blast, it was difficult being so social for so many days. I need a few days of hermitage before I'll be myself again.

There is way too much to discuss in a blog post so I've pulled out some of the highlights below:

Being with Friends

I think this was the best part of the entire conference. A lot (and I mean A LOT) of my colleagues and students went and that was nice and fun but truth be told I see them all the time. We're a close bunch and have many opportunities to socialize. What made this special was being able to spend real quality time with my favorite women ever. LTTS and I roamed the conference together for a few days and I went out to several meals (as well as a cool museum--see below) with her and Beau, who I totally dig. A-girl showed up Monday evening and the three of us (me, Sparkle and A-girl) were pretty much inseparable until it was time to travel home. I miss them dearly when I'm not with them and we're trying to come up with more opportunities to see one another.

Cool Presentation

I had so much going on at this conference that I had decided I would not go to any presentations beyond the ones that included my friends and colleagues. However, as I was sitting through one very boring talk (I was waiting for a good friend to have her turn to present) I went through the program and found a presentation that was on the EXACT same topic as the chapter I'm writing that happens to be due at the end of the month. I got up early just to attend this presentation and was very pleased I did. Not only did it help immensely with my work but it was fascinating. I'd like to write more about the topic here but don't think I can just yet. I'm currently rethinking this whole idea of being pseudo-anonymous but am pending the official tenure decision before I go there.

My Presentations

What can I say, I totally rocked all three of my talks. I'm very comfortable with public speaking (which doesn't really match with the whole introvert thing but I can put it aside for the occasion) and I'm feeling very confident and sure of my work lately, so its not a surprise. In spite of that it still felt great to nail each one. The one poster that I presented did not go as well but (a) it was not on one of my studies so I was less sure of the work and (b) it was placed with the wrong group. Although the presentations went exactly as I wanted, next time I think I'm sticking to one...maybe two at the most.


The restaurants in the City of Brotherly Love were excellent. I was less than excited before I went because all I knew of the city was cheesesteaks--which just don't do it for me--but we ate at some lovely restaurants and I quite enjoyed myself. Better yet, I ate sensibly and walked so much that I still managed to lose a pound this week.

The Mutter Museum

Many years ago, when b and I were still dating, we saw a TV special on the Mutter Museum and instantly wanted to visit. While I've been in the City of Brotherly Love since, I never managed to find and visit the museum. LTTS and Beau were more than willing to accompany me. While we didn't have much time--the museum closes at 5 pm--we managed to get it all in. You really haven't seen everything in life until you've seen what's in this museum.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Conference Life: Part I

I've gone to a fair number of conferences over the years and for the majority of them I've gone alone. Many many years ago I used to travel with Angel and my mother. Mom would take Angel sightseeing during the day and then we would have the evenings together. It worked but was a fairly schizophrenic experience for me. I've been to conferences with colleagues before and the conference I am attending now has always been done with my BFFs. However I have never had such a wide assortment of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances at one conference with me before.

I arrived in the City of Brotherly Love Saturday evening. It took as long to get out of the airport and to my hotel as it took to fly from SouthLite. Our department was hosting a "social" in a nearby restaurant and a friend called when I hadn't shown up in the first half hour. So it was a very quick change of clothes and I was on my way. The event was fairly well attended and I entertained/was entertained by a small gaggle of students for most of the evening. I then got into a deep conversation with one of my favorite colleagues--our ex-department head and the main reason I ended up in SouthLite. I ended up leaving with the friend who had originally called requesting my presence and we stood on a street corner (we were staying at different hotels) and talked for over an hour. It was a pleasant evening--a mixture of office gossip/politics, jokes and booze (the free drink tickets were flowing freely). I do love my colleagues and our family-like environment.

I had my hotel room to myself on Saturday night. The internet is incredibly slow but other than that it is a fairly pleasant stay. I woke early, with the sun, Sunday morning and went out for a run. Currently I'm holding steady at 3 miles so that felt good. I managed to get a little writing done and started reading student papers that are due back the day I'm due back (ugh). Leaningtowardsthesun (LTTS) called to say she and her beau had arrived. We all met for coffee. I had met "Beau" before but only briefly. I liked him when I met him and have liked everything I've heard about him but was still pleasantly surprised to find him so charming, sweet, and sincere. He's the kind of person I would hang with even if he wasn't my friend's boyfriend and that is a good thing.

LTTS and I had a poster to present so we headed over the convention center. The presentation went well--almost every colleague or student of mine came over to see LTTS (she graduated from our program in 2008) because they either missed her or wanted to meet her (she has a reputation in the program for being such a superstar). We also had a fair amount of interest in our study and lots of questions. I found a poster that was presenting a study/findings that perfectly complimented and enhanced a study I'm presenting on Wednesday. The PI was not at the conference but is just a city or two away from SouthLite so that will be a cool contact to follow up.

The Expo at this conference is none for its freebies and give-aways. LTTS and I enjoy perusing the booths and collecting pens and chocolates. This year I also got a cool pedometer, a mug, a water bottle and several bags. As we were walking, talking, and collecting stuff Sparkle called. She had just arrived and was wandering the Expo as well. We managed to find each other and the LoveFest officially began. Today A-girl arrives and it should be through the roof.

We spent several hours in the Expo, walking around, running into people and seeing poster presentations of students and friends. Plans were made to meet up with some of my favorite students for drinks and a small group of us headed back to my hotel room. I'm sharing my room with one of my undergrads and she showed up and joined the party. Back at the hotel we met up with Beau and realized we were all too hungry to just drink (yes I am really feeling my age at this conference--particularly with the number of undergrads I have here). After much discussion we settled on Chinatown and headed over to pick up my favorite doctoral students.

By the time we reached the restaurant we were a party of 10. The food was divine as was the company and the evening went by very quickly. At the end of dinner it was clearly bedtime for many of us but my roommate and the other undergrads decided to find a club or clubs. I was too tired to pay much attention. By the time I arrived back at the hotel I had logged 24,000 steps on my pedometer and was feeling every one.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Conference Bound

I'm sitting in the airport, enjoying free wifi, and waiting to board a plane to the City of Brotherly Love. I think I'll be renaming it the City of Sisterly Love as I will be seeing all my "girls" at this conference. This is the largest conference in our field and it is pretty big. Not only are many of my colleagues from SouthLite going but so are a fair number of my students. Two students just left on an earlier flight that was delayed but my flight is on time and filled with 4-5 undergraduate students from my department.

I have a lot going on at this conference this year: 3 posters (2 being presented by students or former students) and 3 papers. But more importantly it will be an opportunity for me to spend some quality time with A-Girl, Sparkle and leaningtowardsthesun.

Looks like we're boarding. I hope to keep you posted on all the conference excitement.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Posted with Permission from the Author

Trek Back to 187th

That day in middle school a bully

joked about airplanes hitting buildings.

I couldn’t believe

When we sat spaced out in homeroom,

Staring at the fluorescent lights

And clock, towering over the intercom.

My name was called and father appeared

Standing outside the sunlit streets of New York.

He took my hand and pointed to

The steel smoking across the sky.

He said, this is the sight I never want you to see.

The sight of war.

We walked the streets of the city that never sleeps

And witnessed its bi-polar depression.

A women in a red dress, face wrinkled from tears,

Broken in the middle

Of the intersection. Like

A car accident, She collided with

Pavement and waited for help.

A man wedged his car door

Open blasting victims with news updates.

A couple stopped with us and

Stood around. Grim faced, crossed arms

We knew,

There was nothing we could do.

We joined a crowd.

And waited for a bus on 63rd and Lex.

Taxi’s sped past like angry

Yellow-jackets. One stopped

And a black man was first to reach it.

The driver argued against the man

And my father cried for justice

As it flew off.

That day I was afraid of sticks and stones

And towering buildings falling down on me.

-Angel, 2009

Sunday, November 1, 2009

InaDWriMo 2009 Begins

InaDWriMo 2009 begins today and I haven't written a single word. InaDWriMo is the academic equivalent of NaNoWriMo and you can learn more about it over at Brazen Hussy's place. The rules are pretty simple: pick a writing goal (most choose number of words but there have been other ways of quantifying your writing in the past) and track your progress through the month with a handy-dandy writometer (see above). Each Saturday we post our progress over at Brazen Hussy's blog.

Last year I failed pretty miserably. I had three encyclopedia chapters due by December 1st for a total of 7500 words. I forget how many words I managed but in the end I pushed the deadline until January 15th. This year I have one encyclopedia chapter due on December 1st for 1500 words and 3 papers to finish. You are allowed to count revisions but quite frankly that seems like a lot of work. Also not all my "writing" results in written words, therefore I'm going to set two goals and hope I can make good on at least one. The first goal, as depicted in my wordmeter, is 5000 words. My second goal is to engage in the academic writing process (including analysis & reading of the literature) for 21 out of the 30 days in November. The 21 days covers the number of weekdays in the month this year. Of course I'll be allowed to write on weekends (in fact that's when I normally do the most of my writing) but this will force me to spend a lot more time writing during the week, since I'll never accomplish my second goal by just writing on the weekends. It will be particularly difficult since I'm going to a conference for 5 days in the middle of the month and I rarely write while I'm at conferences.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

1st Annual Pumpkin Carving and Cocktail Soiree

Last night b and I hosted a party. We have never been very big on entertaining but this has been slowly changing since we moved to SouthLite. Last month, while hiking with Pupzilla, I thought throwing a pumpkin carving party would be a fun way to celebrate the fall. Since we're not big Halloween people, I wanted to throw the party the weekend before the big day but schedules got in the way and it was relegated to All Hallow's Eve Eve.

b and I took the day off to prepare. He really did the lion-share: mowing, cleaning the yard, decorating, cooking and baking. Here are some pictures of his effort:

Big bowl of candy--his idea

Luminaries throughout the yard - his idea

Dead guy in the bathtub--totally his idea

Pupzilla got into the festivities with her bee costume:

Post-treat for letting b put on her costume

Pumpkin and her friend, HungryGirl, came early to help with the last minute decorating touches. HungryGirl prepared the chalkboard.

Written with our new Chalk Ink pens

Once the guests arrived, everyone picked a pumpkin and the carving began:

The aftermath:

And the results:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Today is Ursula K. Le Guin's 80th birthday. Since this blog is named for one of her quotes, I thought I'd share a few others that have been attributed to her and resonate with me:
  • Traveling is bad for fiction but good for poetry. That's the only cycle I have noticed.
  • There are no right answers to wrong questions.
  • Love does not sit there, like a stone; it has be be made like bread, remade all the time, made new.
  • The creative adult is the child that has survived.
  • The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader reading it makes it live: a live thing, a story.
  • The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty; not know what comes next.
Happy Birthday Ursula.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. There are many "Awareness" campaigns that are assigned to individual months, weeks, or days but the breast cancer campaign, with its trademark pink ribbon and fun runs, is the one people know best. We are very aware of breast cancer in October.

I am particular aware of breast cancer this year. My mother was diagnosed and treated this summer as was b's aunt. More recently a blogger buddy of mine was diagnosed and has just had surgery. In addition my research assistant is struggling to accept her mother's recent diagnosis of a brain tumor not yet five years after her treatment for breast cancer. Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women (non-melanoma skin cancer is #1) and the second leading cause of cancer death (lung cancer is #1) for women in this country. It is the seventh leading cause of death among women. I say all of this as a caveat for everything else I'm about to say in this post. I recognize, personally and statistically, that breast cancer is an important health issue for women, yet I am anti-pink ribbon.

I'm not going to go into all of the reasons why the pink ribbon itself or campaigns such as "Save the Ta-Ta's" or "Feel Your Boobies" bothers me because there is an excellent book already written on the subject of breast cancer and cause marketing. Barbara Ehrenreich's Welcome To Cancerland also describes much of my frustration with the culture of breast cancer.

My mother, after surgery and radiation were over and life was--relatively--back to normal, was feeling very blue. The reality of living with a cancer diagnosis was just sinking in. What she was telling me reminded me of a post I had recently read, so I shared it with her. But it also made me wonder if, due to all this awareness, it has become too normalized? When I first moved down to SouthLite a colleague was diagnosed and undergoing treatment. I met many women across campus and in the community who, in discussing this woman's situation. talked about their own treatment. The manner in which they presented it sounded like it was a rite of passage. I wonder if this acceptance of breast cancer as a common event has made it easier or harder for women to process the gravity of the diagnosis?

My mother's treatment was seamlessly coordinated and she was handled with both respect and care. I am thrilled that she had that experience and I think we can thank the awareness campaign, in part, for the fact that these systems are now in place. However breast cancer also has huge disparities by race and class that are not highlighted by the awareness campaign. For instance, more White women are diagnosed with breast cancer but more Black women die from it. As I sat in the doctor's suite with my mother, I couldn't help but wonder if everyone has the same access to this type of care. This isn't a subject I hear much about in the campaign. Perhaps this could be the next step in promoting "awareness"?

As I mentioned, there are a lot of awareness campaigns out there because there are a lot of issues that need our attention. There are more campaigns than there are months, so they are forced to share. Breast cancer awareness shares the month of October with domestic violence awareness. The domestic violence awareness campaign is symbolized by a purple ribbon. Pink symbolizes femininity and Ehrenreich's piece has a lot to say on the feminization of breast cancer. What does purple symbolize? b says bruises. I prefer to think of the purple heart, but neither is a very satisfying thought.

The statistics on domestic violence are staggering. As prevalent as breast cancer is, domestic violence reaches into the lives of women and families at a far more alarming rate. One in four women experience domestic violence in their lifetime and, unlike breast cancer, the support system for treating the effects are seriously underfunded. Another blogger buddy, jo(e), has been seeing the effects play out very close to her home. These stories happen in every town but rarely get told.

While I don't think it is helpful to make social problems compete with one another and that is not my intent with this post, I do think it is important to question why we can be comfortable supporting and talking about breast cancer but not domestic violence.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Student Update

I've been blogging the saga of my undergraduate class this semester. Previously I've discussed my disappointment over what seemed like a disproportionate amount of slackers when I had been expecting a kick-ass class. I also vented my grading woes--filled with poor writing and plagiarism. Now I completely admit that my experience with undergraduates is minimal and I'm sure in a few more years this will all seem quite normal but this semester it still stings.

We have now passed the official last day that classes can be dropped without getting an F. I gave them their papers back 2 weeks ago while telling the entire class that a number of them were working hard at failing the class. I also explained the plagiarism--they all seemed quite shocked to hear that even if you include a citation, verbatim sentences need quotation marks. [Interestingly I was telling this story to our favorite bartender--yes we have enough bartenders in our life that we rate them--who happens to be a finishing his degree at my institution and is a mature and intelligent man and he didn't know that was considered plagiarism. In fact several people siting at the bar looked chagrined.] I then posted mid-term grades--with 3 Fs and several in the C- to D range--and strongly suggested they should assess whether they needed to drop the class.

The result? Two of the Fs dropped right away. Another tried desperately to hang-on because of financial aid issues. However before the week was over she exceeded my attendance policy and I was able to drop her regardless. Since an F in the class would have had the same financial aid results and ruined her GPA, I felt this was the kindest act. The ultimate result of coming down hard on papers, plagiarism, grades, and slackers in a public but appropriate manner was that the rest of the class seems much happier. It is amazing how much silent resentment builds when students notice slackers getting away with their behavior. Now mind you no one was disruptive, just unengaged. But others are highly engaged and working hard.

There are still some very low performing students left. Some I can tell are trying hard to get on board and others are hoping to ride it out. For the rest of the semester they are doing a lot of small group work and I'm trying the strategy of grouping most of these students together. My thought is they will either be forced to do the work or they'll fail.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is my doctoral methods class, which is totally amazing this year. It is my favorite type of methods to teach and I've come up with some interesting hands-on activities that have really worked well. We've also been reading and discussing some heady philosophy of science stuff. I'm nerdy enough to love sitting around talking about it but even the best of students usually can only take a class or two. These guys are totally digging it and we've really bonded as a group. This past week they organized ordering Thai food (its a 3 hour class that meets over lunchtime so we usually break to get crappy university food and then continue our discussion as we eat) that made the class seem almost festive.

Last night my Women and Gender Studies students put on a production of Jane: Abortion and the Underground. They've been working on it nonstop for weeks and its been taking quite a toll on them. They've had little sleep and lots of stress. They asked me to facilitate a discussion after the production and I was happy to oblige. Abortion is a topic I've discussed in many classes and it is always interesting to hear how the younger generation views the issues. I wasn't disappointed as they came up with quite sophisticated and passionate comments. One student even challenged me, respectfully, and was totally right. Unfortunately the play started at 8 pm and the discussion didn't start until 10:30--which on a Friday night is rather late for me to be in "teaching mode." I covet their energy.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fall Break

My Fall Break officially ended yesterday with a 9 am faculty meeting. Faculty meetings have a way of sucking the zen right out of you. Even worse, I attended completely unaware that I was coming down with a migraine. Now, at the end of one of my dreaded Thursdays and with the migraine still lingering, I am surprisingly fairly relaxed. Sometimes Fall Break can have that much power.

b was off from his job for my entire Fall Break. I spent Friday, Saturday and part of Sunday alternating between doing some catch-up work and playing with him. Sunday evening we packed up Pupzilla and went camping. It rained on us for most of Monday but we didn't care. We lounged around the campsite eating yummy meals and reading trashy novels. Well I read trashy novels, b read Bear Attacks:Their Causes and Avoidance.

Pupzilla spent most of the trip inside the tent snuggled in her sleeping bag. She just doesn't understand our love of camping.

Tuesday morning we packed up early, dropped Pupzilla off to doze on her couch, and headed to our favorite breakfast place. By Tuesday afternoon I was back at home, in front of my computer, working on a paper.

It was the right combination of work and relaxation and it came at exactly the right time. I taught all my classes today and found my students to be in a much better mood as well. How's that for powerful?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Before I Leave For A Little Camping...

I thought I'd leave you all with a song from a woman who has charmed me for over 30 years:

She never ceases to amaze me.

Friday, October 9, 2009

RBOC: Mid-Term Edition

  • Today was the start of Fall Break at my university. While it is always a welcome event, this year it seemed like every last person on campus was desperate for its arrival.
  • I posted mid-term grades for my undergraduates last week and weeded out three of them.
  • Two went willingly but the third had to be told in no uncertain terms that she didn't stand a chance of passing.
  • The rest of the class seems happier now. Students like decisive action as long as its not directed at them.
  • b and Pupzilla and I wanted to spend Fall Break at a pet-friendly hotel on the beach but, alas, I waited to long and they were booked solid.
  • The three of us will be going camping for a couple of days instead but first we doing the relax thing at home.
  • I'm working on and off while I relax. I made the mistake of not working through Fall Break once.
  • I have many books, thanks to my favorite used bookstore, that I can read over Fall Break.
  • I am becoming a Jane Yolen junkie.
  • Fall Break will not be long enough.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Survived Another Thursday

Thursdays are my killer days this semester. Today started with a 9 am meeting with a consultant (paid by the training grant that is funding me this year--which is a godsend in many ways) to give me feedback on my grant application. This was my first meeting with this woman. Several people have told me how wonderful she is and I'm happy to say they were absolutely right. In half an hour she gave me more concrete and helpful suggestions (along with an edited hardcopy) on the application than anyone else has given me in the past 6 months I've been working on it. What she suggested made perfect sense and completely solved a problem I've been struggling with for a while now. She wants another draft by December, which is totally doable. Due to changes in NIH guidelines I have to cut the grant in half. She told me to only cut what I think is absolutely necessary (about a third she said) and she will tell me where to cut from there.

She also confirmed that the grant is going to hinge upon me and my partner getting several papers out and accepted. She feels this needs to be a push in the next month (along with the grant edits and you know, my normal work). I have two that are pretty close and my partner has another that is also almost ready, so its doable but we're going to be busy. The good news is that this woman also edits papers and encouraged me to send her a draft.

I was supposed to meet with my student research team directly after the first meeting. However I cancelled it the day before because I wasn't prepared for them (which makes me feel awful since they did all their work and were totally prepared for me). Worse yet I was supposed to use the meeting time to get ready for them but had to use it organizing the papers I graded last night and getting back-up for all of the plagiarism.

I then taught my doctoral class at noon. This class has been going well. I have a really enthusiastic and bright bunch of students. Luckily I had prepped a class with a lot of individual and small group work, so I did some of the work for my student research team while they were doing in-class assignments. The bad part was that this was also the day their papers were due, so now I have another stack of grading.

I teach my undergraduate class immediately following my doctoral class. We actually had a fairly interesting discussion that ended with Roman Polansky. Believe me when I say it was relevant to the topic. However only 2 of them were aware of the case and I believe only 3 or 4 even knew he was. Undergraduates have a way of making you feel old right quick. At the end of the class I had to read them the riot act about the state of the papers in general and the plagiarism. They all looked generally shocked and, even my A students looked nervous until I actually handed them out. I told them I would be posting mid-term grades this weekend and that more than a handful will have to decide if it is in their best interest to stay in the class. Needless to say I had a line of students waiting to talk to me at the end of class. I think I may have busy office hours next week.

Dealing with the line of students and the fact that I had no cash to pay for parking (I don't normally drive to work so often forget about the need to pay when I do), made me late for my childbirth class. Fortunately/unfortunately this turned out not to be a problem because for the second week in a row it started approximately 1/2 an hour late. I have to say I love the idea of being a doula but the training has mostly been painful. It makes me really sad that this is a model program for teen moms but even so it is not the program they deserve. To get through it I put on my researcher's cap and take mental notes.

I'm finally home, waiting for b who is working late, drinking a beer and ignoring the fact that I have no dinner plan.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Agony of Grading

Just finished grading papers from my undergraduate course. I required a first draft and gave them extensive feedback. Here are a few stats:
  • 5 out of the 35 felt handing in the draft was optional (it wasn't)
  • So far it seems 4 out of the 35 think handing in the final is optional
  • 2 students fit categories 1 & 2 above
  • Of the 31 I received, 6 were plagiarized
  • Approximately 1/3 of the papers were either excellent in the draft or improved--maybe not to excellent but still substantial
  • Not counting those who plagiarized, a handful actually got worse and many stayed the same.
  • I offered extra credit just for visiting the writing center between the draft and the final--6 took me up on it.
Tomorrow they get the bad news. The last chance to withdraw from the class without penalty is fast approaching and I'll be encouraging several to do just that.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Doula Training Update

To become a certified doula I have to attend childbirth classes and a breastfeeding class in addition to the actual doula workshop I attended. Of course I will also need to serve as a doula for three births (only one of which can be a cesarean to count), read 5 books, write up my birth stories as well as an essay on the importance of being a doula. So it is no small process.

Luckily the program for teen moms in my area makes a lot of this possible and I don't need to arrange all of the logistics. This past Thursday we started our 7-week childbirth classes. The class is actually much smaller than usual, with only 7 or 8 teen moms (and 13 doulas-in-training!). I was hoping to get matched up with one of the girls as a mentor but alas they're aren't enough to go around. Pumpkin did get matched and I'm very happy for her. She is the type of person that needs a connection to make it real.

The first session was more of a meet and greet with paperwork so it wasn't much fun, however next week we get our actual childbirth educator. This morning I went to a 3 hour breast feeding class. Most teens don't breastfeed and while its not our job to persuade them it is our job to support them in their decision and to give them the information they need to make that decision. The discussion today brought back many memories for me. I loved breastfeeding but was not well supported. It came very easy to me, so all of the problems I heard about today were surprising. However I weaned Angel at 4 months even though I didn't really want to and I've always regretted that decision. I had been back to work for 2 months by then and had no support for pumping and storing in the office. It seemed like I was making things worse for all three of us (me, Angel and his dad who was home with him during the day). When I made the decision I was under the impression I'd have at least one more child and thought I'd be in a different position when that happened (one that supported breastfeeding). Unfortunately that never materialized.

I thought I'd share this poem by Sharon Olds on childbirth. Its been on my mind with all that I hear and see in these trainings.

The Language of the Brag

I have wanted excellence in the knife-throw,
I have wanted to use my exceptionally strong and accurate arms
and my straight posture and quick electric muscles
to achieve something at the centre of a crowd,
the blade piercing the bark deep,
the haft slowly and heavily vibrating like the cock.

I have wanted some epic use for my excellent body,
some heroism, some American achievement
beyond the ordinary for my extraordinary self,
magnetic and tensile, I have stood by the sandlot
and watched the boys play.

I have wanted courage, I have thought about fire
and the crossing of waterfalls, I have dragged around

my belly big with cowardice and safely,
my stool black with iron pills,
my huge breasts oozing mucus,
my legs swelling, my hands swelling,
my face swelling and darkening, my hair
falling out, my inner sex
stabbed again and again with terrible pain like a knife.
I have lain down.

I have lain down and sweated and shaken
and passed blood and feces and water and
slowly alone in the centre of a circle I have
passed the new person out
and they have lifted the person free of the act
and wiped the new person free of that
language of blood like praise all over the body.

I have done what you wanted to do, Walt Whitman,
Allen Ginsberg, I have done this thing,

I and the other women this exceptional
act with the exceptional heroic body,
this giving birth, this glistening verb,
and I am putting my proud American boast
right here with the others.

-Sharon Olds

Friday, September 25, 2009

Wonders Never Cease

Angel called today and asked if I hadn't received his 2 phone calls from yesterday (I hadn't because the younger generation no longer believes in leaving voicemail but rather "missed call" is supposed to clue you in to call them back--I rarely check my phone for missed calls). He was calling to say that he was thinking of stopping in for a visit this weekend. But now he's not so sure. Seems he has a tickle in the back of his throat and possibly a wisdom tooth coming in.

We still may be getting a visit but he won't know until tomorrow (when he wakes up and sees how he feels). I was rather blase in my response--since it seemed/seems rather up in the air and I don't really want to get my hopes up or change my plans (ok my plans all involve work but still). The most amazing part of the entire exchange was that he got insulted I wasn't acting more excited.

It is an exceedingly delicate balance with grown (or almost grown) children--like dancing on the head of a pin.

I told him I would love a visit from him (which of course is an understatement) and that seemed to satisfy. We'll see what happens.

On rereading this post I realize that there isn't another man in the world I would allow to treat me this way. I did once and that was with...oh right...his father.

Monday, September 21, 2009

State of the Semester

I've really been feeling it this semester--more than the start of any other semester so far. Everyone around me--faculty and student alike--have been reporting the same. However I'm not sure if this is just the normal level of complaining. Every other semester I feel rather good and people around me complain and I--generally--ignore them. Now everyone is either agreeing with me and I'm agreeing with them. I feel like I've joined the pod people in The Stepford Wives, only instead of looking and acting perfect, we're all looking, feeling and acting miserable.

We're in the fifth week of the semester, which is about 1/3 of the way through. I don't think I can really call it the start of the semester anymore, and yet I don't really feel any better. Courses are stabilized now--students know what to expect from us and we know what to expect from them. Committee meetings are up and running; expectations and agendas are set and in motion. I don't think my workload is any greater than any other semester and, quite frankly, is lower than what it should be since I managed to trade a larger class for a much smaller one.

But yesterday something occurred to me. I worked very productively on my research all summer long. I did manage to relax and enjoy myself but I spent fairly full days working on my research and, more importantly, I made considerable progress. I think I developed a subconscious expectation of being able to do "my work" that consciously I know I cannot meet during the semester. My subconscious expectations have been ruling these past four weeks in spite of my best intentions. So I need to find away to adjust the subliminal pressure I put on myself early on in the semester. Acknowledging it is a good first step.

This realization does make me wonder if this means that the more productive I am in the summer the more likely it is I'll be miserable in the fall?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Single Life

b is away this week. He is UpNorth with his family. We email and/or IM daily. Angel is at school and I assume things are going well because I haven't heard from him in a while. Pumpkin is obsessively studying for the GREs--although not a day goes by without a text message, phone call, IM, and or brief face-to-face visit with her. So I am quite connected through technology but otherwise quite alone. I have to say that so far its been rather enjoyable.

Unfortunately I am completely swamped at work and had a computer snafu this week that set me back even further. [I VERY stupidly upgraded to Snow Leopard without checking for compatibility first. For those mac users out there, Snow Leopard is NOT compatible with SPSS 17--or 18 that is coming out soon--or Parallels. I need both of these to do my job so I had to go back to Leopard and, while I thought I backed up everything first--yeah I didn't. Luckily I am able to recreate everything that is important but it is a pain and time-consuming.] So a lot of my alone time is spent working to catch up, with no real chance of getting a head.

But what am I doing to entertain myself? Mostly I am watching TV (Netflix has brought TV back into my life in a way I totally didn't anticipate). I'm catching up on old seasons of Brothers & Sisters before Season 4 begins next week. I'm working my way through Dead Like Me, which unfortunately won't take too long. And Survivor started this week. I also visited my local used bookstore and I'm currently reading Anne Tyler's The Amateur Marriage. It has been raining here for most of the week but today is actually cool and dry (so far) so I'm off to take Pupzilla for a trail walk. Its been a long time since we've done that together.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What Exactly Is Feminist Mothering?

This week I received the proofs for a chapter I have coming out in a book celebrating the 20th anniversary of Sara Ruddick's Maternal Thinking: Towards a Politic of Peace. The chapter represents a stretch for me in terms of professional writing and I'm happy with how it turned out. This same week I also read this post over at Hoyden About Town and this response post at Blue Milk--both on the practices of feminist mothering (you may want to take some time right now to read them...I think you will enjoy the posts and the comments). I also took part in a survey on feminist mothering that I saw referenced on Blue Milk. Needless to say all of this has gotten me thinking about feminist mothering this week and I have to say: I'm very confused. Did something happen to feminism generally and to feminist mothering specifically while I was busy doing other things?

For those of you who haven't read Maternal Thinking, Ruddick makes the claim that (a) engaging in the practice of mothering (which she does NOT define as exclusively female) creates a unique way of thinking--the same as the engagement in any other practice creates a unique thought process (i.e. lawyers end up thinking like lawyers); (b) maternal practice ultimately consists of three factors--preservation, nurturance, and training; and (c) since the definition of training is preparing your child to be socially acceptable--as defined by the social groups to which the mother is a member--there are multiple instances where the tasks are in conflict and mothers must figure out how to resolve these conflicts. For example, raising your son to be a soldier, if this is the socially acceptable adult role in a woman's social group, is in direct conflict with the task of preservation. It is the resolution of these conflicts that forces mothers to think and, thereby, creates maternal thought. Now Ruddick also speaks of maternal inauthenticity--when these conflicts arise and mothers are not true to their own beliefs. However she notes:
"It is not when they submit or are prudent or timid that mothers are inauthentic. It is when they loose sight of the cost of prudence, deny their timidity, and tell their children that unquestioning obedience is actually right. Inauthenticity is a matter of form, not content."
To me, being authentic in this sense is feminist mothering. It is not whether we do or do not make concessions to the established order--to the institution of motherhood, as Rich would phrase it--but when we are false with our children and pretend what we believe is not valid, is not true.

However my other run-ins with definitions of feminist mothering this week seem to center on what I would term mothering (or even parenting) tasks--not practices--and many of these tasks seem to be related to styles of parenting (i.e. attachment parenting--which I freely admit I don't know enough about to discuss in an intelligent fashion) or even to other belief systems and practices (i.e. environmentalism). Now I have nothing against either attachment parenting (what little I know of it leads me to believe I would have endorsed it when Angel was small) or environmental practices but I don't think that is what defines feminist mothering (assuming we believe this term is meaningful--as opposed to their being people who are feminist and who mother--which is more how I think I would describe myself).

I also need to say that this post is not in response to either Lauredhel's or Blue Milk's thoughtful posts or any of the comments on their blogs, but rather as a response to the original post that generated their posts and, mainly, to the survey on feminist motherhood that I completed. I can do no better justice to the original post than Lauredhel herself, so I will put that aside. However the survey bothered me and I feel I can discuss it here. Again, I must start by applauding the researchers' efforts to study feminism and motherhood but I found it incredibly difficult to answer the survey. Below is a description of my main problems:
  • The survey represented motherhood as only consisting of the mothering of young children and did not acknowledge that some of us are mothers of grown children, yet our practices and attitudes may still hold some value.
  • Items of mothering practices revolved around specific tasks like breastfeeding, bed-sharing, and keeping children on a strict schedule. Given my definition of feminist mothering above, I don't see that there is necessarily any association between these tasks and a person's identity as a feminist. Take breastfeeding, for instance. The question asked (as I best recall) what length of time you felt breastfeeding was beneficial (it also asked how a "typical feminist" would respond--more on that later). Now there is quite a lot of data out there on the health benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and child and there are also recommendations for length of breastfeeding. However there are many reasons why woman either choose not to breastfeed or stop breastfeeding earlier than recommended time frames, would this mean she is not a feminist?
  • A significant portion of the survey was devoted to the percentage of time the person spent engaged in household tasks, including but not limited to early childcare tasks (i.e. diaper changing, getting up in the middle of the night). While I understand that equality in household and childcare tasks is a feminist issue, I don't think it is associated with feminist beliefs or identity. That is, there are many women who identify as feminist and who hold (so-called) feminist beliefs but still end up engaged in more than 50% of these tasks on a daily basis. I believe the reasons for this involve deep-seated gender constructions that we all hold (even us feminists) and, more importantly, shape our institutions. Rallying against them is a battle most of us (especially those with small children) are too tired to take on on a daily basis. Now keep in mind that the stated purpose of the study is to learn more about how women feel about the relationship between feminism and motherhood. I'm not convinced that looking at associations between feminist identity, mothering practices, and time spent engaged in house/childcare work is going to provide that understanding.
  • What exactly is "a typical feminist"? By asking me to rate responses to all of these items as a typical feminist would, you are assuming that I believe feminist are a homogeneous group. Would a feminist believe that?
So this post has turned into a bit of a rant and I feel bad if it sounds like I'm trashing this research. There is so little research out there on this subject and I do not know the specific aims of the study, nor do I think I was the correct demographic for completing the survey, so I don't want to appear unfair. It was more that trying to answer the questions was frustrating for me and it brought to the forefront these questions I have about the concept of feminist mothering. It seems I thought I knew what it meant, to me at least, but now I'm thinking there is another definition out there and it seems a bit too narrow for my comfort.