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

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Children's Poetry: Marriage Edition

As some of you may know, I'm a big fan of children's poetry.  In fact "children's poems about dirt" and "children's poems about rocks" are common search terms for my blog traffic.  (Welcome all those brought inadvertently to this post.)  I have a nice little collection of children's poetry in my library.  However when I went searching through my books for a particular poem today, it was nowhere in sight.

I have the poem stuck in my head because of an incident that occurred last night.  Pupzilla has a peculiar habit of needing to be let out as soon as both b and I are cozy and comfy in bed.  She also occasionally wakes up from a deep sleep in the middle of the night and will insist on going out to "bark it up."  A middle of the night request is almost always handled by b, since I will sleep right through it.  However when we are both awake and lying on our respective sides of the bed it really should be any one's call.  Often we will both lie there, as she huffs and clicks by the kitchen door, trying to pretend that nothing is happening.  Nine times out of ten b will get up to let her out and then back in again.  Last night he asked how it came to be his job and I told him he was just lucky that way.

But the exchange made me think of this poem that my sister and I always enjoyed (and used to recite to each other) as children. Since I couldn't find it in my collection I searched the internets and also found this lovely print.  The original page is here.

Get Up and Bar The Door

It fell about the Martinmas time
And a gay time it was then,
When our goodwife got puddings to make,
And she's boil'd them in the pan.

The wind sae cauld both south and north,
And blew into the floor,
Quoth our goodman to our goodwife,
'Gae out and bar the door.'

'My hand is in my hussyskap,
Goodman, as ye may see,
And it shou'dna be barr'd this hundred year,
It's no be barr'd for me.'

They made a paction 'tween them twa,
They made it firm and sure,
That the first word whae'er shou'd speak,
Shou'd rise and bar the door.

Then by there came two gentlemen,
At twelve o'clock at night,
And they could neither see house nor hall,
Nor coal or candlelight.

'Now whether is this a rich man's house,
Or whether is it a poor?'
But ne'er a word wad ane o' them speak,
For barring of the door.

And first they ate the white pudding,
And then they ate the black.
Tho' muckle thought the goodwife to hersel',
Yet ne'er a word she spake.

Then said the one unto the other,
'Here man tak ye my knife,
Do ye tak aff the auld man's beard,
And I'll kiss the goodwife.'

O up then started our goodman,
An angry man was he;
'Will ye kiss my wife before my e'en,
And sca'd me wi' pudding'bree'?'

Then up and start our goodwife,
Gied three steps on the floor:
'Goodman, you've spoken the foremost word,
Get up and bar the door.'

The moral of this story being: wives don't give in.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Finding The Story

I work closely with doctoral students on their research.  Most of it is somehow connected to my research but sometimes it is research they have conducted without me (either on their own or with another faculty member).  I teach methods and writing in several of my classes and students have learned to come to me for assistance when they are in uncharted territory.  This summer I've had two similar but different experiences with students that has me thinking about how we learn to "story" our research.

The first incident involved quantitative analysis a student of mine did in a class I do not teach. From this analysis she got an idea for a paper.  She had permission from the faculty member (who supplied the data) to write it up for submission.  For whatever reason, she did not feel comfortable giving this faculty member her first draft but asked me to read it and provide feedback.  I agreed gladly.  Writing up your first paper is not an easy process (neither is the 50th paper and probably not the 500th paper but the first seems particularly difficult) and you need a trusted yet critical reader.  I was glad she felt I fit the bill.

Before she gave me the paper, we talked about the analysis and how she was framing the story. From that discussion I suspected that either the data was not so great or she was not using the correct analysis.  When I read the paper I surmised that it was in fact both.  She did a great job of drafting out her idea into a full-fledged paper but there were serious problems with both the research design and the data itself for the way she was framing the story.  In other words, the paper she wanted to write was not supported by either the design or the data.  There is potentially another paper in the data that she could write but it would require different analysis and a complete rewrite.  I'm not sure that is what she wants to do.  

My approach to feedback was to point out both the flaws in the "story" and the flaws in the design/data.  I wanted her to have a learning experience for how to story a paper (if the design/data were to fit) but I also wanted her to understand why it did not fit in this case and what type of design and analysis is needed to make the claims she wanted to make.  This type of feedback took some effort and time.  I sent it to her and then spoke to her about it in person.  I'm not sure she completely understands the feedback but this is a student who often needs to mull things over in private before she can learn from feedback and move forward.

The second incident occurred today.  I was meeting with another student over lunch and she was telling me the story of her "dead project walking" (her words not mine).  This is a qualitative study she started a year ago with another faculty member.  The data is collected and mostly analyzed. She felt the project was a good learning experience but did not feel that the findings were publishable and was ready to put it behind her.  However when she described the findings I found them interesting and was able to point her towards literature in the field that could serve as anchors for the rest of the analysis and the framing of the story.  I saw her face light up as the discussion unfolded.  It was not just the idea that excited her but seeing that there is a process to working through the "storying" of a paper.  

Now the second incident was far more rewarding (and less time-consuming) for me but both seem instrumental to student success.  The only way I learned to find the story in my data (quantitative or qualitative) was to work through the process with a more experienced researcher.  I'm not sure it is something that can be taught in a class.  There is something about coming up against a wall first that seems essential for eventually learning how to navigate walls. 

What is interesting to me is that one student saw the story in spite of the data and the other person couldn't see the story for the data.  One could argue that the problems are method-specific but I feel I have struggled with both problems using both methods.  What is hard for students to recognize is that The Study isn't The Story.  Students often perceive manuscripts as lab reports--you do the study and you write up the results--when the reality is writing is a form of interpretation and interpretation involves telling a story. 

Monday, July 26, 2010

Going Home: The Food

You didn't really think I could skip a post about the food we ate in the City of Bagels and Pizza now did you?

Since the first few days were spent visiting family, I was mostly fed by them.  However once b and I were reunited we found this little Swedish restaurant.  
We had a lovely lunch and b is still talking about the lingonberry soda.
We also found a great little french patisserie around the corner from the hotel.  We went there for breakfast.  They had great big cups of latte (me) and cappuccino (b).
They also had delicious chocolate croissants.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I met up with Angel and his father for brunch one day.  We met on the Upper EastSide (my ex's current abode).  My ex had pancakes.
Angel and I stuck with eggs: benedict for him and scrabbled with cream cheese and scallions for me.
Sushi was one of the meals b and I had been looking forward to since we first planned this trip.  Saturday afternoon, after meeting my sister Jo and her husband for drinks, we finally made it happen.
Of course we ordered sake.
Walking through the West Village I passed many bakeries.  It is the bread that I miss most.
Another meal b and I had been craving was for a particular pizza at a particular restaurant.  b ended up going twice but I just got this one chance.

Today b joined my gym and the two of us are starting a new exercise plan.  It involves waking up a little earlier and going together before our day starts.  Next week we meet with a nutritionist to get that part under control.  After this trip we have our work cut out for us. 

Sunday, July 25, 2010

RBOC: It's Just Too Hot Edition

  • It's freakin' hot here in SouthLite, as it is almost everywhere.  b's interesting little factoid for the day is that 72 degrees was the coolest it was in the entire country today.  My response: That's just wrong.
  • To escape the heat we went to see The Inception today.  It was entertaining but not as mind-bending as I think they wanted it to be.  It did make us forget about the heat for 2 1/2 hours however, so that was good.
  • Pumpkin is in town this weekend and staying at our place.  She has a job interview next week and had to make these "paper doll" cutouts for a mock lesson she will need to teach.
  • Yesterday was the 2nd meeting of Books, Booze & Broads.  We read this book.  It was a lively discussion and 9 of the original 10 invited members attended.  I made this and served fresh fruit and sorbet with it.
  • Angel got a check engine light on in his car that's costing us 900 bucks.  This on top of a costly vacation equals Le Sigh.
  • I went to my chi gung class today.  It is only offered once a month and I have to travel to a near-by city to attend.  It was amazing.  The energy in the room changes me and the teacher, an 82 year old man from China, is truly inspiring.  
  • Rereading the above bullet, I realize how cheezy that sounds but the truth is there is no other way to describe it (at least not in bullet form).
  • We brought home two dozen bagels from our trip.  They now live in our freezer and give us a taste of home every once in a while.
  • Speaking of freezers, I accidentally froze a bottle of wine today.  When I opened the freezer door the cork had popped halfway out of the bottle and when I took it out it went shooting across the floor.  Surprisingly, it still tasted good.
  • I have this song stuck in head from a commercial before the movie.
  • I hate that we get commercials in movies now but I still love a good preview. 
  • Did I mention it was hot?  It feels like air conditioning isn't working anymore but my electric bill tells me otherwise.  I'm praying for rain and a high of 88 tomorrow. 

Friday, July 23, 2010

Going Home: The City

Last night b and I went to see Annie Hall at a local historic theater.  It was a fun date on a hot summer night but I was left with a nostalgia for a city that no longer exists.  It really is true that you can't go home again.  The city in my soul is not the city I was visiting last week.

The city I was visiting is a city of layers.  Almost every street I walk down holds memories of different eras in my life.  For example, I met Jo and my niece for dinner in a restaurant around the corner from the apartment we lived in when I was seven.  The fact that the same restaurant exists (and looks exactly the same) amazes me.  Across the street from the restaurant is a cathedral church.  I played on the grounds of this church as a child but was also married (the first time) in the chaplain house and graduated from my doctoral program in the main church.  Walking around the neighborhood I saw myself coming and going.

There are many special places for me in the city and when I go home I like to try and spend some time in as many of them as I can.  This time I was surprised to find a new area.  We stayed in a hotel in the financial district (where it is a little cheaper).  My expectation was there would be no one around and no available food after 5 pm and on the weekends.  We were pleasantly surprised to find this was not the case at all.  Instead there were restaurants and bars galore and people out and about at all hours of the day and night.  Right behind our charming little hotel was a closed off cobblestone street filled with small restaurants and bars.  Tables were set up each day for dining al fresco.

Entrance to our charming little hotel

View of al fresco dining from inside an air conditioned restaurant

I spent some time walking around the financial district.  I spent a lot of time walking period.  My pedometer was burning hot by the end of each day.  The crowds and the energy were exciting but the heat and the noise and the smells were overwhelming.

SouthLite doesn't have skyscrapers...

...or street performers

I did things I don't normally do on visits home, including going to the museum by myself.  I've never been much of a museum person.  In fact the only person I enjoy going to a museum with is Angel.  We both go at the same quick pace.  We like to take in the sights but not read all the labels or study each item.  But I ended up with an afternoon to myself and my original plan to walk around the park was proving to be too uncomfortable in the heat.  The air conditioned museum seemed the perfect solution and it was.

I visited old paintings that I loved and discovered that many of my favorites were really the favorites of my ex-husband (the person I went to the museum with the most in the old days).  It was fun figuring out what I really liked versus what I remember liking to please him (keep in mind I was very young in those days).  My favorite, however, was a new photography exhibit.  

I find I prefer sculptures...

....and portraits of strong women

These were my favorites from the photography exhibit.

b and I also visited a famous bookstore.  I realized, halfway through it, that I've never really enjoyed being in this store.  I go crazy for Powell's but this one just leaves me lukewarm.  I did find a set of short stories by Doris Lessing that I didn't own, so that was nice.

I enjoyed a pedicure and eyebrow wax (ok I didn't enjoy the waxing but it was needed) and ended up paying as much for the pleasure as I spend on a haircut and color.  The upside is that b tells me my feet are pretty on a daily basis now.

Pretty feet

b and I recreated old dates.  We even went to the movies (SouthLite doesn't have an independent film theater).  On one of our walks we spied an old car.  I knew if I asked b about the make he'd have a story about a time he drove one.  I was not disappointed.  

The car in b's story was hot pink and came with a model in the passenger seat.

Angel came up for the final four days.  He was up to visit his dad.  Since I hadn't seen my ex in ages I suggested we get together while we we had the opportunity.  We had a lovely brunch and a walk in a beautiful garden.

Angel and his dad

We also saw a small exhibit in the Museum of the City of Bagels and Pizza.

Angel was able to join b and me for dinner and drinks with friends and then again for our last dinner in the city.  We joked later that we drove 11 hours to see our son, who lives an hour and a half away.

b and Angel walking to dinner

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Going Home: The Family

Last week b and I headed UpNorth to visit family and friends and our old stomping grounds.  It was a whirlwind of a week and left me quite exhausted, a little drained, a few pounds heavier, and very happy.  I took a ton of photos and can't possibly do the trip justice in just one post, so if you will indulge me, I'll give you the highlights (and maybe a few lowlights) in installments.

We knew we couldn't possibly see all of our loved ones in a week if we stayed together, so the plan was to split for the first half of the week and see our respective family members.  We would then meet back up and spend the second half enjoying the city and seeing a few mutual friends.  My family has spread out a bit since I've moved to SouthLite so my first stop was a suburb on the outskirts of The City of Brotherly Love (CoBL).  My oldest sister, C, recently moved there.

b dropped me off at C's house before continuing the drive to his sister's (Blackbird) home.  C's fiancee, K, who I have never met, was unfortunately out of town.  He was at a conference in Brazil so I couldn't feel too bad for him.  Luckily Pablo was home to greet me.  Also I got to meet K's cat Rita.



My sister and I stayed up late talking and the next day we went into the City to see my mother.  My mother moves frequently and had just rented an apartment in West CoBL.  She took us on a walk around her neighborhood where we saw many sights.  It reminded me of Brooklyn.  After a long walk in the hot sun, we where happy to sit down and enjoy a delicious CoBL lunch.  Unfortunately I had to catch a bus into The City of Bagels and Pizza (CoBP) and make my way to Sister #2's house.

Tweety Bird

CoBL is filled with murals

A mosque

A trolley

Sister #2 (Jo) has lived in the same apartment for many years.  In fact this apartment is only one building away from her previous apartment.  Going to home brings back lots of memories.  Jo also has some furniture she inherited from our grandmother that always makes me think of my childhood.  This visit was very short but I managed to see my sister, her husband, and my two nephews (although far too briefly).  I also got to meet Max.  Max is a charmer.


The next morning I caught a train to a neighboring state, where Sister #3 lives.  By this time I was quite tired from staying up late two nights in a row and I was carting a large bag on my back through each leg of the journey.  Sister #2 is not only married to Drax but has two wonderful and energetic children.  I grabbed a half-caf latte on my way over. [Having gone completely decaffeinated several years ago, this was quite the thrill.]

I had a wonderful time with the kids.  We talked and played games and made a comic book.  After they wore me out, it was time to stay up talking to Drax and my sister.  Eventually we wore Drax out and my sister and I talked the night away.

Drax's Daughter

The next day I headed back to the heart of CoBP.  I managed to meet my friend A-Girl for lunch and then had dinner with Jo and my niece (C's daughter).  My niece has become an adult in my absence.  This threw me a bit, especially when I realized that she is the age I was when I had Angel.

By mid-week I had managed to see every member of my family (except for K) and almost all of their pets.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Two Lists

Things I Am Sick Of:

  1. Oppressively hot weather
  2. Cats that fight
  3. The numbers on the scale going up instead of down
  4. Migraines
  5. Academic politics
  6. Grant-writing

Things I Am Not At All Sick Of:

  1. b
  2. Snuggles
  3. Having time to write and think
  4. Homemade ice cream (see number 3 above)
  5. A student-free university
  6. Phone calls from the kids

Friday, July 9, 2010


The other day b and I went to see The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  It was far better than I anticipated and I was told it would fantastic.  If you don't know about it, it is a Swedish film based on the first novel in a trilogy.  I have not read the books but am thinking it might make a great choice for my book club.

The original title in Swedish translates to "Men Who Hate Women."  It is an apt title as there is a lot of men hating on women in the film.  Some of the scenes are especially brutal and difficult to watch.  However I didn't find it gratuitous to the plot and it certainly helped make the point of the movie.  I'm mentioning it because sometimes it is nice to be forewarned about these things.

***Warning: Spoilers Ahead****

After watching the movie I ran across this article.  Go ahead and read it.  It is very interesting and informative.  In the article she talks about the character being the first true "shero," or a female superhero.  This was particularly interesting to me because the first words b said to me on leaving the theater was "She's a superhero."  I see it but it was not what I was left with from the movie.  I didn't feel empowered or that the movie empowered women.

I think she's a great character and I see the feminist possibilities but there are also several issues within the plot that detract from the "shero" phenomenon.  First there is the question of who's story is it: Blomkvist or Lisbeth?  Not to mention their relationship and the age difference.  Most importantly to me is the abuse Lisbeth has to take in the movie.  Can a shero only be born from abuse?  Could a man be raped and still be an action hero?  Finally there is the Bechdel Test.  There are two women in it (barely) and they do talk to each other but I would argue that they are talking about a man (or at least men do to women).

I haven't worked out all my thoughts on this movie but I was surprised reading in the article that people don't believe a man could think up this character and some even believe a woman (his wife) was really behind it.  I totally get Lisbeth as a male fantasy of a kick-a$$ woman.  I haven't worked out all of my thoughts on the movie and am very curious about all three books now.  Hopefully my fellow book club members will feel the same because I could use a good discussion on it.

I will say that watching a Swedish film with actors that look like real people (pimples, wrinkles, and hairy chests) was refreshing.  The thought of what Hollywood will do with the story is a little frightening.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Rat Girl

In my sixth grade class we had a science center.  It was a corner of the room where we had several cages of rodents.  One cage had female white rats and another cage had male white rats. It seems a male was mistakenly left in the female cage and pretty soon we had baby rats.

I was not very popular in the sixth grade.  My body was changing faster than the other girls and quite frankly it confused us all.  I dressed and acted in the hopes that I wouldn't be noticed.  I was partial to men's flannel shirts over a t-shirt and a pair of jeans. I had long bangs that were permanently covering my eyes.

I spent a lot of time in the science center, cleaning out the rat cages.  The males got really big and scary looking and not many people were willing to pick them up and take them out of the cage to clean it.  When the rat pups were born I took care of them.  One of them was especially bright and curious and I took to walking around with her in my pocket or on my shoulder.  I named her Rachel.

The teacher was ok with this and the other students already thought I was weird.  It was just another reason to stay away from me, so it worked out well for everyone.

At the end of the year I took Rachel home.  I kept her in a cage in a large closet in my bedroom. Unbeknownst to me (or my mother) she was pregnant and soon I had a litter of rat pups in my closet.  They didn't all make it but I ended up with Margaret and Peter.  By then I knew enough to give Peter his own cage before any trouble started.

I was crushed when Rachel died and, not to shortly after, Margaret.  Rats don't live very long lives but Peter held on for a while.

Many many years later we got Angel a pet rat.  We named her Penelope but b started calling her "Ratty" and that stuck.  Ratty lived in Angel's bedroom closet but he never really gave her much attention.  After a while I felt bad for her.  Rats are very social creatures.  We gave her to my nephews, who had sisters from her litter.  She lived a good long life with my sister's family.

b and I have been in and out of pet stores the last couple of days.  Pupzilla got a new bed, two new bones, and some bacon-flavored treats.   I've also been on an obsessive search for the perfect cat food.  Yesterday I was amazed that the Doggie Treat Bar had cookies.  Really the entire display was set up to look like a candy counter.  I find this very disturbing.  Far more disturbing than having rats as pets.

Today we saw these beauties.

I'll admit I was tempted but the animals I have drive me crazy enough.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Meta-blogging or Where Do I Go From Here?

METABLOG WEEK 2010 Shmutzie has declared this metablog week and I have been trying to participate for days but I've been having trouble wrapping my head around a real blog post.  I seem to be lost in summer funkland. As you can see the week has past and I'm only just now beginning to write.

Shmutzie's first post covered her original reluctance to meta-blog but I have no such compunction. Academics like to meta- just about anything.  We meta-analyze, we meta-cognate, why not meta-blog?

Meta-blogging is no more complex than blogging about blogging.  It is fun and I invite you all to give it a try.  For myself, I've been thinking a lot about what I have been doing here on this blog; about changes that have occurred gradually and naturally and about changes that I want to make in the future.

I've said before (without quite realizing I was meta-blogging at the time), I started this blog for two purposes: to join a conversation among academic bloggers and to work on my nonacademic writing voice. Both purposes have been realized and many others have been born.  Lately the academic portion sections of this blog seem few and far between.  One reason for the decreased emphasis on academia is because I've become involved in so many other great blogging communities, particularly blogs focused on creative writing and feminist mothering.

Up until now I haven't explicitly discussed my research or declared my field.  I've done that to help keep the blog pseudononymous but it is a strong factor that has pushed me away from academic blogging.  You see I'm not particularly interested in the administrative aspects of academia--there are only so many posts I can write about the mind-numbing effects of faculty meetings--and while I love writing about my students I worry about their identities and who really owns their stories. What really interests me is the subject matter of what I teach, what happens in the classroom when I cover this material, and what I learn from conducting research on these topics.

I'd like to write about that more explicitly here.   My work is as important to me as my family and not writing about it here seems fake.   As happens with all pseudononymous blogs over time, I have slowly revealed enough particulars that it is fairly easy to track my real-life identity. Also having achieved tenure I find I'm less concerned about colleagues finding my blog.  I rarely discuss specifics of my university and I just don't find office politics interesting enough to write about. What I don't want is to have my professional name linked to the blog.  I'm not sure why I feel strongly about this.  I don't want someone who wants to know about my research to find this blog in a Google search.  Perhaps I will feel different about that once I start blogging more openly about my work, but I doubt it.

My experiment with the Unravelling course and my ongoing pursuit of becoming competent with a camera has also affected the tone and feel of the blog.  I now think about the visual aspects of the blog almost as much as the written aspects, which is quite a step forward for me.  This seems natural, correct and organic.  Unravelling has also made me much more comfortable with taking and sharing photos of myself.

I've started a 365 Project and I'm sharing it on a private Flicker account with a small group of Unravellers.  Some of the 365 Project overlaps with this blog but not all of it, particularly not photos of me and my family.  I've started putting them into a separate blog and I'm thinking of linking to that blog from here.  I'm rather undecided about that.  How is it I'm more open to having my face linked to this blog than my name?  Other people share my name but no one shares my face.  But in academia you are known by your name and it follows you for your entire career even when you don't want it to. [My name from my first marriage is on two thirds of my publications and I will never be able to truly give it up.]

So be on the lookout for changes in content around these parts and perhaps a link to images from my daily life.  We'll just have to play it by ear and see what happens.