Friday, November 13, 2015

7 Quick Takes 21: The Not-Slovenia Edition

The fact that I haven't posted on 7QT since the end of Link-toberfest has nothing to do with sour grapes at Kelly's not picking my name in her prize draw. It just happened to coincide with taking in tests and essays from my classes - that made well over a hundred assignments to grade for the past couple of weeks.

1. But, I've nearly made it through the semester, because for all intents and purposes we finish
teaching the week of Thanksgiving. Back in August/ September, I wanted to throw in the towel. The baby wouldn't take a bottle, disliked formula, wanted to be held all the time, and had reflux that made him frequently grumpy - and we couldn't squeeze forty hours out of the day to get everything done. Sometimes he didn't go to bed until eleven, or later. Next semester, I theoretically have a once-a-week night class  - I'm excited about the opportunity, and hoping that will free up our days much more. Fingers crossed for me that enough people sign up to make the class - it's an experimental offering.

2. Getting to the end of the semester made me think about my ongoing blog revival experiment. That, and a comment by a relative a couple of weeks ago that was meant to cheer me up after my review of my postpartum shenanigans. I felt bad, because I hadn't meant to sound negative. Then, of course, I got to worrying that my black humour is falling flat. I tend towards negativity/mild depression, and poking fun at my life is my way of keeping things in perspective. Depression traps you inside yourself - at least, that's how I've experienced it - and it's easy for me to become self-centered if I don't laugh at myself. Anyhow, I suppose I'm still floundering around finding my blogging voice.

3. I called this the Not-Slovenia edition in homage to the Not-Boston edition, because my husband was there this past week. However, while I'd much rather be in Slovenia than here, I wouldn't have wanted to be on his whirlwind, week-long trip. He has a very part-time position at one of the universities there, and had to go in person to vote on the university President.
Update: his luggage got home one day later than he did - and it was missing the candy he bought for our daughter, and the seal on a bottle of cherry brandy had been broken. Thank you, TSA.

4. While my husband was gone, we basically managed not to cook all week. If I was linking to Simcha Fisher's What's for Supper, it would be my culinary Walk of Shame. I had leftover lentil curry for two meals while my daughter made boxed macaroni cheese. Then it was soup from the freezer, followed by take out pizza. Saturday we made the leftover macaroni a side dish with poached eggs and veggie sausages, with baked apples to be healthy (if you ignored the butter and honey - but the honey was from our own bees so that makes it OK). Sunday, youth group fed my daughter, thank goodness, and I got all posh and creative, baking a butternut squash and mixing it with the remains of a packet of freekeh, plus some peppers and onions. But I cooked it early in the afternoon, so for dinner, I reheated it and ate it straight out of the bowl.
The baby at least got real food - freshly pureed fruit, squash with me Sunday. But he felt short changed, and had a screaming fit Friday when I wouldn't hand over my piece of pizza. A bit of crust didn't fool him for one moment - he wanted the whole, real, cheesy thing.

I'm pretty good with a piece of chalk ;)
5. Apart from being denied pizza, Alcuin got to go to class with me because I couldn't think of a
babysitter I didn't want to remain friends with (see above). Even though I'm the teacher, I was shaking with nerves - both times - on walking in with him in a sling. But he bowled everyone over with his smiles, and by the end I felt pretty proud of the fact that I could diagram and explain the Ptolemaic universe while holding a baby.

6. Since you asked, Slovenia is part of the former Yugoslavia, near northern Italy, about two hours from Venice. In fact, it used to be part of the Venetian empire. It's about one third mountains above ground
and one third caves below. It's a beautiful country, the perfect mix of modern and traditional Europe, and has a very low emigration rate because Slovenians don't see any reason to leave! We spent a whole semester in Slovenia when my husband had a Fulbright scholarship, and I'd happily live there again. The language is fiendish, though. I never did get past nouns. About all I could do now is ask for a bela kava (white coffee).

7. And totally unrelated: I began writing a review for Home Grown by Ben Hewitt. I decided to jot down short paragraphs of all my thoughts  - but it grew and grew and grew...  I guess I could talk until the cows come home about education. I had to be ruthless with my editing. Anyhow, if that's you when someone gets you on the subject of schooling, you might want to read his memoir of his family's radical unschooling of their two boys on a homestead in Vermont.

For more Quick Takes, join Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Home Grown

I've been meaning to read Home Grown ever since I caught part of an interview with Ben Hewitt on public radio (I never hear a full program because the only chance I get to listen is in the car or while changing the baby).  Finally, I ordered a copy via interlibrary loan, all the way from Dallas. Really, no copies in Mississippi libraries?

This is a short book, part memoir, part essays, that explains the Hewitts' unconventional choice in raising their sons because, as Ben Hewitt says, the boys' education is so much a part of their whole life that it wouldn't make sense otherwise.

The boys' education might be described as radical unschooling - they spend their days outside on the family's homestead or neighbouring lands in Vermont, exploring, fishing, building, and even trapping. The Hewitts have let their children's education be entirely led by the boys themselves, believing that children have a natural inclination to learn that is often destroyed in a conventional school setting (though Hewitt is quick to emphasize that he isn't a proponent of any one method of education over another).

I read the book with fascination, curiosity, and a little fear - mostly out loud while feeding my own baby son (Hewitt's style was pretty good for soothing him to sleep). Partly because I'm now raising a boy after nearly nineteen years of girls, and partly because I've seen the way early grade school is geared towards girls - and boys are punished for it - I worry about his educational development. Boys who need to get up and move are being told to sit down and shut up by teachers who find it easier to teach to girls' nature, or are constrained by their curriculum or administration to do so. Girls are now outnumbering boys in college - in some of my classes I have literally only a handful of boys. To those of us on the ground, so to speak, boys' educational disadvantages are obvious.

I know that if we are still here (please Lord, no) when he is school age that I'll keep him home from the girl-oriented baby-sitting that comprises the first two years of school. But would I let him wholly lead his own education? I think not. In my own way, I agree with Hewitt that many children today are tuned out of school but cut off from any sense of where else they might belong in the world - goodness knows I see them in my own classes. To me, a way of restoring that belonging is through a classical education, connecting children to the Great Conversation of shared history, classical culture and literature. That doesn't preclude a wonder with the natural world. In fact, at five months old, my little son is already obsessed with being outdoors. Only today, despite continual rain, we were out twice, patrolling the yard and feeding chickens with the help of a sling and umbrella. Still, part of me wishes I had the courage to be as radical as the Hewitts, and that's what kept me glued to this book, despite the occasional lapse into purplish prose (please forgive the criticism, Mr. Hewitt - I'm an English teacher!).

Read this book if you're a parent, especially if you have boys. Read it if you're daydreaming about living an intentional life. Read it if you are afraid to not conform. Really, read it.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Seven Quick Takes 20: The Duchess and I

Seven topics I'd discuss with the Duchess of Cambridge at our children's wedding. I'm calling that Seven Quick Takes. I did four in a row - I deserve a little slack :)

As soon as I knew the Duchess of Cambridge had given birth to a girl, I had to give serious thought to my role as mother to her future husband. For example, what name would look good on a commemorative tea towel? I've been contemplating the moment when the other royals and the Beckhams have gone home, and the Duchess and I are sitting with our feet up on the sofa in Windsor Castle (she will have kicked off her four-inch heels; I will have slid off my one inch sensible shoes that I spent a month practicing in). And we'll think back to 2014-15...

Duchess: Hyperemesis gravidarum was a terribe. I was prostrate in bed in Kensington Palace.
Me: I thought people who said you didn't deserve sympathy hadn't ever had 'morning' sickness. I only wished I could be hospitalized. Three months of twenty-four hour nausea, vomiting violently at least once a day, trying not to throw up on my students, even when they deserved it - I would have taken a palace bed and doctors on call, but I didn't begrudge you. There should be palace accommodation for all mothers with morning sickness - maybe you should call the NHS and suggest it.

Duchess: I felt so fat at the end.
Me: I looked like I was expecting you.

And Charlotte weighed more than Alcuin...

Duchess: Facing the cameras the same day I gave birth was scary.
Me: I didn't even let anyone take a picture of me the day I gave birth. My eldest graduated two days later, and we took photos outside. My husband put one of me on Facebook without permission - if I hadn't needed him to help take care of the baby, I would have murdered him.

If she was twelve years older and it was her third child, she would so have looked like this.

Duchess: And then the christening. Pushing that pram in high heels was hard work.
Me: While you were doing that, I was hobbling around my parents' house bemoaning the fact that all those youth-giving pregnancy hormones had finally worn off, and my hip pain had come back.

The pram my mother wishes I had.

Duchess: The Archbishop was fairly accommodating.
Me: Well, we did have a canon of Salisbury Cathedral.

Duchess: I was a little worried Charlotte would spit up on my cream suit.
Me: I was fat and flustered in a charity shop dress I bought because it was the only thing that almost fitted and had buttons so I could breastfeed. I had to keep mouthing at my husband to cover up my bra straps while I was holding the baby.

We flew thousands of miles for this moment.

Duchess: I need a pick-me-up after all that. Fancy a little champagne from His Majesty's cellars? I hid this bottle behind the sofa. And please, call me Kate.
Me: Don't mind if I do, Kate.

Phew, made it to the end of Link-toberfest. "Mommy blogger" should not be a name of derision - I don't know how many of the people who link up week after week find time for one regular post, let alone several.
Kelly's question of the week is : What is your most popular post? Curiously, it's this mini-post. A close second is this series on one of my favourite children's authors, E. Nesbit: "More than Just Red Flannel Petticoats" - parts one and two.

Hop on over to This Ain't the Lyceum for good reads and prizes!

Friday, October 16, 2015

7Quick Takes 19: A boy and his cat

1. I had a spike of excitement last Friday when my post got a little interest on the blog and Facebook. It just goes to show what using the words "confessions" and "knickers" does for traffic. So I thought about what might garner even more interest, and obviously the answer is "cats" (but not cats and knickers, or I might have people reporting me to animal protection agencies).

My first idea was for a cute photo essay, but that was scuppered by several factors:

  • I'm short (near) sighted and take bad photos.
  • Trying to take photos of the cat and baby while holding the baby is pretty impossible.
  • I'm too disorganized to spend the whole week snapping away in order to sift out the few good photos from the thousand bad (so here are the few bad ones anyway).

2. So. Odie. This cat turned up on our doorstep as a kitten - quite literally. I heard cries outside the front door, opened it, and he crept out from behind the woodpile. It took us about thirty seconds to decide we would keep him if he was a stray. We named him Odysseus because he'd obviously been wandering around before he got to us, but he turned out not to be quite as cunning as his namesake (i.e. pretty stupid), so Odie stuck instead.

3. Odie didn't read the manual on cats and babies, because he actually likes Alcuin. He comes running when the baby cries. He follows us on walks around the garden. He lets Alcuin 'stroke' him, even when it involves grabbing a handful of fur before I can intervene. Heck, he's even teaching Alcuin how to pet him by rubbing up against his hands.

4. As I've mentioned before, this cat also loves water. He leaps onto the sink to share the baby's morning wash. He's ready for bathtime fun, especially playing 'catch the flannel (washcloth)'.

I'm trying not to show the naked baby here.
I'm holding the naked baby in this one.

5. He showed me that breastfeeding pillows make great cat recliners. That's my husband trying to escape the photo.

"Hey, that's mine!"

6. Odie understands that I have declared the crib a cat-free zone.

It was bed changing day. Don't judge.

Especially when the baby is in there.

He was starting to get suspicious of my taking pictures by then.

But he doesn't care.

7. Kelly's blogger question for this week is: what is your favourite blog you have discovered through Seven Quick Takes?  That's a hard one to answer because I can't recall whether I discovered certain blogs directly through Seven Quick Takes or by clicking through other blogs on there. I know This Ain't The Lyceum was one, but that sounds like sucking up. Better than Eden is another blog I currently subscribe to, and think I may have discovered via 7QT. I love reading about Mary's organized, intentional life even though, as I've mentioned, my own could better be described as "Comparable to the London Underground at Rush Hour".

Head over to This Ain't The Lyceum to read blogs and enter the sweepstakes!

Friday, October 9, 2015

7 Quick Takes 18: Confessions of a Geriatric Mother

1. Here I am, heroically rising to Kelly's challenge for Link-toberfest and getting out two posts in two weeks. I'm almost afraid to post something non-snarky because every time I have something gentle and positive planned, life punches it out of the way. But here are reflections on what I've learned from being a geriatric mother (that is, having a surprise third baby this year at *cough cough* 45).

2. Gratitude
For a healthy baby. Some people our age pay thousands just to try to have a baby, and ours was a free gift.
For God's mercy. To be honest - it didn't feel like a gift for a long time. I was counting the years until an empty nest when I planned to spend every day doing exactly what I wanted. Boy, was I 'saved' from a life of selfishness :)
For my body. It's amazing that I'm breastfeeding a baby with ease at 45, when so many younger women are telling me all the reasons they gave up.

3. Patience
With the baby. Both my husband and I are way more patient, which is good as Alcuin is, to put it politely, rather particular.
He who must be obeyed.
With my waistline. I guessed that it would be a slower haul back to my prepartum figure. At least my maternity clothes are now loose - as I discovered last week while lecturing and realised my skirt was slipping and threatening to pull my knickers down with it. Maybe I could do a blog post on the art of hitching up your underwear while nonchalantly discussing Sophocles.

4. Exhaustion 
Man, am I tired. Scrap that. I'm knackered. It used to be that when my girls were babies, I'd put them to bed and spend an hour or two writing, working, or just hanging out. Now, when Alcuin goes to bed, I pretty much fall in after him. But I know it's not forever, because I have...

5. Perspective
Everything is just a stage - and life zips by so quickly. Sometimes, in the midst of exhausted dejection, I tell myself it will all be different in a year - and I'm not being sarcastic. Before we know it, it will be one year, five, ten...

6. Couldn't care less-ness
We like the name Alcuin. So there. The Blessed Alcuin of York was an 8th century British scholar famous for engineering the Carolingian renaissance. He's the only name in mathematics in this period - and my husband is a mathematician. We went through a little angst over what our parents would say - then thought about the names on our class rolls and decided we didn't care. We were going to compromise and call him Quin for short, but he's so serious, he was born to be an Alcuin. Actually, he was literally born at the very time my church was celebrating the life of Alcuin of York in their noonday service - when we'd already decided on the name!

My halo is cooler!


7. Kelly's question for this week is: how many blog posts have you written? Considering what life has thrown at us since I started in January, I'm going to pat myself on the back for managing 18. To link up your own first or hundred-and-first Quick Takes, or read other blogs and enter the giveaways, visit This Ain't the Lyceum.

Friday, October 2, 2015

7 QT 17: Dead Doors and Ducks

1. I haven't posted for a while, because life has been hectic, plus essay grading (which is more Purgatory than life). I still have some late essays to grade, but it's Fall Break, so I don't go back to work for a week, plus Kelly has declared October a Link-toberfest and offered the chance to win goodies I don't need but might just change my life anyway, so here's the post I almost completed a couple of weeks ago, minus any pretty pictures because I have a streaming cold and this is as much as I can manage.

2. It all started with the back door. It always shifts when the weather changes, but when the house also shifted too much, it got completely stuck shut. I'd never taken notice of how much we used the back door to pop out to the window boxes, or the compost pail we have set outside, or just generally. Which had a snowball effect...

3. With no quick access to the compost, and no time, my husband left a butternut squash quietly rotting in the spare bathtub. Then one day I happened to venture into the bathroom and realised it was Invasion of the Fruit Flies. Of course, opening the door just let them all out into the house where they were merrily flying around and reproducing every five seconds. I was at a loss, not wanting to let loose with fly spray or whatever dubious chemical is on flypaper. I was lamenting this as my husband and I sat flapping fruit flies away from our glasses of wine. Then it came to me - fight fire with fire. So I set out two glasses of cheap wine to catch them. It's sort of working, and at least they're dying happy.

4. So fruit flies everywhere meant we had to stop collecting compost indoors and start taking it out via the front door. Which lead to another hard-won discovery. First, my husband got stung hard on the rear. We thought it must have been some random insect that bumped into him. Then, the next day, I was emptying tea leaves into the porch bed when something stung me on the foot - very painfully. We realized that yellowjackets had built a nest in one of the wood stacks by the front door. After a week of donning his beekeeper's suit and spraying, my husband took about 5 seconds to be persuaded to call the exterminator. We have been judging the success of the operation by the "Odie test". Our less academically-abled cat had obviously been attacked by said yellowjackets as he took to bolting out of the front door as, well, as though wasps were after him. Obviously he is too much a creature of habit to take the alternative, like one of his TWO cat doors in other parts of the house. Anyhow, the Odie test consists of watching how fast he leaps across the porch to judge whether the wasps were still there.

5. I don't think this was related to the door problems, but it added colour to the week anyway. I was out with the baby one morning, as usual, seeing to the poultry. Caroline the duck waddled to the pond, maybe a little slower than usual. Then, she opened her beak, flapped her wings, and keeled over. Dead. The baby appeared not to be traumatized, but I'm sure the memory will resurface in thirty years' time when he's talking with his psychotherapist about all the childhood traumas he does remember.

6. So updates: wasps are gone and it prompted my husband to pressure wash the porch, so a bonus there. Our carpenter has fixed the door, but found we need major work under the house, to the tune of $10-15,000. But my daughter's appendectomy bill 'only' came in at $4,000 so I'm going to pretend that's a small win.

7. Kelly's blogger question for this week is: when did you start linking to Seven Quick Takes? her throw-back post made me realise I'd been reading them since the beginning (2008). It's become my little breather on a Friday morning. Almost as strange was to look back at my blog and find I'd first posted in January this year, which seems forever ago, being B.A.  - Before Alcuin, as my husband has coined time in our house.

To read or post Quick Takes, plus a chance for reader prizes, head to Kelly's at This Ain't the Lyceum.

Friday, September 11, 2015

7QT 16: The Not-Boston edition

For once, I planned to write a snark-less (maybe) blog post about our trip to Boston/Cambridge to deliver the eldest daughter to MIT. You know, pictures of famous landmarks, our having fun etc. etc. Only I didn't get to go, and this is why...

1. Tuesday night, three days before we're due to fly out, my daughter calls from the next town where she's been visiting her boyfriend. She says she's on her way home BUT she has a stomach ache, a little like the pain she had when she had a bout of appendicitis this summer in Italy (still never got around to writing about that saga). So, despite being exhausted, I stay up late to check on her. She gets home OK and doesn't seem too bothered - she decides to sleep on it. We cross our fingers.

2. She gets up close to lunch time the next day and says she still hurts, but not half as badly as when she had appendicitis. She wants to wait it out, but I check in with my husband, and he orders her to go to the doctor at once. Which she does, meaning I have to cancel middle daughter's violin lesson as I no longer have a vehicle.

3. A little later, the doctor (a friend from church) calls. Magdalen has obviously been trying to persuade him to take the European route of prescribing antibiotics. The only thing is, apparently they just don't do that in the US, and he has no prognosis for that course of action. With my permission he persuades her to go across the road to the hospital for a CAT scan. My husband leaves work to join her. Next thing we know, she's headed for surgery. It's now less than 48 hours before we were supposed to fly out to Boston. However, it's laparoscopy surgery, and the surgeon assures her and us that she should be able to travel in a few days.

4. Husband pops home from the hospital to take the rest of us to meet her as she gets out of surgery. We spend the time waiting in her room, with the baby alternately getting testy and spitting up over the floor. I hope baby spit-up doesn't have too much bacteria in it. I was tempted to take a photo of her room for the blog, but I thought the rest of the family would think me weird. I was also slightly tempted to take one of my daughter in recovery, but I knew she'd cut me out of her will. So, no photos. I stay until the baby is no longer manageable, but my poor husband gets to stop at the hospital because my daughter doesn't seem very sure the hospital staff will do her bidding understand her needs.

Husband gets back very late, then stays up checking on changes to flights, hotels etc. My ticket was a companion deal and can't be transferred, so it would be an extra $1400 for me to go, on top of a more expensive hotel room. Plus, our struggles in the hospital make it clear taking the baby would not be helpful. God sends a final sign when I get a text the next morning that our pet sitter has had an accident and couldn't come to take care of the house anyway. No Boston for Alcuin and me.

Didn't get to see this.
But the baby got one of these.

5. That same morning, we're just off to fetch Magdalen home, when text alerts from campus start buzzing: there's apparently an active gunman at MSU. I call out to my middle daughter: "Band's going to be cancelled, there's a gunman on campus. See you later." Yes, I did. What can I say? Things were falling apart. Luckily, she has enough of my husband's mathematical logic to figure out she's safer 7 miles from campus than in the car with us, heading to town.

I spend the drive to the hospital checking texts, worrying about my students, and wondering if we'll even get in to the hospital under the circumstances. Hooray, we get in, but everyone is constantly checking messages, and it's had to concentrate on getting my daughter out of there. Eventually, it turns out the 'gunman' only threatened to shoot others and himself but didn't actually have a gun. But classes got cancelled until mid-afternoon, which was a score for me because I couldn't have made it anyway.

An aside: here's a police woman strolling to the scene with an assault rifle and high heels because this is Mississippi, ya'll, and no lady steps outside unless she's looking her best.

6. So, I spend the next couple of days packing under my daughter's instructions, but I'm still losing my mind, because I pack enough cutlery in her carry-on for a culinary massacre on the plane, and my husband has to run it out of security and stow it in his truck (thank goodness for small-town airports where everyone knows you).

This, by the way, was the same airport where a young couple were stopped on their way to join Isis, which baffled me because they must have known half the people on the plane, and how do you make casual chit-chat about eloping to Turkey and crossing the border to fight for terrorists?

7. But... my daughter is safely at MIT, recovering wonderfully with lots of help from Student Support Services, and began classes this week. And a large Amazon package arrived from her yesterday - full of her textbooks.  She'd forgotten to change the shipping address.

Hope your week has been good. Join Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum for more Seven Quick Takes.