Friday, April 29, 2016

Seven Quick Takes 30: Life of my Time

1. In the interests of truth, I begin with apologies to J.G. Ballard for shamelessly hijacking his sci fi short story title, "Time of Passage". My plagiarism was inspired by the fact that I'm living on two time planes right now - real life and Seven Quick Takes life, which is several weeks behind after taking time out to go to Boston and Cambridge (I'm getting good at not conflating the two places into Boston). Hence the random news in attempt to catch up.

2. After getting back from his gourmet breakfasts at the Bed and Breakfast in Cambridge (which for him meant as much cheese as he could get away with eating), the baby tried going on hunger strike when faced with the usual boring oat cereal and scrambled eggs. This consists of turning his head away and laying his face down on the high chair tray so there is no way anyone can sneak that evil, poisonous food into his mouth.

3. In sympathy with the baby, my students apparently went on study strike while I was gone. Foolishly, I gave them an extra week for their research essays and class prep instead of demanding they hand it in before I leave. The result was that almost no one managed to turn in an essay that met the minimum page requirement, and no one at all had read the assigned stories. How did I find out? I asked a simple reading comprehension question about Eudora Welty's "A Worn Path" and no one could answer.

Apparently even watching the video version was too much

4. My husband regularly reads the blog to find out what he's up to, in his words. After the previous entry he announced, "You make our family sound freakish." Freakish? Coming from a mathematician? A pure mathematician at that? All I can say is, pots and kettles...

5. Whether or not we're freakish, there's certainly evidence that we're reclusive. Packing for the holiday, I realized that the baby only had two pairs of decent trousers.  Plenty to see us between washes. Otherwise, he spends his time at home in baggy, stained sweatpants so he can a) wear cloth diapers (most baby clothes are made to fit disposables) and b)  I don't have to worry about his his clothes while he climbs in the dishwasher/ eats cat food/ chews computer cords.
And hey, the semester is nearly over, so I can enjoy getting out even less.

And to finish up with two totally unrelated points...

6. In the midst of all our insanity, an interlibrary loan arrived, but I was too busy to read it. The title? Breaking Busy: how to find peace and purpose in a world of crazy.

7. We've been working on getting our middle daughter to curb her snarkiness, but it's hard when it's in your DNA. For example, so many people have been remarking how the baby looks just like his sister that I'm starting to have to fight the urge to reply sweetly, "Yes. Except for the penis."

Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes...

Looking for more snark? Visit the other link ups at This Ain't the Lyceum.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Seven Quick Takes 29: The Cambridge Edition

Math(s) professor looking cool next to a cool math(s) statue

1. I was going to start off this post by proclaiming that sometimes we actually do normal activities, like a normal family. As in going on holiday (why do we holiday if we're British, but vacation if we're American?). Well, we did manage a holiday - all the way up north to Boston and Cambridge to visit our eldest. This was my first trip to MIT, since my previous plans to see said child off to college were derailed when she had her appendix out two days before she was supposed to leave back in September.

So far, so good.

2. We opted for a Bed and Breakfast (OK, I whined about not staying in a chain hotel and my husband delivered). Harding House is a historic house situated in between Harvard and MIT. It's this pretty, bright blue house standing among, ahem, not quite such pretty (i.e. grungy) buildings. And opposite a building site. But I enjoy the eclecticism of Boston neighbourhoods, so I can't complain too much. Plus, there was unlimited coffee cake and Hersey's kisses.

As Boston is in a different time zone, I had hopes of getting to sleep in an 'hour' later since the baby would be on his normal clock. Instead, he woke up an hour earlier, due to it being so much lighter up north. Consequently, we got all got up at the equivalent of 5am the first day. OK, he did make it back to sleep at 7am (Boston time, are you keeping up?), but then building work started across the road. With hammers. As my husband said, who uses hammers nowadays? Not any contractor down in Mississippi. People in unions, that's who. Five minutes with a nail gun, and we could have got a nice pre-breakfast nap.

3. The first day, we went on a historic tour of Harvard. This turned out to be led by a British student, who spoke so fast and low that even I had trouble understanding her. I spent most of the tour either straining to hear her or conquering my urge to ask her to use better enunciation. She also led our group hither and thither up and down steps with apparently no heed to the fact that we had a stroller. By the time we had finished (half) hearing about her "challenging" social sciences degree, we were glad we sent our daughter to MIT instead. Sorry, Harvard parents - I'm sure you feel the same about MIT.

4. The end of every tour stops at the statue of John Harvard, who isn't John Harvard at all, because there was no extant likeness of him when they made the statue. Apparently it's a tradition that you rub his foot for luck. So we duly took a photo with the baby.

That evening, we met our daughter for dinner and told her about the tour. "Oh," she said, "Harvard students pee on that statue all the time."

That night, the baby came down with his first cold. This meant he woke up about once an hour every night for the rest of the trip. Coupled with my husband's snoring, the building site, and the stuffy top-floor room (which was otherwise lovely, in case I sound like too much of a complainer), this left us with severe sleep deprivation. I'm wondering if I should sue Harvard for the cost of our vacation. However, since they are the first group to ever successfully sue the American government (for damage caused by troops in the Civil War), I'm not sure how far we'd get.

5. People in Boston are aggressively helpful. By this, I don't mean that they are nasty, but that they insist on not just telling you what to do or where to go, but taking you by the arm and leading you there. We had to let the lady at the subway talk us through getting our tickets, even though we knew exactly what to do  - but then she did save us money by telling us to pretend our twelve-year-old was eleven, and to all squeeze through the barrier on one ticket because who cares?

6. We finally made it to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum - as in, it was on my list when we first visited Boston about five years ago. It turned out it was on everyone else's list that day, too. We had to wait in the rain for the lobby to get in, and then two hours before a table was free at the restaurant. But it was worth it. The house is built in the style of a Venetian palace, around a beautiful courtyard. Isabella Gardner was a pretty savvy art collector, and managed to acquire paintings by Titian, Rubens, Raphael, John Singer Sargent, and Whistler, among others. She stipulated that everything had to be left as she arranged it. There are even blank frames from a heist many years ago. Oh, and people named Isabella get in free.

7. We woke up to a snow storm on the day we were supposed to leave. I tried to take pretty pictures, but the wind was too bad. Our plane was delayed, not ironically by the snow but mechanical error. In the end, my husband was stranded in Boston for another night while the rest of us got rescheduled.

"Look like you're happy."
 "I can't"

Verdict? We ended up exhausted, but I'm glad we went. I think we're going to try Airbnb next time, though (and remember to take family photos). Maybe we'll get to stay in some Harvard law professor's house. I wonder what we can pee on in revenge....? (If any Harvard law professors are reading, that was a joke. Don't sue me.)

For Seven Quick Takes less imbued with thoughts of revenge than an Edgar Allen Poe story, visit Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Seven Quick Takes 28: Ying Tong, Piddle, and Pi

1. Spring Break this week. So glad it coincided with the clocks going forward. It feels so much better to cast my bleary eyes on the the clock and see that the baby woke me up at 'seven', even though it's really still six.

2. Luckily, the break coincided with the release of Rethinking Women's Health: A Guide to Wellness by Alison Buehler, who lives up the road from me. I promised a review when I'm done, but for now I can't help contemplating the price of local fame. I mean, people here are going to bump into Alison in the supermarket and think, She's the woman who wrote the book with the word "vagina" splattered all over it. Should make for interesting conversation over the bananas.

3. Monday, of course, was Pi Day (3.14). We had a get-together with middle daughter's math club. I didn't get a picture of all the pies, which were pretty much demolished. so here's a t-shirt that does double duty for Pi Day and Speak like a Pirate Day (Sept. 19). Geeks, you need this t-shirt.

4. To continue the theme of our renovations as a metaphor for Lent, I offer:

[OK, I was going to offer a photo of our upside-down tub being painted, with a clever "whited sephulchre" theme, except in hunter green, but apparently I forgot to take a photo before it was put back, so use your imagination here.]

But whatever you do to try to hide or cover up the state of your soul, you've got nowhere to go.

In truth, we weren't playing pioneers. We did have one toilet. In a room with no door. A good chance to practice whistling.

I suppose to really carry this through, the renovations should have gone on until Easter, but our sanity wouldn't have survived. As it was, there was a three-day delay because of torrential rains, and tempers were running pretty short. But, all was done on Monday, and I'm still thanking my husband profusely for not being a DIY-er, and letting the professionals do it all quickly.

5. Our two current family activities are hot tubbing and watching Sherlock (we're now only a season behind the rest of the galaxy). I jokingly suggested we should set a tv up outside and combine the two. And as this was a week off, and you have to do something goofy, with the help of a card table and extension cord... voila. Verdict? Like sitting in hot water watching tv.

6. Even though I've been changing the baby's nappy every day for his whole life, it's still usually a tragedy of operatic proportions. The other day, I was dredging my brain in desperation for something to distract him - and pulled up the golden oldie, The Ying Tong Song. Here's a little ditty that my mother sang to me, as she tucked me into bed when I was ninety-three... Complete success, and still working. Bless you, Spike Milligan, and I hope you are enjoying your reward.

7. There, now I'm done - and I have the choice of three loos to go to! For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain't the Lyceum.

Friday, March 4, 2016

7 Quick Takes 27:Leaky Souls and Dead Fish

1. Seven quick Quick Takes to keep my hand in during a week of essay grading, student conferences and two of our floors being replaced. To make this take #1, I offer the following conference conversation:

Student: Are you going to post any mid-term grades yet?
Me:  Not yet, but you can can see your real-time grade 24/7 on our course page.
Student: I know, but I like to see my GPA.
Me: Well, you can calculate that yourself. You know, an A is 4 points, B is 3, and so on.
Student: It is? But I'm not good at math.
Me (thinking): If you can't add four little numbers and divide by four, maybe you don't want to know your grade point average.
And her subject? Elementary education.

2. It's hard to say what the low point of all the stress and chaos was, but a good contender is this:

Half the floor is plywood, half is ripped-up lino, getting more ripped up by the day thanks to one of our cats. And the bucket and pan on the stove? Catching the water from two leaks in the ceiling. I'm making myself feel better by pretending it's some Lenten metaphor for our souls. Or something.

3. On the Lenten theme, confirmation from on high that I need to keep my sacrifices simple. I resolved to cut out my two cups of coffee per week and my second afternoon cup of tea. Sounds easy? Well, the other afternoon, I was holding the baby up to watch his sister's fish, and he was dabbling the tips of his fingers in the water. The bookshelf caught my eye and I started to zone out. I came to just in time to see him stuffing a squashed fish into his mouth. Cue shrieks from me and a rush to the sink to scrub out his mouth before he died of rotting fish poison. Honestly, I don't know whether to hope it was some dead fish that floated by, or that he caught and crushed a live one. But I do know it's time to up the caffeine again.

4. Alcuin has got to the point where he clearly understands much of what we say to him and can even follow instructions like, Don't eat that fish. However, although he'll say mamama if he really wants me, he isn't interested in talking. Human, that is. He's getting pretty good at cat, in order to communicate with Odie, his partner in crime (he who is guilty of tearing up the lino).

5. I actually generated comment from strangers over my geriatric mother piece on how all this new baby paraphernalia is bemusing to those of us raising a second generation of children. Yes, it's true, I'm too old to want to fill my house with brightly coloured plastic all over again. But, in case you think I'm some traditionalist fascist, I offer another photo:

I was going to be all Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and throw out the vacuum cleaner box as soon as I unpacked it, but then Alcuin pulled himself up on it and cruised along for the first time. So, here it stays for the time being. Note also the cloth nappies, drying in front of the wood stove, which actually has a fireguard so he can't get to any fish the fire.

6. Yes, we got a Dyson (on sale). My husband finally got fed up with my complaining how I have to spend longer unclogging our old vacuum cleaner than actually vacuuming. See that rug above, that's been sitting in front of the fire for years? Well, even though I vacuumed it several times a week (during fire season) with the old machine, we nearly filled the Dyson canister twice over with all the ash, hair and general debris it sucked up. (But no fish.) It even changed colour. At last we can stop putting a sheet over it before we set the baby down. I know, pretty exciting.

7. This has no connection to anything above, but I wanted to share. In the baby and everything else chaos, we lost my daughter's National Latin Exam that she's supposed to take next week. After a little hand wringing, I called the NLE office. A real person - American, too! - answered. Right away. And helped me. Just like that. If your child studies Latin, check them out. You don't have to be in the US to take the exam. They're lovely people, and they love Latin.

For more Seven Quick Takes and fewer dead fish, hope on over to This Ain't the Lyceum.

Friday, February 19, 2016

7 Quick Takes 26: Geriatric Mother - Baby Needs What??

Because Lent is about humility, and there's no better way to cultivate humility than becoming offensive to everyone, I offer up a geriatric mother's opinion on modern babyhood. It's been a long, long time since we entered the world of babies, and much of what I encountered just left me scratching my head.Yes, yes, I know that the bumbo-bath-hammock-with-automatic-coconut-oil-dispenser was your lifesaver, but, as I'll probably being saying before a judge one day, Your honor, I had a baby at 45. Case dismissed and award that woman a two-week spa vacation.

1. Activity centre 
The only reason I could see to use one of these is to get your baby to pass out from sensory/plastic overload. It nearly made me pass out just from looking at it. Blocks and books, people, blocks and books.

2. Baby sleeping wedge
... And a myriad of other baby sleep/recliner devices that look like segments out of a roller coaster. Maybe this is just me, but (bar medical reasons) if you have to wedge your baby in place, doesn't that tell you it isn't a natural sleeping position?

3. Bath hammock 
The first baby item I bought when pregnant this time around was a baby bathtub, because I happened to walk into the thrift store when they were having a half price sale on baby items. Only later did I discover that the world of washing babies has changed... but I'm not sure why. Even I can wash a baby one handed. In fact, for thousands of years, people have managed not to drown their babies while bathing them. The only reason I can think of to sling your baby up in a bath hammock is to have a free hand for your coffee/margarita/ tranquilizers. Or maybe to grab the cat who got over excited by bath time and is crouching down to pee in the corner of the bathroom. OK, two reasons.

4. To which I'm going to add the Sink flower for the same reason. I just don't understand why you'd want one unless your name is Ann Geddes. My parents have some great cine film footage of my brother having a tantrum while being washed in the sink at Pontin's ca. 1974. I'd so post it here if I could.

This is the way to go...

... because afterwards, it becomes this:

This won't chill your wine when your child has outgrown it.

5. Breast milk alcohol test strips 
As if breastfeeding mothers don't hear enough 'advice' from all sides. A tip: if you think you need these, you're drinking too much. Or you're really paranoid, so you'd better go have a nice, chilled glass of white wine to calm down. Except you can't because you bought a sink flower.

And, by the way, I looked up images for this topic, and this turned up:

Maybe it's a warning about what will happen to your baby if you drink and breastfeed? Or use alcohol testing strips? Any suggestions?

6. Bumbo 
Hand on heart, when I first saw this, I thought it was some kind of giant potty. Apparently, they are fashionable, and people like them, bar some physical therapists. I almost caved in and bought one second hand, but then I noticed a war had erupted over them. Yummy mummies versus crunchy moms or something. We just propped our baby up on the sofa or actually held him.

Here is our Luddite child, wedged up in his wooden high chair (no, we don't let him sit there without the tray - this was for the photo) with an old cushion for a seat and tatty quilt for backing because we care about his little head, but in a cheap, old fashioned way. Note also the view of our ripped up, bifurcated kitchen floor.

7. Food pouches
I know they managed to market these to crazy cat ladies - but now parents? I included this because my husband and I had a debate on how to use it. I assumed you squeezed the food out and heated it; he thought you just gave the whole thing to the baby to suck on, a la gogurt. Maybe that is a male/female attitude. Anyhow, we bought one, but only because it was reduced, and because our kitchen floor is half plywood and we have no dishwasher, so the baby finally has to slum it with a few jars (and pouches) of prepared food.

There, now I feel suitably humble. To commune with more Thoroughly Modern Millies, head on over to This Ain't the Lyceum.

Friday, February 5, 2016

7 and a bit Quick Takes 25: Diet with the saints

1. Seven eclectic takes because I didn't have enough time to research a perfectly-themed post. Also, my mind is bouncing around all over the place right now as it's research essay time. Twenty-four students, twenty-four different topics to supervise, from "Are there extra-terrestrials", through "Cocaine Cartels" ("My cousin got busted and is in prison for 20 years, so I'm really interested in this topic."), all the way to "Affluenza." Actually, I really enjoy working one-on-one with students and the challenge of juggling all those subjects. I think I would have made a good governess if I'd lived a hundred years ago (and I would so have eloped to France with Mr. Rochester - sorry Jane).

2. Also crowding my mind is the lack of a kitchen floor. Our contractor finally came round to deal with the rotten boards. Bad news: the kitchen floor was unsalvageable. Good news: he managed to contain the damage for thousands less than the worst case scenario. Result: new kitchen floors (eventually), with money left over for counter tops, and maybe new bathroom floors while we're at it. Our dishwasher won't be hooked up again until the floor is laid, but that's not so bad, because it encourages us not to be profligate with meal preparation. Maybe I need to try #5 below.

3. Sometimes there are those news stories that leave you flummoxed. A royal aide to Prince Charles found drunk in her Land Rover. OK. Four times over the limit. Ooo Kay. While driving her children to school in the morning. I don't know whether to be aghast or strangely impressed. How do you get four times over the limit before school? Five Bucks Fizzes and a slice of toast? Gin over your cornflakes?

4. Kelly, our host for Seven Quick Takes, became my hero for deciding to go on a Hildegard of Bingen Lenten diet. And, since my mind is working like a bee in a jar (see #1), I immediately came up with other medieval-style Lenten meal plans:

5. The Pottage Plan: Get a large pot and throw in anything to hand. Set it to cook. Don't turn it off...
ever. When the contents get low, chuck in whatever you feel like e.g. hares poached from the Lord of the Manor, dandelions, dead pets. No menu planning for 40 days so you can devote yourself to spiritual things, plus you save time and the planet by not using all those extra dishes.

But if you really want to be zero waste, I suggest:

6. The Catherine of Siena Diet: Eat nothing. Amaze all who queue up just to watch you not eat. Early death might be a drawback, but sainthood is a plus. For those not quite strong enough to hack that, I recommend:

7. The Francis of Assisi Diet: Eat only what others give you. The catch is you're not allowed to ask for food - just go around performing miracles, and let matters take their course. Early death and sainthood also apply here.

7a. If this all sounds too modern for you, then go back to basics with the fifth century Saint Benedict Diet: two cooked dishes per meal, with a dish of fruit or veg if you feel like it, plus a pound of bread and half a bottle of wine per day. If you are breastfeeding, play safe and substitute beer and stout.

For the record, my rule while breastfeeding is only to have a drink if I really want one. Sometimes I go for hours days without alcohol.

Go visit the other bloggers linking up at This Ain't the Lyceum - some of them might actually be taking Lent seriously.

Friday, January 22, 2016

7 Quick Takes 24: Dead Rats, Hot Tubs, Putting My Foot in it

But not all at the same time, or that would be pretty unpleasant, even for my life...

1. School started for a week, and then we had a holiday to help me recover from the trauma of having to see fifty new faces all over again. It went predictably - I over prepare, start off pretty well, then my nervousness shows itself in the shape of running off my mouth and I end up saying something stupid in class (or at least I think it's stupid). Then I spend the next week or two beating myself up over it when the students have probably already forgotten, if they even noticed.

2. On Sunday evening, my middle daughter announced that one of her rats was looking ill - predictably, since it's a holiday weekend, and any vet visit would be under (expensive) emergency care. We cautiously discussed home care options (aka let's not spend another $200 at the vet unless we have to. Oh, all right, then).
Google "rat" and "rainbow bridge" and what do you know...
Sadly, Ruby had died in the night. OK, I was sad, though my wallet was a little relieved. We consoled one another by talking about how resilient and healthy her other rat, Georgia, is. Thirty minutes later, she comes out of her room to tell me Georgia had dropped dead. Thank you, god of Mondays. I thought it was a particularly deft touch to choose probably the one (burial) day in 2016 in Mississippi when it was below freezing all day. (Actually, I think Georgia was just hanging on so she could outlive her arch enemy, Ruby. Ornery to the sudden end.)

3. Having a boy. Oh boy. What a little testosterone can do. Play with my blocks or eat those dirty old slippers? Read my book, eat my book, or bang it repeatedly on Mummy's hand? Sit quietly with my rattle or empty the rubbish bin? Pull the cat's ear or tail? Make for the wood stove or stop to grab the poker on the way? Choices, choices. We've had to buy a fire guard and a play pen, baby equipment we never needed with the girls. And a baby monitor, in case he wakes up while we're destressing in the hot tub.

4. Ever since he learned to turn over, Alcuin's been pretty determined to not sleep through the night. Sometimes he has a four or five hour stretch a couple of days in a row to lull me into false hopes. I'm close to entering zombie mode. By Monday, I had half a dozen zits (I haven't had a break out for decades), several unfiled, broken nails, and I hadn't showered for three days. No accompanying photo. What was I doing when the baby slept, then? Watching Sherlock and sitting in the hot tub (not at the same time). There's only time for so much.

5. I know I must be of a certain age, because I don't find Benedict Cumberbatch irresistible. But we have fun dissecting the episodes afterwards in the hot tub, and comparing them to the original stories. The Sherlock Holmes I watched most growing up was Basil Rathbone. I think it must have been BBC2 repeats of the movie series. I didn't even realize they were from the 1940s until I looked them up for this post. I do remember being very taken with them, though. I wonder, is a name almost as silly as Sherlock Holmes a prerequisite for playing the character?

or Contemporary?

6. Oh yes, the hot tub.  Hubby finally got the birthday/Christmas/birthday/Christmas present he's been contemplating: a portable hot tub. We've been spending most nights since Christmas simmering under the stars. An unexpected bonus is that when the whole family is in there, you're a captive audience for each other. And it's amazing how a little hot tubbing seems to bring out everyone's hobby horses.

7. The format for this week's sleep-deprived Seven Quick Takes are partly brought to you by the inspiration of Amy Dupire who, with her husband, writes the best Christmas letter I get every year, hands down. I'd name her husband, but I don't think he has a public website, though he ought to have an online business writing Christmas letters. On the other hand, Amy's an author, so visit her website and buy her books! Then head over to This Ain't the Lyceum where other bloggers are probably stealing ideas from their friends, too, even if they're not admitting it.