Friday, May 27, 2016

7 Quick Takes 32: Geriatric Mother: One Year On

Apparently I have survived a year. At least, I know the baby's a year old. I have trouble remembering my exact age. A few reflections, a little rambling due to #6.

The birthday boy already knows how to take selfies.
Not the best photo, but it shows nicely the chaos
 that went into baking a handful of cupcakes.

1. Most people kindly said, "It'll give you a new lease of life." Only one friend at church, who started having children at thirty-nine, said, "Don't believe them. I was exhausted." And... she was right. You out there in your early thirties, with several small children. Think you're exhausted? You're frisking about like Bambi. Me, I'm more like Bambi's father. 'Nuff said.

Young parents: your life is like you fart butterflies. (I didn't say that out loud, did I?)

2. What having children late does do is slow down time. The cliche that the years go by faster and faster was getting more and more true - but now, it seems a lifetime ago that I was counting down the half dozen years to an empty nest and plotting what to do with my future. Instead of years, I now count my hours playing, strolling, rocking; instead of huddling in my own little bubble, I watch the universe unfold through a baby's eyes. That, and plotting how to use pension funds to pay for his college :)

3. I don't have to waste time reading child care manuals. We just follow the baby's lead and trust we'll recall enough to get by. My mantra is "Out eldest is studying Mathematics at MIT; I must know how to bring up children." Or create mentally scarred mathematicians. But many of the best mathematicians are mentally unstable, so.. ahem, on to the next one.

4. One thing I have learned without cracking open a book is that there is a reason "boys" rhymes with "noise". His love of noise is incredible. When our contractors were running a compressor for their nail gun, he yelled along. Getting out the vacuum cleaner is party time. He shouts randomly just for the fun of it.

5. Less is more. Apart from socks and a couple of books, I've bought no new clothes or toys, but, thanks to the cats, our home is full of enriching activities like anatomy (whatever half-eaten animal the cats leave on the rug) or a second language (from meowing to hairball coughing, the baby's cat is fluent), and adventures in nutrition (hello, cat food).

6. I know what full-blown mastitis is. Got it the day after he turned one this past weekend - it went from pain to fever and chills in about 30 minutes. Luckily, I nipped the worst of it it in the bud, but I've still had to spend a lot of time sitting on the sofa. And just when I was going to spend the week tackling all the chicken coop/yard jobs I'd left undone for months. Oh, darn.

7. You can still achieve your lifelong ambitions. I've had a copy of Moby Dick sitting on my shelf for about twenty-five years because I know I ought to read it, but it's about whaling and I'm a vegetarian. Enter... Cozy Classics. Classic books with felted illustrations, in twelve words. Who needs hundreds of pages describing the whaling industry when you can have:

Come to think of it, that's pretty much a metaphor for the past year.

My husband says he's still having trouble following the twelve-word plot of Jane Eyre, though.

For more quick takes, hop on over like Thumper to Kelly's at This Ain't the Lyceum.

Friday, May 13, 2016

7 Quick Takes 31: Things I Wish I'd Told My Students

Because it's over! Not just finals, but the job. Time to regroup, reclaim our family life, and then on to pastures new. And a few reflections on things I ought to have said in class: the good, the bad, and the ugly...

1. I know I look pretty old standing up here (because, unlike most of your mothers, I don't dye my hair and wear make up), but I really remember being your age, and I really, really feel compassion for you. It's just, I have to be your teacher, not your friend.

Me in class on a good day...

2. I get much more excited about the student who struggles his way from a D to a C (or even B!) than the know-it-all who breezes through with his A. OK, I try to say this on occasion, but I doubt they believe it.

3. Just hand me the exams and let's all go home. There are usually two types who stay for the whole university-appointed three hours: the over diligent who already have a solid A, and the desperate who aren't going to pull their grade up at the eleventh hour. The air conditioning's been going full blast and I'm freezing, I've read exams until my brain has given out, I've scrolled through Facebook ten times, I'm dying for a cup of tea. It's painful to watch you scribbling against the clock - let's take pity on one another and call it a day.

4. Please cover up that cleavage. Here's a poncho I have just for the purpose. I never had any problem telling guys to hitch up their trousers and not flash everyone their underwear, but there's all this baggage attached to requesting that girls have a certain minimum dress code: you're suggesting they're asking to be assaulted, that they can be labelled for what they wear, that their body isn't their own, that it's always the other person's problem if they cause distraction, and so on, and so on.  No, I just want a level of attire that shows both respect for everyone in class and suggests you are learning how to dress and act for the occasion. That, incidentally, is why I also ban swearing and blasphemy - and told a student not to wear a baseball camp with "f**k Trump" written on it.

Now that creates a proper learning environment.

5. I'll say this only once. I never dared say anything less than three times - and maybe that wasn't enough for some. Maybe saying it once would have trained them better.

6. Whine all you like. I've given in my notice and got an exit letter of recommendation from my department head - and he's retiring and moving to Wyoming. Burn. A very small, naughty part of me longed for a student to make a complaint so I could say this :)

7. And finally, I really, really wish I had said this:

For more life lessons in seven digestible bites, hop on over to This Ain't the Lyceum.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Book Review: Rethinking Women's Health: A Guide for Wellness

When I first moved to Starkville, MS, there wasn't much here. A handful of restaurants, three grocery stores, none large. Certainly no health foods - I had to join a cooperative that bought from a business in the Ozarks. Slowly, resources for health and wellness are growing: a large health food and bulk section in Kroger, a summer farmer's market, a CSA buying club - and Alison Buehler.

Alison lives a couple of miles down the road from me, in the Homestead Education Center, where she and her family have founded a way of life they share with others. As well as offering classes in health and homesteading, she's worked hard to attract nationally-known figures such as Sandor Katz and Glennon Melton (of Momastery fame) to Starkvegas (local joke).  I don't get out to her programs as often as I would like, so, when I saw in her newsletter that she was offering a year's membership for those who pre-ordered her book, I thought I had nothing to lose and might just give myself the nudge I needed to take advantage of what's on offer almost on my doorstep. So any bribery involved in this review is by me to myself ;)

The book is divided into three main sections: maiden, mother, and wise elder. Each is part manifesto, part resource, and part memoir of Alison and her family's journey into health. Alison begins by setting out her passionate vision for how we as a society might better manage each stage of life. She then moves into a survey of current options for health issues related to these stages, with an extensive bibliography for further reading. Alison is trained as a qualitative researcher (among many talents!), and applies it to women's health, looking for places where data, stories, and observations point to the same solutions. Not only has she trawled the latest information to bring solutions to women's health problems, but she models a research process that everyone can use in their own health plan. All this aside, I find Alison's voice at her best when she is sharing her personal story, illustrating her belief that stories themselves have the power to heal.

Published by Mississippi press, Sartoris, the book has a regional feel, speaking to a state that badly needs to focus on health issues. [Side bar: as I found out when I was pregnant, there isn't a single birthing center in Mississippi.] Yet the message is national. If you're looking for resources, inspiration, or affirmation that you are not alone in your struggle to achieve wellness, Rethinking Women's Health is for you.

Looking for more? Connect with Alison on her site The Healing Wall or the Homestead Education Center.

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.