Friday 18 December 2015

7 Quick Takes 22: Adventnotadvent

1. Whenever I haven't blogged for a few weeks, I always want to begin with an excuse that somehow assures you of my good intentions. Well, actually, I'm not sure I had good intentions this time. I had a series of posts in mind on a  "grumpy geriatric mother" theme because I thought it wasn't worth competing with the Advent posts of most other bloggers. But I was on the cusp of writing it when liturgical guilt assailed me. Surely I should pretend not to be grumpy in the season of goodwill?

2. But that's hard, because I just got through finals week, and I had to finish up the semester when I was exhausted and through with it three weeks ago.  I get to spend these last few days fending off desperate emails. No, I'm not offering you extra credit. Maybe you should have come to class instead. While you were at it, you could have read the syllabus. Oh, and maybe given in your assignments on time. Heck, it's Christmas, let's just say at all.

And that's just the teachers...

3. Considering that we have a new baby after  a twelve year gap, I think we've done pretty well in terms of preparing for and keeping Advent. It helped that we holed up at home for Thanksgiving week rather than drive to see relatives (when the baby is fed up with being in the car, he screams until we stop, so we knew we wouldn't survive a 500-mile trip).

4. I have all the Advent decorations up. The fact that the house is still strewn with the piles of the pictures etc. I took down to make way for them is only a minor defeat. My daughter made a wreath (under orders). She piled the greenery so high that we are going to set it on fire before Christmas. We even lit the first candle on the first Sunday of Advent! Second Sunday became Second Tuesday - but in our defense, we had Lessons and Carols on the Sunday evening and my daughter was out of town.

And lo the bush burned and was not consumed - we hope.

5. We celebrated Saint Nicholas' Day - a day late, because it fell on Sunday and see above. Thanks in large part to the new SuperKroger in town that has an olive bar where I could get vaguely middle Eastern food, and buy horrendously expensive baklava. I think we got through the Saint Nicholas prayer before the baby started screaming for his dinner, but I can't remember - most days are a blur.

6. Advent calendar?  All I can say is, if your mother gives you some cute fabric calendar with pockets  that you have to remember to fill every night after the children are in bed, leave it near the over-full Advent wreath. In eighteen years, I have never made it through one Advent without forgetting multiple times, which is pretty traumatic for young children intent on their 6.30 am chocolate fix.
This year, since my daughter who is still at home is twelve, and the baby too young, I suggested she just let me just stuff it in advance, but she told me she wouldn't have the willpower to resist. I tried putting in Dec 4, 5 and 6. When I turned around, 4 and 5 were gone. I suppose she was honest.

Two things that show you this is a British calendar: it's a post box, and one of the pockets depicts Father Christmas drinking beer. Oh, and a disclaimer should my mother read this: the girls love it and are fighting over who inherits it.

7. Tree? Nope. We will get round to cutting one down close to Christmas. That makes us lazier greener and holier than you.

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

Friday 13 November 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.

Monday 9 November 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 23 October 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 16 October 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 9 October 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 2 October 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 11 September 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.

Saturday 22 August 2015

7QT 15: Back to school fails

I have several ideas for themed posts bouncing around in my head, but life's been hectic, so here is a cheating 7 Quick Takes that randomly divides our back-to-school multiple fails.

1. Week One. We've been back in the US for a week, no extra curricular activities have started, and my husband and I don't go back to teach for two weeks. A perfect time to ease my twelve-year-old into homeschooling with a lighter lesson load, right?
Wrong. Unlike every other new school year, she seems to have zero motivation, or a big distraction in her new baby brother. Every time I check on her, she's reading, writing her novel, or playing 2048 or some new word search game on her tablet/computer.
I try to tell myself it's only a first week. Out loud I have a break down about my inability to manage life and declare she'll have to enroll in school. I pull myself together and plan for a better next week. Maybe the problem was not enough structure.

2. That weekend, one of her rats gets sick. After much back and forth with the vet school on their emergency line, we hold out until Monday, since she's drinking and eating (but only vanilla Greek yogurt). On Monday, the vet diagnoses a lung infection that went to her ears. She comes back with 6 medications/supplements she has to be fed per day. Plus, she has to go back to the vet every morning to spend 30 minutes in a nebulizer. Except my daughter gets muddled and thinks its a sodomizer...
I try, try, try to encourage my daughter to schedule work time before she leaves and take along work every morning, but she has three rats in three cages to feed (sick rat has to be separated from companion; third rat we bought gets attacked by said companion, hence three cages) plus medications.
In an effort to keep my daughter focused, I forbid her from doing any work in her room without permission, and despair of her ever getting a proper education, despite the fact she's in seventh grade and doing Algebra I and is on her fourth year of Latin.

3. I go into work for a meeting, leaving everyone in charge of the baby, plus a bottle of formula. I return two hours later to the relief of everyone and a very unhappy baby. I have never felt so popular. On the downside, I have to go out and buy a breast pump. I am not blind to the irony that now I am finally laid back enough not to mind giving a baby the odd bottle of formula, I have one who isn't interested. I start to make plans to nurse the baby in class and slap a Title IX lawsuit on anyone who complains.

4. Week three - almost a full school schedule, and the semester begins for my husband and I (I'm teaching two classes two afternoons). I have to get up extra early each morning to pump milk. Before I go in on Tuesday, I try to nurse the baby. He is outraged that I dare to make him feed not on his personal (random) schedule and starts screaming. I leave in trepidation. Half way through, I text my elder daughter as I don't dare call my husband to see how things are going. When she doesn't reply, I imagine the worst. Eventually, she texts that things are OK. They survived by trying to keep him asleep all afternoon.
That same afternoon, $250 and a week of daily vet visits later, the rat dies. If Saint Francis isn't pleading for me at Judgement Day, I want to know why.

5. Off to class again on Thursday, leaving half a bottle of breast milk and one of formula. Get home to find the baby has taken about an ounce, but surprisingly not grumbled over much. Apparently he knows where the real stuff comes from and isn't going to be persuaded otherwise. I think we have to resign ourselves to the fact he is going to fast the few hours I'm gone, and count the weeks until we can give him solids.

6. TGIF - really, really TG. Trying to catch up with housework as we've got two people staying this weekend. Promise my daughter I will take her and her friend for frozen yogurt if she finishes her work, but she spends so long on a Galileo report there's no hope of that. I've just broken down and said I'll take them anyway. I need the sugar calcium.

7. And I'm not even thinking about the fact we are flying with my elder daughter to Boston and MIT at the end of the following week. Yes, I have a three-month-old and a college freshman. Proof that God has a sense of humour.

For more quick takes, join Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum.

Friday 7 August 2015

7QT 14: My British Things

I've been away for a month in the UK, and the new semester is looming, so here's a super-quick Seven Quick Takes. Having lived in the US (mostly Mississippi) for twenty years, I often feel an outsider in both countries. On the plus, I *think* I'm better able to see the good and not-so-good in each culture. Here's some shallow light-hearted examples of British Things I'm always grateful to get back to...

1. Yay for outlets where you turn off the power at the socket. It used to terrify me to have to pull plugs out of a live socket when I first moved to the US. Of course, having lived away for so long, sometimes I forget to switch it on and come back hours later to find my phone etc. hasn't charged.

 BUT... regulations are so strict, you are forbidden to have either an
electrical socket or a light switch in the bathroom (you have to have a pull switch or a regular switch outside the door - good for throwing your enemies/siblings into darkness at crucial bathroom moments).



2. The national impetus to recycle. In Mississippi, we live outside town and have to drag our recyclables up to work where we (illegally? I'm not asking) use the campus bins.

 BUT... the bins, the bins! My parents only have three: general recycling, food waste, and unrecyclables. My aunt in London has five. All have to be properly sorted for the dustmen (refuse collectors) or you get to face the wrath of the local council My parents' local council was even talking of putting microchips in the bins, I suppose so one can instantly report recycling offenders or the rubbish 'swingers' who are bin-swapping.

Once upon a time, there was a family of bins...

3. Water conservation: small sinks and baths, plus one bathroom, encourage you to be less profligate with water.

BUT.. as Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum pointed out, low-flow toilets don't get the job done. And they're mighty embarrassing if you're a guest and can't find the toilet brush.

4. Talking of number three: One bathroom per house. I'm disappointed that more people in the UK are getting extra bathrooms and toilets put in their houses (and I'm not even starting on the second kitchen trend among the more wealthy/show-offs in debt). I hate having to clean more than one bathroom. Our family of four managed with one when I was growing up, and it made us keep a lot of our bathroom clutter out of the bathrooms and in our bedrooms. Disclaimer: the toilet was in a (teeny tiny) separate room from the sink and bath, which avoided having to cross your legs if someone was having a leisurely soak.

BUT... see disclaimer above.

5. The National Health Service. It has its problems, but you can't beat it for everyday care. My elder daughter had to go for a check up after getting mild appendicitis in Italy (that's another saga). She saw the doctor that day - no fuss, no co-pay, no insurance so complicated even the doctor's office don't know what to bill you, no unnecessary weighing, temperature check etc., no being lured into the doctor's consultation room to wait for an hour until he pops in.

BUT... she was a little freaked out at the instructions in the waiting room on how to use her ten-minute consultation (actually he took 30 minutes with her).  And getting good hospital care is a lottery.

6. A curry house in every city, town and village (almost). Plus the obligatory After Eight mint at the end of the meal. Bonus points for 70s decor, 'exotic' Indian art and Bollywood music. At one point, chicken tikka was Britain's No. 1 favourite dish.

BUT... there's no but. I heart heart heart my Anglo-Indian food.

7. And the reason for the title? In case American readers felt I wasn't fair enough, here's a tongue-in-cheek song about our favourite 'British' Things via Queen Victoria and Horrible Histories. For some reason, I could only find it with Portuguese subtitles, which adds to the irony...

For more Seven Quick Takes, visit Kelly, who hosts at This Ain't the Lyceum - she has a special and inspiring post for Spinal Muscular Atrophy awareness week.

Friday 10 July 2015

7QT 13: A Swanage Seven

I’m on my annual (semi-annual if I’m lucky) visit home to the UK. I hail from South London, but my parents moved down to the coast several years ago, to the area of Dorset where we spent many holidays growing up. So, quickly, in between caring for the baby and being on holiday, here are seven favourite things about Swanage.

1. Chococo

Actually, I’m cheating a little here, because my seven could read Chococo, Chococo, Chococo, Chococo, Chococo, Chococo, Chococo. This tiny seaside town has given birth to possibly the best chocolatier in the UK. My favourite handmade chocolate is probably the Espresso. Or is it Old Thumper? Maybe Brilliant Black Cow. Possibly Bob’s Bees. Not to forget the chocolate biscuit cake, which I still buy even though I have the recipe from their cookbook. Their chocolates are so good, I can eat one a day and be satisfied. And then there’s the café, where my current snack of choice is almond hot chocolate with a raspberry Melting Moment, but I’m gearing up to try the 100% hot chocolate (made with Venezuelan chocolate), which you get to sweeten to your own level. Aargh, enough, excuse me while I run downtown...

2. The view from my window

Hills AND the sea. Bliss.

3.Christmas pudding ice cream

On a beach in July. The ultimate satisfaction for lovers of irony.

4. Being able to walk everywhere
 A bonus: pushing a stroller up steep hills equals postpartum boot camp.

5. Being ten minutes from the sea
I never get tired of the sea. I swim even when it’s icy (which is the usual temperature here). It’s really not so bad once you go numb. I’m never indifferent to the way its vastness makes me seem so insignificant yet is somehow so comforting, assuring me I have a place in the universe.

6. Second hand books
Being a tourist town, there’s always a good turnover of books holidaymakers buy and leave behind. Plus an Oxfam bookstore and a local bookstore stuffed with second hand treasures and local offerings. Last year, there seemed to be at least one copy of Fifty Shades of Grey in every charity (thrift) shop. I suppose people were letting their literary hair down (or tying it up!) on holiday.

7. Fetes
July is fete season in England, and around here there’s at least one traditional fete each weekend. I can’t resist a good rummage, fortified by homemade cakes and tea, of course.  Vintage books, cake keepers, plates, lamps, knitted tea cosies, fairtrade rubber gloves… the list of peculiar bargains we’ve stuffed into suitcases to bring back to the States is endless. 

Bonnie at A Knotted Life is hosting Seven Quick Takes this week. Pop over and say hello.

Friday 26 June 2015

Murder on the Minneapolis.. and other summer reads

Back to the previous focus of this blog to highlight good reads that might slip under your radar. Brought to you once again from my talented friends: seven summer reads recently or about to be out. Amazon links included (for which I get no remuneration!).

1. Murder on the Minneapolis by Anita Davison
The only physical book I know I'm going to buy this summer (because I want an autograph!). I've seen drafts of sequels, but missed out on the first, so I'm eager to get the beginning of the story. And how could you not want to read about a couple named Bunny and Flora? Due out on June 30th in the UK, October in the US.

The official blurb: Flora Maguire, governess to thirteen-year-old Edward, Viscount Trent, is on her way home to England from New York after the wedding of her employer’s daughter. Conscious of her status among a complement of only first class passengers on the ship’s maiden voyage, she avoids the dining room on the first night, but meets the charming Bunny Harrington on deck, a motor car enthusiast. 
Flora finds the body of a man at the bottom of a companionway, but when his death is pronounced an accident, she is not convinced. The mystery of her mother’s disappearance when she was a child young drives her to find out what really happened to the dead man.
She confides her suspicions to Bunny, and a German passenger, both of whom apparently concur with her misgivings, but the ship's doctor and the captain are reluctant to accept there is a murderer on board.
Flora starts asking questions, but when she is threatened, followed by a near drowning during a storm and a second murder - the hunt is now on in earnest for a killer.
The UK link.
The US link.

2. The Apothecary's Widow by Diane Scott Lewis
I mentioned this in a previous post - a book for those of us who know that love isn't confined to twenty-somethings with perfect bodies. I hope Diane won't mind my remarking that the heroine is much more down to earth and relatable than that slightly sultry cover picture suggests.

The official blurb: Who murdered Lady Pentreath? The year is 1781, and the war with the American colonies rages across the sea. In Truro, England, Branek Pentreath, a local squire, has suffered for years in a miserable marriage. Now his wife has been poisoned with arsenic. Is this unhappy husband responsible? Or was it out of revenge? Branek owns the apothecary shop where Jenna Rosedew, two years a widow, delights in serving her clients. Branek might sell her building to absolve his debts caused by the war—and put her out on the street. Jenna prepared the tinctures for Lady Pentreath, which were later found to contain arsenic. The town’s corrupt constable has a grudge against Branek and Jenna. He threatens to send them both to the gallows. 
Can this feisty widow and brooding squire come together, believe in each other’s innocence— fight the attraction that grows between them—as they struggle to solve the crime before it’s too late? 
The UK link.
The US link.

3. The Craigsmuir Affair by Jen Black
Jen self publishes, including being her own cover designer, and her writing puts many conventionally
published authors to shame. Due out July 20th.

The official blurb: In 1893 Daisy dreams of a career as an artist but runs up against the rock that is Adam Grey, who distrusts women and thinks wives should be content with home and family life. When a valuable painting goes missing in the country house where they are both guests, Adam turns detective and Daisy must prove that she is not the thief Adam initially believes her to be. Does she want love and marriage or to fulfill her dreams?
The UK link.
The US link.

4. The Barbers by Katherine Pym
Katherine takes you into the minds of 17th century Londoners not just through her recreation of their lives, but by giving a sense of their language, too. If you enjoy a slightly different reading experience now and then, check out her works.

The official blurb: It is London 1663 and science flourishes in a mini-Renaissance. Celia Barber shares her father’s shop; he barbers, and she heals during a time when women are not allowed to practice medicine.
As a licensed barber, Celia longs to visit the Royal Society or Surgeon’s Hall to see a dissection, but women are not allowed. She befriends a viscount who sneaks her into the Royal Society, where she sees an experiment and meets Robert Hooke, the great scientist of the day. Celia’s sister works as a domestic in Whitehall Palace, who finds an ancient coin. Will it lead to hidden treasure? 
Life in London is harsh. People sicken and die easily. As a healer, Celia sees tragedy. She cannot save all who come to her. Hardest of all, will she be able to save her brothers?
The UK link.
The US link.

5. Lady Faith Takes a Leap by Maggi Anderson
This is the latest in Maggi's Baxendale Sisters series. Once I got through Georgette Heyer in my
adolescence, I never cared for traditional romances... until I read Maggi's stories. Her heroes and heroines are easy to empathise with, and for those who care about the 'bedroom door' issue, the sex is very often post marital and not uncomfortably explicit.

The official blurb: Dutiful daughter Faith Baxendale just wants to please. Faith isn’t as adventurous as her younger sister, Hope, gadding about the Continent with their aunt, nor as rebellious as her elder sister, Honor, who planned to become a card sharp. And Faith couldn’t lose herself in her art like sixteen-year-old, Charity. Even Mercy, at fourteen, shows more backbone!
After Faith’s first Season ends, her father urges her to marry the man of his choice. But when Lord Vaughn Winborne, a neighbor Faith had a crush on while still in the schoolroom, arrives home for the Brandreth’s hunt ball, surprising even to herself, Faith is drawn again towards a man her father would never consider.
The youngest Brandreth male, Vaughn, is the black sheep of the family. His elder brother, Chaloner, Marquess of Brandreth, still looks upon him as a reckless youth, and Vaughn is determined to prove him wrong.

A chance comes in the form of a scandal not of Vaughn’s making, and he must learn to trust Faith, who, when all’s said and done, has always known her own mind. The UK link.
The US link.

6. The Captain and the Countess by Rosemary Morris
Rosemary keeps the bedroom door firmly shut, writing old-fashioned romance that reflects its time,
not modern thoughts and mores clothed in long skirts . She's been working on a series in the Regency era lately, but this is part of her late-Stuart romantic novels.

The official blurb:Why does heart-rending pain lurk in the back of the wealthy Countess of Sinclair’s eyes? 
Captain Howard’s life changes forever from the moment he meets Kate, the intriguing Countess, and resolves to banish her pain. Although the air sizzles when widowed Kate, victim of an abusive marriage, meets Edward Howard, a captain in Queen Anne’s navy, she has no intention of ever marrying again. However, when Kate becomes better acquainted with the Captain she realises he is the only man who understands her grief and can help her to untangle her past.
The UK link.
The US link.

7. All Kinds of Hell by Amy Dupire
Something completely different to round out my seven: a contemporary YA that explores sisterhood and faith in all its facets. Amy used to live in my town - I still miss our chats on life and writing, and most of all her quirky humour that also plays out in her books.

The official blurb: Self-professed Über-geek Joely Malone blames herself for the car accident that nearly kills her and her sister, Becca. But she has no one to blame for Becca's dramatic conversion to Evangelical Christianity, except for Becca's friend Katie. And, perhaps, God. In the following weeks, as Becca attempts to save Joely from eternal damnation, Joely comes to believe that there are all kinds of hell, from her alienation from her sister, to their father's functional alcoholism, to her increasingly tenuous relationship with her musician boyfriend, Aaron.
In a final, desperate attempt to reconnect with Becca, Joely decides to give Jesus a chance. She volunteers with Becca for the church's Hell House event, an interactive drama designed to scare the Hell out of attendees and chase them straight into Heaven.
But it's only when Joely sees how far Becca has gone that she can face her greatest fear and take a step of faith into the unknown.

The UK link.
The US link.
For more Seven Quick Takes, join Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum.