Tuesday, December 30, 2008

100 random thoughts...

...as fast as I can type.
  1. This is a great idea for a blog post.
  2. It wasn't actually my idea, though. I stole it from Tiffany.
  3. I don't know Tiffany at all, but I read her blog. I think Google recommended it initially.
  4. It's one of the funniest blogs I read.
  5. The free money giveaway, for example, made me laugh out loud.
  6. And I still laugh about it, just thinking about it.
  7. Tiffany doesn't know me, either, but she knows I linked to her money giveaway post.
  8. I stopped typing for a second there to rub a tickle on my neck.
  9. I know you don't care about neck tickles, but these are my random thoughts, so you don't have to care.
  10. I clench my teeth at night.
  11. You don't care about that, either, but it worries me when I wake up with a tired jaw.
  12. I also have mild acne on my chin.
  13. The acne is really frustrating because I thought only teenagers got acne, and that I would have outgrown it by now.
  14. I didn't actually have any acne as a teenager.
  15. My acne arose during pregnancy and never left when it was over.
  16. I think that may be symbolic, but I'll let you figure out why.
  17. I never fought with my mother as a teenager, either.
  18. I remember once feeling quite smug as a teenager that I got along well with my mother.
  19. At about age 20 I stopped getting along with my mother.
  20. Now we fight a lot.
  21. My mom still hasn't figured out that I'm not a teenager.
  22. Maybe it's the acne.
  23. I have stopped thinking random thoughts, just 23 in.
  24. It's true. I've been listening to my thoughts and my most recent ones have been, "OK, what am I thinking now?"
  25. "How about now?"
  26. "Any random thoughts now?"
  27. "Oh, there's a thought! But I'm not going to write that one."
  28. "Nor that one. Too embarrassing."
  29. "Oh, and there's another thought, but it's too incriminating."
  30. I suppose you can call this meta-thinking.
  31. Wow. 100 really is quite a chore.
  32. I put a comment on Tiffany's blog that I would copy her idea, but I'd just start and then stop when I ran out of thoughts.
  33. And then modify the title of my blog post.
  34. I still leave myself that option, but I can't give up now only 33 in.
  35. My hands are very dry.
  36. I use a lot of lotion.
  37. My feet are also dry.
  38. I have had to start putting lotion on my feet.
  39. Is that kind of weird?
  40. Hand lotion on feet somehow seems weird.
  41. Speaking of weird, I just got an email from someone who must be very weird.
  42. I can't tell you why I think that, because it was a work email, and I still worry about Bob the Enemy.
  43. But I think this guy who sent the work email must be totally insane.
  44. Well, maybe not totally insane.
  45. Maybe just clueless.
  46. Clueless is not the same as insane.
  47. I, for example, am clueless in many ways.
  48. Not yet insane.
  49. At least I don't think I'm insane.
  50. How would I know if I were insane?
  51. Is there some sort of test you can take?
  52. Who defines insane, anyway?
  53. Are you either insane or not, or are there shades of gray along the way?
  54. Maybe there are various kingdoms of insane.
  55. Perhaps my behavior merits placement into the Telestial kingdom of insanity.
  56. If I perfected my insanity I would end up in the Celestial kingdom of insanity.
  57. That's where those who are truly committed to their insanity end up.
  58. Like my mother.
  59. Ha ha, mom. Just kidding.
  60. Although I can't think of anyone more committed. (Ha ha still kidding.)
  61. Except possibly Bob the Enemy.
  62. A few people I know in real life asked me about Bob, and if I would reveal his secret identity.
  63. Truth is, Bob is an imaginary enemy.
  64. Some people have imaginary friends, but I have an imaginary enemy.
  65. He helps to keep my blog in line, though.
  66. And I do think he's really out there, he just hasn't found my blog yet.
  67. But it's only a matter of time, and then he can peruse all the archives.
  68. So things need to stay clean and prepared for the moment that Bob arrives on this blog.
  69. Bob is truly committed to insanity.
  70. Does having an imaginary enemy bump you up an insanity kingdom, do you think?
  71. What if your imaginary enemy has a name and a pot belly and you talk to him regularly in your blog?
  72. That's surely got to count for something.
  73. Maybe I'm Terrestrial kingdom of insanity material after all.
  74. Nearly three fourths of the way there now.
  75. Writing 100 random thoughts is actually quite a chore.
  76. Is reading it a chore for you, too?
  77. Is anyone still reading?
  78. I was still reading by 78 on Tiffany's post, but that's because she is totally crazy funny.
  79. Whereas my random thoughts come out a bit psychotic.
  80. New thought topic: I think I am going to miss color during the winter.
  81. The snow has turned the outdoor world into black and white and grays.
  82. There is very bright white (snow) and very dark black (asphalt), and all sorts of kingdoms of grays in the middle (telestial, terrestrial, ...)
  83. While I am missing color, I will also miss having soft toes during the winter.
  84. I don't like having to use lotion on my toes.
  85. I believe that cracked toes must be a winter thing, along with cold toes.
  86. I got new slippers for Christmas.
  87. Now my dry cracked toes are snuggly warm.
  88. We actually have a humidifier.
  89. I don't know how it works.
  90. Tim said he set it.
  91. I don't know what he set it to.
  92. I should go see.
  93. Except I've only got seven more random thoughts to go.
  94. I can easily do seven more.
  95. Five more now.
  96. Yes! Counting what's left makes the numbers tick off quickly.
  97. It would be really good to end with a really nice final 100th thought, as a reward for making it this far.
  98. Here it comes.
  99. Get ready.
  100. This is what I'm thinking: "Isn't there a nice 100th thought in that brain somewhere?" Probably not.
OK. Back to work.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Traffic, weather, and the news report

Fact 1: My mother lives about 50 miles north of my new home town.

Fact 2: It has been snowing, hard, at least every other day for a week and a half.

About half way to my mother's house, a large mountain pokes its toe out under the highway. The weather on top of the toe is typically very windy. When you add in snow, it makes for treacherous conditions -- even if it's just a toe and not a whole mountain.

This mountain toe seems to separate two different weather systems. The few days in the past week where it has not been snowing here, it has been snowing on the other side of the toe, and vice versa. I think it snows constantly on the toe. (I feel sorry for the people living in those new homes up there. They have a nice view sure, but can't go out. Ever. Assuming people still live in those new houses in this economy.)

Christmas morning we called my mother to wish her a merry white Christmas, and inform her that we wouldn't be driving up there in this weather. She was surprised. There was no weather fifty miles north. My brother, visiting from Tennessee, was jealous. "How come you get all the snow?"

Today the forecast was clear. The roads were still snow packed and icy, but we braved the trip over the mountain to visit family and friends.

Stop 1: a visit with a high school/grad school friend, now a postdoc at Princeton, in town to see her parents. We compared notes on life after grad school, laughed about lab work and writing papers and teaching. Oh, and you look really great, Alison.

Stop 2: a baby shower for Tim's cousin. Tim actually has two cousins expecting babies soon, which is exactly two thirds of all his cousins in the whole world. I watched the pregnant cousins waddle around the room, noticing little things like how they sucked in their breath before sitting or standing, hauling themselves and the fetus and the placenta and all that fluid and baggage with every step. Mother-in-law asked if it made me wish I were pregnant again? No, but I can empathize, Lisa and Jess. I can empathize.

Stop 3: a family gathering for my mother's siblings. All but one of the six were in attendance, in spite of the snow packed roads. We talked about cousins and children and health.

We ducked out, smiling, an hour before dark. We wanted to be back on our side of the mountain toe before the roads started freezing again. The drive home was uneventful enough that a few towns past the toe I fell asleep (no, I wasn't driving). I woke up, grumpy, as we rounded the corner to our house.

The final report: Things are well 50 miles north. We won't be returning for a while. (Sorry Mom). Maybe we'll make our way back in the spring. Maybe for kite flying, up there by the toe, among all the newly foreclosed houses. 50 miles is a long way in the ice.

Thursday, December 25, 2008


In early December, our fake tree came out of storage after a couple of years. We set it up in the basement near the fireplace, so Santa would have easy access.

Somehow, the tree had grown a lot in two years in storage. Or maybe it's just that the Texas home had 13 foot ceilings and the new basement has only 7 foot ceilings. And the tree is 7.5 feet tall. We had to bend the very top over to get it to fit.

Every year for Christmas since the year of his birth, Tim has received a new ornament for the tree from his parents. These were carefully collected and saved, and by the time we were married they could happily cover our first married tree. Now that we have a giant Texas tree, we have plenty of space for many more years, and we've picked up the tradition ourselves and for Jonathan.

So what sorts of ornaments does one collect in so many years?

Ornaments to celebrate occasions. Wedding ornaments. Storks. Baby's first ornaments.

Cute ornaments. Santa Claus. Candy canes. Mice playing drums.

Odd ornaments. A Christmas carrot. Christmas pig.

Location ornaments. Montana. Oregon. Oxford. Texas.

Merchandising ornaments. Chuck E Cheese himself. Santa eating McDonald's fries. Buzz Lightyear. Princess Leah.

Let's say we have an eclectic tree.

Awesome tradition, though.

Merry Christmas to you.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Orange rug skirt

Tonight, I am snow bound. We were going to be attending a family gathering 45 miles away, but the gathering was canceled under more snow. So instead, I will write a true story about my mother, my university, and my favorite wool skirt.

In 1963, my grandfather worked for UNESCO. When my mom was 16 years old (and obviously not yet my mom), her family moved to Turkey. She left her friends and her junior year of high school to pick up her schooling half way around the world. In Turkey, she enrolled in an American high school along with her older brother, and finished high school that year with him, before turning 17. With nothing better to do, she decided to go to university a year early. The university she decided upon? The American University in Paris. After enrolling, she found an elderly French woman to live with, packed up, and was out on her own. Age 17. That was back when my mom was cool.

The very next year, her family had moved from Turkey to Nigeria back to the conservative state in the American mountain west where my mother grew up. She decided to move back to be near family again, probably more for financial reasons than any others, and transferred to Good Old Dude's University. The year was 1965.

Now. Let me put some things into cultural perspective. My mother was now turning 18. She had lived a year in a far away country, followed by several months on her own in the City of Lights. She had been making her own rules, living life intelligently, and she was bright, thoughtful and opinionated.

G.O.D. University was not much different then than it is now, only a little stricter. Their dress code, for example, in 1965, required that the girls who attended must wear only dresses and skirts. It was a sin for girls to put their legs into two tubes (trousers). Women's legs belonged in a single tube.

Here in the mountain west, it can snow a lot. My mother (who was still not yet my mother) found the winter of 1965-66 to be particularly snowy. Those of you who don't have much experience with legs in a single tube may not be aware that skirts can be quite drafty. They don't warm your legs quite as well as individual leg wrappings.

To compensate, my mother sewed herself a skirt. This skirt was made of heavy wool, burnt orange striped, and draped from the waist down to the ankles. She also knitted herself a fuzzy sweater, although I'm not so certain of the timing on the sweater.

I like to picture my mother walking around the campus of G.O.D. University, clutching her books to her chest, fuming over G.O.D.'s regents and their ridiculous, pointless rules, the orange rug skirt shielding some of the wind, but unable to block it all.

The next fall, my mother transferred to the modern, public university 50 miles north, where she was able to get some use out of her Parisian trousers and make her own rules again. There she completed her first degree, and then a master's degree a few years later. She married a local man, and settled into the local community, and raised eight local children. The strains of bearing children were too much for her waistline, and the orange rug skirt no longer fit. Several years along, however, when her oldest daughter was about 16, she gave the rug skirt and the fuzzy hand knit sweater to said daughter, and told her of Turkey, of Paris, and the reasons why she left G.O.D. University. The daughter took the stories to heart. She dreamed of visiting Paris, of getting a master's degree, and wondered about G.O.D. University. Her mother was more than cool -- she was intelligent. More than opinionated -- she was informed. And who was G.O.D. to think that a skirt could suppress an opinion?

Sixteen years have passed. I have been to Paris, lived in New York, and spent the last ten years in climates that are inappropriate for a heavy orange wool skirt and fuzzy sweater. Last Saturday we had our first real snow here in my mountain state. Sunday I pulled the orange rug skirt out of a box, and the sweater out of the closet. It has come full circle, this rug skirt. Even back to the shadow of G.O.D. University, where I have been working -- me, the feminist -- for a whole semester.

If there is any consolation in the cold, it is that I can wear the rug skirt again. It is my favorite by far. Here at G.O.D. University, it shields some of the wind, if not all.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

It's beginning to look a lot

Snow Saturday. Snow Sunday. Snow Monday.

Views from our windows:

Cold and dark and cold and slippery since then.

Are you sure we humans aren't meant to hibernate through the winter? What kind of lame species wakes up every day in this cold all the way through March?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Near death experience

My final exam ended this morning. Now that it is over, I get to spend a couple of days grading. Before the fun begins, I thought I would share the following story.

I've been teaching one section of a course with about 1000 students. There are several instructors for this one course, and we all assign (nearly) the same homework assignments and give common exams. To make the course work with all that common grading, you need a leader -- the course coordinator -- and a lot of team players.

Last Tuesday, the course coordinator found me in a public place.

"Are you going to be in your office later today?" he asked.

"Yes," I said, "pretty much all day."

"Good, because I'd like to come by. I want to talk to you about [the course]."

I looked at him curiously. "Do you want to discuss the evaluation you did for me?" A little over a week before he sat in on my class to observe and critique my teaching.

"No, that's not it."

"Well then, do you want to discuss next semester? Because there are a few things I think we should change in the homework and exam rotation."

"No, that's not it either. We'll talk about it in your office."

So. The director of the course wants to talk to me about something that can't be discussed at all in public, about the course I am currently teaching.

Sounds like another reprimand to me. With sweating palms, I racked my brain. What had I done wrong this time? Was I too harsh on my grading of my assigned common exam problem? Were my review sessions too lenient? Did a disgruntled student end up in an administrator's office? What had gone into my emails recently?

I waited in my office with a paper to read open on my desk, but I could only focus on the impending visit.

We interrupt this post for a philosophical discussion. Here is a question that has been on my mind recently: What is the evolutionary explanation for mortification? The fight-or-flight response to stress I understand. If you are facing a tiger in the jungle, you need to fight it or run away to preserve the species. But what about embarrassment? You wish that tiger were right here right now and it would eat you and you wouldn't have to suffer the humiliation any further. What does that do to the gene pool? Is it a sort of self selection of those members who should not be allowed to reproduce? I'd like some theories here.

Anyway, the course administrator arrived within about five minutes, and closed the door gently behind him.

"This is top secret," he began. "I have in my hands a copy of the final, and I'd like you to proof read it for me."

Have you ever dropped a spoonful of ice cream onto a hot stove? That's what happened inside my head. My fears instantly melted into a giant ball of goo inside my brain. The private meeting wasn't to reprimand me, but to discuss the top secret final exam! That's why he couldn't say anything about it in public.

I readily agreed, and spent the first 15 minutes of my proofreading time trying to clean melted ice cream out of my brain. You wouldn't know it, but relief really can get in the way of normal human functioning. Especially if the relief is the thick and gooey kind.

Thank goodness that tiger wasn't around after all.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

That didn't work

We've been trying to encourage Jonathan to stop sucking his thumb. One thing that seems to work is putting socks over his hands to prevent thumb sucking at night.

Thursday night Jonathan called out from his room an hour or so after bedtime. His little hands were too hot. Could he please take off the socks?

Daddy went in and took pity upon him. Instead of the socks, he brought in some soap and rubbed it all over the thumbs. That way when Jonathan tried to put his thumb in his mouth, he'd taste the nasty soap and pull it out. And the little thumbs wouldn't overheat.

About a half hour later there was another call from Jonathan's room.

"Daddy! I need more soap!"


"Because I can't taste it anymore!"

We put the socks back on and removed a blanket instead.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The voices in my head

This is a Thinking post. I have been Thinking. I have been Thinking about Something. Thinking is a disease. When there is Something on your mind, the people around you will almost definitely hear about it. They may catch it and begin Thinking as well. I am currently very contagious.

The topic of the day is Culture, Mythology, and the Voices in my Head.

Today, while looking for something entirely different, I stumbled upon an article entitled "The sexual politics of genius," by Moon Duchin, a mathematician now at the University of Michigan. You can do a google search for it (put the phrase in parentheses) and you'll get it in its entirety. It's a bit long, but I found it to be a very interesting read. The article argues quite compellingly that the isolated genius in the ivory tower is a myth. Not only that, but a very masculine myth. I can't do the article justice in these few sentences, so I encourage you to look it up. Go look it up.

I am not a genius. I have never been a genius. I will never be a genius. It would be convenient to be a genius, except for the bit about having to be male, but I don't aspire to that (unless, of course, I'm having a lot of bad migraines). Instead, I want to make my subject accessible to all people, so that everyone can play the games with those who want others to call them "genius". When everyone is allowed to play, the rules change a bit.

And speaking of changing the rules, I read another article recently that indicates that the rules for success in mathematics are different outside of the US. In the US, we scorn boys and girls with mathematical talent, and it shows in the demographics of those who are most successful in math -- in the US, many are immigrants from countries that value and nurture math.

My department chair gave me a copy of the article, and asked me what we were going to do about it. "You're an American female and good at math," he said. I suppose he was indirectly implying that I am a total social loser. But we already knew that here on this blog. More directly, he thought it would be most helpful if I could please change the social atmosphere in the US. I am doing my best, but I need your help.

Please do try to nurture the mathematical talent in your American children. Thank you.

Finally, I have also been reading articles about being successful in my new academic career. Apparently, one common thing with early career people like me, is that we tend to belittle ourselves in our heads. This is even more common of new women and minority academics. I am a woman academic, and I do often ask myself if I'm really good enough to be in this job, especially given the fact that I'll never be a genius and all.

The advice: Stop listening to that voice in your head. Tell yourself you'll be fine and get back to work.

I am not actually going to go back to work now, but to bed instead. I do plan on being fine, regardless. At least, I will be fine provided I can get some sleep, and then stop reading tangential articles when I do get back to work. But it is interesting, isn't it? Makes you Think.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Photo updates

Photos from October and November have finally been posted, and so I can show you, in reverse chronological order, what I've been talking about.

First, our living room. In November, we finally unpacked and hung our artwork. This happened a few weeks after we got a new sofa. That means in three short months, the living room has changed from a mountain of boxes into a room where people sit and read and blog and live. I love love love having a nice living room. It looks like people actually live here. Pictures to prove it:

The best part of that second picture is that the gaping hole by the stairs has now been tastefully repaired.

That's the new sofa. Thanks, Ikea.

Second, pictures of Halloween. Below, the trick-or-treaters.

Jonathan was a dinosaur above, and a tiger during the rest of the day.

These next pictures were taken from my front lawn in mid October, while I found the beauty of each day nearly overwhelming. This new home I live in is spectacularly beautiful, inside and out.

See how close we are to the imposing mountains above? And this tree, below, belongs to the house across the street.
And this one to the house just up the street.
October was stunning.

Finally, a couple of photos from a homecoming parade. My mom and dad and "little" brother slept in our basement and walked over to see the parade with us. I love living within walking distance of my work. I love it that my work will hold fabulous parades every October for the foreseeable future. Even if I still can't bring myself to cheer for their football team.

Ha ha. Just a joke, Bob. I'm actually a huge fan of 'our' football team. Yup. Go team.

Finally, an update. Luckily, the daughter is doing well enough that she is back home, and school is back on tomorrow. This is a huge relief to the selfish me, who wanted Jonathan to be well cared for tomorrow, and a huge relief to the me who was shocked at my selfishness when recalling that there was a sick human being involved. I have made a resolve first, to think more of others and hope that by being a little more aware, I can be a little less selfish. Second, to be more appreciative of the wonderful things that are my life. Like my health, my family, my beautiful living room, and pictures of October in my new home. And the fact that professors don't really have to cheer for the football team. I can pretend I'm just studious and oblivious when I "accidentally" wear the wrong colors.

Ha ha. Still kidding, Bob.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


So. I don't think I'm a nice person. I'm sure that doesn't come as a shock. Who me? Not nice? Who'd have thought?

But I often wish I were nice. A woman, in particular, is supposed to be nice. And gentle. And thoughtful. And well dressed. And five foot six and 120 pounds with thick hair that doesn't have split ends. I know all this. I'm not any of those things.

The reason I have concluded again tonight that I am not a nice person is that I am full of anxiety for all the wrong reasons.

As you know, we found Jonathan a nice private daycare/kindergarten where he has been very happy for a couple of weeks. Within a handful of days of deciding to keep him in this school full time, and giving notice to the afternoon preschool, something terrible has happened. The daughter of the director of the new school fell extremely ill, and had to be rushed to the hospital. The school was closed on Friday, and we'll find out tomorrow whether they can open again on Monday.

A nice, gentle, well-dressed person would be anxious for the daughter for unselfish reasons. I am very anxious for the daughter, but I have found myself feeling more worried that I won't have childcare again next week. I am tired of working late evenings and early mornings. I have a full time job here, and Tim has a full time job here, and Friday was 15 days of 60 without childcare. That's 1/4 of all my days in my brand new job. While both Tim and I are flexible, even the most flexible gymnasts can't contort their bodies too much or something will break.

Please don't let anything break. Please don't let anything break.

Meanwhile, a girl is in the hospital, and I've given far fewer thoughts to her.

I think my life is a game of Twister. Just when I thought I might be able to hold out through the semester, someone called out "left foot yellow". And all around me the other players are falling apart, but all I can focus upon is keeping myself in this crazy contorted position until the next spin.

Maybe I would be nicer if I cut off the split ends.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Silent night

My alarm goes off at 5:30 every morning. I get up and spend an hour working -- usually writing research papers -- before anyone else is awake in the house.

To make my writing hour more effective, I try to get up quietly without waking others. If Jonathan decided to wake up, for example, that would be the end of my work time.

So, in order not to disturb the family, I take certain precautions. I turn the volume on the alarm clock down low. I keep the lights off until I'm out of the bedroom and down the hall. I tread softly in my stockinged feet. Sometimes my efforts not to wake the family backfire.

Like this morning.

Growing up, one of the neatest things about my grandparents' house was their doorbell. It was made of four long poles, the longest probably five feet long, and pushing the button outside the door caused little hammers inside the poles to sound out a very loud chime. As a kid, it was fun to ring the bell and listen, or walk down the hall and bang the poles together to make a riot of noise.

One feature of our older new-to-us home is a doorbell just like my grandparents. It is made up of four very long poles, the longest about five feet, and when you push the button outside, the little hammers bang out a loud chime. We wondered about replacing the doorbell, since we have a small child who likes to make noise, and the temptation to bang the poles constantly would be great. We decided, however, we would see how said child would do with the temptation to knock the poles together before we looked for a not-as-cool replacement.

Turns out the child is very well behaved, and he doesn't bang the doorbell poles together enough to warrant a new doorbell purchase and install. So we're keeping the loud antique.

Anyway, this morning my alarm went off very quietly at 5:30. I turned it off and rolled out of bed ... one or two snooze cycles later. As I stumbled to the door, I grabbed my blanket, and groggily tiptoed my way out of the bedroom in the darkness.

We used to have a night light shining in the hall, but Jonathan moved it into his bedroom -- the next door over. Consequently, it was pretty dark in the hall. But I was only headed straight to the end into the living room, where I would turn the light on and settle in to work.

It was cold in the hall. While tiptoeing most gently, I unfolded my blanket and shook it out to wrap around me. With one light, delicate, silent motion, I swept the blanket up over my shoulders -- and flung it straight into the four long doorbell poles hanging in the hallway.

I will now let you imagine what a five foot long chime sounds like when it swings and crashes suddenly against its four foot six neighbor at 5:45 in the morning in a silent house. Now imagine four of those poles swinging and crashing together in the dark silence. Needless to say, it is not quite the same decibel level as the tiptoe of stockinged feet.

I stuck out my hands in haste to silence the crashing bells, and instead sent them swinging powerfully into the wall, thumping and clanging. Quickly, I grabbed the longest and held it, then grabbed the next one with my other hand. Within a few seconds I had steadied them all. I held them until they stopped vibrating.

The house was silent again.

To the silent house I offered a single word. "Sorry" I whispered.

More silence. Then from my darkened bedroom I heard a low chuckle.

I tiptoed silently, in the dark, in my stockinged feet, into the living room, where I wrote quietly for an hour.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Old age

There are five houses between our house and the church building. We have counted.

We walk to church.

The fact that we walk wouldn't be a surprise to those of you who knew us in California or Oxford. We biked to church 3 miles in California, and walked 2.25 miles in Oxford.

But five houses. It would take longer to walk from the parking lot than from our front door.

So anyway, as we were walking to church last Sunday, Jonathan asked why other people drove.

Tim mentioned that not everyone lives as close as we do (some live nearly two blocks away). Also, when people get older, sometimes it is difficult for them to walk.

Jonathan then looked at his dad, perplexed, and said, "but you are old, and you don't have any trouble walking."

Yup. Lucky geriatric Tim still has both his knees.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Kindergarten cookbook

Jonathan's new kindergarten class put together a Thanksgiving cookbook. They told the teacher how to cook their favorite dishes, and she wrote them down. Here is a selection.

Apple pie (as told by Jonathan)
First you make the crust. Then you get some apples and sugar and mix it up. Put it in the oven 70 degrees for 20 minutes. Put on the white kind of ice cream.

Thanksgiving turkey (by Caleb)
First add chicken. Cut the chicken. Cook in the oven, really hot for 15 hours. Put green bean sauce on it and apple sauce.

Cranberry sauce (by Caleb)
Add some pumpkin and then some seeds and then you add some corn which is Indian. Then you add some red food coloring. We just put it in the oven and add some shells and cheese. Then you add some fruit which is not very healthy and then you put it on the oven for 3 hours. Add some water and cranberries and cut it up.

Green bean casserole (by Courtney)
I think you take some bread and green beans. Add salt and pepper and onions and green bean sauce. Put in marshmallows on top. Put in oven until the marshmallows melt. Then let it dry for one hour. Then you can eat it.

Rolls (by Sasha)
Take some flour and a little bit of sugar and some brown flour and protein and we can put in a little bit of pepper. Bake it in the oven for 5 minutes. The oven should be 60 degrees. Eat them.

Corn (by Sasha)
Put hot water in the pot and then boil it in the pot and put it in the oven. Make it for 5 degrees and then you want to warm the oven to 6 degrees and put in a bit of salt. If you want to save it for lunch you can put it in the freezer. You can put on butter and sparkles.

Pumpkin pie (by Sasha)
I think you put a little flour and then some eggs and I think just a little bit of pumpkin stuff. You can put in cinnamon. Bake at 6 degrees for I think 7 hours. You can put on some decorations like flowers or stars or a face. You can use candles.

So there you go. The reason why kindergarteners don't make the Thanksgiving dinner. Happy Thanksgiving to you.

Monday, November 24, 2008

It's called a toilet

Lena came over Friday evening and we reminisced about living in England. One topic that came up was word usage. All over the world, every single day, people use toilets. In England, they call them toilets. If you are looking for a toilet, you find a sign that has an arrow pointing you to Toilets.

In America, people are afraid of the word "toilet". If you need to use a toilet here, you look for a sign that says "restroom". You tell your friends you are off to "powder your nose."

If you would like to buy a house, you do not inquire about the number of toilets. You inquire about the number of bathrooms. Two and a half baths means there are three toilets. If you bathe in the bathroom, what is a half bathroom? Do you take half a bath there? This is a room with just a toilet and a sink. Which one do you use for your half bath? Or what half of your body are you bathing? These are questions you have to ask in America.

A Jonathan post

So we've had one week in the new kindergarten/daycare, and we are all very happy. Monday through Thursday Jonathan went to the quiet blue school across the valley, then was picked up after lunch and driven back to the preschool where I work, where he has been going afternoons. Friday Jonathan stayed all afternoon at the new school, and went to kindergarten there with the older children. I asked him afterwords how it went. He said he "really really liked it." That's two really's. What a huge relief. I actually don't know if I am allowed to be relieved yet or if I need to give it a few more weeks and still ask about really really's. But I am still optimistic that all will be well.

Now that we know Jonathan is a reader, we've tried to do more to encourage that. We picked out some library books yesterday from the "early reader" section. The books were color coded to indicate reading level. Red was early beginning, purple medium, and yellow more advanced. Well in my own oh-so-humble opinion, the red books were really boring. We got a couple purple, but I found the books I liked had yellow stickers. Books like "Frog and Toad are Friends", and "Green Eggs and Ham", and "The Giving Tree." So those are the books we checked out.

Last night Jonathan started reading "The Giving Tree" to me, and he was getting most of the words -- until about the middle of the book when there is a whole page of words. Then Jonathan got tired and asked me to finish it. Even so, while he read I kept stopping and flipping the book over and saying "Wait a second -- this is a YELLOW book! You are not supposed to be able to read this!" Jonathan would laugh and keep reading more.

Daddy was away watching football (more on that later). First thing this morning Jonathan wanted to show Daddy how he could read the yellow book. This time he read "The Giving Tree" from start to end.

We are very proud of our little reader. While he likes reading, and is excited about it, we'll keep him reading.

So summary: very happy with the new school. Very happy Jonathan is in kindergarten at the new school. He is tall enough to be in kindergarten, and he is apparently reading at least at a kindergarten level. I don't know how much progress we've made socially in the last week, but the new teacher is aware of our concerns and believes he will become good friends with the other children. You have my permission to feel relieved, at least until I tell you otherwise.

Friday, November 21, 2008

This week's crisis

Cheating on an exam. A question was leaked, which means by Monday morning it was all over the floor and an army of professors and TA's had to come in with mops and buckets and clean up.

So that fact and this fact probably provide sufficient explanation for this post (since you asked, Emily).

Wonder what's up for next week?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Last week's crisis

So a week and a half ago, on Friday, things came to a head, and Tim and I realized we needed to let our nanny go and get Jonathan into something new and stimulating as soon as possible. I started searching, placed an ad, and lined up a visit to a full time kindergarten / daycare on the other side of the valley that weekend. Things happened very quickly. By Sunday night we had visited the new school, checked references, and come away extremely feeling positive about the program, the teachers, and the home cooked meals provided at this school. So we signed Jonathan up. Yeah! No more lunch planning duties for me!

The following Monday, we had planned to sit down with the nanny and tell her that things weren't working and give her three weeks notice. Actually, we were debating into the wee hours the night before whether we should just pay her up front for three weeks and send her away and not have to deal with her again, or whether we should make her come over to earn the money. One major problem was that Jonathan couldn't start at the new school for another week. Since we were paying for childcare, shouldn't we get it? On the other hand, bad news of this sort would sour both parties toward the idea of seeing each other at all. Very bad idea for child care.

Anyhow, Monday morning before 7am, we got a call from the nanny. She was too sick to work. So I gave her the news over the phone. She sent me a polite email later that night stating that she wouldn't be coming in for the remaining three weeks. She wanted to spend her three weeks job hunting. So that problem was solved in the most financially easy way possible for Tim and me.

The bad news was that we had a week without child care. I took the afternoons, Tim took the mornings, plus a day off work on Thursday, and we made it work for that short time.

Yesterday morning, Jonathan started his first day at the new school. He really liked it. I asked him today which he liked better, the new school or the nanny? His response was immediate. The new school. Hands down. I am very very happy with the way things have worked out. This new school will be very good for Jonathan. It is small enough that he'll be getting the individual attention we were hoping for from a nanny, but with other playmates and a very experienced teacher and a licensed facility and home cooked meals! Did I mention the meals? I'm very happy about the meals.

The only problems: For now, we're keeping Jonathan in his old afternoon preschool, for a little continuity in his life. Plus, he's just starting to make friends there. Unfortunately, that means I have to drive around during the lunch hour playing shuttle. Since the new school is on the other side of the valley, I've had to convert my one hour walking time into one hour of driving back and forth and back and forth. I need to find a way to fill that time so it isn't completely dead. Any suggestions for books on tape?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Train wreck!

(I did promise shorter posts for a while.)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

On work

I really like my job. I have bad days, but generally I really like it. I think about my job as I walk to work in the morning. I plan out ways to improve my teaching and try to organize bits of research papers in my head. I think I'm generally pretty good at my work, and I do believe I am improving as time goes by. I honestly believe my little corner of the world is a better place because of the work that I do, and I like it.

I wish the people I hired to work for me all liked their job as much as I like mine. I wish they thought ways to improve and organize their work while they're at home in the evenings. I wish they understood that by doing the job well, they were making the world a better place. I wish I could find those people and hire them. It would be easier to get things done right.

Anyway, I have a few deadlines coming up at work. They are mostly self-imposed, but they shouldn't slide any more than they've already been sliding. I think I may be cutting back here at the Clown and Poker to spend more evenings finishing those projects. I will have to write shorter, smarter posts for my seven consistent readers. Or maybe I'll call you. That would be novel.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Our four year old is a reader. We knew he read a handful of words. Occasionally we could convince him to read a couple of words in a sentence in one of his books. Tonight we were talking about reading, and he asked why Zoe, age five, could read big books. I told him that he was also learning to read, and he would someday also be able to read big books. Several minutes later, just before our usual five minute scripture reading time, when I had opened the book but had not yet started, the little boy moved his finger over the words and began to read. "And it came to pass that Jesus..." He really read! He didn't get the word "commanded" the first time, or "cease" or "disciple", but he figured out almost all the words in between. Words like "they", "the", "and", but also words like "pray", "stand", "multitude" (how in the world did he ever figure out the word "multitude"?), "give", "bread". Tim and I both had jaws resting on our chests. We had no idea he could read like that. And of all the books to begin to read, he chose the one written in 16th century King James English? Who is this child?

Our four year old is a mathematician. He knows his numbers and "plus" and "minus". When his grandparents were at our house a couple of weekends ago, Grandpa wrote on a napkin a simple problem, something like "4 + 2 - 3 = " and then handed the napkin and the pen to the little boy. He asked what the symbols meant, and I began to explain that "+" was "plus", "-" was "take away" and "=" was ... but before I finished explaining, he had written the number 3 on the other side of the "=" sign -- which was the correct answer. We all looked at each other in shock. When did he learn mathematics? Since then I've been playing more math games with him on the bus or at home. He thinks it's fun. He can now add ten to nearly anything, and do addition and subtraction with most of his small numbers.

Our four year old has practically zero social skills. Even compared to four year olds. Zip. Nada. Nil. His preschool has a one way mirror. I took some time to observe him, unknown to him, Monday afternoon. He did not talk to the children except to boss them. He did not play with the others, except at the end of play time where he bounced around the room in such silliness that one little girl laughed and followed along. Our boy, happy to have found a playmate, then ignored the teacher when she asked the children to freeze and tidy up the room. During singing time, when the other children were dancing and bouncing, he put his thumb in his mouth and didn't participate. A lead teacher came to join me in the observation booth, and said that he often would dust the children or poke them, and they didn't like it. She was trying to teach them to use their words to tell him not to. She also said that he sometimes played in parallel with the others, but never really with them. She thought he should have more play dates.

So what are we raising here? Tim and I lay awake in bed discussing our own social skills, and commented on the fact that we were both complete social outcasts at some point in elementary school. We don't want that for our boy. I asked Google how to teach a preschooler social skills, and Google gave me some good suggestions. One good suggestion was to help him form strong friendships outside of class with others from class. We've now set up a tentative regular play date with a boy we carpool with. Another good suggestion was to carefully model good social skills when we played with him at home. Last night our farm animals were more polite to each other than they've ever been before. Practice, practice, practice.

I love that little boy. I want him to be smart and socially savvy. We're going to need more good suggestions. How do a couple of social outcasts teach a little boy to make and keep friends? And now that the four year old is reading scripture, where do we go next? Shakespeare? And the math! Actually, I think I can handle the math for a little while yet.

Meanwhile, speaking of social skills, would you like to be my friend?

Saturday, November 8, 2008


October was spectacular here. Really. Living in warmer climates for ten years, I had forgotten how glorious autumn could be. Fat orange leaves on the pavement. Bright yellow trees standing against the deep blue mountains. If I were a poet, I would compare autumn to something poetical, like fish heads, and then spill my fat, juicy words across the internet for you to pick up, turn over, and admire, and then squish, like grapes. Poetry is like that. Of course, if I were really a poet I'd want to publish my grape words somewhere they might earn me some money. That is why my secret poet self doesn't put poetry on this blog.

My secret photographer self hasn't uploaded pictures of October yet, either. That's because she is lazy. Still. Just stuck in that lazy thing, and hoping that maybe Tim will get around to it.

So October was glorious, and you will have to take my word for it, because I cannot show you in pictures or poetry.

November, on the other hand, so far is just turning out to be cold. Hard frost cold. The kind of cold that makes your nose run, but you don't notice because you've lost feeling in your upper lip. The kind of cold that makes your heater turn on late at night when you have the thermostat set to economy. You wake up, shivering, and wonder if you should rethink economizing on something like heat. That kind of cold.

Then I start counting on my fingers, and realize that there are six months between November and April, inclusive, and that it will pretty much be cold all those months. Maybe that's too pessimistic. Maybe there are only five and a half months of cold.

I dress like a pillow each morning. I wear a puffy coat, a hat, gloves, and an extra layer of windbreaker pants over my jeans. There are a lot of people out on the streets as I walk to work, but I am the only walking pillow in early November. I'm guessing the others are saving their pillow gear for January, when it really gets cold.

Meanwhile, I've been considering buying a membership to a tanning salon so that I can get some vitamin D between now and April. And also maybe warm up my toes for 15 minutes every other day. Oooh that sounds heavenly.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Comments on a disturbing allegory

I was at a seminar this afternoon, and the dean of the college of humanities stood up and presented an allegory for our listening pleasure. Only I found it disturbing. See if you can figure out why. I will give away the answer at the end.

There once was a great department chair father figure. He sent two men down to work at his university. After some time, he would have them come back and report, and the one who did his duty appropriately would earn the hand in marriage of the beautiful princess Tenure. Or something along those lines.

Well, the first faculty member got right to work, but was interrupted by a phone call. It was a student who was failing, and she wondered if she could meet with the faculty to talk about the class. Then a while later there was a knock on the door. It was the star student. And he was wondering if he could discuss graduate schools. The other faculty member ignored all his phone calls and didn't go to department meetings and missed his daughter's soccer game. At the end of the story, the first guy had stellar teaching evaluations and no research results or funding while the second guy had terrible teaching evaluations but an excellent research record. And neither got Tenure because you have to be good at everything to get Tenure.

The End.

Ok. So what was it that disturbed me? Anybody catch it?

Give up?

I'll give you a hint. Check out the genders of each of the participants. The leader guy who is in control? Male. The guys who have a chance at the prize? Male. The stellar student? Male. The failing student? Female. The prize going to the winner? A hot female.

Now, you are probably sitting there thinking, "gee, there are a lot of disturbing things about that story, but I must say the sexism didn't stand out as the most egregious." And Tim is rolling his eyes right now. But you know, with a few changes the allegory might have worked without making me sit up and look shifty-eyed around the room to see who else was noticing.

I'm sure the dean did not mean to be sexist. Or even to appear sexist.

He realized it was a lame story, and he pointed that out early.

I wonder if anyone else in the audience even noticed. (I asked a colleague afterwords and he hadn't, although he could see in retrospect why I might have.)

(Of course, said colleague doesn't know me very well, so he doesn't know like Tim does that sometimes the best response is to roll your eyes.)

Still, I'm kind of glad I'm not in the college of humanities.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Anger management


"Jonathan, can you please just hold still while I read this?"

He kicks my knees.

"Jonathan! Just listen!"

He pushes my legs off the bed.



"I am NOT going to ask you again. Just settle down and listen or I'm going to close the book, turn out the light, and you can put yourself to bed!"


"Because I'm getting cross!"

Jonathan begins to sing:
"Just stop," (he holds out his hands) "take a deep breath," (he lifts his hands up) "and relax" (moves his hands back down again).

"What?" I say.

"Just stop, take a deep breath, and relax."

"Did you learn that in school?"

"Yes. When you are angry, your brain is in the back of your head and you think bad thoughts. You need to take a deep breath to move your brain to the front of your head where you can think happy thoughts."

I take a deep breath.

"OK, can we read now?"


Two seconds later: "Jonathan!"


"Just stop, take a deep breath, and relax."

"No, I'm not going to do that. You need to do that. I'm not cross."

I stop, take a deep breath, and go "HONK!"

Bedtime erupts into a tickle battle.

Jonathan starts singing, "stop, take a deep breath, and ... HONK!"

Ah, bedtime without Daddy. Good times.

Oh, and sorry, Miss Dorie, for corrupting your song.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

I voted

I've gone nearly a week without posting. That's because I have been meaning to upload some photos, and I have not. I am apparently too lazy to get the camera cable out and move the files over and wait while Google uploads them. Also, I have been keeping busy. I spent Halloween night writing a paper, for example, while Tim and Jonathan were out collecting candy. I spent the next afternoon shopping with Tim's mom, buying some needed house items, and then the evening hanging paintings in the house. The living room now looks really really great. Like people really live here. It's amazing the difference it makes. These are the things I need to post pictures of. You will have to wait.

Meanwhile, a timely, but photo-free post.

I voted.

I will be able to look back on this election year and tell my grandchildren that 2008 was the year I walked five miles uphill in the rain to cast my vote.

I really did.

It really was raining.

I don't have a car at work, so I had to walk approximately 1.5 miles back home to pick up Tim. Then we walked roughly a mile to our polling location. Then we both cast votes. Then we walked home, and then I walked back to work. Total: about five miles.

It was drizzling slightly the whole walk.

That, my friends, is dedication. You can use this story in your sacrament meeting talks to tell people about how dedicated they ought to be to their voting duty.

Or you can spin it into a story to frighten your children: look what a freak you might become if you don't watch out.

Either way, I have done my patriotic duty.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The purpose of life

Every now and then, I take a step back and ask, "Who am I? Why am I here? What is the purpose of life?"

Or rather, I ask those questions of my blog.

What is the purpose of this blog?

The purpose of last year's blog was easy. We were living far away from family across an ocean. The blog neatly chronicled strange cultural experiences, travel, accents, and toilets into an online journal that could be shared immediately with family, friends, and weird blog stalkers like You and Bob the Enemy. I was reading over last year's blog recently and Remembering and also appreciating every well crafted post (both of them).

But what is the purpose of this new blog?

I guess I could say again it's for family and friends, and to chronicle all the interesting things we do. Like go to the dentist, chop down grape vines, and commit not to be like Bryan. Um. Wow. Pretty exciting.

I've been pondering this question on the purpose of my blog for a few days now. Thora and Hans-Juergen seem to have gone through recent blog introspection as well, although I don't know that my purpose matches theirs.

Then a couple of days ago while walking to work, it came to me. The real reason for this blog.

Bear with me a moment while I share a couple of seemingly unrelated stories.

At the end of my high school years and the beginning of college years, I took up piano. I had taken lessons before, but at this time I finally started playing regularly. I could sit and practice for a couple of hours each day. I learned all sorts of music I had never learned before, and picked up enough confidence that to this day I will happily play in church meetings with no advance notice. What inspired me to suddenly start playing? Stress. I found that twisting my fingers into knots or pounding out chords really helped me decompress. Just writing about that makes me want to go play the piano again. Alas, I don't yet own a piano.

I haven't owned a piano for over ten years. In grad school, I took up painting. Nearly all the paintings that hung on our walls in our high ceilinged Texas home were created by me. Nearly all the paintings that are stored under our stairs to wait out the remodel here were created by me. What inspired me to continue painting? Stress. I found that slapping paint on a canvas and smelling paint fumes helped me decompress. Just writing about it doesn't actually make me want to go paint again, because alas, I'm suffering again from a mild migraine, and I don't think I could handle the paint fumes.

But now jump ahead a couple of years. I find myself living in England, away from piano and paints, in a strange land where words like "pants" don't mean what you think they mean (so you might want to double check what you're saying). My husband is working nights. So I take up blogging. And enjoy it. And then a year later, back in the US where "pants" means just what you think it means, but still makes me snicker, I am still blogging. Why? What for?


Of course, I don't think I'm getting the same benefits as I would from banging on the piano. My laptop keyboard can't take banging quite like a piano. On the other hand, my son is currently asleep, and that probably wouldn't be the case if I were hammering out concertos at this time of night.

So there you have it. The purpose of this blog. Maybe it's not what we expected. But somehow, it's still nice to know.


Footnote: This post leaves us with several unanswered questions.

1. Newcomers to this blog are asking, "What is this old blog you are referring to? Why don't you include a link?"

I would link to the old blog, only I like this blog to have the semblance of anonymity. My last blog had my name slathered all over it. Therefore, I can't put in a link to the old without giving away my Secret Identity.

However, if you are really really curious, do a Google search for "English commode". Yup. That's my blog entry at the very very top. (And still my all-time-favorite post ever.)

2. Old readers (both of them) are asking, "Newcomers? Do you really have blog newcomers?"

Someday someone may do a Google search that leads them to this post. If they are still reading this far, then they will be a newcomer.

3. "What happens after blog death?"

Well, Google analytics reports that after the death of my last blog, the regular readers have stopped visiting. Yet the blog still receives at least as many hits as it did during life, due to search engine traffic. The most popular keywords, after my name, are "cheeky in a sentence", "cottage names", "English commode", and "how to pronounce Tintagel." Thus a blog never truly dies, but lives eternally through Google. I've decided I'd better remove the link from that blog to this one, in my quest to pretend to be anonymous. Ha ha.

4. "Did you notice this is the 12th post in October?"

Yes. Yes in fact, I did. I guess that means I have broken away from 11 posts per month. At least for now.

4. "You can't really think of any more questions, can you?"

No, actually I can't. So I will finally stop.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Posting for the greater good

Yesterday, we were invited to go with Grandma to the zoo. It was a Halloween-themed day. All the kids wore their costumes. Some adults wore costumes, too. The zoo animals did not wear costumes, although many of them were scarier than the costumed kids.

However, the scariest things I saw weren't in costume, and were never meant to be seen by me. Very very scary.

Therefore, I am going to interrupt this post to offer the following Public Service Announcement.

There is something you should know about those low-cut, low-rider, sits-below-the-waist jeans: Any time you sit down, squat, lean over, or just barely bend at the waist, there are two bulging round pink friends who will be oozing their fat jiggly heads out above the top of your jeans, scaring the rest of us.

Alas, I think you missed the disclaimer on the jeans tag: such jeans were not designed to be worn by a moving being, but only to sit on an upright, immobile mannequin or upright, immobile sucker in a dressing room. When your day involves sitting, leaning, or climbing in and out of the car, the jeans manufacturers cannot be held liable for tuberous plumber bums wiggling out and waving at all the other parents at the zoo.

Thank you for your assistance in containing your round pink friends.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The artist

This morning, I found myself sitting in a reclined chair with a bib across my chest, my mouth frozen open, with a little drool sucking tube resting on my bottom lip, hooked under my tongue. The dental hygienist's hands were very busy inside my open mouth, moving in and out, in and out, cleaning and scraping and trying to polish off the rough edges on my Swedish filling that I picked up in England in February.

She picked up a silver tool, studied it in the light, rotated it to examine the tip, and then put it down and picked up another. This she also rotated, then gently replaced and picked up another before sticking it back into my mouth.

I couldn't tell the difference. All the tools a had a little pointy hooky thing at the end that looked ... um ... pointy. But as I watched the hygienist study them carefully, trying to match the tools to my mouth, I realized that she was an artist. She reminded me of a sculptor, selecting the perfect tool to do the perfect job. Or a painter, choosing the pigments and brushes with care. She was a true craftsman. A highly skilled worker with a practiced ability to know the difference between the pointy hook and the ... other pointy hook.

I would have relaxed under her capable hands at this point, except that I was, um, at the dentist's office with a drool sucker tube hooked under my tongue. Even so, I left appreciating the art that is tooth scraping. Wow. Didn't expect to find the artist in the hygienist chair.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

New job

My profile tells you that I have a new house, new job, and new blog.

I have written several posts about my new house. I have even written posts about my new blog. I haven't written much about my new job.

My new job is strange. I am a tenure track faculty member at a private university. I've been teaching at this university for about half of a semester now, and it has been an interesting ride. After half a semester, I get the feeling that everyone walks around on tiptoe here. Why? Because people are quick to be offended and quick to crush perceived offenses at my university.

I offended somebody last week. I sent an email that was forwarded up and up and up and down to my department chair who sent the associate chair into my office for a private chat. The conclusion: I need to be more careful with my emails, because they may be forwarded to the Enemy. The Enemy is currently having a heyday with this blog of mine, saving up every post to display all over the department during my next status review.

Thinking of Bob the Enemy, with his balding head and his potbelly, really doesn't help me to feel much like blogging. It takes all the fun out of writing when you know that your words can and will be used against you -- even if this is an anonymous blog, and I haven't really told you who I am or where I live or where I work. Most of you are just really super clever and have already figured out where I work based on the clues I leave around the posts.

So what am I doing working at this university, where the administration like to pretend they are playing The Sims with their faculty characters? I am an opinionated feminist. I screwed up one job interview 1.5 years ago by offending an administrator at a university in SoCal. (Told him that I had a young family and I wasn't going to teach evenings. So there.) And then I take a position at another top heavy university. What was I thinking?

Or why don't we spin it another way? What am I doing being an opinionated feminist in the first place? Why in the world am I still working? I am happily married to a guy who is really good at his job. We are financially stable with his income alone. I have a young child. I am an active, tithe paying, fully participating member of a religion that strongly encourages its women to stay home. How did I end up in this job?

Those questions are like interesting sculptures to be handled, turned over, studied, and then replaced on the shelf. I have lots of reasons, but most of them aren't public reasons, and I'm definitely not putting them out there for Bob Enemy. Sorry Bob, you'll just have to work with what I've already given.

On a somewhat (but not exactly) related topic, here is an interesting link I was forwarded from a new-faculty listserv this morning.


These women also have young families but want tenure. It's a fight we're all making as individuals -- my paths so far have been different from theirs. But sometimes it's nice to read the thoughts of other fighters.

OK, Bob. Stopping for now. But maybe I'll work up the courage to write a few more things about my job. Good and bad. Maybe.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Our weekend

My brother Brent returned from a two year mission in Mexico City just a little over a week ago. Today he reported on his experiences in my parents' church. In honor of the occasion, my brother and his wife, who live one state over, drove in with their three little children on Friday night.

Saturday afternoon, weekend chores finally finished, we drove an hour north to my sister's house to meet them all. Tim and Jonathan and I stayed overnight in their spare room, and ate blueberry muffins with them in the morning. We headed south later for lunch at my parents' house, followed by the main event itself. My family filled up two benches, packed shoulder to shoulder in our wool suits and skirts and jackets.

Someone had cranked up the heat in the building. Our cheeks were flushed and red, and sweat was pooling in my shoes. If it hadn't been for the heat, I might have been able to listen a little better, and then I could have written you a summary... but I'll leave that for my mother.

Brent has grown in the past two years. He's a bigger guy than he was. He spoke quickly, with Mexican intonation. A month and a half ago, Tim and I would have spoken with English intonation, but we've lost that. Jonathan's English accent is also fading, bordering on gone. We are planning sabbaticals in the hopes of coaxing it back.

We left the church directly after the end of the meeting. We hopped back in the car and headed up further north to the city where Tim's parents live. They had planned a family dinner long before we realized that today would be Brent's day, but the timing was such that we were able to attend both family events. Three of Tim's grandparents, as well as an aunt, uncle, and cousin met us for food and chatting and company.

One weekend, 25 family members. And that's not even including my cousin Heidi who babysat Jonathan Friday afternoon. Most of these people we hadn't seen in over a year, and then we had only seen them infrequently in the years before.

There are perks to living where we live, including proximity to family.

We forgot our camera.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Being female

Last night I reminded Tim of an important fact.

"If I were to get a sex change, we would be a gay couple."

And then asked an important question:

"How would that make you feel about same sex marriage?"

For the record, I probably won't be getting a sex change any time soon. However, I'm leaving all my options open for dealing with my chronic migraines.

Because of my womanhood, I can expect migraines multiple times per month. I get them during my period, within a few days before or after my period, and within a few days plus and minus the mid-cycle mark. Often I can kill them just as they begin with pain killer and extra sleep. However, when they do take hold I end up spending a day or two vomiting, crying, and in intense physical pain. They are almost always accompanied by mild depression. While the pain killer can hold off the vomiting, it doesn't always block the depression. I find myself wondering, why I am so upset?

Oh right. Mid-cycle.

If I were male, I would not be getting the same migraines. I know this because of (a) the regular timing, and (b) the fact that I had no migraines when I was pregnant. My mother will interject here and say she knows a better solution than sex change: I could ensure I'm pregnant all the time! The only problem with that is that pregnancy hormones are worse. I spent all but the first seven weeks of my pregnancy with debilitating back pain, nausea, and mild depression. At least the migraines only last a couple of days each.

So maybe with some pre-migrainal depression looming on the horizon, I should cheer us all up by listing a few good reasons to remain female.

1. Females don't have to scrape a razor over their face every morning.

I like to put the most important reasons first on my lists.

2. Females aren't called Saturday mornings by their church group presidents for assistance in moving pianos and washing machines.

3. ...

I'm not actually coming up with much here. Tim's help: "sexy underwear." But Tim, I could still wear that as a man.

OK, this is now a PG-13 blog. So I'll stop.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


My world is awash with words. I spend 90% of my time at work organizing words. Then I reorganize them at home into different meanings and phrases. Sometimes the words are easily organized. Sometimes they fight back and refuse to settle into place. Occasionally, once organized, they break free and attack without warning. I had some words attack me yesterday.

My little boy, seeing my distress, took my face in his hands and asked how he could help. He gave me his teddy to cuddle, and wrapped a blanket around my legs. He brought me a tissue, snuggled up close to read a story, and replaced my words with little boy words. Next we threw out words altogether and ran around the basement screaming. Sometimes sounds are best when they are not organized into words.

Do you think running around screaming would work in the classroom?

Our basement is finished, by the way. Except that the doors on all the rooms need to be shaved and re-hung. And the windows need to be finished. And there are still a couple of paint and patch jobs. But we finally got carpet, and it makes the rooms downstairs just so warm and livable! I'm down there now writing this. I love our new basement. Someday soon I will post pictures and you can love it, too.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Feeling poor?

You can get free money at this blog:



It's not as though we hadn't been warned.

The trees on the mountain sides have been flaming red for weeks, waving their warning foliage in alarm. It is coming, they have been signaling.

The apples and pears in the valley, taking notice, have been leaping from their branches, diving head first, cracking twigs and branches in their rush to escape. They bounce on the lawn or splat on the sidewalk, stinking out a warning. You cannot escape either, their carcasses ooze.

Last weekend the rain pelted the valley for more than two days. When the clouds cleared, the green had been rinsed from the tops of the trees. Fading and tired, the other leaves began within days to sag and droop. The battle is already lost, they sigh.

Each morning the thermostat registers lower and lower. The mailbox fills with papers and fliers shouting out in oranges and yellows that pumpkins are selling and Now is the time to buy snow boots. Join us, they call treacherously.

I layer my windbreaker over my fleece. I unpack the box of sweaters, wondering where my wool jacket ended up. And where is my black wool skirt? It would look good with my red striped English stockings. We will not protect you, my closet derides.

This morning, a whirl of white, the first snowflakes fell. The tomato plant cowered and then shriveled under their touch. The daisies pressed their bodies to the ground in fear. The flakes laughed and swirled and mocked us all briefly. We will be back, they said.

Nine years you have been hiding. Nine years. But we will come for you.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Mom for President

So. I've been out of the loop in politics. I have. On purpose, in fact. I ignored the presidential primaries with the excuse that I was living out of the country. I have ignored recent presidential debates with the excuse that our TV is wrapped in plastic while we wait for the basement to be finished. I finally finally did my patriotic duty this evening and watched the SNL vice-presidential debates over the internet.

Now I know who to vote for for VP.

I registered to vote last week. And I will vote. And I have made some decisions on who to vote for. Two candidates actually knocked on my door in the last couple of weeks. We're talking real candidates here, not just neighbors with agendas. I have never lived in a place where candidates knock on doors before. I kind of liked it.

They have weird weird names, my candidates. Weird names must be a strange consequence of too much mountain inbreeding here in the West. But I am a progressive. I can look beyond the names to the policies. OK, actually I'm not so interested in policies as in making the incumbents sweat a little. They have had closed primaries, no opposition, good ol' boys politics for years in my new town. In this conservative town, all the republicans need to say is that democrats are baby killers and gay lovers and everyone lines up to vote for the Gadianton robbers. I have mocked them from a distance for years. And now this is my life. There is justice in the world.

Bryan and I talked politics over the weekend. We couldn't have a real political conversation because of the sad facts outlined in paragraph number one above. Oh, and I hadn't even watched the SNL debate at that point. However, we could both comment on the fact that our mother is politically active. She has been working for a significant amount of time on a neighborhood project in the neighborhood in which we grew up that would affect schools, zoning, taxes. She has strong opinions on many political issues, and shares them freely. And forwards them in emails. And email forwards. Which I often have to correct.

Anyway, in our political conversation, the idea of Mom running for president came up. Tim and I shared a look, smiled, and both agreed that while we love Mom, and while we know she would do her best, we would never vote for her for president. Bryan looked surprised and said he definitely would.

But Bryan, how could you vote for someone so easily swayed by email forwards?

Sorry Mom, you and Palin and Biden have all lost my vote. I'm voting for Gwen Ifill, the moderator. She was great.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A non-goal of mine

My brother Bryan surprised us with a phone call Saturday afternoon. He had flown into our area to run a marathon, remembered when it was all over that we lived here, and wondered if he could come visit and spend the night.

Sure! we said, and meant it. (It wouldn't be family if we had advanced notice. Or at least it wouldn't be my family.)

So around 6:00pm, Bryan hobbled into our house, limped over into the kitchen, and eased himself into a chair. He could barely walk. For some reason, after a 26 mile run -- in the rain, mind you -- his legs were sore sore sore.

I think Bryan ran his first marathon when he was in high school. Since then, two other brothers have run marathons. Back when I was in high school, I thought running a marathon sounded like a really cool thing to be able to tell other people that I had done once. For a while, it was on my list of things I thought I might someday like to do. My goal list, if you will.

I took it off a long long time ago.

The people I know who run marathons have more than sore legs. Most of them also work through pretty serious injuries. My siblings have had knee trouble. My friend had a stress fracture. Plus, after Bryan's second marathon, he crossed the finish line and then puked. Even if I don't get injured, I am still not so keen on doing something that makes me puke. On purpose. For fun. Fun?

However, I am happy to have family come and visit after they have run their marathons. It helps to remind me of why I keep certain items on my non-goal list.

Non-goal #1: No marathons.

Congratulations, Bryan, on finishing again. Thanks for coming to visit.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Clown and Poker FAQ's

In this post, I answer all your questions about this blog.

1. Um. Has anyone really been asking questions? Frequently?

People ask me questions all the time. Just a minute ago, someone asked me how to do a particular homework problem, for example. Technically, not many people have asked me questions about this blog. Lucky for you, I can anticipate questions people will be asking in the future.

For example, People want to know:

2. What is the meaning of the name? Is it something rude?

The Clown and Poker is the name of the pub I will never own. Nor visit. It was suggested to me as a name for a home by a very attractive man.

Although I have not yet given my physical home the name Clown and Poker, it is now, in some sense, the name of my cyber home. The attractive man is happy.

3. Have I seen that attractive man before?

Yes. Yes you have. He was a prominent character in this post. In fact, he turns up in a lot of my posts. I like to decorate my posts with attractive people.

4. Who writes the blog?

I do.

5. Who are you?

I am a young and attractive teacher/researcher at a university in the western United States. I moved to the western United States this fall from England, where I was a young and attractive researcher in England. I have a young child and an attractive husband. All my relatives and friends are also attractive, as are my three lurkers. I think that pretty much covers everybody reading this post. Who are you?

6. I've noticed that home remodeling seems to be a theme. Is that ever going to end?

No. No. I think it will never end. Alas. That adds a bit of tragedy to this otherwise cheerful blog.

7. Are you going to write 11 posts per month? I only ask because I once knew another blogger who wrote 11 posts per month, and I notice that you wrote 11 in September.

I never intended to write 11 posts in September. I was going to write 12. Or 10. Just to show the world how different I am from that Other blogger you once knew. I was going to spend September breaking through the artificial restrictions that Other blogger put upon herself and her blog by writing 11 posts.

Somehow, September ended up with 11 posts. Weird, eh? I wonder what that means?

8. Don't you have work to do?

Um yes. That's why I am now stopping.

If you would like to send more questions, I will answer them. Frequently.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The porch that Sam built.

This is the porch that Sam built.

These are the grapes that lay on the porch that Sam built.

This is the vine that held the grapes that lay on the porch that Sam built.

This is the man, all shaven and shorn, that cut the vine that held the grapes that lay on the porch that Sam built.

This is the ladder, all wobbly and worn, that supported the man, all shaven and shorn, that cut the vine that held the grapes that lay on the porch that Sam built.

This is the lady, all forlorn, who held the ladder, all wobbly and worn, that supported the man, all shaven and shorn, that cut the vine that held the grapes that lay on the porch that Sam built.

This is the vine, too heavy to be born, that fell on the lady, all forlorn, that dropped the ladder, all wobbly and worn, that dumped the man, all shaven and shorn, who sat on the lady, all forlorn, when he cut the vine that held the grapes that lay on the porch that Sam built.

News summary: New porch finally completed! Grape vine successfully removed from east side of house. Only a few bruises and scratches to prove it -- and a mountain of grapes.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Last lecture

Suzanne recently read the Last Lecture, by Randy Pauch, and sent me an email.

"Have you read it? It made me think of you," she wrote.

Two weeks ago I found myself in the Chicago O'Hare airport, facing an eight hour flight to Frankfurt on my own. The book was lying on a shelf in an airport bookstore. I checked its price and number of pages, calculated the dollar cost per hour of my time reading, and walked away. Too short, and too expensive.

My flight was delayed by an hour. I went back to the bookstore and bought the book.

I finished reading just as dinner was being served on the plane. I cried a little.

OK, I received dinner with streaming eyes and nose.

Freak, thought the flight attendant, handing over dinner.

Freak, thought the guy sitting next to me, sliding further against the window.

Maybe I am a freak.

Suzanne said the book made her think of me. It made me think of me, as well. I found it a very thought provoking, introspective kind of book. In fact, I'm amazed she thought of anyone else while reading it.

On second thought, I also thought of Tim while reading it. He has some of the same connections as the author.

In case you are not aware, it was written by a relatively young university professor (of computer science) who had terminal cancer. It is his reflection on life -- what he had lived, how he had lived it, and how he intended to live the last months remaining. It was motivated by a lecture he gave at CMU, which you can see on YouTube. Actually, you have probably all seen it.

It made me wonder what I would do differently if I knew I had just six months to live.

I would say a few things publicly.

I would tell important people I loved them a little more carefully and frequently. In particular, I would tell Jonathan what a special guy he is. He is a very silly boy, who loves to make people laugh. My cousins say he reminds them of my grandfather, who was a silly guy -- a clown and an eternal optimist and one of the men I admire most. I want Jonathan to grow up laughing.

He is also a very inquisitive boy, with lots of questions. I hope he also grows up asking questions. And finding his own answers. And then laughing at them.

I would tell Tim again that he is the most perfect man in the world. I think Tim would be very annoyed with me if I died in six months, after moving the family here. Very annoyed.

I would want to finish some unfinished tasks. I would want to finish some papers I'm working on. I would probably want to finish out my teaching this semester.

That's crazy! Six months left to live, and I want to finish my work?

Freak, you think, reading this post.

But on the other hand, finishing work responsibilities would be completely consistent with my life choices so far. I feel some comfort in knowing that I am already lining up my time to match those things that mean the most to me.

Or maybe I'm consistently lining up my time incorrectly.

In any case, I hope I'm still around in six months. And I hope I've finished those papers and that teaching. And I love you, family.

Thanks for the suggestion, Suzanne.