Monday, January 26, 2009

6 things happening

My mother asked today what is going on in our lives. So here are a few items, Mom.

1. Slush is falling out of the sky, and has been falling all day. Tomorrow's forecast: Snow in the morning. Great. Another one of those drives.

2. Tim and I spoke in church today. It's actually only the second church talk I've given in six wards and ten years. I was surprisingly nervous. I talk in front of people all the time, so I didn't expect to be nervous. I guess being stuck in front of a podium, with a religious topic, changes things. I'm happy it's over.

3. We read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to Jonathan over several nights. He loves that book. Now we're reading The Book of Three. He isn't into that one quite as much -- the language and vocabulary is a little bit more advanced. We've tried Harry Potter in the past with no luck, too. What's a book that a little boy who likes the first would enjoy?

4. I've been helping out in primary on Sundays. I sit with the 3 year olds, and keep an eyeball on my own 4 year old. My guy has a friend in his class, and together they are real beasts. How do I train a 4 year old not to sit on his friend during primary? What if the friend starts it by wrestling him to the floor? Four years old and he's already the terror in the primary. This is a problem. Neither Tim, nor I, was this problem child. I think we have an Emily. (Just kidding, Emily. I only say that because your mom does.) Ideas?

5. Jonathan has been taking spelling tests on Fridays. He likes them, and it gives us an excuse to make him practice his handwriting, which has been pretty much illegible until this month. On last week's list: why, play, see, they, that, at. Bonus word: seven. He was so excited to bring home 100%. (Maybe if he could get 100%'s in primary he'd settle down?)

6. The week before last he took a practice spelling test on Wednesday, and announced to us at dinner that he got "a big fat F" on his test, because he looked at Caleb's paper. We had a really hard time not laughing at that announcement. His teacher let them all try again, now that they knew not to look at each others' papers. Jonathan's teacher is quite traditional. We like her a lot.

So there you go. Six things happening in our lives.

Full disclosure: I started out intending to write 10, but since this is my blog, I can turn it off when I want. Stay tuned for four more exciting things sometime. Maybe.

You're welcome, Mom.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Three stories for Bob

I don't ordinarily make four posts in a single night, but tonight I have three interesting stories to share.

Unfortunately, all three stories are work related, which means they are all fodder for Bob the Enemy. However, I've decided that's a risk I am willing to take.

Happy reading, Bob.


Last week I attended four seminars. I fell asleep during three, and had to blink my eyes and cross my legs a lot to stay awake during the fourth. Worse: I also had a one-on-one meeting in someone's office. I was in a comfy chair. He started talking, and I started falling asleep there, in the one-on-one meeting. This is a problem.

Self diagnosis: Narcolepsy. I am narcoleptic.

Or on second thought, maybe it's just a sleep deficit. I hear you get those when you stay up too late at night and then rise too early in the morning.

I can't give up the early morning rising. That's my writing time.

But I don't particularly want to give up the late nights. That's the only personal time I get. Last week, for example, I spent my personal time reading everything that was checked in at the library by Shannon Hale. I quite enjoyed it. At least late at night.

But after falling asleep in a seminar again today, I have come to the conclusion that I cannot survive on only five hours of sleep per night. Or five hours of sleep for a few nights in a row followed by seven hours for a few more nights in a row. Alas, I'm going to have to start turning in by 9:30.

Goodbye, cruel world. I'm going to bed.

Mandatory sexual harassment meeting

Last week we had a mandatory sexual harassment training meeting. All full time employees in my department were required to attend. In my calendar, the full phrase "sexual harassment" didn't fit in one calendar box, so Google shortened the name of the meeting for me in the printed version. My printed calendar read, "11am sex."

I wasn't actually that lucky.

Anyway, the meeting went as such meetings usually go. The presenter started by telling us all the legal reasons for having such a meeting. She began listing groups that were protected from harassment, including those with a disability.

A young professor sitting a couple rows ahead of me piped up, "But how do you really know they have a disability, and aren't just getting an unfair advantage?"

Little alarms started going off in my head. Sounded like this professor might be one of those types, that doesn't believe there are people in the world different from himself. (Reminds me of you, Bryan, actually.)

The presenter gave the correct answer: "You don't have anything to do with determining whether the student has a disability. That's the job of our office."

The response: "But are you just rubber stamping applications?"

Yup. Definitely the response of someone with an attitude. Just because you can't see a disability, Mr Professor, and don't have one yourself, doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Good grief! Of course they don't rubber stamp applications!

"No, we don't rubber stamp applications," replied the presenter. "We do testing, ask for recommendations of doctors, etc to determine if students need accommodations, and what those accommodations should be. ..."

Moving along. We get into the portion of the presentation on sexual harassment: what it is, what it is not, and what to do if it happens.

"You may think," said the presenter, "that sexual harassment doesn't happen at G.O.D. university -- " (Yeah right, I mumbled audibly) "-- but you would be wrong."

She then proceeded to tell us of an incident in which a tenured professor had threatened an assistant with the loss of her job if she didn't participate in a romantic relationship with him.

Mr Professor ahead of me burst out, "But were they married?"

The response was yes -- both parties were married to other people -- to which he gasped audibly.

This was too much for me. I raised my hand and announced loudly, "Can I just point out that it doesn't matter whether they were married or not?"

Mr Professor turned around in his chair to look at me, and as he looked, I saw realization dawn in his face. Ah feminist, he was thinking with distaste. We have one of those in the department.

I had a matching expression on my face. Sexist, thought I. One of those in the department.

The presenter, by the way, agreed with me, and the loud professor backpedaled a bit.

The meeting continued, with just one other notable incident. The presenter brought up a situation in which male students were referring to a female TA as "Hey Babe," which made the TA uncomfortable. She asked them to stop.

This brought a reaction from Mr Professor, who thought this was an overreaction on the TA's part.

The presenter couldn't understand this at all. "Would you like it if I called you Babe?" she asked.

"Don't answer that," she quickly added, as the room filled with laughter.

The meeting finally ended, and we were all dismissed. Before leaving, I did wonder for a moment whether my Enemy might actually be named Babe rather than Bob.

Probably not. I think Professor Babe is harmless and annoying, like Bryan. Not malicious. Plus, it's really hard to be enemies with someone the department now calls "Babe."

*** Endnote 1. I was not actually taking notes during the meeting, and so the quotations above are not really quotations, but just my rough approximations of what the participants were actually saying. Therefore, this post counts only as historical fiction.

*** Endnote 2. They've actually stopped calling him "Babe" by now, but it was funny for a day or so.

*** Endnote 3. You're not really annoying and harmless, Bryan. Most of the time. Just checking to see if you're reading. Ha ha.


A month ago, I finished refereeing a paper.

Paper refereeing is this crazy thing we academics do. A journal editor wants to know if a very super uber highly specialized paper is good enough to publish in his highly specialized journal. But he can't tell, or doesn't have enough time to bother. So he finds a specialist -- someone with a PhD in something totally abstruse that matches the uber specialized paper, and then asks Dr PhD to read the paper for him, and tell him whether or not it is any good.

(For the record, not all editors are male. Just the ones I know.)

And no, we don't get paid for this, and yes it takes forever to do a good job. But it's expected. Otherwise the highly specialized journals wouldn't work. And then I wouldn't publish any research papers, and wouldn't get tenure, and then who would study my super uber highly specialized research area!?

Anyway, I was asked to referee a paper in an area somewhat related to that one unique highly specialized area where I am the total world expert. *NO* I'm not going to tell you what that area is, because I don't want the other five people in the entire world who have ever read my specialized research papers to do a Google search for me and learn all about my personal life here on this blog. Separation of church and state, ok?

After spending a whole week reading the paper carefully, there were three points that I didn't get. And I was tired of reading the paper carefully. And I still didn't get it! So I finally made the call that since I didn't understand it, that's me the expert not understanding, the points were unclear and should be rewritten. So I returned the report asking for a fix.

A week ago I got the authors' response. Basically, they said very politely that the editor had picked a complete idiot for a referee, and would I please read it again with these three things in mind... DUH!

So it's hard to pick up a job like this after being called an idiot. Of course, no one actually called me an idiot to my face. But if the shoe fits....

I am not the only academic type out there. I know I have readers who are academics or married to academics or both. I want to know. How long do you spend refereeing a paper before it becomes worth it to you to just give up and have them rewrite? And are you also an idiot? Even if a very highly super uber specialized idiot? Or am I the only one of those? Secretly, I wonder if academics might all be specialized idiots in disguise, but I can only post that anonymously.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Let's talk about the weather

Just before Christmas, we had snow. Snow snow snow. This picture, which you have seen, is a picture of our first snow. See how pretty it looks? We were all excited.

Then when the little cousins came for Christmas, there was enough snow that we all could go sledding.
That is, we all could go sledding.
And build snowmen.

But then it didn't stop snowing. On Christmas day it was snowing. Here is a picture of Tim on Christmas day. Notice it's a little deeper there.

And then New Year's Eve came and went, and we were doing this,
which isn't actually related to the weather or this post at all, except it fits nicely between Christmas and January 5th-6th, when we had even more SNOW! It took me 2 hours to drive 10 miles that Monday evening. So the next day, still snowing, Jonathan stayed home from school and we shoveled the driveway AGAIN!
And again.
And again.

We have now gone what, over a week? without snow. The roads are melting. The ice is clearing. The five foot tall snow piles have melted down to two feet tall. Driving is not as treacherous. But on the morning news radio? Everyone wants snow.

Turns out that when the snow stops and the wind is still, warm air over the mountains keeps the cold air in the valley from moving up and out. The air gets heavy with valley smog, but can't circulate or move off into the desert. This magical phenomenon is called inversion. What it means is we are suffocating in our own filth.

The snow has turned gray. The sky has turned gray, with a brownish yellow haze off in the distance. And everyone looks hopefully to Thursday, when there is a chance of freezing rain to clear out the gunk. Looking hopefully to freezing rain? What is this horrible place and why have I moved here?

(Last photo courtesy of the Daily Herald, taken Monday, Jan 19, 2009.)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A boy

Warmest congratulations to Emily, who found out this week that she is having a boy.

As an experienced mother with a boy of my own, I thought I would share some of my insights into raising a boy -- particularly in the area of shopping for the little boy. I would like to point out that all of the merchandise advertised in this post can be purchased from In fact, the images below are all theirs, and hopefully they appreciate the free advertising. But if not, better read up quick before I have to take this site down for copyright reasons.

First, the joy of having a boy rather than a girl begins with the bedroom decor. With a boy, you have more freedom in nursery decor. Rather than being restricted to flowers and colors, as in the girl bedroom below:
With a little boy, you get to decorate in non-colors. Like camo.

Or Nascar.

And once you have finished stripping the nursery of life and color, as is appropriate for a little boy, you then get to consider the wardrobe. When you begin shopping for baby clothes, you will be relieved to be having a boy. Rather than a myriad of cute choices as is available for girls, in vibrant colors and styles, you will be limited to a few items, mostly sweats, bugs, construction, and the ever present camo and sports themes. Really it saves so much time with so few choices.

Example A. Sleepwear. While a little girl goes to bed dressed as a princess,
little boys get to dress up like their favorite trucks to sleep.
Exhibit B. While little girls might wear something with bows and flowers,
little boys don't have to bother with cute, and instead wear colors like this:
and styles like this:

As for playtime, having a boy will be a huge relief. When it comes to imaginative play, rather than pretend to be magical whimsical nonsensical fairies or princesses, again in vibrant colors and details,
the little boy gets to dress up as a murderer, complete with his own sword.

Naturally some parents don't approve of the murderous costumes in imaginative play. For them there are more patriotic options, like this:
or this:

Lucky for you, your child will never be pressured into playing with this:
Instead, TV and friends will encourage him to play things like this:
Now, for a few parents, the lack of color and choices available to little boys is a little frustrating. Some mothers even go multiple years longing to dress their children in something besides sweats and bugs and trucks and camo, and get annoyed when every toy becomes a sword or gun. If you happen to be one of those mothers, then hold out hope. At least it is far more likely that a little boy will grow into one of these:
than one of these:
Without a hint of bitterness, I will close this post.

(And don't worry, Emily. Your mom is already shopping for the little guy. She is an expert. He will not really be dressed completely in camo and Nascar.)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Today, ten years ago

Ten years ago, I was in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I lived there. I rented a very gloomy studio apartment in an old house on Packard Street. I was a first year graduate student, spending my first winter alone in the eastern time zone. The house next door was filled with undergraduates who held late night drunken parties. The apartment downstairs was rented by a couple I had never met, who had sole control over the thermostat and would turn the heat off completely when they left town.

My apartment had two rooms and a small bathroom. The kitchen had a dark green floor and an old stove, and just enough space for a small table and two chairs. The living room / bedroom had gray carpet, and was furnished with a bookcase, a bed, and a huge desk. The bed was a rollaway with a lumpy mattress. The desk stood up against a window with years of dirt caked on the outside. Through its grimy panes, I could watch huge fat squirrels run through the neighboring trees.

By January 14, 1999, there was snow under those trees. I would awaken in the darkness to the sound of NPR and the local news. While I dressed, I listened to reports of school closures all over the county due to record snowfall and unusually low temperatures. But my classes were never canceled. Each morning I slipped over the snowpacked roads and sidewalks, picking my way over the gray ice to campus, a 15 minute walk. On the way, I passed rows of wooden houses with peeling paint, severe red brick university buildings, darkened dorms, and fast food restaurants with films of greese on their windows.

My office was a cave in the center of the building. Ten of us first year students were packed in under the glow of flourescent lights. Sylvia used to sing at her desk. Pete worried aloud that his grades might drop if he helped any of the rest of us. I mostly worked in silence at my corner desk, posting pictures of blazing red deserts to remind me that once the world was not all gray.

I was assigned as a visiting teacher through church. The woman I taught had severe clinical depression, and would call me late at night in tears and tell me of cold hopelessness, and of disappointment. Except what could she tell me? I was a disappointment. My grades were lower than they had ever been. I imagined the faculty watching me from afar with pursed lips, and suspected that Pete wondered aloud to Liz why I had qualified for the fancy fellowship and he had not.

By May I was gone. I payed three months of rent to get out of my contract. I dumped the desk for scrap metal.

But on January 14, in the record breaking cold and snow, I did wear on my left hand a ring and a promise of green Januarys. The one who gave me that ring lived three time zones away, and his was the voice I heard most that winter, with a hard plastic phone propped between us under my chin.

In the following years, I looked up at the sun through the palm trees in the coolness of a California January, and rejoiced. The light, the smell of growth, and the warmth filled my heart with pure joy, even under the threat of qualifying exams, oral exams, dissertation defense. I miss deeply my California Januarys.

By contrast, I have been back to Ann Arbor a couple of times since that year. I notice first the peeling paint, the gray sky, the gloom and the dreariness. I am sorry, Ann Arbor. Leaving you was the best decision I made in the last ten years.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I'm the leader

A couple of weeks ago, when some of Jonathan's cousins were visiting our house, I listened to them playing together with Jonathan. Their game consisted of dressing up in Jonathan's costumes, and then being ordered around the house by our boy.

I pulled him aside. "Jonathan, I think you're being a little bit bossy."

He looked at me with a very patient expression on his face and held up his hands.

"Yes, but I'm the leader," he said.

Oh. Well carry on then?

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Today I am feeling happy and optimistic. Deeper down, I am also feeling a little anxious and guilty. The guilt is because I have a billion things to do and I should be spending my spare time catching up in work rather than blogging. But I can suppress that, because this isn't really spare time. This is laundry folding time. So there.

I am feeling happy and optimistic because my world is settling down and organizing itself and I can almost expect a day or two ahead to work out as planned. That hasn't been the case for so long. So long. Over four months.

Just for fun, let's review those past four months.

First, I had to leave my husband in a foreign country for a few weeks to start a new job. I waited until the last possible minute to move, so I wouldn't be slammed by taxes in two countries. I moved by myself with a four year old -- 20 straight hours of travel time with just him and me and six huge bags.

The house I moved into was barely livable, only having plumbing and electricity because my wonderful mother in law tracked down a plumber and electrician to fix the kitchen the day before my arrival. The first few days in my new job were filled with useless meetings, while my son had no reasonable childcare and my house was in pieces and my living room was full of boxes.

I hired a nanny with experience with elementary ed, who had lots of great ideas for kids Jonathan's age. She called in sick for her entire first week of work. My husband arrived in the US to start working remotely, but the internet and phone weren't fixed yet. A week later I had to leave them all and fly to Germany for a conference and tax purposes. Two days after my return the dentist told me I needed serious work. At the end of that week a select group of my students -- just the ones in a "special" program -- failed their first exam. I sent them an email saying they needed to shape up, and I suspected their "special" program was failing them and maybe they should try some time away from it. By that afternoon my email had been forwarded to all the "special" people, and the assistant chair was in my office telling me that the "special" people wanted my head.

Which puts us nearly into November. During the rest of October, the nanny used up half again of all her sick days. I suffered from a couple of severe migraines. Our replacement contractor stopped showing up to finish the house, although little by little we had gotten working bathrooms and basement and even a porch. Weekends were spent trying to juggle catching up with extended family obligations and house projects and eternal unpacking. I went in for my serious dental work, and the hygienist wondered why my gums were bleeding. Perhaps I was feeling some stress in my life? I almost started crying in the chair with the drool sucker and seven metal implements stuck in my mouth. Stress was making my gums bleed too?

In November, the "special" program called me in to join a useless meeting, and told me at the end that it wasn't their fault all their students were failing. They just happened to attract failures of students. Yeah right. For the students' sake, I am not going to buy that.

The nanny was not working out. We were hoping things would get better, and trying to give her the benefit of the doubt, but in early November something happened that made us realize we needed new childcare as soon as possible. Another weekend was spent scrambling looking for a good place for Jonathan. Then the next week was spent juggling two full time jobs and no care for a sweet, intelligent little boy.

Where are we now? That same week, a problem was leaked on the common exam I gave to my students. Was it my students? We had discussed a similar problem in class. It came out that an unnamed professor had been too lenient with a review. Was it me? Because we discussed a similar problem in class? Maybe the assistant chair would show up again in my office. (No, it wasn't me, but I feel sorry for my students who will never ever get to see similar problems to exam problems again.)

Thanksgiving, followed by me hosting a visitor for work. The Friday of his visit, Jonathan's school was canceled, and again we had to scramble to find help. Then the snow started, and didn't stop. Lots and lots of snow. Finals week came and went in snow. The roads got snow packed. I lived in fear of driving to and from school. I had to stop driving to and from school. My catch up days after the final for work became childcare days. Snow days.

Family in town. Christmas worries. More snow. Missed extended family obligations. Missed work obligations. Hosting visitors. More snow. The end of December, with only a couple days left to prepare classes, I found myself locked out of my building. My parking permit had expired and I couldn't get a new one. Another visitor for work was coming for a week. And my frustration runneth over.

January now. Last week was the first week of classes. I had a work visitor using up all the time I wasn't in the classroom. I forgot to show up for my own office hours. I didn't cover enough material. And I got lost in my own graduate course while teaching. All in the first week.

It has been a long four months. But the visitor is gone, and we probably will get another paper written, which is my ticket to tenure, thanks to his visit. The sun is shining. I have a whole weekend before I have to suffer the consequences of being behind in the rest of my work. I love my husband. I love my son. My house is now quite nice. My world is at peace.

Today, I am happy and optimistic.

The next four months can't be any worse.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


We are buried in snow. Which is bad. And school hasn't been canceled. Which is way worse. I will blog about snow soon. But first I have to upload pictures and steal pictures from my siblings. Because I forgot my camera.

So meanwhile, I will fill the time by telling you about a non-resolution of mine. A few months ago, I wrote a post on non-goals. My non-goal of that post was that I would never run a marathon.

This time of year, it seems appropriate to be making non-resolutions.

In Peru, at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, people apparently run out the door and around the block dragging suitcases. If you do this, the story goes, then your year will be filled with exciting travel. I know this because my mother told me, and she knows this because my family hosted a couple Peruvian exchange students several years ago after I had moved away. These Peruvian exchange students, after a couple of months with my family, came to realize that whatever crazy stories they told my parents would be accepted wide-eyed and imitated -- provided the stories were prefaced by "we do this in Peru."

The suitcase ritual definitely hit a soft spot with my parents. My mother is always dreaming of traveling to exotic (read: third world) locations. Every New Year's Eve since she was told of this ritual, my mother has had her suitcases ready at midnight. She just sent an email asking if any of the rest of us ran around the block (in the snow) with our suitcases.

No Mom. We did not.

In 2008, I made seven transatlantic flights, adding up to about seven weeks of jet lag. I was burned both ways with currency exchange. I had to communicate with hand waving and little dances. I became ill from the food, ill from the travel, ill from recirculated air. I dealt with packing and luggage, security lines, airport food, no airport food, passports, visas, delays.

Non-resolution #1: I hereby resolve not to travel in 2009.

OK, that's already scheduled to be broken. How about this:

Non-resolution #1(a): I hereby resolve not to travel internationally in 2009. Wouldn't that be nice.

Saturday, January 3, 2009


Tim is the better fan than me. Here in blue country, he was invited by our home teacher to watch the game between our team and the local rival. When he showed up and took off his jacket, the neighbor was in shock. "You're a Utah fan??!!"

"But your wife works at [the local university]. Is she a Utah fan???!!"