Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Falling in love

My all time favorite falling-in-love scene is from While you were sleeping.

The key players start out a bit suspicious of each other. Then they knock over a vase, spilling ink(?) on his brother's carpet, and agree to put the couch Right There. And they laugh. And we all laugh. Then they walk and talk together, into the cold, and learn a little bit more about each other. He wants to build furniture. She has lost her family. And now they're people with hopes and dreams and fears, warming up to each other a little more. Then just before parting, they slip on the ice into each others' arms and pause long enough to Notice.... And then awkwardly separate. He leaves. From her window, she watches him walk away, smiling. And we know she Likes the guy. And by then, I Liked him, too. A lot. Just thinking about it still makes me smile. A perfect falling-in-love scene.

Sure he wasn't as gorgeous as your standard vampire, with no mystical powers or anything. And he wasn't helplessly attracted to her and her alone for no apparent reason. But he made me laugh.

Hence it is my favorite.

I am taking a poll. What is your favorite falling-in-love scene, and why? (Because I want to get it right in my novel.)

Friday, March 26, 2010

In which we talk politics

Ooh that title will make you shudder, and maybe haunt me for years to come.

But I've been wondering.

Part of that is the health care overhaul bill. Like 49% of Americans, I am pleased it passed. While I know it isn't perfect, and while I know I will probably end up paying more money into the "system" without reaping obvious personal benefits, I still feel that some things are worth paying for. Health care is one of those things. To me, it's about the people. The sister, for example, who will no longer be denied health insurance coverage because of a pre-existing condition. She will no longer have to choose between keeping her current insurance protections or living with her husband in another state as he begins a top ranked grad program. People like that, facing decisions like that, will still have to make difficult decisions, but not with the added worry about what might happen to their strained finances in a medical emergency.

Anyway, I see the core of the bill as about helping people. So why is there so much hate in response to it? Why are people mad enough to fling bricks through windows? I do not understand. And I wonder, where did these people go to kindergarten? My kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Campbell, wouldn't have stood for that kind of behavior.

Another thing that makes me wonder is an article I read recently about grad students having children. Grad students who have children have few legal protections. For example, the family and medical leave act does not apply to them, so if they can't make it back within a few days of giving birth, technically the school can throw them out, cut off their health insurance, and leave them stranded.

I had a child in grad school, but my advisor and department were very willing to help me out. I was fully funded my last quarter of grad school -- the one in which the due date landed -- even without teaching duties. They scheduled my defense several weeks in advance of my due date. My advisor moved our one on one meetings to later in the mornings when I was feeling pukey. (My spell checker says that pukey is not a word, but I'm sticking with it.)

Why aren't all grad students who have children so lucky? Shouldn't there be a safety net for students who get pregnant but are willing and eager to continue their degrees? And let's be completely realistic. Fathers are vital in families as well. Shouldn't male students get some time to bond with a new family as well as female? Doesn't that just seem like common sense?

But read the comments on that news article, and you will feel sick to your stomach from all the brick hurling. Mrs Campbell would not have stood for that. No sir.

Many commenters say that this smacks of just another liberal entitlement program. The students chose to have children, so should suffer the consequences. Drop out. Lose insurance. Housing. Visas. The liberals are out to get us.

Wait wait wait wait wait! I thought it was the conservatives who favored families? And these students aren't asking to be held to any weaker standards. They still have that dissertation to write. Exams to pass. Work work work to complete. Along with a newborn. Let's be realistic. These family students are going to be working a whole lot harder than their traditional counterparts. All they want is enough time to recoup so they can continue to put in that work. How is that entitlement?

The most interesting comment was from a woman who wrote of her experience of unexpectedly becoming pregnant while a student, and her struggles to finish inside a system that expected unexpected pregnancies to be aborted. There, my friends, is where the pro-choice-ers' arguments run into moral trouble. An honest choice includes honoring a woman's choice to carry a child to term -- responsibly. And not steamrolling her into an abortion.

Now wait a second, you are asking yourself. This started out sounding like such a liberal blog post, and now it has morphed into pro-life sentiments.

That's my point. I refuse the labels "liberal" or "conservative". "Pro-choice" and "pro-life". Many of the people who wear those labels, I don't like them. Mrs Campbell doesn't like them. And I'm tired of watching them throw bricks through people's windows.

I favor the politics of listening, of flexibility. Of giving people the benefit of the doubt and a helping hand. And I hope for the same from you in return.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Grading the week

I was going to write a week in review type thing, but my week was too boring to review. Since I've been grading and grading and grading over the last week, instead I will assign my week a grade. My week earns about a B- for being boring. I put in the necessary effort to make the week run smoothly, but it was nothing spectacular.

But then as I think back on the week, perhaps I am being too hard on myself. Tim was gone much of the last week. Therefore I earned my grade as Single Mom Lady. Doing a week single should count extra. A- for effort, for doing it alone.

On the other hand, who realistically receives an A- for effort? It's the end product being graded, not the time spent. And why give extra credit for doing the project alone when the assignment sheet explicitly states that it should be done with a partner? B- is generous here. (And yes, we are way too cruel to single parents.)

But even giving myself slack for being single, I still can't give myself an A, because I never did clean the bathroom, or identify that strange smell emanating from the back of the refrigerator. On the other hand, I kept up on the dishes and laundry. I even vacuumed the living room. And the beds were made daily. Mostly. That should earn at least a B. It's not like we're violating health standards yet with the funky refrigerator.

Plus I get all sorts of extra credit for making things work this week in particular. I had to attend two weekend events for work, so I found a babysitter Friday night, and strung out a playdate Saturday afternoon. Friday evening I gave a successful talk (two down, four still to go), and Saturday I watched a couple of my students also give a very successful talk on the research they've been doing with me. Way to go students! Ten points extra credit right there for my first research students ever and their highly successful presentation. You get to earn points for things other people do well, too, provided you helped contribute.

And let's talk quality time. Jonathan and I spent several hours in the backyard, digging and cutting and planting. I did the digging and cutting, removing the last of the holly and brambles, and he planted sticks in the ground and called them trees. We read several chapters together of a book. He wrote a page in his journal. We painted in the kitchen on big paper. We were on time all week and I was on time and I never once forgot to pick him up. We ate full meals three times a day, including vegetables, and dessert once.

I was not able to play house with him Sunday morning -- migraine coming on, and so I was docked points for that. But I took him to his favorite sleazy restaurant and let him play all over the playground Saturday after the playdate. He was 4 inches taller than the 48 inch cutoff for the restaurant playground. But his six year old friend, nearly a head shorter than he is, invited him to join in, and so we all conveniently ignored the sign with the height limit. HA! I don't know if that event earns extra points for my ability to think outside the box, or docked points for not following instructions. I guess it will come down to the grader's opinion there.

We flew a kite Monday afternoon in the stiff breeze that made my bike commute painful. Bonus points for kite flying. I commuted by bike, even in the wind. Double extra points. Except Friday and Saturday I drove back and forth and back and forth from my office 12 times, ten to fifteen minutes each way. That put a lot of harmful emissions in the air. Double docked points.

I read a book. Bonus points! Except it was written for 12 year olds. Negative points. I helped Jonathan write a book. Bonus! Except first I caved and let him spend extra time on the computer. Negative points. I woke up early each weekday. Bonus! But I stayed up late as well. Double negative points.

You see, in all, it was a boring week. I think the extra points and the negative points pretty much cancel themselves out, leaving me with a slightly inflated B- for the week. But I'm proud of that. Pretty excellent B- week, if I do say so myself.

Final comment: It's good to have Tim home again.

Friday, March 19, 2010

36 minutes past bedtime

A voice comes from the child's bedroom.


I take a deep breath. "What?"

"Um, do the other countries like China or Hawaii -- do they really have words on them that say the country name?"

"No, that's just on a map. Go to sleep."


So what keeps you awake at night?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Magic sprinkle dust

If I had magic sprinkle dust, I would first sprinkle it on my brain so I could be smarter. Maybe then I would stop doing stupid things.

Then I would sprinkle magic sprinkle dust around my kitchen so it would cook for me. You know, kind of like in Disney's Beauty and the Beast. The dishes would sing and dance, which might get annoying, but hey, they'd be cleaning themselves.

I'd also probably sprinkle the vacuum cleaner.

Then what? After I went to bed at night, the vacuum cleaner would start dancing with the dishwasher, in spite of the refrigerator's attempts to silence them. The vacuum would get angry, and beat up the fridge in a fit of rage. And that would be the end of the refrigerator.

But somehow, the vacuum would have to dispose of the body. I'm guessing it would bury it out in the back yard.

And having struck once, I'm sure that vacuum would look for opportunities to strike again. The other, unsprinkled vacuum would be the next to go. Then the clock radio. And finally the stove.

Late one night, we would be sleeping peacefully in our rooms, when we would suddenly hear a whirr --

Oooh! It gives me little goose-pimply chills down my spine just thinking about it.

And that, my friends, is why I don't use magic sprinkle dust. Because I do not trust the vacuum. Not at all.

Monday, March 15, 2010

100 items on my mind

  1. I should probably go to bed rather than write this,
  2. but I want to write this.
  3. And I already set my timer and did a chunk of work before starting.
  4. So even though my work timer went off a half hour ago, and I wasted the last half hour reading blogs, I still want to take my reward for good behavior -- i.e. doing a chunk of work.
  5. And my reward is writing this post.
  6. In the last wasted half hour, I was reading blogs about women who had children while in grad school.
  7. My child was born when I was in grad school, so I could relate.
  8. I was the first grad student in my department ever to have a child at that time.
  9. Although while I was very visibly pregnant, a young woman arrived who had been accepted to grad school there, but wondered if she could have children while a student.
  10. I think seeing me all bloated and huge helped her make her decision.
  11. She accepted the position and did, in fact, have a child while still a student, a few years later.
  12. I have no regrets about having a child in grad school.
  13. And neither do the women whose blogs I was reading.
  14. Of course, it isn't easy.
  15. On the other hand, having children isn't easy whenever you do it, whatever else happens to be in your life.
  16. For me, I wanted children, and the timing was right.
  17. So I did it.
  18. But back to #3, the reason I had to set aside a chunk of time to work before blogging is that I am behind.
  19. Who isn't?
  20. In three months, I have to give six different talks to six different audiences, and only one of those talks is behind me.
  21. That talk was last Saturday, to high school girls.
  22. Friday I give my second talk, to undergraduate majors who know nothing about what I do, and my job is to explain in 25 minutes.
  23. The next pair are each supposed to be an hour, to be held a couple weeks later.
  24. One of those talks is to faculty directly in my subfield.
  25. The other is to grad students who know a lot, but nothing about my subfield.
  26. I haven't written any of these.
  27. Although now I need to send in a title and summary for the grad students' talk.
  28. I already sent a title and summary for the talk a few weeks after that, to faculty I would like to impress, who are undoubtedly bright, but not in my subfield.
  29. But the biggest upcoming talk is one at a nice conference, where many famous people in my subfield will be gathered.
  30. I am nervous.
  31. I have been thinking about what to say for a long time.
  32. Because I want to make a good impression on these famous people.
  33. The other thing I need to do before giving any talks is find a babysitter.
  34. Because my husband will be gone, and my son will be out of school.
  35. And because all family within a 100 mile radius seems to be abandoning the state with my husband.
  36. I don't even know how to find a babysitter, because we normally have family around.
  37. I guess I'll start by calling a neighbor and seeing if we can swap play dates.
  38. I am also behind in my teaching.
  39. I have nothing prepared for my graduate class tomorrow.
  40. Although I do have a vague idea of the overall topic I'd like to introduce.
  41. I know it's really boring to read about all the lame job-related things I have to do.
  42. But it's cathartic.
  43. And I never said I was writing for you anyway.
  44. I can also list lame home-related things to do. Is that less boring?
  45. I need to give Jonathan a haircut.
  46. Did you know I give haircuts at home?
  47. It seems to just be easier that way.
  48. We own all the necessary equipment.
  49. I would cut Tim's hair, too, if/when he would let me.
  50. Tim has not cut his hair in a long time.
  51. It is now well past his shoulders.
  52. Sometimes he wears it in a pony tail.
  53. I think guys with pony tails are really attractive.
  54. Or at least a pony tail somehow adds to the attractiveness.
  55. I like my husband in a pony tail.
  56. He claims he will cut it off when it gets long enough to donate.
  57. However, I think he enjoys being the only male pony tail in the neighborhood.
  58. But what would I know? Ask him yourself.
  59. Another thing we need to do at home is dig up the front yard.
  60. Our front yard is overgrown and ugly.
  61. I want to redesign it, to plant pretty perennial flowers.
  62. All flowers must be perennials, because I refuse to have to plant them each year.
  63. The only problem is that our house faces north.
  64. I've been looking at a lot of shade plants lately on the internet.
  65. Do you know anything about astilbes?
  66. Or lungwort? They look pretty in the catalogs.
  67. Eventually we will have to do a lot of yard work in the back yard, too.
  68. But for now, it is March, and as fast as the snow melts it snows again.
  69. Although the snow does seem to melt.
  70. March used to be my favorite month when I was a child.
  71. Because the snow actually melted, between weeks when it fell.
  72. I also liked to go out to the field behind our house and fly kites by myself.
  73. I guess I went back there after school.
  74. I wonder if I told anyone I was going?
  75. I think I received significantly less supervision than my child receives.
  76. That is probably because I was one of eight, and he is one of one.
  77. My sister feels sorry for only children.
  78. She says they grow up to be weird.
  79. Probably because they are over-supervised, like my son.
  80. But can that be a bad thing?
  81. We like to supervise him as a way of being part of his life.
  82. Like walking him to school.
  83. The whole family gets the fresh air and exercise.
  84. I don't see how that can be bad.
  85. I guess we're all making up this parenting thing every step of the way anyway.
  86. Going back to the gardening thoughts, our green onions grew back after the winter.
  87. They spent November, December, January, and most of February buried in snow.
  88. Now that it is March, and they are only buried every other week, they have grown back.
  89. I snipped some off for a meal last week.
  90. It was really nice to eat garden produce again.
  91. We also let our lettuce go to seed last fall on purpose.
  92. And now tiny lettuce plants are growing back.
  93. I don't know if they'll get large enough to eat, or survive the March weather fluctuations,
  94. but it's fun to see them there.
  95. Maybe in a next life I will be a gardener.
  96. I am already to number 96, which means I need to wrap up.
  97. But I feel like I could go on.
  98. I guess there are a lot more than 100 things on my mind today. Maybe 250. But I don't have time to write 250 items.
  99. Tomorrow I will go back to work and start pulling all these things off my mind, onto my desk.
  100. Good night.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Veto springing forward

This morning, the sun was up over the mountains to the east when we walked home from taking Jonathan to school. The frost was melting, and I could tell the day would be warm. Relatively.

Now, as I write, the sun has set and the light is dimming. Jonathan knows it is nearly bedtime. The day is ramping down.

But this is all about to change.

Monday, we will deliver Jonathan to school long before the sun rises. It will be cold and dark. And then later at night, we will attempt to put him to bed while the sun is still high in the sky, and he will undoubtedly protest.

I protest, too.

I hate daylight saving time. I declare that mornings are more important than evenings, and morning sunlight is more important than evening sunlight. And even more important than sunlight is sleep. This Sunday, all the residents of 48 states will be losing a full hour of sleep. Hello! An hour of sleep here! I don't want to lose that sleep. So I hereby protest.

I actually don't mind the fall time change at all, when we get to sleep in another hour. If we must change the time with the seasons, I think we should always fall back. Always. After a long winter, we could all use that extra hour of sleep. And then we'd get even more morning sunlight. I would have no problem getting up for my early morning writing.

At least for about a week.

And this scheme has the added benefit that after a few years of its implementation, the night workers get sunlight, too, adding to their job satisfaction. Maybe more people would be willing to try working other hours besides 9 to 5, thereby reducing traffic congestion, which in turn would cut the number of automobile accidents, slash greenhouse gases, and prevent global warming.

For a few years those who actually need sunlight to do their job, like farmers, will get annoyed with going to afternoon PTA meetings in the middle of the dark. But they can be happy knowing we'll cycle back around.

And delivery companies will love it.

Probably, after just a couple years of falling back in the fall and the spring, there will be so much consumer satisfaction that we'll add extra hours of sleep in the summer and winter as well. And then each month of the year. And maybe within our lifetimes we'll get fall-back-Fridays. An extra hour of free sleep every single week.

I am totally sold on this idea. I think I'll start implementing it in my own life starting April 1st.

What do you think?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Answering yesterday's questions

So. I've been thinking about why schools need to have dad-only days, and I've come up with a billion reasons besides the fact that dads are dumb heads.

1. I live in one of the most socially conservative places in the US. Many local boys are probably raised to think that if they can buy the family nice toys, that's all the parenting they need to worry about.

2. But it's not. Not really. And so it would be nice to tell this to any dads who will listen.

3. Or maybe the dads realize this themselves. Maybe they watch their precious, bright, thoughtful children grow up and realize that by shutting themselves out of the lives of these children, they're missing out on so much happiness....

4. And so they want to be a part of their children's lives, and want to learn how!

5. And so they start attending these breakfasts for dads.

6. And they meet other dads who want to be there for their children. And now they have a support group.

7. And role models. Don't forget role models. Because there may or may not be any good role models in the typical dad's life.

8. And it's probably nice to hang out at a school function where they aren't the only dad, or at least where they're not in the minority.

9. And I will support that.

So I guess my only remaining complaint is that we have such low standards and expectations for fatherhood that dads need their own special breakfast. Kind of makes you wonder....

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Dads are dumb heads

The elementary school holds special monthly breakfasts for dads and their children. Food is provided for a nominal cost, and a speaker comes in and tells them how to be excellent dads.

So it's a great idea. And since dads are dumb heads, it's also an important service to the community.

The crazy questions in the back of my mind: If they are presenting good advice for dads, wouldn't that advice also be good for a mom? Why not invite both parents and stop sending the implicit message that dads are stoopid and need more help?

The implicit answer: Because then only the moms would show up.

Teachers? What do you think about this elementary school program?

Saturday, March 6, 2010


I am in possession of an old family recipe for yogurt. My mother's mother used to make yogurt for breakfast for her children and grandchildren. My mother used to make yogurt for our family. Sometimes I have made yogurt, too.

Homemade yogurt isn't quite what you would expect. It isn't as stiff as store bought yogurt, for one thing. However, if you check out the labels of your store bought yogurt, you will find that gelatin is often one of the top ingredients. That's what makes your yogurt stiffer than mine. Mine is thick, but only because the bacteria making the yogurt thicken it. It's not stiff. It's also very sour. It takes a lot of sugar to make it taste like your fruit flavored yogurt. That's not because my yogurt is fundamentally different than yours. It's because they add huge amounts of sugar to create your store bought yogurt. In turn, I add huge amounts of sugar to make my homemade stuff edible. The difference is that I know the sugar is there. You probably don't. And you used to think yogurt was healthy.

Anyway, for the first time in several years, I made yogurt again last night.

First, I took six cups of milk. My recipe specifically calls for dry milk mixed with water. I think that's because my grandmother and my mother didn't own a cow or a goat to give large quantities of fresh milk. The yogurt would probably taste better with fresh milk, because dry milk is gross. On the other hand, the milk needs to be cozy and warm to make a lovely bath for the yogurt bacteria. If you mix dry milk with water, you can just add baby's bottle temperature water from the start. No need to heat milk on the stove. So dry milk is more convenient and more likely to be stored somewhere in the basement. No wonder my mother and grandmother preferred it.

Next, add one can of evaporated milk. I don't know what this is for. Maybe it makes it creamier? I opened a can of evaporated milk last night, but it was definitely the wrong color. I checked the bottom of the can, and found it had expired in 2003. So I dumped the evaporated milk and decided to try the recipe without it this time. Because I don't keep multiple cans of evaporated milk lying around the pantry.

Now add three tablespoons or more of yogurt with live and active cultures. These live guys are your bacteria friends that you want to swim in your yogurt. You can't make yogurt without them. If your store bought yogurt has killed off all its bacteria, you cannot win. Most store bought yogurt, however, advertises their live and active cultures prominently on the label. Mine did. I dumped most of a single six ounce serving of plain yogurt into my mix.

Mix all ingredients in a metal bowl. My mother specifically says a metal bowl. I believe the bowl must be metal because it goes into the oven all night. You don't want your plastic bowls melting in there. Or your glass bowls cracking.

Wrap the bowl in a cozy blanket. My mom used a large clean bath towel, and so do I. This part grosses Tim out the most. But it's clean.

Heat oven to 275 degrees. When it is heated, put in the yogurt in its cozy wrapped bowl. Close the door. The temperature in the oven will have dropped. Wait until it returns to 275 degrees, or about five minutes. As your clean bath towel starts to bake, your kitchen will begin to smell like fabric softener. I don't know how the bacteria feel about that, but I believe they enjoy getting warmed up. Once the oven reaches 275 degrees again, turn the oven off.

That is one of the most important steps, written in all caps and bold in my mother's recipe book, like this: TURN THE OVEN OFF.

I have my own theories as to why the all caps are there.

Now you are done with your job. Go to bed. Leave the mixture in the cozy oven all night. Make sure you have turned the oven off before going to bed.

The next morning, when you get up, go check on your yogurt. Pull it out of the oven, unwrap it, and stir. If all is well, your bacteria have been swimming around, multiplying all night long, and you have creamy thick yogurt now. Serve with fruit and lots and lots of sugar.

Sometimes all is not well. For example, this morning my yogurt mixture was still thin milk with a couple of lumps. Definitely not yogurt yet. In this case, your all night bacteria party was not the success you meant it to be. You need to try to convince your bacteria friends to go have some fun. Turn the oven back to 275 degrees, wrap the yogurt bowl again, and put it back in. Let it sit there for about five minutes, then turn the oven off and go to work.

Technically, my mom's recipe book says to take it out after a couple of hours. But I wasn't home after a couple of hours. So I just left it in the oven all day.

When I got home, the yogurt was thick. My bacteria had multiplied! This time, it was also a little lumpy. Maybe that's because I left it in the oven so long? Or because I didn't add the evaporated milk?

Anyway, I was very pleased with my results. I dumped it into a bowl in the fridge, where it is now cooling. It thickens as it cools, too. I suppose I will probably add a whole lot of sugar and try eating it tomorrow. Probably. It's kind of scary looking, though.

It's also kind of scary knowing that 24 hours ago, that stuff was all just powdered milk, and that bacteria turned it into the thick smelly goo that I may or may not put into my mouth.

Which begs the question: Who in their right mind tried eating yogurt in the first place?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Assisting the elderly

No one has asked, which makes me assume you are all dying to know. So I will tell you. One of Tim's jobs at church is to assist the elderly on the internet. Also known as Family History Consultant.

At what point do people become elderly? At least concerning modern electronic equipment? There comes a point where an otherwise intelligent, thoughtful, reasonable person decides they are not going to touch any new machine without an official hover-er leaning over their shoulder. Although he'll have to write about it himself, I think Tim's secret job title is Official Hover-er, for those who need this kind of support.

My grandfather did not fit into this class of people. In his 70s, he signed up for a class at the university so he could activate a student email account. He and I and a couple of his sons communicated by email all through the 90s, as others in my generation slowly picked it up. My regular emails were then what my blog posts are now -- a way to share with people I loved the funny, stupid, thoughtful things that happened in my life.

But slowly my grandfather became more elderly. His excitement in the internet waned. He went weeks without responding to my mail. And then months. And then his account expired from lack of use. And he didn't really care anymore. Why did this happen? When did this happen? It was so gradual, I can't put my finger on a date. I remember curing my homesickness one summer in New York in 1995 by emailing him and other family and whatever friends would respond (not many in 1995). By the time I was engaged in Michigan in 1999, my grandfather was no longer active on his account. So for my grandfather, enthusiasm waned to apathy as he aged, and he found as his health deteriorated and his wife needed more care, the internet was a hobby he could quickly drop.

My mother, on the other hand, was born elderly. She is one of those people who needs an official hover-er before she will do anything new-fangled. Like read my blog. Or borrow a cell phone. Or reset a watch alarm. Same family. What's the difference? And is there any hope that she will ever change?

No. No almost certainly no. In a year or two, she'll be one of those purple-haired ladies in the family history class, asking the young man with the ponytail how to click that button right there. ("Um, you click it.")

Love you Mom.