Friday, September 07, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle, RIP

Madeleine L'Engles's publisher announced that she died yesterday. I loved her books and look forward to reading them with our kids. It's strange how sad I feel, given that I didn't even know she was still alive.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The next in my series of free advice

When you finally open up your new, lovely, sparkling computer and decide to make the switch to a new email program, I recommend taking extra time with new messages to ensure that you're sending messages to the intended recipient. I've spent years typing "DT" to get DT's email address, but apparently now, the first name that pops up is an old friend from college who is also named DT. I count myself lucky that we're still vaguely in touch, so he probably won't think its too weird that I'm asking him about what flights to book for a Thanksgiving trip and giving him an update on Rocco's potty-training.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

What a difference a year makes

Last night was Back to School night at WonderGirl's school, which I suddenly have a vague memory of chronicling last year... oh yes, here. Last year I remember being almost overwhelmed with the newness of it all; I was itching to be acclimated, or assimilated, or at least told which restroom adults were supposed to use. This year, WonderGirl is in the same classroom with the same teachers as last year and she's moved from being chronologically in the middle of her multi-age class to being the second-oldest by a margin of three days. (She is disappointed by these three days, and I want to remind her that if she'd had the decency to be born even in the same week she was due, she would be the oldest. I don't remind her, because I am Nice.) We're one of four families (out of the 18 in the class) who are returnees from last year. WonderGirl is apparently relishing her leadership position (if leadership equals telling other kids not to pretend to play with guns), and I suppose I thought we'd be able to fill a similar niche with the new families. I wanted to smooth their integration process a little, reassure them that it was okay to come visit the room whenever they wanted, give them a heads-up (or multiple headses-up? heads-ups?) about how field trips work, or classroom volunteering. All the things that I wish I'd had someone telling me last year.

Turns out I'm not like the new parents. It would be fair to say they project confidence. I'll leave it there -- again, because I'm Nice. I don't pretend to play with guns.

Two other things happened, one that depresses me and one that reminds me why we are so grateful to be involved with the school:

First, when I made my nametag, I wrote, "WonderGirl" instead of "Ruth." I didn't even notice until another parent asked if we were supposed to do that. I could understand this as a cheap-and-easy characterization in a bad short story, but as a moment in my life, it doesn't rank highly.

Second, one of the parents asked the teachers how they were going to adjust their styles and curriculum to reflect the fact that 13 of the 18 students are boys, since apparently all classrooms are naturally geared toward girls, girls don't like physical play, boys are typically left out and girls take over. My blood pressure shot up. It was yet another example of people wanting to throw labels at individuals and then act as if the labels are meaningful. (Because you're a parent, you must want XYZ from our church. Because you're a boy, you must need XYZ in a classroom environment.) The teachers responded beautifully, and I couldn't believe how quickly my vital signs returned to stability. They immediately pointed out that boys are on a spectrum and girls are on a spectrum, and they focus on what each individual child needs. To my mind, the most unenlightened classroom is one in which everyone is assumed to learn the same way. To change that classroom to an environment in which boys are assumed to learn one way and girls another might be progress, but only barely. I'm truly baffled as to why this is such a popular view in our otherwise progressive local environment. Why would any parent want anything other than an acceptance that all kids have different preferred learning styles, and you can't figure out what works simply by checking out the kid's genitalia? Why wouldn't we all start with that desire, instead of screaming, "Please stereotype my child!"

One final note: I believe I have used up my quota of times when I can hear other parents describe their children as "bright" or "active" without sticking my fingers in my ears and signing the Smurf theme song.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Willpower, noun

Definition: I am sitting about 25 feet from my new MacBook, oven-fresh, still in the box, while I try to work on revisions of my latest paper on my cranky old Dell with the nonfunctional touchpad buttons and moody keyboard.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Not what I hoped for

The NY Times headline reads, "Big Decline in US Poverty Rate." I have to admit, as I clicked over, I hoped it would be something more dramatic than a drop from 12.6% to 12.3% of Americans living in poverty. 36.5 million people in poverty. 47 million without health insurance. Egads.

From the article:

''The poor are politically mute,'' said Larry Jacobs, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota. ''What rational politician would listen to the poor? They don't vote, they don't write checks, why care?''

This seems to fit with DT's observation that, in his almost-entirely Medicaid-funded patient population, he's seeing more kids now with two working parents in the family.

I'm back

I was wrong. I miss this blog and the space it gave me. So, I'm back for now, at least.

I'm feeling overwhelmed by me-too-ism lately, and I don't know where to look for a solution. Last weekend, I was at a Religious Education teacher training for our congregation (which was inspirational and fun, a nice break for me) and our new minister was asking what brought us to teach RE. One woman, whose children are grown, said that when she was a parent, she felt a bit resentful that RE was left as the province of the parents only. No one else in the congregation volunteered. Now that she doesn't have kids in RE anymore, she came back out of guilt initially. She didn't want to be one of those uninvolved non-parents. Now she stays for several reasons, one of which is that she values the intergenerational dynamic and views it as worthwhile to help nurture the next generation of kids. Our assistant minister was present, and her response to the idea that older folks could give to the kids? A very quick hand up to be recognized and an emphatic, "The kids should be giving to the older folks, too." Very true, but also a definite "ME TOO!" moment.

PeaceBang wrote a post last week about the challenges single people face in a congregation and the assumptions and actions that make many congregations unwelcoming to people who aren't partnered or don't have children. My reaction upon reading it was twofold: first, I have no idea if the things she describes happen in my congregation, because I never get to do anything at church that's not RE-focused, and there aren't single people in our congregation who volunteer for RE. It would be fair to call me completely ignorant in that sphere. Second, her view of what it is like to be partnered or a parent in a UU congregation sounded romantic and completely unfamiliar to me. I didn't comment on her post because I couldn't speak to her original point. I made the mistake of commenting on Chutney's blog, though, when he posted a followup about PB's ideas, and was quickly chided for not getting it. It's put my day off to an awful start, because anyone who knows me in real life knows that one of my biggest goals is not to offend other people. I can stand behind what I wrote, but the fact is, it was a "ME TOO!" moment for me. She was talking about what singles need, and it made me think about what I need instead.

This phenomenon is so often present in DT's and my relationship, also, and it's never helpful. I'm (much much much) more likely than DT to speak up when I have a problem or when I need him to treat me differently than he currently is. Often, when I start a conversation like that, he'll have a "ME TOO!" moment and tell me that I also do whatever it is I'm asking him to stop. I'm left feeling conflicted. I don't want to hurt him, I don't want to be hurt, I want to be listened to, and I want to know that he will tell me these things when they happen instead of waiting for me to bring something up.

As with so many things, it all comes back to listening, I think. If we all have a space in which we feel listened to, we don't have to crowd others' space, looking for understanding. Our assistant minister obviously feels that children and youth have responsibilities that they're not acknowledging, and she had no place to make that point, so she honed in on someone else's space. I don't feel like anyone knows or cares that my congregation doesn't actually support parents of young kids, and I don't feel like anyone in my congregation wants to hear that, so I honed in on PeaceBang's space. DT doesn't like to tell me when I'm screwing up, so he goes along for the ride when I'm trying to express myself. End result in all three cases is that people on all sides of the conversation are/feel misunderstood and neglected.

If you have a solution, feel free.

If I'm posting again, you can look forward to exciting updates from the dissertation that refuses to age into adolescence! the committee that cannot exist together in the same room at the same time! the job search that is both too big and too small at the same time! the kid that is excited about potty training right up to the part where he might have to stop peeing in his underwear! the friend of a friend who appears to have a healthy pregnancy after a heartbreaking second trimester loss!

Actually, I think I just summed up a frightening amount of my last two months and used up my exclamation mark quota, to boot. Depressing. Off for coffee.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Assessing the future

Well, I was aware that I haven't been blogging, but until now, didn't realize it had been a month since I posted. Time flies when it's summer and you're juggling vacations, day camps, sick kids, extra work and your own expectation that summer should be, well, lazy.

I've been taking some time to think about why I've written this blog and what I want to do with it in the future. When I began, I thought I'd write about the odd intersection of being a grad student and being a parent, with a dose of perspective that comes from fertility issues and appropriate dashes of my own brand of what I like to call humor but which is, sadly, probably just poor grammar. I wanted to be a voice for people JUST LIKE ME and I wanted to practice writing again without using any Greek letters. I wanted to do this without telling anyone who I really was, though. I don't know if I've ever made this overtly clear, but Ruth is not my real first name (although my children truly are named WonderGirl and Rocco). I have a fear of being Googleicious, especially since I will (knock on a redwood forest) be looking for a job in the next bit of time. However, the anonymity is starting to feel confining and, let's face it, there isn't exactly a niche out there in the blogosphere that will go sadly empty if I don't soldier on.

Apparently, what I want is a journal, not a blog. I want to be able to write clearly about my work and clearly about my kids. I want to post pictures. I want a space to keep the small daily memories that doesn't require finding a (functional) pen in this house, and that space should, ideally, not be something I can lose if I ever decide to clean said house.

So, I think I'm starting a new blog that will be entirely narcissistic. I'm going to password-protect it (you can do that, right?) and I'm going to be open about everything. I'll probably send our family the link. I may still write here when I need to be snarky or political, or I may just take that part of myself over to Begging to Differ permanently. I know there are a few people who read this blog, and if you'd like the new link when it exists, either leave a comment here or email me through the sidebar link. Although I will deny the existence of this blog if asked, I would like to keep up the relationships that I have been lucky enough to develop through my half-assed posting here.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Stinking red blood cells

Starting to write is always the hardest part. I'm well-versed in writer's block at that lovely moment of, "Okay, I've got the outline, I know where's I'm going, I just have to get there." Right now, I'm enjoying the feeling of having sent my nearly-scooped paper off to the co-authors for (hopeful) approval by Monday (hah!), which means I'm supposed to be working on my dissertation proposal. (Which, if you're keeping track, I meant to write last fall. Again, hah!)

So, I've got my outline, kind of, and I've even got little phrases scattered throughout my text file for what I want to say in my introduction. All I have to do now is outline (in sentences. whole sentences.) a basic understanding of genetics. For math people.

So, my first bit is just to introduce the concept of humans as diploid organisms. I can't do it. I can't start my first sentence, because those damn red blood cells with no nuclei and no DNA keep messing up my sentence structure. I feel like I shouldn't start my proposal with the phrase, "Except for red blood cells..." and I really don't want a parenthetical in my first couple of sentences (although regular readers will know I adore them generally) and as a result, I'm stuck. I have no less than five alternate sentences written right now, they all suck, and therefore, I'm never going to write this proposal and I'll never graduate and I'll probably quit this program and start some other marginally-related grad program when I'm 43 in yet another pursuit of a PhD and everyone will say, "Wow! You've really done well to get this far with two preteens and a broken hip!" and I'll say, "Fucking red blood cells."

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Apparently the wrong one is running

I'm too busy to write -- my paper, my visiting in-laws, DT and my kids, and the wine in my fridge are all in line for my attention ahead of the blog right now.

That said, I had to stop in to say, again, that I think Elizabeth Edwards rocks. Why isn't she running, instead of her vaguely-slimy Tarheel fan of a husband? Say what you think, Elizabeth.

Monday, June 18, 2007

When they were good, they were very, very good

It's been a hit-all-the-green-lights few days, and I'm trying to appreciate it instead of waiting for the other shoe to drop. In that spirit, a recounting:

I waited too late to make Father's Day brunch reservations and we couldn't go to DT's first choice, a close-by restaurant. Instead, I got a table at a place we like quite a bit for dates, but didn't think would be kid-friendly. The drive there was shorter than we thought it would be, the staff was beyond-friendly to Rocco and WonderGirl, and we had a wonderful meal outside, but in the shade. Even though it was late, Rocco didn't fall asleep in the car on the way back, but waited until he was home in his crib, where he slept soundly for two hours. (That does not happen.)

We watched Pan's Labyrinth and it was even better than we'd hoped, instead of falling prey to the curse of high expectations.

While I was peeing, I saw a mosquito in the bathroom, too far away to reach. It patiently flew around in a small area until I could get to it and kill it easily. (I feel awful writing this one, but mosquitoes are truly the only animal I kill on purpose.)

There was a train spill which shut down a road that we drive on frequently; today, my route took me other directions and I wasn't even affected by the huge amounts of detouring traffic.

WonderGirl started a new camp today and was feeling apprehensive. When we got there, she not only had a school friend in her group who eagerly greeted her, but her (saintly) teacher from school is working at the camp and is her group leader. WonderGirl has a kid crush on her teacher's two daughters, who are 9 and 12. They're also at the camp and both gave her huge welcoming hugs. WonderGirl barely waved goodbye to me before she was off to play.

Friday, June 15, 2007

I heart

Because somebody changed the timing of the light going into Rocco's daycare this week, and my commute officially grew by 10 minutes:

Friday, June 08, 2007

Moms against mercury, or moms against autism?

[cross-posted at Begging To Differ]

Apparently, June is the season for gooseberries, the first wave of West African monsoons, and Moms Against Mercury protests at the CDC. Last year, I wrote about their "Scene of the Crime" protest; this year, the theme was "Simpsonwood Remembered." Simpsonwood being, of course, hmmm... well, the Moms Against Mercury website doesn't really explain that on the page about the rally. Apparently, there were "infamous secret ... meetings" there. Wikipedia helps a little with this page, which is basically a summary of Robert F. Kennedy's controversial article claiming to summarize the events. (As I write this post, there are essentially no references given in the Wikipedia article, and there's even a warning that the neutrality might be compromised by "weasel words." I don't know what they are, but I think I like them!)

I'm so torn by events like this. On the one hand, my heart really does hurt for the families who believe that the best way they can help their autistic children is to stand on sidewalks and scream at public health employees as they drive to work. Clearly, this is a group that is passionate about their ideas and feels like they have very few avenues for being heard. I'm a liberal in Georgia. I can relate.

At the same time, though, I'm a public-health scientist myself and I am completely offended by the idea that people think that anyone in public health would intentionally supress good data that showed a link between autism and certain vaccines. People just don't go into public health or biology for the glamour and cash -- they're, as a rule, motivated by an intense desire to, you know, help people. I'm also a little stymied by what they're trying to accomplish by harrassing CDC employees (or those of us just lucky enough to need to drive through their protest site). Are they expecting that some poor statistician will get yelled at, then go to his office and say, "Hmmm, maybe those people have a point. If I used a score test instead of a likelihood ratio test... by Jove! There is a clear link between the flu vaccine and autism after all!"

My main reaction, though, is the same this year as it was last year. It might not be easy, and it might take more than a sheet of posterboard and a willingness to plaster your child's picture all over the street, but the best way for these families to make changes is for them to become part of a constructive solution. Read all of the research, not just the stuff that supports your hypothesis. Educate yourselves on the science and the methods so you can discuss them intelligently and neutrally. Acknowledge that everyone wants the right answer and that no one is just looking for sneaky ways to increase the number of children on the autism spectrum. Expand your boundaries to include the idea that there might be other factors at play, and wrestle with the difficulty of assigning limited resources to different avenues. Understand that science is a human endeavor and is imperfect, but the current system of working with testable hypotheses is the best we have. Suggest alternatives that make sense.

And please, don't yell at me. I'm trying to help.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Is it a full moon?

Like many of you, I'm sure, I opened up my trusty browser this morning curious to read whether Dubya has managed to surpass the cheery good times he instigated at last year's G-8 summit with his impromptu backrub of ANOTHER WORLD LEADER. Alas, apparently he's decided to leave poor Merkel alone, but instead I found a trio of stories that amused me greatly:

A local family came home to find someone robbing their house; the intruder pointed a gun at them and demanded money. The family disarmed the robber and beat him with a broomstick until the police had to rescue him and help him to the patrol car. Not that I'm pro-violence, but that seems fair.

A woman in Vermont was arrested for making faces at a police dog; the charges have been dropped because the dog can't testify as to how it felt to be harassed. (Not kidding here.)

A man in Michigan had his wheelchair accidentally lodged into the grille of a truck and was taken for a ride at 50 mph for 4 miles before the truck stopped. Money quote from the police:

"The man spilled his soda pop, but he wasn't upset," said Sgt. Kathy Morton.
I'm afraid to click any more online news links. Guess it's time to get some work done instead.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A way in which I prefer not to start the morning:

With an email from my advisor, who just gave a seminar about my current project at another university, saying roughly this: "Turns out someone else is doing almost the exact same thing we're doing. I don't know how far along their work is, but we need to get the paper out NOW."

I've been down this road before, and it was -- what's that word? -- un-fun.

Some days I hate academia.

Monday, June 04, 2007

What I've learned during summer vacation (so far)

I spent most of last week at home with Rocco, as his daycare center closes every year for the week of Memorial Day. After last week, I have new musings on parenthood, on priorities, on compromises, and on IKEA. Our week was made busier by the end of WonderGirl's school year, her ballet recital, the books I accidentally volunteered to make for her teachers, and the graduation ceremony (during Rocco's would-be naptime) to which I accidentally volunteered to chauffeur one of WonderGirl's grumpier classmates. Somehow, I even managed to get substantial parts of my next paper drafted. I'm trying on new habits (not like this, though), some of which appear to be making me happier, and my kids are both in the middle of relatively big periods of adjustment in their lives. DT and I are dealing with a constant undercurrent of "What are we going to be doing next year? Where is all of this going?" Right now, I feel like we have a lot going on, to the point of almost not being sustainable.


All of that feels dwarfed right now by the discovery of something that may very well change our lives: spray on, no rub sunscreen. Yes, I know I sound pathetic, but I truly don't care. Everything in life seems a little easier when you don't have to rub sunscreen into a moving, slippery child. It's all relative.

Friday, May 25, 2007

A metaphor, if you will.

(As an old friend would say, "And I know you will.")

The final instructions in almost any knitting pattern are: "Weave in all ends. Block." After finishing the knitting, you go back and essentially erase any evidence that you were there. The strings from color changes, the ends from new balls of yarn, all gone. Blocking involves wetting or washing the item, coaxing it into the shape, size, even the texture it's supposed to be, then letting it dry. Only then is the item "finished."

My confessions: I have never blocked anything. Ever. Additionally, until last night, I had three mostly-finished items that couldn't be used because I couldn't be bothered to weave in the ends.

The list of things in my life that needs ends woven and/or a good blocking include, but are not limited to: the book WonderGirl's class is making for an end-of-the-year present for their teachers, my diet (not the losing-weight kind, the "Hmm, might be a good idea to eat like an adult" kind), an analysis project I'm doing for my advisor, our summer travel plans, my paper, and my proposal. (To be fair, there's a lot of knitting that needs to happen with those last two, but it's my metaphor. I can do what I want with it.)

Previously, I've never thought of myself as someone who has a hard time finishing things, so maybe this is a new habit for me, but I doubt it. It's hard to shorten up your to-do list when you can never fully check anything off, and my to-do list has felt unwieldy and long for, well, years.

Last night, though, I checked off three things: my Saturday market bag, a stepping stones dishcloth (very different colors than the one linked), and a pair of clogs for Rocco (although they still need to be felted). Onward.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Thank you and screw you

My morning blog roundup left me with two wonderful, and completely different, gems this morning that I'm going to pass on to you:

First, the thank you. PeaceBang has a post up about saying thank you, and what I think of as the theology of gratitude. I do think saying thank you, and meaning thank you, is an important spiritual practice.

Then, the screw you, courtesy of the Stirrup Queens. Uterinus's Law, which I've experienced but never knew had a made-up name, includes these provisions, among others:

  • Sperm lives in a woman's body for 3--5 days ONLY if you are a terrified teenager who has no clue (1) when she ovulates and (2) if she took her birth control pill. Sperm lives in an infertile woman's body for 3--5 hours, therefore making lining up timing with ovulation nearly impossible. ... Doctors do not believe this fact and therefore often repeat the idea that sperm lives in all women's bodies for 3--5 days.
  • The more hand-holding and the more awkward the relationship is with your inlaws, the more likely they will schedule their visit to fall during retrieval or transfer. If they are the type who need a gourmet meal cooked nightly and a spotless house, they will arrive one day before your beta.

The second is especially funny to me. The cycle that became Rocco included overlapping visits from DT's parents and my dad, and DT actually gave me a trigger shot with my dad standing 10 feet away. Thank goodness it went well.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Find a stillness

This morning, it struck me full-force that WonderGirl will be out of school in two more weeks. All year, I've meant to make more of an effort to attend her weekly all-school silent meeting, and now it's crunch time. (Can you cram silence? Just my style to try.)

Silent meeting is a hard thing to describe. Since WonderGirl is in the youngest classroom, they go into meeting last, I imagine in order to minimize the inevitable fidgeting time. Their 8th grade "buddies" come to pick them up and walk them into the meeting room, and typically the younger kids sit in their buddies' laps. It blows my mind a little that WonderGirl and her friends are so comfortable with the routine of walking in silently and sitting silently for 30 minutes, a time only occasionally punctuated by expressed thoughts from kids or teachers. But of course, these younger kids don't even realize that this isn't the norm, and that there are schools where the entire community doesn't have the time to sit, in silence, together.

Today, WonderGirl sat in my lap and we sat beside her buddy, an 8th grader who will be graduating in just two weeks and moving on to high school. One of WG's good friends sat on the other side, and the two of them held hands in silence for nearly the entire meeting. An 8th grader in the school, who has cerebral palsy and takes great effort to communicate, spoke about how frightened she had been of the concept of silent meeting when she started at the school, and how, now, it was a place of refuge for her and one of her favorite parts of the school. I say she spoke, but truly she made guttural noises and shook -- until her helper started translating for the group, I had no idea she had been moved to speak, and had no idea how eloquently she was expressing her reflections. WonderGirl and her friends didn't think the scene was unusual at all. Later, one of the teachers, a 40-something man, was moved to talk about some of his reflections on the end of the year, and he was weeping as he spoke. None of the kids even seemed to notice. Somehow, these kids, who look just like any other batch of urban kids, think it's normal to sit in a room with the whole school, listening to raw thoughts and not really having any expectations about what might happen next. Is it because they've already seen it so many times? Is it because they're not paying attention? Is it because this is, in fact, a way that humans are meant to interact?

I felt like a tourist. I had to remind myself not to gape, not to react too strongly, to act like I also thought this was normal.

At the end, many of the children began to share, and for the most part it followed the patterns I would have expected: "I'm happy because it's almost summer," or "I'm sad because my brother is going camping and I can't," or "I'm happy because I just got this new game with two lightsabers and one is green and one is gold or maybe it's yellow and..." Then one little girl, who's 6 or 7, said this, "I'm sad because my grandfather is in the hospital. His temperatures are high and I don't know why. I don't know if he's going to be okay. I think maybe he has these high temperatures because he's getting older. Or... maybe it's because he's getting younger. [very long pause] I think he's going to die."

I lost my ability to be cool. At that point, I was crying along with the teachers. It's going to be a long summer. Next year, I will go to silent meeting more.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


It feels like I've been obsessed with mortality lately. April does that to me, since it's the month in which all females in my family seem to die. My own health weirdness has been prolonging that general funk this year, and the book I'm currently reading (Eat, Pray, Love) is playing into it somewhat as well. I would say that overall, I'm acutely aware that we're not guaranteed anything past this moment. Sometimes that inspires me to be the best person I can be. Sometimes it inspires me to curl up in a corner and hide, along with everyone I love.

I think there's a part of me that thinks that if I just don't take the future for granted, I'll somehow, cosmically, be allowed to live through more of it. I bargain that because I lost my own mother on the early side, and because I've lost two desperately-wanted babies, my living children should somehow be granted health and life, and I should be allowed to watch them grow up. I know this doesn't make any sense, and that in this country, we have a bizarre relationship with death. We pretend that we're in charge of it, and that it's not part of life. I know that as a rule, we experience fewer tragic deaths than non-industrialized countries, so while I may have had a higher toll than most people I know here, I'm still barely acquainted with death.

This morning, DT found out that a medical student he knows well, who was about to graduate and start residency here, died yesterday in an accident. She was married, she had a small child. Her family was about to come celebrate her graduation and now they're coming for a different reason. Some asshole cut her off and killed her, then kept going. She didn't get to bargain. It's over, just like that.

Processing this is impossible.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Yesterday was graduation day at my university. I've become disturbingly familiar with the day's routine: there are horror stories passed around of traffic and parking on graduation day, so many faculty and staff take the day off to avoid the mess. As a result, traffic is always surprisingly light, unless you're arriving at the ungodly-early hour required for graduates. I arrive, I park easily (shh! don't tell!), I walk in past the school employees who are eager to direct graduates and families to the places they need to go in order to experience the maximum pomp and circumstance. I'm holding a vinyl lunchbox and computer bag; clearly, I'm not in need of direction. Often, an acquaintance will ask when I'm going to graduate. Often, I want to start throwing punches. This year, one of the administrative types that I know told me that she hopes I don't graduate anytime soon, because she'd miss my smile. It was a nice change to give someone a hug instead of a grimace.

Typically, I go inside the building, sit at my desk, and pretend that it's just like any other day. Yesterday, I was lucky enough to be invited to a graduation luncheon for a friend who finished her degree last summer and has spent the last year on the faculty at another school. I'm not sure how to describe the celebration except to say that it was, in fact, celebratory. My friend was surrounded by family, by the close friends who helped her through school, by the faculty in our department, and by those of us who couldn't do much to help her along, but instead got to be helped by her. It reminded me of why ceremonies do matter. When DT and I got married, we'd been together for over six years, we'd lived together for a substantial part of that, and we thought that actually being married wouldn't change anything. Honestly, we were wrong -- our practical lives didn't change, but there was something about being surrounded by our people, about creating our own ceremony, about throwing a big party for the express purpose of announcing that we were for real, that really did matter. It was a wonderful surprise when it happened, and yesterday reminded me of that. In practical terms, my friend finished almost a year ago, but yesterday was still her graduation day and I'm grateful to have been there to be part of her celebration.

Being a selfish human-type animal, it made my mind wander to my own graduation someday. I hope that next year, I won't be carrying a vinyl lunchbox or computer case. I've always had a fantasy of walking with WonderGirl in my cap and gown, and now that fantasy has extended to Rocco, too. I hope I have the same sense of closure and commencement that my friend had this year.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Enter the Block

Writer's block, that is.

I'm at the lovely point of being ready to write another paper. Unlike my first paper topic, which grew and multiplied, hydra-like, for years, this project has been relatively easy. There have been bumps and setbacks, but I've always been able to make progress over a course of weeks instead of drifting for months at a time. I hope this is how research is supposed to be, and that my first project was the exception instead of this one.

Unfortunately, now that this project is winding up, I have to write about it. I can't just pat myself on the back, have a margarita, and move on to something as-yet-unexplored. Now begins the part that I dread. I don't have a good process in place for writing; I don't have the mental discipline to just keep plugging away and trust that I'll edit myself into coherence later. I don't have a practice that works for me, and I have a dangerous tendency to spend a lot of time reading blogs or looking for knitting patterns or checking the weather or going to Google School of Medicine when I'm supposed to be writing. This might be the biggest downside of the advent of the personal-computer-as-word-processing-device: the very tool which makes dissertation and paper writing so much easier in this generation can also suck all of your time away. I'd head to a wireless-free zone (since those still exist), but that would preclude any ability to look up references on the fly while I write. Or so I tell myself.

Meanwhile, I'm going to knit this top in this yarn (orchid) using these needles soon. I've got my fingers crossed for Julia's current cycle, and we still don't have any rain in the forecast. More later.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

It's May, it's May, the lusty month of May!

Sorry, this post has nothing to do with lust, I just always think of that song from Camelot in May. For some reason my mother always sang it, yet I was probably 14 before I realized what it was about.

I have a distinct memory of writing a post last year about May, about the amazing number of things that happen in May once you have kids in school, and how difficult it is to keep everything together and how my dad, who I love dearly but who has wisely blocked many of the details of his own early parenting experiences, even remembers how draining May could be with children. Now, that post isn't showing up in my archives. Did I just think I wrote it? Was it one more thing that I meant to do in May and never got around to?

It's starting again - we've entered our busy time. Yesterday was a teacher workday at WonderGirl's school, so I was home with her all day (and we even started a craft project, so help me God). Tomorrow she has an all-day field trip, and I wasn't planning to drive, but now am having the typical flexible-parent internal conversation: on the one hand, I could definitely use the day to work, but on the other hand, I know she'd love for me to go, and I'll remember that experience more than whatever meager amount of work I'd get done. So, of course, I've left a note for her teachers that I can drive and chaperone if needed. She has her ballet recital coming up, her choir is singing at church this weekend, and in the next few days we have our anniversary, WonderGirl's half-birthday and Mother's Day. WonderGirl's school has a potluck picnic later this month; Rocco's class has one the day before. Then, there's the 8th-grade graduation at WG's school, which is apparently a wonderful ceremony that I won't want to miss, as the 4- and 5-year-olds get to present flowers to their 8th-grade buddies. WonderGirl's buddy has been such a positive part of her first year in school, and I'd really like to be there. Of course, it's at 11am on her last day of school, but it's not like I'd be working anyway, since Rocco's daycare is closed the whole week. Plus, her end-of-the-year party is that afternoon, so I'd need to be there to help with that, which is not to be confused with the class party one of the other families is throwing at their lake house (lake house?) later this month. ACK. Breathe.

I'm in such denial about the end of the school year, too. One of the members of our quartet is moving back to China in June, and we've realized that we can literally only find one day between now and then when we might get together for one last round of music. At first, I wasn't sure I could even make it that one day, because I needed to make sure that DT could pick up WonderGirl from school, but now it's struck me that she'll be out of school and in camp. Out of school.

This is our new life; school years and summers and ballet recitals. A daughter who reads her own books, a son who can string words into sentences and enthusiastically parrots each "I love you!" we throw his way. I'm not used to any of this yet.

(Because I didn't mean to leave anyone hanging: my professor was in the country, and I am, thankfully, off the hook with that incomplete and have hopefully learned my lesson. My echocardiogram was mostly normal, a little thickening at one valve that doesn't seem to be affecting heart function at all. I have my follow-up appointment today and am planning on hearing that everything is fine and needing to accept that I have some psychosomatic symptoms. I went to a yoga class this weekend for the first time in two years and hope that I can start focusing on wellness instead of sickness, which sounds corny but I think might help.)

Friday, May 04, 2007

What, it's not National A Question of Degree Month?

Break out your party hats -- apparently, May is National Asparagus Month! After hearing a rumor this today, I went looking for a link and confirmed that yes, it is the month for our stalky, pee-smell-altering friends, but it's also:

  • National Salad Month
  • National Strawberry Month
  • National Beef Month
  • National Egg Month
  • National Barbecue Month
  • National Salsa Month
So, I'm thinking that perhaps this isn't as big a deal as I'd hoped. In fact, herbs only get a week (May 13-19), as does women's health (May 14-20, coinciding with Mother's Day because, you know, only mothers need to think about their health???). Sadly, garlic only gets a single day, which we apparently missed in April, even though egg salad gets an entire week, separate from the month it celebrates in its eggy wholeness.

Continuing on the food trend, I just found a knitting pattern for the digestive system, and I am sooo tempted... Any pattern that starts:


With size 6 dpns and Angry Pink, cast on 10 sts using a temporary cast-on, join. (If you don't know how to do a temporary cast-on, just cast on normally using waste yarn then knit 1 row with Angry Pink).
Knit 8 rows.

just has to be worth it.

Thursday, May 03, 2007


A few notes:

- Clicking on a family member's shared online photo album, only to find 164 pictures in the album, is a daunting experience. Cute pictures, all, but...

- I've tried to lower my already moderate caffeine intake the last couple of days. I was rewarded, of course, with a monster headache that woke me up this morning. I just caved and decided to pop open my last hoarded can of Coke Zero, only to find that my department's kitchen is being mopped and I can't access the ice cubes. Gnashing of teeth has commenced.

- I have 42 minutes left with the Hellter, I mean Holter, monitor. Not that I'm counting.

- After bragging about WonderGirl's powerful sensitivity, I feel duty-bound to report the other side of the coin. Last night, after DT and I spent a long time (too long, it's true) explaining to her why it might be a good idea for her to start using her own brain to make decisions instead of following her friends as they jump off bridges, I said, "Okay, enough talking about that." To which our angel replied, "Yeah, if you talk about it any more I might throw up." She's five, folks. Five.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The (n+1)th installment in my occasional series of free advice

If you are wearing a Holter monitor and going to the airport, it would probably help you get through security if you look relatively young and innocent and are assisting a grandmotherly-type woman who limps a little.

I'm just guessing.

I took DT's mom to her flight today and the airline rep agreed that I could take her back to the gate because he said I "looked nice." We got almost all the way to the front of the security line before I realized I had five electrodes taped to my torso, each connected to a small rectangular box. The TSA rep directed us to the "special considerations" line, where the woman who was screening me was clearly fighting internal voices: one side of her head obviously thought this was a security test, the other side was saying, "LOOK at her. She's harmless, she's wearing the dorkiest jumper ever made (thanks, Anne, for the recommendation!) and she's with an old Chinese lady." In the end, they patted me down extensively (and were duly alarmed at every electrode), swabbed the monitor for explosives, and let me through.

On the way back from the gate, I called DT from the terminal escalator to tell him I'd been able to take his mom all the way to the gate, so we could rest easy that she didn't get lost, then I started to tell him about the security episode. I got as far as, "So I'm standing there with all of these electrodes..." and suddenly, I was the most interesting person on the escalator. I wonder if anyone was tempted to call the police or if, once again, my dorky jumper worked its magical power.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

This post brought to you by my cyborg alter ego:

Robotic Ultimate Troubleshooting Humanoid

Get Your Cyborg Name

I mentioned that I haven't been feeling well for the last few weeks. Like most households with small kids (not to mention pediatrician parents), ours is inhabited by a stream of bugs, of both the insect and germ varieties. I finally called for a doctor's appointment, after being encouraged by DT to please ask someone other than him for medical advice sometime. (Sample conversation:
Me: Oh, my heart is doing that weird thing again.
Him: Racing? Pounding? Palpitations?
Me: I don't know how to describe it. Do you think I'm going to die?)

Yesterday, I saw the doctor, a nice internist, probably five years younger than me. I'd seen her once before, when she suggested that my elbow might be hurting and my hand tingling because it was just about damn time that I made Rocco walk somewhere instead of carrying him, for the love of God, woman! She also offended me by telling me to come back if it wasn't better in a couple of weeks, and she "could tell" I would call if it didn't improve. I literally haven't seen a non-OB physician in over five years, yet she made me feel like a doctor-abusing hypochondriac. I probably am a hypochondriac, I just usually rely on DT to keep me in check. Anyway, she's in the clinic directly across the street from my office, so she's convenient, which is of course the number one priority for physicians of working parents.

I arrived for the appointment armed with advice from DT on how not to seem like a flake ("Say 'fluttering' and she'll have to take you seriously") and promptly felt like a flake anyway, because young-ish women like me are not supposed to complain about heart issues. The nurse did an EKG before the doctor even came in the room. (Note to self: don't pre-read the EKG sheet without knowing what you're looking at, because the words "cannot rule out anterior infarct" will not seem like good news.) The doctor was thorough, said my EKG looked fine but she ordered further cardiac testing. (Another note to self: don't take the EKG printout home for DT to look at and say, "Hmmm...." over.) She also ordered a bunch of blood tests, thyroid, is-this-vegetarian-eating-healthily, etc. (Another note to self: just because you had 16 tubes of blood drawn that one time at the RE and lived to brag about it does not mean you won't feel funky when you have five tubes drawn.) The good news: the nice doctor called me herself last night to tell me my blood work all looked fine, although my red cells were a little high and she thought I should be conscious of drinking enough water. (Last note to self, I promise: do not tell DT this and listen to him say, "Hmmm....")

Today, I went to the cardiologist's office for follow-up testing. I had an echocardiogram, with no immediate feedback from the tech on whether everything looked okay. She didn't call a cardiologist in to actually look at anything, so I'm assuming there wasn't anything obviously worrisome. (Coping mechanism alert!) Also, I get to wear a Holter monitor for 48 hours, which is like a continuous EKG. Here's a picture:

Only, it's more obtrusive than that. I have wires all over, this machine stuck in an attractive black velcro waist case that has been used by I don't even want to think of who, and itchy tape all over. For 2 days. I can't shower, which would have been nice to know. I'm not even sure I'll be able to dress myself because really, what can you wear in 85-degree weather that's going to cover that? And if all of this is stress and sleep-deprivation related, which I'm starting to think is likely, then it's only going to get better by being hooked up like this until Thursday.

So, I'm trying to embrace it. I'm a cyborg. Life is weird.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Things that suck / things that don't suck

  • The sucky part: Miscarriages. Unexpected miscarriages. Unexpected late miscarriages. Knowing that there is nothing you can say that will make it any better and that there is a whole lot you can say that might make it a bit worse. The un-sucky part: Having a miscarriage does not mean you'll never have a baby. It will get better at some point, and you will wake up one morning, and your first thought will be something other than, "Shit. I'm not pregnant anymore."
  • The sucky part: Sinus infections, and not knowing if your general malaise is simply a function of little sleep, lots of germs, and anxiety, or if there's something else also. The un-sucky part: a prescription for antibiotics that seems to help. A promise of a doctor's appointment to reassure next week.
  • The sucky part: Taking an incomplete in a previous course and realizing, belatedly, that if the work isn't completed very soon, the incomplete will turn into an F and you. will. be. in. trouble. The un-sucky part: finishing the work and knowing that it is late but well-done and can be built upon easily by someone else if necessary later. The second sucky part: hoping that the professor who needs to sign off on the work is in the country, and not knowing for sure. The second un-sucky part: still hoping on this one.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Things I say 6983 times a day

Inspired by CityMama's post today, the things I find myself repeating over and over each day:

Please use your fork.
Because if you do that, Rocco will want to do it, too.
Use your words!
Help please oatmeal.
Please use your spoon.
Put your shoes on.
Have you gone potty?
Please use your fork.
Do you want to be strong and healthy?
Please use your spoon.
Did you poop? Need a new diaper?
Please use your fork.
I love you.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

WonderGirl gets it

Yesterday, like many others at my school, I wore maroon and orange ribbons pinned to my shirt to honor the Virginia Tech community. I'd meant to take them off when I picked up WonderGirl because I didn't know how to explain the situation to her, and we hadn't mentioned it so far. Although our family is very open about death, I was apprehensive about making school seem like a potentially frightening place.

Of course, I forgot to take the ribbons off, and she glommed onto them immediately. (Rocco also glommed onto them, but in a physical way instead, which was easier to deal with.) I explained that something sad had happened, people had been hurt, and while I couldn't do anything physically to help those people, I was wearing the ribbons as a way of keeping them in my thoughts. Our conversation from that point:

WonderGirl: Did people die?
Ruth: Yes.
WG: Who did it?
R: Another student.
WG: Why?
R: No one knows, that's part of what makes it so hard. There wasn't a reason.
WG: (Silent for a moment.) At my school, when someone's not feeling good, we hold them in the light. Do you want to do that for the people who died?
R: (A little stunned.) That sounds perfect. What do you do?
WG: You think about the light you have inside, and you bring it out for them, and you imagine them in the light. You can be quiet for a while.

I'm proud, and grateful, and humbled.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


I don't think I'm unique right now in being somewhat overcome by the news of the Virginia Tech shootings. (I may be unique in that I haven't seen even a moment of TV coverage, but that's another story.) There's nothing I can add to the hubbub except that, like so many others, my thoughts are with the Virginia Tech community. The rest of us will be focused on these events for a while, then will gradually go back to regularly-scheduled programming, but that's not true for the students, families, faculty and staff. I don't know how you process anything like this.

I'd planned to write a little yesterday about our family's experience of going back last weekend to Duke for DT's reunion. It was the first time we'd gone back for anything official like that, and it was especially interesting given that we've decided we'd like to try to move back into that area after I finish my degree. Maybe I'll sort out some of that later, but for now, it seems pretty self-indulgent to navel-gaze about my relatively peaceful college experience.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


[cross-posted at Begging to Differ]

Dear Mom,

Ten years ago this morning, I was with you while you took your last breaths. You held out until everyone was around you, then you let go when Dad told you it was all right to do so. We stayed with your body for a while, each focusing as much as possible on how glad we were to have been your family, on how you had made our lives better. If I focused hard enough, I would be able to lift your soul up on those positive thoughts, and help you get to the next place, whatever it was. I could imagine you looking at me, you finally free of the chemo and the tubes and the turbans, knowing that I was doing all I knew how to do.

Ten years ago, I'd just quit grad school, was shacking up with my boyfriend in violation of your religious ethics, and insisted on "comfortable" clothes that you thought were better suited for maternity wear. I know you were proud of me. Now, that boyfriend is the best husband I could have asked for, my children are strong and happy, and I'm well on my way to getting the doctorate that you always worked for and never finished. I know you'd be proud of me. You weren't easy to live with, and I often questioned your parenting style, but I never for a moment questioned whether you were doing what you thought was best. You tried at every juncture to prevent me from making mistakes.

I wish I could remember your voice more clearly. It comes to me at strange moments, but only when I'm not trying to hear it. Usually, it's your Alabama voice, the one that came out when you called your parents back home, not your North Carolina voice, which you used when teaching your students songs about the quadratic formula.

I wish I'd watched more carefully when you made pie crust.

I'm glad I listened carefully when you told me that you loved me.

Now, just like I have my grandmother's name, Ruth, as my middle name, your granddaughter has your name, Claudia, as hers. Sometimes she wears your colorful socks-with-toes when she plays dress-up, and she tells me that she's sad she'll never get to hug you. Yeah, I think, me too.

Your little girl

Monday, April 09, 2007


Twice already this morning, I've seen references to a weekend article from the Washington Post, Pearls Before Breakfast. It's about Joshua Bell, always one of my favorite violinists, and an experiment in which he played his violin at a subway station in DC, the idea being to see if people would recognize they were in the presence of true talent. (Side note: I won't be sending this story to our friend who has me playing the violin again, because he already has a fantasy of us playing on the town square near where we live, cases open in front. He needs no such encouragement.)

Julia has a nice post up about the article, reflecting on her own relationship with the arts, and whether her son might be more appreciative than she thought. Sweet, thoughtful, humble. Then, a leader for the babies/toddlers group at our church sent the article to the group's mailing list because she thought it was "beautiful and poignant." All great, and I'm glad to have two exposures because I would have hated to miss the article.

If only it had stopped there.

The woman from our church almost immediately sent another email that concluded with this lovely sentence about how she answers people who ask her why she is a stay-at-home mom:

Now, I will unabashedly say that I don't work outside our home right now so that I can notice my children's beauty, and give them time to notice the beauty that surrounds them.


Name withheld to protect the insensitive

This kind of thing always gets my hackles up. How anyone can read such a beautiful article and come away with what I consider to be a somewhat-ugly reaction is beyond me. I like this woman in person, although I don't know her that well. I don't know why she considers that only SAHMs have the inclination or desire to unleash beauty in their kids' lives. I don't know why she would consider it appropriate to involve the stay-at-home vs. work-outside-the-home debate in an article about something entirely different. I'm not sure why she'd send that to the entire list, without first reading it from one of the many perspectives of women who might find that hurtful and unsupportive, for good reasons. I don't know why she thought adding "Warmly" would mitigate the punch.

I don't know why she felt the need to ruin the article for others, but I'm not going to let her. I'm going to re-read it and take a moment to remember an experience I had this weekend, when we were away with our friends. My violist friend and I were doodling around with our instruments and started playing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" for Rocco and my friend's son, who is almost two. The boys were delighted and clapped and spun. We probably played it ten times, and had we not been usurped by the boys' interest in a meal, we would have played it for hours, over and over. Even though I'm not a stay-at-home mom, it was beautiful.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

In search of calm

Last Friday morning, WonderGirl woke up and stumbled into our closet, where I was getting dressed. She proclaimed, "I don't feel good, I'm dizzy," and collapsed into a pitiful heap on the floor. She was burning up, her throat hurt, her head hurt, her tummy hurt, her fingernails hurt. She hurt.

A classmate had been diagnosed with strep earlier in the week, so I bundled her off to the doctor for a strep test. One hour, one copay and one negative result later, we were home, ready to fight off whatever virus had taken up residence. Four days later, her fever finally broke. I broke about two days earlier.

I'm a worrier, especially about the kids' health. I wasn't this way when WonderGirl was a baby, when I was "supposed" to start worrying. I took everything in stride then, had faith that she was resilient and knew she would eventually throw off whatever germy goodness she picked up. Then I had the miscarriages, and they changed everything. Twice, the little signs of problems were actually true signs of true problems, problems that were only going to get bigger. Now I don't take anything for granted. I've had to try to re-learn coping methods that I thought I outgrew several years ago.

One night when she was sick, WonderGirl said her neck hurt, and there was a bump there. DT looked vaguely concerned, then satisfied himself that it was an enlarged lymph node in a spot that made sense, given her illness. I saw his look of vague concern and my stomach went down an ugly path, where I imagined WonderGirl gravely ill with cancer, wondered how I'd react, wondered things that I don't even have the nerve to type here. I literally made myself sick with worry that night, which did no one any good. Now that she's feeling better, I haven't had the nerve to check the bump and see if it's gone down. I don't want to know.

My huge relief at WonderGirl's recovery has been marred by the simultaneous (perceived) decline in Rocco's health. I've assumed he might come down with this after her, but also wasn't sure if he might have had a variant first, and have been our own little Patient Zero. Of course, he's not ill in the same way now, so my worrying continues. He's cranky and his feet started peeling last night. Could be the massive amount of sand in his sneakers or, if you're me, it could be Kawasaki's disease, which was on the differential diagnosis back in the scary time when he had a long-term fever and temporarily stopped walking. I'm going crazy watching him, looking to see if he's walking all right, wondering why he won't let me put his shirt or his shoes on, apparently needing more of an explanation than the fact that he's 20 months old.

Luckily, we're leaving town for a long weekend tomorrow. We'll be staying with two other families at a house on a lake in the middle of nowhere. This time tomorrow, I'm hoping that my biggest concern is how to keep my sheet music from blowing off the stand while I play the violin on the deck with our friend. WonderGirl and I have packed everyone's clothes, everyone's toothbrushes, everyone's bath toys. I bought a case of wine. I hope it works.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Wishing for a crystal ball

I just had lunch with a woman who came to give a talk in our department. It was pleasant.

Actually, let me rephrase that.

I just had lunch with a clearly-brilliant woman, with hiring power, who manages a group doing what I'd like to do in the place I'd like to do it, and who gave a talk in our department. It was simultaneously nerve-wracking and pleasant. I'm flushed.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Never thought I would write this, but...

... good for Burger King. They're committing to buying a higher-percentage of humanely-raised eggs and pork. We'll only see changes in these industries when there is economic pressure, and in the US, economic pressure can only come from fast-food giants. I may just declare a temporary lifting of our family's fast-food ban to buy some humanely-raised onion rings from the BK Lounge.

Room for the spirit

I've had several religiously-oriented posts coalescing in my head lately, but I can't seem to translate them into words. Then, today, I read this post from PeaceBang and knew that if she could present such a lovely snapshot into her Unitarian congregation and the holy connection that is common to the religious experience, I could at least try to put some thoughts out there.

The truth is, although I am more comfortable in my religious life than I've ever been, I do feel a strange pull between two poles. One the one hand is my brother, who identifies as a Christian, although I don't really know much about his personal faith. From several comments he's made, it's apparent that he thinks that Unitarians don't believe in anything and aren't truly religious. (We haven't discussed the definition of religion, although there was a recent article in UU World which referenced the twin components of awe and discipline -- I like that and have been letting it settle in my thoughts.) My dad is on the same end of the spectrum. Different religion, more carefully respectful of my choice, but (I think) still not quite getting it as being a true choice, as opposed to an absence of choice. (This completely leaves out DT's Southern Baptist mom, who gamely accompanies us to services when she's in town, closes her eyes at the parts that make her cringe, and secretly teaches WonderGirl to sing "Jesus Loves Me" when she puts her to bed.)

At the same time, DT and I are getting progressively more involved in our congregation. I feel embarrassingly religious. I teach religious education to the K/1 class on Sunday mornings; we rarely miss services; if we were included in a political poll, we would be in the "highly religious, attend church twice a week" category. This is pretty hard for me to accept. I find myself wondering what other people think -- I had lunch yesterday with the mother of one of WonderGirl's classmates, and we talked a little about watching our own kids explore the idea of religion. The mother and her husband identify as atheists and we are very attached to a congregation (see, I can't even write the word "church"!), but I wonder if our ideas are really all that different.

Too religious for some; not religious enough for others. Strangely, peacefully, just right for me. As one of the commenters on PeaceBang's post says, you have to leave room for the spirit, and I think I finally have.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The bean trees

WonderGirl's school held a silent auction this weekend. I'm not clear on whether this is a widespread practice, or if it's just incredibly popular in our town, but all of the private schools/daycares/after school clubs/people who just met yesterday but are BFF! have these gigantic spring fundraisers. The parents run around town, jockeying for donations from local businesses; the auction committee spends an impressive amount of time hanging curtains in the school's multipurpose room to hide the fact that ductwork and/or electrical boxes exist; the students Do Artwork to sell.

WonderGirl's class made a suprisingly beautiful series of seasonal trees out of beans. The Great Northern, the adzuki, the pinto, they were all represented. The spring tree had what I think were supposed to be dogwood blooms, but with five petals instead of four (guess someone at the Quaker school isn't up on their Christ symbolism). The winter tree had a thin layer of snow on the branches, which means the kids were feeling especially creative given the local weather, and the sky was a striking orange - nuclear winter? In any case, the trees were large, nicely framed, and definitely on a different level than the combination of handprints and Pollock-inspired dripping that I'd seen at the auction at WonderGirl's previous preschool. Just thinking about all the tiny fingers, meticulously gluing each of the thousands of beans, was a bit overwhelming for me. I warned WonderGirl ahead of time that it was unlikely we'd be able to buy the trees at the auction, because I'd assumed they'd be sold as a set and I'd heard another mom say that she was prepared to spend up to $300 for them. Our budget doesn't include $300 for beans.

I had no idea what was coming.

It turned out the trees were to be auctioned separately. I let myself hope a bit; there are fifteen families in the class, four trees, how many people really want to hang beans in their houses? The first tree went for $400. It didn't improve from there. Those trees brought in $1700 for the school.

I know that there are families at WonderGirl's school with extra money; I know the school needs big fundraisers to maintain its focus on providing an exceptional amount of financial aid and economic diversity in the student body. I know these things, but it was still startling to be there. We wrote our smallish check for the items we won, and came home to ponder the only beans in our house. The wet ones, in cans.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


Nothing official has been announced as I write this, but I feel profoundly sad to read that Elizabeth and John Edwards have a new conference scheduled today, a day after she had a "presumably routine" follow-up appointment for her breast cancer. Obviously, you don't throw a press-party every time you get a clean scan after chemo, although you might want to.

I'm too familiar with the post-cancer roller coaster after watching my mom ride it for almost five years. Every bit of good news feels important but also temporary; there is always another scheduled scan that will cause a new bout of anxiety. In our family's case, there was a persistent, and correct, unspoken feeling that one day the follow-up tests wouldn't be reassuring. I've been thinking a lot about that period of my life recently, as the tenth anniversary of Mom's death is coming up in April. I'll likely post more about that as the day comes closer.

Meanwhile, though, I'm hoping for the best for the Edwards family, and for all families who deal with frightening news, or people who come face to face with mortality and their own need to be brave. I hope it helps us all keep perspective. Disagree with Edwards' politics (or his bizarre allegiance to UNC when there is a better option just eight miles down the road), but always remember that he is also a person. He's likely incredibly scared and sad right now, and wishes he could just make the world a different place for his wife and kids, let alone for the rest of humanity.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I'd provide a substantive link, but that would take time

On the way to school this morning, I caught an NPR story about yet another recent study of the effect of moms in the workplace. (Perhaps I should clarify - I was on the way to drop my younger child at daycare, after having left my older, possibly-sick child at home with her dad, before trotting up to my desk to, you know, write in my blog.) As I usually do when I hear a working-moms story start, I had my finger ready to turn it off because really, how many times do I need to hear that I, personally, am responsible for the decline of American civilization, global warming, childhood biting, the appalling lack of manners displayed by youth, and dachshunds?

This report was a little different. The author of the book being discussed was a demographer who found that moms today actually spend about the same amount of time doing actual childcare and child engagement as moms did in the 70's. If I remember correctly, the amount was in the 10-15 hours a week range. My first, uncharitable thought was this: My mother's longtime friend, who sent me an inexplicably detailed email a few months ago regarding her decision to stay at home with her kids until they were in school, as well as her own daughters' decisions to be at home with their kids, needed to hear this. My second thought was that I was somehow way above the time average, and therefore, I must be a Good Mom! Yay me! Cookie, please?

As I think about it, though, I'm not that surprised. The author's findings were that the moms' jobs were taking time away from housework and cooking, but not from kids. I believe that -- the amount of housework personally completed by DT or me in our house is minuscule compared to what my parents did. We pay a housekeeper every two weeks (much cheaper than a marriage counselor), I don't really know where my iron is, and we're masters of the quick meal. The other places that the time came from? TV-watching, leisure time and time with spouses. Those are more problematic trade-offs, especially if the TV-watching is of the basketball variety, of course.

The other implication is that stay-at-home moms today spend much more time with their kids than stay-at-home moms did when I was growing up. This also rings true to me. There's an archetypal over-indulged and over-scheduled child now, which would have been an oddity in my generation, but now is remarkably common. It's not just parents trying to make sure their kids are using their time wisely by being trained in classical art, music, soccer and gymnastics at age 2, though. Even in our kids' "free" time, the parents in my circle certainly have difficulty letting their kids roam independently (usually for valid reasons, but the result is the same).

[Side note: I think this is where the martini playdate is a very good thing. Some of my favorite parenting moments lately have been when we've gotten together with another family, had drinks for the adults, and let the kids just play. Freedom for all.]

Jumbled final thoughts: As always, the bottom line is one of moderation. If you love what you do, you'll be a better parent by doing it. Anyone who expects moms to shoulder the entire burden these days is better suited to living in a museum than in my neighborhood. I'm a sucker for letting other peoples' studies affect my opinion of our families' decision. If my bright-eyed, intensely dramatic, curious, vaguely whiny, unique kids are wrong, I don't want to be right.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

do i=1,n print(6,*) 'RIP' end do

The NYTimes is reporting that John Backus has died. Backus led the team at IBM that developed Fortran and revolutionized computer programming. He sounds like quite a guy. From the article:

In 1953, frustrated by his experience of “hand-to-hand combat with the machine,” Mr. Backus was eager to somehow simplify programming. He wrote a brief note to his superior, asking to be allowed to head a research project with that goal. “I figured there had to be a better way,” he said.

Mr. Backus got approval and began hiring, one by one, until the team reached 10. It was an eclectic bunch that included a crystallographer, a cryptographer, a chess wizard, an employee on loan from United Aircraft, a researcher from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a young woman who joined the project straight out of Vassar College.

“They took anyone who seemed to have an aptitude for problem-solving skills — bridge players, chess players, even women,” Lois Haibt, the Vassar graduate, recalled in an interview in 2000.

Mr. Backus, colleagues said, managed the research team with a light hand. The hours were long but informal. Snowball fights relieved lengthy days of work in winter. I.B.M. had a system of rigid yearly performance reviews, which Mr. Backus deemed ill-suited for his programmers, so he ignored it.

My own work would be dramatically different without Backus' influence. In his honor, I'm going to try to get something done today.

Monday, March 19, 2007


Blog silence, that is. I thought that the piece-of-peace-a-day gimmick would encourage me to update more regularly, provide an obvious jumping-off point for meaningful posts, and would push me to discuss areas that I might normally leave alone. The opposite has happened. It became one more item that I wasn't checking off of my mental to-do list and instead of being a haven, my blog became an unmet obligation.

So, no more daily peace practices. Rather, no more following someone else's ideas of how I should be peaceful. It's interesting to me to think about the daily practices that have stuck with me already, though. I've never been an aggressive driver (both DT and my dad would probably laugh at this, for opposite reasons), but I've kept the idea of driving with patience and tolerance, and it's made my daily commute more pleasant. I'm also trying to repeat the "talk less, listen more" mantra to myself and have been surprised at just how hard it is. I expected it to be hard, but yikes. Just yikes.

So, as I bid goodbye to organized peace, I'll just list some of the unorganized peace I've felt over the last few weeks as I've been absent on this blog:

  • Rocco has begun his verbal explosion, complete with his first two-word combinations. I know that this is another on the series of Good Signs that we are lucky enough to be parents of a healthy child.
  • Rocco and WonderGirl regularly crack each other up in any number of ways that I don't comprehend. They spin, they bounce balls, they make faces. I'm peripheral.
  • After WonderGirl threw a whining tantrum at an inopportune time, we had a talk about how one of the ways we can say "I love you" is to help someone else (DT) pursue his own dreams (running) instead of standing in his way (crying at the door as he leaves). For once, I didn't talk too much, and didn't make her feel judged, and as a result, I think she understood that it wasn't about her, it was about her dad.
  • At a conference last week, I caught up with a former grad student in my program who made me feel as if my hopes and goals for post-PhD life are not only feasible, but reasonable. Though we weren't especially close, he seems to want to help me.
  • In the middle of a series of recent bad days, I knew that DT would do whatever he thought would help me feel like myself, if he could just identify it. I saw him visibly relax when I told him that I knew he wished he could help me. It's powerful to give someone else permission not to fix your problems.
  • I started a big knitting project recently in an attempt to focus on the process instead of on a finished object. I've made the transition faster than I hoped -- I love watching it take shape slowly and feel myself falling into a soothing rhythm as I work, instead of trying to calculate how many hours it will take.
  • I've recently renewed contact with a group of three other women who went through miscarriages at the same time I did. We were intensely tight-knit for a long time, and though we're spread all over the world and have only "met" through email, they were my closest friends for a long and dark period. We'd drifted away some over the last year, and now we're communicating again, and one of them is nearly halfway through a pregnancy.

Friday, March 02, 2007


TomL linked to a beautiful photo essay on the Begging to Differ forum. A warning before you click in public: the photos are of topless women all over New York. They're beautiful, and there are interesting commentaries to go with some of the shots.

I've got peace like a river

In my soul, in my soul...

So, I suppose it's obvious that this blog-for-peace effort hasn't worked out. I've missed days 13-31, although I've read the practices and incorporated them in a sporadic fashion. Here they are:
13 -- Today, I will live in the present moment and release the past.
14 -- Today, I will silently acknowledge all the leaders throughout the world.
15 -- Today, I will speak with kindness, respect, and patience to every person that I talk with on the telephone.
16 -- Today, I will affirm my value and worth with positive "self talk" and refuse to put myself down.
17 -- Today, I will tell the truth and speak honestly from the heart.
18 -- Today, I will cause a ripple effect of good by an act of kindness toward another.
19 -- Today, I will choose to use my talents to serve others by volunteering a portion of my time.
20 -- Today, I will say a blessing for greater understanding whenever I see evidence of crime, vandalism, or graffiti.
21 -- Today, I will say "No" to ideas or actions that violate me or others.
22 -- Today, I will turn off anything that portrays or supports violence whether on television, in the movies, or on the Internet.
23 -- Today, I will greet this day--everyone and everything--with openness and acceptance as if I were encountering them for the first time.
24 -- Today, I will drive with tolerance and patience.
25 -- Today, I will constructively channel my anger, frustration, or jealousy into healthy physical activities (i.e., doing sit-ups, picking up trash, taking a walk, etc).
26 -- Today, I will take time to appreciate the people who provide me with challenges in my life, especially those who make me angry or frustrated.
27 -- Today, I will talk less and listen more.
28 -- Today, I will notice the peacefulness in the world around me.
29 -- Today, I will recognize that my actions directly affect others.
30 -- Today, I will take time to tell a family member or friend how much they mean to me.
31 -- Today, I will acknowledge and thank someone for acting kindly.

And today:
32 -- Today, I will send a kind, anonymous message to someone.

I'm going to back up and pretend as if today is day 27 instead, because of all of these, I think that's one that I especially need to be reminded of, especially at home with DT and the kids. I speak quickly, and neither DT nor WonderGirl do the same, and this can make for some unbalanced and frustrating conversations for all of us. I need to slow down, not fill the empty space with words, and let them both have time to think, then talk.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Day 12

12 -- Today, I will choose to be aware of what I talk about and I will refuse to gossip.

I love thinking of small intentions such as this one leading to an atmosphere of increased peace and nonviolence. Not sure I'll have much of a chance to gossip today anyway, but it's always worthwhile to be mindful. Honest, but mindful.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Day 11

11 -- Today, I will look beyond stereotypes and prejudices.

Again, this one is timely for me. Our department's annual prospective student weekend starts today, so we have 8 or 9 people visiting, some of whom will receive offers to being graduate work next fall. I saw the list of visitors, with a bit of background on each, and was disappointed that over half are international students. What a perfect time for me to be more aware of my prejudices in this context. (Insert earnest "I'm not a racist!" protestations here.)

I think our department is fairly typical of US graduate programs that attract a high number of international applicants. Often, the domestic students are not as well prepared (certainly true for me), and the international students come in more advanced, more focused and more intent on their academic goals. From a research perspective, on average, the international students are more productive. From other perspectives, though, there are issues. Domestic students end up taking more than their fair share of teaching responsibilities (we don't get paid extra for teaching, it's simply required) because they're native English speakers. In our department, the international students are almost exclusively Chinese, and they eat together, study together and, when they are around the department, speak entirely in Chinese. I don't blame them, and I know that if the situation were reversed and I was studying in China, I would definitely grab any opportunity to relax and speak in a comfortable language. However, ironically, it is intensely isolating to be an English-speaking student here. I actually switched offices this year largely to be in an office with at least one other English speaker. Not only did I have a hard time working because of the constant conversations in my old office, I couldn't even eavesdrop because my Mandarin is limited to "Hello" and recognizing the sound of DT saying "I don't speak Chinese."

Given this, I think it's understandable that I would hope for more domestic students, to even out the experience. However, I shouldn't assume that these prospective students have no interest in interacting with non-Chinese students; that's the kind of assumption that, when made, is nearly always self-fulfilling. Today, when I meet the students, I will be mindful of approaching them all equally. I'll do my best to assume the domestic students are insular and unwilling to reach outside of their community. Since I probably won't get to know any of the new students very well, it's best to operate on the assumption that they're all jerks.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Day 10

10 -- Today, I will oppose injustice, not people.

I don't think I can promise anything on this one. While it was easy enough last night to oppose the injustice of being made to look at Carolina blue uniforms, instead of opposing the somewhat-comical Tyler Hansblahblah, I don't think I'll be able to do anything other than oppose Ivory Latta, Erlana Larkins and Sylvia Hatchell tonight.
They make me psycho.

The injustice will be if Duke loses again tonight.

Rip em up, tear em up!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


Georgia's state legislature is currently considering House Bill 147, which is yet another thinly-veiled anti-abortion law. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution article about the bill:

HB 147 requires women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound. The woman is then given the option of viewing the results. The bill also has language that says the ultrasound must be of high enough quality so the fetal heartbeat can be heard.

I'll be frank: I'm pro-choice when pressed, but am hardly comfortable with it. I've always felt that both sides purposefully push the rhetoric and debate to the extremes, out of their fear of giving an inch and having the other side take a mile. It seems so obvious to me that an embryo or fetus is not "just a clump of cells"; neither is it a child. To argue otherwise not only makes me dizzy, it minimizes the very real trauma that many women go through when making difficult decisions about an unwanted pregnancy, a pregnancy begun in violence, an unhealthy pregnancy, a dangerous pregnancy, infertility, and of course, miscarriage or pregnancy loss.

Okay, all that said, I have two main problems with this bill, and neither one (surprisingly) has to do with the fact that it's a transparent attempt to decrease the number of abortions by some method other than decreasing the number of unwanted pregnancies.
  1. It is often impossible to get an ultrasound for a wanted pregnancy in the first trimester. If you don't have a history of loss, some previous medical problem, or extra cash, you're probably not going to have an ultrasound until 18 weeks. This bill is not about giving women who are seeking abortions the standard of obstetrical care. It would actually give them better obstetrical care than most women in Georgia. Something's wrong here.
  2. The assumption that these poor women have no idea what they're doing is so patronizing as to make me feel physically ill. Again, from the article:

    Rep. James Mills (R-Gainesville), the sponsor of HB 147, told the committee the purpose of the bill is to give women all the information necessary to make an informed decision before getting an abortion. Mills said women need to know information about fetal development, heartbeat and other factors prior to getting an abortion.

    This is coming from the same state that passed a bill which required doctors to give women seeking abortions incorrect information linking abortions and breast cancer. Thanks, Rep. Mills, but I think I'll inform myself instead of relying on you. Go ahead and spend your time on something useful, like repealing the Sunday alcohol sales law. Because, you know, I'm just a stupid woman who likes to get drunk and pregnant so I can have abortions for fun.

Day 9

9 -- Today, I will work to understand and respect another culture.

I see two choices here:

  1. Continue with my efforts to understand and respect my mother-in-law's culture, both the culture she derived from growing up somewhere other than the US, and the culture of being a mother-in-law, or
  2. Attempt to understand and respect the culture of UNC, since the Duke-Carolina game is tonight.
Truly, I don't know which to choose. I'm only one person, and I can only do so much.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

A season for nonviolence - days 5-8

Better late than never. Here are the daily pieces of peace since the weekend:

5 -- Today, I will plant seeds--plants or constructive ideas.
6 -- Today, I will hold a vision of plenty for all the world's hungry and be open to guidance as to how I can help alleviate some of that hunger.
7 -- Today, I will acknowledge every human being's fundamental right to justice, equity, and equality.
8 -- Today, I will appreciate the earth's bounty and all of those who work to make my food available (i.e., grower, trucker, grocery clerk, cook, waitress, etc.)

I have found myself thinking about some of the earlier days' intentions more than these, but here they are for anyone playing along at home. It's a bit paralyzing to try to be "open to guidance" as to how to mitigate world hunger. I'm an overly-scheduled wife-mother-student-daughter-in-law with more disposable income than time (although not much of either), so my first thought is, "Ack, help! I'll give some money." Supremely unsatisfying, but in the name of making peace with myself, I'm not going to beat myself up for the fact that I cannot be everything to all people. I'm doing the best I can, and I'm trying to be mindful about how to do better.

Along those lines, I'm giving a little bit to the Global Fund for Children. This organization was started by a friend of mine and it does good things. If you're looking for a place to share at some point, please consider it.

Back to my peaceful coffee and solo working time while I wait for a doctor's appointment. Right now I appreciate the woman who made my coffee and who chose a beautiful CD to play while I enjoy some alone time.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Texas giants

If it wasn't enough to lose Ann Richards recently, now Molly Ivins has died as well. There's not much I can say that would do her justice. She was passionate, she was funny, and her dog's name was an expletive. We should all do such a good job living.

Day 4

Day 4 -- Today, I will take time to admire and appreciate nature.

Well, that one's done. How can you not take time to admire and appreciate nature on a morning when the fog is playing with the trees, the redbuds are already blooming (yikes!) and the bushes outside my building have really strange berry configurations shooting out of the stems?

Thursday, February 01, 2007


WonderGirl brought her first report-card-like-beast home yesterday. We've had parent conferences in the past, or updates from preschool teachers, but never an honest-to-goodness written, check the boxes, line up the horses, kind of evaluation. We discovered the folder in her backpack as we were heading out the door, but DT and I both knew we couldn't wait until we got home to read it. With DT's mom cozily stuffed between the kids and carseats in the back, he quietly read the highlights to me as I drove and we both hoped that WonderGirl was sufficiently distracted enough by trying to keep Rocco from taking her Corduroy book that she wouldn't pipe up, "What? What are you reading?"

Here's the thing: I know WonderGirl is interested in learning. She's curious, loves school, is attracted to new ideas and stories, draws appropriately for her age, has suddenly become an independent reader, and seems well-adjusted socially. She's independent, to put it mildly, and has a level of confidence in herself that I think is appropriate for her age. I know she's doing fine in life. Add to this the fact that I have a great amount of respect for her teachers and her school, and they've never given us an indication that she is doing anything other than thriving.

And yet, I'd by lying if I didn't say I was quietly nervous, waiting for DT to give me the word as we drove.

The report was glowing, I think it's fair to say. It was thorough and detailed, with little pieces of commentary that made me laugh. One of the (many, many) skills which were evaluated was something about following multi-step directions. Not only does WonderGirl apparently remember directions exactly, she "helps the rest of her work group remember the directions." In other words, she's bossy. We read that she is meticulous to the point of not always finishing work, since she holds her work to very high standards, but there wasn't anything about frustration with not being able to do something the way she imagined. I would guess this is something we'll have to work with her on, in time, but for now, it just means that she has excellent handwriting for a 5-year-old and art projects that are slow but well-done. We read that she had a problem at the beginning of the year with pushing when there was a conflict over who was rightfully first in line; now she "remembers to use words," as she "asserts her position." That's our child -- she doesn't let others walk on her, but if she can do it nicely, then more power to her.

I'm not surprised that she's doing well on the academic side of things, precisely because she is curious, trusts adults and likes to be told new things. I'm quite happy, and relieved, that she is doing well socially, and that she is turning out to be sensitive to her classmates and tries to help when they have problems. I'm grateful beyond description that she has teachers who see her clearly and honestly; there was nothing in the report that felt off or biased. Here's hoping that her school career is always so positive.

Day 3

Day 3 -- Today, I will practice nonviolence and respect for Mother Earth by making good use of her resources.

I don't know that there is a lot new I can do for today's practice. I did make sure to take the stairs this morning, instead of the elevator; my (vegetarian) lunch is in reusable containers instead of a ziploc bag; I drove as smoothly as I could, sans tailgating, for fuel efficiency; I turned off all the lights at home in unused rooms. Except for occasionally taking the elevator and using a ziploc bag (which I throw away instead of washing, bad Ruth!) every few weeks, these are my daily rituals, though. We're fortunate to have excellent curbside recycling service in our county (plastics #1-7, baby!) and DT saves most of our food scraps for composting at WonderGirl's school. We don't generate as much trash as the majority of neighbors. Definitely, we could go pioneer-style if we decided to change our lives completely, but given where we live and where I go to school, we can't stop driving completely or start growing our own food, etc. Plus, there's that whole I-can-kill-a-cactus horticultural thing I have going on.

I think this might have to be enough. I'll be mindful of the small things and intentional about and grateful for what I do use.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Day 2 - A season for nonviolence

2 -- Today, I will look at opportunities to be a peacemaker.

Okay, on first blush, this one doesn't look so hard. I just have to look at the opportunities, right? Not actually do anything? Maybe I'll work up to action by day 34 or so...

In truth, this one is difficult for me. I don't think I'm unusual that, as a female, I feel at times like it's my sworn duty to make peace between people around me; often, this is unhelpful for everyone. It's not a long path from trying to be a peacemaker to trying to please everyone, and I have come to realize that I've made a lot of relationships more difficult than necessary by doing just that. Being a peacemaker may be more of a tightrope act than I've realized in the past. Too much action or effort often decreases the peace, yo. (It had to be said.)

As a grad student, I don't get to interact with a lot of other people on a daily basis -- I'm holed up in a cave, just me and my laptop and my well-worn copy of Unix for Dummies. It's not hard to make peace with or between people who aren't there. I'll probably get my opportunities to practice this after I go home, since my mother-in-law is currently visiting us. I'm going to do my best to listen to her, and be with her, with a clear mind. I'm going to try not to listen for negativity or criticism, and try to hear what she really means, as opposed to fixating on the words she says. She and I have different native languages and different ingrained cultural assumptions, so I'm going to work on giving her that space to be who she is and not judging her according to my own history and assumptions. I'm going to try.