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.