Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Toddler Reading

I meant to post this before, but Under the Mad Hat has a terrific reading list up for July. Many of the books on it are favorites of Cora's, and we will be getting some others from the library. Mad Hat Mommy's reading lists are great - check the labels for the others, and spread the word.

Book lovers, unite! (But you can finish your chapter first.)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Happy Birthday, Beatrix Potter!

I think I've written before about Cora's love for Potter's books, especially for any of them that involve a naughty rabbit or an animal in search of its mommy. She loves her Peter Rabbit dinner plate and bowl. She loves it when Benjamin Bunny's daddy takes his switch to the naughty boys - I find this particular fascination a little questionable.

While I don't think I was ever quite as big a Peter Rabbit fan as Cora, I did become a Potter fan in college, when I started researching her other drawings and learned more about her life. One thing that she has in common with many of my other heroes - like Marie Curie and Barbara McClintock (I know, what is a poet doing with so many scientist heroes?) - is an unconventional education in her early life. In Potter's case she never went to school. The Writer's Almanac had a great quote from her today: "Thank goodness I was never sent to school; it would have rubbed off some of the originality."

Maybe it is a little ironic that, as a teacher, this is something that I think about. I think there can be something about grade school that can "rub off" some of a child's originality - though there can also be teachers and classmates and activities that shine up that originality. But I think that is harder to come by. If I were ever going to consider homeschooling, this would be my reason. I don't think it is something I would do - I think there's value in a kid spending time with kids and developing that common experience base - but I can see maybe doing a year at some point, or searching out the kind of school that I think will value and recognize Cora's originality.

And, I also have to wonder how long it took Potter to see her lack of standard education in this light. I think she was someone who was sensitive to not being allowed to do something (her brother was sent to school; she wasn't allowed to give her paper to the Royal Botanical Society because of her gender, etc.). I imagine that there were times when it rankled that she was never sent to school, when it wasn't always a stroke of luck.

Friday, July 25, 2008


Last weekend we spent with some friends at a lakeside cabin - a real treat for us this summer! Driving the boat may have been Cora's favorite part of the trip. Amazingly, she slept great. Woke up once the first night, but went to sleep easily, took naps...I think this vacation really agreed with her. It helped that her friend Julia (whose head is just visible next to her daddy in the picture) was there, too.
One of her many stylish summer outfits - she was tickled by the swing-line shape of the top and couldn't decide if it was a shirt or a dress.

Still queen of Sand Mountain. Still hoping to find a good sandbox.

With her daddy this morning. The word of the day? "Tie-dye!"

p.s. If you hear my girl dropping the F-bomb, don't worry. She's probably asking you to read her Fox in Socks. Not making a suggestion of what you should do with your footwear.

Bread: the new soft porn

Have I raved enough about the bread book? Have you bought your own yet? Here are a few more photos to push you over the edge. (Plus, a totally gratuitous cheese shot.)

This is just the basic recipe! It's so good we've barely tried anything else!


Put it all together with a nice wine and a nice patio and a nice evening and you've got a hell of a lot of nice going on.

Finally, we tried a new recipe - the challah dough. I made this loaf Wednesday. I think we have an inch and a half left. Next time, this dough is going to get filled with raisins and cinnamon and sugar, rolled up, and cut into little delicious snails.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

More made things: a photo essay

Finally - some pictures!

I made these tartlets for poetry group the day we met on Christine's birthday. What is exciting to me is that a) it's the first time I've used the little tartlet pans I bought a couple years ago, and b) it isn't a recipe, just an idea I had and then made. Oh, and, local little sweet strawberries I bought at the farmer's market.

I made this top for Cora from a pattern I found on a really cool blog that a friend told me about. I am not really a garment sewer - I mainly do quilts and things like that - but for Cora I don't mind sewing clothes. First of all, she loves it when I make her things (see below), and secondly, it doesn't have to be perfect. Her peer group is not going to judge her harshly if her clothes are obviously homemade. They might even be a little envious. (Well, especially with the Peter Rabbit fabric!)

And the hair? She wants it up like that ALL THE TIME. She brings me her barette and says, "Mama, do my haircut!"

So, this is not a very realistic picture of the Scary Garden - you have to imagine the waist high weeds and volunteer trees that were there before Chris cleaned it up. This space used to have a carport, so there's also lots of gravel mixed in with the weeds. Still, this is what the patio guys had to work with when they showed up Tuesday morning.

Here, they're almost done. It's about 3pm on Tuesday at this point.

Here it is! We have to let the sand settle and then decide what to do with the edges - sod? grass seed? marigolds? Suggestions?

There was a lot of sand leftover - right now just a big pile on the driveway. We're trying to find a sandbox. Apparently if you want a sandbox, you have to buy one in May, because the stores send them all back in June. Grr.

And, finally, a gratuitous Cora picture. I thought the zebra towel would be a good thing to have in her lap during a messy pasta dinner. She wanted to look like Mommy after a shower. And then the green glasses came out. In all the other pictures she is also sticking her tongue out like some bizarre heavy metal babushka granny.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Photo shortage

Remember when my laptop and camera stopped speaking to each other? That may just have been a harbinger of things to come, because now the laptop won't speak to anyone. I'm hoping to have it fixed soon. I'm hoping to get around to downloading photos upstairs (which involves remembering to bring both camera and cord up with me)...because I have some great ones!

Our backyard is slowly becoming more hospitable. Saturday night we had friends over for wading pool-grilling-deck-based fun. And it was fun. And I was grateful all over again that Mom and Dad left their old fridge in our garage because it is pretty sweet to be able to wander into the garage and emerge with a vodka-limeade cooler.

Today the patio project begins. Chris has worked this week on clearing out the underbrush. Now the professionals take over, with their dumpsters and Bobcats and knowing what to do. Soon, there will be no Scary Garden there, just a really nice patio to relax on when the deck is too sunny.

Did I say there would be no Scary Garden? How foolish. The name will just move on to the second scariest garden...which has, no doubt, long been plotting it's assumption of the title.

In Coraland: Her friend Selma just became a big sister to a baby brother. We saw him for the first time at church yesterday. Cora and I came home, she napped, and when she woke up she informed me that Baby Tidoo is now her baby brother. She keeps asking me what baby brother's name is, and when I suggest a name, she says no. When I ask her what his name is she says "don't know". I feel like we are playing a very bizarre existential game.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Thoughts on work and attendance

I just finished reading a book called Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It; I heard the authors interviewed on the radio a couple weeks ago. The interview was exciting to me to hear, because the type of work environment they describe - one where results matter more than putting in your obligatory 8 hours at a desk - rang so true, and is so close to what I tried to manufacture within my own department. My own experiment failed, of course, because the larger corporate structure had little faith in my ideas or department and was not ready for massive culture change.

Now, as a professor, I can indeed work in a way that is closer to the ideas in this book. I have a lot of autonomy. Not so much money. A lot of people are talking these days about "the three currencies" - money, time, autonomy; or some similar variation. I have a lot of the last two.

One thing that struck me in reading the book was, in the list of Guidelines the authors give, guidelines that are the backbone of this culture change, one is "all meetings are optional." And they see this as a totally non-negotiable point. If the meeting feels superfluous to you, you don't have to go. If your input is needed only for the first five minutes, go for those minutes, or call it in, or whatever. It's beautiful!

My husband is also a professor, and one thing he struggles with is the question of an attendance policy. He feels strongly that college students should be treated as adults, that attendance should be up to them, that if they choose not to attend class, they should be prepared for the consequences.

I have a attendance policy that is an echo of my institution's: if you miss more than a week of class, you may not pass the class. I tend to think of my students as still being in training for adulthood (I mostly teach first-year students). Many of them believe that old story about how in college no one cares whether you go to class or not. Maybe not at a big university. But, we are a small liberal arts college with small classes and we notice if students are missing. We are asked to notice.

Still, every semester some students do make the decision, at some level, to see class as optional.

Something else the book mentions is that under the kind of culture they advocate for work, it immediately becomes apparent who the slackers are, because they can't produce results. And, they end up fired. The authors say that in the beginning stages, involuntary turnover (firings) go up, but voluntary turnover (people choosing to go to other companies) goes way down.

This is true on the academic level as well, except that instead of being fired, they don't pass, or they barely pass. College students occupy an unusual position, I think. They are being encouraged to think for themselves and to take responsibility, often in ways they never have before. In a way, I think of my attendance policy as a kind of safety net. I can't really enforce it except by pointing out the consequences - I can't go down to the dorms and pull them out of bed; I won't spend my time reminding them of everything via email.

My hope, though, is that they don't see my class as a meeting that has no purpose or relation for them. My hope is that my meetings are ones they don't want to miss - that there is something about the hour and a half we spend together talking about literature that compells them to come. Something other than an administrative policy. It's a shared responsibility, but it's a responsibility that I must model first.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

If she ever becomes an author...

This would make a great book jacket photo. Ignore the obviously incorrect date my camera insisted on attaching to the photo; this is from January '08, possibly February.
Today I give the first of a series of presentations to groups of incoming first-year students. My topic? Academic Expectations, and more specifically how college is different from high school. We are encouraged to be realistic yet encouraging. What my talk boils down to:
You will have to work harder and be more responsible than ever before.
And you will survive it.
Is that encouraging enough?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Pillowcases, Bread, and Pools...Oh my!

Here are the three new pillowcases I made for Cora. I showed them to her so she could pick which one would go on her pillow next. She chose the horses (od-dis), but she also remembered she has a dress that Granma Jan and I made her from the flowered fabric, even though she hasn't worn the dress since last summer.

Daddy's first loaf of beautiful bread out of his new bread cookbook. We're finding that we have to fiddle with the pre-baking rising time a little, though it could also be due to our oven's whackedness - but when Chris complained on the 4th that he thought his baguettes were a little too dense, Sophie turned to me and said, "But this is the way I like them!"

And, the pool came out this weekend. Note the clever little shade half-shell that attaches to the pool via hard plastic hinge-like pegs.

Yes, she looks like she is blowing kisses. She is actually sucking nasty wading pool water off her fingers in a way she thinks I will never notice. If you ask Cora what the pool rules are, she will tell you the rules are:

1. Don't splash Daddy!

2. Don't drink the water!

A third rule is don't rip the sun shade off the pool, but then when she goofs around on it like it's a giant crescent moon slide, well, it is hard to stay stern and disapproving.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

As a rule, I don't like to get all Chicken Little about the state of the world...

...okay, that is a complete lie. Consider that most of my favorite books involve some sort of post-apocalyptic landscape that even while I am reading I know will give me day-horrors for weeks (or months, or years), but I still can't keep from reading. Few people know this, because I like to mostly keep it to myself, but I can get very Chicken Little indeed...

but the other day I did an online poll at a parenting web site. The poll was this: What is the most important value for kids to learn? And the possible answers were:

In a bit, I'll reveal what the voting was when I was last there, but first I'll tell you which one I picked and why. Ready? Got your guess?

Empathy, of course. I think it really contains all the other choices, for one thing - it is hard, perhaps impossible to empathize without having respect for the person, situation, etc. you feel empathy for or with. Feeling empathy would seem to lead directly to being generous and honest, and also to responsibility. In fact, I would say that empathy is the only choice that can possibly encompass all the others, so it is my favorite kind of answer: the carpetbag answer.

Now, I know not everyone might think this way, trying to get the most out of his or her vote, but I still expected results to be pretty evenly distributed among the possible responses. Here are the results up to the point I cast my vote:

Empathy: 17%
Respect: 41%
Generosity: 2%
Responsibility: 19%
Honesty: 21%

While these are all fine values, I'm a little taken aback by the low score of generosity, and that honesty scores second-highest. Do people think it is a quality too often taken advantage of? Why the low interest in generosity as something to teach kids? Does respect or honesty also contain the promise of generosity? I suppose respect might, but I don't think there is anything in honesty that also promises generosity. I think there are a good many people who are very honest, but hardly generous - who, if they were being honest, might actually see generosity as a weakness.

In fact, honesty seems to me to be the quality on this list that is the most discrete, the one with the least overlap with the others. I confess I think that scrupulous honesty is overrated, is, in fact, on some level dishonest, disrespectful, and definitely lacking in empathy. Of all the qualities on this list it is the one I feel most ambivalent about. Honesty is good and to be encouraged, but not at the cost of everything else. If you want my honest, respectful opinion.

If you don't, well, I will try to understand how you feel.

Digital camera woes cannot thwart berry happiness.

Sometimes, for reasons unknown, the laptop simply refuses to unload photos from my digital camera. I'm not sure wo to blame for this. Granted, the digital camera is beyond the pale old in technology years, which accumulate even faster than dog years. But, the laptop is no spring chicken either (more of a summer hen) and has a tendency to slowness more often than not.

So, this is mainly a post to say that all the cute pictures I wanted to post are being held captive in the camera. Which is sad! I wanted to show what we have been making here lately, because we have been undergoing a veritable explosion of makingness. Or, at least, I've finally made Cora some new pillowcases and Chris has been making beautiful bread. And I made a fabulous summer berry pie (Lee made it first - I had a piece at his house, came home and made it at my house that night).

Add to this a couple trips to local farmers' markets and the fact that local strawberries are FINALLY HERE and that they smell so freaking good a person can hardly walk by them without being magnetically drawn to them...and I'm feeling pretty happy.

Except for that whole camera thing. And a few other disaapointing small things.

And the mosquito bites.

But, really, mainly...happy.