Sunday, August 31, 2014

first day

I had my first day of work on Thursday. I think it went fine but sometimes it's hard to tell. Four straight hours of teaching is hard on the vocal chords, that's for sure. I'll have to build up my stamina for that.

Madison schools start on Tuesday. We've got the holiday tomorrow and then we're off! A lot of us parents would have been happy if school had started a week or two ago. The days are getting noticeably shorter, and it just feels like it's time. Plus, kids have a way of driving you crazy at the end of summer break.

Last summer was stressful with family health issues and neighbor issues, plus I was kind of tied up in knots about Anya starting kindergarten. This summer was less stressful overall, thank goodness, but now that school is about to start, anxiety is kicking in for both Anya and me. This evening she completely fell apart over something that didn't seem like a big deal at all, and it took her a while to calm down. (That's a clue that she's feeling apprehensive. And that maybe she needs an earlier bedtime.)

I have to work on Tuesday morning, and I have to be there early enough that I won't be able to walk Daniel and Anya to school on their first day. I'll be there to pick them up at the end of the school day, and I'll be there on Wednesday afternoon already to help with a 3rd grade garden activity, but there is still this knot of guilt in my chest and a lump in my throat that I won't get to say goodbye in the schoolyard.

It's silly, I know. Most kids ride the bus and plenty of kids stay for the after-school program and all of them and their parents are obviously just fine not walking to school together from day one so I should just take a deep breath and get over it and dial back the on the helicopter thing.

Stuart, as far as I can tell, is as nonplussed as ever (his daily work routine isn't changing, after all), and when I asked Daniel if he feels a little nervous about school, he looked at me quizzically and said, "No. Why?" Ah, to be that easygoing!

In fact, Anya is pretty excited about my new job. She has been asking me a lot of questions about it, like where I'm working and exactly what days and how that fits into the school routine for her and Daniel. She wants to know who I'm teaching and what book I'm using. She is a curious child, and perhaps more interested in these sorts of things than other children her age, but I find it touching that she wants to know about my life outside of my role as Her Mom. It struck me last week that if I am a role model for both my kids, it's important for them to see that I have a fulfilling professional life, even if it's part time for now, outside of taking care of them and the house and helping at their school.

It just might be a bigger adjustment for me than I thought.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

back to school

Summer went by in a blink. School starts next week. For Anya, who insisted we buy all the school supplies weeks ago, it's not soon enough. Daniel says he can wait, but I think even he is getting bored hanging around with us all the time.

It's dark by 8:00 now. It feels so premature.

We're all antsy about the new school year and tired out at the same time. After a week of vacation, and readjusting to life at home with school on the horizon. I'm exhausted; tonight is the first night I've made it past 10 o'clock without crashing. Even my sunflowers are drooping under their own weight, threatening to take out the neighbor's fence. Considering our contentious history, it would probably be best if I pull those flowers out before they cause any trouble, but they're just so impressively tall (12' at least) I can't bring myself to do it just yet.

I start a new job this week. It's a part time teaching position and pays accordingly, but it's exciting all the same. This all came up rather quickly (in fact, I got the offer over the phone last Tuesday as I sat in the car - the only quiet place I could find - on the Lake Superior shore), so I've been on overdrive this week getting my shit in order. Normally, the last few days of summer I like to spend doing whatever my kids want to do - pick raspberries, hang out at the park, stuff ourselves with ice cream, you name it - but instead I've been scrambling to find childcare (the job starts this week, public schools not until next Tuesday), dragging my kids along to places like the dentist and the HR department of my new employer, and wondering what on earth I will make for dinner on Tuesdays and Thursdays (workdays for me now) this semester.

Part of me can't wait for school to start. My patience is wearing thin, I'm anxious to get moving on some projects this fall. The other part of me wants to stop the clock, just for a minute, so I can enjoy the good moments a little longer. Time flies.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

more vacay

We spent last week in Michigan's Upper Peninsula on vacation with my parents. I'm pretty sure everyone had a good time, and even though the weather wasn't 100%  cooperative, we managed to do a lot of fun things outside. (All those pictures from my previous post were taken on the first two days, when we went to Tahquamenon Falls State Park and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point.)

One foggy day, we drove along the scenic shore of Lake Superior towards  Sault Ste. Marie. We stopped at one overlook spot for pictures and a bathroom break, but couldn't really very far. Even in the fog, it was pretty, though.

That's Lake Superior behind the kids. You just can't see it.
We stopped at the Point Iroquois Lighthouse and climbed the tower,

Looked at some cool bugs and spiderwebs,

walked along the cobblestone beach, where Daniel practiced his stone-skipping skills,

Then we continued on to Sault Ste. Marie for lunch and a look at the Soo Locks. It's quite the engineering feat there! We skipped the boat tour (too long, too expensive), but there is a large observation deck where you can go and watch the locks in action. We waited for a 1000-foot-long freighter to come through. That was pretty impressive.

On the last day, the weather finally cleared. It was calm and sunny and perfect. My parents took the kids back to Whitefish Point to walk along the beach and skip more rocks (Daniel's new favorite thing to do on vacation, apparently), and Stuart and I went back to Tahquamenon Falls to hike the Wilderness Loop. It was a little over 8 miles and exhausting, but beautiful and so worth it.

Wolf Lake

Stuart swatting mosquitoes
 We didn't see wild animals, but we saw evidence that they live there.

Might this be a beaver dam?

Moose crap Bear crap (Thanks, Barb T!)
Wild blueberries were EVERYWHERE. I ate a few, and they are delicious.

Towards the end of the hike as we neared the visitor's center, we came upon this enormous tree, a giant white pine. 

There was also a bit of swimming and canoeing in Lake Superior, some fun cooking experiments, and much more I could say about vacation, but I think I've already put up more pictures than I should have. Suffice it to say, we had a great time. 

Now we're home and it's time to get ready for school starting. Where does the time go?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

pope farm park

The end of summer always takes me by surprise, how quickly the days get shorter, the nights cooler. The kids are getting antsy for school to start, especially Anya, who insisted we go shopping for school supplies yesterday afternoon already. I can tell she's a little nervous about first grade. Even Daniel is a little skittish lately, though he'd never admit to feeling uncertain about the new school year looming ahead. He's been kind of clingy and affectionate lately, and quite attached to a stuffed octopus his first grade teacher gave him a year ago.

I remember being about Daniel's age and lying in bed thinking about growing up. It must have been summer because I remember the window was open and I could feel a breeze and hear the buzz of whatever bugs were out at night. I thought about how I would soon be in the double digits and not long after that would be high school and then I would be out of the house, and the enormity of that reality was almost too much to bear. What if I didn't know what to do? What if I didn't know how to write a check or run the washing machine? (These were real, actual fears of mine.)

Daniel is 8 (going on 30, it seems some days) and we're about to reach that turning point where he'd rather spend most of his time with friends than with us. It's so funny how one moment he can be so wise, like when he released a Painted Lady butterfly from his bug cage into the flowers in our front yard and said, "It's even more beautiful when it's free!" and the next moment take videos of his best friend burping and pretending to get into a kung fu match with a plush shark toy.

We spent the morning at Pope Farm Park, an absolutely splendid conservancy and restoration area just west of town. Our friends who came with us on the trip to Niagara Falls joined us. The day started out cloudy and downright chilly, but the sun came out just as we got started, and it was more or less a perfect morning for a picnic and trail walk, hiding in the (somewhat meagre) sunflowers, and catching a leopard frog.

Monday, August 11, 2014

do i look like a pro?

This evening I handed off the kids to Stuart and began a task I have been avoiding and dreading all summer: updating my CV (curriculum-vitae, like a résumé in academia).

I just finished reading the book Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte. I've been waiting for the library's copy for months, ever since I heard her interviewed on Fresh Air. The people profiled in Overwhelmed are mostly middle-class parents who work far too many hours, don't have enough time with their families, don't get enough sleep, and hardly have any time for leisure. This is especially difficult for women, duh, since women do the vast majority of child care and household tasks whether they work for wages or not. In fact, the overwhelming workload of holding down a paying job and managing family life is the reason many women drop out of the workforce.

There is a lot packed into that book, like so many statistics it makes your head swim, and not much good to say about the culture of the American workplace, where the "ideal worker," a mythical stereotype perpetuated in this culture, is celebrated for putting in long hours and ignoring his/her own family and personal health purely for the sake of achievement. Having children and wanting to spend time with them stigmatizes workers, men more than women, though men are far are less likely to ask for parental leave or flexible work hours in the first place, which is why women make less money, get promoted less often and are considered less dedicated to their jobs once they have children.

It sucks a whole lot and it's really unfair.

But in some ways, reading this book was reassuring, though in a rather backhanded way. I have always been plagued with self-doubt when it comes to academic/professional success, with constant second-guessing and self-deprecation. That only got worse when I had kids because I had them both in graduate school in the space of less than two years. Anya was born literally hours before I was supposed to turn in my paperwork, and the prospect of looking for a job in a tight market with two kids in diapers? No fucking way. Parenting eventually got a little easier, but the job part certainly didn't, and meantime, I felt more and more sidelined and forgotten. By now I've more or less accepted that most people presume all those years studying music were just killing time until I could make babies and get out of the way. What a nice little hobby I had there.

I have felt like a failure to myself for not pursuing employment right away. Clearly, I must not be driven or ambitious enough. I lack entrepreneurial spirit, a sufficient work ethic, and the willingness to sacrifice even more sleep in order to succeed.

That might be true. It's reinforced for me all. the. time. (All those comments about how great it is that I'm "staying home"? Yup, those really add up.) But I'm starting to realize that it's not completely all my fault. There's really no such thing as maternity leave for graduate students. When I got pregnant with Daniel, I took a semester off and forfeited my assistantship. I had to go back part time and pay for a sitter for every hour I needed to practice. I can't help it that my husband works a job with no options for flex time. And by the time Anya was born I knew there was no way I could pay for daycare for two kids and find a job that would cover the cost. I just didn't have options for a while there. I've only had one year with both of them in public school, and by now I've just been out of the loop for so long I'm not sure how to get back in, though I want to.

Now I know my life looks ideal to a lot of you, enviable even. I have a lovely family and now more often than not I get enough sleep and my husband is a wonderful father and cleans the shower and makes me two double-shots of espresso every morning (that's worth more than the shower-scrubbing, even) and we do fun things every once in a while like take bike rides or go camping. I have time to volunteer at the school and grow tomatoes and cook a good dinner every night.

My life doesn't suck and I can't really say it's unfair, but there is still a big, fat, glaring omission up there.

What's missing for me is fulfilling work in my field, work that I love and am good at and that would affirm all that time I spent in school, and it's frustrating that so few people get that. I didn't "opt out" on purpose. I put things on hold because I couldn't see any other option and just now I spent an hour and a half writing a cover letter for a part-time position that may not even be open and trying to make my CV look like I didn't fall off the face of the earth in 2007.

It's going to be hard, and my self-confidence is probably going to take even more of a beating, but I have got to put myself out there. Our family life won't allow me to look for something full-time, but I want more balance in my life. I want a job that pays more than nothing.

Monday, August 04, 2014


Thirteen years ago today, Stuart and I got married in the middle of Kansas. And today, as per usual, we aren't celebrating.

This tradition of not celebrating our anniversary is an accidental one, and not one we'd like to uphold. A few times we've managed to go out for a fancy meal at some point in the summer. But most years stuff happens to stymie us. Once Daniel got an ear infection and we had to cancel our plans. A few years in a row we were traveling for other family events (a couple weddings, a reunion), last year Stuart had to travel for work so we didn't even see each other on August 4, and this year he took the day off not to celebrate but to help out with the kids because Daniel had an appointment with the oral surgeon first thing this morning to have five teeth pulled. FIVE.

It's okay. A good marriage isn't about the wedding or the anniversary of the wedding. We're happy, and we're good for each other.

I'm used to this day not being special, and I'm definitely not the sort of gal who needs or wants to be peppered with attention and fancy gifts. But next year, we swear, we're going to find a way to celebrate for real, maybe even with a weekend away Without The Children because we've never done that before. We never even got to have a honeymoon (we were grad students - no money, and no camping skillz either at that point) so I think it's overdue.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

stirring the poop soup

A week has passed since Stephanie's consultation and treatment for my worm slime problem, so this morning I opened the compost tub to see how things are looking. No escapees this time, and no standing liquid, but it's still kind of stinky. Not putrid and gut-churning like before, but unpleasant enough I brought the whole operation outside on the deck for the sake of fresh air.

I stirred in some more shredded paper and broke up some of the bigger clumps. That the tub contains sticky clumps rather than gooey sludge is a good sign. I noticed the worms are hanging out mostly in the bottom of the tub now, which is another good sign. 

I can't bring myself to do this with bare hands. Yet.

Then I posed for a goofy picture and buried a handful of frozen-then-thawed cucumber peels and espresso pucks in the middle before putting the lid back on and setting it back downstairs. 

That my husband doesn't blink an eye when I ask him to take a picture of me holding a pile of shredded paper and worm shit is a testament to the strength of our marriage. 
I'm not sure how long to leave them now. Maybe another week? I'll have to consult my worm expert.

Meanwhile, because I don't have enough weird ways to spend my time, I thought I'd try experimenting with avocado pits last week. I know a man from Mexico who told me earlier in the summer that the pit is the best part of the avocado. We were talking about gardens and food and how much we both love cooked onions and guacamole on refried beans with tortillas. He said he grates the pit and cooks it in water, strains the pit bits out and drinks it. "It'll give you so much energy!" he insisted.

So I looked it up on the great world wide web and found several websites extolling the health benefits of avocado pits, though none made any claims as to the flavor. Some people put them in smoothies, some make tea. I grated two pits, toasted them on the stove (the shavings turn a beautiful rust color) and cooked them in a quart of water. After an hour or so, I strained out the liquid and drank a little of it.

Avocado pit juice is hard to describe. It's a mild flavor that changes from the moment you sip to the moment you swallow. It's not bitter or unpleasant or sweet or particularly bad...but it's not particularly good, either. It tastes like something that should be put in a fancy bar of soap.

And you know what? That's the other thing The Internet told me about avocado pit juice: it's very good for your hair and can be used in homemade shampoo. So that's how I've been using mine. I keep it in the fridge, and when I come home from a run, I pour some pit juice in a little jar and take it to the shower to mix with a little shampoo. It's messy and runny but I think my hair does feel softer and cleaner than it usually does.