Sunday, May 31, 2009


Tonight's blog post is over at the TV Club's Breaking Bad coverage. If you haven't been watching this show, the season's only 13 episodes long. Start watching 'em here, or if you prefer your TV screen, AMC is a haven for reruns.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

For women only

OK, guys, you're going to want to check out now. Today's topic is something I'm pretty sure you want no part of: menstruation.

Two months ago, I was browsing Ravelry when I happened upon a thread about knitting a washable tampon. Yes, my friends, wait long enough and almost anything will come up on Ravelry no matter how far-fetched. Several pages into the discussion, someone brought up a concept I had never heard of before: a menstrual cup.

Now I know some of you ladies are really in tune with your bodies and have lived a crunchy enough life that menstrual cups have crossed your radar before. But not me. My first menstrual products hung from belts.

I'm much closer to the end of my menstrual life than the beginning. Nevertheless, every month I get annoyed at how much landfill my period generates. All those wrappers and pads and sewage waste. But what could I do about it?

That's why I sat up and took notice of the testimonials about the Diva Cup that appeared in that thread. A silicone cup that catches menstrual flow rather than absorbing it. Dump it out, rinse it off, insert it again. Nothing goes in the trash. Nothing at all.

I ordered one from (by far the best price on the web, reasonable and fast shipping). This was so far outside my experience that I had no idea whether it would work for me. But when my period came around a week or two after I received my package, I gave it a shot. And you know what? The learning curve was much more gentle than I had been led to believe by the many (many, many) discussions on the web about insertion methods. I quickly found that the C-fold worked just fine for me, and that if the cup was in at the proper depth and open, the complete rotation was very easy. (Difficulty with rotation is an easy indication that it's not in correctly -- no guesswork needed.)

Combine that old standard (rubber cups were marketed in the early 20th century; today they're made of silicone) with a 21st century innovation -- -- and suddenly I'm not putting three checks on my wall calendar and counting forward four weeks to guesstimate the next visitor, and I'm not giving Noel detailed instructions on what color box to buy at what strength and count when he comes to the feminine hygiene aisle in the grocery store.

How revolutionary is the Diva Cup? Consider:
  1. Changing a couple of times a day instead of five or six.
  2. No more pads and tampons filling up my purse. I keep one pad in there for backup on the heaviest days, and I suspect that once my supply of pads is exhausted, I'll be switching to the washable, reusable Lunapad.
  3. Only one pouch to pack. As much as I've been traveling lately, I've found myself stuffing my overnight bag with supplies anytime I was in the danger zone, trying to figure out how much to put in my carry-on and how much in my luggage. Won't it be nice just to have my cup in my purse already?
  4. Money in my pocket. The cup has paid for itself in pads and tampons in two months' time, and it will last me until menopause.
Listen, the Diva Cup makes me feel smart. It feels like I'm in control. It feels like I'm not a sucker anymore. And no matter how old you are, that feels really, really good.

Friday, May 29, 2009


We've divided up our parenting duties rather stereotypically. Noel and Archer are a pair, and Cady Gray and I are joined at the hip. I don't know that it's simple dad-son/mother-daughter XY/XX reasoning. Probably it's more because Cady Gray has had a more standard development in her attachment, and therefore she tends to latch on to the parent who's not the primary caregiver, whenever that parent is home. And that happens to be me.

So Noel started a tradition this year of taking Cady Gray to kids' movies as a special treat, something they could do together. (The equivalent special treat that Archer requested? Going to "mom's school" and looking at room numbers in as many buildings as possible.) But when he got the chance to see Up at a critics' screening a couple of weeks ago, the organizers told him that he couldn't bring a child along. So the two have been separated for this particular kid-friendly film.

Which means that Mom gets to step in for the special movie outing. And I can't decide whether this is wonderful and exciting, as Cady Gray thinks it is (with typical little girl hyperbole, she declares this "the best weekend EVER!"), because it's the summer film I'm most looking forward to and I get to share it with her -- or whether it's unfortunate because I won't get to enjoy the film free of listening to her chatter, taking her to the bathroom in the middle of the best part, and enduring the inevitable weariness when she's ready for the movie to be over but there's still half an hour to go.

I'm an unabashed Pixar enthusiast. Someday I need to do a whole semester where I show the whole Pixar catalog so we can all talk about what makes these movies extraordinary: the primacy of story and character over technique, innovative technique in the service of story and character, poignant and deeply-felt themes, belief in animation as an artistic medium, erasure of the distinction between adult and child. My anticipation for Up, it's fair to say, is sky-high, encouraged by Noel's report of how he was affected at the earlier screening. And my anxiety comes from that anticipation -- I don't want anything in between me and the movie. I want to soak in it.

The truth is, though, that you can't always accomplish that when you go to the theater. Even if you're alone, the other patrons are there obscuring your view and getting up at the wrong moment and talking or texting -- or not there, sucking the energy out of what's supposed to be a communal experience. It is what it is, and you need to accept that if you're going to see movies in theaters, the way (for the time being) they were intended.

So I'll try to compartmentalize the two experiences I'm so looking forward to -- that might not peacefully co-exist in one event. There's the movie I want to succumb to and see every frame of. And there's the time spent with my daughter having a special mother-daughter outing. The second one can take priority tomorrow, because I'll have another chance at the first when the DVD comes out, if nothing else. Movies are forever, but four years and ten months old munching popcorn and sitting next to mom at the theater ... that only comes around once in a lifetime.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Ten things

I'm looking forward to a fabulous weekend -- seeing Up with Cady Gray, seeing Drive Me To Hell with Noel, watching some great television, going to baby Kate's first birthday party, enjoying beautiful weather.

That's the summer program, starting up now that Memorial Day is over. But school isn't quite done for Archer. He's bringing home a lot of work as they clear off the walls and clear out their desks. Here's a piece that Archer tells us was hung in the hallway outside his classroom.

10 Things About Me
  1. Everyone thinks I am smarter than a 5th grader.
  2. I love tests!!!
  3. I go to the Faulkner County Library almost every Saturday.
  4. I like chocolate ice cream.
  5. I have a laptop computer. [Not strictly true. --Ed.]
  6. I am good at math.
  7. I sometimes eat out.
  8. I wake up at 6:45 AM.
  9. I usually eat dinner at 5 PM.
  10. I have 2 adults and a sister.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Wii grow

I've never worried much about raising children addicted to video games. Maybe it's because I've been deprived of the hot systems just about all my life, and I just want to play the games myself.

But mostly it's because I'm kind of in awe of the determination needed to master anything, even a platform game. It may be useless in the grand scheme of things, but don't you have to admire the concentration, memory, and reflexes it takes to work your way through dozens of levels over and over again on your way to the end?

I feel that way about other socially-denigrated pursuits of youth, like skateboarding. Ever since reading a piece about Tony Hawk in one of Glenn Stout's Best American Sports Writing collections years ago, I see the grinders on campus in a different light. Falling down over and over and over again to master a physical feat? That takes discipline. As a lifelong quitter, I find that praiseworthy.

Archer's been playing our new Wii every afternoon after school. His first attempts at Super Mario Kart and Boom Blox frustrated both of us. He oversteered wildly and twisted his body instead of turning the wheel, ending up careening from one side of the track to the other. His "throws" with the Wiimote were more like awkward twitches of the shoulder and arm, and he couldn't let go of the button at the right time to get power. The result was a string of last-place finishes, puzzles unsolved, and anger or tears when Mom tried to intervene and teach better technique.

Last week I came home before dinner while Archer was driving his Mario Kart around, and I asked him if I could play. Without my noticing, it turns out, Archer has been honing his skills. His kart stayed on the track, and his steering was much more accurate. He had learned about all the items to be picked up, and kept up a running commentary about his position in the race ("I'm in 2nd! Now I'm in 4th!") and the weapons he deployed ("I just threw a Bob Bomb, and now I have a turtle shell").

It's always gratifying to me to see Archer connecting physical movement with abstract concepts -- like playing the piano. The Wii is a powerful motivator for that connection. By learning more subtle ways of moving the controller, he can score points and have more fun because he's succeeding at the game. All of it works to reinforce that brain-body-realworld connection, and helps him to discipline his movement and concentration.

Wii Fit has been a big part of that, too. Archer does a workout every day, and while he's not confident in his balance (he leans on a chair for any single-leg exercise), he takes great pride in his form and stability during both yoga and strength. It's hard to believe that a boy who deals with his autism by lurching around the room stimming and spinning could spend three minutes on the Warrior pose and slow lunges. But the competitive aspect -- rankings, points, the whole apparatus -- makes all the difference. He takes pride in his movement now, and even tends to do the exercises along with us when we're doing our workouts.

The fact that the Wii emphasizes big and small muscle movements makes it more defensible as a constructive activity, of course. But even in its most traditional modes, I'm not inclined to see much downside in my kids working hard to master it. I'm happy to see them working hard to master anything.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Give a hoot!

I went to the library today and came back with an armful of children's books. Some were for Archer -- Numbers Old And New, Build Tables On Tables: A Book About Multiplication. But I couldn't resist picking up several smart and funny new books to read along with Cady Gray, too. And she was so well pleased that we plowed through four of them at one sitting this afternoon. Here's the lineup in case you and your little one would like to read along.
  • Fraction Action by Loreen Leedy. The sequel to Mission: Addition!, which has long been a favorite. Told almost entirely in comic form, a class of brightly-drawn animals learns how to divide wholes and sets into fractions, and solves problems concerning money and comparison. Each short chapter ends not only with a resolution, but with a question about fractions for the reader to think about -- the answers are in the back of the book.

  • Derek The Knitting Dinosaur by Mary Blackwood. Well, you can guess why I selected this one. But I wasn't disappointed. From the anatomically-correct depiction of (dinosaur) continental knitting on the cover, to the vigorous rhyming text, to the message that people with different talents and inclinations from the norm can come in handy when an ice age approaches, this was a real winner.

  • Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld. A clever, funny, and boldly illustrated guide to the classic gestalt illusion. Two voices argue about whether the shape is a duck or rabbit, finding support for their opinion in every setting the drawing can be found. Cady Gray loved reading one voice and assigning me the other, and she laughed heartily upon figuring out that there was no right answer.

  • Scaredy Squirrel At Night by Melanie Watt. We just love all the Scaredy Squirrel books. They feature inventive lists with bright cartoony lines, a unique voice that sympathizes with Scaredy's fears while celebrating when he overcomes them, and a sense of humor that delights both Cady Gray and her mom. This one is just as wonderful as the others -- maybe better considering that the cover illustration includes squirrel teeth that glow in the dark!
Happy summer reading!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Stitch by stitch

One craft often leads to another. Falling in love with knitting means that increasingly I find myself wanting to learn to crochet; I see beautiful crochet bags, cute amigurumi, and attractive crochet edgings on knit garments. All right, I think; I'll jump in and learn, even though I never intended to.

It's a bigger leap to sewing. And yet, I find myself wanting to learn that, too. Not much of it, mind. There's enough crafty craziness in my life without starting to accumulate a stash of fabric on top of my exploding boxes of yarn. But enough to sew a little skirt onto a knitted bodice for a girl's dress. Enough to create a lining for a knitted (or crocheted) bag.

Last year I cajoled my mother into hauling her beautiful antique Singer machine up to my house. This is the machine at which I sat as a girl, fearfully trying to sew a straight seam. I loved the foot pedal and the big round wheel that it made spin as the needle went up and down. But I hated the pressure. It felt like something I was bound to do wrong. My Nana was so accomplished at sewing; she made almost all my clothes through elementary school. And when I visited her, I would gamely do my best at cutting out pattern pieces and stitching up hems. But the high-stakes nature of the game defeated me. I couldn't handle the stress of potentially messing up.

Now here I am, four decades later, wanting to pull out that machine and learn. And it's the machine itself that's exerting the pressure. So many ways I could break it. So many things to go wrong. Especially starting from absolute zero, as I am. I confess that since my mother brought it to me, I'd never even opened its big heavy black box before taking these pictures an hour ago.

So I'm begging for help. There must be a complete idiot's guide to sewing with a machine out there. A hold-my-hand, make-me-feel-smart, hey-look-I'm-doing-it book or website or video series or whatever. How can I take this heirloom and put it to work making beautiful things -- and render myself more accomplished, at this late date?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Time off

Noel was kind enough to give me a couple of hours to myself this afternoon, while he took the kids to the grocery store and Target. About 15 minutes before he was to leave, I was kicking myself for not yet having written the Breaking Bad TV Club post that needs to go up this evening.

Why would I be angry at myself for not getting work done, when I was about to have two uninterrupted hours to work? Therein lies the Summer Paradox.

For the entire academic year, we look forward to summer. That's when our days are suddenly rife with unscheduled time. Even though there are meetings and deadlines, it's not like the fall and spring. Daily classes, office hours, faculty meetings, and other regular detritus litter our calendars then. If we have 90 minutes of white space on the daily planner, we feel decadently isolated. But in summer, the appointments thin out. The time we can spend on whatever we choose proliferates. The proportion is completely reversed whenever students aren't around in large numbers.

What happens, though, is that work starts to feel like an intrusion on your free time. Instead of accepting work as the natural state of affairs and appreciating any leisure as a gift, you begin to resent those infrequent appointments. What gall, to be expected to be productive!

And so I jealously guarded those two hours today. I wanted to use them on whatever I wanted, not to get stuff done. Yet stuff that had to be done reared its ugly head. I was irrationally angry at the stuff I had agreed, happily, to do -- the stuff that was my job. And even though you might think such an attitude would be justifed, given that it's the weekend (and a holiday weekend to boot), the ugly truth is that I feel exactly the same during working hours. Just as I felt for the Sunday up to that point, which is why I hadn't written the post during the previous two hours when the kids were playing in their rooms and we were watching a Bruce McDonald movie.

There's no way to feel good about the Summer Paradox. I suppose you have to fight it with a mental adjustment. But right now, that seems too much like work.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Splish splash

I just finished giving Cady Gray a bath. Lately we've been letting her play in the tub by herself for a few minutes after the bathing is done -- quite a change from her early years when, to be frank, bathtime was all business. Now she begs to stay in the water and talk to herself while pouring water on scrubbies and boats. When I come get her, inevitably, she'll tell me that I left her there too long and she's become a prune.

I don't remember elaborate bath playtimes when I was a child. But I do know that I kept on taking baths late into my teenage years, which made hair-washing a challenge. The switchover to showers probably didn't occur fully until I went away to college.

That change from baths to showers seems like one of the undertheorized moments of transition from childhood to adulthood. It wasn't something anyone ever told me I should do. There's just that uneasiness that everyone else has made the switch, but no sense of when -- or why -- you should make the effort to change your own habits.

You also have to learn to take a shower, don't you? I mean, washing yourself standing up with water cascading over you is a very different procedure. It takes a little finesse -- a skill we probably have all forgotten that we have -- to tip your head back at the right angle to rinse your hair, to keep your face out of the direct spray except when you want it to be, to bend over to reach your lower extremities. And yet, does anyone ever teach you?

I have a fairly vivid memory of being in the shower with my mother when I was a preschooler. It was in our old house on Glendon Drive, where the shower was tiled in a glossy brick color, and the array of knobs was quite mysterious. As I remember it, you had to turn one handle to get water to come on, and two others to adjust the hot and cold mix. But since we moved out of that house when I was in junior high, I really never used that shower by myself.

Now a bath means some sort of luxurious bubbles-and-champagne indulgence, maybe on vacation. Except for the kids, of course. And I feel like I need a guidebook to figure out how to get them to start taking showers someday.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Attending my own funeral

Today's blog post, about falling to a worthy adversary in Sock Wars IV, is at Toxophily.

It's Memorial Day weekend, and we're hoping to catch a ball game if any sunshine sneaks in between the rains. We'll see you at the park!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Highway to the sky

After reading a CoolTools review of the Garmin Nuvi 350 -- "As of now, the Garmin Nuvi 350 is the starter car nav device to get" -- I decided it was finally time to join the GPS revolution. Previously our technophiliac household batted for the Luddites in two major areas: satellite car navigation, and cell phones. Now we're just holding out on the cell phone, and as of a few days ago, we were wavering. (Our cell is a prepaid TracFone that stays in its charger unless there's a babysitter with the kids or one of us is on a trip.)

We got the Nuvi for Christmas, but it's a measure how rarely we go anywhere other than our extremely familiar small town that we didn't install it for a few months thereafter. A few times we've used it to navigate in Little Rock; Noel used it to locate ATMs and his parents' new house on his trip to Nashville earlier this week; and today I turned it on to get guidance to my boss's house, where we were holding an administrative retreat.

I've been to that house, which is in a neighboring town some 20 miles from here, a few times since my boss built a house and moved there about 18 months ago. But it's still unfamiliar territory, nestled in a maze of subdivision roads in a hilly, confusing, still-expanding development. For a moment after I turned it on and entered the address, I was concerned; the only "Seminole" that came up was "Seminole Cir," and my boss (and Google Maps) gives his street as "Seminole Lane." You know how subdivisions are -- there could be both a Seminole Circle and Lane, unrelated to each other, somewhere within that complex of neighborhoods.

But I decided to trust the nav system at least until it got me to my boss's town, figuring that I would know if it recommended a wrong turn off the main drag since I could easily remember that far. I also sneaked a peek at Google Maps directions before I left, so when the Nuvi told me to turn on Odom South, I knew that the two were in agreement. And to my surprise, the robotic female voice guided me straight to Rick's house without missing a beat. Turns out its brain is smarter than the mapmakers who can't decide whether his street is a Circle or a Lane.

Late adopter that I am, I'm still astonished that my car is connected to a satellite uplink. Twenty years ago, surely the idea that satellite triangulation of location would someday be accurate enough and consumer-friendly enough to know whether your car is on the road or in the parking lot was hard to fathom. So much technological capacity that would once have been fiercely guarded and restricted to military applications has become available for everyday use. The next step, of course, is for us to get so used to this stuff that we lose patience when it's not available or doesn't work. For that, we need Louis CK's words of wisdom: It's going to space. Give it a second.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Past and future

Hooray, Noel is home! And just in time, because I don't think I could take the tension of tonight's American Idol finale on my own.

To celebrate, here are a couple of pieces of writing (both graded "Advanced") that Archer brought home from school -- one looking back (apparently a rewrite of a piece we've already seen, unless he just has no more ideas for topics), and one looking ahead.

I was so excited about my birthday party. My and my sister's friends came to Jump!Zone for my party. I jumped in the inflatables and played in the arcade and had birthday cake and opened presents. My stay was 2:30 pm to 4:00. In AIR HOCKEY, I got 7 of 7 points and Noel got 6 of 7 points.


I want a dog for a pet. I'd play Fetch with him. I'd want it because they have collars, medallions, and leashes. It would be white with brown spots. I'd get it for $7.99 at the pet shop. I think I'd love my dog!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The big night

So in a few minutes, the American Idol finale will begin. It's hometown favorite Kris Allen versus judges' favorite Adam Lambert.

You know, I've watched Idol for years. Usually weeks before the finale, I'm consoling myself over the inevitable exit of my favorites with the assurance that anyone in the final four or five is getting a record contract. Just by getting that far, they are going to have a career in the music industry.

It's a slam dunk that Kris Allen is going to abandon his pursuit of a business degree because of the major label contract he'll be inking as soon as his indentured servitude to the 19 Entertainment machine runs its course. Win or lose, he's set.

So why am I so nervous tonight? I find that even though I'd never buy a Kris Allen record, I really, really want him to win. He's smooth, seasoned, comfortable in the spotlight, and perhaps most importantly for Idol history, actually knows contemporary music and places himself within that context rather than some classic rock nostalgia trip.

Yet I'm torn, because after early excitement about Adam, I've spent the last several weeks running him down due to his overly polished stagecraft and inability to know when enough is enough, as well as blatant and disgusting judicial favoritism. Now I'm worried that Kris is perceived to have the inside track not because America likes him, but because America is uncomfortable with Adam's ... flamboyance.

So my Conway pride is at war with quite another kind of pride. And I suppose there's no way we're going to know, short of some very astute and timely polling, why people vote for whomever they vote for tonight. But I wish I'd never read the local columnist who opined that the midwest Gokey voters will never vote for Adam. And I'm glad that I heard about the bond that Kris and Adam have formed as roommates on the show, leading to Adam painting Kris's nails before the homecoming trips as a sign of solidarity.

Maybe, no matter what the outcome, both will stand before America and proclaim that the other is a wonderful person. I have no doubt that either one could teach those smug columnists and suspicious heartlanders a thing or two.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Might as well jump

The finale of How I Met Your Mother, one of the shows I cover for the A.V. Club's TV Club, was tonight, and I spent way too long writing it up. So I hope you'll head over there for tonight's content.

Noel is out of town once again -- this time in Nashville to celebrate nephew Andrew's graduation from high school -- and while everything has been running smoothly, I'm having trouble feeling on top of things. There are deadlines at work, summer deadlines, to be sure, but deadlines nonetheless. Laundry sits in a basket unfolded beside me. The Wii Fit balance board has not been nice to me lately. The kids' lunches have not started making themselves. And somewhere out there is a pair of socks with my name on it, stalking me through the postal system. (OK, maybe they haven't been mailed yet ... if I'm lucky.)

Noel's trip is short, and Cady Gray gets to go on a playdate tomorrow -- meaning I'll have a few hours at work on my own. Not sure what it will take to get me out of this funk. The worst part is that thanks to that stupid balance board, comfort noshing is right out.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Proper channels

Earlier this week, I spent a workday morning sending detailed e-mails to all the students who (a) fell below our grade point average threshold for retention this semester, and (b) were close enough to the threshold to achieve it this summer via retaking a failed class for grade forgiveness or accumulating a few more hours of A work.

This kind of administrative work is fraught with danger. You have to communicate clearly and precisely. And when students come to you pleading for an exception, you have to walk a fine line between policy-for-policy's-sake and anything-you-want-just-go-away-please.

There are a million reasons for making any decision. When there are rules, you have to decide to whom they apply and under what circumstances. When there are no rules, you have to decide whether that means complete freedom or the necessity to make analogies with the spirit of other rules. And when there is a person involved asking for mercy or petitioning for special treatment, you are further confronted with the human being with all her complexity and moral standing.

When it gets most frustrating, I remember something my boss told me not long ago. We've just endured an extended series of scandals at our university -- presidents advocating for their own bonuses in the names of their underlings, scholarships handed out with no criteria, money collected for one purpose but diverted to another, laws governing maximum salary circumvented.

Everybody hates bureaucracy, my boss said. But the definition of corruption is not going through the designated and appropriate process for making a decision. Impersonal processes serve the purpose of making the criteria for decision transparent, and of not treating people differently based on differences that don't matter (like who a student's parents are, or how squeaky the wheel is).

So when I have bad news for a student, or when I feel inclined to make a decision just because I'm tired of being hassled, I pause a moment to give thanks that I represent a bureaucracy. It's a service to all the people out there who didn't need to ask for an exception.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

You can take it with you

Amazon is now letting blog owners publish their blogs on its Kindle store. So I've just made this blog available for your Kindle.

This is a nifty feature for Kindle owners and bloggers alike. You can choose to get my daily post sent to your Kindle, if you prefer to read it that way. There has always been a selection of big-name blogs to which you could subscribe, but now it's open to everyone.

Of course it costs money -- a monthly subscription fee of $1.99. Nobody's going to take away the web version, or the RSS feed; the blog is still free to the world. But some Kindle owners might want not only to have the blog sent to their machines and appear in their reading lists automatically, but also to put a nominal sum in the tip jar, as it were.

If you read me daily, and you have a Kindle, consider subscribing, reviewing the blog on Amazon's product page, and recommending me to your friends. I didn't put Union, Trueheart, and Courtesy on the Kindle to make money; frankly, if anything more than one more Starbucks chai latte per month trickles in -- ever -- I'll be shocked. As a Kindle enthusiast myself, though, and as an observer of what voluntary micropayments can do, I'm excited about the new venue.

Friday, May 15, 2009

One summer never ends

Archer brought home a stack of writing assignments today. This one got a grade of "Advanced." It also displays typical autistic traits -- a perfect example of his abilities and limitations.

Name: Archer (2nd Redo) Date: 2/24/09 (2nd Redo)

When I was 7 years old I had my birthday party with my sister Cady Gray turning 4 years old. It was at Jump Zone. It was on 8/16/08 at 4:55 pm to 6:25 pm. My usual birthday is on 8/19/08 and Cady Gray's usual birthday is on 8/25/08. It was 3 days before my usual birthday and 9 days before my sister Cady Gray's birthday. I ate pizza, and cake. I also got to open presents. My most favorite one was the Price is Right electronic game. I had a great time at my party.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

May flowers

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the lovely spring weather we'd been having in Conway. Some of my local friends felt I was sure to jinx it by mentioning a hope that it would continue for a little while.

Maybe they were right. Since then it's rained without ceasing. Arks are in various stages of construction all over town. Our rainfall total for the last two weeks has been nearly ten inches.

But in between the raindrops, the drenched landscape has had that almost fluorescent glow of spring. The sun, when it's been briefly visible, has outlined everything it touches with startling sharpness. On a day or two, the humidity has soared up into the upper register and given us a taste of what summer will bring. But yesterday, in between two huge thunderstorm systems, the wind scattered the moisture. It felt like kite-flying weather at the shore.

Earlier this week I spent some time in the library on campus. It was final exam time at my university, when time passes in different increments, and everything slows down suddenly and acquires an unfamiliar focus. When I walked out of the front doors of the library, I was hit with the scent of honeysuckle. Just for five seconds, the air tasted sweet and hot, like strolling past a backyard garden and sampling the mingled aromas. Then it was gone. A promise of summer, taking a vacation in the mild spring sunshine, heading home on the breeze.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


The A.V. Club inaugurated a new literary feature this week, and if you were worried about the future of books and reading in this internet age, the results should give you hope. Editor Keith Phipps announced "Wrapped Up In Books" a month ago, and gave the readers our first selection: Katherine Dunn's 1989 novel Geek Love.

I'm honored that it was my pick that kicked off the book club. On Monday I posted my initial thoughts about the novel and asked A.V. Clubbers and the site's readers for their reactions. To our delight, hundreds of comments have been posted to that article and the five that followed from other staffers.

None of us knew whether our readers would really make the effort to obtain a twenty-year-old out-of-print novel and read it along with us. But they did, and by any standard, the discussion that they've generated has been fascinating and in-depth.

Tomorrow the feature will end for this month with a live chat on the site, incorporating live reader comments as well. You can join us at 5 pm Eastern, 4 central at

But thanks to an idea posted by an alert reader, and thanks to the indefatigable energies of our own Leonard Pierce, that won't quite be the end. I'll be interviewing Katherine Dunn on Friday for a feature that will appear as a postlude to the first "Wrapped Up In Books." I can't wait to get her responses to the questions that have been posed by our staffers and readers -- an inside glimpse into the novel we've been dissecting all week.

Our readers -- are readers. Guess we never should have doubted.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Acting -- thank you

This semester, Archer has been participating in a theater group sponsored by a local pediatric therapy clinic. ACTS Jr. (Acting Creates Therapeutic Success) combines children of all abilities -- some severely disabled, some high-functioning with disabilities, and some with no disabilities -- to create a play from scratch.

Their performance was tonight, and Archer had a blast. He completely throws himself into the performance setting. It was actually his first-grade teacher last year who suggested the theater group, after Archer performed with great gusto while reading a book to the class.

I've tried to imagine what makes acting so attractive to him. It could be the chance to practice having emotions in a setting that puts them completely under his control. More likely it's the scripted nature of the play. Knowing what comes first, then next, then next, then next has always been both comforting and energizing to Archer. It's routine and it's ritual. When he plays, he announces (and often writes down) a schedule for himself.

Participating in the creation of a script, and then following that script -- that's all the power he wants. I see him smiling with secret delight as he proceeds from step to step. And already he's asking if he can be in ACTS Jr. next semester.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The power of music

On Friday, my student Jacob presented his thesis about the religious power of popular music. Across the parking lot, American Idol finalist Kris Allen performed in one of the show's homecoming events. The town had been covered with supportive signs for the occasion. Every third person I met on campus was wearing a Kris Allen t-shirt. E-mails about ticketing arrangements and schedules went out from the adminstration nearly hourly for days.

When the presentation was over and the floor was open for questions, I asked the obvious one. How did Jacob's analysis -- about the emotional connection, community formation, and transcendent yearnings embodied in popular music -- relate to the events taking place across the parking lot?

Jacob had it covered. Kris Allen is about the citizens of Conway suddenly becoming visible to the world. In the spotlight, we emphasize our commonalities. We celebrate what unites us. We see our American Idol as the figure that represents us on a larger stage.

That explains why I felt anxious -- even disappointed -- that I didn't get to attend any of the events because I was occupied with senior theses, banquets, and graduation activities all day. Even though Kris Allen is nothing like Bill Clinton in terms of historical significance, there was a distinct sense of lack in the knowledge that I wouldn't be participating.

Did that have anything to do with the power of music? I wouldn't buy a Kris Allen album or iTunes download of my own free will. But in the context of the show -- the competition -- I'm a fierce supporter. And I thrill -- yes, I do -- to the visibility and pride he's brought to my town. Maybe that makes me a sap. But there it was, undeniable, just across the parking lot from the singer and his fans, while I watched a YouTube clip of Elvis and hummed to myself: "Hush little baby, don't you cry ..."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Put them all together they spell mother

For Mother's Day I received:
  • A handmade card from Cady Gray with a heart and XO's on the front, and a picture of me building a five-shelf bookcase on the inside
  • A handmade card from Archer with a heart on the front, and reading inside: "Dear Mom -- You help me when I need it. I love you! Love, Archer. P.S. I owe you 1,000,000 Mom Bucks!"
  • My very own locally-produced Kris Allen "Kick Awesome" t-shirt
  • Sleeping Beauty, my favorite Disney movie, on Blu-Ray
  • An extra 90 minutes of sleep this morning
  • 90 minutes of time to myself this afternoon
  • Breakfast at Starbucks
  • Dinner at Fuji Steakhouse
  • The news that the flowers I ordered for my mother were delivered to the wrong address (not so awesome)
  • Star Trek (totally awesome)
Thank you, Noel and kids!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Just the facts

Archer filled out a "Mommy Fact Sheet" at school. Here's how he sees me:
My mom's name is Donna Bowman.
She is 43 years old.
She is 6 feet 7 inches tall. [Not true.]
She weighs 150 pounds. [Close, and on the right side of close.]
Her hair color is Brown.
Her favorite food is Pizza. [I do like pizza.]
Her favorite thing to drink is Crystal Clear. [Nope.]
Her favorite thing to do at home is Knit sweaters & mittens.
Her favorite TV show is American Idle.
She likes to cook deviled eggs. [Yep!]
Her favorite hobby is knitting.
She likes to go to the library. [Yep!]
Her favorite thing about me is good as golds, no folder marks. [I need to work on praising him for something other than his behavior record at school, don't I?]

Friday, May 8, 2009

Dear graduates

My boss's address to the graduating seniors is titled "What I Thought We Taught You." With apologies to Rick, then, here's What I Thought I Taught You:
  1. The complex answer is probably closer to the truth.
  2. We are more capable together than we are separately.
  3. The skills you have when you walk in my classroom door are valuable.
  4. Embrace the disreputable.
  5. It's all interesting.
  6. There is no plan.
  7. Communicating clearly is the first order of business.
  8. Meaning is where you find it.
  9. Context is everything.
  10. Build a process, arrange language, juxtapose images, and you have created both the world and yourself.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

To explore strange new worlds

J.J. Abram's reboot of the Star Trek franchise opens tomorrow. Noel and I aren't planning to go see it until Sunday -- too much graduation-related hoopla for the rest of the weekend -- and the search for a babysitter (difficult when the entire college population is leaving town) left me briefly anxious that I wouldn't get to see it right away.

That's a worry based on my long but spotty history with all things Trek. In high school I was a total Trek nerd. I watched the original series in syndication on a local UHF channel (and dragooned my younger brother into watching it with me whenever I was left in charge of the house). I read the novels. I read the novelizations. I read the photo-novels. I wrote fan fiction. I saw all the movies. I went to the local SF con and bought stickers reading "It had the virtue of never having been tried."

But by the time Next Generation started, I had moved on, to a certain extent. I watched it sporadically, getting engrossed in the Borg storyline. I defended poor Deanna Troi, everyone's least favorite character, because I have a soft spot for the underdog (and because I secretly wanted to be like her). But I didn't get into any of the ancillary fandom, and I didn't even make a serious effort to be completist about the series. And my disconnection from the later elements of the franchise -- Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise -- has been pure and complete.

So it's with some mixed feelings that I look forward to the new movie. Frankly, my excitement about it stems almost equally from its Trekkiness and from its Abramsicity. I am deeply connected to ST:TOS, in a way that I'll never be able to shake. I imagine that the movie is going to reawaken all those old loves and obsessions. Yet it's a part of my past, not my present. I don't have the long-term bona fides, born of serious dedication through the wilderness years, to claim the cultural moment as my due. I'll be a bystander. Enjoying myself, sure, but with neither pride of ownership nor standing to complain.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Suddenly last summer

Archer wrote a composition -- well, maybe 1.5 compositions -- about our excursion to see minor league baseball last year.

Here's the first page:
Last summer I went to North Little Rock to see the Arkansas Travelers play baseball. I left after the 8th inning. The score so far was Cardinals 2, Travelers 3. I really liked the trip! (Well, that was the last game.) I'm going to go again this summer. There was a kids area. It had outrageous slides. It closes after the 7th inning.
After he got corrections from his teacher (he had written "I'm going to go again this summer" as the second sentence and crossed it out before writing it again further down), it looks like he decided to write the whole composition over again on the back, this time with intentional mistakes he could cross out and correct himself. Here's the second version:
Name: Archer Title: A Family Trip
Last summer I went to North Little Rock to see the Arkansas Travelers Play play baseball. We got to ceep track of score on a skorecard scorecard. We watched the first 4 innings, then I was in the Kidzarea Kidzone that had great slides until the 7th inning. I left after the 8th inning. The Travlers Travelers led the way 3to2 3-2. I really liked the trip! (Well, that was tha last game.) I'm going to go again this summer.

It's not surprising that he remembers all the numbers associated with the game and our visit. (Well, maybe a little surprising given that it's been ten months.) But I'm intrigued by the way he tried harder to put the events in chronological order the second time around.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Today as I walked home past the residence hall where most of my students live, I saw a steady stream of them coming out of the door carrying boxes, furniture, bags, lamps, and plastic bins full of possessions. Waiting for them in the parking lot, tailgate already lowered on the pickup or SUV, was a mom, dad, or grandma.

And I suddenly saw the kids as their parents must see them. Are these the same children they raised and sent off to school? These enthusiastic or cynical intellects, who have adopted idiosyncratic personal styles to set themselves apart -- these accomplished scholars who've seen too much and been too worked over by the system -- these anxious seekers whose heads are full of grad school and fellowship offers, unable to contemplate returning to the room where they did their elementary school homework. What do the parents see? An adult? A stranger? A child playing dress-up?

These days with my children feel so intensely real, sometimes. It's impossible to wrangle myself out of the present moment to imagine what's coming as they grow up. And looking at move-out day, the temporary re-collision of worlds for those who have been living such separate lives, I see that my wildest fantasies could never be up to the challenge. Yet I already feel a proleptic pang for the young man and young woman my children will become, and what a gulf will separate them from the seven-year-old playing Wii Fit and the four-year-old hopping around the room to the theme from Star Wars.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Winding down

It's exam week at my university. I've got two final exam periods to attend. both on Wednesday, and only one of them involves actual student performance that needs to be assessed (low-stakes assessment at that). Before Wednesday there are just a few tasks on my plate:
  1. Finish grading student work from earlier in the semester.
  2. Create a brief assessment rubric for the group presentations that will take place during one of the exam periods.
  3. Read four theses that have been nominated for an award.
  4. Design and print certificates for the winning team in that group presentation event.
All of those tasks are theoretically due by Wednesday. So what did I do today? Let's take a detailed look at my decision tree.
  1. Grading student work? Well, my teaching assistant hasn't caught up with the one new paper that's been posted. That's really the important stuff; the few journals I haven't read are pretty insignificant. Besides, I'll end up doing most of this on Thursday, Friday, and Monday since there will be several papers turned in right before the deadline. Verdict: Postpone.
  2. Assessment rubric? This won't be hard. I've got a vague idea already. I do need to send it to the evaluators tomorrow, but it'll only take ten minutes to pull together. Verdict: Postpone.
  3. Read theses? I want to start with the one that's mostly a film. I put the DVD of that film in my bag so I can look at it tonight. Verdict: Progress made.
  4. Design certificates? Now that looks like fun. Verdict: About two hours spent on this task this afternoon -- Completed!
And as it turned out, that's all the time I had available in my day after taking Cady Gray to the park for her final preschool field day and before coming home to take Archer to his play rehearsal. After marking the most insignificant item off my list, I'm feeling mighty accomplished. Time for a break!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Toadally awesome

This weekend featured a couple of hours when the skies were not pouring down rain. We took advantage of them to go to Toad Suck Daze, the annual highlight of Conway social life.

You are here!

Dancing to Guns 'N Roses in Toad Suck Square.

These people have been standing with their hands on that truck for 70 hours and 15 minutes.

As much fun as the rides themselves -- measuring to see if you are tall enough to ride.


Mom's favorite carnival ride ... yet she was not allowed onto the carousel.

A prize for every child.

The kids would not let us leave until we put them on the tiny Ferris wheel.

Kid food on a stick -- corn dog style!

Adult food on a stick -- sausage style!

Dessert on a stick -- fried Twinkie style!

Toad Suck Daze was (and I quote) "fabulous! stupendous! amazing!"

Saturday, May 2, 2009


It was a rainy day. Toad Suck Daze, horror of horrors, was canceled. (The downtown streets where the vendor booths are set up tend to flood.) What to do?

Make t-shirt yarn!

Read all about it in today's post at Toxophily.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Pomp and circle time

Cady Gray graduated from her preschool class last night. The commencement theme was "When I Grow Up." And even though you can't tell from this video, she was the best one.

Her costume, by the way, is based on what her teacher, Miss Cindy, wears every day. I initially put her in a pair of her usual leggings, but she corrected me: "Miss Cindy always wears blue jeans." The lanyard with her name on it -- that was my touch. I'm quite proud of it.