Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Fold and fly

Somebody at school taught Cady Gray how to make a basic paper airplane a few weeks ago, and ever since, stray pieces of paper left lying around our house have tended to disappear, then pop up as gliders.

I try to notice things the kids are into and build on them, so I picked up a book on paper airplane making in Archer's recent Scholastic order. Cady Gray immediately commandeered it and began a quest to make all the planes therein. I count eight different planes -- gliders, stunt planes, and darts of many varieties -- lying on the coffee table right now.

When I was a kid, I knew how to make exactly two paper airplanes -- the triangular dart that I think of as the prototypical model, and a stubby, squared-off stunt plane with flaps in the back you could fold up or down to get different loops and curves. I coasted on that meager repertoire my whole childhood. Now I can still make the dart, but the stunt plane has faded from memory, along with the origami and string figures I obsessively read about and practiced in my youth. These are essential skills for navigating elementary school, and I'm glad Cady Gray is on the road to acquiring them. Maybe she'll retain them a bit longer than I did. Time to stock up on books of jump-rope rhymes and clapping games!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


We had parent-teacher conferences this afternoon, and were thrilled to hear that Archer has made major strides forward in reading and writing since our last meeting in the fall. One of items we got to bring home was a writing prompt for which he received a perfect score.

The assignment (for informational/sequential writing) was to write about one of your favorite foods and explain how to make it. Here's Archer's response:
Don't know how to make a pepperoni pizza? It's easy! You'll need pepperoni slices, tomato sauce, cheese that has been grated, and the most important thing: pizza dough!
First, you get the ingredients, and flip the dough at least 3 times. The dough will be clean and tan after you flip it.
Then you add the tomato sauce. But be careful not to make it overflow. Be sure to leave space on the edges.
Next, sprinkle the cheese on the pizza. Don't make the cheese overflow. Tip: Cover the whole tomato sauce.
4th, place the pepperoni on the pizza. Don't cram most of it in one spot. Place it leaving equal space between them. Tip: Place about 16 pepperonis on the pizza.
5th, carefully place the pizza in the oven and cook it for about 15 to 30 minutes at a temperature of 350 degrees F.
6th, using oven mitts, take out the pizza because the pizza will be about 162 degrees F. Now let the pizza cool for about 15 minutes.
Finally, cut the pizza into 8 slices. Tip: Average about 2 pepperonis per slice. Now eat it and enjoy it!

Monday, March 29, 2010

The washing up

My dishcloth obsession continues. View the latest in the black-and-white collection in today's post at Toxophily.


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Spring colors

It's fair to say that I like having Easter eggs dyed more than I like dyeing Easter eggs. I always seem to make bad choices that lead to more headaches supervising the kids than I would like. For example, today I made sure I had clear plastic cups to put the dye in, thinking that would be better than using mugs or juice glasses we'd have to clean up. But the cups were the taller variety with narrower bases, meaning I was constantly feeling like the kids were about to tip them over when they tried to get eggs in or out of them.

In an effort to squeeze some enjoyment out of an activity that turned out to be more aggravation than I had hoped, I took some photos. You can tell I like my eggs saturated and bright, not pale and pastel. But I like them best when they're deviled ... and I'll have to wait a week for that. No wonder I'm grumpy.






And the prettiest of all ...


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Be it ever so humble

One of the perennial questions on Ravelry is "Why would anyone knit a dishcloth?" My long answer can be found in today's post at Toxophily. Here's the short answer:


Friday, March 26, 2010

The last push

Today was the last working day of Spring Break, and I spent it hard at work -- catching up on student work in my sophomore class, and participating in a nearly two-hour webconference with a national committee.

And as I left the office, I reflected on what is upcoming. When school starts again on Monday, there are four weeks left until final exams and commencement. This is the last push. Papers will be submitted, revisions solicited, projects presented. Next time I come up for air, it will be summer.

The proximity of summer gives us all hope, student and faculty alike. For students, it means a few months away from the crush of deadlines and assignments; for faculty, a chance to pursue long-term projects away from the grind of class meetings and grading.

In the past month, I've turned in proposals for a couple of major conferences; I'm hoping to have the task of preparing for a presentation or two before classes resume in the fall. There will be follow-up work on assessment coming from last summer's strategic planning. I'll be involved with a task force that has a final report due in October, and will be meeting frequently over the summer.

The real trick in April is not to be too beguiled by the prospect of May. There's still almost a third of the semester to go; the class meetings and structure defining this last month will mean the difference between major accomplishments for students and just marking time.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Throughout the week, Noel and I have been trading off the task of keeping the kids occupied. They're on spring break -- no school. I'm on spring break, too, but apart from Monday and Tuesday when campus was closed for computer system upgrades, I've been on the clock and expected to be in the office. And of course, Noel has his usual weekly workload.

Monday I took the kids into the closed office for half a day. Tuesday I tried to go work in the closed office, but the power had been cut to the building. Wednesday I went to work, but came home in the afternoon to take Cady Gray shoe shopping. Today I took the kids to work with me in the morning.

All that is to say that this afternoon, Noel took the kids on a playground and shopping trip that left me at home alone for a little more than an hour. At such times, I get almost giddy with anticipation. How will I spend my time? What major project will I undertake, or what minor leisure will I indulge in?

My immediate thought was to use the time to select and prepare for my next major knitting project. I just finished a large blanket, and the only other projects I have going are small and quick. It's time to embark on something relatively big and complex, something that will keep me occupied for a month or more. A sweater, I thought, and I had just the one in mind -- a summer cardigan I've been looking forward to for quite a while.

As Noel and the kids pulled out of the driveway, I plopped down with my computer to look up the pattern in my Ravelry queue. But then I had a second thought ... I knew I'd been saving some summer knits for Cady Gray, patterns that she might get too big for if I waited too much longer. I started browsing my queue to see what kid tops and sweaters I'd made plans to make.

And then it happened. I found that my queue was disorganized. A while back I reconfigured the way I was using it, arranging patterns that I already had yarn for and making notes about where I'd packaged and stored the materials. But there were pages and pages of patterns I had queued before I started that system -- patterns I had saved there just because I thought I might want to make them someday, not because I had yarn or any immediate plans. These days I use Ravelry's "favorites" function to keep track of those, but here were all these patterns in my queue from before -- patterns I wasn't noticing when I browsed my favorites for ideas, because they were in the wrong place.

So I started cleaning up my queue. An hour later, when Noel brought the kids home, I was maybe a third of the way through the job. Time wasted? Not to me. I love organizational schemes, and I love making plans to do things I love almost as much as I love doing them. It was a wonderful hour getting reacquainted with these patterns that I had noticed and queued a year or two (or three) ago. I found evidence of old and temporary obsessions, when I thought I wouldn't be knitting anything but toe-up socks for the foreseeable future, for example, and queued every one I could find. I was reminded of great ideas that had gotten lost in the shuffle, and I saw how my taste had changed since the beginning of my knitting career. Some of those queued items didn't even make it into my favorites.

The best organizational jobs are the ones that promise many pleasures to come, and that take a nice long time to accomplish. I'm looking forward both to completing this one, and to the chance to reevaluate it somewhere down the road. Because the most wonderful thing about organization is that whatever scheme you implement now need not be forever.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


It's always a good day when you start to read a new book by your favorite author. Having cleared the last pages of two tomes for work, I was free today to begin Oath of Fealty by Elizabeth Moon.

Although she is best known as a science fiction author and frequent collaborator with other sci-fi writers, Moon is my favorite author because of The Deed Of Paksenarrion. It's a fantasy trilogy focusing on a female soldier who becomes a paladin, or religious knight. I've read and reread it many times, and I've passed it on to many students. It always inspires me to show more courage in my life, and sets me ruminating on saints, sects, and religious pluralism.

When you wait this long for a new adventure in a beloved world, and for the reappearance of familiar characters, you want to read every word slowly, to make it last. I'm afraid that even the 496 pages of this (in hardcover ... I'm reading the Kindle edition) will pass by too quickly. Then it's a year to wait until the next book in this second trilory, Kings of the North arrives -- a year at least (the book's not on the publishing schedule yet). Meanwhile, though, there is a lifetime of other books and series to dive into. I'm still in a holding pattern on many I started more than a year ago, and have had to put aside for the constant stream of reading that needs to be done for work. Perhaps this summer I'll be able to sink back into series fantasy with a sigh of pure relaxation.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Miniature golf and Hondas in the hills

Today's post on the warmth of giving is at Toxophily.

I fully intended to get some work done today, even though the campus is closed for computer system upgrades. But the power was off in my building, so I came home and sent Noel off to Starbucks so he could get some work done. Cady Gray and I crafted, I made the kids some lunch, and in the afternoon I took her to buy some shoes and enjoy beverages al fresco. Tomorrow will be enough time to get down to all the work I've been putting off for spring break.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Living crazy is the only way

Today's post about a ribbon of lace is at Toxophily.

And if you're not watching Breaking Bad, also known as arguably the best show on television, here's my post about last night's premiere. Seasons 1 and 2 are available on DVD!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Friday night at the Bijou

Our little town isn't so little anymore. When the 2010 census figures are released, I fully expect that Conway will have more than 75,000 residents. And the college population is more than 15,000.

But for as long as we've lived here, we've had two movie houses, both the kind of strip-mall multiplexes that were long since run out of business in major cities. The Carmike 6 switched to digital projection a couple of years ago, and leapfrogged from worst to first in moviegoing quality. The Cinemark 6 has bigger houses, but in the last few years has lagged behind in technology.

As of January, though, we're down to one cinema option. The Cinemark closed for eight months, with the aim of gutting the place and rebuilding as a state-of-the-art multiplex. The idea is to make it an anchor for an edge-of-town shopping center that has steadily emptied over the past decade and is barely hanging on with temporary outlet sales that swoop in and out.

What I'm wondering is what took developers so long? There are thousands of college students here. A good movie house is a can't-miss proposition in this town. Being able to see 3-D movies without driving an hour round-trip into Little Rock? I'm there. Despite the fact that we're movie people, we see very few movies in the theater -- maybe one or two a month. Put a real theater in this town, and you double that from my family, or more. You'd let me see what right now I can't see -- the 3-D, the stuff that doesn't open here currently because of limited screen space.

It's going to be fall or winter before we get the grand reopening. That's a long summer with only six tiny screens in town. But I hope it will all be worth it when we enter the new Cinemark, and maybe even more so when pressure is put on the Carmike to upgrade as well.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Productive laziness

I was hoping for a lazy weekend. And today was as lazy as I could wish. I slept until after 9 am, then got up and crossed off the first item on Cady Gray's "crafts to do" list (knitting). After a little Wii Play, we went to a model train show in town where Archer and Cady Gray both got to drive Thomas trains around tracks to their hearts' content. Pizza lunch was followed by basketball, more knitting, and conversation. When the kids emerged from their rest periods, Cady Gray and I went on to item 2 on the crafts list (beading), Noel got started on the all-locally-grown dinner, and I read. Now the kids are in pajamas and I'm looking forward to another evening of basketball and knitting.

But for a day of doing nothing, I sure feel like I got a lot done. Last night I bound off and wove in ends on my Totally Autumn blanket ... almost 35,000 stitches of coziness. Today I indulged in scarf knitting with my Signature needles -- the project I pick up when I want to treat myself -- and after one more lace repeat, I'll be binding that off. I got within striking distance of the end of this month's Wrapped Up In Books selection, ready to participate in the discussion about it starting on Monday. About the only task of the weekend I haven't started on is writing a review of Breaking Bad's Sunday season 3 premiere, and I'm confident that tomorrow morning before Noel and Scott get up will be plenty of time to rough out a draft.

I enjoy getting stuff done when I'm not under pressure. There's a particular satisfaction in completing long, complicated, or copious tasks when deadlines loom or time is short. I'm happy to be experiencing the other side of accomplishment, though -- the kind that is pure lagniappe. It's about time.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Fun in the run

Archer and I have spent the last several months getting up early or staying late at school to train for his elementary school's Viking Voyage. Finally, today was the day -- and a more perfect day could not be imagined -- sunshine and 72 degrees on the day before the first day of spring. We opted for the one mile run since we didn't manage to finish a 5K distance during the training period.

We were proud of the fact that we ran the whole way, with a brief stop for water at the halfway mark. Team Fish Hat was in full effect, and Archer got big cheers from the whole school as he approached the finish line, naturally holding his chronograph so that he could stop it as he crossed and get his exact time. (Jim Fixx would be proud.)

Here's a video Noel put together of the big day.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The madness begins

As if my conference last weekend, and admissions events, school musicals, and fun runs this week weren't enough, we've got company for the weekend. But what company! For the first time in years, our oldest dearest mutual pal Scott Tobias has made the pilgrimage to Conway for the first weekend of March Madness. As with many other families, groups of friends, and workplaces around the country, the NCAA men's basketball tournament is a near-religious event.

My boss and I were reminiscing about the days before the internet, when you hand-drew a bracket and scribbled in teams during the Sunday afternoon selection show so that you could start working on your matchups before the newspaper with the full-page printed bracket appeared the next day. And then after writing in your picks on the newspaper's bracket, you carried around that folded-up, quickly-decaying piece of newsprint for the next three weeks, scratching out your losses and clinging to your remaining final four entrants.

I've been working so hard and running around to so many events, that I'm really looking forward to a weekend on the couch agonizing over teams in which I have no intrinsic rooting interest. (And then there's Wake Forest.) After last weekend and this week, I think I've earned it. And the best part about it is that Scott's visit gives the whole thing a festival atmosphere. Bring on the barbecue, the beverages, and the buzzer-beaters!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Future on tap

Tomorrow's a day I've been looking forward to for weeks.

In the past month, my program has interviewed more than 120 students in intensive, day-long sessions. Each student has been scrutinized by at least three, and in most cases four, faculty members. We've scored three essays for content, two for writing mechanics; we've evaluated performance in small discussion groups; we've added consideration for standardized test scores, GPA, high school recommenders, and the impressions of the faculty involved in the process.

As of tomorrow at 8 am, all the scores should be in, all the students' portfolios complete. And we've blocked off half a day to do nothing but sift through the list, sorting them this way and that, to identify the 55 to whom we'll offer admission, and rank-order those who will have alternate status.

My boss and I were comparing the task to that of the NCAA men's basketball tournament selection committee. As for them, much of the decision-making about who's in and who's out is easy. Those who absolutely don't belong are clear; those who are the top contenders are clear. It's the last ten students to be offered admission, and the first ten to miss the cut, who will be difficult to deal with.

The hard decisions aren't what I'm looking forward to. The real appeal is the view at 12:01 pm -- the list of the students who will be joining us as the incoming freshman class in the fall. It's a far more intimate group than we've had in the past. So I feel like every single one counts. I'd really like to spread their polaroids out, American Idol Hollywood-week style, and just sort them into piles. I'd like to see their faces when they find out that they're part of this elite group. And I'd like to reassure those who fell just short that making it past the first rounds of scrutiny is a great accomplishment in itself.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Hey soul sister

Today's post, about knitting yourself a friend, is at Toxophily. And if you need a reason to click, here's a preview of the artist and her creation:


Monday, March 15, 2010

What if (numerical edition)

Every once in awhile, Archer brings home a piece of writing that reminds us, rather forcefully, how differently his mind works from his classmates'. (For more information and a great metaphor to conceptualize this difference, see this post and following from the Mom-NOS blog.)

Here's Archer's answer to the St. Patrick's Day-related question: What would you do if you found a pot of gold?

If I had a post of gold I found on the end of a rainbow ... I'd do stuff with the gold. Here is what I'd do with 58.5 lb. of gold.

I'd share some of it. I'd share 49 gold coins. 7 to each of my friends.
Each gold coin is worth $25,000. I started out with 1,905 gold coins. That's $47,625,000. I shared $1,225,000 worth of coins, and had $46,400,000 left. I gave $175,000 worth of coins to each friend.
Then, I spent 1 coin ($25,000) on a car worth $24,392. I received $608 in change. Then I spent 11 coins ($275,000) on a house. I now have $46,100,608 left.
I spent 1,000 coins ($25,000,000) in Cash for Gold. I earned 25 $1,000,000 bils back. I spent the bills and earned back the 1,000 coins. I spent $608 at the lottery and earned 700 coins ($17,500,000)! Now I have 2,455 coins ($63,600,000). I now bought Times Square and spent 180 coins ($4,000,000). I have $59,600,000 left. I'm saving that. A decade later ...
... My $59,600,000 grew to $100,000,000! Here is my bank: [drawing of bank building]
The End

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Packing light

When I pack, I tend to follow a combination of two strategies. I gather the things I need as I come across them, and I make little ad hoc lists. Unfortunately, sometimes things fall through the cracks.

For instance, I was at work on Thursday printing out copies of all the handouts and documents I needed for my various activities and putting them in a folder. But I was also doing a bunch of other things at the same time. At one point, I got ready to print the financial spreadsheet for the treasurer's report, but noticed that my preview had grid lines on it. I canceled the print command and went back to see if I could get rid of the grid lines. Something intervened, and I never got back to the spreadsheet. So Sunday morning at the business meeting, I unclip all my papers and realize that I didn't bring that one.

One of my colleagues asked later if I'd ever gone to a conference and forgotten to bring a copy of the paper I was presenting. That's never happened to me, but only because in the past I used to be absolutely paranoid about it. I used to pack two copies of my paper, one in my carry-on and one in my luggage, along with extra copies of my itinerary, the front and back of my credit cards and identity documents, et cetera, et cetera.

These days, though, I've gotten too confident in my travel skills. Just one manila folder stuffed into the front pocket of my tote bag, the minimum number of outfits I need to get through the weekend, no backups. I wouldn't have been helped by redundancy on this trip; the financial report was a sheaf of copies, and it would never have occurred to me to bring an extra printout for safekeeping. But I realized that my growing complacency about packing might come back to bite me in some more important way down the line. Maybe next time I'll be back to my measure twice, cut once ways.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


It's been a long, long day, but a very successful one. I'm heading into the lost hour of Daylight Savings Time thinking that almost everything that might have caused me stress is behind me, and went well.

It all began with a breakfast meeting of the Southwest Commission on Religious Studies (SWCRS) board of directors. I was writing about arcane organizations last night for a reason; this one is comprised of officers from all the regional officers that the commission brings together, and has to do things like approve budgets and give awards.

Then I was a panelist in a session on post-Enlightenment theodicies -- just as academic as it sounds -- but unexpectedly (to me, having read the other two panelists' presentations ahead of time), I was not the clearly most unprepared and out-of-her-depth person in the room, and we ended up having a vigorous discussion with maybe even a hint of controversy.

Following a working lunch (catered by the conference, and during which I had a long conversation with the incoming president of the commission, I co-presided over a lengthy (six paper) session, fulfilling my moderator duties -- keeping presenters on time, introducing them, opening the floor to discussion -- quite admirably, if I do say so myself.

Then came the nerve-wracking part of the day. Would enough people show up for the plenary session, for which we had flown a high-ranking officer in our organization and major scholar out from the West Coast? They did, much to my relief. Would her talk be engaging and important? Yes, as I should never have doubted. Would those in attendance engage in lively conversation afterward? Indeed, some of the best I've ever heard at a session of its kind.

After that it was all gravy. Reception, socializing, dinner with the society's executives and our plenary speaker, gossip, heartfelt conversation, a good time was had by all.

I'm ready to do it all again, crammed into a slightly shorter period of time before I leave for the airport in the early afternoon, in about eight hours. Time to set the clocks forward and go to bed. Only a few more official duties, and I can put this one in the record books.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Org chart

At some point in your journey to adulthood, you reach the point where you look at the organizations adults belong to, and you wonder what any of them have to do with anything. There they are, with their slates of officer, their elections, their banquets, their treasurers and balance sheets, their conventions and conferences, just like it mattered. Like it had anything to do with the real world. Like anything changed because of the outcome of their parliamentary procedure.

And then you become an adult, and you realize: It does matter. Not on the outside, usually, but on the inside. And on the inside is where people live. The old joke about faculty politics being so contentious because of how little is at stake? Only true from an objective point of view. For the people that have to live in the institution that is formed by faculty politics, it matters a heck of a lot.

Part of the reason I enjoy being a part of the leadership in my little corner of the academy is that I flip back and forth from the not-mattering to the mattering quite adroitly. I understand that the question of who is appointed to what committee is not of moment to the larger sweep of history. But I also understand that it is of moment to the history and future of the organization ... and that people care about the organization, because they have chosen to live within it and to accept it as a constituent of their identities.

When I was a kid, my dad belonged to the local Kiwanis Club, and I vividly remember the one year he was the officer with the responsibility of organizing some regional convention. He put us kids to work putting together name tags and checking off lists. I'll never forget running across the name Orvilline Gumm on the registration roster, the wife of some Kiwanian who possessed, still to this day, the best name I've ever come across in the wild.

I didn't know what my dad did in the Kiwanis Club, other than have lunch with a lot of other men regularly, attend the travelogues at Memorial Auditorium that the group sponsored, and go to the national convention with Mom every year. But I think I know now why he worked for them and what he got out of it. The arcane ways of organizations, the procedures and the offices and the subcommittees -- they create the world, or a very small part of it, for some number of people who voluntarily agree to live some part of their life within it. It's no wonder that people actually care.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The big D

Sometimes when you expect to be completely swamped, being only a little swamped can seem like quite a triumph. I've been dreading this week since the beginning of the year -- huge complete responsibilities on my shoulders, presentations and documents to put together, and all falling at the same time as the admissions crunch.

What I figured was that I'd have to let my normal classwork slide in order to get that all done. So it was a matter of some surprise when I found myself on track after Tuesday. I had two of my presentations done; the business meeting information was underway, and needed to wait for a little more information in any case. My admissions reviews were up to date. I could even do some grading, read some blog posts, make some inroads on the student work that I had assumed would just have to pile up.

With preparations for my meeting complete, and work as caught up as I could have hoped, I can actually be excited about the big events coming up. Right after this weekend is our final interview day, another all day push. Then at the end of the week we'll be making our admissions decisions, right before spring break. Once April comes, we'll be gearing up to gain momentum on summer tasks -- revising the admissions rubric, building assessment tools, everything we've been putting on our to-do lists.

And I'm in a position I never expected at this stage of the semester: Thinking about something other than just getting by. It's a nice feeling.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Less than one hundred percent

In the last couple of days, something has been a little off with Archer. His appetite has disappeared, and he seems tired and in a fog some of the time.

But he's perfectly normal at other times, speaking with animation about his favorite subjects. Today I went running with him, and although we walked about half the way of the two and a quarter miles, he ran more than a mile. He was unusually quiet and subdued, and I worried that he was feeling poorly. But when asked he insisted he felt fine. And at the end of the run, he ran a quarter mile, passing most of his classmates and raising my hopes that he wasn't in any distress.

Then we went out to dinner, and he barely touched his pizza and sprite, while his sister (usually less interested in food) devoured hers. Nope, he's not right.

It's hard to know what to do when your children don't have any of the symptoms that let us know for sure what care they need. I've seen the kids recover on their own from episodes like this -- worse than this. But what if I'm ignoring something serious? After all, it's not like the symptoms he does have are ambiguous. He's gone from being a bottomless pit for any and all food to not wanting his favorite meal. It's just that this problem isn't accompanied by anything else that would tell us what to do. He still enjoys his Wii, reads his evening homework with verve, and is excited about school.

Being a parent means not knowing what to do a disturbing amount of the time. I'm inclined not to worry about these things -- or at least to advice Noel not to worry. At the same time, I'm watching like a hawk for the signs that will tell me what to do next. I wish they came with clear labels attached.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

No in-between

I tend to worry about in-between weather. What to wear when it's not warm enough for my summer wardrobe, but too warm for my winter wardrobe?

The truth is, though, that there's very little in-between weather to be found where I live. The thermometer moves from chilly to balmy in what seems a matter of days, with no extended stop in between. There are in-between times of day -- a cool morning or evening that might need a sweater. But worrying too much about the in-betweenedness of spring or fall leads to poor wardrobe choices. One finds oneself in long sleeve or wool socks when most of the day calls for bare arms and sandals.

Layers would seem to be the obvious answer. But no one talks about the real problem with layers -- what to do with them once you've shed them. I would rather shiver a bit on my walk to work, frankly, than carry home a sweater or jacket in the afternoon along with all the other stuff I have to lug.

Time spent wondering whether there's a part of the day that will be cool enough for an extra layer, frankly, is time wasted in this climate. Better to dress for the high temperature than the low. That means spring comes suddenly, with the qualitative change in comfort from highs in the 40s and 50s to highs in the 60s and 70s. One day you're bundling up until you get indoors, the next you are lingering outside as long as possible and inventing excuses for walks. I expect several weeks' worth of the latter before we're racing indoors again to feel the cool AC.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Carving out time

Today was Day One of the Big Push. Between now and Friday, I have to prepare for two panel presentations and get everything set up for the business meeting at this weekend's conference. Meanwhile everything for my normal classes and administrative work has to get done -- or enough of it to stave off collapse.

But this afternoon I took about three hours away from that pursuit to do something I didn't absolutely have to do. When I think about how far I could have gotten on the existing deadlines in those three hours, I get a little queasy. I could have completed the more involved presentation, maybe. Or made sufficient notes for the less involved one plus get the business meeting agenda written up.

Instead I crafted a paper description and abstract based on some research I've been doing in my spare time since the beginning of the year, and submitted it to the American Academy of Religion annual meeting.

The deadline for paper proposals for this year's late October meeting was originally last week. But due to all the work days folks in the Northeast have lost to snow, the submission system stayed open an extra week. And as I so often do, I finally came up with an idea just a day or two before the deadline. I didn't know if the Call for Papers would yield a home for it, but I was lucky enough to find a close enough match between the proposals one of the many groups was soliciting and my idea.

Then it was a question of carving out the time needed to write the proposal. Three hours. I didn't go back to the office after my noon class, opting to stay outside in the spring-like weather (but within easy cell phone range if needed) and work through a first draft. That took almost two hours. Then a meeting intervened -- but only took a little more than half an hour instead of the hour I was expecting. I went back to the office to take a last pass through, pare the elements down to the specified character limit, and submit, a process that ate up the last hour of the three.

Chances are not good that I'll be accepted. Chances are not good that any particular proposal gets accepted, given the prestige of this meeting. I'm very lucky to have had a paper accepted a few years ago, and this proposal is in an entirely different area. Given all that, and given that I have obligations that I cannot avoid bearing down on me and requiring my attention, was it smart to use three hours of my limited remaining time to take a flyer?

If I hadn't, I'd have been forfeiting any chance (however remote) of getting on the program this fall. And those three hours are not time wasted in any case; they are time invested in building a framework for research I was going to do anyway. Now I'm three hours to the good in thinking through some of the ideas I have been mulling over and putting them down in a form that can guide me next time I pick up the project.

As long as I make the deadlines -- no matter how close I cut it -- I'll have no regrets.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Make time for yarn every day

You may remember that Cady Gray received yarn, needles, and a learn-to-knit book for Christmas. And that three weeks ago, she completed her first project.

What you may not know is that she immediately started another project. This one was likewise in garter stitch -- but all purl this time. And the chart was 40 rows long instead of 25. And she had to make two of them.

Fifteen minutes ago, she finished. And she just learned to pass a stitch over another, which means she did the bind-off herself.

Here she is demonstrating her purling technique. If you are trying to learn, I think you could do worse than to study this closely.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Singin' them straight to the heart songs

Today's post about the bag that staggered across the finish line is at Toxophily.

Tonight Noel and I went to dinner, saw Shutter Island (awesome!), and came home to hear the babysitter's story about Cady Gray dressing up as "an arcade" and wanting to wear the costume to bed. Then I wrote the post linked above. Now it's time to shut the door on this Saturday. See you in the morning!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Well earned

Today was another interview day for candidates hoping to enter our program in the fall. Forty-eight high school seniors and their parents spent the whole day on campus, dodging the jackhammers, dump trucks, backhoes and cement mixers desperately pouring new sidewalks before the stimulus funds expire.

And as usual, I spent the whole afternoon with them, first giving a half-hour talk to which they responded in an on-site writing exercise, then engaging a few of them in discussion in two groups for an hour each.

It's an exhausting day, and I always feel afterwards like I deserve a vacation. That's fine with the interviews occur on a Friday, as the last two have.

But we always schedule one of the three designated days on a Monday, for students and parents for whom that's more convenient. The final day is March 15, a Monday. It's the day after I get back from a conference I have to help lead. So I'll be working that whole weekend, come home, do all the interview activities ... and then have a full work week ahead of me.

When that much uninterrupted responsibility faces me, I get all stoic. I can picture myself just powering through it, doing what I have to do, putting one foot in front of the other until the buzzer sounds and I'm finally on the other side.

And there's a wonderful other side: Spring Break starts just after that week. Not only that, but our friend Scott has finally renewed his annual pilgrimage from Chicago down to our home in the sticks for the opening weekend of the NCAA basketball tournament. The campus is even closed for two days during the break when I would normally be at work, meaning my vacation is enforced -- complete.

Getting there will be a challenge, and there won't be much downtime. But in a way, I thrive on the binge-and-purge cycle that academia becomes every so often. At the very least, it makes me feel I've earned my time off -- and helps me enjoy it to the fullest.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Pet sounds

Archer brought home a book about record-setting animals for his reading homework tonight, and as usual, emoted enthusiastically about the longest cat, the smartest bird, and the oldest tortoise. The book was partly about these unusual animals, and partly about how to train and care for your own pet.

Growing up, my brothers and I had a succession of fish, dogs, ponies, and horses. I know I drove my parents crazy asking for animals at various times in my life.

So far the topic of pets has not come up with our children. It probably would never occur to Archer to ask for a pet; that would require a kind of imagination and initiative that isn't in his normal repertoire. But I'm just waiting for Cady Gray to broach the subject. Both of them are a little afraid of dogs (sometimes a lot afraid). But Cady Gray, at least, thinks puppies and kittens are cute and oohs and ahhs over them. I'm resigned to the inevitable question, at some point in the future: "Mom, can we have ... ?"

But I'm also glad it hasn't happened yet. Our housekeeping is always on the edge of collapse as it is; our routine is workable but often short on time. It's hard to imagine adding care for an animal into that mix. Of course, I'm not thinking about all the ways that I enjoyed the company of my dogs and horses over the years; I'm only thinking about the time it takes and the trouble it causes.

Let's hope that by the time Cady Gray gathers up her courage and pops the question, I'm ready to conceive of another way of life for the family. Otherwise the result might be the automatic "no" I'm feeling now.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Locker room

Archer's running club has been moved from a before-school activity to an after-school one. So instead of putting on my sweatpants and hoodie first thing in the morning, I'm taking a bag of workout clothes to the office with me and changing before heading off campus.

More organized folks than me would probably have the bag packed the previous night. And they would probably never forget anything they needed. But I have a long tradition of packing workout bags just before they're needed, and an equally long -- and possibly related -- tradition of forgetting stuff. In order of least annoying to most annoying, here are the things I most often forget:
  1. Sports bra
  2. Ponytail elastic
  3. Socks
Since this change in schedule, I find myself hauling my workout bag into the bathroom on the same floor as my office and changing in a stall. When I give a lecture to prospective students at our interview days, I compare the process of giving serious consideration to alien ideas to the discomfort of taking off your clothes in a department store dressing room. I think changing clothes in a bathroom stall is a comparable feeling. Certainly it's something you want to get through as fast as possible because it's not a good feeling being undressed in a public place.

But aside from being more cramped, changing in an office bathroom actually has some advantages compared to the store dressing room.
  1. No mirrors. Does anyone ever look good in a dressing room mirror?
  2. A misplaced yet palpable sense of ownership. This is my bathroom; I'm in it several times a day. I have a right to change clothes here.
  3. The opportunity to imagine what the person in the stall next to me is thinking as the feet visible to them shed their shoes and socks.
It still feels strange and illicit to walk out of my office dressed appropriately, and back in looking like a slob ... or a student. But as long as I get to combine a workout with quality Archer time, I don't mind the momentary discomfort. Unless I forget my socks.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Doll house

Little girls are supposed to play with dolls. But I don't remember doing that. I had dolls, of course. The ones I remember best were the ones that relatives and friends brought me back from overseas trips as presents. They weren't meant to be played with; they were meant to be looked at, and I lay in bed and stared at them sitting on a display shelf for hours. The one I remember best was from Japan, dressed in a beautiful and intricate kimono. She was posed on a stand and could not be moved.

Also on that shelf was a Madame Alexander Alice in Wonderland doll. I can see every detail of it now -- the blue dress, the white apron, the puff sleeves, the headband. Again, she was not meant for play.

I had Barbies, too -- a Barbie and a Skipper. My grandmother made lots of clothes for me in elementary school, and she used scraps of the same fabric to make matching clothes for my Barbies. I can't remember acting out any scenarios with them ... can't remember styling their hair or dressing them. It seems to me that I was hyperaware as a child of the expectation to play with dolls, and completely confused about how to do it.

So as I watch my daughter, thrilled with her new knitted dolls, insist on arranging them on her bed, take them to school, and sleep with them in her arms, I wonder what she's experiencing. So much of her personality and activity relates to typical girlishness. And because I don't think of myself at that age as girly or typical -- because in some ways she's defying those stereotypes as well -- I can't quite imagine what drives her to squee over her dolls, hug them tight, and share them proudly her friends.

Monday, March 1, 2010

A sailor's life for me

This week the A.V. Club's Wrapped Up in Books feature focuses on one of my favorite series of all time: Patrick O'Brian's beloved Aubrey-Maturin novels, seafaring adventures set during the Napoleonic Wars.

When it was my turn to select the book (we'd been around to every staffer and also had a couple of reader picks since I kicked the book club off back in May 2009 with Geek Love), I floated a few possibilities to the group. But it was Master And Commander that got the most "I've always wanted to read that" responses. I zipped through the book for the first time since I devoured it and the other 19 books in the series back in the nineties. And to my great relief, it was just as delightful as it was the first time around. I so enjoy being in Jack Aubrey's company. And this time around I paid attention as the sailors and their captain try to educate naval novice Stephen Maturin in the rudiments of yards, sheets, masts, and portable soup.

As far as I can tell from their initial posts, none of my fellow AV Clubbers participating had read any of the books before, although at least one is a fan of the excellent film adaptation from a few years back. While some have their problems with the book (I suspect we'll hear details later), I sense enthusiasm from others, and maybe even a bit of the unabashed love I myself bear them. Even better is the response from readers, many of whom are jumping in with their own deep affection for the series.

If you haven't read them, I can't recommend them enough. Yet I recognize that they push specific buttons that are very particular to me. I'm looking forward to the rest of the week -- partly to find out how widespread those buttons are among the staff and readership, and where what turns me on misses the mark for others.