Friday, December 19, 2008

No (new) paper Christmas wrap

Due to a combination of environmentalism, thriftiness, laziness, and creativity, I set myself a challenge this year: no unused wrapping paper for presents of giftees over the age of 10. The one exception is a gift of Matt's I wrapped before I made this resolution. The result of this challenge has been, interestingly enough, not only a lot of unusual Christmas wraps, but also a lot of fun Christmas art project time for Thomas. I did a lot of fairly obvious things (reuse bags and paper, etc), but these are my favorite projects so far:

  • I used a glue stick to glue together extra handouts, printouts of talks, and miscellaneous interview material for this year. Then I put the white side up on Thomas art table before we painted the Christmas ornaments we made. The parts that weren't then covered with paint and glitter I drew simple Christmas shapes on, and Thomas scribbled them with marker. He was really excited about making gift wrap, and then wanted to wrap the presents. I think only my dad will be interested in my handouts, but office paper makes surprisingly neat packages.

  • Last summer Thomas and I dyed a bunch of silk scarves with food coloring. They came out with an interesting marbled look (probably because I made a mistake: my favorite arts are the ones where mistakes turn out pretty). I tied a green one around my mom's photo book. She's a grandma, so this counts as an extra present (toddler art!). Then I used some leftover undyed ones to wrap my step-brother and step-mom's gifts, and attached a tag with the dyeing instructions. They were so much fun I might intentionally make some extra scarves this summer to use as gift wrap next year.

  • An extra tote bag from my Germany conference for the gift purchased in Germany, a Chicago map tote bag for my mom's gift, and some extra stockings.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Save handmade toys from indiscriminate regulation



This year I picked up a few sets of these adorable felt-board-ready story-telling images from crafter DJ, of Nodin's Nest on etsy.com. I'm really looking forward to giving them to Thomas and watching his imagination run wild with them.


These are the Pirate and Food sets; I also have a Tea Party set floating around in the Christmas box somewhere. Besides these, DJ sells Christmas ornaments, soft stuffed toys which are whimsical and delightful (there are stuffed tea sets!), and some other unusual things. Go check them out and buy something, because starting in February, DJ's home-based business may be illegal. That's when a new law goes into effect which requires that all toys be batch-labeled and independently tested:

The United States Congress rightly recognized that the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) lacked the authority and staffing to prevent dangerous toys from being imported into the US. So, they passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) in August, 2008. Among other things, the CPSIA bans lead and phthalates in toys, mandates third-party testing and certification for all toys and requires toy makers to permanently label each toy with a date and batch number.


All of these changes will be fairly easy for large, multinational toy manufacturers to comply with. Large manufacturers who make thousands of units of each toy have very little incremental cost to pay for testing and update their molds to include batch labels.


For small American, Canadian, and European toymakers, however, the costs of mandatory testing will likely drive them out of business. [From the Handmade Toy Alliance website]



Thinking about this law in the context of DJ's lovely sets reveals how incredibly idiotic it is. These things are paper; what's great about her work is the fun images she's found, the bright colored cardstock they're on, and the fact that they come in collections that have variety and continuity. They can't be batch tested; each piece is unique. So they'll be impossible to sell once the new law goes into effect -- even though they contain no more dangerous chemicals than Thomas's books or Wild Animal Baby magazine.

This blog is entirely devoted to photos of more unique toys that will be unsellable in the US after the new law goes into effect, and this page tells you some things you can do to help make sure the law is revised to exempt small, safe toy manufacturers. So go follow a link or two.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Rosary making

 
I decided it is time for Thomas to receive his first rosary. He can say (or mumble) most of the Our Father, is interested in the Nicene Creed (he gets the last word of most lines if he hasn't totally lost it by that point of the mass), and has liked hearing me sing the Hail Mary for him at bedtime. He loves beautiful things and is particularly excited about a Thomas Aquinas medal I had put on a beaded chain in honor of his birth (I wore it to the hospital).


When we were in Germany I thought about buying him a rosary, but I never saw one I really liked. I've made rosaries before, but this is my first classic-style, metal-component rosary. You can see I'm almost done with the third decade. You can also see my messy, messy desk. What you can't see is the Christmas music (some 12 days or more of it, on shuffle) that's playing in the background.


Despite my liturgically incorrect love for Christmas music during Advent (hey, O Come O Come Emmanuel is on there somewhere!), I'm finding rosary making to be an exquisitely appropriate task for the season. It might be contemplative action. It's slow, tangible, rhythmic. You have to keep your mind, and your eyes, on what your fingers are doing. It's a delicate task: I get better at closing the rings as I work at it; but close works, and each ring is slightly different. It's a physical manifestation, a realization, of my faith and my desire to share that faith with my son. It's also a sign of my faith in my child: in his ability to make this mystery his own.


Growing up, I believed in Santa Claus, who played a huge role in how Christmas was ritually arranged (how presents were chosen, bought, stored, and given; the plan and timescale of Christmas eve and Christmas day; the music and the stories). I also believed in Jesus Christ, who, in my household, played a lesser role. Despite the gap between these two mythic narratives, I always sensed the superior power of the nativity story. It had a great hold over my imagination, implanted, as far as I can remember, by a little exposure to the Bible and a great love for traditional carols. I really felt, I think, the great glory and beauty of the God of Creation becoming a tiny child because of his love for humanity, all because of those generations of people who, inspired by the story, composed and wrote and played and sang it.


Now, I can contemplate that mystery in a much more well-informed, but probably no more profound way, as I feel and see an artifact, pointing to that mystery, taking shape in my hands. It happens gradually, a few beads at a sitting. I can't yet see the finished piece, but I'm working towards it anyway.


Perhaps Mary felt this way, creeping towards Bethlehem, as she felt the new life stirring in her body and wondered Who He, who Is Who He Is, would be.


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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Busy

The theme for the week is, minimize, minimize, minimize, and put things off until it's too late to worry about it.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

On teaching

I'm not sure there is anything more humbling than -- while discussing, in a class full of students I love and respect, what the meaning is of individual vocation and how it fits into roles, categories, and changing some of what's wrong with this crazy world -- having one student ask me what my opinion is (I usually try to evade this question) and as I begin to answer, watching a dozen students pick up their pencils to take notes.

I'd better work on living an answer as well as thinking one.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Spinach dahl

It's been a while since I've had a recipe post on here. Mostly I've been too busy to cook. But tonight we had something worth repeating, and since I never measure while I'm cooking, I'll never remember how to make it again if I don't post it here.

It's adapted (liberally, as usual) from this recipe on allrecipes.com, which I use quite a lot.

1/3 c butter
1 large onion
4 large cloves garlic
1 red pepper
4 cups broth/water (I used 2 cups vegetable broth, 2 cups water)
1 cup lentils (I used 1/4 cup French green lentils, 1/4 cup black lentils, and 1/2 cup brown lentils for variety)
2 Tbsp garam masala
1 Tbsp ground ginger
5 oz (one largish box) fresh organic baby spinach
1 can coconut milk

1. Rinse lentils and soak for 20 minutes or more. Slice onion thinly; mince garlic and chop red pepper. Start basmati rice in rice cooker, if desired.
2. In wok or deep saute pan, melt butter. Saute garlic and onion together over medium head until onions are soft, clear, and just starting to turn golden. Add red pepper and cook 2 minutes.
3. Heat broth or water in microwave until near boiling. Add to pepper and onions. Add lentils, garam masala, and ginger. Cover and simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Uncover and mash or taste a lentil. If soft, add spinach and coconut milk, stirring over low heat until coconut milk is incorporated and spinach has wilted. Serve over rice or with naan.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

On the election

All day, and contrary to my general hopelessness and resulting reticence about the political realm, I've been thinking about the possibility of Obama becoming my next president -- and my first president: not only the first one I ever actually voted for, but the first one that I thought would care about my opinions.

I have been thinking, with awe and gratitude, about the enormous victory this is for the soul of the American people, in finally electing a black president. For several weeks now I've been reflecting on this powerful symbol that racism and intolerance might have an expiration date. What I realized today is the incredible sign this represents for the enfranchisement of the other disenfranchised people in this country: the young, the poor, the disillusioned.

Through his incredible speaking, his campaign's commitment to and dependence on broad-based and personal appeals, and most of all through his real faith in the American people, Obama has inspired millions of people like me who were not only apathetic about, but actually hostile to politics and its power. Certainly his election is only the beginning of the change I can believe in -- but it does give me hope.

I find this videoto be, oddly, an epitome of what this campaign means for the future: it's a hack, a mashup of a mashup of a speech; it's shared on youtube. It was unsolicited, done by a bunch of young people merely because they wanted to, because they'd been inspired, and in turn it's inspired thousands more people. It's genuinely inspiring because they were genuinely inspired; it's a creative response, not merely politics according to the usual patterns. It's making a difference.

Somehow, somewhere in his past, Barack Obama got the idea that if he channeled his inspiration with thought and energy, instead of following the usual patterns, he could change this country and possibly the world. Now he's passing that on to millions.

If politics doesn't have to be as usual, maybe I can change my patterns too. In the future, I'm going to try to participate in the process not just by voting, but by looking for opportunities to motivate minds and hearts. Whatever differences in policy Americans may have, I hope we can all agree on that change.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Serendipity

The universe is conspiring... in my favor?

With all the attention I've been getting recently about my work at Mar Thoma, I was starting to worry that my dissertation would never really get out of that big black cover at ND -- although I know I should just be worried about getting it into that cover at this point. But in any case I was concerned that the interest I was getting was for the project, not my work, and that I'd never get my other projects off the ground.

Now I have two initial interviews, at my top two school picks. This week I've heard about two conferences and a collaborative volume that are soliciting proposals on concepts that are central to my dissertation work.

Both the conferences are within 15 miles of my apartment. So even though they're both in the spring, and I have big and unalterable plans for the spring, I might be able to go.

And finally, I should be submitting revisions this week.

I sure hope the universe only has this one shoe.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Yes I did

Chapter 3 did in fact go to my advisor, along with (somewhat outdated) revised versions of chapters 1 and 2. Fixing that broken chapter (and its counterparts in chapter 2) has taken me almost a year.

Home

It says a lot about me, I think, that part of my returning home ritual of resettling was scrubbing my teapot (which is usually covered inside and out with tea stains) until it was squeaky clean. Too bad I don't have the same drive to clean the rest of the house!

Final draft of chapter 3 today, I hope.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Highlights from Germany, pt 1

Sleeping on the plane was not a highlight, and struggling to get to Munchen does not deserve mention, but we have had some highlights:

- An unbelievable breakfast at our hotel, which though really ridiculously expensive, was pretty amazing. It was an "American" breakfast which included Pfannkuchen (sort of between pancakes and crepes, filled with a sweet cheese and folded in half), muesli with yogurt, wiesswurst, bacon, fried and scrambled eggs, and some other things I've forgotten (but who cares, with what I've named)? Thomas liked the Pfannkuchen a lot and also ate two bowls of plain yogurt with jam on the top (the first in a tiny cup like an ice cream cone that was edible, but he got bored with that and just wanted more yogurt). Thomas loves plain yogurt. It's pretty remarkable.

- The Englisher Garden: Thomas can point to the place on the map of Munchen where we saw the ducks. A German girl came up to ask Matt and I for permission to give him a cookie at the (charmingly rustic wood) playground. Matt quite reliably managed, "I don't speak German" in German, at which the girl looked at him with complete incomprehension and repeated herself. I managed to work out the meaning from two words and the context and we gave permission, so Thomas got his cookie. He fell asleep on the way to the Chinescher Turn. I parked his stroller, coincidentally, in what turned out to be the front row for the arrival of the Hofbrauhaus bier wagon, and managed to wake him up just in time to see the first horse, all tricked out in the regional blue and white. "Do you see the horse, Thomas?" "Yeah, horsey..." and he was asleep again. Today we asked if he wanted to take a nap, and he said, "nap. horsey." I think he thinks that anytime he falls asleep in Germany he has a chance at seeing a horse!

- Lunch at Pommes Boutique in the University quarter. They sell "bio" currywurst, which the server, who spoke very good English, struggled to explain was meat that "the farmer treats well" and Matt and I went "oh!" and realized that although we knew exactly what she meant, there really isn't a nice concise English equivalent. We also had the namesake Belgisch Pommes (steak fries) which come with a staggering variety of choices for sauces, and a crudites bag of great vegetables (to balance the junk food, I guess). I really like just wandering into great restaurants on trips on accident (although this is also how we ate the worst food in Europe, in Florence).

- Watching Thomas watch the rides at Oktoberfest. It was so crowded by the time we arrived, and Thomas and I were so tired, that we didn't spend a lot of time here, but he was entranced by all the action.

- Mass at the Cathedral of Munich (Frauenkirche). Thomas slept through this too, but I enjoyed being able to go to mass here.

- Thomas's favorite part of lunch today was the weisswurst (he didn't have any yesterday). Matt and I have gotten tricky about this. He'll sometimes refuse strange food, but if you tell him it is like something he likes, he gets curious and if you tell him its name, he will then ask for it by name. So we told him it was "sort of like white hot dogs," (he only just started to like hot dogs) and then he tried it and liked it quite a lot.

- After lunch Thomas started thinking about home. He's definitely homesick, and he wasn't feeling well (although we didn't realize this for a little while). So he rode through the old town of Munchen saying, "I miss Paci, miss Paci. Poor Paci. Poor Paci. Poor poor Paci." When we realized he was hot, we brought him back to the hotel, where he took some Tylenol and slept for a couple more hours. He seems to be doing better now.

- Thomas wanted pizza, so I searched and found a pizza place right down the street. They were clearly amused by the internet order to deliver to a hotel room one block away, and the man seemed thrilled by the novelty. He wouldn't take a tip and told me the menu was a "souvenir" with great enthusiasm. The pizza was awesome, way better than room service and cheaper than we could have gotten an equivalent pizza for back in Chicago (even after exchange rate!).

New pictures, including a few of Munchen, here.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Thomas's Great Adventure party

 

Last weekend we had Thomas's Great Adventure Party. I was inspired by the thought that he's growing into "storybooks" and bought him two books -- Jan Brett's Gingerbread Baby, a beautiful take-off on the gingerbread boy story, and Stephen Kellogg's Jack and the Beanstalk, a rather traditional rendering with dreamy imagery. Then I planned the party theme from those two books. (He actually got a lot more books, of course, but those were the theme-makers.) Thomas helped me make his poster ahead of time. Yes, that is a picture of him climbing the beanstalk (he was opening a door).

Thomas is loving the books. He made me read Gingerbread Baby 5 times in a row during his party. Here's one of the many.

 

He would only be persuaded away from the book by Indian food. This is a funny story. He was excited about his birthday ahead of time because he has been watching an episode of Word World where Dog has a birthday. He helped me plan his party. He wanted a "blue hat," "books," and "rice." When I asked him what kind of rice, Chinese or Indian, he said "Inyun." It turned out to be harder than I expected to get an Indian restaurant to deliver to our house, but we finally finagled it out of one place because it was a large order:



Thomas also loved playing with his Lego train set. I think we all spent an hour of his party doing that.

Finally the cake. I had my heart set on ice cream cupcakes, since I made them for Dave and Eric's joint birthday celebration and really enjoyed the novelty (and the ease). But I wanted them to go with the theme. So I made gingerbread cupcakes, using the "soft cookie" recipe on the gingerbread box and just filling 1/4" of the cupcake liners (silicone, I'm thinking of giving away all my muffin tins now). After I baked the cookies, I froze them and then let some Edy's Vanilla Bean ice cream defrost. I scooped the ice cream till it mounded. Just before we served them, we sprinkled Wilton's Gingerbread Boy giant sprinkles on top, in red and brown. Thomas thought it was so exciting that he was reading about gingerbread, eating gingerbread, and could see the gingerbread boys on top.

The cupcakes really turned out well. The soft cookies have a better consistency when frozen than the brownies did (they turned out to be too dense) or than cake (I always feel like it tends to get mushy). Here are the mandatory cake photos:

 
 

All in all, it was a very satisfying party for everyone. I don't think I've ever seen Thomas have more fun.

Happy 3rd year of adventures, Thomas!
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Friday, July 25, 2008

Rules for life

Thomas gets rules now. A few weeks ago he got rules and so understood that if he did this again, he would get the same reaction out of mom and dad again. That was really frustrating. Now he's moved on to getting rules and knowing that if he doesn't do this again, mom and dad will be pleased with him and he can talk to them about it. This has led to a lot of new sentences being of the "NO [verb]" type around here. Or "NO [word that stands in for a verb]". Or occasionally "NO [sign]". Accompanied by a great deal of head shaking.

"NO. No bite. Dada. No bite. Mama. Vava. NO. [smacks lips] Blue." (The much-abused blue crayon.) "NO. No hot."

This formation also works when the topic is something he doesn't like. Today I tried giving him grapefruit juice. He drank it and said "Yuck!" To do him credit, then he drank it some more, pointed at his tongue, and said, "Yuck!" So I offered to get him another kind of juice, which he was happy about. I went and got some apple juice and gave him his "new. juice!" and after a couple of sips he pointed to the kitchen and said. "NO. No yuck!" That cracked me up, so we both sat around saying "no, no yuck" for a few minutes.

This strikes me as a good rule for life. My goal today is to have a no yuck day.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Indirection

I was walking back to the car from Thomas's daycare this morning and I saw a woman approaching walking a beagle. Middle-aged woman, black, bandanna over her hair, trying to persuade her beagle out of the fascinating bushes and along the sidewalk to whatever their destination was.

When I lived in Urbana-Champaign I would have smiled and nodded at such a woman, said hello or made a comment about the grizzled dog's puppyish behavior. In our neighborhood there, everyone knew everyone, and if you didn't know someone, you knew you were bound to know them sometime, so might as well make small talk.

In the city it's a little different, and the woman wasn't meeting my eyes. So I did the only possible thing. I smiled at her dog, because it was charming and she loved it, and out of the corner of my eye I saw her smile at her dog too.

It was enough.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The difference is

The difference is a polished
blade, edgewise to the eye.
On one side gleams the sun
of time, and on the other
the never-fading light,
and so the tree that stands
full-leaved in broad day
and the darkness following
stands also in the eye
of Love and is never darkened.


The blade that divides these light
mirrors both — is one.
Time and eternity
stand in the same day
which is now in time, and forever
now. How do we know?
We know. We know we know.
They only truly live
who are the comforted.
            - Wendell Berry, Given p. 77

Some days I know that we are those trees, standing in the dark, in a light we cannot perceive.

Some days I only hope so.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Power and authority

Thomas is starting to question our authority. We end up in some kind of power struggle with him much more often than I like. He's curious about discipline and has been putting himself on timeout because he thinks it's interesting (??). Of course, he also deliberately does exactly what we just told him not to do to see what we'll do. This would be just annoying, except that generally when we've outlawed something it's because it's either dangerous or fragile. (As Matt says, "I only say no if it could hurt you or you could hurt it.") Until the last couple of weeks, we could pretty much rely on him not to do something if we explained it was dangerous. Not now.

And then there's this.



Wednesday night he refused to go to sleep in his own bed. (He likes to try to get away with this by offering to put his pillow in the bed with mommy and daddy's pillows -- as if what makes it our bed is our pillows' residence there. We live on their sufferance.) He eventually fell asleep around 11, and woke up at some point during the night and climbed into the bed with us. So there he is Thursday morning exulting over getting to sprawl in the exact middle of the big bed. Sadly, he does try to do this during the night too, moving Matt and I out of "his space" in the middle. The very first thing he does in his sleep is turn horizontally to maximize how much space his body requires.

I also cut his hair last weekend. Here's the before:



And here's the after:



Plenty more pics in the gallery.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Participation as a spiritual discipline at Mar Thoma

Just a quick post. I was not crushed by my grading responsibilities -- I passed Teaching 101 (although one of my students failed :-().

I just want to share an excerpt from my Syro-Malabar paper, to be presented in Heidelberg this fall:

The following answer on the questionnaire expresses the conviction [that participation in the liturgy is a skill which relates directly to ability to commune with God] perfectly: “While saying prayers and singing . . . is a major part of [participation], in the end I feel it is the physical, mental, and spiritual mode one maintains that places them in a spiritual union with the Body of Christ that is the Church and Christ that works through the Church.” [Answer to the question “What does it mean to participate in the Qurbana?” received April 10, 2008.] Compare this with Marcel Mauss's observation on body techniques, quoted by Asad: “I believe precisely that at the bottom of all our mystical states there are body techniques which we have not studied, but which were studied fully in China and India, even in very remote periods . . . . I think that there are necessarily biological means of entering into ‘communion with God’.” [Marcel Mauss, "Body Techniques," quoted in Talal Asad, Genealogies of Religion, 76.] The questionnaire answer suggests, similarly, that ritual techniques consisting of physical and nonphysical actions can conduce to a spiritual experience marked by a perception of divine presence.


I can't get over the phenomenal liturgical and theological sophistication revealed in that boldfaced quote. Granted, this is one of the older youth I interviewed; nevertheless, his response is mostly more articulate than the other answers I got -- it's still representative.

What a lovely project I've been blessed to be able to do.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

End of the semester

It's a terrifying fact that in my spreadsheet of class grades, my highest total percentage right now is 38 point something. No, my students aren't failing -- I am.

I have a lot of work left to do before May 12th.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Worten

An update on yesterday's post:

Two days ago, Thomas's "book" was sort of like "boo-t." Last night, though, he had a sudden influx of German influence, and has been saying "buch" with a nice sloppy wet ch sound. Also "mulkkkk" with the same sound. Ach!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Words

Thomas is learning words too fast for me to remember which ones are new. He says one new word every day -- at least, one new word I can recognize, although there's a lot of clearly-meant-to-be-intelligible semi-babbling.

This week: "Bubble," very clearly, pointing at a big soap bubble in the bathtub, followed by huge grins and ecstatic laughter and clapping at his own ingenuity. It's his first clear B-word, and he's been repeating it at intervals just to hear us say, "Yes, bubble!" and laugh with him.

"Poop," said when he had gotten poop on my pants during a diaper change. Not quite so thrilling, but such is life. He was evidently disturbed by this matter-out-of-place. Social conventions are becoming clear to him.

"Book." My husband told me last night he had said this, and I only then remembered that he said it last weekend, too (though not as distinctly as "bubble").

It's a continual pleasure to see how eagerly he's pursuing these tiny pearls of language. It's been hard dropping him off at daycare in the morning -- for me, not him.

Monday, March 31, 2008

I love fieldwork

Yesterday I was at Mar Thoma as usual, but I was giving out questionnaires on Qurbana experience to the youth. I got 62 surveys back and did one interview of a young CCD teacher who got so emotional talking about the East Syrian rite that she started trembling and forgot about the meeting she was supposed to go to.

A girl in my friend's 9th grade class diffidently asked me for my autograph after she had filled out the questionnaire. Bemused, I ended up writing in the front of her CCD notebook thanking her for her help with my research and invoking God's blessings on her. Her answers to the questionnaire were really wise and beautiful.

A young man who just got back from five years in India started teaching me Malayalam. (I had to work hard to make him believe I actually planned to learn it, first.) Nandi!

Today I'm tabulating the results and looking for correlations between the young people's birth place, command of Malayalam, and preferred mass and their way of speaking about the experience of worshiping in the Syro-Malabar rite. I'm having a blast.

I actually think that the reason I'm enjoying this so much is very similar to the reason that Michelle likes washing mugs: each questionnaire, with its handwriting, its unique phrasing, its biographical information, and its futile attempt to constrain the spiritual life to a few brief lines, gives me some insight into the complexity of the wonderful people I've met at Mar Thoma and their relationship to their unique and beautiful liturgical tradition.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Structured procrastination

I was remarking today on how many important professional things I've gotten done in the past couple of months since I stopped working on my dissertation. I've taught my first class (a whole world of impossible demands in itself), updated my CV, applied for a grant, submitted important proposals, begun working on a totally new article for possible publication, and sent a bunch of emails to strangers about important matters that I would normally agonize over for months (in this case, I instead only agonized over them for weeks).

This is not because I've suddenly become a productive person. It's because I'm letting my dissertation atrophy, and I have to do something useful to keep myself from overflowing with panic about it. I found a highly entertaining article about this phenomenon:

The ideal sorts of things have two characteristics, First, they seem to have clear deadlines (but really don't). Second, they seem awfully important (but really aren't). Luckily, life abounds with such tasks. In universities the vast majority of tasks fall into this category, and I'm sure the same is true for most other large institutions. Take for example the item right at the top of my list right now. This is finishing an essay for a volume in the philosophy of language. It was supposed to be done eleven months ago. I have accomplished an enormous number of important things as a way of not working on it. A couple of months ago, bothered by guilt, I wrote a letter to the editor saying how sorry I was to be so late and expressing my good intentions to get to work. Writing the letter was, of course, a way of not working on the article. It turned out that I really wasn't much further behind schedule than anyone else. And how important is this article anyway? Not so important that at some point something that seems more important won't come along. Then I'll get to work on it.


Maybe this is why they make me write a dissertation, so I'll get all these other things done. Maybe it's all a ruse, and in the end I won't have to finish it?

Please?

Friday, February 29, 2008

Little helper

Tonight Thomas helped make dinner for the first time. Back in December, he and I made gingerbread cookies, but he "helped" by stirring powdered sugar in a mixing bowl with a wooden spoon and then smashing the rolled-out dough with his fingertips. It was fun, but he didn't understand the process.

Tonight, he got to make pizza! Granted, it wasn't totally from scratch. We bought a ready pizza crust and I made the olive oil and garlic sauce and spread it on. Matt and I chopped the toppings -- but Thomas got to add them himself. He sprinkled the mushrooms first, then the broccoli, then the artichoke hearts, and finally the feta cheese (this is a favorite pizza combination for me that's very, very hard to order). After a minute, he even got the idea that we wanted it to be spread evenly, and we ended up with a pizza just piled with yummy things. It was beautiful and overloaded, and I was so hungry by the time it was done that I forgot to take a picture of it for this post.

Thomas has been eating better lately if we make food at home. He likes to watch the process of cooking and know what's going in the pot (or the oven). I think the smell gets his appetite up too, as he keeps running over and pointing and smacking his lips while everything cooks. Today we turned on the oven light so he could check on the pizza and watch the top beginning to brown. He ate a little of everything, and a lot of crust, feta, and broccoli, but he didn't really care for artichoke hearts. Such a disappointment -- they're one of my favorite vegetables.

This is a good start towards Thomas being as much of a chef as Barnacle Boy. I love it.

Teaching glee

I was pleased with my students' performance on my first-ever midterm exam, but grading the essays has been tedious, a tedium that occasionally falls into frustration at hitherto-unsuspected misunderstandings of key material.

The high points, though, are astonishingly high. After grading a few in a row of "good essay, but it could be better" (I mentally categorize before I think about point values), I hit an essay where every line was clearly revealing the student's excellent understanding of the topic and its connection to the course. I found myself muttering, "Yes, yes... YES!" and I wanted to send a personal email thanking the student for studying so hard. (Of course I won't.)

I can't decide if this is teaching or if I'm nuts.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The continuing saga of gazelles

In a development that is fascinating even while sad, Thomas is now afraid of gazelles, period -- and has qualms about anything that looks (or sounds?) like a gazelle.

From the toy I mentioned before, his fear first spread to a picture in his bestiary. This book is a perpetual favorite. It resides near the potty and can entertain Thomas for a long time. But it has a picture of a gazelle in it. After the Terrible Gazelle Incident, Thomas looked a bit askance when I named the gazelle. He seemed to get more and more nervous about that photo over time. Now he can't even handle having the book open to that page, he just keeps pointing nervously to the gazelle over and over.

His fear has developed further, though. Not only is he worried about the gazelle picture, he is now fearful of the photos of deer and raindeer in the book too. My mom got him a raindeer in a rocking chair toy for Christmas. He is terrified when it starts to rock and doesn't like to see it, period. It's in the entryway hanging out with the gazelle now.

My dad's family got Thomas a set of hand puppets and a theater. He loves them all -- except the giraffe! He's frightened of the giraffe puppet and we had to move the box it was in out of his room. I'm not sure if it looks like a gazelle to him or if he's nervous because of the similarity of sound. In any case, he's not a fan of herbivorous plains dwellers from any biome.