Friday, January 29, 2010

An Incomplete List of Influences

Well, we are still under the weather here. Violet has fallen prey to a stomach virus on top of her cold, which she has shared with me (the cold, not the stomach virus-- thank goodness). Our quarantine kept me from doing things I really wanted to this week; I missed a La Leche League meeting (which is always fun and refreshing for me) and had to cancel plans with a visiting-from-out-of-town friend who I miss a ton. SIGH... To distract myself from the yuckiness I shall steal a page from Jason Boyett; I have compiled a not-comprehensive list of things that played a role in shaping who I have come to be as an adult. They are not in any particular order, and not explained, and not divided up into good or bad impact on who I am today.
  • Growing up in Texas
  • Being involved in church, and the American evangelical community specifically, from birth
  • The music of Lyle Lovett
  • Being tall for my age all through my childhood
  • Being more bookish and into school than anybody else I knew
  • The 6 years I was homeschooled
  • The writings of L. M. Montgomery
  • The writings of Jane Austen
  • Hmmmm, and C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Beatrix Potter
  • Reading books like Anna Karenina before I probably should have
  • The X-Files and Star Trek: The Next Generation
  • Star Wars, Casablanca, and Rogers & Hammerstein musicals
  • Being the oldest daughter of an oldest daughter
  • Two parents who chose to forgo opportunities for greater career success to be able to spend more time with my sister and me
  • Not dating until I got to college
  • Not having friendships with people who were different from me in a meaningful way until I got to college
  • Memorizing a whole heck of a lot of the Bible in AWANA clubs
  • Having no brothers (and a dad who was more interested in music and science than sports or cars)
  • Studying piano seriously from age 8 through my high school graduation, and then dabbling in it after that
  • The Sunday matinee season tickets to the orchestra that we had for many years during my childhood
  • The tradition of sewing, knitting, needlework, etc. among the women in my family
Hmmmm, I think that's all for now. So there you go-- bits and pieces of who I grew up to be.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Various and Sundry Thoughts

Yesterday Violet's 7th tooth made an appearance, perhaps shedding new light on her sleep issues and runny nose and general problems. I had/have such skepticism about all the crazy stuff people attribute to teething, but Violet now has a 100% rate of concurrent teething and runny noses. Perhaps there is something there...

Rob's dad, who is having a serious cancer recurrence, had his meeting with the board of specialists at Stanford and they put together a plan for this treatment. This week he starts 6 weeks of chemo and radiation, then in a few months he'll have a big surgery, and then after healing up from the surgery, he'll have more chemo (and radiation too? I can't remember...). That's quite a plan, isn't it? Our thoughts and prayers are with them this week as Rob's dad starts on this hard road.

In happier news, my sister Emily has started a blog! I am excited about this. She lives in North Carolina with her high school sweetheart whom she married about two years ago. He is in the army and is about to be transferred to a base in Missouri, which it turns out is a very good thing for a) advancing his career and b) not being deployed to Afghanistan. She is mostly going to be blogging about photography because that is one of her main interests (and perhaps also a career, if things work out the way she is hoping). Anyway, I know some of you readers out there in Internet-land are childhood friends or family friends or the like, so hey! Add her to your RSS feed!

So now my sister is moving to south-central Missouri, and my parents live in Chicago, and nearly all of my extended family lives in St. Louis (where my parents grew up). My mother, as you may guess, is now hoping that this alleged job that Robert is going to get will bring us to the Midwest somewhere around there so we can all be within driving distance of each other. Sadly for her (and us too, in some ways), I don't think that's going to happen, as Rob's job search is more focused on the Western bits of the United States.

That job search is moving in the right direction, actually. Since the beginning of the year, he's been doing lots of work flexing his networking muscles and cold-calling practices and looking into lots of opportunities. He's had a couple of phone interviews and even has an on-site interview scheduled in another week or so. The two most definite possibilities right now are in Salt Lake City, UT and Salem, OR, the first looking more serious than the second at this stage (Salt Lake City is where he's flying for the on-site interview). I feel pretty good about both of those cities. I wasn't sure what to think about Salt Lake City when we first tossed around the idea of adding it to our list of possibilities, but the more research I do, the more I think it could be good for us. I still have reservations about it, especially about raising kids there, but apparently the parts of town close to the university have a funky, progressive, college-town vibe which would be a good fit for us.

And to close, for your culinary pleasure, I shall share with you a regular in our breakfast rotation this winter. I have been making steel-cut oatmeal in the slow cooker, much like this, although I make 1/2 to 2/3 of her recipe to feed 2 adults and 2 very small children. It is soooo easy and soooo good. We have been trying to cut down on processed foods and this book particularly made me realize what nearly worthless, ridiculously expensive junk breakfast cereal is. At the same time, I have a hard time cooking from scratch in the morning; I don't get up early enough to cook something before everyone is up and hungry. (And if I do manage to get up before my children, I think it is a better use of my time to exercise than to cook.) Anyway, doing oatmeal in the slow cooker is really perfect because you just wake up and it is there, ready for you, and it is very filling and delicious, as well. Violet really chowed down on it this morning mixed with maple syrup and whole milk, and Grace will usually eat it if there is fruit (dried cranberries are a fave) and honey or maple syrup mixed in. My favorite is cinnamon and frozen berries (thawed in the microwave); that's sweet and flavorful enough that I can manage without any sweetener. And for anybody cooking just for 1, I have it on good authority that the cooked oatmeal keeps very well in the refrigerator and reheats beautifully. Mmmmm, oatmeal...

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Hmmm, my auto-complete tells me that I have used that title for a blog post before. Perhaps it is unsurprising that a woman who leads the life I do will occasionally feel a bit run-down, a bit tired, a bit full of malaise and ennui and other French words. Violet is STILL not completely healthy, and two weeks into this episode I am starting to drag myself around in a bit of a haze. She is doing much better but is still full of snot and coughing a lot, especially at night. Ergo, she is not sleeping well. Ergo, I am not sleeping well. Ugh. On top of her snot, poor Violet is sporting a number of bruises these days. She is THISCLOSE to walking and is very motivated to practice her skills, but she is still very clumsy and has been taking a lot of falls. Sometimes I am surprised that children's innate desire to move and learn and explore is not squelched by the instinct to avoid pain. It is obvious from one look at Violet that it is NOT, however. Between the bruises and the snot, I haven't taken any pictures of her in a while; I should get on that. That's what they make Photoshop for, right?

I just glanced at my last entry and remembered anew the disastrous mess of replacing the countertop. They did get it installed that Friday night, then on Saturday they reconnected the kitchen sink and dishwasher, and then we spent most of our weekend washing dishes. We ended up having to wash every dish that was in our lower cabinets and cleaning cleaning cleaning the kitchen over and over again to eradicate the granite dust and other mess. By the end of the weekend, the kitchen finally felt livable and now everytime I wipe off the new counter, I smile dreamily and think, "Mmmmmmm, beautiful shiny granite..." It is gorgeous. This past week, a guy came out to put in some new grout between the counter and our old (but very nice) tile backsplash, resulting in yet another meal when we had to go out to eat. We do not go out much (baby, health, money) so it has felt quite decadent to frequent the restaurants around here during this process. The day the grout was put in we went to this fun little BYOB Italian joint that is within walking distance from our house where we drank the affordable red wine we carried there and ate delicious pasta. Boy, Rob and I sure love BYOB restaurants... Anyway, the counter installation process is nearly finished; someone just has to come tomorrow to re-attach our dishwasher to the counter so it quits trying to fall forward every time I open it.

I feel a bit sheepish to admit that Rob and I did not end up going to see a movie last weekend. We got the girls set up with our sweet babysitter and got out into the car and looked at each other and realized we did not really want to go sit in a dark move theater and not talk to each other for almost 3 hours. If the movie had been shorter, I think we would have still gone and then gone for coffee afterwards but as it was, that darned long movie was going to use up all our babysitting time. We chose the alternative of going for coffee and then going for fancy cheese and beer before returning home to relieve the babysitter and feed our children their dinner. It was so fun to go out on a date; we really should do it more often.

Thus, my fast from movies remains intact. I think I will wait for something else to come out that I am more excited about and that I really would prefer to see in a theater instead of at home. Whatever shall it be? And how much past 4 years will I go without seeing a movie in a theater?

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Cinema

I am going to see a movie tomorrow, an actual real live movie in a real live movie theater, for the first time since I was pregnant. With Grace. Who will turn 4 in a few weeks. A long time, no? Between Netflix and having a fancy giant TV at home (a projector and huge movie screen in our basement in Connecticut, no less) and Tivo, and then going through periods of draconian budgetary measures, and then of course MOTHERHOOD, I just haven't been able/motivated to go to a real theater. When I was still working before Violet was born, I never felt like I wanted to get a babysitter to go see a movie or something on top of my normal babysitting needs for work; I felt like I was away from Grace enough and didn't want to leave her again during my time off. Anyway, then it got to be such a long time since I had seen a movie that it needed to be something really good to break my movie fast, making me very picky about what my first movie back was going to be. I really wanted to see the new Star Trek movie in the theaters but didn't manage it before it went away. (How old was Violet then? I think she was still tiny or something...) Anyway, we have an actual babysitter lined up to come to our house tomorrow afternoon and Rob and I are planning to see Avatar. I will be honest that I don't feel super excited about that specific movie but everyone seems to like it and it will be a good option for the real movie theater experience because we will see it in THREE DIMENSIONS, with FUNNY GLASSES.

So what was that movie that I saw while pregnant with Grace? It was the Keira Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice. Shocking, I know. Actually, I saw it under very delinquent circumstances. As I believe I have shared before, I was quite unhappy in the astronomy postdoc job I had then, mostly because I was a tiny cog in a huge research project without much autonomy or much fun to do and partly because I saw all these people ahead of me on the research track who did not have lives that I wanted to have. I would sit in my car in the parking garage at Yale in the morning wishing wishing wishing I didn't have to go in, and then I would sit at my desk feeling all bummed about what I was supposed to be doing right then and what I was "supposed" to be doing for the rest of my career. One day, I just felt TOO miserable and I packed my bag, slung it across my round pregnant body, walked out of the building, and went to see a movie. I think that may be the only time I've gone to see a movie by myself, and it was certainly the only time I have played hooky to do so. What an out-of-character thing for goody-two-shoes me to do; Rob was quite incredulous when I told him what I'd done that evening. Maybe it helped convince him that NO REALLY I was ready to leave academia. He took some convincing on that point, and I don't blame him for that. I'd always been so enthusiastic and excited about astronomy and grad school and my research.

So if we really are going to have a babysitter come tomorrow afternoon, we are going to have to clean like madmen in the morning because, friends, our house is a disaster. We are having new kitchen countertops installed, replacing the yucky tile ones with lovely gleaming marble. I am pretty excited about it, although it is of course mostly being done to get our house ready to go on the market. (We have also gotten a new front door and it is very, very pretty.) The workers came yesterday to rip out our old countertops and thus we have now gone 36 hours without a kitchen sink or dishwasher or anything. Soooooo annoying... I've been taking almost-4-year-old Grace and 1-year-old Violet out to eat for every meal (well, not breakfast) and they are not really the best restaurant companions, especially when I am on my own. Two small people to one adult is not the best ratio in a restaurant. Anyway, we were supposed to have the new countertop installed this morning but apparently something went wrong with the granite slab and then there was traffic and I don't know what else, because the contractors did not get here until almost 7pm and right now, as I type this at 11pm they are still cleaning up. I can't believe these guys are working at 11pm on a Friday night, but I am thankful. I think this is partly because I have continually emphasized, ever since we started scheduling this work, that I cannot face a whole weekend (and a long weekend at that) with no way to wash dishes.

It is looking like I will not have to face such a horror, but I will have to face a morning of whirlwind cleaning to get our house ready for the babysitter. Well, really, just to get it ready for Violet to be able to safely crawl around again. Such a mess... And I think 50% of the dishes we own need to be washed now, not because we used them but because they got all dirty sitting in the cabinets as countertops were removed and then installed over their heads. A note of advice for your future: Consider taking all your dishes out of your cabinets if you are having your counters replaced. Anyway, a MESS of some level or another is par for the course when any work is done on one's house. And right now, worrying about having to wash all my dishes or clean up a mess is a special kind of ridiculous when there are so many people in Haiti who have lost their families, their homes, their lives. I have a kitchen. I have a house. My family is all safe and warm tonight, and tomorrow I will go see a movie, and for these things I am grateful.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Croup and Cancer

Well, last night was no fun. About an hour before bedtime Violet started coughing with an ominous barking sound and although she did go to bed without any trouble, she woke up shortly in full-fledged croup mode, coughing away like a miserable little seal and sounding TERRIBLE every time she took a breath. It was not a restful night, to say the least, as she dozed in and out of wretched wakefulness.

Grace had her share of colds while a baby but never really had that specific croupy cough, while this is not the first time Violet has done the whole nighttime seal-like barking and wheezy stridor and all that. It's like they are whole different people or something. Anyway, croup always makes me think about Anne of Green Gables. Right? Anybody? Remember when Diana's baby sister had croup and Anne saved her life by giving her some medicine that made her cough up the phlegm? (Speaking of which, I got phlegm coughed up on me last night. AWESOME.) Croup always seemed like such a big deal in all those old-fashioned books, something that babies could die from, so this made me need to look it up. It turns out that croup (the wheezing and barking cough) used to be often caused by diphtheria, which was really serious for babies and small children and had a fatality rate of up to 20% for them. We immunize against diphtheria now (it's the D in DTaP for all you mommy types out there) so nobody gets it anymore. (At least not until the vaccine-refusing crowd makes us lose our herd immunity...) Now croup is usually just caused by some run-of-the-mill respiratory virus that runs its course and doesn't do anybody too much harm. Thus, today I am really struck with how amazing vaccines are, realizing that they have changed my problem from worrying whether my baby will be among the 20% who die to losing some sleep.

I am 100% convinced she got whatever respiratory virus this is from the church nursery on Sunday. Violet has not been a regular in our church nursery because she has always napped in the mornings so I just kept her with me and she would sleep through the whole service cuddled up in the sling. She is dropping her morning nap, though, and it is time to get her adjusted to the nursery. She was NOT A FAN at first but I've been sitting in there with her and she is doing much better; I bet in another several weeks I'll be able to leave her by herself without her flipping out. This hatred of group childcare settings has been a new thing for me with Violet; Grace was always totally fine with it. In fact, Grace would cry when I would leave her at home with somebody (Rob, babysitter, etc) while tolerating group settings just fine, the exact opposite of Violet. Again, it's as if they are entirely different people or something. Anyway, I sat with Violet on Sunday in the nursery and I was struck by what a germy soup of babies it was, all of them putting their mouths on all the toys and half of them with runny noses. I commented about it to Rob that afternoon, and then there we were 30 hours later with Violet all sick and stuff. I don't know how people with babies in daycare do it. You put your baby there because you need to go to work, but then daycare makes them sick and you have to stay home from work to take care of them-- a vicious cycle! Eventually they will build up immune systems of steel, I suppose, but getting to that stage must be painful.

While I'm yammering on about health and medical issues, I'll share the most serious one on our minds these days. Rob's dad is having a serious recurrence of the cancer he first had a few years ago. They are going to see a panel of cancer specialists tomorrow at Stanford, but it looks like there is a major surgery in his immediate future and some unwelcome permanent changes to his life and daily routines. Rob's parents are worried and stressed, of course, and many of our thoughts and prayers these days are with them. Rob's dad doesn't share our perspective on faith, which makes dealing with such big, hard things even harder. It certainly puts all Violet's snot and phlegm in perspective on the one hand, but on the other hand it makes me realize that none of us is guaranteed a tomorrow, despite vaccines and chemo and car seats with 5-point harnesses. And that makes me change the way I will approach today, when I will stay home with my sick baby and not-yet-sick toddler, wiping noses and butts and hopefully being fully present in the sweet everyday moments with them.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

New Year, New Plans

It is a brand new year now, the days and weeks and months of 2010 stretching out in front of us full of the unknown. 2010 really is full of unknowns for us, and we are planning on some big changes. If all goes as planned, Rob will get a new job and we will move away from Dallas! Rob currently has a grant that pays for 3 years of fellowship and usually 2 years of junior faculty funding after that, so we moved to Dallas thinking we would be here for definitely 3, probably 5 years. Things have not been a good fit since we have been back in Texas, though. Rob hasn't been happy in his research and has discovered that academic medicine isn't the best match for him, and I have had a hard time being back. Things have taken a turn for the worse as my parents moved away from Texas and Rob became ever more certain that he does not want to do what he is doing for the rest of his life, and eventually we got the point of being ready to make a change.

It turns out that Rob's program will let him complete his fellowship and take the board exams after 2 years; this is the normal length of an allergy/immunology fellowship and will be finished this coming summer. He can finish! We can leave! You may be reading this thinking, "Duh!" but this was a significant mental adjustment for us; we've both spent our entire working lives in academic environments with jobs that have predetermined lengths, an environment where it would be insanity to say "no" to grant money. That is just what we're going to do, though, as soon as we figure out what else our family can do. I am pretty flexible, as I see myself going back to teaching as an adjunct in the near future and can do that in most cities with a couple of colleges, universities, or even community colleges. That makes the following the big question-- what will Rob be when he grows up? The current frontrunner is regular old doctor. A shocking development! We've discussed the possibility of Rob doing another, different fellowship, but for right now Rob is focusing his energy on looking for private practice allergy jobs. We both think this will be a good option for us as far as "lifestyle" (doctor-speak for working hours and conditions, as well as money) and for Rob finding contentment and fulfillment in his career.

The next big question is, of course, WHERE. Where should we live? There is a higher burden on this decision than there has been at other transitions in our life because this is probably a permanent-ish, settling-down kind of a move. Grace will start school wherever we move and Rob will be starting a real job in a practice. There are a lot of things we would like (pedestrian-friendly, short commute for Rob, not suburban vibe, not too much serious winter or summer, culturally fun/interesting place to be, hopefully racially diverse, etc) and we are thinking through a lot of those things. We are leaning toward the Pacific Northwest and the Rocky Mountain states right now, but have considered other pockets across the country. Things are pretty up in the air; Rob will find a new job possibility and I will scurry across the internet researching schools and home prices and neighborhoods.

This means we have to sell our house. Nooooooooo! The pain and stress of selling our house in Connecticut is still too fresh in my mind for me to approach another real estate transaction with anything but dread. And nothing actually dreadful even happened to us in selling our house there, aside from losing money on that house. We had a contract within a month of putting it on the market and everything went reasonably smoothly, all things considered. It is just not a fun thing to have to do, but rather a SUPER STRESSFUL OPPOSITE-OF-FUN thing to have to do. We will have been in this house only two years, so our chances of financially coming out in the black are pretty slim. Stupid housing market! We don't have a definite schedule for getting the house on the market yet but I am predicting that a good chunk of my spring will be spent cleaning our house and keeping it tidy for showings and whatnot.

Also, this means that we are putting our adoption plans on hold. We had gotten a little bit into the homestudy process-- the agency had run background checks and we had turned in a giant stack of papers and whatnot. If we continued to move forward right now and then moved out of state this summer, there would be a lot of legal and logistical complications. It's not that we couldn't still adopt through this agency from out of state, but it would be complex and messy. We are not financially very invested in the process yet with this agency, so we have decided to wait until after our move and then start all over again with a new agency. We feel bummed about this. We had gotten excited about adding a new little person to our home and felt like the timing was right for our family, so it's a letdown to close the door on it for now. I remind myself that we are not closing the door forever on another child, though, and there are definitely benefits to letting Violet be the baby for a while yet and having kids spaced further apart. We were shooting for Violet and baby #3 being ~2 years apart, so now it will be more like 3-4 years. Not unreasonable at all, right?

So yeah, this is what is up with is as we begin 2010. I mostly feel excited about the new possibilities, although with a pinch of trepidation thrown in. We'll see what this coming year holds for us!