T: Amazing Husband ST: Three-year-old Wonder Prof. G: Advisor I Prof. C: Advisor II Julie: Stylish Sister Rob: Awesome Brother Belle: Our Cat Bill: Grumbling BIL Rita: Uncomplicated SIL SMU: Smallish Midwestern University Doctoral University: where I got my Ph.D.
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Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Teach It, Then Read It
I am happy to report that I have just put the finishing touches on my second syllabus, a true labor of love. It is for a course I've always wanted to teach but have never had the opportunity to teach until this semester. The syllabus is good, if I may say so: the course is challenging for upper-division students (it is a seminar for juniors and seniors), the assignments are meaningful (and not only for this course), the readings are timely and significant, and the overall topic is simply good, complicated, nerdy fun.
I felt very "professorly" as I was putting this together, realizing that I hadn't read some of the pieces I was assigning for my students. It was fun to search through major journals that I knew published solid work on this topic and select articles I thought might be interesting. Skimming the articles, it was nice to know that I was educated enough to determine if my students could benefit from them just by reading the abstracts. The entire time I thought back to one of the exclamations of my favorite professor in graduate school. When asked if he'd read an important article in our discipline, he responded, "Read it? I haven't even taught it yet!"
Last week I had a long meeting with Trudie, the only other female (and the only other non-tenured member) in my new department. I really enjoy her so far: we are the subfield faculty so we are interested in a lot of the same things academically, we're both married to professionals, and we both have preschool-aged boys (although she has two). Last Wednesday she invited me into her office and we had a meeting about the department.
"Look," she said, "this is a fantastic place to work. The environment is great, the students are great, and the city is a lot of fun. But this department is so disorganized it's not even funny." She then proceeded to tell me a lot about the department that I already knew, and a lot about how the department has been resistant to change. For example, there are courses on the books that are clearly in the wrong place (e.g., imagine a course called "The Works of Leo Tolstoy" that was listed in the "20th Century American Poetry" category) or clearly outdated (e.g., imagine a course entitled "The Soviet Union Today"). One of the courses I'm teaching is completely mis-categorized so that when students look at the course catalogue, they think my "Tolstoy" course counts for their major emphasis in "20th Century American Poetry." Additionally, there are courses that students are technically "required" to take that haven't been offered in years, and if they have been offered recently they were all taught so differently that there's no way the students all received the "required" information. Finally, although it is generally recognized that there are five big subfields in my discipline, the department here only requires that students take a course in one of them, Subfield A. This is inadequate: if students want a major in My Discipline, they need introductory courses to at least two additional subfields. Right now, it's like majoring in Biology and only being required to take courses on Fish.
Trudie has already completed her first year here, and she said pushing any change through the department was frustrating and led nowhere. She said that while some faculty gave lip-service to her recommended changes, when push came to shove no one took any action. In some ways, it seems like each professor in the department has their own little fiefdom, and they jealously guard "their" students and "their" courses and are resistant to reorganization of any kind.
It seems clear to me after speaking with Trudie and learning more about the department that some changes must happen in order for our major to attract students and in order for us to truly give them a major representative of the entire discipline. The subfields of my discipline are not at all equally represented in the department: well over 60% of the courses now fall into Subfield A, while Subfield B (mine) is small and Subfield C is nearly non-existent. Subfield D consists of one course, and Subfield E is completely unrepresented.
This is all due to the fact, I think that my department is one that is at the tail end of a major transition. Just a few years ago, the entire department consisted of old white men who'd been there at least 30 years. I know that this disorganization started then, as I've heard that the faculty until very recently were not on good terms with one another. But now, with a collegial faculty and one with most subfields represented, there's really no reason the department's courses should be so decentralized, and no reason why we can't have a little more standardization in terms of what is required and what is elective.
I have a feeling that these sorts of things are going to be the end of me. I am a person who craves change, and someone who (as you know already) strives for organization. I learned in my last "real job" in HR that I'm also a person who hates meetings and committees, and that I'd rather just get things done instead of talking about getting things done. I can be annoying when I have to be. The question is, as a new faculty member, what can and should I do? Obviously I'll side with Trudie on a lot (most) issues in departmental meetings, but I'm not sure how much good that will do, either, given that we're both untenured and new to the department. I just wish there was an uncomplicated solution to these organizational problems, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the solution is going to be almost as complicated as the problem, universities being as they are.
Prof. G. and I are getting ready to send out yet another version of what we now affectionately refer to as "The Unpublishable Paper." We wrote the very first, rough draft of this paper in 2002 and on a whim decided to send it out to the largest journal in the discipline, knowing full well that it would be rejected. It was, and we weren't surprised, but we were eager to read the comments from top-notch reviewers. We incorporated the comments and sent it out again, this time to another top-tier journal with wide readership. We weren't sure if it would fare any better at this journal; it didn't. We sent it out two more times, each time to top journals in our subfield. The third time three of four reviewers recommended it be published as-is, but the fourth reviewer hated it. Apparently that reviewer's comments held more sway than the others, because the paper was rejected by the editor. The last time we sent it out, in November 2005, it was dealt with very unprofessionally: the editor said that he had sent it to four reviewers, and none had returned a review after four months. We withdrew the submission so we could send it somewhere else.
I'm polishing the paper today, changing the citations to fit the rules of yet another journal. (Oh, how I wish I had known about EndNote earlier!) Prof. G. and I are fairly confident that the article will get good reception at this journal. The article has a rather narrow focus, and that was the major problem of reviewers at other journals: they didn't think the article had wide enough appeal. The journal we're sending it to this coming week has a smaller readership, but a readership we think would be very interested in our work and who could see its wider applications in our subfield.
Today, as I was modifying some citations, I Googled the paper's title just for kicks. Imagine my astonishment when I discovered that the paper is cited in four other papers, all of them published and on topics distantly-related to that of the Unpublishable Paper, and two of them by Big Names in my discipline! I looked at these papers to see if they hated the article or thought it was stupid. No: one of them said, "For an excellent discussion of [boring discipline-related stuff], see Prof. G. and Prof. Me [unpublished manuscript]." The other said, "Prof. G and Prof. Me have found that, contrary to XYZ...." Clearly, someone is reading this manuscript. I'm not even sure where they're getting it, as I don't have it linked on my website and neither does Prof. G. It was presented at a conference in 2002, but the authors of these other papers are citing a 2005 version of The Unpublishable Paper.
Let's just pray that it gets accepted this time around. People are already reading it and using it (much to my delight and surprise!), so it's time to make it official!
Before I was a graduate student at Doctoral University, I was a human resources director at the graduate school T attended. I accepted the job not because I had a burning desire to work in HR or was a well of knowledge about employment matter and benefits, but because working there gave me a nice salary and gave T partial tuition remission. I come from a retail/customer service-oriented family, and so helping people in the HR office was actually a fun job for me. I would come in every morning at around 7:45am, flip on my computer, answer dozens of emails, fill out loads and loads of paperwork to hire, promote, or terminate people, interview secretaries and meet with professors, ensure everyone was getting paid properly, do some filing, and then go home. It was the last time I had a real job. I left that job in August 2000.
Between August 2000 and June 2006 I was a graduate student at Doctoral University. The first and last years there I was on fellowship, and so I didn't have any obligations aside from my coursework or my dissertation. In Years 2-5 I worked as a teaching assistant and in the University's writing center. I put a lot of effort into my teaching, and tried to make each class my own even though it was not actually mine: it was the professor's. Each day I'd go to class, teach a few sections, answer student emails, and grade. It was a lot of work, and work I enjoyed. But all the while I was doing it I always knew that the buck didn't really stop at me. The class wasn't mine, and in the end the really "difficult" stuff like the lectures and exam and syllabus creation were done by someone else.
I've been at Smallish Midwestern University off and on this week, meeting with the Department Chair and Amy the Administrative Assistant Everyone Wishes They Had (and that's really true: she works very part-time in another department because their chair loved the work she was doing for my department). I also had a chance to meet with Trudie, the only other female on the faculty and the only other non-tenured member. It has been an eye-opening week: this is a real job. Real as in loads of paperwork, tons of little administrative tasks to do, dozens of mildy-irrelevant emails to answer, and politics galore. I've had little time to work on my syllabi or do anything research-related all week long. It's all fun (new! exciting!) to me now, but I can imagine that in a few months' time it's going to be tedious, tedious, tedious.
I've craved a "real" job ever since I left my HR position years ago. I suppose I got it. And honestly, despite the pestering student emails and the increasing demands on my once completely unstructured time, I wouldn't have it any other way.
Addendum: And speaking of real jobs, guess who got one today? T had a meeting with potential employers this week and they went over salary figures. T countered their offer and today they accepted his counter. The funny thing: T doesn't know any of this since he's on a wilderness trip with some friends until Sunday. Blogosphere, you heard it here first: if you run into T, tell him he's employed, would you?
Inspired by the brilliant Jo(e), a meme of answers to the burning questions you haven't yet asked. (And of course I'd also be happy to answer the questions you do have, if you have any.)
1.) Probably the garage. This garage is not yet insulated or drywalled, and this is driving T nuts. He is an organization nut like I am, and so to have all of his tools and other garage supplies in boxes is not ideal. (His boxes are, however, neatly stacked on shelving units and clearly labeled!)
2.) Cream cheese (in large quantities). I once ate four slices of strawberry cheesecake at Easter and was sick for several days, vomiting constantly. I think I was about eight. I have not touched cheesecake since, and my stomach turns whenever I ingest more than a few teaspoons of anything containing cream cheese.
3.) At the beginning of September, although I'll be in orientations and meetings the last week in August.
4.) I think it'll be Black Beans and Rice with polska kielbasa on the side, and probably fruit salad. And in answer to your follow-up question, yes, I do intend to post those again someday. I just got lazy, and life got hectic. But there's always been a plan!
5.) A baseball player. It used to be a firefighter, but he's since changed his mind.
6.) Of course we do. Like Jo(e), I don't like to post too many details about my relationship on this blog. I feel that if I have a problem with T, I shouldn't broadcast it to the internet before it's thoroughly settled with him.
7.) Actually, she handled it really well. She is loving it here at Pond House, as most of our windows on the main level are floor-to-ceiling and so she stares outside all day, looking at birds and other wildlife. She only had one "incident," but that was our fault: while we were painting the kitchen, we put her in ST's bedroom so she wouldn't rub herself on the freshly-painted walls. We worked and then went out to eat. When we came home, we realized that we'd left her in ST's room too long, and discovered that she'd pooped on his bed and peed through his pillow, straight through to the mattress pad. Fortunately, he has a waterproof mattress pad so the mattress itself emerged unscathed.
8.) They're at a baseball game and I don't expect them for another hour or so.
10.) It used to be the daffodil, but now I'm more fond of hydrangeas (especially blue ones).
11.) My wedding ring from T and my heart locket from my Dad. Occasionally, a bracelet that was handmade for me by one of T's ex-co-workers.
12.) We'll know more tomorrow about that. He has a meeting at 11:00am to hammer out some details, and at least one more offer that should be on the table this week. He's not stressed about it at all. I, on the other hand, am going crazy with all the uncertainty.
13.) Yes, I have. She called me last week and it was lovely to hear her voice. I think she and her family are going to come for Thanksgiving this year, which would be completely lovely (and out of character for her -- she's a real homebody and doesn't like to travel much).
14.) Hmm, that's a toughie. Right now, I think I'd probably ask for a knee replacement for my Mom. When she was 20, she was playing volleyball and someone fell on her, crushing her kneecap. The doctors did what they could back then and she was fine until about six years ago. Now her knee bothers her constantly and she's very frustrated about the reduction in mobility. She's only 55 and the doctors say they are reluctant to replace her knee until she's 60. She'll go nuts if she has to wait that long! Cortisone shots have done nothing for her, nor have other drugs. We're hoping the doctors will do something soon, though.
15.) Not yet. I've been reading Ragey's church discussions with interest, though. I went to a new one today and left feeling pretty unsatsified -- I want a place that's small, with good music, and that is kid-friendly. The church I attended this morning was huge and impersonal. It is, however, the church that "everyone" goes to around here.
16.) Believe it or not, I went shopping! I absolutely had to get a few new shirts for work, and I also wanted to buy a new bag for work that didn't look like a student bag. I ended up with three shirts and a bag -- I'll post pictures later if you'd like. All of my shopping done in under 2 hours, too. Relatively painless, even for someone who detests shopping as I do. I also cleaned the kitchen and living room and mopped and vacuumed the floors.
17.) Favorite: a ripe nectarine. Intolerable: smoke (e.g., from a campfire or firepit) -- gives me an instantaneous headache. (Reason #478 why I hate camping.)
18.) Yes! I really, really do hate it. I have a house with a nice comfortable bed and everything else I need in it: why would I drag a bunch of stuff to the middle of nowhere to sleep uncomfortably and inconveniently? My attitude on this subject was severely impacted by the Great Campout of 2002: I was 6 weeks pregnant, our campsite was a mile from the nearest bathroom, it rained for two days straight, there was so much water in our stupid tent that our air mattress was literally floating, and we had to cook over a stinky campfire. Ugh. Fortunately, ST is an enthusiastic and willing camper, and so T won't camp alone.
19.) The flute and piccolo, both reasonably well. I haven't played for about a year, though, so I'm a bit rusty. I hope to take lessons again here at SMU at some point.
20.) Ah! If I told you THAT I'd have to kill you. Some things are better left unsaid, my friend.
Today I woke up and for the first time since we moved I wasn't surprised when I saw my bedroom. For the past few weeks, I've woken up and had that sudden, "Where am I?" feeling, and it would take me a few seconds to realize that I was sleeping in my room at Pond House. Day after day -- and especially since the master bedroom has been painted -- Pond House feels more like home and my house in Doctoral University City is passing into memory as a place I used to live.
We are settling in here, and it feels good. We have a new morning ritual, which involves all of us standing in front of our kitchen window, staring intently at our bird feeders. This morning was exceptional for bird-watching: in the span of 15 minutes, we saw a few pairs of Baltimore orioles, a pair of cardinals, nuthatches, a hummingbird, two Downy woodpeckers, a pair of goldfinches, and a blue jay. We also watched chipmunks effortlessly climb onto our feeders and scoop millet out of the bottom and into their little mouths by the pawful, a situation we (hopefully)remedied by buying a new feeder pole the squirrels and chipmunks cannot climb. T and I both come from families of birdwatchers, and so it's no surprise that we can stand in front of our window for a long time, just staring out at the magnificent and colorful birds in our yard. We actually just returned from our local bird store, where we bought additional feeders and another pole to mount them on. I hope the birds are excited by all of the new dining establishments we are opening for their enjoyment (and ours)!
The house is also feeling right. We are nearly fully unpacked; there are just a few stray boxes of miscellaneous and non-essential items that I'm reluctant to dig out of their resting places. I can find nearly everything I need now, and T is beginning to be satisfied with the state of the garage. The coup de grace, however, came yesterday morning with the arrival of our new washer and dryer. I have been (not-so) patiently waiting for a good deal so I could buy the laundry pair I wanted without breaking the bank, and Best Buy had a deal this past week we couldnt' refuse: two-year no interest financing (which we didn't need, but it's nice to have as a back-up), sale price on the washer and dryer we wanted, plus 15% off the dryer and free delivery and installation. We ended up buying a GE front-loading pair, and they work like a charm (so quiet -- you can barely tell the washer is on!). For a laundry-addict like me, this is bliss.
I'm also feeling quite at home in my new department. I was there three days this week, and my colleagues are truly wonderful. They have given me every sort of assistance and guidance, and we've had some lovely discussions about the future of the department, funding for projects, joining different research consortiums, etc. Amy, the administrative assistant, has been helpful as always, too, and never makes me feel like the questions I'm constantly badgering her with are stupid or a waste of her time. When the department chair asked me if I needed anything, I said something like, "No, really everything has gone very smoothly!" and he smiled, nodded, and said, "Good. That's what we wanted for you." So, life is good.
The only thing I really need to do to feel completely settled is to finish my syllabi (I still have two weeks, and I'm nearly done anyway) and make my office feel less institutional. I was given $2,000 by the Dean when I came to spend on a computer and any other "office start-up" items. After my computer and laser printer, I have about $350.00 left to spend, and I'm not sure what to buy or what qualifies. I'll have to ask Amy next week. Any suggestions?
I am working one of my syllabi today, and have been frantically searching for copies of a few articles or book chapters I read in graduate school to exerpt for use in my undergraduate Introduction to Subfield course. My home office is pretty well-organized at this point, but there are some articles I think I recycled before I moved and so the hunt is on for clean copies to put on e-reserve. This has necessitated a trip to Smallish Midwestern University's library, as well as familiarization with the library's website and electronic resources.
One of my greatest fears about going to a smaller university was that the library would be inadequate. I was truly spoiled at Doctoral University's library, which subscribed to nearly any journal I ever imagined using and which never failed to produce any book I requested, even if it was in a different language or from an obscure European press. During my last year of graduate school, while I was writing my dissertation (it's crazy to me that I only finished in late June -- it feels like it was years ago), I rarely went to the library because Doctoral University's online resources and library staff were so excellent at getting me whatever I needed right over the internet. I was concerned that when I came here, I'd be stuck waiting for weeks to get anything out of the library, and I was already plotting how I'd get friends employed at R1 schools to send me PDFs of journal articles if my little library didn't have a subscription.
No need, though. My library experience thus far has been quite wonderful. SMU's library doesn't have a great selection of books in my field, but they have a huge network of other university libraries in this state they draw from. I requested a book this morning, and just got an email that it will be ready to check out in SMU's library tomorrow. Tomorrow! Plus, I discovered that SMU's library is directly connected to Midwestern State's R1's library, and so any journal that the R1 subscribes to electronically, I can get, too. And that includes the law library, which is a resource I use a lot in my research. I am overjoyed at this discovery. I don't feel so far away from R1 life, so separated from the excellent resources to which I've grown accustomed.
Yesterday, Smallish Midwestern University's Student Center, ID Card Office:
Me: Hi! I need to get an ID card. Can you help me with that?
Student Worker: Sure. (Fumbles through some papers and then looks up at me.) Have you registered for all of your fall semester classes yet?
Me: (smiling) Well, no... but I'll be teaching a few of them.
Student Worker: (embarrassed) Oh, I'm so sorry, Professor!
Even though the student was embarrassed (even after I assured her I was not offended), her mistake (as well as the notation of "Faculty" in big letters on my plastic ID card) made me smile for the rest of the day.
Another installment of random thoughts in lieu of a proper, themed post:
T is back from Doctoral University City. He had a great last week at his old job, his coworkers threw him a wonderful surprise goodbye lunch and gave him great gifts, and he was able to sneak in a few holes of golf with some friends most days. He was shocked when his coworkers, who know all about Pond House and the work it will need, gave him a $300 gift certificate to a home improvement center in our neighborhood and a year's subscription to The Family Handyman, among other gifts. I could tell that they overwhelmed him; he was at once thrilled that they cared about him so much and sad that he had to leave the people he's worked with for all these years.
While T was gone, I painted the Ugliest Bathroom in History. I chose the color "Sagey" (a barely-there green) from Sherwin-Williams, and I was thrilled when the salesman recognized me and gave me a discount on my paint. Thrilled... and also a little embarassed to note that I have no less than 12 gallons, at varying levels of fullness, of Sherwin-Williams Superpaint at my house right now.
Since the Ugliest Bathroom in History is now painted and somewhat-less-ugly, T and I bought new towel bars and light fixtures for the space and they look fantastic. We still have to buy a mirror for over the vanity, since the old one was chipped in many places. I'll post pictures when we finally have the room finished (or as finished as it can be with ugly countertops and a brown tub).
T also installed a new ceiling fan in our bedroom this weekend. It replaces the Liberace-esque fan (white and gold!) that graced the ceiling when we moved in. Now the bedroom is nearly complete except for curtains and accessories, and it's clear to us that we'll eventually need more furniture in there -- the room is massive. I'll post a picture of it at some point.
I'm making good progress on my syllabi for the fall; I have two to write. I still have another few weeks to work on them (we don't start until after Labor Day). I have the basic outlines of the courses and the assignments all figured out, but I'm still trying to decide what readings aside from the textbook I should use. I have a stack of things I'd like to incorporate, but if I include them all my students will kill me in my sleep. Also, a lot of things I think are really neat will be way over my students' heads or bore them to tears.
I'm going to head to my office for the first time tomorrow to do a little work, fill out human resources forms, and turn in my receipts to claim my moving allowance. I hope they have my name on the door -- that would be exciting!
I finished Anna Karenina last week, late one night while ST snored beside me. After I read the last page, I just flipped through the book and reread some of my favorite passages -- like when Vronsky follows Anna at the station, the game of Secretaire between Levin and Kitty, the secret meetings between Anna and Vronsky -- and I lingered over them, like a long, drawn-out goodbye to a good friend. I simply adore this book. My Mom said that she wanted to read it, but I cannot send her my copy. I will have to buy her her own, I think. Honestly, I think it would be physically painful for me to be separated from this book, as silly as that sounds.
ST and I made an oatmeal spice cake today. I was thinking about school and the weather was breezy and cool, and so I had to bake something that made the house smell like fall.
We have really gotten to know our neighbors to the left of us quickly, since they have children who eagerly wait to play with ST every day. They are wonderful people: she (Darcy) is a stay-at-home mom, and he (Luke) is a physician. They are about ten years older than we are. I've chatted with them every day this week for several hours each time, and they've been a tremendous help to us as we get to know our new city.
Darcy and Luke are very interested in what I do and have asked all sorts of questions about my work. Luke knows a few of my colleagues, since the medical group he works for is in the provider network for our university health insurance. Darcy and I were talking yesterday and she said, "Luke was so excited to meet you because he said it was nice to meet an academic who was normal." I laughed at this because I know that academics are a pretty eccentric group, but I keep thinking about that comment.
Sometimes I wonder if I'm too "normal" to be an academic at all. I really like what I do, I like to teach and like to research, and I think I'm pretty decent at both. But I'm definitely not one of those academic-work-is-everything types, and I never will be. My family and my life outside of the university will always come first. Luke said that a lot of his female patients are academics, and none of them have children. He said they're married to their research. That's just not who I am and not who I want to be. My research is interesting, sure, but it's nothing compared to the adventure of raising a child or two, and it certainly won't have the same impact that sending a well-adjusted child out into the world will.
"Normal." I suppose that's a compliment. I just hope that "normal" (and add to that "happy" and "content at last") will serve me well as I begin chugging along the tenure track.
When I was pregnant with ST, I remember telling my Mom on the phone that I hoped I would have a chatty, outgoing child, a child with opinions who was willing to voice them intelligently. At 8 months, ST uttered his first word (our cat's name, which he then shouted all day long) and he hasn't stopped talking since. He'll babble on about anything and everything to anyone and everyone; people think he's much older than he is because he has a massive vocabulary and pronounces things correctly (e.g., he says his "l" sounds correctly, where as many children his age pronounce them as "w"s: "valley" vs. "vawwey"). Suffice it to say, whenever I complain that the noise from ST's mouth is too much for me, my Mom just laughs at me and tells me that I got exactly what I asked for. She's right.
I've never been one for baby talk or for dumbing things down, and T is the same way. We've never used babyish words or phrases with him (e.g., no "blankie" or "nigh-nigh" in this house, but "blanket" and "Good night"), and we've always tried to explain everything to him in a way that he could understand but not in a way that shielded him too much. ST is really a fantastic listener, and he has questions about complicated things all the time. For the most part, I am very comfortable explaining how and why things happen in his world to the best of my ability: I am, after all, a teacher. I should be good at this. I love it when ST asks me questions about what he heard at Mass, about photographs he sees in the newspaper, or about adult conversations he's overheard. I like to get a sense of the information that he pulls from these sources, and what they mean to him.
When the Israel-Lebanon conflict erupted weeks ago, ST and I were driving around this city waiting for T's interviews to be over. We were listening to NPR (as always); I thought ST was sleeping in the backseat. All of a sudden I heard, "Mom! The Israelis are DYING!" He then proceeded to ask me what Israelis were, why they were dying, who was killing them, etc. "I bet the Israelis are very sad," he said in a small voice. I liked that he was listening, and I liked that his response to the news was compassionate. I liked that I was able to give him some idea of what war was, awful as it is. It is part of the world he lives in.
Today, however, I wasn't sure how much to say. ST loves to watch the news with me or listen to it on the radio. We sat down in front of the CBS news this afternoon before supper and heard the reports about the thwarted terrorist attacks on flights between the U.K. and the U.S. ST watched intently the images of people dumping the contents of their suitcases into garbage cans, images of police surrounding a brick house in London. His first question: "Why are those people throwing away their shampoo?" I explained that if you mix some things together, it can be dangerous and explode, and that the pilots of the airplanes and the police didn't want anyone to get hurt if things were mixed together.
"But WHO would mix the shampoo?" he asked. I explained that there were some people who who were mean and who didn't like other people, and that they wanted to hurt other people flying in airplanes.
As if on cue, the television flashed to an image of an airplane smashing into the World Trade Center on September 11. "You mean airplanes like THAT?" ST said, wide-eyed. "Why are those planes crashing into that building, Mom?" I tried to explain what happened on September 11, and ST looked very concerned. "But what happened to the people on the airplanes?" he asked. "And what happened to the people in that building?"
"They died," I said. "It was very sad."
He thought a moment and looked up at me with his big blue eyes. "But mean people won't crash into our Pond House. Will they?" I hugged him and assured him that, no, mean people would never crash into our house and that we were very safe here, and that his Dad was very safe in Doctoral University City, too. He seemed to be OK with that answer and seemed relieved.
I'm glad he's a bright kid. I'm glad that he knows what's going on around him, even if it's horrible. But even though I feel very safe here in our Pond House, I fear for the terrible things that are part of ST's reality at three years old. As I said, I've always been happy to explain things to my preschooler as honestly as I can, but there are some things a three-year old just shouldn't have to know.
Today, our kitchen, 2:30pm, baking chocolate chip cookies for the neighbors.
Me: (demonstrating how to measure flour correctly) ... and so then you just use this butter knife to get the excess flour off the top of the measuring cup. See? Then it's flat and you know you have just enough flour for the cookies.
ST: I get it, Mom. Can I try it?
Me: (jokingly) Sure, but first you have to say, "Mom, you are a super-genius."
ST: (very seriously) No, Mom. I just think you're crazy.
The house is quiet, and I am alone for the first time since we moved in. T has had to return to Doctoral University City to finish out his final week of work, ST is napping. My parents left on Friday morning. The flurry of activity that was last week and this weekend is now largely over and the house is still.
There is still much to be done here. My office is almost fully unpacked, but I've just stacked things on bookshelves in the closet; that will have to be organized in the next few days or I will go crazy (ever since my days of working in a bookstore, disorganized and unalphabetized books grate on my nerves). I painted our master bedroom yesterday afternoon and hope to paint the master bathroom this week, along with the Ugliest Bathroom in History (I'll post before and after pictures, especially of the UBinH, after T returns with some new towel bars he can only buy in Doctoral University City). In the evenings, I need to continue working on my syllabi. No real progress on those will be made until I organize the office, however.
I am, as I noted in a comment to Prof. Mama's post, an organization- and neat-freak. I have been this way ever since I can remember. My sister Julie and I used to share a bedroom, and we'd literally have a tape line down the center of the room to separate my order from her chaos. Some people can function in disorder; I cannot. That's why we've had to make quick progress on this house, since I am so much a product of my environment. Messy house, messy brain: that's me.
I inherited this from my parents. I grew up in a tidy and organized house, a small house that looks like it came straight from the pages of Pottery Barn's catalogue, a house that Mom and Dad completely transformed with their own two hands. All my life they were fixing, renovating, changing -- it is a part of who I am. T, on the other hand, did not grow up this way. His parents were very tidy, but rather uninspired: white walls, nothing on them, plain, utilitarian furniture, etc. Once he met my parents, however, his creative wheels started turning and now T is a DIY-junkie (be still my heart!) and gets excited when we walk into Sherwin-Williams. This house is our diamond in the rough, a chance to make our environment reflect who we are as a family and as individuals. We are digging in because this is precisely what we've always wanted.
Some more pictures to share with you:
Our dining room (before):
Our dining room (after):
I was very happy when the people who bought our house allowed us to take the dining room chandelier with us; it was my favorite fixture in the entire house, and now whenever I look at it I think of the good life we had in our old house, and all of the friends we've left behind. You can't really tell in this picture, but the walls are painted with "Sand Dollar," the same color used in the living room. This color also continues into the kitchen and the hallways on the main floor. (We've kept a lot of the same colors we used in our old house, which has made painting go much quicker: finding the right color often takes longer than actually painting the room!)
The Kitchen Pantry Area (before):
The Kitchen/Pantry Area (after):
The cabinets used to have little white porcelain knobs and pulls on them, but we replaced them with brushed nickel to modernize the kitchen. We ended up with stainless steel appliances (Kenmore Elite, thankfully purchased when Sears was running a 20% off deal!). I always swore that I would never have stainless in my kitchen, but they really looked the best with my dark cabinetry (white and bisque appliances made the kitchen look too country, and black was simply too dark, especially since the kitchen window is shaded all day with big trees). So far, they've remained finger-print free. We'll see how long that lasts!
You can see in the "before" picture one of the best features of this kitchen: pull out shelves. For someone who loves organization, these are heaven-sent. The interior shelves swing out to reveal more shelves behind them, just perfect for rows of diced tomatoes, boxes of pasta, jars of sauce and olives, etc.
While ST is still napping, time to start organizing this office before I go insane. If anyone wants to drop by this week, feel free as I'll need the company... but bring your paintbrush!
Just last week at this time, I was scrubbing the floor in my master bedroom at my old house, preparing it for the official handover to the neighbors the following day. Now, I'm officially the co-owner of Pond House, after a hassle-free closing yesterday morning. So much happens in just a week!
It's difficult to believe that tomorrow is already Friday, and that my parents have been here at Pond House with us for almost an entire week. They are leaving tomorrow after lunch after a lot of hard work and, hopefully, a lot of good memories of helping us settle in to our new (old) house in Midwestern State. My parents truly love this house and the land it's on; my Mom said that she fully expects to be back here in just a few months, because she will long to see this property in every season. My Dad wholeheartedly agreed.
It's been a tiring week, but very good. Here's a list of what we've accomplished, in addition to basic unpacking, setting up of beds, etc.:
Painted kitchen, dining room, hallways, and sunroom
Replaced chandelier in dining room
Replaced all wooden wallplates on the main floor
Washed all kitchen cabinets, inside and out
Unpacked and organized kitchen
Installed new cabinet hardware in kitchen
Installed new range and refrigerator
Repainted canoe owners left for us
Reinforced the old desk I couldn't bear to part with
Re-poured concrete steps in front so they're level
Trimmed all trees on the property (a huge task)
Pulled tons of weeds from the pond (ongoing)
Cleaned gutters and installed gutter guards
Raked entire yard after a storm littered it with debris
Remove small dock from the pond, reinforce larger dock
The house is really shaping up nicely, and I'm eager to continue working on it in the years to come. The main level of the house looks decent right now, aside from the fact that my office is still stacked (quite literally) to the ceiling with boxes of books and the fact that the half bathroom off the kitchen has ugly 1980s wallpaper. Change is slow around here, but each little detail makes such a big difference. Just changing out the wallplates around the light switches, for example, updated the house to an amazing degree. I'll take more pictures once everything is in place in the dining room, but here's an example of the progress we've made so far:
The living room/sunroom area, before (note ugly wooden wallplates!):
The living room/sunroom area after:
We painted the walls in the entire 27' x 15' room in Sherwin-Williams paints "Sand Dollar" and "Sands of Time." The windows in the sunroom area face toward the pond, and so eventually we'll buy a nice couch or pair of chairs to put in that area (now we just have an old green recliner and an antique table there). I'm excited to find more red accents for the main living space, and I'm especially excited to get the television out of that room. We plan to finish off the basement in the next few years and then the TV will move there; I really dislike having a television in the main living space of the house. There's still a lot of work to do in this room, but I feel like we've made a good dent in it.
After Mom and Dad leave tomorrow, we'll set to the task of unpacking the bedrooms, which we've largely ignored, and painting the master bedroom. It is currently a very pale aqua, which does not coordinate at all with my brick red bedding and dark cherry-stained furniture! ST's room is probably the least organized, and that's been OK because he's been outside practically since we moved in last week. The Ugliest Bathroom in History remains quite ugly and probably will for some time, but hanging a shower curtain and adding some personal touches has made it liveable. I think I'll paint that next week, too.
ST seems to be handling things well, and is especially happy now that he's met the neighbor kids. There's a five-year old boy, Erik, and his three-year old sister, Annie, who live next door, and they all played together fabulously this afternoon. I think Erik and ST will be good friends. It was great to see ST with kids again -- our former neighborhood was always filled with the sound of kids on bikes, kids screaming at each other, kids laughing, and so it was good to hear the shrieks of children at play again. It made the place feel like home.
The only other thing that would make it feel like home is a washer and dryer, which we still haven't purchased. I've been to the laundromat twice now; not a fun experience, although the laundromat I visited with Mom was very clean and the machines were fast and efficient. I long for my own equipment, however, so that Pond House will finally smell of laundry detergent: our smell. We hope to buy a washer and dryer next week.
Now, off to bed. More adventures at Pond House await us tomorrow.