Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Mom, A.B.D.

As of October 3, I am now A.B.D. For the uninitiated, it stands for "All But Dissertation," meaning that my only barrier to the Ph.D. is the dissertation. It's a big deal (not as big as the Ph.D., but I'm right on target for my program, and that's a positive thing), and I frequently get asked how I did it with a kid.

First, let me say, I have the most agreeable child in the world. He is very good at entertaining himself so I can write or grade, and he is patient to go to school with me to get errands run. This was a major factor.

Second, I am lucky to live near my parents and J's parents, who stepped up with alarming frequency to provide me with both study time, time to teach, and date nights. My mother-in-law was a constant saving grace because she watched E almost every day that I went to school. I seldom had to ask for help, because those around me knew what was involved and stepped up.

Still, getting it all done to this point (with or without children) wasn't easy, so here are some tips:

1. Get and Stay Organized: To me, this is the key to all success. I'm a huge fan of a good planner, a sturdy binder, and lots of lists. Use what works for you. I can talk for days about my Moleskin weekly planner and monthly planner and how I would be lost without them. But if your phone calendar works better, by all means, use that. If you have little hands around, keep this stuff out of their reach. Don't risk it.

2. Do YOUR Best: It's very easy to get competitive in graduate school. In my program, it's not worth it because we are all studying diverse topics. My friend's dissertation about women of science is in no way competing with my dissertation on corporate media. So, I just had to concentrate on doing my best work, not THE best work. It resulted in success for me because I was just confident in my abilities to perform quality scholarship.

3. Just Get It Done: It's easy to have flexibility in the timeline of a graduate program. Barring serious issues (illness, death, etc.), try to stick to the fastest timeline. The longer you take, the more money you lose, either in tuition or lost employment. It's easy to say, I'll just take one class this semester, but if you can handle two, by all means, get it done.

4. Be Proactive: Have a back-up plan for everything. Save your work to Google Docs or a flash drive every day that you write. Have a babysitter on call (or a way to take your kid to school with you if you are able). Don't wait to register for classes, because if you can't get the ones you need, you need to set up an independent study or readings course. Do not leave things to chance.

Now I'm continuing work on the dissertation, which is going well. I have numerous chapters in process, and I hope to be done in a year or so. I'll try to take my own advice.

- M.

Professional Blogger?

No. Well, not about my own life, anyway.

I follow and regularly read a lot of really lovely blogs. Some are run by friends that have really informative posts about their lives and their favorite beauty products, while others are women who have a gift for writing about their own lives in a way that isn't whiny, preachy, or lame.

I don't have that gift. I'm sure I have some interesting insights to offer on being a Ph.D.-mom or the job search or having a toddler. But I erase almost everything I write about it because it doesn't seem that interesting EVEN TO ME. Additionally, I am (contrary to my mother's best efforts) a very low maintenance lady when it comes to beauty. I can't wear eye makeup anymore (weep) because of an eye condition, and I've come to find what works for me. I can tell you about some excellent dandruff shampoos, but that's not glamourous.

I'm also terrible about remembering to blog, as you well know. If I make the effort, the posts seem stiff.

However, I do need to write more online. A lot of the writing jobs I apply for require an online writing portfolio. I need to create one.

So, what would you like to read about? My pseudo-academic lifestyle? Crafts? My very low-risk haircut? Starting dance again after years away from regular practice?

Let me know.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Dance Mom.

When I found out that Elliott was going to be, well -- an Elliott, I had a moment of feeling like I might miss out on certain things I had hoped to pass on to my children, especially dance.

I started dancing at 7 at a pre-professional studio. It gave me an excellent foundation for technique, but we didn't like a lot about it. The attitude of the director was sort of last last straw, and when I was 9, we switched to Wevodau Dance Center, where I stayed until I graduated high school. I loved it, especially competitions and recitals. I made great friends and learned a lot. The main reason I got cast in a lot of early musicals was because I could dance. I came back for summer dance classes, but I didn't have the opportunity to return until this year. Wevodau's welcomes its alumni back with open arms, while most schools don't have any opportunities for adult dancers. I'm now an assistant teacher and I take a few hours of class a week.

I also decided to see if Elliott would like dance. He takes a class just for three year olds, with some ballet, tap, acro, and jazz. It's very cute. He likes his tap shoes, but he won't wear them in class (I think he's afraid of falling down). He keeps his shoes in my drawer (all the teachers get drawers in the break room so we don't have to schlep our shoes every day), and he likes getting a pretzel afterwards. However, it took until just this past week to have a class with no tears. If he's not with me, he is almost always with a grandparent or Jason. So, this was a new situation. The first week he cried at the end because he didn't want to go home, but then during weeks two and three, he cried during class. Last week, I subbed in his class, so he was less tearful, but still cried a little. I was beginning to think this wasn't for him.

This week, we had a busy morning and he didn't get a nap. I even considered not taking him, because it all seemed like a recipe for disaster. We arrived at the studio, he got his socks on with no hesitation, and we waited outside the room. I dropped him off, gave him a kiss, and he ran to his place in the front of the classroom. No fuss, no muss. At pick-up, I got a glowing report from his teachers about how enthusiastic he was. Since Wednesday, he has been showing off all his dance moves, not just the acro stuff. I'm hoping it sticks because it makes him happy right now. It's also fun that we have an activity we do sort of together. In June (if we both make it), we'll perform in the recital. Our studio has a special recital just for the pre-school kids, so it's short, sweet, and before afternoon naps. I'll be in all three shows that day, but I'll have to find a way to watch E from the sidelines. Apparently, the number of dances I'm in puts me in the on-stage dressing room, so that shouldn't be a problem.

And if he finds that dance isn't for him? Great! There are so many activities for him to do out there. I want to give him the opportunity to try stuff out, and dance works for us right now.

- M.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Recent events in my family have me thinking a lot lately about the role of grandparents in our lives.

A few weeks ago, my Pappy (my mom's dad) had a mild stroke, which has required him to spend some time in a rehabilitation center near our home.  My Oma really shouldn't drive much, and she has been staying with my parents during the week so she can be close to Pappy.  Each morning, I pick her up and take her to the rehab center, where she stays until my parents or my sister picks her up in the evening. Circumstances not withstanding, this has actually been something special. I see my grandparents with some frequency, as they live less than an hour away. That said, this is requiring me to make much needed time with them. As a result, E also gets to spend copious amounts of time with his great-grandparents. He loves them, and its a lovely relationship to cultivate.

I don't understand what is like to have living great-grandparents.  My family circumstances were such that I was only contemporaries with my Pappy's father, and only for a few months. Oma's parents never left Germany, and my father's grandparents had all passed away. Elliott is very lucky to spend this time with them, and I'm glad they are around to meet him.

My other grandparents, my father's mother and father, did not live long enough to even see me graduate  high school. Yesterday would have been my Grandma's 85th birthday, and I could tell it was on my dad's mind.  He was very close to his mom, and I was also close to her. We were kindred spirits, with our love of history and geography, really all knowledge. I have since developed a love for crossword puzzles, Jeopardy, and all things Irish. I get down thinking about the fact that Elliott will never know her. Next year will mark 20 years since she passed away. She died during the night after Mother's Day, and considering the wonderful mother she was to my dad and his siblings, it seems right that she should get every last Mother's day she could.

My Grandpa was a good grandparent, always sending birthday cards and celebrating our successes. When he was older, he was sick a lot, and my dad would take him videos of the plays Sarah and I were in, and I know he enjoyed seeing us sing and dance.

I think because of the limited time I was able to spend with my other grandparents, I appreciate my time with Oma and Pappy more. They have seen me get married and have a little boy, who they adore. They have six children, 11 grandchildren, and 6 great-grandchildren (and counting). They celebrated 60 years of marriage in April. The relationship one has with their grandparents is unique. Most 28 year olds that I know can't say they have two living grandparents. I have a wonderful example of love in my life, and I hope one day I can be that example for some one else.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Summer 2014.

It should not surprise anyone who ever reads this blog that April has some of the lowest post counts.  It's the end of the semester, it's conference time, it's finals.  When May arrives, I either have a lot to say or nothing.  This year, it was obviously nothing.

I'm attempting to make the most of this summer, which will be my last summer "off" for the foreseeable future.  I'm getting out of teaching, and I'm looking to apply my academic skills to the real world.  I have comprehensive exams in the fall; I'm actively looking for a job. I know once the job comes, I'll be writing my dissertation, working at a new job, and also being part of my family (and probably moving...).  I won't have time to complete the myriad craft projects I've started over the years, and the thought of possibly moving them is annoying.  So, I'm finally finishing projects and "busting" my stash.  Here is what I have finished so far:
Wreath for our kitchen.
1. Two pairs of booties
2. Two scarves (timely, I know)
3. One ear warmer
Booties and the little stuffed cat.
Coasters as part of a wedding shower gift.

4. Two wreaths
Housewarming gift for a friend.

Commission, which turned out beautifully!

5. One stuffed cat
6. Four sets of coasters (18 in all)
7. Two mandalas
8. One doily
9. One granny square mat that I've been working on for two years (procrastination at its finest)

Teal doily for our bedroom.

Total, that's 16 COMPLETED projects.  I've always worked on a number of others here and there, making some serious headway on some very large projects. I also, as always, have crochet projects in the planning stage, but I've told myself that I will not start any new projects until my "in progress" list falls to 5.  I have 7 more to go.

I also borrowed my mom's sewing machine, as we have a few small home improvement projects we want to complete.

Yesterday was the summer solstace, or the longest day of the year.  I truly made it count:

10am: Breakfast and shopping with mom
1pm: Lunch (leftovers)
1:30pm - 4:00pm: (Elliott's nap) Crochet, crochet, Frasier
4pm - 7pm: Crochet, Frasier, play with Elliott
7pm: Dinner (DIY pasta...everyone is happy)
8pm - 12am: Comps studying (I have never studied that long ever)
12am - 3am: Crochet, Netflix, reading.

It was definitely not a wasted day.  On to the second day of summer!

Matching mandala and coasters for a friend who moved.

So. Many. Coasters!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Thawing Out.

It's been a busy and fulfilling few weeks since I last posted.  This past weekend, the conference that I have been planning finally happened, and it went very well.  It was held at La Salle University, which is why I was chosen to help plan, and the university really went out of its way to impress the attendees, or at least my friends.  We had a lovely reception in the campus art museum, which some of my art history friends really enjoyed.  Everyones presentations went off without a hitch, and we all had a great time.  I also won an award for the best graduate student paper.  Winning at La Salle was really special, and I'm flattered by the recognition.

Me and Dr. Bronner, one of my profs at PSH, as well as the namesake of the award.
Planning the conference, plus preparing my own presentation, and assisting with some other research at school really took it out of me.  When I got home on Saturday, I took a three hour nap.  I could barely stay awake the rest of the day.  On Sunday, my parents offered to host us for dinner and babysit so Jason and I could see The Grand Budapest Hotel.  I'm a huge Wes Anderson fan, and I've been looking forward to this movie.  It was perfect timing.  The snow and sleet here really bummed us out, but we had a chicken and mashed potato dinner with strawberry shortcake for a touch of summer.

Today, I finally got back to 40 Days, 40 Bags.  I did clean out the cars and did a little organizing here and there in the last few weeks.  In cleaning out the closet, our bedroom, the bathroom, and the cars, we threw out at least 8 bags.  I have another pile to take to Goodwill, but I'm waiting to do that in a larger trip.  Today I tackled the pantry.  I'm almost always embarrassed by the food waste in our house, and the pantry reminded me of it.  I got rid of one trash bag, and I took another bag of candy and little treats to school for our sadly empty snack bucket.  I have to grocery shop today, but the list is pretty short, and mainly just staples that we ran out of in the last week.

On Wednesday, I think I'm going to start on the attic.  I don't know how much we'll throw out, but it needs to be organized.  We also have a lot of blank walls, and the photos upstairs will definitely help eliminate those.  Finally, the books are all kinds of out of place.  I need a better solution for E's books in the family room, and I need to gift some to friends at school.

We started potty training over spring break, and while we had a few initial set backs, we are now staying dry during the day with some consistency.  We haven't tackled night training yet, since sleep is the highest priority in our house for the next month or so.  

I hope spring is finally arriving to where ever you are.  It's definitely doing wonders for my mood.

- M.

Monday, March 10, 2014

40 Days, 40 Bags: The Beginning

Of all the years for Easter to be late, this was not the ideal one.  I kept looking at March 5 on my calendar as if it was actually the first day of spring, rather than Ash Wednesday.  The weather has been warmer too, so it all came together nicely in the end.

As I said in my last post, I got rid of three bags before the 5th, mainly because the time was right.  My sister was here, and she could take the bags with her right away.  Here is what my "schedule" looked like:

March 5: My clothing (seemed like an obvious choice)

March 6: School office.  I share an office with four other women, so I really just took home things that no longer needed to be there, and I cleaned out my drawer.  A few clever (and free) organizing tricks later, I'm really making use of my small space.

March 7, 8, & 9: I was so behind on basic house cleaning (the time right before midterms is REALLY stressful), so I dedicated three days to catching up.  I did laundry, vacuumed, cleaned furniture, mopped, and got rid of the stuff that was cluttering up the major dumping spaces.

March 10: Bathroom. I replaced the shower liner, purchased a shower rack, and reorganized the whole set up.  It looks like a whole new space!

I'm finishing up my bedroom and our small closet tomorrow, and possibly the windows.  It's supposed to be really nice tomorrow, but snow later in the week, so maybe I'll save the deep clean of the windows for another day.

The house already looks 1000% better, and I can concentrate again.

- M.