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.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Willing Spring to Arrive.

With the impending storm (this is getting old), I had to do something to make it seem like spring.  Even though March 5th is really the beginning of Lent, I started my 40 Days, 40 Bags spring cleaning / purging today.

My sister spent the day with us (my parents heat went out, and it won't be fixed until at least Monday), so she and I went to the mall.  I bought a few essentials (dress pants, a dress for a wedding), but when I got up to my closet, I realized how full it was and how few things I wore.  I already had a big bag of things from my dresser, and decided to let my sister go shopping in my closet.  She took home two huge shopping bags, and I still filled another shopping bag to go to charity.  I re-organized my closet (well, as much as I could), and cleaned up my drawers.

So, 3 bags down, 37 more to go.  I have a feeling I'm actually going to hit 40 bags this year.  Our house needs to be purged in the worst way.  Last year, we had just moved the year before, and I had done a very effective purge before the move.  This year, we just need to organize and streamline.

It makes it feel like spring is just around the corner.

- M.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Snowman Snow.

I'm the worst sometimes.

I don't like the cold, and so it does not cross my mind on a snow day to take my kid outside, usually until its too late.  If he asked, I'd go out.  He doesn't ask.

Today my mom (who bought E both his snow coat and snow overalls) asked if he had been out yet.

Yet?  I gotta take this kid outside.

It was really fun, and I don't know why I'm so opposed to getting outside.  I just don't think about it until the weather gets nice.

We shoveled (for the third time), watched the plow, made snow angels, and built a snow person.  We went inside only when his gloves were soaking wet.  We weren't ready, but that was a sign that the time had come.  Also, nap time was being seriously postponed.

I enjoy snow days, especially if Jason can stay home too, but this winter has made them less novel, and therefore, far more annoying.  We are supposed to get TWO more storms before next week.  Ugh.  I'll just remember the fun of this snow day; buy bread, milk, and eggs; and make sure the snow pants are dry and ready for our next adventure outside.
E standing with "Silly Snowman"

He enjoyed throwing the snow up in the air.
- M.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Dreaming of Spring

I thought I would start this post with some scenes of summer to help us all through this yucky winter.  We've had storm after storm here, which has taken away all the novelty of snow.  It also makes me realize that I need better boots, but that's neither here nor there.  We haven't played in the snow because in addition to the snow, it's been very VERY cold, and not fun to go out in.  We are warm weather people.

The other thing that gets me through the end of winter is my 40 Days, 40 Bags house clean out.  When its done, it's wonderful to throw open the (clean) windows and let the sun in.  I started doing it in 2012, when I first discovered the blog Clover Lane.  It was very helpful before a move, and now that we are settled in a house, it keeps things under control.  We have no idea how we ever fit this stuff in an apartment.  Last year, I did some of the challenge, but I was dealing with health challenges and school.  This spring, I do not have as stressful as a semester, and hopefully I'll remain healthy.  

What is 40 Days 40 Bags?  Well, it takes place over the course of Lent (hence the 40 days...it actually gives you Sundays off), and the goal is to evaluate and clean your house, freeing your mind up for higher pursuits.  Rather than giving something up, which doesn't have an impact on me, I choose to prepare myself for spring and Easter.  

Step One: Divide your house / life / dorm / apartment into 40 parts.  Include your car, computer, garage, and even your office at work.  I will post my 2014 list soon, but you can see the older posts under the word cloud.  

Step Two: In each area, take EVERYTHING out.  Clean, repair, evaluate.  Try all your clothing on.  Clean everything (even the inside of your drawers), and decide what stays, what goes, and what gets donated.  Sarah at Clover Lane suggests having certain supplies on hand, such as black trash bags, paper towels, and Magic Erasers.  Be sure to touch everything.  Stop putting those decisions off.

Step Three: Put everything back.  This can sometimes be the most difficult part.  When I clean out my craft closet, I have to detangle everything and then figure out what is the best way to keep it all in order.  Clothing is easier.  The kitchen is near impossible.  

By Easter, you'll have deep cleaned the entire space you dedicated to looking at.  It's a great feeling. 

Spring can't come soon enough!

- M.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

5 Things.

I love to make lists.  I enjoy crossing things off, then throwing the list away.  It's very gratifying.  However, I tend to make lists that never get thrown out, because they are overwhelming and half of the things never get done.

I picked up a trick from Real Simple wherein you limit yourself to a to-do list of so many items, usually 5 - 7.  According to them, anymore than that is rather ambitious.

For example, my list today was as follows:

1. Grocery shopping
2. Workout (angry eyes kept me from this in a trade-off for self-care)
3. Read "Tales from Facebook" (I read at bedtime)
4. Read "The Irish-Americans" (see above)
5. Crochet (just after I finish this post!)
6. COMM 150 syllabus

I use a Moleskin weekly / daily planner.  On one side, it has the days of the week, broken into two sections M-F, and the other side is just lined paper.  In the back, there are about 5 pages of lined paper as well, for long-term lists.  I use those pages to write out my 40 Days, 40 Bags goals, research projects, and crochet to-do lists.  I've used this planner for about 5 years, and I don't plan on switching anytime soon.

How do you keep the to-do's straight?  What methods do you use to keep productive?

- M.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Lean and Mean in 2014.

Our word of the year: Simple.  Streamlining things always makes me happy, so that should help make the year a success.

Goals for 2014:

1. Continue working on a healthier lifestyle: Despite some health problems (eyes!), I have been exercising more and being more conscious of what goes in my body.  That said, I need to double my efforts and see some results.  I want to be back in shape before I even consider having a second child (which won't happen until at least 2016, so I have some time to enjoy being in shape).  I already put together a school schedule that allows me to go to the gym twice a week, and I got a ballet fitness video for Christmas!  I started taking dance in the summer, and I was able to start teaching dance in September. This equals out to about 12 hours of dance a week. I've slimmed down, and I've continued putting good things in my body to make it work well!

2. Complete 40 Days, 40 Bags challenge: I did a half-hearted version of this, but February and March were very challenging months.  The first thing to go was the 40 Days challenge, which takes place over Lent.  It's a way to purge and cleanse your life before Easter.  It's my annual Lenten challenge, rather than trying to give up something.  I'll post more about this closer to Lent.

3. Potty train Elliott: I was hoping to do this over Christmas, but he is simply not ready.  I'm hoping to start over Spring Break.  He'll be 3 in July, but I know boys can be more challenging to train than girls. This happened...sort of. It didn't take long to potty train him with pee. We really went crazy with small rewards (M&M for each successful trip) and even our parents helped by getting him some rewards. However, we are still not night trained or able to go #2. So, the work continues.

4. Budget better and start saving for a Disney trip: I could budget better, simply put. I want to find a better way to make our food budget stretch further too.  Since I'm not working full time (yet), I will use pocket change to save for our Disney trip, which we are hoping to take in two years.  Once I get a better job, I will also (finally) start a future fund for E (money for college, trade school, what-have-you). Nope. Didn't happen. See #5.

5. Get a job that is fulfilling and helps pay the bills: My assistantship ends in May, so I need to get a job that begins in June.  I need some specific work experience, but with my education, I'm hoping to double our household income. This will make 4 easier too! Tried as I might, I did not find a full time job after May. It has been a frustrating experience, which might also account for my lack of posts. I know 2015 has to be better on this front.

6. Organize the house more effectively: We organized some things this year that made life oddly easier.  I would like to extend that throughout the house.  I hate looking high and low for things that should just have a spot.  Once I've purged in step 2, I want to make it easier to find the things we keep (the things that matter). Still working on this, but we made strides. 

7. Complete a rough draft of at least four dissertation chapters: I want to graduate in 2016, so I need to stay on track with writing.  I have the beginnings of a few chapters, so I should continue making progress through the year. Yes! I completed a final draft of my chapter on crosswords and rough drafts of my Disney chapters (2), the Olympics, and my introduction. 

8. Finish coursework and maintain GPA: I should finish coursework in May, and I'm already registered, so this should be the easiest goal on the list. Yay! I maintained my 4.0, finished coursework on time, and I passed my comps in October with flying colors. This is what I am most proud of this year. 

It's an attitude adjustment. My other mantra should be "live intentionally." I want to pay better attention to what goes in my body (thanks MyFitnessPal!), where my money goes (mint.com), and what happens to my time.  I need to think long-term, worry about myself and my family, and less about what others think.  Elliott will probably start pre-school, I'll probably start a new job.  It's going to be a big year!

- M.