Academic Leigh Speaking

A professor, four kids, and a crash course in work/life balance

Senior Seminar–English November 26, 2017

Filed under: Academic,Books,DC Exploration,Teaching — leighj @ 6:15 am

I took my senior seminar students downtown to the National Portrait Gallery to see the short-term exhibit on Sylvia Plath. Our theme for the course was Questioning Author-ity, and we did some theory reading, including Barthes “Death of the Author,” Foucault “What is an Author?”, Derrida “On Roland Barthes,” Walker “Feminist Criticism and the Author,” Cixous “Laugh of the Medusa,” Paglia “Sex and Violence, Nature and Art.” All of these forced questions about how we read and what we can ascribe to an authorial presence or the “author function.”

We also read items by anonymous authors, unfinished work, work published from archives, and other items in which the authorship was not in question, but the intent of the author regarding the work certainly was.

We had a really fun time with the Plath memorabilia.

Some Senior Seminar with Sylvia Plath.


Summer Reading August 22, 2017

Filed under: Books,Family Life,Fourth Baby,Summer Vacation — leighj @ 11:55 am

We signed up for summer reading at the library. Seamus and Gilbert each had to read five books, whereas Porter and Harlan had to have 30 books read to them. Who do you think had the most trouble? If you guessed Harlan, you’re correct! He is the only one not finished with his. We sit and try to read to him frequently, and we’re often reading to Porter where he could join us, but he chooses not to sit for a book. Sometimes he closes the book on your fingers or grabs it and hits you with it. However, I do think summer reading is a success because I only have to read him two more books, and in the last week, he’s gotten much more interested in reading.

Seamus and Gilbert finished their five books pretty quickly and have read like wildfire all summer. We’ve been to libraries on vacation just to meet their reading needs. That’s been fun to see develop. Porter loves to “read” at night before bed, just like the big boys do.

I had to read five books, and there was a point at which I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to finish it! To be fair, my summer reading time was May 18-June 22, and the library summer reading didn’t start until June 22, when I had to be very present at home. I’ve exceeded my goal, though, now, partly due to figuring out how to use the Libby app to download books to my iPad. I recommend it.

The total eclipse was really cool! We only got 80% here, but I’m planning for 2024! I hadn’t procured glasses, but that’s what astronomy professor colleagues are for, am I right? That’s to indicate I got some from going into work yesterday. Yes, I’m back at work.


Pivots June 1, 2017

Filed under: Books,Family Life,Fourth Baby,Growing up — leighj @ 1:39 pm

Harlan has learned to pivot his body when he’s walking. Now he is even faster than before, and he goes down the hallway, waits to see if you’re coming after him, and then he reverses course and races back to make sure you’re looking and noticing. Unless, of course, he’s really after going somewhere he shouldn’t and disrupting the environment. He loves to go into the other boys’ room and take their clothes out of their drawers. I was fussing at them about it, until Gilbert said, “That’s Harlan doing that!” Well, okay. Harlan also loves to be outside; yesterday, Seamus was carrying him around during a rainstorm, and Harlan was laughing his head off. Today, he played in the garden, got super dirty, and then got his other favorite thing–a bath!

Porter had his last art class today. He loved it, since it involved painting, drawing, stickers, feathers, and more. He’s developed an imagination! Today, he set up a nest, and put an “egg” in the nest, and then he was Horton sitting on the egg. He acted out the entire story with the excitement in his voice evident on “My egg how it’s hatching!…An ELEPHANT BIRD!” Books are a huge source of inspiration for his world he’s created, and he knows the Franklin the Turtle books inside and out. He uses them like canon to create his own fan fiction stories. While Seamus reads Harry Potter to keep up with his friends and to understand the teeniest details, Porter wants us to read, and he studies the pictures to add more building blocks to his fantasy world. The other boys want to know why he’s abandoned Elmo, but he assures them he hasn’t. And last night, he was Cookie Monster at the table.

One thing I’ve noticed about the boys reading Harry Potter is that they use that world to create their own play. For instance, I discovered them playing Wizard Chess with each other. They’ve made wands, and they’ve worked out a way to play Quidditch with Lacrosse sticks. Reading as an adult, I never thought about how to use the games of Harry Potter to make up my own games. That’s fun to see.

Patrick and I worked on the garden today. We’ve had a long stretch of rain, but here’s hoping for some sun and growth!


May Rolls (Reads) On May 17, 2017

Filed under: Books,Family Life,Growing up — leighj @ 11:29 am

The news. Holy Moly. I just don’t know what it’s going to take for everyone (or people in power?) to say “Enough.”

In our little corner of the world, we’re mostly fine (and I realize what a privilege that is!). I turned in grades; my yoga teacher is back in town, and I’m back to a morning practice; the weather has been bonkers, but manageable; and the kids have been pretty fun to hang out with. We’ve been planning our really busy summer, but we’re excited that we’re only missing one week of our CSA, since he’s pretty flexible about what day you can pick up in the week. I’m so excited for the summer, but I’m also hoping to get my writing done and out before the boys finish school. To that end, wish me luck.

Seamus is reading Harry Potter. I relented and said he could read books 1-4 and the supplemental books, but that he needed to wait until he’s older (4th grade) to read the others. Patrick wonders how much he understands, but from his questions to me and his answers to my quizzing him, he seems to get it. Of course, then Gilbert wants to read too, but to give him a break I told him he has to stop after book 2 until he’s in late 2nd grade. One Wednesday they set up in the yard to read. They get out of school early on Wednesdays, and usually they play outside, but I want them to get some time to calm down and read since the other boys were sleeping. On this afternoon, I sat out there with them enjoying my recent copy of The Atlantic:

What better way to enjoy the outdoors?

Of course, I’m having to share my books, and it makes me cranky if they don’t return them when they’re not reading them and if they leave them about for Harlan to tear up. I might have issues. Porter also loves to read. The other day he wanted me to read to him, but I was busy with Harlan, so I said, “You read to me.” And he tried to! It was so funny. He has a little bit of an obsessive memorizing personality, and he likes to act out stories. I don’t understand why Seamus always reads in the living room where there are a million distractions instead of in his bedroom where it’s quiet. Here he is reading when Porter came up to join him:

Loves Franklin the Turtle books!

Even though we’ve been doing a lot of reading (the semester was tough, so I indulged myself with a Bossypants re-read), we’ve also been getting outside to enjoy the weather when we can. We bought two flats of strawberries at the farmer’s market and froze 8 quarts. The rest, we ate! I started a Sticker Chart Challenge in hopes of eliminating two really annoying behaviors (one from each of S & G)–we’ll see how it goes.

Nothing like a little game of catch!

Even Harlan likes to play! Can you see the ball he threw?

I had to fill out the form for Gilbert’s teacher next year. I didn’t put on there that he could chop wood independently for hours, but I did say that he likes to work on projects outside. Harlan and Porter have been playing together. They were in Porter’s room standing on the beds and laughing their heads off the other day. Harlan is just now 14 months, and I can see how we’re entering the next phase. We’ve been here before when Seamus and Gilbert were little, and it’s bittersweet because the infant stage is so lovely, but this next stage is really fun–only marginally less exhausting!


Books for 2016 January 9, 2017

Filed under: Books — leighj @ 11:30 am

I didn’t read nearly as much this year as I usually do. I chalk it up to teaching more writing classes than literature classes, having a new baby, and getting a smartphone that encourages me to read news instead of reading books. It’s a tragedy, and I’m going to change things up for this year. I do love to read. Bold are books I really liked and would mostly recommend to general audiences.

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (JK Rowling)
2. The Possibilities (Kaui Hart Hemmings)
3. Simon v. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (Becky Albertalli)
4. One More Thing (BJ Novak)
5. The Royal We (Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan)
6. When the Emperor Was Divine (Julie Otsuka)
7. McTeague (Frank Norris)
8. The Memory-Keeper’s Daughter (Kim Edwards)
9. Suddenly Last Summer (Tennessee Williams)
10. Brokeback Mountain (Annie Proulx)
11. Charlotte Temple (Susanna Rowson)
12. Slaves in Algiers (Susanna Rowson)
13. The Bluest Eye (Toni Morrison)
14. The Astronaut Wives Club (Lily Koppel)
15. The Book of Unknown Americans (Cristina Henriquez)
16. Breath, Eyes, Memory (Edwidge Danticat)
17. Eligible (Curtis Sittenfeld)
18. Jane Austen in Scarsdale (Paula Marantz Cohen)
19. Paper Towns (John Green)
20. Blackout (Sarah Hepola)
21. The Taming of the Queen (Phillipa Gregory)
22. If You Lived Here, You’d be Perfect by Now (Robin Hardwick)
23. The World in Half (Cristina Henriquez)
24. Three Wishes (Liane Moriarty)
25. Summer Secrets (Jane Green)
26. The Rumor (Elin Hilderbrand)
27. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Et al)
28. First Comes Love (Emily Giffin)
29. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (Robert O’Brien)
30. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and How to Listen So Kids Will Talk (Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish)
31. We Love You, Charlie Freeman (Kaitlyn Greenidge)
32. Loving in the War Years (Cherrie Moraga)
33. Borderlands/La Frontera (Gloria Anzaldua)
34. Confessions of a Berlitz Tape Chicana (Demetria Martinez)
35. Black Dove (Ana Castillo)
36. The Kingmaker’s Daughter (Philippa Gregory)
37. The White Princess (Philippa Gregory)
38. The Marriage Pact (MJ Pullen)
39. Confessions of a Book Burner (Lucha Corpi)
40. Lost in the City (Edward P. Jones)
41. Amazing Grace (Megan Shull)
42. The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)
43. A House of My Own (Sandra Cisneros)
44. Rogue Lawyer (John Grisham)
45. The Sun Is Also a Star (Nicola Yoon)
46. Caroline (Willo Davis Roberts)
47. Emily (Candice Ransom)


Miscellany September 8, 2016

Filed under: Academic,Books,Events,Family Life — leighj @ 2:16 pm
  1. Seamus and Gilbert started back to school. They were thrilled to be back in the routine, and the first day, there was a lot of interrupting to tell us all about it. I’m glad they had fun. Of course, we’ve gone back to school bedtime (7:30, if not earlier), and packing them with full calorie snacks. The first week just wears them out.
  2. I read an interesting book (We Love You, Charlie Freeman) about a Black family that goes to dedicate their lives to science and adopt a chimpanzee and live in a primate facility. It was delightful and weird, and I’m glad I read it. Next up is a book set in Egypt. I’m going for shortish, high interest books these days.
  3. I’m teaching a fantastic class on Ethnic Literary Traditions. My focus is Chicana memoir and poetry. It is SO MUCH fun to teach a class I’m really good at. It helps that my students are really into it too.
  4. Harlan can crawl.
    Up and at 'em!

    Up and at ’em!

    He’s highly motivated to go for anything Porter has played with.

  5. My parents visited for Gilbert’s birthday. It was a really fun visit–nice and cool, before heating up again this week. We did get in some swimming, despite the cool temperatures.

    I like this shot of my mom with the four kids competing for her attention.

    I like this shot of my mom with the four kids competing for her attention.

  6. Porter did his repertoire of animal sounds last night. We said, “Are you a Porter-cat?” and he said, “Meow.” Then he did donkey, cow, duck, snake, frog, sheep, rooster, fish, goose, and dog. He calls himself “Port-ay”
  7. We had the English Department over for a party.
    Three partying boys.

    Three partying boys.

    We’re a big group!

  8. My tenure portfolio is almost done. I’m putting the finishing touches on it and then I turn it in next week. Here’s to a hopefully uneventful wait.
  9. Seamus and Gilbert went out to play with their cousins.


    Fun waterslide set up!

  10. I’ve been really tired, but I’m nothing if not hopeful for that getting better soon.
  11. I’m working on Lego storage solutions. I’ll post something when I get it organized.

Quiet Reading Time August 6, 2016

Filed under: Books,Family Life,Just Thinking — leighj @ 9:59 am

With being sick, and then Patrick unexpectedly needing to work several days this week, I’ve needed quiet time to be quiet more than ever. Some days it has been, and then there are the days when I lock Gilbert out because he’s threatening to throw a fit that will wake Porter and Harlan up.

We’re still plugging away at the reading logs (despite the fact that Gilbert lost his) for summer reading at the library. The boys are really hoping to get the coupon books that will entitle them to free snacks all over town. We’ve said they will need to fill their reading logs in order to use the books. I read an article in the Times recently about reading, especially in the age of screens. It’s also about bribing kids to read, and the problems with that–notably that bribery suggests there’s something more fun to be doing.

Our quiet reading time program has been to erase the other possibilities so that there’s really nothing else better to be doing. But the thing is, it’s not working. Gilbert and Seamus fight us on quiet reading. Seamus gives up faster, but Gilbert makes it just terrible some days. It’s almost more work to get five minutes of quiet than it’s worth. Almost.

However, the article suggests that the truest incentive with reading is the time together. So today, after a few time outs and tears, I had Gilbert sit with me and read Go Dog, Go! which he did very well. I guess there’s still more work for me to do on this front. Seamus does seem to enjoy reading quietly, but only if Gilbert is also being quiet and reading. Mostly, I just find this really difficult to understand, because given the opportunity (as a child and as an adult) I would gladly sit and read for hours.

I think I missed out with Porter on reading, and I realize we have a lot of books I was reading to Seamus and Gilbert at this age that I haven’t gotten out for Porter. Part of it’s time, but also a vicious circle. He doesn’t talk much, so I don’t read much, but then he wants to read. He loves to bring us books, even when they’re board books we’ve read a hundred times. I used to think Porter had the best shot, people to try to keep up with, a lot of individual attention, etc, but now I see that Harlan gets to read more than Porter did. We sit and read to both of them (and that’s what I did with Gilbert, while Seamus got a lot of reading as the first). I’m not convinced that it makes a huge difference though, for all that. Porter loves books. He’ll sit and look at them unprompted.

I guess my takeaway is that with all the competition for time and play, reading is hard. And then I remember that they’re still young. I could read in first grade, but I wasn’t staying up with a flashlight and pretending to be sick from school until third grade. We still have time.