Academic Leigh Speaking

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

Playing Together July 20, 2018

When we got home from our vacation, Porter sighed: “Our house is beautiful!” He was so happy to be home. Harlan was just happy to be out of the car. He kept calling for bathroom breaks on the last day of travel, and I finally asked him, “Do you need to go, or do you just want out of your carseat?” OUT OF MY CARSEAT! He demanded. Gilbert and Seamus headed to the back yard to play, but after 10 minutes, Seamus came back in and said he wished we were still on vacation in the North. “It’s cooler there, and there aren’t any gnatty bugs!” And that sums up our return.

Now that we’ve been home, we had the girl next door baby sit a few days, and Harlan cried every day when we left, but finally on the last day, he cried when she left, so, progress? I suppose. A few of the days we had a sitter we took Seamus and Gilbert out to do something fun–a spray park and lunch, but mostly we enjoyed some time just the two of us. One morning, we went for a hike along the Potomac, and we said, “Isn’t it nice to hike without anyone complaining?” And then we saw a snake on the riverbank eating a fish! At that point, we missed the kids, and wished we could have shown it to them. Then we realized we might not have seen it at all if they’d been along, because we don’t pay much attention to nature when hiking with them. We had dinner with friends this week (who are about to embark on their own family Vacation to Nova Scotia), and we were all kind of laughing about the way kids turn into people. Our friend was laughing about how she loves to hike, but when she was a kid, she complained about it all the time, but if she hadn’t done it as a kid, would she like it now? It’s a real puzzler.

One thing has sort of turned a corner, and it’s that all four kids have started playing together. It kind of started in Nova Scotia, and they played Paw Patrol together, but it’s happening more and more frequently at home as well. It means that it’s louder around here, for one thing, but for another, it means that we have to do less intervention. They all seem invested in the game. Before, the youngest kid was always too little for this to work, but now it seems that Harlan is finally big enough and understands enough to be a playmate. That’s pretty cool.

My garden was dry when we got back, but nothing was too worse for the wear, and I’m starting to see some produce. We’ve got cukes, squash, some little okra starting, basil, and some oregano coming along. I’m excited! My neighbor encouraged me to pick some of the squash blossoms, so I did and put them on top of a quiche. Yum!

Decorative, but I’m not sure they made a difference in taste!

We’re glad to be home for a couple of weeks. Seamus and Gilbert are in camp (soccer for S, basketball for G) and the time apart is doing them a world of good. Porter’s birthday is coming up this weekend, and we’re starting to imagine school for Harlan in the fall. Patrick had a birthday, and his dad gave us a night out at a great place to celebrate. It was not something we would have thought we needed, but it recharged our batteries–delicious food, fine dining, good service, creative cocktails, and just a clear mental space to enjoy summer and a new year of life for Patrick!


Woah. Slow Down there 2018. April 30, 2018

Filed under: DC Exploration,Family Life,Totally Me — leighj @ 3:13 pm

In the last month, my friends from high school visited with their kids, my grad school friend Christine visited from the Bahamas, our friends Gayle and Felix visited, my parents visited, and Patrick went on an out of town trip. We took in two shows, one at the Kennedy Center, and Robin Hood at Imagination Stage. Soccer started up again, with Seamus’s team bumped up a division. It’s good, because it means they’re playing (much) better teams, but it also means they have to work a lot harder in each game. I joined a book club for the first time ever. Our first book is The Power. I’m looking forward to the social time, but Patrick made me practice saying “No” to hosting.

We did STEAM day at school, which was fun for the kids and me, especially on a day when Patrick was out of town.

Trying to get the ping pong ball to move.

Seamus and Gilbert were pretty self sufficient at the event. They liked the stomp rockets, and build a boat, and the catapult. Porter and Harlan were able to do a lot as well.

See how many pennies will stay in your boat before it sinks.

The weather has been pretty cold and wet, but we’ve made a valiant effort to get out every time it’s nice outside. We made it to the zoo with Felix recently. The kids really liked the pandas.

Turtle Island

I also finally read a book for fun. Young Jane Young was a lot of fun–interesting story, good narrators, and quick pacing. We’ve been expanding our food reportoires. Seamus now likes falafel, and Porter and Gilbert will eat pita with just yogurt sauce. I’m thinking Breakfast for dinner tonight!

Happy almost May!


Gaming–Starting Children on Complicated Games March 21, 2018

We’re a game family! When Seamus was little, his first game was Hi-Ho-Cherry-O! and he loved playing it. Gilbert mostly didn’t mess with it too much, so he could get into it. Since then, Seamus has moved through a Monopoly phase, Chess, and Yahtzee. These are ones he’s taken to his room to master the rules without interference. Gilbert also likes playing games–his seemingly bizarre strategies seem to work for him! I also love games, card, board, etc, so it was important to me that the kids be able to play with us. I’ve written before about how the like playing Settlers of Catan, but I thought I’d give a run down on some others.

Carcassonne–this is one of the first build-a-world game that we tried. The box says ages 7+, but we started when Seamus was 6 and Gilbert was 5. It taught them about playing the long game and not knowing who was winning at each stage. It came with a couple of varients, which they liked, but we don’t play it much anymore.

Ticket To Ride: Europe–our friends gave us this one when Harlan was born. I’ve played a few times, simplifying the rules for the kids, and Patrick’s played a few times, more recently, without changing the rules. It’s fun, and I’d love to play it more. Gilbert likes it, Seamus not so much.

Settlers of Catan–our gold standard! The boys love this game. I can’t wait until Porter and Harlan are old enough to play too.

SofC Explores and Pirates Expansion–we’ve only played the first scenario on this one, but it feels like a totally new game. Seamus has won both times we’ve played. Gilbert loves the turning over the island pieces part of the game.

Rook–this is a favorite with my parents. Finally, Gilbert is starting to understand the game more and as his partner, I’ve learned how he approaches the game and I have a little more patience. Porter observed the fun of this game while we were in Kentucky last week, and he wanted to play too! So we let him try it out, and he was so good, he and I were able to set the other team. He also really wanted yellow to be trumps, every time! He got to take a trick with his yellow 14 which made him grin from ear to ear. Then he was kind of done playing!

Machi Koro–A friend invited us to Labyrinth in DC to try out some games and see the store. We had so much fun trying out this game, that we brought it home. It’s kind of a deck building game, but there are dice and your cards stay in front of you. Gilbert is freakishly good at this game. I played 8 times before I won! It’s got lovely whimsical drawings on it too. We let the kids stay up way too late many nights in a row playing this game.

Lots of pretty cards.


Dominion–I thought they were to young for this one, as it’s recommended age is 13+, but they have had a ton of fun with it. We played with our friends in Kentucky and Seamus really felt the need to bring it home and study it, and he got a little tetchy when I told him no. We were delighted when the game appeared on our doorstep when we arrived home. The boys have really enjoyed poring over the cards, and I’ve managed to get in a couple of rounds with Seamus. It’s a good two player game, unlike some of our others.

So we’ve been having a blast, but now we do have a lot of games, so we’ll stick with these a while. My next goal is to try a cooperative game with them. I hear good things about how those work.


Mardi Gras with Friends February 15, 2018

Our friends from Baton Rouge came up for some Mardi Gras fun. They really came up to see snow, but there wasn’t any this weekend, so that was a bust. We did have a lot of rain. Even with the rain, we managed to get out for some adventures. We like the hike along Pimmet Run, which has a creek, some fun crossings, and suburban nature animals. Porter managed to cross the creek with lots of help–but he did it! He really pitched a tantrum about going, but enjoyed himself once he was out. One of the highlights for him was showing Harlan how to throw rocks in the creek.

A worthy pastime.

In the background of this picture, you may be able to see Seamus and Gilbert playing on a downed branch that goes across the creek. They enjoyed making multiple crossings while our friend built a “shelter” for the kids to play in.

Daniel Boone channeling.

Well, you can only cross a log so many times before getting overconfident. Gilbert fell in the creek! He was fine, but he and Seamus went back to the car ahead of us, so he wouldn’t freeze.

Fun in the woods.

It started raining around the time we left, so we considered it a top notch adventure day.

Pretty proud of himself on the crossing.

Later on Saturday, Seamus had his basketball game while the little ones napped. Sunday we took the three year olds to a puppet show. They enjoyed it, but as my friend pointed out, the show wasn’t all it could have been. She said, “I was itching to get up there and make a real story for the puppets!” And she probably could have improved a great show. Monday had us taking the kids downtown for a visit to the American Indian museum and a quick visit to Air and Space. We even got to have a ride on the carousel. Porter looked up and said, “Hey, this isn’t the zoo!” because I’m pretty sure he only remembers the carousel at the zoo. The ride on the metro was the crowing point to the morning!

In the afternoon, since it had dried out, we went to the park. Porter asked if he could stay home, and because Patrick was staying back to work on dinner and his bike, I let him. He needed some alone time with his toys. I guess he forgot Patrick was there, because when we got back, he announced, “Hey! I’ve been home alone. Dada isn’t here. I went outside and said, ‘I’m not afraid anymore!'” I’m not sure what was funnier–that he forgot Patrick was there, or that he decided to act out a scene from Home Alone.

Anyway, it was a fun visit, and we’re hoping to go to Louisiana for Mardi Gras next year!


Ski Day! February 6, 2018

The kids were off school on Monday, and since part of my self-care this semester is not going in on Monday (even though I do work at least 5 hours at home on Monday), I also had the day “off.” I’d been bugging Patrick to take Seamus and Gilbert skiing, but then I realized, I really wanted to go too. So we did some research, and found a mountain in PA with fresh snow, thanks to the storm that went through Sunday, and daycare for little ones onsite. We put on the top box, got down our gear, and packed a big picnic–goldfish, bagels, granola bars, apples, and more. I sat in the back with Seamus and Gilbert, and graded papers, prepared for classes, and read. They listened to their audio book which kept distracting me with its funny parts.

All in all, it was a really fun day. There were a few glitches, but that’s always the case. The first though, was our overly ambitious plan for Porter. We thought he would want to ski. He did, until he actually got on his skis. Then, he was TERRIFIED. He started crying and said, “They’re too slippery. I’m really scared!” I helped him and he did seem to enjoy himself a little, but then he’d get scared again. Then the little carpet lift was turned off, and people were walking up it. He was then crying that he’d wanted to go ice-skating, not skiing. That made zero sense, but it was at this time that we decided to take him over to the daycare and let him hang out with Harlan. The daycare was great. They were the only kids there, and they played with the play kitchen for an hour and a half.

Porter’s last smile!

When we got to daycare, he said he needed to go potty, so I wonder if I’d gotten him to go before we went out if he would have done better. Who knows, but he said he’d be willing to give it a try again when he gets bigger.

Seamus and Gilbert were little demons on the hill. They had a ton of fun, skiing blues and greens with no problem. There was some snowmaking going on, which made it a little unpleasant on the face. We found a trail that had the blowers off, and we skied it over and over, until the boys got too comfortable and tried to race down, not watching for other (slower) skiers.

A beautiful day!

We had plenty of food, lovely weather, and a lot of family fun. The day did make me miss New Mexico when everyday was beautiful and sunny on the slopes.


Happy New Year! January 11, 2018

It wouldn’t be a new year if we weren’t traveling and doing stuff! I had a busy start to the year with my friend and her baby visiting. Then the rest of her family joined them a few days later. I got to babysit her 9 month old for a few hours, and ended up taking the baby to my office for a few minutes (while I looked for a wayward textbook). My colleagues looked at me suspiciously, “Leigh, where did you get that baby?” as if they thought I stole her! Harlan was intrigued by the baby, but I’ll say that she made me appreciate Harlan so much. He can talk,  and feed himself, and take a nap, and go potty. It’s just so much easier, even though she was sweet.

We made a visit to the Natural History Museum with our friends. It’s been a while since I’d been there, and we usually spend all our time on the first floor ocean and human origins exhibits, but this time we did the gems and minerals.

The best sign in the place: Please Touch!

Porter and Harlan really enjoyed the rocks and the mini mine that you could walk through. When they boys started to get just too wiggly, we went back home. Our friends killed it downtown, walking to the White House and all over in very cold weather. I guess when you’re a tourist in a place for only a few days, you get out there despite the weather!

Snow moved in the next day, and the older boys school was canceled. I was so happy that my friend’s hotel had a pool, and that we could get there to swim. The roads were dicey, but the boys had fun jumping and playing. Porter refused to bring his floaties and then was sad he couldn’t get off the stairs. Natural consequences…Anyway, he did get off the stairs at one point and got into a little more water than he wanted. Gilbert was right there to help him to the wall. I was about to grab him, but I was pleased that Gilbert was watching too and automatically helped him with no prompting from anyone.

Swimming with friends in the snow.

We made some resolutions. The boys’ were pretty silly, and I can’t think of them right now, but you can bet they’re tucked away in the secretary for bringing out when needed.


Time for Family December 18, 2017

I finished up the semester on Saturday morning–I’ve had a few complaints roll in today, but I’m just savoring being done for a few weeks. (Of course, I think I’m going to put in another day or two this week, but just for fun.) It snowed again! I can’t remember the last time it snowed twice before Christmas. We’ve been busy, but having a lot of family time to enjoy each other.

I call him the blue marshmallow in this suit.

Making snow angels.

Various things of note:

  • We sent out our first batch of cards. I had a lot of helpers, so my system got slightly catywhumpus, so I’m sending another batch out today.
  • I’ve had a lot of helpers lately. Porter actually was a help at Harris Teeter the other day, and I let him carry a bag across the parking lot and then into the house. He got a lot of praise for it, and Harlan got so mad and jealous that he wanted to carry the other bag. Well, the other bag weighed 10 pounds! (Porter’s was very light, just a few plastic containers for treats.) When he realized he wouldn’t be able to carry or drag it, he laid down in a puddle of misery, also known as a tantrum. We call Harlan’s tantrums “puddles of misery” because he melts into them. He recovers, most of the time, without intervention, but occasionally he needs more mollification. I tried to give him a bag of pretzels to carry, but he was having none of it.
  • We’ve been playing Settlers of Catan with Seamus and Gilbert. What a delight to be able to share with them some of our favorite games that they can understand and develop new strategies!

    I can do the bridge shuffle!

  • We made treats for our neighbors. It’s called Christmas Crack, and I was glad when we got it out of the house. Ha! I also had a lot of helpers with this project. Harlan loves being on the step stool in the kitchen for any kind of project. He really loved this cooking project, but the problem came when we were boxing up the treats, and he was screaming for them! We delivered them to the neighbors in three separate runs, as they have to cool overnight. I also tried my hand at a cheese ball for the first time. I was surprised with how well it turned out. I might become cheese ball lady…
  • Our theatre outings have been wonderful. Porter went to Frosty the Snowman, sat through the whole thing totally enraptured, and came home excited to tell us all about it. I took Seamus and Gilbert to a fun production of The Phantom Tollbooth to see our neighbor perform. They really enjoyed it, and said it was in their top two favorite shows they saw this year. Next up is Mr. Popper’s Penguins with everyone but Harlan! So excited that Porter is good with theatre now!

    Silly props at the theatre.

    With Princess Pure Reason. I think it’s the first time they’ve known someone in the show.

  • He ought to be. The latest obsession is Robin Hood. He gets the ukulele and wanders around the house pretending to be Alan A Dale and sings songs from the movie. I caught him trying to shoot an arrow from one of the strings, but I had to put a stop to that role playing! He just gets so immersed in his imaginary world, and sometimes he’ll tell stories that I’m not sure where they come from, but he knows the whole series of events.
  • Seamus has started playing basketball. Games start in January. He likes basketball, but I think, as of right now, he prefers playing soccer. We’ll see. Both Seamus and Gilbert have improved their swimming by strokes and dives! They can do a passable butterfly, and are pretty good on freestyle and backstroke. They still bellyflop their dives, most of the time.
  • Gilbert and I went to the library book sale, and they had a lot of the books in his favorite series, The Secrets of Droon. I got a bunch, and I dole them out for good behavior–like sitting quietly and finishing the previous book in the series. It’s a fantasy series, and he loves to explain the plots to me. They sound really fun and they’re not too hard to read, leading him to more success and high interest. He also was a big fan of the Dragon Masters books. Gilbert: loves fantasy and dragons.

    Pretty happy!

  • Patrick is reading The Hobbit to the older boys. They are really into it. I’ve been reading a lot of Goodnight, Moon to Harlan. His favorite books are Chugga Chugga Choo Choo, Little Blue Truck, and Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? Harlan especially likes the Knock, Knock sound in Mr. Brown and he loves the end of a book Tap Tap Tap What’s Hatching? when it says, “I’m a baby boy, did I hatch from an egg? No!” He giggles and grins, and shakes his head vigorously. Porter adores a book recommended by a friend on her blog: Gaston, about a little bulldog puppy in a poodle family. He also loves a million other books, and he’s taken to wanting to sleep with them under his pillow.
  • We celebrated the end of the semester by taking Porter and Harlan to the zoo today. Porter really wanted to see the elephants, and thank goodness–they were out in force! He also wanted to see the lion (who obliged him by roaring a lot), a tiger, and the gorillas. He had wanted to see the pandas, but as we were walking back up the hill, he said, “I’ll see the pandas next time. I’m ready to go home.” I said, “Oh, are you getting tired?” “No, getting hungry.” I love it when they can tell you what they want!

    A beautiful zoo day!

Well, this has gotten pretty long. I’m so ready to read more, blog more, and just enjoy some time with the kids.