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!

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CSA Cooking with Greens May 18, 2018

Filed under: Food,Friends and Relatives,Garden — leighj @ 1:38 pm

We have gotten the CSA once so far, and it’s great! I’m sure I’ll lose some enthusiasm for greens soon, but right now, they taste delicious! In our first box, we got radishes, turnips, bok choi, lettuce, spinach, arugula, two hot house tomatoes, rhubarb, as I mentioned. I made strawberry-rhubarb crisp (Barefoot Contessa recipe), which was delicious. But I couldn’t resist making rhubarb poundcake too (NYTimes recipe). Of course, I also used the veggies. Seamus and Gilbert enjoyed munching on the butter lettuce–but really, who wouldn’t!?

Rhubarb poundcake.

I made a risotto with the spinach and some leftover roasted cauliflower. We’ve had a lot of radishes on out salads, and Crispy Kale was a hit with Harlan and Gilbert. It’s weird; I never know which kid will eat what. Porter doesn’t like Parm on his noodles, but he loves mac’n’cheese, but only with soy sauce on top. Harlan screams for a bite of everything available. Seamus will usually eat anything, but not crispy kale, I guess.

My crowning achievement was the turnips. Mark Bittman says they are best braised, so that’s what I did. I braised these beautiful turnips in soy sauce and butter, adding the chopped turnip greens and a dash of rice vinegar at the end. I couldn’t quit eating them.

Turnips

There’s new play equipment at the park and Porter and Harlan are big fans. Porter gets to go play there during preschool, but only on the little equipment, and he longs to play on the bigger spaces, which he gets to do when we’re around.

Climbing!

I also put in my garden for the summer. Since I did that, it’s rained five days straight. I’m hoping for okra this summer.

 

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.

 

Breaking the ice October 5, 2017

Filed under: Family Life,Food,Friends and Relatives,Uncategorized — leighj @ 9:18 am

Whew. I haven’t written in a while. Currently there are items in every room of the house that need something. For instance, in the living room, there is a new toilet; in Porter and Harlan’s room, there is a large tub of camping equipment.

Love the old timey press. Collected the apples from under the tree.

There’s a huge number of apples in the kitchen. We made cider!

Seamus has played in more soccer games. Porter loves school. Gilbert reads a lot and helps out with chores. Harlan is wonderful but exhausting, especially with all the stuff out of place in the house.

I’m waiting for the plumber, typing on my phone, trying to figure out how to do it all today. Probably not possible.

More later.

 

Day Trip to Montgomery August 2, 2017

Tuesday we took a day trip to Montgomery (about 1.5 hours southeast of Birmingham). As we drove, we could tell it was getting more southern, and we were enjoying the scenery, and feeling super-lucky that we hit Alabama in early August at dry, cooler than usual temperatures!

Our plan was in flux (when isn’t it!?) and so we did the Rosa Parks Museum first. It was fascinating! Harlan had a hard time with the video at the beginning, so I took him out. Then I went back in when the group had moved on, and I got to read the stuff in that room. A few things I learned: the bus boycott was sort of a test case for non-violent activism and pressure, Black travelers had a green book that would tell them where they’d be allowed to buy gas, and get a bite to eat (I was horrified thinking of traveling with a family and not knowing if you’d be able to buy gas), and white insurance companies retaliated against the bus boycotters by changing insurance policies on cars to prevent carpooling and church shuttle wagons. The museum sits on the place where Rosa Parks was arrested.

Porter stands with the statue of Rosa Parks.

We spent an hour at the museum and it went by really quickly. Then, we tried to visit the Dexter Ave Parsonage Museum where Martin Luther King, Jr. lived while the Montgomery bus boycott was happening. One thing we discovered in Montgomery is that most places are actual tours to lead you through a place. I like that and I think that we learn more with a guide, but Harlan is so difficult to manage in enclosed spaces that it sometimes isn’t feasible for us. Instead of doing the tour, we visited the meditation garden and had a snack. Then we were kind of at loose ends, as the other places we’d thought to go weren’t open yet.

Patrick said, “Well, what about the Capitol building.” That seemed like a good idea, and it was close by. We went there and discovered the Dexter Ave King Memorial Church. That was our first amazing find of the day. We walked in, and there was already a tour going, so we couldn’t join in, but a wonderful woman took us all over the downstairs of the church, and invited the boys to sit at Dr. King’s desk, look at his phone and typewriter, and then she took us up to the sanctuary where he gave sermons from 1954-1960. She said the organist at the church today is the same organist from the 1950s! We enjoyed this experience so much, and this is what a personable tour guide can do. She also felt mission to spread the message and love, I believe.

They think they might be the only one’s at school who’ve sat at Dr. King’s desk!

After saving our trip to Montgomery, we walked up to the Capitol. It was interesting, but mostly because the statue in front of the building is a statue of Jefferson Davis. Yet, this is also where MLK gave his “How Long, Not Long” speech after the march from Selma to Montgomery. We talked a little with the kids about why people think these statues should be removed. They agreed and thought a statue to MLK out to replace Davis. We wandered all around the grounds, enjoying finding state flags, looking at a lollypine tree grown from seeds taken to the moon, and viewed from afar the first White House of the Confederacy. Not all the statues are confederates! A pioneer in Gynecology was honored too, and the boys got a big kick out of that.

Alabama Capitol

On this trip, I’ve been to the capital of West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama. Before we’re done, we’ll also be in the capital of North Carolina and Virginia!

One thing that I think the older boys are starting to understand that racism may not look the same today, but it still exists and we are responsible for helping to make sure that people aren’t treated unfairly because of who they are. We’ve tried to create teachable moments on this trip, but man, they often pop up out of the kids mouths! I think it’s been confusing for Seamus when he should use different words, especially since the museums use different words to denote different time periods (colored for Jim Crow era segregation, Negro baseball leagues, Black or African American for current day, etc).

After touring downtown, we headed out of town for our picnic at Fort Tolouse-Jackson State Historic Park.

1000 year old Mississippian Mounds

The fort was a fascinating palimpsest of cultures. In a not very long walk, you could see the ancient Mississippian mound (which impressed Patrick and me far more than it did the boys), a reconstructed French Fort Tolouse used to fend off British and Spanish armies in the mid-1700s, the ruins of the American Fort Jackson built for the War of 1812 and to defend against the French and Creek Indians until 1836.

Fort Tolouse

Creek winter and summer dwellings. Alabama is named after the Alabama tribe, part of the Creek confederacy.

Seamus studied American Indian dwellings this year in school, so I asked him if these were similar to those he’d studied. He said no, and I asked him why he thought they weren’t. He did a decent job thinking about how the landscape and customs of different tribes affected how they lived. Gilbert then asked if Creeks still lived in these houses? I asked him, “Do you still live in a fort?” And he got it! Yay!

It was an incredibly busy and fun day. We drove back to Birmingham via the scenic route, passing through the Talladega national forest. Beautiful!

For a treat we stopped at Steel City Pops for a popsicle. I read about the store in 3 days with kids in Birmingham post, and it was definitely special enough to make it an event in itself. Seamus got lavender lemonade and has been talking about it ever since. He is the most adventurous in an ice cream store.

Sweet end to the day!

We came back for a swim and dinner, then bed. They hit the sack with few complaints, thank goodness.

 

Life with a 2 year old  May 2, 2017

Filed under: Family Life,Food,Third Baby — leighj @ 4:45 pm

Porter: I would like a quesadilla. 

Me: You’re having noodles for dinner. (having made neither) 

Porter: I really like a quesadilla please. 

Me: Ok. 

Porter: I like it cold. 

Me: Well, I have to hear it up to melt the cheese. 

Porter: I don’t LIKE cheese. 

Me: That’s what a quesadilla is. 

Porter: No. 

five minutes later 

Porter: Nice quesadilla Mama. Thank you. 

(So easily and 50% chance of going the other way!)

 

Decompression April 17, 2017

Filed under: Food,Friends and Relatives,Travel — leighj @ 8:00 am

We drove out to the country on Saturday where we visited with Patrick’s aunt and uncle. It was so nice of them to host us. His aunt had prepped an Easter Egg hunt for the kids, which they loved (and I loved because it was orderly!). We had a lunch of Mexican food with platanos, excellent mole, and a funny dish called huraches. We had resisted eating Mexican in the city so we’d be in the mood for it, and boy Howdy! we were so happy. Porter put away a lot of rice!

Then we spent time playing with the dogs, working in the garden, and trying to stump each other and Alexa the smart device with riddles.

Harlan Loves the Doggie (except he kept saying Kiki).

It’s funny with kids and dogs. I think each of them has gone through a phase of being afraid of dogs, no matter the size or personality of the dog. Even today, Seamus is still skittish around dogs, but Gilbert loves them. Not to be outdone, Seamus insisted on a turn walking the dogs this time. And the boys wanted to go out and throw a ball for them. Harlan, though, was hilarious. He LOVED the dogs. He laughed when they licked him, clapped when they came near, and took off with no thought for the hard rocks when they came near enough to pet. He pitched a (very rare) tantrum when he saw them outside without him. He wanted to go play! Porter was a little reserved, but he came around as long at the dog didn’t steal his bouncing chicken. These really are the sweetest, fluffiest, friendliest little dogs!

For dinner, we had quite a treat! We went out with Patrick’s aunt and uncle to a pizza place (The Parlor) where the atmosphere was hip, the service was friendly, and the food was beyond amazing. I had a special English Pea pizza with fontina, peas, and something else that I missed in the description, but unlike the pizzas I had in Romania, where they would dump a can of peas, corn, and carrots on the pizza and call it vegetarian, this pizza was memorable in a good way.

Seamus got his heart set on the Razor Clam special, which was met with general incredulity from the staff. And, if I’m being honest, me too. I tried to talk him out of ordering it, but he seemed so dejected when I questioned his choice, I quickly walked back. He got a lot of attention as he put each one but the last away.

He says, “Why do pictures of me always look weird?” “Because I tell you to smile, and this is the face you make instead.”

So Seamus ate his food well. Gilbert ordered Chicken and Waffles, against my better judgement. I told him on Wednesday I’d be ordering for him the rest of the trip, since he ordered something and didn’t eat it. I had done pretty well with that plan, but I was feeling relaxed and hopeful that he’d eat it all. He ate all the waffles! But, I still win. He ate the chicken for lunch the next day. Everyone is happy.

This is the face of a boy who is planning to only eat the waffles…little does he know.

We were so happy to see family and get in a visit, even if it was super quick. We are grateful for people who enjoy spending time with our kids, who have fun, creative ideas,  and who know the places to find the most delicious food in Westchester county.