Academic Leigh Speaking

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

Turtle Talk November 14, 2017

Filed under: Friends and Relatives,School for Boys,Teaching — leighj @ 8:08 pm

My colleague very generously offered to come talk to the elementary school about turtles. He has a wonderful turtle lab on campus, which we’ve been to a couple of times. This time, he packed up the small box and slider turtles, some turtle eggs, a snake, and a couple of large snapping turtles! The kids in the classes were enthralled by the turtles, and I learned a lot from his presentation too! He had a great rapport with the kids, getting them to think, answer questions, and logically deduce their own answers. He seemed like he could have been there all day with the kids.

Seamus gets to hold the snake!

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Too Long Since I Blogged October 29, 2017

It seems I’m having a lot of trouble getting in the swing of my blog. It’s a bummer because I also want to remember the details of our daily lives, not just the exciting vacation times. I have somethings to get out before Halloween pictures take over.

Real quick, and short changing all of these events:

  • Vocabulary Emergency: One thing about my job, unlike other jobs, is that there are no emergencies. However, a colleague told me a few days ago that she was having a vocubulary emergency, needing to know how to draw a distinction between Latino and Hispanic. I like this graphic for that! Then, we were at the Benefits fair, and somebody stopped my colleague and me to consult on how to spell benefit! Good to have an expert on hand!
  • We got our crosswalk! A year ago we asked City Hall for a crosswalk to protect the bus stop and make the road here a little slower. The city put it in over the last month, and a year to the day we asked, we got the signage for our crosswalk. Here’s the thing: IT WORKS! People stop when they never did before.
  • Harlan is aware of his surroundings. He was having applesauce the other day, and Porter asked for a piece of pumpkin pie. Harlan observed, slammed down his spoon, and said, “PIE!” Of course, he got some.
  • The other day we walked to school, with a pit stop for hot chocolate (the kids get a coupon book from the library’s summer reading program, and all of them expire on 10/31). It was a great walk, but it was the first time they’ve ever been late to school. Then we dropped Porter at his school. A fun morning.
  • We had our first experience at Imagination Stage in Bethesda. It was a small venue, but the staging was great and the actors were wonderful. Seamus and Gilbert enjoyed the play, and Porter and Harlan enjoyed their naps while we were gone.
  • Seamus has been talking about school in a way he never did before. I think this teacher is really good for him, and he feels that there a sense of fairness in this classroom that he didn’t have last year. He also is his class’s representative to the SGA (student council). He also loves the creative thinking activity he’s doing in the breakout class, and while I hope that he gets to do advanced math, I’m really pleased to see that he is developing skills that are challenging for him.
  • Gilbert has been doing what everyone should do! He’s constantly negotiating for money for activities that he does. Porter caught on that the boys are getting paid to read a book to him and Harlan, so he read to himself the other day and came over to ask for his money for reading to himself. Oops. Backfired.
  • Porter and Harlan have been riding their little pedal-less bike. Gilbert and I worked on cartwheels yesterday. Seamus’s soccer is almost over, but they he’s had so much fun, that it’s made it worth the effort we’ve put in to let him play.

    Bikers!

    Crosswalk!

    Happy Gilbert!

 

New Routines September 11, 2017

Filed under: DC Exploration,Family Life,Growing up,School for Boys — leighj @ 1:47 pm

With the start of school, we’ve settled into our new routines.

  • Seamus and Gilbert were both really tired this week. In Seamus that manifests with sitting and not hearing anyone talk to him. In Gilbert, we see it when he tells us about all the excitement of the day, and he clearly had fun, but he loses his temper easier at home and doesn’t settle to read, like he normally does.
  • Porter went to Meet the Teacher day, and he very sweetly told me afterwards that when he goes to school, he’s going to stay in the classroom, and I’m going to go home. This seems to indicate that he’s processing that idea as a new idea.
  • Harlan is in a very solid potty routine. It’s young, but he tells us when he needs to go, and then he goes. We haven’t really been trying with him, just getting lucky occasionally, but he seems to be ready to go.
  • Seamus started soccer. He had his first practice recently, and it was super stressful as we were trying to get most of us to a different event. However, Patrick said the coaches were excellent and that Seamus had a wonderful time, so we’re keeping an open mind.
  • Harlan starts art class next week. I’m very curious how he’ll handle structured time, but I know he’ll love getting messy!
  • Gilbert loved his birthday. He told us his teacher asked what he got for his birthday, and she was surprised when he told her all about his Daniel Boone hat.
  • Porter had a wonderful time at a party bouncing on the trampoline with a bunch of other kids (we were supervising closely). He sobbed when he had to leave, and he cried in the car for a bit too. Finally, when he was able to talk, he asked in a small voice if we were going back tomorrow? I said no, but acknowledged how much fun he’d had. He said, “Yeah, I was jumping and jumping! But I didn’t go up to the trees. Maybe when I’m as big as Seamus I can jump to the trees.” He has recently come into Seamus worship stage. Seamus is cool because he can read and play baseball.
  • We got our green chile, roasted it, and peeled it. Delicious! I only ordered 10lbs of medium this year. Much better idea!
  • We went on an interesting outing to the Colvin Run Mill. I  was really impressed with the park and how much you could learn about old time milling operations in such a short time.

A working water wheel mill.

 

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.

 

Birmingham With Kids July 31, 2017

We got up at 6:15 (yes, life with children is not for those who like to sleep in) for a dynamite breakfast at the Residence Inn Birmingham Inverness. Seriously: oatmeal with lots of fixin’s, croissants and brie, breakfast burritos, and tons of fruit. We didn’t even touch the waffles yet. It was only mildly discouraging to have them get in the car at 8:15 and say, “I’m hungry” which in our house is often code for “I’m bored.” I said, “get back in that breakfast room then!” and we all laughed.

Our first day in Birmingham was meticulously planned and replanned by me. We were to go to Kelly Ingram Park, view the 16th Street Baptist Church, and walk on part of the Civil Rights Heritage Trail. Then we’d go to the Negro Southern Leagues Museum, view Railroad Park, and stop by the Sloss Ironworks Factory Historical Site. Finally, we’d end the morning with lunch (pizza and Avondale Brews) at Post Office Pies. HAHAHAHAHA! Can you see the flaw(s) in the plan?

Actually it started off really well: Kelly Ingram Park is inspiring, moving, and engaging for children. I mentioned the other day that the kids had listened to the excellent Christopher Paul Curtis’s book The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963, which tells the story of that charged summer of selective buying (because boycotts were illegal), children skipping school to protest so their parents wouldn’t be fired from their jobs, dogs and water cannons fired at children, and ultimately a bombing at the church that killed four young girls. As we toured through the park, Seamus was very knowledgeable about the history, and the statues really came alive for him. He also has a You Choose book about the Civil Rights Movement that has been educational, and Gilbert has a book about Ruby Bridges that has helped him understand the history as well. They asked a lot of questions and really thought about the space and history for an hour. One of their questions was, “What happened if a white family had an African American child?” We talked about it, but it shows how they’d been thinking about segregation.

“I Ain’t Afraid”

These dogs were terrifying.

We decided to continue on, about 9:30 am. Well, as we were driving, we discovered that the Negro Southern Leagues Museum didn’t open until 11:00, which didn’t work for us. The Sloss Museum wasn’t open on Monday! We were busting everywhere! But we kept our cool and decided to go to the McWane Science Center. It was a great mulligan. (Thank goodness, because the trip planner was about to be in the doghouse.)

McWane totally lived up to its reputation as a fantastic place to go with kids. The older boys loved all the pulleys and mechanical advantage demonstrations. Porter and Harlan got a kick out of Itty Bitty Magic City, building with foam blocks, and bubbles. We were all able to enjoy the small aquarium with coral reef fish and Alabama swamp recreations. Enormous catfish! The touch tank with sharks and rays was also a hit. We mostly stayed together, but we split up for about 40 minutes so the younger boys could do the toddler area and the older boys could see the dinosaurs. We are almost ready to go back! But there’s so much more to see and do!

Exploring fulcrums and mechanical advantage. Gilbert was able to “beat” Seamus, Porter, and me!

The perspective room.

Harlan loved this contraption.

So with much of our morning scrapped and revised, we did manage to hang on to our lunch plans. Post Office Pies was in a hipster area, and while it was hilarious to seek out the hipsters, the beer and pizza did not disappoint. It was a perfect, casual, order at the counter, but nice seating and atmosphere for a lunch with kids. Now, I’m enjoying some quiet in the room (and trying to plan our next two day–checking opening hours!) while the younger boys sleep. Patrick, Seamus, and Gilbert are off checking out the motorcycle museum and racetrack. They’re under orders to take pictures!

Tentative plans tomorrow: day trip to Montgomery for the Rosa Parks memorial, MLK’s parsonage, Freedom Riders Museum, and Fort Tolouse Creek Indian Mounds (too ambitious?). And on Thursday, we aim for the things we missed today.

Takeaways:

  1. We did do some preparation to contextualize what we’d see on this trip, and it’s paying off with Seamus and Gilbert. They’re able to use the knowledge they have from the past to add ideas and perspective to what they’re seeing. I’d say that’s a must for future trips in order to get real educational value.
  2. Snacks are necessary. I’d sort of gotten lazy, but the kids do need a refill every couple of hours, even if I don’t. Also, when travelling in the South, or anywhere you might be outside and warm, pack water bottles.
  3. Spontaneity and flexibility will take you far, but don’t be afraid to bag a spontaneous plan if it’s not working. The covered bridge was cool and worth a detour; the spray park wasn’t (so we didn’t stay).
  4. The kids might impress you with their stamina or insights. That’s something that surprises me at every turn. I love seeing this world, and occasionally I’m irritated that I can’t read every plaque or walk the whole trail because they’re done, but then they ask a question or make a comment about something I did not notice, and I realize that they are teaching me too.
 

School’s Out and Summer Has Arrived! June 26, 2017

The boys were excited to be done with their school year, even though they’d had lots of fun in the last week(s) of school. It’s a little adjustment around the house to have them home. Mostly I notice the noise and the interruptions to when I’m doing stuff that has to be done, like making breakfast, doing dishes, changing the laundry. We’ve been encouraging Seamus and Gilbert to pitch in, especially if they want something from us. They’ve taken to going outside to play to get out of doing the work. Not too often, but occasionally. However, there’s also small chores to do outside, so we’ve got them coming and going! The other biggest challenge is Porter. He’s used to having a lot of attention and conversely, quiet independent playtime. With the older boys home, someone is always around to play with, but someone is also likely to take away a toy you’re enjoying, or sit on the couch cushion you were using. That will even out and he’ll miss them when they go to camp or back to school, but it is an adjustment period. Porter is excited for his own school adventure, and a few days ago, we peeked in the window of his preschool room. He was thrilled to see a little kitchen, and a firetruck, and lots of books.

Last Day of School!

I committed to getting to the pool every day it’s been sunny and we don’t have other plans in stone. I’ve done pretty well with this, and I think it means that Gilbert doesn’t need lessons this year, because he’s getting better just being in the pool and practicing on his own. They never want to get out, even when they’re blue! Porter asks to go swimming all the time, and Harlan is a fool for water. Do not turn your back on him in the vicinity of the pool: he heads straight for the water…usually via the stairs.

School’s out, swim all day!

And I have set up the kiddie pool for the backyard.

It’s a hit! Round two.

Having Porter and Harlan this summer is a big contributor to my sense of memory and doing it all over again. We’ve watched an old video where Gilbert gets upset with Seamus for taking something from him and says, “NO SAMEOUS” and today, Harlan took something from Porter, and Porter said, “NO SAMEOUS!” with the same intonation. Tonight, we watched the end of Cars, maybe in preparation to go see Cars 3, but maybe not. After it was over, Porter cried a bit and climbed on my lap. He said, “I’m not sleepy at all!” and then he laid his head on me and sighed. Then he laid over on the couch, yawned and rubbed his eyes and repeated his mantra. I wish I had a video of that I could show him in the future! It was endearing, even it was a little frustrating, since he still needed to go to bed right away.

Harlan said “No” today. It was inevitable. He also can get out of (both!) of the backyard gates, so extra patrolling is required. We’ve had the girl next door babysit him and Porter together and tomorrow, she’s doing Harlan by himself, so here’s hoping he gets his fill of attention. We’ve used babysitting so far to do individual projects with the older kids. Patrick and Gilbert went to the auto store and then changed the oil. Seamus and I walked to the library with me watching him navigate. He’s been begging to walk places by himself. Seamus is dying for the independence of a 12 year old, but we’re still working on judgement, problem solving, and attention to detail. It is fascinating how the desire for independence manifests in each of the ages we have at home right now, and how it will change with each child’s wishes and needs.

Since school let out, we’ve gone swimming, had playdates, gone to a party, had friends join us for dinner, played in the backyard, signed up for summer reading, prepped and stored CSA bounty for our trip, and gone for a nature walk at Huntley Meadows. At the wetlands, we saw a nice array of wildlife and especially animals that are featured in the Franklin the Turtle books. Porter loved it, even though Gilbert kept taunting him that he wouldn’t see any bears. In the wild we did see a heron, turtles (painted and snapping), beaver dams, a frog, some geese and goslings, tadpoles, dragonflies, some orioles, and hawks. They were enthralled.

Porter walked the whole way.

 

Updates on the Family May 10, 2017

Filed under: Events,Family Life,Growing up,Outdoor Pursuits,School for Boys — leighj @ 11:50 am

My semester is winding down erratically. I had a final on Saturday and Monday and then am waiting for one on Friday. Grades for two classes are done and in, but I like to get it all wrapped up neatly. Then I have next week, when I have work on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

We went to Charlottesville to celebrate Seamus’s birthday, and we hiked up Humpback Rocks with all the kids. It was a long way up! They did great, though, and we enjoyed the beautiful (if terrifying) view.

Yah! I’m not going to fall off!

Some of us took the easy way up! 

Afterwards, we stopped at Wegman’s and bought food for a picnic lunch. Then we headed back to Nana and PopPop’s and cooled off in the lake water since it was 95 degrees in April.

Then we had an incredibly busy week in which we registered Porter for preschool at the community center (he’s super excited!), tried to wrap up the semester of teaching, went to an evening event, and planned and hosted a party for tenure. While our sanity was in question, we had a pretty low key prep for the party–our biggest worry was whether the ground would dry out a bit. The kids had a blast at the party. Harlan rode in the ergo the whole time, Porter played with the other kids his age, and Seamus and Gilbert played wiffleball in the front yard with all of the kids ages 6 and up. They were exhausted afterward, but we did manage to feed them before the party really got going. At one point, Gilbert returned to the food table for a veggie dog and bun; I asked if he wanted ketchup. He said, “No, I’m just eating this to get my calories refilled.”

Gilbert and Patrick had stashed some wood in the shed so they’d be dry wood for the fire. Smart thinking!

Seamus’s birthday continued on Monday when I took him and two friends to play minigolf. He had wanted to go bowling, but he changed his mind to minigolf when he remembered how much he enjoys playing. Three 8-year-olds are pretty easy to manage when they are involved in a fun activity. They played two rounds and loved every minute. I was worried that one of them would get upset if he was “losing” but from the get go, they agreed not to keep score. I would put up a picture, but I don’t like adding pictures of other peoples’ kids without their permission.

Porter drives the tractor.

We went to play at a friend’s house, and Porter loved getting on and off the tractor and peddling it. One of his favorite books right now is Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site. The front loader on the tractor intrigued him. His other favorite books are all the Franklin the Turtle books. Seamus and Gilbert loved those too, and honestly, I don’t get tired of them. Porter is engaged in imaginative play almost all the time, and he likes to tell stories. It’s astounding to hear what’s going on in his head. Funny, most of the time, and pretty clear that we shouldn’t talk about things in front of him that we don’t want him to process, because he is actively listening and thinking.

Harlan is a backyard boy!

Harlan is a demon in the backyard! He is into everything and for the most part, I don’t mind. I just don’t like it when he gets in my garden and tries to eat the dirt. The other day, he said “bath.” Gilbert taught him to say backpack. And he consistently says Bye bye, Hi, Thank you, Dada, and More. He says ball when he feels like it, book sometimes, and water fairly consistently. He’s a motor mouth if someone will sit down and talk with him. He tried to take his shoes off when he came in the house (as is our custom!). He’s all over being part of the family. But the biggest point in his favor right now is that he’s night-weaned and sleeping through the night. I feel like a new person.

We’re rolling along. The garden is starting nicely, too!

chives, rosemary, radishes, mustard greens, and squash/cukes