Academic Leigh Speaking

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

Finals Week is Here! May 7, 2018

Finals week is here, which means I usually try to lay low–the constant stress and high anxiety of campus gets to me. As it is, I worked both Saturday and Sunday this week, and in two weeks, I have to work Saturday and Sunday again. Harlan was in a bad mood just now, but he just heard a siren that sent him delighted to the window. At least we got to have some fun this weekend too, even if it was full of work.

On Saturday morning, we took advantage of the nice weather and went to the farmers’ market, played at the park, and went to the library.

Strawberries and Croissants!

This picture looks idyllic, but there were some touch and go moments that morning. Gilbert and Harlan have both been sick, and for Gilbert, illness seems to manifest in tiredness and extra crankiness.

This week was school spirit day, so I got to gel their hair!

Wings and spikes!

They decided that Seamus looked like a character from the Series of Unfortunate Events. It was a fun morning.

We had friends over on Sunday. It was nice enough for us to eat outside (first time for dinner this year!).



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.


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!


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.



    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.


  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.