Academic Leigh Speaking

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

Squeezing in one last January Post January 31, 2017

Filed under: Academic,Family Life,Growing up,Teaching,Totally Me — leighj @ 1:09 pm

Just quickly, I hope to provide you a moment of brevity (levity! Oops. I’m up with the baby a lot) before you go back to reading the horrifying reality show that is the news.

  • My birthday came and went. I had a great time with fun celebrations with friends and family. The boys all wrote me nice cards declaring that I am the best mama ever (they still have time to learn about perception bias…) and we had pizza and cake. We also hired the girl next door to come over and babysit for a few hours on Saturday, and Patrick and I went out.
  • I did go to the Women’s March, taking Harlan. Gilbert colored my sign for me, and we had a great time. It was so empowering and refreshing (and hey! turns out we all needed to warm up our protesting chops).
  • We were having lunch today and Harlan came over to the table and started popping his mouth, indicating that he’d like to join us. So cute! He has almost completely switched to table foods now. I’m pretty sure he said mango yesterday.
  • Porter is a little hoarse, but he’s still feeling pretty good. He is still brave when the monsters come, and he loves his new pjs. He plays with his people and valiantly tries to keep Harlan from messing with them.
  • I’ve really been enjoying work.
  • We have a lot of stuff coming up in February, including a trip to the mountains, a work trip for me and a few school holidays for the kids. I’m just trying to keep everyone’s schedule moving.
  • The English 102 book is Olive Kitteridge, which I tried to read a few years ago, when it was super popular, but I had trouble getting into it. It’s great, though. The writing is beautiful and haunting.
  • Keep fighting the good fight!

An Itch to Travel, Part 2 September 19, 2015

Filed under: Childhood Memory,Family Life,Friends and Relatives,Teaching — leighj @ 1:34 pm

I like travel. I also like to travel with my children, as they learn so much when we go places. Sometimes the things we learn are that we need to slow down and not try to do so much, but often we learn interesting things about traffic, animals, waves, sun, local food, and more. Patrick and I early on rationalized having Seamus by thinking, well, we aren’t doing the things that people without children tout as the best parts of not having children (like travelling or going to the theater), so we might as well have kids. I think we might travel more now that we have the kids.

When I was young, we traveled a lot. I remember those trips as sensory experiences mostly (not always learning experiences, but I think that’s okay). For instance, the wind blowing us into upright standing positions on the ferry in Puget Sound, the way my glasses fogged up in the Columbia River Gorge, the brittle nails from the sub zero temps in Idaho, the smell of the sea weed on South Padre Island, the biting June wind in Alaska, Bret sticking his head out the window for more oxygen in the Rocky Mountains, the brakes catching on fire and the smell of the snow putting it out. So much that is part of the memory, and while what we think is the goal isn’t always what sticks.

Gilbert will always remember “bendy-A’s” from his trip to New Orleans. Seamus will remember the feel of the zip line from Cape Cod. Gilbert knows that ocean water doesn’t hurt his eyes but sand does. Seamus knows how a salt water pool feels to swim in. They’ve felt things they can’t feel at home, and that’s something to give them.


Summer Teaching June 11, 2015

Filed under: Academic,Summer Vacation,Teaching,Totally Me — leighj @ 11:02 am

I think there is a message out there about summer teaching. I’m loving the class (see from the sidebar that I’m teaching Ana Castillo and have read pretty much everything by her at this point), but man, teaching three nights a week is tough.

Only a week and a half to go. In the last three weeks:

  • Both boys missed two days of school for illness.
  • The starter motor in the Honda malfunctioned. Patrick fixed it, but that ate up an entire day.
  • I had a fever and had to rest all day.
  • My hard drive at work crashed.
  • I fell while hiking and thought I had broken my wrist, so I spent the afternoon in the emergency room.
  • The boys have had end of the year celebrations, that I’ve missed, and some I’ll make, but I have rearrange the schedule.
  • I’ve been to yoga once.
  • And, last night, the power went out on campus, right before class.
  • I’ve been trying to finish an essay that was due a month ago.
  • I signed up for an online class, because I thought, eh, no big deal. I did manage to finish it.

I am planning to take the summer off from teaching next year. I think these things are a sign.

I cannot wait to get the boys home and playing like crazy everyday for summer. It’s going to be busy, but the pool, zoo, beach, waterpark, backyard, all beckon!


Seven Things: Rapidly Approaching the End of 2014 November 16, 2014

1. We made a visit to the lake. It was really cold, so cold that when we went up the mountain to pick some apples, we bought a bag of them, turned around, and got back in the car.

The leaves were pretty this year.

The leaves were pretty this year.

2. We had parent teacher conferences. Patrick’s dad babysat, and we took Porter with us. Seamus’s school, then to vote at the community center, and then Gilbert’s school. It was interesting to hear how different they can be at school than at home.

3. The older boys went to a birthday bounce house party. They had a blast, as usual, but Gil on the way home remarked that he really loves not having to take a nap anymore. I said, “Well what if we had some quiet time today?” They had been working out a lot! He cried at the suggestion. Seamus, on the other hand, asked if he could take some even if no one else did. We’ve often noted that we were lucky that Seamus was the oldest, because he still loves naps, and it made it easier to get Gil to take one, if Seamus was too.

4. Our couch. Is very uncomfortable. I guess that’s what comes of IKEA cheapest of cheap. We are thinking about this house again, now that we’ve sold Albuquerque house. How can we make improvements to our lives that don’t cost much, but make it easy to live here? We rearranged the furniture in S & G’s room while they were at school, and we think the couch will fit there. We also put their kitchen out by the side of the road, and someone picked it up. (This is the same kitchen we picked up on the side of the road a few years ago. Recycle!) There’s a more open feel in their room, but they said they want the couch in there so we have some place to read. I admit it would be nice, because they’re too big to sit on us for a whole book now.

5. Reading and Teaching. I taught McTeague last week. It’s hard, but what fun! Students really understood the book and found the characters vile (as they should). However there was a lot of resistance to the subtext that McTeague and Marcus have a homoerotic relationship. We did some theory–Sedgwick’s “Between Men” and Williams’s “Residual, Dominant, Emergent.” I’d definitely teach it again! I’ve also read Peggy Vincent’s Baby Catcher about midwifery in the 1980s in Berkeley. I enjoyed it, but some of it made me sad that Porter’s birth was not what I had hoped. Other parts made me kind of panicky with the realization that a good midwife can have to save a mother or baby’s life. It was pretty neat.

6. Hiking. Patrick and I have been taking Porter hiking. Patrick’s also been taking him out on his own some too. We went to the Maryland side of Great Falls. It’s a really different view, but still fun.

Porter loves the outdoors.

Porter loves the outdoors.

7. I’ve been getting lots of ads for holiday card printing. I’m not ready to think about that yet! Although, I did go ahead and get the boys’ Christmas presents. Seamus is getting Solitaire Chess and a Lego set. Gilbert is getting Crocodile Dentist and a stopwatch. They really want a racetrack that they can race cars against each other. We’re thinking about it, but those are so easy to break! Also, we’re thinking about a swing set (just metal, and just swings) for the back yard; we probably won’t get it. Yes, we can go to the park, but sometimes when Porter’s sleeping, it’s best to send the older two to the back yard. They do tend to make their own entertainment back there, though! A few days ago they were playing with small beach balls and tennis rackets, trying to keep the ball in the air.

Oh, baby crying. Gotta go!


“The Factory Girl” Just Teach One Project October 1, 2014

Filed under: Academic,Books,Teaching — leighj @ 9:17 am
Tags: , , ,

There’s a really great project for teachers of Early American Literature. It’s called Just Teach One, and the goal of it is to get instructors to put one archive recovery text on their syllabus each semester. After teaching it, the instructors blog about their experiences with the text, offering suggestions for discussion, other texts to link it to, and context for the class goals. As a participant in the project, I taught “The Factory Girl” by Sarah Savage in The American Dream last spring. The full text of “The Factory Girl” is available here. All of the instructors’ posts are also on that page. I’m fascinated by the variety of institutions and courses people managed to fit “The Factory Girl” into. Of course we expect to see it in American Women Writers courses and Early American literature surveys or seminars. But who would have thought that it could interest students at a prison? Or students in Business Writing? Or in a Digital Texts class? I’m glad there’s a community for teaching interesting work that students may not have seen before. Here’s my take.


Back to Work August 24, 2014

It seems crazy that summer is over. I’m back to work tomorrow, Porter is one month old, and Seamus and Gilbert start school the week after. I’m teaching two classes this term, chairing a committee, advising my students, and all the other things I do over the semester.

We got information about the boys’ classroom assignments on Friday. Seamus has the teacher who our neighbors across the street LOVE, so we’re excited for him. Gilbert will probably ride the bus to school with our neighbor. We’ve been working on packing lunches. Next week, Porter has his one month appointment, we have two meet the teacher days, and we’re hoping to go to Great Waves for one last summer sendoff.

Meanwhile, I have classes to teach, a revision to finish, a pump to get from Obamacare, and finish transitioning my dresser to work/nursing clothes from maternity clothes. Porter is growing out of his newborn and 0-3 month clothes and I need to transition his dresser too. It’s all part of the growing!

In short, life is busy and good. This will be a suspended week, and then our week of new stuff, and then we start our new normal! Wow.


Rusty, Plus Bonus Stories on Boys May 20, 2014

Because I taught an overload last semester, and I’ve been sort of preoccupied with upcoming changes to the house and family, I hadn’t been focusing overmuch on my scholarly work. I probably wouldn’t be too focused on it this summer, except I have a very eager student who applied for a summer research grant to help me with my research. She’s great and has already found a bunch of interesting poetry and fiction for me to take a look at.

However, today, I am back on the horse. I finished a short blog post on The Factory Girl for the Just Teach One project from the American Antiquarian Society. They pull obscure texts from their archives and challenge American literature instructors to use the text in a course, write a blog post about teaching it, and publish the post as a part of a series on teaching these neglected works. I’m a little rusty on opening a blank document and starting to connect the dots and pieces, but I had teaching notes on the text, a quiz I’d made for my students, and some ideas about how the work fits in with the questions I pose to my students about their understanding of the mythos surrounding the American Dream. It’s part of a unit that attempts to determine whether hard work or good luck contributes more to achieving the American Dream.

Next up, I need to revise my essay on embodied close readings of texts. I have a couple of other revisions to finish this summer, and then I’m going to take a little break (six weeks to be exact), and then I have to start working on my book again.

Over the weekend, the boys and I worked on some projects. I had senior awards on Saturday night and graduation Sunday morning, so Saturday morning was my day to get to play with the two boys.

We walked to the farmers’ market for some basil plants, eggs, and other sundries. Then I needed to go get a planter for the little plants. The boys and I took off, but first we were distracted by a yard sale. I saw a single jogging stroller, so I decided to stop. The stroller fit the bill (right price, and our jogger is for 2 kids), and there were plenty of baby toys; Gilbert was itching to pick one out for the baby. I let him, and he picked out a boy baby doll that drinks water and wets its diaper. I had planned to get him one anyway, but baby dolls are expensive and boy ones are scarce, and I’d been putting it off as an unnecessary item. He said it was for the baby, but it became immediately clear that it was for Gilbert.

We picked out the planters, and Seamus wanted to guard the wagon. He and Gilbert picked out a couple of herbs to grow for themselves–KY mint and dill for Gilbert, Mojito mint and basil for Seamus–and they were ready to go home and plant their plants. We did it up right on the back porch (transplanting the little plant Seamus had started in preschool), and I let them paint the planters along with their birdhouse. Now they’re obsessed with checking on their little plants and making sure the birds don’t eat the herbs. I’m not really sure why they think that might happen.

Seamus has been very worried lately that when the baby comes he’s going to have to do things that are too hard for him or that we will be mean to him. It’s taken reassurance, but last night we had a breakthrough. He had a really tough evening that ended with him and me having a talk while sitting on his bed. He tested some boundaries, finally asking if he could throw away his comb. I said yes, but he didn’t do it. After story reading, he gave me a hug and said, “I think I’ll keep my comb because I might want to comb my hair someday.” OK, then, Seamus. He carries a lot of anxiety about things that Patrick and I are not even aware that he’s absorbing. Like on the way to the airport, we have to be really careful about expressing any worry about making it on time, because Seamus immediately takes that fear as his own. We’ve explained that he doesn’t have to worry about it because we’re watching out for those things, but I think he still finds it stressful.