Academic Leigh Speaking

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

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.


NYC By the Numbers April 16, 2017

Filed under: Academic,Family Life,Growing up,Holidays,Travel — leighj @ 8:58 pm

3: nights we stayed in the city

4: children we took

8: playgrounds visited

I was joking with my mom that we were on a tour of Manhattan playgrounds, and that we’d seen them all, when I realized that was a gross misstatement, and in fact, we had probably barely scratched the surface of the playground situation. It was funny; they were all crowded, but at times that entirely depended on which schools were taking their recess there at a certain time.

Monkey bars are a hit no matter where you go.

5: restaurants visited

We love the food in NYC. We ate a few meals by necessity out, but our favorite way to go with kids is to eat the heck out of the free hotel breakfast, then eat out for lunch if that’s part of the plan, and order take-out for dinner. This is mostly because the delicious ethnic food restaurants are so tiny I couldn’t face taking a stroller inside. So we brought Thai and Greek food back to the hotel room. We ended up doing Greek two nights because it was so tasty! (And there’s a story about Indian food that I was going to order, but when I got to the restaurant someone was being arrested by 10 cops, so I decided that was a sign I should go get Greek food.) Otherwise, we ate at the museums we visited–not great food, but serviceable. And one day we happened on a Biergarten with outdoor seating. The food was much better than expected there! I’ll tell you about the food on the second leg of our trip in a separate post.

4: movies watched with hotel Netflix

We don’t do much screen time at home, but we do movies on non-school nights. It was very helpful that we restrict because in the hotel, we let them go nuts on the Netflix, which was hilarious and kind of sad. We didn’t feel too bad about it because the room was small (soooooo small), and it was a way to keep the three older boys contained on the bed.

3.5: books listened to in the car

This is how we prefer to pass the time. Although, if I have to hear Stockard Channing read one more Ramona book in a whine, I might have to stab myself in the ears….

2: science museums checked off

We had planned on going to Battery Park on our way into the city, (bonus drive through Brooklyn), but as we approached the city it started raining, and we went for plan B: the Liberty Science Museum and Liberty State Park. The science museum was interesting, but not as great as Richmond’s. A highlight was that the rain cleared and we were able to get out of the car and get good views of the back of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

Playing in the infinity climber. Seamus and Gilbert are in the middle.

2: visits to Central Park

The weather was so lovely, we had to spend some time in the park. We watched part of a softball game, explored the fun playgrounds (epic slide!) on the Southern part of the park, and saw horses and pedicabs. We rode the Carousel, but missed the Chess and Checkers house (next time!).

Balto the Medicine Delivery Dog!

Honestly, they didn’t even need play equipment.

The rocks in Central Park were fun enough for the boys to have enjoyed for hours. They also like thinking about Peter Hatcher in the Fudge books. He has a special rock he likes to sit on in Central Park. This really came alive for them after exploring the rocks on their own.

I love photos of kids in the park with the buildings in the back.

4: Ice cream cones eaten.

I took Seamus and Gilbert to the park while Porter napped, and I figured I’d get them a treat. They were enthralled with the street food carts, so we did ice cream. But not before they saw the Plaza Hotel, which I’m embarrassed to admit wasn’t recognizable for literary reasons, but for Home Alone 2: Lost in New York!

The Plaza, and the Handsome Cabs.

Checking out Times Square.

And in Times Square, they liked seeing the ball and all the giant TVs. They weren’t very interested in the costumed performers, but Gilbert wanted to go in the M&M store badly (we didn’t). As far as I can tell they paid the nearly naked people no mind.

1: Cool thing I’d never heard of

We walked on the High Line, and elevated train track that has been turned into a park. Great views, and the helicopters going out into the Hudson nearly clip you. This also allowed us to see the Mega Buses loading (and I will never take one. That was a circus.) and experience a truly interesting set of art installations.

Brr! It was cold in the wind.

Beams to climb on and use as a maze.

3: days I spent at the conference doing work

It’s nice to combine family fun with work, and the best part about the conference was that I could really do that. I could go to a panel after the kids were settled, but before bed (so interesting on the Latinx v. Latina/o v. Latin@), and I could get in a full day with panels, including my student’s paper who came up to present, and then I could get in a day on Saturday before we had to leave out. I have lots of new ideas for writing and texts to teach! Plus, my paper generated some good feedback and ways to think about the work more.

I know there’s more, but at 1000 words, I’ll stop here. More in a few days. Here’s the blog from the time we went to NYC when Seamus and Gilbert were little, and the blog from the time I went by myself.



Kentucky Visit March 12, 2017

Filed under: Family Life,Friends and Relatives,Totally Me,Travel — leighj @ 3:25 pm

I took the four kids to Kentucky for a Spring Break (mine) trip. It was totally worth it. The flight out was easy with Porter by the window, Harlan and me in the middle, Gilbert on the aisle and my diaper bag helper, and Seamus across the aisle from us in his own row. The morning flight worked well because everyone was in good spirits. The return flight was a little tougher, since it overlapped with Porter’s naptime. Seamus took the window, Porter the middle, Harlan and me on the aisle and Gilbert across from us. On both flights the older boys were helpful if they were in the row with me or quiet if they were by themselves.

Activities included gardening, sewing, cooking, walking, bathing, going to the creek, chopping wood, playing at the park, learning disc golf, watching Robin Hood, going to the Simpson Co Jail (the historic one–don’t worry!), reading at the library, looking at teeth, and eating. I was happy to see my grandmother and aunt, as well as a few friends. It was a low key trip for me, but the boys had fun since the weather really cooperated.

We’re planning to go back for a much less weather pleasant trip in July. Activities will include a lot of water (I hope!). It’s been almost six months since we visited, but the boys love the farm and all the work it entails to get there. Harlan learned to say Kitty, Porter made a game of petting Snakey, Gilbert learned about wasps, and Seamus got a new brace. All exciting!


Pictures to Support Recent Posts February 21, 2017

I wasn’t able to put up pictures from our weekend away, so here they are.

The children’s museum was educational, if a little overstimulating in places.

"Scares me!"--Porter

“Scares me!”–Porter

They had a space where children could pretend to be a dentist and work on a patient.

They had a space where children could pretend to be a dentist and work on a patient.

Porter and Harlan both loved the train exhibit.

Porter and Harlan both loved the train exhibit.

We put on a puppet show! Porter loved the theater part of the children's museum.

We put on a puppet show! Porter loved the theater part of the children’s museum.

The colored dots were pleasingly psychedelic.

The colored dots were pleasingly psychedelic.

Gilbert rocked the goggles.

Gilbert rocked the goggles.

Skiing with cousins is more fun!

Skiing with cousins is more fun!

The weather has been so warm, this may be our only good winter picture this year!

The weather has been so warm, this may be our only good winter picture this year!


Day Trip to Philadelphia February 20, 2017

Filed under: Family Life,Travel — leighj @ 1:34 pm

One of the things Patrick requested a year ago was that we stop scheduling so much stuff on the weekends to make more room for spontaneous family outings–hiking, day trips, museums, etc. We have done more of these, and we find that we really enjoy them. So, on Saturday, the weather was nice, we had no plans, and we decided to take a day trip to Philadelphia, with the idea of going to the Franklin Institute to use our brand new science center reciprocal membership.

Patrick got online and saw that there was a Mardi Gras parade in one of the Philly neighborhoods. We loaded up the car, packed some snacks, and set out. Philly is a 2 hour 20 minute drive from us. We listened to Ramona the Brave, while Seamus and Gilbert and Porter snacked on a giant tub of pretzels, and Harlan slept. I forgot my coffee that I’d prepped, but since I didn’t have it, we didn’t have to stop. The parade was colorful, energetic, and musical.

We were on the shady side of the street. Lots of beads, confetti, and silly string.

We were on the shady side of the street. Lots of beads, confetti, and silly string.

Then we needed lunch, so we got in the car to go over to the Franklin Institute and maybe get a sandwich or some pizza. There was a casual, tasty restaurant available (Logan Court Pizza) and we all ate our fill. In the museum, the boys had a blast. They even described it as Awesome to a grandparent later, which is high praise! We didn’t have time to do a lot, because Porter was getting tired, and it was a bit crowded. We did the Train Factory (go inside a locomotive), the Giant Heart (enter the heart as if you are a drop of blood), Electricity (I accidentally shocked Porter, which perhaps hastened the decline of his mood), and Sportszone (the science of sport). Seamus and Gilbert are dying to go back.

The boys loved this so much, they wanted to do it again, so Patrick and I both got to go through it.

The boys loved this so much, they wanted to do it again, so Patrick and I both got to go through it.

We wrapped the day up around 4:00. Seamus and Gilbert ran through the Logan Court fountain (no water in it!).

Such a sunny day in Philadelphia!

Such a sunny day in Philadelphia!

For the future:

  • I’d packed more water–we ended up buying water and refilling water bottles at a gas station.
  • It’s okay to drive around a bit before you park to figure out the lay of the land. We noticed that one of the overpasses didn’t have a pedestrian walk. We also were able to snag a four hour spot, instead of a two hour spot.
  • We might have packed lunch, since there were plenty of picnic tables at the Institute.
  • The Natural Science museum is right near the Franklin Institute and we could have done that too.
  • The boys have no real awareness of the Liberty Bell, even though they’ve studied it at school…

The Recovery Conference in Houston February 14, 2017

Filed under: Academic,Fourth Baby,Totally Me,Travel — leighj @ 10:55 am

The 25th Anniversary Conference for the Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage Conference was at the University of Houston last weekend. I went and took Harlan. Work conferences with kids can be a challenge, but they can also be inspiring and rewarding. We had considered taking everybody, but then we realized that their school was out last week and that it would not be good for them to miss so much, especially if there was also snow to contend with. I’m really glad we didn’t take everyone because while the U of Houston is very convenient for a conference, it’s not particularly rife with activities for the family.

The conference itself was great! There were interesting panels that sparked discussion and collaboration opportunities. I felt inspired afterward to write and work harder to get my ideas out. This is important because I’ve been struggling with feeling really dispirited lately in my scholarly work. I also got to see some friends and colleagues and we cooked up ideas for future work. It was 80 degrees on Saturday, which was fun, but also made me glad I don’t live in Houston year-round.

Harlan was a good travel companion, sleeping from take-off to landing on both flights. Thank goodness we had nonstops both ways. Travel was smooth, and I enjoyed the surgical precision of the conference (fly in and out) but I was also pretty tired when I got back. I’ve recovered from the intense travel now. We’re now ready to night wean to sleep train Harlan!


A Weekend Away–Skiing with Kids February 13, 2017

The kids have the first weekend in February as a long weekend. The first year they were in school, we didn’t realize that was the case, but ever since, we’ve put it on the calendar and tried to make the most of it. This year, we took them out to Bryce Mountain for some skiing and fun. It was a blast. I ended up taking Porter and Harlan down to the Children’s Museum in Harrisonburg. Porter loved playing on the train, in the ambulance, and with the chicken eggs. We put on a puppet show and pretended to be TV newscasters. He was terrified of the large mouth of teeth! Harlan also enjoyed himself. In the grand tradition of Children’s museums, I had a child throw a tantrum upon the need to leave.

Porter is generally cooperative, but when he’s not, it’s a sight. We were leaving the museum, and I had a hold of his arm. I had to let him go to readjust my grip on Harlan. Porter took the opportunity to bolt back down the street and around the corner to the museum! He also bolted another time when I told him “No gumballs” at the entrance to a Food Lion. It’s unexpected because it’s new behavior, so I have to fight the urge to laugh with the imperative to engage cooperation. One of the parenting points in the How to Talk book is engaging cooperation. Usually, I can manage that technique with each kid, even though it sometimes requires a step back and extra thought.

On our weekend away, Seamus and Gilbert really enjoyed skiing. They especially liked the individual attention they got, eventually moving off the bunny slope onto the big hill. I have some cute pictures, but they’re not accessible to me at the moment, so I’ll post some later. They both took some falls, but we tell them that in skiing, if you’re not falling, you’re not getting better. We also had a day of skiing with their cousins, which was fun. It was warm and sunny, and I took the younger boys to meet up and bring some snacks slope side. We enjoyed watching them and picking them out as they skied down. Bryce is a great place to learn because it wasn’t too cold and the mountain is very manageable.

It is a ridiculous thing to take kids skiing, but it was so fun and will be a great memory.