Academic Leigh Speaking

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

Birthday Surprise! January 28, 2018

Filed under: Friends and Relatives,Totally Me,Uncategorized — leighj @ 5:43 pm

I really enjoyed my birthday. The weather was more beautiful than I can remember having on my birthday, ever! 62 degrees, sunny, pleasant light breeze.

Friday night, we had coconut layer cake, in a reprise of my 30th birthday, of the four cakes. It was a relaxed evening, and then Saturday morning, two kids woke out of sorts, but once they had breakfast, it was a little better. I kept itching to go to the farmers’ market, since the weather was lovely and I needed to get out of the house of cranky kids. Patrick was stalling, cleaning, washing dishes, vacuuming (I haven’t mentioned our new vacuum, but our old one finally died, and this new one is much quieter–love that), and generally not getting ready fast enough to suit me. But, we were almost ready to go, when a knock came at the door.

It was our friends from Kentucky! Pat brought a letter that I’d written when I was 18 (but already in college), entrusted to him with the notation that it was to me at 38 years old. I remembered that it existed, of course, but I wasn’t expecting to get it on my birthday. What a treat! The letter was uncanny, but also reassuring in that I have memories of myself sort of being a train wreck my first semester of college (homesick, insecure, lost), but I knew myself pretty well, and I still think things are funny that I thought were funny then. I even wanted to be a professor, which I don’t remember as being the goal at the time. It was just too wild. I’m still thinking it all through.

We went to Seamus’s basketball game, by way of the park and farmers’ market. The park isn’t technically open, but it was too pretty to not play there. Seamus had a great game, and Harlan lasted through most of it. The rest of the day was quiet, finishing the summer photo book, naps, dinner, and a nature documentary.

This morning, we were invited to our friends’ house for brunch. It was yet another wonderful birthday surprise! I learned something new about LC and got a t-shirt to remind me. And, this:

How amazing!

That’s a cake! I knew my friend was talented, having seen cakes she’s done for her boys’ birthdays, but I did not expect this beautiful creation. So much fun. We had a great morning full of laughter, stories, food, and good times.

I feel lucky to have a wonderful family, friends, and space to enjoy them. Thirty-eight seems pretty good so far.


Brothers January 13, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — leighj @ 6:31 am

The boys were so happy to see each other when everyone was reunited. There were hugs and lots of silliness. Of course, they were also happy to see Patrick and me, but they couldn’t get enough of each other. Seamus and Gilbert had their Mandarin class on Wednesday, and I went to pick them up. I said, “I’m going to get your brothers,” when Porter asked where I was going. He said, “Oh, good. I love Seamus. He’s so nice to me.” I passed that on to Seamus, and Gilbert came home so solicitous toward Porter. He really wants Porter to say that about him.

Harlan entertained Seamus and Gilbert all the way home. Seamus was talking about a YouTube star that everyone at school likes–Jake Paul or something like that. Harlan said, “Cheeseball?” and they cracked up! Then they got him to say it more and call each of them a cheeseball. Then Seamus mused that Jake Paul probably is a cheeseball, and that’s why people like him. I don’t know. It sounds weird–jumping off of roofs and stuff.

Seamus has been enjoying his basketball practice. I finally got a chance to take him last night. He does listen to the coach (something we wanted for him to get to experience) and he seems to enjoy playing as a team.

Heads up and dribble!

Harlan sweeps up the fireplace.


Year End in Review Post December 29, 2017

Filed under: Totally Me,Uncategorized — leighj @ 8:33 pm

I used to do these (but then I couldn’t find them in my blog, so I’m not sure when I actually did them…) It looks like January 2012 is the one time I did this. I feel compelled to this year, for some reason.

1. What did you do in 2017 that you’d never done before?

And the first question is a doozy! We traveled as a family, on our own, which was special and memorable. I think there were a lot of things we did new, especially as the kids continue to grow and challenge us to grow in new ways. It’s fun and pretty much always new. A few highlights are dropping back into a yoga backbend, hiking with all four kids, trying out a batting cage, and arranging for my colleague to give a presentation on turtles in the boys’ classes.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

We did not make resolutions this year! We’ll probably make a few for next year. It’s interesting to see what the boys vow to do, and one year, I wrote it down and got it out occasionally.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Yes! There were several new babies added this year. My friend Erin had her third (a girl!–who I get to meet in a couple of days); my friend in NC had her third (a boy!–and we got to go see him this summer!); my very close friend here in town had her second and we’ve gotten lots of snuggle time with him; on the winter solstice, my friend had her first (a sweet little boy! who I got to hold almost 24 hours after he was born, which was indescribably delightful); another dear friend had a her second girl in Oregon this spring, and we’ve commiserated about babies who won’t take bottles; and another friend in Oregon had a baby in July. I may have missed someone, but I hope not. And next year, according to my Christmas card stash, I have more babies to look forward to!

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Both my paternal grandfather and my paternal aunt passed away this year. My aunt just yesterday, so it was a bit of a sad tinge to the holidays. We had a nice celebration of my grandfather’s life in Lexington this May, and I got to see my aunt there, so I’m grateful for that.

5. What countries did you visit?

None this year! But last year I went to the Bahamas with Seamus and Gilbert, and they were such good traveling companions, I’m taking them to Germany in May, and the whole family will drive to Nova Scotia this summer. I’m determined to get some use out of these passports we got for the kids!

6. What would you like to have in 2018 that you didn’t have in 2017?

Sleep. Research time and writing time (but I’m going to get it for sure!–sabbatical…coming up in AY 18-19). 

7. What dates from 2017 will be etched upon your memory, and why?

February 26 when my students performed a powerful and moving reading of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues. Harlan’s first birthday when it snowed the only big snow we got this year. Easter in New York was a magical time with the family. Late July visit to Montgomery, Alabama when the boys go to sit at MLK Jr’s desk.

8. What was your biggest achievement of this year?

I got tenure this year! We kept four kids alive and healthy. Patrick and I still enjoy spending time together. I recommitted to my yoga practice.

9. What was your biggest failure?

I really am trying to be more balanced as a parent–to listen and respond to the children when they are challenging. So, biggest failure is that I lost my temper more than I wanted to. Also, I had an essay I’d worked on over and over summarily rejected, and that stung my ego.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

I think fewer colds than usual, so I’ll call it a win!

11. What was the best thing you bought?

The dustbuster has been amazing. The kids can clean up their own messes (the other day, Seamus clipped his own nails, and then got the dustbuster and vacuumed up the mess–I thanked him and he was pleased with himself, but partly because he thought I was being sarcastic at first). I guess Patrick bought that, so it’s really more on him. I’m really happy with my Stitch Fix  which sends me clothes that will suit my post four baby body at work. I’m planning on writing more about it later, when I’ve had a few more boxes to go on for the review.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

Family. The kids all reached great milestones this year, worked hard, and learned a lot. The extended family has been helpful and reliable. Our babysitter is amazing. So many of our friends have been understanding about our lack of participation in anything right now because we are just so tired at the end of the week.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

The same ones that did for most of America.

14. Where did most your money go?

Boring places–like grocery store food and rent. But we did take some wonderful trips this year.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

The Women’s March. Skiing with the boys. Going to two Nats games as a family! Our trip through the Southeast. Going to NYC for  a conference, and taking the family. Summer reading at the library. Friends who visited us.

16. What song will always remind you of 2017?

Oodelally–Porter sings it constantly as he pretends to be Robin Hood or Alan A dale.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you: a) happier or sadder? b) thinner or fatter? c) richer or poorer?

I think this is a stupid question.

Happier: no–I still have a lot of anxiety, so yes, I’m happy, but not markedly happier.
Thinner: weaned Harlan and went back to yoga practice, so a little, but could stand to give it another 7 lbs.
Richer: I did get a promotion, but I’m going to half pay next year, so???

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?


19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Nothing. I wanted more of everything.

20. How did you spend Christmas?

With friends and family. So much fun.

21. Did you fall in love in 2017?

Not with anybody new.

22. What was your favorite TV program?

I have gotten into Jane the Virgin–hilarious and emotional. And we started The Crown, but I haven’t watched enough to know.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

No. But have deep antipathy toward many.

24. What was the best book you read?

I really enjoyed Manhattan Beach, for it’s craft and intrigue. Oh, yes, I also loved Anything is Possible, and thought New People was weird and wonderful. My favorite library summer reading was What it Means When a Man Falls from the Sky. I read a LOT for work this year, and feel a little googly eyed from it.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Hamilton–I know. I’m super late to the party.

26. What did you want and get?

Family time and vacations. We’ve had so much fun exploring.

27. What did you want and not get?

A time turner.

28. What was your favorite film of 2017?

Wonder Woman. It’s not the only thing I saw (even though most things were kids’ movies), but I just enjoyed it for it’s power, story, and visual.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

We got a babysitter! We did a lot of family time and I turned 37.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

I don’t know.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept of 2009?

Emerging from baby land.

32. What kept you sane?

Exercise, cooking, coffee, my friends, Patrick, sunshine, laughing at all the mess.

33. What political issue stirred you the most?

This question seems so quaint…so 2008.

34. Who did you miss?

Everyone who I didn’t get to see much.

35. Who was the best new person you met?

We have some new neighbors who are nice. I will count the people we’re going to visit in Germany because I just met them at the end of 2016 and developed a friendship with them this year. Many of my wonderful students.

36. What are you looking forward to in 2018?

Sabbatical. Research. Nova Scotia, Cape Cod, Jersey, Germany. Those are big things; I’m also looking forward to the small moments of hilarity and beauty with the kids, in quiet peace with myself, in common mind with friends, and in fellowship with family and community. I’m hoping for more compassion in the world and in our interaction with others.


Winter Break December 23, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — leighj @ 2:43 pm

We kicked off winter break early with some solstice fun, new baby visit, and family time. This morning we took Porter to his first Kennedy Center performance. He was very well behaved, something I can’t say about many other children in that theater. The show was Mr. Popper’s Penguins, and parts of it were cute and funny; other parts sailed right over the kids’ heads.

With just the three boys, we got tacos at District Taco for lunch. They were so hungry that they all gobbled their meals and asked for more. Most of the time, I’d get them more food, but today we were in a hurry. Here’s hoping they stay hungry tonight for dinner. No snacks in the car today because of the vile mess they have left in the car.

We’re listening to When Santa Fell to Earth on the audiobook and Porter and Harlan are napping as we drive through the rain. I’m blogging from my phone.

Why are they tired? Patrick and I are the ones doing the work!


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.


Porter Says and Harlan Says August 19, 2017

Filed under: Fourth Baby,Growing up,Kid comparisons,Uncategorized — leighj @ 8:21 am

All of my boys have had weird pronunciations of S, P, or F. Gilbert said F as S (It’s Sunny, instead of It’s funny!). Seamus said F as P, (Plip Plops for Flip Flops, Oppice for Office, Wapple for Waffle, you get the idea). Porter has put his own twist on it! He says Sp as F (spinner as finner, space as face, spit as fit).

Porter also quotes from our Song and Story CDs constantly. He loves Monsters, Inc and Finding Nemo stories. Not the movies. For movies he likes Lady but not the Tramp and the doggie movie (101 Dalmations).

Harlan says some new words regularly: Bye bye, cheese, doggie, more, MINE!, shoes, night night, water (ba ba), poo poo (when he wants to go sit on the potty)

He also tests every boundary imaginable.


Birmingham Day Three August 3, 2017

We’re trying not to do too many things we could do at home, but I have been to Trader Joe’s and now, Whole Foods (mostly so Porter could go to the bathroom!). We realize that we are East Coast suburban annoying people when we stop at WF for a bathroom rather than McDonalds. To be fair, I needed to buy diapers…

Anyway, day three in Birmingham found us looking for something to do in the early morning before the other things we wanted to see opened. Traffic in Birmingham is special. By that I mean horrible, but once you get where you want to be, nothing is crowded or unpleasant. Parking is super easy, and there’s so much space for people to move around in–which is not the case in DC! We did the botanical garden in the morning because we like native plants and Japanese gardens. The Birmingham gardens are free, have bench swings strategically placed at beautiful intervals, and offers lots of shade. We enjoyed that the kids could wander (as long as they stayed on the path) and talk in their normal tones of voice without bothering anyone. We spent a lovely hour in the gardens.

A more manageable Vulcan.

Vulcan is the guardian of the city. We’ve thought about going up there, but I don’t know if we’ll make it. I think if we had one more day in the city, we’d do Vulcan and Sloss, but we’ve run out of time for those things.


All the kids love koi fish, and these were some big ones!

After the gardens, we were ready for a snack (I’ve been getting snacks at the grocery and hiding them until 9:30 or 10:00 am–it’s working pretty well). I had tentatively thought we might go to Peanut Depot, where you can see peanut roasters and learn about the goobers. There wasn’t much going on there this morning, so we met the owner and he toured us around the roasting area. I learned how they salt peanuts, how they harvest peanuts, and how the roaster works. It takes about 90 minutes to roast 100 pounds of peanuts. Seamus enjoyed connecting his knowledge of George Washington Carver. Gilbert loved the roaster and tasting the peanuts. Porter was a little scared of the roasting drum, and Harlan enjoyed his taste of peanut.

Railroad Park

We decided to visit Railroad park next to the Negro Southern Baseball League museum. These barrier cones were part of a playground, and the kids were busy playing Piston Cup from the Cars movie for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, Patrick and I ate peanuts, watched the train tracks, and talked. I love a city park that encourages imaginative play!

We did check out the baseball museum, but I think it would be better for slightly older children. It was neat to see the old gloves, bats, and catcher’s masks, but everything was behind glass and text heavy. Worth a quick stop, though!

Seamus and Gilbert wanted to go back to the McWane Science Center, so Patrick took them back while Harlan and Porter napped. This blog brought to you by IMAX! Haha.

From the other day at the Berger Motorsports Museum. Who’s in the sidecar?

He isn’t really in the sidecar. Patrick said it was cool to see the old JetSkis, but that it’s not a great place to take children after they’ve been touching everything at the science museum since they can’t touch anything there!

Birmingham has been a wonderful place for a family vacation. Its spaciousness makes it nice for even really little kids to have fun, and for parents to be less stressed.

Today, we’re off to Waynesville, NC, via Chattanooga, TN, where we’ll see the starting point of the Trail of Tears. I’ve been researching Asheville, and we’re hoping to see the drum circle, do some hiking, and drink a beer at one of the kid-friendly breweries!