Thirty days, thirty posts, thirty as in the copy-editing symbol -30- that means The End, I'm Done! It's the end of NaBloPoMo!
Tomorrow I have to go to campus to return exams and I am dreading it. Think of me.
Remember the matchy-matchy mother-daughter sweaters I was making? The baby sweater was easy -- ten days' worth of stolen moments. (I mostly knit in stolen moments. One of my friends was asking me how I managed to get any knitting done and that's the answer. I knit while I'm reading to the kids. I knit while I'm waiting in the van. I knit during many conversations, though I try to be sensitive to the both the intensity of the topic and the complexity of the project, so I don't say, "What's that? You were telling me something about your collapsing marriage but I didn't catch the details because I couldn't remember if I was supposed to do a cable 4 right or a twist 3 left." Chatty coffee at a friend's house? I can work discreetly on a plain vanilla sock.)
The adult sweater took a lot longer and it began to exasperate me. I had had this vision of the two of us with our red hair, wearing our matching sweaters under the autumn leaves. But it took longer than expected to get the wool order in at the yarn shop, and since I finished Stella's sweater almost all the leaves have fallen, and her hair, which was precisely the color of mine in early August, has now gone mostly blonde.
But! I finished my sweater tonight, despite my exasperation. Instead of writing you a real post, I'm going to block it. Pictures soon. :-)
We lit the first narrow candle, and sang the familiar words that Christians have sung since before Chaucer or maybe even Charlemagne, and read out the first antiphon of the Advent season:
Proclaim the good news among the nations: Our God will come to save us.
Do not imagine us suffused with a holy glow. The almost-teen was reluctant; the grandparents (who aren't Catholic) were baffled by the breviary ribbons. The boy who interrupted me some three dozen times today was sent away from the table for interrupting yet again.
We try. It's messy. We keep trying anyway.
I have been thinking every day about my Christmas creep post. Those of you who said you didn't want to squeeze all the preparations into December -- I'm right there with you. I don't think our Christmas celebration is excessive, but it takes a fair amount of work to pull it off. It's easier for me to do that work cheerfully if I spread it out over a longer period of time. It's easier for me to think of good gifts if I make a list of people and "put it in the hopper" in advance.
I guess it's inconsistent for me to gripe about retailers who want to sell me stuff that I want to shop for.
We're always out of sync in December anyway. It's one of the things I love about a Catholic Advent. I grew up in a mainline Protestant denomination and I thought I knew what Advent was about. It was a happy time; we were getting ready for the birth of a baby. As a brand new Catholic I found the eschatological orientation of the Advent readings bracing: yes, there was a baby, and he is coming back in glory. Don't be nostalgic; be ready. I found the penitential flavor of the Advent season surprising. While consumer culture is saying 'tis the season to treat yourself, the Church is telling us 'tis the season for violet vestments and no Gloria.
The interrupting boy was sad about missing Advent prayer -- and, perhaps more to the point, missing the chocolate that always follows it. He was frustrated with himself for interrupting, but the frustration was lurching toward drama. I interrupted him and said, "Sweetie, drama is just going to get in your way here. It's going to be hard for you to stop interrupting other people, but you can do it."
I know exactly where he gets that tendency, though, the inclination to throw up his hands and say "It's hopeless! My bad habits have worn too deep a groove and I will never shuck them off!" [oops, mixed metaphor which I don't have time to unmix] It is one of the things I am slowly learning about these seasons where the vestments are violet: better to take small steps forward than to lament the inability to take a big step.
We try. It's messy. We keep trying anyway.
The baby knew something was up when it was time for pie yesterday. I'm sure she wasn't hungry -- she had just eaten Thanksgiving dinner, for heaven's sake -- but she was insistent that she needed some pie. I'm still curious about what cues she was picking up on that made her so certain she should get some of what we were having.
Boxed mac and cheese is one thing; pecan pie is quite another. No pecan pie for eleven-month-olds, no matter how sure they are that it would be tasty. A little whipped cream, though? We can do a little whipped cream. In this picture she has whipped cream smeared from crown to sternum. Who knew a spoonful could go so far?
This is the sound of me writing very quietly about how to time your mashed potatoes.
I kept meaning to do a head lice follow-up post after our experience in August. I thought about calling it "Jamie: 1, Head Lice: 0" but that seemed like a title devised by someone destined for a cosmic smackdown.
First tip: allow yourself one long shudder and then move on. Yes, it is disgusting that there are bugs living in your children's hair, sucking their blood, but the world is full of creatures that like blood. As parasites go, you could do a lot worse.
Second tip: go thou forth and buy Cetaphil. Commenter JeCaThRe told me about the Cetaphil approach, and I am still grateful. The idea is that you coat the head entirely in Cetaphil, lather it up, comb it out, and blow it dry. The next day you can shampoo it out. (Read the instructions, though. If you're into that kind of thing, the peer-reviewed version is free at Pediatrics.)
Reasons to like this approach: it is effective and non-toxic and the kids in the study had low re-infestation rates even when their friends weren't treated. It is less time-consuming than daily nit-combing -- you treat three times, each a week apart, and you don't worry about it in between. And for me there was a big psychological benefit to it. I did not have to bring a nit comb up to the daylight with wriggling live things on it. I wiped off the foamy comb on a towel and looked at the towel later. I knew that there might well be lice in the foam, but I didn't have to see their wiggly legs and their bellies full of my children's blood. I had hit them with the Foaming Cream Pie of Louse Death (the Cetaphil people should totally use that in an advertising campaign, if you ask me) and I was going to shrink-wrap them with my mighty mighty Blowdryer of Further Louse Destruction.
Another advantage to the Cetaphil approach is that the kids can do part of it. When you get to the blow-drying stage, hand off the dryer to your child for a while and go eat some ice cream. (You deserve some ice cream if you are the louse exterminator-in-chief.) This is a pleasant contrast to nit-combing, in which it's all mom all the time.
One disadvantage to using Cetaphil is that it costs more than louse shampoo. You might be able to find a coupon, but it's still not the cheapest approach. Totally worth it, in my view. If you opt for a more economical solution, I do encourage you to look at the housecleaning steps outlined in the article I linked to above. So many articles on head lice infestations encourage you to clean like a crazy woman: bag up the stuffed animals and put them in the freezer, wash all the linens in hot water, burn all the furniture (oh, wait, that last one is just Renee having an attack of the shudders). Dr. Pearlman says not to be a crazy woman. Just do three things: put the child in fresh clothes after treatment, clean all the combs and brushes (either soak them in alcohol or chuck them in the dishwasher), and spin the bedding in the dryer. The reality is that lice are pretty fragile. They are clumsy little things; they can't jump or fly. You are bigger and meaner than they are.
My unconscious is not entirely convinced of that, however. I dreamed a few weeks ago that they were back, only they were the size of my hand with giant pincers. They were all over my house, just hanging out on the countertops. They looked like pupating Blast-Ended Skrewts, and they were trying to suck my children's blood.
I was telling my MIL about this dream, trying to convey the horror of it. I must have failed, because she chirped, "Oh, well, at least they'd be easy to spot!"
They would indeed.
This morning I was driving my husband to work and I said, "You know, people always complain about how sick they are of NaBloPoMo, but I am really enjoying it. I love blogging and it's been really fun to have some pressure to have the motivation to write something every day without spending a lot of time thinking about whether it's blogworthy or not, or whether I said exactly what I wanted to say about it." And it's true, but tonight I am squeezed by grading pressure (not done with midterm #2, not started on their final short assignment) and Thanksgiving pressure, and a wakeful baby who seemed to have a bellyache tonight.
So. I thought about writing a follow-up to my post on Christmas creep (soon!) and I started a post on vanquishing head lice (also soon!) and I wrote a bit more of my post on staying home with young children (maybe soon but I am a little worried about people playing nice) -- but instead you get this placeholder post about how NaBloPoMo is great but I'm really busy right now.
Hm. That's pretty lame. I am trying to think of a quick joke or a fun fact with which I can leave you. Did you know that as many as 98% of elderly people may have parasites living on their faces -- parasites which make such efficient use of their food that they have no excretory openings?
I was trying to write a post about the whole messy issue of staying home with small children, but that's not a post I want to dash off. Instead I will offer two cute Pete stories and keep nibbling at the other post.
A couple of weeks ago Pete and Stella and I went out together on Wednesday. He goes to preschool four mornings a week, but Wednesdays we spend the whole day together. We walked downtown and played on the big indoor climbing frame, and then we had potato-leek soup at the Irish pub across the street. He was turning his crayons over in his hand while we waited for our soup. "Mom," he said, "you know about army blue?"
"...Army blue?" As in the Union army? I couldn't think of what army blue might be.
"You know," he said, "that blue that almost looks like black?"
"Ooohhhh, you mean navy blue!" Navy blue. Of course.
We have a stack of Bill Peet books that my father bought when Alex was two. I have read them an uncountable number of times to the four boys. Two of the books, Big Bad Bruce and The Whingdingdilly, feature a witch character. Until Sunday, not one of my boys had ever noticed that these two witches have exactly the same voice: screechy and loud and accented, like the Wicked Witch of the Western Part of Kentucky. On Sunday Pete stopped me in the middle of Big Bad Bruce. I could hear the light bulb moment in his voice. "Hey!" he said. "This witch looks almost like that witch! Maybe they live in the same woods! Maybe they are friends!"
He is the very cutest 4yo I know.
I remember very clearly a day from Alex's infancy when I went to a giant garage sale sponsored by our local Mothers of Twins group. One of the women working the sale was talking to her friend about solids. Her 9-month-old babies just loved macaroni and cheese, she said. She cooked up a box of it and whizzed it in the blender and they scarfed it right down.
I remember the speedy ascent of my inner eyebrows, my disdain for the idea that you might feed boxed macaroni and cheese to an infant.
Twelve years later, I have mellowed considerably on the topic of boxed macaroni and cheese. It is, in fact, a regular feature at lunch on Saturdays -- for people over the age of 1, at any rate. Yesterday I meant to scoop some plain noodles out for Stella but it slipped my mind. "Can't you just give her some anyway?" Elwood asked.
I said, "Of course not." But she really really wanted some. She was staring at that macaroni, and reaching for it, and so I gave her a noodle. I was hoping she would drop it, but she did not. She wanted more.
Lissa wrote this post that made me say, "Oh, yes, exactly." The contrast between the number of books I read to Alex when he was four and the number of books I am reading to Pete at four -- it's dramatic. The standards to which I held myself then -- let's just say I have revised them downward. And on Saturday, handing my baby yet another noodle coated with fake cheese and yellow #5, I distinctly felt the disapproving shade of Alex's mother in my dining room.
Facebook is a weird place. Recently I saw that one of my FB friends was tagged in a video and so I clicked on it. OH MY GOODNESS it was so clearly post-coital that I had to avert my eyes. If I wanted to see half-dressed people making gooey faces at each other, I would-- I would--
...I can't finish that sentence because I just don't want to see half-dressed people making gooey faces at each other. Just. Don't. It was all the more squirm-inducing because this was a guy I'd had a terrible crush on all through high school and then dated off and on during college. NO GOOEY FACES, PLEASE.
Sometimes I'll see the weirdest pairings-- my vaguely hippie friend who's always posting left-leaning political stuff is attending the Leonid meteor shower with my friend who left behind his birth name to become Fr. John Paul, a Dominican priest. Let's hope they don't try to talk about the Stupak amendment around the figurative punchbowl, or there could be fireworks of the non-celestial variety.
Also? I just got a friend request from John Michael Talbot. This is puzzling.
I haven't been back to the town where I went to high school since 1994 -- my parents moved away in 1995 and the people I stayed in touch with all seemed to live somewhere else. But there's a big knot of high school people who are all FB friends and so I have been seeing these faces and names that haven't been on my radar for years. It is, I reiterate, a weird place, where this strange gallimaufry of the thoughtful and the frivolous assails you when you log in: "I ate too much for dinner and I'm stuffed," says one woman I haven't seen since 1987. "My mom's been dead for 20 years tomorrow," says another. And that's from one page of status updates tonight. It could give a person whiplash.
Dear Jamie, is it wise to back up my data at frequent intervals? How should I do that? --Prudence
Dear Prudence, it is very, very prudent to back up your data regularly. Want to know how I know this? Because I accidentally deleted more than 15% of the year 1 data when I got cocky with a merge on Wednesday. Whoops! Let's hear it for backups. To save all your stuff, just do this:
Then, dear Prudence, you can come out and play. --Jamie
Dear Jamie, my environment is getting cluttered. How can I clean it out efficiently? --Marla C.
Dear FlyLady, when did you become an R user? It leaves me in purple puddles sometimes too. To do a 27-fling boogie on your environment, use ls() to show you the numbers associated with your objects. Then you can do some mighty mighty rm-ing with those object numbers, like so:
That example would delete everything but the objects numbered 36, 37, and 130 or anything beyond 350. (HT) Might want to back up first (see Prudence's question above). While you're on the line, can I ask you to stop sending me Rubba Scrubba ads? --Jamie
Dear Jamie, I am fascinated by the phenomenon of brilliant redheads. I have data on hair color and data on IQ. How can I find out which redheads in my sample have genius-level IQs? --Tiziano Vecelli
Dear TV, you loved them for their brains, huh? Here's how to get the tally, assuming the women have the same ID numbers in both datasets:
> genius.redheads<-intersect(subset(data$ID, data$
The object genius.redheads will list the ID numbers for the redheads whose IQs are above the cutoff you specify. When you find some, send them my way so I don't delete my data again. Thanks and I hope it's not too moldy for your computer in there! --Jamie
Dear Jamie, please help! I am using someone else's dataset and he saved a continuous variable as a factor variable. Whatever shall I do? --Stanford Binet
Dear Stan, fret not. Try this:
I still havent figured out how to parse it but it works. (HT) --Jamie
Do you know what happens to a person who goes to bed early (or early-ish) two nights in a row? Such a person might find herself feeling positively perky: making fearless grading decisions and thinking that it's not so horrible to grade 40 essay exams, hacking her way through the maze of correlation matrices that seemed overwhelming on Monday, enjoying her family and her responsibilities.
The contrast with today (Stella had another wakeful stretch in the middle of the night -- I blame the gross motor spurt but WHO KNOWS, really) is remarkable. Today I have been backstroking in various time sinks all the livelong day. Today the grading is a soul-sucking burden from under which I shall never get out. That sentence has too many prepositions but hey -- it's NaBloPoMo and editing is optional.
There's this, like, macho thing about needing less sleep than average. Like you're a better person if you can get by on six hours of sleep. Why have I bought into this macho thing? I am not macho. I am a much nicer person and a much happier person if I go to bed instead of staying up late piddling around.
With that I'm going to serenade you with "I fleetly flit, I fly" and I'm not even going to google the quote. (Is that it, though? Fleetly float? Flatly flake? Somebody out there must have seen The Sound of Music more recently than I have.) Good night, all.
You know, the chief effect of NaBloPoMo on my blogging has been a steep decline in the editing department. I spew out a bunch of random stuff and then the baby fusses upstairs. I hit publish as I'm scooting upstairs, and in the morning I discover that I put up a post with unpaired quotation marks. The horror!
In last night's randomfest, I mentioned Christmas creep. Can we talk about Christmas creep? My neighbor across the street has his Christmas decorations going already. It's not just that he hung them up during that unusually mild weekend so he could turn them on after Thanksgiving. It's like December 23rd over there, with elves and reindeer and strings of red and green lights.
A scroogey person would say "It hurts my eyes to look out the window!" but I am trying not to be that scroogey person.
It's easy for me to be sanctimonious about Christmas creep. We have a perfectly lovely liturgical calendar for November, thankyouverymuch. It's tempting to say, a little petulantly, that Christmas is not what we are supposed to be doing right now. We are supposed to be focusing on those who have died and Christ our great King, says my bossy inner third-grader who doesn't like when people read ahead.
However-- it dawned on me recently that I am contributing to Christmas creep. If I buy my Christmas cards in October, I am telling Snapfish to advertise Christmas cards to me in October (or maybe September). If I want Christmas stamps in early November, I'm sending a message to the post office. If I am trying to get a jump on Christmas, or get finished early with the work of preparing for the holiday, then I am telling the retailers something important.
Should I be surprised that they are listening?
Perhaps the most common piece of advice for mothers who are stressed out about Christmas is that they should start early and do a little at a time. It is advice I have taken to heart. But maybe it is advice that helps to explain our culture's mangled rendition of Christmas: we spend weeks thinking about the details and buying the stuff, and then boom! -- by the time we get to December 25, we're sick of it all.
So how do we plan ahead without encouraging Christmas creep? Should I return to the deal-with-it-all-in-December approach? Is Christmas creep really as annoying as I think it is? Tell me what you think.
I was going to write a real post about Christmas creep, and how decorations are everywhere ALREADY, and how I was thinking, "Maybe I will just bow out of Christmas -- except WAIT, this is OUR feast that consumer culture has co-opted. Maybe I will respond to every 'Happy Holidays' greeting with 'Blessed Advent!' or 'Joyous Feast of the Nativity!' Would that make me sound like a person who might lasso you with a brown scapular and forcibly enroll you in the confraternity thereof? Maybe it would.
But I was busy changing my user short name on the computer we bought secondhand in the summer. The good thing about a secondhand MacBook is the price. The bad thing is that I've been staring at the original purchaser's name because I was put off by the "advanced" tag on the directions to change it. It's not hard, turns out. Except-- that's what I was messing with when I lost my data temporarily, and it disappeared again tonight. This time I did not panic and I did not smear poop on my shirt (oh, wait, that was the baby). I just logged in as root and copied my dot files with aplomb, knowing that even if it didn't work (and it did!), I had just backed up my dissertation data.
Well. This was supposed to be a quick post about green beans but I am three paragraphs in and there are no beans in sight.
Look! Beans ahoy!
This is my favorite thing to do with green beans. It comes from The Passionate Vegetarian, whose author also recommends this approach for summer squash and okra. Here's what you do: top and tail and blanch your beans. Chop some garlic and a ripe tomato. (Substitute a couple of canned tomatoes if you'd like, since ripe tomatoes are scarce in November.) Add some olive oil to a skillet and throw in the beans. Sprinkle the garlic and tomato on top. Cook on low for five minutes; cover and cook for 30 minutes more. Peek occasionally to make sure the garlic isn't burning. At the end, take off the top. If you have visible liquid, turn up the heat for a few minutes to cook it off. She says you want the beans coated in a sort of tomato-ey marmalade. Sprinkle with salt. She says to add dill but I do not.
This does not make a beautiful side dish because the beans get kind of shriveled. But OH if you do not like the looks of it, pass your beans to me and I will eat them all. We never have leftovers because I eat them out of the serving dish with my fingers and then lick my fingers.
Sometimes in the middle of the night the baby wakes up and she's just wide awake. For whatever reason, she's not going back to sleep in the immediate future. My second son used to do this too and I know it is temporary, but it is a drag nonetheless. I thought it was secondhand caffeine causing the trouble, but that couldn't have been the culprit last night.
I'm still thinking about toddlers and persistence. To wit:
I am also thinking that my life is out of balance. If I am thinking that I don't have time to get to daily Mass, or exercise, or stop in the Adoration chapel, or go out and do something fun in the evening -- then something needs to shift.
From tonight there are 40 days left until Christmas. I am completely unready and school pressures on me are only going to increase as the end of the semester approaches. I'd been thinking that I was going to do a 40-day countdown, and maybe I still will. But for the first five days of it I'm starting small. I'm going to pray daily for discernment about what, exactly, the things are that needs to shift. I'm going to plan meals each morning for the day, and get one load of laundry done (folded, too) each day, and not spend time on the computer unless the kitchen sink is empty. And I'm going to get to bed before 10:45 at night, which means I need to wrap this up and hit publish -- even though it leaves me feeling a little naked.
Today I submitted that job application. There was a minor crisis: my undergrad alma mater sent me a transcript for a different Jamie Gladly, who did not graduate (and more importantly, who is not me). I called the registrar's office and they are sending me the right one pronto, but the application was due today. I dropped it off minus the undergrad transcript, with a note explaining what had happened.
Then I freaked out just a little bit, because for all my angst about whether I would really want the job, I just applied to be a professor. Eek.
I had plans to get lots done on my dissertation this afternoon and tonight, but I found the process of pulling the application together more stressful than I anticipated. Instead I relaxed and made a comforting dinner.
In the summer that I turned 15, I went to Sweden for six weeks. I was really too young for the trip, I think; I was ferociously lonely. But there were many good things about going to Sweden, one of which was learning to cook pytt i panna.
Pytt i panna (the name means "little things chopped up in a pan") is just the thing if you have part of a leftover roast to dispatch. Mince an onion and cube a bunch of potatoes. Dinner will be ready sooner if you have boiled potatoes stashed in the fridge already, but do not despair if your potatoes are unboiled. Fry the onion in a generous bloop of oil (<- how's that for precision measurement?) and add the potatoes when it begins to color. This next step is unconventional but it works for me: if your potatoes are uncooked, toss them around in the hot oil for a bit and then add some stock so you do not wind up with a sticky mess and children gnawing at your ankles as you say "I think the potatoes are almost done now!" for the forty-fifth time. You don't want them to be awash in stock; you just want to help things along. It's almost like making potato risotto (potatotto?) -- toss them in the hot oniony fat and then add liquid slowly.
(Is there a secret to frying potatoes besides adding a pint of oil to the pan?)
While the potatoes are getting tender, cube your leftover roast. When the potatoes are almost there, toss in the meat and season emphatically, remembering that undersalted potatoes will be grounds for incarceration when I am Queen of the World. (Vote for Jamie!)
The daughter closest to my age in that host family taught me that you can go in two different directions from here. Either add some cream, or else fry some eggs in a separate pan and plop a fried egg atop each serving. Pass catsup at the table.
This makes for a monochromatic meal; we served it with peas and sliced tomatoes to break up the beige. Swedes like it with pickled beets. I recommend a little chipotle Tabasco, if you're not put off by the cacophony of clashing cultures. Thumbs up from all the boys, which is a rarity.
My friend Carol has seven children, the oldest of whom will turn 17 this month. It must have been 16 years ago, then, that Carol had this great insight. She had been watching her daughter learn to walk and she said, "Persistence doesn't mean that you never fall down. It means that you get up one more time than you fall down."
Stella is beginning to walk, too, which means I am seeing it up close. Something is driving her to keep on trying, to pick herself up when she topples over and thunks her head again.
I have all these grand plans for myself. I will renounce sugar and eat nourishing green things! I will pray the whole Divine Office every day! I will keep the laundry folded at all times! I will not wander aimlessly through the blogosphere! Instead I will be a woman of Purpose whose children all have paired-up socks in their drawers!
Then I topple over and thunk my head again.
This is nothing new, right? I have written before about how I am either in the groove or waaaay out of the groove. (I'm out of the groove right now.) I have written before about the Christian life being a marathon, not a sprint. (I'm on the side of the road with a nasty cramp in my leg.)
But I don't want to stay on the side of the road or out of the groove. So I will stop writing this post, and turn on the dishwasher, and get to bed as soon as I can manage it in hopes of getting back on track.
One of my committee members has a busy clinical practice -- so busy that a two-hour meeting with him must be scheduled three months in advance. I am going to defend my dissertation on March 10, it looks like.
This means I have to finish writing the thing between now and then.