Sunday, April 5, 2020

The forecast is better for this week, literally and metaphorically

Last week's rosy update was brought to you by the fact that the outside had not also issued its own "safer at home" order in the form of three days of rain and forty degree weather.

Our afternoon bike rides were so much fun that it was easy to see all the possibilities for even a sucky time like this.

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But then the weather went to hell and all there was left to do was turn on a movie and tackle the odd sock collection. This new requirement for happy fun movie time was met with even less enthusiasm than you are imagining.

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I took this picture to document a yet-to-be discovered phenomenon in which sitting down with a book in an empty living room ATTRACTS OTHER PEOPLE to come sit near you and start talking to you and each other. (Also, notice how clean and shiny the floor is! James tracked a bunch of mud into the house from the back yard and I rage mopped. Very satisfying work)

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I engaged in a little theraputic baking after my 4:00 pity party was over on Saturday. This required several steps. First, I had to find three forgotten packets of yeast in the back of my spice cabinet, score! Next, I had to make sure the yeast still worked in spite of being six months past its expiration date. It did! When I was proving it it got so big it almost escaped the measuring cup! Next I had to channel all of my frustrations into fifteen minutes of bread kneading. This was no problem either!

Now that you know my secret future educational goals and have decided to stick around, I can really let it all hang out. Something that I have learned about myself is that I require routine, tradition, and familiarity to feel my best. So we are DOING OUR BEST with couch church. And yes, you WILL stand up and sing, I did not endure teaching you to sit through church as a preschooler to let it all fall apart now (but seriously if you're really going to fall apart and wreck it for the rest of us you may read a book in your room).

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We are having a "Love Feast" instead of Communion, since our pastors cannot directly interact with our elements, BUT! Our Love Feast could be anything and I am an Enneagram One.

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While I was shaping the loaves of bread, my friend sent me a video on Marco Polo of the aftereffects of the giant Prosecco-splosion that had occurred in her kitchen, including a two foot wide dripping SPLAT mark on the ceiling. It made me laugh so hard that I took her one of the loaves of bread when it was ready. It was a BOOST to do something nice just for the heck of it, friends. I will have to remember that during future 4:00 pity parties.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Quaran-tation Day: A million

It seems like the tone of the post I would write about this experience would vary by the day.

Two days ago, I was crying into my beer after packing up my campus office, alone, before unceremoniously dumping two huge crates containing the last two decades of my life into an out-of-the-way hallway behind our dining room where they will probably stay until one of the kids goes to college.  My PhD graduation photo sneers up at me every time I try to take a short cut from the front door to the kitchen.

Last night Ryan and I enjoyed a beer on the back porch and laughed to the point of crying watching James and Mary ran through the sprinkler in their matching swim team suits and goggles. Turns out it's not *quite* sprinkler weather.

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Today I facilitated 1st, 3rd, and 5th grade and got to actually physically watch each kid's dopamine spike when they saw their teachers and classmates online.

(We divided the kids in to groups based on their maintenance level, which means that while I was enjoying a snuggly rainy day helping Mary draw cats on an iPad and supervising James and Wes in their work Ryan was downstairs engaged in an epic battle with the teenager over engaging with his Spanish class over Zoom)


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I made chicken nuggets and fries for lunch and Mary looked me in the eyes and said very seriously "Thank you so much for giving us Hot Lunch."

Twelve days ago after a dispiriting trip to the empty grocery store I came home and quickly put together a $200 order for curbside pickup in the first available spot, which was today.  What a fun surprise it was to unpack those bags today!  Anyone know what to do with nine pounds of broccoli?

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I recently had a four hour Zoom happy hour with some friends that lasted until midnight.  I've Zoom meetings for work.  We go to Sunday School on Zoom. The kids have had Zoom meetings.  Once we all tried to have Zoom meetings at once and broke the internet.  The other night I had an anxiety dream that my friend was trying to get my attention via Zoom at three o'clock in the morning. The kids' music lessons are also on Zoom.

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We even got a family picture via Zoom that is better than almost all of our Christmas cards

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So today was good. I don't know how long I can maintain this. But we are going to find out.

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Saturday, March 21, 2020

Retooling

I thought that now that the paperwork has all been signed and I have an official login for the portal and because it's about to go up in my staff bio for the camp I'm working at this summer that it is finally time to tell you what I will be doing after my teaching job ends in May and after the summer, if we are ever allowed to leave the house again.  So here goes.

This fall I will begin attending seminary.

If you are surprised by this news, let me assure you that I am too.  I was just reading back through some correspondence with a friend from August and in it I ask her very delicately and with much hedging, "So.  I've kind of been thinking that maybe I'd like to take a few classes at the seminary."

In the time since then, I have attended a prospective students' weekend, written a handful of essays, secured letters of recommendation (from two pastors at my church and from two colleagues who were quite surprised to be asked), and taken a deep breath and clicked "submit" on the application.

I told you earlier that as my chair was telling me they were not considering me for the tenure track position, my first thought was a weird kind of relief.  Prospective students' weekend had occurred the weekend before I heard about my job and I was feeling more conflicted than ever.  I knew what I wanted to do.  And I knew what I thought I had to do.  And it just didn't make sense.  Until it did.

While this realization landed relatively quickly in an intellectual sense, I am still working on dealing with the indignant rage I feel when talking about that situation.  I find focusing on the part where *I* decided to not come back as a visitor to be helpful, because that is true, and reminds me that I was not totally without agency in that situation.  Telling my chair that I would be leaving in May was the one thing that finally put an end to the swirl of conflicting thoughts that had kept me preoccupied for much of the fall and a good portion of Christmas Break.

The emotion I think of when I consider how I feel about this whole experience is gratitude.  Gratitude for my friends and mentors, who have been incredibly patient and generous with their time.  Gratitude for several of my colleagues who took this information and created an incredibly supportive environment for me during this last awful semester.  Gratitude for Ryan, who has been fully behind me since our first conversation on the subject.  My supportive family  And grateful for the church work I've been doing which forced me to get out of my own head enough to finally see what I needed to see.

At prospective students' weekend, I participated in an interview, which I was assured was a super casual get to know you sort of thing but that ended up being an actual interview, with faculty present, a note taker and an official list of questions.  I felt a bit out of place in my jeans and sneakers and lack of preparation, but at the end of the interview the faculty representative stood up and said enthusiastically "OK!  You're in.  How do we get you to come here?"  It was *incredibly* positive and was maybe one of the first inclinations I had that I was not as useless as academia had nearly succeeded in convincing me I was.

That inclination was even stronger several weeks ago when I was "working at my remote office," a brewery near my house, winding down a Friday afternoon by having a beer and doing some grading and writing work, when I received a phone call from the president of the seminary, who was calling to offer me a fellowship, which covers all tuition and books.

I composed my acceptance email in my car the next morning.

I don't know what kind of work I will be doing when I am done with school, in about three years, but what I do know is that this experience has been an absolute privilege.


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Thursday, March 19, 2020

Day Four-ish

I don't know about you but the first thing to go out the window in this crisis was my normal grownup bedtime. In fact, I am writing this post because I was about to post the picture of all the books I have in my bed like they're my loveys or something with a remark about staying up too late, but then I decided that the full pathology of this scene could be better described in a longer-form blog post.  This is my current book pile, which contains a sizeable variety of genres and subjects (and let's be honest, this is not the whole pile), and which also is in my bed.  I will probably move it before I fall asleep.  Probably.

I like to have a good variety of books in progress at all times so that I can choose a book each evening based on what I feel like at that particular time.  I have my Kindle out because I finished Eleanor Oliphant last night (SO GOOD YOU GUYS) and as a result no longer have a book in the "Light fiction" category.  AND THIS IS A TIME FOR THE LIGHT FICTION CATEGORY.  That is a genre I struggle with making choices because I am a straight up snob when it comes to books.  It's hard (for me) to find something in between drugstore mass market and War and Peace so I end up reading a lot of books like the Nightingale (A.MAZ.ING) and wonder why I never sleep anymore. 

Or I just give up on fiction for long-ish chunks of time.

(The Barbara Kingsolver in the picture is fiction, and she is one of my favorite authors, but her books do not fall into the "light fiction" category, usually)

So I got my Kindle out to see if I could find a good light fiction option on Prime and instead got distracted and almost downloaded Richard Rohr's "The Universal Christ" instead.  I've heard it's very good, but also that it is neither light nor fiction.  Not to mention I have like three other books in that category out from the library right now.

I have still not found any light fiction to read.  So I am here.

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Quaran-tation 2020 continues to be a thrilling experience.  I don't know what day it is or what I'm supposed to be doing, but after my pity party the other night I discovered the joy of starting to cook dinner around three o'clock in the afternoon.  Yesterday I had to use up some hamburger and potatoes, so added a bag of frozen stir fry veggies and riffed on an Alton Brown shepherd's pie recipe.  The vegetarian one on the right is made with kidney beans, plus a little bit of butter for the roux and it came out so delicious that Charley ate almost the whole 9x9 in one sitting.  This was taken before I added the TWO POINT FIVE POUNDS of mashed potatoes on top.  The leftovers were enough for James and Charley to each have a modest afternoon snack today.  Otherwise the six of us consumed two and a half pounds of hamburger, the same amount of mashed potatoes, plus the veggies.  I really don't think we are cut out for food rationing.

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Mary and I have been working on this puzzle and watching a smaller version of yourself doing something that can be frustrating is...illuminating.

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Tonight while dinner simmered on the stove I sat on the counter instead of going to the kitchen table because if I'd gone to the other side of the room the Bluetooth on my phone would have disconnected from the speaker and I'LL BE DARNED if I was going to give up control of the audio environment in the living room at five o'clock on a week day after THAT particular battle with the kids.

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We had a good day today, with a BUNCH of screen time and a trip to the (vacant) neighborhood pool.  I even managed to make a passable dinner out of smoked sausage and rice, so that was good.

The other day I went for a badly needed decompression walk and was having so much fun I hid by a neighbor's fence for a few extra minutes of solitude on the way home.  The best part about this is that it wasn't creepy AT ALL.

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So that is day... four?  Like I said time has no meaning and it is technically tomorrow.  Tomorrow is Friday and tomorrow we order pizza so already that's like 50% of my worries that are gone just like that.  Until then.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Not actually set up for this

Yesterday, our official second day in captivity (I'm not counting the weekend because Ryan was home, even though Sunday was when I really REALLY felt cooped up, because we could not go to church which is where I usually see most of my friends and also get a short break from the children), was when I really started losing it.  Despite all the craft projects and my general tolerance for clutter and chaos, being a stay-at-home parent is not something I ever really thrived doing.  Everyone is posting these awesome resources for online tours and music lessons and drawing classes and I'm just staring at the windows in my bedroom like a deer in the headlights while my half-dressed children eat cookies in front of various screens.  If it was just Spring Break, and we had our awesome annual Family Retreat to look forward to on the weekend, and if we could GO PLACES, I would be feeling a lot better.  As it was yesterday we muddled through eight hours of family harmony and then went to Sonic just for a change of scenery and an ice cream cone.  The tables were all turned upside down so no one felt tempted to get out of their cars and, I don't know, cough on each other.  By 4:00 the news was rolling in via social media that some states had closed their K12 schools for the YEAR and that's when I just COULD NOT do it anymore.  I texted Ryan to ask him to bring me a fancy pizza home and said "School could close for eight weeks and I am not OK."  He appeared an hour later, pizza in hand, poured wine in my Yeti, and sent me on a walk before handling bedtime, which from the sound of it, was INTENSE.

Today has been better, but I did spend half an hour on hold with the pediatrician because I was starting to feel a little negligent in the way I've been patching James along since Thursday with his wheezy cough and junkiness.  I was hoping they would tell me what to do with him over the phone but apparently they like to actually listen to kids that have a history of wheezing before passing out the steroids.  When we went to the pediatrician we had to wait outside in a tent before a nurse in full PPE guided us through the carefully labeled "sick hallway" to an exam room.  The verdict is to keep patching him along.  Headdesk.

One other thing I've learned about myself in the past forty-eight hours are that I have a toddler-like need for routine, regular meals, and predictability.  Given the personal life events of the past six months, apparently routine and at least an hour of quiet thinking time a day, and a few reliable opportunities for social/funtime were what was keeping me from going off the deep end.  Now that those things have all been taken away, well, buckle up.

How about some pictures?

I made commemorative sugar cookie squares on Sunday. Ryan thought this was a little inappropriate.

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Church has been moved online, but Wes was scheduled to acolyte on Sunday and did not want to miss out.  Lucky for him he lives in a family of liturgy nerds and we were more than happy to set him up.  My only regret is that we do not have a purple table runner, which would have been more appropriate for Lent.

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Monday afternoon I dragged all the cardboard out of the recycle bin and provided them with duct tape and instructions to build a marble ramp down the stairs.  This killed a good ninety minutes and made an unimaginable mess.

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Here is James eating boxed mac and cheese out of a pot while sitting on a lounge chair in the front yard.

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Oh and look!  I made everyone practice math yesterday!  Shortly after I posted this gloaty picture to Instagram he stomped out of the room and slammed the door.

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At least for now I don't have to manage my classes yet.  That won't happen for another week and a half.  In theory I would be setting all that up right now, but also there are FOUR BORED CHILDREN in my house and Ryan is at work and that all makes it a little bit tough to drop into the zone and GSD, you know?  Sigh.  Onward.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

What is "normal" anyway?

I am overwhelmed by all of your comments, emails, FB messages, and general good wishes. Thank you! I honestly think reading all of your experiences and hearing so many people tell me how stupid academia can be was a turning point in trying to find a way to move on (the way seems to be hanging on to some semblance of professionalism by my fingernails until Spring Break and then figuring out what to do after that. It can't last forever right? Also, I've given up my original goal of "trying to savor the last semester in academics because I wanted this job for a very long time" because no one here needs to add Stockholm Syndrome to the list of things they have to deal with on a daily basis).

Let's get back to it then.

Everyone I know (not an exaggeration) has been throwing around their Enneagram number and talking about how useful it is to them for the last few years so I thought it was finally time for me to figure it out. Fortunately, my friend was holding a workshop at work and agreed to help me figure out my number during lunch using some of the leftover materials. After asking me a few questions she paused, read something on a sheet of paper for a moment, and then asked distractedly, "Do you have an inner critic?" Confused, I replied "Doesn't everyone have an inner critic?"

Apparently there are people who walk around every day doing things and saying things and then NOT imagining all the ways that could have gone better or been said more clearly. I DID NOT KNOW THIS.

Since learning that I am one of those special people (A "1") who exist within an unrelenting personal Quality Improvement Plan, I have noticed myself doing things that, apparently, other people do not do. The first time I noticed this was while I was driving back to work after an off-campus meeting making a mental list of all the things I'd said that weren't as clear as I thought they should be, and SERIOUSLY WEIGHING whether it was worth a FOLLOWUP CLARIFYING EMAIL.

Knowing that I have an inner critic and that perhaps that inner critic should not always be in control of my behavior I took a step back and realized that in that particular situation, a followup email would have looked BONKERS, that no none expected a Pulitzer Prize-winning recitation during a half hour meeting and that I needed to CTFD.

Other fun facts about my personality that explain everything about me in graphic detail are as follows:

1. Perfectionism which leads to procrastination (like I am doing right now)

2. An irresistible desire to make my surroundings orderly.  The book mentions couch cushions specifically, which is funny because THAT'S THE FIRST THING I FIX EVERY EVENING.

3. A tendency to offer "helpful suggestions" to other people to their exasperation (I think Ryan might leave me if we ever try to load the dishwasher together again)

4. A bizarrely strong tendency to adhere to procedures and protocols in all venues (including, for me, personal hygiene, meal prep, housework, entertaining, and earlier in my life, math problems)

5. Avoiding things that seem hard for fear of doing them poorly, which is why I was in my mid-thirties before I finally learned to use a hair dryer.

And the biggest revelation for me, "...fear of making mistakes, sensitivity to criticism, and concern about saying or doing the wrong things" in social settings.  Yes yes yes yesyesyes.

This charming feature of my personality gives me so much anxiety that I often act either super weird or super detached around new friendships.  And the more I like you the weirder I will be.  If you have a job I find interesting I will either ignore it altogether for fear of looking foolish or bothering you or I will bring you my bleeding toddler and ask you for medical advice at nine o'clock at night (like I did with my friend who was an ER nurse).  There is no in between and CERTAINLY no chill.  When my friend graduated from seminary I wanted to get her a present and so went to a gift shop near work where I settled, bizarrely, on a fancy loaf of bread.  Then, once I left there, I felt like that was a weird gift, so I decided it would be better to get her a bottle of wine, as I had originally intended.  Only as I was walking up to the celebratory happy hour did I realize (with horror) that I had bought the new pastor COMMUNION ELEMENTS as a PRESENT.  It's a social anxiety - trying to do things perfectly - overthinking it - MOAR SOCIAL AWKWARDNESS SPIRAL OF DOOM OMG.

(Even as I write this I'm thinking "Was there not a pretty journal at this gift shop, WTH???")

I think this also explains more about why this whole professional Situation has caused me such acute distress.  It's pushing every single subconscious insecurity I have.  Push push push.

The book explains that once you better understand your inner motivations, you should try to work on the parts of your personality that are getting in your way (the ones that make you a nag around the house, or the ones that make every new social encounter feel like a qualifying exam, or the ones that tell you you are too stupid to figure out how to teach this hard new class).  And the book also lists lots of good qualities for each personality type.  Ones are justice-oriented reformers who get things done!  They see things that can be improved!

So the remainder of this semester feels like a nice chunk of time to spend some time thinking about this and working on it.  Ryan will be so relieved about the dishwasher thing (but seriously, bowls really do fit better on the bottom).

Friday, February 21, 2020

The Quiet Part Loud

I wish I had a better story for my, what, six week absence from this space. There was no dramatic illness or kidnapping incident or horrible finger injury that has prevented me from typing here. I think there have been a few reasons that I've been extra quiet since around the middle of the fall semester. One is that I was using a considerable amount of my writing chops writing a weekly newsletter related to the advocacy work I've been doing at my church. While that has been a welcome challenge and I think a great use of my time and writing ability, it has meant less left over for writing here.

The biggest reason I have not written is because I have not been sure about how to present some Big News to this semi-anonymous space. My people are fine and I am healthy and our marriage is happy, before you worry. The big news is that this semester is my last semester teaching at my university.

Without going into detail, an application I'd submitted (was enthusiastically encouraged to submit) for a tenure track job at my university blew up in a spectacular and uniquely academic fashion. I believe(d?) that I did everything I was supposed to do to make myself attractive for this particular job. It was a long process that truly began when I started there ten years ago. In the recent three year period I've submitted three manuscripts. Two were published. I've done research with students. I've taken students to present at national meetings. I teach three classes a semester, sometimes with an additional lab. I've developed new courses and have a solid portfolio of eight classes that I have developed and taught multiple times, classes that are generally full. I've woven my research into my classes and even had one class launch four ozonesonde weather balloons as part of our curriculum. I help lead a teaching with computation workshop every fall. I get along with my colleagues and have many good friends on our campus.

It wasn't enough. When my chair asked if I could stay on as a visitor while they figured something out, I declined. I have been on this treadmill too long and it was clear that it would never amount to anything, or at least I wasn't willing to pay the price to my mental health and family relationships to make it happen.

For financial reasons, I am finishing out this semester. It has not been easy. One of my classes is a particularly challenging upper level engineering prep and planning the curriculum each week is like the icing on a really terrible cake.

And now we are six weeks into the semester and I still feel like I can't truly get my legs underneath me like I normally can by this point. All the being gentle with myself, yoga, meditation, prayer, going for walks, reading good books, and focusing on the positive has not been able to take away the sting of the end of this multi-decade dream, or the anger related to the unfairness that went along with it.

I do know what I am doing next and I will tell you all about that as it gets closer. It is something that I was considering long before the job-splosion happened. In fact, the first thing I thought when my chair told me about this situation was "Welp, at least I already know what I want to do next!" (and then somehow managed to get through the rest of the meeting without crying and screaming the F word, at least until he was a suitable distance down the hall and around the corner, and then it was ON). I am REALLY looking forward to the next phase, which will be quite different and also kind of perfect, even as I attempt to simultaneously grieve and finish this role and limit the disruption for my current students, who are as wonderful as always. They make it worth it, even when I have to grit my teeth through an entire lecture.

So there you have it, the elephant in the room. It's been hard. I've learned a lot. I'm spending a lot of time reading and journaling and one day I came home and made a chocolate cake then ate a good portion of it while watching Parks and Rec in the middle of the day. No, the next phase is not a book about healthy ways to cope with disappointment, but great suggestion.

I hope to bring back funny blogging because sarcasm and oversharing have gotten me through many a stressful situation and I can't believe I didn't think of handling this situation the same way before now.

Monday, January 6, 2020

I will miss them so much tomorrow

Welp!  THAT happened.

And by THAT I mean Winter Break, which I like to call "Teacher Appreciation Days" because helldang that was a long, what, six months off of school?

Thursday and Friday I lovingly greeted my hardworking spouse home after work by having a hissy fit and going to bed at 7:50.  On one of those occasions I stomped past numerous fleeting memories of happy moments during the day that had completely slipped my mind during the slog through the witching hour, which, apparently, is not only a thing FOR TODDLERS.  "Hmm, we read books there, stomp stomp stomp, and then we all painted our toenails and laughed really hard, stomp stomp stomp, and Mary and I did a great yoga video there, stomp stomp stomp."  By the time I got to my bed I had sort of realized I wasn't as "shitty" a parent as I had just loudly declared myself to be, but I still wasn't ready to be happy so turned off the light and was asleep almost instantly.  On another occasion I let everyone eat the dinner I made and then ordered a banh-mi pizza all for myself that I ate alone upstairs at my desk.

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(Friends, the BICKERING.  It's like, GENEVA CONVENTION-VIOLATION level.  Is that metaphor still funny or hmm.)

When I wasn't having (delicious) high-calorie pity parties, we went on a few outings. Friday we took advantage of some of our town's great free kid entertainment options, namely the big library and the escalator at Whole Foods.

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Charley took his pile of nature treasure to the naturalist at the Nature and Science Center and was awarded an incredible six hundred and fifty points, which he is saving towards his goal of buying a cow skull (750 points).

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Saturday Ryan took three of the kids on a Scout hike while I dropped a fourth off at a morning birthday party and then returned home to crank up the music and spend a blissful two hours mucking out the master bedroom.  It makes me happy every time I go in there and don't cause a book avalanche when plugging in my phone.  Or don't accidentally overturn a half-full coffee mug onto my desk.  It's the little things.  Like vacuuming.  Under things.  And Windexing the windows (which made such a difference I can see it FROM THE STREET).  After this I did a Yoga video and then returned a bunch of emails and I FEEL LIKE A NEW PERSON.

(This stroke of productivity and the related serotonin boost is thanks to my friend Emily who probably does not remember this but posted something on Facebook about self care being about creating a sustainable and low-stress life by being proactive in the little details that accumulate and feel stressful and not by locking the children out and drinking in the bathtub.  Thanks, Emily!)

Today I was determined to end the break on a high note so instead of starting the day with a big family fun-chore like I had been, we went to see an awesome fort exhibit at our Wildflower Center that I have been wanting to check out.  I packed twice as much food as we needed for a picnic and brought the car DVD player to anesthetize them on the way home because I knew we'd be getting close to rush hour and I did not want to end a fun day screaming myself hoarse in a hot, stationary minivan in the middle of the highway.

And it was GREAT.  Such a fun day.


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We spent nearly four hours at the fort exhibit and then decided to check out the children's garden on the way out. They played there for another wonderful hour, and then they were being so adorable we all had popsicles before we headed to the car. It was the perfect day. And NOW it's time for school to start. Just when I figured out how to do this again.*

*Witching Hour still happened. Still considered taking my dinner upstairs. Did not yell. Did turn off movie and made them chore it out until Ryan got home. They were still fighty but the house looked good.