Friday, April 27, 2007

MotherTalk: Fearless Friday

Today is MotherTalk's Fearless Friday, a blog bonanza in recognition of Arianna Huffington's book, Becoming Fearless. I've been thinking all week about fearlessness, trying to come up with a good story of when I stepped out of my comfort zone, took a risk, challenged my usual fears.

I'm a pretty timid person, it turns out.

That is, I'm physically pretty timid. I didn't learn to ride a bike 'til I was 12, never really got into sports, still feel awkward on a dance floor. I heard a colleague speak the other day about her love of extreme sports and I gaped open-mouthed at her as she spoke. Launch myself down a mountain with thin pieces of wood (fiberglass? plastic?) strapped to my feet? Jump off a mountain, or out of a plane? Forget it.

It's not really that I fear pain--though I do, I think, have a healthy instinct for self-preservation. It's more about looking foolish, about humiliation, about failure. One way or another I think the fear of failure has motivated me more often than I like to admit in my lifetime. One can achieve a certain measure of success by fearing failure--I do tend to do the things I do rather well. But the older I get the more I realize that without risk is no true success. I urge my students to try harder things; I ask for edgy thesis statements, even if they're wrong, rather than the safe ones they all (we all) aim for at first. I ask for experimentation rather than regurgitation, exploration rather than recapitulation. And I am trying, increasingly, to practice what I preach.

I think I talked about this earlier this year, when I got my green belt. But it really goes back much further. Being a parent, for me, is all about living with fear. There are the productive fears of birth defects and accidents that have us complying with our prenatal care routines and installing car seats. These don't, we know, guarantee "success," but they help us cope. Then there are the unproductive fears--of strangers, of random violence, of the unspeakable--that we simply can't allow to control us, though events occasionally bring them to the fore. We can, of course, convert those unproductive fears to something useful by taking on a cause, by urging change. I watch Elizabeth Edwards, who has faced one of my greatest fears--the loss of a child--and now can gracefully face her own mortality, seemingly fearlessly, at least in part because she has something to work for. And my own efforts at fearlessness seem timid and small in comparison, but they're what I've got.

Becoming a parent is teaching me fearlessness. I will fail, I do fail. We all do. But it's in our hard-earned failures, not our easy successes, that we grow.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


I'm feeling a little frazzled with the normal end-of-semester stuff. Both kids have stuff they are doing at the end of the year, too (though they still have almost two months of school left) and so it's busy. Not flat-out busy, just not-quite-on-top-of-things busy. (Don't even ask me about the taxes. They're done, but --well-- let's just say I made a somewhat expensive mistake. Sigh.)

I did, however, get to see Lilian the other day, and to meet her husband and see her lovely kids. Sorry it wasn't longer--that would be me with the busy-ness again--but I'm really glad they took the time on their way home.

I'm also just loving the occasional rehearsal where I get to watch Nick dance. This is just so awesome I can hardly stand it. Mandatory dance class for fourth graders--do you just love it? (I do, so if you don't, you can just be quiet about that.)

The weather is almost too hot but I hear it's cooling off (and raining) later today so I'm going to be quiet about that, too. Especially after complaining about the cold, which I maybe (in a rare show of restraint) didn't do on the blog but I've certainly done out loud more than once. Shh.

The weird thing about being busy is these random bits of unscheduled time. They don't feel long enough to start anything important, but they're too long just to completely veg out. Perhaps this is where blogging comes in.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

what to say?

It's been a surreal few days. Sunday a neighbor reported on a mugging in the neighborhood--no one was hurt, but the mugger waved a gun and that's always scary. Monday I came in to the office and one of the women who works in my building told me a dreadful story of a pickup truck driver run amuk. Twice the guy nearly killed her, speeding and running red lights. Looks like he might have killed someone else instead. Then of course the news came from VA Tech. Because I live in a cave, I didn't hear until mid-afternoon, when a friend walked in to my office and said, "So, we're not ever sending our kids to college, right?" But here we are on a college campus, a campus not that far from Blacksburg, a campus --like Tech's-- noted for its safety, its security.

We are not safe. We mostly don't think about how not safe we are, because if we did we'd be paralyzed. So we do what we need to in order to protect ourselves --get out of the way of the speeding truck, choose the lighted streets and a couple of companions when we're walking home, park under a streetlight, lock the doors-- and then we try to forget why we're doing it. Every now and then we are reminded.

In Blacksburg everyone's been reminded, just as in Baghdad, Darfur, and Chad, everyone's been reminded. Just as we were reminded in 2001, and again on New Year's day 2006. It's not a safe world. But if we act on fear, if we allow it to take over, we allow ourselves to be diminished. The stories that I have most wanted to read from Iraq and Darfur have been about ordinary people living their lives --NPR did a lovely one by an Iraqi translator whose wife was pregnant, for example (sorry, can't find a link). They live their lives.

Jo(e)'s candles help. The student reporters at VA Tech help. Teaching, and talking, and writing, help.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Thinking Bloggers

(cross-posted at the other blog)

One of my favorite bloggers has awarded me a Thinking Blogger award--thanks, Caroline!

So now I get to pass it on. And there are lots of blogs that make me think, but many of them have already participated (some twice!). So here are some I haven't seen yet:

  • Becca's posts at Not Quite Sure are about mothering, baking, reading, the Red Sox, music, and whatever else she feels like, but they all make me think.
  • Tricia, of The Miss Rumphius Effect, focuses mostly on children's literature and teaching future teachers. She has an encyclopedic knowledge of books useful in classrooms, and always thinks about interesting things to do with them.
  • Julius Lester's Commonplace Book is a wonderful blog, filled with his original photos, his thoughts about reading, writing, and living, and--right now--a lot of terrific guest posts about books changing lives. I am still working on my response to that one.
  • I read the Yarn Harlot whenever she updates, and it's never often enough. Even if you don't knit, you'll love Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's way with words (and, occasionally, with Mr. Washie. Check it out.)
  • Writing as Jo(e) has great pictures and wonderful stories about teaching and raising kids.

(And if I can add a nepotistic sixth, I'll suggest you check out Dad's blog, too! Beowulf, writing, gardening, libraries, words, he's got it all.)

So, now, here are the rules to keep this thing going:
1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,
3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative silver version if gold doesn't fit your blog).

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Finished Object

I've been reading up a storm--more details on that in the other blog. But I also finished the big knitting project I've been working on since February. Wore it Friday, in fact.

Details, for those who care:
The pattern is Marilyn's Not-So-Shrunken Cardigan, from The Garter Belt. (Also on the designer's (Wendy Bernard's) website, Knit and Tonic.) Slight modifications in that I knit garter stitch borders instead of hemming the bottom and sleeves. It's knit top-down, in the round, on a circular needle for the body and double-pointed needles for the sleeves. The ruffle is crocheted on when it's all done.

The yarn is Blue Sky Alpaca's Alpaca Silk, in blue. I think I used about six skeins. In fact, I have a skein left over, and it's just so soft, I've got to use it for something lovely. But not right now.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Hip Mamas

I'm afraid I'm too old to be a Hip Mama, but my little sister (!) isn't: check her out here, with her essay "The Cookie." (mmm, cookies!)

(Note: the Hip Mama site can be a little slow; be patient!)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

door to door

Have you ever sold stuff door to door? I haven't. The closest I've come is cold-calling for newspaper subscriptions, something I did very briefly when I was just out of college and my job didn't pay well enough.

I was terrible at it. I agreed with the people who hung up on me, the people who listened politely and said no. I hated to do it. In fact, I was supposed to cold-call in my day job and it was always the last thing on my to-do list, the thing I "forgot" to do all week long, the thing I most hated.

I'm an introvert, after all.

But the door-to-door kids are something else. They have their spiel, and they seem to do it reasonably well. The last one I listened to had a great line: you don't need these books or magazines, he told me, so my dad has arranged for the children's hospital to get them instead of you. You're making a charitable donation and helping me get to college (or Disneyland, or whatever it was). He was so persuasive, I told him to come back if he didn't make his quota. He did, I guess-- I haven't seen him again.

Tonight a young woman knocked on the door. I was making dinner, and Nick came to get me. He'd peeked through the door curtains and seen her-- it's one of those kids selling magazines, he told me. I opened the door and, before she could start her spiel, told her I was making dinner. Maybe you could come back later? I said as I closed the door.

Will she? I don't know. I do know that I feel bad when I tell these kids--all of them are black in my neighborhood, and most of my neighborhood is not--that I can't afford their products. I can, of course. I choose not to. I choose to get my magazine subscriptions more cheaply, more directly. I choose not to help them with whatever it is they think they're getting.

I've read some horror stories lately about the door-to-door kids. Should I invite them in, ask me to tell them their real story? I don't. I close the door and go back to dinner prep. But I worry.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Random Bullets (and pictures) of Easter

  • Easter is my favorite holiday, I think. I love the springtime, for one thing; Easter usually means flowers and light, even if (as it did Saturday) it snows. I wish I'd gotten a picture of the snow on the dogwoods, but it was almost melted by the time I thought to get out the camera.
  • Snow may actually have been appropriate. After all, Easter is about rebirth, resurrection, life out of death. The brief blanket of snow on Saturday reminded us that we weren't quite there yet.
  • We had the world's best houseguests with us again. It's becoming an Easter tradition, almost--they were with us two years ago for Easter, anyway. (There were only three of them then.)
  • Caroline made this fabulous lemon cake, which involves boiling and pureeing whole lemons but still didn't look like too much work. She says she'll post the recipe soon.
  • As often happens, we started our meal planning with dessert. Then we bought various things and made them, and we turned out to have a pretty great Easter feast. For example:

Roasted spring vegetables: asparagus, shitake mushrooms, shallots, broccoli. There were green beans, too, but they were on their own plate and were not photographed. And then there were potatoes.

  • There was also a pork tenderloin (sorry, no photo) for the carnivores among us, roasted with garlic, olive oil, and rosemary. Yum.
I realize I've never photographed the rosemary filoncino before. So here it is now.
  • And one more dessert: Mariah's first chocolate guinness cake.
  • I had to show her how to use the bottle opener. How does one get to be 17 and not know how to use a bottle opener? (I know, I know, twist-offs. And she doesn't drink soda. Or, apparently, beer.)
  • Nick has the flu, which slowed him down somewhat for Easter festivities. He stayed home from church Sunday morning, but I brought him treats from coffee hour and his cousins shared their egg-hunt goodies with him. Still, he was pretty pathetic. And today when I got him to the doctor we learned that tamiflu is only effective if started within 48 hours of the onset of the flu. Since he really came down with this Friday afternoon, no go. The pediatrician told us he'd seen four cases today; apparently the flu vaccine only lasts four months, so people vaccinated in October and November are now susceptible. Which puts the rest of us at higher risk as well. Great.
  • Our houseguests are on their way home, and Mariah and Mark are off to do some college visiting this week. Nick will be hanging out with me. (At home, mostly; see above.) I think we'll be eating leftovers all week. Anyone want to come over for cake?

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Good Friday

Hot Cross Buns, from The (1975) Joy of Cooking
(these are better than the much more complicated ones on epicurious, by the way. Nigella has fancy ones, too, but these--which are basically the Joy's Parker House rolls with a few additions--are easy and delicious.)

PS: we have no phone or internet at home right now--and until Easter Monday at the earliest. I'm posting from the office. Sigh.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


I got back from the fabulous conference on Sunday, but it's been go go go since then. Am I really too busy to notice I'm busy? I did actually watch the NCAA men's final on Monday night, and I went to bed early last night (cause-effect?). (And, with no cable, I couldn't watch the women's final...)

I'm prepared for my classes, the house is reasonably clean, and the kids are fed. But I have a sense of looming deadlines (this may actually be illusory) and much to do. My desk is a mess. But maybe I just need to turn around, look away from the computer, and move through the day. Yes, that's the ticket.