Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Monday, December 14, 2009

semester's end

I haven't finished my grading yet. I haven't started the Christmas baking yet. And don't even talk to me about the Christmas shopping (this year, with shipping!). Not yet. I have, however, been thinking about my students...

Blog U.: Mothering at Mid-Career: Thinking about my students - Mama PhD - Inside Higher Ed

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Blog U.: Mothering at Mid-Career: End of Semester Bullets and Questions - Mama PhD - Inside Higher Ed

I have a draft of a post about Thanksgiving lying around, but I haven't gotten to it yet--right now, I only have time for bullet points and quick questions...

Blog U.: Mothering at Mid-Career: End of Semester Bullets and Questions - Mama PhD - Inside Higher Ed

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Boys and Girls, again - Mama PhD - Inside Higher Ed

revisiting last week's blog post--new evidence that girls don't civilize boys, and yet another claim for children's literature...

Blog U.: Mothering at Mid-Career: Boys and Girls, again - Mama PhD - Inside Higher Ed

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Monday, November 09, 2009


If it's November it must be job season. Here's what I think about that right now:

Blog U.: Mothering at Mid-Career: November - Mama PhD - Inside Higher Ed

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

In Memoriam

I learned today that one of my high school teachers, Otis Benson Davis, died earlier this week. O.B., as we all called him (only behind his back--to his face he was, of course, Mr. Davis), graduated from Kent School in 1942 and returned to teach there full time in 1949. He retired from active teaching only a few years ago, in 2006.

I graduated from Kent 36 years after O.B. did. He was my AP English teacher, my senior year; he was also the English department chair, and his influence was pervasive in the department. He was the co-author of the textbook we used for AP English, The Idea of Man (now out of print), and he was the teacher who introduced me to Hamlet, King Lear, and Oedipus as well as Out of the Silent Planet and Point of No Return. O.B. didn't think that, as 17 and 18-year-olds, we were too young to "get" dramas of middle and old age such as Point of No Return and King Lear; he didn't think we needed to be pandered to or coddled. I might choose different books than he did to teach seniors in high school--I imagine he chose different books, too, over the years--but I still remember what we read and, especially, his presence in the classroom, pushing, probing, questioning so that we read better, read deeper.

Part of AP English then--and, I imagine, now--involved drafting the college essay. My first draft, as I recall it, was unimpressive. O.B. wrote in the margin that it was a "cursory adumbration" of a much better essay. I had to look up "adumbration." I didn't ask him to define it; I knew it was my job to figure out what he meant and then to act on it. We sat around a seminar table in his class and discussed our essays, and the books we were reading, and started to feel like scholars.

We weren't, of course, but his confidence in us was, at least for me, infectious. When I started teaching I thought of O.B. all the time. I couldn't emulate him as a teacher--I didn't have his gravitas, his beard, his pipe. But I could and did remember the care he took with my essays, the love he had for literature. His was the approval I sought, the criticism I learned from, the example that inspired me. I can't say for sure that I'm an English professor because O.B. was my teacher, but I know he was a part of what made me choose the path I did. I did have the chance to say "thank you," years later, and I'm glad I did, but I'll say it again.

Thank you, O.B. Rest in peace.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Monday, October 19, 2009

Blog U.: Mothering at Mid-Career: Parents' Weekend from the other side - Mama PhD - Inside Higher Ed

As a professor, I'm rarely all that aware of Parents' Weekend on our campus. Occasionally an advisee has brought his or her parents by to say hello; sometimes I've run into a student with parents in tow and have stopped to chat. But most often I simply register the additional folks walking around the campus and then go on with my own business.

This time it was different. I was the one in tow.

read the rest here: Blog U.: Mothering at Mid-Career: Parents' Weekend from the other side - Mama PhD - Inside Higher Ed

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Blog U.: On children's literature and academic administration - Mama PhD - Inside Higher Ed

Today's blog post is about how Where the Wild Things Are and Alice in Wonderland help me through academic meetings....

Blog U.: On children's literature and academic administration - Mama PhD - Inside Higher Ed

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Where I work...

"Once a week or so I leave my house in the morning at the usual time, bag packed, computer stowed—but instead of heading straight to my office I go elsewhere." read more here...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Let's talk

Do you talk to your kids away from home, or do you "talk" on facebook? How about your colleagues--e-mail, or phone? Does it matter? I'm trying to do both...with mixed success. Here's today's blog post over at Inside Higher Ed.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Labor Day

I worked yesterday, and I enjoyed it. Really. Check it out here:

Blog U.: Mothering at Mid-Career: Labor Day - Mama PhD - Inside Higher Ed

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Getting ready

The Yarn Harlot (Stephanie Pearl-McPhee) has a great post today about letting a child go. My daughter's not going quite so far away as Australia, but tomorrow we take her to college and leave without her. It's all new. I said a little bit about it today over on the Mama, PhD blog at Inside Higher Ed--more later.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Mothering at Mid-Career: Ready, Set…

I'm back at Inside Higher Ed today, and back to class as well. More later!

Blog U.: Mothering at Mid-Career: Ready, Set… - Mama PhD - Inside Higher Ed

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The White Horse

The White Horse of Uffington appears to be about 3000 years old, and is part of a complex of ancient sites in the Vale of the White Horse. The horse itself was probably constructed by digging trenches and then re-filling the trenches with chalk blocks; it needs to be cleaned regularly to remain visible. In Terry Pratchett's Discworld, a remarkably similar location exists:
There were odd carvings in the chalk, too, which the shepherds sometimes weeded when they were out on the downs with the flocks and there was not a lot to do. The chalk was only a few inches under the turf. Hoofprints could last a season, but the carvings had lasted for thousands of years. They were pictures of horses and giants, but the strange thing was that you couldn't see them properly from anywhere on the ground. They looked as if they'd been made for views in the sky. (The Wee Free Men, 119)

The image appears on pre-Roman British coinage, and while there has been some debate as to whether it is really mean to be a horse, it has certainly been referred to as such since at least the 11th century. In A Hat Full of Sky, the sequel to The Wee Free Men, Tiffany reports that Granny Aching said, “Taint what a horse looks like, it's what a horse be." While there don't appear to be other carvings of similar age still extant [edited to add: in England; my brother reminds me of others in Peru] (the Cerne Abbas giant, for example, seems to date back only to the 17th century), this may be because other carvings were not maintained as the Uffington White Horse has been.

Near the White Horse is the site of Uffington Castle, an Iron Age hill-fort. Also nearby is the “Dragon Hill,” reported to be the place where St. George slew the dragon. In The Wee Free Men, Tiffany walks to the top of “Arken Hill”:

There was a flat place at the top where nothing ever grew, and Tiffany knew there was a story that a hero had once fought a dragon up there and its blood had burned the ground where it fell. There was another story that said there was a heap of treasure under the hill, defended by the dragon, and another story that said a king was buried there in armor of solid gold. There were lots of stories about the hill; it was surprising it hadn't sunk under the weight of them. (52)

I took my class to the White Horse during the last week of classes. It was a warm, sunny, day and the wind blew along the ridge as we walked up the hill towards the carving. Then we sat up above and looked down at the flat-topped hill and thought about the people who lived on this land, and carved the horse, and buried their dead. Sheep graze on the hillside now and tourists come and walk among them.

(Cross-posted from the other blog, which I've been neglecting even more than this one...)

Sunday, August 02, 2009

weekend jaunt

We left for the Lake District Friday morning under overcast skies, with a promise of intermittent rain Friday and heavy downpours Saturday. Raincoats and umbrellas in the back, we pressed northward, getting to the hotel by about 2 pm (just under four hours). We'd chosen a hotel Mariah and I had stayed in nine years ago, hopeful that it would live up to our memories of it. (It did.) After checking in we took a quick walk to see the sights, then decided we'd best see what we could of the local attractions before dinner since the next day would likely be rainier.

the stream running under the road, across the street from the hotel.

I remember hanging over this gate with Mariah nine years ago.

Once we got our legs stretched we decided to head towards Windermere, Ambleside, and Grasmere. Despite the threatening weather, Windermere was like Fisherman's Wharf in SF: awash with tourists, spilling off the sidewalks into the (very narrow) roads. We drove on through and made our way to Rydal Mount, the last home William Wordsworth lived in (and the loveliest). Mariah remembered it so fondly from our trip in 2000 that we paid the admission to the gardens and had a glorious walk through them. It started to rain in earnest at the end of our walk, but held off until then.

Nick enjoyed experimenting with the "macro" setting on the camera. There are lots more of these flower photos.

From Rydal Mount we made our way northwards towards Ullswater, after driving through some glorious countryside. Ullswater is a spectacular lake, though it looked rather forbidding in the late afternoon with the clouds overhead.

I think it might have been the drive back from Ullswater, over the Kirkstone Pass (not the way we'd come), that was the most spectacular bit of the day, though really, it was all gorgeous. The road through the pass warned of difficult conditions in the winter--even in summer, it was windy and narrow and occasionally sheep took up a little more of the lane than one might wish for--but the views of waterfalls and lakes were spectacular.

After a great dinner at the (complete with candle on Nick's ice cream--we decided it was our celebratory dinner) we retired to our room. Mark and I walked around the inn one more time--the rain was just a drizzle at this point. (It had been showery off and on all afternoon.)

Have I mentioned the stone walls yet? You can see them in this photo--they divide the countryside absolutely everywhere--up on Kirkstone Pass, even, where you'd think no one would bother, they mark the boundaries of the roads as well as marking off one grazing area from another. The something that does not love a wall would have a hard time in the Lake District.

The next morning we had our full breakfast in the dining room and set off northward. "Full breakfast" included eggs, bacon, sausage, grilled tomato, grilled mushroom, potato cake, and blood pudding, which I decided not to try--the veggie full breakfast, which Mariah had, included veggie sausage and veggie bacon, and beans instead of blood pudding. Most people would just go back to bed after a meal like that, but we only had one more day so we forged ahead.

We'd picked up a flyer for the "Lakeland Sheep and Wool Centre" in the hotel and made that--in Cockermouth--our destination, though we weren't too particular about how quickly we got there. We took the ferry over to Sawrey and drove through Beatrix Potter country, then up northward towards Keswick. Seeing a sign for the Castlerigg Stone Circle we decided to follow the (very narrow, twisty, one and a half lane but two-way) track up the hill to the top, where we found these views.

The skies look a little threatening in the pictures, but actually by this time they had cleared and it was warming up and turning into a glorious day. We could have stayed up on that hill for hours, I think. The views are spectacular in every direction, and the circle is, as such things always are, mysteriously beautiful. Why is it there? The ring of stones replicates the ring of hills around it; we felt as if we were in one bowl placed in another bowl.

Eventually we drove on from Castlerigg through Keswick to Cockermouth--where we decided that the Sheep and Wool Center was really not worth much, after all--it was basically a big shop, with the promise of a "show" in a theatre--and barely any yarn for sale, even! (The show may be fabulous, and others may have a great time there, but it wasn't for us.) We headed back to Keswick for lunch and found ourselves in a somewhat overtaxed tea room, where there was something wrong with every single order: chutney on the plain cheese toastie, forgotten scone and strawberries with the strawberry cream tea, beer not cold enough to serve and then brought with a warm glass, you name it! Situations like this sometimes make me feel very American: bad service really annoys me at home, and I can be unusually assertive when things are going wrong in a restaurant. Somehow, though, this was fine--we had a great table right by a window, where we could see all kinds of people (and their dogs!) go by; the food was good, once it came, and we weren't in any particular hurry. So we lingered and eventually ate and then headed "home" to Oxford, ready for another adventure.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

another day

Lately the rainy days have been more common here than the sunny ones. That's mostly all right with me--the rain hasn't been too hard, and usually there's a break here and there so I can walk home. It's cool but not too chilly and I'd always rather be a little too cool than a little too warm. So I try not to complain too much.

The other morning we walked to the college (1.7 miles, but who's counting?) in the rain, and it was an umbrella-and-raincoat kind of a rain. Since the streets of Oxford are crowded in the mornings, this made walking difficult--too many umbrellas, too little space. After a while I began to wonder if I should just fold mine up and trust to my hood, but the wind kept blowing it off my head. (Oh, and threatening to turn the umbrellas inside out, for that matter.) Complaining seemed like an option, though it obviously wasn't going to do any good.

Still, that was a rare kind of a rain. And by the end of the day it was sunny and warm and folks were going to dinner in sundresses and summer suits.

It's rainy again today but I'm trusting to the capriciousness of English weather that we'll have a few breaks in it and I'll get out for some grocery shopping.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A sunny day in Oxford

One of the great pleasures of being in Oxford this summer is that we've been here before. There are things we know not to do (let's just say certain pubs are no longer on our list) and others we know to do again and again. We're living a lot further away from the Port Meadow this year than we were four years ago, so I hadn't had a chance to visit until yesterday. But the day dawned brght and sunny, there was nothing on the calendar, and there were three bikes* downstairs that could take us there in no time. (Well, not no time. But only about twenty minutes.)

The Port Meadow, for those not in the know, is one of the great wonders of Oxford. It's a large expanse of common land where horses and cattle range freely. It's bordered by a canal with a towpath perfect for biking, and on a sunny day it's really lovely (though I imagine it's quite desolate in the winter, when it floods).

This was that sunny day. And so was the day four years ago when I took a camera out there. So here's just a little side-by-side comparison, for fun.

*Mariah had to stay home to nurse her cold and work on two papers. This is a working vacation for both of us.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


I changed the feed settings on this blog so that if you're reading with a feedreader you should now get the whole post instead of just the teaser. Let me know if you see any problems.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Not quite the day we planned

Four years ago when we were in England for the summer we went to Tintern Abbey. It was not the only national monument we visited, nor the oldest, but we loved it. I don't think we actually said out loud, "we have to come back," but we knew we did.

This is our first "free" weekend on this year's England trip. We had a quick jaunt into London yesterday afternoon, where we saw The Importance of Being Earnest at Regent's Park--a lovely setting and a fun production. Despite the threat of rain all day, we were almost too hot in our sunny seats.

Not so today. Today was our planned return trip to Tintern Abbey. We decided to take in Avebury along the way, since we'd never been before and we'd heard good things. The day dawned grey and rainy, but we were undeterred. And when the agent from the rental car company actually showed up early we took it as a good omen.

Maybe it was, but not for the weather. We (OK, Mark) drove through some of the heaviest downpours we've ever been through on our way to Avebury. And, remember, he's driving an unfamiliar car on an unfamiliar highway--on the wrong (left) side of the road! I played navigator, a role I'm spectacularly unsuited for. I can read a map, and directions, but reading road signs at the same time is, um, not my best skill. Roundabouts are a particular problem--I go into them confident of which sign to follow, then panic.

Mark is amazingly patient. And we really only went about 12 miles out of our way on the way to Avebury, I think. Maybe a little more. But we go there, and when we did the rain clouds cleared away briefly and we walked among the stones and the sheep and marveled at the things that humans do.

The rain started coming down again just as we were finishing our circuit, so we took that as a sign to get back in the car. Again my directional sense was problematic, but we did eventually make it to Tintern Abbey--ten minutes before they closed. (Side note: when the sun doesn't go down before 9 p.m., do you really need to close off access to an outdoor site at 5?) That gave us just time to hit the gift shop and then walk around the outside of the abbey--not quite the wonderful views we'd had last year from within, but in the cold and rain (by this time it was pretty unpleasant) we were happy just to see the site.

Back in the car again, we decided to take an alternate route home, up the Wye River Valley and then through Monmouth, Gloucester, and Cheltenham and so home to Oxford.

What a great decision! Cheltenham was particularly lovely, and we made it there just around the time we all needed dinner. We stopped at an inn for a terrific dinner, then drove the rest of the way home through glorious countryside. The rain stopped for us and the sun came out and yes, there was even a rainbow. No pictures, but we'll remember it.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Happy Birthday!

My calendar popped up today with a reminder that it is Beatrix Potter's birthday--only, according to Wikipedia at least, it isn't.* Curiouser and curiouser. My calendar is already confused by the time difference between Oxford and home--things pop up 5 hours later than they should, although they appear correctly in the grid when I look at it. Ah, well.

So if it's not Beatrix Potter's birthday, what am I celebrating? My blog birthday! Yes, six years ago today I wrote my first blog entry. I'm not sure anyone read it--I'm not sure I wanted anyone to read it--but there it was, anyway, my little toe dipped into the waters. For quite a while I struggled with an identity for the blog, and then after a while I just decided not to worry and to post what I felt like. Which, lately, hasn't been much (I know the few readers I have already know this!); as lots of others have said, twitter and facebook and, for that matter, real life seem to be taking precedence lately. But six years is worth remarking--Nick was not quite six when I started writing, Mariah was 13, we had a French student living with us for a few weeks, and we still had yet to come to Oxford for the first time. Now Nick's in middle school, Mariah's headed to college in the fall, and Oxford feels almost like home.

*My calendar also said that the 6th was my blog birthday, when a glance at that first entry makes it clear that it is the 7th. I marked the third anniversary on the wrong day, and the fourth on the right one, and the fifth on the wrong one again. Somehow this all seems a metaphor for something.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

All in the golden afternoon...

We arrived in Oxford Tuesday afternoon, following a relatively easy journey. Door to door took less than 24 hours and involved multiple modes of transportation (car, plane, people movers of various sorts, bus, taxi). Once here we faced the strange news that the weather here is almost the same as it is at home--which somehow feels hotter here, since there's little air conditioning, we walk almost everywhere, and no one ices the drinks.

We cooled off yesterday afternoon by taking a more leisurely form of transport than the ones we'd experienced over the previous day and a half: the pedal boat on the Isis. Not quite the rowboat or punt Charles Dodgson would have taken the Liddell sisters out in, but the same scenery: Christ Church meadow, with its large grazing cattle and the spires of Oxford just beyond. We did this four years ago and it was an experience we were eager to repeat.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

getting organized

We're getting down to the wire for our big summer trip, and the tasks keep piling up. I blogged over at the Mama PhD blog at Inside Higher Ed about trying to stay on top of them.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


My post over at the other blog today is mostly links, but there's also a picture of Nick over there that my readers here might not see otherwise. So click the link below and you can see him in all his last-day-of-school glory.

Lessons from the Tortoise

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Finished Objects

I was away over the weekend for a fabulous conference in Charlotte, NC. Like many of my fellow conference-goers, I'd never actually left the airport in Charlotte before--many flights from here seem to be routed through there, though, so the airport itself is pretty familiar. (I'd visited Charlotte some years before by car, but that was different.)

It was nice to get out of the airport. The conference was great--full of smart people saying interesting things about wonderful books. As always, I came back energized and excited to keep up with the work that I presented--though, as always, I'm also swamped with all kinds of other things and so will probably not get back to it right away. So that's not the finished thing.

But traveling gave me the opportunity to get a good bit of knitting done (knitting! remember that?), and I finished a good-sized project, a lace shawl. Here it is, knit out of gorgeous silk-cashmere that Mariah gave me for Christmas. I ran out of yarn before I ran out of pattern, so if you see other shawls that claim to be the same pattern (Swallowtail shawl) they will look different, but I'm still delighted with it.

Another thing came to an end this weekend and that was my column for Literary Mama. I'm in a little bit of denial about this one. I've been writing for LM since 2003, when it launched. At first I wrote a column called Midlife Mama (hmm, sound familiar?) but after a year I began writing Children's Lit Book Group, and I continued to write that column either bimonthly or (briefly) monthly for five years. I'm sorry to see it go. I'm still working on children's literature, and I still have a lot to say about it, but right now my time and therefore my energies are directed elsewhere. Still, I will miss it.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

chocolate cake

I tried out a new recipe for chocolate cake yesterday. Now, there are plenty of great chocolate cakes out there. There even a good vegan chocolate cake--good enough that folks don't really know it's vegan. But there's always room for a new cake, right? And my favorite vegan chocolate cake doesn't actually turn out of a pan and make a nice presentation--which, face it, is part of cake baking.

So last night I tried a new (to me) vegan chocolate cake, and it was a big hit. It requires no weird ingredients, it turns out of a pan for a nice presentation (though you'll have to trust me on that, as I didn't take pictures), and my dinner guests didn't guess it was vegan. So there. (Oh, it's low fat, too, in case you care...) I got it from Veganomicon, though I borrowed the chocolate drizzle from a different Veganomicon recipe (for a peanut butter chocolate caramel pie that I'm going to have to try next). Here it is:

Vegan Chocolate Bundt Cake

for the cake:
1-3/4 cups fresh-brewed coffee (I used decaf)
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (the darker the better)
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
2 cups flour (they use whole wheat pastry flour; I only had unbleached all-purpose, which was fine)
1 tsp. baking soda
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

for the drizzle:
1/4 to 1/3 cups each vegan (or not) chocolate chips and soy milk

Preheat oven to 325F; spray or otherwise grease an 8-10 inch bundt pan

Heat the coffee in a saucepan. Once it is simmering, whisk in the cocoa and continue to whisk over the heat until the cocoa is dissolved. Put aside to cool.

Whisk together in a mixing bowl the sugar, applesauce, oil, and cornstarch until the cornstarch is dissolved. Whisk in the extracts. Once the coffee mixture has cooled whisk that in.

Sift the flour, baking soda and powder, and salt into the wet ingredients, and mix together thoroughly (I whisked it for another couple of minutes). Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45 - 55 minutes (longer for the smaller pan). The cake is done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool in the pan for twenty minutes, then turn out onto a plate. While the cake cools, make the drizzle:

Heat the soymilk to boiling in a small pan, then stir in the chocolate chips until they are thoroughly melted and mixed into the milk. Allow to cool to room temperature, then drizzle over the cooling cake. (It's a little thick for actual drizzling, but it will taste good anyway.)

You can also skip the drizzle and sift a little confectioner's sugar over the top instead, but I have a couple of anti-confectioner's-sugar activists to feed, so I made the drizzle instead.

Friday, May 29, 2009

yes, I'm still here

I know, it's been a while. The last two weeks are a bit of a blur, frankly. The end of the school year and beginning of summer always are. There are things to finish up, new things to start, and--always--an overwhelming desire to sleep. Oh, and basketball playoffs, which seem to be keeping me up past my bedtime every night. Sometimes I think the best thing about living on the west coast was that there were never late games. Then I remember all the other good things--the jacaranda trees, the excellent Mexican food, the weather--and I realize that a) I probably didn't care that much about the games then and b) they often started so early I missed them (out enjoying the weather and the jacarandas, you know). Ah, well.

But I digress. Which is really what summer's all about: digression. I am digressing right now from a conference paper I'm writing (having hit page 7 with ten days to go before I deliver it, I'm feeling ok about that); from some end-of-year report writing; and from some planning. Book orders for fall were due some time ago, for example.

So this is all just a placeholder to say, as I do every year: what happened to May?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Strawberry Panzanella

I first read about strawberry panzanella on the blog 101 Cookbooks. It was one of her spring recipes, and it turned up just in time for us to test it out as an Easter dessert. It was a particularly good choice, as it's easily veganized, and easy to make ahead. Actually, it's just easy all around.

Of course I couldn't just make the recipe as given. First of all, the amounts seemed slightly off--surely you'd want more berries for that much bread? And, really, do you need to cut them into matchsticks? I've made it twice since that Easter dinner (actually, I've made it twice in one week) and I think I've got the definitive recipe now. Though actually one of the nice things about panzanella is that you don't need a definitive recipe--it's more like a method, a way of using things up and making them taste good, that is successful precisely because it's not precise.

Still, I know some people like precision. I like it myself. So here is, almost precisely, how I've been making strawberry panzanella. (I was going to wait to post this until I had a picture, but really, the one over on the original site is quite lovely. So go look at that, then make this. Or something like it.)

For dessert for 3-4, you will need:

about half a baguette, preferably a day or two past its prime (my baguette was 13 oz originally, if that matters to you), cut or torn into bite-sized chunks
1/4 cup brown sugar (I scanted this a bit, and the butter as well)
1/4 cup butter or olive oil
maybe a pinch of salt if your butter's not salted (optional)
1 quart strawberries
some Greek yogurt, sour cream, or nothing at all

Preheat oven to 400F

Melt the butter (if using) and stir together with brown sugar, or stir together brown sugar and olive oil. Add a pinch of salt if you like. (I did twice, and not the third time, and couldn't tell the difference.)

Toss bread chunks in butter/sugar mixture--use a large bowl for this, or just do it by hand on a jelly roll pan (you'll need it anyway in a minute)

Spread the buttery, sugary bread out on the jelly roll pan and toast for 10-15 minutes, turning/stirring after every five minutes, until the bread is crispy and slightly caramelized in places. Don't worry that some of the bread didn't get buttered/sugared; it will all be good, I promise.

Meanwhile, wash and slice up the berries however you like: halves, quarters, chunks, whatever works for you. Using a potato masher, mash about half of them in a large bowl. Maybe a little more than half. If the berries are slightly underripe, you could throw a tablespoon or two of extra brown sugar in here--I won't tell.

Toss the bread in with the mashed berries, trying to get the bread thoroughly soaked in berry juice. Toss in the not-mashed berries. Let the whole thing stand while you get the rest of dinner together, stirring occasionally to mix things up again. Steal a bread chunk or two while you're at it and marvel at its simple deliciousness.

Serve with Greek yogurt or sour cream dolloped on top, or don't, as you choose.

This is obviously best the day it's made, as the bread does tend to get a bit soggy the next day. Still, we happened to have some leftovers the last time and I was amazed at how tasty it still was, soggy bread and all.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

A Narrative Compass

In graduate school my friends and I occasionally amused ourselves by imagining what our dissertation topics said about us. Female violence? Prostitution and “fallenness”? Sibling incest? They may have been safely “literary” topics, but what did it say about us that we had spent so much time on these topics rather than, say, gardens?

read the rest here...

(A review of A Narrative Compass: The Stories That Guide Women's Lives, ed. Betsy Hearne and Roberta Seelinger Trites, and my favorite new book...)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Goal Setting, Research Productivity, and the Associate Professor Survey

(Cross-posted from the other blog)

A friend asked me yesterday if I had goals. Not just "things I'd like to do some day," but articulated, specified goals. With a timeline.

In short, no.

All the career advice I've ever read suggests that goal-setting is an essential part of an integrated, successful career. And I do have "things I'd like to do some day," don't get me wrong. But writing down goals...well, for whatever reason, I haven't done it. One reason, I suspect, is that I'm a little uncomfortable with taking myself quite that seriously, with putting myself forward, in the way that goal-setting suggests. When I write it down here it sounds ludicrous, but there it is.

But here's the thing. I spent some time yesterday with the MLA's Associate Professor Survey, and I wonder if I'm not alone. The key finding for me, that women in private independent institutions (like my own) spend on average 9.6 years at associate professor before advancing to full, was sobering. (Especially since I'm already right at that mark, if not a little beyond it.) But even more telling was the paired statistic that in the same institutions, men are advancing on average three years more rapidly. (That's the largest gap between men's and women's advancement that the survey found.)

I wonder if women are less willing to label themselves career-focused than men are. I wonder if those women aren't articulating their goals, aren't naming them, and are therefore falling behind on them. I think in institutions like mine this could be a particularly insidious trap, as we are sought after and rewarded (up to a point) for our service and our teaching, and can make a pretty good career on them alone. So I wonder if when women like me say, "I'm too busy for my research," they really mean, "I haven't made it a priority." I wonder if they haven't made it a priority because they see that it's not really that highly valued, or because they truly prefer their teaching or service work, or because they have trouble carving out time for it at home. I am not at all ready to discount institutional and/or systemic discrimination against women, either--I know that the research work I do is, on occasion, measured and found wanting, at least in part because my field (children's literature--a female-dominated field) is not taken as seriously as, say, Renaissance literature. But such discrimination may fall into a larger pattern of discounting women's work that women themselves participate in. What would it take for us to claim our own work, our own value?

Or, on the other hand, are we choosing the saner course by pursuing more integrated lives? Sometimes that's what I think, and it does make sense. I have great autonomy in the classroom already; I do the research that interests me in the time frame that I can make work for my family, and that means an emphasis on conference papers and articles rather than on a monograph. (Psst--I prefer to read articles anyway, and suspect that they're more influential in most cases. But that's another story...maybe.) In my essay for Mama, PhD I call for us all to insist on the value of our work, to hold our senior colleagues and administrators to account when they pay lip service to teaching and service and then reward only original scholarship. I do think the work I do is valuable, but a small voice inside me also says, "you're not doing enough research." Maybe if I put some goals in writing I could measure my work against them and silence that voice. Maybe.

We think of these things when the semester ends and the research program hasn't quite ramped up again--or I do. Here's what I wrote yesterday about that survey, taking things in a slightly different direction:

Mothering at Mid-Career: The Associate Professor Survey - Mama PhD - Inside Higher Ed

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Note: when I went to post this, I wanted to tag it for future reference and discovered that I have never used a tag for either "research" or "scholarship" before. Hmm.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

May It Please the Court - And the Pursuit of Happiness Blog - NYTimes.com

May It Please the Court - And the Pursuit of Happiness Blog - NYTimes.com

Maira Kalman goes to the Supreme Court and talks to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She also eats lunch. Well worth clicking through.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Seeking to End World Hunger, One Search at a Time - Bits Blog - NYTimes.com

Seeking to End World Hunger, One Search at a Time - Bits Blog - NYTimes.com

University of Richmond students develop a search engine that contributes free rice for every search--and get it written up in the New York Times. Check it out! This is my new default search engine...

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Edited 4/25/09 to add: alas, Hoongle is no more. Somehow they inadvertently violated Google's terms of service, and shut down. But the students are still full of good ideas, and they still raised a good bit of money to alleviate world hunger.

Reading aloud

I'm blogging about reading aloud at the Mama, PhD blog at Inside Higher Ed today; I also blogged about the president reading aloud over at my other blog just last night. (Click over to it to see the video...) Synchronicity!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter reprise

Today is Easter Monday, which is also, liturgically, my parents' wedding anniversary. (They were married on April 7, which in 1958 was the Monday after Easter.) Last year we had a blow-out celebration for them in the summer, but this year we are back to normal.

Well, almost. As usual, we've had the world's best houseguests here for Easter, but this was their briefest visit--and thus, I have far less baking to report than usual. They arrived, with Mariah, Tuesday evening. Wednesday we did an event on campus in support of Mama, PhD--a reading and discussion that was really wonderful--and they took off Thursday morning to do two more events at Duke. (They left Mariah with us, which was nice.)

Since, as usual, I wasn't on break, the week mostly went on as usual with the addition of various Holy Week services at church: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil, Easter morning. Our guests returned Friday evening in time for dinner, and Saturday involved some egg dyeing and a little baking (vegan cupcakes). Sunday morning was vegan muffins, church, and an egg hunt.

I have no pictures from our Easter feast, but it really turned out well. Roasted asparagus, mushroom galette, spinach salad, and edamame orzo (the recipe says fava beans, but edamame are quicker and easier), with strawberry panzanella for dessert. The panzanella was a new departure for us, and it was absolutely fabulous--highly recommended!

Our guests leave today, but we get to keep Mariah for another week. Nick went back to school this morning a little reluctantly, but we'll get back in the swing of things soon.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Neglecting the blog

I've been neglecting the blog of late not only because I'm finding facebook and/or twitter filling some similar needs, but because I've been crazy busy with travel, committee work, teaching, life--same old, same old, really, but somehow it's catching up with me more this time. My last two blog posts on the Mama, PhD blog at Inside Higher Ed will explain more:

Where I was and why I'm glad I went.

And this is the show I got to see at the Grand Ole Opry. A bunch of us went, and if we went thinking it was about the camp and the sequins, we stayed for the music and the heart. What a fabulous show!

The conference, by the way, was this one: an intimate gathering of children's lit scholars at the top of their game. I have pages and pages of notes, lists of books to read, people to follow up with--and the beginnings, I think, of my next academic article (on Twilight and intertextuality, if you must know). A weekend well-spent, despite the six-hour delay in the Atlanta airport on Thursday which made me miss three sets of papers. (You know it's a good conference when you lament the papers you didn't get to hear...)

And now if you'll excuse me I think I need to go get a new powercord for my laptop. This one travels so much it's starting to fray a bit and that makes me nervous.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


This is the earliest I've posted a picture of the cherry tree outside my window. It's not quite in full bloom, but it's pretty close. Unfortunately maintenance to my office over the fall seems to have included sealing my windows; I can't open them anymore! So I shot this through the glass--best I could do.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Spring Break by the numbers, sort of

30-80: range, in Farenheit, of temperatures experienced during the week.
48: cookies baked.
47: papers I should have read and marked during the week.
24: papers I did read and mark during the week.
22: muffins baked
10: pages of my own paper drafted.
9: checked out from the library to work on my paper.
2: books I went to the library to get for my paper.
2: maintenance-type appointments accomplished during the week.
2: essays copy-edited.
2: movies seen (Slum-Dog Millionaire, Pan's Labyrinth).
2: novels read (Inkdeath, House of Many Ways)
2: hours I was in the office this morning, break over, before I noticed that the cherry tree outside my window is starting to bloom again.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Finished Object

One nice thing about the snow day was the increased knitting time it provided. Well, for a while. At a certain point my hands just got too cold. But before that happened, I managed to finish the knitting on a new bag, and then when we got power back I had the time and inclination to sew it up and line it. I am still not very good at hand-sewing, and I couldn't find the power cord for Mariah's sewing machine, so there are seams here that could be neater. Still and all, it was a very fun knit--with yarn I got from a friend who brought home a huge haul from the Goodwill, and was happy to share!--and will be a useful addition to my spring wardrobe.

Which I can apparently break out today. Nick, whose last snow day was just the day before yesterday, went to school today without a coat; it was over 40F before 7 am, and is predicted to go up to 63F today, and 79F by Sunday. Welcome to spring in Virginia!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Snow Day

Late Sunday afternoon the rain was pelting down. I looked at it and back at the weather report, which was promising 4-7 (or 7-12, depending on which weather station you checked) inches of snow. It just didn't seem possible.

Less than an hour later, we were inside a snow globe, a thin coating of snow already blanketing the lawn, the trees, the cars. Before Nick went to bed he knew he wouldn't have school.

Then the power started flickering. Mark and I were watching a movie; Nick was getting ready for bed. The power went out, came back on. Long enough to restart the movie--then out again. Repeat. Finally it went out and stayed out. We found flashlights, a booklight for Nick in bed, candles. Lightning flashed through the snow--an eerie effect.

I tried to call the doctor's office where I had an early morning appointment, but reached no one. Went to bed with the NYTimes Sunday magazine and a booklight. It was clear that the heat was dissipating, though the radiators were still lukewarm. I set my cellphone alarm.

I was up early to try to call the doctor again. Again no answer. And, clearly, no heat. The University had cancelled classes, though since I don't teach Mondays, this wasn't really relevant.

Nick was up at 6:30. He'd meant to set his alarm for 7:30 but somehow was an hour off. He had a bowl of cereal--the milk in the fridge was still mostly cold--while I had a peanut butter sandwich.
(front porch/lawn, early a.m. Statue by Mark)

I put the milk out on the back porch and wondered whether anything else in the fridge was really all that perishable. I reached someone at the doctor's office, who said she'd pass along the message that I wouldn't be there. I went back to bed, where it was warm. Nick did, too.
(backyard, also early a.m. Yes, I took it from inside the house; it was too cold to go out there in pjs, even for the blog!)

When Mark woke up we all bundled up and headed out to a relatively new neighborhood cafe for coffee/hot chocolate and treats. Lots of others had the same idea--it was nice to be somewhere warm and buzzing with activity. It looked as if everyone had walked. When we got home I borrowed a snow shovel and cleared the walks while Nick and his friends restarted the snowball war they'd begun the evening before. I took everything out of the freezer and put it into coolers, on the back porch. The milk was already slightly frozen.

By noon it was frigid in the house. I was wrapped up in layers while the kids continued to play outdoors, coming into one house or another periodically to "warm up" (hardly possible) and eat something. I called several friends; one had power, and invited us to dinner; one didn't, and we talked about lighting a fire and drinking some wine later on. Mark went out, and came back reporting that the roads were relatively clear. I decided to go to the office and recharge my computer and cellphone batteries--and get warm.

By the time I returned home the power was back on. Nick was not, however, watching TV--the snowball war had started anew, after only a brief period of computer play. We reloaded the freezer and headed out to dinner with the friend whose power had remained on all day--her house was warm, her fire was lit, and the wine had been opened. It was a lovely end to the day.

(the view from my office window this morning)

(I have a blog post up at IHE today, sort of about snow days, sort of not. I wrote it in my warm office during that little hiatus...)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Thinking about the Other Mother...

Sometimes my friends and I joke that we need clones—one for work and one for home, perhaps? Wouldn't it be great, some days, to have someone else to help raise the kids—someone who wouldn't be bored by the endless play with Lego, who would miraculously make healthy meals they'll eat, who would come up with rainy day activities that are fun for the whole family? Of course on bad days at work I want the clone to sit at the computer while the "real me" goes off to play with the kids. It's all a matter of perspective.

Read the rest in this month's Children's Lit Book Group column....

(cross-posted from the other blog)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Friday, February 13, 2009

Valentine's Eve

I think I've said before that I'm ambivalent about Valentine's Day. I dislike the obligatory gift- and/or card-giving in elementary school, but I love chocolate. I dislike the heterosexism, but romance is ok by me. I dislike the pressure to do something special, but I actually like doing something special.

So, OK. We have dinner plans with friends tomorrow, and various stuff planned during the day, and there's no need to get all worked up over the holiday. Nick made a Valentine's card for his "Secret Cupid" and took it to school yesterday (no school today: teacher conferences) and that took care of his obligations. But then this morning I heard Nigella on NPR talking about cupcakes*, and I knew something had to be done. I was on the website before she'd finished talking, and I decided to make the chocolate-cherry cupcakes before she even said anything about them. How could I not? Easy, delicious, and combining two favorite flavors--a sure winner.

So I stopped at the store after dropping Nick at a friend's house for a playdate and picked up cherry preserves and some nice chocolate, and went to work. As I started to prepare the muffin cups with the cupcake papers I realized that I was short about six papers, but no worries--I could improvise something with parchment paper. I was short about 1/3 cup preserves, too, but some raspberry jam seemed a reasonable substitute. Oh, and I didn't have self-rising cake flour, but a quick google told me that if I added 1/2 tsp each of baking soda and baking powder, and a 1/4 tsp of salt, to my cup of cake flour, I should be fine.

I should maybe have cut up a little extra parchment paper when I realized the muffin tins were overfull, but I soldiered on, just topping them off with an extra teaspoon or so of filling each. Then I glanced over at the recipe to make sure it really did say it made twelve (it does) and realized that--oops!--I'd unintentionally doubled the sugar. I considered melting some more chocolate and butter to double the recipe, but the batter was already in the muffin tins. I figured the cupcakes might come out too sweet, but it was worth a try.

I hate to throw away food.

Just as the timer beeped to tell me my 25 minutes was up I started to smell a faint smell of something a little, um, burnt. And indeed, when I opened the oven, I found a good bit of cupcake batter burned to the bottom of the oven. And lots more overfilling the muffin cups, making of the 12 separate cupcakes one rather large--thing. With indentations in the twelve former middles. As it were.

I got them out of the muffin tin (with Mark's help--he just ate most of the overflow)** and decided that, really, these were not a Valentine's dessert. I wasn't quite ready to throw them out, but I was going to start over.

Back to the store: more cake flour (still, no self-rising cake flour at my grocery store), more cherry jam, more cupcake papers. More butter.

Twenty minutes later, another batch was in the oven. This time there were fifteen--so it wasn't just all the extra sugar that overfilled them the first time. And they started to overflow before the time was up, so I lowered the temp a little bit (I've noticed before that my oven runs hotter than Nigella's) and carried on.

They came out less molten than the first batch, and definitely not as sweet (no raspberry jam in this batch, either). But Nick liked both kinds just fine, while Mark--full of the remnants of the first ones--has yet to taste one of the "official" version. [Edited to add: yes, you're right, even the "official" ones don't actually have the cherries on top. I don't like glace cherries.]

And I have most of two batches of cupcakes in my house, and only three eaters. Two of them, however, fail to see that this is a problem, so perhaps it isn't.

To round out the dinner I made Nigella's really easy salmon (from Forever Summer: marinate some salmon steaks in 1/3 cup each of pomegranate molasses and honey, and 1 tlb. soy sauce; broil until done); green beans, and couscous/rice pilaf. Nothing was perfect; everyone was happy.

The End.
Happy Valentine's Day

*Becca, this is why I listen to NPR. But then again...
**Mark says the last words he will hear on this earth are "Mark'll eat that."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Teaching and Research

I'm blogging about Jill Biden, my new role model, over at the Mama, PhD blog at Inside Higher Ed. And trying to get to work on my column. Remember that? I do still write it, but only every other month these days. While I'm away, though, you might check out Mama at the Movies, writing about the lovely oldie, Fly Away Home. Back later!


Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Mothers Movement and Mama, PhD

Here's a great conversation, among Caroline Grant, Elrena Evans, and Andrea O'Reilly, about Mama, PhD and the issues facing mother academics (and other parents, but you'll see why the focus is on mothers, I think). This is particularly pertinent to me since I've just been to (yet another) meeting about child care on campus. (No, we don't have a child care center here; yes, we are still talking about it.)

Here's a brief excerpt:

Andrea O'Reilly: I am beginning year three of a large, government-funded research project on "being a mother in the academe." I have interviewed approximately 45 women and hope to interview another 50. A central finding of my research is the pull mothers feel in trying to live up to impossible standards of perfection in both the university and in the home. As the "ideal worker," a woman has to have a book published before 35, etc. and as an ideal mother, she has to be the perfect mother, with the perfect house, perfect children… i.e., a child who reads before two and speaks two languages by age four. With the contemporary discourse of ideal motherhood, what Sharon Hays calls intensive mothering, it is impossible to be a "good" mother and "good" academic.

There's an interesting conversation about this stuff going on at 11-D as well, where I find myself taking the unusual (for me) glass-half-full position. The thing is, having given up on the "impossible standards of perfection" O'Reilly mentions above, I'm doing OK. But I do still see plenty of room for improvement.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Just my type?

So Typealyzer thinks this blog has the exact opposite Myers-Briggs type I do: it's ESFP, and I'm INTJ. How did that happen?

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009


  • I have a deadline that I am currently not meeting.
  • I would like to meet it, but I just don't quite know enough yet.
  • Blogging will not, at this point, help that.
  • The ice on the cherry tree limbs this morning, in the fog, glowed almost pinky-white--a harbinger of the blossoms that will be there soon.
  • I have to believe in that "soon."
  • I am really tired of winter, and it's not even February yet.
  • I'm not sure Twitter is helping me become more concise.
  • I'm not sure I'm giving it a chance.
  • I forgot to mention yesterday that I blogged at Inside Higher Ed, as I usually do on Tuesdays.
  • Here it is.
  • I participated today in a panel on "balancing teaching and scholarship."
  • I have rarely felt like such a fraud in public.
  • I take comfort in knowing that my co-panelists did, too.
  • Though I of course am sure they are not frauds.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


this is over at my other blog today:

I'm teaching a new course this semester, and I blogged about it for IHE today. I felt a little badly that I didn't have an inauguration post for IHE, but it just didn't happen. I'm not there, I'm here--and in fact I'm teaching from 11:15 to 12:30, right when the action will be happening. But then it occurred to me--my course is about revolutionary moments, moments when things changed in some significant way. And so I've decided that we'll take a little break in my class to watch it live, just so we can say we, too, saw the moment. Maybe we'll even think about analyzing the rhetoric of the speech, if we have time.

Check out this gorgeous photo essay here, too.

And there's lots of great children's lit/inauguration blogging going on, too. I probably won't find it all, but don't miss Monica Edinger's link to her earlier "Letters to Obama" post. And Betsy Bird has some great stuff up at Fuse#8. The incomparable Julius Lester has an inspiring post (ok, it was from yesterday). There's more, but that will get you started.

[edited to add: you can read my dad's inauguration prayer here, too!]

Thursday, January 15, 2009

check out my fabulous sister

Who was interviewed here, on the Craving Balance blog.

Friday, January 09, 2009

I guess this needs a title

It's been a crazy week around here. After the excitement of last week (ahem), we were hoping for some quiet. But the fridge broke, the (other) car shudders when it runs, and the (first, recently fixed) car needed a brake job. I was supposed to upgrade some software on my computer this week but I decided not to tempt fate, honestly. The cable/phone bill came and it's wrong--by about 150%--again. And I took Mariah to the airport to fly away for her semester in San Francisco, driving home in pouring rain that turned a two-hour drive into three. I've been playing catch-up all week at work, and will need to spend the weekend in the office to get my syllabi in shape for Tuesday, when I start teaching again. Oh, and I had a doctor's appointment today (no big deal, just routine) that took up a lot of time and ended with, yes, another appointment. Still routine, but more time. Sigh.

So I was really glad to see this link to a nice review of Mama, PhD.

And I enjoyed skyping with Mariah tonight. As Mark said, the future is here. Now, where's my jetpack?