Thursday, December 29, 2011

Scenes from the Past Few Weeks

I attended my graduation ceremony on Dec. 22. My mom was here for it. My daughter was amused by my "silly hat." I sat between a woman in her forties who had just earned her master's in history (we compared notes on how much more focused we were as older students) and a woman from a Slavic country (didn't catch which one) who had just finished her MBA. We all wore different colored stoles around our necks, and we laughed that the color for finance and accounting degrees is "drab" (yup, the official name). One undergraduate decorated his hat with Christmas lights. A nursing grad wore a bridal veil under her hat. Oh, and I made the paper (no, I'm not an English professor).

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Christmas morning was entertaining. Sylvia had a red tricycle and an orange scooter waiting for her underneath the tree. She had to take both for rides around the house for a long while before seeking out other presents. She also had to take a break to go outside and blow bubbles, which I had taken away from her the night before. She finally figured out how Santa and presents worked the day of Christmas, so now we're having to explain that there won't be any more presents for a while. She responded by asking to celebrate her birthday.

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Sylvia has been a little bit sick for the past two weeks. D was diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection right before Christmas and Sylvia and I had coughs and runny noses, but nothing too bad. She started coughing a lot at night, though, and after Sunday night, when she started crying, I took her to the doctor just in case. Yup, turns out she was just shy of pneumonia and needed breathing treatments. She also had a double ear infection. Meanwhile, she rode her new bike with gusto and was dancing in the doctor's office. My child feels no pain. This could be a problem.

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Sylvia has been jumping out of bed at night, turning into a crazed, hyper child with no interest in sleep. The only bonus is that she sleeps later. This morning, though, the dog's barking woke her up before 7am, and she was in tears. For the first time in her life, she cried for her daddy. I had to put them in bed together for a long snuggle. There are few things more adorable than a snuggled up daddy and toddler daughter. I adore those two.

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I am currently working on two freelance projects while my husband enjoys FOUR WEEKS OFF. I'm not complaining, though. Last night, hubby went to the bar with friends, and I had the house to myself to complete a writing assignment. It was peaceful. I used my brain. I worked silently, uninterrupted, for a couple of hours. I did not realize how much I had missed that.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Primal

Tonight, I made homemade turkey meatballs (including shaved carrots, onion, garlic and spices) with a side of steamed broccoli for dinner. Sylvia chose "pasta sauce" (marinara) to dunk the meatballs in, and proceeded to eat five meatballs and most of her broccoli (with lemon juice on it). This feast -- eaten with relish and without complaint -- comes from MY toddler, the same kid who has recently become a full-fledged picky eater. She is unpredictable in what is good or bad, with the only acceptable constants being hot dogs, cheese, fruit and Cheerios.

Let me tell you: there is something primal, something deeply satisfying about preparing a meal from scratch and having your progeny eat it. I was a good gatherer. I provided for the offspring. She will live another day.

I don't have any great wisdom to add about dealing with picky eaters. I comfort myself that it is evolutionary: Malcolm Gladwell has an article that discusses how two-year-olds, who were old enough to start gathering with their mothers, developed a natural aversion to anything new as a way to guard against eating poisonous berries and other dangers out in the wild. I know it often goes beyond some aversions, though: I have a friend who's amazingly brilliant and charming child will only eat about three foods; after four years of trying everything, they are taking the child to therapy for the second time.

Kids are weird. Parenting is hard. But today, today I had a victory. And I will celebrate it (knowing that tomorrow, she will likely refuse the meatballs and throw a fit for bread with butter).

Monday, December 5, 2011

Retraction

Gentle readers: Yesterday, I composed a beautiful blog post. It was one I had been writing and rewriting in my head for days. It was a bit preachy, required standing on my pedestal, but I thought the message was sound. And then, I realized I couldn't post it. For reasons not worth explaining, it would have been bad if one of my freelance clients had found my opinion on the matter published online for everyone to read. Sadly, I had this moment of clarity (thank goodness I did) after I had written the piece.

So really, I'm just posting to tell you how awesome this post was that you'll never read because the Internet is just so public, y'all.

Maybe I should just stick to stories of toddler shenanigans.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It's Over

Last night, I turned in my thesis. Ten days ago, I defended it and passed with honors, which was awesome, but I was given revisions to complete. Then Thanksgiving happened (boy, did it -- took the family to Dallas for a big event) and grading built up and the revisions got frustrating and...well, let's just say I'm thrilled it's done now.

I started this degree when my daughter was three months old; she is now two. I began wanting to study business ethics; I ended researching ethics in science writing. I began unsure of the program and why I was there; I leave confident and happy with my choice. I have learned so much not only about the subject (tech writing/rhetoric/new media), but also about the world of academia and how to navigate it.

I have a million thank-yous to give to the people who got me through this degree and helped me succeed. I have a million chores to catch up on that I've ignored for two years. But for now, I have to do some relaxing. It's over. I'm done. I'm a Master. Break out the champagne.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Defense!

Tomorrow morning, I will defend my thesis. I love this verb: I am not presenting it, showcasing or discussing it; I am DEFENDING it. Back off, doubters: this is my awesome work and I will prove to you how awesome it is.

Wish me luck - and strong defenses.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

This is Life

With D's new job and our associated new-found security, he and I have had a few intense conversations recently. We've explored the path that got us here, made projections about our future, and assessed our present.

I noticed that during these conversations, D. started talking about wanting to go ride his bike more (which he hasn't done in over a year) and encouraging me to buy the elliptical machine we've been contemplating. Now, D. is not fat, but he's not super-healthy right now. Neither he nor I go to the gym or commit to regular exercise, but I manage to keep active enough chasing a toddler, romping with her outdoors, and taking a weekly dance class; he sits at a desk most of the day. He has been hearing it from all sides that he needs to exercise more, and he usually avoids the conversation or even lashes out at the advisor. Now, though, he seemed to be asking for it. I gave him my confused face. He explained:

"This job makes me realize that THIS is life. I am not holding out for a big change. There's no 'I'll get to that later when I have time.' Now is the time. Things aren't going to change much. In fact, if they do change, it'll probably be because we get busier - with a second kid, another promotion, more freelance work for you. So I've realized that if I was ever going to do something with my life, the time to do that is now."

I hear conversations like this in movies, but rarely if ever in my own life. But he's right, and he's wise. We are in our mid-thirties. We have a house, a kid, solid jobs, independent parents, good health. This is it, man. We are living The Life. Now it's time to act like we're living it, and not just trying to get to the next phase.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Security

My husband just got The Job. It's the job he's been doing for years, but now he actual has the title. He's a Professor, on a tenure line, on his way up that big ole academic ladder. I'm so proud I could burst.

We are so blessed. As he and I discussed over fancy dinner (this kind of news deserves dumping the kid on grandparents at the last minute, throwing on some heels and eating an over-priced and decadent meal like grown-ups), we now have security. Oh, that holiest of words. He will soon be tenured at a state institution. That's, like, the definition of job security. Do you have any idea how hard it is to fire a state employee (oh, the story I would share here if this weren't a public forum)? In this flux economy with so much going wrong for so many good people, we have hit the jackpot.

This new security is not just in finances or benefits, but also in location. We are here to stay -- at least for several years. I have been nomadic since leaving Texas for college. Leading up to the year I got married, I had moved every year for 10 years. When I moved to Clemson, it was in the belief that I was here to be with D. as he finished his Ph.D, and then we'd move for his first job. After he surprised us both by getting his first job at Clemson, we expected to move soon for the tenure-line job. We waited longer than expected for that move, fueled by countless promises and slowed down by a bad economy, but always certain we were going to move soon. And then this happened. We are now in a state of Not About to Move. I can settle down, exhale, make plans. This house we are in the process of buying (it's stuck in probate court, but that's another story) will be my daughter's childhood home. In four years, she will walk from here to the elementary school three blocks away. Our Christmas stockings will hang on this mantle. The flowers we plant will grow tall for years to come.

I always thought I wanted to wander. I wanted to see the world, and I still do. Yet these past few years have found me longing to put down roots, to ground myself in a place, a home, a group of people, a future. I have put out tentative roots here, but relunctantly, as I wasn't sure they would last. But now, this is home. I will grow here, as will my children. And it surprises me most of all how happy this makes me.

Next month marks my sixth year in Clemson, but only now do I feel like this is truly my home. I live here. It is my daughter's hometown. It is where we will build our family's life. It is where I am secure.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Scary Halloween Tradition

Have you noticed? There's something about how Halloween that makes people racist. Or maybe classist. Every year, I have this same conversation with a few people:

Me: "Do you get many trick-or-treaters?"
Them: "Yeah, some, but you know, not kids from our block...." OR
Them: "We get a lot! But they're all, you know, 'those kids' who drive in."

I've had these and similar conversations with many different people, from many different backgrounds and walks of life. It's like, we are all OK giving free candy to neighborhood kids, but we feel uncomfortable giving candy to kids from other neighborhoods, kids who are usually of a different race, class or status than those in our neighborhoods.

(When I lived in Texas, people were referring to Mexicans in these conversations, so when I told this to D., I expressed my surprise that people so openly admit to racism. He said that around here it's more like classism.)

Why is this OK? I mean, we make all sorts of inappropriate choices on Halloween: overly sexy costumes (even for young girls), encouraged acts of destruction, binging on sugar, dressing up tastlessly, etc. It's not the classiest of holidays. But still, it's really weird to me that off-the-cuff racist/classist/mean comments are so common.

Is it just me? Have you had this conversation?

Monday, October 24, 2011

My Kid is Funny

Every few months, I type a page or two about my daughter: her interests, her accomplishments, what she has learned, where we are as a family. I am not a scrapbooker or a regular videographer, so these essays will hopefully serve as a form of a Baby Book, a way to remember these incredible moments in her life.

I won't bore you all with the whole entry, but I wanted to share these two sections. Indulge a doting mother, won't you?

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The crazy thing is, while I always knew I would love my kid, I didn’t expect to like her so much. She is independent, crafty, warm, and really funny. She has come up with three jokes in the past two weeks. The first time, she wanted to go play outside, but I told her it was too dark. Her response: “No Mama, sunny day!” I looked at her in surprise and she broke down in giggles. Next, she was in the car seat and Jiggs was riding in the back. He leaned his head over so that it was just above hers, and she yelled out, “Jiggsy hat!” It took me a while to understand what she was saying before I laughed out loud. Finally, the other day at dinner she was eating a banana. I asked her what color it was, and she said, with a smirk, “purple.” D. laughed and told her she was being silly, to which she built it up more. “Purple banana, Daddy!” she exclaimed. “That’s not a purple banana, Silly” said D., “It’s yellow and white!” “No Daddy, purple banana!” she said through her giggles. This went on for several minutes, each of them laughing more after each exchange. She remembered the joke too, as a few days later while eating a banana, she walked up to D. to tell him it was purple (while giggling).

Some of Sylvia’s favorite things:

• Painting – several times a day, she’ll declare out of the blue, “I paint!” and run full tilt to her chair in the kitchen, where I leave her watercolors set up. She’ll spend 5 – 30 minutes happily painting by herself, but often requests that we paint something for her, usually puppies or happy faces (occasionally houses, pumpkins, ghosts, kitties). She likes blue so much that she used the color up completely in both her sets of paint.
• Lollipops – she gets a Dum-Dum on Fridays at preschool, but she talks about getting one all week.
• Her turtle that shines stars and a moon up on the ceiling in different colors. She goes to bot [bed] clicking the buttons and talking to the moondt [moon].
• Pizza, pasta, cheese – these are her three favorite foods. She has thrown fits begging for cheese the way other kids beg for sweets.
• TV after sleeping – I’m not proud of this, but she loves TV after waking up. She watches a few shows in the morning and one after her nap. After she snaps out of her sleepy zone, she’ll spring off the couch, ready for action. But she doesn’t do well if denied the calm, in-between time in front of a soothing NickJr. show.
• Walking outside – Though we still try to wrangle her into the stroller once/day, Sylvia prefers to walk by herself when we take family walks with the dog. She trots ahead of us (“Run fast!”), often in search of blow-aways (fluffy dandelions) to blow (though she will blow – with a lot of determination – on any flower she picks). She also likes to race, and will yell “Ready, set, go!” before peeling by, and bounce (“Bounce high!”), which is a series of tiny jumps that she can sustain for almost a block.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Power(less)

This semester, my nonprofit PR class is promoting domestic violence awareness and supporting the local shelter/outreach organization Safe Harbor. The students have been wonderful, throwing a lot of time, effort and energy into projects to promote awareness on campus and raise money. They arranged for purple ribbons to be on every Homecoming float and are hosting an on-campus education event at the end of the month. They are also updating materials to better reach high school students. They make me so proud.

In all my efforts to focus on PR and doing good, though, I seem to have forgotten the sheer enormity of the issue (1 in 4 women) and incredibly depressing and difficult stories it involves. Relationship violence is difficult to understand ("why would you hurt someone you love?") and to emphathize with ("why didn't she just leave?"), but it's even more difficult to hear about injuries, destroyed childhoods, deaths.

All of this became very personal for me during last year's class when a dear friend of mine shared her own story of dating abuse. I was shocked. This year, it has hit home in that an incident of violence just occured in our community. This time, it was not dating violence, but a homophobic assault. The story involves drunk students, exchanged insults, and a beating that led to hospitalization. Interestingly, the students who want to address the issue/help/do SOMETHING have formed a group that covers not just queer discrimination, but all sexual violence. The students had the foresight and compassion to relate all sexual violence - violence against another person for anything related to sexuality - as a common issue. It's all about power and the horrific displays of it over another person.

I want to commend these students and their new campus organization, Tigers for the Elimination of Campus Sexual Violence. I also want to commend them for approaching this issue of sexual power from all angles. They helped draw attention to an offensive article in the campus newspaper's sex and dating column. They are organizing a peaceful protest today. They are giving power and support to the powerless and hurt.

I'm glad my class is doing their good work, but as with anyone who has worked with a charity, it's also easy to get overwhelmed in how much more we should be doing. Sexual violence is pervasive. It is happening in your community. It has affected someone you know. Let's talk about it, share stories, raise funds, support others, listen, get help, be involved. If you don't know how to start, get educated. Please. Let's stop this.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

On the Outside

I ran away yesterday. I went to the Big City. I wore Work Clothes and High Heels and ate at a proper restaurant all by my big self. I wandered around a mall and sipped coffee at Nordstrom's cafe. I then sat in a business office and had an intelligent conversation with grown-ups in which I got to use my brain and talk about a part of my life that doesn't get brought up often.* It was heaven...only to be followed up by a rather hellish three-hour, slowly creeping, rain-soaked commute back home. But that was saved by a toddler who ran up to me at full speed shrieking "Mama! Mama!" and squeezed my neck so tightly it hurt.

So yeah...always good to run away, but always great to come back home.


*As much as I intended this blog to be a combination of my work/professional ideas on PR, marketing and writing along with my life, it seems to have veered into Mommy Blog territory (hmmm, I wonder why). But you should know that I have very compelling and well thought-out ideas about PR, marketing and writing, and I promise to address them at some point (if nothing else, to keep me from talking about the trials of potty training or how hard it is to find a cute duvet cover for a kid's room). I have important ideas, people, I promise.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Two

Two years and one day ago, I met my daughter. My full birth story sums up the trials and joys of that particular day.

In the two years since then, my life has been turned upside down. Everyone told me that children change everything; I didn't realize how true that would be. The change has been trying, difficult and exhausting, but also joyful, fun and extraordinary. Parenting has worn me down and then built me back up as a better person.

Sylvia is a warm, funny, clever, goofy, engaged, intelligent, stubborn, spirited, and beautiful child. She is her own unique person. She continues to grow into a child I not only love, but I actually really like as well. I don't know if all parents feel that way, but I sure feel blessed.

Here's a look back on all her achievements of the past year: learning to walk, talk, interact and play. I can't wait to see what the next year will hold.



Happy Birthday, Sylvia. I love you.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

I Am Elsewhere

I have been an absentee blogger of late, but not an absentee writer. I am just wrapping up Chapter 4 of my thesis, and it has been the most difficult chapter yet. While I wrangled through large parts of most of the previous chapters in some way last semester or during my early writing attempts this summer, Chapter 4 is all new material with an all-new argument. Blah. It has sapped my creative and physical energy. It's not that I'm spending hours writing, but I sure am spending hours staring at a Word document, wishing the sentences would type themselves. I'm now staring at the same screen, but at least the top says "Chapter 5," (the last chapter!) so I have some sense of accomplishment.

In more upbeat news, my class continues to be awesome. They are doing a lot of work this week surrounding Clemson's Homecoming activities. Check out their plans here.

When I snap out of the writing duldrums, I shall return. My BABY turns two this weekend (ah!) and the weather is gorgeous and we may take a mini family vacation and there will be pumpkins and fall leaves and Halloweeen hooray! But until all that...back to the Word doc.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Go Tigers! (Go Deacs!)

I love college sports. I love the excitement, the colors, the fans, the cheers, the way a game takes over an entire Saturday and, in the case of Clemson, an entire town. Our town goes from a population of 30,000 (half university, half residents) to about 200,000 on a Game Day. You can't drive anywhere. Many stores shut down because there are no students to staff them. BBQ stands pop up behind big trucks and people make money selling parking spots on their yards. The world turns orange (with flashes of purple) and tiger paws adorn every surface. It's hard not to get caught up in it all.

I married a guy who has lived in Clemson since he was four. His father taught there for 25 years and once served as president of the Faculty Senate. Thus, our kid has been wearing orange Tiger gear since she was born (thankfully, a few friends sent us some Wake Forest clothing, though it's hard to make a kid look cute in black and gold, with an old man on it). She has inherited quite a bit of Clemson gear, including a cheerleading uniform. (Thankfully the kids' uniforms don't actually look like what the cheerleaders actually wear, or I'd be up for child pornography charges).

Anyway, here's a video of Sylvia in all her garb, repeating her parents' enthusiasm for the Clemson Tigers (oh, and the Demon Deacons too!).

Monday, September 19, 2011

On My Toes

I am taking an adult ballet class. Though I had extensive dance training from ages 7 to 21 or so, I haven't attended a class in over a decade. Why the long wait? Well, for one thing, I like to be really good at my hobbies, and after a few years off, I knew I wouldn't be good anymore...add a few more years, and I doubted I'd even be able to hold my own. Next, dancers - particularly ballerinas - are a catty group. There is a lot of judging and cliques and competition. After age 25, this was not my style.

It's surprising to me that when I was choosing a class to take this time around, I chose ballet. At age 14 or so, I had been taking ballet for a while and was told that within a year, I could join the Company. But I needed to quit all my other hobbies and start "being serious." I had enjoyed ballet, but always wanted to break out, sway my hips to the music, do some spontaneous moves, dance to a song with lyrics (gasp!). Plus, I didn't want to become one of the rail-thin, self-obsessed teens around me. So I quit. I languished around for a year before finding an amazing program offering jazz, modern, lyrical and Broadway styles. My roots were ballet, but my love (and talent, it turns out) was more modern.

I still hope to take a class with some booty-shaking and some self-expression, but for now I'm really and truly enjoying the routine of ballet. Something about entering class each week, performing the rote movements, trying to make my body master the seemingly-simple steps, clears my head and sets me at ease. I don't have to be great. I don't have to shine. I just need to try to hit my single piroutte, hold my balance in relevé, and remember to breathe. I don't quite zone out so much as become another person. At the barre, I'm not a mother of a toddler, a busy grad student, or a dancer past my prime; I'm Claiborne, me, returning to my roots, to how I used to feel, to how I used to spend my days. I look back, yet I feel incredibly aware of the present.

I'd be dishonest, though, if I said it was all meditation and simplicity. There is still a dancer in me that wants to, well, maybe not excel, but at least not make a fool out of myself. Last week, one of the teenagers visiting our adult class asked me how long I'd been dancing. I gave her a quick answer and she nodded, then said with a lot of surprise, "OK yeah, I was watching you, and you're actually pretty good." Part of me wanted to smack her, but the larger part beamed with pride. At my age, I'll take "pretty good." And with that ego check, I'll go back to the meditating.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Grammar Gift

This pleases me immensely. I may have to buy one for my office. And one for my dad.
The Bloggess' "Make People Cringe" Mug.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I Remember...a Better Country

I am not watching any 9/11 remembrances today. I have avoided them all week. It's not that I don't care. That day of course means a lot to me, and I vividly remember where I was when the towers were struck and what that day - and the ones that followed - were like for me. I understand the need to remember, pay respect, reflect. But I don't want to dwell.

I think a lot of my discomfort is that I am mourning not just a terrible day in our nation's history, not just the lives lost and forever changed, but the change of our entire culture. I do not like my country as much as I did before 9/11. My friend Shane Harris wrote for The Washingtonian a moving reflection about what was going on in Washington on Sept. 10, 2001. I can't help but think about how things were simpler, kinder, easier. I hope I am not falling victim to rose-colored nostalgia, but I honestly feel like 9/11 was a turning point that led to many of the frustrations I now have with America.

I feel we are less civil, less educated, less proud, less knowledgeable of our rights, less trusting. I feel we are more bigoted, more polarizing, more isolated, more fearful, and quicker to blame others. In Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore asserts that the media creates the fear that galvanizes people to continue to watch media. I would argue they continue to do so, but 9/11 was a launching point to give them so much more fodder for us to fear. Our news is negative, our emotions toward each other are negative, and we are disconnected from our neighbors, other countries and cultures, and our manners.

Now, don't get me wrong: I love my country. I recognize how blessed I am to have been born here, and to have all the opportunities this country offers. I am even hesitant to post this blog, because it is playing right into the cynicism I purport to oppose. I just wish...I wish...we were more civil. I wish the news didn't depress me so much. I wish I didn't get so mad at my elected officials that I have to resist screaming at the TV. And I wish I handled it more effectively than just turning the TV off.

One positive thing about these remembrance ceremonies is that they show off the best of our country. People are proud. They are hugging each other, speaking kindly to strangers. We put a few politicians on pedestals and give them some respect for a day. We donate to charities, we weep over others' losses. We look like Americans. I just hope, I sincerely and truly hope, that these feelings will go beyond one ceremony, one day. Let's remember what our country was like 10 years ago, and try to regain a bit of that civility.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Be All You Can Brand

In my two 9.5-hour drives this past week (with the toddler, heading to and from the beach), I listened to quite a bit of NPR. Thankfully, Sylvia tolerated this, as she was either asleep (a bit) or engrossed in watching Nick Jr. downloaded shows on the iPad (a lot). Anyway, one story in particular really caught my interest. It was about how the U.S. military is branding themselves - on everything from cologne to purses - to meet dual goals of raising money and brand awareness.


I think most people are fascinated to see nontraditional entities jump into the world of marketing and sales. We often disapprove of it - like churches making money, or even politicians. But I think the military is brilliant to do this. First, as the interview points out, it allows them to protect the brand. People have been using the Marines logo on tasteless t-shirts for decades; now the Marines can actually control that (similar to the terrible Calvin stickers that are illegally made from Calvin and Hobbes imagry). Next, it makes the brand cool. I know plenty of people with "ARMY" t-shirts or Marines-themed work-out clothes that aren't affiliated with the military. Especially in the wake of the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, people want to show off their support of our troops. A cool brand means more support from the public, and more recruits. Kids today understand brands at such a young age -- why not brand important things like volunteer service?

I hope the military doesn't receive a blacklash for this. While some may judge "Deployment Blues" candles or kids' watches, I think it's all part of a proper corporation branding themselves wisely and knowing their audience. And especially at a time when everyone is so upset about government spending, let's encourage a branch of the government to make their own money! Hey, it may not pay for the $3.2 trillion spent on the past 10 years of wars, but it's a start.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Argument

Ugh. I finally had a meeting with my advisor, an endowed chair who spends most of the summer in a cabin with no Internet. I talked to him back in early June when I was trying to get some writing done while living with my mom at the beach (there was perhaps more beach time than writing time, but whatever, it was summer). But I hadn't talked to him since somewhat changing my angle and starting to write my first chapters and, well, maybe that was a bad idea.

During our very brief meeting yesterday, he was able to immediately ascertain that my current thesis didn't appear to have an argument. Sadly, this is true. I had a lot of information and was taking it nowhere. It seems that while I can write succinct, to-the-point one-page press releases and brief web copy, I apparently get lost when told to write, oh, 80 pages or more. My plan to just keep writing about everything I had found until a point seemed to emerge suddenly looked seemed ridiculous (not that I'm surprised, as my concern was growing as well).

So now I'm feeling adrift. I had been so upbeat about this process. I was ahead of schedule, relieved of the requirements of classwork, and happy to sit and write on this topic. I was actually feeling less stressed than I have in...well...as long as I can remember. Honestly, I was lighter than air. (To illustrate, I had actually used Sylvia's nap time the past few days to catch up on Project Runway, finish a book and nap myself, all splurges that I would never have allowed in previous student life). But now, now I'm back into standard stress mode. I need to see what parts of my paper I can salvage and figure out what I need to do to get back on track. I have to do more research, more reading, more sorting. And I need to do this quickly, as two months is suddently sounding like no time at all.

I'm trying to think of this as a bit of a blessing. I work better under stress, and now I have some. But man, I was really enjoying that blissful feeling of being on top of things. Glad I enjoyed it while I could, because now it's back to late nights in front of the blinking screen. Ugh.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Jumping Online

Class went well last night. I am requiring my students to blog about the book chapters they've read and their client-based projects. I will also keep a blog about the class with links to all of their blogs (this is getting rather meta). In case you want to see what we're up to in class, check out www.SCFSCFall11.blogspot.com (ugh, that site is unattractive; I need to go fiddle with the design more).

Some of my students already blog, but the process is new for most of them (glad I'm no longer a phoney). Many of them are on Twitter, but two remarked that when I pulled up my Twitter page, it was the first time they'd ever even seen the site. I realize, though, that I should probably mention Google+ as well, and though I've joined, I know nothing about it. Anyone out there have any good tips? (I see people Tweeting about it all the time, but I got overwhelmed and stopped paying attention). Thanks!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Expert Status

This week, I'll begin teaching a new semester. It's my fourth semester of teaching. Twice I have taught a class on writing for PR/business -- this is my bailiwick, where I feel most comfortable speaking to the students as an expert. Public relations as a field may be changing a lot, but the skills for writing well rarely do. I am about to start my second round of teaching a class called "Strategic Communication for Social Change." I approach it as nonprofit and government PR, with a focus on social media.

Now, I do think I'm qualified to teach these courses. I have the master's credit (more than 18 hours, even if I'm not officially done). I have the life experience from working in internal marketing/PR, starting my own company for freelance communication and writing, and working as the PR/marketing director of a state botanical garden. I have a personal interest in social media and I have read up on how nonprofits are really benefiting from the (nearly) free way to promote their causes and form communities.

All that said, it is so hard not to feel like a poser. I have to wonder if other teachers or professionals feel this. I mean, how much experience and knowledge do you need to have before you feel fully confident that you are indeed the expert that students should learn from? I realize that many professors have egos so large it may never occur to them to be humble, but I'm sure there are others out there who have nightmares about students exposing them as just normal people who read a lot of books on a subject.

Now, a lot of the writing pedagogy I just studied for my qualifying exam is about how teachers should really serve more as facilitators than instructors. To quote Ann Berthoff, professors should avoid a "pedagogy of exhortation" (dumping information into students' heads) and instead embrace a "pedagogy of knowing" (teaching students how to learn). This makes me feel better. I love learning, and I think I share that passion. I know for sure that I don't know everything, so some of my material -- especially in the ever-changing world of social media -- I learn along with the students.

But still, I have to stand up behind that podium on Wednesday and exert the confidence of an expert. They have to believe I'm someone who can teach them something, and that I do indeed know what I'm talking about. It's a good thing I've had a lot of theatre training.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Shifting Gears

I finished. I passed my test. I actually got honors, something I was not striving for but felt nice to hear.

I thought I would want to party, to drink, to rejoice. Instead, I have retreated into the second Hunger Games book (I had held off until after cram-reading for the test) and quiet playtime with my daughter. I am tired and a bit shaken, I think. I want quiet time with nothing demanded of me.

But alas, quiet time is rarely possible. We signed up Sylvia for preschool at the last minute, so that has been a whirlwind of forms and supply shopping. Somewhere in the middle of Walmart buying Elmer's glue, I realized that my baby was starting school, going into the hands of another caregiver, off to learn things I can't take credit for teaching her and make friends I don't know. The only thing preventing my full freak-out is the realization that these three mornings a week will provide me with some of that quiet time I've been craving.

Also, I'm not really done yet. I have to write and defend a thesis. But that's for thinking about next week. Now is the time for YA novels, silly games with my baby and a moment of calm. I want to soak in this fleeting moment.

Friday, August 12, 2011

I'm Over Snark

Maybe I'm just bitter. Maybe I just want to belong. But...

Since I started blogging last month, I decided to start reading more blogs. I followed links my friends suggested and ended up on a lot of so-called Mommy Blogs. Many of them are fantastic and offer an amusing take on the struggles we are all going through. But you know, they also are all starting to sound alike. Each blogger brags about her "snark" - often making the same jokes about how having kids ruins your life, how parenting is easier with alcohol, how husbands just don't get it, and how they watch bad reality TV just to make fun of it. I know that these are all well educated women who have great senses of humor and sure know how to tell a great story. I respect them for blogging and for keeping things entertaining day after day. But at some point, I realized I was done.

This happened to me in college as well. When I first arrived, I hung out only with the theatre kids. Their sarcasm, devil-may-care attitude was refreshing. I eagerly wanted to understand all the inside jokes, to make the same scathing commentaries about the world. But after a few years, it got old. It's exhausting to be judgy all the time. It wears me down to be cynical.

Thankfully, my then-boyfriend-now-husband was going through the same crisis. He too was longing for something more authentic, something less angry, something with a little more joy. We found each other, and we shifted our group of friends. While I still love many of my friends from the theatre crowd, the ones I still keep up with were the ones that laughed a lot (not always at the expense of others), were silly, and welcomed me with open arms. I didn't have to pretend to be cool (ha! a stretch) or drop all the right names; they welcomed me anyway. Thanks guys.

Now, do I drink wine after a long day with a toddler? Yes, yes I do. Do I watch bad reality TV just to judge it? Check. And am I keeping a blog so I can yell about all this stuff to the world? Um, yes. But somehow...I want to step away from that too. I want to stay joyful. I don't want to join the cool kids club.

So yeah. Sorry about that, all you snarky moms out there. I will visit your world, I will laugh with you...but then I will go back to my studies, to my toddler, to my husband, and I will work hard to appreciate all the good stuff I've got. Because I sure like seeing the world better with rose-colored glasses than with the harsh glare of cynicism. Now pardon me while I celebrate all this happiness with a cocktail or three.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Restored

I spent this last weekend receiving the best therapy I know of: spending long hours talking, eating, walking and just enjoying the presence of my best, oldest girlfriends. I have known these six women for decades, ranging from 16 to 32 years (most of them 20 years or more). We came together as a group in middle school, adding a few folks as they moved to Dallas and others moved away. At times since our graduation from high school we have gone years without talking, but recently we have all made room and time for annual get-togethers, where we end up talking and talking and talking for 2-3 days, taking time only to shop for food or go on occasional walks.

Though we all share a love of good conversation, reading, healthy pursuits, food and travel, we are not too much alike anymore. Time and age have taken us in different directions. We have settled in states all across the country. We have very different jobs in various sectors, including corporate and health, nonprofits and academia, entrepreneurs and stay-at-home moms. Five of us are married; four of those have kids (ages 1-5). We are liberal or libertarian, Christian and agnostic, and all sorts of in-betweens. Though we all attended a well-to-do high school, our personal budgets and families’ funds range from just-getting-by to way upper class.

As a group, we have had a lot of blessings, but there have also been some hard times. We have leaned on each other through deaths of our parents, marital strife, fertility issues and miscarriage, parenting and family challenges, job stress, dating issues, sex issues, and all the aches and strains of growing up and trying to become our best selves.

The joy, the incredible blessing of this group of women is that we have created a safe place to be our true selves. We all hang up our pretenses, our "everything is fine" versions of ourselves, and we just relax into the comfort of being totally natural. We talk frankly and openly about anything and everything. We tend to skip over the everyday details to instead tackle the big stuff that most of us don't have a chance to regularly address. We offer each other support, advice, comfort and open minds.

This is therapy at its greatest. And not only do I get all this in a weekend, but I also get a break from my everyday life. I was off schedule, sleeping late, drinking a little too much booze, staying up late, and not having to worry about a to-do list. I was responsible for no one, and I even left my study materials unopened. It was freeing. It was glorious. It was restorative.

I returned home to a husband who (once he recovers), realizes how truly challenging it can be to be home with a toddler all day; thus he missed me and is quite appreciative of my return. I was elated to see my Baby Girl, even in her new whiny state, and I gave her my full attention for a long afternoon of home play. I am looking forward to jumping into my last two weeks of studying for my exam. All in all, I am refreshed. I return to real life a better version of myself. I needed this. I need this in the future. Thank you, friends.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Email Etiquette, or Yet Another Rant about Kids These Days

I'm sure I have nothing new to say on the topic of email etiquette, but it's on my mind as my husband is struggling with emails from his students. This summer he is teaching students who were tentatively accepted into the university. They have to do well this summer and in their first year to be fully admitted, so these are young people, perhaps in slightly over their heads, trying to do well in their first college course.

It has become clear that they are not yet prepared. One of my husband's major pet peeves is that his students will send him emails with attachments, but the body of their emails will be completely blank. No salutation, no signature, no request to perform a function. Yes, these emails were requested, but that doesn't mean they should skip a prefunctory "Hello Dr. L, Attached, please find my speech outline. I appreciate your help. Sincerely, Student." I mean, at least putting their own name on the email would be a start.

What bothers us both about this is not just the lack of politeness, but also the assumption that he would know what to do. These 17- and 18-year-olds are assuming that my husband knows their thoughts and intentions, and they are too lazy to even be nice about asking. It shows a lack of respect - both for his seniority and for his time - as well as a an egotism that I fear has become all too commonplace. They are treating the professor as if he works for them.

Our education system is suffering (well, for a lot of reasons, but partly) due to a shift to consumerism. Current students view universities as vendors: the students pay and the school provides a degree. This is not how education works. You have to earn it. You have to put forth effort and be willing to change and grow. A professor is not there to service your needs (meet with you at any time, answer emails in the middle of the night, give you extra days on assignments because your life has been "really crazy" recently), but rather to challenge you to peform better.

I know I am preaching to the choir here, and - yet again - I am on my high horse preaching about old-school ideals. So let me step off the pedastal and at least offer these constructive Very Basic Tips for Writing Emails:
1. Put a salutation (a "dear" line) on all emails
2. Sign your name or have a signature on all emails
3. If there is an attachment, indicate what it is. Too many viruses circulate by attachment (not to mention tasteless jokes or sketchy links), so state what you are sending.
4. State what you want out of the email. Even if you just hung up the phone, telling the recipient what you are sending, add a quick line ("here's the report we discussed."). It adds context. It aids action. It helps organization. And it takes you less than a minute.
5. Spell check (that's another issue, but I'm throwing it in for good measure).


That's it. Now off to pack for a luxurious trip sans-toddler to spend a long weekend with dear girlfriends. I hope to return less cranky.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Summer Treats

This time of year, our house has more fruit than we can say grace over. I buy pounds of it at farmers' markets and then add more during trips to the Happy Berry Farm. Our most recent Happy Berry trip was wonderful for the experience and the purchases. We went in the evening to avoid this oppressive heat. As we drove into Six Mile, the sky turned dark gray and we could see sheets of rain and bolts of lightening in the distance. Wary but determined, we continued to the farm.

As we arrived, rain began to fall, but it was a gentle, cool shower and Sylvia was not the least bit upset about being in it. We were somewhat concerned about lightening (at least, we felt that as parents, we should be), so we worked to speedy-pick blueberries close to the farm house. Luckily, Happy Berry is having an amazing "blueberry climax" (their words), which allowed us to just run our hands down a branch to release big, plentiful blueberries into our baskets. In less than 10 minutes we had well over a pound of berries.

We added to our bounty a sack of white peaches (AH-MAY-ZING) and some of the best sweet yellow corn I've ever tasted. We also bought grapes since we didn't have time to clip them from the vines ourselves. If you've never had real, farm-grown grapes, then you have no idea how tasty a grape can be. These grapes make you realize how wine gets its flavor, how dirt and sun and rain can infiltrate a fruit. They are sublime.

We piled into the car, wet from the rain, warm from the sun, and sticky from eating grapes, berries and a peach. It was a perfect summer evening.

Following the trip, we had a bounty of fruit to consume. Sylvia will eat the grapes until her belly swells, and she and I adore peaches in the morning and for afternoon snack. I have made my version of cobbler (a buttery, almost custard-like concocation invented by our neighbor on the Outer Banks and a favorite among my friends) at least once a week for the past month, but I was itching for a new fruit recipe.

In searching for a healthy baked fruit dish, I found this gem on a new blog to me, Cookie & Kate. I have made many healthy muffins in my day, but they are usually dry, rubbery -- obviously not full of the tasty fatiness that makes muffins so lovely. But this recipe was different: healthy yet wonderful. I tweaked it a bit to my taste and available ingredients, adding a smashed ripe banana, using regular yogurt instead of Greek, and skipping the lemon zest in favor of fresh ground nutmeg. They were moist and flavorful, and a perfect accompiament to coffee this morning.

Oh summer foods -- I love you so. Now I'm off to eat the rare serving of leftover cobbler before D. finds it.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Apathy

D. was on his way out the door this morning, off to bring home some bacon. He picked up Sylvia for a big hug and kiss goodbye, then went to gather his things. When he returned to the room, I noticed a wet stain on the front of his shirt. He shrugged it off, and I did too. And then we locked eyes and laughed, because we realized we were both OK with the idea of "Meh, it's just pee."

It's just pee.

I knew parenting would change me, but sometimes I'm surprised in what ways.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Mama!

On Saturday, Sylvia said "Mama" for the first time. She is 21.5 months old. Her first word was "Jiggs" (our dog). Her second word was "Dada," which she has been using correctly and effectively for about a year now (though it morphed into "Daddy" as she started to use it more purposefully). Yet I, her mother, had not yet been named.

I like to think it's because I was always there. Mama is the expected. She does not need to be named because she is never unreachable. Mama is omnipresent, omnipowerful, encompassing all names and expressions. Or something like that.

Last month, I tried hiding from Sylvia to see if she would call for me. She ran around the house, growing more and more frustrated before yelling "Daddy! Daddy!" and melting into tears. Then, of course, Mama swept in to make things right. Who needs a name for the person who never truly leaves?

But Saturday, while on a family walk, she started babbling "mamamamamama." I asked, "Where's Mama?" (a game she knows well), but this time when she pointed to me she said "Mama!" About 10 minutes later, she walked into the living room, looked at me, said "Mama" and came over to crawl into my lap. Readers, I kid you not: my heart grew three sizes that day. When I carried her upstairs for her nap, she said my name softly a few times as she nuzzled against me, and I let loose a few tears.

I have been a mother for 21.5 months. I have dealt with all the emotions that go with that: the incredible love, the overwhelming frustration, the pride, the guilt, the terror, the joy. But being called "Mama" elicited a whole new wave of wonder, adoration and humility. I'm someone's mother. I'm Sylvia's Mama. Wow.

Friday, July 22, 2011

In Defense of Language

A friend of mine just introduced me to this wonderful list of "obnoxious" responses to spelling errors on Facebook. I read the list until the wee hours of the night, trying hard to stifle my laughter so as to not wake D.

While the list is funny, and some of those who are correcting others' spelling are indeed catty, it brought out my fighting side a bit. Why do people hate on those of us who know grammar? Why is it insulting to have your language skills corrected?

When friends correct us or help us improve other skills, we are often flattered. Most of us appreciate help with math, such as when calculating a tip or making change. If I read a map wrong, I hope that someone will correct my navigation skills. And if I'm about to say in French, "Where is the house of prostitutes?" instead of, "Where is the convent?," you bet I want someone to correct me.

But if I correct your grammar, punctuation or spelling, you will think bad things about me (be honest, it's true). I will be dubbed a snob, a prude, uptight and righteous. But why? Why is it bad for me to help you communicate better and more clearly? For me to share a skill I have to help improve yours?

When you get down to it, I think people are offended because it makes them look uneducated. And in the reverse, it makes the corrector seem over-educated. But what's wrong with education? I mean, we're not talking about post-doctoral studies here: grammar lessons start in 5th grade. We are supposed to know it all before graduating high school. So why do we insult and lash out at those who are only displaying high-school level knowledge of the English language?

Not to get too preachy, but American society's current distrust of Those Who are Educated is not really helping us or making us look good. So instead of insulting those trying to educate the masses, let's all try to elevate education and language skills by rejoicing in correctness. Let us thank those who help us learn how to use "who" vs. "whom," or to know the correct version of "your" vs. "you're." We all win if we all speak and write better.

And the challenge to us correctors, then, is not to set ourselves up as pretentious know-it-alls, but rather as peers trying to teach others. Check the attitude, and offer only the instruction.

I should note that I'm fully aware how pretentious and know-it-all this whole post sounds, but I don't know how else to discuss education. Those who have it should flaunt it. Let us rejoice in knowledge.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Quick Thought

I recently had the humbling thought that if you made a wordle of everything I've said over the past year, "poop" would be one of the largest words.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Hail to the V?

I was so caught-up in the Harry Potter 7.2 movie that I nearly forgot about this gem of a commercial that was shown before the previews.

I am trying to figure out my reaction to this. As a critic of advertising, I think this is a success. It's clever. It's funny. The production value is high and it's certainly memorable. If the point of advertising is to get people talking, Summer's Eve has succeeded.

But the feminist part of me, as well as the part concerned with the mass-marketing of unnecessary "health" products, is outraged. The message here is that, while you women may have "the most powerful thing on Earth," no man would want to be near it if it smelled a little funny. On the one hand, the ad tries to be empowering, but that's overshadowed completely by the other hand, the company trying to make money by making women feel ashamed, to feel that they can't trust the naturalness of their own bodies.

There's no question here: douching is bad for you. A quick glance over this fact sheet makes that pretty clear. Now, to be fair, I learned from the Summer's Eve website that they actually aren't selling douches anymore. They now sell cleansing products, wipes and deodorant sprays. But check that fact sheet link again -- it clearly states:
Most doctors say it's best to let your vagina clean itself. The vagina cleans itself naturally by making mucous. The mucous washes away blood, semen, and vaginal discharge. You should know that even healthy, clean vaginas may have a mild odor. Keep the outside of your vagina clean and healthy by washing regularly with warm water and mild soap when you bathe. You should also avoid scented tampons, pads, powders, and sprays. These products may increase your chances of getting a vaginal infection.

I know this is not at all the first time an advertiser has tried to sell me something I don't need. But it's just a shame to see so much creativity put into such an unnecessary -- and actually, harmful and insulting -- product. To make myself feel better, I'll just go watch the Axe Detailer ad again.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Care...But Not That Much

The great Herb Cohen quote, "Care, but not that much," was often reiterated by my previous coworker and friend Val. When I would become over-involved in a client's problems (as was often the case), she would remind me that I have to care...but not that much. It didn't sink in well as a 24-year-old. Now, I am trying to make it a life mantra.

For example, if I had completed this master's degree at age 24, I would have been striving to finish with Honors (though it's essentially meaningless and doesn't even show up on your transcript). I would have attended more conferences, tried to publish more papers, been involved in more groups. I have been known to have perfectionist tendencies, and nowhere do these show up more than in my schoolwork.

But now, I am older, more worn-down, and a mother of a toddler. At this point, I just need to finish the degree. I need the stamp on my resume and to move on. I need to care - enough to live up to my professors' expectations and keep my reputation in tact at this university - but not so much as to work myself to the bone.

But you see...it's hard not to care. It's hard not to be the stellar student I once was. It's hard to not get involved, to not go beyond the requirements, to not strive for another gold star on my record, whether it really matters or not. Turns out perfectionist tendencies are very hard to break. So while I hem and haw, telling those around me that I just need to muddle through, just need to pass, just need to squeak by...I find myself caring, perhaps too much.

In writing this, I realized I could write many more posts applying this gem of a quote to parenting, to being crunchy, to helping my family, to being involved in my friends' lives. It is a good life mantra. But I have no time for such contemplating now, as I need to go study more so I can ace -- er, I mean pass -- this upcoming test.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Nature vs. Nurture

I have a 21-month-old daughter. I was there and aware when she came out of my womb, but often, it's hard to know she's my kid (the most obvious being appearance: she is brown as a nut, I am pale with reddish areas of "tan.") As parents, we struggle regularly with the effect our parenting choices have on our kids, and call ourselves "good" or "bad" parents based on our kids' behavior. I am learning to let this go. My daughter is a unique individual with a big personality. She didn't want to sleep that first year not because I was a bad parent, but because she liked eating and being with people and who were we to convince her otherwise?

She is exhibiting other traits that are also clearly not mine. For example:
1. She is a glamourpuss. I was a borderline tomboy as a kid, and though I do like pretty things, I am not that girly. I rarely shop. My shoes are usually quite practical (read: brown or black). I don't understand why people spend money on purses (the $10 purse holds just as much crap as the $200 ones, and I'll feel less guilty about putting it on the floor of my car). My daughter, however, adores sparkly things, dresses and hats. She loves shoes; in fact, "shoes" was one of her first words. Currently, she sleeps in her shoes, as this is not a fight worth having. (Last night, after waking with a dirty diaper at 2am and having a bottle, she requested we put on new shoes before returning to bed). She currently refuses to wear anything but dresses or the pink Lily Pulitzer pass-down from her closet (no shorts or tees from the drawer, thankyouverymuch). Yes, I said it, I am taking clothing cues from a less-than-2-year-old. But again...these fights are not worth having.
2. She is not cuddly. My daughter tolerates hugs, but does not choose them. She will often request that I pick her up, but then get annoyed that my face is too close to hers. When we snuggle up to read books before bed, she'll often move my hands off of her, so that she is barely balancing on my lap but free of the confines of mama's arms. Instead of kisses, she gives zerberts.
3. She is a drama queen. Well OK, maybe this is from her parents (who did meet in a theater class), but I'll pretend it's all her so as to make myself feel better.
4. She is fearless. Mark my words: this kid will be in the X-Games. She is strong, coordinated and quick: she scales walls, balances well and leaps across caverns. On top of that, she has no fear of falling, of failing, of injuring herself. When she does get a scrape, we usually point it out to her: she is not perturbed in the slightest (there see, her mother's version of drama queen involves lots of hemming and hawing over health issues). Though I am athletic, I was never a great skier, since I fear going downhill fast, nor was I a good biker, as I don't like speed. Sylvia, on the other hand, does not understand fear. As her mother, I find this is awesome in concept, but terrifying in practice.

On the other hand, she shares my love of chocolate, animals, nature walks, laughing, dancing, eating, and the beach. Maybe she's a bit related to me after all.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Big Test

I've been meaning to keep a blog for years. I'm a freelance writer; we're supposed to have proof of our talents. I also teach PR and social media classes, and I'm always telling my students about the importance of having an online presence. But I failed to follow my own advice, intimidated by the very idea of writing about myself or, even scarier, coming up with something clever and interesting.

The final impetus to write this came from a strong desire to avoid what I should be doing: studying for a huge oral exam. My degree requires not only a thesis or project, but also an oral exam, to graduate. The exam is not at all tied to the thesis, rather, it is a test on about 75 articles that are seminal to the field. I have to be able to read, cite, compare, contrast, have opinions on and make clever comments upon 75 or so academic journal articles. And I have to do this 5 weeks from today.

I have organized binders. I have made a schedule. But mainly, I have complained. I have found fellow students and alums to commiserate with, I have aired my pains on Facebook, and I have informed anyone who asks about my summer about the trials of said test. But I have read little. And now, I am writing a blog.

So there you have it. I was so desperate to not read, that I decided to start talking to the world. Now that you're listening, world, please tell me to go read my d*mn articles. Thank you.

Getting Started

I've meant to start a blog for a few years now. I actually began one last Christmas, but it was so painful to read I didn't even want to post on it. So I'm trying again. This time I'll be more honest, more myself, and hopefully less painful. We'll see.