I Blame My iPad

In news that’s likely to surprise anyone who checks in regularly or follows this blog, I do actually have the WordPress “daily post” page in my Google Reader. You know, the one that gives people ideas about how to write daily in their blogs. Having now officially taken a month’s sabbatical from blogging, I clearly do not write daily.

I blame my iPad. Love it though I do, I don’t find it compatible with efficient blogging. Using the WordPress app for composing doesn’t allow me to post links or pictures with the ease of my laptop. I also vastly prefer using a keyboard for typing rather than a touchpad. Even though I can set up my wireless keyboard if an impromptu blogging inspiration hits me, I don’t typically go to that extent in the evening when I’m just running through my Google feed, checking Facebook, and playing a few rounds of Words With Friends. I know. I lead an exciting life.

But today’s daily post, idea inspired me. The topic? How to get more traffic to your blog. While I recommend reading the whole post, I’ll highlight a few points here that resonated for me.

  1. Update your About Page. WordPress suggests keeping the About Me section of your blog up-to-date so that readers happening by have an ideas of what your space is all about. Hmm…my tag line says “Life in general encompasses three kids, one husband, three dogs, and a job in school administration.” That pretty much sums it up, but I realize this blog covers a range of topics. I don’t consider myself a mommy blogger, though I write about parenting and my kids. I don’t consider myself an education blogger, though I certainly discuss that topic as I navigate my way professionally during these trying financial and political times. I also throw in a few book reviews and recipes along the way, reflecting my interest in spending my free time reading and cooking. Did I mention I’m in grad school and about half-way through a doctoral program. Yeah, that keeps me busy too, though I don’t devote much blog time to it.
  2. Take Requests. WordPress suggests asking readers what they want to read more about. So, what would you like to read more about? Are there some things about my scattered life that you like hearing about more than others? More recipes? More books? More specific posts about kids or work. Maybe even more talk about that elusive “balance” category?
  3. Write Well. Yes, this one is a challenge. I know I’ve had posts that are more inspired than others. Here are a few I’m particularly pleased with from the past. I’ll let you find the less-than-stellar ones on your own!

Lately, besides my love of the iPad for reading but not writing, I think my lack of inspiration stems both from the oppressive heat that has wracked Suburbia this summer as well as a work and grad school schedules that made grabbing time off difficult. After all, I’ve spent most of my “leisure” time dragging a sprinkler or hose around the yard trying to make up for the lack of performance from our built-in system, which is failing to keep up with the toll this extreme heat is taking on our trees and bushes. Well, that or throwing blocks of ice into the pool in a futile attempt to drop the water temperature below 95 degrees.

Okay, okay. This is what my backyard looked like in February. (It makes me feel better, somehow, just looking at it now).

Before The Pool Froze Over

And, yes, I remember promising I wouldn’t complain once summer arrived, but back then it was hard to imagine over thirty days and counting of temperatures that top 100 degrees. I definitely didn’t count on witnessing my car thermometer reading 118 on multiple occasions. I must note I do not live in Arizona, and here in Suburbia, we have the benefit of humidity to go along with these record-setting readings.

Now that I’ve made plenty of excuses, and asked for a little assistance in getting back in the game, I really do plan to follow a last bit of helpful advice from WordPress: post regularly. Leave me a comment if you’ve actually hung in here with me. I’d love to hear the things you’d like to know more about!

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Sunday Morning

I imagined mornings like this last year when the pool in my backyard consisted merely of a very large hole in the ground. I could just see myself rolling lazily out of bed and wandering out for a relaxing morning swim.

Both of those things happened this morning. I slept in until after eight, the latest I’ve managed on this week of vacation that involved so much driving and making early college visit appointments. I also just dunked myself in the pool prior to sitting down on my porch to compose this post. The part I didn’t imagine last year? That swim came after I’d watered all my plants, sweated out weeding the grass from the rock border, and picked up the monumental collection of poop our dogs managed to generate in two days. There are multiple reasons I miss the kids when they are at camp. Somewhere in that ranking is the fact that I end up doing their chores while they are gone. I’m not going to comment on the actual order of those reasons at this particular point.

DD1 and I arrived home from the college visit trip on the evening of my wedding anniversary. Adventure Guy and I celebrated by taking DD1 with us to our favorite family Thai restaurant (you know you’re a regular when the hostess greets you by saying, “Mr. AG! It’s been so long! We haven’t seen you for nearly a week.”) Dinner gave DD1 an opportunity to fill Adventure Guy in on all the details of the trip and her thinking about the schools. The short version: Arkansas and Kansas are in, Missouri and Kansas State are out. DD1 actually enjoyed her Kansas State visit and the university, but for those of you who have never been to Manhattan, Kansas, let me just say it should be in the dictionary under “the middle of nowhere.” DD1 just couldn’t picture herself living there for four years.

The rest of the weekend’s events proved much more exciting for the rest of my family than for me. DD1 spent time with her boyfriend and then worked all day yesterday. Adventure Guy lived up to his name by running his first ultra marathon (that’s two marathons put together, yes 52.4 miles). He started running at midnight Saturday morning and finished at 3:00 p.m. Did I mention it was 106 degrees yesterday. He had hoped to finish the race by noon. I knew that was an optimistic goal, so I didn’t worry much until I hadn’t heard from him by two. He really concerned me when I got two calls, one to my cell and the next to the home phone, from his number with no one responding when I answered. Fortunately, he called back to say, “I can’t hear you, but if you can hear me, I’m finished and I’m heading home.” His iPhone got so overheated on the run it was malfunctioning. Needless to say, he didn’t do much the rest of the day but sleep and nurse the painful looking blisters and chaffing he acquired despite all his usual precautions against them.

When your husband thinks running over fifty miles is a fun and reasonable thing to do, its hard not to feel like a slug regarding one’s own weekend activities. I did feel fairly productive, however, since I managed to make it out to the farm store for the fresh corn that’s finally in season and then on to the grocery store and the artisan bread store in preparation for tonight’s planned dinner with Adventure Guy’s step-brother and his family. I even whipped up some of my favorite blackberry ice cream from The Pioneer Woman’s recipe and made a roasted vegetable dip to serve tonight from the plethora of zucchini and squash I still had on hand from my last co-op order. To top it off, and because I felt really sorry for Adventure Guy, I finally made him his favorite cake–angel food filled with chocolate pudding and iced with whipped cream–that I’d promised him since we skipped it on his birthday in May.

The good news is now that most of the shopping and cooking happened yesterday and the yard maintenance is done for today, I have nothing left to do until a little before the scheduled four o’clock arrival of our company. I think I’ll try to get back to a more ideal version of that picture I imagined last year, the one that involves my lying around at the pool reading.

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Journey to the Future

This week, DD1 and I find ourselves testing our admittedly rather limited navigational skills as we visit four of her five potential college picks. Her criteria? Must be a large, state university. Must not bee “too” cold. Must be within reasonable driving distance from Suburbia. Must not be likely to attract large numbers of other students from All-American High. Must have an undergraduate program that lends itself to meeting admission requirements for physical therapy school but doesn’t limit employment opportunities if physical therapy school turns out to be just a passing interest.

So far, we’ve visited the University of Arkansas and the University of Missouri. I’m typing from our hotel room now, having sampled some excellent homemade ice cream at a local Lawrence, Kansas spot. Tomorrow, we learn more about the University of Kansas.

But we’ve already learned some valuable things on this trip. We travel well together, just the two of us. DD1 can handle herself in unexpected rush-hour traffic (note to self, it would have been better to time arriving in Kansas City some time other than 5:00 p.m.). Maids are not likely to turn in your expensive Chaco sandals that were left under the hotel room bed, even if you realize your mistake a few hours later and call the hotel prior to leaving town.

And most importantly, sometimes you just know if a school is a good fit or not. Sometime you just know, and even more importantly you should always listen to that little voice that leads you in the right direction. I’ll keep you posted as to what direction that voice takes DD1 next year.

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Summer Days Wasted Away

Over a decade has passed since I officially enjoyed “summer vacation.” Though I’d love to be paid for every time someone remarks, “Really?  You work during the summer.  What do you do?”  In reality, school administration is a full-time, year-round gig.  In my office–summer is particularly busy, filled with conducting professional development sessions, ordering textbooks, and planning for the upcoming year.

And as busy as I am, I can’t help but remain a little bitter over the loss of the lazy days of June and July that I enjoyed not only as a student but also as a teacher.  I’ll slip away the last week of June so that DD1 and I can hit the road and tour a number of colleges she’s interested in applying to in the fall.  But until I have a few days away from the office, here’s a report of what I’ve been doing on my (not) summer vacation.

  1. Completed three of the six hours of graduate work I’m taking this summer–School and Community Relations down, Quantitative Research to go (eek! says the liberal arts major).
  2. Dug up the second set of now-dead barberry bushes from the new backyard flower bed and replaced them with double pink knockout roses, a specimen I hope proves more suited for the location.  I’ve never had trouble with barberry before, but two attempts at four bushes each led me to admit gardening defeat.
  3. Made up for my lack of successful shrub growing by finding several significant deals on plants now that the weather is really heating up in Suburbia.  I scored the aforementioned roses and some ornamental grasses and asparagus ferns I picked up to add to my containers for half price.
  4. Actually submerged myself in our backyard pool (completed just in time last fall for the weather to turn too cold to swim) and then progressed to floating about on a raft while reading. 
  5. Read The Devotion of Suspect X, a great psychological thriller from Japan (completed partially as described above).
  6. Sent two kids to camp for a month.
  7. Managed to cook dinner multiple times in one week–a record after my dismal performance in this area at the end of the school year.  Tonight’s offering, Summer Minestrone and grilled cheese sandwiches.  Yummy and very helpful in using up some of the zucchini and other summer vegetable I acquired at this month’s farmer’s co-op. I made the soup pretty much as is with the exception of following the suggestion to add the fresh spinach to the bowls prior to ladling in the soup rather than adding it to the soup itself and adding some garlic in with the onion and a bay leaf and some oregano and pepper for seasoning. 

Looking back, June hasn’t been so bad after all.  But I know what will be better–next week, when vacation is a reality rather than a state of mind.

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Someday Is Not A Day of the Week

I hear some people actually clean their houses or tackle organizational projects rather than take on things they’d rather not do.  As evidenced by the state of my shoe collection–currently residing in multiple locations across the floor of my closet–I choose other activities.  Namely, reading–a somewhat ironic choice since it’s typically reading of another kind that I’m avoiding.  For the past several weeks, I’ve powered through multiple novels of varying complexity rather than face a mound of scholarly journal articles I must finish in preparation for my summer school class which begins Thursday.

Only a certain type of book serves my procrastination purposes.  While I usually shoot for a tier above the usual “chick lit” offerings, when work avoidance is the ultimate purpose of my reading, I like  books that provide distraction without requiring a great deal of concentration.  I find myself drawn to mysteries.  That and the fact that I also can’t resist a good series made my most recent choices the perfect distraction.  Julia Spencer-Fleming’s novels featuring Claire Fergusson, an army helicoptor pilot turned small town Episcopal prient drew me in immediately after I started the first of the group, In The Bleak Midwinter.  As a cradle Episcopalian, many of the details Specer-Fleming includes brought back childhood scenes of Rite One services and the liturgy that resides deep within my memory.  But the real action takes place outside the sanctuary, when Claire finds herself involved not only with solving a series of crimes but also with the town’s chief of police. I sped through all seven books in the series in a little less than a month, a timeframe which was evidently quick enough to avoid Adventure Guy’s perrenial question in these circumstances which is, “Exactly how many of these books are there, anyway?”

Having gotten my fill of mysteries during the month of May, I was pleased to find a preview copy of Anne Easter Smith, Queen By Right in my mailbox to help me continue in avoidance mode until my book club made its next selection.  If I’m not reading mysteries, historical fiction definitely comes in a close second for its distraction potential.  Smith’s strength lies in her ability to weave the information gleaned from her meticulous research into entertaining prose.  I loved the novel about Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, and the events leading up to the outbreak of the War of the Roses.  By far, the most engaging parts of this novel covered Cecily’s childhood and early married life.  After all, it’s hard to live an exciting life once you’ve commenced to producing a dozen children.  An enduring lesson from Queen By Right?  Being a woman in the 15th century left a lot to be desired–things like self-determination and the like.

My favorite recent read, however, was a return to the mystery genre.  I heard a review of The Devotion of Suspect X on NPR several months ago and added it to my “to read” list.  In an interesting twist, the reader of this Keigo Higashino novel knows the identity of the murderer in this case from near the outset of the book.  The remainder of the novel involves the investigation from both sides of the equation–that of the police detectives attempting to solve the crime and the suspects efforts to conceal their actions.  I don’t read a great deal of literature in translation, but I found that this book lived up to its reputation as one of the most successful Japanese novels in recent years.  I enjoyed both the experience of delving into life in Japan and the surprising twist near the end.

I’ve learned a lot about solving crime, Japanese culture, and British history in the past few weeks.  I’ve learned that my Kindle is far superior to my iPad for reading in the sun (and much less risky for taking onto the pool float, thereby achieving the truly perfect reading environment).  What I haven’t learned is how to stop time.  Unfortunately, that means that I’ll have to postpone any further book reviews until after I’ve read those articles I’ve managed to avoid up until now.  Because, yes, they are due.  Right about now.

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At Least There’s A Rainbow Somewhere

So, I had this lovely bunch of Swiss chard thanks to my monthly farmers’ co-op delivery (and, yes, I had this blog which I rarely bothered to update as of late, but that’s another story). Ordering Swiss chard, especially rainbow Swiss chard, always seems like a good idea. Then, I pick it up, and wonder what on earth I’m going to do with it all.

Fortunately, the Epicurious site contained plenty of ideas for putting my newly-acquired greens to good use. After reading the reviews and checking out the time commitment for each recipe, I settled on Penne Pasta with Swiss Chard for our Sunday evening dinner. When I shared that idea with Adventure Guy, he asked, “Does it have meat?” The answer clearly needed to be “yes,” so I added Italian sausage to the originally vegetarian recipe. I think it would be good either way, but I have to admit I enjoyed the extra flavor from the sausage. I also added some chopped onion and pine nuts to the mix. The recipe below includes my adaptations,

Penne Pasta With Italian Sausage and Swiss Chard
Two links Italian Sausage
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 Tbs. chopped garlic
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/2 c. water
1 can petite diced tomatoes
1 large bunch rainbow Swiss chard
1 lb. penne pasta, cooked
1 1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Remove stems from Swiss chard. Rinse and drain, then chop stems and leaves separately. Remove casings from sausage links and cook sausage and half of onions until sausage is well-browned. Drain and set aside in a separate bowl. Retain pan drippings and add remaining onion, garlic, pine nuts, and red pepper flakes to pan. Sauté until onions are transparent. Add half of the water and deglaze pan. Place chopped stems in pan, cover, and cook over low heat for five minutes. Stir and then add leaves. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and cook another five minutes. Add drained tomatoes, and sausage to chard mixture. Stir well and cook until warmed through. Add to cooked pasta and stir well to combine. Stir in 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese.Top individual bowls with the remaining cheese.

My family all loved this meal. It was fast and easy, and I’ll definitely be serving it again soon.

And now on to other things…like my lack of posting. I’m not sure anyone wants to read about school budget cuts and the stress of ending the semester in both my work life and my student life. There have been long meetings, longer classes, papers to write. Somewhere along the way, blogging began to feel like that proverbial “one more thing.”

So I didn’t do it. I also didn’t feel guilty about it, hence the lack of the traditional apology for neglecting things here so long. Rather unusually for me, I decided there was no need for guilt regarding something that is intended to be fun.

And, speaking of fun. I have to admit to getting quite a thrill out of my most recent comment. Gabrielle Burton stopped by to comment on my review of her book, Searching for Tamsen Donner.  I appreciate knowing that my words aren’t travelling out into space without any readers, even if I am a neglectful writer as of late.

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Springy

The good news?  I did not actually get blown away by the recent severe weather that swept through Suburbia.  The bad news?  It would be hard to tell that from my posting frequency of late. 

But, the sun finally reappeared today, bringing with it the promise of warm weather.  Adventure Guy and I finished out the corner flower bed that the pool construction last fall uprooted.  I have a new clematis happily winding its way up the trellis and petunias waving as the breeze blows by their hanging baskets.  Soon, it may even get warm enough to do some swimming, though thus far my interaction with the pool continues to consist of emptying skimmer baskets and otherwise cleaning out all the detritus of spring floating in the water.

April showers, spring flowers, plus soccer games, track meets, end-of-semester projects,  and AP exams.  Oh, yes! It’s definitely spring.

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“You’re not much fun when it comes to ducks!”

On that note, we concluded Spring Break 2011.  Soccer Boy found himself quite disappointed by my refusal to allow him to chase and potentially kick the mallard couple incongruously wandering around in front of Subway.  Even though we spent most of the previous four days eating plenty of Tex-Mex and other comfort foods in my hometown, I couldn’t quite bring myself to cook dinner after our drive home today.

However, the lack of duck chasing opportunities was not the low point of Soccer Boy’s weekend.  Friday afternoon, he managed to fall and cut his chin while we were out exploring a historic town near my parents’ home.  The loud thud, followed by gushing blood, tipped me off right away that our future held a visit to the emergency room.  Fortunately, I was able to slow the bleeding enough for us to return home rather than seek treatment at the rural hospital.  Three hours and four stitches later, I had one almost good as new boy. 

After that, I’d had all the excitement I needed.  We spent the rest of our vacation in low-key mode.  My parents did take the kids out on a boat tour, though I opted to stay home.  I took that opportunity to visit with my 99-year-old great-aunt, her son, and my grandmother.  I know that moments like that are likely to be scarce in the future.  It’s amazing the longevity in that family, but my aunt seems more frail each time I see her.

To complete the family reunion, my sister and her family spent the first few days with us on their way home from a trip to Arkansas, and my dad’s brother and his wife came through today on their way home from visiting my cousin in Atlanta. 

 So, though I may be found lacking in the “duck fun” category of parenting, I can say that my children are well-versed in the value of family and the joy of spending time with people they love.  I’ll take that any day!

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Why I Can’t Afford To Spring Forward

This past week defies description.  In addition to non-stop meetings, the agenda included an unexpected funding crisis, a wildfire,  and a funeral for good measure.  I spoke on Thursday to a parent group whose children would be directly affected by the potential loss of a federal grant that appears to be caught up in Congress’ argument about the deficit.  The school district narrowly avoided losing one of the support services buildings to a fire sparked by welders at a neighboring company, and Adventure Guy and I just arrived back in Suburbia following a ten-hour round trip to be with our best man and his family as they said goodbye to his father. 

Since, with all of the above going on lately, I’ve failed miserably at keeping this site updated, I thought I’d leave you with a few shots we’ve received from DD1’s ongoing trip to China.  These are from the group’s visit to Xi’An. She seems to be having a wonderful time, and I can’t wait to hear more when she returns home later this month.

Terracotta Warriors in Xi’An                    

Big Wild Goose Pagoda

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Search Party

Searching For Tamsen Donner

Sometimes I think my life is hard.  This tends to happen more often when I’m coming off a series of events like the recent combination of catching up at work from all the missed snow days, a business trip, back-t0-back weekends spent in graduate classes, and sending a child to China for three weeks.

Searching For Tamsen Donner is a book that makes me reconsider that characterization.  After all, when I was “snowed in” it involved a lot of reading while snuggled up in a cozy blanket and the cooking a crock pot meals for my family to eat when they took a break from sledding.  At no time did I have to consider how to feed my family, shelter them, or just keep them alive.

And, yes, I’ll go ahead and mention it.  I never had to figure out if I was going to eat one of my fellow travellers or if I was at risk of being eaten myself. So, really, life isn’t hard at all.

Gabrielle Burton weaves the story of the Donner Party’s ill-fated quest for California into her own family’s journey over one hundred years later when she, her husband, and their five daughters set out to retrace the Donner Party’s route.  Her interest in Tamsen Donner, wife of the group’s leader George, goes further than just morbid curiosity.  Burton sees Tamsen as battling some of the same questions that face her as a woman.  How can she be sure her voice is heard?  How does a mother balance her own needs and wants with that of her family?  Is there more to life somewhere over the next seemingly insurmountable mountain?

Burton, the product of a traditional Catholic upbringing, shares her angst over pursuing a writing career in the 1970s while simultaneously raising five children.  She takes her girls along with her to women’s rights and anti-war demonstrations and attends consciousness raising sessions whose success she rates according to how many of the group members fight with their husbands upon returning home. 

Burton’s second wave feminist experiences seem foreign to me in many ways, but her struggles to balance work and family ring true.  She describes the conflict between her career as writer and her duty as mother,

The writer had to explore, act on impulse, take risks, plunge to the core of things; the mother had to constantly weigh and measure, watch out, pull back.

When Burton decides to scrap a solo trip out West–via motorcycle, no less–in favor of a cross-country family trip by way of the family station wagon, she combines her dual identities of writer and mother.  The goal?  A novel with parallel plots involving the Donner Party and, who else, a mother in the 1970s.

That novel never saw print. But the resulting memoir provides plenty of interesting reading, especially for anyone whose ever wanted more but hasn’t quite known where to find it.

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