Wednesday, March 04, 2009

11 weeks

I'm 11 weeks pregnant today, and the baby is becoming more real. My friend Amy asks if it is called Relen or Hoss, but Ross just wants to name it once - he's not even amenable to nonsense names like Kermit the Tadpole, or "the Critter", and he especially doesn't like Hoss.

I've been quite nauseous this past week - if I wait too long to eat, which happens unfortunately often in the rush of teaching and preparing tests and answering student questions - I begin to get very uncomfortable and feel quite ill. I'm hoping that will be over within the next couple of weeks. I'm also very tired at the moment but that's a combination of the teaching pressures as well as the pregnancy.

My students have a test week this week, so I had one class writing on Saturday morning, and the other class writing last night. No more classes this week, so I've taken the rest of the week off and Ross and I are down in Maritzburg for the first time since coming home in September. We left at 6:30 - after the students started writing - and got down here at 12:30 this morning, which is probably the other reason I'm tired. I'm looking forward to a couple of days of playing with my niece Ruby and nephews Martin and Jo, and talking a lot with family, while Ross has some meetings in town. It's very nice to be back home.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Chapter Books

I started writing this as a comment on Dawn's post, and it grew so much that I decided it had better come to live here.

Oh, chapter books... I have been visiting my husband's family while his mom recovers from surgery, and have been going to the local library to get work done each day. The joy of being in a children's department at a library! They have so many of the books that I grew up reading and loving. Since I grew up in South Africa, many of my favorite books are British rather than American, so this may have some new ideas for you. Many of these may be more suitable for slightly older kids, but I think they work for reading aloud for little kids too. As far as I can, I've included what might be objections to these books.

(This is going to read mostly as a list...)

Joan Aiken's books have been with me my whole life. They range from fairy stories for very young children, all the way to adult mysteries, and one of the best Jane Austen continuations ever ("Jane Fairfax"). For young children, she has two collections of short stories - "A necklace of raindrops" and "The Kingdom under the Sea." If you can find the editions illustrated by Jan Pienkowski, they are breathtakingly beautiful. Then, for older kids, "The Wolves of Willoughby Chase" series is a wonderful adventure book - scary but in a good way.

I haven't read them for a long time, but I think that the Paddington Bear books (Michael Bond) don't have as much scope for objectionable colonialism as some others, and they're aimed at small children.

Rumer Godden is another author with books for all ages. She has books for small children - "Miss Happiness and Miss Flower" and "Little Plum" are books about Japanese dolls in a doll house - as well as books for older children. "Diddakoi" (which is sometimes called "Gypsy" in America) is an excellent book about prejudice and being socially excluded. Her books tend to have a religious and particularly a Catholic slant - but are often about outsiders discovering the sacred than about preaching orthodoxy. She grew up in India as well as in England, and some of her books are about India, so there's a different perspective.

My favorite book from when I was 7 til I was 13 was "Ballet Shoes" by Noel Streatfeild, and I pretty much gobbled up anything she ever wrote. "Ballet shoes" is about three adopted sisters who go to a ballet and drama school. One of the girls grows up to be a mechanic instead of a ballerina, so there's some gender roles upset in the process. I used to read it every time I was sick, and still frequently do so even now! There are many other "shoes" books - "Winter boots" (called "skating shoes" in the us) and "Tennis shoes" are among my personal picks. They often deal with children overcoming adversity and working hard to succeed. I found them very comforting because of the structure and routine that are built into them. She also has more than her fair share of orphans in her books. Some of the books ("The circus is coming" and "Thursday's child") I remember as being quite sad, so they might wait for older kids.

My other best evers were the "Swallows and Amazons" books by Arthur Ransome. They are adventure books about children on holiday at a lake, who have adventures that are part imagination and part real. They are allowed to go camping by themselves on an island in the middle of the lake, with their sailing boat, and imagine they're explorers, or pirates, or settlers. These are great books for older children to read on their own, but I would think they are equally suitable for reading aloud to younger children since they're not very scary. They value imagination and independence very highly. They are however, very rooted in the concept of the British empire and voyages of discovery, so if you find those ideas objectionable you might not like them, although I don't personally, within their cultural context, find them racist. -- The children, to make their explorations more intrepid in the face of a world with tourist boats and parents, designate anyone who's an adult a "native" or an "eskimo" (depending on whether it's winter or summer.) The only other thing that might count against them with older readers is that one of the characters is called "Titty" - short for Patricia I think.

Books that I loved, though I haven't read them for a long time, are "The children of Green Knowe" by L. M. Boston. I do remember that they dealt with slavery, among other themes.

Elizabeth Goudge has some books for older children - "The little white horse" is a lovely fairy tale, and "Gentian hill" was for a long time one of my favorites.

I know we read a lot of Enid Blyton ("Noddy", "Faraway tree" "Cherry tree farm") when I was small, but I really didn't like books where people continually got into trouble, and some of her series were a bit like that. (I think I was an anxious child). I also know that my mother thought the books distinctly lacking in literary merit, although some of them were better than others.

Roald Dahl has great books bridging the "picture" to "chapter" book divide. I remember a great kids book called "The enormous crocodile" and another called "The twits". Chapter books include "James and the giant peach", "Danny the champion of the world", "The Witches", "the BFG", "Charlie and the chocolate factory". His books are all scary - he said that children liked to be scared - but they're brilliant as can be. And don't miss "revolting rhymes" and "dirty beasts" to make your kids blow milk out of their noses.

Thursday, May 04, 2006


This is my second year of gardening at my house, and my ambitions and dreams have been slightly tempered by reality and experience. Last year, I wanted a wildflower garden - and got one... (Here it is in all it's wild glory on our wedding day.) The only problem was that wildflowers are weeds by another name! I couldn't tell the difference between the weeds and the flowers, and while it looked splendidly wild, I couldn't face doing that another year.

I'm also aware that we'll only live here for another year or so, and then someone else will come here who maybe doesn't like to spend a lot of time gardening. I want to leave a viable, low-maintenance garden behind, so that means bulbs and perennials and shrubby flowers which will come back year after year and look great without much effort. I already have a bed of daylilies in front, and gladioli in the back, and some potential daisies, though we're yet to see whether they will perk up properly or not. Now I've put in grasses, lavendar, asters, verbena, columbine and more bulbs whose name I can't remember, and I think it looks fabulous - and will look better and better all summer ;-)

Here you can see lavendar, cosmos, grasses and gladiolus, and my beautiful new brick edging.

Oh, and this year I'm on a mission against morning glories. I love them, but they take over a garden so fast. I figure if I pull out every single one I see, there'll still be more than enough left to strangle half my beds.

Here is my beautiful columbine in front.

Lastly, when life gives you many rocks and stones, after a while you just have to stop digging them up. So I'm going with pots everywhere I wanted flowers but can't bear to move more stones. Here's the geranium readjusting to sun and fresh air after a winter inside, next to the amazing regenerating rosebush which grows six feet each year. My neighour, Emily, is going to help me to take a cutting from it and make a new rosebush, since it just keeps coming back and back.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

South African movie

I just saw that there is a new movie by director Gavin Hood, who made the excellent "A reasonable man" in the late 90's, and it's winning prizes at festivals around the world - Tsotsi.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Finding my strengths

I've been actively learning more about teaching as a consequence of my severe dislike of the research arm of the academy - I have realised that I easily lose focus and become demoralised when working alone as opposed to in a team, and that I find it very hard to work towards long term goals, especially if the goals are things as inherently unsatisfying (to me) as an article to submit to a journal. I used to think that these were character defects, and if I could just "pull myself together" I would learn to do these things. It has been greatly liberating to me to realise that the reason I have never liked doing research is ... duh... because it's just not the kind of work I'm wired to do.

On the other hand, I think I'm really good at working in a team, with lots of creative energy and lots of drive, and that I'm easily motivated by short term projects where I will get to see the results within a month or two. I worked coordinating a science camp over the summer, and really enjoyed the experience, was waaay productive and busy, and (I think) very effective.

I have decided that I want to complete the PhD, because
(1) I think it will open doors to make it possible for me to do what I want to do, and
(2) Damnit I Will. Not. Quit.

But it's easier for me to stay motivated to trudge through this process knowing that once I get done I have a career plan that will allow me to do more of the things that I'm good at, and fewer of the things that I dislike/am bad at/don't value. I would like to get a job in a university college of engineering, teaching undergraduates and participating in outreach to high school / adult science education. I think that's pretty feasible at a non-Research I university. To that end, I'm starting to do some things that nurture this future dream.

I'm taking a Math class which is necessary for my research, but which I could also count as credit towards a masters degree in teaching mathematics - aimed for people who intend to teach at the high school or undergrad level and want to improve their mathematical grounding. It's an ideal match for me, also includes 2 classes in the education department, will enable me to stretch my math muscles again, and will prepare me for teaching and for doing more effectively the type of research I think that I will be able to tolerate. The idea is that I would do the masters after I finish this here degree. (I know... more study. Is she mad?)

I'm also meeting with people who actually work in Math and Science education outreach so that I'm not just developing in the echo chamber of my own mind. I'm starting to be involved with the SQUEAK project, getting young (starting with first grade) children to learn object oriented computer programming through this really powerful graphical language. Talking to people in the MSTE office about education has exposed me to some of the literature in education which will hopefully continue to inspire me, and ensure that I don't reinvent the wheel.

I'm trying to maintain a balance, spending enough time nurturing my future to stay energised while still keeping my main focus on my research so that I Finish. The. Damn. Dissertation. But even when I feel like I'm spinning my wheels in mud, not getting anywhere, at least I'm more confident that the car is pointed in the right direction.

Friday, September 23, 2005

What's in a name?

I posted earlier about changing my name... but it turns out to be a long story, which lots of people have asked me about, so here goes.

After much soul-searching and to-and-froing and revisiting the issue months after Ross thought it was resolved (to his frustration) I finally decided that I would take his last name. Part of the decision was that we would both have my maiden name as a middle name, not double-barrelled or anything, just hiding out in our names to remind us of where we come from. That made me feel much more comfortable that I wouldn't be "losing" my name and hence my identity.

Anyway, when we went to get our marriage license from the county clerk the week before the wedding, we asked about how the name-changing process worked, and discovered to our horror that, even in the 21st century, in our county Ross would have to pay $250 to change his name, while I could change mine for free if I was getting married.

Not only that, but when I started to ask the person who helped us about changing my name, and consequences for drivers' licences, passports, visas, etc, she said that while both names would still be legal, and so I *could* change some stuff but not other stuff if I *wanted* to, she recommended waiting until I was ready to change everything over all at once. Since I live in what feels like a legal house of cards (international student), I decided not to do the legal name change until I'm free of the encumbrances of university administration and INS.

Consequently, I haven't really done anything, and so when people ask me for my name I don't really know how to answer them. Have I changed my name? No, but yes. Yes, I am happy and excited to be addressed by my new name, I certainly won't be offended if you assume that that's my name, I fully intend for that to be my legal name. But no, I haven't.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

happily every after

I last posted a couple of weeks before the wedding. Our family started arriving the Saturday before the wedding, so we had a whole week of wedding organisation, planning and family time, which was really great. It was a priority for both of us that our families have a chance to get to know each other, since we will always be far away from one family, so besides getting everyone involved in cooking and cleaning (what better, way, really, to get to know one another? Our motives were completely altruistic, I swear) we also had plenty of social gatherings.

The wedding itself was wonderful. Here's a picture of us that I like because it kind of looks like a picture that would have been taken at our grandparents' weddings... sort of American Neo-Gothic, if you will ;-)

Many people commented that the service was beautiful, and that it was evident that we had chosen everything in it. I honestly can't remember very much of the actual service - mostly just Ross' face and the patterns on the floor! - but my favourite moment was when people joined in in singing a song I had chosen with words in English and Zulu. It's a setting of a prayer: "God bless Africa, guard her children, guide her leaders, and give her peace." Standing in the front of my mid-American church, hearing strong voices singing in Zulu behind me, everything in my life felt so connected - which is what I had wanted, but wasn't sure I would get.

Here we are in front of the church with our families. In the front, Ross and Martha, Ross' parents; Marie, Dad's partner (also known as my "partner-in-law") and John, my dad. In the back, Christa, Ross' sister; Thom, Ross' best friend; the happy couple; and Robert and Michael, my brothers.

We had a "formal" reception after the service, just down the road at they Y. We had prepared most of the food ourselves, with help from many friends and family - roast beef, gouda and brie, chips and salsa, hummus and veggies, bread from the Serbian bakery, quiche, with carrot cake as our wedding cake. The tablecloths were just unbleached muslin, strewn with some wild sage we had picked a few days before, flowers were daisies, chrysanthemums, wild sage and yarrow. We had chosen daisies as our "colour theme" (to the extent that we had one), so people who were helping to decorate the hall made a giant daisy out of crepe paper on the wall behind Ross and my table. The cake was on a tablecloth sent by my grandmother before the wedding, and apparently (if I have the story right) embroidered by my great-grandmother. Friends set up a scrapbooking table, and took polaroids of people as they arrived, so people decorated pages of a scrapbook with their photograph and good wishes - a treasured guest book.

I don't think that there was anyone present who hadn't helped us prepare for the day in one way or another. We really see a marriage as the formation of a new family, supported by a larger community, and while we are starting this life with just the two of us, it wouldn't be possible if we were not supported by our friends and family.

For us, while the ceremonies were wonderful, the best part of the day came after all of that, when people gathered at our house for the rest of the afternoon, and into the evening, and talked, played bocce, got to know each other (and helped us finish lots of the leftover food from the reception!) I always love to get my friends together so I can introduce people who I think would get along, so I love to have social events where lots of people who don't know each other get to talk to each other - and this worked out that way, which made me very happy ;-) Also, we changed out of our wedding clothes into shorts and comfy shirts, which was really nice as the day was hot and sweaty!

We've been married a month now, and while it hasn't been the most settled month in either of our lives - looking after visitors, working to make up for time off for the wedding (Ross) , and running a science summer camp for middle-school girls (me) it feels really settled and comfortable to be married. In a way that I hadn't expected, making the vows in public did deepen our commitment to each other, and we have a certainty about our future which feels good.

Life returns to its regular pace now. I'm back to research, trying to establish a routine and achieve results with somewhat less stress, Ross is proofreading part time, taking some computer classes at the community college and looking for a full time job. We are happy to be together.