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On the Road again

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(why did I leave this as a draft three weeks ago? We’ve moved. The kids’ rooms are still a disaster, only now, most of the rest of the house is, too. Progress!!)

Have you ever had a crappy landlord? Like the one I had for a year with Kim in New Orleans, the one who stuck broken matchsticks inside our window sash to “repair” some rattling going on? Or the one I had another year at university who told us we would have to wait until he got back from vacation to deal with a vermin infestation in our bathroom? I thought those landlords resided safely in my student-ghetto past, in buildings with 40 layers of paint and questionable laundry facilities. Alas, I was mistaken. When you are a grown up and paying grown up rent, you can have crappy landlords who are crappy on a bigger, grown up level.

In related news: we are homeowners again and the moving truck comes next week. Eeeeep.

Now, this will be our third complete move of house since May 2011 (you envy me, I know) and you would think that such frequent moves would have honed and tempered our packing and sorting skills until I could pack a box of books or kitchen gadgets merely with my steely gaze. Alas, such is not my reality. Reality was a weekend “motivating” the children to pack up their rooms and to do a thorough sorting of STUFF as they went. My slightly guilty feelings, related to the drill sergeant demeanour I was sporting paled in comparison to the piles of paper, unused toys, outgrown shoes and clothing, and random hair accessories discovered in the bins, boxes, nooks and crannies of their rooms.



Written by Jennifer

October 20, 2012 at 8:56 pm

Posted in Canada, home, Kids

Tooth Fairy

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After one too many middle-of-the-night loonie hunts and hands furtively sneaking under kid pillows as we wake them, the Tooth Fairy has pretty well been outed in our family as a lazy parental unit. But the knowledge that Mom and Dad do the fairy thing has not, in the kids’ minds, exempted us from keeping up appearances. We must dole out the dollar, or face the wrath of the toothless one.
But we’ve run into a new Tooth Fairy dilemma. Greta lost a tooth in the car en route between Hamilton and Omaha. The tooth was lost on Canadian soil, hence Canadian regulations (one loonie, preferably new and shiny) prevail. However, bedtime happened in the USA, where different regulations (and currency) generally apply. So, if we assume each tooth is worth a dollar (!!!) in the currency of the tooth loser’s residence, the Tooth Fairy math goes like this:
–the tooth is worth one Canadian dollar
–that same dollar is actually $1.04 in the US
–however, the Tooth Fairy bank charges a minimum fee for foreign currency transactions, of $1.00 or 3%, whichever is greater
–this, we give Greta a nickel and call her lucky, right?

Written by Jennifer

August 28, 2012 at 4:16 pm

Posted in Kids

Hey baby, your library or mine?

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Last night the girls and I had a lovely dinner with friends in their back yard. (The friends in question were providing me with week-night sustenance and adult conversation while my husband is off yukking it up in DC at the Frye Institute, lucky man.) And when the kids had pushed around their rice and Butter Chicken long enough, they all left the table to go amuse themselves. Greta read a graphic novel over Simon’s shoulder; Ingrid helping Phillip super-soak the van–thus revealing a great deal about their characters, I am sure.

As the adults were talking about the kids and their reading habits–two of them have gone through phases where they read the Harry Potter novels over and over again–we revealed that one of the three of us re-read things as a kid, the other two did not. I did not, and generally do not, re-read books. Even books I really, really like. Why is that?

Part of it is, I think, related to Dale’s recognition that there are only so many days in a lifetime and you can’t get to everything you want to read. That being the case, re-reading takes away time you could spend with another NEW and EXCITING book. Or maybe it also has something to do with why I dislike revising so much–I’m done with it; moving along now.

As a pre-teen, in my truly voracious reading years, I read for volume with a side-order of sensation. Gothic horror novels, Daphne DuMaurier, fantasy novels, under the covers with a flashlight until 2:00am. I remember reading David Eddings Belgariad series when I was in 6th grade. I loved those books to the point where I would ignore food and sleep to get back to them. I’ve never gone back and re-read them, though. Not then and not since.

A book from which you derive great pleasure is a special treat.  If you have invested enough of yourself in a book to let it reveal a bit about your own hopes and dreams to you, the book itself can function like a time capsule. A bit of my 12-year-old self is in those David Edding books. I am certain that the Harry Potter books contain a bit of Greta’s self-understanding, as well. I was–and am, I think–wary of revisiting that time and place in my life for fear of disappointment, disillusionment, what-have-you.  While the Belgariad owns a place of esteem in fantasy literature, would I like it if I read it at age 41? Would I have liked it at 16? I loved it at 12 and knowing that I loved it then is enough for me. Don’t push your luck; you may find out that book you loved in 8th grade is really poorly-written genre fiction. (Which reminds me, I read Christina Crawford’s tell-all memoir about her mother Joan Crawford, Mommie Dearest, in that same phase. Ugh. I can’t imagine revisiting THAT one!)  Maybe your 12-year-old or 16-year-old self is not somebody you want to keep company with right now. Puberty is awkward and the desperate reading of early puberty sort of has that awkward tinge about it, too, for me.

All that aside, however, I have re-read some books. As a literature professor, I generally have to re-read (or at least skim and consult my copious notes) each book I teach each time I teach it. The same is true for things that I am writing about for publication. My professional reading does not often resemble the voracious reading of my younger years. I read slowly, underlining and making notes, and try to understand the system that structures the book. This reading is fun, too, but it isn’t the reading with abandon that I did as a kid.

There is, however, one non-professional book, or collection, rather, to which I return annually to re-read for pleasure. The Art of Eating contains MFK Fisher’s The Gastronomical Me, An Alphabet for Gourmets, How to Eat a Wolf and other texts. As a writer she benefited from a treasure trove of experience from which to draw: a young ladies’ finishing school, marriage and move to France, unhappy married life, love affairs, moving to Switzerland, and what seem to be millions of fabulous meals–there should really be a biopic! Her writing is lovely, whether she is on about food or love of the interstices of the two. The Gastronomical Me makes me feel at home. I think there is a bit of my grown-up self in that book and, happily, it is one to which I do not remind turning again and again.

Written by Jennifer

June 6, 2012 at 9:50 am

When I’m King

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One of my favorite scenes in The Wizard of Oz is when the Cowardly Lion, played by Bert Lahr, sings “If I Were King of the Forest.” The trilling, the r-rollin, the comic vibrato–they all make me very happy. And, as in every family, I am sure, around here we each have our fantasies of what life would be like if WE were king (not queen, not duke, not prince).

It turns out that the children’s stuffed animals and, natch, their puppets, also have these fantasies. I cannot explain how this transpired, but lately Hubert (Ingrid’s large rat puppet) and Kitty (Greta’s large, duh, cat puppet) have begun pronouncing themselves Kings of their respective bedroom kingdoms. Hubert, especially, is a bit bossy about this whole thing. At night time, when the girls get tucked in, the puppets make elaborate speeches about their kingdom and its (shiftless, suspicious, and sneaky) subjects and proclaim their divine right to (a) sleep in the bed, under the covers, next to the Big Girl, and (b) boss everyone else around while she is at school.

Just two nights ago Hubert and Kitty began demanding Oaths of Fealty from the other stuffed animals in the room. So far, it appears that mice are total sycophants and that, if you want a rebellion, you should stick with the dogs.

How on EARTH did I get into this?

Written by Jennifer

May 11, 2012 at 8:14 am

Posted in Kids

The Little Things

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Last night, Ingrid had soccer (go, Koalas!) at “the rez.” Newbie that I am, I was terribly confused the first few times I heard speak of “the rez” in Hamilton because, well, that is a rather disrespectful, throwaway term for “American Indian Reservation.” Turns out, here it refers to a lovely flat green space on the escarpment in my neighborhood and is short for “the reservoir.” Which I assume is underneath the green space. Then again, what I don’t know about life in Hamilton, Ontario is pretty legion still and I could well be terribly wrong.

Greta and I walked her up the hill. Although it threatened rain, it was a glorious evening and the light had that quality that just screamed “summer break,” and it felt good to be outside, watching the kids spazz out in the grass. Greta, not on a team, (no I in team, baby, no me either!) ran up the hill on the other side of “the rez” to romp and play and gossip with her friends. She promised to walk her sister home, so I walked home alone to have an uninterrupted adult conversation with my spouse (I know, shocking!).

While I mused on my confusion about “the rez” and Dale and I discussed work, I mentioned a committee at work, whose activities I am anticipating with some personal interest. As I began to say, “the committee will be . . ” we both said “STRUCK” and laughed. One doesn’t “strike” a committee in the US, one forms one. The committee is not struck to do something, it is charged to do so. (Naughty beast that I am, I picture ineffective committees getting bonked on the head with something.) Striking a committee didn’t confuse me, since context makes abundantly clear what is meant. I am equally sure that a Canadian wouldn’t blink at hearing “form a committee and charge them to . . .” Little things.

In my job, the different definitions of “college” in the US and Canada trip me up all the time. While “college” in the US is a generic term used to refer to any sort of post-secondary education; here in The Great White North it really shouldn’t be used when discussing a university, or, if I really understand what is going on, any BA-granting institution. Since we both work at universities, it is pretty important to keep that distinction clear.

Greta will be in middle school next year. I imagine that will be a whole new arena for me to exhibit my cultural ignorance in. I hear, however, that they DO have a cafeteria and I won’t have to pack her lunch every day. Little things.

Written by Jennifer

May 10, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Posted in Canada, Kids

Self Electrocution

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Long ago and far away, a friend of mine and I discussed the interesting coincidence that the two of us, as well as many people we knew at university and considered “smart” had had some type of childhood run-in with an ungrounded electrical current. We pondered whether having been zapped at a young age contributed to our genius. (We had consumed a few beers by this point in the conversation, so forgive our arrogance.)

Then today I ran across this article in The New Scientist that suggests that electrical current to the brain can help us achieve “flow” state much earlier in our training in a specific skill. So now I’m wondering: How many of YOU have been zapped, either intentionally or unintentionally, by electrical current. Any good stories to share?

Written by Jennifer

February 21, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Posted in Kids, life


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Given that I’m in a new place, physically and professionally, and spend a lot of time in my own head, it comes as no surprise that I’m having some weirdo anxiety-fueled dreams.

There’s the one where it’s the first day of class and I don’t know where my room is or what I’m supposed to teach them.

There’s the one where my students and I are all sitting around the seminar table and I want to show them some great books we’re going to discuss and my copies of the books are all waterlogged and moldy and the pages are fused together.

Ahhh, good times.

But by far my favorite anxiety dream was the one I had last night. The kids are at school and I glance up at the clock to see that it is 10:30 and realize I sent them to school without lunch and snack and their first nutrition break just passed and my kids have nothing to eat! The rest of the dream is spent running around a dreamscape town buying odd food choices in even odder places. There are no ziploc bags or containers of any sort for the egg salad sandwich and I put potato chips (!) in a tea bag and find a cache of rotting hamburger in a meeting room. And while I’m doing this, the number of kids I have to feed keeps growing. First one, then two, then three and then, thank god, Ingrid came in and woke me up.

Some mornings I wish Canadian elementary schools had cafeterias.

Written by Jennifer

September 29, 2011 at 7:27 am

Posted in Canada, Kids, writing