Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Need your opinion; exchange student?

Thanks to all my loyal reader(s). For anyone new, I have had a terrible semester working full time and taking care of my 2 under 2 in the evenings. See here, here and here. Someone approached me recently with a proposition; they are looking for a home for an exchange student, and we live very close to where this student would be employed as a language assistant.

This student showed a definite interest in working with pre-school children. The program they are on encourages them to look for side jobs, such as babysitting. The families receive a $250 stipend. When I was growing up, my family hosted 6 exchange students, basically through all of my teenage years. I love showing hospitality, and it is deeply ingrained in MY family (Hub not so much, but he is not opposed to the idea).

Here's my very first thought, Oh, Lord! I can't take on a single new commitment. But then I started realizing that this might be a grand opportunity to improve things.

Advantages to hosting this student;

1. Extra help around the house in the evenings. If we could pay her back part of the stipend she came with at a very decent rate ($10/hour) we could potentially have some great help. She could be someone to stay home with the sleeping kids when I wanted to go to the gym, or watch the other when one was in music lessons, or even cook a meal or do the dishes. Some of this would be expected as a part of the family, of course, but other times we could compensate her at no cost to us to do the thing we normally hassle about finding babysitters for.

2. Companionship! As I look back on my few posts when I was feeling bad, part of what I was feeling terrible about was lonesome-ness (see lonely vs lonesome). Simply having another semi-adult around would probably be very nice for me, and would keep me from several bad habits I engage in when alone.

3. Someone to speak a foreign language around my kids. I'd love to have another language spoken in my home, especially from a native speaker.

4. Expanding myself by meeting someone from a different culture as mine. I have lived overseas in different countries for several years so I understand both the host family role and the guest role. I love to learn new things and expand my world. It's never too early for your kids to get a bigger picture of the world, too. Right? Hub would really benefit, too, IMO.

5. The ability to extend hospitality. I am fulfilled by this.

6. Expansion of my social circles. I'm certain through her I will get to know acquaintances better, and learn new acquaintances.

7. The stipend. A very minor part of the decision, but will allow my to hire her or someone else to help us more. Or include her in travel plans, etc.


1. ANY extra burden she brings that is not offset by otherwise lightened burdened is beyond my capacity. Even if she were very easy to host, but we were expected to, say, go to meetings, or drive her a lot of places, it would be very very hard on me. We do have good community here that could potentially help her in transportation, social events, etc.. But I just can't can't can't take on anything else.

2. She may not be interested in being our semi-nanny. Her application makes it clear she loves and wants to work with pre-schoolers. But that's no guarantee that she will want to provide the kind of "coverage" I'm hoping for. I do expect that she will carry her load around the house, as that is just part of being in a family. She may, for instance, find a very rich social life and a tight community and not want to hang around here too much. Blessings to her for that, but it doesn't accomplish what I was hoping for in above ads #1 and 2.

When my family were hosting exchange students back in the day, one came to us because his host father considered him to be imported labor. Now, I certainly would have no intention of abusing our guest as a helper, but I have to be honest and say that she is being considered due to her potential helpful contribution.

3. She may not be easy to get along with. She may need a lot of support. Some drama and excitement and normal back and forth of "being family" is expected. But if she has a heavy personality, it could weigh on us in a negative way. By saying no, then I have my own drama to deal with and no more. She has done several other international exchanges (one to a country that I speak the language). This argues against potential serious cross-cultural difficulties. But her English is not rated very high.

4. We will have to rearrange everyone's rooms to host her. This could be two weekends of pretty serious work, not including the painting and curtain/bedding/sweet details- shopping that I really dream of doing. Our home is not as luxurious as all of our friends', and upon first hearing the proposition, I thought, not OUR house. But I got over that. Our house is just fine by EVERYONE ELSE IN THE WORLD's standards except Americans'. It will still require some organizing, and that work is in desperate need of an external deadline, but best not done during tenure dossier/ manuscript / course prep / poster for meeting summer.

5. Small car. Funny but true. We have a Golf and a Camry, and with two adults and two carseats, fitting her in our car would be difficult. It would make it difficult to go to things as a family in the same car. No, we wouldn't buy a bigger car for this.

So it feels like a lottery right now. Chances are good that this will lighten burdens and enrich our family's lives. But there's a chance that this could also add burden to our family, and for me, create an impossible situation.

What thinks ye/y'all/yinz/you guys?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tenure Bid, 2

I learned more about the writing of the tenure dossier yesterday. I heard the following things that I would not have learned from any written material:

1. The tenure committee (here, at least) is generally not searching for reasons to let someone go, but to advance you must be determined proficient (which is a step up from competent) in two of your three domains (teaching, service (oops), scholarship).

2. No padding. The question of what "padding" is came up, and several examples were given. However,  please DO expound where given the opportunity. Do add supplemental information when given the opportunity to a REASONABLE extent.

3. Despite my last post, the administration would like to see us put "serious energy" into the "faith statement", but also does admit that the statements turned in to date have been "all over the map".

Also interesting, the question was asked as to what we were nervous about. Now, I have to admit, I took this as a welcoming gesture. Another (wiser than I ) faculty admitted a nervousness as to whether her disciplinary writing would be appropriate for the dossier. I admitted to a nervousness about one of my perceived weaknesses of my bid.


I'm now embarrassed as to pointing out- in public- this chink in my armor. Dumb, dumb, dumb. HOWEVER, I will take it as a sign that I feel safe in this place and under these circumstances, which is in general a good thing... but really. Well, I can dwell on it, or move on. I choose to move on, but know I will inadvertently dwell on it.

This month I have been "resting and renewing" by coming into work only in the afternoons, and going to the gym and working on the house / garden in the mornings (my most productive hours). Now I'm feeling better and need to devote more focus to my tasks. Am I renewed back to zero? No, but I'll give myself and 85% which is good enough to start my engines, ladies and gentlemen!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tenure Bid

OK, enough mommy angst. Let's talk business.

I'm up for tenure this year. We have a system of long-term contracts that is essentially tenure-with-review, just not called that. The faculty senate is lobbying for a change to tenure-with-review, but for now I will just call it tenure, even though technically it is not.

I received a notice that there will be a workshop on preparing tenure dossiers soon. They are due in October. I plan to keep you informed on the process. In this post I will just mention a non-typical aspect of my tenure bid.

Where I work, not only do we have to prepare the typical materials- teaching evaluation heavy- but we also have to write a paper on how we bring our faith into the classroom. This is a religious institution and the school wants to make sure that we are giving students what they are coming here for (our "distinctives").

I was completely freaked out by the thought of writing this paper because of the scholarly theological, pedagogical, and psychological readings I would have to do to make a scholarly treatise. Moreover, among faculty this paper is generally reviled for its hoop-jumping reputation. However I had lunch with an accidental mentor, who convinced me that his 5 page (the minimum) life story was perfectly passable in his tenure bid. He basically said, "Don't spend too much time on it." So even though I am not looking forward to this paper, I will dial it down on the anxiety list.

So that's where I'm at- in the thinkin'/ psychological preparation stage. I'm waiting for the workshop before I begin in earnest.

All my SAHM friends have a party business.- amended

I'm going to get flak for this, but I can't stop thinking it, so here goes (better than saying it out loud to them)...

If being a stay-at-home-Mommy truly is a *full-time* job, why do EVERY ONE of the Moms I know who choose to stay at home pick up a pyramid "party business" like Tupperware, Lia Sophia, Wildtree, Pampered Chef or Norwex?

Added from comments: The problem (from my perspective) is that to make any money at these businesses you really have to work hard at them. Let's say you have a great show one night and net $100 in sales. That probably involved 7-10 hours of your work (help, am I exaggerating?) And each show is usually around three hours of your time away from home, so to have two shows a week you are gone two evenings a week from your beloveds and you made around $10/ hour for your work. And you've "worked" 20 hours that week.

end of added section

Or they get over-involved on boards and committees and volunteer work (and complain about how busy they are). These are Moms with small children, like me!

God bless them all, but let's replace the phrase
"Being a Mommy is a full time job, that's why I choose not to work outside of the home"
with the more accurate phrase
"Choosing not to work outside of the home allows me more flexibility to pursue all of my interests, foremost my children's upbringing".


Friday, June 17, 2011

Research Success

I have two otherwise- unemployed students in my lab for the summer. One is a good solid student who has been trained by me before. The other is absolutely brilliant- need to show her 0.75 times before she gets how to do something. Wahoo! This is the IDEAL situation. Now I have to make sure I still do my 1. tenure dossier, 2. manuscript, 3. prep courses for fall, and other summer work. Even though I want to be in the lab all day every day with them. What a total reversal from last semester.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Charity case = technique-based research?

There's a pharma concern here in town. They plow through materials like any Pharma/Biotech/R01, and they have a policy that the moment that said materials expire, they must be immediately removed from the premises. Lucky (?) for us, someone there calls the universities in the area to see if they want the stuff, and being the poorest of the bunch, we top the charity list. Today we received cases and cases of water filters and isolator plates. Thanks. I think that we got hundreds if not thousands of dollars worth of stuff. I think (?!?) our Micro teacher or our water-sampling chemist can use it.(Can you tell I have hoarding tendencies?)

In any case, what this leads to is the designing of labs / research projects around the materials we have instead or designing labs de novo to fit the course exactly. Is that SO bad? The other option is to say no, or keep the stuff until we realize we can't use it- and end up wasting our time (scarce) and storage (plentiful) on the stuff until we throw it away ourselves.

When I was being trained as a scientist (both PhD and post-doc), I was always taught that we do HYPOTHESIS-driven research, and that technique-based research was always uninteresting and for the dull of mind. But what if your resources are scarce such that you can't set up an entire new lab "set-up" each time you get a new idea?

My analogy:
You can pick a recipe out of a book and go shopping for each of its ingredients- to hell with whether they had to be flown in from Peru for you. Strawberries in Feb? That's what the recipe calls for!

Now, more and more people are buying CSA boxes, and learning to design a meal around what is in season. The produce is extremely fresh, and the cook is stretched and must be creative in preparing a meal from the produce in the box.

Why is this such a no-no in science?

I bought more equipment in my 3 year post-doc (that isn't being used anymore) than I will buy here until I retire.Yes, the fact is that I am running a research lab in which all the students I ever have will learn two major techniques. I'll never get the equivalent of my start-up again to retool. We will march through all the simple things to be found from doing exactly what I do. So I must be creative in finding interesting questions to ask with the set-up I do have.

Why lessons for a two year old?

Last post,  I said offhandedly...
D. no more swim or music lesson obligations to get kids to. Yes, swim lessons (bad idea) and music lessons (great idea) for a 2 yo. They seemed like such a good idea during sign-up.
Someone asked... 
Just out of curiosity, what made swim lessons so much worse than piano lessons? (thanks)
 I replied...
PUI prof said...
Anon Tues 3:26- Someone from church offers music lessons for littl'uns. We've always thought that we didn't want to be "those" overscheduling parents. However, hub and I are both musically stunted due to childhoods with no musical training. So we were probably overcompensating when we signed him up for music class. Well, the music class is masterfully run- a lot of activity, a lot of variety and fun music we can use at home "pick up toys, pick up toys, now's the time to pick up tooooys". Boy asks if it's Tuesday yet, Tuesday yet, Tuesday yet, because he LOVES music class. Its also paid off. Dude's got quite a rendition of "Take me out to the Ball Game" and "Home on the Range". He matches pitch very nicely. Swim lessons were instigated because last summer our normally fearless child seemed terrified of the water. The swim lessons were clearly designed for kids older than Boy, becuase they did not take his two-year-old millisecond attention span into mind. OK, now swim on your back- kicking- for another lap, another lap, another lap, another lap. He grew bored with it very easily, for the end goal was to get the kids to do a formal front crawl. Moreover, it was in a lap pool, which is pretty darn cold if you have the surface/ volume ratio of a 30-pound two-footer. He, of course, can't do a front crawl from those five lessons, but we did get want we wanted...he's not afraid of water. So now we have a kid fearless around water who can't swim. Anybody else see a problem with that?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A sugar pill works sometimes.

I am starting to feel much better. MUCH Better. See herehere and here for a history.

This is probably due to several factors:

1. I have learned a strategy to help the baby fall asleep and stay asleep. Hub and I went to the library and got several books on helping your baby sleep. The books range from the tough "cry it out" (Ferber) to the middle of the road (Weissbluth) to the gentle no-cry sleep solution (Pantley). Even though we could identify the symptoms described in the books, none of the solutions were exactly right for our lifestyle. For example, when single parenting, you can't put two babies down when they show signes of tiredness, not when they do so simultaneously. So its a matter of triage-- toddler down first, because he sleeps soundly once down and otherwise will interfere royally with the bedtime ritual for the baby, whereas the reverse is not true.

So even though the baby doesn't always go down and stay down, she does so more than before. The important thing here is my ILLUSION of control over the matter. That makes all the difference in the world.

2. I have crossed off some very major tasks, and the ILLUSION of my workload has decreased. May term- done. Prep for Summer Science camp -done enough. Heavy meeting schedule- over.

I still have straggler work to do, and then this summer's big tasks: Write a manuscript, Prep for Fall Classes, Prepare poster for Fall meeting, and OH, prepare my tenure dossier for October.

3. I am getting more regular exercise, the kind of exercise that is very powerful in decreasing stress. I do yoga at least twice a week now and an regularly getting my heart rate up through Zumba or whatever to release those happy hormones. I am very blessed to have a physiology that rewards me richly for exercise, because otherwise I wouldn't have the discipline to make myself do it.

4. Little things:
A. we have a new housekeeper and she is very, very good. I know this is a WhiteWhine, but our last one made a lot of extra work for me by putting stuff places we couldn't find it, etc.
B. the summer's fruits and vegetables here are just soooo delicious. I've been pigging out on healthy foods that give me great pleasure to eat.
C. not small: but my husband's unflagging support.
D. no more swim or music lesson obligations to get kids to. Yes, swim lessons (bad idea) and music lessons (great idea) for a 2 yo. They seemed like such a good idea during sign-up.
E. My term for certain committees is coming to an end. Simply having an obligation to them, whether we are meeting or not, gives me the ILLUSION of burden.

Some of the point here is that even if you KNOW that you are feeling better due to a placebo effect sometimes it does not rob you of the lovely effects of that sugar pill.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A New Day is Dawning!

Girl slept through the night last night. Things may return to normal, or at least better, very soon.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

New Feminism on the ground

I appreciate the comments on the last post... but to highlight one: GMP said, "...hard to pull off".

Example 1: Mom really needs to get some high-intensity exercise to decrease her stress levels, but most of the classes at the gym (Zumba, Spinning) are scheduled in the morning before day care opens, or in the evening overlapping with dinner time or bed time.

Yes, I could do something independently in the middle of the day (if I don't have meetings). Yes, I could hire a babysitter to come and put the kids to bed while I go to the gym. But the evidence suggests that there is an energy barrier associated with those alternatives that is high enough to be prohibitive with my current capacity (which includes my energy). In other words, I feel too tired to do what it takes to get less tired.

So yes, sometimes hard to pull off the Makin' Momma Happy.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The New Feminism

I went to the Women's clinic today for a special "celebration" of  my children. My two children are special, unique and have my undivided love forever (I got a 10-year IUD). The Certified Nurse Midwife that placed the IUD was also the person who delivered my last baby, has been a guest lecturer in some of my classes, and is a Facebook friend.

She said "How ARE you?" as in, "I'm not chatting", to which I replied, "Fine. Well, no it's been a terrible semester. She doesn't sleep and I'm really suffering, and can't keep up at work." Then I said, "you know those cynical people who say you can't have it all? Well, they're right."

She said, "Yeah, that's the old-skool Feminism; get it all done at home and at work and still have a smile on your face. But here's the new Feminism: Take care of yourself. Because if Momma ain't happy, ain't NOBODY happy."