Summer Projects

We’ve had several ongoing projects this summer.  First and foremost, of course, would be the farm.  Sydney’s been growing a lot of new things this year, and the customers who visit us at the farmer’s market have started coming as much for new ideas as for “basics” for their recipes.  Winter radishes from various countries in Asia, Polish peppers, pea shoots, several new kinds of dried beans, bok choy, red okra, several varieties of summer squash, and at least six kinds of potatoes (red, gold, and purple skin, with gold, white, and purple flesh, in various combinations).  Kentucky weather hasn’t been kind this year, with wild swings in temperatures and precipitation, but he’s still managed to haul in a lot of lovely food.

Mom and I are working together to make some changes in the kitchen, since this is far outside my skill set.  An electrician installed these pendant lights (bye bye, fluorescent light box!), and I painted the island black.  Word to the wise: don’t try spray painting anything in the house, no matter how smooth that finish looked on the bar stools, no matter how open the windows and doors are, and no matter how well you think you’ve covered potential overspray areas.  Ha!  After scrubbing my kitchen floor (every inch) and white trim for four hours in the middle of the night, I think things are back to normal, but that was an unnecessary panic.

Now I have to gear up to paint the ceiling in the kitchen.  All the supplies in the world won’t keep that from being a nerve-wracking job, but school’s coming quickly!  Also, there are plenty more ceilings that need painting in this house, so I’d better figure this out soon.

The kids have had several interesting projects running this summer.  Nathaniel showed interest in origami, so I got him some paper and instruction books, and he has kept himself occupied with those for long stretches of time.  He’s also, of course, left small scraps of paper in his wake every place he’s been: Oklahoma, Iowa, and Kentucky.  I recently came back from a conference trip to this:

Katherine, meanwhile, has devoured books of all sorts and shown a surprising willingness to be our “buddy” on trips to the farm or to work.  She tagged along with me to a luncheon with two of my colleagues and several recently-graduated students.  We’re English types, so the luncheon lasted roughly 3 hours.  She just watched, giggled when spoken to, and, late in the game, discreetly opened her book on the bench next to her.  Sydney’s also taken her to the farm with him several times to sow beans.  When she’s in the right mood, she’s careful, patient, and interested.  She’ll also dutifully weed as long as we’re doing it, too.  That has been amazingly helpful!

Here she’s typing, if slowly, responses to her new fourth-grade teacher, who sent the incoming class a brief questionnaire.  Can I just say how weird it is to see my child maneuvering my computer?  More of this to come, I know.

Finally, Nathaniel spied The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook at the library, and brought it home, hoping he and Katherine could start cooking.  Since we haven’t really worked on knife skills just yet, their first endeavor was a fruitcake (applesauce in lieu of the brandy).  A week later, they tackled Katherine’s pick: cinnamon rolls.  In both cases, they took their time, worked together, and showed a lot of interest in continuing this experiment.  I stayed close, but largely stayed out of their way.  I’m sure the novelty will wear off, but so far they have two recipes in cookbook binders of their own, and today they peeled nearly all of the potatoes for the soup I was making (roughly 4 pounds of potatoes!), and nobody nicked any fingers.  I can’t say I always manage that . . .


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Oxford, Mississippi

At the end of July, three generations of Birdsong women descended on Oxford, Mississippi.  I was giving a paper at the annual Faulkner conference and meeting with some of my digital humanities colleagues.  Mom was driving down (!) from Iowa, as she’s done before, simply because she really enjoys visiting the town.  There are three bookstores on the courthouse square downtown and lots of fun restaurants, as well as beautiful old homes.  And Mom asked that I bring Katherine with me this year; she promised that she’d be in charge of childcare so that I could attend to the academic things day and night.

We had a great time!  It was a very successful conference for me, Katherine had fun getting to hang out with adults, swim in the hotel pool, and travel to new places, and Mom got both a vacation in a fun place and time with her granddaughter (and, occasionally, me). 

We visited the bookstore for children/young adults first, which meant that Katherine was occupied for the rest of the day.  In this picture, she’s inhaling the last few pages of the first book of The Secret Benedict Society, which she had gotten only the previous day.  I was grateful; with such a book-inclined travel partner, I got a lot of academic work done on our flights home the next day, and she was a very easygoing travel buddy–as long as her book was handy.

We also had pretty decent weather for most of our trip.  For Mississippi, mid-eighties and humid is pretty great in July!

Katherine and Mom agreed to accompany me on a walk through the woods around Faulkner’s home, and then on a visit inside.  Katherine really liked the house and grounds; she reads a lot of “old” books, but hasn’t been in many buildings that date from earlier eras.

Faulkner bought his home from a plantation owner who built the house in 1848 (the same year as the founding of Ole Miss, with which he was associated).  Faulkner only got three acres in the original sale, but whenever he could scrounge up money over the years, he bought more and more land as a buffer between his home and “the town.”  By the time he died, he had a moderately grand home and nearly forty acres of woods and fields.


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Birds, Bees–and Flowers

Sydney enjoys having a front garden full of flowers, and he took me seriously when I said I wanted a long row of lavender.  This stretch along our driveway attracts several kinds of bees, which means there’s a continuous drone coming from this part of the yard for much of early summer.

Lavender is also great fun to harvest: cut stems with your head amidst the lavender blooms, with bees delicately buzzing around you, stop to smell your hands every now and then, hang bunches to dry in the garage (which now smells wonderful), and strip any leftover stems for lavender sachets.  This year I made roughly 35 big bunches from that little row, and I’ve already sold all I have at the farmer’s market.  That should help pay for the replacement plants when these get too overgrown in a few years.

Sydney also filled the planters on the porch and our hanging baskets with flowers.  Well, he filled three of the four hanging baskets; a mourning dove apparently took a liking to our baskets, and hatched two pairs of young in one this summer.  Unfortunately, when she came back for a third round, she decided she preferred one of the baskets that is full of flowers, so we currently have two flowering baskets, one that’s bare, and one that is full of flowers and a hidden mourning dove.  I imagine things will get a bit crowded once her young hatch.  Our flowers may not come out the best for it, but it’s great being able to watch her progress.  She even lets me water the basket, as long as I move slowly (yes, that’s a challenge for me).

We also had a mourning dove make a nest among the kiwi vines hanging over the railing on the deck in the back yard.


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Home again!

We’ve been doing a lot of traveling this summer, which has resulted in a serious lack of blog updates.  But we did remember to take our camera with us!

This summer has been busy with the combination of farming, kid care, and the usual academic work.  I haven’t been running up against a book deadline, as I was last year, but this time around I was traveling a lot more, giving papers on new projects.  I’ve been away from home 5 weeks of the summer, three of them with kids in tow.  We had our heads down so much last year, between my book revisions and Sydney’s launching a farm, that we were glad for a chance to move around a bit this year.

Katherine, Nathaniel, and I spent a week with my parents and extended family at a reunion in Oklahoma over Memorial Day weekend.  Lots of heat and ticks, but nice to see everyone again.  The kids and I then drove with my parents up to Iowa.  I have to say, my hometown has gotten a lot more interesting now that I no longer live there.  The elementary-school playground is much more fun than the old one we had when I was in school, and my town now boasts a lengthy bike/walking trail that runs right through the middle. The latter would have been handy for all of my walks home from high school . . .

My parents also kept the kids for a week while I gave a paper at a conference in Colorado, after which we headed back home to Kentucky.  And then July was Faulkner Month.  I spent a week in Virginia, hunkering down with 8 other editors for a digital humanities project on William Faulkner.  I’ve been part of the collaboration for six years now, and it’s great to finally make some lasting connections and friendships in my areas of specialty.  I saw some members of that group two weeks later, when Katherine and I met my mom in Mississippi for my final conference of the summer (on Faulkner!  in Faulkner’s hometown!).  More on that later.

Meanwhile, Sydney also tried juggling farming and conferencing this summer: after a brief trip to Iceland with friends just after school let out (tickets were cheap), he hopped from Seville to the Netherlands for two back-to-back conferences early in June.  I just hope he continues getting such opportunities to speak when the kids are older, so that I can tag along.


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The children ponder rebellion

It occurred to me to ask the kids whether they had heard of a popular video game I’ve been reading about in the news.  Yes, they tell me, but they have no inclination to play it.

I appreciate that they are making parenting relatively easy for the moment, particularly since (should I hold her to it?) Katherine announced that she would never want a cellphone.  We’ll see.  Remember: Katherine just turned 9, and Nathaniel just turned 7.

Before they get too smug, however, I let them know that as they grow, they’re likely to want some things that their friends have, and that their parents do not want them to have, and that we may have more difficulty seeing eye-to-eye later on.

Their response?  Nathaniel immediately lays claim to a rebellious desire he’d like to fight for when he’s older: “Yeah, like three cats of my own.”

If that’s as bad as it gets, kid, we’re in good shape.


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The kids insisted on dyeing eggs this year, and they liked the idea so much they wanted to try two different methods.  We love deviled eggs, egg salad, etc., so we should make it through a second batch later this week without any trouble.

Sydney will be away for a conference for a week, so the kids and I are going to try to find creative ways to get by without him.  Oh, and did I mention that the kids have spring break this week–and I don’t?  We have several things going for us: the kids have become fun companions on walks around town and in parks.  They’re learning that a walking mommy is a happy mommy.  Katherine will also be celebrating her birthday tomorrow, and for her birthday feast she’s chosen a variety of dishes that will pretty much fill up our week with good food.  And I will have a pile of papers to grade soon, so I’ll be glad for some kid distraction to help me break up the grading sessions.

Both kids got some new clothes from Grandma Birdsong, and were eager to pick out their own Easter outfits.

We have very few opportunities for dressing up, so both kids seem to prefer sneakers and bare feet to all other footwear, and play clothes to formal ones.  But they loved Katherine’s Easter dress (which she promptly paired with leggings, since she wanted to be able to play in it).  I thought it was the color or the bird pattern, but they soon showed me what was really great about it:

Nathaniel’s words last night, as Katherine spun around and around: “When she was spinning around, she looked like a cylinder on top of a sphere.”  Um, if you say so, kiddo.  At any rate, he was delighted.

Katherine had a different response: “I like to spin, and I love that the dress reminds me of the dresses of Grandma Penner.  This dress makes me think of her.”



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Civics Lessons

Our kids have gotten to ages that make it possible to reassert the art of adult conversation around and through dinner and homework help.  Also, we’re desperate, and time is limited.  And as the kids listen to us, they swell with questions.

Recently Nathaniel asked, “Is Dada an immigrant?”  “Yes.”  “Is he an American citizen?”  “No.”  “Am I an immigrant?”  It took me a minute to think of an appropriate response: “Yes, but without most of the difficulties that go along with moving from one country to another.”  I can only imagine what my foreign-born son thinks and feels as he hears that word used by adults around him, or catches the news headlines over my shoulder.

This morning, I called the kids back from their wait for the bus to explain that we wouldn’t be having school today.  Across the state, teachers had walked out after the Kentucky legislature had hurried through a bill that will cut into teacher pensions.  I can’t, in good conscience, encourage my university students to major in education when the pay is low and the government seems inclined to pillage one of the few benefits promised to teachers.  Although Katherine and Nathaniel were inclined to be sad that school was cancelled (Katherine’s class was having a pizza party to celebrate passing multiplication tests), they were surprised to see me staring at my computer and shaking my head as I caught up on the middle-of-the-night legislative move.

Our kids have already listened to me explain that our “non-traditional instruction days” (worksheet packets that replace school in the event of snow days, of which we’ve had 10 this spring) will ensure that the kids who have support at home will do just fine–but that classmates who rely on the structured classroom to keep from falling behind will simply be short two weeks of schooling.  As a teacher, I can’t imagine being replaced with a worksheet that may need to be completed while a student babysits a younger sibling, tags along with parents to work, or helps with snow removal.

So it’s been an interesting spring around here!  Our kids are aware of national politics in the usual vague way, but I’m amazed at how many pieces of the adult world are intruding on the basic elements of their lives.  If there’s much more of this, I’m going to enroll my kids at Asbury so they can take history classes from David and sociology from Lisa, so that they have the tools with which to understand these sudden arrivals in their world.



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“Spring” Break

This past week was our spring break.  As in, a week when neither Sydney nor I had teaching responsibilities, and the kids were in school.  We were running hard in February, so we’ve been looking forward to this time!

Well, on Monday we got a hefty dose of wet, heavy snow.  Those of you who get real snow just have to bear with me, because Kentucky does not get this kind of thing very often.  The kids were out of school for two days, cutting out a big chunk of our quiet time.  Although they had to do snow-day worksheets, we did still get out for some lovely walks in the snow.

The snow was heavy enough to bring down branches and even whole trees all over town.  When I did get to the office, I heard chainsaws most of the rest of the week.  Our cats, however, loved having us home for more days than usual.


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Nathaniel’s arsenal grows

Nathaniel doesn’t take to time changes, since he’s an early riser who struggles to get to sleep if it’s still light outside (yeah, summer with him is fun).  So I wasn’t surprised that he showed a fraying temper this evening, but Sydney and I were both dismayed that he seemed determined to fight us all the way down.

As I insisted Nathaniel clean up and get to bed, he turned on me with all the sauciness at his disposal.  He used the word “ruddy” twice, and not to describe rosy cheeks. Clearly his Harry Potter reading is giving him some new epithets.  It was all I could do not to laugh.  We have a little British rebel, right in the middle of Kentucky!


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Early Kentucky Spring

A couple of years ago, I headed to a spring visit event for prospective students.  Campus was deserted.  We were in the midst of a snowstorm, classes had been canceled, and only the prospective students and their parents were up and about.

This morning, I headed to the same event, on almost the same date in the calendar, but the scene was quite different.  It was a humid 70 degrees, students were sprawled on the warm stone benches, and the honeysuckle flowers were already adding a heavy dose of spring fragrance.

Many trees, shrubs, and lawns are still pretty bare, but our crocuses opened this morning, our hydrangea and roses are budding, and our kids only came inside once it was dark.


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