First Day of School

Katherine starts third grade and Nathaniel starts first grade.  They now ride the bus together and see each other in the hallway, which has made Nathaniel much more confident about starting at a new school.


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Engineering with Grandpa Birdsong

Nathaniel likes to give jobs to adults.  Sydney and I tend to ignore most of those suggestions, but when Nathaniel asked my dad to build a crane, Dad did it!  I warned him that following through on that request would only inspire Nathaniel to ask a few thousand more, but since Mom and Dad are headed back to Iowa today, Dad should have a pretty good excuse for not remaining Nathaniel’s personal engineer.


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Kiddos in Iowa

My parents recently had the kids with them in Iowa for almost two weeks.  Given that they started out the visit with a trip to the local dairy farm, the kids should have not only loved being with them, but also been nice to them.  One would think, anyway!  But, as usual, the kids reminded their grandparents why visits should have an end date.  As Mom wrote shortly before she and Dad brought the kids home to us: “N stays busy dreaming up projects to be told no. No grinding rocks, no  painting the house or door, no running water up the down spouts, no going to Hawaii to get lava rocks. K puts on a cute face as she continually defends her innocence.”


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Gratuitous Pictures of Children and Produce

Glimpses of Sydney’s table at the market this morning:

And of the kids’ fort-building adventures today:


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What do you think?

Recently, I was part of a little scene that is like one of several I’ve encountered this summer.  I was out walking, and greeted two elderly men I’ve seen out at the same hour.  After “Good morning,” one asked, “Does your husband work at the university?”  Thinking these men must have either seen Sydney on campus or known him from a book group, I said yes.  But since he’s also most visible as a farmer this time of year, I added, “part-time.”  The men looked a bit confused, but one thought he’d continue, anyway: “My daughter, so-and-so, works in the counseling center.”  I have no idea if Sydney knows her, but I do, so I responded with a simple, “Oh yes, so-and-so.  She’s lovely.”  Then they really looked confused, so I filled in the awkward pause with an explanation: “I also work at the university, in the English Department.”  This time the pause was longer, before one of the men dug out an anecdote about a niece who majored in English before her family finally got her to switch to business administration.  I just nodded after that one.  After another minute of chatting we continued on our various paths, but I had the distinct impression that I’d confused more than I’d clarified.

I’m glad I hadn’t realized upfront that they didn’t actually know Sydney, because I would have been tempted to respond, “What husband?  Are you assuming one from the fact that I live in a house?  that I have children?  That I seem happy?”  Although most of my time in Kentucky has been spent with people I’ve known from professional settings, this summer I’ve had more interactions with people outside the university loop, and I find myself with increasingly little patience for questions about a spouse that, I soon gather, my interlocutor has never met, but that he or she presumes explains my presence in Kentucky.

I’m usually happy to make connections, and my mom has trained me well for community small-talk (Thanks, Mom!).  Several times recently I’ve gotten to meet people in the area that Sydney has met elsewhere, and it’s been nice to put the family together for them (a common occurrence when you and your spouse trade off watching your children and socializing).  But conversations like the one from my walk the other day are built on so many false assumptions that I spend the entire time scrambling to figure out how or whether they know Sydney, following up with helpful information when I see confused looks on their faces, and then trying to find a way to let them get over their astonishment without embarrassment.  Not exactly the most satisfying of conversations.  I usually go home, hug my kids, look at my husband (whom you should really get to know.  he’s great), and get my hands on a book to shake off the odd experience.

The first few incidents just surprised me, but now that I’ve been around this track a couple of times, it’s starting to get under my skin.  I’ve really enjoyed living in Kentucky and, barring the sight of a few obnoxious bumper stickers, have not had any problems in four years here.  I have tried to be sympathetic when my female students explain why they struggle to stand on their own two feet in the South, but in my own life I’ve usually been addressed as an individual and presumed capable until proven otherwise.  To my Northern sensibilities, using an entire conversation to ignore the individual in front of you in lieu of an inferred spouse is just rude.  Am I missing something?  Thoughts?  Challenges?  Anyone have any suggestions, so that I can remain even-keeled and approachable, rather than start responding to the husband question with “Which one?”


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The quiet before the storm

We spent a whole day at home, preparing for our upcoming adventures.  Since we have been at the farm quite a bit in the past few days, both kids seemed eager to settle in with Legos today.  This is what they came up with:

While Sydney tackled the garden beds, I tried to make good on some of the farm veggies that he’s packed into our fridge.  Lady cream peas with vegetarian sausage, zucchini bread, and strawberry-and-arugula salad helped us clear out at least some of the greens.

Tomorrow we’re all driving to Ohio to drop Katherine off at choral camp at Rosedale (Sydney’s old college).  This is her first time on her own, but thankfully we know a number of other kids and adults who will be there, so that should make things easier.  In typical Katherine fashion, she started packing quite a while ago and kept a list on the fridge of items that had yet to be added.

I’m heading to Virginia on Tuesday for work, so Sydney and Nathaniel will be in charge of the house, the cats, and the farm.  After some priming by me, Nathaniel is seriously excited to be a real farm hand this week.  Little does he know that it’s going to be 90 degrees for the next few days . . .


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Perils of filling my kids’ heads with old books

Both kids are reading up a storm this summer, punctuated by long walks and roaming the farm.  And eating, of course.  That, to me, is the perfect summer combination.

The kids are also sharing a lot of books.  When we got a batch of books from the library recently, Nathaniel hunted up books and Katherine hunted up her own, but after they got home and plowed through a few they’d chosen, I soon found them curling up with books that the other one had checked out.  They’ve had fun talking about them, too, or recommending books to each other: “Be careful: there’s a scary bit in this one, but otherwise I think you’ll really like it,” or “Stuart Little is so funny.  You have to read it.”

When I have a say in things, I have been encouraging a lot of classic children’s books, given what I’ve seen from their preferences.  My kids are easily scared or confused by books that have a lot of pop culture references (they weren’t terribly impressed by the Star Wars nods in Wonder, much as they like the rest of the book.  And contemporary books often wind them up before bedtime, rather than help them settle in for the night.  I can see why: reading from an earlier time relied less heavily on suspense and action; even the Nancy Drew books are stuffed with description, far more than dialogue!  But I’m discovering that there are drawbacks to reading from an earlier time.

When we were out driving recently, I sighed when I saw a cement mixer pull onto the same winding, no-passing-for-miles road that I needed to take.  The kids were encouraging: “Maybe he’ll pull off soon.”

“No, babe.  The concrete company is all the way at the end of the road, and I bet he’s headed there.”

Then Katherine surprised me: “Maybe he’s going to his mistress not far from here.”

(Stifling my surprise as best I could): “A what?”

“You know: a mistress.  Someone he works for.”

“Hmm.  Right.”  Then I explained that we don’t tend to use “mistress” to identify a woman we work for any more.  I didn’t explain that we’d dropped that use like a hot potato after the term became a euphemism for other things.

“Oh, okay.”

And off she goes. We’ll see if she remembers my lesson.


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Beautiful summer color

One of the most enjoyable parts of being at the market is fielding the “What is that?” questions from people who stop by.  Did you know that you could get cauliflower in four different colors?  The purple seems to go over well here.  If it weren’t simply the most striking color, I’d worry that people were showing excessive school pride (Asbury is purple and white).  If Sydney could somehow pull off a UK blue, he’d really have a hit on his hands.

Don’t worry: Katherine’s doleful looks in recent pictures have to do with her sudden shift from try-too-hard smiles to dislike of being asked to hold still for pictures.  She’s not actually downcast at cozying up to potatoes.  This is still the most flattering of the eye-rolling, tongue-sticking-out poses she offered us, but Sydney and I warned her that we’re keeping the rest for possible later use at graduation parties and weddings.  In the picture, she’s holding a giant mixing bowl of tiny new potatoes: most of them are too small to sell, but they’ll be perfect for roasting with rosemary and olive oil at home.

Katherine was recently encouraged to keep an eye out for volleyball camps.  Apparently someone noticed that she’s pretty tall for an eight-year-old.  I hope she can make it through with fewer knee injuries than I got, but Sydney and I both really like volleyball, and I hoped that, eventually, we’d be able to put together a game with the four of us.  Nathaniel doesn’t seem to be lagging behind in size; now we just have to work on coordination.



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On the farm

Well, Kentucky summer is finally here.  The heat held off for a nice long while, but it looks like it’s here to stay.  I am dutifully slathering the kids in sunscreen, but mostly we make them wear hats and spend a lot of their time in the shade.  Sydney cut an opening in the huge honeysuckle hedge that lines the farm property, and now the kids have a room-sized cool and very dark hidey hole where they spread out their waterproof groundsheet (thanks, Mom!) and color and read between wandering expeditions.

We also have something of a rhythm going for the market on Saturdays.  The kids let us unpack the car and set up, and then they take over the back of the car for the rest of the morning.  A picnic basket with breakfast, ice water, and 11:00 smoothies also seems to help.


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Oxford, MS

At the end of May, I left Sydney and the kids for a conference in Oxford, MS.  I realized I’ve been there four times in the past decade, mostly because Ole Miss is both William Faulkner’s hometown and the site of the annual conference on his work.  This time, though I did go on a Faulkner tour of town, led by a colleague, I was there for a conference on British writers.  I felt a bit like I’d brought the wrong dress for the venue (I gave a paper on an English WWI soldier), but I enjoyed the mix of Deep South and British accents when everyone mingled after the talks.

Mom drove down (from Iowa!) to spend the week with me–and to visit one of her favorite places.  We enjoyed food at a number of the restaurants around the courthouse square.

We also hit all three locations of the independent bookseller, Square Books, and she humored me with a trip out to Faulkner’s house.

Most of the time, though, we just enjoyed walking the area: large old homes, lots of history, and gorgeous gardens.  I hear the tailgating’s remarkable, but you won’t find me within a hundred miles of Ole Miss once football season arrives.


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