New Candidate and a Funny Aspen Comment

Nothing political, but it’s official:  after passing my Candidacy Exam I am now an bonafide “PhD Candidate in Comparative Literature.”  Tons of work and stress going into it, but my adviser’s cheering congratulations after my 5-person committee deliberated was well worth it.  Sick though it may sound, the whole thing, including the hour-long oral exam/discussion was sort of fun and I came home glowing and told Justin that it was easily the most exciting meeting with faculty since I arrived.

This Tuesday I started what has got to be the highlight of at least this semester, if not more of my time here at PSU: bi-weekly lessons in Old French with Dr. Lacy (he’s edited just about every scholarly work on French Arthurian lit. in use today, it seems, and is just an amazing professor and scholar).  I can’t even speak Modern French, but I’m reading La Chanson de Roland in the original (no worries, I’m taking 3 Modern French courses this summer to catch up — after Latin, Gothic, Old English and Middle English, with only a bit of Italian still usable, finally a language I can use in the world/time I live in).

Justin and the kids are awesome and we’re ALL getting a bit antsy as we wait for Spring–not the least reason being that there is nowhere to camp in PA in the winter as everything closes.  We’re not sure we can make it to April…we might start “stealth camping.”

Now, the promised Funny Aspen Comment:

Today at church, as Aspen snuggled in my lap and asked about my earrings and necklace she then pointed to my collar bone:

“What’s this”

“My collar bone.”

“Oooh.  Cool collar bone.”

Poetic Ilana

On our way to her first official rock climbing class, Ilana recited this little poem she had made up today:

“Day gets short, night gets long,

blackbirds cease their little song;

Hush my darling, do not wake,

now the land the night will take.”

I’m a proud Momma.  I love the sentiment, I love the word choice, I love the rhyming couplets of trochaic quadrimeter…

And this from the girl who also made it to the top of her climbing route tonight on her first try!

For the Parents of all the Amazing, Magical Cousins Turning 10 This Year

some thoughts…

On Turning Ten

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I’m coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light–
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

–Billy Collins

There are six of them that turn that first, big number this year; Ilana is the first in just a few weeks.  Hug them tight.  Kiss their skinned knees.  And let’s all help them keep their brilliant wonder.

A Christmas Miracle!

Back in September we woke up one Monday morning to find the front driver’s side window of our 4Runner shattered and our ipod stolen.  I wanted to move.  I was so upset by the theft and that there was auto glass all over the grass where my kids play, and I hated to go to or from the car at night.  Plus, with our pared-down grad. student budget, just going out and buying a new 80G ipod was not a reasonable option.  We dutifully reported it to the police with no expectation that it would do anything other than help them more accurately reflect the crime rate in what seemed then to be a rotten little town.

But then, Monday, Dec 14, Justin got a call–the police wanted to speak with him.  They had recovered a number of ipods and gps’s from four little punks who had been trying to sell them on ebay.  They had so many that they were behind and their inventory was piling up.  The trick is, they were finally caught because some of the gps’s were code-protected, and after people bought them on ebay they realized they had been stolen and reported it to the police.  We found a copy of our ipod’s serial number (as the last ipod to be synced with our desktop), called the police and they said, “Yep, it looks like they tried to scratch off the serial number, but we think it’s yours.”  Off to the police station Justin went (it was fun to say that Dad had to go down to the police station–the kids’ eyes got really big).

Our ipod was labeled “#21,” it was full of Gangster rap and “The Best of Beethoven” (I’m not sure how to feel about a delinquent who pairs those two genres of music, maybe there’s hope for him after due justice?).  We reformatted it and renamed it from “Zwags” (courtesy of the delinquent) to “Pheonix” to commemorate its restoration.  We’ve also turned in a copy of the receipt for replacing the window, and may be able to recover that cost as well, in time.  Our faith in justice is renewed and with enough memory to hold our entire music collection our life has a more extensive and eclectic soundtrack again. :)

Merry Christmas to All, and to all a Good (Free-Of-Petty-Theft) Night!

Santa Doubt

It makes sense, really.  I mean, Forester is 7.5 yrs old, so of course he is going to start wondering about that big guy with the beard in the red suit, but I didn’t expect the breaking point to be so trivial…

Santa Claus came to visit all the kids in our ward at our ward Christmas activity last Saturday afternoon.  He very generously brought a cool treat bag with candy, a jingle bell, some other small themed items, and a Christmas cookie cutter, for each little kid.  As soon as he sat down Aspen was so overcome with love that she planted herself next to his chair, resting her cheek on his arm and gazing up at him adoringly, by turns, the entire time he was visiting with all the other kids.  As she told me later, “Santa is my friend.  I love him.”  Her almost 3 yr old mind just welcomed him in.  But Forester seemed to struggle a bit.

Sure, he stood in line, grin on his cute face, sat on his lap, and asked for a Star Wars something-or-other; but then he got his treat bag and the bright Christmas magic began to dim.  He walked up to Nathan (a great friend–he’s married to Emily’s sister and although we aren’t technically related, we’ve adopted them as Aunt and Uncle) and said, “I have a hard time believing that that is Santa Claus.”

Poor Nathan, his first child isn’t due for another 2 weeks and he suddenly found himself thrust into one of those key growing-up moments: does he shatter the dream, or frantically shore it up?  He, wisely, opted for ignorance and just asked Forester why he thought that.

Forester pulled out his new cookie cutter.  He brandished it at Nathan and, in a state of
shock and confusion, insisted that this couldn’t be the REAL Santa because he had given Forester a cookie cutter.  As he said, “What am I supposed to do with this?”  Nathan: “You could make cookies for Santa.”  Forester: “What?!  How?!  I don’t know how to make gingerbread men!”

We tried to problem-solve the situation by suggesting that perhaps I could help him make cookies, but he still seems doubtful.  He’s been asking if the Santa that came to visit him at Grammy and Grandpa Chapman’s hotel the last few years is really Santa or not.  The veil of Christmas magic is getting thin.  It reminds me of the Christmas a few years ago when Ilana, quietly, when the little kids weren’t around, asked me, “Is Santa Claus a myth?”

In Pennsylvania: If you Smell Smoke, Get Out

Part Last (well, for now)

MOVE #2 And, we’re moving in about 3 weeks.  Yes, the lesson here is NEVER, no matter what craziness happened with your move and how many people attest to the fact that where you’re moving is nice, NEVER sign a lease before you’ve checked out the property.  It’s nice enough, but our particular town house was apparently the chain-smoker town house for years before us, and now that the smell from the recarpeting and repainting has dissipated, it stinks.  Sadly, we get used to it until we’re gone for a while (like to Gramma and Grandpa’s overnight) and then it is terrible.  We’ve been pretty frustrated about that, especially since in all our conversations with the property management company the only thing we cared about and asked about all the time was whether it had been smoked in.  I think it is safe to say that the kids have picked up on that frustration a bit considering that Aspen asked me for a “freaking apple” tonight.  Oops.  So, we’ve moving directly across the street, to a non-smoky town house.  Kind of a pain, but totally worth it.  If all goes well, Aspen won’t be saying “freaking” much longer. :)

ALL IN ALL We’re glad we’re here, we love being close to family, we miss the family we’re less close to, we’re hoping we can take some time for hiking sometime soon, and the leaves are already starting to change… *sigh*

In Pennsylvania: Justin

Part V

HOUSE-HUSBAND Justin cooks me dinner each night (I have class until 5:30 Mon-Thurs.).  He just got a part time job facilitating training courses through the Human Resources Development Department at Penn State and will keep that up even after he has a full time job–it’s a cool opportunity.  In the meantime, he’s enjoying the extra time with the kids.  Forester reads a book to him each day after school, and Justin’s taking Aspen and Ronan to a nearby apple farm this week for a wagon ride, apples, and cider.

Justin has been talking with cool folks at church who like hiking too and has amassed quite a list of suggestions of places for us to go check out sometime.  We’re still missing our desert and real mountains, but the amazing pictures he took on some of our last hikes in Utah have made it to frames on the wall above our couch, and keep us smiling.

In Pennsylvania: Julie

Part II

JULIE’S SCHOOL Orientation was great, school started and I’m lucky enough that all my classes actually fit my field of study (that NEVER happens as a medievalist).  I started with 3 and 1 audit but quickly decided “hey, I can write one more 20 page paper, right? (and give another 2 20-min presentations and write a bunch more shorter papers throughout the semester)” and the audit is now an official class.  3 classes is normal, 4 is, as my adviser says, “ambitious” but it’s working and I’m glad I’m jumping in with both feet.  Plus, as I get requirements out of the way now, I’m paving the way (theoretically) for a calmer semester later on so I can start working on my dissertation more.  In terms of people, I have great friends among my fellow grad. students, and my professors are all great to work with (sometimes appropriately scary, but so far always encouraging).

In Pennsylvania: Aspen and Ronan

Part IV

PRE-K KIDDOS Aspen and Ronan hang out with Dad each day.  They have a routine and Justin has determined that these two are hard to feed.  But, despite the fact that they are our most picky eaters, they both LOVE macaroni and cheese with cut up hot dogs.  I think they have it for lunch almost every day.  But since he balances that with lots of yogurt, apples, and bananas as snacks, I think it all works out nutritionally.  Of course, all the kids are calling Justin the “Master of Milkshakes” so that tells you something about our favorite bedtime snack these days…  Aspen’s favorite thing to do is visit the bunny across the street.  Ronan’s favorite thing to do is go grocery shopping–seriously.  Whenever he prays he says “Thank you for the grocery store.  Thank you for Church.  Thank you for us going to the grocery store.  Thank you for us going to Church,” and he repeats that at least twice each prayer–funny little man.  He’s a bit sad to not ride the bus to school this year, as he did with his preschool last year, but he’s having fun.

In Pennsylvania: Ilana and Forester

Part III

ELEMENTARY STUDENTS Ilana and Forester both adore their schools!  They are at two different schools,  but next year will be at the same school.  Forester is at the local elementary school and Ilana is at a charter school.  Not that I have any weird feelings about public schools, but the charter has some cool programs (for free) that just really work out well for our family: 1 hour each of Spanish and Chinese each day, and 2 1-hour after school clubs each day (optional and yet still free) that focus on international arts and culture as well as music,homework, and sports.  At both schools their teachers are great, they are happy and learning and it is exciting to watch.  Ilana came home from her first day of school exclaiming that it was the best day of her life.  Justin said, “Really?  The best day of your whole life?”  To which Ilana replied, “Well, maybe the 10th best.”  Forester missed Kyson like mad on the first day of school, and still misses his best friend, but he’s making new friends here too.  A little girl in his class, who also lives in our neighborhood, announced that he is her boyfriend on the bus the other day.  Justin explained that 1st grade is too young for a boyfriend and Forester isn’t allowed to hold hands yet.  Ilana’s favorite thing about school is “Cooking Club” on Friday afternoon and Forester’s favorite thing is seeing how their class caterpillars are growing and changing each day (I think there are 18 of them, and apparently they love to eat milkweed).