Saturday, September 29, 2007

Galileo's Daughter

This is my first read in getting prepped for our Italy trip. AJ's mom recommended it to me and I really enjoyed it. Dava Sobel, the author, retranslated the enormous number of letters from Galileo's daughter, Soeur Maria Celeste, a cloistered nun to shed light on what was probably Galileo's most important relationship in his life while at the same time telling the story of Galileo's life. Galileo is from Florence, and lived in Pisa, Padova, and Siena, all places I hope to visit. Maybe we can even see his grave or the place where he was under house arrest. I love that his daughter, upon becoming a nun, changed her name to include Celeste--I think it was in tribute to her father who had recently discovered 4 Jovian moons and refined the telescope in order to better study celestial phenomena. (One of the reasons that I love the name Stella is that it means star in Italian.)

The whole conflict between Galileo and his helio-centric model of the "universe" and the Catholic church is fascinating and troubling. This book makes me want to read an overall history of the tensions between science and faith. I couldn't believe that G.'s Dialogue, in which he tries to avoid the wrath of the Catholic church by using 3 fictional characters to discuss the earth- and sun-centered models of the universe, remained on the Catholic church's list of banned books until the mid-1800's--a total of 200 years after G wrote it. I would like to see if the Catholic church apologized and/or responded when incontrovertible evidence emerged proving that the earth was not the center of the universe.

The rationale for their objections to G's work was that the helio-centric model contradicted scripture. Leading clergy and the Inquisitorial officials pointed to maybe 3 or 4 scriptures in the Bible as their evidence. Chief among then was the story of Joshua where the sun stood still. What was surprising to me was how much weight the Pope and church put on an issue that I see as having very little relevance to issues of salvation or any of the core tenets of Christianity. Why was this so important to them? The alternative models that are required to keep the sun moving around the earth are so complicated and distorted as to be farcical. My favorite is the system of Tycho Brahe where Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn rotate around the Sun while the Sun circled the stationary Earth.

There was no discussion in the book about whether G questioned the Church's position in either this specific regard or in general. He remained a faithful Catholic his entire life, despite the treatment he received at the hands of Catholic authority.

And a great quote by G's father Vicenzio:

It appears to me that they who in proof of any assertion rely simply on the weight of authority, without adducing any argument in support of it, act very absurdly.

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Mindless Eating

This is an intriguing book written by the head of a food lab whose whole career is based on crazy experiments that show how our environment shape how much we eat. We aren't good at telling when we're full, but rely on our surroundings to give us cues that we follow. I heard him on NPR talking about his work. How about these? The self refilling tomato soup bowl? The food lab restaurant with the North Dakota vs. Sonoma valley wine (same wine, different label, huge impact on satisfaction with meal.) MBA superbowl parties and the size of the bowls party food was in. On and on. He has applications of his work each chapter--how can you mindlessly lose weight? The things that I caught on to: use smaller plates and dish up food before you coming to the table rather than serving from the table.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Pregnancy, the Third Time Around

I am now 17 weeks pregnant. I think that this past weekend, I started to feel the baby moving. But, I still don't feel connected much to the baby, and it really doesn't seem too real yet. I haven't been thinking about names, haven't started wearing maternity clothes, and am not really "excited" yet. (It seems like when people hear you're pregnant, they're excited for you and expect you to say that you're excited. I'm not sure how to describe what I'm feeling. Just fine about it, I guess.) I haven't told a lot of people in my ward yet, just because I feel kind of awkward about it. "Ahem. Attention everyone. I have an announcement to make." If the discussion comes around to babies, I mention it. But, I feel like there are a few more people that I need to tell before it's totally obvious just by looking at me. I think that when we find out what the baby's sex is and when the baby starts moving around more that I will start to get more into it.

There is a woman in my ward who is only a few weeks ahead of me. She is really petite, so it is obvious that she is pregnant. But, her pregnancy behaviors are surprising to me. Her hand always on the belly. Using her belly as a little shelf. The pregnancy walk. I doubt these things are conscious, but it seems too early for her to be doing all those things since I can't imagine myself doing those things in a few weeks. I'm sure it speaks to differences in our dispositions, and possibly even differences in our feelings about motherhood.

Then there's the "high-risk" thing. Ever time I've gone to the dr, it's come up. My age. And how my chances for x,y, and z are higher because my age puts me in the high risk category. At times, I was convinced that our baby would have Down's. I was relieved when the results from the maternal serum test came back normal. I have to get the super duper extra long ultrasound to check for a lot of extra stuff. I hope they stop mentioning it once that is done.

This summer was quite a low point for me. I think a few things contributed. MJ was not in school at all--the kids were always driving each other crazy and driving me crazy. The bickering seemed incessant and I felt like I couldn't go through a day without at least a minor breakdown. T stopped napping as soon as we got back from vacation. This was just the time when I started needing a nap every day. The first trimester exhaustion felt debilitating and I could hardly handle routine housework. The kids were just plain overwhelming. (A nice way to start a pregnancy. I can't even deal with the kids I have now. What'll it be like with a newborn?)

And I had so much rage. I don't know if it was hormonal or if it represented an emotional blowout of all my motherhood issues. I felt perpetually angry. It was a physical feeling in my chest and throat and I could scarcely contain myself. (I often did not.)

This is something I wrote in the middle of this summer about my anger:

I feel so angry lately. Is it because I am pregnant? Other women get emotional when they watch cheesy commercials, but I am angry. I have no patience with the kids. The smallest thing sets me off. I am going to ask the nurse this week if this could possibly be related to being prg. When I was p with T I was also angry during the first trimester, but I thought it was because I had been reading the Price of Motherhood. And because of all the crazy things that happened to me that first little while with the temple and how I felt like he was a girl, but then found out he was really a boy. I felt angry. I had to leave General Conference when I heard a woman equating motherhood with sacrifice. I just was angry.

Now, seeing how I am feeling right now, without all those external stresses that I had before (right now, I haven’t thought about the baby’s sex, things have been pretty calm, except for the transition to summer time and no nap for T) but I am angry. Maybe I will google it later and see if other pregnant women feel anger too. Could it be hormones? I would like to attribute it to that, but don’t know if I can. At least not completely. My kids are driving my crazy and I feel mad about having to stay home with them. I have no energy to do anything and my house is a mess right now. I am angry. How do I deal with this situation? I am not sure.

Structure. Maybe I just need more structure in our lives. I don’t like unpredictability and it seems like there is just so much open time in the days where I feel like I can hardly move. Should I let Toby stop napping? Would that make it easier to deal with my days? Or harder?

When I read Terry Tempest Williams' quotation about the moon and our energy, it resonated with me and I had hope that I would not always be in the crescent (or even new) moon stage. And sure enough, with the passing of summer, MJ staring 1st grade, and the end of the 1st trimester, I have felt a lot better. I don't remember the last time I needed a nap, and my moods are so much more even.

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Refuge and Faithful Transgressions

I have been needing to catch up with a few words on some books that I read this summer. Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams and Faithful Transgression by Laura Bush are companion volumes somewhat. We read Refuge for Sept book group (but had a low turnout after the woman who suggested it made a disclaimer that she didn't know about the "seeds of apostacy" that she found in it. I vehemently disagree with this analysis of the book. Non-orthodox thoughts will not necessarily set someone on an incontrovertible path towards an apostate life.)

Bush analyzes 6 Mormon women's autobiographical writings who cross boundaries. She spends some time discussing her notion of trangression as boundary crossing, using Adam and Eve as example. I liked her introductory discussion and the notion that she develops of the contradiction, yet wholeness, that she finds in women who have crossed Mormon boundaries. I didn't finish all 6 of her biographical chapters. It was a bit academic, but still interesting. Anyway, one of the women that she discusses is Terry Tempest Williams, together with a memoir entitled Refuge.

I really loved Refuge and found the controversial issues to be a very overall small part of her book. In fact, I think that Bush makes too much of them in her analysis. There is no lengthy discussion of any one particular "boundary-crossing" issue--this book is about Williams' mother suffering and ultimately dying from ovarian cancer. And it is about Williams connection to the land of Utah. She has an amazing ability to sit and absorb nature. Her particular love is birds, and her book is full of descriptions of birds and their habitats and what happened to them as Great Salt Lake flooded in the 1980's.

It's been about a month since I read it and a couple of things still stand out to me.

I loved her use of the moon as a metaphor for our emotional energy. In a brief passage, she says, "As women, we hold the moon in our bellies. It is too much to ask to operate on full-moon energy three hundred and sixty-five days a year. I am in a crescent phase." I love the notion that our energy cycles like the moon and that behind a crescent or new moon phase, the full moon exists--it just may not be evident at the moment. I was certainly in a crescent phase this summer.

I also was astounded by her connection to a geographical place. I think it's due both to her predisposition to pay attention to and love nature and to the fact that she has lived in the same place her whole life. But, moving around a lot isn't a good excuse for me. After reading Refuge, I determined to find ways to become more connected to the area where I live. To research and give labels to the trees in my neighborhood. To spend time walking around lakes and on the numerous trails in the area. To take advantage of the many wonderful outdoor center activities. And to encourage my kids in the same way.

When we first came here to look for a house, all the commercial areas were so familiar. "Here's a complex with Target, Pier One, Old Navy, and Starbucks. Oh, and just up the road in this other suburban town is the exact same thing." These complexes look just like so many others across the country. The homogenization of America. My conception of place was centered more in commercial enterprise rather than landscape. And now that we have lived in Minnesota for more than a year, there are clearly many things that distinguish it from Pittsburgh, New York, and New Jersey. I love the amount of sun we get compared to Pittsburgh. I often am in awe at the vastness of the sky and the beautiful clouds scattered across it, especially at sunset. And of course, the sheer number of lakes and ponds. But, I regret that my first impression of this place that is now my home was based upon something much different.
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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Off-Ramps and On-Ramps

Sylvia Ann Hewlitt's new book Off-Ramps and On-Ramps: Keeping Talented Women on the Road to Success is a book about how corporate America can restructure work to help women create non-linear careers. She uses a variety of case studies from companies like Ernst and Young and Lehman Brothers, who are implementing cutting edge policies, to discuss what work life balance can look like and mean for women employers. She focuses on the needs of mothers, but also of women who are elder caregivers, and generalizes to the entire working population who may need work flexibility. I found it somewhat interesting, but had a couple of general thoughts and some specifics.

This book is focused on a very narrow sub-set of working women: women who are high achievers in corporate America. Women at the top of a very particular group of employees. These are women who are earning lots of money in consulting, investment banking, and other such jobs who want to scale back their careers for a time. Maybe these are the early adopters who will pave the way for flexible work arrangements for a much wider variety of work, but the economic benefits of retaining women seems to be greater in a corporate setting than in many other employment arenas.

And what happens if the economy starts to shrink and companies need to downsize? Will they be able to maintain these same kinds of policies to keep women able to balance work and life? I also wondered about how applicable these types of policies are for small companies. They can't afford to have elder care consultants working with employees to solve problems with elderly and sick parents, for example.

It was also very much targeted at corporations who want to implement policies, making it somewhat less interesting for me as an individual concerned about these issues, but from the other side of the table. Yes, I'd love to find a flexible job arrangement!! How these policies relate to academic jobs is completely unclear and I have no idea what universities are doing in this arena. And how can I find a job that is flexible? I'm not sure.

But after reading, I thought maybe I should have gone into business or some other area that would be better suited for part time/flexible work. Some area where the skills are in greater demand than in academics. And I also started thinking (AGAIN!) about how to go about finding a job that is flexible and part-time. I need something. I want something. I keep thinking about that time (6 years from now) when all my kids will be in school and what I will be doing. I need to be doing smaller things now so that I can have an entry point then. So, I'm going to finish updating my vita and send it out to a bunch of places and send in that paper for review to see if I can't get it published. And look into as many options as I can find that might provide me some opportunity to use these skills
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Reading analysis

I want to do a little analysis of my reading habits over time after looking at an NPR article that S sent me about women reading more than men and reading more fiction than men. I want to see how much I've read over the last few years, as well as the breakdown between fiction and non-fiction. Starting in mid-2004 I started recording all the books I read in a little book, so to go completely digital, I will transcribe them here.

Moneyball by Michael Lewis, NF, May 2004
The Secret Gospel of St Thomas by Elaine Pagels, NF, May-June 2004
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, F, May 2004
(These were books I worked on when AJ and I went to North Carolina for a get away when I was pregnant with. Doesn't seem like it's been 3+ years since then.)

Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, F, Aug 2004
The Life of Pi by Yann Martel, F, Sept 2004
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, F, Sept-Oct 2004
Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker, NF, Nov 2004
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, F, Dec 2004
Embers by Sandor Marai, F, Nov-Dec 2004
Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes, NF, Dec 2004-Jan 2005
The Not So Big House by Sarah Suzanka, NF, Jan 2005
Bliss by Ronit Matalon, F, Jan 2005 (wow--I barely remember this one. )
Consuming Kids by Susan Linn, NF, Feb 2005
Born to Buy by Juliet Schor, NF, Feb 2005
Gift of Love by Marc Gafni, NF, March 2005
Families that Work by Gopnick and Meyers, NF, Apr 2005
Angels and Demons by Dan Brown, F, Apr 2005
The Culprit and the Cure by Aldana, NF, Apr 2005
Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety by Judith Warner, NF, Apr 2005
The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness by Edward Hallowell, NF, Apr 2005
The Great Divorce by CS Lewis, F?, May 2005
David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormanism, NF, June 2005
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by JK Rowling, F, July 2005
Blindness by Jose Saramago, F, July 2005
The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency, F, Aug 2005
Map of a Child by Darshak, NF, Aug/Sept 2005
Woman: An Intimate Geography by Natalie Angier, NF, Sept 2005
City of Falling Angels by John Berendt, NF, Fall 2005
Waiting For Birdy by Catherine Newman, NF, Sept 2005
1-2-3 Magic (Parenting book), NF, Fall 2005
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, F, Fall 2005

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, NF, Dec 2005
Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver, F, Dec 2005
Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling by Ross King, NF, Dec 2005
(I read these on our trip to Italy)

Medici Money by Tim Parks, NF, Jan 2006
Bella Tuscany by Frances Mayes, NF, Jan 2006
Faster by J. Gleick, NF, Feb 2006
An Italian Education by Tim Parks, NF, Feb 2006
The Wonder of Boys, NF, Feb 2006
Pedestals and Podiums by Martha Sonntag Bradley, NF, Mar 2006
I got this one from The Strand after I defended my diss
Children of God by Mary Doria Russell, F, Mar 2006
Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Bushman, NF, Mar-Apr 2006

Freakonomics by Steven Leavitt, NF, May 2006
The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman, NF, May 2006 (didn't finish)
Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell, NF, May 2006
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, F, May 2006
(These four I read on our cruise)

And I think from here, I started keeping track on my blog
So, from May 2004-May 2006, I read 46 books, and 35% were fiction.

Since July 2006, I have read 42 books (that picked up quite a bit with no diss to worry about). 16 were fiction and 26 were non-fiction, for a total of 38% fiction. Not too different from before.

In the NPR story, there were no statistics on what the proportion of fiction to non-fiction is for women readers, only that women read more than men and read more fiction than men. (Only 20% of fiction readers are men.) So, I have no idea where I fall in general reading trends. They do report that among avid readers, women read 9 books per year. What does that make me? I must fall in the major nerd category.
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Saturday, September 08, 2007

Watership Down

I reread this delightful story this past week. My initial motivation? It was the first book in the Washington Post Lost Book Club. Yes, there are a lot of parallels between this book and Lost. But, it was just a good read.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Ahh, September!

I love September. I think that the new year should begin with September, not January. No one wants to make a fresh start, right off the heels of Christmas, in the depths of winter. But, September. Quite another matter. The weather is changing--no more dog days of summer where hardly a fly can stir. Winter still seems to be a safe ways off. And school is starting back up. There are school supplies and backpacks to organize, new clothes to lay out, and a whole new schedule with new teachers and classes. Change is in the air in September.

Yesterday, I told MJ, who started 1st grade today, that the first day of school was always my favorite day of the year. I could never sleep the night before school started, because I was so excited. I loved it more than Halloween, certainly, and even more than Christmas. She merrily marched off to school today, happy as could be, without a look back. I've been wondering all day how she's doing, how she likes her new teacher and class, and how the hot lunch was (first time ever).

This morning, after she left on the bus, T seemed a little down. He didn't want to leave the corner where the bus stopped. And he dragged his feet all the way home, with head hung and shoulders slumped. Happily, friends stopped by and we spent a gorgeous morning at the park. Such a beautiful day. Then it was on to lunch, and some stories and puzzles. Now, it's quiet time. I pulled out my dusty vita for an update and then decided that before I leave for Italy in a month I will submit two chapters of my dissertation for publication review. Wow--I haven't had the energy or motivation to do anything for a while. But, it's September! And I'm feeling good.

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