What is Civil Rights Now

An attempt at a discrimination graphic.I kind of hate that this topic pretty much only comes up when MLK day rolls around.  I am (mostly) privileged enough to not have to think too hard about civil rights.  I got pulled over by the police the other day, and I didn’t get nervous at all.  I have friends and students who would be seriously worried, even if they didn’t do anything wrong.  So, it sucks that most of the time I don’t have to think about it, but I’m glad, I think, that at least once a year, many of us do pause and take stock of where we are and think about what needs to be done to make things better.

This election cycle and upcoming presidency have raised the issue of civil rights to the forefront of many people’s minds.  The rights of many have been questioned over the last few months and many are left wondering what the new administration will really do.  They’ve said, for example, that they might ban Muslims from entering this country, that they will deport Hispanic and Latino/a immigrants, that the work the current DOJ has done to investigate policing is misguided and unnecessary, and they’re looking at cutting provisions in the ACA that support women’s health.  And that’s not even touching what might happen to education and housing, both key areas where civil rights are either upheld or not.

What does it really mean to have civil rights or equal rights for all? In my mind, it’s relatively simple.  In terms of the law, everyone gets treated the same, regardless of their race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc.  That basically, they’re human first and whatever else they might identify as has nothing to do with how they can operate in the world.  Thus, in my mind, two women have the right to get married and afterwards, have the same kinds of rights any heterosexual spouses would have: right to health and survivor benefits, hospital visitation rights, and yes, right to divorce.  I have a hard time understanding why people want to deny a right to someone based on skin color, religion, and gender.  I know there’s an underlying feeling, which came out during this election cycle, that the “rights pie” is limited and if we allow, say, a black person the right to vote, then there’s what, less votes for others? Well, I know where that comes from, but when you lay it out like that, it starts to sound ridiculous.

I do get that there are people out there who hold certain beliefs (that homosexuality is evil, for example) that they feel are being trampled on, but you know, beliefs are meant to be challenged.  They’re meant to be scrutinized in the light of day, against logic and evidence.  And you may, indeed, still hold that belief, but the country doesn’t have to.  We actually have a law on the books that blacks are only three-fifths of a person, and yes that was a political thing, put in place so that southern states would have less representation, but it was also a real belief that people held (and sadly, some still do) that black people were literally less than human.  That law got repealed and while there’s a fringe of people who still hold the belief, the belief has been outlawed now.

To me, civil rights is all about examining the beliefs behind laws that make certain groups less than human.  To support the rights of a fetus above those of a woman supports the belief that life at any stage (viable or not) has the full rights of a living human.  You can still hold that belief, but the belief  is (tenuously) outlawed, giving the pregnant woman full humanity.  Any time, I think, that you put a white man next to someone other than a white man, there should be equal status for both written into the law.  Sometimes, laws have to be written to ensure that regular humans going about their regular business don’t impose their beliefs (conscious or not) about inequality.  So, we have affirmative action and voting rights laws and housing discrimination laws and employment discrimination laws.  And sometimes, we have to fight to get these kinds of laws passed or enforced or changed.  Sometimes that’s a legal fight, and sometimes, it’s a fight taken to the streets in the form of protest.  MLK day reminds us that there are still things to fight for, but it also reminds us that we live in a country where we can fight, where we are specifically constitutionally allowed to fight. It is up to all of us to continue the fight King started.

Expanding CS Career Paths

Life PhilosophyMike Zamansky is someone I’ve been following in the CS world for a while.  He has really smart things to say about CS Education.  Last week he wrote about the difference (and perceived difference in value of) a BA versus a BS in Computer Science.  I agree with him that we need to educate students more about how to follow a CS career path and what you really should be looking for in a program.

There are a lot of people out there who think that the best CS programs are not only BS programs but BS programs housed within Engineering Schools (as opposed to within Arts and Sciences).  I face this misperception all the time.  My students will shy away from pursuing CS because of this idea, or I’ll have students who insist on the engineering route when they’re interested in other areas of CS that are more in the realm of social sciences or even humanities. Very few of my students are interested in pursuing CS as a standalone thing.  They often want to pair it with another discipline like Psychology or Economics.  An engineering school isn’t necessarily going to allow a student the flexibility to do that (depends on the program, of course) and CS in Engineering is often focused on Software Engineering (or hardware-based things like robotics, etc.). As Mike says, we need to do a better job of letting people know that this is just one pathway–a viable one, but just one.

What seems to fit many of my students needs and interests are programs at small liberal arts colleges where CS is part of a larger program, and students can focus on different aspects of CS.  Or programs that focus on interdisciplinary approaches to CS, encouraging students to pair CS with another field or study CS through the lens of a particular area.  One large school that I know of that’s done this is Indiana University where CS is housed within a School of Informatics and there’s lots of cross-pollination in terms of both courses and research in a wide range of fields.

And some students may choose to make CS a minor rather than a major, and truly focus on the some other field but use their computing expertise to enhance their work in that field.  As Mike points out, going down any of these paths–BA, BS, Engineering, major, minor, etc.–can lead to success in a Computing field.  But too many of our students (and their parents) think that if they don’t go down the BS/Engineering path, they will fail.

This is somewhat related to my PISA post from earlier, the idea that the concept of what the any STEM field entails should be broadened beyond its stereotype in order to attract the widest possible interest. It’s our role is as teachers to help dispel those stereotypes, starting with college expectations.  I would say we need to dispel the notion that there’s a one-size-fits-all approach to any career.  If there’s any expectation that might be true, it’s that things will change, even careers.

PISA and Girls’ Education

Tests Don't Grow in Trees You Know...Okay, enough naval gazing.  Let’s get back to work.

A few weeks before the break, the 2015 PISA results were announced.  This is one of those assessments where the US comes out way behind other countries and everyone wrings their hands for a while.  My interest in results like these is to assess pedagogical approaches that seem to be working and, for where I am in particular right now, to examine the gender gap and think about ways we’re addressing that.

The PISA report, of course, has nothing specific to say about whether girls’ education is more effective than co-ed education, but it does have some interesting things to say about the gender gap and what seems to be causing it.  First, some data about the science gender gap.  Boys outperform girls in science by a small percentage, in fact by the smallest percentage between math and science.  Where the gap in STEM seems to be occurring is in expectations and efficacy.

On average across the OECD, a similar proportion of 15-year-old boys and girls expects to work in a science-related occupation at age 30 (25% of boys vs. 24% of girls) (Table I.3.10b). However, a different pattern is observed in the United States, where 43% of girls but only 33% of boys expect to work in a science-related occupation at age 30. This difference exists despite the fact that boys in the United States perform significantly better than girls on the PISA 2015 science assessment (Table I.2.8a). Expectations of a career in health account for the difference between genders. In the United States, only 9% of boys expect this career path but 35% of girls do so, compared to 2% of boys and 7% of girls on average across the OECD. Boys were more likely than girls to expect to become science and engineering professionals (20% of boys vs. 6% of girls) and ICT professionals (4% of boys vs. 0.5% of girls), a gap that is also observed in many other OECD countries. (“Key Findings from PISA 2015 for the United States” 24)

Some people might take that first US stat about 43% of girls expecting to work in a science-related field and feel pretty good about the gender gap, but if you continue reading, you see that the stat comes primarily from the expectation to work in a health-related field, which runs the gamut from nurse to medical researcher.  And we know how nursing (and other health-support areas) skew in terms of gender.  And then you see that only 6% of girls expect to be science or engineering professionals and that’s where the gender gap widens.

Efficacy is the measure of how confident you feel about your performance.  If asked, for example, are you good at math, what would you say?  The questions asked by PISA are more complex than that, but that’s the idea.  More often than not, boys will say they’re good at something and girls won’t.  Their actual performance skews in the opposite direction. Boys perform worse than they think they will and girls perform better  If the student is in the US, then they’re likely to be very confident that they’re good at something, but their performance is actually average, on average.

What this suggests is that if we create environments where girls will expect to enter a STEM field and we give them the confidence to do so, we might go a long way toward shrinking the gap.  Lots of other research points this idea out, including the PISA report itself:

Gender-related differences in science engagement and career expectations appear more related to disparities in what boys and girls think they are good at and is good for them, than to differences in what they actually can do.

Stereotypes about scientists and about work in science-related occupations (computer science is a “masculine” field and biology a “feminine” field; scientists achieve success due to brilliance rather than hard work; scientists are “mad”) can discourage some students from engaging further with science. In addition to challenging gender stereotypes, parents and teachers can help support students’ engagement with science by helping students become more aware of the range of career opportunities that are made available with training in science and technology (“Results in Focus”, 6).

What does this have to do with girls’ education?  What I’d suggest is that when you’re teaching girls, you’re often more keenly aware of these issues, of the way girls lower expectations for themselves and lack confidence.  Therefore, what we do at girls’ schools is work hard to support girls in raising those expectations and building their confidence in their abilities.  We can do that, I think, more effectively than we could if we were in a co-ed situation. We just have to fight internal dialogue and some external pressures.  We don’t also have to fight off the boys feeding them the same message.  We’re engaged in a single battle, not two.  I personally spend a lot of time reading research of teaching methods that are equitable and that will impact girls specifically, and I share that research with my faculty.  I shared the PISA report with the department chairs and program leaders, and someone responded, “To me, this is an argument for girls’ education.” And I agreed with them.  The report provides no hard and fast evidence, of course, but certainly, it dovetails with the approach many girls’ schools take in providing education geared toward women.

Resolutions: Process and Product

full glassesSo I laid out a lot of things I’ve been thinking about over the last week, embedded in which are goals I might set for myself.  Every year I set goals.  I’ve even been specific about them. Heck, I randomly set goals throughout the year. A couple of months ago, I started down the road of doing a 30-day challenge, which worked the first month and didn’t the second.  Goals are great, but what I really aim to do is establish some habits that I know will put me on the path to an end goal I have in mind.  I have a lot of end goals in mind. But I can’t do all the things all at once. I’ve read in many places to tackle only one thing at a time.  That’s what did me in on the 30-day challenge. I tried to tackle 2 things at once. It takes approximately 21 days to establish a habit they say, but I think that’s probably crap. In fact, reading just a couple of semi-reputable articles tells me it’s crap.  But I think a good start to establishing a habit is 21-30 days.  If you can do a thing most days for those first few weeks, you’re probably on your way.

So, one way to approach resolutions would be to pick one to start with, work on it for 30 days and then move on to the next one while maintaining the first habit. Except, I think you may have to wait until the first habit is well and truly established.  But 30 days seems like a good assessment time-frame.  In thinking about what I want to accomplish this year, two things rise to the top of my list: finances and the house.  These two things nag at me pretty constantly, and they’re two things I often feel like I have no control over.  The reality, of course, is that I do have control over them.  But now, I have an end goal for both that I think will make other things in my life possible. I’ve also already started working on both, so I think momentum is on my side. I’m going to start with process and then lay out product.

Finances-Process

  1. Every day, check on spending and allocate money toward long-term goals (paying off debt, adding to savings).  I’m realistic enough to know that Mr. Geeky and I are never going to be the type to write down every coffee we buy and then evaluate where our money is going and make some kind of dramatic change.  But, by knowing on a daily basis, what our balances are, we can plan accordingly. We can decide to eat in or hold off on a purchase.  We did this last month to good effect.
  2. Every week, fix some financial thing that’s broken.  This sounds weird, I know.  We don’t have major things broken, but I have accounts that need to be rolled over, things need some reorganizing, and I just need to make sure things are lined up in a way that makes sense.
  3. At the end of the 30 days, make an appointment with a financial planner. This is something I’ve been wanting to do for a while.  We’re at a point where our goals are complex enough that I think some expert advice would be helpful.

Finances-Goals

  1. Pay off all consumer debt.  I once had a handle on our debt, but then I quit my job and it gradually creeped back up again.  And that’s been the pattern over the last 5-7 years.  Pay it way down, watch it creep up again. It usually happens as a result of some unexpected expense–car repairs, trips to see family (for weddings, illness, semi-unplanned events that need to happen quickly).  I’m planning to be aggressive about this, because see 1 above.  When the money goes elsewhere early in the cycle, we can adjust.
  2. Have two months salary in savings.  This will take a while, likely more than a year.  Achieving #1 here will hopefully help achieve this one.

House-Process

  1. Daily. Keep main living areas clean. Don’t go to bed with a mess to wake up to.  The whole family is on board with this one, and we’re being reasonable about it.  A pair of shoes by the couch is no big deal, but dirty dishes in the sink is.  Perfection is not the goal.
  2. Daily. Spend 15-30 minutes decluttering an area.  I have tried this before, and it’s hard.  What I’ve realized is that it’s not just doing the work that’s hard, it’s making the decisions about what to do with the stuff.  Thus the weekly goal below.
  3. Weekly (probably on the weekend). Take donations to Goodwill, etc.  This is where I often get hung up.  I declutter.  I create a box of giveaways, and then, I never give them away.  So this must get better.
  4. Weekly. Arrange for professional work in some area.  We have some repairs that need to be made that are beyond our DIY capabilities.  Mr. Geeky always wants to tackle things himself, and I appreciate his handiness, but frankly, it takes too long to get things done that way and then I get frustrated and well, that’s not good. There may be things we can’t afford to have done immediately, but at least we’ll know what the costs are and can plan accordingly.
  5. At the end of 30 days, consider hiring household help.  We’ve had a housecleaner in the past, but we let that go to save money.  Even if we just hired someone to come in once or twice a month, I think that would help. While we’re committed to keeping a better house, we’ve grown busier over the years and relieving some of the work if we can afford it would be useful.

House-Goals

  1. Have a stress-free space to live and work in.  This is my main goal in getting the house in shape.  When I come home from a long day at work, it stresses me out to be facing a giant mess that would take hours to clean up.  I want to be able to relax and feel good about the space I’m in.
  2. Have the house in shape to sell.  We have no immediate plans to move, but we’ve talked about it, and if we decide we’d like to be in a different house, I don’t want to be rushing around before we put our house on the market getting it into shape.  I’d rather do it gradually over the course of the next year.

So those are the two big goals, and my thought is to tackle these in January and February, in order.  Personally, I also want to do things like eat healthier, exercise and read more, but I’m setting those aside for now.  They’re less important and they may just fall into place as I get these other things done.  We’ll see.

Year-end thoughts: Community and Beyond

New photo added to galleryHere we are on the eve of the end of the year, 21 days away from a man we didn’t think could be president becoming president.  I have always agonized a bit over my lack of “involvement”.  I don’t quite know what it means.  But I can’t help but feel now more than ever, that I should be doing more.  One small thing I did over the holidays was to donate money in people’s honor instead of buying them presents I wasn’t sure they’d even like.  Or that they could buy themselves.  I also donated money shortly after the election and I hope to continue contributing to causes I care about and that can do good in the world.  But that doesn’t strike me as being particularly involved.  I’m sure it helps and it certainly made me feel pretty good, but it’s not getting my hands dirty.

The other day, our whole family had a heated argument about the election and why Trump won and what we can do.  It’s interesting to have two smart, but very young, kids participating in the conversation.  Both of our kids follow the news.  They often bring information to us before we’ve seen it.  Geeky Boy’s argument is that the two sides don’t talk anymore and that the way forward is to start talking to people on the other side (or on no side, which is a larger percentage) and to convince them to vote and to vote for your candidate.  Geeky Girl agrees.  Mr. Geeky countered that that won’t work.  He’s spent a year and a half arguing with the other side and hasn’t convinced anyone to change their minds.  I agree with both.  I agree with my kids that it’s important to try to engage people that you disagree with.  It’s possible to change minds, but it’s hard.  It doesn’t happen overnight.  But I also agree with Mr. Geeky that there are people on the other side who can’t be swayed.  Not only do they not respond to logic, but they often won’t even respond to an appeal to emotion or empathy.  There’s no way in.  Mr. Geeky has taken that to its logical conclusion and feels much more cynical about the next four years than my kids and I do.

But what do we do with our earnestness?  There are local politics, which I’ve been involved in before and could be involved in again.  There are state level politics, but frankly, not a lot is happening on that front. In my district, our state reps are both Democrats.  At the national level, we just re-elected our Republican Senator.  The Democrat is up in 2018, but he’s so moderate, I doubt he’ll be seriously challenged.  And my guess is the Democrats won’t run someone against him that’s to his left.  All politics is local, but the real action is happening at the national level.  Sure, I can call my senators every time I’m pissed off, but 2018 needs to be about flipping one of the houses.  Locally, the best we can do is keep our seat.  Beyond that, we need some decent candidates.

But how does a busy working woman and her family really dig in and do something? That’s the question I keep coming back to.  Here’s a thing I keep thinking about. We, neither as a family nor as individuals, belong to a community organization.  We don’t go to church and beyond church, we don’t even know what organization to belong to.  It’s honestly not that I don’t want to belong to something.  It’s just that there’s not much out there beyond religious organizations (and I live in a large city).  Rotary Club (religion infused), nope.  I played bridge in college and grad school, and once looked to find a bridge club.  There are some, but most meet in the middle of the day on weekdays.  You must be retired or unemployed to join.  There are a handful of civic organizations but they don’t seem to meet very often or have super specific goals, like working in particular park, etc.  So we’re mostly on our own, socializing with friends, but rarely interacting at a deeper level with those who might hold different views from us, something we might gain from being in an organization.

So I don’t know where we go from here, or in what way I might engage beyond my immediate family.  I do know that the Internet isn’t enough.  It’s a starting point, but it’s not the same as engaging face to face.  That, my whole family agrees on.

Year-end thoughts: Family

img_20161224_182444523My family is important to me, but I don’t always take the time to nurture those relationships. Because we all get along reasonably well, and we’re all pretty busy, we kind of stay on cruise control, and most of the time that works out.  Lately, I’ve been feeling like we need to pay more attention to our family unit, especially as it’s about to go through some major changes. So from youngest to oldest, nearest to furthest, here are some of the things I’ve been thinking about and will be thinking about in the new year.

Geeky Girl. Geeky Girl is in the midst of college decisions. She’s heard from 3 of the 4 early action schools she applied to (all positive so far), and will hear from a fourth in early January. She has most of her applications in the regular decision pool, and will probably make her decision later in the spring, unless she decides one of the 4 early places is super appealing in some way.  She already has options, and will have some more, I’m sure.  I don’t think the decision will be easy.  This has been a very different process than Geeky Boy’s, who I just hoped would get in somewhere and then when he did, I hoped that he would stick with it (he didn’t, more on that below).  But, Geeky Girl has been much less stressed about the process than some of her friends. She has never been attached to a particular school.  She likes the schools she’s applying to pretty equally.  They’re similar in their educational approach.  The differences are primarily about location (she’s all over the map), specific programs, and of course, money.  How much we can afford will play into her decision.  She’s got an affordable state school on her list, and one school has already given her a nice scholarship package, which makes it affordable as well. Another reason we’ll have to wait to decide as we wait on financial package decisions, some of which have come with acceptance and some will come later in the process. So we’re wound up in this process until April, and then, once we know where she’s headed, we will have to process the fact that she won’t be living with us anymore. Geeky Boy ended up down the road from us, and yes, it was an adjustment, but we still had Geeky Girl at home, so in many ways, not much changed about our basic routines.  This will be different.

Geeky Boy. Geeky Boy, as mentioned above, didn’t make it through college.  He’s made another attempt by going to community college, but that, too, img_20161225_101134784didn’t work out.  He’s now living with us (it’s cheaper than living on his own), and figuring out what’s next (the latest slide from college happened around Thanksgiving). Long time readers know he suffers from depression.  He’s had lots of ups and downs and recently, had a pretty major down, though things are up again now. He has medication and professional support, but we all think we could be doing more to help.  Mr. Geeky and I want him to at least get a job and support himself, and Geeky Boy wants that, too, but doesn’t quite have the tenacity to find something.  He also relies on public transportation and/or a bicycle, which limits his options. We’re getting an up front and personal look at what job prospects are like for those without a degree and without certain basic things in place, like the easy ability to get from point A to point B on time.  So, on the agenda for the coming weeks is getting a driver’s license, which might expand some job options for him.  And I think there will be some tough love involved in this whole process, some parameters on the living arrangements and some support for the family as a whole.  We have friends and neighbors with kids in similar situations, which makes it slightly easier to accept, but doesn’t make it any easier to figure out what to do.  Every situation is slightly different. Every kid is different.

Mr. Geeky.  Mr. Geeky and I are both starting to think about what’s next for us.  Sending Geeky Girl off to college will mean a little more flexibility in our lives.  It won’t matter so much where we live.  We have no immediate plans, but we’re starting to think about where we want to be in 5 years or 10 years and what we want to be doing.  The election also prompted some thinking along these lines, for me more than Mr. Geeky, I think.  But still, we both have a solid skill set and we both have 10-20 years of work ahead of us, and we’re both sort of wondering if we could put that skill set to use in a way that might have a broader impact. Regardless of what that means career wise, we (me again, but in conversation with Mr. Geeky, of course) have been thinking about getting our ducks in a row and really living the way we want, in the house we want, in the location we want, doing what we want.  Being academics meant we went where the jobs were, and we like where we’ve landed, but we want to think about whether this is really where we want to be.  It makes sense to us to begin to enjoy the hard work we’ve put in to get where we are.  We won’t have the financial means to do whatever we want, but we could probably make some changes in some way or another to relax a little more, enjoy a little more.  So there’s some work to be done and conversation to be had over the next year to figure out what’s next.  Some of that will depend on the outcomes for Geeky Girl and Geeky Boy, of course.  But we’re starting to realize we’re at the point where our lives aren’t completely dictated by what’s going on with the kids.  It’s an interesting feeling.

And the rest. Our extended families live far away, and we haven’t been great about keeping up with them.  I’ve kept up with my dad fairly well as he’s traveled to places close to us and we’ve made a point of meeting him.  I haven’t been to see Mr. Geeky’s family in a while, though Mr. Geeky has, and there are plans for a family reunion this summer.  And my mom is the furthest away.  Thanks to a college reunion and college visit, I’ve seen her a couple of times recently.  But they’re all kind of last on our planning list.  We squeeze visits in when we can.  But we should do better.  It’s a lot to keep up with.

Year-end thoughts: Personal

img_20161225_101011407There are five days to go in the year, but now has always been a time to reflect.  I start thinking about resolutions, about what went well this past year, and what didn’t.  I love both the official New Year, and the new school year, for allowing me the opportunity to refresh and renew commitments to myself, my family, my community.  I can’t remember a time when I didn’t pause at this time of year and promise to do something better.  Here are some thoughts on things that impacted me personally.

My foot. This time last year, I was recovering from surgery.  I was confined to the couch.  My family did all the Christmas tasks: shopping, cooking, decorating.  This year, I was mobile, able to shop, cook, and decorate, and so I did, and I was never more grateful.  My foot is still not 100%.  It still hurts.  It’s still not as flexible as it was.  I give it another six months, with a little more effort on my part, and I think it will be mostly normal.  I’ve never thought of myself as particularly active. I’ve never been a big runner or a gym rat, but injuring my foot made me realize that I’m more active than I thought, even if most of that activity is bound up in daily activity like housecleaning.  Not having full functionality in my foot affected how I thought about myself.  It sometimes affected my ability to participate in even the most basic activities simply because it was too difficult for me to get around.  I wasn’t just physically not at 100%, mentally, I wasn’t either, both from feeling down about what had happened to me, and from having to devote so much energy just to the basics.  While I sometimes get frustrated that I’m not 100%, I know how far I’ve come, how much worse it could be.  I take the discomfort in stride and hope for the best outcome.

My work. Also this time last year, it had been announced who our new head of school would be.  While it would be six months before she’d officially come on board, most of us at the admin level spent time meeting with her as planning for the next year was already underway.  Last year was a transition year, not just for the school as the community began to say goodbye to our outgoing head of schoo and begin to think l, but also for me as I continued to figure out what my role was and how to fill it. This year, the past six months with our new head of school, I’ve continued to shape the role and really feel like I mostly know what I’m doing.  No day is ever the same.  The challenges I face are difficult and the decisions I make are never black and white.  I liken myself to a chief of staff or key advisor. I’m mostly behind the scenes, laying groundwork, and getting things done that support the initiatives laid out by the head of school.   I’ve made some mistakes over the last year and I’ve questioned some of the things I’ve done, thinking about how I could have handled things differently, but all in all, I’ve felt satisfied with the work I’ve done. And I’m surrounded by a good team of people that I’ve spent the last nine months really getting to know, and increasingly relying on for advice and counsel.  And that’s been probably the best part of my work over the last year, just learning from the people I work with, and appreciating their strengths and what they have to teach me.  They make coming to work every day easier.

Health and productivity. The foot issue obviously impacted my health. It continues to.  But one thing I look forward to in the new year is a renewed commitment to health.  My whole family has talked about wanting to eat healthier.   The excesses of the holidays made us all think about this commitment even more.  On the productivity front, I’m thinking mainly here of house and personal things (at work, I have no problem being productive).  I actually did some good things around the house over the last week-ish of vacation.  I wanted a clean slate so that we could celebrate unencumbered by clutter.  I accomplished that.  From Friday until yesterday, though, I pretty much slothed around (a typical pattern for me: work, work, work, recover for 48-72 hours).  I think I need that down time.  I just need to find ways to work more productivity around the house and personal goals in so that the down time isn’t keeping me from important things and that I can really enjoy it.  This seemed to be the case this last time, which is good.  My family and I have talked about raising the bar on the state of the house.  We all agree we could do better.  I also would like to raise the bar on my own leisure activities.  There’s nothing wrong with binge-watching a good series or spending some time playing a video game, but I feel as though I could expand my horizons a bit.  I liked my 30-day reading challenge.  I enjoy reading, and I made it through a couple of books plus started a third during that challenge.  And I’d like to potentially tackle some other leisure activities. I’d like to blog more here, for example, but it always seems to get squeezed out for other things.

Next in my thoughts, my family.

Off the grid

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I pretty much went off the grid.  I checked email a couple of times on Wednesday, responded to a couple, but by late afternoon, I had settled into my post on the couch to start a few days of doing nothing.  As a family, we watched all 6 of the Hobbit/Lord of the Rings movies.  That’s about 18 hours of movies.  There were a couple of The Hobbit movies we hadn’t seen.  And once we’d watched all those, we had to finish out the rest of the story.

Geeky girl and I played games together, and did some crosswords.  Mr. Geeky, sadly, did a little bit of work.  And Geeky Boy did his usual holing up in his room between rounds of coming down to be social–mostly to get food.

I did manage to get a ton of laundry done, and tried to keep the kitchen relatively clean, but I did nothing else.  Today will be a bit of a rough re-entry at first, but recharging by basically being a hermit seems to me a good thing to do once in a while.

There’s three weeks until Winter Break.  There’s quite a bit of work to do during that time, but it also has a lighter feel to it, with celebrations of various kinds interspersed, and everyone knowing that a long break is coming.  Seniors will have submitted all their applications, and many will start to hear from places they applied to early.  There will be disappointment, but also relief as the next chapter starts to become clearer.

I’m trying to decide what to do over Winter break.  We’ve been invited everywhere.  Part of me would like to get away–even further off the grid, if you will–and part of me wants to hole up again with my family.  Breaks in the dead of winter seem like the right thing to do, and disconnecting from the world a bit during them feels somewhat healthy so that we can return refreshed
.  We’re all waiting for the days to get longer and lighter and for the renewal of spring.

On being thankful and waiting for the other shoe to drop

I’m currently sitting on the couch with two dogs snuggled up against me.  They’re very warm. Yes, I’m lucky.  Tomorrow, I get to cook a Thanksgiving meal for my family.  Although I typically enjoy cooking, especially for the holidays, until last year, I never really felt grateful for being able to cook.  This year, not only am I grateful for my physical ability to cook a big meal, but my economic ability to do so.  I’m watching the post election landscape unfold, and I can’t help but think that for those out there who are disadvantaged (in whatever way now defined by this new administration), the rug has been pulled out from under them.  And things have the potential to get much worse.

But nothing specific has happened yet, beyond appointments that we should have expected and some tweets about the media and a broadway show. No laws have been put up for a vote in Congress.  There’s no real action on the ground.  So I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop, and it’s making me anxious.  I feel like I don’t know what to pay attention to.  Business dealings with foreign countries? First amendment violations? A Muslim registry?  I don’t know.  The first one is the only one we have solid evidence for.  And is calling my congresspeople the most effective way to respond? Or should I be protesting? Giving money to the right organizations? All of the above?

There are articles out there about the possibility of us sliding into an authoritarian regime.  Intellectually, I kind of see how that could happen, maybe? But surely, our institutions are strong enough to resist that.  Maybe.  And how do I as a regular citizen shore up those institutions so that they can resist.  I have only one representative who’s “on my side.”  Will the other two cave? It’s hard to know.

Truly waiting for the other shoe to drop.

For now, I have to be thankful for what I have.  Family. A comfortable life.  And plenty of food on the table.

When the shoe drops, I’ll get to work.