Monday, September 14, 2015

Two weeks ago (so I'm a little slow) Elisheva Anne turned one year old. I know every mother says this, but I can hardly believe it's been a whole year since she joined our family. In her short life Elisheva has lived in a foreign country, England, and in Virginia and Ohio. How many month old babies do you know that have a passport? Not that she'll be using it ever again, probably.

Elisheva had a quick and easy (for her) entry into the world on April 28, eleven days early. Elisheva has been a mother's dream as a baby. She sleeps well, and started sleeping completely through the night at 7 1/2 months. She also takes naps, and actually lets you just put her in her crib when she's tired (although sometimes she'll fuss if she thinks she should be able to stay up and play).

For the first few months of her life Elisheva was a lump of a baby, which was her affectionate nickname. She wasn't very interactive, and was content to sit and to eat. Eating has always been Elisheva's number one hobby. I appreciated that she was a low-need baby, as we moved from England to Virginia when she was six weeks old, and then when she was four months old we moved from Virginia to Ohio.

The day we moved to Ohio Elisheva must have realized that we were settling down and she could progress past the lumpy stage, because she rolled over that very day. Unlike her sister Lydia, who learned to roll at four months and spent the next several months rolling all over the whole house, Elisheva could never quite figure out how to completely roll over, so she remained immoble.

This, along with her love of milk, led her to grow to 20 pounds by six months. Six months later, she still hovers around 20 pounds, and is losing her copious baby fat. For a while, though, Elisheva was quite the chunkers. Which led to her next nickname - Chunker Monkers (based on Chunky Monkey). We also called her Chubbery Bubbery (from Chubby Baby). Good thing Elisheva was not sensitive about her weight!


I love Autumn. I love how the air smells, and how the leaves are already starting to turn. I love that my brain, after being sluggish for the summer months, comes alive again. Last night Avram and I re-arranged our living room, because I got inspired on a whim, or as Avram likes to say, I had a bee in my bonnet. I also made up a list of every dinner we've eaten this last year, and organized it by category, so now I have a master list of menus to refer to when I don't know what to plan for menus that week (which happens every week).

Perhaps because my birthday is in October, perhaps because I love school, and school was always the harbinger of the coming season, but Autumn has always been my favorite time of year.
Meanwhile, Elisheva continues to become my most favorite toddler. The things she loves most in the world: food, shoes, and going places. Elisheva loves grated cheese, and has learned that if others at the table have a bowl, or spoon or whatnot, she needs one too. She now feeds herself, and delights in it. Elisheva has developed an attachment to shoes, and specifically to once she has shoes one, going outside, and going places. She loves to play in the dirt of my tiny herb garden.
When you take her shoes off at night, she usually cries. Also, once she has her shoes on for the day, and thinks we need to go somewhere as a family, but aren't leaving fast enough, she'll deliberately unsnap her jelly sandals, and then come to you for re-snapping, thus reminding you that we need to hurry up and go, already!

Elisheva has a few words, although she is a slow talker. She'll regularly say, "Mama," "Nana" (banana), "Shoes" (her favorite word, to no-one's surprise), "More Milk!" always said as a command, and occasionally she'll pop out with book, or water, or Lydia, or even Daddy. Today she said cheese. Mostly she uses expressive grunts to navigate herself through the world, which do work quite effectively.

We're visiting family in Tennessee in the next week, and then after we return school starts for Avram. Meanwhile, I plan to pull out knitting again, which I always put on hiatus through the Summer months.


While the rest of Western America enters Spring, we here in the Eastern part of the country continue to participate in activities like sledding.A friend of ours in the ward invited us to her house, where her husband built a snow hill in their backyard perfect for children and innertubes.

Meanwhile, the Russian Roulette that continues to be Avram's funding always provides us a source of excitement in our lives. The class Avram is slated to teach for Spring Quarter has 20 people in it - a good thing. Especially since the department needs to find ways to save some money, and has talked specifically about getting rid of his class. For the last couple of weeks we've checked the class almost daily, praying for the numbers to increase past the point of no cancellation (whatever magic number that maybe).

Life isn't all gloom and doom. For one thing, the sun is out today, and I have fond hopes that Spring may yet come, despite the six weeks of Winter we're definitely getting thanks to Punxatawny Phil.

The Hunger Games - my Quibbles, with a Plethora of Spoilers


I read the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins last night. I would give it a four, if I gave it a star rating, which I don't do to books anymore (hence my abandonment of Goodreads - I enjoyed it as a site, but I realized that I cannot effectively rate most books - it doesn't do justice to either my feelings about either the quality (or lack thereof) of a novel, nor can I neatly sum up into a point system how, whether I liked the book or not, the merits of a particular novel.)Why am I writing this post, then? To gush about it? No, not really.

I don't know if you've picked this up by now (dripping heavy sarcasm), but I am a reader. I also am not a specific genre reader. I read Young Adult fiction, fantasy, some Science Fiction, Historical Fiction, modern novels, classics of every age from Homer to Maya Angelou. I've read dystopias ranging from The Giver (who hasn't read this?) to 1984, Fahrenheit 451, A Brave New World to a random fantasy one that involves people living in trees in another world, that I can never remember the name of. Why am I telling you all this? To gain in ethos, of course.

Just ask Avram - ethos is my new favorite word. As I read reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads, too often the reviewer would ruin their ethos with me in their first paragraph. So I'm trying to show you that this isn't the first book I've picked up in years, and that I have given much thought to dystopic societies. There, now that you're suitably impressed with my ability to discuss dystopias, let us continue.

I enjoyed (can I really use this word about a novel that spends its time exploring Teenage Gladiatorial Reality TV in a dystopia?) the Hunger Games. I'm not going to give a synopsis, because you can find one anywhere. But in all of the reviews online, I have yet to see a review explore the difficulties I am having with the novel.

We're told that Katniss lives in a society controlled by the Capitol, with twelve districts, remaining from the original thirteen after a rebellion 74 years ago. We don't know too much about the other districts, but this is some pertinent information I gathered from her district:

There are around 8,000 people in District 12 (this could alternately be the amount in Katniss's town, and there could be other towns, but based on the fact that every 12-18 year old must be entered in the lottery for tribute, and all the available people are gathered in one single town from the whole district, with no mention of traveling at all, gives the very strong impression that this is the sum total of district 12. Not to mention the fence that Katniss often mentions that surrounds District 12 (ie, she repeatedly references her town as district 12 itself). Or other factors.)

District 12 is the smallest/weakest of the districts, so other districts could have more towns, and probably more people.

District 12 is somewhere in the Appalachians.

Other pertinent Dystopic information:

The Capitol is somewhere in the Rockies, somewhere surrounded by mountains that can only be reached via tunnels. During the rebellion people tried scaling the Mountains, to attack it, the implication being that there are no passes to go through, either for rebellious people or trains. This would, in my opinion, probably base the Capitol somewhere in Western Colorado. The Wasatch Rockies have far too many passes, although I don't know much about the Grand Tetons or the Sierras. Regardless, the Capital is near the other end of contiguous USA (as we know it).

Each district contributes a vital need/want to the Capitol: Coal, Food, Luxury Goods, Electronics. This far in the future, District 12 does coal. Except they must be mining very far underground at this point in the Appalachians to gather coal any more. Plus couldn't such a futuristic society find some other form of power? They can restore hearing, do a body polish, create Muttations (and I'm not even going to go there with the implications of these things), not to mention ubiquitous invisible cameras spread every few feet throughout a terrain larger than a two day walk, but they depend on rickety District 12 for coal to power their dastardly nation? I'm sure a nation like this would have no problems with any of the risks of nuclear power, nor with dumping the nuclear waste anywhere.

Thus we come to my problems - I find it difficult to believe in this Dystopia. They are hugely spread out, and while they use fear to keep the populous in line through the Hunger Games (more on the questionability of this tactic later), how can they effectively control that large of an area with such a small populations? Sure they have their Peacekeepers and use cruel and totalitarian methods, but this cannot be enough. I suppose we must fall back on the methods used ultimately by every dystopian society - super de duper futuristic technology to prevent any rebellion. It's the ultimate deus ex machina for every Dystopia, because it never enters the plot - you are just supposed to assume that they have had zero rebellions for the last 74 years despite the fact that every dictatorship with too harsh of methods eventually fell on its own, or with outside help. And that most do not last outside of one or two persuasive leaders. Sure, there could be some vast underground rebellion, or even small pocket ones that Katniss does not know of/hear rumors of.

This nation seems to live in a vacuum - no other nations are mentioned, conceived of, known of. Including the probable free nation of District 13, that the couple from the capitol were fleeing to. I don't know how a nation with as few people and settled land as the Capitol has can keep control of its immense borders, either. Under every previous dictatorship, under even the worst national conditions, people know of other countries. Maybe they can't contact them, can't flee to them, but the knowledge is there. Only in dystopias do nations live in a seeming vacuum, with zero known world politics. Which just goes to show that my difficulties with this dystopia are not unique - I think basically every dystopia suffers from forcing a totalitarian government on the reader that I find ultimately unsustainable and unbelievable, which is maintained through the super-de-duper futuristic methods that conveniently never come into the story or plotline of any of these novels.

At least in 1984 and A Brave New World, the people are dulled into apathy for rebellion by the "Bread and Circuses" approach to dictatorship with excessive fulfillment of wants in A Brave New World and the endless Pop Culture Producing machines in 1984. Here there is, at least in the districts, no real motivation not to rebel. Sure, they can punish you - but they already are. Sure, the games exist to remind and humilate anew every year the districts, to tell you that your rebellion failed, and could never succeed again. To show how at the mercy each district is to the Capitol, how any of your youth could one day be snatched away to fight to the death merely because the Capitol wills it. But then what have you got to lose by fighting back?

Other dictatorships throughout history have been far worse. The Assyrians would uproot entire nations of people and replace them throughout their empire, making people's attempts at rebellion fail since they knew nothing about where they were (plus there was Genderacide - the complete killing of men of a group). Genocide is common throughout history, from the Israelites in the Bible destroying the Amalakites to the Man, Woman and Child to Genghis Khan, Destroying of Carthage in the Punic Wars to the ever infamous Hitler and Stalin. Genocide still happens around us today - Bosnia. Rwanda. From a Slave perspective, early America certainly was the ultimate in dystopias. I'm not even including in this the general destructions of wars, man caused famines and diseases, etc. Personal and group cruelty has only been too common.

So, forgive me if this sounds too callous and cruel, but taking 24 of the youth of their nation and making them fight to the death with just one left standing sounded a little puerile for the Horror of a Dystopia that we are lead the Capitol to be. Sure, there are other casual cruelties - the preventable starvations. Also, with Katniss's interactions with Rue it becomes clear that other Districts have more direct cruelties and killings. Even so, despite the lack of freedoms and the prevalent hunger, I just couldn't dredge up much actual human horror at the setting of the book. People live in worse conditions in our world today, under crueler dictators.

The book is supposed to bring to mind Rome, with its Gladitorial aspects of the Hunger Games, the Roman names scattered throughout the book (I do wonder, how is it that a nation built directly on the ruins of the US cannot manage to retain any names from our cultural heritage, but can dredge up names like Flavius, Cato, and Cinna? (Small rant. One reviewer mocked Cato's name, saying it sounded wussy. Same thing with Cinna. Clearly people need to review their Roman heritage.)) And yet....Rome was a much more effective dictatorship. This nation is parasitic off of its Districts, with an economic system I cannot see actually working for any length of time. Rome had its cruelties, as all nations have, particular ancient ones, and these cruelties were an accepted part of ruling back then. But it was effective, and it gave its people a lot more freedoms then they have in this world- and this is what kept them a world power for so long. Depriving your people of EVERYTHING only decides your demise as a dictatorship sooner.

Yet, in order for the book to matter to us as readers, we have to embrace Katniss's inexplicable inalienable feelings of a 21st century American, who expects food and warmth and working electricity at all hours, and most of all, a lack of senseless brutality and killing. Throughout the entire novel she complains about these very matters. Despite the fact that they are supposed to be her life, sometimes I feel that she has been magically implanted with a modern American's sense of what is just and ethical in this world. Don't get me wrong - although in the large sense the Games did not move me, in the specifics it did. I cried. I sat horrified. I realized I would last .03 seconds in the games. Teenagers killing each other I do not mean to imply under any circumstances are not horrendous.

Which brings me to my second difficulty, beyond the Dystopia in general. The Games themselves. They are Gladitorial in nature, with the twist of being Reality TV to the death. On the one hand they are a punishment to the various districts for their rebellion. On the other hand, these very districts along with the Capitol sit glued to their TV sets for live coverage of carnage and destruction, and enjoy it? Continue watching it? I suppose we can buy the Capitol in enjoying it, but I don't see why everyone in the other districts watches these Games. We know that there is one final segment that is required viewing for all, and from this we can deduce that the rest isn't required. Therefore, why do the people watch it? I could see if your own child was in them, or whatnot, but what purpose can it serve one to watch senseless brutality, which is suppose to remind you to never rebel again? I would think a quiet rebellion would be to turn the TV set off. Which never seems to occur to Katniss's world view. She merely accepts TV. I find this to be very indicative of her 21st American attitude - we accept TV, even when we don't like it, even when we find it uncomfortable, and even when we're pitting people against each other in ultimately meaningless contests, from Survivor to the Bachelorette. And millions of people spend time cheering on those they like, and snarking along with the commentaries (do they have commentaries?) against those they don't - just as these Games are set up, with the "favorites" of the Gamekeepers and viewers alike. Half the things Kat does during the games are for her "ratings" with sponsors. Perhaps Suzanne Collins is trying to call our attention to follies of Reality TV.

But what I got from it was, turn the stupid sets off. Get rid of your TV. Watch the required bits from the town's square, but that's it. Except for a few episodes of MTV's the Real World in my misspent teenage years, I have never seen a reality TV show. Not one. (that I can think of. Of course in saying this, someone will remind me of another I've seen). It's that simple - a small form of rebellion for the Districts, but one open to them. Yet instead they seem to approach it like the Gladiatorial games, as a form of bread and circuses, yet one they actually despise. I found this widescale attitude a little hard to swallow as realistic.

Yet, the Gladiatorial games were not a form of punishment to their spectators (and how can the Hunger Games co-exist both as a commentary on Reality TV, and our spectator attitudes, along with still managing to use them as a cruel punishment for the Districts?) Also, in the Gladiatorial games, the fighters were highly trained. These....aren't. Which would make for some pretty boring fights to the death, I would think. Also, Katniss only knows about the wild from her illegal leavings of District 12 and hunting. How does everyone else survive so well? (Well being a figurative manner of speaking here). Most people would probably disperse, only to die of dehydration, since none of them were allowed out into the wilds. There isn't exactly a working Boy Scout program here, let alone childhood lessons of Karate or self defense or weapons trainings to help the kids in their fights. Sure, they live in a tougher world than we do. Sure, some of the districts secretly train their youth. But mostly I think there would be a lot of hemming and hawing on the part of random teenagers when thrown in to fight to the death, not to mention a lot of random dying from lack of knowledge about the wilderness and survival skills. People want to live, and they know that this is the only way they have to live - by killing others. Do you think that knowing this logically would being able to transfer into being a successful killing machine? Even an unsuccessful killing machine? I'm surprised they don't at least have passive tributes, who stand in their spot and let others kill them as a form of silent protest against the games - since if the games are boring, then the Gamekeepers and by extension the Capitol and the entire system loses face.

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Morning

It's just been one of those days. Lydia woke up at six am hungry, and I went and slapped a loaf of bread on the kitchen table, told her to eat it, and went to bed. But then she woke up Elisheva, and finally (thankfully) Avram got up with the girls and let me sleep. He leaves for school at 7:30, and I kept sleeping for another hour and a half. When I got up, there were a pair of kitchen shears on the toilet. I asked Lydia what they were doing there, and she proudly showed me the kool-aid she'd made herself (using a kool-aid single from Avram's scout camping trip the week before, plus about 1/6 of the water - from the bathroom sink - she's supposed to use).

Also, Avram got a scholarship for next year from the Melton Center, a Jewish center at OSU. They are having an award program and dinner tonight, and our babysitter called up today and said that her kids are sick, so could she come over here and babysit, while leaving her kids at home. That's no problem at all, except now I need to clean our house - not because she would care, but because I care. And the bathroom looks like a nuclear fall-out occurred there, and I don't clean bathrooms (yes, I'm lame), and Avram won't be home at all - I'm meeting him on campus.

And then I went to take Lydia to playschool, and our car had been broken into. Except there was no sign of forced entry, so maybe we left a door unlocked. I always lock the car, but with being eight months pregnant with two kids, I cannot honestly say I even remember always what I am doing. Anyway, there was absolutely nothing in our car to steal, unless you like scratched up CDs without any cases of the Muppet Show and the Messiah, plus two car seats for a four year old and a two year old. The thief didn't want any of this, but he (I'm assuming it was a he - I guess I'm just a misandrist), but he did take a little car kit my mom made me, with things like a pen and sticky notes and a little mending kit and band-aids. Guess he didn't even want that, since about five minutes later I found it laying in the parking lot by my car. So sum total - I was robbed, but not really, because I had nothing to steal. I still feel violated though. And angry.

I know I should forgive, and everything, and I definitely plan to - in a couple of hours, maybe. Right now I just want to be frustrated, and angry, and lay in a supply of bb pellets (plus gun), so I can hit all the people of the world who steal things.

Ok, so I feel a little better having ranted a bit. And I'm sure things will get better. Or at least a little cleaner (excepting the bathroom). And I don't have to make dinner tonight, and get to go out with Avram, and it's all free, so that has to count for something, right?

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I saw on a blog a recording of the whole summer. I like that, as sometimes life can seem to slip away, and you mean to sum it all up at some point, but by the time you get around to remembering all that comes to mind is, "We had fun...I think...and there was lots of...stuff...yeah, stuff!"  I suppose this is one of the whole points of blogging, so that things are remembered in the moment.

So this Summer was a big one for our family - it was the last summer at home with Elisheva before she starts Kindergarten.  We moved the last couple of weeks of school, into a new little white cottage, with almost the same (but much better in its tweaks) layout as our old home.  It is also across the street from Avram's brother Samuel and Aleatha, so that has been fun to be so close to family.  Avram attended Origins, a convention for games and roleplaying, in June, and our friends Matt and Sarah came into town to visit for the week.  Matt and Avram and Samuel attended Origins, and we had lots of late nights talking.  Guinevere discovered her alter ego, a little two year old girl named Gwen (Sarah's niece).  Guinevere proceeded to talk about Gwen the rest of the summer.  Guinevere turned three, and we had cupcakes for her.

Avram attended Scout camp, and I single parented for the second week this year (the first being when he attended Wood Badge in May).  Then we drove off to Virginia for a week, to celebrate the wedding of a childhood friend of Avram's from his home ward. We also got lots of Mum and Papa and Uncle Luke and Aunt Sariah time.  Guinevere and Luke are soulmates and Elisheva follows Sariah around, begging for makeup and fashion things constantly.  Home again, home again, jiggity, jig, for a whole two and a half weeks.  We did the normal summer things - park days and library days, lounging and reading, playdates and movies (more than normal at least - usually around two a week.)

Then, thanks to the generosity of Avram's older brother Joshua, and his wife Missy, and Avram's parents, we went off to Maine for a week.  We visited the ocean, and the outside of lighthouses, we walked out on a rock walkway in  harbor, and camped for a whole week - one of my life time goals. Josh and Missy blessed their baby Ariana, and the whole Shannon family got together for family pictures (I don't have them yet).  When I was a kid I always wanted to live in Maine, and walk the rocky coastline, while gazing romantically out to sea.  Being that I had four kids with me, I never quite got to live out the dream, but I did get to sit and watch the ocean for a long time and that was pretty great.  We ate soft shelled lobsters boiled over a campfire, and we pulled over and bought wild blueberries from Maine, from a car on the side of the road.  A great week, in all.

A mere half week after we got back, we went up to Lake Erie, and camped with a bunch of people from our ward for a couple of days.  The girls enjoyed playing on the rocks and pretending to swim in the shallow waters of East Lake Harbor.  I love camping, and didn't even mind the two camping trips stacked on each other, although it is nice to have creature comforts as well.

Matt came and visited again, and now we're to school starting - whew!  It was tiring.  Lydia started school today, but because of how they do Kindergarten orientation, Elisheva won't start school until Friday.  Lydia is in second grade, and I'm excited for this year.

January - Avram's proposal was officially accepted, and he officially began writing his dissertation (although he'd been working on it unofficially for two months).
May Avram went to Woodbadge. Moved to our current house, across the street from Samuel and Aleatha. Spent a week painting and prepping the new house for the move with the help of Avram's parents and siblings.
Lydia finished first grade, and Elisheva finished playschool, the once a week mom's preschool.
June - went to Virginia with Samuel and Aleatha to visit Avram's family.  Visited Fredericksburg. Avram went to scout camp.
August - went to Maine for Ariana's baby blessing. Visited the Atlantic coast & camped for a week.
Lydia and Elisheva started school, Lydia in second grade, and Elisheva in Kindergarted, both at the French Immersion school.
September - Nana Fallick came to visit & we realized I was pregnant (surprise!!!!)
October - Grandma Stoutner came to visit.
November - Went to Virginia where the Shannon grandparents watched all four kids, and Avram and I went to SBL in Maryland.  I decided to do Archaeology in Grad school.  We celebrate Thanksgiving there.
December - Went to Tennessee for Christmas to visit Avram's grandparents & family.  Enoch took his first steps (but is still working on walking).

Our Intentional Family

While living in England in early 2008, I came across a blog doing a financial series highlighting Dave Ramsey's system.  I resonated with so much that the author said - it was the first time I had formally heard other people saying what I already believed about money and "good" (meaning bad) debt.  You may have heard of this blog - Simplemom, which now has become The Art of Simple.  The author back then, who is still one of the contributing writers, is Tsh Oxenreider, and she has also written a book called Notes from a Blue Bike.  (Unfortunately for you, I'm not an Amazon affiliate, so because they don't pay me money, you'll have to go through all the hard work of searching for it on Amazon yourself, or even worse, looking it up at your local library and leaving
your house while fully clothed and at a decent hour to go pick it up and read it.  I know, what is the world coming to?)

I haven't followed her blog regularly for many years now, but recently started reading it again on occasion, and became interested in this book she has recently published.  For a long time when I heard of a book that I wanted to mentally mark, and later read on the Internet I did...nothing.  I would mentally make a note of it, and then five minutes later read some other blog post, or facebook status, or get up and talk to a kid/answer the phone/anything else, and completely forget about the book at all.  Or worse, I would remember that there was some book...that I had read about at some point...somewhere on the Internet.  Now I have discovered a system that has saved me (or added many reading hours on to my life - either one), being that the moment I read of an interesting book, I immediately go and request it from my library.  Yep, I'm all about revolutionizing the Internet with my new fandangled approaches to life.  So I did that with Notes, and thus it in due time arrived home in my house, where I actually read it.  

All of that work did not disappoint, and it turns out that Notes... is a book that has deeply impacted me, more even than I realized as I read it.  As I read, I pulled out my physical Journal (yes, I got one this year - I really like being able to write something in a completely private place sometimes) and began making notes for my own life.  The premise of the book is that when we live intentionally, then our lives are better, as outlined in five areas that being intentional made Oxenreider's family's life better. When I wrote in my journal about intentionality in my own family, the writing clarified for me that in the large areas of my life, I feel that we have been and are very intentional in our family.    By intentional, I mean that I and Avram are choosing the way we live life, instead of having life just happen to us. We are deciding by intent to focus our limited time and resources as a family on certain core areas that in turn bless our family with greater freedom, unity, and joy in the time passing from days to years that makes up the fabric of our lives. In the small places I felt that we have a lot of areas to improve on - in our daily routines, attitudes, etc. However, in the large, framework of our life I realized that we always have focused our family on intentional living. As someone who has often imagined our family as more spiraling throughout life, slightly out of control and a little loud and crazy, it was very validating to realize that we do have a plan, we have always had a plan about our family, and that as we have followed it I have seen the positive ways our family culture and intentions have helped us be where we want to be as a family.

As a disclaimer, just as the areas that Oxenreider felt were important areas to stress intentionality with in her family were not the areas that stuck out to me about my own family, I would assume that any readers would have another set of categories, many overlapping, of intentional living for their own families. Here are the areas our family has focused on being intentional over.

One of our main family goals has been for the last nine years Avram achieving a Ph.d.  Well, as of next May he will have accomplished that.  The road to achieving a Ph.d. in this family has been one of necessity very intentional.  Where we live, the choices we have made in free time, how we have developed our family culture - everything about our married life has led to this goal.  Our financial status as a family is one measurable area of how we have focused our whole combined lives to this end. We have been intentional with living on our limited income, and in working, even while still being in school, with paying off student loans accrued from BYU, England, and even some debt from OSU obtained when funding hasn't been very good.  We have been better at this than I ever thought we could be, back when I first blogged about it and again when I updated a year later, and although we will graduate with some loans, it is so, so much less than it would have been otherwise.

Another area we have been intentional is our family's spiritual life.  We attend church for three hours every Sunday together, have family scripture study and prayer almost every night, and although our FHE's (family home evening, where every Monday night we have a spiritual/scriptural lesson, with a sometimes activity and treat, bookended by prayers and hymns) leave something to be desired in the planning department, we are still trying to have them, and even fifteen minutes formally teaching our children religious topics a week, above and beyond reading the scriptures has helped our children and our family in our religious knowledge and communal spiritual life.

We have worked on being intentional with our free time, and have deliberately kept our family's life at a slower pace.  Our only extra curricular activities have been piano lessons for Lydia once a week, and her Activity Day girls at church every other week.  Avram works at the Temple twice a month and goes to Scouting Round Table once a month, and I attend Relief Society meetings once a month, plus the occasional girls night, but other wise we tend to plan activites and spend free times as a whole family (excepting date and couple temple nights on the months we can get them). We eat family dinner, clean as a family on Saturdays, and when it's relevant for six months of the year we go the Farmer's market together. We want our family time to be well spent - we don't have a TV set up for TV, just movies, and watch one movie a week as a family on Friday nights, plus the occasional TV show via Amazon prime for the girls, or movie Avram and I watch every month or so.  

The size of our family, if not in the specific timing always, but in the general goal, is intentional.  We believe that children are a joy and a privilege, that as a family unit, if we are able (and we are clearly able) to have children, it is our privilege and our duty to do so, and to raise these children while keeping in mind that these are God's children he has entrusted with us.  We have a family culture focused on this - on the joy of people over things, focused on what we can do with our children, not what we could do if we did not have them or if we had less of them.

 Living below our income to pay off debt has taught me this is possible at almost any income.  I have also learned that what is a true marker of success or joy in our life has not been high amounts of money, but rather what we choose to do with what we have, and more importantly, what we focus on that has nothing to do with money at all.  Revolving our family's life around our religion and around God has taught all of us guiding principles for life, has brought us together as a family, and even if there were no tangible benefits at all, being intentional toward God, through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I feel is the most lasting intent that all my other intentions lead toward.

Even knowing that in the small specifics there is so much that I need to work on, that I need to lead our family towards as good goals, even knowing all this, it is still immeasurably comforting to know that in the large framework, in our goals and plans that lay the pattern out for our life that our family walks with intention.

A Contender

I feel like my dreams have shattered on the ground.
Like I have a hard time breathing - the air has grown thick
I have grown thick
Duty calls
Always calling

It's a week away from SBL.  Still no invites (although, thanks to the wiki, I know that we have only lost one more job - our last real chance at a tenure track.  But there is a lectureship that could still write in the next week.).  I just, I feel like things could have gone better than this.  No, that's not quite right - seeing what the market is truly like, I realize that they most likely will keep on getting worse than this.  I just wanted things to go better than this.  I wanted to buy a house. Getting the job at BYU was the best chance for that. Now, our best (best!) case scenario is to get a post doc, and barring that the one VAP that's open, or a three year lectureship. And that's it.  There are six post docs total. (And two more TT, but I am not holding my breath).  I feel like we have no future. I mean, in the long, long run if Avram gets a post doc, and then a TT I will feel good. Or even a post doc, VAP and then tenure track. I just am worried that either we will get nothing this year, and will have a still born career, that never even started before it was over. That Avram will feel like he could have been somebody, could have been a contender, but never got a chance to show anyone. Or even worse in some ways, that we will get a post doc, a VAP, something, maybe two somethings, and then never even find a TT after that.  How old could we be then?  I could be as old as 37, and with no future, no home, no security.

I never wanted to be poor.  I spent my whole childhood poor, and it was not to my liking (not that I think it is to anyone's). I just - I was smart.  So smart.  Everyone told me I was smart. And that I had so much potential.  And I hitched my star to Avram, who was also so smart, had so much potential.  And now I worry that it will all come crashing down - that maybe we aimed too high, and so instead of enjoying a comfortable middle, we will fall and fall and free fall into nothing.  Not that I need public acclaim.  Obviously I am in the wrong job if that were my aim.  No, but it isn't bad, either.  Much more than that, though, I fear having to scrimp and save throughout my children's lives.  I fear never having enough, always living hand to mouth.  I feel like being intelligent, living in some kind of meritocracy, should have spared me from this. And it's not going to.

I just - I guess I thought that if we put enough sacrifice in, that we would get out a job.  (Now, to be fair, I did know that we had to work for it, but I didn't know that jobs were so few on the ground.)

Explanation for my panicked pleas on Facebook (hint, it involves lots of Strep, Hospitalness and antibiotics).

So (this is especially for those who were up in the middle of the night especially, and saw my desperate plea for online distraction, which I then deleted because I was sure that I was being overly dramatic....) Avram took me to the ER yesterday morning, and yup, I had strep. Plus Uvulitis (the dangly thingy in the back of your throat). And they gave me fluids, and steroids (which opened the back of my throat, and after a few hours let me actually swallow again, with the added bonus of not having to use a suction wand to constantly put out my saliva so I wouldn't drool), and two kinds of Antibiotics (one type for each infection), AND they bent over backwards to make it work well for me to have a nursing baby with me, and they kept me for 24 hours for watchings and stuff (and to check on my kidneys, which weren't doing so well, but now are improving).

Maybe I wasn't being too dramatic after all.  But for the love, people, if you are on the internet in the middle of the night because you can't swallow, and therefore can't sleep because you will start choking on your saliva, even while sitting up - please don't be stupid like me and think you should just wait and go to the doctor. Take this as a sign that you should go to ER, because your doctor can't help your throat open anyway.

But now I am home, and feeling at least 50% better, and my kids are all farmed out to amazing people, and our relief society is bringing in meals for the next couple of days, which is great because Avram had to fly out to Israel yesterday for a conference, so I am flying solo (but not really, because I actually am receiving a ton of help.)

I am so grateful right now. Grateful for antibiotics, and steriods. I officially rescind everything I have ever said about wanting to be a pioneer - sorry, Antibiotics triumph over all.  Grateful for all the help that we have received.

Christ in Christmas part 3 - How our Family Celebrates Christmastide

Once you have established Christ as the basis for your Christmas season, the next most important step is to limit your activities, traditions, decor, crafts and any other Christmas cheer - to leave time to just enjoy, to sit, to feel the spirit, to notice other's needs, to be.  Mary did not rush off from Bethlehem the next day after having Jesus, not wanting to miss a moment of his precious life and foretold existence.  If we rush around, however well intentioned our activities and hearts may be, we through our busyness do not leave any room left over for the Spirit of Christmas - for the Holy Spirit we feel throughout Christmas and throughout all the year, to work within us.

Celebrating Christmas should not feel either like a marathon of endurance, testing our limits to just keep going, going, going. Neither should it feel like sprinting with frantic activity, even Christ-focused activity, followed by slumping on the couch in fatigue or a sugar-induced stupor.  Christmas season should, I think, feel like an enjoyable stroll.  Sure, your kids will run off or around, someone will always complain about the cold, and as great as it is, you also really like getting back home. But it feels relaxed, natural, and full of the moment as well.

For our Christmas season, we plan some large activities, like our ward Christmas Party, or our Annual family Christmas Party. Most of our Christmas celebrating is woven through the fabric of our days, brought in through small measures and in ways that do not feel like a lot of extra steps we need to accomplish, but rather just nestled in among our pre-existent routines, adding very little extra time or effort.

After two entire posts devoted to discussing focusing on Christ during Christmas, you will find that not all of our traditions do so.  I believe once we establish Christ as the center of our religious and familial focus, bringing in other cultural traditions works perfectly well. For some families this may mean Santa Claus, for our family this means always having a live Christmas tree, or making gingerbread cookies. Christmas time is also a celebration of light at the darkest part of the year, and as such there are a lot of traditions of light, warmth, and persevering over the darkness that I feel not only can be applied, if you so choose, to the light of Christ triumphing over the darkness, but also provide some much needed cheeryness to part of the coldest and darkest part of the year.

I started planning this post at the beginning of my Christmas season - but I only finally started writing it on the last day of December, and publishing it around the middle of January. I am sure this is somehow a metaphor for my life.  Because of the delay, this is not jus a hopeful list of traditions we have done for years, and new ones we are incorporating this year, to bring the spirit of Christmas in. Rather, it is a look back on what we did this year, with both some new traditions, our old standbyes, and things we hoped would become a tradition, but instead became a flop.

Christmas Decorations:
We don't go overboard both because packing and unpacking large amounts of items one month apart does not appeal to me or my family. But we always get a live tree because we love them. This year it took us a week to complete this tradition, from buying the tree, leaving the tree on the van for a day, bringing it inside and setting it up, and then a few days later finally starting to decorate it (meaning the kids went to the basement and found the Christmas ornaments themselves and tried to decorated themselves), and finishing it even days after that. I tell you all this not to brag in being the slowest decorators in the history of ever, but to let you know that it is alright if you love something to do it, even if it takes forever to get it done. And when the balance of completing a family tradition becomes a drag instead of a joy, it is also fine to just cut it out, if that helps your Christmas joy. For us a live tree is still a tremendous joy, and so even though this year it was a slow moving molasses joy, we did it anyway.

We don't do a lot of other decorating, excepting a large collection of nutcrackers that Avram has collected from his childhood, but we do have a couple of nativity scenes. This year our kids, compliments of their grandparents, received a Little People Nativity set, which I wanted so that they would stop moving our nice olivewood one around the house, and yet still be able to play out the story of Christ's birth often throughout the season.  As we didn't get most of our decorations away until January had already started, they got a good two weeks with that set, and had a lot of fun with it.  Having religious Christmas decor is an easy way to remember Christ without adding anything to our "to do" list.

Saint Nicholas:
This year for the first time we celebrated St. Nicholas on December 6th. The night before we talked about the historical St. Nicholas, and about his gift giving to others, and really focused on his connection with Christ.  Then they got a little candy in their shoes the next morning, along with a family Zoo membership (which was the experience part of our family gift giving). Then for Christmas proper we did some preparation for Santa, like leaving a little candy out, but really we do not focus on Santa, Santa doesn't leave any gifts at our house, and we enjoy the fun of pretending while not having to have the Santa versus Christ dilemma. I know plenty of people who do have Santa visit, and still focus on Christ, but for our family I like keeping it as simple as possible when it comes to gifts and their origins.

We always go to our Ward Christmas Party, and we always, except once last year, when I was pregnant with Athena and too stressed to do so (which is okay! Being stressed is a great reason to simplify, even on set-in-stone family traditions) have a family Christmas party at our home.  For the family party we invite friends over, have an array of foods, and just sit and chat while our kids play, hopefully in another room.  This is not a Christ focused activity, and there is more munching than focusing on the manger.  We have it every year though, and Avram loves the hospitality of Christmas, while I always love having people over at our house.  Because we work on having a Christ centered home every day, I feel great having some activities around Christmas that are focused on friends or family as well. We always make Gingerbread men for this party, and usually we decorate them, but this year we simplified even more to just eating them plain. This party isn't fancy - our food table would never make Pinterest - it didn't even make the low standards of my blog (ok, really I'm just to lazy to go hunt the picture up, but just imagine a bunch of food plopped on a plain table...yup, that's how we roll).

Weekly Traditions:
We try and have Family Home Evening every week, and although we are not always successful at this, we have made a renewed focus in this area (fueled by Lydia's interest, to be honest).  During December we had a couple of our lessons focus on Christ. Lydia, aged eight, really wanted to do a Christmas lesson, and so she planned one where we read the Christmas story in Luke 2, watched a Church video online of the same narrative, and talked about Christmas together.  We usually spend a couple of weeks in December focusing on Christmas and Christ for our family home evenings. Our lessons only last fifteen minutes or so, and we never manage to plan activites, much to our children's sorrow, so this really doesn't take much time at all.

The week of Christmas for Family Home Evening we went Caroling with some friends who usually go. This was the major request of Lydia, that we could carol this Christmas, so we asked if we could join in with them.

Every Friday we usually watch a movie, and during December we watched Christmas ones, none of which were religious, from the Nutcracker to White Christmas, which our kids were so bored during that we turned off in the middle and switched to a colorized version of Miracle on 34th Street.  The colorizing bothers Avram to no end, but it makes it palatable to our modern kids. I would like to find a good religious Christmas movie, but for now we don't have any. That's okay too - we don't have to start our marriage, or our kids' lives with awesome tradition already in place. They will grow organically throughout the years.

Daily Traditions:
Every night as a family we read scriptures, pray, and each child picks a song for us to sing to them before bed. Starting at the beginning of December, inspired by my nights spent singing Christmas songs with Dil, my professor, and his family in Jordan and Syria, our family switches over our nightly songs to Christmas songs, and Avram and I also pick out a song to sing as well. We can pick any song, religious or not, but most of them are usually religious, and then we sing one chosen verse from that song. Guinevere loved this tradition this year and turned off all the lights except for the ones on the Christmas tree, and then having us sing by that white and green dappled light alone.  This right here is one of my favorite Christmas traditions that we do. It is so simple, easy, takes very little time, and yet every evening refocuses our family on Christ.  Even when our kids are fighting over who gets what song (which has led to a firm rule that anyone can pick what song they want, even if there are repeats.), even when our days are hectic, this small ritual slows us down, makes us pause in the moment and simply sit, sing, and feel the spirit of Christmas.

Around twelve days before Christmas we also switch over our family scripture study to prophecies about Christ's birth, and narratives of his birth. We used to stretch this out over the whole month of December, but as our kid's attention spans have increased and we read more verses a day there wasn't enough material to last that long.   I wish I had some nice system set up, but usually year to year we play it by ear every night, talking about right in that moment what the next prophecy we will read. A couple of years I have made count down paper chains to Christmas, with scriptures written on each one, but that was a few kids ago by now....

If you feel so inclined, these are the scriptures that we used this year:
Numbers 24:17 (possibly the prophecy spoken of by the Magi)
Psalm 2:7-12
Isaiah 7:14
Isaiah 9:6-7
Micah 5:2
1 Nephi 11:13-18
Mosiah 3:4-8
Helaman 14:1-8
3 Nephi 1:8-17
Luke 2 (this gets repeated a couple of times)
Matthew 2

I had read about families doing variations on reading a Christmas book every night in December, and wanted to try that out this year. Some wrap up them up, and then unwrap one a night. I like to keep things simple, and did not want to spend that much time and paper wrapping up non gifts, but also I wanted our kids to have access to all the books all season long.  So I had Lydia collect all of the Christmas books we already owned, and then put them in a basket in our living room. Then I requested a bunch of Christmas books from the library and every week changed up a bunch of the books.  I kept a balance of religious and just general Christmassy themed books, like The Grinch who Stole Christmas, and a bunch from Jan Brett, whom we love. Thus far it went really well, and our kids loved looking at all of the different books.  However....we did not in any way manage to read one a day as a family. I would say we read about three books a week, and I decided that for our family this felt like a great amount. I think the key to trying new traditions is being open to them changing to fit your family.

Throuhout December we just focused on these things. It looks like a lot written up, but because so much of what we do to observe Christmas is worked through our regular day, taking up no more time than the routines we already are following, we manage to do all this while still actually remembering the calm and peace of our Savior's coming.  The one area that I would really like to improve on for next year was that I didn't finish all my Christmas shopping as early as I would have liked, and so accrued unnecessary stress trying to finish it all up in time throughout December.

Excepting spending far too long reading reviews on Amazon for last minute purchases, I felt like this season we did a very intentional focus and lead up to the celebration of Christ's birth.  This worked to our good, as Christmas Eve I woke up with an extreme sore throat and a fever and chills and body aches. Our careful plans of a special Christmas Dinner by candlelight came to naught, and I spent the entire day in bed. However, Avram still had dinner by candlelight with the kids - they just had totino's pizza rolls and root beer instead. After dinner Elisheva very seriously put her hand on Avram and told him, "Thanks so much for having such a magical Christmas dinner," which just goes to show that kids don't need all the trappings to enjoy Christmas that we think need to be there (uhh, but we are definitely going to have a fancier dinner next year). We didn't do our nativity play, and the night ended with Avram doing bedtime by himself, and then wrapping up that last of the presents himself as well while I tried not to die (it felt like to me at least...maybe I might be exaggerating a little.)

Then Christmas Morning I felt even worse, and excepting for coming out of my room and watching our kids open presents I again spent the day in bed, sometimes even imagining who might come and greet me from the other side if I happened to you know, focus so much on Christ that maybe he would put me out of my misery. (Don't worry - I went to the ER the next morning and over the next couple of weeks was given four different courses of antibiotics, and eventually I felt better.  No death occured). We didn't get to our special giving that I wanted to do as a family on Christmas morning, inspired by this family and how they celebrate Christmas (read this post! It's great). This goes to show even awesome, well meant plans do not always come to fruition, but thankfully there is another Christmas a year from now when we will have the opportunity to give as well.

This year in the spirit of simplifying Christmas to focus on Christ, as well as thinking about trying to accrue less stuff but more meaning in our lives, Avram and I focused our gift giving down to four areas.  We decided for our family that each child will get

Something to wear or read
Something they want
An Experience gift
And money that we will guide in giving to others.

Keeping it simple kept Christmas morning simple (which I appreciated greatly this year). Ideally when I am not trying to expire we want to then after we open our presents do our family gift giving. This year we meant to give as a family, but then instead I lay in bed in agony while Avram soldiered on alone, so it never happened. But it is something we plan on incorporating in future Christmases.

So that is how our family works on focusing on Christ in Christmas while also having a low-key, merry Christmastime. Every family has a balance that works for them, and this is the way that we have found that helps us remember Christ. Of course every family's write up of Christmas would look unique to their situation, preferences and abilities, which I love. I love that we can all do so much good, and it will all be different, even if founded on the same essential rock.

When Avram and I first got married, I said that after our children were in school I would go back to school and get a master's or doctorate degree.  For a few years I didn't give much thought to this, except to give it lip service while mostly concentrating on raising my two young daughters.  When I was pregnant with Guinevere I went to an academic conference with Avram, and my laten love for academics reawoken. I anew planned, not in just the general someday, but in a specific future to attend school.  Dependent on all of my future career plans, though, was Avram first getting a tenure track job.  A TT job would mean I got free tuition for school, so that returning wouldn't be a financial burden on the family.

And now, even as I suffer the disillusionment of learning that the chances of Avram getting a permanent Academic Job are low, I feel like my future is crumbling as well. I feel like I will be in this little, dirty house with too many kids and not enough money, food, organization or mental peace for the rest of my life.  I feel alone, and tired and hungry, and I just want out. I want something better than this, something different than this.  My mom has told me, "When I was young I dreampt of living on the west side, in a small house with too many kids, and not enough money" when I talked about having dreams that didn't work out - to show that of course we do not always end up where we dream.  And now I am starting to feel that - so many kids, not enough mental and physical energy to raise them, no money, no food.  Thankfully I do have a wonderful marriage and husband, who is also a wonderful father.  But, I am thirty two, Avram is thirty three. And what do we have?  We have five children whom we love, yes.  But in the way of wordly goods, we have a 13 year old van, we are renting a house that I am content with in size (I do not mind its smallness), but that is in a neighborhood that I would not chose to live in if I didn't have to. I know that this sounds entitled, but I what I mean to say is that I feel like we had enough intellect, training, and life opportunities to not end up in our thirties with five kids, in poverty (to the point that I have been waiting to buy winter gear until the half-off day at the thrift store. Enoch currently sports a girls coat - but it doesn't matter, because he refuses to wear it anyway.  We don't have enough food - sure we have enough beans, frozen pork and wheat berries to last awhile  - but most everything else is gone.  And the biggest, best thing I have to look forward to in a while, and have had to look forward to for a while, has been getting Food Stamps again, after being off of them for a couple years.).  I feel like we could have used our energy and time somewhere else, in a different field.  Nobody DESERVES any certain kind of life, but in the twenty first century in America, two people who got scholarships in college should have been able to work out something better than this.

And yet, we have felt that we ARE working on something better than this - we have sacrificed for a reason.  Well, what if that reason was always delusional, what does that mean? Where does that leave us?  Still poor.  The idea of poverty has always haunted me - I grew up poor, and I knew that I did not want to be poor as an adult.  I felt like I had a good way out - I was smart, motivated.  Avram grew up middle class - he had never known poverty, so it doesn't haunt him the way it does me.  And although we have had some hard financial times, our thrift, where we live, and just enough funding means we have scraped by most of the time. But we still have $25000 of debt - that is  not nothing - and that is after paying off $15000 of grad debt already (plus another $10000 from my undergraduate, or more accurately, from my study abroad, and $5000 or so from Avram's undergraduate).  So, we have been poor, we have gone into debt, we have done a lot, just so Avram could get this Phd. Yes, we are aware that those are lost earning years, and that our retirement will suffer, etc, but we don't care about money.  Well, obviously given the last paragraph we DO care about money, but we don't care about making a lot of money. We don't need to be rich, to have a fancy house, to take vacations.  But, it turns out that not caring about money isn't the same thing as money not caring about you.  We still have to deal with it. We are trying to live, and to be as independent as possible, and I tell you, I just don't know.

Underneath all of this is that fact that through a few religious experiences (patriarchal blessings, blessings, promptings) that Avram has had, that he has felt that God wants him to be in this field, he wants Avram to go to grad school, he wants Avram to do what he is doing.  Which makes me feel like God wants me to be poor. He wants me to struggle, to feel defeated.  I know that just because he gives me trials that he doesn't want me to be defeated, but it feels like it. It is hard to have the proper perspective when you are down in the trenches. I know that this life is a time of trial. That it was not meant to be easy.  I know that we are not promised a certain (prosperous) outcome when we follow God.  But - I guess it is hard to see why God would want us here.  I know that in a few months, a year, I will read back on this, and perhaps at that point be able to see - maybe it will take longer, but within five years or so I fully expect that our lives will be worked out as far as dealing with careers goes.  We will not be poor forever. We will not be in flux forever.  But it is hard to keep the faith now, especially when keeping the faith means acknowledging that a "successful" turnout for God may mean Avram never finding an academic job, and us struggling to make any ends meet for years to come.

And then apart from this, I am angry. Angry that we are in a field that does not actually tell you what the job prospects are.  Sure, everyone says they are "bad," but they also say that the good will get jobs.  Angry that it took me looking things up independently to really learn about this. Yes, it is available online - but I didn't even know and think to look. And every grad student is being groomed, being told that they are are the best - they are the "good" that gets the jobs - so even if they hear that prospects are bleak, they do not put themselves in the majority that won't get jobs in the field.

What frustrates me is that I feel like we have been led to a dead end. that there are not enough jobs, and we have been scraping by, living in poverty, all for an imaginary dream.  And now what?  While Avram attends SBL (thankfully with funding, since he is giving a paper) and has not a single conference interview scheduled, I am home with my kids, making beans yet again for dinner, and desperately waiting for our food stamps card to show up.  What kind of life is that?  I feel like we could have been making a livable wage, learned valuable skills, and have actually DONE something in this life.  Instead of getting to this point with no apparent future. That's not completely accurate - there are still post-docs (six) that we are somewhere in the process of applying to/waiting to hear from, plus one VAP and one renewable lecturship. But that's it - and there are many more jobs that we were never shortlisted for.  And I am trying hard to view having a post doc as a chance of having a livable wage while we pay off all our debt, and prepare for a better life in the future. But...that's not exactly what things are looking like now.

Partly it is hard because I have to be strong for Avram's sake - he does still need to apply for most of the Post docs and the VAP, and if he has given up all hope, it will come across in his letters.  And although an academic future is not the brightest or most likely one, it is also still a possibility, so we shouldn't reject it outright.  And getting a job outside of academia will be difficult enough that we shouldn't turn there until we have at least exhausted the possibilities within it.  Now, we have agreed that there will be no adjuncting. No part time work.  If he doesn't have a full time academic job lined up to start in Fall of 2015 by the time he graduates (or maybe even a couple of months before, so march), then we will go full time into looking for a non-academic job. Even thinking about it feels like the death of a dream.  He loves to teach - and how can he find a teaching job outside of academics?

And yet I have to keep soldiering on.  I can't publish this post, or any of my others, because I am too scared that somehow this will lesson a job opportunity, thanks to the magic of googling.

I'm not doing a very good job soldiering on right now.  I feel at the end of my rope.  And yet I have five kids.  The beans are cooking now, and then I need to make some kind of cornbread - using up the last of our cornmeal, milk, and all but one egg.  I have spend $151 on food in the last four, going on five weeks.  For last thursday (a week and two days ago) I bought only $26 of food - and we are still lasting on it. We are at the end, and I can't buy any food because Avram is currently at the conference, and so I don't know how much money he will be spending every day. I don't want to end up with his card rejected, so we wait.  I don't even know how we are going to do it, to keep going.  I feel like I am at the end of everything, on a cliff. I know that this is overly dramatic, but that's how I feel.  I feel like we bet everything - our youth, financial security, my career plans, on Avram getting a tenure track job. And now we have had exactly one nibble from the tenure tracks (which was BYU, and went nowhere), and zero bites otherwise.  Like I said, there are deadlines that have not passed yet - but still.  It's hard that that the very best thing we could get right now is a post doc.

Careers, Jobs, these are not everything. I know that. But it is hard to have a stable life for what is truly important (family) when these things are in a state of constant flux and uncertainty.  Avram met with his professor, who told him that the good always get jobs (a common thing academics say).  That is so inaccurate that it is laughable, if it didn't also make me want to go into a corner and cry.  Avram worked on enlightening him, but at the end of the day, if he doesn't get a job in academics, his department will probably think that "academics isn't for everyone" and that he wasn't one of the good that gets jobs.

At this very moment Avram is finishing his presentation he is giving at SBL this year. He is at this very second fielding questions about his topic, his research. It feels like he is trying so hard, we are trying so hard, and for what?  So that in three weeks he can spend hundreds of dollars and go to another conference in Baltimore, solely (SOLELY, and unfunded at that) because his advisor will introduce him to people there.  Yay?  And then two weeks after that he is going to Israel for a conference, which blessedly is fully funded, even down to the food, (yay for rich Jewish Doners), and yet raises the very real question of what is a Mormon doing in Jewish Studies?  Do we really want him conferencing during December of every year?

P.S. (added the next day) - Last night the EBT card came.  As I opened it, and looked at it, I began to cry. I had waited so long for it, and it finally came.  I cried because we could finally buy food.  We could have milk and dairy and butter and fruit again.  I cried out of relief. But as I sat on the sofa and sobbed (I am pretty sure my kids were all thoroughly confused by this), I realized I was also crying because I had come to a point where I was honestly that grateful for Food Stamps - I was that relieved becing able to buy food for me and my children.  And that was a very humbling feeling indeed.

Also, I talked to Avram last night - his paper went well, and the person over BYU studies came up afterwards, and told him that we would like to publish it in BYU studies. So as far as reception goes, that's about as good as it gets.  Of course, we would all like to dream that someone from the search committee was there, and was so impressed by him that he moves up to number three (and hence, first alternate if the first two visits don't work out) on their list, but who knows about that.

So...there are blogging topics, and then there are blogging topics.  This post could be called Let's talk about - academic disenchantment, but I can't actually publish it, so I can't call it anything.  For one thing, I am terrified that although I am careful never to mention my full name, or especially Avram's full name on here, that somehow an academic search committee will find this blog (it's not too hard to find - it comes up on the second page if you google Avram), and then stumble upon this post, and then decide that with this kind of negative wife they don't want to hire Avram at all, and then my fears about Avram never finding a job will be self fulfilling, and I just don't think I can handle it.

Rewind ten years.  I met Avram.  He, even then, knew he absolutely wanted to get a Ph.d. and become a professor.  He has always known this, ever since he first found out what a Ph.d. was - he knew that he had to get one. So, then I fell in love with him...blah blah blah....lots of drama...blah blah long story short - we got married, and became a student family.  I had graduated, but Avram still had two years of his undergraduate left.  So we scrimped and saved and got by with a little help from our student loans, and then his senior year needed no loans at all because I got a 35 hour a week job being a nanny for a family.  Sacrifices, yes, especially since I really just wanted to stay home with my new baby Lydia, but I wanted to not have debt much, much more.  And it was all worth it - getting a Ph.d. was worth it.  As Avram neared graduation, and applied to schools, there was no plan B.  There was no even plan A.  Grad school was the only plan, the entirety of our plans.  I was fully, 100% behind Avram pursuing this career field. It wasn't hard - through him I got to vicariously live my own dropped career plans.

Maybe I need to rewind even farther - to 2001, when I entered BYU with the firm intent to graduate in Near Eastern Studies (I had picked my major two years prior - actually, maybe four years prior? I was very focused on what I wanted to do).  As I told a friend right before I started school, my plan was to go to BYU, go to grad school, get a Ph.d. by the time I was 26 (ahh, the young ignorance of youth, thinking I could get a ph.d. in four years in the humanities), get married at that point, and raise lots of fat babies while being a tenure track, then tenured professor.  So, what I actually did was graduate in Near Eastern Studies, but that's about the only thing that went according to plan. (Even that plan wasn't very great because they got rid of my major only one year in, and so I ended up grabbing other classes from the new Middle Eastern Studies major - hence the Arabic, Egypt study abroad, and general disorganization of my undergraduate career.  They made the major I had actually wanted the year after I graduated - Ancient Near Eastern Studies, which was the one Avram graduated in.)

By my sophomore year, I was really struggling with the realization that my intended academic path meant studying lots of dead languages (I like living languages, I like to talk to people - but I hate living topics because they are so political, controversial - I mean, do YOU want to work with the modern middle east?  I didn't think so), and that although much of why I cared about the ancient near east was because of my religion, getting a Ph.d. is a secular thing, which meant that I had to learn to do research on secular biblical topics.  Plus....there was this small thing called boys, which meant I dated a freshman whom I wanted to marry my first year, then while he went on his mission I briefly dated his brother (I have no comment on this), then later my sophomore year I got engaged to yet a third boy. Then I broke it off four and  a half weeks before the wedding, because I had known for most of our relationship that I didn't want to marry him at all, yet still planned a wedding (no comment on this, either), and then swore off dating for a while, but unfortunately for me then, but very fortunately for me now, met Avram six months later, started dating him four months after that (yes, four months before the first freshman boyfriend got home from his mission), and married Avram after lots of waffling, a big break up, and tears galore right around the time I finished college.  So, to recap, I basically abandoned my complicated academic plans because I fell in love. A lot. And thus I didn't want to wait until I was 26 and had completed a Ph.d. (that I wasn't sure about any more) to get married - I wanted to follow option B, which despite all the drama, still seemed like a more favorable option.

Not that I then became opposed to me having a career - but I had no salable skills (remember Near Eastern Studies major), no firm career goals (I had considered becoming a librarian in my field, but that required getting a master's of library science, which seemed all techy and not booky), and so I went to the raising lots of fat babies part, and decided to put all my career aspirations on Avram.  This....was probably not the best thing, but I don't know what I could have done differently, with what I knew then, what my options were then.  I mean, this whole rant is actually related to how academics isn't actually a career path, more like a becoming highly qualified so you can have the opportunity to try out for a very competitive slot, like trying out for Broadway,'s not like I exactly wish I had followed my original career plan at all....  And yes, I have struggled with being a stay at home mom.  And I am an extrovert, so it's not really like I want to get a job while being at home - I don't want to make money.  I want to be fulfilled.  But this isn't about me, exactly, except as to how I am too enmeshed with Avram, and with his career plans, which is to say, very enmeshed.

Phew, good thing I am not publishing this - this is all very complicated, and full of unnecessary back story, which is to say, exactly how I like to write.

Anyway, so when Avram wanted to get a Ph.d., and he even wanted to get it in the field I had planned on, and unlike me he was very certain about what he wanted, I was all in. It was like fulfilling a lifelong dream of mine, which just as much sacrifice, but also with a whole lot less paper writing, scholarship planning (but also a lot less job satisfaction....).

However, that was just the tip of the iceburg for sacrifices.  We went to England, to Oxford for a master's.  I didn't want to go - he got into a fully funded (but inadaquate for the city) Master's and Ph.d. at Fordham in New York City in medieval Jewish history.  But, going to Oxford had also been a life long dream of Avram's, and had also been my lifelong dream in my previous academic planning self, and so I finally acquiesed, and we went, although we only had a half scholarship, and not a full one.  (And we didn't even really look into the Master's at Michigan because they didn't even talk about funding or not. I wish we had, because they are a good school).  So, we were very poor, acquired a lot of debt, and were cold for nine months in England while Avram spent a lot of time feeling like a stupid Yankee monkey while he completed a one year master's at the same time as trying to learn how to navigate a foreign country, foreign academic system, and I meanwhile had our second child.

Then, on to the next stage - he got into two schools, one of which with a good funding package (that wasn't so good in subsequent years, although it was supposed to be....). So we came to Ohio State. Even though it was a new program, which meant no job placement history. And no clout in the field.  And so, six years later, here we are, with Avram in his final year, and now applying to jobs.

And here, thirteen years after I began my academic journey and planned to get a Ph.d., and Nine years after I married Avram, who is actually getting the Ph.d., I am finally learning what I wished I had known then about the Academic Field in the Humanities in America.  In summation - it sucks.  It is vastly oversupplied, and getting worse all the time, because tenure lines are going away, not expanding, while schools are still expanding and adding new graduate programs.  If this was a treatise on prospects for job fields, the Academic Tenure Track Humanities section would have a skull and crossbones, with a sign, "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."  We would even get the reference, since we're in the humanities, and all.

Let me explain. No, let me sum up. The American academic system has as its faculty three levels of career - Assistant Professor (Tenure Track), Associate Professor, and Full Professor, both of which are tenured.  The other options are long term lectures, which some universities have, Visiting Assistant Professors (knows as VAP), and then other things like Post Docs, fellowships, and finally at the far, far bottom is adjuncting, wherein you get paid to teach each individual class as a contract worker, without full time work, health benefits, and self respect.

Each department has tenured professors, and when one professor retires, for several decades instead of then filling the spot again, Universities have not always extend the tenure lines, and fill in the gap with more VAP spots or adjuncting.  This is a lot cheaper for them, and because the market is so large, there is basically an unlimited supply of eager people with Ph.d.s willing and happy to be a VAP (hey, maybe next year on the job market they will get that Tenure Track job!), and often unhappily, but still willing to adjunct (hey, maybe next year on the job market they will get any sort of better job!)

Meanwhile, the number of college graduates has only grown, and hence the number of people excited to go to graduate school and pursue being a professor has grown as well.  There are all the traditional older Ph.d. programs, plus new ones starting up all the time.  Some programs will only let those in that they can fully fund, but other will only partly fund, or hardly fund at all their graduate students.  This means that graduate students can take on thousands, even over a hundred thousand dollars of debt - all for a future promise of a job that at least in Avram's field looks to pay within ten thousand dollars of $50,000.  And, that is if you can get the job at all.

There are aspects that are not hidden - it is generally understood that if you really want to be a professor, that you must be willing to move almost anywhere in the US.  That you will never get rich, or even upper middle class. That the job is very flexible in some ways (you set your own hours, you have a great deal of freedom in what you research, in what you teach), but that you also will be bringing work on vacations, holidays, nights, weekends - at least sometimes, if not for those who struggle with firm life balance, all of the time.  But you are trading this off for something that you really, really love. Maybe it's the research, maybe it's the teaching. Maybe it's the thinking, and the life of the mind, but whatever (pure, good - as apposed to the occasional reason of prestige or public pride) reason you have, you are doing it for the love, not the money.  For those who crave this job, who spend a decade working towards it, they have weighed the payoffs, lived in poverty for years, and this is worth it. They have become a band of brothers (and sisters) who are the few, the happy few that have shed their blood (sweat and tears) with each other through grad school to pay the price.

I have often heard jokes about majoring in poverty, or about the horrible job prospects. These almost become a badge of honor among the band, an aspect of their comaradarie as they joke about becoming plumbers, or flipping burgers with their Ph.d. And yet they are in training for a job, and although of course every humanities ph.d. should not be guaranteed a job, at the same time in such a closed field as academics, where universities control both the supply (how many students they let into grad school) and demand (how many tenure lines they support), there is a lot that could be done that is not.  On both side money speaks - grad students provide a cheap source of labor for teaching.  So do adjuncts and VAPs.  It's not just this recession - this has been ongoing for decades (even while the tuition has been outpacing inflation, while more people than ever are going to college, and where administration in colleges and universities continues to grow and their incomes are growing as well. Administrators are paid better than faculty).

While I too dislike money, and have no problems with people seeking a demanding job for comparatively little pay, but for the love.  What I do not like, nay what makes my blood boil, my overly wrought prose purple, what makes my metaphors and similes grow like dank mushrooms in must is that many more ph.d.'s are being admitted, trained and graduated than can ever possibly hope to find a Tenure Track job.  Because of this, Universities have become more and more picky in what they are looking for in candidates. When you have a hundred applicants (not unusual) for one position, and at least fifty are completely qualified, twenty five are very qualified, and ten are basically rockstars of the academic world - those top ten will all get Tenure Track jobs, and many of the rest will limp along to another year, working on their CVs, trying to get another publication, pitch a book to a publisher, something to move their career along.  Universities did not used to expect candidates to have a publication upon applying - now it is becoming more and more standard to see this, and to even expect this - it is called the pre professionalization of the job.

So there are less jobs, more candidates, and therefore you must be better than your predecessors to get a job at all, and even being good, very good, does not guarantee you a job.

This is what I wish I had known, thirteen years ago, ten years ago, six years ago.  It is hard to see a dream die, and yet the idea of an attainable dream of being a professor in the humanities is increasingly a dream that despite ones best personal efforts and work is unattainable except through luck.  Of course, there will always be jobs - not all universities are cutting their tenure lines, and even among those that are, there will always be some tenured professors in each department.  Just the attainability of these positions has decreased, and will continue to do so.

If Avram doesn't get a job, then this will all just sound like grumpy sour grapes.  But I promise you it is not. Even if he does get a job, then I will still feel the same way (and also, I will feel very lucky, because we will be, and very grateful that he gets to work at what he loves to do in what is a shrinking, changing field).

Here are some articles that lay some of this out.  If you are thinking of graduate school, please read them. If you are getting a master's please read them before continuing on to get a doctorate. I know this is all gloom and doom, and you did not go into academics in the humanities to think about depressing job markets, economic short term policies driving universities and their tenure lines, about making money. But the academic job market - and by extension, academics, is not an ivory tower.  It is more like a lake of boiling blood in the inferno, where you can only get out of it by ascending to living island of flesh that you get to stand on and keep down just so you can keep out of the blood yourself.

These are by Thomas H. Benton, a pen name for William Pannapacker, who is a professor in English

So You Want to go to Grad School?

Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don't Go (this is particularly hard, because Avram actually did go for all the right reasons - he knew a lot about what being a professor was like, he loves to teach, he gets above average student ratings, and yet....all that doesn't make the market any better).

Just Don't Go part 2

The Big Lie About the 'Life of the Mind.'

If you are determined to go, first think about what are the right and wrong reasons for going.  Often professors will tell students to only go if they cannot imagine doing anything else.  The precise difficulty with this advice is most of the student they are advising have never done anything but school in their entire memory, and so struggle to imagine themselves doing anything but more school, which they are very good at (or would not likely be having this conversation in the first place).

Wrong Reasons:

1.You are good at school, everyone has always told you how smart you are (and you are!), and so it just makes sense. You like learning, you like to read.
    Answer - you can learn on your own your whole life.  Lot's of smart people do not actually enjoy doing academics as a career.  Just because you can do something, does not mean that you should do something.
2.It is a bad job market out there, or the variations - the real world seems scary
     Answer - Do you know what's scary?  The academic job market.  Do you know what's a bad job market?  The academic job market.
3.You like the idea of being like your professors that you see, who get to do things like think deeply while getting paid for it.  Variations - you think that you get summer's off, that being a tenured professor is the best part time job you'll ever have.
     Answer - Being a professor is a lot more than just teaching classes and reading a lot. Professors have a three part job - teaching, research, and service. Do you actually know what professors do behind the scenes?

 And if you are truly going for the right reasons (you know what professors actually do, you like to do these things, you like conferences, writing papers, presenting, teaching, grading, serving on committees) here are some criteria I would recommend:

Only go to a school that has a proven track record.

Only go to a school if you have promised, written full funding for a set number of years (at least five or six). Even with full funding it can be easy to 'need' student loans.  Maybe you will get married. Maybe you will have children.  Just remember, at the end you will be paying back any loans, regardless whether you have  job or not.

Have a plan B - another career you can explore outside of academe using skills from the field you are going into.  Beyond Academe is a website that can help with this, among others.  Don't just give this a cursory look - put some time and effort into looking beyond just and academic career for your field.

Realize that it isn't just enough to be good at school in academics any more.  Don't listen to your professors who say that presenting and publishing can come later, after you get a job.  Now days, if you cannot be better than the best, you may not have a chance. Plan on not just fulfilling the requirements of grad school, but also actively at the same time pursuing a research agenda, including presenting at the major conference for your field. Two years before graduation, polish up your best presentation, paper, or chapter of your dissertation, and send it out for publication. Consider doing this twice, to maximize your chances of being published.  This way by one year later you will have at least one publication in time for application season in the fall.