Happy Homemaker, Ph.D.

A novice homemaker's attempts to use her engineering Ph.D. to serve her family

Christmas Cards

Christmas CardsIt’s that time of year, a time when I aspire to share a greeting with everyone in my heart.  The perfectionist in me declares this should include a summary of the past year (or more if I didn’t get cards out the year before…or the year before that), a picture of my family (of course, dated and labeled with names and ages of each person), and a Christmas card that fits the person I’m sending it to in some way (or at least myself or our relationship).

I imagine a snowy, quiet day in which I would carefully select the fountain pen from my collection that has just the right nib size, barrel thickness, and color to fit my mood and size of my handwriting needed for the card.  I’d choose cardinal red, gemstone green, or perhaps cocoa for ink, and let my heart-felt words of thankfulness for our friendship and best wishes for the coming year flow onto the page while my favorite Christmas music played in the background and a peppermint candle flickered.  I could happily pass a day – or more – in such occupation, and there were days in the past when I did just that.

Today was a day with the perfect, gently falling snow.  A peaceful Saturday.  A day with no outside obligations.  Perhaps I could…

But, it was also a normal day with my sweet Four, the five-year-old singing loudly and dancing haphazardly, the toddler crying (for milk, for help opening the baby gate, for justice when big sisters are mean…), the three-year-old unable to nap and needing help with every single paint jar lid when the rest of the house was quiet, and the baby apparently not being satisfied to play alone on the floor nearby.

A couple of years ago, I would have probably felt frustration and loss, perhaps even a sense of being cheated out of something that I delight in.  Today, I knew it was important for me to share some of my words with a few beloved family members that were on my heart.  I hoped to finish six cards (instead of the close to one hundred I’d love to prepare and send)  – without the year’s summary or thoughtfully selected card.  I traded the bliss of my fountain pens for a ballpoint to avoid the fear of an accidental spill and to save the time I’d spend deliberating on a choice.

I finished only two, but didn’t feel cheated.  I think that’s two more than last year.    And, there’s tomorrow to try for another one or two…  Right?

As I remember Christmas seasons past, my heart fills with joy in reliving days with such special people – family, school mates, college friends, roommates, lab mates, church friends, band friends, and new friends.  I long to share with them how I treasure our time together and how dear they still are to me, despite the distance of geography and time.  I sincerely hope I’ll be intentional and focused enough to send some words to many, even if it’s after Christmas.

But, today, I was telling dear ones how much they are loved.  I did so as I read Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs for the third time.  I did so as I admired her painting and served hot chocolate with whipped cream to my sweet, quiet three-year-old daughter while the other three slept.  I snuggled the thumb-sucking, blond-haired two-year-old after her nap.  I rocked my baby, singing Christmas carols to lull him to sleep.  I washed laundry, cleaned dishes, cooked a meal, and watched “A Charlie Brown Christmas” with my kids, all things that I didn’t do when I had the time to spend all day with a stack of beautiful cards and my fountain pen.

So, for those of you who are dear to me (I hope you know who you are.), please be patient.  This season of life is demanding and hard and RICH.  Please don’t take my negligence as a personal slight.  As I hear at the grocery store (whether with two kids or with four) on nearly every outing, I’ve got my hands full, and I haven’t yet learned to write with my toes.

And, if someday in the future, you receive a card like I imagine sending, please give me a call, because though I may be delighting in the writing I couldn’t do when the children were small, it will mean that they’re not small anymore, and I, well, I just have a feeling that I’ll be missing these days of slobbery kisses, a full lap, and perhaps even the loud chaos and sticky messes, and I’ll need a hug.

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Finishing Strong

The end is near.  The countdown is on…  Two finals to write.  Three finals to give (and grade).  Twenty-two group project reports to grade.  One and a half other assignments to finish grading.  And, all things considered, that doesn’t seem too bad, especially since the finals must be written by tomorrow morning, the students will take them, I’ll have at least a couple of hours to grade while they’re working on the exams, and the project reports are much shorter this year than in the past.  🙂

There are other things that also need to be done also, though, before I leave the workforce.  I need to revise a couple of articles so they may be submitted to journals for publication.  I need to finish a review of an article that is long overdue.  I need to clean out my office, a rather overwhelming and sentimental task.  And, I’ll need to find a place for my academic books at home (also overwhelming).  There are several logistical and administrative things to take care of also.

I keep telling myself to finish strong, but I’m losing steam and motivation.  I’m motivated to work hard to try to finish everything in the next couple of days, but once grades are turned in, I just want to stay home, snuggle with my daughter while reading books to her, bake cookies all day, (Not do the dishes, though.  That hasn’t changed.  See my first post:  A New Beginning), write and send Christmas cards, and decorate our Christmas tree.  (There’s a reason the tree decorating has been so delayed this year, but it’s kind of a long story.)

I “ran” the 3200-meter (~2 mile) race in high school, and I remember feeling the sixth lap (of 8 ) was always the most difficult for me mentally.  I guess I’m kind of at that point now, where the end is in sight, but not quite close enough to pull me toward it.  (That happens starting in the 7th lap.)  I need discipline to finish strong and give my best until the end.

And so, I’ll get back to the grading and exam writing now and try to push myself to finish this race, knowing I’ve worked hard and given my best for my students.

~Dana

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The Grinch that I’ve Let Steal Christmas

Let’s call him Finals Week, and he’s been cutting into my Christmas excitement and anticipation far too long.  Five years as an undergrad, 3 years of graduate school (full-time), and 4 years of teaching.  That’s a lot.

What did Christmas preparations look like in those years on my own without full-time study?  I picked out a live tree every year, usually in late November or early December.  My friends that had a truck would help me back to my apartment.  I would decorate the tree with the ornaments I had grown up with.  My tree would glow with soft, colored lights, white angel bell ornaments, felt and wooden treasures from my childhood, and a new snowflake-like star on top (attached to the tree with rubber bands and chopsticks).  I cannot count the nights I slept on the couch in the living room to fall asleep with this glow about me.  I decorated the apartment with garland draped from the kitchen cabinets with red bows cheerily making a contrast with the dark green, lights encircling the railing of my spiral staircase, my nativity set carefully arranged on my piano, and other decorations I had been given being placed around my home with happy thoughts of the people who had given me such treasures over the years.  Sometimes, I invited friends over to have soup and to help me with the decorating just to have some fellowship and to relive the memories of the “Hanging of the Greens” event we had at our church when I was growing up to prepare the sanctuary for Advent.

Usually, the first weekend in December (before dead week and finals), I invited my church (yes, everyone, but it was an amazing and small church of primarily college students, University Lutheran Chapel) to a Christmas party.  I provided the food and drinks, giving me a great chance (and motivation) to complete some holiday baking, try new recipes, and get in the spirit that I so enjoy.  One of the highlights of the party was always the white elephant gift exchange with a limit of $5.  My apartment was usually filled, sometimes with people coming that I had never met.  Those parties were filled with laughter and warmth!

Since I returned to school in 2005, I’ve felt like I’ve been held hostage a bit by the requirements of the end of the semester.  Final projects.  Final exams.  Late nights.  And, as a teacher, it’s seemed  worse with grading those final projects, writing and grading those final exams, and entering in final grades.  (As well as receiving the many e-mails from students concerned about their grades and looking for ways to recover from the choices they made throughout the semester.)  Grades are due less than a week before Christmas, and then with only a few days remaining to decorate, bake, and prepare gifts, I too often question if it’s worth the effort.  I don’t feel like I can really let myself enjoy the preparations for Christmas, and then I feel rather bitter and cheated about missing my favorite part – the anticipation.

But am I really any busier than I was when I was working 40 hours a week as an engineer, taking 1-2 classes part-time, and spending most of the rest of my time with friends?  I was gone several weekends in the fall to return to my alma mater for home football games and to visit friends.  Yes, I slept less in those days, and I was younger then, but as in my post from yesterday, I think the issue is priorities.

So, this week, I’ll work to finish up my work at school so I can enjoy things at home more.  I’ll try to decorate a bit each day, purchase the ingredients for my favorite holiday treats, and maybe invite a friend over to make peanut clusters or chocolate-covered pretzels with me.  I’ll listen to my favorite Christmas music while I grade.  I’ll dig out that peppermint candle.  I’ll work a little at a time to create that same environment that I remember from my days in Nebraska so I can throw an ongoing party for my family and create special memories for our toddler.  And, who knows, maybe I can pull together a small gathering of friends as well.

~Dana

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