Happy Homemaker, Ph.D.

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

When Life Hands You a Snowstorm… Make Snow Ice Cream!

Sometimes in my part of the country, we’re blessed with snow.  I love to watch the large flakes dance to the ground, covering the ground in white and creating a serene scene that sparkles in the sun and seems to swallow the noise of the city.  Snowfall here isn’t always that picturesque, but I feel a little excitement even when I get to watch the “sideways snow” that flies as small ice missiles from the north, shooting across the sky.

Earlier this month, we had a beautiful snow.  Twelve inches of white.  You can almost make out my ruler in the picture.

12" of snow

12″ of snow

Last year during a wintry weekend, I saw a friend at Women’s World, a conference held in my town.  With snow on the ground, she shared an easy recipe for snow ice cream.  It was so simple and easy, that although I wrote it down (somewhere), I remembered it in my head.  When this beautiful snow fell, I knew it was time to give it a try!  With heavy snow forecasted for my area again this weekend, it’s time to share it with you!

Snow Ice Cream

8-9 cups of clean snow (I just filled a bowl full.)
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Mix all ingredients well and enjoy!

I didn't have to go far to fill my bowl with snow!

I didn’t have to go far to fill my bowl with snow!

We had made brownies earlier, so we enjoyed brownie ice cream sundaes!

Brownie Snow Ice Cream Sundaes

Brownie Snow Ice Cream Sundaes

The reviews are in…

February 4 - February 9, 2014 019

Good to the last bite (or lick)!

Good to the last bite (or lick)!

"Delish!"

“Delish!”

We’ll be making this again.  Maybe even today…

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A New Groove

I’ve been away from blogging for a while… A long while. I remember thinking last June, “I’m tired (really tired), and Clara’s birthday is coming up. I’ll just take a few days off of writing so I can prepare for the party.”

I did. I was eight months pregnant at the time, and I easily justified that.

The only problem was that after the party, I was still too tired to spend time blogging at the end of the day instead of sleeping. My writing focus was spent completing an article from my dissertation work so my advisor and I could submit it for publication. That piece came together, but I was getting closer to my due date, and any extra energy needed to be applied to an attempt to clean the house. My little one’s due date came and went in mid-July. Ten days later, we met our third little girl, Charlotte.

July 10-August 2, 2013 112

Then, the days and nights became a blur of activity with three little ones under 38 months in my care. I hope I took enough pictures in those months because the memories are foggy, even now just a few months later. There was much to learn. Such as…

Where do we put another car seat? What was the optimum way to position the 3 car seats in our 6-passenger Ford Freestyle with all three girls needing complete help with the buckles? We chose the wrong way first. It involved opening the hatch, lifting the 16-month-old over the back of the far rear row of the car into a rear-facing car seat, gently (?) dropping her into her place, crawling onto the bumper, wedging my head and my arms into a position that would both hold myself up and enable me to buckle the straps. Yeah, that didn’t work out. My husband could do it well, but my arms are much shorter than his. We’ve got a manageable arrangement now with the younger two in the middle row and the 3-year-old in the far back. (It’s about time for our middle daughter to face forward which may shuffle things a bit again, but at least that problem doesn’t seem overwhelming anymore.)

How will I manage to get everyone in and out of the car multiple times a day? The first week of preschool was brutal; I won’t lie. Charlotte was about 6 weeks old, and our schedule that week included 4 trips to preschool, 3 to church, and probably a few more outings, such as grocery shopping.  That week, I thought homeschooling would be the best option for us simply because we wouldn’t have to spend an hour traveling back and forth and dealing with the stress of trying to make it somewhere on time. This has gotten easier, too, though the baby may still decide it’s time to eat right as we’re ready to grab our bags and head out the door or a dirty diaper is discovered as I push on a little shoe.

How can I get everything done? We were so blessed by our church family to have some meals brought to us the first few weeks after Charlotte’s birth. I hadn’t figured out the whole freezer meal thing beforehand, and we don’t have a lot of freezer space anyway, so this was such a blessing! I also remember delighting in God’s daily provision. On the days I didn’t have enough energy to keep going and I desperately needed a nap, the three girls miraculously slept at the same time! That may not be a big deal to families that have a structured schedule at their homes, but I couldn’t get my older girls to sleep at the same time (or my middle one to sleep for very long at all), so there was no doubt in my mind about Who was taking care of me.  I treasured that my God is the one who saw my efforts and needs when no one else could.

Honestly, though, I’m still trying to figure out the answer to this question. My house isn’t clean. The laundry is unfolded. I don’t have a meal plan for the week, and I didn’t make it to the grocery store on my regular day. The sink is full of dirty dishes, and the fridge is rather empty.

But I love on my little girls, and we have what we need for the day. Today, we put puzzles together – over and over again. I read a couple of chapters in “Little House in the Big Woods” aloud, to the 3-year-old’s delight.  (She asks to “play Laura” often.) I held my 3-year-old close and tossed her upside down and tickled her when she was upset that, “No one has time for me.”  I sang to my baby and danced with her in my arms.  I put the bow the 1-year-old requested in her thin hair, again and again.  I let my oldest crack the eggs and pour the scrambled mixture into the pan (and showed her how to clean up her spill).  We played hide and seek.  We watched some favorite videos on YouTube.  We shared hugs and kisses.

My baby is now six months old. The fatigue of those early weeks is finally subsiding, and I’m looking to find the rhythm of our new normal as a family of five. I’m dreaming of taming the chaos, but the reality is I will never really find the answer to that question of how to get everything accomplished.  The key will be to find what God has assigned me for each moment and to be faithful to obey – and to let the rest, all those things I think I am *supposed* to do go.

Jan1-18, 2014 018I’ve got a lot of growing to do to accomplish that task faithfully, but I’m trying to do a job worthy of my calling, be that finding a routine to keep the dishes washed to better honor my amazing husband or a groove that includes a celebratory dance down the hallway with three little girls following behind.

(And I’ll try to share our journey with you more often again.)

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What’s a STEM Woman (at Home) to Do? Part 2

Women can – even at home.

(This was really the post I meant to write last time, but I guess the 2 a.m. hunger call and late-pregnancy insomnia inspired my last post to go a different direction.  This post is more about how I’m using my STEM inclinations at home now.)

I’ll be honest.  I thought staying at home might would probably be boring.  In the months between turning in my resignation and leaving my job, I thought frantically of how I could best remain connected to my profession in some way.  Could I continue to research and publish?  Could I consult companies in the geographic area I’m in?  Could I teach community college or online courses as an adjunct faculty member?  Surely, I must need something, I thought.

I don’t recall ever being exposed to feminist rhetoric directly, but I somehow got the message as I was growing up that domestic duties were, well, boring and unchallenging.  This baffles me now, not because I currently find delight in washing dishes, but because my grandmother was a professional house keeper for others and found joy in that and because my mother stayed home, never complaining, patiently and diligently taking care of our home, meals, clothes, and well-beings.  My other grandmother delighted in cooking (and was EXCELLENT at this).  With such family examples, how was I misled?  I’m not sure.  I even remember, as a child, taking great pride in my work to make the bathroom sink shine and to pull all the crab grass from around Grandma’s iris plants.  But, by the time I reached junior high, my mind was firmly set that home economics classes in cooking and sewing were a waste of my time.  Anyone could cook, right?  And, when someone could choose a class like advanced biology, really, was there any contest?  Did people really major in that (home ec.) in college?  (I mean no disrespect now!  These are my thoughts as a teenager – pretty immature.)  A semester of wood shop and a semester of home economics were required our eighth grade year, though.  My pathetic pair of sweat pants I attempted to construct and the bad taste of our team’s Spanish rice should have told me that there was more to these pursuits than simply following directions.  Perhaps my failures in these areas discouraged me, too.  Besides, I got more attention for excelling in math and science.

Anyway, so it was with very little training and likely less skill (and probably not the best attitude other than a deep love for my children) that I chose full-time domestic life about 18 months ago.  But, God provides.  Without me wearing myself out trying to find ways outside of the home to use my training and interests in the sciences, He’s giving me opportunities.  I want to share these with you.  I believe that, whatever your field or background, there are applications of your skills at home that can keep you interested and occupied.

Science

  • I recently sent an inquiry to a home-school group in my town to see if my background could be useful to homeschooling parents and students as a tutor in STEM fields.  I connected with a woman who teaches high school biology and chemistry to 10-15 students a year.   She needed some help with grading biology lab reports next year, and it even pays a little bit!  This will allow her to take on a few more students without sacrificing as much of her family time, and it gives me a way to help without worrying about the preparation and testing that I know I won’t be up for with the new baby coming this summer.  I get to study biology again!  This is a subject that I loved my two years of study in high school but haven’t been able to return to studying or reviewing it since then due to other priorities (and a very rigid chemical engineering curriculum).
  • I get to see nature in a new, slower way as my almost-three-year-old daughter asks questions and notices things I don’t.  We talk about them.  We talk about how we could find the answers to her questions.  We read books.  I’m learning with her while getting to teach!

Technology

  • This is, admittedly, the area I struggle with the most, I think.  I miss working on the computer.  I am on my computer some, writing, checking Facebook, and checking e-mail, so I don’t mean just opening up the laptop.  I miss analyzing data in Minitab or creating a complex spreadsheet template to solve a problem for someone.  I do have an interesting dataset from my dissertation that I could play around with some more, but I haven’t made time for that.   As statistical software (even MS Office) products go through revisions over time, this is one area I fear losing my “edge” in, but that was happening a bit with my teaching job, too (being out of industry and not getting to use/apply those tools frequently).  
  • This is also an area where I see the most potential for learning as new online resources and tools are developed.  Any time I can learn something new, I’m happy.  🙂   Hey, if I can program in FORTRAN and use SLAM to create a simulation, surely I can learn some of these new tools and use them, as applicable, for my work at home. 

Engineering

  • “Engineers make things.  Industrial Engineers make things better,” is a slogan that I think was chosen by the Institute of Industrial Engineers.  (Now, for any hard-core electrical engineers out there, this might seem a little simplistic.  As a chemical engineering student, I joined the crowd that called IEs “imaginary engineers.”  Give me a chance, though.)  Every day at home, I get to work on continuous improvement in quality of both goods and services.  I am faced with the challenges of optimizing production processes.  Lots of processes.  
  • Optimization goes beyond finding “what works for me” in these processes.  There are actually mathematical formulas that can be created to help determine how many sets of clothes you may need (really need) for each child, how often you should do a load of laundry, and more.  (I plan to write more about these as I explore them myself.)  Perhaps I’ll even come up with some new formulas of my own.  (One of my favorite chemical engineering professors told us, “Never use a formula you can’t derive.”  That advice doesn’t seem so ridiculous to me now.)

Mathematics

  • Think beyond simple price comparisons at the grocery store.  At home, I get to consider the time value of money and think of how we can best try to optimize our savings and spending, balancing investments and debt.  This is an area I need to spend some time on, as it is available, because I think we can do better.
  • One of the greatest blessings of the last year was being able to tutor my friend, Staci, though the quantitative methods courses her Ph.D. in education requires.  These statistics discussions let me use my stats vocabulary (fun!), learn about different applications of various tools (hard sciences are different from behavioral or social sciences), and get some new research ideas.  
  • And, my dear mentor, Linda, suggested I could always practice my calculus during nap times.  🙂  (It’s been a while, so I could use the practice!)

Research

  • You may think being out of academia leaves a person without academic research possibilities.  I’m finding otherwise.  There are still a couple of papers from my dissertation I’m working on revising for submission to journals.  I get new ideas for research possibilities in applied statistics each time I attend the Fall Technical Conference.  
  • There are also classes in research methods being taught in the area, and I was able to help one of my husband’s friends through an accelerated class last fall.  This involvement was encouraging as it showed me some of the “holes” in what was being taught (at least at this particular college), helped me consider new teaching or tutoring possibilities, and affirmed that I know my stuff when it comes to researching and writing research papers.  I wonder if there will be opportunities to help other undergrads at my local university.
  • Also, being immersed in this new life at home, I’m developing other research interests, probably more qualitative in nature, that would explore the longitudinal effects of homeschooling, for example, so my research “pipeline” won’t be completely empty, should I decide to return to an academic position some day.    The only problem is funding.  I wonder if there are grants out there for independent researchers who need new software to explore their ideas…  

So, I encourage you, if you think staying at home with your family looks like career suicide or complete boredom, consider my story.  I was getting bored enough at my first engineering job within the first year or so,  that I applied to grad school to start taking classes again.  I haven’t felt that boredom at all yet.  Not even close.  I do wonder if my gap of outside-the-home work history, lack of continuous publications, or step away from computing software will impact my ability to get a job later in life, but I’m trusting God with that.  He’s building my resume in new ways, helping me develop skills that are oh-so-necessary, while being able to focus on the little lives He’s entrusted me with to care for and teach.

And I’ve never had work that is so rewarding!   

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Experiment of the Week: Exploring Photography – A Two-Year-Old’s View

Granite Reflections

Granite Reflections

I know I am a bit of a control freak.  I’m trying to be more relaxed about things – from stains on well-worn garments to controlling the bite size of my 14-month-old’s food – but I still have a long way to go.  Perhaps I can blame my over-protectiveness on my training in mistake-proofing (poka-yoke)?  (This, by the way, has translated nicely into pretty good child-proofing and defect prevention at home.)  My over-active brain tends to think of all the imaginable things that could possibly go wrong, the probability of such events, and the costs or benefits of the decision.

For example, when my almost-three-year-old asks to take the camera, I start thinking of what could happen that would disable the camera.  I think about the pictures stored on it and their value to me.  I think about the costs we’d incur if we would need to purchase a new camera.  Before this week, I would let her hold the camera some, but I hadn’t taught her how to take pictures.  (I didn’t want her to start pushing other buttons…)

Monday, while we were at a small cemetery where my husband’s grandparents, great aunts and uncles, great-grandparents, and great-great grandparents are buried, she asked to take some pictures.  We weren’t on a tight schedule, and she was delighted when I agreed and showed her how to capture an image.  She had a wonderful time, running here and there, pointing our simple camera at flower after flower.  I was amazed when I downloaded the pictures and looked at some of her photographs.  All of the photos in this post were taken by Clara.  Some of them are very special to me.

Besides the one at the top of the post, here are some of my favorites:

My first belly shot of the pregnancy! (Seven weeks to go.)

My first belly shot of the pregnancy! (Seven weeks to go.)  (I’m not intentionally hiding behind the directory.  I had no idea she’d take my picture.)

I followed my little girl around, enjoying her glee as she clicked away.  It gave me a chance to look at the stones and wonder about the lives they represented.  Clara took a few pictures of the flowers near the stone below.  “Beloved Teacher,” the stone read at the bottom.

Remembering a beloved teacher.  This woman, from the headstone information, appeared to have no family, but she was fondly remembered still.

Remembering a beloved teacher. This woman, from the headstone information, appeared to have no family of her own, but she was fondly remembered still.

I don’t remember if it was this set of graves or ones similar to them that I slowly passed.  A teenage girl had died.  I looked again at the graves nearby.  From the birth years shown, it appeared that her grandpa and mom had also died the same day, Halloween in the early 1980s.  I wondered what tragedy took so many family members at the same time.

Shadows

Shadows

What photo collection would be complete without a shot of toes?

Flowers and Flip Flops

Flowers and Flip Flops

We needed to leave soon, but Clara had a difficult time surrendering the camera.  She took one shot of her dad.

She loves her daddy!

She loves her daddy!

Results and Conclusions:

I was amazed at Clara’s photographs.  Her perspective was special!  Really special!  It was fun to look at the images and see the world (though often out of focus) through her eyes at her near-37″ height.  Her interest in the puffed dandelion was something I had not noticed at all that afternoon.  The memorial flowers drew her in.  Even the grass was beautiful enough to try to capture and remember.

My children can do more than I think, and I need to give them more freedom to try new things and develop new skills.  Not only will this help them grow and develop more, but it also teaches me by showing me new perspectives and approaches that I would have never dreamed of myself.

Next time, she won’t have to beg so hard to use the camera.  🙂

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Correction: He Does Bring Flowers Home

I laughed as my husband returned from work Friday.  I had posted that day about how much I appreciate his hard work in our yard and gardens that supplies me with beautiful flowers throughout the summer, though it’s extremely rare that he brings cut flowers home (A Gift That Keeps On Giving).  He stepped out of his truck after the end of a long week of work and had these beautiful flowers with him!  (He had not had time to read my post yet.)

The beautiful flowers my husband brought Friday

The beautiful flowers my husband brought Friday

I was delighted!  They are so beautiful, and we are all enjoying them.  Some of the flowers are perennials that we can plant and hopefully enjoy again next year, and the others may be such that we can gather the seeds and plant them again as well.

We are all enjoying them!

We are all enjoying them!

I guess it just goes to show me that my husband is still full of wonderful surprises! He is such a blessing!

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Flashback Friday – Remembering Family

A couple of weeks ago, I was in my hometown for a few days to attend a cousin’s funeral and to visit my parents.

My cousin Brian was 36, and his death was unexpected.  Though I hadn’t seen him in years, the loss seems unreal and tragic.

For I remember family reunions, held at the Calvary Baptist Church most of the time, where I’d see and hug all my great aunts and uncles.  (Granddad once told me that I shouldn’t be hugging everyone so much.)  They all lived in the area where I grew up – as in within 15 miles – and I knew them well.  Their children were there, my dad’s cousins.  And, their children were there.  My sister and I are in this generation, as was my cousin who died.  With he and his brother being a few years older than us and there being some other boys for them to play with, we were often rather alone, but when we were a little older, they taught us how to play “War” with cards, and I think they taught us that game on paper where you shoot from a tank by flicking the pencil with your finger to try to hit your opponent’s equipment.  In later years, we entertained ourselves by playing with the “little kids” of the next generation, who were 7-10 years my junior.

Those annual gatherings on Sunday afternoons are so different now, some 20 years later.  My Granddad’s generation is gone.  Dad’s living cousins are fewer, and they are aging, which seems very strange to me.  And now, even my generation is shrinking in number.  Those once-lively family reunions are slowing down and aren’t as well attended as the new generations come and people move farther away from the area my great-grandfather homesteaded in.

As I spend time searching my heart for how the Lord would have me use my time in this season of focusing on our family at home, I find a great desire to restore our connections with family members that we don’t see often, to get to know some of my husband’s family that we haven’t really had much opportunity to visit with, to be the one that reaches out.  I want to sit and listen to their stories, to better understand the special people that we are blessed to call our family.

I hope our children will know and run to hug their great aunts and uncles as they get older and that our family ties will grow even stronger as time goes on, though distance separates and the older generations pass away.

~Dana 

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My Life…Unplugged

No, I’m not talking about my limited acoustic guitar-playing skills.  🙂

We recently returned from a long trip that had its share of amazing scenery, convicting lessons, cherished family time, and “limited e-mail access.”  Yes, there were hotel lobby computers available and online access at the home where we spent much of our time on our trip, but I stayed away.  In two weeks time, I did little more than check my Facebook home page for a few minutes, once.

With the habits I had developed over the last year of using a borrowed laptop from the comfort of our living room to check e-mail, create work documents, write blog posts, look for information, or anything else that crossed my mind, I was afraid being offline may be difficult.  I made plans to buy a new laptop so I could continue these behaviors without really thinking about the wisdom of that approach.

But, my somewhat-over-analytical decision-making process was too drawn out, and that purchase hasn’t yet been made.  With me being to, um, frugal to buy a replacement battery for my older laptop, that means our computer work is now limited to our home office, a room that is rather off-limits for our little one due to the horrible disarray (okay, disastrous mess), so I can’t be online and also with her.  The speed of this older computer is also sometimes a deterrent as the delays make us question if our inquiry is really important enough to sit down and wait for the answer.

Sometimes I marvel at our cordless society.  I grew up with land-line telephones with cords.  I remember getting up to change the TV channels (channels 2-13 since we lived in town and had cable).  Laptops were not yet available.  (Had they been imagined yet?)  Cell phones, when I was in college, were kept in large bags and were usually used in cars or, in the house where I lived, by the girls to talk to their boyfriends long-distance for free after 9 p.m.

With all our wireless options today, though, are we not even more tethered to our devices? 

I was refreshed by stepping away for a while.

I didn’t obsess over my inbox or how many people were or were not visiting this site.  I didn’t worry about taking two weeks away from posting.

Instead, I talked with our family that lives out-of-state.  I tried to help with the work that we had gone out there to do.  I visited with a dear friend across her dining room table while our toddler ran in a circle around her house, entertaining us.  I talked with and hugged my mother-in-law who suffers from Alzheimer’s.  I discussed Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar with my 15-year-old niece while she worked to complete her homework.  I even washed dishes.  🙂

So, the lessons for me have been:

  1. I need to be intentional with my time online.  Am I letting these resources distract or really help me accomplish what is most important in my life right now?
  2. The constraints we have in place at our house are not necessarily bad.  They may keep help me be more disciplined and focused on the tasks and people who are much more important.
  3. I need to limit my computer time, regardless of when it takes place.  What I’ve been finding the last couple of days is I’m still getting sucked into spending too much time on the computer, though it’s after everyone else is in bed.  The danger in that for me is I am not able to wake up as early or as refreshed as I need to be in order to be in God’s Word before I start the day with little Clara.  When I’m tired, my patience is shorter.   And, when I’m still not getting other things accomplished (Right now I have a LOT of sorting and organizing to do before Baby comes.), I get more stressed and frustrated.

I do hope to be able to write a post each weekday, but I’m not going to let it be my top priority right now.

~Dana

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