Musings of a domesticated scholar

Category: family

What do the sheep say?

It was the little knight‘s turn to pick the text for #WhanThatAprilleDay16. In light of his favorite Easter toy (once his dad’s), IMG_2060.jpgand in keeping with my recent interest in sounds of the past, he chose the short catalog of animal sounds in Aldhelm’s De metris et enigmatibus— a treatise on poetic meter.

Aldhelm was a seventh-century Anglo-Saxon, but according to Susan Rankin of Cambridge, “[t]he catalogue of words describing the sounds made by animals– or uoces animantium (animal voices)– goes back at least as far as the mid-fifth century and survives in various textual traditions” (Cantus Scriptus, 13).


British Library, Additional MS 42130, Folio 163v via

For Aldhelm, this list helped distinguish the human, signifying voice from non-human, non-signifying noise. To learn more about classical and early medieval classifications of vox and sonus, look at Rankin’s “Capturing Sounds: The Notation of Language” in Ransom and Dillon’s Cantus Scriptus: Technologies of Medieval Song.

The text appears on an eighth-century leaf bound with a ninth-century copy of Isidore’s Etymologies. Rankin’s transcription is partial, so I’ve included the manuscript  below.


Zofingen, Stadtbibliothek PA 32, f. I r. (

Nam apes ambizant uel bombizant…asini oncant uel rudunt…boues mugiunt uel reboant…cicadae fretinnunt… elefanti barriunt uel stridunt…equi hinniunt…galline cacillant…galli cantant uel cucurriunt…meruli zinzitant/ oves balant…porci grundiunt…ranae coaxant…

Can you guess which animal is which? Reading aloud will help (and remember, they’re  plural animals). You can also take a quick listen to my recording of Rankin’s excerpt.

By the way, this is a really fun way to introduce yourself (and/or your toddler) to any language. So may your spring be abuzz with sounds– ancient and animal alike!


Pregnancy, Motherhood, and the Dissertation Chapter

In October of 2013 I submitted my dissertation prospectus to a table of enthusiastic and supportive professors. One of them called attention to a particular sentence buried in the middle of the document. “I see here that you’ve written…Could you please tell us about…Well this sentence, right here: ‘It seems difficult, but nevertheless realistic, to complete these hours and the dissertation by the spring of 2016 in light of upcoming and unanticipated parenthood.’ Are congratulations in order?”

Yes, they most certainly were. My committee members could not have been more kind in that moment of revelation, and I would have gladly reveled in their sweet remarks had morning sickness not rushed me out of the meeting.

My plan was ambitious. I was going to write my first chapter by the end of that summer. I was going to take only one semester off from teaching. I was going to nurse for three months, get right back on my ADD meds, and be back to work in no time. All said, I would be unmedicated for exactly one year and then be back to normal, just with more to do.

Well, two years later, I am still tweaking my stimulant medication. I was put on anti-depressants from the middle of my pregnancy through the first few months of my son’s life to prevent postpartum depression (a successful experiment). I am on my fourth “new” birth control.  I took a year off from teaching. I gained (and lost) fifty pounds, but forfeited a lot of muscle and am plagued by loose skin. And as inspired as I was by the momentary spotlight on sexism directed towards the appearance of women in academia, I am nevertheless really embarrassed by my new body.


One of us has lunch. One of us has pants. It is almost NEVER both for each.

In the context of this not-so-brave new world, I submitted my first chapter A WHOLE YEAR after I thought I would. My mapping project is threatening to join the quickly increasing stack of “things that didn’t work out.” So what has happened? Is it mere laziness that binds me to my TV? Or feelings of being overwhelmed? Or a variety of chemical combustions occurring as I struggle to find equilibrium? Or the loneliness I feel when I think, “am I really all alone in this struggle?”

How did I think this would be so simple? Why did I assume that there was a “New Normal”? All of my social media “friends” with children seem to have graduated and gotten jobs in the time that I spent staring blankly from my couch.

Cognitive Therapy has taught me a lot about ways to push back against these thoughts: I did have a healthy pregnancy; I do have a sweet little boy. I have been able to spend time with him during his first year. I am back in the classroom. I have medical issues that others do not.

But this is so unsatisfying! Who cares what good I’ve got? What I really want is my degree and a job. Can I square that with also wanting to be with my toddler? If so, how? Or is it already too late, anyway? Is the damage to my CV irreparable (not published, no teaching awards, no honors or certificates)? And even if I do just crank this thing out, will it be at the cost of something else, like my marriage or parenting? How can I make a choice when there is so much at stake?

The dissertation process is daunting for everyone. I hate my first chapter. It is scattered; it lacks unity because it lacks depth. I also resent my first chapter. It took too long. It took too much. It isn’t enough.

But you know what? I’m going to share some of it in September after I meet with my director. And I’ll post about teaching Gilgamesh tablets and the Beowulf codex and the Bayeux Tapestry. Why? Because if I can get through the past two years, I can surely get through the next two.

Until next time, wishing you all unabated productivity.

[edited March 2, 2016].



On encouragement

Dear readers– thanks for your feedback via text, email, and facebook. Keep it coming, and remember that there’s also a discussion forum on the blog (if you’re so inclined)

Today I thought I’d write a quick post on the power of positive remembering. More than just positive thinking, recalling good moments of my recent past helps me refocus on the benefits and blessings of my present. I’m even using a really cool app to help: grateful160. It sends a text message once a day to ask what you’re thankful for. In a text of 160 or fewer characters, you reply. At the end of the week you get a synopsis of your week measured in gratitude. For someone who has a tendency to fall into self-destructive, isolating melancholy, I find this an important tool in my fight against won’t-leave-the-house-or-be-productive depressive moments.

I’ve also been keeping busy with appointments and house-updating. Terminix, a consignment store, and flooring people all came yesterday. Even though I’m behind on my reading, I find myself better prepared to fight the “I can’t ever do this” feeling with the knowledge that reading is my primary, but not only, commitment.

And speaking of consignment stores, check out our new space!

Notice that big, beautiful couch is gone? Yep. I’ll be posting updates about this room as the summer continues; I’m so looking forward to its progression!

And here are some photos of the new front yard (subject of my last post on yard work):

New pine straw, new mailbox plot, new mailbox plant (named Cliff– get it?)

We also changed out the plants by our porch. A plot that once hosted two large but scraggly roses (who, I admit, look quite lovely for about two weeks of the year) and a few random bushes is now home to four promising shrubs. Most importantly, we’ve covered up most of the giant, black, plastic drain pipe. Hooray.

Another part of my self-encouragement strategy is to invest time in projects whose return is both quick and lasting. I love, love the new yard. I am constantly excited about the new TV room. Writing down what I’ve read for exams on a “hall of fame” board makes me feel more productive than crossing off something from a baffling, four-page reading list. I do something everyday that helps me (grocery store, allergy shots, dry cleaners). I reach out to friends and schedule get-togethers in advance. I’m keeping busy, and even on days when I oversleep (ahem), having so much else to do me keeps me afloat. I’ll have to remember that on days that get really difficult.
Until next time, wishing everyone fond memories of projects past.

Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day, readers! Hopefully most of you have been able to spend some quality time with your own maternal figures.  I just returned from Belize with my mother and mother-in-law (in addition to stepfather, father-in-law, sister, sister’s bf, and husband). I was simply thrilled to share the perfect vacation with perfectly wonderful women.

My mom, ever-adventurous, first took me buddy diving in Belize almost two decades ago.  Now certified, I find diving with her both delightful and dear– it’s an activity  she has always spoken of highly, and one I dreamt of sharing with her for most of my childhood (dream realized below).
She’s done all the great mom things– helped me through horrible times,  celebrated the better ones, never, ever, EVER given up on my potential or my happiness. But her contribution to my live is so much more than her role as mother. It is also as teacher, friend, and eager passport-stamper.
Indeed, nearly all of what she’s taught me (like how to identify marine exoskeletons, above) has revolved around adventure, travel, and natural science.  She used to point out all the constellations and tell me to scuff my feet in the shallows; she made me swear up and down that I’d never night swim in the ocean and taught me how to handle snakes; she assured me that the whole world was worth seeing and saving, and I–ever curious of her globe-trekking footsteps–have tried to follow close behind in order to do so.
My mother-in-law is simply awesome. A working mother and wife for over thirty years, she has paved another road for me to follow. Her commitment to family is inspiring and a little intimidating– could I do what she’s done and still have a perfectly level and loving head on my shoulders?  I’ve got some time to prepare myself for the adventure of working parenthood, but I’m glad to have another kind of model before me.
My stepmother, too, has been a great setter of bars.  A ridiculously talented, totally genius architect, she has literally made a mark on our world. She’s shown me how important it is to push myself professionally, even within an extraordinarily difficult field that is far from family-female-friendly.
Of course, the mothers in my life are not limited to these three wonderwomen. I am ever-grateful and humbled by the grand feats of my sisters and friends.  I feel empowered and encouraged by all of the examples you set the many roads you paved, and the constant, love you show.  
Until next time, may you find yourselves surrounded by as many good mothers as I.

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