I’ve let this blog lapse, but a wise friend has been telling me that I need to write down stories before I forget them, so I’m back.

The other morning, Sophie was eating cereal that had dehydrated strawberries on it. “Can I have this kind of dried strawberries as a snack at my birthday party?” she asked. We don’t often buy those freeze-dried strawberries, because of course they’re mostly pricey sugar, but for a birthday party snack, it was a good idea. I promised her we’d pick up some dried strawberries before her party, and then I went back to whatever I was doing, packing lunchboxes, unloading the dishwasher, braiding Soph’s hair: you know the morning blur.

I noticed Evs taking that strawberry cereal from the table and reminded him that we have a food-belongs-in-the-kitchen rule. I don’t need my kids leaving crumbs all around the house; I can barely keep up with cleaning the crumbs in the kitchen. Then I returned to making my tea or locating the permission-slip that I had signed but somehow not gotten into the kid’s backpack or whatever else I was doing that morning.

Evs screamed in frustration, so I went into the living room to check on him. It turned out that he had taken his cereal, put it into a small plastic snack-box, wrapped that up with some large brown paper, and was attempting to tie a bow around it. “Soph wants this for her birthday,” he told me, “so I’m giving it to her.”

I helped him tie the bow, then he dictated to me a message to write on the small package of wrapped-up cereal:

To Sophie. From Everett. Wherever you go, my heart will follow you.

He got out his pens and tried to draw a heart on the curved edge of the package, before once again screaming in frustration, then calming down enough to take his package to add to Sophie’s birthday pile.

Then he told her what her surprise would be, of course, because three-year-olds don’t keep secrets. She tried to explain that it wasn’t actually cereal she wanted, only a snack-pack of strawberries to serve to party guests, but even she had to admit that this was a surprisingly sweet act by a little brother who can sometimes be a pest, but is actually listening to everything we say, and doing his best to be generous.


I’m on the radio

Here is a link to me on “Curious City” on WBEZ Chicago Public Radio.

I am also on the Urban History Association Podcast, the single most fun piece of book publicity that I have done so far.

I also published in the “Living Textbook” column of the Orange County Register and got featured in the alumni Newsletter of Yale Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. It turns out that book publicizing is surprisingly fun to do.

What I Did When I Wasn’t Here

My book is “hot off the presses,” according to  the terrific new Urban Historians blog.

Chicago Magazine also interviewed me about “How Chicago Invented the Suburbs.”

I blogged about page 99 of my book for “The Page 99 Test.”

And, since this week is the anniversary of Chicago’s Race Riots of 1919, I blogged about that for Oxford University Press.

cover image

Honestly, I do not know how book publicity works. This is my first book. So I am simply doing whatever occurs to me: blogging for whoever asks me, talking to journalists, going to conferences to mention it, and emailing friends who might teach the book to offer to skype into their classrooms.

If you are teaching it and would like me to skype into your classroom, please contact me at elewinnek (at) fullerton (dot) edu. I like to meet my readers.

And if you have read it, please consider leaving a review at sites like amazon or goodreads. Thanks!

Scenes from the Summer

Friends threw me a fabulous book party.

Then, for their annual backpacking trip, this year Ben & Sophie took along seven other dads and daughters. And they had a great time.

Photo: Pretty fun day yesterday.

Evs and I car-camped at the base and now he won’t stop asking for more camping. He has also requested that we change his name to Marshmallow Hotdog. Here he is “hiking” with me.

Photo: Here's what Evs & I did while the girls and dads were doing their hike

Then we went to New England for a reunion with my family. Evs & Sophie got to see their five cousins.

Photo: Cousins

After that, Ben won the California state mountainbiking crosscountry championship.

It’s been quite a summer so far.

Here’s another photo of Hot-diggity-dog Marshmallow, the other morning, attempting to follow his Dad to work.

And here’s my favorite photo of the summer of Sophie.

The un-photographed moments include Evs making good friends at preschool; Soph attending a loving, small art camp; some strife between friends and me; a lot of good play dates; a new fandom for our local library; and jumping in ocean waves. Next up is a two-week trip to Colorado, in the new-to-us adventure van that we just bought from our neighbors. I’ll try to post more often here, after that.

How free-range should I let my kids be?

We spent the weekend in Colorado, at a campsite beside a mountain-bike-race, where many dozen kids ran around in free-range style.

Photo: Made it! Home sweet home for the next few days.

For the most part, it was glorious. Sophie and some other seven-year-olds decided to open up a restaurant at the picnic tables. They cleaned off the tables, gathered dandelion centerpieces, raided their parents’ snack-bags, wrote up menus (goldfish crackers, water, and gummie bears were on offer), then walked around the campground recruiting customers. After that, they created a secret space by a creek, and I let them go there by themselves as long as they promised not to get wet. They collected sticks and rocks. They got to ride on the campground hosts’ donkey and they got their first ride in the back of a pick-up truck, too.

Photo: Nothing like your first ride in the back of a pickup.

My kids walked to the campground store all by themselves, with a $5 bill to spend on ice cream sandwiches, and I only had to remind them not to eat their ice cream in the store. There is no place near us where they can do that by themselves, walk safely to a store and select their own small purchase, and it seems like a rite of passage of childhood. It was wonderful to watch, from a quarter mile back, seeing them take on new responsibilities. Now, at home, Everett is collecting all the money he can find because now he knows that money can be changed into ice cream.

His sister is also trying to teach him to cartwheel.

Photo: While @jonesbenjamind rode 64 miles thru mud & rain, Sprout spent the Gunnison Growler teaching Tractor how to cartwheel.

Now I get to figure out how much independence to give my growing-up kids. At this weekend’s camping, Soph spent a lot of time inside the trailer of the girl who had created the restaurant with her. It finally occurred to me to ask, “Are A’s parents home?”

“No, they went to town,” Soph told me blithely. “But they left her with a walkie-talkie so she can call them if she needs them.”

And I let her keep on playing there. I even let Everett go over to that trailer, one evening. The girls assured me they would take care of him. “He needs help getting his shoes off,” I reminded them, and they all assured me they would help him. They were playing the cardgame uno, I think, or maybe an elaborate fantasy about orphaned unicorns at cooking school. The weekend is a blur. In any case, the trailer had that calm hum of sweet play, and I had to go wash our dishes or take care of some other camping chore anyway, so I was happy to leave the kiddos.

Fifteen minutes later, Everett came toddling up to our campsite, barefoot. He had grown bored and walked home. He had taken a circuitous route home, but he had made it. It was dusk, just when lots of cars were pulling into the campsite, not yet aware that packs of feral kids were running about: a car-accident was one risk, along with just getting lost, or injuring his little two-year-old feet on those gravel roads. Soph came home ten minutes after that, and when I chided her for losing her brother, she said, “Oh, we didn’t notice he had left.” I had to go over to A’s trailer to fetch Everett’s shoes.

Ben was not concerned at all. Independence is good for kids, he thinks. I am not a hovering parent, but I do think that I have learned that Soph still needs parents around. She’s not yet old enough to babysit outside of our own house. She’s 7, he’s 2. I am so proud of them for going to the camp store alone, but I am also not yet ready to  let them give up on all childhood supervision. I’m still figuring out how long the rope should be, how far I let my kids travel towards independence.

Coincidentally, the day that we got home, we went to a birthday party at the campground a mile from our house in California. My kids started climbing trees there and I listened to other parents cautioning their children: “There’s too many kids in that tree, you can’t climb it, these branches might break, you can’t climb it, it’s getting dark out, you can’t climb that tree.” And I missed our Colorado campground.


I have fallen off the blogging bandwagon. Here’s a quick update: Evs is thriving in preschool. His favorite colors are orange, white, and Mommy. He wants to be a horseback rider, baby beluga, or applesauce.  He’s a lot of fun.

Soph is also thriving in first grade. She’s taking classes in jumproping, swimming, and drumming: such a SoCal trilogy. She wants to be a drummer because, she says, drummers get to be the bosses who start every song by counting off the beat, and she likes being the boss.  She’s also planning to build a treehouse, a project which, she decided, should start by raising money with a lemonade stand.

So here they are at their lemonade stand, with our enthusiastic friends:

And here’s Evs in our backyard, above the site where we will probably build the treeless platform-house.

My biggest news, by far, is that the book I have been working on for more than ten years is finally, actually, a real book.

Photo: There it is, in the flesh. Congratulations!




The Sorry-I-Haven’t-Posted-in-a-While Post

I just clicked on over and saw that I haven’t blogged here since November. Yikes.

In my head, I have written several blog posts about the unexpectedly amusing overly-bureaucratic process of being Girl Scout Cookie Mom, about our struggles to help Sophie bridge the gap from wanting to hear advanced stories but being able to read only basic ones to herself, about the songs of “Frozen,” and about Everett settling in to preschool, finding his own stubborn independence and deep kind streak, going from tantrums to joy in a flash so quick that I am envious. But I haven’t actually written any of those down.

Lately my family life hasn’t quite coalesced into blog-worthy stories in my mind. Maybe I am just out of the habit. Maybe I am becoming more private or at least more aware of the strangers who stumble on this blog, beyond just you friends and family whom I know.

Maybe, especially as both kids get more articulate, I am experiencing what other mombloggers have already written about: their stories start to feel like theirs to tell, not mine. They are growing up.

So I invite all of you who have been reading here to friend me on facebook. Or, I guess, just be patient. I’ll return to blogging eventually.


Despite the tagline that I optimistically coined for this blog when I began it, I don’t actually write much about professoring here. Those conversations tend to happen elsewhere. Here’s one of those places, the “On Teaching” blog of the American Studies Journal, where I recently weighed in on the current debate whether to lecture or not to lecture with a third, less-binary option: lecture with engagement. Click on over if you’re interested.

Soph’s Poetry

Here is one of the worksheets I found at the bottom of her backpack today:

What is your favorite food? Mac-and-cheese.

What does it look like?It is cheesey.

How does it taste? It tastes salty, noodley, and cheesey. It is hard to explain. When I eat mac-and-cheese it tastes soft.

That description: I love it. I love the combination of senses and I love that it is wholly original. I could not have described mac-n-cheese better myself.

Here’s another description she wrote about her Mimi, her blankie:

Reading that, I tried to tell her what a metaphor is and what a neat thing they are, but she didn’t care. She was off to the next project, practicing dance steps in the mirror. A few days later, she took this self-portrait with my phone.

My daughter, the artist.

She has been telling herself stories for years now, murmuring, “Don’t talk to me, I’m telling myself a story,” while staring contentedly out the car-window for half-hours on end. She only sometimes tells these stories out loud. She’s not sure about having me write them down: apparently, like butterflies, they lose some of their magic when they get pinned to paper. Some of them are set in her preschool, some in kindergarten, some right now. Here’s an example, from the week after I was writing a lecture on the Dust Bowl that she must have gotten some inkling of:

“There was a giant dirt-storm tornado that came through, and L and me got so injured that we had to move into the nurse’s office permanently. [Here let me interject that her school nurse is the most cheerful, loving woman ever. Half the school hopes to move into this nurse’s office.] Our friends all came to see us and brought cards. We had a special chair to get into our bunkbeds in the nurse’s office. And, to get better, we needed a special swing like the one I played at on the pumpkin patch, only different and even more exciting, out on the school playground…”

It’s not yet a masterpiece, you see, but the germs of storytelling are there.

She won’t tell me the current story she likes to tell herself because, she has told me, it contains the word “butt.”

Four front teeth

When I came in from taking the recycling out, Everett told me: “Sophie uh-oh,” and led me to the bathroom, where I found her spitting blood into the sink.

It was a lot of blood, but I reminded myself that head wounds bleed profusely and everything was probably fine. I got her a tissue to absorb the blood from her split lip. I got her some ice to quell the swelling. I gently checked her teeth (now that it’s her second mouth injury, I knew what to do), and found the front teeth extremely wiggly. So I phoned her school to tell them we’d be late to school, then I phoned our dentist, who would open in 20 minutes. I left a message telling them we were on our way.

Evs & Sophie had been piling pillows into a fort in our living room. Soph had climbed on the fort’s roof. The pillow-roof fell in and, on her way down, she hit her open mouth hard on the solid wooden chest that we use as a coffee table.

Everett started wailing when he saw me give children’s tylenol to Sophie but not to him. Getting him out the door was a struggle, but everyone calmed down in the car, where I had a chance to tell Sophie the exciting news that the tooth fairy might be coming early now.

My dentists’ office was ready for us when we walked in. Soph was still sobbing, clutching her blankies for reassurance. “You’re in luck!” the receptionist told her. “We just got new toys in the treasure chest that everyone gets to pick from on their way out, so you’re going to have a lot to choose from, and that’s not even counting what you may be getting soon from the tooth fairy!”

I have, in the past, grumbled that this pediatric dentists’ office is ridiculously over-cheerful, but this morning I was grateful for it. This morning I was in love with my dentist’s office. They praised her bravery and calmly took x-rays, then sat her down watching one of those kids’ videos they play in the ceiling, which did wonders for her mood. As they poked around her mouth, they had to keep reminding her to please tell them when something hurt. She was more interested in watching “The Magic Schoolbus” than in talking about her injuries.

Even Everett behaved himself, thrilled to explore their basket of toy trucks while I listened to the dentist explain that Sophie’s upper-front teeth had jammed into the small bone that holds them in, actually fracturing the bone of her upper palate, leaving a bloody line across the top of her gums. The bottom teeth jammed, down, too. And the lips bore the brunt of the impact. At least four teeth will probably fall out in the next week or two, which is fine, and we only have to worry if more than four fall out. We’ve got a lot of follow-up appointments with the dentist, now.

Our dentist says there is a six-month window, in everyone’s life, when it’s fairly safe to hurt your teeth because you’re about to lose them anyway and grow new ones. Sophie is smack in the middle of that window. Our dentist is superb at positive spin. Then the dentist’s assistant told Soph all the exciting things she’ll be able to do soon when she’s missing at least two front teeth. She reported to her dad, later, word for word: “I’m going to be able to spit water at my brother in the bath and he won’t even know what hit him!”

She was still bleeding when we left the dentists’ office, an hour later, after her mouth had been swabbed with disinfectant. but we were all in a better mood, heading out to get frozen yogurt to help Soph’s swollen lip, with my purse now stocked with gauze pads for the blood,

I asked her if she wanted to go home to watch movies and eat ice cream, but she told me no, she wanted to go to school. She wanted to show off her dramatic injuries to her friends.

I asked if she wanted me to try to wash the fuzzy pink bracelet she was wearing, now that it was splattered with blood. She told me no, blood is cool.

I was enormously proud of her.

So I took her to school and only realized how crazy an idea this was when the school secretary and nurse looked at us, aghast that I was dropping off a kid who was still bleeding. They asked the smart questions: What can she eat for lunch? Does she have a plan for sedentary play during recess time? I agreed to go buy some soft lunch foods, then return in an hour or so to check on her and see if she needed to be taken home.

Evs and I stocked up on the softest things I could think of: bananas, hummus, yogurt, applesauce, pumpkin pie. We also stocked up on lip-chillers: popsicles and ice cream. And I started to think of all the ways Soph might injure her already fractured palate at school. Evs started to fade into sleep, but I kept him awake long enough to go retrieve Soph from school. “Please can I play one more round of rhyming bingo?” she asked, and then Everett simply howled, shrieking during the whole walk from her classroom to the car, probably terrifying hundreds of kids.

When we got home, I finally realized how terrified I had been all morning, too.

Soph herself is fine. Her lips are already less swollen, already forming the ugly gray scabs that the dentist prepared me to expect. The hardest part, I think, for her, is that the dentist declared she should avoid jumpy-castles for at least a half a week. She did art all afternoon, instead, while her brother whined about not getting to go to the park. They made a parachute-man, around sunset, when Ben took this photo.

I think I may be more traumatized by my daughter’s injuries than she is herself. Such is the empathy of motherhood, I guess.